This week has left me, like many I think, not quite so sure that I have any understanding of the world – or other people for that matter. Quite disconcerting, isn’t it? Guess where I head at times like this when a little comfort and certainty is needed…

The first frosts mean a lack of family volunteers to let the chickens out in the morning. I do like the bright morning sunshine and crunchy grass so although I might moan that it is always me doing that job, I secretly enjoy it. It might come from having Norwegian blood or just a lack of feeling, not sure. Coming indoors on a cold day when something has been baking is something special. I’m not the only thing that appreciates the cold. Parsnips need it to convert their starch into sugar. When they are left in the ground over winter, they will taste sweeter and more pleasant – one of the reasons why it is so popular as a weaning food.

This recipe is best baked in a buttered and lightly floured Pullman tin. The lid makes it into a sandwich loaf and the heavy gauge of the pan protects it from burning as it has a relatively high sugar content due to the parsnip and the sugar in the ingredients.

I love the combination of the orange zest and BakeryBits’s potent orange extract. Tempting as it might be to not use this extract, believe me the added essential oil really makes this loaf sing with aroma (it is really strong, using 2000 orange peels to make just 1 litre!). You could substitute the sugar with honey if you wanted to, but don’t replace the date syrup - it is wonderful stuff. It adds a malty flavour that works really well with the nuttiness of the pumpkin seeds and the sweet orange.

Using vegetables in baking is nothing new and parsnips in particular are useful to give a crisp texture, nutty flavour and extra sweetness once they have been frosted. They really do add a layer of great flavour when baked into this loaf and the extra sugar gives a caramelised crust. Other vegetables good in baking of course include carrots but did you know that beetroot is very good with chocolate and courgettes and makes good cakes? This bread toasts well as it’s quite sweet – so browns nicely: marmalade or mature cheddar would be handsome partners. Alternatively try toasting a thick slice and top with a poached egg with some ham. If you add some hollandaise sauce you have a kind of egg benedict, perfect for brunch or breakfast.

Vanessa Kimbell runs the Sourdough School, Northampton




You can either use a stand mixer or mix by hand. Place the flour into the mixing bowl.

Mix the fresh yeast with the milk and whisk together to dissolve the yeast, add to the flour along with the date syrup, sugar, salt, egg, orange zest and juice plus the orange essence.

Bring the ingredients together and then work in the machine with a dough hook for around 6 - 8 minutes on a low speed until nice and elastic, or knead by hand for 4 minutes then rest for two, knead another 4, rest for 2 and knead for 2 further minutes.

Work the butter into the dough then add the parsnips along with the sunflower seeds either by hand or using your machine on a slow speed.

Take the dough from the bowl, form into a neat ball and place back into the bowl which has been rubbed with a little vegetable or olive oil. Prove for 60-90 minutes or until the dough is just under doubled in size. (When you press the dough gently with your finger it will spring back very gently when the dough is ready).

Set your oven to 180°C / 350F / gas mark 4.

Prepare a Pullman tin (10cmx23cm) by rubbing all over with butter and dusting with small amount of flour. Don’t forget to do the same to the lid.

Using your dough scraper scoop the dough from the bowl and place it into the prepared tin pressing down to even it out then prove with the cover on for 40 minutes.

Bake on the centre shelf of the oven for 35-40 minutes.

Using oven gloves, test to see if the loaf is baked by removing the lid then tip the loaf out of the tin and tap the base. A hollow sound indicates that it is baked - if not then return it to the tin and bake few more minutes.

This bread will keep for 2-3 days if kept in your bread bag.

500g Gilchester organic strong white flour
10g Bioreal organic fresh yeast
200g Whole milk (20°C)
50g Date Syrup
50g Caster Sugar
10g Super-fine Himalayan salt
1 Large egg
1 Zest of a fresh orange plus the juice
3g Arancio extra calabria orange essence
50g Unsalted butter at room temperature
100g Grated fresh parsnips
50g Pumpkin seeds

Mixing bowl
dough whisk or mixer
Pullman Tin
Plastic Scraper

featured products

Bioreal Organic Fresh Yeast | £1.00

Excellent organic fresh organic yeast in a 42g cube or 1kg block, additive and GMO-free, use directly in place of the non-organic equivalent.

Natural Date Syrup | £2.47

Date syrup is a richly flavoured concentrate containing no additives or preservatives. Use as a direct replacement for sugar in your home bakes.

Arancio orange essence | £7.00

Here the essential oil of sweet oranges gives an intense sweet boost to any cakes, sweets and desserts that contain orange zest or candied peel. Paired with dark chocolate, mixed with fruit mincemeat, or added to water icing brushed over warm muffins.

Do you have a sourdough question for Vanessa? Send it to us and the best ones will appear in our next postbag edition and receive a dough whisk.

The Rare Charity auction

The Rare Charity auction is live and there is an exclusive opportunity to win a day with one of the world's very best bakers. Richard Hart, head baker at Tartine, San Francisco (see T&Cs). It's a wonderful charity...and a day with Richard Hart is about as cool as baking sourdough gets.

The Sourdough School has a new course...

Want a more open ear? Bigger holes? Moister crumb? A new course especially for bakers who want to improve their sourdough - this higher hydration course is for advanced sourdough bakers only. It is being taught by Adam Pagor, a baker that Vanessa considers to be producing some of the very best sourdough bread in the UK right now. Spaces are limited, and going fast...

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