The Great Pumpkin

If your children are pestering you to make a Pumpkin Lantern for Hallowe’en but you’re not sure what to do with the contents they scoop out, here are a couple of suggestions particularly suited to the giant Jack-o’-Lantern member of the squash family.

The flesh of this pumpkin is less dense than most varieties of squash and will therefore absorb other flavours quite readily.  This makes it ideal for pickling, a recipe I first learnt from chef Martin Blunos, who in turn was taught it by his Latvian parents.  Pumpkins were abundant in Latvia and they were pickled in order to store them for the winter when there was nothing else around. They ate them as a dessert with cream, but Martin serves it as an accompaniment to meat terrines.

PICKLED PUMPKIN

This looks nicest if the flesh is scooped out in balls, the remaining flesh can then be used in another recipe. Otherwise cut it into neat chunks.

2 lb of pumpkin flesh

1 pint water

1 pint of white wine vinegar

1 lb caster sugar

2 cinnamon sticks

20 black peppercorns

12 whole cloves

12 allspice berries

Bring the water, vinegar, sugar and spices to the boil. Skim the surface to remove any scum and add the pumpkin. Bring back to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer gently until the pumpkin becomes opaque.

Remove the pumpkin and put it into a sterilised preserving jar. Reduce the liquid by boiling it rapidly until it thickens slightly. Pour the liquid over the pumpkin and seal.

GLUTEN-FREE CHRISTMAS PUDDING

I have never liked flour or breadcrumbs in my Christmas Pudding, and it occurs to me that those who want to avoid gluten might also like this version.  It uses pumpkin to bind the fruit together.   Halloween is a perfect time to make Christmas Puddings, giving them plenty of time to mature.

1 lb currants

1 lb sultanas

1 lb raisins

1 bottle of stout

5 oz minced or coarsely grated apple

1 lb grated fresh beef suet

6½ oz candied peel, finely chopped

8oz grated pumpkin

8 oz demerara sugar

5 eggs

½ oz cinnamon

¼ oz ground cloves

¼ oz ground nutmeg

Mix all the ingredients thoroughly in a large mixing bowl. Cover and leave to stand for two days, mixing twice daily.

Put the mixture into pudding basins topped with a double circle of greaseproof paper and a double layer of foil over the bowl. Secure with string, remembering to include a handle to help you lift the puddings later.  Steam according to the size of bowls used (see below).  When the puddings are cooked remove them and leave to cool before replacing the foil cover.  On the day of serving steam the pudding again for the sorter time given below:

600ml/1 pint                5 hours                                    2 hours

900ml/1½ pint             7 hours                                    3 hours

1.1 l./ 2 pint                 9 hours                                    3 hours

A pressure cooker may be used to reduce these cooking times.

ROASTED PUMPKIN SEEDS

Nothing in a pumpkin need be wasted as even the seeds can be dried and eaten as a snack. Just spread them on a baking sheet, sprinkle with a little salt, and bake at 190C/375F/Gas mark 5 for 20 minutes.

Rosehip Syrup

Rosehip syrup was one of the successes that arose out of necessity in the war years.  The government were concerned that the unavailability of fruit such as oranges might result in scurvy, a disease caused by lack of vitamin C.  Rosehips are an excellent source of the vitamin and they decided that they should be gathered and used to make syrup, which was then distributed to groups most at risk including school children.  The inclusion of rosehip syrup in school meals continued long after the war and some people have fond memories of rosehip custard.  Personally I have no fond memories of any meals at school, although I do remember using rosehips to make itching powder, but I have more recently come to appreciate rosehip syrup.

The Ministry of Food gave very specific instructions for making the syrup, which are given below.  I use it on baked apples, rice pudding, pancakes or porridge.  It can also be drunk as a cordial, diluted with hot or cold water.  Once cut open, handle the hips with great care – just as you would chillies.  I use a food processor rather than the mincer suggested by the Ministry of Food, but whichever, wash it thoroughly after use so that no itchy hairs remain.

For 2 pounds (900g) of rose hips

Boil 3 pints (1.7 litres) of water

Mince the hips in a course mincer, preferably directly into the water.  Bring the water back to the boil and then set aside for 15 minutes to steep.

