Basic Whole Wheat Bread

I try to use the winter months to learn something new, a skill that I am usually too busy to undertake during the summer, when the garden is in bloom and the kids are home from school. Last year, I taught myself how to make some excellent soap, which we are still using… but this year, I wanted to learn more about the art of leaven bread. Without getting fancy, I wanted to understand how to make a basic bread that could be used for sandwiches, toast, dinner rolls, etc….

I drew my inspiration for this recipe from the CIA’s Basic Lean Loaf, which is the standard at our school. I scaled it down and made it 50/50 all-purpose (universal) flour and whole-wheat (I use one that has wheat germ flakes in it).  After many tweaks to the exact grams, I don’t even have to sprinkle my work surface with dough. The water/flour ratio is spot on! Since you will probably using a different brand of flour your results should vary only slightly, but please share with me your experiences.

Makes one loaf in a 30cm x 10cm (12″ x 4″) tin

330 g flour ( 50% all-purpose/ 50% whole wheat)
3 – 5 g dry yeast
10g salt
220g warm water

  • Weigh flours and yeast, combine in a bowl. Pour mixture on a clean work surface, create a well in the center.
  • Measure water and salt, combine. Swish the water and salt together to speed dissolution. 
  • Pour water mixture in the well. Pull the flour into the center from the walls of flour well. You want to combine it quickly, so the water is still warm when it touches the yeast.
  • Bring the dough together and knead for a few minutes 3 – 5, till it is smooth and a bit sticky to the touch.
  • Put dough in lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic or a dish cloth (tea towel) and let rise till doubled about 2 hours.
  • After two hours, turn the dough over lightly a few times, while inside the bowl and return to rest till doubled again about 2 hours.
  • Take the dough out of the bowl, knead and shape till it will either fit in your tin or in the shape of your free-form loaf or loaves.
  • Final rise, not that it is shaped let it rise again till about doubled or it is over the rim of your baking tin. Pre-heat oven to 425C
  • Bake for 20 – 30 minutes. The exterior of the loaf should be firm and crusty, yet when you knock on the exterior it should give off a hollow sound.
  • Once you remove it from the oven, remove the tin, if you are using one, so that the steam can escape and not make your bread soggy. Let cool on a wire rack.
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Smilyan Bean Festival

Since I have started working with Slow Food Bulgaria, I have heard many wonderful things about the autumnal festival in Smilyan, which celebrates the aptly named Smilyan Beans (Смилянски Фасул). I have had the opportunity to buy, taste and appreciate the beauty of these unique beans, but not the pleasure of visiting the town from which they originate.

The villiage of Smilyan is nestled deep in the Rhodopi Mountains, 18 km south of the main town Smolyan, between the Bulgarian and Greek border. From Kyustendil, the slow and winding 4 and a half hour drive was a bit much just for an overnight visit and we were disappointed that we didn’t make a longer trip of it, as every 10k or so, we stumble upon cultural and historical Bulgarian heritage sites that were in and of itself worth a return visit.
The village was a bit more quiescent then I expected, but the festival was also held later this year than in previous years, at the end of November. Still the sun was shining and babas were making fresh mekitzi (мекици). The mekitzi that I am accustomed to at home are made by my mother in-law, who is originally from the Berkovitza, which dictates her recipe that you can read about here. These were light and fluffy, quickly deep fried and dusted with powdered sugar. These tasty treats were compliments of the village and I could have stood there and snacked on them all day!
While the festival was a bit light on festivities, we took a stroll through the main street to find local vendors proudly displaying their beans. 
But the real event was the tasting, an gastronomic exhibition of the specialties of Smilyan at the Hotel Smolena. Tables were laid out with a kings bounty. There was not an smidgen of room left on any of the tables. Sweet and savory, the stops were pulled out.

You can see just a sampling of some to the dishes that were prepared for the festival and surprise, surprise, most of them contained beans!

One of my favorite Bulgarian specialties is a stew baked in a pumpkin; regrettably, this is something I have never attempted in the kitchen.

The mayor of Smilyan Subka Mitkova  greeted the guests of the event. I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Mayor Mitkova at Slow Food’s Terra Madre in Torino, Italy this past October. She was in Italy representing the Smilyan Beans and exposing them on the international stage.

