White Chocolate and Cream Buns

Dear All, this is the last recipe before I go on holiday. Yes, two whole weeks with very limited Internet access back home, in Italy, staying at my mum’s house. I can already see where this is going: plenty of food, amazing pizzas and possibly some sunshine on the side (the weather forecasts are not that promising). And I can also tell you that, much to my disappointment, I will be missing the first and the second episode of the Great British Bake Off, which starts next Tuesday on BBC One. Therefore, let’s fire up the ovens (I don’t know about yours, but mine is electric anyway) and let’s make something sweet before the great season begins!

This is an Italian recipe, although slightly adapted. I found it in one of the many cooking magazines my mum decided I NEEDED to take back home with me last time I went to Italy, in a special issue about breads. The original recipe asked for the dough to be enriched with the white chocolate chunks during the kneading phase. That, however, seemed to me like a blatant contre sense, simply because you then needed to spread it out with a rolling pin and then roll it back up and cut it. In very practical terms, I thought that with the chunks in the dough itself, rolling it out would have been like trying to tar a very bumpy road. Therefore, I decided to keep the dough plain and to add the chocolate chunks at a later stage. I also thought the chocolate decoration on the top looked nice, but feel free to leave it out. See you back in August!

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Ingredients

  • 800g plain flour
  • 200g strong bread flour
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 20g salt
  • 2 x 7g sachets fast action yeast
  • 300ml double cream
  • 260ml whole milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 x 295g bag white chocolate chips
  • 75g white chocolate, melted over bain marie (optional)

Method

  1. Pour the milk and the cream in a saucepan, then bring to the boil over a gentle heat. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to slightly warmer than room temperature.
  2. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the hook attachment, combine the flours, salt, yeast and sugar, then slowly add the milk and cream mixture with the machine on. Add the butter and keep on kneading. You are aiming for a soft but firm dough. Turn out the dough onto a work surface and knead by hand until smooth. Return to the bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to prove for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.
  3. Punch back the dough and turn it out onto a work surface. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to a big rectangle, approximately 40x30cm. Scatter the chocolate chips onto the dough and gently press them onto it. Starting from the top, begin to roll up the dough moving to the bottom of the work surface and by stretching it as much as you can so that the rolls are very tight.
  4. Cut the big roll into 16 slices, then arrange them onto two baking trays lined with parchment, cover with a towel or with clingfilm and leave to prove for another hour or until doubled in volume. When ready, pre-heat the oven to 200C.
  5. Bake for 15-20 minutes, but cover them with foil if they start going too brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
  6. To decorate them, transfer the melted white chocolate to a piping bag and drizzle it over the buns or use a teaspoon if you prefer. Allow the chocolate to firm up, then enjoy with a cup of tea.

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Pizzette – Party Finger Pizzas

This is a very handy and easy dish for parties and get-togethers. In fact, I wonder why I never made it before. Pizzette are a traditional party food back in Italy and my mum would sometimes make these on a Sunday afternoon for me to have a small party all by myself. The handiness is all in the size because, luckily or unfortunately (you decide), you can put one of these straight into your mouth. In Italian we say that ‘una tira l’altra’ (one follows the other) to stress how moreish these are. They also come in hand – pardon the pun – if your guests are already trying to juggle a drink and a plate with other canapés. These go straight for the mouth in one painless gesture. Very handy, you see?

Needless to say, the topping is highly customizable. The one you find here is the traditional Margherita topping, but please feel free to experiment with alternative ones. Anchovies, tuna and peppers are all stables on a party table back in my home country. The recipe is from Trattoria da Martina, although it appears Anna Gennari is the original author. I have slightly modified the topping quantities. Throughout the recipe I will also share with you a couple of tricks I use when making pizza here in the UK. I find the ingredients contain a lot more water if compared to the ones readily available in Italy, especially mozzarella. This also means that when you are baking them, the pizzas always come out soggy due to the amount of water released.

