the cold embrace | buckwheat rolls with blackberry, rosemary & apple - honey compote

buckwheat blackberry rosemary rolls 3-1.jpg

Winter has had Norfolk wrapped in its cold embrace this week. The village is quiet. The farmers in their pick ups have pulled wool hats low over their ears, the local tree cutter wears a tattered khaki fleece and the school kids are in their bright blue sweaters, like confetti as they run along the frozen sidewalks. The few dog walkers who are out wear hoods and scarves, any piece of skin exposed bitten by the easterly wind off the sea and echoing through the empty countryside.

It’s the empty fields and the windswept beaches that bring the place to life in the summer. It brings them here – the tourists. In cars packed to the roof with beach chairs and spades, pulling caravans and pitching tents, lighting barbecues and laughing, playing music till late. There’s traffic on every country lane, when we go shopping, we leave the house at 8am and don’t hope to be back before noon. It’s lively. The whole place buzzes with…happy chaos. New dogs to encounter on walks, the locals keep theirs on leads and wearily cross the road. Six months of long days, hope of heatwaves, beach days, the long sunshine hours giving so much. But the nights draw in, and the tourists leave. Maybe that’s why people say that winter is cruel, its grasp seems to take the life out of a place.

The squawking flocks of tourists are slowly replaced by hundreds of migratory birds. You hear the birds before you see them, in a field in the distance, circling like a low hanging dark cloud. Sometimes they fly so low overhead you can hear each wing beat, feel the warmth of their feathery bodies, admire their unity. The dogs too will turn their heads skywards, ears pricked, dew on each shiny nose from the frosty grass. They’ll listen to the other retrievers barking somewhere in the valley, busy on a hunt. The peace will be broken by stereotypically staccato rifle fire, the geese will lift off and fly, pheasants will fall. When we walk through the village, the limp bodies of the birds hang from the beams and rafters of garages and wood sheds, their rich red and green plumes still clinging onto their sheen. Ah, winter. There you go again, robbing life.

We only meet two other walkers. The usual tweed-jacketed and cheerful, Aigle-booted man, his stern wife and his wolfhounds, emerging eerily out of the frozen fog. We wait on the verge for the big, harmless dogs to pass and watch the chubby blackbirds skit about under bare hedgerows, picking at the red holly. Listen to the church bells ringing in the next village, no tractors ploughing the fallow fields, no caravans trundling through, no tourists asking for directions. After the walk and the girls are dry, curled up in two balls, I stand against the radiator and feel the burning heat on my back. Ran my fingers under the tap to get the life back into them. They’re dry and chapped from holding the dogs’ lead in the biting wind, my face is pale, my eyes used to a dim grey light and the sun setting by 4pm.

And still I’m a winter person. That cold embrace. Lots of people love the winter, perhaps up till Christmas. It’s a complicated, delicate personality that runs further than December. Further than pale skin and hunting season. It’s haunting and humbling. There’s quiet reflection. There’s life. The bird feeder on the cherry tree is in constant chaos, the robin and the little yellow birds darting in and out, swallows swooping low as the dogs chase a sheltering pheasant out of sight. The fields are empty enough to watch hares racing and deer jumping, the sky gray enough to match the doves cooing from the roof. It’s cold enough to throw a colourful quilt over my all-white bed, a shock to these weary eyes. The winter skies are clear enough to be lit by a thousand stars, it’s dark long enough to see them. When the dogs have been out first thing in the morning, they bring into the warm house a gust of bitter air, their fur is cold and their eyes smile from running on the frosty ground. You go outside and the cold burns your lungs when you laugh, it singes the wet tears off your cheeks. It reminds you that this is living, that you have lungs to burn and warm cheeks to singe.

The geese take off and fill the empty skies, going further south, perfect unison. From the wooded thicket, rifle shots fill the deafening silence. In the distance, the earliest of the year’s lambs bleats. Winter, hovering somewhere between taking and giving life.

So it’s been super cold here lately, but we don’t really get that much deep freeze in these parts so I don’t really mind. Especially when I have a box of these rolls in the house. They’re surprisingly simple to make, especially considering the compote can be made up to 2 weeks in advance! Because I like whole grains etc I usually go for spelt flour, since for being so grainy it still bakes up quite light, soft and mild, but I wanted something a bit bolder and slightly bitter, so I added a small amount of buckwheat flour. Not overpowering, but the taste is just enough to add another layer of flavour to the heady rosemary, tart fruits and floral honey. And in terms of rolls, don’t fear the yeast, this recipe is pretty much fool proof (no pun intended). In the recipe notes I link to my cardamom wreath recipe which has lots of details on proofing etc. You can of course also replace the home made compote with Store bought but just try to choose one without too many junky ingredients (I used to love Bonne Maman or St. Dalfour), but you might just want to add a little more rosemary and ginger to the dough for the fragrant, complex flavour that they give. As a side note, I have been having trouble with my domain and hosting services for the blog so I’m going to be switching providers and moving away from WordPress. This means the site may be down for a couple of days at the end of this week, but I’ll be back and hopefully things will be running smoother!
Stay warm, bake bread and have a good week xx


BUCKWHEAT SWEET ROLLS W/ BLACKBERRY, ROSEMARY & APPLE – HONEY COMPOTE

These rustic honey sweetened rolls are made with a combination of mild, supple spelt flour and earthy, slightly bitter buckwheat flour. The fragrant and complex flavour of rosemary and blackberries with Apple in the simple, spiced compote are a perfect, jammy filling. Try one straight out of the oven if you can, or heat leftovers and enjoy throughout the week.
 

