Purple Bread?


We were introduced to a very interesting bread in bakery this week- Cabernet grape bread. It gets its distinctive purple colour from the Cabernet grape powder which is added to the dough.


Cabernet grape powder is a by-product of the wine making process where the grape skins are dehydrated and powdered. The powder then can be mixed with flour and used to make breads and pastas. It is said that the it has a same antioxidant properties of red wine, just without the alcohol!


The grape powder  gives the bread a distinctive purple hue, and a lovely wine-y taste which goes well with a good lump of cheese. Personally I’m not a wine drinker so this isn’t my favourite kind of bread, but doesn’t  it look so pretty against the regular coloured loaves? :)

Pizza, Grissini and Pine Nut Slices


I was so excited for Italian week in our bakery class, most of all because our class is from 2pm-8pm so that night we had freshly baked pizza for dinner!

The pizza bases were made from a basic olive oil dough (500g flour, 15g fresh yeast, 20g semolina, 50g olive oil, 325g water and 10g salt), rolled out and stretched into mini pizza bases and then topped with the usual tomato sauce and mozzarella. We also added basil and olives.


We also made grissini (thin twisted breadsticks), which were absolutely delicious. They have parmesan in them which gives a lovely taste and a very slight chewy texture when they first come out of the oven.

375g flour
25g parmesan
10g fresh yeast
10g salt
200ml warm milk
50g butter

Simply blend the yeast and salt with the flour (the method can be found in Dough by Richard Bertinet).

Next mix in the parmesan and milk. Work in the bowl until the mixture is uniform in texture, then work on the table top until no longer sticking (again, the method can be found in Bertinet’s book).

Finally, rest for about 30 minutes, mould and bake.


The grissini are perfect for serving at dinner parties. They are so quick and easy to whip up (especially as they only need 30 minutes resting time) and they are absolutely delicious.

The recipes for the pizza dough an pine nut slices can also be found in Bertinet’s book, which I can thoroughly recommend if you are looking for a new bread book. I think I mentioned previously that we are learning his method of bread baking (one which does not involve pummelling and flaying the poor dough to within an inch of its life!) and it really does take the mystery and guess work out of the process. Try it, you’ll be surprised to learn that dough does not need to be beaten into submission!


Struggling with baguettes

Baguettes are one of those iconic French symbols. They conjure up idyllic scenes of the French countryside and a moustachioed man wearing a striped shirt and a beret with onions in one hand and a baguette in the other.

Nothing can beat a warm, freshly baked baguette but sadly these things only seem to exist on the Continent. In my local Sainsbury’s we have to settle for bake off baguettes which say they’re artisan, but actually are just a typical industrial loaf disguised by a deceptively rustic looking crust.

I long to be able to make beautiful baguettes, but as with the ciabatta it took 3 attempts to produce something which could acceptably be called a baguette. The first batch, we shan’t dwell on for very long, as they were so hideous I couldn’t even bring myself to photograph. My fatal mistake was using cling film to cover my lovingly shaped loaves for the final proving. As any bread baker out there can probably imagine the cling film got stuck to the dough and in the process of trying to remove it my poor baguettes were completely mangled and misshapen. I baked them anyway and whilst they tasted pretty good they looked a bit like giant, mutant breadsticks.

I’m not one to give up easily so I tried again.  The recipe which I have used for all 3 batches is from Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s book, How to Make Bread. Baguette dough is a fairly wet dough, not as wet as ciabatta, but still more challenging to work with than your regular bread dough.

Batch 2

Meet Batch 2. This time I lightly dusted the baguettes in flour and covered them with a tea towel. The upside is that it didn’t stick, but the downside is that the dough dried out slightly. I have since learned that this is the result of having a dry tea towel on top of the dough and also leaving it too long to prove. It caused a thin crust to form on the outside of the dough, meaning that when in the oven there was no “oven spring” (the initial rapid rising of the dough as the heat of the oven gives the yeast more oomph to work). Because of this, Batch 2 had quite a tight texture and (as you can see from the photo) the slashes down the length of the baguette which are supposed to help increase the rise from the oven spring, are completely closed and kind of look like tears in the surface of the bread. Those slashes should be smooth and should begin to open up pretty much immediately, even before the bread is in the oven.

Batch 3

So, onto Batch 3. Third time lucky right? This time I covered the dough with a damp tea towel, something which quite a few recipes do, and for some reason I had never tried. But it worked a treat. After about an hour of proving the dough was risen, and still oh-so-soft and moist. I slashed the loaves and sure enough the cuts began to slowly open up. I only wish I had slashed them a bit deeper. I’ve read that when slashing loaves it pays to be confident and just cut away… I was a bit hesitant and nervous, but next time I think I’ll have the confidence to just go for it :)These are the finished baguettes. The texture is much better, but I think towards the bottom it gets a bit dense. I believe this can be rectified by a liiiitle bit longer proving, and perhaps slightly longer in the oven. You can probably also see a crack along the side of the bread. I believe this is from where I didn’t seal the seam of the bread properly, and so as the dough expanded in the oven it kind of ripped a tear in the side of the loaf.

