Sunday, 15 December 2013

George Orwell | Blue Stilton and Cranberry Bread

George Orwell is probably not a writer you would normally associate with tantalising depictions of food, especially as, in The Road to Wigan Pier, he unflatteringly described the human being as 'primarily a bag for putting food into'.

But his 'In Defence of English Cooking' paints a different picture of Orwell's usually rather grim and pragmatic attitude to eating. The essay was published in the Evening Standard in December 1945 and enumerates the high points of British cuisine of the time.
But there is one point on which public opinion could bring about a rapid change for the better: I mean cooking.
      It is commonly said, even by the English themselves, that English cooking is the worst in the world. It is supposed to be not merely incompetent, but also imitative, and I even read quite recently, in a book by a French writer, the remark: ‘The best English cooking is, of course, simply French cooking.’
      Now that is simply not true, as anyone who has lived long abroad will know, there is a whole host of delicacies which it is quite impossible to obtain outside the English-speaking countries. No doubt the list could be added to, but here are some of the things that I myself have sought for in foreign countries and failed to find.

I will have to agree with George Orwell that there is more to English cooking than simply imitating  French cooking. And whilst kippers, marrow jam or bread sauce, which Orwell goes on to add to his list, may not be to everyone's taste, there is certainly a lot to be said in defence of puddings, Oxford marmalade, roast potatoes, and of course cheese.
Then there are the English cheeses. There are not many of them but I fancy Stilton is the best cheese of its type in the world, with Wensleydale not far behind.
George Orwell, 'In Defence of English Cooking'

With it crumbly, creamy texture and distinctive flavour, stilton is certainly 'the best cheese of its type' and definitely deserving to be ranked highly, alongside the finest of French cheeses. There are two types of stilton, blue and white, both of which have been granted the status of a protected designation of origin by the European Commission. This means that only cheese produced in the three counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Nottinghamshire and made from pasteurised local milk can be called 'Stilton'. It gets its characteristic blue veins by piercing the crust of the cheese with stainless steel needles, which allows air into the core. The cheese takes approximately nine to twelve weeks to make and mature.

The history of stilton goes back possibly to the late 17th and certainly the early 18th century. There's a reference to it in Daniel Defoe's 1724 travel account A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain, in which it is called the 'English parmesan'. But according to the Stilton Cheesemaker's Association, Blue Stilton was first marketed slightly later by the Englishman Cooper Thornhill, owner of the Bell Inn, in the village of Stilton, Huntingdonshire. According to legend, Thornhill discovered a distinctive blue cheese in 1730 while he was visiting a small farm near Melton Mowbray in rural Leicestershire. He loved the cheese so much that he made a business arrangement which granted the Bell Inn exclusive marketing rights to Blue Stilton. The fact that the main stagecoach routes from London to northern England passed through the village of Stilton enabled Thornhill to promote the sale of this cheese and so the fame of stilton spread fast.

~ Blue Stilton and Cranberry Bread ~

Traditionally in England, stilton is eaten at Christmas and this recipe for Blue Stilton and Cranberry Bread, bursting with the unique flavours of Blue Stilton and plump dried cranberries, is a wonderful treat for an occasion when only the best will do.

I have followed Paul Hollywood's recipe from his book How to Bake. You can find the original recipe in the book or here. My only change was to reduce slightly the amount of cranberries and increase slightly the amount of stilton. Just because!

500 g strong white bread flour, plus more for dusting
10 g salt
10 g instant yeast
30 g unsalted butter, softened (can be reduced or omitted)
320 ml cool water
200 g stilton, crumbled
60 g dried cranberries

Put the flour in a large mixing bowl and add the salt to one side and the yeast to the other side of the bowl. Add the butter (if using) and 3/4 of the water and turn the mixture round with your fingers. Continue to add the remaining water, a little at a time, until all of the flour has been incorporated. You may need to add less or more water, depending on the type of flour you're using. The dough should be soft but not soggy.

Put the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes until the tough forms a soft, smooth skin. When the dough feels smooth and silky, put it into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until it's doubled in size – at least for one hour, but you can leave it for 2 or even 3 hours.

Line a baking tray with baking parchment paper.

Very gently tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Without knocking it back, flatten it out with your hands, then roll out using a rolling pin into a rectangle, about 35 x 25cm. If necessary turn the dough so that you have a long edge facing you. Sprinkle the cranberries and stilton on top evenly leaving a little space around the edges.

Roll up the dough from the closest long edge into a sausage and press along the seam to seal it. Coil the sausage into a spiral and put it on the prepared baking tray. You can also tuck a few extra cranberries between the folds on the top for a pretty visual effect. Put the tray inside a clean plastic bag and leave to prove for one hour, or until the dough has at least doubled in size and springs back quickly if you press it lightly with your finger.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 220 degrees C and put a roasting tray in the bottom to heat up.

When the dough has risen and feels light to the touch, fill the roasting tray with hot water. Dust the bread lightly with some flour and and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the base.

Cool on a wire rack. Enjoy with what else... more cheese! What can I say! I'm a cheese lover!

Note: There's more information about stilton cheese and recipes how to use it on their website here.