It is lucky that Mum and Dad left some clothes here when they last visited us because they won’t have room for any in their suitcases for their forthcoming visit as they are indulging me by bringing large jars of  Tate and Lyle Golden Syrup and Marmite. The sweet (and salty) taste of home. What is it about childhood foods that transport us back and warm us like a hug from a loved one?

On my parents’ first visit to us since we emigrated I asked my poor Mum to bake a malt loaf barely hours after she had stepped off the plane.  Malt loaf was what my Mum made as a delicious everyday type cake throughout my childhood and I have never been able to stomach the shop-bought ones as a consequence.  Such was the association with my childhood that I hoped my Mum would arrive with one (or more) following every life event.  She did and there was rarely a need for me to ask.

In hindsight, perhaps emigrating was a bigger deal than I had given it credit for and, during the month she was staying with us, Mum must have baked about twenty malt loaves.  After the first fifteen (or thereabouts) I began to feel more settled and the necessary diet afterwards gave me something to focus on.  We seemed to set ourselves on a Malt Loaf Holy Grail and a definitive recipe for me to put my name to.  Here they are, my Mum’s original recipe (she doesn’t really know where it came from) and mine.  Mum’s is the best, of course.

Original and Best

Self Raising Flour 8 oz (225 g)

Mixed Dried Fruit 5 oz (150 g)

Sugar 2 oz (60 g)

Ovaltine 2 oz (60 g)

Milk 6 fl oz (180 ml)

Golden Syrup 2 tbsp

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (170 C fan).  Gently warm the milk and syrup in a pan.  Place the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Add the warmed liquid to the dry ingredients and mix well.  Place in a greased and lined baking tin and bake in the centre of the oven for approximately one hour.  Cool the loaf in the tin and then wrap in foil for a day or two before serving with butter.

My one (well it makes two because one is never enough)

Self Raising Flour 250 g

Soft Brown Sugar 50 g

Sultanas 100 g

Glace Cherries (cut in half) 50 g

Pitted Prunes 25 g

Mixed Peel 25 g

Hot Tea 300ml

Malt Extract 50 g

Golden Syrup 50 g

Soak the fruit in the tea for at least an hour or overnight. Preheat the oven to 170 C (fan). Mix all the ingredients together.  Divide between two greased and lined loaf tins.  Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately one hour.  Cool the loaf in the tin and then wrap in foil for a day or two before serving with butter (the wrapping is less cruicial with this recipe so you could eat straight away if you wanted to).

I had been sceptical about whether anything would actually grow in my vegetable garden – gardening isn’t exactly my forte and I find myself in a new environment not knowing what I should be doing and when or when anything would be in season. September seemed to be when everyone started planting veggies with enthusiasm so I joined in.  Forget the fact that we had only been in our new place two weeks and that I should have been unpacking.

The boys were set to work with their toy wheelbarrow, piling the weeds from the veggie patch into it and sometimes even managing to trundle them as far as the compost heap (but mainly just throwing them at one another or me).

My eldest son was allowed to choose seeds for planting and I bought some seed trays to plant back ups in case nothing grew in the veggie patch itself.  We planted.  We watered.  We waited. And waited.

Nothing seemed to be happening so I planted another tray of back up seeds and bought a few seedlings that I found at the local community farm.

Then all at once EVERYTHING grew.  I don’t think a single seed can have failed.  We even seem to have a lettuce, a silverbeet and a chilli that we didn’t actually plant, not to mention a rampant passionfruit that seems to be throwing runners all over the place.

Before long I was transferring the seedlings to yoghurt pots and any other vessel I could find and fast running out of space!

Thank goodness for the food swap at Edendale Farm which meets on the last Saturday of every month to swap seedlings, produce and preserves.  I attended my first one today and took a collection of surplus borlotti bean, butter bean, tomato, lettuce, chard, carrot and squash seedlings.

I was the first to arrive but little by little a few people arrived (fewer than normal being an exceptionally cold day) and stayed to chat and swap.  The contributions were all laid out on a trestle table and the participants were then free to choose items on a trust basis.  It is a lovely way to meet new friends and I returned home with a Queensland Blue pumpkin seedling, two climbing cucumbers, a few lemons, a chai tea mix, some silverbeet and some watercress. Oh, and a beautiful bottle of cow manure.

I am taking a short, but compulsory, sojourn from Australia as my tourist visa is about to expire and I cannot be in the country while my more substantial visa is being issued.  I have come to visit much-loved friends in New Zealand and the boys have stayed in Melbourne.  I miss them them terribly but I’m also having a wonderful time.

My friends, once neighbours and frequent partners in culinary crime and eating exploits back in the UK, returned to Wellington about three years ago so this is wonderful opportunity to catch up. They live in a beautiful spot near Pukerua Bay and this evening, just before sunset, they took me diving for paua (abalone). I could barely contain my excitement (in fact I couldn’t sleep last night).