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Ingredients (for the dough)

  • 500g strong bread flour
  • 50g unsalted butter, softened
  • 125ml water
  • 125ml whole milk
  • 7g sachet instant dried yeast
  • 20g caster sugar
  • 5g salt
  • 1 medium egg

Ingredients (for the topping)

  • 20ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 500g polpa di pomodoro (you can find this in any large supermarket, it’s like a coarser passata)
  • 15g caster sugar
  • 10g salt
  • 200g mozzarella
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano

Method

  1. To make the pizza dough, put the flour, salt, sugar and dried yeast in the bowl of a freestanding mixer equipped with the hook attachment. In a saucepan, heat the milk and water until lukewarm. Turn on the mixer and slowly add the liquid to the flour, then tumble in the egg. Slowly add the butter while the mixture still roughly mixed, then let the ingredients combine thoroughly. The mixture will be very wet at this stage, but don’t worry.
  2. Once you have worked the mixture in the mixer for a good 5 minutes, oil your work surface and your hands and turn the dough out onto it. Knead it for a good 5 to 10 minutes until fully combined, pliable and shiny. The oil will prevent the dough from sticking to the work surface and will allow you to knead it. It will slowly be absorbed in the mixture, but don’t be alarmed as this will only add up to the texture and the flavour.
  3. Turn the kneaded dough into an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and let it prove in a warm environment for at least 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  4. In the meantime, prepare the topping. Pour the polpa di pomodoro in a fine sieve and drain off the excess water. Pour the remaining tomato pulp in a small bowl and add the rest of the ingredients but the mozzarella. Drain the latter from its water, then cut in thick slices and pat with kitchen paper to absorb the excess moisture. You might need to change the paper twice or even three times, depending on the quality of the mozzarella used. Set the topping ingredients aside.
  5. Once the dough has doubled in size, remove the clingfilm, punch back the dough to its original size and tun it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll out to the thickness of about 5mm. Flour an 8cm round pastry cutter, then use it to cut out small dough rounds. These will be your pizzette. Place these on baking trays lined with baking parchment, then cover with a towel and let them prove for another hour or until doubled in size.
  6. Pre-heat your oven to 200C. Dice your mozzarella into small cubes.
  7. Use the back of a teaspoon to press slightly onto each dough round and make a small indentation. This will host the tomato sauce and the mozzarella. Spoon small amounts of the tomato sauce onto the cavity (be careful not to put too much!), then sprinkle some of the mozzarella on top. Bake each batch of pizzette for 15 minutes, until the dough is nicely golden and the mozzarella on top has melted. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the side, although these are just as delicious when warm.

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Korvapuusti (Finnish Cinnamon Rolls)

It all started when I came across this list of traditional Finnish food one should try at least once in life. This reminded me of the Christmas of 2010, when I was lucky enough to spend it in Salo, Finland, as a guest to a local family. You wouldn’t expect Finnish food to be exciting at all, but I have to say that, apart from the occasional weird but tasty novelties (erm, reindeer), the food I tried both at home and in restaurants was excellent. They have a very long and established tradition of hearty, wholesome food and their cuisine is strongly influenced by fish (widely available) and by soups – they are a very cold country after all.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the Finnish have something which resembles the traditional British cinnamon buns: korvapuusti. These are cinnamon and cardamom “slapped ears”, as the name says, and are in fact the same as the Swedish kanelbullar, except the latter don’t contain cardamom. The version below is also purely based on cinnamon, for no other reason really than the fact I don’t own a spice grinder and grinding the cardamom seeds by hand is a real chore. Call me lazy if you want, I do that all the time anyway. Please enjoy these warm and don’t worry if they lose their shape while they’re baking, as they will be delicious nevertheless!

