Drying hydrangeas

A short blog post to show you how easy it is to dry hydrangeas.

These beautiful flowers look as lovely indoors, dried, as much as they do in the garden. Personally I do not like the blousy brightly coloured varieties, the sky blues and bright pinks, but there are plenty of gentle, antique-coloured hydrangeas. Of course, it’s up to you what you grow, but my favourites are the light green of Little Lime, the rich russet-maroon of Ruby Tuesday and I’ve picked up a plant of Vanille-Fraise this year, which should start properly flowering next summer (this is a panicle – pointed – variety that’s mainly white with strawberry coloured edges) .

There are also varietal types to describe the flower and leaf patterns, such as lace cap or panicle. Lace caps do not look as great as the others dried, because by their nature not all the flowers open, but they’re still cute.

It’s perfect to pick and dry hydrangeas at this time of year – late autumn/early winter (I’m writing this in November).

Uses of dried hydrangeas

Dried hydrangeas are great ornamentals in the home. I also use them in my festive wreaths.

Dried hydrangeas will look good for at least twelve months, so perfect for your replacements in a year’s time!

Drying in water

  • This sounds counter-intuitive but does work so easily!
  • Pick your flower heads with a fairly long stem
  • Remove all leaves
  • Trim a bunch of flower heads to the same stem length
  • Place in a vase and fill with water
  • After about 10-12 days when the water has evaporated (do not top up) the flower heads should be dried and ready

Drying without water

  • Pick your flower heads with a fairly long stem
  • Remove all leaves
  • For each flower head cut a circle of baking paper or printer paper roughly to the same diameter as the flower head
  • Cut a small hole in the centre and feed through the stem
  • The paper circle stops the flowerhead from sagging, keeping it in it’s round form
  • Place a few together in a vase and leave to dry
  • Do not leave somewhere too hot or they may brown too much, it’s best they dry slowly.

A note about hang drying

You can also dry them by hanging them upside down, but frankly I’ve had less success with this and often even when it’s worked the flower heads look misshapen, however you may have better luck.

Base sourdough recipe

I’m no doubt long overdue writing up my basic sourdough recipe. But I’ve now, finally, managed it and I hope it’s useful.

I’ve been baking sourdough for almost 20 years but I still believe I have much, much more to learn. Always something new to try and test with wild yeast baking.

So, here we are… this is my ‘base’ sourdough recipe.

Follow this to get used to baking sourdough. Learn how the dough at each stage feels, moves, its viscosity, look for the amount of bubbles at each stage, how the dough reacts to your particular oven. Get happy with the rise, the crust, the flavour and crumb inside. Then, use this as a base to change up your sourdough baking – this recipe can then be adapted to incorporate other flavours and flours.

Notes – important!!

Starter/mother/wild yeast. To learn about growing and nurturing a wild yeast starter for sourdough baking read my post on Sourdough for Starters – grow your own pet yeast. You must have a lively, bubbly and strong wild yeast starter to bake a sourdough loaf or you’re doomed from the start and will only be upset with the results – give yourself the best chance of a great loaf by using the starter when it’s lively.

Timing. I’ve worked hard here to provide timings for a beginner across two days where you have left yourself free time, such as a weekend. Later on there is a table for an alternative timing over a single day. Alternatively with experience and the length of time for each stage (I’ve given timings for each stage below) you’ll be able to fit your bread into your own personal routine.

Stages. Certain stages of the process are important to follow the timing fairly rigidly and other parts of the process can be shortened or extended. I’ve marked out where timings can be made more flexible or where they are to be kept to throughout the recipe. You’ll quickly learn the key timings and also where you can relax a bit.

Equipment 1. I’ve developed a method where I use a click-top plastic food box for my early stages. I recommend you buy one (it’s also very useful for other wet doughs such as ciabatta) but you can substitute a bowl and close covering, such as a shower cap or cling film. I also find it so, so useful to write the timings of stages right on the top of the box during each bake with a whiteboard marker! The box I use is a large, five litre click top container (in fact I have several). They’re pretty cheap; often cheaper than a sturdy mixing bowl.

Equipment 2. I’ve used a banneton in this method but if you are starting out and don’t have one (or can’t get one – during the rise in bread making throughout the pandemic there’s been a shortage of bannetons) there are alternatives! Use a mixing bowl or a loaf tin lined with a linen tea towel instead. Then you can make sure you want to keep doing this before you invest in more equipment.

Banneton: eh, huh? Unsure what a banneton is? It’s a bowl-like structure normally made of rattan, cane or wood/paper pulp which holds the dough in a breathable environment while it rises and ferments. They’re typically circular, but can be oval, square, triangular or even ring shaped and come inverting sizes to accommodate different dough volumes. A banneton encourages the shape of the loaf for when it’s turned out for baking. Cane and rattan ones are woven or coiled, which gives the loaf characteristic indentations and patterns. Modern wood or paper pulp brotforms can have punched patterns in too. As mentioned above you can substitute a mixing bowl with a linen cloth – it’s not as breathable, nor does it give those nice indentations, but it’s a good alternative. Typically we’ve all adopted the French word of banneton for these, but also look for proving basket or brotform (German).

Cloche. You can bake your sourdough loaf in a cloche (an ‘upside down’ earthenware pot with a flat shallow base and a domed lid), which does give help to the rise and a crusty crust. I have not included this in the baking process here. There’s enough to be getting on with learning all of this, let alone get used to cloche baking. You can get a great loaf without one and in fact you may never decide you want one. If I’m honest I’m really agnostic about it: I actually don’t like the really thick crust that some sourdoughs have and most times I simply forget to grab the cloche when my loaf is ready to bake; I just turn it out on a baking tray. If you do want to try, move on to it later, and in the meantime I’ll try to write a post about that too.

Water temperature. Don’t stress about this – use “tepid”. Test it on your hand, if it feels close to body heat that’s perfect. I’ve left it necessarily vague as I don’t think it makes that much difference give or take a few degrees. Best not use cold nor hot though and if you want to be exact around 30-32C is ideal.

Flouring. As a learner, I’m advising you to overflour your banneton. They’re be nothing worse than having to peel or scrape your risen loaf out of the proving basket which will deflate it immediately. You can learn with time how much flouring your bannetons and brotforms need. My ideal flour for the banneton is rice flour. Semolina also works well but is more orange (due to carotene) if that colour bothers you. If you can’t get hold of these use your flour you made your loaf with. They’ll all work, it’s just rice flour is less absorbent and finer and just seems to work well.

Stretching – or kneading. You’ve made bread with dried or fresh yeast and you’re used to kneading; so why not knead here? With the incorporation of the autolyse resting process, it’s easier to stretch and fold a sourdough loaf rather than all-out kneading. (Autolysis is explained within Method below). However, there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with kneading your sourdough, but it is wet and sticky and easier this alternative way. Sometimes though, depending on flour used etc sourdough bread can really do with a ‘good old knead’. Again this’ll come with confidence and practice but stick to this given stretch and wait method in my recipe for now at least as it is easier 🙂

Additional reading from this website:

Equipment

  • Five litre click top container (or mixing bowl and either a shower cap, cling film or similar)
  • Scales, measuring spoons etc
  • Clean tea towel or muslin
  • Banneton (or alternative + linen tea towel). Ideal banneton size for this recipe is a 9″ / 23 cm diameter banneton
  • Sharp knife, single-side razor blade or baker’s blade (lame)
  • Large baking tray
  • Spoon
  • Dough scraper – a really essential piece of kit, metal or plastic
  • A flat baking tin
  • Oven gloves
  • Additional – non permanent marker or note pad and pen

Ingredients

  • 30 ml lively wild yeast starter (also called sourdough starter or mother etc)
  • 280 ml tepid water
  • 8 g salt
  • Several turns of a pepper mill to get fresh pepper
  • 400 g of strong white bread flour
  • Extra flour for dusting (see note above)

Method

FIRST DAY: Start this mid afternoon/early evening.

Today’s activity takes just over 2 hours overall with hands on time at about 10-15 minutes.

Stage 1 – mix and autolysis (action of enzymes in the yeast breaking down the starch in the flour, which releases simple sugars. The yeast then feeds on these sugars and within the warming, wet environment gluten strands form and begin to stretch and relax).

  • Place the container on your scales and weigh out 30g of the starter
  • Pour in the water and agitate it so that the starter is dispersed
  • Add in the flour – all 400g of it – and mix it into the water and starter mix as best as possible
  • Put the lid on
  • Mark on the top of the box what the time is
  • Leave it as a rough, shaggy mess for ONE HOUR

Stage 2 – Gluten development (stretching or kneading process)

  • After one hour sprinkle the salt and grind the pepper over the top of the dough mix
  • Now, using one hand, SCRUNCH the dough, pinching the salt and pepper into dough as you do it. See images below
  • Using your fingertips, incorporate all the little bits of dough and flour that didn’t get mixed in properly. As you scrunch, make sure you squeeze in any bits of dough that feel a bit harder. You’ll notice the smoothness of the dough has almost immediately changed and is much smooth and silkier – this is great!
  • Scrunch the dough for about 1 minute
  • Now do some rough stretching and folding (see images and video below) – you don’t have to do much at this point, you’re only trying to bring it together a little. Grab the side of the dough and lift it up and back on itself, so you’re almost wrapping it. Rotate the container so that you do this around the dough – repeat this stretch up and lay-over move about eight or so times. Grab a portion of dough at the side, lift upwards and slightly outwards and then stretch over the ball of dough and pat down. You’re aiming to end up with a ball shape

Place the lid back on the box, write down the time on the top and leave for another hour

After the hour is up, you have a choice! Sometimes, (depending on the autolyze efficacy, flour quality, room temperature etc) your dough will be very shiny, smooth and stretchy just after a single stretch-and-lift-over and one hour’s rest routine. If this is the case you can move straight on the Stage 3. (Also, if you are short of time or trying an alternative timing from the list below there may only be room for a single routine).

