Last week, I mentioned my need for a few little calming rituals, like my coconut chai tea. My brain is particularly whizzy at the moment (hence, I went to my first yoga class this week – and loved it), and if I’m up really early, I quite like to go downstairs, say hi to the dog and have a little potter in the kitchen. At the moment I’m a bit obsessed with baking bread – I tend to bake two loaves at a time, using my standard, lazy recipe (which doesn’t involve any kneading at all). I’ve mentioned before that rye is really good for you – I don’t make 100% rye bread, which we find too strong, but when mixed with white flour, this is our absolute favourite. Another bonus of home made bread is that it lasts ages when compared to shop bought, which seems to go mouldy very quickly. This particular recipe has rosemary added, which is surprisingly delicious. Here’s how to do it:
I love pottering about in the kitchen; I find stirring, chopping, rolling and mixing completely therapeutic – that kind of mindless manual labour that’s both soothing and uncomplicated (although I mostly do the kneading in the KitchenAid, if I’m honest – I’m far too lazy for that). There’s only one thing that makes pottering nicer, and that’s the chatter of people. One of my favourite evenings is a weekend night when the boys are both home, maybe with friends/girlfriends in tow and we have an impromptu pizza night. I can only fit two at a time in the oven, so there’s a whole pizza production line going on, with people chatting and munching – I love it. My one photograph – snapped before someone grabbed a slice – is completely rubbish (I’ll rephotograph it, I promise) but I wanted you to experience this lovely, fun family evening as soon as possible. Here’s my foolproof, easy home made pizza recipe, that you can jazz up/double up as much as you wish:
I’ve been fiddling around a lot lately with this recipe. The boys have (mostly) been willing testers, although one of the batches tasted ‘kinda like chocolate pizza’, which wasn’t really the result I was aiming for. What I have been aiming for is a really soft white finger roll – you know, like the ones you buy in a bakery, smothered in gooey icing. I think the best ingredient in getting these soft iced buns as light as possible is actually time – they need to rise slowly, then be shaped, then rise slowly again. The perfect rainy-day occupation, then. And there have been quite a few of those recently (although yesterday I made them while the sun was shining and the kitchen door was open – and that’s good too.) Read more
I love this lazy time at home between the hustle and bustle of Christmas, and the excitement of the New Year. We’re lucky, nobody is working and we’re all enjoying spending time at home together, watching films and eating too much chocolate. Yesterday we went to the Royal Albert Hall with my Dad for the Christmas Spectacular. It was wonderfully festive – there was a bit of ballet, a bit of opera and some modern classics like John Williams’ incredible Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Today we’re just pottering at home (see what I did there?). I wanted to share this really lovely, easy recipe with you. It’s a half rye/half strong white flour mix (I find rye a bit overpowering), scented with oranges (or at this time of year, leftover clementines) and sweetened with honey. I think 2017 is the year we’re all going to be embracing our homes and families, simplifying our lives and counting our blessings, and pottering in my beloved kitchen, baking those I love a delicious, home made treat comes high up in my priorities. Here’s how to make my orange and sultana rye bread:
So GBBO is back on our screens tonight and I’m completely over-excited! I LOVE baking (and watching other people baking) and I particularly love making bread, don’t you? It’s the ultimate slow food. I do feel that I’m rather chained to the internet, what with blogging and writing and, well, Instagramming and stuff (I know, it’s totally my own doing), so sometimes it’s just nice to switch off and have a lovely potter in the kitchen. Bread baking can’t be rushed and it forces you to relax and gives you plenty of head clearing time. These easy soft wholemeal rolls are based on my ‘quick and easy soft bread rolls’ recipe, published back in 2010 and since archived. I often get lovely emails from people asking where they went, and keep meaning to update the recipe (and the horrific photography – and the dodgy title – I prefer slow bread to quick bread!) so I made a batch yesterday and feel rather chuffed to be able to have one topped with smashed avo and a poached egg for my breakfast today!
