Provencal Biscuits

I looked in the fridge yesterday and noticed that we had a LOT of cheese in there. All kinds: Roquefort, Danish Blue, Stilton, Cheddar, Red Leicester, goats’ cheese… I could go on, but you get the idea. This glut of cheesy comestibles gave me the perfect excuse to whip up these deliciously savoury little biscuits; they’re quick and easy to make and have a heavenly flavour – thanks to all the herbs that go in to the dough.

These stand head and shoulders above anything you can buy in a supermarket, and because they are so simple to make it doesn’t matter how inexperienced you are, they will also happily bear comparison with anything you can buy from an artisan bakery.

Dinner last night was twenty of these biscuits, a choice of cheeses, a simple green salad, chutney, vine tomatoes and grapes. At the end of it my wife said that we should put it into our regular meal rotation. Praise indeed.

Provencal-Biscuits.jpg


RECIPE 

100g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

100g plain wholemeal flour

1 tsp fine sea salt

1/2 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp dried basil

1 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped

75g fridge-cold butter, cubed

1 egg yolk

1 tsp Dijon mustard

3 tbsp ice-cold water


METHOD – makes about 20

Heat the oven to 180C/176C fan/Gas 4.

Line a baking tray with baking parchment. Combine the flours, salt, fennel, basil, rosemary and thyme in a food processor. Pulse once or twice to ensure everything is thoroughly mixed, then add the butter and pulse several times until the butter has been combined and the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Whisk together the egg yolk, mustard and water. Pour into the mixture while pulsing the processor, continue to pulse until the dough starts to come together. Take care not to overwork the biscuit dough as it will become tougher.

Empty the dough onto a lightly floured surface and, using your hands, bring it into a rough ball then gently knead it until it is homogenous and pliable. Roll it out until it is about 3mm thick (the thickness of a £1 coin), lifting and turning it regularly and dusting with flour underneath so that it doesn’t stick to your work surface.

Using a fluted pastry cutter – whichever size you have available that makes a biscuit the size that you want it, I tend to use one around 5cm in diameter – cut the dough out and place each biscuit on the baking parchment on the baking tray. These won’t spread so they can be placed quite close together.

Re-roll and use the dough trimmings to make as many biscuits as you can.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes until they are firm and lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack and eat as soon as possible – though they will happily last for a few days in an airtight container.

 

Dutch Apple Cake

As with any classic recipe, there are probably hundreds of slightly varying versions of how to make a Dutch apple cake. The only test that matters is: does it taste good? This one does; I have been tinkering with it for a while and the absolute best version of it comes when it is made with duck eggs. They are fairly easy to obtain now and make a huge difference to cakes, perhaps because of the slight difference of the chemical make-up of the whites, but they give a lovely pillowy foam when whipped and make this cake featherlight.

Hens eggs are, of course, absolutely fine. The most crucial step here, whichever eggs you use, is to whip the eggs and sugar for at least 5 minutes in order to get as much air in to the mix as possible. It is also important to use the right size tin; I use a 30cm x 25cm baking dish that I normally use for lasagne – any smaller than that and the mix becomes a little too deep and requires longer to cook through, which in turn dries out the edges of the cake.

applecake.jpg


RECIPE 

225g unsalted butter

3 duck eggs (or 4 medium hens eggs)

225g golden caster sugar

the zest of a lemon, finely grated

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

250g plain flour

1 heaped tsp baking powder

2 heaped tsp ground mixed spice

500g cooking apples (Bramley or similar)

25g flaked almonds

2 tsp cinnamon


METHOD

Heat the oven to 190C/170C fan/Gas 5.

Weigh out all of the ingredients. Melt the butter in a saucepan set over a low heat; set aside.

Using an electric hand whisk, whisk the eggs and 150g of the sugar together for at least five minutes until the mixture has expanded and is thick and smooth. The whisks should leave a thick trail when removed. You can use a stand mixer to do this while you get on with something else, but I find the hand whisk gets much more air into the mix.

Beat in the lemon zest and juice, then carefully drizzle the melted butter into the mix while whisking continually. The volume will decrease slightly, that’s okay and expected, the mix is now much heavier.

Now sift the flower, baking powder and ground mixed spice into the batter. Gently fold into the batter until it is just combined – take care to be gentle so you don’t knock the air out of the batter.

Grease your baking dish with butter, pour the batter into the dish and set aside while you prepare the topping.

