What pasta tools do you need [part 2]

[Updated May 2019 with additional images]

This is the follow-up post to ‘What pasta equipment do you really need? part one‘. That looked at the basics to get you started (and they are very ‘basic’ basics!).

Everything you see I owe to spaghetti – Sofia Loren

This focuses on what I think you may want to start considering or using if you’ve had a few goes at making something plain, like lasagna sheets, wide papperdelle or a simple shape like orecchiette.

There are two sections in this part of the post – the first is what will make your pasta making much easier (moving on from hands, knives, rolling pin etc). Many of these gadgets are inexpensive, though I have included a more expensive pasta machine here as it made such a difference to me I felt it needed to be in this section.

Then, I look at everything else – the stuff you don’t really need but is either fun, a nice addition to a burgeoning hobby or a really aspirational purchase for a serious pasta making addiction.

I’ve added a 🍝 pasta emoji next to all those I’ve used or own. Also I’ve given a rough idea on expense, from £ meaning very cheap (at just a few quid) to ££££ prohibitively (ie getting to professional equipment) expensive.

A very small selection of my pasta equipment, some hand made, some bought new, some bought second hand
A very small selection of my pasta equipment, some hand made, some bought new, some bought second hand
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Next steps – what really will help if you continue to make pasta

A large bowl (possibly) 🍝 £-££

Hmm – this is a next step dependent on how you intend to mix pasta and how you are to measure your ingredients… Some wouldn’t want to be without a bowl, while others would never miss one.

You can just mound up the flour and eggs on your work surface and do away with even a bowl and many people prefer to do it this way. I’m 50:50 and don’t mind either. However, if I can spread out onto my dining room them I’ll just mix it all on the table, but if the table is full and I have to work in my cramped kitchen I’ll do it in a bowl (I am a messy cow and would coat the kitchen with semola and egg otherwise).

Whether you like working straight on the table or not, it’s possible that you will need a bowl to measure out the weight of the ingredients – so this could be classed as a basic for you, unless you have scales with an integral bowl. It’s such a fundamental all-round kitchen requirement I suspect you’ll have more than one in your cupboards already if you use it for pasta or not.

A pastry brush 🍝 £

For wetting the edges of pasta to seal ravioli etc. It may be a simple item, but I’ve added it here rather than in basics as you can just use your finger tips! I actually use children’s paintbrushes (the flat ones, not the round ones) as I find they moult their bristles less and they’re considerably cheaper. And, on a totally flippant note they’re usually brightly coloured!

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Cheap but invaluable: a pastry brush

A dough scraper/cutter (also sometimes called a bench scraper) 🍝 £

Not an essential, but a very useful piece of kit. You can use a knife but you may end up ruining your blade or making large cuts in your work surface. I use my dough scrapers for lots of things and not just pasta. Yes, I did say ‘scrapers’: I have an antique one, a strong steel one and about three plastic ones (some are curved down one side for bowl emptying). The plastic ones are very cheap indeed. Bring the dough together, scrape it out of the bowl or processor and cut the pasta instead of a knife with your scraper. They’re invaluable for bread doughs too, scraping your tabletops clean after baking a mess and the plastic ones make great car windscreen ice scrapers!

Fine semolina (semola) – or even fine polenta 🍝 £

Ok, so it’s an ingredient and not a piece of equipment, but I’m listing it here for dusting the pasta instead of flour. Pasta dough just sticks less when tossed in semolina (make sure it’s the fine stuff) and if you do have a machine it won’t stick to the metal if you dust effectively with it. It is now not difficult to find either in supermarkets, health food stores and asian supermarkets. I mean, blimey, our local ASDA now stocks it. Look for the fine stuff, not coarse. You can, at a pinch, also use fine polenta for dusting, but don’t make your pasta with it.

A pasta rolling/cutting pin 🍝 ££

You can get these fairly cheaply and range from linguini to quite wide cutting strips. Choose a mid-sized one if you’re only going to buy one. Once you’ve rolled out your pasta to the correct thickness you just roll it over and it produces uniform strips. There is a knack to it, but you’ll get it and often you’ll need to peel the strips off the roller or give them a helping hand to separate them fully (which can get a bit annoying).

You can also get ones for ravioli making. I’ve never used one of these so I can’t vouch for how effective they are.

This is a cheap step up before you commit to a machine. But they do become defunct for you once you have a machine or an alternative way of cutting (actually you may prefer to go back to simple folding and cutting…). Once this happens, you could pass it on to someone you know who is just starting to try pasta making themselves 🙂

Skewers and small dowel rods🍝 £

Yes, really! A fist full of skewers is useful for a lot of things, not just spiedini, kebabs or making mini teepee huts for your kids’ action figures. Wood or metal, it doesn’t matter.

In pasta making, using a skewer will help you make busiate/fusilli and dowel rods (which you can buy in a DIY store – you don’t have to pay the extra for “pasta” dowels, or you can use a cleaned pencil!) will help with items like sagne torte, in fact you can’t make any of these without a skewer, dowel or alternative.

A drying/airing rack 🍝 ££

So much easier than all the balancing tricks I mentioned in part one. Although the makeshift stuff works, when I actually splurged on an airing rack I did think to myself why didn’t I do this sooner. Not least because it keeps all the pasta hanging in one area rather than spread all over my kitchen/dining room.

You can buy a wood frame one fairly easily (or make one yourself I suspect). I saved for a posh, design-led thing that I’d been coveting. OK, it’s a bit OTT but it’s a thing of beauty and so well designed – a true product of “form follows function” (if you’ve trained as a designer, architect or engineer you’ll be well versed with this Louis Sullivan quote).

It makes me happy when I use it – the opening twist action is a joy (yes, I am that nerdy). Also, if you shop around you can get something for a low price now – mine was very reasonable indeed, as I got it from an online retailer in a sale rather than the manufacturer’s site.

Screenshot-2018-5-8 Lynn Clark ( inksugarspice) • Instagram photos and videos.png

A pasta machine 🍝 £££ (for a ‘decent’ one though some are cheaper)

Oh boy, this was a revelation and now I have one I love using my machine (although I do still stretch and roll out pasta by hand some of the time).

It is much easier and less exhausting to make pasta with a machine (I’m talking about the manual ones here that clamp to your table and you turn a handle, not electric models).

However, what I did find out before I bought one was that any lightweight or cheap ones out there are probably not worth the money if you make fresh pasta often. There are plenty of reviews to suggest this. I’m glad I took that advice and didn’t succumb to buying cheap just to get one sooner. Get a robust, decent make and I’m sure it will last a lifetime of kitchen abuse – mine still looks a ‘minter’ still. The research I did before I bought one churned up two marques as the most reliable and seemingly well loved: Marcato and Imperia. Neither brands’ main models are cheap (though both have cheap entry level models) but they do appear to represent value for money and quality.

I have seen other makes but there are few reviews, poor reviews or nothing online about those. I eventually bought a Marcato Atlas 150 Wellness which came with cutters for tagliolini and fettucini (you can make these out – just – in the photo below). It’s just personal preference, and I suspect I’d have been equally happy with an Imperia (though I have used one and I think the roller setting action is preferable on a Marcato). Each machine comes in different widths for larger sheets of dough if you prefer (or are making an industrial-sized amount) so make sure you buy the size you need – 150mm wide appeared to be a useful home size.

Lynn Clark Ink Sugar Spice - using a Marcato pasta machine
Me with my Marcato Atlas 150 Wellness

You can buy these machines with an electric motor (which is detachable and they do come with a spare manual crank handle anyway) or actually later purchase the motor unit separately and retro fit it.

Cookie cutters 🍝 £

cutRavioli

A couple of round cookie cutters (one slightly smaller than the other) will allow you to make very good ravioli. Cut out the pasta with the larger one, wet one side to help it stick and then tamp down round the filled ravioli with the top (rimmed edge, not the sharp edge) of the smaller one to seal it. Fluted or plain is up to you.

Flour shaker 🍝 £

I find a flour shaker filled with fine semola invaluable – seems ridiculous that it’s easier than just flinging some flour with your hands, but it delivers just the right amount to dust pasta with.

Long handled scoop colander or wire sieve 🍝 £

If you make ravioli or other filled pasta you can’t just tip them out into a sieve or colander (called a scolapasta in Italian) over the sink – unless you’re exceptionally careful. Better to have a gentler alternative or your hard work may rip and ruin.

I think these are so helpful to scoop out the ravioli gently, drain off the water over the pan and then transfer. You need a long handled scoop/sieve so you don’t hurt yourself over the heat and you can ‘dig down’ into the water to gently raise the pasta out. The alternative to this is to have a proper pasta colander that fits inside your saucepan before you start to cook the pasta – I’ve listed on of these in ‘added extras’ below.

However, a scoop colander is pretty cheap. I recently got myself a triangular-shape heat resistant plastic scoop which is just perfect for the job. Prior to that I used a traditional Chinese wire skimmer. These are easily and inexpensively found in Asian supermarkets and do the job – although the wire can make an indent or even cause a tear if the weight of the pasta is quite high or you’re rushing! (That’ll be me then.) The solution to this is only scoop out a small number at a time and be more careful/gentle than I am.

Pasta server 🍝 £

A slotted spoon with ‘fingers’ radiating from the centre – or little dowels in the case of wooden ones. This goes hand in hand with buying a long handled scoop/sieve, as what one won’t pick up out of your saucepan the other will. I’d suggest having one of each. Best for ribbon pasta, like spaghetti or linguini. The fingers/dowels grip the pasta ribbons to stop them slipping off the spoon.

The added extras – what you can buy but don’t *really* need (but might be fun)

Ravioli cutters 🍝 ££

These come in the typical round and square shapes but also I’ve seen stars and hearts. You don’t need these – you can use the cookie cutters mentioned above. However these cut, give a fluted edge and seal all in one press.

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Making ravioli with a ravioli cutter

Garganelli/gnocchi board, garganelli comb (pettine), rosilli board 🍝or a household alternative 🍝 0-£-££

A garganelli board is a grooved paddle which sometimes comes with a little mini rolling pin or stick. Anything you make on this gets a nice set of grooves down it. It’s an identical ridge pattern to butter pats, if you’ve ever made your own butter, and you can actually use these if you already have some.

A no-cost alternative to get your groove on for gnocchi or semolina-and-water pasta is to use the tynes of a fork or a roll over a wooden honey dripper (one that’s cylindrical in profile rather than oval). – or experiment with other textures from your kitchen (that can be washed) such as the back of a grater or a sushi mat.

A garganelli board is used for a few things:

  • it joins squares (or other cut flat shapes) of pasta together into tubes by rolling the pasta down the board with the stick, sealing the ends together
  • you can press bits of pasta down it with your thumb or knife edge to create shapes like gnochetti
  • make gnocchi with the board – it works for this as well as for pasta
Garganelli board, plus a traditional wicker basket used to make cavatelli etc - Ink Sugar Spice
Garganelli board (and a traditional wicker basket) used to make ridges on pasta

A garganelli comb or pettine (Italian for comb) is used the same way but is a much different construction. Rather than cut or chiselled grooves, the grooves are made by thin slats of wood bound together.

It’s supposed to have been born out of some quick thinking by a cook in a prestigious Cardinal’s household in 1725, after extra guests arrived to dinner (in some versions of the story the kitchen cat ate the intended filling!). She had lots of pasta squares cut for cappelletti and needed them to go further, feeding more people than that amount would normally. She borrowed a comb from the estate’s weaving room and a twig, and garganelli were born. I love this story – I hope it’s true, though I’m a bit sceptical that it really made the pasta feed more people! There are many resources explaining this story, here’s one on the L’Italo-Americano blog.

