Category Archives: The Ordinary Cook

Harvest Bread

On Sunday we had a little trip out to Acton Scott Historic Farm. It’s a wonderful place, not least because the Bailiff’s Cottage has the traditional bread oven still in place and still in use. They were having their harvest festival on Sunday and using the oven to bake their harvest loaves. I was very excited to talk to the Bailiff about his use of faggots to get the oven up to temperature and to find out that you can cook up to 18 loaves in the capacious oven.  Whilst I was in heaven talking to the Bailiff about his oven, our 11 year old was doing what 11 year old’s do best; muttering under her breath wondering how her mother could possibly find any of this interesting. One day, she will understand. The nearly 9 year old though still has a year or so before the proper disdain for her mother’s interests sets in, so she was quite interested. On Monday she asked me to make a dough the following day so that she could make a harvest loaf when she got home. I was more than happy to oblige. I have always been a bit put off from making one as they look like you might need an artistic eye and patience, neither of which describe me. But in we ploughed.

It took us about an hour and a half to put together. I was ridiculously pleased with the result of our work and kept taking pictures and telling the youngest how brilliant it was.

For the instructions on how to a make the harvest loaf take a look at Daniel’s brilliant blog Bread, Cakes and Ale. He has made one too and has given detailed instructions as to its construction. Even if you don’t want to make the loaf pop over to his blog anyway for a good read.

And here is a picture of the loaf I was so proud of.

Harvest Loaf

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Lemon, poppy seed and almond cake

Lemon and poppy seed cake

I am baking this for tomorrow’s bread making evening class. I have been meaning to make a poppy-seed cake for ages and just not got round to it. I love the way the tiny black dots glisten amongst the soft cake. Poppy seeds always make me smile to myself. The first time I put a bread roll  adorned with poppy seeds in front of my eldest, she just stared at it for a long time. I wondered what she was thinking so I asked her if she was ok. “What are these mummy?” she asked pointing to the top of the roll. “Poppy seeds, darling”, “Oh, I thought they were beetles”.  I promise that no beetles were harmed in the making of this cake.

If you don’t want to use ground almonds then just use 175g of flour instead. You need four lemons for this cake. Don’t be fooled by it saying three lemons  in the first section. But if you only have three lemons in the house then no harm will come to the cake if you just use the zest of 2 lemons in the cake itself.

For the cake

175g softened butter
175g caster sugar
3 eggs
Zest of 3 lemons
Juice of 1 lemon
125g self-raising flour
50g ground almonds
2 tbsp poppy seeds

For the syrup

Juice of 2 lemons
Zest of 1 lemon
50g granulated sugar
50g icing sugar
1 generous teaspoon poppy seeds

Method
Grease or line a 2lb loaf tin. Preheat the oven to 180°c, gas mark 4 or bake in the middle of the baking oven of the Aga.

Beat together the butter and the caster sugar until fluffy and lighter in colour. I find that if I use an electric whisk to get things started and then go in with my hand like a claw I get a much fluffier mixture. The heat of your hands makes the difference. Add the eggs one at a time and beat thoroughly between additions. Add the lemon zest, juice, flour, ground almonds and poppy seeds and fold in with a large spoon until evenly combined. Spoon the mixture evenly into the tin and bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until the cake is golden and a skewer comes out clean.

Whilst the cake is baking, mix together the ingredients for the syrup.

As soon as the cake comes out of the oven use a skewer to pierce all over and deeply into the cake. Spoon the syrup evenly over the cake. Leave to cool completely in the tin.

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Six years of discoveries

WordPress tells me that it has been six years since I wrote my very first post on these pages. I am very grateful for this blog for lots of reasons.

I set up this food blog for lots of reasons too. It was at a time when I had to make a decision about my future and that of my children. I was working in a job which I loved and which consumed a lot of my day. It was one of those brilliant jobs that really only comes along once in a while. I worked from home most of time, thanks to this marvellous thing called the internet. I was passionate about the project that I worked for – I had spent five years writing a PhD about it. I got to travel and speak to policy makers and at conferences. I loved it. But I also loved my girls who were three and five years old at the time. I had worked through both pregnancies, taking only a couple of weeks off for each birth and getting back to it as soon as I could. I was freelance and self-employed. I needed to work and I enjoyed my job. My employer was very accommodating, understanding and kind. One memorable occasion saw me sitting in an ante-room listening to a meeting in the next room feeding my three-week old and shouting my responses to the discussion happening next door; then taking my three-week old to change her nappy and lifting her up, to have her throw up the entire feed down my blouse. Thankfully the bag I had with me was the one which we had taken to hospital and it still had one of my husband’s t-shirts in there. What was I thinking? Five years on from this messy meeting and six years ago this month there came an opportunity to reassess what I was doing. Did I continue with my career? Or did I take a break and spend more time with the girls? After much hand wringing and into the night discussions we decided I should take a career break. It has been a decision that I have wrangled with ever since.

