I love bread. Maybe I should qualify that – I love good quality bread. The hardest thing for me on this low carb diet is avoiding bread. I have friends who never eat bread, believing that the gluten and the carbs are evil. I cannot agree with them – to me, there is nothing more delicious than dipping great bread into olive oil, or putting poached eggs onto wholemeal toast, or eating a warm heel of bread spread with butter. (Writing this, I can see why I needed to diet…). As a child, I remember that one of the joys of being in Scotland was having flour-dusted morning rolls and plain loaves. I wasn’t keen on the dark brown crusts of the plain loaf but the white white bread in between was delicious, spread with unsalted butter. That to me, more than haggis, mealie puddin’ or red pudding was the taste of Scotland. White bread was the norm when I was little, and I really wasn’t terribly impressed with brown bread for a long time. Now I rarely eat white bread, unless it’s a freshly-made baguette or flute in France.
There was a bread strike when I was 10 or 11 and Grandma baked bread. The aroma wafting round the house was wonderful and the bread lived up to the smell. I remember being told that if I ate bread whilst it was still warm from the oven ‘I would get a pain in my peenie’ (tummy and you have no idea how long I have been googling to find out the correct spelling for that, without success). I suspect it was just that the warm bread tasted soooo good that Grandma didn’t want us to eat it all at one go. Grandma used to cut bread in half across the middle, and the piece with the rounded top was called a Curly Andy, and the other a Straight Geordie. I have no idea where this came from – perhaps Suzy can shed some light on this?
Later when Suzy and I lived together, I knew where we were in the school year by the food Suzy brought home. My favourite times were Easter because of Easter biscuits and when she taught yeast cookery to the O-level classes. I really looked forward to the results of those demonstrations. Andrew too, when he got enough teeth!
Move forward to living in Hong Kong and I started to bake my own bread – not loaves, but Hot Cross Buns because they weren’t available. Initial results were mixed but improved over time. I also made my own pizzas. Because of the humidity, we had wardrobe heaters otherwise our clothes would have gone mouldy. So I used to put the dough to rise in the bottom of the wardrobes, much to Suzy’s amusement when she found out.
We returned to London and through planning, accident and informal adoption now had five boys and the consumption of bread in our house was incredible, and expensive. So I bought a bread maker. After some experimentation, I found the favourite recipe which always worked, wholemeal with seeds added. I put the ingredients into the machine before I went to sleep and lo and behold there was a large fresh loaf every morning, and the attendant, wonderful aroma was superb. It cannot be a coincidence that the bread machine stopped working when only Tom and George were left at home, and the new bread maker whilst efficient doesn’t inspire the same affection that the old one did. I had also started baking bread by hand and produced foccaccia and soda breads for Saturday lunches. Soda bread is made without yeast but uses bicarbonate of soda as the rising agent, hence the name. The Irish are known for soda bread and Dad remembers Stede making soda bread occasionally.
Here in New York I have done several bread-making classes through Le Pain Quotidien and have learned many more techniques than before. Oddly, I have done two of these courses since starting my diet but I survived and the freezer is full of bread waiting for visitors. It seems the supreme irony that as my bread-making skills are being perfected, neither Dad nor I is eating bread! One day…
Onto today’s recipe, a recipe given to me by Dad’s cousin, Athena Ioannou. We ate this bread at her house and she told me that her husband’s aunt had made it, but got the recipe for me. Two things are interesting about the recipe – one, it is called Olive Cake (rather than bread) and, two, in a very traditionally Cypriot way the quantities are given in glasses. Athena told me that a glass is a drinking glass ‘like the ones you had in school’. I looked in a few Cypriot cookery books and read that the ideal glass holds 200 ml or 7 fl oz, so yes the same size as the Duralex glasses we had at school, which luckily we had at home! I have made this a few times and the glass worked! I haven’t changed a word – this is what Athena wrote.
Olive Cake – Ingredients
- 3/4 glass olive oil
- 4 eggs
- 1 glass fresh milk
- 1 glass sliced olives (without stones)
- 2 grated or chopped onions
- some mint (fresh or dried)
- 3 glasses flour
- 1 glass of flour to be mixed with olives
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
Beat oil well, add the eggs, the onion, the mint, the milk with the flour, and the olives. The olives should be sprinkled with one glass of flour, mixed by hand (not in mixer). Put in a greased and floured coated baking pan. Bake at 180 C for one hour and ten minutes roughly.
I trust that all makes sense – I suspect Athena was translating from Greek!
I leave you with this thought seen outside Molly’s Cupcakes in the West Village