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Sea Salt & Rosemary Focaccia (vegan)

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Sea Salt & Rosemary Focaccia (vegan)

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

Here is a recipe for a focaccia that is not a futon i.e. mean, hard and thin. It’s the emperor of mattresses: the dimples are deep, the texture is soft yet springy, and there is no scratchy dryness that a futon focaccia may have but, rather, a balmy olive oil-enriched crumb.

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia
Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

Having had a few scarring experiences with the brittle, mouth-desiccating, hard mats that parade as focacce (even in their Italian heartlands), this recipe is not only sublime but a protest against my negative experiences.

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia
Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

And while I’m singing its virtues, I have to stress that it’s ridiculously easy to make. Bread-making has such a bad press in terms of time, effort and skill required, but it is all a conspiracy to get you to buy the overpriced, chemical–laden, factory produced supermarket types. All you need to do is hang around a bit and the yeast does all the work for you. Total contact time with focaccia is only about 15minutes - the rest of the time is just a matter of rising or baking (or eating).

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

I make this with spelt which lowers the GI and adds a little nuttiness. You can play around with the toppings: rosemary is traditional, but you can add caramelised onion, parmesan, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, sage…whatever you wish.

I like to make a lot in one go and freeze the loaves sliced, so you can dip into them when you please. But if you want to make fewer, just halve or third the ingredients.

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

Recipe  - makes 3 loaves (or mattresses)

Ingredients

14g dried active yeast (2 sachets) or 25g fresh yeast

2 tbsp sugar

675ml lukewarm water

4 tbsp olive oil, for the dough + 3 tbsp for topping

1kg white spelt flour (or plain, if not available)

2 ½ tsp normal salt

1 tbsp coarse sea salt

4 sprigs of rosemary

 

3 x 25cm square cake/bread tins (or tins with the equivalent area), greased with olive oil

 

Method

1)    If using fresh yeast, cream it together in a large bowl with the sugar until it turns to liquid. Then, stir in the water and oil. If using dried active yeast, mix it with the sugar and water, and let it sit in a warm place for five minutes to activate. Then, stir in the oil.

2)    Into the wet ingredients, stir in the flour and salt –it should form a sticky, craggy mass. If you have a stand mixer, fit it with the dough hook and knead the dough for five minutes. If you are making the bread by hand, pour the dough on to a lightly floured board and knead until smooth and springy, so that it bounces back when pressed.  I like to use the dough hook for most of the kneading, take it out when it's almost done and finish by hand. 

3)    Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and allow to rise for about 1 to 1 ½ hours until doubled in size.

4)    Punch down the dough (so. much. fun.) and divide it into three. Stretch each piece of dough in its tin so that it is even in depth and reaches the sides (you may need to do a bit of pummeling to do this). Then, sprinkle over the rosemary and olive oil and dimple the dough with your fingers, pressing almost to the bottom of the tin. Allow to rise for a further 45 minutes to an hour until almost doubled in size. 

5)    Preheat the oven to 200C.  Then, sprinkle the breads with coarse sea salt, and place in the oven to bake for 12-15 minutes, or until deep golden in colour and crunchy on top. Remove from the oven and place on a baking rack to cool. Best eaten on day of baking (which is usually inevitable as testament to their deliciousness). Or place in an air-tight box and freeze for up to 3 months.

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

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Vegan Sesame Jerusalem Bagels

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Vegan Sesame Jerusalem Bagels

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Do your ears hang low? Well, attached or unattached, furry or fuzzy, chunky or petite, this recipe is an ode to the earlobe.

Specifically, it is a celebration of stretched earlobes, whether those of an 85-year-old glamazon who refuses to compromise on opulence in pursuit of practicality or pain avoidance, and has transformed the once-small piercing pin pricks into gaping chasms by the weight of her bejewelled, solid gold hoops. Or the nonchalant indie who has plugged and gouged and strained their lobes to form human wind tunnels.

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Like stretched lobes, these sesame studded bagels are not your standard chewy round.