Pour into a muslin jelly bag and allow to drip into a bowl until the bulk of the liquid has come through.

Return the residue to the saucepan and add 1½ pints (852 ml) of boiling water.  Stir and leave to stand for 10 minutes.

Pour back into the jelly bag to drip through.

To ensure that all of the sharp hairs have been removed put the top half cupful of liquid (the hairs will have floated to the top) back through the bag again.

Put the combined juices of the strainings into a clean saucepan and boil until the liquid has reduced to the second quantity used, i.e. 1½ pints.  Then add 1¼ pounds (560g) of sugar and boil for a further 5 minutes.

Pour into hot sterile bottles and seal at once.

It is advisable to use small bottles as once opened the syrup will not keep for more than a week or two.  If corks are used to seal the bottles they should be boiled for ¼ hour just previously and after insertions sealed with melted paraffin wax.

Store in a dark cupboard.

Sage Recipes

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Sage Butter

These gnocchi are a traditional speciality of the Veneto and southern Lombardy.  A mixture of butternut squash and sweet potato comes close to the spicy sweetness and moist texture of a northern Italian pumpkin.  The first dressing is the one classically served in the Veneto, whilst the second one – Sage Butter from Lombardy, is the one that is most often used elsewhere.

Serves 10-12

1.25 kg/2½ lb butternut squash

1.25 kg/2½ lb orange-fleshed sweet potatoes

500g/18 oz OO grade flour

5 tsp baking powder

salt

6 large eggs

140g/5 oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese

generous grating of nutmeg

Dressing 1:

175g/6 oz unsalted butter

65g/2½ oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2½ tbsp sugar

2½ tsp cinnamon

Dressing 2:

175g/6 oz unsalted butter

15 sage leaves, snipped

140g/5 oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4.  Line baking trays with foil and then brush the foil with oil.  Cut the squash in half, scoop out and discard the fibres, and place them cut side down on the foil.  Pierce the sweet potatoes and put them on the foil with the squash.  Bake for about an hour until both vegetables can be easily pierced with a fork.  Remove the flesh from the skins and purée both vegetables.

Mix in the flour, baking powder and salt and then break in the eggs.  Mix to ensure they are thoroughly incorporated before adding the Parmesan and seasoning to taste with salt and nutmeg.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil.  You can then either shape small balls of gnocchi with your floured hands or use a piping bag fitted with a large plain nozzle. If using a piping bag it is easy to pipe directly over the boiling water, cutting of lengths about 2cm/¾” long.  Don’t cook too many gnocchi at once, they will take only a minute or two to rise to the surface, when they should be lifted out with a slotted spoon and placed in a large shallow ovenproof dish kept in a low oven.

For the first dressing just melt the butter and pour it over the gnocchi and then sprinkle with Parmesan sugar and cinnamon.

For the second heat the butter with the sage until it begins to foam, pour over the gnocchi and sprinkle with Parmesan.

I have previously given a recipe using pumpkin as a ravioli filling served with the same sage butter here:

Pumpkin Ravioli with Sage

Calves Liver with Olive Oil Mash and Fried Sage

Calves or Venison Livers are my favourite of all livers.  Don’t say that you don’t like liver until you have tried one of these!  Calves Liver should be sliced thinly and fried quickly until it is just cooked – it does not need long cooking to make it tender.  Olive Oil mash scattered with fried sage is a simple accompaniment.  If you fancy something more adventurous you could make the Potato Gnocchi recipe given by Silvija Davidson here.

OLIVE OIL MASH

1 lb  potatoes

18 fl oz water

2 fl oz olive oil

salt

milk

Peel the potatoes and cut into slices about ¾” thick.  Choose a large pan so that the potatoes will fit in a single layer.  Cover with the water and olive oil and season with salt.  Turn the heat up high and boil rapidly until all of the water has evaporated leaving the potatoes in the olive oil.  Push the potatoes through a potato ricer or coarse meshed sieve.  Mix with the olive oil and a little warm milk until you have the consistency you like.  Keep warm whilst you fry the liver and sage.

