The Overly Developed Imagination of the Only Child

bluemushSo, to herald my recent departure from unemployment, pajamas, self loathing and day time television is a recipe 100% guaranteed to warm the cockles of your heart. If hearts have cockles, which I happen to highly doubt. For one thing, this recipe is a slight adaptation from one on the BBC good food website. For those who don’t know me very well BBC good food is to me what cute, captioned pictures of anthropomorphic cats are to most people. The internet equivalent of a sanctuary; a safe, unbreachable, harmonious haven.

RECIPE:

  • 4 portobello mushrooms
  • 4tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, chopped
  • 400g baby spinach
  • frozen puff pastry (block or sheets) defrosted
  • 140g stilton (or other blue cheese) sliced
  • 1 egg, beaten

Preheat your oven to 200’C.

Put the oil in a frying pan and let it heat. Sizzle the mushrooms for a few minutes each side, just until they begin to darken and soften up a little. Put them to the side.

Turn the heat low and using the same frying pan and oil, add the chopped garlic and let it cook for a few seconds. Toasty, golden garlic may be delicious but burnt garlic tastes like the innermost circles of hell. Add the spinach and stir it until it’s wilted to about a millionth of it’s former size. Season the spinach and garlic with salt and pepper and pop it in a sieve to drain. You can use the back of a spoon as a squishing device to speed the process along a little. You want to squeeze out as much liquid as possible or the pastry will be soggy. Which is, as we know, completely unacceptable.

MaryBerryRoll out your pastry (about a £1 thickness) on a lightly floured surface. Using a bowl or plate that is much bigger than the mushrooms as a template cut out 8 circles from the pastry for the tops and bottoms.

On 4 pastry discs, spoon a quarter of the spinach mix, a couple of slices of cheese and add the mushroom (smooth side up) and top with a little more cheese until it kind of looks like a little pixie house (I was an only child, alright? Drop it.) Repeat this for the other 3 mushrooms.

100_1154Brush some beaten egg around the edge of the mushrooms and drape the 4 remaining pastry discs over the top. Use your fingers to press the edges of the pastry together. The bottom disc will be much wider than the top so I like to fold it over in a pretty sort of star pattern. This also seems to seal the pastry better, making the cheese much less likely to leak out of the sides.

100_1165You can also use the left over pastry to make some highly unnecessary but pretty decorations. Glaze the tops with a generous amount of egg and pop them in the oven for around 40mins or until they are very puffed up and golden-brown.

100_1172How sweet are they? Little golden parcels of deliciousness. The blue-cheese tanginess is so good with the meatiness of the mushrooms. They have the added benefit of looking kind of posh as well, so dinner party it up! Impress your in-laws. Or just foil your friends into bringing round copious bottles of wine. It’s a win-win either way!

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Mary Berry Goes Commando

muI love cooking with pastry – it just makes meal times feel that bit more fancy. Even if your pastry was very cheap, very un home-made and, in fact, very much bought from the frozen section of the supermarket. I will admit there’s something almost fur coat and no knickers about shop-bought pastry but who honestly gives a damn? Going commando can be liberating.

The trick with filo pastry is not to let it dry out. If you buy frozen let it defrost beneath a slightly damp tea towel and leave the bulk of it under the tea towel while you work with individual sheets. If it dries out it will pretty much turn to ashes as soon as you touch it, like some kind of melodramatic emo song lyric (vaguely embarrassing and to be avoided).

RECIPE: (serves 4)

  • 500g leeks, thinly sliced
  • 150ml hot vegetable stock
  • 175g button/chestnut mushrooms, chopped
  • 4 large sheets filo pastry
  • olive oil
  • 85g goats cheese
  • 1tsp toasted sesame seeds/poppy seeds

Heat the oven to 200’C/180’C fan and line a baking tray with baking paper. Put the leeks and the stock into a saucepan and cook for about 8 minutes until the leeks are starting to soften, add the mushrooms and cook together for 5-8 mins until most of the stock has evaporated. Squeeze out the rest of the liquid of the liquid with a fork. You don’t want to end up with a soggy strudel. Mary Berry will hunt you down like a stern, mildly threatening, overly lip-sticked grandmother.

imagesLightly brush a sheet of filo pastry with olive oil and then fold it in half so that the un-oiled side is facing upwards. Brush the edges with more oil and then spoon a quarter of the veg along one edge. Crumble a quarter of the goats cheese over the top, fold over the edges and then roll up. Lather, Rinse and Repeat for each strudel.

