Cheese Scones and Brioche

Whoosh, where did this last weekend go? One moment I was standing in the school playground on Friday afternoon and the next I was there again, delivering L to her classroom at the start of a new week. We’ve been busy, busy, busy.

But I have to tell you, I have the most gorgeous children. Okay, I’m probably biased, but whose heart could fail to melt when given such a beautiful gift as this Mothering Sunday card?

mothers day card

Believe me, I know my elder daughter and she’s not the speediest of people – it must have taken her ages to make that card for me! She rushed home from school when I collected her on Friday and secreted herself in her bedroom with her bookbag and the ‘something special’ that she’d carried back inside it. She emerged a little while later telling me that I was banned from looking in the corner (which did make me worry slightly – if she’d hidden something in the corner of her room, I had grave doubts about whether or not it would ever see the light of day again).

How proudly she presented her special card to me yesterday, Mothering Sunday. M joined the ceremony by (somewhat reluctantly) handing me two gigantically enormous bars of chocolate (while L helpfully reminded me that I had to share). And T baked me some cheddar cheese scones 🙂 (well … T apparently fell asleep on the kitchen table while I was out with the girls on Saturday afternoon, so that O found himself with a surprisingly undisturbed opportunity to find his way around my recipe books and flour cupboard).

mothers day cheese scones

Beautiful! We ate the scones in our own version of a Devonshire Cream Tea – runny slices of brie in place of clotted cream, topped with spoonfuls of the Bay Tree’s chipotle chilli jelly instead of our homemade blackberry jam (the last jar of which I’m saving for a special occasion). The cream tea purists will be turning in their graves, but the brie and jelly were the perfect accompaniments to the cheesy tang of the scones. As I said – beautiful!

For my own part, I thanked my wonderful family by baking a brioche for breakfast on Sunday morning.

O has been dropping hints for some time now that he’d like brioche to go with his marmalade, but that would have meant digging out my dough hook from wherever it might have ended up buried in our garage after our move to Devon four years ago. Although a comfortingly familiar activity to me now, bread-making is something that I’ve only come to fairly recently and I have, until this point, managed with only the most minimal of kitchen tools (aka my hands). I knew from reading Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Basic Brioche Recipe however that my hands were not an option here, unless I wished to spread all of the dough into an unmanageable sticky mess along my worktop. And so, on Saturday evening, I ventured into the darkest reaches of the garage, armed only with L’s small, dynamo-powered torch.

The brioche was obviously meant to be. I found the dough hook in the very first box I chose to open. I even woke up unusually early on Sunday morning, which allowed me time to remove the chilly dough from the fridge and shape it in my teeniest loaf pan so that it could rise and bake with minutes to spare before the rest of the family were stirring from their sleep.

Needless to say, Rose’s instructions were spot on. The meltingly golden brioche that I took from the oven was devoured so quickly that I didn’t get much of a chance to take many photos. The ravenous hoards couldn’t even wait until it had fully cooled. It went from being a shiny, blooming creation to a few silky crumbs on the bread board in the space it took me to vaguely contemplate the lack of daylight at that time of the morning.

mothers day brioche

O says he’d be happy to have this brioche every time he fancies marmalade for breakfast (which is him being wildly enthusiastic, jumping up and down and clapping his hands together in joyous excitement). I agree.

Wholemeal Sandwich Bread

It was difficult to maintain our normal cooking and baking activities last month whilst our kitchen was being pulled apart and rebuilt. Although I was usually able to put something together from scratch in a casserole pot for our evening dinner, we did have to resort to buying the plastic-wrapped, pre-sliced stuff that for some unknown reason is commonly referred to as ‘bread’.

I missed my homemade bread greatly during this time and actually couldn’t bring myself to put any of the supermarket variety in my trolley on shopping trips. Poor O became used to my evening phone calls to him at work, confessing that we had run out of bread and could he pick some up on his way home?

Once the builders were gone, I still didn’t feel able to make any bread until the dust had settled a little. I know that some input from the local environment may be desirable in breadmaking, but I didn’t think the sentiment extended to particles of plaster from our ceiling. And so, for these last few weeks, I have been waiting somewhat impatiently for an opportunity to get my hands sticky again in bread dough.

Whilst I was twiddling my thumbs, I discovered some locally-grown and stoneground wholemeal flour in a local farm shop. I can imagine now that anyone who knows this area of Devon is picturing me at Dart’s Farm, buying flour from Otterton Mill 😉 . As wonderful as those places are, I was on an alternative tourist route. I was at the up-and-coming Greendale Farm Shop (which I still prefer to think of as Random Poultry – it’s a much snazzier name) and the flour was from Sidbury Watermill.

