It’s about now that I start to plan what I am going to bake. My planning is no indicator of what will end up being baked. That is down to whether I run out of time. Time management was never my forte.
But for now, let me have my expectations. I have ordered some ham hocks from a local butcher so they will definitely get cooked and my favourite way of doing this is to follow Dorothy Hartley’s method. I have also ordered sausage meat so Sausage and sage pie is likely. These are my mainstays, they root me in a feeling of a tradition and I think this year this might be exactly what we need.
I have been filming a Christmas breads online course so we have been eating stollen, mincemeat wreath, cinnamon star, Christmas tree bread and blue cheese and pear focaccia until it comes out of our ears. I will be investing in a pair of elasticated trousers.
If I get time I will revisit my Ginger and marzipan cake because the flavours of that scream Christmas and one night I will make my Mushroom and Chestnut Wellington, although our youngest won’t touch mushrooms with a barge pole so it will have to be a night when she wants to make her own dinner (which is a lot of the time as she is a fussy eater).
So, this is my dream Christmas baking… I wonder how much, if any, of it I will actually pull off.
What are your plans for Christmas baking this year?
Regular readers will know that the other hat I wear is my Veg Patch Kitchen Cookery School hat. I set up the cookery school at the end of 2014 and ran my first bread making class in January 2015. It’s a job that I absolutely love. I am passionate about bread and in particular sharing just how easy it is to make delicious bread at home.
It all started here at The Ordinary Cook. In 2009, my contract with a fantastic job came to an end. The economic crash had happened and the sector I worked in was changing. I worked for a public sector venture capital fund investing European and UK government funding in small and medium sized creative businesses in the West Midlands to help them achieve growth and contribute to the region’s creative economy. I had worked for the fund for four years and had studied it as part of my PhD for five years before that. I loved the job and the team I worked with. However, I had also worked (part time and mostly from home) through both maternity leaves. It’s hard to take maternity leave when you are a freelance. In 2009 we had a 5 year old and a 3 year old. I had to make a decision, get another job and work for not very much money after childcare costs or take a career break. I took the career break. I found it tough. It was wonderful being at home with the girls but I suddenly realised that my identity had been tied up with my career and that had gone.
So I set up this blog. It was a lifesaver. I could focus on creating recipes and I could have conversations with people all over the world about food whilst also being a stay at home mum. It was the best of both worlds, (except I never have managed to monetise this blog).
I love baking and experimenting yet back in 2009 I just couldn’t get the hang of yeast cookery. It seemed beyond my talents. I put it on the back burner and decided it was not for me. But I hate to be beaten by anything and it kept gnawing at me that I really should be able to make decent bread instead of a brick. So, I kept practising and reading about bread and I finally cracked it. I was making the most delicious bread I had ever tasted. I became obsessed with bread.
In 2014, with the girls now 10 and nearly 8, and Richard on a constant pay freeze, it became obvious that I needed to go back to work. It was a terrifying thought after five years out of the workplace. I felt that no-one would employ me and that I would be laughed out of any interview. My sister suggested I do a bread class from her house and I said yes. I am so grateful to my sister for that. It helped me prove that I was capable of it. Veg Patch Kitchen Cookery School was born.
At the start of this year it felt that it was going to be the best year yet, my classes were becoming fully booked a couple of months in advance. Then we all know what happened. My last face to face class was on 20th March. My cookery school is too small to allow proper social distancing and our whole ethos is based on providing a really lovely day of learning, relaxing, chatting and eating. I felt that none of this would be possible with masks, visors and hand sanitisers. So the school has remained closed and it looks until it will stay that way until at least after Easter 2021.
The months since have been spent filming, editing and subtitling videos and researching online teaching platforms to offer an online alternative. It’s been an interesting and steep learning curve but finally last week the bread masterclass was launched.
I have created a comprehensive masterclass that takes a step by step approach to bread making to show you just how easy it is to make bread at home and to fit bread making into your day. For me, this feels like a light at the end of the tunnel. It means that the business can keep going. I always knew that I would reopen at the end of all this, but I miss teaching people and this allows me to still do that, albeit in a very different way.
No time for a breather though as this week I will get started filming a Christmas breads class just in time for the (restricted) festivities.
This year has forced all of us to find new ways to work and play, tell me about yours.
These were inspired by a recipe sent by a friend. The original recipe came from the NY Times cookery app and is for baked Doughnuts. Just a few hours before receiving the email from the friend I had been reading a doughnut recipe and considered making them but the whole faff of deep frying puts me off. This recipe seemed like a gift.
The original recipe though requires cider and I don’t have any of that in the house. This got me thinking about an alternative. These muffins don’t really resemble the original recipe at all but they are good.