Pop the strudels on the baking tray, brush the tops with oil and scatter on the seeds. I think toasted sesame taste lovely with the goats cheese but the black of the poppy seeds also look pretty striking. The choice is yours.

Bake for 25 mins until crisp and goldeny-brown.

100_1038These are crunchy and filled with deliciously melt-y cheese. The best thing is that they aren’t too bad for you either. Filo pastry is the healthiest and probably about a billion times better for you than puff pastry, so all in all they aren’t too fatty either! Serve them with some green salad and you have a fabulous lunch… dahlings.

100_1041Gratuitous close-up of melting, gooey innards. Possibly NSFW.

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Cheesus Christ

cheesyI’ve always, to the dismay and confusion of my sweet-toothed mother, been something of a savoury kid. I’m serious. I’ve eaten salt and vinegar crisps until I have lost all feeling in my lips and tongue. Once, when I was a child, I stole a huge jar of gherkins from the fridge and ate the entire lot while sitting on my swing set. Trust me, unorthodox amount of pickles + swings will result in a phenomenal, earth-shattering heartburn, don’t try it at home. Anyway, what I am trying to say is that surprisingly, from the age of around three, I have in fact had the cravings and habits of your average pregnant woman.

And if you like savoury things, well, cheese is pretty much the God of savoury isn’t it? The Just and Wise Ruler of the Salty Kingdom. And we should worship him in all his many incarnations, soft, crumbly, firm, vintage, blue and… scone-y. So say we all.

These scones are ridiculously easy. If you can stir and operate an oven then you should be pretty much okay. They also taste SO GOOD, super light and cheesy and delicious.

RECIPE:

  • 420g self raising flour
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1/2tsp grated black pepper
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 50g butter, chilled
  • big bunch of fresh herbs (I used thyme, but most things will work, basil, oregano, chives etc)
  • 1 spring onion, chopped
  • 50g strong cheddar, grated
  • 250ml milk

Preheat your oven to 220’C/200’C fan and line a baking tray with a sheet of baking paper.

Sift the flour into a large bowl and add the salt, pepper and cayenne and mix it all together. Add the butter and, using your fingers, rub it into the flour mix. You use exactly the same motion as you would if you were a gangster ominously motioning someone to pay up, just the other way round. Carry on gangster-ing up your kitchen until there are no mega lumps of butter left.

Add your grated cheese and tear in your herbs. Thyme is my favourite, but you could use pretty much anything. Herbs with bigger leaves will need to be chopped finely or they look kind of swampy. Add the milk and stir it all together. The mixture will be a little bit on the dry side but if it seems excessively floury add a tiny drop more milk.

Put some flour on a work surface and gently knead the dough together. Don’t over do it, just make sure the mixture is holding together.

Pat the dough flat, it should be about 2cm high and then cut it into approx 5cm rounds. You don’t need a cutter for this, use anything, a small cup, a bowl, a wine glass… or even just roughly with a knife. You should get around 10-12 little discs.

Pop them on the baking tray and into the oven for about 12mins. Give them plenty of space above them in the oven because they should rise nicely.

And there you go (almost) instant cheese gratification. Amen.

100_0796These would be really nice with a hot bowl of soup. Or, as the boyfriend informed me, with some “chive creme fraiche”. Because yes, he is the campest straight man on the planet.

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Buxom Barmaids

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Shop-bought puff pastry is one of those miraculous inventions that turns the near impossible (or at the very least the thoroughly time consuming) into what can only be described as idiot-proof. As easy as pie. Or, as the case may be, as easy as a tart, which is pretty much just a pie lying on it’s back… which is kind of appropriate.

