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I found this gem iron in an op shop.  It took me several months and quite a few goes to learn how to use it, but now it is one of my favourite kitchen tools.  It’s a heavy cast iron baking tray for tiny little cake-scone-muffin bites called gems. It’s an old fashioned implement designed for the days when any self-respecting cook was expected to be able to whip up a batch of baking at a minute’s notice. Which makes gem irons due for a resurgence in these days when time poverty beats money poverty every day.

Once you get the hang of gem irons, this can be done in less than 20 minutes – 5 minutes preparation and 10 to 12 minutes cooking time – making it feasible to be a domestic goddess (or god) and bake on weekday mornings.

The Recipe:

Turn the oven on to medium high and put the gem iron on the top shelf. It needs to be sizzling hot before you put the batter in.

Use an egg beater to beat together

  • 1 egg
  • 3 dessertspoons of plain low fat yoghurt
  • 1 dessertspoon of honey
  • pinch cinnamon

Stir in

  • half a cup (4 good dessertspoons) of dried fruit, seeds and nuts.  I used pepitas, sunflower seeds, chopped macadamias and sultanas, but you could use dates, dried apple, almonds – whatever you have and is in season.
  • half a cup of rolled oats
  • 3 dessertspoons of wholemeal self-raising flour

You will end up with a thick batter. Like muffin batter, it is best not over-mixed.

Take the hot gem iron out of the oven and put a tiny dob of butter in each hollow.  You only need a small teaspoonful altogether.  It will sizzle.  Tilt the iron to spread the melted butter.

Working quickly, spoon the batter into the hot gem iron and put it back in the oven, near the top and up fairly high. Bake for around 10 minutes till the gems are almost cooked.

The Syrup

Meanwhile, in a small pot, melt a good dessertspoon of butter and a good dessertspoon of honey together. Working quickly, spoon a little syrup over each gem and put them back in the oven for another few minutes.

They’re best hot, straight from the oven, but if you make a double batch, you may even have leftovers for lunch boxes, making this double as a Muesli Bar Challenge recipe as will.

(The Breakfast Cereal Challenge is my 2011 challenge – to the overpackaged, overpriced, mostly empty packets of junk food marketed as “cereal”. I’m going for a year’s worth of breakfast recipes, based on in-season ingredients, quick and easy enough to be a real option for weekdays, and  preferable, in nutrition, ethics, andtaste.  The Muesli Bar Challenge was my 2010 Challenge.)

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I know so many people who don’t eat nuts because their only real experiences with them have been a) shelled nuts, usually highly salted, in packets, that have been sitting around supermarket shelves for ages, or b) nuts in shell at Christmas time.

Both these option are perfect ways to spoil nuts for you forever!  Nuts go off.  Once they are shelled, they go off fast, and even in the shell, they don’t last for months.  Most nuts are harvested in autumn.  Macas are harvested through winter. Any nuts in shell at Christmas are either imported or most of a year old and are not going to be at all nice!

Once you get the idea of only using fresh, in season nuts, preferably in shell, you’ll have a totally different experience with them.  Which is a good thing, because nuts are very delicious and very nutritious – good oils and a whole lot of minerals that are hard to get.   We’re getting to the end of our macadamias now, but the commercial picking season is just getting going, so you should be able to get fresh macas.

(The Breakfast Cereal Challenge is my 2011 challenge – a year’s worth of breakfast recipes that are quick and easy enough to be a real option for weekdays, and that are preferable, in nutrition, ethics, and taste,  to the overpackaged, overpriced, mostly empty packets of junk food marketed as “cereal” .)

The Recipe:

Ok, so this one takes more than 10 minutes to make.  (Actually, it doesn’t take much more than 10 minutes work, just that work is spread over 24 hours).  But I reckon it qualifies for the Breakfast Cereal Challenge because with a loaf in the bread bin, super healthy toast is 2 minutes away.

The basis for this is very much like my Everyday Sourdough recipe.  The fruit and nuts though inhibit the rising, and I like it best when it’s chokka with fruit and nuts.  So it takes time – 24 hours.  And it does best if you have somewhere warmish to put it.  The sourdough bugs breed up best in temperatures like a warm summer day, not this cold winter weather.

Step 1: Make a Sponge

Put one cup of sourdough starter in a bowl and stir in a cup of bakers flour.  (I use Laucke Wallaby Unbleached Bakers Flour, which I can buy in 5 kg bags at the supermarket).

Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave it in a warmish place overnight or for 8 hours or so. We have the slow combustion stove going these days, so my kitchen bench is reasonably warm place. By morning, it should have grown to more than double its original size and be a sticky sponge like the picture.

Step 2: Mix in the fruit and nuts

macadamia ad fruit sourdough mixI like largish chunks of lightly toasted macadamias in this bread.  So crack half a cup of macadamia kernels (this is the tool that makes cracking macas a reasonable proposition). Chop them coarsely and dry roast for just a couple of minutes in a dry pan, till they just start to colour.

