Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Our Daring Bakers Host for December 2011 was Jessica of My Recipe Project and she showed us how fun it is to create Sour Dough bread in our own kitchens! She provided us with Sour Dough recipes from Bread Matters by AndrewWhitley as well as delicious recipes to use our Sour Dough bread in from Tonia George’s Things on Toast and Canteen’s Great British Food!

Sour Dough Bread.

Flour and water and not much else. Fascinating, almost unbelievable, delicious but very cantankerous for some of us. 

For the initiated, sour dough bread is made without commercial yeasts instead the baker captures and cultivates the natural yeast occurring in the air and flour. This process is called a  starter and starters can be kept, maintained and used for many years. Starters can be shared with family and friends. Doesn't it sound wonderful! Well, let me tell you, creating a starter in the first place can be ridiculously hard and frustrating. Nothing like pulling a packet of dried yeast out of the cupboard when you decided to bake some bread. Nup! A starter is nurtured and babied for at least four days before you even think of baking the bread. Then the production leaven is prepared and rested for 4 hours, then the dough is prepare and rested for another hour and, no, you're not ready to bake yet - knead again and rise for 3 to 5 hours. This is a bread not to be taken lightly. But when is works the satisfaction and delight is immeasurable!

Let me introduce you to "Myrtle the third". Myrtles 1 and 2 unfortunately both saw an untimely death! "Myrtle the first" lived in my laundry which was nice and warm. What I didn't realise that it was so warm Myrtle needed to eat more often. When she didn't she started to die letting me know by smelling out the whole house with a stink more akin to rotting garbage. Eeeak! The family became suspicious of the Daring Bakers Challenge! "Myrtle the second" just never got off the ground. I kept her in the airconditioning - maybe she didn't like that maybe she was contaminated from the outset. "Myrtle the third" bubbled and frothed from the second day. She needed to be fed a little more often in our warm tropical climate but she thrived and proved to be very useful!

This is my first sour dough attempt with no commercial yeast whatsoever. Previously I attempted sourdough with a recipe from the cookbook My Calabria by Rosetta Constantino. We were supplied with several recipes but I chose the  French Country bread.  I was thrilled with how this finally turned out. Thanks Jessica!

More sour dough recipes and tips provided by Jessica can be found here.

The dough set in a basket lined with rye floured cloth.

I'm impressed with how much it rose!

The dough is carefully turned out onto a baking sheet for baking.

A crusty, well risen loaf! Yum!

Once we had baked our sourdough bread our next task was to showcase the bread. I chose to make Anchovy Bread. First it was cut in half horizontally and it was at this point that I marvelled at the fine crumb and even texture. I wonder if this is a result of the the "air kneading".  The linked videos Jessica provided proved invaluable. 

Strips of anchovy, ground dried chilli, finely chopped garlic and a sprinkle of oregano were finished off with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a little oil from the anchovies. Replace the lid and heat through in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes.

The flavours meld and intensify. Mmmmmm!

French Country Bread
Servings: 1 large loaf plus extra wheat starter for further baking
(Note:- where ever you read stoneground breadmaking whole-wheat flour I used regular whole-wheat flour and where ever you read unbleached all-purpose flour I used white breadmaking flour
Wheat Starter - Day 1:
4 1/2 tablespoons (70 ml) (40 gm/1 ½ oz) stoneground breadmaking whole-wheat or graham flour
3 tablespoons (45 ml) water
Total scant ½ cup (115 ml) (3 oz/85 gm)
1. In a Tupperware or plastic container, mix the flour and water into a paste.
2. Set the lid on top gently, cover with a plastic bag, to prevent messes in case it grows more than expected!
3. Set somewhere warm (around 86 F if possible). I sometimes put mine on a windowsill near a radiator, but even if it’s not that warm, you’ll still get a starter going – it might just take longer.

Wheat Starter - Day 2:

4 1/2 tablespoons (70 ml) (40 gm/1 ½ oz) stoneground breadmaking whole-wheat or graham flour
3 tablespoons (45 ml) water
scant 1/2 cup (115 ml) (3 oz/85 gm) starter from Day 1
Total scant cup (230 ml) (6 oz/170 gm)
1. Stir the flour and water into the mixture from Day 1, cover, and return to its warm place.
Wheat Starter - Day 3:
4 1/2 tablespoons (70 ml) (40 gm/1 ½ oz) stoneground breadmaking whole-wheat or graham flour
4 teaspoons (20 ml) water
scant 1 cup (230 ml) (6 oz/170 gm) starter from Day 2
Total 1⅓ cup (320 ml) (230 gm/8-1/10 oz)
1. Stir the flour and water into the mixture from Day 2, cover, and return to its warm place.
Wheat Starter - Day 4:
3/4 cup plus 1½ tablespoons (205 ml) (120 gm/4 ¼ oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup less 4 teaspoons (100 ml) water

