And welcome to the second Great British Bake Off themed post. This week on the show it’s Bread Week, and so I’ve rustled up a little 18th century loaf for you to try, if you fancy baking along with the series this year.
I found this recipe in a French book on the skills of the artisan, specifically “Description et détails des arts du meunier: du vermicelier et du boulenger”, published in 1767 and written by Paul-Jacques Malouin regarding the skills of the miller, the pasta maker and the baker. If you’re wanting to dust off your rusty school-learned French, there’s a free e-book available for download here.
Helpfully, Monsieur Malouin included some illustrative engravings in his book, with notes on the various utensils and accoutrements of the trade, as well as identifying different loaves.
Some, like the loaf above, were to be enjoyed at specific meals, and the loaf here was known as type of soup bread – it’s special shape making it easy to tear off pieces during the meal. It was called artichoke bread, for its resemblance, albeit somewhat stylised, to a globe artichoke.
The illustration for the engraving is a tad small, but it gives the general idea of shape, if not size. An additional detail is that Monsieur Malouin suggests this bread be the last of a series of four breads that could be made from the one batch of dough. In order to retain it’s shape, the dough for this loaf needs to be rather stiff, ideal for making out of the trimmings and scraping of other, more refined, loaves.
I probably added a little too much liquid for the loaf in the photograph, as the ‘leaves’ have sagged somewhat. A short (3 minute) video clip of a real French artian baker, Monsier Jaques Mahou, forming artichoke loaves is available here, alas, we do not get to see them emerge from the oven. Edit: Many thanks to Karan (see comments below) who pointed out that we CAN see cooked versions of this, and Monsieur Mahou’s other artisan breads emerging from the oven HERE
I’ve just used my standard white bread recipe, with the one difference of making the liquid half milk and half water. Using milk makes for a softer crust, so mix it with the water how you like. If you prefer an extremely crusty loaf, omit it altogether, or for a super-soft crust, use all milk or even cream.
500g strong white bread flour
1 sachet easy-blend yeast
200ml warm water
200ml warm milk
- Put all the dry ingredients into a bowl and mix.
- Stir the milk and water together and gradually add to the dry ingredients until the mixture comes together into a firmer-than-usual dough.
- Knead for 10 minutes until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.
- Return the dough to the bowl, cover with oiled cling film and set aside to rise until doubled in size.
- Tip out the dough and pat down to remove the air.
- Shaping the loaf:
- Roll out the dough to a length of between 80-100cm, and between 5-8cm wide (Figure 1 above).
- Using a dough scraper or a sharp knife, make a series of cuts half-way through the dough all along one side, about 2-3cm apart (Figure 2 above).
- Scatter some flour over and between the slices, as this will help prevent them sticking together, as well as making for a nice floury loaf like the one above.
- Starting from the right (or left – it matters not one bit), roll up the dough as per Figure 3 above. If you’ve not already seen it – and maybe even if you already have – watch the video of Monsieur Mahou shape his loaf.
- Tuck the final piece underneath the loaf to help keep its shape and place on parchment paper or a floured baking sheet.
- Tease out the individual ‘leaves’ and, when you’re happy with the overall shape, cover the dough lightly with a cloth and allow to rise for 30 minutes.
- NB If you’re not happy with the shape, whether the leaves stuck together too much or the dough is too soft, just knead it back into one mass and roll it out again. As previously mentioned, the dough should be on the firm side in order to help hold the shape, so re-keading with a little extra flour can only be of benefit.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes until risen and well browned and sounding hollow when tapped on the bottom.
- Cool on a wire rack.
Serving suggestion: When you’re happy with the technique, shake things up a little by using differently-flavoured doughs: my Herb and Walnut springs to mind. And don’t think you’re limited to eating it with soup – a flavoured bread would be fantastic with some big, robustly-flavoured dips! Have fun!
