our (not so) daily bread :: 2

IMG_3899Although sourdough bread has become extremely fashionable in recent years, it’s fair to say that its chewy texture and characteristic tang are something of an acquired taste. Personally, I can’t get enough of the stuff (though there will always be a place in my heart for the guilty pleasure that only a slice of totally plastic white bread, dripping with butter and Marmite can provide), which is why, many months ago, I put myself on the waiting list for Laura Hart’s wonderful Bread and Breakfast Workshop. The workshop takes place once a month throughout the year over the course of a weekend: a three-and-a-half hour session on Saturday evening followed by a shorter session on Sunday morning.

IMG_3883In my excitement at finally getting an email alerting me to the fact that my time on the waiting list was over, I didn’t really take on board what the workshop would involve beyond mastering the art of sourdough. And I couldn’t quite believe my luck when I realised that we would also be making croissants, Danish pastries, cinnamon buns (one of the bakery’s signature creations), chocolate tarts and pizzas — the last of which we ate together that evening with a glass of wine while the various doughs rested prior to shaping.

IMG_3885The session began with the sourdough and, although most of us had some sourdough experience, none of us had ever come across the autolyse technique which Laura uses at the bakery. The idea is very simple: the first bit of kneading, which is often extremely sticky and messy, is sidestepped and the dough is left alone for 20-30 minutes during which time the gluten begins to develop naturally (nice explanation of the theory here).

Incredibly, the dough was much easier to manage after the rest, and at this point the salt is added. A further rest, of an hour, and we then began to folded the dough a few times every thirty minutes until it was time to shape it for the proving basked. There is no doubt about it, sourdough takes time — there are no viable shortcuts — but get your timings right (the folding only takes a moment or two) and the whole business is easily fitted around whatever else you are doing: making an evening meal, watching the television, or even gardening. Over the course of the evening we filled the gaps between tending our dough with thwacking lumps of butter, folding and shaping pastry for our croissants, rustling up a marmalade and chocolate tart and making and eating pizza.

IMG_3895It was an intense session, but enormously satisfying. And as we chatted over pizzas (a half sourdough base) we all agreed that we’d learned many valuable tips and techniques: weighing water rather than measuring it; the autolyse technique; working the dough in the bowl rather than on the work surface; creme fraiche with a sprinkling of parmesan makes a fantastic pizza topping; butter for croissants needs to contain at least 82% fat; a heavy iron pot (not a le Creuset though) can be used to mimic a professional bread oven…

There was also much discussion of sourdough itself, with one participant admitting that she didn’t like it — too sour. Why on earth was she there, we all asked. Unlike me she had read through the details of the course and, well acquainted with Hart’s delicious pastries, she’d come to learn how to make croissants.


On Sunday morning we returned to the bakery, each of us accompanied by someone with whom to share breakfast (I took Matilda), and while our guests drank coffee and read the papers we got back to work. First we had to tip our loaves out of their proving baskets and onto a baker’s peel, then we slashed them with a sharp knife (scissors will do if you don’t have a suitably razor-sharp blade) and finally shot them into the depths of the oven. Next we put the final touches to the pastries: creme patissiere and apricots for the Danish pastries, a glaze for the pain au raisin, croissants and cinnamon buns.

P1290552And then it was time for breakfast. But despite our enthusiasm, there really was no hope of us polishing off all that we had made, so once again we left the bakery laden with treats to take home. Best of all we were given a pot of Laura’s 50-year-old starter, which I’ve already put through its paces several times in the weeks since the workshop.

Laura waved us off with the promise that should we need any help, she’d happily talk to us at the bakery or reply to our emails. And she has been as good as her word, taking the time to reply to various queries I’ve had. I really cannot recommend the course enough — whether or not you are a fan of sourdough, if you enjoy making bread you’ll almost certainly leave harbouring fantasies of starting your own bakery. I’m hopeless at early mornings, so my bakery dreams lasted all of twenty-four hours, but at least I’ve got back into the habit of making bread on a regular basis.

baking with marmalade :: 2

P1270246This, my second marmalade cake, got a thumbs up from the entire family — I expect this had something to do with the fact that it was iced. But it’s also a lighter, brighter-tasting cake than the chocolate version in the last post.

