The Boy in the Bread Bubble

LN_870160_BP_11Surveying the trolley after doing the grocery shopping last night, I realised that – for someone who is supposed not to be eating wheat anymore – I still have way too much invested in beautiful bread.

It’s the stuff of life!

The big Waitrose in MK does a sliced (and toaster-shaped) sourdough from the Bertinet Bakery that is possibly the best bread I’ve ever tasted. It puts the “sour” in sourdough. At £3.50 a large loaf, it’s not so preposterously expensive that you pass it over. After all, a standard gluey white sliced loaf is over a quid these days.

In addition to that beauty, I was unable to resist the opening offer on Waitrose’s sourdough crumpets, and there was a nice filone pugliese that crusted up beautifully in the oven as an accompaniment to tomato soup.

Meanwhile, because I’ve been playing fast and loose with the gluten consumption lately* (I’m not coeliac, but have developed otherwise unexplainable eczema in my middle age), I’ve got itchy patches springing up at the top of my left leg and the bottom of my right.

Medical tests were so inconclusive that I can’t even say for sure that my eczema is caused by gluten, except that it clears up on its own if I don’t eat it. And, yes, that could all be the placebo effect, but that’s the problem with the human mind. This whole business kicked off with insomnia, which the doctor – not wanting to give me sleeping pills long-term – tried to treat with antidepressants (Sertraline), and which then triggered the eczema.

My latest symptom is that my eyes won’t stop watering. Especially first thing in the morning, they’re streaming all the time. It kind of clears up once I’m at work, but I don’t know if that’s because I’m away from the environment that triggers the tears, or simply because I’m at work and otherwise distracted. Because the thing is, the itching from the eczema also tended not to bother me (much) during the busy working day.

So: either I’m a mess of symptoms which are all stress-related; or I’ve developed allergies – in my 50s – to a variety of substances. Is it gluten? Is it the pillow? The mattress? The cat? Dust? Meanwhile, I’m still sleeping really badly. I get that sleeping pills are addictive and that no responsible doctor would keep prescribing them, but if I’d stuck with them, maybe none of this would have happened.

Pass the butter.

*We had visitors last week, so I was cooking for nine, which meant that doing a special glutard meal would have been a pain in the arse.

Kenwood FP959 Food Processor – review

Nuovi gadget casalinghi (I)

So I bought this to use in my kitchen in France. I wasn’t going to spend a fortune – it’s only for two months a year. I’ve aways used Magimix in the past. I don’t mind them. I appreciate the single-speed motor and the all-round simplicity of the design. I’ve always objected to the unnecessary gubbins you get with food processors (extra, smaller, bowls, storage compartments, attachments you never use), but there’s no avoiding them.

The Kenwood was £99, as opposed to a whole lot more for a Magimix. I just needed something to help me chop, grate blend, mix, etc. in a kitchen that has absolutely nothing in it (not even a worktop) bar the two sharp knives I bought in the summer.

It doesn’t feel very solid. It’s lightweight, but it does stick to the surface using suction cups. I’m placing it on an old formica table, and it doesn’t move around, which is good. Arrives in an oversized box and includes a blender, a small attachment for chopping nuts/herbs, and the usual bowl, along with four discs and two blades, one supposedly sharp, and one for dough.

So far I’ve used it to grate vegetables for coleslaw, grate a bit of cheese, make some dough, make some breadcrumbs, and chop some herbs, gerkins, and so on.

The most important bit for me was the dough mixing, as I hate kneading bread by hand. Here we have a problem. I was using unfamiliar (type 55) French flour purchased in E Leclerc, so I wasn’t sure how much water it would absorb. In the end, I made a somewhat wet dough on first attempt, and then had to spend a lot of time scraping out the bowl. The dough gets everywhere, including up the inside of the bowl centre. and all over the spindle (and inside it). The spindle is very different from a Magimix, and needs to be attached in advance of the bowl. The bowl and everything else will only go on in one way.

So the sough got everywhere. My second batch, I added less water, but still found it got everywhere, and didn’t mix well, either – I had to finish by kneading by hand, and I was blending a soft sticky bit with a solid lump. It really wasn’t very efficient at mixing (whereas my memories of doing the same thing in a Magimix are that it mixes quickly and cleanly).

For the coleslaw, I had to deal with a large number of ungrated lumps of cabbage, apple, pear, and onion. What it grated, it grated well, but it must have left 25% or so ungrated. Again, inefficient. Chopping herbs in the small herb chopper, or chopping gerkins in the same attachment: again, not very efficient. You’re dealing with some bits that are virtually liquidised, and others that are still more or less whole.

As for creating breadcrumbs, this should have been easy. I had a number of bits of 2-day-old bread, and I put them in the main bowl with the supposedly sharp blade. Well. Not very good. I think I could have stood there all day, and I’d have ended up with big lumps of bread mixed in with the breadcrumbs.

