Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Challenges - looking back and what's next….

Dear food lovers and other passionate people,

Can you believe it………..???! I am actually sitting in front of my computer….. To write a blog post…. Since 4 months…… Wait a second. I've got to celebrate this now! Sips espresso. Kills coconut macaroon - even though it is January.

Right. I am a person of no regrets. I simply cannot see the point of regrets. Regrets are focussed on looking back in a negative way. "If I…." "Why didnt' I…." 
I am however a big fan of learning from the past, which I think is looking back in a positive way. That's what I have always done from a very young age. I would find it pretty pointless to go through a 'negative' experience 'for nothing'. Things happen for a reason. That's what I believe. And I take from it as much as I can to turn it around into something positive for the future.

Why this philosophical intro, I hear you thinking……?

Well, early 2013 I set myself a (rather public) and hugely eager challenge of baking the following (inspired by the film about Julia Child - the one with Meryl Streep):
- Brioche
- Tarte Tatin
- Lemon Meringue Pie
- Puff Pastry
- Yorkshire Puddings
- Baguettes
- Crumpets
- Muffins
- Summer pudding
- Stollen
- Millefeuille
- Chocolate Fondants
- Madeleines
- Hot Cross Buns

Now, let's look back………..in a positive way!

I baked the Madeleines, the Hot Cross Buns and the Crumpets at home and wrote long blog posts about those in March, April and May. 

In the summer I went to England to attend the magnificent Advance Baking Session at the School of Artisan Food, about which I also wrote a very long blog post in August. During the course I tackled the Brioche and Baguettes on my list, amongst a LOAD of other new breads which weren't on the list above but are now a new experience/skill too!

So that's what I have achieved. I have had a fantastic time baking it, photographing it, writing about it and talking about it. Is it as much as I had wanted to achieve? No. Me being me, I would have wanted to achieve ALL of it. So why didn't I?

The thing is, since I gave up my career as a management consultant the only real structure I follow during the week and possibly also during the weekend is dominated by what the family/kids need(s). I haven't planned any windows of time to start building something outside those activities that is for me. And this is in my hands. I can change this. With a click of my fingers. I just have to do it. And so far I haven't. I have just been on a 'flow' with what's needed around me.

Having set myself the challenges above a year ago, thinking that I would just 'wing it' in between all the other daily activities has made me realise that it simply needs structure and planning. Just like anything else in life you want to achieve.

Rather philosophical perhaps. But you know what? I am glad that it has presented itself to me like this. In my face. Through a set of blimmin made up baking challenges after all… I can be quite ambitious and I have let that part of me go for a while. And that's fine. The situation here at home required all hands on deck for quite a while. And if I am really honest, then I have probably applied my ambition to home/family life anyway. But now it's time to take control of my life again and start building something that requires focus, structure and planning. Quite scary words those.

I am giving myself until St Brigid's Day (1 February) to come up with a plan. A plan that will involve baking and writing. Nothing too ambitious to start with. A realistic plan, for which I shall block out weekly windows of time to make sure that I achieve my goals.

That feels good!

Part of my plan will also be to either change my blog to a different provider or start a complete new one. I am finding the possibilities on Blogger too limited, especially when it comes to layout of photographs etc. Being the aesthetics perfectionist that I am: it has to look good! And I have somewhat struggled to make it look exactly as I want it here. 

This is it for now lovely people. Bit of reflection time. Just what January is for. 

I look forward!

X Bee

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Professional Artisan Baking - The Advanced Session

Dear 'realbread' friends and other food enthusiasts,

OK then!! Here goes........... 

At last I am writing that blog post about the amazing four-day 'Advanced Baking Session' at the School of Artisan Food!

Having taken the summer off - with the kids being at home for 9 (!!!) weeks - there hasn't been much of an opportunity to sit down quietly and write. But as they're both on their last summer camps this week...I feel I ought to (and want to!) start writing again and get back into sharing great baking and other foodie stuff with you BEFORE the school year starts. Very conveniently, as part of this blog post I will also tackle a number of my 'Personal Baking Challenges 2013' as they were part of the list of the breads we baked that week!

It was the very first week of the kids' summer holidays when I was given the opportunity to be part of the Advanced Baking Session at the School of Artisan Food - my Birthday present from my lovely husband, my dad and my husband's parents. A "professional four-day course developed for existing bakers, chefs, business start-ups and advanced home bakers". 

I wanted to do this course - as some of you already know - to explore how serious and how far I want to take bread baking. Having had a love for baking all my life, my artisan (or 'realbread') baking was taking more and more shape at home (baking for other families around me) and I ended up thinking "What's next?". Apart from that, I had only ever taught myself. I wanted to get some professional and technical knowledge and experience under my belt and this course seemed to offer this.