Because I’ve been away quite a bit, I’ve really missed pottering in the kitchen, and the first thing that I wanted to do was bake. Oh wait, that was actually the second – the first was tidy up and put everything back where I like it – but then it was bake. I absolutely adore breadmaking: I love the delicious smell and the sense of achievement (and the fact that this recipe makes two loaves, because the first one gets scoffed instantly). What I don’t like is kneading. This recipe is 100% perfect WITHOUT kneading, and I know, because I make it nearly every day.
This week’s Sunday baking is steering into uncharted territory for me. I make pizza all the time and have a tried and tested dough recipe that always turns out well, so when the lovely chaps at Beko asked if I’d create a pizza for them, I was really happy to give it a go. Turns out, though, that Beko were after something a bit different! They have a sweet pizza recipe page on their website and my challenge was to come up with a new sweet pizza creation.
Sweet pizza you say? CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!
The thing I like most about baking hot cross buns is the smell. That gorgeous, sweet spicy smell that fills the whole house – better than any scented candle, and so comforting. With these hot cross buns I used a packet of dried cherries that I had in the cupboard, but any dried fruit will do; I think cranberries would be delicious. Take your time, because slow rising gives the best results. I’m guilty of rushing up to the airing cupboard every five minutes to see if they’ve risen, but, like bread, they always turn out best when you’ve forgotten the dough and it’s puffed up to glorious proportions.
One of the things I really wanted to do this year was spend more time in the kitchen for fun (as opposed to for work, which I love too, but for different reasons). Baking bread is the ultimate in relaxation – it’s absorbing, but not taxing. I love it. I love having a loaf on the table at dinner times for people to grab a hunk and mop up whatever we’re eating. The boys both adore this bread and serving it up for breakfast seems so much nicer than sticking a couple of slices of bought white sliced in the toaster. I’ve been fiddling with rye recipes recently and I feel like I’ve really cracked it with this easy rye bread. The secret seems to be a really sticky dough, which doesn’t need kneading, followed by a nice, slow rise, both of which coincidentally make this bread really easy to make – the longer you forget it, the nicer it is!
You’ll probably remember that back in the summer, The Organic Trade Board challenged us to take the #thriftyorganic challenge and switch our usual weekly shop for a 100% organic one, all for £83, the average grocery shopping budget for a UK family of four. We ate really well AND stayed on budget, and it made me really think about what we eat, and made me plan our meals properly as well. Eating organic on a budget really is possible!
Sundays for me are all about cooking. It’s my relaxation time and I look forward to it all week: radio on, cup of tea (or several) and a spot of baking is just the best way to spend Sunday morning. Sometimes it’s cookies or brownies, or a dessert for Sunday dinner, but recently I’ve been baking a lot of bread and, although there have been a few disasters, I’m pretty sure that this one is just about perfect.
I’ve been wallying around for ages trying to create a decent gluten free/grain free flatbread. I don’t even know why the obsession started (I think it was when I was cutting down on carbs, so experimenting with coconut flour). I started out with 100% coconut, but the texture isn’t as good and they’re overwhelmingly coconutty (good with curry though, as they’re kind of like Peshwari naan). Anyhoo, the lovely chaps at Steenbergs Organic sent me a range of flours and I’ve been messing about with them. And that’s how these buckwheat and coconut flatbreads came to be.
