Tuesday 31 December 2013

Food for the blackbirds?

This is that rare thing. A post from Mr B that is not about bread. But even I can tire of bread and look forward to alternative nourishment and what better than a lovely bowl of homemade muesli? Not only does this save you from buying really expensive brand muesli, but it empties your baking cupboard too. Everyone's a winner!

It also seems appropriate to be blogging this now, after a month of over indulgence it is good to start the new year with a meal that is healthy and light on the pocket!

Ok. First, find the cheapest packet of supermarket muesli. Yes that one. The one you always put back as you're not sure if it should be between the bird food and the bags of cat litter in the pet aisle. All it needs is a bit of pimping. And that's where your baking cupboard comes in.

Now our seasonal baking cupboard currently has walnuts, crystalised ginger, raisins, currants, chopped almonds, cherries and apricots. It also has marzipan. Don't add that.

Take an airtight container, I use a large plastic lidded jug and fill half way up with the cheap muesli. Then fill up a quarter more with a combination of your baking cupboard, chopping fruit such as apricots and cherries (approx 10-20 g each). If you have any ginger, then chop that finely and add a handful. It really is sensational and certainly wakes you up!

Lastly, put the lid on the container and shake it up to lose those Christmas pounds. Serve up with a generous splash of milk but never add any sugar. Why would you need it? Enjoy!

Saturday 30 November 2013

Side to side!

I love fiddling with flour and slashes, as anyone who comes to our baking classes will confirm. Recently, I've started to experiment using a muslin cloth to create some nice looking loaves!

The loaf in question for this post is a combination of white and wholemeal flour - we call it a whitemeal.

After kneading and proving for one hour, I half covered the dough with a muslin cloth.

Then I covered (and I mean covered) the dough with plain flour.

Then I removed the cloth.
After leaving to prove for 45 minutes, I slashed the dough with a breadknife, at an angle of 45 degrees, then popped into a very hot oven for 30 minutes.

This produces great effects when baking, as the top of the loaf lifts up and pulls across the surface of the dough. Like this!

Great fun and it looks sensational to go from side to side!

End to end!

You can't please everyone. Even with baking. It's what makes the world go round. Take my kids. They don't like sesame seeds. Hate 'em. So we don't have them on anything. Instead we have poppy seeds. Which both myself and Mrs B are starting to dislike too. This got me thinking. A loaf with both toppings, neatly arranged with a no-mans land in the middle!

Of course, there are many toppings you could choose, but these were the toppings to hand so let's proceed!

I kneaded 500g of wholemeal flour, adding some sunflower oil to give a golden glow. After resting the the dough for 45 minutes, and knocking it back, I half filled two medium sized plates with sesame seeds and the other with poppy seeds.

Then, using a cloth to cover half of the dough (which was shaped into a round), I sprayed the uncovered half with water from my beloved vaporiser. Using a scraper, I lifted it from the board, upturned it and firmly placed it into the poppy seeds, covering the uncovered half of the dough.

Then I covered the poppy seed half of the dough with the cloth, sprayed the other half and placed it into the sesame seeds.

Then I removed the cloth and shaped the dough into a bloomer shape.

I left the dough to finish proving, for 45 minutes, then slashed it across before putting it into the oven.
After 30 minutes in the oven, here it is. A winner from end to end!

Sunday 6 October 2013

Croissant Crown (via Chelsea!)

When you make croissants, it's almost inevitable that you'll have some leftover dough. You can't really use it again to make croissants as you've rolled it out so many times and it's lost all form, so I like to freeze it to be used in another way at some further point.

On this occasion, I decided to use up some ingredients kicking around in the blackbird cake cupboard. Amongst other things, I found a small amount of raisins and half a bag of chocolate chips. So I defrosted some croissant dough, convinced the kids to help and thought about a different take on Chelsea Buns.

I've never made Chelsea Buns, always wanted to, so I grabbed Dan Stevens wonderful 'Bread' book http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bread-River-Cottage-Handbook-No/dp/074759533X and followed his recipe, with a few variations thrown in.

I also decided that I would prove and bake the dough in a crown shape, using a 20cm round tin, which I use for our focaccia crowns
http://blackbirdbread.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/fit-for-queen.html and adds a nice twist to the end product.

Croissant Crown recipe

400g croissant dough, defrosted
(If you haven't got any croissant dough, combine 400g strong white bread flour, 45g caster sugar, 5g easy bake dried yeast, 7 g salt, 135ml warm milk, 200g butter and 1 egg in a bowl. Mix to a dough  knead for 5 mins, put back in the bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to prove for 1 hour).

