Sunday, 12 April 2015

Diana Henry's "A Bird in the Hand" - Chicken with anchovies, lemon and rosemary

It is a long story , the one about waiting to get hold of Diana Henry's fabulous cookery book A Bird in the Hand

Three copies the publisher sent to me, three copies disappeared into the black hole that is Royal Mail. But eventually it and I were united, and I was finally a happy chick.

I gave the honours of first choice to Bob, and he homed in on Chicken with anchovies, lemon and rosemary.  It is not dissimilar to my favourite Spezzatina, made with anchovies and vinegar, but this one has onions (should have been shallots, but I didn't have any) and wine, and is topped with lemon and garlic - I added parsley to that mixture, to make a classic Italian gremolata, which I love. 

It came out beautifully. Apart from the little tweaks above (and where would I be if I didn't tweak) I followed the recipe, and it came out just as it should. 

We had roast Italian style potatoes and fresh, lightly blanched spring greens and it was gorgeous. And easy!! Hurray for easy! 

disclaimer: I was sent a review copy, but I did the cooking, the eating and the writing! 

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Thane's April Foolery

I have started to go again to Thane Prince's Cook Book Club - hurray!!

I missed it so much, but after a rather nasty accident on the way back in November, I had decided not to drive at night until the summer (if at all...) and didn't fancy public transport to Islington during the winter. But Spring has started to spring, and the nights are longer, so I'm back!

If you don't know about Thane's fabulous Cook Book club, it is in the first week of each month and is held at The Draper's Arms in Islington. We bring food to share, books to read from and talk about, and mouths to natter with. A great time is always had by all. (You can find details each month on Facebook and Twitter:  @TPCookBookClub on Twitter, with both a public page and a members only group (for the people who regularly come to the club)  for information on Facebook.)

April was held on April 1st, so what better theme than foolery? To be interpreted as loosely as anyone could wish.  

We were a relatively small group this time (the numbers vary dramatically depending on what is happening in everyone's lives) but small is beautiful. The food and people certainly were :D .

There were more people , and more food, but by then I was in nattering mode.. which is why you go to a club isn't it!!  So hello Kate and Naomi! and thank you all for welcoming me back as your prodigal daughter :)

Monday, 6 April 2015

the best of A Greedy Piglet : A Hufflepuff of Brioche

I've been playing with sweet dough recently, making Colomba for Easter, and realised that I hadn't copied over my excellent sweet dough recipe to here. This basic dough is perfect for all sorts of things, for cinnamon buns, for little plaited breads with sultanas in, for rolling out to make Nutella star bread, stuffing with fruit, or just making brioche to have for breakfast a la fran├žaise.


I am very happily experimenting with yeast baking. I love the slowness, and the sheer life of yeast dough. It comes alive under your hands, it is wonderful stuff.

Mostly, I have been baking savoury bread. Wet doughs like focaccia, dryer doughs like my milk bread, sourdough rye. I've been using a scald, overnight proofing, generally fiddling about. Anything rather than just bung the ingredients into the mixer and mix it up.

Playing about with the way the dough is made is interesting beyond measure. Each different stage allows the yeast to break down different parts of the flour, resulting in lots of flavour, sometimes a more robust texture, and sometimes a pillowy soft one.

One of the initial fiddling abouts I am very fond of is using a sponge. I talked about this in my Milk Bread tips, and I still think it is an easy way to improve simple breads. It is easily incorporated into any recipe, it is all just a question of proportions. Sometimes, I use a flying sponge, i.e. a short sponge, where half the flour quantity in the recipe, an equal weight of liquid, and all the yeast, are mixed and left for a relatively short time, about an hour and a half until there is lots of bubbling in the mixture and it is rising vigorously.

