Surely it’s impossible not to love soda bread! Not only is it soft and delicious, it’s ridiculously quick and easy to make.

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When I talk about soda bread, I am using the term to cover any bread where bicarbonate of soda is the rising agent, rather than yeast.

This type of bread making is thought to have originated in the Americas, where European settlers and indigenous peoples used potash to leaven quick breads. Recipes began to appear in American cookbooks from the last few years of the 18th century onwards. The technique didn’t really appear in Europe until the middle of the 19th century, when bicarbonate of soda (also known as baking soda) first became available here.

Regardless of the origins, for me Ireland is the spiritual home of soda bread where it’s widely enjoyed, much loved and considered a classic, perhaps even a staple.

Soda bread can be made with wholemeal or white flour, or a combination of both. In Ireland, only versions made from white flour are commonly called soda bread. In Northern Ireland, wholemeal varieties are known as wheaten bread (and are often a little sweetened); in Éire, wholemeal versions are simply called brown bread.

With the exception of buttermilk, the ingredients are all long-life store cupboard essentials, so you can knock up a loaf at short notice. Even if you don’t have buttermilk, which is used in most traditional recipes, natural yoghurt or acidulated milk can be substituted in its place (see recipe). The key is to include an acidic element to activate the bicarbonate of soda.

Indeed, this recipe came about when Pete and I fancied some warm, freshly-baked home bread for lunch but weren’t prepared to wait the several hours a yeasted loaf would have taken.

I have a trusted recipe for soda bread but this time we decided to replace the whole meal flour with spelt – spelt flour is better suited to soda bread than yeasted recipes, as its gluten doesn’t readily form the elasticity required to stretch and trap the air bubbles created by yeast.

We also added malt extract, to give a little more flavour.

Some recipes use a higher proportion of oats to flour than ours, but we find this can make the texture a little too dense and heavy for our liking. Here, we used Mornflake medium oatmeal. Mornflake has been milling oats in South Chesire since 1675 and is still family-owned and managed by the descendants of the original miller, William Lea. The company contracts farms throughout the UK to supply it with grain and now sells both milled oats and a range of breakfast cereals.

We used Sharpham Park white spelt flour, grown on an organic farm in Somerset. We are also huge fans of their pearled spelt, which we use regularly in recipes like this chicken and pea farotto, a risotto-like dish in which spelt takes the place of rice.

 

Malted Spelt Soda Bread Recipe

Ingredients
175g spelt flour (wholegrain or white)
75g strong white flour
25g medium oatmeal
half teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
half teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon malt extract
250-300ml buttermilk

Note: The spelt flour in this recipe can be replaced with regular wholemeal flour.
Note: If you don’t have any buttermilk, you can use plain (natural) yoghurt thinned down with a little milk or sour 250 ml of milk with a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar.
Note: This recipe can be doubled up to make a larger loaf, but you’ll need to increase baking time accordingly.

Method

  • Pre-heat the oven to 210 C (fan).
  • Combine flours, oatmeal, bicarbonate of soda, salt and malt extract together in a large mixing bowl.
  • Add half the buttermilk and mix with the dry ingredients to start forming a dough, then add the remaining buttermilk a little at a time – you may not need the full 300 ml and adding too much results in a very stick dough that’s hard to handle. There’s is no need to knead the dough; simply mix quickly until everything is properly combined and avoid over-working.
  • Shape the dough into a ball and place in the centre of a baking tray lined with baking parchment or a silicon liner.
  • Pat down to flatten into a disc, about an inch deep. For a traditionally shaped loaf, press the blunt edge of a knife down into the dough twice to form a cross-shaped indent.
  • Bake for 20-30 minutes.
  • Check the bread at 20 minutes by tapping the bottom – the crust should be firm; the sound should be a dull thwack – if not, return to the oven for a few more minutes before checking again.
  • Once done, leave to cool for at least 10 minutes.
  • Break into pieces along the indentation lines and enjoy warm with salted butter and your favourite sweet or savoury topping.

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Kavey Eats received product samples from Mornflake Cereals. We have previously received samples from Sharpham Park.

 

Friends of mine have recommended Spanish brand Lékué to me before; they are fans of its innovative silicone cookware. The range includes steaming, baking and storage containers, including a large selection for microwave cooks and cake makers and decorators.

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Lékué images

The item that intrigued me most was the Lékué Bread Maker, a flexible silicone bowl that can be used from start to finish of the bread making process – mix and knead the dough in the bowl, let it rise, knock it back, let it rise again and then pop the whole thing into the oven to bake.

Thus far, we’ve found it a little tricky to mix and knead the dough inside the bowl – its flexible and lightweight nature means that an attempt to lift the sticky dough before pushing it back down ends up lifting the bowl itself. We’ll experiment with different kneading techniques to see if we can overcome this.

