Last night I was searching for a new chocolate cake recipe to make for my boss’s leaving do this Friday and where better to find a chocolate cake recipe than in a Green & Black recipe book. However, I didn’t make it that far through the book before my attention was grabbed by a picture of oozing, melting dark chocolate and soft, spongy bread: two of my favourite things.
I’ve been experimenting with bread making over the last few months and happened to have two bars of (albeit cheap) dark chocolate sitting next to me on the kitchen table, so couldn’t possibly resist the challenge of recreating the ridiculously tempting picture in the book.
And here it is (complete with my bite marks!):
Unable to resist the freshly baked bread last night, me and my other half sliced off a couple of door stops and as soon as we could. The bread itself was the perfect balance between sweet and savoury.
It’s also amazingly versatile: made of both bread and chocolate it’s acceptable to eat it at every opportunity! Me and Malcolm have already devoured thick slices when still warm last night for a wee pre-bedtime snack, this morning for breakfast and again for pudding tonight.
I can safely say I’ll be making this again!
Nothing rivals good quality, fresh bread. The comforting yeast smell, the crisp and chewy crust, the slightly rustic look and the depth of flavour are unbeatable. This is the idea that community bakery Breadshare have tapped into with their range of nutritious, organic, additive-free breads produced in their newly-established bakery in the Scottish Borders.
Having experienced Breadshare’s breads at St Mary’s Market in Edinburgh, I decided to take advantage of a free weekend (in April and May, these are few and far between for me!) and take a trip down to the Breadshare bakery with the lovely Victoria. We were lucky enough to have a peek in the kitchen and were made very welcome by Geoff and Debra who kindly took us through their their bread making processes.
From this modest kitchen in the Scottish Borders, over 800 artisan loaves are produced every week. The loaves include yeasted breads, Italian breads, sourdough loaves and even the occasional sweet treat. The loaves are sold in a multitude of ingenious ways: the shop at Whitmuir: The Organic Place, just a few steps away from the bakery door, stocks an extensive range; loaves are sold by volunteers at weekend markets in Edinburgh; and through the bakery’s Breadbasket scheme where locals take multiple loaves back into their own communities to distribute and are paid for their work in bread.
The bread itself is made without additives, preservatives or commercially enhanced processes. There are large mixers present in the kitchen (mixing 60 kilos of bread would be back-breaking without them!) but there are no commercial proofers or proofer ovens. In this kitchen, the bread dictates the processes and not the bakers. The bakers and volunteer bakers must assess the temperature of the kitchen on a daily basis and monitor the bread throughout the process to ensure that it it doesn’t over-proof. These facts put together demand a high level of talent and knowledge from the bakers and also ensure an attractive natural variation in the loaves produced.
Given that the shop was only a few feet away from the bakery and it was the day after payday, I treated myself to a few of Breadshare’s finest loaves.
I fully intended to freeze some of these, thinking that we couldn’t possibly eat them all. How wrong I was! Two days later there remained only a bit of the bata (perfect for breakfast) and a few slices of the olive loaf. There is no denying that this is quality real bread produced in a community-focused way. I just can’t get enough!
After a couple of cake-filled weeks, there has been a temporary interlude in my sweet baking recently while I’ve been experimenting with the masses of fresh yeast that I bought from Amazon a few weeks ago. After my initial experiment with brioche cinnamon rolls, I decided to try my hand at savoury breads.
First on the list was Paul Hollywood’s simple white loaf from the Great Brittish Bake Off book. Left overnight to rise in the fridge, this loaf not only looked stunning, it also tasted amazing. I’ve since made multiples of this loaf and frozen them so that I can enjoy them anytime without having to wait 12 hours for them to rise!
Next on my “must bake” list was Dan Lepard’s multigrain and honey loaf from his Short and Sweet book. This loaf had a wonderfully nutty flavour to it but I unfortunately gave it a bit of a scare when putting it in the oven which meant that it didn’t quite rise to it’s full potential. What it lacked in appearance it certainly made up for in taste when slathered with butter and honey!
And finally, I turned my hand to my own version of a tear and share bread topped with sesame and poppy seeds. This was baked on a Sunday night on the bottom shelf of my oven underneath a luxurious duck cassoulet. After a long day in the kitchen, the two went perfectly together and were finished off over a large glass of red wine.
Fresh yeast isn’t always the most practical of ingredients because it does have a limited shelf life (I found mine would last for up to two weeks in the fridge). I’ve frozen most of the bulk that I ordered from Amazon and it’s definitely true that the texture changes when you defrost it again but it does still work. Fresh yeast seems to give a more consistent rise and while it’s been fun I may be heading back to dried yeast once my temporary obsession with bread products dies down. Having already thrown out two half blocks of yeast that eventually perished in my fridge, there will certainly be less wastage with the the dried variety.