//makes 9-12 rolls & about 2 1/2 cups (400ml) compote


//For the compote

1 large apple, whatever you can find where you are (about 150g)
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
8 cups (volume-wise, 2L) blackberries, fresh or frozen
2-4 sprigs fresh rosemary, to taste
2/3 cup (200g) honey
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely grated

//for the buckwheat sweet rolls

To proof the yeast

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
Pinch salt
1/4 cup (60ml) warm* water
2 1/4 cup (260g) spelt flour
3/4 cup (95g) buckwheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped finely
2/3 cup (160ml) lukewarm milk (dairy or almond milk would both be good)
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon (15ml) melted and lukewarm coconut oil (or butter, I should think)

// for the compote

Into a large, heavy bottomed pot, add the lemon juice and zest.

Core the apple and chop finely, leaving the peal which helps with setting. Add the Apple to the pot with the spices and the berries. Mix so the fruit is covered with the lemon and spices, then pour over the honey and stir to coat.

Place the pot on high heat and let the mix boil enthusiastically for about 10 minutes. The fruits should be looking pretty wet and bubbly, especially if you’re using frozen berries. Reduce the heat to a simmer and leave the compote to reduce, stirring occasionally so nothing sticks to the bottom.

There will be a layer of foam as it bubbles quickly, but no need to skim since the dark color it creates works here well.

After about 20 minutes of bubbly simmering, start keeping an eye for consistency. This is less precise than jam so don’t worry about freezing plates or thermometers etc. You want it to be fairly thick and not too liquid – there may be some juicy liquid pooling at the sides, but when you take some of the compote out on a spoon it should largely hold shape. It will also thicken up as it cools and goes into a cool container. Give it 5 minutes more, simmering, if it looks like it needs to be thicker, especially for frozen berries.

As soon as the compote is done, pour it into a heat safe container like a glass measuring jug. Allow to cool, then pour into a clean glass jar and refrigerate; it will set further. The lemon helps preserving so it will keep about 2 weeks in the fridge.  Reserve a bit for the buns.

// for the rolls

Start by proofing the yeast. Take a small bowl and 1/4 cup/ 60ml body warm water- if you have a kitchen thermometer it should register 42-45’C (110-115’F), if you don’t, just add 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon boiling hot water to 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons cold water. Stir in the honey, a pinch of salt and gently stir in the yeast. Set aside for 10-15 minutes, it varies from brand to brand.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the buckwheat and spelt flours with the salt and spices. You can also very gently heat your coconut oil and milk together (too hot or too cold and it’ll

kill the poor yeast) then stir through the honey. Set aside. Grease a large bowl with oil and set aside.

After 10-15 minutes, if the yeast has bloomed and covered the surface of the water, you’re all set (see this page for troubleshooting). Add the yeast mix and the milk mix to the dry ingredients and gently stir together with a wooden spoon to combine. It will take some time but should come together, in a soft but firm dough. If it is too dry, add a tiny teaspoon of lukewarm milk at a time, likewise with the flour if it’s too wet.

Once it’s a handleable but sticky dough, lightly flour your work surface and dump out the bowl. Knead the dough for five minutes, till it’s supple.

Fold the dough into a rough ball and place into the oiled bowl. Cover loosely with a cloth and leave somewhere warm to proof (in an oven on the lowest setting, just outside a warm oven, in a cozy laundry room or something) for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The dough should be double in bulk, the time will vary depending on the temperature of your house so keep an eye on it (see notes here for some help)

While you wait, you can grease a pan for baking – an 8x8inch square or 9×9 inch square will work for 9 larger rolls, a 9×13 inch pan for 12 minis. Your call. Line it with parchment paper for easily removal and find your compote (or make it now!!)

After the first rise, punch down the dough (literally punch it, to knock out the air a bit) and lightly flour a work surface once more. Knead the dough till just flexible, 2 minutes. Roll the dough into an oval/rectangle about 40cm long and 30cm wide. Keep an eye it’s not sticking.

Dollop the compote into the middle of the rectangle and spread evenly towards the corners, leaving about 2cm / short of an inch at the edges. Roll the dough from the long side, so you have a long log.

You can trim the edges of your dough where there isn’t enough jam (discard or

Keep for snacking). Use a pair of kitchen scissors to cut the dough into 9 even pieces (or 12 if using a bigger pan) and place them into prepared pan, with a little gap between. Cover with the towel and leave for a shorter second rise, 30 minutes or so till they’re puffy and likely touching each other.

