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 5 books to get you over Bake Off withdrawal


So, that’s it, all over for another year. We know Nadiya is queen of the kitchen, we know more about some more obscure pastries and cakes (anyone for tennis cake?) and we’re wondering what we’re going to do on a Wednesday night now.

To help ease the withdrawal symptoms, maybe a bit of baking of your own might help. Or at least some good reading about baking. Here’s my prescription of 5 books to ease the pain.


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


Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard  – this is by far my favourite baking book, and the one I turn to when I fancy trying something out just for the heck of it. Also has my go-to pizza dough recipe, never failed me yet. I love this book so much I buy it for those I love too.


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


Dough by Richard Bertinet – when it’s all about the bread and other things dough based, then Richard Bertinet is the man for me. It has nothing to do with the French accent. Lots to do with fabulous recipes for all kinds of bread deliciousness.


Bread Cake Doughnut Pudding by Justin Gellatly - worth it just for the doughnuts


Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding by Justin Gellatly – this is new on my shelves here, but I cannot tell you just how delicious the recipes sound. Or how very tempting all the doughnut flavours sound. But I’m seriously considering acquiring a deep fat fryer just to try them out.


Adventures in Chocolate with Paul A Young - yes please!


Adventures in Chocolate by Paul A. YoungI’ve got a soft spot for Paul A Young, ever since seeing him make the most divine brownie ever. If ever there was someone you’d want on your side for chocolate week, Paul would be my choice. Amazing recipes, get chocolate in the house before you order this book.


BIY Bake It Yourself by Richard Burr - still a winner in our eyes


BIY: Bake It Yourself by Richard Burrwe were team Richard last year, he was definitely the winner in our eyes. I am so thrilled to see he has a book out and good things are coming his way. Still thinking these chocolate trees might make a good alternative Christmas cake.

So, working through these five might help with the withdrawal symptoms. Just be careful that they don’t give you supreme confidence in your abilities, and you suddenly find yourself filling in the application form for series 7…!


Getting to grips with bread making


This is bread’s big week, and you could really throw yourself into the whole thing just with the basic ingredients or perhaps you’d like some inspiration on where to start. Or maybe you’ve already got the basics cracked and want to move on a bit? Well, here’s some thoughts on courses for everyone, whatever level you’re at:


The Artisan School


The School of Artisan Food – this is the closest school to me, and their course comes highly recommended. For a while we had a baker in the village who did her course there, and loved it. There are day artisan baking courses, all the way through to four days or even a full scale Advanced Diploma in Baking. There’s a even a Wheat Free Baking day which I find really appealing. Amazing location, truly stunning, although not the easiest place to get to if you’re not local.

The Bertinet Kitchen Cookery School – I saw Richard demonstrating bread making at the Real Food Festival a couple of years ago, and it was definitely a demo to remember. The school would also have the draw of being in Bath, one of my favourite cities, so a class would be a treat all round. Again, there are day courses through to three or five day versions. There are classes based on French bread, and also breads of the world. I’d particularly love to go on the Middle East and North Africa class, a style of cooking and baking that I really love.

The Amazings– if you’re in or around London, only want a couple of hours, and want to learn from someone who really knows it, then I have to mention the Amazings. I love this idea, learning from our elders, and the bread course is about baking in the French way, taught by a transplanted Frenchman. Now, it’s being taught in French, so you might get to brush up your language skills at the same time but his wife is on hand to translate as well! At only £30 this feels worth giving a go if you’re nearby, but looks like it is selling quick!

Bread Matters – again, this is a lovely scenic location in the Scottish borders, but also they say that they run the most authoratitive courses on real breadmaking in the UK. Big claim, but Andrew Whitley certainly has good credentials. There are fundamental courses through to advanced courses, even baking for a living or baking for a community courses if that’s where you think your future might lay. Though probably need to start practicing getting up early now!

The only challenge I can see with being on a bread course is holding off eating everything in sight! Or should that be in smelling distance? Would imagine spending the day hungry and then full of bread. But there are worse ways to spend a day or two!