If the dough still looks a bit shaggy round the edges or you want to be sure the dough has been stretched enough, you’ll need to do another stretch-and-lift-over. Do 8-10 of these lift, stretch and fold-over actions. Again, aim for a ball shape

Place the lid back on – wait for another hour (and mark it on the lid)

After the second hour is up, you need to stretch and lift-over again. You’ll notices the dough is visibly and physically much smoother and stretchier. Again do 8-10 of these lift and fold actions on your dough and leave it in a ball shape

Place the lid back on

Stage 3 – first ferment (some call this bulk rise)

  • You now don’t need to do anything until tomorrow morning
  • Leave the lidded container somewhere that is anywhere between cold to an ambient, mild temperature
  • Do NOT leave it anywhere hot (this speeds up the ferment and is a useful tool to change proving times but we’ll stick to the beginner’s plan here!). if it is hot it’s better to go in the top of a fridge

NEXT MORNING

Today’s activity takes just over 4 hours overall with hands on time at just about 30-40 minutes.

Stage 4 – shaping

  • This does not matter very much what time you leave the dough until. An hour or two shorter or longer doesn’t matter, but do it by about 9-10am.
  • Your dough should have spread outwards and upwards overnight
  • The plastic container will allow you to see that it is full of air pockets – some large, some small. Perfect! It will be about 3-5cm up the side of the container and have spread out to fill it. (If you had to put it in the fridge and it’s not at this stage, leave it out for an hour and re-check on it)
  • You now need to get the dough out of the container with as little disturbance of these holes as possible (squashing it somewhat is inevitable)
  • Flour your countertop/table lightly
  • Have your banneton to hand. Flour the base generously and up the sides as much as you can. If your banneton comes with a linen liner, do use it. If you are using a mixing bowl, line it with the linen tea towel and generously flour the insides
  • Wet your fingertips on your dominant hand and flick off the excess
  • Tilt the container towards you, so that the dough starts slipping downwards, and, using your fingertips encourage it down and out of the container onto your floured surface. Use your dough scraper as you feel necessary to help. Get all of the little bits of dough out – you want these (better in your loaf than down the sink or in the bin!)
  • You don’t need the container anymore
  • You now need to repeat that stretch and lift-over method you used yesterday – we need to shape the dough. This tightens the exterior surface of the dough, tensioning so. A shaped loaf becomes even more taught as it expands during the final ferment/rise. This allows for a great crust and a good spring (when scored) and stops it spreading out unevenly in any direction once you’ve tipped it out of the banneton
  • If any time during shaping your dough sticks, use the dough scraper to lift it where it’s sticking and dust with extra flour and place back down
  • Grab a side of the dough, stretch and lift upwards and outwards and pick the ends in place in the middle of the dough ball. Turn and repeat – you’ll need to do this about 6-8 times. Take a look at the dough from above – you’re trying to get a fairly accurate circle (any ‘corner’ sticking out will spread in the oven). Pinch call the ends together in the middle into a seam so they don’t unravel
  • Make sure your surface is floured and turn your dough over, so the seam is underneath. Using your floured fingers or the dough scraper, go round the loaf gently but firmly stretching down the sides to the underneath of the loaf, turning it as you go in a scooping motion, to continue making the rounded, tightened shape:
  • A note here – don’t stretch and tighten the dough too much – it will eventually tear (it’s not endlessly elastic). You’ll get used to this level. If it does tear it’s not the end of the world, just that’s where the loaf probably will expand in the oven, and expand unevenly
  • Take your loaf and gently place it in the banneton, seam side up this time
  • Gently lifting/pushing the dough in at the side (being careful not to damage it), dust down the side of the loaf/banneton with some flour. Do this all all the way round so that the loaf does not stick as it rises
  • Cover with a clean tea towel, making sure it’s a little domed/lifted at the top (to leave space for the bread to rise

Stage 5 – second fermentation

  • Leave for about three hours (though if it’s hot, check first after 90 minutes)
  • Your loaf should have risen and have a sort of ‘thick jelly’ like wobble to it. the way to test if it’s ready is to gently make an indent in the dough (at the top, just in from the side) with a finger
  • Does it spring back about 70-90% into place, leaving the tiniest of dents? If so this is perfect!
  • If it fills in completely it needs much more time to rise. Give it another hour and try again
  • If it doesn’t spring back at all and you’re left with a large indentation, oops – did you leave your loaf longer than three hours? Did you leave it out when it was hot indoors for too long? Did you leave it out in a hot place last night (when it should’ve been in the fridge? Don’t despair: you’ll still get a loaf and you can bake it, it will just be more dense and won’t rise.
  • Assuming you’re at that Goldilocks stage with your dough – it’s just right, now stick it in the fridge for half an hour to slow down the ferment and help it ‘set’
  • Turn your oven on to 140C fan / 160C conventional
  • Put your large baking tray on a rack at the bottom of your oven. Make sure that there is plenty of height between the bottom rack and the top rack – you may want to only leave the bottom oven rack in. If they’re too close your loaf may rise into the top rack!
  • Place the flat baking tin at the bottom of the oven, under the rack you’re going to use
  • Have your knife/blade.razor/lame ready + a little extra flour + a cup of water

See my YouTube post about making your own lame:

Stage 6 – scoring and baking

  • After half an hour retrieve your loaf
  • Take out the warmed baking tray from the oven (wear your gloves!) and dust it with a little flour
  • Invert the loaf onto the baking tray (where the flour is) and smooth out the flour that’s left on the top of the loaf, after it was tipped out of the banneton
  • Take your blade or knife and make a swift and decisive cut across the top of the loaf – as a start for this loaf, do just one single one from one side to the other. Cut depth should be about 1 cm at its deepest (any less and there won’t be much spread, too much and you’ll cut into the air holes and deflate the loaf). See my post on nine top tips for bread scoring
  • (If you’re feeling adventurous immediately, do four cuts in a criss-cross pattern as in the main bread image for this recipe)
  • Now your bread is ready to go in. But, first tip the cup of water into the flat baking tin at the bottom of the oven – this is to create steam
  • Immediately put the baking tray + loaf in the oven and close the door
  • Increase the temperature to 240C fan oven or 260C conventional oven (or if not using fan setting)
  • Set a timer for 45 minutes
  • As soon as your oven gets up to temperature, turn it down by 20 degrees (to 220 C fan / 240 C conventional)
  • What to look for: when baked your loaf should be a nice rich warm brown colour. Where the slashes/scores were made these will be darker. The crust should look dry
  • To test it’s done tap the bottom of the loaf and it should sound hollow and feel fairly rigid. To test throughly, if you have a digital probe thermometer, the bread should be 80C or more
  • Not done? Put it back for another 10 minutes

Alternative timings

Here are some alternative times for your sourdough method:

Bake in a day – you need to be an early bird!

Refresh your starter last thing before going to bed the night before (note the timing change here works as your bread is doing the main ferment in the day when it’s warmer – at night it’s colder and the ferment takes longer)

5.30 am stage 1: mix and autolyse – autolyse for 30 mins only

6.00 am stage 2: gluten development. Only perform one lift, stretch and fold routine

6.20 am stage 3: first ferment – leave, covered, all day

6.00 pm stage 4: shaping

6.15 pm stage 5: second ferment

9.30 pm stage 6: score and bake

Changing your sourdough up after practice

Alternative flours, inclusions and flavours – please see the list on my ‘simple yeasted bread‘ recipe. The advice and suggestions there for swapping out flours, adding extra ingredients, making the bread enriched and for adding flavourings and colourings go just as much for wild yeast sourdough as they do for bread leavened with commercial yeast.

A gallery of just a few of my many wild yeast loaves (these are made using this base recipe, some with slight change-ups, such as the addition of Marmite and cheddar, cider apple vinegar or beetroot):

Egg pasta dough – pasta all’uovo

I’ve shied away from writing a lot of pasta recipes and posts, apart from the What pasta tools do you really need parts one and two. Silly really. I thought when I started this website that I wanted to show that I had a breadth of food skills, not just the pasta and bread that I was most known for. I have been making pasta (and bread) by hand at home for over 30 years now, so I’m fairly experienced and perhaps I’m rather overdue writing more pasta posts and recipes!

I’ve adapted this post to give considerations and alternatives during this time of lockdown.

For me, pasta dough is less “recipe” and more “formula”. There are two basic formulas: one for egg dough and one for eggless (just flour and water). Both these then are adaptable for different flours, different amounts of egg/yolk, mixes of flours and other ingredients.

This post only focuses on an egg dough. This produces an elastic and high protein/gluten pasta. Use this as your basis to get used to making fresh egg pasta dough and then move on to create and experiment with variations. This dough can be stretched very thin while remaining strong, so it’s perfect for pasta ripiena (filled pasta such as like ravioli) or long ribbons and straw shapes (as they won’t tear or break under their own weight). In short, using an egg dough gives you a lot of options for making pasta at home.

An addition on 4th June: I’ve completed a YouTube video on making egg dough to accompany this recipe:

Notes on flour

You ideally* want to use an ultra-refined white (soft) wheat flour for this base egg dough recipe. You can go on to play around with different wheat species and gluten free flours later, but for the purposes of this ‘base formula’ we’re sticking to the fundamental recipe.

There are various methods of grading flour. Flours can be coarse grained (uses the wholegrain including bran from the wheat grain) to those that are very finely milled (only using the endosperm: the whitest, finest part of the grain). You need a finely milled flour for fine pasta – the finer the milling the smoother the pasta. I’ve planned a blog post on flour, which I hope to post soon.

