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Fancy November 21, 2010

Filed under: Bad baking — titchandboofer @ 9:43 am
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Three easy steps to make your own super fancy breadcrumbs:

1. Waft around the kitchen in a happy haze, thinking ‘Oh how glorious! The sun is shining, the small person is sleeping, I will make bread, lovely lovely bread, full of lovely lovely seeds and chia and things!’ Devotedly tend to the yeast, feeding it with honey and warm water, delighting in it foaming up. Toss flour with seeds, stirring distractedly while you watch one of your chickens try to remember how to get out of the hen house (seriously, every few weeks it’s like Betty short-circuits – she can get stuck on the balcony for hours, peering over the edge and skittering away from the ramp like it’s on fire). Knead, rise, beat down, knead, rise, bake.

2. Contemplate your two loaves of freshly baked bread with a great sense of virtue. Enthusiastically offer warm bread to your beloved as reviving afternoon snack. ‘I am domestic queen! I am nurturing my family with wholemeal goodness!’ Butter your own slice of warm bread. Bite into it. Think to yourself ‘Damn. Damn damn bloody buggery damn. Forgot the salt.’ Contemplate your two loaves of fairly tasteless bread with a great sense of disappointment. Decide you will tough it out and eat it as toast, slathered with salty peanut butter. Be really determined not to waste the fruit of your labours.

3. One day later, decide that you cannot eat such bland toast. Not even at six in the morning. Not even hurriedly. Not even in the car on the way to work. Not even with nutella. Using your tiny food processor, turn the whole lot into breadcrumbs.

We’re going to be eating a whole lot of schnitzel.

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Flash forward October 9, 2010

Filed under: Beautiful baking,Just bread,Parenting — titchandboofer @ 11:24 am
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One of the great things about having friends with children older than the small person is that we get a preview of what phases and stages kids can go through before we hit them ourselves. Some I’m looking forward to, like the learning to talk bit. Others, like heartstopping need to scale every giant tree, fence and rooftop, not so much. 

Today I discovered another perk to this friends with older children business. Today was the first netball game for one of the LMF’s daughters and the beloved, small and I went along to cheer her on. The sun was shining down, the courts were packed with six year olds in oversize t-shirts and scary women with whistles, we had coffee, we had croissants and it was glorious. Well, it was glorious, for the full three minutes of coffee-clutching, croissant-munching sunbaking we had before the first whistle. Then the shrieking started.

M! FIND A SPACE! RUN TO A SPACE!

STAY ON YOUR PLAYER! STAY WITH THE ONE THAT SAYS GA!

MOVE! MOVE MOVE MOVE! DON’T STEP! DON’T STEP!

sotto voce….if I was coaching, they’d be a well oiled machine

GO M, GO! THE OTHER WAY!

STAY ON YOUR PLAYER! ARMS UP!!! DEFEND!!!!!

Not one of the parents. No. That was the beloved. Who, up until now has been keeping her netballing expertise completely to herself. Just a little glimpse of the future parent.

Anyway. None of that has anything to do with fruit loaf.

Sort of Jamie Oliver’s Fruit Loaf

30 grams of dried yeast

30 grams of honey

~700 mls of warm water

500 grams of strong white bread flour

500 grams of wholemeal spelt flour

30 grams of salt

1/2 a teaspoon of cinnamon

150 grams of dried dates

200 grams of dried apricots

150 grams of sultanas

Combine the yeast and honey with 300mls of the warm water in a small bowl. Stir well and set aside while you chop the dried fruit and prepare the flour – it will grow right in front of your eyes, foaming up to the bowl’s brim.

Mix the flours, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl.

Add the yeast mixture and stir to combine.

Continue stirring, adding the remaining water until the mixture holds together. You may need a little more or a little less water depending on the particular flour you use.

Add the chopped dried fruit and stir to incorporate.

Dust your benchtop with flour. Turn the dough onto the bench and knead.

Knead for 5-10 minutes, until the dough is pliable and not too sticky.

Separate into two portions.

Butter two large bowls and put one portion in each bowl. Leave to rise in a warm place for about 2 hours. I put each bowl in a plastic bag with a hot heat pack and tie up the bag. This rises the dough beautifully in about 1 hour. The Nanna used to put her dough in bed with an electric blanket on and, if it’s sunny, SF will put hers in the car. Whatever takes your fancy and gets the job done.

Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down to knock the air out, knead lightly for a minute or so, then put it into your tins (or on a tray for a freeform loaf) to rise again.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees celsius (180 fan forced).

