Another cookbook made it’s way across my desk this week and this one is just a little bit different from the norm. “The Food Clock”, by Fast Ed Halmagyi (Harper Collins), takes current fondness for the thoroughly sensible trend of eating seasonally and gives it quite a whimsical little twist that I’ve not really seen before. Using the device of a fictional story featuring his alter-ego Monseuir Henri Petit-Pois whose discovery of a clock which tells what to eat rather than the time, Fast Ed walks us through the four seasons focusing on the peak produce for each one.
Fast Ed Halmagyi is well known in Australia as a chef, TV presenter, radio host and author, with three previous cookbooks under his belt. The child of Hungarian parents, Fast Ed grew up on Hungarian cuisine, but is well known for his fondness for fresh, seasonal, produce prepared simply and easily. This new book of his aims to help those of us who are responsible for the family meals move out of our cooking ruts and away from the same meals that we prepare over and over, encouraging us to take advantage of the bounty of each individual season. At the same time, he wanted to give the whole cookbook format something of a gee-up, hence the novel approach of using a fanciful narrative format.
I’m not really sure that the story aspect of this book does it for me, although it is a pleasant new approach for the genre. However, what does do it for me are the gorgeous photo’s, illustrations and styling of the book. It is beautifully presented from the perfectly composed and lit cover shot of a dapper and slightly brooding Fast Ed, to the delicate story illustrations and the rustic presentation and styling of the food. And, let’s be honest, the food is what we’re really after.
Divided into Hot, Cool, Cold and Warm O’Clocks and the quarter-hour graduations, each of the “The Food Clock” sections features a selection of the seasonal produce available, but not quite in the order you might expect. This can make specific recipes difficult to find, but that is what the index is for. By setting the book out in this way, the reader (and cook) is encouraged to wander around the sections and is much more likely to be tempted to try something new to them, than if they were to head straight for the dish they wanted. I think this is a gentle, but clever way to nudge us out of our staid cooking routines, opening our eyes to other meal-time possibilities.
The recipes themselves are fresh, simple and delicious, featuring dishes such as Pan Roasted Duck with (dried) Figs, Orange and Dandelion greens, Warm Camembert with Fricassee of Mushrooms, Crispy Quail with Mandarin Salt and Apricot Stuffing, Cherry Pie and Honey Petit Pots de Creme – all of them just a teensy bit special, but well within the reach of any home cook and not requiring the purchase of ingredients which may never otherwise see the light of day.
There are also quite few baking recipes, including several breads. I’ve been a little slack with my baking efforts of late so I decided to give one of Fast Ed’s bread recipes a whirl, knowing how much my family loves to come home on a cold evening to house smelling of fresh-baked bread. I was a little sceptical as to how this recipe for the traditional French fougasse would turn out, but the end result was one of the most delicious and fluffiest breads I have made in ages – largely due, I suspect, to the long proving times.
Olive & Rosemary Fougasse
- 500 gms strong bread flour not ordinary plain flour
- 3/4 5.5gms sachet of dried yeast
- 300 mls water
- 50 gms rye flour
- 2 tsp salt
- 150 gms pitted green olives chopped
- 150 gms pitted black olives chopped
- leaves from 6 rosemary sprigs
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Combine 150 gms of the bread flour with half the yeast & 150 mls of the water in bowl of an electric mixer & beat with dough hook until smooth & elastic. Cover with plastic wrap & leave for 3 hours, until dough has risen then collapsed.
- Add the remaining bread flour, yeast & water, the rye flour & salt - mix on slow for 5-10 minutes until dough is smooth.
- Turn on to a floured surface and knead in the olives, rosemary and half the olive oil until well distributed. Place in bowl, cover with plastic wrap again and leave for 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 240C.
- Divide the dough into two equal pieces, then stretch out to form rough triangles on paper lined baking trays. Slash deeply, cover and leave to rise for 30 minutes.
- Bake for 15 minutes, until golden. Place immediately on wire racks and brush with remaining oil.
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Earlier this year I spent an afternoon in a sourdough baking class with Gabriella of The Hills Baking School. I love baking and have baked much of our bread, rolls and focaccia over the years but had been attempting – unsuccessfully – to make the leap into sourdough baking. Gabriella is a microbiologist with a Ph.D in probiotics whose unrequited yearning for the distinctive handmade breads of her Sardinian childhood married up with her interest in fermentation and ultimately led to a complete career change. She now runs a successful boutique sourdough bakery whose products are produced in very limited numbers, but are sublime in the extreme – if you’ll excuse my hyperbole.
As part of her business she also conducts popular baking classes for small groups and I was very pleased indeed to finally get into one. Gabriella’s knowledge of fermentations, flour, sourdough baking techniques and the microbiology behind this ancient domestic skill are mind boggling and matched only by her enthusiasm in communicating some small part of this information to as many people as she can reach. The classes are intensive and information-dense, but I came away with some of her starter, a much better understanding of sourdough and the ability to produce a very satisfactory loaf at home – finally.