With little information about the course on the website, I wasn’t sure what to expect from my baking course at Tennent’s Training Academy. I was lucky enough to have had a peek at a couple of cookery demonstrations by chef John Quinn at the 50 Plus Show in Glasgow in November last year (I was exhibiting, not attending!) and had chatted to the staff on the stand about the courses they offered so I was delighted when I found vouchers for the Academy in my Christmas stocking.
As a home cook and baker (who may want to branch out into something more professional in the years to come!) who is eager to learn as much as possible, one of John’s mottoes stuck with me:
“Become a cook before you become an artist”
Well said! I always have an idea of what I want my cakes to look like but if they happen to be slightly lopsided, a tad caramelised or a wee bit different to my expectations, as long as they taste amazing and bring a smile to the faces of everyone eating them, I’m happy! It’s for exactly this reason that John’s courses highlight three things: flavour, flavour and flavour. It’s all well and good attending a course and learning how to create gourmet food with all the gadgets of a professional kitchen if you then face the frustration of not being able to recreate the same product at home. With that introduction, the day got off to a very good start!
I must admit that I spent the first 15 minutes just looking around me but unfortunately have very few photos to show. On display around the kitchen are not only the fresh, vibrant ingredients used for the more savoury courses but also an array of state-of-the-art kitchen gadgets including Kitchen Aid mixers, Magimix food processors and a hand blender that looked big enough (and powerful enough) to power a small boat. I was lucky enough to be the only person taking part in the course and as such had very little time to stop and capture the moment.
The concept for the day was an Afternoon Tea in Miniature with classic recipes perfected and reduced in size. On the menu were:
Foccacia (which was made into goats cheese, tomato and basil sandwiches)
Parmesan pastry (for mini chicken pies – by far my favourite thing we made!)
Lemon ricotta cakes
Chocolate fudge cakes
Lemon meringue pies
John had certainly set up a challenge to get through all of this in just 7 hours but we succeeded! My favourites from the day were undoubtedly the mini chicken pies with parmesan pastry and the lemon ricotta cakes. I can’t describe how unbelievably tempting the parmesan pastry smelled as it was cooking and all the way home as it sat next to me on the bus. As my first attempt at making pastry, I can guarantee that I’ll be making this one again. The lemon ricotta cakes are equally delicious. Despite having a distinctly heavy feel, they are in fact gloriously light and very moreish!
I was given all of the recipes that we made on the day to take home and hopefully recreate in equal splendour but I won’t be sharing them on here. If you’re keen to know how to make the dishes above, you’ll just have to go and see John yourself!
As well as their trade courses and more intense leisure courses, the Academy has also branched out into a more accessible form of cookery courses, including Cook, Curry and Comedy, Cupcakes and Cocktails and Saturday Night is Steak Night. These shorter courses combine creating your own culinary masterpiece with having a few drinks with friends and even heading out on the town. Perfect for those who are looking for a different night out.
It seems that as well as keeping my husband and my cat alive, I am now able to keep a sourdough starter alive for 10 days. Herman has survived his time in my care!
As I mentioned in my Say hello to Herman post, Herman was brought to Scotland by one of my colleagues from our London office as part of a German friendship cake recipe. After an arduous journey from the Big Smoke and three near misses with my very curious cat, he has made it to the end of his time with me (and is still going strong actually). On Sunday, I fed him for the final time and divided him up into four equal-sized portions. One portion was for me to bake the German friendship cake with and the other three were to be passed onto trustworthy keepers for the next stage in Herman’s journey.
I know I was supposed to bake the friendship cake with Herman but after my recent adventures with fresh yeast and real bread, I couldn’t resist the temptation to turn Herman into a proper sourdough loaf. So, armed with my copy of Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet and glued to his reliable advice on sourdough, I took to my first sourdough recipe.
I was initially concerned that I’d added too much water to the recipe as the dough was extremely wet compared to the many doughs I have worked with over the last few weeks. I rely heavily on my instincts when baking and cooking and on this occasion they almost lead me to abandon Herman in his bread-form before he had even got started.
After an initial rise of 6 hours, I finally decided not to give up on him. He had appeared to double in size (I find it very difficult to tell when it’s such a wet dough) so was prodded and poked a bit – my vague attempt at kneading a very sticky dough – and finally placed into the bread tin to rise for another 6 hours.
