Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Weasel words

<blows dust from keyboard>

Things have been a bit quiet around here. There are a few reasons for this. I was away baking bread (FUN!), then I got ill (NOT FUN!), then we're about to put our flat on the market (POSSIBLY EXCITING, BUT NOT EXACTLY FUN EITHER!), and then whatever I got ill with wouldn't go away (STILL NOT FUN!). Still, I think I'm on the mend now, and the hols start tomorrow and I have just about got to the bottom of the very long list of 'things that need painting before the photographer comes'. So, things are looking up.

However, the illness, and the painting, and the appalling weather mean I have spent an inordinate amount of time in the company of my computer lately. The end result is that I am officially Bored of the Internet. Yep. I've had my fill of it. Specifically I am bored of two words. Every time I click on a blog post or a website related to baking, or cafes, or restaurants, or flour millers or, frankly, anything, I read one, or both of these words. Or that's what it seems like. I realise that I may be about to alienate the entire population of Twitter but here we go. I do it because I care about words and how we use them, because that's what I get paid to do when I'm not brandishing the polyfilla.

Please note that I do not say 'I care passionately about words'.  And there you have word number one. Passionate. Everybody is passionate about everything at the moment. Passionate about customer service, passionate about baked goods, passionate about being passionate about things. My tipping point came when I was driving home the other day and passed a newly-opened funeral parlour near our home, which describes itself as 'professional, passionate, personal' in 3-feet high letters on its shop front. Now, I don't know about you, but I find something slightly alarming in the notion of a passionate funeral director. I think that 'dispassionate' is more what I'd be looking for, myself. I turn to my trusty Collins English Dictionary and find the following:

passionate adj
1.  manifesting or exhibiting intense sexual feeling or desire
2. capable of, revealing, or characterized by intense emotion
3. easily roused to anger; quick-tempered

So, any which way, it's not really looking good for your funeral plans, is it?

This same funeral director, I notice, offers the option of wicker caskets for the deceased, and I can't help wondering how long it will be before they start to advertise these as 'artisan caskets'. For there we have word number two. Artisan. Everyone who makes anything now seems to be an artisan. Technically, I suppose they are (CED: artisan (n) a skilled workman; craftsman), but the overuse of the word seems to me to be rendering it more or less meaningless. I imagine it's supposed to conjure up an image of some horny-handed son/daughter of toil labouring for hours over his/her lathe/wood-fired oven/embroidery hoop. I don't know. My inner voice just silently screams "home-made!" or "expensive!"'. For me, there's a difference between an artisan baker, someone who's done their time in a bakery learning their craft, and someone who is just good at making cakes or bread, even if they take ages to make it. I have read recently of 'artisan fudge', 'artisan hairdressers' and 'artisan seaweed'. What on earth is 'artisan seaweed'? And as for 'artisan hairdressers', the mind boggles. And for a positively Orwellian take on the word, may I offer you the Dominos Artisan Pizza? Yes, you read that right. The Dominos Artisan Pizza. Google it if you don't believe me.

I swear I'm going to start a picture gallery on the blog of the best ones.

So, when I start my own business, I shall be neither passionate nor artisan. I will try not to be uninterested and amateurish either, you understand, but I hope that my hypothetical customers would take that as a given.

What do you think? Am I just being unreasonably grumpy on account of the never-ending winter, or should these words be summarily despatched to the place where pan-fried blue-sky thinking is so the new black?

Thursday, 21 March 2013

A bowl-a granola

My kids love granola. But, being kids, and siblings, they don't ever love the same granola. Oldest breakfastboy likes his with raisins; youngest breakfastboy, who loves raisins, has nevertheless decided that he doesn't like his with raisins, but with what he calls 'super berries', in other words freeze-dried red fruit - raspberries, redcurrants etc.  The supermarket shelves are positively heaving with variants on the granola theme - with fruit, with seeds, with red fruit, with tropical fruit, you name it, so it seems that the great British public is in love with those oaty clusters. I'm actually unconvinced of the real health benefits of most of it - it always seems very sweet to me, but I figure that the oats and the fruit and so on are at least healthier than a bowl of Frosties.