Bake for about 30-35 minutes. They don’t turn particularly dark or golden so just give them a squeeze; the outside should be crisp but the inside still a bit soft.

They’ll keep for about 3 days in the fridge buuut just eat one or two out of the oven because the jam is warm and the bread is soft and yum. You might like to warm them before eating if you’re keeping them for a bit.

Notes

I made a bit of a hash of the sizes of my rolls, I was planning on doing 9 in an 8×8 square pan but accidently cut 12. My dogs were lying in front of the cupboard with my baking tins so I just did the 9 in the 8 inch pan then baked a couple more in a ramekin, so feel free to do whatever you like. Jumbo rolls maaay need a few minutes more in the oven


more winter recipes

to want and to knead | cardamom-cranberry spelt wreath

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)

There is a strange familiarity about the whole ritual. It usually involves climbing into some loft or burrowing through the shed to some degree to find the Christmas tree, that we swear to replace every year. The decorations are like meeting characters from an old book you haven't read for a long time - you remember all their quirks, where you were when you first noticed them. Someone plays Christmas music, the dogs sniff in the boxes and bash the shaky tree with their tails.

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)

A couple of years ago my dad passed the light-stringing-up altar to me. Nothing official about it, but he was travelling for longer and longer during the holidays and I was, perhaps inappropriately, deemed the most competent in this field. The lights still shine and twinkle in the evening, but I've never managed to curl them evenly round the tree like dad has, the lights themselves are so old that a few have gone out, but no one's really had the heart to buy a new set. We've been using the same decorations for as long as I can remember, the little round baubles and the intricate figurines my dad used as a kid. We are not so much of a family for tradition. We travel too much, the family as a whole is too spread out. And when I asked my parents, when I was young and these things mattered to me, they asked me what Christmas was really about. Did it have to be gifts around a tree, a big dinner, celebrated on the 25th? Or was it about the principle - the gathering with people you love, sharing food that you've made with love, giving, more than just material gifts?

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)

It makes me wonder. This season of craziness... the crazy is everywhere. The pressure on mothers to cook a perfect turkey, to choose the best gifts for their children. The pressure on dads to put up the best outdoor lights, to earn the money to finance it all in the first place. Pressure on kids to stay cool throughout the affair, to get the best most expensive presents. Pressure on the dog to not steal the turkey from the table, dammit, and not to bark when an army of strangers rings the doorbell. Pressure on everyone to keep a good face, to laugh with family members you don't really know.

I go back to bread. We have no great expectations of the holiday, nothing to go back on, I doubt I'll make this wreath next year as a Christmas tradition. I started making my own bread some time ago, but that was after a long break from the habit. Somehow my hands remembered it, the smell of the yeast was familiar, my hands could fold and knead the dough without a second thought. It gave me something, some quiet zen, two minutes to think amid my crazy; travel prep and essays. I think about the puppies who'll be abandoned because the kids couldn't handle the well meant gift. About the wives who'll fall out with their mother in law because the turkey didn't work out. About the dads who'll feel like crap because they didn't get that promotion in time to get that shiny new phone.

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)

It's not that I don't have warm memories of Christmas, or that I have a problem with traditional holidays, I think it's great to have something to look back on, to warm you somewhere inside. Childhood Christmas for me was lots of light, more laughs, some fun gifts that I'd play with the whole year. This year will be similar. We'll celebrate after the India trip, on January 10th, when the people who've fought with their mother in law and chucked their puppies have moved onto the most depressing month of the year and salad diets. I just spare a thought for those people who believe that they're making it Christmas, and I go back to my bread. My thoughts on the puppies and the grains, on the holiday from which so many of us took the spirit when we first put up the lights.

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)

I understand that lots of people are scared of working with yeast but I promise that, like the aforementioned holiday, it's also overcomplicated by most people! Just make sure it's really puffy after proofing time, otherwise the yeast is dead and it will also kill the recipe. Also, the temperature of the water is important - I found a sneaky method to do this, see the recipe notes if that will help you. As for the swirly wreath pattern - I tried to get photos, but they weren't great so I will direct you to this site I trawled the internet for, which quite clearly shows how to get that pretty pattern going.The bread is gently sweet, a nice contrast to the sharp berries and fragrant cardamom - it's more the kind of bread for eating chunks plain, rather than slicing and slathering with jam. The best kind of bread, I'd say. It's kind of cozy but light, which is how Christmas should be. Whether it's the traditional kind on the 25th, or something a bit unconventional like ours, wishing you the brightest, warmest holidays with people + pets you love. xx

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)

[kindred-recipe id="1918" title="cardamom-cranberry spelt wreath"]

I am away on holiday (India!!!) right now, so it may be a bit quiet on my end. If you are looking for more baking inspiration, I will direct you to this baked oatmeal to serve holiday guests for breakfast, this granola for edible gifting and these scones because why not. and (coconut oil) gingerbread cookies. And again, I thank you for visiting this little corner of the internet, have a wonderful Christmas. I'll be back with a few photos in a bit.