Another recipe from our resident expert, Vanessa Kimbell. Vanessa has come up with an exhaustively tested recipe that although quite challenging is an achievable version of panettone that you will love to eat and impress your friends and family. You can get all the ingredients and the panettone cases needed (except for the basic larder ingredients) in our BakeryBits Panettone Kit. If you need a sourdough starter, then add our San Francisco starter.
Panettone is tricky. I was chatting to chef Carlo Cracco in Milan last week, who is regarded by many as the perhaps the most supreme exponent of Italian Cuisine, about developing a practical and yet authentic panettone recipe for home bakers – he laughed out loud exclaiming that even he didn’t make his own as they are so notoriously difficult to get right.
Stocking Pelia olive oil has taken the team at BakeryBits on a bit of a journey to understand the differences between olive oils especially the complexities of the flavours – and how to characterise them. Philip at Pelia has given us the benefit of his extensive knowledge, some of which is related here. Philip describes the key aspects of olive oil flavours and what to look for when you taste them. The way that olives are grown and transformed into the delicious oil is a very important contributor to the final quality of the oil. We have a video showing how this is performed at Pelia along with a description of all of the stages in making the oil. We found it interesting enough to warrant a blog article and hope that you agree.
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The Ndali Estate is a 1000 acre farm set in volcanic soil in the tropics of Western Uganda. The farm specialise in the organic, Fairtrade growing and curing of fine vanilla, the best of which is sold as “Ndali” vanilla.
Vanilla grows best in small-scale agro-forestry, it takes considerable time and care to produce the beans. Vanilla flowers the world-over are pollinated by hand to ensure a good crop since the very specific pollinating insects are not numerous enough to ensure this. So, the farmers must be on-hand within 8 hours of the flower opening to perform the delicate operation. After pollination, the beans then take 9 to 11 months to be ready for harvest at which point they are still green. Read the rest of this entry »
This recipe comes from Vanessa Kimbell, our resident baking expert.
More often than not I am asked what to do with the leftover starter that is normally discarded after refreshing sourdough starter ready for some bread baking. It seems a shame when it’s still relatively fresh and has developed such a lovely sour flavour to just throw it away.
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The unexpected cold snap has got us craving hearty snacks, and luckily Paul Hollywood has a few straightforward tricks under his rolling pin. Here Britain’s favourite master baker shares his recipe for a proper malt loaf. Exceptionally easy with a rich flavour, this loaf has a light texture and is more like a risen bread than the dense ready-made versions you find in supermarkets. Read the rest of this entry »
Vanilla extract is a ubiquitous ingredient in cakes – it’s an ingredient in virtually everyone’s kitchen. Why not make your own? It is really, really easy to do and you can customise it too.
The extract takes about 8 weeks to make – no heating or factory processing needed here. The first thing you need to get is some attractive bottles so that you have something on your shelf or to give away that look good. I used 250ml push-cap bottles which are available from your local cook shop (I got mine from Wendy’s Cookshop in Honiton) as they are just the right height for a vanilla pod.
You need two ingredients:
Naturally, the better the vanilla, the better the essence, so we use our vanilla pods grown by subsistence farmers in the Totonac region of Mexico – which is where vanilla originally came from before being grown on an industrial scale in other parts of the world.
Next, you need some alcohol which dissolves the vanillin from the pods which is the active compound that gives vanilla its flavour. IT should be something strong, around 40%, I’ve used vodka which gives little or no flavour to the extract and also rum which, when mixed with vanilla, gives a heady aroma which I find hard to stop sniffing.
Easy. Take about 4 vanilla pods – more if you want a stronger flavour – and slice them along the length to allow the alcohol to penetrate and get the flavour out. Put the pods into the bottle and fill with your choice of alcohol. Close the cap, and that is it. The rest is a waiting game: the bottles will darken over the next few weeks so that in about 8 weeks, they will have taken on a much darker colour.
Treat yourself to a hot chocolate with a slosh of rum-based vanilla extract for a fabulous winter-warmer.
