The Perfect White Loaf

This week I baked my first loaf. I know. I tell everyone I bake my own bread, but the truth is that my Panasonic does it. It’s hard to imagine how I got to this great age, call myself a foodie and have never kneaded. Jill asked me to make bread  so I chose ‘How to Make a Perfect White Loaf’ from The Great British Bake Off. I have to admit to some trepidation. The first attempt failed miserably, on account of using old yeast. No amount of peeping under the damp cloth and cursing was going to rise the dough. First lesson learned. I chucked the lot in the bin and started again. This time it worked, and I baked my first loaf. Good news: if I can do it, so can you. Bad news: my cred as a foodie is probably shot to hell. Oh well.

Makes 2 medium loaves


700g strong white bread flour
2 tsp sea salt flakes, crushed
1 x 7g sachet fast-action dried yeast or 15g fresh yeast
About 450g warm water


Put the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the dried yeast. Mix well then make a well in the centre.

Pour the warm water into the well. If using fresh yeast, mix it with the water then add to the flour.

Mix the flour into the water to make a soft but not sticky dough. If there are dry crumbs or the dough feels stiff and dry, work in a little more water; if it feels sticky and starts to stick to your fingers, work in a little more flour.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured worktop and knead thoroughly for TEN MINUTES. To knead, first stretch the ball of dough away from you by holding one end down with your hand and using the other hand to pull and stretch out the dough.

Gather the dough together back into a ball. Give it a quarter turn and repeat the stretching and gathering-back movements. As the dough is kneaded it will gradually change its texture and appearance and will start to feel pliable yet firm and look silky and smooth.


Return the ball of dough to the bowl and cover with clingfilm or a damp tea towel. Leave to rise til doubled in size – an hour in a warm kitchen, two hours at normal room temperature, three hours in my cold, draughty, damp hovel or overnight in the fridge.

Punch down the risen dough with your knuckles to deflate it. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead gently for a minute or so. Divide into equal halves and shape into a ball. Roll each ball around til very smooth and set it on a sheet on non-stick baking paper. Dust with flour. Cover with the damp cloth again. Leave to rise til doubled in size – around an hour.

Preheat the oven to 230°/450°/gas 8. Put one or two baking sheets in the oven (you might fit them both on one, but they will spread a bit) and put a roasting tin in the bottom of the oven.

Uncover the loaves and sprinkle with a little more flour then slash the top of each with a sharp knife. Transfer them, on the paper, to the hot sheet(s) and put in the oven. Pour a cup of cold water into the roasting tin to produce a burst of steam, and bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the sheets if needed to bake evenly, then reduce the temperature to 200°/400°/gas 6 and bake for a further 15 or 20 minutes or until a good golden brown and the loaves sound hollow when you tap them underneath. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Stand back, admire and wonder why the hell you’ve never done it before. And know that you’ll never buy supermarket bread ever again.


Marmalade Cake

I liked the look of this sticky marmalade cake taken from the Great British Bake Off  the book to accompany the BBC2 series. I loved the taste – it really is a cracker, moist and sweet with a sharp kick courtesy of the marmalade.

Sticky Marmalade Cake

A really good Seville orange marmalade – home made or a top brand – with an intense bittersweet flavour plus decent chunks of peel transforms a simple creamed sponge mixture into a special treat.






For the sponge:
175g unsalted butter
175g caster sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
175g self raising flour
Pinch of salt
¼ tsp baking powder
3 tbs chunky marmalade
2 tsp full fat milk

To finish:
3 tbs marmalade
100g icing suger
2 tbs water

1 x 20cm round, deep cake tin or springclip tin, greased and lined with baking paper.

Preheat the oven to 180º/350ºF/gas mark 4. Put the soft butter into a mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon or electric mixer for a minute, or til creamy. Gradually beat in the sugar, beating all the while, til the mixture becomes paler and fluffy.

Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition; add a tablespoon of the flour with the last portion of egg. Sift the remaining flour, the salt and baking powder into the bowl and gently fold the mixture with a large metal spoon. When thoroughly combined, add the marmalade and milk and stir in.

Spoon the mix into the prepared tin and spread evenly. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until a good golden brown and firm to the touch. (I tend to bake for 35, put a foil hat on it and put it back in the oven for 20 mins). Carefully turn the cake out onto a wire rack. Gently warm the second portion of marmalade and brush over the top of the warm cake. Leave to cool completely.

