Monday, 26 November 2007

potato bread

Another month has flown past, which means it's time for another Daring Bakers' challenge. This month, Tanna of My Kitchen In Half Cups chose potato bread - you'll find the recipe on her blog. As usual, I left it to the last minute to start baking, but this weekend was the only weekend this month I actually spent in my own home. One weekend I had to work, another weekend there was an interesting symposium, and last weekend S and I were in Antwerp, showing 'our' city to two friends, doing touristy things, and of course sampling lots of chocolate and beer. Such a hard job, playing tour guide!

When I told S I'd be making potato bread, he went 'seriously, potato bread? Why? Not so sure about that'. But by the time I switched off the oven and had him taste one of the rolls, he was singing an entirely different tune. And then... I told him he couldn't eat any more of it until the next day, because I wanted to take a decent daylight photograph. Which I couldn't take at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, because it gets dark ridiculously early these days (yes, I will probably keep complaining about this until, oh, April or so). We couldn't resist though, which is why the focaccia (brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt, black pepper and rosemary from my garden) is mysteriously absent in the pics. We ate it all while watching Star Trek - it didn't survive Captain Picard's mission of the day and didn't live to see real daylight.

I often bake bread at weekends - it's just so much better than the stuff you can buy here, at least you know what goes in it, and you won't get a heart attack or break your tongue when trying to pronounce all the ingredients in pre-packed breads. I'd never tried potato bread though. And one thing I can now say: when you make potato bread, make sure you have someone at hand to flour the work surface and scrape the dough together because, boy, is this a sticky bugger!

This month I've been a good daring baker and stuck to the recipe. Well, almost stuck to the recipe, but no major cheating this time. I added the butter to the mashed potatoes instead of later on, because I didn't think I'd get the butter to distribute evenly otherwise. And I skipped the second rise for half of the bread: I forgot to buy fresh yeast, so had to make do with the dried, instant, fast-action stuff, which only needs to rise once (you knead your dough, shape it, let it rise and then put it straight in the oven). In the past, I have tried two rises with this yeast, but without success: after the first rise and re-kneading the dough it wouldn't rise again, resulting in a rather dense and heavy bread. There was plenty of dough to go around though, so I put half in a rectangular bread tin and plonked that in the oven straight after the first rise. The other half I reworked into smaller bread thingies and left for a second rise, ready to put in the oven after my first bread came out. And, this time, both methods worked equally fine.

Like I said, the dough is incredibly sticky - after the 5 cups of flour specified in the recipe, the dough is nowhere near dough-y enough to turn it out onto a floured work surface. But, following the instructions to a t, that's exactly what I did (I am a bit blonde sometimes). and that's also when having an S on stand-by came in incredibly handy. He kept on adding flour until my blob became a workable, silky smooth, elastic dough, out of which I got a loaf, a piece of focaccia and some rolls I sprinkled with sesame seeds, and cumin seeds.

Even if I say so myself, this was one of the best breads I've ever baked, and S wholeheartedly agreed. The taste took him right back to his childhood, because it tasted exactly like the 'ovenkoeken' he would eat at a local harvest festival. I will certainly bake this again - but next time I might try it the other way around. Usually when I bake bread I start with flour and add a liquid gradually, however this recipe started with 'potato water' to which flour is added - rather strange and more difficult I think. But the end result was more than worth it.

random pic of dead stuff in my garden

Check out all the other Daring Bakers' potato breads here.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

sweets for Diwali

Diwali was actually celebrated on the 9th of November this year so I’m an entire week late, but I’m sure Ganesha’s appetite for sweets is the same all year around. And as for Lakshmi (even though she’s a tough cookie – my friend’s words, not mine), surely my rice pudding is sweet enough to sway her.

Diwali, the festival of lights, is celebrated big in the area where I live, with lots of fireworks. My friends who celebrate it make sure their house is spic ‘n span clean from top to bottom, in anticipation of Ganesha and Lakshmi’s visit. These Hindu deities bestow wealth, success and happiness, but only upon clean households. In addition to all the cleaning, there are also sweets. Lots of them.

Now why would I be celebrating Diwali - blonde Belgians and Indian festivals, surely that’s a strange mix? Well, blame my friend S, a crazy (in a lovely way crazy) Mauritian girl, from Indian descent. She not only decided that I was going to be half Indian, but also introduced me to Bollywood music and films, textiles, henna, and of course Indian sweets. Which, with all their spices, are absolutely perfect for this time of year. And after restraining myself with the custard last week, I was itching to make something else with a mix of heart-warming spices.

