Category Archives: Breads

Harvest festival wheat sheaf loaf

A bread wheat sheaf for a harvest festival

Beside my primary school was a church, St Stephen’s. In the summer, house martins built their nests under its eaves and whizzed over our heads as we came and went or played in the yard on wet days. Just as the house martins were leaving at the end of the summer, the autumn term started. Soon after, we had a harvest festival.

The abiding notion in Britain is that school summer holidays freed up children to help with the harvest. This may be a myth, but certainly the biggest grain harvests start happening here in the middle of school holidays, around the festival of Lammas, 1 August.

Harvest festivals continue through late summer and autumn, notably occurring around the time of the nearest full moon to the autumnal equinox. This year, the equinox is today, 23 September, the full moon 28 September. Though our local primary school is doing its harvest festival on 16 October. I’ve not seen how they do it yet, but I’ve got strong memories from a couple (several) decades ago of the festivals at St Stephen’s, with the altar piled high with foods, to give thanks and for charity. There were tinned foods, but there was also fresh autumn produce, and possibly even a wheat sheaf: real or made of dough.

Stalks and symbolism
A sheaf is a tied bunch of grain stalks after they have been harvested. It was a common sight at this time of year during the centuries when harvests were done by hand with scythes. I did it this way when I lived on a small farm in New Zealand in 1990, and I know people these days growing heritage grain varieties that still do in England, but mostly harvesting is done now with combines: so no more sheaves.

An old "wheatsheaf" pub sign in Dorset

It’s a shame really, as they’re an ancient symbol and one that you’re more likely to encounter now in pub names. Symbolically, however, the wheat sheaf represents plenty, a good harvest, fertility and even resurrection, as the cycle of seasons has once more given grain for bread. Indeed, the sheaf infers bread, and bread is of course a quintessentially important symbolic food in some religions. The heart of Christianity is the eucharist: the eating of bread to reiterate the Last Supper, where Jesus prepared for his sacrifice by shared bread, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:20).

Back to school
Although I’m not religious, I enjoy the symbolism and stories, and most of all appreciate the tradition, so I thought it was about time I had a go at a bread wheat sheaf.

It’s based on the recipe in The Bread Book by Linda Collister (1993) which is in turn based on a recipe in The Modern Baker, Confectioner and Caterer (1907) by John Kirkland, a former head of The National Bakery School (founded 1894), then at Borough Polytechnic and now part of London South Bank University. I did a diploma there in 2010, but we didn’t make anything quite this ornate.

This is slightly tricky to do in a domestic oven as it won’t be as capacious as a commercial oven. Mine can cope with baking sheets 35cm wide. It’ll mean your sheaf isn’t as grand as those professionals might make for harvest festivals, but even the comparatively stumpy results can still be very pleasing.

It’s a fairly time-consuming project. Not only do you have to make the dough and wait for it to prove, you also have to shape a lot of small pieces of dough. Notably to make the ears of corn. (And when I say corn, I’m using it in the Old English sense meaning any edible grain, though particularly wheat grain, not the modern American sense – which is taking over here in Britain – meaning maize.)

1350g strong white bread flour
20g salt
8g caster sugar
15g fresh yeast
750g tepid water (approximately, see below)

Glaze
1 egg
Pinch salt

1. Combine the yeast and most of the water. Hold say 100g back.
2. Put the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl and mix to combine.
3. Add the yeast mixture and bring to a dough.
4. It will be quite a tight, firm dough as you want it for sculpting, however if it feels too dry add a little more of the water. How dry your dough feels will depend on how absorbent your flour is. As I’m using a stoneground flour, which contains more bran than an industrial steel roller-milled flour, it’s quite absorbent.

Turn out the doughKnead to a smooth dough
5. Turn the mixture out onto a lightly oiled surface and knead until smooth and well combined. These days I rarely do long manual kneads, but as this is quite old-school, go with it. I added water to a total of about 750g – meaning the dough is 55% hydration.

Before provingDoubled in size

6. Return the ball of dough to the bowl (cleaned and lightly oiled), cover or put in a plastic bag, then leave to prove until doubled in size. At an ambient temperature of about 18C this too about two and half hours.
7. When doubled, turn out. My total dough weighed approximately 2150g.

Deflate the dough
8. Give the dough another short knead to deflate and redistribute the gases. Again, this isn’t a loaf where we’re after a nice pleasing crumb, it’s a medium for sculpting.
9. Divide the dough up into pieces: two at 320g, one at 400g and the rest, about 1110g. Don’t worry too much about total accuracy – you’re making a wheat sheaf, an organic thing, not something geometric.
10. As this is quite a protracted process, you might want to keep the pieces you’re not working on in the fridge, so they don’t keep proving and swelling too much. Too much proving and the resulting shape may crack where you don’t want it to.

Wheat sheaf base layer
11. Take the two 320g pieces and form two rough rectangles, approximately 22x13cm. Use one to form the trunk of the sheaf, the other the top. Place both pieces on the largest baking sheet you have (that’ll fit in your oven of course). Stretch the head out slightly. You want a kind of cartoon tree or mushroom shape. Prick all over with a fork and brush with water to stop a crust forming. Cover with a damp cloth while you do the next bit.

30 pieces30 pieces into sausages
30 pieces as stalks

12. Take the 400g piece and divide it into 30 pieces, each scaled at around 13g.
13. Roll these pieces into snakes, again about 22cm long.

Add the stalks
14. Place 27 of the snakes on the base, making the wheat stalks. Twist or braid the remaining three to form a sheaf band, tucking its ends underneath on each side.
15. Cover or bag this and place it in the fridge as the next bit is the most time-consuming.
16. Take the large, remaining piece of dough. This is to create to ears. Divide it up into about 70 pieces, each scaled at 16g-ish. Do more, smaller pieces if you want daintier ears.

Make the ears
17. Roll each piece into a ball, then roll out, rolling one end to a point.
18. With a pair of sharp-pointed scissors, make snips in the small piece of dough, three or four, on three sides. Cut down and inwards towards the rounded base. It’s a bit like making dozens of mini versions of the French pain d’épi – meaning ear or cob bread.
19. You could make all of them in advance, but I got the main part out of the fridge again, and started positioning them on the top. Place them loosely to give a sense of them having grown out of the stalks.
20. While you’re doing this, preheat your oven to 220C.
21. Keep adding the ears, layering slightly, with the thickest point in the middle.

Position all the ears
23. Beat the one egg with the pinch of salt and use it to – carefully and lightly – glaze the sheaf.
23. Bake for 20 minutes, take out of the oven and brush with more egg glaze.
24. Turn the heat down to 170C and bake for another 40 minutes or so until nicely browned.

