On the Importance of Cooking and Baking with Children

I should preface this short essay by saying that I wrote it two years ago and have just stumbled across it again whilst browsing through my drafted posts. It is all as true now as it was then, so I’ve … Continue reading

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

BunzBakes is now on Instagram!

Sourdough Loaf

Hello Everyone!

Don’t forget to follow me on Instragram @bunzbakes for lots more delicious home-baked snaps! I can post pics faster than I can write posts, so there will be many a pictorial delight to be had there!

I have a personal account which I constantly fill with my baking photographs and I’m worried my friends think that is all I do! So @bunzbakes will now be the home of all my #freshlybaked #picsoftheday!

Happy snapping!

The Best Baton: A Guide to Shaping.

I have promised a post on shaping bread, so here’s the first of a large batch! I am baking bread for our work summer picnic next week and thought it prudent to do a test run to avoid disaster and the shame of turning up empty handed! I will post the recipe shortly, although you could look it up for yourselves (it’s another from the Nordic Bakery Cookbook, Miisa Mink), Rye Baguettes. Interestingly, and rather delightfully I thought, they have raisins in them and Miisa tantalisingly suggests they would be good with a slice of Brie, yes please!

As a result of my tiny penchant for baking books, I have trialled many a manual on how to shape bread and this method comes from Dan Lepard’s, ‘The Handmade Loaf’. I have chosen this particular technique because it is easy and, thus far, foolproof! So here are my own step by step pictures and guide for how to shape a brilliant baton:

Best Baton: Steps 1-4Best Baton: Steps 5-8a) (prior to the steps shown) Once your dough has doubled in size for the first time, firmly press it down (or knock back) with your fists. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into the number of pieces required by your recipe. Shape each piece into a smooth ball (not pictured) and place seam side down on a floured surface. Cover with a tea towel and leave for 10 minutes. Dan advises that this will produce a smooth ball which will give you a more even oval for shaping in the next step.

  1. Having left your ball/s of dough for 10 minutes, take one and flatten into an oval.
  2. Imagining your oval has four corners, take two adjacent corners and fold them towards the centre (see picture above)
  3. This will create an almost pointed outcrop in the dough. Take this projection and fold it into the centre. Don’t be afraid to press down quite firmly so that the dough bonds together.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 with the opposite edge of your oval. You will be left with a sort of canoe shape.
  5. Fold one of the long edges over onto the opposite edge and press down firmly to create a seam. Your dough will now resemble a sausage!
  6. Roll gently using both hands to elongate the shape slightly – I press down slightly harder with my outside two fingers on each hand to create the tapered ends. Remember that these batons will now be given a second rise, so don’t be shy when you are creating their pointed ends, as these will fatten up as they prove.
  7. Place on a lined and/or floured baking sheet and bake for the time specified in your recipe.

…and there you have it! A step by step guide to creating a beauteous baton! Let me know how it goes 🙂

Dough Quandaries: Too much Water?

I have decided to begin a series of posts called ‘Dough Quandaries’ as I often find myself in them, not knowing what on earth to do and worse, not knowing what has gone wrong! Although I’m sure it would amuse some to know the frequency and severity of my dough disasters, that is not what I have planned for this particular series of posts. Sometimes I have an epiphany moment (OK, epiphany might be a little hyperbolic), when a whole series of experiments seems to pay off and it feels like I have cracked some long and torturous crime mystery. Again, this analogy may sound over the top, but don’t underestimate the frustration, the disappointment, the anguish of much cared for dough ending up in the bin; a waste of ingredients, time and effort, I’m sure you’d agree! So, ‘Dough Quandaries’ aims to address some of the culprits that cause these dough debacles and discuss the reasons behind them so we can all make better bread!

So, here goes:

Many books about bread contain the mantra ‘wetter is better’ when it comes to dough. Indeed, in an earlier post I too embraced the notion that pros make wetter dough; and that adding too much flour to your dough will lead to a dense, brick-like loaf. Of course, by wet I didn’t mean swimming in it; when you add water to the point where it will no longer incorporate into the dough it was probably time to stop about 100 ml ago! No, I firmly believed, mainly on account of what I had read and heard from the mouths of the experts, that, within the confines of a recipe (which often state a minimum and maximum volume of water), more water rather than less was preferable. I knew that this led to a more sticky dough to begin with, that stands to reason, but, again as many professionals would reassure us, with a thorough knead this sticky, unmanageable dough will become ‘smooth and silky’.

