Sunday, February 15, 2009

breakfast of underemployed champions

several generations of horticultural enthusiasts and still no tea and toast bush . . .

"And Bread-and-Butter-Cups (Fresh Every Morning)" by Walter Crane, from an unpublished children's book. Found at
the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
, Yale University.

It's been a while! A few months isn't an especially long time in human years, but in blog years I suppose I've popped my clogs and been resurrected. Go ahead and cancel the arrangement of mourning flowers you ordered and put your black veil away; we're going to bake some bread.

I've made the walnut bread below three times since the recipe appeared in the Guardian in early January, making small changes each time depending on mood and kitchen inventory. I've not baked much in the past apart from quick-and-easy stuff like biscuits and muffins, in part because there's so much that can go wrong with a proper loaf. It's such a disappointment to spend all afternoon kneading and waiting and end up with something fit only for a duck's breakfast. I've found this dough a lot more pleasant to work with than the earnest hippie whole wheat bombs I've struggled with in the past. Is it the generous measure of warm milk? The way the warm milk and warm bowl help the yeast along? I can't say. It just works.

date and walnut bread

____________ and walnut bread

[Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recipe is titled fig and walnut bread, but I keep making it with anything but figs. I've not changed anything else about the recipe because it's pretty much perfect as-is, but I have made notes in brackets.]

850g strong bread flour, plus extra for dusting
7g sachet dry active yeast
2-3 tsp fine-ground salt
450ml whole milk
100ml water
60g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 tbsp honey [maple syrup works well too]
150g dried figs, soaked overnight in enough hot tea to cover, then drained and roughly chopped [I have used both dates and golden raisins with very good results. Neither need to be soaked more than 15 minutes. I've also used a combination of grated zucchini and blanched grated carrot, both of which should be drained well rather than soaked in anything.]
150g walnuts, roughly chopped

In a large, warmed mixing bowl, combine the flour, yeast and salt. In a saucepan, heat the milk, water, butter and honey [or maple syrup] to blood temperature, allowing the butter to melt, then add to the bowl. Mix with one hand to form a rough dough, then turn out on to a work surface and knead until soft, velvety and elastic, about 10 minutes. Shape into a tight ball, coat lightly with flour all over and place in a bowl. Cover with clingfilm or a plastic bag, and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour or so until doubled in size.

Turn the risen dough out on to a floured surface and press it gently into a rectangle. Combine the figs and walnuts in a bowl, scatter over the dough and roll up. Knead until thoroughly amalgamated and divide in two. On a lightly floured surface, shape each half into a ball, press into a flat disc, and roll up tightly to make a nice, even loaf shape. [Of course you can shape all or part of the dough into small rolls; they'll take a total of approximately 20 minutes to bake.] Smooth the ends under tightly, dust all over with flour, then leave to rise again, covered, on a floured tea towel or wooden board until almost doubled in size.

While the dough is rising, turn the oven to its highest setting. [I don't go any higher than 450 F because my small apartment gets far too warm.] Put in a large baking tray to heat up, and put a roasting tin on the oven floor. Boil the kettle. [Not necessary; keep reading.] When your loaves are risen, remove the tray from the oven, put the loaves on it, cut three parallel slashes into the top of each loaf and return to the oven. Pour half a kettleful of boiling water into the roasting tin and quickly close the door. [I don't bother boiling the water. Instead I simply add a roasting pan filled with an inch and a half of hot water from the tap at the same time I put the bread in. I put it on a shelf arranged just below the one the bread is on and that works very well for me.] After 10 minutes, turn down the heat to 190C/375F/gas mark 5 and bake for a further 20-30 minutes, until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the base. Leave on a rack to cool completely before slicing.

date and walnut toast

breakfast tea for underemployed persons

This one is all me. I have no idea whether Mr. Fearnley-Whittingstall drinks at breakfast but I can assure you, it's not shameful unless there's something slovenly about your bearing.

Serves 1.

1 tablespoon muscovado or dark brown sugar
juice of half a lemon
1 to 2 shots of good dark rum (depending on mood and schedule and size of cup)
Lapsang Souchong tea (bagged or loose tea, up to you)
enough freshly boiled water to fill your insulated sippy cup

The sugar and lemon juice go in the cup first. Stir until the sugar is beginning to dissolve; then add the rum and the tea. (Obviously use some type of strainer if you are a loose tea person). Then the hot water. Give it a good stir and put the lid right on so it stays nice and hot for the rest of the morning.

breakfast of underemployed champions


  1. That bread looks great! Welcome back.

  2. Anonymous12:05 PM

    A first time visitor to your lovely site.
    I've never made anything like ___& walnut bread but I'm going to have a go tonight.

    Ha ha! i like "informal, and often inscrutable, procedural rules." LOL.



  3. Thanks Michelle & thanks DD!
    DD, the dough might stick to your paws at first but if you're patient and keep kneading a little longer you shouldn't have to sprinkle too much additional flour on it. A little more flour can help, though, if it is still sticky after a few minutes of kneading. I use a big silicone spatula for the first few minutes of mixing (in the bowl) and that works well for me.

  4. Anonymous12:02 PM

    Ol'twolegs gets a phone call yesterday evening and suddenly decides he wants to go to the opera (The Marriage of Fido or something). So he puts me (yes me!) in the garden while he's about it.
    Do you think I could get NEAR the kitchen?

    Change of schedule. Those nice lookin' fritters this evening; bakin' for the weekend.

    As you might have guessed I'm exploring your blog, which would sound disgusting were it not for the recipes contained... ah...herein. herewith. hencewith. you know what I mean.

  5. DD, it's always nice to know there is an enthusiastic snout sniffing around. I hope twolegs enjoyed The Marriage of Fido (or maybe The Bulldog of Seville?) in the meantime . . .

  6. Anonymous2:24 PM

    Finally! I got to make this! Worth the wait though. Thank you v. much.

    I hope things are well in NYC. I've only had the good fortune to visit it once: I envy you living there. And good parks too - your own dog will probably know what I mean.

    Yes, Two Legs seemed to be in good spirits. Though he's more of a jazz buff (read bore) he's not wholly immune to a good tune. It must have been quite a surprise for him to come across a group of people (on the stage at least) who led lives that were marginally more indolent than his own.

    Best wishes & thanks for updating


  7. DD I'm glad you liked it!
    We do have some pretty good parks here, and especially community gardens in my neighborhood. My little Four Legs enjoys them all with impressive tenacity.
    Best wishes to you + Two Legs.