This is an easy pie, when you want pie, but want to remove the difficulty factor. I’ve put the pastry on top only, so it’s guaranteed to be crisp – no soggy bottoms here!
CHICKEN POT PIE
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 chicken thighs, cut into thin strips
4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
1 leek, white part chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
6 silverbeet leaves, white removed, leaves chopped
250g mushrooms, sliced
Bunch fresh parsley, chopped
Juice of a lemon
Salt/pepper to taste
4-6 sheets pre-rolled puff pastry
Pre-heat the oven to 210ºC.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy based saucepan over a moderate/high heat. Add the chicken in batches and fry until golden brown. Remove and set aside.
Reheat the pan over a moderate heat and add the bacon. Fry until golden brown and crisp.
Reduce the heat to low, add the leeks, garlic and thyme to the pan. Stir to combine and cook until the leeks are soft and translucent (this will take 10-15 minutes).
Sprinkle over the flour, stir to combine, and cook for 1 minute.
Slowly pour over the milk, stirring continually to avoid lumps. Keep cooking until the sauce has thickened.
Add silverbeet, mushrooms and return the chicken to the pan. Stir to combine with the sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes.
Stir through the parsley and season to taste.
Divide the chicken mixture among 4-6 deep individual oven proof dishes or ramekins (you could also make one large pie if you’d prefer). Brush the edge of the dish with olive oil, and lay the sheet of pastry over the top, with excess pastry hanging down the sides of the dish. Make a couple of small cuts in the pastry so any steam can escape.
Put the pies into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until pastry is puffed, golden and cooked through. Remove from the oven and serve (with a plate underneath so no-one is burnt!)
When our TV isn’t in use for watching actual TV, we use it to play a slide show of our favourite photos. A montage of memories from our past, our travels, parties, friends in various states of intoxication, family events, people who are still with us and those who sadly are not.
Mostly though, our photos are a record of our children, from babies through to the relative giants they are now. There are images of me in hospital holding one new born or the other, looking about as beaten up as it’s possible to be, post birth. Photos of first smiles, first steps, hilarious first experiences with solid food, little birthday celebrations.
Memories all now long past. And the memories are bittersweet, tinged with familiarity, longing, some regret, some guilt.
So many are fond recollections, but depending on the evening, they can also leave me in tears, pining for my children’s infancy, toddlerhood, early school years.
It’s the guilt that comes from being a working mother for so many years. Feeling like your children’s lives are travelling by faster than you can blink, while you put in extra time at the office. Extra time to give your children the life you want them to have, without recognising that you’re missing so much of that life, until it’s just too late.
The thing is, you can’t change the past. You can’t go back and be there for all the moments in your kids’ lives that you missed. Those moments are now memories. So the guilt is wasted. The tears are pointless. You can only learn from the past and be there for them now and in the future.
The thing is, my kids don’t hate me because I wasn’t there enough when they were little. I think about it far more than they do. I’m sure I could psycho-analyse some disorder they have as a result of my absence, but they’re actually pretty well adjusted. My son can be a little clingy and insecure (which is probably my fault), but that could as easily be his nature.
Now we come to the contentious bit – I actually like them a lot more now than I did when they were little. I’ve never really been one for small children. I tire of them quickly, I find them demanding, I just can’t really relate to them. I know this is a personal short coming, but I just prefer older kids.
I like that my kids can talk to me about the things that interest them in detail. That we can spend time discussing the things that bother them, the challenges they’re facing, why Donald Trump is an issue for the world, what we can do to minimise climate change. That we can talk about these things intelligently, in an adult manner. That they are interested and interesting.
At this point of their lives, they’re about to head into their most challenging years. In their early teens, they’re moments away from their first love, first sexual encounter, first heartbreak, first drink, first adult-free party, first car dates, first day of university, first job, first flat. These are the years where they really need me. The years where I can give them all the support they need to help them grow into well adjusted adults.
