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Following on from our sourdough blueberry cake (previous post), I thought I’d try using leftover starter in place of buttermilk. I had to add a teaspoon of lime juice to raise the acidity level, but the finished cake was deliciously tender and flavoursome.

  • 200g self raising flour
  • 150g almond meal
  • 200g caster (superfine) sugar
  • 175g unsalted butter, softened
  • 150ml liquid sourdough starter*
  • 1 tsp lime juice (if needed)
  • 3 large free-range eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon (optional)
  • mulberry jam (any jam or curd should work)

*I didn’t fuss too much about the starter – I used mine straight out of the fridge and just eyeballed the quantity in a cup measure. Taste it first to see if you need the extra lime juice.

1. Cream together butter, sugar and zest, then mix in eggs and vanilla. Beat well, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

2. Stir together the flour and almond meal in a separate bowl.

3. Mix in half of the flour mixture, then the starter and lime juice, then the rest of the flour, mixing well after each addition.

4. Spoon half the batter into a well-oiled bundt pan, spoon on a layer of jam, then top with remaining batter. Bake in a preheated fan forced 160C oven for 40 – 45mins, rotating the cake halfway through if needed.

5. Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn onto wire rack to cool completely.  Dust with icing sugar before serving.

I tried this cake again in my 20cm square tin with removable base (which was sooo much easier to wash than the bundt pan). It needed a few minutes longer in the oven, but produced a gentle, easy eating cake that the boys are finding irresistible. And as Pete and I are becoming more lactose intolerant in our old age, we’re very happy to find a way to revisit all the yoghurt and buttermilk cakes that we’ve had to avoid in recent years.

So the next time you have leftover sourdough starter and some jam, bake a cake!

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Last weekend, I taught a couple of friends how to bake sourdough from scratch.

Over the course of the morning, I discovered that as a face to face teacher, I have limitations. I try to provide a lot of information, which can be difficult to take in fully during a few hours on a Saturday morning. Sometimes it works well – Helen sent this photo of her first solo loaf the following day, and it was perfect

A couple of days later, I had a text from my other friend which began with…“Ok, so the Japanese tea towel caught fire..”

Hmm. I thought I’d better write notes.

I’ve written several sourdough tutorials over the years – our original Overnight Sourdough Tutorial, which I wrote in 2014, is still one of the most popular posts on our blog. Following that came our High Hydration Overnight Tutorial in 2016, which was almost as popular. But the way I make my dough is constantly evolving – the High Hydration tutorial adopted the newer trend of using a much smaller proportion of starter to flour, and I’ve reduced it even further after reading Emilie’s excellent book, Artisan Sourdough Made Simple.

So this blog post is a rundown on how I’m teaching my friends to make sourdough in 2018. I’ve cheated a bit and used notes and photos from our previous tutorials – the method has been tweaked, but it’s still basically the same. There are also a couple of new videos showing the current shaping and slashing techniques I’m using.

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An integral part of the process is the baking of the dough in an enamel roaster. This makes a world of difference to the finished loaf. If you haven’t already invested in one, they’re very affordable, especially compared to enameled cast iron. You can buy the Wiltshire brand at David Jones, or the Falcon brand at Peters of Kensington. If you’re in the US, there are heaps available on Amazon at very reasonable prices…

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Begin with your starter bubbly and active. Start feeding it up about eight hours before you need it. Don’t even contemplate making dough if it doesn’t look like this. Test it by putting a small spoonful into a glass of water – if it’s ready, it will float.

Please, please, please read this post on how to feed and care for your starter…

Start at least an hour before you’re ready to go to bed and measure out 100g of bubbly starter into a large mixing bowl…

Add 700g of cool or room temperature water…

Add 1kg bakers or bread flour…

Add 18g fine sea salt…

With a clean hand, squelch everything together, then scrape off your hand and cover the dough with a shower cap or tea towel. Let it sit on the bench for half an hour or so…

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After the dough has rested, uncover it and give it a quick knead (for about a minute or so)…

Cover the dough with a shower cap, beeswax wrap or wok lid and leave it on the bench overnight.

The following morning, it will look like this (but without the speckly bits as I no longer add wholemeal – sorry, it’s a recycled photo)…

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Dust the bench really well with fine semolina (rye flour, rice flour or just bakers flour will also work). Scrape out the dough…

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It will be soft and puffy, and a bit sticky…

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Now here’s the trick…using your spatula, scrape under the dough on one side and stretch it up…

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Fold it over the top of the dough…

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Repeat with the other side…

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Do the same thing with the bottom part of the dough…

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And again with the top section…

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These four folds enclose all the sticky bits of the dough inside, leaving a completely semolina dusted (and therefore much easier) exterior to work with…

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Using your spatula, divide the dough in half.