FRIED CALVES LIVER AND SAGE LEAVES

Heat a little oil in a frying pan until quite hot.  Add the thinly sliced calves’ liver and fry for no more than 3 minutes a side.   Be careful not to overcrowd the pan as this would reduce the heat.  Better to fry in small batches and keep warm in the oven. Once all of the liver has been cooked deglaze the pan.  There are several things you can use for this.  I like the dry version of Marsala, but it is much harder to find than the sweet version.  Margaret Costa famously used Dubonnet with liver and that does work well if you happen to have some.  Vermouth or dry sherry are other options.  When your chosen deglazing liquor is boiling, return the liver to the pan for just 5 seconds per side to coat it with the juices.

In a separate frying pan heat more olive oil and fry sage leaves until they are crisp.  Scatter over the mashed potato just before serving.

SAGE AND APPLE STUFFING

This is good with Pork or Goose.

1 large dessert apple

4 tbsp rum

1 onion

½ oz butter

8 slices of bread

1 tbsp chopped fresh sage

salt and pepper

Chop the apple into quite fine chunks and soak them in rum for a couple of hours.

Peel and chop the onion and cook it until softened in the butter. Process the bread to make breadcrumbs and add these to the pan of onions with the apple and sage.  Season with salt and pepper. Bake for 45 minutes.

Mushroom Sauce

I most often serve this sauce with pasta but, up until the stage that the butter and cream are added, it would also make the base for soup.

If using dried porcini, cover them in lukewarm water and leave to soak for at least 30 minutes.  The strained liquid can also be added to the sauce and then cooked off until only the flavour is left.

Serves 6

1½ lb of cultivated mushrooms (including some shiitake if possible), sliced

Wild mushrooms – a couple of fresh or an ice cube size of cooked and frozen,

or ¼ oz dried fungi, reconstituted as above

3 tbsps extra virgin olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic

2 tbsps chopped flat leaf parsley

1 oz butter

4 fl oz double cream

salt

freshly ground black pepper

3½ oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add chopped onion, cook gently until they are just beginning to take on some colour. If using reconstituted dried mushrooms, add these next, with their liquid so that you can cook until all the liquid has been driven off.  Then add the garlic and parsley and cook together for a minute.  Now add the cultivated mushrooms and plenty of salt and pepper.  The salt will help to draw liquid out of the mushrooms and you should continue the gentle cooking until this has simmered away, which will take about 10 minutes.  Now add the butter and cream, turn up the heat, and boil until the cream has reduced by half. Toss the sauce with drained, freshly cooked tagliatelle and the grated parmesan cheese.

Pear and Quince Recipes

It is quite amazing the affect that cooking can have on unripe fruit – not only does it render the flesh soft and yielding, but it also brings out the flavour.  With so much unripe fruit on sale, I find cooking the answer for most pears as well as apricots, peaches, nectarines.  With quinces it has always been a requirement if you wish to eat the flesh, although the smell of a ripe quince can scent a whole room and makes them worth buying for that purpose alone.  A few slices added to cooked pears elevates the whole dish to new heights, whilst a spoonful of quince jelly is my standards way for both sweetening and flavouring apple purée to serve with pork.

Pear and Ginger Up-side Down Cake

First though, my favourite recipe for cooking pears, which comes from Jane Grigson’s  Fruit Book, under the title Springfield Pear Cake.  Although described as an upside-down “cake”, it is more of a pudding than a cake for serving with tea.

Topping:

3oz/90g butter

3oz/90g sugar

2 tbsps syrup from preserved ginger

3 or 4 large firm pears

juice of a lemon

Cake:

4oz/125g softened butter

4oz/125g caster sugar

3½oz/100g self-raising flour

1 level tsp baking powder

1oz/30g ground almonds

2 large eggs

4 knobs of preserved ginger, coarsely chopped

3-4 tbsps syrup from preserved ginger

Take a cake tin that measures 9½-10″ (23-25cm) across and is at least 1¼” (3½cm)

deep.  Set it over a low heat and put the butter in to melt, pushing it up and around the sides to grease them.  Add the sugar and syrup and stir until it is bubbling and has turned a pale toffee colour.  Remove from the heat.

Peel, core and thinly slice the pears turning the slice in lemon juice on a plate so that they do not discolour.  Arrange them in two rings of overlapping slices on the toffee base so that it is evenly covered.

