Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Honey and oats sandwich loaf

I can't believe it's hump day already! Halfway to the weekend. The weeks just fly away, it was barely spring and now it's less than 100 days to Christmas. But rather than thinking of dark mornings and evenings ahead, let's think about happy things. Like carbs!

This recipe is adapted from the Brown Eyed Baker blog, as it was one of the first hits that came up when I googled "sandwich bread recipe oats" and I thought it looked and sounded very delicious. I saw a very special sandwich on a cooking program on telly the other day, and am dying to try it but we didn't have any bread in the house so instead of buying some substandard British supermarket bread I just thought I would make some myself.

I always convince myself baking bread is a huge hassle, so I don't do it nearly often enough. But I started this dough after getting out of bed on a Saturday morning (around 8ish), and it was out of the oven by 11.30 am, so after giving it a bit of time to cool I will have super fresh bread for our lunch sandwiches.

This is a very simple dough to throw together from ingredients you are most likely to have at home at any time (possible minus the honey, depending on if you are a big honey fan or not. I have some old honey that has started to crystallise a bit, so this recipe was a perfect way to use it up before it became completely unusable). The original recipe uses traditional oats, not the quick cook ones, and there were comments on the site saying the dough was too soggy if using quick cook oats, but I didn't have a problem, hopefully this will work for other people as well. If you use traditional oats, have a look at the original recipe, as you are supposed to soak them in boiling hot water first and then letting the mixture cool before proceeding. I made my bread exactly as described below without problems. 

Honey and oats sandwich bread (makes 1 loaf):
1 cup warm water 
1/4 cup warm milk
2 tsp instant (easy bake) yeast
1/4 cup honey
1 cup quick cook oats
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter (cut into small pieces)
1 cup strong whole wheat flour
1 2/3 cup strong white flour

Ready for the oven
The howto:
Mix the warm water, milk, yeast, oats and honey in a bowl, and leave for a few minutes. Add the butter and salt and mix. Add flour and turn onto a table and knead until a soft dough forms (this can be done by hand or using a machine. As I don't have any other options, I did it by hand. The dough is a bit soft, but after kneading this brioche bun dough, this dough was easy peasy). Leave to proof for about an hour, or until dough has doubled in size. 

If using a regular bread loaf pan (9x5 in), butter it. I used my trusty silicon loaf pan, which needs no prep, I love it as it's one more step that can be omitted, making things just that little bit easier. After the dough has proved, oil your hands, and knock the air out of the dough by kneading it a few times. At this point the dough seemed really well behaved, it didn't stick and was easy to handle. Shape the dough into a log by smoothing it out to a rectangle and make a roll, tucking the ends under and rolling a few times on the table to ensure its even. There are some pictures of the process on the Browned Eyed Baker blog here if you aren't sure how to do it. Pop the loaf into the tin, and leave to proof for another hour to hour and a half (my loaf was climbing well over the edges of the loaf pan after an hour). At the end of the proofing, preheat oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees F). Bake for 45 minutes, and protect with foil if bread starts to brown too heavily. I added 10 minutes to the baking time as the bread still felt a bit wobbly after 45 minutes. Also, it didn't become nearly as dark as the bread in the original blog post, not sure why but it turned out great nonetheless.

The verdict:
This was a very easy bread to put together and it had great rise. It was really hard to wait until it had cooled completely before sampling it. But I do urge you to wait, as the bread is really difficult to cut while the loaf is still warm (don't ask me why I know). This bread is quite sweet from the honey, so beware if you don't like sweet breads. For me it was perfect, as I do like a bit of sweetness, and it goes great with the light nuttiness of the oats. I also like that it's very soft and fluffy, not at all dense. I think it would be perfect for toasting and serving with butter and jam. I'm not sure it would be the best for sandwiches as it seems quite soft, and quite hard to cut into really thin slices. Given how little work it is to make, this is a really great, tasty and lightly textured bread which baked perfect the first time I tried it although I did make some alterations to the original recipe.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Potato fritters

I never thought this week would end! I have survived that horrid first week back at work after a wonderful, relaxing holiday. There are few things in life as depressing as going back to work, particularly if the holiday week was as enjoyable as mine was. I had some very dear guests from back home. I love that our house is large enough to comfortably accommodate guests, and I love our wonderful conservatory which is such a beautiful space to serve meals in. For breakfast it's light and the scenery out over the fields is beautiful and in the evening it's cosy when lit up with candles and some soft light. And in the daytime it serves as a great office space for writing my blogs now that our old sofa has retired and moved to the conservatory as well.

