Carrot and Parsnip Tart

Golden Root Vegetable Tart

Wotchers!

I’ve decided to go all autumnal this week with this comforting, root vegetable tart. It was inspired by a recipe from 1604 for parsnip pie.

It can make the basis of a light lunch or be served as an accompaniment to a main meal.

Its simple flavours are enriched by generous use of butter, with which both carrots and parsnips become glorious. And by generous, I mean about 50g, less than two ounces in old money, so hardly extravagent either budget or health-wise.

And yes, I’ve hopped onto the current ‘spiral tart’ craze to provide the impressive appearance, but I would argue that it is only a development of the apple rose tart, so neeners!

Like the apple rose tart, and unlike most of the current crop of spiral tarts, this tart also has a filling beneath the decorative vegetable ribbons – the remains of the vegetables carved up for the decoration are steamed and then mashed together with lashings of butter and pepper. They give the tart both substance and richness.

Equipment Recommendation
I don’t usually mention cooking equipment, mostly because my kitchen is too small to have much of anything, but I heartily recommend this kind of saucepan set:

steamer saucepan set

The top two tiers are steamer pans, over a regular saucepan. You can cook all the side dishes for a Sunday lunch in this – potatoes in the bottom and up to four vegetables in the steamer baskets – at the same time, on one burner/ring on the stove, removing the baskets from the stack as the contents are done. I use mine daily.

Other vegetables you might like to try with this recipe: beetroot, turnip, swede, butternut squash, courgette.

Carrot and Parsnip Tart

1 x 20cm partially blind-baked shortcrust pastry tart shell
5 large parsnips
5 large carrots
50g butter
salt & pepper

  • Peel the carrots and parsnips, then cut into ribbons. I find a Y-shaped peeler is best for this.
  • Cook the ribbons in a steamer basket over boiling water for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  • Chop the remains of the vegetables into cubes and steam over the boiling water until tender. The parsnips will probably require more cooking than the carrots, so have them in separate steamer baskets so you can remove them when done. Even though they will be mashed, you don’t want them mushy.
  • Mash the cooked vegetables together. Don’t be too thorough with your mashing – it’s nice to be able to see flecks of both vegetables in the mix, and it gives a mottled, almost marbling effect. Add 30g of the butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool.
  • When cold, spoon the mashed vegetables into the tart shell and smooth over.
  • Arrange the ribbons of vegetables in alternating circles on top. You can begin in the middle or on the edges of the tart.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Melt the remaining butter and brush lightly over the top of the vegetable ribbons.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, then cover lightly with a foil tent to prevent the vegetable ribbons from burning, and bake for a further 10 minutes.
  • Cool in the tin for 10 mintes before removing and serving.

18th Century English French Bread

18th Century French Bread
Wotchers!

Bread is a curious topic to go a-hunting in the recipe archives because there are relatively so few recipes. Considering how central it was for such a large part of the population, the proportion of recorded recipes is surprisingly low.

The reason for this might be similar to that often cited as being behind Marco Polo’s failure to mention paper money in his account of travels in China: familiarity. It is a theory that Polo was so familiar with its usage after his many years in the country, and since his memoirs were written so long after his return, he completely forgot the surprise and wonder that the concept paper money would have for his readers. Perhaps the ability to make bread was so fundamental, so ingrained, few thought to write down the recipes since it was a skill everyone possessed.

It was also, however, a specialised craft, requiring both skill and equipment to produce on a large-scale, not to mention the unsociable hours and back-breaking work mixing huge quantities of dough without machinery. As such, as hard, manual labour, it was firmly in the province of the labouring classes, however skilled.

The more well-to-do, whose recipes have survived in household manuscript books, seem to have been partial to French bread, and it has been interesting to note the numbers of recipes for French bread consistently exceeding those for anything English. A large proportion of them are variations on this recipe, using egg whites as part of the liquid component.

French Bread

French Bread recipe dating from 1703, MS7788 in the Wellcome Library

I chose this 1703 recipe because of its simplicity – other recipes use whole eggs/butter/milk/cream, and I wanted to see whether the egg-whites had a noticeable effect on the flavour and texture of the loaf without any other distractions. The answer is yes – it is certainly different to a bread made without egg-whites. There’s no way to tell whether this is a genuine approximation of the French bread of the time, but I suspect that it wouldn’t have been too far removed from the sourdough bread enjoying a resurgence today.

