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Adventures in sourdough: pancakes and grissini

Mixed spring sourdough grissini

One of the things which seems to mark out people who care about their food is a love of proper bread. In some respects I came round to this rather late. Although we grew up enjoying bread from wee bakeries in Northern Ireland, with lovely batch loaves, bloomers, wheaten bread and more; we also ate a lot of cheap sliced loaves at home. I used to be a demon for toast, and sliced pan loaves were the only option to sate my cravings as a growing teenager.

Throughout student life cheap sliced loaves were a staple. After graduating I shared a house with a mate who never bought a loaf of pre-sliced bread. His stance wasn’t dogmatic – no deeply ingrained opposition to the Chorleywood process – he just liked half-decent bread, and the pleasure of being able to cut your own slice, to whatever thickness you desired. Thanks to him, I kicked the habit of rectangular loafs wrapped in plastic like Laura Palmer. Since then I’ve made an effort to try and buy decent bread (Barbakan in south Manchester was a particular inspiration), and I tempered my toast habit a bit…

Unlike Miss South I’ve never been particularly drawn to baking – a few experiments in the past led to some reasonably unimpressive loaves – and so have stuck to flatbreads, pizzas, coca bread and of course those Norn Irish staples we both grew up with. I’ve always been impressed and daunted in equal measure by tales of friends growing their own sourdough starters, but never made the leap to doing it myself.

However our mum gave me a bit of her starter earlier this year (a mother from my mother seems appropriate) and so I’ve been giving this sourdough malarky a go. I work at home, so I’ve been able to accommodate the routines of this relatively undemanding pet: feeding, stirring, growing, nurturing. Loaves have turned out pretty well, and I can relate to the satisfaction one often hears described which comes with slowly proving a loaf with rewarding, complex flavours. However there are lots of folk out there who bake sourdough bread much better than I do… so this is about other things made with sourdough instead.

Sandor Katz’s monumental ‘The Art of Fermentation’ was a recent welcome birthday present, and as I leafed through the inspiring recipes and writing I was immediately drawn to his suggesting of using up excess sourdough starter for savoury pancakes. It’s dead simple: to help stimulate your starter to grow, you need to chuck out the majority of the flour and water mix so you can feed the remainder with new supplies. Most sources advocate using it for baking, or chucking it away, but the waste-not, want-not approach which Katz outlines is great.


sourdough pancake and starter

They’ve become a firm favourite in the last few weeks, providing an easy and welcome vehicle to use up a bunch of fresh and not-quite-so-fresh things from the fridge. I love the slightly sour tang from the starter; it’s like an quick and dirty hybrid of injera and a Staffordshire oatcake, and they’re great for a quick lunch.

sourdough_extras-03

Just pour out some of the sourdough ‘batter’ into a hot pan, and do like you would with traditional pancakes. Then fill, and wolf them down. Below are a couple of recent lunchtime five-minute wonders: blanched cavolo nero, diced salami and a squirt of sriracha in pancakes flecked with chives; and home-made slaw, salami and leaves. The contents are dictated only by your taste and what you have in. The only downside; roll ‘em like wraps and they disappear in no time.

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Outside, our rosemary bush has been flowering over the last few weeks. I’ve always wanted to make the most of these delicate, beautiful lilac flowers but never settled on the right option. They wilt and fade when roasted with lamb; they’re a bit much for a salad… but then I thought I’d try and pair them with smoked roast garlic and sea salt.

bumblebee on rosemary flowers

That, plus it being the tail end of wild garlic season in the Pennines, meant a making a brace of big umami-laced flavoured breadsticks. Which, oddly, don’t seem to last long in our house, especially when there’s a bottle open. Of the two, the rosemary flowers and smoked garlic was the standout for me. Well worth making…

Wild garlic, smoked garlic, rosemary flowers and sourdough mix

Spring sourdough grissini, two ways

(makes approx. 24 breadsticks)

  • 325g strong white flour
  • 150g sourdough leaven
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 220ml slight warm water
Rosemary flower, smoked roast garlic and sea salt 
  • 3-4 tablespoons of rosemary flowers (you could alternatively use dried ground rosemary leaves)
  • half a bulb of smoked garlic, roasted slowly for 40mins in an oven at approx. gas mark 4 / 180°C
  • a few tablespoons of sea salt to roll and coat the grissini in
Wild garlic, anchovy and black pepper
  • a fistful of wild garlic leaves, finely chopped
  • 6-8 anchovy fillets
  • fresh ground or crushed black pepper
  • olive oil

Roast the smoked garlic slowly. When done, remove from the oven and leave to cool. You should be able to squeeze out the delicious garlic purée from the cloves. Chop the wild garlic leaves finely, mixing with a splash of oil and chopped anchovies in a bowl to create a paste.