A rosilli board is another alternative – where skewers or dowels are nailed, glued or slotted into to a piece of wood, tightly pack together. The creates concave ridges – personally I like this form of fluted board the least of all, but it is easy to reporduce as it’s so simple.

I have made my own pettini (this is just one of them) to traditional methods (ie full slats):

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Cavarola board 🍝 or malloreddus basket 🍝 which are £££ to purchase and difficult to source outside of Italy

Another similar item is a cavarola board, which is traditionally essential for cavatelli pasta shapes. This is a hand-carved board with patterns (typically a herringbone pattern) on, that emboss the pasta shapes as you press them along it – in the same manner as you’d use the garganelli board. These hail from the southern regions of Italy and are very expensive and hard to get hold of. The traditional ones are passed down through families and usually around the size of a cutting board, often with a handle and additional decoration.

Again, I had to have a go and have made some for myself, this one below was my first attempt (where I stuck with the traditional pattern) but I have made several more since of different sizes, in different woods and with some more modern patterns on to vary my pasta (another of my boards is shown the the second image further below):

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The first cavarola board I carved myself. Plus the cavatelli with the embossed pattern it produces

A woven basket is used to produce pasta shapes called Malloreddus on Sardegna. In other parts of Italy these shapes (which are very similar to cavatelli) are sometimes called ‘gnochetti sardi’ as are shaped like little potato gnocchi (so: gnochetti) and come from Sardegna (so: ‘Sardi’). The traditional shallow baskets are woven from reeds or wicker, and this basket making is dying out as a skill. It’s also now common for these to be made on a specially grooved piece of glass called a ciuliri or you can improvise with a wicker place mat. Alternatively use a garganelli board or pettine. Malloreddus in the local dialect means ‘fat little bulls’ or ‘fat calves’.

Fluted wheel 🍝 £

Great for making wavy-edged pasta, remember to use a rule or something straight as a guide to get a good straight line. Or alternatively, let loose with wild abandon go wavy edged freeform!

Additional add-ons for pasta machines ££-£££

Your Marcato or Imperia can use interchangeable pasta cutting heads (I do not know if other makes have these). Your machine will probably come with cutters that produce two widths of straight pasta (my Marcato is fettucini at 6.5mm and tagliolini at 1.5mm) but you can buy a number of different attachments to swap out these for such as spaghetti, bigoli, ravioli cutters and mafaldine (the wavy-edge sheets).

Ravioli moulds 🍝 ££

Little trays with multi indentations that help you produced uniform ravioli quickly. You lay a pasta sheet on, press in fill with meat or veg filling and then lay another sheet of pasta on top, then roll over with a rolling pin. This simultaneously seals and separates the ravioli. These come in various sizes to make big or little ravioli and in circles or squares.

There are other types (though the ones mentioned above seem more prevalent and more traditional) which are more ‘snap shut’ contraptions. You lay over the pasta sheet, fill, lay over a top pasta sheet and close. This closing action seals and cuts.

*Food processor 🍝 £££-££££ (I’ve asterixed this as I think it’s debatable that it should be on the list of pasta equipment)

It would be a bit OTT to suggest buying a food processor just for pasta dough, but if you own one for all your cooking then you can bring your dough together with it, but it is unlikely* that you will be able to “knead” with it (see the note below).

I have a food processor and the only time I use it to bring together the raw ingredients in it is if I’m making a coloured dough with something that will stain my hands – or I have used to processor to whizz up veggies for colouring (such as beetroot), after which I just add in the eggs and flour on top for a quick whizz-up.

(A caveat to this, I now have carpal tunnel syndrome. I have had one hand operation so far and did start using my machine while this hand was healing post-op until it recovered enough. So if your machine can cope (see note below), it can be used to make fresh pasta if you have this or any other issues with your hand such as rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis for example).

Unless you have a machine that specifies in the manual that it will knead pasta dough, you MUST take out the dough as soon as it is brought together. Few machines are capable of this, so please refer to the documentation or contact the manufacturer to check. (I have a Kenwood and this can handle the dough, but I did email the support line to check before trying and even then although they were adamant it would work they still suggested I start with a small amount to test).

If your machine can’t be used to knead, you can at least bring the dough ‘together’: that is, add in your water, eggs (if using) and flour and anything else and whizz them up until they just come together in a ball. Stop there and take out the dough.

If your machine does not specify it can knead dough, you could break your expensive equipment if you try to do it, so please check!

The process of kneading brings the ingredients together so it almost ‘self cleans’ the worktop, picking up every scrap of egg, water and flour as you work. If you are worried about making a mess (or colouring your hands, say when using beetroot or turmeric), mix your ingredients in a normal bowl first by hand – much easier to clean one simple bowl than a raft of food processor accessories.

An additional note: it’s also more difficult to tell the perfect dough consistency when adding egg, liquid or other ingredients to your flours in a machine than when mixing by hand. As you become accustomed to working with pasta dough you start to assess the consistency as you work it with your fingertips and the resistance of the dough in your hands: you’ll get used to judging the correct consistency by feel. Something you’ll miss if mixing in a machine.

A pasta attachment for your stand mixer £££

Most good makes of stand mixers sell pasta attachments to do the job of the hand cranked pasta machine. These attachments fix to the front of your mixer and basically turns the rollers continuously. Unlike a normal, manual pasta machine, you don’t need to turn the handle so you have both your hands free. I can’t advise you what’s it’s like to use one of these, as I continue to use my manual Marcato machine (I’ve got so used to it I’m pretty quick now).

Some makes of stand mixer actually include pasta extruders. They appear to be expensive. Some look flimsy as they’re made of plastic but there are ones with proper copper dies too, but again this would be even more expense. However, I could see that they would certainly be fun to use – I suspect if I could afford it I’d buy one for the fun, even though I don’t think I actually need one.

Pasta saucepan with internal colander (🍝 sort of) £££

Now, I covet one of these sets. [I have recently bought a pasta colander/boiler but it’s a standard one that goes in any saucepan you already own. While it works, it doesn’t fit perfectly and the base is quite a bit higher than the base of the saucepan, so it needs extra water to cook the pasta. As such, I only use it when I am cooking filled pasta as it needs that more careful handling. I still aim to buy a proper set or fin a saucepan that this insert actually inserts into properly.]

Not that I *need* one of these sets at all you understand, it’s just that they are just so made for each other. The set comprises a normal large, but deep, saucepan with a snug fitting internal colander – what you do is fit them together and cook your pasta inside the colander, lifting the colander out with the cooked pasta and leaving the water in the pot.

Of course, it’s ultimately the same job as tipping the pasta out over a colander in the sink, but way more elegant and also useful for refreshing pasta when not everyone eats at the same time. Plus, the idea I believe is that it is more gentle on the pasta shapes than tipping the lot out – so less breakage of the pasta which is useful for filled pasta especially.

The saucepan can clearly be used as a normal saucepan as well. I wish you could just buy one of these colanders to fit a standard saucepan (already in your cupboard). You can get little wire frying/boiling baskets for saucepans (not specifically for pasta), but they’re just not the same sung fit, purpose built thing at all.

Adjustable or multi blade pasta cutter 🍝 ££

This is a little gadget like several mini pizza cutters all in a row. It cuts multiple parallel lines in pasta sheets and usually you can alter the width of the cut. They come with straight or wavy blades and some even have interchangeable heads. I don’t own one but there are some that area fixed width, some you adjust but lock off the width of the gap between blades and some which don’t lock – I can imagine these are tricky to use and not accidentally move the blades.

Rather than use the one I have, I stick to rolling/folding my pasta sheet and cutting ribbons by hand (for widths wider than the fettucini cutter on my Marcato). I find it less easy and a bit of a faff. They can also be used for fondant icing or pastry to create perfect ribbons for lattice pie tops, for example.

Ravioli roller🍝 ££

This little contraption is rolled along a sheet of pasta and the curved blades press out circles or squares as you roll along. It’s supposed to be very fast to use, cutting down time from pressing out circles/squares with a normal circular cutter but frankly I find it’s not that fast as you often have to stop and peel out a piece of pasta before you can carry on. This slows things down somewhat. Although they come out neatly I’m not convinced that it’s better to cut out my ravioli after I’ve filled it and popped the top sheet of pasta on…

I find that with pre-cutting I end up with uneven edges and squashed shapes. That all said, it’s pretty fun rolling them down a sheet of pasta. A word of warning though, they are fairly sharp and will mark whatever you’re cutting the pasta on, so place a cover or board down or risk having lots of squares and circles indented into your worktop.

Cavatelli maker ££

This is a hand cranked (or less commonly an electric) machine that clamps to your table. It looks a bit like an old fashioned mincer, but in the top you press the pasta dough and out comes cavatelli shapes. It has two rollers into which you feed a long rope of pasta dough, these are ridged to create the characteristic cavatelli (or malloreddus/gnochetti sardi) pattern. As the rope of dough goes through the rollers, a wheel with paddles on cuts the right amount off for each shape and curls it over at the same time. I’ve seen people use these and it’s like lightning – you can make the shapes consistently perfect in very little time. I’m not sure I would need one – it sort of may spoil the enjoyment of making them by hand for me, plus I don’t serve up enough of this single shape to warrant one, preferring to alternate the artisan shapes I make. I can imagine it would be very useful for a pop-up cafe or restaurant who can’t stretch to the expensive of an extruder but which needs that level of automation and time-saving.

Corzetti / Croxetti / Curzetti stamp ££- £££ 🍝

These are beautiful, artisanal tools made by hand and a speciality of Liguria (and a few other northern areas) in particular in order to stamp out traditional patterns onto coin-shaped corzetti pasta. They come in two parts – a top stamp (usually with a handle) and a bottom stamp, which on the reverse has an edge to cut out discs of sheet pasta. These discs are then stamped between the two imprinted faces, so the pasta has images on both sides for decoration and to trap sauces. Apparently their origin was to display coats of arms and represent ducal coins.

I’ve coveted one of these for a while – they are expensive and hard to get hold of outside of the traditional regions they’re used in. Typically for me, that’s not stopped me: I’ve hand carved a few of my own now using proper hand carving tools and techniques (following some research) in a traditional beech. Beech is used as it’s quite a taste- and odour-free wood, though I think walnut is also used. The only difference with mine is they’ve obviously been carved in Derbyshire, UK, not Liguria, Italy, plus I’ve drawn up the designs myself. Some I’ve made with a nod to traditional Ligurian designs and others I’ve gone totally modern (for instance I’ve carved my own blog name into one!).

I have noticed that there are a few more now available that are clearly made by programming a design into an automated machine, and you could cheat by imprinting on a cavarola board or something similar and cut out the circles afterwards. This is not entirely in the spirit of traditional, but hey, if it’s cheaper, more readily available and you don’t care about tradition I say go find one of these machine made ones or improvise with other stamps. Better to make fresh corzetti yourself by using something modern than not be able to find an authentic one and give up bothering to make your own pasta.

Airing rack (£ if you make it yourself) 🍝 ££

A tray-like airer, usually with a wooden frame and a soft mesh so that the pasta shapes are not damaged as they dry. These sometimes come stackable, so you can have a much larger drying surface area in a smaller footprint. Pasta shapes will dry just tossed in fine polenta on a tray, but these allow for air to circulate all around the shapes so they’d dry more quickly and more evenly and you’d probably use less polenta overall. I’ve not used one, so I’ve no idea if pasta would stick to the mesh or come off cleanly.

You can make one of these fairly easily yourself. I’ve made some myself: smaller ones and a large one. The smaller ones I’ve drilled holes in and inserted dowels for legs (I first did one as a test project). It worked and have now made three more to stack together on my table. The larger one I based on the ones that Italian pasta makers actually use – it’s pretty large and has no legs. I think is useful when I make a lot of pasta and I stack it on blocks or between two chairs, and sometimes in summer I sit and make pasta in my garden and I rest it on my bench while I work.

