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Sigh. I’ve done it again.

Last week, when I popped into Southern Cross Supplies (to get more salt, but we won’t even go there), I passed sacks of Mauri grain mix on the clearance pallet. These had expiry dates of September and October this year. It’s worth noting that the instructions on the sack are to “use at 20%” – in other words, add 200g grain mix to 1kg of flour in a batch of dough.

So 20 KILOS…is quite a lot.

The grain mix normally wholesales at $78 per sack, and the clearance price was half of that. But the weather has warmed up in Sydney, and $39 was too much to punt on a bag of potentially bug-infested grain, so I asked them if they’d take less (my Chinese ancestors would have been so proud). In the end it only cost me $25, and it’s in perfect condition…

It’s a great mix of grains and seeds…

I immediately stashed half the bag in the freezer (confession: in thick plastic bags) and kept the rest for sharing and experimenting with. I made a batch of Em’s Mighty Multigrain from Artisan Sourdough Made Simple

I then adapted an idea from Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf and boiled the grains briefly, drained them, then macerated them overnight in a pint of Little Creatures Pale Ale. The following morning, I blithely threw about a kilo of soaked grains into my usual sourdough recipe, which of course completely messed up both my salt and water quantities.

After adjusting by feel (never a process that works well for me), I ended up with a very wet dough that tried to slide off the table as I was shaping it. The final result was six large, slightly flat loaves…

My ever supportive neighbours tried them…and loved them! The crumb was very soft and the grains chewy rather than gritty. I’m off to raid the rest of Big Boy’s IPA stash…

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Apart from bread, I thought I’d try the grain mix in muesli bars (or flapjacks, as they call them in the UK). These worked brilliantly – so much so that I’ve just baked my third batch! They’d never pass as a health food, but they are deliciously moreish and quite filling…

Here’s my recipe, adapted loosely from the one in The River Cottage Cakes Handbook by Pam Corbin, and it’s dead easy…

  • 175g unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 40g treacle
  • 150g raw sugar
  • 200g rolled oats
  • 100g grain mix
  • 100g organic sultanas
  • pinch sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 160°C with fan. In a large saucepan, gently melt together the butter, treacle and sugar. Be careful not to split the butter – once it melts a bit, take it off the heat and stir everything together until combined.

2. Stir in all the other ingredients and mix well. Turn the mixture into a lined 20cm x 25cm x 5cm baking pan. Spread everything out evenly, and then give the mix a good pressing in with the back of a spoon – you want to squish it as flat as possible.

3. Bake for 25 minutes until dark golden brown. When you pull the pan out of the oven, the mixture will still be bubbling and very hot – let it cool completely on a wire rack before removing to a board and cutting into bars. The base of the bars will be quite oily, so I blot them on a clean tea towel (you could use paper towels) before storing in an airtight container.

These are remarkably addictive and nothing like the boring supermarket versions! The original recipe used 250g oats and no grain mix, in case you don’t have a 20kg bag of the latter lying about…

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I’m not a fan of bircher muesli, but I’d love any other suggestions you might have for the grain mix. A friend suggested granola last night – might have to give that a go next! ♥

I came home recently to find teenagers on our back deck, using our wifi.

Don’t worry, they had permission. The internet had gone down at their house, so they’d hot-footed it across the road to use ours. The fact that we weren’t home didn’t make any difference.

And for the umpteenth time since we moved here nearly 30 years ago, I gave thanks for this wonderful urban village that we live in.

We love our house, but it’s just bricks and mortar at the end of the day – what makes it special is the neighbourhood it’s located in. I recently came across a post I wrote six years ago, and it occurred to me that while some of the faces have changed, the essence of our community hasn’t. It’s still a street where folks say hello, share food and conversation, and look out for one other. And it made me wonder – what makes a neighbourhood a village? Why is our little corner of the inner west so magical?

