Reducing salt and low salt loaf recipe

Low salt loaf – recipe can be found at the end of this article

We know, don’t we that we ought to be reducing certain elements in our food, those that the modern world has invented, corrupted or pushing at us in unhealthy quantities. Whilst I’m firmly in the ‘a little of what you fancy does you good’ camp, lessening consumption of certain things like ultra processed foods, sugar and salt is good to consider. Here I’m going to look at ways to lower our intake of salt in homemade bread.

Salt is necessary for body function, but we’re all eating way over our required amount (ref: Gov.uk). While it may not be a worry for you now, you may need to adjust your salt intake as you get older or (hopefully not) develop certain health problems. By reducing salt now before these circumstances arise you will get more accustomed to a lower level of salt in advance and work to reduce your reliance on it.

Many of these ideas here for bread can be worked in equally well to flavouring other cooking, so you’re not automatically reaching for teaspoons full of salt to flavour your food.

Over the past year or so I’ve started reducing the amount of salt I add to my bread. There are a number of ways I’ve done this so as not to compromise on flavour and there are some radical alternatives too!

Salt in bread for flavour

Many people are under the impression that salt is necessary in bread baking. It’s not, but it does do more than just add taste. Certainly, its primary function is to add flavour and stop a loaf being bland, as the process of milling grain takes a lot of the natural flavour away. Or, as Elizabeth David rather cannily put it, salt is added because it “corrects insipidity”.

As a flavour enhancer, a certain amount of salt will draw out the taste of other ingredients. Because of this property salt is often added to sweet recipes, where you may think its appearance would be incongruous, such as in cakes and biscuits. Salt should be added into sweet recipes at a level where it only enhances and does not overwhelm or provide an actual salty note. This is the reason why you should adhere to the specified amount of salt in a sweet recipe and not be ‘liberal’ with the amount (as well as health implications).

Salt’s other properties

Water content

Salt has a minimal effect on the moisture content in the loaf as sodium dissolves readily in water and will even attract moisture direct from the air. This hygroscopic nature will take some of the water in bread dough away from being absorbed by the flour and yeast. Therefore, if you remove the salt completely, the dough will be wetter and you may have to tweak the recipe to reduce the water. [Frankly though, in reality, I’ve found this effect minimal so if the dough turns out to be a bit sticky just add a flourish of extra flour while kneading or shaping to compensate.]

Rise

Yeast does not like salt. Salt inhibits the yeast and will eventually actually kill it off if you just leave them together. Have you read a recipe that says put the yeast on one side of the bowl and the salt on the other? That’s to keep the salt and yeast away from each other until the liquid is added, so protecting the yeast. If you don’t add salt then there will be a little more rise. Without salt, yeast can work to capacity (unless you’ve inhibited it in other ways – see my post on how yeast works).

Crust and texture

Salt dissolved in the dough contributes to a crusty crust as it helps tighten gluten structure. Also, salt will dehydrate in the oven and begin to return to its crystalline form. Want to test this crusty theory? Dilute salt in water and brush it over the top of your loaf before baking.

Preservation

Salt, I’m sure you know, is a preservative which humans have utilised for thousands of years. Your bread will last longer with salt than a no-salt bread.

How to reduce salt

Just. Don’t. Add. It.

There; simple huh? Well you could do that, such as with the famous pane Toscano (Tuscan bread) recipe. However, pane Toscano is often used to accompany ribboletto, the very rich and pretty salty soup – or some other food with a high salt content such as a highly seasoned salame. So, yes, you can entirely remove salt from a bread recipe but it really depends on how you’re going to consume it and what with. I suspect you would not notice a total lack of salt in pizza dough, bread rolls for BBQ meats or bacon butties for instance, as they incorporate all salty, highly flavourful ingredients in a meal. However, for the most part I’d recommend adding at least a little.

Reduce the salt amount and add pepper.

This is a great go-to method for everyday breads. Here, you get a little of the benefits of salt without eating too much in your bread. Using half pepper: half salt will give you a very flavourful bread. Make sure it’s freshly ground pepper to ensure a strong flavour (and not that grim, grey pre-ground stuff).

Reduce the amount (in part or entirely) and add seaweed flakes.

Seaweed has sodium in and is naturally salty but you also get a mix of flavours, added iodine and other vitamins. If you’re worried, I can tell you a loaf with seaweed in does not taste fishy! I love making bread with seaweed flakes and do it very regularly and my favourite is sea salad from the Cornish Seaweed Co. Add it into the dough instead of (some or all) the salt or sprinkle it on top, which looks beautiful. Seaweed goes particularly well in breads like grissini, focaccia, baguettes, rustic breads and marries well with ancients grains such as spelt and khorasan. My recipe given further below incorporates seaweed.

Add herbs or spices.

Go for a different bread taste and put in half the total amount of salt and add chopped fresh herbs. Use your favourite herbs or search out new ones for specific flavours. Everyone knows rosemary goes nicely in bread, but use parsley, thyme or basil for a mediterranean taste. Lovage and hyssop add a gently liquorice tang. Ramsons (wild garlic), chives or Good King Henry are great in savoury uses. Mint, lavender, thyme and nasturtium leaves are nice in sweetened brioche. Use spices as you would with a main recipe – add according to cuisine or pairing rules. Or break up the rules and just try your favourite spices.

Also, you might want to pre-prepare some salt infusions for this. See both my following recipe posts on salt mixes:

Fiery chilli salt mix recipe - Ink Sugar Spice

Add the seasoning in the liquid or other ingredients.

For instance, you can add miso or yeast extract to the water content. I often also add a spoonful of something ‘extra’ to my loaves, such as balsamic vinegar, malt extract, grape must, pomegranate or grape molasses, verjus or cider vinegar.

The other alternative is to use a low-salt alternative.

I cannot comment on this as I’ve not used it. It’s supposed to be about a third of the sodium, but I wonder what else is in it instead? I prefer to lower simple salt and add other flavourings – I know then what’s going into my bread.

Low salt loaf recipe

Low salt loaf - recipe by Ink Sugar Spice

Notes

This will also work in a bread machine. Add the seaweed flakes into your nut/seed dispenser and the yeast into the yeast dispenser, but everything else can go in the bowl. Choose a function that produces a medium sized ‘normal’ loaf.

Equipment

  • Large bowl
  • Dough whisk or stand mixer is helpful, but you can mix by hand
  • Small ovenproof tin
  • Baking tray
  • Tea towels or other covers for the bread, while proofing
  • Scales, measuring spoons, measuring jug
  • Wire cooling rack

Ingredients

  • 400g strong white bread flour
  • 3g fine salt
  • 1g freshly milled ground pepper
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons of Sea Salad from the Cornish Seaweed Co – but use any edible dried seaweed flakes (whether bought or foraged)
  • 1 tablespoon of grape must. If you can’t find this – I buy mine in a Polish store – then use a rich Balsamic vinegar (I’d recommend Filippo Berio’s Premier Cru) or pomegranate molasses (such as from Odyssea), which are both easier to find
  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 270ml water
  • 1 teaspoon of dried, fast acting yeast
  • A little extra oil and flour

Method

  • Mix together EVERYTHING in a large bowl, until it’s combined but a really rough mix. Use a Dutch whisk or a stand mixer if you have it as it’s a bit messy this mix
  • Leave to autolyse for 10 minutes
  • Knead (or turn on your stand mixer) for 10 minutes. It will eventually come together nicely without the need for extra flour (try not to add more, but use a little if you really think you can’t cope with it being that sticky!)
  • When the surface is smooth, oil a large bowl and place the dough in. Cover (tea towel, couch, shower cap or cling film) and leave to rise for 45-60 minutes
  • This loaf will almost double – probably about an extra 75% again of its original size
  • Tip out the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knock back gently
  • Shape and place into your preferred banneton, bowl, bread tin or it can be plaited
  • Cover again and leave for about 25-30 minutes until it appears fluffed up. While it is doing this final proof, turn your oven on to 220C fan / 240C non-fan and place a small tin at the bottom of the oven
  • When ready (and after the oven has reached temperature) lightly flour a baking tray. Invert the loaf from the banneton/bowl or place the plait or tin onto the baking tray
  • If you want and have inverted the loaf from a banneton, you can slash the top to aide the rise and make the loaf prettier (such as the wave pattern above)
  • Place in the oven and immediately put a cupful of water into the little tin you left in the bottom of the oven. This creates steam and helps the loaf rise
  • Time for 35 minutes, but after 10 minutes turn the oven down by 20 degrees (whether you have a fan or non-fan over).
  • After the 35 minutes the bread should be golden, risen and hollow-sounding when tapped on the bottom
  • Leave to cool over a wire rack

I’d love to know if you tried this loaf and found that you did not miss the normal level of salt. Please leave any comment below.

