The Magic of Yeast Water

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First they came for the hand sanitizer, then they came for the TP. Finally they came for…the flour & yeast? Yeah- The Time of Covid has been a stressful, testing and, let’s face it, downright weird one. Panic induced mob-mentality has led to mass line-ups outside grocery stores and bulk buying of household items in order to weather self-isolation orders and solitude. 

Whether it’s genuine creativity or social media induced compulsion it’s also led to an exponential increase in people home-baking. Despite the majority of grocery market shelves being repopulated with once scare items, a social distance complying stroll through any baking aisle will reveal barren, flour dusted shelves that once accommodated flour of all varieties and it’s habitual partner-in-crime…yeast.

Yeast shortage bedamned! Whilst I realized that I did NOT have the space to accommodate a domestic flour mill, what I could set about investigating was yeast and it’s production. I mean- I’d had already gotten a pretty solid hold on the process of Kombucha brewing -whatever else there is NO shortage of scobies at my house! That process involved yeast and it’s cultivation so how different could growing yeast for baking be? Turns out not so much. Use of a base fruit to cause a fermentation reaction (I use raisins here) and a few more steps. Said reaction then causes the production of yeast with which you can make use of in bread-making. Seems easy right? Well technically it is. BUT don’t expect it to be a speedy process. It takes almost a week to brew the initial yeast water- and that’s BEFORE you actually start on the bread production- which is slow. It seems that making bread by using naturally grown yeast, weather via a dough starter or yeast water, is a slower process than using your packet or jarred variety. 

Please don’t think that I’m nay-saying the process. Quite the opposite in fact. Is the slow lengthy process of brewing and proofing so bad after all? In world now fraught with anxiety and frustration, is spending time on things so bad? Basking in the mindfulness of a task or hobby is hardly disadvantageous. I mean- time isn’t one of those things in shortage right now? Although a lengthy effort to make and bake with yeast water I can definitely say it’s one heck of a rush of elation and satisfaction when cutting in to the final baked loaf.  And I will say it’s a delay well worth waiting for once you taste the final protracted fruits of your labour. Using natural yeast adds so much more character and dimension to your loaf that you’ll never get with the speedy but banal convenience of quick yeast again.

Another positive aspect (if more practical) is that once the initial yeast water is brewed there is minimal, if none at all, upkeep of it in comparison to it’s celebratory sourdough starter cousin. “Apparently” it’s just a process of just drain off the fruit, storing the yeast-rich water in the fridge, using it when needed. You only need to add more components when the source water runs low and you need to make more. (I say “apparently” as I’m in the middle of this process myself – so expect updates!)

I’m still testing out varying methods of dough proofing and crafting, and in doing so am trying a various hodge-podge of principles and methods “a little of this, a little of that”. Initially I used a sourdough method of using a starter and levain. As this method resulted in success (see the final video) it’s the one I detailed here.

*Later in the recipe I use a bench scraper to help with the procedure. Whilst not essential, you can use your hands, it does make the job easier.
I also make reference to something called  “50/50 mix”. This is a half and half mixture of bread flour and rice flour. The smaller, coarser grains of the rice flour helping to overcome dough sticking

 

Yeast water base
  • 4 Tablespoons raisins
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup tepid water
  1. Add all ingredients to a 1 litre bottle (in the photogrpahs below I started off in a Kilner jar but later transferred to a bottle). I’ve used a spare SodaStream bottle but the main thing you want is something that can be sealed and airtight. Mix to shake and leave to ferment in a warm (room temperature) place. I leave it in my pantry. Over the next 4 days shake the bottle at least once a day to ensure than the contents remain mixed and to avoid mould growth on the fruit. Over this time you will gradually see the fruit starting to float and a layer of bubbles form on the surface of the liquid
  2. After the forth day release the cap carefully as the contents will be choc-full of carbonation and fizzing. You should also notice an odour reminiscent of beer/ over-ripe fruit. You’ll know it- it’s pretty distinctive. Once the contents have settled add an additional 4 cups of water and shake to mix the contents. leave overnight in your selected warm location
  3. The following day, again carefully release the cap and wait for the carbonation to subside. Add in a further 1 tablespoon of raisins and 1/2 cup of water. Shake again and set aside for at least 4 hours before initial use

