Baba au rhum single

In my childhood home, back in the 1970s, a meal of spaghetti Bolognese was considered exotic.  This rare treat was due, in part, to post-war migration, and afforded the vast land of Australia some much needed diversity in culture!

I schooled with many first generation Australians – myself included – whose families heralded from a variety of European countries.  This first generation Australian was an ever ready participant to visit a friend’s home, to enjoy an afternoon snack (and embrace an array of new flavours along the way).

Since those days as a child, the gastronomic palate of Australia has bulged well beyond the last belt hole.  Cuisine from virtually every corner of the world is available.  From every continent, from every country, it seems a global aroma permeates all the major cities.

I suppose it is no surprise that the introduction of new tastes is common across all corners of the world.  In the 18th century, a variation of the baba au rhum was introduced into France (by way of Alsace-Lorraine), from Poland.  It is believed to be a descendent of the Kugelhopf.

This dessert, traditionally shaped like a Champagne cork, is a rich, yeast bread, baked in a cylindrical mould.  It is liberally (emphasis on liberally) soaked in a sweet rum syrup.  The more modern version includes dried fruit, but this recipe, by Julia Child, omits the fruit and showcases the simplicity of the original dessert.  The classic baba, as recommended by Julia, is finished simply with a few additional drops of rum, a brush of apricot preserve and a carefully topped glacéed cherry.  I opted for the extra rum and apricot but not the cherry.  Personal preference.

There are variations of this dessert with cream or fruit.  Each would serve as a lovely complement to the sweet rum laden bread.  This would be an ideal dessert to finish off a rich, hearty meal.  The rum syrup instantly cleanses the palate, and the hint of sweetness, from the rich bread and sugar syrup, provides a clear note to signal the end of the meal.

Baba au rhum set

{ Babas au Rhum } from Julia Child et al and Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Note: I baked the bread in a larger than recommended mould.  Typically the cylindrical baba mould holds about 100ml of fluid, and is roughly 5cm or 2 inches in diameter and depth – much narrower and smaller than the mould I used.

{ Pâte à baba et babas }

* Ingredients *
60g butter
10g dry active yeast
45ml tepid water
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 1/3 cups flour

* Directions *
Melt the butter and let cool.  Blend the yeast and water in the bowl with whisk and stand until yeast has dissolved completely.  Beat in the sugar, salt and eggs.  Mix the flour and the cool melted butter into the yeast with a wooden spoon.

Knead the dough by lifting it, slapping it, and pulling it vigorously against the sides of the bowl for about 5 minutes.  Alternatively, put into a mixer with a dough hook and mix until it starts to detach itself from the bowl.  Form into a ball and cut a cross deep on top.  Sprinkle with a little flour.  Cove the bowl and let rise in a warm place for 1 ½ to 2 hours or until the dough has doubled in bulk.

Butter the inside of your moulds.  Lightly break off about a tablespoon of dough, enough to fill a third of a cup, and press lightly into the bottom of the cup.  Place the cups, uncovered, again in a warm place and allow to rise 1 to 2 hours, or until the dough is over the rim of the cups.

As soon as the dough has risen the second time, bake in the upper third of a preheated 180C/375F oven for about 15 minutes.

{ Sugar syrup }

Both the babas and the rum syrup should be lukewarm but not hot before this operation begins.  If the babas are cold, warm slightly.

* Ingredients *
2 cups of water
1 cup sugar
½ cup dark rum (preferably Jamaican)

* Directions *
Bring the water and sugar to a boil.  Remove from the heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved.  When the sugar syrup has cooled to lukewarm, stir in the rum.  Arrange the babas in a dish, with their puffed tops up.  Prick tops in several places, pour the syrup over them and let stand for ½ hour basting frequently.  They should imbibe enough syrup so they are moist and spongy but still hold their shape.  Drain on rack for ½ hour.

