Artisan baking part 4: tin loaves

January 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Just remembered that I still haven’t documented everything I learned at my 4 day bread baking course held at the School of Artisan Food in Welbeck, Nottinghamshire last October. I’ve already posted about wild yeasts, rye sourdough and white sourdough.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Now it’s the turn of perhaps the simplest loaves to make – tin loaves made with ordinary yeast (rather than a wild yeast sourdough starter).

Day 1 of the course started with baking 3 types of tin loaf – a white, wholemeal and a malthouse. Course teacher Emmanuel Hadjiandreou introduced us to the basic techniques – the ten second knead, proving, shaping and baking at a good high temperature with the aid of steam to just the right degree of doneness. You can see these demonstrated on a short video clip here:

Emmanuel’s take on breadmaking is a delightfully lazy yet extremely effective one – it lets time and the yeast do the work for you. The flour, yeast and salt are combined then rested for 10 minutes. The dough is kneaded for 10 seconds then rested for 10 minutes. This step is repeated 4 times so that, if you are efficient, the dough has only 40 seconds’ kneading in total!

Emmanuel’s recipes for white, wholemeal and granary loaves are given below, as provided by on the course with the tiniest of wording changes – I haven’t meddled with the quantities at all -wouldn’t dare!

Scanning the list of ingredients you’ll see that there is just flour, salt, yeast and water in these recipes – no lard, oil, sugar etc – bread made just from the basic raw materials. What I immediately noticed was the small quantities of yeast used. The proportions in all 3 recipes are, for whatever quantity of flour is used, 1% of its weight in fresh yeast, 2% in salt. This is the so called Bakers’ Percent system so you can feel like a real pro doing it this way.

Emmanuel’s proportions really do work and the resulting loaves are well risen with a good flavour, especially if proved overnight, and avoid the overly yeasty taste which is a common fault of home breadmaking.

We worked with fresh yeast on the course – an enormous block of the stuff. You can buy it at any kind of bakery, even supermarket instore ones. In a loosely tied plastic bag in the fridge it will keep for 2 maybe even 3 weeks.

Unlike the hurly burly and controlled chaos of ordinary life at home, we worked in a quasi laboratory style environment on the course with all the ingredients for our 3 tin loaves (white, wholemeal and malthouse) weighed out to 1g accuracy before we started:

We made the dough for each of the loaves in succession, first wholemeal, then granary and finally white. Here’s the white dough after its 4 kneads about to undergo its 1 hour resting and proving period:

We stored our proving doughs, neatly covered with plastic bowls (a trick I’ve replicated at home using transparent plastic picnic plates atop my mixing bowls – saves on clingfilm) on handy shelves underneath the work surfaces:

One hour later, the white dough looked like this:

All that remains is to shape the dough (see video clip above). With first the palm then the fingertips it’s patted then rolled before being placed seam side down in the tin.

We were given the option of adding seeds to our crust – simply sprinkle lightly the top surface of the dough with water and, cradling the loaf your hand, gently press and roll the top surface onto your chosen seeds – sesame, poppy or whatever – which you have spread out on a flat plate or tray.

The loaf is then proved, again with the tin covered by a plastic bowl, until nearly doubled in size. If you’re not ready to bake, the proving can be retarded by refrigerating the loaves overnight. Then you can have freshly baked bread for breakfast. We tasted bread that had been proved overnight and compared it to bread with a normal 1-2 hour proving. The overnight proved bread had a slightly more intense flavour – hard to describe exactly what the difference is – a subtle yet perceptible difference, a fuller flavour.

Judging whether a loaf is fully proved and being able to accelerate or retard the process using a warm place or fridge respectively is one of the hardest bits of baking knowhow to acquire. It’s something you learn by experience. In the following picture, the wholemeal loaf is clearly ready to bake whereas the granary one needs another 20 minutes or so:

These are a couple of loaves that went a bit wrong. They door of the fridge in which they were supposedly proving slowly overnight was accidentally left open. The fermentation went over the top and after a spectacular rise, the dough collapsed and flattened. In the interests of research we baked and ate the errant loaves – they still tasted fine but didn’t quite look as they should and the crumb size was uneven.

