Chocolate Chestnut Cake (GF) – step by step

FeaturedChocolate Chestnut Cake (GF) – step by step

This is a delicious cake, and whats more it’s gluten free, but so good everyone will like it. Some people may find it hard to get hold of chestnut flour – sometimes you can buy it online, or in those shops where they sell everything by the scoop.  Alternatively if you have an Italian deli near you they will probably stock it. I keep mine in the freezer so it doesn’t go stale. If you can’t get it you can make the recipe without flour, just use less milk, or add a bit of cornflour instead.


200 gms 70% chocolate

200 gms cultured unsalted butter

200 gms chestnut puree (available in cans)

70ml milk

50 gms chestnut flour

3 eggs ( approx 92 gms egg whites, if your eggs are small you may need four)

110 gms caster sugar


In a large steel bowl over a pan of simmering hot water, melt chocolate and butter together. Do not let the water reach the underneath of the bowl.

In a separate pan warm the milk , chestnut puree and chestnut flour together and mix until smooth.The puree I use is very stiff. If it is not as stiff, use less milk.

When the chocolate mix is melted take off heat and add in the chestnut puree mix.

Mix the egg yolks with the caster sugar. Stir this into the chocolate mixture.

Beat the eggwhites until they form stiff peaks. Egg whites beat better in a copper bowl, if you happen to have one. You can clean them using lemon juice.

Line the base of a 20 cm tin with baking paper. Do this by smoothing the baking paper over the base and tucking it through the edge, then pull it tight. Trim off the edges.

Butter the sides of the tin.

Pour the mix into the cake tin.

Bake at 150 C ( fan) for 45 – 50 minutes until a skewer is clean when  you insert it into the cake and pull it out.  Allow to cool on a rack, then remove from the tin.

Decorate with poached pears, strawberries and/or raspberries, and sprinkle with sieved icing sugar.


Sourdough disasters

Sourdough  disasters

I promised when I started this blog I would write about the disasters as well as the successes. So here goes.

I have always been a risk taker. Well at least in some parts of my life So the risk, very small in this case  was to try out a new strong organic flour. However I think my attention slipped when I was putting in the water. I don’t think its because the flour is less water absorbent because I made a ‘control’ loaf using my usual flour.

So my dough was super hydrated. I thought – well that’s not a bad thing. Some people use a very hydrated dough, in fact the Red Beard Bakery in Trentham, Victoria where I first learnt to make sourdough some seven years ago, had a dough so liquid that they kept it in a tub. Sadly I have lost my notes from that course or I could have checked.

Anyway I made the bread in my usual way. I poured it into the bannetons thinking – this doesn’t look good. It didn’t seem to rise much overnight – although there were a few bubbles, BIG bubbles, on top of the dough.

The bread was so liquid I had to scrape it out of the banneton, and pour it onto the bread peel in preparation for baking.

What a mess. I had soggy bread dough on my arms, on my peel, on my hands, all over the kitchen. The dough was so wet I couldn’t slash the top with my brand new baking blade. However I managed to slash my thumb when I took the safety cover off the blade – something I have NEVER done with my ordinary razor blade. So add blood to the vision of a kitchen with sticky dough all over the bench tops. I will spare you the pictures but let it be said I went through a year’ s supply of cottonwool and band aids in about ten minutes.

So with one arm above my head to stop the blood flow, I tried to scrape the dough off the peel onto the pizza stone in the very hot oven. The bread sagged over the edge. A few swear words were said. I will spare you those as well. I sprayed the oven with water to create steam, and waited for the bread to cook.

Half way through I couldn’t resist peeking. Tom my astonishment the bread had lifted from a flat pancake to a domed rather blobby loaf.

When it was cooked I took it out of the oven and put in on a rack to cool.

I cut it and was amazed at the crumb – the holes in the loaf were large, bigger than any previous loaf I had baked, the crust was crunchy.

