Ready for butter and damson jam

Easy no knead no rise Irish soda bread

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.

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Weekend baking: easy step by step banana bread

Banana bread

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.

Banana Bread

100g salted butter
175g light brown sugar
2 eggs
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!

New Year wine, a lazy loaf and a clementine drizzle cake

Nigel Slater's lazy loaf

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

3 eggs

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.

Clementine drizzle cake

 

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!

 

Cute

Step by step spiced chocolate Hot Cross Buns

Spiced chocolate hot cross buns

Spiced chocolate hot cross buns

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.

You’ll need:

  • 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
Chopping chocolate with my new birthday mezzaluna

Chopping chocolate with my new birthday mezzaluna

Step one:

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.

Step two:

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.

Step three:

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.

Step four:

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.

Step five:

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.

Piping on the chocolate cross

Piping on the chocolate cross

Step six:

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:

Oozy chocolate

Oozy chocolate

If you’d rather make spiced orange hot cross buns instead, click here.

Sticky, gooey, plumptious, scrumptious, soft iced buns

I think of all the recipes I’ve ever published, this one has been the most popular.  I made them this morning and was thinking that it’s still one of my most favourite recipes – the buns are just so soft and pillowy, and the topping so delightfully sticky… there’s just nothing better – the ultimate comfort food!

I’ve updated this recipe ever so slightly (doesn’t take much to improve on perfection – I was trying to make the method a bit less waffly, but actually succeeded in putting more waffle in) but hey, the more info you’ve got, the easier it is to do it right? Right?

You will need:

450g strong white bread flour

1 tsp salt

75g caster sugar

1 x 7g sachet dried yeast

150ml milk

150ml water

50g butter

4 or 5 tbsp icing sugar

½ tsp liquid glucose

Sieve the flour into a large bowl, then stir in the salt, sugar, and dried yeast.

In a small saucepan, warm the milk, water, and butter over a low heat until the butter has just melted, then turn off the heat.  The liquid should be at no more than blood temperature ( you know, so it doesn’t feel particularly hot or cold when you pop your finger in, I don’t need you to actually bleed or anything…) when it’s added to the dry ingredients.  You can do this in the microwave, but remove it as soon as the butter starts to melt and stir gently until it’s all combined, otherwise you’ll be waiting for ages for it to be cool enough.

Pour most of the milky mixture into the dry ingredients and stir it around with a knife until you get a light dough.  Leave it as sticky as you can bear as you want your dough plumptiously, pillow-soft.  You can always add a bit of flour.

Now start kneading: with the heel of one hand, press and splurge the dough away from you, (imagine you’re smearing it across the work surface) then bring it back, squish it into a ball again, turn it over and then splurge it again.  As it’s quite a wet dough this is a bit messy, but that all adds to the fun.  Again, if you’re getting really covered, you can always add a bit of extra flour.  As you knead it, it will become more elastic and springy and less squelchy.

When you’ve kneaded for about 5 minutes and your dough is springy and pillowy-soft and looks bizarrely like a nice, round bottom-cheek (I have to add this bit for my friend Snaffles Mummy – its her favourite bit), cover it with clingfilm and leave it in the airing cupboard or somewhere else warm until it’s doubled in size.  Then, just knock it back with your fist and form it into 8 balls.  Either place them on a floured baking tray or arrange them inside a springform cake tin like I did, then cover and rise again until they’re puffed up.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 180/gas 6.  Now while they’re baking make your icing by adding a couple of teeny drops of boiling water to the icing sugar and liquid glucose (optional but it keeps the icing from setting) until you get a thick, gloopy icing.

As soon as they’re out of the oven (they’ll be pale golden and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom) drizzle the icing all over them so it runs down the sides.

Of course, this basic recipe can be jazzed up really easily – I’ve done it with pink, hibiscus icing, I’ve done birthday buns with blue icing and candles… I did black for halloween one year too.

Add a hint of spice, some orange zest and a handful of sultanas and you’re well on the way to hot cross buns, or if you fancy Chelsea buns, after the first rise, roll the dough out, spread it generously with butter, brown sugar and sultanas, maybe a little sprinkle of cinnamon, roll into a sausage and cut into rounds, arrange them flat onto a baking tray, allow to rise and then bake as before.  Just be sure to ram as many into your mouth as you can before anyone else smells them and comes to investigate.

 

Step by step spiced orange hot cross buns

Let’s face it: Easter just isn’t Easter without hot cross buns.

And chocolate.

But mostly hot cross buns.

If you’re feeling a bit daunted by the whole prospect of making your own, don’t be. Let Auntie English Mum guide you through the whole process.  Think of me as a little friend hovering at your shoulder in the kitchen.  Actually don’t.  That’s a bit creepy.

Anyhoo, it’s really easy (with a bit of waiting around), and the gorgeous scent of these spicy orangey wonders fills the whole house.  So let’s get cracking.

You’ll need:

150ml milk

150ml water

Zest of 1 orange

50g butter

450g strong white bread  flour

1 tbsp mixed spice

1 tsp salt

75g sugar

1 x 7g sachet dried yeast

100g sultanas (or mixed peel if you must – bleurgh)

For the cross:

2 tbsp flour

1 tsp caster sugar

For the glaze:

1 tbsp orange marmalade, rindless or sieved

Step one:

Before you start, assemble and weigh out your ingredients.  This will save you time and prevent any flapping half way through the recipe.

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.

Step two:

While the liquid is cooling, sieve the flour and ground mixed spice together into a large bowl.  Next, stir in the salt, sugar, dried yeast and sultanas (have a quick pick over to make sure there are no stalks left).

Step three:

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.  Yes, I know, sorry, but it’s true.  Knead away, holding the dough lightly with one hand while you stretch it away from you with the other, before bringing it together and repeating the process.  The sultanas keep trying to escape, but grab any of the little blighters trying to make a quick getaway and poke them back in. Keep going until the dough is nice and springy and firm (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.

Step four:

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 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.

Step five:

If you want to add the cross, then mix about 2 tbsp flour, 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.

Step six:

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 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.  Congratulations, you are a master bun maker.  Go you!

A healthier blueberry and lemon loaf

So the weekend was somewhat traumatic.  I won’t fill you in on all the events, but needless to say being trapped in a packed train carriage all the way from Shepherds Bush while the three teenagers I was escorting serenaded their fellow commuters with loud renditions of My Horse is Amazing (seriously – don’t bother watching it, it’s that bad) and then being politely told that we were, in fact, accidentally in the first class carriage, shall remain with me for a long time and was one of the lesser traumatising events of the weekend.  Read out of that what you will.

Anyhoo.  In other news, I’m still on the lookout for a lovely breakfasty-type recipe that’s also quite healthy (I know, I know… giving up alcohol and vowing to eat healthily for the whole of January was a BIG HUGE MISTAKE – I have learned both that I could never be teetotal, and that I can’t live without cake) still, it’s nearly over now).  Yesterday I came across possibly one of the prettiest blogs I’ve ever seen: Eat Yourself Skinny.  It turns out that not only is the blog pretty, but the writer, Kelly, is ridiculously pretty as well.

So I thought, well.  If I eat what she eats, surely I’ll wake up looking exactly like her.

