Category Archives: “Short and Sweet” Challenge

Dan Lepard’s Perfect Plain Pita Bread

I flipped open Dan Lepard’s “Short and Sweet” book, and decided to make Perfect Plain Pita Bread. I had high hopes; I love pita bread.

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Mixing, resting, and proving the dough was as easy as ABC. It’s second-nature to me now. I don’t even think about how long 10-seconds of kneading is; it’s 10-seconds. I don’t even bother setting the kitchen timer for those three 10-minute intervals. I think Dan’s made me all intuitive like or something. Or my body clock has found a new purpose and it’s started ticking again. I didn’t take any photos of the let’s-make-dough sequence. We’ve all seen dough. We’ve seen it kneaded, rising, resting and recuperating. So as rathers go, I reckoned you’d rather see a photo of a garden gnome….

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That’s Elmo (the Garden Gnome) by the way. You’ll see him chasing about my garden often. Occasionally he plays hide and seek.

I rolled out each 100g squidgy lump of dough to a 5mm thickness, using my two stacked £ coins as a guide. The first two pitas went into my very hot oven, that I swear had started to squeak and whine from the exertion. Three minutes wasn’t enough time; they hadn’t plumped up. Five minutes was enough though. My oven had created two ivory coloured rugby balls. American footballs even. I grabbed my tongs and gingerly squeezed the sides of the inflated bread to remove them from the oven. Wrong move. 

Do not try removing your pita breads by tonging them along the sides. They deflated, much like my high hopes and enthusiasm. I tried again by grabbing the top and bottom instead. That worked perfectly, and the pita remained inflated until it eventually went flat on the cooling rack. My enthusiasm was restored along with my appetite.

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Oddly, or perhaps not since I usually have to try a recipe twice before I succeed, some of my pitas didn’t fully inflate. They’d start off with a nice big, expanding bubble at one end and that’s where it all stopped, halfway. They were fully baked though, and I was able to fork them open after they’d cooled. I just wanted them to inflate fully without being poked and prodded with a fork.

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During the day I’d slow-roasted two lamb shanks with carrots, garlic and onions. When it finished cooking, I “pulled” the meat off the bone, tossing it with a bit of gravy made from the broth, and stuffed the pitas with the garlicky onion, lamb, lettuce and tomato. Then we topped it all off with some crème fraîche and excruciatingly hot Nando sauce.

So, will I make them again? Yes. In every language recognised by the human ear, I say “Yes!”

Will I ever buy store-made pitas again? Not by the hairs on your chiny-chin-chin.

Now I wonder if I should make those Double Corn Bread Muffins…

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Dan Lepard’s Chicken and Mushroom Pie with Light Cream Cheese Pastry–Short and Sweet Challenge

I served Dan’s Chicken and Mushroom Pie for my 32nd wedding anniversary dinner. Now that’s a testament to how confident I am about the recipes in “Short and Sweet”. It never lets me down; never disappoints, even on an occasion like a wedding anniversary. Husband declared it delicious.

Both recipes are easy to do. All of the ingredients are readily available at your village corner shop or a supermarket. Instructions are clear, although I’ve make a few brief personal notes in my book. Continue reading

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Dan Lepard’s Breakfast Soda Bread

Dan Lepard’s Breakfast Soda Bread from “Short and Sweet”

This is quite possibly the best recipe in Dan’s most recent book, “Short and Sweet”. There’s an older version of this recipe on the Guardian’s website but the updated one in his book is more precise and positively wow-inducing. That’s what my husband said after peeling off the baking paper sleeve from his individually baked wholemeal soda bread. He forked off a chunk, the steam still curling off the tender crumb, and he simply said, “Wow” as he tasted it. I nodded in agreement.

A few notes:

I don’t have a muffin tin, so I employed the Mother of Invention protocol, and voilà. I used two Pyrex custard cups instead, setting each baking parchment parcel into its cup and then setting them on a baking sheet in the oven.

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I had to wet my fingers slightly to press the parchment parcel into the custard cup because my fingers kept sticking firmly to the dough.