The other probably most important element of this course - and the philosophy of the entire school for that matter - was the 'Artisan' element of it. I have grown up with and have always been interested in 'real' food. Honest food, pure food. Organic if possible. Food that no one has messed about with to put it bluntly. Bread, vegetables, dairy, meat and fish the way it was meant to be. This is how I have been baking my bread and so it was an easy choice to go for the Advanced Baking Session at the School of Artisan Food. Here is a link to the school. Have a look at all the wonderful courses they offer. When I read it, I wish that I was 21 again...........!!! www.schoolofartisanfood.org

In four days we baked 17 different types of bread with 6 six of us (max. of 8 people each course) at a reasonable pace. This meant that we didn't all bake each type of bread from A to Z but at crucial moments in each of the 17 processes we were called over to come and have a look, smell, feel, stretch, fold, cut, shape, etc. This was all brilliantly managed by Wayne Caddy, Head of Baking at the School and up to present the UK for the Coup Louis Lesaffre 'Bakery Masters' title in Paris in 2014.

Obviously, I cannot take you through the entire four-day course in a blog post. I have a feeling that this post is going to be long enough as it is.... And I wouldn't want to 'give it all away' either with loads of videos and recipes - simply out of respect for the wonderful people who have put this course together.

So, I will share with you my personal highlights. And personal they were!

After a magic wedding in Devon the weekend before, I travelled up North by train to Worksop where I was picked up by the lovely Robin Brown - one half of the extremely warm, friendly and helpful couple who run Browns award winning B&B. As I was by train, Robin took me to the School every morning and picked me up in the evenings. Courtesy of the B&B for people who follow courses at the School. How good is that?! As we produced a crazy amount of bread all week I did give them some of it in the evening of course;-). Let's hope they liked it!

But seriously, Brown's is a great place to stay if you consider doing a course at the School. It's the one closest to the Welbeck Estate. Super breakfast menu - all cooked by the wonderful and chatty Joan. Here's a link: www.brownsholbeck.co.uk

So, on my first morning I was actually quite nervous and apprehensive as well as excited and raring to go! The unknown. Finally stepping outside that comfort zone again. It had been a while. Who else would be on the course? All professional bakers with 'strong like bull' arms.....? As it happened.......that was not the case. Phew......! A lovely group of people with very diverse backgrounds.

After a warm reception with coffee, tea and goodies baked at the School we introduced ourselves, spent a little bit of time on some theoretical material about bread, flour, milling, mixing etc. and actually got on with it pretty soon. Right up my street! Learning by doing. Practice. Getting my hands dirty.  That's exactly what I came for.

The four-day programme was packed with loads of different breads - including a lot of 'specialty breads'. First up was the brioche. One of my 'Personal Baking Challenges 2013' - hurrah!! This particular one - and two other of my personal challenges - I did get to do from start to finish. 

As you probably know, brioche is made with a truckload of butter and eggs and in this case with a levain and a little bit of saf gold yeast (which tolerates sugar better than normal baker's yeast) - we are on an artisan baking course after all ;-)! 

Now for the exciting bit................ :-))))! I got to use a professonial mixer for the first time in my life....... LIKE A KID IN A CANDY STORE!! Honestly, there's nothing like it! To watch the development of the dough as the mixer churns away....brilliant! Also taking a huge amount of dough out of the mixer is an interesting activity. I took it on with both hands and loved it!

And this is the dough we ended up with. Beautiful! Strong. Yet with enough elasticity. Tenactity & elasticity. That's what you want from your dough!! With brioche dough, you try and develop the elasticty (gluten) first - then you add the butter.

We let this dough prove overnight (retard) and shaped an baked next day.

    Brioche. Different shapes and finishes.

Also on Day One we prepared doughs for Pannetone, Fruit Tea Malt Loaf and bigas and sponges for Day Two's Focaccia, Cottage Loaf and Wayne's award winning Coup de Monde Olive & Gruyere loaf. The only bread that was ready to bake on Day One was the fruit loaf:

At the end of day one I went back to the B&B and as I entered my room I had the most unexpected and deeply touching experience..... I had this one 'flash' moment in which I wanted to call my mum to share my experience of the first day of this fantastic course with her..... It just came to me and completely overwhelmed me. In fact, writing about it now brings back that overwhelming emotion again. I literally just sat on the bed and let it overwhelm me for a while. As most of you know, my mother died almost 14 years ago now. She was a daughter of a baker. I am from a baker's family as it were. The urge/reflex to call her in this moment of enthusiasm and spontaneity I hadn't experienced probably since a year or so after she died. As I look at it now, I think that the first course day brought me right back to 'me'. To my core, to who I really am and to what I really love doing. And in that moment, she was suddenly there. Very close. Beautiful and painful all at the same time. As if wanting to tell me something. The way I have taken this in the end is, one of confirmation. That I am doing the right thing. Whatever shape or form it will take in the future. I am on the right track. Baking. She just came to tell me that ;-)! Thanks mum! X

So.......Day Two! 