Combine the flaked almonds, cinnamon and 50g of the sugar in a large bowl. Peel and core the apples, cut into eighths, then thinly slice the apples (1mm thick or so). Toss the sliced apple thoroughly in the sugar mix and then scatter over the top of the batter. Press down very lightly to get a more or less level topping, then sprinkle with the remaining 25g of the sugar.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 35-40 minutes until well risen and golden.

I love this with single cream, my wife loves it with custard. It’s easy to love…

 

Chocolate Guinness Cake

There are a handful of cookery writers that I trust implicitly: Jamie Oliver, The Hairy Bikers, and Nigella Lawson chief among them. Pick up any of their books, turn to any recipe, follow the instructions exactly and you will end up with something delicious. Every time.

This is a Nigella recipe, and the first time my wife made it we knew that it was a cake that we could come back to time and again. It is now a firm family favourite, baked for birthdays, family gatherings and any other time we feel like it.

Yes it’s wickedly indulgent, but somehow, because it is so light and moist, it doesn’t really feel like it. It’s not one for anybody on a diet though!

cgcake.jpg

Photo Credit: James Merrell

RECIPE

For the cake:

250ml Guinness
250g unsalted butter, chopped into slices or cubes
75g cocoa powder
400g golden caster sugar
140 ml soured cream
2 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
275g plain flour
2½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the topping:

300g cream cheese
150g icing sugar
125ml double or whipping cream


METHOD

Heat the oven to 180°C/350ºF/gas mark 4. Grease and line a 23cm/9 inch spring form tin.

Pour the Guinness into a large saucepan over a medium heat and add the butter. When the butter has melted whisk in the cocoa and sugar.

In a separate bowl, beat the soured cream with the eggs and vanilla and pour into the beer and butter, then whisk in the flour and bicarb.

Pour the cake batter into the greased and lined tin and bake for 45 – 60 minutes.

Leave it to cool completely in the tin on a cooling rack, as it is quite a damp cake.

When the cake is cold, lightly whip the cream cheese until it is smooth, sieve in the icing sugar and then beat them both together. Add the cream and beat again until it is thick and unctuous. Spread the topping thickly over the top of the cake so that it looks just like a well-poured pint of Guinness.

Lemon and Coconut Bundt Cake

One of my favourite things to do in my spare time is wandering around charity shops, looking for cookery books. They seem to be bought as presents for people who don’t want to cook, so they end up being given to charity and you can find some amazing books in almost-new condition. I have picked up several hundred over the years, at a small fraction of what they would have cost new; it is fair to say that I’m addicted.

One book I picked up recently was ‘Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook’, it is turning out to be one of the best books I own. It is American, so the measurements are mainly in cups rather than the grams that we English are more familiar with; it can be a bit tricky to convert one to the other and still get the best results – cups are a measure of volume whereas grams are a measure of mass and they don’t always convert properly. Don’t let the cup measurements put you off, measuring this way is dead simple, and this cake is absolutely stunning – for vegans and carnivores alike.

I had to buy a Bundt tin for this one and I am glad that I did because though you can make it in a regular tin it comes out far better when made this way. You will need a 10-inch Bundt tin.

lecobundt.jpg


RECIPE

1 cup of golden caster sugar

2/3 cup of vegetable oil

1 400g tin of coconut milk

1/4 cup soy or almond milk

1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice

the zest of 2 large lemons

2 tsp vanilla extract

3 cups plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

The grated flesh of a coconut

A few tablespoons of icing sugar


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ Gas 4.

Break your coconut open, take out the flesh and, using a vegetable peeler, peel off the brown skin on the back of the flesh. Grate using a box grater then chop the grated flesh a little more. The coconut flesh gives the cake great texture and gives you something to bite into; if the coconut flesh is too big it can be distracting, so make sure the pieces of flesh are no bigger than your little fingernail.

Lightly grease a 10-inch Bundt tin. In a large mixing bowl combine the sugar, vegetable oil, coconut milk, soy milk, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla. Stir to combine. Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into the wet ingredients in batches, mixing well after each addition. Stir to combine, then stir in the coconut.

Pour the batter into the Bundt tin and bake for approximately 1 hour in the centre of the oven. A skewer inserted into the cake should come out clean.

Remove from the oven and let it cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then place a cutting board over the cake pan, gently flip it over and release the cake from the pan.

Let it cool completely then sift a sprinkling of the icing sugar over the top.

