Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Rhubarb Kuchen

Breakfast Baking.  Something I can rarely be bothered to do - I'd always rather plump for an extra half-hour in bed, and settle for a bowl of cereal.  But last weekend was different.  The weather was hot, really hot, and somehow as soon as I woke up and saw the sun shining outside, I couldn't stay in bed.  On Saturday morning we ate breakfast in the garden, enjoying the sunshine before it got too warm (yes, I know it's hard to believe, but I am still in England!), and this set me thinking that breakfast in the sun is a great occasion and should be celebrated.

Finding some slightly out-of-date packets of dried yeast, plus feeling guilty about the rhubarb that was languishing in the bottom of the fridge spurred me on to search through How to Be a Domestic Goddess, my favourite Nigella book...  I had a recollection of some kind of yeasted cake, or sweet bread, that used rhubarb - and there it was.

Kuchen is German for 'cake' but this is really a hybrid cake/bread recipe.  I did as Nigella suggested and made up the rich dough recipe the night before, leaving it in the fridge to rise slowly overnight.  I was a bit sceptical that this would work actually, but sure enough in the morning it had doubled in size.  I brought it out of the fridge, pressed it into the tin and left it to come up to room temperature while I made the topping.  The dough becomes easier to stretch as it warms up, so I didn't force it while it was fridge-cold.

I didn't have quite the required weight of rhubarb, so added some strawberries to make it up - rhubarb and strawberry are a great combination of flavours.

I also didn't want to make the crumble topping (just one step too far on a Sunday morning!) so sprinkled over some flaked almonds instead.

A mere hour or so after getting out of bed, this was baked and ready to eat.  The dough was browned and puffy, and the fruits had oozed their sugary juices over the kuchen and into the pan. 

 And perfect with a cup of coffee in the garden (pyjamas obligatory!).

The recipe, if you don't have the book, is as follows:

Rhubarb Crumble Kuchen (serves 8)

350-400g strong white flour
½ teaspoon salt
50g caster sugar
3 ½g easy blend yeast (half a sachet), or 7g fresh yeast
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
grated zest of ½ a lemon (I omitted this, with no ill effects)
good grating of fresh nutmeg
125ml milk, warmed
50g unsalted butter, softened

1 large egg
1 tablespoon cream
grating of fresh nutmeg
350g trimmed rhubarb, finely chopped (I had just less than 300g rhubarb and made up the weight with strawberries, also finely chopped)
75g caster sugar (I used vanilla sugar)
¼ teaspoon allspice (I omitted this)

Crumble topping:
30g unsalted butter, cold and diced
50g self raising flour
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 tablespoon demerara sugar

Put 350g of the flour in a bowl with the salt, sugar and yeast. beat the eggs and add them, with the vanilla, lemon zest and nutmeg, to the lukewarm milk. Stir the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients to make a medium soft dough, being prepared to add more flour as necessary. Nigella says she generally uses 400g but advises you start off with the smaller amount and just add extra as needed. Work in the soft butter and knead by hand for about 10 minutes (or using the dough-hook in the KitchenAid for about 5 minutes as I did).

When the dough is ready it will appear smoother and springier – it suddenly seems to 'plump up to glossy life' as Nigella puts it so eloquently.

Cover with a tea towel and leave until it doubles (1-1¼ hours) or leave to rise slowly in a cold place (the fridge is fine) overnight if you want to have this for breakfast (let the dough come back to room temperature before using it).

Punch down and stretch to line a swiss-roll tin (c30cm x 20cm) which you have lined with greaseproof paper. if you are struggling to get it stretch to fill the tin, leave it to rest for 10 minutes mid-stretch.  Leave to prove for 15-20 minutes while you preheat the oven to 200c.

When the dough is ready, beat the egg and cream together, grate in some nutmeg and brush the mixture over the dough. This gives a gloriously glossy topping to the Kuchen.

Stir the rhubarb together with the sugar and allspice but don’t do this until the last minute as the sugar makes the rhubarb release its water.  Sprinkle the rhubarb-sugar mix over the egg-washed dough.
To make the crumble topping (although flaked almonds are just fine!), rub the cold diced butter into the flour until becomes like sand and then stir in the sugars with a fork.  Top the fruit with the crumble.

