Dark Chocolate and Macadamia Tear-and-Share Loaf

Chocolate and Macademia Tear and Share

Pulla is ubiquitous in Finland, where my partner, Jani, was born. The daily ritual of having coffee (kahvia), often together with family or friends, would not be complete without a variety of sweet buns and cakes to accompany it. Not to mention the rarity of breakfast in the absence of a ‘pitko’, or braided loaf, slathered in butter. Jani even likes to save the ends, leaving them until they are stale and dry, so he can make ‘köyhät ritarit’ or ‘poor knights’, slices of week old pulla soaked in milk and then fried in butter. Yes, the Finns are renowned for their gargantuan consumption of both butter and sugar. The excuse touted by most is that they need lots of calories to survive the punishingly cold winters. Well I need no excuse to make a big batch of pulla once in a while. The great thing about it is that it is very versatile. At its base, it is a simple sweet bread dough, the addition of crushed cardamom seeds gives it its signature taste.

It was during one of our pulla-making sessions that this loaf was born. This recipe makes a very large batch, 5 or 6 medium braided loaves; or 2 or 3 loaves and a batch or 2 of ‘korva puustit’ or ‘beaten ears’ (small cinnamon buns). I had a bag of dark chocolate chips, half a large bar of dark chocolate and two-thirds of a packet of macadamia nuts left over from several recent baking exploits and these gave me all the inspiration I needed to transform this wonderful pulla recipe into something even more naughty and a just a bit special.

The recipe I am about to share with you has been passed down through Jani’s family for generations. As I have said, it yields a large batch, so feel free to halve or even quarter the quantities to suit your appetite!

To make traditional Pulla, add 3 teaspoons of crushed cardamom seeds to the mix before kneading. I have omitted them in the recipe itself, as they can overpower the taste of the chocolate (although you may prefer to leave them in).

Ingredients

  • 1.5 kg Strong White Bread Flour
  • 1.5 kg Plain White Flour
  • 1350 g Caster Sugar
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1 litre Milk
  • 100g Fresh Yeast
  • 3 tsp Cardamom Pods, crushed (for traditional Finnish Pulla)
  • Approx 200g Dark Chocolate Chips
  • Approx 200g Dark Chocolate
  • 100g Chocolate and Hazelnut Spread
  • 200g Chopped Macadamia Nuts

To make the Bread

  1. Whisk the sugar and eggs in a large bowl until well incorporated.
  2. Heat the milk over a low heat until lukewarm. Remove from the heat and crumble in the yeast. Stir until dissolved. Too much heat here can kill the yeast so ensure that the milk is only just above hand temperature.
  3. I also melt the butter at this point, in a separate pan, and leave it to cool whilst I’m mixing the other ingredients.
  4. Add the milk and yeast mixture to the eggs and sugar and stir to combine. (Add the cardamom at this point, if required).
  5. Now, this is the part which is tricky without two people. If you are going solo, sieve the flours together into a separate bowl and then use one hand to tip the flour, little by little, into the wet ingredients, whilst kneading with the other.
  6. Since the mixture is extremely wet to begin with, I use a kind of grabbing or clenching action with my kneading hand to begin to incorporate the flour. Once all the flour is incorporated, add the melted butter and knead into the dough. I only begin to use my conventional kneading technique when the dough is firm enough to tip onto a lightly floured surface.
  7. It will take a while to develop the gluten since the amount of dough is so large, and also the recipe calls for plain flour as well as strong, which has a far lower gluten content. Hence you will be kneading for a good 20 minutes to achieve a cohesive dough with a nice sheen to it.
  8. Once kneaded, place the dough into a large, lightly oiled bowl for its first rise. This will take 2-3 hours.
  9. Once the dough has doubled in size, it is time to shape it and add the filling. Fold the dough in on itself until most of the air has been knocked out and you have a rough oblong.
  10. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough (giving it a quarter turn once and again) until it is approximately 5mm thick and, again, a large roughly rectangular shape. Depending on the size of your kitchen workspace, you may need to divide the dough into two or even three pieces before rolling.
  11. Spoon large mounds of the chocolate and hazelnut spread onto the dough and spread using a knife or the back of the spoon, almost to the edges.
  12. Scatter the chopped chocolate, chocolate chips and chopped nuts evenly over the dough.
  13. You may have seen Paul Hollywood ‘tacking’ one edge of his dough, about to be rolled up, to the surface so as to make it easier to make a tight roll. You could do this, although I managed fine without this method. As tightly as you can, roll the oblong starting from the longest edge, into a long sausage.
  14. Using a scotch scraper, cut off the two ends, as these will have less filling and may be strangely shaped if the oblong was slightly uneven (you can pop these on a tray and make some small buns out of them!)
  15. Then, start by cutting the sausage in half, then these two pieces in half again, then halving these, and so on and so on…Divide the sausage into small equal sections about 6cm in length.
  16. Arrange these in generously buttered tins, placing them first around the edges, leaving about 1.5cm gap between each on all sides as the buns will rise into each other whilst proving, then place more buns in a second ring within the outer one, and then maybe a couple in the centre (see photo of finished loaf for pointers).
  17. Cover each tin with a tea towel and leave the buns to prove for around an hour until doubled in size again.
  18. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  19. Once the buns have risen. Wash the tops generously with beaten egg and sprinkle liberally with caster sugar.
  20. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the top is a luscious brown colour (keep a good eye on them as sometimes the sugar glaze can begin to catch) and the top feels firm but with a good spring beneath.