When I was a child, I desperately wanted to live in a village. Perhaps it’s what every new immigrant wants – when my parents arrived in the late 1960s, barely speaking English and the only Chinese family in the area, they left behind all their loved ones. I was only four, but old enough to remember the noise and laughter and camaraderie that filled our house back in Malaysia. We went back for (very) occasional visits as I was growing up, and I have vivid memories of family and friends, gathered around kitchen tables, eating and talking loudly. It seemed to be a wonderful way to live.

So I feel incredibly lucky to have found this neighbourhood.

I love that we’re able to share our food, time and resources in a relaxed, easy way. Mark mows our front lawn, Jane brings me cocktails, and last week, Graeme dropped over sashimi plates and smoked meats. PeteV bought us a fancy bluetooth thermometer for Rosie the Smoker, so that we could sleep through the night rather than getting up three times to check the thermostat. Maude spends early mornings crocheting and drinking tea with me, Margaret made us a jar of her secret family chutney, and on a really good day, June will drop over a plate of her amazing Hungarian cabbage rolls.

In return, we hand out loaves of bread, share our old vintage ports and force feed everyone experimental chocolate. Last weekend, we pulled out an entire bed of perennial leeks from the garden and left them on the back deck so that the neighbours could come and help themselves.

I say “in return”, but in truth, it’s never been a case of quid pro quo. None of us keep track of what we’re giving or receiving, because what’s actually happening is that we’re building a community. Every neighbourly exchange gives us an opportunity to interact, nourish and build relationships, while always respecting each other’s personal space.

It also makes our village a safer place to live – when Pete and I go away, the boys have a dozen numbers to call of folks who will drop everything and run over if they need help (not that it’s such an issue now that they’re both adults). We keep an eye on each other’s houses, chase runaway pets down the road, and text when we think something might be amiss.

Let me give you an example of how well it all works. Darling Norma passed away a couple of months ago at the grand old age of 92. She’d had several strokes and couldn’t remember our names anymore, but she’d been able to keep living at home, on her own, largely because of her neighbours on both sides. They would drive her to doctors’ appointments, take out her rubbish, ring to tell her there was someone at the door (she was quite deaf), and so much more. Norma was born on our street, but it was Jane and Jacinta’s love and care that made it possible for her to spend her final days here.

Over the years, we’ve watched our sons and the other neighbourhood babies grow up and head off into the world, going to university, travelling overseas, starting careers and getting married. I hope that one day, they too will all find villages of their own. ♥

It’s been a sweet month!

When I picked up my chocolate order from Chefs’ Warehouse recently, Ezra offered me a taste of the new Callebaut Ruby. It’s brand new – Callebaut are calling it the fourth type of chocolate. Made from the Ruby cacao bean, it has a distinct, tangy flavour and the pink colour is completely natural.

Here’s some info about it from the manufacturer’s website…

 

 

Naturally, I had to bring a bag home to play with! My first attempt at tempering it was a bit dodgy, but the second batch was perfect. I found it sets well at 88°F (31.1C), with a similar texture to white chocolate (possibly because of the added milk powders). Isn’t it pretty!

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Halloween has come and gone for 2018 and as usual, we were left with a mountain of uneaten trick or treat candy. I cut up 350g of Snickers, Mars Bars, Milky Ways and M&Ms and added them to a batch of sourdough (1kg flour) – a riff on Emilie’s chocolate bread from Artisan Sourdough Made Simple. The Halloween loaves are always too sweet for me, but Michi and Jemima love them, so I baked them each a loaf…

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It’s HSC time again in Sydney (final end of school exams) and this year’s care packages were filled with chocolate cane toads. Big Boy and Monkey Girl were roped in to help with the wrapping…

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On the weekend, I revisited an old favourite – our Guinness chocolate cake recipe. I couldn’t find any Irish stout in the pantry, so I raided Big Boy’s beer stash for a couple of bottles of Monteith’s Black Beer. The result was a very dark, not overly sweet and slightly bitter chocolate cake that the kids and neighbours smashed. It has a texture similar to a devil’s food cake and baked perfectly in my 12 cup bundt pan…