Using a flower press 🌸

Making a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice blog

Pressing plants, leaves, herbs and flowers is an ancient tradition across almost every culture to preserve their beauty for keepsakes, crafts and gifts.

There are two most often used methods of pressing to preserve plants: between the pages of an old heavy book (I once bought a second hand copy of Alice in Wonderland and found a pansy in the leaves – which was very sweet), but the most convenient and useful is a proper flower press.

You can actually also iron plants (carefully!) although I only employ this technique for a quick ‘set’ to start off with rather than for full drying myself. There are also some ways use a microwave (I’ve no intention to try this, so I can’t comment on whether it is effective). I like that flower pressing takes thought, time and patience. The rush of doing it in minutes detracts from its inherent gentle nature and seems an anathema to me. However, if you needed dried flowers as part of a business, such as hand making paper, I understand the speedy results appeal.

I’ve given you some ideas here on how to get the most out of a traditional style flower press, but most of these suggestions are relevant to using the weighted book method too.

This article includes helpful hints and tips on:

  • Blotting material choices
  • Preparing the plants
  • Placing plants in the press
  • When is it ready?
  • Ideas for using pressed plants and flowers (craft and project suggestions)

To make your own proper flower press very easily and cheaply, please see my post on Making a flower and herb press

Dried flowers - Making a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice blog
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Blotting material choices

You’ll need to press your flowers and plants between two sheets of a type of paper to help wick away any moisture and dry them out. There are a number of options, some of which need to be chosen carefully dependent on which plants you are pressing:

  • Blotting paper – this is ideal and not as hard to get hold as you’d think online or in stationery stores. The advantage of proper blotting paper is that it usually comes in larger sheets so you can cut the perfect size out for your press. It’s also quite thick and can normally be used multiple times before it needs replacement. I’ve also successfully dried used blotting paper out in the sun and continued to extend its useful life
  • Kitchen tissue paper – while this does the job of drying plants out well and has the advantage of being cheap and easy to obtain, it normally comes with an imprinted pattern on. This is fine for more robust leaves or waxy petals, but will leave the pattern on delicate plants. Also go for a plain white kitchen tissue if you do use it – and colour might transfer to the plant. Best to experiment on something not so important first. Alternatively, this can be used in conjunction with a thinner paper (such as tissue paper) as a wadding layer for thicker plants
  • Acid free tissue paper – a great option, but it’s not always easy to find the acid free version though. Use a number of sheets to provide a thick layer (one or two layers won’t work). Needs replacing in the press more often than other materials
  • Toilet tissue – don’t use the imprinted kind (see the note about kitchen paper). Useful as an emergency find! Bear in mind not to put the perforation line over a plant – it’s best used for smaller items that are covered entirely by the size of one sheet. As per kitchen tissue, use plain white
  • Printer paper – most printing paper is quite smooth and doesn’t work that well. Can be used at a pinch but may not dry out the plant that well and may need frequent changing
  • Newsprint, magazine paper etc – to be avoided. The print technique for newspapers does not set the ink with heat and it’s very transferable (how many times have you read a newspaper and got the ink on your fingers?). Magazine printing is heat set but the paper is glossy and flimsy and basically useless. Avoid
  • Watercolour paper and handmade paper – the flat type works brilliantly but this is difficult to come by (most papers of these type are textured). A rather expensive paper just for pressing flowers!
  • Hand tissues – these can work OK, but stick to white and un-embossed ones
Separating herbs and petals, so they don't touch, on blotting paper as a layer in a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice
Laying out on a blotting paper layer within the press – notice that many items can go into each layer, but try not to let them touch and don’t go over the confines of the paper (here are fennel fronds and cornflower petals)
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Preparing the plants

  • Take the most perfect flowers and leaves you can find
  • Flowers, leaves and plants that are naturally flattish or are delicate work best of all
  • For bigger blooms or large flower heads consider picking off all the petals and pressing these flat, rather than the whole flower head
  • Large, thick items can be sliced and dried – such as half a flower head, or a slice out of a rose or poppy head (such things make an interesting scientific-botanical style dried specimen)
  • Pick flowers and plants ideally when they are dry (without dew or rain on) but still plump and glossy and not starting to fade or go limp from water loss
  • If you can’t avoid picking when wet, dab off what you can gently and hang them up or stand upside down on tissue (see below) for an hour or two till bone dry
Ensuring plants are dry before putting them in a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice
Ensure flowers, plants, herbs and petals are thoroughly dry before they go into the press (drying wallflowers, clematis flowers, violas, fennel and cornflowers)
  • Don’t put any plants in a press (or book) which are at all damp (note that you won’t be able to avoid any wetness from the end of cut stems completely)
  • Give the specimen a good look-over – imagine how do you want it to appear when dry. Pick off any leaves that will stop it from pressing flat or buds, smaller leaves etc that you don’t want or that are damaged. Often you can arrange the petals or leaves a little to make the finished specimen look its best
  • Thick flower heads and thick waxy leaves don’t press that well and may take a very long time to dry. This means they are susceptible to going brown at the edges or encouraging the growth of mould. That said, do experiment with specimens that aren’t precious (in case you have to discard them) to find what works (I’ve had some good successes with whole rose heads for example)
  • While not necessary as a step when using a press, you can give the flowers a ‘head start’ into the position you want by giving them a quick iron! Place them between two sheets of your blotting material and put the iron on its lowest setting. Press down for a few seconds, let go for a few moments to cool, then repeat two or three times. This is particularly helpful when you want to put a thicker flower in a press (I used this technique with the roses mentioned above) or want a stem or leaf stalk to dry in a particular position
  • Some flowers and leaves fade after pressing, while a few seem to become more intensified in colour (pansies and violas are great for this). The best thing is to experiment and jot down your own notes about what works for you
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Placing plants in the press

  • Try and press as quickly after picking as you can (bearing in mind any drying off you need to do) to capture the plant at that moment
  • If pressing multiple items in one leaf of your press (for example you might be able to fit a number of leaves or pansy heads in one leaf) make sure they don’t touch each other
  • Make sure no part of a plant hangs outside the blotting paper/press
  • Prepare each ‘leaf’ of your press like a sandwich: you should have the cardboard inner, then a sheet of blotting material, then the plant(s), then another sheet of blotting material, then the next cardboard inner (which is then used as the base for the next flower sandwich)
  • Put all your weight on the press while tightening the wingnuts/screws to ensure it’s as tight as possible
  • Place your filled and clamped flower press somewhere dry
  • Check periodically during the drying period that the press hasn’t loosened. Tighten the screws up accordingly
Making a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice blog
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

When is it ready?

  • Thinner specimens may only need up to a couple of weeks, for example gysopfila, viola, borage flowers, calendula petals, dill or fennel, coriander leaves, nasturtium petals or similar
  • Larger or thicker items may take up to a month (especially any plants that are designed to hold on to water in a dryer climate). For these, peek at them after two weeks to check they’re not browning or going mouldy and that the blotting paper doesn’t need changing. Discard anything – including the blotting material it is in – that is going brown or shows mould and start again
  • Change the blotting paper only if it appears damp or very discoloured from the plant. I have seen other instructions that say replace often, but I’ve found it’s not necessary to worry too much about changing this. After all, if you were pressing using a book, you’d just leave it in there. Only change if you think the drying process would benefit from new blotting material
  • The plants will be ready when they look and feel ‘crisp’. But be gentle! They’re now very brittle and stems, leaves and petals can snap or tear and destroy those precious weeks of waiting
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Ideas for using pressed plants and flowers (crafts and projects)

  • Birthday and other cards
  • Wedding invites and place cards
  • Bookmarks
  • Gift tags
  • Decorating journals
  • Pressed into wax candles or soaps
  • Arranged in glass frames
  • Laminated
  • Edible plants that have been pressed can be stored and used for cake, bread and other food decorations or ingredients. A few words of caution: please be careful and consult a recognised list of edible plants. Also, bear in mind only some parts of a flower might be edible – for instance tulip petals can be edible, but other parts of a tulip are toxic. Also, even though a plant or flower is edible it may just be a dusty, dry old piece of paper to eat after pressing and only worth using as a decoration!
Making a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice blog

Don’t forget to visit my post on making your own flower press!

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

Make a flower and herb press

Dried flowers - Making a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice blog

Welcome to an article that will help you make your own flower press from two old cork-backed placemats ~ although you can use these instructions with any boards/ply that is cut to size.

Dried, pressed flowers and herbs can be used in a variety of crafts, and as this is such an easy make, why not create your own pretty flower press?

It’s a simple make but one that will last you forever.

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

Notes

I’ve also given additional instructions for preparing the boards for painting, should you wish to customise your press once complete (as I have done in some of the images). However, by using a placemat with an existing image, it will still look good.

