Archives for category: Bread

As many people know, I’m a HUGE fan of The Great British Bake-off, which is now in it’s fourth season here in the UK.  I understand that one of the judges went to the States to try to replicate the program there (The American Baking Competition – they didn’t really put a lot of time into the name, did they) … no surprise that, with that name, it didn’t really take off.  The whole premise is about home baking and traditional cooking with various themes each week like cakes, pies, bread, etc.

A couple of weeks ago, GBBO did their bread episode and I was positively inspired by their “technical challenge” which was English muffins.  When is the last time you actually even thought about English Muffins?  You pop down to the grocery and mindlessly throw a package of Thomas’s in your basket.  Or you go out for brunch and order eggs Benedict and there it is, the trusty, chewy base.  It adds a little texture, but, let’s be honest, it doesn’t stand up and take center stage.

Consequently, when you think about making bread, English Muffins aren’t really the first thing that come to mind.  In fact, I can honestly say that, until I watched it on that episode, I never even thought about how they were made.  Griddles!  Who knew?  A nice griddle or non-stick pan on medium-low heat is how you get that crispy top and bottom with the nice soft middle.  It was a revelation, I tell ya!

I will tell you this – this is one of those recipes that really benefits from a standing mixer.  Yes, you can mix and knead by hand, but it is an enriched dough, so is a little sticky, making kneading SUCH a hassle when a dough hook does just as well!  If you DO decide to try this by hand, use oil on the work surface rather than flour – you don’t want to toughen the dough.

As with all bread recipes, the dry ingredients are in metric weight rather than volume … if you haven’t bought a digital scale, yet, what are you waiting for!  BUY ONE!!

English Muffins

  • 300 g bread flour
  • 6 g salt
  • 6 g instant yeast
  • 15 g sugar
  • 1 Tbsp butter, soft
  • 2/3 cup whole milk, warmed to body temperature
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • semolina or fine cornmeal for dusting

In the bowl of a standing mixer, add the flour, salt, yeast, sugar and butter and start on low.  Slowly add the milk and egg and mix  thoroughly.  Once fully incorporated, speed up the machine a notch or two to really get the gluten working and let it go for about ten minutes.  As stated above, because this is an enriched dough, it’s going to be a bit stickier than your traditional bread dough, so be patient as the machine does the work.  Stop occasionally to make sure everything is being mixed and kneaded.  By the time ten minutes is up, you’ll feel the difference from how it was at the start – the gluten will give it a good body, but it will still be a soft dough.

Oil a large bowl and put the dough in it to rise for an hour or so until it’s doubled in size.  Once it’s finished, tip the dough out onto a lightly oiled surface and press or roll out to about 1/2″ thickness.  Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit and rest for about 10 minutes.  While it’s resting, dust a large tray with the semolina or cornmeal.

Finally, use a 3″ round (not fluted) cutter to cut the dough into nice rounds and place them on the prepared tray by dipping the dough into it on one side and moving around a bit to make sure it’s evenly covered, before flipping over and doing the same on the other side.  When they’ve all been dusted, they need to sit for about 30 minutes for their second proofing.

During their two to three minutes of proving, heat a non-stick skillet or pan over medium-low heat.  No butter.  No oil.  Just dry heat.  Put the muffins in without overcrowding the pan and cook them about five minutes per side.  Then, slice and eat, baby!  Loveliness!

English muffins1 English muffins2 English Muffins3


Oh, how I love bread.  I wish I could say that it was a casual thing – just a fling and it doesn’t really mean anything.  But, no.  My love of bread is a deep, abiding, spiritual thing.  No passing fancy, here.

Which is why I respect a good loaf, roll, or flatbread.  Why I hold in high esteem anyone who can take water, flour and yeast and turn it into something both beautiful to behold and satisfying to chew.  And, why I can’t just foist making bread off onto some machine that will take up valuable counter space and deprive me of actually getting my hands in and feeling the bread develop.

Because, there really is something to the art of kneading bread and feeling it go from being shaggy and sticky to something smooth and elastic.  Then, watching the yeasts in action as the bread goes through its first rise – it’s magical stuff even if you know the science behind every step of the process.

This recipe comes from Paul Hollywood’s cookbook, How to Bake, and is an absolute doddle to make.  Maneesh is somewhere in the hinterland between a flatbread and focaccia and is topped with one of my favorite middle-eastern spice/herb mixtures, za’atar.  Now, if you can’t find za’atar at your local grocery, you can easily order it online or simply make it yourself.  Whatever you choose, make sure you order or make plenty, because this recipe will require about 6-7 tablespoons of it.

