At the very beginning of my journey to country bumpkindom, I ‘met’ a gentleman. This gentleman followed dear old Margot’s chronicles (or mad woman’s rantings as Jerry affectionately refers to the blog) on Twitter from first chirp and has tweeted and retweeted my posts countless times. He has encouraged others to follow, saved me from kitchen disasters, provided invaluable advice and yet we have never been in the same room as each other. You may be wondering why I am telling you all this, dear Reader. Who is this gentleman? He is known as Mr Blackbird. Other than being a thoroughly nice chap who has taken pity on a muddled Margot, the fact of the matter is that Mr Blackbird has a specialist skill. A skill which I am keen to master. A skill which will help to transform Margot from townie to home grown bumpkin. He is a……..baker!
“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.” – Robert Browning
(photo: Blackbird Bread)
To give Mr Blackbird a proper introduction, he and Mrs Blackbird started Blackbird Bread, a micro-bakery in Twickenham, in 2012. They bake bread (quite obviously) and cakes all from home, selling to friends and neighbours, the surrounding community and local markets. 11 types of bread and 3 different cakes can be ordered by text, phone or email and are delivered on foot (if within walking distance) or picked up by their loyal followers 3 times a week. Quite frankly, when the bread looks this good, why wouldn’t you buy it?
Certainly NOT half-baked! The delicious loaves made by Mr and Mrs Blackbird.
(photo: Blackbird Bread)
Well dear Reader, on Margot’s New Year’s list of to-dos was: No.17 Bake a decent loaf of bread. This has been somewhat of a holy grail quest for me for some years now. I simply cannot bake ordinary bread. Variations on a theme of soda bread, including one with cheese and bacon – done. A real loaf – absolutely not. That was UNTIL I met Mr Blackbird. Armed with Mr Blackbird’s Basic White recipe (which can be found here on Mr B’s blog http://blackbirdbread.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/a-loaf-for-heather-or-bread-basics-101.html), I gingerly tested my baking skills. Jerry was quite bemused at my ‘Mr B says that you have to….and Mr B said that you should do that…’ but the pep talk and recipe prevailed and I baked my SECOND ever proper loaf with resounding success. (First loaf lost its bottom crust as I wasn’t liberal enough with the flour on the tray). However, with some practice loaves under my belt, I think that I may have finally passed the test!
Margot’s humble cottage loaf
Anyway, I thought if Mr Blackbird could teach a ridiculously hopeless case like me how to bake, then I must encourage him to give up his baking secrets to you, dear Reader. He very kindly said he would oblige so for the first Margot guest post ever………OVER TO YOU, Mr B!
“Blackbird Bread’s Top 5 tips”
Hi! The brilliant Margot has kindly invited me to do a guest post on her lovely blog. An honour!
I work for Blackbird Bread, a micro-bakery in Twickenham, providing homemade bread and cake for the local community. We bake from home, using a domestic oven, nothing fancy, just real honest food! Please visit our blog for more information – http://blackbirdbread.blogspot.co.uk/
Margot asked if I would provide my top 5 tips for baking a loaf of bread, but instead I’ve compiled a list of baking bits and pieces that are invaluable when making a loaf! Really the list could go on and on, so I’ve had to be quite strict!
- Digital scales Essential. You can get away with normal kitchen scales when weighing out large quantities of flour, but 7g of yeast is almost impossible to see without digital scales. (You can use measuring spoons, or a teaspoon, to weigh out measurements, but they’re never 100% accurate). They’re not too dear (ours cost £10).
- Clingfilm/black bin bags Yes, you heard right! The oft thought misconception about baking, and proving, is that you need to put things on top of a radiator, or in a warm place. Whilst that is useful, it isn’t vital. By using clingfilm or a black bin bag, you ensure the heat and moisture from the dough remains in the bowl as the gluten stretches and the dough proves.
- Water spray Cheap as chips, usually costs £1 and is necessary to keep the dough hydrated when it goes into the oven. Bakers’ ovens have built in steamers and sprays so this simply replicates that.
- Roasting tray When you switch the oven on (at least 45 minutes before you put the dough into it), put a roasting tray at the bottom of your oven. Leave it and let it get good and thirsty! Pop the kettle on and, just after you spray your loaf and put that in the oven, pour the boiling water from the kettle into the roasting tray and close the oven door as quickly as you can! The steam will fill your oven and maintain hydration for your loaf throughout the bake.
- Baking stone/pizza stone By all means use a roasting tray to bake bread in, but you can’t beat a stone that sits in the oven and gets incredibly hot. Your bread will start to cook the second it hits the stone if it’s in the oven for long enough (same time as the roasting tray for steaming – at least 45 mins before baking). The pizza stone is much thinner and usually round, so is brilliant for single loaves. The baking stone is thicker and is, basically, a paving stone, so is quite heavy, but can take two loaves at a time.
- (I know I said five tips!) Breadknife A sharp breadknife will be needed to score/slash your loaf just before it goes into the oven. A simple horizontal mark, approximately 1 cm deep, will allow you to control how the loaf will rise and will help to avoid any unsightly bulges in the wrong places!
Okay, that’s enough from me! Thanks to Margot for letting me loose on her blog! Please follow our baking adventures on Twitter – @blackbirdbread
To Mr B – I salute you and your fabulous baking skills. I am delighted that you agreed to share your tips! To you dear Reader, DO follow Blackbird on Twitter or check out his blog and if you live in Twickenham, what are you waiting for…place your order! I am completely indebted to Mr Blackbird and am thrilled to have made his acquaintance. I never truly believed that I would ever be able to pull off No.17 Bake a decent loaf. However, following these fundamentals, armed with a baking stone and trying not to become too complacement, this townie is turning country baker, producing her own daily bread with a little help from Poppy and Primrose of course! Hoorah!
‘Proving’ to be a hit…. Sorry, couldn’t resist the baking pun!