This is so easy that you don’t even need to actually like your guests in order to muster up the energy to make it for them. It is, however, so beautiful and dramatic when you turn it over that you’ll insure that your guests end up liking you. So don’t bother if you don’t want them coming back for seconds.

RECIPE:

  • 3 firm pears
  • 3 apples
  • 100g butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 3 cardamom pods (or 1tsp ground)
  • 1 large cinnamon stick (or 1tsp ground)
  • 5 cloves
  • 2tbsp brandy
  • 500g block puff-pastry

Peel and halve the pears and carefully cut out the cores. Do the same for the apples but cut them into quarters. If the fruit seems to be very juicy, leave them in the fridge to dry out for a few hours (you can also leave them in overnight, slightly sprinkled in lemon juice to stop them going too brown).

Put the sugar, butter and spices in an oven-proof frying pan (about 20cm) and cook over a high heat constantly stirring and shaking the pan. The butter and sugar should melt together and then begin to separate and turn a dark toffee colour. Be careful with it, caramel is ridiculously hot. No Seriously.

UntitledPut the apples and pears in the pan and toss them into the sauce. Cook them for around 10-12mins. Don’t worry, they won’t burn. Splash in the brandy and let it flambe. Flambe is, in my opinion, a much camper way of saying please be careful, this could take off your eyebrows. Take the pan off the heat and leave it to cool for a few minutes.

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Meanwhile, heat your oven to 200’C. Roll out the block of puff pastry to the thickness of a £1 coin. For people down under a pound is much the same thing as a dollar only thicker and it feels much more like real money (think 2 dollar coins stuck together). Using a plate for a template, cut a circle in the pastry, it should be slightly larger than the pan you are using. Press the edges with your fingers to thin it out a little.

When the pears have cooled you can pluck out the cinnamon sticks, cloves and cardamom pods. Some people like to leave them in to be artsy but really, have you ever accidentally bitten into a cardamom pod? Not good my friends, not good. Arrange the fruit in the pan, cut side up. I went for a sort of flower arrangement with the apple slices around the edge.

moreblog 030Put the puff pastry disk on top of the fruit and tuck the edges around the sides nice and snugly. Pierce the pastry with a fork and then put the pan in the oven for 15mins. If there is a lot of juice bubbling around the edges then drain a little of it off at this stage and then put it back in the over for another 15mins, reducing the heat to 180’C. The pastry should be golden brown.

Take it out of the oven and leave the tart to stand for 10mins (this allows the caramel to set slightly). Then put your serving plate on top of the pan and carefully, carefully flip it over.

Voil-fucking-a!

moreblog 038It’s beautiful! Like a firstborn, or a sunset, or a unicorn! Glossy like the flaxen hair of a medieval wench! As plumptious as the bosom of a barmaid! More sexually enticing than warm apple pie! And other stuff…

moreblog 039This tart tastes sinfully and unforgivably good. Sweet and spicy and sticky and juicy and all things that are even remotely good. The only thing that makes it better is ice-cream. Eat it straight away. Not that you could manage not to…

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Not, unfortunately, a close acquaintance of the Muffin Man

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I must confess that I am not a massive muffin maker. This is mostly because something inherent in their easily portable, bite-sized goodness suggests an obligation to “share”. I also find that my personal food-based guilt is exponentially linked to numbers and not to size. For example eating one entire cake is basically just a minor slip-up whereas eating twelve whole muffins could arguably be considered gross misconduct.

However, when you are attending a party where lots of little (and big) fingers are likely to be in attendance, muffins can come in pretty handy. Or fingery. And these muffins are super moist and silky because of the mashed bananas so that, unlike most muffins which dry out after less than half a day, these will stay good for about 3 days after baking. Not that they are at all likely to stick around that long. This recipe is also great because it genuinely takes less than half an hour from start to finish. This means that if, to your embarrassment, you recently discovered that man-flu can be catching, they really don’t take all that much effort to rustle up.