Traditional sourdough, baked in a wood-fired oven, is a wonderful thing – insanely crusty with a great ‘chew’. It’s not to everyone’s tastes, though – which is where this loaf might gain favour. After baking, the crisp crust softens as it cools, making it easy to slice without the dangers of crust fragments ricocheting off at alarming speeds that comes with cutting a traditional sourdough. The crumb is open and springy with enough of a chew to make it very satisfying. From the photo above, it would appear that the centre of the loaf actually has a more open texture than the edges. It can be relished spread with just a little butter – and how long is it since you can say you honestly enjoyed a slice of white bread and butter?

I’ve obviously scaled this recipe down from the original and have made just one change: salt. True to my own code of conduct when working with old recipes, I did bake it ‘as written’ in the first instance, and while it had the great crust and texture described above, the flavour was lacking. Finally, I find it amusing to note that 300 years after it was jotted down, this recipe still takes just 30 minutes to bake.

18th Century English French Bread

450g strong white bread flour
1 sachet fast-action yeast
1tsp salt
50ml egg-white whisked with 300ml warm water
Additional warm water (maybe)

  • Mix the flour, yeast and salt in a bowl.
  • Whisk together the eggwhites and the warm water and add to the dry ingredients.
  • Mix thoroughly, adding more water if required (unlikely), to form a rather soft dough.
  • Knead for 10 minutes.
  • Cover lightly with plastic and set in a warm place to rise for 1 hour. If your kitchen is on the cool side, you can turn the oven to 160°C, 140°C Fan for 2 minutes, then switch it off and put in your dough to prove.
  • Tip out the risen dough and pat gently to deflate.
  • Shape the dough into a smooth ball and transfer to a greased 1kg loaf tin. The dough should half-fill the tin. If you’d prefer a taller loaf, use a smaller or longer shape.
  • Set aside to rise for 30 minutes. On cold days I put the loaf into the small top oven while the main oven below warms up.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, turning the loaf around after 20 minutes to help colour it evenly.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • Slice when cold.

Leek and Bacon Gratin

Leek and Bacon Gratin

Wotchers!

A French-themed post this week, but not a mountain of patisserie froth – instead I’ve gorn all savoury!

Prowling round the French brocantes (posh car boot sales), I’ve always got an eye out for second-hand cookery books and this year I found a great little paperback entitled Vosges Grannies Recipes (I paraphrase) – regional recipes from the mountains in eastern France, near the German border.

The booklet has lots of simple and comforting dishes, including this one, which I decided to include not only as a delicious, make-ahead meal, but also as a blueprint recipe for having up your sleeve or – more usefully – in your freezer.

I especially like this recipe because it isn’t rich. Too often a gratin dish is swimming in oil from fistfuls of cheese or cream. This is altogether much lighter and can easily be adapted to a variety of fillings, including vegetarian. It also doesn’t require a trolleyload of expensive ingredients, yet it’s packed with flavour, and is very simple to bring together.

The Anatomy of a Gratin

Using this recipe as an example, there is a bottom layer of lightly steamed leeks, followed by a tangy tomato and bacon layer, topped with a white sauce sprinkled with cheese. The tomato layer is bright from the fresh tomatoes, bold with the favour of herbs and tangy with bacon. All of the component ingredients can be prepared beforehand, then either hauled out of the fridge and assembled and baked, or assembled and frozen until required.

Imagine the joy of getting home of an evening knowing you’re just 30 minutes away from a delicious home-made meal that requires – literally – one minute’s preparation: stick your defrosted gratin in the oven, turn it on, go have a shower or read the paper, open a bag of salad, cut a slice of crusty bread and Bam! Supper is served!

It doesn’t have to be leeks – other options for the base vegetable are diced swede, turnip, carrots, parsnips) or a mixture of all of these), potatoes, celeriac, cabbage (Savoy, white, red, mixture), broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts – you get the idea.