We set off very late in the afternoon already wearing our wet suits and walked a couple of kilometres along the stunning bay as we needed to reach a point beyond the Rãhui which is an area of protection designed to enable paua to live in peace, grow and multiply. In the past paua have been over-harvested so this area of protection was introduced and along with heavy fines for the collection of under-sized specimens and a quota of ten per person.  Given that the minimum legal size is larger than the palm of my hand, this is more than enough for a huge meal!

We finally arrived at our dive site and, hot from the walk, it was a relief to be able to enter the cold water.  The conditions were not ideal being rather choppy with poor visibility and against a first-timer such as myself but my friend had soon collected twelve. I did manage to find a few but, once I had prised them from the rock with my knife, realised they were too small and released them.

As the light started to fade we returned home, exhausted, to shower and shuck and cook our haul.  As I was trying my hand at shucking the still very active (i.e. trying to suck onto my palm) paua I felt doubtful that I was going to be a convert to this particular delicacy as the grey flesh felt extremely rigid and, frankly, unappetising but a few good whacks with a meat tenderiser, thin slicing, and a short time in some very hot oil rendered them absolutely delicious.

Pretty much anyone living in the UK at the moment will be aware that everyone has gone baking-mad.  My UK-based friends keep sending emails telling me how good the Great British Bake-Off is this year.  I am, sadly, missing it as it doesn’t seem to be available here.

You only have to go to your local supermarket to find a whole aisle devoted to baking and, with it, your choice of flours.  It wasn’t always the case but I think us Brits have come to take it for granted over recent years and I was quite surprised to find that the range of flour suitable for making bread is not so readily available here in Australia.  This is somewhat ironic as a lot of the flour we use to bake bread in the UK is imported from Australia as the flour grown here is high in protein and suitable for baking the high-rise style loaves we seem to love.  Strong white flour is available in supermarkets here as are bread mixes of many varieties but stoneground wholewheat and rye tend to be found only at health food shops and are vastly expensive and I have not yet come accross any granary type flours.

It is not true, however, that no-one bakes and in my adventures of finding new friends I am also finding fellow bakers.  One of these new friends very kindly came to my rescue as she has a cousin who recently left a city-based career to become a baker and was able to get me a good stock of flours to get me started.  A friend of my Mother-in-Law also loves to bake bread.  She has gone to the extreme of buying grain directly from a mill out in the Dandenongs and stone-grinding it herself but confessed she has not been able to do that recently as she was finding it more difficult to lift the 100kg grain sacks in and out of the car!  She now knows she has a willing volunteer in me and I am thinking of going down this route myself.

In the last week I’ve been trying to establish a new wheat sourdough starter.  I’m not sure if I am friends with it yet.  It smells a bit different from the one I had before and it isn’t behaving very well yet (as evidenced by the picture of the ‘loaf of shame’ above) but I seem to remember that my old one took a few loaves to become properly established, some I am giving it a few chances.

In the meantime I have been baking, with commercial yeast, and wondering just how many loaves/rolls I could bake in a day given that I have an oven about twice the size of the one I had in the UK.  Our local community farm has a produce swap once a month and I’m wondering if I could swap some bread while I’m waiting for my veggie patch to flourish (which it isn’t showing any signs of doing just now).

Every Saturday morning the Estate Agents in Melbourne come out in force, rain or shine, with their portable ‘Open for Inspection’ placards.  They are followed by an eager troupe of people searching for the perfect home.  Over recent weeks we have been part of that troupe, following the agents from one property to the next, getting to know them and often bumping into the same families at different viewings.

It is tiring and hunger-inducing work so we’ve taken to taking a break at The Burger Lounge in Eltham.

In past visits to Melbourne we have eaten at my husband’s old haunts or, more recently, followed the excellent recommendations of my sister-in-law and her friends.  I’m trying to find a little bit of my ‘own’ Melbourne and The Age Cheap Eats 2012 is a handy little guide that is helping me to find it and led us to the Burger Lounge.  The guide claims that you can eat well at any of the eateries for $30 a head for two courses, excluding drinks.  This has become our challenge – we’re not allowed to spend more than $30 each at any of the restaurants included in the guide.

This isn’t difficult at our new favourite eatery – the Classic Burger is just $9.95 although my favourite, the Salmon Burger, is a little more expensive at around $13.00.  The buns are proper buns (La Madre Bakery Sourdough, pumpkin seed-topped, very soft) and the (locally sourced, free range/hormone-free) meat cooked to perfection.  The boys love it here and have been bribed encouraged to join us on a couple of house-seeking missions with the promise of a burger for lunch.

Thankfully, we’ve found a house now and will be moving in a couple of weeks – the burgers are great but there are only so many even we can eat!

