I guess you could say I have bread in my blood. I come from a line of Lincolnshire Masseys who built up a bakery empire in the 1950s, but sold it before I was old enough to take over. So fast forward to 2005, and I set up the Manna House on Easter Road in Edinburgh to continue the tradition.
Bread is at the heart of what the Manna House does and my team and I bake from about 11pm every night to ensure the shelves are groaning by 8am the next day. Doing this seven days a week, 362 days a year is quite a production and although it makes a bit more work, we use a sourdough levain as the raising agent in many of the breads we make.
Our sourdough levain has been going since we opened in 2005 and, each time we take some of it out to make bread, the addition of flour and water replenishes and reactivates it. In this way the original yeasts in the starter “live on” so it’s a direct link with our first days at the Easter Road bakery.
I love using sourdough levain in our breads – it reconnects us to the earliest type of bread baking before freeze dried yeasts, bread machines and the dreaded Chorleywood process bread came to dominate. You can smell the yeast and acid in a good sourdough and it’s this tang that gives the finished loaf its robust flavour.
Using my recipe given here, you can grow a starter and begin to make great bread. While it may seem daunting (and sometimes messy), it just requires a little care to make and keep and, with practice, gives a great loaf with a chewy texture, rich deep nose and a complex very slightly sour flavour.
I also include the recipe for a new cake one of our team has adapted for the shop. Moist and lemony, it has the advantage of being both dairy and gluten-free and has been a hit with our regulars. It’s easy to make, but don’t try and cut corners by shortening the egg beating stage – it’s vital for the finished product.
300g fine rye flour
1kg strong bread flour
85g rye flour
20g olive oil
250g caster sugar
250g ground almonds
1 tbsp cornflour
2½ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp sunflower oil
For the icing
1 lemon, zest and juice
250g icing sugar
100g toasted almonds
SOURDOUGH LEVAIN STARTER
A levain is pre-ferment starter, cultured only with wild yeast found naturally in rye flour. In our case it’s simply flour and water left to stand for many hours. A bread dough fermented with a levain is much slower to rise than one fermented with cultured yeast, but results in amazing acidic flavour, solid crumb structure, great crust and increased shelf life. We use a slightly looser, more acidic levain, but that’s all down to personal preference and depends on just how much acidity you want to achieve in the finished loaf.
1 Make your levain by combining equal parts fine rye flour and water – use about 300g each. Place it in a sealed container, set aside at room temperature and leave it alone for 24 hours.
2 Then the process of feeding the levain starts – it might seem a long process and there will be wastage, but it’s well worth it. Everyday you must discard half the levain and replace it once again with equal amounts of flour and water. Repeat this process daily for a minimum of two weeks. I find that doing it for any less time leaves the levain lacking in strength and flavour.
3 After two weeks of feeding you’re ready to bake. If you don’t use it daily just store it in the refrigerator or even freeze it. Just remember to fully defrost it and bring to room temperature and then feed it 24 hours before you need to use it.
PAIN DE CAMPAGNE
This is a classic French loaf and a great seller in my bakery. It’s rustic and a great all rounder with a good crust and solid crumb. It’s wonderful toasted or for sandwiches and perfect to accompany a meal.
MAKES 2 LARGE LOAVES OR ONE LOAF AND ROLLS
1 Mix all the ingredients for a good 15 to 20 minutes until you achieve a rich smooth dough.
2 Put into a bowl, cover with cling film and set aside for an hour.
3 After an hour tip out the dough and give it what we call in the trade a “knock back” – which is simply flattening it out and rolling it up a couple of times. This evens out the temperature of the dough and creates more strength in the protein – which is vital for creating a good loaf.
4 Place the dough back in the bowl, cover again and set aside for a further 30 minutes.
5 From this recipe you can create a couple of good sized loaves or a loaf and some rolls as required – it’s your choice. So divide the dough as you want and shape into nice smooth round ball shapes, it should feel nice and “gassy”.
6 Place the dough on to floured baking trays, cover with a damp tea towel and set aside somewhere nice and warm. Now you need patience – maybe three or four hours’ patience – until the dough has doubled in size. Don’t be hasty, it may take longer depending on how warm an environment it’s left in.
7 Pre heat your oven 240C (230C fan).
8 Place a wire rack on the centre shelf and a shallow baking tray on the oven base, you will use this to steam your loaf to help develop a good crust.
9 Once you are ready to bake, score the loaf with a sharp knife to form a square on the top and place immediately on the centre wire shelf. Pour a small amount of water (½ cup) in the shallow pan in the base of the oven creating steam and close the oven door. Reduce the oven temperature to 230C (220C fan).
10 After 10 minutes, open the oven door briefly to release the steam then continue baking for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
11 Place on a wire rack to cool … and devour.
LEMON AND ALMOND CAKE
One of our pastry chefs Peter adapted this recipe for the shop recently and it’s become a firm favourite. Not only is it delicious – our main criteria – but it’s gluten and dairy-free too. Wonderfully moist, it’ll keep in an airtight tin for a couple of days.
MAKES ONE 8IN ROUND CAKE
1 Boil the lemons in a pot of water on a medium heat for 1 hour, then drain.
2 Once they have cooled, cut in half and remove any pips then put into a food processor and blend to a purée.
3 Combine the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and whisk for at least 5 minutes until very pale and light.
4 Add the puréed lemon and all the remaining ingredients to the bowl and fold until just incorporated. Pour into a lined cake 8in tin.
5 Preheat the oven to 170C (160C fan) and bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes. It’s ready when a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
6 Once the cake has completely cooled remove from the tin and make the icing.
7 Mix the lemon juice with the icing sugar. It should be runny enough to drizzle easily – an extra splash of water may be needed. Completely cover the cake with the lemon icing, then scatter with the zest and toasted almonds. Leave for 20 minutes to set.