Northern soul: Bill Granger discovers what Scandinavian baking can teach us
Nordic cuisine's surge in popularity should extend to its baking, says Bill Granger, with its liberal use of spices, nuts and fruits giving an earthy, homely feel.
I am often asked what I think the next big food trend will be, and 10 years ago, I doubt that Nordic cuisine would have crossed my mind. My only experience of Scandinavian bakes back then was from an amazing Danish bakery in Tokyo called Andersen, opened in the 1960s by a local, Japanese man enamoured with Danish baking. The funny thing is that after being in Tokyo for 50 years, Andersen now has a store in Copenhagen – I love how it's gone full circle.
What attracts me to Scandi bakes is that they have a really raw, home- made quality, which is so much more appealing and modern than trying to make things look perfect as they do in French patisseries – or as I used to when I first started baking.
Then there is a lovely earthiness that comes from the use of different flours, spices, nuts and dried fruits. I'm guessing the Nordic climate has something to do with it – let's face it, our delicate, fluffy things just wouldn't do when it's -15C outside.
Bill Granger's restaurant, Granger & Co, is at 175 Westbourne Grove, London W11, tel: 020 7229 9111, grangerandco.com
A slice of this loaf will keep you going until lunchtime. I don't think I've ever made it the same way twice, changing the fruits and nuts according to what I have in the cupboard. Any leftovers get sliced up and frozen, so the slices can be popped straight into the toaster.
Makes 1 large loaf
100g/3½oz porridge oats, plus 1 tbsp for sprinkling
150ml/¼ pint natural yoghurt
1 tbsp honey
450g/14½oz plain flour, plus extra for dusting
100g/3½oz rye flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp fast-action dried yeast
1 tbsp light-flavoured oil, plus extra for greasing
100g/3½oz toasted hazelnuts and/or walnut halves
75g/3oz dried apricots, chopped
150g/5oz dried berries such as sour cherries, blueberries and/or cranberries
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp sunflower seeds
Combine the oats, yoghurt and honey in a bowl and set aside for 15 minutes.
In a large bowl, mix together the plain and rye flours, salt and yeast. Add the oat-and-honey mixture, the oil and 300ml/½ pint lukewarm water. Knead everything together with your hand, gradually adding more water if needed, until the mixture comes together as a soft, sticky dough. Now cover with a wet cloth and leave it somewhere warm to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
Turn the dough on to a lightly dusted surface and gently knead in the nuts and dried fruits. Shape into an oblong loaf and place on an oiled baking sheet. Scatter with the seeds and the remaining tablespoon of oats. Cover with a wet cloth and leave to prove for 30 minutes. Bake in a preheated oven at 220C/425F/Gas7 for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 180C/350F/Gas4 and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes, until the under-side of the bread feels hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.
Marzipan biscuits with walnuts and chocolate
These are just the right side of chewy for me, and couldn't be any easier to make. I like to use almonds that still have their skins on for that nutty, rustic look.
Makes about 24
200g/7oz icing sugar
2 egg whites
Light-flavoured oil, for greasing
50g/2oz plain chocolate, melted
30g/1oz walnuts, roughly chopped
Blitz the almonds in a food processor until fine then tip in the icing sugar and two-thirds of the egg whites. Pulse until the mixture becomes a thick paste. It should be dry enough for you to be able to roll it into balls, but still quite sticky. If needed, adjust the texture by adding more icing sugar or egg white. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes then shape the mixture into 24 walnut-sized rounds.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6. Line an oven tray with non-stick baking parchment and grease lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on the tray, spacing them well apart, then use the heel of your palm to flatten each into a thin disk. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden, then set aside to cool.
Once the biscuits are cooled, melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Drizzle it over the biscuits then scatter over the walnuts.
Custard, coconut and cardamom buns
I'm a great fan of custard doughnuts, but don't really want to be indulging in making them at home – I guess these baked buns are the guilt-free alternative. The cardamom flavour is quite strong, so reduce it, or even leave it out all together, if you prefer a plain sweet bun.
Makes 8 buns
For the dough
10 cardamom pods, bashed open
200ml/7fl oz whole milk
250g/8oz plain flour, plus extra for kneading
35g/1¼oz caster sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tsp fast-action dried yeast
1 egg, lightly beaten
For the custard filling
1 egg yolk
2 tsp cornflour
125ml/4fl oz whole milk
1 tbsp vanilla sugar
For the topping
3 tbsp icing sugar
Unsweetened desiccated coconut
Add the cardamom to a pan with the milk and butter. Heat gently, until the milk is almost boiling. Set aside for 15 minutes.
Mix the flour, sugar, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Strain in the cooled cardamom-infused milk and knead for 5 minutes on a floured surface until the mixture comes together as a soft, smooth dough. Cover with a wet cloth and leave somewhere warm to rise for about 1½ hours, or until doubled in size.
To make the custard filling, mix the yolk and cornflour in a measuring jug and set aside. Heat the milk until it's almost boiling. Stir in the sugar and, once dissolved, slowly pour it over the yolk-cornflour mix, whisking as you go. Pour the mixture into the pan and heat gently, stirring constantly until you have a thick, smooth custard. Cover the surface of the custard with a piece of clingfilm and set aside to cool.
Roll the dough into 8 equal-sized buns and place them on an oiled baking tray, leaving plenty of space between each one. Cover with a wet tea-towel and set aside to prove for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6. Push your thumb down the centre of each bun and fill the hollow with the custard. Glaze with the beaten egg and bake for 10 to 15 minutes until golden and the bottom of the buns feels hollow when tapped.
For the topping, stir enough water into the icing sugar to make a thin glaze. Brush it around the sides of the buns then roll the glazed parts in desiccated coconut. Put on a wire rack to cool before serving.
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