Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Focaccia Baking with WI Ladies

A few weeks back I was approached by a member of local WI group asking to come to one of their meeting and give a lesson in bread making. Obviously I jumped at the chance and said Yes, but deep inside I was very nervous – come on, it’s the WI ladies, they are the queens of baking and jams and thing (I promise I won’t mention the Jerusalem :) 

To add to the challenge, the class was set up in a pub, with no access to a lot of work bench space or ovens, expecting 20 to 30 members ! What the hell, I love a challenge. I decided to start with two reasonably easy recipes, that are very forgiving in terms on mixing and proving time – a soft focaccia and a milky white loaf. 

Ingredients bought, 10kg of dough pre-made, I was ready to roll ! The evening turned out to be a lot of fun – great to see such a range of personalities and ages, wine glasses in hand, chattering, flour flying everywhere :) I was an amazing experience for me, and I think they have enjoyed it too. 


500 gstrong white bread flour
10 g (1 heaped tsp) salt 
10 g (1 heaped tsp) granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp or 1 pack (7g) dry easy blend yeast
350 ml warm water (~38C) 
50 ml olive oil 
Toppings :
Savoury - Olives or tomatoes cut in half or rosemary or sun-dried tomatoes or thinly sliced potatoes, salt, etc. 
Sweet - grapes cut in half, figs, apricots cut in half, blueberries, a sprinkle of sugar

Oil drizzling 
50-75 ml olive oil 

Make dough
In a cup/jug dissolve sugar and yeast in water and let it stand for a few minutes, until you see little yeast bubbles on the surface. 
In a large bowl, mix together flour and salt. Make a well in flour and pour in the yeast mixture, mix with a spoon until most of the flour is absorbed. At this stage the dough will look like a loose shaggy mass. 

This dough it too wet for “traditional” mixing, and will be mixed entirely in the bowl. Grab one side of the bowl with your left hand (assuming you are right handed), and begin mixing the dough with your right hand, rotating the bowl around every few seconds. The “mixing” involves pulling a side of the dough closest to you, up and away from you, with your arm and hand doing digger-like movements – elbow out, palm pointed towards you. Keep going at a reasonably fast pace for 5 – 10 minutes or until the dough feels smooth and silky. 

Oil the bowl slightly, swirl the dough around to cover it with oil, cover the bowl with plastic and let it rise in a warm place until almost doubled, about 45-60 minutes (or longer, depending on your room temperature). 

Prepare a tray – line it with baking parchment. Tip the dough out of the bowl onto a counter taking care not to deflate it too much. Divide the dough into 3 portions if making mini-focaccias, or leave it as a single piece if making one large focaccia. 
Flatten the dough into a baking tray or into desired shape (round or square). Oil your fingers slightly and make plenty of deep (!) dimples in the dough. Push your desired toppings in the dimples, cover it loosely with plastic and let it rise in a warm place until it's increased in volume by about half, about 45-60 minutes (or longer, depending on your room temperature). 
DO NOT sprinkle focaccias with salt of sugar at this stage, this will come in a later step. Adding salt during the final prove will kill the yeast and focaccias will collapse. Adding sugar during the final prove will make yeast over-active and the dough will come out very pale and tasteless. 
TIP: If you don’t have time to bake it right away, place the focaccia in the fridge overnight and bake it next morning. 

In making a sweet focaccia, sprinkle some sugar (2 tsp) on top, just before putting it in the oven.
Bake in a preheated oven for 15-20 minutes at 180 C (gas mark 4) until light golden in colour and the bottom has baked through. 

Take the focaccia out, place on a cooling rack.
Savoury focaccia - drizzle generously with olive oil, sprinkle with salt if desired 
Sweet focaccia - brush with melted butter 

Leave to cool for at least an hour before eating.   

And here are some examples of what the ladies have baked last night - looks great ! 

Monday, 21 March 2016

Russian Blini

This is not strictly a bread recipe, but I was so pleased with the result, I decided to write it down for the future. 
Last weekend we hosted a Russian-themed party, and what a better way to start a party than with a plate of blini and caviar! 
Whenever we have a Russian party - which is once in a blue moon – I get caviar from Caspian Caviar guys – great quality and really speedy delivery. If you are strapped for time, you can get blini from them as well, but they will never be as good as the ones you make yourself. 