Double Chocolate Cake with Almond Cream and Raspberries

Of all the challenges that baking presents, making cakes for vegans must rank as the hardest. When you can’t use eggs to give it a lift you have to go down the road of using raising agents, with the attendant risk of a soapy undertaste; when you can’t use the velvet luxury of butter you have to use oils, so you have to ensure you inject decadence in other ways.

Then there’s the texture: there are no eggs to hold air in and give the crumb its structure; there is no butter to give it strength. The most likely result is a dense, stodgy, unappetising cake that appeals to no-one. For that reason, when you find a great vegan cake recipe you should treasure it. When you find a great vegan cake recipe that carnivores also love… well, it’s treasure indeed. This one is clever, using baking powder and vinegar to give a good rise and open texture. Don’t worry, the vinegar is undetectable in this delicious cake.

This recipe comes from a book entitled ‘Peace & Parsnips’ by Lee Watson. Buy it. It is full of excellent recipes and ideas that prove that vegan cooking can result in delicious food that will hold its own against any cuisine.

IMG_0518.JPG


RECIPE 

For the cake:

150g unrefined brown sugar

220g plain flour

50g cacao powder

80g very dark vegan chocolate, chopped into very small pieces

1 heaped tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

75 ml vegetable oil

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

250 ml water

For the almond cream:

80g raw almonds, soaked overnight, brown skins peeled off

75 ml unsweetened almond or soya milk

100 ml vegetable oil

2 tsp almond extract

2 tbsp maple syrup

For the topping:

fresh raspberries

2 tbsp crushed pistachio nuts


METHOD

Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 4.

Oil and line the base and sides of a 24cm loose-bottomed springform cake tin.

Place the sugar, flour, cacao powder, chocolate, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir it all together. Add the oil, vinegar and water – gradually – and whisk slowly until it forms an even batter. Take care not to overwork it.

Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for 25-30 minutes. A skewer inserted into the centre of the cake should pull out with a very small amount of sticky cake clinging to it.

Leave to cool on a wire rack, in the tin, for 30 minutes or so. Remove from the tin when it is nearly cool.

Meanwhile, make the almond cream. Put the almonds into a food processor and process, scraping down the sides regularly, until it is smooth, then drizzle in the milk and process until it forms a smooth cream. Now drizzle in the oil, which will make it thicken up. Finally, add the almond extract and the syrup, process briefly until thick and smooth, it should be the consistency of whipped double cream.

When the cake is almost cooled, spread a thick layer of the almond cream on top. Arrange the raspberries decoratively on top, any way you like, and finally sprinkle with the crushed pistachios.

This cake not only tastes incredible, it also looks amazing – definitely one to show off with.

Pita Bread

A quick and very simple bread to make, Pita is a slightly leavened flatbread said to have originated in the Near East over 4000 years ago.

Most bread books have a basic white loaf as the opening recipe; Pita is much easier, and I believe it should be the first bread used to introduce newcomers to the art of bread making – if only to give pita its historic due.

The defining characteristic of pita is the internal pocket, and the secret to getting a good pocket is a hot oven, so make sure you give your oven plenty of time to thoroughly heat up before putting your bread in to bake.

There are two recipes here, one for white pita and one for wholemeal. The method is the same for both.

pita.jpg


RECIPE 

For 4 white pita:

100g strong white flour

100g plain or ’00’ flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 heaped tsp dried yeast

135g tepid water

olive oil

For 4 wholemeal pita:

50g strong white flour

50g strong wholemeal flour

100g plain or ’00’ flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 heaped tsp dried yeast

145g tepid water

olive oil


METHOD

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl, make a well in the centre and add the tepid water. Using your fingers as a claw, drag the dry ingredients through the water and begin to mix everything together, gently kneading until everything comes together as a dough. The dough should be of a consistency that it leaves the sides of the bowl clean.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled surface, leave for ten minutes, then knead for twenty seconds and shape into a ball. Lightly oil the bowl and put the dough back into it. Cover the bowl with a damp tea-towel or cling film and leave in a warm place for 40 minutes.

After 40 minutes, push the air out of the dough with your fingertips, fold the dough in half while still in the bowl, turn the bowl through 90 degrees and fold the dough in half again, then shape into a ball once more, cover and leave for a further 40 minutes.

Heat your oven to its maximum setting.

Remove the dough from the bowl and shape into a loose sausage. Cut the dough into four equal pieces then, using a little more oil, roll each piece out gently until approximately 5mm thick.

Turn the oven down to 220C/ 200C fan/ gas 8. Your pitas will cook perfectly in the falling heat.