Before the feast, we were able to hear Dessislava from Slow Food Bulgaria tell us about the organization and the work they are doing with Smilyan. Also in attendance with Michele Rumiz the Balkan Coordinator from Slow Food in Italy.
The afternoon’s festivities segwayed nicely in to the evening’s celebration, which not only included other tasty morsels, but traditional entertainment.
The singing and dancing were superb and I even managed to horo (The national dance of Bulgaria), although I feel sorry for all the people who I stepped on.
Finally, we were treated to a bread making demonstration with Silvy from Bread House in Gabrovo. The Bread House was in Kyustendil for our Pangia Festival in August. They are a great organization worth learning more about and supporting.
A wonderful festival and weekend filled with glorious food, fantastic people and rich cultural experience. I look forward to next year.

Panagia Festival – Exhibition

Day two of the Panagia Festival. There is a long tradition in Kyustendil where skilled women showcase their talents by displaying home made loaves of bread that were kneaded lovingly with respect to the mother of Christ. Panagia is a Christian holiday, which celebrates the Virgin Mary’s ascension in to Heaven. Enjoy the photos. 

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Panagia Festival – The Rising of the Bread

I am constantly amazed at the number of festivals that are organize by the municipality of Kyustendil; one for every season. My love of cherries makes me partial to the Cherry Festival in June, but the Panagia Festival, which celebrates the Feast of the Assumption, and the Virgin Mary’s ascension in to Heaven, according to the Eastern Orthodox religion. In christianity bread represents the body of Christ. The care and consciousness poured into making the bread symbolizes their devotion to Christ and their faith.The festival is more spiritual than gastronomic and that makes the bread more significant because it is seeped in tradition.

August 14th was the first day of the festival, it took place at the church of Kiril and Methodi in Bagrentzi, a small village located about 4 km east of Kyustendil. The focus of the day is the traditional and almost sacramental process of preparing the bread. The ceremony connected with the bread making centers on a young women and an older woman, either her mother or baba. The ritual is quite moving, seeing the torch passed down, preserving the tradition for generations to come. 
Coincidentally, one of the young girls was my neighbor Lily. She lives on my street and has played with my kids. I didn’t immediatly recognize her, but was touched by the pride she exuded being able to partake in the cermony. She assisted her grandmother (baba) preparing the bread. This was her second year participating and told me she felt a bit more prepared having taken part the year prior. She was able to anticipate her grandmother’s needs and what to do next, making to process seem like a culinary dance.

The recipe for the bread is simple and approximate, but the source of the ingredients is significant. The water is drawn from the church well, by the young girls representing purity and virtue.

The sanctified flour is then ladled from the trough and carried lovingly to the workspace. Each young girl receive her ration of bread from the elder.

A well is made in the center of the flour and the water and re-hydrated starter are added. The flour is pulled into the middle from the sides. Once a consistent ball is achieved, it is kneaded till smooth and elastic. The dough is then rested. During the resting, the fires are stoked and everyone celebrates with song and dance.

In addition to the official ceremony, The Bread House in Gabrovo descended on Kyustendil to share the traditions, culture and methods of making bread. Nadejda Savova, who is working on her phD in anthropology at Princeton University in The United States, shares her passion for Bulgarian culture, which has been organically incorporated into her doctoral pursuits. She teaches Eastern Orthodox iconography and traditional Bulgarian bread making techniques. Savova is one of the founder of the Bread House initiative. Through her travels around the world, she has set up numerous outposts, sharing the traditions and culture associated with bread. One of her criticism of food culture in Bulgaria, is that while food is extremely important culturally and the value is understood in a social context, but the appreciation for the quality of ingredients and the taste of local cuisine is lost.
The fires are optimal and the bread is ready for baking. The ceremony concluded with further celebration and dancing.

Gabriel was a huge hit with the kids. They were quite eager to give a cuddle to the youngest guest by far at the festival.

In the grand Bulgarian tradition a horo… with the youngest participants in jubilant celebration. In years down the road, I expect these girls will be helping their mothers and babas prepare the bread.

The next day of the Festival was dedicated to the displaying of bread and other goods, which have been artistically crafted to represent the talents of the bread makers in the villages surrounding Kyustendil. My next post will highlight the exhibition.