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Ingredients

  • 500g strong bread flour
  • 250ml whole milk
  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 x 7g fast action yeast sachet
  • 50g unsalted butter, softened
  • 80g light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp double cream

Method

  1. In a saucepan, melt the butter (100g) in the milk over low heat just until the butter disappears and the milk is warm. Don’t boil the milk! Once combined, remove from the heat and allow the mixture to come to room temperature.
  2. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer equipped with the hook attachment, combine the flour, salt, yeast (place away from the yeast) and sugar. Once the milk mixture is at the right temperature, turn on the engine and slowly add it to the dry ingredients. Add 1 egg.
  3. Once all of the ingredients are combined, take the mixture out and knead for a good 5 minutes on a non-floured surface until smooth, soft and pliable. Put back in the bowl, cover tightly with clingfilm and leave to prove in a warm environment for 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size.
  4. Punch the dough down to its original size, then tip out onto a lightly floured work surface and roll out to a rectangle measuring approximately 30x50cm. In a small bowl, mix the sugar and cinnamon.
  5. Spread the butter (50g) onto the dough rectangle either using your fingers or with a brush, then sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon mixture on top. Keeping the longest edge facing you, start rolling the dough on itself towards you. Try to keep the roll as tight as possible.
  6. Once your roll is complete, take a very sharp knife and start cutting it diagonally, making one cut slightly tilted to the right and the following one slightly tilted to the left. This way, you will end up with triangles rather than circles of dough. The base of each triangle should be approximately 4cm.
  7. Line an oven tray with baking parchment, then place the triangles with their widest side downwards and the point upwards. You should be able to see the circles of dough and cinnamon on each side. Cover and prove for another hour or until doubled in size.
  8. Pre-heat your oven to 180C.
  9. In a small bowl, combine the remaining egg with 2 tbsp double cream, then lightly whisk. Use a pastry brush to brush the sides of each cinnamon pyramid, then bake for 20-25 minutes, until a good golden brown on top.
  10. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before eating.

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Chelsea Buns

There’s something about yeasted doughs which puts me off them. I don’t know whether it’s the fact they need time to rise or whether it’s simply that sometimes they seem not be working quite right. I am also terribly scared they might not cook in the middle, something I don’t fear when baking a cake. I also think I don’t make enough of them, so I started this week by making these and a loaf of yummy bread. I need to start facing my (unfounded) fears, so better be practicing. Needless to say, it’s important to knead these breads by hand as much as possible. Therefore, I usually start the mixture in a freestanding mixer, but tip it out once it’s combined and knead it by hand. I also don’t flour the surface when possible, neither I drench it in olive oil. Rather, I leave it plain. I read in a really good book that by doing so you increase the friction of the dough on the work surface, which in turn means it kneads better.

Chelsea Buns, which date back to the 18th century, are a great example of British baking. A sweet dough is rolled out and then filled with dried fruits (usually currants). Then you roll it all up (much in the way as a Swiss roll), cut it into portions and bake it. This recipe is Paul Hollywood’s, although I ended up tweaking it slightly because 1) I didn’t have all of the ingredients and 2) I forgot to add the egg. Personally, I think it makes the whole thing lighter. I incorporated the missing apricots with dried prunes and I have to say it worked really well. I gave them to my partner to take to work and they went down a storm (he says). Also, rather than drowning the baked buns in jam and icing, I decided to simply drizzle some on top, thus making it look a lot nicer than the mess Mr Hollywood makes on TV and, probably, slightly less sweet.

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Ingredients (for the dough)

  • 500g strong bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 x 7g fast-action dried yeast
  • 300ml milk
  • 40g unsalted butter, at room temperature

Ingredients (for the filling and to finish)

  • 25g unsalted butter, melted
  • grated zest of 2 oranges
  • 75g soft light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 100g dried cranberries
  • 100g sultanas
  • 50g dried apricots, chopped
  • 50g dried prunes, chopped
  • 75g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp apricot jam