I have loved every minute of being with the girls, taking them to and picking them up from school, being there for every holiday. But, my oh my, I have felt guilty about not being at work, not earning money and not using that PhD that I sweated over for five long years.

I set up the blog to keep my hand in, teach myself new skills and to share my love of cooking and baking. It has delivered on all of those fronts and more. It has, more than once, saved my mental health by giving me something to focus on; to work towards. It has introduced me to new friends in the UK and abroad. Our friendships may be virtual but they are no less important for that. Each positive comment sends a buzz through my brain. The thought that someone out there baking that cake or making that jam with the process and the result making them happy makes me very happy.  The blog has made me push myself with my cooking skills and knowledge.  I have become a more imaginative and skilled cook.  I have certainly acquired quite a library of non-virtual books, as my heaving shelves can testify. I have become obsessed with bread making and the science of it all; it appeals to the researcher who loves to read in me. And perhaps most importantly of all, this blog has set me on a new career path and one that I am equally, if not more passionate about than the last – teaching others to bake and cook, both through this blog and by setting up Veg Patch Kitchen. I hope that this blog pushes me as much in the next six years as it has in the first six.

A big thank you to everyone that reads or has read this blog, and to those that have commented, over the last six years, you have been my saviours.

Kath x

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Butter Buns

Butter buns

These are the buns that I dream of. I do actually dream about them. When I was young you could buy these from an Italian family bakery that had shops in Shrewsbury and other local towns. They were my all time favourite cake and one that I would choose every time I saw them on their stainless steel platter. The memory of the taste has stayed with me and when the café doors were closed for the final time, it remained just that, a memory. Many times in recent years I have thought about how I might go about making them, but I couldn’t get my head around how you might layer the bun and enclose all that buttery goodness.

A few weeks ago a lady contacted me asking if I had the recipe for the Shrewsbury Butter Bun. Before she contacted me it never occurred to me that  the butter bun was a local phenomenon. Of course, now I realise it is.  A few weeks prior to this I found out that a friend’s husband had family connections with the café and I was considering whether she might think I was mad if I asked her if he knew the secret to the butter bun. The two things happening so close together felt like fate and I knew that it was time I got my act together and found out how I could go about making the butter bun.

I haven’t asked my friend’s husband. I thought it best not to ask him to reveal family secrets. But I did find an entry for butter buns on the internet which revealed the folding technique. At last, the answer to all my dreams. I can’t find the link again, which is frustrating, but if I do I will post it here. I have used the recipe that I teach for all my enriched dough recipes on the bread making course. It’s a recipe that can be adapted for a fruit bun, chelsea bun, iced finger etc.

I have trialled these twice now, with success each time. I was frustrated with the first batch that all the sugary butteriness oozed out during the baking. With the second batch I tried sealing the bun with a little milk to prevent the leakage. I now realise that you just can’t seal them, and this is the point. All that sugary, butteriness gathers in the tray and encrusts the bottom of the butter bun. May it ooze for all its worth, enough of the filling manages to stay in to create the delicious buttery layers.

These little beauties are now going to be one of the choices for students to make during the enriched dough part of the bread making course so that I can share the butter bun love with as many people as possible. I urge you to get out your flour and make some as soon as you possibly can.

Makes 10 buns

Lightly grease two baking trays. Oven temperature, 220°c, gas mark 7 or the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga.

For the buns
300g strong white flour (bread flour)
250g plain white flour
10g fine salt
7g easy bake yeast (instant yeast) or 10g fresh yeast (the fresh yeast can be dissolved in a little of the warm water that you will be using for the recipe)
50g caster sugar
150ml warm milk
150ml warm water ( I add boiling water to cold milk and that way both get warm, just make sure that the liquid is only hand hot or you will kill the yeast)
50g butter
1 egg

For the filling
100g softened butter
150g caster sugar
½ tsp vanilla paste or extract

For the glaze
50 ml milk
50g caster sugar

Method

In a large bowl mix together the flours, salt, yeast and sugar. Pour in the water, milk, egg and add the cubed butter. Mix together well ( I use my hands like a claw) and then tip out onto a work surface (no extra flour needed) and knead for about 10 minutes until feeling smooth and elastic. You can of course use a free standing mixer to do all of this for you. The dough will be sticky during the kneading process, which is fine. Better sticky than dry.

Form the dough into a ball, and place into a bowl and leave to rise until double the original size, covered with a large bag or lightly oiled clingfilm. With all of the sugar, milk, egg and butter this dough will take longer to rise than a bread dough. In a cool kitchen expect this to be about two hours, less in a warm kitchen.

In a bowl mix together the softened butter, caster sugar and vanilla paste for the filling.

Place the sugar and milk for the glaze in a small pan and heat gently to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat to medium and bring to the boil. Set aside.

