We’re (not so slowly) getting through all the biscuits and chocolates that we accumulated over Christmas! Lots of it is being consumed overnight as I feel pretty hungry in the night whilst feeding – this is a great time of year to be breastfeeding. What we do have quite a lot of still are sweets that Andrew was given, both when Joel was born and for Christmas. I don’t mind him eating a few occasionally, but there are quite a lot to get through, and at this rate he’ll still have some left at Easter when no doubt more will arrive! Walking past the freshly baked cookies in the supermarket gave me the idea to use some sweets by baking cookies, plus I had one lonesome egg to use up by the weekend, so this seemed like a good plan.
I’ve never had fruity sweets (as opposed to chocolate sweets like buttons or smarties) in cookies before, but I wondered how they would turn out, so took the risk and used Jelly Tots. They turned out brilliantly – I love the chewiness of the sweets next to the doughy cookie, and the different fruit flavours in the sweets next to the chocolate of the cookie. It’s not a complicated recipe, but the results are very satisfying, and perfect to devour with a hot cup of tea on a wintry afternoon. Why not have a go yourself, especially if you’ve got any Christmas sweets lurking?
200g brown sugar
100g white sugar
50g cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tube of jelly tots or other sweets
Cream the margarine and sugars in a large bowl until smooth and fluffy.
Beat in the egg until smooth.
Add the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and about two thirds of the sweets, and mix in until well combined, using your hands when it gets too stiff for the spoon.
Bring the dough together into a ball and then shape with your hands into a long sausage about 5cm in diameter on some greaseproof paper.
Wrap in the greaseproof paper and leave for 2-3 hours in the fridge until chilled and firm.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan) just before you take the dough out of the fridge.
Cut the sausage shape into discs about 1cm thick using a serrated knife.
Use the greaseproof paper to line two baking sheets, and place the discs of dough on these, spaced apart.
Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, then take out the cookies and press a few sweets into the top of each one while the dough is still soft enough.
Put back in the oven and bake for a further 5 minutes.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the trays. Best eaten still slightly warm and very fresh!
As regular readers will know, I like to have a good story behind why I bake something. This week’s offering is no exception; in fact there’s a few different strands to the story. So you might want to grab yourself a cuppa….
First, I was inspired by the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) again this week, and thought I’d have a go at making bagels, which were the third bake that the contestants had to do. I once made some using the recipe for bagels that came with my parents’ bread-maker, but that was a long time ago, whilst I was still living at home (when I think of how many years that must be, it’s quite scary – let’s just say at least 10). If I remember rightly, they came out fine – they were just plain, with some oatmeal on the bottom. I remember now that I had to scour many supermarkets and health food shops to finally find that oatmeal! This is an issue I still have today, though have finally found a lovely shop in Cambridge, The Daily Bread Cooperative, which sells oatmeal (and loads of other lovely things!) at very reasonable prices. Anyway, I digress.
When I was thinking about what flavour(s) I could put in my bagels, I’d not long ago been reading a book called The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk. When I first came across La Leche League when I was struggling to breastfeed Andrew, I borrowed this book from the LLL library, and found it a very useful resource. As I’ve been thinking about how I can increase my supply again this time, as I am likely to hit similar supply problems with this baby, I’ve bought my own copy of this book. There is a whole section on foods that are supposed to be galactagogues (i.e. substances that help produce more breast milk in the mum), including oats and various herbs. I took herbal supplements in the form of capsules when Andrew was a baby, and ate lots of oats – porridge most days, as well as copious amounts of flapjack and oaty goodies. As I was reading through the list of herbs, my eye was drawn to ‘caraway seeds’. This brought back fond memories of a cake that one of my Grandmas used to bake when I was younger – we called it ‘seed cake’, and it was basically a plain sponge loaf cake with caraway seeds in. I used to LOVE that cake, and would always get excited whenever Grandma told us that it was on offer for pudding. I knew that I had to try baking something with caraway seeds in, because, after all, I would have the excuse that whatever I baked would be helping with my milk production. The interesting thing about eating/taking herbs for breast milk increasing purposes is that it’s very hard to tell if they are actually working for a particular mum. As I’ve never been able to express much (some women just can’t as easily as others), I couldn’t say that the herbs were giving me a specific increase, like, say, 6oz more per day after taking them – it’s more a case of trusting that they are working, or resigning yourself to the fact that they might not be. But if what I’m eating tastes good, that’s a good enough excuse in itself.
So, as you might have guessed, I put these two ideas (bagels, caraway seeds) together and came up with (surprise, surprise!) caraway seed bagels. Handily I managed to buy a fairly large bag of caraway seeds from The Daily Bread Coop. I thought for quite a while as to whether I should add one more flavour to the mix, for example a dried fruit or another herb or spice, but in the end I decided that I wanted that pure, unadulterated taste of caraway, just how Grandma’s cake used to taste. Instead of just popping a sprinkling of seeds on top, like you often get with poppy seed or sesame seed bagels, I went for putting the seeds into the dough itself, because it annoys me when you lose half the seeds in the bag with those kinds of bagels, and I wanted a good taste of caraway in my mouth, not the storage container!