Total scant 2⅔ cup (625 ml) (440 gm/15½ oz)
1. Stir the flour and water into the mixture from Day 3, cover, and return to its warm place. At this point it should be bubbling and smell yeasty. If not, repeat this process for a further day or so until it is!
French Country Bread
Stage 1: Refreshing the leaven
1 cup less 1 tablespoon (225 ml) (160 gm/5 ⅔ oz) wheat Leaven Starter
6 tablespoons less 1 teaspoon (85 ml) (50 gm/1¾ oz) stoneground bread making whole-wheat or graham flour
1 cup plus 2 teaspoons (250 ml) (150 gm/5 ⅓ oz) unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup (120 ml) water
Production Leaven Total 2¾ cups plus 4 teaspoons (680 ml) (480 gm /1 lb 1 oz)
1. Mix everything into a sloppy dough. It may be fairly stiff at this stage. Cover and set aside for 4 hours, until bubbling and expanded slightly.
French Country Bread
Stage 2: Making the final dough
3/4 cup less 1 teaspoon (175 ml) (100 gm/3 ½ oz) stoneground breadmaking whole-wheat or graham flour, plus more for dusting
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (510 ml) (300gm/10 ½ oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1¼ teaspoons (7½ ml) (7 gm/¼ oz) sea salt or ⅔ teaspoon (3⅓ ml) (3 gm/⅛ oz) table salt
1 ¼ cups (300 ml) water
1 ¾ cups (425 ml) (300 gm/10 ½ oz) production leaven – this should leave some (1 cup) for your next loaf.
Total 6 cups less 2 tablespoons 1415 ml (1007 gm/35 ½ oz/2 lb 3½ oz)
1. Mix the dough with all the ingredients except the production leaven. It will be a soft dough.
2. Knead on an UNFLOURED surface for about 8-10 minutes, getting the tips of your fingers wet if you need to. You can use dough scrapers to stretch and fold the dough at this stage, or air knead if you prefer. Basically, you want to stretch the dough and fold it over itself repeatedly until you have a smoother, more elastic dough.
See my demonstration here:
3. Smooth your dough into a circle, then scoop your production leaven into the centre. You want to fold the edges of the dough up to incorporate the leaven, but this might be a messy process. Knead for a couple minutes until the leaven is fully incorporated in the dough. See my demonstration here:
4. Spread some water on a clean bit of your work surface and lay the dough on top. Cover with an upturned bowl, lining the rim of the bowl with a bit of water. Leave for an hour, so that the gluten can develop and the yeasts can begin to aerate the dough.
5. I used a bit of flour on my surface to knead, though not a lot. Once your dough has rested, you can begin to stretch and fold it. Using wet hands and a dough scraper, stretch the dough away from you as far as you can without breaking it and fold it back in on itself. Repeat this in each direction, to the right, towards you, and to the left. This will help create a more ‘vertical’ dough, ready for proofing. See my demonstration here:
6. Heavily flour a banneton/proofing basket with whole wheat flour and rest your dough, seam side up, in the basket. Put the basket in a large plastic bag, inflate it, and seal it. Set aside somewhere warm for 3-5 hours, or until it has expanded a fair bit. It is ready to bake when the dough responds to a gently poke by slowly pressing back to shape.
7. Preheat the oven to hot 425°F/220°C/gas mark 7. Line a baking sheet with parchment, then carefully invert the dough onto the sheet. I like to put the baking sheet on top of the basket, then gently flip it over so as to disturb the dough as little as possible. Make 2-3 cuts on top of the loaf and bake for 40-50 minutes, reducing the temperature to moderately hot 400°F/200°C/gas mark 6 after 10 minutes.
8. Cool on a cooling rack.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Tribute to a Wonderful Lady

On the night of 12th December we received the telephone call we had expected but dreaded. Dear nonna Lucia had passed from this life aged 98. Nonna Lucia is my husband's grandmother, she is my children's great grandmother. But to me she was friend, a confidante and a mentor. From nonna Lucia I learnt about honesty, I learnt about pride and I learnt about giving without receiving. We spent many hours chatting about her life and I absorbing her knowledge that comes from a century of experience.She was, as many nonnas are, a great cook and baker. From poor, humble beginnings, a servant girl by the age of 9 and then travelling far from home across the seas to Australia to be with her husband at 19, she knew how to make the most of life.