You will need a sturdy surface on which to make the press, as you need to both drill and hammer. A solid or portable workbench with clamps is ideal. However, you can still make this at home if you have a strong working surface that will survive being pummelled with a hammer. Better if you have some scrap wood over which you can drill holes without damaging any surface.

Please do go on to read the hints and tips on this accompanying article on how to use a press and dry pressing plants.

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

Equipment and materials

  • Two cork-backed placemats, typically 29 cm x 21.5 cm (or two 4 – 8mm depth boards, cut to a similar size)
  • Cardboard or an old cardboard box – enough to cut out six pieces of card using one of your placemats as a template
  • 4 carriage bolts (M6) and wing nuts – 6mm thread x 65mm bolt length is ideal (and what I have used)
  • 8 washers to fit the carriage bolts (and wide enough to cover the drilled hole, as this will depend on the drill bit size used)
carriage bolts, wing nuts and washers needed for the flower press
The four carriage bolts, four wingnuts and eight washers necessary for the flower press
  • Cutting mat or other surface protector
  • Sharp craft blade
  • Straight edge
  • Pen/pencil
  • Centrepunch (or a large nail) and hammer
  • Half moon cutter (if you have one – this is not essential but will give you the same results as my example)
  • Drill and 8 or 9mm wood drill bit
  • Sanding block or medium sand paper (about 120 grit)
  • Clamps, if possible (though I did test that you can handhold the placemats as you are drilling, as they are simple and quick to drill through)
  • Scrap piece of wood (to use as drill guard)

Additional equipment if painting the boards:

  • White primer aerosol paint
  • Paints or permanent markers of your choice
  • Matt clear aerosol varnish

Additional materials for use

  • Blotting paper or alternative – please see the guide on Using a flower press for a run down of materials and suggestions

Method

  • First of all, cut out the six cardboard inners, using one of the placemats as a template. Draw an outline round the placemat onto the cardboard and cut out with your craft knife. Now use this first one as a template for all the others: draw round it, cut out and repeat until you have six pieces
  • Next, mark where the drill points will be on each placemat: at each corner measure in 2 cm in from both edges and make a mark with your pen or pencil (you can cut a 2 cm x 2 cm square of card and use this as a guide if you wish)
marking the drill holes for the flower press
Marking the drill holes for each corner
  • Put a placemat cork-side down on a robust surface, such as a concrete floor, over a table leg (protecting the table first) or a workbech. Place the centrepunch (or the large nail) on one of your corner marks and hit the centrepunch with the hammer. This will make a guide indentation for your drill, to stop the drill from slipping. Repeat until all eight marks have been punched (four at each corner of both placemats)
  • Put a placemat cork-side down on the scrap piece of wood (if using). Position one of the punched marks over your scrap piece of wood and overhang the work surface (so you drill through into thin air, not your table!). Clamp down if possible
  • Position the tip of the drill bit into the punched mark, and drill through the placemat right into the scrap wood. By using some scrap wood underneath you minimise tearing of the cork (though some may still happen – don’t worry this won’t affect the press’ use – see the next point)
  • Drill all eight holes and then sand off any burrs and rough edges. (If the cork has ripped or torn at all during drilling, don’t worry! Just trim off the ripped edges with your craft knife and sand down. It won’t affect the press at all if some cork has been shorn off as this is outside the actually pressing area)
  • Place a washer on each of the four carriage bolts and push them through the holes of one placemat – make sure the picture side of the placemat has the bolt heads (and the cork is “inside” the press)
The carriage bolt (with washer, unseen, on the underside) pushed through the newly drilled hole in the mat for the flowerpress
A carriage bolt through the newly-drilled hole (a washer has been placed between the bolt head and the board, which is on the unseen underside. Note that the cork layer is on the ‘inside’
  • Now slice off a triangle on the corners of all six cardboard pieces. Just cut enough so they can fit in the press (if you have a half moon punch, as I have used, you can do this instead)
Cutting the corner off the cardboard inners, note that it's close to the drilled hole so that you keep as large an area of card for pressing as possible
Punching out the corner so that the card inners fir within the carriage bolts – you don’t have to have a half moon punch, just slice a triangle off each corner instead
  • Place all six cardboard pieces in the press and put the second placemat on top, feeding the carriage bots through the holes on this placemat. Keep the picture side upwards, so the cork is inside
Layering up the sized and cut inner cardboard inners
  • Pop the remaining washers on the bolts, then screw on the four wingnuts
the finished corner - with carriage bolts, washers and wingnuts in place and all six layers of carboard inners
How each corner should end up – a board, six layers of cardboard, the other board and all fixed with a carriage bolt, washers and wingnut at each corner. Note how the cork side of each board is facing inside

Your press is now ready!! However, you can customise/paint the placemats. To do this:

  • take off the boards from the press
  • sand down the picture side of the placemat
  • wipe off any dust and spray with the white primer (remember to do this in a well ventilated area)
  • paint, draw, decoupage or decorate the placemat as you see fit
  • once dry reassemble the press

To use (briefly)

  • Sandwich plants, leaves and flowers between two pieces of blotting material (see advice here) within each layer of the press
  • You can utilise up to seven layers for pressing plants, so you can do as little or as much as you like at the same time. You have two layers that are cork and cardboard, and five spaces between the cardboard laters (remember to use two blotting sheets with every layer)
Separating herbs and petals, so they don't touch, on blotting paper as a layer in a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice
  • When you have loaded the flowers into the press, push down on the boards as much as you can with all your weight using one hand while screwing on the wingnuts with the other (or get someone to push down for you). This initial weight/pressure will enable you to tighten the press more and facilitate the flattening/drying process
  • Plants will need at least two weeks to dry, thicker/more succelent-type plants will need longer
  • Keep somewhere dry
  • Check the press regularly to see if it needs tightening as the moisture is lost from the plants (you can do this without disturbing the plants)
  • Replace the blotting paper when it becomes discoloured or damaged
  • You may need to replace the cardboard layers from time to time as they become indented from use

Check out my some hints and tips on using your flower and herb press in the following article:

Using a flower press
Ensuring plants are dry before putting them in a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice
Making a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice blog
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Flavoured salts – part two

salts2-7

[Updated]

In the first part of this series on flavoured salt mixes, I explained a little about the types of salts available, where they come from, how they’re harvested, what gives tinted salts their colours and how to select salts for different uses. So, if you missed that post I do encourage you to read it first before continuing here as it gives the full background and a much better understanding. You can access flavoured salt mixes part one here.

In this second part I’ve included a couple of absolute classics – Italian and French herbs. However, the Italian mix does include the optional addition of adding dried tomato paste. This kicks the mix up a couple of notches if you can be bothered to try drying tomato paste – I recommend you do try. It’s also a great way of elongating the shelf life of an opened can, tube or jar of tomato paste as it can just be sprinkled into foods while cooking.

On a slightly madder theme I’ve included a “recipe” that involved DRIED MARMITE! Yes, I actually spent one afternoon inventing the perfect dried Marmite. I wanted to include that ultimate umami taste in a salt mix, but of course I couldn’t include it in its normal gooey state. This is an AWESOME mix – I use on tons of things. You’d never know that it is entirely vegetarian! It’s particularly great to give an intense BBQ flavour to vegetarian foods and it brings out an incredible flavour on chicken and steak in particular. There is a BBQ mix on the part one post, which is entirely lovely, but this one knocks your socks off.

Almost equally mad, but not because of an individual ingredient, rather the whole mix is the English Summer Sweet mix. Sweet and salt is not a new flavour combination, but it’s still rather unusual in this form and takes some getting used to. This is a beautiful looking mix, full of pinks, blues and yellows. The trick is to use it for taste but not waste it’s good looks buried inside a dish. It is lovely in a short pastry tart, sprinkled over the top of a pavlova or meringue kisses before they go in the oven or in an ice cream. It also goes nicely sprinkled on the top of a pasta ripiena/pasta in brodo dish or on tapas or similar.