However, where the Bread Maker comes into its own is for rising and baking wet, sticky doughs:

The dough needn’t be disturbed after its second rise, thus avoiding the risk of knocking out some of the air. Of course, this can equally well be mitigated by transferring dough from a regular mixing bowl into the final baking container ahead of the second rise.

For baking, the bowl has an ingenious design that allows it to be very easily fastened at the top, leaving it open at each side. The shape of the Bread Maker when fastened, provides both a pleasant rounded shaping of the final loaf as well as an environment in which the bread can create steam as it cooks, which makes for a lovely crisp crust.

The instructions also mention the option of baking the bread in a microwave (and finishing with a few minutes in a regular oven to provide crispness), though we’ve not tried that yet.

Lastly, the bowl is also dishwasher proof, which may be helpful for some, though its silicone nature means it’s a doddle to clean anyway, since nothing sticks to it.

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My images

COMPETITION

Lékué have offered a Bread Maker as a competition prize for Kavey Eats readers. The prize includes delivery within the UK.

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 3 ways:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, sharing your favourite memory of baking or eating freshly made bread.

Entry 2 – Facebook
Like the Kavey Eats Facebook page and leave a (separate) comment on this blog post with your Facebook user name.

Entry 3 – Twitter
Follow
@Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the (exact) sentence below.
I’d love to win a @Lekue Bread Maker from
Kavey Eatshttp://goo.gl/LyjJ5x #KaveyEatsLekue
(Please do not add my twitter handle into the tweet; I track entries using the competition hash tag. And you don’t need to leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!)

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 21st March 2014.
  • Kavey Eats reserves the right to alter the closing date of the competition. Changes to the closing date, if they occur, will be shown on this page.
  • The winner will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • The prize is a Lékué Bread Maker. The prize include free delivery within the UK.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prize is offered and provided by Lékué.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. One Facebook entry per person only. You may enter all three ways but do not have to do so for your entries to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. For Facebook entries, winners must Like the Kavey Eats Facebook page at time of notification.
  • Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email, Twitter or Facebook. If no response is received within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

Kavey Eats received a selection of sample products from Lékué.

 

Since I started blogging a few years ago, I’ve not purchased many cookery books, as I’m fortunate to be sent new titles to review by several publishers. But I had a big sort out over the summer and gave several boxes of books, cookery ones included, to various charitable organisations.

After which I treated myself to a copy of Jekka’s Herb Cookbook (as well as Mma Ramotswe’s Cookbook: Nourishment for the Traditionally Built by Stuart Brown, still on the “To Read” pile).

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Jekka McVicar is the woman behind Jekka’s Herb Farm, a South Gloucestershire organic herbs nursery specialising in culinary, aromatic, decorative and medicinal herbs. The farm, which celebrated its silver jubilee this April, has over 650 varieties of rare, tropical and native species in its collection. Undoubtedly, Jekka McVicar is the queen of herbs and I’ve purchased some of her seeds for our garden over the years.

In this book she chooses fifty herbs that she loves to cook with and gives a description of each plant, advice for growing it, its history in cooking, any medicinal uses and of course, some recipes. The book doesn’t have any photographs; instead there are pretty illustrations are by her artistic daughter, Hannah McVicar.

Having flicked through when it arrived, it wasn’t until we visited my friend Monica for an August weekend of relaxing, cooking, eating and chatting that I had more time to devote to the book. I took a big bag of several books awaiting review, and popped this one in too as I was so keen to try some of the recipes.

In the end, we tried three recipes from the book over the weekend, and they were all fantastic.

I cooked Sea Bass with Chinese Garlic Chives. Except I couldn’t find any garlic chives so I bought regular chives, and not nearly the quantity specified in the recipe. Some of the pieces of fish broke up a little too much, with my clumsy pan skills, so it wasn’t a prettily presented dish. Nonetheless, the recipe was easy to make and we all really, really enjoyed it. The next time I see a large bunch of garlic chives on sale, I want to try this as Jekka envisaged it!

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Pete made Coriander, Mint and Pitta Salad, but instead of breaking our (freshly made) flatbreads up to add to the salad, he served then on the side. With soft tomatoes, crunchy cucumber, sweet sharp onion, the solidity of the chickpeas, my favourite green herb and a simple dressing, this was well balanced and tasty, and once again, very simple.

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And Monica made two loaves of Rosemary Bread. Fabulous, with a good crumb and lovely flavour from the rosemary, like the other two recipes, this is one that will be made again.

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Our experience with these three recipes gives me a strong faith in the rest of the book and there are many, many more dishes I want to try soon.

So much did we like these three recipes that we tweeted our delight (and photos of the dishes) to Jekka who responded with warm thanks for making her family recipes look so wonderful. (That was down to Monica’s camera skills, of course!)

And I was very happy to be able to give my thanks to Jekka in person when I visited her stall at the Abergavenny Food Festival.

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Photos by Kavey & Monica.

Jekka’s Herb Cookbook published by Ebury Press is currently available on Amazon UK for £17.50 (RRP £30).

