Campervan bread

camper

We have a much loved and underused old VW campervan that sits outside our rain-soaked house patiently waiting for summer adventures. It came all the way from 1970s Australia, and must be traumatised by the brutal Irish weather it is subjected to on a daily basis. But with another glorious summer stretching through July and August, we dusted off the cobwebs, stocked the shelves and headed for a little apple farm in Co. Tipperary.

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Usually our camping epicurean adventures are dictated by the local supply of produce topped up with whatever supermarket supplies come with us. When we arrived at the apple farm with limited provisions in our little van we were cheered to find a farm shop that only stocked the absolute essentials of cider, strawberries and ice-cream. Unwilling to forage for dinner further afield we improvised with a repast of sausages, beans and freshly baked bread.

Normally, bread-baking is not on the agenda on camping trips. The lack of an oven is the main culprit, but also it never really occurred to us that we could bake bread in a campervan. That is until we got a Cobb barbeque. Many a chicken and leg of lamb have been roasted in the little metal wonder, so this summer we thought – why not bread? Ruby had packed all the bread-making essentials – flour, salt, yeast, scraper, tiny cheap scales – and once camp was established we set about utilizing our meagre camping utensils for the art of loafing. But there was one thing we forgot to check before we left….

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Campervan bread.

420g or 3 cups strong white flour
7g or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried yeast
7g or 1 teaspoon salt
20g or 2 tablespoons olive or rapeseed oil
250-260g or 1 1/8 cup tepid water
tiny cheap scales
EXTRA BATTERIES FOR THE TINY CHEAP SCALES

Here’s how to do it properly.
Weigh out your ingredients into whatever camping cook equipment is big enough. In our case the biggest camping saucepan we had. Alternatively (and probably more prudently as we discovered) use the american imperial cup and spoon system if you are without scales, or check that the BATTERIES ARE WORKING in your tiny cheap scales.

Dump your dough on the cleanest flattest smoothest surface available and knead vigorously for 15 minutes. This is surprisingly therapeutic when you are confined in a small space with your loved ones for an extended length of time. Don’t hold back. Put back in the oiled saucepan, cover with clingfilm or a shower cap, put in the warmest place available, and leave to rise for about an hour.

Punch down and mould into a cob shape. Place on an oiled or dusted baking tray/tin and leave to prove for about 30 mins. Meanwhile light the barbecue. We cooked our bread on a Cobb barbecue that only takes 5-10 minutes to heat up, but this bread should cook in any barbecue with a dome once it reaches its optimum temperature.  Place the baking tray/tin on the grill and cover with the dome. You may need to check the bread after about 15 minutes as you can’t control the temperature, and the bottom may get a bit scorched, but the loaf should be ready in 20-30 minutes.

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Here’s how not to do it.
We forgot to check the batteries in our tiny cheap scales. We didn’t use a cup system. We had no idea how much salt we added as the batteries died at this crucial point (but judging by the taste, it was a lot!!). Our dough didn’t rise due to the murderous horde of salt massacring the yeast. It was scorched on the bottom and pale on the crust. But still…we ended up with an edible, nay palatable, if slightly salty cob loaf to have with our dinner. Not bad for our first attempt at campervan bread. And washed down with all that lovely cider, strawberries and ice-cream, it was a treat…

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…..and the next morning, tools out to get us home.

ruby says “i loved kneading the bread in the campervan, it kept rocking. but i was a bit sad when it didn’t rise. tasted nice as toast with lots of butter. and we had strawberries and ice-cream for dessert!!!”

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Our journey in sourdough: scalds, sweat and tears.

Sourdough, we have learnt, is a whole different animal to anything we’ve attempted before. One that cannot be rustled up on a whim, or is always compliant with our plans and wishes. We’ve made a number of sourdough loaves so far, none of which could be described as a truly successful attempt, and some of which could barely be described as sourdough (or even a loaf). Still, we remind ourselves it’s the journey, not the destination, that counts.

Sourdough loaf No. 1.

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After lovingly nurturing our starter, Gordon, we were brimming with excitement to make our first sourdough loaf. We carefully selected the recipe, readied our equipment, weighed and measured the ingredients, didn’t baulk when the dough flowed stickily across the table, pushed, stretched, pummelled, scraped, coralled, rested and finally nestled our first loaf in its new flour-filled banneton for the night. Springing out of bed in the morning, we rushed downstairs to find…..a slightly deflated balloon.