Baked

At this point, you can decide whether you want to eat it – it’s a perfectly serviceable, albeit low hydration, bread – or use it as a decoration. If you want it for the latter, turn your oven down to 140C or 130C and leave it in for a few hours longer to completely dry it out. Collister says six hours and if you have a wood or oil range, maybe you could just leave it in, but using electricity this seems a bit excessive in terms of energy consumption.

Collister decorates hers with a blobby little mouse on the stalks. If I’d been doing this with children in the house I might have been tempted, but as our adoption process continues to drag us along on its emotional roller-coaster, and we still haven’t been able to expand our family, I wasn’t inclined.

It’s easy to make a mouse though – just save 30g or so of the dough used for the wheat ears, make it into an eggy shape, snip a few ears, skewer a few eyes and add a snaky tail. I don’t think the mouse has any particular symbolism, though I could be wrong. Maybe it today it could symbolism how biodiversity is so tragically compromised by modern industrial farming techniques.

Wheatsheaf, detail

Addendum
So I dried out the wheat sheaf loaf – every time I used to oven for other things, then turned it off, I put the loaf back in to dry while it cooled.

I gave it to the local primary school, where I volunteer, and they used it as part of their harvest festival display. It’s a nice echo of my own memories of harvest festival at my primary school, all those years ago.

School harvest festival display

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few notes
1. Here’s a film of a British master baker making a wheat sheaf in 1957. His wheat ears are a bit finer than mine!
2. Out of interest, Fran, my wife, works at Kew Foundation, at Kew Gardens in London. As I was doing this, she was working on a document that contained this remarkable statistic. While the human genome contains 3 billion letters, that of bread wheat (Triticum aestivum L. ) contains 17 billion. I’m not a scientist – clearly – but that’s boggling. The human sense of superiority leads one to imagine a sophisticated, sentient animal organism like us would be that much more genetically complicated.

 

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Filed under Baking, Breads, Discussion, Feasts, Recipes

Wheat tortilla and tlayuda, the “Mexican pizza”

Tlayuda, the so-called Mexican pizza

In 2007, Fran and I went to Mexico. We had a few weeks in the city of Oaxaca, in the state of Oaxaca, in the southwest of the country. Wandering the amazing indoor markets there, with their coloured fabrics, leather goods and teetering piles of red grasshopper snacks (chapulines), we discovered tlayuda, or tlayuda Oaxacqueña.

Tlayuda has been dubbed the “Mexican pizza” as it’s superficially similar – a wheat-based disc and toppings including stringy cheese. It’s made with that quintessential Mexican food: the tortilla, an unleavened flatbread, compared to the leavened dough of pizza. And also unlike the most familiar pizzas, with their tomato sauce1, the basis of the topping is beans, refritos.2 The pizza comparison goes further because of that stringy cheese, though real tlayuda Oaxacqueña uses a unique local cheese, queso Oaxaca, or quesillo.

Spun cheeses
Queso Oaxaca is made with the same technique as mozzarella, giving rise to that stringy texture. This involves the heated curds being stretched and rolled into balls, not unlike balls of spun yarn. The technique is called pasta filata, which could be translated as “spun paste”. The queso Oaxaca may indeed be related to mozzarella, there’s a suggestion on Wikipedia (with no sources to back it up) that it was brough by Dominican monks, presumably Italian Dominicans. Whatever the history of the cheese, it’s great. Though not exactly readily available in England. Even Tomasina Miers’ Mexican street food chain, Wahaca (see what she’s done there?) just used mozzarella, if memory serves.

Miers she has a recipe for tlayuda here, and for the base she just suggests “large Middle Eastern pittas, Turkish or Italian flatbreads” in lieu of wheat tortilla. This seems a bit of a cheat to me, never mind the fact that most supermarket flatbreads are full of crap industrial ingredients and palm oil. Plus this blog is all about baking from scratch!

So I’m making my wheat tortilla; it’s pretty straightforward. Traditionally these would be made on a comal – an earthenware or cast iron flat griddle. As my kitchen isn’t equipped with a comal, I’m just using a heavy cast iron skillet. It means the tortilla aren’t that big, diameter-wise, but it’ll have to do.

You’re best off making the refritos first, as they take some time. You could speed up the beans a bit by using a tin, but I prefer to cook from dried.

Wholewheat tortilla with toppings - the tlayuda

Toppings
As with a pizza, you can vary your tlayuda toppings, but I’m trying to re-create what I remember eating.

Although Fran ate hers with shredded meat, I had them with just the refritos, salad – tomatoes, crisp lettuce, avocado – and the cheese.

Miers suggests a combination of mozzarella and pecorino (presumably pecorino Romano) or mature cheddar; I’m going for a combination of mozzarella and a feta-type cheese made here in Sussex called Medita. A nice crumbly Wensleydale might be good too. People reading this in the US, I don’t know enough about your cheeses but similarly something salty and crumbly.3

You can add some salsa to the mix too, or some coriander (cilantro) leaves.

Refried beans, frijoles refritos
Most commonly these are made with pinto or black beans, though I’ve also done them in kidney beans. In fact, all three of these, along with flageolet, borlotti and haricot (aka navy) beans, are the same species, the common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris, transformed into distinct looking cultivars after years of selective breeding. Again, as I prefer to use local ingredients where possible (though we can’t grow avos in England, dammit!), I’m using red haricots from Hodmedod’s.

500g beans
Water
Sunflower or rapeseed (canola) oil. (Traditionally you’d use lard. I’ve even done it with bacon fat, which is good. But not for the veggies.)
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
A few cloves of garlic, whole
Salt
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
Chili (optional)

1. Soak the beans overnight, discard the water, then put in a saucepan along with the coarsely chopped onion and whole garlic cloves, cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer until tender.
2. Drain, reserving the cooking water.
3. In a large frying pan, fry the finely chopped onion and crushed garlic in the oil or fat until soft.
4. Add the cooked beans, and fry over a low heat. If it’s too dry, add some of the cooking water.
5. Squash and crush the mixture with a fork or potato masher. You can make a puree with a blender, food processor or stick blender (aka zizzer) but I prefer the more varied texture you can from hand-mashing. Add more of the cooking liquid to achieve a nice sloppy consistency but not too runny.
6. Keep warm while you prepare the rest of the tlayuda, or re-heat when required.

(I did take some photos of the refritos, but frankly it’s not the most attractive-looking thing on its own and I simply don’t have the inclination or skills to make it look fancy.)

Wheat tortilla
As I understand it, tlayuda is always made with wheat tortilla, not corn (maize) tortilla. I’m using a mixture of wholewheat and white flours, both stoneground, and both low protein. The amount of water I give is just a guide, QB. The exact amount will depend on how absorbent your flour is.