Do you have any salt mixes that you have created yourself, or is there any that you think you’d like to see? Perhaps you use sme pre-made ones, such as those from the Cornish Salt Co, but are itching to have a go at creating your own. Please let me know in the comments below 💙

Notes

  • Anything you add to a salt needs to be dry – very dry! Although that comes with a caveat – in my English Summer Sweet mix below I’ve found that both calendula petals and lavender flowers are perfectly fine putting into a salt mix fresh – the only other thing I’ve found so far that will work fresh is chopped up rosemary leaves. Everything else needs to be dried. Either start with pre-dried herbs or dry out your own ingredients in your oven or de-humidifier. I’ve given the timings and temps for ingredients I use where I can
  • Buy a high quality base salt for these, as cheaper salts do tend to have added extra ingredients (mostly to enable the salt to stay free flowing) and are more processed, thus taking out or negating any beneficial additional minerals
  • I’ve given ingredients and ratios for a typical flavoured salt, but if you’re aiming to use a lot less salt in your cooking then don’t add quite so much as I’ve given
  • Think what you’ll use the flavoured salt for – most typically these will be as a last garnish to a dish. For most of these it will be best to buy a rock or crystal salt, but if you’re using the flavouring within the early stages of a recipe there’s less need for an expensive crystal salt as it will dissolve
  • You can store these in anything that will keep moisture out, such as a click lock plastic tub but they do look really gorgeous in tiny Kilner jars. However, if you’re leaving a salt out on the dining table as a pinch pot, then it really doesn’t matter what you store it in (an old cleaned out jam jar for instance), just present it in a nice little bowl on your table

Equipment

For each ‘recipe’ you’ll need measuring spoons or a digital scale, a small bowl and a sterilised jam jar or Kilner jar. Most will need a pestle and mortar and some other ‘recipes’ need an extra item which will be explained in each method.

Sterilising glass jars

Put pre-washed clean glass jars in the oven at about 130˚C for 20 minutes or put them through a dishwasher cycle on your hottest setting

Be careful handling the hot jars out when done

NB:  don’t put any rubber seal in the oven; it’ll just melt. Wash these in hand-hot water and leave to dry on a kitchen towel or clean tea towel

Drying the herbs

Dried herbs are easy to get hold of and it’s likely that a keen cook will have most of these in their cupboard already. For the unusual herbs that you’ve grown yourself, it’s best to let herbs dry naturally in a sunny, dry spot (I hang mine in my little green house or my kitchen window). However, you can dry them out in your oven enough for these salt mixes. Place a single layer of the herbs you need on a baking tray: that is, don’t overlap them and it doesn’t matter if there are different types of herbs in one go. Bake on the lowest setting for an hour and test to see how dry the herbs are – herbs will dry out at different rates. Leave any in for another hour that have not dried yet. Crush in a pestle and mortar or a quick whizz in a blender (both before adding to the salt).

Tip: if any herbs are proving difficult to crush, add a little of the rock salt or salt crystals to the pestle and mortar. The salt acts as an additional surface to tear the herbs more effectively. Don’t tip all the salt in though, or you will pound this to a fine dust along with the herbs, and you want to keep the integrity of the salt (otherwise you may as well use fine table salt).

“Recipes” – all are vegetarian

salts2-6

Italian herbs

Ingredients are:

  • Rock salt or crystal sea salt – 2 tablespoons
  • oregano – 1 teaspoon
  • rosemary – 1 teaspoon
  • fennel or fennel seeds – 1/4 teaspoon
  • basil – 1 teaspoon
  • thyme – 1 teaspoon
  • lemon balm – 1/2 teaspoon
  • black pepper (freshly ground) – several turns of the grinder to taste
  • dried tomato puree – 1 teaspoon (optional but well worth the effort)

Method: Smooth two tablespoons of tomato puree as thinly as possible on a sheet of greaseproof paper and place on a baking tray. Bake in the oven at 70C for 1 hour. If after this time there are still some ‘rubbery’ bits of tomato puree then put it back in the oven for another 30 minutes and try again. The tomato puree with crisp up and go almost black. When fully baked, leave to cool and then crush or chop finely.

When the herbs and the tomato puree are dried, mix them with the salt and place in your container.

Some uses: in bread baking, for savoury pastry, pasta dishes, risotto and its also a nice addition to most meats and casserole-style meals.

salts2-9

Umami / intense BBQ

Notes: There is a BBQ salt recipe on the part one post, but though that is good, this one is awesome, highly unusual and includes my unique mad-kitchen-scientist dried Marmite powder. It tastes very meaty and rich, but it’s entirely vegetarian (and as such I throw it copiously on any appropriate veggie meals I make).

Ingredients are:

  • smoked sea salt – 2 tablespoons
  • vegetable bouillon – 1 teaspoon
  • garlic granules – 1 teaspoon
  • onion granules – 1 teaspoon
  • smoked paprika – 1 teaspoon
  • soft brown sugar – 1 teaspoon
  • parsley – 1 teaspoon
  • dried Marmite – 1 teaspoon
  • smokey chipotle powder (optional) – 1 teaspoon

Method: spread two tablespoons of Marmite on to a sheet of baking paper and then place on a tray in the oven. Bake at 70ºC fan / 90ºC conventional for about 25 minutes. It will puff up and it’ll really smell (fine if you love Marmite!) – don’t panic: it’s fine! Leave to cool then crumble (with dry fingers) before mixing with the other herbs and spices and the stock cube in a pestle and mortar.

NB: With this salt mix it is better to have finer salt particles that match the other particles of the mix ingredients. I ground the smoked salt with a pestle and mortar. If you don’t have smoked salt, you may as well use normal table salt here, then you don’t have to grind or crush anyway.

Some uses: great as a dry rub, or with a little oil as a wet rub. Also lovely in a chilli, in jambalaya etc, for other Cajun dishes (especially those with prawns) or to brush over meats (mixed into oil) for the barbecue. Just on almost anything savoury and great for livening up vegetarian dishes… this is my total favourite salt mix.

Also – this one is fabulous when mixed in with cornmeal or polenta (ration about 10:1) and used as a crispy coating on chicken or for wedges!

salts2-8

French herbs

Ingredients are:

  • Sea salt flakes/crystals or sel gris – 1 tablespoon
  • tarragon – 1/2 teaspoon
  • rosemary – 1 teaspoon
  • parsley – 1 teaspoon
  • thyme – 1 teaspoon
  • bay – 1/2 teaspoon
  • chives – 1 teaspoon

Method: Chop a dried bay leaf into tiny pieces (it won’t crush with a pestle and mortar well). The other dried herbs need crushing together (take the leaves off the woody stalks of the rosemary and thyme first) before adding to the salt. If you need to dry your herbs quickly see the note above.

Some uses: use in place of bouquet garni or Herbes de Provence. Also useful for fish, lamb and beef (especially steak) dishes.

English summer salt mix recipe e- Lynn Clark / Inksugarspice

English Summer Sweet

Notes: I’ve purposely kept the salt low in ratio as compared to the other ingredients, because of the uses of this mix. Dried borage flowers and rose petals are easily obtained from a Turkish or Middle-Eastern supermarket or online, if you don’t grow them yourself (they are also more tricky to dry successfully in an oven than other herbal ingredients – if you have a dehydrator this would not be an issue. If you don’t have much luck drying these yourself as they’re so tricky, do buy pre-dried).

Ingredients are:

  • Himalayan pink salt, fine sea salt flakes or a good quality table salt – 1 teaspoon
  • calendula petals (edible marigolds) (need not be dried first – see method) – 1 teaspoon
  • dried rose petals – 1 teaspoon
  • dried borage flowers – 1 teaspoon
  • lemon zest (need not be dried fully first – see method) – 1 teaspoon
  • lavender flowers (need not be dried first – see method) – 1/2 teaspoon

Method: the calendula petals and lavender flowers do not need to be dried in an oven, as they are dried by the salt in the pot. The lemon zest can be dried in a 50C oven for 30 minutes at least or just leave it overnight between two sheets of kitchen paper which you have weighed down with a book or other weight. The rose petals and borage flowers need to be oven dried as per the lemon zest (or bought pre-dried) as they are more delicate and are prone to either making the other ingredients wet or looking very dishevelled if you don’t dry them first. Mix all lightly together so as not to crush the delicate ingredients before potting up.

NB:  This is another salt where it is better to have finer salt particles (the hit of crunching into a large piece of salt would be too overpowering in a sweet mix). I actually have a salt grinder with Himalayan salt in, so I just ground the right amount. Also you can use a pestle and mortar. Alternatively, use normal free-running table salt here.

Some uses: sparingly in things like ice cream or meringue. Sprinkle a little on fruit or desserts or use in sweet pastry baking, such as tart cases or shortbreads. Gives a twist to savoury dishes nd particularly good with pasta and fish or sprinkled over salads or tapas for a pretty finish.


You are welcome to use these recipes for your home cooking (that’s why I write these things up online so others can try!)


However, please do not recreate them as a recipe anywhere or pass them off as your own (specially relevant for commercial use eg chefs, cooks, Home Eds, food stylists, restaurants etc). If you show them anywhere on social media you must credit me @inksugarspice.


salts2-5

Flavoured salts – part one

salts2-2[updated]

It’s all the food fashion at the moment it seems to have a pot of two of flavoured sea salt, with salt companies clambering over each other to bring them out. Take a look past the hype and you’ll see that salt mixes are exceptionally useful in the kitchen and can even be used to bring down your salt intake a little.

