Breads


greek-easter-bracelets-with-sesame

It’s a shame Britain doesn’t have a tradition of Easter foods. Well, we consume hot cross buns and chocolate eggs in massive quantities this time of the year – but they are not so much a ‘tradition’ as brainchild of supermarket marketing departments. At least, that’s what I think.

So for inspiration on Easter cooking, look to Italy, Greece and other countries with a strong Catholic or Christian tradition, and you will find plenty of eggs dishes and baked sweet treats.

These Greek pastry ‘bracelets’ – which are like a cross between bagels and biscuits – are a favourite with children. The dough can be shaped into large or small bracelets, rings, rolls, cigars, twists, plaits – or anything else you fancy, really.

This is a traditional recipe – it’s known as Kulurakia in Greece – so I make no apologies for using white flour and white sugar. You can substitute brown flour and raw cane sugar if you wish – I’m sure it would be fine, but it won’t have that old-fashioned rustic Greek taste.

Get children involved in making these bracelets – if you don’t have any, do what I do and borrow a gaggle of nephews and nieces. It’ll be a lot of fun, especially if you make an event of it and have an egg painting party at the same time as the bracelets are being baked. Happy Easter! Serves 4 to 6.

4 oz/ 100g clarified or unsalted butter, softened
4 oz/ 100g white sugar
½ teaspoon natural vanilla extract
2 medium organic free-range eggs
12 oz/ 300g white flour
2 level teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder

For the glaze:
1 medium organic free-range egg
1 tablespoon milk

For the topping:
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds

1.    Beat the butter with a fork until it is creamy. Add sugar and vanilla extract, and beat well.
2.    Crack the eggs into the butter and sugar mixture, and once again beat thoroughly.
3.    Sift in the flour with the baking powder and cinnamon, and combine everything to make soft dough. Allow the dough to stand for approximately half an hour.
4.    Meanwhile, heat the oven to 375F/ 190C/ gas mark 5.
5.    Then break off walnut-sized pieces of the dough, and shape each into a roll about 4 inches long.
6.    Pinch the ends together to form a bracelet shape and flatten slightly. Place the bracelets on greased baking sheets, making sure you leave enough space between each to give them room to rise.
7.    Make the glaze by beating together the egg with the milk. Using a pastry brush, paint each bracelet with the glaze.
8.    Carefully sprinkle the top of the bracelets with sesame seeds.
9.    Bake in the pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes until golden.
10.    Allow to cool on a wire rack. Serve warm with coffee. Store any remaining bracelets in an airtight container.

welsh-teabread-on-a-plate

I have never before posted two sweet recipes back to back on this blog. However, I had already prepared Welsh teabread and had planned to write about it next week, when I realised that 1st March is St David’s Day – Wales’ patron saint’s day. So I decided to swap my schedule around and put up this post this week, in case any of you are looking for traditional Welsh recipes for the weekend.

This is a simple and straightforward take on the famous Welsh teabread known as ‘bara brith’ – which simply means ‘speckled bread’. There are many versions, some made with yeast. Sweet, warm pudding spices, candied peel, and chopped nuts are often added; and sometimes the top of the bread is covered with crushed sugar cubes before baking. However, I prefer this unfussy version. In this unyeasted form, the bread will keep longer than yeasted loaf.

Variations of this bread are found all over Britain. In Scotland, you’ll find Selkirk bannock, and in Ireland, the barm brack – both are similar.

This recipe is easy to make even if you are unaccustomed to baking. If it sinks a little or there are cracks on top, it doesn’t matter – just make sure that the bread isn’t too hard, which is the only important bit.

Butter generously and eat with a pot of tea on a leisurely weekend afternoon. Accompany with plum jam or orange marmalade if you like. Makes one 2lb/ 1 kilo loaf.

