Monday 15 April 2013

For Jane

This post concerns the adventures of four loaves and the day they travelled into London. They were all destined for good homes and were well looked after. But, like all good tales, this story started several weeks earlier...

In January we introduced a new bread to our collection. A barm bread. We contacted St Peters Brewery as we used their Ruby Red Ale in the recipe. We agreed to make two barm loaves and bring them to their London pub, the Jerusalem Tavern. (See below for links).

As I don't get out much, I also agreed to meet up with my brother, with a free loaf as a bribe. (One loaf gone already!)

Finally, and the cause of much excitement in our nest, was the prospect of meeting
Jane Harris at the same time. Obviously you know who Jane Harris is. She has written, in the past few years, two of the most amazing novels - 'The Observations' and 'Gillespie & I'. They are both set in the 19th century, both are crammed full of suspense and are written by a master story teller.  But you know that don't you! Via Twitter, we had chatted with Jane and promised her a loaf! (That's two loaves).

So, we were killing three birds with one stone. (Don't be alarmed fellow blackbirds. It's just a saying). The loaves and I set off to meet three people at the Jerusalem Tavern. This involved a train into London plus adventures on London Underground! 

As the loaves had just come out of the oven, the train carriage reaked of freshly baked bread. In fact, I gave out several leaflets to fellow passengers. Yay!

Eventually we (the loaves and I) made it to the pub and we had a chat with Dave, the manager. He liked the bread and used it up the following day. Here's Dave plus loaf. The other chap is too astonished to even look up from the loaf. I can't blame him. We were even treated to a free pint! (Three and four loaves gone. Job done!)

My brother was there by this point and within a short time Jane arrived too, followed shortly after by her husband, Tom. It was a really great evening, very warm and lots of laughter. Jane was gracious enough to sign my copy of 'Gillespie & I', to give us an extra copy (nabbed by my brother!) and a copy of 'The Observations', all signed. This is Jane and Tom - with my loaf! Thanks guys!

Great to meet everyone that night! Let's do it again!

St Peter's Brewery and Jerusalem Tavern
Twitter: @StPetersBrewery

Jane Harris
Twitter: @blablafishcakes

Blackbird Bread
Twitter: @blackbirdbread

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Croissant Sundays

Most people we talk to have asked the same question - when are we going to make croissants? So, for the past two months we have set one Sunday aside, per month, to bake nothing but croissants for our lovely customers.

I'm sorry, but this post will not share our beloved recipe, but will show the process involved plus, hopefully, will peel away the delusion that making croissants involves getting up at 2am! There are lots of croissant recipes online and as long as they involve butter, milk, salt, caster sugar and strong white flour, you'll be ok!

For the first month, we baked approximately 40 croissants, based on interest from customers and from promoting the idea via Twitter. We opened our doors at 9.30am on a Sunday morning and had sold out in ten minutes! So, one month later, we upped the ante and baked 75 croissants. This time, as there was a queue in our front garden, plus a panic with my seven year old daughter who put the open sign up too early, we opened at 9.15. By 10 we were done, with one or two left, which we scoffed later on!

Most recipes will bake about 18-20 croissants, (we simply multiplied the ingredients), and as long as you start the day before you need the croissants, fold in the butter, roll it out, fold into thirds and rest in the fridge overnight (all of which will be in any decent croissant recipe) you'll get up the following morning and see this - a plump, rectangle dough shape. A basic time frame is at the end of this post.

Follow your recipe and roll this out, then fold into thirds, then a final BIG roll to get the dough as thin as you can. This is now the fab bit, where you cut out the croissants. This is our state-of-the-art croissant template and cutter.

This is a triangle cut from a cereal box (dimensions 15cm width x 18.5cm height) with a very sharp, small kitchen knife. Nothing fancy!

You place this over the dough and mark out as many triangles as you can, then carefully cut them out. There will be excess dough, so roll this out again and repeat.

Placing your opened palm at the base of the dough, roll upwards towards the tip.

When rolled up, take either end of the dough and bring together, forming a crescent (or croissant) ...
...pinch the ends together, place upon baking trays, coat with egg wash and leave to rise for at least 90 minutes (more if possible!).

When you have finished shaping your croissants, your back will ache and your house will look like a mill, but you'll be so proud to have made them yourself! These were some of ours, proving.

They only go into the oven for a short amount of time. Generally speaking, they took 15 minutes per batch to bake. They smell amazing and look beautiful! They're more dense and heavier than any shop bought croissants I've ever had!
So, we put the open sign in the window (drawn by our resident seven-year-old artist)....
and soon afterwards we put the sold out sign up, plus another designed by the artist's three-year-old sister!)
Croissant Sundays are now a big part of what we do! Yes they're hard work, but they're certainly worth it!

For croissants, like any cooking, you need to work backwards. If you want to serve croissants at 6am, then you will have an early rise, but as we served ours at 9.30am, I have based the following times on that principle:

The day before
3pm: Basic dough mixed, in a bowl, covered in fridge.
5pm: Dough rolled out, rest of butter incorporated, rolled and shaped into rectangle.
5.30pm: Dough rolled out again. Folded again. Into fridge overnight.

Croissant day!
5am: Remove dough from fridge. Go back to bed. Rest dough and you for another hour.
6-7am: Roll out again as thin as you can. Make into triangles, then crescents, on to baking trays, coat with egg wash.
7am: Oven on. Not too hot. Approx 170C
8am: Coat with egg wash again. Into oven. 15-20 mins.

There you go!