Mix the flour and leaven together in a bowl, then slowly add the water. Sprinkle the teaspoons-worth of salt in as you add the water. Mix roughly in the bowl, then leave for ten minutes. After ten minutes, divide into two equal portions, and work each separately. It should be slightly wet and sticky.

Mix the rosemary flowers into one of the portions in a bowl, then add the roasted garlic purée. Knead and mix until the ingredients look evenly distributed, and you can feel the dough changing in your hands. I slap it around briefly for a few minutes, then left it, before returning after a suitable length of time (preferably at least 4 hours). The mix will have risen slightly and proved well.

With the other, stir in the wild garlic mix. You may find you need to add extra flour as the water from the wild garlic leaves makes the dough more liquid. Mix as above until it’s uniformly green and has changed texture, then leave as above.

When the proving has completed, divide each in half, roll into a rough sausage shape, and then divide further into six equally-sized pieces. Roll these pieces, one by one, between your hand to make long breadstick shapes. Be careful they don’t snap… and don’t sweat it if they are uneven. They should look pleasingly rustic. Keep each dusted lightly in flour, and place on a dusted baking tray.

I sprinkled sea salt on a baking tray and rolled the rosemary and smoked garlic grissini in these, so the crystals stuck roughly to the dough.

Bake in batches for 12-15mins in a pre-heated oven at 220°C / Gas Mark 7. Check to see they’ve firmed up and taken some colour. They should be firm enough to break rather than tear. Leave to cool, then enjoy with a drink or two!

Cannon & Cannon, Market Row Brixton

As you might have guessed, I love Brixton. I rarely venture outside the area these days as it seems to have everything I need. But the one thing I wanted that it didn’t fulfil was a place to buy decent cheese. It seemed like Brixton would be perfect when I heard that Cannon & Cannon were extending their cheesemongering into Market Row. But imagine my unbridled glee when I realised that along with their cheese loving downstairs deli, they were opening upstairs so that you could sit in and eat charcuterie and cheese over a glass of something. It was like wishing for a pony and actually getting one.

Cannon & Cannon are the work of brothers Joe and Sean who hail from Norfolk and have a deep and abiding love of British cheeses and charcuterie and want to introduce everyone else to these undersung food heroes. They’ve been selling at Borough Market for quite a while and offering Londoners to a smorgasbord of meat and cheese treats from the British Isles, but they haven’t been able to keep up with demand and interest so have branched out and opened their own place in Market Row to give people more of a chance to sample their wares.

Just opposite Wild Caper and Rosie’s Deli, it’s Tardis like in size. Downstairs is a nice sized deli draped in beautiful salamis and crammed with mouthwatering British cheeses where you can pop in and pick up a little snippet of something to start a meal with or to make up for the fact the weather has really been too rainy to picnic properly so far. There’s something for everyone including some amazing spicy vegan tofu jerky in the chiller cabinet, but without being such a big selection you feel overwhelmed.

But if you can’t wait to get things home, you can go upstairs and take a seat and sample a selection of dishes and platters of cured meats and cheese over a drink or two. The menu looks deceptively short, but you can construct your own platters with a combination of two cheeses, two meats and two side dressings from a good selection on the blackboard while there are also bar snacks and small plates and a cheeseboard to choose from.

I decided to be sensible and start at the start with some nuts and olives while I tried to decide on my ideal meat cheese selection. Bar snacks can be a simple thing and they can also be overlooked compared to the main events, but not here. The selection of nuts are hand skinned and then roasted by chef Nick Balfe in a sweet chilli and rosemary coating that is addictively flavoursome. The olives are plump juicy green goddesses from Borough Market and you can see why Sean and Joe are perfectly happy for you to pop in for ‘just’ wine and bar snacks when there’s this much thought put into them.

But I defy you not to want to try something else. I couldn’t resist the hot smoked pig’s cheek from Dorset with caperberries for £7 and after much pondering I finally decided on the cheeses and meats I just had to try on the platter for £7.50, picking the Binham Blue and Gorwydd Caerphilly cheese and the cold smoked mutton and the air dried ham from Trealy Farm over the choice of venison salami and wild boar. I managed to miss the list of sherries on the drinks menu first time round so went for a glass of the house white instead.

