Life is uncertain. Eat Dessert first.

Breads and Loafs


Two recipes in a row from the Great British Bake Off – How To Bake book! This recipe for home-made focaccia is actually quite straight-forward, but benefits from having reassuringly detailed instructions in the book, and also being able to check the video clip online of Paul Hollywood making it on the show itself.

As advised on the show, and reiterated in the book, this is a really wet dough, and handling it is messy. Make sure to add the water gradually, and be sure to add all of the water. Because you are adding cold water, the dough will be slower to rise,  but it will increase by three to four times it’s original size, so make sure you let it rise in a bowl that will be big enough!

Before you bake this bread you can add olives, sun-dried tomatoes, pancetta etc to the dough. I left mine plain and just drizzled some basil oil over it when it was cooked. The following quantities will make two large loaves.


500g strong white bread flour

10g crushed sea salt flakes

2 x 7g sachets fast-action dried yeast, or 18g fresh yeast

2 tablespoons olive oil (plus extra for drizzling)

fine sea salt, for sprinkling

2 baking trays, about 30x20cm, lined with baking paper

Put the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and stir in the dried yeast. Make a well in the centre and add the olive oil and 300ml cool water. (If using fresh yeast, crumble it into the water and mix together, then make a well in the flour and pour in the yeast liquid and oil).

Gradually mix the flour into the liquid using a wooden spoon or your hand to form a rough dough. Gently massage the dough in the bowl for 5 minutes, very slowly mixing in about 100ml more cool water. The dough will have a wet consistency.

Work the dough in the bowl for about 5 minutes – first stretch the dough by pulling on one side using your fingers and palms of your hand. Then fold the stretched dough into the centre. Turn the bowl 80 degrees and repeat the stretching and folding process.

When the 5 minutes is up, tip the dough onto a well-oiled worktop. Knead using your knuckles and palms for 5 minutes, pushing the dough away from you and then folding it back on itself.

Oil the bowl and return the dough to it. Cover with a snap-on lid or cling-film. Leave to rise at room temperature for about one and a half hours or until increased to about four times its original size.

Gently tip the dough onto a lightly floured worktop, trying to keep as much air as possible in the dough. Divide the dough in half. Put one half in each baking tray and press out gently, pushing the dough into the corner of the tray.

Leave the shaped dough to rise, uncovered, at room temperature for about 1 hour or until at least doubled in size. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 220degC. Drizzle a little olive oil evenly over the dough.

Sprinkle with fine sea salt, then bake for 20 to 25 minutes: check that the focaccia is cooked by tipping it out of the tray – the underside should be browned. Sprinkle the focaccia with a little more olive oil and serve hot, or allow to cool and serve the next day.



Bread of the Week – Irish Soda Bread

A traditional Irish Soda breads is one of the simplest breads to bake. It’s important to measure the bread soda meticulously – use a knife to level off the spoon if you don’t own measuring spoons.The bread soda acts as the raising agent by reacting with the lactic acid in the milk to produce CO2, which raises the bread. Like the Basic White Yeast Bread from last week, this recipe comes from the November 2011 issue of Food & Wine Magazine.

Preheat the oven to 185degC. Sieve 450g plain flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar, 2 tsp bread soda and 2 tsp cream of tartar into a large bowl.

Cut 50g chilled butter into small cubes, then rub into the flour for about a minute. Pour in 350ml buttermilk to make a soft dough. If the dough is a little dry, add more buttermilk (or a sprinkle of flour if too wet).

Put the dough on a lightly greased and floured baking tray and shape into a large round. Score the top of the dough with a cross. Dust with a little flour and bake for 40 minutes until golden brown. To check if the bread is done, tap it on the base. If it sounds hollow, it’s ready.

Pumpkin and Rosemary Muffins

These savoury muffins were a flavoursome accompaniment to the Pumpkin and Chilli Soup, as well as being an economic solution to using up leftover pumpkin at Hallowe’en! The baking paper cases can be a bit fiddly, but you can just use normal muffin cases if you prefer. Lorraine Pascale does use the word “scrumbunctiousness” to describe these in her Baking Made Easy book, which is a pretty good point of reference for their moist, light texture.

