breadsticks

When I’ve made flatbreads or English muffins or pizza, I love to make breadsticks out of the last of the dough.

stick-dough

I use a simple recipe for everything inspired by recipes from the River Cottage Bread handbook by Daniel Stevens. Mine is 500g each of whole and white spelt, 10g of yeast, 650ml of warm water, though I usually make up part of that with sourdough culture to deepen the flavour, 20g of sea salt, and a good glug of olive oil. I knead that well and leave it to rise, covered, overnight before using it for various recipes. Preheat the oven to about 200 C/375 F.

Roll out a good handful of the dough to a half centimeter on a floured surface.

cut-dough

Slice lengths of about a finger’s width;

spirals

Arrange them on an oiled tray in shapes as you please. The spirals are delightful, my children adore them. I like to drizzle the bread with garlic-infused olive oil and sprinkle them with coarse sea salt.

garlic-baked

Bake them through, about 18-20 minutes. I once made the mistake of putting them in a piping hot oven I’d been baking pizza in, and it swiftly turned them to charcoal.

breadsticks

Breadsticks! So great for simple meals out in the garden.

pasta

Now, you might think that after the surprises I had at how effortless it is to make my own oatcakes and flatbreads and pizzas and English muffins, I wouldn’t be phased by anything. Yet I am astonished by the simplicity of handmade pasta. My lovely friend Sabine inspired me to try it. Flour, eggs, a rolling pin and a good knife are all that is needed.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

I am liberated from the late supermarket run: if there are flour and eggs in the house, and a bit of time, we can eat pasta. I measured out 300 grams of white spelt flour;

pasta-2

I made a well in the hill of flour, and cracked in three eggs. These are from our local organic farm, Old Plawhatch, aren’t they blindingly yellow! From healthy, happy chickens.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Mix them together with your fingers til you’ve got a breadcrumb-like consistency, and then start kneading. Unlike breadmaking, this dough is incredibly stiff, and put me in mind of wedging clay. Wrap the dough up, airtight, and leave it if you can take the time, at least twenty minutes, to relax the gluten. I went off to a homeschooling group and a violin lesson, and came back to find the dough considerably softer.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Cut the dough in two, shape a flat round, flour your surface and your pin, and roll it out just as thin as you can. Even thinner. Next time I’ll push it a bit further. Amazingly, though it’s very stiff, the dough doesn’t crack easily.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Now flour the dough a little if necessary, and roll it up.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Delightful!

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Where’s that sharp knife? Yes, decide how wide to slice the pasta. I’ll slice them more narrowly next time, say, half a centimeter.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

When I buy a bag of dry pasta I’m not joyful like this, nor am I compelled to gaze at the shapes in delight. The pleasures of homemade continue to astound me.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Unroll the spirals of dough and leave them to dry til brittle. Long enough to make a wonderful sauce, or go for a long walk, depending on the humidity in your kitchen. I laid some over a drying rack, and left some on the marble, but I’d like to hang the noodles over a dowel next time. The pasta nests people make are also very sweet, but wouldn’t dry very quickly in a chilly old cottage like this one!

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Cook them in sea salted water as you would cook any fresh pasta, al dente, once you have a sauce ready. Oh! The flavour is quite wonderful. You can freeze the dried pasta for later use. The children are determined to try using cutters on the pasta dough, with grand plans for ravioli and tortellini! For an everyday meal I am completely content with my wide, wobbly linguine. I love it.

flatbreads

Baking is a great pleasure, particularly when the steps are simple and the results are glorious. I’ve become very fond of learning to make the most basic, regularly bought baked goods myself. Making breads and crackers is so astonishingly inexpensive, compared to what we could buy for the same quality. I’m regularly amazed to discover how easy they are to prepare and how versatile a good dough can be. Flatbread is one of these delights.

flatbread © elisa rathje 2012

I’ve learned to make these recipes well in advance to allow for a long, slow rise, making the breads flavourful and easily digested, in the old-time way. A few minutes to mix the ingredients, a few more to knead them. The only trick is remembering that I’ve set the mixing bowl away in the airing cupboard for the night. I’ve spent time making sourdough and was inspired by a baking class at River Cottage to try a yeast dough. I used the pizza dough recipe from my beloved copy of River Cottage Bread. I did toss in a bit of sourdough culture for some depth.

flatbread © elisa rathje 2012

Such a pleasure to roll these out. They were quite sticky and required lots of flour. With my sweet friend Heather, visiting us at our country cottage, we decided to use the dough to make ourselves wraps for lunch, cooked rapidly on a hot dry skillet and turned when puffy and golden, then filled with fresh vegetables and avocado. We were adventurous and made mozzarella together as well, and chilled it for our evening meal. So great to cook with a good friend. We rolled out the dough the same way that night, each of us choosing what we wanted on our own little pizza. Heaven. The next day I treated the bread as a tortilla, and filled it with beans, cheese, vegetables and spices. There are so many wonderful variations on leavened and unleavened flatbreads and what to eat with them, I think we’ll make it a weekly ritual.

