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Monday, 25 June 2012

Ciabatta! Baking and teaching

I love Bread, and bake daily. Whereas baking cakes and biscuits are mere chemistry, get the formula right and the end result is good – and predictable, bread is different. It is a living thing; there are so many variables even though it is just flour, water, salt and yeast. The type and age of the yeast, the flour you use, the temperature and humidity on the day you bake all have an influence on the outcome.

Whether it is a simple flatbread or something altogether more complex like Brioche, baking is an amazing process and good bread cannot be beaten.

Italian breads are amongst my favourites, the lovely Olive Oil flavoured fluffy pillows of a Focaccia, sometimes with Sundried Tomatoes, or Olives often just as it comes with a little fresh Sea Salt scattered over the surface before baking or some sprigs of Rosemary poking through the crust. Ciabatta is my other must have Italian bread, a crisp crust containing a crumb closely related to a sourdough but softer.

Raspberrybush Supper Club, run by Julie of Raspberry Catering was soon to hold an Italian themed supper and I was asked to show them how to make Ciabatta in advance of the event. I was more than pleased to agree as, the only thing better than good bread is sharing the knowledge of how to make it.

Ciabatta is one of those recipes that is best demonstrated rather than learned from a book as the dough is not for the faint hearted and, if faced by it for the first time the tendency is to add loads of flour and destroy the end result, as it is sticky and very, very elastic –think Mozzarella on a Pizza and you get the picture.

It is a two day job starting with making a Biga. This is a starter, not too dissimilar to a Sourdough starter but made with fresh yeast as opposed to the local airborne yeasts that surround us. Flour, Water and Yeast is mixed together and left in a covered bowl for 12-24 hours to develop.

Once the Biga has doubled in size, and got lots of air holes in, it’s time to move to the next stage.

The Biga goes into a Kenwood or other mixer bowl along with Water, Milk, Olive Oil and more Yeast. This is blended together with the usual mixing beater and, when fully integrated more flour is added. Carry on beating until the dough starts to form then change to the dough hook and knead at full speed.

When the dough starts to come away from the edges of the bowl, about 10 minutes usually, turn off, remove the dough hook – the elasticity of the dough first shows through here – cover the bowl and leave to rise for about an hour.

This is the scary point, and the one at which panic could lead to the addition of far too much flour!

Turn the dough onto a VERY well-floured surface. When I say turn I don’t mean turn as much as pour!

The well-floured surface is essential to stop the viscous, sticky dough adhering to the worktop, then using a plastic cutter or palette knife divide the dough into 4-6 pieces dependent on the number of loaves you mean to make.

Roll them over once in the flour then shape into rectangles. DO NOT knock back.

Take the dough over to a well-floured baking sheet, the elasticity will allow you to stretch them to full size and dimple each piece as you would for Focaccia. Cover with a cloth and allow to rise for 45 minutes or so. They don’t rise much but will still bounce back if prodded with a finger-tip.

Dust with flour and place into a 220c oven for 20 minutes or so before cooling on a rack.

So how did it go?

I was to bake with Julie and three of her staff, two of whom were studying for NVQ qualifications. I arrived and after introductions told them about the bread and the method, showing them the Biga that I had made the day before. Having examined it the girls set about making their own which would develop for 24 hours and be used the next day.

Combining the Biga with fresh ingredients in the mixer we had time to talk about bread, the kinds of yeast available, and why Real Bread would always defeat the Chorleywood processed stuff.

As it rose we covered other aspects of baking and took a coffee break before checking that the dough had risen.

At this point we needed the work-surface floured, and there was mass amazement at the amount of flour we used to ensure that the Ciabatta dough would not stick to the surface.

Despite considerable doubt that the soft and sticky dough would turn into the crusty bread that I promised we managed to select a volunteer to pour it out.  Quickly dividing the dough and rolling it over once in the flour we got ready to move on. Most of the girls wanted to flavour their breads and the rising time had allowed for fresh herbs to be picked from the garden or sundried tomatoes to be chopped.

Three quarters of the ingredients were placed on the dough before it was folded over to ensure that they were in the middle and the dough, join side down, went onto the baking tray. With the top thoroughly dimpled the remaining flavourings were added and the proto-Ciabatta set aside to rise.

45 minutes meant that a small but acceptable rise had taken place and the breads went into the oven for 20 minutes.

The results were outstanding and within minutes bowls of Olive oil were produced and a tasting session ensued.

Great fun and the Real Bread message had been spread a little wider, more importantly another four people discovered that it is easier than you think to make bread by hand, and fresh each day.