Gingerbread is such a classic teatime treat – and I’m a huge fan of classics! – it’s just that I don’t usually feel very inspired when I hear the word ‘gingerbread’. I think of a treacle-dark cake, rich, sticky and aromatic with ginger – sounds yum, no? – but the main thing that springs to mind is….a brick slab!
It probably goes back to the large, family bakes of my childhood, where the cake-of-the-week was kept wrapped in foil in a tin and slowly chiseled away at during the week until it was all gone. There wouldn’t be another cake until this cake had been eaten, and it used to lurk in the tin in all its brickiness, standing between me and… any other baked treat. The chances were high that it would eventually be replaced with something equally heavy and fruity – but that new cake’s attraction would be, initially at any rate, mostly due to the fact that it wasn’t the gingerbread.
The image of heaviness and brick-like shape has lurked in my culinary memory ever since – which is a shame because what it SHOULD bring to mind is crisp winter nights, spiciness and fireworks, treacle-richness and bonfires. So I thought I should try and rehabilitate it, and bring it up to date. Ironically, I achieved this by referring to a recipe over 165 years old, from Miss Eliza Acton.
Heroines of Cooking: Elizabeth ‘Eliza’ Acton (1799 – 1859)
Originally a poet, Eliza Acton is considered by many to be the first to write a cookery book as we would recognise it today. Her Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845) was the first to separate a list of ingredients from the methodology, and was aimed specifically at small households. Additionally, the author’s observations on potential problems and recommendations for subtle variations were included, illustrating Eliza’s personal experience with the recipes, unlike many of her contemporaries and cookery authors that were to follow. It was an immediate success and remained in print for almost 60 years. She was to write only one other book The English Bread Book (1857), in which her strong views against the adulteration and processing of food would still be being echoed by Doris Grant almost a century later.
After several experimental baking batches, here is Eliza’s recipe for Coconut Gingerbread Cakes, scaled down to a manageable quantity. Baked in a mini muffin tin, the recipe makes approximately 24 bite -sized cakes with all the dark richness of traditional gingerbread, with the added coconut giving both a lighter texture and more complex flavour. Fresh coconut is a little time consuming to prepare, but very much worth the effort.
Coconut Gingerbread Cakes – Makes 24
75g plain flour
75g ground rice
2 tsp ground ginger
grated rind of 1 lemon
40g dark brown soft sugar
80g fresh grated coconut
- Mix flour, ground rice, ginger and lemon rind in a bowl and set aside.
- Put the treacle, sugar and butter into a saucepan and heat gently until the butter is melted and the sugar dissolved. Remove from the heat.
- Add the dry ingredients to the warm treacle mixture and stir to combined. Stir in the coconut and then set mixture aside to cool.
- Heat oven to 120°C, 100°C Fan.
- Divide cooled mixture into 20g pieces, roll into a ball and drop into greased mini-muffin cups.
- Bake for 30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
- Keeps very well in an airtight box/tin.
Cost: £1.37 (August 2011)
Here’s a different take on a classic recipe – Banoffi Pie Cupcakes!
Banoffi Pie itself evolved as a variation of the American dessert pie known as Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie. At The Hungry Monk Restaurant in Sussex, the original notoriously problematic caramel filling was easily created by boiling unopened tins of sweetened condensed milk, which unfailingly produces a deep, flavoursome caramel every time. Adding a layer of bananas created the classic dessert we know today.
Banoffi Pie was on the menu of the first bistro I worked in (as a waitress), and it was also the first ‘professional’ dessert I managed to recreate myself. Once you know the secret of making the filling, it’s an absolute breeze to whip up – I always have 1 or 2 tins of caramel in my cupboard in case a dessert is needed at short notice.
