Oat & buckwheat pancakes (& the joy of breakfast)

oat_buckwheat_pancakes

Fresh, fluffy pancakes with creamy guacamole

‘When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,’ said Piglet at last, ‘what’s the first thing you say to yourself?’ ‘What’s for breakfast?’ said Pooh. ‘What do you say, Piglet?’ ‘I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?’ said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. ‘It’s the same thing,’ he said.

Reading this quote from A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh CornerI can’t help but smile. In just a few short sentences, the author manages to capture both the thrill and satisfaction of finding pleasure in food. Any foodie worth their salt (or should it be honey?) will always have thoughts of their next meal ticking over gently at the back of their mind, and after the enforced fasting that comes with a good night’s sleep, there are few greater pleasures than waking up and deciding what to eat for your very first meal of the day. Continue reading

Wholemeal courgette flower pot bread: August Fresh from the Oven challenge

courgette_loaf

Homemade wholemeal courgette loaf…in a flower pot

When I first started writing this blog just over six months ago, I set myself the challenge of baking real bread on a weekly basis. As a self-confessed bread addict and self-styled ‘little loaf’, it seemed madness not to be making my own dough, especially when the average British shop contains such a sad little cardboard collection of bland, sugar-laced loaves.

Since then, I’ve started to eagerly anticipate the ritual of Sunday morning baking; dusting down the work surfaces with flour, kneading and shaping the dough, waiting patiently for it to rise, then slinging it into a super hot oven to bake as delicious smells begin to waft through the house. I’ve experimented with different flours and flavours, from fluffy focaccia to crusty white bloomers, seeded spelt, nutty wholemeal, flatbreads, buns and even croissants. But recently, with six months’ baking under my belt, I felt the need to inject some new inspiration into my bread, so I decided to join the Fresh from the Oven community.

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Dan Lepard’s homemade onion hot dog buns

homemade_hot_dog_buns

Beautiful buns

Recently Carniverous Boyfriend and I have become slightly addicted to Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food. For those of you without Sky, or of a less carniverous persuasion, this show sees self-styled food fanatic and inveterate eater Adam Richman travel round America’s ‘greatest pig-out spots’, meeting chefs and participating in local eating challenges along the way. It’s a button-busting, drool-inducing, sometimes sublime and always ridiculous programme, and while the food challenges would most likely leave you comatose, the places he visits at the beginning of each episode never fail to get the tastebuds turning. From slabs of steak and juicy crab claws to ooey-gooey cheese, slow-cooked BBQ cuts and crispy fried chicken, this is American excess at its very best.

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Homemade croissants: buttery, flaky breakfast pastry

homemade_croissant

Can you beat a homemade croissant?

‘It’s a labour of love’. ‘You’ll pile on the pounds’. ‘It’ll change the way you think about them forever’ . . . 

You might be forgiven for thinking such comments are in some way related to pregnancy and children. They’re not. Despite being an avid baker, at only just the wrong side of twenty-five, I’m not quite ready for that kind of bun in the oven. Nope, I’m talking croissants.

Search for ‘homemade croissant’ online and you’ll find thousands of recipes, often accompanied by a caveat. Yes they are wonderful, and yes you’ll love the end product, but getting there is a tricky, time-consuming process and everyone seems to have a horror story to share (back to that pregnancy comparison, I think there might be some mileage in this . . .)

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Seeded spelt – two little loaves

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A pair of little loaves

This weekend I realized I’ve only actually posted two bread recipes (malty wholemeal and focaccia) since I first started this blog. I generally bake a batch of bread every Sunday to last throughout the week, and have been doing so since my last bread post, but as I tend to stick to very minor variations on a basic wholemeal loaf, I didn’t really think any further recipes worth posting. Poor excuse. And no two ways about it; I’ve been neglecting my duties as resident littleloaf.