What a lot I seem to have written about loaves that are a quick and easy to make. I’ve hardly been encouraging have I? Just one final point to get across.

I’ve already written in previous artisan baking posts about the importance of a really hot oven and creating steam – just do what the recipe below says. My final point is that before the loaves go into the hot oven, you can slash them with a sharp knife. This looks attractive and helps the loaf rise evenly when baked but it’s not essential for a tin loaf (unlike the freeform rustic breads which need slashing in order to avoid bursting). The white loaf shown in the picture at the top of this post is both seeded and slashed so you can see the combined effect.

Here’s how the end results should look, first the white and then the malthouse.

Happy baking!

Recipe for white bread


300g strong white flour
6g salt
3g fresh yeast (2g dried)
200g water at room temperature

1. In a small mixing bowl, mix the flour and salt. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water.

2. Add the flour and salt to the larger bowl containing the yeast and water. Mix using a wooden spoon and/or your hands until the mixture becomes a dough.

3. Cover the dough with either another bowl, a plate or cling film to prevent it drying out and leave to stand for 10 minutes.

4. Knead the dough in the bowl for 10 seconds (see video clip above), form into a ball, cover as before and leave for 10 minutes.

5. Repeat step 4. a further 3 times – the dough will have been kneaded 4 times. Cover and leave for 1 hour.

6. Punch the dough down, shape into a loaf (see video clip above) and place in an oiled 1lb loaf tin.

7. Cover the tin with an upturned mixing bowl to prevent a skin forming and and let the loaf rise until slightly less than double in volume. This is likely to take about 45 minutes.

8. When the dough is almost fully proved, preheat the oven to 250 degrees C placing a deep baking tray on the base of the oven.

9. Place the loaf in the oven at 250 degrees C, throw a cup of cold water into the hot tray to produce steam, close the oven door quickly and reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees C.

10. Bake for approx 35 minutes until golden brown and sounding hollow when the loaf is turned out and tapped (refer video clip above). Turn out of the tin and cool on a wire rack.

Recipe for wholemeal bread


300g strong wholemeal flour
6g salt
3g fresh yeast (2g dried)
230g water at room temperature

Method as for white loaf above.

Recipe for malthouse bread


300g malthouse flour
6g salt
3g fresh yeast (2g dried)
200g water at room temperature

Method as for white loaf above.

Scottish macaroon bars made in Manchester

January 24, 2011 § 1 Comment

My lovely neighbour Deborah (who is married to a Scot), knowing of my interest in all things macaroon introduced me to the Scottish macaroon a couple of weeks ago. To accompany a cup of coffee she brought out a Lees original macaroon bar. This is more a confectionery item than a cake or biscuit – a very sweet fondant centre coated in chocolate and toasted coconut. Apparently this Scottish delicacy was originally made with a sweetened mashed potato (I kid you not…) centre but as this goes off very quickly it’s now made with vegetable fat and sugar.

As its Burns Night tomorrow, I thought I’d have a go at an authentic homemade version, a sweet something to follow our haggis and neeps.

It wasn’t hard to track down a recipe on the web. I consulted these 3 sources:

All the recipes were pretty similar but the third one has the clearest instructions and good pics as well.

I set to work on my unlikely quest to turn a couple of potatoes into a sort of deconstructed bounty bar.

I started with 125g prepared weight of mashed potato – this is just one and a bit medium potatoes – as I discovered, you don’t need much.

I had planned to weigh and document accurately but these ambitions went out of the door when I ran out of icing sugar part way through the process and had to put the project on hold overnight until I could buy some more.

Into the mashed potato I beat an unbelievable quantity of icing sugar – I would guess 375g, maybe even 500g. You just keep going until the mixture is thick and doughy enough to handle.

A very odd thing happened as I started beating in the sugar – the mixture liquefied and became a translucent wallpaper pasty gloop. Never fear, just keep adding more icing sugar and I promise you, it will come together to form a fondant like substance.

Next, I pressed my mixture into a tray and popped it into the freezer for 20 minutes or so to firm up a little.