winter bread

T
hree sisters, elders in my family, taught me to knit, each a variation on the next, adding to what I’d learned from my grandmothers as a child. All of these teachers contributed to my style of knitting, just as so many drawing teachers in art school changed my drawing, and musicians altered my playing. I’m ever so pleased to develop my baking in the same way, revisiting River Cottage Cookery School and studying with a passionate baker, Aidan Chapman from The Phoenix Bakery in Weymouth. He taught a great friendly group of us, enthusiastic cooks, and we had a glorious time making biscuits and breads together.

river cottage baking © elisa rathje 2011

Aidan’s approach to breadmaking is improvisational, working by feel more than by measurement, and he talked to us about developing our own style and making a recipe our own. We observed a sourdough begun in the morning and very gently turned through the day, with great ideas about fitting breadmaking into busy lives – bringing the dough through its rising, proving, forming it into shapes, then possibly setting it in the fridge, to bake in the next day or two, whenever we’re ready. I was amazed at how wet a dough Aidan uses, fascinating ideas about the grains absorbing all the water and gaining firmness and structure as it develops, I never would’ve thought such a sticky dough could be so successful. Usually he would work with a long, slow ferment of about eighteen hours, which we didn’t have time for in our little class! But some of the sponges had been started the day before, it makes a huge difference. One of the most amazing suggestions from this baker is to use the sourdough culture in many other forms of baking, so that when I remove half of my starter when I go to feed it, if I’m not baking bread with that starter, instead of tossing it I could make pancakes with it (which Aidan did – gorgeous ones) or throw it into Yorkshire puddings, add it to yeasted breads, anywhere, to increase the depth of flavour and help with healthy digestion. I love this!

river cottage baking © elisa rathje 2011

We made a beautiful fruit & nut bread using raisins and walnuts, but cranberries and pistachios might be gorgeous, or dates and almonds to ring the changes. This one is a yeasted bread. Most folks used a combination of flours, while I used spelt, which is a little more reserved in how it rises, but still produces a wonderful bread.

river cottage baking © elisa rathje 2011

We mixed our ingredients very gently at first, then kneaded the wet dough in long pushing forward and pulling back movements, made a well, dropped the fruit and nuts into it, and tucked them in.

river cottage baking © elisa rathje 2011

Then kneaded it all some more. Aidan surprised me by suggesting that I don’t knead spelt as long, as it has lower gluten, it doesn’t need it. I’ve been taught the opposite! So I’ll experiment there.

river cottage baking © elisa rathje 2011

After covering with cloth and leaving the dough to rise;

river cottage baking © elisa rathje 2011

We gently knocked it down with fingertips;

river cottage baking © elisa rathje 2011

And Aidan showed us a few ways to shape the dough. I’m already very fond of making boules, so I thought I’d try out his plaiting technique. It reminds me of my Finnish grandmother’s traditional braided pulla which I shall have to ask my mother how to make!

river cottage baking © elisa rathje 2011

Let me see if I remember this style. Cross the lower two. Move the upper right across, between the upper and lower left. Move the upper left between the lower two. Repeat.

river cottage baking © elisa rathje 2011

Turn upside down into the floured proving basket. Oh, how I want these proving baskets! Three, please, to fit the boules of my regular recipe. They give the bread perfect support and allow it to breathe just enough. And the spirals are awfully pretty. Aren’t they gorgeous, rising?

river cottage baking © elisa rathje 2011

Those wonderful spirals. We sliced the boules that weren’t plaited just before baking, to allow the bread to open up and give it a strong structure as it rises in the oven. I love these details, not unlike the specifics of wedging and throwing clay.

river cottage baking © elisa rathje 2011

Our winter bread turned out beautifully, I took mine home to my little family and it’s gone, though it would’ve kept beautifully for days. Beautiful bread and pizzas, flatbreads, biscuits, and most gorgeously, our pannetones. Those were a dream to make, intoxicating citrus scents. I’m saving mine for Christmas. If you’d like to make one, Aidan’s pannetone recipe is here! If you’re in Weymouth, you’re a lucky person, for you can visit the Phoenix Bakery. As ever, River Cottage was a delight.

oatcakes

As we’ve been off to visit grandparents and then up to London this week, home has been somewhat neglected, and we need to get to the farm for some food. Later. We’re a little tired out. It’s the kind of moment that demands invention, only nothing too complicated. The children and I decided to make some simple oatcakes.

dough.jpg

The recipe we used is from my beloved copy of the River Cottage handbook, Bread. I think the children could have made this alone. We weighed and mixed 280g oatmeal, melted 75ml coconut oil, a pinch of sea salt & enough water to form a round, left it to rest, and rolled it out;

cutout.jpg

We cut out the cakes with a glass;

oatcakes.jpg

And baked them til they were toasty. 350F/180C for 23 minutes was right. Cheese would be amazing with them; butter was perfect. We all adore these oatcakes, they are infinitely better than store bought, inexpensive in comparison, and delightfully quick to make.