Sunday, 16 April 2017

Oh bread, how I love thee...

Bread is by far my favourite food, both to eat and to make. The process is a joy, from the tactile pleasure of kneading and shaping the soft dough, to the nervous anticipation of the rising and baking. It is tremendous fun and every bread I bake fills me with both satisfaction and pride.


To eat freshly baked bread is a sensory feast without parallel. There is nothing quite like the smell of bread baking in the kitchen. Both comforting and seductive, the mouth-watering aroma is as tantalising as it is possible to be. Research has shown that the smell of bread not only makes us hungrier, but happier, even kinder and that is with good reason.

Every bread you make will be an individual, no two are alike and the sight of a freshly made, just baked loaf will always cause a stir amongst your guests, friends or family. The sound of the crisp crust shattering as it is torn or sliced only further intensifies the excitement of what is to follow. And what is to follow is nothing short of spectacular.

To describe the taste and texture of just baked bread is an impossible task, with a near limitless palette of possibilities at ones disposal. Be it nourishing and satisfying, rich and complex, sweet or savoury there is a bread for every occasion and each delicious and distinctive in it’s own way.

For me though that is what makes bread so special. Everyone I know loves bread, from young children enjoying a jam sandwich at lunch, to top restaurants employing the most complex artisanal techniques to produce unusual and original creations. It’s accessible to all, unpretentious and simple to make, yet even starting with the easiest of recipes the possibilities are endless...

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Sugar Free Hot Cross Buns

I used to be so cynical about the times of celebration and festivity that occur throughout the year, but as I have matured (or maybe that should be immatured ;-)) I've come to not only embrace such occasions as Christmas and Easter, but downright love them! They are such a welcome departure from the stresses, strains and routine of daily life and an excellent excuse (not that I ever need one) to indulge in a naughty treat or two.

Saying that, these hot cross buns are not actually as naughty as they could be, a consequence of me trying to cut down on those refined sugars that are so very bad (and not in the good way). I've sweetened the dough instead with a dash of agave syrup, as well as glazed the top with a lick of the same. Worry not though, for they are still buttery and rich and most importantly, yummy!

Prep time: 15 Minutes to prepare the dough, plus a few hours proving and rising.
Baking time: 20-30 Mins
7g Fresh Yeast
100ml Tepid Water
250g Very Strong White Bread Flour
1/2tsp Salt 
1/2tsp Mixed Spice
25g Unsalted Butter (Melted)
1 Egg Yolk (From a Large Egg)
2tbsp Agave Syrup (Plus an extra tablespoon to glaze)
125g Mixed Dried Fruit and Peel

For the crosses
1tbsp Plain Flour
1tbsp of Water

Making bread dough is such fun, so let's get started. Crumble the fresh yeast into a jug, pour in the tepid water and mix to dissolve the yeast.

Add the flour, salt and spice to a large mixing bowl, mix briefly to combine, then make a well in the middle. Pour in the yeast mixture, along with the butter, yolk, syrup and fruit. Bring together with a flat bladed knife, then tip out onto a lightly floured surface. Bring the dough together with your hands, then knead for around 8-10 minutes, stretching the dough away from you, folding it back on itself, turning by a quarter and repeating. Once the dough is smooth and elastic place in a lightly greased large bowl, cover with cling film and leave to prove in a warm place for around 90 minutes. 

Once the dough has doubled in size you can make the buns. Uncover the cling film then, with a lightly oiled hand take a small handful of the dough. On a clean, dry surface, roll in a circular motion, holding the dough loosely with the top of your hand to form a sphere. Once rolled place on a greased baking tray and press lightly to flatten a touch. Repeat for the rest of the dough, which should be enough for around six buns. Once the buns are all on the tray, evenly spaced apart cover gently with a sheet of lightly greased clingfilm and return to the warm place for a further 30 minutes to rise again.

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5. I tend to not go any hotter than this as I find the buns will scorch before having time to bake properly. Take the buns from where you have left them to rise and carefully remove the cling film. Mix the plain flour and water to a paste, then using a piping bag or tube pipe a cross onto the top of each one. Bake in the centre of the oven for 25-30 mins.

Once the buns are nice and golden you can remove from the oven. Lightly brush each bun with a final glaze of agave syrup and leave to cool on the tray for about 15 minutes. They are then ready to serve, fresh and warm and delicious!

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Vegan Banana Trail Mix Cakies

These cakies are so called as they sit somewhere between a cookie and a little cake. Fear not though intrepid cake adventurer, for I shall spare you any sort of Jaffa Cake style debate. However you wish to classify these naughty treats, the one thing that is indisputable is that they are VERY moreish. Oh and I did I mention they are also entirely vegan? ;-)

Prep time: 15 Mins (Plus 60 Mins chilling time)
Baking time: 13-15 Mins
100g Coconut Oil (Melted gently)
175g Light Muscovado Sugar
1 Large Ripe Banana (Mashed)
1tsp Vanilla Extract
150g Plain Flour
1tsp Baking Powder
250g Fruit and Nut Trail Mix

If you're ready, then let's begin. Grab a large mixing bowl and pour in the coconut oil. Add the sugar, banana and vanilla extract, then mix to combine. Add the flour and baking powder, then mix to a sticky dough. Fold through the trail mix, then cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for 60 mins.

Once the dough has chilled it's ready to cakify, so preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and line two large flat baking trays with baking paper. Take your dough from the fridge and divide into 18 little balls. Place each evenly spaced apart on your baking trays, then bake in the centre of the oven for around 13-15 minutes. By this time they should have spread, are golden brown and just darkening at the edges.

When you are happy the cakies are baked remove from the oven and leave to cool for 30 mins on the tray. Peel each carefully from the baking paper and leave to cool entirely. They are now ready to enjoy. X