Sift the icing sugar into a bowl, add the warm water (I sometimes use half water, half lemon juice) and mix to a runny consistency using a wooden spoon. Spoon the icing over the cake and let it run down the sides – the chunks of marmalade will stick up through the icing. Leave til set before cutting.


Perfect Baking

It’s the final tonight of the Great British Bake Off and I’ll be there rooting for Brendan. What do you think, is he modest or smug?

There has been quite a bit of speculation about why ‘Bake Off’ is so successful and I think I know. It’s because baking has endless potential for going wrong, which makes for good telly and reassures the rest of us that even accomplished bakers have disasters. What’s more the crisis doesn’t always reveal itself until the very end after you’ve spent ages  beating, whisking, baking and decorating. There are plenty of potential pitfalls in tonight’s programme when they’re asked to make pithiviers, chiffon sponges and  fondant fancies.

Oh I can’t wait to see them handle fondant fancies. I’ve already written about my own encounter with these tricky little blighters.  I’m still traumatised two years on.

Baking perfection is difficult, that’s why I’m so in awe of my friend Jane Middleton who after a career in cookery book editing set up her own company Cinnamon Toast making exquisite cakes and decorated biscuits. Jane is Yorkshire born but sadly for us, now lives in Bath. You can buy her stuff mail order and you can read all about her new business on this Foodie Bugle blog.




Yorkshire Parkin

Parkin, the thick, sticky gingerbread cake made of oatmeal, spices, treacle and butter, is traditionally eaten on November 5th,  Bonfire Night. It dates back many centuries, and is not confined to Yorkshire, but to all parts of the north of England and Scotland, where oatmeal was the staple grain.

I well remember as a child in Lancashire eating parkin round the bonfire after the fireworks, along with potatoes baked in the ashes with wonderfully blackened skin followed by Callard & Bowser’s treacle toffee.

Originally called perkin, it would have been baked on a hearthstone as more of a biscuit than a cake, but by the mid 19th century when ovens had replaced hearthstones, parkin had evolved into the thick, spicy, cake we know today.

Food historian Laura Mason, author of ‘Traditional Foods in Britain’ writes that
the use of spices suggests it was a cake made for feast days and holidays: ‘Those moments in the year which justify extravagant ingredients’.

Traditionally parkin is cut into squares and according to Dorothy Hartley in her ‘Food in England’ is best stored in a wooden box – not a tin – as the parkin is best kept a week before use and gets a pleasant, moist texture’.

Lottie Shaw makes ‘Seriously Good Yorkshire Parkin’ at the family bakery in Elland. It’s available from good food shops in the north of England  and by mail order. But it’s very simple, cheap and delicious to make your own. Make sure you don’t overcook it and keep it a week wrapped in greaseproof paper when it well develop a lovely moist, sticky texture.

Oatmeal Parkin
225g medium oatmeal
110g self-raising flour
a pinch of salt
200g golden syrup
25g black treacle
110g butter
110g soft brown sugar
2 level teaspoons ground ginger
1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon milk

Preheat oven to gas mark 1, 140ºC
Lightly grease a 20cm square cake tin with a removable base.

Put the butter, sugar, syrup and treacle into a pan and place over a gentle heat until the butter has melted. Don’t let it boil.

Measure the oatmeal, flour, ginger and a pinch of salt into a mixing bowl and stir in the warmed syrup mixture until thoroughly combined.

Add the beaten egg and then the milk and stir well.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Bake in the centre of the oven for 1.5-2 hours. Keep an eye on it so that it does not overcook and become too dry.

Cool the parkin in the tin for 30 minutes, then turn out to cool.

When it’s cold wrap in greaseproof paper and store in a tin (or a wooden box) for  a week when it will have developed into a lovely, soft sticky cake.

Food Swap

What about this for an idea? If you’ve made too much jam or chutney or have a glut of rhubarb or onions, you meet with others with a similar over-supply and swap. The idea started in the States and has now reached the UK and happily a group called Apples for Eggs has set up in York.

