It seems there’s no escape from all things Scandinavian at the moment. In restaurants, Noma in Copenhagen is at the top of 50 Best Restaurants list for the 2nd year, and Faviken is the new cutting-edge place that has the food critics flocking across the Swedish tundra.
When it comes to cookbooks, you can take your pick from Nordic Bakery, Camilla Plum’s Scandinavian Kitchen or Signe Johansen’s Scandilicious. And that’s without getting to The Killing and that famous jumper.
At the forefront of this wave is Signe Johansen. From Norway, but having lived in the UK for 13 years, with her blog and her first book ‘Scandilicious’, she’s melded Scandi tastes with British preferences to create recipes that are approachable and easy, and bring fresh new flavours into the kitchen.
When I saw that she was offering a Baking Masterclass, with recipes from her new book, Scandilicious Baking, I signed up pretty quickly. For one thing, I love to meet enthusiastic bakers and cooks that I’ve only met virtually through twitter and their blog posts. And there’s always something new to learn in baking, especially when dealing with that tricky beast, yeasted dough.
The venue was a new cooking school in East London, the Central Street Cookery School, part of the St. Luke’s Charitable Trust. It’s a light and airy space, with high ceilings, plenty of counter space and ovens, and well equipped for classes. Even better, income from hiring out the space supports cookery projects for the local community.
We cooked our way through four recipes, two of which were yeasted, in about 4 hours. We made a straight spelt bread dough, quite a bit stickier and faster to rise than a wheat dough. Next came super-sticky cinnamon buns, the dough enriched with butter, sugar, egg and ground cardamom. Again, these were made with spelt flour, and were quick to rise and prove. Below is a cinnamon bun cake made by jamming the bun dough into a cake tin to bake.
Third on the list was a fluffy cake, topped with almond caramel praline to form a crust. This is Toscakaka, a Swedish favourite. The cake is made like a Genoise, whisking whole eggs with sugar, before folding in flour and melted butter. Once baked, a sticky caramel of butter, sugar, cream and flaked almonds is spread on top before baking further to form a golden crust. It’s a delicious combination, and the Dream cake in Scandilicious, made in a similar way, has gone straight onto my ‘to make’ list.
Finally came super-short butter biscuits, made like pastry with chilled butter and just a little egg to bring them together. A very full morning’s baking. For lunch we feasted on Signe’s homemade gravlax with salad, and tried out some of the spelt bread.
The class was good fun, with a great atmosphere. Signe gave lots of helpful tips and advice as we went along, and there was time for everyone to get hands-on with the recipes. The cookery school at Central Street has only been open for a few months, and is a great space for classes. The counters are in a big U shape, with lots of counterspace for everyone, and the high ceilings kept everything cool until later in the session.
There was plenty to learn, even for experienced bakers. Using 100% spelt dough is new to me. When I use spelt flour, it tends to be in bread dough and not more than half of the total flour content. Using all spelt flour in a recipe tends to make for a stickier dough, that rises faster and doesn’t need to prove as long before baking. It feels different to handle, and I think would take some practice to get used to.
Spelt is actually a type of wheat, but split off from the wheat we now use at an earlier point in its history.
This means it has less gluten than normal bread flour, but still enough to make bread with. [Correction: Azelia has quire rightly corrected me here: it’s not that spelt has less gluten, but it is of a different type and can be tolerated better by those who have an intolerance to normal wheat. Coeliacs cannot tolerate spelt, because it still contains gluten]. You can also get pearled spelt or farro, which can be cooked a bit like pearl barley, but less sticky, and can be used for risottos and salads. Both wholemeal and refined white spelt flours are readily available. Sharpham Park in Somerset produce great spelt flour, grown in the UK.