Thursday, 25 August 2011

In search of the right location

Tart & Toast is still on the look out for the right place to start a bakery and bread school.

I had an interesting chat with the Twickenham Town Planner who was looking for an Artisan Bakery to open in Twickenham high street. Evidently, there is a foodie community evolving with the well-established Sandy's fishmonger leading the way followed by the recently opened Laverstoke Park Farm’s retail shop. Owned by Jody Scheckter, this is their first retail shop supplying organic beef & buffalo produce made on their farm in Hampshire - their beef biltong & smokey dried buffalo sausage is really delicious!

Natasha Carr, Twickenham's town planner has been really helpful sending me properties that she thinks may be suitable. Both my parents grew up in this area and I lived in Whitton for a short period so I am familiar with the area and extremely fond of Richmond upon Thames.

Apparantly, Twickenham is undergoing a regeneration programme with investment into the local area. Footfall increases during the rugby matches and the commercial estate agents are also quick to remind potential investors that 2012 Olympics plus the Rugby World Cup in 2015 are just around the corner.

But, having viewed a few properties I have some reservations. The high street is extremely busy with major bus routes, the rents are high and the space is small.

One property, currently trading as a charity store, was located in the heart of the high street and had the highest footfall so was worth considering. On further investigation at £25,000 p/annum + rates of £8,500 it came with some expensive baggage, namely sewer issues, rodents, electrical faults, no hot water etc etc. This did put me off somewhat, but what really concerned me was whether there was a genuine market for my bread here. It worried me. The high street was busy but I wasn’t convinced they would be interested in paying £3+ for a sourdough and critically how many would I need to sell to pay off this lease !!!

I had a coffee outside an independent café on the street, imagining opening a bakery here. Honestly, I didn’t like the noise or the buses, motorbikes and cars hurtling past. Perhaps I am a country girl at heart??

I spoke to some of the local residents. The response was that there was already several stores selling bread - M&S, Tesco Express, Waitrose, Iceland, Greggs, Belmonts but there was no mention of a desire for Real Bread. Then I came across a cobbled street off the main high street called Church Street, this was quieter and had a few nice eateries and some independent boutique style shops. Although, the only place available was an ex jewellery store (A1) tucked around the corner - maybe? I decided to compare this type of location with nearby and affluent Richmond.

Throughout the afternoon I saw 15 properties. The competition was fierce in Richmond with Paul’s and many other popular patisserie chains. I adore Richmond Hill – although they already have a lovely bakery & café. The Richmond Hill Bakery would be my dream store, they also own the butcher and greengrocer so clearly not short of a bob or two.

The clientele certainly seemed more open to artisan breads and it felt altogether more ‘leafy’. But you certainly pay for it - the rent here was between £30,000-£45,000 + rates. Many of the high street chains such as Costa and Starbucks act as loss leaders here. They pay top whack to have a flagship store in this prestigious location. For me, this would be my only store and so I couldn’t afford to make a loss in the long run.

After a long afternoon we decided to rest our heads and sit by the river, listen to the buskers playing their guitar and enjoy the last of the summer sun.

The search continues…

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Blackberry & Apple Jam

During a brief stay in Sandwich, Kent our B&B had an orchard and the trees were laden full of fruit, so much so that the apple trees branches were breaking under the strain. With an invitation and a bag I headed down to the bottom of the garden and picked the most beautiful ripe eating apples and crab apples I had ever seen. This year has been the best for apples and I kept thinking of the Kent countryside providing all the London markets and how lucky I was to be getting these for free. Today I made some jam for my upcoming farmers market.
The crab apples were a bright crimson inside and produced a beautiful colour and tart flavour, a perfect partner for the blackberries. They are also high in pectin so really great for jam making.

Sterilise jars and dry them in a warm oven. 

For the Jam I used 405g of crab apples / 900g blackberries / 1350 sugar / 1/4 pint water / squeeze of lemon over the apples.


1) Prepare fruit. Peel and core the apples. Wash the blackberries.
2) Soften the fruit with half the water for each pan (apples in separate pan as harder than the blackberries).
3) Combine both fruits in larger pan along with the sugar. Dissolve the sugar.
4) Bring to the boil. Boil rapidly for approx 15 minutes. Stirring frequently.
5) Check setting is reached by spooning a little on a plate and checking for wrinkles when pushed lightly with your finger.
6) Pour into your sterilised jam jars. Use a wax disc and seal.

Utensils used to make this jam:
1) Large pan (ex lobster pot) depending on how much you make. But you need at least half of the pan empty as the jam will bubble up the sides during the open boiling process.
2) Two small pans to soften and reduce the fruit.
3) Jam jars washed in warm soapy water, rinsed in warm water, dried in the oven. Keep warm for when you pour the hot jam in.
4) Wooden spoon for stirring
5) Ladel for pouring into metal jug.
6) Saucer for testing setting point
7) Wax discs (I used waxed parchment paper and cut into circles)
8) Wet tea towel to wipe any drips
9) Labels & ties to mark your date of production.