One of the best things about living in Ireland was the amazing food. I learned so much when we lived there, and of course was spoiled with all the fabulous ingredients: Irish cheeses, butter, beef, lamb… all incredible. I absolutely adore Irish soda bread and still make it all the time. It’s quick to make and requires just a quick mix – no kneading, no yeast and no waiting. Perfect for breakfast (you can make a lovely sweet version by adding sugar, dried fruit and orange zest), or if you’re having soup, you can knock it while the soup cooks. Traditionally you need buttermilk, but I tend to just squeeze the juice of half a lemon into normal milk and give it a quick stir. It thickens up instantly and works the same way.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m terribly wasteful with bananas. Mr English only likes them when they’re green and unripe, and I only like them when they’re perfectly yellow. Once they’ve ‘gone over’ I’m afraid I tend to put them in the food recycling bin. Every so often, though, I do remember to knock up a quick banana bread. I’m afraid I’m not sure where this original recipe came from as it’s ancient and was scribbled on a scrap of paper, but it’s very reliable and incredibly easy. The actual amount of banana doesn’t really seem to matter, but keep it to two or three for best results. Oh and it’s worth adding in the extra teaspoon of baking powder, even though you’re using self raising flour, just because it lightens it up a bit.
100g salted butter
175g light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Splash of milk
225g self raising flour
2 or 3 over-ripe bananas
1 tsp baking powder
Firstly, assemble all your ingredients and preheat the oven to 180/gas 4. I use a re-usable bake-o-glide sheet, but if you haven’t got one, make sure you grease your loaf tin well or use some parchment paper to line it.
Cream the butter and sugar until they’re light and creamy. Whisk the eggs with a fork and pop in the vanilla and the splash of milk, then you can dribble them into the mixture a little at a time, beating well between dribbles (technical term).
I favour a ‘half and half’ method to incorporate all the runny stuff, but feel free to just bung it all in if you’d rather:
So now add about half the flour, give it a beat, then add the bananas, mix again, then the other half of the flour. Don’t forget the baking powder.
Flump the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for about 45 – 50 minutes. A skewer or knife tip pushed into the deepest part should come out clean. If it’s not quite there, give it another five minutes.
This is also really gorgeous toasted for breakfast as well with a smear of butter. Before long, you’ll be willing those bananas to go brown so you can make this again!
I love the time after Christmas when we have a few lazy days before everyone goes back to school and work. We had a quiet New Year with Gary Barlow (not literally, I’m not THAT lucky). Sam’s girlfriend has American parents and had us popping a piece of fruit into our mouths on every bong on the countdown to midnight – I think it’s a Spanish tradition, but it’s hilarious and by the last bong everyone’s cheeks were bulging and we were all drooling and laughing.
We’ve opened some really lovely wine over the festive period. At midnight, we toasted 2014 a delicious Wolf Blass Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir (on spesh at Asda at £5.75 at the moment I notice – SNAP IT UP!). We also opened the front door to let the old year out and the new year in – think that one’s Irish. My own favourite wine of the season was the Cune Crianza Rioja 2010 – an absolute beaut with that hint of vanilla that I seem really drawn to. Again, on spesh at the moment I think.
Mr English is very keen on Pinot Noir. His favourite of the season was the Californian Clos du Bois Pinot Noir (Majestic, £9.99 if you buy two American wines). There’s something herbal about it (which doesn’t sound nice, but is) but it’s still full of really ripe fruit. Yum.
The Big Bro recommended a splash-out Amarone, perfect for Christmas. I’ve got this one on my wish list from Majestic: Amarone Classico ‘Vigneti di Roccolo’ 2010 Cantina Negrar. It’s a pricey one at £23 but comes down to £18 if you buy two fine wines. One for when the coffers have been replenished.
Baking-wise, I’m loving Nigel Slater’s wonderful lazy loaf. It’s a soda bread, but because it’s baked in a cast iron casserole, it develops a wonderful chewy crust. Delicious, and barely 30 minutes to make – with no kneading. I also used up the last of the Christmas clementines with a clementine drizzle cake. Exactly the same as lemon drizzle cake:
Clementine Drizzle Cake
Same weight (about 175g) of caster sugar, butter and self raising flour
Juice and zest of a couple of clementines.
So just weigh the eggs in their shells, then weigh out the rest of the ingredients to the same weight.
