ginger chai hot cross buns

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For most of my life, I’ve observed the Christian holiday of Good Friday, both through prayer and fasting (as a Catholic school girl) and afterwards, by the eating of hot cross buns. Hot from the oven, split in half and slathered in butter, soft and fragrant with a slightly crunchy glazed crust. There was nothing better after Good Friday services (the liturgy) at the conclusion of Holy Week.

For those of you who don’t have a Christian background, the latter may sound a little antiquated. After all, big supermarkets stock hot cross buns for most of the year these days due to ‘high demand’ from the general public. Well, at least that’s what Woolworths says (much to the disdain of small bakeries).

It wasn’t always this way. In 16th-century England, these buns were baked on Good Friday only as a representation of the cross and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In fact, during the reign of Elizabeth I (1592) it was considered a transgression to bake these fruited, spiced buns on any other day. The London Clerk of Markets could legally confiscate any baked products that defied this rule, common practice being to give any confiscated buns to the poor and needy.

Hot_Cross_Buns_Ad_for_Good_Friday_1884outofoven

I badly want to resurrect this rule, particularly in regards to the supermarket duopoly. These days, chocolate eggs and hot cross buns appear in early January (amidst Australia day flags and Valentine hearts) and stay long after resurrection Sunday. You can buy Belgian chocolate buns, orange and cranberry buns, apple and cinnamon glazed or fruitless buns… pretty much any type you like, nestled cosily next to jam-filled donuts and fudge brownies.

Now, I’m not against flavour variations in the slightest (as you can see, I’ve created a variant myself) but I do oppose the fact that these variations and loose selling times are desensitizing people to the fact that there is meaning behind this ancient tradition (I’m definitely not alone). The flour cross isn’t just there to look pretty and be peeled off after toasting; it’s significant, reminiscent of the meaning behind Easter itself.

Ok, rant over.

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Back to this particular recipe post for hot cross buns. Let me start with an admission: I’m not an expert when it comes to bread. I’ve tried and failed many times over with sourdough starters, no-knead recipes, dried yeast and fermentation processes, all of which left me with rock-hard loaves of disappointment.

However, about two years ago (after eating what seemed like my umpteenth slice of chewy, dense rye) I decided to try my luck with the simplest of Italian focaccia: Italian ‘tipo‘ flour, lots of hydration, extra virgin olive oil, yeast and crunchy sea salt flakes. It turned out beautifully, baked on a pizza stone to a golden crunchy crust with a soft and airy crumb. I was inspired to try again, so I did, with rosemary and caramelised onions. Something started to make sense. It clicked.

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Now, focaccia is a very easy and forgiving bread so in the first instance, I set myself up for a win. However, it was a combination of good quality products from All About Bread in Wanneroo (purchased through Swansea Street Markets in Victoria Park), following recipes (very difficult for an intuitive cook who hardly measures) and the pizza stone that led to continued success.

That and a fair whack of good ol’ fashioned practice. It makes perfect, as they say*.

*I’m taking about yeasted baking, of course, I still have a ton to learn. Next, I’m going to reattempt spelt sourdough with some dehydrated starter from the lovely Sandra aka Lady Redspecs (thanks Sandra! I’m excited and just a little bit afraid). Her notes, alongside those from Emilie and Brydie, will form my Sourdough Bible Version IV (yep, I failed a lot).

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Now, after completely ruining any chance I had of being respected as a baker (uh, just being honest), let me say that these hot cross buns are utterly delicious. They have a soft and tender crumb, a slightly crunchy exterior and gentle heat from the chai spice and ginger.  They’re wonderful warm, slathered with cultured butter and sea salt, particularly if accompanied by a cup of steaming tea. You won’t want to stop at one.

Happy Easter, everyone x

buns

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Ginger Chai Hot Cross Buns

Adapted from Hobbs House Bakery

Makes 16 medium buns

Dough mix:

  • 680g strong white baker’s flour
  • big pinch of sea salt
  • 70g golden caster sugar + pinch of sugar, extra
  • 80g soft butter
  • 1 tbsp (15g) chai spice (I used Herbie’s ground chai spice. Substitute any ground chai spice or traditional mixed spice)
  • 1 free-range egg
  • 270ml warm water
  • 15g dried yeast

Fruit mix:

  • finely grated rind from 1 orange
  • finely grated rind from 1 lemon
  • 100g good-quality sultanas
  • 60g chopped preserved ginger (the ‘naked‘ kind, preferably not crystallised or in syrup**)
  • a little plain flour, to dust

Flour paste (for the crosses):

  • 100g strong white flour
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of sugar
  • a good knob of butter
  • 100ml water

Bun wash (optional):

  • 1/4 cup of boiling water
  • 1 pinch of chai spice
  • 2 tsp golden caster sugar

For the buns: Firstly, dust your dried fruit with a little flour, working it through with your hands to ensure there are no clumps of ginger or sultanas. Grate over the citrus zest and set aside.

Combine the dry yeast and warm water in a bowl, add in a pinch of sugar and leave to activate (the mixture should become clouded and frothy). Meanwhile, combine the dry dough ingredients in a large bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture is ‘sandy’ and no visible clumps of butter remain. Make a well in the centre, crack in the egg and pour in some of the frothy yeast mixture. Mix from the ‘outside in’ with a wooden spoon or, if you don’t mind getting a little messy, just use your hands.

Once the dough starts to ‘come together’, turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 15 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Gently work in the fruit mixture, then place your kneaded dough back into the mixing bowl. Cover with a clean tea towel and place in a warm, drought-free spot* for 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

When your dough ball has risen nicely, tip it back onto a floured surface and punch it down with your fist. Knead it slightly to form a log, then cut into sixteen equal portions.

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In the palm of your hand, firmly shape the pieces into flat-based rounds so that they’ll sit nicely in your baking dish. Assemble the sixteen buns with a finger-width between each.

Cover the tray again with your clean tea towel and leave in a warm, drought-free place* to rise (about 30-50 minutes or until doubled in size).

Preheat your oven to 210 degrees C (410 degrees f).

Make your flour paste: Whisk together the paste ingredients in a small bowl until smooth (the mixture should be runny enough to pipe but viscous enough to not run everywhere; add a little extra water if it’s too thick). Place the mixture into a piping bag with a round, small nozzle or a snap-lock bag (as I did, if using the latter, snip off one corner of the bag to pipe). Lightly score the buns with a cross pattern, then pipe a lattice of the  paste mixture into the scored lines (I find it easiest to do all of the ‘length of the tin’ lines, followed by the ‘width’ lines).

Place buns into the oven to bake for 12-15 minutes, or until they have golden tops and bottoms (tap the surface of the bun, it should sound ‘hollow’. Whilst the buns are baking, prepare the bun wash (below).

Make the bun wash: Whisk the sugar and chai spice with hot water until the sugar is dissolved (there should be no granules at the bottom of the bowl). Using a pastry brush, generously glaze each bun as soon as it comes out of the oven.

These buns are delicious eaten warm, slathered with salted butter and (if you’re a sweet tooth) a bit of jam or honey. You can also keep them for 1-2 days in an air-tight container to enjoy at room temperature, or (my favourite) split, toasted and buttered with a cup of tea.