Russian Blini 
Makes 30-35 

100 g plain flour 
70 g spelt wholemeal flour (mine is from Shipton Mill
250 ml warm milk 
¼ tsp sugar 
¼ tsp salt 
1 tsp dry yeast 
2 eggs, separated 

Serve with: 
Crème fraise 
Caviar (black or red) or smoked salmon or cooked prawns 
Chive (for decoration) 

Now, traditional blini use buckwheat flour, but I didn’t have any in the house – who does? So I had to improvise a bit. Spelt flour is my favourite flour at the moment – it has a rich and nutty flavour, adds just a hint of colour, and still gives that really light texture. 

Sieve flours in a medium size bowl, add yeast and sugar to one side and salt to the opposite side of the bowl. Obviously it will all gets mixed up in batter, but never ever add salt directly to yeast – it will kill it! Warm up milk, separate egg yolks from egg whites - add milk and yolks to the batter, set egg whites aside, you will need them later. 

Whisk everything together and leave covered in a warm place for about an hour and a half. You won’t see much happening in the batter, possibly a couple of small bubbles on the surface – that’s exactly how it should look. 

Whisk the egg whites in soft peaks and gently fold them into the batter – make sure that there are no white lumps, but try to keep as much air in the batter as possible. 

Heat up non-stick pan (you can add a drop of butter to the pan just to make sure it doesn't stick) on a medium heat. Spoon small amount to batter into the pan, you are aiming for small circles, around 5 cm in diameter. You can fry a few of them in one go – they only need 30-40 second on each side. Cook until blini turn light golden colour, flip and cook for a bit longer. 

Cool blini for about 5-10 minutes before serving. They are very versatile – I like mine cold with crème fraise and black caviar (and a vodka shot :), whether my kids like them warm, spread with some Nutella :)

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Pale Ale Sourdough

Happy St Patrick’s Day troops! This year I started preparing for it early : green top bought – check, a massive collection of whiskeys at home – check, make a beer bread – check! 

In reality, I was just looking for new flavours to add to my bread, and found a bottle of pale ale left over from a Viking party last summer – that a story for another day. 
I like my beers, but I am more of a larger girl, I’d drink Guinness too, but only in Ireland – it just doesn’t taste the same anywhere else. Ale is not a drink I would ever choose, so using it in bread made perfect sense! 

Pale Ale Sourdough 
220 ml pale ale 
100 ml water 
160g white sourdough starter (100% hydration) 
1 Tbsp barley malt extract 
400g white bread flour 
100g wholemeal four 
1.5 tsp salt 

I used pale ale, but you can use any beer you may have in the house, as long as its not dark beer. 
Pour beer and water in a mixer bowl, measure out starter. I am using my KitchenAid mixer for mixing my bread, but this bread could also be mixed my hand – do whatever you are comfortable with. 
Add barley malt extract – you can buy it in health shops – or use runny honey instead. 
Add flours – I use Shipton Mill strong white and Shipton Mill wholemeal flours. 

Mix on the lowest speed (KitchenAid speed 1) for 6 minutes, until the dough comes away from the sides. Leave covered to autolise for 20 minutes. 
Add salt and mix on slow-medium speed (KitchedAid speed 2) for another 2 minutes. 

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, and do two stretch and folds over the next hour – after 30 minutes and after 60 minutes. 
Leave the dough covered to prove at room temperature (my house it at 21C) for 4 hours. 

Shape the dough into a loaf – I did an oblong shape – and place it into a generously floured bread basket or banneton, seam side up. Dust the top of the dough lightly with flour, cover and leave to prove in a cool room (around 19C) overnight, or for at least 8 hours. 

I am loving my baking cloche – a wonderful present from Ranty Man, and bake all my breads in it. 
Preheat the cloche in the oven for about 20 minutes at 220C (fan). 
Take cloche cover off and flip the loaf gently into the cloche (take care not to knock out all the air out of the loaf), do a nice deep slash, put the cover back on and place the cloche back in the oven. 

Bake for 30 minutes, take the cover off and bake for further 5-10 minutes, depending how dark do you like your crust. 

I am yet to try the bread, but it is looking pretty good!

