A few years’ ago, I did a one-day crash course in baking all things French and croissant related at the wonderful Handmade Bakery in Slaithwaite.
It was a lot of fun, and the batch of croissants I came away with were the best I’ve ever managed, mainly because of the expert guidance on hand to provide a gentle and encouraging nudge back on course when my dough laminations started to go slightly off track.
For lunch, we were given pulla breads, a type of sweet pastry from Finland that’s reminiscent of a brioche, and I’ve mimicked that recipe very successfully. These Swedish cinnamon rolls are another riff on the central idea of a rich, sweet dough, folded back on itself to enclose a filling. It’s a technique that’s simple and easy, a world away from the more precise and regimented discipline required to turn out a batch of croissants worthy of the name.
These rolls are very common in Sweden, and with good reason. They’re excellent heated through gently and served warm with coffee, especially if the day is cold and damp.
I’ve spent a little time recently experimenting with different brewing methods, and recently took the plunge and supplemented my trusty Hario hand grinder (the best £25 I’ve ever spent) with a Eureka Mignon, something a little more capable of grinding to a consistent espresso grind. It’s a wonderful machine, and it’s opened up a whole new front in my coffee brewing technique. At last, my ancient Gaggia can sing.
All of this means that beans become more important than ever before, and I’m jumping around from roaster to roaster at the moment. The variety of coffee available in the UK now is astonishing, and there are some beautiful roasts out there.
One of my current favourites is very local, and has a long history of roasting speciality coffee in West Yorkshire. More …
So, it’s January, and it’s very, very cold at the moment.
That means that now is the perfect time to cure some meat and hang it out to dry in a shed, outside of a refrigerator, without too much fear of death from botulism.
I exaggerate slightly – botulism is very rare, and basic hygiene prevents it anyway, but there’s definitely something mildly unsettling about eating meat that hasn’t been cooked at all, and more so when it’s been hung up around the house or garden for a good few weeks.
The depths of winter is the perfect time for the more cautious among us to try our hand at curing and air-drying. The air temperature is chilly at best at the moment, so things stay reassuringly cool, especially in a place like a draughty shed or outhouse.
I’ve cured a number of things, but this was one of my most successful experiments. Bresaola is cured silverside of beef, or eye of round in the US and other countries. It’s a dense, hind quarter cut that’s seen a lot of work and is normally suited to slow cooking. It isn’t particularly good when cooked, and the chances are that the cheaper roasting joints you might find at the supermarket will be silverside, but curing it is a different matter.
The curing process is very simple. More…
So, it’s Christmas again, and that means it’s time to bake something fittingly seasonal and rich.
This year, that’s panforte di Sienna, an Italian dessert loosely resembling a cake that’s packed with fruit and nuts.
Panforte originated in Sienna in the 12th century, and is supposed to contain seventeen ingredients, to reflect the number of districts in the city, but license may be taken.
And it’s license that I’ll take, but around a fairly solid core. There must be nuts, and there must be fruit. Panforte must be rich … honey, sugar, cocoa … and it must be spicy. Mine only totals about a dozen ingredients.
It’s easy and quick to put together, and keeps very well in the fridge – up to a month. It’s best eaten in thin slivers with coffee or red wine.
A panforte will last a long time.
“So, when you want to order, just write what you want on these cards – this one for drinks and this one for food, and clip them on here, OK?”, said the waiter, pointing upwards to a huge wooden clothes peg dangling from a wire above the table.
It’s a big peg, a very big peg, and a very big gimmick.
We rooted through bags and coats for a pen because there was nothing to write with on the table, despite the whole card/peg/order gimmick, and filled everything in. I had to clip the card into place because Jenny was too short to reach the dangling peg.
The waiter came over and plucked our order down and stood next to the table for ages, transcribing everything off the card into a tablet, and then he read it all back to us, by which time we were both thinking that it might just be more efficient to maybe come over and say something like “can I take your order, please?”, at which point we’d just tell him what we wanted, and he could punch it into the iPad there and then.
Everybody gets that system, right?
But there’s a reason for all this. Chinese restaurants are very formulaic. Fish tank? Gold everywhere? Brusque service? Menu longer than the average novel? Truck-loads of MSG on everything?
None of that at Mans Market.