Raspberry Lemon Cupcakes 7 2014

A Raspberry Twist

Does the Easter bunny exist or not?  That is the question! And I think our 9 year old son has been hedging his bets just like Santa Claus.  Every child goes through the transition wondering what the scoop is.  Going from absolute belief to the realisation that the school yard gossip is right.  And if you are the eldest like our daughter you have to go along with it all.  To have some fun with the kids my husband suggested a scavenger hunt with the plastic eggs the kids have.  We did up clues and placed the eggs round the house with them all leading to the chocolates.  It was fun for all of us!

In addition to the chocolates I wanted to make an after dinner treat and thought cupcakes would do the trick.  I had some raspberries and lemons so I knew I wanted to make some lemon curd and use the raspberries but I didn’t have buttermilk to make the lemon meringue cupcakes.  I went through my cupcake pins to see what I could use as a substitute.  Turned out to be harder than I thought it would be.  Several required buttermilk and I was surprised at how many recipes called for box cake mix!  I mean really, I don’t get that.  That step is more expensive and it’s just as quick to make it from scratch.

I found this recipe to use for the cupcakes and I only made a small change here and there.  Which is bold for me when it comes to baking.  I generally don’t mess with the recipes as there is a definite science to baking.  But the cupcakes came out just fine.

I did up the lemon curd several hours ahead of time so it had time to cool and set.

Preheat the oven to 350F/175C.  Line the muffin tins and this recipe makes 12 cupcakes.

In the mixing bowl cream together 1/2 cup of butter and 3/4 cup of sugar.

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Add two eggs and 1 teaspoon of vanilla and mix well.

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Add 1/2 tsp of salt and 1 1/2 tsp of baking powder.  The recipe calls for 1 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of milk.  These two ingredients need to be added a 1/3 at a time, mixing well each time while scraping the sides of the bowl.

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Fill the liners 2/3 thirds full and bake for 20-25 minutes.

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Once they are cooled scoop out the top.  Cut the pointy end off of the top so you can place it on top of the curd.  Before filling with curd put a fresh raspberry into the cupcake.

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Fill in with the curd, put the top back on and dollop some fresh whipped cream on top.

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It’s simple, it looks pretty, and raspberry and lemon make a great pair.  And it leaves room for chocolate!  :)


Date bars 9 2014

A Date Walked Into A Bar

The weather the past few days has been my kind of winter.  It’s above freezing and it’s melting the snow.  Yes!  Of course there is a ton of snow to go and it will be below freezing this week but progress is being made.  :)

We’ve had some lovely days with nary a cloud in the sky.  Our seed trays are set up and the seedlings are showing up to be counted.  There are a few of us in the neighbourhood that have the grow lights going now.  We give off the impression that the munchies are on their way.  But no, the wildest thing we have growing is some spicy salad mix.

The kids are on school holiday this week so I have a feeling there will be several PJ days.  Yesterday I baked some date bars for the week to give them a bit of a treat.  My mum used to make these and every once in awhile they show up as a treat for us as well.  They don’t last long!  My son got hooked on them when my mum had him help bake them a few years ago.  My kind of tradition.

Pre-heat the oven to 375F/190C.

This is my mum’s recipe but I’m not sure where she got it from.  I did increase a few things as my baking pan was a bit bigger than what she called for.  In a small saucepan combine 8oz of chopped dates, 3/4 cup sugar, and 1 cup cold water.

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Simmer until it has thickened stirring regularly so it doesn’t stick on the bottom.

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While the dates are cooking combine in a large mixing bowl, 2 cups of quick oats, 1 cup sugar, 1 1/2 cup flour, 1 tsp baking soda.

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Once the dates are ready melt 3/4 cups of butter and mix that in with the oats until it is evenly distributed.  Press half the mixture into an 8 x 11 pan.

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Spread the date mixture over the oats.

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Spread the rest of the oats over the dates and carefully tamp down without squishing the dates up through the oats.  Bake for about 25 minutes.

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Try to let it cool.  :)  The warmer it is the more flimsy the bars are and it gets a bit messy!

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I should make these more often as they aren’t difficult but they taste wonderful.  :)

So a side note:  I’ve noticed on a couple of my posts I’m getting a ton of spam messages.  I block, trash, and state they are spam but any advice on how to get it to stop?  It’s annoying.

Oatmeal cookies 5 2014

Another Snow Day – The Kids Rejoice

The adults have had enough.  The kids don’t want it to end.  Not sure what age marks the switch of loving the cold and deep snow to longing for spring and warmth.  Granted some adults are in their element with skiing and winter sports.  When they were talking about the current winter storm yesterday my son was cheering and applauding.  He’s nine.  We could get 8-14 inches today and tonight.  The kids are having a PJ day and just enjoying being kids.

