Category Archives: Bread Baking

The best thing about autumn: hot cross buns

One of the odd things about living in the southern hemisphere is that we celebrate traditions adopted from the opposite hemisphere at what seems like inappropriate times. Even though Christmas is in the peak of summer here, Santa still wears a fur trimmed coat and people spread around fake snow – so wrong. However the pagan spring equinox celebration of Easter, with its chocolate and spiced buns, suits an autumn equinox well. I made the first batch of the season yesterday and was pleased with the result. I used a recipe posted by Wild Yeast, leaving the fruit peel out and adding a little more spice. Cookistry offers some great advise for converting mixer recipes to hand kneed here. The buns came out lovely and light, and mouth wateringly good. My piping bag was MIA so I piped a couple of crosses with a plastic zip-lock bag, but gave up after putting my thumb through the bag thus leaving most of the buns without their hot crosses.



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Blue cheese and walnut sourdough, and the inspirational Peter Reinhart

My amazon order arrived Friday and amongst the goodies was a copy of Peter Reinhart’s ‘The Bread Baker’s Apprentice’. This is a great book that is written in such a way that I feel like the author is standing over my shoulder watching and instructing as I bake. Much of this book is geared toward teaching skills, knowledge and formulas that provide a platform from which a baker can create. I love that Reinhart understands the science of baking and isn’t afraid to communicate it (for a taste of this watch his TED lecture). Inspired, I tried one of his formulas this weekend – Basic Sourdough Bread. One half I left plain and through the other half I folded blue cheese and walnuts. The final product of this formula was a light open crumb sourdough that is not particularly sour. It seems a very good sandwich and toast bread, but is not a sour as the Norwich or Norwich-more that I have been baking for the last month or so. The milder flavor, however, seems to make it well suited to flavoring with cheeses.

I served the blue cheese and walnut loaf still warm from the oven with honey and fresh pear as a desert. I think that this would also be divine with figs or caramelized onions or even with pear slices that have been spiced and caramelized in a pan. This loaf has been YeastSpotted.

Reinhart’s Basic Sourdough Bread with Blue Cheese and Walnuts This recipe was published in imperial measurements and has been converted to metric with Swedish rounding applied.


2 medium loves


2-3 days total

Firm starter:
– 4 hours rise
– overnight retard
– 1 hour benching

Final dough:
– 15-30 min mix and kneed (by hand)
– 3-4 hours ferment
–  10 min shape
– 2-3 hours proof (or retard overnight and rest for 4 hours on bench before cooking)
– 20-30 minutes bake


Firm Starter
113 g (4 oz) bram (I replaced this with a 100% hydration starter)
128 g (4.5 oz) unbleached bread flour
28-56 g (1-2 oz) water

Final Dough
574 g (20.25 oz) unbleached bread flour
14 g (0.5 oz) salt
340-397 g (12-14 oz) lukewarm water

about 80 g firm blue cheese
2 handfuls of walnuts


Day 1 – PM

Add the 100% hydration starter and flour together with just enough of the water to form the mix into a dough. Kneed into a small, firm ball. Work for only as long as it takes to distribute the starter and water evenly. Brush or spray the inside of a small bowl with oil, pop the dough in and coat with oil. Seal with cling-film and rest on the bench for 4 hours or as long as it takes to double in size. Once it has doubled in size place in the refrigerator overnight.

This pic shows the firm starter before it has been set aside to rise for 4 hours before refrigeration.

Day 2 – AM

Remove firm starter from the fridge 1 hour before you want to make the dough. Turn out on a lightly oiled surface, cut it into 10 pieces, coat with spray oil and cover with cling-film or a towel.

The starter in the morning before it was turned out and sliced into pieces.

I love the texture of this starter: weird spongy life.

Lots of activity on the kitchen table. The starter chunks resting while a batch of sourdough English muffins are rising.

Stir the ‘final dough’ flour and salt together in a large bowl, add the starter pieces and only enough water to bring the dough together. At this stage I only added  350 g of water. Bring the dough together with a large metal spoon. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and kneed until the dough passes the window pain test (approximately 15-20 min) adjusting with flour or water to obtain a firm dough that is still pliable and tacky. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, coat with oil, cover with cling-film. Ferment at room temperature for 4-5 hours or until the dough has nearly doubled in size.

Mixing lumps of starter, like adding little gems of flavor and life.

Just enough water was added to bring it together. This ropey pile was turned into a smooth lump in no time.

The final dough should be smooth, firm and a little tacky, and should pass the window pane test.

The window pane test involves stretching a 1 tablespoon sized lump of dough out. If you can form a translucent membrane the dough has fully developed gluten. If you have a membrane with a few thick bits the gluten is moderately developed. This recipe asks for full gluten development, but I don’t think I got it quite there and it still turned out ok.