After the babas have drained, sprinkle the top of each with a few drops of rum. Pain them with some apricot glaze/preserve, and place a cherry on top of each.

Makes 12 babas


Brioche tart sinle

I could smell the sweet scent well before I saw them.  As I walked closer, the perfume became much stronger.  Then, they were upon me.  My eyes quickly darted from side to side to take them all in.  Row upon row of fuzzy little peaches.  With a smile I reflect to myself, summer is almost here.

I usually avoid buying stone fruit this early in the season.  Inevitably, I am disappointed from the very first bite.  Too tart.  Too tasteless.  Too dry.  But something was urging me to throw caution to the wind this day.  So I bought the peaches.

I am glad I did.  Back home, I quickly got to work preparing a caramel inspired dish to showcase this fragrant fruit.  When flipping through Baking with Julia, by Dorie Greenspan, I hit gold.  A recipe by Nancy Silverton that incorporated all the right elements for caramel month. Brioche Tart with White Secret Sauce. 

The egg rich bread is filled with creamy custard, topped with a tangy sabayon sauce, and served with caramel poached fruits.  During caramel month, I mostly have included examples of creamy and crunchy caramel, so I was keen to include the perhaps less obvious clear caramel into the mix.  The caramel poached fruit in this recipe was a simple way to feature this option.

My favourite part of this recipe – apart from the taste, of course – was the volcanic-like reaction during the sauce process when adding the wine to the caramel.  Try it, and you will see what I mean.  Oh, but be really careful.

We enjoyed this tart for a sweet weekend breakfast alternative to the typical pancake or waffle options.  It would also be a delicious dessert.  The fruit cuts the creaminess of the sauce and tart well, and would certainly be the perfect finish to a meal.

Brioche tart set

{ Brioche Tart with Caramelised Fruits } recipe adapted by Nancy Silverton from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan

I made one significant change to the original recipe.  I selected to use the Brioche dough from Dorie Greenspan’s, Baking: From my Home to Yours.  I was a little short on time so this was a speedier option.  I also elected to include some dried apricots for the fruit selection to complement the aromatic peaches.

* Ingredients *
Brioche dough, chilled
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup whole milk, just warm to the touch
2 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup creme fraiche homemade or store-bought or sour cream
1 large egg
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg white, beaten
Crystal sugar, for sprinkling

1-1/2 cups sugar
2 vanilla beans, preferably Tahitian
1/3 cup water
2-1/4 cups dry white wine
4 large egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks

Assorted ripe but firm fruits, such as apricots, peaches, nectarines, and/or plums or assorted dried fruits, such as raisins, prunes, apricots, and/or peaches
Chopped toasted blanched almonds
Confectioner’s sugar

* Directions *
Put the yeast and warm milk in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir until the yeast is dissolved.  Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl, and fit the mixer with the dough hook, if you have one.  Working on low speed, mix for a minute or two, just to get the ingredients together.  Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for 7 – 10 minutes, stopping a few times to scrape down the bowl and the hook, until the dough is stretchy and fairly smooth.  The dough will seem fairly thin, more like a batter than a dough, and it may not be perfectly smooth – that is fine.

Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave it in a warm place until nearly doubled in size, 30 – 40 minutes.

Deflate the dough by lifting it up around the edges and letting it fall with a slap into the bowl.  Cover the bowl again with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator.  Slap the dough down in the bowl every 30 minutes until it stops rising, about 2 hours.  Then if you’ve got the time, leave the dough in the refrigerator overnight – it will be tastier for the wait.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and butter a 1-1/4-inch-high 10-inch flan ring or the ring of a 10-inch springform pan.

Gently work the dough into a ball, flatten it into a 5-inch disk, and roll it out on a lightly floured surface into a circle that’s at least 1 to 1-1/2 inches larger than the flan ring. If your circle is ragged, trim it to an even round.

