Trialing homemade toasted muesli

There is such a large variation of breakfasts available, especially in Australia where the options between savoury and sweet breakfasts are many. Oats were not (and still are not) a popular choice of breakfast in France. Here is how I ended up recently trialing homemade toasted muesli.

A few years ago, I would not have considered a savoury breakfast before the clock showed at least 10 am. Now, I don’t mind a fresh piece of bread with avocado and ham early in the morning, yum!

I grew up on bread and butter, or rather bread and jam or bread and honey, as I was not a big fan of butter when growing up. Forget Nutella. Nutella didn’t make its way into my mother’s kitchen until many years later. We used to make a chocolate spreadable out of a can of condensed milk and a tablet of chocolate. If you ask me now, I would not put that recipe on this blog.  Back to now, most mornings I leave the house quite early – to avoid some traffic knots – and have breakfast a bit later.  I have been trying out a few brands of muesli and toasted muesli.  Of course, curiosity obliging, I gave a try doing toasted muesli.

muesli homemade

How to make your own toasted muesli?

The key is to define upfront the flavour(s) you want as dominant and the “medium” you are after.

Flavours:

Do you want nuts as the dominant flavour? Or is it dry fruits? Is it berries? Keep one dominant flavour and then build round it.

Each main flavour will dictate the rest of the ingredients.  For example, if you want dry fruits such as cranberries and apricots, you would not add more than two types of nuts as it will become a very “busy” muesli and will lack the simplicity of good simple things. With cranberries and apricots, you may consider adding shredded coconuts, maybe some almonds and possibly some chia seeds.

Medium:

Typically muesli uses rolled oats. Commercial mueslis are composed of between 60% (for the gluten free ones) to 80% (more often) of rolled oats and other cereals flours (by weight).  If you are gluten intolerant, you could choose to use buckwheat based cereals or a mix of corn flakes or puffed rice.

My first toasted muesli mix were quite heavy on nuts and seeds.  I would now aim at 60% oats.

Other ingredients:

Some recipes do not add anything else than the medium, nuts, seeds, fruits. I like to add a little oil and honey (not much) and a pinch of salt. It adds a lot to the flavour and to the colour!

So, how to go about it?

Well, this is pretty simple, get a big baking tray out.  Cut large nuts (almond, hazelnuts and up size-wise) to smaller chunks. Cut dry fruits similarly. Place all dry ingredients in the tray.  Warm up a little the honey and oil, pour over and with your hands “massage” it through. Then, all you have left to do is bake the muesli in the oven while keeping an eye on it and mixing from time to time.

The recipe? Check HERE.

Note: you can add the dry fruits after the baking if you don’t like them too hard.

A few  ideas of combinations

Combinations for toasted muesli are endless. Here are a few I tried or some which jump to my mind.

Go nuts muesli!   Oats (50%), hazelnuts, walnuts, chia seeds, coconut, macadamia nuts.  You can use almond there too, almonds and I don’t agree well, so I would only put very little or avoid them. That muesli was quite nutritious.

Fig and apricot muesli: oats (60%), hazelnuts, macadamia, dry apricots, dry figs, pepitas.

muesli homemade

Northern america muesli: oats (60%), dry cranberries, dry apricots, coconut, chia seeds, almonds.

Chocoholic muesli: oats (70%), hazelnuts, almond or walnut, cocoa powder, chopped dark chocolate (to add at the end).

 And the price bit?

On my last muesli, I calculated that to come to the same price as a box at the supermarket, I would need to have 40% oats and plenty nuts (hazelnuts and macadamia are quite expensive). And that was using supermarket based ingredients i.e. no bulk price considerations!

I also calculated that is you use 60%, your cost become half of the commercial cost. So definitely worth it!

muesli homemade
Five minutes peace !
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Managing your choux pastry

Managing your choux pastry can be easy for some, disheartening for others. Well, good news, I struggled with it this week and because it was not the first time, I decided to write about it and share my choux pastry secrets.

Why choux pastry this week?

This weekend was Father’s day for us in Australia. My older daughter (8 y.o.) wanted to bake a treat for her father.  To get a change from chocolate cakes (please! – I never though I would say that), I made a few suggestions and she decided to go for eclairs.  Yes, of course she knows what they are! I have gourmet kids!

nd by the way, if you are going to make the choux pastry with your kids, it is a great opportunity to teach them and get them to practice the piping technique since it does not drip all over!

A small note: if you have access to a thermomix, save all the hard work and use it. I have had the opportunity to use one for a month last year and I must say that choux pastry is one thing I would praise it for (although not buy one just for that!).

Things don’t always go to plan

Because when you cook a dessert, prepare bread on the side, manage the younger child on Reading Eggs (an interactive program for early readers) and I can’t remember what else, you tend to be a little distracted.  In the end, round one of eclairs ended up flat, very flat. Check for yourself!  So, not willing to disappoint my daughter I expedited a second round of pastry (it takes 10 minutes really), this time with my full attention.  To be honest, I knew it was not going to work before baking round 1 when I realised the dough was more than coherent and flexible, getting towards Nutella consistency.

example of missed flat choux
Missed flat choux. The dough was too wet , we also placed a double line of dough for each eclair, a bad idea.

