Raisins.

Another Bake Off inspired creation, and this time not a hint of apricot…

Here’s a recipe for some delicious little Swedish buns. Strictly speaking I’m a couple of months early, as Lussekatter, also known as St. Lucia Buns, are traditionally baked on December 13th, St. Lucy’s Day.

They were baked by Ruby (who I’ve got to admit to being a little bit in love with) on the latest episode of The Great British Bake Off as one of her two ‘Showstopper’ European buns. She also made kanelbullar (also Swedish) which I might have a go at next.

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Lussekatter

(Makes 32 buns)

Ingredients:

200g unsalted butter

450ml milk

2 teaspoons dried fast-action yeast

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg, beaten + and extra one for the tops of the buns

165g caster sugar

1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, chopped

900g plain flour

64 raisins

Method:

1. Melt the butter over a medium heat. Add the milk and heat until lukewarm.

2. Add to a large mixing bowl, then add the egg, sugar, saffron and salt. Then add the flour and yeast, and bring the mixture together into a dough, which should be fairly sticky.

3. Knead briefly – it doesn’t knead needing (geddit?) for a long time like a regular bread dough would. Cover the bowl and leave until the dough has doubled in size.

4. Knock back the dough, and divide into 32 pieces. Because I’m fussy I weighed mine all out, and they came out at just over 50g each. Using your hands, roll each piece out to a length of around 20cm, and bend it into an s shape, tucking the two ends in. Lay the 32 lussekatter out on baking sheets lined with baking paper. I managed to get them onto two regular sized sheets.

5. Cover (a bin liner works well) and allow to rise for around 40 minutes, while the oven preheats to 200C (180C if a fan oven).

6. Add two raisins to each lussekatter, pressing them gently into the two holes created by the s shape of the dough. Brush the tops of the buns with egg. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden.

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Apricot.

I hate dried apricots, the horrible little wrinkly bags of evil. Or at least I thought I did. So it has come as a bit of a surprise to find myself adding apricots to all sorts of things recently, from cakes to flapjacks. And even more surprisingly, I’ve loved the results.

So here’s my apology to apricots, for the hard time I’ve given them. I’ve made Paul Hollywood’s apricot couronne, as featured on this week’s episode of The Great British Bake Off.

A couronne is a yeasted bread, which after an initial prove is rolled out flat, given a layer of filling, and then rolled up tightly like a swiss roll. This is then sliced lengthways, producing two long strands of dough, each with an exposed side of filling. The two strands are twisted together before baking.

I’ve included the recipe below – it isn’t mine, and belongs to Paul Hollywood. It can also be found here.

I still think apricots are evil, but concede that in certain circumstances they do taste delicious…

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Makes 1 large crown loaf

You will need: 1 large baking sheet, lined with baking paper

For the dough:

250g strong white bread flour

5g salt

1 x 7g sachet fast-action dried yeast

50g unsalted butter, softened

105ml full-fat milk, at room temperature

1 medium egg, at room temperature

For the filling:

90g unsalted butter, softened

70g light brown muscovado sugar

120g ready-to-eat dried apricots, chopped and soaked in 100ml orange juice

35g plain flour

60g raisins

65g walnut pieces

Finely grated zest of 1 orange

To finish:

50g apricot jam

100g icing sugar, sifted

25g flaked almonds

1. To make the dough, tip the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the salt to the bowl on one side and the yeast to the other. Add the soft butter, milk and egg and turn the mixture round with your fingers, using them like a paddle. Keep doing this, mixing until you’ve picked up all of the flour from the sides of the bowl. Use the mixture to clean the inside of the bowl, picking up all the scraps, and keep going until you have a ball of soft dough.

2. Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured worktop and knead for 10-12 minutes: work through the initial ‘wet’ stage until the dough starts to develop a soft, smooth skin. When the dough feels smooth and silky put it into a lightly oiled large bowl. Cover the bowl with a dry tea towel and leave to rise for about 1 hour until doubled in size.

