No bread is an island

...entire of itself. (With apologies to John Donne!)
I live and breathe breadmaking. I’m an evangelist who would like everyone to make his or her own bread. I want to demystify breadmaking and show it as the easy everyday craft that it is. To this end I endeavour to make my recipes as simple and as foolproof as I possibly can.

I call my blog 'No bread is an island' because every bread is connected to another bread. So a spicy fruit bun with a cross on top is a hot cross bun. This fruit dough will also make a fruit loaf - or Chelsea buns or a Swedish tea ring...
I'm also a vegan, so I have lots of vegan recipes on here - and I'm adding more all the time.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

HOW TO GET THE BEST OUT OF DRIED APRICOTS

I've been a devotee of unsulphured apricots (the brown ones), over the far commoner sulphured dried apricots (which are yellow), for quite a few years now.

I've only ever seen them in my local HFS, and they cost a bit more - but they are so worth it!

Unsulphured apricots are absolutely jam-packed full of flavour, but there's one major drawback - recently, more than half of the apricots have been quite hard and not very nice. So I've found myself sorting through them, picking out the soft ones to nibble on, and using the harder ones in cooking, where, of course, they soften up nicely.

However, I've now found the solution to the problem - by cooking the apricots. All I do, while the oven is on for something else, is place some in a small casserole dish, cover with water and cook for 30 minutes or so. When they are cooled, I place them in the fridge.

The result of this is that they become absolutely succulent - soft and almost falling apart. They are glorious, and the liqueur that results is just bursting with flavour.

I have a variety of uses for these. I snack on one or two when I need a sweet hit and I would normally reach for a square or two of dark chocolate. I add them occasionally to my flaxseed 'porridge', along with flaked almonds. (Partly this is to make sure I gain the extra value from the trace elements which might otherwise be missing from my diet.)

But the best use I've found of these luscious fruits is as a base for an after-dinner sweet, or pudding. A few of these, and some of the liquid, along with some sliced banana and a splash of soya cream, makes a superb dessert. For a deluxe version of this, which is what I shall probably have on Christmas day, I add a dash of a liqueur to the dish. My current favourite for this is Benedictine, but any vegan liqueur would go really well.

I do have one or two other ideas where I can use these apricots, but, until I try them, I won't post about them. But I'm sure you could invent your own method of using these - they truly are gorgeous!

Notes:
I'm sure any way of cooking these in a little water would be as effective as the above method. Poaching them in a saucepan, with water to cover, for ten to fifteen minutes; microwaving them would also do the trick. It's just that I like the 'free' method of using the oven while it's on for something else.


Variation:
I've given dates the same treatment - with very similar results! I must try other dried fruits.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

VEGAN CHRISTMAS DAY MENU


Breakfast  
(Although I may miss out breakfast altogether, saving my calories for later) 

2 dessertspoons ground flaxseeds
2 dessertspoons sesame seeds (also ground)
Apple juice
1 dessertspoon flaked almonds

Lunch.

Starter:
French toast with mushroom pate, chilli and onion chutney, cayenne pepper and salad.

Main:
Haggis en croute, with a brioche wrap, along with a rich, spicy tomato sauce. Plus all the trimmings - the roasties, cranberry sauce and all the lovely veg.

Dessert:
Either a trifle, if I can be faffed, or, my new favourite, lightly cooked dried apricots, with their juice, sliced banana, soya cream and a splash of Benedictine.

All this will be washed down with a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape, which my son received for his birthday and he assures he's bring down with him when he arrives this afternoon. :)


Supper.

Bubble and squeak - with added nutritional yeast and curry powder - and fresh wholemeal bread spread with olive oil (keeps solid in my fridge).

Sunday, 21 December 2014

VEGETARIAN - VEGAN, EVEN - HAGGIS

[Latest version at the foot of this post] [And here's the haggis en croute I had for the last two Christmases - and I shall be having again this time]

Don’t know why it took me so long to get around to making my own version of a veggie haggis. I found it very simple - similar to making a nut roast, and I’ve made a few of those.