The smoked pig’s cheek arrived first and I was slightly taken aback by the size of the portion, fearing that I may have ordered too much to do it all justice. But then I sampled the meat and forgot myself in a plate of silky melting pork fat and deep smoky flavours. It was like eating the smoothest slivers of the best bacon around. I heaped it onto the stunning seeded sourdough from Brick House bakery and topped it with plump salty caperberries that brightened the mouth and allowed me to eat more meat and more butter in quiet bliss. The white wine was excellent (especially for £3 a glass) with the smoky fatty meat.

I was even more amazed by the meat and cheese platter which was abundant of both and came with a beautiful fresh green salad on the side instead of bread. Full of curiousity, I started with the mutton and was blown away. Sean had explained to me that the best difference between British and European charcuterie is that the British version has a stronger animal taste and that was immediately clear. The mutton was abundantly sheepy in a rich, slightly sweet way rather than a strong farmyard flavour. It was superb. The quality, care and higher welfare standard shone through and I think it’s the best cured meat I’ve ever eaten. The air dried ham couldn’t quite match those heights, but was still good, as were the cornichons and the date and apricot chutney.

The cheese held its own perfectly. The Caerphilly was a million miles from that supermarket stuff that manages to be chalk and cheese simultaneously while sucking the moisture out of your mouth. This was smooth and creamy but with just enough powderiness to remind you were eating it rather than letting it melt. The Binham Blue was firm and creamy and tangy but not overpowering. It’s a joy to eat good quality cheese that tastes of something but doesn’t frighten you with its intensity. Cheese should be enjoyment not competition as to how strong you like it and Cannon & Cannon have got a good balance. The organic French house red (also £3) was perfect with both cheeses.

Feeling very replete and happy and enjoying trying all these new things, it didn’t take a lot of twist my arm to try the Stichelton and pickled pear plate with a glass of Muscat to round things off for £8.50. I’m actually not a huge fan of Stilton, finding it a bit gaudy in its strong flavour so expected the Stichelton to smack me round the face, albeit in a delicious way. I was overjoyed to discover that it was strong and subtle from the unpasteurised milk, and creamy with all kinds of flavours and enjoyment. The pears were firm and spiked with ginger and vinegar and were fantastic on their own and with the wine. I like my drinks very dry so have shied away from dessert wine for fear of it being sickly, but this was beautifully balanced between sweetness and sharpness and I loved it so much I forgot to photograph it.

I had to go home shortly after and lie down after my feast, but I wish I could have stayed and tackled that sherry list. Even before I’d left, I was plotting what I’d be back to try next. The place was busy with a welcoming and relaxed attitude and I was very happy to sit by myself and eat cheese, listening to the big table next to me try the other cheeses and enthuse about them and spot who had called in for a pre-Ritzy platter. Sean explained that they don’t take bookings per se, but could reserve the biggest table for a party if you ask nicely and that building on the good relationships they have with other market traders, they have outside tables at the Express Cafe on their late night opening, so you can wait or sit outside and sip sherry and eat to your heart’s content.

I really liked Cannon & Cannon. It’s small, but been thought out carefully and with real love. Everything has great detail but doesn’t feel forced. The passion is equal for the meats and cheeses and vegetarians would find plenty to enjoy. Sean used to be a wine buyer and that interest shows in the drinks. There’s everything from bottles of English red to ales from The Kernel Brewery and Ossie’s Fresh Ginger drinks from Brixton along with great fresh ground coffee. And you can drink as much as you fancy as they also have their own toilet…

They’ve carefully brought the best produce in South London together and created a lovely spot in the market where you can really relax. I thought I knew my cured meats pretty well but I found it a treat to discover different things and try new favourites. I urge you to go and suggest you do it soon as I strongly suspect that it’ll be impossible to get a table on Friday nights very soon. See you in the queue!

Cannon & Cannon, Market Row: Mon-Sat, late night Thurs, Fri, Sat

*I was a guest of Cannon & Cannon. Many thanks to them.

 

In the market for good food…

Sadly I haven’t managed to convince everyone I know to move to Brixton, so at the weekends I tend to go elsewhere in London while socialising. This is something I enjoy hugely, but means that despite living so close by I don’t know Brixton Market especially well at the weekends. Therefore I couldn’t resist spending the weekend close to home when Mister North came to visit and trying to catch up with any many new openings and delicious places to eat as possible.

We started off ignoring the crowds at Franco Manca. This is literally the closest pizza place of any description to my house and I’ve eaten there more times than you can count. I think it’s excellent, but pizza would be too filling to start our day with. Instead we went two doors further up to the newly opened Mexican restaurant Casa Morita.

