Move over sourdough,there’s a new kid in town.

Rowie, syrup, coffee

Lockdown has brought out the baker in many of us. In the first, hopeful March lockdown banana bread was the cake of the moment.

Then came sourdough – with many sharing homely snaps of their nurturing starters and stylish crust art.

I am fond of banana bread and did make my favourite recipe a couple of times ( Nigel Slater Kitchen Diaries 2 – dark muscovado & chocolate), but when it comes to sourdough – it’s a big fat NO from me.

I respect those who are evangelical about the yeast free bread’s qualities and I have made sourdough in the past – with varying degrees of success – but I can’t say it was a joyful experience.

The starter palaver and multiple cosseting stages was a bit too ‘needy’ for me 😉and as much fun as following flatpack instructions.

And I have never found that the reward is worth the effort, but I appreciate I may be in the minority with this thinking.

While sourdough perfection is not my thing, I am not immune to a lockdown project and this weekend I decided to try and make Aberdeen rowies .

For those who may not be familiar with the Aberdeen rowie or buttery, it might be unkindly described as a leaden croissant, but not by those of us in thrall to its crispy, fatty, salty loveliness. For those of us who have sampled the aptly named buttery, it is a thing of joy unmatched. They are a sublime taste sensation or as film director Duncan Jones once described them ‘evil bricks of tasty’ .

Frosty scene

The rowie / buttery/roll (names vary), has the same flaky, buttery taste of a croissant but with more substance and heft and has a salty flavour . The saltiness means it is delicious served warm with even more butter and golden syrup – or it provides the perfect vehicle for jam or marmalade.

It is a true regional delicacy – and aficionados from the the North East of Scotland whether shire or toon agree it is a baked good of the highest quality and one that is hard to beat. Even if they debate fiercely whether it should be called a buttery, a rowie or a roll.

Whatever name you prefer, the Aberdeen roll gets its golden buttery taste by the addition of generous quantities of fat – the purists say 100% lard – but the recipe I opted for was a 50/50 mix of lard and butter.

To get the flaky texture involves a process similar to that used when making croissants or puff pastry – folding and rolling the fat into the dough several times to achieve lamination.

The fat is distributed and trapped between layers of dough and when heated by some alchemy or magic it creates the flaky texture.

I had read lots of guides on how to do this, and diagrams a plenty, but I only fully understood the method by watching a demo and attempting it with guidance, when I attended a one day bread and croissant making course a few years ago.

Back to my own rowie experiment. I was mostly following a recipe from the newspaper clipping below and testing my weights and measures skills to convert ounces to grams & work out the right ratio of fast acting yeast instead of bakers yeast.I reduced the quantity of yeast from 30 g to 11 g of fast acting yeast.

The recipe is quite straightforward & probably the hardest part is whipping the lard / butter combo to the correct consistency.

The initial dough is made with strong flour, salt, sugar, yeast and water.

Dough before proving

The recipe did not suggest kneading at this first stage but I did give the very sticky dough a short knead before leaving it to prove covered in a bowl with a damp tea towel for about an hour. The dough should double in size.

In the meantime – I creamed the lard and butter together – I did this by hand but reckon it could be done with a food mixer. It has to be creamed up a really soft spreadable consistency.

You then divide the lardy/ buttery mixture into 3 and roll out the risen dough to a rectangle shape 4 inches wide and an inch thick.

Lardy/ butter mixture divided into 3

The first third of fat is added – by dabbing small dots of fat to the dough then folded over . I did go a bit free range here because the instructions were to treat as for pastry so I may have rolled and folded more than intended.

You do this process 3 times until all the fat is used up chilling the dough each time.

I put the dough in the fridge for about 10 minutes between each butter and folding session then subsequently discovered in another recipe that this should be 30 minutes, but as is the way with real life – I was doing this while also wanting to do other stuff – ( get out for a walk before dark ) so I did not chill it for 30 minutes.

I then divided the dough into 14 pieces – I cut them and made a token attempt to shape them but they were quite square and not very rowie like. I think this is the bit I would do differently next time.

Cut into rolls before final prove

I left the rolls to prove for a further 30 minutes and they do rise a bit more – then I put them into a hot oven ( 200 C ). I added some boiling water to a tray below to create steam – no idea if this makes a difference but in other bread making it can help make a crust.