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Homemade Hot Cross Buns

spiced_hot_cross_bunsWhen I started blogging as thelittleloaf a couple of months ago, one of the first people I asked for their honest opinion (Mum, Dad and Carniverous Boyfriend don’t count) was a friend who lives in Sydney. Launching yourself out there into the blogosphere is a pretty daunting prospect; I worried what people would think of my blog. Could I actually write? Would my recipes work? And, perhaps most importantly, would anyone care? I know that the immediacy of the internet means your audience could just as easily be in the next room as on the next continent, but perhaps subconsciously it felt safer to try my ideas out on someone who lives over 10,000 miles away.

As you might expect from a dedicated carb lover and little loaf, my first ever post was a malty wholemeal loaf. After lots of fun baking, uploading my photos and thinking of what to include in my post, I duly sent the link Down Under to see what my friend had to say.  She wrote back to describe in laugh-out-loud detail (Jess, have you considered your own blog?), her own bread baking attempts and the often inedible results, asking if I wouldn’t mind sharing any tips I had. Hurrah! Her heartfelt and immediate response made me realise there might actually be a market, albeit a small one so far (Mum, Dad and CB, again I don’t think you count), for my amateur exploration into the world of bread, baking and other good things you can put in your mouth.

hot_cross_buns

One particular baking challenge my friend mentioned in her email was hot cross buns. Apparently her most recent batch were renamed ‘hot cross biscuits’ by her husband on account of their texture. I’d never attempted to bake hot cross buns before, but I love eating them every Easter so I decided to do some research and find her the perfect recipe for these sweet, fruity buns.

My first port of call was the River Cottage Bread Handbook by Daniel Stevens. This is the book that tutored me towards my very first light, crusty crumb – a loaf I could actually be proud of. But although I absolutely trust Daniel’s step-by-step guidance, I wanted to see what other bakers were doing with this Easter classic, and had already got my eye on a couple of recipes on the Guardian website.

toasted_hot_cross_bunsI’m yet to make a recipe by baker-extraordinaire Dan Lepard that hasn’t come out delicious, and I loved the look of his spiced stout buns, especially the idea of soaking the dried fruit in tea for an extra moist richness. I’d also bookmarked Felicity Cloake’s recipe as I’m an avid follower of her ‘How to cook  perfect . . .’ series. She’d already done a lot of the legwork for me, incorporating tips from Dan Lepard, Nigella Lawson and another baking blog I love, Wild Yeast. Her ‘perfect’ hot cross bun photo also gave me a glimmer of hope for my own ‘first ever bun’ attempts – totally gorgeous but in a very homemade, rustic way. Last but not least, I had a quick peak at Signe Johansen’s recipe, a Scandinavian food blogger I’ve been following since I found her incredible chocolate chip cookie recipe. She had an awesome idea for an Easter loaf using the same mixture of ingredients, but I decided to forgo this til another occasion in favour of the traditional real deal bun.

So Jess (and all you other baking enthusiasts out there), for what it’s worth, here’s my recipe for the perfect hot cross bun. The photos above were taken from my first attempt, and next time I’ll be making my buns smaller and further apart (the photos above suggest a bun on steroids – all subsequent modifications have been accommodated in my recipe below). I hope you enjoy making these as much as I did.

Hot cross buns
(make 12 regular or 16 small-ish buns)

100ml hot black tea
120g raisins, currants, sultanas & mixed peel of your choice
125ml water
125g milk
2 cloves
1 stick cinammon
Pinch saffron
Pinch grated nutmeg
250g plain white flour
250g strong white flour
5g instant powdered yeast
10g salt
50g golden caster sugar
1 large free range egg, beaten
50g butter, chilled
Finely grated zest of half an orange

For the crosses:

50g plain white flour
1tsp sunflower oil
80ml water

To finish & glaze:

1tbsp apricot (or other) jam
1 tbsp boiling water

Method:

The night before you want to make your buns, soak the dried fruit in the hot black tea. This will give the fruit a dark, unctuous quality.

The next day, strain the dried fruit and set aside. Heat the water, milk, cloves, cinammon, saffron and nutmeg in a small pan til just boiling, then remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly and infuse. In a large bowl mix together the flours, yeast, salt and sugar. Grate the chilled butter into the bowl and rub it into the flour mixture with your fingertips until well mixed. Add the warm milk mixture, dried fruit, sugar, egg and orange zest, and mix to form a soft, sticky dough, then knead for around 10 minutes until soft, silky and elastic.