Having 'eased into' Day One a bit, now we were on to some serious baking. The brioches were shaped and baked of which you have seen the result above. The Cottage Loaves (they are so beautiful!), Pannetone, Olive & Gruyere Loaves and Focaccias were baked too on this day. 

These Focaccias were not from this world............ Honestly. DELICIOUS! Scoffed it down in the evening as I couldn't cook in the B&B and I had no car to go out. No need for it either. I took freshly baked bread with me every night and bought some beautiful cheeses and fruit at the Welbeck farm shop the first night to have with it. Oh.........and of course I had bought some wine on my travels up North to see me through the week ;-). 

So as you might gather, suddenly we started to feel like real bakers here :-)!! All the time schedules, proving sessions, number of folds, oven times and temperatures became more important if not crucial to success. Very helpful was our whiteboard schedule on which we ticked off completed activities like hourly folds etc. If you have a good look, you can see that I took the opportunity to make the ciabatta from start to finish as well. Another one of my 'Personal Baking Challenges 2013' :-). 

As mentioned before, every day we prepared sponges, bigas and levains for the next day so that it got a chance to do its thing overnight. On Day Two we prepared these for Hot Cross Buns, Pain de Campagne, Rye & Onion tin loaves, Ciabatta, 3 Grain Levain and Walnut Levain..... Not any ordinary list of breads.......!!!

Making the Ciabatta dough on Day Three, I took this beautiful picture of the dough being mixed:

Call me a freak, but I can look at this for a long time........... Sheer beauty and perfection!

Bulk fermentation and folding to follow of course and lots of feeling the dough to get to know what it good dough feels like. Feeling and stretching the dough lots and lots of times is the only way to get a good idea of what it should feel like. We even tasted raw dough and levains, bigas, etc to find out how different they can be. Note: this picture is not necessarily one of the ciabatta dough.

A few more pictures of the ciabatta making.........

Nice crumb!

More finished bakes from Day Three:

Rye & Onion tin loaves (will never forget the ones we left in the oven and completely forgot about.......................!!!!)

Hot cross buns (the ones Wayne developed for M&S a loooooooooong time ago ;-)) and fruit loaves.

Preparation for Day Four was an impressive list once again, including a bread I had never heard of and was very excited about: Panmarino! Others were Raisin & Rosemary batards (from the same Panmarino dough), Beer Barm Bread, Orange & Raisin Levain with a Raspberry Tea Soaker and.................................there it finally is..................

No need to tell you that I felt very lucky to be able to take on the baguette recipe from start to finish. ANOTHER one of my Personal Baking Challenges. The tricky bits are handling the dough (high hydration), shaping and slashing. 

Learning about slashing the baguettes

But we got there in the end and Wayne told us that it was an impressive result for those of us who did this for the very first time. OK. I believe him ;-).

Proper BO!!!!!

Probably worthwhile showing you the Panmarino too. You cut the crown and add the course sea salt just before baking. It's symbolic for the 'crown and diamonds' based on the original recipe by Luciano Pancalde who once read a biography of the d'Este family and descriptions of their their banquets...... Rosemary bread with a crust that sparkled with diamonds..... Lovely!

The Raisin and Rosemary Batards next to it we made out of the same dough as the Panmarino. You can see the finished Panmarinos behind it.

I told you earlier we still had to bake all the other breads off too..... Well here's that big rack again..... Filled with all the final breads. 

And yes, we were impressed. With our own efforts. Only after receiving compliments from Wayne. Of course.

So what do I think now? 

Well........... It is definitely one of the best things I have ever done in my entire life. And that includes experiences like doing an MBA at Cranfield. I haven't been 'in my element' like this for a very long time indeed. Here's a BIG thank you to everyone who made this happen. All the people from the School, fellow bakers on the course and my family.
It was worth every penny. Yes, I did know how much my Birthday present cost and how much the people who gave me the present wanted me to do the course. My husband being the biggest fan of them all! He has encouraged me all the way and during the course sent me a poem - written by him - every morning addressed to 'Madame La Baker'... They were hilariously funny!!!! I love you darling!

First floor: bakery! Four days.

