Over a sunny weekend on the Welbeck Estate we listened to Bronwen and Francis Percival talk about cheese, about tracing flavours back to what the cow eats in the field and everything along the way. Nicole Pisani and Oli Pagani spoke about the move from professional Nopi chefs to running school canteens for over 500 children. We heard about biodynamic soil, Pakistani seasons from Sumayya Usmani, spices, the power of food social media from Felicity Cloake, diet myths and gut microbes from Tim Spector, sustainable diets for the future from Professor Tim Lang, small food revolutions and much more besides, it was utterly fascinating, hugely educational and inspiring.
The School of Artisan Food is an amazing place, with the baking at the school being particularly impressive, over breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea we were served sour doughs, focaccias, malt loaves, crackers, cookies and amazing brownies...
I've been baking a bit more recently, we currently have a pork bun on the menu at Cook House. Pork we buy direct from the farm in Medomsley, it's a mangalitza, saddleback, middle white cross and it is so delicious, a real depth of flavour that I've not had the like of before. It seems only right to give it a freshly baked bun each morning. I guess these little buns have similarities with a brioche style bun, slightly sweetened, inspired by reading the Nordic Bakery book.
Get everything ready before you begin. Weigh out 500g of strong white bread flour and add a 7g sachet of dried yeast. Weigh out 75g of sugar and add 1 teaspoon of salt. You can add flavour at this point, I have used ground fennel seeds, ground cardamom or black pepper in the past, my favourite is the cardamom, add half a teaspoon of your chosen spice.
Weight out 75g of softened butter, and beat one egg in a separate bowl.
Heat 250ml of milk until warm, not hot, test it with your finger to check. Remove from the heat and add a couple of spoonfuls of the warm milk into the egg, mix, then add the milk and egg back into the milk pan. Then add in the sugar, salt and spice and whisk until it is all dissolved.
If you are using a stand mixer or Kitchenaid combine everything into the bowl, flour, yeast, butter and the milk mixture, and put it on to mix with a dough hook for 10 minutes.
If you are doing it by hand combine everything in a large bowl, bring it all together with a spatula and then turn out onto a floured work surface and knead for 10 minutes. It is quite a light sticky dough, so you may need to keep flouring your hands.
Bring the dough into a ball and leave it in a large bowl, covered with cling film in a warm spot for about an hour or until it is doubled in size. It starts about the size of a melon. The weather and temperature of the day have a huge difference on how quickly this happens, it won't take long on a warm sunny day and you'll get sick of waiting in the winter! After this time knead again for 10 minutes either by hand or in the mixer.
Now it is time to form the buns, tip out the dough and weigh it, for tiny buns divide by 20 and for larger buns divide by ten. If you do ten they end up roughly the size of a burger bun.
Cut off the correct amount of dough, it is usually about 95g for the larger buns, then holding your hand like a claw with the dough under it, move the dough round in circular motions on the work surface. You might need a little flour if it is really sticky but I find it easier to form without. The motion should be pushing the edges round and under and forming a neat little ball. I then dip the bottoms in flour and place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof a few inches apart.
Cover them all with cling film and let them sit for another half an hour. Then wash the tops with beaten egg and you can sprinkle on seeds or spice too.
Bake at 200˚C, 10 minutes for the tiny buns and approximately 15 minutes for the larger ones. I turn the larger ones after 10 minutes if they are not browning evenly, you want an even golden colour all over and they should sound hollow when you tap the bottoms. Then leave them to rest for half an hour before you dive in...
They are so bouncy and delicious, slightly sweet and buttery and especially good with cold butter or slow roast pork!