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For me, a chilled pea, leek and potato soup on a summers evening always conjures up fancy dinners on the freshly mowed summer lawns of those that live in fancy houses in the English countryside. Probably but not exclusively, some time in the 1970’s. I’ve no idea why I feel this way about cold soup? I guess there’s something about it that feels a little posh but also a little retro.   I know my mum used to make a stunning vichyssoise back in the 70’s and 80’s.  She’ll probably tell me she still makes it occasionally but I know that she started making it back when I was a kid.  She would serve it chilled in little glass bowls, with cubed pieces of cucumber sprinkled on top.  Like fridge croutons, floating in a sea of beautiful pale green.

You can pretty much eat any soup cold (I strongly believe that there should be no rules in cookery,) but the ones made with sweeter vegetables work best when served cold.  Tomatoes are famously made into gazpacho and it’s their sweetness that makes it work so well.  Leeks and potatoes are also nicely sweet as are peas, which is why i’ve added them into this classic mix.  Cucumber and avocado also make good cold soups as do roasted red peppers… but this combination is my favourite and is ridiculously easy to make.

chilled pea, leek and potato soup

There are some juicy leeks around at the moment and some divine new potatoes that almost melt when heated so now is the perfect time to make this soup.  The addition of the peas makes the whole thing sweeter and fresher and the oregano lifts it away from the ordinary.  I like my soup nicely thick but feel free to add a little more stock if it’s looking a little too thick for your tastes.

  • olive oil and butter
  • 1 medium white onion – finely chopped
  • 2 medium leeks – trimmed and halved lengthways then cleaned and finally sliced
  • 6 or 7 new potatoes – skin on, diced
  • 3 chives – finely chopped (I’ve also added some garlic chives which The Viking planted recently
  • 2 teaspoons fresh oregano (1 teaspoon dried if you don’t have fresh)
  • 150g frozen peas
  • 1/2 litre vegetable stock mixed with 1/2 litre milk
  • salt and pepper

This dish serves 6 in small bowls (2 ladles each) but it will stay good in the fridge for 4 days and freezes well too.

In a large pan on a medium heat, melt some butter and olive oil and throw in the onions and leeks, stir them well and let them simmer gently for about five minutes until they begin the turn soft, then add the potatoes, chives and oregano, stir well and turn the heat down to very low.  Place the lid on and let the whole lot sweat for about 8 gentle minutes or until the potatoes are wonderfully soft. Season well with salt and pepper.

Add the peas and stir well then pour in the stock and milk and place the lid back on and let the dish gently plop away for about 10 – 12 minutes, then take the pan off the heat and let the whole lot cool down to room temperature

Blitz till gloriously smooth, then refrigerate for at least two hour or until properly cold… serve with diced cucumber or as i’ve done with blanched green beans

eat and of course enjoy!

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Belleau Kitchen by Dominic Franks - 2w ago

Is there a summer salad that screams ‘summer’ more than tomato and mozzarella?  It’s hands down the taste of the Mediterranean and even though it’s quite frankly the simplest of dishes – basically cheese and tomato, it delivers big on nostalgic flavour (I feel we need a name for this, perhaps a portmanteau of flavour and memory but ‘flemory’ doesn’t quite work does it?) It always transports me back to warm summer nights in my favourite Mallorcian town of Pollensa.  Sitting in a restaurant on the Calvario steps and eating this salad, laced with pesto (and potentially vodka with Fanta Limon.)

The classic Caprese Salad is often served with the tomato and mozzarella sliced alongside some freshly torn basil and drizzled with olive oil and then seasoned with salt pepper and a little oregano.  There is really nothing more to say. If the quality of the ingredients are good (and believe me, you can get some nasty cheap mozzarella to say nothing for those insipid, uninspiring rock hard tasteless tomatoes that should be banned) then you’re winning.

