Monday, January 18, 2010

Bread? Yes, but……..

……..not bread of heaven. And the result I am after is very much bread of heaven so this is a failed attempt. The bread itself was ok, but no more. Its crust was like rice paper, the dough too tight and flavour wasn’t all there. (The 15 grammes of salt was by no means too much).

The dough did finally rise, not the foretold 45 minutes but the actual 4.5 hours
I don’t understand the point of having a starter with hardly any yeast in it when you then go ahead and put the normal amount in the actual bread mix. No comprendo. Why not just forget the starter stage? The timings also were all wrong to my mind. Not enough kneading time nor proving time.

As directed in the recipe and as shown above, I pulled out the dough and kneaded for another measley 5 minutes then shaped the loaf, cling filmed it and let it rise again

I am sure the flour is not up to the job. Next time I’m going to use 00 pizza flour and see how that comes out. I would use unbleached white flour if only I could find it. The recipe called for a pinch of rye flour and, due to store cupboard lack, I put a sprinkle of integral spelt flour instead. I wonder what they use in Bread and Wine. I bet it its unbleached bread flour from Shipton Mill. The unbleached colour only adds to its attraction.

I was supposed to spray the loaf with water 10 minutes into its baking time but the spraygun was full of some sort of detergent so I flicked it with water. This did not work well at all.


Better flour
Longer kneading
Longer proving
Water spray

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bread – day 2

Yesterdays starter looked like this. Not massively impressive.

I have just finished the next stage which is :

 500g starter

 200ml blood temperature water

 3g yeast

 250 strong flour

 15g salt

 Pinch of rye flour


Bring all the ingredients together bar the salt. Just as mix comes together add the 15g salt. Place dough on floured surface and need for 5 minutes. Cover and rest in a warm place for 45 mins.

He talks of kneading the dough without fighting with it which is lovely. He has good expressions. One of the recipes calls for a gesture of salt. That’s up there with the squeezing of a lemon. 

On the subject of salt note that this recipe calls for 15, that is FIFTEEN  grammes of salt. No wonder his bread tastes so good. There are certain guidelines about quantities of salt in food production. I am unaware of them but appreciate they must exist. I love salt and all my food gets a generous allowance of it, but 15 grammes for this dough seems a lot. The more the merrier if you ask me.

The starter seemed dense to me but then it did have the tiniest amount of yeast. I followed the instructions and by the end had an ok dough but were I not following this recipe I would have given it more of a knead.  I find it a little lumpy still. I also thought bread needed more, ahem, kneading do get the glutens stretching.

Also the 45 mins seems to be a short proving time.

As I said yesterday I think to be a baker is the profession. I wonder what my Chinese doppelganger would consider it to be.

One of the things I love about making bread is the kneading process. It is so contemplative. I doubt whether a masseuse would get the same satisfaction even if it is a similar movement. I really like any activity that makes answering the phone impossible and kneading is one of those things. I have a lovely marble surface to work the dough on and I look out of my kitchen window at this:

so the more i knead the happier I am.

An hour and a half has gone by and well, there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference. I am going to leave it until something happens. However long that may take.

Friday, January 15, 2010



Bread. There can be no more earthy, primeaval, important profession that to be a baker. Jesus was a carpenter and I know that’s right up there too but to me he should have been a baker. Man cannot live on bread alone but it would be fatal to try and live without it. Imagine no toast.

The bread at the restaurant Bread and Wine, Commercial St, EC Something, is the best I know. It has every thing - it is airy but hefty, it is beautifully elastic, its crust is a joy to behold and the sourdough flavour is better than any I have had anywhere. They serve it with butter and salt and there can be no greater beginning to a meal.

I have tried and failed with sour dough lots of times. I can get it to rise and start smelling pretty bad but I always kill it one way or another. I have tried with grapes, I have even tried with strawberries but they always die on me. I was just looking through Nose To Tail Eating, a block rocking cookbook by Fergus Henderson and saw that it has a bread recipe at the back. Now Fergus Henderson is owner of Bread and Wine SO could this be it. Cook books rarely give the real deal but its got to be worth trying. If I can achieve anything close to that bread’s excellence I will die a happy man.


So here goes; the bread recipe from Nose To Tail Eating:


1 kilo of strong bread flour (I am going to use Harina de Mallorca brand, it comes in a nice packet and besides, Shipton Mill is a long way away from Ibiza)

500ml of water at  blood temperature

A pinch of natural yeast

Mix them together, cover and put in the fridge till tomorrow.


So I did this. Literally drew them together, covered and  refridgerated

Tomorrow I make bread with the starter. This is TOTALLY different to my previous attempted methods. If I can get close to UberLoaf............

Very excited.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Heston Services

Heston B was named after the motorway services near Heathrow so perhaps he felt he owed it to service cafes in general to begin lifting them out of the mire of horror in which they has resided ever since their birth. I have heard there are good ones but then you hear all sorts of stuff and frankly, seeing is believing.

The telly is a powerful thing and when the Popham Little Chef reopened after HB waved his wand it was full from 7 in the morning till ten at night sometimes with a 2 hour wait. But of course the initial telly-generated interest  couldn’t last so time would tell if the experiment worked.