Since I've come back from the course I have baked the Ciabattas and the Panmarino. The summer holidays in Brittany plus having the kids around me full time all the other of the 9 summer holiday weeks have prevented me from getting stuck in properly again but I am about to do just that! Something I had never used before the course and am using all the time now is the FDT calculation. Basic I know. But incredibly important. It's all about temperature. Here goes: Flour Temperature (FT) + Bakery Environment (BE) - Base Temperature (BT) = Water Temperature (WT) where BT tends to be 58'C (55-60) most of the time. For large quantities of rye it is 80'C.

If you are thinking of doing a bread baking course: DO IT!!!! 

Baking bread must be one of the most basic and satisfying processes known to man. I am glad that I have discovered it. Long may it last.

X Bee

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Converting to 'Speltotto' - ditching 'the white stuff'

Hello everyone,

This is just a very quick post about 'Speltotto' - a word that I believe was invented by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstal (HFW as he's called in our house). It is a 'risotto' made by using pearled spelt. I have been wanting this make this for A-GES.... And now I have! Last night. And it was absolutely delicious! The kids loved it too - not unimportant. Think we have been converted...

I personally stopped making (white) rice risotto a while ago because I started to feel completely 'blocked' inside afterwards. Sometimes for days. In other words, my insides/digestive system no longer agreed with this white business. I always cook brown (basmati) rice for any other rice dishes and we eat rye, wholemeal or spelt bread - sourdough too. Question is of course, have I unlearned my body to eat 'the white stuff'.......? I don't know. But what I do know is that I prefer to listen to what my body tells me - which is to not block the system please ;). And since spelt is much easier to digest for us human beings, I really wanted to give that a try.

Here's a bit more from WIKI on spelt: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spelt

So. Pearled spelt. Asked my husband to bring some Sharpham Park spelt from the UK a while ago (you can read about them here: www.sharphampark.com). And last night I finally decided to be brave enough to open the pack and try it out...

I read the recipe on the pack and I also read the HFW recipe. Because they were actually quite similar to how I used to make my rice risotto, I decided to mix it all up and come up with the following (a success):

This served the kids & moi and we had enough left over for the kids' lunch boxes today. I'd say this makes 4 portions for normal eaters - with a salad on the side it would be enough. If in doubt because you've got big eaters in the house, use 400g spelt and a little more stock for 4.

a slug of olive oil
a knob of butter
300g pearled spelt
a slug of white wine or dry vermouth
1 liter chicken (or veg) stock
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 small leek, finely sliced
few hands full of fresh spinach, washed and cut if large leaves
1 cup frozen peas
-----basically add any green veg you like -----------
a handful of freshly grated parmesan, plus extra for on top
2 tbsp mascarpone or cream cheese
flatleaf parsley, chopped
salt & freshly ground black pepper

Cooking method
Heat olive oil & butter in a large saucepan on medium heat. Add diced onion and garlic and sweat until translucent. Add the spelt, stir well and make sure you coat all the kernels - like you would with risotto rice. Add the white wine or dry vermouth and reduce. 
Now start adding the stock, ladle by ladle. Let it reduce before adding the next one, and the next one, etc. etc. Make sure you keep the heat to medium. The spelt should start to soak up all the liquid and soften/cook. Mine took about 25-30 mins. Add salt & freshly ground pepper and taste. 
Then add the veggies. I added the peas first (in their frozen state), then the spinach, then the leek (both uncooked). Keep stirring well and continuously throughout the entire process. It might get a bit wetter again from the veggies so again let it reduce. At the end I added a good handful grated parmesan (as I always did with my rice risottos), the mascarpone (for a more calorific version - it brings out a lot of the flavours is my excuse!) and the chopped parsley. Taste again and if happy: serve on hot plates (nothing worse than a dish like this arriving on a cold plate (in fact it would be a CRIME ;)!) and sprinkle over some extra parmesan and black pepper.

ENJOY!! We did.

Would love to hear how you get on and what other varieties you have come up with!

Bon app├ętit!!

Bee X

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Challenge 3: A Lovely Bit Of Crumpet....!

Hi there all you foodies and other interested folk,

It's time for challenge number 3: CRUMPETS!

Who doesn't love 'a good bit of crumpet'? Innuendo aside, I think most of us do! My family and friends always used to take stacks of crumpets back home when visiting us in the UK. These days we eat them for breakfast on all our Birthdays. And a bit more often than that...
This had to be on the list of my 2013 Personal Baking Challenges. Having only ever bought them (Marks & Sparks are the best I think, then the Waitrose buttermilk ones) I was keen to finally make them myself.