We met up again after the class and chatted about planning a visit to the source of her and my flour supplies – South Australia’s only remaining industry-founding and traditional family owned/operated flour mill, Laucke‘s. Milling was once a thriving business here in South Australia, with each region or town having it’s own mill and this continued to be the case until as recently as the 1950’s when larger multinational milling companies began to move in, creating the kind of competition that smaller, family owned millers couldn’t match. Laucke’s is the last of the original family owned milling businesses left in Australia.
It took us some time, but yesterday we met up in Strathalbyn, the South Australian home of Laucke’s (they have a mill in Victoria now, too) and were fortunate enough to spend the morning in the company of Mark Laucke, Managing Director of Laucke Flour Milling. Mark is possessed of an astonishing repository of information on all aspects of wheat, it’s properties and how best to extract them and is no less passionate about sharing his knowledge. Mark was enormously generous with his time and, mindful of what a remarkable opportunity this was, I tried to absorb as much as possible from both of these inimitable intellects.
What came across most clearly is what a complex ingredient flour and the wheat it is made of really is. Wheat is rich in protein, complex carbohydrates and nutrients but the quality and amounts of these will vary dependent upon a great many factors. The variety of wheat is not the only factor to consider – as the region in which it is grown, the soil type, the soil additions which are used and the rainfall will all impact significantly on the nutrient level of the grain. The nutrient level of the flour made will be further impacted by the milling methods used, with much commercial flour being produced with quantity more than quality as the over-riding imperative.
Mark is a passionate baker as well as miller and is determined to produce a high quality product for his customers. After blending, cleaning and conditioning the grain (moistening it slightly with water) Laucke’s use a three stage system of sieves and rollers which is designed to reduce the grain, resulting in various flours – depending upon their intended purpose – without damaging the wheat germ or compromising the nutrient content of the flour.
After we had our chat with Mark we went on a tour of the mill which is a thrillingly active and noisy place. It exudes a slight air of danger from the rapidly moving machines and offered a frisson of fear from my recently acquired knowledge that flour dust is more explosive than petrol fumes! As we wandered around the mill, trailing after Mark through a dusty haze, we were able to see the progress of the grain as it passed through the various stages and follow it’s path from the conditioning troughs right through to the packing area. Mark’s is a man who wears his heart on his sleeve and his commitment to his product and his clients is genuine and sincere. I’ve used Laucke’s Wallaby flour for years now and was thrilled to see that my baking outcome is just as important to Mark Laucke as is that of his commercial bakery customers.
Laucke’s have kindly allowed me to include one of the recipes from their website to which my family has become particularly attached – their cinnamon scrolls. These are guaranteed to have everyone falling over themselves in the rush to get to them. I prefer to use butter instead of margarine, though, and sometimes make up a double batch and freeze half for later – if I can claw them away from the starving hordes.
|Laucke’s Cinnamon Scrolls|
- 400g Laucke Wallaby Flour
- 6g Laucke Bakers Yeast
- 50g White Sugar
- 3g Salt
- 60g Egg
- 40g Softened Margarine
- 90ml Milk
- 65ml Water
- 220g Brown Sugar
- 7g Ground Cinnamon
- 115g Softened Margarine
- Raisins (optional)
- Heat the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, and then remove from heat. Mix in margarine, stir until melted. Let cool until lukewarm
- In a large mixing bowl, combine approx 2 ¼ cups of Laucke Flour, the required amount of Laucke Bakers Yeast, sugar and salt then mix well. Add the water, egg and milk and beat well. Add the remaining Laucke Flour, ½ cup at a time, stirring well after each addition.
- When the dough has just come together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Approximately 5 minutes. MIXING AND KNEADING
- Cover the dough with a damp cloth and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
- In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, cinnamon and softened margarine
- Roll out dough into a 30cm x 20cm rectangle. Spread dough with filling mixture. Sprinkle with raisins if desired
- Roll up dough and pinch seam to seal. Cut into 12 equal size rolls and place cut side up in 12 lightly oiled muffin trays
- Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes. PROOFING
- Bake in a preheated oven 190 ̊C for 20 minutes, or until browned. Remove from the muffin pan to cool.
- Serve warm or top with icing.
For loads of information on Laucke’s, their history, products and more delicious recipes head over to their website here.
