One of my favourite snacks when I lived in Australia were cheese scrolls from the local bakery. In fact, as a child of parents who ran a busy Vietnamese bakery, I often lived for the moment when the cheese scrolls came fresh out of the oven. Even better when there were onions in the mixture. My parents also made pizza scrolls as a variation, but I had a soft spot for just the plain cheese version. So when I came across this recipe for Three Cheese Bread in Rachel Allen’s latest cookbook, Rachel’s Everyday Kitchen, I knew I had to make it soon.
For as long as I can remember, Easter has always been celebrated with some Hot Cross Buns in my family. Well, growing up in a bakery meant that each holiday was always associated with baked goods of some sort, but I have always held a soft spot for Hot Cross Buns. This sentiment only amplified when I moved to Switzerland and discovered that these spiced buns were not as universal as the religious festival.
Hot Cross Buns are small, spiced yeast buns and which are traditionally eaten on Good Friday. In Australia, bakeries start selling these buns almost as soon as the Christmas items have been removed from the shelves. In my family’s bakery, three varieties of Hot Cross Buns were always on offer – plain, with fruit or with chocolate chips. Of course, chocolate Hot Cross Buns are not traditional but gosh they are good!
If I had to choose my favourite meal of the day, it might have to be breakfast. But having just said that, those close to me might sneer and jest, for the truth is, I often value sleep too much to be bothered with breakfast. When faced with a busy agenda at the office, I’m often frantically heading out of the door on an empty stomach, only able to face food once I have turned on the computer at work to see what fires I need to extinguish that day. Then it’s a quick dash to the work canteen for a comforting cup of coffee and either a croissant or muffin which I will inevitably finish on the walk back to my office. This is in contrast to my more sensible and calm husband who takes the time each morning to sit down to a large mug of tea, a generous portion of bread with jam or compote, followed by a piece of fruit, all the while (seemingly leisurely) reading the day’s newspaper.
Having recently taken a break from work, I have suddenly discovered how important breakfast is, not just in terms of preparing the body nutritionally for the long day ahead, but also psychologically; when I feel I have eaten well at breakfast, suddenly I am happier and am full of positive energy to face whatever the day brings. Breakfast, for me, was previously a meal which I only embraced on the weekends. But having now learnt the error of my ways, I now find myself planning for breakfast in much the same way as I plan for lunch or dinner. And perhaps what makes breakfast such a nice time of day to sit down and eat is that it seems to be a meal where one can sit down to something sweet and call it a breakfast if a cup of tea or coffee is nearby
I had a sudden inkling to make crumpets the other day, somewhat unusual because I was only ever a mild fan of these yeasted breads when I was a child. My memories of crumpets are of the shop-bought kind which were round, thick and spongy in texture. Once lightly toasted, a generous slather of butter was obligatory, as was a good dollop of runny honey or jam. As a child, perhaps the allure of crumpets was watching the butter and honey disappear into the many little holes (or, rather, air bubbles) on the surface, which would inevitably end up dribbling down your chin as you took a bite into the warm bread.
Perhaps it is because I’ve had more time to contemplate breakfast lately that crumpets came to mind, and coupled with my New Year’s resolution to bake more with yeast (which I haven’t ventured near since typing up those resolutions), that I committed myself to the task of making them at home.
A Kugelhopf is an iconic cake of the Alsace. If you ever travel to this part of France, especially for the famous Christmas markets in the picturesque village of Strasbourg, you will find stores overflowing with the traditional and colourfully decorated Kugelhopf moulds. It’s tempting to purchase a few, either as a decorative souvenir or indeed as intended for use in the kitchen, but they are rather heavy and make juggling cups of Glühwein (mulled wine) amongst the crowd a bit difficult, especially if one hand is also holding onto a thick slice of Lebkuchen (gingerbread). I had a brief moment with the Kugelhopf moulds before sighing with resignation to join the rest of my friends who I understood had not travelled to Strasbourg to pay homage to a piece of kitchen equipment. Next time, there is a blue enamelled Kugelhopf mould with my name on it …
I first tried a Kugelhopf when I was at Sprüngli one day for their popular brunch. Sprüngli is a famous, long-standing confiserie in Zurich which, once upon a time, was part of Lindt & Sprüngli, the famous Swiss chocolate company. Their flagship store is at Paradeplatz, a busy tram interchange in the middle of Zurich city where most of the big Swiss banks are headquartered and where luxury stores like Louis Vuitton and Prada line the streets. On Sundays, they offer a lovely continental brunch buffet filled with their famous breads and cakes, a selection of seasonal bircher muesli, cold cuts, a variety of cheeses and – my staple – soft-boiled eggs.
I would prefer to call this Poor Man’s Dinner but the truth is that I have countless meals which go by the same name! For me, a Poor Man’s Dinner is anything that is made from bits and pieces in the fridge and pantry, or which are made from really simple and cheap ingredients.
Last night’s dinner was a Potato, Carrot & Celery Soup, simply made by sautéeing 4 small potatoes, 2 small carrots and 3 celery stalks – all coarsely chopped – in some butter, and then adding about 1.5 litres of chicken stock, letting everything simmer away gently for about 30 minutes before blitzing the contents into a smooth soup. Hardly a fancy recipe but it sure is a good way to clean out the vegetable tray in the fridge!