Reflections on Real Food Festival


Delightful jam displays at the Real Food Festival

What a day Friday was! Came back laden down, foot sore and thrilled to have met so many folk for the first time, not to mention catching up with some familiar faces. My highlights, discoveries and goodies as follows:

* The tweetup/flashmob at Gower Cottage Brownies. To the bemusement of the non Twitterers, there was a gathering of quite a lot of us at 1pm on Friday. It was fantastic to meet people that I’ve been tweeting with, mainly about food, and Kate was the hostess with the mostest as always. Finally have real faces to names for @goodshoeday, @josordoni, @mummybarrow, @DomesticJules and@sophiescouse. In the case of @theboywhobakes Edd’s face is very familiar to many of us now, but it was great to finally get to meet and chat.

* Discovering Belper Knolle at Jumi Export. This Swiss cheese is a dried cream cheese with salt, garlic and black pepper, and is perfect grated over pasta or risotto apparently. I liked the creamy texture and the heat of the pepper, and am looking forward to using it. It will last up to four months, but can imagine it disappearing before then!

* Changing my mind about rapeseed oil with Chiltern Coldpressed Rapeseed Oil. I’d tried another rapeseed oil, and really couldn’t fall in with the “it’s the new olive oil” school of thought, didn’t like the taste at all. Well, these ones changed my mind, and I could have bought several. Having just come back from Cyprus stocked up with olive oil, then I went for something a bit more unusual and have the oak smoked one to play around with.


Savoury macarons from Cafe On

* Discovering the fabulous savoury macarons at Cafe On, which was definitely a new take on cheese and biscuits. Looking like prettier versions of langue de chat, on their recommendation I had two different flavour shells, Sakura and Champagne, sandwiching a piece of very cream cheese. Bad foodie, forgot completely to write down what the cheese was! It was a surprising combination which most definitely worked, and I could definitely see this taking off. Their sweet macarons looked delicious too (and Edd Kimber, king of macarons in the making, said they were good, if a little big for his tastes) so worth seeking out. (UPDATE: sadly Cafe On is no longer trading)

* New cordial to add to my list of alternatives to a glass of vino or three, with the Coconut and Lime from Five Valleys Cordials. This tastes like a relative of a Pina Colada, but a lot more virtuous. I always have slight twinges of guilt when I move away from Belvoir Cordials, as they are literally just up the road, but I see it as my foodie duty!


Richard Bertinet in full flow

* More than ever I want to go on a course at the Bertinet Kitchen. Of course it has everything to do with Richard’s technique for hand making the dough, and nothing to do with his Gallic charm and flirtatiousness. But it might help the day along I guess.

* Finally I got to see what all the fuss is about over at Womersley Foods and left with a bottle of the Blackcurrant & Rosemary vinegar. Always lovely when you meet people like Rupert who are so enthusiastic about what they do, have products that taste great (and, it has to be said, look beautiful) and have a great story to tell as well. I can imagine going through the range of these. Listen out for Rupert on The Food Programme next Sunday on Radio 4.

I do hope it turned out to be a good show for all the exhibitors, most people we spoke to said Thursday had been dead, and were reserving judgement on Friday. There were a lot of comments about costs, particularly when the organisers had chosen not to put carpet down or anything fancy. But then maybe nothing changes in the exhibition industry, I can remember complaining about this 20 years ago at the NEC!

Overall, I had a fantastic day, really enjoyed it. Although left completely bemused as to why, with so many fabulous choices of food of every kind (except perhaps dull, bland and boring), you would see this sight at a lunchtime!


Britain, sometimes I despair!


Why I’m not sorry that I’m not going to the Real Food Festival


Would I lie to you? Where else would a food lover be going?


Can you imagine how hellish I would find the Real Food Festival? Running from this Friday (7 May) through to Sunday for us mere mortals, it is billed as the UK’s most exciting food festival. Why on earth would I want to go?