I know I wasn’t there for them as much as I should have been when they were small. Much as I don’t want to feel guilty for it, I will never feel completely absolved. But I can learn from my mistakes. I can be there for them now. And I am.
This is an old family recipe created by Richard’s grandmother, Audrey. Audrey passed away last year, but the recipe endures. My kids love them so much they have to be hidden so they last more than a day!! You can find the recipe here.
You may have noticed that I haven’t been writing much lately. And I haven’t, it’s true.
The school holidays came along, I got distracted by spending time with the kids, and my motivation dropped. Then we went away on holiday for a week and my motivation dropped further. Then I had jury duty which was supposed to be a week long, but ended up being only two days, but I’d already written off that week, so no actual writing happened.
Then I got motivated, but not to write. A fresh week, a fresh opportunity to clean the house, get on top of the washing, call those tradesmen we’ve been meaning to book, measure my son’s room for a new desk, make some kombucha, do some baking, go for a walk…. anything but sit down and write.
Now here we are. More weeks gone by than I’m prepared to admit to, and I’m finally sitting down at my computer and writing. Hardly uninterrupted though! So far this morning I’ve taken my kids to school, been to the supermarket, had a chat to my mother and sister, eaten breakfast, read the paper, had a coffee, had the landscaper round to talk about my sadly neglected garden, answered some emails…. but I’ve written three paragraphs, which justifies another break, doesn’t it?
Motivation would have to be my biggest challenge. There’s always something else to do, a call to make, a coffee to drink, exercise to be done. While I enjoy writing so much, it needs a clear head, clear space, the dishes done. I need to feel free to write, without the rest of my world creeping in surreptitiously and whispering seductively in my ear about all the other fabulous things I could be doing.
When I stopped working in advertising I left behind many of the pressures of having to deliver to a deadline for others. Now I have to deliver to my own deadlines. But my own deadlines don’t feel as important. They can be put to one side without the world coming to an end. There’s always something else that feels more important.
I guess that’s the beauty of working for myself. I can choose to prioritise as I see fit, to be as flexible or not as I wish. I always felt so guilty when I was working full time, when the kids were unwell and needed me to pick them up from school. So torn between caring for my family and the demands of my clients.
Now I can choose to spend time with my family. To live completely in the moment, in the knowledge that if I don’t write for a few weeks, nothing really bad will happen, that my readers will understand. That it’s ok to choose home, children, myself over my work. That it’s ok to not be motivated all the time. That sometimes to do your best work, you need to be able to take a break.
That despite your best intentions, life gets in the way. But that’s ok.
On that note, I need to go. My mother’s just turned up for coffee.
She cooks twice a week. The twice weekly cooking incidence involves the stove and oven. She cooks dinner on a Friday and bakes during the weekend. I pay her to do both.
She also makes lunches for herself and her brother. This does not involve any heated appliances, generally. I also pay her for this.
The theory was that I could pay her to do some low level cooking which would firstly, take some chores off my hands, secondly, earn her some money, and thirdly, give her some valuable life skills.
The irony of this entire scenario is the amount of time it now takes me to:
Harass her to ensure that we eat dinner before 10pm,
Shout at her to ensure both she and her brother have lunches made BEFORE they depart for school
Threaten her to ensure there is some baking in the tin so they actually have something to put into their lunch boxes other than fruit and sandwiches
Clean up the low level natural disaster zone she leaves behind after she has finished
The food is great! The fact that I don’t have to make it is great! The endless cleaning up when she’s done, not great.
I’ve always felt like a bad mother for not really wanting my children to attempt cooking when they were small. Given my love of food, you would think that I would be the model foodie mother, encouraging little hands into mounds of bread dough, to stir cake mix, to carefully cut carrots. But no. Between being terrified of little hands being cut by sharp knives, or worse, grated (!!), I just couldn’t handle the mess.
I’m hardly a neat freak. My husband will tell you when we first were together he couldn’t cope with my idea of tidy versus his uber fastidiousness. Even then I cannot handle clouds of flour flying into the air, cheese being grated onto the floor, batter being spilt all over the bench.
