Monday, 18 March 2013

Wonderful Sourdough

More Natural Fermentation

Bread Matters Sourdough Special course 2nd and 3rd March 2013

The wonders of natural fermentation were revealed. From country bread made with some Scottish flour to a chickpea and fennel sourdough, each bread demonstrated an aspect of the simplicity and beauty of baking real bread with just flour, water and a bit of salt.



Sunday, 17 March 2013

March 2013

Fermenting Stuff

We have been fermenting a lot of grains, and good ideas, at Macbiehill Farmhouse. A four-day Baking for Community course ended yesterday, with (sourdough) cultures being exchanged between Scotland, England, Bulgaria, Brazil and Ireland.

We adopted some Kefir 'grains', which are fermenting whole organic milk whilst multiplying their complex mix of bacteria and yeasts merrily in the kitchen. The  resulting yoghurty drink - blended with a syrup of summer berries and served chilled - has been a huge hit. Influenced by nutritionist Colette McMahon, with her mantras of 'get the oils right' and 'soak the grains first' I've also added 'energy balls' to the Bread Matters coffee breaks. As soon as my new moulds arrive I will dignify these with the title 'energy bars' but for now it's just balls.

Here is the recipe.
You don't need to weigh anything. Use any measure for the 'scoop' - tablespoon, jug, bucket - according to how many people you're feeding, in these ratios:
Soak two scoops of dried apricots with one scoop of crystallised ginger and one scoop of sunflower seeds in pure orange juice, overnight.
Drain off any excess liquid that hasn't been absorbed.
Add one scoop of cashew nuts.
Whizz the mixture in a blender until it is only slightly lumpy.
Shape it into small balls and roll them in dried coconut to coat them.
If the mixture is too soft to shape, chill it in the fridge first and/or add more nuts or seeds.
Variations: Almost any dried fruits, seeds and nuts, coated in chocolate.

It is still Lent, of course, so the Lenten Greens recipe posted this time last year is back in fashion; and we've eaten our first green salads of Japanese broccoli, wild rocket, a volunteer lettuce, Mizuna and Mibuna from the polytunnel. 

The green tomatoes from last year's crop have nearly all been eaten, in the form of a variation on 'zucchini' loaves (see post February 2013)  and this green tomato chutney we made last autumn.

Andrew has been slowly-fermenting and baking with Mulika wheat, grown in East Lothian.
If you haven't read Scotland: The Bread yet, here's a loaf, and a link, for you.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Bread Matters’ Zucchini Loaf

This recipe was devised by Andrew to make something delicious from the glut of courgettes we often have in the summer. Each loaf (we have decided not to call it ‘bread’ as it is raised with baking powder and is really a cake) takes only 150g of courgette; so it isn’t a solution to all the excess produce - or a way of sneaking courgette into the diet of resistant family members. 

Most vegetable gardeners have a story about over-production. My favourite comes from a baking friend Angus who told us that, in the part of rural Canada he comes from, the only time his neighbours ever lock their cars is during the zuchini glut. They never worry that anyone will steal belongings from their parked car or pickup, but they won’t run the risk of finding a generous truck-load of courgettes stowed in it when they return. 
Last year we produced even more green tomatoes than even I can serve fried in breadcrumbs, so we substituted them, very successfully, for the zuchini. Whichever moist green vegetable you choose, the cake will be delicious on its own, good with cheese and freeze well. 

Here’s the recipe, in the usual industrial quantities: 

Zucchini Loaf

Ingredients grams grams
Egg 800 400
Olive Oil 400 200
Raw Cane Sugar 800 400
Courgette (grated) 1200          600
Flour (Light Rye) 1200 600
Baking Powder 45 25
Cardamom (ground) 90 45
Salt 20 10
Raisins 500 250
Walnuts 500 250

Total weight 5555 2780

Yield  @ 660g 8 4


Beat the egg and sugar together until slightly fluffy. Then drizzle in the oil allowing the mixture to absorb some before adding more. The mix will be fairly liquid but should be smooth and a little aerated.  Add the grated courgette and stir briefly.  Sift together the dry ingredients and add them to the mix.  Finally, add the raisins and walnuts and mix until everything is well-distributed.   

Deposit into greased and floured baking tins (or non-stick ones). The mix should come between half way and two-thirds of the way up the sides of the tin. Put immediately into an oven pre-heated to about 190 °C/375°F. Baking will take about 30 minutes. If the top is taking too much colour before the middle of the loaf is done (as tested with a skewer), cover it with a sheet of silicone paper or similar.


The recipe includes salt because, unlike most baking fats (butter, margarine etc) oil doesn’t come with added salt. You can, of course, leave it out but you may feel that the flavour of the finished loaf ‘lacks something’.

