Australian scones slightly bewildered me when I first arrived here 21 years ago – ‘so they’re biscuits, right?’ But as I’ve shared in my locavore bacon & eggs, biscuits & gravy recipe, they may be virtually the same recipes, but they are eaten in very different ways, with very different things. And so having given you my savoury brekky biscuit recipe already, I will now share a savoury American scone recipe just to really confuse you. 🙂
American scones are typically enormous things, and I remember most of them being a slightly bulbous triangular shape. They were a morning staple in my years at UCSD, where I’d wander in my homemade plaid cotton trousers and wildly mismatched tie-dye t-shirts into the Grove to linger over a philosophical discussion with ‘the Wanderer’ (his real name was Brian, but he… wandered) and other nascent intellectuals, slurping at a precycle/recycle mug of mocha java and nibbling for hours at an oversized sweet scone – my favourite was blueberry at the time.
The overwhelmingly savoury palate I developed through my thirties led to a singular decline in my interest in such scones, or any kind of muffins or (goddess forbid) cupcakes. But as we prepared to host Eat Your Ethics at Jonai Farms, my mind turned immediately to ham and cheese scones – what could possibly be more suitable to commence the day of exploring all things pig?
Preheat the oven to 180C. Line baking sheets with baking paper.
Mix flour, baking soda, cayenne, salt & polenta. Cut in the butter until it’s the size of small peas. Gently mix in the cheese and ham. Make a well and add the cream and yoghurt until just combined. A little loose flour should still remain in the bottom of the bowl.
Place the dough on a generously floured surface and pat it into a rectangle that’s about 3cm thick. Cut it as you like into squares or triangles of your preferred size.
Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 25 minutes, or until light brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
I use a stand mixer for mine, which does save time and makes working with a wet, sticky dough a lot easier, but it can easily be done by hand without a lot of extra time required as I use a minimal kneading technique. I’ve learned that supermarket, stock standard flour doesn’t make great bread – these days I’m using 12.5kg bags of pizza flour from UCG Wholesalers. Pizza flour is a ‘strong flour’, that is, it has a higher gluten content, which is better for bread and pizza. Low gluten flours (which are typical of most self-rising and plain flours in the supermarket) are best for cakes and pastries. As I bake almost every day, I get through 12.5kg every three weeks or so, and it’s great value from UCG (there’s one in Melbourne CBD and one up on Bell St in Preston). I play with other flours occasionally too, especially rye, but my results are a lot more variable to date.
As for my starter, Fran, I feed her about a tablespoon of flour & a bit less of water each day, give her a quick stir and leave her on the bench with a lid loosely perched on the plastic honey jar in which she resides. In really hot weather I usually pop her in the fridge or she gets a bit manky (we must be related). It took me ages to learn not to add too much starter to my bread – the acidity keeps the gluten from making a lovely, stretchy, chewy crumb.
I’ve stuck with adding a bit of commercial dry yeast to get a reliable rise, and if I need to speed it up (when there’s no time for an overnight rise), I just add a bit more.
The key to sourdough is long rises, not loads of labour, in my experience. Hence putting a dough on in the morning, popping it into tins before bed, and into the oven in the morning seems to work perfectly, with minimal effort on my part and maximum time for farming all day. 🙂
1T starter (give or take – I often make double quantities, but only up the starter by about half)
2C pizza flour
1C tepid tap water (I reckon our rainwater has improved the bread too, by the way)
pinch flake salt
1tsp dry yeast
drizzle olive oil
Pour starter into bowl. Add flour, dry yeast, salt, water and oil. Knead on lowest setting or by hand for about 1 minute – just until combined. Let stand 15 minutes. Knead again for about 30 seconds.
Brush a light covering of olive oil on top and leave to rise (prove) for 6-10 hours. The wetness of the dough and temperature and humidity in your house will determine the right length of time, but you can also make it suit your schedule. If you get home late from work, it may have fallen from the top of its rise a bit, but it doesn’t really matter, you’ll still get great bread from the second rise.