For the apple puree: 1 large Bramley apple, peeled cored and cut into chunks
For the muffins: 225g plain flour 1tsp baking powder Half tsp salt 2 tsp ground cinnamon half teaspoon nutmeg 140g butter, melted 140g light brown sugar 50g granulated sugar 2 eggs 1 tsp vanilla extract 2 tsp apple cider vinegar 120ml plain yoghurt
For the topping: 25g melted butter 40g demerara sugar
Method Place the apple chunks in a pan with a splash of water and cook over a medium heat until it becomes a puree. Put to one side.
Place cases into a 12 hole muffin pan, or lightly grease the muffin pan. Preheat the oven to 180C, 350F, gas mark 4 or use the baking oven of the 4 one Aga.
Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl, add the salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.
In a separate bowl whisk the sugars with the eggs until well mixed. Add the vanilla extract, vinegar and yoghurt and mix well. Sieve the flour mixture over the top. (I like to double sieve flour for muffins it makes them lighter). Fold in carefully until just mixed but still has a few floury lumps. This will make the muffins lighter.
Spoon half the mixture into the muffin cases. Drop a scant teaspoon of apple puree on top and then cover with remaining mixture.
Bake in the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes until it feels springy to the touch. As soon as they come out of the oven brush with the melted butter and sprinkle with Demerara sugar. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
We have a pear tree in our garden that has produced one or two fruits each year since we have lived here. The fruit are very small and I have always assumed that it is either a stunted tree or some equivalent of the crabapple. This year though, it is heavily loaded with small fruit.
It was this that drew my mum’s eye and led her to comment that she thought it was a Tettenhall Dick pear tree. I looked at her askance and then realised that she wasn’t joking.
My mum’s gran had this pear tree in her garden in Willenhall which is not that far from Tettenhall so it would make sense for her to have a Tettenhall Dick tree, but I have no idea how this variety of tree has ended up in our garden, but someone must have specifically chosen to plant it here. Great gran used to bottle them and they are reputed to be ideal for bottling and making Perry, so I guess it makes sense to have this in the garden rather than a pear tree that is hard and uneatable one minute and mush the next.
So, the Tettenhall Dick… from a quick google search I have found that it is quite a rare tree, named, after Tettenhall, an area in Wolverhampton and about twenty miles away from here. It was a tree that could be found all over the Black Country but many of the trees have long since been uprooted. You can read all about a chap trying to bring them back from the brink in this article. There are also lots of interesting stories connected to the pear in this blog post and comments by Brownhills Bob.
As my great gran used to bottle them I feel it is my duty to give it a go, in her honour, this year. I want my mum to try them and see if they remind her of the happy childhood she had with her gran.
Most of the pears aren’t ready yet, but some are already starting to fall, so I used the tried and tested technique of giving the pear a little wiggle and if it comes easily off the tree it is ready to be used for bottling. If it stays firm then leave it longer to ripen.
I used my trusted copy of The Sainsbury Book of Preserves & Pickles by Heather Lambert, first published in 1981, as my guide for bottling as it is something I have never ventured before. It has always seemed a bit complicated, but actually now that I have given it a go I think I will be doing it more often.
My sister gifted me a very large Kilner type jar last year so I have used this, but I would advise on using two smaller ones if you can. This one was too big to stand in the simmering oven of the Aga so had to be balanced precariously in a tin and on a pyrex dish so that the syrup wouldn’t leak whilst the seal was taking place. If I had a normal sized oven it probably wouldn’t be an issue. Using smaller jars if you have them will be a better option because fruit in an unopened smaller jar will last for longer than fruit in an opened large jar.
I was surprised at how little sugar you need to bottle pears. I am used to making jam or chutney where you need a fair amount of sugar to either preserve or counteract the vinegar. For this recipe I only needed 125g sugar to every 600ml of water.
Feel free to spice the pears however you like, I added cloves and allspice berries, but use whatever you like or have, suggestions include lemon peel, orange peel, cinnamon, star anise. Experiment to your heart’s content.
Ingredients: Pears – enough to fill the jar that you are using 125g sugar to every 600ml water Optional spices/flavourings
You will need a sterile kilner jar (or several depending on how many pears you have to bottle) or similar that has the rubber ring intact. Preheat the oven to 150C, 300F, Gas Mark 2.
Wash the pears and peel. If you are using large pears you can halve them and remove the core. I left mine whole. Place them in acidulated water whilst you prepare them all to stop them browning (acidulated water is water with a squeeze or lemon or teaspoon of vinegar added).