I don’t think it’s fussiness, it’s mostly that I’m a bit lazy, I can’t stand cleaning at the best of times, and I prefer to minimise the amount I have to do. So I’ve avoided teaching my kids to cook until now.
Now I’m reminded of why I’ve left it for so long, as the dishes pile up in the sink, potato and carrot peelings scatter over the floor, and the rubbish in the bins begins to over flow, while my teenaged daughter creates a culinary masterpiece.
Then come the endless questions.
In moments of good motherhood, I have actively encouraged my kids to ask questions. “People who ask questions learn more” is the general gist of conversation. Except I prefer that to apply to school rather than home life. At home, I quite like not too many questions.
I particularly like an absence of questions that start with “Mum, where’s…”
When partnered with cooking, the “where” questions are matched with a stream of “how” questions (which I know is fair enough, given the girl doesn’t know how to cook yet). I’m not renowned for my patience.
Despite the mess, the irritation, the lack of actual time saved, Amelia is doing a pretty good job. Her food is delicious, made even more so by the sheer fact that I didn’t have to do it myself. She’s getting better at preparation, following recipes, and serving well cooked, well balanced meals.
It’s been worth it. I should have taught her sooner.
EXTRA FLUFFY CHEESE SCONES
Makes 6-8 generous scones
Originally this recipe was made with lemonade, but I found it weirdly sweet with the cheese. I’ve changed out the lemonade for soda water, which retains the dough’s lightness, but removes the extra sugar. If you want to make these extra indulgent, you can add in crispy bacon pieces (4 streaky rashers, cooked until brittle) or caramelised onions (1/2 onion, sauted until very soft).
2 1/4 cups plain flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
2 cups grated cheese
150ml plain soda or sparkling water
Pre-heat oven to 220°C, and line a baking tray with baking paper
Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl
Stir through grated cheese
Pour over milk and soda water, and stir until just combined. Do not over mix or the scones will be hard.
Pour the dough out on the baking tray (the mix will be very sticky and wet) and spread out until it’s about 5cm thick.
Dip a knife into flour and cut the dough into roughly equal pieces.
Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve hot with lashings of butter.
Store feta in a sealed container, covered with water. It’ll keep far longer than wrapping in clingfilm and won’t go mouldy. A cheese maker told me this, so it’s good advice.
The basic recipe for a vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to one part acid. It doesn’t matter if you’re using balsamic, red wine vinegar or lemon juice, the proportions are always the same. Season to taste and add herbs or mustard for extra flavouring and you’re good to go.
When boiling eggs, always add them to already boiling water. Remove the water from the heat, then add the eggs to stop them from cracking. Soft boiled eggs take 5 minutes, hard boiled take 7.
Boiled eggs will keep cooking when they’re removed from the heat. If you’re going for hard boiled, you’ll get a grey ring around the yolk if they keep cooking. Drop them into cold water immediately when the time is up to stop them from cooking more than you want.
Don’t store your eggs in the fridge, part 1: Their porous shells will absorb smells from other foods.
Don’t store your eggs in the fridge, part 2: to get the best results when baking (especially when creaming butter and sugar) you need your eggs to be room temperature.
When you’re browning meat, place the pieces in a clockwise direction around the pan, starting at 12 o’clock. That way you’ll remember which piece went in first.
Use a thermometer. You’ll never undercook chicken or overcook eye fillet again.
It’s not necessary to buy self raising flour. Add a teaspoon baking powder to a cup of flour, and the result will be the same. And one less thing in your pantry, which is always a win.
Baking is science. There’s no guess work with baking, you need to measure as much as possible, and follow a recipe. Unless you’re a pastry chef, in which case do as you will.
Cooking is art. Taste everything and adjust the flavours and seasoning until you’re happy with how it tastes. Aside from raw chicken. That’ll kill you.
Strawberries stop ripening the moment they’re picked. So there’s little point buying green ones unless you like them that way.