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Apple and Cranberry Jelly

A few weeks back I had a great pleasure of enjoying Vivien Lloyd, Jam Mistress herself, hospitality. We were planning a family trip to Bath and Vivien kindly invited us over to stay with her, and as an additional bonus, she gave me a class in jelly making – I couldn't believe my luck! 
Even though it is my post, I must point out that Vivien did all the work, I just took a lot of pictures, distracted her with my chatter and polished off the finished product :) 

I must say, I am not very friendly with jellies – the whole jelly making, straining and ensuring the right consistency and clarity seems a bit too complicated for me. Plus, I am not quite sure what I’d use jelly for if I did make it. 
Well, I am happy to report that after Vivien’s class I am a jelly-convert. I still need to find more uses for it, but I am definitely more confident making jellies, plus I can’t believe how simple and HOW FAST you can make them – fruit to jelly in TWO hours, yes, really! So here it goes … 

Apple and Cranberry Jelly 
makes 5 x 225g jars 
1 kg cooking apples – big green bramley are the best 
1kg cranberries 
1.4 l water 
675 g granulated cane sugar 
1 tsp dried chilli flakes (optional, only if you want a zingy jelly, can go up to 4 tsp if you are feeling brave)

Wash apples and chop them roughly – peel, core and all – and place them in a large pan with cranberries and water. A good tip from Vivien – stock up on cranberries when they are in season and freeze them, use them straight from the freezer when making jelly. 
Add chilli flakes now, if using. 
Bring to boil and simmer for 25 minutes, until the fruit is looking all mushy and cranberries gave their colour to water – it will be lovely pale pink colour. 
Use a potato masher, mash all the fruit in the pan to get as much juice out of apples and cranberries. Pout the fruit out into a jelly bag over a large bowl - with plenty of room for the juice to drip without touching the bag. Leave to drip for at least an hour or overnight if it fits your timetable better. 
Do not, and I mean DO NOT squeeze the fruit once its in the jelly bag, do not be tempted to get more liquid out. If you do that, your jelly will be cloudy and all the jelly-gods will curse you! :) 
Note; If you don’t have a jelly bag, use chinois strainer (who has those, right? I do), or make a large bag out of jam muslin (very fine muslin) and hang it over a bowl. But to be honest, you can get a jelly bag for about 2-3 quid from Tesco or Lakeland or the like, so you should just get one of those. 

With the juice straining, warm up your sugar in a pre-heated oven (120C non-fan) for at least 15 minutes. This would help your sugar to dissolve faster and will give you a faster set too. Start sterilizing your jars and lids now too – boil them for 10 minutes and oven-dry for 15 minutes. Over-dry at 120C, same as the sugar, you can do it at the same time if your oven is big enough and you have multiple racks. 

Measure out 900 ml of the strained juice and place it back in the pan (clean), heat up the juice and add warmed sugar – stir the sugars in until all of the crystals have dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved you will see a dramatic change in the colour of the jelly – it will go from pale pink to really rich jewel colour, very bright ruby red. 
With heat on high, bring the juice and sugar to a rolling boil, where you see a mass of bubbles all over the surface, and the bubbles will rise quite high up. Boil for about 4 minutes as which point, providing that the jelly-gods have been smiling at you, your jelly should reach a setting point. You can measure the setting point by using a jam thermometer – 104.5C (220F) is jelly setting point, or using Vivien’s “flake test”, which is dead easy and totally fool proof: 
- Using a large metal spoon, scoop up a spoon-full of jelly, shake it side to side for 2 seconds and poor the jelly back in the pan 
- Hold the spoon turned over above the pan and watch jelly drips sliding off the spoon 
- As soon as the drips start “holding” a bit, and become thicker, you have reached a setting point. Apologies, but the best way to describe it is watch the drips become snot-like :) 
Take the jelly off the heat and leave to cool for about 5 minutes. While its cooling carefully remove any scum off the surface to bet the best clarity in your jelly. 

Pour the jelly into sterilized jars all the way to the very top. Use a teaspoon to remove any bubbles or any addition scum that has risen to the surface. Its really worth doing it, as it will give your jelly a crystal clear quality that will make everyone jealous. 
Seal the jars with sterilized lids and leave to cool and set – it wouldn't take long, you can probably eat it after an hour or so. 
As for the ways you can use it – so far I’ve had it with cheese and crackers, in turkey and brie sandwich and jelly and icecream dessert – possibilities are endless!