Top tips you might find useful:
1) Preparation really is key. Make sure you have all your jars ready and you are using the right equipment. Nothing worse than trying to pour hot jam into jars without the right utensils. Metal jug is good for pouring.
2) If you run out of sugar you can use brown, honey or golden syrup but be aware this will change the flavour/colour. I had to use a bit of billington brown and you can taste notes of caramalised/molasses.
3) 1b = 450 grams 
4) Check your fruit is high in pectin or else you will need to add lemon juice or citric acid (can obtain from pharmacy). Don't throw away the peel or core of the crab apples - you can use this to make pectin.
5) Keep stirring so your jam doesn't stick or burn to the bottom of the pan.
6) Be patient for setting point to be reached. It took about 10 minutes of rolling boil. You can use a sugar thermometer (i didn't have one). Should reach around 105C for setting. 
7) Two stages to note: First is softening and reducing the fruit before the sugar is added and second is to dissolve the sugar well off the heat and then return to the heat and boil rapidly, whilst stirring until setting is reached. 
8) Over boil means rock hard jam and under boil means runny jam (or preserve). In France, we had some beautiful preserves for breakfast and they were all quite runny. So whatever the consistency enjoy on toast!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Summer Fruit Picking

Yesterday, my nieces and I were out walking in Chorleywood when we came across a mighty treasure trove…blackberries, sweet plums and beautifully crisp eating apples. If you could bear to stretch beyond the nettles and tiny thorns there were branches laden with a veritable feast.

Now for some summer fruit tarts! It just so happens that my brother and his friend Jo are raising money for the children's charity WellChild this Saturday and require a table full of cakes to support their fund raising. As a recent graduate from baking diploma I was more than happy to assist.

Sweet Pastry Recipe (approx. 12 x 5” tartlets)

Ingredients: 700g plain flour / 400g cold diced lightly salted butter / 200g icing sugar / 3 egg yolks

1)      Sift flour then icing sugar
2)      Work in diced butter with fingertips until very soft
3)      Add egg yolks & combine into sweet dough
4)      Once smooth and combined flatten slightly and refrigerate for a few hours.
Once chilled…
1)      Roll pastry out onto clean, flat surface and lift onto pre-greased tartlet tin
2)      Press lightly but evenly into tin
3)      Prick all over with a fork & blind bake for approx 10 mins @ 200⁰C

Almond & Fruit filling:

Ingredients: 500g butter / 500g caster sugar / 500g ground almonds /  10 large eggs Fruit can be evenly distributed into each of the tarts. You will probably need around 24 small plums, 200g blackberries, 12 small apples.

1)      Cream the butter & sugar
2)      Add ground almonds until blended
3)      Beat in eggs – one at a time
4)      Place your larger fruit face down onto the pastry
5)      Pour the filling mixture into the tartlet making sure the fruit is still exposed slightly
6)      Then dot your smaller fruit around (sliced plums and blackberries)
7)      Bake for approx 25 minutes
8)      Brush with warm apricot jam to glaze.

-          Don’t roll out the pastry too thick, about 1/2cm should be okay
-          Don’t skimp on the fruit
-          Keep your sliced apples in lemon juice water to stop them going brown

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Our final bake off...

The School of Artisan 2011
Completes first year of Diploma

Now that the excitement and dust has settled I thought I would complete the end of the journey with my final week at The School of Artisan Food. I can’t quite believe my Diploma is finished.

For our baking practical assessment we were tasked with baking a variety of breads in an 8 hour time slot. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep the night before and had wild dreams about forgetting a vital ingredient, rushing home to get it and then waiting hours for the bus back to school that never turned up. I was devastated. Then I woke up!

So the day before the exam we were allocated one hour to prepare all our pre-ferments. My chosen free style was to be focaccia bread with a pre ferment biga ( I also prepared the ciabatta overnight dough and poolish for the baguettes. The day of the exam I pinned up my production schedule that I had designed in order that I could keep a track on the best critical path to follow during each of the baking phases: mixing, bulk ferment, scale, rest, mould, shape, prove, slash, bake. I had prioritised the Levain de Campagne as this would take the longest to prove. 

We individually baked Levain de Campagne, Ciabatta rolls, Ciabatta loaves, Petit Pain, 55cm long baguettes, Malthouse, White, Focaccia (Rosemary & Rock Salt / Olive & Feta). In total we baked over 100 loaves each. We were tested on dough rheology, bulk fermentation, DDT (desired dough temperature), post baked weight control, organisational skills, moulding, shaping, blade, oven & baking skills, hygiene, decoration, crust, crumb, taste, aroma and final presentation.
In the end, we were all so proud of what we had achieved. Everyone did brilliantly. I did think David's freestyle Tsoureki loaf was particularly ambitious but he absolutely pulled it off and as always it tasted superb.
David's Tsoureki  (Greek Easter) bread
For me, the only major hiccup was catching the wooden peel on the way out of the oven causing my beautifully moulded baguettes to perform a Mexican wave and land in a heap at the back – a few expletives later and I was able to get over it and get on.

Expert bakers Emmanuel Hadjiandreou and Wayne Caddy from the British Baking Team judged our final work. Our final results are not through yet but needless to say there were big smiles all round:-)