Tomatoes lose their flavour when you store them in the fridge. Buy them in season, ideally from a retailer who doesn’t refrigerate their produce, and keep them on the bench. They taste better, trust me.
Baking for school lunches can be a bit of a chore, and I tend to stick to a few tried and true recipes that will give the kids something sweet mid-morning, with the advantage that I know exactly what’s in that piece of cake. I had a can of condensed milk that was gathering dust at the back of the pantry, so was looking for something with caramel, but without nuts (banned at my kids’ schools), and this recipe fits the bill nicely.
I love that it doesn’t require a mixer, so I could knock it together just prior to making dinner. Being a slice, rather than a cake, it doesn’t need gentle hands, perfect for a rush job. It also makes a lovely dessert, with cream or icecream, still warm from the oven.
Alternatively, if you live in the Grey Lynn/Ponsonby area, pop into Ripe Deli. I’m pretty sure they’ll sell you a slice.
ANZAC CARAMEL SLICE
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup desiccated coconut
3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp golden syrup
395g sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 Tbsp golden syrup
Preheat oven to 180ºC
Grease and line a 20 x 30cm slice tin with baking paper
In a large bowl, combine oats, coconut, flour, baking powder and ginger
Combine butter, sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan over a low heat. Stir until butter has melted and ingredients are well combined.
Pour butter mix into dry ingredients and mix together.
Reserve a half cup of the oat mixture for the topping. Press remaining mix evenly onto the base of the slice tin with damp hands
Bake for 15 min until golden. Remove and set aside to cool.
To prepare the topping, combine all topping ingredients in a saucepan over a medium heat. Stir until butter has melted, sugar has dissolved and all ingredients are combined. Cook for approximately 10 minutes, taking care that the mixture doesn’t catch on the bottom of the saucepan.
Pour over the base, then sprinkle over reserved topping
Return to the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden and bubbling.
Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to slice (Angela recommends refrigerating).
I was running low on butter so used a combination of butter and coconut oil for the caramel topping
I was also running low on brown sugar (really didn’t plan this well!) so used raw sugar for the caramel topping.
Pizza is one of those fantastic meals that everyone likes, and let’s be honest, when you’ve got kids, that can be a rare occasion. It’s a great way of using up any leftovers you have in the fridge – scraps of ham, salami or bacon, fridge dried mushrooms, those few sprigs of thyme. Even pizza bases are relatively simple to make. Some flour, water and yeast does an amazing job of turning out enviable bases.
I also make my own pizza sauce. In summer, I’d be a puritan and use fresh tomatoes, but at this time of the year canned works well. There’s also the added benefits of the skins already removed, so a little less fiddly.
The toppings are really up to you. I try to avoid any 80’s style “gourmet” concoctions. I avidly reject a chicken, cranberry and brie (WTF??) or any others of that ilk. I prefer to go for fairly simple. The most outrageous pizza topping in my house is the prawn and lemon below.
Give yourself some time to make the sauce and bases. The sauce needs time to cook down (you could double the recipe and freeze some for later), and the base dough needs time to prove, so realistically this recipe is better suited to weekend production. Alternatively, if you want something faster, make your own sauce (it’s worth it) and buy preservative free pre-made bases, like these ones from Turkish Bread.
Anyway, onto the recipe.
This recipe is from Al Brown’s fabulous book Stoked. It’s quite a wet dough, but I’ve found that if you use strong (high-grade) flour and give it time to develop, you can handle it without too much trouble. This makes a thick crust pizza base.
500ml warm water
2 tsp dried yeast
2 tsp sugar
4 1/2 cups strong (high grade) flour
2 tsp salt
Put the warm water in a bowl and add yeast and sugar. Stir then leave for 5 minutes or until the yeast begins to bubble
Using the dough hook attachment on a stand cake mixer, mix together the water/yeast mixture with the flour and salt on low speed for 8-10 minutes until smooth.
Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover with cling film and sit in a warm place to prove. Knock back a couple of times with oiled hands
Break off pieces of dough to size required. Place on oiled tray and stretch until relatively thin (this takes a bit of effort)
This bit is mine…
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 red onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
2 x 400g tins crushed tomatoes
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
Heat olive oil over a low heat. Add red onion, garlic, oregano and chilli flakes (if using) and cook until onion is soft.
Add tins of tomatoes, bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced and thick
Add red wine vinegar and cook until acidity has simmered off.
Season to taste.
Mushroom & Bacon
Mushrooms of your choice, sliced
Red onion, finely sliced
Bacon, roughly chopped (I used streaky bacon)
Small sprigs of thyme
Extra virgin olive oil
Pre-heat oven to 225ºC
Spread pizza sauce liberally over pizza base
Top with grated mozzarella, then sliced mushrooms, red onion, bacon, thyme.
Season and drizzle lightly with olive oil
Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until base is puffed and toppings golden
The side effect of being a food blogger is that somewhere along the way, all the good food and sitting on my butt has caught up with me. In an attempt to get myself fit and healthy (and, lets be honest, shed a couple of kilos or five) I’ve recently taken on a trainer. She’s cracking the whip spectacularly exercise wise, but has also taken a look at my diet.
Essentially, I need to eat more protein. My plan is to write about this journey some more (which may deviate slightly from the food focus of this blog), but the key outtake here, is that protein helps the body to build muscle, which in turn builds your metabolism, so you burn fat. It also has the handy benefit of keeping you full for longer.
The thing is, protein’s not always easy to get your hands on when you’re busy. A plate full of roast chicken is not conducive to a day running around in the car. A chargrilled steak does not easily fit into the pocket of a ski jacket. This is where convenience items like protein bars come in. Sadly, most of those I looked at were either full of artificial sweeteners and felt overly processed, or were relatively natural, but full of sugar. Either way, both were expensive.
So I figured I could make my own. It turns out I can, and it’s a pretty simple thing to do.
NB: I’m in the process of tracking down some nutritional analysis tools so I can give you more information about the makeup of these bars, and the weight each should be to deliver the volume of protein you need. This may also result in a tweak to the recipe. Bear with me…..
RASPBERRY, COCONUT AND CACAO PROTEIN BARS
(makes approximately 12)
50g ground almonds
50g rolled oats
50g pumpkin seeds
50g shredded coconut
2Tbsp maple syrup
2Tbsp coconut oil
50ml hot coffee (espresso)
50gm cacao nibs
100g protein powder
30g freeze dried raspberries (1 packet Fresh As raspberries)
Toast ground almonds, oats, pumpkin seeds, coconut in a dry pan over a low heat until golden and fragrant.
Place in a food processor with all other ingredients until finely chopped and combined
Line a 30 x 20 cm baking tin with cling film (or grease if you don’t want to use plastic), and press mix firmly and evenly, until well compacted.
Refrigerate until set and chilled (roughly 1 hour)
Remove from tin and slice into even sized pieces. Store in an airtight container.
There’s been quite a bit of press about reducing waste recently. And rightly so. In a country where many are struggling to make ends meet, those of us at the more fortunate end of the scale are throwing away 79kg of food scraps per year. Which is a lot when extrapolated out over our population. To be precise, enough to fill 213 jumbo jets, or enough to feed Dunedin for two years.
The Love Food Hate Waste movement has gathered momentum and is raising the profile of this issue, to educate us about how we can make better use of the scraps we have left over. Their website has a huge number of recipes and ideas for how to better use our leftovers, and features such high profile names as Al Brown and Lauraine Jacobs.
Waste reduction takes some thinking and mindfulness to be honest. When you find a lemon going soft and stinky in the back of the fridge, willpower is needed to not just turf the whole thing into the bin. And it can become a chore to constantly find ways to use up that crust of bread or that rind of cheese.
