What to do when a merman washes up outside your HomeAway palazzo in Sicily? Make something tasty with the tail. My sojourn in Ragusa however is long gone and I’m in Hastings recovering from bashing the side of my head on a door frame, with a mild concussion. But a knock on the head can lead to inspiration if you just see it as a positive thing. Sometimes baking inspiration comes from more than one place of travel. Having had a life long love of mermaids and naturally mermen too I woke up this Sunday wanting to create a comforting sweet bread that could incorporate my latest purchase from Bluebird Tea Company in Brighton, Mermaid Matcha tea powder. I wrestled with google for a few hours looking for sweet breads with fascinating textures. I also wanted to pair together with the Matcha some of the wonderful smoked sea salt from the Cornish Sea Salt Co.
I visited Mevagissey last year where I tracked down the resting place of my great x 8 grandfather Roger Pascoe. In my research I discovered that my distant relatives, other descendants of Roger are the wonderful folk who harvest the gorgeous Cornish sea salt. I’ve been a huge fan of their product for years and was amused when surfing on Fistral Beach that the gobful of sea water I swallowed tasted so familiar. I have always enjoyed making hot white chocolate shots with green matcha as a creamy rich alternative to a cup of brown hot chocolate and suddenly through my achy head haze a plan was forming – matcha babka with white chocolate and almond seams. Maybe I can find a way to incorporate roasted almonds to create mermaid scales? Babka is a eastern European soft bread usually made with chocolate and cinnamon in but I’m gonna play with Japanese matcha powder and white chocolate instead.
150ml whole milk
8g Dove Farm dried yeast
175g bread flour
175g plain flour
1/2tsp Cornish sea salt
30g caster sugar
2tbs Mermaid matcha powder
2tsp vanilla essence
2 large eggs
60g golden caster sugar
150g white chocolate
60g ground almonds
40g golden caster sugar
Edible gold and silver food spray
In a small pan gently melt the butter in the milk. Do not let it boil just stir until the butter melts and then stir in the honey to act as food for the yeast.
In a glass jug weigh the yeast and pour on a little of the milk mixture and stir to a paste. I find adding the yeast to the milk in the pan causes the yeast to from lumps. then add the remainder of the buttery sweet milk and cover with cling film. After about 15-20 minutes the yeast will have woken up and is beginning to create gentle bubbles on the surface.
When creating sweet breads it is best to use fine grout salt and as the smoked sea salt is flakes it pays to give it a quick spin in a mortar and pestle to achieve a fine powder that will distribute though the dough more evenly.
In a large mixing bowl pop the two flours, salt, sugar and the match powder and stir to evenly blend the dry ingredients. I’m using two flours here as using just bread flour with be to strong and hard to create a soft result and plain flour alone too weak in gluten to make a decent dough. If you have some available you could just use 300g French flour that is used to make croissants as this is the perfect ratio of gluten strength.
Pour in the sweet yeasty milk and add the beaten eggs and the vanilla essence. Stir these together with a spoon to begin with. If you have a mixer with a dough hook you can set this to beat and stretch the gluten strands for about 15 minutes.
If you have a hand mixer just pop a single thick in the machine and whip up that way. Two whisks will cause the mixture to rise up cover the underside of the unit. They will also cut and tear the gluten strands you are encouraging.
If your feeling particularly energetic and rather 18th century continue to beat for several hours with a wooden spoon. Just kidding but it will take a lot of elbow grease. Cover the bowl with cling film or a glass lid and leave for at least an hour to bloom. After an hour pop in the fridge to cool and stiffen for half an hour.
Now we get to then fun part. Dust a rubber baking sheet with flour and begin rolling the the dough into a large rectangle. If the chilled dough is still too sticky add some more flour. Mine seemed very wet so I added quite a bit.
Once you have a large rectangle about 45cm x 30cm leave it to rest while you make the white chocolate filling.
In a small pan on at the lowest heat melt the butter and sugar and then add the white chocolate. You will need to stir this continually and sometimes lift it off the heat so you don’t get a nasty separation. As soon as it it melted add the ground almonds and stir to an even paste.
Drop small amounts all over the dough and spread evenly. I was experimenting and didn’t make enough so I added extra grated chocolate which in hindsight was a bad idea as the filling needs to be a melted mass. This meant that when I cut it open the dry grated chocolate didn’t help the dough to stick together but I have adjusted my recipe so you won’t make the same mistake.
Roll up the dough along the shorter edge to create a nice plump Swiss roll effect and place seam down on a greased baking tray. Now slice the roll down the middle leaving an uncut end of about 5cm.
Now twist the coils to create the body of the tail and then spread out the end to crate the fanned tail ends. Cover lightly with cling film and leave for half and hour to grow is size and softness.
While the oven is heating up roast some almond slices on baking parchment on a baking tray. Once roasted spray them with edible gold dust.
Pop into the oven on 180C or gas mark 4 for an hour. If the loaf starts to brown too quickly cover in foil and return to the oven. Like a cake the best way to test if it is cooked is with a knife or cocktail stick. Pierce it and see if it comes out clean. This can be tricky to gauge with the melted white chocolate. Meanwhile place the sugar for the glaze and the water in a pan and heat until melted. As soon as the bread is baked brush the loaf with the sugar glaze and decorate with the golden almond slices. This was my first go at this so as soon as I’ve had another go I’ll refine the recipe and post new results.