‘Queen of the Carbs’ Makes a Comeback during an Extra-ordinary Easter

It is a long time since I’ve posted a ‘food/baking’ piece. It isn’t that I don’t do any cooking or baking these days, but more that food doesn’t have much to do with my creative work.

Obviously, blog posts about my professional work show the development and process of painting a silk scarf. Posts about art, sculpture, architectural details and East Anglia’s cultural heritage in general, indicate from where I find much of my inspiration. Then there are my flower and garden posts full of colourful floral arrangements as if you were in any doubt where quite a few of my colour combinations come from.

Then there is the odd time I write a review of a play or a film I’ve seen because I just can’t help myself despite reviews having nothing to do with painting silk. These reviews are the result of a momentary glitch when my grumpy alter ego manages to slip the leash.

But this has been a very strange and disconcerting Easter and like everybody else I have been indoors, a lot, and I found FLOUR in my store cupboard. That’s a selection of opened, half-used bags of plain, self-raising, strong, wholemeal, seeded, rye and spelt. So I’ve had a bake up.

Panini, scones and biscotti.
  • Plain flour – that will be some almond biscotti made with two-thirds white to one-third muscovado sugar.
  • Self-raising flour – some Mary Berry scones perhaps.
  • Strong flour – easy, naturally, hot cross buns!
Yes, fresh yeast. It was Hobson’s choice so not quite as fresh as it could have been.

Fortunately, along with the strong flour I also had yeast, eggs, butter and the dried fruit and spices needed for hot cross buns. Another stroke of luck was finding at the back of the cupboard the whole citrus peel leftover from my three attempts at making panettone. My first effort was made for last Christmas. Then I had another go in January and then another in February.

Anyway, let’s forget Christmas and get back to Easter! Compared to panettone hot cross buns are easy. Mix up the dough, give it a good knead and the only thing you have to remember is that as this is an enriched dough, it’s a good hour and a half for the first prove rather than the usual hour.

Dough mixed and kneaded, then after first prove shaped into buns for second prove complete with their ‘runny’ crosses – baking in the time of Covid.

This year the only issue I had was that the flour paste for the crosses was too runny and whereas I would normally keep ladling in the flour to make it thicker, with the current flour shortages, runny it stayed.

No family visiting from the depths of the West Country or even down from London this Easter holidays, but hot cross buns freeze well and will be a welcome carb treat with the morning coffee for the next . . . . . three weeks of lockdown.

It’s Real Bread Week

Bread-rolls-ovenThere is a movement to celebrate ‘Real Bread’. It is encouraging people to buy bread from a local, traditional master baker that bakes real bread or even for people to make their own bread. For those interested, you can find out more from the Real Bread Campaign.

Cinnamon-loaf
Cinnamon brioche loaf

Making your own bread is easy. People often think it’s very time consuming, but that’s mostly the time needed for proving the dough. Basically that’s when you leave the dough to do its own thing, rising in a warm, humid place.

Currant-buns
Currants buns

I’ve been making bread since I was 19 years old. I spent the year before I went to university employed in the labs attached to a flour mill and part of my work schedule was to bake bread three times a week.

Walnut-loaf
Walnut loaf

Over the years I have experimented more and more, and, I as I like nuts there have been more and more nutty loaves of various shapes and flavours.

Nut-loaf
Almond loaf

And, of course, I can’t finish without mentioning the influence of the Great British Bake Off, along with judge Paul Hollywood, which has done so much to promote yeast cookery for the home baker. I would never have ventured into Italian breads without seeing it on the GBBO and it has been well worth it. Olive breadsticks are a bit tricky (and sticky) but absolutely delicious and well worth the effort every time.

Olive-Bread-sticks

GBBO – European Cakes – How about a Dobos Torte?

Cooled-caramelDuring the run of the BBC’s ‘Great British Bake Off’ there are some weeks when I watch and think, yes, I’ll have a go at that. And, naturally, I do like cake. Here are a few photos taken over the course of several hours as I followed Mary Berry’s recipe for a Dobos Torte from her book ‘Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cake Book’.

As you can see my copy (bought 1994) is rather tatty and well-used, but this was one recipe I hadn’t tried. Spelled, in error Doboz not Dobos and hailing mistakenly from Austria when J√≥zsef Dobos was actually Hungarian, this recipe was still worth trying out!

Firstly, you have to prepare the cake layers. In this recipe they are made using a simple fatless sponge recipe although I noticed on the GBBO they suggested a Genoese sponge. Either with or without butter the mixture has to be whisked for some minutes to get the volume. Mmm – I was supposed to get six layers, but obviously misjudged the amount of mixture for each circle and only ended up with five. Of course, each layer was then not as thin as it should be, but still they were quite thin and baked really quickly and so a couple (perfectionists look away now) were OVERBAKED!

Whilst the circles of sponge cooled I made the ‘fancy’ butter cream. This involved whisking egg whites with icing sugar over simmering water, adding to softened beaten butter and then incorporating carefully melted dark chocolate. At this point I thought if I make this again I’ll sandwich with chocolate ganache instead.

Moving on to the caramel.

‘Photographing making caramel’ = ‘Watching paint dry’
Well, it is a waiting game and then because I was fussing with camera – oohh it so nearly burnt. And, I didn’t want a ‘bin’ episode. Caramel all fine – it should be I’ve been making it since I first made peanut brittle as a 13 year old at school. Don’t think that would get past health and safety these days.

I think the most tricky part when making this cake is achieving the clean cut caramel wedges for the top. You do need to be vigilant and catch the moment for marking and then slicing the top caramel soaked layer.

Time to assemble, invite other cakeaholics round for coffee and biscuits, sorry cake, and cut.

Five-layers

Oven fresh rolls – a simple pleasure

Bread-rolls
Last night it was GBBO’s ‘bread week’. What? Well, for the uninitiated GBBO is the BBC’s unexpected hit show the ‘Great British Bake Off’ which is now on its fifth series. It is simply a baking competition where contestants bake each week, but somehow it is more than just a ‘competitive’ cooking programme.

Proving

I’m not a big telly person, but this is my guilty secret not least as I love baking cakes and, well, anything sweet! Sweet, yeasty breads such as Chelsea buns, cinnamon brioche and stollen are all personal favourites, but last night only one person made a sweetened showstopper loaf. I guess with all the recent fuss about sugar being so bad for your health savoury breads were considered the safer option. Anyway, following a batch of chocolate hazelnut cookies last week I have restrained myself and baked a few granary rolls.

Into-oven

Cooling-rack