Bebe uskrsne Primorski (Easter Bread babies)

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I am participating in a lot of challenges lately. Not that I mind, though! I have joined the bakers from Bake the World a while ago but so far I hadn’t been able to join in the fun for various reasons. When I discovered what they had in store for March’s challenge, I knew I didn’t want to miss out.

This unusual Croatian bread (unusual for me, at least) is similar to other sweet breads baked around the world for Easter. Eggs, too, play an important part in the symbology.

I looked up many recipes (in various languages) but finally decided on the one by Ana, whose beautiful blog won’t see the last of me. 

I followed her recipe quite faithfully although I halved the recipe, the only minor change I made to the ingredients was to substitute part of the milk with water to get a fluffier dough (it was a dream!). As for the method, I changed it slightly: I melted the butter in the lukewarm milk and then added it to the dry ingredients alternating with the beaten egg. My facilities are a bit limited so I didn’t dry the eggs (also because the ones I had weren’t white so I left them as Nature intended them to be). With the leftover dough I am now making some off-seasonal Stollen as I find the dough to be similar (you’ll have to wait till Christmas to see the photos!).

 Bebe uskrsne Primorski (Anna’s recipe)

 Makes 2 loaves, 12 bread dolls or 1 loaf and 6 bread dolls

2 cups milk, scalded and then cooled to room temperature

2 packages active dry yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 eggs or 6 egg yolks, beaten

½ cup butter, at room temperature

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Over medium heat, heat milk until small bubbles appear on the surface.  Remove from burner and allow to cool – the milk should still be warm but not hot.  Sprinkle the yeast and sugar in the milk, stir gently to combine and set aside to proof until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, combine eggs, butter, sugar and salt at a medium speed for about 3 minutes.  Begin adding the flour one cup at a time, alternating with roughly half a cup of the milk and yeast mixture.  Repeat this until you have added 4 cups of flour and all of the liquid.  After this point, begin adding ¼ to ½ cup of flour at a time, waiting until all of the flour is fully incorporated into the dough before adding more.  Stop adding flour when the dough is smooth and no longer sticks to the bowl (you may or may not use all 6 cups of flour).  Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 4 or 5 times into a smooth, round ball.  Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and set in a draft-free area of your kitchen until it has doubled in volume, about 3 hours.

When the dough has risen, punch the centre and turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2 minutes.  Separate dough into the required pieces, depending if you are making loaves or dolls, or both (each loaf and doll requires 3 balls of dough to braid).  Allow to rest for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees farenheit.  Braid the dough, following the pictures above (for the dolls, wrap the eggs in the dough as tightly as possible so that the eggs don’t fall out when finished baking) and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Brush with egg wash (1 egg, 2 tablespoons of water) and allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes before baking.  Bake until the tops are golden and the bottom is light brown, around 20 minutes.  Allow to cool completely before serving.

 

Breakfast à la française

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This was yesterday’s breakfast because I had to use up some pears I had. In my defence, may I say I didn’t have lunch afterwards, or rather that I ate one of these in lieu of lunch.

This is just what I like: simple, few ingredients, quick and tasty… and rustic, to top it up.

 

Bon appétit!

Rustic pear galette

Ingredients (I did half of these quantities)

2 y ½ cups plain flour

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp caster sugar

1 cup cold butter, diced

¼ to ½ cup really cold water

For the filling

1 pear per galette

Caster sugar (as needed)

Squeeze of lemon juice

Ground almonds (as needed)

Extra butter, as needed

Pinch of cinnamon

For the pastry:

Mix the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl, add the cold butter and, using a cornet, work it till it resembles fine breadbrumbs (you can use a food processor for this if you have one).

Add the cold water and, still using the cornet, bring it together to form a dough. Wrap it in clingfilm and leave it to rest for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.

For the filling:

Wash the fruit, quarter it (don’t bother peeling it) and slice it (I like the slices to be rather on the thick side). Put the slices in a bowl, add the lemon juice, the sugar and the cinnamon and mix well using your hands.

When the dough’s ready, roll it out on a floured worktop. Try to roll it out in a roundish shape (it doesn’t matter if the circle is not too perfect, it will add to the rustic feeling). Fold it and transfer it to a greased oven tray. Unfold it and sprinkle it generously with ground almonds (this will absorb the juice from the fruit and will help keep the crust from becoming soggy). Place the fruit on top. If you’re feeling artistic, do it in a nice fashion , like I did. Sprinkle with more caster sugar and add a knob or two of butter.