Enjoy this loaf still warm from the oven or the next morning with a big milky cup of coffee! Let me know how it goes 🙂 x

Karelian Pies

Karelian Pies

These rich, buttery, rice-filled pies are a Finnish staple. They originated, as their name suggests, in Karelia (Karjala), a region of eastern Finland; where my partner Jani grew up. Now they are in every Finnish supermarket, sold both fresh and frozen, and are eaten for lunch or as a snack topped with anything from the traditional ‘egg-butter’ or munavoi, to ham, cheese or just a thin layer of unsalted butter. There are two traditional fillings: rice, as my recipe contains, or mashed potato. If you have some left over mash, whip in some extra butter and salt and use it to fill these crisp, wholesome pastry cases – another delicious way to eat these!

When I first came across karjalan riisipiirakat, on holiday in Finland, I found it really strange eating pastry with a starchy filling topped, as if it were bread, with ham or cheese. Jani maintains that because of the harsh winters in Finland they needed as many calories and as much energy as they could cram into one small pie, and this is how Karelian Pies came about! I don’t know, but they certainly taste amazing and add some extra sustenance to lunchtime if there are slim-pickings in the fridge.

So here goes…

Ingredients:

for the pastry:

  • 250g Rye Flour
  • 1 Tsp Salt
  • 1 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
  • 200ml Water
  • Plain Flour for dusting
  • 75g Unsalted Butter

for the filling:

  • 150g Pudding Rice (Short-grain)
  • 250ml Water
  • 750ml Milk
  • 1 Tsp Sea-Salt

To make the Pies:

  1. Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
  2. Start by making the filling. Place the rice in a saucepan and cover with the water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Add the milk and continue to cook over a low heat for 30-40 minutes until most of the milk has been absorbed and the mixture has the consistency of thick rice pudding. Don’t forget to stir occasionally, as the rice may stick if left untouched.
  4. Add the salt and stir well before setting aside to cool whilst you make the pastry.
  5. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius.
  6. Put the rye flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and add the oil.
  7. Gradually add the water, mixing by hand until the ingredients come together to form a dough.
  8. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a long sausage shape.
  9. Using a Scottish Scraper (or a large knife), divide the dough into 20 pieces and roll each piece into a ball.
  10. Using a floured rolling pin, roll each into a thin round, roughly 10cm in diameter.
  11. Place two tablespoons of the rice filling into the centre of each round, leaving about 2cm of pastry around the edge.
  12. Using both hands, begin to lift the edges of the pastry in towards the filling and pinch together with your thumb and forefinger. Repeat this until the edges of the pastry are upstanding and are encasing the filling (see picture above).
  13. Pour the melted butter into a wide shallow bowl (I used a large Tupperware tub for this), and, using a slotted spoon, lower each pie into the butter so it is fully immersed, then place on one of the prepared baking trays.
  14. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and crispy around the edges.

I really hope you love these as much as I do! Please let me know how you get one making these and what you think 🙂

Tastes of Sicilia

photosiciliy

I have just returned from beautiful Sicily, where I spent a wondrous week with my other half and our little man, sampling many a foodie treat and tanning ourselves shamelessly on the local beach! We even squeezed in a few days worth of sightseeing – Sicily has so much to offer both in terms of its spectacular landscape and its rich history and culture. You can look forward to some Sicilian treats, or at least some Sicily-inspired experimentation, coming soon.

Amongst the traditional fare we tasted were ‘Cannoli’, crispy sweet pastry shells wrapped around lightly sweetened, creamy ricotta; wonderfully crisp pizzas baked in a ‘forno a legna’, meaning wood-burning oven (these can be found all over Italy, but the Sicilians have their own particular flavour combinations – aubergine and seafood feature heavily on most Pizzeria menus) and ‘Cassata’, a moist sponge cake filled again with sweetened ricotta and moistened with fruit juice or liqueur.

Almonds or ‘mandorla’ are everywhere in Sicily! Almond wine, almond milk, almond granita, almost nougat, you name it, an almond has been involved in it! I happen to adore everything almond, though my better half prefers to steer well clear; so  this was excellent gorging territory for me. As well as sampling almond wine, I tasted some devine ‘paste di mandorla’ directly translated as ‘almond paste’. These were similar to amaretti biscuits but with a soft, crumbly and almost moist texture – beautiful!