The recipe is from Jane Brocket’s Vintage Cakes and it works a treat. I made two slight modifications — using the juice and zest of Sevilles rather than ordinary oranges, and a mix of Muscovado and caster sugar because I didn’t have any soft brown sugar to hand.

It’s the usual sponge cake method, with marmalade, orange juice and zest incorporated after the sugar, butter and eggs but before the addition of the flour. It takes ten minutes to whip up and then around 45 minutes to bake, depending on your oven. The difficult part was resisting the temptation to dig in before the cake had cooled enough to be iced.


And that’s it on the baking front for the moment. I do have a few more marmalade recipes up my sleeve, but I think it is possible to have too much of a good thing, so I’m calling time on the cakes for a while (the recipe, however, is at the end of the post).

I’ve had a rather domestic, low-key start to the year, which has been a real treat. But work is gearing up again. Last week James and I visited several exciting houses in Bristol and today I’m off to London for a really lovely shoot for The Guardian. The house is in Peckam, my old neighbourhood, and belongs to a very talented friend, Rachael,  whose work you can see here. More on all of this next week.


Ingredients: 175g soft butter; 175g light soft brown sugar (or mix as described above); 3 eggs; grated zest of 1 (Seville) orange; juice of half an orange (Seville in this instance); (optional: 25g candied peel, which I didn’t use as my marmalade was quite chunky); 3 rounded dessert spoons of marmalade – I made mine very generous; 200g self raising flour.

Method: preheat the oven to gas mark 4 or 180c

1/ beat or whisk butter and sugar until light and fluffy and then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

2/ add the grated orange zest, juice and marmalade (candied peel too, if you are using it) and mix in gently. Next sift the flour into the mixture and fold in gently.

3/ spoon the mixture into a greased and floured tin and bake in the preheated oven for around 45 minutes, but start checking after about 30.

Ice once completely cool using 150g icing sugar mixed with the juice of an orange. Again, I used a seville (I’ve still got another 20 or so to get through!).

seville season

P1270200Blink and you miss them: the season for Seville oranges is so short that many greengrocers and supermarkets don’t get round to stocking them at all. And if you fail to bag a kilo or two in January, early February if you are lucky, you can forget about making marmalade for another year.

I suspect that I am more in thrall to the ritual of making marmalade than I am to the  marmalade itself. I like the idea of tracking my prey (has anyone spotted them in the shops yet, I ask fellow marmalade makers), gathering the jars and then setting aside a day in which to juice, slice, boil and then bottle these unpromising oranges which are so bitter and lacking in actual fruit it’s a wonder that anything good can be done with them at all.

P1270175This year it’s fair to say that I’ve gone a little overboard. No one, not even the keenest marmalade maker, needs more than a couple of kilos of Seville oranges. But a fruitless search (excuse the pun) for marmalade oranges in my local shops resulted in a trip to Bristol’s fruit and veg market with my mother-in-law, Sue, where a kind of madness came over us. We were offered 20kg/44lbs of Sevilles for £17 with a few lemons thrown in for free. It seemed to silly to say no.

I have now made sixteen jars of marmalade with roughly 2kg and given 2kg to a friend. This leaves me with another six kg to deal with. Hmm…

P1270186And then, as I put my jars away, I found three jars of marmalade from January 2012. Vintage marmalade, you might say. It looks a little fudge-like so I’ve decided it needs using up quickly. Some will go in a marinade; some in a chocolate cake; and I now have it on good authority from various Instagramers that bread and butter and marmalade pudding is the business.

But of course none of this deals with the Seville orange mountain on the kitchen table. So I spent yesterday evening doing a little googling and have come up with some interesting recipes for the oranges themselves rather than clever things to do with marmalade. I will report on my experiments.

