Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Gaia's Feasts - A Review, a Recipe and a Special Offer

 Gaia's Feasts
As I'm sure you know, I love cookbooks, so I jumped at the chance to review a copy of Gaia's Feasts, by Julia Ponsonby. This book is quite different to most cookbooks, as each recipe is formatted to make either a family meal or a feast for up to 50!
"Filled with delicious recipes and mouth-watering pictures, this book is a must-have for anyone who loves exciting, tasty and original vegetarian food. Alongside the quantities needed for cooking for a group of 4-6 family members or friends, Gaia’s Feasts offers the unique option of scaling up the recipes in order to cook for groups as big as 50, making it ideal for large family gatherings or community events."
The recipes featured in Gaia's Feasts also follow several key themes, including:
  • Food and the environment
  • Slow Food and Local Food movement
  • A celebration of food
There is a good balance of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free recipes (plus handy tips and variations), mainly based around cheap and easy-to-find, wholesome ingredients. I have tried out a couple of recipes from the book and both turned out looking pretty much like the illustrations in the book, which is a good sign that quantities and cooking times are reliable. 

SPECIAL OFFER: You can get your hands on your own copy of Gaia's Feasts for just £13.99 (30% off the RRP) and free delivery in the UK using this exclusive voucher code: WDEAWAF14 at Green Books. Offer valid 2nd December to 17th December 2014.

My family all enjoyed the following Walnut and Fig Loaf (although I swapped the figs for cranberries as suggested as an option in the recipe). This slightly sweet and nutty loaf would be great with cold Christmas left overs such as nut loaf, salad and cheeses...

Walnut & fig (or cranberry or apricot) bread
Ruth Rae’s light brown, fruit-and-nut dappled bread is delicious with cheese and can also be served at teatime with jam and honey. It also provides the opportunity to experiment with a little decorative knife work – which is something Ruth is well practised at! Simply cut through the floured surface of the rising bread using a sharp knife (which could be serrated or just very sharp – some people use a scalpel). You’ll also need swift, confident strokes – and a clear, simple concept.

For 1 loaf                                                                                       For 6 round loaves

300g (10oz / 2 cups) strong white flour                                        1.8kg (4lb)
150g (6oz / 1¼ cups) wholewheat flour                                        900g (2lb)
55g (2oz / ½ cup) golden walnuts                                                 350g (12oz / 3 cups)
85g (3oz / ½ cup) dried figs (or dried cranberries or apricots) 500g (1lb / 3 cups)
1 tsp dried yeast or 10g (1/3-½oz / 2 tsp) fresh yeast                2 tbsp dried or 75g (2½oz) fresh
300ml (10fl oz / 1 cup + 2 tsp) warm water                                 1.5l (2¾ pints / 3½ US pints)
1-2 tbsp olive or sunflower oil                                                       100ml (3-4fl oz / ½ cup)
1 tsp molasses                                                                               2 tbsp
1 tsp salt                                                                                          2 tbsp

1. Preparing the fruit and nuts: Just cover the dried fruit with hot water and soak for 30 minutes (figs or apricots) or 10 minutes (cranberries). Meanwhile, chop the walnuts roughly with a knife – each walnut half will go into about 4-6 pieces. After soaking, drain the softened fruit, reserving the water to go into the dough. Chop the figs or apricots) into small chunky pieces (about 1cm / ½" wide). Remove the woody stalk part of the figs if it’s tough.
2. Measure 250ml (9fl oz / 1 cup) of warm water into a jug and stir in the molasses and the dried or crumbled fresh yeast. If using dried yeast, leave to froth up; with the fresh yeast, simply stir until dissolved. Easy-bake or fast-acting yeast can go in with the flour or with the water.
3. In a large bowl, combine the flours, salt, and chopped fruit and nuts.
4. Stir in the yeasty water, the rest of the warm water and the oil. Mix until you have a soft dough and all the ingredients are evenly distributed. Knead gently on a floured surface or in the bowl for a few minutes until fairly smooth, then return to the bowl to rise. Using a (dedicated) plant mister, spray the top with water to prevent it drying out, or cover the bowl loosely with a lid or tea towel. Leave to rise in a warm place for an hour.
5. When the dough has doubled in size, tip it on to a lightly floured surface and ‘knock back’. Knead lightly and then divide into 6 if you are making the large quantity, then knead each ball again. Shape into rounds or ovals. Keep the joints at the bottom and make sure the top skin has not been over-stretched: if there is any sign of surface splitting, loosen it with a little gentle rocking, or let it rest and then knead again in a few minutes, being careful not to shape it too tightly.
6. Place the round cushions of dough on a baking tray, either floured or lined with baking parchment. If you’re making more than one loaf, they should be placed about the width of your hand apart, to allow for spreading as they rise. Spray (or paint) with water and dredge with flour for a dusty finish. Use a sharp knife to cut a few criss-crossed lines at 2-3cm (1") intervals and about 2-3mm (1/8") deep – these will open up as the bread rises, creating an attractive textural contrast. Ruth also likes to cut a simple leaf-vein or ‘winter tree’ design into her loaves – a real classic for artisan bakers. Leave the bread to rise in a warm place for about 40 minutes.
7. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (350°F / Gas Mark 4), 10 minutes before the bread is ready to go in.
8. When ready to go in the oven, the bread will have doubled in size. If you press it with a finger, the dough will be slow to spring back. Any sign of dimpling on the surface means it has over-risen, so rush it into the oven. It is better to put it in the oven when still – just – on the rise, so that its last burst of rising is stimulated by the heat of the oven. Bake mid-oven for about 45 minutes. Test by turning over and knocking: the loaf should sound hollow. Cool on a wire rack.

Recipe used with kind permission from Gaia's Feasts, by Julia Ponsonby, published by Green Books. 
I received a complimentary copy of Gaia's Feasts to review. All views expressed are my own and those of my family.
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  1. what an amazing looking bread very seasonal

    1. Thanks Claire. I was very pleased with how much it looked like the one in the book!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.


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