Thursday, October 27, 2011

An Irish treat for Hallowe'en - Barm Brack and the return of Pumpkin Boy 2009!

Barm Brack, steaming hot tea, lashings of butter, autumn leaves and PUMPKIN BOY - my pumpkin from 2009 who spent the entire winter outdoors, miraculously became freeze dried and deteriorated no further once I brought him back indoors - he's been happy ever since!

Barm Brack or Bairin Beac is a traditional Irish yeast bread baked for Hallowe'en. Barm or bairin means the frothy yeast from the top of brewing beer which in olden times people used to rise their breads (going barmy means, in the north of England going crazy) - and brack or breac means speckled - because the raisins are speckled throughout the bread and some of them tend to break up when the dough is kneaded.

I tried this recipe twice as the first one was just too big and it got really dark on the top before it was cooked all the way through - a fact I didn't know until it cooled and there was a wodge of uncooked dough through the middle - this is how it looked when it was cooling - I thought it looked fine but I was wrong - I also lined the pan with greaseproof paper but it stuck badly - didn't do that one the second try and it was much better.
First attempt - not so good - that horizontal line is where it was, sadly, uncooked.
My second attempt worked yea!!!

RECIPE from "Irish Baking Book" by Ruth Isabel Ross

INGREDIENTS for two good sized loaves - this recipe rises like crazy or should I say barmy!! This particular recipe didn't call for it but I decided to start the day before and soak my raisins overnight in good strong tea - my Mum always did that and I have been doing it for anything that requires a bit of moistness like a breadcake or Christmas cake or pudding. It adds a really lovely note to the finished recipe. SO if you want to do that take 8oz raisins and soak them in a good covering of strong, hot tea - preferably overnight but for at least 4 hours to really plump them up - of course you can just use regular raisins or sultanas (a more moist raisin from green grapes). BEFORE you begin baking strain the tea off your raisins - if you wish you can replace a little of the milk in the dough with this sweet tea mix to add more raisin flavour to the dough).

Pre heat one's oven to 400F
1lb white flour preferably unbleached
8oz raisin (soaked in tea or not) or sultanas
4oz candied peel (this is traditional - I didn't use it as I didn't have any around but feel free to put this ingredient in or not)
Pinch of salt
1/2 oz or two packs of dried yeast
3 tablespoons warm water
10fl oz whole milk
2oz butter
2oz sugar
1 egg beaten
1-2 teaspoons nutmeg (depending on your taste for this spice)
1-2 teaspoons cardamom (depending on your taste for this spice)

Separately dissolve a couple of tablespoons of sugar in the same amount of water as a glaze  .

1. Put flour and salt in a bowl and mix together.
2. Sprinkle the dried yeast on the warm water.
3. Warm the milk with the butter until tepid.
4. Add the yeast mix, spices, milk, butter, egg and sugar all into the flour and mix well.
6. Flour a board well and tip the mix onto it.
7. Start kneading and add flour as you go - the recipe didn't say to do this but the mixture was so wet I didn't have a choice - and the bread turned out great so I don't think it was wrong - continue kneading for about 15 minutes and it will become elastic and smooth and still quite soft.
8. Put into a warm bowl , cover with a tea towel and allow to rise in a snug, warm place for about 1 hour - it will rise like a champion.
9. Now for more stickiness - put dough back onto floured board and start kneading and adding the raisins - this is quite hard to do and I found out the reason why you don't put the raisins in until now - I was watching the Great British Bake Off (a really good cooking challenge show with historical facts and sweet people - watch it if you can - maybe when you are ready to eat your Barm Brack!!) on YouTube and they explained this in the show - is because the moisture and sweetness may affect the rising of the dough - but honestly I think it would be EASIER to add them earlier - anyway do your best and knead as many raisins as you can evenly through the dough - mine looked like this below when I was finished - I should have added more raisins in hindsight and kneaded longer for better distribution - I didn't get them all in - I'll try harder next time!!
Nice and sticky!!
10. Divide evenly into 2 well greased 8" diameter cake pans, cover with cloths and allow to rise again for another 20 minutes - mine rose again like BARMY!!! - once again being the naughty girl I am I did mine in a 6" round pans that are taller than the average pan (because I love it and the resulting baked goods look so cute!)  and they came out well - but I think an 8" would be easier to judge when it's ready because it would be shallower and not be prone to brown quite so much on the top.
11. Put in to bake for about 35-45 minutes but check regularly as I found it browns really quickly.
12. The ony real way to know it is done is to jiggle it a bit and see if there's just too much movement which was the case with my first one but I then didn't know what that meant OR remove it from the pan and rap the bottom with your knuckle an listen for an 'empty' sound - pretty esoteric but you'll know what I mean when you hear it - don't burn your fingers doing this!!
 13. When you think it's done - and this is something you have to learn to sense with more bread baking experience - remove it from the oven - leave the oven on, and brush the top with the water sugar glaze.
14. Pop back in the oven for about 5 minutes and you'll get a nice shine on your loaf.
15. Remove - let stand about 10 minutes, run a knife around the edge and take out of the pan - leave to cool on a cooling rack.
16. When completely cold, slice (it's easier to slice when cold), toast - it catches very easily when toasting so keep an eye on it - butter generously and avail yourself of a nice cup of tea RELAX and have a nice quiet moment to yourself.
Really - this is just like a GIANT Hot Cross Bun!
Now THAT'S a piece of toast - YUM!!!!!!!!!
 Happy Baking - let me know how it comes out - always feel free to post pics on my Facebook page - I'd love to see your Barm Brack!! 
Waugh - the ghosts are here!!

