Archives for posts with tag: 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



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.

I haven’t made bread in AGES!  Last year, my New Year’s Resolution was to make a loaf every week –  then I got a new job and that resolution went right out the window.  We do the occasional pizza night with fresh homemade dough, but making loaves of bread just hasn’t happened as much as I would like.

So, I thought last night would be a good time to make a big batch of focaccia and put together a nice “picnic” dinner for the mister – focaccia, hummus, stuffed cherry peppers, falafel, cold roast turkey.  It’s a great way to crash out on a Saturday night with a good show or DVD (we caught up on one of my new favorite shows, “Suits”) – you’ve baked something nice, but without a lot of effort.

And I also decided to make one other change – since focaccia dough is a little on the sticky side, I decided to throw on the dough hook and make it with my mixer instead of by hand.  WHAT a difference!  Because I wasn’t wrestling with it on the counter, I didn’t add too much extra flour and ruin the texture.  So, pull out that KitchenAid, put it on the first setting and get going!  As usual, I measure the flour in metric weight as it’s the most accurate way to make bread – it’s a good habit to get into – and digital scales are cheap!

Onion Focaccia

  • 600 g bread flour
  • 1 heaping Tbsp instant / fast-acting yeast
  • 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup + 2 Tbsp warm water
  • 5 medium red onions, trimmed, peeled and sliced to 1/8″ thickness
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper

Put the flour, sugar, salt and yeast into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook and start it going on the lowest settings.  Use a two-cup measuring jug to first measure out the olive oil, then add the warm water, then slowly drizzle into flour mixture, letting the dough come together. Keeping the mixer on low, knead the bread for 10-12 minutes – every three minutes or so, pull the dough off the hook and restart it to make sure the bread is getting a really good knead.  The dough should spring back when you press it and feel soft and pillow-y, with only a little bit of tackiness.  Lightly oil a big bowl then add the bread, turning to coat in the oil, cover with plastic wrap and let the bread rise for 45 minutes to an hour, until doubled.

Now then.  While the dough is rising, make the onion topping.  Heat the widest pan you have over a low heat and pour in a good couple of glugs of oil.  Add the sliced onions, thyme, sugar and balsamic vinegar and stir well to combine.  Use a piece of foil to mostly cover the pan (there should be a few vents on the side to release only some of the steam).  Basically, what you want to do is get the onions gorgeous, soft and velvety – NOT brown them.  So, cook them slowly to develop the sugars and make them nice and nearly jam-like, then taste for seasoning.  This should take about a half hour.

When the bread has finished its first rise, knock it back.  Oil a rimmed baking sheet and press out the dough into a large rectangle that’s about 3/4″ thick, cover with plastic and let it rise for another 30 minutes while the onions are cooling.

Heat the oven to 425.  Now that the bread has done a second rise, use your finger tips to create dimples all over the dough, then spread out the onions on top.  Drizzle with a final bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Pop into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes.  With most breads you want to cool before cutting – focaccia isn’t one of them.  Pull it off the pan, cut it up and DIVE IN!!

I saved my favorite Easter Bread for last – traditional English hot cross buns.  Full of dried fruits and scented with spices, warm hot cross buns slathered with butter are a glorious end to Lent.  Around for hundreds of years, the origins are thought to be Saxon to celebrate the goddess Eostre before they were adopted by Christians for use on Good Friday.

And they are wonderfully easy to make!  So, yesterday, I met up with my baking buddy to spend the afternoon surrounded by the smells of yeast and citrus peel and cinnamon and nibbling on dried currants, cherries and golden raisins.  With two dogs running in and out of the house, the skies a perfect blue and the temperatures in the 70s, it could not have been a more perfect day.

One thing – to make the English version of hot cross buns, you need mixed spice.  This isn’t apple pie or pumpkin spice – it’s a lot earthier than that.  Mix 1 Tbsp each of ground allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg, 2 tsp of ground mace and 1 tsp each of ground cloves, coriander and ginger.  Store it in a small jar and keep it in the pantry anytime you feel like making a spicy raisin bread.

By the way, if you don’t feel like making the shortcrust crosses, feel free to leave them off for the version I like to call my “hot agnostic buns.” 

Pull out your scales – this is done by weight – and, because it’s a British recipe, it’s mostly in metric (which is the better way to bake, so much easier to halve, double, etc)

Hot Cross Buns


  • Up to 700 g bread flour
  • 15 g instant yeast
  • 3 oz cold butter, cubed
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • pinch salt
  • 100 g sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 eggs at room temperature
  • 6 oz mixture currants, golden raisins, dried cherries, dried cranberries (okay, the cherries and cranberries are my addition – they’re not traditionally British)
  • 1 oz mixed peel

Shortcrust pastry

  • 200 g all-purpose flour
  • pinch salt
  • 3 1/2 oz frozen butter
  • 1/2 – 1 egg, beaten

In a large bowl, sift together 500 g of the flour, the instant yeast, spices and salt.  Add the cubed butter and rub in thoroughly – this isn’t like a pie crust where you need to worry about working quickly.  In this case, the butter adds to the richness of the bread rather than making it flaky like a pastry.  In a separate smaller bowl, mix the sugar and milk and zap it in the microwave for about 30-45 seconds, until it’s blood temperature.  Add the eggs to the milk mixture and lightly beat with a fork.  Make a well in the dry ingredients, then add the milk and egg mixture and stir well to incorporate.  You should get a wet dough – beat for a minute or two to start developing the gluten, then add the flour about a half-cup at a time until it’s just reached a consistency where you can start to knead it.  Pour it out onto a well-floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, adding flour if needed.  You want a little tackiness, but you don’t want it to be sticky.  Add the dried fruit and peel, kneading them into the dough to incorporate.  Butter a bowl – in this case, use butter rather than oil – place your well-kneaded bread in it, turn to coat with the butter and cover with plastic wrap to let rise for 1-2 hours until doubled in size.

