“Brilliant Bread” -our verdict

Anna: Well this book certainly sucked me in.

Kirstin: I’m sorry that it’s the end of the month already. I just found a few more recipes that I’d love to try out.

Maureeen: I didn’t think we’d get a full month of baking bread, and yet here we are.

Anna: I’ll definitely be trying more after my spectacular sourdough failure. And I will be trying the sourdough again. The starter is sitting in the fridge, waiting to be used.

Kirstin: I have loved cooking from this book and have recommended it to lots of people too. It has totally encouraged me to cook bread from scratch. I even gave our bread machine away last week. I wouldn’t recommend it on the kindle though because it’s difficult to navigate around the pages when you’re cooking and have hands covered in dough.

Maureen: Now that I figured out that the key to the success of a rising dough is putting it on the radiator, I think I’m slightly addicted to the “big reveal” when I see if the dough has risen or not.

Anna: Peter also did the pizza dough which was the first time he’s used any other recipe than Jamie’s Italian. And we all loved it so we will definitely be doing that again.

Maureen: We will definitely be giving his pizza recipe a go. This book definitely has me making more bread, something I always thought was too complicated to do. Now I know that I all I need to do is some forward planning.

“Brilliant Bread”
Overall Grade (A- F): Kirstin: A. Anna: B. Maureen: B+
Best recipes: Kirstin: Oh God, the focaccia. Anna: basic white bread. Maureen: I’m with Kirstin. The focaccia was brilliant (no pun intended).
Grade for Photography (A-F): Kirstin: A
Any disasters? Anna: *laughs* Sourdough. Maureen: The fact that the breadsticks didn’t have a time element on the baking was a bit of an epic fail, but I figured it out in the end.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin: Bookshelf. Anna: Bookshelf.

“Brilliant Bread” -our verdict

“Focaccia” from “Brilliant Bread”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYes, I know this is a repeat post, but this bears repeating:


Kirstin had told me how wonderful it was, so I had to give it a go to see if she was right. She was.

Again, this one does require some planning ahead. One of the perks of working from home, though, is if I decide at 1 p.m. that we should have bread with dinner that night, I still have time to make it happen. However, it’s got to be said I’m not a great one for forward planning, but I’m trying to get better.

As I was already planning ahead, I also took the time to make our favourite forward planning meal: tomato sauce and meatballs from Polpo. Full of Yum.

This bread was very straightforward to make. Now that I abide by the top tip to rise all my breads on the radiator in the back reception room, we are in the bread making business. It wasn’t difficult, I just had a small task to do every hour or so. It was worth the effort.

All in all, we agreed: FULL OF YUM.

If you want to make this– and we both heartily recommend that you– click through this sentence to James Morton’s website, where he has the recipe and a very useful video.


“Focaccia” from “Brilliant Bread”

“Breadsticks” from “Brilliant Bread”

CBAMBreadsticksNicholas (10): Yum! Breadsticks!

Andrew (14): These are great.

Tim: I like these too.

Maureen: You don’t think they’re overdone?

Tim: Not at all. Why?

Maureen: Well, in his infinite wisdom, James did not say how long the breadsticks had to be in the oven. Epic fail, if you ask me. So I checked how long it took the rolls– 10 minutes– and went with that.

Tim: I think they’re perfect.

Maureen: Well that was lucky then.

Nicholas: These are really good with the tomato soup.

Maureen: I was looking for something I could make relatively quickly because I failed to plan ahead. These didn’t take all day, which is why I made them.

Andrew: Will you make them again?

Maureen: I don’t see why not, especially since I now know how long they take in the oven.

“Breadsticks” from “Brilliant Bread”

“Pizza dough” from “Brilliant Bread”

Tom traditionally makes our pizza dough. Over the years he has honed the recipe, taking advice from people and various books. So he was surprised when I said I wanted to have a go at the pizza dough from Brilliant Bread. It’s a super simple recipe to follow and I really do feel I have earned my glass of wine after ten minutes of kneading the dough. Unfortunately, the pizzas are so good, we have gobbled them up straight away and there are no pictures. But you can be assured that there will be no other pizza dough recipes from now on. This is the business.

“Pizza dough” from “Brilliant Bread”

“Soft or Crusty Rolls” from “Brilliant Bread”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was the first recipe I tried for “Brilliant Bread” and I approached it with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Excitement because I know Kirstin loves this book and thinks it is the Bees Knees, and trepidation in that while I have made bread successfully in the past, it does seem to be one of those things that can go horribly, horribly wrong.

I mixed the ingredients together, put a piece of cling film over them, and then waited for the magic to happen. And waited. And waited. This was the dough that would not rise. By the time our Resident Bread Expert (aka Tim) arrived home, it still hadn’t risen at all. He took one look at the sad bowl on the kitchen counter and immediately diagnosed the problem: Our cold, drafty kitchen in January is no place for a bread dough to rise.

I moved the dough to his usual rising place– on top of the radiator in the back reception room– and then we were in business. There were some minor issues with the yeast not completely dissolving in the dough, so the next time I make this I will probably mix the yeast in with the milk first and then add that together, rather than doing it separately, as outlined in the recipe. But other than that, it worked. Hooray.

I think the potential for disaster comes down to the fact that you need to think about the science behind the process. You can’t just bang things together and hope for the best, which is a system I’ve been known to do for dinner. You have to be slow, methodical and patient. Anyone who knows me well also knows that those are three attributes that I don’t really possess. (Except when I’m running. Then I’m REALLY slow. But I digress.)

In the end, we had the rolls not with dinner, as I had planned, but as Bacon Butties the next day for breakfast. Everyone agreed: Soft Rolls = FTW*!