There are some habits we can easily get into though which will keep our food waste down. These are some of the things I do:
Shop for fresh food daily – I know this sounds like a major hassle when you’re working full time. It’s a habit I got into because I can never decide what I want to eat for dinner in advance, so I decide on the day. We also run out of different things at different times (bread, eggs, milk, bananas) so it’s not really much more effort to pick up the few extras I need for dinner at the same time. The benefit has proven to be that I throw out far less food because I don’t buy any more than we need. When I was shopping weekly, vegetables and fruit would go bad before I could eat them. Now I assess what I have on a rolling basis and buy just what I need.
Invest in a worm farm or compost bin – My worm bin is one of the best investments
we’ve ever made. It’s the perfect eco-system, which I got from Hungry Bin. The worms multiply in relation to the amount of food scraps they have to eat. More scraps, more worms. It means I’m not putting food scraps down the waste disposal unit (another ecological nightmare), and any fruit or vegetable scraps that are mouldy or soft can go to the worms. I have been told they don’t like citrus or onions, but I’ve had no issues with those. After the course of a few weeks or months, you can put their casings onto the garden as fertiliser, while the “worm wees” can be used as liquid fertiliser (so long as you dilute it with water). If worms leave you cold, a compost bin will have the same result, with the added advantage of being a great place for your garden refuse.
Bake a cake – There are many recipes for cakes incorporating overripe fruit or vegetables. Banana cake is an obvious candidate, but carrots, apples, lemons, pears and even courgettes make delicious cakes. This is my favourite banana loaf from Helen Jackson, in A Treasury of New Zealand Baking
BANANA CHOCOLATE-CHIP LOAF
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 cup natural yoghurt (make your own here)
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup mashed, overripe banana
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups standard flour
Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 24cm loaf tin and line with baking paper
Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla until pale and creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition
Combine the yoghurt with the baking soda and banana
Stir the chocolate chips into the flour
Add the flour mixture and the yoghurt mixture to the creamed butter mixture, alternating between the two. Pour into the prepared loaf tin.
Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool in the tin.
Turn leftover roast vegetables into a salad – This goes for any leftover vegetables really. Cold roast vegetables, mixed with fresh salad greens, fresh tomatoes, chopped herbs and the protein of your choice (eggs, chicken, tuna) make a delicious lunch the next day. A simple vinaigrette made by whisking together 1 tablespoon of vinegar with 3 tablespoons of olive oil will top it off nicely.
Or make a soup – Soups are a fantastic way to use up vegetables that have been
cooked already or leftover roast meat. All you need is some stock, some herbs and an extra onion, carrot and a stick of chopped celery, and you have another meal ready to go. Just saute the chopped onion, carrot and celery in a little olive oil until soft. Add your left over vegetables and a sprig of thyme, rosemary or a bayleaf (or a combination of the three). Top with stock and cook until fragrant and the vegetables very soft. Remove the herbs, blend until smooth and season to taste. Stir through shredded roast meat if desired.
Make stock – I use stock all the time. It’s quite expensive to buy the good stuff and
super cheap to make yourself. This is a great way to use up bones from roasts, chops or chicken, any left over herbs, or offcuts from vegetables. I use the ends of carrots, the skins and ends of onions, the tops of fennel bulbs, wilted celery and any other vegetables looking past their best. Just throw it all in a pot, top with water and cook for as long as you wish. Stock will freeze for about 6 months or until you need it.
Make stews – A leg of lamb is often way too much meat for a family of four. Turn it into a stew with some sauteed onion, carrot and celery, a couple of cloves of chopped garlic, a bayleaf and sprig of thyme, a cup of wine and some beef or lamb stock. For a bit of extra flavour, add a couple of rashers of chopped bacon to the pan with the onions. Once those have all cooked together, add the cooked diced lamb (or chicken, or beef, or pork) and cook until the meat is very tender. Stir through some spinach or other winter greens if desired. Thicken with cornflour and season to taste.
Use the stew to make pies – I bought a Sunbeam pie maker a few years ago and have
never looked back. All it needs is ready rolled puff pastry and I can churn out any number of pies to use up left overs. I’ve made pies from coq au vin, spaghetti bolognese, smoked fish pie (complete with mashed potato) and pulled pork. The pies freeze brilliantly and come back to crisp perfection from frozen after 30 minutes in a 180°C oven.