I’m taking this day to try to catch up with everything.  I haven’t posted in nearly two weeks and I miss it.  It will probably be like this for another two months as I get through the tax season.  The first peak is almost done so I hope to have time to actually cook different things so there is something to post about!  That was the main issue.  I’ve relied on the old tried and true recipes.  The quick things that don’t take any effort.  I did find at the co-op some pork belly so I’ll be making some soon as well as trying my hand at homemade bacon.  That’s the plan anyway.

But I do love doing taxes.  I spend most of the year nurturing my creative side but this allows me to exercise the math side of my brain.  I love numbers.  But I also find the people fascinating.  You see the whole spectrum of life doing people’s taxes.  Young people starting out not having any idea how their decisions affect their taxes, where they will go for jobs, kids having kids, the newlyweds.  My favourite clients are the elderly couples that have been married forever.  I have a few that are still sweet on each other and it’s so much fun when these couples come in.  The tough ones are when they come in and they just lost their spouse.  I wish the IRS would give them a year’s grace period but they don’t.  You have to help them find their feet.  As they continue to come in year after year you start to see them find their strength again and the smiles come a little easier.  I hear so many fascinating stories.  None of which I can share but I understand why the Humans of New York is so popular.

Even though I am not doing taxes today I’m not cooking because our daughter just turned 13 and we will brave the storm to take her to dinner tonight. It’s funny the reactions when I mention we now have a teenager.  Those that currently have teenagers or who had them are wishing us luck and those that haven’t made it to the club yet are very excited for us.  Fortunately she’s a wonderful kid.  I know there will be bumps along the way but I’m sure we’ll come out the other side in one piece.  :)

I did find the time to bake today.  My husband’s favourite cookies are oatmeal raisin cookies.  Since it’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow I thought I’d make him some.  As long as he shares!

Pre-heat the oven to 375F/190C.  I used the recipe from the Pillsbury Complete Book of Baking.

In a mixture add 1/2 cup of softened butter, 3/4 cups sugar, and 1/4 cup of brown sugar packed.

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Mix together then add one large egg with a tsp of vanilla.

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Add 3/4 cup of flour, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp of cinnamon, 1/4 tsp of salt and mix well.  If you use 1/2 tsp of salt like I did by mistake it still comes out ok.

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Add 1 1/2 cup of quick oats, a little over 1/2 cup of chocolate chips, and a little over 1/2 cup of raisins.  The recipe calls for raisins and nuts but my husband doesn’t like nuts in his baked goods so I use chocolate instead.  So much better!

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Spoon the mixture onto the cookie sheet and bake for 7-10 minutes.  Let cool a minute or so before placing on the cooling rack.  Quality check immediately  of course.  It’s amazing the number of quality checkers that come out of the woodwork.  :)

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Here is a view from our den window with the snow coming down.  The wind has started to pick up so it could be a wild night.

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Cherry squares 12 2014

Cherries – It’s Hip To Be Square

Another week down and another weekend coming to a close in a blink of an eye.  I remember when time used to drag unbearably when I was a child.   I wish we could make time do the same in adulthood.  Or at least have more control over it.  Some things I am ok with rushing through.

I was lucky growing up, no matter how busy my mum got with work and overtime, we would have fresh baked goods.  Cookies were the main thing along with fresh bread but we got to enjoy cakes, bars, and pies as well depending on the holiday.  She would sometimes feel bad that she worked so much but I always said the time she spent with us was quality.  And we knew we were loved by the effort put into our meals made from scratch.  I equate that type of effort for your family with love.  It gives me no end of joy to see our kids grasping that and wanting to learn themselves.  I know they’ll be fine when they are out in the world and they’ll pass it on to their kids.

I had some fresh cherries left over after doing the cherry sauce for the pork and we needed to use them before they went off.  So I flipped through my baking books for inspiration and something the kids would enjoy.  I came across cherry squares in the Pillsbury The Complete Book of Baking.  It does call for the canned cherry pie filling.   No thank you!  The only pie filling I buy is for the pumpkin pie and I have to add stuff to that.  The cherry pie fillings are just sicky sweet and full of junk.  So I decided to make my own filling.  Super easy and not overly sweet.

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I should say the sauce bit is easy.  If you don’t have a cherry pitter, as we don’t, it takes awhile to get all the pits out.   I may need a new gadget!  In a sauce pan add the cherries and about a 1/4 cup of water and bring to a boil.

