Valentines day chocolates made by my kids for their special friends. I’m not quite ready or equipped with the know how to deal with even the idea of a 13 year old with a girlfriend to be quite honest. “What does it mean?” I ask him but he just looks at me and shakes his head. I think it means that you just go out to the shops or movies and you may not even sit together, yet. So after many years of ignoring Valentines day we are suddenly in another place with chocolates being made, roses bought and a visit to the movies planned.
And us? We took the opportunity to be grateful for love and to be loved; to reflect on the things that make our relationship strong and to thank each other for putting up with our respective craziness and annoying habits. I bought a very special bottle of wine and some lovely tasty morsels of food. We had a picnic in our lounge room until it was time to pick up the 13 year olds. How about you – what did you do today?
At the start of last year I set myself two bread related goals:
- To make better sourdough loaves. My sourdough bread was already pretty good and much loved by all. But I was convinced that I could make a better, tastier loaf…whatever that might be.
- To make baguettes that are more like the fantastic baguettes I had in France. Yes, I knew all about the importance of ovens, and yeasts and things like that, but I was determined to try and get as close as I could.
So how did I go? Partial success I would have to say. My report card would say that I started off well but quickly lost focus (and interest) and the results suffered.
I ordered new books and fell in love with Jeffery Hammelman’s book Bread. He is a bee keeper too – no wonder I relate to his style so well! I bought myself new couche cloths and other bready stuff and started my quest with great enthusiasm. The first loaf I tried from “Bread” changed a lot for me. I understood more about why I sometimes got less rise in the oven (too much kneading – who would have guessed that one?!), how folding during bulk ferment helps compensate for less kneading. And much more. So much to learn…I was a little overwhelmed. I made that recipe a few more times and then decided that I loved it and it became my standard go-to recipe. I stopped there. It was easy, fast (yes, a fast sourdough loaf that had all the loveliness of a slowly fermented loaf!) and fool proof.
My baguettes got a lot better. I tinkered a little…and then I stopped. Again, I have kept making the same thing over and over again. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but interesting to look back on it and see how I went with my quest. I still have the desire to work on both those goals this year, but I plan to tackle it in a different way.
I am going to shift myself out of my complacent bread baking mode. Last year I only made my standard white with a tiny bit of rye loaf, baguettes and when we had guests for dinner I would make an olive and rosemary variation and occasionally a fruit bread. That’s it. No experimenting.
So this year, I am going to make a derivative bread or a completely different loaf every week. I will still make my standard loaf for sandwiches etc, but there will also be another interesting loaf to force me to experiment with some other recipes.
With that goal in mind, I made a Walnut, Cherry and Sultana loaf…and oh my, it is delicious. It might get added to the standard repertoire too! I started off with Hammelman’s Walnut and Rasin Ciabatta recipe but didn’t have some of the ingredients…and ran out of time to follow the method as well. So it is probably an insult to him to refer to his recipe…but that is where it started. It has no sweetner, added fat or egg – as I usually add when I make hot cross buns or fruit loaves. But the taste of this bread is so lovely, it does not suffer from not having those additions at all. The dried fruit adds enough sweetness.
Walnut, Cherry and Sultana Bread
450g Bakers flour
115g Mature starter
310g Water (I would increase this to 340g next time to get a wetter dough)
2 tsp Salt
45g Dried Cherries
Mix all ingredients apart from fruit and nuts together in a bowl and knead for a couple of minutes. Rest for 5-10 minutes (longer if you have the time!). Add in the fruit and nuts and knead for a further few minutes. I left the walnut halves whole and it felt like there was a lot of fruit and nuts…but it eventually mixed in just fine.
I intended to allow it to bulk prove at room temperature for a couple of hours, with a couple of folds, before putting it in the fridge, but I had to go out. So after half an hour on the bench, it went into the fridge. When I got back home a few hours later that night, I gave it a quick fold and popped it back in the fridge. This morning I took the bowl out and allowed it to sit at room temperature for an hour. I then tipped it out of the bowl and lightly pressed it out into a rough rectangle on a couche cloth. After 4 hours (and it was a hot day here) I baked it. Started with the oven at 240C for the first three minutes and then lowered the temperature to 200C for the rest of the baking time.
Why did I not know about this earlier? That there are places in this world where it is perfectly acceptable to eat cake for breakfast. So acceptable in fact that there are recipes for breakfast cake handed down through the generations! Eating cake for breakfast has been my guilty pleasure every Saturday for the last few years. No more guilt I say, and no more waiting for Saturdays only!
A friend of mine mentioned that she had to make breakfast cake for her Italian husband who can not (will not) eat anything else for breakfast. Intrigued I googled “Italian Breakfast Cake” and was surprised how many recipes came up. It seems to be similar to the French yogurt cake that was doing the rounds of blogs a couple of years ago. There were lots of variations out there, some containing potato starch, some olive oil, others butter. I wanted to make the cake less sweet than all the recipes I saw, and to use mostly honey instead of sugar. I thought olive oil would have been traditional and despite being wary about the strong flavour of extra virgin olive oil dominating the taste, I used all olive oil (not a mixture of sunflower oil and olive as I was tempted to do).
This cake is divine. Seriously. Stop what you are doing and go make it! It is light and delicate, moist, has a lovely, lovely flavour. And it is the only time I have successfully used my bundt tin – so I’d say there is some magic in it too! And what a nice way to start the New Year and being back at work…with a lovely slice of cake and a cup of coffee.