Half fill your jar with water and measure how much water that is. This will give you a guestimate of how much sugar syrup you will use once the pears are in the jar.
Now calculate how much sugar you will need using 125g for every 600ml of water and place the sugar and water in a pan and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is fully dissolved. Stop stirring and bring the syrup to a gentle boil.
Fill the jar with pears, pressing them down if you can to make sure the jar is filled as much as it can be. Pour the boiling sugar syrup, slowly and carefully, to completely cover the fruit and fill the jar to the top. Give the jar a gentle bang on a surface covered with a cloth to remove any air bubbles.
Close the jars but don’t completely seal. Place in the oven for an hour. Remove from the oven and seal (using a cloth to protect your hands as it will be very hot). Leave undisturbed for 24 hours. Check fora good seal by loosening the clip and attempting to gently lift the lid. It should be firmly sealed. If the lid opens you can try to seal again by following the instructions above one more time or eat the fruit immediately.
The fruit will stay good in a sealed jar for 3 years.Once you have broken the seal eat within a few days and keep in the fridge.
If you too have Tettenhall Dicks loitering in your garden let me know.
I was inspired to make this by Thomasina Miers’ recipe in The Guardian’s Feast magazine this Saturday. Thomasina’s tart is topped with cherries and hazelnuts and I have changed the frangipane recipe a little. I make a dessert every Sunday, it’s the only day of the week that we eat a pudding so I always try to make it a bit special. I wanted to film making puff pastry for my upcoming online courses for Veg Patch Kitchen Cookery School so I combined the two. The tart in the photo is made with puff pastry and whilst it was delicious, the weight of the frangipane topping meant that the puff didn’t have chance to expand into its layers so I recommend making shortcrust for this beauty instead. Save your puff pastry for something that really showcases puff at its best.
You can watch how I make the tart in this video:
You can make a sweet shortcrust if you prefer but I prefer the standard version for most desserts.
Ingredients for the shortcrust pastry: 250g plain or pastry flour 125g cold unsalted butter 5g fine salt 50-70g cold water
Ingredients for the Frangipane: 100g softened butter 100g caster sugar 2 eggs 140g ground almonds 75g plain flour
Additions: Your choice of fruit, nuts and a drizzle of honey. I used plums but you could use anything that you have.
Method for the pastry: You can make the pastry in a food processor with the cutting blade by placing the flour, salt and butter in the machine and pulsing until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add 50g of water and pulse again until it all comes together, if you need more water add it slowly. Wrap in a food bag or clingfilm and place in the fridge for at least twenty minutes but two hours is better as the gluten relaxes fully making it easier to roll out.
If you are making it by hand, place the flour and salt in a bowl and mix well. Add the butter and using just your fingertips lightly rub the butter through the flour, picking up new pieces of flour and butter all the time. It requires a light touch. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, with some larger pieces of butter, add 50g of the water and stir through with a knife until starting to come together. Then using your hands (preferably cold) bring the pastry together into a ball. Wrap well in clingfilm or a food bag and place in the fridge.
Method for the frangipane: Place the softened butter and sugar in a bowl and beat well until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well between each addition making sure they are well combined. Fold in the flour and ground almonds.
Method for the tart: Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and preheat your oven to 180 degrees centrigrade, gas mark 4 or use the floor of the Aga’s roasting oven. Roll out the pastry to a rectangle a little smaller than your baking tray and place on the lined tray. Spread the frangipane over the pastry leaving a 4cm edge all the way around. Spread over your choice of fruit or nuts and drizzle with a little honey. Bring the edges of the pastry over a little way to make a rustic looking tart.
Place in the centre of the preheated oven for 40-50 minutes until golden brown all over and the pastry is fully baked. Serve warm or at room temperature with cream, custard or a scoop of ice cream.
I have already published this on my blog at Veg Patch Kitchen, but I wanted to make sure I shared it here too as it is too good not to. This recipe was inspired by James Morton from his book Brilliant Bread, now of my favourite books on the subject (you can read about my other favourites here) and is a bread that people can choose to make on my full-day Bread Basics course. Obviously, the very idea of Marmite bread makes some people shudder with horror. If this includes you I urge you to try it at least once, you can reduce the Marmite to 30g for a more subtle flavour that just lends a delicious savoury edge to your loaf which is wonderful with soups and stews and then for an extra bonus it makes wonderful toast, that you can spread with extra Marmite.
Note of caution though – Marmite is salty so reduce the salt that you would normally add otherwise the loaf will be too salty. Also, don’t do what I did once and overdo it on the marmite front. I got cocky in a class one day and added two spoonfuls instead of my usual one spoonful and whilst everyone else’s loaves rose beautifully mine remained as flat as a pancake. The saltiness of the Marmite will kill the yeast if you go overboard. Lesson, well and truly learned.
