Buns, buns, buns

Sweet ricotta and raspberry kolaches, fresh from the oven.

Sweet ricotta and raspberry kolaches, fresh from the oven.

My sourdough starter is known affectionately as Celia. Until last month, she had only ever been used in the making of savoury bread…. daily bread, pizza, flatbread, focaccia – quite a range, but all along the same lines.

Then I stumbled upon sourdough surprises. My first attempt at breaking out of the bread, bread and more bread rut was a mixed success. Delicious, but very flat, muffins. I had gone in with high hopes that my Celia could make anything rise, and she underperformed.

So this month, I was determined to make it work.

This month’s bake is the kolache. Confession – I have never heard of this bun. But apparently it is originally Czech, and is particularly famous in Texas, where the immigrant Czech community have made it mainstream.

It’s a soft, enriched, brioche-style dough, baked in rounds with a fruity or a sweet cheesey filling (apparently it can also be savoury, but thanks but no thanks).

Not being given a recipe to follow, I based my dough-mix on this method from King Arthur Flour, and soured it up using this method (180g of starter replacing 90g of flour and 90g of liquid for every 500g flour).

The dough was super-super-easy to mix up. It was incredibly wet, but a stand mixer gets over that hurdle, and in any case it was clear that once the melted butter cooled, the dough would firm up.

Glossy and elastic.

Glossy and elastic.

The big question was, will it rise?

And, to be honest with you, the answer was NO.

I spent a happy 12 hours away from my dough during its first prove, imagining the plump, shiny ball of dough I would return to. Oh, the many and varied sweet dough buns I would make now I had cracked the enriched sourdough. The stollen. The babka. The cinnamon buns. I was inspired.

And then I returned to look at my dough. And it was, as my mother would say, as flat as a pancake. Maybe there had been a little spurt of growth, but no more than 10%. Doubled in size? No chance.

So, I put it in the fridge for another 12 hours and crossed my fingers.

Not 1mm had it grown. Not a smidge of an increase.

Not one to want to throw away shiny, glossy dough, I thought I’d press on and see what happened.

The shaping was nice and easy, and the dough was a lovely texture to work with. I rested them, squidged holes into them, dolloped fillings in them, covered them up and dumped them by the radiator and crossed my fingers. And, surprise surprise, after 2 hours they were looking markedly plumper. I could even double check by comparing to my before-proving picture. Yep, plumping had occurred.

Kolaches, before second prove.

Kolaches, before second prove.


And after 2 hours. Definitely plumper.

So, into the oven they went. And plumped up some more, into lovely, pillowy little buns, encasing their delicious fillings.

Maybe I have cracked it after all?

I went for two fillings for my kolaches – raspberry jam, and sweet ricotta. All topped with an almond streusel. I used about half my dough to make 12 buns, and the other half I used to make a Chelsea-bun shaped affair, filled with the sweet ricotta, streusel and pine nuts.

I can now go to bed and dream happily again of all the lovely enriched buns I can make over Christmas, without a packet of yeast in sight.



Enriched sourdough:

237ml sour cream
130g sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
112g butter, melted
30ml lukewarm milk
2 large eggs
410g flour (half strong, half plain)
180g active 100% starter
1 tablespoon vanilla essence


Raspberry jam
Sweet Ricotta (1 tub of ricotta, 2 tablespoons caster sugar, 1 egg, 2 tsps vanilla)


80g ground almonds
80g soft brown sugar
60g melted butter


Heat the sour cream and the butter until the butter is melted.

Mix all the dough ingredients on a slow speed in a stand mixer until combined (approx. 2 minutes). It will be very liquid, and seem too runny. Cover and leave for 10 minutes.

Mix on a medium-high speed for 3 minutes. Cover and leave for 10 minutes.

Repeat. By now, the dough should be glossy and elastic, and much less wet.

Cover and leave on the counter for 12 hours. After 12 hours, place in the fridge for another 12 hours – this will firm the butter up, and make the dough easier to work with. The dough rises only fractionally during this 24 hours – do not panic!

