Tag Archives: baking

russian black bread


One of the things that I miss most about living in Switzerland (apart from the chocolate, the company, and swimming in the lakes) is the bread. I took to the bread and the chocolate much more quickly than it took me to get the hang of swimming in the lakes, mind: it turns out that the time that all the snow on the mountains starts to thaw is not the same time that the lake starts to warm up. Who would have thought it? Yes, alright.

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Where were we? Oh yes, the bread. It was quite a revelation, if I’m honest. Don’t get me wrong, I’d been to mainland Europe before, and good bakeries in England – I don’t quite spend all of my time in the bakery aisle of the local Spar, sobbing – so I did know about good bread. I’d just, sort of, temporarily, forgotten. After all, over here we mostly get variations on the theme of plain white, posh white, wholemeal, and seedy (although at least they don’t put bone-ashes in it any more. I presume). I was most definitely not prepared for potato bread with walnuts in (delicious, by the way. As if you needed to ask).

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classic cheese scones


I have lots to share with you at the minute – there’s some recipes, and also the benefits of wearing legwarmers to work – but my train was delayed on the way home, and I have spring rolls to eat and an episode of the Bake Off urgently requiring my attention, so instead of writing up one of the recipes that I have already cooked for your reading pleasure, I made a whole new one to tell you about. Illogical? Me? Surely not.


Actually, I might also tell you about the legwarmers now. Mine are a particularly fetching pair of rainbow-striped ones that I bought millennia ago, in my teens, but you can wear whichever style you like (kind, aren’t I?). Underneath trousers would be my recommendation, though, unless your workplace’s dress code is a lot more relaxed than mine.


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Straight in today, readers: I am a convert, and so should you be. Not only does sourdough make an excellent addition to your table setting, it tastes far more interesting and keeps better than ordinary bread – not that it ever hangs around long enough in my house for that to be very useful.

You could argue that there is no need for me to be baking my own, as the bakery around the corner from my flat sells an excellent version (this being the bakery that I also go to to create change for the car park whenever I drive to work – this looks bad for my waistline, already), and up until I was handed a plastic tub of sourdough starter at the weekend, I would have agreed. However, it turns out that making it is surprisingly easy, and being the kind person that I am, I wanted to share this fact with those of you who don’t live minutes away from a small bakery.


It requires only faith, and patience. You needn’t worry about your faith being mis-placed, either – according to cutting-edge research (by which I mean John’s brother’s school science experiments, ten years ago), the only way to actually kill yeast is to pour bleach on it. Anything else just sort of …slows it down, for a bit. Add this to the fact that any flour prepared from any grain contains easily enough dormant microbial activity to get your starter going (and this I have on rather better authority: Sandor Katz’s Art of Fermentation), and you will find that it’s pretty hard to do wrong.

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poached pear and pecan frangipane tart


My mother does not believe in poached pears. In (roughly) her words: “you have to peel the pears, then you poach them for hours in your sugar and water, and then you have, well… warm pears. And I don’t like warm pears”. I’m inclined to agree that poaching pears for hours in sugary water doesn’t sound like much of an improvement on what was really quite delicious to start with, thankyouverymuch.


However, I’m sure that had her recipe for poached pears resulted in these pears instead, she would be as taken with them as I am. I can’t be 100% sure, as she didn’t taste any of them – instead of driving them a measly hour down the M4 and presenting them at her door (ta-dah!), five of us had them in a tart full of pecan frangipane for dessert, and then a small sub-section of us had more tart for breakfast the next morning , and possibly also elevenses, although I admit nothing. Yes, I know – I am a bad daughter.


As with most things, the difference between the kind of pears you stare at for a while in the hope that they’ll become more interesting – before giving up and eating something else instead – and the kind you eat off the plate in the fridge for breakfast is wine. (All breakfasts can be improved by the addition of some booze-sodden dessert – don’t tell me you’ve never been caught, coffee in one hand, bowl of tiramisu in the other).  Oh, and spices, they help too. Think mulled: star anise, a vanilla pod, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and ginger, along with the zest of an orange.

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