For the filling
20g butter, melted
75g caster sugar
50g chocoalte chips
50g raisins

For the glaze
5g butter, melted
10g caster sugar

Line, or brush with melted butter, a 20 cm round tin.

Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough on a floured surface to a rectangle shape approx 50x40cm.
Brush the butter on the dough, leaving a small gap across the top of the dough. Scatter the choc chips, raisins and sugar on the dough, again leaving the top margin clear but filling the dough right to the edges with ingredients. Press the choc chips and raisins into the dough.

Starting with the edge closest to you, roll up the dough to make a long sausage and seal the top of the dough with a sprinkle of water. Gently roll it forming a seam under the dough.

Using a sharp knife, cut the roll into 12 (quite small) pieces. Place each piece into the round tin and gently press down upon them. It's a bit of a squeeze!

Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for 45 mins. Switch the oven onto 200C.

After 45 mins, glaze with the melted butter and scatter the sugar over the top of the dough. Then place into the oven for 10 mins at 200C.

After 10 mins, lower the oven to 170C and revolve the tin by 180 degrees. Bake for a further 7-10 mins, although keep an eye on it as you don't want it to burn!

Leave to cool for 10 mins then carefully, using a palette knife, remove from the tin, or, if you're like me, take one piece to taste, then remove the rest!

The taste is heavenly. The croissant dough has puffed up, the chocolate chips are oozing, the raisins are plump and the sugar has caramelised! Yum! My lot had it for pudding and this is how it looks now!

Wednesday 2 October 2013

British Egg Week

Our friends at Garden Trading mentioned that this week is British Egg Week. Now we love an egg in the Blackbird nest. Whether it’s making its way into an enriched dough, being whisked into a lemon drizzle, glazing a croissant or turning up in an omelette for a quick tea – eggs are a staple of our business and personal life.
We got to thinking of egg meets bread combinations to celebrate the week. It seemed to us the best contender is French toast. 

A true meeting of two ingredients - not all about the bread or all about the egg. I have to confess, I’ve never really understood the distinction between French toast, eggy bread and pain perdu – perhaps there isn’t one and it comes down to personal taste what you call it or what bread you use.
Waking up to an autumn morning with a little chill in the air, this seemed an ideal breakfast to fill the tummies of the little Blackbird chicks. So here’s our version.

French toast
Good knob of butter
Four slices of bread (whatever you have to hand, ours was a bloomer sliced quite thickly)
2 eggs
2 tablespoons of milk (or thereabouts – it’s early in the morning, leave the precise baking for later!)
Half a teaspoon of cinnamon
Icing sugar to sprinkle over

Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat and add the butter.

Crack the eggs into a bowl wide enough for you to dunk the bread in. Whisk the eggs then add the milk and cinnamon and whisk again.

Dip each piece of bread in the egg mix on both sides so it has a good coating and the egg mixture soaks into the bread a little.

When the butter in the pan is melted and a little frothy, add the egg-soaked bread. Let it brown a little before turning over.

When the bread is browned all over, transfer to a plate and give it a dusting of icing sugar.

We had ours will a little syrup, but I was thinking a compote of autumn fruits, like blackberries would be lovely with it, alongside some cr̬me fraiche Рto continue the Gallic theme!

Monday 30 September 2013

Having a brew

We were recently invited to take a tour around our local brewery, Twickenham Fine Ales. It was a family day out, cheaper than Legoland and nearer than the Science Museum, but just as informative (plus no queues!) I'm interested in developing recipes with a local brewery and this one just happens to be on our doorstep...

Firstly, I was so interested in looking at the enormous vats of beer, I must confess to not taking too much in. Luckily, they have their own website - http://www.twickenham-fine-ales.co.uk/ which will save a lot of duplication! In brief, they are an independent brewery which makes approximately a dozen types of beer (and I mean real beer folks) and sells them to lucky pubs within London.

We were shown around by Steve, the manager, who calmly watched as our children ran around making whooping noises (plus their father) and breathed in the all encompassing smell of brewers yeast.

There are several vats in one large unit, all doing various things to each beer, depending on the season (beers are rotated). I was surprised at how quickly beer can be produced, within a few days plus, as a baker, was interested to learn the differences between brewers yeast and baking yeast, and, therefore, the similarities between making bread and making beer.

We walked through the first unit into a much colder storage unit. Now we're talking! Check out the barrels of beer on offer here!

This was near to the loading bay and the temperature in that room was very cold indeed. It all want quiet as the kids were too cold to talk. Result!

I want to thank Steve for taking the time out to show us round. I don't think it's a regular thing he does, so I really appreciate it and look forward to using his beer in our bread as soon as possible! (Have you seen our barm bread folks?) 
http://blackbirdbread.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/blackbird-barm.html I know that others would also like to look around, so might be worth considering Steve?

