Two years ago (two years!! Blimey) I looked at analogue hobbies, that was all about putting down your device and doing something mindful and encompassing.
Lately, I’ve been reading extensively into the four ‘happy hormones’. These chemicals are neurotransmitters; chemicals that transmit messages from a neuron (typically but not always) across the brain to a target cell and directly affect our mood in a positive way. Conversely, a lull in the availability of these neurotransmitters can have detrimental effects on us. Although there are also some instances where an excess can be problematic too, in general it’s great for positive mental health to look to ‘activate’ or increase these four neurotransmitters.
These four are:
the “feel good” or “runner’s high” hormone: dopamine;
the “love” hormone: oxytocin;
the “happy” hormone: serotonin, and;
the “pain relief” hormone: endorphin
Of course I’m no expert whatsoever, but this is what I’ve gathered together on food/eating and “happy hormones”. At the end of this article I’ve included a recipe for a focaccia which includes many ingredients experts have identified as promoting or producing one or other of these hormones.
It is possible to identify activities, foods and more that encourage the production of these neurotransmitter chemicals. This can help us better understand what makes us happy, contented, relaxed and help us promote those positive feelings.
After each round of up the hormones, I’ve given links to more scholarly and in-depth articles so you can research more and read advice from experts.
Dopamine is produced in situations where we’ve rewarded ourselves, it makes us feel great and contented and is there in evolutionary terms to help us to repeat activities that are safe and enjoyable (and therefore stay away from things that would imply danger).
Dopamine triggers in circumstances such as being told we’ve been praised but interestingly also when we praise others. So, start spreading the joy and pass on a nice, genuine compliment (hopefully karma will ensure you receive similar in return). We feel dopamine’s effects when we indulge ourselves in some self care or ‘me time’ or treat ourselves with food. Listening to our favourite music or participating in a celebration of some sort also raises your dopamine levels. In short, it’s a chemical pat on the back.
No foods actually have dopamine, but foods do look for foods that are rich in an amino acid called l-tyrosine, which is crucial to the body’s functions that produce dopamine. Foods rich in l-tyrosine include:
Unprocessed meats and fish
Chocolate (specifically dark chocolate)
Peas, beans and pulses of all kinds
Dark green vegetables (particularly the leafy ones)
Studies show that low dopamine may be associated with addiction, perhaps because the individual is always chasing that great feeling. Dopamine is also beginning to be linked with ADHD and Parkinson’s disease.
Oxytocin is often described as the ‘love hormone’ as our bodies release it when we have those intimate, compassionate or empathetic moments. Although it is released during sex, it’s not all about that – think of the good feelings you get when spending time with your pet, bonding with your children (including apparently during childbirth to facilitate bonding and it also is brings on contractions), hugging a friend a walk in an oak forest on a sunny day. They’re all instances when oxytocin is released and you feel that rush of warmth and contentment.
There have been recent studies to research whether oxytocin can help those with anorexia and eating disorders/body dysmorphia and that it may help those with an autism spectrum disorder to overcome social anxiety.
No foods directly contribute to the production and release of oxytocin, however there is a food link: oxytocin can be produced when preparing food together, eating a family meal, going somewhere romantic to eat, sharing food and meals with children and enjoying a glass of something with your loved ones. All these situations help release oxytocin. So, if oxytocin be the food of love, play on!
The mood stabilising or ‘happy hormone’. The relationship we have with the production of serotonin is mood regulation (including lowering anxiety), keeping to balanced sleeping patterns and feeling that sense of happiness.
You can easily boost your own serotonin levels but spending some time (safely) in the sun, getting some exercise, being meditative or, similar to oxytocin, getting our into nature and really appreciating it.
You can’t actually eat foods that directly affect serotonin levels but do find foods that are rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which has a direct correlation to oxytocin production (similar to the dopamine-L-tyrosine relationship).
This is the one that can have a euphoric effect, despite being only nicknamed the pain relief hormone.
Do you experience ASMR? Auto Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a very pleasing tingling effect starting on your scalp and moving down your neck, shoulders and into your back when one or more of your senses is triggered. Scientists are tentatively beginning to link the release of endorphins as a cause of these pleasant sensations in individuals (not everyone experiences ASMR).
Even if you don’t get ASMR, an increase in endorphin levels will make anyone feel great. It’s believed that they are the body’s response to help you manage pain and as a reward system when you do something good. Evolutionarily speaking, it soothes when times are difficult or stressful and encourages you to repeat positive experiences by linking them to a natural high.
Simple things can boost endorphin levels from having a good laugh, indulging in your favourites scents and smells, exercise and being kind to others (what a fabulous way! That’s a win:win situation) .
We know, don’t we that we ought to be reducing certain elements in our food, those that the modern world has invented, corrupted or pushing at us in unhealthy quantities. Whilst I’m firmly in the ‘a little of what you fancy does you good’ camp, lessening consumption of certain things like ultra processed foods, sugar and salt is good to consider. Here I’m going to look at ways to lower our intake of salt in homemade bread.
Salt is necessary for body function, but we’re all eating way over our required amount (ref: Gov.uk). While it may not be a worry for you now, you may need to adjust your salt intake as you get older or (hopefully not) develop certain health problems. By reducing salt now before these circumstances arise you will get more accustomed to a lower level of salt in advance and work to reduce your reliance on it.
Many of these ideas here for bread can be worked in equally well to flavouring other cooking, so you’re not automatically reaching for teaspoons full of salt to flavour your food.
Over the past year or so I’ve started reducing the amount of salt I add to my bread. There are a number of ways I’ve done this so as not to compromise on flavour and there are some radical alternatives too!
Salt in bread for flavour
Many people are under the impression that salt is necessary in bread baking. It’s not, but it does do more than just add taste. Certainly, its primary function is to add flavour and stop a loaf being bland, as the process of milling grain takes a lot of the natural flavour away. Or, as Elizabeth David rather cannily put it, salt is added because it “corrects insipidity”.
As a flavour enhancer, a certain amount of salt will draw out the taste of other ingredients. Because of this property salt is often added to sweet recipes, where you may think its appearance would be incongruous, such as in cakes and biscuits. Salt should be added into sweet recipes at a level where it only enhances and does not overwhelm or provide an actual salty note. This is the reason why you should adhere to the specified amount of salt in a sweet recipe and not be ‘liberal’ with the amount (as well as health implications).
Salt’s other properties
Salt has a minimal effect on the moisture content in the loaf as sodium dissolves readily in water and will even attract moisture direct from the air. This hygroscopic nature will take some of the water in bread dough away from being absorbed by the flour and yeast. Therefore, if you remove the salt completely, the dough will be wetter and you may have to tweak the recipe to reduce the water. [Frankly though, in reality, I’ve found this effect minimal so if the dough turns out to be a bit sticky just add a flourish of extra flour while kneading or shaping to compensate.]
Yeast does not like salt. Salt inhibits the yeast and will eventually actually kill it off if you just leave them together. Have you read a recipe that says put the yeast on one side of the bowl and the salt on the other? That’s to keep the salt and yeast away from each other until the liquid is added, so protecting the yeast. If you don’t add salt then there will be a little more rise. Without salt, yeast can work to capacity (unless you’ve inhibited it in other ways – see my post on how yeast works).
Crust and texture
Salt dissolved in the dough contributes to a crusty crust as it helps tighten gluten structure. Also, salt will dehydrate in the oven and begin to return to its crystalline form. Want to test this crusty theory? Dilute salt in water and brush it over the top of your loaf before baking.
Salt, I’m sure you know, is a preservative which humans have utilised for thousands of years. Your bread will last longer with salt than a no-salt bread.
How to reduce salt
Just. Don’t. Add. It.
There; simple huh? Well you could do that, such as with the famous pane Toscano (Tuscan bread) recipe. However, pane Toscano is often used to accompany ribboletto, the very rich and pretty salty soup – or some other food with a high salt content such as a highly seasoned salame. So, yes, you can entirely remove salt from a bread recipe but it really depends on how you’re going to consume it and what with. I suspect you would not notice a total lack of salt in pizza dough, bread rolls for BBQ meats or bacon butties for instance, as they incorporate all salty, highly flavourful ingredients in a meal. However, for the most part I’d recommend adding at least a little.
Reduce the salt amount and add pepper.
This is a great go-to method for everyday breads. Here, you get a little of the benefits of salt without eating too much in your bread. Using half pepper: half salt will give you a very flavourful bread. Make sure it’s freshly ground pepper to ensure a strong flavour (and not that grim, grey pre-ground stuff).
Reduce the amount (in part or entirely) and add seaweed flakes.
