Updated: Apr 8, 2019
The view out the kitchen window this afternoon can't be described anything other than, well, English. It's cloudy, foggy, and dreary; the temperature is meandering somewhere between cold and not-so-cold.
It's a day for food that warms the soul and the body, and after spending yesterday with the family my other half is thinking about home a lot.
In honour of Angelo, today's going to be a South African feast replete with the Cape Malay classic bobotie (pronounced, mysteriously, as bo-BOOR-tee), coconut rice, and Afrikaans buns called mosbolletjies (pronounced moz-BALL-et-yees).
When I told my dad about mosbolletjies for the first time, he thought I was talking about the anatomy of a male moose.
However funny the pronunciation of Afrikaans sounds to the English-speaking ear, there's nothing funny about how delicious these things are. Mosbolletjies remind me of Hawaiian Buns in America. They're sweet, but not overwhelmingly so and the anise seed gives them enough versatility that they can go with sweet or savoury things.
Now, I love to bake and I can do it fairly well. But I am the world's worst decorator. Like, I belong on Nailed It. So breads, tarts, and things that don't require a lot of fine detail are perfect for me. I get all the good bits where my housemates tell me it's delicious without all the comments about something looking like a drowned cat. This one's easy: it just requires a bit of basic bread-making skill.
Mosbolletjie dough is wet, so I highly recommend using a stand mixer if you have one available. Otherwise, you'll need a good, flexible pastry cutter/food mover to keep scraping the dough off the worktop. I've done this by hand before. It's perfectly do-able but it is very messy.
If you know me, you know I love my kitchen gadgets. You also know that sometimes they get names. I didn't give today's companion her name, but all the same I'd like to introduce you all to Vivian, the house's resident stand mixer.
Start by putting 250ml--or one cup--of white grape juice in a saucepan on a medium-low heat. Mix in 100ml of water and drop in 100g of unsalted butter. Warm it up until the butter has melted, but don't let it boil. If it gets too hot, it'll kill the yeast and you won't find out the whole thing was a wasted effort until you've spent an hour waiting for your dough to rise. So remove it from the heat and let it cool while you measure the dry ingredients, just to be sure.
(White grape juice, by the way, is ridiculously hard to find at UK supermarkets in a non-sparkling format... usually I pick up some Schloer and let it go flat, but today I happened to notice a bottle as I was plodding through the kosher section at Sainsbury's.)
In the meantime, weigh out 1kg bread flour and 150g sugar. Drop in two teaspoons (that's 10ml by volume) of salt and two 7g sachets of fast-acting yeast. Mix it all together with a spoon or fork.
You'll need a big bowl to work with if you're doing this by hand. Whether you're going by hand or by mixer, sift the dry ingredients into the work bowl and then sprinkle between 15 and 20g of anise seeds on top.
Now that your wet ingredients have cooled slightly, pour in 200ml of room temperature milk and whisk it all together. Check the temperature with your finger: if it doesn't burn you, but feels warm enough for a bath, you've got it right. If you're using a stand mixer, turn it on low speed and slowly pour in the wet ingredients. Once things are good and combined, crank the speed to medium and let it go for six to seven minutes.
If you're going by hand, this is where things get messy. Use your fork to evenly distribute the anise seeds through the dry ingredients, make a well in the centre, and pour in the wet ingredients. Grab a wooden spoon and thoroughly mix it together. Once it's good and combined, give it a minute or two to rest so the flour can really soak up the wet ingredients. Julia Child, of course, has the right technique for dealing with a wet, sticky dough like this. For all you need to know about how to knead and treat what you're dealing with here watch the episode of The French Chef on French Bread. Use her technique: kneading is about stretching the dough to develop gluten, so stretch it by throwing it down on the counter top, folding it over, and whacking it down again. Use the pastry cutter to scrape up between whacks. Let it rest for a couple minutes after your first few goes, then keep it going for about ten minutes. Pro tip: grease the pastry cutter regularly with a bit of butter or cooking spray to keep everything from sticking to it, too.