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toasted

Notes:

  • *if you can’t find any warm, drought-free places in your house, just switch on your oven to pre-heat, switch it straight off and then place your dough inside to rise (covered with a clean, damp tea towel). I’ve fallen into a habit of doing this at all times of the year, as it guarantees a rise each time. Tricky, I know, but it’ll all be worth it when you see your little bread children puffing up with pride.
  • **if you can’t find ‘naked’ ginger, you can use either glacé (candied in sugar syrup) ginger or crystallised ginger (candied, dried then coated in sugar crystals) in this recipe. Just make sure that you wash any extra sugar off, dry the ginger in paper towel and then dust it in flour as per the recipe. If your ginger pieces seem particularly hard or chewy, I’d probably also soak them in hot water for half an hour to rehydrate before chopping them up for the recipe.
  • Though I’ve called for chai spice in this recipe, you can easily substitute traditional mixed spice if you’ve got some in the cupboard. The main difference is the kick of black pepper, aamchur (citrusy dried mango powder) and cardamom that chai provides alongside traditional ginger, cinnamon and cloves.

the life changing loaf. and authenticity

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It’s been a strange couple of months around these parts. Quiet, slightly uncertain, full of questions surrounding my future income, Worker’s Compensation, options and priorities. Weeks of diversion from my normal routine have resulted in extra time for sleep, walks with the dog, therapeutic cardio sessions and some dismal left-handed kitchen experiments (read more about my injury here). ‘Right hand dominant’ is an understatement.

Thankfully, the worst part is now over. I’ve commenced a ‘return to work program’ and I’m no longer the victim of bad daytime television. My application for Worker’s Compensation was thankfully approved and I’ve been fitted with what my therapist calls ‘sexy nighttime apparel’, aka a custom overnight wrist splint. I’m also strapping my wrist with Rock Tape so that I can complete some light upper limb work at the gym, which feels great after weeks of low activity. I’ve recommenced some independent cooking, though Aaron (my ‘sous chef’ – thanks baby) is still available for weight bearing or manual kitchen tasks as required.

I’m healing, my body is doing what it’s supposed to do, life is returning to some sort of balance. I’m thankful.

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I’ve still had fun in the kitchen during my weeks off. If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’d be aware that I’ve been doing a lot of recent experimentation with vegan cuisine, particularly salads and healthy treats. This has been a natural response to my growing interest in plant based nutrition and whole foods whilst also doubling as a cost-saving measure (my preferred dairy brands aren’t cheap and neither is ethical, sustainable meat, so we avoided both whilst my income was awry).

It hasn’t been difficult; in fact, it’s been delicious and edifying. However, my ‘online profile’ (a strange concept to me, however I’m referring to this blog alongside my Twitter account, Instagram and facebook) has become a little confused as a result, so I’ve felt a growing need to formally clarify things on here. I hope that’s ok.

So, before I start: I’ve spent a lot of time dwelling on my nutritional standpoint over the past week. A lot of time. I’ve revised the content of this post about twenty times as I tend to overthink things, so if you’re not remotely interested in my nutritional standpoint (and philosophical musings) skip on to the recipe. Secondly, I am very aware that my Instagram and Twitter followers aren’t necessarily blog followers and vice versa, so you may be wondering what the heck I’m talking about. I probably devote needless intellectual energy into thoughts of personal authenticity, but if I’m going to maintain an online presence I want to be accountable for it.

cocodishA lot can be misconstrued when scrolling through those little filtered boxes (yes, I know that they can be rectangles now but stay with me) on social media. They portray only a small part of a person’s varied, flawed and messy existence (usually the bits with good lighting and a timber backdrop), including my own. It causes me personal conflict, as I don’t want my social media accounts to be filled with images of burned grilled cheese under fluorescent lights. However, I equally dislike the idea that impressionable young people would stumble upon my account and view me as a ‘clean eating’, virtuous ‘fitspiration’ freak who demonizes animal protein and wakes with a passion to brew her own kombucha.

Here’s the (honest) deal: I don’t like labels. I care about my body but sometimes I’m lazy. I’m not an ethical vegan, a dietitian, a nutritionist or any sort of authority on physical health. I like beer (I have confessed this on many occasions, but just in case you’re uncertain), red wine, kale and oatmeal. I both hate and love cardio. I attempt to make good choices, but I don’t eat righteous food for every meal. There are many who do, and they have my respect. But I’m not one of them.

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Continuing with the theme of authenticity, I’ve written the notes below as an attempt to clarify my nutritional values for both myself and those within my network. It’s as free of hashtags, buzz words and media filtration as I can make it.

Again, I have no qualifications in dietetics or nutrition, so please visit your General Practitioner, a certified nutritionist or a dietitian (such as the beautiful Heidi, when she concludes maternity leave!) if you’d like any advice suited to your individual needs.

  •  In majority, I consume wholefoods (unprocessed and non-GMO, organic* if possible) and a vegetable-heavy diet (edit 06/2016: I previously termed this a ‘mostly plant based’ diet, however that’s caused some confusion with a vegan lifestyle. I’m referring to the terminology used in Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food). However, I’m not entirely vegetarian nor vegan. I don’t eat much meat these days but when I do, I feel strongly about buying ethical, sustainable meat or fish from people who care about their animals.
  • I enjoy plant milks, creamy avocado and cashew cheeses but I also wholeheartedly support the inclusion of goats cheese, dairy milk, cultured butter and yoghurt in my diet (both for health benefits and enjoyment). I’m not really an eater of eggs (not that I’m philosophically against it, I just don’t really like them) but I purchase free-range eggs if/when required.
  • I’m resistive to extreme diets, fads and buzz words on social media. Though I’m not a dietitian, I believe that science has given us a solid basis for appreciating the benefits of a varied diet including some forms of cooked food, carbohydrates for energy and healthy fats in moderation (cholesterol is still bad, people). Crank nutritional information is rife within both social media platforms and the internet in general, as are extremist views from activists, so please, please seek professional dietary advice rather than excessively consuming the next ‘superfood’ (coconut oil is NOT a spiritual elixir. Whilst I do consume it in small amounts alongside other fats, I would go as far as saying that it cannot solve all of your dental problems, it will not cure you of high cholesterol, it should not replace all other fats in your diet. People talk complete rubbish).
  • I believe that dietary rigidity and categorization can lead to unhealthy thought patterns and disordered eating (speaking personally from my teen years, dietary rigidity can also act as a guise for disordered eating) whilst robbing an individual of the pleasure of social eating. I’m not saying that it’s not good to follow healthy dietary principles most of the time, but if it gets to the point where you feel guilty about eating a piece of chocolate (or you’re avoiding social events because there may not be ‘appropriate food’) then something’s out of whack. If a friend of mine serves me a lamb shank at a dinner party, I eat it (maybe not all of it, but at least some). Same goes for an occasional piece of cake or a fried donut made with refined sugar. I understand that some people may disagree on this point (and I’m not referring to those of you with medical issues such as coeliac disease or diabetes where compromise cannot occur) however I’m a person who demonstrates love and generosity through the preparation and offering of food, and I want to validate reciprocity in this area. This doesn’t mean that I abandon my personal food ethics and nutritional standpoint. An otherwise healthy human body will not be broken by a cheese and prosciutto pizza and a glass of wine at the weekend (and I don’t choose my friends by their nutritional preference).
  • *On the topic of unprocessed, non-GMO, organic, free-range: we’re not rich by any means, so this also affects my food choices. I buy a ton of vegetables and they’re not always organic as we just can’t afford it. I’ve recently been trying to keep my organic purchases to the the ‘dirty dozen‘ (produce that usually contains the most pesticides) whilst purchasing regular non-organic produce for the ‘clean fifteen‘ (products that generally contain the least amount of pesticides). I believe that a diet rich in vegetables, even if they’re non-organic, is preferable to a diet that lacks plants. Alternately, if I can’t find good dairy or meat from sustainable, ethical sources, I’d rather eat plant based sources of calcium and protein. I vote with my hip pocket (Aussies, click the following links to find some information on sustainable living and ethical meat suppliers) and my heart.
  • To sum things up, I’m just trying to cook, eat and live as responsibly as I can. I value and respect animals, but also want to value, love and respect my fellow humans. I want to enjoy food as well as nourishing my body. I don’t want to beat myself up if I feel like dairy milk chocolate or cultured butter on a piece of sourdough. I want to remain honest, true to my own conscience and principles. To be the best version of myself, not someone else.