Put all the cake ingredients apart from the stem ginger into a food processor or electric mixer and process until smooth.  Stir in the chopped ginger and spread over the pears.

Bake at 190°C/Gas Mark 5 for 45 minutes.  If the top is richly brown and well risen, turn the heat down to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.  Continue cooking for a further 15 minutes or until the cake is beginning to come away from the sides and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.  Leave to cool for a few minutes, then run a palate knife around the sides to ensure that none of the cake is sticking.  Take a serving plate with a rim larger than the cake tin and place it on top.  Holding the cake tin firmly against the plate (use a cloth to protect you from the heat), invert the cake in one quick action.  Some juices will flow, hence the need for a rim on the plate.

Serve whilst still warm, with good thick cream.

Poached Pears or Quinces

This is ideal for transforming Warden (cooking) pears or firm dessert pears, in fact it doesn’t work if you use ripe pears.  Perry is the obvious drink to use, but not easy to come by everywhere, so you can instead use red, or even white wine.  I have included instructions for preserving this dessert.  The pears do then acquire a rather “tinned” texture, but if you have an excess of pears to use up it is a handy standby to keep in the cupboard.

1 bottle of red wine or Perry

400g sugar

Cinnamon stick

8 whole cloves

4 allspice berries

3 strips of lemon peel

1 vanilla pod, split

6-12 pears (depending on size and whether whole or halved – halved will fit more efficiently into preserving jar)

Pour the wine or Perry into a non-reactive saucepan that is large enough to hold all of the pears snugly.  Add the sugar and flavourings.  Heat gently, stirring until all the sugar has dissolved.  Turn off the heat whilst you prepare the pears.

Peel the pears leaving their stalks intact and place them in the wine immediately they are peeled to prevent them discolouring.

When all of the pears are in the pan, heat until the syrup begins to boil then turn down to a simmer for about 20 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat.  If you want to serve any of the pears immediately, i.e. without preserving, leave them in the liquid for half an hour or so to absorb the colour and flavour, but this stage will happen during sterilising and storing if you are preserving the pears.

Wash two 1 litre jars in hot water.   The clamp top and rubber ring type have the widest mouths if you wish to preserve the pears whole.  If you put the pears in alternating between putting them in broad end or stem end first you should fit 6 pears in a one litre jar, but this depends on the type and shape of the pears, halved pears will fit more efficiently.    The wine syrup may now be boiled and reduced by about a third so that the syrup is thickened before bottling.  Use a funnel to pour the syrup over the pears leaving a headspace of about 2.5 cm (an inch) in each jar.  The cinnamon sticks, placed across the top, will help prevent the pears rising above the level of the liquid.  Any surplus syrup is excellent added to more wine to serve as a hot mulled drink.

Loosely fasten the jars (clamp tops will need to be fastened) and place them on a folded cloth or trivet in a pan tall enough to cover the jars by an inch or more.  Cover with hot water and bring slowly up to 88˚C (this should take about 25-30 minutes).  Hold at this temperature for an hour, topping up the water if necessary so that the jars remain covered.

Remove the pan from the heat and ladle out sufficient water to be able to lift out the jars.  Place the jars on a wooden surface, tighten the seals and leave until completely cold.  Test the seal the following day.

Variation: Quinces can be preserved in exactly the same way although for these I would choose a white dessert wine in place of the red wine.  They are delicious in an autumn fruits trifle.

Quarter a quince and see how easy it is to cut out all of the tough fibrous core.  I found it necessary to slice each quarter again to do this, in which case it is easier to leave the peel on until the core is removed to prevent the slices breaking up.   If you can get away with only quartering and still remove all of the hard core you will find it quicker to peel the quinces first.  Either way you are aiming for peeled segments with no hard core remaining.  If you are making Quince Paste or Jelly at the same time the flavour can be extracted from the trimmings in these recipes.

Poach the quince with all the other ingredients until just tender before moving on to preserving.

Pear and Ginger Chutney

This recipe is useful if you grow your own pears as there is likely to be a greater quantity than you can eat in one go and it is also a good way of using up windfalls or those with blemishes that make them unsuitable for storing.

