Category Archives: Breakfast

Bring Some Excitement Into Your Life! Sweet Potato and Pumpkin Seed Bread

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If you are bored of your everyday bread, if the thought of yet another white sliced loaf makes you want to scream, if you are crying out for something to break the lunchtime sandwiches tedium… Then this is the bread for you.

Why should this be the answer to your problems, you may ask? Well, not only does it look lovely, with its rich golden colour dotted with tempting pumpkin seeds, but this bread also has the advantage of partnering equally well with sweet or savoury toppings. I am pointing this out because sadly it isn’t the case with a lot of other speciality breads (onion bread with jam, anyone? ) so it is perfect for busy households where the same loaf needs to be used for toast at breakfast and to make sandwiches to take to work.

Don’t like sweet potato? Or pumpkin seeds? No problem. This works equally well with the same amount of potato, pumpkin or squash, and you can use sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, pecans, etc.

You will also be pleased to know that this lovely bread is also rather good for you, with its vegetable goodness and healthy pumpkin seeds.

So, to sum up: this bread is good-looking, versatile, tasty, and healthy.

It will change your life.

Bake it.

You will need:

250 g sweet potato, cooked then mashed

1 x 7g sachet dried yeast

350 g strong white flour

110 g pumpkin seeds

10 g salt

1 tbsp. olive oil

250 ml warm water

Method:

In  a large bowl, mix the sweet potato, flour, yeast, salt, pumpkin seeds and olive oil. Gradually add the water to form a consistent dough (you may need a little bit more or less water), then knead for about 10 min until smooth and soft.wpid-20140209_140641.jpg

If using a mixer, knead with the dough hook for 5-10 min.

Shape the dough into a ball and leave to rest, covered, for 1 to 2 h or until well-risen.wpid-20140209_144329.jpg

Press down gently with your fingertips to deflate the dough, then either shape into a ball again on a floured baking sheet, or fill a lightly oiled 900 g loaf tin. Cover and leave to rise again for 30-45 min.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220C/ fan 200C/ gas 8. Bake the bread for 25-30 min until dark golden (the loaf should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom).

Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

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Filed under Bakes, Bread, Breakfast, Vegetarian

Algerian Semolina Bread (Khobz el Dar)

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My father is Algerian; his family emigrated to France when he was a toddler, along with other tens of thousands of their countrymen in search of a better life.

My grandmother’s cooking was said to be excellent, even though food was scarce and she had a lot of mouths to feed with very little money. She sadly passed away shortly before I was born so I never got to try her food, but my father has been quite successful in re-creating some of her dishes. Her recipes revolved around a few North African staples like semolina, which is cheap and nourishing. It is also surprisingly versatile: it can be used to make sweet pastry, or steamed and served as part of “couscous”, or made into bread like here.

Baking, however, is not among my father’s skills set, so he never attempted to make this bread himself. Instead, he would buy it, along with delicious pastries, from the Algerian butcher’s (the butcher’s wife and mother would bake a load of bread and pastries to sell in the shop, usually during religious festivals).

When my aunt offered to show me how to make this bread,  I jumped at the chance. I was surprised at how easy it was, and was mesmerised by the transformation of semolina into a smooth dough. This is my aunt’s recipe; every family will have a slightly different version of this bread (some recipes call for part-wheat flour, part-semolina, some omit the seeds) so feel free to experiment and add your own touch!

This bread is at its best on the day it is made, but will keep rather well for 2-3 days if you wrap it tightly in foil. Don’t worry if it seems a bit drier on the second day, because it will then be delicious lightly toasted and served with either cold meats or cheese. It is absolutely sensational with butter and jam, too! Any slightly stale leftovers can be turned into breadcrumbs, to make the crispiest chicken nuggets!

You will need:

750 g semolina flour
1 tsp salt
7 tbsp sunflower oil
250 to 300 ml water
20 g fresh yeast (or 10 g dried yeast)
2 tsp warm milk
2 tsp sesame seeds
2 tsp nigella seeds (aka black onion seeds)
1 egg, beaten, for glazing

Method:

In a large bowl, combine the semolina and salt, then add the oil and mix with your hands so the oil is evenly distributed.

Gradually add the water, mixing with your hands, until you have a slightly sticky dough. Turn out onto a large wooden board and knead for a few minutes until the dough starts to feel smoother.

In a small bowl or cup, mix the yeast and milk to a paste.

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Add the sesame and nigella seeds to your dough and knead to distribute. With your fingers, create a small hollow in the dough then pour in the yeast and milk mix, and knead for about 10 min, or until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Shape the dough into a disc 2 to 3 cm thick, then cover with a thick cloth and leave to prove somewhere warm for 1 to 2 h.

