There’s always the stuff that you expect to bring back, that you almost go on a hunt for. And then there’s the small thing, the unexpected sweet, funny object, item of clothing that caught your attention…
From Guadeloupe of course we came back with some amazing degustation rum, traditionally made, 11yr of age…delicious
but it’s when buying it at the distillerie that I asked the lady what she was munching on, and she offered one of those amazing candied coconut…fragrance of coconut, dark cane sugar, local vanilla…mmm so naughty but so good.
In random order, I came back with, well, mostly food and drinks: Rhum, cane sugar that smells delicious, jams and preserves, graines a roussir to make chicken Colombo, very strong sunscreen and kite-surfing sunglasses….I would have looooooved to bring that baby frrrrrrrog in my suitcase but my other half stopped me, the horrible monster. Oh well, next time? 😉
Last year the Italian Cultural Institute of London organised a conference on Milanese Christmas traditions, and in particular, the delicious Panettone, this extremely rich and yummy brioch-ey cake. Rita Monastero did a passionate speech about the importance of a naturally leavened dough…picked my curiosity and subsequently got most of my December free time VERY busy!! Panettone isn’t quite a simple brioche: It’s a full-on 4 days adventure. And when I say 4 days I assume you already have an active natural leaven, and all the necessary ingredients available in your pantry…. I was indeed way too eager with my initial version and got a flat rich cake, not quite the fabulous fluffy and sweet thing I was expecting. But a few more tries and I was almost there, but after Christmas, my Italian testers all went on (much needed) detox, when I voiced the idea of baking one last one for Epiphany, my boyfriend just frowned and gave me the warning look. Ok my cases will go back to the cupboard. But I couldn’t let Easter go without a tasty and fluffy Colomba.
The Colomba is that – allegedly- dove-shaped little sister of the Panettone. Traditional Easter dessert if any, it’s overall slightly easier than the Chrsitmas version so I’d probably recommend starting there. If you want your Colomba ready for next weekend, I would recommend starting refreshing your leaven this weekend, maybe take the opportunity to bake some bread to use up the quantities. Give your baby a name, mine’s usually called Robert, and he’s Franco-British, but for the Colomba, you’ll need to create his much stronger Italian cousin, we called him Pasquale and sent him to this 2/3 days boot camp first. I’ve adapted the timings for working home-bakers as most of what I found on the internet or the guide I got from Rita Monastero, are just not realistic. So I started creating Pasquale on a Thursday night and plan on baking the final product on the Saturday, if you’re doing it on the bank holiday weekend, even easier as it does take some time.
Fun facts: ALL Italian recipes call for the sacred “Manitoba flour from Molino”, and I jumped through a number of hoops to import / store 10kg of the d@mned thing in my kitchen…when I realised sheepishly that Manitoba was a Canadian province and all it actually was, is a strong flour (i.e. very high protein rates, in and around 15gr protein per 100gr of flour) coming from Canada. In other word, what our supermarkets here call “strong Canadian flour” easily found at Tesco, Waitrose and the likes! yay, one problem sorted.
Before we start:
you will need a leaven starter, Manitoba or strong Canadian flour, 00 or all purpose flour. In term of equipment I would recommend a set of glass transparent dishes (to monitor the leaven) , a simple soft scrapper, a couple of of proofing linen cloths.
Step 1 : Thursday evening – toughen up take 50gr of your usual leaven, steer it with 50gr tepid water and add 100gr of manitoba flour. Robert has left place to Pasquale, it’s starting to take an Italian accent, and it should feel much tougher, thicker, to the point where you can knead it a little bit. Do so for a minute or so.
Cover your pot with a linen, and go out for dinner, or indulge with a spritz and watch La Grande Belleza. You have 3/4 hours ahead of you (depends on the temperature, I personally leave it 3h in the very warm boiler room). In the end it should look smoother, and be 1.5x to twice bigger.
Step 2 : Thursday night– Pasquale rolls with the punches
take 100gr of your now tough Italian leaven and take it to the next stage: shred it in little pieces, add 50gr of lukewarm water and stir. Add 100gr of Manitoba flour and knead for one or 2 min. At this stage I also add a little drop of honey or liquid malt. If we’re sending Pasquale to a boot camp, he’s taking a sweet in his pocket!
now roll it very tight in a sturdy dry and clean cloth, slightly floured and tie it very tight for the night. I used a shoes lace but a present wrap that can be cut off may be a better option. Place it in a small pan or pot for the night, in a warm place. Good night Pasquale! you’re back to the boiler room for 8 hours in your pyjamas. Personally I didn’t understand the point of this step the first time, but then realised it was important as it strengthen the leaven and also is a good visual test. In the morning, Pasquale is well grown and trying to escape the bowl…
Step 3 – a touch of softness in a tough world
After such a night, Pasquale is rather tired, let’s give him a bit of love. Discard any dried bit and use the middle soft part to carry on. To 50gr of the sourdough, again shredded in small pieces add in 50gr tepid water and soak it for a few seconds. Then knead it with 100gr of 00 flour (i.e. all purpose flour).
Step 4 & 5 : flex your muscle!!
repeat step 3 twice, at at least 3h interval, either on Friday afternoon if you’re using Good Friday to nurse Pasquale, or on Friday evening for those who have a life!! Get a good night rest, there’s a day of kneading coming up!!