RECIPE:

  • 3 very ripe, or over-ripe bananas, peeled
  • 125ml vegetable oil, or melted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 100g soft brown sugar
  • 225g plain flour
  • 3tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1tsp bicarbinate of soda
  • 50g milk or dark chocolate (optional)

I used 5 very small, lunchbox bananas for this, which worked perfectly because they are so sweet. I don’t think the smaller variety exist outside of Australia though, so if you’re in the UK stick to the normal sized ones, making sure that they are very ripe. I also must stress that because this recipe relies quite a lot on cocoa powder, especially if you aren’t using chocolate as well, that it has to be really, really good quality. Brits, you can’t go wrong with Green & Blacks.

Preheat your oven to 200’C and line a muffin tin with muffin cases. This mixture can either make 12 regular sized breakfast muffins or about 18-20 mini ones.

Mash the bananas in a large bowl with a fork and, while mashing, pour in the oil or melted butter followed by the eggs and sugar. Mix the flour, cocoa and bicarb together and then add this slowly to the mixture, beating all the time.

Break up the chocolate into chips. You can do this by putting it in a zip-lock bag, squeezing the air out, closing it and then beating the crap out of it with a rolling pin. This doubles as a fairly viable anger-management aid, so feel free to really go for it.

Add the broken chocolate to the mixture, give it a good stir and then spoon it into the muffin cases and pop them in the oven for 15-20 minutes. You should notice that the mixture is silky smooth and totally lickable. Reserve anything left in the bowl for scraping out whilst the muffins are in the oven. Consider it foreplay for the muffin-y goodness to come.

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They should come out nice and plump and rounded. And in less than 30 minutes time? Not bad work for a Sunday morning where by all rights you should be in bed with panadol and lemsip and a soothing, comforting episode of The Walking Dead, I’m sure you’ll agree.

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Among the reviews I think it should be noted that I overheard a small child telling her friend that they were “very chocolate-y”. So there. Michelin-stardom, here I come.

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When in doubt, blame your friends.

parmesan shortbread

So… I have a slightly embarrassing confession to make today. What I actually wanted to do my next post on was home-made pizza dough. There’s nothing better than home-made pizza. Unless, of course, you have a terrible hangover, are hiding in your duvet fort and crying about your evidently misspent youth. Then, obviously, the convenience of a delivery is preferable. But ONLY then.

Think about it, what’s not to love about DIY pizza? You get to pick your own toppings (however ridiculous, and I am talking Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles here…) arrange them however you want, make a giant mess and generally indulge your inner child for the day. This was my plan. I had a couple of friends coming over for the evening and thought this might be a good opportunity. If only I had known how misguided I was…

It was all going well until the pizzas came out of the oven. My back must have been turned for about five minutes and then… the unimaginable happened, a complete and utter betrayal.

They ATE them.

No, seriously, they ate them INSTANTLY. There are no photographs, no evidence that these pizzas ever even existed in the first place other than a few crumbs, some lingering food babies and the distant memory of perfection.

At some point, I will have to do Dough 2 (The Rise of Dough) just to prove I am not going all Emperor’s New Clothes on you but for now I have decided to give you parmesan shortbread instead. Mostly because, on a gorgeous, sunny day like this, there is nothing better than wine and when there is wine there is nothing better than cheesy, melt-in-the-mouth yumminess to go with it.

RECIPE:

  • 150g plain flour
  • 75g parmesan, grated
  • 100g soft, unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • fresh thyme (optional)

Word to the wise here – please do not use pre-grated parmesan. Why? It tastes of sawdust.

Mix all the ingredients together, either by hand or in a food processor, until they start to come together in a clumpy mass (technical term). Tip this on to a slightly floured work surface and knead it for about 30 seconds or until the dough is smoother and less crumbly.

Half the mixture and roll each half into a long, sausage-like cylinder. Wrap tightly in cling-film and pop in the fridge for about 45 minutes to an hour.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180’C/160’C (fan assisted). The brief sojourn in the fridge should make the dough much easier to cut into little coin-shapes about 1/2 inch thick. Ladies might like to take this opportunity to relieve their innermost penis-envy. Freud eat your heart out.