People will adapt and change of course.  A beef tomato is always a winner but baked cherry tomatoes, slow-roasted in olive oil and balsamic vinegar work wonders, as they begin to slowly melt the mozzarella!  I love a plum tomato and if you can get fresh ones – and there seem to be quite a few in the supermarket at the moment, then you must try them.  A little tip is to leave the tomatoes o a sunny window ledge for an hour or two prior to eating… that warmth adds something special. Avocado adds an extra dimension but of course this is then more akin to a Tricolour Salad, named after the colours of the Italian flag. Try and find a classic Buffalo Mozzarella.  Regular milk mozzarella’s aren’t terrible but there’s nothing to beat that incredible, authentic taste.  Galbani make a really good one and they’re available in most good supermarkets.

a summer salad

A Caprese is typically served as a starter or apertivo. Mine is more of a meal in itself as i’ve added large chunks of avocado and have fried off some veggie sausages (although some wonderful spicy chorizo sausages would work wonders here.  I’ve also bulked it up with a bag of salad leaves so it becomes more substantial.  I’ve kept the dressing and the flavours very basic though and it’s wonderfully easy to knock together for an impromptu lunch or light dinner.

  • 4 veggie sausages – thinly sliced
  • 1 large bag of mixed salad leaves
  • 2 packets of fresh mozzarella – torn
  • 3 fresh plum tomatoes – thickly sliced
  • 1 packet (roughly 15) mixed colour baby tomatoes (many of the supermarkets are now selling these adorable mixed coloured tomatoes and they’re really very good and add texture and flavour)
  • 2 or 3 stalks of fresh basil – torn
  • roughly 2 teaspoons of fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried)
  • 2 avocado’s – peeled and sliced into thick wedges
  • salt and pepper
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar

fry up the veggie sausage slices in a little olive oil and once they’re nice and crispy, set aside

How you present your salad is up to you… you can lay the bag of salad down first and then lay the slices of tomato out and place the other ingredients on top but to be honest I like to throw all the ingredients into a large shallow salad bowl and mix together, then season excessively with salt and pepper and extra fresh herbs, then drizzle plenty of olive oil on top, a few dashes of balsamic and get stuck in!

eat and of course, enjoy!

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Belleau Kitchen by Dominic Franks - 1M ago

My sister Matti is here to stay for the weekend so we thought it would be nice to bake this gluten-free banana bread together.  Matti has an intolerance to gluten and whist I have an intolerance to people with an intolerance to gluten I love my sister and I wanted to enjoy cake with her so we made this.

I absolutely love banana bread.  I think it’s one of those cakes that is as close to comfort food in cake form as you can get.  It seems to be a pretty universal cake too as many cultures makes something similar.  My confession is that I got addicted to the Starbucks banana bread which whilst I know it isn’t, tastes like a homemade cake and has all the qualities of a good banana bread; moist, crumbly, sweet and moreish.  If ever in doubt I will always revert to a banana bread because it seems to be a firm favourite with kids and adults alike but not only do you get the incredible tasting cake, your home will also permeate with the stunning aroma of baking bananas, sugar and cinnamon.

It’s an adaptation of my mums recipe and it’s foolproof every time, even substituting the regular flour for gluten-free flour and ground almonds, it’s still robust and delightfully good.  It’s not fancy but it’s unbelievable easy to make, there’s very little to it.

gluten-free banana bread
  • 250g self-raising flour (we substituted with 125g ground almonds and 125g Doves Farm gluten-free self-raising flour)
  • 125g butter
  • 125g golden caster sugar
  • 2 medium bananas – very ripe
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 100g walnut halves

pre-heat the oven to 170C and grease and line a 2lb loaf tin

Place the flours, butter and sugar into a large and with your hands, rub them together.  You should end up with either a dough-like paste or crumbs, either is fine.

In a cup or bowl, mash the bananas with a fork, then add the eggs and beat through. Add then vanilla extract and cinnamon and stir though.  Add this mix to the crumbly dough and mix well together – a whisk or a wooden spoon will do this really easily.

Stir in the walnuts and then pour the batter into the loaf tin.  Sprinkle the top with a little more sugar and crumble some crushed walnuts on top, then bake for 45 minutes or until the cake has risen and is nicely dark and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Place on a wire rack to cool, then remove from the tin

eat and of course, enjoy!

