Help a bread lover raise their game


How to help a bread lover raise their game


So, it’s bread week on Great British Bake Off, and home baking of bread has certainly been through a renaissance. It could be to do with the rise of great bread choices from artisanal bakeries, possibly to do with those choosing to avoid wheat and therefore experimenting with different flours.

Who knows? But there’s still nothing to beat the smell of freshly baked bread coming out the oven, and then slathering it with butter. Ok, I know you’re supposed to wait, but where’s the fun in that?

Now, you could go down the whole breadmaker route, and if you think that’s for them, then I’ve written about those here. But I think a lot of us have moved on from that, wanting to really get our hands on the good stuff.

Starter Baking Set from Bertinet

My favourite baker doesn’t do Bake Off, but I love Richard Bertinet. Brilliant baker, great at demos, nothing to do with the French accent. You could buy your food lover the gift of a class at Richard’s school in Bath, but that’s not necessarily convenient for everyone. In which case I would say the Starter Baking Set would be a great gift. From a copy of Richard’s book, Dough, through to the practical stuff like a dough scraper, this gives them everything they need to get going except the ingredients.


Sharpham Park Home Baker Kit


If they’re experimenting with different flours, then Sharpham Park have got a great Home Baker Pack highlighting their spelt flours. Plenty to get working with, along with Lev Epeautre, a dried spelt leaven combining the rising power of yeast and the flavour of sourdough starter. The Spelt recipe book will give them plenty of ideas to get them going.


Beer Bread Kit from Toastie


For something simple but tasty, and with something to keep you hydrated whilst you wait for the bread to cook, try the Beer Bread Kit from Toastie, which comes with a tin of craft beer as well. Although it turns out to that is to go in the bread. But you could always improvise. Great gift for a real beginner in the bread stakes, simple to do, tasty results.

Sous Chef Sourdough Starter Kit

Sous Chef is one of my favourite sources for proper gifts for food lovers, and I really like the Sourdough Bread Making Kit. With a dough scraper, banneton and scoring blade, along with Dan Lepard’s brilliant book, The Handmade Loaf, then they’ll be turning out great loaves in no time. Well, no time plus the proving time.

You could always pop out and find some local flour from your nearest mill, and put it together with practical stuff like mixing bowls, which you can probably never have too many of. You could also get things like different seeds for decorating the tops of the loaves…really, the possibilities are endless, the results alway likely to be delicious.


Real Bread Week Ahead


Real Bread Week


A little ironic coming almost straight after Coeliac Awareness Week, but we’re now in Real Bread Week. Though to be fair, good gluten free bread can definitely be both real and good.

In its 7th year now, this year’s focus is on how to help children discover the delights real bread, and particularly baking it themselves. They’re keen to get schools involved, and I really hope that they will, though I appreciate that not every school is now able to offer cooking. But at least dough could be taken home quite easily and then baked.

There’s some great resources on the site, including a good list of baking schools offering appropriate classes. If you become a supporter of the Real Bread Campaign (which is an interesting idea of a gift for a food lover) then you can get a discount on a lot of these classes too.

You can even wear your affiliation on your chest, with one of these limited edition tshirts:


On the Rise Real Bread Week T Shirts


This is the week to get out and support your local independent bakery, or perhaps an independent miller and make your own. Or both. Whichever, enjoy your bread any way you like, as long as it’s real! If you need some recipe inspiration, then I’ve written about great bread books here.


5 gifts for those contemplating Bake Off next year


Five gifts for bakers considering entering the Bake Off


If you’ve got a baker on your list to buy for, then maybe they’re contemplating entering Bake Off. Whether next year or just as an idea for the future, then help them out with your choice of gifts to enhance their baking skills.


Kenwood kmix Stand Mixer - great gift for a food lover with baking ambitions

A Stand Mixer

Buying my Kenwood Chef transformed my baking, if only for the speed it adds in. This year saw the tent move from KitchenAid to Kenwoods, so if you are feeling generous and want to let them get used to the equipment, then a K Mix is the current stand mixer of choice in the tent.


The Flavour Thesaurus - perfect gift for a food lover looking to explore flavour combinations


Inspiring Flavour Combinations

One of the things I think linked all three finalists this year was their incredible use of flavours, and in amazing combinations. The Flavour Thesaurus is one of my favourite books on food, and just has some incredible ideas for putting different ingredients together.


Anti Gravity Pouring Cake Mix Kit - a gift for a food lover looking to take cakes to new heights


Cakes that defy gravity

I don’t think any of us will forget Nadiya’s can of pop cake. There are a number of versions of cake supports available that can help them achieve something similar. I really like the anti gravity pouring cake kit from Lakeland, there’s some good tutorials on their site as well.