After 24 hours is up, shape the kolaches. Flouring your hands, break the dough into 50g lumps, shape into balls and flatten to 3 inch discs. Place in a baking dray (on baking paper) leaving about 1cm between them. The dough will make 24-30 of these.

Cover and leave to rest for 10 minutes. In the meantime, make the sweet ricotta.

With the whisk attachment, beat the egg and sugar on high for 5 minutes, until it forms a thick mousse. Add the vanilla and the ricotta in thirds and beat well until mixed.

Take a wooden rolling pin and dip the end lightly in flour. Push the rolling pin firmly into the centre of each dough ball, and twist round to make a decent-sized indentation.

Spoon the fillings into the dips. Each will take about 2 tsps filling.

Cover and leave somewhere warm for 2 hours. This time, the buns should be noticeably plumper by the end of the time.

To make the streusel topping, mix all the ingredients until it forms a breadcrumb-like mixture.

Sprinkle the streusel on top of the plumped-up buns. Bake in an oven at 180c for about 30 minutes, until lightly golden brown. Oven spring will be excellent, and the buns will be plump and will join at the edges.



The Dome of the Rock

The Dome of the Rock.

I’ve just been lucky enough to spend an amazing week in Israel and Palestine.

The sun shone, the sea was warm(ish), and for the most part the food was excellent.

We don’t tend to eat out much (age of austerity, etc), so it was a real treat to eat in restaurants every night. We both love Middle Eastern food, so I was delighted to set myself a Hummus challenge, and strove to eat some every single day. I succeeded, easily – in no small part due to the fact it’s served at breakfast. Glory be. The best Hummus meal was in a snack bar called Lina’s, in the Old City of Jerusalem. Hummus, topped with chickpeas, served with falafal. Chickpeas, three ways. Yes, please, and no, I’m not sharing!

Jerusalem by night, from Notre Dame.

Jerusalem by night, from Notre Dame.

I was delighted to discover that there’s also an amazing blend of food and drink available at the many Christian ‘hostels’ that welcome pilgrims to Jerusalem. The view above is from the glorious cheese and wine bar that runs across the whole roof of the Notre Dame Pontifical Institute, just outside the New Gate to Jerusalem. The view is stunning, and the wine list is excellent. I left my friends on the roof to pop downstairs to the chapel for Sunday Mass one evening – a most convenient location for a wine bar! Sadly, I didn’t get to sample the cheese selection, but it looked (and smelled) very enticing indeed.

One of the loveliest meals we had was with a friend of my husband’s, in a restaurant called Barbra, high up on a hill in Beit Jala (one of the towns that makes up Bethlehem). We had the ‘mixed grill’ – starting with a massive range of traditional dips and salads. Hummus, baba ghanoush, a garlicky thing, a kind of spicy salsa, greek salad… all mopped up with a mountain of pita bread. Once the grill arrived, we were already struggling. 9 enourmous skewers were presented on a beautiful platter. With more bread. Big chunks of spicy chicken and lamb competed with juicy beef shish kebabs studded with big lumps of garlic. Garnished with a mound of charred, blackened tomatoes, onions and spicy chilli peppers. So good. I was full after the starters, but that didn’t stop me.

The view from the restaurant’s balcony was also stunning – though it was desperately sad to hear how much of the nearby hillside (all well inside the Palestinian West Bank) is to be carved up and put on the Israeli side of the separation wall.

This picture shows the hills and the valley which will all be separated from Bethlehem (and the land’s legal owners) by the proposed route of the wall. You can also see one of the many illegal settlements on the hill on the left. Bethlehem is surrounded by these outposts.

The view from Beit Jala. That's an illegal settlement you can see on the hill on the left. All this land - the vines, the olive groves - is owned by Palestinians from Bethlehem. It's proposed the separation wall will run to the right of this picture, cutting off the land from its owners.