150g plain wholewheat flour
100g plain white wheat flour
2g fine sea salt
60g oil, lard or shortening. I used sunflower oil
100g warm water, approx

Wheat tortilla ingredients

1. Combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl.

Add the oil
2. Add the oil or fat and combine. If you’re using a solid fat, crumb in it. Either way the result will be crumb-like.

Tortilla dough, moist but not sticky
3. Add the water a little at a time to form a moist but not sticky dough. Bring together as a ball. The dough should weigh about 400g.
4. Wrap in plastic or cover with a cloth and leave to rest for 20-30 minutes.

Balls of tortilla dough
5. Now, the size of your skillet will decree how big you can make your balls of dough to be rolled into tortilla. My skillet is only 23cm wide, so I made 6 balls of dough at about 66g each. Again, once you’ve formed the balls, give them a rest, covered.
6. Warm up the skillet, dry – don’t oil it.
7. On a floured work surface, roll out the balls. The dough should be about 2mm thick.

Cooking wheat tortilla in a skillet
8. Cook the tortillas one after the other turning them over when they start to blister. It’ll only take a few minutes each side. Cook them too long and they go crisp, or hard.
9. Keep the rolled tortillas in a stack, under a clean cloth.

Assemble your tlayuda
Cut up your salad ingredients – dice or slice the tomatoes and avo, shred the lettuce. Bring the mozzarella to room temperature and tear it in rough shreds; crumble the other cheese. Prep some coriander leaves if you want.

Take a tortilla. Smear it with refritos. Dose it with the torn mozzarella. Sprinkle over some of the crumbly cheese. Add some shredded lettuce, and some slices or tomato and avocado. Try not to completely overload it.

I don’t remember the tlayuda we ate being spiced or heated up particularly. But if you like chili, and can’t bear the idea of eating something nominally Mexican but without any chili, feel free to add some fresh slices or chili, or whatever Scovillage your favour. We had such a good chili harvest this week I added a little mild chili (apache) to the refritos, but it’s up to you.

Enjoy!

Some of this year's chili harvest

 

Footnotes
1 Any pizza with a tomato sauce is called pizza rossa (red pizza) in Italy, though it also specifically refers to a very basic pizza – just base and sauce. Pizza bianca (white pizza) refers to any pizza that doesn’t have a tomato sauce, though it also refers specifically to a snack – very popular in Rome – that is just the flatbread itself, seasoned simply with the olive oil and perhaps a sprinkle of course salt.
2 Wikipedia says refritos actually means “well-fried beans”, not “refried beans”, as we’ve been led to believe all these years.
3 So yes, I’ve heard of Monterey Jack, and I’ve encountered a bright orange stuff that often comes in plasticky slices and gets called “Cheddar”. This is problematic if you’re English, as Cheddar is an actual place in the west of the country, and the traditional cheese produced there is a hard, full-fat cow’s milk cheese that is undyed, uncoloured. I don’t know why real cheddar doesn’t have an European PDO (protected designation of origin) status, or similar. I suppose the name has become so synonymous with generic hard cow’s milk cheeses now it’s too late to re-educate people and protect it.

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Kubaneh – Yemeni Jewish breakfast bread

Kubaneh

The latest addition to my cookbook library is Honey & Co’s The Baking Book, by Sarit Packer and Itomar Srulovich. It has the same UK publisher as my friend Rachel’s Five Quarters (which boasts a couple of my recipes), so I went along to the launch event a few weeks ago, bought a copy, got it signed and have been trying out the recipes since.

I love enriched doughs, so I was drawn to the recipe for kubaneh. Sarit’s family has Egyptian and Yemeni connections, and this bread is from the latter culture, specifically it’s a Yemenite-Jewish Sabbath breakfast bread. Reading more about it now, it’s traditionally baked overnight in a sealed tin. While Sarit’s version bakes for a fairly long time, it’s not overnight.

Some versions include whole eggs, and can be eaten as more savoury affair, with tomatoes or a tomato dip, or skhug, Yemeni hot sauce*. This one is sweeter. It’s rich in butter (or smen/semneh fermented sheep or goat milk butter; or margarine, depending on your dietary restrictions and inclinations and shopping options) and drizzled with honey, which caramelises together slightly.

Why haven’t I heard of this before?! Just my kind of thing.

Notes
I’ve tweaked the process slightly and given the ingredients in a more consistent format, so as to also include bakers’ percentages (below).

It’s a fairly moist dough – the original recipe says 300-350ml water, but I split the difference at 325ml: 325g. That works out at about 65% hydration, so quite wet and sticky. Check out my post on handling sticky doughs.

For this baking vessel, they use a “traditional lidded aluminium pot” but say you can also use a 20cm fixed bottom round cake tin, with a “lid” made of foil.

I used fresh yeast. You could use 10g active dry/granular yeast instead. If you only have instant/powdered yeast, you don’t need to mix it with liquid first – just combine it with the flour.

The dough
60g light soft brown sugar
15g fresh yeast
325g water, at about body temperature
250g strong white bread flour
250g plain (all-purpose) white flour
6g fine salt

Plus
Vegetable oil
Unsalted butter, softened (or margarine or smen, if you can get it. Very unlikely here in England!)
Runny honey

Here is it in bakers’ percentages (rounded):

Ingredient Quantity Percentage
Light soft brown sugar 60g 12%
Fresh yeast 15g 3%
Water 325g 65%
Strong white flour 250g 50%
Plain white flour 250g 50%
Salt 6g 2.5%

1. Mix together the water, sugar and yeast. Stir to dissolve the yeast.
2. Weigh out the flours into a large bowl and add the salt.
3. Add the yeast mixture to the flour and bring together a dough. I don’t have a mixer, so my instructions are for doing it by hand. If you do, just mix until well combined and smooth.

Kubaneh shaggy doughKubaneh - kneading doughKubaneh - smooth dough
4. Turn out the shaggy mixture onto a lightly oiled work surface and knead. I used the Dan Lepard technique of not kneading too much, then returning the dough to the bowl, cleaned and oiled, leaving for 10 minutes, then kneading briefly again. Repeat this twice more, then return to the cleaned, lightly oiled bowl.
5. Cover with plastic or a clean, damp tea towel and leave to prove for a couple of hours, or until doubled in size. The time will depend on the ambient temperature. It’s about 20C in my kitchen on a mild English summer’s day, and it took about two and a half hours.

Kubaneh dough - proved
6. While it’s proving, liberally grease the cake tin with butter, and grease the underside of the foil lid too. If you have a lidded pot, grease that similarly.

Kubaneh dough - slapped around
7. Sarit describes the next step as “the strange bit” – you moisten your hands then “flip the dough about in the bowl to knock it back”. Do it three times, keeping your hands moist.