Seaweed has sodium in and is naturally salty but you also get a mix of flavours, added iodine and other vitamins. If you’re worried, I can tell you a loaf with seaweed in does not taste fishy! I love making bread with seaweed flakes and do it very regularly and my favourite is sea salad from the Cornish Seaweed Co. Add it into the dough instead of (some or all) the salt or sprinkle it on top, which looks beautiful. Seaweed goes particularly well in breads like grissini, focaccia, baguettes, rustic breads and marries well with ancients grains such as spelt and khorasan. My recipe given further below incorporates seaweed.
Add herbs or spices.
Go for a different bread taste and put in half the total amount of salt and add chopped fresh herbs. Use your favourite herbs or search out new ones for specific flavours. Everyone knows rosemary goes nicely in bread, but use parsley, thyme or basil for a mediterranean taste. Lovage and hyssop add a gently liquorice tang. Ramsons (wild garlic), chives or Good King Henry are great in savoury uses. Mint, lavender, thyme and nasturtium leaves are nice in sweetened brioche. Use spices as you would with a main recipe – add according to cuisine or pairing rules. Or break up the rules and just try your favourite spices.
Also, you might want to pre-prepare some salt infusions for this. See both my following recipe posts on salt mixes:
Add the seasoning in the liquid or other ingredients.
For instance, you can add miso or yeast extract to the water content. I often also add a spoonful of something ‘extra’ to my loaves, such as balsamic vinegar, malt extract, grape must, pomegranate or grape molasses, verjus or cider vinegar.
The other alternative is to use a low-salt alternative.
I cannot comment on this as I’ve not used it. It’s supposed to be about a third of the sodium, but I wonder what else is in it instead? I prefer to lower simple salt and add other flavourings – I know then what’s going into my bread.
Low salt loaf recipe
This will also work in a bread machine. Add the seaweed flakes into your nut/seed dispenser and the yeast into the yeast dispenser, but everything else can go in the bowl. Choose a function that produces a medium sized ‘normal’ loaf.
Dough whisk or stand mixer is helpful, but you can mix by hand
Small ovenproof tin
Tea towels or other covers for the bread, while proofing
Scales, measuring spoons, measuring jug
Wire cooling rack
400g strong white bread flour
3g fine salt
1g freshly milled ground pepper
1 – 2 tablespoons of Sea Salad from the Cornish Seaweed Co – but use any edible dried seaweed flakes (whether bought or foraged)
1 tablespoon of grape must. If you can’t find this – I buy mine in a Polish store – then use a rich Balsamic vinegar (I’d recommend Filippo Berio’s Premier Cru) or pomegranate molasses (such as from Odyssea), which are both easier to find
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon of dried, fast acting yeast
A little extra oil and flour
Mix together EVERYTHING in a large bowl, until it’s combined but a really rough mix. Use a Dutch whisk or a stand mixer if you have it as it’s a bit messy this mix
Leave to autolyse for 10 minutes
Knead (or turn on your stand mixer) for 10 minutes. It will eventually come together nicely without the need for extra flour (try not to add more, but use a little if you really think you can’t cope with it being that sticky!)
When the surface is smooth, oil a large bowl and place the dough in. Cover (tea towel, couch, shower cap or cling film) and leave to rise for 45-60 minutes
This loaf will almost double – probably about an extra 75% again of its original size
Tip out the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knock back gently
Shape and place into your preferred banneton, bowl, bread tin or it can be plaited
Cover again and leave for about 25-30 minutes until it appears fluffed up. While it is doing this final proof, turn your oven on to 220C fan / 240C non-fan and place a small tin at the bottom of the oven
When ready (and after the oven has reached temperature) lightly flour a baking tray. Invert the loaf from the banneton/bowl or place the plait or tin onto the baking tray
If you want and have inverted the loaf from a banneton, you can slash the top to aide the rise and make the loaf prettier (such as the wave pattern above)
Place in the oven and immediately put a cupful of water into the little tin you left in the bottom of the oven. This creates steam and helps the loaf rise
Time for 35 minutes, but after 10 minutes turn the oven down by 20 degrees (whether you have a fan or non-fan over).
After the 35 minutes the bread should be golden, risen and hollow-sounding when tapped on the bottom
Leave to cool over a wire rack
I’d love to know if you tried this loaf and found that you did not miss the normal level of salt. Please leave any comment below.
I’m no doubt long overdue writing up my basic sourdough recipe. But I’ve now, finally, managed it and I hope it’s useful.
I’ve been baking sourdough for almost 20 years but I still believe I have much, much more to learn. Always something new to try and test with wild yeast baking.
So, here we are… this is my ‘base’ sourdough recipe.
Follow this to get used to baking sourdough. Learn how the dough at each stage feels, moves, its viscosity, look for the amount of bubbles at each stage, how the dough reacts to your particular oven. Get happy with the rise, the crust, the flavour and crumb inside. Then, use this as a base to change up your sourdough baking – this recipe can then be adapted to incorporate other flavours and flours.
Starter/mother/wild yeast. To learn about growing and nurturing a wild yeast starter for sourdough baking read my post on Sourdough for Starters – grow your own pet yeast. You must have a lively, bubbly and strong wild yeast starter to bake a sourdough loaf or you’re doomed from the start and will only be upset with the results – give yourself the best chance of a great loaf by using the starter when it’s lively.
Timing. I’ve worked hard here to provide timings for a beginner across two days where you have left yourself free time, such as a weekend. Later on there is a table for an alternative timing over a single day. Alternatively with experience and the length of time for each stage (I’ve given timings for each stage below) you’ll be able to fit your bread into your own personal routine.
Stages. Certain stages of the process are important to follow the timing fairly rigidly and other parts of the process can be shortened or extended. I’ve marked out where timings can be made more flexible or where they are to be kept to throughout the recipe. You’ll quickly learn the key timings and also where you can relax a bit.
Equipment 1. I’ve developed a method where I use a click-top plastic food box for my early stages. I recommend you buy one (it’s also very useful for other wet doughs such as ciabatta) but you can substitute a bowl and close covering, such as a shower cap or cling film. I also find it so, so useful to write the timings of stages right on the top of the box during each bake with a whiteboard marker! The box I use is a large, five litre click top container (in fact I have several). They’re pretty cheap; often cheaper than a sturdy mixing bowl.
Equipment 2. I’ve used a banneton in this method but if you are starting out and don’t have one (or can’t get one – during the rise in bread making throughout the pandemic there’s been a shortage of bannetons) there are alternatives! Use a mixing bowl or a loaf tin lined with a linen tea towel instead. Then you can make sure you want to keep doing this before you invest in more equipment.
Banneton: eh, huh? Unsure what a banneton is? It’s a bowl-like structure normally made of rattan, cane or wood/paper pulp which holds the dough in a breathable environment while it rises and ferments. They’re typically circular, but can be oval, square, triangular or even ring shaped and come inverting sizes to accommodate different dough volumes. A banneton encourages the shape of the loaf for when it’s turned out for baking. Cane and rattan ones are woven or coiled, which gives the loaf characteristic indentations and patterns. Modern wood or paper pulp brotforms can have punched patterns in too. As mentioned above you can substitute a mixing bowl with a linen cloth – it’s not as breathable, nor does it give those nice indentations, but it’s a good alternative. Typically we’ve all adopted the French word of banneton for these, but also look for proving basket or brotform (German).
Cloche. You can bake your sourdough loaf in a cloche (an ‘upside down’ earthenware pot with a flat shallow base and a domed lid), which does give help to the rise and a crusty crust. I have not included this in the baking process here. There’s enough to be getting on with learning all of this, let alone get used to cloche baking. You can get a great loaf without one and in fact you may never decide you want one. If I’m honest I’m really agnostic about it: I actually don’t like the really thick crust that some sourdoughs have and most times I simply forget to grab the cloche when my loaf is ready to bake; I just turn it out on a baking tray. If you do want to try, move on to it later, and in the meantime I’ll try to write a post about that too.
Water temperature. Don’t stress about this – use “tepid”. Test it on your hand, if it feels close to body heat that’s perfect. I’ve left it necessarily vague as I don’t think it makes that much difference give or take a few degrees. Best not use cold nor hot though and if you want to be exact around 30-32C is ideal.
Flouring. As a learner, I’m advising you to overflour your banneton. They’re be nothing worse than having to peel or scrape your risen loaf out of the proving basket which will deflate it immediately. You can learn with time how much flouring your bannetons and brotforms need. My ideal flour for the banneton is rice flour. Semolina also works well but is more orange (due to carotene) if that colour bothers you. If you can’t get hold of these use your flour you made your loaf with. They’ll all work, it’s just rice flour is less absorbent and finer and just seems to work well.