Right?

Oh.

Anyhoo, on to the trial and error.  I noticed that lovely Kelly’s blueberry and lemon bread was adapted from  Joy of Baking, so I went back to the original recipe to have a look.  Here’s my version.  I had to change it all from cups, and I decided to use rapeseed oil instead of butter (similar calories, just much better for you).  The result was yummy, although the inside of the cake was a bit too stodgy, presumably because beating the butter and sugar together introduces air into the mixture.  So I say stick with butter (the calories are the same).  I will say, though, that cutting it into the recommended 12 portions proved to be too much of a challenge.  Still, if you do manage it, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s just 159 calories a slice (might be better to cut it into 6 slices, then cut each in half). I also used a sugar substitute to keep the calories down (I know, I know, but honestly you can’t taste the difference).  Lastly, I used a whole punnet of blueberries which is a bit too much.  Stick to 150g.

You will need:

80g butter

6 tbsp granulated sugar substitute (try the new Truvia one – I haven’t been able to get hold of it yet)

2 eggs

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Zest of 1 lemon

225g self raising flour

125ml milk

So preheat the oven to 180/gas 4 and spray a loaf tin with cake release (or butter it very lightly).

Beat the butter in a mixer (or by hand if you’re feeling butch), then add the sugar and beat until the mixture’s really light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, beating between each addition, and then the vanilla extract and lemon zest.

Stir in the flour and then the milk.  Finally, stir in the blueberries

Pop the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for about 50 minutes.  Pop a knife tip into the centre to check that it’s done, otherwise leave for a bit longer.

Allow it to cool before slicing into your minute portions.  It really is surprisingly lush though – and the blueberries make it quite jammy and sticky too.  Top tip: freeze your slices (with a piece of greaseproof paper between each one). Then they’re easy to pop into the toaster for a quick and healthy breakfast.

 

Squishy lemon iced buns with a hibiscus icing

When I was in Dubai, I loved that they used Hibiscus in cooking, and in tea.  It has a flavour – and colour – similar to cranberry – fruity but tart – so when I saw some in the Bastakiya market I nabbed some, feeling that it would be excellent around Christmas time.  Here’s my first Christmassy experiment.  I think it works really well.

450g strong white bread flour

1 tsp salt

75g sugar

1 x 7g sachet dried yeast

150ml milk

150ml water

50g butter

Zest of one lemon

For the icing:

2 tbsp dried hibiscus flowers

4 or 5 tbsp icing sugar

So for the soft iced buns:

Sieve the flour into a large bowl, then stir in the salt, sugar, and dried yeast.  In a small saucepan, warm the milk, butter and lemon zest over a low heat until the butter has just melted, then turn off the heat.  The liquid should be at no more than blood temperature when it’s added to the dry ingredients.

Pour most of the milky mixture into the dry ingredients and stir it around with a knife until you get a light dough.  Leave it as sticky as you can bear as this will make the end result really soft.  You can always add a bit of flour.  Now start kneading: with the heel of one hand, press and splurge the dough away from you, (imagine you’re smearing it across the work surface) then bring it back, squish it into a ball again, turn it over and then splurge it again.  As it’s quite a wet dough this is a bit messy, but that all adds to the fun.  Again, if you’re getting really covered, you can always add a bit of extra flour.  As you knead it, it will become more elastic and springy and less squelchy.

When you’ve kneaded for about 5 minutes and your dough is springy and soft (you know I’m going to do the bottom cheek analogy now, don’t you – I can’t help it) and akin to a plump baby’s bottom, cover it with clingfilm and leave it in the airing cupboard or somewhere else warm until it’s doubled in size.  Then, just knock it back with your fist and form it into 8 balls.  Either place them on a baking tray or arrange them inside a springform cake tin like I did, then cover and rise again until they’re puffed up.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 180/gas 4 until they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom (God, I’ve got some kind of bottom obsession. Sorry).

While they’re baking, you can make the icing.  Take a couple of tablespoons of the dried hibiscus and just cover with boiling water.  Leave to infuse.  If you’re not using the hibiscus, just use cranberry juice, or even just lemon juice.  Remember to add the liquid to the icing sugar and not the other way round.  Dribble by dribble, keep adding liquid until the icing is thick and viscous.  Too runny and it will all disappear down the sides of the buns, and too thick and it won’t dribble in a satisfactory, dribbly manner.

As soon as they’re out of the oven…

… drizzle the icing all over them so it runs down the sides…

For an added Middle Eastern touch, you could sprinkle them with crushed pistachio nuts, or for added Christmassyness some good old edible glitter, or even chopped, dried cranberries.  Or all of it,  if you’re feeling all daredevilly (wait, is that a word?).

As always, make these your own by adding maybe some Christmas spices, sultanas or substituting the lemon for orange.

 

Settling in with some honey and buttermilk no yeast, no rise brown bread

So I’ve been reading up on our new abode (I know I should think of some funky new name, but I also know it will continue to be English Towers – why fight it?).  The village was listed in the Domesday Book (thank you Wikipedia), and the hill overlooking the village is not only a site of special scientific interest, but crossed by the Ridgeway as well.  There’s also a very old windmill here, and it’s suitably mental as it has a Bedfordshire postal address, even though it’s actually in Buckinghamshire.  Perfect.

So that’s geography and stuff out the way – what else is there?  Well, very near there are beautiful fields with snaking chalk paths through lovely woodland:

… and lots and lots of rosehips and crab apples (I’m thinking jelly – once I’ve got to the bottom of my Dispreputable Dad’s cooking apple mountain – another mahoosive bag appeared yesterday):

Anyhoo, with most of the unpacking done (it still looks like an explosion has occurred, but we’ve ordered chests of drawers, so it’s Not Our Fault, okay?), and a spectacular cackling and chocolate biscuit session with the gorgeous Glamorous C (she walked – WALKED! – from her house up to here.  I was duly impressed), it was time to hit the kitchen…

One of English Dad’s students has his own bees and brings him pots of the most amazing Buckinghamshire honey known to man – it’s fragrant and delicious, and was used accidentally as I was making my usual soda bread but realised at the last minute I didn’t have any black treacle.  I’ll never use black treacle again now as this honey makes a spectacular loaf:

100g white bread flour

450g wholemeal flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2tsp salt

400ml buttermilk (or just add the juice of  1/2 lemon to whole milk and allow to sit for a while)

1 egg

2 tbsp oil (I use the amazing local rapeseed oil)

2 tbsp honey

So preheat your newly clean, sparkly oven to 200 degrees/gas 6 and oil a loaf tin (do it well, or better still, line it with bake-o-glide, it sticks like a biatch this stuff).

Sieve the white flour and bicarb (make sure you sift the bicarb well – otherwise it will manifest itself in the finished bread as little green dots – not pleasant) then add the wholemeal flour and the salt.

Measure out the buttermilk (or lemony milk) then add in the egg, oil and honey.  Whisk well.

Add to the dry ingredients and stir until combined.  Flop the mixture straight into the loaf tin and straight into the oven.  This is lazy person’s bread – no rising or kneading here.

Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until the bottom is hollow when you tap it (ooer missus).  I take it out of the loaf tin around 45 minutes just to make sure the bottom is baked and gets a crust too.