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As the cherries start to break down add about a 1/4 cup of brown sugar.  The ratio was about a cup and a half of cherries to 1/4 cup brown sugar.  Continue to simmer until it thickens into a jammy sauce.

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Set this aside to cool.   For the cake dough add to a mixing bowl 1 1/2 cups of flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 1tsp salt, and a tsp of yeast.  Mix this well.  In a small saucepan warm up 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup milk, and 1/2 cup of butter.  Don’t boil but you want it very warm, warm to the touch.  So not scalding.

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Add the warm liquid to the flour mixture then add 2 eggs and mix well.  Once it is mixed well turn the mixer to medium speed and mix for about 3 minutes.

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Next add a bit of flour at a time until the batter becomes stiff.  This will range from 1 to 1 1/2 cups of flour.

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Cover and to rest and rise until double in a warm place.  This will take 45-60 minutes to complete.

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In a greased 13 x 9 inch pan spread 2/3 of the dough out.  This is a bit tricky as it will slide about in the pan and as it is elastic it takes a bit of doing.

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Spread the cherry sauce over the top.

Cherry squares 9 2014Take the remaining dough and dollop it over the cherries in small clumps.  This leaves about half the cherries exposed.  Let it rise again for 20-30 minutes.  While this is rising preheat the oven to 350F/180c.

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Bake for 35-40 minutes until it is nice and golden.  While it is baking make the glaze to drizzle on top.  Whisk 1/2 cup powdered sugar, 1/4 tsp almond extract, and about 4 tsp of milk.

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When it comes out of the oven drizzle the glaze over it and it is ready to serve.  We enjoyed this as the tartness of the cherries balanced nicely with the cake.  It didn’t last long.  :)


Madeira cake 8 2014

The Cherry Tops It – Madeira Cake

Today was an exciting day for our daughter.  She had the opportunity to be on a local cooking show done by our friend Luca.  It was exciting to watch the process as well.  I have to say I’m a bit envious of her having this chance but more than that I’m very proud of her.  And she had a blast.  When the link to the show is available in about a month I will share it with everyone. 

I can be found occasionally saying to people I take requests for my blog posts.  I say it a lot to my family as it very often sparks ideas and keeps things fresh for me.  Sometimes when it gets crazy busy as it will now with tax season my creativity gets a bit blocked.  So I ask.  And yes someone took me up on that!  Our friends up in Scotland, Dianna and Hugh, mentioned they really like baked goods with cherries along the lines of madeira cake.  Sounds good to me.  :)

To give you an idea how the cold I had muddled my brain I was thinking I needed to find the wine.  Which obviously I didn’t but man the cold just made me ditzy as can be.  Thank goodness that is passing!  But this cake goes well with the wine, hence the name, but is also a lovely tea cake.  Denser than a Victoria sponge but very light nonetheless.

There are several recipes available for this cake but I chose to follow the one from the BBC.  I added the glacé cherries.  They went very well with the lemony cake.

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C and lightly grease and flour a 8″ cake pan.

Because this is an English recipe it calls for self-raising flour, which I don’t have, so I had to make my own.  There are what seems like a million versions on how to make self-raising flour, all different mind.  Using the dart board method I went with a tsp and a smidge of baking powder and a pinch of salt to the 9oz called for in this recipe.  Definitely weigh the ingredients for this recipe.  Set this aside.

In a mixing bowl cream together 6oz of softened butter and 6oz of sugar.  While that is blending together, take about 3-4oz of glacé cherries and soak them in warm water to get rid of the excess sugar. 

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Add 3 eggs one at a time and beat until blended.  As the last egg is being beaten into the mixture slowly add the flour mixture a bit at a time until well blended.  It will be a bit stiff but then add 2-4T of milk one at a time to the mixture.  Depending on your flour you may need to add more milk.  You don’t want it runny but it needs to be smooth enough to slowly fall off the spoon or mixer paddle. 

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Take a clean organic lemon and zest it into the the batter.  Be careful you don’t dig into the pith, try to just do the yellow bit, so it’s not bitter but you have a nice bright flavour. 

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Drain the cherries and pat dry.

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Lightly coat them in flour and add to the mixture.

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Spoon out into the baking pan.

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This needs to bake 30-40 minutes depending on your oven.  I went the full 40 minutes.  Once it is nice and golden and the toothpick test comes clean remove and let cool for about 10 minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack.