If you’re vegetarian, you can substitute blanched samphire (its deliciously salty) for the bacon in the tomato sauce – add it whilst assembling your dish to keep some of its crunch.

Top with white sauce or for a gluten-free option, use low-fat creme fraiche.

Sprinkle with a cheese of your choice. Choose Comté or Gruyere for melty goodness, Grana Padano or Parmesan for punchy flavour. Whichever you choose, you don’t need a lot. People think a gratin is all about the cheese, and it’s not. The gratin in the photo had just 30g of Comté on the top, which was more than enough. The cheese is a garnish, if that. A gratin is about a crunchy topping. You can substitute breadcrumbs for the cheese, or a mixture of half breadcrumbs, half grana padano.

If you don’t have a stack of gratin dishes – who does? That’s my one-and-only in the photo – the supermarkets sell packs of aluminium foil dishes with cardboard tops, perfect for freezing. No washing up, either! These can also be used to heat the defrosted dish up in the oven. You wouldn’t be able to defrost them in the microwave, but being in a solid block they would be easy to decant into something suitable.

This recipe will make 4 portions of gratin. You can easily double or treble the quantities and make a stash of meals for the freezer.

Enjoy!

Leek and Bacon Gratin

Leek and Bacon Gratin

4 large leeks

200g smoked bacon lardons, or dice a large piece of smoked bacon or samphire
1 onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic – sliced thinly
4 tomatoes – cut into 1cm thick matchsticks
2 bay leaves
1tsp dried thyme or 2tsp fresh leaves stripped from the stalks
salt and pepper to taste

25g unsalted butter
25g plain flour
500ml milk
salt and pepper

120g grated cheese, or breadcrumbs, or a mixture of both

  • Bring a pan of water to the boil.
  • Wash and slice the leeks into 2cm slices.
  • Put the sliced leeks into a steamer pan and cook over the simmering water for 8 minutes. You can blanch them IN the water, but they do take on a lot of liquid this way, and you run the risk of your dish becoming waterlogged.
  • Set aside to cool.
  • Put the bacon into a pan and heat gently. When the fat has begun to run, add the onion, garlic, tomatoes, bay leaf and thyme.
  • Cover, reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Remove the lid for the last 5 minutes to allow most of the moisture to evaporate
  • Taste, then season with salt and pepper. Discard the bay leaves.
  • Set aside to cool.
  • Put the butter, flour and milk into a pan and whisk gently over a low heat until it comes to the boil.
  • Turn the heat down to a simmer and allow to bubble gently for 5 minutes to ‘cook out’ the flour.
  • Season generously with salt and pepper.
  • If not using immediately, cover with cling film so that it touches the surface of the sauce and set aside.

To Assemble

  • Divide your components equally into the number of dishes you plan on using.
  • In each dish, put a layer of steamed leeks – or cooked vegetable of your choice – in the bottom.
  • Spoon over a layer of the tomato bacon sauce. Sprinkle your blanched samphire if using.
  • Pour over a thin layer of white sauce to cover and sprinkle with your topping.

To Bake

  • Put your cold/defrosted dish into the oven.
  • Turn the heat to 180°C/160°C Fan.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes if the portion-size is a single serving, 25-30 minutes if larger.
  • When done, the cheese will have melted and browned and the sauce bubbling.
  • Serve with a salad and crusty bread for mopping.

Egg and Bacon Pies

bacon egg pie

Wotchers!

Sometimes the best-tasting food is also the simplest. This recipe was yet another from one of my many dusty W.I.pamphlets from the mid 20th century. It was so brief it barely qualified as a paragraph, let alone a recipe, so I’ve added some detail below to help things along. In essence, you can count the number of ingredients in this pie on one hand: pastry, egg, bacon, seasoning. The pie in the picture above also contains diced tomato, which I thought would add freshness; it did to a certain extent, but not to the degree I was hoping, and in fact, the ‘plain’ bacon and egg pie was tastier. Alas, my cross-section photo for this pie (see below) wasn’t as visually arresting as the one above, so I decided to lure you with the picture above, then set the record straight. You can choose whichever version appeals most.

