Archive for the ‘Leiths’ Category

Mr W was the main bread maker in our house until I signed up to cookery school. Now that I have to practice the job has fallen to me. He now gets exciting jobs… Like the washing up and manly DIY tasks.

When all goes according to plan I really enjoy making bread. I love the smooth, satiny feel as you knead it, the delicious smell as it bakes and the satisfaction of sitting down to eat something you made yourself that tastes sooo much better than anything you buy in the supermarket. When it goes wrong it is infuriating.

Until I started making white bread using the Leiths recipe I’d been pretty successful, but other than a lovely first loaf, my bread went from bad to worse. Bread became my nemesis. Stubborn refusal to rise … uneven crumb … cakey texture… You name it, it happened. My second to last attempt was the worst. A doughy brick that even birds wouldn’t touch. Was something wrong with the recipe?

Of course not.

As the brick was consigned to the compost heap I remembered what Paul Hollywood said in last weeks Great British Bake Off Masterclass – “Don’t use dried yeast, a load of rubbish” – an explanation as to why would have been helpful. Is it because you have to reconstitute it? Anyway, I realised that after making the first Leiths loaf I had switched from using fast-action dried yeast to dried yeast.

There are three sorts of yeast you can use in bread making; fresh yeast, dried yeast and fast-action dried yeast. Fresh yeast is mixed with water at 37 degrees to make a smooth cream. Dried yeast requires a slightly higher temperature (39 degrees) to reconstitute successfully. Fast action yeast is dried yeast that can be mixed directly with flour. It is easier to use and very reliable. If replacing fresh yeast with dried in a recipe, use half the amount in weight. If using fast-action use quarter of the amount.

So here we have a lovely little loaf made with fast-action dried yeast. Golden, chewy crust and a soft crumb.

Ok, so I need to make a few more loaves  to prove Mr Hollywood right, and I need to give dried yeast another go – My current theory is that I didn’t use water at a high enough temperature when reconstituting it – but for now I can say bread is no longer my nemesis.

What are your experiences of using fresh, dried or fast-action yeast? I’d be interested in your thoughts on what I might have been doing wrong. Do you agree with my current theory or have another suggestion?

Leiths Techniques Bible: Susan Spaull & Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne


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Blackberries are available in our supermarkets throughout the year and you may just find some British ones on the shelves throughout the summer. Sadly, the majority of them are tart and lacking in sweetness and fruity flavour. Come September and the hedgerows are laden with ripe blackberries ready for picking by people and birds alike. There is no better time to enjoy this delicious fruit and I tend not to eat it at any other time of year for fear of disappointment.

I was not organised enough this year to be ready in hand with tupperware and a non-white top at the point the blackberries reach plump and juicy ripeness but fortunately my parents were. On the hottest weekend in September, which has turned out to be our summer, they brought me some foraged blackberries and some deliciously sweet raspberries from their allotment. As they were beginning to go squishy and the temperature hit 28.5 degrees, a sorbet seemed an ideal celebration of our Indian summer.

Having thoroughly confused myself attempting to work out the correct ratio of berries to water and sugar using the Leiths method – I’m sure it will all become obvious when I get there – I turned to google for a sorbet recipe.  Most recipes are pretty similar but have slightly different methods. In addition to berries, the ingredients usually include water, sugar syrup, lemon juice, and occasionally alcohol or liquid glucose. Egg white can be added to prevent the formation of large ice crystals, slow the melt and give the sorbet a smoother texture. If you are adding egg white eat within 24 hours and do not feed to the young old, infirm or pregnant. I opted for a simple version and the result was refreshing and intensely flavoured. It could have been a little smoother, which is where an ice cream maker would come in handy.

I had a couple of egg whites that needed using up and this seemed the perfect opportunity to practice swiss meringues. Swiss meringues are made with twice the weight of caster sugar to egg white and are the simplest of the three types of crisp meringue, the others being Italian (made with a sugar syrup and more stable) and Meringue Cuite (made with icing sugar, finer, chalkier and even more stable).

#1 were crisp and chewy but wept a little sugar which according to the “what went wrong section” either means the oven was too high or they were overcooked. I’m slightly perplexed by this as they began weeping long before they were cooked. Maybe I should get an oven thermometer.

Served with raspberry and blackberry sorbet the meringues were the perfect end to our unexpected summer weather. Delicious!

Intense raspberry and blackberry sorbet

450 g of raspberries and blackberries
150g sugar
150ml water
juice of 2 lemons

Heat the water and sugar over a low heat and slowly bring to the boil. Simmer gently for 2 minutes until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Pop the berries in a food processor and whizz to a puree. Strain through a sieve to remove the seeds and pour into a shallow container. Stir in the sugar syrup, then add the lemon juice to taste.

If you are lucky enough to have an ice cream maker, churn according to the manufacturers instructions. If not (and I’m not), place the sorbet in the freezer. Stir the frozen crystals that form around the edges with a fork every hour for four to five hours to break up the ice crystals and then leave to freeze completely.

Remove from the freezer 15 minutes before serving.

Swiss Meringues #2

Fast forward a couple of weeks and the temperature has dropped by more than 10 degrees. I made swiss meringue #2 on a slightly damp day which may explain why the meringues absolutely refused to dry out even with extra cooking time – and still they wept sugar! Even so, they tasted rather lovely with greek yogurt and apples caramelised in brown sugar and a touch of lemon juice.

BBC Food: Apple tart with blackberry sorbet
Woodlands.co.uk: Blackberry sorbet
Leiths Techniques Bible: Susan Spaull & Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne

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I like to think I’m a reasonably good self-taught cook. I have a pretty large collection of cookery books and magazines and for years have followed, tweaked and adapted the recipes within. I come up with my own concoctions with varying degrees of success but do I really understand the techniques? – The science bit?

A week ago the postman delivered something more exciting than a bill … confirmation of a place on the Leiths School of Cookery and Wine two term diploma starting in January!

I go with much excitement, a degree of trepidation and no clue of what comes after I complete the course – with any luck it will make itself clear to me somewhere along the way…

While I shall continue to reach for the books for inspiration and advice, I’m really looking forward to learning more about the food itself. How it is cooked and why; learning and developing techniques; increasing confidence in my cooking and my ability to develop my own recipes.

The diploma preparation pack has arrived. “It is expected that you will have a good working knowledge of the skills already covered in the Foundation Term” it says, and is accompanied by a long list of recipes to practice to help me get up to speed. Not surprisingly a large number of them are meat based so I’m looking for people to sample them. Orders so far have come in for baked custard, shepherds pie and venison casserole. My attempts will be documented here over the coming months.

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