A winter treat - home baking

23 July 2018

July in The Simple Home

"... he got out the luncheon basket and packed a simple meal, in which, remembering the stranger's origin and preferences, he took care to include a yard of long French bread, a sausage out of which the garlic sang, some cheese which lay down and cried, and a long-necked straw-covered flask wherein lay bottled sunshine shed and garnered on far Southern slopes." - Kenneth Grahame

The Noosa Permaculture Group visiting us for a look at our garden and a chat.  
Here is our morning tea.

There are few things that demonstrate every-day, practical love of family and friends more than preparing delicious food and treats, and taking time to welcome visitors with a freshly prepared morning tea or lunch. Home baking is July's topic in The Simple Home and now in the middle of an Australian or New Zealand winter, nothing warms a home more than a hot oven full of bread, cakes or biscuits.

I've written so many baking posts that it seems like overkill to do the same again here. Instead I hope to inspire you to either start baking or to expand your experience so you not only enjoy home made bread, cakes and biscuits, but also send your family off to work and school with a healthy and homemade lunch box full of food they'll love to eat.

There is no doubt that by making your baked goods at home you’ll save money, but you’ll also be healthier for it. Home baking doesn’t rely on the preservatives and flavour enhancers that are commonly included in supermarket products such as bread, biscuits/cookies, cakes, flans and pies. You’ll be able to offer your family a greater diversity of baked goodies, including the traditional baking of your own heritage, and you can modify favourite recipes exactly to your own liking or dietary needs. These are the main benefits for me. I like that we’re not eating the preservatives and additives that are so common in food nowadays. I enjoy adding what we like and making our food fresh right in my own kitchen. 

 Traditional rye loaf
 White loaf with cornmeal topping.
 A wholemeal loaf.
 Crusty white with sesame seeds.
Soft grain bread with oats and poppy seeds.

If you do a lot of baking and have the storage space, try to buy your baking ingredients in bulk. I often buy baker’s flour in a 12.5 kg bag with a few 5 kg bags of other flours such as rye, mixed grain, corn and barley or wholemeal. There is a shop in a nearby town that sells bulk flour and other dried foods such as fruits, coffee, tea, spices, sugar and cereal. If you have no local shop, you may find a similar store online that can deliver through the post or courier. Make sure your potential purchases will be cost effective before you order. Buying in bulk helps you bypass the wasteful packaging that more often than not surrounds purchased food. Supermarket cakes, biscuits and snacks are often over-packaged, with plastic and aluminium trays, small bags in larger bags, and too much plastic wrapping.

Store your ingredients in sealed glass or plastic containers so you never waste any, and when you bring home new bags of flour, or any dry goods, put them in the freezer for a couple of days to kill off any larvae that might be in the packet. Once they’ve had that initial time in the freezer, you can take them out and store in sealed containers on the shelf, confident that you’ll not be troubled by pantry moths or weevils.

 Chocolate birthday cake with cherry jam and chocolate cream.
 A quick cheat - frozen puff pastry cut to size pre-baked, and filled with cream and fruit.

Date and walnut loaf.

Create your own collection of your family's favourite foods. Collect and try recipes for bread, flat bread, cakes, biscuits and cookies, pies, flans, quiches, rolls and scrolls. If you're anything like me, you'll modify the new recipes to suit the tastes of your family or for any dietary requirements they may have.  But that's the beauty of home baking, you can modify all of it, increase or reduce salt, change the type of milk used, reduce or eliminate gluten or add nuts and seeds. You'll save money doing all this especially if you're making your own vegan or gluten-free goodies because they cost a lot in the shops.

I store my recipes in the Paprika app so try that, or find another online program that makes sense to you. Or simply write your recipes out in a book, a card system or type them into Excel.  The main thing is to have this valuable family recourse not just for now, but to pass on later when others ask for recipes or when your kids leave home to make their own lives. It might seem like a big task to set up but doing it a little at a time will make it lighter work.