 

A friend gave me a copy of this book as a gift recently and, to my absolute surprise, I could hardly put it down. For a few days straight, I squeezed in time to read chapter after chapter on trains and buses (and whilst waiting for trains and buses – why do they take so long!), whilst eating lunch, one hand blindly feeling for food and delivering it to my mouth as my eyes stayed firmly fixed on the book, during a long hot soak in the tub and indeed, any time when I could snatch a few minutes.

I didn’t expect to find the book so engaging, informative and even, occasionally, gripping.

Pete’s the baker in our household and I am happy to leave it to him. So a book about baking bread didn’t seem the best fit for me. But I was wrong.

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Hardback and paperback covers, respectively

The book takes the reader through a year in the life of American author William Alexander, as he strives to achieve the loaf of his dreams. Determined to create a rustic “peasant loaf” with an airy crumb and crisp yet chewy crust, he commits to baking a loaf a week every week for a year.

In another author’s hands, this could have been a dry and dull account of the incremental changes and improvements made over that time.

But as well as his baking efforts, Alexander weaves in entertaining glimpses of family life, educational visits to yeast and flour manufacturers as well as other (more expert) bakers and even a special conference for bread makers, both the sandal-wearing and non-sandal-wearing kind! His efforts building a bread oven in his back garden are particularly amusing. He even grows his own wheat and thrashes and grinds it, just as Pete did last year.

Further afield, his bread quest leads him to Morocco, where I can’t help but smile at the friendship he strikes up with a helpful shopkeeper, to the basement kitchens of the Hotel Ritz in Paris, where he learns a more commercial form of baking.

Finally, he writes about his visit to an ancient monastery in Normandy where he has somehow agreed to teach the monks to make bread. This section of the book is surprisingly uplifting and moving; surprising because I’m not a religious person and had not expected to be charmed or interested by reading of the life of the monks; moving because I found myself desperately rooting for his success and cheering each tiny achievement along the way.

Interspersed in Alexander’s story is also plenty of solid practical information, much of which was new to me and quite eye-opening.

 

The hardback version of 52 Loaves (with the subtitle “One Man’s Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust”) is available on Amazon uk for £13.33. The paperback version (sold with the subtitle “A Half-Baked Adventure”) currently costs £8.88. The kindle e-book version is £8.44. (Prices correct at time of writing).

 

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About Cobnuts

The Kent Cob or cobnut is a cultivated variety of hazelnut which originated, as the name suggests, in the county of Kent.

Mankind have likely eaten wild hazelnuts from the dawn of our species, an excellent source of protein foraged from the land. Hazels are found throughout the temperate band of the Northern hemisphere and the nuts from Common, American, Asian and all other species of hazel are edible.

Evidence from an archaeological dig in Colonsay, Scotland suggests that hazelnuts have been cultivated on the British Isles for at least 9,000 years, probably longer.

In the more recent period of recorded history, hazelnuts have been grown in British gardens and orchards since at least the 16th century, though they were often referred to as filberts.

Unlike other nuts, hazelnuts were traditionally marketed as fresh. The season typically lasted from mid August through to October. Wholesalers bought and stored nuts, to sell them throughout the year. They were also much loved by mariners, as they kept fresh for many months and stored so well.

The Victorians adored them and many new cultivars were bred for yield, flavour and shape during the 19th century .

The Kentish Cob was introduced around 1830 and proved so popular that it quickly supplanted most other varieties grown in England. It was probably named for a children’s game similar to conkers but played with hazelnuts – the winning nut was called the cob.

By 1913, over 7,000 acres of plantations fed huge demand, with much of the produce taken into London by train. Kent was certainly the key producer, but cobnuts were also grown extensively throughout the Home Counties.

However, as labour became more expensive, after the First World War and throughout the rest of the 20th century, and as transport and refrigeration improved, British-grown nuts were less able to compete with imports. By 1990, barely 250 acres remained and many of these were derelict.

In that year, The Kentish Cobnuts Association was established with the aims of regenerating the industry, promoting cobnuts and representing its members.

Today, Turkey is the largest producer of hazelnuts in the world, with significant quantities also produced by Italy, America, Greece, Spain and the UK.

In the UK, acreage is still around 250, but new orchards are once again being planted, not only the Kentish Cob, but other varieties too. They are proving to be a perfect crop for modern sensibilities as they are not prone to pests and diseases, they require little or no fertiliser or crop protectant and the crop is picked by hand.

If you are considering buying a hazel for your own garden, be aware that cobnuts are largely self sterile and cannot pollinate from the same variety. If you live in a rural area where there are wild hazels nearby, these will probably pollinate your tree, but otherwise, it is recommended that you purchase two compatible varieties that can pollinate each other.

 

About Demarquette

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The reason I’ve been doing so much reading about cobnuts (and other hazelnut varieties) is down to Demarquette, makers of very fine chocolates indeed.

A few weeks ago, Marc and Kim invited some friends to their Fulham Road store to sample some of their latest creations, and to meet their cobnut supplier, Hurswood Farm.