Tip half a cup of bakers flour on your work surface.  Tip the sponge out on top on it.  Tip another half a cup of flour on top and flatten it out.  Over the sponge, spread:

  • Your ½ cup of coarsely chopped lightly toasted macas
  • 1 cup of mixed dried fruit. (I used chopped dates, sultanas and currants)
  • a teaspoon of salt
  • You can also add 1 teaspoon of grated orange rind and ½ teaspoon of mixed spice if you like.

Roll it up and knead briefly until it has incorporated all the flour and the nuts and fruit are mixed through.

Put a good swig of olive oil in a clean bowl and put the dough ball in it, swirling it around to coat.  Cover with the clean cloth again and leave it in your warmish spot again for 8 hours or so, until it is doubled in size.

Step 3 – Knock Down the Dough

Tip the dough onto the bench and knead very  briefly, just to knock it down and make it into a loaf shape.  Put it in an oiled baking tin. Because of all the fruit, a boule is a bit difficult – the outside will tend to burn before the inside is cooked.  A fairly long, shallow loaf is easier. I try to poke any sultanas on the outside in as they tend to burn, but this isn’t too crucial.  Slash the top with a sharp knife to give it room to rise. Cover with the clean cloth again and leave for 3 to 4 hours.

Step 4 – Bake

The bread will double its size again and it is ready to bake.  Because of all the fruit it will tend to burn easily.  If you are using a gas or electric oven, you can put it on the second shelf (that is, not right at the top) of  a cold oven and turn the oven on to medium.  With my wood stove oven, I leave the door open for half an hour to cool it down before putting the bread in.  It is done when the crust is nicely brown and it sounds hollow.

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I promised there would be more Muesli Bar Challenge recipes this year but there’s been too much else to write about.  But a golden zucchini that got away inspired me.  What do you do with a kilo of zucchini? This recipe is in my handwritten book as Wwoofer’s Zuke Bread because the original came to me from a wwoofer years ago.  It’s evolved a bit since then, and I’ve turned it into a muffin to make it more suitable for lunch boxes.

For those new to the site, the 2010 Muesli Bar Challenge was a whole school year’s worth of lunch box baking based on fresh food in season.  The recipes had to be healthy, robust enough to survive in a school bag till lunch time, easy enough for busy parents to bother making, and reviewed by kids as actually preferable to the junk food marketed as “muesli bars”.

Zucchini are right in season and they make a muffin that stays moist.  They have decent amounts of folate, potassium, vitamin A, and phytonutrients, but the main benefit is that they are a good source of fibre.  This recipe also features fresh ginger, which is a superfood – a powerful antioxidant with a whole big list of vitamins and minerals.  I added macadamias too, just because they are just coming into season and gorgeous at the moment but you can leave them out.

The Recipe

(Makes 9 muffins)

Mix together:

  • 1 cup grated zucchini PLUS  ½ cup diced zucchini
  • ¼ cup sultanas
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon crushed fresh ginger (use a garlic crusher)
  • 3 dessertspoons of honey
  • 3 dessertspoons macadamia or other mild flavoured oil
  • 1 egg
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup wholemeal self raising flour
  • (Optional) ¼ cup chopped macadamia nuts

Spoon into the cups of a muffin tray, filling quite full.  Bake in a medium-hot oven for around 20 minutes until they start to brown, they bounce back when pressed and a skewer comes out clean.

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A seedy biscuit

This is the last of my Muesli Bar Challenge series for the year. The draft of this post has been in my drafts folder since the very first week.  It’s one of my old favourites – so easy, so healthy, so school lunch box acceptable.  As a gardener, I’m really conscious that seeds are concentrated sources of nutrients – complex carbohydrates  that fuel a plant’s early growth, protein to allow it to create new cells, phytonutrients to protect it.  You can make these with or without nuts as well, depending on your school’s nut policy.

A whole four terms of Challenge recipes, and not one has come home uneaten.  Take that, LCMs!

The Recipe:

Into the food processor, put:

  • two eggs,
  • two dessertspoons (60 grams) butter,
  • two dessertspoons of brown sugar.
  • two heaped dessertspoons of wholemeal self-raising flour.

Blend this mix well, then add a cup full of nuts and/or seeds. I used pepitas, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds cashews,  macadamias and almonds, but you can use any combination.  You can blend this very briefly, just enough to break up the bigger nuts but not enough to blend, or you can just stir them in whole.  Large nuts might need rough chopping but whole seeds give a good texture. In the photo I left them whole, but in this latest batch that the kids are reviewing I blended briefly.

Add half a cup of sultanas. Organic sultanas are worth the expense if you can find them. You can taste the difference, and they haven’t been coated in cottonseed oil. If your school has a no-nuts policy, stick to just seeds.

Butter a baking tray and put spoonfuls on it. The biscuits will spread as they cook so give them room. Bake in a moderately hot oven for 10 to 15 minutes till nicely browned. Cool on the tray (they crispen as they cool).

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