Method

  1. Put the flour into the bowl of a freestanding mixer (equipped with the hook attachment). Add the salt and the yest, taking care to put them in opposite corners.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and the butter until the latter melts and the mixture is lukewarm. If you heat the milk too much, don’t worry! Fill your sink with about 2cm of cold water, then plunge the base of your saucepan (taking care not to let the water get into the saucepan) and leave to cool slightly.
  3. Add the liquid to the flour mixture and start the engine of the mixer on low. Leave it to knead until it forms a soft dough, then tip out onto a non floured surface and knead by hand for a good 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
  4. Shape the dough into a ball, then tip into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to prove for a good hour at room temperature or until doubled in size.
  5. Punch down the dough to its original size, then turn out onto a working surface. Roll out the dough to a rectangle about 40cm long and 5mm thick. Place it horizontally in front of you, that is with the longest side horizontal and facing you.
  6. Brush the dough with the melted butter, then sprinkle the orange zest from 1 orange over it, followed by the cinnamon, brown sugar and fruits.
  7. Tack down the long side of the rectangle nearest to you (that is, press it onto the working surface with your fingers so it sticks to it) and begin rolling from the opposite side towards you. Try and keep it as tight as possible. Once completely rolled, use a scraper or a knife to untack the pieces attached to the work surface.
  8. Line a rectangular baking tray with some baking parchment, then cut the log into 10 pieces, about 4cm wide (you’ll see only 9 in the picture!).
  9. Place the pieces cut side up and leave a little space in between them as they will expand. Cover with clingfilm and leave to prove for another 30 minutes at room temperature.
  10. Pre-heat the oven to 190C, then bake the buns for 30 minutes, until nice and golden on top. If you see them turning too brown during baking, cover the tin with some foil and keep on baking.
  11. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly. Melt the jam with a splash of water in a small saucepan, then brush liberally over the top with a pastry brush.
  12. In a bowl, combine the icing sugar with 1 tbsp cold water and the remaining orange zest (add more water if you see the mixture is too thick), then use a spoon to drizzle the icing on the buns. Leave to cool completely (if you can resist!).

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The Russian Braid

The name “Russian” merely refers to pattern you give to the dough rather than the recipe itself. Take it from someone who knows what he’s talking about, this recipe is far from being even remotely related to Russia. I found it on an Italian food blog, Profumi e Colori (Scents and Colours), and I decided to keep the name the blogger used in the first instance. Little did I know that it would lend itself to some sort of play upon words too (sometimes a linguist really finds these things attractive).

Right, the recipe itself is not difficult, all you need to ensure is that you respect the three proving intervals, otherwise your braid will not be as soft as it should be. Creating the actual braid is not difficult and the link above takes you to the original page (in Italian), where Manu has made a step-by-step picture guide to help you to create the pattern. I will try and describe it below. Also, please make sure you use (strong) bread flour for this recipe and for any recipes which include yeast, because you need a flour with a high gluten content to allow the yeast to work its magic and make the dough rise.

I have slightly modified the original quantities only because I thought the original recipes was a little bit too buttery for my taste.   Also, the recipe does not ask for any filling in particular other than butter and sugar, but you can always use cinnamon, nutmeg or other spices you like. Jam is also an option, although it would have to be a very thin layer in order not to moisten the dough too much.

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Ingredients

  • 200ml whole milk, at room temperature
  • 90g golden caster sugar
  • 90g unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 600g strong bread flour
  • 7g sachet dried yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 30g unsalted butter, softened (for the filling)
  • 1 tsp caster sugar (for the filling)