The view from Beit Jala. That’s an illegal settlement you can see on the hill on the left. All this land – the vines, the olive groves – is owned by Palestinians from Bethlehem, and all of it is well inside the West Bank. It’s proposed the separation wall will run to the right of this picture, cutting off the land from its owners.

We finished our trip with a few lovely days by the sea in Tel Aviv / Jaffa. This is where I discovered a new favourite – Shakshuka. It’s a traditional North African / Middle Eastern dish made of spicy tomato stew, with eggs poached on top, served with lashings of bread to mop up the sauce. Think Huevos Rancheros, or eggs in purgatory, but middle eastern style. First night home, I made my version of it.


Onion, finely chopped
Garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
Olive oil
1 teaspoon tomato puree
1 tin of tomatoes
Handful of sliced mushrooms
Half an aubergine, sliced and griddled
Feta, cubed
2 eggs
Paprika or chilli flakes

1. Slowly soften the onion and garlic in olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cook until all the liquid has evaporated. Chop and add the griddled aubergine slices and the cumin seeds, and cook another 5 minutes to let the flavours blend.

2. Add the tomato puree and the paprika, stir and cook another few minutes. Add the tin of tomatoes, crushing them with the spoon. Bubble gently for 20 minutes or so, until thick and dark.

3. Mix in the cubed feta. Then turn the heat up a little. Make two little wells in the surface of the sauce, and crack the eggs into them. Sprinkle a little salt on top. Cook gently (5 minutes or so) until the whites are set, and the yolks are still runny. Serve with pita bread. Dip.

Aubergine and mushroon shakshuka.

Aubergine and mushroom shakshuka.

Sourdough Surprises

So, it’s been a while. Bread has been baked, cakes have been consumed and all that jazz, but no blog has been blogged. My only excuse is that getting married proved more of a distraction and time-eater than I had anticipated.

Anyway, I have decided to give myself A Fresh Start. And I’m doing so by joining a monthly sourdough baking club called Sourdough Surprises. They have a new fun, atypical sourdough recipe each month, and folks like me get to bake along. That’s my idea of fun (nerd, or what?).

So this month they were making muffins and quickbreads. More here on that.

I decided to get in on the act with an old favourite – blueberry muffins. 

Blueberry sourdough muffins.

I combined a couple of recipes for this. Mostly, it’s the work of the wonderful Felicity Cloake in the Guardian’s how to cook the perfect… series. But I sourdoughed it up using this method from Cultures for Health.

So, how did it go? Well, firstly quickbread is not really the word for it (but then it never is with sourdough!). Once the starter was all active and bubbly (it’s in great shape a the moment and almost spills out of its kilner jar!), I made up a biga with 100g of 100% sourdough starter, and all the flour and buttermilk from the recipe minus 50g of each (so, 190g flour and 190ml buttermilk). I left this to rise for 12 hours during the day.

Buttermilk biga - pre-rise

Buttermilk biga.

Buttermilk biga after 12 hours

Buttermilk biga after 12 hours.

I wasn’t sure what the rise would be like – I’ve never mixed my sourdough with anything other than water before, and I wasn’t sure what the acidity of the buttermilk would do to it. As you can see from the pictures, it worked a treat and more than doubled in size, going soft and silky too (the original mix was suprisingly stiff).

Once the biga had had its growing time, I proceeded with the recipe almost as published. The result? Well, they tasted delicious. They were supermoist, with a lovely depth of flavour. I couldn’t specifically taste the sourdough, but I think it added a note to the taste, and also helped keep them fresh for days.

As you can see, however, they fell a little, er, flat. I don’t think this was the result of the sourdough. They definitely rose – it’s just it wasn’t very sustained! I think I took them out too early, as I was worried they were burning on top. Doing them again, I’d do them on a lower temperature for longer, and maybe spread the mix between 12 cases instead of 10.

Muffins in the tin

Blueberry sourdough muffin.

Blueberry sourdough muffin.