The loaf looked awful. It tasted delicious. So here it is in all its holey glory with the pancake dough below. Oh and did I mention the ones that got stuck in the tin? Or the one that exploded out of the tin and got burnt?

overhydrated bread

disasteroverhydrated dough

Wholemeal sourdough with orange juice


Wholemeal loaf – totally delicious!

This loaf was based on one by Dan Lepard, then adapted by Hereford chef and cafe owner Bill Sewell in his terrific book Bill’s Kitchen, and then I adapted it slightly.

I uses orange juice in this loaf – Vitamin C has often been used by bakers to help rise a loaf, especially when you have dense flour like wholemeal. The additional yeast also helps boost the loaf. The advantage of using it is that you don’t have to let it rise over night – I plan to make another version solely with sourdough starter, which will take much longer!


425 ml tepid water

50 ml fresh orange juice

100 gm of sourdough starter

475 gm wholemeal flour

100gm strong white flour 10gm salt

7g sachet of instant yeast

Timeline: ( you can start anytime, but I find a timeline helps so that you know if you have enough time to make bread. I sometimes make this loaf at night, so if you start at 7pm you would have a loaf by 10.15, just in time for a bedtime snack!)

8am: Put all the ingredients in a big bowl and mix with your hands or a large spoon. Leave for five minutes

8.05 am: Knead very briefly, just stretching the dough a bit. Leave for 5 mins

8.10 am: Repeat

8.15 am: Repeat and leave for 10 minutes

8.25 am: Tip the dough onto you work surface, and fold your bread in the middle to make a ball. Cut into two balls with a dough scraper, one large ball and one small ball. Roll balls into  a sausage with the seam underneath and tuck into two well oiled tins. Leave to rise for between 45- 90 minutes

10.00 am approx ( when the bread is risen). Put pizza stone into oven. Put metal baking tray on the shelf underneath. Preheat fan oven to 220 C . Boil kettle.  When you put the bread in oven pour  boiling water into the metal tray to create steam. Cook bread for 30 minutes for the smaller loaf, 40 minutes for the larger one. Tap on the bottom, if they sound hollow they are done.

10.40 am: Take bread out of oven, ( check if ready) and put on rack to cool.

11.15 am: ( approx)  Slice a piece of the loaf and enjoy.

Baking Alaskan Sourdough, revised recipe

FeaturedBaking Alaskan Sourdough, revised recipe

I have amended this recipe( November 2018) to make it slightly quicker, easier ( line the banettons with rice flour) and better. Importantly I have  added a tip on making a tight ball of dough before leaving the bread to rise finally, to make it  rise better in the oven. I also suggest you can make three loaves and leave two in the fridge to rise for up to five days before baking.

Why did I start making bread? It’s a way to drive to buy my favourite sourdough bread – all the way to Honor’s Bread in Bermagui NSW – some three and a half hours, so the next best solution, I kept on thinking,  was to make my own.

But I kept on dragging my heels, until a friend said – ‘have some of my starter. I brought it back from Alaska.’ Don’t ask how she got it through Australian Quarantine at Border Security.! We have the toughest quarantine in the world. I should know, I once worked there.

Actually the answer is she didn’t even think bringing live yeasts into the country in a tightly screwed down jam jar would be a problem, so she sailed through the nothing to declare section of Customs. Anyway all the yeasts have now been baked in bread.

This is a recipe for white sourdough – it’s has the most satisfying golden crunchy crust and big aerated holes – and the secret is – you don’t have to knead, just fold.

Because the process takes 24 hours, in which time you need to be around, I only make  three loaves of bread once a week and freeze two. Alternatively I leave two unbaked loaves in the fridge for up to four days, and bake them as needed. I am amazed at how good they are. Five days in the maximum I reckon.

Ingredients ( Half these ingredients if you think this will make too much)

For the leaven

200 gms sourdough starter fed with equal amounts of flour and water to make 400 gms(100% hydration) That is:

100 mls water ( tepid. It should be blood temperature, so when you put you finger in the water it doesn’t feel hot or cold.)

