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, 30 June 2012

Simple parkin recipe (vegan)

(My latest, most definitive parkin recipe is here. This post tells the story of how I developed it, beginning down at the bottom.)

As a Lancashire lad I remember the parkin of my youth with great affection. My mother's version was full of oats (obviously), treacle and ginger. The mouth feel was 'claggy', thick and ultimately - well, unctuous!

As a vegan I'd given up on the idea of ever experiencing its like again.

However, after the success of the vegan chocolate cake I've been making fairly frequently recently, I thought why not adapt the oil-based recipe to make parkin?

So I did, with great success! You'll find the recipe and pics further down the post.

Saturday, 30th June.
I've made this recipe several times since I last reported, and, in an attempt to make it less crumbly (my only criticism - if it can be called that!). So last night I made one with a little more wholemeal and a little less porridge oats (120g flour to 80g porridge oats). Didn't make a damn bit of difference! :) It was still gorgeous - still crumbly. Next time I'll try 120g oats and 80g of flour - but I won't alter the definitive recipe until I find something that does make a difference.

Friday, 10th February.
Happy to report the parkin was just terrific when I ate the last piece yesterday.

Made two more tonight - one at the request of the husband of my Lancashire mate. She's going away for the weekend so we're having a men's get-together on Saturday night - rugby and cards at his place. He's asked me to bring some parkin along, which I'm happy to do. Since I shall be visiting my daughter and son-in-law on Sunday I thought I'd take a load of parkin over with me.

Went down a treat, with SIL!

Wednesday, 8th February.
Just gets better every day. Next time I'll have to make two batches, then I can have one to eat straight away and one to put on one side.

I've got about 40g left and I'm trying to leave it until Thursday.

Monday 6th February.
Just had a little nibble this morning - it's firming up nicely. It was fairly crumbly to begin with, but now it's slicing much better - and the taste is - well, superb? Can I say that? :-)

Here's the crumb - it was sliced on the second day

Sunday 5th February.
Finally tasted the parkin this morning - and it's wonderful! It's very close to the parkin of my youth - and it's not even a day old, yet!

The acid test is coming up this afternoon, when I take a piece to a Lancastrian friend of mine, from Preston. I'll report back when I hear her judgement.

In the meantime, I'll just have another nibble...

This afternoon I gave a piece to my Lancashire friend and she was well impressed - I believe she actually used the word "Fantastic!" at one stage!

Saturday 4th February.
Thought it was time to make another batch of parkin. It's freezing outside - tried to snow this morning - and thoughts of a cup of something warm and a piece of parkin are very appealing! Apart from which, tomorrow I'll be taking a piece of parkin round to my friend's house - his wife comes from Preston, so she'll be able to pass a considered opinion.

The changes I decided to make were - wholemeal flour (bread flour, as it happens), instead of white - and extra baking powder to replace the self-raising bit.

So the amended recipe looks like this:

100g porridge oats
100g wholemeal flour
2 and 1/2 tsps baking powder
4 tsps ground ginger
1 tsp mixed spice
100g sugar
100g blackstrap molasses - warmed and added after the oil and water
80g oil (sunolive, in this case)
220g lukewarm water

Here are the before and after pics:

That dark swirl in the middle is a bit of the molasses which had stuck to the side of the bowl 

Which can still be seen on the finished article.
I wish I'd taken a pic of the first parkin whilst it was still in the silicon case - then it could be seen if they both had risen the same. I'll post a pic of the crumb tomorrow, when I cut into it. Have to admit, it's very tempting, sitting here on my worktop, smelling of treacle and ginger!

Thursday 26th January.
I ate the last piece today, by which time it was 5 days old - and it was brilliant! Maybe not the same cake as I remember - but since that was over 50 years ago, how would I know. All I do know is that it's a darn good cake, and one I'll make again.

I've decided that the only change I need to make is to use wholemeal flour (with baking powder) instead of white self-raising flour. Parkin is supposed to be heavy and dense, not as light as this one was.

Monday 23rd January.
Still improving - now I'm not thinking of changing anything. We'll see.

Sunday 22nd January.
24 hours later, the cake is improving; it's moist, full of flavour and definitely more parkin-like. It's becoming more crumbly, as well - and parkin should be crumbly. Perhaps I'd better wait and check it out over the next few days before I decide what changes to make - if any.

Saturday 21st January.
After spending some time comparing recipes, I've come up with this recipe:

100g oatmeal
100g s/raising flour
1 and 1/2 tsps baking powder
4 tsps ground ginger
1 tsp mixed spice
100g sugar
100g blackstrap molasses - warmed and added after the oil and water
80g oil
220g lukewarm water

I'm not expecting great things from this, but, once I've made it, I can then think about tinkering with it and hopefully come up with a reasonable alternative to the traditional recipe.