Kubaneh dough - pieces
8. Oil a tray, then divide the dough up into eight pieces and place them on the tray. The dough weighs 900g, so eight pieces at around 112g.
9. Oil your hands a bit then take each piece, stretch it slightly, and put a blob of butter in the middle. I used pieces at about 10g, half a walnut size.
10. Smear the butter a bit then wrap the dough around it to form rough balls.

Kubaneh dough pieces in tin
11. Put the balls in the prepared tin, one in the middle, the rest equally spaced around it.
12. Put some more flecks of butter on top, drizzle with honey then cover and prove again until the dough “almost reaches the top” – too high and it’ll “overflow when baked.” I drizzled a bit more honey and added a bit more butter before baking.

Kubaneh dough ready for baking
13. Preheat the oven to 220C.
14. Put the tin, with its lid, in the oven and bake for half an hour.
15. Reduce the heat to 200C and continue baking for another half an hour.
16. Reduce the heat again to 180C and continue baking for another half an hour.
17. Turn the oven off and leave in the oven “for at least an hour”.
18. It’s best served warm, so if you’re an insomniac and have been doing this all night, or proved it overnight in the fridge and baked it early, enjoy it thus.

It’s surprisingly soft and chewy, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get nice caramelised bits. I won’t be doing it every week, but it’s a great addition to my enriched breads & breakfast bakes armoury. It’s also reminiscent of English lardy cakes, particularly the fruit-free versions from my part of the country, Hampshire and Sussex. Though obviously the fats used are a bit different for that gentile bake.

It’s also got me thinking about that most indulgent of fatty-sugary-doughy caramelised concoctions, the Breton kouign amann, which is more a pastry than a bread. Still, I might have to revisit that soon.

* Aka zhug, zehug; the Honey & Co The Baking Book also has a recipe for this, to accompany their lahooh, Yemeni pancakes.

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Toxins in our bread

An email from the Soil Association arrived in my inbox yesterday. It’s a petition…. no, no, don’t stop reading! This is important, especially if you eat grain-based foods* and, you know, don’t want to completely kill the environment and poison the food chain. It involves bread, and poisons therein.

For those who don’t know, the Soil Association is a UK charity that campaigns to promote organic farming as well as providing certification to farmers. Now, I broadly support organic practises for the common sense reason that using chemicals designed to kill living things in farming cannot be healthy for consumers – we are, after all, living things ourselves.

But nor do I completely reject non-organic farming, for a few key reasons. Firstly, people may be farming in a more traditional way but not want the strict restrictions that accompany certified organic farming. Secondly, I’m dubious about large-scale certified organic farming: it doesn’t seem dissimilar to non-organic industrial farming in its heavy use of fossil fuels, food miles etc. Thirdly, strictly organic systems may not be viable for feeding a global population of seven, eight, nine, ten billion.

Weedkillers in food
I’m not getting into these arguments now though as they’re complex. Instead, I want to promote is an awareness of this current Soil Association campaign. The email I received had a title “Not in our bread” with a subtitle that says, “Government tests show nearly 1/3rd of UK’s bread can contain weedkiller”. This figure is credited to a 2013 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF) report. After the same report, a news story last year said “63% of the loaves analysed in 2013 contained traces of at least one pesticide and that contamination has run at these levels for at least a decade.”

That’s shocking by any reckoning. Shocking, though probably not surprising. Since the two world wars, those of us in industrialised countries, then since the so-called “Green Revolution” those in developing countries, have embraced industrial farming methods that rely heavily on chemical inputs. We’ve known for a long while that such things are toxic, and such toxics are having an effect on the environment – getting into the water table, changing (damaging) the ecology of waterways, effecting animal and insect populations**. But we’ve been complacent about the effects, as if increasing crop yields and pushing down food prices are the only things that matter. Well, sure they matter – but poisoning ourselves and our environment matters too. Just a bit.

Is cheap, plentiful food worth it at the cost of our health and that our the environment?

Damaging our genes
The problem being addressed by this petition relates to glyphosate, a weedkiller. The chemical was discovered in the 1950s then Monsanto recognised it as a weedkiller in 1970. (A great way to commemorate the year of my birth; thanks Monsanto.) It was considered to have a comparatively low toxicity to animals, and became the key ingredient of commercially available weedkillers, most notably in Monsanto’s proprietary weedkiller Roundup.

Now, I never eat shitty industrial faux-bread and wheat-based products and I try to buy organic flour for my bread, but when I’m skint, I do resort to cheaper flours. And these will almost certainly have come from wheat crops nuked with such toxins. It’s a worrying thought.

The Soil Association says, “Government figures show its [glyphosate’s] use in UK farming has increased by a shocking 400% in the last 20 years. Nearly a third of UK cereal crops (over 1 million hectares) were sprayed with glyphosate in 2013.” It’s used on crops too, as well as in parks and gardens.

The Soil Association email also says, “Farmers spray the weedkiller pre-harvest, in order to kill and dry the crop and reduce weeds for easier harvesting. But, The International Agency for Research on Cancer [IARC] – part of the World Health Organisation – has recently identified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.”

Professor Christopher Portier of the IARC says, “Glyphosate is definitely genotoxic.” That is, it damages your DNA. Furthermore, proprietary weedkiller mixes may be even worse. Dr Robin Mesnage of the Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics at Kings College, London, said at a Westminster briefing, “We know Roundup… contains many other chemicals, which when mixed together are 1,000 times more toxic than glyphosate on its own.”

It sounds like most of us will already be consuming products containing these toxics, and it’s unlikely that’ll stop any time soon. Some nations have already moved to ban glyphosate products, though in the UK, the Soil Association is initially just trying to exert pressure to stop the pre-harvest spraying, which would be a step in the right direction. If you would prefer to reduce the amount of toxins and carcinogens in your food supply, sign the petition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Like any sane, non-coeliac, person should.
** Insects that are food for other animals and insects that are pollinators. Such side-effects of large-scale industrial farming are quiet catastrophes that are already proving to have consequences. Another group of toxic chemicals used in agriculture, neonicotinoid insecticides, has been connected with the severe decline of bees recently. No bees to pollinate = no crops such as fruits, brassicas (from broccoli and cabbage to mustard and oilseed rape), coffee, onion, sunflowers, various beans/peas/legumes etc etc etc etc. Check out a comprehensive list here.

Just as I wrote this, we had some (more) terrible anti-sustainability news here in the UK: the government has ignored scientific advice and softened rules on neonicotinoid use. They’ve granted a derogation, allowing farmers to spray it on oilseed rape crops. More info here. It’s a difficult one as farmers have got used to this chemical-industrial approach to cultivation, and struggle when they’re banned, but such toxins aren’t the answer. Surely with a combination of traditional knowledge garnered from millennia of farming and modern science we can find sustainable solutions?