I expected to be disappointed, because I knew I was compromising, but it’s really not very good at all, not much of a labour-saving device, and not much of a time saver, either.

If you can afford it, get a Magimix. If you can’t afford a Magimix, invest in a really sharp knife and a decent cheese grater.

Marble Rye

Judging from photos on the interwebs, there are a number of ways of producing a marble rye like the one immortalised in the Seinfeld episode The Rye. My memory of the one in the show was that it was a plaited loaf, a challah, so I decided to try that. Yesterday, I dipped my toe by making a couple of two-strand loaves, using a viking loaf dough and a lighter, unseeded, half. It worked quite well (and was delicious), so I decided to try a 4-strander of enormous proportions, but with no seeds.

The first attempt – a 2-strander

The dark half

I started the dark half with 150g of wholemeal rye flour mixed with just 50g of wholemeal wheat, half a teaspoon of yeast and enough water to form a dough. I left this overnight.

As with all overnight sponges made with dark rye flour, it didn’t do much – didn’t form a dome or anything, although the lump of dough itself expanded and did ferment. The following morning I added 100ml water, then 140g of wholemeal bread flour, 140g of French bread flour (the Flour Bin’s Type 55), two teaspoons of fast-action yeast, two tablespoons of cocoa (for colour), a tablespoon of treacle, one and a half teaspoons of salt, and about 20g of butter. I started the mixer, and added another splash of water, and kept adding water until I had a good sticky dough. It mixes for a long time before the gluten starts to develop. I added a little more water now and then, until I was happy with the consistency of the dough (sticking to the bottom of the bowl but not to the sides).

I left it to rise.

The light half

For this I used the same method, but substituted the Flour Bin’s lighter rye flour and used white bread flour instead of wholemeal. There was no cocoa, and I used a teaspoon of sugar instead of treacle. Again, I added enough water to form a stretchy dough that stuck to the bottom of the bowl but not to the sides.

Plaiting and baking

The 4-strander before the oven

When both halves had proved for an hour or so, I divided each batch into two and then created some long strands for plaiting. I’ve almost never done this kind of thing, and had to look at a youtube video to get the method right (4 over 2, 1 over 3, 2 over 3, repeat). I left this to rise with a clean cloth over it, and when it started to look right, turned on the oven. I left it on the standard “baking” setting, 205°C with the button set to the bread icon.

I brushed the top with an egg-water glaze for shininess, then put the loaf in the oven. It was almost too big for the width of my oven, even though it was on the metal tray that is its own shelf.

This is what it looked like when it came out:

Shut up, you old bag!

But the proof will be in the tasting. Got to wait for it to cool.

UPDATE: Tasted great. Eaten with home-made butternut squash and celery soup, or just on its own with or without butter. Delicious.

Viking Bread attempt 2


Following my first experiment, I wanted to try essentially the same thing using the overnight sponge method, hoping to develop more flavour and more of an open texture.

This time, I decided to leave the butter out, because with a dough containing both cocoa and treacle, there was a danger of making it too cake-like.

I ordered a variety of flours from the flour bin, and decided on this occasion to use their multi-grain mix along with a dark rye flour.

The overnight sponge was made with rye flour, a half teaspoon of yeast, and – experimentally – breadcrumbs from the last Viking loaf I made, soaked in milk. This was a suggestion from commenter Rashbre, a technique used in German rye breads. I spoke to one of the German teachers at school about this, too. I pre-cooked the milk in the microwave and then used it to soak the breadcrumbs I made in my blender from the end bit of the last Viking loaf, which I had set aside for this purpose. I made a double batch of sponge, so I used 300g of dark rye altogether, along with about 250 ml of milk.

It wasn’t very dough-like. This you expect with rye flour, which doesn’t have enough gluten in it. It didn’t look very inspiring, and didn’t seem to do much. I made it around 4pm on Friday evening, and even by the time I went to bed it didn’t appear to be alive in the way some dough starters are.

Got up this morning and split the starter in two. Had it done anything overnight? It didn’t look like it had, but it sure smelled fermented. It smelt great, in fact, like a proper sourdough, which gave me confidence going forward.

I made two batches. The first with 280g 100% 8-Grain Flour Mix added to the rye starter, along with a tablespoon of cocoa and one of treacle. Around two teaspoons of fast-action yeast, 250 ml water, and (once the dough was looking stretchy in the mixer) 1 1/2 tsp salt. You should add water in stages, because this was a wet dough. I left it on the wet side, though I did add a couple of tbsp of flour bin Type 55 French bread flour, too.

The second batch was made with half 8-Grain and half Type 55. To the first batch, I added a handful of caraway seeds (often added to rye recipes); to the second a handful of toasted sunflower seeds.