Preheat your oven to 220º C/ 200º C fan/ Gas 7. Sprinkle a non-stick baking sheet with semolina.

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Gently transfer the risen dough to the baking sheet, and with your thumb create a hole in the centre of the disc, going all the way through. Brush the top with the beaten egg, and bake for about 35 min, or until golden brown on top, and you get a hollow sound when tapping the bottom.
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Little Rhubarb and Apple Turnovers

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Every year, I look forward to the appearance of rhubarb in the shops; I absolutely love baking with it and experimenting with new recipes.

When I was growing up, there was always  an abundance of rhubarb at home, as we had plenty in the garden.  We started making turnovers with my mother as an alternative to rhubarb tart. 

Initially we were using shortcrust pastry, and making them into large triangles. I have evolved the recipe over time to the current, more indulgent version, but you can easily sustitute the puff pastry for shortcrust, and vary the size and shape of the turnovers. 

 You will need (for 40-45 turnovers):

For the rough puff pastry:
500 g plain flour
500 g cold butter, diced
2 tsp salt
250 ml very cold water

For the filling:
40 g butter
500 g rhubarb, peeled and diced
1 apple, peeled, cored and cut into small cubes
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 tbsp golden caster sugar

For glazing:
1 egg yolk, beaten

Method:

Make the pastry:
Put the flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the middle where you will put the butter.

With your fingertips, lightly rub the flour into the butter until you end up with very small pieces of butter and a sandy consistency.

Gradually add some of the water, mixing as you go, until you have an elastic, coherent dough (you probably won’t need all of the water). Wrap it in cling film and refrigerate for 30 min.

On a well-floured board or worktop, roll the pastry out to a 40 cm x 20 cm rectangle. Fold it in 3, then give it a 1/4 turn. Roll it out again to a rectangle, fold as before, then wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 20 min.

Repeat the last step in full, then rest the pastry in the fridge for another 20 min. It is now ready to use.

Meanwhile, make the filling:
In a large frying pan or sauté pan with a lid, melt the butter on a medium heat. Add the apple and the rhubarb and cook for about a minute. Add the vanilla and sugar, stir, then turn the heat down and cover.

Cook for about 15 min, or until soft and the rhubarb starts falling apart. Leave to cool.

Assemble the turnovers:
Preheat the oven to 200ºC/  180ºC fan/ Gas 6.

Cut the pastry in half, leave 1 half in the fridge until needed and roll the other one out on a well-floured surface to a thickness of about 4 mm.

Stamp out as many circles as you can with a 10 cm fluted cutter. Spoon a little bit of filling in the middle of each circle, about 2 tsp should do.

Brush the edge of each circle with a bit of water, fold the circle in half and press down along the edge with your fingers to seal.

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Re-roll the trimmings and repeat, then roll out the other half of the pastry. Keep going until you run out of filling.

Transfer to a floured, non-stick baking sheet. Brush some egg yolk over the top, and bake for about 12 min or until well-risen and golden brown.

 

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White Chocolate and Orange Cookies

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I have made several versions of these cookies over the past few months, changing the type of chocolate used, adding different types of nuts etc., and they always come out tasting great. Always.

So, what is the secret, you might ask? What guarantees perfect cookies every time? The answer is actually pretty simple, although some of you might not like it. The secret to an amazing cookie is an equal ratio of butter and sugar, and the two combined should weigh more than the flour. In other words, sugar and fat taste great. It is hardly breaking news, but it still remains true!

 

You will need (for 20 cookies):

125 g caster sugar

125 g brown sugar

250 g butter, softened

2 pinches bicarbonate of soda

2 eggs

400 g plain flour

200 g good quality white chocolate, chopped

zest 1 orange, thinly cut

Method:

Mix the butter and sugars thoroughly, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one by one, beating well inbetween each addition.

Add the flour and bicard gradually, mixing well, then fold in the chocolate and zest. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 1h.

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/fan 190ºC/ gas 6. Line two baking sheets with baking paper.

Divide the dough into 4 equal parts, roll each into a log, and cut each log into 5 roughly equal slices. Shape each slice into a little ball, and arrange these balls onto the prepared trays, squashing them a little as you go.

Bake for 9-10 min until lightly golden on the edges and still soft in the centre. Cool on a wire rack.

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The Art of Speed-Baking: Soda Bread

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I cannot do without bread. I don’t know whether it is due to being French, or just a matter of taste, but I have to eat bread several times a day. I know bread has been the victim of bad press recently, and I know lots of people who proudly announce that they have “cut out bread”, and proceed to tell you how much better/happier/thinner they feel, but for me, it just wouldn’t do. Tell me I have to cut out bread, and I will ask you for a length of rope and directions to the nearest rafter.

