No bread is an island

...entire of itself. (With apologies to John Donne!)
I live and breathe breadmaking. I’m an evangelist who would like everyone to make his or her own bread. I want to demystify breadmaking and show it as the easy everyday craft that it is. To this end I endeavour to make my recipes as simple and as foolproof as I possibly can.

I call my blog 'No bread is an island' because every bread is connected to another bread. So a spicy fruit bun with a cross on top is a hot cross bun. This fruit dough will also make a fruit loaf - or Chelsea buns or a Swedish tea ring...
I'm also a vegan, so I have lots of vegan recipes on here - and I'm adding more all the time.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Dough scraper/cutters and spatulas - and their uses

 I've got several dough cutters that I use:

The wooden handled one belonged to my dad - it was always known as a Scotch scraper, I'd love to know why! It was old when he took over the bakery in 1948. It feels really comfortable in my hand, but the blade isn't as sharp as I'd like.

The one top right I've had for about 15 years and it came under the Graham Kerr (Galloping gourmet) label. It's the one I use most as it has a sharper blade and is just slightly flexible. This is particularly handy when I'm kneading a sticky dough - that way I only have one hand to clean! I have seen similar ones in kitchen supply shops for around £6.

Bottom left was from Macro (I think), and the one bottom right came from Creed bakery supplies. I bought a dozen  to sell at my Saturday workshop sessions - just before they were cancelled, and I haven't done one since!  I've still got about 9 left! (Now only 4 left after my Autumn evening course!)

The spatulas are really handy for starting to mix a small amount of dough - the shape means that you can easily scrape around the side of the bowl and you can readily cut through the dough with them. These used to be available at my local Cook Store, but they haven't been for about 3 years.

For a bigger batch I use a curved knife given to me by a butcher relative - it's an abattoir knife which I put to much better use!

Also available are small plastic scrapers in the shape of a D (with no handle), which are very useful. Bakery reps used to give them away - probably still do! Richard Bertinet always uses one.

The plastic scrapers are bevelled along the curved side and are brilliant for scraping dough out of a bowl
The metal dough cutter/scraper in the pic is one I used to sell many of in my workshops before Ikea stopped making them. At £1.50 each, they were a bargain  - and they fit very well into the hand, as well.

I was using my favourite cutter yesterday - the Graham Kerr one - and, in the light of a conversation on the BBC Food board, I thought I'd run through some of the uses of the implement.

Apart from the obvious uses - cutting dough, scraping the worktop clean - it's very handy for handling a sticky dough. I push the dough flat with my left hand (I'm left-handed when it comes to kneading dough - right-handed in most other things) and use the scraper in my right hand to lift the dough up and over - so I only have one hand sticky with dough.

But apart from breadmaking, this tool has many other uses:
Chopping potatoes for mashed potato, for instance. You can chop away then scoop the diced potatoes up and drop them in the pan in one easy action;
Spreading the oil out in my cast iron frying pan. I only like to use a teaspoon of oil, which takes ages to spread over the pan - but, using the scraper, it's a work of seconds to cover the area you want to cover;
Turning fried mashed potato. I like to gently fry my mashed spuds to get a crust on each side. Using the scraper, with its large area, makes it much easier to turn the potato over;
It's also good for lifting out and turning over a fried egg, on the odd occasion I make one for when the family visits;
If I ever I get some crusty bits on the bottom of the pan (it does happen!), it's the work of seconds to scrape it off. (But I wouldn't let it near my non-stick frying pans - for obvious reasons!);
Finally (for the moment!), it's superb for picking up an egg dropped on the floor - with one scoop you can pick up the whole thing!:-D

Home made vegan chocolate spread

I've been meaning to have a go at this for ages. So often I make a bread with chocolate spread - and I can't eat it because it isn't vegan.

I googled several recipes and got an idea of what I could use. Most were about making a nutella-type spread, using a food processor - which I don't have, but it gave me the basis. In the end, by adding a bit of this and a bit of that, I ended up with these ingredients:

100g soya cream
50g olive oil
55g cocoa powder
55g icing sugar

I blitzed the cream and oil together and added most of the dry ingredients - then I stirred in a dessertspoon of each until I finished up with a thick spread. I've got this in a jar and we'll see how much of this I use in the morning.

I used just over half in making a chocolate and cherry swirl loaf [recipe and pics to come].

I took the jar into work the next day and invited three friends to taste the spread. Two of them said that while it was very nice, there was an underlying 'off-flavour' they detected, which I put down to the olive oil. However, when the other friend - a chef - tasted it, she only said it was too chocolaty for her.

Both these problems are easily solved - firstly by using a bland vegetable oil, such as sunflower oil instead of the olive oil, and secondly by adjusting the amount of cocoa powder.

It's now firmly established in my repertoire - and I shall play with the ingredients no doubt every time I make it.