For the second rise, I don’t really ‘punch it down’, I simply pour it out of the bowl and fold it over like a book, turned at 90 degrees repeatedly, to form bubbles inside until it’s quite tight and doesn’t want to stretch any further. Then I put it into a lightly oiled (and usually with polenta on bottom) bread tin for the final rise. NB oil your hands and the board for this bit to avoid loads of sticky dough everywhere. Allow to rise overnight.
A quick note on stickyness – I love the results of a wetter dough, but too wet and it doesn’t rise with structure (so needs to be in a tin, not on a tray), too dry and you get dry bread. A really wet dough may rise beautifully but collapse before you hop up in the morning to bake it – the result will still be good, but just a bit shorter with a tougher top crust. Keep experimenting until it’s how you like it best.
My favourite bit is waking up with a gorgeous sunrise washing through the house and turn on the oven to warm the kitchen.
I bake my bread on the lowest rack at max temp (which on my oven is around 250C) for about 20 minutes – until the top is golden & the bottom makes a hollow sound if you tap it. Occasionally I remember to put a water bath on the top rack or spray some water in for more yummy holes in the bread.
Enjoy your warm, fresh loaves every morning and take time to reflect on what a mood enhancer they are.
There’s no doubt that making bread feels good – it’s homely, nurturing & nostalgic – and if you’re making good bread, it’s especially satisfying. And given I devote around 10 minutes prep time to mine (that includes all stages), I no longer believe anyone who says it’s too hard or too time consuming, or that it’s some Little House on the Prairie anti-feminist practice.
What’s the best thing since sliced bread? A whole loaf you made yourself.
This is not a post to make others feel guilty about what you’re not doing, though it may have that unintended effect on some. I apologise in advance to any who take it that way. But while we have a quick look at the life of the Jonai, here’s a brief bit of background:
I was raised in a family with two working parents who outsourced most domestic labour, including quite a lot of what cooking was actually done (very little, in truth). Our ‘junk cupboard’ (full of Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Chips Ahoy, Ruffles potato chips, etc) was precisely half the size of the ‘real food’ pantry, which was stocked with tins of vegies, soup and other highly refined items. There was minimal fresh produce in the house beyond bananas and apples. My mum hated to cook, but would occasionally produce a dinner of pork chops cooked to cardboard consistency (to ensure we didn’t get salmonella) and mashed potatoes (made from real potatoes). Many dinners were toast or a bowl of Cheerios we made ourselves, though we could sometimes convince Ma to make french toast, waffles or pancakes (from Krusteaz). She also made oatmeal to order as we all chilled out in front of the tv at night.
Stuart, on the other hand, was raised in a family where fresh food was paramount and readily available. Hardly any refined foods sullied their pantry, and his mother was a steady and plentiful cook of quality meat and three veg. Neither of our fathers cooked, though mine would man the barbecue at parties (Stuart’s still doesn’t like to do so) and mine also taught my mum to whip up a damn fine southern-style fried breakfast (he’s from Alabama).
The point is, I certainly wasn’t raised with any cooking skills, let alone positive food memories from childhood, except for the beautiful restaurants my folks would take us to during our regular travels. Our housekeeper did teach me a lifelong love of quesadillas, which I have passed on to my own children, though with many added vegies and my own refried beans.
So here we are, late thirtysomethings, both working full time, with three children. I work as well as doing my PhD, and this year my role as President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) sees me interstate on average one night a week. Yet this year is the year I am learning to make sourdough, it is a year we are slaughtering chooks and eating them, a year our garden has proven extremely bounteous (and we rent, by the way), and we manage to put a home cooked meal on the table nearly every night. How do we do that, we’re often asked?
