Coconut bread

The holidays are a distant memory now aren’t they? Those few precious days of still, thoughtful calm have been replaced with To Do lists (and they are long), emails and the general drudgery of January. Our festive season ended with a birthday dinner for my Mum, who has hit her 70th year with style. And I mean that: I’ve been looking at pictures from a decade ago and the men in the family now look, well, ten years older. The girls, on the other hand, are wearing pretty well, all told. Happy birthday Mum!

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Happy birthday Mum!

I am struggling with the lack of light. It’s not so much that the days are grey, it’s just that we live in a really, really dark house. No wonder the Victorian period is remembered as being a big grim: living in brick terraced houses like this, with no electric light and no heating, they must have been depressed for half the year. If Charles Dickens had had the LED bulb, what a difference it might have made to our perceptions of 19th century living…

Don’t misunderstand me: I love our house. But it is undeniably nicer in summer. My remedy for this is to get on with some home repair (the living room got repainted this weekend) and to cook, cook, cook.

So I turned to that personification of sunshine, Bill Granger, for a breakfast bake that he recommends “for days when you’d rather be in the Caribbean”. I’ve been making this coconut bread for a few years but it’s only now that I’ve tried it with fresh coconut. What a difference it makes! So get yourself a ripe fresh ‘nut, prepare and blitz it as described in my beef rendang recipe, and then you’re good to go. This bread is in the American style of quick, baking-powder-raised sweet loaves. I serve it in thick slices, toasted, with a slick of butter, ricotta or – brace yourself – Nutella.

Bill Granger’s Coconut Bread
from Sydney Food

Preheat the oven to 180c and grease and line a large loaf tin.

Sift together 375g plain flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder and 2 teaspoons cinnamon into a large bowl. Stir in 200g caster sugar and 150g fresh shredded coconut.

In a jug, melt together 75g unsalted butter and 300ml milk. Leave to cool slightly, then whisk in 2 large eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Gradually stir the liquid into the dry ingredients, until the mixture is just smooth. It is quick a stiff mixture. Don’t overmix, else you’ll have a tough loaf.

Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 1 hour, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. I like to check the bake after 30 minutes and move it around in the oven, to prevent it catching in my oven’s hot spots. It is appears to be browning too quickly, cover with foil during baking.

Cool in the tin for five minutes then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Keeps pleasingly well in a tin for a week or so, or it can also be frozen.

Anzac biscuits

It’s nearly Anzac day, so in honour of my brother Stu – who ditched English drizzle and lives in South Australia – I rustled up a batch of Anzac biscuits.

These come from one of the first cookbooks I ever bought, Bill Granger’s Sydney Food. I remember quite clearly, as a student (and therefore skint) going to Habitat in Nottingham to buy a birthday gift – a wok – for my housemate Viv and getting distracted by a pretty book.

This was 15 years ago and Bill Granger was not famous then. He offered a sophisticated lure of waterside cafes, fusion sunshine food and farmer’s markets, which was a far cry from the East Midlands at the turn of the Millennium. Plus it had lines such as, “For an old fashioned Sydney experience you’d use mulberries from the tree that always stained your mother’s washing on a windy day – and get your fingers and lips red in the picking. The blueberry is more urbane.” I love this. My mind blown, I forked out the 15 quid and got a little deeper into debt.

And I’m very pleased I did as I still refer to Sydney Food often. (I have since been to Sydney and alas it was windy and fricking cold, not that dissimilar to the UK after all. Maybe we timed the visit badly). The only issue is that Granger’s baking recipes are in cups, which I thought I had converted accurately into grams. Turns out that I hadn’t and I’ve been making these biscuits incorrectly for well over a decade. This is how it should be done:

Bill Granger’s Anzac Biscuits

From Sydney Food

140g plain flour

120g desiccated coconut

115g soft brown sugar

90g rolled oats

125g butter

1 tablespoon golden syrup

1/2 teaspoon bicarb of soda

2 tablespoons boiling water

Preheat oven to 160c and line two baking sheets with parchment.

Mix flour, coconut, sugar and oats in a bowl, making sure you get rid of any sugary lumps. Melt together butter and syrup in a pan. Mix the bicarb with boiling water and add to the melted butter.

Now add the butter mixture to your dry ingredients and stir it all together. You should have an easily workable dough. Place balls of dough onto the baking trays and flatten. They will spread so leave room – more than I did (see pictures below).

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Before baking…

Bake for 15 mins until golden brown. They should be a bit chewy so don’t overcook them. Leave to harden on the trays for five minutes or so, then transfer to a wire tray to cool completely.

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After baking. Leave room for expansion!

I am sure it’s not traditional but these would be great flavoured with a little ginger, and a drizzle of chocolate on the top wouldn’t go amiss either.

Anzac biscuits taste better than they look, particularly if they are allowed to spread into a proper circle. They are oaty and chewy, sturdy enough for lunchboxes (and I’ve been known to eat them for breakfast).