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Jamming in London

Jamming in London

When The jam mistress offers you to write a blog on her site, there is only one thing for it – grab your laptop and go! I first met Vivian a couple of years ago when I was muddling my way through batches and batches of bad marmalade – after one lesson from her, my marmalade is nearly perfect, even won three Silvers at Dalemain Marmalade awards!
However, when it comes to jam making, I still have a lot to learn, but it doesn’t stop me from making jam from any fruit I can lay my hands on.

I am very lucky to live in the South East of London where fruit are plentiful and neighbors are friendly – not something I’d expect people associate with any part of London :)  Last year I spotted a number of large wild plum trees and was looking forward to picking some to make it into a jam. After a courtesy check with the neighbors I picked a large bag of plums, leaving plenty for birds and any other jam foragers. On the way back I saw another tree loaded with what assumed were a type of a plum – but not the type I even saw before – gold and shiny, with honey-like taste. I decided to pick the fruit and see if I can make some jam out of them.

After a bit of googling I’ve discovered that the yellow plums I picked were actually “golden plum” variety, and were quite a common fruit in jam making. Well, that was a first one for me, and I was all set for making my jams.

I was looking for a “cheat” recipe, one that doesn’t require stoning the fruit – both the wild black and the golden plum fruit looked quite tight and would be a bit of a nightmare to stone. I didn’t find a recipe that I liked (I discarded anything involving butter or pectin – I am not THAT much of a cheat), so I’ve decided to make my own. You can tell that I am a baker, as I’ve decided to apply a baker percentage and turn it into a jam percentage, a formula to compare weight of jam ingredients to the weight of fruit – whether I am right or wrong – judge for yourself

Golden Plum Jam with a hint of Lavender
1.6kg plums (with stones in)
350g of water (22% weight of plums)
1,110g granulated gold sugar (70% weight of plums)
                Replace 110 – 150g of sugar with lavender sugar if you want to add lavender flavour
juice of ½ lemon

Wild Black Plum Jam
2kg wild black plums (with stones in)
450g water (23% weight of plums)
1,400 granulated white sugar (70% weight of plums)
juice of ½ lemon

The recipe is the same for both jams, so I will write it as one :
Wash and sort the plums – throw away anything rotten, and it would taint the flavour of the jam.

Place plums in a large wide pan, add water and bring to the boil, uncovered. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 20 minutes, until the fruit is very soft and mushy.

Take the pan off the boil, strain all the juice through a sieve in a separate pan. Ladle the fruit pulp (stones and skins and all) into a sieve, rub the flesh through the sieve, pushing out as much of the plum pure as possible. At the end you will have a bowl full of plum juice and pure, with a dry-ish mix of stones and bits of pulp left in the sieve.

Weigh the juice&pure mixture, and, if required, reduce the weight to 70% of the original fruit weight, same weight as the sugars. My juice were a tab bit over, so I simmered them on a slow heat until I got to the right weight – 1,110g for golden plum and 1,400g for wild black plums.

Meanwhile heat the sugars in the oven on a very low temperature – 90C-100C for about 40 minutes or so. I never used to bother with that, but it does make a difference – makes it much easier for sugars to dissolve. Gradually add the sugars to the juice, add lemon juice and crank up the heat. Keep stirring the juice until all the sugars have dissolved.

Now its time for some magic – over the next 10-15 minutes your juice will turn into jam, and this is what you need to look for:
First you will see a good steady boil with lots of bubbles – that’s “rolling boil”

Then the bubbles will get really foam-like and will come up right to the top of your pan (that’s where you will discover if your pan is big enough – note to self, choose a large enough pan) – that “foaming cola” stage

Then you will see the boil die down a bit, and the colour will start to change, becoming darker and richer. From that point onwards you can start testing for a set.

I went through the usual wrinkle, cold plate, thermometer, and all that tests, but the best one still is the one Vivien showed me – the flake test.
Using a large metal spoon, spoon up a some jam, share it around for a second or two – to cool off the jam slightly – and poor the jam back in the pan. Hold the spoon above the pan and watch how the jam drips off the spoon. Once you see a bit of tension – jelly like drops, you are there. Vivien calls it “the flake” test, I gave it slightly less pleasant name – the “snot test”. I know it doesn’t sound that great, but that’s exactly the kind of consistency you are after – once you see these snot like drops, you can be sure your jam is going to set.

