Thursday, 6 October 2016

The Art of Bread Baking: Sourdough Secrets at E5 Bakehouse

The other month, I went along to the E5 Bakehouse, an East London artisan bakery and cafe, to learn pretty much everything there is possibly to know about sourdough bread. 

On an exceptionally wet and soggy day, manhandling my oversized umbrella and mounting excitement onto a packed commuter tube, I traveled across the city to London Fields, where, tucked away under the railway arches, is the bake house. On arrival, the scent of roasting coffee and warm, freshly baked bread tickled our senses; I immediately understood why there are often long queues on a Saturday of patient locals waiting to pick up a loaf of the specialty Hackney Wick.


Together with my nine classmates we learnt the secrets to successful sourdough. Here are just a few tips I gleaned along the way:

  • Although it may seem a very complicated, intimidating way of producing a nice loaf, Sourdough is pretty straightforward. But it is not to be rushed; it can take up to three days from putting together the leaven* to making your lunchtime sandwich
  • When baking bread at home, create as much steam as possible in the oven. This creates a lovely crusty loaf and allows the loaf to reach full size. There are several ways to do this: put a baking tray of boiling water or ice cubes at the bottom of the oven; use of a water sprayer to douse the opened oven or bake the loaf in a cast iron pot (pre-heating the oven with the cast iron pot inside before placing the loaf inside)
  • Use semolina flour to dust your baking tray or baking/pizza stone rather than flour as this prevents the dough sticking 
  • Use a serrated knife when scoring the loaf before baking
  • Going away for a few weeks? Your sourdough starter can be placed in the freezer. The yeast and bacteria will become dormant and, on your return, can be reactivated by defrosting and refreshing the dough
  • If you've baked a homemade loaf but haven't got round to eating it after a day or two, first ask yourself why on earth not, then you can pop it in hot oven for around five minutes to 'refresh' the loaf
  • Bread baking books that were recommended included: The River Cottage Handbook No.3: Bread by Daniel Stevens; The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard and Bread: A Beginner's Book of Techniques and Recipes by Jeffrey Hamelman 

*A small amount of the starter fed with flour and water that forms the basis of any sourdough loaf


Between weighing, stretching and folding our own dough we were able to have sneaky peaks at the work of the bakery team, who we were assured were simply doing exactly what we were learning but on a much, much bigger scale; the bakery make over 1000 loaves a week to sell in the cafe and to local businesses.

And at the end of the day we each heaved bags full of the bread we'd been baking: ciabiatta rolls, bagels, a rye loaf and the famous Hackney Wick.

A combination of informative, relaxed and knowledgeable teaching, combined with plentiful supply of delicious coffee and sweet treats from the attached cafe plus more tips and advice on bread baking than the number of holes in a world-class sourdough loaf meant it was a really, really enjoyable day. 


My husband bought me the Sourdough Baking Class at E5 Bakehouse as a Christmas present. And as you can probably tell: I'd highly recommend it!

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

An Ode To The Baby Changing Bag

How my Pacapod change bag should look

Approximately fifteen months ago, I spent a frankly ridiculous, extraordinarily long trying to decide on a baby changing bag. I genuinely think I spent longer debating and deliberating this decision than we spent debating and deliberating baby names.

It just seemed such a momentous decision at the time. Looking at me, full of indecision, in the baby department of John Lewis, you'd have thought I'd be about to spend my life savings on a designer Chanel handbag, not a wipe-clean, plastic £65 changing bag. What if I got it wrong? Made a bad colour choice? Would the baby hate me?!*

I think I was looking for the changing bag equivalent of an enchanted Mary Poppins bag but instead of a hat stand being magically extracted, a high chair would be plucked out when a little cheerful music hall style ditty is sung.

I've since discovered that due to the volume of baby paraphernalia required each day the changing bag is bursting at the seams as though a small monster created from bibs, nappies and raisins is trying to work its way out. I haven't seen the bottom of the bag since the baby came home from hospital, but I suspect if I did dare delve into its murky depths I'd find a congealed mass of used baby wipes, rotting teething toys and thousands of ruddy raisins. Honestly, a 10p bag for life would do the job.

However, should someone wish to invent a Mary Poppins magical bottomless changing bag, my goodness would they be living off handsome profits, spending the rest of their days lounging on their own private island in the Caribbean eating caviar and quaffing the finest champagne.

Infact, that is how I'm going to make my fortune! Anyone got an application form for Dragon's Den handy?

*Pregnancy hormones were at an all time peak

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The Great British Bake Off is Back!

Image result for great british bake off 2016
                                                              Image courtesy of BBC

After a little unintentional blogging hiatus* rather like The Great British Bake Off I'm back! 

Yep, the new series of the Bake Off starts tomorrow night! Hurrah!

