I have never been one of those people who skips breakfast. I need something to eat within 10 minutes of getting out of bed, no matter how early it is, so I am always amazed by recipes for breakfast dishes that require hours of preparation. That old saying about breakfasting like a king, lunching like a lord and dining like a pauper is fine by me, as long as I get to have a pre-breakfast (like a kitchen maid?) first.
That said, there’s nothing like hot bread for breakfast. With this fruity loaf – my entry for May’s Fresh From The Oven challenge (hosted by La Cuisine de Sarah) – you can have your bread-like cake and eat it too.

Rhubarb and raspberry focaccia
This is based on a Ray McVinnie recipe from the 100th issue of Cuisine. It’s about as hands-free as breadmaking gets – there’s no kneading, the dough rises overnight and requires the minimum of fuss in the morning. You might need a cup of tea and a dry biscuit while it cooks if you’re like me and feel faint with hunger within minutes of getting out of bed, but it’s worth the wait. It’s also a good thing to take when you’re invited over for brunch – or to make for Mother’s Day.

500ml warm water
1Tbsp yeast
2Tbsp olive oil
800g strong white flour
1 1/2 tsp salt

300g rhubarb, cut into 3cm pieces
200g raspberries (frozen is fine)
50ml cream
3Tbsp raw sugar

Put the water in a large bowl and add the yeast. Stir to dissolve and leave for five minutes to start working. Add the oil and beat, well, then add the flour and salt. Mix well to form a dough. Cover the bowl with plastic and leave overnight.
In the morning, get up and turn the oven to 200C. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and press/roll out to form a rough oval shape, about 35 x 25cm. Transfer to a lined baking tray. Lightly press the rhubarb and raspberries into the dough, then drizzle over the cream. Sprinkle with sugar and leave in a warm place for about 20 minutes until it has risen by about 25 per cent. (This is when you can retire back to bed with a cup of tea or have a shower or check your emails.)
Bake the loaf for 40-45 minutes, until golden and crusty. Dust with icing sugar and serve. This is very good with lots of cream cheese or very cold unsalted butter (isn’t everything?)

We have started a new thing in our house where we draw up a monthly ‘to-do’ list. It’s all well and good at the beginning of the month, when you see 30-odd days stretching out before you, but by this stage there are things that will have to be shifted over to April (sigh).

So while I doubt the window seals will be replaced by the end of the week and there’s a good chance I’ll forget to take the car to the garage tomorrow, I have managed to tick ‘Fresh From The Oven croissants’ off the list. A week ago I would have thought any job was easier than tackling the flakiest of French pastries, but thanks to the amazing Karen Burns Booth and her detailed instructions, it was a breeze. Well, maybe not a breeze. But definitely a lot easier than I anticipated.

The only thing I would add is that if you’re using standard active dried yeast, dissolve it in the warm milk and water first, or it will take forever to rise (enriched doughs like this one are always slow, but undissolved yeast makes the process move at glacial speed). Also, don’t try to finish off the rolling process late at night after a glass of wine while your sister-in-law and spouse watch and make (un)helpful suggestions. You will get cross and the croissants will suffer.

The next time I make them I’ll be using the tips I found in this fantastic video, which makes the shaping process really easy to understand.  But that’s a project for April.

Have you made croissants before? Any tips?

My powers of concentration are shot at the moment, so bear with me if this post goes awry. That said, even though I can’t be relied upon to make a cup of tea, successfully go to the shop to buy a paper or remember to leave a key out, I did manage to make this bread for January’s Fresh From The Oven challenge.

I’d never heard of the Tangzhong method, which involves making a flour and water roux (rhymes with – and looks like – glue), and at first glance this seemed horribly complicated. But I followed Silvia and Ivan‘s advice and all was well. Mostly. The point I’m trying to make is that if I can get this to work, you can.

Tangzhong Bread
The glue-roux may seem odd but it is supposed to make the bread very light and fluffy, with good keeping qualities. The former is definitely true, but we’ve eaten both the loaves I made too quickly for me to confirm the latter. Do not attempt this without a freestanding mixer, unless you are a masochist or very strong.

Tangzhong:
30g flour
155ml cold water

Dough:
125ml milk
1tsp dried yeast
350g strong flour
55g sugar
1tsp salt
1 egg
30g butter

First, prepare the tangzhong. Whisk together the cold water and flour (there should be no lumps) in a small saucepan and cook over low heat (stirring all the time) until the temperature reaches 65C. This takes about five minutes. If you don’t have a thermometer, cook until the spoon you’re stirring with leaves a trace. Pour the tangzhong into a small bowl and leave to cool to room temperature (by the time you have everything organised it should be fine).
Wash out the tangzhong saucepan and scald the milk, then pour into the bowl of a freestanding mixer and let cool to blood heat. Add the yeast and stir to dissolve.
Wash out the saucepan AGAIN and use it to melt the butter. Set aside.
Add the flour, salt, sugar, egg and 120g of the tangzhong to the yeast and milk. (Don’t throw the remainder of the tangzhong out, you’ll need it later.)
Stir to a soft dough, then add the melted butter. Turn the mixer to low speed and let the dough hooks work their magic for 15-20 minutes. The dough is very soft and sticky. You can tell if it’s ready by taking a small piece of it and stretching it to a very thin membrane before it tears.
Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover and sit it in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size (around 90 minutes).
Knock the dough down on a lightly floured counter top and knead gently to let the gas escape. Form it into a loaf shape – I took advice from here (though I found it very difficult to roll out and just pressed it out with my fingertips, then rolled up). Put in a well-greased loaf tin, cover with plastic and let double in size again (about an hour).
Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Carefully brush the risen dough with the rest of the tangzhong (it will be quite solid by now, so thin it down a bit with milk or water) and bake for around 30 – 35 minutes until golden.