Stretching – or kneading. You’ve made bread with dried or fresh yeast and you’re used to kneading; so why not knead here? With the incorporation of the autolyse resting process, it’s easier to stretch and fold a sourdough loaf rather than all-out kneading. (Autolysis is explained within Method below). However, there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with kneading your sourdough, but it is wet and sticky and easier this alternative way. Sometimes though, depending on flour used etc sourdough bread can really do with a ‘good old knead’. Again this’ll come with confidence and practice but stick to this given stretch and wait method in my recipe for now at least as it is easier 🙂
Five litre click top container (or mixing bowl and either a shower cap, cling film or similar)
Scales, measuring spoons etc
Clean tea towel or muslin
Banneton (or alternative + linen tea towel). Ideal banneton size for this recipe is a 9″ / 23 cm diameter banneton
Sharp knife, single-side razor blade or baker’s blade (lame)
Large baking tray
Dough scraper – a really essential piece of kit, metal or plastic
A flat baking tin
Additional – non permanent marker or note pad and pen
30 ml lively wild yeast starter (also called sourdough starter or mother etc)
280 ml tepid water
8 g salt
Several turns of a pepper mill to get fresh pepper
400 g of strong white bread flour
Extra flour for dusting (see note above)
FIRST DAY: Start this mid afternoon/early evening.
Today’s activity takes just over 2 hours overall with hands on time at about 10-15 minutes.
Stage 1 – mix and autolysis (action of enzymes in the yeast breaking down the starch in the flour, which releases simple sugars. The yeast then feeds on these sugars and within the warming, wet environment gluten strands form and begin to stretch and relax).
Place the container on your scales and weigh out 30g of the starter
Pour in the water and agitate it so that the starter is dispersed
Add in the flour – all 400g of it – and mix it into the water and starter mix as best as possible
Put the lid on
Mark on the top of the box what the time is
Leave it as a rough, shaggy mess for ONE HOUR
Stage 2 – Gluten development (stretching or kneading process)
After one hour sprinkle the salt and grind the pepper over the top of the dough mix
Now, using one hand, SCRUNCH the dough, pinching the salt and pepper into dough as you do it. See images below
Using your fingertips, incorporate all the little bits of dough and flour that didn’t get mixed in properly. As you scrunch, make sure you squeeze in any bits of dough that feel a bit harder. You’ll notice the smoothness of the dough has almost immediately changed and is much smooth and silkier – this is great!
Scrunch the dough for about 1 minute
Now do some rough stretching and folding (see images and video below) – you don’t have to do much at this point, you’re only trying to bring it together a little. Grab the side of the dough and lift it up and back on itself, so you’re almost wrapping it. Rotate the container so that you do this around the dough – repeat this stretch up and lay-over move about eight or so times. Grab a portion of dough at the side, lift upwards and slightly outwards and then stretch over the ball of dough and pat down. You’re aiming to end up with a ball shape
Place the lid back on the box, write down the time on the top and leave for another hour
After the hour is up, you have a choice! Sometimes, (depending on the autolyze efficacy, flour quality, room temperature etc) your dough will be very shiny, smooth and stretchy just after a single stretch-and-lift-over and one hour’s rest routine. If this is the case you can move straight on the Stage 3. (Also, if you are short of time or trying an alternative timing from the list below there may only be room for a single routine).
If the dough still looks a bit shaggy round the edges or you want to be sure the dough has been stretched enough, you’ll need to do another stretch-and-lift-over. Do 8-10 of these lift, stretch and fold-over actions. Again, aim for a ball shape
Place the lid back on – wait for another hour (and mark it on the lid)
After the second hour is up, you need to stretch and lift-over again. You’ll notices the dough is visibly and physically much smoother and stretchier. Again do 8-10 of these lift and fold actions on your dough and leave it in a ball shape
Place the lid back on
Stage 3 – first ferment (some call this bulk rise)
You now don’t need to do anything until tomorrow morning
Leave the lidded container somewhere that is anywhere between cold to an ambient, mild temperature
Do NOT leave it anywhere hot (this speeds up the ferment and is a useful tool to change proving times but we’ll stick to the beginner’s plan here!). if it is hot it’s better to go in the top of a fridge
Today’s activity takes just over 4 hours overall with hands on time at just about 30-40 minutes.
Stage 4 – shaping
This does not matter very much what time you leave the dough until. An hour or two shorter or longer doesn’t matter, but do it by about 9-10am.
Your dough should have spread outwards and upwards overnight
The plastic container will allow you to see that it is full of air pockets – some large, some small. Perfect! It will be about 3-5cm up the side of the container and have spread out to fill it. (If you had to put it in the fridge and it’s not at this stage, leave it out for an hour and re-check on it)
You now need to get the dough out of the container with as little disturbance of these holes as possible (squashing it somewhat is inevitable)
Flour your countertop/table lightly
Have your banneton to hand. Flour the base generously and up the sides as much as you can. If your banneton comes with a linen liner, do use it. If you are using a mixing bowl, line it with the linen tea towel and generously flour the insides
Wet your fingertips on your dominant hand and flick off the excess
Tilt the container towards you, so that the dough starts slipping downwards, and, using your fingertips encourage it down and out of the container onto your floured surface. Use your dough scraper as you feel necessary to help. Get all of the little bits of dough out – you want these (better in your loaf than down the sink or in the bin!)
You don’t need the container anymore
You now need to repeat that stretch and lift-over method you used yesterday – we need to shape the dough. This tightens the exterior surface of the dough, tensioning so. A shaped loaf becomes even more taught as it expands during the final ferment/rise. This allows for a great crust and a good spring (when scored) and stops it spreading out unevenly in any direction once you’ve tipped it out of the banneton
If any time during shaping your dough sticks, use the dough scraper to lift it where it’s sticking and dust with extra flour and place back down
Grab a side of the dough, stretch and lift upwards and outwards and pick the ends in place in the middle of the dough ball. Turn and repeat – you’ll need to do this about 6-8 times. Take a look at the dough from above – you’re trying to get a fairly accurate circle (any ‘corner’ sticking out will spread in the oven). Pinch call the ends together in the middle into a seam so they don’t unravel
Make sure your surface is floured and turn your dough over, so the seam is underneath. Using your floured fingers or the dough scraper, go round the loaf gently but firmly stretching down the sides to the underneath of the loaf, turning it as you go in a scooping motion, to continue making the rounded, tightened shape:
A note here – don’t stretch and tighten the dough too much – it will eventually tear (it’s not endlessly elastic). You’ll get used to this level. If it does tear it’s not the end of the world, just that’s where the loaf probably will expand in the oven, and expand unevenly
Take your loaf and gently place it in the banneton, seam side up this time
Gently lifting/pushing the dough in at the side (being careful not to damage it), dust down the side of the loaf/banneton with some flour. Do this all all the way round so that the loaf does not stick as it rises
Cover with a clean tea towel, making sure it’s a little domed/lifted at the top (to leave space for the bread to rise
Stage 5 – second fermentation
Leave for about three hours (though if it’s hot, check first after 90 minutes)
Your loaf should have risen and have a sort of ‘thick jelly’ like wobble to it. the way to test if it’s ready is to gently make an indent in the dough (at the top, just in from the side) with a finger
Does it spring back about 70-90% into place, leaving the tiniest of dents? If so this is perfect!
If it fills in completely it needs much more time to rise. Give it another hour and try again
If it doesn’t spring back at all and you’re left with a large indentation, oops – did you leave your loaf longer than three hours? Did you leave it out when it was hot indoors for too long? Did you leave it out in a hot place last night (when it should’ve been in the fridge? Don’t despair: you’ll still get a loaf and you can bake it, it will just be more dense and won’t rise.
Assuming you’re at that Goldilocks stage with your dough – it’s just right, now stick it in the fridge for half an hour to slow down the ferment and help it ‘set’
Turn your oven on to 140C fan / 160C conventional
Put your large baking tray on a rack at the bottom of your oven. Make sure that there is plenty of height between the bottom rack and the top rack – you may want to only leave the bottom oven rack in. If they’re too close your loaf may rise into the top rack!