One thing I will try next time is to add some ground almonds I found lurking in the cupboard - then it will be my own version of nutella!

Friday, 22 July 2011


300g strong white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
250ml lukewarm water with 1 rounded teaspoon fresh yeast
2-4 tablespoons olive oil

Plus, if desired:
1 dessertspoon each, sun-dried tomato paste and pesto; 25-50g sun-dried tomatoes (in olive oil) chopped; and 25-50g olives, halved. Use all, or any, or none of these. If using, add them with the olive oil and liquid.

1. Place the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. When the yeast liquid is ready, add to the mix and pour the olive oil into the liquid. This dough is mixed and beaten entirely in the mixing bowl and should be halfway between a dough and a batter. Have some extra water to hand to add if necessary, to achieve this. Mix by holding the bowl with one hand and stirring the ingredients together with the fingers of the other. Beat the dough for two or three minutes –as vigorously as you can!

2. Cover with a dry tea towel and check after about ten minutes. It should not have spread out too much in the bowl – if it has, beat in another 25g of flour. Leave the dough, covered, for about another hour. If you intend leaving it longer than that - and you can leave it all day if you wish - place the bowl inside an oiled plastic bag.

3. When you are ready to proceed, don't knock the dough back, but scrape it carefully out onto a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Don't worry about the final shape; it should be fairly rough looking. However, you can smooth it out a little with wet fingers, if you wish.

4. Leave it to recover – it should have risen appreciably from when you first began proving. Bake at 220C, 425F or gas mark 7 for between 20-25 minutes.

5. Look for some colour underneath to see that it is done.

The wetter this is, the more it spreads out on the baking sheet, and the less wet it is, the more it will stand up. You may need to try this several times to get the right consistency – but anyway this turns out, it’s a tasty loaf!

Ciabatta is a technique as much as anything. I think it’s one of the easiest breads to make. Try a ciabatta fruit loaf with chopped dried apricots, chopped walnuts and a little nutmeg. 

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Williton June-July 2011 - Student pics

When I conduct a breadmaking course I often give the students some homework, which is to go home and teach someone what they've just learned.

Here's Annette's proof:
Annette's 7-year-old daughter plus a pizza and some pain au chocolat they'd made together!

Pane Casereccio and Apfel Kuchen - Annette reports that half the apple cake went in one sitting between her and her husband

Annette again, this in preparation for a coffee morning.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Bethesda baking

Here are some pics I took at the Bethesda Bakin'5 event (5 because this is the 5th time these get-togethers have been held), which took place in Bethesda, North Wales between 1st and 4th of July this year. I was only able to attend on the two middle days, but it was worth every second.

20 or so keen, enthusiastic bakers gathered together over the four days and just made bread - swapping recipes and sharing knowledge along the way. We had a variety of ovens to play with - 3 commercial, one wood-fired oven on a trailer, and my small chiminea.

It was very pleasing to meet my old friend (from the BBC Food board and the WFO forum) Terry - also known as Cannyfraddock (great name, that!) who introduced me to everyone.

To make the event possible there had to be some terrific organisational feats - we had two large ovens, 3 long stainless steel tables, huge racks, over 20 mixing bowls, scales, jugs. There was a myriad of containers of different sourdoughs - I never got to check all these out - great sacks of different flours: Doves wholemeal and white; spelt; rye; millet; and more. There was a huge rack full of all the different additives you might want to include in a loaf: dried fruit of all description; seeds - poppy - sesame - pumpkin - sunflower - flax, etc; olives; olive oil; sunflower oil - and much more I've forgotten.

We had several cooks pitching in over the weekend (mainly wives, you won't be surprised to hear) and the food was of high quality. Knowing I was vegan, the cooks made every attempt to make sure that anything that could be made vegan was done so. I remember a fine minestrone soup (more like a stew!) which I had with some wonderful bread for lunch one day.

All in all it was a wonderful occasion and one I can't wait to repeat!

Thanks must go to Mick Hartley of the Bethesda Bakers who was the prime mover behind all this. I'd like to thank everyone who helped Mick, but I'm not going into names in case I leave anyone out.
The WFO on a trailer that Crannyfaddock (Terry) hauled all the way up from Kidderminster

And its little brother - my chiminea

The WFO in action

An olive sourdough. (Can't remember whose, sorry!)

A sourdough vegan calzone - a first for me! Containing mushroom pate, pesto and someone's lovely homemade tomato sauce.

Some sourdough loaves on the rack

Animals by Joe - a rabbit and swans amongst them

A couple of figures, also by Joe

A lizard...

And a one-eyed turtle
That's Gareth's (big G) hand just visible in the sticky dough
Still stuck up!
Just a few minutes later...
It's completely transformed!
This is Jay just about to put his risen sourdough into a Dutch oven.

(More to come)