As always, because this is a bread recipe, the measurements are in weight not volume – if you haven’t bought yourself a digital scale, this one is very similar to mine and does an excellent job.


  • 500 g bread flour
  • 10 g salt
  • 10 g instant yeast
  • 25 g sugar
  • 320 ml warm water (about 1 1/3 cup water)
  • 6-7 Tbsp za’atar
  • olive oil

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix the flour, salt, yeast and sugar before slowly adding the warm water.  When the dough comes together (it should feel slightly tacky, but not sticky), remove it from the bowl and prepare to knead.  On a clean counter, drizzle about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and use your hands to smooth on the counter.  Tip the bread onto the oiled counter and knead for 10 minutes by using the heel of one hand to stretch the bread while using the fingers of your other hand to hold the bread steady.  Gently roll the bread back and repeat, occasionally turning the bread by 90 degrees.  You’ll feel the dough slowly get smoother and more springy.  When you’ve hit the 10-minute mark, test the bread by poking it gently and seeing if the dimple springs back – if it does, you’re ready to let the bread rest and rise.  Lightly oil a bowl and turn the dough in the oil to make sure it’s coated on all sides, then cover the bowl in plastic wrap and let it sit for about an hour, or until doubled in size.  In a small bowl, mix the za’atar with just enough olive oil to form a nice paste and let sit while the bread does its thing.

Preheat the oven to 425F and prepare two baking pans by lining with parchment

Once the dough is done rising, tip it out on a clean (not oiled) counter then do something completely insane – knock out as much air as possible by kneading for 2-3 minutes.  When you’re done, divide the bread into 4 and either form into a round (which I never do) or just flatten it into whatever shape it happens to form (my usual MO).  Divide the za’atar paste among the 4 loaves and use the back of a spoon to spread evenly, slightly pressing into the dough.

Maneesh - uncooked

Let the dough sit for about 20-25 minutes then bake for 12-13 minutes.  Let cool about 10 minutes or so before serving with hummus, baba ganouj, barbecue or even a nice tagine … totally yum!!

Maneesh - cooked



Scones are one of my absolute favorite foods.  I think that’s because it’s one of those British foods that synchronizes perfectly with my Southern heritage!  No, you don’t serve these with sausage patties and red-eye gravy (which I never particularly liked, anyway).  And, for heaven’s sake, you definitely don’t have these with your morning coffee (yeah, Starbucks, I’m looking at you!).

No, scones are an afternoon pick-me-up, at minimum.  Done indulgently, they’re an afternoon feast!  On the weekend, there is nothing the mister and I love quite so much as going out for afternoon tea with scones, sandwiches and tiny cakes.  Add a couple of newspapers and we can while away a couple of hours, refilling our tea pots and nibbling on tasty treats.

I’ve been working on this recipe for a while, trying to make a scone that had a little bit of holiday spice without turning into a ginger- or cinnamon-fest.  Which is why I love mixed spice – it has a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg in it, but has an earthiness that keeps it from tasting like apple pie spices.  These scones are mildly spiced for a little bit of scent.  Light and fluffy, you can feel free to indulge in two … or three … without feeling like you have a big bread brick in your stomach.

Find yourself some Cornish clotted cream retailers online – trust me on this, it’s not a good scone without dollops of clotted cream – and the best strawberry jam you can find.  Then dive in!!  Make ahead and treat yourself following an afternoon spent shopping or wrapping.

Mildly Spiced Holiday Scones

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice (heaping half-teaspoon)
  • 5 1/2 oz. chilled butter, cubed
  • 1 handful currants, golden raisins or a mixture of both
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk – seriously, do get some buttermilk for this recipe – it makes all the difference
  • 2 eggs
  • a dash of milk

Preheat oven to 425 F and prepare a cookie sheet by lining it with a sheet of parchment paper.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and mixed spice to sift.  Add the chilled butter and pulse until thoroughly combined and you can see the flour has turned into pea-size bits.  Pour into a large mixing bowl and toss with the raisins and/or currants, then form a well for the wet ingredients.  In a 2-cup measuring pitcher, measure out the buttermilk, then add the eggs and use a fork to blend together before pouring into the wet ingredients.  Toss and mix until thoroughly combined, but try not to overwork the flour – you don’t want to develop the gluten, you want to keep it nice and light.  The final mixture will be a little crumbly, but will hold together when you squeeze it.  Dust your work surface with a little flour, then tip out the dough and form into a disc.  Use your rolling pin to smooth it out into a 1″ thick disc, then use your hands to smooth the edges.