From the first, Demarquette have sought out the very best British ingredients, and created chocolates that really show them off at their best. So when they tell me about a product I should be enjoying, I know it’s going to be good.

Catherine Robinson from Hurswood Farm told us a little about the Kent Cob, and how Kentish farmers are not only renewing old orchards but planting new ones. She also introduced us to a product I had never come across before, pressed cobnut oil. Like walnut oil (which Hurswood also make) cobnut oil really is the very essence of the nut. Hurswood make a regular and a roasted variety, the latter takes twice as many nuts to produce the same volume but is very special indeed.

Cobnuts (and other varieties of hazelnuts) are commonly used to make pralines. But I was surprised to learn that many chocolatiers buy in their praline ready made. Marc makes his own, and it packs a much more natural and intense flavour than the ready made variety.

We tried a range of Demarquette products featuring cobnuts including Kentish Cobnut Pebbles (I absolutely adore these), Kentish Cobnut Jubilee Diamond Chocolate Pralines, Cobnut Nougat and Cobnut Brownies. All as good as they sound!

When I mentioned that I’d love to try making some cobnut bread, Kim kindly packed me some to take home, along with the little sample bottle of roasted cobnut oil and some of Marc’s pebbles.

 

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How To Make Cobnut Bread (Hazelnut)

Ingredients
70 grams cobnuts (or other hazelnuts), lightly roasted
15 ml cobnut oil
2 cups strong white bread flour
1 teaspoon dried baking yeast
Approximately 1 cup water

Method

  • Place the cobnuts into a bag and use a rolling pin or heavy bottle to break them into small pieces.

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  • In a mixing bowl (or using a stand mixer) combine the strong white bread flour, crushed cobnuts and baking yeast.

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  • Now add the wet ingredients – first the cobnut oil and then some of the water.

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  • Start to mix the ingredients together, adding more water as needed. Take care not to add too much water, or your finished dough will be very sticky and harder to handle and shape.
  • Either use the stand mixer to knead the dough well or knead by hand.

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  • Put the dough into a large bowl, cover and leave aside to rise. For us, this took about 2 hours.
  • Shape the dough and bake in a preheated oven (200 C fan oven, approximately half an hour but may vary).

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  • Leave to cool down a little before slicing.

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I enjoyed this bread fresh with salted butter and a home made broccoli and stilton soup, toasted with butter and jam and dipped into soft-boiled duck eggs. Delicious!

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One Friday a few weeks ago, I made an enormous pot of Boston Baked Beans & British Bangers. I doubled up the recipe, substituting chopped onions for the shallots and let it cook for a few hours extra, allowing the liquid to reduce to a proper thick consistency. All day, the smell made my tummy rumble!

We took it round to friends for dinner, our turn to do the main course this time. Forgetting quite how filling the beans are, most of the ficelle and baguette I sliced were left uneaten. Inspired by the lovely chocolate marmalade bread and butter pudding my friends made for dessert, I brought the sliced bread home with me.

A couple of days later, when the sliced bread was well and truly stale and hard, I made it into a delicious bread and butter pudding, using my homemade clementine curd to add flavour.

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You could use lemon curd (or any other fruit curd) or even a favourite fruit jam instead.

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I love a bread and butter pudding to have crunchy bits, so I left the crusts on the bread. This was a good decision, and Pete, who is usually a bit meh about bread and butter pudding, said he really liked this one, because of the contrast of crunchy crusts with soft custard-soaked bread.

 

Clementine Curd Bread & Butter Pudding

Ingredients
Approximately 1.5 baguette (or similar), sliced
Butter, enough for one side of all slices
100-150 grams clementine curd, or other curd or jam
300 ml double cream
300 ml full fat milk
3 large eggs
2 + 1 heaped tablespoons light demerara sugar

Note: Amounts in the recipe are approximate; do adapt them to fit your leftovers.

Method

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  • Butter all the slices of bread on one side, then spread a layer of curd onto the same side.

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  • Arrange the slices of bread in a baking dish, with the curd sides facing the same direction.
  • Mix 2 heaped tablespoons of the sugar with the milk, cream and eggs and whisk to combine.

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  • Pour the liquid carefully over the bread.
  • Leave the pudding aside for at least an hour, to allow the liquid to properly soak into the bread.

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  • Before baking, preheat the oven to 180 C (fan) and sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of sugar over the top.

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  • Bake for about 25 minutes, until the top is nicely browned.

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As is so often the way, by looking at several very different recipes on the internet and then coming up with my own to fit the ingredients I wanted to use up, I’ve remembered how easy it is to ring the changes by adding different flavouring ingredients to the bread and custard.

Do you have any favourite bread and butter pudding recipes or ideas to share?

 

I’ve been thinking about this question recently, not least because I was sent two different burgers to review, and I was also asked what my ultimate burger would be by Donald Russell.