Method

  1. First, prepare your “dough” for the first proving. To do so, mix the milk with the dried yeast in a large bowl and start adding flour, tablespoon by tablespoon, slowly whisking that in with a balloon whisk, until the mixture thickens up nicely and reaches the consistency of custard. I used approximately 5 tablespoons. Once that is done, lightly dust the surface of the mixture with some extra flour and put aside to rest in a warm environment until big cracks appear on the flour layer and the mixture below starts bubbling up, more or less like a volcano. This is called “starter” or “leavened dough” and all it does, is that it creates a yeat-rich base for the dough to be built around.
  2. If for whatever reason the yeast doesn’t start working and no cracks appear on the surface, you can speed up the process by warming up a little bit of water in a big pan and suspending the bowl with the starter on top.
  3. Next, incorporate all of the other ingredients and knead the dough for at least 10 minutes, until very soft and pliable. Once that is done, shape into a ball and put it in a bowl, cover it tightly with clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place for at least 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size. This is the second proving.
  4. Now comes the fun part. Lightly dust your working surface with flour, then tip the risen dough onto it and, using a floured rolling pin, stretch the dough to a big rectangle. Try and keep the edges straight as much as possible as it will make it easier to roll it up later (I know it’s easier said than done!).
  5. In a bowl, mix the butter and the sugar served for the filling until creamy, then spread on the dough in an uniform layer. Next, roll the dough. Start from one of the shortest sides and tightly roll the dough up into a long cylinder – well, Swiss roll more like it.
  6. Trim the edges with a very sharp knife so they are straight. Cut approximately 3cm worth of roll from one of the edges and keep aside. This will be used to make one of the roses.
  7. Using a very sharp knife and making sure not to squash your roll, cut it vertically in the middle, leaving about 2cm at one of the ends. Separate the two strands you obtain.
  8. Now, grab one strand with each hand right where they meet to form the bit you haven’t cut through at the top, then turn that inside out. This will create one of the roses.
  9. Start braiding the two strands by alternating them on top of each other until you finish the dough.
  10. Transfer the braided dough into a greased and floured loaf tin, ensure it sits nicely inside and then join the two strands at the bottom with the rose you had cut from the dough previously. You should now have a rose at the top and one at the bottom.
  11. Cover with clingfilm or put it in a plastic bag and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size. This is the third proving.
  12. Pre-heat your oven to 180C, then put the loaf tin on a baking sheet, then slide into the oven and bake for approximately 30-40 minutes, until puffed up and golden.
  13. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly, then unmould from the tin and serve while still warm.

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Threeway Easter Wreath

This typical Italian bread is given a new makeover with the addition of unconventional ingredients, such as chorizo, and eggs, which are a strong Easter symbol as they celebrate life, rebirth, etc. The choice of ingredients you decide to fill your wreath with is totally up to you. I recently found out smoked cheese and black olives are a match made in heaven and, for that matter, smoked cheese seems to be complementing them quite well too. For those of you who are unused to eggs being baked in the oven, let me ensure you this is a traditional Italian centerpiece. If you don’t like/want eggs on top, just leave them out, the wreath will be very flavoursome and beautiful as it is. Also, the whole assembling phase might seem long winded and difficult, but let me ensure you I had not done this before and it was a piece of cake. Happy Easter everyone!

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Ingredients

  • 600g strong bread flour
  • 12g powdered yeast
  • 150g black olives, finely chopped
  • 5 eggs, well cleaned and scrubbed
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 150g smoked cheese, grated
  • 150g cooking chorizo sausage, skin removed, minced
  • olive oil
  • salt

Method

  1. To make the dough, put the strong bread flour in a bowl, then dissolve the yeast and sugar in 300ml lukewarm water. Add to the flour and start mixing that in. 
  2. While mixing, slowly add 3 tbsp olive oil and 1 tsp salt.
  3. Bring the dough together and knead on a floured work surface for about 5-10 minutes, until the dough is pliable and elastic. Shape it into a ball, transfer it to an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place for 2 hours.
  4. Once the dough has risen, take about 100g from it and set it aside. You will need that later to decorate the eggs.
  5. Divide the leftover dough in three pieces of equal size.
  6. Working one of the pieces at a time, roll it out with a rolling pin so as to obtain a long strip approximately 35-40cm long. Fill it with your favourite filling (olives, chorizo and cheese in this case), then fold the long edges onto it so as to enclose it in the dough.
  7. Roll the long tube gently in order to seal it, then set aside. Repeat for the other fillings.
  8. Line a round baking tray with baking parchment.
  9. Join the three cilinders together at the top and press it gently on to the working surface so as to make it stick it to the table. Lay the three long tubes well spaced one from the other.
  10. Start threading them together as per picture below, then bring the edges together to form a round wreath-like shape.
  11. Place 4 eggs at regular intervals on the wreath and use the dough previously set aside to make long strips to fix them.
  12. Leave to rise again for about 30 minutes in a warm place, until almost doubled in size.
  13. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius, then lightly beat the remaining egg and use it to glaze the the whole surface of the wreath (minus the eggs).
  14. Bake for 40-50 minutes, then transfer to a serving dish and enjoy while still warm.

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