This recipe is gorgeous with added nuts and seeds, but won’t keep, so if you’re not going to scoff it straight away, slice and freeze it for instant yummy breakfast toast.

Thank you Buckinghamshire bees!  I can see I’m going to be very happy here.

Cinnamon buns

When we were in the incredible Dubai Mall, searching for a place to sit down and have a quick coffee, we stumbled upon a cinnamon bun shop.  The place makes amazing cinnamon buns, very similar to our Chelsea buns, but much more gooey.  I didn’t actually eat one – not like me, but we were about to go on a rollercoaster – but the others were raving, and when I told my American chums on Twitter, they all swooned at the mere mention of the name.

When I got home, I was telling de brevren all about the heavenly smell emanating from these little swirls of delight.  ‘Ooh, make them, Mum!’ came the inevitable cry, ‘you have to make them for us!’.  And being in that Saturday afternoon mood for a bit of lazy fiddling about in the kitchen, I set about making an attempt at recreating them (recipe at the bottom).

Cinnamon Buns

Cinnamon buns 006

450g strong white bread flour

1 tsp salt

75g sugar

1 x 7g sachet dried yeast

150ml milk

150ml water

50g butter

For the filling:

170g brown sugar

75g butter, softened

Pinch salt

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp good quality cocoa powder

So for the dough, I just used the same recipe as I use for my squishy iced buns.  Basically just sieve the flour into a large bowl, then stir in the salt, sugar, and dried yeast.  In a small saucepan, warm the milk, water, and butter over a low heat until the butter has just melted, then turn off the heat.  The liquid should be at no more than blood temperature when it’s added to the dry ingredients.  You can do this in the microwave, but remove it as soon as the butter starts to melt and stir gently until it’s all combined, otherwise you’ll be waiting for ages for it to be cool enough.

Pour most of the milky mixture into the dry ingredients and stir it around with a knife until you get a light dough.  Leave it as sticky as you can bear as this will make your dough really plumptiously, pillow-soft.  You can always add a bit of flour.  Now start kneading.  If you need any help, check out my ‘how to knead’ guide.

When you’ve kneaded for about 5 minutes and your dough is springy, soft and – brace yourself, you know I’m going to say it – looks exactly like a nice, round bottom-cheek, cover it with clingfilm and leave it in the airing cupboard or somewhere else warm until it’s doubled in size.

While your dough is proving, make your filling by creaming together all the ingredients.  Put it aside, covered, but not in the fridge.

When the dough is risen, just knock it back with your fist and roll it out into a large rectangle.  Spread over the filling, then roll it up into a long sausage.  Cut into inch/inch and a half slices, and place them flat on a buttered baking tray.  Cover them again for about half an hour until they’re really plump and lovely, then just bake them at gas 5/190 degrees C until golden brown.  They’ll only take about 15/20 minutes.

If you want, you can add a topping (I reckon it’s probably similar to the cream cheese icing that you add to carrot cake).  Fankly, I feel that the buns are already a little heart-attack in the making – but hey, feel free.

Irish soda bread for St Patrick’s Day

Happy Paddy’s Day!

I’m off home to see the folks for a few days, but seeing as it’s Paddy’s I thought I’d tempt you with a nice, easy and traditional recipe to celebrate.

The lovely Spudness from The Daily Spud runs a fantastic Paddy’s Day Food Parade, so pop over to Spud Towers to check out all the other recipes.

This is an adaptation of one of Rachel Allen’s recipes, but as usual I’ve had a little fiddle. I know.  I can’t help myself.  Soda bread is still the staple for many an Irish household, and this recipe is a great basis for all sorts of additions.  You can add seeds, nuts, dried fruit (use only 1 tsp salt if you make it sweet), even chocolate chips.

It doesn’t keep well, being yeast-free, but if you slice it and freeze it, you can toast it straight from frozen (if it lasts that long).  If you’ve never made your own bread this is a great place to start, as there’s no rising or kneading.  And the mud pie element of this makes it perfect to cook with children too!

Traditional Irish Soda Bread

100g white bread flour

450g wholemeal flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp salt

400ml buttermilk (or mix whole milk with the juice of 1/2 lemon)

1 egg

2 tbsp oil

1 tbsp treacle

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees/gas 6 and oil a loaf tin. Now put the flour in a bowl and sieve in the bicarb (omit this step at your peril – nasty green lumps don’t give this a St Patrick’s day feel – they just look gross). Add the salt and stir it all together.

Now, measure out the milk and squeeze in the lemon, or just use buttermilk. Add in the egg, oil and – while you have a nice oily spoon – the treacle. Whisk this lot together until it forms a completely revolting-looking brown gooey liquid (persevere, the treacle takes time to mix in). Now, just slosh the liquid into the dry ingredients and mix into a big wet mud pie.

Flop your muddy mixture into a buttered loaf tin, then pop it into the preheated oven and sit back while your entire kitchen fills with the gorgeous aroma of baking bread. As usual, make sure the loaf is done by tapping its bottom (ooer) and making sure it sounds hollow, otherwise give it a bit longer.  You might need to cover the top if it’s getting too brown.

Serve warm with lashings of Irish butter and a big blob of home made jam.  Or, you can add a slice to the pan after you’ve been cooking the bacon and scoff it, dipped in runny egg of course, with your big durty fry-up.  Mmmmmmm.

And finally, I’ll share with you the beautiful Irish blessing that my lovely friend Jen sent me today:

May luck be our companion

May friends stand by our side

May history remind us all

Of Ireland’s faith and pride

May God bless us with happiness

May love and faith abide.

Anon.

The fresh bread bakeoff: the entries

So thank you to all the intrepid bakers who entered the Fresh Break Bakeoff.  There are some really great entries here – from complete novices to some very accomplished bakers!  Have a look at all the great entries and I’ll be letting you know the winner of all the Marriage’s goodies very soon!

English Mum’s Fresh Bread Bakeoff

So recently I showed you my simple recipe for  easy step by step bread.  I had a lot of comments from people saying they’d quite like to have a go – so now’s your chance!  The newest, shiniest bakeoff is here – and it’s all about fresh bread!  What do you fancy baking?  A nice crusty loaf?  Some shiny conker-brown bagels?  Sticky buns?

The Rules

As usual, we laugh in the face of rules.  As long as you actually bake something bready, take a picture and send it to me (with a link if you have a website), you’re in.

Photos need to be emailed to me at: english [dot] towers [at] gmail [dot] com, with a brief note saying what your bakey masterpiece is and how you’d like to be credited.

Entries must be received by midnight on Feb 14th, St Valentine’s Day.

Cheating

As usual, a bit of healthy rule-breaking is to be embraced and any creative wavering from the theme will be acceptable.  As long as there’s a suitably waffly and entertaining reason why, I’ll let you off.

The Techy Stuff

If you’re a blogger, please link back to this post, and if you’re a tweeter, please use the hashtag #freshbreadbakeoff. If you’re neither, then just ignore this bit completely.

The Prize

The lovely chaps at Marriage’s Millers (www.flour.co.uk) have very kindly offered to provide a prize of a range of their fabulous quality flours, plus some scrapers, so you can bake bread like a pro!  The entries will be displayed in one enormous blog post (this bit causes a total hysterical meltdown in my non-technical brain, but don’t worry, I’ll get over it).

