I recently read an article about the effects of our Western love affair with quinoa, which claimed that our desperation to cut down on wheat has led to price increases in quinoa, practically making it impossible for Bolivian farmers to keep some of their produce for their own consumption. Although I really like quinoa – and wouldn’t mind eating it more often – I have found that here in the West,our attitude to food is at times bordering on the hysterical.
I am absolutely convinced that our food is making us sick, but I refuse to accept that it’s all down to wheat or milk. I don’t want to dismiss coeliac disease or lactose intolerance at all, but I do think we should not completely ignore the merits of those foods that our ancestors – parents, grandparents, and further back – have been eating. Mostly locally produced, home cooked and ideally varied, they should provide us with all we need. Funnily enough, what they didn’t have access to was fast food, sweets, fizzy drinks and ready-meals. Produced to maximise shelf-life as well as profits, I am absolutely convinced that they are much more responsible for indigestion or sluggishness than enemy no. 1, ‘wheat’.
My one-man campaign to make you fall in love with wheat again is reaching a new high these days with the celebration of Easter: forget the chocolate eggs, Easter is the time for yeasted breads! And for something very special, I suggest filling them with poppy seeds. Their subtle aroma and unique texture explains its popularity as a filling for all sorts of cakes in Germany, Austria and the neighbouring countries. There you can buy the filling ready made, whereas here in the UK you will need to grind down the poppy seeds using a spice mill or a mortar and pestle. But trust me: it’s well worth it.
Poppy Buns (makes 14)
For the dough:
- 500g plain flour
- 250ml lukewarm milk
- 1 tsp dried active yeast
- 40g sugar
- 1 egg
- 100g soft, unsalted butter
- 1 pinch of salt
For the filling:
- 100g poppy seeds, ground or pounded
- 100g sugar
- 150ml milk
- 1 egg
- 2cl rum
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tbs milk
Measure out the flour into a large bowl. Make a dent into the middle where you add the yeast and a pinch of the sugar, then add the milk. Stir to mix the yeast with the milk, then leave it ti stand for a few minutes until you can see some bubbles forming on the surface. Add the remaining ingredients and knead until the dough is beginning to come up in bubbles.
Cover the bowl with a tea towel and rest the dough until it has almost doubled in size. Depending on your kitchen (warmth and draughts) this takes between 45 minutes and 2 hours.
In the meantime, mix the ground poppy seeds in a small casserole with the sugar and milk and bring it to boil. Once it is bubbling nicely, remove it from the heat and let it cool down a bit. Add the egg and rum when it is lukewarm.
When your dough is ready, Knock it back on a lightly floured surface and roll it out to a square of ca. 50cm x 50 cm or 20in x 20in. Spread the poppyseed filling evenly on the surface, then roll up the dough to one long sausage. See my tutorial on chelsea buns for pictures.
Grease a cake tin (I used a 26cm diameter springform) or a similar-sized ovenproof form. Cut the sausage into 14 slices, each ca. 3cm or 1in thick, and place them into the tin. Sorry about the mess – the filling was a little too runny, I suppose… Cover with the tea towel and leave it to rest for another 15 minutes or so. Use the time to heat the oven to 200C / 400F.