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Broadly, there are three aspects to a burger – the meat patty, the bun and the various condiments served inside or with it.

The Patty

This is a contentious one, especially with my friends across the pond, many of whom insist that any patty that contains more than minced beef and seasoning is a not a burger at all, and might better be described as a flattened meatball!

I’ll have to agree to disagree as I happily enjoy both pure-beef burger patties as well as ones with all kinds of other ingredients mixed in. Since I eat the latter in burger baps, with burger condiments they are, as far as I’m concerned, burgers!

Pure Beef Patties

If I want a pure beef patty, then I don’t see the point of buying mince just to add salt, pepper and shape it myself, and I’m certainly too lazy to buy a steak and mince it myself, so we usually get ready-made patties from Waitrose – their Aberdeen Angus ones to be specific. These are pretty good and we’d not thought much about alternatives, until recently.

The Donald Russell patties we were sent didn’t measure up well against the Waitrose Aberdeen Angus ones. Cooked to medium in our normal way, they were chewy, a touch dry and under-seasoned. We were disappointed with them.

A few weeks previously, we were also sent some Waitrose Heston Ultimate Beef Burgers to review. I was dubious because, at the end of the day, they were still made of beef, so how much better (if at all) could they possibly be, really?

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I read the blurb. It informed me that Heston has created a blend of three different cuts of (British) beef which, minced especially to ensure that the meat’s grain sits vertically within the burger. The cuts used are chuck and brisket, finely minced, plus 28 day aged fore rib, minced less finely to add texture. Plus seasoning and that’s it. The burgers are based on the recipe Heston developed for his In Search Of Perfection TV show.

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To my surprise, we absolutely loved Heston’s Ultimate burgers. The flavour and texture were exceptionally good and they retained moisture very well. We thought they were significantly better than any other pure-beef patty we’ve tried; in fact we liked them so much that, despite the price tag of £4.49 for 2 burgers (weighing 125 grams each), we’ve bought them twice since and will continue to buy them regularly for as long as they’re available. (Note, because they don’t shrink like cheaper burgers, we’ve found one burger in a bun each to be sufficient for a satisfying meal).

Recipe Patties

It seems that there are as many recipes for burger patties, the kind containing more than just beef, as there are burger eaters. OK, this is probably an exaggeration but only a slight one!

In the past, we’ve enjoyed Pete’s mum’s recipe which combines minced beef, raw onions, pork sausage meat and seasoning. And we’ve made cheese burgers with the cheese inside rather than on top; blue cheese is my choice for this. We’ve also been inspired by Nigel Slater to add East Asian ingredients to flavour beef, pork and chicken patties and even to cook them in a bath of stock, in the oven.

But the recipe I’m recommending for my ultimate burger is a Felicity Cloake one, part of her “How To Cook The Perfect…” series (which earned Felicity one of two well-deserved awards from the Guild of Food Writers this year). (See below for recipe).

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We particularly loved the flavours and moistness added by the stout and the lightly caramelised onions. These were seriously good burgers!

By the way, we used some Donald Russell mince for these patties, which we were sent at the same time as the burgers, and thought it had a decent fat content and flavour, so worked well for making burgers.

The Bun

I am torn between the brioche bun (which adds a lovely hint of sweetness and also looks spiffing) and a regular white burger bap.

What is definite is that it must be soft, soft, soft.

I hate burger buns with a crust and using ciabatta (or any other trendy loaf) is a no-no.

But nor must it be so soft that it disintegrates while eating the burger, leaving soggy smears of bun remnants and a virtually bare burger between your fingers!

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As Pete isn’t a fan of brioche, we opted for white and our favourite baker, Tom Herbert, came to the rescue and emailed over his ultimate burger bap recipe. It produces the perfect white burger buns – soft, with a lovely crumb and yet robust enough to remain in one piece while eating. (See below for recipe).

The Condiments

This one’s a bit of a free for all as there are many condiments people like in their burgers from a variety of pickles and relishes to cheese (American processed or real) to rashers of bacon, fried onions, fried mushrooms, onion rings and then there’s the question of sauces and salad…

In our ultimate burgers, we both went for romaine lettuce (picked fresh from the garden), thinly sliced red onion and some of my home-made pickled gherkins. In addition, Pete added thinly sliced tomato and I added sliced, fried mushrooms and a basic marie rose sauce (tomato ketchup + mayonnaise mixed).

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On a cheaper burger, I might add stronger flavours such as bacon, chilli con carne, cheese or pesto but on a great burger, much less in the way of condiments are necessary, I think.

Felicity Cloake’s Perfect Burger

12 patties

Ingredients
1 tablespoon oil or butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1kg roughly minced chuck steak (or any non-lean mince)
100 ml stout
2 tablespoons brown breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons chopped herbs (parsley or thyme work well)
1 teaspoon salt
Black pepper

Note: we used Meantime London Stout, white breadcrumbs and fresh thyme.

  • Heat the oil in a frying pan over a low heat, and cook the onion until soft and slightly browned. Leave to cool.