The original recipe called for unopened tins of condensed milk to be simmered for 4 hours – which was this dessert’s only drawback. A beady eye had to be kept on the saucepan, to ensure that it didn’t boil dry, because that way lay exploding tins and rains of boiling caramel. There are many alternative methods for making the caramel out there on the internet, and you can even buy tins of caramel ready made (in the UK its made by Carnation) – but they are twice the price of condensed milk and are a poor relation in terms of both flavour and consistency to the caramel you can make yourself. By far the safest, easiest and most foolproof method of making your own caramel filling is in the slow cooker (see below).
I’ve been messing about with the idea of making this classic dessert into a cupcake for quite some time, and there have been several versions along the way. This version is the one I’m most happy with: it’s faithful to the original, yet serves up all the flavours in cupcake size. A light and fluffy banana cake mixture is baked in a shortcrust pastry case, filled with caramel and topped with an unsweetened coffee-flavoured cream – the pastry and the coffee cream help offset the sweetness of the cake and the caramel. Delish!
Banoffi Pie Cupcakes – Makes 12-ish
Foolproof Caramel Filling
- Take as many tins of sweetened, condensed milk as you wish to turn into caramel and place them in your slow cooker.
- Fill the slow cooker with water until it covers the tins by about 3cm
- Put on the lid and switch on the cooker to Low. Leave overnight (8-12 hours, depending on how dark you like your caramel).
- In the morning, switch off the cooker. Using tongs, remove the tins and set aside to cool.
- DO NOT OPEN until the tins have cooled completely. The contents will be boiling hot and under pressure, and burns WILL result. Be sure to label these tins as caramel, as they will be virtually indistinguishable from uncooked tins.
- You will need 1 tin for 12 Banoffi Pie cupcakes.
125g butter – very cold
250g plain flour
50g icing sugar
- Put the butter, flour and sugar into a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Put the ice water in a jug/bowl on the work surface. With the food processor running, add 1 tablespoon of ice water at a time until the mix comes together. NB Do not pour ice water straight into the mix, as it is easy to add too much. The time it takes to add the next spoonful of water after the first means that the machine can mix the water in properly. Continue to add water one spoonful at a time. When sufficient liquid has been added, the mixture will come together in a ball. Tip out the pastry and knead lightly until smooth – about 1 minute. Wrap in plastic film and chill for 30 minutes.
- Once chilled, roll pastry out thinly and cut out rounds using a pastry cutter. Use the circles of pastry to line a well-greased 12 cup muffin tin. NB Because I wanted the pastry to be smooth all the way round, I actually made a template based on the size of my muffin cups. To make your own template, take a piece of kitchen foil and press it firmly into one of the holes in your muffin tray until it fits snugly against the sides and bottom. Remove the foil and use a pair of scissors to cut down the side of the foil and around the base to make a curved ‘wall’ template and a circular ‘base’ template.
- Put the lined muffin tray in the fridge to chill whilst you mix the banana cake.
125g cake margarine (Stork)
200g caster sugar
3 ripe bananas – mashed
60ml plain yoghurt
2 large eggs
1.5tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp baking powder
300g plain flour
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Cream the margarine and the sugar until fluffy.
- Add the eggs one at a time, mixing the first in well before adding the second.
- Add the mashed bananas and the yoghurt and mix thoroughly.
- Mix the flour, bicarbonate and baking powder and add to the wet ingredients a spoonful at a time. Stop mixing when fully combined.
- Spoon into the prepared muffin tin, filling each pastry case 3/4 full. NB A quarter-cup measure can be useful if, like me, you have a rather deep muffin tin. Depending on the size and juiciness of your bananas, this might make more batter than is required. Have some paper cases set out in a second pan ready to take any leftover cake batter – they can all bake at the same time.
- Bake for 10 minutes, then tun the pan 180 degrees, to ensure even browning. Cook for a further 7-10 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the cakes comes out clean.
- Remove the cakes from the tin and leave to cool on a wire rack.
600ml double cream
1-2 tbs espresso coffee powder
- Add coffee powder to cream and whip until stiff.