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Other than it’s incredible flavour, the best thing about this slow roasted tomato, basil and mozzarella tarte tatin is the intense aroma that exudes from the kitchen when you cook it. To me, the fragrance of roasting tomatoes in balsamic vinegar with basil and oregano is the smell of summer.  It reminds me of warm evenings in some Spanish town, salty sun-kissed skin and cold crisp white wine. Which, as I look out of my, now-closed, kitchen doors into the rain-soaked garden, we could really do with right now.

As I look back over the blog to last week, I can’t believe how I reflected on how summer was finally here and yet now i’m in long trousers and a jumper.  A jumper! In June! There is nothing we hate more here at Belleau Cottage than being stuck in the house and this weather makes it impossible to be outside without being uncomfortable.  We went for a drive up into the Wolds but it just made it all the more depressing as the sheets of rain came flapping down onto the landscape.  Sure, it looked spectacular but please, leave it to the winter.

slow roasted tomato, basil and mozzarella tarte tatin

Another upside down dish, this tomato tarte tatin couldn’t be further in flavour from last weeks Apricot Upside Down Cake.  More of a rustic pizza with ambition, I love how the balsamic vinegar turns so sweet and sticky as it bubbles together in the oven with the tomato juices.  The addition of the mozzarella prior to the pastry top gives the dish more of a pizza vibe than a tarte but it works really well and if you can wait till it cools down, makes a delicious deli-style or picnic dish sliced into wedges.

You can use any tomatoes you like in this dish (even the nasty pale salad tomatoes with exclude flavour if slow-roasted like this) and there are an abundance of them in the supermarkets at the moment, but it’s nice to use a mix of sizes like i’ve done here as I think it makes the final dish look a little more rustic.

  • a large nob of butter and some olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano (if you don’t have fresh, dried oregano is more than acceptable)
  • fresh chives – finely chopped
  • 3 medium to large tomatoes – sliced in half (I used 3 Jubilee tomatoes)
  • roughly 10 cherry vine tomatoes – sliced in half (I used Vittoria variety)
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh basil
  • 150g mozzarella
  • a drizzle of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 pack of puff pastry – I prefer the block to the ready rolled sheets as I like to have the pastry quite thick (or make your own)

i’m using my 32 inch shallow casserole pan for this but you could genuinely use any vessel.  A frying pan would work or even a traditional tarte tatin pan but I like the casserole dish as I can cook with it on the hob and then transfer it to the oven making the whole dish a one-pot meal which is always very satisfying.

pre-heat the oven to 160C

place your pan on the hob, turn the heat to medium and melt some butter with a little olive oil, add the oregano and chives and let them sizzle a little whilst you cut the tomatoes

lay the tomatoes cut-side down into the pan and really squeeze them in there, then turn down the heat and let them gently plop away for about 5 mins, then place the lid on the pan and let them bubble away for another 5 mins.

take the lid off, drizzle the top with balsamic vinegar (no more than 2 tablespoons) and torn basil and then place the dish into the oven and let them slowly roast for at least 20 mins… there will be a lot of juices at first but they should eventually begin to reduce to a sticky sweet sauce… remove them from the oven, turn the oven up to 180C  and set aside whilst you roll out the pastry

flour your work surface and roll out the pastry to a large, rough circle that will easily cover the tomatoes in the pan.  I used a large dinner plate to then cut out a circle.

take your mozzarella and tear it into chunks and put them randomly onto the roasted tomatoes, then sprinkle over some more basil and season well with salt and pepper, then lay the circle of pastry onto the tomatoes and roughly tuck the edges in all the way around. This really doesn’t need to be particularly precise or pretty.

bake in the oven for at least 20 minutes or until the pastry has risen and turned a glorious golden colour, then remove from the oven and let it settle and cool for at least 10 minutes before turning over onto a plate or board.  Be careful as the tomatoes exude a lot of moisture and juice and you don’t want to lose this but you also don’t want it to turn the pastry soggy, so letting the tart settle for 10 mins usually does the trick of allowing the juices to be somewhat re-absorbed back into the dish… you also may want to run a spatula around the rim of pastry to loosen the cheese from the pan before turning it over.

eat and of course, enjoy!