Bake in a preheated oven at 200C for about 10 minutes until the crust is golden.

You can brush the dough with egg yolk before baking it (I didn’t) and you can also brush the top of the fruit with syrup as soon as it comes out of the oven. What with the photos I was taking and my hunger, I totally forgot but it will make them shinier.

It is best eaten warm and if you pair it up with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream you’d be in heaven…

Sweet bread for an indulgent weekend brunch

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This is something I have been wanting to post for a while.

The recipe belongs to Blanca Cotta, a sweet lady from whom I learnt my first chops in the kitchen… via a children’s magazine and who gave me that love for cooking and, most importantly, she taught me that cooking can be a blast, it can be fun and it can truly become a passion and a way of life as it happened to me.

Anyway, Blanca now has her own blog and I have had the immense satisfaction of being able to tell her all of this.

I have made many recipes of hers over the years and her books are the ones that I keep coming back to, the empanadas and the dulce de leche everyone knows in London are made from her recipes (why tweak what is really a perfect recipe?).

The recipe I am posting about now is that of a sweet bread, I have had the recipes for many, many years and one day I just said: “Today’s the day to make it”. It is a sweet bread, not unlike panettone or Stollen only that it doesn’t have any fruits or nuts to enrich it. Instead, it has a wonderful, crunchy, Streusel topping which makes it perfect for brunch or breakfast when you really want to indulge.

Streuselkuchen by Blanca Cotta

Dissolve 50g fresh yeast (remember to halve this quantity if using dry yeast) in ½ cup of warm milk (I use the ones with 250 cc capacity), add 3 tbsp sugar, pinch of salt and leave to rest, covered for 5 minutes. Then add 2 beaten eggs, zest of 1 lemon and 2 ½ cups flour, alternating with 6 tbsp of melted butter. Once the ingredients have been mixed, topple over the worktop (scattered with flour) and knead quite energetically  for at least 15 minutes. Then place the dough in a bowl (previously greased with melted butter), cover it and leave in a warm place to double in size. Then roll out the dough in a suitable tray (you can see in the photo I used a regular oven tray, the only one I had), leaving it 1 cm thick. Leave it again to prove, covered while you make the topping.

For the topping: mix 100g cold butter diced small, 1 cup sugar and ½ cup of flour. Avoid using your hands (I use a scraper for this).

Once the dough has risen again, brush it generously with more melted butter and add the topping.

Bake it in a moderate oven (180°C or so) until it has puffed up, become golden and your whole house smells divine!

You can see that, despite what I said above, I tweaked this recipe a little bit. The first time I made it, I did it with the regular Streusel topping I’ve just described but having both read Nigella’s version in Nigella Bites and realising I had some flaked almonds and frozen berries in the freezer, I just couldn’t resist… Enjoy! If you try it, you  will thank me….

Doctor… who?

Currently, my new favourite TV show. It’s also very addictive (not unlike the sandwich below).

I noticed that the Reuben sandwich makes an appearance in at least 2 episodes (three, actually, I’ve just watched the one in which House powders some Vicodin into his Reuben sandwich, now, how’s that for a seasoning?) in the first 2 seasons (which are the ones I’ve watched so far). I was surprised to learn that Hugh Laurie (a.k.a. Dr Gregory House) is, in fact, a very British fella, his American accent is so convincing…

I love the fact that House is, in fact, the anti-hero, the one who doesn’t conform to the rules, doesn’t take orders from anybody and, most of all, he avoids work like the plague! I can see how easily he can become totally bored to tears by uninteresting cases, doing only the ones that pick his interest. I also love his dark personality and the fact that he is so complex… aren’t we all?

 

Reuben sandwich

Ingredients

• 3 big 1cm slices of rye bread
• mayonnaise
• 4 heaped tablespoons sauerkraut
• 1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
• 4–5 slices of pastrami
a few gherkins, sliced
• 100g Swiss cheese
• a handful of watercress leaves, to serve

Grill the slices of bread on a griddle pan until lightly toasted on both sides then spread one side of each with mayonnaise. Put some of the sauerkraut and some of the chilli on 2 of the slices, and top with a couple of slices of pastrami. Top with the remaining sauerkraut and chilli and the sliced gherkins, then grate the Swiss cheese over the top.

Preheat a hot grill. Place the slices with toppings under the grill until the cheese is melted and dribbling.

Stack the sandwich together, adding a few watercress leaves and finishing with the final slice of toast. Press down lightly and use wooden skewers to hold together. Tuck in!