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  • Spread the beef out and sprinkle over the onion. Add the stout, breadcrumbs, herbs and seasoning and mix together with a fork, being careful not to overwork it.

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  • Divide the meat into 12 flattish burgers, putting a dimple in the centre of each. Cover and refrigerate for an hour.

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  • Cook the burgers on a medium to hot barbecue or griddle pan: leave them undisturbed for the first 3 minutes so they build up a good seal on the bottom, then carefully turn them over, adding a slice of cheese on top if desired. Cook for a further 4 minutes for rare, and 7 for well done, and allow to rest for a few minutes before serving.

Tom Herbert’s Ultimate Burger Bap

Makes 10 baps

Ingredients
500g strong white flour
200ml milk (tepid)
100ml water (tepid)
25g castor sugar
25g lard
25g sourdough (omit if necessary)
10g salt
5g dried yeast (or 10g fresh yeast)
Egg, beaten (optional, for wash)
Sesame seeds (optional)

  • Weigh all the ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly.
  • Knead for 10 minutes until your dough is soft and elastic.
  • Leave to rise in a covered bowl for an hour in a warm place.
  • Divide the dough into 10 pieces and pin out 10cm baps on a floured surface.
  • Place on a baking trays with baking paper on.
  • Brush some beaten egg over each bap.
  • Leave them in a warm place for half an hour.
  • Brush with a second coat of beaten egg.
  • Sprinkle a pinch of sesame seeds onto each bap.
  • Leave for a further half hour to rise.
  • Meanwhile pre heat your oven too 230 degrees Celsius.
  • Bake your baps until they are perfectly golden (about 10-15mins).

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Note: We omitted the sesame seeds and egg wash. We were still rewarded with beautifully risen, evenly textured white baps that were pillowy soft but didn’t disintegrate whilst eating our burgers.

 

I love bread.

There’s no need to elaborate on that, is there really? Because, I’m sure that most of you, if not quite all, feel the same. But I’m going to anyway!

Bread is a glorious thing.

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Freshly baked, with some salty butter and homemade jam. Bursting with delicious fillings of all kinds. Toasted and crunchy or covered in melted cheese. Eggy, dipped and fried. Filled with fruit and soaked in the juices for a pudding. Scooping up hummus, garlicky yoghurt and other dips. Made into pizza…

And it’s not difficult to make your own!

As a young teenager, I went through a phase of making bread from scratch. I had a favourite book – part of the St Michael cookery library, I think – which guided me through making loaves and buns. I had great fun kneading and plaiting and shaping and baking but, as is the way with kids and interests, I moved on to something else after a time.

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Fast forward a few years… Pete got interested in baking after a visit to stay with a friend in Scotland. Sheila introduced us to butteries (which really ought to be called lardies, given the ingredients) and was determined to recreate them when we got home. Butteries lead to biscuits, and then resumed interest in cakes (which he’d learned from his mum) and, eventually to bread.

We soon got a bread maker with points from our credit card – remember those schemes? But we quickly grew frustrated with the sameyness of all the loaves it produced, not to mention pulling the paddle out of the arse of every loaf we made!

We found an American recipe book recommending using the bread maker to mix, knead and rise the dough and then shaping by hand and transferring to the oven to bake. This gave a definite improvement over baking in the machine, but the bread still wasn’t as good as the best loaves to be found in good bakeries.

Pete moved on to making bread completely by hand, but was soon seduced by no-knead and low-knead techniques.

Dan said: “For years we used to say that it was important to knead in order to “develop the gluten”, but we now know this isn’t entirely true. High-speed dough mixing, the sort used in most commercial bakeries, or the ultra-high-speed Chorleywood process used to produce the well-known sliced brands, shows that the final elasticity and resilience in the dough can be increased by the amount of energy put into it. When dough is mixed relatively slowly by hand on a worktop, even by the most accomplished bakers, the changes that occur will be mostly due to the length of time since the water was first added, and the characteristics of and interactions between the ingredients. So you can knead the dough fast, slow, or even not at all, and end up with similar results.”

Dan Lepard can be credited with getting many Brits baking their own bread and my mum swears by many of his recipes (which are far more varied than just bread). His book, The Handmade Loaf, is a really great resource.

But no-knead (or very little knead) bread left me unsatisfied. It’s texture was too dense and it didn’t make my heart sing, like really great bread somehow does.

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Interestingly, Dan Lepard commented recently that “we’re all moving back towards slight kneading”.

Which is good as I’d already started pushing traditional kneading recipes in Pete’s direction.

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At just the right time, we received an invitation to review a 2-day bread-making course. Taught by Tom Herbert of Hobbs House Bakery and held at Bedruthan Steps Hotel, older sister hotel to the Scarlet, which we visited a few months ago.

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Unlike the Scarlet, Bedruthan Steps is very much a family hotel. Rooms, public spaces, meals and activities are organised to help parents and children find their perfect balance of independence and family time and service is friendly and helpful.