Place the pitas on a baking sheet and bake for approximately ten minutes or until puffed up and golden.

Roasted Squash, Red Onion, Spinach and Cheese Tart

Is there anything better for a summer picnic than a rich, flavourful tart with short, crumbly almost biscuit-like pastry? I don’t think so; it’s one of the main reasons I look forward to lazy summer Sundays – feet up in the garden, tart on the table, a glass of fine wine to hand, the sun shining and the dog at your feet, with nothing much to do except relax. On days like these all is right with the world.

IMG_0469.JPG


RECIPE – feeds 6 for lunch

a quantity of shortcrust wholemeal pastry

2 tbsp olive oil

1 small butternut squash, cut into 1cm cubes

2 small red onions, cut into 8 segments each with the root left on

300g spinach

100g strong cheddar, grated

3 large eggs

300ml double cream

parmesan cheese, finely grated


METHOD

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6.

Make the shortcrust wholemeal pastry, lightly flour the base of a 23cm loose-bottomed tart tin and line the tin with the pastry. Use a little surplus pastry to gently push the pastry into the corners and flutes of the tin so there are no air pockets, trim round the edges of the tart tin to remove the surplus pastry (keep this in case you need to make any small repairs) prick all over the base with a fork and chill the pastry case for 30 minutes.

While the pastry is chilling, prepare the butternut squash and red onions, then roast them in the oven for approximately 30 minutes until cooked through and starting to caramelise.

Put the spinach into a large pan on a high heat. There is no need to add any water, just keep stirring the spinach until it wilts completely. Tip into a sieve, squeeze gently and leave any excess moisture to drain.

Now cut a piece of baking parchment large enough to completely cover the base and sides of the tart. Scrunch it up, then flatten it and place it in the pastry case, then fill with ceramic baking beans if you have them, rice or dried beans if you don’t. Now blind-bake the pastry case for 20 minutes; after this time remove the baking beans and parchment and return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes until your pastry is golden and cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside to rest for a few minutes.

*Tip: The best bit of baking wisdom I ever received was this: blind-baking is not part-cooking, it is pre-cooking. In other words, your blind-baked pastry case should be fully cooked when it comes out. That’s the 100% guaranteed way to ensure that you never suffer the baker’s nightmare of a soggy bottom. Some authorities suggest sealing the base of your pastry case with a thin layer of egg white; don’t bother, it doesn’t belong there and you will be able to detect it.

While your cooked pastry case is resting, turn your oven down to 180C / 160C fan / gas 4 and continue to make your filling:

Lightly whisk the eggs and cream together, then season with salt and pepper, whisk again. Cut the roots off the roasted onions and remove any parts that have been scorched. Arrange the onions, butternut squash and spinach in the cooked pastry case and scatter the grated cheddar cheese over it. Pour over the eggs and cream mixture, and finely grate some parmesan over the top, this will give it a deliciously cheesy taste and aroma. Put the tart back into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and set.

Cool on a wire rack, in the tin, then remove from the tin and cut into slices.

This tart goes perfectly with a simple green salad dressed with a quick mustard vinaigrette:

3 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

a small pinch of sea salt

1 1/2 tsp of dijon mustard


Whisk it all together in the bottom of your salad bowl, drop the salad over it, and when you are ready to eat just toss everything together.

Here’s another quick tip: refresh your salad vegetables and leaves and make them extra crunchy by sitting them in iced water for 30 minutes, then pat them dry before dressing them.

Goat’s Cheese, Fennel and Red Pepper Tart

Is there anything better for a summer picnic than a rich, flavourful tart with short, crumbly almost biscuit-like pastry? I don’t think so; it’s one of the main reasons I look forward to lazy summer Sundays – feet up in the garden, tart on the table, a glass of fine wine to hand, the sun shining and the dog at your feet, with nothing much to do except relax. On days like these all is right with the world.

IMG_0398.JPG


RECIPE – feeds 6 for lunch

a quantity of shortcrust wholemeal pastry

2 tbsp olive oil

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 large fennel bulb, core removed, finely chopped

1 Romano red pepper, deseeded and finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

3 large eggs

300ml double cream

1/2 tsp sweet smoked paprika

100g goat’s cheese, crumbled

12 olives, chopped


METHOD

Make the shortcrust wholemeal pastry, lightly flour the base of a 23cm loose-bottomed tart tin and line the tin with the pastry. Use a little surplus pastry to gently push the pastry into the corners and flutes of the tin so there are no air pockets, trim round the edges of the tart tin to remove the surplus pastry (keep this in case you need to make any small repairs) prick all over the base with a fork and chill the pastry case for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6. Now cut a piece of baking parchment large enough to completely cover the base and sides of the tart. Scrunch it up, then flatten it and place it in the pastry case, then fill with ceramic baking beans if you have them, rice or dried beans if you don’t. Now blind-bake the pastry case for 20 minutes; after this time remove the baking beans and parchment and return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes until your pastry is golden and cooked through.