My hand made drying rack and handmade trofie pasta shapes - Ink Sugar Spice
My hand made drying rack, and some trofie

Chitarra pasta cutter £££

A guitar-like (hence the name) cutter frame. If you have a pasta machine with a fettuccine or tagliolini head you wouldn’t need one. The idea is to lay a sheet of pasta over the strings and roll a rolling pin over the pasta, forcing it through the wires. The strips of pasta get collected in the base of the frame. It does look very medieval, and therefore quite cool!

I’ve found a website which details having a go at making your own chitarra: https://www.math.columbia.edu/~bayer/Chitarra/ This has inspired me and I’ve drawn up my own design to make a fairly simple one, and have recently bought all the materials. I now have to find some spare hours to have a go… easier said than done at the moment. I suspect it’ll be a disaster but I’ll report back. [April 2019: I’ve made the frame successfully and will string it as soon as I have time and post the pictures here].

Pasta extruder ££££+

This is getting serious and is feeding a serious pasta making addiction – or a small business. You can get extruders aimed at the home pasta maker that are either hand cranked (almost looking like old-skool meat grinders), hand-press ones that look gun-shaped and ones that add on as an attachment to your stand mixer or dedicated large electric machines.

The full-on electric machines for home use are pretty plasticky-looking. I’m sure they’re robust enough: they must’ve been tested, right?! However, one of the key enjoyments for me of pasta making is that everything is just so, well, darned cool to look at and to use. I know, I know: I’m a shallow, design-led, arsey aesthete but I don’t want a white plastic giant machine on my countertop. Plus, I have so little space something more crucial would have to give way – like the kettle.

There are nice shiny metal electric extruders out there, but you’re talking over a thousand pounds-worth of industrial kitchen machine. Most are technically small enough to fit into a home kitchen, but you’d have to have some serious money and pasta addiction to warrant one of these – I can’t see a home cook going this far. Something like a pop-up kitchen or small cafe I assume would be the bare minimum of establishments to make sense of purchasing one.

Pasta extruders make those shapes you can’t make by hand, including tube and spiralled shapes. However, not only could I not justify how often I cook with such shapes to obtain a machine (or even stand mixer attachment), I’m not sure I want the shapes that these make. I think dried is better for the type of sauces that are best with these complex shapes, so why would I make trompetti fresh (for example) when a dried pack is convenient and probably better for the ragu?

I can image these machines are an incredible amount of fun to use though. Have you ever watched a you tube video of an industrial pasta extruder? Mesmerising…

Finally…

Thanks for getting to the end of this mammoth article and its partner piece (part one). It did start out pretty small then I just kept thinking of equipment that could be used. Please do feel free to leave any comments on which equipment you think is essential or which is simply your favourite to use on either post.

[Last update: April 2019]

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

What pasta tools do you need [part 1]

Trofie pasta shapes | Ink Sugar Spice
[Updated May 2019 with new images]

I’ve been making pasta by hand for a long time. For the first few years this was only infrequently in order to learn, ‘have a play’ or to impress. However, it eventually became such a routine thing for me that I didn’t even realise how unusual it was to make so much fresh pasta, especially the artisan shapes, outside of Italy. It took other people’s comments on my skill at pasta making and saying that I should do more with it to realise where I had got to.

I have an issue with how making pasta by hand can be promoted as complex, requires many expensive gadgets or even is simply billed as an elitist or chef-only thing to do. Some fresh pasta making can be tricky, sure, but most is very simple indeed and that’s what I hope to impress on you with these articles. I have stayed away from recipes here, these are about the tools and equipment to get you started and then get you obsessed! (If you want a recipe to try why not look at my roasted orange butternut squash ravioli).

Pasta was made by people centuries ago who had little kitchen paraphernalia (even in the kitchens of wealthy households kitchen equipment was incredibly basic by our standards). If they could do it with almost nothing then we can too in our modern houses. You need only the bare minimum of things to start, plus the ingredients and something to cook and drain it. It’s likely you’ll have this most basic equipment already.

So, what is really needed for fresh pasta making, what you might buy next as you progress and, finally, what isn’t necessary but might be fun if you can afford it? I ended up writing so much that I have split my ramblings into two posts. This is ‘the basics’. My second post focuses on going further and what gadgets might be used.

A note on dried pasta and when to use dried or make fresh

I want to add that this love of making fresh pasta by hand doesn’t mean I am a snob about using dried. Absolutely not! Dried is so versatile and often more appropriate or the best texture for the majority of pasta dishes. There’s more chance that you’ll make a pasta meal using dried, saving the fresh pasta making for specific dishes that need it or for special occasions. Dried pasta is such a utilitarian kitchen cupboard staple that you’d be rather missing out if you didn’t have a packet or two of dried pasta lying about – and it has an incredibly long shelf life, so it’s very useful indeed.

I make fresh pasta when I am making pasta ripiena (filled pasta) like ravioli, faggotini, tortellini, agnolotti and the like. I also make it fresh when I am handmaking artisan shapes, such as trofie or orecchietti. You can buy fresh pasta sheets in from the refrigerated section of most supermarkets, but I’ve tried these pre-made ‘fresh’ packets and I think they’re inferior to both fresh and high quality pre-dried: a strange, inferior middle ground. (I believe some delis make and sell fresh pasta, but I’ve never come across one in order to try, so I can’t comment on these). Some specialist delis and larger supermarkets do sell the artisan shapes pre-dried (dried orecchietti seems to be more easily available in past years), but I make my own because I enjoy it, again I’ve never tried the dried versions to comment.

multi striped sombreroni - Ink Sugar Spice

I also make fresh pasta when I want to do something different, like colouring or flavouring pasta or I just have a special meal to make. I use dried most frequently in mid-week family meals, baked pasta and when making pasta salads or soups.

I would say buy the best you can: if a pack says that it is bronze die cut this is said to be best because it creates a very slightly jagged finish to the pasta which helps trap sauce. Also cheap made pasta (probably not made in Italy as they have stringent rules for pasta quality and wheat used) is more likely to have a mushy texture (though overcooking any pasta will do this anyway).

In characteristic kitchen overkill for me, I’d actually suggest a minimum of five types of dried pasta in your ideal kitchen cupboard arsenal:

  • a thing strand type of pasta, such as spaghetti, linguine or similar for oil-rich meaty or tomato sauces or for seafood
  • sheets or large tubes like lasagne and cannelloni for robust bakes (unless you’re determined to always make your own – even I’ve got an ’emergency’ box of lasagne)
  •  pack of tiny shapes such as stellini, ditalini or even alfabetini for soups, broths and fleshing out casseroles
  • a ridged, twisted shape or smaller cup shape which is both easy to stab with a fork and which traps smaller dice veg and meat, such as farfalle, conchiglioni or fusilli – great for rich and chunky or creamy sauces, but can also be good in bakes or salads
  • a medium tubular or cupped shape for cheesy or smooth sauces, and for baking: maccheroni, cellentani or penne (all tubes) or conchiglie or lumache (cupped/shells)

Basics – and making pasta cheaply

Some recipes just cry out for freshly made pasta and, well, I just enjoy making it anyway. I hope you will too.

It has only been in the past 18 months or so that I have started to buy and use gadgets. For the best part of 30 years I made pasta by hand with a rolling pin and a sharp knife – mostly due to the fact that a) it worked and b) I couldn’t afford/justify the expense on fancy extras. Hands, rolling pin and knife is all you really need and, of course, a saucepan and colander/sieve to cook and drain it afterwards.

linguini_sketch
My sketch of a nest of linguini

Although many gadgets do make life easier and faster you can get away using so little, and there’s no necessity to spend money. Of course, I’m not trying to stop you going out and splashing the cash if you have it – I’m just here to reinforce the notion that homemade pasta can be as cheap as just buying the ingredients.

I have bought myself some gadgets now. Equipment has become cheaper and more widely available and of course my salary has improved over the years (albeit in small amounts!). I decided that it was time I treated myself to a few things. Some things have made such a difference I wish I’d felt able to afford them a lot longer ago, like the pasta machine and a tall airer. I’ve actually taken the same approach with bread making too. I’ve made my own bread for about the same length of time with the bare minimum of equipment, but in the last few years I’ve bought a few nice things to help. I guess pasta and bread can be classified as my hobbies, and people like buying nice “stuff” for their hobbies, don’t they?

The premise for these two grouped articles is that you can make pasta by only spending on ingredients and a few basics (most of which you will probably already have) to start with. So the first post (this one) covers the basics, and part two takes a look at pretty much everything leading up to all the bells and whistles should you want to buy ‘toys’ to expand your pasta making.

I’ve added a 🍝 pasta emoji next to all those I’ve used or own. Also I’ve given a rough idea on expense, from £ meaning very cheap (at just a few quid) to ££££ prohibitively (ie getting to professional equipment) expensive.

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

The basics – what do I need as a minimum?

Your hands 🍝 £ free!

Your greatest tools in the kitchen. Don’t underestimate your own capabilities. You are a pasta making genius (already, or in the making!).

In an extreme example of how useful your hands are in this process, you could make something like orecchietti, pici or plain trofie (there is a twisted version of trofie too) without using anything else bar the ingredients and your hands until you came to cook it. You can knead the dough on the table and rip off the right-sized pieces of dough before shaping all by hand.

A sharp knife 🍝 £-£££

A long cooks knife is best as the larger blade will help you cut straighter pasta, like linguini.

Rolling pin 🍝 £

Any rolling pin will do. Totally essential!

If you want to make big sheets, then you need a bigger pin.  I’ve actually got an old broom handle I cleaned, sanded and now use for the biggest sheets, a large dowel rod I bought from a DIY shop and a cheap long-but-thin pin bought from a Turkish mini-market – all ranging from free to just plain cheap.

Something to hang the pasta on, or space for shapes 🍝 £ (even free if you’re creative with what you own) – and a note about storing/’drying’

It helps to drape long pasta like tagliatelli or linguini over something so it hangs like washing on a line, while you continue to work. This keeps your carefully made ribbons from sticking together and airs the pasta. (See further down for notes on small shapes)

Bloody dock flavoured tagliolini airing - Ink Sugar Spice
Bloody dock tagliolini

Please note that this is all ‘airing’ and not ‘drying’. Unless you live in a country with a comparable climate to Napoli (copious sun, hot winds) or you’ve bought a proper drying machine you’re best off forgetting about drying pasta yourself.

Here in the UK it’s pretty rubbish pasta drying weather, with the exception of high summer. If you tried to store inadequately dried pasta it would go rancid very quickly. I think it’s best to go buy a packet of pre-dried pasta in this case.

Yes, you can air the pasta and leave it for cooking the next day (or from morning till evening), but I don’t think it’d be advisable to go much further than that (I may be wrong – if you have experience of this please comment!). I normally cook and serve my pasta within a few hours, but sometimes if I have a big meal to prepare for a lot of people I will make it the day before to afford me time.

The glory that is freshly made and cooked pasta is it’s freshness – it’s undoubtedly best when eaten just a few hours after being made. That said, a little delay won’t be that noticeable!

If you really want to make far in advance, it’s better to freeze. On the few times I’ve needed to prepare a lot for a party in advance I sometimes freeze the dough rather than the shapes – but a caveat here: I chop it into cubes rather than freeze one lump. Let it thaw, work it little back together and it’ll be fine (though I confess not quite as good as fresh, but good enough).

Otherwise, shapes and pasta ripiena like ravioli and tortellini (depending on the filling) can also be frozen. Arrange them so they’re not touching on a tray (so they don’t stick) and then sweep them into a food bag when fully frozen and keep them in the freezer until needed (obviously letting them thaw first). I’m not 100% of the maximum length of time to store pasta in the freezer, but I’ve frozen it for around a week in advance myself.