50 gms strong white flour (make sure the flour is bakers flour, not pizza or pasta flour)

50 gms wholemeal baker’s flour

For the dough

400 gms leaven

1200 mls water (tepid)

1.2kg strong white baker’s flour

400 gms wholemeal  baker’s flour

40 gms sea salt.

Timeline. This is as a guide, obviously you can start earlier if you like!

7am: Take the leaven out of the fridge and leave at room temperature, covered with a damp tea towel for an hour or so to warm up and go bubbly.(If you haven’t  got a leaven make one first. See post on creating a leaven.) Feed the leaven. When the leaven has a decent amount of bubbles on the top add equal amounts of flour and water to leaven (as in recipe) and leave to rise for about two hours, covered with a damp tea towel.

9.00 am: Autolyse. Mix together the flour and the water for the bread, but don’t  add salt. Mix by hand until elastic and smooth.This autolysing give the gluten time to develop. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place. The leaven and the autolysed mix can both develop at the same time.

11.00 am:Mix the bread dough.The leaven should have a number of bubbles on top and if you tip it it will look active with lots of holes. Mix the leaven and the autolyse mixture together and add the salt.Combine all by hand. This is the beginning of your bread and is when the folding begins. Set the timer for half hour intervals for the next two hours.

In between read one of my short stories, or a book,  watch a video, do the cleaning or play with the kids. I even have a friend who takes it in the back of the car when she goes shopping, then whips out to fold it when the half hour is up!

11.15 pm:Beginning fold. Remove tea towel. Leave dough in the bowl, and wet your hands. Grab part of the dough furthest from you  and stretch and fold over the rest of the dough. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat. Turn again, and then once more so you make four turns  in total.Cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place.

11.45 pm: repeat

12.15 pm: repeat

12.45 pm: repeat

1.15pm: repeat and then leave the dough for an hour

2.15pm: repeat and leave for an hour

3.15pm: Divide Tip the dough onto a lightly floured board and divide into three  balls. The best thing to cut them with is a dough scraper – an invaluable and cheap baking tool. Leave the balls to rest for 20 minutes to rest the gluten.

3.35pm: Shape dough Flip balls over on bench. Shape by pulling and stretching each corner into the middle of the ball. It’s very important to create a very tight ball of dough – this means it will rise better, so keep on pulling and stretching and folding until its no longer possible.

Shape and put into a well floured banneton( the best non stick flour there is,is fine rice flour,I  suggest you use this so your bread doesn’t stick in the banneton)or a well oiled tin with the seam the seam at the bottom if in a tin and at the top if in a banneton ( as you reverse the loaf out to bake it.)

Put in fridge to next morning Cover the bread with a damp tea towel and leave overnight in the fridge or alternatively I leave mine in the garage in winter because its almost as cold as the fridge. I have left mine as long as five days in the fridge and it still bakes well, albeit with a harder crust.

OR  If you are running out of time you can bake the bread after letting it rise for an hour but it won’t be as good!


Early morning: Take the bread out of the fridge or garage and bring to room temperature for about an hour.

Put a large pizza stone in the oven, or failing that a number of bricks in a square,with the flat sides uppermost. On the rack below the stone put a metal baking tray.

Heat the oven to 250C.

Sprinkle some fine semolina onto a steel baking peel. (You can buy these for making pizzas, if you don’t have one use a stiff piece of cardboard or a metal tray upside down without any edges.)

Spray the inside of the oven using a plastic spray bottle and boil the kettle.

If you bread is in a banneton upend the bread gently onto the baking peel. With a razor blade slash the top of the bread into three or four even cuts.

Slide the bread onto the pizza stone with the peel. Pour the boiling water into the metal tray underneath the stone. The steam will create a nice crunchy crust.

Cook the bread for 20 minutes at 250 C then turn down to 220 C to ensure the inside is cooked. Test if it is cooked at the end of 40 minutes by tapping the bottom. If it sounds hollow it is cooked

Wait an agonising hour for the bread to cool down, then cut, spread with butter and jam, and eat. If you cut it when it is hot it will go a bit rubbery and not quite so delicious.