Centre the flan ring on the dough and press down on the ring gently so that, when lifted, it leaves a clear impression. This impression will be your crimping guide. Keeping the fingers of your left hand (right, if you’re left-handed) against the guideline, lift a little of the dough from the edge with your right hand and fold it over so that it falls about 1/4 inch past the guideline. In this position, you should be able to pinch the dough between the index fingers of both hands and crimp it. Twist your fingers slightly and the dough will have an attractive diagonal crimp. Work your way around the tart and don’t be concerned about getting it just so-as luxurious as this custard-filled brioche will be, it is still a simple, rustic tart.

Place the flan ring on the parchment-lined baking sheet and lift the dough up and into the ring. Work your fingers around the crimped edge, pressing your fingers into the dough so that you lift up the thick, crimped edge a bit and firmly press down the base of the dough.

Let the dough rise, uncovered, at room temperature until it doubles in size, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 275F.

Whisk the creme fraiche and egg together in a small bowl and keep close at hand.

Press your fingertips into the dough, covering all of the tart, except for the crimped edge, with abundant and deep dimples-don’t be afraid to press your fingers down almost to the bottom of the pan. Spread the creme fraiche mixture evenly over the bottom of the tart, going right up to where the crimping begins. Sprinkle 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar over the custard.

You’ll know how much sugar to use because the custard will tell you-it will only absorb a certain amount. Stop when it appears that the custard won’t take any more.

Brush the crimped edge of the dough with the beaten egg white and sprinkle it with crystal sugar. Bake the tart for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the custard is just about set. The custard should be a little loose; it should jiggle slightly when you shake the pan gently. Remove to a cooling rack. A few minutes after the tart comes from the oven, slide a cardboard cake round under the tart and lift off the ring. Serve the tart slightly warm or at room temperature, with or without the sauce and fruit garnish.

To make the caramel syrup for the sauce, put the sugar into a heavy-bottomed medium skillet with high sides or a saucepan. Split the vanilla beans, scrape the soft, pulpy seeds into the pan, and toss in the pods. Pour in the water-it should be just enough to cover the sugar-but don’t stir. Turn the heat to high and bring the mixture to the boil. Now you can either cover the pan for a couple of seconds to wash down any sugar that has crystallized on the sides of the pan or you can wash them down with a pastry brush dipped in cold water.

As the caramel continues to cook, you’ll notice that the bubbles will get bigger and shortly after that you’ll see the first sign of colour-there is always a hot spot. As soon as the caramel starts to colour, begin to swirl the skillet gently over the heat. Keep cooking and swirling frequently until the caramel is a deep gold test-test the colour by putting a drop of the caramel on a white plate. It probably will take 7 to 10 minutes to get the right colour.

When you’ve got the colour you want, immediately remove the pan from the heat and add the white wine. Stand back as you pour in the wine because the caramel will bubble and sizzle -it will also seize and harden. Return the pan to the heat and bring the syrup to the boil again to melt the caramel. Pour 1-1/2 cups of the syrup through a strainer into a heatproof measuring cup. Reserve the remaining syrup in the pan; you’ll use it to cook the fruit garnish.

Put the yolks into the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer (or use a heatproof bowl) and, whisking constantly, drizzle in the hot caramel. Put the bowl over a saucepan of boiling water-the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl-and whisk without stop until the yolks are voluminous and almost too hot for you to stand when you dip your finger into the mixture: This should take at least 5 minutes, but the yolks may need as long as 8 minutes of heat and constant stirring. (If the eggs start to cook, a bad sign, or are heating unevenly, lift the bowl out of the pan, whisk for a few seconds off the heat, and then return the bowl to the heat and continue to whisk.)

Attach the bowl to the mixer, fit the mixer with the whisk attachment (or use a hand-held mixer), and beat the yolk mixture at medium-low speed for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the mixture is cool to the touch, pale in colour, and about tripled in volume. The bottom of the bowl should feel cold and the mixture should have the look of whipped mayonnaise. Gently fold in the whipped cream. The sauce can be kept covered in the refrigerator for about 24 hours.

