Category Archives: Book Reviews

Bagels – Apprentice #3

Homemade Bagels

Episode #3 in my plan to work through every recipe in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice.

I’m not going to tell you much about bagels, but these are way, way, way more interesting than any bagel you can buy in an English supermarket.

They are a faff to make, but also quite a lot of fun if your weekend isn’t too busy. It’s not a task for a working weekday.

Here’s a version of the recipe with much better photos than mine, and a New Yorker’s take on their authenticity. I won’t join that debate… I have no credentials for an official opinion on bagels. But, having made them with my own hands, I’d feel much happier talking to a New Yorker about bagels.

Be aware, this recipe makes a load of bagels (I made 24 of the size you would typically buy here in the UK) and they all need to proof overnight in the fridge. The day I made these I was unusually delighted to find our fridge was empty. I needed two-thirds of the total shelf space in our fridge. Don’t make these bagels just after your weekly food shop.

Also, you will need a bagel eating strategy. The 24 bagels this recipe made are awesome for two days at most.

I can’t shouldn’t eat 24 bagels in two days.

If you’re the same, you should plan for this.

Thankfully, we took most of this batch to a BBQ where they doubled up as fancy burger buns, and very few passed the two day mark when we established their basic life-span.

Shake out.

Artos Greek Celebration Bread – Apprentice #2

Artos Greek Celebration Bread

Artos Greek Celebration Bread

So, it turns out my plan to work through every recipe in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice may be awesome, but it’s not unique…

This big-old list of bloggers have already done exactly that under the banner of the BBA Challenge.

I’m late to party it seems.

A few years late.

Anyway, that means there’s a very good chance I can point you in the direction of all these various recipes as I’m trying them out.

So apprentice bread #2, Artos, is tasty! It’s basically like a giant somewhat more eloquent hot cross bun that’s worth eating any time of year. And it makes great toast for a Sunday morning.

In the photo above, the top of the boule looks sunken. That’s not a problem with the recipe, just some of my slap-dash decision making when trying to navigate our oven-thats-not-an-oven-that-is-an-oven. I proved the loaf in the base of a La Cloche and put the whole thing into the oven cold. The base of the loaf stuck to the cloche, in shaking it out the rest of the loaf got squashed while it was still hot. My bad, not the recipes.

Also, thinking back while writing this post. I should mention that I was out of white flour, and baked this with wholemeal which worked nicely too.

Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try it out:

Shake out.

Anadama Bread – Apprentice #1

Anadama BreadHello blog readers.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. So long in fact, that my wife is threatening to demote me to guest blogger status if I don’t get my act together! :)

So here is a post for you…

I’m currently working on the following:

  • Learning more about bread
  • Extending my baking repertoire
  • Extracting as much value as possible out of the bread books I currently own 

And in order to this, I:

  1. Picked a bread book from the bookshelf, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart
  2. Am working through it from cover to cover, testing every recipe, even if it doesn’t appeal to my usual taste for certain types of bread

The first recipe I have tried is for Anadama Bread, and if you follow this series of posts over the coming weeks, you’ll notice that’s because the book is in alphabetical order.

My first challenge was motivating myself to actually make this Anadama Bread.

I’d never heard of it before and quite frankly, from the photo in the book it looked boring. I had spent so long trying to perfect an open crumb, chewy sourdough that anything vaguely resembling a commercial sandwich loaf from a tin seemed like a waste of effort.

But as always when you try something new, you learn something new, and this bread turned out to be delicious (and has been made again since which is a good sign).

The molasses enriches the dough, and soaking the polenta/cornmeal overnight turns it from a coarse grain into a deep and subtle flavour.

I’m not going to type out the recipes from the book, as I’m working through every single bread I’d end up reproducing the whole book, which would look a lot like stealing!

But, if I find the recipes online, I’ll point you in the direction from each post.

Here is the Anadama Bread Recipe: 

Use the tag “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” to navigate all the posts in this series.

Shake out.

Macarons in the making

Coffee macarons – first attempt.

I was tempted not to write this post. I definitely didn’t want to include any photos, but here we are!

For our anniversary (first year is paper) Shake bought me a little french book on making macarons. He always manages to pick something I have been thinking about without having told him! 

Today whilst baby napped I decided to make my first batch. I was really strict about measuring the ingredients accurately (very unlike me…) and borrowed an electric whisk for the egg whites as I wanted to make them as best I could.

I actually had to whisk the whites in the spare room so it didn’t wake the boy up – that’s one disadvantage of his room being next to the kitchen!