Turn off the heat and leave the jam to cool for 5 minutes or so. Skim off any foamy scum that might have formed on the top – I skim it into a separate dish for my kids to lick later – a special treat every time mummy makes jam :)
Sterilise your jam jars by boiling them for 10-15 minutes and then drying them off in a cool oven (140C) for another 10 minutes.
Fill the jars right up to the top, and close them tightly with a lid
I got 5 ½ 250ml jars from the golden jam and 4x250ml jars plus 1x500ml jar from the black jam

Well, what can I say?
Golden jam – the colour has remained rich and golden, as I was worried that it might “wash out” a bit. The jam is quite cloudy, with little specks of purple – that’s the lavender – which I actually quite like. I judged lavender just right – the jam has a slight hint of lavender, without being soapy. Now, the taste is rather … surprising – it tastes more like apricots rather than plum, very VERY sweet, very honey-like. As for the set – I would say it’s a very soft set, but in Vivien’s words “its obviously not set” :)
I see it going really well with some wholemeal toast and butter.

Now, the wild black jam – its looks properly good – such a dark purple burgundy colour that its almost black. I did toy with the idea of adding some cinnamon to it, but at eh end decided to keep it plain and simple and let the fruit speak for itself. The taste is wonderful – sweet and tangy at the same time, with almost velvety feel to it. It’s a better set than the golden plum one, but still not a solid set – I wanted a bit of a “wobble” in it. I am really happy with this jam, definitely adding to my annual jam-making list

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Bread-o-lution - May Borodinky Bread

I finally caught up with all by blog posts and actually doing May post on time – yay me! This month’s project is Borodinsky bread – bread I used to eat a lot as a child. I remember my grandma coming back from a work trip with five loaves “just for the weekend” – so as you can see its been a family favourite for a while :) 
I love baking rye bread, and have baked a number of German style loaves, as well as made up my own recipes using rye flour, but for some reason I never tried a hand at making Borodinsky bread. Well, this is the whole point of this project – to learn new and to re-discover old recipes! 

I wanted the bread to be as authentic as possible, so I decided to do all of my research in Russian, mainly looking for GOST (ГОСТ in Russian) recipes. GOST is a set of technical standards maintained by the Euro-Asian Council for Standardization, Metrology and Certification (EASC), and in the old communist days, all bread production had to comply with that standard. 
 It was fairly easy to find recipes for Borodinsky sourdough bread, the hardest thing was to decide which one would be the closest to the “true” recipe and bring back my childhood memories of that wholesome, slightly sweet loaf with a generous sprinkling of coriander seeds. 

Russian Borodisnky Sourdough 
200g rye starter (100% hydration) 
380g rye flour 
100g white bread flour 
20g barley malt syrup 
2 tsp ground coriander 
250ml boiled water 
100ml spring water 
¼ tsp yeast (optional) 
½ tsp molasses 
30g molasses sugar 
10g salt coriander seeds to decorate 

I had such a difficult time trying to work out whats the hydration for this bread is supposed to be. None of GOST recipes state water percentage – the recipes I saw had anywhere from 60% to 90% hydration, and the only GOST guidelines I found talk about 60% to 75% hydration – thanks, that’s really helpful! 
This bread is made in a number of stages – starter, scald, sponge and then the final dough. It might feel a bit like a faff, but its worth it, and its actually easy enough to do in a day with a bit of planning. 