Whether you’re a beginner, experienced home baker or simply a food lover, why not learn how to set up and run your own successful pop up bakery courtesy of food writer, author and BBC radio broadcaster Vanessa Kimbell.
Vanessa has been running a popular pop up bakery for quite some time now and is full of knowledge and expertise having previously worked in a bakery in the South of France.
Vanessa’s put a new course together to get you and your bakery off to a flying start. The course will include advice and tips and will cover everything you need to be able to go home and set up your own bakery confidently.
The day will commence with a coffee and a bite to eat and then Vanessa will make a delicious lunch with vegetables from her own garden.
With a Northern-Irish ex-pat father, occasionally through my childhood we’d be treated to various Irish specialities. Potato cakes are what I remember best, thin pancake-like triangles of potato, butter, flour and maybe some herbs fried to give a brown, caramelised crunch. Just thinking about them makes my mouth water and yet for some reason they aren’t popular in my part of the world.
When he moved to England in the ’60s, my Dad was shocked at the poor range of flour available in supermarkets, just white or wholemeal in the main and the wholemeal was very much finer than he was used to in Northern Ireland. He says that, unlike what he found in England, there would be a wide variety of wholemeal (or wheaten meal) flours available, from fine to coarse – and even with today’s ever homogenising supermarket offerings, several grades of coarseness are available.
Some time ago, he contacted various millers in Ireland to try to produce some “proper” coarse flour used in scones, farls, wheaten bread amongst others but couldn’t convince any to send some across-the-water and so had given up the search. This is where the marvellous Jon Cook at Foster’s Mill comes in. He has made a mid-coarseness stoneground wheaten meal for us to stock – and it has had the thumbs-up in the ex-pat authenticity test!
Here then, is a very straightforward recipe for Wheaten Scones using Jon’s flour and a family recipe. Traditionally these would be cooked on a griddle but work well in the oven (use the top of your range cooker if you have one). The scones have much more bite than the more common white scones and, with the turn half-way through baking, they have a delicate crust too. Great with butter and jam, in fact, I think, I need another one for inspiration while writing-up the recipe.
This recipe contains buttermilk, another ingredient readily available in Ireland and much less so in England. The buttermilk available in the supermarkets isn’t quite the same but is near enough. The recipe makes 12 excellent scones, good hot, cold or toasted.
- 300g The Prior’s Organic Wheaten Meal
- 100g The Prior’s Organic White flour
- 1tsp baking powder
- 1tsp salt
- 30g softened butter
- 50g caster sugar
- 284ml buttermilk (1 pot)
Preheat your oven to 230°C (215°C for fan ovens).
Soda breads should not be kneaded and rely on the baking powder to make them rise. So, mix the wheaten meal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together to make sure that all are well distributed. Rub the butter into the mix with your hands until the butter is lost in the flour and then add the buttermilk, mixing (rather than kneading) until all comes together as a fairly stiff dough.
Flour your worktop and roll the dough to about 1″ thickness and then using a 60mm pastry cutter cut out the 12 scones, placing them on a greased baking sheet.
Put the scones into the pre-heated oven for 7 minutes before turning the scones over and then baking for another 7 minutes until golden brown. Tip onto a cooling rack, cool a bit before eating.
I’ve had a Four Grand-Mère wood-fired oven in my garden for a couple of years and have been learning how to get the best out of it. I’ve baked with it in 8″ of snow and often in the dark, but can confirm that decent weather and daylight are more pleasant. As a weekend baker, I prepare for a large bread bake usually around 24 1kg loaves of various recipes to be baked in 3 batches. It means that when I want to use the oven, it starts from completely cold, rather than having any residual heat from the previous bake and so the oven needs to be taken to bread-baking temperature (about 220°C). This takes a bit of time but isn’t difficult and on the way, we manage to squeeze in a pizza night. I light the oven on a Saturday afternoon for a Sunday bake. You might do it all on the Sunday but you miss out on the pizza part.