I sometimes make my own granola - it's actually dead easy to make an oaty granola base, and you can then add whatever fruit you fancy to satisfy the whims of your own contrary family. For years I've been using Nigella Lawson's 'Fairfield Granola' recipe from Feast, but if you look at the recipe you can see that there is syrup and sugar and honey in it, and I must say that I've always used ready-made apple sauce too, rather than making my own, which means more sugar. So, I was delighted to see Deb Perelman's granola recipe in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. She uses way less sugary stuff in hers, and indeed, when you make it, you don't really notice the difference. Now, dried cherries and walnuts are not our favourites, and so I decided to fiddle about a bit with the original. That's the joy of granola - as long as you keep the wet:dry:fruit ratio more or less the same, and stick with more or less the same quantity of oats, you can use whatever you have to use up, or whatever you like to eat in yours to make it. So, here's what I used:

Breakfast lady's granola (inspired by Deb Perelman)

Dry stuff:
240g rolled oats (the jumbo oats work well but it doesn't really matter - the ones in the photo are just regular porridge oats)
50g dessicated coconut
50g roughly chopped pecan nuts
50g sunflower seeds
20g oatbran
2 tbs milled flax seeds (I used a milled mixture of flaxseeds, almonds, brazil nuts and walnuts from Linwoods - you can buy it in Sainsbury's)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Wet stuff:
2 tbs olive oil
140ml golden syrup

Other stuff:
1 large egg white

100g roughly chopped ready-to-eat dates
120g raisins

1. Mix all the dry stuff together in a bowl.
2. Mix in the wet stuff.
3. Beat the egg white with a fork until frothy and mix in. Spread it on a parchment-lined baking tray.
4. Cook in a medium oven (150C) for about 45 minutes to an hour, turning the mixture halfway through.
5. Cool completely in the tray, then mix in the dried fruit and store in an airtight container.

The breakfastboys are in rare accord on this one - 'VERY good'. Praise indeed.

Incidentally, did you kow that you get more health benefits from milled linseed/flax seed than by just sprinkling it in whole? I didn't, until Jane Mason told me on my bread-baking course at the weekend. The tough outer shell means that if you don't use milled, it just passes right on through without releasing all the goodies such as omega-3 into your body. I did notice hulled linseed in Whole Foods Market this morning (imagine that for a job. I sincerely hope they have invented a machine for it) so if you like it a bit more seedy, that might be an option.

Monday, 18 March 2013

New bread angel gets her wings

The blog's been a bit quiet for the last few days. Last week was a frenzy of decorating (ongoing), but the main reason for the radio silence is that I'm just back from a weekend in London, where I was doing a bread-making course with the wonderful Jane Mason of Virtuous Bread and 5 other breadheads. And what a weekend it was. We baked (and ate) squillions of loaves and rolls, kneaded for all we were worth and talked lots about creating a baking business. It was great to meet Jane, who is just inspirational, and to talk to the other people on the course about their ideas and plans.

The moral, dear reader, is that you really must be extremely careful if you proclaim your New Year's Resolutions to the general public. A mere two and a half months ago I just said 'bake more bread', and now look at me, discussing the health and safety regulations and tax implications of running a baking business from home.

I might add that the knitting is going nowhere.

Monday, 11 March 2013

A pudding and a prize

Miraculously, there was a bit of the fig and orange challah left over by Sunday, so I decided to go ahead with that bread and butter pudding I mentioned. And ohmygoodness it was well worth it. I realise that this is not really the place for a pudding recipe, what with it being a breakfast blog and all, but it works so well with the sweet white challah, and I'm all in favour of using up leftover stale bread, so don't want to waste the  opportunity.