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Oh, and one last thing. I eat messy food. Simple food. Ugly food. I eat mushroom burgers with aioli running down my chin. I sometimes eat in monochrome (usually brown; oats and tahini with mashed banana ain’t pretty) from chipped IKEA crockery whilst wearing the daggiest of trackpants. I’m massively imperfect and it keeps me humble.

You’re probably always known it, but I’m glad we’re straight.

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That brings me to this super simple loaf of seeded goodness from My New Roots. It didn’t exactly change my life but it it’s good, oh it’s good. And so is Sarah, the nutritionist who created it.  She’s authentic. And that resonates with me.

The Life Changing Loaf of Bread

Adapted from this recipe from Sarah Britton, My New Roots

  • 1 cup (135g) sunflower seeds
  • 3/4 cup rolled flax seeds
  • 1/2 cup raw buckwheat groats
  • 1 1/2 cups (145g) rolled oats
  • 4 tbsp psyllium husks
  • 1 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt flakes
  • 1 tbsp rice malt syrup (brown rice syrup)
  • 3 tbsp melted coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water

Mix all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl, set aside. Whisk together the water, coconut oil and rice bran syrup until the syrup is completely dissolved.

Pour over the dry ingredients, mix well until everything is completely soaked. The dough should be adhesive but still ‘mixable’ (add a couple more teaspoons of water if it is too thick). Pour into a silicone loaf pan (silicone will make it much easier to turn out your bread; however, I successfully used a rigid loaf tin greased with extra coconut oil, plus a little baking paper to line the bottom) and smooth the top with a spoon or spatula. Set aside at room temperature to ferment for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight. When the dough is ready, it should retain its shape when you pull the sides of the loaf pan away from it.

Preheat your oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees f). Bake for 20-30 minutes on a centre oven rack until the bread can be carefully turned out of the tin. Place upside down directly onto the oven rack and bake for another 30-40 minutes or until the base sounds hollow when tapped. Allow to cool before slicing.

Store in a well-sealed container for up to five days. It can also be successfully frozen; slice before freezing and defrost in the toaster as desired (this makes the best nutty, crunchy toast, top with smashed avocado and seeds, ricotta and honey or a bit of chia jam for a delicious treat).

picnics and caramelised onion foccacia

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I’m a big fan of picnics. Particularly during the summer months when the warmth of the sun lingers long after her brightness has faded.

On the balmiest of nights, we can often be found on the shores of City Beach with a basket, Esky (the Australian word for cooler or ice box), swimmers and (on the odd occasion) a battered volleyball. Quite Australian indeed.

sunset picnic

In fact, amongst our friends (and many others) this tradition also occurs on most Australia Day holidays, usually accompanied by barbecued meat and the Triple J Hottest 100. We’ll possibly do the same this Monday (for overseas readers, Australia Day falls on the 26 January each year) or alternately, dunk ourselves in a swimming pool whilst sipping a cold beer. I can’t wait.

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For those of you planning an Australia Day feast, I’ve included a few recipe links below that are perfect for warm weather snacking, feasting and transporting. There’s also a quick recipe for what I’ve found to be a fail-proof olive oil focaccia.

We eat on its own (the herby, garlicky caramelised onion topping is delicious), with dips (hummus, olive oil, babaghanouj) and sliced lengthways for incredible grilled sandwiches. It’s so, so good.

Salads:

Dips:

Snacks/Antipasto:

Dessert/Sweets:

Drinks:

focaccia

Olive Oil Focaccia with Caramelised Onion Topping

Adapted from this recipe by Kerrie Sun

Makes one loaf

For the dough:

  • 450g (3 cups) strong bread flour
  • 310ml (1 1/4 cups) warm water
  • 2 tsp (7g/1 sachet) dried yeast
  • 2 tsp golden caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil + 2 tbsp extra for kneading + greasing pan
  • 2 tsp flaked sea salt

Topping:

  • 1 small red (Spanish) onion, finely sliced
  • small bunch rosemary and thyme sprigs, leaves picked
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled and sliced
  • extra virgin olive oil + extra 1 tbsp to brush
  • flaked sea salt, to sprinkle

Combine the water, yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 5 minutes or until frothy.

Place the flour and half of the sea salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture alongside 2 tbsp olive oil. Mix the wet yeast mixture into the flour using a fork or wooden spoon, then use your hands to bring the dough together.

Turn the dough onto a lightly oiled surface and knead for 5-10 minutes or until smooth, soft and elastic. Lightly oil a large bowl (I used the same mixing bowl, wiped clean) and transfer the dough in. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel, then leave to prove in a warm, draught-free place for 30-45 minutes or until doubled in size*.

Whilst your dough is rising, prepare your caramelised onion topping: in a medium pan, gently heat a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Add in the sliced onion, garlic and picked herbs, stirring gently over low heat until the onion is translucent (do NOT allow the garlic to brown or burn or the mixture will become bitter). Set aside.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees f). Brush a 20 x 30 pan with remaining oil, then set aside.

Punch down the dough with your fist. Turn onto a lightly greased surface and knead for another two minutes or until the dough is elastic and has returned to original size. Press out into a rough rectangle and transfer into your prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and leave in a warm, draught-free place to prove for 20 minutes or until doubled in size.

When your dough has finished proving, uncover and use your fingers to press dimples into the surface. Distribute the caramelised onion topping over the surface, pressing some of the herb sprigs into the dough. Sprinkle with a little flaked sea salt.

Transfer into your preheated oven and bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden (the foccacia should sound hollow when tapped on the base). Brush with a little more olive oil to soften the crust, then leave to cool.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

*Dough can be refrigerated overnight at this point in the process, covered in plastic wrap. You may need to complete second proving in the oven to ensure a good rise (I turned the oven on, preheated it to 100 degrees then turned it off. Leave to cool slightly then transfer your pan of dough onto the centre rack), covered in a moist tea towel. Prove until the dough has doubled in size. 

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To all the Australian readers, happy Australia Day weekend. For my overseas friends, stay warm – I hope this post brings you a sliver of sunshine.

bread in common, fremantle

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Over the past few weeks, I seem to have embraced my uncoordinated, klutzy alter ego. It’s been a painful experience, and… well, let’s just say that I’m hoping it’s a phase.

For example, exactly thirteen hours ago I arrived at my local church, hazy and bleary eyed from the week-that-was. Whilst setting up some microphones (I sing as part of the music team every three weeks), I managed to drop a heavy wooden lectern on my foot. Yes, a lectern. I’m not even going to attempt an explanation, but let’s just say that it hurt. Possibly like childbirth or appendicitis, but as I’ve had neither I can’t compare (I promise to revise this statement postpartum if my opinion changes). Straight afterwards, I felt very, very stupid.

Luckily, I managed to hobble around wincing for the next five hours with only one person questioning my uncharacteristic slow gait. After the service ended, I removed my shoe to inspect some swollen, purple toes. I have no idea if there’s a fracture but hey, it’s Sunday. I can readdress that question tomorrow.

Speaking of questions, you’re probably wondering what on earth this introduction has to do with a restaurant review. Well, let’s just say that another klutzy incident occurred on the same day that I visited Bread in Common. It involved my head and a suspended boat rudder attached to a sculpture on Fremantle Dock. See the picture below? Well, the incident occurred about five minutes after it was taken (in other news, do you think I look like a horse? I thought so). And again, I felt very, very stupid.