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Unperturbed (well a little perturbed) we heated the oven, attempted the Herculean task of moving the flaccid dough from the banneton to a hot baking stone without deflating the loaf (more) or losing precious heat from the oven, forgot to slash, and splashed boiling water all over the oven and kitchen floor.  A modicum of shouting and scalding ensued,  culminating in our very depressed dough sitting awkwardly on, and overflowing slightly, our old pizza stone. The result was not something you’d find in any bakery we’ve ever been.

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Sourdough loaf No.2.

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Our second attempt was a little more successful. This time we proved overnight in the fridge, left to warm up and remembered to slash, but while transferring the dough to the stone we pulled the tray out too far and the loaf slid off onto the oven door. We managed to manhandle it back on, but the shock was too much for it.

Sourdough loaf No.3.

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Realising that our long banneton was actually too long for our stone, we admitted defeat and bought a round banneton instead. Our third sourdough went a lot more smoothly. After our overnight fridge prove, this time we heated the oven, took the stone OUT, gently tipped our round loaf onto it, then panic-slashed and shoved it into the oven. Result? A round, slightly spread sourdough with the faintest of slash marks on the top. And a nose, strangely.

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Sourdough loaf No. 4.

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Our confidence was starting to grow by loaf no, 4. No longer scared of the stone/oven-heat dilemma, we slashed with abandon, threw and sprayed water, and watched with awe the blooming of a vaguely recognisable sourdough bread.

Sourdough loaf No. 5.

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This is our most successful so far. The dough was exceptionally wet, and on removal from the fridge in the morning, it was more brick-like than bread-like. We left it to warm to room temperature, and it rose slightly. Not expecting much, we placed it in the oven and watched with mounting surprise as the oven-spring kicked in and it grew rapidly before our eyes, opening out along our frenzied slashes.

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None of our loaves is exactly of a professional standard, but one thing is noticeable – the flavour of the sourdough has sweetened and deepened with each loaf, which must mean Gordon is maturing into a fine young starter. Now, onto loaf no. 6…..

ruby says ” they were nice! but the inside was too soft and the outside was too hard. it was also fun making them but boring waiting. they took so long!” 😉

The Great May White.

May great white

I know we’re well into June but we seem to be slipping behind in all sorts of things lately. Still, we managed our weekly Great White all through May, with it’s usual highs and lows. What did we do differently this month? We tried a new slashing technique (top two) – yeah, that didn’t go so well. We also tried an overnight white loaf (bottom right) – that didn’t go so well either. But number three! Well, that’s as near to the perfect loaf we’ve come so far…….

So what have we learnt? Not a lot. Except to persevere……and stick with our old slashes.

ruby says “I couldn’t lift the last one it was so heavy.”

Big baker / Little baker: what we want for May.

With all this bread making going on, we’ve noticed something irritatingly frustrating – we’ve nowhere to put our bread. Currently it resides on the worktop in a plastic bag, or a paper bag, or underneath a tea-towel, and gets shunted around when various mechanical or electrical devices need to be used. This is not ideal. So this month we’ve been looking at bread-bins. What makes a great bread bin?  Material? Air-flow? Condensation factor? What we’ve learned from our research is that bread needs air to stop mould, and that’s pretty much it. Real slow-proved bread, it seems, will stay fresh for a lot longer than fast-produced processed loaves if left cut-side-down and loosely covered. So the big question is should we go retro or futuristic? Utilitarian or decorative? Chic or unique? So many choices….but ultimately the answer will be whichever fits the meagre space in our kitchen.

Still, a breadmaker can dream…..

Big baker….

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1. Garden Trading bread tin. 2. Lark farmhouse bread locker. 3. Vintage Tin. 
4. Armadillo breadbin. 5. Antique tin. 6. Vintage Dutch bread box. 7. Typhoon Novo Bread bin.

Ruby has a different – and so much more fun – agenda to me…..

Little baker…..

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1. Dollhouse mint green bread box. 2. Dollhouse breadboard with bread. 
3. Mr. Rebanadita rucksack. 4. Miniature wicker bread basket. 5. Dollhouse bagel crates.

