Archives for category: Bread
The Cathedral of our Lady of Chartres

The Cathedral of our Lady of Chartres

Sunday is always a more religious day in such a Catholic country and as we were in the vicinity we decided to visit Chartres. The huge gothic cathedral here is imposing and despite many tourists you do get a sense of the local community as Sunday service is conducted. We stopped for traditional crepes/galette and then car roof down made our way back through the countryside spotting the local Percheron horses, field after field of wheat being cut and chilled back on the Island for the afternoon.

la_perriere

La Perriere in L’Orne

We wanted an authentic traditional French brasserie style meal that evening which should have been the easiest thing in the country to find but somehow it proved illusive. We had a list of a few places and couldn’t get them on the phone to book so imposed once more on the brilliance of the sat nav, Doris, to find these far flung places. Firstly to La Perriere which was the most picturesque of villages and home of La Maison d’Horbe. Well it was not to be our maison for that evening as we were clearly told there was no room at the inn so onwards to Le Pin la Garenne and their offering of La Croix d’Or. Neither of us were feeling that experience to be a good thing so feeling ever more hungry we ventured to Saint Langis les Mortagne and the well named Les Pieds dans l’Eau. Once again we were not meant to dangle our feet in any water or anything at all as we were clearly told there was no room here either. Now what? We eventually ended up at a place that the couple at D’Une Ile had mentioned which was apparently going to offer us a traditional experience.

Moulin de Villeray started off with so much promise. They had a table! and a water mill and a bridge and a pretty setting. They were crazy full and very large. But then the meal began. I am not sure if the service is a true representation of the authentic French experience but a good 6 minute wait to be seated followed by a further 10 or so minutes before anyone even tried to come near us with anything like a menu and then a further 15 or so minutes before we could even order anything just finished us off. And did I mention we were starving hungry? We were genuinely hysterical by the time the first course arrived. The big feature of the meal was most definitely the bread and not for all the right traditions of the well known baguette du Perche recipe. I say this because the lady who had clearly been told it was her responsibility to replenish the bread took her job very seriously. She couldn’t offer a menu, or a drink, or a plate of food, but bread – oh yes, she was an expert here. If you carried on eating said side plate then she carried on filling it. One could eat a whole baguette and more if that way inclined. We became like children giggling away at the preposterous experience. No food, or bad food but certainly baguette!

After that the evening deteriorated into a Fawlty Towers-esque experience. Words cannot describe the catalogue of issues that prevailed. And at those prices, it should have been the best thing we had eaten. Sadly the only saving grace was the memory of the experience and the stomach muscles that worked so hard through the laughter. I am sure we were perceived as crazy Brits but if that’s an authentic French experience then I would rather never repeat it thank you very much.

On our return, the D’Une Ile chef told us he agreed the food was not great. But that there is little in the area to impress, which is such a shame as the raw ingredient is there. Why that old fashioned classic French cooking has not remained with the tradition of the area is a mystery to me.

Monet's House peeking through the immense gardens

Monet’s House peeking through the immense gardens

Our last day meant a need to venture back up the country to Calais but we had one last stop to fit in and we thought a quiet Monday would be the perfect way to do it. Our route up North took a detour to Giverny and the home of Claude Monet. He lived here for the final 43 years of his life and created a home and a garden that proved to be his inspiration. The house and more importantly the gardens were designed and created by him over these forty odd years and he was able to develop spaces and colours that were the essence of some of his most famous pieces. The water lillies and Japanese gardens are probably the most famous and we meandered along the motorway to have our moment connecting with these.

Sadly, it seemed that the whole world had the same idea. I know that everyone should have the opportunity of the same experience but it really did take away from any sort of spiritual connection when you are queuing for an hour to get into the garden itself and then battling with coach loads of British school kids who are on a day expedition and clearly not all that interested in what makes this all so special.