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The only good thing about my semi-concussion was the fact that it occurred straight after a rather satisfying breakfast at the above-named restaurant on Pakenham Street. Amidst the throbbing pain, plates of soft eggs and chewy sourdough swam before my eyes like small roadrunners around the Wile E Coyote. Okay, so that’s a slight embellishment, but… well, the breakfast stayed down. And it was good. That’s success, in my opinion.

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Our visit to Bread in Common took place on a quiet Friday morning. Being a public holiday, we expected large crowds by 10:30am but thankfully, the late opening time (of 10:00am) seemed to have averted a portion of the breakfast crowd. As our visit had been months in the planning, it was a great pleasure to actually sit down within the stripped-back, converted warehouse space. Our coffee orders were taken immediately and we were left to peruse the ‘brunch and dinner’ menu.

Bread in Common is the brainchild of Nic Trimboli (whom Perthians might recognise as the restauranteur behind Gordon Street Garage, Duende and Balthazar) and his partner, baker Gotthard Bauer (from the famous Yallingup Woodfired Bakery that I’ve raved about here and here). As the name might suggest, this place is all about communal tables, generosity and arguably the best woodfired bread this side of Yallingup. At $2 per person, nonetheless.

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Being a creature of habit, I immediately scanned the menu for smashed avocado on toast. Instead, I found share plates, house-churned butter, savoury spreads, toasted sandwiches and mouse traps (uh, it turns out that these are little pieces of toasted bread spread with Vegemite and cheese).

Needless to say, momentary disappointment melted into to excitement over the prospect of eating scrambled organic eggs with dukkah ($14), mixed mushrooms with toasted macadamias, thyme and bitter greens ($15), smoked zucchini spread ($3.50) and garlic sausage. Did I forget something? Oh, and bread. Beautiful, organic loaves baked with small-batch milled local wheat-belt flour.

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Soon after placing our food orders, the coffees mercifully arrived. I had reasonable expectations, seeing as Bread in Common uses Mano a Mano specialty coffee which is roasted in small batches at its sister restaurant, Gordon Street Garage.

Strangely, both Aaron and I found the coffee to be well-made but largely lacklustre. I sipped thoughtfully for at least ten minutes before deciding that it bore no resemblance to the signature blend at Gordon Street. Why? I have no idea. There was no bitterness, no body, just… milk. Brown milk. Rather disappointing.

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Thankfully, redemption was found in a plate of warm bread with our chosen dips: smoked zucchini and garlicky sausage. Despite our two bread selection (common loaf and wholemeal sourdough) bearing only one half-piece of the wholemeal sourdough (that’s 16%, people), we ate it appreciatively, generously slathered in the accompanying spreads.

breadIf I had to pick a favourite food item from the day, it’d probably be the smoked zucchini spread with toasted black sesame seeds. It was beautifully creamy with hints of woodsmoke and toasted nuts… absolutely delicious. I could’ve eaten just smoked zucchini spread on toast and been rather happy (but of course, I didn’t).

Our next two dishes, mixed mushrooms and scrambled eggs with dukkah on toast, arrived together. My first thought was that servings were both rustic and rather generous. Thumbs up in my book. The eggs were soft and creamy, pale golden against lightly toasted sourdough. The smattering of toasted dukkah was rather delicious with the delicate eggs and bitter fresh rocket (arugula).

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The mushrooms. Oh, the mushrooms. Juicy and caramelized with perfect amounts of acidity. The wilted greens added some wonderful bitterness and colour contrast whilst the toasted macadamias were buttery, crunchy and delicious. If I wasn’t stuffed to the brim, I would’ve mopped up the mushroom juices with more perfectly chewy sourdough. It was that good.

mushroomsBut no. After polishing off the last mushroom, Aaron and I were both in a blissful state of brunch satisfaction. We sat quietly, mesmerized by an apron-clad baker transferring loaves of dusty sourdough onto a wheeled trolley. Perfectly slow-fermented sourdough loaves, golden and crusty, spattered with organic flour.

These loaves are available for wholesale purchase or for hungry customers to take-home from the bakery. I would’ve done just that if not for the fear of devouring the entire loaf in the car. Or at home, slathered in organic butter and sea salt with an accompanying glass of red.

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In hindsight, it might have been tangible comfort for my head injury. Butter and carbohydrate therapy? I’m sure that’s been documented in a medical journal somewhere.

Or my foot injury. In fact, maybe I should hobble there now…

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Bread in Common

43 Pakenham Street, Fremantle WA 6160

(08) 9336 1032

Sun – Thurs: 10am – 10pm

Friday – Saturday: 10am – late

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the moroccan table

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Blogging is a funny thing. When I first began Laura’s Mess back in May 2012, it was predominantly intended as a personal record of my scribbled recipes, photographs and stories. Twenty months later, I’ve produced eighty six posts, learned how to use photo editing programs and formed friendships all around the world that are predominantly based on a mutual passion for home cooking, writing, local produce and nourishing those we love.

In recent months, one of the most precious benefits of blogging has been the formation of new friendships with a group of talented Perth bloggers, most of whom I met at the Eat Drink Blog conference in November 2013. To name just a few, there’s Laura (Laura Moseley), Bryton (Food in Literature), Whitney (Dine Whit Me), Matt (Abstract Gourmet) and Ai-Ling (Food Endeavours of the Blue Apocalypse).

However, among the crowd of eighty-odd people, there were two bloggers that I instantly hit it off with: Matt (Inspired Food) and Jemima (Feed Your Soul, Perth). Since the conference, we’ve kept up a continued foodie dialogue whilst also meeting on occasions for good eats and company.

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I expect it’s something to do with our youthful enthusiasm, a mutual love of food (evidence below) and our growing cookbook collections. Whatever it is, I feel blessed and inspired to be part of it.

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Where there’s food, there’s us.

A few weeks ago, Matt, Jem and I decided that it was time to hold a joint dinner party for our favourite long-suffering taste testers: Matt’s girlfriend Alyssa, Jem’s sister Lexi and my Aaron. After some initial brainstorming, we decided on a loose Moroccan theme packed with spices, nuts and grains.

The date was set for Sunday, 19th January 2014. Matt and Jem chose mains whilst I volunteered for appetizers and dessert. The excitement grew. And we waited.

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The day finally arrived in a flurry of heat, sweat and activity. Matt and I completed most of the food preparation at our respective homes before arriving with Alyssa and Aaron at Jem and Lexi’s in the late afternoon. The evening was warm, sticky and bright. We sipped on apple and gin cocktails, waiting for the sun to set whilst chatting about our dishes, food blogging and life in general.

Aaron, Lexi and Alyssa chatted too; mostly about the shared pains of living with a food blogger (and the benefits, thank goodness!).

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As the night continued, we cooked, laughed and consumed a beautiful array of dishes ranging from spiced chicken tagine to delicate orange salad. Jem and Lexi’s home smelt like a Middle Eastern market, rich with cinnamon, vine fruits and orange blossom.

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It was a privilege to see my friends ‘in action’, cooking and styling their dishes for service and photographic presentation. After cooking together, I’ve been even more inspired by their natural talent, culinary knowledge and genuine love of food.

I’ve included the full menu from our night below. As the appetizer and dessert recipes were mine, you’ll find them attached at the base of this post. For main dish recipes (and to say hello to Jemima and Matt) please click on the hyperlinks below.

