Happy new year! A new year and I’m happy to get it started, take stock of life and think about the year ahead. We’ll be staying put in California for 2013 and we hope to see as much as we can but on the cooking front I want to get more experimental with vegetables. Crazy ambitious, I know! But I’ve had some incredible vegetable dishes lately and I need to challenge myself to be more creative and diverse. The kids are on board, well 3 of them, to boost our veggie intake each day. I’ll try and share some recipes along the way. I also resolve to keep my knives sharpened and my chopping boards oiled and cared for – wish me luck!
School holidays are over and the house is a little bit cleaner as a result. But we had a wonderful holiday – our trip to Lake Tahoe for snow galore, another trip down to LA for a day at Disneyland (plus a quick stop in at the stunningly gorgeous, gorgeous Santa Barbara for dinner), hikes to see more redwoods (which has given me an excuse to indulge in trail mix a little too much) plus plenty of late nights playing games with the kids and sleep ins. The kids have been enjoying all their Christmas books and I’m never short on entertainment when cooking or folding clothes because the girls read out loud to me. I love it!
Matilda has been getting into some needlepoint, knitting and finger knitting. I think most of the toys in the kids bedrooms have their own scarves for winter, finger knitted especially by Tilly. There is a quote in one of my favourite little cookbooks ‘Teapots & Tractors’
A quilt block a day, keeps winter at bay.
I am not a quilter but sitting down with the kids and doing some sort of craft is comforting when the weather outside is just so cold. Too cold for our sub-tropical blood. It also helps to be able to share a pot of rooibos tea with my girls.
The kids have been getting into painting which always creates a mess. It is all fun and games until the kids have got bored and moved on to the next activity. Thank goodness for washable tempera paint – it wipes cleanly off the table, chairs, walls etc. They have also been getting into the kitchen doing some cooking and baking. One of our favourite things to bake is a loaf of homemade bread. Warm bread straight from the oven with butter – words can’t describe what a treat this is. Better still is toast the next morning with jam and butter and a cup of coffee or tea.
This is a Stephanie Alexander recipe for a basic bread. Here is quite a detailed recipe which you may prefer to my simplified version. Four parts white flour and 1 part whole wheat flour. You could play around with flour ratios to get the bread you prefer. My mum made bread when we were kids and we all learnt how to make it. Mum would go to the markets and purchase huge bags of white flour and a multi-grain and it was so delicious fresh from the oven. But as the week went on my enthusiasm for sandwiches dwindled and toast was the only way to revive the bread. At the time I was so envious of other kids who had white bread with vegemite for their school lunch but in hindsight I feel blessed that I now have happy memories of fresh bread from the oven slathered in butter and that my mum taught me how to make bread from scratch. I love baking bread and hope that by getting my kids in the kitchen to help with the baking it will encourage them to do the same. Really lovely to make a loaf in the morning then have a simple lunch of bread, cheeses, ham, mustard and pickles. Or make a loaf in the afternoon and serve it with butter to have with a hot bowl of soup. Simple food made special.
As you can see from the photo below, it is hard to resist when straight from the oven but it is best to be left as it continues to cook as it cools. I found this loaf like this and I suspect it was a certain four year old who just likes to eat just the crust. Contrary to popular belief though, his hair is straight.
If you get out all the ingredients for the kids it is fairly straight forward for them to weigh the flour and the yeast. The salt is measured and this can all go into the mixer, with dough hook attached, to mix. This can easily be made by hand as well.
The water can be measured into a jug. Be sure that it is not hot as it will kill the yeast and your bread won’t rise, but it needs to be warm to get the yeast going.
Stir in the honey or molasses. I have taken to using barley malt syrup as I use it for other bread recipes and I prefer it over the honey.
Depending very much on the flour you will use all the 500ml of water or much less. The trick is to get the mixer going and slowly add the water until the mixture just comes together. You don’t want a firm dough, just a very soft, sticky dough. Let the mixer do most of the kneading for you with the speed on its lowest setting then tip out the dough on a floured board adding only just enough flour to bring it together.
The dough needs to be light and easy to manipulate. If it is giving you a workout to knead then perhaps more of the water needs to be added but this is harder to do. Much easier to have a sticky dough and add a little extra flour as needed then the other way around. Knead until all smooth then turn over and tuck your hands under to form a nice round. The dough should bounce back when pressed with your finger.
Lightly oil a bowl and gently place in your round of dough. Cover with a teatowel or oiled plastic wrap. Place the bowl in a draught free spot, preferably a warm corner of the kitchen out of reach of curious kids.
Leave for an hour or two until doubled in size. The most fun part is giving that puffed up dough a good punch and watching it deflate.
Give the dough a quick knead and shape how you like it. I use this basic recipe for bread rolls for the kids lunch boxes. Usually I get about 8 even sized bread rolls but because some of my kids have bigger appetites then others I might make 6 regular bread rolls and then 3 smaller bread rolls for my little Essie. I also have bread tins to make a regular loaf – a brilliant wedding gift from a dear family friend.
If you have never made bread before then this is a great recipe to get started with. Look out for unbleached bread flour. In America I buy the King Arthur unbleached bread flour, The SAF instant yeast and Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat flour, however the last loaf I made was using a Whole Foods 365 organic 100% whole wheat flour and it was great. In Australia I used Lowan instant dried yeast.
Well, happy baking and enjoy some simple pleasures in 2013 like homemade bread!
basic homemade bread
400g unbleached bread flour
100g whole wheat flour
7g instant dried yeast
1 teaspoon salt
500ml lukewarm water
1 tablespoon of honey, molasses or barley malt syrup
Weight and measure out the flours, yeast and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir the honey into the warm water. Turn the mixer on the slowest setting and slowly pour in the honey water until the dough just comes together. Let the mixer knead until the dough is smooth and stretchy – about 10 minutes.
Tip the dough out onto a floured board or work bench. Flour your hands and knead by hand until the dough is bouncy – 3-5 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap or a tea towel. Leave to rise for an hour or two, until the dough has doubled in size. This takes longer on a cooler day.
Give the dough a good punch and knock the air out of it. Tip it onto the floured board again and give a light knead. Shape the dough into a log to place in an oiled bread tin or cut the dough into eight pieces and form bread rolls and arrange on a lined baking tray (remember to leave space between each bread roll as they will expand). Cover with a tea towel and leave to prove for half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C/ 395 degrees F. Place the loaf of bread or the bread rolls into the hot oven. Sometimes I place a second tray on the next shelf down and throw in a heap of ice cubes. This creates steam which gives a much softer loaf.
Bread rolls take about 15 -25 minutes to bake and a loaf of bread takes about 30 – 4o minutes. Keep an eye on the bread and to test if it is ready just look under the bread for a slightly browned base and tap. You are listening for a hollow sound when you tap the bread – the best test to know if your bread is ready. A ‘thunk’ sound will indicate it needs more time in the oven. When I make a loaf in a bread tin I tend to tip it out of the tin after 25 – 30 minutes and let the base brown up a little more – a trick I learnt from my mother.
Place the cooked loaf onto a wire rack and leave it to cool for as long as you can resist. Try not to cut into it when it is still hot. It won’t slice neatly for you. Best to wait until it is only just warm.