6 oz/ 150g currants
6 oz/ 150g sultanas
8 oz/ 200g light muscovado sugar
10 fl oz/ 300 ml strong black tea, freshly made
A little softened butter, for greasing
10 oz/ 250g white self-raising flour
1 medium egg, beaten

1.    Start the preparations the night before, or a few hours in advance. Place the dried fruit and sugar in a bowl, pour over the hot tea, and leave overnight or for several hours.
2.    When you are ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 150C/ 300F/ gas mark 2.
3.    Lightly grease a 2 lb/ 1 kilo loaf tin. Line the base and the sides with lightly greased greaseproof paper.
4.    Add the flour and egg to the fruit and tea mixture. Mix thoroughly.
5.    Place the mixture into the prepared loaf tin, and level the surface.
6.    Bake in the pre-heated oven for 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes until well-risen and firm to the touch. A skewer or knife inserted into the centre should come out clean. If not, place the loaf back in the oven a little while longer, making sure not to overcook.
7.    Allow to cool in the tin for 10 – 15 minutes. Then turn out on a wire rack and cool completely.
8.    Slice and spread with butter (and preserves, if you like) before eating.

panettone-bread-and-butter-pudding

Did you have a good Christmas? Do you, like me, have a lot of leftover panettone (the marvellous Italian fruit bread) to use up? This recipe is an Italian twist on the classic English bread and butter pudding (which is often served with custard). I have given only the basic recipe, but each year I vary it slightly. Sometimes I spread the panettone slices lightly with orange marmalade; on other occasions I add dried fruit (such as cranberries, cherries, blueberries, or sultanas) soaked in brandy in between each layer. Or I might chop up some leftover glace fruit or marron glace, and add that in, too.

The pudding is very, very rich, but I make no apologies as it is still the festive season. You can make a low fat version by omitting the ricotta cheese and icing sugar altogether, replacing the double cream with single cream, and reducing the quantity of cream and sugar – but, trust me, it won’t taste as good. Just serve in small portions, and think of it as an annual treat. Serves 4.

6 oz/ 150g leftover panettone
3 oz/ 75g ricotta cheese (or butter if you prefer)
2 medium eggs
½ pint/ 300ml double cream
3 oz/ 75g white sugar
Icing sugar for dusting

Mascarpone cheese or ice cream (vanilla, orange, rum and raisin, or chestnut flavours are recommended), to serve

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/ 350F/ gas mark 4.
2. Slice the panettone fairly thickly, and spread each slice with ricotta cheese (or butter). If you wish, you can toast the slices very lightly under a grill (not in a toaster as it can get a bit messy). However, I prefer to leave them untoasted.
3. Beat the eggs well with cream and sugar.
4. Layer the panettone slices in a greased baking dish, ricotta side down. Pour over the egg mixture evenly, and bake in the oven for 25 minutes until golden brown.
5. Remove from the oven and leave the pudding to stand for 5 minutes. Dust with icing sugar, and serve with a blob of mascarpone or a scoop of ice cream. If you got jars of fruit preserved in alcohol (such as oranges in rum) for Christmas, spoon a couple of tablespoons of their content along the side. Enjoy without guilt!

This rich Georgian cheese bread – known as khachapuri – is offered to guests as a snack or eaten as fast food in Georgia. It is always served straight from the oven. It is made in a variety of shapes and can be stuffed with different types of cheeses – but sheep’s milk cheese and fermented yoghurt is one of the most common combinations. Serve with pickled vegetables and chilled vodka. Makes 8 individual breads.

500 ml/ 18 fl oz plain unset yoghurt or fermented yoghurt
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons caster sugar
1 teaspoon salt
600g/ 1 lb 5 oz plain flour
2 level tablespoons baking powder
500g/ 1lb 2 oz cheese (such as cream cheese, feta, Danish Havarti, Port Salut, Emmenthal, Edam, Cheddar, etc), crumbled or grated
1 egg, beaten
Salt and pepper
100g/ 5 oz butter, melted

1. Place yoghurt, egg yolk, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl, and mix well.
2. Add the flour and baking powder and knead together into soft dough, adding more flour if the dough is sticky. In a warm spot in your kitchen, leave to rise for at least 1 hour.
3. In another bowl, combine the cheese with the egg and seasoning, and mix well.
4. Pre-heat the oven to 200C/ 400F/ gas mark 6.
5. Divide the dough into 8 portions. Roll out each portion in turn on lightly floured surface into 5 inch/ 12 cm rounds.
6. Put a couple of tablespoons of the cheese mixture into the centre of each round, then bunch up the sides and twist the tops to seal, flattening them slightly.
7. Roll each dumpling-shaped stuffed dough into 6 inch/ 15 cm rounds on a floured surface. Repeat with all 8 portions. Place on a greased baking tray and bake for 15 minutes.
8. Brush the hot bread liberally with melted butter before serving.