Sunday, 30 January 2011

Peanut butter & chocolate sandwich biscuits

An indulgent two in one
For me, there is something completely yummy about salty peanut butter and dark chocolate that catapults me back to my childhood.
My favourite chocolate bar as a kid was the Reese's pieces cupcakes. I would nibble the thick chocolate edges and then let the chocolate covered peanut butter centre melt in my mouth. These are Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's great British versions:
For the biscuits
240g plain flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder (i didn't have any in the cupboard and they came out fine without)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
180g butter
140g smooth peanut butter (i used coarse)
100g caster sugar
100g light brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the ganache filling:
100ml double cream
200g dark chocolate
30g softened butter
1) Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
2) Beat the butter & peanut butter in a separate bowl.
3) Add to this the sugars & beat until light & fluffy.
4) Add to this the egg and vanilla, beat until smooth, then stir in the flour until well combined.
5) Cling film and keep in fridge for a couple of hours to chill.
6) Roll into 4-5mm thick, cut out circles of 5cm. 
7) Bake for 15-17mins. Keep an eye on your biscuits, they are ready when the edges darken slightly. Mine only took 11mins as they were a little smaller. I baked my biscuits in batches. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
8) Then make the ganache filling by gently heating your cream until bubbles appear at the edges of the pan.
9) Pour the hot cream over your broken chocolate, continuously stir and add the butter a bit at a time until the mixture is shiny & smooth. I used a bain marie to finish this off.
10) You need to leave the chocolate to thicken before you pipe onto your biscuits. While its cooling you can dip a few as a less indulgent alternative.
dipped for a smaller treat

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Hovis – still as good as they have always been

Heritage or Habit?
One of Britain’s best loved TV ads was of the boy pushing his heavy laden basket of Hovis bread to the top of the cobbly street and a more recent version featuring the boy running through the last 122 years of the most poignant events in British history
Are brands with heritage a good reason to buy? Do the brands we have grown up with give us comfort because we are familiar with them or should we be looking deeper than 'since 1886' and the brand slogan. Do we love them because they remind us of the past, conjuring up feelings of nostalgia, family history and childhood memories? Or is it clever marketing that is capitalising on this nostalgia and reminding us to stick to choosing what we have always known? Focussing on the subject of choice is an interesting point here.
Having visited the Hovis factory today, I found very few nostalgic items other than the bike in the reception area, as nice as it was, and as far as I know there is no Hovis museum to celebrate the great brand's British past. However, I did meet two very nice chaps, one of which had worked in the company for over 25 years having worked his way up through the ranks and now Project Manager of the site in Nottingham.
Owned by Premier Foods, Hovis produce over 839 million loaves per year and deliver to 9000 outlets a day across seven sites in the UK. Rank Hovis is the biggest miller in the UK producing 1.2million tonnes of flour per year. For the Project Manager at Hovis in Nottingham, his priority along with a few hundred ‘Baking Operatives’ is to ensure they produce 14,000 loaves+16,000 rolls every hour, 7 days a week, 364 days a year (they get Christmas Day off). Each loaf takes about 3.5 hours to go through the entire process. The journey starts with 3.5 mins in the mix, 4mins to divide/mould/shape, 3 mins in the first proof, 50 mins final proof, 21 mins to bake, 2hrs to cool, then sliced & bagged, racked & packed and out the door. It was quite amazing to see. I was completely mesmerised by thousands of loaves passing over my head on the lines bobbing along, uniformly travelling to their next destination. It was certainly a slick operation.

In order to feed the British public with their best-selling white sliced sandwich loaf and other assortments Hovis must supply the endless aisles of supermarkets with own label and branded products - and to do this means keeping their production line going morning, noon & night. This passionate chap, who is 100% committed to making sure the high speed (chorleywood bread) process runs smoothly, interestingly preferred the Hovis Scottish Pride loaf which had a more crusty and dense texture as opposed to the lighter sandwich loaves.

Nothing is left to chance, every ingredient is computer programmed with alarm bells going off if any ingredient or measure has been left out. Fermentation is fast and uses the ADD (Advanced Dough Development) method to ensure consistency and accurate specification compliance with every loaf. Surprisingly, the top three criteria on the hitlist for quality check is height/size, whiteness and texture. Even the renowned Hovis bread competition awards the perfect loaf according to height and texture. So where does taste come into it?

As an aspiring Artisan baker (not a baking operative!), it occurred to me today how extremely reliant we are on sight alone to make a choice on what food we buy. Perhaps it’s the lack of smell, sound, touch and taste that we are given in the supermarket environment that means our sight has become our strongest sense, overcompensating because we don’t use our other senses at all. Similar to those that may have lost their vision become heavily reliant on other senses, particularly sound and touch.

