Persian-ish French toast

When I made my first sourdough last week, I made a fruit loaf and two cob loaves. Thing is though, we’re kind of out of the habit of eating bread. So today I still have one of those loaves left (it was also a somewhat exceptional weekend which involved zero cooking). I thought, therefore, to see whether slightly stale sourdough bread would make good French toast. Or at least edible French toast.

IMG_1073.JPGI found a recipe in Sabrina Ghayour’s Sirocco for brioche doughnut French toast, inspired by everyone’s favourite Nigella. It involves vanilla and orange zest in the egg mixture, and then sugar and ground cardamom (guilty: I used pre-ground instead of grinding my own). And it was delicious. The bread was just slightly on the chewy side, but I actually didn’t mind that; it wasn’t as thickly cut as you would use brioche, which helped. The orange and cardamom were excellent.

I served myself some Greek yoghurt as well, and it was excellent.

Of course, I’ve now reminded myself how easy French toast is, so that may have Ramifications…

Bread, baby. Bread.

IMG_1037.JPGI have finally made my first batch of sourdough bread with my leaven (who might be Geoffrey… or Godfrey… or something like that…) thanks to my sourdough course at RedBeard.

Win: I managed to get the bread out of the bannetons without any hassle! This suggests I had floured the baskets well enough, which pleased me.

Slight loss: I think the bread is a bit doughy. I’m not sure whether this is a result of the house not being a constant temperature, or me not making quite the right IMG_1038.JPGmixture, or… what. But it tasted pretty good, so

Win!: it tasted pretty good! And it was mostly wholemeal (freshly milled and everything, from Bee Sustainable), but it wasn’t too heavy at all.

Experiment: I made fruit-ish bread. That is, it’s definitely got fruit in it – dried apricots and currants, and cinnamon and nutmeg, all added about an hour… ish… after it started rising. But I haven’t tasted it yet so we’ll see what it’s like… eventually. Sure looks pretty, though, doesn’t it? IMG_1039.JPG

Sourdough Course

Once upon a time I decided that doing a sourdough course was a good idea. That was backIMG_1010.JPG in January when I saw a sign at the RedBeard Bakery in Trentham advertising their courses. I took a photo; sent it to my friend Gill; and all of a sudden I was booking us in.

Our course was this past weekend, and it started with  RedBeard’s “nice buns” and golly they were nice with a lashing of butter. There were originally nine on the plate….

Next we moved into the baking area and we got stuck IMG_1016.JPGinto actually making bread. Firstly we made a wholemeal dough, using RedBeard’s own leaven; this involved flour (1kg wholemeal, 200g rye, both stoneground) and water and salt and leaven, and then a lot of kneading. I love kneading; it’s wonderfully cathartic, and although it’s intensive I also found it lulled me with its rhythm. It looked like this, eventually. Very appealing, I think you’ll agree. It was way wetter than any of us (eight people on the day) had expected, which John – head baker and owner and teacher – stressed was incredibly important in creating a good sourdough.

IMG_1013.JPGThen it had to rest for a while, so then we had a go at IMG_1012.JPGmaking a white sourdough with a dough that had been started a few hours beforehand by John’s sidekick. When John poured it out of the bucket, it reminded me of nothing else so much as the magic mud of my childhood (it’s all in the meniscus). With that dough we shaped cobs, using these awesome baskets that RedBeard has been using for however many years, and we made Vienna loaves, using their Belgian linen to make sure that the bread didn’t stick and stayed in shape.

These also had to wait for a while, before baking; IMG_1015.JPGI think we then had lunch. To be honest, it all blurred together a bit – the order of things, that is – because it was a long day (10am to about 5pm). But I remember lunch very clearly, because it was amazing. There was bread, of course, with lashings of butter; and smashed roast potatoes and garlic; and a great salad with sprouts and lettuce and tomato and seeds; and a truly incredible free-form tart involving leek, goat’s cheese, roast capsicum, and other bits of deliciousness. The whole day was great but lunch was a really delightful moment of sitting down and appreciating food.

After lunch we shaped the wholemeal into three loaf tins. We also got to make our own leaven: potato peel, and rye flour, and water. That’s it. So now I have a leaven that I need to feed ‘for the rest of my natural life…’ – or if I’m going away I either need to phone a friend, or just accept that it’s deaded and I have to make another one. Happily, it only takes about three weeks for a leaven to be ready to use. Given IMG_1018.JPGour household doesn’t eat THAT much bread, that’s not so bad.

Eventually it was time to cook the loaves, and that involved the most intimidating part of the day: using paddles and putting the bread into the very large, very hot oven. I didn’t die. No one died. When all of the bread was out, it looked like this. Yes, all of that that bread was shared between eight participants (and John took some too, actually). I came home with seven loaves. I made a lot of people at work quite happy when I gave it to them. (I did, rather guiltily, put a couple of the cobs into the freezer – John said we shouldn’t but I wanted to see what it was like for myself.)