As I set to and got the ingredients out, I stopped for a minute to contemplate whether I would used the bread-maker (dough maker setting) or mix by hand. I knew which would be easier, but in the end I decided on my own fair hands, because that was more authentically like the GBBO. As I started to knead the dough, I realised that my energy level at the time was not really up for hardcore kneading. It’s been a tiring week, and my baking session was supposed to be some relaxing me-time whilst my boys were out in town. After about 10 minutes of (admittedly half-hearted) kneading, I decided to leave the dough to prove. The worst that could happen is that it would’t rise as much. And that’s exactly what happened! The dough did double in size in about an hour’s worth of proving, but as I came to shape the dough, I could tell that is wasn’t as elastic and springy with lots of air bubbles trapped inside like it should be, so it just lost the air as I shaped it and the rings I made didn’t puff up. So my hand-made batch of bagels look like they’ve been on some kind of crash diet! Incidentally, another memory from my childhood springs to mind here. The science behind bread used to fascinate me as a child, as my Dad would bake bread with my brother and me, and explain how it worked: as you knead the dough thoroughly, the gluten in the flour reacts with the water and the dough goes all elastic; the yeast feeds on the sugar and produces gas bubbles in the process, which get trapped in the elasticity of the dough, causing it to rise.
Even though my bagels are skinny, I think, as always with baking, that the taste and texture of the finished bake is more important than the look of it. I actually like the texture of my less-risen bagels – they’re a kind of cross between a soft pretzel and a bagel, both of which I love. The flavour is amazing, very strong caraway, which is just what I wanted. So it’s by no means a waste – I’ve put these in the freezer, to save for when baby is born (if I don’t get to them before). I should say that I put no salt in, because I don’t add salt to anything, not even our homemade bread, as I don’t particularly like the taste of salt and it’s not good for Andrew (or us) to have lots. I’d probably get marked down for seasoning if this was a competition, but that’s just the way my tastes are.
The scientist within me was curious to test whether it really was my pathetic attempt at kneading, and therefore not making the dough elastic enough to hold the air bubbles produced by the yeast, that caused the skinny bagel look. So my experiment for the afternoon (whilst Andrew was napping) was to use exactly the same ingredients in the bread-maker, and compare the results with my hand-made batch of bagels. This was a test of (wo)man against machine. As I got the dough out of the bread-maker, it was immediately clear that it was much more elastic than my hand-kneaded dough, and it was much easier to shape into rings as it just stretched into shape rather than being prone to breaking like my first attempt did. In the end, though, the finished bagels weren’t as different as I thought they might turn out to be: they rose more than my first batch, but they’re still not as big as I thought they might be. I deliberately made the hole in the centre quite large, so that it didn’t close up and end up like a bread roll for each bagel. I knew I wanted to make smaller bagels than those you buy in the shops, because they would be a handy size for Andrew to have as a snack, so I guess the small quantity of dough for each one was never going to rise to be massive! I was erring on the cautious side. Again, they taste great, and more like a shop bought bagel in texture than my first batch, even if smaller in size.
Well done if you’ve managed to stay with me throughout this intro: your reward is the recipe itself. If you don’t have a bread maker or some other electronic gadget for making dough, I’d suggest baking these when you’re feeling particularly strong and energetic. Maybe eat some spinach (Popeye style)? Or down a bottle of Lucozade? (Actually, I wouldn’t recommend the latter, it’s disgusting – but depends how much you want the bagels!) Ironically, I felt more energetic after going for a swim directly after I’d baked the hand-mixed bagels, but nevermind…. here’s the recipe.
450g strong white bread flour
30g carraway seeds
1 tbsp fast-action yeast (the kind you don’t need to dissolve in water first, often marketed as ‘for breadmakers’)
2 tbsp white sugar
2 tbsp brown sugar
Line a few baking sheets with greaseproof paper, and preheat the oven to 200ºC (fan).
Mix the flour, caraway seeds, sugars and yeast into a large bowl until evenly distributed.
Slowly add the water, little by little, stirring first with a spoon and then with your hands as the mixture gets more and more dough-like.
When the water is well mixed in and you have a ball of dough, transfer it to a surface lightly dusted with flour.
Knead the dough for as long as it takes to have a nice and elastic texture – so you can stretch it and it doesn’t break up (this is where I didn’t stick it out for long enough). The elasticity helps the gas bubbles that the yeast produces to get trapped in the dough.
Place the elastic dough back in the bowl and cover with cling film. Leave to prove in a warm (not hot) place for about an hour, or however long it takes to double (at least) in size. I learnt from the GBBO (don’t let anyone tell you TV can’t be educational!) that ‘proving’ in this sense is so called because it proves the yeast is working – fascinating fact of the day.