While you’re nursing Pasquale like a hen hatching her eggs, you can also make sure that you have all the required equipment for the next stage. I got most of what I was missing at Bakery Bits, in particular the cases, the pearl sugar and the candied orange, the delivery should take up to 3 days so plan it ahead.
for the next steps you will need:
– 475 gr. Manitoba flour (i.e. Canadian strong flour) – 185 gr. soft butter – 135 gr. cast sugar – 200 gr. tepid water – 6 egg yolk – 15gr honey – 4gr salt – 1 vanilla pod – 1 orange peel – 300gr of candied orange peel
Coming from a bakers family, the only food I was truly missing in London was great bread, available daily and conveniently. During the course of 2013, I started baking my own sourdough bread at home and I’m pretty proud of my regular no-knead loaf, super easy and hassle-free. (thanks loads to the guys from the E5 bakery for having set me up on the right direction!)
About a month ago I hosted my parents for a weekend at home and had baked Dan Lepard’s raisin and rye crown bread for breakfast; they liked it so much that mom set me on a mission to bake a good fruit loaf to toast her home made foie-gras on Christmas eve. I wanted something spicy and fruity that would keep a real sourdough bread texture and taste. Our foie gras being already layered with candied cranberry, I didn’t want to bake something overly sweet. Also, most recipes call in for the addition of nuts but mom though it would add a “crunchy” distraction and preferred a fruit-only loaf.
After having tested a few options at home, I crossed the channel with my (4kg) Dutch oven and 2 types of sourdough starters; and off I was, in for a good backing lesson on the field. For a start, I just could NOT find the same flour as in London easily available. Bread is made of almost only flour and water, and ingredients are absolutely essential to the taste and texture. If the internet is global and gives is the impression we can follow any recipe from any and all blogs across the planet, reality sometimes makes a humble check-in. Products are not only different, but also, the water tastes different, the bacteria present in the air is different, the humidity is different, and my parents’ big countryside house is much cooler than our central London apartment, messing up all proofing times.
I ended up abandoning the idea of a rye bread for I couldn’t find the right supply on time for Christmas; and remixed several inspirations I took from my go-to baking blogs. I started with a test-run and made the raisin loaf from you can do it at home blog. Tasty enough! (under the dog’s surveillance) so I braced myself up, and started scratching my head in search for a fig adaptation.
– Starter 135gr (100% hydration)
– White flour 85% – 216gr – the white flour I found at the supermarket did not contain enough gluten so I had to increase the whole wheat % to avoid ending up with an unmanageably wet dough. Any unbleached white flour should do, ideally with as close as you can get to 12-13% proteins.
– Whole wheat flour 15% – 38gr plus dusting
– Water 67% – 171gr
– Salt – 7gr
– Cinnamon – a teaspoon
– Mixed spices (cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg mix)
– Chopped dried figs 33% – 85gr
Add the lukewarm water to the starter and dilute for a few seconds
Add both flours, mix well and knead until the gluten develops. you should now be handling a relatively wet ball of dough.
Let it autolyse for 15/30min.
Add the salt + figs and spices, and again knead until the fruit is well incorporated.
Let it rest for 1/2h in a greased bowl (adapt the timing depending on your temperature)
fold gently and let proof in the banetton overnight.
In the morning, slash it the way you like and pre-heat the oven at 225C or maximum temperature. Bake it for 40 minutes in a Dutch oven, take off the lid and bake it for another 10min at 200C.
I come from a French Normans family and this is where I traditionally spend Christmas. The whole period is a culinary feast and each family has their own tradition (or should I say obsessions?), mostly revolving around food; mine this year was a perfect fruit loaf quest that I will describe in another post.
I have been eagerly looking forward to the holiday for several weeks as usual, the bubbly Champagne, the roasted chestnuts, the smell of the decorated tree and the glitter in my grand-parents eyes. And I got just that, wonderful family-time 🌟💝
How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?
Charles de Gaulle
France’s landscape is truly diverse. Not all glamorous but it sometimes feels nice as well to just immerse oneself into the deep countryside, enjoy hiking volcanoes, canoeing in stunning rivers and …. eating a lot of cheese!
Those dry biscuits are a torture: Cantuccini; they’re so delicious I could wake up at night to have one…Tuscans also have a version with chocolate chips to die for; then add Chianti Vin Santo (sweet desert wine) to the equation…mamma mia!
The photo was taken at the Ristorante il Chiasso on the Elba Island (Capoliveri)… definitely the best dinner / atmosphere of my last trip with full on pasta al nero di sepia, pesce al forno and desert…yum
Se qualcuno ha la ricetta dei cantuccini al cioccolate…farmi sapere!
just back from – very snowy – NYC (photos to come!). While strolling in the streets, my friend resolved 2 of my questions about NY; I thought I’d share that, in case it keeps you off sleep too. Always carry an architect in your back pocket when travelling!
– why is NYC so steamy? when sleeping on the couch in my friend’s living room, I got awaken by a boiling pressure noise coming from the radiators and pipes; also when walking around the city one can notice smoky steam coming out of manholes…ok it makes nice atmospheric pics…but why?
that’s the “steam operation”; a quite clever system that reuses the steam from power plants in the north of the island and recycles it for heating and cooling in Manhattan.
– why are there big wooden barrels on top of buildings?
the answer is easier: no, office employees haven’t all found a way to get a permanent straw-access into a gigantic Budweiser barrel (they wish!). Simply, water sprinkles are a lot more common overseas.