Ideal brunch material: speculaas bread

speculaas breadI love brunch, it’s my idea of an ideal Sunday. Preferably, I stay in my pajamas until noon, unless we have guest of course. Because inviting guest allows you to really go for it and fry and bake anything you fancy. I recently bought a new cookbook by Juliette’s, a famous cookie bakery in Bruges, all around speculaas, the cinnamon and ginger cookie that is very popular in Belgium. It contained an excellent recipe for the cookie itself (which I won’t blog about, as it was for industrial quantities, but do try my speculaas recipe) and lots of recipes to use up any left-over cookies, like in this bread. Really easy and totally delicious! The recipe is for 2 small loafs, so you can always pop one in the freezer if you want. Here’s how to make it:

Lightly warm 220 g milk in the microwave and stir in 25 g dried yeast until it is dissolved. In a large bowl, mix 1 egg with 550 g bread flour and add the milk mixture. Knead well, cover with cling film or a dry tea towel and leave to rise until doubled in size.

Knock the air out of the dough, add 10 g salt, 25 g sugar and 125 softened butter cut in cubes and knead until you get an elastic dough that no longer sticks to your work surface (about 5 tot 10 min). Allow to rise until doubled in size.

Knock the air out of the dough and split in to two. From each half, keep a small piece (100 g) apart. Roll out the big piece to a long rectangle and put a speculaas biscuit at the long end of the rectangle. Flip the dough with the cookie over, add another cookie and continue until you reached the end of the dough (you need about 200 g speculaas biscuits in total for the 2 breads). Roll out the small piece to a rectangle as well and use it to wrap your rolled bread in. Repeat with the second batch. Put in a buttered loaf tin, brush with a beaten egg and leave to rise for another 45 min. Preheat the oven to 160 C and bake for 25 min or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

If you don’t have speculaas biscuits, I’m sure this will work with other biscuits as well, it’s easiest if you use rectangular once. I think ginger biscuits would taste great as well. Enjoy!

A family favourite: bread pudding

Bread puddingI really love this recipe and it’s a great way to use up any leftover and stale bread. I grew up on this and it’s one of the first desserts I learned how to make myself. It’s really easy, very delicious and it keeps very well too, so you can enjoy it all week! You can vary the fruit to your liking as well.

Preheat the oven to 180 C. Put 200 g sugar and 1/2 l milk in a bowl and heat for 3 min in the microwave. Meanwhile, tear up 300 g stale bread in another bowl (you can use white bread, brown bread, or a mix of whatever you have lying around – as you will soak it, it cannot be too fresh). Give the milk a stir to dissolve most of the sugar and pour it over the bread. Leave to soak for a few minutes while you cut 1 apple into small pieces. I usually add some dried prunes as well. If you have a pear, it works too and you can add candied peel if you prefer. Mush the bread mix with a fork until you get a thick consistency (you don’t have to be very precise). Add the diced fruit along with 50 g raisins, a pinch of cinnamon, a splash of rum and a bag of vanilla sugar (10 g – you could add the seeds of a vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla extract instead as well). Mix 5 eggs and pour into the bread mix as well. Give everything a good stir and pour in a 20 cm round spring form lined with baking paper. Put in the oven for 45 min or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

You can eat this hot, with some vanilla ice, or cold (with or without custard). It’s very moist so it will easily keep for a week. Enjoy while listening to We Are Family by Sister Sledge.

Tip: make it gluten-free by replacing the bread by gluten-free bread.

Use up leftover raisins in rum-raisin cookies, carrot cake or an apricot and marzipan twist.

Delicious start of the weekend: homemade bread

BreadIt’s been very busy at work, so I didn’t get much time to bake. Now that things are slowing down again, I’m getting back into the baking mood. I love baking my own bread, too bad I don’t always have the time to do so! But when I do, I make them in bulk and store a couple in the freezer so we can enjoy them for a long time. Wether you are making white bread or brown bread, the basic recipe is the same, the only difference is in the type of flour you use. Do check the ingredients when buying a flour mix: most of them contain a lot of suspicious E-numbers and additional elements to allow you to keep the flour very long. You don’t necessarily need all that anyway.