Starter dough

  • 30g Bread Flour
  • 30g Yeast Water (drained of any fruit)
  1. Mix these two ingredients together in a jar and set aside overnight in the same location as your yeast water. If you water is successful (ie alive!) the mixture should have increased in volume and be quite bubbly. If not I’m afraid it’s pack to the drawing board for you. Perhaps try fresh fruit instead of dried? I’ve read of some recipes where figs, dates, and even apples have been used. Also see my note below*

Levain

  • Rested Starter dough, as above
  • 60g Bread Flour
  • 30g yeast water 
  1. Transfer you starter mix from the jar to a large bowl. Add in the bread flour and additional yeast water. Stir to combine well (the mixture should be like a thick slurry paste). Leave this to rest for minimum 6 hours in the same location as your yeast water. The next step is were you’re actually going to make the bread dough! (A word to the wise here – select a bowl large enough to contain you’re final amount of dough after proofing)

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Bread dough

  • Rested levain, as above
  • 400g bread flour
  • 10g salt
  • 350g tepid water
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Using your hand in a “claw” shape mix them until they are well combined. Cover with oiled cling wrap or a plastic bag and set aside for 30 minutes (this is called the autolyse)
  2. After 30 mins remove the covering and again with your hand in a “claw” shape mix the dough. Continue for another few minutes until it gets to the stage where the dough is a roughly a single ball/ lump in the centre of the bowl and is “cleaning” the sides of the bowl of any residual mixture. It should still be quite sticky
  3. Transfer the dough from the bowl onto a counter top. I find there is no need to flour or oil it as this way helps it stick- enabling stretching and gluten strand formation. This are is where you’ll develop your own technique for kneading the dough. As a heads up while you knead the dough it will become firmer and dryer, sticking less to the surface. My method of kneading is to grab the dough by either side and pull it up, away from the counter surface, causing the centre to stick to the surface. If the complete doughball comes away slap it to the counter surface whilst still holding either end. Then fold either end back on top of the main body of dough and repeat. I think this part of kneading is quite specific to the person doing it- almost like a signature. I continue this for 15 minutes by which time the dough has become firmer, dryer and holds it’s shape a lot better. At this point transfer back to the large bowl for First Proof. Cover loosely with oiled cling wrap and leave in a warm location (you guessed it- same as your yeast water!) The proofing of this will be rather slow so I’ve left mine overnight until it has more than doubled in size. 

The following day

  1. Your next step in dough production! Tip the risen dough out on to a clean counter top lightly dusted wit a 50/50 mix of bread flour and rice flour. You don’t actually want to knock it back too much here unlike when you ‘re making a standard bread loaf. Using a bench scraper gently scoop up and fold the dough in on itself. You’ll want to do this all around the dough ball. I usually end up doing it at between 6 to 8 times. What you’ll end up with is a dough ball with a very smooth, tight bottom (!) and it’s seams gathered at the top. Gently scoop the dough ball up and transfer it to a prepared banneton (heavily dusted with 50/50 mix) or bowl lined with a heavy-dusted cloth. Cover the banneton/ bowl with oiled cling-wrap, return it to your “yeast water” place and leave to proof/ rise for a second time. I’ve had to wait up to 6 hours for this to happen. When it has risen and doubled in size it’s now time for the next step

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  1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F at least 15 mins before wanting to bake. Line a baking tray with baking parchment. Dust the top of your dough (in the banneton) with 50/50 mix. Place your lined baking tray over the top of the banneton/ bowl and quickly invert. The dough should fall out onto the prepared tray. If not it may take some gentle coaxing with flour dusted fingers. Once your dough has turned out onto the tray, slash/ score the top of it (as fancy or as plain as you like) and you good to go!
  2. Place the dough in your preheated oven and bake for 20 mins. After this time reduce the temperature to 390 degrees F and continue to bake for another 15-20 minutes. Your loaf should develop a hard, crisp out crust and sound hallow when tapped from below. Remove from the oven and leave to full cool before cutting

