Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Every journey starts with the first step…

#1 Page 76  -  The basic bread recipe, River Cottage Handbook No.3 Bread

The basic bread recipe

An old boss of mine, used to have the saying “Every journey of a thousand miles, starts with the first step”.  I don’t think I will ever forget that, as it was drilled into us each day.  But this is my first step of this journey, my River Cottage Bread Journey.  Although it’s not quite a thousand miles, it is 55 recipes – with a few variations along the way!  Whether it feels like we have travelled a thousand miles, we will have to wait and see.

First step is ‘The basic bread recipe’, which Dan describes as his simplified bread recipe.  One by which you can use as a starting point or basis to create many different types of bread.  I would like to hope that by the time I have worked my way to the end of the book, I will be able to create some of my own breads.  In fact I already have a few ideas, but hey, lets hold on a minute.  Running before we could walk would not be a good idea.

One of the reasons I got this book, was because of the depth that it goes into on the ingredients, process and equipment.  Which gives you a great understanding of what you are about to do and why you are doing it.  The theory of why you put salt in, the types of flour you have to use right through to why you need a water spray bottle!

2 loaves of bread - The basic bread recipe

Just as I was getting the ingredients and equipment ready, one thing alarmed me.  The recipe calls for 20g fine salt.  Now reading it, it didn’t bother me that much.  When I was weighing it out – that was a different matter.  It looked like a ridiculous amount of salt, which made me a little concerned and dubious to honest. 

Mixing the dough was easy, in fact very easy.  Well what's difficult about that.  Kneading the dough however, if you are not used to regular exercise it will cause your arms to ache….FACT!    The bit I didn’t find quite so easily, was shaping the dough into a round.  When first left to ferment, once you have deflated the dough for the first time and when you shape the loaves.  I decided to make 2 x 800g loaves (although I wouldn’t say I divided the dough exactly in half), both of them being round.  When I got them into the round shape and turned them over, the base looked like the Grand Canyon was running through it (wish I took a picture to show you).  No matter what I did, I couldn’t make it look better.  I just hoped and prayed when it came out the oven, it would look good. 

The basic bread recipe

Once it came out of the oven, I was impressed with way it looked.  This will sound stupid but it actually looked like bread.  Even the Grand Canyon in the base had gone.  It had risen magnificently in the heat of the oven and the steam you create in the process.  The smell was lovely and the crust was great.

When I sliced the bread, it had a lovely thickness of crust that was nice and crusty.  The loaf inside looked nice and soft, it wasn’t doughy or crumbly.  So far it smelt, looked and felt good.  The next was the taste.  It wasn’t fantastic, but it was good.  The texture and taste of the crust was really great, with the crumb of the bread tasting good.  I felt that it was just a little bit dense still, so maybe 5 minutes more kneading next time.  The only downside to this bread, was I thought it was a little bit salty.  Which was a concern I had at the beginning, and it made we wonder if next time I could reduce the quantity of salt.  But I have decided that next time, I will stick with the 20g of salt and give it another chance.  Overall I was pleased with the result.  The time and effort was well worth it, and the satisfaction you get at the end, will put a large grin on your face.  I used the bread to make some really nice ham salad sandwiches.  Everyone that had one, commented on how good the bread was.  Homemade bread is definitely the way forward.

The basic bread recipe

If you have tried and/or posted about the basic bread recipe, I would love to hear how you got on with it.  If you are following along, it’ll be great to share experiences.  You can even tweet along with #rivercottagebreadjourney. 

Next up is a variation on the basic bread recipe:

#2 Page 78 – Malted grain bread

River Cottage Handbook No.3 Bread by Daniel Stevens

Monday, 6 June 2011

Asparagus and Ricotta Tart, with Lemon and Mint

With the asparagus season now over half way through, I still can’t get enough of the stuff.  I was out shopping the other day at a local farm shop, and I spotted a magnificent bundle of asparagus for sale.  Looked superb, I couldn’t resist, I had to buy a bundle.  I didn’t matter to me that I already had a a stack of them in the fridge that I picked the other day! 

Lemon and mint goes fantastically well with asparagus.  This is ideal for a spring/summer lunch, with a cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

Asparagus and Ricotta Tart, with Lemon and Mint


Serves 4

:: 375g pack ready rolled Puff Pastry  :: 250g Ricotta  :: 1 Lemon (zest & juice)  ::  20 spears of Asparagus  :: Parmesan  :: Mint finely chopped  :: Chives  ::  Salt & Pepper  :: Olive Oil

Preheat oven to Gas Mark 6/200C.  Unroll the puff pastry and cut into 4 rectangles (approx. 17cm x 12cm).  Mark a border with a knife about 1½cm from the edge, but don’t  cut all the way through.  Very lightly score a lattice on the board for a decorative effect.  Place in the oven for 8-10 mins until puffed and is lightly golden.  Leave to cool, and using the back of a fork, push down the middle.

Mix the ricotta with the lemon zest and juice, and season.  Divide this between the four tart shells and gently spread out.  Carefully push into the ricotta mixture 5 asparagus spears into each tart.  Drizzle with olive oil and put in the oven for 10 mins until the pastry is golden and the asparagus starts to wrinkle.

Sprinkle over the mint, shave over some parmesan and place the chives on top.  Give a final drizzle of olive oil and serve warm with a dressed salad.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The River Cottage Bread Journey….

So.  I would like to invite you on a journey.  A journey where there will be some success I hope and I’m sure some failure.  A journey where I hope to become a better baker.  To discover new types of bread and baking.  Try new techniques, experience new tastes and smells.  Finally to enjoy great ‘hands-have-made’ bread, as Daniel Stevens would say.  You can either follow me on this trip of discovery, or join in. 

For sometime now, I have been fascinated with the making of bread.  How anyone can take a few humble ingredients and turn it into the staple of mankind the world over, intrigues me.  The whole process of taking a handful of simple ingredients, going through the process of showing them love, care and attention, resulting in such a delicious end result is almost miraculous. 

I had been hunting for a long time for the ideal book relating to making bread.  After a long search I found it.  The River Cottage Handbook No.3 Bread by Daniel Stevens.  Exactly what I was looking for.  This is the plan.  To work my way through the book, from start to finish.  Understanding the ingredients, learning the skills and trying every recipe.  It will take as long as it takes, but I’m going for a different recipe each week.  Maybe more, it just depends what I have on.

Bread Making Step by Step - River Cottage Handbook No.3 Bread Churros - River Cottage Handbook No.3 Bread Taramasalata - River Cottage Handbook No.3 Bread

There are many different recipes I can’t wait to try – Ciabatta, Sourdough, Soda Bread, Churros, Lardy Cake, Crumpets and Nettle Pesto to name just a few.  There is one I am dreading – Taramasalata (in the section of using left over bread), as I am just not a fishy person.  Also there is one all mighty challenge.  The building of a clay oven.  The challenge – it won’t go in my garden, so I don’t know yet where I am going to build it.  Any offers?

Sourdough - River Cottage Handbook No.3 Bread Building a Clay Oven - River Cottage Handbook No.3 Bread A stubby cylinder - River Cottage Handbook No.3 Bread

You won’t find me posting every recipe, as that would just be wrong.  If you want the recipes, buy the book.  You will see me post about how each recipe went, and a few adapted recipes.  But do you know what would be great?  If you were to grab yourself a copy of the book too.  That way if you want to follow along, you can.  We can share our experiences together.

So are you on this journey too?

Time to get this show on the road, and take the first step.  The first stop this week…the basic bread recipe.

River Cottage Handbook No.3 Bread