If you are using fresh fruits, slice them. If you are using a selection of dried fruits, dice the fruits, soak them in hot water to plump them, and then drain them. Pat them dry before using.

Bring the caramel-wine syrup to a boil in the skillet in which it was made. Add the fruit and swirl the pan. Cook the fruit, swirling the pan and stirring the fruit as needed, until the fruit is softened.

To serve, place a slice of the tart on each plate (this would be nice on largish plates). Spoon on some of the sauce and the caramel poached fruit, lifting the fruit from the skillet with a slotted spoon, and decorate the plate with a shower of toasted nuts and a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

Although the sauce can be made ahead, and the dough must be made in advance, the tart must be served the day it is made.

Serves 8 to 10

My jaw dropped.  Then my hands flew to my mouth in surprise.  I was stunned.  Almost immediately I broke out into a childish grin, clapping my hands in glee.  I quickly turned around to search out my mother.  She was there with me.  I quickly located her.  Now, almost jumping up and down like a five year old, I thrust out my arm, pointed proudly and declared, “I won a place….I came third….my little fruit buns came third!”

I could not believe it.  One of my entries into the Queensland Royal Show cooking competition won a place!

Ekka AnimalsImages from Animal Boulevard @ The Ekka 2009

It all began a few months back when I entered into five categories.

:: Date Loaf
:: Chocolate Loaf
:: Scones
:: Small Cakes
:: Fruit Buns

Immediately, I started collating recipes to commence my trial runs straight away.  Admittedly, I was not sure what the judges were looking for (as the instructions were extremely limited), but nonetheless, I figured I would just give it my best shot.  As this was my first ever baking competition, however, I was actually a little nervous.

Fortuitously, I started my practise early.  Very fortunate indeed because all of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, the time had come to bake and submit my entries! 

Ekka CookingImages from the Cooking Display @ The Ekka 2009 :: Top left image: Julia’s Entry

On entry day, I carefully took my baked treats to the RNA showgrounds.  There were some serious contenders dropping off tray upon tray of entries.  I handed over my five little items, and headed to work.   Judging was happening that day.  I did not expect to hear anything.

The following week I went to The Ekka with my mother.  We had not been in about 15 years, but decided this year was a good time to go.  Go explore the exhibition and displays – and, of course, the cooking entries!

I had resigned myself to the fact that it was a long shot to win a place in the Queensland Royal Show cooking competition.  For me, just entering my very first baking competition, and the whole experience, was rewarding enough.  But I wanted to see all the winning entries, not expecting mine to be among them.

I was slowly wandering around all the winning entries on display.  My eyes naturally darting to the categories I had entered.  I was calmly taking notes in my head, observing some uncanny similarities between the winning entries.  Detail that was not at all included in the original instruction.  And it was then, in the display, when I noticed I had won. 

Ekka DogsImages from the Royal Championship Dog Show @ The Ekka 2009

After the excitement had died down (I was pretty excited!), I noticed how irregular my fruit buns were compared with the other winning entries.  Soon after, I was speaking with one of the stewards.  I pointed out my ‘non-standard’ fruit buns.  Based on appearance, she seemed surprised they won a place, but offered “the judges must have been very impressed with the texture and taste”.  With a coy smile, she then said, “next year, make sure you change the size and you could be looking at 1st place”.

We will see.

So until (perhaps!??) next year, I leave you with a sprinkling of photographs from the Queensland Royal Show 2009.

Ekka CraftsImages from the Craft and Quilting Displays @ The Ekka 2009

Fruit Buns

I adore waking up on the weekend to freshly baked bread.  Unless someone else is taking the baking task in hand (so I can selfishly sleep in while they are beavering away in the kitchen), it does require a little pre-planning. 