Au contraire! On numerous occasions recently, as I have been growing more confident with my kneading technique, I have become somewhat gung ho with the amount of water I have been adding (obviously only to the point that the dough has been slightly wetter than usual) and I have only just discovered that this has been the culprit for several failed attempts at potentially delicious loaves.

To make these posts more useable for all you bakers out there, I have separated my unscrupulous pre-babble (above) from what follows:

The symptoms of adding too much water:

  1. An early sign is that, at mixing stage, the dough no longer has a ‘shaggy’ consistency; but has begun to come together into a more cohesive ball. My most successful loaves have been turned out for kneading not resembling a ball at all, so although you should continue adding water until flour begins to come away from the sides of the bowl, don’t be tempted to keep going until everything comes together into one mass of dough.
  2. With a dough that is too wet, you may be surprised by how little kneading it takes to seemingly produce a cohesive, shiny-looking dough. I was! On a number of occasions, I put this down to my brilliant kneading, but I now think this was because I had added just a tad too much liquid.
  3. Once the dough reaches the shiny stage, it will still be very sticky. It will seem much more elastic and will want to stretch in one long piece, although when you try the gluten window test you will notice that the dough is easily torn and that the consistency feels weak and stringy rather than strong and firm. It may also feel cool and damp to the touch.
  4. More kneading will produce a bubble-gum like mass, which will stick to your hands and stretch into lots of long tendrils. When prodded with a finger, dough with the correct texture should put up some resistance, dough which is too wet will just stick to the end of your finger.
  5. At this stage you may think it is ready for proving, as you may have been kneading vigorously for half an hour or more and think the elasticity is a sign that the dough has been kneaded sufficiently. However, upon first proving the dough, although it may rise very well, will fall back very quickly (one of my failed attempts rose to double its size and then fell back within the space of half an hour). Dough which has risen and then begun to fall back will have lots of little dimples on its surface and look deflated (which it is!) A well risen dough will spring back quickly when touched with a fingertip; not so with over-wet dough. A gentle prod will either cause the dough to deflate or will leave a dimple on its surface.
  6. The natural reaction to over-proofed dough is to re-knead and prove again. Although, you will find with dough that is too wet that no matter how many times you knead it, it will never relinquish its stickiness. Its structure does not contain a high enough ratio of flour to water, therefore its structure will never be strong enough to rise and produce a satisfactory texture for a loaf.

The Solution:

If you notice more than one of the first 5 symptoms, your dough is likely to be too wet. But never fear! Your dough is entirely saveable and won’t have been harmed in the process, as some will lead you to believe (‘re-kneading will lead to a reduction in final loaf size of up to 20%’).

So, what to do? Well, if you have proven your dough and it has fallen back, re-knead adding enough flour to relieve the dough of its bubble-gum like qualities – you will see as you knead in the extra flour that the dough begins to stretch firmly, rolling out in more of a lump than stretching out into a stringy sausage. Its tackiness will lessen and with a full and thorough knead it will pass its sticky stage and become that soft, silky ball you were originally hoping for!

If you are lucky enough to spot this issue during your original knead, simply add some extra flour to the dough until it obtains the right consistency. Although do beware of adding too much as, (I’m sure most of you are aware!) this will have dire consequences for your dough which are far harder to remedy!

Please get involved and add your experiments and epiphanies as comments below 🙂

**I will be adding a photograph to this post – watch this space!**

Sweet Oat Bran Flatbreads with Currants

Sweet Oat Bran Crisp breads

These light, crisp flatbreads are very quick and easy to make and are a healthy accompaniment to a cup of tea or coffee, or as a mid-morning snack. They are glazed with sugar, which you roll them out with, which gives them a nice sheen when they’re baked.