Bacon & Egg Pie

Also, I’ve mentioned them before, but I just LOVE my small cake/tart tins I found at my local The Range (4 x 10cm diameter pans for £2.50). They have a small lip on the side, which makes them great for tarts or, in this case, for firmly attaching the pastry lids of pies. This is not a paid endorsement – I just think they are a bargain and am sharing.

You can be as pro-active or as lazy as you like with these pies – make everything from scratch or buy it in if you’re pressed for time. Personally, I like to hover, metaphorically, between the two: make the pastry for the base, but buy a sheet of ready rolled puff pastry for the top, onna count of life too short etc, etc. The cornflour shortcrust is dry and crisp, and the buttery, flaky, puff pastry is both delicious and a fantastic contrast. Once the pans are lined, sprinkle over a little cooked bacon, crack in a whole egg and add the lid and you’re done!

OK, yes, you should add a sprinkling of fresh parsley too.

And pepper. Of course pepper.

Well OBVIOUSLY crimping the edges is a good idea.

And yes, egg-yolk wash will give both colour and shine.

I’ll come in again.

Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as….

Oops! Wrong sketch.[1]

Once the pans are lined, sprinkle over a little cooked bacon and some fresh parsley, season with black pepper, crack in a whole egg, a little more parsley and pepper, add the lid, crimp the pastry edges, wash over with beaten egg and you’re DONE!

The quantities are up to you and however many you’re catering for. The suggestions below are for 4 individual pies. Any excess pastry, of either sort, can be frozen for later, as can the cooked pies, for up to a month.

Bacon and Egg Pies

1 batch cornflour shortcrust – scroll down on this page
1 roll puff pastry
100g lean bacon
4 large eggs
4-6 tablespoons of chopped, fresh parsley
coarse-ground black pepper
4 tomatoes – skinned, de-seeded and diced finely – optional

1 large yolk – for glazing

  • Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan.
  • Roll out the shortcrust pastry to a thickness of 5mm.
  • Grease and line your tart tins with the shortcrust pastry, making sure to ease the pastry into the bottom edge of the pan, not stretch it. Leave excess pastry hanging over the sides of the tin and chill in the fridge until required.
  • Chop the bacon into small dice and cook until just done. No browning. Drain on kitchen roll.
  • Remove pies from fridge.
  • Scatter the bacon in the bottom of the pies.
  • Add a sprinkling of chopped parsley and a little back pepper. No need for salt, as the bacon is salty enough. Add the tomatoes if using.
  • Crack an egg into each pie. If you want the yolk to be dead centre, you could clear a space amongst the bacon, but it’s not really necessary.
  • Add more parsley and black pepper.
  • Cut four squares of puff pastry, large enough to cover the pies.
  • Brush the rims of the pies with water then lay over the puff pastry squares.
  • Press firmly around the edges, then trim the excess pastry with a sharp knife.
  • Crimp the edges of the pies for a decorative effect.
  • Whisk the yolk with a tablespoon of water and brush the pie tops liberally.
  • Cut three or four small vent holes, NOT in the middle – you don’t want to break the yolk inside.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes until the top is puffed and golden and the underside crisp.
  • Enjoy warm.

[1] NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Least of all my husband who read all of the above with a blank expression then said “I don’t get it.” *sigh*


Ful Medames

Ful Medames
Wotchers!

Here’s a recipe that’s very close to my heart, and in essence it could hardly be simpler.

Ful Medames – pronounced Fool Med-Ammas – is, on the one hand, cooked, dried broad beans, and at the same time, a meal of almost infinite variety.

I became a fan of Ful when I was teaching in Kuwait and there was a Shwarma shop on the short walk between the school and my accommodation, so it was easy to call in and pick up the making of a meal if I was feeling lazy. The standard Chicken Meal was: a rotisserie chicken, a pot of creamy-smooth hummus – none of your lumpy ‘artisan’ hummus in the Middle East thankyousoverymuch – 6 flatbreads and a pot of Ful Medames. Although a warm chicken and hummus flatbread is divine, the pot of Ful was almost more enjoyable because of its simplicity – my desert comfort food, made all the more delicious I suspect because someone else had made it.

