Category Archives: Bread

Badass smoky chilli cheese beer bread

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Badass: seriously scary or seriously impressive. Words related to badass: epic, beast, Chuck Norris.

This bread doesn’t make me think of Chuck Norris. Though Chuck may like eating this bread* – a hefty, moist wholemeal affair, laced with parmesan and slathered in a spicy-smoky-sweet-salty sauce. There are browned crusty bits from the parmesan, and caramelised savoury bits from the smoky-chilli sauce. It’s not your average bread roll, this is chilli, smoky, cheesy, surprising goodness. And, you know, beer bread!

* Actually, I don’t know, what does Chuck Norris like to eat?

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After an eventful two weeks, this bread celebrated being back in the kitchen with time to play with food. It started with mild food poisoning, a few work dinners (ironically…), then a short trip to Singapore, baking cakes for friends who are moving away, and maybe taking on a new job at work (eeeeeep).

Crazy times, calls for crazy bread. Oui?

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The sauce features Korean red pepper paste, gochujang, which looks like a brilliant red version of miso. Sure, it’s spicy, but gochujang also has gorgeous sweet, salty, sour, umami flavours. Traditionally made by fermentation in large earthenware jars, the lingering, complex flavours develop as as hot chlli / pepper powder is fermented with glutinous rice, soy beans, salt and maybe some sweetener (honey, rice syrup).

While gochujang is traditionally used for soups, stews and rice cake dishes, it’s also used in ketchup and aioli, and jazzing up grilled cheese, tacos and quesadillas. So, I thought, why not use it in bread?

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An adventurous Easter: sourdough hot cross buns

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On this road trip, we’ve noticed the different types of place names that you can find in Australia. Words from England, Scotland, other places in Europe, and from the Aboriginal languages.

We have our share of Inverary, Baden Powell, New England, Kingston, even Neuhaus. Words from the old world. Then, we have words from our first people, strange and beautiful sounds. Araluen, Adaminaby, Cootamundra, Tumbarumba, Wagga Wagga, Wee Waa, Jindabyne, Gundagai.

A trip into regional Australia becomes a jumble of these names and sounds. A pair of city slickers finding new sights and sounds, new air to breathe.

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We have seen a lake and a river (any large body of water inland of our dry continent is a mesmerising sight); so many cows and sheep, and glimpses of the Snowy Mountains. We have also seen old train stations with cast iron lace, rusty sheds, ruined timber bridges. And that’s only the first few days.

I knew we would be on the road, so I made hot cross buns early this year, and using sourdough starter called Patrick, no less! I’ve nurtured wee Patrick since Christmas, but have only started baking with him.

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Gubana: Italian Easter bread for an Australian road trip

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We are on a road trip!

Tonight, we are in the inland town of Gundagai. First stop in what is shaping up to be a trip through historic inland towns and villages.

I haven’t driven our car for weeks, and for at least a couple of months before that, since I prefer to walk or take public transport to get around our patch of inner Sydney. It took a while to get used to the manual gears, the road, other cars, but then I settled back into familiarity with our good little car, and we were away, to quieter and greener places.

When I was not driving, I nibbled on a slice of gubana.

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Gubana. A special Easter cake/bread I stumbled across almost by accident. I made the recipe, and found the flavours intriguing, lingering, in a way that says old fashioned good things. Bread-like, not quite as rich as brioche or challah, crammed full of walnuts, pine nuts, raisins, chocolate, hazelnuts, and more. The bread is almost like panettone, and filling is so flavoursome, with a lingering sweetness that comes from dried fruit rather than sugar.

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Bialys, and a cow-herding robot called Shrimp

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I have something that I want to tell you about: a robot herding cows.

I knew some engineering students at uni, and one of them has been telling me about our university’s robotics research. Basically they are making robots that – one day – will be able to do all kinds of clever things by remote control or (gasp!) autonomously.

One of their experiments is cow herding with a robot called Shrimp. And it was picked up on Canadian TV, the BBC and lots of other media sites! I think Shrimp is kinda adorable, in the Wall-E style, and it looks like the cows just accepted that there’s a robot ushering them around – !!

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Bialys, the stories

I digress from bialys. This bread seems about as far removed from cow herding robots as you can get. The stories about bialys are a little sad yet appealing to the romantic imagination. They look into the past, not into a robotics future.

