When it was pouring with rain one afternoon last week, and we’d already been out in the morning, I decided that a spot of baking was the best choice of activity, and Andrew enthusiastically agreed – he always does when there’s food at the end of an activity! I flicked through a recipe book that I was given for Christmas for some on the spot inspiration. One that caught my eye was for biscuits with cornflakes in them – like a cross between chocolate cornflake cakes and oaty biscuits. Based on this idea I looked in the cupboards, and then adapted the recipe to include rice crispies and oatmeal, because that’s what we had in. I also reduced the relative quantity of sugar, as I often do when baking with the boys.
Since living with Granny and Grandad, we’re also enjoying the use of Granny’s Kitchenaid, which Andrew loves to help me with. I find this particularly useful when working with real butter – I tend to use margarine myself because I never remember to get butter out enough in advance for it to get to room temperature and is therefore hard work to mix!
I have to say, for a make it up as you go along recipe loosely based on inspiration from a book, these tasted amazing. Perfect texture for the kids to enjoy, nice and light, with a real crisp to them, whilst still being a biscuit rather than a cereal bar/cake.
Here’s how we did it…
125g self raising flour
50g sesame seeds
50g rice crispies
Prepare a couple of baking sheets by lining with greaseproof paper, and preheat the oven to 170ºC (fan).
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Beat in the egg.
Add the flour, oatmeal and sesame seeds, and mix until well combined.
Add the rice crispies and gently fold in without over mixing.
Dollop spoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking tray, with large enough gaps between them to allow for spreading during baking.
Bake for around 15 minutes until lightly golden.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the tray until the biscuits firm up.
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 always seem to have a story behind what I bake, and this post is no exception. I was encouraged at the BritMums blogging conference that I recently went to when a top blogger (I can’t remember which one, I must find my notes and link to his/her blog!) said that this is what he/she liked to read in a good food blog post – the story behind the recipe, not just the recipe itself. I hope you find these little stories I tell before a recipe interesting!
A couple of things prompted me to think about baking some flapjacks. First, on Friday we went to our usual breastfeeding support group, and as usual I volunteered to take some snacks. Unfortunately I didn’t have many ingredients in to bake anything quick and easy, so I ended up popping by the local shop on the way, where there wasn’t a great choice of cakes/biscuits. I decided a tray bake of flapjack was the best choice. When I tried some later at the group, I thought it wasn’t bad, but was a classic bought flapjack – very sweet and golden syrup-y, and quite solid. I like home-made flapjack that is less overpoweringly sweet and more crumbly. So when we went shopping later that day I thought I’d get the thing I needed to make the kind of flapjack I like – honey!
I said above that there were a couple of things that prompted me to think about baking flapjacks. The other was the fact that I have half a bag of oatmeal that’s been sitting in the cupboard for a while. I used to love porridge made with oatmeal, but I went off it in early pregnancy, probably because I was sick on it and I found it quite stodgy for my stomach when I was feeling so nauseous. These days the nausea isn’t there in the morning, but I guess I don’t feel like eating something that reminds me of feeling sick. So this half-eaten bag of oatmeal has been sitting around doing nothing, and one idea I had of using it in something other than porridge was flapjacks. I usually make them with just whole oats, but this time I tried using 3/4 oats and 1/4 oatmeal.
The texture turned out really well, just how I like it, firm enough that the pieces of flapjack don’t disintegrate, but crumbly enough that they melt in your mouth rather than being quite chewy. Most of the sweetness comes from honey, which is a sweetness I’m more into at the moment than sugar in the form of actual sugar or golden syrup. They’re still a bit too sweet for Andrew to eat lots of it, but I have let him have the odd corner of mine here and there. I find flapjack a good source of energy when I’m feeling so drained from everything I’m doing and just need a bit of a pick-me-up; the oats keep me going for a while, so it’s not all about a quick sugar hit!
40g brown sugar
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan) and line a shallow cake tin with greaseproof paper.
Melt the margarine, honey and sugar together in a bowl, either in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water.
Add the oats, oatmeal and sultanas to the molten ingredients and stir until well combined.
Pour the mixture into the cake tin and spread it out to fill the tin.
Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden and still soft.
Take out of the oven and allow to cool a little in the tin.
Before they’re completely cool, cut into squares however big/small you like.
Leave to cool completely in the tin, then remove and store in an airtight container until they’re all eaten 🙂