Oh, and here's your empties back!

Saturday 17 August 2013

Courgette bread

Courgettes. Those of you that have grown them will know that they are everywhere. For weeks, you have nothing, you think the plant's dead, the soil's too dry, the slugs are eating them....and then one day you get up and you see this.....
...and underneath the foliage, you find your first courgette, swiftly followed by many more. In fact, we have so many that we decided to make some bread with them. Even the kids wanted to help! A miracle!

Courgette bread (or Zucchini Bread) is a lovely, sweet loaf with green flecks of courgette running through it. It proved to be very popular in our house and with Mrs B's workmates too!

This is the table before the kids helped.
And after!

We found a great recipe from Rachel Allen's Bake book and based our recipe on her Zucchini Bread. I can't locate a copy of this recipe online. But here's the book. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bake-Rachel-Allen/dp/0007259700 Buy it! We didn't include the walnuts, as we didn't have any in the cupboard, the kids didn't fancy it and, to be honest, I'm not certain it misses it! I've included them in the ingredients below in brackets. 

The recipe involves a lot of ingredients, but the process is very straightforward (basically put in a bowl, give it a stir and slam into the oven!). It also has both bicarbonate of soda and baking powder, which may seem excessive, but the mixture is very sloppy due to the courgettes!

So here's our version of Courgette Bread. 

This makes two medium sized loaves. Halve the quantities if you just want one loaf.

Plain flour 400g
Salt 1/2 tsp
Bicarbonate of soda 1tsp
Baking powder 1/2 tsp
Ground cinnamon 1 tsp
Nutmeg (freshly grated) 1/4 tsp
Ground cloves 1/4 tsp
Caster sugar 300g
Soft brown sugar 100g
Eggs x 3
Soft unsalted butter 200g
Vanilla extract 2 tsp
Courgettes (grated) 380g
(Walnuts 75g) We didn't add these!

Preheat oven to 150C. Line two 1lb loaf tins.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients first. The flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, spices and sugars. Stir.

Add the beaten eggs, butter, vanilla extract and courgettes to the dry ingredients and stir well. Add walnuts if using.

Divide the mixture by two and spoon into the loaf tins.

Bake in the oven for 35 mins.

Let it cool in the tin, then carefully place upon a wire rack.

Enjoy and bake more to use more courgettes!

Thursday 8 August 2013

Bread fears two

 'Bread, it's scary isn't it?'

I have to say I've never experienced fear and trepidation looking in the bread bin (well only if I thought it might be empty). I've never looked at a bloomer sideways and then looked back at it quickly in case it moved. I've never been worried that one of Mr B's Hippy loaves was creeping up the stairs accompanied by a looming shadow wishing me ill intent. I haven't looked in the fridge and thought 'That sourdough starter looks like it's trying to escape!' Actually the last one isn't true I have thought this, on more than one occasion.

I don't find bread scary, but that maybe because I'm surrounded by the stuff all the time. I'm immune to the fear. I could just be fooling myself like the flippant teenage ingenue who walks into the the dark creepy house, telling her friends she'll be right back..

The scary bread comment came from a couple of people at Mr B's pilot basic bread making class. Everyone who came along were people used to cooking and baking, but when it came to making their own bread that was scary.

There's something comforting about cake for example, even a cake gone wrong has it's uses, usually nothing that can't be rectified with icing, custard, cream or all three! If you make someone a cake and it doesn't work out, it's still a nice thought. If they aren't an experienced cake maker you'd still appreciate the effort. But bread is a whole other proposition.

There's certainly an air of mystery about it. If a cake is going to go wrong you'll usually know fairly soon. It curdles, it goes in the oven and doesn't rise, comes out and sinks. Bread takes so long to make there's so much that can happen. And what is it doing all that time while it proves, rises and falls? Most loaves are made from yeast - whether dried, fresh or wild in the case of sourdough. Which means when you make a loaf ...


That's what makes bread making scary.

When you make bread you get to play Dr Frankenstein, you create something that's living, well right until the point you chuck it into a brutally hot oven and kill it! But the bit before, that's the bit people worry about. While it sits there in it's bowl, under clingfilm, polythene or a damp tea towel. Plotting, deciding if it's going to double in size, craving warmth, making bubbles. Sometimes if you're really, really quiet [whispers] you can hear it growing.

When people start making bread they usually assume they're going to fail or that this unknown commodity is going to conspire against them. Hence the fear.

Much like Daddy Pig (here comes a reference for the people with small children) you must be at one with the puddle, sorry bread. Bread needs time, and some attention (not lots just enough in the right doses).

