School’s back today, which means it’s time to find things to do in the garden so that I don’t notice how quiet it is at home… a good time to start taking cuttings of herbs and tender annuals. Free plants are always very welcome around here, seeds are saved, cuttings taken and favourite plants divided to make more. This year I’m wanting to take a lot of lavender cuttings to replace old plants and those lost during the last few cold, wet winters. Plenty of rosemary cuttings too, as many as I can get. I’ve been planning to grow a rosemary hedge after seeing one years ago at a lavender farm we visited. I’m not sure yet where I’ll put it, but I am going to need lots of plants, so growing them myself will be the cheapest way to do it.
Stripping the leaves from lavender and rosemary cuttings is always a nice job to do – fantastic scent as you’re working. But I don’t like to waste the fresh rosemary leaves and this year I’ve managed to combine taking cuttings with bread making. Not a bad combination really – gardening and baking.
The Real Bread Campaign has designated this month as ‘Sourdough September’ – a whole month to celebrate the wonderfully flavoured breads produced using a sourdough starter. Way back in January I mixed up some organic rye flour and water and let nature take its course… and it did, just a few weeks later I was baking my first sourdough loaf. To be honest, the loaf wasn’t all I was hoping for – missing in both the flavour and texture I expected from a really good sourdough. But I kept on trying and after a while have managed to produce some really tasty, crusty, chewy loaves – not always perfect, but we’re getting there. This rosemary loaf though has a fabulous flavour and we’ve been eating it with soups, salads and toasted for breakfast. It’s really easy to make… but does take a bit of time, so remember to start mixing and kneading a good few hours before you want to be eating.
500g strong white bread flour
260g white sourdough starter
2 tsp fine sea salt
1 tbsp quite finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Mix the flour, starter and water in a large bowl until you have a firm, evenly mixed dough, adding a little extra water if needed. Cover the bowl with a damp t towel or some clingwrap and leave to stand for 20 minutes to an hour. After this time, tip the dough out onto a lightly floured board (you shouldn’t need much flour because the dough should be quite firm). Stretch the dough out into a large rectangle and sprinkle the salt evenly over the surface. Fold 1/3 of the dough back onto itself, and then the remaining 1/3 over that. Then put the radio on and start kneading… you’re aiming for a nice smooth and elastic dough, this should take a good 10 minutes or so.
Once the kneading is done, return the dough to the bowl, cover and leave to rise slowly. You can at this stage put the bowl in the fridge and leave the dough to rise overnight… a long, slow rising will allow the dough to develop more flavour. The next morning, take the bowl out of the fridge and leave the dough to warm to room temperature.
When the dough has almost doubled in size, tip it out onto a work surface and stretch it into a large rectangle. Sprinkle the chopped rosemary leaves over the surface of the dough. Fold the dough into thirds so that the rosemary is sandwiched between the layers of dough. Shape the dough into a loaf and place on a greased and lightly floured baking sheet. You could divide the dough into even sized pieces and make bread rolls if you prefer – just remember to adjust the baking time. Cover and leave to rise again until the loaf is about half as big again.
Preheat the oven to 200oC, 400F, gas 6. When the oven is heated, boil the kettle and tip a cup full of boiling water into a tin placed at the bottom of the oven, this will help to get a nice crusty crust to the loaf. Bake the loaf for 15 minutes, then turn the tray around to get a good, even bake. Bake for a further 15 minutes – or until the base of the loaf has a good hollow ring when you tap it. Cool on a wire rack.