Sourdough pitta bread

Two pitta breads with charred bits, slightly puffed up, on a plate

Now that summer is officially under way and it (sometimes) gets hot, I tend to avoid turning the oven on, as our flat gets very hot and we don’t need any extra heat. It’s time for salads, gazpachos and things that can be eaten cold(ish).

However… sometimes the pull of making something with flour is still strong. And that’s when I reach for these very easy to make pitta breads, which are dry-fried in a pan rather than baked in the oven.

It will still be hot in the kitchen for a bit, but then you’re done and ready to eat your little freshly baked wonders. And it’s so exciting to see them puff up! One of my favourite parts.

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Za’atar bread

Za'atar bread loaf, sliced

We bought a really big pack of Za’atar a couple of weeks ago, and the first thought I had (apart from cooking more cauliflower fritters) was that it would somehow make its way into bread.

First we made some sourdough manakish: a sort of flatbread topped with a paste made of za’atar and olive oil. That was very good!

Then I had an idea: what about making a hybrid between manakish and a ‘classic’ loaf?

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My technique for baking bread with steam

One of the first pieces of advice that I was given when I started proudly posting my absurdly exploded breads was that “you need steam”, and I had not a clue of how to make it happen.

You might have also heard about “adding steam” if you’ve been trying to take your home baking to the next level, to obtain a more “professional” finish: deeper colour, sophisticated blisters, and a shiny appearance that screams: EAT ME! I AM TASTY!

But if you’re like me, you’ll be also wondering: WHY? How does that work? 🤨🤔

I was frustrated for the longest time because I did not understand how any of this worked, and the methods proposed did not seem to have any effect at all. It took a while for things to “click” in my brain and make sense. This is my attempt to share what I’ve learned!

In this post, I’ll explain…

  • how steam helps to make better breads
  • how to create steam in a domestic oven
  • why you should feel very free to entirely ignore this for now
  • another method to create steam, with a casserole
  • and how the bakers of old achieved this too, but without resorting to graphs and talk of SCIENCE

Hopefully you’ll get something useful out of this!

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Sesame seed bread

Two sesame seed bread loaves cooling down on a rack

Sesame seeds are used mostly as a decorative element in Spanish food, e.g. as topping on burger buns or in “rosquilletas” (a sort of bread-based snack). The dishes with a much stronger presence of sesame seeds were all originating from Andalusia, such as tortas de anís and mantecados—possibly related to the Arab influence, but I’m hypothesising here.

I think I started “sesame seeding” my life after I tried Japanese food for the first time and I wanted to replicate some of the flavours at home. Apparently there was some mysterious ingredient called “sesame seed oil” that provided that extra “something” that my attempts were missing so far (no wonder something was amiss—I was using olive oil to cook Japanese stuff 😅). What a discovery!

Later I progressed to learn how to make hummus at home. It had a mysterious ingredient called tahini…! And once I discovered what it was, I wanted to put it on everything.

Then I started learning about all the sauces and dips you can make that involve tahini: whisk with a bit of water and it turns into a smooth dip. Add some garlic and it becomes nicely punchy. Or you can add lemon and yoghurt and it’s tangy and addictive. So many variations! All of them so tasty!

Of course, I also learned about the Divine Trinity: cumin, nigella and sesame seeds sprinkled on crackers or anything that deserves a good oomph. And there’s also my beloved dukkah, which you might have heard me talk rave about already many times.

But—and this is a big but—neither of these recipes really puts sesame front and center. I wanted to make something that would unashamedly declare its sesameness. Something where “sesame” was in the name of the recipe.

And so I came up with this sesame seed bread!

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