Monthly Archives: August 2010

Fresh from the Oven – Brioche

Brioche has been on my want to bake list for a while ever since discovering the glories of French Toast. If it hadn’t been chosen for this month’s Fresh from the Oven challenge I was going to go ahead and make it anyway. Thankfully Chele from Chocolate Teapot came up trumps with this recipe.

The brioche I usually buy is beautiful sweet and fluffy and I have to admit my versions didn’t live up to this, but I know exactly why. I added too much flour. At the beginning I found the dough too difficult to work with and lobbed in quite a significant amount of flour to make the dough workable. By doing this I was no longer going to get the right texture. I would like to try this again with a tad bit more sugar and no more flour to see if I could get it to work. I’m saying it wasn’t fluffy but it still made grand toast!

400g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
5g powdered dried yeast
10g fine sea salt
90ml warm milk
2 tbsp caster sugar
100g butter, softened
4 medium free range eggs, beaten
To Glaze
1 medium free range egg
2 tbsp milk

to knead by hand:  mix all the ingredients in a large bowl, and bring it all together to form a dough.  Knead for about 10 mins, until smooth and shiny.

Or, to use a food mixer:  fit the dough hook and add all the dough ingredients to the mixer bowl.  Mix on low speed until combined, and leave to knead for about 10 mins, until smooth and shiny.

Shape the dough into a round, place in a bowl and cover tightly.  Leave in the fridge overnight.

The next day, divide the dough in two and form into the shape of your choice.  Lightly flour the loaves, lay them on a wooden board or linen cloth and cover with a plastic bag.  Leave them somewhere nice and warm to prove until almost doubled in size; this could take 3 or 4 hours, as the dough is cold.

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.  For the glaze, beat the egg and milk together.  Transfer the risen loaves to a baking tray and brush all over with the glaze.  Bake for about 10 mins, then lower the oven setting to 180C/gas mark 4 and bake for a further 30 mins or until golden brown.  Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 2 small loaves
River Cottage Handbook No.3 – Bread

Garden Update – August ’10

There has been a definite theme for this month in the garden – rain and more rain. While this means the BBQ and Tandoor have been left unused it does mean the garden is beautiful and lush. August has really been the peak for crops in the garden with peas being by far the best crop this year closely followed by the beetroot. The various types of carrots we’ve grown have also fared well being grown in old floristry buckets. We harvested the first of the white pattypan last night and when roasted they are delicious and have an almost buttery taste. The plant has been more manageable that the Blue Ballet Squashes from a few years back. I’m not the biggest fan of squashes but this is one that will not end up in a cake! The alpine strawberries are very slowly getting there.

Somehow I’ve managed to kill my Borage plant. Yes the plant that runs rampant in the majority of places I’ve managed to kill. It shot up impressively, bloomed a few flowers but then the remaining buds never opened, the plant turned yellow and keeled over. I’m not sure if the plant just felt swamped in the big pot with the other herbs.

After 3 years of planting sweetcorn we’ve given up as our garden just isn’t suited to them. The Romanesco is getting savaged by caterpillars and there is no sign of the beautiful bright fractal covered vegetable but we’re not going to give up on it. Oh, and the less we talk about Asparagus Peas the better. On the brighter side the Purple Sprouting Broccoli is looking good and should bring some much needed colour in the winter months.

The harvest from the garden is slowly coming to an end and it is being cleared ready for some winter crops. I’m always surprised as to what we manage to achieve from such a small plot. While we are not self-sufficient it has certainly cut down on the amount of veg we’ve had to buy. Nothing is as good as eating freshly picked peas or carrots.

Gingerbread Men

Ok, maybe I should be PC and call then Gingerbread People, but I only have men cutters anyway. I’ve just finished planning a whole term of Cookery Club (CC) which scarily takes us up to Christmas, seriously I’ve never been so organised in my life. These Gingerbread Men will be baked in the final CC before Christmas. I’ve been trying different gingerbread biscuit recipes for a while; none were quite right either they had a long list on ingredients, a huge amount of golden syrup/treacle or just didn’t bake properly. I remember the gingerbread men we used to buy from Mellors or Sayers and wanted these to be similar.