Style-wise, Bedruthan isn’t sleek and sophisticated like the (much newer) Scarlet – its unique original architecture and design features have been heavily disguised in a series of later changes, resulting in a rather muddled and dated look. And much of the interior needs some love and attention provided by a similarly gifted designer as did for the Scarlet.

But that doesn’t take much away from the plus points such as a superb family swimming pool and spa area and an absolutely fabulous adult-only side with steam room, sauna and the biggest jacuzzi pool I’ve ever seen, all with views out to sea.

Bedruthan Steps has an old-fashioned charm which, coupled with an understanding of the needs of families (that has come from many, many years of experience), explains why it’s so popular. Childless couple that we are, we’d pick the Scarlet first, but we found many thoughtful touches that we knew would appeal hugely to our many friends with kids.

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The course was held in the small kitchen attached to an upstairs conference area. 9 of us came to learn from Tom Herbert, amongst our number were two food bloggers (myself and Niamh), a number of baking enthusiasts from almost beginners to very experienced, another baker Tom who also runs baking courses, and one of the three sisters who owns and runs the two hotels.

Over the course of two days we learned and made white bread, soda bread, sourdough, pancakes, challah and hot cross buns.

If you don’t think that sounds like very much for two days you’d be wrong!

Because, from the same white dough that we mixed and kneaded on starting the course we made plain white bread, seed bread, pita bread, pizza base, focaccia and small bread rolls. Our sourdoughs included plain, olive and fruit versions.

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In fact, one of the most important lessons we took away from the course was how extremely versatile the basic yeast dough and sourdough recipes could be when combined with a little imagination and experimentation.

The other key lesson, if you’re asking, was the ability to recognise when dough has been kneaded enough. That change in texture and elasticity, in the look and feel of what is almost a surface skin stretched taut over the rest, is hard to describe but easy to recognise once you’ve seen it not just once or twice but several times in the space of two days.

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Everyone got stuck in mixing, kneading, shaping and finishing the various breads we made. It was a physical course, but a fun and rewarding one.

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Throughout, Tom shared countless tips that would help us achieve great results back at home.

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So dedicated was Tom to the cause, and so eager were we, that we even returned to the kitchen shortly before midnight on day 1 to shape the risen sourdough into loaves which we then left for a second rise before baking them the next morning!

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One of the nicest things about the course was regularly seeing our hard work transformed into bread throughout the two days.

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One of the recipes that was far simpler than I realised was foccacia, which we made from the basic white dough.

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Tom also demonstrated using the basic white dough to make pizza bases. To our amazement, there was no dough stuck to the ceiling after this exercise!

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Tom started mixing sourdough in huge quantities, on a large work surface, before cutting it into smaller pieces for all of us to work individually. We mixed some of it with a mix of dried fruits and some with whole green and black olives.

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Last time I made hot cross buns they were really not cross buns as I was too lazy to cross them. This time, we did them properly, crossing them once they’d risen and then glazing them once baked.

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Challah is a little like brioche. Tom showed us how to plait and glaze our breads before decorating with black poppy seeds. I went a bit mad and tried a five strand plait (with instructions from Tom on how to do so). The plaiting worked but my finished challah was too long and uneven in width so I formed it into a heart shape. It looked marvellous when baked, if I say so myself!

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We finished the course exhausted but elated by how much we’d learned and achieved.

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And not only did we get to take home some of our mountain of bread, Tom also invited us to take pots of sourdough starter home with us – it’s a starter that’s been in continuous use for 55 years. Ours is thriving, and we’ve named him Levi the Levain.

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Since the course, Pete’s been making lots and lots of wonderful breads, both sourdoughs and yeast breads. They’ve been an absolute delight and we’ve been enjoying them plain, toasted, with cheese, with jam…

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Our next project is one Pete’s been talking about for a few years now, and that’s to grow our own wheat, harvest and mill it into flour and make it into bread. We always knew we’d only have space to grow enough wheat for a handful of loaves, though now we’ve got an allotment, we can expand that just a little.

To our surprise and delight, this long-held plan coincides with the Real Bread Campaign’s Bake Your Lawn project, encouraging children to “grow it, mill it, bake it, eat it”.

Wish us luck!


For more information about courses at Bedruthan Steps, contact the hotel directly.

Tom Herbert also runs courses at his family bakery, Hobbs House Bakery.

 

I use aspartame.

Yes, I’m aware of the many controversial claims about its side effects (one being memory loss, how would I ever tell? ;) But if I stopped ingesting every food and drink stuff about which I’d heard a scare story, my diet would consist of nothing but potatoes. And wait, aren’t potatoes linked to…

Enough!

So I use aspartame. (And sucralose too, for that matter). In my cheap instant coffee. :)

Pete can’t stand the aftertaste but it’s never bothered me.

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When I was invited to a PR event for Canderel recently, I was genuinely interested to learn whether Canderel could be used in cooking, having read that aspartame breaks down at high temperatures, losing its sweetness.