 Cheese rolls - all these photos below show good lunchbox food.
 Homemade pizza.
Cinnamon rolls.

Don't forget to create a section for lunch boxes. Those foods need to be able to withstand being in a box, moved around and possibly dropped in a school bag or back pack.  Instead of making sandwiches with regular homebaked bread, make up wraps made with your own flat bread. Flat breads add variety to the lunchbox and they’re easy to carry if they’re wrapped firmly, or left flat to be filled at lunchtime. Those who like a hearty lunch will probably enjoy chicken, cheese and avocado with a small amount of sweet chilli sauce, or leftover roast lamb and coleslaw. The lamb can be rolled in the flat bread at home and the coleslaw carried in a small lidded container to be added at lunchtime. You can cut the flat breads into triangles and add them to the lunchbox with hot soup in winter, or for dipping into a small container of homemade guacamole or cheese dip as part of a summer lunch. I like to cook my flat bread in a cast iron pan but use any pan you have that you know won’t stick.

Flat bread recipe - makes 6
  • 250 g/8 oz self-raising flour, plus a little extra for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 250 g natural yoghurt
1. Place all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until a dough forms. If the dough is too wet, add a small amount of flour and pulse again. Remove the dough and place it on a floured board.

2. Roll into a long sausage shape and cut into six equal pieces. Roll each piece into a circle and then flatten it using a rolling pin. The circles need to be very thin and about the size of a bread-and-butter plate.

3. Place one circle at a time into a non-stick pan and cook each side for about two minutes on medium heat. When it’s ready, it will have small charred spots on each side and will smell baked. Place on a cake rack to cool.

Flat breads freeze well so you can make up a batch that will cover your lunches for a week. Store them in a freezer bag with a piece of baking paper between each of them.

The other thing that will help you is to master the plain butter cake. The best cake recipe to start off with is the butter cake because it can be used as the basis of so many other cakes. A butter cake is excellent as itself but you can add almost any kind of flavouring or fruit to give variety – chocolate, coffee, apple, sultana or ginger, for example. A plain butter cake is perfect for a child’s birthday: it’s fairly solid and will hold its shape, even with a lot of icing and decorations (wait until it’s completely cold before decorating it). The cake is also a good morning tea or lunchbox cake, served plain or with a scrape of butter.

 Thumbprint biscuits with various fillings.
Walnut muffins above, blueberry muffins below.

Above and below - butter cake. They're easy to make and freeze well so you can make a two or three at a time.

Butter Cake recipe

This recipe is from the Fiona's blog and I must have made it dozens of times since I found it. It’s similar to my grandmother’s butter cake recipe, but I think slightly better. It’s a never-fail cake and we all need those in our repertoire. BTW, Fiona has many fine recipes there so take a bit of time to look around when you visit her. She also has an Instagram page - buenavistafarm.
  • 125 g butter, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 cups self-raising flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F and lightly greasea 20cm/9" round cake tin. Using electric beaters, beat butter and sugar until thick and creamy. Beat in one egg at a time.

2. Stir in one cup of flour. Add half the milk. Stir in the other cup of flour. Stir in the other half-cup of milk.

3. Pour the batter into the tin and bake for about 30 minutes. Check the cake with a toothpick as soon as you smell it baking. If the toothpick comes out clean, take the cake out of the oven and let it sit in the tin for 5 minutes, then turn it out carefully onto a rack to cool.

If you forget to get the eggs out of the fridge in time for them to come to room temperature, place the eggs in a jug and fill the jug with warm, not hot, water. Leave the eggs in the warm water until you’re ready to use them, or about five minutes.

So there you have it, my friends, I hope that if you're new to cooking and baking this will show you a good entry point, and if you're already a home cook, it will show you how to develop your experience and help you create some wonderful food for your family and friends.

Happy baking everyone.  🍰 🎂 🍪