Tales from the Bakery

I spend a lot of my time researching bread from all corners of the planet. It's a fascinating subject. Did you know that bread is one of the only foods eaten by people of every race, region and culture? In eastern Europe, bread and salt are symbols of welcome, happiness and prosperity. Marrying an eastern European 49 years ago eeekk!! - we were greeted by the guests with bread and salt. In this country the bride and groom welcome the guests, but in many other cultures it's the other way round. We snuck off for a breather and a glass or two of bubbly whilst everyone sorted themselves out!

Evidence from 30,000 years ago, found starch residue on rocks used for pounding plants to make a primitive form of bread. During this time, starch extract from the roots of plants, such as cattails and ferns was spread on a flat rock, placed over a fire and baked into, what we could now call, a flat bread.

I am lucky enough to know bakers from all over the world, both amateur and professional, who always seem to acquire fascinating bread stories. The most recent one was from a well travelled baker from South African who found an unusual type of bread originating from a very remote part of the world. The Serife Islands, nearest land mass to Tristan da Cunha (by near we're talking 100s of miles) inhabited by only 105 people. As the islands are so remote they are relatively untouched by civilisation. A very primitive way of life, but the people are blessed – probably due to the highly fertile volcanic soil – by an incredible range of flora and fauna. The islanders make a very nutritious bread from the root of the tritikoo. This is a wheat type plant that is cultivated at certain elevations on the islands.

As the population is very small, there's no such thing as 'mass production', so an immense amount of care and attention is taken into each harvest. The plant, in it's mineral rich environment, is at its best for harvesting after heavy rain, followed by a westerly wind which forms a rich, crust on top of the soil. It is of vital importance that the root is not bruised in any way, in harvesting, as this causes instant rot and bitterness. The natural raising agents in the root (much more potent than yeast) are killed and the harvest is useless.

Another unusual ingredient in the bread is poisson fermente suedois, a substance rather like the Roman liquimen, which adds vital nutrients to the bread, so during lean times of the year (and there are a few) the bread will nurture the tiny population even though there's no meat, vegetables or fruit available. Being so remote, everyone would starve without this vitally important foodstuff.

The traditional shape of the Serife Islands loaf is either wedge shaped or triangular with thin, crusty points at the corners. Some of the other islands prefer the loaf with blunt corners and these are known as Sans Serife loaves.

Book one of my Bread Classes and learn how to make this wonderfully fishy bread.


National Bagel Day 9 February 2019

Tomorrow is National Bagel Day

Bagels are pretty unique, as well as being super tasty but much denser and chewier than a roll.

Paul Merry from The Panary Bakery at Cann Mill Dorset talks about the fascinating history of this iconic ‘roll with a hole’ his wonderful memory of the Jewish bakers in his home city of Melbourne.

The bagel was probably created by a Jewish baker living in Vienna, towards the end of the sixteenth century, and indeed it has been popular in Eastern Europe for these several centuries. The earliest written record of the word "beigel" occurs in archives of community edicts in Krakow, early in the 1610, and the edict instructed that beigels were to be given to women in childbirth. There is the usual fanciful folklore which says that the name comes from an old word for ring; or from the German bugel, meaning riding stirrup, with the bagel commemorating the king of Poland’s love of riding while symbolising the Polish cavalry’s protection of Austria from the risk of Turkish invasion. As folklore goes, this is possibly the Jewish version of the mythical story explaining the origin of the croissant, also said to have been created to celebrate the repulsion of the Turks from Vienna.

Always associated with Jewish bakeries, “the roll with the hole” has become so popular that now it is a product of mainstream industrial bakeries. A real bagel, however, has its own characteristics and is not just another form of morning roll.

Indeed it is the chewiness of the bagel that sets it apart, with its crust being tough, rather than crisp. Beneath the richly glazed crust of light mahogany hues is a dense and close textured crumb that has its own particular appeal when actually being chewed.