Another benefit of baking bread, is that you don’t need a lot of ingredients: you only need bread flour, a bit of butter (can be omitted if you prefer), yeast (fresh or dried), tap water and salt. This recipe is for 2 breads (it takes the same amount of time so why not make one extra for the freezer). Here’s how you do it:

Put 1 kg strong bread flour in a bowl (use white flour for white bread, multigrain for brown bread or a mix of both for a lighter brown bread) and make a well in the centre. In a separate bowl, mix 540 ml lukewarm water with a package of dried yeast (you need 11 g – if you prefer using fresh yeast, you need 25 g) until you get a foamy liquid. Add this to the flour and start mixing. You can do this in an electric mixer with a dough hook or you can do this by hand. When you get a sticky mix, add 15 g softened butter and 20 g salt (when using a brown dough mix, you may need less salt, about 15 g should do) and mix again. Resist the temptation to add more flour, you’ll see, it’s not necessary.

Now the kneading starts: you need to knead the dough for at least 15 minutes. Again you can do this by hand (it’s a great work-out, believe me, I also find it very soothing somehow) or use your electric mixer (still on my wish list). When using an electric mixer, make sure it’s on a slow speed so the dough can take up all the water and make enough gluten.

Now let the dough rise for 30 min at room temperature. If you cover it with a glass bowl, it will rise even better. Do not put the dough on the heating. After that first rise, knock the dough back and let it rise for another 10 min. If you want, you can add any other ingredients (grains, sunflower seeds…) and quickly knead a couple of times to incorporate them (try not to knead too much). Put the dough in a loaf tin (no need to butter or flour the tin, the bread will come out without issues) or on a baking sheet and allow to rise again for 40 min at room temperature.

Now you are ready to bake: preheat the oven to 200 C and put a cup of water on the bottom of the oven to create a bit of steam (this will prevent your bread from being too dry). Bake the bread for 30-35 min.  When ready, take the bread out of the oven and tap of the bottom. When it sounds hollow, you know your bread is ready. Leave to cool. Enjoy!

I usually give you a song to listen to while enjoying your freshly baked dessert, but in this case, all the work is in the kneading, so you’ll need some moral support there. One song immediately came to mind: enjoy kneading while listening to Sweat by Snoop Dogg vs David Guetta!

Savoury baking: foccaccia rolls

Foccaccia rollsI wanted a change from regular bread so when my parents came over for lunch on a Sunday, this turned out to be the perfect recipe. It’s a twist on a classic bread which I found in the GoodFood magazine of September. The recipe is by Angela Nilsen and it was absolutely delicious! Lucky me, I had enough left for lunch the next day.

First, make a batch of white dough: put 500 g strong white bread flour in a bowl with 1 and 1/2 tsp salt. In a bowl, mix 300 ml hand warm water with 7 g dried yeast until it starts to froth. Make a dip in the centre of the flour and gradually add the water, mixing in the flour as you go along. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to the mix as well (if you want to make regular flour, use 1 tbsp melted butter instead). Gather the dough with your hands and put it onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 8-10 min until it feels smooth and elastic, adding a minimum of extra flour if the dough gets too sticky. Place the ball of dough on a lightly floured work surface and cover with an upturned, clean, large glass bowl (this was a really great tip, I definitely recommend using the glass bowl). Leave for 45 min – 1 hr or until doubled in size (if you don’t have a glass bowl, just leave the dough in a bowl and cover the bowl with cling film).

Knock back the dough by gently kneading just 3-4 times. Cover with the glass bowl again and leave for another 10 min. Now shape your loaf. Cut the dough into 10 even pieces and shape each into a ball (if making a regular loaf, shape the dough into the form you want – a ball for a round bread or put it into a rectangular cake tin for a square one). Sit the balls onto 2 baking parchment-lined baking sheets. Cover with a clean dry tea towel and leave for 40-45 min, or until about doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 200 C and put a roasting tin in the bottom of the oven (when adding the bread to the oven, add 250 ml cold water to the tin – this will create steam that ensures a crisp crust. Alternatively, put a cup of water in the bottom of your oven when you add the bread). Meanwhile, prepare your toppings: slice 100 g roasted pepers, chop 85 g camenbert and chop 10 black olives (you don’t need the stones obviously). Finish the foccaccia rolls by pressing a wide indent in the middle of each roll with your fingers. Scatter over the roasted peppers, cheese and olives pressing down quite firmly into the indents. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and add a good pinch of dried oregano (I totally forgot about the oil and oregano, and it was delicious all the same, so don’t worry if you don’t have any or you forgot it as well). As the recipe indicated, I also added some rocket leaves to the mix, but that looses it’s taste in the oven, so I suggest you add them when the rolls come out of the oven, instead of before they go in.

Bake for about 20 min and drizzle with a little extra oil when they come out of the oven (I forgot this as well). Don’t forget to add your water or cup of water when the bread goes in the oven! If making an entire loaf, allow for 35 min of baking time. You know your bread is ready when tap the underneath of the loaf: it should be firm and sound hollow. Enjoy!