Caramel (there will be some left over from the filling)
Biscuit crumbs – 1 crunchy biscuit (crushed) will be plenty
To assemble the cupcakes
- Using a sharp knife, cut out a cone of cake from each cupcake and discard.
- Fill the hole with caramel – 1 teaspoon should be sufficient.
- Fill a piping bag fitted with a star tip with the coffee cream and pipe swirls on top of each cupcake. Make sure to cover the caramel filling completely.
- Using the leftover caramel, mix with a little milk until of a pouring consistency.
- Drizzle caramel over the piped cream.
- Sprinkle with biscuit crumbs and top with a banana chip.
Cost: £4.78 (August 2011)
Ahh ratatouille – back in the ’80s it sounded so exotic and foreign and glamourous! – Hey, I come from a small, rural town near the Welsh borders – we had to get our glamour where we could.
Back to the reminiscing….
Unfortunately, what sounded so appetising rarely lived up to expectation and for years the mere mention of the word would bring up memories of a soggy vegetable stew of bitter lumps of aubergine cotton wool and courgette mush with indigestion-inducing semi-raw peppers in watery tomato juice. So a few years ago, I got to thinking that I might give it another try and see if I couldn’t make something that might banish the horrors of yesteryear – after all, I loved all the individual components, so I reasoned that it shouldn’t be that difficult to combine them into a delicious whole.
The first book I turned to was the fabulous European Peasant Cookery by Elisabeth Luard. She notes that, as with many traditional dishes, there are almost as many variations as there are households that prepare it, each with its own justification as to why their version is the best. Nevertheless, the fundamentals of this southern French classic are pretty straightforward: using only those vegetables that can be found at their best in the gardens of Provence will do. Also, the dish should not be a stew, rather a marriage of cooked vegetables. The theory sounded good, but her recipe seemed to lack something, and so I turned to the recipe of another favourite cook, one relatively unknown in the UK – Madeleine Kamman. Madame Kamman has enjoyed most of her professional success in the United States, but she was born, and learned her craft, in France. Her recipe is the one that I have followed most closely, the only alterations being to reduce the quantity made to a manageable amount, so the wary might not be put off with having to prepare mountains of vegetables.
The dish is a wonderful riot of summer colours – reds, greens, yellows and neutrals – each colour represented by two different vegetables:
- Reds: red capsicum peppers and tomatoes
- Greens: green capsicum peppers and green courgettes
- Yellows: yellow capsicum peppers and yellow courgettes
- Neutrals: onions and aubergines
Each ingredient is prepared separately and the dish only comes together at the end. Once prepared, the vegetables can sit quite happily in the fridge if time constraints don’t allow you to prepare all the vegetables at the same time. This is a dish to be enjoyed on lazy summer days but the preparation should also be relaxing. For a start I sit down, switch on Radio 4 Extra (comedy and drama) and get so absorbed in listening that before I know it, the vegetables are all done. Find something that you enjoy listening to as well and the time will just fly by. Some of the instructions might seem a bit fussy, but the effort is well worth it, I assure you. The flavors are amazing.
The aim is to get the vegetables all of a similar size and their textures as close to each other as possible, which is why each vegetable needs its own degree of cooking time, and how you (hopefully) avoid the cotton wool/chewy/mush combo that haunted my dreams for so many years.
This will happily keep in the fridge for several days. If I have a free afternoon – because more vegetables WILL mean longer prep time – I will make a triple batch and enjoy several days of meals consisting solely of a bowl of ratatouille and a hunk of crusty bread. It’s that good.
1 large aubergine
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 yellow pepper
2 green courgettes
2 yellow courgettes
6 large plum tomatoes – vine-ripened for preference
1 large onion
4 tbs olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
salt & pepper
deep, heavy pan
- Prepare the aubergines. Peel the aubergines and cut into 2cm slices. Cut the slices into 2cm cubes. Put cubes into a sieve and scatter with 1-2tbs salt. Toss to ensure even coating. Leave to stand for 30 minutes to draw out the excess moisture. Discard liquid. Rinse and dry the aubergine pieces. Set aside.