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apricot, almond and polenta upside down traybake

It finally feels like summer here in the UK.  Saturday June 1st and the temperature has passed 24C (that’s over 70F in old money…) and quite frankly it can stay this way.  It’s glorious.  The kitchen doors are wide open to the beautiful garden and the warm air is billowing into the house whilst the fragrant air of an apricot, almond and polenta upside down traybake cake wafts out.  Apricots are in all the shops at the moment which is lovely because they’re my favourite stone fruit.  So versatile; they work just as well in savoury dishes such as a lamb tagine or roasted with a chicken as they do baked into a cake.  I love that they are both sharp and sweet at the same time (and any reader of this blog will know this is my favourite combination.) They are also such an incredible colour.  The ones I bought today have a rosy blush over them that looks like a sunset.

This cake is naturally gluten-free.  You could of course easily substitute the ground almonds and polenta for regular cake flour but I think they make the cake so light and moist and the ground almond particularly makes the whole cake take on a middle-eastern vibe which i’m loving.  The grated lemon zest adds a little zingy kick to the batter which consolidates this traybake as the taste of summer.

Just a quick one before you read the ingredients… this is genuinely the best cake i’ve ever made.  I don’t mean to sound arrogant but it really is superb.  So easy to make and just so bloody tasty!

for the cake

  • 225g soft unsalted butter
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 125g ground almonds
  • 100g fine polenta
  • 1 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 large free-range eggs
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • roughly 9 apricots – halved (longways) and then each half sliced longways so you have 2 large and 2 smaller disks

Grease and line the base and sides of a 23cm x 9cm baking tray and pre-heat the oven to 180°C – sprinkle the base of the tray with Demerara sugar and set aside

In a large bowl beat the butter and sugar with an electric whisk until pale
Mix together the almonds, polenta and baking powder, and beat some of this into the butter-sugar mixture, followed by 1 egg, then alternate dry ingredients and eggs, beating all the while. Finally, beat in the lemon zest.
Lay the cut apricots into the base of the tray and and then carefully spoon the mixture into your prepared tin and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes
The cake is cooked if a skewer comes out cleanish and the edges of the cake begin to shrink away from the sides of the tin.
Remove from the oven to a wire cooling rack, but leave in its tin. When it’s cool, invert the cake onto a tray or chopping board and slice into squares to serve
eat and of course, enjoy!

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Belleau Kitchen by Dominic Franks - 1M ago
onion, potato and thyme tart

It’s odd weather. It’s sunny, it’s late May but it’s not hot hot. It should be hot hot. This means my body isn’t quite ready for summer foods.  It’s probably a mental thing triggered by exactly the right amount of heat, sun and blue sky.  The brain suddenly snaps into summer food mood. I’m currently still craving soups and stews.

This tart answers that little gap between spring and summer perfectly.  The golden caramelised onions – a last vestige of colder months add a sweet warmth and depth of flavour whilst the new potatoes, freshly plucked from the earth, have that clean, greener taste that you only get from potatoes at this time of year.  The thyme in my garden is just in flower and the whole plant is as its freshest and most pungent.  I’ve been very generous with my helpings of thyme for this dish because the plant I have is so abundant with leaves but they’re being gently cooked with the rest of the dish and they mellow beautifully into the mix.

The egg and cream are rich and slightly naughty but what’s the point of life if you can’t enjoy the good stuff? My pastry is half white and half wholemeal flour, which makes for a nice mix with a bit of nutty texture, with added chives fresh from the garden.  I also decided to throw in some asparagus.  There’s so much British asparagus around at the moment that it seems such a shame not to take advantage of it.  It’s just so good.  The taste of the season!