As a young adult beginning to discover exotic food, I remember making considerable effort to pass through the Jewish quarter of my city, Melbourne, a detour that was well rewarded by visiting the Jewish bakeries, where bagels and fluffy baked cheese cake took my fancy. I find irresistible the traditional bagel with cream cheese and chopped herring or smoked salmon. Years later, as a professional baker, I would make regular trips to the city and suburbs for pleasure or to stock up at the warehouses of the wholesale importers of foreign foods. As before, the bagel held me in thrall, and those detours would again be made to visit the Jewish bakeries. By that time the lure of the exotic bagel was working its magic since a bagel is so different from a normal bread roll, one of which I could have any day in my bakery.

Cookisto / Coq au Vin

Chicken marinated then braised in wine with garlic, herbs and mushrooms, just screams French cuisine at it's best.

If you're lucky enough or rich enough, the classic French chicken Bresse is the finest. Its rich, gamey flavour and slight chewiness takes this rustic dish to heaven and back.

Gratin Dauphinoise is the perfect, delicious, partner in crime. Potatoes slowly baked in a silky smooth cream and cheese sauce with a gorgeous crispy topping. OK, its not the healthiest kid on the block - but once in a while its the ultimate comfort food.

This amount of decadence requires a bit of light relief in the form of Petit Pois a la Francaise - basically a lovely menage tois of lettuce, peas and spring onions (OK lets not talk about the butter!)

All this for £9.50pp with homemade French bread baked the traditional way with long fermentation and wild yeast. Bon Apetit!

Cookisto / Porchetta

Succulent pork, rich gravy and a big fat bun. According to Wikipedia (so it has to be true) Porchetta was selected as prodotto agroalimentare tadizionale (traditional agricultural food product) one of a list of traditional Italian foods held to have cultural relevance.

It's fatty, meaty and delicious, flavoured with herbs and spices, one of the ultimate street food choices. Pork belly encases a beautifully tender pork loin and cooked for, up to, 8 hrs. Don't be put off with the reference to 'fatty'. Fat equals flavour, not chewy horribleness. With rolls from Aston Parish Bakery, it is wonderful.

The pork is produced by our local farm butchery and is naturally reared. The quality is exceptional £9.50pp

Cookisto / A French Bistro Classic Hachis Parmentier

Cookisto is going all Gallic this week with a French Bistro classic. I love Bistro grub, it’s unpretentious, tasty and, usually, very affordable. Paris on a cold, wet day sitting in a toasty, steamed up bistro with a big bowlful of Cassoulet or Hachis Parmentier is my idea of heaven. Unfortunately, bistros are not as common in France today as they were 30 years ago, although there are are a couple of family run bistros surviving in London. There’s a cracking one in Brighton, which includes steamy windows, but it’s a bit too far for lunch!

To say Hachis Parmentier’s a French version of Cottage Pie, is being a little too simplistic. BTW ‘hachis' means ‘chopped’ as in ‘hatchet’ and ‘parmentier’ is any dish that includes spuds. The French always make every day meals sound posh!

The meat (usually beef, although lamb is popular) is cut into small cubes rather that minced, then braised very slowly before the potato and cheese thatch. Unlike mince, you cannot make it with any old bits of meat and fat, as there is nowhere to hide.

I served it to friends for lunch recently and there was an unanimous thumbs up for it to go on the Cookisto menu – so here it is!

£9.00pp which includes baguette, from the bakery, and a veg – not sure what yet, but it will include cabbage. Zut Alhors – what a great dish for a winter Friday evening!

Cookisto / Year of the Dog Char Siu Pork with Egg Fried Rice & Spring Rolls

This week I'm cooking up a wonderfully aromatic pork dish with delicious egg fried rice and my own homemade spring rolls. We tend to think that all Chinese cuisine revolves around a wok, but this is pork loin marinated overnight in honey, bean curd and rice wine and roasted in the oven.

I don't eat out a great deal or have takeaways, particularly in local Chinese restaurants as the levels of MSG used are above my comfort levels. Also, I usually find Egg Fried Rice a disappointment, so over the years I have developed my own versions of some classic dishes. As I don't have a fierce enough flame for my wok, I make thin egg pancakes and slice them, thinly, into the rice at the end. This avoids a rather claggy mess of egg that destroys the texture of the rice and vegetables.