Ginger Apron from Hedley & Bennett - perfect gift for a stylish food lover


A great apron

Let’s face it, there’s going to be flour and icing sugar all over the place as they get seriously into practicing. Now, I really like this one, which Edd Kimber was wearing at his demo recently at Cake International. It comes from Hedley & Bennett in the US, and can be personalised. Sadly, the shipping is US$31 so not the cheapest, so worth checking Not On the High Street or Divertimenti for alternatives.


Essential baking kit from the Bertinet Kitchen - perfect gift for a food lover into bread


A gift they might knead

Dreadful pun, but bread week always interesting to me. Give them good kit to practice with, like the essential baking set from the master of baking, Richard Bertinet. From a mixing bowl to a proving basket, scraper to a lame, this will get them underway.

So, five ideas here, but I’ve written about lots of baking ideas over the years, select the baking category to the right for more ideas. Although you can probably skip the piece on 7 baking tins they really don’t need!


Baking Bread – the silver fox versus the “Lepard”


Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard - my favourite baking book ever


Apologies to Dan Lepard, that’s an awful pun for a title and I’m not even sure how one properly pronounces his surname, but it is pronounced leopard in our house. Anyway, Dan’s book  Short & Sweet has been ruling the baking inspiration here since my birthday last summer, with much loved results. Put it this way, MGG has declared my pizza base made from Dan’s book even better than the one out the bread machine, which is high praise from her!

Christmas brought a potential usurper into the household, in the shape of Paul Hollywood’s How to Bake. And then a dump of snow brought the time to have an excuse to stay home and have a recipe off. I’d already said I was going to try the two most basic white bread recipes in each book side by side, as basically Paul’s seemed like a lot more faffing about.

Now, these are not exactly like for like, but are portrayed as the starting point for breadmaking adventures. Paul’s is a basic white tin bread, and includes 25g butter in the recipe. Other than that, both recipes use the same quantity of flour, so reasonably similar. In order to ensure this was fair, I opened a new packet of flour and yeast so no one could claim fresher ingredients than the other.


Flour & Yeast ready for the bake off competition between Dan Lepard and Paul Hollywood


To me, Dan’s dough is so easy, comes together really quick, and the very quick kneading means you have a recognisable dough pretty quickly. Paul’s dough doesn’t come together quite as neatly, and there is all that kneading! Dan’s consists of three ten second kneads, Paul’s has you kneading for 5 to 10 minutes. Possibly some days that is good therapy for those feeling stressed. They looked not a jot different though:


First mix from Dan's recipe
First mix from Dan’s recipe


First mix from Paul's recipe
First mix from Paul’s recipe


Both come to end of resting at pretty much the same sort of time, and then got shaped and rested.


Waiting...for the first rise from Dan Lepard and Paul Hollywood white bread recipes


For Dan’s recipe this was a more freeform oval on a baking tray and then covered with a tea towel, Paul’s went into a tin and then into a plastic bag.


Dan Lepard's white bread shaped & ready to prove



Paul Hollywood's in the tin & ready to prove. His bread recipe, not the man


Plenty of rise from both, and both went into a hot oven with extra steam provided by a roasting tin of boiling water in the base. With Dan’s I used his tip for fan ovens about turning them off as the loaf went in then switching it back on after 10 minutes. Paul didn’t include this tip, so I didn’t do it.


Dan Lepard's white bread recipe ready for the oven


Paul Hollywood's ready for the oven. So to speak.


Both cooked beautifully, and turned out looking amazing (the smell by this point was something else). I put a tea towel over both while they cooled, to keep the crust softer. We resisted cutting them until they were cool, but then tucked in.


Dan's out and looking mighty fine for a loaf of home baked white bread


Home baked bread from Paul Hollywood's recipe


I would say that Dan’s produces a more rustic loaf, almost French in style with a much more open texture. On its own this would be fabulous with cheese or cold meats and a great chutney.


The insides revealed: Paul Hollywood's recipe on the left, Dan Lepard on the right


Paul’s is a much softer crumb (which is probably the butter) and cooked in the tin makes a perfect traditional sandwich bread. We slathered both in butter and blackcurrant jam, and no one could really choose a favourite. We toasted them, and still pretty much equal pegging.


Buttered & Jammed: perfect home baked bread thanks to Dan Lepard and Paul Hollywood recipes


I have to say if I had to choose, then I would imagine I would make Dan’s again, if only because my original prejudice was right, there was a little more faffing to Paul’s in the form of the longer kneading. As it didn’t produce a result that was substantially more loved then I would probably skip it. That said, it did make fabulous toast. However, if I had made Dan’s farmhouse tin loaf then that would have taken a lot longer, and we’d have devoured Paul’s loaf before this was even out the oven. But I will give it a go.