You really need time when baking bread. You cannot rush the proofing process.  I find if I do, I am guaranteed tangy, yeasty bread that is absent of any smooth, robust flavour.  The extra time is certainly worth the result.

This is my own basic sweet bread dough that I have adapted over time.  I use it for fruit buns, cinnamon swirls, spiced bread, everything.  It is simple and can be prepared a day ahead ready to bake on a lazy weekend morning.

You can adjust the sugar to taste but I find this quantity does not produce an overly sweet dough but one with a satisfying hint of sweetness.  The butter and egg both enrich the dough, and sometimes I supplement with extra butter if I want to inject more moisture to the final bread.  (Which I will do when I enter these into the upcoming Royal Show.  Yes, yet another category I am entering.)

How quickly freshly baked bread stales is a bit of a challenge.  So once I bake a batch of buns, I quickly freeze a portion straight away once they have cooled.  That way, they stay fresh, and I always have something in the freezer to enjoy.

As an aside, it is my birthday this Sunday.  I love when my birthday falls on the weekend.  I have hinted strongly to A that I would be most agreeable to breakfast in bed.  A fresh bread or pastry with a side of seasonal fruits would be extraordinaire!  (Wonder if he will see this?…)

{ Fruit Buns }

* Ingredients *
250 ml warm milk
5g dried yeast
500g plain flour
75g white sugar
a pinch of salt
2 eggs
50g melted butter, cooled
100g dried fruit

* Directions *
Warm the milk to 100F or 40C.  Mix in the yeast and sugar and set aside for 5 minutes.  Measure out the flour into the centre, add the yeast mixture.  Add in the remaining ingredients and knead by hand or with a mixer (dough hook) until the dough is smooth and glossy.  Oil a bowl and once the dough has come together place in the bowl and cover.  Set aside for about 45 minutes to 1 hour in a warm spot.  Knock the dough back and gently knead again for 5 minutes.  Let rise for another 30 minutes.  After the second proofing, divide dough into 16 pieces and knead into balls. Place balls 8cm apart onto oiled oven trays.  At this stage, you can either put the buns straight into the refriderator overnight or stand in warm place about 10 minutes or until buns have risen.  Brush with egg or milk and bake at 200C or 400F for 15-20.

Makes 16 buns

{ A few ideas … }
:: Flavour this dough with anything you like.  Cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice, lemon zest, orange zest … or even cardamon.  It is up to you.
:: For buns, loaves and rolls, towards the end of kneading, add a handful of any dried fruit, nuts, and chocolate or butterscotch chips etc. if you fancy.
:: If you wish to make scrolls, roll out each piece and spread with a flavoured butter (e.g. cinnamon), and then sprinkle with filling of choice.

Scones single

Back in May, when I hastily entered the baking competition at the upcoming Royal Show (aka, The Ekka), I did not expect the time to roll around so quickly.  (Not sure why?  It always does….)  In just a few short weeks, I need to front up at the RNA Showgrounds and present my goodies.

One entry is in the ‘scone’ category.  Interestingly, I selected that category even though I do not often make scones.  The last time was back in January (pumpkin scones to celebrate Australia Day).  So with limited practise under my belt, I reached for my trusty Belinda Jeffery baking book – and to the Lemonade Scones recipe that I knew worked well.  Around the same time, I read Y’s post for sarsaparilla scones (using the same basic recipe) and knew this would be the version I use for my entry.

I am quite partial to scones recipes that incorporate cream to replace butter and milk.  As I am fairly heavy-handed, the cream allows me to mix the dough more quickly with less risk to over-working – the #1 hurdle to making light, fluffy scones.  The recipe uses a blend of plain and wholemeal (whole-wheat) flour.  I may incorporate only plain flour for my entry.  The wholemeal flour introduces a different texture, crumb, taste and finish that may not be what the judges are looking for.  Though do not get me wrong, they are still delicious with that plain/wholemeal flour combination.

