Yesterday was a day to go down to The Clink to do some more baking with the staff there. For those of you who don’t know, The Clink is an excellent restaurant in High Down prison, staffed almost entirely with prisoners who are training and getting qualifications to become cooks, cleaners, and front of house staff while in prison. The food is excellent (and not excellent for a prison!) and I have the honour to be helping them with their bread menu, baking only sourdough bread because they are not allowed to have yeast in a prison. Further, because Al, the head chef and founder of The Clink is Italian, I have taken on the Italian Bread Project – adjusting all of the recipes in The Italian Baker by Carol Field from yeast recipes to sourdough recipes.
Baking at The Clink is in just plain fun and often hilarious. It is a crowded, restaurant kitchen and when the lunch trade begins to speed up around 11.30 the calm atmosphere and open counter spaces vanish. Noise and movement increase and space decreases. Rising bread (sourdough takes a while) is shifted from the serving counter to anywhere it can find a place to be. Under tables, on top of the ice cream maker, next to the grill (it was a bit hot there)…and I find myself as the only person with nothing to do as I am simply waiting for the dough to be oven ready. Except yesterday when I got to knead and roll out rotis – ready for the lunch time curry order. An Asian member of staff was co-opted from his normal job front of house to make the rotis. Why? He was Indian – He MUST be able to make rotis! It’s in his blood, no?! I was co-opted into roll out the rotis (although not exactly, given I am there to do bread) because he felt that women have a better touch with rotis. So I rolled and he fried. What a team! As there was no wire roti implement such as I saw at the Delhi Grill we had to dry fry them directly on the enamel hob. I am certain his mother’s rotis are better, but these were pretty good nonetheless.
With saltless tuscan bread, a plain levain, a rye and whole wheat sourdough with poppy seeds, honey and olive oil, and a couple of 100% ryes thrown, in we were in a baking frenzy yesterday but the triumphant moment was clearly the sourdough hot cross buns.
The Clink Sourdough Hot Cross Buns
24 hours before you want to bake:
Mix 1 cup of the 1857 sourdough* with 1 cup of white wheat flour and 1 cup of water. Mix. Cover. Leave 12 hours.
12 hours before you want to bake:
Mix 3/4 cup of the refreshed 1857 sourdough with 1 cup of milk and 2 cups of white wheat flour. Mix. Cover. Leave 12 hours.
Soak a handful of dried fruit in some warm water.
1. Drain the fruit, reserving the soaking liquid.
2. Beat 2 oz butter, 3-6 big spoons of sugar, and 1 egg. Add the refreshed 1857 sourdough and continue to beat until it is well incorporated.
3. Sift 1.5 cups of white or whole wheat flour with 1 tsp cinammon, 1 tsp ginger, 1 tsp ground allspice, 1/2 tsp clove and 1 tsp salt. Add this to the mix and knead well for 10 minutes. Let it rest in the bowl for 10 minutes. Drain the fruit, reserving the liquid, and incorporate the fruit into the dough with your hands. Don’t worry about the dough – it will recover. Just don’t squish the fruit or you get brown smeary bits in the dough! You may want to take it out of the bowl to do this and then pop the dough back in the bowl.
4. Let it rest for 60 minutes.
5. Take the dough out and divide into pieces about 75 g each. Roll them into a tight ball and place on a baking tray that is lined with baking parchment. Cover with clingfilm or a damp towel and let rest 60 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
5. Make the “cross” mixture:
50 g white flour
1 g baking powder
5 g veg oil (of your choice – olive oil will do because there is very little – it’s just for a bit of viscosity)
50 g cool water
Stir until there are no lumps and then pipe a cross on every bun.
Bake for 18-20 minutes. The buns should sound hollow when tapped. The bun should be brown and the cross should be light.
While they are baking, boil the liquid in which they were soaking until it is a thick syrup. Paint this on the buns while they are still hot – just out of the oven.
*This is my wheat sourdough starter that has been alive since 1857. It is a 100% hydration starter (by volume) so has the consistency of thick cream. At any point in the recipe you can use whole wheat or substitute clarified unsalted butter or the fat of your choice for the vegetable fat. It will make a slightly heavier bun but tasty nonetheless!