Como bread, traditional Italian country bread from Lake Como.

Pane di Como, or Italian country bread

by rich on July 27, 2014

Most of the bread I bake follows a fairly standard pattern. I’ve got a couple of staple recipes, one for an everyday loaf that works well for white or whole grain and any variation in between and a couple of ways with sourdough, too.

The everyday loaf is the most versatile, and it can easily and quickly become a pizza base, a foccacia, a ciabatta or anything of that ilk. It’s good to have a recipe like that in the bag, something that you know and understand well, to the point when you can just make it without thinking. That’s what makes you a baker and not just somebody who makes bread every now and again, that moment when you tip over from just following a recipe to making a loaf by feel and touch.

There’s always something else, though.

This is an Italian loaf characteristic of the area around Lake Como. It has a wide, open texture in common with many other Italian breads, and a developed, subtle flavour. The structure comes from the fact that the dough is very wet, and quite sticky and difficult to handle – it’s the water that causes the open texture, and it’s worth persevering and working carefully with the dough to get it right. The spring in the oven, the amount that the dough bounces into life when it hits the fierce heat, is quite exceptional in this loaf.

There are two stages in making Como bread – a pre-ferment and a bulk fermentation.

Essentially, that means that a small amount of dough is made ahead of time and allowed to develop and mature before being used as the base for the actual loaf. This technique of long, slow fermentation is very successful, and provides a complexity that’s entirely missing from loaves made in one go from start to finish, good as they are. One little trick to catch a small part of this extra flavour is to save a golf ball sized piece of dough every time you bake and keep it in the fridge. The next time, work the old dough into the new, and you’ll add an extra layer of complexity to the new loaf’s flavour.

The initial dough is called a biga in Italian. The difference between a biga and a normal sourdough starter is that a biga normally has commercial yeast in it, but the same principles apply when handling the two types of starter.

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The dawn of the supermarket meat counter

by rich on July 21, 2014

“In his way, the meat cutter is an artist”.

Here’s a wonderful little American promotional film from the Fifties, that walks through the process of butchering a side of beef into cuts suitable for selling shrink-wrapped in those new-fangled supermarkets. Just look at the marbling on that beef.

Try to ignore the naïve sexism about packaged beef being ‘what the housewife wants’, etc, etc …

That sort of stupidity might sound old-fashioned in a period film like this, but is it any different from the rubbish written on the bag of charcoal I bought today, which encouraged men to ‘give mum the day off’ by barbecuing, implying that a) only men can barbecue and, b) that men only cook at all when there’s fire involved?

Credit to David Lishman, of the frankly superb Lishman’s butchers in Ilkley for posting this on facebook, from where I nicked it.

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Chicken Chukka

July 14, 2014
Chicken chukka - chicken curry, made with coconut and spices

On the way home on Saturday, I stopped off at an Asian supermarket close to where we live. It’s a ramshackle, haphazard kind of place, piled high with a huge range of things. There are sacks of rice piled high, fruit and vegetables – big bunches of coriander, five for a quid, coconuts, curry leaves, […]

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Aegean Flavours, by Didem Şenol Tiryakioğlu

June 22, 2014
Aegean Flavours, by Didem Şenol Tiryakioğlu - book review

There are a lot of cookbooks emerging at the moment that concentrate on Eastern Mediterranean food. It’s a broad and interesting cuisine, shaped in large part by geography and the region’s position as the buffer between East and West. Nowhere is this more acute than in Turkey, whose largest city straddles continents, a foot in the east, […]

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How to make pulled pork

June 8, 2014
How to make easy pulled pork in a slow cooker

I’m one of those people who take photos of  food to post on Instagram. I make no apologies for this – it’s what Instagram is made for, but sometimes the application of a vintage filter on a perfectly normal photograph makes it look a little … different. Just take a second to look at the picture […]

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What’s your identity worth? … or how to make falafel

May 25, 2014
What's your identity worth? ... or how to make falafel

In real life, I manage information security for a big financial organisation. It’s the most fascinating job in the world, this juggling of risk versus reward versus control. We have to get things just right, so that our business can do  business, but our customers remain safe. I know that the biggest asset we’ve got […]

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