Non Sticky Hands Pizza Dough

My sister asked me for my pizza dough recipe a few days ago ….

We’re hoping to christen Jon’s pizza oven later this week (although not if the weather keeps up like this). I wonder if you might be able to jot down your pizza dough recipe for me, please?

So far, so good. But then she became quite specific ……

Please don’t just reply with “oh I don’t know, it’s different each time…a hand of this then say the magic word” …..!!!!

Uh oh.

I don’t use any magic words, but I don’t use any weights or measurements either. I just aim for a certain amount of stickiness. And that’s hardly a winning formula!

Perhaps the main selling point of my ‘recipe’ is that it doesn’t use any sophisticated mixing equipment and is entirely sticky-hands free.


I leave the dough to rise in an upside-down, draught-free, cake-carrying box until the gluten has developed and it has a soft, velvety texture with lots of stretchy bubbles (the magical part of having added as much water as possible to the dough).

Eh voilà.

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I hope that helps, Little Sis’ …?!

A Soul Cake

Our Hallowe’en celebrations yesterday were different from those of recent years. Quite apart from everything else, we are in the middle of moving house and have to contend with the disruptive upheaval and emotional turbulence that this creates. Instead of our usual wild witching party with friends, we held a more subdued family coven meeting in the kitchen where various spells were chanted and slimy slugs and snails were shaped from a bubbling cauldron of bread dough.

Despite the general sense of ghoulish revelry that prevailed throughout the evening, Hallowe’en is very much a seasonal festival for me and a time to reflect on the transition from summer into winter. This association reaches back in time to pre-Christian Europe when people’s lives were closely tied to the food production cycle. The end of the summer months initiated a period of the year when livestock were rounded up and culled, crops were stored and fishing boats were repaired in preparation for the coming winter. The night we know as Hallowe’en was more commonly described then in Gaelic as Samhain, or Summer’s End. Festivities on the eve of November 1st marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of the darker half of the year.

The evening of the day before a new season was believed to be a significant boundary in the Celtic world. Boundaries were important to the Celts, not least because they separated the dead from the living. Boundaries and thresholds in both time and space were regarded as protection for the living against the supernatural inhabitants of the Otherworld. The transition between the old and new years at Samhain was therefore a particularly unsettling time for the Celts as they firmly believed that it was on this eve that the boundary between the worlds dissolved and the barrier between the living and the dead became permeable. Not only could supernatural spirits pass more easily into our world, but humans also could be tricked into passing through to the other side and then trapped there, unable to return to their living families.

Many Samhain traditions can be understood as an attempt either to frighten away malevolent spirits or to welcome home dead relatives. Hideous faces carved into jack-o-lantern turnips kept evil spirits away from the door whilst food would often be left outside as offerings to appease the dead.

The modern-day custom of trick-or-treating also has its roots in Celtic tradition. Bonfires blazed at Samhain, both to signify the dying of the sun god and to banish the ill-intentioned.  Small cakes or biscuits would be baked and scattered around the bonfires, possibly to propitiate spirits trapped in animal form. Although the Christian calendar introduced the names of All Souls’ Eve and All Souls’ Day for Samhain in an attempt to supplant the pagan festival of the dead, the old ways persisted. Sweet and steaming small cakes would be piled onto plates to welcome night visitors on All Souls’ Eve in the Dark Ages.

The same small cakes had been assimilated into Christian symbolism by the eighth century, when they would be used to pay visiting beggars on All Souls’ Eve for their promises of prayers for departed family members. By the nineteenth century, children from poor families would go into the streets to beg for these ‘soul cakes.’ The practice came to be known as ‘souling’ and would often be accompanied by a simple souling song.

Soul, Soul, a soul cake!
I pray thee, good missus, a soul cake!
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for Him what made us all!
Soul Cake, soul cake, please good missus, a soul cake.
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry, any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul, and three for Him who made us all.

I have to include this version of a traditional souling song by Sting, not for any special musical considerations but purely because it was filmed inside Durham Cathedral (where I was married).

This year, I wanted to make my own soul cakes to share with family and friends. Variously described as sweet bread, biscuits or cakes and ranging in shape from square to round to oval, it proved to be impossible to track down any one definitive recipe. Some sources cited wholegrain flour and dried fruits as common ingredients, while others suggested saffron, ginger or lemon as primary flavours. Many testers of handed-down, folk recipes complained that the cakes they made were hard and dry, things I wanted to avoid in my own soul cakes.