They take between 20-25 minutes to cook and should be nicely browned. When you take them out, there is what looks like an alarming amount of fat in the tray, so I took them out and let them cool on a wire tray with kitchen roll beneath to absorb the fat.

As a first attempt I was quite pleased although many of them did look more like square edge croissants than Rowies – so maybe I have invented an Auld alliance breakfast delight – the Crowie !

Next time I would tear the dough at the final stage and make them smaller – maybe even flatten them before the final prove. I thought only a few had the distinctive flat fatty brick appearance of a rowie.

Side section

The proof of the pudding being in the eating – they tasted like an Aberdeen roll, had a great texture and were both crispy and just salty enough.

My Aberdonian husband pronounced them a success and my mother in law was impressed by my effort so that’s good enough for me.

New year, same me and the search for jam perfection.

I do see the start of a new year as a time to review and reflect. I don’t make resolutions as such but I usually think of a few ‘goals’ or things the old me might like to achieve in the next 12 months.
This loose collection of paths to self-improvement might include some new activities to try in the coming year and will always include an optimistic commitment to trying to get better at some of the things I do already.

Practice makes perfect and all that.

Getting back into writing regularly is on my list, having pretty much kicked this blog into the long grass in the past year. I have got out of the habit, and now my writing is reduced to social media posts, work emails, and the odd business report.

Union canal Edinburgh in afternoon light

Aside from an intention to keep writing, following on from a recent batch of marmalade making – next on my list is a quest to get better at making jam- not with a view to becoming a professional preserver, but more to crack the elusive nut of getting my jam to set.

On paper, making jam and marmalade is an easy process – you combine the right ratio of fruit, sugar and sometimes water, heat it to the temperature of jam setting point then Ta Da! It sounds simple, but while my jams and marmalade usually taste good, they are often very runny and the process of knowing when it has reached setting point is a bit of a mystery. 

sunset through the trees

Some of this is a fear of the pan boiling over – and so to avoid this, I  don’t have the temperature high enough – or when it is boiling a fear of letting it boil too long in case it overcooks,( having once made blackberry jam that was like industrial strength glue).

Recipe books offer instructions and guidance, but rarely give much detail around timings. I suppose it is because as with most cooking, there are unknown variables relating to your own kitchen and equipment so success comes through trial and error and accumulated knowledge.

Apparently, there is a magical knack of knowing when the bubbles in the pan have changed – and recognising this I imagine only comes with practice.
As I only tend to make jam or marmalade once or twice a year – reading the jam bubble runes is a skill not yet mastered. This year I had to reboil marmalade when after cooling it still looked more like orange soup than a breakfast conserve. So after that near disaster, I bought myself a jam pan and a thermometer.

Today I gave my new pan and thermometer combo a test drive – making scarlet chilli and red pepper jam, a recipe from Diana Henry’s book Salt, Sugar Smoke.  Intrigued by the prospect of making the evocatively named scarlet jam, I set forth on a new path in my preserving journey – as I have never made jam with peppers or attempted any kind of savoury relish before.


It was an easy recipe to follow, with only a few ingredients and it looked beautiful bubbling in the pan as the peppers and chilli transformed from raw ingredients to jam.
As always it took longer than I expected for it to reach setting point, but this time I persevered, even letting it rise above the mystical 104.5 C.  Using both my thermometer and the wrinkle test as guidance I studied the bubbles, stared into the glossy pot and followed my instinct 😉 


I don’t imagine I will ever win any jam making contests – but it tastes good and looks like it will set.
Bravo to me !

oatcake , cheese and chilli jam

Accidental Edinburgh Fringe ‘Greek’ yogurt

Last week I took a notion to make yogurt.

I was prompted in part by reading Tom Hunt’s Waste not column in Feast in the Saturday Guardian.

Each week in the Feast food supplement, Tom Hunt highlights various ways to reduce waste in the kitchen focusing on a different ingredient each week. This week it was chillies.

To make the most of chilli waste, you can save discarded seeds and dry them to season other dishes, and in something of a revelation to me, it turns out that the green stalks of chillies contain the beneficial bacteria lactobacillus and can be used instead of a starter to make yogurt.

