Tag Archives: bread


Today, it was ciabatta day for the bread group on the farm, and as I’ve missed a few sessions I thought I’d have a look in.

It’s a tricky dough to work with, and thus has a high potential for comedy. This is particularly true by the time it has had olives, rosemary or sun-dried tomatoes worked into it. The latter are particularly problematic because they can, in the hands of a novice, produce a loaf that looks like the result of a splenectomy.

Things have changed a lot since the early days,when the results were a bit hit and miss and often ended up on the bird table. These days we have a group of quietly determined bakers producing loaves which generally look like the pictures in books, so that we hardly ever have to use the words rustic or artisan. (If you aren’t familiar with the terms artisan denotes that the loaf looks hand made. Rustic means it looks like it’s been hand made by someone using a shovel.) Fortunately they still aren’t perfect, and I am grateful for that, as it makes things more interesting.


As you can see, ciabatta is open to a number of interpretations, including the rosemary shadow effect – I might try that next time I bake.


Ciabatta with the shadow of rosemary

Theft, rain and Rainbows

I arrived at the farm on Saturday after dropping Julia at work, to find that the pink bale pigs guarding the entrance to the centre.

A couple of hours later I found someone leaving one of the polytunnels with a handful of tomatoes and chillies, all bright red and bursting with ripeness. I could have let it pass, but when you see the results of your year’s labour disappearing with someone else it’s difficult to stay silent. I was, however tactful.

It seems she had gone for a look round (people seem to treat it as a tourist destination) and found three tomatoes and two chillies on the floor. It was tempting to ask her if I could visit her house and purloin anything that was lying on the floor, but I didn’t. It was tempting to express scepticism, but I didn’t do that either. This turned out to be a good thing, as a quick survey of the polytunnel revealed that someone had indeed stripped the plants of all the ripe tomatoes and chillies.

It’s not the first time we’ve suffered losses, but it’s the first time someone has gone in and stripped a polytunnel. Well, they left the courgettes, marrows and cape Gooseberries, but they stripped everything red.

It’s annoying, but I have a plan. Actually I have two, but Julia won’t let me inject laxatives into things…

The group has been seeing to the poultry today, a some needed moving out into a larger pen, and found the smallest egg we’ve had so far. They have also picked anything else that is  nearly ripe in the garden, done the composting and helped prepare for the Rainbows who are coming tonight. We are now planning what to do on Wednesday – it’s a good activity for a cold, rainy afternoon, as it makes Wednesday more productive and keeps everyone dry and warm.


I’ve made a replacement for the Wheatsheaf Loaf that broke at the Flintham show. I have to have one for the church at the weekend and need one for our visit to the Care Home tomorrow so I daren’t not have a back-up. As a bonus I made two small ones, which we can leave at the home tomorrow. The pair of them took me less than an hour to make, whereas the big ones are still taking nearly two hours despite my efforts to speed it up.

The only trouble with the small ones is that the mice are really tricky!


Wheatsheaf loaves

We make these every year for harvest. You can’t eat them but they look decorative and they are always in demand for harvest festivals. Fortunately, when they are dried out they last a long time so you can use the same one for several different events.

Traditionally loaves were baked for Lammas on 1st August, when the first wheat is harvested, but modern farming techniques and a change in the calendar mean that we no longer harvest on 1st August. The Lammas loaves were just plain loaves, as far as we can tell, but over the years this wheatsheaf loaf design has become established as a Harvest Festival standard.

This one took just under two hours from start to finish (apart from the five hours drying in the oven) but I sure it can be done quicker if you concentrate.

First make your dough.

This is from the Doves Farm website, though there are plenty of other versions.