Of course, it helps if you like fresh broad beans, aka fava beans, to begin with, but by the same token, their flavour is quite different when dried and subsequently reconstituted. In the UK you can get British dried fava beans, which are small, skinless and a pale creamy colour when dried, but my preference is for the large brown mature beans with their skins intact, both for the added texture and flavour.

You can get fava beans, cooked, in tins, but I’ve never tried them myself. They might do if you just wanted a taster before soaking and cooking a whole batch of dried beans. Your call.

At its simplest, you soak the beans and then simmer them until they are soft and mashable – and that’s it. That is a plain version of Ful Medames, but if you like broad beans, isn’t objectionable. I’ll be the first to admit it’s a pretty dull version too, because the beauty of Ful is how the basic batch of beans can be tweaked and varied by the addition of some very simple ingredients. One batch of dried beans makes enough for five meals for one. Ful Medames is regularly eaten for breakfast in many countries in the Middle East, but it is also ideal for a weekday lunch if you have the means to warm it through at work. So I thought I’d offer suggestions for five different versions, to switch up things for a week’s worth of lunches. For a further twist, each recipe gives quantities for a single serving, so don’t forget to scale it up if you’re planning on serving more than just yourself!

Ful Medames

500g dried broad beans or fava beans

  • Put the ban into a bowl and cover with water to a depth of 5cm above the level of the beans.
  • Leave the beans to soak overnight.
  • Next day, drain the beans and transfer to a large pan.
  • Cover with fresh water.
  • Bring to a boil, cover with a lid, turn the heat down low and simmer until the beans are tender. This should take between 2 and 3 hours, although possibly longer depending on the age of the beans.
  • Check for tenderness after 2 hours, and add a little more water if necessary.
  • When the beans are tender, drain but retain the cooking liquid.
  • Return the beans to the pan and mash whilst hot. I prefer to leave some larger pieces mixed in for texture.
  • Gradually add some of the cooking liquid back into the mashed beans until the mixture resembles porridge. Personally, I like the mixture to be relatively thick and holding its shape on a spoon. If you prefer a more liquid version, add more of the cooking liquid. It is important to get it to the consistency you like before it cools, as it will set firmly when cold. Adding liquid to cold beans runs the risk of it being too sloppy once it’s warmed up again.
  • This is the basic state you need to get your beans to, then you can pack the Ful into plastic boxes and pick one of the serving suggestions below. 500g of dried fava beans will make 5 x 250g portions of prepared Ful.

 

Ful MedamesKuwaiti Style

I suspect that this is probably the Egyptian style of serving, having been brought to the Gulf countries by the many expatriate workers, but it is the version I was introduced to by the Shwarma Shop and is my favourite.

250g cooked fava beans prepared as above
1 small clove of garlic
1tbs lemon juice
1 tsp olive oil
½ tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil to drizzle
1tbs chopped fresh parsley
1 spring onion, thinly sliced
½ tsp ground sumac

  • Put the beans into a small pan over a low heat to warm.
  • Put the garlic, lemon juice, oil and cumin into a mortar and pound into a paste.
  • Add this mixture to the beans and stir to combined.
  • Allow to simmer together for five minutes.
  • Taste and add salt and pepper to season.
  • When you’re happy with the flavours, spoon into you serving dish and drizzle with a little more olive oil.
  • Sprinkle over the parsley, onion and sumac and serve with warmed flatbreads.

ful2Ful with fresh vegetables

250g cooked Ful beans
2 flavoursome tomatoes, vine-ripened if possible, peeled if liked
1 shallot
1 clove garlic
4 tbs chopped fresh coriander/cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil to drizzle
1tbs chopped fresh parsley
1 spring onion, thinly sliced
½ tsp ground sumac

  • Put the beans into a small pan.
  • Chop the tomatoes, garlic and shallot and add to the pan with the coriander.
  • Simmer over a low heat for 10 minutes or so until the tomatoes have begun to break down and the onions softened.
  • Taste and add salt and pepper to season.
  • When you’re happy with the flavours, spoon into you serving dish and drizzle with a little more olive oil.
  • Sprinkle over the parsley, onion and sumac and serve with warmed flatbreads.