Once the dough has doubled in volume, take it carefully out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Roll into a sausage shape and cut into ten equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Take one ball and roll out thinly into a circle. Place a teaspoon of the filling mixture in the middle of the circle. Fold over the circle to create a semi-circle. Flatten the dough over the butter and press the seam down well. Place a second teaspoon of the filling in the middle of the semi-circle. Fold the dough over to create a triangle. Flatten again and press the seam well (See pics below). Place onto a lightly greased tray and repeat with the other balls of dough. Leave to rise for 20 -30 minutes. Place on the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga, or onto the middle shelf of an oven preheated to 220°c, gas mark 7 for 15 minutes until golden.  Glaze the buns whilst hot with the sugar and milk using a pastry brush. Leave to settle on the tray for ten minutes, in this time they will have sucked back up some of the sugary butteriness that has oozed out, and then lift onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Butter bun fold, stage 1

Butter bun fold, stage 1

Butter bun fold, stage 2

Butter bun fold, stage 2

Butter bun fold, stage 3

Butter bun fold, stage 3

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Marinated olives

The girls have broken up from school and seven weeks of freedom stretches ahead of them. What halcyon days… I remember them well, the sheer loveliness of being able to roam and suit myself and the sun always seemed to be blazing. But I might remember it differently from the actual reality.

What this means for me, of course, is that I will be here less often probably. We will be baking and cooking, I just won’t have the time to tell you about it.

Before the school term ended a few of us mums took the chance to have a sneaky afternoon of eating in my garden. It was really lovely. It was a friend’s birthday, so the perfect excuse for all of us to indulge. Everyone bought something along to share and a proper feast was set before us. I made the birthday cake, a lemon one, as requested, and I dipped into Rachel’s book and made her marinated olives. I am not going to give you the recipe because you really, really should buy the book as it is wonderful and full to the seams with things you will want to cook. I served the olives with manchego cheese, which paired perfectly.

Marinated olivesMay the sun shine for the next six weeks or so…

 

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Five Quarters

Rachel Roddy Five Quarters

Five Quarters, Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome, Rachel Roddy

Look what I have!

I have been waiting for this book for six years. I found Rachel’s blog when I first started digging round in this world of food blogging. I happened to click on a link from somewhere and I was captivated. I sat there and just read and read. Rachel’s writing is beautiful, inspiring and grabs you. I don’t think she has ever written a post that I have just scrolled down to get to the recipe. You feel the need to read every word. She makes you smile, laugh and very occasionally want to cry. She makes you feel as if you are sitting right there, at her kitchen table, listening to her and watching her as she assembles yet another delicious plateful of food. If not at the kitchen table, then on the chair that used to prop open the door.

The more I read, the more I want to read. I kept asking when she was going to write all of this in a book… and here it is.

So tonight, the tea might not get cooked and the husband might get ignored. I will be reading.

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Blueberry muffins

Blueberry muffins

As we were shopping yesterday I spotted how reasonably priced a large punnet of blueberries was and couldn’t resist. I had some on my yoghurt for my first breakfast (this usually takes place at about 6 it, it was a bit later this morning) and then on some porridge for my second breakfast (usually about 9.30-10ish). I know I am greedy. I felt the need, this afternoon, to make muffins with them. I have made 24 small muffins and I will freeze most of them and pull out a couple each day to put into the girls’ lunchbox. They will either eat them or they won’t. I will find out when it comes to emptying their lunch box. Be assured though that just because my girls may leave them languishing in their lunch box doesn’t mean that they aren’t delicious, because they are.

As I was about to search for recipes I noticed that Choclette has made some very delicious blueberry and lemon cupcakes with an outrageously purple icing, which you must take a look at.

These muffins are ones that even I can eat without feeling guilty, as they are made with spelt flour.  This new diet that I have undertaken has really pointed out to me how rubbish I am at excluding foods in my diet. I have been quite strict about  not eating bread for the past two weeks, so that I cut down my consumption of wheat. Then this morning we popped into a café and I found myself eating a scone. Honestly, I am rubbish. I found this my being rubbish at food exclusion out when I was pregnant. At the time pregnant women were advised to not eat peanuts. I thought I had done a really good job of this until I thought about all the bowls of Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes and Snickers bars I had eaten. Honestly, I am rubbish!

So here is the recipe for the muffins that the girls will be eating (or not) for their lunches.

150g white spelt flour
70g wholemeal spelt flour
120g soft brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
220g melted butter
3 eggs, beaten
100ml greek yoghurt
200g blueberries

2 tablespoons of demerara sugar and 1 tsp ground cinnamon mixed together

Method

Mix the flours, sugar, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda together in a bowl. until thoroughly mixed.

In another large bowl mix together the eggs, melted butter and yogurt until well mixed. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and give a quick mix. Don’t be overzealous in the mixing, just enough to combine the ingredients. This will keep the muffins light. Add the blueberries and stir in gently.

Blob spoonfuls of the mixture into 24 cupcake cases or 12 muffin cases, sprinkle each one with a little of the demerara sugar mixture and bake in a preheated oven at 180°c, gas mark 4 or the middle of the Aga’s baking oven for 15 minutes. Leave in the tin for a minute or two, then cool completely on wire racks.

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