Then, somewhere along the way, there was Peter Cook from Prices the Baker's in Ludlow who was raving about making 'real crumpets' with a sourdough starter (although a little fresh yeast is added too). He offered to send me his recipe which I very gratefully received and used as the starting point for this challenge.

To be able to make the sourdough based crumpets, I had to create a white sourdough starter. So far I only had 'The Beast' (my 20 month old rye sourdough starter).
My first attempt failed. I called her 'Snow White' and that was clearly a very bad idea..... The prince didn't come along to kiss her and wake her from her 'eternal' sleep.......and that was the end of her ;). But I don't give up easily so on I went. Second attempt. Using part of the 20 month old 'Beast' to get the ferment going. Why didn't I think of that before......?! Thanks Lauren!! That worked a treat. 'Lady Galadriel' was off on a flying start and a new white sourdough starter was born. I kept that going for at least two weeks before I used it for the crumpets.

To 'compare' (if that is possible with two such different recipes) I decided to make a yeast version as well as Peter's sourdough one and chose good old Mrs Beeton's recipe for that - which I found out is remarkably similar to Delia's...

Last Saturday was the big day and for Peter's recipe I had to start activities the evening before. I mixed together:

400g  Premium Number 1 Flour (12% proteine) - I used strong bread flour
10g    Salt
5g      Sugar
10g    Veg oil
200g  White Sourdough Starter
5g      Fresh Yeast
200g  Milk
200g Water

Once mixed well, I covered it - I always use the hotel shower caps which my husband loyally brings with him every week ;) - and put it in the fridge overnight. Bubbles had already started to appear when I took it out of the fridge and after leaving it for another 3-4 hours at room temperature in the morning it looked like this:

I then dissolved 10g of bicarb in 110g of water and vigorously stirred this into the batter using the strong rugby arm of my husband :-)! He likes to get involved. The batter became quite a bit thinner which worried me at first but it later appeared that there was absolutely nothing to worry about! Leave it stand for another 25 minutes to let the bicarb do its work before you then cook on a griddle in greased rings.
I used this waiting time to put together Mrs Beeton's batter.

As a 'griddle' I used my large Le Creuset Braiser. The crumpet rings I bought from www.bakerybits.co.uk - they come in a set of three.

I oiled the braiser (and kept oiling it as I kept going) and the rings well as I was a bit apprehensive about it sticking to the rings or the pan (how wrong I was - they came out so easily). So off I went.... first three crumpets in:


 First holes appearing.....

Holes everywhere.......rings off......

........turn (after ca. 10 mins).........


Big applause for Peter Cook's recipe! Colour, texture, 'ease of baking' and most of all 'presence of lots 'n lots of holes' all got 10 out of 10! On to a bit of tasting of course...... Proper butter & home made jam:

.........verdict: YUMMIE!

The only thing I'd say about the taste is that you can taste the bicarb a little bit - not always a nice flavour... I emailed with Peter about this and reducing the bicarb of course means running the risk of losing the much wanted holes. I might experiment with it next time and see whether 8g instead of 10g of bicarb has a significant effect on the appearance of holes or not. Another thing I might try is half bicarb, half cream of tartar - tip from Vanessa Kimbell.

Anyway: a very clear success! Definitely!

On to Mrs Beeton's crumpets.

Needless to say that the batter is of course much quicker to make. Just quick action yeast to get things going initially and then the bicarb at the end. Huge bubbles appeared and the batter was thicker and somewhat gloopy.... As a result it was less easy to handle when it came to putting it into the crumpet rings. Not a good start Mrs Beeton! In the braiser, things were comparable. The rings came off very easily. The holes appeared in the same time - perhaps a little earlier. But when done, they were crispier on the outside (not really what you want crispy - especially not if you'd like to keep them and toast them at a later stage), doughy on the inside and generally just the wrong texture/structure. Not like 'real' crumpets as I've known them for the past 15 years.

A few of hers:

So! I will make Peter's crumpets any time (and the whole family would love me to!) but I might experiment to reduce the bicarb flavour. Will keep you posted!

I hope that this has inspired and encouraged you to get going and make your own crumpets, because believe me.......the ones in the shop are nothing like it.....! Not to mention all the additives and preservatives you are consuming when eating those. I am aware that you'd need a white sourdough starter. But perhaps this is a good excuse to get a small one going in a Kilner jar. You can then bake a whole range of healthy goodies :).

Next up in the 2013 Personal Baking Challenge List might be Ciabatta......! Not an easy dough to handle I know (very wet and sticky) but I am determined to crack it. Other fantastic 'realbread' friends from the UK will feature for sure. You know who you are :-)!

I hope to keep inspiring you. Get crumpetting :-)!

X Bee