*For The Win for those of you not down with the lingo

“Soft or Crusty Rolls” from “Brilliant Bread”

“Staple White Sourdough” from “Brilliant Bread” – Part 4

I do hope this is my last post on this subject. If this has been torturous to read, imagine how it’s been to bake…..

I have taken the dough out of the fridge. It is firm, thanks to the chill no doubt, but no rise. Bubbles are still present though. I am going to persevere.

Into the preheated casserole pot in the oven. Not so much turned out as flopped in. No opportunity to beautifully shape or score, the dough is too wet for that. I don’t care if it doesn’t look the part, I just want it to taste ok.

Halfway through cooking I take the lid off the pot. Good lord! It’s risen!! Well one side at least, but I’ll take that! Oh thank you thank you!

Actually, it hasn’t. When I take the loaf out of the pot I realise it hasn’t risen at all. Deja vu. When I cut into it there are definitely more bubbles than the last loaf. But still a slightly uncooked part in the middle. And it is very flat. Not the beautiful loaf of the picture in the book. Curses.

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We toast a slice and it is edible. Chewy, sour tang. It will do for eating with soups this week. Louis declares it, “Mummy’s yummy bread”. That makes me feel better.

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The starter is relegated to the fridge. We have too many half-arsed loaves kicking around for me to bake any more this week. But I will try again next week. I will knead the old fashioned way, knead it until it can’t be kneaded anymore. Surely that’s where it’s going wrong? I’m not ready to abandon this challenge quite yet…….

“Staple White Sourdough” from “Brilliant Bread” – Part 4

“Staple White Sourdough” from “Brilliant Bread” – Part 3

Are you still with me?

I am trying again. Having fed the starter after the epic fail and stored it in the fridge I have to decide whether to use it as is (it’s only been 24 hours), or whether it needs another feed first. The book isn’t clear, sorry James. I take it out of the fridge to warm up and give me time to decide what to do. Meanwhile I have much heated discussion with Kirstin and Peter. “Baking really shouldn’t be this stressful”, according to Peter. Helpful, isn’t he?

Day 6 (I think. I’ve lost track): I’m going both ways. The starter has warmed up and is looking nice and bubbly. But I thought that last time too. So I’m going to start a loaf using it as is, and then feed the remaining starter and use that when it’s ready. Covering my bases, see?

This time I’m kneading while the baby is napping. Vigorous slapping and folding occurs. There is dough in my hair, on the wall, on my clothes. Louis gets back from swimming and says “Bang! Mummy”. He tries some dough that’s left on the table and declares it “yummy”.

I ask Peter if he thinks it’s ready to rest. He doesn’t think the slap and fold method is sufficient, but says that if I’ve done it for 10 minutes then it should be done. Not filling me with confidence, thank you. I am going to leave the bugger to rest all day if I need to. I am praying to the gods of gas that there will be a rise.

Nine hours later I turn the dough out to shape it. It’s not feeling much different from last time if I’m honest. It hasn’t significantly increased in size. In fact I struggling to see if it has increased in size at all.

However it is fractionally easier to manipulate. And there are some bubbles visible under the surface. I take this as a good sign. As with the last loaf I wrestle the dough into the proving basket, not exactly shaped. This time I put it in the fridge for the night. We’ll see what it looks like tomorrow.

“Staple White Sourdough” from “Brilliant Bread” – Part 3

“Staple White Sourdough” from “Brilliant Bread” – Part 2

Or, The Knead and Bake.

Day 4: First dilemma, is the starter ready to use in the actual recipe? James’s section on Starting a Starter is a little unclear. There is still another stage, but this suggests the start of feeding the starter. I call Kirstin and we agree that I should use what I have. No more feeding and waiting at this point.

Second dilemma, what of the raisins? Where are they? What if they end up in the dough? I look out for them when I pour the starter into the flour and salt, but can’t see them. Someone may get a lucky bite later…..

Here’s a piece of advice: when kneading don’t ‘Slap and Fold’ in the presence of babies. I thought Isabella would find it fascinating at worst, funny and captivating at best. In fact it terrifies her. The loud slapping noise combined with the simultaneous shaking of the table reduce her to immediate screaming tears. With dough all over my hands and 10 minutes to go I can’t do anything except sing and smile in the hope she’ll calm down. This doesn’t happen. The kneading process might have been therapeutic had it not been so stressful, for both of us.

I leave the dough to rest for the suggested 4-6 hours, checking it frequently to see if it has ‘noticeably risen’. 5 hours in it doesn’t look like it. I’m going to take a leaf out of Peter’s book and just leave it.

After 7 hours I decide it’s time to shape the dough. It has to have proved by now. This proves to be an impossible task. The dough is so wet it won’t do anything. Sourdough is always wet though, I’m not going to be deterred. James has filled me with the confidence that this will work. Like a runaway blancmange I fight the ‘shaped’ dough into a proving basket. Rise goddamit.

3 hours on and  l check. It has spread out. It has not risen. Bugger.

Sod it. I am going to bake it anyway. James says that you can’t underestimate the ‘oven spring’. It will spring in the oven. I just have to get it into the oven. Come here pesky dough!

Suffice to say it is an epic fail. The loaf is flat and undercooked. I am so annoyed but not surprised. And I’m not sure where I’ve gone wrong. I go to bed reading the book again. Maybe the starter wasn’t actually ready – too much bacteria and not enough yeast. Maybe I didn’t knead it vigorously enough. Maybe it wasn’t proved for long enough.

I will not be defeated. Peter helpfully tells me, “baking is a cruel mistress”.

I am going to start again tomorrow.

“Staple White Sourdough” from “Brilliant Bread” – Part 2