I based this on Hugh-Fearnley Whitingtall's recipe in the River Cottage Bread book, but with a few tweaks of my own, not least the challah itself, which replaces the plain white bread in the original recipe. If you aren't up for making a whole loaf of bread just in order to make a pudding, I'd also add that I often make this with day-old hot cross buns, which are obviously, well, one a penny, two a penny, at this time a year (if only...). If you don't have enough leftover bread you can make up the difference with a different loaf (there are actually a few stray bits in this one from a wholemeal loaf, although I wouldn't recommend making the whole pudding with wholemeal bread - with 6 egg yolks and all that cream there's really no way that this could be described as healthy eating)

Challah bread & butter pudding

About 500g-600g day-old challah (see here for the recipe)
300ml double cream
300ml milk
1 vanilla pod
zest of one orange
a handful of raisins
jam for spreading (any flavour - I used blackcurrant, but apricot would be nice, or maybe even marmalade)
6 medium egg yolks (freeze the whites and use them for meringues of something later)
150g caster sugar
demerara sugar to sprinkle

Oven 170C

1. Butter a shallowish casserole. Slice the bread and cut it into triangles or (if the bread isn't square) into squares. No need to be too anxious about the size etc. Butter each slice and then spread a very thin smear of jam on each and arrange in the casserole with one slice in front of another, a bit like in a toast rack, only leaning on each other. Don't go mad with the jam - the custard is already quite sweet. Poke any last wee bits of bread in where you have space. Put the raisins in between the slices as you go, trying to make sure that they don't remain too close to the surface where they are likely to burn during cooking.

2. Put the cream and milk in a pan. Split the vanilla pod and scrape in the seeds, then add the empty pod and bring to just boiling. Remove from the heat and leave for 10 minutes then remove the vanilla pod and grate in the orange zest.

3. In a large bowl or jug whisk the caster sugar and egg yolks together briefly. Then pour the hot milk mixture into this, whisking all the time. Pour this custard over the bread, making sure that it soaks each piece. You should have a few bread peaks sticking up through the custard sea. Tuck in any stray raisins that are above the surface. Leave the whole thing to soak up the custard for 20 mins or so. Boil a kettle.

4. Sprinkle the demerara sugar over the top of the pudding. Put the casserole into a large roasting tin and carefully pour in some boiling water until it comes about half way up the side of the casserole. It's easiest to pour the water in once the tin is in the oven!

5. Cook for 20-25 minutes until the custard is just set.

6. Serve warm. But it's also very good cold the next day. Leftovers of the leftovers.

7. Start diet the next day.

In other news, I found out today that the two jars of marmalade I entered in the World's Original Marmalade Awards have both won awards! The pink grapefruit got a bronze and my orange marmalade got a silver award in the 'dark and chunky' category. I'm chuffed to bits, especially with the silver, which got 19/20. Tis was the first time I'd entered. Needless to say, I'm already thinking about how I can go one better in 2014!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

A fig roll for my Jewish Vikings

Wikinger.jpg(222 × 337 pixels, file size: 45 KB, MIME type: image/jpeg)

I found the breakfastboys in the hall this morning doing battle with a toy guitar and a plastic sword.'It's OK, mummy, we're fighting because we're Jewish Vikings' they informed me, before parrying off down the hallway and round the corner. My roots are in the West Highlands and the North East of Scotland, and my name suggests my roots are quite likely to be with the Vikings. In fact, if you saw the oldest breakfastboy you'd probably put money on it. Apparently though, just about everyone with vaguely Scandinavian looks likes to think they are a Viking, and people are always terribly disappointed when their DNA tests inform them that they are in fact not Vikings at all. So, who knows. Meanwhile, MrB's gang on his mum's side are Eastern European Jews. So, for my little Jewish Vikings, I decided to make some Challah with a twist (don't worry, it's not herring, not even soused herring) - my first attempt at a plaited bread. Also my first attempt at Challah.