People seem to be daunted about making macarons, and having tried now I can see why! So, the purpose of this post is to document what went wrong and what I will change for next time.

Macarons resting

I am happy with my measurements, but having carried out some research after I made my mix, it is suggested to use egg whites that have been left out for at least 24 hours! Oops. Well, next time I will plan in advance.

Another factor I can change is that I think I needed to mix the mixture?batter? a little more as when piped onto the tray the macarons had little peaks (you don’t want to know what Shake said they looked like…!). I used a damp finger to smooth them down before baking, but this is apparently a sign of under-mixing.

Cracked macarons

I’m not 100% sure what was wrong with the shells above, but it might again be due to the mixture not being mixed enough? Or I didn’t leave them out for long enough before baking? Or they were in the oven for slightly too long? Hmmm….who knows!

Interestingly, these shells came off of the paper very easily, whereas the shells from the shelf above stuck to the baking paper. I say “interestingly”, but actually this was annoying!

I used a tip I read here (from the Macaron Queen :) ) and put some water under the sheet for a few minutes and they did mostly come off.

I made a coffee buttercream to fill the shells and we did sample a few.

They tasted pretty great, but obviously not as good as these (yet!).

If you have made macarons before and have any suggestions/hints for me I’d love to hear them!





Sourdough à la Tartine (and a review of the book)

A week after starting my starter I’ve baked my first sourdough loaf with the help of Tartine Bread.

On the whole I’m really pleased with this. The crust is a beautiful colour and the crumb is exactly what I was looking for. Most importantly it tasted great. The only issue I had was that using bowls lined with towels rather than proper proving baskets, the dough stuck and tore apart as I transferred these for baking. This meant the outside of the loaf was lacking aesthetically and the some the structure of the dough was lost. Nothing major though, and definitely something I can work on.

With our last few weekends in the UK looking busy, I probably won’t be baking like this again until we get to France, but it was a rewarding way to spend this Sunday and well worth a week of feeding my starter.

A review of Tartine Bread

Based on the result of this first attempt at baking I can only sing my praise of the Tartine recipe. I have a few gripes with the book, but still highly recommend buying it. The photos are stunning and the book is well written, but it’s seriously confusing trying to follow the basic country bread recipe. I had to read it three times and transcribe my own version of the instructions into a step-by-step guide for the actual baking event. There’s a theory in games design about needing to make something difficult enough that it feels like an achievement, but I’m not sure that applies here!

If you’re considering the book, you might like this video they made to promote it:

Steam and crust

I’d always read and heard that the importance of steam in baking was to help form a crust. This book presented a case for steam I hadn’t heard before but which sounds plausible to me. The purpose of the steam is not to form a crust, but the opposite: the steam keeps the outside of the dough wet to prevents a crust from forming at the start of the bake. In doing so, it allows the bread to better rise. Then when the steam is removed the crust can form.

Tartine in a Tagine

Finally, if you’re struggling to find a dutch oven combo cooker as recommended in Tartine – I found a Tagine works perfectly well. It can withstand the heat and has a suitably shallow base for transferring the loaf into when it’s baking hot.

Book Review: Your Brick Oven – Building it and baking in it

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It’s a great mix of good food and simple living, so it’s right on topic for a review on this blog. It’s light on text, but it feels like this was the intention of the author rather than any lacking of content, so I’m not faulting it for that.

The book is split pretty equally between the topics of building and using a brick oven. And leans slightly more towards inspiring you to build and use an oven rather than detailing the exact steps in how to do it. I’d love to know if this was intentional, but I can only speculate. In many ways, I imagine the lack of precise detailed steps makes the process less intimidating and may encourage a few more people to have a go. Which is a good thing in my eyes, and fits with how we hope this blog of ours can inspire others.

For context, I read the book as someone who has previously built a clay oven, and was already planning to build a brick oven. So I know the process roughly, and just needed to learn about the specific differences between the clay and brick approach. It did that well, offered a few innovative ideas for oven design (a built in ash box for one!) and some inspiring photos and stories about their restaurant and options for using an oven beyond the basic pizza party.

This felt like the right level of detail to me but it’s not a step-by-step guide in the sense of how to mix mortar or how to cut a brick. It simply mentions that you need to do those things at various points in the process. So if you’ve never done anything like this before you might want to read a little more around the subject but I’d still highly recommend this book as a resource.

I should repeat that this review is based only on reading the book. I’ll feedback again when I’ve put it into action.

Finally, here’s a photo to give you a feel for the content, and to demonstrate how this book goes beyond a few plans for laying bricks to offer something really inspiring:

Your brick oven

Wise words on food

Shake out.