Bready Things

Corn Dollies For Lammas

Lammas marks the halfway point between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. It is the first of the Harvest Festivals and is usually celebrated in the Southern Hemisphere on February 1st. This year I decided to get into the spirit of Lammas by exploring Corn Dollies.

Corn Dollies are traditionally made for Lammas. They are made from a variety of grains and crafted into an assortment of different shapes. Corn Dollies can be used as good luck charms or as a home for the Spirit of the Grain.

In ancient Pagan culture, the Spirit of the Grain was believed to live in the crops. When the crops were harvested, the Grain Spirit was left homeless. A Corn Dolly was made from the last sheafs of the harvest and offered as a winter home for the Grain Spirit. When the new planting season arrived, the Corn Dolly would be ploughed back into the earth so the Grain Spirit could return to its home amongst the crops. If I can get my crafting act together, I may make a Corn Dolly for next Lammas. 

For this Lammas I used my culinary skills to make edible Cornbread Dollies. I usually make some type of cornbread  for Lammas, so this year I thought I would make sweet cornbread that could be cut into shapes using cookie cutters. In honour of the Grain Spirit, I used gingerbread women and men cookie cutters to make little corn people. They are too cute to eat. Well almost! 🙂

Cornbread Dollies

Special Equipment
Gingerbread women and men cookie cutters

Ingredients
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 eggs
1/4 cup honey
60g unsalted butter, melted and lightly cooled
1 cup buttermilk

Instructions
Preheat oven to 200C /400F.
Line a baking pan with baking paper. (I use a 18cmx32cm / 7.5”x13” sized pan).
Mix together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a medium sized bowl.
In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and honey until combined.
Add the melted butter and buttermilk and beat until combined.
Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined.
Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until firm and golden.
Allow to cool slightly before cutting into shapes with your gingerbread people cookie cutters.
If you don’t have gingerbread cookie cutters you can use a knife to cut into shapes.

A Day For Fairy Bread

November 24th is Fairy Bread Day!

Fairy Bread is an Australian treat, comprised of buttered white bread sprinkled with hundreds and thousands. There is no real recipe for this sweet but there are a few non-binding rules. The bread should be sliced white bread, the spread can be butter or margarine, and the sprinkles must be round, coloured hundreds and thousands and not the rod shaped ones. (Hundreds and thousands are also known as nonpareils sprinkles). Fairy Bread is usually sliced into triangles with the crust left on.

classic fairy bread

Fairy Bread was first mentioned in a 1920’s Hobart newspaper article which reported children eating it at a party. The creation of Fairy Bread may have been inspired by a Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem called “Fairy Bread” published in A Child’s Garden of Verses in 1885.

“Fairy Bread”
Come up here, O dusty feet!

Here is fairy bread to eat.
Here in my retiring room,
Children, you may dine
On the golden smell of broom
And the shade of pine;
And when you have eaten well,
Fairy stories hear and tell.

Normally I’m a bit of a rebel and love to play around with recipes, but in the case of Fairy Bread, I’m a traditionalist! If you really don’t like crusts, I think cutting them off is fine. I also think cutting or rolling the bread into creative shapes is an acceptable tweak and a way to get creative with a basic, but very tasty, recipe. 🙂

puffin & scroll

I’ve recently discovered a less messy way to get the hundreds and thousands onto the bread. Instead of covering the buttered bread with the hundreds and thousands, which usually leads to the round, sugary balls sliding off the bread and rolling all over the kitchen, pour the hundreds and thousands onto a plate and press the bread butter side down into the hundreds and thousands. This is particularly helpful if you’ve cut your bread into unusual shapes.

starry bread

Happy Fairy Bread Day!

Eggs For The Equinox

The September Equinox has come and gone, ushering one part of the world into autumn and the other into spring. I’m in the southern hemisphere so I celebrated the Spring Equinox.

Eggs are often featured at Spring Equinox celebrations as they are a symbol of life and rebirth. One of the ways I like to honour spring is by dyeing boiled eggs. Unlike the iconic red eggs for Easter, Equinox eggs are usually multicoloured, reflecting the many colours of spring as life is reborn after winter. After the Equinox, I wanted to make something special with the leftover boiled eggs.