Nonna Lucia food was simple, wholesome and delicious -typically Italian. Most of her recipes were in her head. In Australia she learned to make the quintessential Australian cake - the sponge. And how well she mastered that recipe. However ask her the quantities and she would show you a teacup and say it would depend on the eggs - how large, what type (hen, bantam hen, duck) as to whether it is a heaped teacup or level. She just knew by judging the batter when it was just right,

One of her specialities was her Torta di Zucca made especially for Christmas. This is made by many in our town and each has their own recipe - some better than others though all claim theirs the best. This Torta contains a strange combination of ingredients and I often wondered where it originated as I had never seen such a torta in any Italian recipe book. Recently while googling I found something very similar at As Strong As Soup. Finally I found someone else makes this strange torta and loves it as much as I do.
This year I made this on my own for the first time - without nonna Lucia's guidance, without her making new suggestions and with her tasting and giving me her approval.
I miss you nonna Lucia. 

Torta di Zucca
Keep in mind that while we can use a food processor to crush and puree, nonna Lucia made this completely by hand in great quantities to be lovingly wrapped and given to family and friends at Christmas. It was a great effort for her and she continued well into her 90's preparing this by hand.
It is  only meant to be about 2 1/2cm/ 1 inch in thickness.

200g dried apricots
200g dried peaches
5 cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped coarsely
2 tablespoons sugar
4 cups steamed, mashed pumpkin, use something like butternut
1 200g packet amaretti  ( the crunchy type)
375g sweet plain biscuits (cookies) 
200g chocolate
2 cups sugar
7 eggs, beaten
90g butter, melted
1 cup sweet sherry
1 cup marsala
1/2 cup brandy
50ml almond essence
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 lemon, rind only, grated
1 tablespoon instant coffee

Simmer the apricots and peaches in a little water with the 2 tablespoons sugar for 10 minutes. Add the apples and cook until the apples are soft. Drain, reserving the liquid.
Crush amaretti and plain biscuits with chocolate in the food processor.
 Puree the fruit in the food processor. 
Process the pumpkin also to ensure it is smooth.

Preheat the oven to 275F/135C.
Grease and line with nonstick parchment two 30cm x 20cm baking pans.

Cool the fruit and pumpkin then add to the crushed biscuit/ chocolate mixture.
Slowly mix in the remaining ingredients.
Pour mixture into prepare pans and bake for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The mixture should come away from the sides when it is ready. Turn out onto paper lined board to cool. Once cool wrap in baking paper and keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator. It will keep for several weeks.

This torta is meant to be cut into small squares or portions and consumed as almost a "spoon sweet" with coffee as it will be enjoyed  in my home this Christmas.
My best wishes to all for a happy and joyous Christmas.

If you too have experienced loss this year and will feel it at Christmas, let us remember to give thanks for the gift of our loved ones and for the gift our Lord gave us - his only Son.

Ti voglio bene, nonna Lucia.
Dormi in pace con Dio.
Sempre nel mio cuore.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chocolate, Apricot and Hazelnut Panforte

Wow! Where has the time gone!

Christmas is but a few days away!

For various reasons, regular readers will know that I have been very absent from blogging of late but I hope to change that from now on.
And though absent online, baking has not ceased in my kitchen (albeit it may have slowed!).
A new job this year has strengthened an acquaintances and a by product of that is the sharing of new recipes and ideas - I love it!
This recipe comes from a colleague's husband who spotted it in a Woolworth's supermarket catalogue.
Originally made with pistachios and ginger, this is my twist.

Chocolate, Hazelnut and Apricot Panforte


  • 1½ cups plain flour
  • ¼ cup cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon, ground
  • 1 cup blanched almonds, toasted
  • 1 cup hazelnuts nuts, toasted
  • 200g dried figs, stems discarded, roughly chopped
  • 100g glace apricots, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 100g dark chocolate

Combine nuts, fruit and ginger in a large bowl.

SIFT together the flour, cocoa and cinnamon

COMBINE the honey and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to the boil then simmer for 3 minutes stirring occasionally. Stir through the chocolate until melted then remove from heat. Pour into the bowl with the flour mixture, nuts and fruit and mix until well combined.

 PRESS the mixture into a greased and lined 23 cm round pan. Bake in a moderately slow oven 160°C for 30 minutes. Cool in pan before turning out and slicing.

You will find that once you add the chocolate, and remaining ingredients the mixture becomes quite firm and you will need some muscle to mix it. That all as it should be.

This is delicious but please, small slices only!

It's very rich! Perfect with a coffee!