Not very exciting looking stuff, is it? However, it’s one of those iconic items that spring to mind when the question of what defines Welsh food arises. It’s seaweed, Porphyra Umbilicalis, and maybe sounds a bit more upmarket if you call it by its Japanese name, Nori.
Anyway, a guy called Matthew did a bread course with me a couple of weeks ago. He chefs in a Welsh seafood restaurant, wants to start producing bread there and is keen to incorporate laverbread into bread rolls to add to the regional interest. Well, I can’t resist little challenges like that so I’ve been experimenting.
“First Catch Your Peacock” is the title of Bobby Freeman’s classic Welsh cook book. Should be “First Catch Your Laverbread” these days – it is not easy to find. Of the two main suppliers in South Wales one is out of production and the other only does multi-packs. Eventually found some in a deli in Conwy – coal miners fare in a deli?
First attempt was actually the Bara Surgeirth of the previous post but the 50g that went into the dough seemed to vanish so I didn’t bother to mention it. That seems to be the problem: the taste of laverbread either seems to be overwhelmed by other flavours or smack you in the face. Then, of course, the question of whether you really want to taste it arises.
I had this idea that, rather than using laverbread as a filling encased in the dough, the answer might be bialys where the filling sits in a depression in the centre of the dough.
Bialys originated in and were unique to the northeastern Polish city of Bialystock. The Nazis massacred the entire Jewish population of the city in the early ’40s – it’s still a staggering fact to try to take in, especially in the context of discussing bread rolls. Bialys only really survived amongst the Jewish immigrant population of New York.
Traditionally, bialys are topped with a little fried onion maybe mixed with dried bread crumbs and poppy seed and they are totally delicious warm from the oven.
I did a mixture of 80g and 40g buns. One just has laverbread, the others had the traditional onion and breadcrumb and a laverbread topping. I also had soured cream and lumpfish caviar on hand for a more extravagant topping.
Both of us thought the bialy with just the laverbread was too in-your-face – but then maybe we just don’t really like laverbread.
The bialys with the trad topping plus the laverbread were delicious but the onion overpowered the seaweed. Even better was an additional topping of soured cream and lumpfish caviar which went on after the baking but I hadn’t allowed enough room and it would have been best on it’s own.
I also made a sort of mini baguette. About 80g dough rolled out into a thin circle, smeared with laverbread, rolled up into a tight cigar and proved for a couple of hours. This actually worked best in terms of the ratio of laverbread and bread and it looked good with the filling showing through the slashes. I’m wondering about making a longer, slightly thicker cylinder by pressing out a long rectangle of dough, lets say only four inches deep, spreading on larverbread, rolling it up tight and cutting it into short lengths before proving and baking.
Also, there’s loads of scope for canapes using 40g bialys using combinations of lumpfish caviar, soured cream, avocado, smoked salmon, crab, other seafood – even laverbread …