I’ve been concocting my own for a while now, mostly fuelled by the vast number of different herbs I grow in my garden. (I have to explain that I’ve not got a big garden: most herbs are in single, small pots as they don’t need much space and I’ve done this cheaply by saving seeds, taking cuttings, swapping herbs with friends and buying the occasional herb plant or seed packet. Herbs are for my money the easiest group of plants to grow and you need next to no space to grow four or five of your favourites).

Salt mixes can be costly when bought pre-made but it’s exceptionally easy and much cheaper to make your own. You can use the herbs in your garden, herbs bought from the greengrocer or the dried herbs and spices you already have in your kitchen.

I have a second post planned with some of my more ‘mad’ mixes, seasonal flavours and a couple of absolute classic combinations but you can easily go on to experiment with your own.

Notes

  • Anything you add to a salt needs to be dry – very dry! Either start with pre-dried herbs or dry out your own ingredients in your oven or de-humidifier. I’ve given the timings and temps for ingredients I use where I can
  • Use your own fresh herbs and dry them (timings in the ‘recipes’) or substitute for pre-dried herbs: it doesn’t matter
  • Buy a high quality base salt for these, as cheaper salts do tend to have added extra ingredients (mostly to enable the salt to stay free flowing) and are more processed, thus taking out or negating any beneficial additional minerals
  • I’ve given ingredients and ratios for a typical flavoured salt, but if you’re aiming to use a lot less salt in your cooking then don’t add quite so much as I’ve given
  • Think what you’ll use the flavoured salt for – most typically these will be as a last garnish to a dish. For most of these it will be best to buy a rock or crystal salt, but if you’re using the flavouring within the early stages of a recipe there’s less need for an expensive crystal salt as it will dissolve
  • You can store these in anything that will keep moisture out, such as a click lock plastic tub but they do look really gorgeous in tiny Kilner jars. However, if you’re leaving a salt out on the dining table as a pinch pot, then it really doesn’t matter what you store it in (an old cleaned out jam jar for instance), just present it in a nice little bowl on your table
  • These are the ratios I’ve come to like in my salt mixes, but if you really love a particular ingredient I’ve included (or hate it) adjust to your preference

Salt – a sprinkling

There are 20-30 types of salt in the world, but it’s difficult (or impossible) to get hold of most of these, depending where you live some will be easier than others. Also, realistically, you can live with using just table salt, however if you have a couple of extra types of salt it will provide a few more options. If you want to make your own flavoured salts or use them for different purposes then four to five salts are a good arsenal to have in your kitchen.

All salt is sodium chloride (NaCl). Salt in anything other than small quantities is known to be bad for health. But use it sensibly and it can be included in a healthy person’s diet (anyone with high blood pressure or similar conditions will have been given advice on salt intake by their GP). Food can be entirely bland and disagreeable without it and it serves as a natural preserving agent. By making flavoured salts myself I believe I use a little less overall in my food as I am effectively making a dry stock – adding flavour that’s not all just salt. I don’t think it’s much of a saving, but even a little helps.

Cutting down on salt?

All salts are salty… you’ll be thinking I’m mad writing that here but there’s a preconception that some are much better for us than others as they’re more about the minerals than the salt. Don’t be fooled. Some do have added minerals but that doesn’t change the salt itself: the minerals are ‘extra’ not ‘instead of’. If you want to watch your salt intake further, then do look out for lo salt. It’s a medium-grain table salt but can easily be swapped into all the recipes below if you’re concerned (though of course you’ll lose the texture and some flavourings like the smoked salt). I believe it’s about 1/3 the sodium level of normal salts as it replaces some sodium chloride with potassium chloride and anti-caking agent. Personally I just try to use a little less salt and use other flavourings instead (hence the birth of all my salt mixes).

There are basically only two types of salt – sea and rock. All the myriad variants of salt from the stuff in the plastic salt cellar in the chip shop to Fleur-de-sel to Hawaiian red salt come from either of these two sources. I have added table salt as it’s such a difference kettle of fish because of its addition of other ingredients and its use.

Sea salt

Sea salt comes in various crystalline forms (from small flakes to fascinating pyramidal structures), but it’s all salt harvested from sea water. However all sea salt is not created equally (though in my opinion I don’t think there’s much taste or use differentiation, but I have not yet tried Fleur-de-sel). Most sea salts will be refined to get rid of impurities and ‘nasties’ from the sea water, with companies usually now harvesting direct from the sea and processing in a shore-line plant or an underground plant (see this from the US Salt Assoc.).

See this clip from the Cornish Sea Salt Company on YouTube:

However, the eye-wateringly expensive Fleur-de-sel is a little different. Sea water is driven off into a basin-shaped area and allowed to evaporate. The fluffy crust (the ‘flower of salt’) that forms is scraped off by hand and packaged without refinement. This only produces a small amount at each salt gather (so hand gathering + small amounts = the high price). Fleur-de-sel is not just collected in France, but in other countries too such as Portugal and Southern Russia. Due to its natural state it’s unlikely to be pure white.

After the Fleur-de-sel is taken away, the rest of the water is allowed to evaporate and larger sea salt crystals are formed, this is gros sel, which again is not refined but is more easily harvested and in larger quantities so is about 1/10th the price of Fleur-de-sel. Salt of this kind which has a lot of additional minerals to make it darker in colour is sel gris – grey salt.

Other sea salts have minerals or colours added, such as the red Hawaiian Alaea salt, which is sea salt plus red volcanic (edible) iron oxide-rich clay.

I have (or have used) sea salts from Maldon, the Cornish Sea Salt Company, Halen Môn from Anglesey (I like to keep it British, as you can tell, as far as possible), and interlopers: Falk (Swedish) and the cheaper Tidman’s (which actually is now owned by Maldon but is less expensive for pretty much the same thing – go figure?!) and the budget brand Saxa.

Rock salt

Rock salt is mined halite, a form of sodium chloride – it’s a very different salt to sea salt. Salt deposits that have naturally occurred (mostly but not always from ancient dried up seabeds and salt water lakes) are mined like other aggregates and broken up into usable granules or ground, then purified and recrystallised when necessary. Depending on where the salt is found geographically it will have taken on some minerals and ‘impurities’ from the surrounding area, although the term impurities could actually mean beneficial minerals. Rock salt is refined to remove harmful impurities to make it fit for human consumption, although there are some very pure sources. See this short article from erocksalt.com explaining the extraction and purification: http://www.erocksalt.com/where-rock-salt-come-from/

This is a You Tube video by Colin Morris on the Winsford Salt Mine (Cheshire, North West England):

Rock salt includes unusual salts with differing colours such as pink Himalayan salt, tinted pink from the microorganisms that once lived in the sea water in what is now known as the Punjab (note: not actually the Himalayas! That’s just a marketing ploy, apparently) it also includes chromium, iron, zinc, lead, and copper before refinement.

Kala Namek (often labelled as Indian Black Salt) is the ‘proper’ Himalayan salt as it actually does come from that region in India and Nepal. It is a dark purple to a black colour, and goes purplish-pink when ground. It’s supposed to be a bit smelly as the colour is due to sulfates. I have not tried this salt, but I’ve read that it is used not only in cooking but also Ayurvedic medicine and is considered more akin to a medicinal herb than a spice or condiment. (I’m including kala namek to show the range of colours and properties that can be seen in different rock salt due to the chemicals found in the salt, not because I have used it).

Coloured and single flavour salts

Black sea salt crystals - Ink Sugar Spice

Black (carbon) salt is sea salt which is processed with additional carbon (all edible). It’s no different to other salts but is really for show. I have some myself and I love using it though you do get black fingers after sprinkling it (it does just rinse off). My salt is from Falk, a Swedish company, and I use it on deserts to give a bit of an impact and to top finished foods, like the top of breads, quiches, in salads etc. It’s wasted ‘in’ foods – it just dissolves and the colour dissipates. Relatively expensive, but I only use a minimal amount and of course salt doesn’t degrade (when kept dry) so you can have a pot that lasts for years. It’s basically following the trend for carbonised, black foods but it is a little fun – I like to sprinkle it on as the final flourish on a bright dish for some contrast: it’s basically all about the visual impact rather than any taste difference.

Smoked Sea Salt - Ink Sugar Spice

Smoked salts: it doesn’t sound like smoking salt should be a ‘thing’ but it’s dry smoked so it honestly does work. My smoked salt is from Maldon, the Essex-based company, and it’s got a distinctive, lovely smell and flavour which does carry over in to the food. Great for the smokier salt mixes and I always use this in chilli con carne etc and when barbecuing. It’s lasts a while, though I do go through it more quickly than the black salt (it has more applications) and is a little most costly than normal sea salt flakes, but I think it’s worth keeping on hand.