Use a 2″ fluted cutter to cut out your scones and line them up on the baking sheet, about an inch apart.  Try to be as efficient with the dough as you can so that you don’t have to work it too much (there are some bakers who don’t like to reform the scraps, but I say “waste not, want not”).  Gently squeeze the scraps together, flatten and cut until you’ve used all your dough.

Lastly, pour a couple of tablespoons of milk into the same pitcher you used for the buttermilk, swish around with a pastry brush and brush the tops of the scones, then pop into the oven for  20 minutes until lightly golden on top.

Serve warm with clotted cream and jam.

Mildly Spiced Holiday Scones scones with jam

It’s a gorgeous sunny Sunday afternoon and I’ve been catching up on episodes of The Great British Bake-off.  For those of you who may not know the program, it’s a contest broadcast on BBC2 where a field of 12 home bakers face off against each other each week in different types of baking challenges, with the field narrowing as one is sent off every week.  And the challenges are amazing.  The first episode of this season was to make a celebration cake – but, not just any celebration cake – the cake should have a pattern on the inside when you cut it, as well as one decorated on the outside.

The second episode was bread baking, so that got me thinking about one of my favorite kinds of sandwich bread, ciabatta, so I thought I’d make that for today’s post.

Ciabatta is Italian “slipper bread”, named after it’s long, oval shape – it has a nice crisp crust and big air holes on the inside.  While this is a bread that you can make by hand, I really recommend a standing mixer because it is a very wet, sticky dough.  It is equally lovely as a plain dough as it would be if you added a tsp of freshly chopped rosemary and a handful of chopped olives.

As always, because this is a bread recipe, all measurements are by weight and in metric.


  • 500 g bread flour (it has a higher gluten level, so don’t substitute all-purpose flour)
  • 7 g salt
  • 10 g instant yeast
  • 400 ml water (divided)
  • 30 ml olive oil

Place the flour, salt and yeast the bowl of your mixer, fitted with a dough hook.  Start the machine on the lowest speed to mix them together while you measure the liquid.  Mix the 30 ml of olive oil with 300 ml of warm water, then slowly add to the flour.  Let the dough come together, then continue to mix on low speed for another five minutes.

Now, the dough at this stage is going to be exactly what you think bread dough should be – a nice ball shape that is smooth and soft to touch – so, adding the last 100 ml of water probably doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.  But, that’s exactly what you’re going to do.  And here’s the thing – you need to add it very … VERY … slowly.  The dough is going to be resistant to absorbing the water, so you should add it a little at a time or it will slop over the sides.  Trust me, I learned this from experience.  The final dough will not be formed and it will be massively sticky, which is why doing this by hand would be a nightmare.  Once all the water has been added, let it continue to run on the low speed for another eight minutes and this is the resulting batter (if you want to add rosemary and olives, add them now):

Once the eight minutes of kneading is finished, tip the batter into a large plastic tupperware container that’s been oiled with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, scraping the bowl thoroughly.  Let it rise for 90 minutes until doubled in size.

About now, you need to preheat the oven to 450 F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Unlike other breads, you don’t want to punch this dough down – you want to retain as much air as possible.  So very gently, tip out the dough onto a well-dusted work surface, then gently, turn over so that both sides are coated in flour.  Divide the dough into four equal pieces, and place onto a the lined baking sheets, gently pulling the dough into a rectangular shape.  Dust lightly with a last bit of flour, then let them rise for a final 15 minutes before popping into the hot oven to bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

They come out golden and totally yum!  Perfect for steak sammiches with a little grain mustard and arugula!!  Or, split and toast or grill it and serve with tomatoes and goats cheese.

What an amazing weekend it has been!  Actually, I’ll go even farther than that – what a WEEK!!  But, then, I’m an Olympics addict, so every four years, I pretty much geek out on sports.  Our household TV is usually on anything BUT athletics, but for two weeks out of every 208, I go completely insane and inhale every bit of swimming, track and field, rowing, gymnastics and equestrian action I possibly can.  And, of course, as an American living in the UK, I feel lucky to have two teams to cheer for.