When the dough has risen again bake for 30-40 minutes. To test if it’s cooked, turn out of the tin and knock on the base of the loaf – it should sound hollow. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

For a glossy, sticky finish, brush the still hot loaves with honey.

Slice, slather generously with butter and eat. Yum.

 

Synchronicity August 10, 2010

Filed under: Beautiful baking — titchandboofer @ 12:59 pm
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I have a dream job. I don’t mean my current job, although it can have its dreamy moments. I mean the job I dream of doing if I wasn’t utterly compelled to be a midwife anymore. My dream is to be a librarian. Not an actual librarian obviously. I think there’s a degree involved for that and quite a lot more work than the role I picture myself in. In my dream library there are lamplit corners with worn and cosy armchairs, tea in real cups and saucers, enthusiastic children to be read to, dark wooden shelves, a big stamp to mark the return date inside the back cover of books, and I just have to waft about doing the odd bit of reshelving in between dipping into old Fay Weldon novels and comparing cake recipes with the regulars.

Our local library doesn’t quite match up with this, but it’s still a good place to go and hang out with the small person. It’s light and welcoming. The librarians have kindly waived late fees when I’ve staggered in clutching a small baby and looking confused about how I could need to pay more in late fees than it would have cost to buy the three books that have sat in the footwell of the car for four months. Then, despite me having held their books hostage, they notice which series of books I am reading and offer to put the sequels on hold (I know – what service!). There are armchairs (sadly not old squashy leather – more utilitarian, washable polyester in bright primary colours) to sit and breastfeed or read to the small person. There are conveniently low bookshelves for the same small person to rearrange as he scoots around on his belly, waiting for his mother to finish reading or chatting or searching for a book, the title and author of which are escaping her entirely. And there are the books. The only downside is that they have to be returned. Eventually.

My most recent visit was with my LMF and her two daughters. M, the six year-old, is a new convert to the delights of the library. This was cemented further when one of the librarians told her that she could borrow as many books as she wanted!!! Most of our time was spent finding a pile of borrowed delight for our children, but I did scoot through the cooking section and borrow a couple of appropriately wintery books to spill ingredients in.

Michel Roux’s eggs is excellent. I have been drooling at the possibilities: vanilla eggs with caramel and brioche; pear and cinnamon omelette; profiteroles crammed full of coffee and drambuie pastry cream; earl grey tea ice-cream; chocolate truffle cake on a genoese sponge base. However, with birthday cakes to make and projected egg laying at a low due to short days and rain, practicality wins. I cannot spare ten whole eggs for a choux pastry and coffee concoction, at least not just yet.

The Two Fat Ladies are a different story. If I had my own dairy cow she would be in trouble, but luckily all my double cream and butter needs are met by the supermarket. Do you remember the Two Fat Ladies? Zooming around the UK, one perched atop a motorbike and the other crammed into the sidecar. Combining local produce with an overflowing cupful of double cream in every county. Sniggering at things like margarine, dieting and the banning of British beef on the bone. Brilliant. This is their fourth book and is divided into sections based on the featured ingredient (Chapter 8-Parsley, Chapter 11-Snails and so on). Some sections I wouldn’t leap to (Chapter 21-Tripe anyone?) but Chapters 24 through 34 -Lamb, Figs, Coffee, Chocolate and Butter to name a few – yes please.

It was a tough call to pick between dishes so intriguingly named: Chocolate Pye, Snow Cream, Brazo Gitano and Barm Brack. Happily I am also in the middle of a novel (The Extra Large Medium by Helen Slavin, not bad) and just this morning the main character launched into a soliloquy about her mother’s Barm Brack. How’s the synchronicity?

Barm Brack

Barm Brack is a bread in the same sense that banana bread is a bread. It is cake masquerading as breakfast food. I love its name. It sounds like something you should eat on a winter’s afternoon when you’ve spent the morning tramping across rainy fields. Or just tramping across a rainy back yard to the hen house.

175 grams of soft brown sugar

300 grams of dried fruit – I used dates

55 grams of chopped mixed peel (didn’t have any, so I used dried apricots)

600 mls of freshly made tea (I used Lady Grey leaf tea, 3 teaspoons – you could substitute any black tea that you fancy)

1 egg, beaten

55 grams of unsalted butter at room temperature, chopped up quite small

350 grams of wholemeal flour

1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon of mixed spice

#Alert: you will need to start this a good half a day before you want to eat it #

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius (170 degrees fan forced).