There was incredible oven spring, so I don’t think coloured muffin papers would work for this. Pity because I think it would look pretty. The parchment paper looks nice enough to be honest.

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I put the dry mixture into an air-tight canister, labelled it with how much wet ingredient is required for each 90g of mix. I might also add the dry ingredient list just to make things easier in the future when the canister is empty. I intend to make lots and lots and lots of these in the future.

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It’s great weekend bread to accompany soup for lunch.

(updated 26 June 2012)

Dan Lepard’s Superwraps

Short and Tweet Baking Challenge: Superwraps

I’ve seen the word “quinoa” before but never realised that this week’s baking challenge would be a lesson in pronunciation. It’s not kwin-oha, which is how I’ve always pronounced it. It’s “keen-wah”. I carefully sounded it out several times in my head, hoping it would stick. It didn’t. I was calling it kwin-oha again before the day was done. But I assure you that Dan’s Superwraps are much easier to make than remembering how to pronounce the name of those weird little creamy-colour seeds, which remarkably isn’t a cereal or grain – quinoa is related to the same family as the beets, spinach and tumbleweed.

So I set about toasting the quinoa in a dry frying pan until the seeds turned nutty brown. Bored, my mind started wandering … I made

 

… Pacman faces, and then …

 

I made smiley faces …. and …

crescent moons and …

 

quinoa beaches and …

 

shapes that I didn’t really recognise as anything. And when the seeds were toasty brown…

heat defuser under potI rolled them from the pan directly into a pot of tepid water. The recipe didn’t say if the water should be cold or hot or tepid, so I just went for a temperature that felt very wet.

The hot seeds fizzled and jumped and shot steam into the air. My gas cooker can’t keep a ‘gentle heat’ under a pan, so I put one of my old heat defusers underneath which kept the water at a steady, soft simmer. The water was absorbed within the time stated in the recipe, and I let the seeds cool on a plate. I was fascinated by the change in texture and colour of the quinoa. This stuff is very odd. Apparently it’s also very nutritious.

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I made the dough using white spelt combined with strong bread flour, and after resting the dough for 30-minutes, it was very easy to work and roll thinly. Knowing from experience that when Dan says ‘”thin” he means “thinner than you’d believe possible” … I just kept rolling and rotating and flipping each 70 grams of dough until doing so any further seemed obsessive. I tossed the first one into a dry frying pan (dry since the recipe didn’t say oiled) and watched closely for the “blistering” to happen. I missed this important signal because the telephone rang. It was Molly’s veterinarian saying that the lab results showed she had an ear infection. “Ears drop and steroid tablets required,” I told her. She gave me a look. She hates ear drops.

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By the time I returned to my first superwrap, it had transformed into a supercrispy flatbread, which to be honest didn’t taste half bad. The next one was better but I think I was a bit heavy-handed with the sunflower oil on it. The following one was nearly perfect, and the last (and 10th) one was just as I wanted. Delicious, soft and pliable, perhaps a touch salty but better that than too bland. The trick is not to allow these to sit in the pan too long. Quickly, quickly does it best.

Mr Misk liked them, too. That’s always an important consideration in whether I’ll make something again or not. I’ll be making these again.

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We stuffed them full with slow-roasted lemon and chilli pepper chicken, diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce and pepper sauce.

And Molly waited impatiently for her dinner, too.

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Dan Lepard’s “Short and Sweet” book is available at Amazon UK and Amazon USA

For this week’s Short and Tweet Challenge summary, click here.

Dan Lepard’s Onion and Bay Bread

Onion and Bay Leaf Bread from “The Handmade Loaf” – and a few thoughts on Real Bread

Onions and bay leaves and full-fat milk are magical when combined with flour. Like heavenly scented Béchamel sauce, or the foundation of a rich gravy, or the first step in traditionally made bread dough before mechanisation took over the industry … the list is endless – (cough) –although I can’t think of anymore to add at this particular moment.