I don’t normally keep rye mother starter, just the white starter, as I don’t think rye starter keeps that well in the fridge. So I started building up my starter a few days before making the bread – starting with a spoonful of white starter and feeding it rye flour and spring water twice a day until I got the required amount. 
Most of the recipes I read call for dark malt powder – I didn’t have any at home and didn’t think it was worth ordering a whole bag for just one recipe. However, I do have barley malt syrup that I use for making bagels, so I decided it would have to do – plus it was very easy to get, you can buy it in any Holland & Barrett shops. 
To make scald, mix together in a medium size bowl malt syrup and boiling water until the syrup has dissolved completely. Add 80g of rye flour and ground coriander. Whisk together until all the liquid has been absorbed and make sure that there are no lumps. 
Cover with cligfilm and leave in a warm place for 2 hours. 
To the scald add your rye starter, 50ml of cold water, yeast (if using), molasses and 200g rye flour. Mix until everything is well combined, and the sponge was taken a darker colour from the added molasses – it can be a bit hard to mix it in. 
Now, I normally don’t like adding commercial yeast to sourdoughs, but in this particular case, my sourdough wasn’t at its peak when I decided to use it and I felt that such a rye-heavy bread would need a bit of help. If your starter is very ripe, don’t bother with the yeast. 
Cover with clingfilm and leave for 4 hours in a warm place. 
it wouldn't have changes much during that time - not to fear, its all going according to plan
For the final dough, either use a mixer or mix everything in a large bowl with a spoon. You won’t need to mix the dough for very long, as you don’t need to develop gluten, so its just as easy to mix it by hand. I was a bit lazy and did use a mixer – but only cause I love my KitchenAid so much :) 
Add the rest – 80ml – spring water, sugar, 100g of each rye and white flours and salt for the sponge. Mix on low speed for 2-3 minutes. The dough won’t come together, it will look like a brownish mess – that’s exactly the look and consistency you want! If you can’t find molasses sugar, feel free to use white sugar, maybe increase the molasses in previous step slightly. 
Cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for 1/2 hour to an hour. 
The dough will puff up a little bit, but you won’t see much increase in size – rye dough is very different from white dough. It doesn’t look like anything is happening, but trust me – its all go underneath. 
Line a loaf tin with baking parchment to prevent the dough from sticking. Oil your countertop generously, and pour out the dough. With oiled hands try to shape the dough into a loaf – don’t overwork it too much, just kind of pat it into a brick. 
Place the dough into the tin and smooth it out to get an even surface. 
Cover with clingfilm and leave to rest for 3 hours at room temperature. 
Spray the top with water and sprinkle with whole coriander seeds. You don’t have to do this step, but it does look prettier this way. 
Preheat oven to 200C fan and bake with steam for 45-50 minutes until the loaf is a nice, rich brown colour. Take out of the tin and cool on a rack overnight. Do not cut the loaf until at least 12 hours after its been baked – it needs time to develop full flavour. 
I had a couple of slices of it in the morning with a bit of butter and hard cheese – and it definitely takes me back to my childhood. 
A deep and subtle flavours, with a slight hint of sweetness from barley and warm taste of coriander. Got big thumbs up from my nana when she tried it – “just as I remember”, so I call it a success!

Monday, 25 May 2015

Bread-o-lution - April Colomba Pasquale

I really need to get better at this – its past mid-May and I am only just posting April project. But – the good thing is that I just finished May bread, so next post shouldn’t be too far behind. 
My planning was completely off this month – I decided to bake Colomba Pasquale – a traditional Easter cake – for Easter celebrations this year. But, what I forgot to do is to check my calendar - I celebrate both Catholic and Russian Orthodox Easters – both of them fell at the beginning of the month this year, plus I had booked a trip to Russia with my little ones at the beginning of the month, so there was no way on earth I was going to finish my baking on time. 

Anyway, I got there at the end, and to make up for the lateness, I’ve made five (yes, five) loaves just to test out different recipes and shapes. I tried using very traditional as well as more available ingredients, tall and round panettone cases and shallow and wide “dove” cases, and I finally came up with something I am quite happy with. 
As usual, my research started with TheFreshLoaf, and a number of other bread sites – I settled on txfarmer and rosas yummy yums blogs, which have very similar base recipes, with slight difference in the amount of butter they use and how they incorporate the fruit.

Sourdough Colomba Pasquale 
1st dough: 
150g Italian starter (100% hydration) 
400g Italian bread flour 
135g soft non-salted butter 
105g sugar 
3 egg yolks 
150g+105g water 

Final dough: 
All of the 1st dough 
90g Italian bread flour 
15g honey 
4g salt 
30g sugar 
3 egg yolks 
50g soft non-salted butter 
1 tsp vanilla essence 
1tbsp limoncello or aroma veneziana 
zest of 1 lemon or orange 
200g candied orange peel 

100g sugar 
1 egg white 
50g pine nuts 
100g almonds 
50g hazelnuts 
Pearl or regular sugar Icing sugar 