P.S.: For those of you who want to nit-pick at the medical mistakes in the series, you may want to have a look at this excellent site, which features in-depth reviews from a professional physician’s POV. Personally, I am learning A LOT about medicine these days!

The One with Phoebe’s cookies

A good recipe is one that can stand the test of time. I find the same to be true for TV sitcoms. Friends is such a show. It is one you can watch over and over and laugh out loud as if you’ve never heard the jokes before.

These poor cookies don’t get baked very often because it wouldn’t be fair to, you know… the other cookies.

Phoebe: Ok, um, (clears throat) we haven’t known each other for that long a time, and, um, there are three things that you should know about me. One, my friends are the most important thing in my life, two, I never lie, and three, I make the best oatmeal raisin cookies in the world. (Phoebe opens a tin and offers Rachel a cookie)

Rachel: (taking cookie) Ok, thanks Pheebs (takes bite of cookie, overwhelmed) Oh my God, why have I never tasted these before?!

Phoebe: Oh, I don’t make them a lot because I don’t think it’s fair to the other cookies.

Rachel: All right, well, you’re right, these are the best oatmeal cookies I’ve ever had.

Phoebe: Which proves that I never lie.

Rachel: I guess you don’t.

Phoebe’s fabulous oatmeal raisin cookies adapted  from “Cooking with Friends”

Makes 24

       

12 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

¾ cup finely packed brown sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 ¼ cup flour

¾ tsp. baking powder

¾ tsp. baking soda

¼ tsp. salt

1 ½ cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cream the butter and sugars with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 1’. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract until smooth.

Stir together the oat, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Stir the dry ingredients into the batter until just combined. Stir in the raisins.

Drop dough by heaping tbsp. onto 2 large baking sheets (no need to grease them) leaving 2 inches between each ball dough. Bake until the cookies are golden brown, 12-15’. Cool the cookies on sheets for several minutes then transfer to a rack to cool further.

Note: you can also freeze the dough in rolls and bake them from frozen as needed. Another idea is to add chocolate chip cookies to the dough.

A naked cupcake

Or… rather a cupcake I didn’t bother to dress up. Or, one I ate far too quickly for it to give it time to get a frock. In any case, it was really delicious. With or without topping, it’s one to try.


Lemon and poppy seed cupcakes

Mix together 100g melted butter, 284ml soured cream, 1 beaten egg & 1 tsp vanilla essence. In a bowl mix together 280g plain flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 200g caster sugar & 4 tsp poppy seeds. Stir into the soured cream mixture. Divide the mixture between 10 muffin cases. Bake in an oven preheated pre-heated to 190ºC/gas 5 for 20-25 minutes until golden and well risen.

Edible gifts: white chocolate & cranberry biscotti

I am looking out of my window and there’s a heavy snowfall outside.

There’s nothing that gives me as much pure pleasure as just watching the snow fall and cover everything in a white blanket of snow except maybe the act of baking.

And this year I started early for one of the presents I love giving out the most are edible gifts which have the added advantage of being inexhaustible, that is, you can give the same thing every year and everyone will be delighted. I know I would be.

And there’s something so intrinsecally Christmassy about cranberries and white chocolate, they just go so well together like they were made for each other.

While I was organising myself I thought of starting out with biscotti because they keep really well for a long time.

This recipe has a bonus as well. It is made with vegetable oil in lieu of butter which makes it edible for those who are intolerant to butter. (I will never EVER use margarine  *** shudder *** it’s one of my taboos).



White chocolate and cranberry biscotti – © Gabriela R.

Makes about 25 biscotti


1 organic egg

135g caster sugar

235g plain flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. zest or juice of lemon (or vanilla extract)

100g cranberries

100g good-quality white chocolate

50ml vegetable oil

2 tbsp. cold water


1. Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/gas 2.

2. Sieve together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

3. Chop the chocolate coarsely. Mix with the cranberries and set aside.

4. Beat together the egg and sugar until pale and fluffy.

5. Add the flour to the egg and sugar mixture. Fold in with a spatula until well mixed.

6. Add the oil and water and work into a sticky dough.

7. Add the chocolate  and cranberries to the mixture and shape into long rolls.

8. Put them on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper and bake them in the centre of the oven for 25 minutes (mine needed slightly less time). Take the rolls out of the oven and reduce the temperature to the lowest setting. You want to dry them, not burn them.

9. Cut the rolls into 1cm (½ in) slices. Transfer to a clean baking tray (with the narrowest part on the tray, ie standing) and leave to dry in the centre of the oven for another 20 minutes.