Crème brûlée

A timeless classic that works so fluently at dinner parties. I’ve been making these for many years, but this is the first time that my little boy Felix has got involved. At his special request, we made Crème brûlée together and adapted the recipe that has been scribbled in my notebook since 2009.

Ingredients:

(makes about 8)

  • 500ml double cream
  • 1 vanilla pod (or 1tsp good vanilla paste)
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 100g caster sugar

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to 140°C (non-fan).
  2. Pour the cream into a pan, add the split, scraped and chopped vanilla, and then gently bring to the boil and simmer to infuse.
  3. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale and creamy.
  4. Slowly whisk in the hot vanilla infused cream.
  5. Sieve the mixture into ramekins, removing the pieces of vanilla pod, if using.
  6. Place the ramekins into a tray and fill halfway with hot water (Bain marie).
  7. Carefully slide the tray into the oven and cook for 30 minutes.
  8. Allow the brûlée to cool to room temperature. They can now be stored in the fridge until your ready to serve.
  9. Sprinkle a little demerara sugar on top and caramelise with a blow torch or under a hot grill to form a thin, crisp shell.

Alternative flavourings such as pistachio are delicious, and I’ve also tried adding fresh raspberries before baking.

creme brulee or more accurately Crème brûlée

Canelés Bordelais

Summary:

‘Cah-nuh-lay’: Crispy and deeply caramelised on the outside, custardy and gorgeously soft in the middle, canelés are a French pastry from Bordeaux. They’re made from a simple vanilla and rum flavoured batter which is rested overnight and baked in beeswax-lined moulds at two temperatures.

Detail:

The perfect recipe for those looking to put their skills to test in the kitchen. These gorgeous little cakes from Bordeaux formed the basis of my latest culinary adventure.

They’re rarely seen in the UK, and having never actually sampled one before embarking on this personal challenge, I found it particularly fascinating and rather exciting. Given how insanely addictive they are, you’d expect them to be a staple treat, but alas I’ve learnt that they are less than straightforward, and can be a little temperamental. They take a relatively long time to make, don’t keep for long, and require a couple of specialist items in order to transform a simple batter into a glorious delicacy.

NOTE: The quantities in the recipe below will make just 6 canelé – this is intentional, as they need to be eaten on the day of making, you can scale up the recipe as required, and the individual moulds will literally cost you a small fortune. You can however prepare the desired volume of batter and bake them in batches.

Equipment:

For this recipe, you’ll need a couple of extra things which may not feature in the average kitchen:

  • Canelé moulds
  • Beeswax (100% natural)

Ingredients:

(makes 6)
  • 250ml milk
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • splash of vanilla extract or paste
  • 125g golden caster sugar
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 50g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp dark rum

Method:

  1. Start by placing the milk, butter and vanilla in a pan over a low heat until combined, before setting aside to cool slightly and infuse.
  2. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until pale and creamy. (I use a stand mixer with a balloon whisk).
  3. Sift in the flour with a tiny pinch of salt.
  4. Slowly whisk in the cooled milk mixture, followed by the rum.
  5. Seal the batter in an airtight container and refrigerate for 24-48 hours to let it rest and relax.
  6. To prepare the moulds, melt 40g beeswax and 60g butter together in a microwave (or pan).
  7. Carefully fill the first canelé mould to the top with the liquid beeswax and butter mix, and then quickly pour it out into the next mould, before placing it upside down on a drying rack. Continue until all of your moulds are lined with a thin layer of wax.
  8. Place a tray into the oven and preheat it to 230°C (non-fan).
  9. Remove the batter from the fridge and give it a quick mix or shake to recombine.
  10. Fill the moulds, leaving a 10mm gap at the top. You can weigh them to ensure consistency – My filled moulds weigh 110g.
  11. Bake at 230°C for 10 minutes.
  12. Without opening the oven door, turn it down to 160°C (non-fan) and cook for a further 60 minutes.
  13. Place the canelés on a rack to cool down for at least 15 minutes before turning out.

Canelés Bordelais

Notes:

You may find that you need to adjust the temperatures and timing slightly to suit your oven – they are perhaps one of the most temperamental things I’ve made to date. You’re looking for a clearly defined and deeply caramelised shell.

Note that the beeswax and butter mix is enough to line a lot of moulds, but it can be stored in a fridge until needed again. If you’re using a modern silicone canelé moulds, you may not need to line them at all, however the final result will be different and less amazing.

Sourdough Is For Life, Not Just For Lockdown

Like puppies at Christmas, sourdough starter deserves enduring love and care – the starter you made, bought or were gifted during the coronavirus lockdown will actually live on, in perpetuum. I fear that a significant number of those who developed a newfound love of home baking during the unprecedented Covid-19 restrictions will all too quickly revert to mass-produced pappy, low-nutrition loaves from supermarket shelves as people start returning to their hectic working lives. After all, good sourdough is all about the devotion of time and attention to detail.