How choux pastry works?

Choux pastry is only made of flour, butter and water really (and eggs, sure).  Well, there is no rising agent or yeast.  But there is a fair bit of elbow oil, you would remember that if you have had a go to the recipe! To make the dough rise, there is only one way: trapping the steam made by the water and butter during baking with the gluten matrix of the flour.

Here you need to think more bread making that cake making.  The flour contains gluten.  When you work the dough, we speak of gluten development and this means the development of the structure of the gluten through alignment of the strands.  Professionals speak of short mix, improved mix and intensive mix to define how much structure development is required. It is worth noting that gluten can be overdeveloped and then can lose  its structural properties, but rest assure that cannot happen with manual handling.

In brief, the steam released during baking is trapped inside the choux structure and rises the choux or eclair.  It makes the “skeleton” of the choux.  The next stage is to get it to dry so the structure can hold its own weight.

Critical steps and tips

There are a few factors that make this pastry hard to master but not impossible.  For reference, the recipe can be found on its own page HERE.

Here are the tips for you to consider before starting:

The temperature of your saucepan

Early in the recipe, you will be asked to add the flour suddenly to the water.  Then you have to “dry” the dough over low heat until the dough detaches from the saucepan.  Here the amount of water lost during this stage will strongly depend on the type and temperature of your saucepan.  Keep that in mind, but do remove the saucepan from the heat when the dough detaches well from the sides of the saucepan.

The size of the eggs

The next point of attention is the size of your eggs. The recipe calls for four eggs.  If you use 60 g eggs (700 g box of 12), you will likely need three to three and a half.  If you use small eggs, this is the other way around, you may need an extra half to one egg.

To add half an egg at the time, beat the egg slightly in a small bowl and pour half of it.   What difference does it make? The dough will not be firm enough if you put too much egg.  It will not be liquid either but will not be firm enough to retain its shape and the shape will collapse in the oven.

Mixing hard to develop the gluten structure

The gluten development happens when you energetically mix the egg into the dough.    So make sure you mix heartily, no shortcut here!    When will you know the dough is ready? This is the multi million dollar question! The dough must be firm yet flexible:

  • So the “strands” must not break when you mix it.
  • the “shapes” made by the dough when mixing must remain 3D and not collapse to 2D.
  • expect gaps between sections of your dough as the ball of dough is moved one way and another by your wooden spoon.
  • If you know what the surface tension  of a fluid is, great! Imagine it here, there need plenty to keep the shape.

 

Doing the right thing during baking

Finally the baking.  All recipes will tell you to use a very hot oven for the first 10 minutes.  Some recipes will then ask to reduce the heat while leaving the door of the oven slightly open with a wooden spoon, others will only ask to reduce the heat.  The process during that stage is the drying of the skeleton of the choux (this is assuming the choux have reached their full size which often takes more than 10 minutes I find).  What happens if you do not dry your choux sufficiently? Well, the choux will look great for 2 minutes when pulled out of the oven and will then collapse. What a pity!

choux pastry
Flat choux (missed pate a choux) on the left, successful choux on the right

Father’s day eclairs

Curious to what the colours of our artisan eclairs hide?  You would have guessed the dark ones are chocolate eclairs.  The pink one is inside a vanilla, nutmeg and grilled pistachio custard.  The icing is a raspberry (using the juice of 1/2 cup of frozen raspberries) icing: raspberry juice, hot water, drops of lemon juice and icing sugar.

choux pastry

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Pizza!

How to get that amazing pizza at home?  The secrets of a good pizza are many but they are simple and accessible to anybody.  I stumbled on them through trial and errors and input from different people, including my brother or a previous flatmate. Now I think we have nailed it!  I say we, because my two daughters are now in charge of the topping and are getting pretty good at it.

We do pizzas regularly, maybe a few times per month.  A pity I don’t take more photos or them, the ones last weekend were amazing! My children invariably ask for the Hawaiian pizza (ham, cheese, pineapple).  Not my favourite! The “grown up” pizza is different depending what we have in the fridge: a salami pizza, a three cheese pizza, a vegetarian pizza and even a tahini based with spices mince pizza.

A variation of the traditional Hawaiian pizza, swapping ham for sausages

Here are my secrets, I expend on each further down:

  1. The dough: keep it thin and simple
  2. The order of the ingredient: cheese does not go on top but directly above the tomato sauce
  3. The quality of the ingredients: good quality ingredients and please no tin food (exception of the pineapples pieces!), use fresh food!
  4. Limit the amount of main ingredients: there should be up to 3 key ingredients above the cheese layer, no more.  See the list below
  5. The use of a hot oven and pizza tray or pizza stone: make sure your oven is super hot, same for the pizza tray.  I use these large aluminium pizza tray (less than $10 each at hospitality stores, same as in pizza shops), they do a great job and are easy to handle.  I prepare the pizza on baking paper which when ready I slide onto the hot tray.