*n.b. Most of the recipes I looked at suggested doing this step in a food mixer if possible, as the dough is very wet and sticky. I don’t have one, so decided to get stuck in and knead by hand. At first I thought I must have made a massive error as I grappled with a sticky, slimy-looking, unresponsive gloop. But I promise, persevere with your kneading for a few minutes, don’t be tempted to drown it in extra flour, and it will turn into a lovely soft dough*

hot_cross_buns_rising

Lightly grease a clean bowl and put the dough into it. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place to rise . This will take 1-2 hours depending on where you leave it. Once the dough has doubled in size, tip it out of the bowl and knead for a minute or so, then divide into 12 even sized pieces and roll into bun shapes.

Put the buns on a floured baking sheet, run a sharp knife over the top to form crosses, then cover with the same tea towel and leave to prove until doubled in size – around 30 mins to an hour.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. To make the crosses, whisk together the flour, water and oil til smooth, then spoon into a greaseproof piping bag and snip a tiny hole in the end. Pipe thin crosses across the buns. My piping bag split and I ended up having to do this by hand with a teaspoon, hence the slightly rustic crosses in the pictures above, but although they don’t look perfect, I quite like the rough-around-the-edges homemade look. Pop the buns in the oven and bake for 15-20 mins until golden and delicious.

A couple of minutes before the buns are ready, mix the boiling water and apricot jam in a small bowl. Remove your hot cross buns from the oven and brush with the syrupy glaze. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool. Enjoy toasted with wedges of slightly salty butter or, for my ultimate hot cross bun indulgence, eat cold with thick cream and strawberry jam.

Golden, salty, oily focaccia

Having recently eaten some good, but slightly unremarkable, focaccia at Gemma Tuley’s Fulham restaurant, Manson, I wanted to have a go at making my own. I’m loving The River Cottage Bread handbook at the moment so I decided to trust Daniel Stevens’ detailed directions and advice and give his recipe a go.

Freshly_baked focaccia

My reward was an incredible pillow of beautiful golden bread, studded with salt crystals and speckled with crispy baked rosemary. The shallow finger wells collected little pools of fruity olive oil, and a good ten minutes of dedicated kneading resulted in a slightly aerated dough with little air pockets that made this really look and taste like the real thing. Focaccia seems to be a pretty forgiving dough, so if you’re fairly new to bread baking, I definitely recommend giving this a go.

Focaccia_fresh_from_oven

Homemade Italian Focaccia (quantities adapted slightly from The River Cottage Bread Handbook to match my 7g sachet of yeast)

700g strong white bread flour, Italian ’00 if possible
7g powdered yeast
14g fine salt
480ml warm water
1 tbsp olive oil plus extra to finish
3 sprigs rosemary, leaves stripped and torn
A good sprinkle of flaky sea salt

Combine the flour, salt, yeast and water in a bowl to form a sticky dough. Add the oil, then turn the dough onto a clean worksurface and knead until smooth and silky, around 10 mins.

Shape the dough into a round and return to the cleaned bowl. Wrap the bowl in a black bin liner and leave to rise in a warm place for around an hour (this weekend it was so gorgeous I left mine to rise in the sunshine in the back garden). When it has doubled in size, tip it onto the work surface and press into a rough rectangle.

Place dough on a lightly oiled baking tray and leave to rise, wrapped back up in the bin liner, for around 30 mins.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees C/Gas Mark 10 (basically the highest your oven will go).  Press your focaccia dough all over with your fingers to form deep pockets (these will later collect all that delicious oil, salt and rosemary), drizzle with olive oil and scatter with salt and rosemary.

Bake for 15 mins, then turn down the heat if browning too quickly, and bake another 5-10 mins.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly. Focaccia is delicious served warm, so if you don’t want to eat it straight away, you can reheat in a low oven just before serving.

Homemade_focaccia

Once you’ve made this recipe you’ll come back to it time and again. You can also try different toppings and flavour combinations – I love it with black olives and a sprinkling of red onion which caramelizes beautifully on the golden crust. Or sundried tomatoes distributed through the dough, different pestos and cheeses, nuts, thyme instead of rosemary . . . the list in endless.