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A version of khobz, khubz, khoubz Arabic bread

Khobz, torn open, with ful medames

Recently, I’ve been making various Middle Eastern, Asian and Mediterranean flatbreads, or at least flattish-breads that are leavened but formed into low profile shapes. These include types of Armenian bread (peda and matnakash), naan/nan (which I’ve been experimenting with, but haven’t quite cracked; watch this space) and of course pizza bianca and pizza. So I also fancied having a go at khobz, aka khoubz, aka khubz, aka khobez (all transliterations of خبز).

Now, before anyone says “Those aren’t khobz!” or “Those don’t look like the khobz I buy from my local Arabic deli”, bear in mind that the word simply means bread in standard Arabic, it’s not one particular type of bread.

Baked, wrapped in a cloth

Wikipedia says it’s a synonym for pita, but that’s not quite right. Whereas pita is, generally and most commonly here in the UK, a white wheat flour flatbread with a pocket, I’ve had khobz in various forms. For our wedding, where we had a Middle Eastern-inspired feast, a Yemeni-British friend sourced a load from an Arabic bakery in west London: they were foot-wide, thin and floppy. But I’ve also had khobz that are smaller, discus-shaped, not flat breads, but in this flattish category I enjoy. This latter, I believe, may be more typical to Morocco, but having never been there I’m not sure. Rather than being made with just white wheat flour, these can contain wholemeal wheat flour and semolina.

When I was a kid, semolina was simply a slightly off-putting gruelly pudding we had for school lunches, but it more specifically refers to a coarse flour or meal made from durum wheat.

Durum wheat is Triticum durum aka Triticum turgidum subsp. durum, a cousin to common bread wheat, Triticum aestivum. It’s principally used for making pasta – and not so common in England as a sludgy pudding any more, though I’m sure it’s due for a fancy revival.

Whatever the form the khobz takes, it’s designed for eating torn and smeared with stews and dips.

Oh, and I don’t have a tannuur, or tandoor, so they’re just baked in a normal domestic oven.

12g fresh yeast
320g water, tepid
200g strong white flour
100g wholemeal wheat flour
150g semolina
5g salt

1. Crumble the yeast into the water and whisk.

Different floursAdd the yeast water
2. Combine the flours, semolina and salt in a large bowl.
3. Pour in the yeasty water and bring the mixture together to form a shaggy dough.

Shaggy doughSmooth-ish dough
4. Turn out and knead to a smooth dough, or put in a mixer to achieve the same result with less elbow grease.
5. Put the ball of dough back into the large bowl, cleaned and slightly oiled. Cover with a damp cloth then leave for half an hour.
6. Take out the dough, stretch it into a rough rectangle then fold it in thirds. This is called stretch and fold, a useful technique for developing doughs. (See my pizza bianca recipe for more on the process, including photos.)
7. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover and leave for another half hour. Do one more stretch and fold, then put it back, cover and leave until doubled in size.

Doubled in size
8. Take out the dough and weigh it. It should weight about 790g. For six small loaves, divide it into six pieces, each weighing about 130g.

Divide into 6 piecesForm balls
9. Form the pieces into balls, cover and rest for about 10 minutes.

Form discs
10. Sprinkle the worktop with more flour, then, using the heel of your hand, squash down the balls into discs, about 15cm in diameter. Place these on baking sheets dusted with semolina, and cover.

Before baking
11. Leave to prove again, until doubled in size.
12. Preheat your oven to 220C.
13. Bake the loaves until slightly browned. Time will vary depending on how fierce your oven is, but at least 10 minutes and less than 20.
14. Wrap in a clean tea towel or cloth then serve, warm-ish.

Khobz wiuth ful medames

I made this batch to have with ful medames, the broad bean/fava dish that is arguably from Egypt but is found throughout much of the Levant and Arabic East Africa in various localised forms, and a lemony tahini sauce. I love beans, legumes, pulses, and I prefer to buy locally grown, or at least British produce. Sadly, a lot of the pulses we could get in Italy, just don’t grow in Britain, or the ones available in the shops are all from China. Too far, too dubious. At the moment, I’m favouring fava etc from British producer Hodmedods, and they include a regime for ful medames in one of the leaflets that comes with their pulses.

Apparently broad beans/fava – Vicia faba – have been grown in Britain since the Iron Age, that is the period of about a millennium prior to the comprehensive Roman invasion of 43AD. I love the idea of making an Arabic bread, to eat with an Egyptian stew, made with British grown broad beans, known by their Italian name.

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Challah

Challah torn 2

Not being Jewish, I don’t have an iota of authority making challah, aka chollah, challa. But it’s a bread I love, and I’ve made a few times before, so I wanted to revisit it.

Quintessential for Sabbath and Jewish holidays, challah is not only a delicious enriched bread, a religious cousin to the secular brioche, it’s a great shape. I love the braid format, it’s handsome, fun to make and satisfying to tear.

I believe one of the reasons it’s a braid is that it’s easier to tear and as such doesn’t require cutting, thus avoiding introducing a knife – a weapon – to Sabbath and holiday proceedings.

Challah torn 3

I also believe the strands of the braid are symbolic of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Being a pretty amateur braider, I’m not ready for a 12-strand version yet, so I am sticking with the more commonplace four-strand form. It’s not something I’ve done for a few years, so excuse any clunkiness in execution. Heck, I can’t even practice plaiting my wife’s hair, as she’s wearing it short at the moment.

Symbols and meanings
Talking of the symbolism and heritage of challah, I do get the impression that there are different interpretations. So while Alan Davidson in the Oxford Companion to Food writes, “… the meaning of the word challah in biblical Hebrew is this bit of dough, ‘the priest’s share’.” Claudia Roden writes, “The name challah was given to a bread in South Germany in the Middle Ages, when it was adopted by Jews for the Sabbath… John Cooper (Eat and Be Satisfied) notes that the first mention of the bread was in the fifteenth century and that the term was coined in Austria. Before that the bread was called berches, a name that is still used by Jews in some parts today.”

Other sources suggest berches – at least today – is a water-based challah, with potato in the dough. Fascinating. I love these baked-goods family trees.

Anyway, my challah is a dairy version. I’ve read about enough American-Jewish versions to know they exist, with butter instead of oil and milk instead of water, but not enough to understand the kosher restrictions. Indeed, none of my friends with Jewish heritage seem to understand these things either, so I shouldn’t kick myself too much for being an ignorant gentile in this case. Adapt as fits your requirements, eg replace the sugar with honey.