I had chillies that I was using to make Menemen ( Turkish egg dish) for brunch and lots of milk – so was looking forward to trying out this eco tip.

So far so good – except I had not read to the end of the recipe – where I noticed it asks for 10-15 chilli stalks.

While I do like my Turkish style eggs spicy – 10 chillies is a bit too spicy !

Having decided to make yogurt I did a quick trawl of the internet for yogurt recipes – more by way of a reminder of quantities, as I have made yogurt in the past.

In my teenage years, I went through a phase of making soft cheese ( crowdie) and yogurt. I would like to say I was ahead of the artisan foodie curve but probably closer to the truth is that I lived on a farm in a small Highland village & was just a bit of an oddball.

Making yogurt is not complicated – and sometimes can happen by accident as I found out when I left a carton of milk on the windowsill of a Premier Inn hotel room on a business trip a while back. Reader – I ate it.

So back to my yogurt making – having gleaned the essential facts from the internet and reminded myself of the steps and quantities – this is what I did.

1. Gently heated up a pint of full-fat milk.

2. Left milk to cool to the temperature of a hot bath ( 45 degrees C )

3. I then took a couple of tablespoonfuls of Greek yogurt – from an existing tub, to use as the starter.

4. To warm the starter, I mixed a couple of tablespoons of the warmed milk into the Greek yogurt to make it runny and less cold before adding it back into the rest of the warmed milk.

5. I used my slow cooker to heat up the stoneware container so that the mixture went into something warm. If you don’t have a slow cooker – the important thing is to put the mixture into something that can retain heat – a thermos or just a sealed container than will keep the temperature even.

6. Having warmed the container – I put the yogurt ( that I had warmed a bit) into the warm milk then put the starter + milk mixture into the warmed slow cooker pot.

7. I switched the slow cooker off and took the stoneware container up to a warm room where I covered it in a thick blanket and left it for a few hours.

About 5 hours later it was well on the way to becoming yogurt but I decided to leave it overnight.

The next morning TA DA !

Yogurt

It tasted ok – quite mild, but I thought it was a bit runny and as I eat a lot of Greek yogurt I thought I would try straining it to see how it turned out.

I put the yogurt into a muslin lined sieve over a bowl and left it to drip in its own time.

I was heading out to a show at the Edinburgh book festival so I just left it dripping.

We ended up staying out later than planned and going to some more stuff at the Fringe so the yogurt had been doing its dripping thing for about 9 hours by the time we got back.

The result was a small ball of thick yogurt – maybe closer to fromage blanc than Greek yogurt in texture – but with a lovely mild flavour.

As I don’t have any pigs I drank the leftover whey – the strained liquid. No idea if it’s good for you but it was a refreshing slightly tart drink.

To make the yogurt a bit creamier I added back in a couple of spoons of full fat milk and the end result was quite close to the shop bought varieties.

It’s a fairly easy thing to do. I don’t think it gives any better result than buying a tub, but it’s quite satisfying making your own.

I might experiment with different types of milk ( e.g. Jersey or unhomogenised ) and also the length of time I strain it to see if that makes a difference to the end result.

Meanwhile, I have started saving my chilli tops in the freezer ( which I hope does not destroy the lactobacillus) and when I reach 15 I will give the chilli yogurt a whirl.

Christmas cake baking – and running of course. Day 3

IMG_2451Today I decided to bake a Christmas cake. I used to get a bit hung up about baking the Christmas cake on a set day in November, but I decided it does not make any difference to the flavour so I just bake it a few weeks before Christmas whenever I can find some spare hours.

Making the cake is pretty straightforward – especially since I have started using a recipe recommended to me by my friend Sally at fitnaturally. Sally got this recipe from her neighbour and friend – Mrs Williams – sadly no longer around – and it is both the easiest and nicest Christmas cake recipe I have tried. I also like the thought of Mrs Williams skills in baking being shared far and wide, and enduring. That’s the lovely thing about baking and passing on recipes.

So Mrs Williams Christmas cake recipe is kind of an ‘all in one’ method – where you put the fruit, sugar, butter and spices into a pot then heat them up.

Then you add all the other ingredients to the cooled fruit mixture, give it a good mix and that’s it!

