Baking has always intrigued me and ovens were always mysterious electrical appliances never to be played with. The only oven I was ever familiar with while growing up was an old fashioned contraption my mom used to bake an occasional cake. Once that broke down, that was the end of her baking experiments. Unfortunately, my father in spite of being a food lover, had no interest whatsoever in freshly baked goods simply because baking was not really part of our food culture. This meant that the poor oven was never repaired or replaced and we never had a home baked cake ever after that.
Years later, here I am in Ireland and in the process of adapting to Western ways of life, I’ve slowly and surely grown confident of using the oven on a regular basis. To keep this confidence up, I felt the need to bake something, a loaf of bread, a cake, something that would give me a smug sense of satisfaction. That’s how I decided to try a recipe from Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra’s gorgeous book, ‘Warm Bread and Honey Cake’. It’s a wonderful collection of baking related recipes from different parts of the world and brings exotic flavours and their stories from around the globe straight into your kitchen.
The recipe I chose for my baking adventure was the one for a Dutch spiced loaf called ‘Duivekater’ in Dutch. There’s no need to explain the reasoning behind this choice I think 😉 The picture of the finished product in the book makes it look like something that’s highly complicated to achieve. I was pleasantly surprised when I read through the recipe and discovered that all it needed was a couple of cuts and slashes to make it look like a professional baker’s job 😉
The story goes that this loaf of bread with it’s unique blend of sugar and spice was a treat that bakers made for their loyal customers during festive days in the old days in the North of Holland. With Easter here, I think this is the perfect time to put up the recipe here 🙂
500g strong white flour
2 tsp dry yeast
100g granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
lemon zest of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cardamom – I ground pods from fresh cardamoms using a mortar and pestle.
1 egg lightly beaten + 1 egg for the glaze
Mix all the dry ingredients together. Warm the milk, melt the butter and add this along with the egg to the dry ingredients. Combine everything using a wooden spoon (prevents your hands from getting messy). Lightly flour the countertop or any other work surface and tip the mixture onto it. Start kneading the mixture slowly. Keep kneading until the dough is supple and elastic or use a dough mixer if you have one ;). Shape it into a ball and place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with clingfilm or a damp tea cloth. Place the bowl in a warm area and let the dough rise to double it’s size. This takes anywhere between 1-1.5 hours.
The challenge, I’m sure, for many home bakers here in Ireland would be finding a warm enough area anywhere in the house thanks to the mostly cloudy Irish weather. The trick I’ve learned and employ is to use a preheated oven to provide the warmth required for the yeast to do it’s job. Heat the oven at it’s lowest temperature for about 10 minutes. Turn it off and then place the dough inside the oven keeping the door shut. I usually keep checking in between and if the oven’s cooled down, I turn it back on for a few minutes and then turn it off again.
Once the dough has doubled in size, knock it down. Tip it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it again. Roll the dough out into an elongated oval shape about 10-11 inches long. Using a knife, cut the tapered ends into two sections or strands so to speak. The cut shouldn’t be more than about 4 inches long. Roll or twirl each strand between the palms of your hands to elongate it a bit. This gets tricky because the dough is quite elastic at this stage and springs right back into it’s original shape! Once you’ve elongated them, roll each strand inwards to form a spiral. You should be left with two inward spirals facing each other. Repeat the process at the other end of the dough.
Place the dough on a baking sheet and cover it with a lightly oiled piece of clingfilm. Place the sheet in a warm place to let the dough rise once again. After the dough has doubled in size (another 1-1.5 hrs), remove the clingfilm and brush with the beaten egg all over. Using a kitchen knife, score lines in the shape of parentheses starting from the middle and working its way outwards. I was a bit scared of inserting my knife too deep which resulted in barely visible lines on the baked loaf. So I’ve learned that I can cut deeper into the dough while doing this which will let it split beautifully while baking and give a prettier finish.
Place the dough in an oven preheated to 180 degrees Centigrade and let it bake for about 35 minutes. It will turn a lovely deep golden brown when done. You can also try tapping the loaf and if it sounds hollow, it means it’s done.
Allow to cool, cut into slices, slather some butter on and enjoy!
This bread has the right balance of sugar and spice without any single flavour overpowering the rest and is delicious with a cup of tea. We had this for breakfast for the entire week since and the taste remained unchanged. It is a must try for everyone who reads this!