for the pastry

  • 100g plain white flour
  • 150g wholemeal flour
  • 100g butter
  • 25g finely grated cheddar
  • roughly one teaspoon freshly chopped chives
  • seasoning and cold water to mix

for the filling

  • butter and olive oil
  • 6 medium white onions – halved and finely sliced into half moons
  • 4 banana shallots – finely sliced
  • 1 small leek – halved lengthways and finely sliced
  • 9 new potatoes – skin on and sliced (not too thin, not too thick)
  • 4 garlic cloves – grated or crushed
  • a bunch of fresh asparagus
  • 100g grated cheese – any choice
  • 1 tablespoon freshly picked thyme leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 large free-range eggs
  • 200ml single cream
  • salt and pepper

the above ingredients make two tarts for me… I use an 18cm loose bottomed fluted round tart tin as well as a 20cm x 7cm oblong, loose-bottomed fluted tin, both of which I grease well with butter

start with the pastry by placing the flours and butter in a bowl and rubbing them together with your fingertips, lifting your hands up high to get plenty of air into the flour.  Once the flour and butter are combined and look a little like breadcrumbs, add some salt and pepper, the grated cheese and hoped chives and stir through with your clawed hand

with one hand shaped like a claw begin to mix the flour mixture as you slowly add a little water.  The flour should start to come together as you add more water.  You’ll probably use roughly 80mil of water but stop when the dough begins to come together, you don’t want your dough to be too damp or sticky

place the dough ball onto some clingfilm and pat it out into a rough flat circle, cover with the clingfilm and pop it in the fridge for 30 mins

place all your onions and leeks into a large bowl and drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle in the thyme and then with your hands, toss it all together, separating the onions and coating everything in oil.

in a large pan, melt some butter and olive oil then throw in the onion and leek mix and let it gently sweat and cook down, stirring regularly for 15 minutes, then grate in the garlic, stir and let it sweat again gently for another 10 minutes until it’s a light brown colour, then stir in the potatoes, place a lid on, turn the heat down to low and let the whole thing gently sweat for at least 10 mins or until the potatoes are soft

add the asparagus on top of the mix, place the lid back on and let them sweat for another 5 mins. Turn the heat off and let the whole dish begin to cool whilst you blind bake the pastry

generously flour your work surface and roll out your pastry – nice and thin – and place it into your tart tins.  I always start with the round tin and then re-roll the pastry bits for the oblong tin – prick all over with a fork and using a layer of baking beans, blind bake the pastry cases for 15 mins on 150C, then remove from the oven whilst you finish the dish

in a bowl, crack the eggs into the cream and beat well together

remove the asparagus from the top of the slightly cooled onion and potato mix and set aside, then grate the cheese into the onion and potato mix and stir well, then pour the cream and eggs mix onto it as well and stir it well together

spoon the mixed ingredients into the pastry cases and lay the asparagus on top (i prefer a random pattern but I leave this decision to you…)

bake in an oven on 160C for 30 mins or until the tart has firmed up and taken on a glorious golden colour

eat and of course enjoy!

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Back at the cottage for a quick weekend chill before it all kicks off next week.  We’ve already had the most intense May at work that I can remember and we’re barely half way through.  Next week we go live with two very exciting projects for two really cool brands (check out my insta for some fun updates) so we made a mad dash back to Lincolnshire for some cottage time.  The Viking has already spent the best part of 24 hours in the garden, which is beginning to look so incredible.

The weather hasn’t been as good as last year so the garden isn’t in 100% full bloom yet but you can tell it’s about to burst.  I’ve been pottering in the kitchen.  When we’re here only for a short period I tend not to make big meals or dishes that need a lot of love and attention.  I prefer an instant win or something that is simple.  It tends to be soups and salads or a big breakfast but I thought today I could give myself at least enough time to bake this gorgeous loaf.

cheese and onion bread with garlic and rosemary

This is a divine bread that to me, tastes of summer days on some Mediterranean island.  The glorious caramelised onions – some of which have poked out of the dough and crisped to lip-cutting perfection in the oven – blend beautifully with the sweet garlic and pungent rosemary and the strong cheddar cheese brings the whole thing together.  Each slice has one or two little pockets of cheesy onion mix which makes it all extra special. Serve this toasted with butter and a runny poached egg or fresh and warm from the oven with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

I’ve used my new favourite echalion (banana) shallots which are a cross between a regular shallot and an onion, so they have the more intense oniony flavour and sweetness of a shallot with a more easy peel of an onion plus they look so cute.  They caramelise really well (and quite a lot quicker than normal onions,) but also roast beautifully and hold their shape. My local Morrison’s supermarket seems to have them on a regular basis so check in yours if you can’t find them anywhere else.