Breakfast FulBreakfast Ful

You don’t have to go to Egypt to enjoy Ful for breakfast, this mix of egg, salad and warm beans is deliciously comforting eaten outside on a cool spring or summer morning.

1 portion of Kuwaiti-style Ful
1 hardboiled egg
1 ripe tomato, diced
A 5cm length of cucumber, diced
1 shallot or spring onion, sliced thinly
2tbs lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil to drizzle
sprig of parsley to garnish

  • Prepare the beans with the Kuwaiti seasonings.
  • Peel the hardboiled egg and slice thinly
  • Dice the tomato and cucumber, slice the onion and toss the salad in the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Spoon the beans into your serving fish and arrange the egg and salad on top.
  • Sprinkle generously with black pepper and serve with warmed flatbreads.

Hot and Cold FulHot and Cold Ful

I do like contrasts in a dish and this version of Ful is a great example. The warm, earthy beans and fresh, cool, juicy tomato, the fiery chilli and chilled, creamy cheese, all set off by crisp, dry flatbreads. You can vary the strength of the chillies from mild de-seeded jalapenos, through fiery birds eyes to “Are ya CRAZY!?” Scotch Bonnets and the like. Similarly with the cheese. Any mild, white cheese is delicious. Labneh (scroll down for the oh-so-simple recipe here) is traditional, but cream cheese, goats cheese and feta are all just as good.

1 portion of either Kuwaiti of Fresh Vegetable Ful
1 chilli of your choosing, sliced thinly
40-50g white cheese of your choosing, diced if applicable
1 fresh, juicy tomato, diced
olive oil to drizzle
¼ tsp sweet paprika
coarse ground black pepper
parsley to garnish

  • Pour the prepared beans into your serving dish.
  • Spoon over your cheese and sprinkle over the chilli.
  • Add the tomato and parsley.
  • Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle over the paprika and pepper.
  • Serve with warmed flatbreads.

 

Ful with HummusFul with Hummus

This is surprisingly substantial. It is a vegetarian version of a Lebanese dish of spiced ground beef served on a bed of hummus. The combination of the creaminess of the chilled hummus and the warm, spiced beans is fantastic. With flatbreads, it is definitely main meal size, unless you reduce the quantities by half.

1 portion of ful beans finished off in any of the preceding ways
100-150g hummus
a few chickpeas to garnish
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp smoked paprika – sweet or fiery, as you prefer
coarse ground black pepper and parsley to garnish

  • Spread the hummus onto your serving dish and mae a hole in the centre.
  • Spoon the prepared beans into the middle of the dish and add the chickpeas and parsley garnish.
  • Sprinkle with the spices and serve with warmed flatbreads.

 

 


Chicken Nuggets

Baked Chicken Nuggets
Wotchers!

I’ve been serving these up for weeknight suppers for years – I serve up other stuff too, not just these – and my daughter recently asked me if they were on the blog. When I replied that they weren’t, she asked “Why not?”, to which I had no answer, so here we are.

Over the years I’ve tried a number of tweaks and improvements, but this version, possibly the simplest, has always come out on top. Nevertheless, whether you’d like to try these variations for yourself or save yourself the bother, I’ll quickly run through the possibilities for switching up the details.

