Vegan Apricot Popsicles

Each year when the summer comes, ice cream is on the menu as a desert. It comes very handy to buy a pack of ice cream from the supermarket and it cames in many flavours and colours. But there is something that I always feel guilty about when I buy it: it is so unhealthy with all the added sugar and extra additives. The alternative is to make it yourself, knowing exactly what you put inside.

You need to start from a main fruit. In this case, I started from apricots. An icecream needs to be sweet, and to avoid adding any sugar, syrup or even honey, another sweet fruit can be used: banana. It is full of natural sweetness and there is no need to add extra sugar.

The 2 ingredients can be blended together as they are but there is something missing for this 2 ingredients recipe: the creaminess that a bought icecream has. That creaminess usually comes from diary products but if you want to stay away from the animal products, this is not an option. The creaminess can be introduced by coconut milk. It will also help to reduce the ice crystals while freezing it. You can of course put the composition in an icecreammaker and eat it with a spoon but it also works perfectly as popsicles.

To add more richness, I glazed them partially with dark chocolate and dust them with chopped walnuts. This is absolutely optional, they are are delicious even without this extra topping.

The quantity for this recipe is big, you can easily do 20 popsicles out of it. For less, feel free to reduce it.


The Best Sourdough Pizza baked in a wood-fired oven

I bake pizza almost every week for my family and we love it. Baking pizza and then bread immediately after is the perfect combination for my little wood-fired oven. 

Sourdough pizza baked in a wood-fired oven is outstanding for its smokey flavour and taste regardless of the choice of toppings. What I love about this recipe is that it is flexible both with the type of ingredients as with the schedule. I can use any type of wheat flour, from strong bread flour to all-purpose flour. I can use fresh starter but most of the time I use discarded sourdough starter straight from the fridge, simply because I have plenty available. I also can skip or postpone some steps for the next day. 

As I bake pizza and bread one after the other, the 2 recipes need to be prepared in parallel. If for bread, I follow rigorously the steps, it is very important to me that the recipe of pizza is simple and flexible.

The quantity of this dough is 1272g and I make 4 pizza out of it. This means that each pizza dough has ~320g. When I divide the dough, most of the time I do not weigh the pieces but rather eyeball them. The bowls I use have 500ml capacity and they can be covered with a lid. Their capacity is an essential aspect of this recipe because it indicates when the dough is done. The point is to let the dough rise until it reaches the lid of the bowl. As each dough has ~320g, I let them rise until they fill a volume of 500ml, this means an increase of 57%. 

During the winter I can keep the bowls in a room at ~16ºC and the rise will happen slowly overnight. During the summer, I might get a similar temperature outdoor. If it is too hot even outside, I just put them in the fridge and continue the rise in the morning at room temperature. The overnight temperature determines how long the dough takes to reach the desired rise (preferable <17ºC)

Ideally is to follow the presented schedule but it happens to me to postpone dividing the dough for the early morning. As I mentioned before, flexibility is a key aspect of this recipe. At the limit, late in the evening, I mix all ingredients, I let the dough rest for 1 hour, I do only one stretch and fold then let the dough rise overnight. You may let then the division of the dough for the morning. 

For example, if you want to keep it minimal, reduce it to the following steps:

  • Day 1, 22:00 Mix all ingredients
  • Day 1, 23:00 Do a stretch and fold
  • Day 2, 8:00 Divide the dough
  • Day 2 12:00 Stretch the dough. (assuming of course that this is the time when they reached the lid)

I rarely bake pizza early in the morning, so the bowls go to the fridge until I am ready to bake (for lunch or dinner). In case I kept the dough overnight in the fridge, I take it out in the morning and let it rise to reach the lid.

The baking starts with firing the oven. Only when the fire slows down and the oven is hot, I lay the dough for the pizza on a wooden peel sprinkled with semolina. The longer the dough remains on the peel,  the higher the risk of sticking to it. Wooden pizza peels are best as they absorb moisture. Using baking paper can help but it will burn quickly at very high temperatures, so under the pizza dough, semolina works best for me.

It's time to stretch the pizza dough. First I take the dough out of the bowl on a floured board. With floured hands, I gently flatten the dough in a circle. I press from the centre to the sides, leaving a small margin on the sides. Then, I press a border of 1-2cm with my fingers, creating the border even more visible. I press then the centre with my palm and take the borders in my hands. I rotate the dough quickly to stretch it well on the sides. Then I place it on my fists and rotate to stretch also the centre. The movements should be quick to avoid sticking to your hands or tearing the dough. It gets a little practice, but once you master the movements you'll feel them quick and natural. If you don't manage, as a last resort, use a rolling pin although this one destroys the gorgeous bubbles of the dough. 

I stretch the dough in 28cm diameter circles.

The choice of toppings is a matter of preference. For the sauce, I use concentrated tomato sauce mixed with olive oil, pepper and dried oregano. Then it comes mozzarella, ham, bell peppers, red onions and olives. I like to put some mozzarella on top also to keep the ingredients in place.

The best pizza is made at very high temperatures. Before baking, I prepare the oven for the pizza. First, I slide the burning wood on the side. Then, I clean the floor with a wet cloth. The first pizza goes in the back and I improvised a longer handle for the peel as the oven is extremely hot now. The second pizza goes in front. It usually bakes faster on the side with the fire. I might then need to rotate the pizza for even cooking. Without the door of the oven, the bottom cooks quicker than the toppings. I keep then the pizza up on the stainless steel peel for few seconds. 

If the first round of pizza takes a maximum of 2 minutes to bake,  the second round takes about 5 minutes as the temperature falls. In ovens with thick insulation, the loss in temperature might be minimal. This is how my oven works.

For the second load, I close the oven door. The advantage is that the pizza cooks evenly on the sides and the top.

After cooking pizza, the remaining temperature in the oven is perfect to bake bread in 2 Dutch ovens. This is the setup I found best for my oven, for other types of wood fire ovens you need to figure out how long the temperature is preserved.

The oven temperature left is ~330ºC. Putting the cold Dutch ovens inside will reduce it to 240-250ºC which is perfect to bake bread.

Unlike bread, pizza is cut and eaten when warm. The taste of this pizza is amazing and its secret is to be cooked in a wood-fired oven. The smokey flavour is impossible to reproduce in a classical oven. However, you can bake this pizza on a stone in a gas/electric oven. But once you know how the best pizza tastes, it will be difficult to forget it.