Most people have leftovers to cope with after Christmas; I have leftover blogging events. Well, they’re not leftovers as such, more that I couldn’t quite squeeze them in before December 25. But in the spirit of caring and sharing, let me present you with the We Should Cocoa/Fresh From The Oven mash-up: a Chocolate Orange Wreath.

The We Should Cocoa guest ingredient for December is orange and I have cunningly worked it and chocolate into the festive wreath recipe set by Michelle of Utterly Scrummy for this month’s Fresh From The Oven challenge. You can omit the chocolate of course, but it does add a suitably OTT dimension. I made this the weekend before Christmas and it was just what we needed to keep us going. I had thought about making it again for Boxing Day breakfast but with litres of cream and sherry flowing through my veins from the day before I decided discretion was the better part of valour. You could, however, make it on December 31 and it will be perfect for a late New Year’s Day brunch (and any leftovers will be great toast the day after that).

Chocolate Orange Wreath

Don’t be put off by the lengthy instructions, this is really quite simple to make. Anyway, it’s the holidays – what else would you be doing but playing in the kitchen? Use whatever fruit/nut/chocolate combo you like in the filling, but keep more or less to the amounts specified.

Dough:

3tsp dried yeast

315ml lukewarm milk
1Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
50g soft, but not melted, butter
1tsp mixed spice
420g plain flour

Filling:

50g soft, but not melted, butter
2Tbsp brown sugar
45g plain flour
1tsp almond essence
1/2 -3/4 cup mixed peel

1/2 cup white or dark chocolate bits (just smash up a block)

1/2 cup slivered almonds

To finish:

1 egg beaten with 1tsp milk

Vanilla icing: 1 cup icing sugar, 2tsp vanilla extract and 1 – 1 1/2 Tblsp hot water

Pour the milk into a large bowl (or the bowl of a freestanding mixer with a dough hook) and sprinkle over the yeast. Leave in a warm place to start acting for five minutes, then add the other ingredients and mix well with a wooden spoon. Knead by hand for 10 minutes, or with the dough hook for three or four, until you have a soft, springy, satiny dough. Grease the bowl and return the dough to it. Cover with plastic and leave in a warm place until doubled (about an hour).

While the bread is proving, make the filling by beating together the softened butter, sugar, essence/extract and flour to make a paste and then fold in the fruit and nuts. Now is also a good time to line a baking tray with nonstick baking paper so you don’t have to rush later.

When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a well-floured surface and punch down. Knead for a minute or two, then roll it out into a large rectangle shape. Spread the filling over the dough and then roll it up, starting from the longest side. 

Now comes the fun bit. Using a sharp knife slice the roll in half lengthwise. Put the dough onto the lined baking sheet. Twist the two halves lightly together, cut sides out, and form into a circle, pinching the ends together. Leave to prove again for about 45 minutes – 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in size and then brush with the lightly beaten egg and milk.

Bake at 200C for 20 – 30 minutes or until lightly browned and cooked through.

Transfer to a rack to cool. Drizzle with vanilla icing if the mood takes you and serve. If you’re making this a day in advance and would like to reheat it, skip the icing stage. Wrap it well in foil when cool and reheat in a moderate oven for 10-15 minutes. You can work your magic with the icing just before serving.

There’s probably a list somewhere of things you shouldn’t attempt to do the weekend before you move house. Making panettone, the notoriously time-intensive Italian Christmas bread, is probably one of them, but I thought it would beat cleaning the oven(s) and making decisions about what to do with all those little things that pile up on the kitchen island while you’re putting big things into boxes.

The main reason for this folly was that Sarah of Maison Cupcake chose panettone for the November Fresh From The Oven challenge and this weekend was my last chance to make it. I thought I devoted a reasonable amount of love and attention to the dough – I even nursed it on my lap to keep it warm while watching the last, tear-jerking episode of Downton Abbey – but I did neglect it a bit, shoving it in the fridge overnight because I was too tired to stay up and let it rise some more. Then I baked it in an angel food cake tin (I didn’t have the right sort of 18cm high, round tin anyway – and I’d packed all the others.
While it looked good enough (untraditional shape aside), it was surprisingly dry and much heavier than I had hoped. I blame myself, not the recipe, but I don’t think there’s much point replicating it here until I can figure out what exactly went wrong. I’m also consoling myself that none of my Italian cookbooks had a recipe, which infers that all good Italians buy theirs instead. In the meantime, here’s a well-researched recipe I wish I’d remembered bookmarking last year. It sounds both incredibly easy and delicious – and there’s still lots of time before Christmas to get it right.

Have you made panettone before? Do you know any tricks?