*If your initial yeast water doesn’t come to life another factor that may be effecting it is your choice of dried fruit. I’ve read in a few places that using organic dried fruit can result in a speedier process. This is due to the lack of potassium sorbate which an be used in some dried fruit to stop it spoiling. It’s a preservative that stops yeast from reproducing, and prevents any renewed fermentations from other yeast or bacteria.

Soft Bread Pretzels

Makes: 8

Ingredients

Pretzel dough

  • 4 cups bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons Quick-rise yeast
  • 320ml warm water
  • 65ml olive oil

Soda Bath

  • 3 litres water, boiling
  • 1/2 cup bicarbonate of soda

To finish

  • 3 tablespoons salted butter, melted
  • Sea salt flakes

Method

  1. Lightly oil a large bowl and set aside for the dough later
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the flour, salt (to one side), yeast (to opposite side) and brown sugar
  3. Add in olive oil and 250ml warm water and mix on low setting to combine the ingredients. Add in remaining water, if needed, to achieve a soft, slightly sticky dough. Continue to knead in the machine for a total of 7 minutes. (if you’re mixing the traditional way, combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir using your  hand (in a claw shape) until the all come together. Tip out onto a lightly oiled surface and continue to knead for 10 mins until the dough is soft and slightly sticky)
  4. Tip the dough from the mixer bowl into the prepared oiled bowl, cover and set aside in a warm place to proof for at least 45 minutes, or until doubled in size
  5. Before you start working on the dough pieces, bring the 3 litres of water to a rolling boil in a large pot and add in the bicarbonate of soda
  6. Once the dough has finished proofing, tip out onto a lightly oiled surface. Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces and, in turn, divide each piece into 4 equal pieces. This will give you 8 equal pieces of dough to work with
  7. Roll each piece of dough into a long strand/rope approximately 30 inches in length. Take each end of the dough “rope” in the opposite hand and cross over simultaneously. Cross them over again to bring back the ends back to their original sides whilst bringing the tips down to the base of the loop. You should end up with a rough “heart” shape with the overlapping stands inside. Press the ends of the strands onto the loop so they stick
  8. Preheat your oven to 400°F
  9. This next bit is fiddly and a little patience & perseverance may be needed. Carefully pick up and drop the assembled pretzel to the pot of boiling soda solution (I use a slotted spatula) Take caution as there may be some splashing. Allow the pretzel to boil for 20 seconds (it should rise to the surface), the using a slotted spatula flip the pretzel on to it’s oppose side and continue to boil for another 20 seconds. Remove with the slotted spatula, drain and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough pretzels
  10. Brush each of the pretzels liberally with the melted butter and sprinkle with sea salt flakes to personal taste
  11. Bake in the your preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown. Remove and brush with any remaining butter if desired. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly
  12. The pretzels are at their best enjoyed warm or fresh on the day of baking

 

Easy Pantry Recipes

 

 

I struggled for what to write here as anything I first attempted sounded flippant and vapid, making light of the situation and circumstances that each and every one of us are living through at the moment. What I wanted to do was…well to do “something“. I firmly believe in the calming and therapeutic powers of being in the kitchen. At the best of times baking for me offers a respite from daily chores and frantic everyday life, a place to get my headspace and mentally “breathe”.

My baking activity has definitely had an upsurge of late. In the uncertain circumstances of the world today I find there is a calming certainty in knowing that if I mix a certain bundle of ingredients together a known result will be achieved. Focusing on the task at hand helps to redirect my attention and anxiety away from the unnerving headlines and statistics we’re being bombarded with- a calm in the eye of the storm, no matter how briefly. I guess that’s what I’m trying to do here-  pass on these moments of calm to you in some small way. 