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Slice and enjoy.  It’s been a hit as there is only one slice left!  Fortunately it is really easy to make perfect for tea or wine.  Your choice.  :)

Rosemary bread 16 2014

Take the Thyme for Rosemary Bread…

We had thunder today and the bucketing rain to accompany it.  It’s been a wild several days of bitter cold, snow, rain, and thunder.  And it’s only the 6th of January!  I’m just hoping that winter is a quick one because I’ll be ordering my seeds this week and the seedlings get started in a couple of weeks.  I wonder what the kids will choose for their veg this year.

One ingredient I wish was a perennial in our area is rosemary.  It’s funny because the UK is much further north than we are but my MIL grows it and she grumbles how it gets out of hand in their mild weather.  I’d gladly trade!

Last night Downton Abby started, finally, stateside so I was ready for a cosy evening with my husband.  The only thing missing was a fine bottle of red wine due to my cold.  Any time it wants to go away will be fine by me.  We had some rosemary left over so I thought I’d make the rosemary bread we love from our go to book Local Breads by Daniel Leader.

My husband and I have recently improved our bread making.  We’ve made bread for several years and it’s been good but they weren’t light and airy like the European breads.  While we haven’t achieved the large bubbles because the flour we should really use isn’t available here we’ve started to see a nice bubbly texture.  The big change we made?  Follow the weight measures rather than using cups, tsps, etc.  That change alone has really helped.

This bread gets started the day before when the biga is made.  Biga is a type of starter for breads.  While this bread isn’t difficult it is just time consuming in that you need to be near it for a good amount of time.

In a small bowl mix 65 grams of warm water, about 70-78F/21-25C, 2 grams of instant yeast, and 100 grams of unbleached all purpose flour.  With a spatula mix the ingredients until they clump together and then knead for a minute or so.  Leave in the bowl covered for an hour at room temp. Place in the fridge for 9-17 hours.

In the morning it will have doubled in size.

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In his book he talks about the biga being soft and airy.  I have yet to get it that way so that is something I need to research.  Mine comes out a bit stiff.  Next I get the mixing bowl for the kitchen aid and put the biga in and cover it with 300 grams of warm water (same temp as for the biga).  Stir to soften and break up the biga.

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The recipe calls for 10 grams of rosemary but we have found that doesn’t impart enough fragrance or flavour so we increase to our liking.

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Chop the rosemary and to the biga and water add 5 grams of instant yeast, 500 grams of the flour, 65 grams of extra virgin olive oil, the rosemary, and 15 grams of sea salt.  We’ve run out so I used kosher salt for this.

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Using the mixer on low speed bring all the ingredients together so it is well blended.

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Bring it up to medium speed or about 4 on the Kitchen Aid for 10-12 minutes to knead the bread. At this point I have one hand on the mixer and play Words with Friends with the other.  Otherwise it’s a bit like watching grass grow!  About half way through using a spatula scrap the dough off the dough hook and the bottom and then keep going.

Once it is smooth test the dough to make sure it’s been kneaded enough.  You want to be able to stretch a small bit of dough without breaking so it is very opaque.

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If it breaks knead for a few more minutes.  The dough is very sticky so it was tricky getting the shot without messing the camera.  I had to try stretching the dough one handed!

Place in a greased container and cover with greased cling film.

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This is another step where we learned more is not better.  We would sometimes get carried away with the rising.  Not a good idea!  For the first rising it should only go for 1 1/2 -2 hours where it is allowed to double in size.

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It is time to shape them into baquettes or logs.  Divide the dough into two equal parts and shape into a rectangle.

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Then fold into thirds.  Roll the top third down then fold the bottom up.  Place seam down onto the parchment paper.  They should be about a foot long.

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Using a lame slice cuts into the tops about 5 times each.  Do this quickly and don’t hesitate.  Otherwise you can flatten the airy bubbles.

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The second rising is for 45-60 minutes and they will almost double in size.  Preheat the oven to 400F/205C with the baking stone in the oven.  I baked the bread using convection so it only needed 30 minutes to bake but using regular it could take up to 40 minutes.  You want it a nice golden colour.

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The book says to allow it to cool completely which I did this time as I made it early.  But it is also gorgeous served right out of the oven with butter.

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My husband said it smelled really good while baking.  I miss the smell of fresh baked bread.  Thank goodness I can still taste it!  So good with cheese.  :)

Pretzels 15 2013

Don’t Get Your Knickers in a Twist, the Pretzels are Easy!