And lo and behold the doughy sticky mixture that my instincts told me would never turn into anything edible, turned into a pretty good loaf. When tasting the loaf for the first time, I did however have a slight blonde moment – despite being quite blonde I don’t have many of these such moments, I promise! It immediately struck me that the bread had a distinctly sweet flavour – not what I was expecting at all. It then dawned on me that I had been feeding Herman with flour, milk and SUGAR because his final destiny was supposed to be a CAKE. No harm done though. The sweet flavour only added to the wealth of flavours in this loaf that exploded in my mouth on the first bite. If it didn’t take a full 12 hours to rise, I’d be making this a lot more often.
Herman’s sourdough loaf recipe
325g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
220ml warm water
- In a large bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Pour in Herman and most of the water and mix until all the ingredients come together to form a dough. If the dough is slightly dry, add more water. Mine was really quite a wet, sticky dough so don’t be afraid if it’s also at the other end of the spectrum in terms of moisture.
- Turn the dough out on to an oiled work surface and knead for around 5 minutes or until the dough has an elastic texture to it. Because my mixture was so sticky, I used the dough hook on my mixer to knead the dough for around 3 minutes at this stage.
- Cover the bowl and leave to rise for around 6 hours or until the dough has at least doubled in size. I found the setting on my oven for a 35C heat and placed the dough inside for a couple of hours because my kitchen wasn’t particularly warm.
- After the initial 6 hours, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for another 2 minutes to distribute the air bubbles evenly around the dough. Place the dough into the bread tin, cover with a tea towel or oiled piece of cling film and leave to rise in a warm place for another six hours or until risen again by half.
- Heat the oven to 220C and place a large baking tray in the base of the oven. Sprinkle the top of the loaf with flour and cut a slash down the middle if you’re able (mine was too wet!). Pour a cup of water into the tray in the bottom of the oven and place the bread in to bake for 20 minutes. The steam from the water will help to create a nice crisp crust to the bread. After 20 minutes reduce the heat to 200C and bake for a further 25 – 30 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, turn out the loaf onto a wire cooling rack and leave to cool, if you can resist!
Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to Herman, my first sourdough starter. He has been entrusted into my care as part of a German friendship cake recipe which was passed on by one of my colleagues from our London office. The photo below was taken just after he arrived yesterday morning from the Big Smoke.
For those who aren’t familiar with sourdough, the starter (i.e. Herman) is combined with a bread dough to create a loaf with a slightly sour or tangy taste. The starter consists of a small amount of dough from an old batch (in this case dough from my colleague in London) and is fed with flour and water at regular intervals to keep the yeast culture alive. While alive, the starter produces bubbles. If the bubbles stop, Herman will be no more! Because a starter will happily exist if fed and kept at room temperature, many bakeries have kept their sourdough starters going for years. A different fate is in store for Herman, however!
As temporary keeper of Herman, I have to give him a good stir every day and feed him with flour, sugar and water on the fourth day of our time together. On the ninth day, I have to feed him again and then divide him into five portions. Four portions will be passed on to friends with a copy of his care instructions and I will then make the fifth portion into a sourdough cake.
I’ve certainly tried sourdough bread before but I’m not entirely familiar with sourdough cake. The cake that my colleague from London made got mixed reviews so I may be venturing onto Google to find a different recipe. Here’s hoping I’m able to keep Herman alive until then! I’ll keep you updated on his progress.
If anyone would like to adopt a portion of Herman in 10 days time, let me know! I wouldn’t want him to come all the way up from London for nothing!
While trying to satisfy my craving for warm buttery brioche last weekend, I came across two possible recipes to try: Adriano Zumbo’s from his latest book and Dan Lepard’s from Short and Sweet. The main differences between the two are that Adrian0 uses fresh yeast, a product I had never been able to find and had never worked with, and mixes his dough by machine whereas Dan uses dried yeast and mixes by hand.
I am always up for trying a new challenge so decided to source some fresh yeast and try Adriano Zumbo’s recipe (it also meant that I could take the easy way out and stick everything in the mixer!). After a bit of Googling, I found a very useful post from Edinburgh Foody about buying fresh yeast on Amazon from Bertinet Kitchen. Who knew?! For only £4.95 plus postage I got my hands on eight 42g blocks of Thirondelle fresh yeast. Bargain! This does however mean that I now have enough yeast to make between 30 – 60 loaves!
As such, I chose to freeze 6 of the blocks to be used later. I was aware that you can freeze fresh yeast but was unable to find a definitive answer on Google as to how best to freeze it. Here’s hoping I’ve done the right thing and it doesn’t deteriorate too much.