The recipes here offer little moments of indulgence and respite with minimal ingredients and skill needed. Hopefully most of the ingredients called for are already staples in your pantry or, failing that, will prove easy to get hold of. I hope you enjoy taking some time out and baking them.

Stay safe out there folks, see you on the other side.

You can find some further information on mental health considerations during COVID-19 Outbreak here

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Shown here served with crème anglaise

Chocolate Soufflé

Serves 4

Ingredients

• 2 cups chocolate hazelnut spread (I use Nutella – surprise!)

• 5 eggs

Method

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 375˚F (190˚C).
  2. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and place into two separate bowls
  3.  
  4. Mix the chocolate hazelnut spread into the bowl with the egg yolks
  5. In the second bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form
  6.  
  7. Fold 1/3 of the whipped egg whites into the chocolate/egg yolk mixture until fully incorporated. Add the remaining egg whites to the mixture and fold gently, but thoroughly, until the mixture is smooth
  8. Pour the mixture into the greased ramekins and bake for 15-17 minutes until risen
  9. Serve immediately
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Shown here served with crème anglaise

 


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Shown here served w/ Blueberry, Rosemary & Juniper berry conserve

Soda Bread

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 cups All Purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk*

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F
  2. Line a tray with baking parchment and dust lightly with flour. Set aside until needed
  3. In a large bowl combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Whisk to combine and break down lumps. Make a well in the centre
  4. Pour in most of the buttermilk
  5. Using one hand stir the flour into the liquid from the outside of the bowl, turning the bowl as you do. Continue until the mixture comes together in a soft dough that is not too wet or sticky (you may need the remainder of the buttermilk here)
  6. Turn the dough out into a lightly floured surface and knead lightly for a few seconds. Don’t over-knead here- you just want to do it enough so that it holds it shape. Don’t do it to the extent that you would with standard bread dough!
  7. Using your hands, lightly floured, pat the dough into a round shape about 2 inches thick. Transfer to the floured baking sheet
  8. With a knife (I use a bench scraper) score a cross into the top of the loaf, so that it goes almost all the way through the thickness and over the sides of the loaf
  9. Bake in the preheated oven for 15mins then reduce the heat to 400°F and continue baking for an additional 20mins until cooked. The baked loaf will be deep golden in color and sound hollow when the bottom of it is tapped
  10. Remove and cool on a wire rack
  11. This type of loaf will cool with a hard, crispy crust. If a softer crust is desired wrap a clean kitchen towel around the hot loaf and allow it to cool

*If you don’t have buttermilk to hand you can make your own by combining 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon squeezed lemon juice or distilled white vinegar in a jug. Stir to combine and leave to sit for 15 mins. After 15 mins the liquid will have thickened slightly and small curds can be seen. Use in the recipe as required. Any remaining milk can be stored in the fridge.

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White Bread Bloomer

  • 4 cups bread flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons quick action yeast
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 Olive oil
  • 1 1/4cups warm water

Method

  1. Lightly oil a large bowl and set aside for the dough later
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the flour, salt (to one side), yeast (to opposite side) and brown sugar
  3. Add in olive oil and 250ml warm water and mix on low setting to combine the ingredients. Add in remaining water, if needed, to achieve a soft, slightly sticky dough. Continue to knead in the machine for a total of 7 minutes. Proceed to Step 4.(If you’re mixing the traditional way, combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and shaping you hand into a “claw shape”, with fingers slightly spaced, mix by hand until all the ingredients come together in a ball. Tip out onto a lightly oiled surface and continue to knead for 10 mins until the dough is soft and slightly sticky)
  4. Tip the dough from the mixer bowl into the prepared oiled bowl, cover with lightly oiled cling-wrap and set aside to proof for at least 45 minutes, or until doubled in size
  5. Once the dough has finished proofing, tip out onto a lightly oiled surface. Punch down the dough to knock bar the air and reduce it in size
  6. You can either leave it as one large load or divide into two for 2 smaller standard sized loafs
  7. Once the dough has been knocked back use oiled hands to shape into an oval shape and transfer to a large flour dusted baking sheet
  8. Cover with oiled cling wrap, set aside and leave to double inside for apx 30-40mins
  9. Whilst the dough is having it second proof, preheat your oven to 425°F
  10. Once the dough has proofed and risen, bake in the preheated oven for 15mins, after which reduce the temperature to 390°F and bake for further 10-15mins until deep golden in color and the base of the loaves sound hollow when tapped
  11. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool on a rack
  12. Baked loaves can easily be frozen and saved for later. Wrap in cling wrap, place in plastic bag, seal and place in freezer. Defrost for a few hours when needed