I’ve written plenty on the importance of skills – competence is the friend of efficiency. The other thing I’ve written about is the pleasure of competence, and the need to take pleasure in the everyday, including ‘chores’ such as cooking, gardening and tending the chooks. Finally, I’ve also pointed to the benefits of teamwork and the further efficiency of a larger household to reduce waste, a point supported by last year’s report on household waste, which showed that smaller households waste more, though large share houses that are not families still tend to waste more as well. Just briefly then, here’s how we do it:
We don’t do exhaustion. Our philosophy is that everything is achievable if it’s a priority, and cooking when you’re tired can actually be a way of relaxing if that’s how you see it. For Stuart, this extends to foraging on the way home, doing a bit of harvesting or staking tomato plants, etc, and for me it extends to finely chopping a number of ingredients for a quickly fried Thai basil, chili garlic fish instead of ordering takeaway. This is not to say we never get tired. We do, but perhaps we think of it differently to others, and reasonably expect ourselves to still cook a meal for the family, which may be something as simple as rice and avocado on a really lazy night. (NB We do order takeaway sometimes – perhaps once a month.)
We share the shopping, and make do with what’s in the house when necessary. Stuart pops into the Vic Market once or twice a week on his lunch break to pick up mostly fruit or a bit of meat. I stop in at the butcher, Italian grocer, organic grocer or fruit shop in our local shopping street after dropping kids at school on a day when I work at home, or on the way home from working in the city. When we’re really low on fresh food and too busy to go get some, we raid our freezer, which is always full of stock, homemade pasties and sausage rolls, and frozen meat for ’emergencies’. Plus we keep a lot of beans, both dried and tinned, for quick and simple meals. Having chooks means we always have eggs on hand, and my breadmaking obsession keeps us in bread!
Although I’m the primary and more passionate daily cook, we share the cooking as well. Like I said, if we’re very busy, sometimes the meals are incredibly simple: rice and avocado, pasta with a jar of passata from last summer’s harvest, lamb chops with roast potato and a simple salad, or Stuart’s stir fry, much beloved by the children. When there’s time to do something more, we do. I love nothing more than having time to get into the kitchen by 5pm so I can serve something delectable between 6:00 and 7pm. Sometimes I’m overly ambitious and dinner is late – in which case I let the children graze on nuts and fruit to tide them over.
But you even make bread during the week? Yes, and I can do this because I believe in a lackadaisical approach that makes it possible. You can see my post on how I wander through the kitchen, giving a dough a quick knead here and there, before letting it rise overnight to pop into the oven when we get up. This takes me no more time than someone else might spend reading the paper or watching the news (in fact, much less). Much of my bread is fairly flat because I leave it to rise for too long – it’s still totally scrumptious! Stuart also regularly brews beer of an evening, and does so quickly and efficiently after more than a decade of practice.
What about all the preserving? Harvesting and processing the masses of plums, tomatoes, pumpkins, olives, apricots, and more is one of the pleasures of our ‘down time’, though some of it can be rather tedious as well (ie pitting plums!). We do most of this on the weekends, though Stuart, who never rests, will often do some after work as I make dinner (does this cause some tension in the kitchen occasionally? Yes. ;-))
How do you manage to have a social life, take children to lessons and sport, and do any exercise, etc? Okay, a confession: I’m a little allergic to exercise. When I commute to the city I try to ride my bike (8km), so I get exercise that way sometimes, but admittedly not enough. Stuart rides every day, rain or shine, so does about 20km a day. He also brings crazy amounts of stuff home on his bike, so perhaps he is a little superhuman and not everyone is inclined to do what he does. We socialise plenty, but often by having people over or going to their houses for dinner. Our kids are not heavily scheduled, though Antigone now does gymnastics (shared between 3 families, so only have to drive once/three weeks) and piano (the teacher comes to us). The boys aren’t keen to do lessons, and we don’t push. We’d rather have more homely time here, cooking, reading and playing, which we think will give them what we regard as more important life skills than many other things we could outsource, though we’re not knocking the value of those other things – they’re just not priorities for us.