So don't be afraid, give it a go and go. Mr B's included some posts on here to lead you by the hand. This one is particularly handy.

If you still have the bread fear there's one other solution - our bread baking classes! Yes, this elongated analogy on why bread is scary is actually some promotion for our baking classes! If you're worried about what that flour, salt, water and yeast is thinking about you while it ponders life beyond the bowl, come along to one of our classes in South West London and let Mr B take the fear away. Just get in touch via the contact us tab at the top. Here's some contented students!

Now what is that I can see under that teatowel? I'll just go and look. Don't worry - I'll be right back ...

Friday 26 July 2013

Mummy's Curse!

This post is dedicated to all those parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents....anyone in fact, who makes things for school projects. Now, we all know it's the kids who are meant to make it, but somehow we all end up getting involved. Such was the case with this!

Our eldest had been studying ancient Egypt (or t'Egypt for any Peter Kay fans out there) for what seemed like centuries. She visited the British Museum, had a dressing up day (cue lots of bed sheets and kitchen roll) and the inevitable finale - an Egyptian banquet.

We were asked to make some loaves for the kids to tuck into. After a little researching, we found out that common ingredients in loaves at that time were sourdough, dates and honey. So, we headed for the baking lab and got inventive!

The secret formula is better guarded than King Tut's golden bits, but we thought we'd share some pics!

First we mixed sourdough starter, white bread flour, yeast, salt, olive oil, chopped dates and honey in a sarcophagus. Alright, in a big bowl.

This requires a very lengthy knead - about 15 minutes, because there's a lot of information in that bowl! Then cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave for one hour.

After one hour, when you have tried to get 'Walk Like An Egyptian' out of your head, take out your frustration on the dough by knocking it back, then shape into a ball. Repeat this process after 15 mins. The knocking back bit, I mean, not the singing!

The dough will now start to smell beautiful.Sweet aromas mixed with the tang that sourdough brings to the pyramid, sorry, I mean the table!

The dough was split into three parts, two large loaves and one small loaf and placed in proving baskets. This is a good idea with this dough. It's particularly sticky, so lots of flour is needed to dust the baskets.

Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for one hour. Carefully remove from the proving basket, slash horizontally to try to replicate a mummy's face. See what I've done there?!

Spray with water, then into a red hot oven (200C) for 30 minutes, until you get this spooky lot looking at you!

The loaf on the left is particularly good. The one on the right looks like he's telling a joke and the small one is just confused!

My daughter's contribution to the day? She named the loaf - Mummy's Curse! Love it!

Anyway, the kids ate them and even the headmaster took time to congratulate me! They taste like a grown ups fruit loaf and I hope we did the ancient Egyptians proud. Go on, do one for mummy!

Sunday 23 June 2013

Baubles, bagels and beads!

Please excuse the title of this post. I couldn't resist yet another bread based pun!

I've spent the past two months subjecting my lovely nest to never ending tests of bagels. They were everywhere and were not getting any better.

Initially, I tried the Daniel Stevens recipe (essential 'Bread' book) which produced the examples at the top of the post. I tried two different types of shaping - both rolling out like a sausage then linking the ends together, plus also the finger through the dough and spinning technique. The latter technique produced the best bagels. But they were a bit small. His recipe says it makes 12, so I reduced that amount to 10 at the next bake.

(Left hand side: shaped by spinning. Right hand side: joining ends together)

I was confident that I had mastered bagels. Yeh right! The next attempt was a disaster. They shrivelled into nothing when placed into the oven. I was miffed, so I tried another batch the following day, adding a bit more yeast.......another disaster.

I baked some for a market, which were SLIGHTLY better, but not quite right. They all sold but I had to inform all customers that they tasted ok even if they looked nothing like bagels (lumpy, flat you get the picture).

It was the next batch that really broke the harmony in the nest. They were baked for a local school fair. I would have given them a D-. At best. But I had lots of people coming back to me after buying them saying I shouldn't grumble about them as they were nice. NICE? I don't want nice. I want GREAT!

The problem with the last batch was that they were left too long. I had read so many recipes and listened to lots of advice about making bagels that I thought that making them enormous before putting them into boiling water would be the best way to ensure nice sized bagels when they came out of the oven. This is not good advice!

So there I was. With my Rachel Allen 'Bake' book. Her recipe said it makes seven bagels. That sounded better! I followed the recipe, with the exception of leaving the bagels to prove for 45 minutes instead of 15 minutes. They looked good and went into the boiling water without shrivelling and came out huge. Into the red hot oven and they looked AWESOME!

So I've tampered with timings, amounts of yeast, sugar and toppings. I'm now happy with our bagels! They fill a plate and fill yer tummy!

Recipe? Not yet!