for the basic loaf

  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • 7g / 1 packet of fast action dried yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 350ml luke warm water

for the filling

  • 5 echalion shallots – peeled, cut in half lengthways and sliced
  • large nob of butter
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves – crushed or finely grated
  • 1 teaspoon golden caster sugar
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • salt and pepper
  • 100g grated strong cheddar

Start with the dough by placing the flour, yeast, talk and olive oil into a bowl. Add the water and bring together with a spatula or your hand.  Once you’ve formed a relatively cohesive but messy ball, tip it onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for at least 10 minutes.  This whole process can (and quite frankly should) be done in your stand mixer with a dough hook.  Same timings on a very low speed.

Oil a bowl, place the kneaded dough into the bowl and cover tightly with clingfilm. Set aside for at least an hour or until the dough has risen and doubled in size.

Whilst the dough is rising, gently saute the onions in a generous amount of butter and olive oil.  Once they start to soften and colour add the minced garlic, rosemary and sugar, season well, stir together and turn the heat down and let them caramelise gently for about 15-20 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

When the onions are completely cool, grate the cheese into them and mix them well together and set aside

Prepare your baking tin by lining it well with making parchment.  I’m using my small round last iron Le Creuset casserole pot for this but any bread baking vessel would work.

When the dough is risen, oil your work surface, tip the dough out onto it and punch the dough down with your fist.  Punch it out a few more times and flatten it as you go, spreading it out.  Tip the cheesy onion mix onto the dough and then begin the fold the dough up and over blending dough and onion mix.  It’s a slippery, messy process but you should eventually end up with a messy cheesy doughy ball or gloriousness.  Place this into your baking dish and set aside for at least 30 minutes for its second rise.

pre-heat your oven to 220C

bake in the oven at 220C for 20 mins and then turn the oven down to 200 for a further 30 mins until the bread is risen and gloriously golden – set aside on a wire rack to cool.

eat and of course, enjoy!

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Another long weekend.  It’s entirely lovely and i’m really not complaining but it does adds pressure to those of us under deadlines.  Whilst everyone else is enjoying the days off, anyone who has to deliver projects during or after May is cursing the repetitive 4 day weeks.  I’m trying my best to be as lazy as possible in between the spouts of work, for instance it’s nearly 4pm and I’m not out of my pyjamas just yet.  The TV is on with a selection of classic movies and of course there’s a cake baking in the oven, filling the house with glorious aromas but i’m hardly fooling myself here.  I still have to go and sit down at the computer every few minutes to check and send emails, update budgets and write plans. Thankfully the weather this weekend is pretty grim so being stuck inside isn’t such bad thing.

This is a delightfully simplistic cake with a couple of added extras that me it just that little bit special.  Adding ground almonds to any sponge cake mix always makes it taste a little special and gives it such a great texture and the orange zest gives it a delightful zing that cuts through all the sugar, ever so slightly but it does really work.  The batter is so divine i’m always amazed how any of it makes it into the final cake. Raspberries and raspberry jam give it a traditional Victoria Sponge style and make it the perfect cake to have with a cup of tea on a bank holiday Sunday with friends.

almond, raspberry and orange zest sponge
  • 250g butter – room temperature
  • 250g golden caster sugar
  • 3 large free-range eggs – beaten
  • 150g plain flour
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • a little milk
  • the finely grated zest of one orange
  • 120g fresh raspberries
  • raspberry jam

I’ve used an 18cm deep loose-bottomed cake tin which i’ve greased and lined (the bottom and the sides) with parchment paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 170C

I’m using my smeg stand mixer with a cake paddle attachment but feel free to use a bowl and an electric whisk or even a wooden spoon and plenty of elbow grease.

place the plain flour, ground almonds and baking powder into a bowl and mix well together – set aside

place sugar and butter into the bowl and beat them together until pale and fluffy – this takes roughly 6 mins in a sand mixer

add half the beaten eggs and half the flour mix and beat together, then add the remaining flour and eggs plus the grated orange zest and beat well again

add a little dash of milk and beat once more – the milk is to give you a looser batter – you want it to drop off the spoon

spoon the whole lot into your cake tin and bake for 45 mins or until the cake is risen and golden and a skewer inserted comes out clean

set aside to cool entirely on a wire rack, then slice in half, slather each side with jam, cover the bottom layer with fresh raspberries and place the top half on top

eat and of course, enjoy!

