Monday, 1 June 2015

It's all sleight of hand

This week at Bread of Heron, the Heron Corn Mill's community bread group, the second group of bakers had a go at a simple sponge, and then made a choice from three different flat bread recipes.

Pitta bread

It seems to be just me that finds this impossibly hard to pull off. Here are yet more excellent pittas rolling off the production line in the shepherd's hut.

Dave Myers found that Egyptians eat 5 pitta-style flat breads a day. In this short extract from his TV programmethe skilled dough meisters are turning out a loaf every 2 seconds. That's rather quicker than us this week!


The oven in the shepherd's hut seemed to be a bit on the hot side again, but the results looked good, in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Somebody couldn't wait to taste theirs.

Some were rolled -

Some were stretched -

Some were round and some were square -

I don't think I've quite got the hang of this maneesh yet, and my za'atar is all over the place! Still, there is always next time.

Focaccia - all fingers and thumbs

You only need one good finger to make the characteristic holes in the top of a focaccia.

And one good thumb to spread the olive oil over the top.

Or you could use that one good finger again if you prefer.

Listen to your loaf

Have you ever put your ear to a loaf straight out of the oven? As it hits the cool air of the kitchen after the intense heat of the oven, it starts to crack. Sometimes, if you didn't remember to slash the loaf before it went in, you can watch it crack as well. This lovely sourdough loaf very soon started to look like an old oil painting, with big cracks all over the surface. I think this picture may finish up on the front of a tee shirt before too long!

In this short extract from Dave Myers' TV programme about Egypt, the sourdough has proved in the sun, forming quite a hard skin. The baker cuts through the skin at selected points, allowing some of the dough to expand more freely in the oven than the rest. The result is a very satisfyingly shaped bread. And listen to the crust cracking when he tastes it at the end of the clip!

Kneading technique

We are generally not too good at kneading in the Bread of Heron group, I think it is fair to say. But the Richard Bertinet technique shown in this fascinating video makes it look so very easy. I think everyone should have a go at learning how to do this. A couple of intrepid kneaders are already doing it in the shepherd's hut, and I tried to get some action shots this week. They were too quick for me I'm afraid, but at least you can get some sort  of idea of the effort that is going in!

And at the other end of the hut, some more traditional techniques are being used.

Not everyone is putting in the same amount of effort of course! There's always one.

When it comes to flat bread, technique is all, it seems to me. Dave Myers found there was more to it than he thought when he watched some ladies making large flat breads for lunch in his TV programme about Egypt.

When the waiting is over

Once again everybody produced some good looking bread at the end of the morning's work. And we had some fun, that's the main thing.

Notes from Palestine

Bouran tells me that bread is really a very fundamental part of the diet in Palestine.
"One of the striking facts I have come across regarding the annual average consumption of wheat per person in Palestine is a staggering 120 kilograms when it is only around 75 kilograms for the rest, thus making Palestine one of the highest consuming nations of wheat! One reason for that is that bread is a staple in Palestinian cuisine and hence is served at our table 3 times a day."
That is 330 g of flour per person per day! That's serious bread.

Bouran sent this picture of her traditional savoury bread -

"Fatayer zaatar are basically yeasted dough cut into small pieces then rolled up into a rectangular shape using some olive oil until they are pretty thin but can still hold the filling. Once this is done, the sheet is generously brushed with olive oil. After that, the herb mixture (fresh zaatar leaves, olive oil, spring onions (optional), salt and black pepper) is spread out in the middle of the rectangle, then and in pretty much the same way you fold the letter in an envelope, you bring one side of the sheet and put it on top of the filling, so it would look like you have 2/3 of the sheet now, and before bringing the other end on top of the first folding, you brush the first folding with olive oil, and scatter more filling if you wish. Now the other end is pulled over to sit on the first folding. Once done, you let the dough rest for a few minutes before you flatten it with a rolling pin but gently lest the filling spills out. Finally, brush the top of the bread with olive oil and decorate with some seeds. Let it rise for 15 minutes before baking or you can simply bake it straight away if you wish."

Fava beans

This is a traditional old bean both here and in Bouran's part of the world. Better known here as broad beans, it is apparently very good for the soil as well as the digestive system.

It can be quite expensive to buy fresh broad beans in their pods, although they can be very effective as a lovely starter just as they are. Frozen baby broad beans work very well indeed for cooking, and are reasonably easy to skin for things like broad bean pate. This is a very cost effective way to get young beans in good condition, because they are frozen very soon after picking, unlike some allegedly fresh specimens you see in the supermarket.

You can sometimes find dried broad beans in specialist food stores. I have had mine from a Turkish supermarket in Manchester. They are available whole - out of their pods obviously, but with their tough skins still on - or split, without the skins. The whole beans stay whole when you cook them, but the split ones break down very quickly into a thick paste. Some people find the skins pretty hard work to eat.

I think the following recipe from Bouran is using fresh beans, so the closest equivalent would be frozen baby beans, which you can find in the supermarket freezer section. It's interesting to see how she uses short grain rice. We tend to use short grain brown rice rather than the long grain brown rice, because the flavour is better. But it does take longer to cook. Over to Bouran for the recipe.