My poor mister.  The Olympics isn’t something that he’d set out to watch, but he sits and watches it with me .. and then, I saw him get excited with Mo Farah’s gold medal run last night, so I think he’s starting to get into it, too.  Add Jessica Ennis’s gold for the heptathlon, numerous medals for Team GB in rowing and the outstanding swimming at the aquatics center and you’re talking about an amazing week of athletics.  I really couldn’t be prouder of both my countries.

So, anyway, given last night’s three gold medals in track and field (out of the total of six golds plus one heartbreaking silver in rowing), I decided to have a little Team GB celebration of my own today and break out the scones with clotted cream and jam.  I also decided to shake things up a bit and play with the method of assembling – and, I have to say, the results would have made the judges smile.

Oh, and one more thing for my American friends:  scones are not a breakfast treat, despite what certain coffee chains have sold you.  They are for the afternoon with a nice cup of tea, to be served with clotted cream or lemon curd and jam. This has been a public service announcement in my bid to help transatlantic relations.

I’ve included measurements in both weight and volume below – as this is a bread, I recommend that you invest in a digital scale and do this by weight for better accuracy.  The recipe is based on one from the silver fox, himself, Paul Hollywood.


  • 500 g — 2 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 2 large eggs (plus one for the egg wash)
  • 75 g — 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 30 g — 2 rounded Tbsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 75 g — 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, very cold
  • 230 ml — 1 cup milk
  • good handful of golden raisins

Preheat the oven to 425 F and line a baking tray with parchment powder.

In the bowl of a food processor, quickly blitz the flour with the baking powder, salt and sugar to give it a quick sift.  Add the cold butter and pulse a few times until it’s fully incorporated into the flour.  Add the two eggs and milk, then give it a couple of quick pulses to begin bringing it together before you pour the lot into a large bowl with the raisins.  Gently mix with a wooden spoon, then knead to bring everything together, but don’t overwork it.  Just so you know, the dough will be sticky – not wet, but definitely sticky.  Dust your work surface well and tip the bread out, folding it a little and turning it over a couple of times, then pat it down to about 2″ thick (if the top is tacky, dust it lightly with flour).  Use a 3″ cutter to cut out your shapes and place them on your prepared tray with about an inch in between.

Now, some people say that you shouldn’t try to reuse the scraps, but I hate waste – so, gently bring them together and pat them into  2″ depth then continue to cut out your shapes until you’ve used everything.  These may turn out a little raggedy, so set them aside as a chef’s treat if you don’t want to serve them (hey, they’re all good eating, right?)

Anyway, lightly beat an egg with a dash of milk, then use a pastry brush to across the top of the scones, being careful not to let the egg wash to go down the sides.  Pop them in the oven and bake for 15 minutes until golden brown on top.  Serve warm but not hot out of the oven.

Good Sunday morning!!

It’s the start of the second full day of the London 2012 Olympics and I’ve got a pot of coffee brewed, ready to settle in for a morning of swimming (go Rebecca Addlington!) and men’s volleyball.  The men’s swimming absolutely blew me away yesterday with Ryan Lochte taking the Men’s 400 IM.  I’m hoping that Michael Phelps has a better day in the pool and a better Games, overall. And the women’s soccer – the first UK women’s Olympic soccer team nailed their match against Cameroon yesterday as did the US team against Columbia – both of them with a score of 3-0.  So, yes, I’m cheering for both the Team USA and Team GB, my adopted home.

To celebrate the opening ceremony on Friday, I baked two Summertime Cakes to take to the office as a treat for my company.  A lot of my colleagues have been working their cotton socks off to get ready for the launch of the Games, so I wanted to make something a little celebratory.  Of course, the result is leftover fruit – in this case, a couple of nectarines and some raspberries.  And, as everyone knows, raspberries can go from being lovely and bright and juicy one day to grey and furry the next, the little bastards.  So, before my fridge started looking like an Alexander Fleming experiment gone wrong, I thought I’d use them up.

I had raspberries and nectarines – if you have blueberries, peaches, or strawberries, feel free to substitute them, instead. That’s the fun thing with this kind of recipe – the base of it is a lovely, light and refreshing flavor that complements pretty much any summer fruit.  This makes two dozen muffins, so if you are just feeding the family, it’s easy to halve (or not!).