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I like to press tiny thyme leaves onto them, more for prettiness than anything else, and then pop them in the oven on a baking sheet lined with baking paper for about 15-20 minutes. Let them cool for a few minutes before eating them, if you can wait that long.

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There you have it! Tiny little morsels of yumminess and sophistication. The perfect wine-soaker-uppers. You could almost pretend you are a proper grown-up after making these. Almost.

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Breakfast has Risen!

hot x buns

I must confess that I am a Hot-Cross-Bun-Baking virgin. I have always lacked both the patience (and the virtue) to give credit to anything that will take 3 whole attempts to rise. Anyway, I was amazed to discover that Hot Cross Buns are actually pretty damn easy and oh-so-utterly scrumptious at the same time, especially toasted and dripping (virtuously ofcourse) in butter.

I was also shocked and appalled to realise how few of you actually like Hot Cross Buns! I reckon this is for the most part because shop bought ones both look and taste as though you have taken a slice of Hovis in your hand, squished it into a ball and added some raisins. About as appetising as chewing on someone’s abandoned sofa that’s been left out in the rain to gather mildew. Don’t. Even. Bother.

This recipe is a mash-up of both Paul Hollywood’s and Nigella’s. I had the pretty bright idea that, as their mixed DNA would undoubtedly make epic babies, um… surely their Hot Cross Bun recipes would do the same…?

RECIPE:

  • 300ml milk
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 6 cloves
  • 50g butter
  • 500g strong bread flour
  • 1tsp salt
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 1tbsp vegetable oil (or other flavourless)
  • 7g sachet fast-action yeast
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 75g raisins
  • 50g dried cranberries
  • zest 1 orange
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped finely
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 75g plain flour (for the cross)
  • 2tbsp apricot jam (for the glaze)

Bring the milk gently to the boil with the cardamom pods and the cloves. The smell of this ALONE should be enough to leave your whole house feeling religious. Add the butter and leave it to cool to hand temperature. In a bowl, mix the flour, salt, sugar and yeast and make a well in the center. Pour into this the melted butter and milk and recreate all those happy school science memories involving volcanoes. Add the egg and mix together well with a wooden spoon. Then you’re going to need to get your hands dirty and squish it all together until you have a soft, sticky dough.

Tip it onto a floured worktop and give it a good knead for about five minutes, always keeping in mind the helpful phrase about the devil and idle hands. After that put it in an lightly oiled bowl and cover (but don’t wrap) with oiled clingfilm. Leave to rise for 1 hour. Time to get prayin’ while your dough gets a risin’.

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I wish I had taken a ‘before’ shot because this is definitely the bigger, meaner older brother to what I initially put in the bowl. I swear this guy is a mutant in comparison.

While it’s still in the bowl tip in the cranberries, raisins, apples, zest and cinammon and squidge it all about so the fruit is evenly distributed. Put the cling film over again and leave it to rise for another hour.

Separate the dough into about 15 pieces and roll them each into a ball. Pop them on a baking tray (or 2) lined with baking paper with enough room between them for them to grow and leave them (I know, I know) covered with clingfilm or a clean tea towel for another hour. Remember, patience is a virtue!

Now comes the fun bit! Heat the oven to 200’C. Mix the plain flour with water about a tbsp at a time until you get a thick batter. Pour it into a little zip-lock bag (or piping bag if you have one) cut a little snip out of one corner and use this to squeeze crosses onto your little beauties.

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Put them in the oven for about 15-20 mins until they are golden-brown and irresistible looking.

Heat the apricot jam in a saucepan until it’s lovely and melt-y and then brush it all over your buns and leave them to cool.

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Look at them! They’re practically glowing! It’s like what you keep telling your pregnant friends except in this case it’s actually true! Tell me that these aren’t completely delicious. Guaranteed to make a convert of even the most hardened Hot Cross Bun hater.

Happy Easter everybody! Cook like… Bunnies?