Bialys, or bialystoker kuchen, comes from the city of Bialystok, Poland; it was part of Czarist Russia at one stage. Bialys look similar to the bagel, except it has an indent and not a hole, the indent is traditionally filled with an onion and poppyseed mixture, and it is baked without being boiled first.

Bialys seems to have been eaten at all meals by the Jewish people in Bialystok, but now is much less commonly found. Some stories from people who have migrated to the US are here. Mimi Sheraton also wrote a book, The Bialy Eaters, The Story of a Bread and a Lost World.

(Mimi Sheraton’s book title made me think of the Lotus Eaters from Ulysses, except eating bialys in other parts of the world probably reminded people of home and Bialystok, not forgetful of it.)

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Accidental healthiness: bird seed loaf

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While I was making this loaf, Mr Gander looked over my shoulder and made really helpful comments like ‘that’s not bread, it’s just a bowl of seeds’. And at Christmas lunch, he passed slices of the loaf to guests with the enticing words: ‘try some Bird Seed Bread? It’ll make you chirpy.’ So we and some of the family now know this as ‘bird seed bread’. Thanks Mr G….

(He will make an excellent eccentric uncle one day.)

Nonetheless, the bread was a hit with everyone, both on Christmas day and when I made it again a couple of days later.

And no wonder. It was golden with lightly toasted nuts and seeds on the outside, and slightly softer, just pleasantly crumbly, on the inside. It is dense and unexpectedly heavy (not unlike pumpernickel, real pumpernickel), and gently prompts you to eat slowly, mindfully, and enjoy the textures and flavours along the way.

While it went well with dinner, I actually preferred having the slices for breakfast, toasted and dolloped with some good quality ricotta.

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And why accidental healthiness? Because it’s one of those things that tastes really good, and also happens to be pretty good for you (it’s gluten-free, optionally vegan, possibly paleo, has apparently taken Denmark by storm, and was still devoured by a household that likes its traditional meat and three veg with lots of butter, ta). The bread held its own during the decadence of December, and still shines during the relative austerity of January. I can say those three words – good for you – without overtone of penance.

So, what goes into bird seed bread?

It uses loads of seeds, nuts, rolled oats, a small amount of sugar (or substitute) and coconut butter (or similar), and three ingredients that does magical things when soaked in water to bind it together: chia seeds, flax seeds, and psyllium husks.

The instructions couldn’t be simpler: mix all ingredients with water, leave mixture to soak in a loaf pan until it becomes a solid block. Bake for about 60 minutes. Slice, (toast) and eat.

This recipe comes from Sarah Britton of My New Roots. I can’t remember how I stumbled on her recipe, but from the moment I read this introduction, I wanted to make the loaf:

“When I walked into her apartment I could smell it. Something malty and definitely baked, toasty, nutty…when I rounded the corner to her kitchen, there it was. A very beautiful loaf of bread, pretty as a picture, studded with sunflower seeds, chia and almonds, golden around the corners and begging me to slice into it.”

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Baking notes

Make-ahead mixture: I wanted to make this in a holiday beach house, so I measured out the dry ingredients and mixed them together in a jar. Once I got to the beach, I simply added the wet ingredients and water. It’s like my box-mix brownies.

Ingredient substitutions: I made a few based on what was in our pantry —

Nuts & seeds: The recipe says to substitute like for like, so nuts for nuts, seeds for seeds. You could also try subbing a small amount of dried fruit or chopped dark chocolate. Two seeds I would try in small quantities at first are sesame seeds and pine nuts. because they both have quite strong flavours and could overwhelm the whole loaf.

Sugar: I used honey instead of maple syrup. I think other sugars, like coconut sugar or palm sugar, would probably work and would also add a caramel-ish undertone?

Oils: there was no coconut oil or ghee in the house, so I used a mixture of melted butter and olive oil instead. If you are worried about heating olive oil to a high temperature in the oven, you could probably use another oil with a higher smoking point – like peanut oil.

Chia, flax and psyllium: don’t sub these. I think they all become kind of gel-like when soaked in water (at least chia seeds and psyllium husks do), and help to bind the bread together. Another recipe uses eggwhite as a binding agent, so you might be able to get away with less of these ingredients.

Loaf pan: Sarah B recommends using a silicon pan. I used a non-stick metal pan with good results, and have included instructions for using a metal pan below.