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JoVan – the Dutch Bakery

The first time that I met John Hulbosch (aka JoVan the Dutch Baker), it was a few months after I moved to Sofia and was having an early bite with a Dutch friend of mine Koos.  When I heard about his bakery I was immediately intrigued. It opened in 2005 and is still going strong.

From the street I could smell the aroma of freshly baking bread. The counter and shelves were abound with all sorts of breads, it was truly and international variety of bread styles to suit all whims and fancies, not only Dutch.
While they offered ready to eat freshly baked sweets and savory treats, I wanted a small fresh roll to nosh on, but they seemed to only have larger loaves on display. I was drooling to bite into a crusty loaf, but didn’t want to have to a) eat it all (I could have, but would have felt like a glutton afterwards) or b) carry it around with my on my long walk around Sofia.
I ended up just grabbing some “American” cookies, which were good, but I don’t like raisins in my chocolate chip cookies. I wish that I lived in Sofia, because I would be getting my daily loaves straight from JoVan’s. They also offer delivery service, which you can check out on their website, but I doubt Kyustendil will be on their future expansion lists… at least not for now.

Also, check out this great article about John on

Angel Kanchev Street 37 (ул. Ангел Кънчев, 37)
Sofia 1000 Bulgaria 
Monday / Saturday from 08.00 to 20.00 
Sunday from 09.00 to 15.00
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Слънце и Луна/ Sun & Moon: InkeTinke

While strolling through Sofia the other day, I came upon Sun & Moon: InkeTinke location that I was previously unaware of.  Unlike their flagship location on William Gladstone St., this shop lacks a restaurant, but still worth adding to your natural grocery shop repertoire.

The shop has small but varied selection of goods, juices, canned goods, herbs, pastas, sweet treats and more.

The decor is relaxed and hip, with plenty of information lining the walls with going ons around Sofia related the the natural and organic scene.

All of your stone ground grain needs will be met and then some with their vast selection. If you have visited their website you can better understand the decisions they make about the numerous nutritional benefits of choosing whole-grain bread and bread product and the stone-ground grain processing methods.

The counter sells fresh bread and other scrumptious baked treats. There are also more grocery items lining the back wall. The lady at the counter was quite helpful and willing to answer any questions that I had about the shop, bread etc…

If you feel like enjoying your baked goods in house, they have a nice little sitting area and reading room. It is quite quaint and inviting.

I really enjoyed this little coffee corner. It could probably use with less counter clutter, but I think that is why it appeals to me. It is gives this warm feeling that you are hanging out at a friends house.

For more info please visit their website or their Facebook page
Uri Venelin st. 1 (close to Shishman st.) 
tel: 0899 92 33 78 
Working time: Monday-Saturday 8.00 – 21.00H Sunday closed
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Date & Zucchini Bread from Roti n Rice

I spend quite a bit of time online reading other peoples blogs, which contain many fantastic recipes, but it is almost impossible for me to try them all.  Every now and again, while reading through some of the amazing recipes, I will see that I have most of the ingredients already on hand, so I will try them.  What caught my eye this time was a Date & Zucchini Bread from Roti n Rice.

Upon doing a little research, it seams that quick breads are an American invention that evolved due to the discover of the chemical leavener pearlash during the 18th century, the precursor to modern day baking powder, but zucchinis as we know them today are a result of squash plant mutations in Italy during the 19th century.  My Kiwi friend that was at my house while I was whipping up the bread, had never heard of zucchini bread, which prompted my research to see if it was something unique to the States.

Aside from having all the ingredients on hands, I also wanted an excuse to use the cute little measuring bowls and cups from my best friend Ness in Perth.  I love cooking tools of any sort and she has these great little rubber bowls at her house and I was totally coveting them (see the little green bowls in the picture below) because the wooden bowls that I have a great for dry ingredients, but not ideal for foods with strong flavors that leach like garlic and ginger, so these little rubber bowls are awesome!  She also sent me a set of rubber measuring bowls, which are the colorful square ones on the top of the cutting board.  Thanks Ness!

Date & Zucchini Bread: Roti n Rice (Click for recipe)

Mise en place
Dry ingredients
Wet ingredients… I mixed in the nuts and dates too soon!
In the oven.
Having never had zucchini bread before the results were delicious.  It had just enough sweetness, so it wasn’t cake-like.  This will not be the last quick bread that I explore. Thanks Biren!

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