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.

Little House polenta porridge

When I promised this week would be free of pink food and party cakes, I didn’t quite anticipate spending the weekend eating very little. I’ll draw a veil over the nasty details, but suffice to say two-thirds of our household spent part of the the weekend in the clutches of (or recovering from) an unpleasant stomach ailment. If this was a different sort of blog I’d be posting selfies of my resulting washboard-ish stomach – but instead, here’s a recipe for a soothing sort of warming winter breakfast.

Polenta porridge
Do you remember the Laura Ingalls Wilder books? I can’t wait for the Small Girl to be old enough to read them. Perhaps then she’ll be keen on having this modern version of Ma’s cornmeal mush for breakfast. This can be dressed up any way you like – the photo below shows it with vanilla paste and a dollop of crème fraiche – but it’s also good with stewed fruit, grated apple, slices of frozen banana (hot/cold, hard/soft) or in true Little House style, butter and proper maple syrup. If you’re in peak health, a splash of cream goes down well too…

For one person:
1/2 cup fine cornmeal/polenta
1 cup water
Flavourings – 1 tsp vanilla paste or extract, 2 tsp butter, a spoonful of honey or the additions mentioned above

Put the polenta in a small saucepan and add the water slowly, stirring all the time. Put it over medium heat and cook, stirring often, until it thickens and begins to simmer like lava. Turn the heat down and continue to cook for five to 10 minutes, adding a little bit more water if it seems very thick. When it’s done, stir through the vanilla, butter and honey, if using, and pour into a waiting bowl. Eat while hot.

Treat me: Overnight cupcakes

Last week, when I issued a desperate call out for birthday party food ideas, I was inspired by many of the responses. But my favourite by far was the suggestion by Janice of Farmersgirl Kitchen that I make her vanilla cupcakes.
Now, I know cupcakes are, like, soooo 2009 and eclairs are where it’s at in 2013, but I can assure you that for small children, little cakes with big amounts of icing will always be in vogue.
The other thing that intrigued me about this particular recipe is that it requires the batter to rest in the fridge overnight. Among other things, this means you can have freshly baked cupcakes for breakfast, which is a trend worth setting.

Overnight cupcakes
Janice originally used a recipe from Le Cookie, a book by French pastry whizzes Mickael Benichou and Benoit Castel, who set up luxury cookie brand Moon St. So this cupcake recipe, by a French chef who designs recipes for a bakery in New York, came to me from a Scottish food blogger. Don’t you love the internet? Here’s the New Zealand version. Just a note – the icing sugar in the cupcake batter is not a mistake. I’ve made them with caster sugar and icing sugar and the icing sugar version is definitely superior.

3 eggs
150g icing sugar
finely grated zest of two lemons
150g white spelt (or plain white) flour
1 tsp baking powder
150g butter, melted and cooled

Put the eggs, icing sugar and lemon zest into the bowl of a freestanding mixer and beat on high for five minutes, until the mixture is pale and very fluffy. Sift over the flour and baking powder and mix in on low speed for a minute or two. Fold in the melted butter.
Cover the bowl and leave overnight – or for at least eight hours – in the fridge.
The next day, heat the oven to 160C and put cupcake cases in a 12-hole muffin pan. Divide the mixture evenly between the cases, smooth the tops gently, and bake for about 15 minutes until risen and pale gold. Let sit in the tin for five minutes, then remove the cupcakes to a rack to cool completely.
When they are cold, ice as you see fit. The ones pictured above have swirls of raspberry buttercream – recipe follows.

Raspberry Buttercream Icing
This generously tops 12 cupcakes. Go ahead and use raspberry flavouring/pink food colouring if you like – I was just experimenting with ways to avoid it ahead of tomorrow’s birthday party mayhem. Leaving out the sugar would probably be a safer bet! Using a freestanding mixer is the easiest way to do this and gets the best results, though a food processor comes a close second.

150g very soft but NOT melted butter
300g icing sugar, sifted
6 raspberries (frozen is fine)
2 Tbsp boiling water

Put the butter and icing sugar in a freestanding mixer/food processor and beat on high speed until very pale and fluffy. Set the mixer going, make yourself a cup of tea and sit down for five minutes (getting up occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl). Crush the raspberries in a cup and add the boiling water. Keep the mixer going and drizzle in the raspberry mixture, about a teaspoon at a time, until the icing is very fluffy and light.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Tomorrow our house will be filled with the sound of a dozen children, at least a dozen adults, and popping balloons. I am going to spend Sunday in a darkened room with a cold cloth on my forehead. At least, that’s what I’m planning!

Apple crumble smoothies

A few months ago I was complaining to a friend that the rambling nature of our garden meant that if you suddenly realised you needed herbs or greens while cooking, you needed to go out the back door, down the path, around the corner, down the steps, onto a deck, down some more steps, down a vertiginous path, past marauding hedgehogs, to the vegetable patch. Then come all the way up again (if indeed you’d remembered what you’d gone down there for – I tend to go down, pull a few weeds out, sigh heavily and start back up the track). She looked at me wryly and said, ‘but Lucy, it’s a lot closer than going to the shops’.

I realised then that perspective has a lot to do with things. Take, for example, the hassle involved in making smoothies at home – or at least the hassle in washing the assorted bits of the blender or food processor afterwards. Once I realised that washing the bowl, the lid, the blade and the pusher-down thing wasn’t going to kill me, we started having smoothies for breakfast a lot. After all, it’s much faster than going to the shops.

Apple crumble smoothies
If you live in New Zealand or England you are probably familiar with The Collective Dairy Co.’s apple crumble yoghurt, which somehow magically transports all those comforting apple-y, cinnamon-y flavours into  yoghurt. These smoothies do the same thing – without having to go and buy the yoghurt. Realising I could freeze sliced bananas has changed my life – not only are they great snacks but they are perfect for smoothies.
If you don’t have any stewed apple lying around, try a couple of very juicy, ripe pears or even (gasp!) a tin of  unsweetened apple sauce.

1 frozen banana, sliced
1 cup (about two apples’ worth) of cooked apple
1 Tbsp date syrup
2 Tbsp ground almonds, optional
1/2 tsp cinnamon
250-300ml milk
sprinkle of toasted muesli, to serve

Put the banana, apple, date syrup, almonds and cinnamon in a food processor or blender and whiz until pureed. Keep the motor running and pour in the milk until it’s the right thickness. Pour into glasses and sprinkle some toasted muesli on top. Serves two to three.

Have a great week, everyone!