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Colour of Autumn Leaves

Yea - I found some pink leaves!
Fall/Autumn has been slow coming along this year and colours have been in short supply. There are still a lot of green trees out there - which seems awfully late to me - so maybe there'll be more colour to come. Tomorrow we are looking forward to our first snow - not a sticking one right now but you never know - enjoy the pictures, they speak for themselves.

Concord Grapes swathing an old industrial planer out in the fields.

I love this fluffy grass but don't know what it is - do you?
Another view from Blueberry Hill
I'll keep my eyes peeled for more colour and will post here for you to enjoy Fall in Maine.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Apple Parkin Slice

 Apple Parkin slice is an old Yorkshire/Lancashire recipe by way of Australia. Growing up in the north of England every bonfire night we partake of parkin - a chewy, oaty, dense, treacle-ey
slice ( a 'slice' is halfway between a cake and a scone I'd say) - recently I espied this recipe in British Country Living for a similar 'slice' but with no molasses, lighter in texture and with the addition of apples through the middle (something I am not unhappy about as I am not a big fan of molasses or as we call it in the UK treacle- a nice onomatopoaeic word that sounds like the treacle being spooned from the jar!)

THE RECIPE - as usual in weights which nowadays I am translating from metric to imperial as I only have a weighing scale with ozs so the amounts may seem odd!!
7oz butter
9oz sugar plus extra for sprinkling
2 large eggs whisked together
12.5 oz white flour
3.5 oz rolled oats
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3-4 apples of your choice peeled and chopped
A little milk for making the batter a little softer.
1. Heat the oven to 350F/180C
2. Butter a square baking dish - about 8"
3. Beat butter and sugar together until light and pale.
4. Gradually beat in the eggs - I do this in about 4 goes with goodly beating in between so I don't go down the road of curdling.
5. Fold in the sifted flour, nutmeg and oatmeal and blend nicely.
6. The mixture will be quite stiff at this point - put half of it into the greased dish and press evenly.
7. Strew apples atop this evenly.
8. To the remaining mixture add a couple of tablespoons of milk or more to make the dough come to a dropping consistency - so spoonfuls plop onto the apples as below -

 9. Smooth out the plopped spoonfuls to look like the pic below - and sprinkle with some extra sugar before popping into your pre-heated oven.
 10. Bake for about 30 - 40 minutes until the 'slice' is golden and firm to the touch - again as below.

This is a hearty sweet - another good keeper which tastes better the day after baking - but who can keep desserts around that long I ask you? You can serve this hot, warm or cold - with or without ice cream, lashings of cream or custard or on it's own with a good hot cuppa!

HAPPY BAKING!!! and do enjoy Great Maine Apple Day tomorrow October 23rd.

This post is part of the wonderful bloghop of Tea Time Treats over at lovely Lavender and Lovage

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Apple and Lemon Curd for Great Maine Apple Day

As you can see Great Maine Apple Day is coming up pretty sharpish and I have two recipes in store to celebrate this day - today it's Apple and Lemon Curd, a recipe adapted from "Country Harvest - A Celebration of Autumn" by Linda Burgess and Rosamond Richardson - and then Friday I'll post the recipe for Apple Parkin Slice
And so we begin by assembling our small cast of characters, six in all, for the recipe - I collected some windfall apples from our ancient apple trees out the back...they are a bit knarly and lumpy but ended up tasting great in the curd!

THE RECIPE: In weights as that is more reliable (see why here ) and to help you out here is a link to a great conversion site  

1lb of your preferred apples chopped small
5 fl oz water
7oz sugar
2oz butter ( I always use salted - I like that taste in sweet things)
1 teaspoon (more or less according to your taste for it) freshly grated nutmeg
3 egg yolks whisked together
Juice and zest from two lemons (preferably organic when you are using the zest)

