A date with a German breakfast

Do you want to get a little fatter? Move to Germany. Seriously. I’ve never known a country for super-sized meals, at least one that’s not America. Last month I sat in a cafe in Koln and watched as a huge platter of spaghetti was served to a woman sitting with her partner and three children. ‘How nice,’ I thought to myself, ‘what a convivial way to eat’. Then I realised the pasta platter was just for her – the dad got a steak as big as a placemat and the kids gobbled a pizza each.

We are a reasonably greedy trio but we quickly learned that we needn’t order very much while eating out. Since my German is limited, to say the least, this certainly made things easy on the language front. But my it also meant that I had no hope of asking about the little dish of cream cheese and something that came with the enormous ‘Bio Breakfast’ at a cafe in Berlin, pictured above. (Not pictured: the accompanying basket of bread and tumbling pile of walnuts that were taken by a small hand.) I took this photo to help jog my taste memory when we got home and now, a month later, I think I’ve got it.

Spiced cream cheese and date spread
I am such a glutton when it comes to cream cheese I could eat this neat, but it’s also good on all manner of baked goods, from simple toast to slices of fruit loaf. Or you could use it as a dip for green apples, if you are an alternative eater (Catherine, are you reading this?). It’s not quite the same, eating it in my kitchen as it was sitting on a cafe terrace in Prenzlauer Berg, but it’s not a bad substitute.

125g good, full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
100g dates, roughly chopped

To make this the lazy way, put all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it is a chunky mixture. To make by hand, chop the dates finely (scissors is easiest) and stir into the cream cheese, along with the spices and honey. Store, covered, in the fridge, for a week.

Have a good week, everyone.

No-knead spelt bread

A mystery visitor changed my life last Friday. I went out for a few hours and returned home to find crumbs all over the kitchen floor and a tea towel draped artistically over the stovetop. Now, neither of these things are that unusual – our floors are usually so covered in crumbs it looks like Hansel and Gretel have been passing through and tea towels are often appropriated by a pair of small hands to make doll beds or princess dresses. But the strange formation of these crumbs, and the teatowel’s odd positioning, spoke of something else. All at once it dawned on me – the oven man had come! I jumped up and down on the spot beside the oven, both in utter joy and to test whether or not the door was going to fall open. It didn’t budge. I pulled on the door handle and it reluctantly opened, eager to spring back into position. I was so excited I took a video of myself opening the oven door and sent it to my beloved. “This is one of the nicest things you’ve ever done for me,” I wrote.

You may think this indicates that a) I need to get out more and b) that my relationship is in serious trouble, but if you’d spent the last 18 months grappling with an oven that didn’t close properly, you’d be excited too. I’ve spent all weekend marvelling at how easy it is to cook things when the oven door doesn’t fall open at whim and how quickly the oven heats up now that half the heat isn’t escaping. One of the first things I made was a spelt version of my ye olde DIY Vogels bread. Here’s how I did it.

Slices Of No-Knead Spelt Bread

No-knead spelt bread
I’m on a bit of a spelt kick at the moment, not least because I can buy organic spelt flour from a great shop just minutes away – but most supermarkets stock it now too. If you can boil a kettle and stir (not simultaneously), then you can make this bread. I use my own toasted muesli – like this one or this one – when making this but any decent bought one will suffice. If you leave it out, consider throwing in some seeds instead.

300g white spelt flour
300g wholemeal spelt flour
120g toasted muesli
2 tsp dried yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp honey
300ml milk
350ml boiling water

Put everything into a large bowl and mix well – it will be like porridge. Scrape into a very-well oiled and lined large loaf tin (internal measurements roughly 20cm x 10cm x 8cm).
Put into a cold oven and turn the dial to 50C. Leave for about 25 minutes, until the dough has risen to the top of the tin. Turn the heat to 200C and bake for another 40 minutes, until crusty on top and hollow when you tap it on the bottom.
Turn out to a rack to cool. This makes excellent toast, or you can cut it into canape-sized bits and have it with cream cheese and pickled ginger or smoked salmon.

What was the best thing that happened to your kitchen last week?