In these times of lockdown and flour and egg shortages you can be adaptable. Yes, as mentioned *ideally you want to produce the best pasta which does call for finely milled flour, but you can make good pasta at home with plain flour or strong white bread flour. Plain flour will make slightly softer, limper pasta but cook it for a little less time. Bread flour is course and a bit chewy, but with a robust sauce you’ll barely notice.

It’s been relatively easy (up to the COVID-19 crisis when all flours now seem difficult to come by) to find flours labelled ‘Tipo 00’ in the UK. Even McDougall’s sells packets of 00 flour in high street supermarkets. See my resources page for links to online suppliers – Shipton Mill, Bakery Bits, Melbury and Appleton, Sous Chef and more all ship Italian flours.

Portion size

It all depends on the size of eggs you have available but try to use large eggs. Roughly 100g of flour = one main course portion.

  • 100g of flour + 1 large egg

Alternatively, if you have medium or small eggs:

  • 90-92g of flour + 1 medium egg
  • 100g of flour + 1 small egg + 1/2 egg yolk. This ratio makes sense when you are making for two or four people, such as 200g flour + 2 small eggs + 1 egg yolk

No eggs or few eggs? It’s been hard to get eggs hasn’t it? So a few tips on eggs in pasta for lockdown:

If you’ve got one or two eggs left and need to make more than two portions replace the missing eggs with 50g of water, that is for each 100g flour use 50g water instead of an egg. For example, you want to make 5 portions and have 2 eggs, use 500g of flour + 2 eggs + 150g water

I don’t really advise this but you ‘can’ make something with part white flour and part semolina flour with water but so note it’s best to let it air dry before using to stop it going gluey. It’s not that great and if you have some semolina flour its much better to make it wholly with that, which is semola dough (see below1). A way round using plain flour with no egg is to add gluten powder2. I’d advise you to not make just flour and water “pasta” (a famous chef has recently mooted this idea) as it’s really not good and has a tendency to dissolve. I did try making it to see – ugghhh. If you’re in that dire a food situation you’re contemplating plain flour + water dough, I’d say stop and make something else. You’re ruining the experience and taste of homemade pasta and you’ll put yourself off. Better to try and get hold of dried pasta, wait til you can get some eggs or make semola dough1. Or just leave off the pasta making and choose something else for a while.


1If you don’t have eggs the ideal things to do is make a semola/eggless pasta dough, typical of southern Italy and Liguria (I will write this up soon) as semola (fine durum wheat flour) has a high protein content which negates the need for eggs. This pasta is fabulous and is the basis of most dried pasta you can buy.

2Gluten powder can be purchased from online bakery suppliers, such as Bakery Bits (see my resource section).

Notes on amounts

I have to add here that 100g for a person is on the large side of what is a single serving – this is fine if the pasta is the majority part of a main meal or people are very hungry! It’s too much if there are a lot of other ingredients as well as the pasta, say for lasagne or spaghetti with meatballs. It’s certainly too much for a starter, so consider your total amounts. For me, about 90g per person is ideal for a main and about 65g for a starter.

Working the dough

It’s easiest to work with at least a 200g dough. Any less is really a lot of effort and time for a tiny amount of food – better to make more that you need and freeze half, see below3.

Pasta dough should be fairly hard work – you need your upper body strength when working by hand. If it’s too easy, there’s not enough flour in it. Likewise, if it’s really ridiculously tough then there’s not enough egg/liquid. To work the dough, transfer the whole force from your shoulder down through your arm to the heel of your hand into the dough. Be rough with it!

Unless you’ve mis-measured or your large egg is really extra-large, all the egg should mix with all the dough. Have you seen those pasta videos or instructions that say discard the extra flour?! There should be no extra flour: it should all mix in with enough force if you’ve weight and prepared properly.

Resting the dough

After kneading, cover the dough (linen cloth, cling film, beeswax wrap, bag etc) and put somewhere cool. It doesn’t have to be a fridge unless it’s a very hot, dry day. But do over all of it, if there are air gaps you’ll get a crust.

Rest for at least 30 minutes.

Making in advance

3 If you want to make egg pasta dough way in advance, then freeze your dough. This does deteriorate the dough a little (in comparison to using it just-made). I find it defrosts better if you cut up the dough into chunks, rather than freeze the large ball of dough. You can also make your pasta shapes and freeze them.

You can make it the day before and leave in the fridge (as it’s raw egg, then I don’t advice leaving it for longer than 24 hours).

Method

Make by hand and you’ll need to knead for up to 10 minutes. Stick the ingredients in a STURDY food processor and it will take but a couple of minutes. Please note do check your food processor manual before making pasta dough in it – most cannot cope with the density of pasta dough and may break!

For me, I always hand mix apart from a couple of highly coloured vegetables doughs which may stain my table. As you get more used to pasta making and stronger arms it will take less time – I can knead dough in just a few minutes now.

  1. Measure out the right amount of Tip 00 flour and tip onto a table
  2. Make a well in the middle, so it looks like a volcano crater
  3. Tip the eggs into the middle (you can crack them straight in here – I usually do as eggs are reliable nowadays – or you can crack them into a bowl first if you’re worried about adding a gone-off egg)
  1. Use the tips of you fingers with your lead hand, in a circular motion to mix the eggs gradually into the flour, working slowly outwards through the ring of flour – go anti clockwise if you are right handed and clockwise if you are left handed
  2. Steady the ring/crater of flour with your other hand, so that it doesn’t collapse and your egg runs off across the table
  3. Slowly incorporate the flour into the egg by dragging a little in from the ‘crater’ with each hand rotation
  1. Once the flour and egg have been combined, start kneading the dough
  1. The dough will naturally take up the correct amount of flour for the eggs you have – it shouldn’t leave any ‘spare’ flour on your work surface (though don’t panic if you really can’t work it all in. The reason for this may be a small egg or just not being used to working the dough hard enough)
  2. Should the flour be taken up very quickly by the egg (maybe larger than average eggs or you’re in high humidity etc), then flick a little more flour onto the table to continue kneading it in
  3. The dough should be difficult but not be very dry: it should not crack or crumble when kneading. It is tricky, but not impossible to add more liquid to a dry dough. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to wet your hands (flick off the excess) and knead this in. Once tricky thing about this is if you are working on a slightly slippery surface it’s difficult to knead a dough with a wet exterior – working on wood helps this (the grain acts as a grip)
  4. A guide for dryness/stickiness of dough is that if you are going to use a pasta machine to produce sheets (sfoglie) it’s better to have a dryer dough and if you are making handmade shapes (such as orecchiette or trofie) then slightly more pliable is best
  5. Kneading pasta dough is much tougher than kneading bread dough but it s similar technique. To start with, the dough will be very tough to manipulate. If you find it too tricky, try putting the heel of your palm on the dough (as normal) but lean into the dough with the whole weight from your upper body by leaning in to it right from your shoulder, through your arm and down to your hand. As you knead the dough will become more elastic and easier to manipulate
  1. Knead with your palm to spread the dough out away from you, then roll the dough back with your other hand. Turn or flip over the dough and continue
  2. You will have to knead for about 10 minutes as someone new to pasta (although if you’re very strong you’re at an advantage and may be quicker). You’ll get faster as you get more practiced and stronger
  3. The dough is ready when it has a slightly shinier and smoother surface and is more easy to stretch and knead
  1. Another way to tell is by gently making an indentation in the dough surface with a finger – the dough will slowly spring back (though pasta dough never will fill in the indentation completely)
  2. Round the dough off into a ball and cover it – your choice of linen, wrap, a bag or whatever – just ensure that it’s covered or the surface will start to dry out and crack
  3. Any cool-ish, area out of the sun or the top of the fridge will be fine to rest your dough (though if your kitchen is very warm then it really should go in the fridge and, also please note the next point because of raw eggs)
  4. Leave the dough to rest for 30 minutes ideally. It can be left for a day in a fridge (don’t leave it out of the fridge longer than the 30 minutes because of the raw egg involved)
  5. After the dough is rested it’s ready to use in your preferred recipe

If you have a question for me please do leave one below, or a nice comment! Thank you


Instructions and visual steps on how to make egg pasta dough, including tips and help on creating pasta when ingredients are hard to come by

Gnocchi

gnocchi

Gnocchi are gorgeous, pillowy-soft little morsels. They’re made with potato and flour so are the carbohydrate part of your dish. You can make them without the egg (then making them vegan) but in my trials I do think they benefit from the addition of the protein for their structure.

For me gnocchi are a great additional to your cooking repertoire, as they are another carbohydrate type for your meal and provide yet another choice in cooking potatoes.

Some say these are pasta. They’re certainly a pasta shape and there are some regional pastas, such as rascatielli from Puglia, that have potato in them but potato in a pasta shape is usually just a proportion in comparison with the flour. In gnocchi the potato is the majority ingredient. Whatever your thinking on this (could this be the next jam or cream on scones first debate!?) they’re certainly an excellent source of carbohydrate and a real change from other methods of cooking potatoes or using pasta in a dish.

During this time of lockdown cooking and being frugal with what you have, it may seem wasteful that you are using additional flour and egg, rather than just cooking baked potatoes. However, it does make the potatoes go much further as not only does it add to the whole ingredients, it also helps the potatoes fluff up a little. Nutritionally, it adds protein and further carbohydrate too. Also consider that baked potatoes are rarely eaten without butter and mash can have butter, milk or cream and/or cheese added to it.

Notes

Enough for four people.