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When the baking bug bites me I seldom make much effort to resist. I adore the yeasty smell of proving dough almost as much as I love the smell of baking bread, the sweet smell of spices baking in soft rolls and the pungent smell of rosemary or oregano in oven fresh focaccia. The bug bit me big time on Sunday and I spent a happy day in the kitchen baking some cinnamon scrolls and ham, cheese and olive focaccia for the weekday lunchboxes. In the back of my brain my mind was mulling over the remains of my most recent produce box from Jupiter Creek Farm and what brilliantly inspired 😉 idea I could create for this week’s seasonal post. Lurking dejectedly in the corner were the last of the grapes from the box. Somehow they had missed out on the attentions of the kids and were fading fast when, thankfully, the not-always-reliable light bulb went off in my head.
The focaccia dough recipe I use is one I lifted and adapted from my lovely friend Celia over at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. Like most of my favourite recipes it is ridiculously simple and lends itself beautifully to loads of further adaptions. Armed with that and the remaining grapes I had the makings of something I’ve been meaning to get around to for ages – schiacciata! A traditional autumn snack in Tuscany, schiacciata celebrates the grape harvest by combining the popular Italian flatbread, focaccia with the last of seasons wine grapes. While basically a simple peasant food, it can be found gracing the shelves of the best bakeries and tables early in the season. The word “schiacciata” means squashed or flattened in Italian, but this is not really necessary as the heat of the oven will split the grape skins, thus releasing and caramelising the sweet juice. I went down the traditional route, using rosemary in mine, but will be varying that with fennel seeds for my next batch. I served it warm with a big splodge of Woodside Cheesewright‘s goat curd and a generous drizzle of vinicotto and was in instant gastronomic glory. This really is one of those simple dishes which is greater than the sum of it’s parts and a perfect long weekend breakfast.
- 500 gms strong bakers flour
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 sachet of instant yeast (8 gms)
- 2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 200 mls milk
- 120 mls water
- 50 mls good olive oil
- Bunch of red grapes or 3/4 cup of raisins
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- Whisk flour, salt, rosemary and yeast together in a large bowl.
- Heat milk and water to blood temperature and add, with oil, to flour.
- Mix all together until combined in a rough dough.
- Cover and stand for 1/2 hr.
- Give it a very quick knead, cover again for 1 hour.
- Roll dough into circle of about 32-34 cm, place on greased and lined oven tray, cover and leave for 20 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 200C.
- Press whole grapes (or raisins) into surface of dough, pushing into dough a little. Drizzle with more olive oil, then sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake at 200C for 15-20 minutes.
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“And the bar tender says to Renee Descartes, “Another beer?” And Descartes says, “I think not” and disappears.”
Winter bared it’s teeth just a little up here on the weekend and on a chilly, grey Sunday afternoon the idea of a hearty lunch in front of a roaring fire held significant appeal – especially if I didn’t have to provide the hearty lunch. There is a very popular boutique brewhouse just up the valley from our town, which serves good hearty fare and, with the two older teenagers refusing to be seen in public with their parents, that left only the youngest to be lured out with promises of dessert.
Sitting in front of the requisite roaring fire, awaiting our meals and admiring the big, shiny beer vats gave me time to think about the role of ales – because beer is, in fact, one of the oldest known beverages with a documented history that can be traced back to 6000 BC. It became popular in the areas of Europe where it was not really possible to grow wine, but was considered barbaric by the Byzantines. Beer was consumed on a daily basis from ancient times in many cultures and often made up a substantial amount of the daily calorific intake of the poorer proportion of the population. While starting the day with a cleansing ale is somewhat frowned upon these days, in Medieval Europe, breakfast for the upper classes was often a long affair of several courses with ale and wine as the beverage, while the first meal of the day for labourers and peasants often consisted of simply bread and ale. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, beer was more readily able to be mass produced, signaling the move away from artisanal manufacture and the beginnings of the giant multinational brewers common now. However, artisanal brewing is not quite dead, as the popularity of our local brewery can attest – there is obviously an interest in tasting and drinking beers of more complex flavours, especially on a lazy Sunday afternoon!.
From what I have heard about his mis-spent youth, The Husband was fairly preoccupied with beer – particularly in his football playing days, but time moves on, waistlines move out and hair vanishes. These days Himself is a pillar of virtue whose occasional tipple is more likely to be a sophisticated red wine and beer is seen mostly in food dishes around here.
Beer, ales and stout give a wonderful richness of flavour to many casseroles and stews and can also be used to make fantastic quick breads. These quick breads don’t use yeast as a raising agent and so are great for a quick loaf. They tend to have a consistency more similar to scones and go brilliantly with any warming winter soup. I used dried tomatoes and cheese in this one, but next time I might try finely chopped rosemary and some pine nuts. You can use cheddar or substitute some parmesan to get the cheesy flavour with less fat. It is important to remove the bread from the pan as soon as you take it out of the oven – otherwise it will get soggy as it cools.
Oh – and I lied about the skittles!
- 500 gms SR flour
- pinch of salt
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 can of beer
- 1/3 cup sundried tomatoes in oil, chopped
- 1 cup grated tasty cheddar (I used about 2/3 cup cheddar and 1/3 grated parmesan)
- Preheat oven to 180C and grease a loaf pan.
