I’ve got a thing for yeast baking at the moment … and blackberries. This time of year, blackberries are a serious distraction!
Just can’t resist picking a small bag full of berries every time I go to the park with the hounds. I have even been known to make a special trip and come home with 1kg or more.
When I look at my bramble-scratched arms I feel a glow of pride and it does surprise me that not more people descend on this free, nutritious food.Over the years I have become a more discerning picker though, and as the blackberry season gets into full swing I head for the older bushes with larger, sweeter berries and go for the easy to reach branches.
Full of vitamin C and anti-oxidants, seasonal and delicious, blackberries are plentiful and accessible: they are an urbanite’s easy link with the foraging world and the seasons.What’s not to like?
I am quite aware that the hedgerow variety is a different species to the blackberries sold in small plastic punnets in the supermarkets, but this does not bother me. The “wild” ones may be slightly smaller and less sweet than their supermarket cousins, but this does not matter that much especially when you cook them.
Now on to the interesting bit, hedgerow baking. The concept of the “vlaai” , or flan, is about 400 years old and originates in German convents, just across the border from Limburg which is Holland’s southernmost province.
The early flans were Easter offerings made with dried fruit from the convent’s garden. The sweet flans were a welcome end to the period of fasting which precedes Easter.
The tradition was then extended to other celebrations, including weddings and carnival and these days “vlaai” is still a very popular treat, particularly, in the Southern provinces where it is considered not much more than “slice of bread with jam”.
So go on, spend a pleasant 2o minutes or so picking blackberries this week and then indulge in a bit of easy yeast baking.
This is what you need:
for the dough
200g plain flour
pinch of salt
20g fresh yeast + 5 tbsp milk
or 10g dried yeast
15g butter, at room temperature
2tbsp muscovado sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp whipping cream
1 egg yolk
50g demerara sugar
2 tbsp dried breadcrumbs
icing sugar for dusting
This is what you do:
- if using fresh yeast, sift the salt + flour in a bowl
- add the butter, sugar, oil, egg yolk and cream
- warm the milk up in a small saucepan or the microwave and add + dissolve the fresh yeast
- don’t overheat the milk or it will affect the dough-rising qualities of the yeast!
- add the mixture to the flour and mix thoroughly using a handheld mixer with its dough attachment
- when using dry yeast, add the grains after step 2 above and follow the instruction from step 5 onwards
- if the dough is too dry add a little milk, if it is too wet add a little four
- use your hands to shape the dough into a ball and knead on a floured surface for a couple of minutes
- leave to rest for 30 minutes
- pre-heat the oven to 180C
- in the meantime, grease a flan tin with butter
- wash , drain and dry the blackberries
- knead the dough once more and, with a rolling pin (or glass bottle filled with cold water), roll it out into a circle large enough to cover the bottom and side of the baking tin
- prick the dough all over with a fork
- sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and divide the blackberries over the dough in an even layer
- bake for 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown
- let the flan cool off a little and sprinkle with sugar
- just before serving, dust the edges of the flan with icing sugar
- delicious as it is, but even better with a dollop of whipped cream or spoonful of creme fraiche
Savvy tip: add a small oven proof dish with water to the oven – this prevents the dough crust from drying out.
Wishing you an hour of relaxing blackberrying (of a different kind) + baking!