PB & J Oat Bars

Ingredients

  • 5 tablespoons salted butter, plus extra for the tin
  • 1 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 8 tablespoons grape jelly (or favourite fruit flavour)
  • 1/2cup light brown soft sugar, packed
  • 2 cups rolled oats

Method

 

  1. Heat the oven to 350°F . Butter and line the base and sides of a 9” square cake tin with baking parchment
  2. Set aside 3 tablespoons each of the peanut butter and jam in separate bowls for later. Combine the remaining peanut butter, jam, butter and sugar into a pan over a medium heat and stir until everything has melted together. Quickly stir in the rolled oats, then leave to cool for 5 mins
  3. Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin and gently press down with a small measuring cup
  4. Dot over the reserved peanut butter and jam, then bake for 20-25 mins or until golden brown. Leave to cool completely in the tin, then turn out onto a board and cut into bars (2 x6)
  5. Bars are best kept refrigerated in a sealed container for 2-3 days


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Easy Shortbread Cookies

 

  • 1 cup salted butter
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 275 degree
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer (with paddle attachment) oe using an electric hand-mixer beat the butter and icing sugar together well.
  3. Slowly add in the flour (I use 1/4 cup increments) until it has all been added in. Once it all in, crank up the speed on you machine and whip it for 6 minutes. The mixture will become light and exceptionally fluffy
  4. Using a small cookie scoop (size about 1- 1/2 tablespoon) scoop the dough out onto the prepared  baking sheets
  5. Bake in the preheated oven for about 30-35 minutes until bottoms of the cookies are browned.
  6. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes on the trays. Transfer to a rack to cool complely
  7. Baked cookies can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week 

In the photographs shown I put a cherry on top of each prior to baking. The pre-baked cookies can be left plain or topped with whatever you like from your pantry such as chocolate chunks; nuts; candy pieces…whatever you have to hand in your pantry.

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Peanut Butter Cookies

Makes 18-20

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 1 cup Peanut Butter
  • 1 Egg

 

Method

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degree. Line 2 cookie sheets with baking parchment
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or a hand-held electric mixer, mix the ingredients together until well blended
  3. Using a small cookie scoop (about 1-1/2 tablespoon size) scoop doughballs on to ungreased cookie sheet
  4. Using a fork press down in one direction and then press again from the other side to form a criss-cross pattern on top
  5. Bake for 12 minutes
  6. Allow them cool on the cookie sheet for a couple of minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely
  7. Baked cookies will keep for 3-4 days at room temperature in a sealed container

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Homemade Butter

I posted the recipe for this a couple of years ago. It such an easy thing to do but a lot of people think of it as a daunting task. You can find the recipe/method here

St. Patrick’s Day Recipe Bundle

This bunch of recipes started as an idea where I wanted to do something drawing inspiration from my childhood in Ireland to my current life here in Toronto. It also helped that St. Patrick’s Day was impending so that provided a nice motivational kick. I’ve included three (or should it be four?) recipes here as frankly I couldn’t decide which to include for a single recipe post. However, I do think it works quite nicely to chart the influences on my passion for baking. I shall try to keep the background blurb short as I have to admit not being a fan of rambling anecdotes myself on recipe posts (“Seriously Janice- get to the recipe already! No one actually cares about your traumatic experience with bangs and how it rekindled your childhood love of popovers…)

In the meantime have a great St. Patrick’s Day. Eat (plenty); Drink (responsibly) and Be merry (it goes without saying).

Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhaoibhe!

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Traditional Plain Soda Bread w/ Blueberry, Rosemary & Juniper berry conserve

This is where I began. Well, I mean my love of baking. Soda bread was the first recipe that my mom showed me how to make in the kitchen. The bread is simplicity itself with  little or no baking skill required. The conserve recipe is my substitute for the sticky jam jars of childhood. If you asked me to sum up childhood memories of baking it would be of freshly cut warm plain soda bread, slathered in butter and jam. And now I pass it on to you to make your own memories.

Plain soda bread

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 cups All purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk*

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Method

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F
  2. Line a tray with baking parchment and dust lightly with flour. Set aside until needed
  3. In a large bowl combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Whisk to combine and break down lumps. Make a well in the centre
  4. Pour in most of the buttermilk
  5. Using one hand stir the flour into the liquid from the outside of the bowl, turning the bowl as you do. Continue until the mixture comes together in a soft dough that is not too wet or sticky (you may need the remainder of the buttermilk here)
  6. Turn the dough out into a lightly floured surface and knead lightly for a few seconds. Don’t overknead here- you just want to do it enough so that it holds it shape. Don’t do it to the extent that you would with standard bread dough!
  7. Using your hands, lightly floured, pat the dough into a round shape about 2 inches thick. Transfer to the floured baking sheet
  8. With a knife (I use a bench scraper) score a cross into the top of the loaf, so that it goes almost all the way through the thickness and over the sides of the loaf
  9. Bake in the preheated oven for 15mins then reduce the heat to 400°F and continue baking for an additional 20mins until cooked. The baked loaf will be deep golden in color and sound hollow when the bottom of it is tapped
  10. Remove and cool on a wire rack
  11. This type of loaf will cool with a hard, crispy crust. If a softer crust is desired wrap a clean kitchen towel around the hot loaf and allow it to cool

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*If you don’t have buttermilk to hand you can make your own by combining 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon squeezed lemon juice or distilled white vinegar in a jug. Stir to combine and leave to sit for 15 mins. After 15 mins the liquid will have thickened slightly and small curds can be seen. Use in the recipe as required. Any remaining milk can be stored in the fridge.

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Blueberry, rosemary & juniper berry conserve

Ingredients

  • 4 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoons dried juniper berries, lightly crushed
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • Sprig of fresh rosemary (6 inch length apx)

Method

  1. In large pot combine the blueberries, juniper berries, sugar, lemon juice and water
  2. Stir over a medium heat until the mixture becomes loose and the berries start releasing liquid
  3. When the berries have soften and you see more liquid add in the spring of rosemary, ensuring it is submerged in the liquid
  4. Continue over a medium, stirring occasionally, for 30mins until the fruit has broken down and slightly thickened
  5. Remove from heat, transfer the mixture to a bowl and allow to cool to room temperature and infuse
  6. When cool place in a sterilised jar. Serve with traditional soda bread

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Báirín Breac (Irish Barmbrack)

As a kid I hated dried fruit. Hated it with that primal fervour only a child can manifest when presented with something they don’t like. Not only was barmbrack out- also Christmas cake, fruit cookies and anything else harbouring any sign of a shrivelled morsel. Interesting then that as an adult I can have a hankering out of the blue for something with dried fruit. Perhaps making up for lost time? Whilst more traditional to see it at Halloween, barmbrack for me is synonymous with my roots in Motherland Hibernia. Here I’ve made some additions and substitutions- mead in addition to the traditional tea steeping fluid to give a little extra indulgence; Red Fife flour to add an extra layer of nuttiness to the loaf; and cranberries as, even after all these years, candied peel still abhors me. 