There’s hope though. If you baked enough sourdough loaves during the lockdown, developed your process and timing, and savoured the unique flavour that’s only achievable to the artisan baker, you’ll be hooked. Once you’ve tasted the good stuff and appreciated the undeniable magic that is transforming flour, water and salt into open, tangy crumb, you’ll no doubt want to persist with your endeavours.

But, alas, my bet is that most of the sourdough cultures that thrived during the height of lockdown, will have now sadly perished; neglected, and simply starved to death.

So how might we be able to save these vulnerable lives? Read on, my flour dusted friends.

  1. Refrigerate – covered over to protect it from the cold, dehydrating air of the fridge, your sourdough starter will easily survive for a couple of weeks without feeding. The cold will slow down the activity of the culture, so if it’s been fed just before going into the fridge then it’ll have enough food to keep it going. It may develop a layer of hooch on the top, but you can just mix it all up and feed it over a couple of days at room temperature to get it back to peak performance. Refrigerated sourdough starter
  2. Freeze – the extreme cryogenic option. Pop some of your starter in a ziplock bag, seal it up, label it and chuck it in the freezer. I’ll admit that I’ve not yet tried to revive any of my own backup starter from the freezer yet, but in theory it’ll just need to be defrosted and then given a good feed, air and warmth (I’ll update this post in due course) Frozen Dave 
  3. Dehydrate – take a little starter and spread it out very thinly on a sheet of greaseproof paper or a silicone mat. Leave it on a wire rack in a warm, airy environment until it has dried out completely. Once it’s brittle you can pop it into a labelled glass jar and store it for ages. This is an ideal option for transporting a starter.

     

  4. Share – keep sharing cuts of your starter with friends and colleagues with instructions on how to look after it (just like the traditional Amish Herman the German friendship cake https://hermanthegermanfriendshipcake.com/). This is the ultimate in offsite backup options – especially if your friends and family keep some in their freezer. dave
  5. Perfect – I’m convinced that once you’ve mastered a routine and timing which you can literally ‘work around’, it makes it so much easier to just keep baking! It’s of course sage to retain a backup starter using one or more of the above methods. 

In an ideal world, we’ll return to a place where the deep knowledge and experience of baking at home is commonplace once again. 

As always, do get in touch if you have any questions. 

Lockdown Sourdough

The staff of life. Bread connects every human, transcending continents, countries, creeds and clans. The COVID-19 outbreak appears to have encouraged a resurgence in home baking (and a run on flour amongst other basic staples). There are many different types of bread, but I’m obsessed with classic sourdough bread – the old way of baking using a living wild yeast starter, before dried yeasts were invented and mass production led us astray.

I’ll try to summarise everything you’ll need to know about creating a starter, looking after it and baking sourdough bread – please do reach out to me via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or email if you have any questions or queries.

To start, you’ll need a starter (!)

Making your very own unique starter from scratch is really straight forward and it’s something you can be really proud of – everything you need to know is right here: https://foodfitforfelix.com/2018/02/21/sourdough-starter/

I’ve been handing out cuts of my sourdough starter, Däve, to anyone who’s local enough to collect him from the wall outside.

What to do if you’re gifted a live starter?

First of all, you’ll probably want to find him/her a new home (and think of a name for your new lockdown companion!).  A 600ml jar with a lid is ideal for looking after your starter as it provides enough space for it to grow if you’re keeping it around 100g.

Next you’ll want to feed/refresh it. If you’ve only been given a small amount, you might want to bulk it up in size, but generally you’ll halve the starter (discarding or baking with half) and feeding the other half with a 50/50 mix of flour and water.

Bread flour can be tricky to get hold of at the moment, and you’ll need enough to keep your starter alive, so here’s some tips for:

Reducing flour consumption

  • Refrigeration: Popping it into the fridge in a sealed container will slow down the fermentation process so you can get away with feeding it once every couple of weeks (although you’ll need to refresh it a few times to get it back up to strength before you can bake with it again)
  • Freezing: believe it or not, you can freeze a portion of your starter in a ziplock bag and keep it in suspended animation – defrosting and feeding at some point in the future.
  • Dehydration: spread a little starter out on a piece of greaseproof paper (very thinly) and leave it on a rack to try out completely – you’ll be able to store your precious culture in a jam jar and rehydrate it when you can get hold of flour again.
  • Keep your starter small!

The bake

My preferred process for baking sourdough can be found here: https://foodfitforfelix.com/2018/12/18/sourdough-2-0/ although I’ve more recently been baking my loaves for a total of 50 minutes rather than an hour, and I no longer use semolina as it becomes a little hard after baking. I’ve also decided that I prefer the flavour from wholegrain or malted flour rather than white rye; the choice of flour is yours (as long as it’s strong flour) – you’ll no doubt want to start experimenting with different kinds of flour once you’ve perfected your baking process.

