Cape Town really is magnificent at this time of year, the mountain just about sparkles in the soft-lit blue skies- imploring you to put on some sensible shoes and come outside to “seize the day” : to be honest it’s all really a bit of a bother . Some of us would far prefer to be inside watching back-to-back episodes of Project Runway with a bit of Star Trek mixed in (for balance) than dirtying our hems outdoors. But when Cape Town is behaving in this way it’s difficult not to feel guilty about keeping the curtains drawn- even if you are having a perfectly lovely time in the dark.
Boy, are these buns delicious: the subtle background of spice brings these flavours together to make for a grown-up yet sweet and deeply comforting experience. I chose to serve this to my coolest and most excitingly trousered friends because the addition of one of Cape Town’s favourite local “craft” brewery’s stout makes these buns as hip as they are delicious.
Rooibos, Apple and Roasted Pecan Breakfast Bread
While this loaf makes for a handsome and edifying breakfast it also gets on terribly well with a bit of cheese- making its virtues enjoyable and accesible to the late riser/eater.
Makes One Medium Loaf
- 300ml strong dark brewed Rooibos Tea, luke -warm
- 340g white bread flour
- 20g fresh yeast (or 3tsp dried fast action yeast)
- 1 ½ tsp salt
- 100g Roasted Pecans roughly chopped
- 50g Dried Apple roughly chopped
- 1tsp honey and some extra for drizzling
- A little oil
A) For the Starter:
- Combine Rooibos, yeast, 1tsp honey and 100g of the flour in a large bowl.
- Leave to stand for about an hour and a half.
B) For the loaf
- Mix the remainder of the flour and the salt to the starter.
- Now knead the dough until its smooth and hold its shape (click here for a clear guide to knowing when you can stop kneading: http://www.thekitchn.com/bread-baking-tip-how-to-tell-w-156772)
- Shape the kneaded dough into a rough ball and place into a large oiled bowl
- Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and leave the dough to rise until it is about twice its original size.
- Place the risen dough onto the counter and knead quickly and gently. Spread it out on the counter.
- Sprinkle the dough with the Apple and Roasted Pecan and knead until its evenly spread.
- Shape dough into loaf (or place into bread tin), remove any apples pieces that are on the surface of the crust (these will burn quickly). Here is an excellent guide to shaping bread:http://www.thefreshloaf.com/handbook/shaping
- Allow the loaf to prove for about 30-40 minutes, until is 1 ½ times its original size. If you want to score your loaf do this about 20minutes into this time.
- Bake in the top third of a pre-heated oven at 200 degrees Celsius for about 40 minutes (until loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath)
- Remove from oven and drizzle with a little honey
- leave to cool before slicing.
Part Two: Obey
Being a rather grave sort of girl, I have always enjoyed a bit of gravitas in the kitchen. It is for this this reason I like my recipe books to have the word “Bible” in the title . It seems only fitting that instruction in matters most important and miraculous to me should be contained in a volume that portents to be a final and serious authority: one fitting of my most earnest obedience. Obedient you must be if you are to learn to bake. There are all kinds of techniques to be mastered and many these are not easy. You must find some authority to whom you can submit and let them show you how to bake.
Even with the best instruction its going to be hard work. I have met people that claim to find their new found hobby of baking relaxing. The liars! Or, if not liars, they are bound to be doing a shoddy job. If your are not suffering from the equivalent of road-rage in your kitchen then then you probably aren’t learning to bake. All kinds of the most appalling things will happen in your first few weeks: You will burn your sugar syrup, you will overwork your pastry, you will under-prove your bread and you will, almost certainly, at some point forget to add the eggs. Oh, the trauma! When these things occur you must prepare yourself for fits of rage and frustration. You will find yourself covered in flour, banging your pots and pans about the kitchen and using all kinds of filthy language that you didn’t know you knew. The more closely you obey instructions the less this will happen, but it will happen.
It is going to be frustrating but it is also going to be fulfilling. Wipe the mascara from your cheeks, Novice-Baker, and feel contented. Your apple and walnut cake might have sunk in the middle but you probably now know why and knowing this, makes you just a little bit better at baking. And being just a little bit better at baking means,as we all know, that you are just a little bit better at living.
Have a look at the first part of this series here:
Disclaimer: I am probably poorly qualified to tell you how to learn to bake. My only credentials are the few unwanted kilograms I carry around my waist and the fact that my hair is always matted together with icing. This is how I learned to bake. It might work for you it might just make you fat and scruffy-looking.