It’s difficult to halve this recipe as it has an entire egg in it, but you can make all the gnocchi and then freeze half:

❄️ Freezing tips – Freeze the gnocchi in one layer on a tray, not bunched up together. when frozen they can then be placed in a bag or tub together. Do not thaw – just use them straight from the freezer (if you thaw them first they will go mushy)

Cooking time: Takes about 1 hour 40 minutes, however there’s only about 30 minutes of activity! 1 hr 10 of this is just the potatoes baking in the oven

Serve with any sauce or ragu that you would make for pasta. Goes particularly well with cheese or rich tomato sauces. Also you can just fry them off in herbed oil as a cicchetto (Italian tapa).

gnocchi making ink sugar spice

Equipment list

  • Baking tray
  • A large bowl
  • Sharp small knife
  • Cutting board
  • A couple of clean tea towels
  • Butter pats, garganelli board or a fork with long tynes (not essential but used to give the ridges)
  • Baking tray
  • Pastry cutter, sharp large knife or a sturdy fork (Don’t use a masher)

To cook – either:

  • Large frying pan (skillet) and olive oil, with a slotted spatula or;
  • Large saucepan with boiling salted water and a sieve/scoop

Ingredients – gnocchi

  • 1 kg of Maris piper or similar potatoes
  • 1 medium egg
  • 200g flour (ideally 00 type but normal plain flour will do, and you can substitute cornflour or other gluten free flour if you prefer)
  • 5 g Salt
  • Extra flour for dusting

Method

  1. Turn your oven on to 180C fan / 200C conventional (this is about gas mark 3)
  2. Finely dice the shallots, garlic and celery and fry gently in a little oil in the casserole dish or sauté pan. Put the lid on and leave at a low heat for about 10 minutes
  3. Put the potatoes on a baking tray and put them in the oven. Pierce the skin once or twice on each potato. It is crucial that you do oil the potatoes – you need to dry them out. Set the timer for one hour
  4. After an hour has elapsed since you put the potatoes in the oven, it is now time to get them out: they should be nice and crispy
  5. Cut each potato in half and allow the steam to escape for a few minutes
  6. Scoop the potato flesh out from each skin into a bowl – you might find it helpful to hold them with a tea towel as they’ll still be hot
  7. Once you’ve got all the flesh, chop the potatoes up with a knife or pastry cutter. You can also use a fork. Stay away from using a potato masher as it’s easy to over use and the starch in the potatoes can get over worked and become very glutinous – this will ruin the gnocchi
  8. Add in the flour and the salt and ‘chop’ it into the dough
  9. Add in the egg now, and cut it in to the dough immediately (or you may get pieces of cooked egg)
  10. Bring it all together now with your hands – it should be firm but yielding. If it’s very sticky work in a little more dough (again ‘cut’ the flour into it, rather than kneading)
  11. Dust some flour on the counter and cut off a handful-sized piece of dough. Roll it out into a sausage about 15 mm or roughly the same thickness as your thumb. Doesn’t need to be exact
  12. Cut discs off the roll that are also around 15mm long with a sharp, small knife
  13. Roll these pieces of dough over the flour (on your board) as you cut them to coat them a little. Repeat with all of the potato dough until you have made gnocchi with all of it
  14. You can now leave them as they are (see note below about placing them apart) or, if you have a garganelli board or a butter pat, you can roll the gnocchi down it to create ridges. You can also roll them down the tunes of a fork. Ridging the gnocchi does take extra time and your gnocchi will be fine plain, the ridges are there to help hold on to the sauce
  15. To ridge a gnocco, place it on the board and place your fingers on top of it, about where your top knuckle is. Drag the gnocco towards you down the board with medium pressure until it reaches your fingertips. It will have rolled along, getting marked with the ridges

When you have made each gnocco place it down on a clean tea towel or a lightly floured board and try not to let the gnocchi touch each other as you continue to use all the dougCooking

I’m going to instruct you in both ways I cook my gnocchi – you can chose to fry/sauté them or boil them.

Frying makes them slightly crispier and you can cook them in advance and keep them warm while you cook the sauce.

Boiling is more typical, it’s quicker and results in fluffy gnocchi but your sauce needs to be ready when your gnocchi are

Frying:

  1. Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large frying pan (skillet). Place batches of the gnocchi in the oil, gently and try to make sure they don’t stick together (separate any that are stuck with your spatula)
  2. Toss or flip the gnocchi in the oil until lightly browned and transfer to an oven proof dish. Keep warm in the oven until time to use

Boiling

  1. Bring salted water in your largest saucepan to the boil. You may need to do this in two or three batches so you can get the gnocchi out quick enough before they go mushy
  2. Let the gnocchi roll around in the boiling water for a couple of minutes: they don’t take long. The gnocchi will have sunk to the bottom when you first put them in: when they are ready they pop up to the surface and float (self timing food: what’s not to love!)

New to baking? Simplest yeasted bread

While the world takes a necessary step back, self-electing to or being required to spend more time at home now is a good time to get into baking. Not only because of all that, but while the shelves empty and supply chains work to catch up, it may be easier to find raw ingredients and make your own.

By starting to bake or improving your existing knowledge, you get so much back: new skills, ability to feed yourself and others, make enough to share with the community perhaps, ensuring what you eat is wholesome and nutritious (or a welcome but balanced treat) and to fill a gap in your store cupboard yourself.

I am going to post some back to basic recipes and include some alterations that you can think about to change the recipe yourself. This will help you make use of what you have, reduce waste and create variety. Where I can, I will supplement with videos – and there are three that accompany this post: kneading, knocking back and shaping.

For all of these back to basics recipes, I’m going to use the simplest equipment where possible as those who are starting probably won’t have the stand mixers, food processors etc. However, I will indicate where you can cut time by using this equipment if you have it.

First up, the simplest bread.

At the bottom of the recipe are a few ideas how to add different things to your bread – mainly so that you can use up what you have in the house to ensure you’re not wasting food and at the same time learn to make changes in flavour and shape to your loaf provide variety

If you don’t have any yeast – try my recipe for bacon and shallot soda bread. You only need bicarbonate of soda rather than dried yeast. This recipe says wholemeal spelt, but you can completely substitute this for strong white bread flour.

Notes

  • Makes one medium-sized loaf.
  • Leaving the mix for 10 minutes before you start kneading will give you a head start and make kneading easier, as the gluten will start forming during this ‘autolyse’ process.
  • To learn more about yeast and the bread rising process, please read my post on how yeast works

Equipment

  • Large bowl
  • Scraper – a flexible or metal bench scraper is a very useful bread tool. If you don’t have one a large knife for cutting and a flexible spatula for the bowl will suffice
  • Baking stone or a large, thick baking sheet
  • Linen tea towel
  • A banneton
  • Flat (no lip) baking tray or ‘peel’ (baker’s shovel)
  • Water sprayer

Ingredients

  • Extra strong white bread flour – 400g
  • Water – 280ml (only just tepid)
  • Oil (rapeseed or non-virgin olive oil – see note below) – 1 tablespoon
  • Fine salt 1 teaspoon
  • Fast action dried yeast – 1 teaspoon
  • Extra flour for dusting and cleaning hands

Note: I’ve suggested not using extra virgin olive oil here because it is expensive and is best saved for dressings etc, but you can use it if you want. Also, both these are mildly flavoured but not totally devoid of flavour. Ultimately, use what you have in your cupboard.

Method

  1. Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl – I prefer to use a table knife for this process, though you may like to use fingers, a flexible dough scraper or a dough hook on your machine
  2. It will look like a very rough, sticky mess. It’s supposed to
  3. Cover it with the clean tea towel
  4. Leave it for ten minutes
  5. Tip out on to a clean surface and use your dough scraper or fingers to get all of the residue out. Have your extra flour and scraper handy
  6. Knead the dough until the surface becomes silky and smooth – this will be about 10 – 12 minutes:
    1. Kneading: lightly hold on to the dough with one hand, placing the heel of your other hand on the opposite side of the dough (furthest away from you) and pushing it away from you to stretch it. Roll it back up, turn it and knead again. Swap hands if you get tired
    2. If – and only if – the dough is far to sticky to work with, dust a little flour on to the table. Otherwise you should persevere with kneading the dough without adding any more flour (this actually will change the ratio of flour to liquid and other ingredients so it’s best not to dust if you can)
    3. It should eventually start to come together without the flour and you can use your scraper from time to time to ensure all the dough is getting kneaded by scraping along the surface
    4. When the dough starts to come together, dust the bowl with flour to prevent it sticking (if you have not managed to take the dough out without leaving a lot behind, you may want to use a clean bowl)
  1. Roll the dough up into a dome shape and place in the floured bowl (no matter which way up yet)
  2. Cover the bowl either with the tea towel/cloth or cling film (or if you have one, a cheapo shower cap is ace for this)
  3. Leave to rise somewhere that isn’t cold until the dough looks like it’s about twice the height it was before. This could be anywhere from 50 minutes to three hours depending on how cold a space you have
  4. Lightly flour the counter you’ll be working on
  5. Tip out the risen dough gently into the middle of the flour on the counter and press down gently with your finger tips or your knuckles (I prefer this) all over to ‘knock back’ the dough (this is the term for popping the large air bubbles that have built up). Don’t be too vigorous – a lot of issues with bread are when the knocking back is too fierce: just enough to break the largest bubbles
  1. Fold the dough over on itself from one side to the middle, rotate it, and repeat all the way round
  2. Pinch the loose edges together in the middle to get them to ‘stick’
  3. You’re aiming to make the dome (on the underside) of the loaf tense and smooth without tearing it. By folding over towards the centre you create a tension in the surface of the loaf – it should look smooth and taut – add a few more tucks in if you think it needs it
  4. The result should be a circle or an oval – either shape is pleasing for a loaf
  5. Liberally flour your tea towel (or prepare your banneton with enough flour)
  6. Place the shaped dough with the seam side down in the middle of the cloth. Push the sides of the cloth up to gather it around the sides of the bread in order to support the shape and stop the bread spreading (though if you have successfully given the surface of the loaf enough tension it should hold, but this will still help)
  1. [If using a banneton,  place in with the seam side facing upwards]
  2. Leave for the second proof – roughly an hour depending on the temperature. It will be ready when and it springs back into shape if you press it gently with the pad of a finger
  3. Just before your loaf looks ready, start to heat your oven to 220C fan (230C conventional oven)
  4. Dust your baking tray or stone with a little flour and pop it in the bottom of your oven. Make sure your oven shelves are far apart or your loaf will hit them as it rises!
  5. When the bread and the oven are ready, carefully scoop up the loaf with your peel or thin baking sheet [or tip out from the banneton to this sheet]
  6. [At this point you can slash the loaf if you want with a clean craft knife or baker’s grignette. I’d suggest if you’re nervous about slashing but do want to try, then just make a giant X score or a # shape (as in the image at the top of this page) – this will help you understand how the bread grows and rises in the oven. You’ll see the movement and rise, so you can try something more adventurous next time]
  7. Transfer the loaf to the oven and onto the baking stone/tray
  8. Mist the oven or pour a little water into a small tray at the bottom of the oven
  9. Shut the door and set the timer for 10 minutes
  10. After 10 minutes, turn the temperature down to 190C fan (200C conventional oven) and bake for another 25 minutes
  11. The bread should be nicely dark (though not burnt) where the slashes or cracks have occurred
  12. Test the loaf’s ‘doneness’ by tapping the bottom of it – it should sound hollow
  13. Leave to cool on a wire rack or something else that will allow airflow to the bottom of the loaf or the evaporated moisture that comes off a new loaf will gather and cause a soggy bottom (yes, this problem isn’t just confined to pastry!)

