Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Good Habits We Picked Up During The Whole Celtic Tiger Thing

Brunch - that was a bit of a Celtic Tiger era-adopted habit, wasn't it? Admittedly I was a bit too young and without income to be 'doing' brunch prior to that time, but I don't recall it being around pre-the late nineties/early noughties. Well, either we learned it from watching Friends or having fake credit card money stuff, but it has persisted long beyond the departure of those two particular phenomena. It's attractive on so many levels: it's technically two meals combined, therefore you get to eat more; the time is nice and flexible (like, any time really from 11am to 2.30pm) and there's a wide enough window there to schedule it comfortably around other activities without feeling rushed; it's spread over a long period of time, therefore you get to eat more; it's very sociable and relaxed, generally less expensive and fussy whether you're eating out or at home; there are both sweet and savoury options on offer, therefore you get to eat more. So, really my own personal love for brunch stems mainly from the fact that it's pretty much an excuse to eat twice as much as is usually socially acceptable, and even though it's supposed to be when you have both your brunch and lunch at the same time I generally manage to squeeze in a lil early brekkie and late lunch around the main event. Can't be going to hungry, now, it impedes the enjoyment of food, it's very important to remain topped up. When entertaining at home, I find brunch to be a far more chilled out endeavour than dinner. And even though going out for brunch is considerably less expensive than going out for dinner, I do find that my tendency to guzzle coffee gets a little bit pricey after cup number three. Not to mention the fact that I like to incorporate both a savoury and sweet element to proceedings, and I don't always find that menus quite accommodate that. So when the sun is out and a long, lazy bank holiday weekend is there to be enjoyed and exploited and just generally made the most of, what better way to catch up with pals than hang out and stuff face in the back garden for very chatty hours on end. 

In creating my brunch menu, I wanted to keep it along the lines of classic brunchy-type dishes, but with a bit of a twist. I was scowling away as I tried and failed to locate a pull-out of brunch recipes by Donna Hay from Living Etc magazine, creating quite a deal of cookbook chaos in the process. I settled instead for a vegetarian brunch special in an issue of Jamie mag (Sept/Oct '10). It had some quirky little bits in it, though nothing too complicated or far out, and I settled for Swedish saffron breakfast buns, as J.O. suggested omitting the raisins and using them as a base for eggs florentine. I decided to bumph it up bit and make it eggs benetine: spinach, bacon AND eggs on top of these Scandi lovelies. As they were going to be grilled right before getting loaded up with brekkie ingredients, it was feasible to bake them a couple of hours in advance. When I see 'butter a muffin tray' at the start of a recipe I always feel pretty smug as whip out the old reliable silicon muffin tray that requires no de-stick-ifying and makes for a super low-maintenance baking experience. So - oven goes on at 200, all the dry ingredients are thrown together, and it was a source of much joy and very in keeping with my minimum effort mission that the 1 tbsp of almonds (to be shopped) go in there skins on. No faffing around with roasting and trays and de-skinning and blah blah yawn.

The chopped almonds go in on top of 1.5 tbsp caster sugar (I halved the quantity in the printed recipe as there were only three of us), 125g plain flour, 1 tsp baking powder.

The buttermilk was to be a homemade affair, as there was no way I was going to buy a big carton of it and have it hogging space in the fridge, so 125ml milk gets a big squeeze of lemon juice into it, set aside for 15 minutes. At that point it'll be madly curdled, so after a good stir it's ready to go.

Excitement - I get to use saffron! Now, if you asked me why exactly this is such a thrill for me, I couldn't really pinpoint an exact reason, except for the fact that I get my thrills from the most minor and, em, quirky events. But the pricey spice in its sun-shielding orange wrapper is really growing on me, and I'm increasingly on the lookout for recipes featuring it as an ingredient. 

A pinch of saffron and that 125ml buttermilk all gets whisked together with 1 egg white and 50g melted unsalted butter.

After that it's a very simple matter of bringing the wet and dry ingredients together, being careful not to be to heavy handed with the wooden spoon ...

...and scooping it all into the magic muffin tray. Into the oven for 20 minutes.