Anyhow, the main point was I survived the week at work. And as it's the weekend, there was a need for something delicious for brunch. And that something is... drumroll... these lovely potato fritters. The recipe is from the wonderful The English Kitchen and is used almost unaltered, except I reduced the amount of cheese a little bit as I happened to have a 75g chunk hanging around. These are great as you can prep the potatoes on the evening before, and then they are pretty quick to make. Also very frugal food, particularly if you don't use much cheese the rest of the ingredients hardly cost a thing (particularly if you can just go outside and dig up your own potatoes!)

Potato fritters (makes 12):
500 grams floury potato
75 g grated cheddar (original recipe says 120 g)
3 spring onions finely chopped
1 egg
3 tbsp flour plus some more for coating
oil for cooking (about 3-4 tbsp)
black pepper and salt to taste
nutmeg (original recipe says fresh, but I only have ground)

The howto:
Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks. Cook in lightly salted water until soft. Drain well and mash. Chill until cold (original recipe recommends in fridge over night, I only let them cool outside in the slightly chilly weather for a few hours). Mix in the grated cheddar, spring onion, egg, flour, salt and pepper to form a sticky dough. Form into 12 little fritters about half an inch thick. Coat in flour. Heat oil in a frying pan and cook fritters in small batches until golden brown on both sides. Place on a piece of kitchen towel to absorb excess oil, and keep fritters warm in an oven while finishing to cook them all. The original recipe suggested to serve with some more chopped spring onion and sour cream, which sounds delicious. I served mine as brunch with some bacon and toast.

The verdict:
These little fluffy potato fritters are delicious for a brunch or as a light lunch. You could also serve them as a side with something more substantial. They have a very comforting feel to them. The outside is nice and crispy from the flour that cooks in the oil, and the inside is light and fluffy. These were a brunch hit in our house and will definitely be made again.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Raspberry and dark chocolate muffins

The other day I stopped by Morrisons as they had a good deal on strong bread flour. We don't usually shop in Morrisons as it's a bit off our usual route, but I thought it was worth going out of my way to stock up on flour. But when I got there I realised everyone else had also thought it was a great deal as there was no discounted flour left on the shelf. I felt a bit silly leaving completely empty handed as I had gone out of my way to drive there so I bought a few punnets of raspberries which happened to be very good value for money. We were rather unlucky with our own raspberries this year as the birds ate most of them, I only managed to get a few very small tubs in the freezer. So we enjoyed these raspberries very much, and ate one of the punnets with some ripe sweet figs and ice cream for pudding. I decided to make the most of the second punnet so I divided it up between two recipes, one of them being these lovely raspberry and dark chocolate muffins. 

I used a recipe from a blog called My Happy Place which I pinned ages ago. I keep on pinning stuff, but very rarely actually go back to look at them, so I felt rather satisfied with myself when I found this recipe again last night on one of my pinterest boards and it was perfect to make as a quick and easy breakfast. It also is relatively low fat as there is no added fat in addition to what comes with the yogurt and chocolate. I also replaced some of the flour with whole wheat to add some fiber. I decided to make just half of the recipe, as me and a large number of muffins is just a bad idea. The original recipe says it will make 12 muffins, so I was expecting to make 6 out of the halved recipe. However, half the recipe actually resulted in 11 muffins, so I'm not exactly sure how gigantic the original muffins are (they don't look that big in the pictures). Hence, I also needed to bake them for a much shorter time.

Raspberry and dark chocolate muffins (makes 6-11 muffins):
1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used full fat, as I detest the low fat ones)
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp caster sugar
1 1/2 cups flour (I used 1 cup all purpose and 1 whole wheat)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup raspberries cut into quarters
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
a few teaspoons of caster sugar to sprinkle on top

The howto: 
Preheat oven to 175 degrees C (375 degrees F). Butter your muffin tins (or line with paper or silicone liners. I love my silicon muffin liners, they don't need to be prepped and the muffins always come out perfectly without sticking). Mix all ingredients except the raspberries and chocolate chips in a bowl until a smooth batter forms, don't overmix. Add raspberries and chocolate chips and gently incorporate into the batter. Spoon into muffin tins until about 3/4 full. Sprinkle lightly with caster sugar. Bake for 25 minutes if making smaller muffins (i.e. 11 from this batch), and 30-40 minutes for larger muffins (i.e. if you made 6 muffins from the batter).