Manson Restaurant Review

Manson_London_Gemma_Gordon_RamsaySandwiched half way between The River Cafe in one direction and The Harwood Arms in another, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to delicious food on our doorstep. If you’re in the mood for something a little lower key (and less budget busting), you can also find  numerous bistros, pizzerias and smart gastropubs in and around the Fulham Road, packed with locals throughout the week and showing little sign of being affected by the recession.

Manson has been around for a little while now, and falls into that category of smart, laid back local dining with a menu that has aspirations above its informal decor and straightforward, friendly service. Every review I’ve read so far makes some kind of comedy reference to the name, suggesting it smacks of serial killers and deranged recording artists, so I’m going to steer clear of that. Suffice to say that Manson is the owner’s surname. His head chef Chef Gemma Tuley trained under Gordon Ramsay and this shows in the elegant presentation of well-sourced ingredients.  Food for The Beautiful People, although possibly not the kind Marilyn Manson had in mind (sorry . . .)

Manson_restaurant_Fulham_interior

To celebrate my Mum’s birthday, we headed down there on a quiet weekday evening. Arriving earlier than expected, we needn’t have worried about reserving a table as the restaurant was only about a quarter full at 8.15pm. Candles twinkled invitingly from a row of cosy looking leather banquettes in the window, but as a three (my Dad’s away tasting wine in Bordeaux under the pretext of work . . .) we opted against these in favour of a central table with plenty of elbow space. From there we had the chance to survey all of Manson’s rustic charm – burnished mirrors running across the whole back wall, moody low lighting and a gorgeous wooden bar where fresh green apples, oranges and loaves of bread nestle in their own compartments.

After we’d ordered a bottle of something cold, crisp and fairly priced, our waitress brought over a basket of bread. I’ve been thinking about what I should include in my restaurant reviews since writing up Dean Street Townhouse and Trullo, and decided that, as the littleloaf, it would be rude not to include a round up of the bread, something often dismissed or ignored by other reviewers. Manson’s offering was a mixture of freshly cut crusty wholemeal and cubes of focaccia. I don’t imagine it had been made in-house, and the focaccia lacked that light crumb and slight salty ooze of grease you get with a freshly baked batch, but both options were perfectly good, and arrived with a smooth pat of salty butter.

Freshly_baked_focaccia

It got me thinking, maybe the bread basket is a good sign of where you’re going with a restaurant’s food, because moving onto the actual dishes it was a similar story  – tasty, considered ingredients cooked well, but lacking in that extra special element which takes a meal from the background of an evening to the main event. Having said that, my starter of grilled squid with potato, purple sprouting broccoli, garlic and chilli was very impressive – curls of charred creamy tentacles contrasting with the richness of the greens and brought to life with a spicy kick. It looked and tasted spot on. My Mum agreed that the squid was a good dish, and Carniverous Boyfriend’s (CB) snails on toast disappeared from the plate pretty quickly.

As did his rare rib-eye and chips. Served with chips on a bed of roasted carrots it was juicy and well-cooked – the quality of ingredients shining through simple cooking. My Mum’s sole with spinach and mussels was nicely presented with good clean flavours, although I think I’ve seen a similar dish on half a dozen menus in as many months. My tiger prawns were probably the biggest disappointment, and this isn’t a huge complaint; just a minor gripe when Manson have proved they have the potential to make good dishes great.  They were nicely done, with sweet chargrilled flesh, but my plate contained just four slightly sad specimens, heads removed, but bizarrely left on the plate as a kind of macabre decoration. Possibly an attempt to justify the £20 price tag.

Dessert was a winner. CB and I looked no further than a pair of chocolate brownies with salted caramel ice cream and honeycomb, while my Mum went for her standard camomile tea (I definitely didn’t inherit my sweet tooth from her). The brownie was gooey, dark and delicious, while the honeycomb provided crunch against the smooth cold ice cream. I’m not sure why the brownie had raisins in – the juicy plumpness of the fruit jarred slightly with the super sweet honeycomb crisps – but I’m not going to complain.