500g strong white flour or you could replace 100g with 100g wholemeal or 50g rye & 50g wholemeal 5g easy bake/ instant yeast or 15g fresh yeast (remember that you can reduce the yeast and allow the bread to rise longer) 5g fine salt 40g Marmite 340-380g water (depending on flour choice)
Place the flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl and mix together. Weigh the Marmite out in a jug and pour over 100g hot water and stir to dissolve. Allow to cool a little and then add to the flour. Add another 200g of warm or cool water (if you use cool water your dough will take longer to prove which improves the texture and flavour). Start to mix, adding splashes of water in until you get a dough that is soft and slightly sticky. Make sure that there are no dry bits in your dough. Leave to rest for at least ten minutes or up to an hour depending on how your day is going.
Cover well and leave to prove until airy, remember it will take longer for it to prove if you used less yeast or cooler water. You can also pop it in the fridge at this point for several hours or overnight if that fits better into your day.
Shape your dough. I show you how to shape for a loaf tin or as a batard/ bloomer in this video.
Cover with clingfilm or similar, remember to oil it well so it doesn’t stick to the loaf and deflate it. Allow to prove, again this can happen overnight in the fridge if it suits you.
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees centigrade, gas mark 7 or use the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga. Steam the oven well as you put your loaf in, I like to use a plant mister to do this, spraying several times (avoiding the glass door and light). Bake for 30 minutes, check that it is baked by tapping on the bottom, it should sound hollow or insert a temperature probe and check that it reaches 90 degrees centigrade. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack and I promise you will love it even if you hate Marmite.
Regular readers will know that the other hat I wear that’s not The Ordinary Cook one is my Veg Patch Kitchen Cookery School hat. I teach people how to make bread in my lovely little kitchen we built in an outbuilding in our garden. Of course, my classes came to a grinding halt on 20th March this year and, because the kitchen is small, social distancing will not be easy. The school will reopen as soon as it is safe to do so, but this has meant that I have had to think of different ways to help people with their bread making in the meantime. I created a YouTube channel three years ago with the intention of filming bread making videos but a combination of lack of time and huge fear of committing myself to camera meant that I successfully put it off, until now. I have finally forced myself to learn the technical skills of filming and editing and, more importantly, gritted my teeth to commit my face and voice to camera. I uploaded the first two videos this week. It took many hours of listening to my own voice before I was happy with the editing!
The first video shows you how to mix and develop a basic white dough using the stretch and fold method. This is the method we use in all of my classes because it makes bread making so wonderfully easy and you can make it fit into your routine really easily. The second video shows you how to shape, slash and bake your loaf and how to check that it is baked properly. If you have a spare 20 minutes (each video is about 10 minutes), make yourself a cup of tea and have a watch. I hope they inspire you to give bread making a go or if you already make your own bread I hope it will provide you with a few new tips. More videos will be coming soon.
I haven’t actually been baking much during lockdown, which is the opposite of the majority of the rest of the population if you believe the news and the recent daily stats of this blog (thank you everyone and I hope the recipes have worked and tasted wonderful). I think this may be because I bake a lot normally, I bake cakes at least twice a week to serve at the cookery school, and normally two cakes or a cake and some biscuits for each class. This means that we always have a few slices of leftover cake lying around the house, and to be honest (I thought I would never say this) you can get a bit fed up of cake. Baking hasn’t been at the top of my list of things to do during lockdown and this is the first one I have made since 20th March. I just felt the need for cake, and that often translates into the need for coffee cake. It is one of my all-time favourites.
This one has a coffee and sugar drizzle added as soon as it come out of the oven to add that extra coffee kick and a lovely moistness. You don’t need to add this if you don’t want to and the cake is perfectly good without it. If you do go for the drizzle option then please don’t feel you need the buttercream icing on top, it’s just that in this house a coffee cake isn’t really considered finished without the buttercream. It might be overkill for you, but if the mood strikes you for coffee cake then this combination might just hit the spot.
175g softened butter 175g caster sugar 2 eggs 50g plain yoghurt (or use another egg) 175g plain flour 1 tsp baking powder 1/4 (one-quarter) tsp bicarbonate of soda 30ml (2 tbsp) strong coffee or coffee essence 50g walnuts
Method: Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade, gas mark 4 or use the baking oven on a 4oven Aga. Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin or 20cm round cake tin.