Grease and line a 1kg loaf tin (bit bigger or a bit smaller – not an issue, just adjust your cooking time accordingly)

Put the sugar and dried fruit into a large bowl and pour on the strained tea (the Two Fat Ladies suggest cooling the tea first, but the Extra Large Medium swore by using it hot, so I did). Cover the bowl and leave to stand for at least six hours.

Add the beaten egg and softened butter to the fruit mixture and stir thoroughly.

Sift in the flour, bicarb soda and spice. Stir enthusiastically by hand until all the ingredients are well combined. The mixture will be slightly lumpy and thick enough to stand your wooden spoon up in.

Put the mixture into your loaf tin.

Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, depending on your oven. Check on it partway through and cover with foil if the top is getting too brown. It is done when it is well risen and firmly springy to touch.

Turn onto a wire rack to cool.

Dense, moist, a bit sticky and heady with the flavour of bergamot from the tea. Slice it up and eat it slathered with butter. Or, in true Two Fat Lady style, with a heavy dollop of double cream. Then have some more. Then have a bit for breakfast the next day, toasted, with lots of lovely butter.

 

Nothing Fancy July 28, 2010

Filed under: Just bread — titchandboofer @ 3:50 am
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Once upon a time I lived in a glorious share-house, with beautiful blankets for curtains and only a few weeds growing through the floor. I shared with two girls and when we weren’t occupied with weeding the floor or breaking the bathroom fixtures, we had a great time guzzling red wine and fitting in a bit of study. It was during this time that my almost-compatible interests in DIY and gardening began. The DIY was essential for jobs like repairing the garage door  with old vertical blind pieces (after I broke it with my motorbike) and sticking down kitchen floor tiles with excessive grout (I didn’t break those, I suspect they were running away). The gardening was mainly for fun and survival – if the grass stayed short we could play cricket and we couldn’t lose drunk friends down the bottom of the substantial block. Being poor students, we were in possession of a motley collection of tools, including a very useful hammer and the world’s smallest electric whipper snipper. We did not have a lawn mower. So, the only thing to do was find someone to mow for us. As luck would have it, not long after we made this decision a harassed and muddy  lawnmowing man materialised on a neighbour’s front lawn. I dragged him round to our back yard so he could give us a quote for a regular mowing gig. He glared hard at the large block and the overgrown driveway, muttering to himself. Reluctantly, after a few minutes, he said “I can do it for twenty bucks, but I won’t do nothing fancy”. Deal.

Just like his mowing, this bread is nothing fancy. It is white, medium sized, soft in the middle, crunchy on the outside when just baked and simply tasty. Even small children only accustomed to eating wonder-soft-sliced-in-a-packet bread will eat this. Originally a Domestic Goddess Nigella recipe, I’ve tweaked it slightly.

Just White Bread

500 grams of bread flour

8 grams of dried yeast (1 7g sachet will also work fine)

1 tablespoon of rock salt

~350 mls of very warm water

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter at room temperature

Bread tin optional – you can just make a loafy shape and bake it on a tray

Preheat oven to 200 deg Celsius

In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast and salt. Add about 250mls of the water and mix thoroughly. Add more water as needed to bring the dough together until it looks like:

Tip onto your lightly floured bench top, add the butter in little blobs and knead. This will take 5-10 minutes, depending on your individual style. I love this bit, but I also sing the praises of laundering cloth nappies and knitting socks, so if it’s not your thing just use the dough hook on your mixer and judge by appearance rather than feel. When the dough has been kneaded enough it will be smooth, springy and only slightly sticky. Put the dough into a large, buttered bowl (I just wash out and reuse the original bowl), turning once so the upper surface has a sheen of butter. Leave to rise. at this point you have a choice – put the bowl in a warm place for about two hours, until the dough has doubled in size; leave it overnight; or use my mum’s quick-rise trick like I do. This involves putting a hot heat pack in the bottom of a plastic bag, resting your bowl on the heat pack and tying up the bag on top. This will get your dough risen in about one hour.


Next, the fun part: knock back the dough. Yes, actually punch it down. Then put it back onto your lightly floured bench and give it a brief knead. Shape it or put it in your tin. Cover loosely with a clean tea towel. Leave to rise again for an hour or so.

Then bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on your oven. Ours is fan-forced and quite quick. To test for readiness, tip it out of the tin and knock on the bottom of the loaf – it should sound hollow. Slather the hot bread in butter, or dip it in soup, or weigh it down with scrambled egg and freshly picked parsley, or sandwich baby spinach, goat’s cheese and beetroot between its slices, or just toast it for breakfast and enjoy with a big hot mug of earl grey tea.

Like so – with home-made plum jam… a recipe for another season.