They are holding their first exchange on Saturday at Ambience the little café on Gillygate between 4pm-6pm. So anything you’ve grown, raised, produced or baked yourself can be swapped. No money changes hands, you just arrive with your stuff, set it out, complete ‘swap cards’ have a look around and when the exchange begins, you negotiate your swap. Obviously the more you take along, the more you take home. You need to register if you are a swapper.  It’s all explained here:  applesforeggsyork. Sounds like a great idea to us. If you go, let us know how you get on.


Pastry by Richard Bertinet

This month’s prize cookery book was Pastry
by Richard Bertinet, the anglophile Frenchman who trained as a baker in Brittany and set up Bertinet Kitchen Cookery School in Bath in 2005.

We picked the prize winners at our Squidbeak dinner held at Staithes Gallery in May. It is a beautiful book, almost too beautiful to take into the kitchen, but it’s such a good practical piece of work, I’d like to think the winners will soon have the pages butter splattered and floury, confirming it as a well loved cookery book.

Bertinet’s earlier books Dough and Crust are beautifully written and produced and Pastry follows the same pattern and is jammed full of really useful stuff.

Unlike many baking books which breeze through the pastry making techniques, Bertinet takes us carefully through each stage of sweet, salted,choux and puff pastry in the first 63 pages and 50 plus photographs.

His method too is unusual, beating cold butter between two sheets of greaseproof paper before flaking it into the flour, to stop it warming up in your hands. He sensibly advises making double quantity so that you have a batch to freeze and most reassuringly he promises to take the fear out of pastry. And who hasn’t felt the fear – the pastry that sticks to the worktop, the quiche that leaks?  Bertinet teaches you how to deal with all this and more and when you’ve mastered the basics there are the fabulous recipes like the chicken and tarragon tart, Cornish pasties and exquisite little Portugese custard tarts.

We’ll be testing the recipes in the coming weeks, so keep checking this blog.

Apple Sharlotka

One of our favourite food blogs is Deb Perelman’s at Smitten Kitchen. Her tag is ‘fearless cooking from tiny kitchen in New York City’. It couldn’t get much further removed from our gaffs (a draughty, ancient hovel on the moors in my case and a chic, contemporary town house in Jill’s) but we love her take on pretty much everything, in particular cake. I’ve had a go at lots of her recipes – this was afters last Sunday. It’s easy, looks great, tastes brilliant. It’s pretty much a direct lift from her website. She’s married to a Russian, and it’s her mother-in-law’s take on the classic Apple Charlotte.


6 large tart apples, Bramleys or Granny Smiths

3 large eggs

200g granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

125g plain flour

Ground cinnamon and icing sugar, to finish


Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4. Line a 9 inch springform tin with greased parchment. Peel, halve and core your apples then chop them into medium size chunks. Pile them into the tin. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until smooth, preferably with an electric whisk. Add the vanilla, then stir in the flour. The batter will be very thick. Pour it over the apples. Bake in the preheated oven for about 40 mins then check it’s not burning. If it’s starting to brown, cover with a foil hat and resume cooking for another 15 or 20 mins. Check it’s cooked with a skewer – if it comes out clean, it’s done. Leave it in the tin for 10 mins, then remove and let it cool completely on a rack. Dust with the cinnamon and icing sugar. Best served warm with a dollop of crème fraiche. Or nibbled cold when you think no-one’s looking (Jill, I sussed you, you’ve got to get up earlier than that to catch me .. )


The Cooking School at Dean Clough

Saturday afternoon and a spot of restorative baking at the fabulous Dean Clough Cooking School. If you’ve never been the building alone is magnificent –  once the world’s largest carpet mill, it covers a 20 acre site in the centre of Halifax. Now it houses offices, a restaurant, a design shop, a world class art collection and this state-of-the-art Cooking School.

The affable Matthew Benson-Smith was our tutor who taught 17 of us how to make cupcakes, glazed fruit tarts and fruit scones. There’s something therapeutic about creaming butter and sugar and messing about with a piping bag and edible glitter. And at  the end of it, what a treat, we all sat down to finger sandwiches, cupcakes, scones, jam and clotted cream. A great day out.

Coming up ‘Kitchen Confidence’ for novice cooks, ‘Passionate About Pastry’ and the next course, Breadmaking on 20th April. See the website for the full list of courses:

Squidbeak Blog

© Copyright SquidBeak 2012 Contact usDisclaimerPrivacy PolicyMaraid Design