- Sift dry ingredients together, add chopped tomatoes and cheese, then stir in liquid ingredients and mix.
- The dough will be sticky, but that’s ok as you don’t have to knead it.
- Tip into pan and bake for approx. 40 minutes.
- Remove from pan immediately and cool on a rack.
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With this quick, no-knead, no-worries bread recipe anyone, even a total novice, can get a homemade loaf of bread on the table!
For the longest time I was intimidated by the idea of working with yeast and making bread. It all seemed just that little bit mysterious and laborious to me – working with what is actually a living organism, kneading, proving and ending up with something crusty and desirable seemed slightly complicated and unlikely to be the outcome for me! Of course, one day I watched a friend make some fresh bread rolls for her family and it was immediately obvious that this was a simple and hugely satisfying past-time and one I embraced wholeheartedly – as my hips can now attest.
For some years I made all our bread, first by hand and later with the help of my trusty Kenwood Chef mixer and it’s dough hook. Later still, I invested in a bread-making machine, although I still occasionally enjoy working out my parental frustrations on a large pile of dough on the bench. I never really saw myself as any sort of ‘earth-mother’, but I am very greedy and there is really nothing to compare to fresh, warm bread covered in butter – mmm.
A little while ago I came across this wonderful little recipe for no-knead bread that is easy and quick enough to send even the most reluctant bread maker out to the kitchen to give it a try. I originally found it somewhere on the internet, but subsequently bought the book called “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day”, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, which has the master recipe and a wealth of variations besides.
If you have ever thought of baking homemade bread then this is the recipe for you and you will soon be turning out beautiful ‘rustic’ loaves, but there are always a few things to remember when baking bread. You should always use “strong flour” or flour labelled “bread flour” as it has a higher gluten content, giving the bread more elasticity enabling it to hold the pockets of CO2 that form. Ordinary cake flour will not give you a proper bread crumb or consistency.
Also, the moisture content needed to make the dough will vary depending on humidity, geographical elevation and sometimes just the use of a new batch of flour so you will need to be a little flexible about it. If the dough seems too stiff just add a little more warm water to loosen it up a bit. The longer you store the dough in the fridge, the more of a “sour dough” taste it will acquire. You can pass this on to subsequent batches by saving a little of the old dough to add to the next batch.
Once you have mastered this no-knead bread there is no end of ways to vary it by adding cheese, herbs, olives, fruit and spices – whatever! I added chopped walnuts and fresh, chopped rosemary to my last loaf which promptly vanished before the camera was even thought of!
(For an even simpler homemade bread recipe, check out my Cheese Batter Bread!
Crusty No-Knead Bread
- 10 gms Freeze-dried Yeast
- 1 & 1/2 tbsp salt
- 6 & 1/2 cups strong bakers flour
- 3-3 & 1/2 cups warm water
- In a large plastic container mix yeast, salt and flour together, then add warm water. If it is too hot to put your finger in, then it is too hot to use and will kill the yeast. Mix dough with a wooden spoon until it is all moistened with no dry bits - dough should be fairly loose. Do not knead it. Loosely cover with lid and leave to rise 2-5 hours. In a large plastic container mix yeast, salt and flour together, then add warm water. If it is too hot to put your finger in, then it is too hot to use and will kill the yeast. Mix dough with a wooden spoon until it is all moistened with no dry bits - dough should be fairly loose. Do not knead it. Loosely cover with lid and leave to rise 2-5 hours.
- At this point, the dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.At this point, the dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.
- When you are ready to bake a loaf just cut off a piece of the dough of the required size. Turn in your hands to lightly stretch the dough, tucking it in on itself underneath to form a ball. Rest the dough for about 45 minutes on a sheet sprinkled with cornmeal.When you are ready to bake a loaf just cut off a piece of the dough of the required size. Turn in your hands to lightly stretch the dough, tucking it in on itself underneath to form a ball. Rest the dough for about 45 minutes on a sheet sprinkled with cornmeal.
- Preheat oven to 210C and after the dough has rested sprinkle with a little flour and slash diagonally on the top with a very sharp blade. Put in oven either on the baking sheet or transfer to a preheated pizza stone.Preheat oven to 210C and after the dough has rested sprinkle with a little flour and slash diagonally on the top with a very sharp blade. Put in oven either on the baking sheet or transfer to a preheated pizza stone.
- Place a tray in the bottom of the oven and put 1-2 cups of hot water in it. The steam produced by this water will give you a lovely crunchy crust on your loaf.Place a tray in the bottom of the oven and put 1-2 cups of hot water in it. The steam produced by this water will give you a lovely crunchy crust on your loaf.
- Bake for 30 minutes or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.Bake for 30 minutes or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.
- Cool on a rack.