Monthly Archives: April 2013

Dan Lepard’s raisin (and perhaps cinnamon) bread

The actual recipe that I followed, now that I am on a fresh yeast baking frenzy, was from Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf. If you haven’t bought this yet I really recommend you do.

The recipe in THL calls for fresh yeast, rye levain (although I used regular levain as I no longer keep a rye one), rye flour as well as white flour. It’s got a good old list of ingredients, including cinnamon which I didn’t use as this loaf was for my mother and I wasn’t sure if she liked it or not.

I don’t really have a problem eating “too much” bread, like I know some people do.

However. There have been three types of bread that I’ve come across recently that have caused me to eat beyond the realms of comfort. This bread was one. Dan’s soft baps (from Short and Sweet), which I shall report on another time, were another, and this schiacciata that I made and in which you will see I repeat myself about the bread eating thing, was another.

The dough to this bread is fairly sturdy. I wasn’t overly confident of it coming out okay. But it did. It was lovely. So tasty, moreish and would be excellent with something savoury like cheese but I ate it just on its own, like a not sweet cake. I loved it. And I had some the next day, dipped into my caffe latte.   I especially like it in a ring shape. I do, of course, have a special banneton but if you don’t then you can just use a tea towel, pulled through the hole in the dough.


Anyway. I asked Dan if there was as recipe on line that was similar to the Raisin and Cinnamon bread in HML, and he said to try this one, but he said to sub raisins for the cranberries.

Camping mats

Steady yourself on the back of a chair because this is not about anything to do with carbs or food.

It’s about camping, or what to sleep on.

Now, my entree into camping was via the army. And we didn’t have fancy things like camping mats. We could only light fires whilst remaining tactical and as fires could be seen from the air, they were hardly ever lit. So instead of eating sausages, and singing, as I had envisaged, we ate cold things out of tins labelled “bully beef” and singing was obviously completely out of the question.

We had to sleep with our personal weapons, in our sleeping bags; and as mine was a Sterling sub machine gun, it was the very opposite of going to bed with a cosy hot water bottle. The tents were also tiny, so you could only crawl into them. No standing up, you could hardly sit and you slept in a sleeping bag, with two kilos of cold steel with you, on a ground sheet on often very lumpy ground.

It was, in short, miserable. You hardly ate, you hardly slept. My only saving grace was that I was very, very young. Just 18, so these things didn’t really matter. But that is, perhaps, why I didn’t camp again for decades and when I did I looked longingly at bell tents and wanted to hang bunting off every surface.

When I did go camping again it was first to a luxury camping site (‘glamping’, I hate that term but there you have it) and then in a family member’s back garden. I say back garden, but this being Norfolk it was 4 acres. We had a lovely tent that you could stand up in (Vango Icarus 500 if you’re interested), that had a separate dressing area. We had pillows and duvets. No bunting, but I did have battery powered fairy lights and I did buy these rather fabulous camping mats: Vango Adventure Sleeping mats.

Now, there seem to be three different things you could sleep on (other than just the ground of course). A self inflating mat (SIM), a camping mat that is foam, and you roll it out and it doesn’t do anything, and an air bed. I didn’t want an air bed, too much faffing and blowing and they make a noise every time you turn around and can deflate and..I just didn’t want one.

I didn’t want just a foam roll thing, either. They’re fine for exercising on but in order to be comfortable to sleep on they’d roll up to be the size of an oak tree. I was interested by the self inflating mats. You get them in various thicknesses and widths. I went for the largest for me and my partner – XL width and 7.5cm thickness and with hindsight, I wish I’d got these for the children as well as I think it was a false economy (ours were £45 each, theirs were about £30) getting them the smaller ones (theirs were still 5cm thick though). It’s not that the smaller ones aren’t perfectly adequate, they are, but once you’ve tried the big ones, well the standard mats seem just that…standard.

Plus if we’d got four the same, we could more easily have doubled them up for EXTRA LUXE.

Anyway, SIMs have a valve at one end. If you are the sort of camper who walks places carrying your own kit then stop reading now.  You’ll want mats that are light and thin so that they fold down really small. This isn’t them. It isn’t that these mats are giant, they’re not, but you wouldn’t want to carry these too far, not with a sleeping bag etc as well. So you unfurl these SIM from the confines of their stuff sacs, open the valve and watch in awe as they INFLATE THEMSELVES. It’s to do with equalising the pressure inside and out and something to do with physics. You don’t walk on them when they’re inflating, you just watch in awe and call people over. And after about five minutes, they’ve have inflated, you close the valve thing and you’re ready to sleep on it either in a sleeping bag or with sheets and pillows and down-filled duvets.