So if we only have sight to make our choice then perhaps there is a good reason for buying brands in a habitual manner...

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The Prince & the Duchess join us today in our Bakehouse

the courtyard before there arrival - official photos coming soon
A very exciting day today as we prepared to greet the Royal Party at 11.00am. Prince Charles arrived by Royal Train and the Duchess of Cornwall by helicopter landing in Carriage Court on the stunning rural grounds of the Welbeck Estate. As we shaped and moulded our traditional cottage loaves, I kept glancing through the windows of the bakery, finally catching a glimpse of the parade of black cars pulling into the courtyard and then full view of the Prince and Duchess. We eagerly awaited them to come through the bakery doors. Excitement growing, the doors flung open and our head baker greeted them with "Hi guys" :-)
Charles chatted to Laura my flat mate for quite some time about the cottage loaves we were making and then he came over with Camilla to speak to me. Very big grin! I bobbed slightly and shook Charles's hand with "Good morning Your Royal Highness" and "Hello Camilla" (having practised 'mam like ham' for quite some time!). My fellow student baker, David, bobbed a little further (almost a curtsey) and greeted Charles with 'Hello Your Majesty' :-)
Charles was really lovely and spent time with all of us, genuinely interested in what we were doing at the school. He asked me how we make our sourdoughs and the difference in fermentation times to commercial yeast. He seems to favour sourdough bread and I told him there was a hamper waiting for him filled with our walnut sourdough we had made yesterday and that it would go perfect with some local Stichelton blue cheese and stout. He said he would have loved to stay longer. Both Charles & Camilla wished us well and waved goodbye as they left....a special day :-)
The Royal loaves - traditional cottage loaves that we shaped during Charles & Camilla's visit to the Bakehouse

Monday, 24 January 2011

Walnut Sourdough, Blue Cheese & Stout

Mark Newman has an Artisan bakery in Bristol called Mark's Breads. He was a real inspiration, as similarly to myself he decided to leave the corporate jungle (he was in IT for 15 or so years) and set up something for himself. He shared his bread recipes, tips & tasting notes with us today and we made a selection of Artisan breads including, sundried tomato & chilli, olive & thyme, walnut sourdough, 7-seeded sourdough and spiced fruit buns.

Mark's tasting notes on the best combination of bread, cheese & beer....

  • Multi-seeded - caerphilly cheese - golden ale / fruity & floral
  • Sourdough - Strong cheddar (eg. Montgomery) - Bitter
  • Walnut - Blue Cheese - Stout
  • Rye - Soft goats cheese
  • Spelt - Hard goats cheese - German weissbier /hoegaarden

Mark's top tips for bread making:
1) Soak the seeds in at least their own weight of boiling water to soften. Subtract the boiled water from the total water required.
2) Place a wet tea towel on a tray. Roll your shaped dough on the wet tea towel then on the tray with your seed mix to coat evenly.
3) Keep your slashing knife in water to stop it tearing the dough.
4) Use as little flour as possible. Wet your hands to deal with sticky dough, use oil to lightly coat the tray for resting.  
5) Consider the water and salt content on any additional ingredients you wish to add (eg. soak your olives to remove the salt content)
6) Use Rye levain for the walnut bread as it gives a good flavour & chewy texture.
7) Add salt 2/3rds towards the end of your mixing to encourage dough autolysis, ie. the water and flour are allowed a period of time being mixed together to form gluten and starch strands before the salt is added (salt breaks down the yeast cells). Once the salt is added you can noticeably see the dough stiffen.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

dippy duck eggs

The perfect eggs for soldier dipping! Duck eggs from the Welbeck Farm shop. I like to cook mine for 6.5mins for the perfect runny egg, although these are Noels and he prefers 7 minutes. I remember once having a debate with my friend at uni as to whether soldiers should be toasted or not. She loved to dip bread and i loved to dip toast. I explained that they wouldn't be soldiers if they couldn't stand to attention !

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Baking baguettes - epi, fougasse, fleur de lis

I have had an amazing few days in the bakehouse making baguettes with white and levain poolish pre-ferment. We learnt to slash the bread like the French by tilting the razor blade 45 degrees and cleanly slashing cuts into the top of the dough. These then open up during baking giving a really stylish and crusty finish. Having recently flown back from France and involved in a European baking competition, Emmanuel, our master baker, taught us how to achieve these beautiful shapes using simple blade technique - fougasse, epi and fleur de lis.
fougasse - cut & gently pull apart

epi - snipped at an angle with sharp scissors
fougasse with plaited ends

Baking bread is really not that difficult. And not all bakers are up until the early hours baking. I am leaning towards the way Chad manages his baking at Tartine in San Francisco, where they bake pastries for the morning and bake bread for sale in the evening. He makes the levain the night before and it rises through the night (while he sleeps!) and then they bake it off the next afternoon. Surely it makes sense that customers can pick up fresh bread for their evening meal to have it again for toast the next morning? 