The scones are light (thanks to the lemonade), and take on a nutty flavour (from the wholemeal flour), and with the addition of fruit, you may be fooled into thinking you are eating something moderately healthy – just ignore the cream quotient!

If you are creative like Y @ Lemonpi, try your own flavour soft drink (soda) or stick with Belinda’s classic formula.  You will not be disappointed.  Perfect with a lovely cup of tea!  Very British.

Lemonade scones set

{ Lemonade Scones }
Recipe by Belinda Jeffery

* Ingredients *
2 1/2 cups or 375g self-raising flour
1 cup or 160g wholemeal self-raising flour
1/3 cup or 75g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
100g dried fruit
1 cup or 250ml cream
1 cup or 250ml lemonade

* Directions  *
Preheat oven to 200C or 390F.   Combine both flour, sugar, salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour in the cream and lemonade.  Stir everything together with a wooden spoon and then use your hands to bring the dough together.  Tip out onto a floured surface. Pat the dough out to a 5cm / 2 inch thickness, and use a scone cutter to stamp out the scones.  Brush tops with milk or cream and bake for 20 minutes until golden.

Makes 18

Finland summary

I was looking back on my posts in May and realised just how many Finnish, or Finnish inspired, baked goods I made.  Perhaps (obviously?), my favourite would be the cardamom and coffee macarons.  Though give me anything sweet with cardamom and I am a happy girl.

My faithful baking companion, The Great Scandinavian Baking Bookby Beatrice Ojakangas, may be returned to the shelf for now but I am sure she will make an appearance again soon.

In the meantime, here is a quick re-cap of what I made last month during my Finnish baking adventures.  This list surely now includes some of my new favourites.

1. Cardamom macarons with coffee cream
2. Hannatädinkakut :: Aunt Hanna’s Cookies (p138)
3. Karjalanpiirakat:: Karelian Rice Pasties (p272)
4. Mustikkapiiraat :: Blueberry Filled Buns (p237)
5. Omenapiirakka :: Finnish Apple Pie (p240)
6. Pulla :: Finnish Cardamom Bread (p70)

Blueberry buns single

When my partner and I were in Helsinki last year, we visited the vibrant markets at Market Square near the water (see below).  The market was full of vendors selling gloriously fresh fruit and vegetables.  We wandered around for a little while so I could take in all the piles of dazzling food on offer.  Rich colours and smells filled my every turn.

After some observation, I was puzzled by one interesting habit.  The Finns work with the metric system.  But at these markets, many items are measured in volume rather than weight.  It was quite an approach.

I greedily wanted to try all the berries I could get my hands on.  Particularly raspberries and blueberries that can cost close to $10 in Australia for practically a small handful.  I asked for “half a litre” of various berries and watched as the lady gently transferred each berry selection into a tin mug, then into a brown paper bag (the cups I saw were ¼, ½ and 1 litre sizes).  After paying, I actually felt like I got the best bargain in the world.  Even with the exchange for the Euro!  Then after tasting, I knew I got the best bargain in the world.  They were just divine.  I think they lasted less than ten minutes between us.

Separately, I noticed a number of people eating fresh peas.  They were huge.  I automatically thought they may be less tasty given the size, so knew I had to also test for myself.  They were amazing.  Sweet, firm and morish.  I ate each pea pod in quick succession.

So for my next Finnish baking month adventure, I wanted to incorporate some inspiration of Helsinki’s Market Square … or Kauppatori.

Once again, flicking through my Scandinavian baking bible by Beatrice Ojakangas, I found Mustikkapiiraat.  A blueberry filled bun.  It was quite an easy decision to make these as they included not only the obligatory berries, but also had a cardamom flavoured dough (well, the cardamom is apparently optional, but not in my eyes!).

