A week or so ago, I was standing in our office kitchen at breakfast time waiting for the toaster to beep. This story requires you to be familiar with the concept of a Danish toaster, so we’ll get that vital detail out of the way first. The Danes, being the edgy, thinking-outside-the-box, design-conscious folk that they are, have quite literally turned the concept of the toaster on its head. They have horizontalised the toaster. Where us plebs in England drop our flaccid sliced Hovis into a fiery, gaping maw, where it sits clamped between metallic jaws and undergoes a thrilling gamble of a transformation that could either result in charcoal or warm dough, but never the sweet Goldilocks stage in between, and which requires you to either interrupt the whole process to check on its progress or to stick your face into the mouth of the beast and risk singed nasal hair, and which is really only appropriate for bread the precise thickness of a pre-sliced loaf or, at the very most, a crumpet – heaven forbid you should try and insert your wedge of artisanal sourdough or pain au chocolat into its tantalizingly precise orifice – the Danes have realized the many potential perils of this situation. (Not least, the possibility of dropping your house keys into the slot and causing a minor explosion, as my mother once managed to do in a feat of ineptitude that still astounds and perplexes me).
Danish toasters feature a heating element covered by a metal grille. The whole thing is a horizontal box shape, upon which you place your baked good of choice – rye bread, cinnamon bun, hotdog – before setting the desired duration, and waiting. Much like Danish social interaction, the whole process is entirely transparent and to the point. No pesky middle man, no irritatingly narrow slots for your bread to get stuck in, just pure unbridled heat and a flat, toasty surface. You wait, flip your bread and do the other side. It takes longer, but it also opens up multiple possibilities. You can make whole toasted sandwiches without risking the filling sliding out and puddling in the bottom of your toaster. You can crisp up the bottom of a day-old cinnamon bun. You can lie down on it for a low-budget sauna.
Forgive my digression. It’s really very important, because this whole story (I’m not sure I can really go so far as to call it that, but I’ve gone and said it, so bear with me) hinges on the fact that when my colleague walked into the kitchen as I was utilizing the ultra-efficient Nordic toaster of dreams, he could see exactly what I had set upon its sacred element. He looked me in the eye, and asked a simple but loaded question:
‘Is that bread, or cake?’
We shared the conspiratorial half-smile and knowing eye contact of a niche group of people: those who delight in making and consuming baked goods that expertly straddle the line between bread (sustenance, wholesome, salt-of-the-earth, enshrined in the Bible as a daily necessity) and cake (frivolous, entirely unnecessary to dietary requirements, decadent, with a hint of the French revolution).
I walk this tentative tightrope on a regular basis. I make my ‘breads’ with wholesome wholemeal flour and plenty of fruit, then add eggs and baking powder as a raising agent, and the space-time continuum teeters wildly at my maverick nature, plunging the very genres of baking into terrifying uncertainty. I eat them for breakfast, managing to feel both nourished and wicked at the same time. I call them cakes or breads depending on my mood; whether I’m feeling more like Jesus or Marie Antoinette.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell, so I call them ‘loaves’. It gives me space to contemplate that day’s levels of hedonism before I take my first bite.
Here’s a superlative example of the genre. Apple, crystallised ginger and dried fruit are soaked in strong spiced tea, keeping the loaf(/bread/cake) deliciously moist without the need for any butter or oil and giving the warm, cinnamon and ginger-laden scent of autumn. I use my favourite seasonal tea blend, Spiced Pumpkin Pie by Bluebird Tea, which is rich in smoky black tea leaves, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Some nutty spelt flour, ground almonds and a little brown sugar make it sweet enough to enjoy as cake, but equally suitable for breakfast (I like mine with a dollop of honey-sweetened ricotta, or nut butter). Better still, you can soak the fruit overnight and whip this up in no time in the morning, so it bakes and fills your kitchen with the scent of cinnamon while you get on with other things – perfect for a weekend brunch.
Just make sure you share it with someone who understands the nuances of the friable bread/cake divide.
Spiced pumpkin pie tea loaf with apple and blueberry (makes 1 loaf):
- 2 tsp Bluebird Tea Co. spiced pumpkin pie tea
- 300ml just-boiled water
- 90g dried blueberries (or other dried fruit)
- 1 medium eating apple
- 50g crystallised ginger, finely chopped
- 200g plain, wholemeal or spelt flour
- 50g ground almonds
- 2 tsp baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- 1 egg
- 75g light brown sugar
- 1 tbsp demerara sugar
- 1 tbsp flaked almonds
Infuse the tea in the boiling water for 10 minutes (you want it to be strong!) before straining (keep the tea, discard the leaves).
Peel and core the apple, then chop into small dice around 1cm square. Soak the apple, blueberries and crystallised ginger in the tea for at least 8 hours, or overnight.
When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 170C. Grease and line a loaf tin with baking parchment. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, almonds, baking powder and salt. To the tea and fruit mixture, add the egg and sugar and stir together. Pour the fruit mixture into the flour mixture, and mix with a large spoon or spatula until evenly combined.
Pour the mixture into the loaf tin, then sprinkle with the demerara sugar and flaked almonds. Bake for 55 minutes, until the top of the loaf is crusty and golden, but still gives slightly in the middle when pressed. Leave to cool a little before slicing and serving. This freezes well and keeps for a few days – reheat in a (Danish, unless you have a death wish) toaster or warm oven.