Self sufficiency, on a small kitchen scale at least, has been an interest of mine since watching the River Cottage series. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall captured my imagination as he bandied about trying live as self sufficient as he could, down to rearing and butchering his own meat, then showing how far it can go by extending it to his restaurant. Of course, not everything is sourced from his own land, but that’s not really his point. For me, the message is: do what you can, where you can. I think we can all do a little of that once in a while.
So I’ve touched on my veggie garden, and how it provides me a great source of pleasure and heart ache. And physical pain. I love the smugness of eating something I’ve grown myself. I love the intensity of the flavour you just can’t get at a supermarket. Some ventures are less profitable than others. This year, for instance, I have had poor success with fennel, and the brassicas. One or two complacent weeks and BAM!! Your cabbage has met it’s match with every aphid in the suburb while also nourishing multiple generations of cabbage moth. This season will not be one of self sufficiency in my yard! All is not lost on the didn’t-even-look-like-making-a-bulb fennel – I’m going to let it set seed & I’ll harvest that for my spice rack.
So instead, I’m looking more toward food I can make in my kitchen that I’d otherwise buy. I’ve made many a loaf of bread, which is rewarding when it works. Sourdough is one I’m yet to truly master. I tend to lose interest around the kneading part. I like my sourdough very bread-like. I’m not sure how the nomenclature goes, but I don’t like the big airy pockets (is this called the crumb? Hopefully someone can guide me here). They have their place in the world of bread, but I don’t like all my toppings falling through. The best success I had at making my bread how I like it was when I was distracted chatting with an old friend as we kneaded our dough & nattered about his travels by yacht across the Pacific Ocean. Clearly, I’m rarely going to find such engaging conversation to distract me from the knead!
As luck would have it, I stumbled across a brilliant almost-no-knead recipe for a nutty styled loaf. And it’s perfect toasted with a slip of butter, plus or minus jam. It’s so disturbingly easy that I was initially skeptical about success. Simple things, however, need not always be viewed that way. And really, that’s the crux of my ‘why buy it when you can make it?’ theme – that sometimes it’s just too easy NOT to buy it, but to make it with your own hands.
The recipe is from an amazing family written cookbook, Under The Walnut Tree by Anna and Fanny Bergenstrom, that carries across a really warm homely feel. There’s a closeness and nostalgia in the recipes and the photographs that’s hard to resist trying to merge many of their recipes into your own treasured family recipes. It is from there that I have adapted this nutty fruit loaf recipe. I couldn’t help but add fruit to a loaf that called for walnuts. It almost seemed remiss to leave them out! You can really just play with the ratios of delectable ingredients to suit your own taste. For instance, I had a fruit loaf from a boutique bakery many years ago that had fruit (semi dried apricots) and fennel seed, so I frequently through in a small fist full of fennel seed. I’ve also made one attempt at a gluten free version, which went reasonably well. But I’ll need more trials on that later. Enough chatter: more recipe!
Adapted from Under The Walnut Tree
Makes one large loaf
12g dried yeast (1.5 sachets of Lowan Dried Instant Yeast)
2 tsp salt
1 tbs honey
500ml lukewarm water
2 tbs oil (olive, walnut, or coconut)
100g whole meal spelt flour (I think coconut flour could be interesting here, especially for gluten free)
150-200g walnuts/pecans/hazelnuts/sunflower seeds/pepitas/dried cranberries/sultanas/dried figs/dates/dried apricots
600g plain flour
(optional spices like fennel, etc)
40g sesame seeds/sunflower seeds/pepitas/fennel seeds (the topping seeds)
Sprinkle yeast in a bowl with salt, honey & water. Stir to start dissolving the yeast, then add the rest of the water, the milk, and all other ingredients (except your chosen topping seeds). Stir with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together (if you have a stand mixer, use the dough hook for this part – too easy). Set aside for 1-1.5 hours to rise at room temperature.
Preheat oven to 260C. Turn dough out on to a lightly floured surface & shape the dough into a single loaf. My tip here is that I like to have a slightly longer loaf that needs baking diagonally across the tray. This shape has given me a more even sized slice throughout the finished loaf. If you like more round loaves, go for it. Gently place the loaf on a lined baking tray (easier said than done with longer loaves!). Now sprinkle some water or milk on top of the loaf & then top your loaf with your chosen topping seeds.
Bake the loaf for 10 minutes, then turn the oven temperature down to 180C & bake for 25-30 minutes. The loaf is cooked when tapping on the underside of loaf gives a hollow sound. Let loaf cool on a wire rack.
* Substitute just about any nut you like. Pecans & walnuts work well for me. Hazelnuts were interesting, but I haven’t mastered removing the bitter skin. If someone has a foolproof method, PLEASE leave a comment!
* Be daring with your flavour combinations. Throw in some spice to make your breakfast toast infinitely more exciting.
* Using poppy or chia seeds in the loaf can add interesting flavour and texture.
What’s your favourite ‘Why Buy It When You Can Make It?’ that you cook at home? Do you bake your own bread? Bottle your own lemonade? Preserve fruits & veggies? Please share your experiences for my inspiration, and stay tuned for more Why Buy It posts.