Place the flat baking tin at the bottom of the oven, under the rack you’re going to use
Have your knife/blade.razor/lame ready + a little extra flour + a cup of water
See my YouTube post about making your own lame:
Stage 6 – scoring and baking
After half an hour retrieve your loaf
Take out the warmed baking tray from the oven (wear your gloves!) and dust it with a little flour
Invert the loaf onto the baking tray (where the flour is) and smooth out the flour that’s left on the top of the loaf, after it was tipped out of the banneton
Take your blade or knife and make a swift and decisive cut across the top of the loaf – as a start for this loaf, do just one single one from one side to the other. Cut depth should be about 1 cm at its deepest (any less and there won’t be much spread, too much and you’ll cut into the air holes and deflate the loaf). See my post on nine top tips for breadscoring
(If you’re feeling adventurous immediately, do four cuts in a criss-cross pattern as in the main bread image for this recipe)
Now your bread is ready to go in. But, first tip the cup of water into the flat baking tin at the bottom of the oven – this is to create steam
Immediately put the baking tray + loaf in the oven and close the door
Increase the temperature to 240C fan oven or 260C conventional oven (or if not using fan setting)
Set a timer for 45 minutes
As soon as your oven gets up to temperature, turn it down by 20 degrees (to 220 C fan / 240 C conventional)
What to look for: when baked your loaf should be a nice rich warm brown colour. Where the slashes/scores were made these will be darker. The crust should look dry
To test it’s done tap the bottom of the loaf and it should sound hollow and feel fairly rigid. To test throughly, if you have a digital probe thermometer, the bread should be 80C or more
Not done? Put it back for another 10 minutes
Here are some alternative times for your sourdough method:
Bake in a day – you need to be an early bird!
Refresh your starter last thing before going to bed the night before (note the timing change here works as your bread is doing the main ferment in the day when it’s warmer – at night it’s colder and the ferment takes longer)
5.30 am stage 1: mix and autolyse – autolyse for 30 mins only
6.00 am stage 2: gluten development. Only perform one lift, stretch and fold routine
6.20 am stage 3: first ferment – leave, covered, all day
6.00 pm stage 4: shaping
6.15 pm stage 5: second ferment
9.30 pm stage 6: score and bake
Changing your sourdough up after practice
Alternative flours, inclusions and flavours – please see the list on my ‘simple yeasted bread‘ recipe. The advice and suggestions there for swapping out flours, adding extra ingredients, making the bread enriched and for adding flavourings and colourings go just as much for wild yeast sourdough as they do for bread leavened with commercial yeast.
A gallery of just a few of my many wild yeast loaves (these are made using this base recipe, some with slight change-ups, such as the addition of Marmite and cheddar, cider apple vinegar or beetroot):
I’ve shied away from writing a lot of pasta recipes and posts, apart from the What pasta tools do you really need parts one and two. Silly really. I thought when I started this website that I wanted to show that I had a breadth of food skills, not just the pasta and bread that I was most known for. I have been making pasta (and bread) by hand at home for over 30 years now, so I’m fairly experienced and perhaps I’m rather overdue writing more pasta posts and recipes!
I’ve adapted this post to give considerations and alternatives during this time of lockdown.
For me, pasta dough is less “recipe” and more “formula”. There are two basic formulas: one for egg dough and one for eggless (just flour and water). Both these then are adaptable for different flours, different amounts of egg/yolk, mixes of flours and other ingredients.
This post only focuses on an egg dough. This produces an elastic and high protein/gluten pasta. Use this as your basis to get used to making fresh egg pasta dough and then move on to create and experiment with variations. This dough can be stretched very thin while remaining strong, so it’s perfect for pasta ripiena (filled pasta such as like ravioli) or long ribbons and straw shapes (as they won’t tear or break under their own weight). In short, using an egg dough gives you a lot of options for making pasta at home.
An addition on 4th June: I’ve completed a YouTube video on making egg dough to accompany this recipe:
Notes on flour
You ideally* want to use an ultra-refined white (soft) wheat flour for this base egg dough recipe. You can go on to play around with different wheat species and gluten free flours later, but for the purposes of this ‘base formula’ we’re sticking to the fundamental recipe.
There are various methods of grading flour. Flours can be coarse grained (uses the wholegrain including bran from the wheat grain) to those that are very finely milled (only using the endosperm: the whitest, finest part of the grain). You need a finely milled flour for fine pasta – the finer the milling the smoother the pasta. I’ve planned a blog post on flour, which I hope to post soon.
In these times of lockdown and flour and egg shortages you can be adaptable. Yes, as mentioned *ideally you want to produce the best pasta which does call for finely milled flour, but you can make good pasta at home with plain flour or strong white bread flour. Plain flour will make slightly softer, limper pasta but cook it for a little less time. Bread flour is course and a bit chewy, but with a robust sauce you’ll barely notice.
It’s been relatively easy (up to the COVID-19 crisis when all flours now seem difficult to come by) to find flours labelled ‘Tipo 00’ in the UK. Even McDougall’s sells packets of 00 flour in high street supermarkets. See my resources page for links to online suppliers – Shipton Mill, Bakery Bits, Melbury and Appleton, Sous Chef and more all ship Italian flours.
It all depends on the size of eggs you have available but try to use large eggs. Roughly 100g of flour = one main course portion.
100g of flour + 1 large egg
Alternatively, if you have medium or small eggs:
90-92g of flour + 1 medium egg
100g of flour + 1 small egg + 1/2 egg yolk. This ratio makes sense when you are making for two or four people, such as 200g flour + 2 small eggs + 1 egg yolk
No eggs or few eggs? It’s been hard to get eggs hasn’t it? So a few tips on eggs in pasta for lockdown:
If you’ve got one or two eggs left and need to make more than two portions replace the missing eggs with 50g of water, that is for each 100g flour use 50g water instead of an egg. For example, you want to make 5 portions and have 2 eggs, use 500g of flour + 2 eggs + 150g water
I don’t really advise this but you ‘can’ make something with part white flour and part semolina flour with water but so note it’s best to let it air dry before using to stop it going gluey. It’s not that great and if you have some semolina flour its much better to make it wholly with that, which is semola dough (see below1). A way round using plain flour with no egg is to add gluten powder2. I’d advise you to not make just flour and water “pasta” (a famous chef has recently mooted this idea) as it’s really not good and has a tendency to dissolve. I did try making it to see – ugghhh. If you’re in that dire a food situation you’re contemplating plain flour + water dough, I’d say stop and make something else. You’re ruining the experience and taste of homemade pasta and you’ll put yourself off. Better to try and get hold of dried pasta, wait til you can get some eggs or make semola dough1. Or just leave off the pasta making and choose something else for a while.
1If you don’t have eggs the ideal things to do is make a semola/eggless pasta dough, typical of southern Italy and Liguria (I will write this up soon) as semola (fine durum wheat flour) has a high protein content which negates the need for eggs. This pasta is fabulous and is the basis of most dried pasta you can buy.
2Gluten powder can be purchased from online bakery suppliers, such as Bakery Bits (see my resource section).
Notes on amounts
I have to add here that 100g for a person is on the large side of what is a single serving – this is fine if the pasta is the majority part of a main meal or people are very hungry! It’s too much if there are a lot of other ingredients as well as the pasta, say for lasagne or spaghetti with meatballs. It’s certainly too much for a starter, so consider your total amounts. For me, about 90g per person is ideal for a main and about 65g for a starter.
Working the dough
It’s easiest to work with at least a 200g dough. Any less is really a lot of effort and time for a tiny amount of food – better to make more that you need and freeze half, see below3.
Pasta dough should be fairly hard work – you need your upper body strength when working by hand. If it’s too easy, there’s not enough flour in it. Likewise, if it’s really ridiculously tough then there’s not enough egg/liquid. To work the dough, transfer the whole force from your shoulder down through your arm to the heel of your hand into the dough. Be rough with it!
Unless you’ve mis-measured or your large egg is really extra-large, all the egg should mix with all the dough. Have you seen those pasta videos or instructions that say discard the extra flour?! There should be no extra flour: it should all mix in with enough force if you’ve weight and prepared properly.
Resting the dough
After kneading, cover the dough (linen cloth, cling film, beeswax wrap, bag etc) and put somewhere cool. It doesn’t have to be a fridge unless it’s a very hot, dry day. But do over all of it, if there are air gaps you’ll get a crust.
Rest for at least 30 minutes.
Making in advance
3 If you want to make egg pasta dough way in advance, then freeze your dough. This does deteriorate the dough a little (in comparison to using it just-made). I find it defrosts better if you cut up the dough into chunks, rather than freeze the large ball of dough. You can also make your pasta shapes and freeze them.
You can make it the day before and leave in the fridge (as it’s raw egg, then I don’t advice leaving it for longer than 24 hours).
Make by hand and you’ll need to knead for up to 10 minutes. Stick the ingredients in a STURDY food processor and it will take but a couple of minutes. Please note do check your food processor manual before making pasta dough in it – most cannot cope with the density of pasta dough and may break!
