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.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

MY WRITING GAME - and a song, 'Number bonds to ten'

I've just been reminded of this game I used to play many years ago, with the children at my wife's playgroup. I used to unwind after a night shift practicing pencil control with them for an hour or so.

Basically, it’s a ‘magic writing game’ – which requires three crayons. The thick pencil types are the best (Stendler?). You write or draw something with a yellow crayon and put a green dot where you want the child to start. The child draws over the yellow lines with a blue crayon - and, hey, presto, the yellow turns to green! Magic!

For the playgroup children – I would have a table with about 5-6 kids at a time – I’d prepare pages with lines drawn in yellow, with the obligatory green dots. Straight lines, zigzag lines, bouncy lines, jump up lines, etc. Then at the bottom of the page I’d just have a couple of green dots and the kids could draw their own lines.

[Pic to come]

The children took great care over following the lines – and it was easy to see at a glance round the table how successful they’d been. Lots of green meant they’d been pretty good - blue and yellow lines, not so.

The next step was to do the same thing with their names – it was a goal of the playgroup that the children should all be able to write their own name before they left.

I’d prepare a sheet each with a line of each letter of their name. So, for Oscar:

A line of capital ‘O’s across the top of the page – with the green dot at around 11o’clock on the O. Then a line each of ‘s’, ‘c’, ‘a’, ‘r’, remembering that, with small characters, every letter is begun at the top, except for ‘d’ and ‘e’, which start in the middle.

Then a couple of lines of their full name, with a space at the bottom to do their own names free hand.

Once they could write their own names, I’d prepare sheets with letters that all began the same way – I called these ‘families of letters’, so, r, n, m, p, b, h are one family, c, o, a, d, g, q, are another.

I also made up little booklets with a story that each child could relate to. Nothing fancy, “Sometimes I go to playgroup where I play ‘bump the finger’* with Paul”. I wrote the words on one page, which they would magically turn into green – and they would write the same words on the opposite page. To prepare them for this, depending where each child was, I’d have separate sheets for each of these words.

 (*Bump the finger is the first pencil control game I’d play with the kids. We’d have a blank sheet of paper, the child would have a pencil, and, while I moved my finger around the page, the child would follow it and say ‘Bump’ every time they caught up with me. As I moved my finger around I would say, ‘Up the page, down the page, across the page, left, right, up to the right-hand corner, over to the left-had corner, etc. We always finished with large zig zags across the page. Inevitably, my finger would move faster and faster, and we would both collapse in fits of giggles! Even the older children would love to play this in between pages of the yellow game.)

Every now and then, we’d stop doing the pencil control sessions for a song about numbers. (Number bonds to ten.)

To the tune of ‘Knees up, Mother Brown,’ I’d sing:
One and nine are ten
Two and eight are ten
Three and seven and four and six and five and five are ten

The last word with gusto – and arms akimbo, of course!

I imagine the 'Yellow game' could be tailored for an older child. As long as it’s seen to be fun, and kept short and sweet.

[Need a couple of pics of the  ‘Yellow games’ pages.]

Friday, 20 December 2013

PIZZA - with a soda bread crust

Makes two 30cm (12") pizzasReady in a jiffy, and very economical, costing less than £1 each.  

400g (or 2 mugs) self raising flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
250ml (or 2/3rds mug) water
2 tablespoons olive oil (optional)


½ tube tomato puree thinned out with hot water into a passata-type sauce
1/2 tsp mixed herbs) (optional)
1/2 stock cube (optional)
2 heaped dessertspoons nutritional yeast, or:
100g vegan cheese (Eg. Smoked Applewood)
Plus sliced mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers

1.     Since the baking powder begins working as soon as it comes into contact with the water, you need to have everything ready before mixing the dough. So, heat the oven to 220C, 425F, gas mark 7 and either grease two baking sheets or line them with baking parchment.

2.     Place the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl, add the water, then the olive oil (if using) and begin mixing together into a dough, bringing the flour from the sides to the middle. Don't be too gentle, and work fairly fast. The dough should be soft and squishy, so don't be afraid to add more water to keep it soft.

3.     Once the dough is formed, give the mixing bowl a final wipe and turn it out onto your worktop, knead it firmly several times, then mould it into a cob shape. Working quickly, divide the dough into two and, with a rolling pin and plenty of flour, roll each one out into a large circle to fit your trays. (With practice you can get the mixing and shaping done in two or three minutes.)