I think I got mine from Simply Hike but you can get good deals at various places, just do a search. I know it’s not a cheap outlay, but if you’re going to go camping in a car and don’t have to travel far with your kit, these are really great and, I think, have a life beyond camping as you can (and we have) used them as spare beds and I’ve slept on them in people’s houses. With their permission. Plus, I’m not 18 anymore so a good night’s sleep has far reaching effects.

Baking with fresh yeast. Milk loaf

When I was a child, my mother would cook regularly with fresh yeast. We would have pizza every Friday night, which she would  make in a large rectangular tin; leaving one small section free of tomato sauce for me, as I didn’t like it.

Then the local supermarket stopped stocking it and we bought it from this ‘exotic’ – at the time – little shop that was a Chinese health food shop and I’d have to go far into the back to find the small squares of fresh yeast.

These days it seems impossible to find commercially. Which surprises me given the resurgent interest in baking. Those who do buy fresh yeast either beg it from the bakeries of huge supermarkets or order it in in bulk.

I believe it was the latter that my friend Wendy did, as she took delivery of 2K of yeast. Wendy cooks and bakes ALOT and hangs out with professional bakers and really knows her shit where food is concerned (and antiques). Generous to a fault, she offered a large chunk of this purchase to me and thus it was that on Saturday, the postman delivered half a kilo of fresh yeast to my Suffolk mail box.

(n/b: Wendy tells me you can also get fresh yeast from local bakeries, but I have none near me.)

It had been decades since I touched fresh yeast. I’d forgotten how squidgy it is. But I immediately set about baking with it. When I first bought Dan Lepard’s The Homemade Loaf, the book that set me off on my sourdough journey, I was disappointed to see how many recipes called for fresh yeast. Dan helped me convert fresh yeast = dried yeast but the moment I have to substitute an ingredient for another I feel like I’ve failed (it’s okay, I’ve had years of therapy).

I have never cooked with fresh yeast so I started off with something simple, which is Dan’s Milk Loaf in the Handmade Loaf. It uses plain and strong bread flour, butter, milk, maple syrup and fresh yeast. It was so easy to make. Minimal kneading, then a final prove of an hour and a half. As it was very cold in my kitchen yesterday, I let it go a little longer. I’m so used to being upstairs working when my timer goes off for sourdough. And being able to play loose with timings, and just ignoring the timer, that when I came down to see the loaf, I was a bit shocked to see how much, and how fast, it had risen and for a moment worried that I had let it overprove. But no.

It came out gloriously. It looks like a pair of breasts (a friend thought this was why it was called milk loaf..) this is because you put it in in two ball shapes, although you could do it in whatever shape you want; and the crumb is superb. Wendy tells me this is not a traditional shape for a milk loaf, that it should be cooked in a cylindrical tin with ridges but I do not have one.


We all had the most delicious ham sandwiches made out of it. It’s an old fashioned taste and not like anything you could buy. I adore my sourdough, but it was so nice to be able to have a loaf on the table in time for lunch, having just thought about baking it in the morning.


Because I understand how incredibly frustrating it is being given a recipe which ingredients you don’t have, here are Dan’s milk loaf recipes containing more readily available dried yeast. I might try his chocolate chip milk buns next…

I froze the rest of the fresh yeast, in 15g batches in little sealed bags. Weighing it out, tipping them into those little bags. My eldest helped so we had quite a production line going.

Update. I made them into rolls and divided up half and put chocolate chips in them. The rolls make great sandwiches for picnics, the chocolate rolls make a nice, not too sweet alternative to a pain au chocolat, dipped into caffe latte.



Day after notes: This bread stales up pretty quickly. It makes great toast/toasted sandwiches though, so no fear. Also we just had it several days old made into French toast and I can report that it was excellent.

A tale of two trifles

We don’t, really, have trifles in Italy. The nearest we come is cassata but although that can, technically, mean a layering of sponge, fruit, liqueur etc, it usually means an ice cream layered dessert. That said, the second trifle here is called Italian trifle, in our house, by my partner. I’m not sure why but it is.