Some ideas how to change up your loaf, make it more interesting and use up what you have in the house

Replace all or part of the 280g water with other liquids. Try:

  • Beer (up to 100% replacement)
  • Cider or apple juice (up to 100% replacement)
  • Milk (up to 100% replacement)
  • Veg juices (usually best about 30-50% replacement, but can be up to 100%)
  • Fruit juices (usually best to about 30-50% replacement)

Add in extra ingredients at the second kneading/knock back stage:

  • Cheese and onion (fry the onion off) – a handful of each
  • Tomatoes, especially cherry. Remove the pips and juice so you’re not making the bread too watery
  • Nuts, a handful of nuts makes excellent bread. Be careful to remove all the shell (to save your teeth). Great source of added protein
  • Chopped up cooked meats, such as salame, ham, bacon, leftover pulled pork
  • A tablespoon of pesto
  • Whatever cheeses you have left, even a mix – chop into small cubes so they oozed and melt rather than grate

Add in ingredients during the mixing stage (smaller ingredients are easier to incorporate at this stage):

  • Seeds. Just about any edible seeds go great in bread or use a mix of seeds. Instead of adding them here you can also roll your bread in them after shaping to get a seeded crust
  • Herbs – any that you like or have available. Basil, rosemary, parsley, chives, oregano, fennel are all particularly good
  • Different salts – try adding a salt mix instead of plain salt (see both my salt mixes posts: flavoured salts part one and flavoured salts part two to make your own)
  • Butter or oil – this makes the bread a little more elastic and a bit richer. For this size loaf add up to 15g butter or 1 1/2 tablespoons oil
  • Rolled oats (porridge oats), malted wheat or spelt flakes
  • A spoonful of marmite, honey, bovril etc is awesome in a loaf

Change some of your flour. Some flour types requires a different ratio of other ingredients (more/less water, additional proteins and gluten) so steer clear of total replacement until you’ve read up or practiced with part substitutions.

I’d suggest ideally replace 100-200g of the strong white bread flour with one of the following if you have it:

  • Spelt
  • Einkorn
  • Emmer
  • Korasan/Kamut
  • Semolina

Making your bread look ‘nicer’…

If you want, once you’ve made a simple round loaf or two, you can start to experiment with making it look different.

  • Simple plait – after the knocking back stage, divide the dough into three equal parts. Roll these into log shapes and do a simple plait
  • Scoring – once the loaf is shaped and about to go into the oven, try slashing a pattern in it (I know I’ve mentioned a cross above). Simple ideas are some criss-cross hatches, or three deep slashes. See my post on 9 top tips on artful bread scoring to increase your repertoire
  • Cover the top of the loaf – roll the loaf in some seeds or spray the top with a little water after shaping and sprinkle on some poppy seeds, linseeds, flax seeds, extra rock salt and pepper, chopped dried seaweed, herbs etc or
  • ‘Paint’ the top of your loaf with diluted marmite, vegemite or bovril for a tastier, darker crust
  • See my post on different bread shapes – you might like to try some of the simpler ones to start with or challenge yourself to some of the very complex (there’s one of my videos on there showing a complex plait)
  • Make it into rolls. Don’t change the recipe, but after knocking back divide the dough into 6, 8 or 9 pieces (depending how small you want your rolls) and shape each piece of dough into a ball. Place these balls of dough about 2 cm apart, so they just touch when they rise in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes less – so 25 minutes in total (instead of 35). Still do the same technique with the oven, that is bake on high for 10 minutes before turning down.

Try the next-step-up recipes. Some of my other bread recipes which move on from a simple loaf include:

Focaccia with caramelised shallots

Grissini

Garlicky, herby, cheese, buttery ‘bookshelf’ bread

Or look up all my bread recipes

Please do ask me any questions about bread making, request a recipe, any tips you’d like to see or simply ask if you get stuck at all – use the comments section below.

Please don’t forget to leave some love by liking this post or leaving a friendly comment if you’ve found it useful. 💚

Nine top tips on artful bread scoring

White boule sourdough made with pomegranate molasses with flower scoring

White boule sourdough made with pomegranate molasses

I’ve been known to share more than a few images of my bread with stylised scoring and detailed plaiting techniques… it’s lead to a few comments over time asking me for hints. I’ve sidestepped this for a while, assuming that there are plenty of other out there, way better than me posting about it. I still believe that, but as I do continue to get asked I thought I’d write a short piece on slashing bread.

ALL the photos in this article are breads made by me, to my own recipes or to the tried and trusted standard loaf ratio: 400g flour, 5g yeast, 5g salt, 280ml water – or a slight variant thereof.

Some are flavoured, a few are sourdough. Notice that none of my scored loaves have large inclusions like fruit in or are of a brioche-style. A few have flavourings or malt flakes or flours other than strong white bread flour. This is because some recipes don’t really align themselves with slashing: strong sourdoughs, enriched breads, breads thick with inclusions like Bara Brith, composite breads or plaited or styled breads should all be left as they are already gorgeous and don’t slash well.

One exception is a rolled, enriched loaf with fillings which is simply cut in order to show off the fillings, such as this wild garlic scroll:

Wild garlic bread in a slashed scroll form

Wild garlic scroll

Best choose a ‘standard’, fairly simple loaf in a simple shape: a cob/boule, a bâtard, a bloomer, a stick etc to start off with and learn which recipes work as you progress. For a list of common breads shapes please see my article Bread shapes – making at home


So here are my top seven tips to bread scoring…


ONE: Have a sharp blade. A VERY sharp blade

A sharp blade slices through the sticky bread dough – using a blunt blade will drag and tear the ‘skin’ of the loaf. While a loaf is proving, the outer skin will dry somewhat, useful for keeping the shape of the loaf intact and for your scoring definition. This skin is minimal and your blade will cut through it and into the wetter dough underneath. If your blade is blunt it will catch and drag as you slice through the dough, causing puckering. It will also make manoeuvring the blade round corners and curves more difficult for you and can even mean you have to ‘re-cut’ the same cut over and over, which results in a very jagged and messy pattern.

White sourdough, with a minimal prove and a free-form scroll design

White sourdough, with a minimal prove and a free-form scroll design

You can use a strop and chalk to keep your blades sharper for longer (as for keeping leather and wood working tools sharp) but even if you do this, eventually your blades will need to be replaced. If you don’t use a strop then your blades will need replacing very frequently. Be careful to dispose of them safely and correctly.

Also, the thinner the blade the easier it is to use to cut and the less likely it is to drag. So, while you can get reasonable straight cuts from a highly sharpened normal kitchen knife (forget using one unless you’ve just sharpened it especially), it will only be good for basic straight cuts, like a cross. I have a locking No. 8 Opinel knife I keep exceptionally sharp that I use when I go on a self catering holiday – I confess I try and bake even when I’m away (the pouch ear bread below was baked in a holiday let kitchen!), although that also doubles up as my foraging knife.

White and chestnut flour boule with symmetrical diamond design

White and chestnut flour boule with symmetrical diamond design

Which blade to use? Craft knives and scalpel blades are effective, very sharp, cheap and easy to get hold of, store well and are my go-to blade of choice.

Razor blades – these are fab but lethal! You can get the traditional double blade cutthroat razor type (which usually are popped onto a grignette) and the safety type, which has only one sharp side. These are brilliant, but tricky to get used to employing without slicing off a layer of skin. If you’re using a double-edged blade on it’s own without a holder/grignette be careful! The best way to pick it up is between thumb and finger on the short edges only and watch out how you score as you’ll be exposing that flap of skin between your thumb and forefinger to the edge of the blade. Avoid if you’re worried and stick to a craft knife!!

Grignettes and lames: a grignette is the holder (with or without the blade in it) and a lame is just the blade. This is basically the go-to set up for creating slashes with height and forcing curvature on the bread cut. This occurs because (typically, but not always) the lame is placed slightly bent into the grignette, creating a curved blade. Using this curve opens up the cut at an angle as well as slicing downwards through the dough. This gives the skin of the loaf room to lift away from the bread causing maximum expansion. Really typical for use to create ear/pouch cuts and for baguette slicing.