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Drink:

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Appetizer:

  • Split pea bessara dip with smoked paprika
  • Burnt eggplant with tahini and pomegranate
  • Moroccan flat bread (khobz) with za’atar

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Mains:

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Dessert:

  • Pistachio and rose ice cream
  • Cardamom and orange blossom ice cream
  • Almond pistachio shortbread cookies

As you’ve probably guessed by now, this is one of the longest posts I’ve ever written, containing five recipes in detail. However, after reading through and following the hyperlinks, I assure you that you’ll have everything you need to throw a Moroccan-themed dinner party just like we did.

I do hope you enjoy our recipe link-up as you join us around our virtual shared ‘Moroccan Table’. Thanks again to Matt, Alyssa, Jemima, Lexi and Aaron for the beautiful company, conversation, foodie inspiration and wonderful, fragrant dishes that entice the senses.

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Split Pea Bessara Dip

Adapted from a recipe by Hassan M’Souli

  • 125 ml (1/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 250g dried green peas, rinsed
  • 45g harissa (Moroccan chili paste)
  • 1/4 tsp sweet paprika
  • sea salt

Place a large saucepan over medium heat. Add in the olive oil and crushed garlic, cooking for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add in the peas and cumin; cook, stirring regularly, for 3 minutes. Pour in 2 cups (500ml) of water and bring to the boil.

Cook for 10 minutes or until the mixture starts looking dry and the peas have absorbed most of the water. Add in another 2 cups (500ml) of water and cook for a further 30 minutes or until the peas are soft and easily pressed between your fingers.

Remove from the heat and allow to stand for 15 minutes. At this stage, you can puree the dip if you’d like it smooth. Otherwise, return the pan to medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until the peas start to split and completely soft. Stir in the harissa, then season to taste.

Cool slightly before serving, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with smoked paprika.

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Burnt Aubergine with Tahini and Pomegranate

This recipe was made exactly from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem cookbook. I’m not going to rewrite it here, however many other bloggers have including Brian Samuels (see link here). It’s a beautiful, bold and piquant dip. If you’d like a tutorial for something similar, see my baba ghanouj post.

Moroccan flatbread (Khobz)

This is a slightly bastardized version, seeing as I’ve never been to Morocco. It’s been adapted from several recipes around the web, including this one.

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 7g envelope active dry yeast
  • 1 tbsp raw honey
  • 4 cups bread flour flour
  • 2-3 tsp flaked sea salt, to taste
  • 1 tbsp caraway seeds, toasted and crushed in a mortar and pestle
  • 1/4 cup light olive oil
  • optional: 1 free-range egg + 1 tbsp water, to brush
  • optional: 1 tbsp za’atar, to sprinkle

In a small bowl, stir together 1/2 cup of the warm water and the raw honey. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and let the mixture stand for about 10 minutes, or until foamy.

Place the flour into a large bowl and stir in the salt and caraway seeds. Make a well in the center and pour in the oil and yeast mixture.

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Start mixing the dough together, adding small amounts of the remaining water until you have a smooth, soft dough that can be easily handled (I had about 1/4 cup water left over).

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Return the flour to a clean, oiled bowl before covering with a wet tea towel. Place in a warm, draught-free position and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

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Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f) and heat two flat, heavy-based oven trays. Deflate the risen dough before dividing it into two equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then flatten into an oval that is about 2cm thick. Use a butter knife to draw three slashes upon the top of each loaf.

If glazing your loaves, quickly beat together the egg and water in a small bowl. Brush each loaf with the mixture and sprinkle with za’atar.

Splash each hot tray with a little oil, then carefully transfer your loaves onto the trays. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the loaves are shiny and golden brown. Serve warm with the above dips or some good-quality olive oil for dipping.

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Pistachio and Almond Shortbread

Makes about 16 cookies

  • 115g butter, room temperature
  • 110g icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar)
  • 1 pinch flaked sea salt
  • 165g plain flour, sifted
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup toasted mixed pistachios and almonds, crushed coarsely

Place the plain flour into a bowl with the icing sugar, cinnamon and salt. Rub in the butter until you have a firm dough. Mix through the toasted nuts.

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Shape the dough into one long log (about 8 inches long) and tightly wrap in plastic. Freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (365 degrees f). Line a heavy-based baking tray or cookie sheet. Cut the dough into 1cm thick slices and transfer each slice to the lined tray.

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Bake for 15-20 minutes or until set and slightly golden at the edges. Cool on wire racks before serving, sprinkled with a little extra cinnamon if desired.

Pistachio and Rosewater Ice Cream

Adapted from this recipe by The Food Network

Makes about 1 litre

  • 150g shelled, toasted pistachios, crushed finely
  • 450ml whole (full fat) milk
  • 300ml double cream
  • 150g sugar, divided into two
  • Pinch of flaked sea salt
  • 1 tbsp rosewater
  • 4 free-range egg yolks

Place the pistachios, milk, cream, half the sugar and salt into a large saucepan and set over medium heat. Bring to the boil. Allow to boil for 1 minute before removing the pot from the heat and covering it with a lid. Allow the mixture to infuse for 30-60 minutes, or until the milk clearly tastes like pistachio nuts.

Pour the mixture through a fine strainer and discard the nut pulp.

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Place the milk mixture back into the pan over medium heat. Bring to the boil. Meanwhile, place the egg yolks into a medium bowl with the sugar and whisk until pale and thick.

When the milk starts to boil, take it off the heat and slowly add about half of it to your egg mixture, whisking continuously. Add the egg and milk mixture back into the rest of the milk in the saucepan, whisking well until combined. Return the pan to the heat, continually whisking until thickened slightly (the mix should coat the back of a spoon). Allow to cool, then add in the rosewater.

Chill well (preferably overnight) before processing the custard in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Serve topped with some more crushed, toasted pistachios and crumbled dried rose petals.

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Cardamom and Orange Blossom Fleur de Lait Ice Cream

Adapted from this recipe by Food 52. ‘Fleur de Lait’ is ice cream with custard that is made from cornflour instead of egg yolks.

Makes about 1 litre

  • 2 cups (500ml) heavy cream
  • 1 cup (250ml) whole (full fat) milk
  • 2/3 cup raw honey
  • 1 pinch sea salt flakes
  • 3-4 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed (or 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom)
  • 2 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 1 tbsp orange blossom water
  • 1 tbsp Cointreau, Grand Marnier or another triple sec (substitute another tbsp of orange blossom water)

Combine the cream over medium heat with the honey, salt and cardamom pods.

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Whisk the cornflour into the milk until well dissolved, then add to the warmed cream. Heat, stirring constantly until the mixture comes to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens to coat the back of a spoon. Strain into a bowl and leave to cool. Add the orange blossom water, then chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour or preferably overnight.When adequately cooled, process in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If using alcohol, add the triple sec to the mixture just as the ice cream begins to freeze.

Store in the freezer or serve immediately (be aware that this ice cream melts much quicker than those made with egg yolk custard. Don’t leave it out for too long).

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kangaroo rendang with roti canai

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Despite being raised in Australia, I was 26 years old before I tasted my first bite of kangaroo. I remember it vividly, in part because Aaron and I were on our first ‘real’ holiday as a couple in Broome, 2,200 kilometres north of our hometown in Perth, Western Australia.

We arrived in Broome towards the end of March. Despite transitioning into the Australian autumn, it was oppressively hot, humid and bright. Despite those minor details, I was ridiculously excited at the thought of spending a few days in paradise with my love. As a bonus, we were also visiting the hometown of our beautiful friends Kelly, Gareth and Amanda, all of whom we see only once every few months. We couldn’t wait.

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A couple of days after our arrival in Broome, we jumped into Kelly’s car (a little rust bucket that she and Gareth generously lent to us) and embarked on a 19km trip to the aptly named 12 Mile Cafe (yes, I can convert from metric), a tiny organic establishment set within the beautiful grounds of Serendipity Farm.