- Prepare the peppers by removing the skin and the seeds. To skin the peppers, char them over a gas flame until blackened, then pop into a plastic bag and seal by twisting the neck of the bag around and tucking it underneath. After about 30 minutes, you can then slip the skins off quite easily. You can char the peppers one at a time, but I can quite easily fit three peppers at once around one of the gas burners on my stove top. No need to hold them on the end of a fork or anything – put them directly onto the flame and turn them around as they blacken. This is a little time consuming, but by far the best method – and believe me, I have tried them all. Putting the peppers under a grill or in the oven makes the peppers too soft once they have steamed in the plastic bag, and my blowtorch isn’t large enough to get a nice, black char without having to be refilled. NB Don’t rinse the peeled peppers, as you will wash away that lovely smoky flavour. Discard skin and seeds. Cut peppers into 2cm squares and set aside.
- Prepare the tomatoes. Using a sharp knife, cut out the hard core of the tomatoes, then cut a small cross in the skin at the base of each. Put tomatoes into a bowl and pour over boiling water. The heat will cause the tomatoes to swell slightly, and thanks to the cuts made, the skin will start to split. Drain the tomatoes by pouring the contents of the bowl onto a sieve over the sink. Place the sieve over the now empty bowl and slip off the tomato skins. With a sharp knife, cut the tomatoes in half horizontally around their middle and press out all of the seeds so that they fall into the sieve. Put the flesh of the tomatoes on one side. When all of the seeds have been removed, cut the flesh of the tomatoes into 2cm squares. Set aside.
- Using a wooden spoon, press the juice from the seeds collected in the sieve into the bowl below. Depending on the juiciness of the tomatoes, this might be quite a lot of liquid. Set aside.
- Prepare the onion. Peel onion and chop into 2cm pieces. Set aside.
- Prepare the courgettes. Slice into 2cm slices. If larger that 4cm in diameter, quarter the slices. Set aside.
- Prepare the garlic. Peel garlic and chop finely with a knife. Set aside.
- Prepare the parsley. Remove parsley leaves from stalks. Set aside.
With all the preparation done, now it’s time to cook the vegetables
- Pour 2tbs olive oil into a deep, heavy pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and fry until golden brown, stirring. Add the parsley – it will crackle and spit – then add the chopped onions. Keep the onions stirred until they are translucent and softened – about 10 minutes. Empty the pan into a bowl and set aside.
- Add the remainder of the olive oil and, when heated, toss in the aubergine. The aubergine will suck up the oil – but don’t be tempted to add more oil. Keep moving the aubergine pieces around the pan and then, when they have begun to brown and caramelise, they will eventually release the oil they absorbed.
- Add the chopped courgette – green and yellow – and continue to stir them around for a few minutes, until slightly softened.
- Return the onion mixture to the pan, and finally add in the prepared tomatoes and peppers and turn the heat down to low.
- Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and turn the vegetables together gently. Too rough, and the vegetables will start to break apart.
- Simmer gently for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain out any juices. Add these to the tomato juice from earlier and pour this liquid into a small saucepan over a high heat. Boil rapidly until thickened and reduced to 1/3 of its original volume. Pour back over the softened vegetables and stir gently to combine. There should be just enough liquid to coat.
- Cover and leave overnight to let the flavours develop. A cool place will do, otherwise place in the fridge. Make sure the dish is returned to room temperature before serving.
Serving suggestion: This can be eaten as an accompaniment to a light main dish – omelettes/ham/cheese/quiche – but my favourite is just to eat it by itself. Served at room temperature with some warm, crusty bread or wholemeal toast – the contrast of the dry crunch with the plump and softened vegetables is amazing.
Cost: About £5.00 using vegetables from the local farm shop (July, 2011)