Here is a short video I made on my YouTube Channel about making your own DIY baker’s blade:

Pouch slash loaf, cut using a curved grignette - notice how it's got maximum expansion and ripped the 'ear' away from the loaf

Pouch slash loaf, cut using a curved grignette – notice how it’s achieved maximum expansion and ripped the ‘ear’ away from the loaf


TWO: Lubricate the blade

Another way to stop the drag on the dough is to lubricate the blade. You don’t need this every time, but it’s helpful if you have a particular dough with a high hydration level. You can lubricate with water or with oil (any cooking oil is fine). If you use water, tap off the excess (without wiping dry) as the addition of extra hydration can cause the loaf to expand in ways you’re not expecting! With practice, you can get used to the way that this adds additional expansion to cuts in the loaf – sometimes I hydrate a blade on some cuts and not others. The oiling technique is more even and reliable, but don’t have the blade dripping in oil. The way I do it is to oil a sheet of kitchen towel and then swipe both slides of the blade over the oil.

Stoneground organic flour loaf with another of my Union Jack slashes

Stoneground organic flour loaf with one of my signature Union Jack slashes


THREE: Pre-plan if you’re not sure

The worst thing to do is hovering over the loaf, blade in hand thinking “What do I do?”. At least have an image in your mind before you start, or know the shape of the cuts you’re going to make (as in I’m going to make a stripy, freeform cut loaf). The best thing is to get some inspiration and to make a little sketch first.

I’ve gathered some of my own and others’ beautiful breads on a Pinterest board, which may help give your ideas or you can copy from (there are also other pretty breads that are not slashed on here).

And start with the basics, do something like a cross or a chequerboard design to begin with: it’s all just straight lines but looks totally impressive!

stoneground checquerboard cut loaf - simple straight cuts but totally effective

A stoneground checquerboard-cut loaf – simple straight cuts which are the easiest to achieve but give a totally effective and impressive slashed loaf

Graduate to something freeform and swirly (as below – no pre-planning) to get used to turning the blade, then just go for it! Make lots of lovely bread and practice, practice. Who cares if your first few are a bit wonky? It’ll still taste lovely and with each loaf you’ll improve.

A honey loaf (recipe here) for which I've purposely covered in flour to create a huge contrast between slash and surface

A honey loaf (recipe here) for which I’ve purposely covered in flour to create a huge contrast between slash and surface


FOUR: Flouring … or not

While you can score any rounded-off loaf you’ve made without doing anything else to it, you will get the most dramatic results when there is a colour contrast between what has been cut and areas that are intact. (See the honey loaf above for a dramatic contrast example). In order to facilitate this, the easiest thing to do is to flour your proved loaf, smooth the flour into the skin of the dough. While you are doing this it helps to brush off excess flour and to ensure that flour is evenly distributed and not blotchy/patchy. White flour gives the most impact between itself and the cut marks, as they brown in the oven. You’ll get a white-ish background and a toasty-brown pattern. That said, experiment with other flours and vegetable powders.

Beet powder covered loaf, scored with a clover leaf pattern

A loaf covered in beetroot powder and scored with a cloverleaf design – the beet powder bakes very hard and can sometimes crack (as you can see). I now mix beetroot powder with a little maize flour, which helps counteract this cracking

Also, bear in mind that some doughs themselves will affect how visible the cuts are. How browned will the dough be after baking, have you added vegetables or fruit to it? Will it be very dark – or quite light?

Union Jack slash - this is pretty much my signature bread art! I've posted many loaves with these slash marks on in Instagram

Union Jack slash – this is pretty much my signature bread art! I’ve posted many loaves with this scoring design on Instagram

It’s similar to the consideration that the use of colours for typefaces on a web page requires where you have to think of visible accessibility: will the background help the foreground stand out or will it all merge together? Also, for some slashing this contrast doesn’t even matter – baguettes, pouch ear slashes, checquerboards and many others don’t need this layer of flour dusting as the expanded cuts are so visible the contrast isn’t needed.

Spelt sourdough baguettes - no extra flouring needed here: the slashes are wide and defined

Spelt sourdough baguettes – no extra flouring needed here as the slashes are wide and defined anyway (notice how the slashes ever-so-slightly overlap each other – this stops the loaf from bulging too much around the slashes)


FIVE: Make sure the loaf is ready

Your loaf needs to be almost at the point where you are going to bake it when you slash it. It should respond/bounce back when lightly depressed with a fingertip. Don’t let your loaf over-prove when you aim to score a design into it, as given longer, the yeast creates more and more carbon dioxide and the air pockets in the dough get bigger and bigger (and then also the yeast fatigues). You risk popping an air pocket if you leave the bread to prove too long, plus over-proving means the bread might not rise further or worse still, collapse in the oven. And if it collapses, that means it’s doing the opposite of what you need: you need it to expand and show the slashes to good effect. If it collapses or fails to grow in the oven then you don’t see the effect.

If you want to know more about how yeast works in your bread, creating these air pockets (and a lot more besides) then please read my popular article on the Science of bread making – how yeast works.

Beet scored bread - Lynn Clark/inksugarspice

Leaf slash beetroot loaf


SIX: Go in with a little vigour!

Don’t faff about with your cutting – do it with aplomb! If you cut lightly and gently you risk not cutting deep enough to make any impact, making a lot of ragged cuts that need to be joined up (these produce messy slashes) or worse having to recut into a previous cut (these look a bit of a mess – I do know: I did this myself in the past). If you are nervous, again you could end up having to make many ragged, untidy cuts where one large be stroke of a blade would have been better. That all said, don’t turn in to Sweeney Todd and get all aggressive with it as this can be just as bad – see my next tip…

Turmeric starter sourdough batard with leaf slashes

Turmeric starter sourdough batard with leaf slashes


SEVEN: Don’t cut too deeply

As bad as timid cuts look, at least you’ll still have a nice loaf of bread if you’re tentative. If you go in with a heavy hand you can cut deep into the air pockets and collapse that part of the loaf entirely! Sourdough and other slow prove loaves are riskier to cut than other breads as they have larger air pockets, so this increases the chance of even a shallow cut popping the air bubble and flattening the loaf. I only score a sourdough loaf where I am used to the recipe and I know that the air pockets aren’t massive. New recipes or ingredients in sourdoughs make me nervous of this and so I do not slash these – I leave them as they are to crack and expand on their own or I make a very shallow simple cut, or an angled cut (see the next tip) so that it doesn’t go too deep. You’ll get used to the heaviness of the dough and it’s number of air pockets as you bake more and score bread more – you’ll be able to judge how deep you cut and also what the effect of shallow and deep cuts will make on the expansion in the oven.

Wholemeal sourdough batard with leaf slash

Wholemeal sourdough batard with leaf slash


EIGHT: The angle is important

How you hold the blade (whatever you’re using) matters. If you hold it perdendicular to the loaf you’ll cut straight and deep. Great for a precise and defined cut with a medium expansion in the oven. Many scores call for the blade to be angled about 30º which cuts in and under the skin of the loaf, effectively making a bit of a ‘pocket’ shape. Pouch or ear loaves are the perfect example of this on one long cut, but this technique can also be used on smaller cuts, and it creates a bulge opposite the ‘ear’ so you can use this knowledge to plan design shapes for slashing.

I used a simple perpendicular light slash for the 'rays' and an angled slash to create the large, open wave in the centre - an example of changing the angle of the blade to achieve different effects - you may notice I accidentally popped an air pocket with the large slash, luckily it was quite a small one and didn't affect the rise of the loaf (a large air pocket that is popped is likely to deflate the loaf!)

I used a simple perpendicular light slash for the ‘rays’ and an angled slash to create the large, open wave in the centre – an example of changing the angle of the blade to achieve different effects – you may notice I accidentally popped an air pocket with the large slash, luckily it was quite a small one and didn’t affect the rise of the loaf (a large air pocket that is popped is likely to deflate the loaf!)


NINE: Rest the loaf briefly

I’ve found that if I’m after a good expansion on the slash marks then after scoring I rest the bread for about 3 – 5 minutes before popping it in the oven. Don’t leave it longer than that as you don’t want the loaf to over-prove and fail to rise or collapse. (See point 5 above). You must factor in this additional ‘rest’ period to the length of time of your second rise on your loaf, ensuring that it does not over-prove before baking.


Extra tip TEN: a visual tip

Here I am slashing a star pattern into a white and wholemeal loaf with added malt flakes. This type of loaf recipe is trickier to slash as the blade can get snagged on the malt flakes (you can just notice it happening). Can’t believe it was nearly three years ago I posted this little video to Instagram and Twitter! Here, I’ve used a surgical scalpel blade as the pattern includes some tight curves.

Happy slashing!! Just don’t say that in public or the police may well tail you – you can always placate them with a lovely slice off your pretty new loaf though 🙂

If you have any questions, I’ll do my best to answer but I’m no bread guru, just an enthusiastic hobby baker (although I confess I have been baking – and plaiting, slashing and stencilling – bread for over 30 years).

Slashed batch rolls

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Bread shapes: making at home

plaited brioche courronne

Updated February 2019 – to include new images, plus composite breads and bread sticks.

I’ve taken a little time to look into the myriad and diverse range of bread shapes that can be created. I’ve looked at the most commonly found ones that you can create with your own fair hands from a standard (or close to standard) bread dough. There are many more of course, but this list comprises those I think you’ll see or make most often.

What I mean by ‘standard’ is that I am rather loosely lumping together all bread created with the basic flour-water-yeast-salt only combination and allowed to rise. Some of these will be made with doughs that have the addition of a little oil or maybe an egg, and they can be made with wid yeast, fresh or instant. These breads also need some (or a lot of) shaping by hand before a second prove.