Makes 3 medium jars

600 ml malt vinegar

3 cm of fresh root ginger

1 lemon

2 dried red chillies

2 whole cloves

1 kg pears

1 cooking apple

1 onion

3 cloves of garlic

Vegetable oil

1 tbsp sea salt

175g dark brown sugar

175g seedless raisins, rinsed and roughly chopped

3 knobs of stem ginger, preserved in syrup, finely chopped

Firstly make your own spiced vinegar by tying slices of root ginger, the chopped red chillies, cloves and lemon rind in muslin and infusing in the warmed vinegar whilst you prepare the rest of the chutney.

Chop the onion and cook gently in a little vegetable oil.  Peel and finely chop the cooking apple and add this to the pan.  Now peel and finely chop the pears and add them to the pan with the crushed cloves of garlic.  Cook the whole lot together until completely soft.

Remove the spice bag from the vinegar, add the juice of the lemon, salt and sugar.  Stir until all of the sugar is dissolved then bring to the boil and add the washed and roughly chopped raisins plus the finely chopped stem ginger.  Pour all of this over the softened fruit and continue cooking for approximately an hour and a half by which time the vinegar should have evaporated leaving a thick and dark pulp.

Pot into warm sterilised jars and seal immediately.  Mature for a couple of months before eating.

Quince Paste

I use the term “paste” to encompass various preparations of fruit purée – in this case quince.  When it is cooked to just a spreading consistency it is usually known as a “butter” – spiced apple butters are the best known and a particular speciality of Jersey.  These do not need to contain as much sugar as firmer preparations, but this does diminish the keeping quality.  A “cheese” is cooked for longer, with an equal weight of sugar to its initial volume.  This should be kept for at least 6 weeks before using, and it can then be turned out and served in slices, usually with cheese.  Quince cheese is most popular in Spain where it is called Membrillo.  “Confits” are small lozenges of this firm paste, and were popular in Britain, served with a dessert.  Modern variations sometimes coat them in chocolate for serving with coffee.  A useful way of storing them is amongst sugar in an airtight container.  Not only will the confits be sugar coated for serving but also the surplus sugar will take one the aroma and flavour and can be used in other recipes.

Quince paste is most economically made with the pulp remaining after making Quince Jelly, although the flavour will be slightly stronger if the juice is not extracted for this.  Practically you would need a much larger quantity of quince than given in this recipe to produce enough juice for jelly.

1 kg of whole quinces plus any trimmings from other recipes

Water to cover

Sugar (approximately 1kg)

Wash the down from the quinces and chop them roughly into eighths without peeling.  Put everything into a preserving pan and just cover with water.  Simmer gently for about an hour until the fruit can easily be pulped with a potato masher.  If you are intending to extract juice for jelly you may need to add a little more hot water if the fruit is very dry.

When the fruit is of a pulping consistency put it through the finest blade of a mouli-legumes.  If you don’t have one of these you will have to use a sieve but it is harder work!

Now weigh the pulp.  Return it to the rinsed out preserving pan and re-warm before adding an equal weight of sugar.  Stir to dissolve the sugar and then continue to stir regularly as it simmers as otherwise it will quickly burn.  After about an hour or so you should be barely able to push the spoon through the purée and when you do so it should leave a very distinct line through it.  At this stage it is firm enough to make cheese.

There are various ways of storing Quince cheese but think about the small portions you will be serving it in.  I have made it in a loaf tin, lined with waxed paper.  You can then cut slices from it before re-wrapping but really unlidded containers should be sealed with paraffin wax.  Another option is to use ramekins if you have enough as these make good sized portions.  To make them easier to turn out neatly coat the inside first with glycerine.  Oil is an alternative.  Whilst the purée is still hot cover each ramekin with a circle of waxed paper, smoothing it with your finger to exclude air bubbles.  When cold wrap the whole ramekin in cling film and store in the fridge.  Lidded jars are an option that would enable you to form a seal and store the cheese in a cool cupboard.  However they can be difficult to turn out and the portions are usually too large to use in one serving.

If you want to make some comfits, spoon the purée into a shallow baking tin lined with waxed paper.  They should be only a centimetre or so deep.  Once set you can cut the shapes you want and then store them in sugar in an airtight container.