I mixed the dry ingredients, then warmed the molasses and water - since the molasses was quite cold and stiff, I was afraid it wouldn't mix with the water properly.

I then added the oil, followed by the water and molasses.

It's now mixed, poured into the cake case, and it's in the oven. We'll found out in about 40 minutes how good it is!

Turned out OK!
40 minutes at 175C, and it came away clean from the silicon cake case.

My first bite I thought a bit strange - but it was too fresh, still hot from the oven. Now it's cooled down a bit I can make a more considered judgement.

It's a lot lighter than I remember, but it is still 'claggy' and sticks to the teeth.

I forgot to mention in the original recipe that I ground half of the porridge oats, thinking the baking powder would react better. Next time I'll leave them whole.

It's also very 'treacly', which is no bad thing, but it tends to dominate and drown out the flavour of the ginger. Next time I might use 50g of syrup and 50g of molasses.

Otherwise, I'm very happy with it. As with the chocolate cake, I need to cut it up into 50g chunks and freeze them - otherwise I'll just nibble the parkin away.

(Update - 7.00 pm - I've eaten about a third of it already! It's very moreish!)
The piece on the left shows the crumb with the cake broken, whilst the one on the right was sliced with a bread knife. 

Friday, 29 June 2012

Pierogis, pirozkhis, parathas and - pasties

Poland, Russia, India and - well - Cornwall?

The similarities of these bread parcels - for that is what they are - are plain for all to see.

I made these with my special needs groups this morning, using a simple bread dough:

160g strong white flour
1/2 an Oxo cube, crumbled
100ml yeast liquid
Splash of olive oil

Rolled the dough out into a circle, cut out circles and filling (curried lentils and potatoes) placed in the middle. Dough folded over and pinched together to make a small pasty.
Some of these were boiled, some were baked and some were just fried. The boiled ones (pierogi) were then fried in olive oil.

The general conclusion of the support staff - Emma and Donna and Ruth - was that, first of all, they were delicious; and that the fried ones were the best. So let's hear it for the stuffed paratha of India!

There didn't seem to be much difference between the pierogi which were fried after simmering, and the ones which were only fried.

A couple of my students, who couldn't cope with anything small and fiddly, made pasties.

Here they all are - it was a fun session!

The pierogis simmering for a couple of minutes each side
The parathas, fried to a golden brown
The morning's haul. The baked pirozhki are at the top left, and the pasties are bottom right.

Saturday, 23 June 2012


Tuesday 19th June - update.
Today I made another batch of these - and found the batter a little on the thin side. I halved the recipe and added 25g more flour*. This time I included slices of mushroom:

These are so tasty! Never having tried deep-frying food before I discovered this, I'm still amazed by how quickly everything cooks!
And it's not just the speed - half of these were enough for my evening meal! So a cheap meal as well as a quick one!

First time I've made these - and I was well impressed!
These are the leftovers - which didn't survive until the morn!  
Battered sausages, etc:
(Because I was in a hurry, I used about 50g of apple juice as some of the liquid. This helps the gluten form just that little bit quicker. And if you made the batter an hour before you needed it, you would only need half as much yeast as I did.)

For the yeast batter
360ml lukewarm water
*200g strong white flour (I first made this with 150g of flour, but found it a little thin)
10g fresh yeast

One Linda McCartney sausage and one Fry's sausage - both of which are vegan. I cut each sausage into half, then split the pieces lengthways. I also divided a 1cm thick slice of Fry's vegan polony into 6 pieces.

Whisk the ingredients together and leave for 10 minutes.

I placed about 1cm of vegetable oil in a small saucepan, which I heated up quite hot. I tested it with a drop of batter and found it was done within about 15 seconds.

Using tongs, I picked up a piece of sausage, dipped it in the batter and turned it over to coat it properly, then placed it in the saucepan. I immediately slid a palette knife under the sausage to prevent it sticking to the bottom of the pan. After 15 seconds or so I turned it over, gave it another 15 second, took it out and put it to one side. Then I fried the next piece.

These I kept warm on a simmering pan of curry sauce and had them with the sauce and some spicy wedges for dinner.

The ones in the pic above were what was left (this is a very filling dish!) and I made the mistake of just having one (cold) before retiring for the night. I have to say the rest followed pretty quickly. Even cold they were delicious!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Breadmaking at St Mark's Primary School, Basingstoke (2)

Once again it's the time of the year when there's space in the curriculum when I can go into my daughter's school and make bread with her year group.

It's the third year I've done this, and last year I made bread with 74 children (it's a three form intake). I'm hoping to break the record this year, since there are 79 children in the year.