500g strong white bread flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp sugar

1tsp quick acting yeast

300ml water (which is also 300g, just to make it easier)

1 egg (to glaze)

1) Mix together flour, salt yeast and sugar in a bowl
2) Add most of the water water and mix into rough dough
3) Knead on work surface until smooth
I’ll take over again now, as I don’t need a recipe to do the next bit.
First, divide the dough into three parts.
Stretch one part out on a baking tray and then trim to a mushroom shape. Keep the offcuts.
These recipes nearly always seem to be formulated to make a loaf the size of a baking tray. This one only just gives you enough dough, as I will mention later. As you can see from the photo I stretched the dough too thin and needed to patch it. I think this was partly because the quantities are marginal for this size of project and partly because I used a mix of leftover flour, including some whole wheat, and the dough wasn’t as soft as it could have been. (That’s bakerspeak for “I didn’t knead it enough”).
Roll out approximately 30 stalks and lay them on the base. I covered mine in 28 then added another layer on most of the top (and a third layer in the middle) to give a 3D effect. I’m not sure if it is necessary, and with this recipe I might do fewer stalks next time to ensure I have enough dough.
Next start making sausage shapes. The recipe says to cut the dough ball into 3 and make 20 shapes from each of the thirds. I did it by eye and reckon I did about 80. Another recipe I read says to use 100. Make sure you lay the outer ring to protrude past the base and give a more natural effect.
Don’t snip the ears to make the grain detail yet. If you do you will lay a lot of it flat when you glaze.
Using the offcuts, make a mouse and something to bind the sheaf. I normally use a plait.
Glaze, using the egg, but be careful not to let it pool in the lower parts of the design as it looks unsightly. Also, try to avoid overflowing onto the tray as it will make it tricky to get the loaf off the tray.
Cut the ears in the mouse and the detail into the ears of wheat at this point (put the eyes in the mouse using the scissor points).
Bake for 25 minutes at 200°C/Fan180°C/400°F/Gas 6 for 25 minutes
Dry by baking for a further 5 hours at about 100 degrees.
Once cool, it can be varnished, though I’ve never actually done it myself.



Phew! (Incubator Diaries part 4)

I’m in the centre, preparing to close up and pick Julia up from work. It’s been a quiet day and I  have done a reasonable amount of work, albeit of an unpaid nature.

The main part fo the day has been spent in researching historic bread recipes, and after five hours of reading the internet I’m left with the impression that although a few things may have changed (such as better yeast, electric ovens and more refined flour) bread is basically the same as it was 1,000 years ago. White bread, brown bread, rye bread. I suppose we don’t have to eat peas, beans and acorns but apart from that I’m not sure there’s much difference.

If I want to bake some historic breads I’m going to have to turn to spices rather than making plain loaves, or maybe run up the outdoor oven. It probably isn’t worth the effort as you can get that outdoor oven finish by baking it at high temperature and throwing some ash at it as a finishing touch.

Meanwhile, when I haven’t been thinking of bread I’ve been looking into the incubator.

Three of the eggs have now pipped and there’s a weedy chirping sound emerging from the machine.

This is a long way from the end result I’m hoping for, but it’s a start. At least I know some of them have developed properly.

I’m resisting the temptation to help nature along by peeling some shell off as I’m sure it’s better for chicks to do it themselves.

I’ll take a picture or two before I go and load them when I get home.

Fingers crossed!

It’s now even hotter…

We’re back from the bread session, and the temperature has risen to 31 degrees. There’s a light breeze, but it’s not really helping.

In the care home everyone was so hot, despite the application of medicinal ice cream, that they found it hard to raise the enthusiasm. I didn’t get an ice cream, despite my sterling efforts at bread plaiting and various other forced jollity. However, as you can see from the main photo, I have now gathered my hot weather survival kit (fan and ice cream) and am feeling much better.

Only one lady could raise the enthusiasm to comment on my plait.

“I don’t like plaited bread.”

That put me in my place.

Another lady had been a sausage-maker in the family butchery business and many others had baked in school, so we did do some good by bringing back old memories.

However, “From the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success” as they say.

Next time we are going to make sure we have a cooler day (as if we have a choice!) and we will make pizza. If there’s one thing I can do well for an audience, it’s make pizza. And, when we have our (yet to be) famous afternoon tea sessions with Quercus we are going to invite them out to the farm. Some have been to a bread-making session here and enjoyed it, others prefer not to travel. They might travel for tea and cakes. I know I would.