Meanwhile, in a large pan, heat the oil over a medium heat then add the onion, fennel and pepper, cook for approximately 15 minutes until soft and just beginning to caramelise. Add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes more, then set aside and allow to cool.

*Tip: The best bit of baking wisdom I ever received was this: blind-baking is not part-cooking, it is pre-cooking. In other words, your blind-baked pastry case should be fully cooked when it comes out. That’s the 100% guaranteed way to ensure that you never suffer the baker’s nightmare of a soggy bottom. Some authorities suggest sealing the base of your pastry case with a thin layer of egg white; don’t bother, it doesn’t belong there and you will be able to detect it.

While your cooked pastry case is resting, turn your oven down to 180C / 160C fan / gas 4 and continue to make your filling:

Lightly whisk the eggs and cream together, then add the paprika and season with salt and pepper, whisk again. Tip the cooked vegetables into the tart case and dot with the chopped olives and crumbled goat’s cheese. Pour over the eggs and cream mixture then put the tart back into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and set.

Cool on a wire rack, in the tin, then remove from the tin and cut into slices.

This tart goes perfectly with a simple green salad dressed with a quick mustard vinaigrette:

3 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

a small pinch of sea salt

1 1/2 tsp of dijon mustard


Whisk it all together in the bottom of your salad bowl, drop the salad over it, and when you are ready to eat just toss everything together.

Here’s another quick tip: refresh your salad vegetables and leaves and make them extra crunchy by sitting them in iced water for 30 minutes, then pat them dry before dressing them.

Shortcrust Wholemeal Pastry

There is only one secret to a great tart, and it is no secret at all: make great pastry.

If your pastry is bland or soggy it doesn’t matter if you have the best filling in the world, your tart will be a failure. For some reason many people are afraid of making pastry but let me assure you that there is nothing to fear; it is quick and easy to make, easy to use, and if it gets a little bit damaged when you put it into the tart tin it doesn’t matter, you can just patch it up, even if it comes out of the blind baking a little worse for wear. Just keep a little bit of surplus pastry to hand for any running repairs and your tarts will always be perfect.

I always make my pastry in a food processor, my fingers seem to be a little too warm to use the crumbling method. If you use a food processor just be careful not to over-process the mixture, pulse it a few times until you have a consistency like fine breadcrumbs and there are no visible lumps of butter and shortening, then add a little water – just enough to bring it together without making it sticky.

This pastry is perfect for savoury tarts; the vegetable shortening makes it deliciously crumbly and almost like a wholemeal biscuit in its texture. Unlike many short pastries though, thanks to the binding properties of the wholemeal flour this one is very easy to work with and holds together well when it is rolled out and put into a tart case.


RECIPE – to fill a 23cm loose-bottomed tart tin, with plenty left over

150g plain flour

75g wholemeal flour

65g chilled butter, cubed

65g chilled vegetable shortening, cubed (I use Trex)

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

approx 2 tbsp ice cold water


METHOD

Put all of the ingredients except the water into a food processor and pulse a few times to mix it thoroughly. When it looks like fine crumbs add the water a little bit at a time and pulse for a second until the pastry starts to come together. Take care not to overwork the pastry mixture, the beauty of this pastry is that it is soft and crumbly, doing too much to it is liable to make it tough. Empty it out of the food processor onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead it for a few seconds until it is smooth and form it into a ball .

On a lightly floured surface, roll your pastry out into a round until it is approximately the thickness of a pound coin, this should give you the correct diameter to fill your pastry case with a little left over that you can trim off later. Always keep your trimmings as you may need to make a couple of repairs.

The recipes on my blog will always tell you what to do next, but if you are using this to make your own tart recipes this is what you generally need to do next:

Lift the pastry up onto a rolling pin, drape it over your tart tin and gently drop it into the tin. Using a small piece of pastry push the pastry gently into the corners and flutes of your tart tin so there are no air pockets. Trim off the surplus pastry from the edges of the tin and liberally prick the base of the pastry with a fork. Chill for 30 minutes.