A neighbour of my Mother-in-Law has a kumquat (or Chinese orange, apparently) bush positively heaving with ripe fruit.  At least we think it is a kumquat bush, the fruits are the right size, colour etc but are rounder than I remember them to be.

I must put it out of my mind as I have only been here a few days and don’t know the neighbour at all.

In the meantime I have been distracting myself with other citrussy activities.  It seems that nearly every garden in Melbourne has at least one lemon tree and a visit to a friend with a lemon tree proved fruitful (although he probably regretted it after the boys pulled rather too enthusiastically at the branches to pick the lemons).

We decided to make lemon and lime leaf (something else readily available here) jelly.  My eldest was beside himself with excitement and kept telling the youngest that he had to go for a nap so that we could do cooking.  He forgets that his brother now understands what he is saying and, needless to say, did not comply when he thought there might be something interesting to sabotage.

It turned out that a 1:1 ratio of lemon juice to water was not the right ratio to make lemon jelly appealing to most palettes.  My eldest loved it but it was too sharp for everyone else. He was quite pleased about that and merrily finished the entire bowl alone.

Things couldn’t be more different from a year ago when I first started writing this blog.  A walk past my local mulberry bush and the familiar hedgerows and plum trees near my house  a couple of weeks ago was disappointing in some ways, although probably closer to how things should be at this time of year, as they were yet not heavy with ripe fruit as they had been the year before but full of promising green berries waiting for the summer sun.  I too am waiting for the summer sun but will have a longer wait this year as I am now in a different hemisphere and have been plunged into the depths of an Australian Winter (which, it turns out, is marginally cooler than a British Summer). 

There has not been a lot of baking in the Bread for the Boys household over recent months but rather a lot of travelling, jet-lag and frantic packing and now, feeling as if I am waking from a rather confusing dream, I find that I have (s)emigrated. The Boys, all being dual citizens have emigrated proper but I have merely (s)emigrated on account of a not-quite-ready spouse visa. So, I wait, in tourist mode and think about another adventure when I need to leave the country again in three months time. 

There have, of course, been many distressing Goodbyes over recent weeks, mostly to family and friends of the two- and four- legged variety.  And then there was my sourdough starter.  Having become slightly obsessed with watching Border Security: Australia’s Front Line I realised that taking it with me was simply not an option. 

So here I am, ready to start again, with exciting foodie adventures ahead of me!

Sweet-heart but no sweet-tooth?

It is definitely the case with my husband so, in a break from my usual rustic style, I designed these cupcake-style love buns with a Valentine’s Day brunch in mind.  With all the cutesiness of a cupcake but most definitely savoury flavour they were made with in-season beetroot, walnuts, a slow-fermented bread dough and a cream cheese topping.  They were sure to be a hit. 

Or so I thought.  My husband, my biggest fan yet most discerning critic, ‘got’ the idea and thought the bread tasted delicious but the red bread/pink icing concept was just a bit too confusing for his brain in a Heston kind of way (but not in a good way, unfortunately)!  Apparently my labour of love was ‘tasty, but weird’.  Not being a cake-man I’m not sure he understood the slightly ironic red velvet reference either.  This had been my fear from the start.  It is amazing the way the brain is wired to expect something that looks a certain way to taste a certain way.  Even when I was shaping the dough I kept thinking I could smell raspberries.

I will make this bread again but I will skip the muffin cases and pink ‘frosting’ and bill them correctly as beetroot and walnut rolls in keeping with my usual style, or maybe make a tin loaf, with plain white cream cheese served in a bowl on the side. 

This was my original recipe but, you have been warned, it might not have the effect you were hoping for.  Perhaps needless to say, I didn’t bother cooking these today and I’ve settled for pink fizz and a take away!

Ingredients

Malt house Bread Flour – 100g

Strong White Flour – 100g

Water – 150ml

Salt – 1 tsp

Yeast – 1tsp

Walnuts- 50g, chopped (plus extra for decorating, optional)

Butter – 20g (plus extra for greasing)

Beetroot – 100g (around one medium beetroot)

Cream cheese, good quality – 250g

Milk – 1tbsp

Method

Two days before baking:

Briefly mix the malt house flour with 100ml of water and the yeast in a bowl to form a sponge.  Cover and leave at room temperature overnight.

One day before baking:

Cook the beetroot until tender (I cooked a whole bunch and made a beetroot salad with the excess), allow to cool, then grate with a coarse grater. 

Put the cream cheese in a blender and add small amounts of the grated beetroot, blending between additions until you are happy with the colour (probably about one and a half teaspoons if you are aiming for baby-pink rather than shocking-pink).

Melt the butter in a small saucepan, remove from the heat and stir in the walnuts.  Set aside to cool a little.