Since moving to Britain, I have been paying more attention to the bread I eat. I never really needed to before, as fresh, traditionally made bread is still the norm in France, and finding good bread is very, very easy. In Britain, things are different. Although there is a bit of a baking revival at the moment, and new bakeries are opening, selling proper, additive-free bread, sadly none are to be found near where I live.

The only shops selling bread around here are supermarkets, and frankly the offering there is not really exciting. The choice is mainly between pre-sliced industrial loaves, which remind me of the little squares of sponge we used to use at school to wipe the chalk off our slates; or the “nicer” bread, usually labelled with something along the lines of “artisan” or “tradition”. Although much better than the other option, this bread still doesn’t quite taste like the real thing, and is very expensive for what it is (I saw a sourdough loaf selling for £2.00 last week; this would bring our bread budget to £8/week!!).  

This led me, a few years ago, to start baking my own bread. I now bake twice a week, to provide enough for 3 people for breakfast, sandwiches to take to work, dipping in soup, etc. I used to knead by hand, but since receiving my KitchenAid a couple of years ago, I have been happy to delegate this task to the trusty mixer. It doesn’t take up much of my time, doesn’t cost a lot, I know exactly what is in my bread, and I can make any type of bread I want.

As easy as I am finding it though, sometimes life gets in the way of baking. One night last week for example, I realised at around 21:30 that we had no bread left for the following day; and it was rather late to start making proper bread, as I intended to go to bed at some point that night, rather than wait for the dough to prove. The answer? Soda bread of course! 40 min flat from when you start weighing out the ingredients, to when you pull a gorgeous, golden-crusted loaf out of the oven… this really is speed-baking!

Soda bread is delicious lightly toasted, with either butter and jam, or cheese. It is also perfect alongside a nice, hearty soup.

 

You will need (for 1 loaf):

170 g wholemeal flour
170 g self-raising plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
300 ml buttermilk or full-fat milk

Method:

Preheat your oven to 200ºC/fan 180ºC/ Gas 6.

In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients, then add the buttermilk or milk and mix to a slightly sticky dough.

Line a baking tray with baking paper, sprinkle a bit of flour on it. Shape the dough into a round, place it on the tray and flatten the top slightly with your palm. With a knife, cut a cross on top of the loaf.

Bake for 25-30 min, or until nice and golden on top, and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath.

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If Al Pacino were a cake…(Chocolate Cake With A Crunchy Almond Crust)

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This cake is quite a bit like Al Pacino: at first glance, it doesn’t look like much. You wouldn’t really notice it on a cake stall, next to all the cupcakes and layer cakes, all tarted up in their rainbow-coloured frosting and sprinkles.

This cake is what you would call the underdog. But take a bite, and you will realise that it is every bit as bad ass as the star of “Scarface”.

And this is where the comparison ends, because adjectives such as moist, delicious, or moreish wouldn’t really apply to Mr Pacino. But you get the idea.

The beauty of this cake is that you get the crunchy almonds on top, which contrast wonderfully with the soft chocolate cake.

You will need:

125 g dark chocolate (ideally at least 70% cocoa solids)
125 g unsalted butter, softened
125 g self-raising flour
250 g sugar
5 eggs
50 g flaked almonds
A few drops natural almond extract

Method:

Preheat your oven to 200 C/ fan 190 C/ gas 6. Butter a metal cake tin (I use a rectangular one of 31×18 cm), and scatter the flaked almonds over the bottom.image

Melt the chocolate, either in the microwave, or in a pan on a low heat, with a drop of milk. When melted, mix with the butter in a large bowl.

Add the egg yolks to the chocolate mixture, mix thoroughly, then add the sugar. Mix energetically for a few minutes, to ensure your cake is light and fluffy. Add the flour and the almond extract.

Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks, and add gradually to the chocolate mixture, mixing very delicately.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin, and bake for 20 to 30 min or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean (the cooking time will depend on the depth of your cake tin).image

Have a slice with a cup of tea or coffee. Then another one. And I guarantee you that you will want a slice for breakfast, too!

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Reduce Waste! Eat French Toast!

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One the road to coming up with the recipe for my Marvels, I tried different ways of making them, and therefore ended up with some unsatisfactory batches.

One thing I really hate is waste, so I wasn’t about to just bin the cakes. The obvious answer was of course French Toast:

In a bowl, mix 1 beaten egg with a dash of milk and a pinch of cinnamon (I didn’t add any sugar as the cakes were already sweet).

Dip the sliced cakes in the mix, and cook in a frying pan, in a bit of melted butter, until golden on both sides.

Serve on its own or with maple syrup.

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