The day wasn’t just about making and cooking bread. John was a wealth of information about the history of the bakery itself and sourdough in general. He’s very dismissive of ordinary yeast bread, rather than fully fermented sourdough, which made me a little dismissive because I do love making ‘normal’ yeast bread. It will be interesting to see whether I give it up in favour of the sourdough completely….

When I got home, we had leftover salad and bread.IMG_1019.JPGI now have a list of things I think I need – at least some sort of basket for shaping the cob, because there’s just something about a cob that appeals more than the high tin, for me. I also need to put bricks into the bottom of the oven, in order to increase its thermal mass; this is apparently a good idea for any oven, since it keeps the heat in rather than letting it all whoosh out when you open the order. Happily my darling doesn’t seem to mind the idea.

Edited to add: this is what my leaven looked like when I fed it for the first time, two days later…IMG_3807.JPG

Sure hoping that’s ok!

 

Hot cross buns

Or, the trials and tribulations of dough.

Plan: go away for Easter and bake hot cross buns.

I had made hot cross buns from BakeClass a few weeks ago, just to see what they were like and because my beloved has a somewhat fetishitic love of them. They were good. I made a couple slit changes: I did not have enough bread flour so I subbed in some normal plain flour; for me such buns need peel, so I reduced the currants and cranberries (which I used instead of dried cherries) and added the peel.

They were very good. They were also quite large, which wasn’t a problem but good to know.

So, the day before we were to leave, I got the dry ingredients (this time all bread flour) all together and made sure I had the container of chocolate bits as well as the milk and butter. My plan had been to get the buns to the second rise for while we were at church, so they just had to be baked when we got home.

First issue: for some reason my brain got all tied in knots, so I kept waking up wondering if it is was time to knead yet. Is it time? No, it’s 1.30am. Is it time? Nope, it’s 3.30.

You get the idea.

IMG_2116Anyway, when it was 7.30 I figured it was time. And that’s the point at which I realised I had no measuring instruments which meant that 1 3/4 cups of milk was going to be … hard. I eyeballed the milk container and figured, how hard could this be, to guess not quite 500ml of milk? So I guessed. I also guessed 60g of butter. And then I mixed it in and… it was sticky. Quite sticky. I turned it into the bench (onto the flour I’d requisitioned from the dry ingredients because I had not brought extra flour, of course), and there was not going to be any kneading. So I put it into the bowl and rise anyway, just to see what happened.

Then I shed a tear.

After about 10 minutes or so I decided to see whether I could use muesli in lieu of flour, just to make the dough knead a little. And what I discovered is that rising a bit makes the dough somehow rise out of its stickiness. Like, it had become entirely knead-able. So I kneaded, and left it to keep rising; after an hour I punched it and divided it into 16 (instead of the 12 recommended, because they’d been so big), and left them to rise again while we were out. This also involved brushing them with egg with my fingers, and my beloved taking the job of piping on crosses which I wasn’t going to do but he insisted and we had flour because he’d gone to get some from the people who run our holiday accommodation because one of the other people some for rolling out pastry for tarts. Because we are foodie type people.

IMG_2118When we got back from church the buns had risen hugely. They went into the oven and needed to be turned after about 10 min, and put to a higher shelf, because weird oven. But they cooked.

And, in the end, they were excellent.

Apparently I’m to keep making them.

Cypriot cooking

UnknownI’d been wanting this book for quite a long time when I finally saw it on sale and cracked. I like that it doesn’t just have the standard ‘Middle Eastern’ countries that I think Anglo-Australians think of when they think of food; it’s got Armenia, The Gulf States, Yemen…. So my thought was to try and do a week or two of mostly cooking from on country. Obviously that’s going to be harder or easier depending on season, as to what we feel like; and some ingredient will make things hard. But I figure it’s a good way to try new things and make my way through bits of the book.

So my first foray was into Cyprus. It’s not the first country in the book – that’s Greece – but I thought starting with Greek was cheating because I already know at least some Greek food.

The very first recipe is for haloumi. I am intrigued by the idea of making haloumi but I can’t imagine every actually doing it. Unless I hit some holidays and I get really adventurous… which may well happen, not going to lie.

I also don’t think I will be marinating or frying brains (appetisers). Yes, I happily own to being a culinary coward.

Page-wise, the first recipe I tried was the Kolketes (pumpkin pies; appetiser). This was a bit harder than I had expected. Making the filling of pumpkin and bulgur and spices was a cinch. But the pastry wasn’t nearly as easy to deal with as I had expected, and I got a bit frustrated. This was compounded by the instruction to roll the dough out “about the thickness of a normal pie crust” which is not at all useful if you’re not accustomed to making pie crusts. As I am not. So I just had to guess. Ultimately I managed to make the IMG_0885pies; they were quite tasty. However the pastry has made me leary of trying them again.