Spring Rolls are little parcels of crispy wrap and delicately flavoured veg. Well, they should be anyway. The last one I had put me off for life. I was visiting my Mother-in-Law in hospital and stopped off at a Chinese takeaway for a snack. I bit into the roll and squirted hot grease all over my clothes. Horrible, and never again. That was years ago and have never bought one since! They are relatively easy to make and great for mixing and matching flavours. I can't resist bean sprouts, soy sauce and a few noodles. Like the character from The Mikado - yum yum.

£8.50pp with a slice of Chinese Milk Bread. This is new for me so fingers crossed!

Cookisto / Steak & Kidney Pie

The ultimate British winter warmer in August? I’ve had a heartfelt plea from regulars who are celebrating a big wedding anniversary. Melting, soft, naturally grown shin of beef (cooked on the bone) from cows reared locally. Beef kidney and mushrooms for flavour and, of course, plenty of red wine to enrich the sauce.

I make Rough Puff pastry made with butter and lard for that essential crispy, golden canopy. A pie like this needs little more than smooth, creamy Colcannon and a hunk of bread from Aston Parish Bakery to mop up that yummy gravy.

A real treat at £9.50pp - a duvet on a plate (there's some idiot who says things like that?). If you want to order bread, Forcaccia, Sausage Plait, of any other goodies, include it in your order.

Cooksito / The Best Macaroni Cheese

I like to keep close to the Italian origins of this pasta dish and bring in the lovely flavours of Pecorino, Gorganzola and the smokiness of Pancetta.

A crunchy topping is a wonderful contrast to the smooth, creaminess of the pasta underneath. I thought a fresh, salsa type accompaniment would go well with this dish, rather like a light Ratatouille. There will be the obligatory hunk of bread from the Aston Parish Bakery. £8.50pp

Cookisto / West Country Faggots & Peas

This dish has been an all time favourites of my regular Cookistadors. . If you've not come across faggots before or you've been nervous about trying them (yes, they do have loads of that terrible stuff Offal in them) then now is the time to give them a try.

I make faggots the traditional way by wrapping the meaty filling in pig's caul, which is a lacy membrane that encases the animals internal organs. The caul not only keeps the meat in a neat ball but, as the faggot cooks, the caul melts into the meat, basting it naturally and adding an extra bomb of flavour.

The Raw Deal

The Raw Deal


Of course you can't have faggots without peas, mash and an unctuous onion gravy. Believe me, I'm not going to hide behind modesty, my onion gravy is one of the greats! Rich in wine, caramelised onions and homemade beef stock made from marrow bones, vegetables and aromatics reduced to a bouncy, quivering jelly. Stir that into your mash, its gravy heaven.

All the meat is naturally reared and supplied by Brookfield Farm Butchery at Aston End.

£8.50pp with a slice of Sherston Cottage Loaf from Aston Parish Bakery

Cookisto / Cullen Skink Cobbler

A Fishy Friday! Cullen Skink is a glorious dish which is Scotland's answer to a Chowder. Smoked fish in a luxurious creamy sauce, it is the ultimate winter warmer.

Forget the Swedish Hygge, go with a peat fire and tartan blanket! For this weeks Cookisto, I've adapted this age old recipe to a Cobbler. A Cobbler is a topping of light, toasted scones that soak up the rich sauce underneath.

This is a meal and half on it's own, but I must include a hunk of oatmeal bread from the Bakery!! £8.50pp

Cookisto / Keralan Fish Curry

Firm white fish, intensely flavoured spices, rich coconut sauce and fresh, aromatic herbs. It's all there in a single fragrant pot of South West India.

Kerala is known as the land of the spices because it traded its spices with Europe and other ancient civilizations dating from the Sumerians from 3000BC. I have been lucky enough to go to Kerala. I shall never forget travelling from Tamil Nadu over the Western Ghats, one of the 8 most diverse biological hot-spots in the world, into the state of Kerala.