So how can everyone ‘find time’ to cook more delicious and nutritious foods? First of all, through practice. The ability to use limited time well requires skills. Skills lead to competence, which is pleasurable. It feels great to know you’ve dashed in with a few ingredients and knocked up a lovely meal for the family, which leads to you wanting to do it again. Rushing in and throwing a frozen or takeaway dinner on the table doesn’t feel that great, but you’ll probably do it again if you don’t know how to cook something better, leading to a dreadful cycle of bad food and related guilt/bad feelings. It’s a no-win cycle, but skills are the way out.
An important part of this skill-building is reframing cooking and food shopping as ‘fun’ and ‘relaxing’, leading to ‘delicious’. It’s also great to spend time as a family doing the harvesting and cooking – we think it’s ‘good parenting’ to cook with your kids. 🙂 Ultimately, the creative process of imagining what’s in the garden/fridge/pantry and how you might transform it into a meal to nurture yourself and others is deeply and viscerally joyful, in my experience. ‘scuse me while I go knead the bread…
If you’ve been here awhile, you’ll know I decided to learn to make good sourdough this year. Well, here we are on the 1st of March, and by golly, I made a bloody good sourdough ciabatta last night. So tasty, with such a lovely crumb and crust that 10 year old Oscar declared, “Mum! This is amazing! And you said you needed all year to learn how, and it’s only been what, two months?” Major brownie points for eldest child. 🙂
But let me caveat last night’s loaves – they were indeed sour, with an excellent crusty yet chewy crust and a good crumb, but not as chewy as I think a ciabatta should be. It was really good bread, but still doesn’t fit my imaginary endpoint for this year.
Some detail then. For these ciabatta, I did a series of short kneads of a fairly wet dough, though not so sticky I couldn’t handle it, with ever-increasing proving times. So maybe 10 second kneads three times with about 10 minutes in between each, then about a 2-hour rise before splitting the dough, stretching it carefully and allowing another half-hour rise. Into a very hot oven (250C) with a water bath on the top shelf & a quick spray of the loaves at the beginning & one midway through baking. My starter, Fran, is currently mostly organic wholemeal flour, and the flour I added for these was organic unbleached. I didn’t add any commercial yeast as I was looking for a flat bread anyway. This was lazy baking at its finest, and the results were lovely.
A few nights earlier, I whipped Fran up into some rye dinner rolls to have with our soup.They achieved exactly the soft, pliable texture you want from rolls, with crusty crusts. This dough was wetter than the ciabatta, and I added some commercial yeast for a better rise to great effect.
I’ve also embraced the joys of sourdough pizza crust, which goes perfectly with the salty, spicy combination of Stuart’s home-cured olives, anchovies, bacon and chilies, plus garden-fresh tomatoes and basil and a thin lashing of homemade passata.
So it seems my ‘specialty’ breads are the winners thus far, as my loaves have often been unwilling to give me a good rise. They do say that sourdough starters are unreliable leaveners, and I’m finding this to be distinctly true. Check out my most hilariously unintentionally flat loaf, which still tasted quite nice, though a bit dry (and hell on the toaster, let me tell you!)
When I’m looking for a higher loaf, especially for toasting, I’m learning to add commercial yeast. It doesn’t affect the flavour, which is invariably sour, but gives the bread the lift that Fran seems unable to offer. I should add that the sourness is wildly variable as well, though predictably so. If Fran hasn’t made some bread for more than a few days, she gets rather sour. If I’m making bread every day or two, she’s less sour. The metaphors write themselves, so I won’t bother here.
This last loaf below was my sourest to date (and by the way, given my California origins, I’m looking for the sourest of the sourdoughs!), and it also had the best crumb, even though it didn’t rise much. If you check out the dough below, you’ll see I really took Annette’s advice to heart on this one and worked a really sticky, wet dough. In fact, it finally inspired me to get a proper dough scraper to assist with this rather messy method.
I feel almost guilty that for those of you out there looking for a scientific account of breadmaking, I’m just tossing around vague generalities. But these days, I cook by touch, smell, taste and imagination, rather than ratios. There are obviously ratios involved, but given my propensity to constantly adjust them by a smidgen, I’m afraid I can’t really offer much insight into quantities of what’s in my bread.