Put the sponge in a large bowl and add the strong white flour and remaining water and salt. Mix with a wooden spoon to form a rough dough and then stir in the remaining beetroot and buttered walnuts.  Knead for about ten minutes until you see glutinous strands forming.  The dough is very soft and sticky so will not come together as a cohesive dough at this point.  If you prefer you can knead the dough in a machine with a dough hook or mix vigorously with a wooden spoon.

Cover the bowl and chill in a fridge overnight (or at least for several hours).

On the big day:

Once chilled the dough should be much easier to handle. 

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface (you can use white flour or semolina flour) and divide into twelve small pieces.  Shape each into a small ball.

Line a muffin tin with twelve muffin cases (brush the interior with a little butter).  Place a dough ball into each of the cases and leave to rise, covered, for about an hour to an hour and a half at room temperature.

Preheat your oven to the highest temperature (around 230C).  Bake the rolls for around 10 minutes, until they are lightly browned on top.

Remove the rolls to a cooling rack.

When the rolls have cooled completely add the milk to the cream cheese and use it to top the rolls.  You can make a classic ‘cupcake rose swirl’ using an icing bag and a Wilton 2D nozzle and ice anti-clockwise from the centre outwards. 

 

 

Had I known that a hot water bottle was going to cure so many of my culinary ailments I would have invested in a dedicated kitchen one years ago.  I’m specifically talking about anything needing a bit of prolonged fermentation in conditions a little warmer than a British kitchen in winter.  My slightly floppy yoghurt-making attempts were revolutionised in the early part of last year with the simple addition of my husband’s blue hot water bottle and, just a few weeks before the year was out, I got sourdough sorted.

The temperature in my kitchen fluctuates a lot and I don’t have an airing cupboard so although I seem to remember I once got a rye sourdough started successfully (what on earth happened to that?) my attempts to bring a wheat sourdough starter to life had not been very successful.

I think I was also suffering from a bit of commitment phobia.  I mean, you hear stories, don’t you?  About how you have to feed sourdoughs on a daily basis and can’t go away on holiday anymore (unless you can find someone to feed the sourdough as well as watering the plants and feeding the cat).  I like going on holiday.

Anyway, it turns out that it was all much, much easier than that.

Once again, Andrew Whitley’s recipe from Bread Matters came to the rescue.  It involved quite a few pages of reading so it looks like it might be an involved process but, once you’ve made one loaf and adapted the process slightly to fit your lifestyle, it is no more effort than making any other loaf of bread but the results are something else.  A fantastically open-textured (i.e. holey), chewy, crusty loaf with a depth of flavour that is rarely encountered these days.  The bread keeps for around a week and is fresh enough to eat untoasted for several days.

I started cultivating the starter by putting the required quantity of flour and water in a bowl and fermenting overnight with the aforementioned hot water bottle on top.  Once the starter was established and I had made my first loaf I felt confident to abandon the hot water bottle and just ferment the starter/dough at room temperature.  It has been very reliable so far.  I have scaled up the starter so that I can easily make two loaves at a time and keep the starter in the fridge.  That way I can just bake sourdough once a week if I want to. The night before I want to make my loaves I refresh the starter and leave it at room temperature overnight.  I can then make and bake the final dough any time during the following day and the whole process takes no more than six hours with not too much work on my part.

It has become a Saturday morning ritual in our house to make pikelets.  Or at least try.  I’ve been trying to find the perfect recipe for months.  We have strict criteria (which are largely related to my general laziness and the need for them to be perfect):

- The mixture must be suitable for preparing (quickly) the night before and ready to cook as soon as we wake up on Saturday morning regardless of whether we wake up at seven (likely) or nine (in my dreams).

- The recipe must be suitable for making pikelets and not require me to faff around with crumpet rings.

- The result must be very, very holey and deliciously chewy without any hint of old boot leather.

- There should be no bicarb’ in them as I don’t like the flavour.

- They must be easy enough to make whilst carrying an almost-toddler and singing The Wheels on the Bus ad nauseum.

We seem to have finally cracked it.  The final recipe is somewhere between this Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

recipe (but contains no bicarb’ or milk) and the one in Andrew Whitley’s Bread Matters and uses plain flour rather than a strong bread-making flour which is too high in gluten.

Now I just throw all the ingredients into a large bowl the night before (be warned, using a small bowl can easily result in you being met by a pool of gloopy batter advancing across the worktop on your arrival in the kitchen in the morning) , give it a brief whisk with a balloon whisk (this seems to give much better results than using a wooden spoon) and cover the bowl with a plate overnight.

In the morning I thoroughly heat two lightly oiled, heavy based, frying pans to a moderate temperature before cooking three ladelfuls of batter at a time in each.  They need to be cooked on one side until the top is just set and then flipped over for a minute or two to brown on top.  My recipe makes about twenty so there should be a few left over for the following day (or maybe not).

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 193 other followers