I have come back feeling truly inspired by, as well as sorry to leave, this special island. More about Sicily’s baked goodies to come…

Trade shopping for food swapping!

Whilst pawing a well-known UK foodie mag recently I happened upon an article about a ‘food exchange’ network. This is where people get in touch with each other for the purpose of swapping their homemade goodies. Jam, chutney, sourdough, sausages and artisan cheese were all mooted as potential candidates for a swap and I can think of many more besides. I have been pondering this idea ever since!

For me, this wonderful notion harks back to the days when the farmer’s wife would take a box of eggs to the baker, who in exchange would give her her daily loaf. Then onto the butcher with another dozen in exchange for a hunk of beef or lamb, and so on. Despite the attention grabbing banner of this post, I’m not suggesting that us home bakers give up work to don an apron full-time and get to work on producing enough bread, buns or cakes to trade in for all our nutritional needs; but certainly we could make a larger batch once in a while, some of which we could swap for some other homemade foodie delight. What a treat!

There’s nothing I love more than sharing my home-bakes with others; and although I often toy with the idea of opening my own cafe, full to the brim with freshly baked fare, food swapping seems a much less risky way of sharing and showing off my baking talents, whilst being just as satisfying. The bonus is that you go away with the fruits of someone else’s labour in exchange for your own hard work. What could be better?

 

Baking Books: An Obsession.

Just a few!

Just a few!

I have already hinted at my uncontrollable cookbook-buying habit. The delivery man from Amazon can actually be heard saying “you again!” as I open the door, hand eagerly outstretched ready to snatch at the plastic toothpick; scrawling my name whilst simultaneously tearing the package to shreds to reveal my new purchase.

I’ve bought some cracking new baking books recently. ‘How to Bake’ by the Silver Fox himself, Paul Hollywood is a winner for me. I love the layout of this book. The preamble to each chapter is absorbing and I appreciate the fact he includes the little details which make all the difference, like the number of loaves, preparation and baking time clearly at the top of each recipe. Some argue that this is a book for the amateur baker, but I disagree. For me, there can never be too many hints and tips about baking, even if they do concern the basics like how to knead and prove your dough. All bakers have a slightly different slant on how to conduct these elemental tasks. Therefore I collect hints and tips just as I collect the recipes themselves. They change the fabric of my baking experience; as I test out the ones I like the sound of, discarding those which bring nothing to my endeavor and incorporating the morsels which will enhance the taste and beauty of my future bakes.

Another book I am wholly impressed with is ‘Nordic Bakery’ by Miisa Mink. Now this may not appeal to the more mainstream bakers among you, as this is, as the title suggests, a collection of traditional (mainly Finnish) Nordic recipes. I won’t go too far into why I have a fervent interest in the baking of our Northern European friends (see future posts…), but I was specifically looking for traditional Finnish recipes which I could practice and replicate in order to evoke many a happy memory of the country. This book certainly delivers. It contains recipes for many of the traditional treats you see in cafes and homes all over Finland. My mother-in-law (who is Finnish), even commented that her Mummo (grandmother) used to bake many of the recipes for her when she was a child. I have tried the Karelian Pies, Potato Flatbreads and the Date Cake and all are out of this world! A definite must-have for anyone wanting  to discover more about Nordic baking or indeed anyone who enjoys delicious baked goodies!

When I first started baking, in my naivety, I believed that when you buy a new book and follow one of the, often beautifully presented and well laid out, recipes therein, the fruits of your labour will necessarily match up to the mouth-watering picture nestled attractively beside it. Surely any recipe which boasts a product, the following of which (without tampering) it will never produce is an issue for Trading Standards? After all, if I knew beforehand that the recipes in a given book were almost without exception full of errors, typos and untested claims; there isn’t a yeast-spore’s chance in a bag of salt that I would give up my hard earned cash in exchange for it! My veil of ignorance has since been lifted! Let’s start with Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’. Now it is, among other things, Nigella’s gift of the gab which most entices me to buy each new book she releases; but after ‘How to Eat’, I have also come to expect well tested, trustworthy recipes. Certainly not in this case! This book is full of unforgivable typos (whoever added 1 tablespoon of salt to a 500g loaf?) which will sadly lead to the unsuspecting baker wasting good ingredients and suffering unpalatable results. I will red-flag more books which are the audacious ambassadors of untested recipes soon (see future posts).

In the meantime, my advice to anyone afflicted with this cookbook obsession is twofold:

1) Read the reviews before you buy! If there are shameless errors in a book, the brigade of trusty reviewers are sure to tell us! And become a reviewer yourself – the more of us who air our opinions, the more rounded a picture we will be privy to when we put our buyers hat on – and hence the better value for money we will receive!

2) If your pockets aren’t as deep as Mary Poppins’ bag, steer clear of Amazon’s ‘One-Click’ feature! Should you have the misfortune to be as bedeviled as I am by the baking-book-bug you will surely bankrupt yourself within a year!