An interesting discussion has taken place this week on the BBC food boards. I don't know if you visit these boards, but every now and again I pop over to see what people are talking about. Most of the time it is people asking for a bit of foody advice. Often it is people getting irate about some of our TV chefs. And sometimes it is people having a passionate chat about fantastic produce. And that is when I have my two penneth, because I can't resist a bit of banter about a good old British classic. And this week, it's a Geordie classic - stotty cake.
Where ever I have lived, two things are mentioned to me as quintessentially North East England things; one is pease pudding, and the other is stotty cake. I've a feeling that many a place can lay claim to pease pudding, but we Geordies invented the stotty cake, no argument. Stotty cake is simply a flat bread. Not flat in the sense of the fantastic Persian flatbreads, but flat as in flatter than the average loaf. There is nothing unusual in there, just flour, yeast, sugar, salt and water. Mine has a little lard or margarine in. And that is simply because it is the way my Nana used to make them.
Stotty cakes are apparently so called because the bakers who made them in the olden days used to 'stot' (Geordie term for 'throw') them off the floor to check that they had the right texture and to naturally get them into their distinctive flat and round shape. I sincerely hope that the bakers of today don't use that technique, but what a story. They were also made using dough off-cuts and cooked slowly in the bottom of the oven whilst the rest of the oven was used for 'normal' breads. Hence the reason they are often referred to as oven bottom cakes. Either way, they are delicious.
Mine use my tried and trusted '1' method. That is 1 of each quantity, and it always works. Heat your oven to the top temperature and after the first rising, push it into a disc shape, stick your finger in the middle to make the distinctive centre hole (no idea why, but it's a tradition man!) and stick it in the bottom of the oven. 15 minutes later, the house will smell divine and you will struggle to wait for the scalding hot bread to cool down before devouring it. We like to eat ours with good ham, pease pudding, lots of butter and English mustard. It is the ideal sandwich bread due to its shape and size.
The best thing about discussions around classic foods such as the stotty cake is that everybody has an opinion, and what's wrong with that? The older the piece of food, the more far fetched the story around it, and that makes it even more interesting. As long as people aren't having wars about it, then a good bit of heated discussion on the matter isn't going to harm anybody. So get stotting. And divvent dunshus, wa Geordies man!
Makes 2 large 'cakes'
1 pound of good strong plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 ounce lard or margarine
1 level tbsp dried yeast
1 tsp sugar
300ml lukewarm water
1 - Pour the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Rub in the lard or margarine until well combined. Then stir in the yeast and sugar.
2 - Make a well in the centre of the flour, then gradually pour in the water, stirring in circles with one hand until combined. You may need more or less water. If it is too sticky, add more flour, too dry, add more water.
3 - Knead for a good 10 minutes. A good test that I use when kneading bread is to firmly push my hand into the dough. If it doesn't spring right back, keep kneading.
4 - Once ready, dust with flour, cover and leave in a warm place for at least 1 hour. It should have doubled in size. Pre-heat the oven to 240 degrees C, GM9 and place a metal baking sheet on the bottom of the oven.
5 - Gently kneed the dough and push out any air. Rip in half then on a floured surface, push the dough into a rough disc, approximately 1 inch thick. Stick a hole in the middle with a finger, prick randomly with a fork then place onto the baking sheet. Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes, until the bread sounds hollow when tapped and golden brown.