I’d better get planning those afternoon tea sessions…



A matter of Loaf and Death

It’s hot (29 degrees C according to the weather station) and it’s still (wind between 0 and 2 mph). Fortunately I bought a fan that works from a USB port whilst in Scarborough last week. As a result I am not actually a lot cooler (what do you expect for £2.99?) but I am quite smug.

So, sitting here smug but warmish, what am I going to blog about today?

How about telling you about my plans for the afternoon? As I was in the shop this morning I looked longingly at the cider section, imagining the bottles lightly jewelled with condensation from the fridge. What could be better than an afternoon spent in the shade sipping cold cider?

Imagine that the picture goes wavy now, as my dream disappears and reality takes hold. Instead of sunbeams, dappled shade (even a touch of boskiness) and a cold cider, we are left with reality. That reality is sun pouring in thorough windows in the stuffy communal room at a local care home.

There will be tea afterwards, and though I am quite fond of tea there will be preliminaries. These include making dough, loading it in the car and travelling to work in a strange kitchen, knead dough and turn ovens on to bake bread. Yes, my picture of cool perfection is replaced by one of hell.

Don’t judge me, I do like the ladies in the care home, and I do understand that they need something to keep them occupied. I just don’t want to bake on the hottest day of the year. Actually I don’t want to bake at all in a borrowed kitchen with limited time and resources.

It’s Julia’s idea. You may notice a pattern emerging here – any dull, grinding, boring, hot, virtually impossible, ill-conceived idea that needs putting into action usually comes from her.

Any dull, grinding, boring, hot, virtually impossible, ill-conceived idea that becomes reality is usually as a result of me getting bored, hot, annoyed, homicidal…you get the picture.

Yet she is the one with the reputation for delivering difficult and innovative projects.

She has just told me to man up and get on with it. She says that nobody has ever died from baking bread, with the implication being that fatality is a distinct possibility if I don’t do what I’m told.



Khobz Kesra

That’s a first, I’ve never used a Moroccan title before. It’s a traditional Moroccan Country bread, according to the recipe sheet, and it looked and smelled really good while it was being cooked.

The bit before that was a bit touch and go because it’s a wet dough and needs some gentle handling. I was offered the chance to make one myself but declined on the basis that it’s more fun to criticise the efforts of other people rather than let them see you up to your earlobes in strands of dough.

I once did a Paul Hollywood fruit bread recipe which needed careful handling (I think he actually recommended using a mixer) but I pressed on with a couple of dough scrapers and a heart full of optimism. It did work. It did taste good. But I still have flashbacks. One day when I start baking again, I will give it another go.

Today’s cookies were the perennial favourites – date and stuff. I like dates, they taste divine (which isn’t a word I usually use as it isn’t very manly; they are only biscuits, after all). The “stuff” is probably oatmeal, as I’m sure it’s full of healthy fibre.

After last session when someone appears to have eaten mine, I was taking no chances (as in I spent a fortnight whining about it), and was allowed two today. Gail muttered something about fermentation and microbiomes. I’ll put a link here because it’s quite interesting. Well, I’m told it is. I was too busy chewing and chasing rooks off the bird feeders. I’m going to have to make it up to her by reading the article thoroughly.

The black birds in the photo are rooks eating wild cherries, though it’s not a good shot. Rooks are a bit sensitive about people pointing things at them and they flew off without giving me a fair chance.

Anyway, it was a small but cheerful crew today – work, holidays and dentists having thinned out some of the regulars. We had a good laugh, excellent conversation, and cookies (though I believe I may have mentioned that already. They were certainly good enough to mention twice.

The rest of the day, which consisted of several sorts of paperwork, failed to live up to its early promise.

In fact I’m sitting here at 18.55 wondering what I’ve really done today. Knocking accounts into shape, writing tactful emails and planning my Big Autumn Project don’t seem like real work.

Julia says that’s because I spend too long on tactful emails (as it isn’t my natural strength) and because my Big Autumn Project seems to consist of playing on Wikipedia, which isn’t proper work.