Beat the butter and caster sugar together with an electric whisk in a large bowl until the mixture has turned pale and is fluffy. Add one egg at a time and beat well to combine. Add the yoghurt and beat well to combine. Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda over the mixture and fold in using a large spoon. Fold in the coffee or essence and the walnuts. Spoon the batter into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 30-40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
Whilst the cake is baking, put the ingredients for the drizzle in a small pan and heat on low until the sugar is dissolved and then raise the heat and simmer for a couple or minutes. As soon as the cake is out of the oven use the skewer to make holes all over the top and brush the coffee drizzle over the top of the cake. Leave the cake in the tin for at least ten minutes so that the drizzle can be fully absorbed. Turn the cake out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
For the frosting, beat the butter until soft and add the icing sugar, stir gently until combined (this saves clouds of icing sugar erupting everywhere) and then whisk until fluffy. When the cake is cold decorate the top of the cake and add walnuts as final touch.
The cake will stay delicious for about three days if kept in a tin.
Well, when I read back my last post written in early January and think that I thought the world was in crisis then, who’d have thought that in just a short few weeks it would become even worse? I hope all of my readers are taking good care and are able to stay safe and healthy in these strange times.
We are extremely lucky here, we have the garden to get out into and we are surrounded by countryside if we want to take our daily exercise. We have planted a few seeds in the greenhouse – salad leaves, radish, peas and broad beans and have loads more to plant when the weather warms up a bit. We have also had time to prepare the veg patch, which we failed to get round to last year because life was so busy. So, fingers crossed for some future meals from the garden.
Talking about veg patches, my cookery school, Veg Patch Kitchen, came to a standstill on March 20th, the day the girls finished school for the foreseeable future and we made the decision that we are not offering an essential service, so classes booked for the remainder of March, April and May were deferred. I am unsure when we will be able to open again, but as soon as the government advice is that we can return to normal we will be back. For now, I am hoping that maybe over the Easter break, my teenage girls will help me with the technicalities of doing a couple of YouTube video showing the basics of bread making. It has been something that we have been meaning to do for ages, so we might take the opportunity now. At the moment, the girls have a list of homework a mile long, as the teachers try to keep them up to date with the curriculum. Some days are easier than others for that one, but they are doing some work each day and we are focusing on staying sane and happy.
I am doing a weekly bake for local friends and whilst I was lucky to put in a flour order before all the madness well and truly kicked off I know that lots of people are finding it hard to source flour and yeast. I put a few tips on that subject of yeast on the cookery school blog, so if you want ideas for making sure your supply of yeast lasts hop on over for a read. You can also make bread with plain flour if you can’t get your hands on strong bread flour and it may be easier to get hold of more unusual flours such as einkorn, emmer, Kamut and spelt. I wrote about Kamut bread a long time ago on here, but it is a lovely bread and if you have one of the other flours mentioned just add the water until the dough is softly sticky as each of the flours absorb water differently.
It is an unprecedented and weird time, but I hope that you are able to make the best of your situation and that you can fit in some baking therapy. Please take good care of yourselves.
A quick note to wish you all a Happy 2020. I hope that this year brings you joy.
It seems a bit odd to wish you that when the world seems to be in a bit of a crisis at the moment. I took the decision to stop actively listening to or watching the news in December. I realised that it was making me feel anxious and that just by listening to it all didn’t mean I could change anything. So I am taking a break from worrying about it all, instead focusing on what I can change. We are trying to reduce our energy use and waste fewer resources. We don’t throw much food away in this home, what we don’t eat the dogs or chickens normally can, and if not then it goes onto the compost pile. But I am trying to make sure that we have even less. We are lucky to have a farm locally that sells organic milk from a vending machine, so we can buy really delicious milk in a reusable glass bottle and help to support a farmer. I am also lucky to be able to buy organic grain from Mark and Liz Lea for our bread. Mark and Liz live just seven miles away and Mark features heavily in a really interesting series of podcasts by Farmerama Radio, Cereal. If you are at all interested in local food networks or bread making it makes for an interesting listen when you would otherwise be listening to the news.
I am trying to make small changes that will hopefully make a big difference to our family and our sense of happiness. I am grateful for the small things to find joy in, the red sky this morning was really something to behold and my sourdough starter is bubbling away ready for me to make a loaf later.
I am also incredibly lucky to have a job that I love, passing on my love of bread making and baking to others through Veg Patch Kitchen Cookery School. Next week will mark five years since my first class for paying customers. The time has flown by. Nothing makes me happier than hearing from someone to tell me that they are making bread regularly since taking a class with me and that it is making them feel happier and healthier.
So whatever resolutions you may have made or whatever 2020 brings I hope you can find joy and happiness in the small things each day and maybe pass on your love of baking to friends and family either by passing on your skills or making them a delicious cake to share.
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