A note at this point: I have a large oven and several enamel roasters, so I always bake at least two loaves at the same time (usually three). If your oven can only fit one loaf at a time, you can either make a half batch, or divide the dough in two and return one half to the covered mixing bowl. Begin preshaping the second loaf when you place the first loaf into the oven…

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Shape each half into a rough ball by folding the edges into the middle…

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Leaving the dough balls seam side up, dust the tops with semolina…

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Cover with a clean tea towel and allow the dough to rest for about 15 minutes. This preshaping process makes the dough much easier to handle…

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Uncover the dough and flatten each ball, then shape them into oval loaves. I do this by folding the edges in at the top and bottom, then folding the dough in half. Here’s a new video of my current shaping technique…

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Place each shaped loaf onto a sheet of parchment paper, seam side down, then cover them with the tea towel again and allow them to prove for a further 30 – 60 minutes…

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Alternatively, you could put them into tea towel lined bannetons – roll the shaped loaves gently in fine semolina first if you’re planning to do that, and put them gently into the baskets seam-side up (you’ll invert them out onto the parchment paper later).  Let the dough rise for a further 30 – 60 minutes, depending on the ambient temperature in your kitchen.

At this point, turn your oven on and preheat it to 230C with fan.

Once the loaves have puffed up a bit, it’s time to slash. If the dough is in bannetons, turn it out carefully onto parchment paper.

The easiest thing to do is to make just one long slash down the side, and it’s a technique that works well. You can use a serrated knife, a lame or a razor blade…

If you’d like to try something fancier, you might like our “half starburst” slash. Use a sharp razor if you’re going to attempt it – the single slash will be fine if made with a serrated knife, but the fancier patterns need a thinner blade. Remember to slash with panache!

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Here’s a new video of my slashing patterns – I gave up on using a lame ages ago and now just wield my razor commando style. I end up with a lot of tiny cuts on my fingers, but I like the control…

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Lifting by the sides of the parchment paper, lower each loaf into an enamel roaster. Spritz the top of each loaf with a little water, if you like (it’s not essential). Cover with the lids, then put them into the oven, reducing the heat to 220C with fan. Note that the pots are cold – I don’t think it’s necessary to preheat them.

Set the timer for 20 minutes…

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At the 20 minute mark, uncover the pots to release any remaining steam – the loaves should be well risen and just starting to brown. Leaving the lids off, rotate the pots, then close the oven again and set the timer for a further 20 minutes…

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After the second 20 minutes, the crust will be dark brown and crisp. At this point, I pull the loaves out of the oven and let them cool on a wire rack. If you’d like the loaves darker, take them out of the pot and place them directly on the rack for a further 5 – 10 minutes.

Here’s a photo taken from our cooking class…

The finished loaf should feel light and crusty. It will sound like a hollow drum when tapped on the bottom. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before slicing…

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Here are the loaves I slashed in the video above…

I’ve found that the loaves keep well for a couple of days in a beeswax wrap

If you’re new to sourdough, I hope you’ll give this method a go. I don’t have any starter to share at the moment, but lovely Emilie’s book has clear instructions on how to grow your own, and I believe she’s also selling her starter Dillon via mailorder. Have fun! ♥

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Christmas Fruit Loaf

A super quick post…

This year, I’ve baked Christmas fruit loaves for the neighbours. They’re packed with colourful dried fruit, nuts and cinnamon (but no added sugar), and they’re very tasty…

Here’s the formula I used:

  • 100g bubbly active sourdough starter
  • 1kg bread/bakers flour
  • 750g water
  • 18g fine sea salt
  • 100g walnut pieces
  • 100g chopped dried figs
  • 100g dried cranberries
  • 50g chopped dried apples
  • 50g chopped glace orange slices
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

I followed the instructions in our overnight high hydration tutorial, adding the fruit, nuts and cinnamon with the water. The dough will turn a gorgeous purpley hue. The only other change is to drop the temperature of the oven by 10 degrees once the lids of the roasters have been removed – the dried fruit has a tendency to burn otherwise.

I wrapped each loaf in a paper bag and sealed it with washi tape. Easy, delicious and very festive! ♥

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Picanha, also known as beef rump cap, is traditionally cooked hot and fast, then served rare.