660 g fits into the same size tin as we use for Borodinsky bread, which is equivalent to a fairly large ‘one pound’ bread tin. You will need to adjust the quantity per loaf if using different sized tins.

That Chocolate Beetroot Cake

Chocolate Beetroot Cake 

We had eleven talented and enthusiastic bakers here last week on the Bread Matters Baking for a Living Course. Concentrating hard, producing fantastic breads and planning their diverse business ventures works up an appetite and we got through quite a lot of chocolate cake in the coffee breaks. Several people asked for this recipe. Perhaps versions of it will make an appearance one day on their menus in England, Canada, Spain, Cyprus and the Isle of Lewis. 

I've used the very last of our beetroots from the smallholding and the last of the heat from the Primus electric stone-lined oven to bake another batch of four cakes. Here's the recipe:

The original version of this comes from Annette GibbonsHome Grown in Cumbria (Zymurgy publishing 2005), a guide to some of the best growers and producers in Cumbria, along with recipes that do their produce justice.  Annette describes herself as a ‘professional cook, not a chef’ and health is a consideration in her recipes. 

There are three other recipes in this book that I can vouch for; herb-filled carrot roulade, baked trout, and hazelnut meringues with berry cream. I haven’t used them much, but Annette has prepared them for celebratory meals, including at least one Royal visit and, at less than three weeks’ notice, for our wedding in 2008. 

Predictably, I’ve adapted this recipe to use organic olive oil rather than sunflower oil, and a mixture of light rye flour and ground almonds to replace the self-raising flour. 


65g cocoa powder
275g half-and-half light rye flour and ground almonds, with a pinch of salt 
and 10g baking powder
220g caster sugar

300ml            olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 medium sized eggs, beaten
250g  cooked beetroot, grated


Sift the cocoa powder, flour, salt, baking powder, ground almonds and sugar together.

Whisk the olive oil, vanilla essence and eggs together until they thicken. It may take five minutes or more of whisking to emulsify and begin to look like mayonnaise. 

Add the beetroot and mix well with the dry ingredients. It will turn a vivid purple colour. 

Pour into two prepared 7” sandwich tins or one deep tin. 

Bake in a preheated oven at 190C (gas mark 5 or 375 F). 
Sandwich cakes will take about 35 minutes and deeper cakes longer. 

Chocolate Ganache

150g dark chocolate and 
150ml double cream

Double these quantities if you want to cover the top as well as filling the cake. 
Use the best ingredients you can get hold of. Montezuma’s 73% cocoa dark couverture is my favourite chocolate for baking.  


Warm the cream in a saucepan until it is almost boiling. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, stirring it while it melts. Whisk the mixture until it becomes glossy. (A mixer will do this in a minute or two.) Use the ganache to sandwich the two cakes and (if you wish) to cover the top. 

For a special occasion, I sometimes decorate this cake with little beetroots, made from marzipan and coloured with the beetroot juice. Now that I’ve perfected our slow-dried beetroot ‘crisps’, some of which resemble rose petals, I might even use those. 

Friday, 23 March 2012

From Macbiehill Farmhouse Kitchen

March 2012

I was lucky enough to have some help in the Macbiehill Farmhouse kitchen this week, so I have got ahead for the gluten-free/wheat-free course this weekend by making the luxury chocolate cake from the gluten-free baking chapter of Bread Matters. 
Note that some baking powders can contain wheat flour so if you are using one to raise a gluten-free cake, check the ingredients carefully. (The Bioreal one we use doesn't.)

We've eaten the first leaves of mizuna and mibuna, from the polytunnel. They taste of pepper and vitamins and are great for winter salads, stir-frying or threading into green vegetables at the last moment. 

I've also made a new Lenten dish that might just be the perfect solution in a household that has both lovers of the humble sprout and those who regard them as a custom best followed once a year, and that at Christmas or thereabouts. The origin of Lenten is Germanic and related to 'long', so is especially apt for the lengthening days of Spring. 

Lenten Greens
There's only one rule with this recipe and it's that you must weigh nothing. 
Finely chop or shred some onions, white cabbage, sprouts and a little curly kale. Gently sweat the onions in a large heavy pan with generous amounts of olive oil, ground chilli and cumin and a little sea salt. Add the cabbage, sprouts and kale, put a well-fitting lid on the pan and keep stewing over a low heat or in a low oven for about 30 minutes. Add a little water, only if and when you think it needs it (all the moisture will be staying in the pot). 

The greens can be reheated, topped with sauce or with finely sliced potatoes and baked in the oven. They also form the bottom layer of a dish I make a lot, with a deep layer of fresh, real bread crumbs and some generous dollops of olive oil or butter on the top, baked until heated through and slightly golden. 

I served a generously-spiced dish of Lenten Greens at a recent Bread Matters supper and it was very well received. The person who ate most of it was the one who had enquired 'is this napalm organic?'.