With the remaining two blocks I created Adriano Zumbo’s brioche and made it into cinnamon rolls and a couple of chocolate chip brioche rolls. The distraction of getting a new car and organising all the documents that go along with the process resulted in slightly over-baked cinnamon rolls. Topped with a lovely, gooey cream cheese frosting however no-one seemed to notice too much!
Having only used around 9g of the unfrozen blocks of yeast in my fridge, it dawned on me half way through the week that I would have to use it or lose it – in my world, an unthinkable idea! So this weekend, I have gone back to basics and chosen a simple white loaf from the new Great British Bake Off How to Bake book.
I was looking for a loaf with maximum flavour that I could leave to rise overnight and this recipe didn’t disappoint. With only a few ingredients (flour, water, fresh yeast and salt), and plenty of time, me and Mr H were treated to a hot loaf smothered in butter and jam for lunch. Unfortunately, I got slightly impatient with the first loaf and may have baked it before it had proved fully. The second loaf however was left for a full 2 hours and came out with a much more event crumb, as Mr Paul Holywood would say!
Now I just have to find more ways of using the remaining 300g yeast!
I’ve been suffering from bagel withdrawal symptoms since I came back from the States and given that the bagels sold in the UK are wholly incomparable to their US equivalent, I decided to try my hand at recreating this American staple.
Having investigated several different recipes and consulted my bagel oracle (a colleague at work who I consider to be a bagel connoisseur), it turns out that baking bagels is not difficult. It does however take a fair bit of time and uses some of the chemistry I discovered in my post about pretzels.
I did however attempt to venture out of my comfort zone by using a sponge for the first time. In bread making, a sponge is the first stage of a two-stage process that involves creating a mixture of flour, yeast and water. This ferments for a period of time before being added to the dough mixture. Sponges are typically used in artisan bread and generally improve the taste and texture of the finished bread.
New York Bagels
For the sponge
1 tsp instant yeast
500g strong bread flour
600ml lukewarm water
For the dough
1/2 tsp instant yeast
480g strong bread flour
1 tbsp malt extract (or 1 tbsp brown sugar or 2 tsp malt powder)
1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
maize meal/coarse ground polenta (a.k.a cornmeal. For more information on cornmeal in the UK see my post on Cornbread)
To make the sponge:
- In a large bowl, add the yeast to the flour and stir in the water until the ingredients are blended together. Cover with cling film and keep at room temperature for at least two hours. The sponge will start to bubble and rise to approximately twice to three times its original size.
- Two hours is the minimum time the sponge should be left to rise. The longer you leave the sponge, the better the finished bagels will taste.
To make the dough (day 1):
- Remove the cling film from the sponge and stir in the 1/2 tsp yeast. Add approximately 3/4 of the flour, the malt extract (or alternative) and the salt and mix until combined.
- Tip the remaining flour onto the work surface. Turn the dough out onto the surface and work the flour into the dough while kneading. Knead for 10 minutes. The finished dough should be stiffer than normal bread dough but moist enough to bind all the ingredients together.
- Divide the dough into 12 equally sized balls. There are two ways to shape the bagels. The first is to push your thumb through the centre of each ball and roll or stretch the bagel until they are of equal thickness all the way round. Alternatively, you can roll the balls into a log, connect the ends and roll them together until you have a smooth, round bagel. I found the first option the easiest. Don’t worry if you’re bagels are slightly misshapen. Once they’ve risen slightly, they’ll appear smoother.
- Place the bagels on a greased tray, cover with cling film and leave to rise in the fridge overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C fan/ 220 degrees C.
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add 1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda. This will increase the depth of colour of the bagels and supposedly add to the authentic “bagel shop” flavour.
- Drop the bagels into the water and boil for around 30 seconds on each side.
- Using a spatula or slotted spoon, remove the bagels from the water, allow the water to drain off and place on a baking tray covered in greaseproof paper and sprinkled with maize meal/polenta. If the bagels start to look slightly flat once removed from the water, reduce the boiling time slightly but do not boil for less than 15 seconds on each side.
- Bake in the oven for five minutes before rotating the pan and baking for another five minutes. The bagels should be slightly brown.
- Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Allow to cool for around 15 minutes (you WILL burn yourself if you try to cut them before this!) before digging in.
I made my bagels in two batches. The first came out slightly flat when removed from the water so I had to reduce the boiling time to around 20-25 seconds each side. I also topped the bagels with a sprinkling of maize meal as I love the texture it gives the outside of the bagels. Alternative toppings include poppy seeds, sesame seeds or a simple egg wash.
Now for breakfast… smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel anyone?! Or maybe banana and nutella? Or bacon and scrambled egg…?