Saturday, 11 September 2010


This was the August Fresh from the Oven challenge. Surprise surprise, I didn't manage to get it done in August. I did, however, manage to get it done in the first week of September, I just haven't had a chance to blog about it until now.

When I was about 8, my mum took a cookery course at the local college. For a few years, every Wednesday night, we would not know whether to look forward to dinner with anticipation or trepidation. Mostly it was good. Some were just weird.

One week, the topic was bread, and mum brought home a hand-made brioche. It was, quite simply, the most delicious bread I had ever had, and although I distinctly remember loving it, I have eaten it only rarely since, and have never made it.

So I was really pleased when brioche was the challenge for August. It's a sweet, egg-rich bread, which is delicious with jam. The recipe is taken from The River Cottage Handbook: Bread by Dan Stevens and I have copied it below.

I confess to using a mixer for the dough , as flour seems to aggravate my eczema, but I have to say, this was the most successful challenge I have done so far. We ate most of one loaf, and finished up the last slices with French Toast this morning. The other loaf went in the freezer - I'm already looking forward to defrosting that one and using it for bread and butter pudding.


400g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
5g powdered dried yeast
10g fine sea salt
90ml warm milk
2 tbsp caster sugar
100g butter, softened
4 medium free range eggs, beaten

To Glaze

1 medium free range egg
2 tbsp milk

to knead by hand: mix all the ingredients in a large bowl, and bring it all together to form a dough. Knead for about 10 mins, until smooth and shiny.

Or, to use a food mixer: fit the dough hook and add all the dough ingredients to the mixer bowl. Mix on low speed until combined, and leave to knead for about 10 mins, until smooth and shiny.

Shape the dough into a round, place in a bowl and cover tightly. Leave in the fridge overnight.

The next day, divide the dough in two and form into the shape of your choice. Lightly flour the loaves, lay them on a wooden board or linen cloth and cover with a plastic bag. Leave them somewhere nice and warm to prove until almost doubled in size; this could take 3 or 4 hours, as the dough is cold.

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. For the glaze, beat the egg and milk together. Transfer the risen loaves to a baking tray and brush all over with the glaze. Bake for about 10 mins, then lower the oven setting to 180C/gas mark 4 and bake for a further 30 mins or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 2 small loaves

River Cottage Handbook No.3 - Bread

Friday, 3 September 2010

A visit to Chatsworth

On Bank Holiday Monday, my friend Jen and I went to visit Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. Apparantly, according to my mother, I have been there before, but personally I think that before the age of about 25, every single country house/National Trust place blends into one, and I can't remember any of it.

The house was beautiful and interesting, with the only real disappointment being that we weren't able to see the kitchens, only to read a tantalising display board about them. But the real fascination lay in the gardens. There were acres and acres of formal planting, sensory gardens, fountains and ponds, and a yew maze, which was mildly entertaining. And then we discovered the Kitchen Garden.

Vegetable and fruit gardening is hard to make interesting and attractive to look at, but at Chatsworth it was fascinating. Not only that, it was also quite encouraging - slugs had been at their swiss chard, for example, but was also a really good example of how a garden should be maintained - green manure was planted where a crop had been harvested, even if it was only a small space.

Another area which was lovely to look at was the cottage garden - literally, a smaller space, bigger than my entire garden, but not much bigger, had been planted as a cottage garden. What was very interesting here was how the colours had been used - with the purple and blue-toned flowers were the purple cabbages, the black kale, and the darker vegetables. The bright chard had been sown alongside marigolds and nasturtiums. Very interesting.