3. While the dough is rising, make the filing. Put the soft butter, sugar, drained apricots, flour, raisins, walnuts and zest into a bowl and mix thoroughly. Set aside until needed.

4. Turn the risen dough on to the lightly floured worktop. Without punching it down to deflate, roll it out to a rectangle about 25 x 33cm. If necessary turn the dough around so you have a long edge closest to you. Spread the apricot filling mixture evenly over the dough, then roll up like a swiss roll – tack down the edge nearest to you, so it won’t move, then roll up the dough from the other long edge towards you so get a really tight roll. Roll it back and forth lightly to seal the ‘seam’, then cut it lengthways in half. (You can keep one end attached, which will make it easier to shape).

5. Twist the two strands of dough together, then twist the 2 ends together to finish the ‘crown’. Carefully transfer the crown to the prepared baking sheet. Put the sheet inside a large plastic bag and leave to prove for 30-45 minutes until the dough springs back quickly when you prod it lightly with a fingertip.

6. While the dough is rising heat your oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. When the couronne is ready for baking, uncover the baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake for 25-35 minutes until risen and golden. Transfer to a wire rack.

7.   Gently heat the apricot jam with a splash of water, then push it through a sieve into a bowl. Quickly brush over the warm loaf to glaze. Mix the icing sugar with enough water to make a thin icing. Drizzle over the loaf and sprinkle with the flaked almonds. Leave to cool.

Success!

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I’m very pleased to be able to report my latest attempt at a sourdough loaf has been a definite success. After getting the production sourdough going last night, I got up too early this morning considering I’m on a night shift tonight, and have spent the whole day making vast amounts of bread. 

I’ve made two white French baguette type loaves using a sponge I also made last night with fresh yeast, and four sourdough loaves, which have turned out far better than I expected they would. They’re nice and light, with a crisp, crunchy crust, and more importantly they’ve got a beautiful complex, tangy, sour flavour to them. This was something my previous efforts were completely lacking, so I’m starting to get somewhere.

When I’ve got time I’ll write up some instructions, from creating a sourdough starter to making the loaves themselves, so anyone reading this can have a go too.

Sour.

I’ve learned a lot on my bread making odyssey over the past couple of years, and am now able to produce a loaf of a fairly good standard. There’s still the odd brick (I don’t quite get the point of rye flour yet), but generally the feedback from my victims is positive.

My tentative forays into the world of sourdoughs, however, have been a little disappointing. My loaves made using naturally occurring yeasts have ended up barely distinguishable from those made with instant yeast, and have lacked an essential element; sourness. 

So I’m going to start again, and stick with it this time. Andrew Whitley’s essential book Bread Matters has been a great help, and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to learn how to make bread properly, and understand the reasons why mass-produced ‘Chorleywood’ loaves are such a bad thing. 

Having read, re-read, and re-re-read the section on sourdoughs, I’ve spent the last few days turning a simple mixture of flour and water into a bubbling mass of yeasty goodness, and have used some of this to make a ‘production sourdough’ tonight, ready for an attempt at a loaf in the morning. 

Whether it works perfectly or goes horribly wrong, I’ll document my efforts here tomorrow…

Fuel?

Distance: 181.82km

Average: 23.30km/h

Top speed: 67.90km/h

Cycling time: 07:47:16

This should have been written yesterday, but I was pretty worn out from the ride and spent most of the evening drifting in and out of sleep on the sofa after a long soak in the bath, eventually waking up at midnight to the stark reality that I hadn’t yet got anything ready for work the next day, and my alarm would be going off at 05:15…

The ride was fantastic in just about every way, and it made a nice change to have someone to share it with. I really enjoy riding alone and just taking in all the scenery and spending time with my thoughts, but I whenever I turn a corner to find an amazing view, or pass through a picturesque village, I always think it would be nice to be able to share it.