Don’t get scared when you read recipes that talk about “sweet” or “Italian” starter – all they mean is a very active starter that you refresh often – every 4 or 6 hours. Its called “sweet”, because the starter doesn’t have time to develop the levels of acidity that longer feeding schedule would give you. 
I built up my starter from my regular mother starter, feeding it spring water and Italian flour every 4 hours until I have the required amount. Do try to find Italian flour – I made this bread with strong bread flour and the texture wasn’t as soft, so its really worth sourcing the right flour. 
Mix sugar and 150g water in a small saucepan, bring it to boil, reduce the heat and simmer until all of the sugar has dissolved. Take off the heat and cool completely. 
Place starter, egg yolks, cooled sugar syrup and flour in a bread mixer (I am using my trusted KitchenAid) and mix until everything is well combined. Add the remaining 105g of water, about ¼ cup at the time, making sure that its all absorbed before you add the next bit. 
Slowly add butter – bit by bit – and mix until you have a very wet and silky dough – it will just start coming from the sides of the bowl. I have this wonderful new glass mixer bowl – and I just love watching dough being mixed in it. In total, I think it took about 2 minutes on speed 1 and another 3 minutes on speed 2. 
Cover the dough with clingfilm and leave to rest for 12 hours at room temperature. The dough is meant to grow quite a bit (3-4 times the size), so make sure that you have a large enough bowl. 

The first time I make this bread, I mixed it in the morning, and was hoping to carry on with it after work. Unfortunately it was quite a cold day and the dough hasn’t grown as much as I expected. I didn’t have time to wait for the dough to do its thing, so I banged it in the fridge overnight, took it out of the fridge the next day, just before I went to work and left it at room temperature for 8-9 hours. 
By the time I got back from work, it was truly blooming, and I was ready to move onto the next stage. 

Place all of the first dough, egg yolks, honey, flour, salt, zest, vanilla and limoncello (or aroma veneziana) in a mixer bowl and mix on slow speed for about 3 minutes. 
Original recipes calls for orange zest, but I used lemon as I didn’t have any oranges at home. Aroma veneziana is a very traditional flavouring in Italian recipes, and it has a really sweet and zesty citrus smell. I didn’t have it the first time I made this bread, so I just used some limoncello instead – figured it was citrusy and Italian, so I couldn’t go wrong :) I did use the proper stuff the second time around, and it did give the bread a more traditional flavour, however I wouldn’t waste too much time looking for the essence – limoncello works just as well, if not better. 
Add the sugar, tablespoon at the time, then add butter, bit by bit and mix on medium speed until the dough feels very smooth and elastic and starting to come together in a ball, clearing sides of the mixing bowl. Turn the mixer down to low speed and add candied fruit, mix for about a minute until thoroughly combined. 

Cover with clingfilm and leave to rest for 1 – 1.5 hours at room temperature. 

Divide the dough in two and place into cases. My dough weighted around 1.5kg and the first time I baked this bread, I split the dough between two large panettone cases – the dough just covered the bottom of the case, maybe 1/5th full. The second time I baked this, I used two proper colomba cases as well as a medium panettone case. Personally I prefer the panettone shape, I think the dough feels a bit lighter when baked in a larger shape. 

Cover the cases with clingfilm and leave to proof for 3-4 hours at room temperature, until the dough nearly tripled in volume. Panettone cases filled out really well – nearly to the top of the cases, whether colomba cases were still only half full. 
Toast pine nuts, hazelnuts and half of almonds (leave the other half for decoration) for a couple of minutes. Cool completely and blitz them in a food processor for get a rough crumb. 

For the glaze mix sugar and an egg white – only enough egg white to make the glaze spreadable. Spread the glaze on top of the loaves – don’t worry about a few spills, it will only make it look more authentic. 
Cover evenly with the nut crumb, decorate with the remaining whole almonds, sprinkle with pearl or regular sugar and dust heavily with icing sugar. I’ve been looking for pearl sugar for a while, and I am glad I found it, as it gives the bread that extra crunchy texture. However, if you haven’t got it – regular sugar will work just fine. 

Bake on the lowest oven shelf at 160C fan for 40 minutes, check in the last 10 minutes to make sure that they are not getting overdone. You are after very golden colour where the topping is just beginning to caramelize – be careful not to over-bake it. 
The bread will have a HUGE oven spring and will fill your house with the most amazing smell as it bakes. Do make sure that you give the bread time to cool down completely before slicing it. 

This is such a nice looking bread – looks and tastes delicious – plain or toasted. Its much lighter and fragrant as your typical brioche and not as sweet as panettone – has a great soft texture with open crumb and lots of little bubbly holes. 

I love a slice or two of it, toasted with a cup of tea for breakfast, and my kids take it plain as an afternoon snack. 

Would I make it again? You betcha – especially how that I have 8 more colomba pasquale cases – they only came in a pack of 10 :)