Next was haloumi bread. Yes yes yes and yes. I can also imagine just making the Kouloura bread dough by itself.

Further on we hit vegetables, and I made Yemista – stuffed vegetables. I can’t quite imagine stuffing eggplants and my love isn’t a huge fan, so I just went with tomatoes and capsicum. I’d seen some American cooking show where the woman did ‘deconstructed’ stuffed capsicums – don’t worry, she was being sly about and knew this was entirely the cheat’s way of making them – and I had every intention of making the filling (mince, rice, tomato) and then piling the capsicum and tomato on top or something. But in the end I actually properly stuffed them (and how organised is this, I made that bit the day before and just had to cook them the next day for dinner!). They were quite tasty, although I think either the stuffing or the sauce (which was a very basic tomato sauce) needed something a bit richer. Possibly just more tomato.

Then there’s Afelia, which is apparently anything with cracked coriander seeds. I made mushrooms with coriander – fry them off, add some red wine, add coriander – and given I love coriander in all its forms I liked it. I would have liked more ideas in this section about what sort of food it should accompany, though. I also made the pork version, which was quite a Moment for me since I’m not sure I’ve personally cooked pork more than… once before? Basically it just tasted like coriander, though; I didn’t think the pork came through at all. Maybe that’s just pork.

Finally, fish: Psari Savoro (fish with rosemary and vinegar). I used Australian rockling. We went through a bit of a fish phase a few years ago but haven’t been back in ages; I’ve just not found a convenient and good fishmonger. There’s apparently one a bit north of where we are, though, that I’ll have to try – I think this cookbook is likely to have some good seafood recipes. Anyway: salting the fish was an intriguing suggestion, and then coating with flour of course made it crisp up a bit and leave flour to thicken the sauce. My love cooked the fish and did it very well. The sauce was made up of garlic, rosemary, vinegar (we used cider instead of brown) and white wine. It thickened up heaps more than I expected, and was basically tasty although too heavy on the vinegar for my taste. One I will quite likely be revisiting.

Starting with Cyrpus was an … interesting choice. It wasn’t an overwhelming success – I didn’t love everything – but there wasn’t anything that I hated the taste of. I’ll be a bit more cautious as I go further into the book as I’ve not always found Mallos’ instructions to be as straightforward as I’d like. With both the pork and the fish, she says to fry until ‘just cooked through’ – but no instructions about what that looks like. It’s surely not hard to say ‘until the pork is white through’ or ‘until the fish is white and flakes’? Even expert cooks aren’t going to get annoyed by a few extra words, are they?

None of these were particularly photogenic, hence the lack of pics.

Squeaky cheese

Some time back I discovered that thanks to the glories of online shopping (I do not enjoy grocery shopping), I could purchase a 1.5kg container of haloumi. The price was way better than the little individual serves, and it lasts for months in brine, so I thought – why not?

When it arrived, I discovered that the store had been out of the 1.5kg container of haloumi. So they made a substitution.

For a 2kg bucket of haloumi.

I wasn’t sad.

When I announced that this had happened, someone innocently asked: what was I planning to do with haloumi aside from pan-frying it?

To which I said “… why would I do ANYTHING aside from pan-frying it??”

IMG_0884.JPGA colleague at work, with Greek-Cypriot connections, tells me that Cyrpiots will eat (non-fried) haloumi with watermelon. I’ve not tried that. What I have tried, now, is haloumi bread, or haloumopsomi. And friends, it is delightful.

The bread is from Tess Mallos’ book Complete Middle Eastern Cooking, which I’ve just started to explore. I’ve been going through the Cypriot section, which I’ll report back on in a day or two. Anyway, the recipe asks you to make bread according to the recipe for Kouloura dough and then instead of turning it into a bread IMG_0885.JPGring, you push it out into a rectangle; dot it with 250g of haloumi; then roll it up and tuck in the ends. TA DA.

The recipe suggested sesame seeds but I adore nigella seeds so that’s what I went with. It was fairly large, as you see, so this served to accompany two dinners for two of us… because we managed not to be incredibly greed the first night. Came up fine the second night after a little while in the fridge to take the chill off.

The only hard part is the kneading, and at least some of that could just be done in the mixer if I’d thought far enough ahead. Still, kneading is a cathartic experience…

 

Adventures with Herman

Some time ago a friend gave me a portion of Herman the German Friendship Cake, which someone slightly older than us said used to be Amish cake (I think) ‘back in her day’.

That ‘some time’ is probably about two years ago.