But recently, I have been extending the time that I am fermenting this sponge to around 6 hours when the dough has risen, and is now falling, and looking as though it has acne. The development of the gluten in this mixture is good and strong, you can see lots of stringy bits in the dough when you mix it into the rest of the flour and add any other ingredients and the remains of any liquid from your original recipe. The white bread I make as an everyday bread is stunningly good using this method.

So now is the time to use this method in a sweet dough. I have made some sweet dough but not a lot. I found making gibassiers very satisfying, and this recipe uses a preferment, which sits overnight and only uses a tiny amount of yeast, the remainder of the yeast being added in the main mixing.

I wondered if my sponge, using all of the yeast, would work, or if the retarding effect of the butter sugar and eggs would negate the benefits? I don't have the science to explain what is going on, I can only try and see what works and what doesn't.

Well, I am pleased to say that it works fine. In fact, I think that it is a real improvement. The brioche type buns that I made are fluffy delicate clouds of delight, perfect with a cup of coffee in front of the computer Cool

Very Light Enriched Dough Brioche Buns

This recipe is over 2 days, so start the sponge in the afternoon of the day before you want to bake, so that you can refrigerate the finished dough overnight to set the butter.

125g Bread flour

125g whole milk, scalded and allow to cool to room temperature (do scald and cool the milk, it makes a lot of difference to the softness of the final dough)

1 tsp instant yeast

main dough:

250g Italian 00 flour

3 whole eggs lightly beaten

1 tsp salt

50g caster sugar

120g unsalted butter


one egg beaten lightly

sugar syrup

pearl sugar

First make the sponge by mixing the flour, milk and yeast together in a largish bowl. You don't need to knead it just bring it together into a ball. Cover lightly with plastic and set aside for 4-6 hours. It will ferment and grow, and then will start to drop, you will see the rounded top start to sink, and lots of little burst bubbles appear on the surface.

Mix together the sponge and the 3 eggs, and stir until they are well blended. Then add the flour from the main dough, the salt, and the sugar. Mix this thoroughly for a minute or two, it will be very wet, but it shouldn't be an actual batter. If it is a too wet add a little more flour.

If you are going to knead this by hand, and it isn't difficult, just tricky and sticky, do look at this Bertinet method video . (This video will also give you a good idea of the texture you are looking for in the dough)

However, I am lazy these days, and use my Kenwood stand mixer (best thing I ever bought! ) with the dough hook on a medium speed.

Knead the dough until it is smooth and supple and coming away from sides of the mixer, just holding a little at the bottom. Then start to add the butter about 20g at a time, kneading in each piece until it is incorporated before adding the next. Mix at a medium speed until it is all in and there is no slapping noise of the butter on the side of the mixer.

Scoop the dough out of the mixer into a bowl about twice the size of the dough, tuck it in around the edges to make a nice smooth top, cover with plastic and into the fridge overnight. It will last for a couple of days in the fridge if you don't have time to bake the following day, though it will continue to rise. If it overtakes the bowl, then just deflate it and cover it again.

When you want to bake, remove the dough from the fridge, and turn it out onto a floured board. Use a scraper to cut the dough into 12 pieces (or halve it, make 6 brioche and do something else with the rest). Form each piece into a neat round and drop it into a greased medium brioche mould (I have a silicone one with 6 moulds, but I think if I were buying from scratch I would sooner have individual metal ones. Allow to rise for 1-2 hours until doubled in size and very puffy.

Brush with egg glaze - I sprinkled with pearl sugar before baking, but the heat was a bit too hot for the sugar and it caramelised. Next time I will bake with the egg glaze to give a lovely brown top and then glaze with sugar syrup and pearl sugar afterwards to keep the little white sugary pieces intact.

Preheat the oven to Gas Mk 7, 425/220 and cook for 15-20 minutes. Turn out upside down onto a baking tray and give the undersides another 5 minutes (especially if you are using silicone which doesn't brown very well. Cool on a tray and try not to eat all at once.

I am not sure how long these will last, I only made them this afternoon.... I will let you know!