I rang back the next day to see how the session had gone and was delighted to learn that not only had the girls enjoyed their first solo session but that the warm breads had been served at a function they were catering and the client loved them for their authenticity!

Fancy making some Ciabatta? Here are the ingredients and the method is in the blog.

For the Biga

7g Fresh Yeast

400mls warm Water

500g PLAIN Flour

For the Ciabatta

7g Fresh Yeast

125mls warm Milk

300mls warm Water

1tbsp Olive Oil

475-600ml Biga

500g PLAIN Flour

15g Salt

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Morphy Richards

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Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Kings Arms and Otley - A great Local

Regular readers will know that I like micro-breweries, those which are using malt, hops, yeast, water and time to produce beer -  rather than a huge industrial process that bears as close a relationship to beer as Sliced White does to real bread.

Recent posts have covered Tiny Rebel, Tudor, Waen, Dingle Brewing, and the CAMRA award winning Star Inn Llansoy where Kingstone and many other regular and guest beers are on tap. What I haven’t covered in any depth is Otley Brewers, though I have enjoyed their beers and ales at Abergavenny Food Festival.
The Cilfynydd based company was started in 2006 by the three Otley brothers; Nick, Charlie and Matthew all beer aficionados who decided to branch out on their own.

Developing a range of craft beers they also took on a couple of pubs in the Pontypridd area with The Bunch of Grapes rapidly winning a reputation for its food under Chef Sebastien Vanoni. The commitment to using local ingredients sensitively and seasonally is the real power behind this rise.

Now in a unique partnership Otley have taken on the Kings Arms in Pentyrch, a Brains pub and are serving a range of their own, and Brains Beers. On the face of it a small brewery entering partnership with Wales leading brewer looks an unlikely partnership though Brains have recently started to develop their own craft beers as well as the more famous SA and Dark.

The newly refurbished Kings Arms opened with a flourish and a tasting of both beers and the menu. The weekend was dedicated to a beer festival with a Barbecue and live entertainment. Following on from the Welsh Beer and Cider Festival it offered a chance for those who missed out when Otley became one of the first to sell out!

Nick Otley led the tasting and introduced the Thai-Bo, a beer infused with Lemongrass. Lime and Galangal that actually tasted like a Thai Green Curry in a glass. The beer was developed with the beer writer Melissa Cole, and since then Otley has teamed up with several beer writers including the outstanding Pete Brown to enhance their range,

A nice drop, launched last summer as a seasonal beer, but clearly destined to be a session beer, it would also go very well with the aforementioned Thai food. In the same way as Tiny Rebel’s Coriander infused wheat beer could be a serious contender with Cobra in the Indian restaurant market Thai-Bo could take on the Changs and Tsing Tsaos of the Oriental restaurant firmament. Actually the flavours of the beer would be good not just for oriental food, but to accompany most chicken or fish dishes too

A classic Brains SA Gold followed with the “true taste of Cardiff” coming through strongly before a return to the Otley stable.

Croes-O is a golden ale using American hops and with a citrus nose and slight aftertaste it is reminiscent, but totally different to the Thai-Bo. At 4.2% this is another beer that would be good for a session.

Next up Brains “All At Sea” their craft beer and the first from the new Craft Brewery. An IPA made with a mix of Admiral and Bramling Cross hops a light brown beer that is remarkably thirst quenching, this beer really hit the mark. A second IPA “Barry Island” is on the way using American hops which will give a different finish and give a smooth taste but with a bitter finish.

Finally on the beer front I had to try Motley Brew, an Otley with a powerful 7.5% ABV. Nick Otley had explained that it had yet to settle properly and was slightly cloudy, but well worth a try. Ok there was a little opacity to the pint, but an amazing nose and a well-rounded but powerful taste in a deep red beer made it one to return and try once it had settled properly!

But what of the food?

Though, for the launch weekend, it was a Barbecue based menu man of the regular dishes were on. Several colleagues spoke highly of the Black Pudding stuffed Lamb. I opted for the Grilled Mackerel that had been line caught on Chesil Beach. This little gem was about as sustainable a fish dish as you could wish, and came with a new potato salad, marinated Olives, tapenade, an onion jam with a deeply anise undertone and grilled sweet corn. Thick pork chops looked to be an excellent choice and colleagues commented on the taste.

Chef Vanoni sources much of his meat from WJ George, a craft butcher in Talgarth, and the careful sourcing and skills of both butcher and chef shone through. I wish that I could have been there for an evening service when I shall definitely have to try the Mussels with home-made bread, the Pollack in Otley Beer batter and Madgetts Farm Chicken with a Chorizo and Otley Ale jus.

