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 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!
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!
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 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!
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
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.
Let’s face it: Easter just isn’t Easter without hot cross buns.
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.
Zest of 1 orange
450g strong white bread flour
1 tbsp mixed spice
1 tsp salt
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
There’s an awful lot of hype surrounding bread at the moment, what with the ‘Fabulous Baker Brothers’, Henry and Tom Herbert’s recent TV show (and the shock news that one of their loaves sells for over twelve quid – I kid you not – over £20 if you want it couriered), and lots of people reverting to the more traditional kitchen skills of baking their own bread, making butter, etc.
I do make my own bread, but it tends to be a batch of sticky iced buns if I’m feeling like a baking session, or an easy Irish soda bread on a Sunday morning, so when I was asked to review Bread Revolution I was really interested.
Duncan and Patrick own The Thoughtful Bread Company in Bath and really want to encourage us all to bake (or at least buy) proper bread. There are all sorts of wonderful recipes (don’t miss the Cider and Apple Bread), and great step-by-step guides to mixing, kneading, shaping, etc, plus loads of interesting stuff about ingredients. The one that fascinated me, though, was the sourdough. Basically, you make a sourdough ‘starter’, which ferments and becomes your very own living, breathing yeasty friend who lives in the fridge.
Ours was called Fluffy (someone on Twitter told me to give it a name – apparently this helps you ‘bond’). It’s relatively easy to make (a mix of live yogurt, skimmed milk and bread flour), but you do have to remember to feed it, otherwise it dies. We had a little wobble when I opened up mine to find mould all up the side of the tub, but I managed to rescue it, and with a new, sterilised pot, Fluffy thrived. The boys (find them on Twitter @thoughtfulbread) were really helpful, and shared my immense pleasure and pride when my very first sourdough loaf came out of the oven.
Seriously, I don’t think there are many things quite as satisfying as baking your own bread, and having Fluffy in the fridge ready to go whenever I want to bake makes me more determined than ever to keep going. That, and the chewy-crusted, soft-doughed gorgeousness that is a fresh-from-the-oven sourdough loaf.
What a wonderful book.
Bread Revolution is out 1st March priced £10.59 on Amazon. Here’s a vid of the boys in action:
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
400ml buttermilk (or just add the juice of 1/2 lemon to whole milk and allow to sit for a while)
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.
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