Being a numpty, I managed to return home with a packet of plain rather than strong wholemeal flour for my long-awaited loaves. Believing also in the sparkles of serendipity, I’m now looking forward to trying out some wholemeal cakes and pastries. However, I can also confirm for any other numpties out there that Sidbury Mill’s stoneground, plain, wholemeal flour is perfectly adapted for giving a ‘wholemealy’ bite to homemade, soft sandwich bread.

wholemeal loaves

I can probably call the recipe my own, although it is through the genius of far more knowledgeable bakers than myself that I’ve been able to end up with this amalgamation of ingredients and quantities. It is very much an ongoing work-in-progress as I seek to find a sandwich loaf that my husband prefers to those plastic things in plastic wrappings that you find on supermarket shelves.

wholemeal bread

Wholemeal Sandwich Bread

18 oz water
20 oz strong white flour
1 x 7g sachet instant yeast
6 oz stoneground plain wholemeal flour
4 oz plain white flour
1 egg
1 oz butter
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp barley extract
1 1/2 tsp natural molasses sugar

In a large bowl, mix 10 oz of the strong white flour with all of the water and half of the yeast. Whisk to create bubbles in the batter.

Combine the remaining yeast with the remaining flours and sprinkle on top of the batter so that it is entirely covered. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave at room temperature for between 1 and 4 hours.

Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and stir with a big wooden spoon until all the dry stuff is moistened. Scrape out onto the worktop and cover with the upturned bowl. Leave it all like this for about 15 minutes so that the dough becomes less sticky.

After resting, the dough will still be quite wet but it shouldn’t stick to your fingers too much. Flour your hands if it does, but don’t add too much extra flour at this stage.

If you’re like me and only have one bowl large enough for breadmaking, cover the resting dough with clingfilm while you wash out the bowl and grease it with a little olive oil. Otherwise, go ahead and prepare your oiled bowl at any point before now.

Knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes. Place it in the oiled bowl and cover with clingfilm. Leave it until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.

Divide as required, shape and place in loaf tins. I use two loaf tins – a small tin that holds 3 cups of water and a larger tin that holds 7 cups of water. M thinks I make a Mummy loaf and a baby loaf 😉 .

Cover (I like to flour my clingfilm now before covering the tins so that it doesn’t stick to the dough when I forget to take it off early enough as it is rising) and leave until doubled in volume (this happens more quickly in my baby tin).

Bake at the bottom of the oven for 10 minutes at 220 degrees C, then lower the temperature to 200 degrees C and bake for a further 20 to 30 minutes (or 15 minutes for really babyish loaves). Turn out and stand on a wire rack to cool.

I’m sending these loaves to Susan for her weekly showcase of all things bread, YeastSpotting.

Snappy, Snacky Pizza Bread

I confess openly and whole-heartedly to having a certain single mindedness when it comes to pursuing a goal. If you’re looking for someone who’s prepared to stand in front of a microwave, fork and thermometer in hand, stirring a bowlful of flour every ten seconds for half an hour, then yes, I’ll be the one to do it!

I make my own puff-pastry, I bake my own loaves for bread sauce and my children enjoy eating our homemade chicken nuggets. Quirky, obsessive, nerdy? Perhaps I’m all of these … and happy to be so!

Having builders working in our house again has moved the goalposts slightly, however. The gloopy plaster that they carried through my kitchen in a large bucket yesterday was the closest I’ve come to seeing anything resembling a cake batter in there these last two weeks! Whilst I’m reaching cloud nine on dreams of my soon-to-be-installed Rangemaster Induction cooker, my actual opportunities for baking much this side of Christmas are severely limited.

Taking advantage of this enforced hiatus in my baking obsession, my elder daughter and I have become huge fans of a super-easy ‘pizza’ bread. It takes about as long to prepare as cheese-on-toast, but it’s oh so much tastier.

It seems absurd to talk about a recipe for this – we basically spoon some tinned tomatoes over a slice of bread (err, yes, I did make the bread …), top with slices of cheddar cheese and sprinkle with dried oregano and freshly-ground black pepper.

pizza bread preparation

Pop it in a hot oven until the cheese melts and oozes over the edges. Mmmm … delicious!

pizza bread

One Year On

On Saturday, it will be A Merrier World’s first anniversary. In an ideal world therefore, I’d be making this post on August 9th. However, it’s the middle of the Summer holidays and I have 3 small children for whom I’m full-time entertainer, cook, cleaner, doctor, teacher and chauffeur, not to mention variously worst-enemy/best-friend depending on how their mood takes them. At the risk of completely missing a date on Saturday therefore, I’m getting my celebrations in a few days early!

This time last year, I was in the throes of my quest for the perfect brownie. I remember very clearly the trepidation bordering on writer’s block that accompanied my first post. But the deed was done and I launched myself into a journey of discovery. I didn’t realise then that this adventure would take me into the depths of starch molecules and back out through the worst practices of the broiler chicken industry. Rose Levy Beranbaum was a distant name a year ago … I had yet to come across the Cake Bible!

A year ago, we had builders working on our house. Oh … well, actually … nothing’s changed there, then! We still have builders working on our house! A few days ago, they fitted our wood-burning stove and built a warming brick fireplace. They could probably tell you as much as anyone about my baking experiments this past year – indeed (dare I say it?!), without their willingness to clear away my ‘scientific results’, my freezer may well have become so full of cake that I wouldn’t have been able to continue 😉 . If anyone’s to thank for kate flour, it’s probably Exeter Lofts!