By my standards (anything before 09:00 is prehistoric) it was an early start to the day, and I left the house at about 06:45 in order to make it to the start point of the ride, Nettleham High Street, for 07:00. I pulled up outside Bret’s right on time, and his mother said ‘You’ll kill him!’. I assured her this wasn’t my intention, but was well aware it was a distinct possibility.

We set off towards towards Scothern at a leisurely pace. The sun had been up for a good 40 minutes, and was starting to break through some thin cloud. The slight valley between Lincoln and the western edge of the Wolds was filled with patches of mist, which made for a nice fresh start to the day.

It wasn’t long before The Warmth Of The Sun (name that band) burned away the last of the mist, and we found ourselves facing our first climb up into the Wolds from South Willingham, up to Caistor High Street then down to Donington on Bain, followed by another climb to the Bluestone Heath Road (BHR). I like to attack hills, and have got used to them after this year’s riding, and I surprised Bret with the speed I climbed this one. It was nice to see that all the riding I’ve done recently has actually made a difference, and I can definitely remember even tiny hills being an effort in the past.

When we arrived at the BHR we were only five miles from Louth. This was the closest we’d get for a good few hours, and we headed off south-west along the top of the Wolds towards Spislby. The views both east and west were fantastic, and it made us both realise what a stunningly beautiful county Lincolnshire can be (in places…).

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We dropped down off the Wolds at Tetford Wood, and followed some fairly flat, winding lanes through Aswardby, Sausthorpe, Raithby and Hundleby, before reaching Spislby. We stopped at a cafe in the town centre for a brew and bacon butty, before popping into a nearby shop for some liquids.

There was an unsigned petition on the counter, started by the parents of Ryan Smith, a 16 year old from Chapel St. Leonards who was recently knocked off his bike and is now in a coma in hospital. The petition is aimed at promoting the use of cycle helmets, as Ryan wasn’t wearing one when he was hit. We both signed.

Setting off from Spilsby after a half-hour rest, we headed towards Alford along more quiet, undulating roads. Having spent the majority of the ride on the western edge of the Wolds, we’d now crossed along the southern end and began heading back up along the eastern side towards Louth. The road all the way up to Little Cawthorpe was yet another tiny, middle-of-nowhere lane, and we hardly saw any traffic the whole way, arriving in Louth at around 12:30 at the 111km mark for a well earned pit-stop.

Mum had prepared the perfect carb-heavy cyclist’s lunch, and we stuffed ourselves with a delicious ricotta and vegetable pasta dish, some olive and red onion bread, and a big leafy salad.

We set off from Louth at around 13:30, climbing back up into the Wolds, initially along a short section of the A157 – far from ideal, but hard to avoid. We turned off as quickly as we could, starting one of the nicest sections of the whole ride. A tiny single track road too us up to the A631, followed by a long, gradual descent to Hatcliffe, which sits in a valley created by Waithe Beck.

From here there was a short, sharp climb up to Beelsby, and some more ups and downs through to Thoresway, which sits at the start of the most challenging climb of the whole ride. But this point we’d ridden just under 140km, and it took a huge effort to climb to the highest point in the Lincolnshire Wolds in just a few kilometers. It was well worth the effort though – we found a National Cycle Network sign at the top, and were then rewarded with a breathtaking downhill into Walesby. I set a new top speed on this section, reaching a slightly scary 67.90km/h! There was a slight headwind, so I’m sure I could have passed 70km/h if the conditions had been right…

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After Market Rasen we were down to our final 25km or so, and before long I finally hit the magic 161km (100 mile) mark at Wickenby Wood, stopping to take a fairly pointless photo of the bike computer! 6km later (I’d done a little further as I’d set off from Lincoln) Bret reached 161, and celebrated in style, leaping off his bike, throwing down his cycling glasses and cartwheeling along the road to the cheers of an imaginary crowd. He was genuinely over the moon to have achieved a century ride, and it was a great moment! Fortunately, despite all the excitement, I remembered to get him to hold his bike aloft for the obligatory ‘I’ve just ridden 100 miles’ photo…

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A few kilometers down the road we finally arrived back in Nettleham, thoroughly worn out, but happy at having achieved what we’d set out to do. Bret bought me a pint and a Mars Bar at the pub, before I rode a very weary 6km back home.