Split the dough into small blobs, roll into balls, flatten them, and then make a hole in the middle with your index finger.
Gradually make the hole bigger by working the dough around your finger, using the rest of your hand (this technique is pretty hard to explain without video – watch the GBBO on iPlayer if this isn’t clear).
In a large pan of boiling water, place 3 or 4 bagels (or however many will fit without touching each other). They should rise to the surface. Boil them for about 2 minutes, until a skin if formed and they puff up a little.
Take out of the water with a slotted spoon to drain the excess water.
Place on a baking sheet, spread quite far apart (I got between 4 and 6 on a sheet, depending on the size of the sheet).
Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, until lightly golden. They will probably brown quite quickly towards the end of that time, so keep an eye on them.
Remove from the oven, let cool on the tray, and then eat (or freeze).
The tasters’ verdict: My boys were keen to try a freshly baked bagel, and both of them approved, especially Andrew who kept asking for more! Tom had never had caraway before, and wasn’t sure at first what he thought of the slightly unusual taste, but decided that he quite liked them. I have to say, both batches were lovely fresh out of the oven, and I’m glad I liked the smell because baking smells had been a problem in pregnancy until recently. It seems I can handle the smell of baked products (bread, cakes) but as soon as I smell frying or roasting of any food, especially meat, it makes me nauseous.
I’m no good at lying, so here I am being honest about the fact that these delicious ‘crumblies’ I made started out in my head as shortbread biscuits. They look or feel nothing like shortbread, but they taste just as good if not better, because they have that lovely ‘melt in the mouth’ quality, they just crumble as (but not before) you bite them. Hence the name change to ‘crumblies’. It was always my intention to make half chocolate dough and half almond dough, and then make square biscuits with a contrasting-coloured heart in the centre. If you use your imagination, you can just about see this plan worked for the chocolate squares with almond hearts, but the almond squares with chocolate hearts were a bit of a flop (or a run if you like) – in appearance that is, but not taste. Oh how I wish I could post samples so that readers would believe me.
I suspect part of the reason why the dough ran so much (unlike the firmness of shortbread) was that I used all cornflour. I used to make shortbread with half cornflour, half plain flour; I expected that using all cornflour would make them more fragile and crumbly, but I didn’t expect the dough to go so runny whilst cooking and therefore lose the shape of my hearts. My inspiration for doing this cornflour thing was seeing gluten-free shortbread on sale at a tea-room I visited with my mum-in-law who is wheat/gluten-intolerant; so I thought I’d have a go at another wheat-free recipe with her in mind. The results are not bad. The perfectionist inside me is annoyed that they don’t look so pretty, but the time-pressed realistic mum inside me has come to accept that as long as they taste good (which they do, did I mention that?!), that’s all that matters. If you fancy having a go at these yourself, here’s how I did it.
125g corn flour
125g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
60g icing sugar
few drops almond essence
45g cocoa powder
80g corn flour
125g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
60g icing sugar
Start with the almond dough (so you can use the same bowl for the chocolate one – think about it, the other way round and you’d get brown bits in your yellow dough). Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl with a metal spoon.
Add the cornflour and almond essence and combine until you get a thick pasty dough. As it gets thicker, use your hands to bring it together into a ball.
On a large flat surface, sprinkle some cornflour. Roll out the dough until about 1cm thick. (I suspect that making it thicker would have been better.) Cut out some squares with a biscuit cutter, until you’ve used all the dough.
From each square, cut out a small heart using a biscuit cutter. I got mine from Hobbycraft back in 2008 (I know the date because I got them to cut out hearts from card for the orders of service at our wedding!)
Place the squares (minus hearts) on a greaseproof-paper-lined baking tray. Put the hearts to one side.
Do the same with the chocolate dough. Cream butter and sugar, then add cornflour and cocoa powder.
When you have a tray of almond and a tray of chocolate squares, place the opposite type of dough heart into the heart-shaped holes in the squares.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 160°C for 10-12 minutes. When you take them out they will still be quite soft.
Allow to cool on the trays and they will become firm. Once cooled and firm, remove from the trays and store in an air-tight box.
The chocolate taste is nicely strong and not too sweet, which contrasts well with the sweeter almond taste. So if you’re more in the mood for something chocolately with a hint of sweetness, I’d recommend one from the ‘good’ option, and if you’re more up for a sweet bite with a bit of chocolate thrown in, I’d go for the ‘ugly’ but still yummy option. My willing tasters (aka my boys) approve, which is reassuring to know. I’d be more than happy to get suggestions of why it went so runny, other than the cornflour. I’m a bit of an experimental baker; sometimes things go right, sometimes wrong, but I don’t know much of the science behind why something went wrong unless it’s obvious like I left out a key ingredient by mistake.