The Judge

The fabulous Hannah Marriage knows absolutely everything there is to know about flour, bread and baking and has foolishly agreed to be the judge.  All bribes and dodgy approaches to be made directly and not via this blog.  The judge’s decision is final.

So that’s it, then.  You’ve got loads of time, plenty of inspiration, and some very ambiguous rules.  Let’s get baking bread!

Easy, step by step bread. And how to knead.

There is nothing, I think, quite as delicious as the smell of bread baking.  I know there are times in the kitchen when you want to rush in, whip up something quick, and rush out again, but there are other times when a quiet potter is just fabulous.  For those times, breadmaking is ideal.  I love kneading bread – there’s something quite hypnotic and soothing about it – and producing a home-made loaf is possibly one of the most satisfying things you can do.

As you know, I’m a bit of a rapeseed oil nut, and it’s perfect for this recipe, being both very healthy and pleasantly nutty in flavour, but you can use olive oil or melted butter. Just make sure it weighs 50g.

450g strong white bread flour

2tsp salt (remember a tsp is flat though, don’t overdo it)

1 sachet (7g) yeast

50g rapeseed oil

300ml warm water

So first, sift the flour and salt, then stir in the yeast.  Measure out the oil, pour that in, then use the same jug to measure the warm water (it’ll pick up some of the oil that was left in the jug) and pour that in.

Stir it around with a wooden spoon, then when it’s roughly together, flump it out onto your work surface.

The science bit:

Think of gluten as the spongy network that holds all the bubbles (of carbon dioxide, but hey, that’s me being picky) produced by the yeast in place.  This is the most important bit of bread making. You want the gluten to form nice strong chains – under-kneaded bread will be tough, so don’t skimp.

Kneading technique:

Everyone’s got their own techniques, but all you’re aiming to do is stretch and develop the gluten and aerate the dough (as well as making sure that all your ingredients are thoroughly mixed).  Most forms of squishing, folding and stretching will do the trick.

First things first: don’t worry if your dough is sticky – you want your dough to be sticky.  Your fingers will get covered in dough – don’t worry!  The stickier your dough,the softer and more plumptious your bread.

Start off roughly squeezing it together and then start pushing it away from you with the heel of one hand (you have to use your imagination a bit here, because obviously my other hand was holding the camera).  Really smoosh the dough across the work surface:

… then bring it in, folding it over, and squish it together:

…then push it away from you again.  Carry on doing that until your dough is soft, stretchy and plump – about ten minutes should do it – and bounces back when you stick your finger into it (I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but yes, it should be the texture of a nice soft bum cheek).

Rising:

Flour the bowl and pop your ball of dough into it.  Loosely cover with clingfilm and pop into your airing cupboard alongside the pillows and enormously fat, bad tempered cat (hence the clingfilm).  Leave it for a good hour or until it’s doubled in size.

Knocking back:

Fetch your dough, avoiding your unpleasant feline, pull it away from the edges and give it a couple of thumps with your fist to knock it back.

Additions:

This is the time to add stuff in if you’re being fancy: olives, sundried tomatoes, seeds… whatever you like.  As a rough estimate, I’d keep the ingredients to under 150g.

Shaping:

Plop it once more onto a floured surface. This time, you’re thinking finished product, so give it a quick squish and start forming it into whatever shape you like.  Being blessed with the decorative talent of an amoeba, I usually go for something plain – a rough, ball shape with a slit down the middle, but hey, if you want to plait, don’t let me stop you.

Second rise:

Flour a baking tray and place the dough on it, loosely covering it again and then it’s back to the airing cupboard or sunny windowsill for its final rise.  It probably won’t take another hour, but just wait until it’s nice and puffed up.

Baking:

Preheat the oven to 200/gas 6 and bake for about 20 – 30 minutes.  Obviously a ball shape is going to take longer to cook than a flatter shape.  When it’s done it will be browned, and will sound hollow when you tap its bottom (ooer).

This is quite a soft, farmhouse loaf, but it’s got a lovely texture.  Obviously it won’t keep as well as plastic bread, so it’s best to scoff it warm from the oven.

PS: If you’re a first-time bread maker, make sure you take a picture of your efforts – great competition coming up very soon!

You might also like:

Browse bread recipes

Step by step quick and easy soft bread rolls

I have absolutely no idea why we calls these ‘milk rolls’.  Well, apart from the fact that they obviously contain milk, but then so do an awful lot of other bread recipes.

Anyhoo, whatever their name they’re a firm favourite here.  Their soft texture makes them ideal for breakfast, toasted with a little of our favourite Whole Earth peanut butter and a dollop of bramble jelly.  The boys also like them in their lunchboxes, stuffed with crunchy lettuce, poached chicken and zesty lemon mayo (they ignore the bits of knuckle along with the lemon zest – it’s okay, I’m gradually blunting the grater with my digits).

Anyhoo, enough of my bloody stumps and onto the bread.  You’ll need:

450g strong white bread flour

2 tsp salt

1 x 7g sachet dried yeast

150ml milk

150ml water

50g butter

So first, sieve the flour into a large bowl (or your food mixer bowl), then stir in the salt and dried yeast.

In a small saucepan, warm the milk, water and butter over a low heat until the butter has just melted, then turn off the heat.  The liquid should be at blood temperature when it’s added to the dry ingredients (which means you can stick your finger in without it feeling too warm).  You can do this in the microwave, but remove it as soon as the butter starts to melt and stir gently until it’s all combined, otherwise you’ll be waiting for ages for it to be cool enough.

Making the dough:

Pour most of the milky mixture into the dry ingredients and stir it around with a knife until you get a light dough.  Leave it as sticky as you can bear as you want your dough to be lovely and soft.  You can always add a bit of flour if you really want to, but seriously, the stickier you can manage, the better.

If you have a tiny bit of liquid left over, that’s fine – you can brush it over the rolls before they go in the oven.

Now start kneading.  If you’re using a food mixer, just bung it in for about five minutes and forget about it (great if you’re busy and need to crack on), but by hand is lovely and satisfying too – if I’ve got extra time I often do.

To hand knead:

With the heel of one hand, press and splurge the dough away from you, (imagine you’re smearing it across the work surface) then bring it back, squish it into a ball again, turn it over and then splurge it again.  As it’s quite a wet dough this is a bit messy, but that all adds to the fun.  Again, if you’re getting really messy, you can always add a bit of extra flour.  As you knead it, it will become more elastic and springy and less squelchy.

Double Proving and shaping:

So when you’ve kneaded for about 7-10 minutes and your dough is springy and pillowy-soft (I know I’ve said this before, but a lovely dough ready for proving looks like a nice, round bottom-cheek), cover it with clingfilm and leave it in the airing cupboard or somewhere else warm until it’s doubled in size.

Then, just knock it back with your fist (imagine punching someone you can’t stand – always does the trick for me) and form it into 8 balls.  Either place them on a baking tray or arrange them inside a springform cake tin like I did, then cover and rise again until they’re puffed up.

You can also just fashion the dough into an oval shaped loaf: cut it down the centre and bake it ‘free-form’, you get a nice crust by doing it this way.