  • Chicken: Personally I prefer dark meat on a chicken – it’s so much more flavourful than the white – and have made these with halved chicken thigh fillets, but the vote in this house is invariably for either chicken breast cut into large chunks or, as in the picture, mini fillets. I’m willing to concede that the short cooking time is actually more suited to white meat, allowing it to remain moist under its crisp crumb coating.
  • The Coating: Egg-wash and breadcrumbs. Sounds simple, and it certainly can be, but it can also be varied slightly without too much additional hassle
    • Egg-wash. The meat pieces need to be bathed in some kind of liquid in order to get the coating to stick, and beaten egg is fine. However, if you have some egg-whites that need using up, then my preference is for using them to make both these and the fat-free crispy oven chips and at one stroke becoming my daughter’s food hero – fat-free chicken nuggets and chips for supper and a fridge clear out – win! The egg-whites, in my head at least, seem to make for a crisper coating.
    • Breadcrumbs: I’ve tried them all – fresh, dried, panko, corn flakes, polenta, cornbread – and indeed you should too if you like experimentation, but as already mentioned, the most popular have emerged as also the simplest – fresh breadcrumbs. I use 3 slices of wholemeal bread – because that’s what we have, but white can be used too. Fresh as opposed to dried because they are to give crispness to the coating only, and are not needed to absorb any moisture. By the end of the short cooking time, they have gone from soft, fresh crumbs to crisp, dry crumbs, without burning. Dried breadcrumbs tend to dry too much during cooking and the likelihood of burning them is increased. Panko breadcrumbs also did not get the popular vote, as the pieces were too coarse. In addition, a single layer of coating is quite sufficient – the time I tried for extra-crispiness in the coating by double-breading was deemed a borderline failure as the chicken was declared TOO crispy!
  • Spices – You can use any combination that takes your fancy, as long as you include the secret ingredient: sweet paprika. This has little flavour and I use it mostly for colour, as it turns the breadcrumbs golden brown without the need for frying. Personally I like to use smoked sweet paprika, for a little more interest, pepper, salt and then add to it three or four additional spices – whatever catches my eye from the spice jars. Select from any of the following: cumin, coriander, garlic granules, onion, powder, garam masala, thyme, rosemary, oregano, marjoram, nutmeg, ground ginger, grated Parmesan.
  • Cooking method: Baked in the oven. This is not only much healthier than frying, but it is also quicker, relatively foolproof and makes practically no mess – Win! You can bake your nuggets on a parchment-lined baking sheet. The underside will be slightly less crisp, due to trapped moisture. Alternatively, lay them on a lightly-oiled (to prevent them sticking) metal rack which will allow the hot air to circulate all around them as they bake.

Chicken Nuggets

Serves 4

600g chicken breast or mini fillets
3 slices wholemeal bread
1tbs smoked sweet paprika
½tsp coarse ground black pepper
¼tsp salt
½tsp each of cumin, onion powder, garlic granules, coriander and garam masala – or whatever herbs/spices you prefer

1 large egg or 60ml eggwhites

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan
  • Tear the bread into rough pieces and place into a food processor. Blitz to breadcrumbs.
  • Add the paprika, seasoning and spices and blitz again until the crumbs are of a uniform colour. Tip out into a bowl.
  • In a second bowl, whisk the egg or whites until frothy.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or spray a cooking rack lightly with oil and place over a baking sheet.
  • To avoid getting in a sticky mess, set up your worktop as follows, from left to right: chicken, egg-wash, breadcrumbs, baking tray.
  • With your left hand, tae a piece of chicken and toss it in the egg-wash, then drop the chicken into the breadcrumbs.
  • With your right hand, shake the bowl with the crumbs around until the piece of chicken is coated, then remove to the cooking tray/rack.
  • Continue until all of the chicken is coated.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of your chicken pieces. If at all in doubt, cut the thickest piece in half to check that the insides show no hint of pink. If you’re serving these with the fat-free oven chips, they can go into the same oven for the last 12 minutes of baking.
  • Serve at once with salad (I know you won’t but I’m going to pretend you will) and ketchup.

Bara Brith

Bara Brith
Wotchers!

The obsession with yeast continues!

This time, it’s the classic Welsh speckled bread Bara Brith. Nowadays, this is usually made using baking powder as the leavener, but personally I prefer the more traditional yeast.

And bonus! There’s two recipes for you to choose from!

When looking at an old recipe, I usually study the range of recipes available and select the one that, to my imagination, sounds the nicest. If there is a tie, then I will make both and decide which makes the cut by taste. This time, however, it was too difficult to decide, so I chose not to choose and leave that decision to you.

Both recipes have their strongpoints, not least from their provenance and pedigree.

On the left of the photo above, we have the recipe from Walter Banfield’s classic book “Manna”: A Comprehensive Treatise on Bread Manufacture (1937), a book admired by Elizabeth David and breathtaking in its breadth and scope. It is based on additions made to ordinary white bread dough after its first proving. The large quantity of fruit and peel contrast brightly against the white of the dough and make for a very sturdy slice that will keep moist for a long time.

