Quick, name one staple of authentic Australian cuisine!
I’m sure that for most people, it might be things like Vegemite, barbeque steak or prawns, pavlova, or, heck, even meat pies. For me, however, I’ll name something that, if you are not a Down Underling, you won’t recognize. But if you ARE a fair dinkum Aussie, hearing its name will produce an unconscious smile and a wistful expression… In case you couldn’t tell from the title of this article, I’m talking of course about Fairy Bread.
The name of which, of course, makes me laugh. The food is really so simple, the recipe as simple as you can get — sliced white bread with butter covered in rainbow sprinkles (a.k.a. “hundreds and thousands.”) That this ultra-simple dessert could be universally recognized and beloved throughout an entire continent is funny to me. So why do Aussies everywhere respond to the words “fairy bread” with smiles and a chuckle? Because fairy bread is pretty much a feature on any kid’s table for his or her birthday party. And why not? Starch, fat, and sugar– your basic food groups for young kids! It’s caught up in the same Edenic memories of running in the yard with friends, batting at balloons, and opening brightly-wrapped presents.
But as always, I want to mix and play with recipes to see how basic recipes mix and match with new things and new ideas. Is there a Fairy Bread for grown ups? I apologize in advance for the Fairy Bread purists out there. I know, I know– nothing can beat that bland starchy goodness of plain white bread smothered in greasy blobs of margarine and dotted with crunchy sugar. But the world is a bit more complex nowadays, with a lot of new experiences that take our initial understanding and build onto it for new and exciting, richer and more complex thoughts. Isn’t that what growing up is all about?
Here’s my attempt at Fairy Bread For Grown-Ups. You may not have a birthday party with donkey tails being pinned, but you may have an afternoon tea or coffee soon with a new chapter of that novel you’ve been reading, and this side will go great with that.
Fairy Bread for Grown-Ups
Cracked-wheat bread (or other complex, nutty bread)
… 3/4 cup butter, unsalted and softened
… 1/4 cup honey
… 1 1/2 teaspoon rose syrup
Rainbow sprinkles (“Hundreds and Thousands”)
Step One: Honey Butter
1) Soften the butter to room temperature. Whip the butter until it’s creamy with a hand mixer.
2) Mix in honey and rose syrup.
Step Two: Toast
Slice the bread into thick slices. Toast until brown, but allow to cool a bit or you’ll lose the nice pillows of yellow when buttering them. Scones are good, too!
Step Three: Top it off!
Butter the toast, then crack the sea salt over them. Sprinkle with nutmeg and, of course, the hundreds-and-thousands (just a pinch! These are more for show because the sweetness of the honey butter.)
My thoughts have turned to Australia, since this past week I had the opportunity to return to Sydney for my Spring Break. It was actually my third time there and each time I think I find some new way to love the city. Must be something about my love of metropolises (metropoli?). As with my trip to London last summer, I tried to explore some of the farmer-ish markets about town, but my timing was a bit off as they are likely more on the weekends and that turned out to be a bit inconvenient. You gotta hand it to the Rocks, though. There, I did find some nice specialized tea and some natural honey.
With honey in hand and memories of fairy bread in my head, I wondered if the honey held the clue to making my grown-up recipe. Obviously, some bakery-fresh bread was called for, but there was something else that I wanted to help make it a bit more ethereal, a bit more fairy-like, more nature-y. That’s when the rose water came to mind, and I picked up a bottle of Monin’s brand syrup.
I really loved the end result. And why not– it’s still starch, fat, and sugar, right? Obviously, you will have a lot of left over honey butter with this one, so adjust accordingly if you wish. Also, I love the crunch of the sea salt when it’s sprinkled on top, the way it mixes with the sugar and blends in your mouth, but you might like to use salted butter or to add the salt when creaming the ingredients together, instead.
I hope you get a chance to try the grown-up version, but if you’re in a pinch, why not try the basic version? In my imaginings, I’m picturing some stressed-out mom nearly collapsing on the kitchen counter while the children at the party are yelling and banging pans in the next room. With an exasperated sigh, she just grabs the bread and butter that’s always on hand, and some rainbow sprinkles that have been in the cupboard since last Easter– the last-ditch effort to appease the li’l beasts. Surprisingly, it works, and all the other moms are so impressed with the simplicity and ingenuity that it becomes part of the Australian cookbook lexicon.
Trust me, if you have an Australian in your midst, bring some fairy bread to your next potluck and you will bring the kinship to a whole new level.