So, my only conclusion is that they were both better for being made at home, and that both books have earnt their keep on my shelves. Next up I might do side by side brioche testing. You can never have too much brioche in my book!


The Friday Five – All About the Bread


Resisted a title involving the words kneading and dough, but as it’s Real Bread Maker Week there could really only be one subject:


Dough by Richard Bertinet - perfect cookbook to gift to a food lover who wants to get into bread


Dough by Richard Bertinet – one of my favourites, though never watched the DVD. Great recipes, great technique, my copy is quite floury now.


The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard - perfect cookbook to gift to a food lover looking to get into bread making


The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard – I really like Dan’s newspaper column, loved the recipes I’ve tried from Short and Sweet, so have no doubt that I would really enjoy a book by him about the joys of bread making. What’s not to love?


English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David - perfect cookbook to gift to a food lover looking to get into bread making


English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David – a bit more old school, as the original was written in 1977, but a revelation of the history of this most basic of foodstuffs, showing how it gets elevated from just four simple ingredients to something amazing.


Bread Revolution: Rise Up and Bake - perfect cookbook to gift to a food lover looking to get into bread making


Bread Revolution – bang up to date with this book from Duncan Glendinning and Patrick Ryan, who have been busy forging the way with The Thoughtful Bread Company, bringing great bread to a wide audience. Great recipes in this one, like the writing style too.


Wild Sourdough - perfect cookbook to gift to a food lover looking to get into bread making


Wild Sourdough: the Natural Way to Bake – this starts out as a kind of back to basics approach to bread, but when you get into flavours like Halloumi and Mint or Chilli and Feta, then you’re far from basic territory.

Bread is such a fantastic thing to make, particularly with kids, and think of the reward as the house fills with the smell of baking bread. Is there anything better?


A year in food in photos. Almost.


It’s hard to believe we’re nearly at the end of another year. As always in this household, there’s been a lot of eating over the year, from eating in to eating out, eating in the UK and eating overseas, eating alone and eating with friends. In fact, eating with lots of friends. So, here’s my year in eating:


Not a clue what we did in January. No photos of food. The calendar says we had dinner at the Red Lion, which is always a treat.


Photography by Mini Gourmet Girl, taken at Jamie’s Italian in Bath, completely out of focus. Brilliant night out, great restaurant concept, great food, pretty stunning mojitos. Staggered back to our home for the night, the Queensberry, which I would highly recommend.


Panasonic Breadmaker - for the best smells a kitchen can emit, but without the muscle work.

March brought the arrival of the breadmaker, and a whole lot of flour of all kinds. We were busy supporting Whissendine Mill, as well as The Flour Bin, ordering in all kinds of wheat and gluten free flours.




Simnel: too good just for Easter!


Easter brings a whole heap of chocolate, and also my first attempt at Simnel cake. I adore marzipan and so this is my idea of a heavenly cake. I’ll be doing it all over again in 2010. With perhaps more marzipan.




Return to NYC


May saw me in one of my favourite cities in the whole world: NYC. Making news in the UK around the same time was the Babycakes bakery, so I headed down to the Lower East Side to see if they could make gluten and wheat free cakes good. You know what, not bad at all! Although later in the year I would discover that I preferred all the recipes in Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache to anything from Babycakes.



June was eventful. I took the plunge and decided to commit myself to writing The Foodie Gift Hunter, whilst letting Problem Presents look after itself. Right decision. I also helped cater for 150 for a surprise birthday party. I know slates have come in for a bit of slagging off recently, but I loved how these starters looked. They were a bit of a joke really, as the birthday girl’s husband is a builder, the slates really are roof tiles costing about 75p each, and probably are now on a roof.




Lunch on the Ile de Re - rib of beef done my favourite way!


As usual, July saw us decamping to France, to the Charente Maritime. So many great food moments, but I think my birthday lunch at Bistrot du Marin was the high point from a taste perspective. The mussel barbecue was the most unusual.




The results of a farm shop dash at Chatsworth


We were raiding some new to us local foodstuffs in the school holidays. Staffordshire oatcakes were interesting, especially when pimped up with black pudding and apples. Stichelton became a regular item in the fridge.




A little plate of Turkish delights


The end of the school holidays saw me convert MGG from her usual request for Chinese on our trip to London to some great Turkish delights at Safra. She just requested to go back next week. I’ve put my neck out to say I think Turkish food will be on the up in the year ahead, and it’s definitely got 1 vote from MGG.




