Bread

2 easy peasy bread recipes

Bread

Is there anything in a baker’s repertoire that smells quite as homely and delicious as fresh bread? I don’t think so. But, I am also an incredibly lazy cook, and only make things that require minimal effort and are very difficult to mess up.

Over the years I’ve stolen a few exceptional bread recipes from friends and family, the kind that were scrawled down years ago in fading ink on the back of a well-worn piece of card. One of them was so well-used and loved that I had to get my friend to note down it down from memory so that I could recreate it.

English Muffin Bread

This bread is deliciously light and fluffy – it’s an American recipe that my mother-in-law gave me, and is very easy to mix up, you just have to remember to allow enough time for it to rise. I love this one served with thickly spread set honey, and while it’s best eaten up the same day that you made it, it also tastes great if you store it in an airtight container and cut it up to toast it for breakfast. This recipe makes two loaves.

Prep time: 15 mins // Rise time: 45 mins // Bake time: 30 mins

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons cornmeal

6 cups all purpose flour

2 envelopes active dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups milk

1/2 cup water

Lightly grease two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 loaf pans, and then coat each pan with one tablespoon of cornmeal.

Mix 3 cups of flour with the yeast, sugar, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl.

Heat the milk and water until it’s warm but not boiling, stir it into the flour mixture. Then stir in the remaining flour, divide the mixture in two and spoon it into the two pans. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining cornmeal. Cover the pans and leave them to rise for about 45 mins, until they’ve doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 400 F/200 C, and then bake the risen loaves for 25-30 mins, until they are just starting to turn slightly golden on top. Allow them to cool on a wire rack for 5 mins or so, before loosening them from the pans with a knife, removing them from the tins, and allowing them to finish cooling.

Traditional Irish Soda Bread

The joy of this genuine Irish family recipe is that it doesn’t use yeast, so there’s no waiting around for it to rise. Mix up the dry ingredients the night before, then finish it off and put it in the oven while you have a shower in the morning, and you can have delicious fresh bread for breakfast.

Prep time: 10 mins // Bake time: 35 mins

Ingredients:
12 oz stoneground wholemeal flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1/2 pint of buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 400 F/200 C, then mix all of the dry ingredients together in a big bowl. Make a little dent in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the buttermilk. Give it a quick mix then briefly knead it all in the bowl – the trick is to do this quickly and get the bread in the oven before the bicarbonate has kicked in.

Once you’ve done that, shape the dough into a fat round loaf and pop it on to a floured baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, cut a cross into the top of the bread.

Bake the loaf for around 35 minutes – you will know when the bread is ready if you tap it on the base and it has a hollow sound. Leave it to cool slightly, but serve fresh and warm if possible, broken in to fat wedges with lashings of salted butter.

Chocolate peppermint Christmas brownies | Recipe

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This year we’re spending Christmas with my American in-laws, and in the name of embracing new traditions I’m getting pretty into the concept of the cookie party: literally, a party where people get together to eat copious amount of sweet baked goods (something I can definitely get behind!). An American friend shared her amazing and oh-so-simple festive peppermint brownie recipe with me recently, and they’ve been a big hit.

You can use whichever brownie recipe you prefer (my personal favourite is Nigella Lawson’s – lots of melted chocolate, no chocolate syrup) to make the base, but I’ll share the proper American one here.

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For the brownie layer:

– 1 cup flour

– 1 cup sugar

– 1/2 cup butter

– 4 eggs

– 1 1/2 cup chocolate syrup (or melted chocolate)

– 1/2 cup of chocolate drops

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Soften the butter, then beat well with the sugar. Sift in the flour, and then mix in the eggs, one by one. Add the chocolate syrup and the chocolate drops, and then spread in a greased baking tin (approx. 13×9) and bake for around 30 mins (until the mixture feels springy to touch).

For the peppermint layer:

– 1/2 cup butter, softened

– 2 cups confectioner sugar/icing sugar

– 1 tablespoon water

– 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract

Sift the sugar into the softened butter, then beat in the water and the peppermint extract. Taste, and if you’d prefer it to be even more minty, go ahead and add a little dash more!

For the chocolate layer:

– 6 tablespoons butter

– 1 cup of chocolate for melting

Melt the butter and the chocolate together in a heatproof bowl over simmering water, stir well, and leave to cool fully, but not set.