Without further ado, here’s the bird seed bread that has apparently taken Denmark and our little corner of Australia by storm.

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Bird seed bread, previously known as life changing loaf of bread

(from Sarah B’s My New Roots)

Ingredients

1 cup / 135g sunflower seeds
1/2 cup / 90g flax seeds (sometimes sold as linseed in Australia)
1/2 cup / 65g hazelnuts or almonds
1 1/2 cups / 145g rolled oats
2 tbsp chia seeds
4 tbsp psyllium seed husks (3 Tbsp. if using psyllium husk powder)
1 tsp fine grain sea salt (I just added a fat pinch of coarse sea salt)
1 tbsp maple syrup or honey (for sugar-free diets, use a pinch of stevia; also try shaved coconut sugar or palm sugar)
3 tbsp melted coconut oil or ghee (or a mixture of melted butter and a neutral flavoured vegetable oil)
1 1/2 cups / 350ml water

Method

1. If using a metal loaf pan, grease the loaf pan. You can also line the loaf pan with baking paper, but if you do, mix the ingredients (step 2) in another bowl, not in the pan.

2. If not using a paper-lined loaf pan, combine all dry ingredients in your silicon or metal loaf pan, stir well.  Whisk maple syrup/honey, oil and water together in a measuring cup (because you’ll use the cup to measure water). Add this to the dry ingredients and mix very well until everything is completely soaked and dough becomes very thick (if the dough is too thick to stir, add one or two teaspoons of water until the dough is manageable). Smooth out the top with the back of a spoon or spatula. Let sit out on the counter for at least 2 hours, or all day or overnight.

3. To check if the dough is ready: if using a silicon pan, the loaf should retain its shape even when you pull the sides of the loaf pan away from it it; if using a metal pan, gently press the top of the loaf with your finger (or a spoon), it should feel solid and not leave a dent, kinda like pressing on a soft cookie…

4. Preheat oven to 350°F / 175°C.

5. Place loaf pan in the oven on the middle rack, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove bread from loaf pan, place it upside down directly on the rack and bake for another 30-40 minutes (note, I didn’t bother removing the bread from the pan, and it was fine, it may have been because I was using a non-stick metal pan which browns things more easily). Bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool completely.

Store bread in a tightly sealed container for up to five days. Freezes well (slice before freezing).

Tuesdays with…Peter? Making Peter Reinhart’s challah

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When I bake with a recipe, I like to think about little ways to tweak it, play with it, personalise it. But today, I’ve gone completely rogue on the TWD group. Sorry guys.

Instead of Julia Child / Lauren Groveman’s challah, I made Peter Reinhart’s challah recipe instead.

You see, I was planning to share it with a Jewish friend. Since I didn’t know if he observed dietary laws about separating meat and dairy, I didn’t want to give him challah made with butter. Instead, I made a non-dairy challah.

Reinhart’s challah uses egg yolks to add richness. Lots of yolks. (Apparently egg is neutral under dietary laws) Kneading by hand took longer, but on a leisurely evening, I hand kneaded, and watched the dough change from a sloppy, wet mess to a soft, malleable ball.

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The dough proofed in the fridge for 3-4 days, to develop flavour and shape, and become silky to the touch. Then, I learned to braid challah, with 6 braids. (I may have got a little confused in the beginning, and un-braided once, but thanks to clear instructions from Smitten Kitchen, by the end of the first loaf of challah, I was braiding like a pro.)

And the dough became two loaves of lovely, gorgeous-smelling bread. Richly yellow, with a dark lacquered crust. I used ironbark honey from around the Blue Mountains, which has such an alluring smell that permeates the room. The challah also became imbued with the smell and loveliness of the honey. Fresh from the oven, the challah was soft, a little sweet, pulled into strands, and made me want to dive into its sunny yellow depths.

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Pumpernickel, poems and party season

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Pumpernickel. The stuff of life and the stuff of dreams.