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As regular readers will know, I love baking bread.  It’s such a visceral thing.  From the simple act of choosing the flour and weighing out the ingredients to the more tactile process of kneading the dough. (Although quite honestly I’ve been using my glorious smeg stand mixer with a dough hook to knead my bread for the past few years which makes the whole thing so incredibly easy,) it’s almost like a spiritual practice.  It’s about finding a rhythm with the reward of the incredible aroma of freshly baked bread wafting through your home and of course, a wonderful loaf at the end.

Over the years i’ve tried pretty much all the different baking trends that have come along, from the basic and most traditional through to the low-knead method (with failures and successes at all) and am now into a method which I believe is called cast-iron baking.  It’s pretty much as uncomplicated as it sounds.  Instead of baking your dough in a traditional loaf tin or free-form on a baking tray you use a cast-iron casserole dish, with a lid to bake.  I’m not fully versed on the exact science behind why it works so well (and if i’m honest I started using my small Le Creuset casserole as a baking vessel over a year ago when I damaged my regular loaf tin) but works well it does.  I guess it has something to do with the way the cast iron heats up so that it’s almost as though you’re creating a mini-oven inside your regular oven, in the same way that a tandoori or chicken brick works so well.

I have two cast-iron pots that I use for different loaves.  I use a 19cm diameter x 9cm deep round casserole pot for my regular everyday loaf which uses 500g of flour which I have the lid off during the whole baking process and then I also use a 30cm x 24cm x 11cm deep oval casserole pot for a larger loaf which uses 750g flour which I will leave the lid on the pot for part of the baking.  Plus, the pot goes into the oven from cold so it’s second rise happens slowly in the oven.  Don’t know why it works but it does, with amazing results.

For more inspiration on baking bread in a cast iron skillet check out Rosie over on instagram who has some very successful examples as well as Karen over at Lavender and Lovage does it with her sourdough.

these loaves were all baked using the cast-iron baking method – the two on the left using my small round casserole dish with this recipe and the one on the right in my large oval casserole dish using 750g flour.

honey and wholemeal plaited loaf

This is a delicious and earthy loaf that works very well with the cast-iron baking method.  Wholemeal bread can be quite chewy and a little ‘hardy’ so the honey (and a little milk) helps soften and sweeten it up.  I chose to plait the loaf just to do something different but it could work just as well in one large ball of dough.

  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • 250g wholemeal flour
  • 1 and a half sachets of easy bake yeast (10.5g)
  • one and half teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon runny honey
  • roughly 600ml liquid (made with 500ml water and 100ml milk)

Place all the dry ingredients into a large bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer) add the honey and the oil and then slowly add the liquid as you begin the stir the ingredients together.  (This can be done with your hand in a claw shape slowly rotating around the bowl, or with a dough hook on a low speed.

Once all the ingredients come together and a dough begins to form you can begin the real reading process.  You want a medium wet dough, not too sloppy but not too dry but it’s really hard to tell in a written recipe, you just have to have a feel for it.  Sometimes you’ll use all 600ml of liquid and sometimes you won’t need as much which is why I advise to add it gradually and bring the dough together slowly.

Now either tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface for kneading of turn the speed up on the dough hook and knead for 10 mins.  The dough should become light and smoother and springy to touch

Place it in a well-oiled large bowl, cover tightly with clingfilm and set aside for at least an hour on until the dough has doubled in size

Grease your casserole dish well with olive oil and turn on your oven to 220C

Tip your dough onto an oiled surface and punch it hard, fold it in half, punch it again and turn, then do this again.  Now divide the dough into three equal portions and roll them out into long fat sausages

Plait your dough into an even plaited loaf.  It’s your basic three-strand plait so it’s pretty basic but feel free to youtube it if you don’t feel confident. One tip is that I always plait bread from the middle rather than one end.  It makes for a more even bread.

