Category Archives: Bread

Banana Bread – In Real Life


You guys all know about Joy the Baker, of course. I’m sure you do. In my mind, Joy is that cool person you know, who everyone else knows too, and any time she’s mentioned you feel a little glimmer of pride that you can say ‘yep, I know them’.

If you’re a reader of her blog (which I assume you are) you’ll know that she keeps it real. This blog post is a homage to Joy the Baker, and an attempt to remind myself to keep it real.

Sometimes, you might see a recipe and think ‘ooh! I want to make that right now!’. Other times, you might think ‘hm, I feel like baking, I wonder what I could make?’. Still other times, you might think ‘those bananas on the counter aren’t getting any younger… it’s banana loaf time.’ I had a combination of all these thoughts, or at least parts of them, recently. I saw a recipe I liked the look of, there were brown bananas on the counter, I hadn’t baked for a while and it was a Sunday afternoon… it all came together. So, I decided to go for it.

The recipe was one by Joy the Baker (naturally), featured on Leite’s Culinaria (also naturally). You can find it here – it’s Mommom’s Chocolate Bourbon-Spiked Banana Bread.

In real life, you work with the utensils you have – which are a metal bowl and a giant wooden ladle – and you might find a lovely moment of memory, and peace, in creaming the butter and sugar by hand.

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And real butter might not be what’s in the fridge.

 

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Come on, it says ‘PERFECT for cakes’. Stork wouldn’t lie.

It’s also possible you might get some eggshell in the bowl by accident.

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In real life, your mixture might look curdled part way through.

 

 

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You might just use your hands to squish up the bananas instead of mashing with a fork or chopping with, say, a knife.

 

 

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And your hand might slip while you’re measuring in the bourbon.

 

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In real life, you might find that you don’t have exactly the right ingredients, and you have to substitute chocolate stars for chocolate chips in the hope that they will kind of melt in and add to the deliciousness of the finished product.

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In real life, maybe you won’t clear away your work surface before you start, or as you go along.

128And that might mean that sometimes stray packaging tries to creep into your baking bowl.

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Despite all of that, you can still enjoy the process – and when this:

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…turns into this:

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…and the smell of baking fills up the kitchen, it’s hard not to break into a smile.

Also, your baking tray might be a bit busted up and usually you don’t put it in photographs, but when you’re having an ‘in real life’ day, you do.

Real life loaves quite often have this little overlapping bit that you also don’t put in photographs:

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…and the best thing to do with it is just to eat it.

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Finally, when it comes to serving, a slice might not look exactly like a slice. It might look more of a pile, and the light might be all wrong and make your photo yellow:

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You know what?

It’s no biggie.

You baked a banana loaf. Be proud.


Herbed Breadcrumb Topping


A very simple post today, to see us through the midweek slump. This was a breadcrumb topping I tossed together one Sunday to sprinkle over some macaroni cheese, but you could easily use it on any other baked casserole, toast it up in a pan and stir through spaghetti or use to coat chicken fillets before frying or baking.

Herbed Breadcrumbs

There’s nothing complicated here – but sometimes it can be good to share the simplest recipes, can’t it? Because really, they’re what sustains us day after day. Now and again you just need something to spark an idea in your head, and if this does it for you, I’ll be delighted. Sometimes you need to be able to throw something together from what you have in the cupboard, too, and this recipe does just that.

 

Makes enough to top one 8 x 8 casserole dish:

  • 1 thick slice wholegrain, seeded or other bread
  • 2 tbsp dried herbs – I used thyme, basil and oregano, but go ahead and mix your own, or use a ready mixed… mixture…
  • 2 tsp dried parmesan (it’s good for something!), or very finely grated fresh cheese
  • ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 – 4 tsp olive oil

 

Process or grate the bread into crumbs. I was at the G man’s house, so I had to go without a food processor and make the breadcrumbs the retro way. You can grate a slice of bread if you’re careful about your knuckles – the kind of grater that sits over a container that catches the crumbs is best. I’m serious about the knuckles.

Stir the herbs, cheese and pepper into the breadcrumbs. Add the oil, one spoonful at a time, and mix well so that all the bread is moistened, and all the oil is absorbed. Adding the oil means that the crumbs will get crisp and brown without drying out – you can definitely proceed with just the bread, but it won’t have the same texture or flavour. Mixing the oil into the bread, rather than drizzling over the top, means you’ll get an even finish with no splotches where there’s loads of oil, and no deserts where there’s none at all.