They were easy to make and smelled wonderful coming out of the oven.  I almost clapped my hands in delight when I saw the gooey berry drizzle running down the side of a bun or two.  It was hard to wait for them too cool slightly so I could eat them.  I iced a few buns to devour straight away but also ended up freezing the remaining buns (un-iced) in packets of two to have as a quick breakfast treat.  Slightly re-warmed, they taste almost as good as straight out of the oven.  I like to tease my fellow co-workers who are snacking on the usual vegemite on toast, with my tasty alternative. 

Big blueberries

{ Blueberry Filled Buns }

* Ingredients *

1 package active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water, 105-115F or 40-45C
½ cup milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ cup raisins
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup softened butter
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 pint or 450g fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon cornstarch / cornflour
2 tablespoons sugar

1 slightly beaten egg
2 tablespoons milk

* Directions *

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water; add the milk.  Let stand 5 minutes.  Add the sugar, egg, cardamom, raisins, and salt.  Add the softened butter and 1 cup of the flour; beat until smooth and satiny.  Gradually add the remaining flour, mixing until dough is smooth and satiny, not quite stiff enough to knead.  Cover and let rise for 1 to 2 hours until doubled.  Meanwhile, combine the blueberries, cornstarch and sugar.  Preheat oven to 400F or 200C.  Dust the risen flour.  Shape into a ball, dusting with flour lightly, if necessary, to prevent stickiness.  Lightly oil a work surface.  Turn dough out onto the work surface and divide into 12 parts.  Cover a baking sheet with parchment or lightly grease it. Roll dough into smooth balls and place on the baking sheet with the smooth side up.  Let rise until puffy, 45 minutes to 1 hour.  With a floured glass, press an indentation into the centre of each round of dough, and a rounded edge on each ball.  Spoon filling into the centre of each bun.  Beat the egg and milk to make a glaze and brush edges of the pastries with the mixtures.  Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 12 buns.


Helsinki, Market Square


When I want a hint of Scandinavia in my baking, I reach for my Great Scandinavian Baking bible by Beatrice Ojakangas for some inspiration.

I attempted my first Finnish bread a couple of years ago.  It was a nerve-racking event as it was ultimately going to be tasted by someone whose mummo (Finnish grandmother), was an all round cooking star.  Needless to say, the pressure was on.

I heard about a tasty cardamom flavoured bread called Pulla.  Naturally, I had to research this thing called ‘Pulla’ within an inch of its life.  Fortunately, in my efforts, I stumbled across Beatrice Ojakangas.  After my first Pulla attempt when I was told the bread tasted, “just like my mummo used to make”, I knew I had picked the right recipe (thanks, Beatrice!).  Now Pulla is made with some regularity at home.  It certainly is worth the time.


Here is my adapted recipe of Finnish Pulla.

{ Finnish Pulla }

Makes three small braided loaves

* Ingredients *

1 cup (250ml) milk
1/2 cup (125ml) warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
3.5 g active dry yeast
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cardamom (or to taste)
2 eggs, beaten
4-5 cups plain flour
1/4 cup (62.5g) butter, melted and cooled

1 egg, beaten
Almond slices, toasted

* Directions *

. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add one teaspoon of sugar and let stand for 5 minutes until yeast foams.
2. Warm milk in a small saucepan until it reaches about 45 degrees then remove from heat. Let cool until lukewarm.
3. To the yeast, stir in the lukewarm milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, eggs, and enough flour to make a batter (approximately 2 cups).
4. Beat until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add 3 more cups of the flour and beat well. Add the melted butter and stir well. Beat again until the dough looks glossy. Stir in the remaining flour until the dough is stiff (you may not need all 5 cups).
5. Turn out of bowl onto a floured surface, cover with an inverted mixing bowl, and let rest for 15 minutes.
6. Knead the dough until smooth and satiny. Place in a lightly greased mixing bowl, and turn the dough to grease the top. Cover with a clean dishtowel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.
7. Punch down, and let rise again until almost doubled. About 1 hour.
8. Turn out again on to a floured surface, and divide into 3 parts. Divide each third into 3 again. Roll each piece into a 30 cm strand. Braid 3 strands into a loaf. Lift the loaves onto baking sheets lined with greaseproof paper. Let rise for 30 minutes.
9. Brush each loaf with egg wash and sprinkle with almond slices along the centre of the braids.
10. Bake at 180 degrees C for 20 minutes. Check occasionally because the bottom can brown easily.
11. When cooled, drizzle with icing.  Try an orange, coffee or plain icing.  All delicious complements to the cardamom, I promise!