Upon exiting the car, I immediately smelt the heady, rich fragrance of Malay spices, mangoes and galangal. It was intoxicating, particularly when factoring in my ridiculous dehydration. We sat at a tiny wooden table on the cafe deck, sipping fresh mango smoothies whilst awaiting our food orders. For me, marinated tempeh with fresh water spinach, young galangal and spicy peanut sauce was an easy choice. Aaron, on the other hand, chose kangaroo rendang with steamed basmati rice. I looked at him quizzically as sweat dripped from my brow, pooling onto a green serviette. He smiled reassuringly. I patted him on the shoulder before leaving to visit the drop-hole ladies.

My meal was amazing, in every sense of the word. Fresh, fragrant, colourful and deliciously nourishing. Aaron’s meal smelt like… well, wild game disguised in heady spices. He started chewing, thoughtfully registering every blissful mouthful. Eventually, he stopped for air and encouraged me to have a taste. In lovestruck compliance, I reluctantly agreed.

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The first forkful of that rendang has lived on in my memory like a perfect photograph. It was rich, fragrant, warm and delicious, intensely meaty but beautifully balanced by lemongrass, star anise, shallots and coconut. We devoured the whole plateful before sucking the last of our mango smoothies. Aaron has subsequently pleaded on several occasions for me to recreate our Broome rendang experience, but to be honest, I was a little intimidated. The idea of creating a perfect holiday dish in a domestic kitchen sounded wonderful, but largely unachievable. However, last week I harnessed my anxiety and went kangaroo hunting at my local butcher (sans spear, of course).

Upon arriving at Swansea Street Meats, I was disappointed to discover in conversation with the butcher that kangaroo meat is no longer farmed in Western Australia (it’s all transported from Queensland, folks). I therefore carried 1.1kg of frozen kangaroo rump home in a cloud of disappointment, alongside a kilo of beef chuck and various rendang spices. That night, I made a rendang with tender chunks of slow-braised beef, roti canai and a water spinach salad. It was delicious, but I was still determined to triumph over the national emblem.

The following week, I defrosted the lump of kangaroo and set to work on recreating our Broome memory: the perfect kangaroo rendang.

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That brings us to the present moment. Last night, I got home from work and raided the fridge for shallots, lemongrass, birdseye chillies, garlic, ginger and lime leaves. I blended a spice paste, lovingly fried it in hot oil, then set it aside whilst I prepared the kangaroo meat. Upon opening the plastic seal, I was immediately greeted with the pungent smell of bloodied game. It was… terrible. A clean version of roadkill. But still, I was undeterred. I diced it into 2cm chunks, coated it in seasoned flour and chucked it into a hot stewing pot. It sizzled, like game in the sunshine.

Fast forward three hours. The sun had long set below the horizon and street lights were sending dappled patterns across the coffee table. I stood, kneading dough for the roti canai whilst sipping from a cold bottle of Matso’s Mango and Desert Lime cider (necessary, when recreating a Broome dish. On the stove, the rendang sat, quietly bubbling as clouds of fragrant steam rose towards the ceiling. It smelt divine; rich, meaty, sweet and dense with spice. I was pleased; even more so when my roti perfectly bubbled on the cast iron pan.

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Half an hour later, Aaron and our friend Manuel arrived on the doorstep, sweating from a gym session. Post showers, food was assembled on the table and we loaded our plates generously. Then, we ate. In silence. Despite my initial reservations, I was stuffing my face without a scrap of restraint. Tender chunks of kangaroo combined with fresh coriander, cucumber and rice were piled upon pieces of soft roti and before I knew it, my plate was empty. I can honestly attest that it was that good.

If you have any reservations about cooking or eating kangaroo, I’d encourage you to put them aside for the benefit of this dish. When bought from a sustainable, responsibly-run farm, kangaroo is a very safe, nutritious and ethical meat to consume (see ‘resources’ below if you’d like to read more). It’s high in protein, low in fat (about 2%) and a good source of conjugated linoleic acid, which has been attributed with a wide range of health benefits including anti-carcinogenic and anti-diabetes properties. Though kangaroo is generally stronger in flavour than beef, lamb or other commercially-raised food animals, it’s wonderfully balanced in the strong flavours of this otherwise-authentic Malaysian dish.

Try it. From one kangaroo skeptic to another, you’ll be glad that you did.

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Kangaroo Rendang

Serves 4-6 (or one very, very hungry person)

  • 1.1 kg responsibly farmed kangaroo rump
  • seasoned flour, for dusting
  • 5-6 tbsp vegetable or light olive oil
  • 1 cinnamon quill (cinnamon stick), broken in half
  • 4 cloves
  • 3 star anise
  • 3 large black cardamom pods, cracked (pound gently in a mortar and pestle)
  • 1 cup (240ml) thick, full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 cup (240ml) chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 tsp tamarind pulp
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves, chopped finely
  • handful of curry leaves
  • 2 long mild red chillies, halved lengthways (optional)
  • 1-2 tbsp palm sugar, to taste
  • pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 tbsp kerisik (toasted coconut, finely ground)
  • fresh coriander and cucumber pickle (I just mixed cucumber with oil, lemon juice, toasted coconut and cumin seeds, fresh coriander, crisp-fried shallots and salt) to serve

Spice paste:

  • 5 Asian shallots, peeled and chopped
  • 1.5 inch galangal root, coarsely chopped
  • 1.5 inch ginger root, coarsely chopped
  • 3 stems of lemongrass, thick white base only, coarsely chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 4 small birdseye (Thai) chillies, whole (stems removed)

Prepare the spice paste: add all of the chopped spice paste ingredients to the bowl of a food processor (no need to peel the ginger or galangal, it’ll blend up fine). Blend until well combined.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add in the spice paste and gently fry it until aromatic, softened and reduced. Add in the cinnamon, cloves, star anise, kaffir lime and cardamom pods. Fry for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Remove from pan and set aside.

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Cut the kangaroo meat into 2 x 2cm cubes. Dust with a little seasoned flour, then fry batches of meat in the same saucepan (you may need to add a little more oil as kangaroo meat is very lean) until browned. Add the spice mixture back into the pan and mix well.

Add in the coconut milk, tamarind paste, stock, curry leaves, palm sugar and a little water. Bring to the boil, then replace the pan lid and reduce the heat to a low simmer.

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Cook, covered, for about two hours or until the meat softens and starts to fall apart. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Remove the lid and add in the kerasik. Cook for another 60-90 minutes, or until the liquid reduces to a ‘dry curry‘ consistency.

Skim any oil off the surface of the curry if required. Serve with coriander, steamed rice, the roti canai (below), cucumber pickle and some toasted shallots, if desired.

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Roti Canai (Malaysian flatbread)

This is a somewhat ‘Westernised’ recipe, adapted for the general home cook. To me, it tastes exactly as it’s supposed to; slightly chewy, layered, crisp on the outside and perfectly bendable for mopping up curry sauce. If you’d like to make a more traditional version, omit the yoghurt and yeast (and consequently, the resting/rising time). Fry as specified. More info on Roti Canai here.

Makes 6 x 15cm diameter flatbreads

  • 2 (240g) cups plain flour (+ 1 cup for kneading)
  • 3/4 cup  (180ml) of tepid/lukewarm water
  • 2 1/2 tbsp natural yoghurt
  • good pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp high activity yeast
  • pinch of baking powder
  • Butter and oil for frying

In a small bowl, mix the yeast with the tepid water and the sugar. Set aside until frothy.