The verdict:
I was surprised how fluffy and soft these muffins were, given that they are very low fat. Usually my experience with "healthy" muffins is that they end up very dense, particularly if you add whole wheat flour to them. But these were really light and very delicious. The caster sugar on top forms a nice crunchy crust. The slightly tart raspberries go so well with the gooey, sweet chocolate chips. I had to immediately freeze some of these, as I had no self control whatsoever around them. I also love these easy, one bowl bakes which only take a few minutes to whip up, and you can have fresh muffins on the table in just over half an hour. Perfect for those lazy weekend brunches when you want something scrummy without having to spend the whole day slaving away in the kitchen.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Fig preserves

Garden-wise this harvest season has been both good and bad. We got loads of tomatoes again, thanks to the Culinary Consultant's hard work in the greenhouse. And we have so many courgettes and marrows that we don't know what to do with them all (so we just freeze them). Plums look good so far, enough to make a few more batches of jam, and pears look like they are coming along nicely. The asparagus did great in the spring, and most of the herbs have grown well. Grapes were a disaster, they all had some disease and just rotted away. Lettuce, basil, koriander and dill were complete failures, as were rocket and radishes. The birds ate all our cherries and almost all of the raspberries. This year we managed to get a few apricots, not many, but enough to sample them and they were absolutely gorgeous. I have only eaten store bought apricots, and never been a fan as I don't think they actually taste very much of anything. Ours were sweet and really good, too bad there wasn't enough to actually do something with them. And the figs did better this year as well. Last year we managed to get one fig. This year we have already eaten several sweet, juicy figs and we managed to get one batch which was enough to get the old gears turning a bit...

We were so encouraged by our success with the plum jam that we decided to try to make a fig preserve as well. After looking around the Interwebs for a while, I found this recipe which sounded very delicious and also perfect for the amount of figs we happened to have at hand. If you are not a seasoned jam maker, the link contains step by step illustrated instructions, although to be fair it's not very complicated. Just put all ingredients in a saucepan and boil.

Fig and ginger preserves (makes about 2 cups of jam):
455 g (1 lb) figs
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
grated zest from one lemon (about 1 tsp)
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger (or 1/2 tsp dried ground ginger or 1/4 cup candied ginger)
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup sugar (or 1/2 cup honey and 1/2 cup sugar)

The howto:
Prepare your jars by washing them and their lids in soapy water, rinse and shake most of the water out but don't towel dry. Place on a newspaper covered oven sheet, and turn oven onto 120 degrees C. Leave jars in oven until they have been at 120 degrees for at least 10 minutes, or until the water has dried. Wash and chop figs (I cut each fig into 8 pieces). Add all ingredients into a saucepan, and slowly bring to a boil while the sugar is melting. Cook until jam is at setting point (starts to thicken, and becomes sticky when scooped up using a cold spoon). Remove the cinnamon stick. Distribute the jam into the sterilised jars, cover with a piece of vax or parchment paper and close the lids. Label and store in the fridge. Note that if you use half honey and half sugar, the jam will not keep for as long, the original recipe suggests to eat it within 10-15 days. We wanted our jam to keep for longer, so we made it with sugar only. I have no idea how long this jam will keep, as we don't do the whole "submerge jars in cooking water" after sealing the lids. 

The verdict:
Second jam success! This was extremely good, the flavour of figs came out on top as it should, but you can also taste the lemon and the warm aftertaste of ginger. I would love to eat it with a spoon straight out of the jar, but it's also delicious on buttered toast. I could also imagine it would be great in cakes or maybe with some cheese and crackers. And with ice cream. And maybe in muffins. I am really getting into this whole jam thing, it certainly isn't nearly as hard as I thought. The only thing I don't know about yet is how long the jams will keep. However, given how good the jam is, I'm not sure I need to worry about such things as it will probably be gone very soon. 

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Pear and salted caramel squares

While you are reading this, I'm off enjoying the last few precious days of my annual leave entitlement this year. And doing it in great company as one of my bestest friends in the world is visiting. We are probably sitting somewhere enjoying afternoon tea. Or doing something else, but most likely it's very much food related. So I didn't want you to be without some goodies as well, hence sharing this recipe which I made a while ago, but it just got stuck in the queue of things to post.

A while ago I posted not one, but two recipes for salted caramel. As much as I love salted caramel, I didn't make it just to eat it with a spoon straight from the jar (although a large amount of the caramel did suffer that fate). I actually made it for these amazing pear squares, which I have adapted from a recipe for Apple Pie Bars from Sally's Baking Addiction. I used pear as that was what I happened to take out of the freezer. Note to self, frozen apple and pear look very similar if they aren't labelled appropriately. I have learned my lesson, and have been much more diligent with my labelling pen and masking tape this year. But this time it turned out to be a very lucky coincidence as the squares turned out really good.