The dough after 4 hours fermenting at room temperature. In the winter when my kitchen is a little cool, I put the dough in the top of my hot water cylinder cupboard. If you don’t have one of these you can put the dough in the oven with the oven light on.

Day 2 – PM

When the dough has nearly doubled in size, gently remove it from the bowl and divide into 2 halves using a cerated knife (or portion out to make rolls if you wish). Try to avoid over-handling or compressing the dough so you retain as may air pockets as possible. Shape and place into a parchment lined tray, into a loaf tin or, if you are lucky enough to have them, into couches. I left one loaf plain and the other I stuffed with walnuts and blue cheese by carefully spreading out into a lose rectangle, topping with the fillings and gently folding it a few times to incorporate without knocking too much of the air out. At this stage you can either proof for 2-3 hours then bake or retard in the refrigerator overnight. If you retard the dough, it needs to rest on the bench for 4 hours before baking.

When the dough had finished fermenting, I gently turned it out onto the table while taking care to squeeze the air out of it. The top was smooth (see photo above) but the underside shows all the signs of life.

Being as gentile as possible, I spread one half of the dough out and topped it with walnuts and lumps of blue cheese. I folded it a few times aiming to end up with a loaf shape.

The two loaves shaped and ready for proof (and a sneaky walnut peeking out the top).

Day 2 – late PM or the following day

At least half an hour before you want to put the bread in the oven, prepare the oven for baking. I place a tray of scoria in the base of my oven and a pizza stone half way up, and turn the oven to maximum (230 degrees Celsius). Before putting the bread in the oven, score it with a pattern for decoration and to allow expansion room. The walnut and blue-cheese loaf I just slashed with a cerated knife. The plain loaf I snipped with scissors to crete a spiky pattern. The loaf in the tin I placed in the oven as is and the round loaf was slid onto the pizza stone with the piece of parchment it was proofed on. Poor 1/2 cup of water over the hot rocks (I use a watering can to do this so as to avoid burning myself). Turn the oven down to 200 degrees Celsius (classic bake, not fan bake) and bake with steam for 10 minutes (i.e., don’t open your oven door). The steam is required to help the crust achieve a golden brown color. If you do not have a tray of scoria, you can try using a large cast iron pan instead. Misting the walls of your oven with water from a spray bottle may also work, but needs to be done a few times over during the 10 minute period. After 10 minutes, remove the tray of scoria and bake for a further 15-30 minutes or until the crust is golden and the loaf sounds hollow. Cool for at least 45 minutes before cutting.

This method of decorating the loaf is another gem from Reinheart’s tome. I love the hedgehog look, but next time I would like to try fewer spikes that are larger and deeper than these ones.

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Sunday brunch

Some friends from Auckland came down to stay for the weekend, so we put together a Sunday brunch.

Croissants were made yesterday following the recipe given by Dad Bakes.

Sourdough Loaf is the Norwich Sourdough posted by Wild Yeast.

Sourdough English Muffins are also from a recipe posted by Wild yeast.

The fresh egg mayonnaise is a recipe adapted from Ruth’s Mayonnaise in ‘Ottolenghi – The Cookbook‘. Ours is a milder version that was yummy on the fresh croissants with slices of cucumber fresh from the garden. Home made tangelo and grapefruit marmalades were also on offer, as was fresh brewed coffee.

Herbed Fresh Egg Mayonnaise (adapted from Ottolenghi)

Specialist equipment: blender (jug blender, stick blender or food processor)
Preparation time: 10 min

1 free-range egg
3/4 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp crushed garlic (1 clove)
2 Tbsp cider vinegar 500 ml sunflower oil
2 large handfuls of either flat-leaf parsley or coriander (stalks and leaves)

Put egg, mustard, sugar, salt, garlic and vinegar into either a large bowl (if you are using a stick blender) or into a blender. Process while slowly drizzling the oil into the mix. When the mix thickens (it will also lighten in color) you can increase the rate of oil addition. Don’t be too hasty or else you will split it. If it does split, take the split mix out of the bowl, crack in another egg and slowly poor the mix back in while processing. Add the herbs last thing and process until they are chopped through. If you would like a smother, all be it green, final product, add the herbs about half way though. It is possible to do this by hand with a whisk, but it will take a little longer and it is quite a lot of arm work.

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Sourdough thin-crust pizza

Making sourdough has become a regular Sunday activity and turning some of the bread dough into pizza is fast becoming a ritual. Last Sunday I made Norwich Sourdough and reserved a little dough in the fridge for pizza later that night. I kneed a little more flour into the dough before rolling out thin. The pizzas are cooked on a stone preheated in a 200 degrees Celsius oven. Two toping combinations featured this week: fresh tomato, home made pesto and a little cheddar mixed with parmesan cheese and pear, caramelized onion and blue cheese. (tip: saute the pear slices in a light oil beforehand). The sourdough makes such a great pizza base I don’t think I can go back to the spongey, sconey thick ones I used to make. Yeastspotted.

