Tag Archives: bake

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year…

3 Dec

I rated myself as a mere 20% hipster to a friend today. She snorted and readjusted my estimate to about 90%. Conservatively. We were sitting in Cork Coffee Roasters, and as I hugged my macchiato, I became painfully self-aware in that oh-so hipster way. .
For the record, I don’t wear glasses unnecessarily. Also for the record, the macchiato was 40c cheaper than its equivalent in cappuccino.
I just wanted more more caffeine for my coin.

But in the spirit of embracing my inner-hipster, I’ve decided to write an ironically unseasonal post about autumnal treats, including a barm brack I make every Hallowe’en.

Barm brack is hands down my favourite thing about Hallowe’en. It’s laced with both tea and symbolism. I like to think of it as Christmas cake-lite… It’s my personal practice run for a proper, dark celebration cake. Whereas Mary Berry uses dark brown sugar in her Christmas cake, I tend to use soft, light brown sugar in my barm brack. And instead of soaking the fruit in sherry or brandy, barm brack (a.k.a. tea brack) calls for the fruit to be bathed in, you guessed it, non-alcoholic tea.

Barm brack is like the milder, more approachable sibling of Christmas cake. Plus you don’t have to ice it.

This year, I just raided the store cupboard, which meant that I was restricted to Lidl sultanas instead of a combination of raisins and currants. I also avoided glacé cherries. They’re not really authentic enough for my liking. (Too mainstream.)

So while the fruit for my Christmas cake is contentedly soaking in sherry, I thought I’d share the forerunner with you. Because, here’s the other thing, it’s sort of bready in its own way. Anything that’s best served with butter is a sort of variant on bread, surely.



Speaking of Autumnal baking, you might also like to check out this wholemeal soda bread. It works every time, requires no kneading, and tastes delicious. I use Darina Allen’s recipe in her book Easy Entertaining. In fact, I literally just pulled a loaf out of the oven. That should cover breakfast for the next week or so. It’s worth getting up for.

I often substitute black treacle for sugar and mix it in with the milk.


400g wholemeal flour
75g plain flour
1 tsp baking soda
425ml sour milk/buttermilk (can combine milk with lemon juice or vinegar)
1 egg
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tsp sugar/honey/black treacle
1 tsp salt

Pre-heat oven to 200°C
Combine dry ingredients in bowl.
Whisk egg, combine with milk, oil and black treacle if using.
Mix everything together well.
Grease and dust a loaf tin/round oven-proof bowl with flour and pop in the oven for 1 hour. (It’s important to do both, I find, with my ceramic bowl, as the bread can be a nightmare to ease out otherwise.)

Serve with your own homemade blackberry jam (seriously, try it… I wish I’d posted this when blackberries were still out in abundance. It’s pretty much the only fruit we grow successfully. The fact that blackberries are borne of brambles probably says something about the state of our garden. It also makes a very cheap pressie, now that Christmas is rapidly approaching! Yes, this post is finally becoming relevant.)

Anyway, before we fully embrace winter, let’s raise a little toast to rust-coloured leaves, walnuts and cozy home baking. So in case you felt that winter snuck up on autumn and kidnapped it, there’s a bit of closure.




10 Jul

Call me a bread-head, but I’m on a personal quest to bake the perfect bread.

Yeah, I know. I’m devoting a blog to that predictable hunk of flour and water that occupies a 30×10 patch in your fridge, cupboard or parlour. That dehydrated, pre-sliced white pan that must, must be made of reconstituted plastic because it’s unchanged after several weeks.

But bread is amazing: it’s been a staple of our diets for millenia. I won’t go into the history, but it’s undoubtedly been a steadfast companion to the human race over the years. It’s also the friend of innumerable dishes – curries, boeuf bourgignon, koftas – and serves as the basis of others. Even the term bread covers all manner of different types: it’s incredible the diversity that can be achieved working from such a narrow base of ingredients.

Plus, it’s got to be the most moreish foodstuff I can think of. I hate myself for it (and my hips hate me more), but I turn into a complete pig when presented with a pre-dinner basket of bread. Forget dessert, primi, secondi, cheese and wine: bread is the star of my show.

Good bread, that is.

I’m pretty into my food in general, but The Sound of Music taught me at a fairly young age to start at the very beginning. And perfecting bread seems obvious as the first port of call. I mean, it’s got to be incredibly simple, right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong. There are an overwhelming number of variables – if you want to learn about them in depth, I suggest you take a peak at The Fresh Loaf – not to mention a certain skill involved.

Nevertheless, my current inability to defeat Waitrose’s finest rather warms my cheeks. Right now, I aim to conquer our familiar, Western  loaf or baton. So, what do I seek? An open and moist crumb; a caramelised, crunchy crust; a nutty, full-bodied flavour; a firm shape.

Easier said than done. But when did that stop anybody?