On the right of the photo, a possibly more authentic Bara Breith from Mrs E.B.Jones, who, for many years, ran the Powys Temperance Hotel on Market Square, Llanrhaeadr-Ym-Mochnant in the first half of the 20th century. The recipe was collected by Dorothy Hartley and included in her iconic book Food in England, first published in 1954. As can be seen from the picture, this recipe isn’t as heavily fruited as the first one, but it has the added interest of being made from half wheat flour and half oat flour (finely ground oatmeal). Against expectation, the crumb is very light, making it a much more delicate slice.

I love the richness of the fruit in the bread dough version, but also really enjoy the delicate flavours of Mrs Jones’ version. I suggest you make both and decide for yourself.

Both loaves will keep well wrapped in parchment and foil, in a cake tin. Both are best enjoyed sliced and buttered, with a hot cup of something in front of a roaring fire.

Mrs Jones’ Bara Brieth

Don’t feel the need to order oat flour especially for this recipe, you can make your own by blitzing rolled oats in a spice grinder, or just use medium oatmeal for a more robust texture.

60g candied orange peel – diced
100g currants
70g sultanas
225g strong white flour
225g oat flour or medium oatmeal
115g lard
115g Demerara sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 large egg
1 tsp mixed spice
1tsp soft brown sugar
30g fresh yeast

  • Put the peel and the fruit into a bowl and pour over boiling water. Set aside to plump for about 30 minutes.
  • After 15 minutes, cream the yeast and the soft brown sugar together.
  • Put the flours and the lard into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Tip into the bowl you will be using for mixing and add the Demerara sugar, spice and salt
  • Drain the fruit, retaining the water, and use it to mix the dough. Keep the fruit warm in a low oven while the dough is kneaded.
  • Add the yeast to the flour mixture with the egg, lightly whisked. Use the (by now just) warm fruit-soaking water to mix everything to a soft dough.
  • Knead for 10 minutes.
  • Mix in the warm fruit, cover with plastic and allow to rise until doubled in size. Due to the richness of the ingredients, this may take anything between 1 and 2 hours.
  • Grease a large loaf tin.
  • When the dough has risen, tip it out and pat down to deflate. Form into a loaf shape and lay into the prepared tin.
  • Cover lightly and allow to rise for about 45 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Bake for 30 minutes.
  • Turn the tin around 180 degrees and lay a sheet of foil lightly over the top, to prevent the loaf browning too much.
  • Bake for a further 25-30 minutes.
  • Remove from the tin and if the bottom doesn’t sound hollow, return to the oven for 5-10 minutes to crisp up. You can place the loaf directly onto the oven bars.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

Walter Banfield’s Bara Brith

450g strong white flour
½ tsp salt
1tsp soft brown sugar
30g fresh yeast
warm water to mix

115g lard in small cubes
5g mixed spice
65g Demerara sugar
1 large egg
300g currants
90g sultanas
90g raisins
60g candied orange peel – diced
50g plain flour

  • Cream the sugar and yeast together with a tablespoon of the flour and a little warm water and set aside to work
  • Mix with the rest of the ingredients into a soft dough.
  • Cover with plastic and set aside to rise for 1 hour.
  • After 30 minutes, spread the fruit (not the peel) out on a baking sheet lined with parchment and put into the oven on its lowest setting, just to warm through.
  • Grease a large loaf tin.
  • When the dough has risen to twice its original size, add in the finely cubed lard, spice, egg and sugar and knead smooth.
  • Add the warmed fruit and peel and mix thoroughly.
  • Sprinkle over the flour and mix thoroughly.
  • Shape into a large loaf and place into the prepared tin.
  • Allow a long second rise, of 1-2 hours.
  • Preheat the oven to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Bake for 30 minutes.
  • Turn the tin around 180 degrees and lay a sheet of foil lightly over the top, to prevent the loaf browning too much.
  • Bake for a further 25-30 minutes.
  • Remove from the tin and if the bottom doesn’t sound hollow, return to the oven for 5-10 minutes to crisp up. You can place the loaf directly onto the oven bars.
  • Cool on a wire rack.