Sunday, 20 February 2011

Malted dried fruit and oat soda bread

Call me naïve but I believe in the power of good and that goes to food too, as I believe that good food could never hurt you. How could something that was raised happily and had a good life, that was treated with respect and paired with equally happy ingredients even know what ‘bad’ is when the mere concept of it is non existant? Its simple math, plus and plus can only ever equal a plus and so how could good food have any other impact other then a positive one?

I arrived at bread baking long after I discovered cakes and pastry, fruit and vegetables, meat and fish. I was daunted by bread Baking. I wasn’t ready to stare it in the eyes and I certainly didn’t have the confidence with which bread should be baked. The confidence to feel it, knead it and bake it.

Bread can smell fear but requires love and warmth. It demands attention and time, yeast and kneading, a pleasant atmosphere and time to rise and come to full bloom. Then there’s soda bread, the bread that managed to sneak in through the bakery’s back door.

I made an oat soda bread last weekend and it took approximately 10 minutes to prepare. That, under any circumstance, is ridiculous. If other breads exert terror with starters and bigas, regular feedings, laborious kneading and long periods for leavening, oat bread is all about efficiency stretched to a max without compromising or neglecting the flavor, aroma and texture, freshly baked or toasted..

If baking bread sends shivers down your spine, this is the bread for you; baking soda replaces the yeast and the long minutes of heavy kneading are replaced by 30 seconds, just until everything is incorporated to a happy mass. Cant be bothered with leavening, short on time? No excuse there either, as the bread is rolled into a pan with a direct one way route to the oven. That’s it.

I was flabbergasted myself until the bread came out of the oven, all golden brown and fragrant, juicy, chewy and fruity in just the right places. This bread is situated somewhere between a sweet bread (!) and a mellow breakfast cake to have with coffee in the morning. The texture is pleasing, balanced perfectly between dense and airy to what I consider a baked version of an oat porridge.

Similar to the porridge, the bread version happily accommodates salted butter and a slather of honey or a dollop of sour cream. It can be filled with lots of goodies like chewy dried fruit, nuts and seeds and its flavor deepened with aromatic spices and a malt syrup or honey.

Malted dried fruit and oat soda bread

(Makes 1 loaf)

Butter, to grease pan

2 cups rolled oats

2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting and kneading

1¾ teaspoons baking soda

cinnamon, to taste

1¼ teaspoons fine-grain sea salt

1¾ cups buttermilk, plus more if needed + 2Tbs for brushing

2 Medjool dates, seeded and chopped coarsly

2 dried figs, chopped coarsly

6 prunes, seeded and chopped coarsly

1 Tbs rice malt syrup (I found this at a natural food shop, this is a sticky sugary syrup with a deep malt flavor made from rice and fermented barley) can be substituted with honey or date syrup)

caraway seeds, lightly roasted

Mixed seeds – sesame + pumpkin seeds

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Butter and line a loaf pan with parchment paper and set aside. Alternately, the bread can be shaped to a ball and baked on a lightly floured baking sheet.

Sift the flours, baking soda, cinnamon and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the flour and pour in the buttermilk. Stir just until everything comes together into a dough.

Turn out onto a lightly floured countertop and knead for 30 seconds or so, just long enough for the dough to come together into a cohesive, slightly flattened ball without many cracks or fissures. If the dough is on the dry side add more buttermilk a small splash at a time.

Add the chopped dates and prunes, caraway seeds and rice malt to the dough and knead gently just long enough until all the ingredient are dispersed throughout the dough.

Place the dough evenly in the prepared loaf pan and brush the top with buttermilk.

Sprinkle generously with sesame and pumpkin seeds and make a few deep slashes across the top.

Bake for about 30 minutes, then quickly (without letting all the hot air out of the oven), move the rack and the bread up a level, so the top of the bread gets nice and toasted. Bake for another 20 minutes, or until a hard crust forms and the bread is baked through.

It will feel solid and make a sound hollow when you knock on the bottom.

Carefully lift it out of the pan and allow to cool on a wire rack. Enjoy toasted with a good slathering of salted butter and sage honey.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Winter root vegetables soup

Today I realized February must be my favourite month of the year. Whilst other parts of the world experience a tooth droppingly cold weatherת the weather in Tel Aviv is cold enough to help me forget how hot August was but is mild enough that I don’t need more then a jacket and a scarf around my neck to feel cosy and warm. Its when Tel Aviv shines and is at its best. Summer is long forgotten and one just might experience a day or two of rain. I can leave the house without taking my sunglasses but can still enjoy a coffee sitting out, enjoying the sun without the glare burning through.

Every winter I find myself returning to one dish over and over, recreating it in more ways then one. Three years ago it was a comforting honey- cinnamon semolina porridge with toasted Belgian waffles croutons, two years ago it was poached egg on rice, last year is a blur and this year is the year of the soup. Not just any soup but one soup; a chunky winter soup made from earthy root vegetables and sweet almost potato-y butter beans. It is a thick, hearty and satisfying soup cooked with a stock I make from marrow bones. This, as I discovered, is a clever move for more reasons then one. The stock adds that je ne sais quoiumamiX factor to the soup, but with using any meat, so it comes guilt free. The carcass, an otherwise discarded by- product is either cheap or for free, depending on the mood my butcher is in, so I get to save money too, always a bonus.

Did I mention that its tastes good so much so I'd rather stay in with a bowl?

I give you this winter’s staple soup in my kitchen, and mostly, when it comes to next years cold season, I’ll have this recipe posted here to remind me what kept me nourished and warm all over on most days, even when it wasn't really cold outside.

Winter root vegetables soup

Marrow bone stock

I usually get these free from the butcher, pop them in the oven for about 40 minutes until they are fully roasted. The bones are then boiled with water, then seasoned with turmeric, mace and white peppercorns and left to simmer for about 40 minutes. voila! a wonderful stock ready for use.

1-2 cups lima/ butter beans, soaked overnight, then cooked in water with added sage leaves, until soft but not mush, about 40 minutes.

1 onion or 2 leeks, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1-2 potatoes, diced

1 fennel, diced

1 turnip, diced

1 chilli pepper, finely chopped (optional)

1 cauliflower, chopped (optional)

1-2 zucchini, diced

1 bunch wild spinach, chopped

Freshly ground white peppercorns

Freshly ground turmeric

Freshly ground mace

Sea salt, to taste

Olive oil

Serve with:

Grated Parmesan cheese

Poached egg

Heat a large saucepan with a glug of olive oil. add the chopped onion or leek and fry until golden. Gradually add each of the chopped vegetables (potatoes, fennel, turnip, zucchini cauliflower and chilli, if using, and garlic), allowing a few minutes between them and stirring occasionally.

When all of the vegetables haven been added and have begun to caramelize in places pour the stock (about 2 litres), cover and bring to a boil.

Season with the ground turmeric, mace, salt and pepper, add the spinach and butter beans, reduce to a medium heat, cover and allow to gently simmer for 15 minutes.

Taste and adjust the seasoning, if needed.

Serve with a toasted slice of bread generously lathered with salted butter.

Note: this soup, as goes with soups, tastes better the day after it was made and get better with everyday that goes by for about 4 days. Some meals, I re-boil the soup with pasta shells for a satisfying meal in a bowl.