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The event was held in the lovely home of an interior designer who runs cookery classes in her kitchen, which she also rents out for filming, photo shoots and events such as this.

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We were welcomed with cocktails and nibbles as we waited for everyone to arrive.

Canderel had recruited Emma Lewis, chef and former editor of BBC Good Food Magazine, to develop a range of recipes using their product.

Ingredients already weighed and measured out for us and equipment at the ready, we paired up and worked our way through the recipes provided, under Emma’s friendly guidance.

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We started off making a simple walnut bread (recipe provided below), followed by beetroot chocolate brownies and mini strawberry trifles before gathering around the hob as Emma made a quick chicken tagine with couscous.

Some of the recipes worked better than others – I really liked the walnut bread and chicken tagine. The brownies were OK, but a little bland in flavour, unlike a beetroot chocolate cake I’d sampled previously. The trifles didn’t really work for me though they looked very pretty!

Best of all, after our labours, we all adjourned to the pretty courtyard garden outside and had a lovely meal together.

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beetroot chocolate brownies

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mini strawberry trifles

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chicken tagine and couscous

Walnut Bread

Ingredients
8 tablespoons granulated Canderel
225 grams plain flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
0.5 teaspoons bicarbonate soda
pinch salt
50 grams half fat sunflower margarine (I’d substitute this for butter, personally)
1 large egg
grated zest from a medium orange
150 ml fresh orange juice
100 grams roughly chopped walnuts
4 tablespoons skimmed milk

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Method

  • Grease a 2 lb loaf tin and line with non-stick parchment paper or a pre-formed liner.
  • Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees, gas mark 4.
  • Put the Canderel, flour, baking powder, bicarbonate soda and salt into a bowl and stir together.
  • Beat the butter and egg with the orange zest until creamy (the mixture will look curdled, this is OK).
  • Add the orange juice and stir well.
  • Add the dry ingredients and walnuts then mix until just combined.
  • Add the milk to give a soft consistency.
  • Spoon into the tin and bake in the pre-heated oven for 40-45 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.
  • Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a rack.

The bread was a success, with a lovely texture, a pleasant citrus tang from the orange juice, the crunch of the walnuts and just the right hint of sweetness from the Canderel. I really liked it!

Many thanks to Canderel, Emma Lewis and JCPR for a lovely evening.

Apr 122009
 

We’d only made hot cross buns once before and, to be honest, they were disappointing. The texture of the bread just wasn’t right let alone the spicing and balance of fruit. This time, I decided to find a tried and tested recipe from one of the knowledgable posters on the BBC Food Chat board. When I say “I”, what I really mean is “we”, since Pete is definitely the master baker in this household! In the end we couldn’t decide between two recipes (by users X and Cherrytreeagain), so we amalgamated both. We also halved the amounts to make just 6 rolls instead of 12.

Well, we must have done something right, as the resulting hot cross buns were delicious! If I’d known they’d come out this well we’d have made the full 12!

I’m providing the recipe amounts doubled back up again to make 12. Note, we didn’t bother with crosses (though we probably will next time) or a glaze (which neither of us like).

Hot Cross Buns
(Makes 12)

Ingredients for buns
7 grams easy blend yeast
40 grams caster sugar
1 teaspoon salt
450 grams strong white bread flour
1 level teaspoon mixed spice
Half teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg (or a grating or two of fresh)
50 grams butter
140 grams currants, sultanas and/or raisins (dried weight)
Water, to soak dried fruits
50 grams chopped mixed peel
1/4 pint warm milk
1/4 pint liquid reserved after soaking dried fruits

Optional: Ingredients for crosses
75 grams flour
Milk, enough to make a pipable paste

Optional: Ingredients for glaze
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons sugar

Method

  • Soak currants, sultanas and/or raisins overnight in just enough water to cover.
  •  Drain dried fruits (reserving the liquid) just before making dough.
  •  Mix spices into flour.

 

  • Rub butter into flour until large crumbs form.

 

  • Add sugar, fruit, peel, yeast, 1/4 pint of warm milk and 1/4 pint of the soaking liquid and mix until the mixture combines into an elastic ball and leaves the side of the bowl easily. Note: It is better for the dough to be slack (wet) rather than tight (dry). Knead for a few minutes.

 


  • Cover and leave to double in size.


  • Knock back and knead again.
  • Shape into 12 rounds and put onto baking tray lined with non-stick paper or silicon baking sheet.

  •  Cover and leave to double in size.
  •  Optional: Mix flour and milk into paste and pipe crosses onto buns.
  •  Bake at 200C (fan oven) for 20 minutes.

 

  • Optional: A few minutes before the buns are ready to come out, mix milk and sugar and heat until sugar has dissolved. Brush over the cooked buns and return to oven just for a minute before removing.
  • Leave to cool briefly before eating or you’ll burn your fingers like we did!

Happy baking!

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