Healthy Baked Oat Bites

These chewy oat bars are my take on flapjack-style granola bars which are usually heavily laden with refined sugars. Using fruit to provide much of the sweetness means there’s less reason to feel guilty about indulging your sweet tooth, and they’re a great healthy treat for children. Continue reading

Water Content Of Sourdough- Is Wetter Really Better?

I have a confession to make: I first attempted to take up sourdough baking around five or six years ago, but gave up after several weeks because of frustration. I couldn’t decide whether I was just a rubbish baker, or whether all the hype around sourdough was a case of everyone admiring the Emperor’s new clothes. Self-taught, using online resources such as The Fresh Loaf, I found my breads lacked structure, and resembled vulcanised rubber when being chewed. The dough was extremely difficult to handle, and refused to accept shaping into anything other than a flat ovoid. It’s hard to enjoy baking when the process becomes a bit of an ordeal, and the result is unspectacular. When my starter developed a mould infestation after several days of neglect, I felt almost relieved to allow it to succumb. Continue reading

Chickpea Burgers With Sourdough Buns

To me nothing signifies summer so much as our little apple buds beginning to swell.
To me nothing signifies summer so much as our little apple buds beginning to swell.

Summer has finally arrived, late and half-hearted as it often tends to be in this corner of the world. Like any red-blooded male I rushed to the supermarket at the first glimpse of a clear sky yesterday and bought up most of their stock of charcoal, as well as enough meat to feed a small army, which was supposed to last us the whole weekend. In my enthusiasm to get grilling last night I somehow managed to cook all the sausages, chicken legs and homemade burgers at one sitting (standing?). What’s more, the rest of the family also seemed to get caught up in Barbecue Fever and, indulging their inner carnivores, managed to scoff more or less the entire mountain of meat.

Feeling a little the worse for wear after last night’s meat binge (which I admit may have been washed down by an ale or two), I figured we needed to have a vegetarian day, and these protein-rich chickpea burgers with their soft sourdough buns always go down a treat. They’re also really easy to prepare. I like to serve them with a good dollop of sweet chilli sauce, but they’d be equally good with some mayonnaise. Our raised vegetable beds are just beginning to produce some lovely salad leaves as well, which make for a beautiful light side dish.

For The Sourdough Buns (makes 6):

75g sourdough starter (here’s how to make it)

300g strong white bread flour

170g milk

10g soft butter

3g salt

8g honey

1 medium egg

Around 9 hours before you plan to eat, combine all your ingredients and knead thoroughly by hand or (preferably) with a mixer and dough hook until you have a very smooth, soft dough. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and stretch and fold it, forming it into a ball with a smooth surface. Place smooth side up in a clean lightly oiled bowl and cover. Allow to ferment for around 6 hours at room temperature.

Again, turn out onto a floured surface and divide and shape into 6 small balls of dough. Using the palm of your hand pat each of these down until they are no more than 1cm thick, then place in a greased baking dish and cover for their final proof. After around an hour, brush the tops of the buns with an egg white and place in a preheated oven at 190C (375F) for 20 minutes.

Remove from the baking dish and allow to cool on a wire rack for about an hour before serving.

Sourdough buns all set for the oven.

For The Chickpea Burgers:

80g breadcrumbs- sourdough of course!

480g chickpeas (cooked from dry or 2 drained tins)

1 small onion

2 egg yolks

2 cloves of garlic, peeled

3 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

1 heaped tsp cumin powder

1 level tsp paprika

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp harissa paste (more or less to taste)

Salt & pepper

1 plum tomato, deseeded and chopped

Preheat your oven to 220C (430F).

Using a blender, puree half the chickpeas with the rest of the ingredients except the tomato. Place the puree in a bowl and mix in the remainder of the chickpeas and the tomato, keeping them intact. Using your hands, form the mixture into 6 patties (squeeze them tight!), and place them on a well-oiled baking sheet.

Bake the burgers for 15 minutes, turning them over after 10 minutes. Serve in your sliced cooled buns with the topping of your choice and enjoy the taste of summer.

Delicious healthy vegetarian burgers, served with fresh sourdough buns, potato salad, and homegrown greens.


Rediscovering Ancient Wisdom In Bread Baking

'Baking bread' from Tacuini sanitatis
‘Baking bread’ from Tacuini sanitatis

I think it’s amazing that Western society is having to re-learn the importance of fermentation in bread baking in the 21st century. There is abundant evidence of humans producing fermented bread many thousands of years ago, although presumably the earliest bakers didn’t realise exactly what benefits the fermentation conferred to their diet. Continue reading

Phytic Acid- The Antinutrient In Your Bread

When it comes to choosing our breads and breakfast cereals, I think it’s fair to say we all know we should be eating more wholemeal/wholegrain products. There are several very good reasons for this- wholemeal flour, which includes more of the outer parts of the grain, is a good source of dietary fibre for one, and the great majority of us in the western world do not eat enough fibre to maintain healthy gut function. These parts of the grain also contain far higher levels of vitamins and minerals than the soft endosperm which goes into making white flour. In fact, almost 90% of some key nutrients are lost in the extraction process, making white flour a food with poor nutritional value. For this reason, flour millers are legally required to supplement these flours with B vitamins once the extraction process is complete in order to prevent widespread nutrient deficiencies. This seems a convoluted way of producing a nutritious product doesn’t it- removing naturally occurring nutrients to later replace them with industrially-produced imitations. So we’re agreed- wholemeal all the way, right? Continue reading

Clonakilty Black Pudding & Porridge Sourdough

20150515_223959I found myself in the Cornucopia that is Cork’s English Market the other day, and with Conor Bofin’s recipe for pork belly fresh in my mind, I headed straight for the butcher’s counter. I somehow seemed to end up with the porcine equivalent of Giant Haystacks, and I anticipated significant quantities of leftovers, so I was in need of a bread which would make the most of the belly sandwiches to follow. Sticking with the leftovers theme, the inspiration (and ingredients) for this recipe came from my kids’ breakfast dishes yesterday morning. Continue reading

Unapologetically Onion & Parmesan Sourdough

We’re currently ‘enjoying’ a typical Irish May; with summer on the horizon the winds have picked up, and although the newly planted shrubs in the garden would probably benefit from the heavy rain, I think they are too preoccupied with recovering from the previous night’s frost to be able to make the most of it. Any thoughts of food still revolve around hearty, warming dishes and salad season feels like it’s months away. And so, when planning the weekend’s menu for the family, soup was an obvious choice for one of our lunches. Not just any soup, but peppery, meaty oxtail soup which I adore.

Now there’s nothing wrong with a good oxtail soup and crusty white sourdough, but I really fancied coming up with something much more robust which could hold its own against a bowl of liquid beef. This onion and parmesan combination sounded good in my head, and it didn’t disappoint on the table either. The aroma as it bakes is just gorgeous, but this bread is not for the faint-hearted. It really does deliver on the flavour front. Continue reading

Sourdough And The Real Bread Movement

2015-06-08 12.13.38Bread is a staple foodstuff; one which most of us eat and feed to our families on a daily basis. Bread produced through slow fermentation using a mixed population of yeast and bacteria has been an important part of our diet for millennia. But bread has changed over recent decades, and the product you will now find on most supermarket shelves bears very little resemblance to ‘real’ bread which can be produced in a less industrialised setting. For reasons of aesthetics, extending shelf life, shortened production time, and improved machinability (reducing wear and tear on factory machinery), most retail bread has been subjected to chemical processing and refinement which has robbed it of its flavour, texture, and most importantly much of its nutritional benefit. Continue reading