I saw it advertised for sale last week at our local Harris Farm Market for just $12.99/kg. It was a locally raised, grassfed bargain, so I shouldered my old backpack and walked to the nearest store. Of course, I’d forgotten that I can’t seem to enter a Harris Farm and not leave with a full load, so the 2km walk home was a bit tricky…

At this point, may I take a brief moment to rave about Harris Farm Markets? For two seconds in the early 1990s, I worked with Cathy Harris (she was in PR back then) and met her and David on the odd social occasion. They were the nicest people – smart and entrepreneurial, but also kind and very family focused. So I was delighted but not at all surprised to read recently that Harris Farm Markets continues to be a family business, now run by three of their five sons.

As a shopper, I like everything about them (I have no idea what they’re like to work for or with). They offer a large and diverse range, they don’t sell caged eggs in their stores, they’re getting rid of plastic bags altogether, and much of their meat is grassfed and free range. A few years ago (and months before the supermarkets), they started selling imperfect fruit and vegetables at greatly reduced prices, to the benefit of both farmer and consumer. And they have pretty fabulous specials, which they email out every week to subscribers.

Which brings me back to my rump cap. There were a few brands on offer, but I bought this grassfed Angus beef from the Australian Meat Group…

The meat wasn’t marbled, but it did come with a generous “cap” of fat…

As I said at the beginning, the traditional way of cooking picanha is hot and fast, until the fat renders and crisps but the meat is still quite rare. I, on the other hand, had been craving slow cooked beef all week.

I dragged out my trusty Römertopf clay pot and popped it into a sinkful of water to soak for 20 minutes…

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This photo was taken when my pot was new. It’s not so clean now (sigh)…

The fat on the cap was scored deeply and the whole piece rubbed generously with salt and pepper, before being nestled (fat side up) into the soaked pot – I had to squish it a bit to fit. With the lid on, the pot went into a cold oven and I turned the heat up to 200C with fan.

After an hour, I took the pot out carefully and sat it on a folded tea towel (the Romy is quite sensitive to thermal shock, so plonking a hot pot onto a cold bench could cause it to crack). I poured boiling water in almost to the fat level, and added a couple of large pinches of salt.

The lid went on and the pot went back into the oven, with the heat reduced to 150C with fan, for a further two hours. By that stage the meat was very tender – we carefully removed it from the pot and wrapped it in foil to rest. The fat was skimmed off and used  to flavour roast potatoes, and Pete turned the stock into a delicious gravy.

Here’s the end result…tender and incredibly flavoursome slow cooked Aussie beef, cut with the grain to keep the slices intact. The 1.75kg piece cost us $22.50 and produced enough food to feed four adults generously or five comfortably…

We served it with homemade caponatina, potatoes roasted in the beef fat, focaccia croutons and Pete’s perfect gravy…

This was sooo good that I raced back to Harris Farm the following day and bought a couple more rump caps for the freezer!

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The Power of Scrimping

My friend Al laughed at me recently.

“You’re always figuring out how much everything costs!”, she said.

I had to laugh with her – I’ve been doing it for so long now that I don’t even notice. It was ironic too, because while I was telling her about buying broken bags of salt at bargain prices, we were busy eating at Anason in Barangaroo. The food was excellent, but certainly not cheap…

You see, whilst the adding up and counting costs began out of necessity, a lot of time has passed since then. It was important when Small Man was sick in hospital and Pete had been retrenched, but that was decades ago. And although we live a fairly moderate lifestyle now, we certainly aren’t stingy on ourselves.

So it’s intriguing that I still find so much joy in scrimping and saving. Is it that my Asian genes love a bargain? Maybe that plays a part. But after giving it more thought, I’ve decided that it also has to do with empowerment. I find it very reassuring to know that if the time ever came again that we had to survive on very little, we could.

Actually, survive isn’t the right word. I reckon we could thrive. We would eat our homemade sourdough at 60c a loaf, turn chicken bones into hearty meals, bake cakes with discounted tinned fruit, and cook up nourishing pasta soups.

Which is, in fact, how we eat now – not because we have to, but because we enjoy it. It feels like an important life lesson to pass on to Big Boy and Small Man – work hard, enjoy yourselves, but understand that if times ever get tough, you can always survive thrive on very little. I know too many people who equate contentment with a certain level of income, but life has shown us the hard way that it’s not something we always have control over. By practising frugality even when we don’t need to, we hope to model a mindset to our sons that will not just prepare them for, but allow them to embrace, the unpredictability of life.

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On our last trip to Costco, baby barramundi from Humpty-Doo (it’s a real place, google it!) was discounted by 50%. We brought home two fish, cut off the heads, then filleted them. The four fillets (skin on) and the bones were dusted in seasoned flour and simply pan fried, then I microwaved the heads with black beans and spring onions.

Accompanied by stir fried garden vegetables and steamed rice, this was a delicious meal for four adults using just $10 worth of fresh local fish. See, I’m still adding up! Do you do it too? ♥

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