Despite last year's rumours of the Best Show on Telly (Trademark) being snaffled up by ITV, tomorrow night will have the majority of the nation** glued to the Beeb at 8pm. Imagine though, if the show had jumped ship to ITV. The Silver Fox would be replaced by Simon Cowell ('It's a no from me!'), Mel-n-Sue replaced by Ant-n-Dec and the tent by Wembley Stadium. Yes, the Bake Off would become Britain's Got Talent.

Image result for great british bake off 2016
Image courtesy of BBC

Thing is though, after last year's joy and happiness when Nadiya won both the Bake Off and the entire nation's hearts, is it going to be possible to replicate such a high point? Well, hopefully the new 'batter week' will 'better' the cause of the new series plus the contestants are the usual brilliantly eclectic mix of Britishness (although apparently they took longer to bond this year...a sign of a super competitive tent perhaps?) and there's already been plenty of controversy

And if you fancy baking along to the Bake Off, you'd better stock up now as the show is the third most important event in the nation's home-baking calendar, with only Christmas and Easter ahead. Sales of ground almonds shot up by 161% in one supermarket after biscuit week last year featured biscottis. Crikey,  if it sounds as though the tent might be competitive this year, the home baking aisles of Waitrose surely aren't that far behind?!

* new job, the baby starting nursery and ... well,  just life 

** 'tis true; it was the most watched show of 2015

Monday, 27 June 2016

Seven Things You'll Discover When You Return To Work After Maternity Leave

 The baby was possibly more prepared than I was, judging by the nursery activites

1. Although you feel properly dressed for the first time in twelve months (no spit-up crusty dressing gown! no nursing bra! no misshapen slippers!) and haven't been anywhere near your baby for eight hours, somehow you'll still find a soggy rice cake stuck to your derriere or the florescent crumbs of Organix carrot sticks (aka fake wotsits) on the shoulder of your brand new suit

2. You'll be the first to shout 'don't worry, I've got a baby wipe!' at the sound of any spillage in the office. And jokingly laugh, to the sound of tumbleweed, that you also have several different sized nappies in your bag should anyone in the team need one

3. You'll glance back in the rear view mirror on the way to work and have a moment of abject panic when the baby seat is empty... before realizing the baby is safely ensconced in nursery and not, as usual, trying to undo the seat belt just as you're joining the motorway

4. You'll spend at least half an hour wondering how far to take the cheery 'no, do phone us anytime!' mantra of the nursery. Or spend at least half an hour thinking up increasingly elaborate excuses to call to check on your little ones progress

5. You'll try so hard not to talk about your baby at every office conversation. Frankly impossible considering every conversation you've had in the last twelve months has been about your baby. You literally have no other material

6. You'll spend most of your first week back wondering how many pictures of your bundle of joy should adorn your desk... And whether it is polite to encroach on your colleague's desk with your variety of pictures frames or whether you could replace the insipid, dull posters reminding everyone to recycle with splodgy paintings of your baby's feet

7. You'll decide it doesn't matter whatsoever if you get a speeding ticket on the way home or a parking ticket from double-parking outside the nursery: HECK, YOU HAVEN'T SEEN YOUR BABY ALL DAY!

Sound familiar? Anything I've missed?

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

New chapters, nursery and cheerio to maternity leave

Mornings chilling in our dressing gowns and PJs are soon to be replaced by early alarms and commutes

I'm writing this post in the local cafe. An empty coffee cup and a fully digested newspaper by my side. 

And a very, very empty pram. 

Our little one began her settling in sessions at the nursery this week and it feels odd. Strange. Very, very weird. 

And once I'd figured that pacing the street outside the nursery for two hours was probably not the most... relaxing use of my time I came here. I thought to take the opportunity to enjoy a cup of coffee that is not only hot but is unlikely to be thrown across the table by the eager, enthusiastic hands of an eleven month old baby, risking third degree burns to anyone within a five metre vicinity. And after a read of the paper I now feel more up to date with the arguments on either side of the EU referendum than the BBC's Chief Political correspondent. Heck, reading a paper that hasn't been copiously dribbled on or ripped into teeny shreds and joyfully stuffed into a baby's mouth as though a piece of prime Wagu beef, is a novelty in itself. 

But my mind drifts constantly to the nursery, my eyes flickering to my phone every second. Keep your phone on, they said, just in case. Just in case what? (My overactive imagination has since gone overdrive...I've actually found myself scouring Twitter and the BBC news for any incidents in the vicinity of the nursery).

How come this teeny little thing that only so recently was utterly dependent on me is now waving bye bye Mama as I hand her over to virtual strangers? Surely it was just yesterday, on a day just as sunny and warm as this one, we were taking her home from the hospital for the first time?  