Overall I’m fairly happy with the outcome, but being a perfectionist, there is always something that can be improved. Baguettes will be revisited again at some point in the future.

In Pursuit of Ciabatta

I started off my bread journey last week by making several white loaves, which were achieved without too much difficulty. I have discovered that kneading bread is a very therapeutic process and also incredibly satisfying when what was once a sticky mess comes together into a smooth, springy ball of dough.

I have since ventured out further to try my hand at ciabatta ….in search of that perfect chewy, spongy texture and those elusive air bubbles.

Batch 1

My first attempt used a recipe taken from the book How To Make Bread by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou. His book teaches a kneading method whereby the bread is kneaded little by little throughout the long proving time. This is a particularly useful method when working with ciabatta dough which is very wet and cannot easily be kneaded in the conventional way.

The finished bread was ok, although the loaves needed to be in the oven for much longer. There were some large air bubbles, but not nearly as many as should be to give the ciabatta it’s unique texture.

Batch 2

I decided to try again with a different recipe.

I found this one online. It uses a different kneading method where you stretch the dough upwards out of the bowl and smack it back down onto itself which helps to create more air bubbles, a real work out for the upper arms. As you can see from the photo above this did result in a more open crumb structure (sounds like something Paul Hollywood would say!) and the loaf had a beautiful chewy crust and a soft springy inside. The one thing I did notice however was that the large bubbles were not spread throughout the loaf. The ends were nice and holey, but the centre was quite close.

Batch 3 (before baking)

At the same time as the second batch I decided to have another go at the Emmanuel Hadjiandreou recipe. These things take quite a long time to prove so why not save time and do two different methods at once!

As you can probably tell by the third attempt, I’m getting better at shaping the loaves :)

Batch 3

I was quite disappointed with the results. The loaf was dense (still soft though) and did not even look close to what a ciabatta should look like neither did not have the lovely springy texture of batch 2.

So I decided to go for batch number 4. Five stars for perseverance.

Batch 4

This recipe, from the brilliant website The Kitchn, uses a starter which is made the night before. A starter is a simple dough, which is left to ferment for a long period of time (usually between 10-12 hours) and is then incorporated into the bread dough. Because the yeast is allowed to work for a much longer time the use of a starter can create better flavour in the bread and also, with ciabatta, is meant to help with the texture as well. The starter used for Italian breads is called biga and is much drier in consistency than the French poolish,  often used for making baguettes and other French artisan breads.

Using a starter definitely helped the proving process, after only 1.5 hours the dough was tripled in size and bursting with huge air bubbles. But again, as you can see from the photo of the finished bread, the air bubbles are mostly concentrated towards the top of the loaf. This definitely was the best out of the 4, it had a lovely flavour and an incredibly soft, spongy texture, but just no air bubbles. Maybe I’ll just call it Italian bread and leave it at that…

I saw a Youtube video of a woman making ciabatta who turns the dough upside down before baking to redistribute the bubbles. Perhaps that’s what I need to try, but for now I am moving on to the next challenge and shall revisit ciabatta sometime in the future.

Adventures with Yeast

Ok, I admit it. I’m scared of yeast.

It’s alive. It needs looking after. It’s possible to kill it.


Up until 2 weeks ago I hadn’t ever baked a loaf of bread from scratch and actually up until a few years ago I had a fairly strong dislike of bread.

I mean, I’m Chinese and so growing up there was a distinct lack of bread, save for soggy homemade sandwiches (with crust, oh the horror!)  for school lunch and the bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar dip which was served at the Italian restaurant we went to every now and again.

These early experiences, especially the dread of being forced to eat sandwiches at school (slightly squashed and with huge blobs of butter), left me very disdainful of bread (and indeed butter…). In fact I even remember carefully opening my sandwiches, lifting out the ham and cheese filling, painstakingly scraping off every smear of butter and then sneaking the bread into the bin without the dinner lady noticing (and woe betide you if she did notice as you’d quickly find yourself being made to eat whatever you’d just thrown away, straight from the bin).

But then about 3 years ago everything changed. A German friend of mine invited me to her house in Munich for Oktoberfest. Every morning a selection of local breads of every shape, colour and flavour appeared on the kitchen table. The first morning I ate 10 rolls piled with sliced meats and cheeses. And from that point on for the rest of the time we were there, I ate more bread than I had ever eaten before or since.

Upon returning home I finally understood why my German friend was constantly complaining about the bread in the UK. Supermarket bread is shockingly bland and proper artisan bakeries are few and far between.

Three years have passed since my eye-opening trip to Munich, and I have returned to my former ways of eating little to no bread (it’s probably better for the waistline that way). But then it dawned on me that if I could just get over my dislike of yeast then a whole new world of baking would be open to me.

So, with National Baking Week starting today I hereby end my boycott of all things which require proving and thus will I begin my adventure with yeast.