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Archive for March, 2016

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Just as lamb on the spit is a symbol of the Greek Easter Sunday so Laganes is a symbol of the start of the Greek Orthodox 40 days of Lent.

Lent for the Greek Orthodox is 40 days of no meat, fish with backbones or dairy. Some will even forgo olive oil and maybe replace it with vegetable oil. I consider this a step too far for me. I am happy to give meat up but diary and olive oil I find tough.

The first day is known as Clean Monday – Kathari Deftera. So big is this day in the Greek calendar that it is deemed a Bank Holiday. Most families take the opportunity to go out on picnics and fly kites. It also seen as the beginning of spring. As with most celebrations a lot of the work falls to the person in charge of the kitchen, as part of Clean Monday is also the day the family kitchen is cleaned to an inch of its life. With everything being taken out of cupboards and washed.

Laganes is eaten nearly in every Greek house today. It is an unleavened bread which has had a vital ingredient added, Yeast, thus no longer making it unleavened. Previously it was made without yeast but now yeast is added. The bread itself is flat looking, with a heavy sprinkling of sesame seeds, which sits on a slightly crusty top. Inside the bread is soft and springy and perfect when sliced into thin fingers. These fingers can then be used to scoop up various dips or eaten with olives. My preference is to use them to mop up any juices from my meal. Today we will be eating Briam and I can’t think of a better mopper upper than Laganes.

This bread is not complicated to make. I prefer to use fresh yeast – it could be just personal choice but I believe it gives the bread a slightly better flavour.

If you want to use dry yeast just use 15g and follow the instructions on the packet. This is sticky dough. I use my Kenwood mixer to start things off and then once the dough has form into one I turn it out onto a floured board and finish kneading it myself.

It may be only eaten once a year in Greece but it tastes so good it’s a crime!

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Laganes /Λαγάνες

Makes 2 loaves

Ingredients

30g fresh yeast
300ml lukewarm water
1 ½ tablespoons honey
500g strong flour
7g salt
10 ml olive oil

Sesame seeds to decorate (If you can get hold of black sesame seeds and mix the two, it will add to the flavour).

A little olive oil to grease baking sheet

Gas 6/400F/200C

Method

In a large mixing bowl place the flour and salt. Mix the salt well into the flour. If salt comes in direct contact with the yeast it can kill it off.

Put the fresh yeast in a bowl and add the honey. Stir to combine the yeast. Add the lukewarm water and the olive oil.

Add the fresh yeast and other ingredients to the flour.

Knead for about 10 minutes. This job is much easier if using a dough hook and mixer. The dough should be tacky but not sticky. In other words it should not stick to your hand.

Place in a clean bowl, cover and leave to rise.

Once doubled in size, remove. Knock back by kneading the dough a couple of times and then split the dough into two balls.

Generously grease a non stick-baking tray and place one of the balls on it. Flatten and spread the ball out with your hands. Repeat with the other ball. Leave both to rise – they will not rise greatly just about double their height if that. This should take about 40 mins.

When risen, brush the tops with water and then using two fingers push into the dough but avoid breaking through the bottom. The idea is to create dimples. Sprinkle the entire top liberally with sesame seeds and place in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes. The bread is done when it has taken on a golden brown colour.

Remove and transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly.

Serve warm.

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It’s been too long since my last post but, I have not stopped cooking.  Life has enveloped me tightly and carried me in a huge wave out to sea.  I am not in calmer waters and have the time to settle back into my previous life.  Well, for the moment.
After so long I would have never have guessed the recipe that would bring me back to writing would be a recipe based on a simple Madeira cake.
I know I am not alone when I tell you I have shelves full of cookery books. Mine have been collected over the decades. A bookcase was built for me that stretches across the entire wall in the sitting room and in return I promised that I would only keep books that fitted on the shelves, with the rule that if a new book came into the house then one had to go. The one in one out rule hasn’t worked, but what has appeared is little mountains of books directly in front of the bookcase.
I am not completely selfish; I do feel pangs of guilt when I add another book to the mountain. My antidote to this guilt has been to take a book each week and use a recipe. This way I felt I was demonstrating how useful all these books could be! I have been experimenting, eating new things, and trying different flavours.
I decided to try a baking book (I am naming no names here) in which the photographs were beautiful, the cakes look delicious, and they tempted me in. I wanted to try the recipes. Note the ‘s’ on recipes. I decided on a hat-trick of baked wonderfulness. All three cakes were very similar, in that they were loaf cakes. I started to make a shopping list of ingredients. That was when the first doubt crept into my head. Did I really need all these different ingredients? I brushed the doubt aside.
As I started to weigh out the ingredients for the first cake it dawned on me that a quarter of the ingredients were unnecessary as the quantities were so small. I ploughed on, making sure I followed the recipe to a tee. When the time was up in the oven and I went to check the cake, I didn’t need to use a skewer to see it was not cooked. Was it me? I went online and did some research – I was not alone with my cake results.
I am disappointed in the recipes and in the book. I feel a little duped. All too often I see recipes that have a fancy name when in fact they are another traditional recipe but instead of actually improving the technique or adding something that would change the recipe for the good, a whole long list of meaningless ingredients have been added just so the writer can claim it as theirs.
My disappointment wasn’t all negative I did take from the cake is that I liked the orange zest flavour and, that the ground almonds gave it a heavier more moist texture. It also made me think about how I could improve it and pushed me to research and create my own recipe, which I wouldn’t have done had it been a good cake. My new recipe is based on a Madeira cake. The orange zest can easily be swapped for lemon zest if you wanted.

N.B:  When making cakes soften butter makes all the difference.

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Orange and Almond Loaf Cake

Ingredients

160g self raising flour

70g ground almonds

pinch of salt

zest from 1 orange

140g butter (soften)

140g caster sugar

3 large eggs

25g milk

15g flaked almonds for decoration

Method

Turn oven on to Gas mark 4/ 350F/180C
Grease and line with baking paper a 3 ½ inch x 7 inch loaf tin.
In a bowl beat with an electric mixer the butter, orange zest and caster sugar.
Beat in each egg separately until well combined.
Add the ground almonds, self raising flour and salt. Using a large spoon fold the dry ingredients in until combined.
Add the milk and mix until combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Sprinkle the top with the flaked almonds.
Place in the middle of the oven and bake for about 1 ¼ hours. The cake is baked when a skewer inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean. If it doesn’t, just give it another five minutes and check again.
Allow to cool on a wire rack in the tin. When cold enough to handle, turn the cake out onto the rack and leave to cool completely.
This cake is best eaten on the day, but will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight container.

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