And tomorrow I’ll post the marmalade recipe I use.

St Philip’s Wholesale Fruit, Flower and Vegetable Market: Albert Crescent, St Philips Monday to Friday, 5am – 11am Saturday 5am – 9am

thank pippin it’s friday!

P1250472At the girls’ primary school, SATS week is known as doughnut week because the children’s efforts are rewarded with a daily doughnut. Some might see that as a double-dose of ill health, but the doughnuts certainly take the edge off the exams and really, in the greater scheme of things, where’s the harm in a one-off week-long doughnut binge? Slightly more questionable is Doughnut Day, a ritual which our family has embraced with alarming ease, and celebrated with grave commitment, ever since Joe first came across the Pippin Doughnut stall on Wine Street.

P1250471I comfort myself with the fact that our Doughnut Day doughnuts are no ordinary doughnuts — and they really are, as you will see, extraordinary doughnuts — but there’s no way round the fact that what we are talking about here is a ball of dough which has been fried and then rolled in sugar. I’m not sure whether I’m trying to excuse our addiction or justify it, but the bottom line is Pippin doughnuts are delicious  I say that as someone who doesn’t even like doughnuts — and the reason we have just one doughnut day each week is entirely down to the fact that the Pippin Doughnuts only come to Bristol on Fridays*. They are also rather expensive at £1.30 each, £6.50 for six, or £10.95 for twelve.

P1250468But then again, the ingredients used to create the doughnuts are far from cheap and the dough, which is proved twice to improve texture and flavour, takes a long time to make. With homemade fillings as delicious and varied as gooseberry jam, lemon curd and rhubarb & custard, I think it’s fair to say that Pippin doughnuts are about as far removed from your usual supermarket doughnuts (Krispy Kreme included) as you can get. I think of them as being like Stella Artois: reassuringly expensive and much, much tastier.


P1250480 P1250482The girls may forget their school books, PE kit, packed lunches, front door keys, shoes and socks even, but every Friday, whilst grumbling at each other over the breakfast table, they remember to place their doughnut order.

P1250486In the photographs above you can see last week’s box which contained three Bear Claws (this is what a Canadian friend says the oddly shaped cinnamon-coated doughnuts are called back home, but I think Pippin just list them as cinnamon and sugar), one chocolate ganache, one gooseberry and, just out of sight, a cappuccino doughnut with a coffee custard filling and topped with coffee icing and a dusting of cocoa powder.

P1250487Gourmet cup cakes your days are numbered, the designer doughnuts have arrived!

http://www.pippindoughnuts.co.uk, pippinbakery@aol.com, 01793 496210                            Pippin Doughnuts Wine Street, Bristol every Friday apart from the last Friday of the month. 

at last…

P1210770…spring has sprung!

P1210766Things are finally happening in the garden: the Amelanchier is now in bloom, the first of the tulips is up — a hanger-on from last year, and the only one in the pot to put in a repeat performance (I thought it worth leaving them by way of an experiment).

P1210759The little clump of violets — which were a freebie, left in a bag attached to a neighbour’s railings — has bulked up and is twice the size it was last year. I am hoping that it will form a mat around the base of the rose, William Lobb, with which it shares bed.


P1210748And in the pop-up green house the rocket and sweet pea seedlings are racing away, with runner beans, climbing courgettes (more of which in a later post), cobea scandens (alba and purple varieties), and coriander not far behind.

I’m sorry posts have been rather thin on the ground. I’ve been tied up with the project I mentioned in an earlier post, and on top of that the Bristol 10K is looming. I have become a slave to running and the 5th of May feels very, very close. The time I had in mind for the race (there is no escaping the fact that it is a race, it seems) is, I fear, woefully optimistic. As with the climbing courgettes, more on running anon.

simnel cake :: 2

cakeHere it is, this year’s Simnel cake basking in the only sunshine we’ve had this Easter.