Either way, you should eventually end up with a dough that's smooth and elastic (as in, it springs back when you push your finger gently into the top). It'll still be sticky, though, and that's a good thing, because it means your results won't be dry unless you massively overbake.
Put your dough into a greased bowl. I like to butter the bowl for mosbolletjies since the dough is full of butter already, but a bit of a neutral oil like vegetable oil would work too.
Cover it with a moist tea towel (or, if your house is drafty, tightly cover with cling film) and put it in a warm place. In the winter my house is cold so I usually put all four of the hob's burners on low for a few minutes to warm them up, turn them off, and then stick the bowl in the middle of the stove. Since I use a heavy, stoneware bowl for bread doughs, it retains the heat it absorbs from the burners really well and keeps everything nice and warm for the yeast to do its job. If you do this make sure the bowl isn't in direct contact with the burners; you just want ambient warmth.
In an hour or so, you should have something that's doubled in size.
Clear off a big space on the worktop and sprinkle a bit of flour about (or spray it lightly with cooking spray, which is what I do, since I find wiping the counter down preferable to sweeping up excess flour). Get out two loaf tins and grease with butter (or a good spritz of cooking spray). Uncover (reserve the clingfilm if you used it so you can reuse it for the second rise--no need to put even more plastic in the landfill) and punch the dough down in the centre, giving it a good press around to deflate it. Don't be too gentle. Turn it out onto the floured surface, put the bowl in the sink, and then roll the dough firmly into a log, making sure to get any big air bubbles out.
Get out your sharpest knife and cut the log in half. Cut each half in half again, then each quarter into halves, for a total of 16 roughly equally-sized lumps of dough. Now, grease your hands. For this, I rub a bit of butter between my palms and all over my fingers. Baking is fun in a very messy way.
Roll each lump of dough into a ball. Once it's shaped, I find the smoothest side and stretch the outer layer of dough around the ball so that you end up with a completely smooth surface. Twist together and pinch it at the bottom. Not only does this make the final product look nicer, but I find that bread really develops well if it has good surface tension.
Place each ball of dough into the greased loaf tins until you've got eight in each. They should be pretty tightly packed. Cover the tins with the tea towel again (or the reserved clingfilm, but don't cover tightly this time--if the dough rises and sticks the film, when you remove it you might deflate them and have to let them rise again). Let rise for another hour, or until doubled in volume.
When they look like they're about ready, put the oven on 180°C (that's about 350°F) and let it fully preheat. Put both tins in the oven and bake for 35 - 40 minutes. My oven is a convection (fan) oven, so I find I have to start peeking at them around 28 minutes. If they go the full 35 they can come out overly browned. What you're looking for is a nice, golden crust on top. They should be the colour of a store-bought hamburger bun. If you knock on them, they should sound hollow.
While the mosbolletjies were in the oven, I made a quick simple syrup to brush on top of them. I took 2 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons piping hot water from the kettle and mixed it up until the sugar was completely dissolved.
Pull them out of the oven and let cool for a couple of minutes. While they're cooling, put some foil down on the counter, and put a cooling rack on top of it. Turn the buns out of the tins and place them right side up on the rack.
While they're still hot, thoroughly and generously brush the tops with the simple syrup. This is why I put down the foil: because it's going to drip everywhere and no one wants to scrub dried sugar syrup off the counter. Don't use all the syrup... just brush on what you need and discard the rest (or pour it in a glass with a bit of lemon juice, top off with water, and have some fresh lemonade!).
And there you have it. A perfect representation of Afrikaans cuisine: sweet, savoury, rich, indulgent. Glossy, bready perfection.
Mosbolletjies are best eaten warm. I find they keep for about three days if you put them in a sealed container at room temperature, but it is exceedingly rare in this house for any fresh baked bread to make it past the day, much less the second day.