For me, I always hand mix apart from a couple of highly coloured vegetables doughs which may stain my table. As you get more used to pasta making and stronger arms it will take less time – I can knead dough in just a few minutes now.
Measure out the right amount of Tip 00 flour and tip onto a table
Make a well in the middle, so it looks like a volcano crater
Tip the eggs into the middle (you can crack them straight in here – I usually do as eggs are reliable nowadays – or you can crack them into a bowl first if you’re worried about adding a gone-off egg)
Use the tips of you fingers with your lead hand, in a circular motion to mix the eggs gradually into the flour, working slowly outwards through the ring of flour – go anti clockwise if you are right handed and clockwise if you are left handed
Steady the ring/crater of flour with your other hand, so that it doesn’t collapse and your egg runs off across the table
Slowly incorporate the flour into the egg by dragging a little in from the ‘crater’ with each hand rotation
Once the flour and egg have been combined, start kneading the dough
The dough will naturally take up the correct amount of flour for the eggs you have – it shouldn’t leave any ‘spare’ flour on your work surface (though don’t panic if you really can’t work it all in. The reason for this may be a small egg or just not being used to working the dough hard enough)
Should the flour be taken up very quickly by the egg (maybe larger than average eggs or you’re in high humidity etc), then flick a little more flour onto the table to continue kneading it in
The dough should be difficult but not be very dry: it should not crack or crumble when kneading. It is tricky, but not impossible to add more liquid to a dry dough. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to wet your hands (flick off the excess) and knead this in. Once tricky thing about this is if you are working on a slightly slippery surface it’s difficult to knead a dough with a wet exterior – working on wood helps this (the grain acts as a grip)
A guide for dryness/stickiness of dough is that if you are going to use a pasta machine to produce sheets (sfoglie) it’s better to have a dryer dough and if you are making handmade shapes (such as orecchiette or trofie) then slightly more pliable is best
Kneading pasta dough is much tougher than kneading bread dough but it s similar technique. To start with, the dough will be very tough to manipulate. If you find it too tricky, try putting the heel of your palm on the dough (as normal) but lean into the dough with the whole weight from your upper body by leaning in to it right from your shoulder, through your arm and down to your hand. As you knead the dough will become more elastic and easier to manipulate
Knead with your palm to spread the dough out away from you, then roll the dough back with your other hand. Turn or flip over the dough and continue
You will have to knead for about 10 minutes as someone new to pasta (although if you’re very strong you’re at an advantage and may be quicker). You’ll get faster as you get more practiced and stronger
The dough is ready when it has a slightly shinier and smoother surface and is more easy to stretch and knead
Another way to tell is by gently making an indentation in the dough surface with a finger – the dough will slowly spring back (though pasta dough never will fill in the indentation completely)
Round the dough off into a ball and cover it – your choice of linen, wrap, a bag or whatever – just ensure that it’s covered or the surface will start to dry out and crack
Any cool-ish, area out of the sun or the top of the fridge will be fine to rest your dough (though if your kitchen is very warm then it really should go in the fridge and, also please note the next point because of raw eggs)
Leave the dough to rest for 30 minutes ideally. It can be left for a day in a fridge (don’t leave it out of the fridge longer than the 30 minutes because of the raw egg involved)
After the dough is rested it’s ready to use in your preferred recipe
If you have a question for me please do leave one below, or a nice comment! Thank you
Instructions and visual steps on how to make egg pasta dough, including tips and help on creating pasta when ingredients are hard to come by
You’ve handmade your beautiful, delicious loaf and although it may seem obvious what to do with it, I’ve written a week’s guide to what to do with your bread to get the most of it and to waste as little as possible (and hopefully nothing at all).
This post was started long before there was any thought of a pandemic that would keep us socially isolating and having to be very frugal with food. I’ve returned to this draft to finish it and ensure it is in keeping with the needs of lockdown cooking.
Day one – eat a slice with a simple, extra quick curried soup – Veggie
This is a great store cupboard soup (although as I’ve chatted about in other recent posts, it sort of depends on how you stock your cupboards – not everyone keeps the same sort of things).
Finely chop a small red onion and fry off in some oil in a saucepan. Empty a tin of chopped (good quality) tomatoes in and add a tablespoon of curry paste (of your choice/preference such as balti, korma, tandoori etc). Stir until warmed through. Taste and add salt and pepper if required or a little more curry paste. Place in a bowl and add a dollop of Greek yogurt or creme fraiche and a handful of chopped coriander leaves (or parsley if you’re not a coriander fan). Eat with a slice of that bread, with or without butter
Day two – sandwiches or a Ploughman’s
My ideal* Ploughman’s platter: extra thick, ‘door stop’ slices of springy bread slathered in good butter, with: a chunk of mature Cheddar and a wedge of Double Gloucester cheeses; sliverskin pickled onions, a strong apple (something like a Russet or James Greave ideally, but a Granny Smith will do); slices of ham or Prosciutto/Bresaola; mouth-pukeringly-strong salt and vinegar crisps; a dollop of homemade tomato chutney; a few grapes; maybe some olives and some watercress. Oh and a pint of IPA, ideally.
*OK, so a Ploughman’s lunch originally would probably have been a chunk of plain bread, and just the cheese and apple. A Ploughman’s is a great frugal meal, not only is it a British/English poor man’s meal it lends itself to using up whatever you have in the fridge or cupboard. Use whatever cheese you have, what cured meats or hams, make your own chutneys to preserve your fruit and veg etc.
Toast thick slices of your bread under a grill (ideally a sourdough but work with what you have!). For each slice, weigh out about 45-50g of grated extra strong or mature cheddar and mash together with a cheese triangle or a tablespoon of cream cheese. Chop up two large slices of peppered salami and a teeny drop of English mustard, though you can omit the mustard if you’re not fond. Mix together and spread onto the toasted slice of bread and grill under just browning at the edges. Obviously scale this up for however many slices you’re making.
Day four – bruschetta – Vegan
Toast mid-thick slices of bread on both sides. Chop up a handful of baby plum tomatoes, sprinkle with a little salt. Place them in a sieve and let this drain over a bowl. Once drained, tip the tomatoes into that bowl. Season the tomatoes with pepper and a little balsamic vinegar and mix it all together. Taste to see if the salt level is OK and add a little more if needed. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on the toast and rub a peeled clove of garlic over the bread. Spoon the tomato mix onto the slices of toast and serve.
Day five – Melba toast – Vegan/Veggie (depending on what’s in the bread you’ve made)
Sounds very posh, but it isn’t and very easy to make… Cut off about 8mm thick slices of bread. Cut off the crusts (and you can square off the toasts if you prefer). Toast the slices on both sides to a mid brown colour: don’t toast them too dark or they will not be easy to cut further without them shattering. While still warm, I lay a chopping board over the slices and weight it down with a bag or two of rice/sugar to flatten the toasts. When cool, retrieve the toasts and lay them flat, with a sharp serrated knife cut down the toast to create two slices – each of these slices will have a toasted side and an ‘internal’ side. I leave my Melba toasts like this but you can then toast this side too if you prefer. Also, some people don’t flatten the bread, I just think it makes them easier to slice. You can then cut them down into triangles or little rectangles/soldiers.
A lovely alternative to crackers or biscuits with cheese or dips, or as a side to soups or tapas. You can use sourdough for this – it entirely depends whether you mind having honey Melba toasts or not. Frankly I like sourdough Melba toast.
Day six – croutons – Vegan
Slice up 3-4 slices of sourdough into 1 cm cubes. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan and test the oil temperature by chucking in a small piece of sourdough – it should start sizzling if it’s hot enough. Tip in all the sourdough pieces and keep them moving as they fry (use two wooden spoons to ‘flip’ the croutons). When the croutons are nicely browned and crisp, take them off the heat and tip them into a bowl lined with a sheet of kitchen paper to catch the excess oil. Remove the kitchen paper and grind a teaspoon each of salt and pepper over them. Now toss the croutons with a teaspoon each of onion granules, garlic granules and sprinkle on a little chopped parsley.
Day seven – breadcrumbs: for savoury dishes such as gratin, escalope, buttermilk coated chicken, making sausages etc – or for sweet treats like treacle tarts (as below)
Other ideas for bread
Romesco sauce – this Spanish sauce is just intense and goes great with tapas, over potatoes or meats
Panzanella – a classic northern Italian ‘salad’ dish
Cinnamon toast – such a breakfast staple – children in particular love it
Birdfood – when all else fails, don’t put it in the bin, at least the birds will eat it. And, despite some publicity saying people shouldn’t feed bread to birds there has been a backlash on this: some birds are in danger of starving where they’ve relied on being fed bread and now that food supply has stopped. Also, unless it’s a) very rubbish bread and b) the only thing they eat it’s better to feed them than not.
