Lunch Lady magazine wholegrain country loafGourmet Traveller Sour Cherry Hot Cross Buns
We have a new oven and it has spurred on a flurry of autumn baking. After baking no bread over summer, because you just don't want to cook inside and heat up the house when it's 40C outside, I have rediscovered it with fervour. We had our oven for more than a decade and while we liked the gas cooktop, the gas oven tended to burn everything placed inside it...at any temperature. When the gas ignition fails, it's the excuse we need to change to a gas cooktop and an electric oven. Duncan collects our new oven and installs it, and the first thing I want to bake is bread.
Bread is one of our earliest foods. In 'The Cook's Companion', Stephanie Alexander writes, 'Bread was first made thousands of years ago by harvesting grains from wild plants, grinding the grains with stones, mixing this course flour with water, forming it into cakes and baking them in the sun.' Perhaps it is the muscle memory linking me with generations past that evokes such enjoyment at the primitive movement of forming and kneading a dough. It is still a delight to feel the simple ingredients of flour, water, sugar, yeast and salt turn silky smooth under my hands, patiently wait for the dough to rise, punching the air out of the temporary dough pillow, and waiting for the second rise before baking. Then there's the smell wafting through the house as the loaf begins to turn golden and the dough transforms into its cake consistency.
One of my favourite bakers in our nearest town, Tamworth, is Tracey Kanyaro from Le Pruneau French restaurant. Tracey bakes her own bread and makes her own butter from cream sourced at Peel Valley Dairy, which we pass every time we travel from Nundle to Tamworth. As I buy a pat of butter Tracey says, "The butter's tasting beautiful at the moment," recognising the seasonal differences influenced by the terroir, subtle flavour changes more commonly associated with wine or cheese. I decide to make a Wholegrain Country Loaf from Lunch Lady magazine 03, using one of our new bread proving baskets. I like the coils that emboss the loaf during the second rise and pattern during baking. A simple, but delicious afternoon tea of home baked bread and Tracey's homemade butter is modest celebration of gratitude at having an oven again.
A week later when our eldest son is home from school, sick with a cold, I use the unexpected downtime to make hot cross buns. I don't like seeing hot cross buns come into the supermarkets after Australia Day in January. But a week out from Easter it is respectable to cook and make hot cross buns. They're too good to restrict to Good Friday. A Gourmet Traveller email, offers several hot cross bun recipes. I cook the Sour Cherry Hot Cross Buns, minus the sour cherries - we have currants instead. I've always hesitated at making hot cross buns. They are so perfectly uniform in the stores, they seem the domain of commercial bakeries. Of course this is nonsense and as I follow the recipe, step by step, the process is demystified and I wonder why I haven't made them before now. Even an initial struggle forming the distinctive cross on the top of the buns with a piping bag is sorted out using my late grandmother's TALA icing syringe. Have you ever wondered what the cross is made from? Flour, sunflower oil and water. Our youngest son arrives home from school in time for hot cross buns out of the oven, sliced in half, and smothered with hazelnut spread before heading off to their end of season swimming club presentation.
Lunch Lady Wholegrain Country Loaf
What you need: 1 1/2 cups warm yeast, 1 tbsp dry yeast, 2 tbsp honey, 1/2 tbsp salt, 2 cups whole-wheat flour, 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour, 2 tbsp sunflower seeds, 2 tbsp rolled oats.
What you do: Combine warm water, yeast, honey, salt and flours in a large bowl. Stir until well combined. Knead and turn in the bowl with your hands. Take the dough out and lightly grease the bowl with olive oil. Then place the dough back into the bowl. Cover and let rise for 2 hours. Create a small hole in the dough and pop in sunflower seeds and oats. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for about 5 minutes or until elastic. Form into a loaf shape.
Place the dough seam-side down in a lightly greased loaf pan or baking tray and sift a light coasting of flour over the top to help keep it moist. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 1 hour. Forty five minutes into resting time, preheat oven to 230C. Once the dough has rested, slash 2 or 3 times with a sharp knife, making cuts 1cm deep. Place your dough in the oven on the middle rack. Bake for 25 minutes or until deep golden brown and risen. Remove bread from the oven and immediately remove from the pan to cool on a wire rack.