Don’t overlook freezing – just slice your freshly baked bread, wrap it up and freeze it. You can toast slices directly from the freezer.

Leftover bread?

Unlike wine, this does actually happen in our house. Sourdough bread lasts much longer than processed bread. If you have some leftover which has started to go stale (but not mouldy) then you can make a panzanella salad (google it), croutons for soup or perhaps the gold dust that is pangrattato – https://foodfitforfelix.com/2019/01/13/pangrattato/

If you can (and ensuring social distancing rules are respected), share! Starters, flours, fresh bread, tips, ideas, bannetons, recipes, hope and joy.

sourdough bread

Sourdough 2.0

Sourdough is all about time. As time has passed since my last post about sourdough, I’ve patiently and diligently continued on my quest to make fantastic sourdough. I’ll reiterate that regular practice, keen observation and confident intuition are what truly makes great bread.

Däve is all grown up, well, fourteen months old at the time of writing, and I’m feeling far more proficient in my yeast husbandry. Interestingly, this craft feels quite like parenting in the sense of becoming more and more unconsciously competent as time goes by; I’ve almost stopped thinking about the details and just get on with it. 

Lots of great questions have been coming my way recently so I think it’s the perfect time to take stock and get my latest methodology down for posterity.  

For my best sourdough loaf, I currently do the following (based on my equipment and environment): 

  1. Make sure the starter is on top form and recently fed and watered – if it’s been chilling out in the fridge to slow down the fermentation process then give it a 50/50 organic flour and water feeding to double its volume, a good mix to aerate it, and at least a day at room temperature. TOP TIP: You’ll know that it’s good to go if a spoonful of the starter floats in water. 
  2. Before going to bed, mix 80g of the starter with 80g of organic white bread flour and 80g water. This is your sponge. Cover it with a cloth or a shower cap (it’s your yeast-farming duty to liberate them from hotel rooms at every opportunity). 
  3. The following morning, start the autolyse process by mixing 50g organic white rye flour, 10g diastatic malt and 440g organic white bread flour into your sponge with 300g tepid water. Leave it (covered with a shower cap) for an hour or so. This will allow the flour to fully absorb the water, start the fermentation process, and ultimately make it much easier to knead. 
  4. Add 15g salt dissolved in a splash of water (about 10g) and knead your dough for 10 minutes until it’s beautifully smooth and elastic. There’s some real technique to be developed in kneading and shaping your dough, especially when it’s wet, but it isn’t hard to get the hang of it and if you’re like me, you’ll eventually find it more therapeutic than stressful. If you use a stand mixer, it will take a little more than 10 minutes and will definitely benefit from a couple of minutes of hand stretching afterwards. 
  5. We now venture into bulk fermentation. Leave your dough covered for an hour and then lovingly ‘stretch and fold’ with wet hands a few times to incorporate a touch more water and increase hydration à la ‘eau de bassinage’.  This technique will help to develop the gluten further and improve the crumb. Repeat this each hour, and then after four hours, shape the dough. To help it keep its shape, you want to stretch the gluten to wrap around itself tightly. I do this by drawing the dough towards myself (Google/YouTube it). 
  6. Pop your dough into a well dusted banneton (wicker bread proving basket). I use rice flour for this as it’s anhydrous and prevents the dough sticking. Sprinkle some semolina over the top (to prevent sticking) and cover it with your trusty shower cap. 
  7. Put your dough to bed in the top of your fridge and leave it until the following morning. This is the retarded method – it will slow the fermentation down, leading to a more digestible loaf. 
  8. Pop a large cast iron pot into your oven and turn it up as high as it will go – let’s say 250°C. After 20 minutes or so everything should be stinking hot. 
  9. Take your dough from the fridge and carefully turn it out onto a piece of greaseproof paper. 
  10. Score your dough with a lame or a razor blade in confident, even strokes. This will not only make your bread look good, but it will also help it expand evenly in the oven. 
  11. Being both quick and unbelievably careful in the process, remove your cast iron pot from the oven and lower your dough into it, give it a spritz of water (to create steam and slow the formation of the crust), pop the lid back on and then slip it back into the oven.  
  12. After 10 minutes, turn the temperature down to about 210°C and bake it for a further 50 minutes. 
  13. Remove your bread and leave it to cool on a wire rack.  

I’ve recently started doubling up on my ingredients to make two loaves at the same time – especially worthwhile given that sourdough bread keeps in perfect condition for such a long time. 

Good luck, godspeed and look out for future updates on my preferred method here and on Instagram @foodfitforfelix  

perfect sourdough

#YeastFarmer