After a bit of research I discovered a recipe for Creamed Eggs on Toast. The dish consists of chopped boiled eggs folded into a béchamel sauce and served over toast. There is a variation called Eggs Goldenrod which reserves the egg yolks so you can crumble them over the top of the finished dish. The golden colour of the yolks is meant to resemble the goldenrod flower. 

I wanted my yolks mixed into the béchamel sauce but chose to finish my dish with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese instead. This is a simple but delicious recipe that you can have fun experimenting with. 

Creamed Eggs on Toast

Ingredients
2 hard boiled eggs
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup milk
toast for serving
freshly grated parmesan for serving

Instructions
Peel and roughly chop the eggs.
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
Add the flour and salt then whisk constantly until smooth and bubbly.
Gradually whisk in the milk and keep whisking until the mixture is smooth and thick.
Add the chopped eggs and stir until the eggs are warmed.
Serve over buttered toast and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Rise To The Occasion

When the pandemic hit, I was expecting some food-stuffs might be difficult to get. What I wasn’t expecting was that dry yeast would be one of them. Wanting to make some bread, and not confident to try making sourdough, I opted for an ingredient that I haven’t used since the 1980’s – fresh yeast.

Luckily the local delicatessen had a small amount of fresh yeast in stock which I used to make Herb and Onion Bread. The recipe makes two loaves so you can freeze one and eat one straight away. It’s delicious straight from the oven and slathered with butter. It’s great the next day too.

Ironically, as I was writing this piece, I noticed that dry yeast was finally back on the shelves. 🙂

Herb and Onion Bread

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Ingredients
25g unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
300ml buttermilk
1 tablespoon honey
15g fresh yeast
2 tablespoons dried herbs of your choice
1 + 1/2 cups white flour
1 + 1/2 cups wholemeal flour
1 + 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
milk for brushing
sesame seeds for sprinkling

Instructions
Grease and flour 2 loaf tins.
Place the butter and onion in a small frying pan and cook gently until the onions are soft but not browned. Set aside.
In a small saucepan heat the buttermilk and honey until warm but not boiling.
Pour into a small bowl.
Mix in the fresh yeast.
Sprinkle with the dried herbs.
Place in a warm spot and allow to bloom for 15 minutes until the mixture becomes foamy.
In a large bowl, mix together the white flour, wholemeal flour and salt.
Make a well in the centre and pour in the cooked onions and yeast mixture. Mix together until combined and the dough forms a ball.
Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.
Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl.
Cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and leave in a warm spot for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.
Punch the dough down, divide into 2 and place in prepared pans.
Brush lightly with milk and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Cover and leave in a warm place for 45 to 60 minutes or until doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 190C / 375F.
Bake for 30 to 45 minutes or until the loaves are well risen and golden brown. To check if bread is cooked, carefully remove one loaf from the pan and tap the bottom. It will sound hollow when cooked.
If the bread is not cooked, return to the oven and keep checking frequently until cooked.
Allow to cool slightly before turning out of the pans.
Serve warm or cold.

A Taste Of Autumn In Spring

The 8th of November is Bram Stoker’s birthday. Stoker was born in autumn in 1847 during the sign of Scorpio. His most famous creation is the gothic novel Dracula. 

Every year I like to celebrate his birthday by doing something special. This year I treated myself to an autumnal breakfast in the heart of spring.

The Coffeeologist is a cafe which recently opened near me. It’s been getting rave reviews so I couldn’t wait to go. The menu looked good and there were a few items I wanted to try. The Red Velvet Hotcakes were tempting as was the selection of sourdough fruit breads, but the winner was the Spiced Brioche. 