I looked at a few recipes on the BBC Food board and on the net – and just used what I had in the cupboard. None of these amounts, it seems to me, are set in stone – play around with them as you will:

Ingredients:
Olive oil
An onion, finely chopped
Large carrot, finely chopped
Some mushrooms, finely chopped
100g red lentils
Around 500ml vegetable stock
200g or so cooked red kidney beans
50g chopped, mixed nuts
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Good splash of red wine
1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs
Pinch cayenne pepper
200g porridge oats
Freshly ground black pepper

Method:
Fry the onion and carrot in the oil for 5 minutes, then add the mushrooms and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Add the lentils and the stock
When the lentils are cooked add the rest of the ingredients and simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes, adding extra liquid if necessary.
Turn the mixture into a lined 2lb loaf tin and bake for 45-60 minutes at 190°C, 375°F or Gas Mark 5.

I had it with a spicy tomato sauce, roast potatoes and veg.

This made enough for 3 good meals. Divide what’s left into two (say) and get it in the freezer quickly. (I found it very hard not to keep picking at it while it was lying around in the kitchen!)

I’ll certainly make this again – and I won’t be buying McSweens haggis at £4.30 again – although I might be tempted by Hall’s haggis at £1.50 when next they become available (around Burns’ night!).

Next time I’ll:
Include celery and possibly cabbage;
Include more mushrooms;
Increase the amount of red kidney beans – or add a similar amount of other beans, such as black-eyed beans or butter beans;
Add more cayenne pepper
Make a bigger one!


Here's the last third, just defrosted:


13th November 2011.
Made this again today, using less porridge oats and reducing the stock:

Ingredients:
Onion, celery, pepper, mushroom and carrot – all chopped small
100g of lentils cooked in 300g water
200g vegetable stock
2 dsps each mushroom sauce and Worcester sauce
1 dsp tomato puree
1 teaspoon mixed herbs
50g chopped, cooked, sweet chestnuts
300g red kidney beans
50g chopped nuts (which I ground in my spice mill)
100g porridge oats
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Ground black pepper to taste

Method:
Gently fry the onions, etc, for 5-10 minutes. 
Cook the lentils and add the stock, mushroom and Worcester sauce, tomato puree and herbs, then stir in the fried vegetables, nuts, chestnuts, beans and the porridge oats. Finally, add the lemon juice and the wine and stir thoroughly. At this stage I generally taste the mix and adjust the flavour if need be.

I omitted the simmering stage and put the mix straight into loaf tins.

Cook for about 45-50 minutes at 190C 

I had some for dinner tonight and there's over 800g of it left - probably another 5 or so meals, I reckon!

Saturday, 20 December 2014

CHRISTMAS LOAF - Festive, fun - and vegan!

To demonstrate just how easy this loaf is to make, this was made in about an hour and a half in one of my special needs breadmaking classes. There are more pics further down the post - some showing how the loaf is assembled.
This is a splendid bread for those who find Christmas cake a bit too rich and heavy. Every slice should show the bright yellow of the marzipan, and the red of the glacé cherries. The amounts of fruit, etc, I’ve given, are merely my suggestions. Vary them as you will. If you aren’t keen on marzipan, use (yellow) dried apricots - or tinned sliced peaches. And use any other glacé fruit you like. The idea is create a colourful, festive appearance when the loaf is sliced.

[For another take on this loaf, which belongs to the large family of fruit breads - with pics - have a look here.]

Ingredients:
200g (or 1 mug) strong white flour                                                    
1 tablespoon sugar
100g (1/2 mug) sultanas (or any dried fruit; chop larger fruit down to sultana size)
25g candied peel
Any spices you like – mixed spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. - to personal taste
1 dsp fresh yeast
125ml (or 1/3 mug) lukewarm water
Good splash of olive oil (2-3 tbs?) (optional)

Plus:
50g golden marzipan
50g glacé cherries, halved (save 3 half cherries for decoration)
Sugar glaze made with 1 tsp sugar and 1 dessertspoon boiling water

Method:
1.    Place the flour, sugar, dried fruit, nuts, mixed peel and spices in a large mixing bowl. Mix to distribute the spices. Measure the water and stir in the fresh yeast. Place the flour and sugar into a mixing bowl and pour in the yeast liquid. Add the olive oil. Have a little water to hand to add if necessary, remember, it is better for your dough to be wetter (slack) rather than drier (tight).

2.   Hold the bowl with one hand and begin to mix with the other. Use one hand to turn the bowl round, whilst the other hand begins to squeeze the mixture together. As it forms into a solid mass, keep turning it over and pressing it down to pick up the flour at the bottom of the bowl – but make sure it stays soft. Don’t be afraid to add more water. When all the flour has been mixed in, wipe the bowl around with the dough, turn it out onto the worktop and begin to knead.