Despite the crowds, despite the grey weather and despite the time pressure we were under, there is no doubt that this is a place to visit and I would come back to do it differently next time. Book tickets in advance. Go early to avoid the crowds. Give yourself time to explore the whole place. But most of all do go. In the same way that Venice shows itself as the inspiration to great Italian masters, so this once family home in a small town in Normandy shows itself to be the home of Impressionism and you can’t help but feel it in your soul.

The famous water lily pond taken from an angle trying to avoid tourist central

The famous water lily pond taken from an angle trying to avoid tourist central-

So our journey ended on the motorway up to Calais and the ferry back across the 20.6 miles to the UK harbour. Even the drizzling rain couldn’t dampen our spirits and we parted knowing that we would most definitely do this again. It is highly recommended as long as you book dinner!

photo 2 I went on a bread making course this week. It is always difficult with courses to know which one to choose. Some years ago I tried to get to Richard Bertinet but the truth is that whilst he is such a well known baker, he is also incredibly expensive. Instead I got a voucher to do the course at Paul which was more demonstration than course and focused on French bakery.

Trays of Justin's famous doughnuts waiting to go out to their stall

Trays of Justin’s famous doughnuts waiting to go out to their stall

I was compelled to try again this time because of all the recent press about smiley baker Justin Gellatly and his relatively new business. Created just under a year ago, Bread Ahead is a collaboration between Justin, who was previously head baker at St John bakery, and Matt Jones, who set up Flour Power and is a great baker in his own right. I’m not sure what the right term is to describe two bakers at the top of their game pairing up but certainly the outcome is something special. They are taking over the restaurant and market scenes with their breads and have become part of the London food culture with their doughnuts which are out of this world. I’m sure if we Brits were more American in our attitude then these would receive the same notoriety as the cronut. But that’s just not our style.

An enthusiastic Aiden starts out with the inspiration board on the wall behind him

An enthusiastic Aiden starts out with the inspiration board on the wall behind him

Having completed the course I can now say that it was a really great choice and delivered just what I wanted. I attended the Introduction to Sourdough course in their bakery school and it really did make a grand introduction. The course was taken by the lovely Aiden Chapman who had just the right passion and knowledge balance. There was much talk of bread and the current issues with gluten that seem to have become trendy these days. Aiden’s view reflected mine believing that a lot of this is not genuine gluten allergy rather a fashion to find a flat stomach. In reality, we have been making bread since prehistoric times and when replicating those methods there is a lot of good to be taken from it. Using stoneground flour and a wild yeast starter, Aiden argues that this bread actually enhances the bodies ability to digest rather than the opposite. In fact he told us that there are studies going on in the USA which show coeliacs are able to eat bread made this way without any issues. It’s really only in the last 50 odd years since the Chorleywood method was developed to industrialise production that things went horribly wrong. Nowadays the majority of people think of that as bread but it is a woeful comparison to the real thing.

The birth of Harry

The birth of Harry

We started our course creating our own wild yeast starter which we were encouraged to name, as apparently that helps you look after it more. The Bread Ahead starter that Justin created was blessed by the Canon of Southwark Cathedral and certainly makes an impressive loaf, with or without spiritual help. Harry, as I named mine, is still going strong as I follow my instructions to feed him over 5 days for the ideal base. Given that it takes so long, we were able to cheat and have the hallowed one for our course purposes.

Our rye breads proving quietly

Our rye breads proving quietly…

...and the miraculous outcome

…and the miraculous outcome

We went on to learn about 3 different breads: rye bread, levain, and the no knead method. The process is such a wonderful nod to the artisan craft and yet it was very simple. None of that over the top hurling and kneading thing going on, just a respectful mix of the classic ingredients: great flour, cold water (always cold), the starter and salt. Simples. There were easy tips on how to bake at just the right temperature and how to replicate the professional steam that is created in the industrial ovens. All very practical.

Two hand formed doughs just before being slashed and baked

Two hand formed doughs just before being slashed and baked

The result was amazing. Mr Jones and I both turned out two yummy loaves that outshone the effort that we had to put in and have been a superb addition to the weekend catering. Harry is well on his way too, so next weekend, it will be a chance to try again and see if what we learnt can be replicated at home. Let’s see.