Anyway, ignoring the argument for NOT drying/storing fresh pasta, it is essential to ‘air’ fresh pasta while you are working it, to prevent a congealed mass and negating all your hard work.

My freebie make-do solutions for airing ribbon pasta while I work in the past have included:

  • a wide-gapped wire cooling rack suspended by string from the ceiling or balanced between two towers of books
  • the backs of chairs (washed thoroughly first) – see the above pic from my Instagram feed: I still sometimes use this rather than getting the airer out
  • a couple of cheap dowel rods bought from a DIY store that I balanced between chair backs and later nailed into a block of wood
  • a length of new washing line tied between cupboard door handles (warn anyone coming in!!)

Smaller pasta shapes, like farfalle, can be tossed in semola (semolina) flour or fine polenta and just left on your table, on a clean tea towel, a baking tray or shallow wicker basket. Actually, strip pasta can also be handled in this way, curled into nests (in nidi – see the image below) or skeins (in matasse) to air. Just be careful to keep the strips fairly separate and not squeezed together accidentally betwixt thumb and fingers.

pasta
blackcurrent and port tagliolini – airing ‘in nidi’ in nests while I continue to work the rest of the dough

A space for working 🍝 £ free (presumably you’ve already got some space…)

This is crucial. You need space to roll out the dough and cut it. You need the space for drying shapes. You need the space to not get in a faff when you’re colvered in flour and juggling dough.

It doesn’t have to be huge, but it needs to be flat, very clean and clear of clutter. Make your life easier and clear yourself a working space before you start.

Tagliatelle making | Ink Sugar Spice
Best if you have a bit of ‘elbow room’ when making pasta – I use my heavy duty dining table (rather than my cramped small kitchen) for pasta making

Saucepan and colander or sieve 🍝 £ – ££

OK, so it’s not anything to do with making pasta but if you’ve made it you’re going to cook it so I’m classing it as a basic need. I suspect that anyone considering making pasta or getting more in to it will be already well equipped with good saucepans, sieves and colanders, but here’s my take on these essentials:

A large saucepan is the right choice for pasta, but really you can cook pasta in anything heat proof. So, even a cheap small saucepan will do – well, for one or two portions any way and there’s no need to bother with non-stick. The reason I’ve nominated a large saucepan is that undoubtedly at some point in pasta making you’ll cook for a number of people. It’s all about the sharing. More people = more pasta = bigger pot.

You’ll often see people list a ‘heavy bottomed saucepan’ in equipment for recipes: while these generally are a better buy all round as they distribute heat evenly and are more robust they are not needed for pasta. Pasta floats and dances around in the simmering water so heat spots are not an issue. If you’re only buying one large saucepan to cover all your cooking needs (like me: I haven’t the space to store more) then do go for a well made one with a thick bottom core to it, as other foods and cooking methods will benefit.

Buy one with a lid if you can too, as it will a) stop your kitchen steaming up too much (even with an extractor fan) and b) save your gas or electric as it keeps in heat better and you can turn your temperature down.

A colander or sieve is essential as a match for the saucepan. You can’t keep draining pasta from your saucepan with the lid. Yes, it’s possible to do this, but eventually you’ll scald yourself with the water or at some point slip and drop all the pasta in the sink. It’s maddening when that happens! You can get sieves and colanders from cheap shops and markets for very, very little indeed.

Scales 🍝 £-£££

Although no doubt there are some Nonnas that can probably work out the ratio of semola or flour to water by feel, it’s best to have a set of scales. Mechanical or digital doesn’t matter, but you’ll need these.

You may need a bowl to go with your scales but I’ve not listed bowls in basics as you possibly might weigh with the integrated bowl or anything else to hand. Therefore I can’t justify this as an essential piece of kit for pasta making, despite it being a fundamental piece of kitchen equipment for just about everything else.

[Last update: July 2018]

Part two…

My next post will go on to look at what gadgets you can begin to invest in once you’ve tried to make pasta and decide that you want to continue. Or, if you’re wading straight in and intending to spend money on pasta equipment from the get-go.

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Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

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Chemical leaveners / raising agents

bakingpowder

There are several ways in which to get breads, cakes and other baked goods to rise. Some of these methods have been used for hundreds of years, such as yeast or whipped eggs, and some are a very modern introduction (chemical raising agents).

Types of chemical leaveners/raising agents

Leaveners can be classed as natural, chemical or mechanical. Natural includes eggs and yeast, chemical is bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar etc and mechanical includes the incorporation of air by physical methods (eg whipping cream or eggs) or rise created by steam or dry heat [steam/heat could also be classed as natural].

What exactly am I rambling on about

I’m only covering chemical leaveners/raising agents in this piece. I’ve actually been researching and reading up on this on and off (not continually!) for over a year now. I never imaged there was so much to it.

I set out to discover why and how chemical raising agents work in my baking. I’ve read through chemical formulas, explanations of the chemical process involved and undergraduate-level books detailing experiments all to get to here. Some of it I didn’t grasp at all, some made sense at the time but now I’m a bit fuzzy on it and plenty did made sense. I’m no scientist, so I think there’s little point in me simply regurgitating the really complex areas I’ve researched or even drawing out the chemical formulas and reactions that are involved. I might get such specific details wrong. I may not have understood it all fully. There’s a chance I could misinterpret it. So, all I’m aiming to do here is pass on what I’ve come to understand through this research about what is going on inside my cake (or other bake)  to make it rise, and if there is anything I can do to get the best results in my kitchen using raising agents.

Which raising agents

In the UK we tend to only use bicarbonate of soda as a chemical raising agent (though others are available – see later).

In a commercial baking setting (in the UK to some extent but more commonly elsewhere) sometimes baking ammonia is used instead as it produces a drier food product but it does produce a little ammonia as a by-product of the chemical reaction. You may have come across its common/historical name of ‘hartshorn’. Baking ammonia’s use in cooking predates that of bicarbonate of soda.

You’re going to say, “What about Baking Powder?”

Well, baking powder isn’t one thing. It’s a pre-mixed product of bicarbonate and a powdered acid (in its most basic, truest sense). All the information I’ve written below on the basics of how bicarbonate works also relates to baking powder, apart from two important caveats:

  • you don’t have to manually add an acid (such as lemon juice) separately as it’s already included. This also means the ratio of acid to bicarbonate is already measured precisely for you
  • the addition of a third ingredient in some commercial baking powders is there to add a second reaction which occurs in the presence of heat. It has the effect in that the leavening process occurs ‘twice’ as it were – chemical reaction one will start to produce gases in your bake in a cold environment (ie as soon as you start mixing) and the second chemical reaction will be produced in the presence of heat (as it bakes).[In the USA most baking soda’s are “double acting baking sodas” and follow this recipe. The name “double acting” implies the two chemical processes. It’s difficult to give you a definition of what to expect with American double acting baking soda as there does not seem to be an industry standard and several chemicals appear interchangeable, dependant on the manufacturer’s “recipe” and whether the product is deemed kosher or not. You may find various combinations of acid and bicarbonate in commercial double acting baking soda, the ingredients of which can be pulled from a long list: sodium bicarbonate, sodium aluminium sulphate, acid sodium pyrophosphate, calcium acid sulphate, ammonium bicarbonate, tartaric acid to name just a few. Don’t worry about conversions of American recipes – just substitute any UK/European baking powder. The American double action isn’t twice as strong as baking powder, just it definitely uses this dual process. Its strength/potency is equivalent whether the baking powder you swap it for is single or double acting itself.]

Bicarbonate of soda is most commonly mixed with cream of tartar (this could be listed as potassium bitartrate or tartaric acid) to produce baking powder. This is a single acting baking powder. Some commercially produced baking powders will include a third chemical – as mentioned above – such as acid sodium pyrophosphate, to provide this additional, second action. Also, some commercially produced tubs of baking powder may have an added stabiliser or two to prolong shelf life and minimise reaction (and therefore spoiling) prior to use.

The basics of how bicarbonates work as a food leavener

Bicarbonate of soda/sodium bicarbonate is extremely alkaline and a chemical reaction occurs in the presence of an acid – for example, lemon juice or vinegar and some moisture. You can start the reaction with a dried acid (for example vitamin C powder or cream of tartar) but you will need to add some form of moisture.

Bicarbonate does not need heat for any chemical reaction with acid to take place.

As soon as you introduce the acid to bicarbonate (in the presence of a little moisture – there may even be enough in the air) the reaction will start. What this means for your bake is that the rise starts happening as soon as you start mixing. When using a chemical leavener get your bake in the oven as soon as you can – don’t leave your mix hanging about in the bowl before you use it as you’ll have ‘wasted’ some of the chemical reaction.

We know it as baking powder in the UK, but it’s also called baking soda (typically in the US and Canada), bread soda and cooking soda. Can be listed as sodium bicarbonate or sodium hydrogen carbonate and you can spot it on a list of ingredients as E500.

The trick to using bicarbonate of soda (and baking powder for that matter, but to a lesser extent) within baking and cooking is to perfectly balance the amount of bicarbonate to the amount of acid.

In the presence of an acid, bicarbonate starts to react and one of the products produced by this reaction is carbon dioxide; a gas. It’s this release of gas bubbles that causes the rise within your baking.

For example, if you used a vinegar (which is acetic acid) with your bicarbonate, the reaction would produce some water, carbon dioxide and a small amount of sodium acetate.

Note on bakers ammonia/ammonium carbonate: for ammonium carbonate the comparable reaction produces (a little less) water, carbon dioxide and ammonia. It does not need an acid to react but does need heat and moisture. As it produces ammonia as a by-product, its use at home should not be in large quantities. When included in a mass-produced product by a commercial food company the large amounts involved (and therefore larger amounts of released ammonia) can be controlled safely in a factory environment.

The reason it is still used rather than baking powder is all because of that drier baked result – so it’s typical to find baking ammonia in things like crackers and harder biscuits. If you’re looking out for it (to be nosey) on a product’s ingredients list it may well be included as E503 rather than named. Italian, German and Scandinavian recipes in particular are most likely to include baking ammonia. I have had success in directly substituting the same amount of bicarbonate of soda for ammonium bicarbonate within a recipe, reducing any liquid in the recipe by a small amount and replacing it with an acid (for example this could be as simple as using a teaspoon less of water and adding a teaspoon of lemon juice in its place) to recreate that drier texture and effect the chemical process.

However, as a caveat, if you are similarly trying to convert one of these recipes you may need some trial and error to get this balance right yourself. I have not yet attempted to bake with baking ammonia – I’m a little nervy of the ammonia if I’m honest! I may try to get some as it is available to buy online and, if so, I will update this post with how I got on.

It’s crucial that the amount of acid used balances out the amount of bicarbonate. Too little acid or a heavy hand with the bicarbonate and not all of the bicarbonate will be able to react. This will leave some bicarbonate behind, and you’ll notice that tell-tale alkaline-salty tang which can ruin a bake. Additionally, your bake may not be fully risen either if not enough carbon dioxide was produced.

If there is too much acid the reaction can happen at a facilitated rate and also you’ll be left with a very sharp tasting bake.

Even if there is too much acid the chemical reaction will still take place but it will start more vigorously and be over quicker. This sounds OK doesn’t it? Well, actually it’s not great news for the baker, as the reaction is quick and the gas is produced faster it will start to dissipate early and the rise it produced can go to waste.

For instance, when making a cake you need the bubbles from the gas to be captured as tiny cavities in the sponge mix as it cooks. Bubbles of gas will reach their maximum size within the sponge before dispersing as the cake heats up in the oven. In a perfect bake, as the cake mix hardens around the bubbles so the cake stays light and airy once fully baked.img_1933

If your cake mix is still too soggy as the gas escapes (because the gas is escaping early) the sponge around the bubbles cannot support itself and the cake structure will collapse causing a denser, flatter bake. This will also happen if you’ve included the perfect amount of acid but have left your baking around for a while before you get it in the oven – the process will be over before you need it to be.