Time will tell…



Bread, butter and Brownies – Part 1

Sounds like  a day of unrelieved eating, but the Brownies in question are of the Girl Scout variety rather than the chocolatey sort.

Part 1

It’s getting towards the end of day four now, despite just posting about Day 3. It was ciabatta this morning, and as it takes some time to rise I demonstrated butter-making. It’s not hard. Put cream in screw-topped beaker. Shake. Shake some more, and then same again. First of all it goes quiet as you make whipped cream then there’s a “Clunk!” and you end up with a ball of butter rolling in butter milk. Rinse and press to remove more buttermilk (which will turn butter rancid) and there you have it – butter.

Ciabatta looked good, though there’s a lot of oozing dough involved. That’s all there is to say about part one of the day. I’m now preparing for part 2.



Heavy rain and hedgehog rolls

I thought Monday was rainy, but it was almost dessicated compared to Tuesday.

Julia cooked scones for tea and practised with one of the bread kits we were going to use. It takes 17 minutes from opening the packet to being ready to shape, which makes it easier to use than starting from scratch. Not sure how they do it, but it makes things easier. She made hedgehog rolls, as you can see from the picture.

After a morning of threatening black clouds our visitors arrived. One was 96, and the other didn’t tell us. We started off in the kitchen with bread and reminiscence and the rain still held off, but just after 4.00, with the ladies full of scones and safely on their way back to the home, it happened.

It wasn’t so much rain as solid water descending from the sky. The water butts overflowed, the gravel area flooded and we won’t need to water the outside beds until 2017. Oh, it was wet.

In general the only inconvenience for us, working in the centre, was the noise and it felt quite good to sit inside and watch the rain. Until we had the phone call.

“Can you check the kitchen isn’t leaking?”

We had a leak when it rained a couple of weeks ago so we’ve been checking every time it rains.

It’s fair to say that my day took on a wetter aspect at that point. Good news was that the kitchen wasn’t leaking. It looks like it was a one-off combination of rain and wind that caused the problem.

You can probably guess the bad news, but I should dry out by Friday.

We had a text this morning on the way to work – the events organiser from the home telling us that the two ladies had enjoyed themselves and hadn’t stopped talking about the visit.

It seems they particularly liked the chicks, which just goes to show that as long as you have lambs and chicks everything else falls into place.

As a result we are now booked to run a baking session at the home next month.

Bread, Birds and Butterflies

I just caught the end of the Bread Group today. Gail is at a conference in London (as is Prince Charles, though I’m not one to gossip…) so they ran their own session today. The result was a variety of loaves baked using a focaccia recipe. I use those words carefully.

I’m sure they will all taste great, even the ones that look like illustrations from a medical textbook (due to the inclusion of sun-dried tomatoes) but if you were expecting focaccia that looks like the picture in cookery books you won’t find much of it here.  I was actually left with the impression that the bakers of the flatter ones were generally thought to lack imagination by the rest of the group.

My favourites were the ones that looked like small loaves. I bet they will taste really good with a bowl of soup. I made that observation several times but ended up leaving without other bread or an invitation. I may have to investigate Photoshop and the possibility of adding more wrinkles if this sort of thing continues.

Meanwhile, we have had young goldfinches and wrens around the feeder and the blue tits are now feeding lots of caterpillars to their young in the nestbox. I’m not sure this is doing the butterfly garden a lot of good but nature is all about give and take.

I’ve seen two more Common Blues about, though the butterfly showing isn’t great at the moment. One of them was a female, which is always a bit difficult as female Common Blues are brown. Annoying though this may be, I have to admit it isn’t their fault because as they evolved nobody told them they were going to be called Common Blues. Compared to some species, they aren’t that common either.

Ah well!

Flowers are looking better, and I did mange to get some photos. It’s a shame the few pollinators I saw about were so quick I couldn’t get a shot.

Tomorrow it’s Sheffield, though we’re hoping to get into the Peak District on the way back. We may to Wigtwizzle. I’m not sure there’s much to see, but with a name like that (which I just discovered on the map) how can you resist?

On the way back we may even find time to visit one of my favourite bookshops.