The paste will get firmer and the flavour more pronounced the longer it is stored so try to keep for at least 6 weeks before using.

Locket’s Savoury

This recipe originates from Lockets, a London Gentleman’s Club (now closed) where it was common practise to serve a Savoury course before (or instead of) dessert.  It also makes an excellent lunch.  I give the recipe below as served by Lockets, but suggest one alteration – I think the watercress is best chopped in a food processor with a little butter then spread on the toast.  Larger leaves tend to burn in the cooking but would be good served alongside the finished dish.

For 2 slices of toasted bread:

A little watercress

1 ripe pear

3 oz Stilton cheese

Black pepper

Remove the crusts from the toasted bread and lay the slices in an ovenproof dish.  Arrange the watercress evenly on top and then cover with thin slices of peeled pear.  Cover this with slices of Stilton cheese and then place in a moderate oven for 5 to 10 minutes, until the cheese begins to melt.  Grind black pepper on top before serving.

See also A Partridge in a Pear Tree.

Maintaining a Sourdough Starter

The term “sourdough” can be off putting for some people and for this reason bakers may instead refer to the “wild yeasts” that are used in a sourdough leaven.  What might be equally off-putting is that the wild yeast most often found in sourdoughs is Candida milleri.  Off-putting because the Candida genus is most often associated with is C. albicans, which can cause irritation of the gut for some people.  Rather than the yeast, it is the lactobacilli – the “good bacteria” so frequently heralded by producers of yoghurt or pro-biotic drinks, that provide the benefits of using a sourdough starter (described in my Bread Update article).  These lactobactilli will happily co-exist with Candida milleri.   However, there seems to be little agreement amongst bakers about the changes that might occur in the prevalent strains of yeast in the presence on these lactobactilli.  Some say that whatever yeasts are initially used to seed your sourdough starter, Candida milleri will eventually dominate.  Others think that the initial strain of yeast will simply mulitiply.  We are beginning to exhaust my understanding of the science behind sourdoughs by now and, I fear, may also be in danger of exhausting your patience to read on, so I am now going to talk of my personal experience of making a natural leaven and forget the science.

Wild yeasts exist all around us, especially on foods such as grapes or potatoes, so the first step in using them is to capture them in sufficient quantity to leaven bread.  This is easier said than done!  For a hilarious, but “oh, so true” account of the process, I recommend you read the first chapter of Jeffrey Steingarten’s excellent book The Man Who Ate Everything.   I have tried several different recipes for producing a wild yeast starter, and of these I found potatoes to be the most successful vehicle.  The River Café Cookbook Two (the yellow book) contains a good recipe for a potato sourdough starter.  I used this starter successfully for a couple of years, then went on a lengthy holiday, after which it appeared that my starter had died, and I had a couple of less successful attempts at recreating it.  What I didn’t know then was that starters rarely die, although many of the yeast cells do, and they will lie unappetisingly as a liquid grey sludge.  However, if you discard this liquidy part and recommence feeding the starter on a daily basis, you should be able to revive it rather than have to start again completely from scratch.  Of course, real enthusiasts either take their starter with them on holiday or leave it in the care of a reliable friend!

After a couple of unsuccessful attempts at creating a new starter from potatoes, I recalled how housewives used to keep yeast  going by keeping a portion of each day’s dough back to start the next day’s baking.  The starter they purchased may well have been the compressed yeast we known today or, prior to that, brewer’s yeast.  Either way it was too expensive and/or inconvenient to obtain it fresh everyday but the yeast cells would continue to multiply as long as they had a regular form of starch sugar to feed upon.

So that is exactly what I tried next.  I made a batch of bread using the sponge and dough method (which contains a minimal quantity of baker’s yeast), kept a third of the dough in the fridge overnight, and then used that to bake again the next day.  Progressively the starter smelt more sour and the bread took longer to rise. The pleasantly sour aroma indicated the presence of lactobactilli and, I believe, the increased fermentation time was due to wild yeasts dominating the initial baker’s yeast.

Of course, this method did need me to bake every day for a while until the starter was strong and stable, but at least you have something to see for all the work you are doing, unlike an unsuccessful attempt to create a fresh starter.