Freeze leftovers – this seems obvious, but freezing is definitely worthwhile doing. So long as you keep track of what you have in the freezer!! I freeze leftover meals, half loaves of bread and milk (low fat milk freezes better) for emergencies, egg whites (see how to use leftover yolks and whites), and bits of cake that are in danger of going stale. Most things come back well and it gives me a ready store of dinners for the days I just can’t be bothered.
There are many food items I can create convincingly, but so far bread has been a major thorn in my side. My bread rises the way it should, but it doesn’t seem to get the chewy texture or decent sized holes that comes from proper artisanal bread making.
The closest I’ve been so far is with this incredible recipe from Bon Appetit. It’s complete genius, uses the smallest amount of yeast, and produces an incredible loaf. But it take three days of hard work. That’s right. Three days! Given that I have other things to do with my time, three days of straight dedication to a single loaf is not going to fly.
The above loaf is made with a poolish (like a sourdough starter from Eastern Europe, that’s the first 14 hours of bread production…). I figured that maybe I should proceed to making my own sourdough starter. How hard could it be? So, so, so hard. The first starter looked good, the recipe I had said it would be good to go in 5 days, but the bread resulting from it was more like a pancake with a charmingly concrete consistency.
So I went on a book hunt. The lovely people at Cook The Books in Ponsonby sold me two tomes – The Bread & Butter Project, from the Bourke St Bakery people in Sydney, and How to Make Bread by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou. The Bourke St Bakery people offered a promising 21 day sourdough starter, which died at about day 14. I did all the right things, recorded water temperatures, measured flour and water quantities, etc, but nothing could save my wild yeast baby.
At this point I went back to basics, using dried commercial yeast and a basic bread recipe from both of the above books. I had some success, but still couldn’t get the texture I was after. I tried different flours, water temperatures, but things just weren’t coming together.
I finally caved. It was clear that there were some knowledge gaps that books just weren’t going to fill. I signed myself up for two classes in bread baking at the NZ School of Food and Wine. The first covered 5 different loaves – basic bread, plaited white bread (challah), sourdough (YAY!!), ciabatta and farmer’s bread. I came home with 5 loaves of bread, with varying degrees of success, and newfound knowledge that I could put into action.
These are the main things I learned. The recipes are nothing unusual, and in the interests of protecting NZSOF&W’s intellectual property, I’m electing to not publish these. You can find many bread recipes either in books (see above) or online, and the tips I’ve shared below will hopefully guide you through the quagmire that is bread baking.
Some stuff about yeast
If you’re short on time, you can get bread to prove faster by adding extra yeast
To activate yeast, water for the dough needs to be warm (about 40°C, but 20-40°C is good). Too hot (60°C+) will kill your yeast and make your bread flat.
If a recipe lists fresh yeast and you only have dried, use half the quantity prescribed
Fresh yeast is not available to buy in retail outlets in NZ, due to it’s short shelf life (about 2 weeks). Your local baker should be happy to give you a bit if you ask nicely 🙂
Some stuff about flour
Always use high grade flour, which has about 13% gluten
Gluten can also be described as Protein on the label
High grade flour can also be labelled as high protein, strong flour or high gluten. It’s all the same thing
If you need to boost the gluten/protein percentage in your flour (eg. you only have standard flour) just add 2% gluten. You can buy gluten from Ceres.
Using a percentage of rye flour makes for a denser bread. It has less protein than high grade white flour, so the gluten does not develop as much. However, rye adds a great nutty flavour and lovely dark colour.
Some stuff about bread dough
The rough recipe for bread is 1 part flour to 0.6 parts water. Or 100% flour, 60% water
The volume of water in millilitres is the same as the weight of water in grams (eg. 100ml water = 100g). Same with milk.