gosselinDuring my visit to Paris last year, I started to believe I could reach a limit on bread consumption.  My clothes were starting to feel a little snug and I thought I should ease up a little.  But then I pondered, “I am not in Paris every day so I must persist.  Eat, sample, trial whatever I need.  Diet later”.

Throughout my all consuming Boulangerie et Pâtisserie week, and despite the amount of bread I had sampled, I was looking forward to the offerings at Gosselin.

At Gosselin, it is all about the baguette.  Plain and simple.  Gosselin has been awarded the ‘Best Baguette in Paris’ so this was not to be missed.

I took a trip to the store on Boulevard Saint-Germain around lunch time.  There were quite a number of tourists and locals snapping up a range of sandwiches served on their famous bread.  Not one to want to miss out, I joined them and opted for the same.

It was delicious.  A far cry from the type of sandwich I would pick up locally in my lunch break.  The French really do know how to eat.

Definitely take a trip by.

258 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75007 Paris


When sightseeing in Paris last year, my partner and I decided to combine a trip to the markets at Rue Mouffetard with a visit to le Boulanger de Monge.  It was not hard to find this little bakery.  It was the store with the line of customers out the door.

I wanted to familiarise myself with the offerings so took a wander by the window.  In full view of passersby and customers, staff were weighting and shaping great volumes of bread dough.  The speed with which they handled this task was astonishing.  It was a rare sight having this activity so upfront.

I wandered to the back of the line, and once inside, in shaky French unconfidently declared, “Je voudrais une baguette, s’il vous plaît”. After a few other dialogue exchanges – including a number of agreeable nods from me – I whipped the baguette offered to me under arm and proceeded with my partner to the markets.  We were off to find accompaniments. 

In the little narrow street of the markets there were a host of vendors selling beautiful fruits, flowers, cheeses, meats.  We both noticed this grand chicken rotisserie outside Pascal Gosnet.  We were instantly sold.  After the purchase of half a chicken and a few potatoes (soaked in chicken fat!) later, we then walked to Le Jardin des Plantes– a stunningly beautiful botanical garden in Paris – to find a quiet spot to eat.

The bread was impressive. The flavour was rich and complex, and it was almost nutty.  Le Boulanger de Monge only use 100% wheat flour and it showed.  The bread was earthy with a slightly off-white colour.  It was delicious by itself sans butter or any condiment.

I was amazed how each Boulangerie, with such a simple set of strict ingredients, can produce such unique bread full of depth. In this case I guess that is why Le Boulanger de Monge had a string of customers out the door.  I am sure most locals visit every few days for their daily bread supplies.  What a life!

While munching on our purchases at Le Jardin des Plantes we noticed a group of girls going from person to person. They reached us and said something in French I could not decipher (I probably should have lengthened my enrolment duration at Alliance Francaise!). They quickly switched to English (merci), and we found out that one girl was about to be married.  They were selling homemade crepes to raise money.  Well, despite my fill of bread, chicken and potatoes, how could I not support this girl taking her next step in life?

I selected Nutella as my topping of choice for the crepe. Typically I am strictly a lemon/sugar girl but thought a change would be good. The crepes were lovely, and it was so special to enjoy a homemade version of such a French specialty.  I am not sure if this is a tradition in France, but it was lovely experience.

Le Boulanger de Monge
123 rue Monge, 75006 Paris

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