Note: if you’ve made your bread yourself, especially bread with inclusions (seeds, nuts cheese, fruit, veggies etc), enriched bread (such as brioche or sticky buns – these are a particularly good option) or a sourdough it’s going to be infinitely better for them than a packaged, sliced loaf with little to nutritional value – that’s one of the reasons why you make your own for yourself isn’t it!?
Break the bread into small pieces, especially when feed smaller birds and when there are chicks. Slightly larger pieces are OK for ducks, geese swans etc. If the bread is very dry, wet it a little. If it’s plain bread ideally add in some other foods too – suet, nuts, seeds, chopped dried fruit etc. even cold scrambled egg, chopped cooked bits of bacon fat, even grated cheese.
All types of bread can be digested by birds, but ideally it should only be just one component in a varied diet. Bread does not contain the necessary protein and fat birds need from their diet, and so it can act as an empty filler. Although bread isn’t harmful to birds, try not to offer it in large quantities, since its nutritional value is relatively low. A bird that is on a diet of predominantly, or only bread, can suffer from serious vitamin deficiencies, or starve.
Food left on the ground overnight can attract rats. Soaked bread is more easily ingested than stale dry bread, and brown bread is better than white. Crumbled bread is suitable in small quantities, but moisten if it is very dry. During the breeding season, make sure bread is crumbled into tiny pieces so that it is safer to eat. Dry chunks of bread will choke baby birds, and a chick on a diet of bread may not develop into a healthy fledgling.
Gnocchi are gorgeous, pillowy-soft little morsels. They’re made with potato and flour so are the carbohydrate part of your dish. You can make them without the egg (then making them vegan) but in my trials I do think they benefit from the addition of the protein for their structure.
For me gnocchi are a great additional to your cooking repertoire, as they are another carbohydrate type for your meal and provide yet another choice in cooking potatoes.
Some say these are pasta. They’re certainly a pasta shape and there are some regional pastas, such as rascatielli from Puglia, that have potato in them but potato in a pasta shape is usually just a proportion in comparison with the flour. In gnocchi the potato is the majority ingredient. Whatever your thinking on this (could this be the next jam or cream on scones first debate!?) they’re certainly an excellent source of carbohydrate and a real change from other methods of cooking potatoes or using pasta in a dish.
During this time of lockdown cooking and being frugal with what you have, it may seem wasteful that you are using additional flour and egg, rather than just cooking baked potatoes. However, it does make the potatoes go much further as not only does it add to the whole ingredients, it also helps the potatoes fluff up a little. Nutritionally, it adds protein and further carbohydrate too. Also consider that baked potatoes are rarely eaten without butter and mash can have butter, milk or cream and/or cheese added to it.
Enough for four people.
It’s difficult to halve this recipe as it has an entire egg in it, but you can make all the gnocchi and then freeze half:
❄️ Freezing tips – Freeze the gnocchi in one layer on a tray, not bunched up together. when frozen they can then be placed in a bag or tub together. Do not thaw – just use them straight from the freezer (if you thaw them first they will go mushy)
Cooking time: Takes about 1 hour 40 minutes, however there’s only about 30 minutes of activity! 1 hr 10 of this is just the potatoes baking in the oven
Serve with any sauce or ragu that you would make for pasta. Goes particularly well with cheese or rich tomato sauces. Also you can just fry them off in herbed oil as a cicchetto (Italian tapa).
A large bowl
Sharp small knife
A couple of clean tea towels
Butter pats, garganelli board or a fork with long tynes (not essential but used to give the ridges)
Pastry cutter, sharp large knife or a sturdy fork (Don’t use a masher)
To cook – either:
Large frying pan (skillet) and olive oil, with a slotted spatula or;
Large saucepan with boiling salted water and a sieve/scoop
Ingredients – gnocchi
1 kg of Maris piper or similar potatoes
1 medium egg
200g flour (ideally 00 type but normal plain flour will do, and you can substitute cornflour or other gluten free flour if you prefer)
5 g Salt
Extra flour for dusting
Turn your oven on to 180C fan / 200C conventional (this is about gas mark 3)
Finely dice the shallots, garlic and celery and fry gently in a little oil in the casserole dish or sauté pan. Put the lid on and leave at a low heat for about 10 minutes
Put the potatoes on a baking tray and put them in the oven. Pierce the skin once or twice on each potato. It is crucial that you do oil the potatoes – you need to dry them out. Set the timer for one hour
After an hour has elapsed since you put the potatoes in the oven, it is now time to get them out: they should be nice and crispy
Cut each potato in half and allow the steam to escape for a few minutes
Scoop the potato flesh out from each skin into a bowl – you might find it helpful to hold them with a tea towel as they’ll still be hot
Once you’ve got all the flesh, chop the potatoes up with a knife or pastry cutter. You can also use a fork. Stay away from using a potato masher as it’s easy to over use and the starch in the potatoes can get over worked and become very glutinous – this will ruin the gnocchi
Add in the flour and the salt and ‘chop’ it into the dough
Add in the egg now, and cut it in to the dough immediately (or you may get pieces of cooked egg)
Bring it all together now with your hands – it should be firm but yielding. If it’s very sticky work in a little more dough (again ‘cut’ the flour into it, rather than kneading)
Dust some flour on the counter and cut off a handful-sized piece of dough. Roll it out into a sausage about 15 mm or roughly the same thickness as your thumb. Doesn’t need to be exact
Cut discs off the roll that are also around 15mm long with a sharp, small knife
Roll these pieces of dough over the flour (on your board) as you cut them to coat them a little. Repeat with all of the potato dough until you have made gnocchi with all of it
You can now leave them as they are (see note below about placing them apart) or, if you have a garganelli board or a butter pat, you can roll the gnocchi down it to create ridges. You can also roll them down the tunes of a fork. Ridging the gnocchi does take extra time and your gnocchi will be fine plain, the ridges are there to help hold on to the sauce
To ridge a gnocco, place it on the board and place your fingers on top of it, about where your top knuckle is. Drag the gnocco towards you down the board with medium pressure until it reaches your fingertips. It will have rolled along, getting marked with the ridges
When you have made each gnocco place it down on a clean tea towel or a lightly floured board and try not to let the gnocchi touch each other as you continue to use all the dougCooking
I’m going to instruct you in both ways I cook my gnocchi – you can chose to fry/sauté them or boil them.
Frying makes them slightly crispier and you can cook them in advance and keep them warm while you cook the sauce.
Boiling is more typical, it’s quicker and results in fluffy gnocchi but your sauce needs to be ready when your gnocchi are
Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large frying pan (skillet). Place batches of the gnocchi in the oil, gently and try to make sure they don’t stick together (separate any that are stuck with your spatula)
Toss or flip the gnocchi in the oil until lightly browned and transfer to an oven proof dish. Keep warm in the oven until time to use
Bring salted water in your largest saucepan to the boil. You may need to do this in two or three batches so you can get the gnocchi out quick enough before they go mushy
Let the gnocchi roll around in the boiling water for a couple of minutes: they don’t take long. The gnocchi will have sunk to the bottom when you first put them in: when they are ready they pop up to the surface and float (self timing food: what’s not to love!)
Of course, this cake only is a store cupboard staple if you actually have the ingredients stashed in your kitchen somewhere…
That said, I bet many people will have a rogue tin of pineapple and are more likely to have some olive oil to hand than butter, which is much more widely used in cake baking.
During these crazy times of lockdown baking, many people are finding it difficult to get hold of eggs and flour, which are non-negotiable for this recipe, so bookmark and come back to this recipe once the stocks replenish in the supermarket (and they will soon of course). However, the tin of pineapple could actually be a tin of peaches or orange segments or grapefruit… quite easily. The use of olive oil not only makes a lovely cake, it’s better for your heart and it’s been easier to get hold of olive oil more so than butter.
Normally a pineapple upside down cake is a “marvel” of 1970s bake presentation, with glace cherries in between whole rings of pineapple. Let’s be honest your mum or grandmother would probably have used tinned pineapple anyway.
It’s also a recipe that uses all that’s in the tin – don’t throw away the sugary-juice as that’s reduced down as a glaze.
