Tag Archives: Dinner a deux

For the love of….bread

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: BLlackbird Bread)

“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?

Blackbird Bread - don't mind if I do! (c) Blackbird Bread

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

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!

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. (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!

Margot's humble cottage loaf!

‘Proving’ to be a hit…. Sorry, couldn’t resist the baking pun!


Margot’s Twelve Days of Christmas

Look at that darling little boot!

Look at the darling little boot!

On the first day of Christmas, my dear Jerry gave to me……some truly wonderful presents to kit me out for the countryside in 2013: the most delicious cashmere welly socks complete with tiny silver welly, an AMAZING box set of River Cottage handbooks and a very uncamouflaged green and white spotty bag from Cath Kidston!  Dear Reader, I can assure that I was most certainly one of the nine ladies dancing!  Presents done and dusted by 7:30am!  That’s what I call efficient or rather very impatient!  We even managed to make the wonderful nativity service where Primrose stood angelic as one of the angels by a real baby ‘Jesus’ whilst Poppy screamed for most of the service and could only be silenced by a packet of rice cakes.  Crib service completed, we trudged off on our Christmas travels with our two little ‘angels’ who had been awake since 4:47am, desperate to see what St Nicholas had left under the tree.  Even industrial amounts of coffee could not keep me awake on Christmas morning and there was rain of biblical proportions sloshing down as we left the Big Smoke, ruining my straightened hair and making me question whether or not the Mayans might have been on to something!Journey finally at an end, we turned our attentions to the business of Christmas lunch.  Day one of the Twelve Days of Christmas and  not a partridge in sight.  However, I did try my first ‘turducken’.  Yes that’s right, a ‘turducken’ (turkey, duck and chicken), also known as a three bird roast.  A modern take on an olden day feasting dish when one served a bird in a bird in a bird (you get the idea) all neatly packaged up inside a swan, feathers, beak et al.  I can see where jeggings might have evolved from.  They must be the modern day equivalent of hose!  Thank goodness we only had 2 days of feasting to get through rather than the full Twelve Days of Christmas.  I am not sure I could have managed the swan roast or the 12 pies for a lucky 12 months that nursery rhyme Jack Horner is alleged to have consumed!

Boxing Day arrived with its post Christmas lunch slump and mad sale spendathons.  Traditionally the feast of St Stephen (the patron saint of horses), farmers and horse owners alike used to take their horses to their country parishes to be blessed.  It is also well known as the biggest day in the hunting calendar.  The Boxing Day hunt – a time honoured country Christmas tradition which is so rarely cheered in villages these days.  Dear Minty took her little babe to his inaugural Boxing Day hunt to watch riders and hounds depart from a sleepy village in Gloucestershire for the frost-covered fences and hedges of the surrounding countryside.  If Minty’s husband has anything to do with it, that dear little boy will be riding, hunting, shooting and fishing before he even takes his first steps.  I applaude that sentiment entirely!  No local hunts around our parts so I made do with a little dress with horse and hound pattern!  Embarking on the second day of our gluttonous feasting, I started to feel like the Vicar of Dibley in the episode where she is invited to all the villagers’ Christmas lunches.  I wasn’t sure how much more I could fit in and wished I had saved a pair of maternity jeans!  Following a considerably over indulgent lunch, I fell into a dream of turtledoves and dovecotes on my country estate and was woken somewhere around 2am by the ‘twit twoo’ of a pair of owls .  I say owls…..it could merely have been the whistling of darling Jerry’s drunken snoring.  Difficult to tell….

Hunting horns at the ready!

Hunting horns at the ready!

Well dear Reader, day three of Margot’s Twelve Days of Christmas and all was looking rosy as we finally returned to the familiar surroundings of our dear little cottage.  Presents unpacked, fire lit and pyjamas on, I was delighted to be back.  I will admit to be being a very poor house guest.  I like to be in my own home.  Tragic as that sounds.  I also felt a little twinge of loyalty to the cottage as after all, this will be the last Christmas spent in its tiny embrace.  Three French hens were not on offer….you can see I was not fully prepared for the full twelve days at all…BUT Primrose and I did make a rather charming bereted French snowman (if I do say so myself) for the top of my Christmas cake this year.  Rustique.

C'est chic non?!

C’est chic, non?!

As for the rest of the Twelve Days of Christmas, not really sure how I am going to manage four colly birds (apparently these are blackbirds, who would have thought?), five gold rings (oh God nothing Olympic related I promise), six geese-a-laying (might have to make do with chickens for this one and book myself on a hen-keeping course), seven swans-a-swimming (could a few trips to The Swan pub count?), eight maids-a-milking (dairy farm, perhaps?).  Still it all looks promising for a good old New Year/early Twelfth Night shindig.  A little visit to see Tom and Barbara in the offing and no doubt, I shall definitely see at least one of the ten lords a leaping on New Year’s Eve (can’t wait to see Tom strutting his stuff with his energetic version of Britney’s Toxic) and might even manage to do some piping for the eleven pipers piping.  As for the drummers, dearest Poppy got a drum from Father Christmas so when New Year’s Day comes and inevitably, Jerry and I have sore heads, it will feel like twelve drummers drumming.  Might have to hide that one…… Here’s to 2013 and Margot FINALLY making it to the countryside.  Happy New Year to you, Dear Reader!