[Incidentally, the carbon dioxide is not the only thing that contributes to the creation of bubbles in the cake batter. Water from both the ingredients and the bicarbonate chemical reaction will be heated in the oven and start to steam, the steam expands also creating holes in the batter before evaporating.]

If we can understand the basics of how bicarbonate works, the principle will be roughly the same for baking powder

There are several reasons that baking powder is more prevalent in kitchens and more common in recipes:

  • Firstly, on its own, bicarbonate can leave that salty tang behind. It’s difficult to get the exactly perfect ratio of acid to bicarbonate as there are so many contributing factors. These are just a few examples – there could be many more reasons:
    your flour may be slightly damper than the one in the original recipe, causing the reaction to behave differently
  • You may be using a lemon juice or other acid which is more acidic than the original. This may sound odd, but for example any vinegar isn’t just acid – that’d be incredibly toxic and more dangerous than the bleach you put down your sink. Most vinegars are around just 5% acetic acid.
  • Your bicarbonate could be fairly old, have had some exposure to moisture and therefore not be as vigorous
  • All the other ingredients ‘muddy the waters’ as they cannot be relied on to have certain PH values or moisture content and therefore will impact the reaction
  • All these things (plus lost of other factors such as the humidity in your kitchen, how accurate your oven etc) mean that if the original recipe by the chef or cook worked perfectly, yours still may taste of bicarbonate, just because some teensy tiny change, even one out of your control, altered the chemical reaction

For large quantities the risk of that bicarbonate of soda taste appearing becomes greater.
It can actually discolour your baking too: bicarbonate does have a tendency to turn things yellow/green (have you ever put a spoonful of bicarbonate of soda in a glass of red fruit squash? It’ll go a dark purple).

All these things make ‘pre-loading’ bicarbonate of soda with an acid, in a controlled ratio a much more sensible option – hence the development of baking powder.

Baking powder (as mentioned previously) is a mix of sodium bicarbonate and tartaric acid. This means the ratio of bicarbonate to acid is better controlled. By using baking powder, your bake will then be less affected by other ingredients and whether you’re heavy handed with the lemon juice.

In commercial baking powder: this stuff you buy from the supermarket or grocer you’ll often find a stabilising agent in there too such as cornflour (cornstarch) or flour and there may be some other phosphates added (these are harmless).

The cornflour is in there to keep the bicarbonate dry (to avoid any chemical reaction starting), stop it from caking and to help aid the shelf life of the product.

As an alternative, make your own baking powder! You can make it as you need it and it’ll be fresh and ready to start its chemical reaction in your bake.

The ratio is 2 parts bicarbonate of soda to 1 part cream of tartar.

If your recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of baking powder:

2/3 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda and 1/3 teaspoon cream of tartar

If your recipes calls for 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda and 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

You can double up on those if your recipe needs more….

So… why do some recipes need both baking powder and bicarbonate of soda?

This is because they include a very acidic ingredient (or more than one), such as lemon juice or buttermilk, which is needed for taste or consistency. If a recipe has a lot of acidic ingredients it would not be very pleasant to eat if the acidity level wasn’t countered with just baking powder, so the additional bicarbonate of soda is added for that purpose. Of course, this means that the chemical reactions are magnified and give more rise to the recipe, so although a recipe may have both raising agents they probably are not in much higher quantities than a typical bake. Recipes with both in will have been tested and worked out so that there is a balance between ingredient acidity levels, the perfect amount of rise required and the amount of leaveners used all at the recipe development stage.

Conclusions – what does this all mean to the home baker?

If you follow anything exactly in a recipe make sure you stick to the exact amount of baking powder (or bicarbonate) that the recipe states. The recipe developer has worked it all out and tested the bake to ensure it’s correct. Even a little deviation could leave you with an alkaline or acid-tasting bake or one that hasn’t risen sufficiently or, indeed, that’s risen too fast and then collapsed.

Keep some shop-bought baking powder in your cupboard – you don’t always need to make it yourself. Do check the label next time you buy to make sure that anything other than an acid and bicarbonate on the ingredient list is only cornstarch or something you yourself believe to be safe. If in doubt go for a reliable, ethical brand like Dove Farm.

Keep a pot of both bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar in your kitchen as well. You can then make your own baking powder for a change, to ensure it’s as fresh as possible (to get the best leavening result) or at least now you know how to make it if you run out.

Made a bake and you can taste the soda? Next time you make it reduce the bicarbonate of soda by 1/2 a teaspoon or add in 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice  (or yoghurt or vinegar etc, dependant on the type of savoury or sweet bake). If the recipe only has baking powder listed just add the extra acid or a 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar.

Make sure you keep your tubs of baking powder, bicarbonate and cream of tartar well sealed and away from moisture.

If you’re using chemical leaveners/raising agents get your bake in the oven as soon as it is mixed. While you are mixing the chemical processes are already starting. In order to get the back in as soon as it is ready you should ensure that your oven is up to temperature you require before you start to mix.

Making your own self-raising flour

Self-raising flour isn’t made any differently than plain flour of the same grade: it’s just got the leavening agents already added in. Of course you can get ‘supreme sponge flour’ which is ready sieved  – this just means it’s been fluffed up through a sieve to ensure there are no clumps. If you buy a finer milled plain flour it’s just the same thing as this ‘supreme sponge flour’ just without the raising agents added. Self raising flour is NOT produced differently to plain apart from the extra sieving for the ‘supreme’ flours, but that’s post production and not part of the actual milling. It is only the addition of raising agents (and other extra ingredients as the manufacturers see fit) that makes the difference.

Many well known brands put additional ingredients into their flours other than the raising agents. These are not sinister or harmful but are there to increase shelf life, stop moisture retention, reduce clumping or are just added vitamins and minerals. However, if you make your own self raising flour you won’t need all these – just the bare minimum of ingredients.

None of these additives are harmful or unsuitable for vegans/those careful with ingredients for religious reasons. If you’re not too fussed, then that’s all fine, but personally even though these ingredients are not harmful I do not really want anything that’s not needed. All I need in my self-raising flour is flour, sodium bicarbonate and tartaric acid.

Some of the added ingredients are actually vitamins and minerals, which also seems good but to me I wonder why we need them added to flour of all things. I don’t really expect to get vitamin C from baked goods and I’d prefer it to come fresh from any fruit or veg (I can even ensure I add them into my bakes – that’s a better way to add it!).

Other things you may find on the ingredients label on your flour packet include ‘sodium hydrogen carbonate’. This is just another name for bicarbonate of soda, so of course you’d expect to see that listed.

It is also not unusual to find calcium phosphate, monocalcium phosphate and disodium diphosphate in UK self-raising flour. Calcium phosphate and monocalcium phosphate are the same thing and may appear as E341. Disodium diphosphate is E450. All these phosphates are made commercially from vegan sources and are harmless.

Even though none of these ingredients is a worry, maybe you still fancy making your own self-raising flour? You’ll know what you’ve put into it and it gets you used to making it rather than having to buy two separate types of flour.

Ingredients – self-raising flour

The ratio for self-raising flour is to use 20 parts of plain flour to 1 part baking powder

Therefore, for each 100g of plain flour add 1 level teaspoon of baking powder

(See above for the make-it-yourself baking powder recipe)

Hot Water crust pastry technique – and wild boar and apple spiced hand raised pie recipe

tudorpiecutI love to make hand raised pies – I think hot water crust pastry is the most maleable, responsive and fun pastry type of all. I describe it to others as adult PlayDough! Actually it’s a similar reason as to why I love playing with (umm, making) pasta too. Pressing pasta dough through my machine reminds me of the PlayDough barbers I had as an infant, where you squeezed the dough through little holes in the heads of the little figures to make hair. I digress…

Homemade pies bear no resemblance to a typical shop or supermarket bought pie. Although if you’re used to buying an artisan pie hand made by a true food craftsperson you’ll already know the chasm of difference there is between the two, even if you’ve not yet made one yourself. You (yes I can see you, no hiding) can make a pie just as delicious as any that’s been hand crafted by a local farm, family butcher or artisan pie specialist.

I can’t lie and say it’s totally easy-peasy, but it’s nowhere near as difficult as you might think. After only one or two baking sessions you’ll get the knack for handling this lovely pastry and start making beautiful and delicious pies at home with ease. Honest. Well, that’s what happened to me anyway and I’ve no reason to think that you won’t be the same!

My first tentative attempt at a raised pie (many years ago now, I grant you – I think I had a go while I was a student) was a bit ‘rustic’-looking, but no worse for that as it was still delicious. The next one was much improved in looks and then there was no holding me back. Pies became straight(er),  pretty cylindrical, free from bursting and often covered in extra fancy pastry decorations and even started to hold fillings of all different types. If I can do this I’ve no doubt others can.

Be warned though – this is not a recipe that uses a tin. I’m explaining here how I make my hand raised pies. I suppose you could create this by baking it in a tin, but that’s a cop out and there’s nowt so satisfying as presenting a pie that you know has only had your hands to shape it. Plus, those specialist pie tins are a ridiculous amount of money and this is proof you don’t need to spend on them.

For your first attempt at a hand raised pie (or subsequent ones if you’re a bit scaredy, which is totally fine!) you can give the pie a helping hand by giving it a tied baking paper collar to help it keep its shape. I don’t think this is necessary for small or medium-sized pies (up to about 15cm/6″) once you’re used to making them, but if I bake a large pie I will still wrap that with a collar – just for double insurance purposes, you understand.tudorpieillustration

Notes about hot water crust and veggie and fat content alternatives

Although this is a total meat lover’s pie, please don’t think hand raised pies are only for carnivores. You can make the pastry with Cookeen or Trex instead of the lard and butter mix, making it vegetarian/vegan and then use a veggie filling. I’ve had great results with pies filled with a variety of mushrooms such as a Stilton, rocket and walnut filling and pies with layers of multi coloured veggies doused in spices and dried fruits.

It’s understandable (even for carnivores) to be a little squeamish about the use of animal fats like lard. So even if you have a meat filling, using Trex or Cookeen within the pastry can be an alternative to lard. I only rarely have lard (or dripping) in my fridge and am more likely to have a pack of Trex and I’m all for using what’s to hand or what needs using up rather than another shopping trip. (I often have Trex in my fridge as it’s great when making white icing to keep it ultra-white).

If you’re not of the squeamish persuasion, you might like to swap beef dripping for the lard – especially nice with a beef or venison filling.

Notes on this particular recipe and how I researched it

This is a slight variation on a typical layered pork sausage meat pie I make (that one uses Cumberland sausages and layered apricots with garam masala). This particular pie was created to bake along with a Tudor theme on a Great British Bake Off episode. I know this is a one-off bake (I normally only post recipes I’ve created two or three times to ensure they work), but because it is so similar to my normal pie that I’ve made dozens and dozens of times (the pastry is the same recipe, just the filling differs) I am confident the recipe will work for you.

I have tried to more-or-less stick to Tudor era spices, with a pinch of salt (see what I did there!?).

tudorpiebakedAs I don’t have to make this fully authentic I did want an edible, tasty pie, not one that was historic for historic accuracy’s sake. So I have used a lot of pepper, a bit of mace and some chillies. Chillies were brought back from the ‘Americas’ during the Tudor period. Incidentally, although Europeans didn’t really take them up at the time, it was during the early 1500s that the Portuguese took the plants to their colonies in Asia (such as Goa) and chillies entered the local cuisine there much, much earlier (for info: please read Lizzie Collingham’s Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors). They clearly were less suspicious of new ingredients and more adventurous than us Europeans of the time.