20cm x 20cm square cake tin
Sieve or colander
Hand held electric whisk, stand mixer or balloon whisk
Knife, chopping board, scales, large spoon
Baking paper and a little oil/butter/margarine to line the tin
Tin of pineapple pieces/chunks/rings, c 540g
4 medium eggs (or 3 large eggs)
195g soft brown or caster sugar
275g plain flour
195g olive oil – I used Filippo Berio Mild & Light for this
2 teaspoons baking powder
Prepare your cake tin by lining it with the baking paper (it’s easier to ‘stick’ if you grease the tin first with a little oil/buter/margerine)
Turn your oven on to 180C fan oven / 200C conventional oven
Drain the can of pineapple over your saucepan to catch the syrup
Place roughly 75% of the pineapple in the bottom of the cake tin, arranging it as you wish
Dice the remaining pineapple into small pieces
Whisk the oil and sugar together first in the bowl until it lightens a little in colour
Add the flour, baking powder and eggs and mix thoroughly
Finally add in the reserved chopped pineapple and stir this in gently, rather than vigorous whisking
Pour into the cake tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 45-50 minutes
Test the middle of the cake with a skewer: if it comes out clean it is baked, if there is a little wet cake mix still on it continue to bake for another 4-5 mins and test again
Leave the cake to cool in the tin
Now reduce the pineapple syrup by heating it over a medium-high flame. It should bubble a little but not be fully boiling on the heat (or it will brown). Reduce down until it is the consistency of a runny honey
Invert your cake out onto a plate or serving dish
Drizzle the warm syrup over the cake
You can eat while still fairly warm, or leave to cool fully. This is also lovely as a dessert with custard, cream or ice cream
Will last up to three days if kept in a lidded container
While the world takes a necessary step back, self-electing to or being required to spend more time at home now is a good time to get into baking. Not only because of all that, but while the shelves empty and supply chains work to catch up, it may be easier to find raw ingredients and make your own.
By starting to bake or improving your existing knowledge, you get so much back: new skills, ability to feed yourself and others, make enough to share with the community perhaps, ensuring what you eat is wholesome and nutritious (or a welcome but balanced treat) and to fill a gap in your store cupboard yourself.
I am going to post some back to basic recipes and include some alterations that you can think about to change the recipe yourself. This will help you make use of what you have, reduce waste and create variety. Where I can, I will supplement with videos – and there are three that accompany this post: kneading, knocking back and shaping.
For all of these back to basics recipes, I’m going to use the simplest equipment where possible as those who are starting probably won’t have the stand mixers, food processors etc. However, I will indicate where you can cut time by using this equipment if you have it.
First up, the simplest bread.
At the bottom of the recipe are a few ideas how to add different things to your bread – mainly so that you can use up what you have in the house to ensure you’re not wasting food and at the same time learn to make changes in flavour and shape to your loaf provide variety
If you don’t have any yeast – try my recipe for bacon and shallot soda bread. You only need bicarbonate of soda rather than dried yeast. This recipe says wholemeal spelt, but you can completely substitute this for strong white bread flour.
Makes one medium-sized loaf.
Leaving the mix for 10 minutes before you start kneading will give you a head start and make kneading easier, as the gluten will start forming during this ‘autolyse’ process.
To learn more about yeast and the bread rising process, please read my post on how yeast works
Scraper – a flexible or metal bench scraper is a very useful bread tool. If you don’t have one a large knife for cutting and a flexible spatula for the bowl will suffice
Baking stone or a large, thick baking sheet
Linen tea towel
Flat (no lip) baking tray or ‘peel’ (baker’s shovel)
Extra strong white bread flour – 400g
Water – 280ml (only just tepid)
Oil (rapeseed or non-virgin olive oil – see note below) – 1 tablespoon
Fine salt 1 teaspoon
Fast action dried yeast – 1 teaspoon
Extra flour for dusting and cleaning hands
Note: I’ve suggested not using extra virgin olive oil here because it is expensive and is best saved for dressings etc, but you can use it if you want. Also, both these are mildly flavoured but not totally devoid of flavour. Ultimately, use what you have in your cupboard.
Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl – I prefer to use a table knife for this process, though you may like to use fingers, a flexible dough scraper or a dough hook on your machine
It will look like a very rough, sticky mess. It’s supposed to
Cover it with the clean tea towel
Leave it for ten minutes
Tip out on to a clean surface and use your dough scraper or fingers to get all of the residue out. Have your extra flour and scraper handy
Knead the dough until the surface becomes silky and smooth – this will be about 10 – 12 minutes:
Kneading: lightly hold on to the dough with one hand, placing the heel of your other hand on the opposite side of the dough (furthest away from you) and pushing it away from you to stretch it. Roll it back up, turn it and knead again. Swap hands if you get tired
If – and only if – the dough is far to sticky to work with, dust a little flour on to the table. Otherwise you should persevere with kneading the dough without adding any more flour (this actually will change the ratio of flour to liquid and other ingredients so it’s best not to dust if you can)
It should eventually start to come together without the flour and you can use your scraper from time to time to ensure all the dough is getting kneaded by scraping along the surface
When the dough starts to come together, dust the bowl with flour to prevent it sticking (if you have not managed to take the dough out without leaving a lot behind, you may want to use a clean bowl)
Roll the dough up into a dome shape and place in the floured bowl (no matter which way up yet)
Cover the bowl either with the tea towel/cloth or cling film (or if you have one, a cheapo shower cap is ace for this)
Leave to rise somewhere that isn’t cold until the dough looks like it’s about twice the height it was before. This could be anywhere from 50 minutes to three hours depending on how cold a space you have
Lightly flour the counter you’ll be working on
Tip out the risen dough gently into the middle of the flour on the counter and press down gently with your finger tips or your knuckles (I prefer this) all over to ‘knock back’ the dough (this is the term for popping the large air bubbles that have built up). Don’t be too vigorous – a lot of issues with bread are when the knocking back is too fierce: just enough to break the largest bubbles
Fold the dough over on itself from one side to the middle, rotate it, and repeat all the way round
Pinch the loose edges together in the middle to get them to ‘stick’
You’re aiming to make the dome (on the underside) of the loaf tense and smooth without tearing it. By folding over towards the centre you create a tension in the surface of the loaf – it should look smooth and taut – add a few more tucks in if you think it needs it
The result should be a circle or an oval – either shape is pleasing for a loaf
Liberally flour your tea towel (or prepare your banneton with enough flour)
Place the shaped dough with the seam side down in the middle of the cloth. Push the sides of the cloth up to gather it around the sides of the bread in order to support the shape and stop the bread spreading (though if you have successfully given the surface of the loaf enough tension it should hold, but this will still help)
[If using a banneton, place in with the seam side facing upwards]
Leave for the second proof – roughly an hour depending on the temperature. It will be ready when and it springs back into shape if you press it gently with the pad of a finger
Just before your loaf looks ready, start to heat your oven to 220C fan (230C conventional oven)
Dust your baking tray or stone with a little flour and pop it in the bottom of your oven. Make sure your oven shelves are far apart or your loaf will hit them as it rises!
When the bread and the oven are ready, carefully scoop up the loaf with your peel or thin baking sheet [or tip out from the banneton to this sheet]
[At this point you can slash the loaf if you want with a clean craft knife or baker’s grignette. I’d suggest if you’re nervous about slashing but do want to try, then just make a giant X score or a # shape (as in the image at the top of this page) – this will help you understand how the bread grows and rises in the oven. You’ll see the movement and rise, so you can try something more adventurous next time]
Transfer the loaf to the oven and onto the baking stone/tray
Mist the oven or pour a little water into a small tray at the bottom of the oven
Shut the door and set the timer for 10 minutes
After 10 minutes, turn the temperature down to 190C fan (200C conventional oven) and bake for another 25 minutes
The bread should be nicely dark (though not burnt) where the slashes or cracks have occurred
Test the loaf’s ‘doneness’ by tapping the bottom of it – it should sound hollow
Leave to cool on a wire rack or something else that will allow airflow to the bottom of the loaf or the evaporated moisture that comes off a new loaf will gather and cause a soggy bottom (yes, this problem isn’t just confined to pastry!)