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A Hard Working Sourdough Starter

Larry Hefepiliz (the sourdough starter) has been pulling his weight around the house this weekend and as a result we have yummy sourdough bread. This weekend Larry and I made Norwich Sourdough, as posted on Wild Yeast, but put it in a loaf tin instead of forming bartards.


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Yummy eggs benedict; but would Escoffier have approved of what I did to his ‘Sauce Hollandaise’ recipe?

Before I got into the habit of scouring the internet for recipes to guide my cooking adventures, I relied on great recipe anthologies such as Escoffier’s ‘The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery’. I still refer to Escoofier’s tome for sauce recipes, particularly foundation sauces, because they contain absolutely reliable proportions. This morning I consulted this well thumbed volume for the recipe for Sauce Hollandaise. I used his ingredient proportions, somewhat scaled back, but prefer a modern method of making this classic sauce that uses a blender. I do wonder what the father of modern French cusine would have thought of my method.

Let’s face it, hollandaise can be tricky. I am sure everyone who makes it will have an incident (split sauce, scrambled egg mouthfeel, fatty aftertaste) at some point. I make my hollandaise in a blender and it works for me, in that it produces a good product with little risk of incident. It may offend some traditionalist’s sensibilities, but I’m more interested in getting a quality home made product onto the plate. The only tip that I can give that applies to both the traditional method and my method, is that it is always easier to make a large volume than a small volume. The two egg recipe I give below is the smallest volume I would attempt to make.

To go under the poached eggs, I made a fresh batch of sourdough english muffins. Once again I used the recipe from Wild Yeast but this time I made them a little more refined than the last batch which had to be cooked on the barbeque because there was a power cut. These are doomed to become a standard in our house because they are easy to make and full of flavor.

Sauce Hollandaise

Specialist equipment: blender
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Makes enough sauce for 4 portions.

2 Tbs water
1 Tbs vinegar (I prefer white wine)
fresh ground pepper
2 free-range egg yokes
200 g butter (melted)
1 lemon

Place the water, vinegar and a pinch each of the salt and pepper into a pot and reduce by half. Cool the reduction a little and place it and the egg yokes into the blender. If your yokes and reduction is lower than the blade, as it is in my blender, give them a little mix with a fork before starting. Swich the blender to a medium speed and slowly add the hot melted butter. This technique relies on the butter to cook the eggs, so the butter needs to be hot when it is addedd. About half way through, add a couple of drops of water. This helps ensure the sauce is light and has a nice mouthfeel. Add remaining butter, lemon juice to taste (I like my hollandaise quite piquant), salt and pepper.

If you are scaling up this recipe, retain the proportion of egg yoke to butter but decrease the relative volume of reduction. My blender can just hold four times this recipe without it coming flooding out the top.

Sauce hollandaise does not keep for long periods of time. It will, however, keep for a couple of hours in a warmish double boiler arrangement if topped with a cartouche. If you are just keeping it <20 min (the time it usually takes me to organize the rest of the meal) put the sauce hollandaise in a metal bowl or pot on the back of the stove (not on an element) and stir regularly to stop a skin from forming. The elevated ambient temperature in the vicinity of poaching eggs should stop the sauce from cooling too much.

I did not serve the eggs benedict in the traditional manner. Instead of ham (eggs Benedict), salmon (eggs Montreal) or spinach (eggs Florentine), we prefer alfalfa sprouts. Grown on our kitchen bench, they are crisp, fresh and go really well with the eggs.


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Making English Muffins in the Aftermath of Cyclone Wilma

Today we ate the tasty first experiment with our newly grown sourdough starter. Following the recipe supplied by Wild Yeast, I made the sponge for english muffins last night while half watching the news about the incoming cyclone. This morning, in the wake of Cyclone Wilma we got up to the veggie garden in ruins (a whole row of fennel has been blown over and I am not sure if the lettuces will survive the damage), a small tree down in the driveway and no power, which because we are on tank water also means no running water. There was nothing to do but wheel the barbeque into the garage where it would be out of the weather and cook breakfast there. The english muffins came out divine, we even split them and put them on the grill side to toast. I am sure they were all the more yummy because they were sweetened with honey harvested from a friend’s hives and served up with fresh espresso. The power is back on now, which is particularly pleasing as my very first loaves of sour dough are due to go in the oven in less than 2 hours. Although, I have successfully made roast dinners in our barbeque before, so I think the sourdough bread would have been alright.

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