We were driving sort of that way on Sunday, towing a boat to Portsmouth, so we made the detour to see what was going on. I love Heston Blumenthal. He is the Willy Wonka of our age, constantly testing us and leaving us agog. I remember when he took over from Rowley Leigh at the Guardian on Saturday. His stuff was immediately jarringly different and the complaints came flooding in. “Who is this guy?” “How can he think we can do these things at home?” “Its impossible.” Blahblahblah. His response? A recipe for carrot chips that finished with the line “….and leave them in your oven at the lowest temperature for 2 days”. You gotta love him.

As you arrive at the Chef Petit it is immediately different. The sign says so and the fat little logo that we know and despise from childhood has had a designer unleashed upon it. As you enter the restaurant (and finally this word can be used in the same sentence as the Little Chef) you know something is up. It looks great. It  has bright red tables and loads of booth seating next to big windows. In the middle is a communal table . The walls are done with bevelled edged rectangular white tiles and grouted in red. You look up and the ceiling is a cheering yet slightly eerie photograph of a blue sky with birds flitting across it. The chefs and waiters are sprightly and interested and the whole thing makes you want to sit down and eat instead of emigrate instantly.

The menu is gastro pub fare – pork belly, lamb shank, steak, sticky toffee pudding, with some 70's throwback stuff like prawn cocktail and black forest gateau etc. We had the prawn cocktail to start that was straight out of my childhood and mussels that were straight out of a iron pot shaped a bit like a mussel and probably costing more that our meal would come to. Staub I believe the make was.  The finger bowl that came with dehydrated hand cloths was also by Staub. In a Little Chef!!!!!!! The mussels were little ones in a beautiful liquor but they definitely had that precooked almost crumbly texture. Shame.

On to the mains. Hake in beer batter that was a bit greasy. The big chips were so much better that the usual fat ones but not anywhere near as nice as the French fries served with the burger. The  burger itself  was good and I was happy to feed it to my son (usually I fear for his longevity if a low grade burger is demanded) but I found it a little on the small side. The bun it was served in was lovely coming dusted in semolina flour, a touch I adore. My other kid’s Tag Bol was very child friendly, to the point where I wondered if it hadn't had sugar added to it. Having said that, a star system on the menu actively encourages kids to order healthy stuff. Order three things with a star (Innocent smoothie carries one, Coke doesn’t, for example) and the child gets a badge.

Everything so far had been pretty good and way, way above the norm of Little Chef but my Braised Ox Cheeks in red wine blew me away. I didn’t really even feel like eating stew but could not pass up ordering beef cheeks in a Little Chef. You just gotta love that man. He is so naughty. 

I think it was amongst  the best beef stews I have ever had. The cheeks were melted away in the mouth without the vaguest hint of dryness or toughness and the sauce was sticky and rich. I have never hade stewed meat like it. The mash that came with it was dry but suited the dish perfectly and was all the better for it.

I asked one of the chefs (who I had spied from a photo at the opening) who made what and where it came from. He told me that they only really finished things off, the majority being produced off site. The menu has obvioulsy been designed that way - provide things that can be produced in large quantities off site yet still maintain a high quality when it reaches the table ie instead of mass producing crap, mass producing quality. Nice. The chefs were visibly happy to be part of it.

The thought  behind everything and desire to please and be different was noticeable throughout. The toilets were fascinating – the walls have food facts  all over the place and on the speaker system I heard the sound of veg chopping, chefs shouting, that ghastly gastronaut Roahl Dahl reading extracts of his his food obsessed books and weird bits of music. Uncanny canned music.

You gotta love him.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Beef Gravy

This supreme forerib joint weighed 10 kilos and had been aged for 32 days. It was for 12 people, 3 of whom were under 10 years old. Approximately 1 kilo per person. That’s a lot of beef. An awful lot of beef.

The sides were trimmed as they were getting slightly high and then the thing was weighed and the timing calculation was made*. It was then was rubbed with salt and in it went.

I always roast joints over a pool of water. This serves two purposes, one; it keeps air in the oven moist and two; as the juices drip out of the joint they don’t burn onto the roasting pan and can therefore be used for the gravy. You do of course get some even if you didn’t put water in the pan but this way you get them ALL.

When the joint came out I set the meat to rest in a warm place covered with tin foil and loads of dish cloths to keep the warmth in.  I poured all the juices from the pan into a high sided vessel and waited for the fat to rise. After a couple of minutes I ladled off the fat and set it aside to make dripping. (In The Little House On The Prairie books they make candles out of beef fat). I then added ½ a bottle of decent red and boiled it for a few minutes. When the meat was rested (1 hour) and the potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and cabbage were ready I poured the further juices that had accumulated under the beef into the gravy as well and brought it to boil.

This gravy was absolutely delectable. Pure, thin, strong. Try it.


*40 mins in a hot oven (220ºC) then 20 mins per kilo in medium oven (180ºC)THEN 1 hour resting. Achtung!!!!!!!! Resting essential.