Which is probably my overall sentiment for the meal. The room was buzzy, the service friendly (if a little haphazard), the company happy and the food well-cooked from good ingredients. We had a really lovely birthday evening and were home within 10 minutes of paying the bill. But the high aspirations of this restaurant come with a high price tag considering the location, and I think there are probably a lot more restaurants where you could get a truly incredible meal at for the same kind of price. Maybe it was our mid-week timing, maybe I’m getting spoilt by the amazing places popping up round London every day now, or maybe Manson hasn’t quite cracked it.

If you’ve been, I’d love to know what you think.

Manson on Urbanspoon

Malty wholemeal loaf

*Looking back at my recipe archives, while I love my enthusiasm, but there’s now a much better wholemeal loaf recipe (and photos!) here*

Remember the scene in About a Boy where Marcus accidentally kills a duck with his mum’s loaf of ‘healthy’ bread?  My very first foray into the world of breadmaking wasn’t a million miles off.  After purchasing my brand new copy of The River Cottage Bread Handbook, covering the kitchen in a blanket of flour and lovingly kneading a sticky, unresponsive dough, I ended up with just over a kilo of flour, water and salt, condensed into a heavy loaf the size of a small brick.  The kind of thing Tony Soprano would be more likely to tie to the ankle of a recently deceased victim than eat for breakfast.  With a mother’s love for her first born child, I duly munched my way through the whole thing, telling anyone who listened that it was a million miles nicer than the air-filled rubbish you can buy in the supermarket.  It wasn’t.

But this didn’t deter me. The River Cottage bread book is a wonderful thing. With page after page dedicated to mixing, folding, kneading and coating, it’s the ultimate bread-lover’s companion, and I knew that with a little perseverance this little loaf could produce a larger loaf she was proud of. And could actually eat.

So here it is. My very first properly delicious loaf of bread. Crusty and textured on the outside, with a springy, slightly doughy crumb and a delicious nutty taste. Daniel Stevens, River Cottage bread guru, advises not to cut bread intended for slicing until it’s cooled. I defy anyone not to carve off a slab fresh from the oven, slather in butter, and eat whilst still warm. Yum!

Bread_fresh_from_oven

Delicious malty wholemeal loaf

Malted grain bread (adapted from The River Cottage Bread Handbook)

Makes 2 loaves of 12 small rolls

  • 750g malted grain flour
  • 7g powdered dried yeast
  • 10g fine salt
  • 420ml warm water
  • 1tbsp olive oil

Mix a rough dough, combining flour, yeast, salt and water. Adjust the consistency if you need to, to make a soft, easily kneadable, sticky dough.  Turn onto a work surface and clean your hands.

Knead the dough until smooth and satiny. This should take about 10 minutes (see step by step instructions in The River Cafe Handbook for beautiful results!).

Shape the dough into a round, flour the surface and put back into the wiped out mixing bowl. Wrap in a black plastic bag and leave in a warm place until doubled in size. This should take 45 mins – 1 1/2 hours, depending on how warm it is.

Risen dough

Risen Dough

Deflate the dough by pressing all over with your fingertips, then form into a round. Leave to rise again. You can do this up to 4 times, but I found twice was perfect (and I’m not that patient!).

Now prepare for baking. Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees C/Gas Mark 10 with a baking tray or stone inside. Shape your dough into loaves or rolls and rest, covered in a black plastic bag, for 10 minutes til doubled in size.

Risen Bread

Risen bread

Transfer loaves to hot baking tray/stone. Slash tops if you wish and put in oven.

Turn the heat down after 10 minutes: 200 degrees C/Gas Mark 6 if crust is burning, 180 degrees C/Gas Mark 4 if noticeably browning, and 170 degrees/Gas Mark 3 otherwise. Bake until loaf/rolls are browned and crusty and feel hollow if you tap them – about 10-20 mins for rolls, around 40 mins for loaves.

Loaf_out_of_oven

Fresh out the oven

Leave to cool on a wire rack (if you can bear to wait!).

Textured_malty_loaf

Nutty, malty loaf – delicious!

Enjoy.