4.     Divide the sauce between the pizzas, spreading it not quite up to the edges - leave about a centimetre gap - and smoothing it out evenly. Sprinkle with cheese.

5.     Place in the oven for 15-20 minutes, but check after ten – you may need to swap shelves, or turn the pizzas around to cook evenly. When they're done the pizzas will lift up all along one side when you check underneath, using a bread knife or similar. The bottom should be browning from the edges.

The topping I've given is just a suggestion - use your own favourite toppings, and get the family to join in with their own favourites. 

About using soda bread in this way: 
I've been making my own bread for almost 40 years, and pizzas for most of this time - but I've only recently discovered this variation, and it really is a revelation! 

If I'm using s-d tomatoes, I'll add about 25g of the oil they have been soaked in to the dough instead of olive oil. This enhances the crust and gives it almost a shortcrust pastry-type feel.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

KNEADING - a waste of time?

My 8-year-old grandson, Alfie, demonstrating an effective kneading technique.

Here's a 'beginner', Rob, kneading dough one-handed in my workshop in High Ham on the 7th December this year. Only later did I find out he was a potter!

But how much kneading should you do?

For many years I've been telling my students that kneading is an over-rated pastime. IMO, all kneading does is to mix the ingredients throughout the dough.

We don't have time, often, in my short sessions with students, to knead for as long as some recipes ask for. 10 minutes is common, but I've also seen 15 minutes kneading specified in the odd recipe - and even 20 minutes in one case!

Well, I have to tell you that kneading for 2 or 3 minutes can be quite pleasurable - even therapeutic - but 20 minutes becomes a chore. And as my wife will tell you, I try and avoid chores!

The bread in my sessions always turns out well, but the question is, would the outcome be better if the dough was kneaded for longer?

I realised I couldn't remember ever doing a side-by-side comparison to test this hypothesis - so the other afternoon, I set to.

I made two identical batches of dough:
200g strong white flour
1/4 tsp salt
5 grams of fresh yeast
120ml lukewarm water (so, 125ml yeast liquid)

I kneaded the first dough until it was smooth - which took about 30 kneading actions or approximately 30 seconds. The second dough I set to and kneaded for 10 minutes!

This was fairly painful for me - the first thing I noticed was that my arms tired after about a minute and a half - so I  changed my action from flattening and folding to rolling the dough with both hands, than folding in the ends when the dough became long enough and rolling it out again.

Then I changed to kneading it with one hand - alternating from one to the other. After about 5 minutes,  it was noticeable that the dough had changed - it was becoming more responsive, by which I mean that it had become 'springier' to the touch.

After ten minutes, I compared the 2 doughs - and it was clear that the second dough was much smoother than the first. 

I covered both batches with an upturned bowl, and left them for a couple of hours.

After a couple of hours, the kneaded dough had risen more than the minimum knead dough.

For the purposes of this experiment, I took off sufficient dough from each batch to make a bread roll. (The rest of the dough was intended for pizzas for dinner for myself and my wife! :) )

When knocking back prior to shaping, there was no discernible difference between the feel of the two doughs.

After an hour's proving, there was no difference that I could see between the two rolls - they both appeared to have risen the same amount.

Not the best rolls I've ever made - but is the one on the right a touch biggerr
I needed to look at the crumb, so I cut each roll into two pieces and compared the. Again, I could find no difference.
It was immediately apparent that I hadn't left the rolls long enough to prove!
(And both pizzas appeared exactly the same.)

So my conclusion is that there is no real difference in outcome between a 10-minute kneaded dough and one given only 30 seconds-when the dough is left to prove for an hour.

My next task will be to make the bread without giving it two provings - and this time, I'll make one batch of dough which I'll then divide in two, give one 30 seconds and the other 10 minutes.


 Saturday 7th December 2013.
I have to report that the workshop went very well! All the students left with half a dozen varieties of freshly made bread - and the confidence that they have the ability and the knowhow to attempt to make any bread they fancy. 

12 students turned up - our target audience, and all enjoyed a day of successful breadmaking. About half of the students had breadmaking machines - about which they were rather embarrassed, which they had no need to, of course! My view about bread machines is that they are just another kitchen tool - one containing a small mixer and a small oven. Machine users are at least controlling the quality of the food they eat - and I think they bring people into breadmaking.

I didn't take many pics - but here's what I've got. Amanda, one of my students from the Hornblotton course who arranged this day, took quite a few more. She intends to publish them on the village website - and I'll post a link to them when this happens.