Pear and Salted Caramel Squares (makes 16 squares):
115 g unsalted butter, melted
50 g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
125 g all purpose flour

Pear filling:
about 2 cups of cubed pear (if using frozen, defrost and drain well before using)
1-2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg, cloves or ground ginger depending on preference (or a bit of each...)
(optional: a tbsp or two of stewed pear)

40g oats
70 g muscovado sugar (I prefer light to dark for this bake)
30 g all purpose flour
60 g butter
home made salted caramel

The Howto:
Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C (300 degrees F). Line a 8x8 in (20x20 cm) baking tin with parchment paper. Prepare the crust by mixing all ingredients but the flour, and then adding flour, mixing only enough to get a smooth dough. Press into the baking tin, and bake for 15 minutes.

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling and crumble. For the filling, mix the pear with the spices. You could add sugar if you want to, but I think it was perfect without any added sugar. To prepare the crumble mix oats, sugar and flour in a bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, and rub it into the oat and flour mix until you get a consistency of coarse sand.

When the crust has baked, increase the oven temperature to 175 degrees C (350 degrees F). Spread the stewed pears and then pear chunks in an even layer onto the crust, and top with crumble. Bake for another 30-35 minutes until the crumble is golden brown.

Let cool completely, first in room temperature and then for at least 2 hours in the fridge. Drizzle with salted caramel and cut into 16 squares.

The Verdict:
I have already made these bars twice, that's how good they are. I'm sure the original version with apples is amazing, but I think my pear one worked really well, and as I said, I omitted the sugar from the filling as I didn't want them to be overly sweet. Together with the delicious home made salted caramel they make such a perfect combination. I enjoyed the squares best when room temperature, but they were also good when eaten warm with some vanilla ice cream. I was going to put some of them into the freezer, but not all too surprisingly there weren't any left when I was going to freeze them.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Brioche buns

I have been meaning to try baking my own hamburger buns, as the store bought ones are simply disgusting. The quality of bread in general in this country is indescribably substandard. The only way of getting a decent loaf of bread is to bake it yourself. Sometimes you may run across a small bakery that makes good bread, but living beyond all civilisation we don't have any good bakeries anywhere near us. I do like my burgers in a nice brioche bun, so I thought why not try it. As I was working the dough I was once again reminded that making brioche dough by hand is a pain, and that I need to start saving up for that Kitchen Aid ASAP.

I found this recipe by simply googling brioche buns. It's from a blog called The Clever Carrot, and they looked so yummy. The blog also has some great step by step tutorial with photos if you are not a very experienced baker (but it's only for using a food processor to make the dough).

Brioche hamburger buns (makes 8):
1 cup warm water
3 tbsp warm milk
2 tsp dry yeast
2 1/2 tbsp sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups bread flour
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt (I would decrease this to 3/4 - 1 tsp)
35 g butter
(seeds for topping if desired)

The howto:
Mix the water, milk, yeast and sugar in a jug or small bowl and let stand for five minutes. Meanwhile lightly whisk the egg in another small bowl. In a large bowl, mix the flours, salt and butter and either use a paddle attachment on a stand mixer or your fingers to process until resembling coarse sand. Add the yeast mixture and egg and either process in a stand mixer for 8-10 minutes until a dough forms, or use your hands to mix and then knead for 10-15 minutes. The dough is sticky and rather tough to knead by hand, but don't add more flour as that makes the dough too dense. I used a dough scraper in one hand and the other hand to do the kneading. It will get slightly less sticky at some point when the gluten starts forming. Return to the bowl and let the dough rise until double in size. This will take 1-3 hours, and it's worth letting it rise properly as that is what will give you those wonderfully light and fluffy buns. 

When you are happy with the size of you dough, scrape it out onto a floured surface, and knead a few times to push out all the air. Divide into eight equal sized balls, and shape into rolls. Place onto a parchment paper covered baking sheet and cover with a towel and leave to rise for another hour. Towards the end of the second raise, pre-heat oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees F). Brush with egg wash ( egg mixed with a bit of water) and sprinkle with seeds of choice if desired. Place an oven proof dish with water in the lower part of the oven, and place rolls in the oven to bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool.