Table salt

A free-running salt with very small granules. Usually exceptionally cheap and made from sea salt. Table salt comes with an anti-caking agent and sometimes even iodine added to ensure it stays free running, so check the pack and buy a reputable brand – even with a brand name it shouldn’t cost much more. Useful for adding to bread dough (as it’s so fine), adding to simmering water for pasta and veg etc (because of its cheapness) – and for putting round the garden to discourage slugs!! I keep a large packet of Italian table salt, from Amato, as I mostly use this in my bread making and baking, and I’m sure you know I do a lot of that…

Equipment

For each ‘recipe’ you’ll need measuring spoons or a digital scale, a small bowl and a sterilised jam jar or Kilner jar. Most will need a pestle and mortar and some other ‘recipes’ need an extra item which will be explained in each method.

Sterilising glass jars

Put pre-washed clean glass jars in the oven at about 130˚C for 20 minutes or put them through a dishwasher cycle on your hottest setting

Be careful handling the hot jars out when done

NB:  don’t put any rubber seal in the oven; it’ll just melt. Wash these in hand-hot water and leave to dry on a kitchen towel or clean tea towel

Drying fresh herbs method

My method is to bake the herbs on a layer of greaseproof paper in a 50°C oven (or your lowest setting) for 40 minutes, then crush.

“Recipes” – all are vegetarian

Mermaid salt mix recipe on Ink Sugar Spice

Mermaid mix

Ingredients are:

  • Himalayan pink salt or Cornish sea salt – 1 tablespoon
  • Seaweed mix‡ – 1 tablespoon
  • Black or multi colour pepper – ½ teaspoon
  • Dried borage flowers – 1 teaspoon (don’t pack tightly and pick the bluest ones)
  • Dried rose petals – 1 teaspoon (don’t pack tightly)

‡ either a pre-packed seaweed mix or use a mix of dulse, nori, wakame, kelp and/or sea spaghetti (whatever you can find).
I have the Sea Salad mix from the Cornish Seaweed company

Method: the dried seaweed does need to be in small particles to match the salt. If you’ve bought each seaweed separately or the packet mix is large pieces, break up the seaweed in a pestle and mortar, or put it in a plastic food bag and roll a rolling pin over it to break it up. The dried borage and rose petals may need chopping up slightly.

Some uses: in Chinese and Japanese inspired recipes, fish dishes, shellfish dishes, fish pie, great on homemade crisps.

Fiery chilli salt mix recipe - Ink Sugar Spice

Fiery chilli (hot, hot, hot!!)

Ingredients are:

  • Himalayan (keeps the pink/red colour of the mix) or normal white rock salt – 1 tablespoon
  • dried birds eye chilli – 2 chillies
  • paprika – ¼ teaspoon
  • chilli flakes – ½ teaspoon
  • chilli powder – ¼ teaspoon
  • cayenne – ¼ teaspoon
  • black pepper (freshly ground) – ¼ teaspoon
  • onion granules – ¼ teaspoon
  • garlic granules – ¼ teaspoon

Method: pound the dried birds eye chillies in a pestle and mortar before combining with the rest of the ingredients.

Some uses: curries, chilli con carne and other Mexican dishes, paella, mixed with some oil it makes a great rub for barbecue or roast meats and is excellent on wedges or chips.

Mushroom salt mix on Ink Sugar Spice

Mushroom

Ingredients are:

  • Rock salt – 1 tablespoon
  • dried porcini mushrooms – 4g
  • onion granules – 1 teaspoon

Method: the dried porcini mushrooms need to be either whizzed in a blender or crushed in a pestle and mortar. If using a pestle and mortar, put the rock salt in with the mushrooms as it gives extra grip and makes it easier. Do not rehydrate them (keep them dry). Once the porcini are crushed into a powder/small pieces you can mix them in with the salt and the garlic and onion granules.

Some uses: for risotto, for added oomph to vegetarian dishes or meat casseroles, good with chicken and pork.

Asian style salt mix on Ink Sugar Spice

Asian-style mix

Ingredients are:

  • Black sea salt – 1 dessert spoon (10ml)
  • black onion seeds – ½ teaspoon
  • seaweed mix – 1 ½ teaspoons
  • Szechuan peppercorns – ¼ teaspoon
  • Chinese five spice – ¼ teaspoon

Method: crush the Szechuan peppercorns in a pestle and mortar, including the seaweed at the end if it needs crushing smaller. Mix altogether.

Some uses: Thai, Chinese and Japanese style recipes where you want a little kick (Szechuan peppercorns are quite something!!) or add to a dark soy sauce as an Asian-style marinade for tofu, fish, chicken or pork.

Lynn's Season All herb and salt mix recipe on Ink Sugar Spice

Lynn’s Season-all

Ingredients are:

  • Fine sea salt flakes – 1 tablespoon
  • garlic granules – 1 teaspoon
  • onion granules – 1 teaspoon
  • fresh ground black pepper – ½ teaspoon
  • vegetable bouillon powder – 1 teaspoon (or use a low sodium a vegetable stock cube)
  • dried orange zest  – ½ teaspoon
  • dried parsley (see note above about drying fresh herbs – ½ teaspoon

Method: Zest an orange (or more) and follow the drying method for herbs above. Combine with the rest of the ingredients once the zest is cooled.

Some uses: basically this is a pumped-up vegetable stock cube! Use wherever you would normally use a stock cube but don’t want to add two. Also this is great when mixed with flour or breadcrumbs as a batter or breadcrumb coating for vegetables and meats.

herbsAndSpices

Hanging herb planter

Make a hanging herb planter - Ink Sugar Spice

At the start of the year, one of the ambitions I had for this blog was to add in more craft-based posts as increasingly it has been just recipes and the bias of my blog has shifted somewhat. It’s now April, and this is the first craft-based post this year, so clearly I’ve been pretty rubbish. I didn’t even start my New year’s resolution, let alone break it.

You may have gathered from other posts that I tend to make anything myself that can be made by hand. I think myself very lucky that I have useful hands that do what I ask of them (as a result though, they do look like labourer’s hands sadly). It’s not about ethereal, arty creativity, that I make things. It’s simply my bloody-mindness: if it can be made, I’m going to have a crack at trying. I have a lot of ideas buzzing about my otherwise empty head, a pair of useful hands and not a lot of money, all providing an excuse to be creative.

These little herb planters are so easy to make and so cheap. I bought a few pots (“Socker” galvanised plant pots from Ikea) for £1 a piece and I already had garden twine and leather cord. You could also use any old shoelaces, scraps of ribbon or butchers’ twine you had to save buying anything new.

They can also be scaled up depending on what size plant pot you can get hold of, but I’d suggest that if you are making a much larger planter, then use five or six holes and cords to support the greater weight (remember that soil + plant + watering = a lot of weight).

The cord is the crafty thing here – three cords that suspend the plant pot are also used to braid an integrated loop. This loop is braided back into itself, making it strong, secure and very neat.

For me, these mini planters they allow me to have herbs in my kitchen without cluttering up the window sill. I routinely grow a lot of herbs in my garden (27 varieties last summer and I’m aiming for the same or more this year), but the ones I most frequently cook with I like to have in reach of my cooking area, instead of traipsing outside repeatedly. Plus they make the kitchen smell rather lovely.

They make fabulous presents too, when potted up with a fragrant herb, a succulent or a baby house plant.

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

Notes on decorating

  • You can keep these plain or paint them up as I have done. I used a small pot of water-based model paint, easily available from model shops in a huge array of colours (you can also use an enamel paint but these are smelly, harder to clean your brushes after use and take longer to dry)
  • A quick spray with a car paint would provide a quickly coloured pot if you don’t want to stick with the galvanised metal. If you are using spray paint, I suggest to spray the plant pot between making the holes and braiding the cord, as you don’t want the cord to be painted (and spraying before making the holes may results in marks or scratches)
  • Use masking tape with paint for spray paint to create stripes or spray over a stencil
  • Also decoupage would work, but use a clear spray varnish to ensure your work is waterproofed

Notes on materials

  • I picked up these small metal planters from Ikea at £1 each. I’ve also seen them in supermarkets (in the summer gardening section) and in saver/pound shops
  • You do need metal, as ceramic or plastic would shatter, unless you have a small Dremel or similar tool with which you could use to drill holes
  • Be really frugal and use cleaned-out tin food cans: it’d work especially well with the larger bulk-buy tins you can get
  • I’ve used both a leather cord and garden twine to illustrate how to make these, showing you that a variety of materials could be used. Any strong twine will do, though do bear in mind that eventually string or twine will degrade, especially if it gets wet during watering (or you hang the pot outside in all weathers) so may need replacing at some point. Leather cord will degrade too but will last for much longer
equipment
Equipment needed – Plant pots, plants, cord and/or string, knife or scissors, hammer, scrap wood, nail, paint, brush (although, oops, I’ve left out the bradawl)

