Raining, raining, raining… finally a rainbow to the north.
I agree with *The Vicar of Dibley and prefer to think of **Mrs Letitia Cropley as a pioneer in the art of cooking. She tantalised the village with her trays of peanut butter and sardine sarnies, Marmite cakes and ham & cheese with lemon curd. These dishes are not as farfetched as they sound. The human palate is strange and imaginative encouraging us to eat all kinds of disgusting things. After all the Belgians love pomme frites with mayonnaise. The Thais slather peanut sauce on skewered chicken. The Mexicans put chocolate in their chilli. The Inuits of Greenland relish whole small auks sewn into fresh seal skins left to ferment in rock cairns for 3-18 months. The English love cheese with veins of blue mould running through it. Who are we to sniff up our noses with distaste?
My gardening buddy Emma served us a Mrs Cropley cake yesterday. She baked a carrot cake without carrots. Instead she substituted grated sweet potato, courgette and celery in the missing ingredient’s place. I would have said that sweet potato and courgette made sense but celery? Emma had never ventured into carrot cake before but as she hadn’t any carrots in the house she used what was in her fridge. It was a huge success! As odd as it may seem the celery disappeared into the flavour creating a moist and delicious cake. Hoorah for you Emma! Hoorah for the Mrs Cropley school of baking! Hoorah for using what she had instead of driving 14 miles to buy what little the recipe told her to use wasting time and precious petrol to buy a few carrots. Well done Emma.
Laurie our friend is a gardener and soup chef. No not sous chef. She is the owner and chef of The Soup Dragon in Sussex. We visited her this Monday and were served the most delicious raspberry pink, fresh beet risotto. Beet risotto? Divine. The entire dish was made even creamier by a last-minute addition of Mascarpone cheese. I ate too much, in fact suffered a bit of seconds, but found room for her fresh lemon mousse (made without gelatin, yuck) and almond shortbread rounds. Seems she always has an embarrassment of beets lying around and decided to make them into this heavenly dish. She sells it at markets and farm shops in Sussex, so look for it. Hail to Laurie queen of inspired risotto!
I baked something a bit more conventional a rye bread made with beer instead of water. No I have water, but I used the beer to enhance the flavour of the rye and caraway seeds. This time I used a nice bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and half a bottle of San Miguel. I gave the Poolish (the very wet yeast starter) 18 hours to ferment then let the dough rise for 10 hours in an oiled bowl, formed it into loaves and let it slowly rise overnight in the unheated kitchen. Both of us love sourdough bread and the combination of long fermentation and the beer give this rye its unique tang. I did use the stoneground rye, white and whole wheat flours from Stoate’s and Sons, Cann Mill near Shaftsbury. Stoneground flour always adds to the flavour and texture for a good bread.
Beer Barrel Rye a lovely chewy, moist bread that keeps well and goes great with ham & cheese, but not sure about lemon curd?
- 1 1/2 bottles of Beer (app. 525ml)
- 1 packet of Instant Dry Yeast
- 5 dessert spoons Muscovado Soft Brown Sugar (1/4 cup)
- 2 teaspoons Salt
- 80ml of Corn Oil or approximately (1/4 cup)
- 2 teacups Whole Wheat Flour (I learned baking in the US and visually measure my flour using American cups)
- 4 teacups Rye Flour
- Extra Strong White Flour for bread baking
- 2 heaping dessert spoons Caraway seed (2 tbsp)
Begin 2 days before baking. Yes I am serious! It takes time to make a great bread. Dissolve 1 teaspoon of the dry yeast in a 1/2 teacup of warm water with a pinch of Muscovado sugar added. Let the yeast bubble up and proof. Pour the beer into a large bowl, add half of the remaining Muscovado sugar and dissolve it thoroughly. Add in the proofed yeast mixture. Whisk in the whole wheat flour, half of the rye flour and 1 teacup of white flour. this should make a thick gloopy batter called a Poolish. Cover the bowl with cling film and set it aside for 18 hours. I usually make the Poolish at noon and let it sit until the following morning. It will rise up and then fall down leaving you with a somewhat gelatinized goo.
The next morning dissolve the remaining dry yeast in a 1/2 teacup of warm water with a pinch of Muscovado sugar added. Let the yeast bubble up and proof. Stir this into the Poolish, then add; the salt, the rest of the sugar, the caraway seed and the corn oil. Beat the mixture. Add the rest of the rye flour and beat it smooth. Then begin adding white flour as you beat until the mixture is like a very thick cake batter and the spoon or beater makes a hole as it passes through the dough. The hole it makes should ooze back together. (this is where you wish you had the extra large Kenwood or Kitchenaid mixer) Start beating the dough to bring up the gluten in the flour. Gluten is the protein in the flour and will form long strands as it is beaten. How to you know when you have it beaten sufficiently? It should take almost 5 minutes and the dough will form long stringy strands as the spoon or beater passes through it. This step is very important as the gluten creates the lovely chewy bite in good bread.