Makes 1 loaf

Ingredients

  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup sultanas
  • 1 cup cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cup black tea, freshly made
  • 1/4 cup mead
  • 3/4 cup dark muscovado sugar
  • 1 cup All Purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup Red Fife flour (or substitute wholewheat)
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 egg, beaten

To finish

  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water

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Method

  1. Put the raisins, sultanas and cranberries in a large heatproof bowl, pour over the tea and mead. Stir to combine ensuring all the fruit is wet. Leave to soak overnight, or minimum 6 hours, stirring occasionally 
  2. Heat the oven to 350°F and grease 4.5″ x 8.5″ loaf tin pan and line with baking parchment
  3. In a second bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder, spices and salt, making sure you break up any lumps in the sugar, then stir in the fruit mixture (including liquid), beaten egg and vanilla extract. Mix well to combine
  4. Tip the loaf mix into the tin, smooth the top and bake for 80 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. (If the top looks to be going too dark or burning on top towards the end, cover loosely with foil)
  5. Take out of the oven, leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then turn out on to a baking rack
  6. Whilst the loaf is cooling make the sugar syrup.
  7. In a small saucepan combine the sugar and water. Heat the sugar and water over a high heat until the sugar has been dissolved. Bring to a boil and continue stirring over a high heat for 1 minute
  8. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before applying to the loaf
  9. When the loaf has been turned out on to the rack, liberally brush the top and sides with the cooled syrup
  10. Allow to cool fully to room temperature before slicing and serving
  11. Serve slathered in fresh butter and with a hot cup of tea for the quintessential Irish experience.
  12. Store the baked loaf wrapped in wax paper, or baking parchment, in an airtight container. The taste and texture of the remaining loaf will improve over time becoming more “fudge” like.img_3501

 

Irish Cream Nanaimo Bars

While the previous recipes had their roots firmly planted in childhood memories and influences, this is a blatant (and heady) nod to the influences of my current home. Numerous Canadian baked goods have won me over – butter tarts; beaver tails; Pouding Chomeur but the Nanaimo bar truly hits my sweet Achilles heel. And how do you make something that perfect better? Why by adding booze of course! More specifically Irish Cream. Take your pick of the ones available out there but my preference is for the stalwart that is Baileys. Not that I’ve made trays of liqueur riddled sweet bars in order to research. Of course not!

Makes 24

Ingredients

Bottom Layer

  • 1/2 cup of salted butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/4 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 1/4 cups of graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup of sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate, chopped finely
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces, chopped and toasted

Middle Layer

  • 2 cups of icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup of butter, softened
  • 2 -3 tablespoons of Irish Cream liqueur, I use Baileys
  • 2 tablespoons of cornstarch

Top Layer

  • 3/4 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
  • 2 separate tablespoons of butter

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9x9inch baking pan with parchment paper
  2. For the bottom layer, in a medium bowl, combined the sugar and melted butter. Stir until the sugar is nearly dissolved. Add in the graham crumbs, shredded coconut, cocoa, chopped chocolate and walnut pieces. Combine well. Add in the beaten egg and again mix well to combine
  3. Press the mixture into the lined baking pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, remove and set aside to cool (I usually cool mine in the fridge as i make the middle layer)
  4. Whilst the bottom layer is cooling prepare the middle layer
  5. In the bowl of a stand mixer (paddle attachment fitted) combine the icing sugar, softened butter, cornstarch and liqueur. Beat on slow until all ingredients are combined and then increase the speed to high for a few minutes until the mixture is whipped and fluffy. Spread the whipped mixture evenly over the cooled bottom layer. Place in the fridge to cool while you make the top layer
  6. Combine the semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1 tablespoon of butter in one heatproof bowl and the white chocolate chips and the other tablespoon of butter in another heatproof bowl. Melt both bowls of chocolate, one at a time, set over a pan of hot water. Spoon dollops of each melted chocolate over the cooled middle layer and using a knife spatula or spoon swirl together to evenly coat the top of the mixture
  7. Place in the fridge and chill for minimum 2 hours before slicing (4x 6) and serving.
  8. Keep the bars refrigerated for up to 3 days in a closed container, or frozen for up to 3 months


