Thursday, January 16, 2014

Irish Soda Bread

I was going to head this Bread for tired people.  Perhaps it was just the relief of Christmas and New Year being over.  Whilst I don’t want to sound like the Grinch   - “and the more the Grinch thought of what Christmas would bring the more the Grinch thought ... I must stop this whole thing” - I do love Christmas and the whole family thing, but the run-up to Christmas had left me stressed, closely followed by plain, just tired (and I know I'm not the only one).

But, on the first day of a new year, my inner Earth Mother was glowing warm and mellow with thoughts of baking bread and I began to unwind (in a good way). 

It had to be simple though, so a no-knead soda bread was the chosen one and luckily I just happened to have buttermilk in the fridge as I'd used a little in a dressing the previous night. 

I started on it after a breakfast with my sister and her partner who had stayed overnight on a break on their drive down to Tongariro National Park.  It’s an insanely casual thrust of ingredients into a bowl, a quick bring together, shape, rest awhile (you and the bread), into the oven and it's done. 

The visitors weren’t around to sample the results but I guess if they’d smelt the bread baking they might have been tempted to hang around a bit longer and I may have gotten the chance to redeem myself at Scrabble.

Although soda bread is best eaten on the day, it does toasts up well the next day – cut in thick slabs and slather with good butter.  The Irish one, of course, loves it.

Irish soda bread

500g plain (standard) flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
420ml buttermilk

Line a baking tray with baking paper and dust with flour.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift in the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda together and stir to combine.

Pour the buttermilk into the mixture and, with your hand, bring it together to a dough. Transfer to a lightly floured surface. 

Don’t knead the bread, just gently roll it together and shape it into a smooth round by turning it on the board between your cupped hands.  Flatten it gently with your hand.  

Using a large knife, score the loaf to make quarters, cutting almost to the base (but don’t cut through) to make a cross on top.  Gently ease the quarters apart (you will probably need to flour your hands to do this or use a pastry scraper).  This allows the heat to reach the centre of the bread (or the fairies to get out).

Heat the oven to 200°C, leaving your bread to do its thing while the oven heats up.

Bake the loaf for approximately 30 minutes or until golden brown on top.  When tapped on the base, it should sound hollow.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Orange blossom & pistachio shortbread crescents

These were another of my Christmas bakes that didn’t make the post before Christmas deadline (self-inflicted and unrealistic deadline so doesn’t really count, does it?). 

They do look very festive with their dusting of snowy icing sugar, but they are so melt-in-the mouth gorgeous you would not want to limit your tasting to just once a year, believe me. 

I have been pestering one of our book club members for his wife’s recipe for a similar biscuit.  I’ve decided it’s either a secret recipe not to be divulged or he has forgotten, so I set about looking for something similar.  I feel like I have hit gold with this one. They could easily be my favourite biscuit with their oh-so-delicate flavour and texture and crunchy bites of nuttiness.

If you can’t be bothered shaping them into crescents – which is rather fiddly I admit and, as you can see, mine are more large and rustic than perfectly formed – I am sure little rounds would taste just as good. 

Orange blossom & pistachio shortbread crescents

200g butter, softened
¼ cup caster sugar
1 egg yolk
½ tsp vanilla essence
1 tbsp Limoncello
½ tsp ground cardamom
¼ cup shelled pistachios, chopped finely
1½ cups standard flour
½ tsp baking powder

For the topping

2 tbsp Limoncello
1 tbsp orange blossom water
¾ cup icing sugar

Preheat oven to 160°C. Lightly grease a couple of baking trays or line with baking paper.

With an electric beater, beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Beat in the egg yolk, vanilla, one tablespoon of the Limoncello and the cardamom and pistachios.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl and then stir into the wet mixture to combine.

Spoon out about one tablespoon of the mixture at a time and roll on a lightly floured board into a tube shape about 5-6cm long and 2cm wide.  Place on the baking trays.  To get the crescent shape, I used a tiny round bowl (from my old tin of petit four tins and cutters below) turned upside down as a prop to mould each biscuit around to make a crescent and shaped the ends slightly (or just shape roughly with your hands).  Repeat for each biscuit.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes until pale, golden and firm to touch.  Remove from the oven and leave on the tray for 5-10 minutes.

For the topping, mix the rosewater and the Limoncello together and, using a pastry brush, brush the top of each crescent whilst still warm.  Once you’ve done this, dust all the biscuits with a good amount of sifted icing sugar and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Recipe adapted from one by Allyson Gofton in “Bake”

Alessandra has reminded me to enter these for Sweet New Zealand - a monthly blogging event created by her - and so I shall and here is the link.