Herbed Crust Mac and Cheese

Apply before baking – watch carefully and don’t give it too much heat. I zapped mine under the grill and didn’t watch *quite* as carefully as I should have, but in the end I rescued it just in time. One thing about grilling mac and cheese instead of baking was that the sauce didn’t thicken to the point of being able to serve neat portions. Instead, we had loose portions with breadcrumbs scattered throughout, where they had fallen in during serving. You know what, though? I liked this better than when all the topping stays on top.

One of my favourite things is to eat macaroni cheese with two slices of well-buttered (read: sagging under the weight of the butter) toast, and to make sandwiches as I eat. It’s great, and I urge you to try it. However, applying these breadcrumbs, crisping them up under the grill and then serving them scattered (accidentally) through the pasta was almost as good, and involved less effort and less chance of stray macaroni rolling out of my sandwich and down the side of the couch.

 

I wonder if this is what making an important scientific discovery feels like?

Herbed Mac Plated


Birthday Party!


So, guess what?

You’re right, I have no way to know if you’re guessing or not, and this is a pointless exercise. But still, guess!

That’s right (she said, hearing your guess through the powers of the internet) – it’s my birthday today! Guess what else? Oh OK, we won’t go through that again – it’s my 30th birthday. I have been rocking around on this planet for 30 years and as I type, I’m swinging between casual acceptance, frank disbelief and what can only be described as stomach clenching panic, at a rather alarming rate.

The casual acceptance part is like ‘Yep, it’s just a number. Plus, life is awesome, and you’re not one of those people who’s set any kind of “life targets” that you now feel like you should scrimmage around and get accomplished in the next twenty minutes. Well done. Let’s party.’

The frank disbelief is like ‘Whaaaaaaaaat? I’m just getting started! It can’t possibly have been 30 years.’

The stomach clenching panic is like ‘DEATH IS COMING.’

So, now you know. Your humble writer is 30 years old on this very day, and as you read this she is probably doing some awesome bouldering. If you’re not familiar with it, bouldering is indoor climbing without ropes or helmets or any of that carry on. The G man and I started doing this in the last couple of months, and even though some weeks I’m really scared of climbing to the top of the walls and/or falling off while I’m doing it (which to be honest I think is probably natural, and I try not to give myself a hard time about it), most of the time I love it, and I feel like a spider monkey. The best parts are where you lose your footing and haul yourself back up with your arms – that makes a person feel BADASS, no doubt about it. I’m already getting people to prod the new muscles in my forearms, which I am disproportionately proud of.

Anyway, that is part of my birthday plan. The whole picture looks like this:

10am or thereabouts: wake up without the aid of an alarm clock and relish being at home, in bed, on a work day.

11am: have a long, leisurely shower. Sing ‘Caledonia’, ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ and ‘Life on Mars’ at top of lungs. Sing any other songs that pop into head, also at top of lungs.

12 noon – 1pm: climb to the top of walls and jump back down again like bouldering rock star legend.

2pm: arrive at astonishingly awesome parents’ house, where astonishingly awesome siblings will also be arriving forthwith. Drink bourbon. Laugh until face hurts. Eat food that I have had no hand in preparing, and will have no hand in cleaning up after. Possibly play enthusiastic if amateurish guitar and sing at top of lungs some more.

11pm: arrive back at my flat, escorted by ever-patient G man. Watch a film with dinosaurs or aliens in it. Sleep the sleep of the just.

Doesn’t that sound great?

While I’m off doing that, I thought I’d give you some birthday party pictures to peruse. The week before last, I threw a birthday party for my beloved Thursday Sister Miss Pig. We had banners, paper plates, wine and more snacks than you could shake a stick at – the works. I took a whole bunch of photos, and today I’d like to share them all with you – after this big bunch of words at the top of the post, you deserve them.

Things started off very civilised.

I made some exciting things for us to eat. First of all, blue cheese and walnut sandwich cracker guys:

The recipe for these is here – Stilton and Walnut Crackers. I Scottished it up by using Strathdon Blue for the crackers, and the filling was some Skinny Crowdie with a splash of cream, a sprinkling of blue cheese and some minced spring onion. Delicious.