They are a rare sight in the UK, only occasionally vaguely mimicked by the odd fougasse dangling in the windows of French bakeries. Though related to those that are more common sighted, Jerusalem bagels are elegantly elongated, less chewy, more fluffy, yet with a crusty exterior (I’m on the topic of bread now, not lobes).  And the Jerusalem bagel is in no way a lesser version – being a rarer breed and a much more fun shape to nibble (yes, still on bagels), I actually prefer them. They are also easier to bake: the absence of the boiling stage means less room for error, and no witch-hunting of wet doughy rounds, bobbing up and down and falling apart in vats of boiling water.

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 If you are intimidated by bread-baking, do not be.

These are extremely simple, and though the process from flour to end-product takes a while, they are very undemanding in terms of action – the sesame seed dipping is, in fact, rather satisfying from a pre-school art class perspective.  Feel free to halve the mixture if you want fewer bagels, though they are so delicious and addictive it’s probably not worth it.... Also, do have a play around with ingredients: you could try poppy, flax, sunflower, or nigella seeds, as well as sprinkling the bagels with cheddar cheese or parmesan if you aren’t vegan.

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Makes 20

Ingredients

750ml warmed, unsweetened almond milk (can substitute with oat, or another neutral-flavoured, unsweetened plant-based milk)

21g active dry instant yeast (3 sachets)

60g caster sugar

500g strong white flour (+ extra flour for dusting surfaces)

500g white spelt flour

4 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp olive oil

 

100g white sesame seeds

15g black sesame seeds

4 tbsp boiling water

2 tbsp pomegranate molasses

1 tbsp agave syrup (or honey if you’re not vegan)

 

3 baking trays lined with baking parchment

 

Method

1)    In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook, or in a large stand-alone bowl, stir together warmed milk, yeast and sugar. Pour in all the flour (apart from that to be used for dusting the surface), salt and baking powder and stir to combine into dough.  

2)    If using a mixer, knead the dough for about five minutes on a low speed with a dough hook. If making by hand, pour the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead by hand until soft, smooth and springy. It may be slightly sticky, but try to avoid adding too much flour as this will make the bagels dry and tough. Even if I use the dough hook, I take the dough out to knead by hand for the last minute. 

3)    Coat the inside of a bowl with the olive oil, place the dough inside and cover with cling film or a tea towel. Allow to rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until it has doubled in size.

4)    When the dough has risen, punch it down and turn it on to a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 20 pieces. You can approximate this by quartering the dough and dividing each quarter into five pieces. Or you can weigh it: each piece should be about 85g. Then gently roll each into a ball. To make the Jerusalem bagel shape, take each ball of dough and press your thumb through the centre to create a hole. Whilst keeping the dough even in diameter, gently stretch the hole into an oval so the bagel is about 11 cm long. Place each back on the floured surface and allow to rest and rise for 15 minutes.

5)    Preheat the oven to 200C. Make the topping by mixing the water, pomegranate molasses and agave/honey in a bowl. Then pour the mixture into a small tray or large flat-based bowl. On another tray, mix together the black and white sesame seeds (or whichever other seeds you are using). Taking each bagel lobe, dip it first (on one side only) into the water molasses mix, then into the sesame, so that one side is coated in sesame seeds. Then place it on the tray lined with baking parchment. If the bagel stretches a bit, that is fine. Repeat with the rest of the bagels, spacing them at least 3 or 4cm apart, and allow them to rest again for a further 10 minutes. 

6)    Place them in the oven to bake for 10-15 minutes until they are deep golden and crusty on the outside. Once baked, transfer the bagels to a baking rack to cool. They are best eaten on the day of baking (and it will be a miracle if they last beyond a day). However, if you want to save them for another time, you can freeze them as soon as they have cooled for up to three months in an airtight container.

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Norwegian Frangipane-Laced Pulla Bread

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Norwegian Frangipane-Laced Pulla Bread

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This bread is the love child of a brioche and stollen. The dough is soft, buttery and ridiculously moreish. And the filling is like that marzipan core of stollen except less overpoweringly almondy, lighter and less tooth-achingly sweet (which means you can have more of it, of course). One of my many intolerances is not gluten, nuts or dairy but overpromising. If the title promises a filling, I want that filling, and I want it in abundance. If it says caramel, I want luscious rivers of it; if it’s olives on a pizza, I want at least one for every 2cm squared (NB I am disappointed by this every time - unless I make it myself). And, if it is a frangipane bread, I demand every mouthful to be molten with frangipane.