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My plate arrived and it looked beautiful. A pool of burnt apple puree supported a thick slice of spiced brioche French toast topped with a rasher of maple bacon, hazelnut cream and scattered with almond granola. I took one bite and thought “This tastes of Autumn!” Memories of Halloweens past and present and ideas for future Halloweens swirled in my mind while my taste buds were blown away by the cacophony of autumnal delights. I can think of no better way to celebrate the birth of the author of Dracula than with a Halloween treat. 🙂

This is my basic recipe for French Toast. Dress it up with a drizzle of maple syrup or go all out and add as many seasonal accompaniments as you like!

French Toast
Ingredients
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
butter or oil for frying
2 slices of bread*
maple syrup
seasonal accompaniments

Instructions
Lightly beat the egg in a bowl.
Add the milk and beat until combined.
Melt a small knob of butter or heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
Dip bread slices in the batter.
Place the bread into the frying pan and cook for 2 – 3 minutes or until golden brown.
Turn the slices over and cook the other side until golden brown, adding more butter or oil as needed.
Place on a serving plate and drizzle with maple syrup.
Add whatever seasonal accompaniments you desire.

*I usually use sliced white bread but you can use whatever bread you like.

Slowing Down For Winter

With winter in full swing it is time for slow cooking. One of my favourite winter meals is corned beef gently simmered in spices. Start this recipe early in the day and let your mouth water as the house slowly fills with the aroma of midwinter spices. Hot slices of corned beef go great with vegetables and parsley sauce. The next day reward yourself with cold corned beef sandwiches topped with sauerkraut and sour cream.

Corned Beef

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Ingredients
3 stalks of celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1.5kg corned beef or silverside
15 peppercorns
8 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
4 cups water

Instructions
Place the carrots and celery in a slow cooker.
Rinse the corned beef then place on top of the vegetables.
Add the remaining ingredients.
Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

Autumnal Nights

The Autumn Equinox is here and I’m excited. Even though there still may be hot days ahead, the Autumn Equinox signals a shift in power between day and night. The Equinox is a time of balance, a time when the hours of day and night are relatively equal. After the Autumn Equinox, the long days and short nights will slowly be overtaken by shorter days and longer nights. As a creature of the night, I’m looking forward to a return to the dark half of the year.

One of the things I love doing in cool weather is curling up with a good book. The one I’m reading now is The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, edited by Kate White. It is a collection of over 100 recipes from mystery writers. Each recipe is accompanied by fascinating facts about the author and their murderous works.

My recipe below is adapted from Margaret Maron’s recipe for Granny Knott’s Baked Toast which is a French toast recipe which gestates overnight before being baked and devoured the next day. I’ve added autumnal gingerbread spices to the recipe and serve it with an optional scoop of ice cream and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Gingerbread French Toast
“An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy gingerbread,” wrote William Shakespeare in Love’s Labour’s Lost. This delicious and warming bread is definitely worth a penny or two.

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Ingredients
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
75g (1/3 cup) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons treacle*
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
brioche loaf**
2 eggs
1 + 1/2 cups milk

for serving
vanilla ice cream (try experimenting with different ice cream flavours)
maple syrup

Instructions
Sprinkle the sugar over the base of a 20cm x 20cm (8 x 8 inch) baking pan.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan.
Add the treacle, ginger, cinnamon and cloves and stir until combined.
Pour into prepared pan.
Cut brioche into enough 1.5cm (1/2 inch) slices to fit snugly into the baking pan.
Place the slices in the pan.
Beat the eggs in a bowl.
Add the milk and beat until combined.
Pour over the bread.
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
While the oven is warming, remove pan from fridge.
Carefully pour any unabsorbed liquid into a bowl, making sure you don’t disturb the bread.
Spoon over the top of the bread.
Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until the top is browned.
Serve with a dollop of ice cream and a drizzle of maple syrup.

*you can substitute molasses for the treacle.
**you can use any heavy bread like sourdough or wholemeal.