 

Our very own sourdough starter.

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Sourdough bread has always been a magical kind of loaf for us. It seems almost alchemical, harnessing the natural yeasts from the air to turn grain and water into a fragrant wholesome bubbled bread. We decided it had to be a ritual of some baker’s secret society only open to the righteous, with each sourdough starter recipe jealously guarded behind mystery and reverence. Many of the great artisan bakers have had the same starter in the family for hundreds of years, fed lovingly and religiously every day, like an immortal pet or a small flatulent god. We believed their knowledge and starter-offspring were only passed on to the worthy to carry on the ancient tradition. We thought the process of making and maintaining a starter was the realm of a master-baker or maslin-magician, no place for the inexperienced or faint of heart.

This, we discovered, could not be further from the truth. Most bakers are more than happy to share their starters and sourdough tips with the uninitiated, as both an incentive for the new baker and as insurance for the old – should a great disaster befall the original parent it can be easily cloned from its children. And there are no closely guarded recipes. Flour and water it seems is all you need. And a bit of fruit or yoghurt if you’re so inclined, or not, if you’re not. And patience. And a little commitment (but not too much).

Originally, we had a lofty ambition to try our hand at sourdough by the end of this year, not being confident that we could ever truly master the process. But many of the other participants in the 52 loaves project were plunging into sourdough with abandon, and surprisingly good results. Some had acquired starters from other bakers, some had started their own. Spurred on by their successes, we stepped off the baking cliff with a resolution to begin our own family tradition of sourdough. So in April 2014 we made our own starter. It’s still alive and we’d like to think it’ll still be here in 200 years time.

ruby jar

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flour measure

pouring jug

stir

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There are hundreds of recipes and methods of how to make a sourdough starter on the net and in baking books. We followed Justin Piers Gellatly’s method, mainly as it’s pretty straightfoward, and also because he makes damned good bread. It’s working for us so far. It will take a week before the starter will be ready to use.

50g organic strong white flour
50g organic rye flour
100g tepid water
30g rhubarb (we used apple, no rhubarb in fridge)
clean bowl or clean jar

Day 1.

We mixed the flour, water and fruit in a large kilner jar until it became a thick gooey paste. We covered it and left it somewhere warmish (warm kitchen worktop) for 24 hours.

Day 2.

At roughly the same time of day we mixed 50g water, 25g strong white and 25g rye into the paste. Covered and left until the next day.

Day 3.

Same as Day 2.

Day 4.

Same as Day 3. There should be a bit of bubbling and thinning of the paste at this stage.

Day 5.

Our starter was now tangy with lots of little bubbles. We mixed it all up and discarded all but 30g. You need to get rid of the leftover starter as this will only feed off the new flour and ferment too quickly. Alternatively, you can give it to someone else to start their own sourdough mix or use it to flavour pancakes or other bready goods.There were still some pieces of fruit remaining which we threw away. We added 30g rye, 30g strong wholemeal and 80g strong white four with 125g water, whisked it all up and left it.

Day 6.

Same as Day 5.

Day 7.

We made our first sourdough loaf! It’s a learning curve…

Keeping it alive.

Once we made our first loaf, we replenished our starter with the same quantity of flour and water that we removed for the recipe (half flour/half water). If you intend to make a lot of sourdough bread, you’ll need to feed the starter every 1 or two days. If not, feed it after making a loaf then place it in the fridge for a week, taking it out 24 hours before you need to use it. Tom Herbert recommends weighing your container before you start so that you always know what quantity of starter is in the jar, and always leave about a quarter of the original in there to keep its depth of flavour and vitality.

feeding

bubbles

We keep ours in the fridge. We feed it half the replenishing amount before we put it in, then the other half when we take it out after it has come back to room temperature. This way, it’s bubbling nicely by the time we start to bake. Ruby treats it like a pet. She hasn’t got bored of it yet. It’s called Gordon, by the way.

ruby says “the starter i love. it is probably my favourite pet so far because it doesn’t annoy me.”

The Great April White.