I think one of the best things about my relaxed approach has been the way it makes breadmaking seem like a simple and lovely thing to do, much like making the children a milkshake rather than mastering a croquembouche. It means I wander into the kitchen, see Fran on the bench and think, ‘Hey, I might get some bread started,’ and then wander in and out of the kitchen to tend to the dough over the afternoon or evening. The other positive outcome is the exciting array of outcomes – this is no McDonald’s where you can expect the same burger every time, no matter where you are – open your palate and be prepared to be surprised at every new loaf of bread. 🙂
Many years ago I made a feeble attempt to bake bread, and the results were sufficiently disappointing to keep the local bakeries in business. A decade or so later, inspired by Jess Ho’s regular breadmaking success, I decided to try again.
On our trip up country over the holidays, I read a simple recipe from an early Stephanie Alexander cookbook, in which she instructed me to put the yeast, sugar, water and flour all together and let it rise. Having left my critical faculties at home that day, I literally piled the ingredients together, stirred a bit, and waited. Of course, since I hadn’t got the yeast active with the sugar and water before adding the flour, the resulting sponge was rather firm and somewhat dry, but I persevered with my obtuse instruction following and left it to catch some wild yeast. Each day I simply re-wet a cloth and put it back over the starter. It gained a bit of that beery smell, but was a bit of a lump – not that exciting, though I was, in fact, still excited. After three days, I added starter to a new dough, let it rise, punched it down and formed loaves, let it rise, and baked some beautiful looking but rather boring tasting bread. It was still better than supermarket bread, but let down by poor-quality flour from the local country Woolies and poor process, it was ye olde white bread incarnate. But then we came home…
After a trip to Whole Earth in Smith Street Fitzroy, I had plenty of flour to play with. I also happen to already have a number of great references on this topic, all of which I spent a few days reading in preparation for the challenge of making good sourdough bread. I should also explain that as I am formerly from the west coast of the US, I have a strong predilection for very sour sourdough, which is the first bread I intend to master. And I’m determined to do it with wild yeasts, hence the need to commence my own sourdough starter with just flour, water and a plum plucked from our tree.
So the starter was simply equal parts flour and water (I did 2 cups water, 1 cup rye flour and 1 cup unbleached, all organic) and a plum, which will help introduce wild yeasts more quickly. Stir, cover with a muslin cloth, and wait. O_o
Next morning, Fran (I’ve named her with a nod to my favourite San Francisco sourdoughs, and in the tradition of @thatjessho’s ‘Rusty’) was bubbling merrily, and had filled the house with the smell of a football team on the pints. I moved her closer to the back door, fed her a little more flour and water, stirred eagerly, and left her alone to get wild. Which she did.
Next, to be honest, I went to Brisbane for two days, then came back to a bunch of office work, so poor neglected Fran (Stuart was feeding her, but by now she really wanted to make bread) got a bit lonely. I popped her in the fridge for two days, and then pulled her out yesterday afternoon to reactivate the yeast, and a couple of hours later mixed her with some more flour and water, kneaded for about 10 minutes, and then left her to rise overnight. (Remind me to write a poem about the deep, visceral pleasure of kneading…)
As I wanted Stuart to taste Fran’s first loaves, we were up at 6:30am to divide her into two loaves, knead them briefly and then allow to rise on a lightly floured pan for about half an hour. Finally, into a hot oven (200C) for about 40 minutes, tapped the bottom to check for the hollow sound, and out she came to finish cooking and cooling on the rack.
10 minutes later, we sat down to a delectable brekky of scrambled eggs, fresh rye sourdough, with sea salt and cracked pepper.
In terms of the results, I reckon the loaves wanted another five minutes in the oven and five cooling as they were a little too dense and moist for my palate, though very tasty. I look forward to making one that has all of those lovely chewy well-aerated holes throughout. I hope to post regularly on Fran’s loaves this year until I perfect the art, so stay tuned…