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Christmas is coming and the chocolate experimenting has begun! This year’s gifts will include these chocolate thins, made with a 50/50 blend of Callebaut 811 (54% dark) and 823 (milk), mixed with feuilletine flakes and spread out thinly on textured acetate sheets. My mother adored these, and as she isn’t usually a fan of chocolate, I think that’s a good indicator of their universal appeal…

This year we’ll be wrapping them in our rescued food safe paper from Reverse Garbage instead of cellophane bags…

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Finally…and this isn’t a chocolatey thing at all…my lovely friend Margot surprised me with this painted wooden spoon last week. She commissioned clever Australian artist Emma Palmer to create it for me from a photo. This pic was taken by Emma

It’s now hanging on our dining room wall and Small Man is somewhat perturbed by the fact that the eyes seem to follow him around the room (it’s because of the concave shape of the spoon, he tells me).

I absolutely LOVE it…what do you think? Does it look like me?

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Wishing you all a very happy, chocolate-filled week! ♥

What is it we all need?

Hannah Gadsby would argue that it’s connection.  What every human being wants, at their core, is a way to connect with others.

I watched her program Nanette on Netflix recently, and would urge anyone who has access to it to spend an hour of their time doing the same. Perhaps it will speak to you as powerfully as it did to me. ♥

“Em, can you please send me a new copy of your book? Mine is covered in oil…”

My friend just laughed at me – she knows I already have both the paper and digital versions of her magnum opus. If you’re a sourdough baker and you haven’t already bought a copy of Emilie Raffa’s Artisan Sourdough Made Simple, then you’re missing out.

Yes, I know, I’ve been raving on about it for a year now, but I’m still finding new recipes in it to experiment with. Last weekend I baked two of her focaccias (with a slightly amend blended of flours) and they went down a treat…

Our current favourite though is her light rye loaf…

I’ve tinkered with Em’s formula just a little, increasing the quantity of light rye flour to 30% instead of 20%. Here are the quantities I used to make the three loaves above:

  • 100g bubbly active starter
  • 730g water
  • 40g honey
  • 300g light rye flour
  • 700g bakers flour
  • 18g fine sea salt

On top of Em’s excellent instructions, I have four tips to offer which will make this bake extra special…

Firstly, track down a decent rye flour. It’s surprisingly difficult to find – I stopped baking with rye years ago after several disappointing batches. It was only my eagerness for Em’s recipe that led me to try again, and I’ve discovered an excellent German light rye from Southern Cross Supplies. It’s a new product and only available in 5kg bags, so you might want to consider sharing with a friend…

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Secondly, even though there’s only a small amount of honey in the mix, use the best you can afford, because the flavour is very evident in the finished loaf. I’m using either the excellent Miellerie honey from Tasmania, or my friend Ian’s Pink Anarel honey, both of which add a gentle but sophisticated sweetness to the dough…

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Thirdly, be aware that this is a sticky dough. Dust the bench and your hands with plenty of fine semolina or rye flour. If you’d like to achieve a holey crumb, wet your fingers slightly, shake them off, then dimple the dough as shown in our earlier post

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Finally, turn the heat down a tiny bit and watch the loaves carefully once the lid is off the roaster – the honey turns the crust a magnificent dark brown, but it can also cause it to burn more easily.

I’m baking three smaller loaves rather than two larger ones (the original formula was for a single loaf using 500g flour), so I allow 23 minutes at 220C fan-forced with the lid on, then 16 – 18 minutes at 200 – 210C fan-forced with the lid off. Occasionally, I’ll pop the loaves on the shelf for an extra 5 minutes at 170C just for good measure. Adjust according to how your oven bakes – mine has a tendency to run hot.

Once cool, the loaves keep really well in a beeswax wrap!

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As my friend PeteV says, this recipe is a keeper! The loaf has a chewy, elastic crumb, a slightly nutty flavour, and a gentle sweetness that makes it perfect with everything from cheese to peanut butter to slow smoked brisket. I’m baking it at least once a week these days, as the boys can’t get enough of it (neither can I, if I’m honest). Thanks for such a fabulous recipe, Em! ♥

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