The dough took off like gangbusters, which was a surprise. I know the Flourbin put vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in their French bread flour, but both batches seemed to rise at similar rates, so they were just raring to go. I shaped both batches into loaves: one in a tin, the other not, and left them to rise a second time.

Haven’t tasted the second loaf yet, but the one above was great. A lovely mixture of flavours with the occasional burst of caraway.

Home-made viking loaf, attempt #1


In France over the summer, I became enamoured with the Banette Viking, a very dark seeded loaf that only seemed to be in the bakery occasionally. It turned out that they only baked them on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and even then only made around four. On the last Saturday, I bought all four, and brought some home with us, but they’re all gone now.

The Viking is clearly related to Scandinavian/Russian black breads. It’s obviously got Rye flour in it, as well as sunflower, sesame, linseed, and millet seeds. It also has something to give it that dark colour. Rye flour on its own is more grey than black/brown. A sniff revealed the presence of cocoa – and probably treacle. No wonder it was so delicious! Unlike most heavy rye breads, it had a light, airy sourdough-type texture, which might explain why it was only in the shop every couple of days.

When I have time, I’ll have a go at a two-day bake, but for my first attempt, I wanted to mix ingredients and go for flavour/colour before tackling the sourdough texture.

I mixed:

  • 150g dark rye flour (Doves, I think, from Tesco)
  • 250g white flour (I only had pizza flour in the house)
  • 50g wholemeal bread flour
  • 1 tsp vitamin C powder
  • 3 tsp fast-action yeast (about 10g)
  • 1 tbsp black treacle (or molasses)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt (added to the dough once already stretchy)
  • 1 tsp Diax
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 40g softened butter
  • 1-2 tbsp sunflower seeds (all I had available)
  • 1-2 tbsp rolled oats
  • 300 ml water

I let the mixer run for about 10 minutes, and adjusted the amount of flour slightly because it was a wet dough. Ideally, you’d add the water in stages.

I put it to rise in a warm place because I was in a hurry, and after an hour or so, knocked it back and shaped it into a loaf for a tin. I rolled it in oats before putting it into the oiled tin.

It rose quite well. Then I slashed the top and baked at 220°C for 30 minutes.

You can see the results above. It was actually pretty close to being the right colour, and tasted very close to the original (maybe I added a tad too much cocoa!). Just had a slice with a poached egg for breakfast. My next plan is to source some multi-seed flour from theflourbin and try it with that.

French bread recipe


Day One:

  • 130g French bread flour*
  • 1tsp honey
  • 1tsp yeast
  • 115 ml filtered water

Day Two:

  • 100g soft 00 flour
  • 400g French bread flour
  • 290 ml filtered water
  • 1 tsp yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt

*I sourced this flour from – it’s their Type 55 wheat flour, with added vitamin C. In the main recipe, I used the same, with 100g of the Caputo red 00 flour.


Mix the overnight ingredients. It’s very runny, more like a batter than a dough: you could do it with one of those plastic whisks rather than a dough hook. Leave the batter/dough in a cold place overnight.

Baking Day

The next day, take it from the cold place and let it warm up for half an hour or so before adding the other ingredients – except the salt. Mix with a dough hook until you start to see some stretch in the dough, then add the salt. Adjust the amount of water, if necessary to make the dough properly wet. As with yesterday’s Pane Pugliese recipe, sticking to the bottom is okay, but it shouldn’t stick to the sides. The type 55 flour is lower in gluten than the strongest bread flours, and the flourbin recommends around 10% less water.

Turn out onto a floured surface and fold/stretch, as with the Pane Pugliese. Do this three times over about an hour, then gently shape into a ball and put into an oiled bowl until it has doubled in size.

Knock the dough back, divide it into three, and shape into loaves. I used a twin baguette tin, and put the spare on on a tray in more of a ciabatta type shape. Leave it for another hour or so, until doubled in size.

Pre-heat the oven to 240°C and, just before cooking, steam it by adding hot water to a hot roasting tin on the bottom of the oven.

When the loaves have doubled in size, then slash the tops (or snip with scissors), and brush with some salted water before putting into the oven.

Leave at 240° C for 10 minutes, then open the door to release the steam and reduce the heat to 205°C and cook the loaves for another 15 minutes.

Turn out onto a cooling rack when golden brown and hollow-sounding, then leave to cool before slicing. You should end up with a loaf that’s satisfyingly crunchy in the crust with a chewy crumb.


Pane Pugliese recipe


I got this recipe from, but their recipe is for a wood-fired oven. This is my domestic version, with proper metric measurements. Their version has some how-to videos (e.g. for the wet dough folding method). It’s a slow way of making bread, but the results are worth it as you can see in my Hipstamatic shot above. Waitrose charge £1.80 for about 5 slices of this stuff.