Here we go in more details.

Secret No 1: the dough

Making your own dough at home is not hard nor does it require hard labour.  Feel free to use a food mixer (dough hook) but if you are making just one pizza, your food mixer may be too big for the small amount of dough.  For pizza, I don’t mind doing it by hand from the start.

Preparing the dough

A very large pizza (or 2 medium) will need 250 g plain flour (bakers flour if you have some), 150 g of warm water, 1/2 sachet of dry yeast (4 g), a good pinch of salt, 1/2 tsp of honey, a drop of olive oil.

Note here that honey and olive oil are not strictly necessary t the process. I find that the olive oil makes the process easier and smoother and gives the pizza base a little extra taste. The honey is not necessary to the rising of the dough, it does help accelerate it and more importantly for me, give a tiny sweet touch to the base.

It is important not to put the salt in direct contact with the yeast (it kills it).

Mix all together, if the dough is a little dry add additional water one spoon at the time (it can happen as some flours require more water). Once you have a ball, punch that ball on the counter back and forth. it is very easy if you alternate hands each time: push with the right hand to the back (and a bit left for ease), bring back, push with the left hand to the back (and right) and bring back. This move is effortless.

Last weekend, I had some friends of my young children wanting to help in the kitchen towards the end of their playdate, the 6 years old little girl did a great job while chatting away, just to show you how effortless it is.

After 5 minutes your dough will be quite soft and flexible.  This is enough, let it to rest in a bowl covered with a cloth.  If you don’t have much time, give it 1/2 h rest minimum, otherwise, wait until double, knock back gently, this is then ready to use.

A thin dough

Unless you train again and again to master extending the dough when suspended on the top of your fist, you need to find something that works for you.  For me, I simply use a rolling pin with a little flour for dusting . I roll the dough quite thin over a baking paper.  Make sure it does not stick to it, and rest for a few minutes while getting all the ingredients ready (or calling in the kids to do the topping).  And don’t worry if the form tends to look like the map of Australia, even better!

Secret No 2: the order of the ingredients

The order should be:

  1. Tomato sauce
  2. Cheese
  3. If I am using white mushrooms very thinly sliced, this is when I put them
  4. Meat or vegetable
  5. Additional item such as olives, capers, small quantities of blue or goat cheese
  6. And finally some salt if necessary and a filet of olive oil

Secret No 3: the quality of the ingredients

If there is something I do not like it is to get tinned vegetables on my pizza, let it be artichokes, peppers or others, yuk! They taste of tin food, most of the time because they have not been rinsed.

For me, a pizza is a great opportunity to use these remaining mushrooms, or that lonely capsicum which otherwise may have to wait a little longer until I get an idea of finally chuck the all in a soup or casserole! Be creative! And if you are not the creative kind, don’t worry, planning for pizza in your shopping will at least mean no bad surprises!

Secret No 4: limit the amount and numbers of ingredients

Caution! You are not trying to replicate Mt Everest, nor are you trying to empty your fridge.  If so, invite your friends and have a pizza party!

For me, a maximum of three core ingredients is like an unspoken practice. Then there are the small garnishes which can add a lot to a pizza. See the table below.

BaseCore ingredientsAdditions
Tomatored onionsfresh thyme, rosemary
salami, hamlittle specks of goat cheese or blue cheese
pinappleolives
mushrooms (white or the asian styles, which then go on top)capers
capsicum cut in long stripsdash of olive oil
green asparaguspressed garlic (small quantities here and there)
thinly sliced potatoes (the waxy style)cherry tomatoes (cut in halves or full)
anchovies
fresh salmon, prawns, fish pieces, mussel and other seafood (all in raw form)
for a cheese pizza, the different cheese
bocconcini
Thinly sliced fresh tomatoes
Sour creamSalmon (fresh), capersolives, fresh dill (once cooked)
red onion cut in circles
Tahinispiced mince (mix mince with 2 tbsp tomato paste and marocan spice mix)pressed garlic
olives, rosemary, fresh herb (once cooked)
cherry tomatoes (cut in halves or full)
Asian mushrooms and asparagus. This one was a trial, it was actually quite beautiful!
Hawaiian pizza

Secret No 5: the cooking of the pizza

Now, you need a super hot oven to start with and as importantly a hot base. Either you use a pizza stone or a pizza tray, up to you.  The bricks of a wood fired pizza oven play a great role in getting that base cooked and crispy.  If you base is too thick, you will most likely overcook the top.  What temperature? I preheat my oven at 250 °C, and bring it down at 200 for the cooking.

Cooking time ? 10 minutes roughly. Just enough to prepare the side salad!

A table!

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