Friday, 21 March 2008

'What has it got in its pocketses?'

`...We call it lembas or waybread, and it is more strengthening than any food made by Men, and it is more pleasant than cram, by all accounts.' -- The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkein.

I think everyone's gathered I'm a bit of a nerd, yes? Just checking. So when I had the combination of the Novel Food: Spring 2008 blog event and another busy day tree-forting ahead of me, it made sense to make food with a tree-theme. If you didn't think there was such a thing as tree-themed food, this is where you have to think again.

I came across this recipe for lembas (the elf waybread) from Tolkein's Middle Earth books on the internet decades ago, and printed it off out of scientific interest -not really expecting I'd ever get a chance to make it- so that was my first port of call on Tuesday night (I like to think of it as stopping briefly at Rivendell on my culinary journey to Mordor. This isn't really an analogy that works, but I've not actually read the Lord of the Rings books in a long time, so I'm pretending it does). I floated round the kitchen in an elf-like manner, clad in silver and leaf-green (grey jeans and a hoody?), singing joyfully in a birdlike voice in Elvish ('IF I WERE A MANLY MAAAAN...').

Anyway, the lembas was shit. It was kind of sad.

I think the problem was that the writer of the above recipe, had internalised the 'this waybread lasts about a billion years while you trek across Middle Earth and one bite is enough to fill you so you don't eat any more'. They'd kind of overlooked the 'elf-food, yum yum, delicous' aspect. I mean, technically that recipe would last a long time, and you wouldn't eat any more, but mostly because it was horrible.

I'm exaggerating a little bit, and now I feel mean. It's just that it yielded something more like a cracker - it had the consistency of a cork mat, and tasted like a ryvita cracker. Actually, it turned out to taste pretty good with houmous (although anything tastes good with houmous), but I was still disappointed over the lack of... 'elf-food, yum yum, delicious'. Also pissed off that I'd used up all the almonds we had in the house.

I'd taken this failure a bit personally, anyway, so after this I got myself online to find another recipe. I was mollified (and a bit relieved) to discover that I'm not the only nerd around - I found about five different lembas recipes, not including small variations and links on different pages. Some included stuff like raisins, which didn't seem accurate to me, and others were a bit dubious in various other ways, and most of them called for ground almonds (DAMN YOU, BASTARD ALMOND-USING RECIPE UP THERE), but as I wasn't up for a Tesco trip I went for one that didn't.

I did change it, though. For starters I switched honey for sugar, which turned out to be a very good decision, and I used less milk, and lemon juice instead of extract, cause we had half a lemon floating around the fridge. And the result is... good. It's difficult to describe what it's like (one of my friends went, in a tone of bewilderment, 'this is... so unlike anything else...') but the closest comparison I can think of is a scone - it's maybe like a not-sweet cookie, or a kind of flatbread (the raw mixture was suprisingly like bread dough, and I almost began kneading it automatically). Definitely more lembas-y than most of the recipes I found on the internet, though I would like to try it with a proportion of ground almonds (DAMN YOU ONCE AGAIN).

So... a success! I'm still considering this a work in progress, but if you happen to open your door to a load of dwarves one morning, or get given a magic ring and are lumped into treking about a billion miles to the unfortunately-named Mount Doom, or similar... at least you have a picnic option now XD.

Adapted from this recipe.
Makes about 16 pieces.
350g flour
1 tbsp baking powder
115g butter
2-3 tbsp honey
120ml milk
juice of half a lemon
1. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Mix the butter in until you get a crumbly mixture, like breadcrumbs, then add the honey and mix in. Add the lemon juice and pour in the milk slowly - you may need a little more/less to form a dough that you can handle.
2. Roll the dough out to about 1/4 - 1/2 inch thick. Cut out 3 inch squares and transfer to a baking sheet. Bake at 220C for about 12 minutes, or until lightly golden (the tops will be blonde, and the edges darker gold).

“The hobbits each ate two or three pieces. The taste brought back to them the memory of fair faces, and laughter, and wholesome food in quiet days now far away.” --The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkein.


Lisa said...

How charming! I love your adventures with this bread-scone-cracker-whatever. I was also a big fan of the LOTR trilogy, back in the day, and it was great to see quotes from it again. That second recipe looks like a winner. Sorry about the almonds. ;)

Thanks so much for taking part in our event. You've made it just that much more interesting and enjoyable. Do look for our roundup sometime over the weekend.

Simona said...

What a fun post! I enjoyed reading about your little adventure. I so understand being upset at a recipe that turns into a disaster with attendant loss of precious ingredients. It sounds like you will soon do more experimenting with lembas. I visited New Zealand 3 years ago and was in some of the places where they filmed the movie. It was very interesting.
Thanks for participating in our event!

Mariko said...

I've never thought of trying to actually make lembas bread! I always thought of it as a slightly sticky-crumbly shortbread with overtones of some sort of sugar syrup. On the otherhand, the butter in it wouldn't last all the way to Mordor....

I like your version! How awesome - I hope future versions of it make it uber-yummy!

Kevin said...

Lembas bread! That is so cool! :)

Jessy and her dog Winnie said...

That is so cute! I'm a huge Lord of the Rings fan, so this is very interesting to me : )

boinky said...

Neat. Linked...
I'll have to try it sometime...

Victoria (not_blue) said...

I love the LOTR books, and lembas have been on my to-do list for a long time. Lembas are notoriously tricky to get right, as they have to last long, be nourishing and tasty and look somewhat like the descriptions in the books! Thank you for trying out these recipes and posting about your efforts!

Pixie said...

I've never heard or tasted lembas- sounds like I'm missing out. Love your last photo and I hate when a recipe doesn't work and you end up wasting ingredients!

ovenhaven said...

It's such a pity that they didn't turn out the way you expected, considering you've got some absolutely lovely photos of them. Have I told you how much I adore your quirky fun writing? Brilliant! :)

Indigo said...

Thanks everyone for commenting! Yeah, even after all the trouble with the recipe my inner geek was still like 'EEE, I MADE LEMBAS' XD.

Lisa & Simona - thanks for hosting! I'm just going over to look at the roundup now ^__^

Pixie, you should read/watch Lord of the Rings! Preferably when you have lots of time to spare, because they're insanely epic. Maybe just read/watch up to the first lembas reference and then give up =P

Boinky, thanks for the link!

Tartelette said...

That did appeal to my inner geek! One sumer after readind Heidi, I only wanted to eat grilled slices of cheese:) You did a great job and I am sure Tolkien would approve!

White On Rice Couple said...

We're huge LoftheR fans and are just smiling right now at your attempt at lembas! We just might have to try this hobbitish dish one day and thanks for the rec about using honey instead of sugar!

eatme_delicious said...

I like the "yum yum delicious" aspect haha. It looks good! Glad you found a recipe that worked.

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Nerdy is fine. Shitty lembas not fine. Sue the publisher. ;)

Emiline said...

Hmm, interesting. I've never heard of this before.

Ha-I just read what Tartelette wrote. That would be a lot of cheese.

Rosie said...

I have never heard of lembas bread either but it sounds and looks delicious! I really enjoyed reading your fun post :)

Rosie x

Youkaisama said...

i'll have to try your recipe sometime :) i tried another one recently and it tasted like a bread-y snickerdoodle
probably from the cinnamon? good luck with modifying your recipe!

Anonymous said...

Just wondering what type of flour this uses? Is it strong bread flour or just plain?