Now bake for about 15-20 minutes (for rolls – a whole loaf will take a bit longer) at 180/gas 4 until you hear a hollow knock when you tap the loaf/rolls on the bottom.  You can glaze them if you like with a little leftover milky mixture, or just some plain milk.  I like to dust them with flour.

You can do tons with this dough: squish it flat into a small baking tray, get your fingers in there and squish it, then drizzle with olive oil and maybe dot some olives and rosemary about and you’ve got a bit of a knock-off foccacia.  Add seeds, use wholemeal flour… just experiment (and if you do, send me pics!).

If you want to make sticky buns, my sweet dough recipe is here.

Off to the kitchen with you!

Spelt flour pizzas with honey tomato sauce

The lovely Tara Cain has a gallery every week where everyone can enter their photographs, based on different themes.  I’m not much of a photographer, but this week the gallery theme is food!  How could I not enter?!  And so especially for Tara, and embracing the spirit of the gallery,  I’m spreading the love and telling everyone about a fellow blogger/foodie, the lovely Vanessa, here’s my entry – pizza baby!

So in my professional capacity (what?  I can be professional, honest), I’m currently testing recipes for a new book being written by the utterly gorgeous Vanessa Kimbell called ‘Prepped’.

The idea behind the book is gorgeous food without the slog  - it’s a multi-tasking masterpiece for time-short foodies: great ingredients, proper food, but with the odd short-cut and doubling up of recipes to help you on your way.  You can find Vanessa’s website all about the journey towards her new recipe book here.

This oregano pizza/bread dough is a new one for me as it contains spelt flour.   Although it’s not completely gluten-free, spelt contains more protein than wheat and a lot of people find it easier to digest.  It’s got an interesting nutty flavour too.  I’m happy to report that I found both plain and wholemeal spelt flour in my local (quite small) supermarket, but feel free to use normal flour if you’d rather.  Apologies for the colours in my photos here – I think my camera’s on the blink. Here’s Vanessa’s recipe:

Dough

3 tbs sugar

12g dried yeast (I used 2 x 7g sachets and it came out fine)

3 tsp rapeseed oil

3 tbs dried oregano

3 tsp salt

225g wholemeal spelt flour

450g plain spelt flour

Warm water

Sauce for the pizza

2 tins chopped tomatoes

2 tbsp runny honey

2 tbsp oregano

And for the topping: 100g grated strong mature cheddar

  • Put the sugar and yeast into a bowl and add 200ml of luke warm water.  Not too hot or it will kill the yeast.  Not cold or it will not activate. Allow this to sit for 10 minutes somewhere warm.

  • Add the oil.  Put all the dried ingredients in a large bowl and make a well. Add the yeast to the dry mix.  Using a little water at a time mix into dough. This should not be too dry or it won’t pick up all the flour, but add the water slowly as it doesn’t want to be too wet either.  Knead for 10 minutes, by hand or in a food processor.  Set this aside somewhere warm and cover with a clean damp tea towel for two hours.
  • In a heavy based saucepan add the tinned tomato, oregano and honey. Bring to the boil and turn down to a very low heat.  Simmer gently stirring occasionally over about 45 minutes until the tomatoes are reduced by at least half.  Set aside to cool.

  • Put the dough onto a floured surface.  Knead gently (you can freeze it at this point). (Vanessa now suggests using 2/3 of the dough to make bread – see the full recipe here).

  • Roll out the dough thinly to whatever size/shape pizzas you like.  Transfer to baking trays and share the tomato base equally between the pizzas, ensuring that it is evenly distributed.  Scatter with the cheese (we added some torn slices of dry cured ham too). Bake for about 8 – 10 minutes. 450/230/gas mark 8.  Do allow to cool before serving as this improves both the texture and flavor.

Utterly gorgeous – thanks Vanessa!  Oh and here’s the bread I made the next day with the extra dough:

Hot Cross Buns, Hot Cross Buns…

Not cross bun

So this is slightly cheating as after I’d finished my lovely hot cross buns, I realised I’d forgotten to take any pictures.  So here, then, in a bit of a ‘mash-oop’, as De Brevren would say is a new recipe, with pics from last year.

This recipe takes a bit of time, but is one of those recipes that’s just so much better home-made than bought.  So set aside a chilly Easter weekend (I can definitely remember sunny Easters – what’s happened to our weather?) for an afternoon of kneading and baking.  Nom.

450g strong white bread flour

1 tbsp mixed spice

1 tsp salt

75g sugar

1 x 7g sachet dried yeast

100g sultanas (or mixed peel if you must – bleurgh)

150ml milk

150ml water

Zest of 1 orange

50g butter

First, then, sieve the flour and ground mixed spice together into a large bowl.  Next, stir in the salt, sugar, dried yeast and sultanas.

In a small saucepan (or jug if you’re doing it in the microwave) warm the milk, water, orange zest 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.   If your BFF happens to have bought you the most fantastically gorgeous Kitchenaid, like me, 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 a 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.  Yes, I know, sorry, but it’s true.  Knead away, then, getting a good kitchen workout into the bargain.  The sultanas keep trying to escape, but grab any of the little blighters trying to make a quick getaway and poke them back in.  Keep going until the dough is nice and springy and firm (apparently, good dough should be the texture of a woman’s breast).

Dough

Erm anyway, moving swiftly on… when your dough is sufficiently boob-like, leave it covered in a warm place until it’s doubled in size.   Then, just knock it back with your fist (imagine it’s someone you can’t stand – nice bit of culinary therapy there), 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 baking tray.  Cover and rise again until they’re puffed up.

If you want to add the cross, then mix about 2 tbsp flour, a tsp of caster sugar and enough water to make into a paste and either just dribble it with a teaspoon, or pipe it onto your buns (ooer Missus).  Or, you can cut a cross in the top of the buns, like so:

Ready to rise

…and pipe the cross into the little lines like so:

Dodgy piping

But whatever you think.  Let’s not obsess here, they’re just buns.

One thing which is rather fund to do is to place your little buns, well spread out, inside a large, springform tin, which produces a little circle of buns that you have to tear off – good for novelty value:

Not cross bun round

Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 180/gas 6 until they sound hollow when patted on the bottom (sorry, I seem to be filling this recipe with comedy references).  Finally, when they’re just out of the oven, glaze with a tbsp of sugar to which a drop or two of boiling water has been added, or warm up some apricot conserve and brush it on for extra glossy stickiness.

Now, to the important business of face stuffing: if you’re eating them straight out of the oven (a move I heartily recommend), slather them in butter and be done with it.  But if you’re eating them maybe the next day, split and toast them first.  If you’re going to freeze them, slice them in half first so they can go straight in the toaster.

Buttered

However you like your buns (there I go again), I wish you a wonderfully HAPPY EASTER with your nearest and dearest.  Save me an egg.

Easy Christmas Stollen

Stollen

So if you’re snowed in, or just fancy a nice afternoon of Christmassy cooking in the kitchen, I can think of nothing finer than stollen.  Not only is it yummy, but the smell of it cooking is just the finest thang ever.