What really pleased me was that the breads were made fresh each day on the premises. Bread may be a very simple component of the menu, but it is usually the first thing that you try and a good bread can set the tone of the experience to come. These are really good breads!

Relishes and chutneys are also made on site and are available to buy to take home. Fresh Bread, good cheese or charcuterie and a pint of Otley Ale – what could be better?

I was impressed by the Kings Arms and will definitely be back. If I lived nearer it might just become my Local, in any event it is Great.

Most photos are my own but some have been shamelessly copied from the Brains and Otley Websites, and some from fellow blogger Gourmet Gorro who wrote his own review here
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Morphy Richards

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Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Llanyrafon Manor a Food Hub in the making

The restoration of Llanyrafon Manor in Cwmbran is complete and it has opened to the public. For years the building languished in ruins, unloved, unwanted and virtually unknown despite being within half a mile of the town centre.

That it is now open and refurbished is a triumph of local activists and grant funding, local people working with Torfaen County Borough Council and the Welsh Government to develop a unique site and prepare it for future use as both a historic venue and a base for future local activity.

Much of the funding is delivered through the Rural Development Plan and the future will involve support both - and from local farmers, producers and community groups.

This link was very much to the fore at the official opening with a small Market section offering foods and crafts and giving a platform for Community Groups such as COSTAR and organisations like Friends of the Earth. What they all had in common was a commitment to supporting and sustaining local people, businesses and our environment.

Community Food groups are encouraging residents to garden and grow their own vegetables, rather like the Grow It Yourself (GYI) movement in Ireland, and they had established a stall in the Orchard area offering a chance to identify a number of salad plants and herbs. Some were not that easy – Red Mustard and both Rocket and Wild Rocket along with Mizuna in one planter- and I was reminded of the Herb Exam at Ballymaloe especially as part 2 of the test was to design a three course menu using the plants.

Children were encouraged to roam the grounds identifying bugs and which were beneficial to a balanced ecosystem and their parents were given charts showing how their flower gardens could become more Bee friendly via planting. The tie in here with local rural crafts was the presence of a maker of Bee Hives and simple logs with holes drilled in them to encourage Bees to take up residence. The Honey produced by the Bees was available to buy from one of the stalls.

The local Blaenafon Cheeses made by Sue Fiandr Woodhouse sold well though the newest one Canalman’s Cheddar had sold out even before the show. Again the tie in with locality and rural development was clearly demonstrated and the Pwll Du cheddar – unique for being matured in the Coal Mine at Big Pit – is featured in the Tea Room at the Manor.

Julie Nelson from Raspberry Catering runs the tea room and is committed to using local produce where possible so the tie in with Blaenafon Cheese is a no brainer. Julie already runs her catering business using locally produced ingredients and the Raspberry Bush Supperclubs – see earlier post- often use ingredients produced about 100 yards away!

The one thing lacking in Torfaen is a good craft baker so most of the bread that Julie uses comes from Newport, still very local but a Torfaen baker would be a great asset.

Luckily the Manor has several out buildings and it is possible that one could be used to establish a Community Bakery, run as a Social Enterprise, offering Real Bread to the community, businesses and schools. Part of the remit for the bakery would be to offer skills and training to unemployed people and to work with schools in spreading the knowledge and love of real bread as opposed to the synthetic stuff used by most households.

The grants available through the Rural Development Programme would help in the creation of a bakery and the overall experience of visiting the Manor would be enhanced if visitors could see the bakery in action. They seem to be symbiotic.

The ground floor of the Manor reflects its history, the Kitchen has good displays of old Butter Churners and Butter Hands used to shape the finished product, Sugar Snips and a table groaning with foods, as well as an interactive display about Wartime Eating and Rationing. Costumes across the 400 year history of the Manor are on display and on opening day tours were conducted by staff in costume, including Jacobite Ladies and Gentlemen and Land Girls to tie in with the Wartime exhibits.

Upstairs are modern Committee Rooms suitable for Schools to use on visits and, most importantly for Community Groups to use for meetings. The Local Action Group and Producer Groups meet there to plan for the future use of the Manor and to develop more ties with the community both businesses and residents.

One plan is to establish a regular Producer Market at the Manor, Torfaen currently does not have one, and the first is planned for October on a Sunday so as not to clash with Farmers Markets in the area. The Market would combine both Food and Crafts to fulfil the Rural Development Brief and could well be a major boost to the local economy.

Certainly with the planning around the Manor, the intention to use it as a hub for community groups and small scale producers, and as the site for a regular Market Llanyrafon Manor has the potential to be Local and Great.

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