"Yes we do use broad beans a lot in our Palestinian cooking especially in winter/ spring when the beans are in season. One simple vegetarian recipe that I would like to share with you and Sue is cooking the broad beans with pilaf rice and season it with your favourite spices. You can do the whole cooking in one pot, which is good. You start off by chopping one onion and cooking it for 3-4 minutes in some olive oil and seasoning of your choice (coriander powder and cumin go well with beans, salt and black pepper). Then add say one cup of your broad beans to the onions and mix well on a medium heat for 3-4 minutes until they are coated with oil and soften a little bit. Then put in say half a cup of short grain or risotto rice and mix with the onions and beans until rice is coated with oil. Final step is to add water, and let the mix boil on high heat for one minute then lower the heat and let it cook for nearly 20-25 minutes on low heat. Just before scooping out we usually drizzle more olive oil on the pilaf and give it a quick stir or simply use a nub of butter to add extra richness to the pilaf. Scoop into serving dishes and decorate with fresh coriander leaves and some roasted nuts. This dish is usually served hot with a dollop of Greek yogurt! And Bon appetite!
Here I should make a note as we use short grain rice for making pilaf and we usually soak it in cool water for ten minutes before cooking Also the amount of water used to cook the rice varies from one type to the other so best thing is to stick with the instructions they come with each type as I am sure you know.

Fava beans or foul midammis as we call it in Arabic is another delicious and easy to prepare dish. Here in Palestine we prepare the foul midammis by soaking the beans overnight then we cook them until they are very soft. Then we mash the beans (it is fine if the texture is coarse) using a tiny bit of the water used in cooking the foul, lemon juice, crushed garlic, and salt. Some people also mix in a drizzle of olive oil or a tablespoon of Tahini paste and stir all the ingredients together. Once done scoop out on a serving dish, and decorate with a drizzle of olive oil, some chopped parsley, and tomato slices.  I have not suggested exact quantities for the ingredients as I usually taste and fix the taste up to my liking therefore you can bring out the flavors you like best by a few bud testing;-)"


Here is a short extract from Dave Myers' TV programme where he goes in search of "foul" for breakfast in Egypt.

Oatcake recipe

Back to England now. This recipe was demonstrated by Ivan Day in his talk on Cumbrian oatcakes in Kendal recently. It looked pretty straightforward, so I decided to give it a go, and it turns out to be as easy as making pancakes.

Ivan used 4 ounces of oatmeal, a pinch of salt and some yeast, mixed with water to a thickish batter. This sounds very vague, but in fact after the yeast has worked for an hour or so, you will find the batter has set. You will need to adjust the consistency by adding as much water as it takes to get back to a pouring batter.

I measured "a pinch" and using index finger and thumb it weighed about a gramme. With two fingers and a thumb, it weighed 2.3 grammes. So for my first attempt I used 125 g of fine oatmeal and a half teaspoon of salt (2.5 g). This was too much, so I tried again with 250 g fine oatmeal, 2.5 g of salt and 5 g of yeast. That was about right, and I suggest you experiment, starting with around that amount of salt, to see what you like. Ivan said it was important to include salt or the cakes would really taste of nothing. 250 g made about 6 or 7 medium sized round cakes - about 12 cm diameter.

My mistake was to underestimate the tendency of the oatmeal to develop lumps. I would recommend making quite a loose batter at first, and giving it a really good whizz with a whip to get out any lumps. Then after you let the yeast work, add quite a lot more water and whizz again for lumps.

Ivan rubbed his girdle with bee's wax. Sounds nasty, but you really don't need to add oil as you would for frying pancakes. Just a half a teaspoonful of oil tilted round the pan before frying the first cake, and nothing for subsequent cakes. You need to tilt the pan to encourage the batter to spread, otherwise you will get a small thick cake, which is not what you want, really. As with pancakes, the first one is the hardest to control.

Very soon after the batter hits the pan, any lumps that you missed will puff up in the pan, but just leave them alone or you will mess the cake up. Bubbles also will rise to the surface as the batter heats up. If you haven't convinced the the batter to spread by then, you're too late, but don't worry.

Cook the cake for a couple of minutes on each side, on a medium heat. It's definitely slower to cook these than to cook pancakes, and you will only get a light browning, not a general golden finish. Don't try to move the cake around until it is well set on the first side, and then you should be able to turn it over with a fish slice or similar, without tossing it. It's a bit too solid for tossing.

You can allow the cakes to cool, or eat them straight away. You can stack them and they won't stick. And you can fold them in half and put them in a bag to keep fresh, although you should make sure they have had a good chance to dry out and give off any excess steam first.

When you come back to them later - days later possibly - you will want to heat them through, either dry in the frying pan, or on top of the toaster while you are making toast. If you do it that way you will see them steaming, and of course you need to keep an eye on them as they warm through.

You can treat these just like Staffordshire oatcakes, which I have seen in a shop in Leek being sprinkled with cheese and chopped cooked bacon.

They are heated in the pan until the cheese melts, then rolled up and served as a tasty snack. They are very good on their own though. And Mrs T swears by them with bananas. She's like that.