Equipment – you will need:

  • One or more metal plant pots (make sure there are NO drainage holes in them – or it’ll drip all over the floor!)
  • Roughly 3 meters of cord, twine etc per pot (actually it’s a little less but this is a nice round number to work with)
  • Hammer
  • Old piece of wood
  • Nail that is the same diameter (or very slightly bigger) as the cord/twine you are using
  • Tape measure
  • Scissors or knife
  • A bradawl or small screwdriver or skewer would be useful
  • Herb plant or other small plant and a small amount of extra soil (if needed to fill in any gaps)
  • Additionally, paint and brush or tin of spray paint or other decoration

Method

  • Make three evenly spaced holes just under the rim of the pot, by tapping the nail through the pot into the spare piece of wood. (Do make sure it’s just under the rim or you will have problems later with water dripping out below the soil line)
punchedHoles
Holes punched into the pot and the rough edges tamped down
  • Wiggle the nail in each hole (that you’ve just created), to enlarge it a little
  • The nail will have made spurs on the other side of the pot as you tapped the nail through, so turn over the pot and tap these spurs down gently. If you leave them sticking out it can cut both your fingers and the cord!
  • Check that tapping down the holes hasn’t narrowed the aperture and that the cord still fits through – if it’s a little small place the nail back in and give it another ‘wiggle’
  • If you are using a spray paint or applying decoupage etc, this is the best time to decorate the pot (if you decorate earlier you risk scratching your paint/artwork when making the holes and if you leave it till you are finished you’ll have to mask off the braided cord, which will be more complicated)
  • To make the braided cord, cut three 70 – 90cm pieces of your chosen cord (the length depends on whether you want a shortish or long hanging braid)
  • Poke one end of a piece of cord through one of the holes, until about 5cm extends out from the pot
  • Tie off the cord securely, using your preferred knot – I use two half hitches. Make sure it will not unravel while holding the pot in place
knotAndHole
Two half hitches using leather cord
  • Repeat with the other two cords and holes
  • Grab all three long ends of the cord with one hand and, ensuring that they are as even as possible (so the pot won’t hang lopsidedly) make a loose, basic overhand knot. leave about 12-15cm of cord between the pot and the knot. Do not tighten the knot (you’ll need it loose later on)
braidAndHanging
The three strands, knotted onto the pot and then gathered into an overhand knot to start the braiding
  • With the three cords, make a loose braid down about 60% of the strands
3strands
Three cord braid
  • Identify the halfway point between the overhand knot and the end of the cords and bend the braid over at this point – this will create the loop to hang the pot
loop
Starting the loop – not that the loop should be braided, and not just plain strands
  • Now start to thread the loose ends into the braided part
  • It’s easiest if you work with one cord at a time, following a strand of the braid, weaving it in and out to match and creating a double braid pattern
  • A bradawl or thin screwdriver will help you open up a space to push the end of the cord through as you weave (this is why we created only a loose braid) If you are having problems weaving the ends in to a double braid because it is too tight, you will have to unravel and start the braid again
doubleweavecloseup
Weaving the ends back into the original braid, to make a double braid. This secures the loop and ensures it doesn’t work loose so you can hang the pot up with confidence
  • Keep going until you get to the knot
  • Once you have successfully woven one cord into the braid, repeat with the other two, so you are left with three small ends close to the knot
  • Loosen the knot a little and, with the help of the bradawl to make a gap, feed the ends of the three cords through the knot
knot
The loose ends fed through the overhand knot – this now needs tightening and then the ends trimming
  • Pull on the knot to tighten it and once you’re happy it’s secure, snip off the ends with a little to spare (to ensure the ends don’t slipt through the knot and unravel it)
braidFinishedCord
A finished leather cord braid and loop, note that because of the way we’re braiding, the loop itself is only a single braid (but will be strong enough)
  • Check that the pot hangs straight by lifting up the pot using the braided loop you’ve just created – you can adjust any ‘wonkiness’ by untying one of the knots at the rim of the pot, checking for straightness and retying
  • Now’s the easiest time to paint or decorate the pot (unless you sprayed it earlier)
paintedPot
Making sure the pot hangs straight – you can see the placement of the holes evenly spaced around the pot here, and the half hitches
  • Pot up your chosen plant, filling any gaps with additional soil. Make sure the soil level is about 1cm below the holes you made, otherwise when you water it will drip out of the three holes
  • You can now hang your potted herbs out
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Garlicky, herby, cheesey, buttery ‘bookshelf’ bread for tearing and sharing

bookshelfBread

I had rather lost my way regarding my blog and even my food over the last couple of months. If you get notifications for my posts, perhaps you’ve realised there’s been a vacuum… at least, I hope you’ve noticed. Maybe you haven’t! I’ve even been toying whether to delete this blog and pack up writing completely of late. I have stopped short of doing anything too hasty as I realised it might well be just a case of the January blues.

I do get severely affected by the dark days, do you? I know almost everyone does to some extent (humans need some sunlight) but I seem to get quite an extreme version. There have also been a few trials and tribulations recently, so baking and the blog had to a back seat naturally, and then, frankly, I just couldn’t find the impetus to jump straight back in. I actually took up a few things that I like doing that I’d dropped which were more mindful, such as crochet and calligraphy, in place of baking and writing for the blog. The idea was to achieve some head space. I didn’t stop baking and cooking, just the things I produced were more functional: items we needed to eat like a standard family loaf, a pie or fresh pasta for dinner and a box of shortbread.

Anyway, I think this is positive that I’m here! Perhaps I just needed a break and a freshly picked bunch of perspective. And, I rekindled a couple of old skills in crocheting and calligraphy-ing. I also took time to make a few backdrops and sort out all my sewing and crafting kit ready to do some more things. That has all actually made me think about adding a few more craft-based posts in here, so maybe it’s been a positive break after all.

I started writing this recipe up last autumn and, with a few remakes of the loaf over the last week, I thought this comforting, fun-to-make bake might be a good way back for me as the first recipe for 2018.

I had the idea for this bread after making fantans (little layered bread rolls, made in a similar way to this loaf [just plain: no fillings] and baked in bun tins). I thought if I can make tiny ones, then why not a whole loaf, so people can share and rip off a slice? I suspect there are many of these loaves in recipe form out there on the interweb (it’s practically impossible to come up with anything new – pretty much everything has already been done), but I purposely avoided looking online for any as a) I didn’t want to be influenced by how someone else had shaped and styled their bread and b) I wanted to start from scratch with the recipe, again not being influenced by anyone else so I could get exactly the end results I was looking for. I started with a typical 400g white loaf mix, tweaked the ratios a little and added olive oil to get a bouncier middle, and slightly more crispy Italian-style edges to the bread. I then played with the amounts of fillings until it reached just the right butteriness and garlic amount (I warn you I like garlic so you may want to tone it down a little if you don’t like it as much as me).

I’ve called it ‘bookshelf’ bread as to me it looks like a higgledy-piggledy row of mismatched books all lined up on a shelf.

Oh my, I do now love making this loaf. It’s a little tricky to stack the dough. A couple of very collapsed-but-still-edible loaves were made to start with, until found that  tipping the loaf tin and filling the gap up with baking parchment when needed (see the actual recipe) was the key. Overall its fun to make and results in a great centerpiece that everyone can just attack, ripping off sheets of pillowy, garlicky goodness to mop up their ragu or to accompany a spread of antipasti, meats and more. We’ve also used it to rip apart and dunk strips into fondue or eaten with soups. Basically any meal you’d include a ‘normal’ garlic bread as an accompaniment you can exchange for this.

Notes

This recipe does make a small loaf, which doesn’t sound much but it still provides quite a lot of garlic bread. If you’re serving it for four or fewer people, then you may want to keep half for another day. It will last a day or two (just warm in a low oven for 10-15 minutes as it’s not the same cold!) or you can tear the cooked loaf in half and put one half in the freezer. Defrost it overnight and again refresh in a warm oven (as mentioned above).

I bake this bread at a cooler temperature and for longer than I would for a typical loaf, as I want low and slow and not crusty, this also stops the butter and cheese from burning.