Philip Schulz wrote a poem about it. Please have a read, if only for the image of the steam curling off the black crust like a strip of pure sunlight, and of holding up a slice of bread in all its absurd splendour:

Monday mornings Grandma rose an hour early to make rye,
onion & challah, but it was pumpernickel she broke her hands for,
pumpernickel that demanded cornmeal, ripe caraway, mashed potatoes
& several Old Testament stories about patience & fortitude & for
which she cursed in five languages if it didn’t pop out fat
as an apple-cheeked peasant bride. But bread, after all,
is only bread & who has time to fuss all day & end up
with a dead heart if it flops? Why bother? I’ll tell you why.
For the moment when the steam curls off the black crust like a strip
of pure sunlight & the hard oily flesh breaks open like a poem
pulling out of its own stubborn complexity a single glistening truth
& who can help but wonder at the mystery of the human heart when you
hold a slice up to the light in all its absurd splendor & I tell you
we must risk everything for the raw recipe of our passion.

With this encouragement and warning, I pulled pumpernickel out of the oven on Sunday afternoon.

The recipe didn’t require several Old Testament stories about patience and fortitude, for which I was thankful. Sadly, it didn’t quite have the ‘absurd splendour’ of Schultz’s idealised pumpernickel. But then, can any pumpernickel be better than Grandma’s, especially a Grandma that can talk bread in five languages?

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Don’t get me wrong. The loaves had the dense, even crumb, and rye and caraway flavour, and was a good rye bread. The dough was fine to knead by hand, and everything went smoothly (almost exactly) according to the recipe. The finished loaves formed a good foil for a slather of fresh ricotta, crumbled goat’s milk fetta, walnuts, and honey. The goat cheese and walnut strong enough to stand up to the rye and caraway, while the milder ricotta and honey helped to turn it into an easy crowd pleaser.

In fact, I’ve learned this bread just in time for party season in Australia, with Melbourne Cup Day or the race that stops the nation (first Tuesday of November), summer afternoon picnics, summer evening parties, and never ending Christmas get-togethers.

It’s just … I like the pumpernickel that can break the baker’s hands, is black from up to 24 hours of slow baking, barely risen, and heavy with whole rye berries. In other words, the romantic idea of Grandma’s black pumpernickel.

Wordsworth and Coleridge would be proud.

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In the meantime, here is a good loaf of rye bread or modern pumpernickel. Don’t be put off by my impractical ramblings, it’s a tasty loaf. As for the long list of slightly strange ingredients, they look pretty similar to the ingredients for Russian black bread and other rye breads. And it’s a handy bread for dinner party canapes.

Too much bread? Rye bread crumbs make an interesting change from white bread crumbs. And, old rye bread can be used to make altus – old bread soaked in water and added to dough, to intensify the flavour, though not sure if wheat-rye bread can be used?

Changes from the recipe: I could only find fine rye flour, not medium or coarse rye flour. Also, instead of the novel method of proofing the dough inside hanging tea towels, I used a couple of baskets. Lastly, I ran out of eggs (what kind of baker runs out of eggs?), so instead of an egg white glaze I artistically sprinkled flour onto the loaves.

Lastly, I found the video of the episode useful.

Tuesdays with Dorie: Pumpernickel is this week’s TWD assignment. We are baking from the book, Baking with Julia, by Dorie Greenspan. Please go to the TWD blog and see what other TWD bakers have done.

Pumpernickel

(Available in Baking with Julia. Also available on contributing baker Lauren Groveman’s website. The version that appears on Lauren’s website is reproduced below.)

Special Equipment

8-quart mixing bowl, to rise dough
Wooden surface for kneading
Pastry scraper
Quarry tiles or a pizza stone (use dark steel shallow baking sheet as a substitute)
Baker’s peel, to transfer loaves to oven (use a flat cookie sheet as a substitute)
Oven sweep, to brush meal off tiles after baking, optional

Ingredients

3 to 4 tablespoons melted butter, for greasing
2 cups plain yogurt, at room temperature or, as a substitute, use tepid water (warm to the touch)
1 stick (approx 113 grams) unsalted butter, softened and cut into small cubes
1/4 cup solid vegetable shortening, at room temperature
1/2 cup prune lekvar (also called prune butter. See here for a prune lekvar recipe)
1/4 cup molasses
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 cup boiling water
2 1/2 squares (2 1/2 ounces) unsweetened chocolate, broken (note I used 85% cocoa chocolate and only used a tiny, tiny pinch of sugar to compensate)
2 tablespoons ground caraway seeds
1 1/2 tablespoon whole caraway seeds
1 tablespoon fine table salt
2 1/2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
Pinch of sugar
3 1/2 cups coarse rye meal (if unavailable, substitute medium rye flour)
Up to 6 cups (approx 800 grams) high gluten bread flour, including flour for dusting and shaping
Glaze: 1 egg white beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Topping: sesame seeds and/or caraway seeds (optional)
Cornmeal (medium ground), for bakers peel

Method

1. To set up: Brush an 8-quart bowl (I used a large mixing bowl) with melted butter and set aside to rise dough. Take out your pastry scraper, another large mixing bowl and a wooden spoon.

