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.


The Friday Five – from home ground flour to dough and beyond


As Real Bread Week comes to a close for this year, it seemed appropriate to look at books to inspire great bread baking, and these take you from the very beginnings with great flour, all the way through to fancy endings.


The Essential Home Ground Flour Book - great cookbook gift for a food lover who likes to do it themselves


The Essential Home Ground Flour Book

Here’s something I’d never thought of doing at home. Probably because I still have visions of Windy Miller (apologies to those that didn’t have childhoods in the 70s) busy grinding my flour for me. But as an alternative to mass industrial milling, then this might be interesting to do, and be interesting to see how different any resulting bread was. Though I can’t see whether in the list of equipment need it starts with “first, build your windmill”. Hopefully not.


Toast - great cookbook gift for a food lover



And once you’ve done the grinding, the mixing and the baking, then toast is one of my favourite things to do with bread. This book covers things like bruschetta, open sandwiches and canapes, so not just instructions for making cheese on toast. I like both the writing style and the photography in this book, definitely makes me want to get in the kitchen.


War Time Breads and Cake - great cookbook gift for a nostalgia loving food lover

War-time Bread and Cakes

Bread has played such a staple role in our diets, and this is a great book for those food lovers and bakers with an interest in the history of food. There’s a whole section covering how to bake bread without white flour, and then further chapters on doughs with and without yeast. Whilst I don’t think the national loaf of rationing was ever going to win on the taste front, I’m quite intrigued to have a play with some of these recipes, knowing last year I had fun making boiled fruit cake from a Marguerite Patten recipe of the era.


The New Bread - great cookbook gift for an adventurous baking food lover


The New Bread

So, from the old to the new. If you didn’t think there was anything possibly new in bread, then this book claims to know otherwise. This is actually focused on gluten free baking, which on the bread front I’ve had some very mixed results. It mentions baking with rosehip flour, which I’ve not come across before at all, so fascinated by that. Overall a good book for either those looking for gluten free, or just curious and adventurous bakers looking for something a little different.


One Dough Ten Breads

One Dough. Ten Breads

This is a great book for someone who perhaps hasn’t done a lot of bread baking, as it takes you step by step through a basic dough and loaf, and then shows you how to step that basic recipe up to the next level. You might start out with a sandwich loaf but this book will have you making crackers, pizza and country-style breads by the end.


I think there is very little that beats the satisfaction of making bread at home. There’s the stress relief of all that kneading, the practising of patience waiting for it to prove, and the reward of the house smelling of baking bread. And then more patience of waiting for it to cool just a little when it comes out the oven so you can devour that first slice, covered in butter.

That’s why I’m never giving up bread.


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.


Looking for some flour inspiration


It was bread week on the Bake Off, and I think the memory of the flour moth invasion is about gone. And I’m thinking that coming into autumn then there’ll need to be more bread baking, which means interesting flour testing.

I’m not sure whatever happened to Flour Bin, which used to be a great source for all kinds of flour, but they don’t seem to be trading anymore. I really like Bakery Bits as an alternative, and I like the sound of the Lammas Fayre Flour from John Letts.


Anglo Saxon Light Rye Flour from Lammas Fayre


Flour made from these more ancient, less intensely grown grains are often easier for some people to digest, so these may suit some. Might also appeal to history geeks, with things like the Anglo Saxon Blend of light rye or the Medieval Peasant’s Blend. Definitely need to try this one! Although somewhat different as includes peas and broadbeans in the mix.

Definitely a site worth checking out for all your bread baking needs from ingredients to baking tins.



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 – Baking Time!


Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day

I have to say that I have fallen well short of baking time during National Baking Week so far this week! Writing about it has been about as far as I have got! That, and reading about stuff I could be baking, so it only seems right that this week’s Friday Five should all be about baking. So here are 5 that I would want to have to take baking up to the next level.

1. Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionises Home Baking – I’ve already written about baking bread at home this week and I would add this book to your bookshelf if you’re thinking of expanding your breadmaking. This apparently is a very simple way to create fabulous tasting bread every day, for no more effort than it takes to bake a potato. Apparently!

2. Cake Chic by Peggy Porschen – this really is cake decorating at the next level. To be honest, I am not sure I have the patience for this level of decoration, but it doesn’t mean I don’t want to look at glorious creations! This is a great book for dedicated cupcake queens or eager cake decorators, or just aspiration for those of us who have not yet got past buttercream and hundreds and thousands!

3. The Lost Art of Pie Making Made Easy – I would choose this to help me make one of MGG’s favourite foods: chicken pie. And, lets face it, is there any better comfort food than a piping hot pie served straight from the oven? I would think there is something quite comforting and relaxing about making a pie, so this would be therapy and food all at the same time!

4. How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking – still one of my favourite baking books of all time, and I think it should be on every bookshelf of every kitchen. I think I have baked the lemon and cherry loaf about 30 times, not to mention how many batches of the birthday biscuits I’ve knocked up.

5. Hello, Cupcake!: Irresistible Playful Creations Anyone Can Make – this has the cutest looking cover, and I would love to be able to turn out cupcakes like these. And it does say anyone can make them, so it might be worth giving them a go, and buying this for everyone from amateur to hugely experienced baker.


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?