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So, in response, this bread will not fail to meet expectations: not only a show stopper in appearance, it is also ambrosial. I had to make this several times in order to photograph it before it was inhaled by surrounding friends/family.

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If you want to have plain bread, just leave out the frangipane and follow the instructions below. Similarly, if you’re feeling experimental add another filling in place of the frangipanes - think Nutella, marmalade, fruit conserve…

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Ingredients (makes 2 loaves)

 

For the bread 

30g fresh yeast (or 15g dry yeast)

100g caster sugar

250ml lukewarm milk (normal or any non-dairy alternative)

2 large eggs, beaten

1 tsp salt

700g white spelt flour (or plain wheat) + more for kneading

100g unsalted butter, at room temperature

 

For the frangipane

180g caster sugar

150g unsalted butter, at room temperature

4 eggs

½ tsp salt

250g ground almonds

1 ½ tsp almond extract

 

2 large baking sheets lined with baking parchment

 

Method

1)   In the bowl of an electric mixer (or large mixing bowl), cream together fresh yeast and caster sugar until the sugar begins to dissolve and turns the yeast liquid. If using dry yeast, add it into the milk first and allow to sit for five minutes before continuing with step 2.

2)   Pour in lukewarm milk, 3/4 of the beaten eggs (i.e. 1 ½ eggs, keeping the other half aside to paint the bread) and salt, and whisk together. Whisk in 100g grams of the flour to begin to incorporate air.

3)   Add the remaining flour into the mixture and mix together. Once combined, either using a mixer fitted with the dough hook, or on a heavily floured surface knead the dough for about 5 minutes until it is smooth and bounces back when pressed with your thumb. Temperature and humidity can affect the dough texture so you may need to add a touch more flour if it is truly unworkable, though try to keep it to a minimum as too much will make the bread tough and the dough difficult to roll out. I find that using the dough hook initially until combined and then kneading by hand for the last stretch particularly effective. 

4)   Place in a large oiled bowl in a warm spot and cover with a cloth or clingfilm to allow to rise until doubled in size (about 45 minutes to an hour).

5)   At this point, if you wish to make the bread without the frangipane, proceed to step 7a

6)    To make the frangipane, beat together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. You can do this by hand or in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat in the eggs (don’t worry if it looks slightly curdled at this point), then stir in salt, ground almonds and almond extract. It should be a smooth almondy paste. 

7)   Once the dough has risen, punch back down, turn it onto a heavily floured surface 

a.    For bread without filling: divide dough into two (to make two loaves). Shape as desired, but if you favour a plaited loaf, as I do, taking one of the dough halves, divide it into three or four pieces (depending on whether you prefer a three- way or four-way plait.) Roll each piece into a long, even strand of about 3cm in diameter. Then pinch the ends together and plait as normal. When you reach the end of the plait, pinch the strands together and tuck under. Repeat for the second loaf, place on a baking tray and cover. Leave to rise for about half an hour. 

b.    For bread laced with frangipane: place the dough on a large, flat, heavily floured surface and roll it to a rectangle of about 60 x 30cm and about ¾ cm thick. Tip the frangipane mixture into the centre of the dough, and spread it out evenly with a spatula right up to the edges. Then, from the long side, roll the dough to make a long tight coil. Finish with the seal at the base of the roll. Then slice the roll into two (in order to make two loaves). Take one long roll and holding the knife directly above the roll, with the blade parallel to the length of the roll, bisect it running the knife through the centre along the its length. Once split, with the open halves separate, pinch them at the top and then cross one over the other repeatedly in a kind of two string plait. Pinch at the end and tuck it under then place on baking tray. Repeat with the other half. 

8)   Cover both breads with a cloth, and allow to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200 °C.

9)   With the remaining beaten egg, brush the tops of the breads. Place the breads in the oven to bake for 10 minutes. Then reduce the oven temperature to 180 °C and allow to bake for a further 10-15 minutes. Ovens can be temperamental, so check every 5-10 minutes to ensure that the bread doesn’t burn. If it looks like it is beginning to catch, cover with aluminium foil and continue to bake. Remove from the oven when the outside is a deep golden colour. Place on a cooling rack and allow to reach room temperature, then devour. Best eaten on day of baking, but the bread can be frozen in a sealed air tight container for up to 3 months.

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