1kg bread flour
10 ml (2 tsp) table salt (fine granules)
14g (two sachets) fast-acting yeast
15 to 20g anise seeds
100g butter, room temperature
250ml white grape juice
100ml water, room temperature
200ml milk, room temperature
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp boiling water
Flour, for dusting
Butter or oil, for greasing
Pour grape juice and water into a small saucepan and drop in the butter. Place over medium-low heat and gently heat until the butter melts and remove from heat. Allow to cool slightly.
Weigh and measure the dry ingredients (flour, 150g sugar, salt, and yeast) together, mix gently with a fork to combine. Into a large bowl, or the work bowl of a stand mixer, sift the dry ingredients. Sprinkle anise seeds on top. If mixing by hand, gently mix in with a fork to make sure all ingredients are evenly combined.
Pour the milk into the other wet ingredients and whisk thoroughly to combine. If using a stand mixer, fit it with the dough hook and turn speed to low. Give it a second to incorporate the anise seeds. Then slowly pour in the wet ingredients. When fully incorporated (about 30 seconds to a minute), turn speed to medium and let knead for five to seven minutes, until the dough is springy and smooth. If mixing by hand, make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Pour in the wet ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Let rest for two minutes. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Using a pastry cutter, fold into thirds. Pick dough up and, holding one end, firmly whack onto the counter, allowing dough to stretch out. Scrape up, fold over again, and slap onto the worktop again. Knead this way for about two minutes. Allow to rest two minutes. Then continue kneading in this way for about another ten minutes, until springy and smooth.
Butter or oil a large bowl. Shape dough into a ball, place into the bowl, and cover with a moist tea towel or cling film. Place in a warm, draft-free area and allow to rise for an hour, or until doubled in volume.
Grease two loaf tins with butter or spray with cooking spray (preferably a baking spray).
Uncover dough and punch down to deflate. Turn out onto a floured work surface and shape into a log, popping any large bubbles. Using a very sharp knife, cut the log in half, then half each half. Finally, half each quarter so that you have 16 evenly sized lumps of dough.
Grease hands with a bit more butter or oil. Form each lump into a ball, stretching the smoothest part of the surface around so that the outside is uniformly smooth. Twist the bottom a bit and pinch together to hold its shape, then place into the greased tins (pinched/twisted side down). Continue until you have eight balls in each tin, re-greasing hands as needed along the way.
Cover tins with tea towels or cling film and place back in the warm, draft-free area. Allow to rise one more hour, or until roughly doubled in volume. If using cling film, watch carefully near the end and remove the plastic before the dough comes into contact with it. If the dough sticks to the cling film, it may deflate when you remove it.
When the dough is nearly fully risen, preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Uncover and bake 35 - 40 minutes, or until lightly browned on top. Keep an eye on them from 30 minutes--depending on your oven, they may be done sooner. They're done when they're the colour of a store-bought hamburger bun and sound hollow when flicked or tapped.
While the mosbolletjies are baking, mix together 1/4 sugar and 1/4 piping hot water until the sugar is completely dissolved to make a simple syrup.
When the mosbolletjies are ready, remove them from the oven and let cool in the tins for a moment while you get the cooling rack out. Place the rack on a clean baking sheer or on top of a piece of foil. Turn both sets out onto the cooling rack and stand right-side up.
While still hot, generously brush the tops of the buns with the syrup. Don't use it all--just enough so that the tops are completely covered (which will achieve a glossy sheen) and a bit has dripped down the sides. Discard or use the remaining syrup elsewhere. Best eaten a few minutes after the syrup has soaked in, while they're still piping hot! Serve with a bit of butter or on the side for saucy or gravy-laden meals. Perfect with bobotie. Mosbolletjies are best stored at room temperature in a sealed container (such as a large, heavy-duty zipper freezer bag or a large Tupperware container). Keep for up to three days, but good luck keeping them that long.