Cut a piece of baking parchment large enough to completely cover the base and sides of the tart. Scrunch it up, then flatten it and place it in the pastry case, then fill with ceramic baking beans if you have them, rice or dried beans if you don’t. Now blind-bake the pastry case at 200C for 20 minutes; after this time remove the baking beans and parchment and return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes until your pastry is golden and cooked through.

*Tip: The best bit of baking wisdom I ever received was this: blind-baking is not part-cooking, it is pre-cooking. In other words, your blind-baked pastry case should be fully cooked when it comes out. That’s the 100% guaranteed way to ensure that you never suffer the baker’s nightmare of a soggy bottom. Some authorities suggest sealing the base of your pastry case with a thin layer of egg white; don’t bother, it doesn’t belong there and you will be able to detect it.

Now make your filling and cook according to your recipe instructions.

Focaccia with Middle-Eastern Flavours

Focaccia is, of course, an Italian staple; ideal for tearing and sharing, one of the easiest breads to make, and endlessly receptive to all kinds of flavours. This particular version was invented by Sabrina Ghayour and can be found in her beautiful book ‘Persiana’. I urge you to buy a copy, it is stuffed full of amazing recipes that – on the evidence of the many that I have cooked so far – are absolutely delicious.

This bread goes well with any warm and spicy dish but also enlivens simple fare like a plate of fine cheese and vine-fresh cherry tomatoes. If you have never made bread before then start here; it is real bread in that it has to have time to rise, but it requires virtually no kneading and can be treated quite roughly with no ill-effects. It’s as close to foolproof as bread can be, it’s very impressive as well.

IMG_0394.JPG


RECIPE 

For the dough:

125g cold soured cream

150ml cold water

100ml boiling water

550g white bread flour

3 good pinches of sea salt

2 tsp caster sugar

1 1/2 tsp dried yeast

2 tbsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp ground coriander

1 tbsp dried mint

1 tsp chilli flakes

For the topping:

olive oil

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp nigella seeds

1 tsp sumac

sea salt flakes


METHOD

Mix the soured cream with the cold water in a bowl, then add the boiling water to it.

In a large bowl, mix the bread flour, sea salt, caster sugar, dried yeast, cumin seeds, ground coriander, dried mint and chilli flakes. Make a well in the centre, then pour in the cream and water mixture. Using your hands as a claw, pull the flour into the liquid and mix all of the ingredients together. The dough will start off sticky and there will be dry bits in the bottom of the bowl; keep manipulating the dough until it all comes together and starts to leave the sides of the bowl clean. This will only take a few minutes and you will end up with a rough ball of dough that looks like this:

IMG_0390

Cover the dough with cling film or a tea towel and set aside in a warm place to rest for ten minutes.

Meanwhile, line a large, deep roasting tin (mine is approximately 13 inches x 9 inches) with baking parchment. Place the ball of dough in it, flatten it out and pull and stretch it so it completely fills the bottom of the tin. You can be firm with the dough to get it to do what you want, just take care not to tear it. Now using your finger poke deep holes into the dough, all over the top. Your dough should now look like this:

IMG_0392

Cover it with cling film or a tea towel, taking care to leave a lot of air over the dough, and set it aside in a warm place to rise for at least an hour. Don’t leave it more than three hours as the dough will get ‘exhausted’ and won’t be as good. You will see it rising, quite impressively, so when you are happy with the degree of rising you can continue.

Heat your oven to 200C/ 180C Fan/ gas 6.

Generously drizzle olive oil all over the top of the dough; make sure you completely cover the top of the dough – I use a silicon brush to ensure it gets everywhere. The Italians use an awful lot of olive oil on their focaccia so it seeps into the top portion of the dough as it cooks, that’s a bit much for my personal taste so I am generous with the oil without going overboard. It is a personal matter though so use however much oil you want to.

Now liberally cover the top of the dough with the toppings: cumin seeds, dried thyme, nigella seeds, sumac and sea salt flakes. Once again, be generous, this is all great flavour and the quantities of each that I have specified are only a guide. Your risen dough will now look like this:

IMG_0393

Bake in the centre of the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. If you are unsure of when your focaccia is properly cooked, an instant read thermometer inserted into the centre of the bread should read at least 90C. Turn the focaccia out, together with its parchment, onto a wire rack and after a few minutes remove the baking parchment and leave to cool completely – that is if you can resist the temptation to tear straight into it…

Your kitchen will now smell gorgeous, and your finished bread will wow everybody:

IMG_0394