As you work the dough continue adding white flour until the dough is sticky but firm. The dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl and remove any trace of flour or batter from the sides of the bowl. Why don’t I give you an exact amount of flour? Because many things affect how much flour you use, the dampness in the air, the type of flours you use, even how much you beat the gluten. The finished dough will not be satiny smooth as you have added in whole wheat flour and caraway seeds, but will be free of lumps and appear to be finished. Place the dough in a large tall bowl that is liberally oiled. Turn the dough over once so that its oiled bottom is on top. Cover the bowl with cling film and let it rise all day.
That night form the dough into loaves either placed in well buttered pans or on well-floured sheets of parchment. Cover the loaves loosely with the cling film and leave them to rise overnight in a cool room.
The next morning set the oven temperature at 190C or 375F and bake the loaves for approximately 30-50 minutes depending on the size and shape of your loaves. I bake mine in double length commercial loaf pans for 50 minutes until the centre bottom of the loaf is hollow when thumped. The tops of this bread are quite dark, if you prefer them less browned cover the loaves with a bit of tin foil after they have achieved the desired colour and continue baking until done.
*The Vicar of Dibley played by Dawn French and actress, writer and comedienne who can give even the most poignant scene a loving sense of comedy and charm.
**Mrs Cropley the church organist, village council member and Easter Bunny was played by the amazing actress, Liz Smith in the television series The Vicar of Dibley until the character’s on-screen demise.
We are trying a new method of planting by the lunar calendar. It is new to us but one that has proven very successful. It was developed over decades by Maria and Matthias Thun and is called Biodynamics. We used to schedule all our plantings by the lunar cycle and astrological charts but this is much more involved. We had extremely good results using our old method, including a very high germination rate. We hope for even better results using the Biodynamics 2012 calendar that just arrived via Amazon. Check out the link to the right.
The calendar is much more detailed in its breakdown of days best for transplanting in both the northern and southern hemisphere. It also maps out down to the hour what type of crops are best to plant on any particular day of the month. For instance beginning March 6th at 7am the Moon enters Leo making it perfect for transplanting fruit crops. Fruit crops are not just what we consider fruits but also pumpkins, tomatoes, corn, peas and beans. This means it will be the perfect day to begin transplanting the currants, loganberries, roses and gooseberry bushes. We bought them cheap in a supermarket special. Fortunately they all are leafing out right now proving that the purchase was a good one. It is also the time to begin seeding the peas, beans and squashes in the trays. It may seem a bit late to some of you but our last predicted hard frost is the end of March and normally you would not seed tender cold-sensitive plants until 3-4 weeks before that. It’s funny up on top of this hill we can be as much as 3-4C lower than the vale below us even though we face a coastal wind and are not that much higher. I think if we had a polytunnel I might have seeded earlier knowing that I would have a heated space to continue growing the plants on until we could plant out, but we don’t.
I have been on-line and found a dessert grape-vine grower not far from us who sells vines that can be grown outside here in Dorset. They need to be up against a wall facing south, southwest if possible. We have one! the entire back side of the house facing the gardens is perfect and made of dark sun-absorbing brick. We love grapes but they have a high carbon footprint and are very expensive, pretty much out of our budget. Though having said this I just bought two boxes of red grapes, one to turn into a sourdough yeast starter for making bread and one to eat. I justify it as it was a BOGOFF, a buy one get one free.
My first experience eating Pan de Campagna (crusty picnic loaf) was memorable. I even asked what made the bread so flavourful. the baker said he used wine grape yeast. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area famous for its sourdough bread. The best was made by a small bakery that was originally on the Oakland side, Larrabaru Bakery. It just wasn’t good enough if it wasn’t their round checkerboard-cut, crusty, round loaf especially with home-made Cioppino. So I am about to start a grape yeast sourdough and a beer sourdough. I usually use the poolish method instead of the biga. Poolish is a wet slurry of living sourdough and biga is a fermented dough used the same way. I use the beer poolish to make a New York Deli Rye Bread. (see recipes section) Both take about a week to make but keep going forever as long as you feed them. I developed the rye bread recipe when none was available. It took me 24 tries to come up with the best taste and chewy texture. Nothing is better than a ham and cheese with grainy mustard grilled on a ridged grill pan. I bake with Stoates & Sons Cann Mills flours. Cann Mills is a working water mill near Shaftsbury in north Dorset. The mill itself is mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086. We love visiting the mill seeing its gears and stone turn and feeling the history behind what we do. Check out Sarah Beeny’s presentation of Village SOS about the Talgarth mill on YouTube via the link to the right. This uplifting television program is about the recently successful re-birth of a working water-mill in Talgarth, Powys.
The flours we buy from Stoates & Sons are all stone-milled from mostly Dorset grown grains. Their flavour and nutrition content is superior to commercially milled flours. If I am going to bake our own bread I want the best ingredients and it still is cheaper than buying even a chain store loaf.
It is worth finding someone in your area who produces flour from one of the many working mills still in Britain. Visit the website for The Traditional Cornmillers Guild to find one in your area using the link to the right.
If this isn’t possible Stoates & Sons do ship but check your local independent food store first as they probably sell something equivalent. I’ll report back on how the grape yeast sourdough works out and what the bread made from it tastes like. If it works I’ll post the how-tos in the recipe section.