I am taking a large amount of liberty with the chillies. Although chillies may have been around, and may well have been presented and cooked for the European elite as a novelty in Tudor times, they would most definitely not have made their way onto ordinary dinner tables. So a turnip-picker or scullery maid as I would have been would not have even known they existed. That said, chillies were transported in this period, so I’m including them – this would be a fairly dull taste for modern palates otherwise. I’m no Dr Ruth Goodman (whose programmes I adore) so I’m happy to sacrifice full accuracy for something that’s tasty and edible.

Tips

Something I do for my pie fillings to ensure I have the spicing right is I fry off a teaspoon of the meat (or veggie) mix in a saucepan before I make the pie. This way you can adjust the salt, pepper or other spices to taste, rather than just rely on guess work.

Notes

If you have a wooden pie dolly (a smaller one – about 10cm in diameter) then please use that. However, I don’t have one and I use instead a medium sized glass pickle jar covered in greased cling film – you don’t have to spend on an expensive pie dolly if you don’t want to. If you do want the ‘proper’ kit as you think you may make more, this is the kind of wood pie dolly I’m referring to from the online Kitchen Cookshop (I will eventually get myself one when I feel flush, but I don’t believe it’s actually much better than my alternative glass jar technique, just pretty sitting on my shelf and always a joy to use a wooden utensil).

I haven’t included any jelly to add to the pie after cooling. There are several reasons for this: firstly, the sausagemeat will naturally give up some of it’s fates and liquids during baking to the pastry and there is a little jelly-like result at the end. Secondly, I like a good pie but I don’t much like the jelly (I always remove it when I’m eating one with jelly). Thirdly and finally, as this is a single pie recipe not one for a batch of pies it does not need to be stored for a long time (jelly was partially used as a preserver so that the meat inside the pie didn’t go off so quickly).

Equipment

  • Saucepan
  • Bowls – two large, one smaller
  • Sharp knife, possibly two small diameter circular cutters (but not totally necessary)
  • Wooden spoon
  • Rolling pin
  • Frying pan
  • Cup/small bowl
  • Medium-sized glass jar, such a a jar of pickled onions
  • Cling film

Ingredients – hot water crust

  • Plain flour – 400g
  • Lard – 125g
  • Butter, unsalted – 125g
  • Water – 150ml
  • Eggs, medium – 2
  • Salt – a large pinch
  • Black pepper, freshly crushed – several turns of a spice mill or about 1 teaspoon
  • A little extra lard or butter for greasing

Ingredients – filling

  • Wild boar sausages (if you can’t find these a top quality pork sausage, preferably from a proper butcher will do) – 400g/6 sausages
  • Small strong eating apple, such as a Cox, Egremont Russet or James Grieve
  • Pepper*
  • Salt*
  • Nutmeg* – freshly grated, about 1 1/4 teaspoons
  • Chillies* – a ‘plainer’ not too hot variety (to keep vaguely contemporary) such as Cayenne – about 3
  • Shallots – 1 banana shallot or two smaller round shallots
  • Fat for frying: a knob of butter and a dash of oil (to stop it charring)

*  all seasoning to taste: add in to the meat mixture and fry off a small amount to tastes. Adjust as necessary

Method – pastry

  • Put the flour and salt in a large bowl
  • Pour the water into a saucepan and add the lard and butter and set over a medium heat
  • While the water and fats are heating, crack one of the eggs into the flour
  • Crack the second egg into a cup or small bowl and whisk lightly with a fork – you are doing this because you need one and a half eggs in pastry and it’s easier to divide a whisked egg in half
  • Tip half of the whisked egg into the flour as well, and set aside the remaining half an egg, as you’ll use this for the pastry wash later
  • Mix the flour and egg together with a knife
  • When the fats have melted, tip the contents of the saucepan onto the flour mixture
  • Don’t use your hands straightaway as it will be hot – use your knife to start to bring the pastry together
  • Once you’ve got as far as you can with your knife, it’s probably OK now to use your hands
  • Bring together the pastry and pick up all stray bits of flour from the bowl with it
  • Put the pastry in the fridge or somewhere cool while you ready your filling

Method – filling

  1. Finely slice and dice the shallots
  2. Gently fry the shallots in the butter and oil over a low heat and let them simmer and go transparent
  3. While the shallots are frying, core your apple and halve it. Slice each half thinly and place the apple in a small bowl filled with water and a couple of drops of lemon juice or white wine vinegar, to stop the apple discolouring
  4. Take the sausagemeat out of its casings and place the meat in the large bowl. Discard the casings
  5. De-seed one chilli and chop very finely – taste the chilli: is it a hot one? If so, you’ll need fewer chillies for this recipe as it should only have a light heat (you may like things spicy but it’s a recipe that is mimicking the Tudor tastes). If it is fairly mild, then chop them all
  6. Add a large pinch of salt, pepper from at least six turns of your black pepper mill, the freshly ground nutmeg and the diced chillies
  7. Take the shallots off the heat and tip them onto the sausagemeat too
  8. Mix the lot together with your hands – this is gooey but it’s the best way
  9. Take a teaspoonful amount of sausagemeat and fry off until browned and cooked through. Taste and adjust the salt, pepper, chilli (though remember it shouldn’t be too hot) and nutmeg to your taste, mix again if you have added more
  10. Leave the sausagemeat to one side while you start to prepare the pie case

Method – construction

  1. Retrieve your pastry- it will have hardened as the fats cooled and solidified.
  2. You need to work it a little with your hands – kneading lightly a couple of times to bring it up in temperature and become just pliable enough
  3. Rip off about a third of the pastry and put to one side. This will be your lid and decoration
  4. Take your glass jar and encase it in a layer of cling film
  5. Grease or oil your palms and then rub over the cling-filmed jar to cover it all over but not heavily
  6. Roll the large lump into a disc and flatten the centre area a little – place the glass jar in the middle
  7. Using the whole length of your fingers (not just the finger tips – this will create little dents) start to press the pastry up the sides of the jar (see my illustration below)
  8. Keep going back to the base and press the pastry from it up the sides – the base shouldn’t be left as a thick lumphandraiseillustration
  9. You’re aiming for the pastry to be about 4mm thick all over
  10. Keep pressing and squeezing gently, moving the pastry up the jar
  11. Try to even the top edge out as much as you can, but don’t stress about it as you will trim it. What I mean by this is try to keep it level all the way round – you are effectively making a pastry bowl
  12. When you’ve got the pastry up the jar and it’s the right thickness, take a knife and trim the top edge using the shortest point as a guide
  13. Ease the jar out of the pastry – if it’s still sticky use a knife to tease the pastry away ever so slightly. You can reshape the pastry a little by hand after the jar is removed
  14. Take the sausagemeat and halve it. Shape the first half roughly to match the inside size of the pastry pie case – and gently drop it in (I’ve seen videos where they’ve thrown the filling in at speed. I can only imagine this will damage the bottom, distort the case and also run the risk of flattening the whole thing completely if you don’t get it dead centre)
  15. Take the apple slices out of the water and dry them in a clean tea towel
  16. Layer the apple on top of the sausagemeat in the pie case
  17. Shape the final amount of sausagemeat and put in on top of the apple slices
  18. Now roll out the pastry you put aside for the lid to 4mm thickness
  19. Roughly cut the lid into a circle the same size as the pie case
  20. Wet the edge of the pie case and place the lid on top
  21. Pinch together the edges so they seal and using the index finger from one hand and your thumb and index finger of the other, push the pastry ‘in and out’ to create a wave effect all around the top
  22. Put your oven on to 180C fan / 200C conventional
  23. With the extra you pastry you have left, you can cut out some decorations. Make some simple leaves, be elaborate and make a Bacchanalian scene with vines and grapes or attempt this relatively simple Tudor rose which only needs a small round cutter and a knife:
I’ve made this pastry Tudor rose on a tabletop so you can see its construction more easily – I suggest you actually make it one the pie lid, so you can size it better and place it centrally.
rose1 rose2
1. Cut out five pastry circles, using a cutter about 2cm wide. Curl over the outside edge of each ‘petal’ by pushing with your finger. If you don’t have a small cutter, take a small ball of dough and press flat with your fingers to create a leaf. 2. Cut five arrow-head shaped pieces of pastry for your leaves.
rose3a rose7
3. Wet your fingertip and just dampen the bottom of the leaves. Tuck each behind the petal shapes, behind the gaps. (It’s easier to place the leaves behind after the petals, even though they are the first layer) 4. Cut five more petals – this time a little smaller than before and arrange them on top of the petal layer (dampen them first so they stick). Again, place these leaves covering the gaps in between the petals)
makingpetal tudor8a
5. Cut five more circles, this time using a slightly smaller cutter (or press out five rounds of dough with your fingers as before). Trim off a little bit at an angle on both sides of each circle so you have a keystone-shape) 6. Dampen the back of the smaller petals and lay them in place – so they cover the gaps between the petals and in line with the previous larger petals.
rose9
 7. You’ve now got a nice Tudor rose
  1. Now you need to create a hole in the top. Using the small cutter (or if you don’t have one an apple corer is ideal) make a hole through the centre of the Tudor rose and the pie lid – down to the sausagemeat inside
  2. Retrieve the half an egg you put aside earlier and using a pastry brush wash the pie with the egg
  3. Place the pie gently on a baking tray (at this point you can wrap a folded-over layer of greaseproof paper and tie in place with butcher’s twine if you’re nervy – although if you’re doing this I’d recommend that you don’t egg wash the sides of the pie)
  4. Bake for 30 minutes at 180C fan / 200C conventional, then turn own the oven to 160C fan / 180C conventional for a further 20 – 25 minutes
  5. The pastry will be crisp and darkly golden when done
  6. Serve warm or leave until chilled
  7. Should last a couple of days covered in the fridge

Candied citrus zest

orangePistachioCakesClaireClark

Candied zest or peel can be made well in advance and is a great way to make the most of the zest from oranges used for eating or cooking that would otherwise be wasted.

It stores brilliantly too, as this is a traditional method of preservation.

Any citrus fruit (oranges, grapefruit, lemons, pomelo, satsumas, limes etc) can be used but lemon and orange are the two most common. Oranges and lemons, plus limes seem to keep their unique flavour when candied better as well. Use for garnishes and a sweet-sharp hit within bakes such as giving extra bite to a lemon drizzle cake.

The recipe can easily be multiplied if you want to make a large batch (for instance if you’ve juiced a lot of fruit).

Notes

I made this batch to garnish these little orange and pistachio cakes; a recipe from Claire Clark’s fabulous Indulge dessert book. I don’t think it’s right to write up a chef/cook’s recipe, possibly unless it’s one that they have made freely available online (and therefore I could reference the original and link to it to show its origination), so as this recipe is only in Claire’s book I can’t repeat it here.

I have seen a number of other bloggers that seem comfortable to write up a chef’s recipe verbatim and just name the chef (I have seen one quite popular blog which has posted nearly all the recipes out of a particular recipe book – effectively making buying the book almost pointless), but I don’t feel that should be done. I’m not sure how they get away with it either, especially when they’re a ‘repeat offender’.

If you want the recipe for these little gluten free cakes – and they are amazing – you’ll need to buy or borrow Indulge [a quick look online shows a second hand copy of the book can be bought for around £7 and new for about £13]. I’ve even seen it in my local library.