And they come out so golden and lovely and saffron-scented and so very...well, Scandinavian, really.

Such a relief when they just popped right out nice and cleanly in their lovely neat roundy shapes.

With those out of the way I had lots of time to move on to the sweet part of my brunchy ensemble. I've been meaning to try out an Ottolenghi muffins recipe for a while, and the carrot, apple and pecan recipe was sufficiently different from my usual muffin efforts to get me interested. It's a recipe that's less sugary sweet and more textured and chunky than most muffin recipes that I've tried my hand at. I have, in the past, timed muffin-making so that they would be fresh out of the oven just before it was time to eat them, but this is a tad disastrous - they are too soft and just collapse, so they need time to cool down and set. Again, I halved the weights for this recipe, as there were only three of us and the portions in the book are for 10 - 12 muffins. I'm going to list the original weights for ingredients here, though, mostly because I'm too lazy to divide in two right now. To begin - a topping, which is basically a crumble:  50g unsalted butter chopped into pieces, 75g plain flour, 25g light muscavado sugar - all rubbed together, and then combined with 50g oats, about 55g sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds and then finally 1tsp water, 1tsp sunflower oil and 1.5 tbsp honey.

Dry ingredients: 300g plain flour, 2tsp baking powder, 2tsp cinnamon and a pinch of salt.

The lovely juicyness of the wet ingredients: 4 eggs, 160ml sunflower oil, 280g caster sugar, 2tsp vanilla essence, 220g peeled grated carrot and 200g grated Granny Smith apples.

It all piles in together along with 100g chopped (er, or rather crunched up with my hands as I threw them into the bowl) pecans (always a welcome presence in my cooking and eating efforts, no matter the incarnation), 50g dessicated coconut and 100g chopped dried apricots. The recipe specified sultanas, but I thought that I'd make this brunch a raisin/sultana-free affair, as they're frequently unpopular, and there were none in the cupboard anyhow.

Into the muffin tray of amazingness (another reason to get the bun-making out of the way as early as possible), with tons to spare - and, as I said before, this was only half the quantity.

Generous fistfuls of crumble topping over the top of all of that. 25 minutes in the oven at 170.

Once the doorbell went the food went on - it's not the kind of grub that you can have sitting waiting around - cold, dried out eggs spinach and bacon? Bleugh. Plus it only actually takes about ten minutes. I, however, hadn't made hollandaise sauce before. If I were to pinpoint where exactly I went wrong I would say that it was probably really the fact that I didn't actually remember to turn the ring on, so, as I was adding the chunks of butter to the egg yolks I was wondering why the texture was so very, well, buttery. As opposed to smooth and saucey. When I finally cottoned on to my moment of major unsmartness, everything else was ready to go - spinach wilted, eggs poached, bacon fried, buns grilled - and couldn't be hanging around waiting for my uncooked hollandaise. So I did exactly what you're not supposed to do - notched up the heat quickly and stirred furiously in an attempt to whisk up a speedy sauce miracle. And, of course, it scrambled. 

So, instead of a lovely smooth hollandaise I topped it all off with this dubious buttery eggy offering.

But to be perfectly honest, since the sun was shining, the company was excellent and the flavour of those Swedish buns shone through in all their saffron-y glory I managed to get over it. Sort of.

The muffins were an absolute triumph, full of texture and wholesomeness.

And so very very filling - generally I'd help myself to two muffins, but on this occasion I found myself uncharacteristically content with one. Food, sunshine, pals: here's to a high-shine low-maintenance summer.


  1. Great! I've a craving for eggs Florentine now. And it's too late at 11pm! Grrrrr!

  2. damn those saffron breakfast buns are on my list! they look delicious! I'm the same about buttermilk, it's sooo much easier! You know you can also make ricotta cheese just as quick in a similar way? another great breakfast base!

  3. Mmmmm, eggs Florentine...good at any time! and those saffron buns are way more delicious than they look or sound. Hurrah for the Scandis, eh. Had no idea you could make ricotta the same way! Must give it a go, love making ricotta gnocci.