Perhaps I should have baked a cake for my blog’s 1st birthday. Well, I haven’t. Instead, I’ve decided to feed my family with a special granary and spelt bread.

Why do I think this bread is special? Well, it’s an entirely personal reason and I don’t expect anyone else to find it ‘special’. It’s simply because I was intrigued by the antiquity of spelt a few months ago and ever since then I have been attempting to produce a bread from it that I actually enjoyed eating. But I couldn’t. The thing is, I just don’t really like the taste of full-blown spelt.

I have made loaves from 100% spelt, 50-50 mixes of spelt and even a mix that sounded wonderful in principle (spelt, rye, oats and apple) but ended up being entirely inedible and ruined a perfectly good bread pan when I had to scrape down the sides to turn it out! I had almost given up, but my remaining bag of spelt flour was due to be thrown out this month and I couldn’t bear to waste it.

And so, this last week I had another go (well, three goes actually … look in my freezer!). I have found that I can get just the right amount of spelt-nuttiness from the flour by combining a small amount with a malted granary flour from Otterton Mill. Inspired also by my recent successes in substituting a bit of strong flour with Italian flour in my regular white bread recipe, I have also discovered that mixing these spelt and granary flours with plain bread flour and a soft wheat 00 grade flour produces a moist, flavoursome bread without the density I normally associate with wholemeal and granary breads. My children loved this bread most when I shaped and baked it into small dinner rolls (or ‘dough balls’, as they call them) – and if they give it a thumbs-up … well, that’s good enough for me!

Granary and Spelt Rolls

10 oz strong white bread flour (I used Allinson’s)
10 oz malted granary flour (I used flour from FWP Matthews, packed at Otterton Mill)
5 oz wholegrain spelt flour (I used Doves Farm)
5 oz soft 00 grade Italian flour (I used Molino Spadoni’s Gran Mugnaio, which I found in the speciality section of Sainsbury’s).
2 tsp fast action dried yeast
1 tbsp salt
1 pint water
1 tsp honey

Combine the strong white bread flour with the water and 1 tsp of the yeast in a large bowl and mix to a smooth batter.

Mix the remaining flours and yeast together separately, then sprinkle gently over the top of the batter-like mix to cover it completely. Wrap tightly in clingfilm and leave at room temperature for 1 hour.

Transfer the bowl carefully to the fridge and leave it for 10 to 24 hours. Take the kids to Crealy and pretend to enjoy queuing for hours to be soaked on the water slide.

Remove the bowl from the fridge and leave it for an hour or so to return to room temperature.

Sprinkle the salt over the mixture, add the honey and mix well to combine. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. The dough will be quite sticky and moist but don’t add any extra flour just yet. Scrape it together and knead it with your fingertips (in a sort of scraping and folding sort of way), then cover with the bowl and leave for 20 minutes.

The dough should be tacky rather than sticky now, but don’t be tempted to add too much flour. Knead for 5 to 10 minutes, then place in a large, lightly-oiled bowl. Cover with clingfilm and leave until doubled (about an hour).

Turn the dough over then fold it back on itself a couple of times. Cover with clingfilm and leave until doubled for a second time (about an hour).

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C (the oven should have about an hour to become hot enough before you put in the rolls to bake).

If you have a tried-and-tested way of shaping and baking rolls, just do that. I don’t have a huge amount of sophisticated bread-making gear or experience, so this is what I did …

I sprinkled the worktop with a handful of rice flour. I cut smallish amounts of dough (and even smaller ones for the children’s dough-balls) and rolled these in the flour. I lined a baking tray with a silicon liner. This held 8 large rolls, although they squashed into each other during final rising and baking. I made a sort of tunnel over the baking tray from aluminium foil (so the rolls were covered but had space to rise) and left them until they had doubled. When I prodded them slightly, the dent filled in slowly.

I baked them on the lowest shelf of my oven for 5 minutes at 220 degres C (I threw a cup of ice-cubes onto a pre-heated tray set on the floor of the oven at the start of baking), then lowered the temperature to 190 degrees C. I baked the rolls for a further 15 to 20 minutes until they were golden and sounded hollow when I tapped the bottom.

Our Daily Bread

There is definitely something heart-warming about the smell of freshly-baked bread, especially when it’s emanating from your own kitchen. I’m a long way from being a master-baker, but I’ve certainly learned a few things in my search to produce a good, all-round loaf. Something the children like … something that slices well to make sandwiches … something that’s large enough to sustain the hoards without being so large that the ducks are constantly suffering from the stale remains.

I now understand more than I did before about how gluten resembles muscles … how the dough should be stretched but not torn … how salt and draughts kill the yeast. Perhaps the most heart-warming part of my bread-making activities is the idea that my children have stickied their hands in the “gluey” dough and then ravenously devoured the best part of each loaf we have baked together.

My thanks go again to Rose Levy Beranbaum for providing our perfect recipe.