Once the dough is plaited, tuck the ends under and lift it swiftly into your casserole dish, place the lid on and slip it into the oven for 40 mins with the lid and then a further 20 mins without the lid.

Once baked very carefully remove the casserole pot from the oven and tip out the bread onto a wire rack to cool completely before eating

eat and of course, enjoy!

The post honey and wholemeal plaited loaf appeared first on Belleau Kitchen.

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Well we were supposed to be sunning ourselves in Mallorca this week but we arrived there last Thursday and the weather was turning… from good to bad and it didn’t end there.  It was grey and rainy and cold.  Now as you know, we are very fortunate and often go to Mallorca as my family have a house there.  It’s a beautiful place and is only a 2 hour flight from London.  it’s quite a diverse island with breathtaking mountains along its Northern stretch, stunning beaches, warm seas, incredible places to eat and beautiful old towns that are packed with history.  I’ve been going there since the 80’s and The Viking and I now consider it our ‘go-to’ holiday destination when we want a proper break.  No discovering local caves, or worrying about where to get a good meal.  We arrive, we un-pack and switch off.  It’s also pretty much guaranteed sunshine and warmth 80% of the year and when its not it’s usually just a crazy shower that passes over for a few minutes.  Until it’s not and then it’s miserable.

However the one thing we’ve learnt after many decades together and many decades of travel is that if you’re not enjoying yourself or something has gone wrong, don’t wait to change it or wait for it to change, do it immediately.  Act now or you’ll forever be waiting for something that may not happen and this can ruin your holiday.  So we checked the long term weather report from 3 different sources (cold and wet) and then checked the weather report back home (hot and sunny) and called the airline to change our flights.  £35 and half a day travelling later and we were back at the cottage laying in the garden in the glorious British sunshine!

asparagus, cheddar and butterbean pottage

that was the weekend… today it’s beautiful but a thunderstorm is on the way.  You can feel the vibrations in the air.  I’m currently sitting in the kitchen with the doors wide open onto the garden and I can feel a change is coming.  It’s as though everything had gone quiet and still, birds hiding under bushes and insects holding their breaths!  I declare that it’s the perfect weather for soup although The Viking is not so sure.  He insists it’s too warm but I tell him that the thunderstorm is on it’s way so we’ll enjoy something comforting shortly.

This soup is one of those classic ‘throw-it-all-in’ types of dishes that’s almost a stew but not quite.  I believe ‘pottage’ is the correct term as it will take anything and you can eat half of it for lunch and then add more stuff later to bulk it up for dinner… bits of leftover lamb or duck would be divine, or some pasta or rice equally good. I adore butterbeans for their creaminess and of course there’s lots of wonderful British asparagus in the shops right now. The strong cheddar added at the end lifts the whole thing to another level of gorgeousness.

  • a little butter and olive oil
  • 4 banana shallots  (or one medium white onion) – finely chopped
  • 2 sticks of celery – chopped
  • 1 large carrot – chopped
  • 1/2 small swede – finely diced
  • 1 large leek – halved, quartered and then sliced
  • 6 stalks of asparagus – chopped
  • 150g frozen peas
  • 1 x 400g tin of butterbeans – drained
  • 1 litre good quality vegetable stock – I use the Kallo organic vegetable stock cubes
  • 100g strong cheddar cheese – finely grated

I used my large round shallow casserole dish but any large pan would work

Place the pan on a medium heat and gently melt half a tablespoon of butter with some olive oil and add the onions, celery, swede and carrots, stir well and let them sweat gently for about 7 minutes until beginning to soften, then throw in the leek, stir again and cook for another 5 mins

Add the butterbeans, asparagus and frozen peas, stir well, place the lid on and let the whole thing sweat for another 7 mins, then add the stock, place the lid back on and let the whole thing gently simmer for 15 minutes, then remove the pot from the heat and stir in the cheddar

serve warm, eat and of course, enjoy!

The post asparagus, cheddar and butterbean pottage appeared first on Belleau Kitchen.

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