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Lazy Sunday - Old English Muffins (c 1937)

A perfect sunday morning breakfast. Old english muffins, cooked on a griddle. This recipe is from Elizabeth David 'English Bread & Yeast Cookery' and is one of her favourites. I really loved making these. 

Strong plain flour 450g (or mix plain and strong)
15g yeast (I used about 12g as it was enough with slightly longer 'rest' time)
1 level tbspn salt
2 tbspn olive oil
butter to brush griddle/pan
3/4 pint milk + water mixed (just under)
rice flour for dusting (i just used semolina flour as it was all i had in the cupboard)

Elizabeth recommends you warm the flour in the oven on a very low heat. Then warm the butter, milk & water to blood heat.  Use a little of this wet mixture to cream your yeast. Once the flour is warmed, add the salt and then you can add your creamed yeast and rub together with your fingers. Then add the milk/butter/water mixture and mix with a wooden spoon. Leave the dough to rest for 30-45 mins. Divide the dough into 9 equal portions and mould into roll shapes. Rest on a tray covered with tea-towel for 35 mins. 
Heat your griddle with a scrapping of butter and cook each side for approx 8 mins or until golden brown (use a low heat). Fresh from the griddle they should be a good biscuit colour top and bottom with a white band around the edge.
To toast muffins
'Muffins should not be split and toasted. The correct way to serve them is to open them slightly at their joint all the way round, toast them back and front, tear them open and butter the insides liberally. Serve hot. 'Marian McNeil, The book of breakfasts, 1932

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Winter Ices

Kitty loves ice cream! So much so that she created her own Artisan business, La Grotta Ices, making delicious home made ice creams and sorbets. Kitty is keen on sharing her ices with everyone, which is why she is as happy selling from her ice cream van or market stall as she is supplying top London chefs.
Armed with a handful of recipes and bundles of enthusiasm we made vanilla ice cream, seville orange sorbet, lemon granitas, parfait, candito d'uovas (a very rich dish with lots of egg yolks) and accompanying wafer thins, cones, tacos & twirls.

Using good ingredients is key. Kitty uses Calonwen organic milk The benefit of Kitty being a small scale producer is that everything is freshly made with seasonal local ingredients, so no need for added flavours or preservatives.

Kitty's simple vanilla ice cream recipe:
375ml whole milk
1 vanilla pod
100g granulated sugar
3 egg yolks
250ml whipping cream (or 180ml double cream + 70ml Whole Milk)
Pinch of salt

  • Heat (infuse) the milk and split vanilla pod until barely simmering
  • Whisk eggs, sugar and salt together until completely combined
  • Pour hot milk over yolks in a steady stream whisking constantly and then return the combined mix to your pan.
  • Cook over a low heat stirring all the time until the temperature reaches 85c (this is important due to eggs needing to be thoroughly cooked - use a probe to ensure you reach 85 degrees and keep it there for a couple of mins)
  • Plunge the pan into an ice bath of cold water and ice, add cream and stir to cool to 10c within 1/2 hr (again - use a temp probe)
  • Refrigerate for 4hours (preferably overnight), then strain to remove the vanilla pod and whizz with a stick/immersion blender to emulsify. Then churn - you can use a domestic ice cream churner OR you can create an endothermic reaction* 
  • An endothermic reaction !
    Kenwood Gelato
  • Seal your ice cream mixture in a bag and then place in a larger bag filled with 8 parts ice to 2 parts salt - shaking this will solidify your mixture and turn it to ice cream. 
* By adding salt it lowers the freezing point of the ice. The ice then needs to absorb more energy in order to melt and so absorbs the heat from the ingredients.

You can visit Kitty at Maltby Street Market, Tower Bridge alongside Neals Yard Dairy, Monmouth Coffee and a variety of other Artisan producers

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

There's nothing quite like the taste of a homemade sausage roll

Today I made rough puff pastry for the first time. Wow, this stuff has some serious butter layerage! Rough puff has 4 layers of butter, puff pastry has 7 layers. 
Laura Jackson, head chef at the Towpath in East London serves a simple menu with seasonal ingredients and is renowned for her home-made sausages. This is her recipe that makes approximately 12 large sausage rolls.

