Thursday 18 March 2010

Strawberry buns

These were inspired by reading the Caked Crusader's recent 'History Corner' post about Richmond cakes. I had a vague memory of reading the post and thinking how interesting it was. Sadly I don't have any antique cookery books, but I do have Cakes Regional and Traditional, by Julie Duff. I think that's a pretty good second option to genuine antique cookery books! The book is a fabulous collection of many cakes and biscuits (in the British rather than US sense of the word) traditionally baked in many regions around the UK. The research is really interesting and each recipe is prefaced by some background detail about why, where and how it was made. I love those kind of details, they make the recipes seem more alive, and you can imagine mothers and grandmothers throughout the country baking treats for their family tea-time or to celebrate special, often religious occasions.

I don't know exactly why my eye was drawn to this bun recipe, but I have an abundance of jam at the moment and had all the other ingredients too. Part of its appeal was definitely due to its simplicity - no need for expensive or exotic ingredients to make this quick little treat. I also enjoyed shaping the buns, it wasn't difficult at all, and it gave a satisfying sense of achievement....

225g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
75g butter
75g caster sugar
1 large egg, beaten
A little milk
Jam of choice - raspberry is specified, I had strawberry open so used that - use your own homemade, or go exotic with ginger conserve or even marmalade.
A little extra milk and caster sugar

- Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.
- Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl and rub in the butter until you get a mixture looking like fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.
- Add the beaten egg and enough milk to form a soft dough.
- Divide the dough into 12 pieces and roll them into balls.
- Flatten the ball into the palm of your hand so it's sort of cup shaped, and then add a little jam. I used about 1/2 tsp for each one - too much and you can't close them.
- Dab a little milk around the edges of the circle and close the dough over the jam.
- Turn seam side down and put on the baking tray. Repeat....
- Brush a little milk over the buns and sprinkle with caster sugar - I often forget this step, but it really helps to make these buns.
- Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown.
- Cool on a wire rack, but if you just can't wait and want them hot from the oven remember that the jam will be scorchingly hot!

I really enjoyed these - soft cakey bun with a lovely strawberry centre. I think they'd be good with lots of different kinds of jam - gooseberry jam perhaps for a quintessentially English twist. It was only after I'd eaten a few (ahem..) that I realised that the flavour I was expecting was vanilla, because this kind of cake is so often flavoured with vanilla. It was quite a refreshing change to let the other flavours come through. Brushing with milk and sprinkling with caster sugar adds a lovely crunchy finish and I'm really glad I didn't forget to do it. Don't worry if you don't have a pastry brush, I couldn't find mine and just used the end of my finger!

I really hope you enjoy these - simple, but perfect to accompany a cup of tea.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Cottage Loaf for a bake-off

Firstly, sorry for the absence, I've been busy getting a new job!!! That having been achieved, I'll hopefully be posting more!!! This post serves dual purpose, to tell you about the best bread I've made to date, and to enter Celia's Cottage Loaf bake-off. You can see a round up of the cottage loaves here. The recipe for the bread is very similar to this one that I first made back in November for the Fresh from the Oven challenge. I decided recently to adapt the recipe slightly. I don't often have milk in because I don't eat cereal and I don't like hot drinks, so milk is not at the top of the shopping list. I wondered if I could make a bread with a fine texture like the half milk half water tin loaf without using milk. I decided to keep the proportions of plain and strong white flour the same, but substitute all water (hand hot) for the milk. However, remembering how silky smooth and lovely to work with this olive oil dough was, I decided to add a tbsp of extra virgin olive oil to the dough to try and recreate that soft texture. (And yes, I know that the finest extra virgin olive oil should only be used for salad dressings to appreciate its unique bouquet/flavours/aroma etc etc but realistically, the EVOO I buy from the supermarket isn't top notch-remortgage your house stuff, it's nice enough but not that special. Also, if you live on your own having loads of different bottles of oil open means lots of stale oil after a while..... after all, I don't drink it!)

Did my recipe work? I certainly think so. The other thing I added was a little vitamin C powder, a trick learnt from Dan Lepard to improve the texture of bread. I can't honestly say what made the difference, whether it was the vit C, or the olive oil, but this was the best bread I've made yet. It was soft, with quite a close crumb, perfect for toasting or sandwiches (being sturdy enough to stand up to the journey to work). It was similar to the sort of bread you can buy at the supermarket bread counter unsliced, but better! I'm not suggesting it has the depth of flavour of a rye/spelt/grain/sourdough loaf, but it's perfect for day to day unchallenging yet rewarding eating.

So when I saw that Celia was holding a Cottage Loaf bake off with free reign to choose the dough you want, I decided to see how this dough would hold up. Although I was pleased with the final result in terms of looks and the taste of the bread, I have to confess to cheating. I dutifully shaped my bread into a cottage loaf shape and watched it prove outwards instead of upwards, in a collapsing fashion! So a quick reknead and reshape was on the cards, and it was put straight into the oven without being allowed to rise!!! Against all bread making rules but who cares, it's only me eating it and the only thing I noticed was the crumb is a little tighter than usual. Still good though!

Plain white bread
150g plain flour
300g strong white flour
315ml/g hand hot (lukewarm) water
1tsp instant yeast
1tsp fine salt
1/8 tsp vitamin C powder
1tbsp olive oil

Mix all ingredients together until a rough dough is formed without any flour remaining in the bowl. Leave for 10 minutes or so. Knead briefly, for around 10-15 seconds. Cover and leave for 10 minutes. Repeat this process twice. Leave for 30 minutes. Shape as required - for a tin, or as a cottage loaf. Leave until increased in size by about 1/2 or so (I find it hard to tell, but you want there to have been movement! and bear in mind that I reshaped my cottage loaf at this point!). Preheat the oven to gas 7/220C. Place loaf in oven and give it 10 minutes. Reduce heat to gas 6/200C and give it 20 minutes more. At this point, the cottage loaf (using a half batch of dough) was done, but I usually turn the tin loaf out and give it 10 minutes more upside down to crisp the base. These are the timings that work for my oven, you want the loaf to sound hollow when tapped on the base. It should be a lovely golden brown too.

For more bread inspiration, visit Dan Lepards forums. And don't forget to check out Celia's fabulous blog too.

Sunday 7 March 2010

Still alive...

Bit busy at the moment, but hoping to return to normal soon..... bear with me. And enjoy some flowers in the interim.


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