You are going to get covered in garlic butter if you’re anything as messy as me…

Equipment

  • Large bowl and a small heatproof (microwaveable)  bowl
  • Scraper
  • Loaf tin – 1lb / about 8cm x 26cm (and about 8cm deep)
  • Linen tea towel
  • Baking parchment or greaseproof paper
  • Knife
  • Spoon

Ingredients for the bread

  • Extra strong white bread flour – 320 g*
  • Durum wheat flour (semola rimacinata) – 80 g*

* You can just use 400 g of extra strong white bread flour if you can’t get hold of the semola/durum wheat

  • Water – 280 ml (only just tepid)
  • Olive oil – 1 tablespoon
  • Salt, fine (bought fine or freshly milled) – 1 teaspoon (5 g)
  • Fast action dried yeast – 1 teaspoon (5 g)

Ingredients for the garlic butter

  • Butter, salted – 140 g
  • Garlic – about 5 cloves, peeled and crushed (you may want a few cloves less if you’re not a keen or the cloves are extra large?)
  • Dried oregano – 1 to 1¼ teaspoons
  • Grated hard cheese (your choice of cheese, but something like Cheddar, red Leicester or Gouda are good) – about 40 g
  • Possibly some extra salt, to taste

Method

  1. Mix all the ingredients for the bread (flour, salt, yeast, water, and oil) together in a large bowl – I prefer to use a table knife for this process, though you may like to use fingers, a flexible dough scraper or a dough hook on your machine. It will form a very rough-looking sticky mess. This is fine
  2. Leave for five – ten minutes
  3. Tip out on to a clean surface and use your 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, lightly oil the bowl (it’s easiest to oil your fingers and swiipe round 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
  7. Roll the dough up into a dome and place in the oiled 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. Soften the butter in the small dish (in a microwave is easiest for a few seconds) but don’t go so far that it melts (you’ll have to start again if you do)
  11. Mix in the crushed or minced garlic and the oregano
  12. I know it’s raw garlic, but taste a little of the butter – add additional salt, oregano or more crushed garlic as you see fit. I should be pretty punchy as it’s going to be spread throughout the whole loaf. Set aside somewhere not too cool
  13. Prepare the tin by using a large strip of baking parchment/paper that will lay across and into your tin, with plenty extra overspill on each side. Don’t worry about putting extra paper on the two ends of the loaf tin – there’s plenty of garlic butter to stop the loaf sticking: this is just to help you get it out of the tin and to help keep the garlic butter in the loaf
  14. Using a large teaspoon or so of the garlic butter, grease the lined tin (you may find it easier to dot a little of the butter on the tin to adhere the paper) so it will coat the outside of the loaf. Set aside
  15. Tip out the risen dough gently into your counter top or table. Knock back the air from the dough
  16. Roll out the dough into a large rectangle. The size and shape of the rectangle doesn’t matter that much – but having fairly good corners will help. Aim for the dough to be about 1 cm thick (as consistently as possible)doughRectangleForBookshelfBread.jpg
  17. Slather the garlic butter all over the rolled-out dough
  18. Using your loaf tin as a guide, you’re aiming to cut out as many squares as possible from the dough that match the width of the small end of the tin – mine is around 8cm. I get 10 or 12 squares out of my dough (depending on how effective I’ve been in rolling it out!)
  19. Don’t match the height of the tin as this is a smaller measurement. You want to have the layers of dough protruding out the top of the tin, not level with it, so match the smaller end width for your squares
  20. Holding the loaf tin at a slight angle (rest a short end on the table and lift up the other short end) start placing the squares of dough into the tin one by one, like books on a bookshelf. (If you don’t angle the tin you’ll just have a crumpled heap of dough)
  21. If you get to the end of the dough squares and still have some empty space in the tin, cut a square of baking paper and lay it against the last ‘slice’ of dough, then crumple up a bit of extra baking paper lightly and wedge this into the gap – this will hold it in place yet still have enough ‘give’ to allow the dough to expand horizontally. If it all fits perfectly in the tin, then that’s greatBookshelfBread_preBake
  22. Leave for a second proof – about 30 – 40 minutes
  23. Once the dough has risen, turn on your oven to 180° C fan / 200° C conventional
  24. Place the loaf in the oven and set a timer for 40 minutes
  25. Check the look of the loaf (without opening the oven door) after 30 minutes. If it’s browning too quickly turn the oven down by 20 degrees or cover with some greased foil
  26. After 40 minutes, sprinkle the top of the loaf with the grated cheese and return to the oven for another 5 minutes
  27. Leave to cool until it can be handled, then lift out with the baking paper
  28. The bread can be re-warmed in a low oven (about 120° C fan / 140° C conventional) for 10 minutes or so if you’re not eating it straightaway, and as mentioned about it can be frozen

Herb sprigs for the kitchen

herbs
Such a great way to use any herbs you have growing profusely in the garden at this time of year. They make a pretty, alternative tiny bouquet (especially if you use thyme or lavender when in flower – a bit early for my lavender yet). Also, as they hang in your kitchen, the heat from your cooking will bring out their aromas and help them dry. Once dry they can be used as individual herbs or pot pourri in a casserole, for example.

Use anything you have growing, but if you have the right herbs you can create a blend for specific recipes, for example:

Herbs de Provence

Rosemary, savoury, thyme, marjoram and sometime dried lavender flowers

Italian seasoning

Basil, rosemary, bay, oregano, thyme

How to make up the sprigs

Cut as long a stem as you can on each of the herbs and arrange in a circular pattern around one really nice sprig that you like – that is build up round a central stalk.  Wrap the stems together with jute or gardener’s twine and leave one long end, so that you can hang it. Tie on a ribbon if you like for a little extra flourish.

Hang in your kitchen until dried, then crunch up the leaves and store in a sterilised pot for use as a blend, or separate the herbs to use individually.

See also my post on flavoured salt mixes, which can also be a use for your herbs.

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Focaccia with caramelised shallots

1focaccia

A basic focaccia with the addition of shallots, slowly caramelised in sugar and fig and date balsamic vinegar with rock salt and rosemary.

Focaccia is a quintessential Italian bread and is reputedly thousands of years old, earlier than the Romans. It is traditionally round, although now you’ll see oval and square focaccia and would originally have been a flat bread. The true traditional focaccia is supposed to be thinner than most of us would expect it to be, and what we know as focaccia is more like a pavé bread (similar just more risen). The name is derived from the Latin panis focacius or hearth bread as it would have cooked on the floor of the fireplace. Focaccia led to the French fougasse and fogassa breads. It’s a simple and delicious bread to make and should be a regular feature of any baker’s repertoire.


Equipment

  • Large bowl
  • Large plastic bag, cling film or tea towel to cover
  • Mixer with dough hook, if you are not making by hand
  • Round tray or stoneware dish (I use a 32cm/14″ stoneware flan dish for focaccia)
  • Saucepan

Ingredients

  • Strong white flour, 500g
  • Dried powered fast acting yeast, 5g
  • Salt, fine table, 10g
  • Olive oil, 10ml / 1 tablespoon plus a bit more for drizzling
  • Water, tepid, 325ml
  • Shallots, 5 small or 2 large
  • Sugar, 15g / 1 1/2 tablespoons
  • Balsamic vinegar, a drizzle (I actually use a gig and date balsamic vinegar*, but a traditional plain one will be fine). If you don’t have balsamic, a dash of Worcestershire sauce can work too
  • Rosemary, 2 sprigs each about 5 cm/ 2″ long – snip the leaves off the sprigs
  • Rock salt, large pinch

* I got mine from the Gourmet Spice Co at http://www.tastespice.co.uk – they visit lots of UK food fairs too


Method

  1. Put the flour, salt, yeast and water in a bowl and stir until a sticky mess, leave for a few minutes
  2. Add the oil and then either mix with a dough hook in your mixer or knead by hand for about 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and shiny
  3. Shape into a round and put back into the bowl and cover it
  4. Leave to rise until twice the size – this will depend on your room temperature and could be an hour or more
  5. Generously oil the bottom of the dish or tin you are using
  6. Tip out and press into the round dish or pan
  7. Cover and leave again to rise – it won’t be quite doubled – for about another hour
  8. While the bread is rising make the caramelised shallots:
    1. Finely slice the shallots length-ways
    2. Put a glug of olive oil in a sauce pan and put over a low to medium heat
    3. Gently fry the shallots until they turn clear – you do not want them to brown yet, this will be about 5 minutes
    4. Turn up the heat to medium and sprinkle over the sugar, stir the shallots until they turn light brown and start to crisp up
    5. Put a large dash of the balsamic vinegar in and fry for a further couple of minutes
    6. Remove from the heat and allow to cool
  9. Turn your oven on to 200 ºC fan / 220 ºC conventional
  10. When the dough has risen again (it should look puffy and spring back when touched lightly) push your fingertips into the dough all over to make indentations
  11. Drizzle some extra oil over the dough – it should pool in the dips you’ve created, plus the shallots
  12. Arrange the rosemary leaves into the dips
  13. Bake for about 20 minutes until slightly golden and the bread sounds hollow when tapped
  14. Serve as is, or strew with fresh herbs and dip in some good quality olive oil and balasamic vinegar mix
  15. I’ve been given a discount code that anyone can use for 20% off Puro Mediterraneo olive oils [UK] online prices – visit the Puro Mediterraneo products page and quote inksugarspice18 when you order.