Ta da!

Ta da!

 

It’s been a funny old week. Another rollercoaster ride through the trials and tribulations of life.

I find the best way to manage my temperament through it is to cook! and with lots of different people crossing my path this week it has been an opportunity to prepare some nice meals.

sourdough

First on the menu was the builders, or renderers to be specific. Now normally my builder repertoire is tea (taken with 2 sugars) and biscuits or a cake if I have the time. But somehow the latest team, who have just completed a really great job on the house, had other ideas. The week started with their specifications on coffee (as opposed to tea), milk and which biscuits they liked and progressed through the week until the final day. Did I have bacon in the fridge? they asked. In my usual overly helpful way I said no, but I have eggs. Oh – that would be fine, they replied! Er. Are you asking me to make you egg sandwiches? …yes! But I only have a really lovely brown sourdough loaf bought at Bread Ahead this week. That’s fine, they say. And what salt do you have? they ask. What salt? Maldon – is that OK with you? Yes, Maldon will be fine, they say. Hmmm. When did the building community get to be so demanding?

This is the official pic as I didn't take a pic of my efforts, but they were much more rustic!

This is the official pic as I didn’t take one of my efforts, but they were much more rustic!

Thankfully my next catering experience was for my friend C. She makes cakes for a living, award winning cakes at that. And she also caters for parties, and is able to tell good from bad, so I want to do something nice. I opted for a favourite dish inspired by Ben Tish, which he made on Saturday Kitchen some time ago: chorizo stuffed squid. Waitrose serve a really good baby squid on their fish counter which is just begging to be stuffed with chorizo. The only issue is that it needs to be cooking chorizo which is not so readily available, but I had been up in London earlier on in the week and had the ideal one from Brindisa. Once stuffed, you fry off with new potatoes, peas, sage, garlic, capers, lemon and I add onion before serving with a home-made aioli. Leftovers went to the builder, who proclaimed it marvellous and asked for the recipe so it must have been good.

photo 5

At the end of the week I had my Spanish friend over and was certainly not going down the tapas route with her. So I adapted a couple of recipes that I love and had a great excuse to work with some kitchen items I love too, including my favourite Anthropologie rolling pin which is rarely aired and my Nom Living fluted quiche mould.

photo 1

Crab and saffron tart was crossed with Rose Bakery’s quiche mixture to good conclusions. I used good quality tinned crabmeat (which is always worth having in the larder), and replaced the tomato sauce base with fresh Isle of Wight tomatoes as they are so wonderful at the moment. I also infused some of the cream in my favourite copper saucepan (thanks Mum and Dad) with loads more saffron than the recipe to get that incredible Summery yellow infusion that went in the egg & cream mixture. I had wanted to make the Rose Bakery quiches ever since I saw them featured on Russell Norman’s The Restaurant Man. The show is no longer available but this clip of Kate & Alex in Paris is the bit I was inspired by.

Lunch is served

Lunch is served

The outcome was an indulgent lunch but truly yummy served with a simple salad and Mum’s classic vinaigrette dressing. I made it with a dollop of the leftover aioli to add a bit of garlicky zing and it was just perfect.

photo 4

My friends are so wonderful that they come with presents for me as well. So now I am looking at the most wonderful bunch of flowers and a cluster of gifts from Barcelona. The oil pourer reminds me so much of the traditional Spain I went to as a kid and I am told I have to treat the outside base of the bowl by rubbing with garlic to seal it which is the tradition. Once done, I can discover new recipes from my Catalan cookbook, hopefully including these nuts.

Casa Gispert - a treasure trove to discover

Casa Gispert – a treasure trove to discover

They are from a tiny shop called Casa Gispert in El Born, Barcelona, which specialises in nuts and fruits. You see them come in, get roasted in the same wood oven they have used there since 1851 and then weighed and sold out the front. Such a fabulous shop that was recommended to me by my Spanish friend who is from Barcelona. These sorts of places are only known by locals so remember this one and look it up if you are ever there.