Zombie eyeballs anyone?


With Halloween falling on a Saturday, MGG and I spent a fun afternoon creating trick or treat goodies from scratch. Kids seemed genuinly surprised and happy when they got dragon eye cookies, zombie eyeballs and crunchie bones in a paper cone.



Ah, November, month of memorable eating in Blackpool! To be honest, would rather remember making Osso Buco for the first time, although there weren’t so many laughs!



For some, December is all about Christmas. For me, I can’t worry about Christmas until I’ve created MGG’s birthday cake. This year involved less terrible language than usual, possibly due to reading the instructions in advance and buying the right kit.

So, here’s hoping that 2010 is just as interesting from a food perspective, with new recipes, new places and new experiences.


Our daily bread


There are a few aromas that you cannot beat when you open your front door, and baking bread has to be one of them. Beloved trick of estate agents I know, but just such an amazing smell. So, as it’s National Baking Week, maybe bread is a great gift to give.

If you don’t have one already, I cannot recommend the Panasonic SD255 Breadmaker highly enough. I would say it goes on at least once a day, it makes every loaf of bread we need plus dough for pizza. It is so simple to use, and there is such a huge variety of things you can produce from it in the bread and dough department. It even works for producing gluten free breads, although I imagine if you are very sensitive to gluten you’ll have to have one of your own.


Dough by Richard Bertinet - French boy done good on the bread front


There’s a reasonable recipe book comes with it, but I would recommend two others. My first choice is Fresh Bread in the Morning from Your Bread Machine, which pretty much does what it says on the tin. Useful, compact and so far I’ve always had pretty delicious results from the recipes I’ve tried. My other favourite is Dough by Richard Bertinet. You definitely don’t need a bread maker for this one, and it does always make me rue my gluten intolerance. This is a perfect book for beginners or for enthusiasts, and the photography is beautiful.

Of course, the ideal would be to go to Richard’s bread school in Bath. The Bertinet Kitchen offers a range of courses, everything from beginners and kids sessions, through to more specialist stuff like slow doughs and sourdoughs as well as non bread courses as well such as Mediterranean Festive Entertaining. A day’s course starts from £135, with demonstrations starting at £15. Sounds like a perfect way to brush up your baking skills. For those of you a bit further North, then check out the courses at the School of Artisan Food in Nottinghamshire. If you’re really serious about your breadmaking, then they have a 5 day Artisan Breadmaking Fundamentals course, which should give you an awful lot of experience in a short space of time.

For a bread-themed gift, then have a look at the vintage Hovis tins that Pedlars have. I am not sure if they’re not too beautiful to use in the oven, but then that is what they were made for. They do look lovely as planters though! And then you’ll be needing a good selection of flour, for which I would highly recommend The Flourbin, who have more flours than I thought there were in the world!

So, may your dough always rise, when you want it to, and may your daily bread be a good one! Can there be any better foodie gift?


More make it yourself kits


Panasonic Breadmaker - for the best smells a kitchen can emit!


After the cheese making kit, I began to think of the other essentials that you could make yourself, and the things that make it easier.

Starting with the basics really, and bread. And we would not be without our Panasonic Bread Maker. The SD255 is one of the most hardworking gadgets in our kitchen, probably second only to the kettle.

The smell of baking bread is one of the best smells in the world, there really is nothing like it. And this little machine turns out great loaves, sometimes very quickly, often overnight. It can add in fruit and nuts, it even copes with gluten free flours. Although sadly even it can’t magic them into a loaf that is like real bread!

And we don’t buy pizzas much any more. Just knock up the dough in this and then create away! With a great tomato base (normally onion, garlic and passata cooked down a bit) your imagination can run riot, limited only to what’s in your fridge or store cupboard. It’s a great activity with kids, and all happens before they can get bored with the idea. From prep to table in under an hour, perfect timespan for cooking with kids.

And of course you don’t need to be limited to plain old white flour. I love the huge variety on offer at The Flourbin, and am still working through my last order. I got a bit carried away, but there are so many different flours you end up wanting to try them all!

And if you need some other inspiration for recipes, then I would recommend Fresh Bread in the Morning, and Bread Machine Magic. More bread than even a French bakery might stock!

Truly money well spent, and each loaf costs less than 50p to make. You won’t get a bread that quality for that cost at the supermarket, so really it’s a cost saving machine, but one that is not dull and will fill  your house with the delightful smell of warm bread. Just don’t time a loaf to cook as you’re going to bed! You won’t be able to sleep!

UPDATE – sadly The Flourbin is no longer trading, great loss