A variation on this approach is to build your starter using the wild yeasts that exist in the flour itself.  This is more successful using wholegrain flours – either wheat or rye.

Rye bread is made in a quite different way to wheat bread, because of the difference in the type of gluten it contains.  Britain of course has a cultural heritage of using wheat, whilst rye is the norm in eastern Europe.  Whilst you can use either grain, or indeed a mixture of both, I do find that a proportion of rye in my starter helps the fermentation, so although the grain I use for my final bread is entirely wheat, it does contain a small proportion of rye, giving it a slightly grey colour.

Here are the steps in maintaining and baking with your sourdough starter.

Step 1 – Feeding

180g old dough

60g white flour

15g rye

50 ml warm water

Mix to a dough and leave in a warm place for at least 4 hours or up to 24.

Step 2 – Refreshing the starter before baking

160g starter

225g flour (75% white, 25% rye)

125 ml warm water

Mix to a dough and leave in a warm place for 4 hours.

Step 3 – Making the dough

340g refreshed starter (the rest becomes your new starter)

400g  stoneground flour (white or wholemeal or a mixture of both)

260 ml water

15g salt

Proceed as for the “sponge and dough” method from here.

Notes

To avoid the chemical used to treat tap water killing the delicate wild yeasts, I prefer to use pure spring water.  You might want to substitute tap water for the final step, when the quantity is greatest but the yeast is at its strongest.

I leave the mixed flour and water for at least 10 minutes before adding the refreshed starter, and then wait another 10 minutes before kneading in the salt. These short resting periods help the gluten molecules to line themselves up, reducing the amount of time spent kneading.

Consider the water quantity above as a guideline only.  Flours vary in the amount of water they can absorb, but you are aiming for a firm paste similar to the texture of a pastry dough, at least for the starter.  Add as much water as you can handle when making the final dough.

Salt, whilst considered an essential flavour enhancer, does have a detrimental effect on the development of gluten, which is why I give the gluten some time to develop before it is added.  However, care needs to be taken to ensure it is evenly distributed throughout the dough.  Alternatively it can be dissolved in the water at the start of Stage 3.  I use Malden Salt but grind it finely in a pestle and mortar before using.

Having made the dough I usually let it rise at a cool temperature overnight before shaping the loaves and proving in the airing cupboard for 2 hours.  If the airing cupboard is also used for the initial rising allow about 5 hours.

I keep my starter in a large Kilner jar in the fridge.  I have never found the fermentation to be so vigorous that the jar is in danger of exploding.  This could be because I use only a small proportion of rye flour and the jar is never more than half full after adding a feed.  The fact that the starter is also very firm may also have some bearing.  If you prefer to make your starter entirely with rye it may be safer to store it in a plastic container.

©Suzanne Wynn 2011

Apple Recipes

Apple Recipes

Apple Cheese

In Food in England by Dorothy Hartley there is a description of Apple Cheese as part of the Christmas dessert

Apple Butter…in its stiffest form this was sometimes called Apple Cheese.  Then it was almost candied, and turned out as a dessert dish, at Christmas, apple cheese was set at one end of the table, amber golden, and garnished with hazel nuts and whipped cream, and Damson cheese, ruby dark, garnished with white almonds, and with port wine poured over, at the other end of the table.  It was made in all country houses at windfall time.  The best was made of one type of apple, but mixed apples, of all sorts, with a quince or two, made a delectable apple butter.

It is an excellent use for windfalls.  Here is the method:

Wash and roughly chop the apples without removing cores and skins.  Add spices as you prefer – a few whole cloves, cinnamon sticks or cardamom seeds and cook gently to a soft pulp.  Put this through a coarse sieve and weigh the pulp.  Return to a large pan with an equal weight of sugar.  Stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved then bring to the boil and continue to cook until the sticky pulp is caramel coloured and thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.  Pour into ramekins, cover with waxed paper and foil.  Leave in a cool larder to mature until Christmas.

Apple Pie and Variations

I am not that fond of pastry, so a classic double crust fruit pie doesn’t  usually do much for me, but I came to realise this has a lot to do with the British habit of making pastry, even for sweet dishes, with a mixture of lard and butter – or even worse the dreaded margarine.  I was moved to ask for the following pastry recipe when my friend, Patti, served a delicious double crust apple pie.  It transpired that the recipe had in turn been given to her by her friend Katie.  So to the unknown Katie, thank you.