3.   Knead by stretching the dough out, folding it over, stretching it out and so on and so forth. Do this until it becomes smooth and even. This shouldn’t take very long.

4.   Now roll the dough out into a circle about 20cm across, then shape the marzipan into a long rope, just smaller than the width of the dough. Place the marzipan across the middle of the dough and put the halves of glacé cherries along each side of the marzipan (saving 3 halved cherries for decorating the top). Add more cherries if you like.

5.   Fold one side of the dough, towards you, over the marzipan and cherries, then fold it over once more, so that the seam is underneath. Tuck the ends underneath to stop the marzipan from leaking out. Place on a prepared baking sheet.

6.   Using a pair of scissors, snip three cuts in a row in the top of the loaf for the half cherries. Gently, but firmly, insert a halved glacé cherry into the slits, tucking the edge of the cherry under the dough on each side (this stops them falling out as the bread rises). 

7.   Cover with a dry tea towel and leave until it has risen appreciably. To prevent it browning too fast  cover it with baking parchment halfway through baking.

8.   Bake for 25–30 minutes at 190C, 375F or gas mark 5. Brush with a sugar glaze made from 1 rounded teaspoon of sugar and 2 of boiling water.  Cool on a wire tray.

This will keep for a couple of days and it freezes very well.

Here's my Christmas loaf for this year, containing dried apricots, and cranberries
The large one is for us, the small one I've sent to my sister, who sends us a Christmas pud every year.


Bit of a traffic light theme here, which I thought the grandchildren would enjoy!
These pics are of the Christmas loaf we're having this Christmas  - that's now in the freezer - plus my sister's loaf which is in the care of Royal Mail, ATM.

Here are the ingredients:

300g strong white flour
3 dessertspoons sugar
2 teaspoons mixed spice
2 teaspoons cinnamon
100g sultanas
50g cranberries
50g dried apricots, chopped
(These were all soaked for a while in boiling water - then I used the water with the yeast)
175ml lukewarm soaking water (bit less than usual because the fruit was very wet)
10g fresh yeast
25ml olive oil

Plus:
100g golden marzipan
Coloured glacé cherries, halved 

This made for a very sticky dough which I kneaded briefly for several times over about an hour - by which time it had become a lot less sticky.

I divided it into 2 - 500g and 300g (roughly), rolled the dough out into long ovals (I've realised that by making the loaf longer and thinner, it'll bake better) and added the marzipan and the cherries.

Folded the top over the middle, then rolled it over once more, hiding the seam underneath, and tucked the ends in.

On went the cherries and I covered both loaves with a roasting dish to prove.

Whilst the filling was going on, the bread was rising, so it didn't take long before it was ready to go into the oven. I left the cover on in the oven for the first 15 minutes then removed the cover and turned the tray round a quarter turn every 5 minutes until it was done - about 35 minutes altogether at 200C.

When it came out of the oven I put the loaves to cool and brushed them with a sugar glaze

(I'm a bit annoyed with myself, since I forgot to sprinkle some flaked almonds over the marzipan and cherries.)


Friday 16th December.
I've been making this bread with various groups for the past few weeks - here's a few pics:





















Thursday, 11 December 2014

GRISSINI - and grissini nibbles (vegan)

Put a little kink in each one - it'll help if you need to turn them over to cook them evenly
Cut them into four to make nibbles
Add flavoursome  ingredients to these - stock cube, curry powder, finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes, etc. 
Ingredients:
200g  (or 1 mug) strong flour of your choice - I prefer half and half wholemeal and white
1/4 teaspoon salt
125ml (or 1/3 mug) lukewarm water
1 rounded teaspoon fresh yeast
Tablespoon of olive oil (or a good glug!)

Method:
1. Place flour and salt into a mixing bowl, measure the water and stir in the fresh yeast. Pour in the yeast liquid and add the olive oil if using. 

2. Have a little water to hand to add if necessary, remember, it is better for your dough to be wetter (slack) rather than drier (tight). Begin to mix by stirring the ingredients together with a knife, cutting through the dough. When it gets too stiff for the knife, use your hand to squeeze the mixture together. As it forms into a solid mass, keep turning it over and pressing it down to pick up the flour at the bottom of the bowl – but make sure it stays soft. Don’t be afraid to add more water to keep it soft! When all the flour has been mixed in, wipe the bowl around with the dough, turn it out onto the worktop and begin to knead.