I find the hardest part of baking a Christmas cake is lining the tin, and with the long slow cooking, it is important to line it properly.  But though it is a fiddly job – it is an enjoyable ritual of sorts – wrapping the cake in its jacket of brown paper and string. And there is something very comforting about the gathering of ingredients, the preparation and then the aroma of Christmas cake baking that gets me in the festive mood.

Before baking the cake – I went on my day 3 run with Alison. Today we went on another of our weekend routes where we run from Colinton to Stockbridge. It is around 6 miles and pretty much downhill all the way following the water of Leith – so lots of running through woodland. We then get the bus or a lift back, so it’s an easy 6 miles.

IMG_2455

We could run there and back and many runners would do this by way of a longer Sunday run, but I am not training for any race at the moment and one thing I have realised over the years of doing run streaks- is that there is no point adding in extra mileage if you don’t have to.

IMG_2453

As it was, we had a very enjoyable social run rounded up nicely by a breakfast of fried egg roll and coffee at the Water of Leith bistro.

IMG_2591

Day 3: 6.01 miles

December total : 14.32 miles

Weather : fresh and sunny 4 degrees

writing and running in the key of green

IMG_8053

Running in the months of  January, February and quite a bit of March – the skies have been grey, the trees bare and the paths muddy brown.

But this weekend the sun came out and as if by magic everywhere was green.

Wild garlic seemed to grow overnight into a lush fresh carpet of pungent loveliness and even my neglected garden threw up some vibrant colour – bless my everlasting die hard euphorbias.

IMG_8191

With Monday a rest day from running, I picked some of the wild garlic and made pesto.

IMG_8171

Food for free ramsons reminisences

Earlier this month I made wild garlic pesto with my daughter and thought it a very current thing to do. Foraging,making food from scratch and connecting with nature definitely seems in vogue right now.

The day before we had taken a walk to collect the wild garlic from a woodland path and then, with a 21st century twist to our attempts at wild survival,had Googled to verify the plant type lest we pick anything deadly and then referred to Google once more to find a recipe.

Was very enjoyable to first harvest the leaves, then make the pesto together – even if the pine nuts, pecorino and olive oil were neither free nor foraged locally. But satisfying still to make food with a tiny connection to the land and to enjoy a bit of mother – daughter bonding over a shared food discovery at the same time.

After our pesto adventure I  came across my ageing copy of Richard Mabey’s book -Food For Free – given to me as a school prize for Modern Studies in 1976. Prize winners were free to pick their own book and my choice of this guide to feeding yourself from nature’s larder was, I imagine, something that fitted with me going through something of a mildly hippy phase – along with dressing in cheesecloth and listening to Bob Dylan.

In the mid 70s at the school I attended my favourite teachers seemed to me very modern and liberal – certainly after my village primary school. My teacher of Modern Studies,with her views on the Russian revolution and questionable power of the media certainly appeared to be interesting, worldly and cool to my 14-year-old self.

Choosing the Richard Mabey book coincided with a rather fogeyish interest I had at the time around the disappearing skills of food preservation and cooking and wanting to know more about how things were done in the ‘olden days’ – quizzing my  farmer dad about how to preserve food, make butter and making a reasonably successful  attempt at crowdie – basic cheese making.

With the benefit of hindsight I could say  this was me reacting to the change  I saw in eating patterns and dominance of factory produced ready meals – Vesta curry, Findus crispy pancakes  and the like, but I don’t know that I was trying to make a social comment  or that I was ahead of the curve, more likely I was just a bit of an odd child.

Is interesting now as with a renewed interest in food provenance and craft skills  more prevalent to think of that curiosity and my childhood experience. Many things I took for granted growing up in the countryside  around freshly grown food and a kinder approach to farming now seem to pop up on lifestyle and food programmes,  magazine articles as a return to a better way to live and eat. Reassuring I suppose to know that while food trends and fashion ebb and flow the fundamentals of good taste, heathy food and craft survive.

These days I no longer live in the countryside so my foraging is of the urban variety and I am really just a dabbler in  trying to find food for free, but through the small act of gathering wild garlic and making pesto with my daughter, I felt I had gone some way to rekindle my latent hunter gatherer.

jar of home made pesto