According to Jenny Baker, who cites The Art of British Cooking, by Theodora Fitzgibbon, as her source, Simnel cake derives its name from the Roman siminellus which was a special bread eaten during spring fertility rites. Later, the name attached itself to a fruit cake enriched with marzipan which girls in service were allowed to take home to their mothers on Mothering Sunday. Perhaps the Roman bread was transformed over the years, and it became the enriched cake. Who knows? Either way, the cake has become associated with Easter and, like its Christmas cousin, it is a cake that keeps well. So although Easter Sunday has been and gone, for most families the school holiday has only just begun, which means that there is plenty of time to bake and consume this cake.

So here is the recipe I use, from Jenny Baker’s Kettle Broth to Gooseberry Fool,  though I imagine that there are many other versions out there online.

This one calls for an 18cm (7inch) tin with tall sides, and I think the dimensions are important as the cake doesn’t rise much — there is no raising agent.


350g marzipan (the recipe in the last post will give you more than enough, I roll the scraps into balls and dip them in melted chocolate as you can see here if you scroll to the end of the post); 100g butter or margarine; 100g soft brown sugar; 3 large eggs, beaten; 150g plain flour, sifted; 1/2 tsp mixed spice; 350g mixed dried fruit; 50g chopped mixed peel;1 lemon, grated rind and juice; Apricot jam;1 egg white for the glaze.

Heat oven gas mark 3/325/160. Grease and line tin.

Take one third of the marzipan and knead it and roll into a disc the same size as the cake tin. Set to one side

Cream butte and sugar together and once it is light and fluffy add the eggs, one at a time. Fold in the sifted flour, mixed spice , dried fruit, mixed peel, lemon juice and zest.

Pour HALF the mixture into the tin, level it and then place the marzipan disc on top. Pour the rest of the mixture on top, smoothing it over.

Bake for 1 hour at gas mark 3 / 325/160 and then lower the temperature to gas mark 2/ 300/150, and bake for another hour.

Allow cake to cool and turn it onto a rack after about ten minutes. Once totally cold, brush the top with apricot jam, roll another third of the marzipan into a disc and place this on top. With the remaining marzipan make eleven balls (to represent the eleven faithful apostles). Brush with egg white and then return to the oven for ten minutes until the top is lightly browned – gas mark 4/350/190.

Simnel cake :: 1

P1210316I first ate Simnel cake when I was a teenager, whilst on holiday in Wales. I still remember the thick layer of marzipan buried in the middle of the cake coming as a delicious surprise. A surprise twice over, as I was never really a fan of marzipan: I’ve always found it tooth-achingly sweet, though this does ease off during cooking.

I don’t think I came across Simnel cake again until I started making it myself, nine years ago, shortly after Martha was born. I’m not sure what prompted me to make the cake — possibly the discovery of this simple recipe for marzipan — but I have made one every year for the last eight years. Tomorrow I will make my ninth, but today I made the cake’s key ingredient: marzipan.

This recipe is so easy, so satisfying, and frankly, so delicious, that I’ve never bothered with shop-bought packets since. Be warned though, the flavour is far more subtle than the gritty, bright yellow blocks available in the supermarket: gently lemony and not especially sweet and the texture is softly grainy. I’ve blogged about the ease of making marzipan before, but here is the recipe again, this time with step-by-step pictures to prove that it really is a cinch to make. First gather your ingredients …

350g ground almonds; 225g icing sugar (sifted); 3 egg yolks; juice of one lemon.

P1210318Next, mix the almonds with sugar and beat the egg yolks with lemon juice. Then combine the two mixes, and knead together into a ball with your hands, rather like making pastry.

P1210321And voila! Marzipan. It’s quite a sticky mixture, so if you find your hands are still coated with mix, dip them in a little icing sugar, rub together and let the ‘crumbs’ fall onto the ball of marzipan and then dab them in.

The recipe comes from Jenny Baker’s marvellous book Kettle Broth to Gooseberry Fool.

Now I’m off the make the Simnel cake itself.