Recipe

As with all my recipes, it helps if you have electronic scales. And I use grams. They’re simply easier and more accurate. Plus, it’s the second decade of the 21st century, folks!

I’ve included baker’s precentages too, as they’re handy for conversions, scaling, comparisons etc.

This recipe uses a pre-ferment, a sponge. It’s a very pleasing technique, as you feed the yeast on some of the flour and some, or all of the liquid, and create what becomes a lively bubbling mass. Andrew Whitney also says it’s an important and useful technique for enriched doughs as “Yeast cannot feed on ingredients like fat, egg and spice, so it is a good idea to get it working vigorously before mixing it with these things.”

Make 2 medium sized, 4-braid loaves

Ingredients

Ingredient Percentage Quantity (g)
White bread flour 60 340
Plain white flour 40 225
Milk 42 240
Yeast (fresh) 2 12
Egg 20 110
Salt 1 6
Butter 12 70
Caster sugar 4 25
Total 181 1028

Notes
White bread flour – that is, higher protein.
Plain or all-purpose flour – that is, lower protein.
Use 6g of active dried yeast or 5g of instant yeast instead.
110g of beaten egg was exactly two medium eggs for me, though sizes vary. I wouldn’t agonise too much, bit more would be fine as it’s quite a dry dough.

Method

1. Warm up the milk and crumble in the yeast. In a medium bowl, mix the yeasty milk, the sugar and 200g of the white bread flour and beat together to make a slurryish mixture.
2. Cover and leave to get bubbly. This will take about an hour, depending on temperature. You could leave it in the fridge overnight.
3. In a large bowl, combine the plain flour, the remaining bread flour and the salt
4. The butter should be soft – at least at room temperature. If it’s not, warm it up a bit. I tend to nuke it for a few seconds in the microwave.
5. Crack a couple of eggs into a bowl, whisk briefly, then weigh out the necessary amount.

Combine egg, butter, sponge and flourBring together
6. Put the butter, egg and sponge in the large bowl with the other flour and bring to a dough. Alternatively, just combine in a mixer with a dough hook, and form the dough.

Turn outKnead till smooth
7. If working by hand, turn out the mixture and knead until you have a smooth dough.

Prove till doubled
8. Form the dough into a ball, then put it in a large, clean bowl, cover and leave to prove until doubled in size. Time will vary depending on the air temperature but mine took about two hours.
9. Turn out the dough, then form it into a ball again. Leave to rest, covered, for five minutes.

Divide into pieces
10. Weigh the dough. It should weigh around 1000g. To make two medium loaves, divide it into eight pieces, each weighing about 125g. Alternatively, you can make one large loaf – just divide into four pieces, each weighing about 250g.
11. Form the pieces into balls, cover and rest for five minutes.

Form balls, form strands
12. Form each ball into a snake or sausage or rope. You get the gist. Each needs to be the same length. Mine were 50cm, but I’m actually thinking it looks better if they’re shorter. Your choice.
13. Take four snakes and pinch one end of each together firmly, tucking the end under and laying the strands out in front of you like half a tired octopus.

Lay out strands

14. There are plenty of videos online for braiding four strands. I remember it like this: 2/3, 4/2, 1/3 and repeat.

2 over 34 over 2

So take 2 (the second from the left) and put it over 3 (the third from the left), see above left. Then take 4 (the furthest right) and put it over 2 (the second from the left), see above right. Then take 1 (the furthest left) and put it over 3 (the third from the left).
Note, you’re not numbering the same strand itself, you’re numbering the position the strand is currently in, from left to right. Repeat to the end, then pinch together and tuck under again.

BraidingBraiding 2
15. Put on a baking sheet, cover and leave to prove again until doubled in size.
16. Preheat the oven to 220C.

Final prove - beforeFinal prove - after, egg wash
17. Brush the risen loaf with the remaining beaten egg. (At this point you can decorate it with seeds: poppy and/or sesame. Dip a wet knuckle in the seeds then press it onto a segment of the braid. Repeat until each segment has a patch of seeds on it.)

Baked
18. Put in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 180 and keep baking for another half hour or so. You want a nice golden colour.
19. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

2 challah

 

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White tin loaf

Bacon sarnie

Look, I believe in the nutritional, virtuous and downright soulful qualities of wholegrain as much as the next right-thinking foodie, but sometimes you just need white bread. And sometimes you just need white bread baked in a tin. For sandwiches, for picnics, for easy lunches or – most importantly – for bacon sarnies1.

I didn’t really eat meat for about 20 years, and only had my ways corrupted by my carnaholic wife, so I thought I’d revisit meat abstinence for Lent 2015. So, for Easter Saturday, I’m officially breaking my fast with a bacon sarnie. And some white bread.

In this case, I’m enriching the dough by using milk instead of water. I also use a mix of strong white and plain flours. This makes it sweeter, possibly softer, and slightly more indulgent. It’s not as rich or sweet as a brioche or babka say, which have eggs and more sugar in the dough, so it’s still versatile enough to go as well with jam as it does with bacon.

This is a nice basic loaf that’s good for beginners: it’s not too high hydration (64%), so the dough is quite manageable.

300g strong white bread flour
200g plain/all-purpose flour
10g fine sea salt
320g milk
10g caster sugar
10g fresh yeast (about 6g/1 tsp ADY)
20g thick cream or unsalted butter, melted

1. Warm the milk to about body temperature.
2. Add the caster sugar (about 2 tsp) to the milk then the yeast. Whisk it up then leave to activate.
3. Put the flours and salt in a large mixing bowl.
4. When the yeast mix is frothy, add to the flour, along with the cream or butter.
5. Bring the dough together, turn out, then knead until smooth. You could do this in a mixer or even a food processor with a dough attachment. Form into a ball.
6. Clean the bowl and oil it slightly, then put in the ball of dough, cover, and leave for 10 minutes.
7. Give the dough another quick knead, put back in the bowl, cover and leave for another 10 minutes. Do this once more, then leave it to prove until doubled in size.
8. When doubled in size, take the dough out and form into a tight ball. Cover and rest for 10 minutes.
9. Lightly oil a 1kg loaf tin.

Final prove, beforeFinal prove, after
10. Form the ball into a baton then place in the tin.
11. Cover and leave to double in size again.
12. Preheat the oven to 200C.

Slash the topBaked
13. Slash the top with a sharp blade in a pattern of your choice2, then put in the oven.
14. After 20 minutes, turn the oven down to 180C.
15. After another 20 minutes, take it out, remove from the tin, and put back for another 10 minutes.
16. Allow to cool completely on a rack before cutting.

 

Notes
1 English slang for sandwiches.
2 I’ve read that in the old days when a village shared a communal oven, the slashes on top of a loaf were a type of signature, a way to identify your bread once baked.