A Roll By Any Other Name

The Autumn Equinox in Australia will take place on Wednesday, 21st March at around 3:15am. It is a time when the hours of day and night are equal. It heralds the beginning of cooler weather and Winter on the horizon. When I think of the Autumn Equinox I think of harvest time, of reaping what we have sown. I also think of bread 🙂

As one of my passions is researching food, I tend to find inspiration for recipes almost anywhere. Recently I had a most entertaining conversation with friends, while having drinks in my favourite bar. I was talking about my recent trip to America, which included a visit to Salem, Massachusetts. Talking about Salem flowed to a discussion about witches, which in turn led to a passionate discussion on religion, as so often happens after a few drinks. One of the patrons brought up the dead sea scrolls, or, as he called them, “the dead sea rolls!” After we all finished laughing, my foodie friend Pete and I turned to each and both said “but they sound delicious!” We spent a few minutes discussing how we would create these salty rolls. We both agreed they should be boiled in water and sprinkled with sea salt before baking. It wasn’t long before my mind turned to bagels.

Bagels are usually boiled in water sweetened with malt extract, but these heavenly rolls are boiled in salted water. This makes them a bit saltier than normal bagels so be careful how much salt you sprinkle on them before baking. If you don’t have access to salt from the dead sea, ordinary sea salt will do 🙂

My recipe for traditional bagels – and other tasty recipes – will be available in my soon to be 
published travelogue/cookbook!

Dead Sea Rolls (bagels)

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Ingredients
1 + 1/4 cups lukewarm water
1 teaspoon honey
3 cups strong white flour
7g (1 teaspoon) dry yeast
2 teaspoons sea salt
extra sea salt for poaching liquid
1 egg white
2 teaspoons cold water
sesame seeds for topping
sea salt flakes for topping

Instructions
Whisk together the water and honey in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Attach the dough hook.
Add the flour, yeast and salt.
Knead on low speed for 8 – 10 minutes or until elastic.
Cover with plastic wrap.
Place in a warm spot and allow to prove for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
Lightly punch down the dough.
Separate into 10 pieces then shape into balls.
Gently flatten each ball.
Make a hole in the centre of each ball using your thumb or the handle of a wooden spoon.
Twirl the bagel until you make a hole approximately 1/3 diameter of bagel.
Place on baking trays lined with baking paper.
Cover and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 220C / 425F.
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.
Reduce to a simmer.
Place 2 – 3 bagels in the simmering water.
Poach for 2 minutes, turning over at the halfway point.
Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a tea towel to drain.
Repeat with remaining bagels.
Place 5 bagels back on each baking tray, keeping them apart.
Beat together the egg white and water in a cup.
Brush the mixture over the top of the bagels.
Sprinkle with chosen toppings.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until golden brown and the bottoms sound hollow when tapped.
Allow to cool on a wire rack.

A Very Full Moon

This week’s coming Full Moon is going to be a big one. It’s being called a Super Blue Blood Moon and, depending on which part of the world you are in, you may experience it all!

The main event is the total lunar eclipse. During a total lunar eclipse the Earth comes between the Sun and the Moon and covers the Moon with its shadow. During this time the Moon can appear red which has led to the term Blood Moon. This eclipse will be fully visible in
Melbourne, Australia from around 10pm January 31st to around 3am February 1st.

A Super Moon is when a Full or New Moon occurs when the Moon is in its closest orbit to the Earth, making it look larger. While it won’t be the closest orbit, the Moon will be very close to the Earth making it almost a Super Moon.

In some parts of the world it is also a Blue Moon which is the second Full Moon in a month. It’s not a Blue Moon in Melbourne so we won’t be experiencing a Super Blue Blood Moon, we’ll be having a Super Blood Moon instead. Our Blue Moon will be at the end of March and will coincide with Easter.

If you follow a seasonal calendar, this Full Moon also coincides with a major festival – Imbolg in the northern hemisphere and Lammas in the southern hemisphere. Lammas is the mid point between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox and is the first harvest festival of the year. Lammas is also known as Lughnasadh. The name Lughnasadh is derived from the name of the Celtic God Lugh whereas Lammas is derived from an Old English term for “loaf mass.” Traditional foods for Lammas/Lughnasadh are breads baked from new crops.

