In the 1990’s I was making three school lunches and my children loved The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. Now that our grandson Beau is going to school I’m back to making school lunches and his favourite characters are the Ninja Turtles. It’s true…what goes around comes around.
To add variety to the daily lunch I’m once again baking on a regular basis. I’ve promised myself he won’t be getting packaged treats because home baking is chemical free. I also know just how much sugar, fat and salt has been included. Besides home baking tastes better and costs less.
Our two favourites, funnily enough, are recipes from New Zealand cook Lois Daish.
Wanaka Gingernuts I discovered during a visit to our Broad Bay friends Frizz and Peter. Frizz told me her gingernuts were a Lois Daish recipe. One day she was planning on making a batch of gingernuts but discovered she had run out of plain flour. The only flour in the house was spelt, so spelt was used instead, and the resulting biscuits were superior. I decided to follow her recommendation because I wanted to recreate the same crunchy light biscuits she made. If you haven’t got spelt flour you can make them with plain flour too.
Another positive of using spelt flour is that often gluten intolerant people can handle this ancient grain. I usually buy the wholemeal spelt over the white spelt. Spelt flour is double the price of ordinary flour so I tend to only use it for these biscuits and other special baking.
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius or 160 if you have a fan oven.
Cream butter and sugar until pale in colour.
Add egg and beat again.
Put the dry ingredients together into a large bowl and sift.
Add to the creamed mixture and mix to a soft dough in the cake mixer or by hand.
Take out spoonfuls and loosely shape into balls, but do not flatten out. Leave space as they spread and you will need two oven trays lined with baking paper.
I sometimes add sliced pieces of crystallised ginger and if I have chocolate I also add that as ginger and chocolate is a great combination. But these ginger nuts with 3-4 teaspoons of ginger are delicious just plain.
It’ll make all the difference to the biscuits if you use a really good ground ginger. I like to buy my ginger from the Trade Aid shop because it’s a win/win situation. The ginger is of a high quality and organic that will not only give a warming spicy taste of ginger to the biscuits but will guarantee the small scale farmers in Sri Lanka a better living.
The ginger nuts will puff up and then collapse into characteristic fissures. Bake for 15-18 minutes until well baked and deep golden. You have to keep a keen watch at the end of the cooking because you want them to have a crunch but not to burn. Cool on a wire rack before storing in an airtight container. Sometimes to ensure maximum crunch I place the wire rack back in the cooling oven with the door left open. (Peter prefers them crunchy on the outside edge and slightly chewy in the middle so I don’t always do the maximum crunch method.)
When Frizzell made them they looked perfect. Mine seem to come out looking different each time but don’t worry about that, they taste the same.
An even easier recipe is the Number 9 Fruit Loaf. This loaf used to be a daily offering at Lois Daish’s cafe “Number 9” in Wellington and I got the recipe from The Listener when Lois used to write a weekly column. I have since lost the recipe but I’ve made it enough times in the past to recreate it recently.
I like #9 because it doesn’t use butter or any other fat – it’s almost all dried fruit.
Number 9 Fruit Loaf
*450 g dried fruit
1 cup of hot Earls Grey tea
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup of white sugar
1 1/2 cups of high grade white flour
1/2 cup of stoneground wholemeal flour (or spelt)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp of mixed spice (optional – sometimes I double the ginger and leave out the mixed spice)
* The mixed fruit combination can be any mix of fruit you like. I usually like to have at least 100g of currants, add a couple of tablespoons of citrus peel and sometimes cut up crystallised ginger. I usually use what I have in the pantry like dates and prunes but the standard is just a mix of currants, sultanas and raisins.
Let the fruit soak in the hot tea and the sugars for a minimum of 30 minutes, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
In a separate bowl put together the dry ingredients and sift to mix the flours with the spice and baking powder. If there is any wholemeal flour left in the sifter or sieve make sure you add it back into the dry ingredients.
Next beat an egg and add to the fruit mix.
Finally mix in the dry ingredients. It’s best to mix in half the dry ingredients first and then add the remainder.
Line a deep tin with baking paper, then spray with oil before adding the cake mix. I spoon some into each corner first to keep the paper at the ends in place.
I bake it in an oven at around 160-170 degrees Celsius and it takes approximately an hour. In the last quarter hour you may need to cover the top with a piece of foil to keep the top from browning too much.
It’s cooked once you smell it but it’s important to also test with a long fork or skewar. If it comes out cleanly take out of the oven, allow to cool, then simply lift it out of the pan by the paper and allow to completely cool on a wire rack.
This loaf will keep for a week and as it gets older we slice it thin and spread with a little butter.
A note about sifting…
It’s important to sift the flour to ensure an even mix of any raising agents and spices through the flour, but it’s also important to mix air through the flour as this action adds lightness to your baking.
You don’t need to have a sifter you can do this by fluffing the flour with an egg whisk or shake through a sieve, but it’s a step you shouldn’t be tempted to miss out.
It’s amazing how time just flies by – it certainly doesn’t feel like 23 years since our youngest son Francis started school and I was baking for three school lunches. Well…I have to admit with a part time job and three kids I couldn’t always find the time to bake but it was always greatly appreciated when I did.