Challah (or Chollah, or Hallah) is a celebration bread, and that seemed apt, as it was International Women's Day, so what better way to celebrate MrB's female line than a loaf of sweet honeyed and egged bread to tear apart and share. The plaits represent love, with all those entwined arms, so it's also perfect to eat with your loved ones. Say on Mothers' Day. Say.

So, to the twist. I saw this recipe in Deb Perelman's Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. You may know her blog about cooking in her New York kitchen, and now her cookbook is out in the UK. I've already made a couple of things from it and so far, they've all been hits.The black bean ragout smelled gorgeous all day as it was cooking in the slow cooker. I presented it to the breakfastboys with some trepidation - you know, vegetables, black, etc etc, but the eldest at least wolfed it down and even smallest BB managed a few mouthfuls.

Anyway, this is a challah whose ropes are filled with a paste made from figs and oranges. Not being Jewish myself, I have no qualms about messing with the traditional challah, and I love any kind of fruity bread. The orangy figginess is a real winner here. The link above will take you to the recipe on the blog. I was a bit anxious about the plaiting, but it wasn't nearly as hard as it looked in the pictures, and the fact that I managed to tear a couple of the ropes a bit didn't lead to major disaster either.

Although figs are most definitnely not a Viking kinda fruit (although apparently they got as far south as North Africa in their roamings, so perhaps they were partial to a fig or two), the act of rolling the paste into the bread dough put me in mind of those fig roll biscuits that we ate as kids. Yum. I managed to squash it a bit by turning it upside down in the oven at the end to make sure the bottom was cooked, so the plaits are not as impressive as they were when it went into the oven. But I'm still pleased with the result. It smells divine and tastes great too.

The figgy paste could be used in lots of other things I think - buns and possibly biscuits of some sort - the recollection of fig roll biscuits makes me wonder about some sort of figgy shortbready thing. Will have to put my thinking cap on.

Deb Perelman says that any leftovers make great French toast, but I'm thinking that a suitably Viking (or at least British) take on that might be to use the leftovers to make a bread and butter pudding. What do you think? Orangy, figgy, bread and butter pud with a nice creamy custard, perhaps with a hint of orange too. What's not to like there? That will of course, require us to not eat the whole lot before I get to that point, so don't hold your breath. I'll be back with a recipe if I get that far...

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

A community bakery

We decided on a whim (or a sugar-crazed rush from the cinnamon buns possibly) to take ourselves over to The Whitmuir Organics cafe near West Linton for lunch and a trot in the hills at the weekend. It's based on an organic farm in the Borders, whose aim is to become a proper community farm for the local area. We had a few reasons for schlepping over there, but among them was my desire to see a community bakery in action. Bakery hours being what they are, much of the 'action' in the Breadshare Bakery was over by the time we stumbled in at lunchtime, but after a really good lunch in the cafe (creamy mushrooms on toast for MrB, falafel burger with potato salad for me, and two big mugs of soup for the breakfastboys), and a pootle round the farm shop, I was taken over to the bakery to meet the bakers.

I think I've mentioned before that one of the things I've noticed since starting this blog is what a lovely bunch of people bakers seem to be, and the people at Breadshare were no exception. We had a wee chat about bread and community baking, and they showed me their mixers and ovens, and sent me away with a very fine caraway rye bread, which I've been eating with cream cheese and pickled gherkins - mmmm. I also got a sneak preview of their new oatcakes. I won't tell you the secret ingredient, as I'm sure they'll be launching them with a splash in a couple of weeks, but if you're near Edinburgh, do drop in or go to one of the farmers' markets they visit for lovely bread or oatcakes with a twist soon. Their aims are very worthwhile and it would be great to see more businesses like this in local communities.