I followed the instructions and had a bit of fun with it, but I didn’t have many friends to give portions to. So after the specified 10 days I had some portions left. The site officially says that you shouldn’t refrigerate Herman, but sneaky sneaky it won’t be the end of the world if you do. So I’ve been experimenting, and have had two portions of Herman in the frig for a little while.

‘Experimenting’ here might be code for ‘kinda forgot they were there and occasionally got guilty about them taking up space in the frig but didn’t feel like baking with them’.

‘A little while’ may be code for… over a year now.

ANYWAY, I decided to pull out a portion last week and see how it was doing. Answer: fine, actually. Didn’t smell bad, didn’t look crusty; after being out for a couple of days and being fed, developed bubbles and continued to smell appropriately yeasty. And therefore I now have Herman to be baking with.

Adventure #1: standard cake. Well, the website’s standard cake involves apple and cinnamon, which – yes, yum, but I made changes. I have an enormous jar of Cherry Velvet from crazy-JAM-maker Kate (cherries, rose water, vanilla beans), which is a quite thick. So I got a few scoops of that, chopped it a bit to reduce the cherry halves, warmed it a bit so it would stir better, and beat it into the batter… et voila:IMG_0878.JPG

#2 portion went to the friend who came over for dinner and precipitated the necessity of cake-making.

#3: crumpets. Last time I made crumpets it was a somewhat protracted affair. This time, however, I started them the night as a friend had suggested. I used the same basic recipe but combined it with one of the bread recipes from the Herman site – so flour and water and milk and Herman and a dash of oil. Left overnight, added baking powder and more water in the morning, left it another while… and then

IMG_0879.JPG

Damn fine looking crumpets. The mixture didn’t rise as much as I had anticipated so I was worried, but these were very nice, they rose while cooking, and were just a bit denser than store-bought ones. Served with Kate’s jam, as always.

#4: more Cherry Velvet cake, because why not? Slightly larger portion so I divided it into two pans; neither is as big as the one above, but that’s fine. They’re now in the freezer.

All made while wearing a Star Wars apron.

Crumpets

photo 1Ever since discovering that it was possible to make crumpets at home, I’ve wanted to do so. And I finally did. This recipe is courtesy of hugo&elsa, who themselves got it from Elizabeth David. And as they suggest, it’s not as hard as it might look – it’s just a wee bit time consuming, especially because of the rising time. Fortunately, I had a solution: make the dough, go for a run, come home and do the second rising – drink tea while waiting – then cook and eat for brunch. Perfect! And as recommended by Hugo&Elsa, it did the latter part in my PJs, because there’s nothing quite so awesome as getting back into them after being outside. photo 3

I don’t have crumpet rings – although maybe I need to invest in a set – so I used egg rings, and they worked fine… except when they overflowed a little bit… but that wasn’t much of an issue. I also only had two so for a while I was cooking them through and then starting on the next batch, but then I realised that of course they don’t need to ring after being flipped, so then I had a nice process happening. 
photo 2

photo 4 10.55.57 amDon’t they look sweet?photo 5

It was only going to be me eating them, so I only made a half batch – which was still quite a few! I decided not to eat quite all of them, to test the suggestion that they won’t be as good later either grilled or toasted. Because Science. And I know it’s slightly heretical, but I only had a couple with honey… the rest I had with jam from the glorious Kate of Just Add Moonshine. Here you see one with Avalon – an apple and vanilla and pepper concoction; one with LOLA, which is cherry and rhubarb; and one with Cherry Velvet, which is cherry and vanilla and nobody better tell my darling that I ate it without him.

 

Flat bread

I’ve got very interested in baking bread over the last few years. I was introduced to Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day some years back, and I’m still working my way through it. This week, though, I decided to try the flat bread recipe in Leanne Kitchen’s Turkey, which I have been enjoying for a long time now.

photo 2photo 1The recipe itself is very straightforward – just a normal bread recipe, with yeast and flour etc. Once the dough has risen and been punched back, you divide it into 12, roll them out and then cook them in a dry frying pan.

As you can see, when it starts to cook the dough gets bubbles in it. This is how the bread gets that pocket effect. I wasn’t expecting that, and I got a kick out of it every time. The recipe suggests cooking each side for about 3 minutes; I discovered very quickly that timing it was unnecessary, since once the dough collapsed back a bit it was ready to flip. Plus if you flip it too early and want to colour it up a bit more, there’s no harm in flipping it back once more.

These were very easy and I’ll definitely be making them again. I’m considering options for making them slightly more interesting; they tasted fine but a bit bland. It’s been suggested that I could spray them with oil and add garlic; I’m wondering whether adding garlic to the dough itself would change the dough’s properties too much. Perhaps thyme would be nice as well, and a bit lighter than garlic…