2 cups self raising flour
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup greek style unsweetened yogurt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda
zest of 1 lemon
Whip the eggs and sugar until very pale and doubled in volume. Add the honey and keep mixing. Add the yogurt and vanilla. When well mixed, add the flour, baking soda and lemon zest. Slowly add the olive oil until it is all well incorporated into the batter. Pour into a bundt cake tin that has been sprayed with some oil spray. Bake at 150 degrees fan forced for approx 30 minutes.
We bought a box of second grade ox heart tomatoes from the markets for $20. Second grade due to sheer ugliness. There’s something quite nice about tomatoes that refuse to grow to supermarket specifications!
On our return home we sliced up some tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, semi dry black olives and feta cheese for a Turkish breakfast much like I had most days in Istanbul (minus the strange variations my hotel had each day such as the potato wedges and slow cooked capsicum in the photo below!)
What a bad blogger I have been this year. I had so many thoughts and ideas and photos to blog but somehow the will to follow through seems to have abandoned me this year. I hope to make amends…and will start with sharing some photos and stories from a recent (mostly work) trip.
Starting at the end of my trip here….I managed to squeeze in a ridiculously brief visit to Paris on my way home. At the airport, tired and sick of lugging bags around I mentally berated myself for having such a silly idea to come to another country and end up being there for less than 48 hours. But then I got to Paris. And discovered that I love, love Paris in Autumn!
I managed a visit to the wonderful Musee d’Orsay. Looking at all that amazing art was soothed and calmed my tired mind and heart. A truly amazing collection. Last year when we were in Paris I missed the visit to the Centre Pompidou and the Musee d’Orsay, both of which the kids and Andrew loved. I asked them to help me choose which one to visit since I could not fit both in. The boys voted for the Pompidou and Tara voted for the Musee d’Orsay. Andrew talked about it with some architects at work who had all spent lots of time in Paris. Interestingly they all voted for the Pompidou too, but said their 10-12 year old daughters loved the d’Orsay. Something to explore in that split I think.
And ofcourse I had to fit in as many baguettes with fantastic French butter and cheese as I could. And I have to report that my food quest for this year in relation to making proper French baguettes has not been a success…yet. Far from it. Just look and marvel at this crumb…
Ofcourse there were cakes, and galettes and other sensational food too. It was Paris afterall, and I do love to eat!
I haven’t taken a great photo here but this was a really nice curry. I wanted a red curry but not the usual creamy, sweetish red curry. I wanted itto have a hint of bitterness mixed with a hint of heat. Bitterness from little Thai eggplants, snake beans and grachai (Thai ginger). Sweetness from pumpkin. Creaminess from delicate silken tofu. Yum yum! Part of my motivation was to keep this low fat and healthy, hence the low amount of coconut cream and use of tofu.
My Thai Red Curry
1 tsp corriander seeds
2 tsp Thai shrimp paste
1 tbs sliced galangal
1 tbs sliced lemon grass
2 tsp chopped grachai
1 red shallot
1 tsp peppercorns
2 tsp chilli powder
3 kaffir lime leaves
2 tbs fish sauce
1 tsp palm sugar
4 tbs coconut cream
250gm packet silken tofu
Thai apple eggplants
1 bunch snake beans
1 cup butternut pumpkin
1 carrot cut into sticks
Handful of snow peas
Handful of mushrooms
Roast the coriander seeds and shrimp paste in a pan for a few minutes. Grind with the rest of the curry paste ingredients into a fine paste.
Put two tablespoon of coconut cream into a pan and cook until it splits. Add the paste and finely shredded lime leaves and fry well. Add a little water a few times to prevent it from burning. Cook for approx 10 minutes. Add fish sauce and sugar. Add remaining coconut cream and some water until it is a thick curry consistency. Add the pumpkin and carrots and cook for ten minutes. Add the eggplant and cook until tender. Now add the remaining vegetables and stir. Cut the tofu into large cubes while still in the container. Carefully place them on top of the veggies. Cover the pot and cook on slow for 10-15 minutes. The tofu should steam and cook while sitting on top of the curry – keeping its flavours clean and separate from the curry.
I ate this without rice and loved the contrast of the bland delicate tofu with the spicy and slightly bitter curry. Crunchy snake beans against creamy pumpkin and eggplant.
Too much sanity may be madness. And maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.”
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote
I have decided that this year I am going to get really, really good at making sourdough bread. Most of the time I make mighty fine bread, much loved, mostly eaten. Occasionally the dog and the chooks have to step in and eat the duds, but that happens less often these days. I started on my sourdough journey a few years ago thanks to Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. She gave me a jar of starter, her bread recipes and a dvd showing me the technique. I have had such fun with it over the years. I have passed on jars of starter to many friends and it has traveled to many new cities and homes. I have even had little sourdough bread making demonstrations in my kitchen.
And yet, and yet….I want to get better at it. I want to make perfect pillowy, bouncy dough. I know it will make me happy to make and shape perfect dough. (Do you get an incredible urge to ‘touch’ when you see someone working with superb looking dough? Do you suffer from dough-envy like me?) I want to make baguettes like the ones I ate in Paris. And loaves of bread that taste better than anything I have eaten yet. I know I can get better crumb, better flavour, better crust.
Why the quote from Don Quixote? Apart from being a very good quote anyway, I thought of Don Quixote as I set off on this mad quest of mine. It may be impossible to make a perfect Parisian baguette in my home kitchen, or strive for a perfect loaf that is more perfect than anything I have yet tasted. But most of all it is quite mad because I am still gluten intolerant and will certainly ‘suffer’ for my quest along the way. But oh such fun I will have!
I have ordered some new bread making books, and some French couche linen….and I can’t wait until they arrive!