In need of a good soak in the bath, and armed with the knowledge that I had no bubble bath at home, I stopped off at the petrol station on Riseholme Road for a bottle. I leaned by bike up against the wall outside and clip-clopped into the shop on my cleats, dressed head to toe in Lyrca, cycling glasses, and a cycle helmet.

After picking up a bottle of Radox I headed over to the till. Considering my attire, the question I was greeted with struck me as somewhat odd.

‘…Any fuel?’.

This was followed by a rather embarrassed look as it dawned on the poor cashier’s face what she’d just asked. I left the shop, climbed onto my bike, and somehow resisted the temptation to kick start it before I left.

Wolds.

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A few weeks ago, I had an argument with two Police Inspectors. No, I hadn’t stolen anything, or tried to kill anyone, or attempted to run off with their batons/PAVA/handcuffs/helicopter. I was at work, and being at work necessitates being in close proximity to officers of the law.

We were arguing about ways of measuring things. More specifically, ways of measuring bike rides. I like to work in kilometers. They like to work in miles. They accused me of being French. I accused them of being old.

I’m of the opinion that we should stop trying to cling on to our archaic use of miles, and accept that the metric system make far more sense and is a lot easier to use. We aren’t still using pounds, shillings, and pence to pay for things, and cookbooks no longer ask us to weigh things out in pounds and ounces, so why do our road signs and speed limits still live in the Imperial age?

A mile is 5,280 feet. Or 1,760 yards. Or 1,609 metres. This is ridiculous. A kilometer is 1,000 metres, in the same way that a pound is 100 pence, and a kilogram is 1,000 grams. It took a conscious effort to start using kilometers to measure my bike rides and (very occasional) runs, but now I do it without thinking. And anyway, the numbers go up more quickly when you work in kilometers, which is a psychological boost!

So, I’m now going to go against everything I stand for and tell you all about the 100 mile (528,000 ft.) bike ride I’ll be completing with my friend Bret tomorrow. We’re doing a 100 mile ride simply because this is a popular target for long distance cyclists to aim for, and Bret hasn’t done one yet. In total, I’ll be riding 107.39 miles (picking Bret up in Nettleham along the way, resulting in the extra distance), which is 172.82km. I’ll make my next target 200km, and ditch the miles once and for all.

Bret came close to a 100-miler last year, when we cycled to my Uncle’s farm and back. He had never eaten fennel before, and doesn’t like soup, and we arrived at Island Farm, the half-way point of the ride, to a lunch of fennel soup. Fortunately, Bret consumed a quantity of soup roughly equivalent to the capacity of an Olympic swimming pool (which is 50 metres in length), and a disaster was averted. Fennel is now on the list of accepted foodstuffs, and Bret maintains that my Uncle makes the best soup in the world. 

Tomorrow’s ride will be a long circular route, more-or-less going round and over the Lincolnshire Wolds. It’ll be a fairly hilly day, but nothing compared to the Devon coast-to-coast I rode in July, and we’ll climb a total of 677m.

Looking at the elevation profile, the worst of the climbs will be the section immediately after South Willingham up to the Caistor High Street, then out of Donington on Bain up to the Bluestone Heath Road, the climb back up into the Wolds out of Louth, and then a nasty looking ascent just before Market Rasen. Other than that, it’ll be some fairly flat riding between Lincoln and the Wolds, and then a series of short climbs and descents in the middle, when we’ll be on some lovely rural roads in the middle of the Wolds.

Conveniently (purposefully), we pass through Louth at around the 100km mark, so will be making a fuel stop at Mother’s…

Fennel soup anyone?