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How to handle a sticky bread dough

Stretching sticky dough

Tomorrow is Good Friday, the day when, traditionally, western Christians ended their Lenten fast. In Britain, this was marked by eating hot cross buns. So I’ve just made a batch, from my recipe. It’s a day early, but what the heck, the local supermarket has been pumping out its fake hot cross bun smell for at least two months already and most people probably aren’t even aware of the old traditions any more.

My recipe involves handling quite a sticky dough, so that got me thinking – perhaps I should have included some more advice about how to handle it. But it’s quite an important subject for making, so here’s a whole post on it.

When I talk about sticky doughs, this generally means doughs with a higher proportion of liquid to flour. These are called higher hydration doughs, and they often make for the best breads, especially with wheat. They can be softer, with a more open crumb and a better crust. If you’re doing an enriched dough – for a brioche, challah or any number of feast day bakes such as hot cross buns – the stickiness can also be further exacerbated by extra sugar, fats and egg.

A typical error inexperienced bakers make is to keep adding flour to such sticky doughs – putting lots on the work surface and adding more to the mix itself until it stops being sticky and feels easier to handle. This isn’t great, as it will make the crumb dense and dry. And if you add too much extra flour later on, it’ll miss out on the fermentation, being essentially raw – and indigestible.

Anyway, Ecco! Or voila, as we say in English: here are my tips for handling sticky doughs.

1. Get yourself a plastic dough scraper.
Seriously, after a bowl – and an oven of course – this is the most useful bit of kit for making bread dough. As a sticky dough adheres to your worktop, use the scraper to keep freeing it. You can also use it to make sure any bits of dough that go astray from the main lump are reincorporated. This the type I use. It’s a reasonable size and has a straight edge – good for the worktop – and a curved edge – good for freeing dough from bowls.

Scrapers

2. Get a metal dough cutter/scraper
Not quite as essential as the above, but it can be used a similar way. One option is called a Scotch scraper.

3. Oil the work surface
You can sprinkle your worktop with flour, but on the initial knead I prefer to oil the worktop. If you have a stainless steel or even marble surface, it’s not so relevant, but if your worktop is wood or bamboo (like mine), smear your work area with a few drops of oil. Generally I’ll just use sunflower seed oil, but if I’m doing an Italian or Middle Eastern bread, I may use a bit of olive oil. The oil stops the dough sticking… quite so much.

4. Clean and oil the bowl
After your first knead, and before you put the ball of dough back in the bowl, clean it. Dry it then add a dribble of oil and rub it around. Again, this’ll stop the dough sticking to the bowl, so it’ll come out more easily when you do your second knead. It’s not essential, but it’s helpful.

5. Knead with quick, confident movements
Watch a professional baker or an experienced home baker in action, and they don’t mess about with the dough. It’s handled with quick, confident movements. Indeed, even if you have a sticky dough, and are kneading it by hand, as you develop it, it will strengthen, become less sticky and start to form a ball. I would recommend getting hold of Richard Bertinet’s book Dough, as it comes with a DVD that shows this process. Someone has posted that video on YouTube, though I’m not sure how long it’ll stay up. He starts kneading from about 4 minutes in.

6. Flour your hands
Some people like to wet their hands, but I like to put a bit of flour on mine, not unlike weight-lifters dusting theirs with talcum powder.  It’s not something I do assiduously, but it can be a handy way of making things a bit easier without resorting to adding loads of extra flour to the dough. Also, towards the end of the knead I’ll clean my hands with some flour. OK, I’m not exactly cleaning them, but if you rub some flour between your hands as you would a bar of soap, it helps to get any dough off. My tactic is to do it directly above the sticky dough: the extra flour falls onto and around the dough, and I can then use the plastic scraper to tuck it under the lump, making it easier to form into a ball and put back into the bowl.

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Armenian peda bread

Peda with wild garlic fava dip

A week ago I did a post for a bread recipe I had in an old 1994 notebook called Los Angeles peda bread. It was accompanied by another recipe simply called Armenian peda bread. The former, I subsequently discovered, is probably a version of Armenian flatbread called matnakash. This Armenian peda (their word related to pide and pita), meanwhile, is another minor mystery, with the source of the recipe I wrote down back in 1994 unknown. Similar breads can be seen online, but I’m afraid I can’t find a more specific Armenian name for it.*

Ignorance notwithstanding, like the LA peda, this is another great sharing bread, perfect for tearing up at a family gathering – like we did over the weekend with sister-in-law Sharon, niece and nephew.

As with the LA peda, this version is basically just a conversion and slight update of the one I had in my notebook. I did reduce the yeast slightly, but again, if I revise it further, I’ll reduce it more and do a longer fermentation.

Makes two large round loaves

10g active dried yeast, or 30g fresh yeast
120g water
430g milk
20g caster sugar
6g salt
780g strong white bread flour
50g olive oil

extra olive oil

1 egg
sesame seeds

Peda ingredients

1. Combine the water and milk and warm to about blood temperature. You can adjust the quantities of milk and water if you want, to make up 550g of liquid. More milk makes for a sweeter, richer bread.
2. Stir in the sugar, then add the yeast, crumbling it if you’re using fresh. Give it a whisk.
3. In a large bowl, combine the salt and flour.
4. When the yeast is starting to froth, add to the flour, along with the 50g olive oil.

Peda dough 1Peda dough 2
5. Bring the dough together, turn out and knead until smooth. Alternatively, do it in a mixer with a dough paddle. Add a splash more water if the dough feels dry.
6. Form the dough into a ball then put the bowl (cleaned) with a splosh of olive oil and cover with a cloth.

Peda dough 3
7. Leave to prove until doubled in size. Time will vary depending on your room temperature etc but around an hour or two at about 18-20C.
8. When it’s doubled in size, divide it into two equal portions. Mine weighed 1420g, so each portion was more or less 710g.

Peda pieces 1Peda pieces 2
9. Cut a piece weighing about 140g off each portion, then form all the pieces into balls.
10. Cover with a damp cloth and leave to rest for about 15 minutes.
11. Take the larger balls and put them on lightly oiled baking sheets.

Peda shaping 1Peda shaping 2

Peda shaping 3Peda shaping 4
12. Flatten the balls out slightly, then poke through finger through the middle. Open this hole out to about 10cm. This is fun. If you’re confident, you can lift up the dough ring and stretch it in the air.
13. Take the smaller balls and put them into these holes, flattening slightly.

Peda shaping 5
14. Brush with olive oil then leave to prove again, until doubled in size. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic. Or you could leave them in the fridge, wrapped in plastic, overnight.
15. Preheat the oven to 180C.