As you can see from the picture, I actually made mine when I was back at English Towers in Ireland (it was for a magazine article, so they were unseasonably made in October), but they freeze really well (if you slice them first, you can grill the individual slices which makes the marzipan all lubly and bubbly).

Anyhoo, you’ll need:

500g plain white flour, sieved

½ tsp salt

125g butter, softened

3 tsp baking powder

200g caster sugar

1 large lemon, finely zested

1 tsp ground mixed spice

50g suet

125g sultanas

125g raisins

125g raw almonds, roughly chopped

40g chopped mixed candied peel (or if, like me, you think peel is the spawn of the devil, use dried cranberries instead)

250g crème fraîche, or thick Greek-style yoghurt

2 eggs, beaten

1 tsp almond extract (or almond liqueur)

30ml spiced or dark rum

Pack of marzipan, (or to make your own, see below)

Homemade marzipan:

50g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
150g icing sugar
1 egg, beaten

Mix the dry ingredients and then add the egg, mixing well and pushing together with your hands. Form into a sausage shape and refrigerate, wrapped in cling film.

To finish:

25g melted butter

Icing sugar, sieved

So preheat your oven to 180ºC/gas mark 4 and generously butter a large baking sheet.  Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl and rub in the butter, then add in the baking powder, sugar, lemon zest, mixed spice, suet, dried fruits, almonds and peel (if using) and mix well.

Now, stir in the crème fraîche or yoghurt, eggs, almond extract and rum.  Bring together to form a firm dough, adding more flour if necessary.  Divide the dough into two.

Put the dough on a floured surface and roll out into a rough rectangle about 2cm thick.  Roll the marzipan into a sausage shape and place in the centre of the dough.  Fold the dough over the marzipan, tucking under the ends.  Repeat with the other half of the dough.

Place on the baking sheet and bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until golden brown.  Brush with the melted butter and dust generously with icing sugar.  This keeps really well, so if it’s wrapped in greaseproof paper and then in foil, it will probably last about two weeks.  Unlikely, as it’s yummy, but just in case…

And there you have it.  Christmas on a plate.  Nom.

Grandma Maudie’s Cranberry Teabread

(c) Englishmum.com

So you know when you have that afternoon lull and you think ‘hmm, what I need is a nice cup of tea and piece of cake?’  Well Hubby had exactly that feeling this afternoon – a sudden, inexplicable craving for Christmas cake.  A quick rummage in the cupboards revealed a bit of a motley assortment of half packets of various golden sultanas, raisins and ‘fruit mix’ (arrghhh! Peel!) and it got me reminiscing about when me and the much missed and slightly bonkers Grandma Maudie (you know, the one who used share her evening glass of Baileys with the dog) made an Earl Grey teabread together, back at the original English Towers, my Mum’s lovely pad in leafy ol’ Hertfordshire.  We couldn’t find half the stuff we needed, but we ‘made do’ with a right dodgy old selection of pack-ends and bits and bobs – resorting to the cocktail cabinet for a few maraschino cherries too, as I recall.  Anyhoo, the end result was fairly pleasant as far as I remember, so I set to work and here’s my approximation, with dried cranberries replacing the cocktail cherries, though!

400g total dried fruit (sultanas/currants/raisins, etc)

50g dried cranberries (or those lovely dried sour cherries would be nice)

200ml hot, strong tea (Earl Grey if you’re posh)

1 tbsp treacle

Juice of ½ lemon

1 egg, beaten

60g golden caster sugar

275g self raising flour

1 tsp mixed spice

So first, measure out 400g of any old dried fruit (don’t listen to those old windbags who guff on about the proportion of raisins to sultanas – they’re all just wrinkly little ugly things, let’s face it (the dried fruit, I mean, not the windbags.  Although…).  Add in the cranberries, then stir the tbsp of treacle into the hot tea, chuck in the lemon juice and pour it all over the fruit.  Leave it, covered, for as long as you can bear (overnight would be brilliant, but at least an hour or two) to really plump up the fruit:

(c) Englishmum.com

Then when you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 160/gas 3.  Generously butter and flour a 2lb loaf tin (yes, even if it’s a non-stick one) and set aside.  Beat the egg and stir it into the fruit mixture, then add in the sugar, flour and spice.  If you don’t have mixed spice you can just add a pinch each of nutmeg/cinnamon/whatever you do have.

Spoon the mixture into your prepared tin:

(c) Englishmum.com

(c) Englishmum.com

… and bake it for about an hour to an hour and a quarter, covered loosely with foil for about the first 40 minutes.  When a knife poked into the centre comes out clean, it’s ready. 

It won’t keep forever, but it’s rather nice warm spread with a little butter, so you shouldn’t have that problem.  Oh and it’s virtually fat free, too.  Bit of a bonus, there. 

Serve with a nice cup of tea, or, in suitable homage to Grandma Maudie, split a generous glass of Baileys with the dog.

Easy tandoori chicken with cheaty flatbreads

Tandoori chicken (c) Englishmum.com

We had this for lunch today and I realised I’ve never posted this little beauty before.  I’m almost embarrassed to pass on the chicken recipe to you as it’s barely more than mixing a few ingredients together, but it’s soooo good and makes the house smell so delicious that I think you deserve it.  Here goes, then:

For the tandoori chicken:

4 heaped tbsp plain yoghurt

1 tbsp tandoori curry paste or powder (Tesco do a really nice Tandoori Curry Powder)

Pinch salt

Juice of ½ lemon

2 chicken breasts, cubed

1 red onion, cut into chunks

Basically, then, just dollop your yoghurt into a non-metallic bowl and stir in the curry paste or powder.  Add in a pinch of salt and a big squeeze of lemon.  Now just cut the chicken breasts into cubes and the red onion into big chunks and stir them both into the yoghurt.  Set aside to marinate for a few minutes. 

Tandoori chicken (c) Englishmum.com

If you’re making this in advance, cover with clingfilm and bung it in the fridge.  When you’re ready, just spread the whole lot onto a baking sheet (or thread onto skewers – great for the BBQ) and bake at 180 degrees/gas 4 for about 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the edges are just starting to catch.

Now for the flatbreads.  These are a bit of a mishmash between chapatis, naan breads and those nice Italian flatbreads you get, but they take seconds and taste yum, so you’ll forgive me if I’m not exactly sure of their country of origin:

450g strong white bread flour

1 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

Pinch bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp cumin seeds (or crushed dried chilli or whatever you fancy)

250ml cold water

3 tbsp olive oil

Sieve the flour, salt, baking powder and bicarb together into a bowl, then stir in whatever herbs or spices you fancy (if you’re having these with Italian food you could add a bit of garlic and some oregano, for instance):

Dry ingredients (c) Englishmum.com

Add in the water and olive oil.  Mix with a knife until it comes together, then tip onto a floured work surface and knead very briefly into a smooth dough.  Split the dough into 6 or 8 pieces, then roll out very thinly.

Drizzle a little olive oil into a frying pan and wait until the oil is really hot.   Slap in your flatbreads (this was Hubby’s one so it had extra chilli flakes on it):

Flatbread (c) Englishmum.com

 and keep an eye out as they won’t take long to brown and puff up slightly.  Flip over and cook the other side:

Flatbread (c) Englishmum.com

Serve the flatbreads with the chicken, plus a little salad and some wedges of lemon for an easy lunch, or cut into wedges with a nice bowl of lentil dhal.  Ooh, and I thought I might try them with some coriander, served with a nice Thai green curry.  Yumbly. 