April white

Our quest for the perfect loaf continues. Along with our variety of the good, the bad and the ugly loaves, we’ve also been baking a basic white once a week. It is our intention that by the end of the year we will be able to create a perfect loaf, with lofty aspirations of something akin to the overnight Sherston Loaf from Hobbs House bakery. In addition, we’ve been tasting and rating other white and sourdough breads from various bakeries across Dublin to find the ultimate loaf, and compare our more humble offerings – more of that to come in the next few months. Here are four of April’s offerings….

We can see that we have issues with uneven rising, erratic oven spring, length of bake…. the list is pretty endless, and the loaves seem to be getting worse instead of better! But at least we can eat our mistakes.

ruby says “I don’t really mind what they look like as long as I can put jam on it.”

13/52: Wheaten loaf.

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A little red piece of plastic has revolutionized our lives. It’s a scraper, cutter, dough handler, crumb chaser, residue remover. It’s the bike tool of baking. In fact you could probably mend a puncture with it. It is now our most treasured possession, made all the more iconic in our house because the baking legend Tom Herbert presented it personally.

red scraper800Before our scraper, we were scared of our dough, as it crankily stuck to the table and demanded more flour before it would play with us. The result was always an uptight sulky loaf and two disappointed bakers. And a kitchen table with concrete adhesions that even wire wool couldn’t shift. Anything requiring a soft wet dough was way beyond our courage and capabilities. Now, thanks to our flexible red wrangler, we can herd any gooey mixture from table to tin without a floury fence. 

Emboldened by our newly acquired training, our recent (relative) successes, and armed with our little red weapon, we leapt into making a soggy-doughed brown soda bread. Many of these are often coarse worthy affairs, good for the gut but dull on the tongue. Yet there are some that are sweet and fragrant and soft and tangy, with a certain depth of flavour that can only be achieved with the secrets of a master baker. And one of these secrets happens to be…..sticky black treacle.

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Wheaten Bread (from The Fabulous Baker Brothers Recipe)

450g strong wholemeal flour
50g oats
20g butter
100ml black treacle
1tsp sea salt
2tsp caster sugar
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
200ml milk
200ml buttermilk

Heat the oven to 170ºc/Gas 3. This is a no-knead dough, so it’s going in pretty rapidly. Mix the flour, oats, salt, sugar and bicarbonate of soda in a bowl. In a pan on the hob, gently melt the butter and treacle together. Pour into the dry ingredients and add the milk and buttermilk. Stir up the sludgy mixture until it’s all well combined. It will be rather wet at this point. Grease a 1kg (2lb) loaf tin with plenty of butter and scatter some oats around the bottom and sides. Slop the dough into the tin and scrape all residue from the bowl with your trusty scraper. Smooth the top, sprinkling more oats as you go. Cover it with foil and bake in the oven for 35 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes or so, until the top is a dark brown and the kitchen smells deep, sweet and oaty. Remove to a cooling rack. Slather with butter and eat warm, or leave to cool completely and top with a deliciousness of your choice.

This loaf is now officially the best wheaten loaf we have ever tasted, made all the sweeter because we managed it ourselves. It will feature heavily in our future lives. And the smell in the kitchen as it bakes….

Oh yes, we got so cocky half way through that we made our own butter too…

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ruby says “scrumbly delishious, but it was a bit heavy for me to eat every day, i think we did a good job though! it was fun whisking the butter!”

12/52: Ciabatta mark 2.

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After our last attempt at Ciabatta we decided that next time we would be prepared. And the result was much better – tastier, chewier, shaplier. This time, we teamed it with steak and mushrooms and all the lovely juices they produce. Nothing else needed but a little rocket and drizzle of dressing. Oh and a bread-maker to beat up the insolent dough…..it was only after I almost destroyed our food processor that I realised we had a tailor-made solution.

dough starter

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ruby ciabatta

Ciabatta (following the recipe from Paul Hollywood’s Bread)

400g strong white flour
7g quick yeast
300ml water
30ml olive oil
7g salt
Semolina for dusting and rustic effect

Start the day before, or at least 6 hours before normal. Place half the flour and half the yeast in a bowl and pour in half the water. Stir and beat until you have a thick batter. Cover with cling film and leave to develop overnight, or for at least six hours to improve the flavour.