Day One, Biga (makes double)

  • 320g unbleached bread flour
  • ½  tsp. instant yeast
  • 227ml filtered water at room temperature

Day Two, Dough

  • 300g biga
  • 140g durum flour
  • 140g bread flour
  • 1 ½ tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. instant yeast
  • 255 ml filtered water at 32-38° C

Flours: I ordered durum wheat semolina – you can get Caputo semolina from Forno Bravo (which is where I also get my pizza flour), or generic durum semolina in smaller quantities from

For the “bread flour” you could use the strong white you can get in the supermarket, or Caputo 00 pizzeria flour, which is available in the blue or (softer) red varieties. I’ve been using the blue for a couple of years now, and it’s great, but I just bought my first bag of red, just to try.


This is the sponge starter. You’re basically using a very small amount of yeast and leaving it to work for a long time, so it’s a little like a sourdough.

Combine the biga ingredients and mix to a dough ball. Put into an oiled bowl, spray with oil and leave to rise for 4 hours, then knock back and leave in a cold place overnight. My conservatory is ridiculously cold at this time of year, or you can use the fridge.


Take the biga out of the fridge, cut it into 8 pieces, cover it with plastic wrap & let it warm up for 1 hour before making the dough. I always use my plastic lettuce knife for dough-cutting duties. You can get one in Lakeland or John Lewis.

Add the water & the biga to the bowl, then put in the flours & yeast. Mix on low speed until a sticky, wet ball forms.

This is where you must use your judgement. If you’re like me, you’ll only have approximately 300g of biga in the bowl, so you need to adjust the levels of flour and water accordingly.

Sprinkle the salt over the ball. Switch to speed 2 & knead for about 4 minutes. The smooth, sticky dough should not stick to the sides of the bowl, but should stick to the bottom.

This is a wet dough, so don’t add so much flour that it clumps around your dough hook. As it says above, coming away from the sides of the bowl is okay, but it should still be wet enough to be sticking to the bottom of the bowl, so that you need to scrape it out.

Sprinkle the work surface with flour to make a 20 cm square. Transfer the dough using a plastic spatula (or your fingers) & proceed with the folding method*, then mist the dough with spray oil, sprinkle with flour & cover with plastic wrap. Let it rest for half an hour, then fold it again, mist, flour, cover & let rest for another half hour.

Mist a large bowl with spray oil.  Fold the dough for a 3rd time, transfer it to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, & let it ferment for 2 hours.

*The folding method video on the Forno Bravo site shows you what to do. In short: you grab the dough from the bottom on one side, stretch it out and fold over on top of itself, then do the same on the other three sides. It’s a way of gently working a wet dough without covering yourself in sticky mess and flour. You rest it between and by the time you’ve done it  three times, it’s a lot less sticky.

Coat your hands & your bowl scraper with flour & gently transfer the dough to a well dusted work surface.  Divide the dough into two roughly equal pieces. Gently form the pieces into two rounds.  Let them rest on the work surface, seam side down, covered, for about 10 minutes.

Transfer to baking tray lined with non-stick parchment and prove for 60 to 90 minutes. Before baking, they should have increased to 1 ½  times their original size. Alternatively, use a pizza peel and prepare to slide it off onto a pizza stone in your oven. But this is a sticky dough and it might stick to the peel, so I just cut to the chase and put it on parchment  on a heavy tray, so it will just go straight into the oven.

(The Forno Bravo recipe, which is for a wood burning pizza/bread oven, uses a proving bowl. I’ve got one, but I really, really, hate it, and no matter how much flour I line it with, I find my doughs stick to it and won’t come out. So I’d rather just put it on a baking tray or peel, and cook on the tray or on a pizza stone in the oven, if you have one.)


How hot is the oven? The original recipe specifies somewhere between 280° and 290° C in a wood burning oven. Domestic ovens aren’t really designed to go that hot, but whack it up as high as you dare. If you’re using a stone, have the stone in the oven as it warms up. Steam the hot oven for 10 seconds, 10 minutes before baking. I do this by having a metal roasting tin in the bottom of the oven, which I splash boiling water into.  Slash the tops of the loaves quickly, then load into the oven. Steam again for 10 seconds. These breads should take no longer than 15 to 20 minutes to bake to an internal temperature of 100°C, & they should be deep golden brown colour. They will take longer in domestic oven. Release the steam by cracking the door open after about 10 minutes of baking time. I also reduce the oven temperature after 10 minutes. Cool on a rack for at least half an hour before slicing.

Note: if you use fresh yeast rather than the dried instant kind, the dough will rise much more quickly. During the waiting and folding process, you might find yourself fighting back the dough, like Woody Allen with the pudding in Sleeper. Quicker proving saves you time but leaves the flavour less time to develop.