 

1970s ginger cake – the newer, stickier, betterer…er version

Mmmm sticky gooey noms...

So ginger cake, then.  Regular, eagle-eyed viewers amongst you will remember that I found my original, childishly scrawled version of this little beauty tucked inside one of my Ma’s old cookery books a while back and recreated it with some success.  Since then, though, I’ve been feverishly working on it after being stung by a comment of Hubby’s that it wasn’t ‘sticky enough’.  Several hundred attempts later, then, plus a quick lull where we were all bloody sick of the stuff - I was even taking them round to Mrs Lovely’s house and it’s unheard of for anything baked to leave the house normally – and here’s my new, extra sticky version:

75g butter

75g brown sugar

1/4 pint of milk

2 teaspoons ground ginger (make sure it’s in-date though – ginger tends to fester, unused in the cupboard and tastes like ground cardboard)

2 tablespoons treacle

1 tablespoon golden syrup

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

225g self raising flour (sifted)

So preheat your oven to 180/gas 4, then butter a small loaf tin or use a non-stick one, and set it aside.  Measure out the butter, sugar, milk, ginger, treacle and golden syrup and melt them all together over a low heat in a saucepan.

When it’s all melted together, turn off the heat and stir in the bicarbonate of soda.  Stir it while it goes all weird and fizzy, then add in the flour, continuing to go ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ as it bubbles and burbles.  Carry on mixing it until it’s magically transforms into a lovely smooth batter.

Bung it in the loaf tin, cover loosely with foil to avoid crustiness (we’re after sticky here, people) and bake for about 45 minutes.  Tip out onto a wire tray to cool, or, in my case, marvel at the fact that Mr Lovely seems to be able to smell it from his house which is at least five minutes’ walk away and turns up just as it comes out of the oven, slice and serve with hot tea and lots of chat with good friends.

Ginger cake

Weirdly, this is an excellent standby recipe, as it’s one of few cakes that don’t need any eggs (I’m always running out of eggs – yup, even now I’ve got chickens).  Just thought I’d mention it.

Sticky, gooey, plumptious, scrumptious, soft iced buns

Sticky buns

So poor little #2 came home from his GAA tournament yesterday feeling all under the weather.  He was cold and clammy, his head ached, his tummy hurt and he felt all ‘kind of wobbly’.  Of course, there’s only one cure for this particular group of symptoms, which is a snuggle on the sofa with the dog, the fluffy blanket, a hot chocolate and a fistful of sticky bun.  Trust me, I’m a doctor:

450g strong white bread flour

1 tsp salt

75g sugar

 1 x 7g sachet dried yeast

150ml milk

150ml water

50g butter

4 or 5 tbsp icing sugar

½ tsp liquid glucose

Sieve the flour into a large bowl, then stir in the salt, sugar, and dried yeast.  In a small saucepan, warm the milk, water, and butter over a low heat until the butter has just melted, then turn off the heat.  The liquid should be at no more than blood temperature when it’s added to the dry ingredients.  You can do this in the microwave, but remove it as soon as the butter starts to melt and stir gently until it’s all combined, otherwise you’ll be waiting for ages for it to be cool enough.

Pour most of the milky mixture into the dry ingredients and stir it around with a knife until you get a light dough.  Leave it as sticky as you can bear as you want your dough plumptiously, pillow-soft.  You can always add a bit of flour.  Now start kneading: with the heel of one hand, press and splurge the dough away from you, (imagine you’re smearing it across the work surface) then bring it back, squish it into a ball again, turn it over and then splurge it again.  As it’s quite a wet dough this is a bit messy, but that all adds to the fun.  Again, if you’re getting really covered, you can always add a bit of extra flour.  As you knead it, it will become more elastic and springy and less squelchy.

Apologies for the lack of photos here.  I was enjoying myself so much (I love my kitchen – a week away is about all I can bear) that I forgot I was supposed to photograph it for you.  Anyhoo, when you’ve kneaded for about 5 minutes and your dough is springy and pillowy-soft and looks bizarrely like a nice, round bottom-cheek (it really does, I’m sorry – maybe that’s just my filthy mind), cover it with clingfilm and leave it in the airing cupboard or somewhere else warm until it’s doubled in size.  Then, just knock it back with your fist and form it into 8 balls.  Either place them on a baking tray or arrange them inside a springform cake tin like I did, then cover and rise again until they’re puffed up.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 180/gas 6 until they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.  Now while they’re baking make your icing by adding a couple of teeny drops of boiling water to the icing sugar and liquid glucose (optional but it keeps the icing from setting) until you get a thick, gloopy icing. 

As soon as they’re out of the oven…

Sticky 2

drizzle the icing all over them so it runs down the sides…

Sticky 3

…then stuff into face before your family appears to steal them  hand to little chap snuggled on sofa and watch as he feels better instantly.

Sticky 1

Of course, #2 likes these completely plain, but there are a myriad different additions I could suggest – how about a hint of spice?  Or some orange zest and a few dried cranberries?  Or some nice, juicy sultanas?  Or after the first rise, roll the dough out, spread it generously with butter, brown sugar and sultanas, maybe a little sprinkle of cinnamon, roll into a sausage and cut into rounds, arrange them flat onto a baking tray, allow to rise and then bake and, Bob’s your Auntie – you’ve produced Chelsea Buns, you kitchen legend, you.

The Good Friday photo: Hot cross buns or ‘not cross buns’: you decide.

Not cross bun

So I’ve gone a bit hot cross bun mental recently.  I was testing recipes for them ages ago for the magazine as I think I mentioned, and as people keep scoffing them, I’ve just kept making more and more.  I’ve made them with crosses cut in the top, with crosses piped on, with crosses dribbled on… with no crosses piped on…I’ve made them in round tins, or on baking trays… you name it.

Anyhoo, here the ressup.  Do with it what you will:

450g strong white bread flour

1 tbsp mixed spice

1 tsp salt

75g sugar

 1 x 7g sachet dried yeast

100g sultanas (or mixed peel if you must – bleurgh)

150ml milk

150ml water

Zest of 1 orange

50g butter

First, then, sieve the flour and ground mixed spice together into a large bowl.  Next, stir in the salt, sugar, dried yeast and sultanas.

In a small saucepan (or jug if you’re doing it in the microwave) warm the milk, water, orange zest and butter until the butter is just melted, then turn off the heat.  The liquid should be about blood temperature when it’s added to the dry ingredients.  If you’re using a mixer (mine finally exploded during my last batch, sending Hubby and #2 scurrying to the kitchen to see what I’d blown up, and if I’d survived the blast), 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.

I’ve come to believe, though, that they come out nicer and lighter if you knead them by hand for at least ten minutes.  Yes, I know, sorry, but it’s true.  Knead away, then, getting a good kitchen workout into the bargain.  The sultanas keep trying to escape, but grab any trying to make a quick getaway and poke them back in.  Keep going until the dough is nice and springy and firm (apparently, good dough should be the texture of a woman’s breast). 