2. To assemble dough: In a large mixing bowl, combine the yogurt, cubed butter, shortening, lekvar and molasses. Dissolve instant espresso in 1 cup boiling water and pour into a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add broken chocolate and melt chocolate in espresso over very low heat until smooth, stirring frequently. Add to mixing bowl with powdered and whole caraway seeds and salt.

3. Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water with a pinch of sugar until creamy and pour into mixing bowl along with the rye meal. Stir to combine well. Using a wooden spoon, briskly stir in enough bread flour, 1/2 to 1 cup (up to approx 130 grams) at a time, until you create a mass that’s not easily stirred, but not dry.

4. Turn the mass out onto a floured wooden board and knead until smooth and elastic, adding only as much flour as necessary to prevent dough from sticking to your work surface and hands. In the beginning of the kneading process, this dough will feel quite “pasty” because of the rye flour. As always, use a pastry scraper while kneading to scrape dough off the board cleanly as you continue to knead in a sufficient amount of flour.

5. To rise dough twice: When dough is smooth and elastic, place it in the buttered rising bowl. Cover bowl with buttered plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel. Let rise in a draft-free spot until doubled in bulk, about 2 1/2 hours. Punch down dough with several swift swats from the back of your hand to deflate dough totally. Turn over dough, cover and let rise again for 1 1/2 hours.

6. To shape oblong loaves: Turn out fully risen dough onto a lightly floured board and use the blade of your pastry scraper to divide dough in half. Work with half the dough at a time, keeping the other half covered.

7. Lay two clean kitchen towels on your counter and sprinkle them with bread flour. Roll dough half into a 7×10-inch rectangle. Starting at the short end farthest from you, roll dough toward you, pinching to seal as you go. Pinch to seal the ends and tuck under to attach to the bottom seam. Rotate and plump dough to finish shaping and place shaped loaf (seam side up) diagonally on a prepared towel. Form a sling by joining the corners of the towel farthest from the loaf. Secure the joined towel points within a closed drawer (in a quiet area) so the loaves hang undisturbed in their slings for 45 minutes.

8. To set up for baking loaves: While bread is rising, position the rack in the second or third lowest shelf in the oven and, if using a sheet of quarry tiles or a pizza stone, place it on the rack. On the rack below this, place a heavy-bottomed, oven-proof pan, which will preheat along with the tiles. Sprinkle a baker’s peel or a flat cookie sheet with cornmeal. Thirty minutes before the end of the rise, preheat oven to 450F / about 230C.

9. If not using tiles or a stone, brush or spray 1 or 2 large (preferably dark steel) shallow baking sheets with vegetable oil and sprinkle interior with cornmeal. After mixing egg white and water, pour into a small medium-mesh sieve into another bowl to remove excess coagulation and any bubbles created while mixing. Place glaze next to your work surface.

10. To slash and glaze loaves: Working with one loaf at a time, carefully release slings and gently turn out loaves from towels (smooth side up) onto the prepared baker’s peel or baking sheet at least 3 inches apart. Use your hands gently to plump loaf into a neat shape. Using a sharp serrated knife or a razor, slash tops of each loaf three times horizontally, going 1/3 inch deep into the dough. Using a pastry brush, paint tops and sides of loaves (excluding slashes) generously with glaze.

11. To bake loaves: Just before inserting the dough into the hot oven, carefully pour ¾ cup warm water into the pan beneath the rack used to bake the loaves, then shut the door while you go get the loaves. If baking with tiles, insert the peel all the way to the back of the oven and with one swift jerk pull out the peel, leaving loaves on the hot tiles (preferably with three inches between them). If not using tiles or a stone, place loaves into the hot oven on their baking sheets as directed.

12. Bake loaves at 450o F / 230C for 10 minutes.

13. Reduce heat to 350F / 175C and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on wire racks to cool thoroughly before slicing, 2 to 3 hours.