Semlor Buns

Pancake Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday. Call it what you will- it’s an annual day with it’s roots in guilt-free indulgence before the long Lenten period of abstinence prior to the Easter celebration of faith. Having grown up in Ireland it usually meant pancakes. Stacks of pan-fried, chewy batter usually soaked in cheek-puckering amounts of Jif lemon juice and liberally sprinkled with caster sugar.

Times change and I guess so do tastes. Piles of pancakes no longer ignite childhood delight. So this year I decided to try something different and was not disappointed! Hailing from Nordic regions the “Semla bun” (Semlor pl) is a spiced bread bun, predominantly filled with an unctuous almond paste, topped with whipped cream, and dusted with a snowy layer of icing sugar (because you can never have too much decadence on Fat Tuesday!)

As with the etymology of  so many pastries and breads there are numerous versions and methods out there depending on how deep you dig. I went with the classic, and probably best known, Swedish version with some slight tweaks. The dough I use is my “go-to” enriched dough with the addition of the required ground cardamom. The inclusion of this spice not only gives the dough a depth to it’s sweet taste, but also a heady fragrance which whafts of indulgence.

The finished and filled buns are exceptional when eaten fresh and on the day. Should the need arise they can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days. But some words of caution here – the longer they are kept in the fridge the drier and tougher the buns will become. If you do this they’re best removed from the fridge about an hour before eating so they are allowed to come to their ideal serving at room temperature. Guess this means all the more reason to eat them all in one go?

Makes 12

Ingredients

Buns

  • 1 cup milk
  • 3/4 stick butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup tepid water
  • 4 cups strong bread flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg, beaten for bun wash

Filling

  • Crumbs from bun centres
  • 3 1/2oz marzipan, cooled to fridge temperature
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream

Finish

  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Icing sugar to dust

Method

  1. Heat the butter and milk together in a pan until until butter is melted. Remove from heat add vanilla extract and leave to cool, stirring occasionally
  2. Combine yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in a jug. Add tepid water, mix and leave to active for 10mins until frothy
  3. In a bowl of stand mixer combine flour, salt, cardamom, cinnamon and whisk together to combine
  4. To the flour mixture addd cooled milk mixture, yeast mixture and egg
  5. Set on low to combine the ingredients. Once combined continue to form a dough and knead in mixer for 6 mins on low, or knead  by hand for 10 mins
  6. Remove from stand mixer bowl and place in an oiled bowl to proof for 45-1hr until doubled in size
  7. Remove from bowl and on an oiled surface punch down and knock air back. Divide dough batch into 12 equal pieces and roll into balls
  8. Set equally and well spaced on a lined baking sheet and allow to second proof for 30-45mins
  9. Preheat oven to 400
  10. Brush the proofed buns with egg wash and bake in oven for 10-12mins until golden
  11. Remove from oven and allow to cool on a rack
  12. When buns have completely cooled, use a sharp serrated knife and cut the tops from them (about 1/2 inch from top). Set aside for later
  13. Remove the insides from the buns whilst leaving the outer shell intact and place crumb filling into a bowl
  14. Grate in cooled marzipan and add milk and cream. Mash/ stir until a paste is formed. Depending on the amount of crumb filling used from the buns, you may need slightly more liquid- what you want is a thick, spoonable paste
  15. Divide and spoon the marzipan crumb paste into each of the buns
  16. Set aside when each of the buns has been filled
  17. In a bowl add the vanilla extract to the whipping cream and whip until stiff peak stage
  18. Fit a piping bag with a star tip nozzle, fill with the whipped cream and pipe in a circular motion to cover over the filled bun holes
  19. Top with the saved bun lids from earlier
  20. Dust with icing sugar and enjoy!