Midsummer Madness Muffins

  • 1 1/3  cup granulated sugar
  • 2 lemons, zest and juice
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 4 eggs
  • 8 oz butter, melted
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 nectarines (or peaches or even a few plums), pitted and diced into 1/2″ dice
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups berries

Preheat oven to 400 F and prepare two dozen muffin cups with paper liners.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the sugar with the zest of two lemons until it’s nice and light and lemony.  Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and mix until thoroughly combined, then pour into a large, wide bowl.

In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients – the melted butter, yogurt, eggs, lemon juice and vanilla extract, using a whisk to blend until smooth.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and give a couple of stirs before adding the fruit.  Mix only until there is still just a trace of dry ingredients left – it is absolutely crucial that you don’t overmix so that your muffins have a large, irregular crumb.  Put a huge, heaping tablespoon of batter into each muffin cup – it should be about 3/4 full – then pop into the oven and bake about 20 minutes until golden on top.

NOTE:  I know that there are some popular TV chefs who say that you can mix everything before you go to bed, then just pour the batter in the cups and bake in the morning.  Now, I realize that they have a TV show and I don’t, but chemistry is chemistry, regardless of who you are – and the baking powder starts reacting the minute it makes contact with the wet ingredients.  So, if you’d like to do as much prep as possible before you go to bed, measure and mix the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients, but don’t mix them together (hey, you’ll need something to do while the oven is heating, anyway).  Your family will thank you for lighter and fluffier muffins.

Midsummer madness muffins in the early morning light

I dedicate today’s blog post to one of my oldest friends, Deni.  I’ve known her since we were in university then we worked just down the hall from each other in our first “real” jobs out of college.  She nursed me through a broken heart.  She cheered me on when I moved to Washington, DC.

She has amazing taste in music and films (in fact, her love of imported movies makes my taste look rather mundane).  And, outside of Darcy Bussell, there is probably no one else who knows more about dance.  She’s always worked in the issues she believes in, putting all her energies towards improving the lives of women around the world.  She’s truly an inspiration.

In fact, the only negative thing I can say about her is that she doesn’t like tomatoes.  I know!  Right?  But, alas, no one is perfect and we tolerate other’s foibles as best we can.  But, no tomatoes … (sigh) … how do these kinds of things happen???  So, on occasion, I like to post vegetarian recipes that are tomato-free with her in mind, and this is one of my favorites.

Roasted Eggplant and Asparagus Pizza

This recipe will make 2 large pizzas with a medium crust or 3 medium pizzas with a thin crust

Pizza Crust

  • 1/4 cup whole wheat bread flour
  • 3 1/2 cups regular bread flour
  • 2 tsp yeast
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp fresh rosemary chopped as small as possible
  • 1 2/3 cup warm water
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil plus more to line bowl
  • 4 medium sized eggplants, halved lengthwise
  • garlic-infused olive oil
  • sea salt and pepper
  • 8 stalks of thick asparagus, shaved with a Y-shaped vegetable peeler
  • 1/2 orange bell pepper, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 block feta cheese, crumbled
  • drizzle good quality olive oil

In the bowl of a standing mixer fixed with a dough hook, put all the dry ingredients in and stir on low to combine, then slowly pour in the water and olive oil.  Continue to use the mixer to knead the dough for at least another 10 minutes.  The dough should be sticky, but not too wet.  If it feels wet, add a teaspoon of breadflour and knead in thoroughly.  When it’s done kneading, lift it out of the bowl, then drizzle with a good glug of oil, then rub around before putting the dough back in and turning to coat.  Let rise for two hours.

While the dough is rising, prepare your toppings.  Preheat the oven to 400 and line a rimmed baking tray with aluminum foil.  Drizzle the foil with a good few glugs of garlic oil, then sprinkle sea salt and freshly ground black pepper onto the oil.  Place the halved eggplant onto the oil, cut-side down and bake for about 45 minutes – the eggplant will absorb the oil and seasonings and be all squidgy when finished.  Let it cool until you can handle it, then gently scrape out of the charred skin into a blender and puree until smooth.  Add a little extra oil and taste for seasoning.

If you have a pizza stone, throw it in the oven and raise the temperature of the oven as high as it will go.  Once the dough is finished rising, divide it into however many pizzas you’re making and spread out onto pizza pans fairly thinly, then prebake for about 5-7 minutes so that you can have the crispiest crust possible.  Remove from the oven, then spread with the eggplant puree and scatter with the asparagus ribbons, pepper, onion and feta, then drizzle with olive oil and place back in the oven to cook for about 10 minutes until cooked.

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