What I’ve left out: I have purposely kept out enriched breads that have a different combination such as a lot of extra oil or butter or an unusual method or prove, such as brioche or ciabatta (which is exceptionally wet and can just about be shaped into its traditional slipper form), filled breads and things like focaccia or schiaciatta (where oil is drizzled on top to purposely retard the rise and create a flatter bread). This is because they warrant separate coverage. I originally omitted grissini/bread sticks and composite breads – but I’ve just added these in (so they weren’t included in my original illustration, below). I’ve also omitted flat breads, as they’re mostly encompassed by a few shapes, usually (but not always) don’t contain yeast and there are so many different flat breads so I felt they also merited a separate category (and maybe a post) on their own.

breadShapes

These shapes can all be made with a wide variety of flours; not just white. Actually, I do really like white flour but I rarely use it on its own; I tend to mix it with another flour type or add in some extras like malt flakes or seeds.

Also, some of the simpler shapes can be made with dough that includes a certain amount of sourdough starter (added to your traditional dough to liven it up). Complex shapes aren’t feasible with proper sourdough because they spread and merge during the longer rise. Also low gluten-producing flours aren’t that great either – as again you don’t get a discernible shape and it would be very tricky to mould or plait. I have successfully braided brioche, though, and bread where low-gluten flour is mixed 50:50 with strong white.

I’ve only given cursory instructions on how to physically shape the dough apart from I have a short clip of me plaiting a seven braided loaf right at the end.


I’ve listed the bread shapes in a rough order of complexity: from the simplest boule down to multi strand plaits.

All the breads shown here have been handmade by me (plus I’ve also styled and photographed them myself).

Simpler shapes

Cob or boule

flowerSlash

Here’s where to start when shaping by hand! These can be hand shaped and raised or set for their second rise in a banneton. Cobs care most often plain topped (ie not slashed) but don’t let that stop you experimenting with covering them in seeds or malt flakes for example or to slash them (as the flower slash above – or in a Coburg shape). The simple cross-hatch slash will have been the basic historic bread shape from when leavened bread started to be baked in ovens rather than just on a stone and is a feature of soda bread, to help the loaves cook thoroughly.


Coburg

coburg

Basically a cob with a crown-like slash, said to have been done to celebrate Prince Albert of Coburg, Queen Victoria’s consort. Can be with either three slashes/peaks or four.


Bloomer or bâtard

slashedLeafSourdough This is a longer, larger loaf where it is impractical to make into a round (would be difficult to slice that large or fit into an oven). Typically with diagonal slashes, but experiment with leaf and scroll shapes.


Cottage loaf

Cottage loaf with twist top - by Ink Sugar SpiceA real old traditional British shape. Potentially this developed to get a little height and spread (if slashes are used) without support during the rise. These are hand shaped entirely. Split your dough into 2/3 and 1/3 pieces and roll both into a ball. Place the small ball on top of the larger one and using one or two fingers push down, dead centre, to the table so that you are fixing the top to the bottom. This can have vertical slashes all the way round or left plain.


Split tin

splitTinThis is less shaped by hand and more by the tin: putting the dough into a loaf tin ensures straight sides, ends and bottom. The most common way of doing this is to let the dough rise as normal then the second proof is done in the tin. Following the second rise, draw one large, long slash across the top prior to putting it in the oven. I have read old recipes though where the dough is split into two and the first rise is done separately. Then, after knocking back the two halves are rolled into fat sausage shapes and lain side by side in the tin. I’ve not tried this, but I suspect the bread would tear in half easily.


Chequerboard

checkerboardSeededLoafLess a shape and more just an elaborated set of slashes. Shape as for a rounded cob loaf, then after the second proof draw at least three parallel slashes, evenly space out across the top of the bread. Turn the loaf 90˚, and do an equal number of slashes, so creating a set of squares, or the chequerboard effect.


Pullman – baked in a special tin with a lid to create a perfect block shape. Named after Pullman train cars as they mimic that shape. I have never made one of these – you need to own this specialist Pullman tin and I don’t like the square shape enough to buy one (I’d rather buy another banneton or couch cloth). I can imagine that you would have to stick rigidly to the correct volume. I assume that if you did anything other than a plain loaf where you can easily measure the total loaf size and predict the rise, you’d have to try to calculate the effect on the final size of the loaf. For instance, if you added a lot of inclusions it may be too big for the tin and if you used a flour with less gluten it would be too small – perhaps not reaching the lid.


Milk roll shape – similar to the Pullman in that it is baked inside a completely enclosing tin. However, the milk roll tin is two semi circular halves, clipped together.


Pouch or ear

pouch-ear

A change on the cob shape. This is shaped into an oval after knocking back and one long slash is made holding the blade at a shallow angle, digging in to the dough. That is hold the blade at about 30* to the loaf. This is usually easier with a curved lame/grinette with the concave part of the blade facing the top of the loaf. This creates a large tear which the steam from the bread forces into a ‘lip’ or ‘ear’ of crust on one side during the bake. You should be able to get your fingertips under this lip to lift the loaf up – or it may curl over completely, fully opening up the loaf and exposing more crust and allowing more rise (as above).


Vienna

breakFastRoolsThis shape dates back to its massive popularity in Victorian times and was particularly eaten as breakfast bread rolls. So named, as it mimicked the rolls served in Viennese tea houses. It is shaped with softly tapered ends like a very short baguette. After proving, roll out to a sausage shape and tuck the bread over on itself lengthways once or twice and pinch the bread together at the seam to seal. The seam should be baked on the bottom. Apply a long slash either straight down the length of the bread or slightly at an angle. It can also be dusted with poppy seeds or linseeds etc before the slash is made (as in the above picture of my breakfast rolls).


Bread sticks or grissini

grissini

You may think I’ve added these little crispy sticks havea bit far down the complexity list. However, bread sticks are deceptively difficult to get looking good. Producing a straight and even bread stick is quite a skill – your first few attempts at making them will no doubt leave you with some awesomely delicious bread sticks, but you may or may not be that pleased with the results on how they look. Weighing your dough and dividing into exactly equal pieces will help with creating bread sticks that are all the same length, but it’s the practice of rolling the dough out into a long sausage that’s tricky. That’s because you’re dealing with quite a thin stand of dough and if it catches on your unfloured hands or the table, or you drag your palm across one area with greater force it will not be a nice long tube but a bumpy, bending caterpillar. It just takes practice. Bread sticks can be scattered with seeds, plaited, twisted, have a scrolled end or shaped – they’re quite fun to play around with.


Baguette

speltSourdoughBaguettes

We all know this one! An extra long slim loaf, its ends are pointed or rounded depending from baker creates them. Traditionally it is slashed several times at an angle across the top (such as with my spelt sourdough baguettes above) – here the top of the second slash show overlap the first to stop the loaf spreading strangely and putting bulges into the bread (the overlap is supposed to counteract the bulging). I’ve seen some baguettes though with slashes at all sorts of angles and single long slashes – some of these have been gorgeous so it’s worth experimenting yourself.


Complex shapes

Fougasse

IMG_1332

Now we’re getting into more detailed shaping and slashing. Fougasse is a flattish loaf, similar to foccacia but is traditionally shaped into a large leaf shape. This leaf is then peppered with small short cuts (all the way through, not just top slashing) so that the cuts resemble the veins on the leaf. However, I rarely produce a leaf shape fougasse: I’ve made spookgasse/boogasse in the shapes of ghosts and ghouls for Halloween, letters, rings/circles, flowers etc. Have fun with this one and it’s a particularly great bread to give to children to produce as they can have fun with the shapes.


Pain d’epi /wheat ear bread

CQFa3j9WcAALiQA.jpg_largeThis is a long stick of dough, prepared similarly to a baguette with is then cut and splayed on alternate sides. It’s easiest to snip the cuts with scissors rather than use a blade. It is supposed to resemble an ear of corn. It’s a lovely tear and share bread – each ‘ear’ forms an individual roll. I personally love this loaf shape and make it often.


Spiral/snail  – normally these are made with very large amounts of dough and creates a very large loaf – 600g or above, although it is often used in individual rolls. A long roll of dough is shaped and is shaped so one end is gently tapered. Start with the fat end and coil the spiral around itself, tuck/pinch the end of the coil onto the rest of the dough to anchor it together otherwise it may start to separate during baking. I have to say I don’t like this shape (it looks rather like a giant poop – but don’t let me put you off! I don’t like cupcake toppings piped in this shape either…) but it is quite traditional for some European breads, like potica.


Scroll

scrollWildGarlicVery similar to the spiral but keep each end of the long tube of dough a little slimmer than the middle. Take one of the ends and roll it round until it reaches the mid point of the dough, then take the other end and wind it in the opposite direction to meet in the middle. Produces an elaborate S shape. Common in roll shaping too and is one of the typical shapes in Scandinavian St Lucia saffron buns (such as Swedish/Norwegian lussekatt).


Composite shapes

Wreath

wreathWreaths can be made in many ways. As long as it results in a ring of dough, it’s a wreath, even by just joining a long plain strand of dough together or using balls of dough. Kringles and slashed plaits, a circular pain de epi and 3+ multi strand plaits are all elaborate and fun wreaths to make. Other special festival wreaths include those with fillings but I won”t include those here (as I’m excluding filled breads). A wreath is usually cut into individual portion sizes and used as you would a roll or chunk of bread rather than finely sliced. Alternatively, the whole thing can be sliced in two horizontally and filled like a giant bagel, from which individual portions are taken. Typically a celebratory or show-off bake.


Layered, tiered or composite loaves

bookshelfBread

These are great, fund breads to make [I’ve added this category Dec 2018 as I’ve changed my mind on it being a filled bread. Most commonly these are made with fillings, but they can be made with just a little butter or oil, or plainly, so I’ve decided to posthumously add them here].

These include monkey breads, where balls of dough are gathered together usually in a ring shape, fantans and layered loaves including my own ‘bookshelf bread‘ recipe.


Simple plait

Challah

Now we’re into the plaited section and I’ve only included three to cover the multitude that can be done. the simplest you can do is to twist two strands of bread together and affix them at each end, but a typical simple plait uses three braids. Three plait braids make lovely little dinner rolls too. Make sure you really press the ends together or it will unravel. Above are three and four plait examples.