Quick Overview of Wood-Fired Oven Baking
There are 2 methods for baking with a wood-fired oven: door open and door closed. When the door is open, a constant flow of air can feed the burning fire within. This is used for baking (or grilling) foods such as pizza. Pizza need a burning flame and a hot hearth in order to be grilled quickly (about 3 minutes) and have the unmistakable flavour of a wood-fired oven pizza. Bread and most other bakes do not have a burning fire within the chamber while baking. Instead, the oven will have been pre-heated and the chamber completely cleared of anything burning. The foods are then placed into the oven and the insulating door (the “stop gap”). The body of the oven releases heat into the chamber and the food bakes.
Wood-Fired Oven Technology
There are two basic wood-fired oven technologies: retained heat thermal store and direct heat. Retained heat ovens (like ours from Four Grand-Mère) have a large mass, that is, they are very heavy (a few 100kg) being made from materials such as thermal bricks and tiles. They are designed to absorb the heat from the fire deeply within the body of the oven and for the heat to even out and then to be released back into the chamber during a bake, and then to recharge the oven between batches until the heat is depleted at which point a top-up fire might be required. On my oven, I can bake 3 batches of 8 1kg loaves between firings. The heat store means that the oven temperature will be even and through the insulation, maintained for a long period. Direct heat ovens tend to be much lighter in construction, typically made from steel and have a separate firebox where a fire is maintained during the bake. This is good for making the oven more portable but can make maintaining a constant temperature during a bake tricky.
How to Light Your Oven
Firstly, it is important to know how to light the oven without smoking yourself too much. The key is to understand the process and what the fire is telling you about the fuel, temperature and air supply.
Lighting a wood-fired oven is more than lighting a bonfire: it is somewhere that food is to be prepared so the things that you burn matter – no treated or painted bits of wood, no old pallets with the odd nail in. It is also important to understand something about how fires work to keep smoke to a minimum. When a wood-fired oven is operating correctly there will be no visible smoke coming from the chimney – just a heat haze. Getting your oven working correctly is easily mastered once a few principles are understood.
A fire making smoke is a fire that is not burning efficiently, it is an indication of incomplete combustion which is a waste of fuel and the smoke is a nuisance. The trick is to get the chamber and the chimney warmed quickly so that the fire can burn at the optimum temperature such that there is a heat-haze rather than smoke.
The first thing to do is to get the chimney warmed since if it has been left for a long period, it will be cold and the cold air within it will form a plug preventing it from drawing well. At the same time, getting the chamber warming will allow the small fire to get hot enough to burn the fuel completely and so eliminate smoke in the shortest time.
To do this, fuel that burns quickly, such as clean paper (no tape or staples) scrunched up to form a bed about 30cm by 30cm and 5cm thick is a good start – be generous with it as the aim is to get the fire lit in one go. The paper is the first part of a chain of fuels: it burns brightly and enough to light the cardboard strips which should be placed on top of the paper, again be quite generous with it. On the cardboard, I add some think pieces of wood, small sticks of kindling. These have a large surface area to volume and so the burning cardboard will burn for long enough to get these to light. In turn, the kindling burns for longer, and for long enough to get the main fuel alight.
I have experimented with various fuels in my wood-fired oven. I have tried using the clean bits of wood from pallets but don’t think that this is a great idea since I don’t know its history and really don’t want to have to explain any missed nails. Logs are good, but it is very important that the wood is well seasoned, something that is both tricky and costly to get hold of. Logs need to have a moisture level of about 12% to burn well otherwise lots of the energy within the burning log is used to evaporate the water rather than to heat your oven. Not many log suppliers can guarantee this so you will need to store the cut logs yourself for a period before use – normally 6 months or more. My favourite fuel of the moment is Verdo compressed wood briquettes. They are made using only dried wood fibres so they are clean, dense and dry. When they are alight, they open up and burn a little faster than logs, burning with a clean flame. I get them by the pallet load (Verdo Wood Briquettes from Woof! Woodfuels) and I think that this compares well with a typical “load” of logs.