Always add salt and oil after you’ve mixed together the yeast, flour and water (and any other ingredients). Salt will kill yeast if applied too early in the process, and oil will coat the yeast granules and prevent them from activating.
Salt is added to bread to restrict yeast’s activity and to stop bread from over-proving (ie. rising way too much)
Don’t make your mix too dry. The starches need to absorb the moisture, which they can’t do if the bread dough is too hard. A softer dough will prove faster. Resist the urge to add more flour than the recipe says.
It will take about 20 minutes for the moisture to be absorbed into the flour and for gluten to start to develop. Hence the first rise in every bread recipe.
During the second rise (in a tin or on an oven tray), spray the surface with water to stop it from drying out and cracking. This will also enable the loaf to rise more effectively.
If you want a softer loaf, change out the water for milk (use the same quantity, to be clear).
If you want to add dried fruit or whole grains to your bread, soak them in an equal quantity of boiling water first. Otherwise they will leech the moisture from your bread and it will dry out and not rise as well as you would like (this was my issue. Now I know).
The ideal internal temperature for dough to rise is 27-32°C. You can use a thermometer to measure this if you like.
Some stuff about kneading
I’ve separated this out because it’s probably the most important thing I learned. You don’t need to knead. Gluten strands will develop over time, as the moisture is absorbed into the flour. Kneading speeds this process up, but it’s not especially energy efficient. By mixing your dough and letting it rest, you’ll get the same result. Time over muscle.
Restating the point above, your dough will feel sticky at first, but resist the urge to add more flour and knead it into submission. A small sprinkling of flour and a good dose of time will give you the smooth, soft dough you’re after. You’ll know it’s ready when you’re able to pull a “gluten window” – that is, when you can stretch the dough without it tearing and see light through it. If it still tears, leave it a bit longer, it’ll come right.
Some stuff about baking your bread
Oven temperatures vary, which is INCREDIBLY annoying. This would explain many of my past baking fails. Here’s a rough guide to relative oven temperatures:The recipe says 200°C
Domestic oven 200°C
Fan forced oven 190°C
Very modern oven 180°C
If your oven temperature seems to be higher than the recipe says, reduce the temperature, but leave the bread in for the time allocated.
Due to their higher sugar content, sweet breads are baked at a lower temperature than savoury bread (200°C versus 220-240°C respectively). The lower temperature prevents the sugar from burning.
If you’re baking a large loaf use a falling temperature to prevent the loaf from burning. Start at 220°C and reduce over the cook time to 180°C
A 600g loaf will take about 30 minutes to cook, a 1kg loaf will take about 50 minutes
Always pre-heat the oven before baking. The yeast gives a final burst of activity as it hits the oven, called “oven spring”. This won’t happen if the oven is still cold.
Some stuff about Sourdough
Rather than growing a starter from scratch, get one from someone else. That way there’s a far greater chance of it surviving. The one we used was 10 years old! Ask your friendly neighbourhood artisan baker if he can spare some (you don’t need much)
When building your starter, attract wild yeast spores by giving them food (ie. flour) and water
Leave your starter outside to give it the best chance of attracting yeasts
It’ll take about 5 days for your starter to be useful for bread baking
Sourdough starter can be frozen and resurrected. It will be sluggish and slow to respond at first (as would you after cryogenics), but with feeding it will come back.
One final really important point
Recently I watched a fantastic documentary on Netflix, featuring Michael Pollan, who’s a food hero of mine. The documentary series is called Cooked. In one episode, they talked about sourdough bread baking, the importance of fermentation, and the rise in gluten intolerance levels.
The thinking goes like this (and was reinforced by my tutor at NZSOF&W): commercial bread making is too fast. Traditional bread making encourages gluten bands to form using time. A side effect of this time is that fermentation occurs. Fermentation changes the structure of the gluten cells, which in turn makes it easier for us to digest.
The requirement for bulk commercial bread making operations to churn out the maximum number of loaves in the minimum time frame is that the fermentation phase of the process is left out. No fermentation means no change in gluten cell structure means less digestible bread means gluten intolerance.