Post-modern Annadama bread

Have you ever heard the story of Annadamma bread? I hadn’t until recently – and like most fables, it’s a grim tale (though not one of Grimm’s tales, if you know what I mean).
The story goes that it was invented by a hard-working farmer/fisherman/hunter in New England, who had married a hopeless cook. All hapless Anna could make was cornmeal mush (in my house that’s breakfast, but perhaps tastes have changed).
Anyway, one night, when the hero (?) of the piece got home from a long day’s farmin’ and fishin’ and huntin’, he was so enraged by finding another bowl of this waiting for him that he threw in some molasses and flour, muttering ‘Anna, damn her, ‘Anna damn her’ and put the resulting mixture in the oven.
Of course, it was a resounding success, and the moral of the story is, if you want something done right, do it yourself. Or something like that. I shudder to think what became of poor Anna.

Annadama Bread

Post-modern Annadamma bread
This is a very adapted and updated version of a recipe from my prized Time-Life Breads book. which is great on inspiration and history, but some of the recipes are just a bit weird. The original features four times as much molasses, which would render it too liquorice-ish (don’t say that too quickly) for my taste and the instructions seemed very long-winded and impractical. This is a post-modern version, in which no one mutters obscenities about the cook and the bread turns out perfectly. See, dreams do come true…

60g fine cornmeal/polenta
650ml water
3 Tbsp blackstrap molasses
3 Tbsp golden syrup
2 Tbsp butter
1 1/4 tsp salt
600g strong white flour
1 Tbsp dried yeast
a little extra polenta for dusting

Put the polenta in a small saucepan and gradually add 500ml of the water, stirring all the time. Set it over medium heat and bring to the boil, stirring often, until it is very thick (about 5-10 minutes). Remove from heat and add the molasses, golden syrup, salt and butter. Beat well and set aside to cool briefly.
Put the flour and yeast in a large bowl and stir well. When the polenta mixture is lukewarm, beat this, plus the remaining 150ml of water, into the flour until a soft, sticky dough forms. Cover the bowl with a cloth and let rest for 10 minutes, then turn the dough out onto an oiled worksurface.
Pick up one side of the dough, stretch it up, then bring it down again on top of itself. Repeat from the opposite corner. Do this from each opposing corner, then scrape the dough from your hands and walk away. Leave the dough to rest for 10 minutes, then come back and repeat the pick up and stretch process again. Then leave it again for 10 minutes. Do this process once more, then scoop the dough into a well-oiled large bowl. Cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place for about 45 minutes, until nearly doubled.
Heat the oven to 200C. Tip the dough out onto the bench and knock back gently, pressing it out into a rectangle. Gather up into a round ball, tucking the ends underneath and leave on a polenta-sprinkled, baking paper-lined tray for 25-35 minutes – if you poke it gently with your finger and the indentation stays hollow, it’s ready to go in the oven. Slash the top of the loaf – a cross-hatch pattern will get you the checkerboard crust in the photo above and sprinkle with a bit of polenta – then bake for about 40 minutes, or until the bottom sounds hollow when you tap it. Slide onto a rack to cool completely before slicing.

Elizabeth David’s potato bread

“Any human being possessed of sufficient gumption to track down a source of fresh yeast – it isn’t all that rare – and collected enough to remember to buy at the same time a pound or two of plain flour, get it home, taking a mixing bowl and a measuring jug from the cupboard, and read a few simple instructions can make a decent loaf of bread.”

So wrote Elizabeth David in Queen magazine in 1968, railing against the dearth of ‘decent bread’ then available for sale in England. For the most part, I agree with her about breadmaking being simple and enjoyable – which was why I was so disappointed when her Potato Bread didn’t turn out so well.

Elizabeth David’s potato bread

Bread is the theme for this month’s Random Recipes challenge and after a few off-piste experiments of my own lately (honestly, beetroot bread IS really good), I was thrilled to land on ‘At Elizabeth David’s Table’ when randomly selecting the recipe. This is a really beautiful book, compiled by Jill Norman (David’s long-time editor), a kind of Technicolour dreamcoat version of the original humble paperbacks.

However, I think the recipe for potato bread needs a little tweaking because it’s almost inedibly salty. (I’m sorry, Mrs David, but it is!) Being an obedient follower of both Elizabeth David and Dom of Belleau Kitchen, I stuck to the recipe very faithfully, but next time I’d halve the salt.