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Woman, get back in the kitchen!

lemon polenta cake So there is a definite soft spot in my heart for Nigella Lawson. She manages to be sexy, mumsy and quaintly English and eccentric all in one go. She can be a little irritating. Her food descriptions are ridiculous. She loves anything that is “moist” (she describes this recipe as having a “wholly desirable dampness” I SHIT YOU NOT.) And during her cooking shows I permanently worry that she is at any moment about to dip her rather extensive bosom in to whatever hot tray of deliciousness she happens to be carrying at the time but still I think she’s kind of endearing. Like your friend’s fit but slightly crazy mum. And also there is definitely something to be said for a sexy woman holding forth in her kitchen. But maybe that’s just me?

Managed to get slightly off topic but anyway this recipe is fantastic, so easy, so yummy, so lemony… and it has the added benefit of being gluten free. This definitely helps if your boyfriend’s mild gluten intolerance doesn’t seem to bother him but easily has the capacity to clear a room if he ignores it for too long.

RECIPE:

  • 200g unsalted butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 200g ground almonds
  • 100g polenta
  • 1 1/2 tsps baking powder (gluten free if required)
  • 3 large eggs
  • zest of 3 lemons
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 125g icing sugar

Preheat your oven to 180’C. Grease a baking tin (23cm) with butter and line it with baking paper.

Beat the butter and caster sugar together till it’s pale and kind of stiffly fluffy. In a separate bowl mix the almonds, polenta and baking powder and add a little to the butter and sugar followed by an egg. Keep alternating the dry ingredients and the egg until you have a stiff cake mix. Add the lemon zest and then scrape it all into the tin and pop it in the oven for 30-40mins.

Bob is literally your uncle.

You can tell it is done when it is a deep, golden-brown and a skewer comes out clean-ish.

Meanwhile make the lemon syrup by boiling up the lemon juice and the icing sugar until all the sugar has dissolved. Prick the cake all over while it is still hot and in it’s tin and then pour the syrup all over. Don’t worry if it seems like your drowning the thing, the syrup will absorb into the cake and it will just end up as wonderful sticky goodness… or desirable dampness as the case may be. TRUST ME about leaving it in the tin or you’ll have sticky lemon syrup all over your kitchen. Even Nigella has a limit to the desirable dampness of her work surfaces. Leave it in the tin to cool and then, Hey Presto: Cake!

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Because it’s flourless it won’t rise a huge amount, so don’t worry it’s meant to be a little bit on the flat side. But truly it tastes fantastic, really light and zesty but also buttery and satisfying. The  perfect addition to an afternoon tea where you and your friends and family can sit and discuss your varying opinions on the topic of “moist” to your hearts content.

100_0494Or not because that would be weird…

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I think the term you are searching for is “Rustic”…

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When you know how to make Soda Bread you literally have no excuse to not have the smell of fresh bread permanently sexing up your kitchen. It’s the easiest, quickest, messiest thing to make and therefore appeals to my entire skill set – terminal laziness, short attention span, and permanent sticky-fingerdom. No excuses. Get baking. This recipe is courtesy of Paul Hollywood, the blue-eyed Adonis of the baking world.

Recipe:

  • 250g Plain White Flour
  • 250g Wholemeal Flour
  • 1tsp Bicarbinate of Soda
  • 1tsp Salt
  • 1tsp Soft Brown Sugar (optional)
  • 420ml Buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 200’C.

Mix together both flours, the bicarbinate, salt and sugar.

Add the buttermilk and mix to form a sticky dough. Bite the bullet here, there is literally no way to do this other than getting your hands in and squidging it about. It is the stickiest thing in the universe. Put some flour on the worktop BEFORE you get stuck in because you won’t be able to touch anything afterwards. You’ll be a dough-y King Midas. More mess, less bling.

On a floured worktop roll and fold the dough together, but don’t knead it! If you want buns separate the dough into 4, otherwise just roll it into 1 big ball.

Score each ball with a big, deep cross and dust with flour.

Put it on a baking tray lined with tin foil and bake for 30 mins.burger 005

They aren’t the prettiest things in the world, and they definitely wont be winning Miss Bread Australia 2014 anytime soon. I think the polite term is “Rustic” or “Definitely Homemade” But they taste SO good and are epic torn into soup or with heaps of cheese and pickle. You’re welcome.

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