When researching recipes for CC I look for a few things:

  • Ingredients work out no more than £1 per child. In this case I’m halving the recipe for each child.
  • Recipe can easily be scaled up or down.
  • Doesn’t require expensive/unusual equipment & only uses oven or microwave.
  • Baking will fit on the baking trays. We use supermarket value baking trays in CC. While they are smaller than the majority of baking trays you can fit 8 perfectly in a professional oven.
  • Can be made, baked and washed up in 90 min. Never underestimate how long it can take a child to make something! This also means maybe taking some steps out of the recipe. In this case I found that the dough didn’t need to be chilled to make biscuits that didn’t spread too much which is also an advantage of using butter in this recipe rather than marg.

Making these brought up some questions. Hubs insists that Gingerbread men should have icing eyes and buttons where I love them to be decorated with smarties and raisins that caramalise as they cook. The only thing that seemed to spread on these biscuits was the Gingerbread Mens’ bellies. Trust me, they weren’t as rotund when they went in the oven.

Gingerbread Men
Makes around 12 large gingerbread men
Adapted from Cookie & Biscuit Bible

350g Plain Flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1-2 tsp of ground ginger

115g unsalted butter, cubed

170g soft dark brown sugar

1 egg, beaten

2 tbsp (40g) of golden syrup

raisins and smarties for decoration

1) Preheat the oven to 180°c and cover 2 baking trays with baking parchment.

2) Rub together the flour, butter, ginger and bicarbonate of soda until it has the consistency of breadcrumbs.

3) Add the sugar egg and golden syrup. To start with, mix the dough with a wooden spoon them once it is well combined use your hands to knead the dough. At first the mixture can seem quite dry but keep kneading. It will become soft and pliable.

4) Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut out the shapes and place on baking sheet. Decorate if you want with smarties and raisins.

5) Bake for 15min until slightly risen and beginning to colour. Leave for 5 min then continue to cool on a wire rack. Store in a tin to stop them going soggy.

The Cream Tea Diaries

I’ve mentioned Grandma before, she’s a bit of a legend. One of her favourite things in life is cream cakes and she’s also the Queen of all things scone. It’s her recipe I use for scones and that I teach all of my pupils because it always works perfectly. For the last few weekends we’ve been taking her out to places for Cream Tea. For those who are not aware of this British tradition Cream Tea is essentially a pot of tea served alongside a place of fresh scones, jam and cream. A lighter version of an Afternoon Tea.

Grandma lives in South Derbyshire so at the moment the places we’re trying are within this area. Another thing to consider is that she is in a wheelchair that is proving to be interesting when we’ve taken her out for meals in the past. Accessibility of a place was not something I had really appreciated until recently.

Calke Abbey Restaurant

Calke Abbey is a National Trust property to the south of Derby with an interesting history. The Kitchen Gardens are well worth a visit and the paths up to the garden made it accessible for Grandma…though Hubs did regret refusing a lift in the adapted golf buggy when he began to push her up the gravel tracked incline. National Trust members can park at Calke Abbey for free, if you are not members it costs : adult £1.60, child 50p, family £4.20. As we regularly go to this NT property the membership soon pays for itself.

Service: 7/10 You order and receive your Cream Tea at the till. It was a very busy Sunday afternoon when we visited and some tables took a while to be cleared but we didn’t have to queue at the till long and finding a seat in the courtyard took no time at all.

Surroundings: 8/10 Calke Abbey restaurant is within the old restored courtyard which was busy with both dog walkers and visitors. When the weather is less than desirable there is also seating inside.

Quality of tea: 7/10 Run of the mill Breakfast Tea that wasn’t anything special but wasn’t awful. It was served hot with enough milk, sugar.

Quality of scone: 9/10 Each Cream Tea is served with two giant scones. One plain and one sultana scone. They are made in the Calke Abbey Restaurant kitchen and it was clear that our scones had not long come out of the oven. Perfect texture with a good taste. No scrimping on the sultanas.

Quality of jam & cream: 8/10 Small jar of good quality strawberry jam. If I was to be fussy you could do with a tiny bit more jam as you have two monster scones. The cream is Lubcloud’s Extra Thick cream. Divine stuff and the closest you get to clotted cream around these parts. Has the texture of silky butter. Amazing stuff!