Preheat the oven to 200degC. Cut out 12 squares of baking paper, approx 14x14cm each. Oil the muffin tin and push the squares down into each hole so the paper sticks up. The squares of paper have a habit of popping up out of the holes, which is OK for now as once the muffin mixture is spooned in the squares will stay down.

In a large bowl, sift 180g self-raising flour, 130g wholemeal flour, 1 tsp baking powder and half a tsp of bicarbonate of soda together, then stir in a good pinch of salt and 3 sprigs of rosemary, very finely chopped. Put aside the wholemeal husks that will be left in sieve, as these will be sprinkled over the top of the muffins.

In a medium bowl, mix 160g of cooked pumpkin (cut into .5cm dice), 2 lightly beaten eggs, 100ml plain yoghurt, 275ml milk, 3 big squidges of honey and 60ml vegetable oil – stir well until they are all combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and, using a large spoon and about 8 turns, mix all the ingredients together. It does not take much to over-mix muffins at this stage and although the end result will still taste sublime the texture will not be as tender. Leave the mixture to stand for 5 minutes, then spoon into the paper cases.

Sprinkle the leftover wholegrain flour, 80g of diced pumpkin, and a few pumpkin seeds over the muffins. Bake in the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the muffins are risen and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Bread of the Week – Plain White Loaf

Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to attempt a different type of bread each week. I’ve started off with a basic white yeast bread. This simple recipe can be used as the basis for many variations – you could add chopped onions and bacon to the wet ingredients, or try basil pesto with sun-dried tomatoes and Parmesan cheese. This recipe is part of a series on baking, the first part of which appears in the November issue of Food & Wine Magazine.

Preheat the oven to 200degC.

Sieve 450g strong white flour, 1 level tsp salt and 1 level tsp sugar into a large bowl. Stir 1 sachet of fast acting dried yeast into 300ml warm water and 2 tblsp olive oil. Make a well in the middle of the flour, then pour in the liquid. Mix until a soft dough is formed.

Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for five minutes until it is smooth. Put the dough into a greased bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to prove in a warm area until doubled in size. This will take about an hour.

Turn out the dough onto a very lightly floured surface.

To make loaves: Simply divide the dough in half, and place in two 2lb loaf tins. Mix an egg yolk with a tblsp of water together in a small bowl, then brush over the bread and sprinkle with poppy seeds. Cover with clingfilm, leave in warm place and allow to double in size. Cook in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes until the bread is golden brown. Remove the bread from the tin and tap the base to check if it is cooked through (it should sound hollow). If not, just return to the oven for five or ten minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

To make a plait: Divide the dough into three equal pieces. Roll each piece into a sausage shape on a lightly floured surface. Make sure they are the same size. Pinch the three pieces together at one end, then plait them and pinch the end together. Transfer onto a baking tray, and glaze as per the loaves. Cover with clingfilm, and all to prove in a warm area for 30 minutes. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes.

APPLE WEEK! – Wednesday: Nutty Apple Loaf

The combination of apple, nuts and chocolate give an amazing texture to this fantastically autumnal loaf from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook.

Cream 175g unsalted butter (at room temperature) with 140g soft light brown sugar and 2 tbsp strawberry jam until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in 2 eggs. Sift together 140g plain flour, 1 tbsp baking powder and 1 tsp ground cinnamon in a separate bowl, then beat into the butter mixture. Stir in 100g shelled mixed nuts, 50g roughly chopped dark chocolate and 2 roughly chopped (peeled and cored) apples. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight if possible.

Preheat the oven to 170degC. Pour the mixture into a greased and floured loaf tin, and smooth the top with a palette knife. Bake in the preheated oven for 50-60 minutes, or until brown and the sponge feels firm to the touch. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean (except for a little bit of melted chocolate). Leave the cake to cool slightly in the tin before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Private Dining Event – menu, photos and wine notes

All the courses served at this meal for ten people were inspired by recipes from both Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham and The French Laundry in California. The wines were matched with each course by The Corkscrew Wine Merchants on Chatham Street. As always their research and attention to detail ensured that each wine was the perfect compliment to the food being served (where possible I have linked the wine to their online store).