My mind also drifts to work, starting on Monday. A new job. Because obviously settling a baby into nursery and returning to work after a year in which my brain cells have melted faster than the polar ice caps isn't enough of a challenge. If only the new job description read:

'knowledge of survival skills when sleep deprived essential, specifically excellent ability to rapidly consume considerable volumes of luke-warm caffeinated drinks while ignoring mounting piles of dirty washing'


'desirable qualities include singing 'Row Row a Row Your Boat' and 'The Grand Old Duke of York' multiple times a day'. 

Do wish me luck. Anyway, enough pondering; my two hours are up. 

*manically runs as fast as possible back to nursery* 

Friday, 3 June 2016

Strawberry, Vanilla and Soured Cream Cake

It's strawberry season! Hurrah! My favourite red fruit season! And the competition is pretty stiff; raspberries come a close second... although radishes are relegated to a distant eighth.

The arrival of the first sweet, juicy British strawberries in the shops definitely heralds the start of the summer. Along with digging out dusty bottles of suntan lotion dated 2015 2010 from the back of the bathroom cupboard and the local tennis courts being absolutely packed for the first time for eleven months in anticipation of Wimbledon fortnight in a few weeks time.

And British strawberries are set for a record-breaking year. As though the fruit is going for gold at this summer's Rio Olympics, the British crop is set to reach 74,000 tonnes this summer, up 11% from last year. This is all thanks to our insatiable demand for the strawberry; £564 million pounds worth are sold each season and berry consumption has risen by 132% in the last decade.

Pass the double cream.

To make the most of the season I baked this cake last weekend, a light, moist cake with sweet creamcheese frosting and packed full of juicy strawberries.

Strawberry and Vanilla Soured Cream Cake

175g soft butter
150g golden caster sugar
3 large eggs
225g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 vanilla pod, seeds only
140ml soured cream
1 punnet strawberries, roughly cut in quarters

100g full fat cream cheese
200g icing sugar

1. Preheat the oven to fan 160C/conventional 180C/Gas MArk 4. Butter and line a 22cm loose-bottomed round cake tin
2. Place the butter, sugar, eggs, baking powder and vanilla in  large bowl and beat well until light and fluffy. Beat in 4 tbsp of the soured cream and stir in three quarters of the strawberries
3. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 50 minutes until risen and golden in colour. Cool for ten minutes in the tin then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling completely
4. To make the frosting, beat together the icing sugar, cream cheese and remainder of the soured cream. Spread over the cooled cake and use of the leftover strawberries to decorate.

Baker's notes...

  • This recipe is adapted from BBC Good Food and is one of my go-to recipes. Easy, failsafe and really rather scrumptious
  • Once baked, it keeps nicely in the fridge for 48hours. However, if it has lasted more than 48 minutes you have way more willpower than me 

Monday, 16 May 2016

Baby Weaning: the Theory...and the Reality

 Ready, Steady....Wean!

When I first began to plan weaning the baby I envisaged myself as the ultimate Annabel Karmel-Ella off of Ella's Kitchen SuperMama. The baby would be eating purees worthy of Masterchef champions. Only the finest, ripest, brightest fruit and vegetables would be purchased. I bulk bought designer bibs and designated entire cupboards to luminous coloured plastic bowls and spoons. The freezer rapidly filled with carefully labelled, lovingly prepared miniature pots of weaning goodness.

Fast forward three months. 

The freezer remains full of miniature pots. But I gave up long ago labelling them. Each mealtime we now play the very fun game of 'weaning pot roulette'. Bingo! Its pork casserole! Darn- Salmon Surprise* for the third supper running!

Freezer roulette...

I've discovered that there is a definite correlation between the amount of time earnestly preparing and cooking a delicious recipe and the refusal shown by the baby to eat said delicious recipe. I spent hours one afternoon cooking a fish pie to find the baby abjectly refusing to even entertain eating a single spoonful. 

The first month of weaning, any food that was tossed on the floor was immediately, without hesitation or deviation, unceremoniously thrown straight into the bin. By month two, it was three strikes and in the bin. Nowadays, I'm not entirely certain whether the carrot stick I've just returned to the high chair was from today's dinner... or last week's lunch. 

I still haven't worked out what is one prune too many. This, it turns out, is a careful calculus no less demanding than the mathematics required to launch a rocket to the moon. If I miscalculate, we need to pack a lot more nappies in the changing bag.  

And the mess. Oh, the mess. We are single handedly keeping the manufacturers of Varnish in business. 

But you know, it is a lot of fun. Seeing the baby's gorgeous little face scrunch up in delight (or disgust) as she explores new flavours and tastes. Watching her enthusiastic banging on the high chair tray, her little legs racing underneath, as I head to the fridge in search of her favourite: the coconut milk yogurt. I may not be the love child of Annabel and Ella, but the baby is enjoying solids very much, and that's all that matters after all. 

* Probably wouldn't be on the menu in a Masterchef final I suspect