You know those recipes that you always wanted to try but put it off because you think it would be complicated?  For me, pretzels were one of those.  Don’t know why, must have been a mental block.  Because these are so easy to make!  In fact we’re having them again today.  My daughter made the last batch which freed me up to take loads of photos for this post.  My husband found this recipe on the King Arthur site and we didn’t change anything.  They call their recipe Hot Buttered Soft Pretzels.  And they are so good!

We use our Kitchen Aid mixer for this and in the mixing bowl we put 2 2/12 cups flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar, 2 1/4 tsp yeast.

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Depending on how dry your flour is and time of year will depend on how much water you use.  The recipe calls for 7/8 to a cup of warm water.  Start with 7/8 cup first and add as needed.  Add that to the flour mixture and mix for about 5 minutes to bring the dough together.

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Once it is smooth store it for 30 minutes in a ziploc bag.  I would recommend spraying the inside with a bit of oil.  We didn’t and it was a bit much to get out!  Ah well, live and learn.  In the meantime prep the solution that you soak the pretzels in.  In a pan, 9 x 9 works, place in 2 tablespoons of baking soda and then dissolve in a cup of boiling water.

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Once the dough has rested turn it out on a greased surface.  Divide it into 8 equal pieces.  These need to rest uncovered for about 5 minutes.  In the meantime preheat the oven to 475F/250C.

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Here comes the fun part with the kids.  Any shape goes!  Though we stuck more traditional this time round.  Take each piece and roll it between the counter and hands to make a thin rope.  Shape it and then place it in the baking soda solution for 2 minutes.  Spoon the liquid over the pretzel.

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Place on a greased baking pan and sprinkle with kosher or sea salt.  Let rest uncovered for about 10 minutes.

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Bake for 8 or 9 minutes until a lovely golden brown.  While baking melt 3 tablespoons of butter.  Seems like a lot but trust me you’ll use it all.  Right when the pretzels come out of the oven brush the butter onto them until the butter is finished.

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You can try to wait until they are cool to eat but so far we haven’t been successful!  I like to have mine with a bit of stone mustard.  So delicious!  :)

For the next few weeks I won’t have much time to blog so I’ll be doing “mini” blogs as I go.  At the end of the month I’ll be back into the regular blogging.  I will try to comment when I can but don’t think I’m ignoring your comments!  So keep them coming.  :)



Naan 10 2013

Nothing Like a Bit of Naan to Go With Your Curry…

You know the weather is leaving summer behind a bit when the ovens start getting used frequently.  This weekend, though it has been humid, I have been in the mood to bake.  Goodies fresh out of the oven are hard to beat.

My husband was in the mood to cook and we all voted for a curry which I’ll post about tomorrow.  Let’s just say it was amazing!  :)  Of course a great accompaniment to a curry is Naan, a golden flat bread.  We really enjoy it, the melted butter doesn’t hurt!

It is fairly easy to make but does require rising time.  Once again we rely on the “Best Ever Curry Cookbook” as inspiration.

I followed the recipe for the most part with just a few deviations.  I made a few changes based on how it came out the previous time.

In a small bowl I added 5 T of lukewarm milk.  It calls for 4 T but with our flour it was too dry.  Recipe called for 1/2oz of fresh yeast which was about 3 tsp of our dry yeast.  Mix as well as you can.  The yeast if starting dry does tend to clump a bit.  Let it sit for 15 minutes.  Occasionally work the yeast a bit.

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In a medium mixing bowl add 8oz/2 cups flour and 1/2 tsp salt.  Add 1 egg, 1T of vegetable oil (I used olive oil), 1T plain Greek yoghurt, and the yeast mixture.

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Mix together until it forms a soft dough.  If the dough is still a bit dry, add equal bits of milk and yoghurt until it is the right consistency.  I added a couple of teaspoons of each.  Turn out onto to a floured surface.

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Knead until soft.  This took me about 5 minutes but could take up to 10.  Cover and keep in a warm place for an hour until it doubles in size.  I usually wet a tea towel with hot water, ring it out, then drape over the bowl.  Once doubled turn out on a floured surface again.

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Preheat  oven to 450F/230C.  Knead the dough for a couple of minutes then divide into small sections.

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Stretch out into shapes somewhat resembling teardrops.  That part is harder than it looks!  You want to hand stretch the dough rather than rolling it.  Kind of like a pizza dough.  You also want it to be fairly thin as it will puff up when it bakes.

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The recipe says to bake 3-4 minutes then broil.  We just bake until done which is about 6 minutes on convection.  We get a nice golden crispy crust.

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While it is baking melt some butter so you can brush it on as soon as it comes out of the oven.  Add a bit of sea salt and serve.

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It goes really well with the mango chutney we made.

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And it went really well with the curry!