Combine the flour, yoghurt, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl. Add in the yeast mixture, then mix until you have a sticky dough. Turn out onto a well-floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes (sprinkle more flour onto the dough as required; I added at least another 3/4 cup) or until the dough becomes elastic and smooth.

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Form into a ball, then place into an oiled bowl. Cover with a clean damp tea towel and set aside to rise for 1-2 hours in a warm, draft-free place (I ended up storing my dough in the slightly warm oven after I had turned it off).

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When the dough has doubled in size, remove it from the bowl and place it onto a well-floured bench. Punch out the air and knead it for five minutes (sprinkle more flour on top if the dough becomes tacky) before dividing the dough into 8 pieces.

Preheat a large, heavy-based frying pan over medium heat. Add 1/2 tsp butter and a good splash of oil; heat until smoking. Roll out one piece of the dough into a thin (~3mm thick / 15cm diameter) flat circle, then quickly drop it onto the piping hot fry pan. It should immediately start to sizzle and puff (sorry for the lack of pictures during this stage, I was working quickly). When the top surface is covered with large bubbles, flip the bread over and press the air out with an egg flip. Remove from the heat when browned on both sides; leave to cool on a paper towel. Repeat the process with your remaining dough.

Serve plain, as I did, sprinkled with salt or spread with garlic butter. If you’d prefer to oven-bake these breads, lightly brush them with oil and bake them on a preheated, lined baking tray or pizza stone at 230 degrees C (445 degrees f) for about 10-15 minutes, or until golden spots appear.

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Resources:

Just a couple of obligatory ‘eating photos’, since I don’t have Instagram:

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On a Personal Note:

  • The pictures for this post were taken with my new Canon EOS 70D, a completely overwhelming gift from my beautiful, wise and generous mother, Kim. I love you immeasurably. I am so, so grateful for everything you do. Aaron and I will be snap-happy for weeks!
  • Another thank you to the coolest sister-in-law on the planet, who got me these measuring cups (below) as an early birthday gift. Now I’ll be measuring things just for fun! Juls, you are beautiful and thoughtful in every way. Can’t wait to use them in a proper baking shoot!
  • Thirdly, a big thanks to Jason (our generally awesome friend and computer programmer extraordinaire) for messing around with some CSS modifications on my blog. Couldn’t have done any of the changes without you! Thanks also to Anna for being generally beautiful, warm, generous and lovely (and for staying up late so that Jason could mess with my blog!)

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banana, strawberry and coconut bread

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Those who are regular readers of the Mess would be quite familiar with my occasional (okay, regular) complaints surrounding my lack of a digital SLR camera, tripod, light-box and everything else that’s required to take quality photographs at night. It might therefore come as a surprise to see a low light photograph as the header for this recipe post.

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Let me explain. It’s 11.30pm, Friday night. I’m sitting in my living room, watching a candle flicker on the coffee table after catching up with my beautiful friend Elissa (from Ethical is Easy) over a bottle of Taylors white, homemade tapas and salted caramel ice-cream. I’m feeling relaxed, energised in the best way possible. I start putting some leftovers away and all of a sudden, my eyes rest upon the image of a few over-ripe bananas that have been sitting, neglected, in the far corner of my fridge for the past six days. Yes. Let’s bake.

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You can probably imagine the rest. Out comes my mixing bowl, some leftover ripe strawberries, dry goods and coconut oil. I pull out our trusty camera and some spare batteries to experiment with candlelight photography, sans any of the equipment stated above. Over the next two hours, my ingredients gently fused with the speckled bananas to create a fragrant, brown-sugar-and-coconut-encrusted vision of baked happiness, whilst pictures were snapped, erased, then snapped again.

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Whilst the bread was baking, I sipped on a glass of leftover wine, cleaning the kitchen to the ethereal soundtrack of Emma Louise. The gentle, soaring sounds of her debut album, vs. Head vs. Heart, sweep you into an intricate, thoughtful narrative that is a perfect accompaniment to the inky blackness of the night sky. Now, whilst this is not in any way a full music review, I’d definitely recommend Emma Louise if you like London Grammar or any other band that combines gentle, thoughtful and honest acoustic guitar with elements of electronic syncopation. Check out more polished reviews of the album here and here.

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Now, back to the baking: this fruity loaf is based on my favourite banana bread recipe, stolen from my mother’s copy of Marks & SpencerGood Home Baking’ by Mary Cadogan (1983). I featured a loose variation of the recipe in one of my very first blog posts, Banana Bread: Two Ways as ‘Recipe 1’. Today’s version swaps raisins and walnuts for fresh strawberries, coconut oil and dessicated coconut. It’s topped with a crunchy, toasted coconut and brown sugar crust which, when cut, unearths a beautifully moist, fragrant interior studded with chunks of intense strawberry.

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This recipe is simple, delicious, and achievable for anyone with a mixing bowl, an oven and a loaf tin (actually, you could even bake it in a round tin if required!). It’s adaptable, even if you’re missing a few ingredients, and forgives many common errors that haunt novice cooks (eg. when to combine wet and dry ingredients, how much to beat an egg, whether to sift the flour etc). As this loaf was consumed in the daytime, there are also some natural daylight shots of the finished bread below… thank goodness! It’s so difficult to make brown look attractive by candlelight.

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Banana, Strawberry and Coconut Bread

Makes 1 x 1kg loaf

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 90g unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp organic, virgin coconut oil
  • 175g soft dark brown sugar
  • 200g washed and quartered ripe strawberries
  • 1/4 cup dessicated coconut + 1 tbsp (for crust)
  • 3 large or 4 medium ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 tsp natural vanilla essence
  • 1 tbsp natural yoghurt (optional, replace with 1 extra tbsp milk if preferred)
  • 2 tbsp milk (dairy, almond, soy etc)
  • 1 free-range egg
  • 1 tbsp demerara sugar (for crust)

Grease the bottom of a 1kg (minimum) loaf tin with butter, then line with greaseproof paper. Set aside. Preheat oven to 160 degrees C (325 degrees f).

Place the flour and salt into a bowl. Add in the butter, cut into small pieces, then rub in until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sifted brown sugar, dessicated coconut and strawberries.

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Add the vanilla, milk and yoghurt to the mashed bananas with the beaten egg. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry, then mix until well combined. Turn your mixture into your lined pan then smooth the top with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle with demerara sugar and your 1 tbsp extra coconut.

Place the tin into the preheated oven and bake for 90 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown, risen and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.

Cool in the tin on a wire rack. Serve sliced and buttered if desired, or (my favourite) toasted, spread with mascarpone cheese and topped with toasted almonds.

goneNotes:

  • This loaf tastes amazing with the addition of 100g coarsely chopped white chocolate (reduce your strawberries to 150g). You can also substitute the strawberries for blueberries, raspberries or another berry of your choice.
  • Don’t like coconut? Just omit it, and add in 1/4 cup of rolled oats, nuts of your choice or flaxseeds.
  • If you don’t have any (or don’t like) coconut oil, just increase your butter to 100g.
  • To substitute plain flour with raising agents for self-raising flour, the general ratio per cup of flour is 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt. Sift together and use as required.

banana bread. two ways

Banana bread is a funny thing. Yes, it’s shaped like a loaf and yes, it contains bananas, but:

  1. being loaf-shaped doesn’t make you bread (take that, Nyan cat!) and;
  2. the addition of fruit doesn’t automatically make something healthy.