It has been a lovely food week and my house is now rendered to perfection. Bring on another week.

It seems there’s a bit of a toast revolution stirring and whilst it is getting a cynical treatment from some, I am a big fan.

The right bread toasted with good toppings seems like the best comfort food to me and it is such a versatile base. My freezer is never without good sourdough rye ready and waiting so that I can add whatever I fancy at a moments notice for a perfect snack or meal. In fact, my friends at Knead bakery in South Africa have made a hugely successful business marrying their hand crafted breads into the very core of their easy and yummy menus, including a “toast with…” choice. It seems like the most perfect combination to me.

josey baker bread

It is the team behind Josey Baker Bread who seem to have hit the headlines this week for selling $4 toast at the place they share with Four Barrel coffee called The Mill in San Francisco. Commentators are shocked at the price and the audacity of taking this humble offering into such a price threshold but personally I disagree. When you see what it takes to make a proper loaf, not least of all a proper piece of toast, then you begin to understand. It is not the price of the ingredients, although good artisan flour does not come cheap. Nor is it the cost of production. But it is the time, passion and genuine love that it takes a proper baker to create such a miracle of baking that deserves, in my eyes, more appreciation.

balthazar bread

I was lucky enough to spend a little bit of time with the baker behind Balthazar bakery in London and he literally opened my eyes to the art of baking. Most bakers work late at night and from very early in the morning. They have to be very physical at times and yet have the touch of an angel at others. This is all about connection with an ever changing product and a sensitivity that can only be mastered through experience. The Balthazar team have been doing it for years in New York. It was one of the first I went to see on my research trips with M&S, along with the incredibly well known Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, and the team here in London have replicated it brilliantly.

When you look at the plethora of bakeries popping up in London you realise there is something in the humble loaf. Whilst they all offer breads which can be toasted or not, as required, the toast bar concept hasn’t yet taken off over this side of the pond. I always liked the dualit toasters plugged into the ceiling and directly onto your breakfast table at Ottolenghi. I am in fact spoiled with bakery choice near where I live with Gails, Le Pain Quotidien and Euphorium all putting out good offers. Then there’s the small one off bakers who are just delivering great breads such as E5 bakehouse which has been on telly a few times, plus the many that were heralded at the Real Bread Festival last year. It says something when you can have a whole festival dedicated to bread!

The Mill toast

Perfect toasting thickness delivered every time at The Mill

But what is great about The Mill is it’s focus on toast rather than bread. They take the dualit toaster and put it centre stage to their funky place. There’s even the toast equivalent of the barista who is solely focused on making the perfect slice of toast. It’s important to have the right thickness, the right amount of toastiness and the right buttering to make it toast-a-licious.

Then there’s the toppings. They have given a great big nod back to the childhood treats with good old fashioned jam or honey as well as old US favourites such as peanut butter or cinnamon sugar. In addition there are trendier butter flavours such as other nut butters (almond butter gets a good press) and pumpkin butter. Or you can opt for combinations like peanut butter, honey & sea salt.

yves bordier butter

It’s funny. I have been talking about butters a lot in the past year as I think there is a lot of potential in the butter market. We are increasingly being told of the benefits of good fat so a well made grass fed butter is not the killer we once thought. When you see how experts like Yves Bordier do butter in France then you can see the opportunity that is out there to do more not only with sweet toppings like those at the Mill, but also flavoured butters to cook with such as herb butters or citrus butters for meat or fish cooking. They can be kept in the freezer for a long time and really do transform a dish.

Anyway, whatever your choice of topping, and whatever you ideal toasted offering, I for one am a fan of this new toast bar idea and hope that it catches on soon somewhere in the UK some time very soon.

Pic from Josey's blog. "Loafers" - funny!

Pic from Josey’s blog. “Loafers” – funny!