When you have made all three parts, simply spread an even layer of the peppermint buttercream over the brownie (making sure the brownie has completely cooled – you don’t want the buttercream to melt!), then spread an even layer of the melted chocolate mixture over that. As a final fun finishing touch, crush up some peppermint candy cane (I found using a mug to do this gently in a high-sided bowl worked better than some more violent methods!) and sprinkle this over the top of the whole thing before letting the chocolate set and cutting it up into small squares. It’s pretty rich, so a little goes a long way.

Enjoy, and have a very happy Christmas next week! xo

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The Great British Bake Off-inspired florentines | Recipe

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I’m addicted to The Great British Bake Off. I don’t know why, but I am. I can see very clearly why it should be incredibly dull; pretty much everything about it has stayed the same over the course of its five seasons, from the soundtrack, the challenges, the episode structure and order, to the set inside the legendary Bake Off tent. At some point during pretty much every season someone mistakes salt for sugar, has a disastrous bake with a soggy bottom, or ends up crying quietly into their apron on national television because Mary Berry was disappointed with their flavours.

My husband can’t begin to fathom why I love it so (and I don’t blame him), but he’s realised that I tend to make yummy things during Bake Off season, so he supports me in my addiction. He has even started watching it with me occasionally, alternating between mocking it gently, and putting in requests for things for me to try baking myself. I think he’s even starting to enjoy watching it despite himself.

But you know, I think it is precisely it’s unchanging format and the predictability of the show that makes it so very comforting to watch. It’s so English; it’s like teatime and village fetes and country bake sales and talking about the weather in the corner shop. The judges are exacting, but generally in a polite, British way. And the presenters have a silly, sweet, pantomime-ish humour that adds a large dose of charm to the proceedings; they are always quick to cheer up the underdog when it’s going badly for them, or when their time to leave the tent comes. It’s lovely to get to know each new round of contestants through the stories of the things that they bake. This is reality TV at its gentlest and most unobtrusive.

I also love the way the show encourages me to try out new things. After watching the biscuit round, I decided to try making florentines for the first time – something I’ve enjoyed eating but never tried baking. I combined and adapted a few different recipes because I like my florentines to have a hint of ginger, and they came out really well. Here’s the recipe I used, in case you’d like to try them yourselves.

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Ingredients

– 150g (5oz) unsalted butter

– 175g (6oz) caster sugar

– 4 tablespoons double cream

– 2 tablespoons maple syrup

–  2 teaspoons (approx.) ginger powder

– 50g (2oz) plain flour

– 200g (7oz) flaked almonds

– 3 tablespoons mixed sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and pine nuts

– 100g (3 1/2oz) dried cranberries

– 150g (5oz) good quality dark chocolate

Grease several large baking sheets and preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.

Combine the nuts, seeds and cranberries with the flour in a bowl. Melt the butter gently in a pan and stir in the sugar. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to the boil, before quickly removing the pan from the heat and stirring in the cream and maple syrup – it should look like a caramel mixture now. Then add the ginger and stir well again.

Pour the caramel-like mixture over the nuts mixture and stir until everything is evenly combined. Now drop evenly sized smallish heaped dollops of the mixture onto the baking sheets, making sure to leave a few inches of space around each one (they will spread like crazy!). Bake in the preheated oven for 7 minutes.

When you take them out, leave the oven on. If they are anything like mine, they will have spread across pretty much the whole tray, but don’t worry – grab a round cookie cutter/mould that is the size you’d like your florentines to be, and shape them into those rounds. The mixture should be very sticky and starting to hold a little, but still malleable enough to shape in the cutter with your fingers and a spoon. I like my florentines to be quite thick, so I packed them pretty densely when I reshaped them. When you’ve shaped them all, put them back in the oven for another 3-4 minutes to bake until they are going golden around the edges.

Remove from the oven and leave them to cool on the baking tray for 5 minutes or so, before putting them in the fridge to finish solidifying. You can break off any bits of the hardened caramel ‘glue’ that has run over to make a more neatly shaped round, if you like. If you don’t have enough baking trays or oven space, you’ll have mixture to spare, so you can now bake up the rest.

Next, melt the chocolate in a bowl over simmering water, and then leave to cool for 10 minutes or so. Lay the florentines out on baking paper upside down, and spread the melted chocolate in a layer over the bottoms. Leave it to cool some more for a few minutes once you’ve spread it, but before it’s is completely set you can drag a fork over the chocolate in several rows to make the traditional wiggly pattern. (I forgot to do this, otherwise I’d include a picture to show you what I mean!) Finally, transfer them carefully, chocolate side still up, to the fridge again so that they can finish setting. You can store them in a tin at room temperature once they have set completely. Enjoy!

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