Equipment

  • Saucepan
  • Very sharp chef’s knife (don’t use a short blade)
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Optional – tiny petit four cutters
  • Sieve
  • Greaseproof paper
  • Storage jar (needs to be spotlessly clean but doesn’t have to be sterilised)

Ingredients

  • Two oranges – use the best you can get hold of. Blood oranges or navels seem to have the nicest zest for my tastes. Alternatively use about 5 lemons or limes or one large grapefruit or pomelo.
  • Caster sugar – 250g plus extra for rolling the peel in

Method

  1. Wash and dry the fruit
  2. Carefully remove the zest in long strips using the vegetable peeler – try not to get any of the white pith along with the zest. If you do, lay the zest flat on a worktop and carefully pare the pith off with a knife
  3. Once all the zest is off, use a very sharp knife to cut fine strips (about 1-2mm or 1/16″ in width)
  4. You can also cut out shapes such as hearts, stars and flowers if you have any tiny petit four cutters
  5. Discard the rough edge pieces only keeping the fine strips and shapes (if you’ve done shapes)
  6. Pop the zest pieces into the saucepan and add cold water to about 1 cm / 1/2″ in depth. Do not try to cut corners and use hot water – this will not prepare the zest properly
  7. Bring the water to the boil
  8. Discard the water over a sieve to catch the zest
  9. Return the zest to the saucepan and put in more cold water to the same height as before.
  10. You need to do this heating, boiling and discarding three times
  11. Now put 300ml of cold water in the saucepan and 250g of caster sugar. Stir (off heat) until the sugar is dissolved
  12. Pop the saucepan on the heat and add the zest
  13. Bring to a rolling boil – then let it boil gently for a couple of minutes
  14. Do not stir!! This will crystalise the sugar and you do not want this
  15. Reduce the heat to a tiny simmer and let it cook for about 30 – 45 minutes until the zest starts to look see-through
  16. If it is boiling away the liquid too quickly you can add some hot water (about 20ml at a time) VERY CAREFULLY to the saucepan. Again, don’t stir. (Don’t use cold water or it will spit profusely at you – and this is boiling sugar water so will burn you)
  17. When the zest is translucent, drain it from the sugar syrup (you can catch this in a bowl – it will cool and go toffee-like, and can be added as an additional flavouring dropped into other dishes)
  18. Lay out the zest on the baking parchment so that the pieces are separate and not clumped together
  19. Sprinkle over some caster sugar and roll the pieces in it to cover them
  20. Leave to cool and harden before use or storing

 

Wild garlic and walnut pesto – and foraging tips

pesto2

Love, love, love wild garlic, or ‘ramsons’ as I was brought up to call these leaves. I do enjoy a bit of foraging; food always seems to be a bit tastier if you’ve gone out and picked it from it’s native habitat (whether that’s actually true or not).

This is not only a twist on pesto because it uses ramsons rather than the traditional basil, but I have also switched out the pine nuts for walnuts.

If I could just work out what British cheese to replace the parmesan with and maybe use verjus rather than lemon I could swap out the original Italian recipe for an entirely British one – maybe that’s a challenge I can look into!

Notes

I have only given a recipe for enough for a small jar full – this should be sufficient to coat enough pasta for a meal for 4 – 6 people or for at least a couple of meals’ use as an added ingredient.

I have done this because you shouldn’t keep it for more than a couple of days. This way you don’t waste the parmesan and the ramsons you’ve taken care and time to forage by making so much it’s in danger of going off before you can use it all. I confess that I am very lucky in that my supply of wild garlic is close to where I work so I can go pick a fresh handful each lunch when I want to cook with it.

Something interesting about ramsons is that the underside of the leaf is hydroscopic – that is, it naturally repels water. Why it’s evolved to have the underside, not the top do this I can’t imagine! However, it does mean it’s a bit tricky to wash 🙂

7 tips for finding ramsons

Ramsons are usually found somewhere damp (but not waterlogged)

They are more likely to be next to a running stream than a static lake, though can be by either

Will be sited somewhere between deep, wooded cover to dappled shade

You’ll possibly smell them before you see them – a woodier-smelling version of garlic

In early-season the leaves are like bunches of tulip leaves

Later on in the season, pretty white flower heads (a ball shape comprised of multiple little-start shaped flowers) appear – these are also edible!

In towns and villages there is often a ‘Ramson Road’ or ‘Ramson Wood’. In times past areas were named after the wild garlic and they’ve usually kept their names to the present day – use this bit of local knowledge as they could well be still growing in that area

If you go foraging, please abide by these four ‘unwritten rules’ to ensure that the area and the plants you take from remain healthy:

take only what you need, no more

don’t over take from the plant: better to take a little from several plants than wipe out one. This includes nuts and berries (not because you’re damaging the plant itself, but because it’s part of the local ecosystem and its fruiting bodies are needed to feed the local wildlife and continue its propogation of new plants

don’t take the original plant (ie don’t dig any roots up) or break it irrevocabl

leave the area as little disturbed as possible

That way there will be some more when you next go back!

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/
ramsons2

Equipment

  • Food processor and/or pestle and mortar
  • Jar, bottle or other container to store in the fridge
  • Grater

Ingredients

  • A large bunch of ramsons (wild garlic), washed thoroughly – about 40g to 45g
  • Walnuts – 40g
  • Parmesan, grated – 40g
  • Salt – a teaspoon
  • Garlic – a small clove, or half a normal sized one, chopped a little (just to make it easier to pound in the mortar)
  • Olive oil – about 6 tablespoons
  • Lemon juice (from a fresh lemon!) – about 1 -2 teaspoons (depending on your taste)

Method

Either use a pestle and mortar throughout or complete step 1 in a food processor.

I have tried to make this recipe completely in a food processor and found that I needed to do the later steps in the pestle and mortar anyway. It never seems to break up the leaves enough for me – they stick round the edges of the processor and under the blade and still need pounding. However, you may have a better performing food processor than I do though!

Processor method

  • Place all the ingredients in and whizz to a medium-fine consistency
  • Taste test and add a little more salt and/or lemon if needed

Pestle and mortar method

  1. Pound the leaves, garlic and the walnuts together in the processor in the mortar (you may need to do this in batches if your mortar is small)
  2. Add the salt and two tablespoons of the oil and bash together in the mortar
  3. Add the parmesan and muddle together with the pestle (if you have a very large mortar you can add the rest of the oil now)
  4. Add a teaspoon of the lemon juice, muddle again and taste – add more salt and/or lemon juice as needed
  5. Transfer to a large jar and mix in the rest of the oil
  6. Keep in a container in the fridge for up to two-three days
IMG_0823.jpg
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

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Sourdough for starters (or grow your own pet yeast)

Colin2.0.jpg

I recently began a new wild yeast starter as I lost my long-lived one. I have been making sourdough bread since my children started weaning onto solid food, right back in 2001. This post details how to ‘grow’ and look after a wild yeast starter yourself with some tips to keeping it going.

My last batch of wild yeast had been cultivated for several years and my children have helped me to nurture various starters, including that batch. They had learnt about micro organisms, baking and some food science in the process of looking after the yeast, even from a very young age (kitchen science is a great thing to get your kids involved in).

They had also decided to name that last batch ‘Colin’ for some reason, though starters are often labelled as ‘mothers’ and thought of as female (despite not really needing to be assigned a gender!). However, about two months ago I knocked over the lovely glass Kilner jar that Colin had been residing in. It teetered and toppled and then tessellated into little pieces all across the floor.

Damn.

I couldn’t resuscitate Colin – he was covered in shards of glass. He was good too – what lovely bread Colin had helped me create over the past few years. I shed a tear over his passing. I even contemplated making a little chalk line all around where he’d lain to mark where I’d accidentally finished him off.

But life goes on – and so to the rebirth of Colin mark two. Or is that Colin 2.0?

This time I’ve taken precautions. Colin 2.0 is housed in a modern apartment: a nice tall plastic, bounce-able tub. I did stash a bit of him in the freezer before the catastrophe but I made a new batch nonetheless and kept what was left of Colin on ice just in case. Yeast will sit nicely in stasis in a freezer almost indefinitely.

Cultivating your own wild yeast is easy peasy. All it takes is some decent flour, a bit of water, a tall lidded container and a couple of days of patience. Then it just needs a bit of attention every few days and it’ll be happy. I’ve seen “recipes” for starters that include live yoghurt or milk and any number of other additions. You do not need anything other than strong flour, water and something with a lid to keep it in to begin with.

What also puzzles me is that I’ve seen pre-packed starter for sale at alarming prices: if you can’t be arsed to take a couple of days to wait for a starter to begin to ferment, then you’re not going to look after one you’ve paid for. What a chronic waste of money – I worry many people who pay £14 or so for the starter will only make one or two loaves, possibly binning them if they haven’t worked. Another reason to cultivate your own starter, as it’s virtually free – if you go on to love making sourdough bread, fantastic, and if you don’t, you’ve wasted far less money.

I’ve written a previous blog post about the science of yeast, which is of course not written with any scientific expertise, but from what I’ve learnt through breadmaking for years and quite a lot of library researching (to improve my understanding of breadmaking and therefore my bread; the write-up was a happy additional extra). You can take a gander at my science of yeast post: it covers what is yeast exactly, how yeast ‘does what it does’ and looks at what affects yeast during the baking process.

Make your own starter – the ingredient list

You need a tall jar with a lid –  at least 1 1/2 litres. A Kilner jar does the job nicely, but as you’ve just read, this will smash if you’re as clumsy as me. I now use a tall plastic pot with a screw top lid I found in a pound store (result!)

A large ladle full of decent flour. Many sources will tell you to use rye or good wholemeal, but actually a good quality stoneground (organic if possible) strong white bread flour will start you off nicely. Cheaper and easier to get hold of too. This is because it is choc full of complex carbohydrates which yeast loves to eat. Those specialist flours contain less, although they do impart a much nicer flavour. My advice when starting your starter is to begin with good white flour, then as the yeast matures and becomes more vigorous then continue to feed it with rye, emmer, spelt, whatever you prefer to build up that nutty rich flavour.

Water, use the same amount of water as flour every time you ‘feed’ your starter and you can’t go much wrong. There are a lot or arguments about the quality of water – I’d say in the UK as long as you’re using fresh drawn water from the tap (transferred or measured out in a clean container) you should be OK. Elsewhere where tap water is not drinkable or unreliable, then bottled spring water is your best bet.

What to do

In a large bowl, put a ladle (or a half cup full) of flour and the same of tepid water. Whisk it up with a massive balloon whisk or a hand mixer. Don’t worry – it loves it! As yeast is present all around us, in the flour, in the air, you’re practically beating more yeast in.

After a few minutes of vigorous whisking, tip it all into the container and pop on the lid.

The container needs to go somewhere a bit warm (but not hot) and that has a fairly constant temperature. For the last few times I’ve begun a new starter I’ve stuck mine in the airing cupboard.

You now need to wait for the yeast to start its anaerobic activity and begin kicking out bubbles of gas. This will take anything from a day to three or four days. Keep checking your starter every twelve hours.

slashedLeafSourdough
Sourdough loaf: made with sponge method. Wholemeal flour at 55% hydration
Once it’s started to bubble, now is the time for your pet’s first feed!

Your first few feeds will be pretty much the same as all subsequent feeds, although you may want to vary the type of flour you use later and once established the starter needs feeding much less frequently.

Tip in a ladle full of each of flour and tepid water. Mix it vigorously with either a fork or a slim whisk. Put the lid back on and stick back in its warm spot.

You should feed it in the same way for another two days – a ladle full of flour and one of water and a good mix.

After three to four of these feeds your jar will be getting quite full and hopefully very bubbly (like the photo of Colin 2.0 above). Now you can use your starter to make bread!

I’m not going to give you a recipe in this post. I’d actually suggest you try a normal bread recipe first and just add a ladle full of your starter to it, to test the yeast’s vigorousness and flavour. However, you can just dive straight in and make a sourdough loaf with your new pet if you prefer.