Upon arrival guests were poured a glass of Dominio de la Vega Cava while they waited to be seated.   The sparkling wine accompanied the first course: A Puree of Garden Pea Soup with Truffle Oil, topped with a Parmesan Crisp “lid”, and served with Guinness and Walnut Bread (photos to right show the soup with and without the “lid”).

The next course was a Salad of Petite Summer Tomatoes on a Tomato Coulis, and a Brioche Crouton topped with Vine-ripened Tomato Sorbet and a Garlic Tuile, with Basil Oil Garnish. Made entirely from fruit grown in the Pieropan family vineyard (situated in the Soave Classic Zone in Italy), the 2009 Pieropan Soave had a great depth of fruit on the palate and a long length that was a perfect match for the three different types of tomato served in this course (the photos to the left show it with and without the Garlic Tuile).

The main course consisted of Crisp Belly of Pork with Cauliflower Puree, Tenderheart Brocolli, Morels and Pork Sauce. I needed a wine with a strong depth of flavours and a fine acidity, so I served a 2007 Quinta do Perdigao from Portugal, which balances Tempranillo’s red berry fruits with slight with slight balsamic notes, and the black fruits delivered by the Touriga Nacional.

For dessert I served a Chocolate and Coriander Tart with Lexia Raisin Ice-Cream. Lexia Raisins are very difficult to track down at this time of year (I think I bought the last packet in Dublin!) but they are so much more juicy and succulent then normal raisins, especially when soaked first in a rum syrup to let them swell up before adding to the churned ice-cream. Made from low-yielding Grenache grapes, the 2008 Pietru Geraud Banyuls Rimage I served with this course has a powerful and intense nose of wild strawberry and raspberry, with a rich, velvety palate.

To finish the meal, the cheese course consisted of slices of Mature Comte, served over a Spiced Carrot Salad on a Golden Raisin Puree, alongside a Carrot Powder. The Comte was 16-24 months matured, and the Spiced Carrot Salad included an intense Carrot Reduction. The wine to accompany this dish is a 1997 Castelhinho LBV Port, a traditional LBV who’s palate is dense, pleasingly sweet and extremely long.

Home-made Brioche; Grilled Brioche Chocolate Sandwiches

A dish I am planning for the end of the week has brioche as one it’s main ingredients, so I experimented with a brioche recipe over the weekend to make sure I can get it right when I need to make it again.

Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course cookbook is my go-to book whenever I need a straight-forward recipe. Using her ingredients and instructions as a template, I dissolved 7g dried yeast with 25g caster sugar in 30ml of tepid water. I added 2 beaten eggs and poured everything into the mixing bowl of an electric mixer. I sieved in 225g of strong white flour and a pinch of salt, and mixed it to a stiff dough with the dough hook on the mixer. When it was smooth I added 112g of soft unsalted butter, in small pieces bit by bit, until it was consistently mixed. It was quick sticky at this stage, and I placed it in an oiled bowl overnight in the fridge.

Traditionally brioche is baked in fluted tins, but I was making mine in a standard loaf tin. I preheated the oven to 180degC and lightly kneaded the dough. I formed it into a rough rectangle and put it into the well-buttered loaf tin, brushing it with a beaten egg. It needs to be left somewhere warm to prove until double in size. Once it has done this gently brush the loaf again with the egg wash and cook in the oven for about half an hour, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

While the brioche is at it’s tastiest served freshly warm with butter and jam, the following day I cut the leftovers into slices, and grated a 100g bar of chocolate between three of the slices. I put another slice on top of the chocolate to form a sandwich, and grilled them on a hot griddle pan on both sides until the chocolate had melted. You need to be careful turning the sandwich halfway as the unmelted chocolate will fall out the side!