So, to the paper, card and kindling pile, I put a wood briquette on either side and one across the top. Then, with the flue damper open (if you have one fitted), and with the oven door wide open, the paper is lit. The paper should catch quickly in turn igniting the card which will burn long enough to get the kindling to light which will ignite the briquettes. If there is enough card and kindling, the oven air temperature will increase rapidly to push out the plug of cold air in the chimney. As the kindling takes hold, the initial smoke will quickly disappear to leave a heat haze.
After a few minutes, the paper and card will die out as the fuel is exhausted and the briquettes should start to burn. I can’t resist a bit of a poke at this point to rearrange the fire, to make sure that any paper and card is burned away. When the fire is clearly burning well, I will then add a couple more briquettes and close the door a little if it is windy to stop the fire burning too quickly and sending all of the heat up the chimney. I tend to check on the fire every 30-60 minutes to make sure that it has sufficient fuel and to top it up. The aim is to get a flaming fire to fill about 1/3 of the hearth area.
A sign that the oven is low on fuel or airflow while the chamber is being heated is when you can see smoke coming from the chimney – check it by slowly opening the door wider and you might find that the smoke ignites and starts burning correctly again. Otherwise, see if more fuel is needed.
Saturday Afternoon – First Burn and Pizza!
I tend to light the oven on a Saturday afternoon, leaving it burning until the early evening and then cook pizza in there with the fire swept to the back of the oven and with a flame going. I make a batch of pizza dough and make 10 pizza each with 150g dough. The oven is up to temperature when the tiles (our model is the Four Grand-Mère with tiles lining the dome) turn white, or when (a little) flour thrown onto the hearth immediately turns black – the oven wants to be hot! I slide in 3 of the pizzas using a 9″ peel and by the time that the next 3 are ready to go in (working fast!), the first are ready to come out.
Once finished, I rake the burning embers to cover the hearth to burn away the odd bits of cheese and olives that have rolled off, and then put the insulating door in place, close the damper and the outer door and leave until next morning.
Sunday – Bake Day!
I usually do the bake on the Sunday. The oven will still be pretty hot in the chamber although not hot enough for baking. For this, a top-up firing will be needed. Repeat the fire-lighting above which will be easier as already warm and leave to burn vigorously for a couple of hours. After the wood has died down to ash and a few embers, it is time to scrape out the fire, into an ash-bin. I then use a brass brush to sweep out the remaining embers and as much ash as I have patience to clear. Some next use a damp (not sopping wet) cloth on the end of the brush to clean the hearth of the remaining ash. Check the oven temperature, hearth and dome. For this I use an infra-red thermometer and usually read something around the 300°C mark. This is too hot and what I want is for the oven to absorb the additional heat into the body for release later, and for the temperature to even out across the oven. So, put the insulating door in place and close the damper if you have one and leave for 30 minutes or so and check to see if the temperature has settled to 220C to 240C on the hearth. Any higher will tend to burn the base of the loaf.
With the oven at 220°C-240°C, it is time to bake. I slide 8 loaves from their bannetons (proving baskets) onto a 12″ long-handled peel, into my oven as quickly as I can and replace the insulating door and the outer door. For the first 20 minutes, I close the damper in order to promote a steamy baking environment for crustier crust. After 20 minutes, I open the damper otherwise, the level of steam can lead to water running out of the front of the oven (mine has the tell-tale stains of this!). After about 40 minutes, the smell drifting across the garden tells me that the first batch is done. These I take out and then close up the oven, including closing the damper. The oven is then left for about 20 minutes while it recharges and evens out again. Then, the process is repeated for the second and third batch.
After the third batch the oven is still pretty hot, around 200C, but not hot enough for more bread, so there is plenty of opportunity for other bakes to make the most of the retained heat which will be available for several hours. Cakes through meringues and fruit or herb drying are all options for the organised.