Now I’m not going to get on your back and say that you shouldn’t eat banana bread (cake!). I still intend to, both now and in future, and with it’s included fruit and nuts it’s definitely a more nutritious option than chocolate mud cake, pavlova or brownies (which, for the record, I also still eat… alongside occasional bowls of salty hot chips). However, there’s room for healthy food in the equation as well, especially when it contains superfoods that I know are good for the heart, brain and metabolism. One of those foods is chia seeds, a tiny little grain that’s gradually working it’s way into many of my developing recipes. Each little seed is packed with omega 3 & 6, antioxidants, protein and dietary fibre, all of which work with your body to keep you healthy, satisfied and energised. I love both white and black chia seeds, especially in their crunchy raw state, tossed into a muesli slice, a bowl of cereal or thick Greek yoghurt. They’re a little like a milder version of poppy seeds, but just much better for you.

So what’s all this seed business got to do with banana bread? Well, I guess what I’m getting at is that I’ve been experimenting… adding and subtracting, playing around with ingredients and transforming my original recipe into a wheat-free, refined sugar free and nutrient packed loaf of goodness. Instead of butter, milk and sugar, I’ve added chia gel, pureed apple and agave syrup, all of which add moisture and sweetness that you’d never know was good for you.

So, as per the recipe title, here’s banana bread two ways. My traditional recipe is more like a cake, deliciously moist and dense with brown sugar. It’s perfect for those occasions when you want something a little more indulgent that still vaguely falls under the category of ‘better for you’ (than a chocolate brownie, I guess). Recipe two is the healthy option, packed full of ingredients that are great for your heart, brain and waistline. Eat it to your heart’s content, whenever you want, knowing that you are doing your body good. I even eat it for breakfast, warmed, then drizzled with almond butter and honey. So, so good.

Recipe 1: Traditional Banana Bread with Walnuts and Raisins

This recipe is a loose variation of an original from my mum’s old Marks & SpencerGood Home Baking‘ cookbook (1983). It’s richly moist and loaded with raisins, nuts, brown sugar and cinnamon. It’s so good that it has become somewhat famous amongst my husband’s friends, who send in their baking ‘requests’ for it whilst suggesting that I set up a stall on the roadside. Ha, yeah. Anyway, try it… you won’t be disappointed.

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 100g soft unsalted butter, cubed
  • 175g brown sugar
  • 50g raisins
  • 75g halved walnuts
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 very ripe medium bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp whole milk
  • 1 tbsp demerara sugar

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C (325 degrees f). Line the bottom of a 1kg non-stick loaf pan with baking paper, then set aside. Place your flour and butter in a bowl, then rub it in until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in your sugar, cinnamon, raisins and walnuts. Mix your mashed bananas with the vanilla extract and milk, then add to your mixture. Mix well.

Turn the mixture into your prepared, lined tin and smooth the top with the back of a spoon (I usually bang my tin on the bench a couple of times to expel any air bubbles). Sprinkle with demerara sugar & more cinnamon. Place your tin on a baking tray, then bake for 90 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes back with just a few moist crumbs attached.

Leave to cool in the tin. Serve on it’s own, with butter, or thickly sliced and warmed with vanilla icecream for dessert. My all time favourite is a thick slice, toasted to slight crispness with a generous dollop of mascarpone, a drizzle of warmed honey and a sprinkling of toasted almonds. Yum.

Recipe 2: Wheat-free, refined-sugar-free Chia Banana Bread with Walnuts and Medjool Dates

  • 1 1/4 cups wholemeal spelt flour
  • 1/2 cup whole rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup walnuts
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup agave syrup
  • 1/2 cup white chia gel (recipe to follow)
  • 1/4 cup stewed pureed unsweetened apple (peel & chop 2-3 apples, cook in a splash of water until soft, then puree with a stick blender)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 4 very ripe medium bananas, mashed
  • 5 medjool dates, pitted and coarsely chopped (sprinkle them with a bit of spelt flour, then toss, to ensure that the pieces remain separated when mixed)

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C (325 degrees f). Line the bottom of a 1kg non-stick loaf pan with baking paper, then set aside. Place your dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix them well, then make a well in the centre. In a separate bowl, mix together your wet ingredients, ensuring that the chia seeds are evenly distributed. Add your wet ingredients to the dry, then mix well.

Turn your mixture into your prepared, lined tin, and smooth the surface with a spoon. I usually sprinkle over some cinnamon and rolled oats, or perhaps some crumbled walnuts, before tapping the tin on a flat surface to expel any trapped air bubbles. Place your tin on a baking tray, then bake for 90 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.

Leave to cool in the tin. My favourite way to eat this banana bread is freshly sliced with a glass of milk. It’s a completely guilt free, deliciously filling breakfast or snack that you can prepare on the weekend then eat the whole week through. My favourite serving suggestion is to warm a thick slice, slather it with almond butter, a drizzle of honey and more sliced fresh banana. Delicious.

Making Chia Gel:

Chia gel is basically raw chia seeds soaked in your chosen liquid. The soaking process softens the grain whilst transforming it into a ‘gel’ that can be used as an egg replacer or substitute for butter or milk in many vegan recipes (it contains similar binding qualities to egg whites whilst also adding moisture. Use 1 tbsp of gel for 1 egg). I’ve used pure white chia gel in the recipe above (with water), but you can also flavour your chia gel by soaking the seeds in apple juice, almond milk or for savoury dishes, vegetable stock.

  • Basic ratio: 2 tbsp chia seeds (white or black) to one cup of water.

Just add your chia seeds to the liquid in a jug or bowl. Whisk with a fork to separate the seeds then leave to soak for 10 minutes. Whisk the partially soaked seeds again, separating any clumps of seeds that may have fallen to the bottom. I usually make a big batch and place my covered jug in the fridge overnight for further soaking. Any leftover chia gel will keep for up to a week in the fridge.

Notes:

  • Either loaf of banana bread will keep well for 2-3 days unrefrigerated, or up to a week in the fridge. If you want to extend the life of your banana bread you can wrap it well in plastic film after cooling, and freeze it for up to three months.
  • For maximum flavour, use very ripe bananas. Don’t worry if they’re a little mushy, overripe, bruised or blackened – the flavour will mellow to moist banana-scented sweetness when added to the other ingredients.
  • Ripe bananas can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen ahead to be used for banana bread. The skin will turn black, but that doesn’t affect the quality of the fruit when it’s to be used in baked goods. The freezing process will actually intensify the flavour, and whilst the defrosted fruit may seem to have an altered texture this will be undetectable in your finished product.
  • Defrost frozen bananas in the fridge for at least 12 hours prior to mashing them for the recipe as stated.
  • If you can’t wait to make some banana bread but your bananas aren’t ripe enough, don’t worry. As long as they are mashable (e.g. not green) you can still use them and get a good result. I usually add an extra banana and a splash of agave syrup (maybe equivalent to one tsp) to the mix to compensate for slightly less moisture and depth of flavour in the just-ripe bananas.
  • If you have 12-24 hours you can also speed the ripening process of your bananas by placing them in a brown paper bag and closing it tightly. The fruit emits ethylene gas during the ripening process and sealing them in an enclosed space will speed up the process by trapping the gas.
  • Feel free to substitute wholemeal, spelt or gluten-free flours (of equal quantity) in either of the above recipes. Just make sure you add raising agent to the first recipe if you are not using the stated self-raising flour (1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda should do the trick).
  • Play around with fruit, nuts, spices and seeds in both recipes. My standby additions are sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or pepitas, millet seeds (beautifully crunchy and textural… not just for the birds), pecans, chunks (not chips) of dark chocolate, blueberries (frozen are fine, don’t bother defrosting first), dried cranberries and medjool dates (much nicer than regular dried dates). Interchangeable spices are cinnamon, a touch of nutmeg or even some ground cardamom. Just go with the rule that ‘less is more’ until you have tested the spice’s intensity.

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