Ingredients:

  • 400g Plain Wholemeal Flour
  • 50g Oat Bran
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Mixed Spice
  • 2 tbsp Rapeseed Oil
  • 140 g Currants
  • 200-225 g Milk
  • 150 g Caster Sugar

To make the flatbreads:

  1. Put the flour, oat bran, salt, mixed spice and currants into a large bowl and mix roughly with one hand.
  2. Gradually add the milk to the dry ingredients, bringing everything together with your hand. Only add enough milk to combine the ingredients – stop as soon as they start to resemble dough. Too much milk can make the mixture too sticky to work with.
  3. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a minute or so until the ingredients are well incorporated and it is smooth and even.
  4. Divide into four pieces (I used a Scottish scraper for this), and flatten each one into a disc, roughly 10cm in diameter.
  5. Wrap each disc in cling film and place in the fridge to chill for around 45 minutes. If you are in a rush, you could put them in the freezer for 15-20 minutes instead.
  6. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius and line two baking trays with parchment (these will be baked in two batches).
  7. Once chilled, take a piece of greaseproof paper from one of the trays. In the centre, place a small mound of around a quarter of the sugar and place your disc of dough on top. Roll out evenly, turning a quarter turn after each roll, until the dough is about 2mm thick (the thinner you roll your flatbreads, the more crisp they will be!).
  8. Pierce the dough with a fork at roughly centimetre intervals all over. This prevents areas of the dough bubbling up, which can lead to an uneven bake.
  9. Once you have rolled out two discs (the other two can remain in the fridge/freezer until needed), carefully lift the greaseproof paper containing the prepared dough back onto the trays and bake for 8-9 minutes, swapping the two trays around mid-way through baking.
  10. Cut into slices whilst still warm and then cool the pieces on a wire-rack.
  11. If the flatbreads are slightly pale in colour, or if they aren’t as crisp as you would like, you can place them (once cooled) back into the oven on their racks at 130 degrees for a further 15-20 minutes. This way they will be super crisp!

Enjoy! Don’t forget to let me know how you go making these!

Wholesome Wholemeal Loaf with Oat Bran

Wholemeal Oat Bran Loaf

Whilst flicking through one of my Scandinavian baking books, I noticed that a few of the recipes call for oat bran or wheatgerm and this intrigued me. I’m all for healthy baking and, as I’ve said in previous posts, I am a lover of baking with a variety of different flours. So this bread incorporates a number of them, with a dash of oat bran for extra fibre-y goodness! The recipe that inspired this loaf was that of Norwegian ‘grovbrød’; a rustic brown loaf, great with thin slices of smoked fish and a squeeze of lemon. I chose to use rapeseed oil rather than olive oil as it has a more neutral flavour and I wanted to let the flours and grains do the talking. You needn’t add the honey, but I always think it adds to the flavour of wholemeal loaves.

Ingredients:

  • 100g Strong White Bread Flour
  • 300g Strong Wholemeal Flour
  • 50g Rye Flour
  • 40g Oat bran
  • 15g Rye Flakes
  • 350-390 ml Tepid Water
  • 10g Fast Action Dried Yeast
  • 10g Salt
  • Tbsn Honey
  • Tbsn Rapeseed Oil and extra for kneading.

To make the bread:

  1. Measure out the flours, oat bran and rye flakes into a large bowl.
  2. Add the yeast to one side and the salt to the other, avoid mixing the two as direct contact can retard the yeast.
  3. Add the honey and rapeseed oil to the bowl.
  4. Add roughly 350 ml of the water and begin to mix with one hand. Continue adding water until the flour is lifted from the sides of the bowl and the dough begins to come together.
  5. Tip the dough onto a lightly oiled surface.
  6. Knead until the dough is no longer sticky and has a silky, elastic texture. This may take substantially longer than a white dough to achieve this texture, so don’t give up! Also, this dough will seem tighter than other wholemeal doughs, I think this is on account of the oat bran, which soaks up a lot of water and makes the texture more dense. However, with some working it will become smoother and more like conventional wholemeal dough. I used a slightly different kneading technique, rather than holding with one hand and stretching with the other, I used both hands to roll and then fold the dough. As I say, this will take longer, but will achieve the right result in the end.
  7. Leave the dough to rise in a lightly oiled bowl covered with a tea towel. Find a warm place for this one – rye flour doughs take marginally longer to rise, and I find that a warmer place than usual helps this process along.
  8. Once the dough has doubled in size (after 2-4 hours), tip onto a lightly floured surface and pressed firmly into an oblong. Fold in the edges and press again to form an oblong the length of your 2 lb loaf tin. Roll the oblong and place into the tin, with the seem facing downwards.
  9. Leave to prove until doubled in size (around an hour and a half). Meanwhile preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Place a baking tray in the bottom to heat up.
  10. When your loaf has doubled in size, dust with wholemeal flour and cut a slash lengthways across the top with a sharp knife.
  11. Boil a kettle full of water and pour into the heated tray, leaving it in the bottom of the oven.
  12. Bake your loaf on the middle shelf for 35-40 minutes. When the loaf is done it will sound hollow when tapped underneath.
  13. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