Put in the oven for 15 minutes then turn down to 180c and cook for a further 15-20 minutes, until the dough is swelling and golden at the edges and cooked within.

Remove from the oven and leave in the tin for 15 minutes.  Slice and eat, still warm. In your pyjamas.

I can't wait to try this with other fruits!  I think it could work well with many other toppings.  I have a bag of foraged blackberries in the freezer, so I think that will be my next Kuchen, perhaps also with apple as Nigella suggests in this alternative Kuchen recipe.

Rhubarb on FoodistaRhubarb

Monday, 24 May 2010

A New Adventure...

It's been 'on the cards' as they say for a while, but it's now finally confirmed.  We're off to Brunei this August, for two years, on Rob's next posting.

Before you rush to find an atlas, here's a map:

Plenty of travel opportunities, as you can see!  We'll be living near the capital city, Bandar Seri Begawan, and I will be teaching in one of the International Schools there.

(This of course is the largest mosque in BSB, not the aforementioned school!)

I have visited Thailand, but nowhere else in Asia, so can't wait to explore more and am excited to be able to experience living in a country so different to the UK.

I know that there are many things about England that I will miss, but I also know that we will go into this experience with an open mind... and an open mouth!  I can't wait to enjoy shopping for, cooking and eating Asian food on a regular basis.

I also can't wait to have visitors such as this in our garden:

With thanks to Paula, our neighbour-to-be, for the photo.

We're not off for a few months, but I am aware that the time will fly by.   I'm unsure as to how much foraging for food I'll be doing in Brunei, but I'm looking forward to posting about our experiences, foodie and otherwise.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Lardy Cake

I'm not sure that this is the most appetising name for a foodstuff.  But, it is what it claims - a 'cake' (or perhaps more properly a bread) made with lard.  And I'll not lie, it's made with lots of lard.  But strange as it may sound, the Lardy Cake is possibly the most wonderfully delicious baked treat EVER.  I urge you to seek one out.

Lardy Cakes originated in the pig-farming counties of Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.  I guess they had to use all that lard for something.  When we lived in Wiltshire, on the edge of the New Forest, our local village bakery sold the most amazing Lardy Cakes - so amazing that they were locally rather famous and you had no chance of getting your hands on one if you turned up much after 9.30 on a Saturday morning.  However, it's a long time since we have sampled such a treat; indeed I had almost forgotten about their very existence... until we stopped in the small town of Burford on our way to a week's holiday in Shropshire after Easter.

I couldn't resist popping my head round the door of a lovely looking bakery on the High Street, and when I spotted a tray of spiralled, sticky, 'individual' Lardy Cakes, I couldn't resist going further and buying one.  And - oh my! - this was good.  I had never seen Lardy Cakes in this smaller size, or spiralled in such a way, but both of these things managed to increase the ratio of sticky-surface-area to soft doughy inner.  Which is a very good thing.

On my return home from Shropshire, I was inspired to try making a Lardy Cake myself.  I found many recipes online, but settled for this one, mainly because it used dried yeast as opposed to fresh, and I had some that needed using up.

The method is simple.  Make a basic bread dough, and let it prove before rolling it out and dotting it with butter, lard (of course), sugar and dried fruit (minus the mixed peel for me - yuk!).

A few folds, more dotting, more folds, more dotting, etc, etc, builds up a lovely loaf layered with sweet fruit and fat ready to melt into the bread.

Here's the finished loaf.  When I said that I had yeast that needed using up...  I think I was a little too late!  It had lost much of its raising-powers, so the Lardy Cake ended up quite flat.  It was also not quite sweet enough for my taste so we ended up sprinkling warmed slices of it with cinnamon sugar - a delicious plan.  The outer edges were however amazing.  It was almost as if they had been fried (which I suppose they had in a way) - a crispy contrast to the sweet bread inside.

I'm keen to try this again because, nice as it was, I think it could be better.  I'd love to experiment with a slightly different recipe, or perhaps adapt this one a little (better yeast, more sugar).  Watch this space!