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I was excited to make this loaf of bread because it was so different from the usual loaves that I make. I’m a huge fan of Dan Lepard, and his unique approach to making traditional bread, whether sourdough, yeasted or hybrid combinations of both. It was from his cookery book, “The Handmade Loaf”, that I created my bouncing boy – my sourdough starter named Sedrick. He can spring and bounce and blow the top off any lidded container in which he’s contained. My Sedrick is the kicker in all of my bread recipes, whether yeasted or not. Sedrick is my trump card. And I have Dan Lepard to thank for his creation because the method of ‘growing’ a sourdough starter is not entirely scientific. There’s a bit of luck involved, too. In Dan’s book, he walks you through it step-by-step, day-by-day.

Beyond creating a starter, Dan Lepard also approaches kneading in a way that few other modern bakers do. Dan stretches and folds and rests dough, whereas other bakers prefer to slap and mutilate their dough into submission. The gentle approach is the way I prefer to make bread. Taking the time to feel the gluten threads develop and change. If you slap and throw and whip dough about the room like a lasso, you’ll never feel the dough and know when enough is truly enough.

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This is nothing short of a revolution in bread making. It’s a diversion from the mass-produced loaves of quickly baked bread, leaving gluten undeveloped during the kneading, minimal fermentation and proving. This means the gluten is difficult for most people to digest, and it’s been suggested that this is the cause in the rapid increase of IBS and gluten-intolerance; mass-produced bread at lightening speed with minimal or no pre-fermentation.

I have two of Dan Lepard’s books: “The Handmade Loaf” and his most recent release “Short and Sweet”. There’s an online baking challenge called Short and Tweet, organised on Twitter. Search #shortandtweet for info. It’s hugely fun with a great group of people. Newcomers are very welcome as the February baking schedule swings into action soon. It’s helpful to have the books, but many of the recipes are also published on The Guardian newspaper’s website if you search for Dan Lepard’s How to Bake series.

Here are some useful links:

Amazon UK: Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf
Amazon UK: Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet
The Short and Tweet February Baking Challenge Schedule

And here’s the baked and sliced Onion and Bay Leaf Bread.

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And it makes one very wicked cheese on toast, too!

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Dan Lepard’s Short & Tweet Challenge: Spinach Pasties

Spinach and Ricotta Pasties from “Short and Sweet”

Until today I’d never made pastry of this type, and I looked forward to seeing just how spectacularly I could mess it up.

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In my experience with Short and Tweet challenges, two attempts are required at a recipe before I can turn my back on it with a nod of satisfaction. Either this recipe is dead easy, or my skills are improving because I didn’t need a second go to get it right. The pastry proofed as it should, perhaps longer than required. My husband decided to come home from work early so that lovely rosy-tint mound was left to get on with it alone for an extra 20-minutes while I popped down to the rail station.

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I used my old massive stock pot to ‘blanch’ the spinach. This was probably the most testing element of the recipe as I tried to turn the leaves in the pot so that all of them wilted. I would sure like to know how others managed this blanching process. I was rather fumble-fingered at it – spinach leaves popping out all over the place. Molly discovered that she likes spinach, and she doesn’t care that it’s been on floor.

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I wasn’t sure about the slashing. I understood the diagonal bit but didn’t know if they should be long or short cuts. As it turned out, the deep cuts were sort of long. Not sure if that’s right or not. I wish Dan’s book had a photo of a slashed and baked pasty, a visual guide for the uninitiated like me.

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And lastly, the spinach and ricotta filling is so delicious that I intend to use it again, maybe to fill an omelette or a hollowed-out roll.

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Dan Lepard’s “Short and Sweet” book is available at Amazon UK

[edited and updated 28 Feb 2012]

Short and Sweet Challenge: Soft White Baps

“Short and Sweet” Soft White Baps

This was new territory for me, having never successfully made rolls, so I didn’t go into this on waves of confidence. I organised all of my ingredients on the worktop, grabbed my flour sifter, and then immediately winced and ducked as a metal fly-wheel, two springs and a circular disk of metal mesh flew by my left ear. This is the second flour sifter that’s fallen to bits on me this month, and we’re only midway into January.