Focaccia and the argument from irreducible complexity (Alternative Title)
Nothing encourages my megalomania more than a successful loaf of bread. I get quite giddy with my opinion of myself after such a success, swanning about my kitchen like I have just descended Mnt Olympus to pop something into an oven. I mercilessly lord over my yeast colonies like a cruel titan, fuelled by a mad love of power; eventually destroying them in a fit of pleasure.
How do I explain this? Well, with reference to a philosophical argument of course:
There is a popular pro intelligent design argument that goes something like this: the human eye is just too complex, specific and all together wonderful for it to be a product of mere natural selection it must be the work of God. (Well, that’s it poorly stated with poetic license – For a more accurate expression you will have to go somewhere other than a baking blog). Now, I know better than to comment on the merits of this argument. I mention it only because the reasoning here is something like what I think when I successfully execute a bread recipe. This is going to be a bit of stretch, I ask you ,reader, to take a few leaps with me. There are times when I bite into a piece of bread and think: “This loaf’s flavour is too complex, its crumb too tender and its crust too crisp for its baker (me) to be a mere mortal- hobbyist. This must be the work of something great.”
I get mixed up, you see. Bread is just so wonderful and glorious that I get confused. I start thinking that the miracles that happen when you put yeast, flour, water, heat and pressure together have something to do with me. I do eventually find my way back to humility. This is usually as a result of my habit of pressing my pale and hungry face up against bakery windows. The sight of a fat pile of perfectly shaped and scored country loaves can be profoundly humbling to a recreational baker (humbling and appetite inducing).
My latest loaf a caramelised onion and thyme focaccia (the one in the photographs) is going to require a considerable amount of window-time to bring me back to earth, but first its time for a sandwich.
So there they are: some, lets be honest, very pretty biscuits. I made the little dears and I think that they are quite charming. As pretty as they are, however, there is an undertone to the delight and pride I experience when I gaze upon their floral loveliness- an undertone of despair. Pretty Biscuits and despair- now that makes for an interesting tea party. Make your choice- “one lump or two”- and let me explain:
It has all come to this. I have devoted my early adulthood to the onerous study of analytical philosophy, an academic discipline in which you are concerned with all kinds of meaty matters. So meaty are these matters that my extensive personal notes from this time could serve as poignant and absurd works of art. They consist primarily in “spider-diagrams” with phrases like “the nature of ulitimtate reality”, “the existence of God”, “what sort of person should I be” and “the value of scientific inquiry” at their centre. From these centres loop neat little arrows to other equally heady terms scattered about the page and usually the arrows point ultimately to sweet, but all telling, little question marks.
“The meaning of life, considered on a A4 page in blue ball-point pen.”
Year and upon year of this “mental gymnasitics” has left me, at 32, with what I like to call “a very fine brain”. It behaves well (at least most of the time), calculating, comprehending and analysing with ease and willingness- a real trouper of a brain. The kind of brain that is inclined to think of biscuits of the kind pictured above to be far too silly for human consumption.
And now I’m 32 , with a very fine brain, and making very pretty biscuits. Not only do I make pretty biscuits but I have too. Its what I need after years and years of neat little blue pall-point question marks. There is nothing, I find, quite like delightful things, to give, at least briefly, a touch of certainty to the day. Eugh, here is a disgustingly twee metaphor to really drive the point home: “delight is the tippex to my blue ball-point question marks”. What a marvelous abuse of English.
Now, pretty is not the only source of delight nor is it everyone’s favourite. I have always been a little more partial to that kind of delight that can make you cry: that delight that comes from mountains, art, the understanding of a scientific theory or even the delight that comes from a perfectly baked loaf of bread- delight steeped in significance. But pretty is about all I can muster right now, its far less risky than these other varieties. I could probably also manage a fair amount of pomp, but with the Royal Wedding, Diamond Jubliee and the Olympic opening ceremony well behind us now that this source of delight is sadly few and far between. Pretty it must be and pretty it is- and pretty does the trick.
So why despair: I despair that I bake very pretty biscuits. What would Cpt. Jean-Luc Picard or David Attenborough think of me and my silly little biscuits? And despair that I must bake very Pretty Biscuits in order to override the more constant and pervasive forms of despair that is the natural consequence of a person being brave enough to get out of bed in the morning.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I do intend to do something important (my very fine brain and natural pride will not allow me to devote myself to pretty entirely) and I am trying my darndest to convince those most discerning of creatures that we call “potential employers” to help me do that.
But until someone dignifies me in this way I will be mucking about my kitchen delighting and despairing (along I’m assuming with everyone else) and slowly but surely getting just a little bit plump.
The last thing the world needs is another baking blog. Oh, how important I think I am. It is even less likely that the world needs a baking blog for those whom tend towards nihilism. But well, the last thing that those whom tend toward nihilism concern themselves with is with what the world needs.