April 14, 2010
Philomena's Almond Bread
Allow me to introduce Philomena. She is my quirky, crazy, honest and utterly amazing neighbour. In two days she will turn seventy. She looks a million bucks and she looks totally glamorous. Looks, however, can be deceiving. Philomena is as earthy as they come and by golly is she connected to the earth. Philomena is more at home with a shovel in her hand than a glass of champagne. She and her wonderful husband Romano, have a massive veggie garden where they grow everything themselves. She is such a fusspot! That is, about what goes into her mouth. Looking at her; maybe it's a good thing. She eats pretty much only organic produce, demands to know the source of her meat and she cooks every single day the heartiest and healthiest of meals. The day wouldn't be complete without the odd cake or bikkies coming out of the oven since it is usually on. I have never known someone of her age to have so much energy. She said to me only the other day, "Mariana, I feel twenty. I have so much energy it scares me". She is sharp as a tack, strong as an ox and healthy as can be.
I posted about her quite a while ago. Incidentally, her name is Filomena on her birth certificate and Philomena on her passport, hence the different spellings. I usually call her 'Mina'. You can check out my last story on her at Through My Kitchen Window: Filomena. Far too long ago. When a treasure like this lady comes along, a whole book wouldn't be able to fit in all her credits. And what a credit she is to the human race. The world is sadly lacking in "Philomena's". At least, in my part of the world.
Every Sunday, around 7am, the phone rings for about ten seconds and then stops. It's the signal. Black coffee is ready. The grappa and the rakija are waiting. A small tray of sweet goodies lay in store. It's Romano letting us know they are up and "we're waiting for you, so hurry up". The signal never fails to make me smile. I've been late recently because I have to feed the calf, Elfrieda, at around the same time. Even though I am greeted with "ahhh where have you been, we cannot start without you", huge smiles cross their faces as I bend down to kiss them good morning. Pepe the cockatiel, Rocky the cockatoo or Fido the dog are usually nestled somewhere on Romano, so it's can be a tricky business giving him a peck on the cheek. I am waiting for the day when I shall be 'pecked' right back. And not by Romano!
Philomena excitedly shows me the cake she especially made for me. It is a healthy, honey cake with no fat. I am "forced" to down three pieces and she wraps the rest for me to take home. I spend the next ten minutes listening to all the benefits in this cake and also to the procedure in making it. Meanwhile my hubby, the other neighbours (yes, they get the signal too) and Romano chat about engines, trucks, diesel and losing licenses. Upon leaving, I ask for her permission to write about her honey cake. At that very minute Philomena disappears.
She hastily reappears and presents me with two whole almond bread loaves that have not been sliced. She would prefer that I write about them as she insists she would need a whole new fresh honey cake for me to photograph. Didn't I say she was fussy!!
I fly home to get my camera, return and off we go. The three of us head upstairs to "get famous". You see, I am laughing my head off right now, as my dear Philomena thinks she is going to get "famous" because I am posting her recipes and stories on the computer. You and I know that ain't never gonna happen, but, if it means I am going to help preserve her precious recipes then why not go along with it. She has loose bits of paper everywhere with handwritten recipes. She said to me a couple of years ago, "when I die, everything will die with me". I am determined to make sure that won't happen. Besides, she may well outlive me!!
Get ready for her 'famous' almond bread recipe, while Philomena gets ready waiting to be 'famous'.
Philomena's Almond Bread
6 egg whites - only from free range eggs
150gm caster sugar
a drizzle of vanilla extract
90gm self raising flour
150gm plain flour
pinch of salt
250gm whole raw almonds
Beat the egg whites together with the sugar and vanilla till the mixture becomes thick and snowy.
Sift the flours and salt together for at least three times. Carefully fold into the mixture. Add whole almonds; fold through till evenly distributed.
Place mixture into a well greased loaf tin and pop into an oven at 170degrees celcius for at least twenty minutes. You want a nice blonde brown look; not too dark.
Allow the bread to go completely cold; ( I mean cooled down naturally - do not place in the fridge as one unhappy reader discovered this will soften the bread and make slicing impossible). It is usually best to do this the day before cutting or slicing.
Slice the loaf as thinly as you can without breaking the bread. It can be a little tricky; practise makes perfect. This is a photo of Romano feeding the almond bread into a slicing machine. They have well and truly earned it. Prior, Philomena used to do this by hand for years.
On the other side of the machine, Philomena works quickly collecting the thin slices as they come through.
She works productively carefully layering the slices on trays.
They look so yummy right now, I feel like scoffing into them.
Philomena gets her oven preheating at 175degree celcius. She lines slices in a single layer onto a baking tray and places them into the oven. Critical attention please!!! You must watch them. Bake for no longer than five minutes and even then you must watch them. They can turn brown very quickly. As we chatted the proof that this can happen became all too apparent and she overbrowned two trays. I understood immediately the importance of watching them. This photo shows them toasted perfectly.
Philomena's almond bread are absolutely delicious, crispy, delightfully healthy little morsels. Together with wonderful people, entertaining pets, flowing grappa and hot coffee, these treats are the perfect way to commence a sunny Sunday!
Philomena's tips: Do not leave them at any stage while they are baking. And vitally important is to make sure they are well sealed. Any air that seeps into the jar will soften them and they will lose their crispiness.