Price: £4.99 for two scones and pot of tea for 1.

score: 39/50

Scaddows Farm Shop, Cafe & PYO

A local farm that is well known for its PYO. A few years ago they built a farmshop and cafe. They used to have quite an extensive menu, but now is more the kind of place for stop for tea and cake.

Service: 7/10 You order at the till then they deliver to your table. Service was quick and efficient and all the tables were clean and tidy.

Surroundings: 6/10 A newly constructed ‘barn conversion’. Downstairs the room is quite quiet and small, but there is seating upstairs and if the weather is good there is quite a few picnic style tables outside which are also suitable for wheelchairs. If sitting outside you have views over the strawberry fields and the 4 counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire.

Quality of tea: 8/10 They served a really good tea served at a good temperature. Wasn’t Breakfast Tea, maybe Darjeeling but can’t be sure. What ever the tea was it was superb. The teas were served with speculaas and although these are not traditional Cream Tea fayre I do like them and they remind me of holidays. I’m easily pleased!

Quality of scone: 5/10 Nice, but in my eyes not a scone. These seemed to be more like sweet bread with the odd speckles of sultana.

Quality of jam & cream: 6/10 Served with lots of strawberry jam and yet again my favourite Lubcloud extra thick cream (you can buy this cream in the shop here)

Price: £2.85 for 1 scone, jam, cream and pot of tea for 1

score: 32/50

If you can think of where we can visit with Grandma to test out their Cream Teas leave a comment below or email me at

Veg Plot Swap

The thing about owning a veg plot is that it is easy to get overwhelmed with various fruit and veg. This is when it comes in handy to have friends who also have veg plots and this is when the veg plot swap is born. Due to the size of our veg plot it’s rare for us to have a glut, but we certainly are the recipients of other gluts that we usually give back in the form of baking. Some people in the village have become enterprising and sell their gluts at the bottom of the drive with the help of an honesty box.

Redcurrants were the first of our recent veg plot swaps.1kg was turned into redcurrant jam, 1kg juiced and now maturing in rum to make an alcoholic cordial ready for Christmas and the final 500g is in the freezer ready for rhubarb & redcurrant jam making in the near future. Another alternative would be to make a Summer Pudding. Great way of using up not only leftover fruit but also leftover bread.

Courgettes. If you follow me on twitter you would have heard my sighs of despair with all the courgettes we’ve been given recently. Not being one to throw food away I’ve been cooking them in many ways. I’ve tried different recipes, one of which made me to bake one of the worst muffins I’ve made in a while, and have fallen back on the delicious courgette & feta fritters, oven-baked frittata plus courgette cake with lime cheesecake icing.

Growing a veg plot has certainly encouraged us to be creative in the kitchen. If you’re looking for inspiration and advice with gardening and veg plots head over to Fennel & Fern’s new community.

Floral Fondant

A month ago I was asked to decorate a cake for a special joint party where one person (my sister-in-law) would be celebrating her 30th and Grandma (ok, technically grandma-in-law) would be celebrating her 90th. Although the only cake I’ve ever iced properly was a Christmas cake for just the two of us a few years back certainly not one that would be seen by 70 people. Who was I to say no to a fantastic lady who credits her 90 years to cream cakes and Guinness.

The first hurdle was to construct the fruit cake. Long story, but I essentially had to cement together 3 fruit cakes, one of which was a top-tier of a wedding cake, to make one cake measuring 25cm square. Then using apricot jam I stuck and smoothed on the marzipan layer and left for a week to dry out.

A week before the party I started on the icing. Probably not the best thing to do given it was the hottest day of the summer we’ve had so far. I watched a video online showing how to ice with fondant to give me a bit more confidence then had a go. All was going well until I lifted the icing up with my rolling pin to transfer onto the cake. I don’t know if it was the weight of the icing or the fact it was such a hot day but lots of tiny stretch marks appeared over the icing. I smoothed it out as much as possible then this is where the purple flowers came in. I used lilac florist paste to make the flowers. I’d wanted the cake to be purple and white because that is Grandma’s favourite colours but the flowers rather than being decorating became a camouflage job.

It’s not exactly how I wanted it, that’s the problem with being a perfectionist, but the main this is that Grandma loved it. It hasn’t put me off cake decorating, I just need a bit of practice. Local cake decorators have nothing to fear right now!

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