Katie’s Fruit Pie Pastry

8 oz SR Flour

8 oz Plain Flour

10 oz butter

4 oz caster sugar

Grated rind of an orange

2-3 egg yolks

Sift the flours together, add the sugar and grated orange rind then rub in the butter.  This can all be done in a food processor.  Add sufficient egg yolks to bind.  Chill in the fridge for an hour.

This pastry is quite difficult to handle but don’t worry if it falls apart when rolling as it pieces back together again well also.

This quantity of pastry will comfortably line and top an 11-inch/28cm metal pie plate.  Metal is vital for conducting the heat to cook the bottom pastry adequately, as it is not blind-baked.  This size will take approximately 2lb/1kg of fruit filling, which I always pre-cook so that I can adjust the sweetness to taste and also ensure there is not so much liquid that it will make the pastry soggy.

Variations:

Blackberry, Apple and Rose-scented Geranium Meringue Pie

Blackberry and apple are a classic combination but last year I learnt a tip from Darina Allen that takes this to a new level – the addition of a couple of rose-scented geranium leaves whilst you cook the apples, which are then removed before filling the pie.  The colour taken on from the blackberries is echoed by the light rose-scent these leaves impart.  I must confess that despite the vast improvement the above pastry makes to a double-crust fruit pie, I still prefer this topped with meringue.  In this case it is best to pre-cook the bottom pastry for 15 minutes at a high heat (190˚C), then turn the heat down to 150˚C, add the cooked filling, top with meringue and bake for 45 minutes to give a meringue that is crisp on the outside but still soft within.

Now is a too late for picking blackberries, so unless you have some in the freezer, that particular combination will have to wait for next year but fear not – I have an equally delicious alternative.  Apple and Raisin Meringue is a favourite I remember from my childhood.  For 2lb of apple add 4 oz of raisins, the rind and juice of an orange and two tablespoons of spiced rum.

I make up and freeze both of these fillings in bulk with windfall cooking apples.  Not only are they great for pies, but also make a special breakfast dish.

Fresh Bay Custard

Bay Leaves are usually associated with savoury dishes, but fresh, not dried, bay makes an unusual custard that transforms even the simplest apple dish such as baked apples.

Custard made with fresh eggs is much thinner than that made with dried eggs in the form of custard powder.  If you prefer thicker custard add the cornflour to the eggs and sugar or use an additional egg yolk.  Single cream or a mixture of double cream and milk can be substituted for the double cream for slightly less fat but of course less flavour!

Makes ½ pint

3 fresh bay leaves

½ pint of double cream

2 egg yolks

1 oz caster sugar

1 tsp cornflour (optional)

Heat the cream with the bay leaves to simmering point.  Draw off the heat and leave, covered, to infuse for half an hour.  Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and, if using, the cornflour.  Strain the cream onto the eggs and return to a clean pan.  Heat gently, stirring all the time until the custard thickens slightly, you can take it just to simmering point without the eggs curdling, which the addition of cornflour will also help to avoid.

Dorset Apple Cake

Best served warm, ideally with the Bay Custard above, but can also be served cold.

1 lb cooking apples

4 oz self-raising flour

Pinch of salt

½ tsp. cinnamon

2 oz butter

3 oz caster sugar

2 eggs, beaten

Grease and line a 7″-8″ deep cake tin.  Peel, core and chop the apples into approximately ½” chunks.  Cream the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy, then gradually beat in the eggs, alternating with sifted flour.  Fold in the apples and turn the mixture into the prepared cake tin.  Bake at 180C/Gas Mark 4 for 30-35 minutes until firm to the touch.

Somerset Rarebit

A Somerset Rarebit includes a ring of apple beneath the cheese.  Heat a couple of tablespoons of cider and then stir in grated cheese until thick.  Grate in the ends of apple left over from making the rings and a few drops of Worcester Sauce.  Spread a thin layer of the cheese sauce on top of slices of toast, place an apple ring on top and then cover with the remaining cheese sauce.  Place under a hot grill until bubbling and brown.