I do have some concerns over how community baking works in practice - is it just another source of luxury bread to middle-class people who have enough money to afford a £1.50 loaf and ignore the 50p loaf of sliced Chorleywood bread in the supermarket? To me, £1.50 doesn't seem like much, but I know that I'm lucky in that respect. How can these bakeries ensure that their stated aim of bringing real bread to people who need it (ie people who are, for economic reasons, bulking out their meals with cheap bread) is met? For years supermarkets have kept the cost of food artificially low, and we are now seeing the results of that in the form of horsemeat and goodness knows what else in processed food. However, acknowledging this fact is not at all the same as solving the problem, because of course if we all had to pay the 'real' cost of decent food, then the poor would merely be poorer, and more numerous. Is the only answer for people to grow their own/bake their own food? And how is that possible in a society where people are being 'encouraged' back to work in poorly-paid jobs, or indeed being forced to work for nothing in government schemes or internships? Looking after a productive garden, and baking bread takes time that many people simply don't have (assuming they actually have access to a garden in the first place). We seem to have created a dysfunctional society in which we are unable to feed ourselves properly at a reasonable cost, and the consequences of that are potentially disastrous. I don't have the answers to these questions, but they are worth pondering, I think.

On a brighter note, we had a walk through the farm afterwards, in the company of of the farm sheepdog, seeing the e.nor.mous brown pigs, the field of gorgeous hens scratching about like truly happy chappies, and the polytunnels full of good things. And the view from the top of the hill, out across the Pentlands, to Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh and right across the Firth of Forth to Fife was stupendous on a lovely spring day.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

A bun in the oven

My new year's resolution to bake more bread has got a little out of hand. I've made four loaves this week - a wholemeal loaf, a raisin loaf, a spelt loaf and a beer barm loaf. Unfortunately, the problem with home baked bread is that it is so darned good that you just go and eat it all. And once you get the hang of fitting the timings into your day, and figure out how to time things so that you can bake something reallyverygood on a Friday night in order to eat something reallyverygood for breakfast on a Saturday, well, it's also very easy to find yourself sitting in a supermarket cafe with a cup of coffee and a fairly meh cinnamon bun, thinking 'You know what J Sainsbury? I could make a much nicer cinnamon bun than this'.

And so here I am on a Friday evening with a batch of dough proving in the bread machine, and a bowl of cinnamon bun filling in the kitchen and a pan of sugary glaze on the hob, and really things are not looking too good for my waistline tomorrow. They are, however, looking extremely promising for breakfast.

I've used Jane Mason's recipe from All you Knead is Bread. She's also given the recipe on the Virtuous bread website, but I do recommend the book. I've made a few things from it already, including the Russian Rye loaf that I blogged about a few weeks ago. I like this book a lot - it's very straightforward, and handily gives instructions in each recipe for instant yeast, and fresh yeast and whatever the other kind of yeast is called that comes in little balls, so that I can use fresh yeast if I'm feeling brave and instant yeast if I'm feeling lazy (today).

I won't regurgitate the recipe here - I've linked to it above, but it's dead easy, especially if you cheat like me and let the breadmaker rustle up the dough for you while you devote some quality time to your children. And yes, I do realise that really good quality time with my children would actually involve getting them to help me make the buns, but y'know, it's Friday, they were a bit tired and cranky, and I quite fancied a quiet evening pottering in the kitchen. So. A bit of rolling:

 a bit of of dipping:

and a bit of proving and baking. And a whole heap of Mmmmmm. Though mine do seem to have rather more glaze on them than the picture in the book suggests, even though I didn't use more than about 2/3 of the glaze mixture. MrB couldn't wait until breakfast when he saw them, and went for the late-night snack option. He has deemed them 'really good', praise indeed from Mr Power Shake himself.

There is something about a swirly bun that's very appealing. Chelsea buns full of plump raisins and spices, cinnamon buns full of...well...cinnamon, and possibly later this week the rather tasty looking cheese twirly buns in Deb Perelman's Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. I love the way the buns snuggle together hunker-munker in the tin and puff up against each other. And the way that you can untwirl them to eat them. And obviously the fact that a bready thing filled with a fruity thing, or a spicy thing or a cheesy thing is almost always a fine thing.

You will gather from this post that the news that Ms Mason is currently writing a whole book about buns has been warmly welcomed in the breakfasthouse.