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“You have my permission to bite me if I ever go anywhere near Poundland again, Molly.” She wagged her tail, so I assume she found this quite agreeable.

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So feeling even less confident than prior to the sifter debacle, I grabbed a sieve and began aerating the flour and cornflour. Then added the yeast and warm water. Stirred it up with my lovely Danish dough wisk that I bought with my birthday money last summer in Denmark, and then tossed a linen teatowel over my bowl. Voilà – one sponge made. Time to do laundry.

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Roughly 2.5-hours later, just looks at those gluten threads in the sponge. I added the warm milk and butter liquid to the sponge. It sat there, having no wish to chummy-up with the yeast sponge. It was like trying to rescue a split caramel sauce. The recipe instructed me to ‘beat the buttery liquid with the yeast sponge until combined’. I began to wonder at what point my dough whisk or wooden spoon should bow-out to my standmixer. Does beat mean a mixer using beaters? Does mix mean mix with a mixer? Does insanity mean baking? You know what I mean? All of this is rhetorical, of course. I endlessly question myself and what I’m doing.

But I had no question about what to do next: I threw the whole mess into my standmixer, turned it on and jumped back from the anticipated spray of buttery liquid. There was none of it. The two mixtures absorbed into each other like melting ice cream soaking into a fluffy beach towel. So while things were going so well, I tossed in the second lot of dry ingredients and let the mixer do the work for me.

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I had a little trouble forming the little ball-shaped rolls. I couldn’t make them round the way I wanted. I wanted to do it like Hugh or those adorable Baker Brothers. They cup their fingers around the dough and do a kind of centrifugal thingy that makes the dough into perfect round balls. I couldn’t do it. I finally did it between the palms of my hands.

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The rolls did a second rise beautifully, although I’m not sure for how long because I forgot to press the Start button my kitchen timer. I had to go check my last post on Twitter to Evidence Matters in order to figure out when I put the rolls in the oven.

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The oven spring was beyond anything I’ve experienced. The balls of dough just kept growing larger and larger and larger and larger. Maybe the blanket folds weren’t necessary. What flour did I use? Dove’s Strong White. I thought they browned a bit too much. I wasn’t happy about that. And maybe they were a bit too dense. There was excellent spring, good texture and crumb, nicely aerated, but just not quite what I expected. Not light and airy, I guess, is what I hoped for.

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For supper, I split a few rolls and then I made sausage patties using the filling recipe from Dan Lepard’s Hot Crust Sausage Rolls. I spiced up the sausage with extra flaked chilli and sage, and then slapped on a pile of caramelised onion on top of the patty.

Next day: I decided to try this recipe again because Dan’s recipes have never disappointed and I figured it was my error causing the slight heavy chewiness. So using the same recipe I made a few changes.

  • I popped down to the shops and bought some full-fat milk, as I read somewhere in Short & Sweet that fat content keeps the crust soft. The crust on my first batch was leaning toward chewy.
  • I didn’t use Half Spoon. I used sugar but reduced the amount to 40g
  • Reduced the ball weight to 80g each so they were dinner rolls
  • Kept oven temperature at 230C but reduced the total baking time to 13-minutes

The result was perfection. There was a volleyball-ish oven spring, very soft and tender crust, airy crumb. It was a totally different roll. I put it down to a few things: full-fat milk instead of semi-skimmed, real sugar, and mixed entirely by hand rather than using the standmixer. The blanket fold might be responsible for the near anti-gravity spring in the oven.

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Mr. Misk said that both batches were delicious but he preferred today’s second try. My youngest son stopped by for a cup of tea after work and he finished off the remaining 3 baps from Day 1 bake. I boxed up several of today’s bake for him to take home.

Success smells sweet.

p.s. Quite unexpectedly, I figured out how the do the Baker Brother’s cupped finger twirly round and round method of forming a dough ball. Unbelievable. Easy.

You can buy Dan’s “Short & Sweet” book at Amazon.co.uk