100g active sourdough starter, 100% hydration
150g blueberries
190g plain flour, plus a little extra
110g butter, softened
200g soft light brown sugar
1 egg
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
½tsp salt
190ml buttermilk


Combine buttermilk, flour and active starter to make a biga. Cover and leave for 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 170C.

In a small bowl, mash the blueberries with a fork.

Beat the butter and sugar in a mixer for 5-7 minutes.

Add the egg and mix well, then add the salt and about three quarters of the blueberries.

In thirds, add the risen biga and make sure it is all well-combined without over-mixing. At the last minute, add the bicarb.

Spoon into 12 muffin cases. Add the remaining blueberries on top, and sprinkle on a tiny bit more brown sugar.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, and don’t open the oven too early for fear of flat muffin syndrome!

We are still sans-oven


It’s becoming a pain now. I think it has been almost two months. Apparently our oven manufacturer went bust a few years ago, so new elements have to be ordered individually, and hand-crafted by artisans up an Italian mountain. Or something.

In any case, I’m heartily sick of it. And I’m tired of wet, sloppy, hob-cooked food. You can keep your risotto, mash and soup for a good few months. I want pizza, crusty, cheesy pasta al forno, and proper bread.

Fortunately, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. Wednesday is apparently the day. I have mozzarella and bread dough ready and waiting!

The lack of an oven has, however, forced me to get to grips with sourdough flatbread. From eggy naan dotted with nigella seeds, to tortillas, to my latest creation – cheese and ham stuffed flatbread things.

I made these for our trip to France to stock up on wine for the wedding. For Oli’s entire childhood, his mother apparently baked dozens of ‘cheese baps’ (for a family of 6!) every time they crossed the channel. Ferries, I am told, are not the same without them.

Sans-oven, I have been forced to improvise. And mmmmmmmm I shall definitely be doing these again. Blackened, crusty layers of bread, stuffed with salty ham and slightly smoky-tasting cheddar.

Who needs an oven anyway?

Cheese and ham flatbreads

Take a load of bread dough (I used sourdough) and let it rise once.

Divide into balls of about 100g, and then cut these in two.

On floured greaseproof paper, roll each 50g dollop out into a big circle – about 7″ across.

Leaving a 1″ gap around the edge, lay down a thin layer of ham on one dough circle. Cover the ham with a decent sprinkle of grated cheddar.

Run round the outside of the lower round with a damp pastry brush, then lay the other round on top. Use a rolling pin to gently roll over the rounds and seal the edges.

Heat a ridged griddle pan on high for 5 minutes, then turn the heat down slightly. Pick up the flatbread and lay it down. After about two minutes, turn it 90 degrees with some tongs. Flip it over after another minute or so to cook the other side.

I’m sure these would taste amazing hot from the griddle, but they’re lovely cold and doubled over to make them easier to munch.

A year in bread #22


Sourdough loaf

I expect this picture looks just like the last one I posted. Bloomer-ish, some daft photo effects to make it a bit arty and a bit less like a photo of a loaf of bread…

It’s actually nicer than the last loaf. Lighter and fluffier, with bigger airholes, spread quite evenly throughout (I often get lovely big airholes near the crust, and a denser crumb inside).

It’s also surprising that it’s fluffier, as it’s over half wholemeal brown flour, whereas I usually only use a third brown. But I could tell before it went in the oven that it would be a good’un. It rose really well on its prove, and kept its shape well when I slashed it.

What I find frustrating is the many variables that make it hard to figure out why some loaves come out better than others. Flour varieties and proportions? Small differences in dough wetness? Better shaping? Room temp? Proving time? Slash spacing and speed? All of the above?

I don’t know the answer. I have a sneaking suspicion that this dough was slightly less hydrated than usual, which might have helped it keep its shape after I slashed it. So I might try for a slightly drier dough next time. And I least I know that more wholemeal flour does not have to mean a dense loaf.

Onwards to the next batch!