Kerala seems to stand back a little, somehow, from the delirious madness that is the rest of the subcontinent. A spectacularly colourful place ( I know, I know, the rest of India isn't exactly monochrome!) where we ate the most stunning food we've ever tasted. The bewildering variety of ingredients, the subtlety of the spicing, the smells, and the knowledge and experience of the cooks, blew our minds away.

One of the many things I did learn was to roast my spices - including black peppercorns - and taste, taste, taste.

Order a bowl with rice and Naan for £8.50pp. Oh, BTW, curry doesn't necessarily mean hot!! It will be full of flavour but not thermonuclear!

Cookisto / Stifado & Stuffed Peppers

Underbaker commented that Cookisto is becoming a Greek Taverna. What's wrong with that?? After all Cookisto is a modelled on a community takeaway founded in Athens!

Stifado is one of the best known, deliciously robust, traditional Greek dishes. Beef slowly, slowly cooked with wine for a few hours until meltingly tender and luscious. Oregano adds the herby, earthy notes to one of the world's most delicious dishes. Served with Orzo stuffed peppers and Greek country bread to mop up those silky juices.

Cookisto / Kedgeree & Riata

Kedgeree originated from the Indian rice-and-bean or rice-and-lentil dish Khichri. Made with rice, smoked fish, eggs and spices, it became popular in Britain in Victorian times as a breakfast dish. It was almost certainly on the early morning menu for Queen Victoria as her love of all things from the sub-continent is well documented.

Chilled yoghurt with cucumber and garlic is cooling and astringent, so Raita is a great foil for the smoky, spicy, slightly sweet rice dish.

£8.50pp with Aston Parish Bakery bread.

Cookisto / Pollo alla cacciatora

It’s a dish that’s full of flavours that work really well together. Chicken legs marinaded in red wine and herbs overnight, then cooked slowly with garlic, tomatoes, rosemary, more red wine, olives and, my own secret ingredient. I’m interested to know if anyone spots it!

Penne and a green salad with a robust dressing, is all this delicious dish needs. Keep it simple. Including bread £8.50pp.

Cooksito / Spring Rabbit Stew

I love rabbit. Sweet, lean meat that's shunned by the 'but they're so cute and fluffy' brigade. Never mind, there's plenty of this delicious animal for the rest of us to enjoy, whilst smirking at those missing out.

The rabbit will be served on the bone, so there will be legs as well as saddles. Spring veg should be in the markets, so they will be perfect poached alongside the rabbit. Creamy mashed potatoes sound a good idea (underbaker is pretty handy with the butter and cream) and I'll keep a look out for some fresh greens on the day.

With the customary bread from the Bakery, £9.00pp.

Cookisto / Steak & Kidney Pie

It's British Pie Week so what is more of a British pie than Steak & Kidney (or Snake & Pigmy as it's known in our house). Succulent, naturally bred beef from Brookfield Farm in rich gravy, under a buttery pastry pillow. It cries out for a green veg, so it will be joined by Spring Cabbage.

As always a hunk of bread from Aston Parish Bakery to mop up the juices - yummy. For those of you who are offended by offal, I'm doing a sans version.

All good for £8.50pp.

Cookisto / What a load of Chicken Cobblers

A bit of a spring cold spell and British classic - a cobbler. Cobbler is believed to come from the word Cobeler meaning 'wooden bowl'. I found that on Wiki, so it must be true. They also say that cobblers originated in the British American Colonies because the English settlers couldn't make a traditional suet crust, so topped the stew with biscuits or dumplings.

The modern day Cobbler has a topping more resembling a scone (fastest cake in the world? Ssssssssssssssscone. Geddit?). A sweet scone is perfect to eat with jam and cream, a savoury scone, particularly if its flavoured with a nice strong cheese, is a perfect partner for sauces and gravies. Cobblers can can be sweet or savoury, the filling can be fruit, fish, any type of meat and any flavour of scone. Cheese and herbs are my particular favourite.

I'm including potatoes in the cobbler to really take on the flavours, but I will be adding a side dish of honey roasted carrots and parsnips £8.00pp.

Friday night is Cobblers night!