I liked the idea of baking small, sweet bread buns – something akin to an iced bun with an enriched dough and a light, fluffy crumb. I chose to include saffron and lemon for their bursts of bright sun yellow, and nutmeg for its warmth (and because it’s one of my favourite spices – my other favourite being cardamom, which I didn’t think would go so well). The recipe I came up with appears to have been a success – my Nan enjoyed hers at lunchtime today and L pilfered and ate three straight off this afternoon (which is why she couldn’t finish her dinner).

Soul Cakes

15 oz strong white bread flour
1 1/2 tsp fast action dried yeast
3 tbsp castor sugar
2 tsp sea salt
2 large eggs
3 oz unsalted butter
generous pinch of saffron
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
grated zest of 1 lemon
200 ml milk

1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp milk
castor sugar to sprinkle

Put all the ingredients for the dough in a large bowl and mix to combine. Knead for 7-8 minutes in a mixer with a dough hook attachment. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom – add enough flour or milk to achieve this.

Scrape the dough out onto a floured surface. Sprinkle with flour and then pat to remove the excess. Fold the top third down and the lower third up (a business-letter type of fold). Cover with clingfilm and leave to rise for 1 hour.

Spread the dough out gently into a rectangle by pushing with your fingers, then 3-fold it again, cover with clingfilm and leave to rise for a further 30 minutes.

Repeat this spreading, folding and covering. Leave to rise for a further 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Cut the dough into equal pieces of about 1 oz in weight. Shape these into a ball, then flatten with the heel of your hand. Place each disk onto a baking tray lined with parchment, allowing room for the dough to expand.

Brush the tops with the glaze and sprinkle with castor sugar. Leave to rise for 30 minutes, then bake for 10 to 12 minutes until golden. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Makes c 22 soul cakes.

Mum’s Random Bread Recipe

I’d like to introduce L, my nine-year-old daughter, who has convinced me to let her write a guest post this month as part of a homework assignment she was set for the weekend …

Uh-oh Mum’s let me loose on her blog. Not a good move, Mum. I’ll try not to crash the computer but I can’t promise anything.

Anyway, I have this RS homework to do. We have to make some bread and write out the recipe for it. I’m not sure why we have to do this for RS, but I really hope I don’t have to feed 5000 people in my next lesson.

I wasn’t thinking about this homework when Mum was dragging me around the supermarket this morning. I have far more important things to be thinking about in a supermarket (like sweets). So, I forgot to remind Mum to buy any white bread flour. That’s why I couldn’t use any recipes in Mum’s baking books. It’s much more fun to go off the beaten tracks anyway (according to Mum).

Luckily, Mum did have some odd bits of flour I could use in her cupboard and there was some leftover pizza dough still in the fridge too. If you’ve ever seen Mum’s baking cupboard, you’ll know that her odd bits of flour can be very odd indeed. Then Mum just made up a recipe for all of these odd bits as we went along. That’s how my RS homework got to be called ‘Mum’s Random Bread Recipe’.

And here it is … ta-daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. (That magic trick was very tricky.)

Mum’s Random Bread Recipe (by Mum)

12 oz dough starter (this was the leftover pizza dough from the fridge)
9 ¼ oz Malthouse bread flour (from Dove’s Farm)
5 ¾ oz plain white spelt flour
1 ½ tsp fast action yeast
1 tbsp coarse sea salt
1 ½ tsp honey
½ pint beer

Cut up the old dough into pieces with some scissors and put them in a large mixing bowl.

Add the flours, yeast, salt and honey to the bowl and stir it all together with a wooden spoon.

Pour the beer in and stir it so that it all sticks together.

Pour a little bit of olive oil onto the worktop and spread it about a bit with your hands. Scrape the dough out onto the oily surface and knead it for 10 minutes until it is smooth and stretchy.

Put it in a large oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave it to rise until it has doubled in size (1 ½ to 2 hours).

Line a large baking sheet with parchment.

Shape the dough into a ball by stretching the surface around the outside and pinching the dough together on the bottom of the ball. Place it on the lined baking tray. Cover it with a large container or a tent of oiled aluminium foil. Leave it to rise until it has almost doubled in size (1 to 1 ½ hours).

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C.

Just before you put the dough in the oven, use a sharp knife to make 4 or 5 slashes in the top of the dough (Mum did a lantern slash). Bake for 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 190 degrees C and continue baking for 15 to 20 minutes.

Take the bread out of the oven and put it on a wire rack to cool.