mellow fruitfulness & focaccia

Rampant storms seem to have taken over from all those misty mornings and mellow fruitfulness. Soon all the russet leaves will be on the ground, so before I forget what an utterly stunning Autumn it’s been, I thought I’d recap. And in true “hygge” style, savour the cosiness of wintry baking.

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I can’t remember an Autumn when Keats’ words were more apt. This season of “mists and mellow fruitfulness”  has been exactly that: so many mornings eating breakfast while the sun attempts to break through the mist hanging low over the fields. The coppery, golden and amber hues have been more vivid than ever, stunning as a bright blue sky replaces the mist as a backdrop. And as for the mellow fruitfulness, many of the Quince have been made into membrillo and jars of jelly, Ruby and friends collected rose-hips for syrup and apples are in plentiful supply.

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The wood-burning stove is lit most days and it’s time for slow-cooked stews and baking. Quince and Apple cake from Sarah Raven’s fab ‘Garden Cookbook’ (one of my most-used cookbooks) is my new favourite cake, quince has been used in a Venison, Quince and Cider Stew today and the smell of baking bread draws me into the kitchen. More tempting than venturing outside this week.

I’m still loving using the sourdough starter (offspring of Priscilla Queen of the Refrigerator) kindly sent to me by Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, while Ruby and friends are ever niftier at cake-baking. I can let them get on with so much weighing and mixing, even chopping these days without chaos but it’s good to see that cleaning the bowl from chocolate cake is still the preferred baking activity. And although rapidly growing up, my daughter still has fingers that are the perfect size for those dimples in foccacia.

This is the focaccia recipe I generally use:

500g strong white bread flour

1 dessert spoon Maldon sea salt + extra for sprinkling

I x 7g sachet dried, fast-action yeast

2 tablespoons olive oil + extra for drizzling

3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves chopped

 

Mix together the flour and dessert spoon of salt in a large bowl and add the yeast along with 350ml warm water and the 2 tablespoons of oil. Bring together into a dough and knead on a floured surface for 10 minutes until the dough loses its stickiness and becomes nicely pliable. Put it in an oiled bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and leave for an hour or so until doubled in size. Knock back the dough and leave to rise again for another hour then press into a lightly oiled rectangular baking tin. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to prove for 1/2 hour (close to the oven) while the oven heats to its highest setting.

Use your own fingertips (or borrow some from a child as I often do) to poke rows of dimples. Well, maybe not quite as orderly as rows if you’re anything like my daughter – or me. Drizzle liberally with olive oil (it will collect deliciously in those dimples) and sprinkle with sea salt and rosemary. You can vary your focaccia each time, maybe pressing halved cherry tomatoes into the dough or some olives.

making focaccia

Of course I haven’t just been gazing at leaves and baking lately – it seems as if our lives are ever busier, particularly with work and school. All the more reason to make focaccia!

homemade flatbread and a happy new year

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As usual the start of a new year has me thinking about food. What I’m going to grow this year (how exciting is it that no sooner is Christmas over than we can start looking forward to longer days, planting seeds, Spring) but also what I’m going to cook. And it might not be too long until the first Spring lambs are born in the barns near us or the first bulbs peep through but there’s still time for winter comfort cooking.

After all that rich festive food and all that festive spending, something simple is in order. Bread fits the bill perfectly for me. A bit of simple pottering with store cupboard basics leads to homely aromas in the kitchen and freshly baked focaccia or flatbread adds interest to the last of the leftovers.

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Focaccia is great for any little helpers too – I find Ruby’s fingers and thumbs the perfect tools for those lovely indents where the olive oil and herbs gather. She loves sprinkling over rosemary, maldon sea-salt and drizzling the olive oil. And I agree with The Garden Deli about the attractions of rosemary at this time of year – and woody herbs generally. Who needs basil in January when thyme, sage and rosemary stand up to the heat of roasting, suiting wintry dishes so well. Sage and thyme work well on focaccia too and I’m planning to use them in bread with some of the leftover goats cheese.

But quick flatbread cooked on top of my Esse woodburner is my favourite bread of the moment. So quick and easy to rustle up – it can be made last-minute with no thought given to kneading or proving. Yet it makes such a lovely comforting yet frugal treat to mop up the turkey curry, pork chilli (we still have lots in the freezer!) beetroot or houmous dips or dhal. This is my favourite flatbread recipe, originally from  Moro the second cookbook and although I cook it directly on the hoplates of the woodburner, it can be cooked in a frying pan (make sure it’s a pan suited to dry coCasaoking – I know from experience, having wrecked one frying pan pre-woodburner!) on any conventional cooker. I like the Moro line that: “…it is easier to make flatbread for two people than go to the local shop and buy some pitta bread.”

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Quick Flatbread

Makes 4 thin breads, enough for 2 people

100ml warm water

1/4 teaspoon dried yeast

130g unbleached strong white bread flour (I experiment with wholemeal or part wholemeal/part white flour too – I find that wholemeal results in good flavour but less puffiness)

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 tablespoon olive oil or rapeseed oil

Stir the yeast into the water and put the flour into a medium bowl with the salt. Begin to add the yeast and water to the flour. Start at the side of the bowl, pouring in a little water, incorporating some flour, and so on, all the time working out the lumps with your fingertips. When all the flour and water have been incorporated, beat in the olive oil with your fingertips. Ideally let the dough sit for 20 minutes, give it a quick mix to make more elastic. Then flour your hands and the dough, divide into 4 and roll out each one to a thin circle. Heat a large frying pan over a medium to high heat if you don’t have a woodburner with hotplates, then cook each bread one at a time. Place directly on woodburner hotplate or frying pan, when it starts to bubble, turn it over with a spatula. Cook until underside has brown spots. The bread should be cooked but still pliable. Keep warm, covered with a tea-towel, while you cook the rest.

Happy New Year baking!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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