Beat the butter until soft, then add in the sugar and beat until light coloured and creamy. Add the zest and juice of the clementines to the eggs and give them a quick whisk with a fork. Add them a dribble at a time to the butter/sugar mix.
Stir in the flour, then dollop the mixture into a buttered cake tin and bake at 180 degrees/gas 4 for about 30 minutes until springy to the touch or until a knife point comes out clean.
Mix the juice of a final clementine with a couple of teaspoons of sugar and drizzle over the warm cake. Delicious.
In pupster news, she’s settling in really well, has made a best friend at puppy classes (a cute and ridiculously soft Vizsla called Ellie) and thinks having everyone at home over Christmas is wonderful!
We love a hot cross bun. Well, some of us do. The Death Wish Dude thinks all things dried fruit are a bit bleurgh. So if you’ve got a dried fruit hater in your family, or if you just fancy something a bit different this Easter, here’s a recipe for some lovely chocolatey hot cross buns.
- 150ml milk
- 150ml water
- Zest of 1 orange
- 50g butter
- 425g strong white bread flour
- 25g good quality cocoa
- 1 tbsp mixed spice
- 1 tsp salt
- 75g sugar
- 1 x 7g sachet dried yeast
- 100g good quality chopped dark chocolate (keep the chunks quite large)
For the cross:
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1 tbsp cocoa
- 1 tsp caster sugar
For the glaze:
- 1 tbsp orange marmalade, rindless or sieved
Before you start, assemble and weigh out your ingredients. This will save you time and prevent things being forgotten.
So in a small saucepan (or jug if you’re doing it in the microwave) warm the milk, water, orange zest (use the finest grater you have) and butter until the butter is just melted, then turn off the heat. Let it cool so that when you stick your finger in, it feels like blood temperature.
While the liquid is cooling, sift the flour, cocoa and ground mixed spice together into a large bowl. Next, stir in the salt, sugar and dried yeast.
If you’ve got a mixer, pop in all the dry ingredients, then set it on low and slowly pour in the milky mixture until the dough comes together (you might not need all of it so go steady), then plug in the dough hook and set it to knead for a good five minutes.
If you’re old-fashionedy or are still waiting to meet the mixer of your dreams (they do actually come out nicer and lighter if you knead them by hand), you’ll have to get to it for at least ten minutes adding the chocolate about half way through.
Because the chocolate is quite escapey, I found that it was best to knead it in the mixer for five minutes, then add the chocolate and knead by hand for a further few minutes. The chocolate just keeps escaping, but poke it back in.
Keep going until the dough is nice and springy and firm (as usual, think the texture of a boob, or possibly a bottom cheek – poke your finger in – if the dough springs back, then it’s done – if not, knead a bit more). Disclaimer: possibly best if you don’t actually do this with people’s boobs.
When your dough is sufficiently springy, leave it covered with a clean tea towel in a warm place until it’s doubled in size. Then, just knock it back with your fist (be careful – I found the chocolate quite jabby!) and cut it in half, then half again and half again. Form each of your 8 pieces into a ball and place them on a floured baking tray. Cover and rise again until they’re puffed up.
If you want to add the cross, then mix about 1 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp cocoa, a tsp of caster sugar and enough water to make into a thick paste and either just dribble it with a teaspoon, or pipe it onto your buns (ooer Missus) with a disposable piping bag. Or, you can cut a cross in the top of the buns and pipe the cross into the little lines. Totally up to you.
Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 180/gas 6 until they sound hollow when patted on the bottom. Finally, when they’re just out of the oven, warm up the marmalade (or apricot jam) with a splash of water and brush it on for extra glossy stickiness (use rindless here – you don’t want bits of peel sticking to your buns). If you’re going to freeze them, slice them in half first so they can go straight in the toaster.
And that’s it. Hide them from your offspring until you’ve scarfed at least two. You deserve it. Oh, and here’s the reason you need to keep the chocolate chunks large. Nomnomnom:
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