Bread roll recipe (with suggestions for different shapes.)

Tomorrow, starting with the first group of 25 at 8.50, we plan to have the bread proving by 9.50; the second by 10.00 with the bread proving by 11.00; and the third starting at 11.10 with the bread proving by 12.10.

These times are very flexible, of course, and I'm well aware we didn't finish until 3.20 last year (although we did take time out for lunch).

Wednesday 13th June.
We got under way at 8.50, as planned, with 25 youngsters and soon got into a routine. Up to ten tables arranged in a U shape, each with groups of 2 or 3 children. Every group had a mixing bowl, a mug and a teaspoon.

After a demonstration of making a bread dough, dividing the dough and forming a few shapes, the children followed suit. Sharing the activity between themselves, the children measured the flour and salt, poured the water and stirred in the yeast. This was added to the flour and the dough was mixed.

Once made, the dough was divided into, generally, three pieces and shaping began. Here are some of the busy tables and the shapes the children attempted:

This is a coiled snake - a cobra, but the head wouldn't stay upright 

The numbers are important - to identify the bread

Lots going on - the children were completely engaged
Once the dough was shaped and on the tray, it was safe

This was from the first session. 
The numbers built up: 1-25 in the first session; 26-51 in the second; and 52-77 in the third.

My projected timings were pretty close - we began the second session around 10.10 and the third about 11.30. By 12.40 the last batch were baking. All this in one domestic oven!

There weren't many pics of the finished rolls, since I wasn't in charge of baking them. By the time I got down to the kitchen area, most of them were bagged up and tagged with the name labels the youngsters had been wearing.

It was a brilliant morning and everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves - I certainly did! It was hectic at times but I had some lovely feedback - one youngster calling the session "Awesome!" Praise indeed.

I had some terrific support from teachers and teaching assistants - and I'm already hearing of the knock-on effects.

After I summarise the lesson, I always give the students some homework - which is to go home and teach someone what they've learned today.

I wasn't allowed to show the children's faces in the pics. However, the teachers took photo's which will be posted on the school's internal website - with a link to this blog.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Bread rolls

200g or 1 mug strong flour – either all white or a mix of white and wholemeal
¼ teaspoon salt
125ml or 1/3rd mug lukewarm water
1 tsp yeast, fresh or dried

  1. Measure the water and stir in the yeast. Place the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and pour in the yeast liquid.

  1. Have a little water to hand to add if necessary, remember, it is better for your dough to be wetter (slack) rather than drier (tight). Begin to mix by stirring the ingredients together with a knife, cutting through the dough as it forms. When it gets too stiff for the knife, use your hand to squeeze the mixture together. As it forms into a solid mass, keep turning it over and pressing it down to pick up the flour at the bottom of the bowl – but make sure it stays soft. Don’t be afraid to add more water to keep it soft! When all the flour has been mixed in, wipe the bowl around with the dough, turn it out onto the worktop and begin to knead.

  1. Knead by flattening the dough out, folding it over and flattening it again. If the dough is too sticky, instead of putting extra flour on your worktop, place some in the bowl, put the dough back in and turn it round to coat it all over. That way you keep the flour under control and you won’t be tempted to add too much. Knead until the dough becomes smooth – and then stop before you get fed up!

  1. Divide the dough into 6 pieces with the side of your hand and give yourself plenty of room on your worktop. Take one of the pieces in each hand and flatten them down with the palms of your (flat) hand. Keeping them pressed down, gently move them round in a circle. After a couple of circles, start to ease the pressure off. Still moving in circles, let your hands form a hollow shape. Gradually cup your hands and relax the pressure, whilst still making the circular movement. Your little finger and thumb should make contact in turn with the side of the roll as it tightens up. Ease off the pressure altogether, and you should have a couple of bun shapes! Place the rolls either on greased bun trays or on oven trays lined with baking parchment.
  1. Cover and leave to prove until the rolls have doubled in size, then bake at 220C, 425F or gas mark 7 for between 15-20 minutes.
Why not try the 'Undercover', or 'Cloche' method to get a better rise for your rolls?

Or, why not make some shapes - Fancy Dinner Rolls:
Roll each piece of dough out into a long thin rope, long enough to tie a knot in it – Lover’s Knot
Roll the dough out a bit longer and roll it up from one end – Whirl
Roll the dough up from both ends – Twirl
Roll the dough up on top from one end and underneath from the other – Swirl
Pick up the dough in the middle and twist one end around the other – Twist
And of course, you can invent your own shapes!

This dough will also make a large pizza base. Simply roll it out to fit your baking tray, cover with your favourite topping, then, when the dough has become a little puffy, place it in the oven for 15-20 minutes.