I won’t try to ape Elizabeth David’s inimitable recipe-writing style here, but here are the basics. She uses “a minimum of 20g salt” – I suggest 2 tsp is ample. Saltiness aside, it’s lovely bread.

125g mashed potato (about 1 medium potato), warm and dry
500g strong white flour
1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
20g salt
150ml warm water (use the potato cooking water, if you remember)
150ml warm milk

Put the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl (or the bowl of a freestanding mixer). Add the potato, rubbing it in as if it were butter. Alternatively, use the paddle attachment on your mixer. Add the warm milk and water and mix well, then, knead until soft and springy (or use the dough hook). Grease the bowl with a little oil, then return the dough to it. Cover with a teatowel and leave in a warm place to prove until nearly doubled (David says this will take ‘rather longer’ than usual, possibly because the salt is doing its best to slow down the yeast).
Knock the dough back and knead lightly, then shape and put into a well-greased 1.5 litre loaf tin. Cover again with a damp cloth and let rise until the dough reaches the top of the tin (about 30-40 minutes).
Bake at 220C for about 40 minutes, ‘taking care not to let the crust get too browned or hard’.

Are you an Elizabeth David fan? Which is your favourite of her books?

Shocking pink beetroot bread

Do not adjust your screen: this bread really is THAT pink. I’ve been having a little bit of fun in the last couple of weeks, experimenting with adding vegetable purees to bread dough. I told the Small Girl I was going to do a magic trick and waved my ‘wand’ (a wooden spoon) over the teatowel-wrapped loaf while chanting the following:

Ala kazam, ala kajink

Make this bread purple-y pink!

As you can see, it worked a treat. Unfortunately she wasn’t that keen on eating it – and I admit, the colour is pretty arresting – but the bread is lovely. Here’s how to play the same trick at your house.

Beetroot Bread

Beetroot bread
Last year when I interviewed the lovely Ruth Pretty for work she showed me her prized collection of Time-Life ‘Foods of the World’ cookbooks and recommended that I look out for them. I think she cast a good spell over me, because I went through a particularly good period of finding gems in charity shops or on Trade Me immediately afterwards. One was a Time-Life Bread book, sadly not from the same edition as Ruth’s, but edited by Richard Olney and absolutely loaded with amazing recipes and bread knowledge. There’s a recipe dating from 1654 in the book that uses pumpkin, which inspired me to try beetroot. The 1654 recipe uses a lot of yeast and lets the bread rise for hours – I just adapted my normal recipe and it worked out fine. This makes a very springy, soft loaf. The beetroot taste is discernable, but not as shocking as the colour might suggest. A tablespoon of fennel seeds would be a nice addition, especially if you’re going to eat the bread with salmon and cream cheese.

500g beetroot, topped, tailed and halved
500g strong white flour
1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
60-90ml warm water

Prepare the beetroot first. Boil it for 20-30 minutes, until easily pierced with a knife. Drain, then puree in a food processor or with a stick blender. Set aside to cool. You can do this well in advance, but the puree should be at room temperature when it comes to making the bread.
Mix the flour, yeast and salt together in a large bowl, then stir in the beetroot. Mix well, adding a little water, until you have a soft, slightly sticky dough. Cover the bowl with a cloth and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Lightly oil the worksurface, then tip the dough out onto it. Pick up one side of the dough, stretch it up, then bring it down again on top of itself. Repeat from the opposite corner. Do this another three times, then scrape the dough from your hands and walk away. Leave the dough to rest for 10 minutes, then come back and repeat the pick up and stretch process again. Then leave it again for 10 minutes. Do this process once more, then scoop the dough into a well-oiled large bowl. Cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place for about 45 minutes, until nearly doubled.
Heat the oven to 200C. Tip the dough out onto the bench and knock back gently, pressing it out into a rectangle. Roll this up into a large baguette-sort of shape, or shape to fit a large loaf tin. Leave on a lined tray (or in an oiled tin) for 25 minutes, then bake for 30-35 minutes. Tip onto a rack to cool completely before slicing.