Slop the thick batter into a food mixer with a dough hook, or like us, into a bread-maker. Add the remaining ingredients and leave the mixer to do its work for at least 15 minutes, or until the dough is good and stretchy. We put ours on the ‘pizza dough’ setting. When kneaded thoroughly tip into a well-oiled rectangular container, approximately 3 litres in volume (or 20cm square and 12cm deep) and cover with the oiled lid. Leave to rise to the top of the container, roughly 2 hours.

When risen, gently tip out onto a surface dusted liberally with a mixture of semolina and flour, keeping as much air in the dough as possible. Delicately slice the dough into two equal lengths, gently stretch into a ciabatta shape and lift onto a dusted non-stick baking tray. Sprinkle semolina/flour over the tops. Place the tray in a roomy plastic bag and leave to rest for 15 minutes while the oven heats to 220ºc. Bake for 30 minutes until golden in colour. Cool on a wire rack before devouring.

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ruby says  “my new scrumbdidleyombshes, favourite food!”

 

 

 

Big baker / Little baker: what we want for April.

Every year Ruby compiles a birthday list. And a Christmas List. They feature all the toys, games, crafts and novelty clothing she’s seen advertised on TV or played with in friends’ houses throughout the year. Needless to say these lists are very long and detailed, and usually contain ridiculously priced items, so have to be culled severely through endless negotiations. Embracing this theme, we decided to put together our fantasy baking wish-lists each month with the intention of maybe acquiring one or two items before the year is out. Here’s what we want for April.

Big baker….

baker wishlist

1. Flour shaker. 2. Kitchen clock timer. 3. Mixing bowl. 4. Measuring jug. 5. Baker's apron.
Little baker…..

little baker wishlist

1. Mixing bowl. 2. Apron. 3. Flour shaker. 4. Watermelon dough scraper. 5. Owl timer.

The Hobbs House Baking Experience with #52loavesproject

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Ruby and I were incredibly lucky to join other #52loavesproject participants at a masterclass in bread baking with the legendary Tom Herbert at Hobbs House Bakery, near Bristol. It seemed a little crazy to fly from Dublin and back in the one day, but it was an invitation we just couldn’t turn down. So we packed our baking bear, set our alarm for 4am, and off we went.

Tom Herbert

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school

mixing dough

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The bakery is situated on the mainstreet of Chipping Sodbury, a lovely little town in the heart of the Cotswolds. It’s a family business in every sense of the word, run by the Herberts who have been baking in the area for 5 generations, and the baking school is housed in the rooms above the bakery where the family grew up. Tom Herbert, of The Fabulous Baker Brothers fame, had generously given his time that Monday morning to help us make better bread. Half blinded by the cameras of the baking paparazzi, he patiently explained and demonstrated the art of proper bread-making, and was exceedingly diplomatic about our specimen loaves! Ruby and I learnt that we over-prove, our oven is not hot enough and our tin is too large. Learning about bread in such a beautiful environment, with a skilled and entertaining teacher, a roaring log fire and other equally exuberant 52 loafers was about the best way to spend a March Monday that we can think of. And they gave us lunch.

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ruby kneading

spelt loaves

glorious british grub

Throughout the day we were visited by Tom’s father, uncle, brothers and their wives who were so kind and friendly, and could not have made us any more welcome. Bread-making passion and enthusiasm virtually drips off the walls at Hobbs House, and it’s highly infectious! We left laden with Hobbs House dough scrapers, the new signed Glorious British Grub cookbook (our new favourite!), a new birchwood banneton and a loaf of the best bread we’ve ever tasted – the famous Sherston Loaf. We were going to pass it off as our own when we got home, but realised we’d never get away with it….

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A selection of 52 Loafers: Carolyn, Ruby, Jack, Lou, Dan, Tom, Laura, Emma, Natalie, Emma.

Tom runs bread-making and other courses from the school throughout the year, if we get the chance we’ll definitely be back, even if it’s just for another Sherston loaf.

ruby says “the funnest place this year i’ve ever been, discovered i LOVE kneading.!! 🙂 🙂 ”

A massive thank-you to Lou and Dan of Littlegreenshed for setting us on this adventure, Emma of Bradshaw & Sons for sorting it all out, and to Tom Herbert and all at Hobbs House Bakery for a fabulous experience.