Tag Archives: breakfast

Pain au Raisin

I’m sorry, but the pain au rasin in England are rubbish. The worst are made from puff pastry and loads of sugar: they’re dry and oily at the same time. The better ones are made from bread dough, but more often than not glazed in a layer of gelatinous sugary goo. In any case, they are then trucked from one end of the country to the other, until they’re stale, at which point they can be sold.

So sometimes, it’s worth making one’s own. The basis is a fairly austere brioche dough: the origins of this one are lost in the mists of time, but I think it originally comes from the BBC website, although I could find no trace of it when I looked recently.

Here’s what you need.

  • 225g white bread making flour
  • 1 sachet dried yeast (5g)
  • 50mL milk
  • pinch salt
  • 20g caster sugar (maybe more if you have a sweet tooth)
  • 50g butter (maybe more if you fancy)
  • 2 large eggs
  • about a tablespoon brown sugar
  • about 80g raisins or sultanas

Start by warming the milk to about 50ºC – hot enough that when you poke your finger in it you feel you might burn if you left it there. Add 25g of the flour, 5g of the sugar, and the yeast. Stir well, and let this sit for about 15 minutes. (Why? Yeast and butter don’t get along, so this gives the yeast a sporting chance. Other brioche recipes would have you make the dough without the butter, and then work it in between rising and proving. St Julia, bless her, has a brioche recipe that takes a full cycle of the moon.)

Meanwhile, combine the remaining 200g of flour, the remaining 15g of sugar, and the salt in large bowl. Cut the butter into small cubes, and rub in, as though you were making pastry. You’re aiming for the texture of breadcrumbs.

Break the eggs into the (cooled) yeast/milk mix, and attack with the a whisk until it’s smooth. Add this into the flour/butter mix, and mix into a ball of dough. If the flour isn’t all absorbed, a teensy splash of milk will help. (Likewise, if it’s too gloopy, just let it sit for a few minutes and it will sort itself out.)

Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes. If it’s warm, and the dough starts to become greasy and slippery, which it may even before you knead, then the butter is melting, so pop it into the fridge for 20 minutes to rest. (It was 30ºC outside and 25ºC inside when I was testing this, so the pastry/dough required two rests in the fridge, and I got lots of washing up done.)

Once the dough is suitably elastic, pop it into a bowl to rise, covered by a damp teatowel. It’ll take about an hour, depending on how warm the room is. An overnight rise in the fridge is also acceptable.

Once risen, punch the dough down, and knead it again for a few minutes. Your kneading and folding should be done with the cunning plan of getting it into a rectangle, about the size and shape of a piece of A4 paper. A rolling pin helps at the last stage – I use a wine bottle.

Lightly sprinkle the rectangle of dough with brown sugar, and press in the raisins/sultanas. It may seem like a lot of raisins, but quite a few will fall out when you slice the thing up in a moment.

Now. How greedy are you feeling? You could roll the sheet along its long axis, and slice it into twelve. That will give you some quite little pain au raisin, something to serve on the side. You could roll it along the short axis, and slice it into eight, or if you want some big chunky fellows, into six. Regardless, the slicing should be done with a very large sharp knife, using lots of sideways action and minimal downard pressure.

Arrange these on two baking sheets with a respectful amount of room on either side. Squish down lightly with the palm of your hand. If your baking sheets aren’t terribly non stick, then a light greasing, or some baking paper will help.

Cover them in cling wrap, and let them prove for about an hour.

They may unravel when proving, so a little stage management, and tucking in will be called for. I squeeze the ends and tuck them under the coil.

To make the glaze beat one egg, and about a teaspoon of milk. Brush lightly all over before popping in the oven. (Why the glaze? Otherwise they look a bit pale on the outside.)

For the little ones, 15 mins at 180ºC should do, maybe as little as 10. The bigger ones will need about 20 minutes.

Onto a cooling rack.

Freezing

I’ve had a go at popping them into the freezer between the slicing and proving phases. They’ll need all night in the fridge, and maybe a few hours at room temperature to thaw. They baked up OK. Obviously you’ll need room in the fridge to put the baking sheet, and don’t forget to cover them in cling wrap.

Obviously

You might not bother slicing the thing, once rolled up, but merely let it prove and put it into the oven whole.

You might not bother with the sultanas at all. Just punch down, shape into a loaf, prove, glaze, and bake for about 25 mins. Knock underneath to test, of course.

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French Toast

Burrrrrrrrrrrrrrrp.

I feel fat, unhealthy, and more than a teensy bit bad. The tail end of a homemade loaf of brioche (not brilliant, I’ll post a recipe at some point when it works) was winking suggestively at me as I laboured over the coffee, so some French Toast seemed in order. There are various traditions over the origin of this, but its name seems to have come from the Southern United States. (In England it more often goes under the rather prosaic name of Eggy Bread.)

For each two thick slices of bread (or brioche) I use one egg, beaten with an equal volume of milk, plus a teaspoon of sugar, and a pinch of salt and cinnamon. (There are savoury versions where you use pepper and herbs instead.)

Get the frypan going on a gentle heat, enough to melt some butter and have it very gently bubbling.

Soak the bread on both sides in the egg/milk mixture, and then transfer to the frypan. About two minutes a side, to get a nice brown crust. Take a peek from time to time, and turn down the heat if this is happening too fast.

Oh, and make sure your cardiac surgeon is ready and waiting just in case.

Breakfast(!) Pizza

The last grisly remains of the pizza dough were favouring me with an accusatory glare from the bottom shelf of the fridge this morning.

The dough yielded one useful lump, which was duly rolled out and adorned with ham, except for the centre, which I left bare. After five minutes in the oven, I broke an egg into the recess in the middle and covered the lot with a handful of grana. A few more minutes and behold, the breakfast of champions.