Tips on keeping your pet alive

Please note, I look after my starter(s) as someone who only makes a sourdough loaf about once a week (twice at most). This means I am feeding my starter and keeping it’s size in check as I don’t use it that often. For other home and professional bakers who make sourdough very regularly – even daily – they don’t need to temper it’s size or withdraw and discard any starter, as they will be using it up as quickly as they can cultivate it. They’re also unlikely to leave a starter for any length of time (ie when going on holiday) or need to find a way of storing it for future revival. There are plenty of online resources which give fuller instructions for more frequent wild yeast use.

Don’t forget, when making bread with your starter NEVER use it all up or you’ll have to begin from the beginning all over again. Keep a bit in the bottom of the jar and carrying on feeding it.

Feeding your starter should now be about three times a fortnight (when you have it in the fridge – see below) – that is more than once a week, sometimes twice. Use equal amounts of flour and water, about a ladle full of each and whisk it in lightly with a fork.

When you have the wild yeast established and get into a routine of feeding it, you may need to scoop out a little of the starter before a feed if you have not depleted it by making a lot of bread (you don’t have to do this at every feed, just when your jar is getting towards being full). The reasons are twofold: firstly you’ll quickly get much more starter than you need and it’ll fill up your jar if you’re not a very regular sourdough baker. Secondly, it seems to invigorate the yeast a little more if there is a more even ratio between the amount of existing starter and the water and flour you’re putting in – this is just my own cursory observation (I’ve no hard proof) but it seems to me to be more active if it has to work harder.

Slow your wild yeast’s activity down by keeping it in the fridge once it’s got past its first few days, unless you intend to make sourdough every couple of days. The cold inhibits yeast (though doesn’t kill it) so will slow it’s biological process down. It’s now best to not have the lid completely tight on the jar too.

When you want to make a loaf, you need a little prior planning. Bring your pet wild yeast out of the fridge to let it warm, give it a small feed (about half what you would normally – just enough to encourage a bit of vigour) and leave it to get a bit of a wriggle on before you bake with it. Ideally get the starter out and feed it the night before you want to bake, but at least 4 hours before.

If you’re going on holiday you can help your pet survive by feeding it a bit more flour than usual and a bit less water – this drier environment slows the yeast as there is more carbohydrate to eat through but it’s a bit more difficult. This, combined with sticking in a fridge will allow it to last much longer between feeds.

Don’t panic if you’ve not fed it for a few days and it’s all ‘gone a bit watery’. That’s the yeast excreting alcohol as it respires, because it’s run out of carbohydrate (flour) to eat. Just pour this liquid (called hooch) off and then immediately feed the yeast – all should be well. I have (ahem) done this many times to my yeast and it’s always come back well.

I’ve read that if your yeast forms a crust (from lack of feeding) that this can be prised off and the yeast revived easily – I have never seen this so I can’t comment.

Also dozens of sources on sourdough say that if your starter starts to really smell, then all is lost and you should start again as unwanted bacteria has got in. This hasn’t happened to me either, but I would say approach this with caution as if you are new to this sourdough does always smell – however it is pungent but NOT acrid. When your starter has got going and is bubbling take a good long sniff and get used to the smell – you will get this smell often as you bake bread with your starter and get used to it. This familiarity will enable you to detect when it is past all redemption and needs to go down the sink. If it does smell bad then it will be irretrievable and you will have to cultivarte a new starter (and if this is the case I’d suggest a very thorough clean of the jar afterwards, even sterilisation).

Survival techniques

You can save some of your wild yeast as a back up, reviving it in case you lose your starter. To do this your starter should be in a fairly lively stage (ie don’t use it just at the point it needs feeding as it is most weak then). Freezing is my preferred method. It’s also useful to prepare a back up of a starter that is a particularly great batch.

  • Freezing
  • Put a piece of baking paper on a baking tray that is small enough to go in your freezer drawer or compartment. Drop tablespoon-sized amounts of your starter on the baking sheet and flatten them out a little. It doesn’t matter how many you do. Pop in the freezer and once frozen (leave about 4-6 hours or overnight) you can peel these disks of frozen starter off and pop in a freezer bag or container. You can keep this almost indefinitely, but I’d replace with a new batch after 6 months.
  • To revive, place three or four of the disks in a clean, lidded jar and allow it to thaw. Then, once thawed, start to feed it as from the instructions for the ‘first feed’ above. It will only take a couple of days to get your starter back up and bubbly.
  • Drying
  • You can also dry out your starter in a low oven or dehydrator. Again, use a piece of baking baking on a baking tray. This time, spread out a layer of starter across the baking paper. Either pop in a dehydrator (you may need to cut up the baking paper and place smaller pieces in) and follow your equipment’s instructions. If you’re using an oven, put it on its lowest setting, place the baking tray in the bottom of the oven (the coolest part) and leave for an hour. If the yeast isn’t fully dry, turn off the oven and close the door back up. Leave for a couple of hours or overnight. Once dried, crunch up the yeast into pieces and store in a clean jar or container. This again lasts pretty indefinitely but do replace after six months to be sure.
  • To revive, place half a cupful or so of the dried yeast in a clean, lidded jar and add in roughly half the amount of tepid water. Leave to dissolve a little and then go on to the first feeding stage.
  • One benefit of drying yeast, is you can grind it up and use it as an umami powder within some recipes, and it’s a great way with a little water, to create crackle coating for bread.

Enjoy your new pet!

August 2019 – I’ve created a new carb lovers’ area on my Facebook site, if you have any questions you can leave them here in the comments or in this Facebook group area:

Inksugarspice on Facebook – Carb lovers’ group

Orange curd

orange curd - from https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

It’s currently the season for one of my favourite fruits: the Seville orange.

You could make marmalade with the glut of these gorgeous citrus (which I will do occasionally, but is much more involved) or you could make orange curd. It’s simple, delicious and curds are a wonderful first step into preserving. And no sugar thermometer needed 🙂

I’m on a bit of a mission to get fruit curds back into home cookery. They’ve been seen for too long as old-fashioned and deserve a bit of a resurgence. Yes, they are very old (in my lemon curd recipe post I talk about the first recorded recipe for ‘lemon cheese’ which appeared in 1844 – although it’s expected that it was made much earlier than that) but they are very more-ish, easy to make and have many uses.

Fruit curds are highly adaptable. This recipe could be used to make an orange tart (just fill a pre-baked pastry case with the curd and let cool/set in the case), spoon onto pancakes or crumpets, add a dollop onto ice cream, layer it on top of your muesli or even use it as a base for a sauce to go with duck. I have written this recipe up as I have included orange curd in a custard tart recipe that I’ve made and will write up soon.

I devised a basic recipe for curd many years ago and apply it to many different fruits: please try my other curd recipes: a traditional lemon curd, a pomegranate plum and strawberry curd which is especially unusual and delicious and a hedgerow fruits curd).

Notes

In a happy coincidence (and totally unplanned) this recipe makes around 500ml – I only know this as it almost fills a half litre Kilner jar to the top.

To sterilize jar(s) for the orange curd, either pop them in a hot oven for 10 minutes or stick them through a hot wash on your dishwasher. Lids can’t go in the oven, so hand wash these then give them a quick rinse with some water from a just-boiled kettle. There are extra tips on sterilising jars within my lemon curd recipe.

Because oranges vary in their sweetness, take the amount of caster sugar (250g) as a guide. It is typically correct, but if you think the batch of oranges you have is particularly sweet I’d suggest just putting in 200g to start off with, then taste test. Equally in the ingredients notes I’ve said make sure you have some extra caster sugar to hand in case you need to add more, if the oranges are a little more acidic.

Equipment
  • Saucepan
  • Sterilised jars (not needed if you are to eat the curd straightaway or are filling a pastry case with it)
  • Fine sieve or strainer
  • Whisk
  • Citrus juicer/squeezer (I favour a simple wooden one)
  • Bowl or large jug to juice the oranges into
  • Zester/microplane
  • Measuring jug (to at least 200ml)
Ingredients
  • Oranges – 4 large (ie Seville, Navel) or about 6 smaller ones – you need around 200ml of juice in total. Alternatively you can just used a good shop-bought orange juice
  • Large eggs – 2 whole and 2 yolks
  • Caster sugar – 250g (plus have a bit extra to hand in case you need to add more)
  • Unsalted butter at room temperature and chopped into small cubes – 115g

As I’ve mentioned previously in other recipes, curds are made similarly to custards except they contain fruit juices/purées instead of milk or cream. You do not need a sugar thermometer for curds.

Method
  1. Zest two oranges and keep this aside in case you need to add the zest for added taste later (it will be difficult to zest oranges that have been cut and juiced, so do this now in case)
  2. Juice the oranges over a sieve into a bowl or jug (some small pieces of flesh are good but you should strain larger pieces out and remove all traces of any white pith)
  3. Measure out the juice as you work your way through the oranges – you may or may not need all of them to make 200ml
  4. Whisk the eggs together in the saucepan
  5. Put the saucepan over a medium heat (on a small burner or plate) and then add the rest of the ingredients
  6. Start to whisk – this doesn’t need to be very vigorous but do ensure you’re reaching all parts of the pan and don’t stop whisking or it will scramble
  7. Once the ingredients are melted together you can turn the heat up to medium-high
  8. Keep whisking all the while: it doesn’t take long, but you have to stay with it
  9. Once it’s thickened, turn off the heat and keep lightly whisking for another few minutes while it cools a little, just to ensure it thickens enough
  10. Taste it at this stage – if it is sharp, add a tablespoon more sugar, whisk it in and taste again. Repeat as necessary. If it needs a little more vigour, add the zest from earlier and stir it in for a little more piquancy
  11. Once you’re satisfied with the level of sweetness/tartness and it is thick enough (it should have the consistency of a very thick custard) pour it into a bowl or tart case for immediate use or a sterilised jar if you think you won’t use this within the next day or so
  12. Leave somewhere cool to chill and set

 

Rich peanut butter fudge

rich peanut butter fudge by inksugarspiceI had an idea for a caramel and fudge eclair, and resorted to my trusty recipe for fudge as the first starting point. I’ve adapted my own recipe somewhat, as I’ve incorporated sweetened condensed milk and a large dollop of peanut butter to enrich it.

If you have a peanut allergy or are wanting to make this but are worried about others eating it, you can omit the peanut butter and instead use a tablespoon of vanilla bean paste.

Notes

Fudge is the easiest of all confectionary to make but there are a few key points:

  • It must boil to soft ball stage, which is 116C
  • After reaching soft ball stage, you should let it cool to about 110C before adding any extra ingredients (like the peanut butter here, or vanilla)
  • Between the 110C and about 65C you need to vigorously stir the fudge while cooling as this ensures the sugar doesn’t crystalise into long strands (this gives an unwanted crunchy texture and can also leave the fudge more prone to dissolving in air)
Equipment
  • Large heavy based pan
  • Sugar thermometer
  • Wooden spoon
  • Smallish (about 20cm x 20cm) tin, lined with baking paper (or you can make a tray using tin foil
Ingredients
  • Demerera sugar – 250g
  • Caster sugar – 200g
  • Double cream – 250ml
  • Sweetened condensed milk – 250ml
  • Glucose syrup – 1 tablespoons
  • Peanut butter, smooth – 3 tablespoons (or replace with a tablespoon of vanilla bean paste)
Method
  1. Put all the ingredients except the peanut butter in the sauce pan
  2. Stir over a medium heat until all the ingredients are melted together
  3. Turn up the heat, put in the sugar thermometer and boil until it reaches 116C/soft ball stage
  4. Take off the heat and stir gently until the temperature falls to about 110C
  5. Add in the peanut butter and stir vigorously until combined and then until the fudge drops to about 65C
  6. Pour into your tin and leave to cool
  7. Once cool cut into squares and keep in an airtight container (especially away from moisture)