Many moons ago I made gajjar ka halwa (carrot halwa) – an extremely sweet dessert with grated carrots and lots of cream, butter and milk – which was delicious but took me an entire afternoon to make, and I just didn’t have that much time on my hands. Ras malai is my absolute favourite – it’s a sort of milk curd ball in sweetened milk with pistachios and rose water – but I have absolutely no idea how to make that myself. And so I thought I’d give my gran’s rice pudding a go.

A bit nerve-racking, considering her rice pudding is heaven on a plate (and that’s a lot to live up to!), and also a bit of a challenge, with the vague instructions she gave me. It turns out her vague instructions are absolutely spot on though, there’s no way to make them any clearer. Gran only adds saffron to her rice pudding, but I added a bunch of spices. Other than that, I stuck to her ‘recipe’. And the result? A very Flemish dessert, with an Indian twist.

1 cup of rice (I used Arborio, but any rice that is suitable for risotto will do)
a knob of butter
full fat milk (about 1 litre)
a squeeze of honey
1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract
half a stick of cinnamon
a pinch of saffron
1 star anise
5 cloves
3 cardamom pods
a pinch of nutmeg

Melt some butter in a saucepan, add rice to pan and make sure it is coated with butter. Add enough milk to cover rice and add all the spices. Keep on stirring and adding milk (I added a tiny squeeze of honey halfway through) until the rice is soft, about 45 minutes.

It’s basically like making a risotto, so it takes some dedication, but the results are more than worth it. The spices I listed are the quantities I used, but you can of course adapt according to preference (S tasted and said it was ok, but he thought the star anise was too overwhelming), add some cream instead of only milk, and sweeten it as much or as little as you like.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

vanilla custard

After reading all the comments on my last post (the cheating-custard one) saying how easy and quick the custard was to make from scratch and how delicious it was, and a ticking-off from the one and only Tartelette, I shamed myself into making the custard part of the Bostini Cream Pie Daring Baker challenge. Which, indeed, took about fifteen minutes or so to make, was incredibly easy, didn't curdle at all, thickened within a minute and was utterly delicious.

I was of course tempted to add a twist to it - I was thinking cinnamon, cardamom and maybe star anise - but I know that S loves his custard good ole' plain vanilla. And since he had volunteered to make a lovely Sunday roast (and also because I love him and like to make him happy), I decided to stick to vanilla. When the custard had thickened I called S over to the kitchen and said 'look what I made'. His eyes lit up and I didn't have to ask him twice if he wanted to scrape every last bit of the custard out of the pan and lick the whisk.

Luckily I had started early enough in the day so that I could still get a decent daylight picture of my custards - unlike the nuclear looking pics in my last post. I probably should have done something fancy with the custard, saucing it over a decadent chocolate cake or something to that effect, but that would mean I'd have to bake a chocolate cake as well, and by the time that would be ready it would be dark, resulting in more fluorescent looking food. Plus there is something quite comforting about vanilla custard all by itself and so, after the pics, S and I dug straight in.

S of course loved it but I needed a lie-down afterwards, it was so heavy. Couldn't move for half an hour. Even S had to agree that, yummy though it was, it was a bit too creamy to eat by itself - next time I might substitute all that cream with milk. It would have made a perfect sauce for a Bostini Cream Pie though.

adapted from Alpineberry

1/4 cup whole milk
1 tablespoons cornstarch
3egg yolks, beaten
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
1/6 cup sugar

Combine milk and cornstarch in a bowl and blend until smooth. Whisk in and yolks, beating until smooth. Combine cream, vanilla and sugar in a saucepan and carefully bring to a boil. When the mixture just boils, whisk a ladleful into egg mixture to temper it, then whisk this back into the cream mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour into cups and refrigerate to chill. Delicious with chocolate sprinkles.

p.s. Baking Soda is only forgiving me for cheating with custard if I send her over some of that Japanese dinner our friends made us. You'll have to make do with a virtual treat, Baking Soda, I hope that's enough. And for good measure, I'll throw in a few pics of our lovely weekend in the country.

sushi rice with salmon flakes, green beans and egg ribbon;
stew with minced meat, potatoes, onions, carrots and okra, with pickles;
French beans with black sesame

countryside - you know, a place outside the M25, with real trees and fresh air