The egg, of course, didn’t confine itself to the well in the middle, and some of it escaped over the baking sheet, and has become carbonised laminate. Oh well, fun with the washing up.

The remaining odds and sods of dough were rolled into a single flattish piece (about two centimetres thick) brushed with olive oil, more salt, and popped in for a 20 minutes. A very rough, but quite palatable, ciabatta/focaccia/thing resulted.

The Omelette

The French omelette has to be the ultimate fast food, it’s a slightly terrifying process for the uninitiated, but so good when you get it right.

First, catch your omelette pan. It should be non stick (whether that’s by dint of it being shiny stainless steel, Teflon coated, or seasoned cast iron, I don’t mind) about 20cm in diameter with 3-4cm high sides, and have a reasonably solid base. (For the record, the one shown above is a black iron Longlife pan, purchased from Jaeggi’s on Shaftsbury Avenue. There’s a story attached to this one, but I’ll save that for another day.)

Some commandments:

  • have everything ready to go
  • make sure the plate on which it will be served is warm
  • don’t even think of making more than two omelettes
  • more than three eggs is inviting disaster
  • make sure the eggs are at room temperature, eggs from the fridge won’t co-operate

Put the pan on a medium heat, and let it warm up.

Crack two or three eggs into a bowl. A two egg omelette is easier to tame. Nigel Slater and Julia Child both recommend adding a teaspoon (5mL) of water, and this seems to make it slightly more malleable. Mix with a fork. You’re not trying to beat it to a fluff, just combine everything.

Now, grind over some pepper and salt. If you do this before mixing, the pepper seems to form a clump, which can come as a bit of a surprise when the omelette is being eaten.

The pan should now be hot, so add a generous knob of butter; a tablespoon or around 20g. Turn the heat up as far as it goes. The butter should sizzle, and once it’s melted and foaming, but before it starts to burn, pour in the beaten eggs, and then do nothing for a slow count of ten.

Saint Julia (as demonstrated here on youtube) merely swirls the pan, starting with circular movements, and then changing to horizontal movements to fold it, and then flips it straight onto the plate. I have never quite managed this, and suspect it requires some special culinary Black Belt.

Saint Delia, on the other hand, is terribly proscriptive about repeatedly tilting and drawing the edge in.

Neither of these works for me, so what I end up doing is this.

  1. waiting for a slow count of ten, having poured the eggs into the pan – this lets enough of a skin form on the bottom so you can manipulate it
  2. swirling the pan gently, enough to make the omelette move around a little, and to make sure the it doesn’t stick to the bottom, and using a spoon to draw the edges in from time to time
  3. after about 30 seconds (this is why the heat is high) it’s cooked most of the way through, but still runny on top
  4. folding it using my pink girly silicone spatula, and
  5. flipping it onto the plate

It doesn’t matter if the omelette is very slightly gooey in the middle at this point, as it will carry on cooking on the plate.

Fillings

I normally add fillings at the end of step 3.

Some good things to add:

  • a few thin slices of cheese – some savage Cheddar is good
  • as much fresh parsley as you can hold between your thumb and forefinger
  • a slice or two of smoked salmon – the salmon will be just cooked when you finish

Burnt Porridge

Never attempt to cook breakfast until the first cup of coffee is well on its way to your nerve endings.

This morning’s little disaster involved me making the first coffee of the day, and getting the porridge going at the same time. Needless to say, faffing with the espresso machine, and the subsequent caffeine induced pleasure caused me to take my eye off the ball. The pleasant smell of roasting oats with undertones of Something Burnt brought me back to my senses, and a quick inspection showed a layer of intractable black stuff upon the bottom of the saucepan. Deglazing with a splash of vermouth will not solve this, nor indeed would all the steel wool in the world.

The Heretic’s Kitchen is used to problems like this, and has the solution. One or two tablets of “biological” washing powder, some warm water, and a few hours is all that’s required for the enzymes in the powder to gleefully munch away the organic deposits.

Improvisation

The bloody raspberries haven’t been finished, and they’re looking decidedly limp, and still fairly tasteless. So they, plus the water that’s clung to them after rinsing, and a teaspoon of vanilla sugar have made it into a saucepan on a low heat, until the berries have mainly collapsed and are sitting in a pool of sticky red sludge, which doesn’t taste too bad.

This gets served with porridge.

Pudding for breakfast.

Porridge

Porridge is good for us, apparently. Oats are mainly complex carbohydrates, so it takes a while for your body to process them, which means they provide a steady a trickle of energy throughout the day, rather than the single king hit you get from an almond croissant.

There’s a lot of waffle written about how to make porridge, describing arcane rituals, equipment, and even solemnly pondering whether or not it should be stirred clockwise. I’m not convinced.

I would recommend spending the extra forty pence for a bag of posh oats, as these have a bit more texture to them. The cheap ones tend to produce something that’s a little too smooth and gooey for my tastes.

  1. Take equal volumes of oats, milk and water. Around half a cup of each per person is good, depending upon appetite. (Depending upon the oats, maybe just a teensy bit more liquid; about another 10%.)
  2. Put them all, plus a pinch of salt, into a small saucepan, on a medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  3. Once it starts to bubble and shudder reduce the heat as low as it will go and continue to stir every so often until the desired consistency is reached; around five minutes.

In Real Fast Food Nigel Slater recommends all sorts of things you can put on porridge, but I normally limit myself to honey and raisins, although toasted hazelnuts, cinnamon and nutmeg are nice, even if it starts to feel like pudding.

There are few better starts to the day. At least of the sort I can write about here.