Rough Puff Pastry
500g plain flour (kept in fridge)
2 tspn salt
300g butter divided into 4 piles (3x 75g cubes softened, 1 x 75g refrigerated)
200ml cold water (kept chilled in fridge)
Sausage Roll Filling 
750g minced pork belly, 750g mince pork shoulder, 250g minced pork fat, 250g breadcrumbs, 300g diced onions sweated down in butter with salt & pepper seasoning, 1/2 bunch chopped sage, salt & pepper)

A cool room, cold flour, cold butter, cold marble surfaces are all good for pastry making. Keep it light not overworked.
1) Start by rubbing the cold butter into the flour and salt mixture (you can use a Magimix or rub with your fingertips by hand)
2) Add the cold water a little at a time - too much liquid and the dough will be too sticky and elastic. 
3) Keep checking for consistency and you should see the dough suddenly come together in a ball shape (it will also darken slightly in colour)
4) Cling film your dough and let it rest in the fridge for at least 1/2 hour.
5) Lightly flour your cold marble surface and roll out your dough
6) Roll gently so that the shape is 3x as long as it is wide. The thickness should be roughly the size of a pound coin. Each time you roll out, ensure the sides are neat and even
7) Spread 75g of the softened butter onto the pastry dough, leaving a margin (1/2inch) around the edge and only spread from the top to 2/3rds down. The butter should be soft but not greasy.
8) Then fold over like a book, bottom up to the middle and then top over the bottom. Back into fridge for 1/2hr rest. Repeat this process until you have laminated 3 x 75g softened butter into the pastry dough.
9) Once rested you can then roll out and cut into a long thin strip and fill with your sausage meat.
10) Finally bake them until golden brown around 30 minutes. Delicious !

What to do with left over bread ?

The perfect recipe for left over bread is bread & butter pudding. 
This is so simple. All you need do is grease your dish and layer your buttered bread in triangular shapes. Pour over the custard (1 vanilla pod, 300ml milk, 300ml double cream, 100g caster sugar, 5 egg yolks) and bake on 190c for 45 minutes. Hey presto, a hearty British desert without any effort. We used raisin bread but if you use plain white you may want to add some sultanas. The trick is to make sure you fill the dish up with enough custard so it doesn't dry out during the cooking process. Too much bread and it could end up a bit dry and stodgy. This one I made with John was perfect :-)

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Tesco wipes out the best butcher in town !

A very sad day yesterday. The dominating power of Tesco, who took 19 years to get into Gerrards Cross have claimed their first victim. Richardsons butcher. Knowledgeable, friendly staff with great banter and delicious meats closed as of last week. I stood with other locals in disbelief that this renowned butcher loved by the locals for so many years has had to close up shop.

this is from my iphone - i apologise you will have to tilt your head to read it!
If you are reading this, I ask that you just take a moment to think about how you shop and the impact of your spend on the environment, local trade, heritage, knowledge, service and people. Do we really want this country run by the sterile environment they offer an enjoyable experience for us?
One of the reasons I decided to join The School of Artisan Food was because I detested having to shop at supermarkets, enticed to fill a trolley full of disappointing food wrapped in plastic packaging. Have you ever held one of the vegetables to your nose and actually tried to smell the tomatoes or peppers? - don't bother.
My vision is to provide local  farm shops that offer real seasonal food, traceability, sustainability and above all an enjoyable shopping experience where your sensory skills come alive. After all, food is about taste & smell not bright halogen lights and dodgy trolleys.

Monday, 3 January 2011

My first bake in 2011 !

Happy new year to everyone ! OMG is it really 2011 ?!?
A big thank you to my brother who was particularly generous with Christmas presents this year and for genuinely seeming super made up with my home-made gin soaked damson jam & apple chutney in return:-)... I might add he is currently sunning himself in Thailand, whilst I am currently clearing the kitchen.

I have been putting one of my presents to good use, 'Dough' by Richard Bertinet. Its a lovely book with great bread recipes that are simply collated.
You first make the dough up, white, wholemeal, multi-grain or rye dough and then you can adapt the recipe depending on what flavours you fancy or what shaped loaves you prefer. There is even a CD to show you how.

Today, I made a mix of shapes and flavours using the R.Bertinet method: 
1 small white loaf with poppy seeds using a really old hovis tin I found in an antique shop in Sheffield.
1 white plait with poppy seeds
2 x raisin and walnut loaves using a mix of white, wholemeal and rye flour 
1 x wholemeal/white flour mix in a tin that got stuck even though I oiled it plenty beforehand...arghhh !
1 x wholemeal loaf with wheatgerm and multi-grain stone ground flour

At the school of artisan, my fellow students and I call Bertinet's process, the 'slap & fold' method of working the dough, its fun and you can see the dough come together after around 5-8 minutes. 
Even though the dough begins quite sticky, you musn't use any flour. As you lift the dough through your forked fingers, you throw it over itself so you collect air pockets within the dough which will make it light and airy. The dough soon becomes smoother and silky looking as it comes together. 

The loaves are currently cooling but I plan to package them up and drop them off to a few friends with my best wishes for the year ahead.