3. Knead by stretching the dough out, folding it over, stretching it out and so on and so forth. Do this until it is smooth – or until you get fed up!

4. Leave to prove for about an hour on your worktop, covered with a dry tea towel. Or place in an oiled plastic bag until you are ready for step 5.

5. When you are ready to proceed, divide the dough into 16-20 pieces and roll out into thin sticks as long as your baking sheet will allow. Place them on your prepared baking sheet, keeping them at least the thickness of the sticks apart.

6. Bake at 200C, gas 7, for approximately 10 minutes. Turn them over if necessary to cook the underneath. If you intend to keep these for a few days, they will need to be completely dried out. Leave them in a slow oven, 300F, 150C or gas mark 2, for 30 or so minutes. Check every few minutes to make sure they’re not charring. Once they have completely crisped up, they can be stored in an airtight container.

Note:
Straight grissini are difficult to turn over if you want to make sure they’re done underneath – they keep rolling back! To overcome this problem, give your grissini a slight kink in the middle – or make a right angle with the end of the breadstick.

Variation:
Spicy grissini – add a dsp of curry paste with the olive oil, or some curry powder with the salt.
Or add 4 or 5 chopped sun-dried tomatoes in step one.

(Pic: Portfolio for students.)

Saturday, 6 December 2014

SPELT SODA BREADS - PLAIN AND FOCACCIA





These are two soda breads made with wheat - and a fair amount of olive oil
Ingredients:
400g spelt flour
1/2 tsp salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
250ml water
Good glug olive oil (optional)

Method:
1.     Since the baking powder – which contains the raising agents – begins working as soon as it comes into contact with the water, it is essential to have everything ready before mixing the dough. So, heat the oven to 220C, 425F, gas mark 7 and either grease your baking sheet or line it with baking parchment.

2.     Place the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl, add the baking powder and stir the dry ingredients to mix them evenly. When the oven is hot, add the liquid and begin mixing with a palette knife or similar.

3.     Mix together into a soft dough, adding more flour or water as needed. Turn it out onto a floured worktop, firmly mould it into a round flat loaf, about 3cm thick and place it on your prepared baking sheet. (With practice you can get the mixing and shaping done in less than two minutes.) To allow the heat of the oven to reach the centre of the dough more easily, cut a deep cross into the top of the loaf with a sharp knife.

4.     Bake in the centre of the oven for 25-30 minutes,

5.     The loaf is ready when it has a good colour underneath and a skewer comes out clean. You may need to put it back in, upside down, for a few more minutes. Place to cool on a wire rack and – for a softer crust – wrap the bread in a tea cloth.

Variation:


Fruit soda bread:
At step two, instead of the salt, add 2 dessertspoons of sugar, a mug (200g) of dried fruit and 2 teaspoons of mixed spice.


Soda bread focaccia with oatmeal and rosemary
Here's Penny, on one of my workshops, just adding olive oil to her rosemary focaccia (yeast-risen)
Ingredients:
300g spelt flour
100g fine or medium oatmeal
1/2 tsp salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
250ml water
3 tablespoons olive oil

Plus:
Olive oil to drizzle
Sprigs of fresh rosemary - or 2 teaspoons of dried

Method:
1.     Pre-heat oven to 220C, 425F, gas mark 7 and prepare your baking sheet – either grease it or line it with bakingparchment. (The baking sheet should have a lip so that the olive oil won't spill everywhere!)

2.     Place the flour, oatmeal and salt into a large mixing bowl, add the baking powderand stir the dry ingredients to mix them evenly. When the oven is hot, add the water and oil, and begin mixing with a palette knife or similar.

3.     Mix together into a soft dough, adding more flour or water as needed. Turn it out onto a floured worktop, mould it into a cob shape, roll it out into a large circle, about 2cm thick and place it on your prepared baking sheet. (With practice you can get the mixing and shaping done in less than two minutes.) 

4.    Press your fingertips into the dough, making large indentations. Press sprigs of rosemary into the holes and drizzle oil all over the dough. Or: Drizzle the oil and sprinkle the dried rosemary all over

Follow steps 4-5 in the above recipe.