So, here, I present two trifles, although neither are the classic trifle in that neither house any jelly at all. They both also contain booze so not really child-suitable (I should point out that it’s unlawful to give alcohol to a child under the age of five, unless under the direction of a doctor). Although I do have some friends whose children – over the age of five, ahem – absolutely devoured the Italian trifle off their mother’s plate and she had to wrestle the spoon back off them.

The first is a Nigel Slater recipe that he called the Ten Minute Trifle. I’m afraid I don’t have a photograph of it at present. It is glorious. I have since renamed it the Pregnancy Test Trifle since I credit it with being able to detect if you’re pregnant, even before you know you are.

Let me explain. In late 2002 we decided to try for a baby. Three days after ‘trying’ for a baby for the very first time, I made this trifle, as it was New Year’s Eve. I had made it many, many times before. I tasted it. And spat it out. “I’ve put far too much alcohol in here,” I said to my partner, with upper lip ruffled up in distaste. “I must have put double the amount of sherry into it.”

He tasted it. Declared it fine. But to me, it was inedible. It was another three weeks before I did a pregnancy test which declared that I was, indeed, pregnant. Another friend had this trifle and declared it inedible – too strong – and she then discovered she was pregnant.

Despite this. If you’re not pregnant this trifle is lovely. Not too strong at all. If it does taste too strong…well.

Nigel Slater’s Ten Minute Trifle

Note: this trifle contains raw egg and alcohol.

10-20 sponge fingers. You can play quite loose with the quantities as I use enough to fill the bottom of the bowl

255ml chilled marsala or sweet sherry

2 ripe bananas, sliced

1 tin of raspberries. I use the ones in juice

2 eggs, separated

50g caster sugar

225g mascarpone

vanilla extract

flaked almonds

Put the sponge fingers, broken up in half, thirds, whatever and put into a bowl. (Note this is fairly sloppy when you ‘cut’ into it so if such things matter to you you may want to make this in individual bowls/glasses, these glasses are particularly good for this.) Pour over the marsala, raspberries (with as much or as little of the tinned-juice as you need to soak the sponge fingers, discard the rest of the juice). Now put the bananas on top.

Cream the egg yolks with the sugar, add the mascarpone and beat until light and creamy. Add a dash of vanilla extract, about a teaspoon.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff and then fold them gently into the egg yolk/mascarpone mixture. Now tip it all over the fruit/sponge fingers and cover with toasted flaked almonds.

Leave it for a couple of hours before eating.

Italian trifle

This is very rich, very delicious and more-ish. I really like trifles (I know some people hate them) because you can make them in advance, as long as you have the fridge space. They are a great, often not madly expensive way of serving dessert to lots of people and if anything, they improve with 24hrs in the fridge. I’ve said before that I am master of organisation, but once people arrive through my front door and I’ve had a drink it’s every man for himself. I am a dreadful hostess. So a dessert, pre-made, that I can present with relish and show that I did, once, care about my guests, is useful.

100g sponge fingers. Absolutely use shop bought don’t even think about making them yourself

100g lemon curd

3 tablespoons of limongello or lemon vodka

500ml of double cream

125g caster sugar

100ml lemon juice. From our normal sized lemons this equals to the juice from one and a half lemons


250ml whipping cream

Zest of half an orange

Crystallized violets (optional but lovely here)

Shelled, chopped nuts. I use pistachio or toasted hazelnuts. But you can leave this bit out completely.

I make this in a 1litre pudding basin.

Break the sponge fingers in half and spread with the curd. Put them in individual glasses if you like, but this is an impressive dessert to serve in a big dish. And unlike the Pregnancy Test Trifle above, it holds its shape when cut.

Now sprinke the alcohol over the top.

In a medium sized sauce pan pour the 500ml of double cream and add the sugar. Bring to the boil over a medium heat then turn down and simmer for 2/3 minutes. Now remove from the heat and stir through the lemon juice. Pour this over the sponge fingers. In the bowl I use, this takes me almost to the top and I always have a moment of panic but as long as you have a centimetre or so of space, you’ll be fine for putting the cream on later. Push the sponge fingers down into the mixture as best you can.

Leave it out, to cool. When cool put it in the fridge. You can easily do this bit the day before, as I do. Be warned, this is already delicious and often I have a go at this pudding before the day. That’s okay though because you will have a carapace of whipped cream to hide your shame.

Either just before you serve this or when the mixture above has set you whip up the whipped cream. Spoon it over the trifle and scatter with the violet petals/nuts/zest. Either serve or put back in the fridge for enjoyment later.