Dough

Erm anyway, moving swiftly on… when your dough is sufficiently boob-like, leave it covered in a warm place until it’s doubled in size.   Then, just knock it back with your fist (imagine it’s someone you can’t stand – nice bit of culinary therapy there), 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 baking tray.  Cover and rise again until they’re puffed up.

If you want to add the cross, then mix about 2 tbsp flour, a tsp of caster sugar and enough water to make into a paste and either just dribble it with a teaspoon, or pipe it onto your buns (ooer Missus).  Or, you can cut a cross in the top of the buns, like so:

Ready to rise

 …and pipe the cross into the little lines like so:

Dodgy piping

But whatever you think.  Let’s not obsess here, they’re just buns. 

Ooh, one thing, though, you can spread them out inside a large, springform tin, which produces a little circle of buns that you have to tear off – good for novelty value:

Not cross bun round

Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 180/gas 6 until they sound hollow when patted on the bottom (sorry, I seem to have gone all Les Dawson in this recipe).  Finally, when they’re just out of the oven, glaze with a tbsp of sugar to which a drop or two of boiling water has been added, or warm up some apricot conserve and brush it on for extra glossy stickiness.

Now, to the important business of face stuffing: if you’re eating them straight out of the oven (a move I heartily recommend), slather them in butter and be done with it.  But if you’re eating them maybe the next day, split and toast them first.  If you’re going to freeze them, slice them in half first so they can go straight in the toaster.

Buttered

Oh, and if you’re going to go all Jamie Oliver, you can slice them, spread them with marmalade, pour over some custard (although I would have thought that ready-made would be disgusting, I’m sure he knows more about it than me) and bake them in the oven.

Erm... is that one mine?

Either way, have a wonderfully happy Easter break/secular celebration of the start of springtime/excuse to stuff yourself with chocolate /insert your own excuse here… with your loved ones.

Back soon!

Bagels: the rather scrummy roll with a hole

Bagel

I love my kitchen.  I’d love it more if it was painted pink, but that’s a bit contentious on the Hubby front and might take some serious marital bargaining, probably best not described on a family blog such as this.  Still, today I had a bit of a reorganisation (well, I suppose I should say ‘we’, seeing as it involved taking plugs off things and drilling holes) and moved the microwave and blender into the utility room, leaving me much more space and hopefully sorting out the ‘aaaaahhh shiiiiiiiiit!’ dilemma which occurs when picking up a very hot saucepan and not being able to find space anywhere to put it down, whilst simultaneously scorching away the skin on your fingers.

To test out my newly acquired workspace, I obviously needed a recipe with a suitable amount of fannying about involved (you can usually check this by watching my family’s reaction as they wander into the kitchen when I’m cooking – if it’s a bad one, Hubby will raise one eyebrow whilst cleverly performing a 360 and disappearing back from whence he came rather than get involved in holding up a muslin while something drains, or being enlisted to stir something).  This one, then, involving all sorts of kneading and poaching and glazing and stuff, was perfect.  The result, fresh out of the oven, is so densely chewy and delightful that I promise you won’t be disappointed.  Credit where credit’s due, this is adapted from the recipe in Rachel Allen’s must-have tome, ‘Bake’, but simplified for the terminally cack-handed amongst us, namely me:

450g white bread flour

1 x 7g sachet of yeast

2 tsp salt

250ml warm water

2 tbsp honey

1 tbsp oil

To poach:

Boiling water

Sieve the flour into a bowl and stir in the yeast and salt.  In a jug, mix the water (remember it must be nice and warm to activate the yeast) with the honey and oil.  Stir the liquid into the dry ingredients and bring together into a firm dough.  This needs kneading for about ten minutes and – be warned – it’s seriously tough, so if you have a dough hook on your food mixer I’d suggest you use it.  Otherwise, work those pecs, baby, and whilst cursing me, you can be all smug that I’m helping guard against bingo wings. 

When the dough is nice and smooth and elastic, and bounces back when you poke your finger into it, leave it somewhere warm to rise, covered with a clean tea towel, until it’s doubled in size. 

Once it’s ready, divide the dough into about 6 pieces and roll them into sausages, linking them into a ring by wetting the ends and squishing them together.  Once formed, put them back in the airing cupboard (or wherever) to puff up again slightly.

 Leave to puff up again

Preheat the oven to 220/gas 7, but  remember that first you have to poach them, so get a really big pan of boiling water going.  Plop the bagels in, two or three at a time and once they’ve come to the surface (watch they don’t stick to the bottom of the saucepan), give each bagel about 3 minutes bathtime, turning occasionally. 

Poach in revolting treacly water

Lift them out to drain on a wire rack, then brush them with a bit of beaten egg  (you can sprinkle them with stuff at this stage if you like: poppy seeds or whatever) and bake them for about 10 – 15 minutes, then turn them over and give them another 5 – 10 minutes to cook the bases.  Cool on a wire rack, then eat smothered with cream cheese, or butter and jam, or peanut butter…ooh, the possibilities are endless…

The finished article

EDIT: Having made this a couple of times, I’d definitely recommend that you don’t put 3 tbsp treacle in with the poaching water as Rachel Allen  suggests.  Not only does it create the most revolting smell, but I don’t think it really adds much in the way of flavour either.

Easy home made brown bread

 

Ah, Sunday morning.  The perfect time for pottering in the kitchen.  There’s coffee on the stove and a satisfying stack of papers to get through.  This morning I fiddled with my recipe for brown bread and it came out rather well, even if I say so myself.  This recipe is an adaptation of one of Rachel Allen’s, but as usual I’ve fiddled and twiddled just a little bit.  I can’t help myself.  Have a go.  You won’t be disappointed.

100g white bread flour

450g wholemeal flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp salt

400ml milk

Juice of 1/2 lemon (or use buttermilk and omit the lemon)

1 egg

2 tbsp oil

1 tbsp treacle

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees/gas 6 and oil a loaf tin.  Now put the flour in a bowl and sieve in the bicarb (omit this step at your peril – nasty green lumps don’t add to the flavour).  Add the salt and stir it all together.

Now, measure out the milk and squeeze in the lemon, or just use buttermilk.  Add in the egg, oil and – while you have  a nice oily spoon – the treacle.  Whisk this lot together until it forms a completely revolting-looking brown gooey liquid (persevere, the treacle takes time to mix in).  Now, just slosh the liquid into the dry ingredients and mix into a big wet mud pie.  Thinking about it – this would be a great recipe to make with children – lots of mess and goo involved here.

Pop it into the preheated oven and enjoy your pot of coffee and stack of newspapers for an hour while the kitchen fills with the droolworthy smell of baking bread.  As usual, make sure the loaf is done by tapping its bottom (ooer) and making sure it sounds hollow, otherwise give it a bit longer.

This doesn’t keep well, being yeast-free, but if you slice it and freeze it, you can toast it straight from frozen (if it lasts that long).  Feel free to fiddle with this by adding seeds or nuts, or even dried fruit (use only 1 tsp salt if you do).  Everyone should make their own bread, and when it’s this easy it’s criminal not to.  Go on, then, off to the kitchen with you.

Mmmmm crusty brown bread

 

Oh and PS, I’m on Desked!  Fame at last, eh?