1. Put apples and water in a heavy bottomed pan and cook on medium until very soft - this took forever with my windfalls but when I made it with apples from local farmers it went pretty fast.
2. Press the apples through a sieve - you only need to do this if you want it really smooth but I was surprised at the amount of stubborn lumps I got that didn't squush through the sieve - so I would recommend doing this.
3. Return apple squush to pan, add sugar, nutmeg and lemon juice and zest and cook until sugar dissolves.
4. Add a little of the hot apple sauce to the egg yolks and quickly whisk together so eggs don't cook and curdle, then add a little more and do the same - you are tempering the eggs here so as not to end up with scrambled eggs.
5. Add the egg/apple sauce back in to the pan with the remainder of the apples sauce and cook gently until it begins to thicken - keep stirring and do not boil or again you will end up with scrambled egg yuck!! :(
6. Take the sauce of the heat and add the butter bit by bit - stirring and blending between each addition.
7. Allow to cool and do as you will with your lovely Apple and Lemon Curd - apparently this does not keep well so don't plan on bottling and using later - perhaps you'll like this as much as I do and it won't have the chance to stay around. This is also a good reason not to do too large of an amount at needs to be fresh to be good unlike lemon curd which can be bottled and kept.
Happy Curding NOT curdling!
"Created by Mother Nature - Nurtured by Local Farmers" fabric from my Spoonflower shop
And here's the luscious finished curd - tangy, bright and with some tooth - not as smooth as lemon curd but honestly just as good. I used mine in a meringue tart so I could use up the leftover egg whites but also had it on buttered toast - divine!! - and it could easily and charmingly be the filling in a layer cake, or on the top of scones or a side for a roast of some sort - I'm not a meat eater so I'll leave it to your imagination as to which meat it would accompany well - the combination of fruit and meat is big in England so maybe I am remembering tastes of yore from my childhood.

Do let me know how your curd came out!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sticky Toffee Pudding.....yea!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here it is  - a slice or rather chunk of the iconic British Sticky Toffee Pudding - a moist, date laden cake with the most perfect sticky toffee sauce bubbled under the grill/broiler - you melt when you taste it, especially the day after it is made. DON'T let the idea of dates put you off...they are hard to discern in the finished pudding but they are absolutely necessary to the deep sweet flavour.
 Here is the book containing my personal favourite STP you think I've used it a lot? I tasted STP first about 25 years ago in the Lake District of England - a glorious area of the country - at a Restaurant called The Moon and after my epiphany I was glad to see they had a recipe book with that special delight has served me SPLENDIDLY over the years - haven't had one person not be thrilled with this dessert.

 I am giving the recipe in weights and an approximation of cups also, but try to weigh if you can, it will be better, honest!
By the by a 'pudding' in Blighty means any dessert so if you are not familiar with the term in that context think of this as a form of coffee cake with a toffee icing!

Pudding batter:
6oz stoned dates preferably medjool..they are stickier and gooier and just plain better
8oz white flour (US unbleached, UK plain) sifted..about 2 cups unsifted
1 teaspoon baking powder sifted with flour
1 large egg, whisked
6oz sugar....preferably brown but fine, about 3/4 cup
2oz/4 tablespoons butter

10fl oz boiling water
1 teaspoon bicarb ie baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Toffee Topping:
2 1/2oz brown sugar...oops didn't figure that one out, I suppose a bit more than 1/4 cup
1 1/2 oz butter
2 tablespoons cream or half and half
NB I usually double the toffee recipe and you'll see why when you've eaten it!!

1. Cover dates with boiling water, add vanilla and baking soda...let stand
2. Cream the living daylights out of the butter and sugar
3. Add whisked egg gradually to the butter and sugar beating in between additions
4. Add flour in thirds and cream between additions
5. Add sloppy datey goo (dates AND water - do not drain the dates) to creamy floury goo and blend will have a nice runny batter
6. Pour into greased 9 x 9 glass pan and bake for 40 minutes or so at 375F
1. Heat sugar, cream and butter together in a small pan until sugar has dissolved
2. Pour over the baked pudding and place under hot grill 'til it bubbles.
Ye Olde Sloppy Batter
Bubbling happily straight from the grill/broiler...yea!!
Et voila....there's your sticky toffee pudding...wait until it is cool to serve...with vanilla ice cream if you fancy. BUT best of all save the corners for breakfast next day...if you can!!!
Let me know if you make it and how it came out...this recipe has never failed me and everyone I have served it to is hooked.

Happy Baking!!!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Flowers and Frogs - oh my!!

I don't know how I got this picture or what I did to make it so painterly and just like how the green foliage has greyed out and the asters are in movement - but really it had nothing to do with me, I just clicked!
 The Asters (or Michaelmas Daisies) signalling Autumn on Blueberry Hill - don't the purple, green and spots of golden yellow work well together?

 Then down at the pond a couple of weeks ago...I have been tardy posting these pictures - naughty moi - but here they are now reminding me of the bliss of that perfect summer day in the midst of a week of rain and drizzle and shades of colder weather looming nigh.

 There were SO many frogs down at the pond...and they behaved very well allowing me to get quite close and see just how handsome they are. As soon as I moved too noisily or quickly though they all plopped into the water one by one - it was quite a comical sound.

Here's a little guy in among the lupine leaves - happy as a clam!!

"A lonely pond in age-old stillness sleeps . . .
Apart, unstirred by sound or motion . . . till
Suddenly into it a lithe frog leaps".

Basho Translated by Curtis Hidden Page

Next post is Sticky Toffee of Britain's most prevalent and popular desserts and deservedly's DELICIOUS...see you soon!