This bread is delicious eaten, as the Scandinavians would, for breakfast or lunch with slices of mild cheese (I like Emmental), some ham and maybe a pickle or two. It is equally as delicious with smoked salmon or Gravad Lax and a squeeze of lemon. I even love it toasted and slathered in butter with some sharp and sweet marmalade and a cup of tea – delish!

Enjoy Budding Bakers! Don’t forget to let me know how you get on 🙂

A Finnish Birthday Cake

Finnish Cream Cake

A Traditional Finnish Birthday Cake

I baked this for my wonderful boy’s first birthday. I chose this cake, not only because my partner is Finnish and this is a traditional Finnish cake (as the title of this post suggests!), but because it is full of fresh fruit sandwiched between layers of light, moist sponge; without the thick layer of gloopy white icing we have all come to expect from supermarket cakes aimed at young children.

I was first taught to bake this by my partner’s cousin, Sanna, who introduced me to a wonderfully simple way of measuring out the ingredients for this fatless sponge. At the time, I assumed it was a family recipe but I have since seen it crop up in a number of Scandinavian and Nordic cookbooks; so I guess it is the traditional way of making it!

So here you go, you will see that I have omitted the quantities of fruit in this recipe. This is because the amount of fruit you will need depends on how you wish to decorate your cake. Similarly, the amount of fruit required for the filling is a matter of personal taste.

Ingredients:

For Cake:

Equal quantities (in volume not weight) of:

  • Eggs (use half an egg per person)
  • Caster Sugar
  • Self-raising flour
  • Orange juice (for moistening after baking)

I usually use one of my glass tumblers (of which I have many) filled to a certain point with the eggs. Then use another, filled to the same point with the sugar and then the flour.

For topping and filling:

  • Approx. 800ml whipping cream
  • 200g Icing sugar
  • Bananas
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Kiwi

To make the Cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
  2. Follow the instructions above for measuring the eggs, sugar and flour.
  3. Place the eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat vigorously until the colour lightens slightly and the mixture is light and frothy.
  4. Add the flour, little by little, folding in gently to retain the air.
  5. Bake in a tin lined with greaseproof paper for 35-45 minutes or until a skewer, inserted into the centre, comes out clean.
  6. Once the cake is baked, leave in the tin and make several small holes in the surface using a cocktail stick or fork.
  7. Using a small jug, pour the orange juice generously into the holes and let it soak into the cake while you get started on the filling and topping…

To make the filling and topping:

  1. Mix the cream with the icing sugar and whist until firm and spreadable.
  2. Crush some of the strawberries to a pulp, leaving behind enough to decorate your cake.
  3. Mash 2 or 3 bananas and mix with the crushed strawberries.
  4. Thinly slice the remaining strawberries from top to bottom for decoration later.
  5. Once your cake is completely cooled, turn out onto a wire wrack and, using a palate knife, slice evenly through the middle.
  6. Use a broad metal spatula to lift off the top layer and transfer the bottom layer carefully onto a serving plate.
  7. Spread the strawberry and banana mixture onto the base of your cake and sandwich on the top layer.
  8. Again using a palate knife, spread the sweetened whipped cream evenly over the top and sides of the cake. You could use the knife to create a peaked or wavy effect.
  9. Decorate with the thinly sliced strawberries and other fruit to finish.

Enjoy! This is a true celebration cake both in look and taste. I sometimes add a layer of butter cream to the filling. As well as balancing out the acidity of the fruit, it prevents the bottom layer of cake from becoming soggy over time. This is not a traditional addition, however, and I have left it out of the main recipe for fear of reprisals from Finns, who will undoubtedly claim that this is certainly not how their grandmothers used to make it! As well as for birthdays, this is an unashamedly summery cake, light and fresh and covered in summer berries, which wouldn’t look out of place as the centrepiece for any Summertime soiree.