The verdict:
Before starting, I have to admit I made a mistake when making the dough, which I only discovered when I typed up the recipe for my blog post. I only put one egg in the dough instead of two. I was wondering why the dough wasn't quite as soggy as I had expected (although it was sticky enough, trust me). So all I can say is that the buns turned out great when using one egg. They were really tasty, and very light and fluffy. The only change I would make is to reduce the amount of salt to half of what it is, I don't like my bread very salty and this was certainly a bit on the extreme side. But other than that, these were the perfect hamburger buns. They were also perfect for eating with nothing but butter while fresh out of the oven, and they were perfect for eating for breakfast with butter and jam (such as this awesome plum jam). This is definitely a keeper, although the kneading is a bit of a messy business it's definitely worth the effort. 
The buns are perfect for hamburgers but also delicious
simply with some butter and jam.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Plum jam

I refuse to think it's fall yet, it's just late summer, right? It must be summer because we are still getting plenty of tomatoes and courgettes. But on the other side, I have to admit that the onions have been harvested as have the potatoes. And it's pouring with rain outside, and we don't sleep with the windows open anymore so maybe it's time to stop kidding myself and admit it it slowly turning into fall. I can't believe August is coming to an end. But the good thing with fall is that the produce keeps rolling in, it's time for figs and plums, and when they are done there are still the pears and apples to look forward to. This is our second harvest season in our home, and although I don't wish for big things in my life anymore, the one thing I do wish for is that there will be many more harvest seasons in this house. 

I don't think I've ever made my own jam before. In my mind it has always been a somewhat daunting task. However, we didn't use all of the plums I froze last year so I thought this year we should make something different from whatever our two (well, more like one and a half) plum tree produces. The Culinary Consultant's Dad gave us a jar of yummy plum jam last year, so I thought let's just give it a try and see what happens.

I googled plum jam and found this useful recipe for all sorts of jams on BBC good food. So that's what I followed, except I didn't put any butter on top of the jam because I found the idea a bit revolting. I wasn't sure whether you were supposed to peel the plums before making the jam, what we did was to put them in there with the skins on and then sieve the jam through a colander to remove the skins when it was done. I love that the jam got a beautiful pink colour, which I don't think it would have without the peel. It also gave the jam a slightly bitter flavour, which both of us liked (think along the lines of orange marmalade). I had enough plums to make one and a half times the original recipe, so we have a nice little collection of very randomly shaped jam jars in the fridge (I added the amounts I used in parenthesis in the recipe below). The original recipe says it makes about 1.2 litres, so my extended version should make about 1.8 litres. As our jars were all different sizes and shapes, it's a bit hard to confirm but I guess that's about right.

Plum jam (makes about 1.2 (1.8) litres):
900 g (1400 g) plums
150 ml (225 ml) water
900 g (1400 g) sugar

The howto:
Prepare your jam jars and lids. Wash them in hot, soapy water and rinse. Shake to remove excess water but don't towel dry. Place on a newspaper covered oven tray, making sure the jars don't touch each other. Put into a cold oven and leave to wait. Quarter your plums and remove the stones. Add water and bring to a gentle boil, cooking until fruit has softened, about 30-40 minutes.

Towards the end of the cooking time, turn the oven with the jars inside it to 120 degrees C. Make sure jars are at 120 degrees C at least 10 minutes, and until all water has evaporated from them.

When the fruit is soft, add sugar, and keep on low heat until dissolved. Bring to a rolling boil and cook until the jam has reached setting point (105 degrees). This should take about 10 minutes, although I left it cooking for a bit longer as it didn't feel like it had started to thicken at all at 10 minutes.

You can now transfer the jam into the sterile jars. I however sieved the jam through a colander to remove the peels, brought it back to a quick boil and then transferred to jars. Label and seal. I made little labels using my printer and some crafting stuff. The font is called Jane Austen and it's freely downloadable, it's just perfect for so many things including jam labels.

The verdict:
When we poured the jam into jars, it was still rather runny, and I wasn't sure it would set properly. But it did! Once it cooled off, it became the perfect jammy sticky consistency. It's so good that in one day we had already consumed half a jar. It's perfect on toast, and I am already dreaming of a plum-Victoria sponge cake. And to be fair, it's rather good just eaten with a spoon straight from the jar. I do think leaving the skins on the plums was a good ideas they added a bit of bitterness to the jam. It's not too sweet with the little added tanginess, and the flavour of the plums comes through perfectly. For a first attempt at jam making, I would say this exceeded all my expectations, and furthermore it was much less effort than I had imagined. Particularly as the Culinary Consultant cleaned up the mess we had made in the kitchen!