Some ideas how to change up your loaf, make it more interesting and use up what you have in the house
Replace all or part of the 280g water with other liquids. Try:
Beer (up to 100% replacement)
Cider or apple juice (up to 100% replacement)
Milk (up to 100% replacement)
Veg juices (usually best about 30-50% replacement, but can be up to 100%)
Fruit juices (usually best to about 30-50% replacement)
Add in extra ingredients at the second kneading/knock back stage:
Cheese and onion (fry the onion off) – a handful of each
Tomatoes, especially cherry. Remove the pips and juice so you’re not making the bread too watery
Nuts, a handful of nuts makes excellent bread. Be careful to remove all the shell (to save your teeth). Great source of added protein
Chopped up cooked meats, such as salame, ham, bacon, leftover pulled pork
A tablespoon of pesto
Whatever cheeses you have left, even a mix – chop into small cubes so they oozed and melt rather than grate
Add in ingredients during the mixing stage (smaller ingredients are easier to incorporate at this stage):
Seeds. Just about any edible seeds go great in bread or use a mix of seeds. Instead of adding them here you can also roll your bread in them after shaping to get a seeded crust
Herbs – any that you like or have available. Basil, rosemary, parsley, chives, oregano, fennel are all particularly good
Butter or oil – this makes the bread a little more elastic and a bit richer. For this size loaf add up to 15g butter or 1 1/2 tablespoons oil
Rolled oats (porridge oats), malted wheat or spelt flakes
A spoonful of marmite, honey, bovril etc is awesome in a loaf
Change some of your flour. Some flour types requires a different ratio of other ingredients (more/less water, additional proteins and gluten) so steer clear of total replacement until you’ve read up or practiced with part substitutions.
I’d suggest ideally replace 100-200g of the strong white bread flour with one of the following if you have it:
Making your bread look ‘nicer’…
If you want, once you’ve made a simple round loaf or two, you can start to experiment with making it look different.
Simple plait – after the knocking back stage, divide the dough into three equal parts. Roll these into log shapes and do a simple plait
Scoring – once the loaf is shaped and about to go into the oven, try slashing a pattern in it (I know I’ve mentioned a cross above). Simple ideas are some criss-cross hatches, or three deep slashes. See my post on 9 top tips on artful bread scoring to increase your repertoire
Cover the top of the loaf – roll the loaf in some seeds or spray the top with a little water after shaping and sprinkle on some poppy seeds, linseeds, flax seeds, extra rock salt and pepper, chopped dried seaweed, herbs etc or
‘Paint’ the top of your loaf with diluted marmite, vegemite or bovril for a tastier, darker crust
See my post on different bread shapes – you might like to try some of the simpler ones to start with or challenge yourself to some of the very complex (there’s one of my videos on there showing a complex plait)
Make it into rolls. Don’t change the recipe, but after knocking back divide the dough into 6, 8 or 9 pieces (depending how small you want your rolls) and shape each piece of dough into a ball. Place these balls of dough about 2 cm apart, so they just touch when they rise in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes less – so 25 minutes in total (instead of 35). Still do the same technique with the oven, that is bake on high for 10 minutes before turning down.
Try the next-step-up recipes. Some of my other bread recipes which move on from a simple loaf include:
These are my gorgeous, tangy flatbreads but they do take some commitment as they are fully sourdough, with a pre-ferment stage.
I’ve been making sourdough since 2001… I was already making bread by hand for many, many years before this, but started as my twin baby sons began weaning. I was a little obsessed with making everything as naturally as possible for them; as they had been very premature I was trying to do my best nutritionally. I don’t often post sourdough recipes, despite how long I’ve been making bread with wild yeast starters. This is because there are plenty of resources out there and there are a few ‘formulas’ for sourdough that can be learnt and used repeatedly and then adapted at home, why add another to confuse people!? Where I have added a sourdough recipe it’s typically for something very unusual that I’ve started from scratch to create the end result I wanted, such as the sourdough pan d’oro I posted about four years ago. There is also my article on looking after and maintaining your starter: Sourdough for starters (or growing your own pet yeast) (which was written in early 2016).
What’s in a name?
If you are scratching your head at all the terms used for the different stages in sourdough making, don’t worry as you’re not alone! There are various terms for the different stages, yet most names appear interchangeable and it’s not clear if there is indeed any differentiation.
For instance, the wild yeast starter – that bubbling mix produced by nurturing just flour and water and naturally occurring yeast present in the air and the flour – has many names. It can be referred to as a starter, mother, chief, chef, head or leaven (and there’s possibly more), though starter and mother seem to be most common.
When making a sourdough bread, it’s typical to take part of that starter and, mixing it with a little flour and water, create an early fermentation stage before you go on to add the remaining full ingredients to make the bread dough ‘proper’ and let it ferment and prove (the wild yeast takes longer to make the bread rise and it’s also this length of time which creates the sour taste). See my article on The science of bread making: how yeast works.
This particular stage has confusing names – is it a biga, a sponge, a pre-ferment, a poolish, a pouliche? Have you come across any other terms in a recipe? They all mean this particular stage and are roughly interchangeable. Some places cite that a biga is firmer (ie with less liquid) than a poolish, but I’ve also read recipes where the hydration for a biga is quite wet and some dry for a poolish. Confuzzled? I’m not surprised.
Modernist Cuisine looked into this and found too that there “seemed to be no universally accepted hydration levels for each variety”. It conducted some experiments about whether it made a difference to have a wetter or dryer pre-ferment stage and concluded it really makes no difference – or any difference was very subtle. Please read the interesting Modernist Cuisine article “Are biga, Poolish and Sponge Interchangeable” here.
An easy conclusion to make then, is that these names are regional – certainly, biga is Italian and poolish is a French nod to immigrant Polish bakers, but again this isn’t a cut and dried answer. Before commercial yeast became available, it appears in the UK that this stage was ‘sponge’ (most commonly) but confusingly now a sponge seems to generally refer to this stage but only when commercial yeast (blocks of live yeast or dried yeast) is used, not a wild yeast starter.
I think then, what does it matter what it’s called? I don’t name my stages when I’m making my sourdough breads at home – I just get on with it the process of bread making. I’ve used “biga” here just because this recipe owes more to Italian cuisine through the use of olive oil and the accompaniments I ended up serving it with. Follow any sourdough recipe, enjoy the process and the delicious results and don’t waste any thinking time on what’s in a name in that particular recipe 🙂
To make this within a 24 hour period/same day in order to eat fresh with an evening meal, my suggested timings are:
Mix the biga about 6:00 [or do this the night before, leaving it in the fridge until the next stage]
Mix the dough ingredients into the biga and autolyze at 11:00 and then knead
Leave to ferment and rise until 17:00
At 17:00, divide and roll out the dough into flatbread rounds
At 18:00 fry off the flatbreads
Medium bowl (for the biga) plus something to cover it with (a shower cap, cling film or tea towel etc)
Large bowl and a cover
A dough hook or large fork if you want to use one (or just your hands)
A bench scraper or heavy knife
Frying pan or cast iron skillet
Spatula or tongs for turning the flatbreads whilst cooking
For the biga:
70g of a lively sourdough mother/starter
70g strong white bread flour
70g lukewarm water
Mix together the starter, flour and water
Cover and leave for about five hours or overnight in the fridge
For the dough (results in 75% hydration):
220g strong white bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
165g warm water
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
Extra olive oil for the bowl and frying
Handful of fresh parsley (or mixed herbs), finely chopped
Mix and autolyze for 20 minutes
Knead for 10 minutes – it is a wet dough but will come together eventually. Only add a little more flour to your hands (not the table) if you are absolutely sure you need to
Smooth the dough into a ball using your hands and a bench scraper
Wipe a little olive oil into your bowl before placing your dough in and cover the bowl
Rest for four to five hours somewhere warm, but not very warm (flatbreads don’t need to rise that much so the dough does not need to be rested fully overnight). Alternatively if you want a very sour sourdough, leave up to eight hours
Take the dough and chop into eight equal pieces
Flour the surface you’re working on and your rolling pin
Take one of the pieces of dough and start to roll out, flipping it over as you need to
The dough will be able to be rolled out to about 16-18cm in diameter
When it’s rolled out, sprinkle over some of the chopped herbs, flip it over and sprinkle more on the other side. Pat down or lightly roll
Move this dough to the side (on a floured area, on a linen cloth/couche or a piece of greaseproof paper) and finish rolling out the other seven pieces of dough
Once they’re rolled out you can chill in the fridge, but you can cook these immediately
Heat some olive oil in a large frying or griddle pan over a medium to high heat
Once hot, lift up a flatbread carefully and place in the pan
It will sizzle – keeping an eye on it, leave it for about four to five minutes on one side. It will bubble up immensely. Lift up an edge and see if the flatbread has browned nicely – if so, flip over
Cook the flatbread for four to five minutes on the other side and then transfer to a plate or board and cover with a clean tea towel to keep warm (alternatively pop on a plate in a very low oven)
Cook the remaining flatbreads as above
They’re best eaten warm and soft, but get a nice crunch to them when they are fully cold
If you want to use them as wraps after they have cooled, say the day after, just pop them in a microwave for a few seconds or warm up in a oven and they’ll soften again
I would welcome your comments, feedback and likes on this recipe (as with all my recipes). Did you make it? What did you pair it with? Did you use different herbs? Did the photography help you? Have you a question in regards to the recipe?