Waste-nothing notes: Use a pan lid whenever you can. Only things that need constant stirring such as (you guessed) stir fry, roux sauces, porridge etc. need to be uncovered. Using just enough water saves energy and leaches away less nutrients from your food.  

April 2012

Pirozhki are another great way to make the best use of what is available locally and seasonally, in what is known as the 'hungry gap' of the year. These little pies are made of yeasted pastry, filled with onion and shredded white cabbage, chopped hard boiled eggs, rocket (or spring onions or chives) and seasoning. 

My most recent batch had plenty of peppery rocket, which I chopped and added raw instead of sweating it with the  and I used paprika and turmeric in the seasoning, adding colour as well as flavour.

The recipe is at page 275 of Bread Matters Why and How to Make Your Own. Andrew Whitley (Fourth Estate 2009). 

I've been serving the wheat-free St. Clement's cake as a pudding this month. Slice the cake lengthwise into large pieces, cover with rhubarb and ginger and warm through gently in the oven. Serve with cream, yoghurt or a real custard. 

Rhubarb and ginger
Whitmuir rhubarb is wonderful at the moment. I wash it, chop it and put it into a large pan or cocotte with only the water left on the pieces, plus one tablespoonful, and cook it slowly over a very low heat with chopped, crystallised ginger. 

St. Clement’s Cake
This began its life as Nigel Slater’s recipe for demerara lemon cake (in The Kitchen Diaries 2005). I substituted olive oil for the butter and used equal proportions of light rye and ground almonds instead of wholemeal flour. 
It evolved further into St Clement’s cake when I had only one lemon but plenty of oranges. 
This version stays wonderfully moist and has pieces of juicy fruit peel dispersed throughout the cake. 
For the cake:
olive oil          160g
raw cane sugar 200g
light rye flour  90g
ground almonds  90g
baking powder half a tsp
half a large lemon and half a large orange
large eggs 4
For the topping and syrup:
half a lemon and half an orange, plus the juice from 1 lemon or 1 orange
raw cane sugar or honey 6 tablespoons
water 6 tablespoons
A rectangular loaf tin (25 x 11 x 7cm). Line it with with baking parchment unless it is truly non-stick. 
Topping and syrup:
1 Slice the lemon and orange very thinly, removing the pips, and cut the slices so that the pieces are no more than 2cm. Put them in a saucepan with the extra juice, sugar and water. 
2 Bring to the boil and keep boiling for 5 minutes or more, until the fruit pieces are sticky and the liquid has become syrup. Scoop out all but a few of the fruit pieces; reserve them to place on top of the cake before baking.
3 Weigh the flour and ground almonds and mix them together with the baking powder. 
4 Grate the zest of the orange and the lemon and them to the flour mixture. 
5 Beat together the sugar and eggs in a food mixer until well blended. Keep blending, more slowly if you can, while you stream in the olive oil. The idea is to keep some of the air trapped while you add the oil, but don’t worry if it drops back. 
6 Use a large metal spoon to fold the almond and flour mixture into the oil, sugar and egg mixture.
7 Scoop the mixture into the loaf tin and lay the reserved pieces of fruit (from the syrup) over the top of the cake. Some will stay on the top and brown and others will sink into the mixture. 
8 Bake for around 1 hour at 150˚C, until risen and golden. Insert a metal skewer. 
If it comes out clean, the cake is done. 
9 When it has cooled, spike the top of the cake with a metal skewer and pour two tablespoons of the syrup, and the remaining fruit pieces, over the top of it. Keep any remaining syrup to pour over later servings. 
Sliced thinly, it makes a lovely tea time cake. A thicker piece, served with cream or crème fraîche and an extra spoonful of the syrup, serves as a glamorous pudding.

Fried Green Tomatoes March/April  2012

Monday, 14 February 2011

The Mending Library

Just a humble lending library, I could be so much more
I’ll be the centre of your world if you just come through that  door
Bring your Real Bread Campaign, your flour and sourdough
Share your gluts, exchange your seeds and help someone to grow

I  am the custodian of knowledge I want you now to share
Use me for your skills exchange, swap all that you have spare

Let me help in your transition to a low-tech life
Bring your darning, knitting, yarning, bread, cheese and a knife
Show a student how to darn, learn to mend your boots
Swap recipes for local food, starting at the roots

I have the books and DVDs, the peacefulness and quiet
On the high street, not out of town. I’m not inciting riot
Just a quiet revolution, a reclaiming of our spaces
From supermarkets and the like to people who have faces

Oh let your lending library become the place to dare
To make and mend and do and think, to cook and eat and share

Make me this year’s Valentine. I will be yours forever
Make me your mending library. Let’s get ourselves together
The hardest times can bring good things and I have waited years
Come on, baby, thrill me, fill me, with the language of ideas