Then, sticking with the cheese theme, I made these Homemade Goldfish Crackers.

I used a sharp Cornish Cruncher cheese for these – this cheese is great just on its own, but adds a mega flavour boost to the crackers. They didn’t turn out as crunchy as goldfish crackers, instead being more puffy and pastry-ish, but they hit the spot. I also make them in heart and flower shapes, because those are the shapes that Miss Pig likes (and because I don’t have a fish shaped cutter, of course).

The last savoury joy was these sourdough grissini, of which I was extraordinarily proud. They earned me a proposal of sorts when I took the leftovers into work – that good. My sourdough starter Louie is still going strong, almost 18 months on. He did me proud.

There are three kinds of breadstick there – sesame seed, poppy seed and salt, pepper, garlic, chili and fennel. Oh yes. Add a bit of humus and you’re golden. You can find the recipe for Sourdough Grissini on YeastSpotting.

I also made some sweet items for us. First up, a batch of brigadeiros, which you can read a blog post about here. The original recipe is here.

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They’re fudgy, chocolatey truffles, which are so much lighter than your usual chocolate truffle while still delivering a rich flavour. They’re a little trickier and more time consuming to make than normal truffles, too, but worth the effort. People make a face when they eat these – a GOOD face.

Next I made some little tartlets which I’m struggling to name – they’re somewhere between jam tarts and meringue pies, except the meringue is soft, more like marshmallow. This is because I freestyled it, by whipping up an unspecified amount of egg white with enough sugar to make a glossy meringue that stood up in peaks. I eyeballed it, and then piped it over the baked jam tarts and used my cook’s blowtorch to cook and colour the surface of them. Then I sort of looked away when someone took the first bite out of one in case the marshmalloweringue exploded everywhere, instantly sticking everything in the room to everything else in the room. When there were no cries of alarm I looked back – turns out that they were soft and pillowy but not excessively sticky and definitely not explosive. Phew – bullet dodged.

The other great thing about these is that they represent my first successful attempt at wheat free pastry – are you excited about this? Because I *definitely* am. I’ll blog it properly on my next attempt, but for now suffice to say it was light and crisp and did not crumble into ash in our mouths, which is always the fear when you make wheat free pastry and biscuits. Also I made the tartlets flower-shaped, and I loved the end result. They’re so pretty! The jam was rhubarb and ginger, from a jar (shoosh, I made the pastry, what more do you want? Jam on it? Oh…).

The piece de resistance was these wee pig cupcakes, which were inspired by an idea in the book Cupcakes, Cookies and Pie – Oh My!

Check out the colour difference in those photos. THE LEVELS! MY EYES!

The ears and noses are mini marshmallows – to do the ears you snip some marshmallows diagonally to form those sweet wee triangles, and then you wedge them into the icing. The cakes are Devil’s Food Cake (my go-to chocolate cake recipe) and the icing is a vanilla buttercream, tinted pink. The eyes are reversed chocolate chips, and the smiles are drawn on with an icing pen after the icing has set a little.

I was heard to remark that I thought they looked a bit like I made them at nursery – I still feel that way. It’s not a criticism, necessarily, but they do look like a project you might do with your kids. However, given that I don’t have any of those, I get to do this fun stuff myself. Miss Pig, as her name suggests, likes pigs – when I happened across the pigs idea in that book, it was a no-brainer.

The night progressed in the way that these nights do…

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Wine was consumed…

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Sparklers were lit…

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Things were knocked over…

We laughed, and listened to 80s tunes, and ate until we couldn’t eat any more. We took photographs of all the food with our phones:

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It was a simply lovely party. When everyone went home I had a one-woman dance party round my flat until it was really silly late – and when I say dance party, I really mean it. That thing about dancing like nobody’s watching? That.

Looking over these photos and writing this post was an absolute joy – it’s been a long while since I took on a big kitchen project like this, and having everything work out so successfully was reassuring and pleasing in equal measures.

So, while I’m off enjoying my birthday (30? Really??), I hope you’ve enjoyed checking out our birthday party. I can recommend throwing one, complete with paper cups and a disposable tablecloth. You’ll have a great time.

Baking to excess is optional.


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