While that’s rising, make your shortcrust pastry for the cross – in a medium bowl, toss the flour with the salt, then grate in the frozen butter and lightly rub in.  In a small bowl, beat a single egg, then add half of the liquid to the flour mixture, mixing with your hands until it starts to come together.  Place between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and roll out thinly.  Place in the fridge and chill while your bread finishes its rise.

Punch the bread down then pull apart and roll into small balls of dough, about 1.5 oz – 1.8 oz in size (bigger than a golf ball, smaller than a pool ball).  Just make sure they’re all about the same size so they’ll cook uniformly.  Place them on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet – if you place them an inch apart, they’ll attach during the second rise and bake, if you place them farther apart, they’ll remain separated.  It’s your call.  Brush with an eggwash of 2 Tbsp milk, 1 tsp sugar and an egg yolk and use a sharp knife to make a cross indent into each doughball.  Get your rolled-out pastry out of the fridge and cut into thin strips and form a cross, pressing down into the cross indents, then cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Preheat your oven to 425 and let the dough have a second rise for about 30 minutes until doubled.  Before popping in the oven, give it one last eggwash, then bake for 5 minutes before lowering the heat to 400 for another 10 minutes.  This should make about 2 dozen buns.  Enjoy them hot out of the oven or split them in half and toast them then slather with nice salty butter …

I hope this and the other Easter bread recipes have inspired you to try something a bit new this holiday – enjoy and happy Easter!

Since I moved to the UK (five years ago in a couple of weeks!), I’ve tried to embrace all the great British traditions – Christmas panto, Trouping of the Colors, Coronation Street, morris dancing.  Okay, maybe not morris dancing.  But, one thing I’ve really enjoyed is the culinary traditions – bangers and mash, cottage pie, pancake day and the greatest custom of all … CURRY.

I’ve made loads of different types of curries – but the one thing no curry can do without is naan bread.  The Indian flatbread is a standard accompaniment and is incredibly easy to make – particularly as it only needs one rise, not two.  And, you can flavor it however you like – I’ve sprinkled mine with cumin and chopped chives, but you can use sauteed onions, minced garlic or any other flavoring you prefer.

And, if you don’t like curry, think of naan as a substitute for pita and serve it with your favorite dip like hummus, roasted red pepper or baba ganoush.

Naan with Chives and Cumin

  • 2 1/2 cups warm water
  • 2 tsp active yeast
  • 5-6 cups bread flour
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp cumin seeds
  • 3 Tbsp minced chives

In a large bowl, stir together the warm water and yeast to dissolve before whisking in three cups of the bread flour.  Add the salt and olive oil and change from the whisk to a wooden spoon and stir well for a few minutes (at least three) to begin developing the glutin.  Add another cup to cup and a half of the remaining flour before turning the dough out onto a well-floured surface to knead.  The dough should be slightly sticky and smooth, so add flour as needed and continue working the dough for a good 10 minutes until it springs back if you dimple it with your finger.  Oil a large bowl and turn the dough to coat before covering with plastic wrap and letting rise for two hours.  While it’s rising, toast the cumin seeds in a dry pan until fragrant, then lightly crush and set aside with the chopped chives.

Preheat the oven to 500 F with a bread stone and pie pan of water to create some steam.  When the bread is done rising, divide the dough into 8ths and work in batches on a very well-floured surface.  Gently pull and press the dough out into a rounded rectangle, then use a fork to prick all over before lightly sprinkling with a little water and topping with a healthy pinch of cumin and chives.  Use your hands or a spatula to move the bread from the counter to the bread stone and bake for 5-15 minutes until golden brown (depending on the thickness of the bread).

Happy Saturday! 

Yesterday, I met up with an old Washington, DC friend whose hubby is on a 6-month assignment in London.  Since she’s a fellow foodie – particularly one with a love of Middle Eastern food – I urgently needed to introduce her to my favorite market.  And did I mention they have a Lebanese food stall that sells the best falafel I’ve tasted outside of Layalina restaurant in Arlington?  Not to mention baklava that would make you weep.

The market, itself, has been in operation since the Romans settled the city and has been at or around the south end of London Bridge since the 1200s.  As with all popular things, it’s gone through changes and upgrades and improvements – but, through it all, it’s always featured some of the city’s best baked goods, cheese, fresh produce, fish and charcuterie.  And, if you’re looking for some killer sammiches or meat pies or a great hot lunch, you’re definitely spoiled for choice.  Is it all local?  No – it’s no longer that kind of market and I think it receives some unfair criticism because of that fact.  However, it features some amazing products from France, Spain, Italy and beyond and is well worth the visit.  (click on the pictures to embiggen them)

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