If you come across a ‘zopf’ loaf this is German for plait (which should actually be thicker at one end, representing a plait of hair), and likewise the French term is tresse.


Knots

knots

Instead of plaiting you can knot a single strand of dough into what looks like a complex shape. This is much easier, and more common, to do with rolls but can be achieved in a loaf. Knots include a simple overhand knot (ie the first over-and-under that is used in a reef or bow) or where the strand of dough is looped then wound round itself. The post below shows me making overhand knotted rolls. Please also see my recipe for these knotted pesto dinner rolls.


Ball plait

ballPlaitDough

This is one of my favourites. Not only is it highly attractive but it serves to keep the bread in a lovely shape as it goes through its second rise. At first this looks a complex plait but you get used to it very quickly. Four dough strands are used to create this. The ends of the dough strands can be tucked under after the plaiting is done to help lift the top of the bread upwards and keep the nice dome shape. I also like to double up sometimes when making this shape, by which I mean I use two strands together as if they were one – ie I roll out eight strands and use them in pairs. This makes a real showstopper of a loaf.


Complex plait

Any number of strands of bread can be made into a plait, although I’d suggest nine is an utter maximum or you’re getting really silly and into finger-knotting territory to complete, and the loaf will be as wide as it is long. I most often pick five or seven strands to plait for a complex large loaf. There are a number of set patterns which can be applied to plaiting – I was going to write these in here but I think this merits an entire post on its own. So bear with me and I will write one. Above is a video clip of me braiding a seven strand – and a photo of the outcome loaf (below).

If you want to create a showstopper of a braid but you think you can’t do a multi strand plait, you can actually always ‘cheat’! Divide your dough into two uneven pieces, one being 2/3rds of the dough, the other 1/3rd.

Divide each of these pieces of dough into three. Roll out the dough so that the smaller three balls of dough become thin strands nearly as long as the larger three pieces. Make two plaits: a larger and smaller one. The smaller braid can be placed directly on top of the larger braid, giving the illusion of a complex plait.

Top tip: the best advice I can give on making a neat multi strand plait is to make sure your strands of dough are as even and smooth as possible before you start. Any lumpy strands will result in a (still lovely but) mishapen plait.

7PlaitBread13

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Stencilled beer cob

image1 (1)Although this contains my recipe for a delicious beer bread, this post is more about the creation and application of a stencil for the top of the loaf.

I’ve designed a two-part stencil of a mediæval sun face and included it here as two separate PDFs so you can print it out and choose to use the stencil in either one or two colours (as I have done on this loaf). For a first try at stencilling on bread, I’d recommend just going with the mono stencil of the sun image. the second part of the stencil is the orange halo – which is by far much easier to cut out, but of course you do have to negotiate using two stencils.

This stencil is also useful for cakes! It would make a great cake centrepiece, either painted or piped/flooded on, and you could alternate the colours of the rays and give a different colour to the face. To do this in icing, have your covered plain cake ready and use a large needle to trace inside the outline of the stencils which you can then edge pipe and flood in.

Please note: I have no problem anyone using this stencil for as long as they’re not a commercial baker etc: it’s just a freebie for home bakers. There are no restrictions on printing it out for home use and please do go ahead and share the page link with others. If any commercial baker wants to use this, please get in touch for permission.

sun2colours

Download the colour two part stencil here

sunmono

Download the single, mono stencil

Cutting out the stencils

  1. Print on normal printer paper – it’s thin and easy to cut out. You can use thicker card or a plastic sheet if you want the stencil to last, but these are harder/trickier to cut out from
  2. Place on a completely flat surface, and protect that surface from the knife – so use a cutting mat ideally, or if you don’t have one a layer of cardboard or piece of MDF is useful
  3. Use a sharp, point-end craft knife – a blunt blade will drag the paper and cause tears
  4. When cutting arcs and curves, keep the knife still and rotate the paper, not the other way round
  5. If you make a mistake and cut a bit off that you didn’t want to, use sticky tape to tape the piece back on and re-cut
  6. Cut out the stencils in advance, or you can do them while your loaf is proving

Using the stencils

  • The stencils are positioned in exactly the right spot on an A4 sheet, so you can use the top edge and corners to match up the stencils, placing the images in the right position

Beer bread recipe and stencilling the loaf

Equipment

  • Large bowl
  • Scraper
  • Linen tea towel
  • [Circular banneton – not necessary but you can use if you have one]
  • Two large baking trays, or one + a baking stone/pot
  • Sharp craft knife
  • Print out of the three stencils
  • Fine sieve

Ingredients

  • Strong white flour – 600g
  • Fast action dried yeast – 7g / 1 teaspoon
  • Water  – 140g
  • Beer (at room temperature – not from the fridge!) – 280g (I used an English Pale Ale)
  • Fine salt – 1½ teaspoons
  • Black pepper – several turns
  • Honey – 1½ tablespoons
  • A little oil for the bowl

Also…. for the stencilling you need two powders of different colours. One can be a white flour, and then you can use anything else edible you can find in your kitchen, such as cocoa powder, freeze-dried fruit powders, edible-grade charcoal, ground spices like turmeric or chilli powder. I have used turmeric for the halo and normal bread flour for the face.

Method

  1. Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl – I prefer to use a dough whisk for this process, though you may like to use fingers, a flexible dough scraper, a table knife or a dough hook on your machine. It will form a very rough-looking sticky mess
  2. Leave for ten minutes
  3. Tip out on to a clean surface and use your dough scraper to get all of the residue out. Have your flour and scraper handy
  4. Knead the dough until the surface becomes silky and smooth – this will be about 10 – 12 minutes
  5. If – and only if – the dough is far to sticky to work with, dust a little flour on to the table. Otherwise you should persevere with kneading the dough without adding any more flour (this actually will change the ratio of flour to liquid and other ingredients so it’s best not to dust if you can). It should eventually start to come together without the flour and you can use your scraper from time to time to ensure all the dough is getting kneaded by scraping along the surface
  6. When the dough starts to come together, oil the bowl to prevent it sticking (if you have not managed to take the dough out without leaving a lot behind, you may want to use a clean bowl)
  7. Roll the dough up into a dome and place in the floured bowl
  8. Cover the bowl either with the tea towel/cloth or cling film (or if you have one a cheapo shower cap is ace for this)
  9. Leave to rise somewhere that isn’t cold until the dough looks like it’s about twice the height it was before. (This could be anywhere from 50 minutes to three hours depending on how cold a space you have)
  10. Lightly flour the counter you’re working on and the baking tray or peel
  11. Tip out the risen dough gently into the middle of the flour on the counter and press down gently with your finger tips all over to knock back the dough. Don’t be too vigorous – a lot of issues with bread are when the knocking back is too fierce
  12. Fold the dough over on itself from one side then the other and then fold the ends in
  13. Pinch the loose edges together to get them to ‘stick’
  14. You’re aiming to make the dome of the loaf tense and smooth without tearing it. By folding over towards the centre you create a tension in the surface of the loaf – it should look smooth and taut, and as circular as possible (but don’t fret too much about this)
  15. Liberally flour your tea towel/couch (or prepare your banneton with enough flour)
  16. Place the shaped dough with the seam side down in the middle of the cloth. Push the sides of the cloth up to gather it at the sides of the bread in order to support the shape and stop the bread spreading (though if you have successfully given the surface of the loaf enough tension it should hold, but this will still help)
  17. [If using a banneton,  place with the seam side facing upwards and cover]
  18. Leave for the second prove – roughly an hour depending on the temperature. It will be ready when and it springs back into shape if you press it gently with the pad of a finger
  19. Just before your loaf looks ready, start to heat your oven to 220 ºC fan / 230 ºC conventional and put in the baking tray or stone
  20. When the bread and the oven are ready, carefully scoop up the loaf and remove the cloth that’s been supporting it, lightly flour the tray and place the dough back down  on it [or tip out from the banneton to this sheet]
  21. Now it’s time to use your stencil(s)
  22. Using a soft pastry brush, sweep away any flour from the top of the loaf
    1. Using just the sun face/mono stencil? Position it in the middle of your loaf – using a sieve dust the stencil thoroughly but not too thickly and then gently lift off the stencil. Don’t peel or angle the stencil as you may tip the excess flour/powder onto the areas you don’t want it
    2. Using two stencils? Then use the background, orange halo first on your bread. Using a little sieve, dust the stencil lightly with turmeric as I have here, or either cocoa powder, edible charcoal or a freeze-dried fruit powder, without building up too thick a layer. Remove the first stencil and position the sun face stencil correctly over the first image, and dust with your second colour
  23. Irrespective whether you’ve used one or two stencils you do need to slash the loaf around the outside of the image, to ensure that the bread does not crack across your lovely hard work and ruin it!
  24. I’d suggest four quick slashes making a box shape as a ‘frame’ for the stencil
  25. Transfer the tray with the loaf on into the oven and onto the baking stone/tray (doing this ensures that you are working on a cool tray but the loaf benefits from instant heat from the bottom when placed on a hot tray)
  26. Spray the oven or pour a little water into a small tray at the bottom of the oven
  27. Shut the door and set the timer for 10 minutes
  28. After 10 minutes, turn the temperature down to 180C fan/190C conventional and bake for another 25 -30 minutes
  29. The bread should be nicely dark (though not burnt) where the slashes or cracks have occurred
  30. Test the loaf’s ‘doneness’ by tapping the bottom of it – it should sound hollow
  31. Leave to cool on a wire rack or something else that will allow airflow to the bottom of the loaf or the evaporated moisture that comes off a new loaf will gather and cause a soggy bottom (yes, this problem isn’t just confined to pastry!)
  32. Admire your handywork! And if you post your creation to social media, tag me in @inksugarspice so I can see what you’ve been up to 💙

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