And really, I didn’t want to.

I’m not at all bitter and twisted that I shall spend most of the first day high in the sky, most of the second day wiped out and the third day trying to remember where I am.

And I am also not at all sorry to be missing out on:

* Playing voilà bingo whilst watching Raymond Blanc do a demonstration. Or seeing Thomasina Miers cook anything. Or Richard Bertinet making bread. Dull.

* A whole section devoted to chocolate. Proper chocolate from people like Artisan du Chocolat, William Curley and Paul Wayne Gregory. I’ll be home with a bar of Dairy Milk for sure.

* The chance to eat from the Riverford Organic Field Kitchen. Why do an hour on the train to eat with them at Earls Court when I could drive there in 5 hours, and have to put up with the father in law?

* Finally meeting  Kate from Gower Cottage Brownies face to face.

* Having to work my way through 400 fantastic producers of great food and drink from around the UK. This way I don’t have to choose between them, no one will be offended when I don’t buy and I won’t have to carry it all home again. Or resist the temptation not to eat it on the way home.

* Chuntering away to myself as I read the show catalogue at the number of firms who still have no form of website.

So, if you have nothing better to do, then you could continue to book in advance and make a large saving over what you would have to pay on the door. But really, why would you?

Fabulously appropriate photo by The Wolf on Flickr.


Christmas gifts for difficult foodies – the “don’t buy me anything” type


Buy it for someone else who needs it


It’s coming round to that time of year, when you’ve ticked all the easy ones of your list, and you’re facing into the fact you’ve only got that one awkward so and so to still shop for. We all have at least one, and every year it’s tough going. My best advice is shop early for these ones, it doesn’t get any easier the later you leave it!

So, what would I suggest for those awkward ones that say “don’t get me anything”? Here’s a few ideas:

1. Don’t. Literally. Don’t buy anything for them, buy something for someone else who is in much greater need. You can even get them with a food theme. With Gift in Action from Action Aid, you could buy cocoa tree saplings, a community garden or a goat breeding programme. Practical Presents offer a fireless cooker, a cool zeer pot or some funky chicks. Someone else gets to cook to survive, they don’t get a blueberry vodka filled stiletto.

2. Buy them something they have forgotten they loved. I think this is where the more unusual nostalgic sweets come into their own, and I love the decade boxes that A Quarter Of have. There are boxes from the 50s onwards, with the 50s having Pontefract Cakes and Peanut Brittle, whilst the 70s (peak sweet eating time for me) has Tooty Frooties, which makes it all worthwhile for me. The other good option for foodies is a much earlier cookbook, to revisit food from your childhood. Nothing for me makes a day better than cooking up cakes from the BeRo cookbook. Check out Alibris for out of print stuff.

3. Buy them something they’ve always wanted to do. I think experiences rather than things are often a better bet, and memories have value for such a long time afterwards. Long after the blueberry vodka has gone. I would think even the least festive feeling person in the world would be happy to find themselves the recipient of a booking on a course at The School of Artisan Food or perhaps bread making with Richard Bertinet in Bath. For something even more niche, how about a sugar decorations masterclass or even a home food smoking course. Smiles guaranteed, both on Christmas Day and on the day of the class.

4. Do something for them. Be the commis chef on Christmas Day, without complaint or tutting. Sort out their cookbooks, or put all the recipes they’ve been collecting into some sort of sensible system for future reference. Get the oven professionally cleaned. Plant salad ready for next year (sorry, can’t remember, sure there are types you could plant now). Just think about the things they always complain they never get round to doing.

5. Go all out and spoil them. Notch up a Michelin starred restaurant or two, or at the nearest top one from the Good Food Guide. Travel overseas and exploit their best food offering, or even just different food offerings to what’s on offer near you.

Don’t leave this till the last minute, as you may need to do more question asking to just get a really good feel for anything except option 1. Failing that, just buy them the Giant Gummi Bear and a jar of Marshmallow Fluff. That’ll teach them.


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?