Two peda 1Two peda 2
16. Beat an egg, or an egg yolk with 1 tbsp milk, and glaze the breads. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
17. Bake for about 40 minutes. If they’re browning too much, turn down the heat and/or cover the tops with foil.
18. If your oven doesn’t have much botton heat, you can take them out, take them off the baking sheets and put them back in for another 5-10 minutes.

Two peda 3
19. Remove and allow to cool on racks.

Enjoy. Perhaps with some dips. As with the LA peda bread, I’ve been eating mine with a hummus-substitute made with English grown pulses from Hodmedod’s. I used split dried fava and wild garlic. So much wild garlic at the moment. I love the stuff, but it is a tad pungent, especially when it’s included in every meal for several days running…

 

 

* This peda is not unlike another Armenian bread called choereg or choreg, which is a relative of challah, but made for the Orthodox Christian Easter. Like challah, it’s formed in a braid, though apparently it’s made distinctive by an ingredient called mahlep/mahlab – a flavouring or spice made from the ground stones of the Mahaleb cherry that isn’t what you’d call commonplace in England.

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Los Angeles peda bread, a version of Armenian matnakash

LA peda with pea dip

This recipe is from one of my old notepads, dated 1994. At the time I was living at Old Man Mountain, on the South Island of New Zealand. My hosts there were Susie, who owned the farm, and Nadia, who lived in the yellow house by the highway that wended its way on down the rugged Buller Gorge.

Nadia was one of the great food influences on my life, one of the three women who taught me about cooking, alongside my mother and Delia Smith1.

Despite living in the middle of nowhere in a sparsely populated country adrift in a massive ocean, Nadia had a voracious interest in food, and loved working with young international enthusiasts like me who came to visit, learn and share. She had a great cookery book library too, and we would spend hours chatting about food – either while making meals for Nadia’s large family and whatever friends were passing by or planning parties or catering jobs.

Such conversations, and poring over her cookery books, filled up pages in my journals from the period. Unfortunately, I wasn’t exactly assiduous in providing the sources of recipes. Sometimes I did, but not in the case of the two peda bread recipes I’ve got: this one, and another simply called Armenian peda bread.

Peda, pide, pita
The word peda is clearly related to the Turkish “pide” and the more familiar “pita” but not only do I not know the source of the recipe, I can’t really help with the etymology or relationship between these words as no one is sure.

There are various forms of flatbread that go by these names. Heck, the word pizza may even be in the same linguistic and culinary family, but I’d be spreading internet misinformation if I said that it was with any certainty.

From a little research I do conclude that peda is the Armenian variation on the words pide and pita. And rather than being just a bread developed by Armenian-Americans in LA, this recipe looks like it’s a variation on matnakash. According to that dream-of-the-internet Wikipedia, matnakash means “finger draw” or “finger pull” bread, which fits in totally for this recipe as you stretch and pattern it with your fingertips.

Pre-internet and inauthentic
Mine look a bit different to the ones I can see online now. It’s no wonder though as I’m a white Briton who learned to make them in New Zealand with the encouragement of a Maori-Indian-pakeha woman, from a book with no pictures, in an era when it wasn’t possible to just go online and check something.

My version may not be authentic (a troublesome concept at the best of times) but it is personal, makes for a great sharing bread, and is a reminder of my amazing, energetic, knowledgeable friend and culinary teacher Nadia, who sadly died last year and is sorely missed.

Recipe

Makes 2 large flatbreads

Bakers’ percentages shown in brackets. So this is a 64% hydration bread, with a nice, manageable dough. I would also say that at 4.3%, this recipe contains too much yeast and rushes the fermentation. My normal bread recipe contains 2% yeast. However, I really just wanted to try out the recipe from my old notepad, and convert it into grams from cups.

In future, I plan to try it with less yeast or with a sourdough starter, or a preferment, and a proper long fermentation, for flavour and digestibility.

700g strong white flour (100%)
15g ADY or 30g fresh yeast (4.3%)
450g water, warm (64%)
20g caster sugar (3%)
6g salt (1%)
30g butter, melted (4.3%)

1. Mix the sugar with the warm water, sprinkle on the yeast and leave it to activate.
2. Put the flour in a large bowl, add the salt and mix it through.
3. When the yeast mix is frothy, add it to the flour, along with the melted butter.
4. Bring the dough together, turn out and knead until smooth.
5. Form a ball, put in a clean bowl, cover and leave to prove until doubled in size. With this amount of yeast, it won’t take long. Mine took about an hour at RT of 18C.
6. Divide the dough into two pieces. Mine weighed 1225g, so two at about 612g.
7. Form the two pieces into balls.
8. Grease two baking sheets with oil, then put the balls on them, cover and leave to rest, for about quarter of an hour.
9. Stretch out the balls to fill the shape of your baking tray. My trays are square but the traditional shape for matnakash is more rectagular2. Form a rim, or edge with your fingertips.
10. Cover with a damp cloth and rest again, until doubled in size.

Peda bread stretch and form rimPeda bread brush with water and make pattern with fingertips
11. Brush with water then form a criss-cross pattern with your fingertips.
12. Cover with a damp cloth and rest again, until doubled in size.
13. Preheat the oven – to about 220C if possible. Mine can only really muster about 200C, disappointingly, but it’s OK.
14. Bake the flatbreads for about 15 minutes or until nicely browned.

Peda fresh out of ovenPeda brush with flour glaze
15. Make a flour glaze by putting 2 teaspoons of flour in 100g of water and bringing to the boil, whisking. Brush this onto the breads as soon as they come out of the oven, and sprinkle with seeds, such as sesame or nigella/kalonji.

LA peda bread x 2

I enjoyed mine with a dip (top pic) made from dried English peas. I’ve noticed since coming home from Italy, where I was able to buy Italian-grown lentils, chickpeas and other dried legumes, that most available here are imported from China. That seems crazy: it’s too far, too dubious. Sure different crops grow here compared to Italy or France, which also grows a lot of lentils, but pulses were a staple here for centuries: just think of generations of Britons partially subsisting on variants on pease pudding.

Luckily, a young-ish British company was thinking along similar lines, and now grows peas and various beans, including broad beans (sold as fava), here. They’re Hodmedod’s and I wish then every success, as not only are they supporting British food production, they’re reinvigorating ancient culinary traditions. And they have cute branding too, even including little recipe booklets in their packets of produce.

 

Footnotes
1. Delia Smith is not fashionable now – in fact, she was never exactly trendy. But the Complete Cookery Course, since its first appearance in print in 1978, has taught me so much. It was the default book for a child growing up in that period interested in learning the basics in pretty much any area of cooking, from stews to pastries.
2. In Armenia, matnakash and the unleavened lavash would be made in a tonir, the Armenian equivalent of a tandoor.

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