Nicely minimalist yet welcoming and quite busy, we squeezed in and shared a table with two others, ordering the mole chicken taco and a chorizo and potato quesadilla to whet our appetite. There’s quite a small menu and most people seemed to be doing the same as us and calling in for a taco or two rather than sitting down for a full meal. There was no sniffiness at this or ordering tap water and service was prompt and we didn’t have to wait long.

The mole taco was lovely. The chicken was perhaps a little overshredded, but the flavour was rich and complex with a lovely warm kick of chilli. Our quesadilla actually ended up being chorizo-less by accident (they charged us less though) and was delicious with silky fried onions and fresh coriander infused guacamole to stop it being heavy. We liked the place a lot and I look forward to going back and sampling more.

We called into Wild Caper and got practically the last seeded sourdough loaf for breakfast next day. You need to be quick in there on a Saturday! This was a problem we encountered again when we moved across to Brixton Village in search of our next course. The newly opened Mama Lan’s dumpling boutique closes for lunch at 3 and it was five past. We’d have to wait til 6…

Luckily there was plenty to tempt but we were both drawn to Okan which sells the ‘Japanese pancake’ or okonomiyaki that Osaka is particularly famed for. It’s hard to describe without sounding slightly off-putting, but tastes great. Basically a slightly sour batter infused with cabbage, it is stuffed with anything you can imagine and served like a pancake sandwich. We ordered the special which comes with squid, prawns, kimchi and corn and got some green tea too.

What arrived was a monster sized plate of okonomiyaki laced with Japanese mayo, delicately fluttering grilled onion skin and bursting with seafood and flavour, particularly the tang of kimchi. It was delicious and extremely filling even between us, making it top class value. along with Curry Ono in Market Row, this another restaurant that proves Brixton is becoming great for Japanese food!

Well and truly full and with most places no longer serving for lunch, although busy with those lingering over plates and drinks, we left the market behind and headed up Atlantic Road to the newly Kaff Bar which has taken over the space on the corner of Kellett Road that was La Lupa. They’ve opened it out, done a cracking paint job and made it spacious. It wasn’t that busy at 4ish and we scored a comfy sofa and some nice bottled American ales and passed a hour or two people watching. Friendly and with a nice vibe (although no British beers on tap) I’m keen to go back in the evenings.

Appetites whetted, we made a beeline for Honest Burgers around 6pm before all the tables got snapped up. I want to say unfortunately their gas was off so they were delayed opening, but fortunately it gave us time to go back to Mama Lan’s while it was quiet. Only their second evening open, we ordered two plates of Beijing dumplings, going for the pork and the unusual sounding dill and tofu from the list of three options.

A proper family operation, the dumplings are made in front of your eyes by Mama Lan in a blur of chopsticks and dough and then fried by Papa Lan. I don’t know if it’s the love involved, but they are wonderful. The pork was tender, juicy and flavoursome. But the dill and tofu was the star (and this comes from a tofu-denier). Shredded dill studded with five spice-infused tofu, they melted in the mouth. I wanted more, but settled for eating all the pickled lotus root on the side and keeping space for another course and went back to Honest.

Like Mama Lan’s, all the meat is supplied by the Ginger Pig at Honest Burgers and aged well. This means that the burgers really taste of something and therefore don’t need souped up with cheese to get flavour. I loathe melted cheese on burgers so it is a constant source of annoyance to me that it needs to be added to most burgers to make them interesting these days. We both went for the regular burger and we both liked the onion relish that comes as standard, thinking it worked nicely with the meat.

They do option with cheddar or stilton and bacon too and a tasty sounding veggie fritter. Gluten free buns are available too. All the burgers come with chips included in the price. I think the chips are amazing. Triple fried, properly golden crisp and dusted with rosemary salt, I could eat them three times a day and never tire of them. It’s an effort not to call into Honest everyday for lunch!

Completely stuffed after our day of feasting, we headed home around 8. The market was buzzing. There was a serious queue for Mama Lan’s and no chance of an outside table at Honest, Cornercopia or Casa Sibilla or Kaosarn. There were plenty of families stopping it getting too hipster heaven and it all feels quite relaxed and dare I say it, continental. Make it a destination as soon as you can. Come early, bring a bag, use the market too for wonderful world foods and deli goods. Then prop up a bar or two in the afternoon and reconvene in the market for dinner. As long as you remember nowhere takes cards (try the Brixton Pound) and bring a healthy appetite, you’ll want to move to Brixton in no time!