Inspired by my recent visit to America, I just had to bake cornmeal muffins flavoured with pecans and maple syrup. These sweet delights are perfect fare for a powerful harvest Full Moon.

Pecan and Maple Cornmeal Muffins

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Ingredients
1 cup flour, sifted
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup finely ground pecans
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda (bicarbonate)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 eggs, beaten
125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

Instructions
Preheat oven to 200F / 400F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper liners.
Mix together the flour, cornmeal, pecans, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium sized bowl.
In a separate bowl, beat together the milk, maple syrup, egg and melted butter. (Don’t worry if it looks curdled. It should come together when you add it to the flour.)
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.
Stir gently until just combined. Do not over mix, as the muffins will turn out tough.
Spoon batter evenly into the paper cases.
Bake for 10 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean.
Place on a wire rack to cool.

The Coffin List

No, this isn’t some macabre list of dead people, or people on my hit list. Nor is it a review of coffins. The coffin list is my name for a bucket list. I don’t like buckets – they remind me of work – but I do like coffins 🙂 To celebrate Imbolc, the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, I thought I would do some early spring cleaning and explore my coffin list.

I always hated having a list of things to do before I die, so I never made a coffin list. But when I had a few health scares in my mid thirties, I took time to look at my life and see if there was anything I really wanted to do. Only one thing came to mind – visit Romania. A diet of vampire mythology from a young age meant I was entranced by Transylvania – the land beyond the forest. I realised I would actually be sad if I never visited. So, for my fortieth birthday, I made the trip to Romania. You can read about this memorable trip in “An Archetypal Homeland” and “In the Footsteps of Jonathan Harker“.

Emboldened by having put a nail in the coffin of my first and only coffin list dream, I thought I would add Whitby to the list. Whitby is an English seaside town in Yorkshire and a major inspiration for Bram Stoker when he was writing his novel “Dracula.” I planned to go there for my fiftieth birthday as part two of my Dracula adventure. That birthday has come and gone and sadly I didn’t get to Whitby, but it’s still on my list!

Happily I did mange to hammer three very important nails into my coffin list recently. This July my partner and I took a journey to the USA to visit a dear friend on Whidbey Island, celebrate July the 4th in Salem the Witch City and visit puffins in Maine. As a bonus, we also got to meet a baby sloth in Boston.

Over the next fews weeks I’ll be sharing this exciting trip with you including recipes inspired from my travels.

For now I would like to share an earlier recipe of mine for Coffin Bread. I think it is most appropriate for a Coffin List post 🙂

Coffin Bread

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Ingredients
for the soup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons plain flour
3 cups chicken stock
450g cauliflower florets
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
pomegranate molasses for drizzling

for the coffin bread
1 small rectangular loaf of bread (approximately L 15cm, W 10cm, H 10cm)
olive oil

for the garlic croutons
leftover bread pieces from the coffin bread
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup olive oil
pinch of sea salt

Method
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Make the soup by melting the butter in a large saucepan.
Add the onion and cook until softened.
Mix in the flour and the chicken stock, stir until combined.
Add the cauliflower and salt.
Simmer for 15 minutes or until the cauliflower is soft and cooked.
Puree the soup then return to the saucepan.
Simmer gently until the bread and croutons are cooked.
Make the coffin bread while the soup is simmering.
Using a sharp knife, carefully cut a lid off the top of the bread.
Cut out most of the bread inside, creating a basket to hold the filling.
Lightly brush outside and inside the bread and lid with olive oil.
Place bread basket on a baking tray. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden on the inside.
While bread basket is cooking make the croutons by tearing up the leftover pieces of bread and placing in a bowl with the garlic, olive oil and salt. Toss through and place on an oven tray with the bread lid. Bake in the oven with the bread basket until golden.
The lid and croutons may cook quicker than the basket so check and remove when ready.
When bread basket is cooked, place on a serving plate.
If the soup isn’t ready yet, switch off the oven but leave the bread in the oven to keep warm.
Pour the soup into the bread basket.
Drizzle with pomegranate molasses.
Serve the bread lid and croutons on the side.