Meanwhile I toasted quickly in a hot oven 50g or so of dessicated coconut. Beware, the difference between toasted and burnt coconut is about 45 seconds as I learned to my cost. So I began again with another 50g of dessicated coconut…I then mixed the toasted coconut with about twice the quantity of untoasted to produce a lovely tweedy effect – very appropriate for a Scottish sweet.

Next, i melted 2 whole bars (200g) of Green and Black’s chocolate – a mixture of milk and dark. All dark would have been just too restrained and sophisticated. I wanted the full milky sugary hit to complement the toothrotting supersweet centre.

With the mise en place sorted, it was time to complete the bars. I cut my potato fondant into 7 or 8 fingers. I then picked up a finger and shaped it into a sausage before half dipping, half rolling it in the melted chocolate, thence into the toasted coconut (a bit like egg and breadcrumbing a croquette or escalope). As I dipped and coated I held the bar very lightly, shaping and patting as I went. The completed bar was then placed onto silicone paper and popped into the fridge to set.

Here’s one of the little beauties ready to eat – despite inauspicious beginnings, it actually tasted rather good…

Pimp that coleslaw

January 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

This salad is simply the best thing that’s ever been done with raw cabbage. I was introduced to it during the Christmas holidays by my friend Janet and I’ve made it every weekend since then. It’s a recipe from Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi and I tracked it down via his Guardian newspaper column.

Don’t be put off by the weird list of ingredients (mixing lemongrass with maple syrup?) – it works. It’s colourful, crunchy, zingy and you feel uplifted after eating it – what more can I say to brighten up your winter mealtimes?

By the way, the title of this post is in deference to one of my favourite quirky websites – take a look if you have a few minutes to spare… I’ve gone for ornamentation rather than size though.

Recipe for Sweet Winter ‘Slaw

A recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi featured in UK newspaper the Guardian. My own suggestions are that if you can’t get hold of papaya, then either use 2 mangoes or a handful of diced roast butternut squash – it’s sweet pulpy texture is not dissimilar to papaya.

Serves 6


For the dressing

100ml lime juice
1 lemon grass, chopped into small pieces
3 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp soy sauce
½ tsp chilli flakes
4 tbsp light olive oil

For the salad

150g macadamia nuts
10g butter
2 tbsp sugar
½ tsp salt
½ tsp chilli flakes
7 inner leaves Savoy cabbage (170g), shredded
½ red cabbage (270g), shredded
1 mango, peeled, stoned and cut into thin strips
1 papaya, peeled, deseeded and cut into strips
1 red chilli, deseeded and cut into thin slices
15g fresh mint leaves
20g fresh coriander leaves

To make the dressing, put all the ingredients except the olive oil into a small saucepan, and reduce for five to 10 minutes, until thick and syrupy. Remove from the heat. Once it has cooled down, strain into a bowl, stir in the oil and set aside.

Put the macadamias in a hot frying pan and dry-roast for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly coloured on all sides. Add the butter and, once it has melted, the sugar, salt and chilli. Use a wooden spoon to stir constantly, to keep the nuts coated in the sugar as it caramelises. Be careful because this will take only a minute or two and the nuts can burn very quickly. Turn out the nuts on to a sheet of greaseproof paper and, once cool, roughly chop them.

Put the shredded cabbage in a large mixing bowl, along with the rest of the salad ingredients. Add the cool dressing, toss and taste. Add salt if you need to, and serve immediately.

A birthday Zuger Kirschtorte for Vivienne

January 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

After a teeny bit of excess over Christmas, it seems it’s the time for reinvention and self improvement which in food terms seems to mean restraint and raw vegetables. Well I’m going to buck the trend and write about a cake I made in December for a friend’s special birthday. This was a Zuger Kirschtorte, a traditional almond and cherry liqueur flavoured cake from the canton of Zug in central Switzerland.

Click here to view a short movie featuring the whole process. The kitchen scenes were shot by my son George who provides that authentic edgy camera wobble.

The cake idea came from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s amazing book “The Cake Bible” and she calls it “A Taste of Heaven”, a light as air heart-shaped confection of crisp almond meringue discs sandwiching a cherry liqueur-sprinkled sponge, frosted with cherry-flavoured buttercream and finished with toasted almonds.

I discovered The Cake Bible a decade or so ago on the shelves of the Mayfair library on South Audley Street in London round the corner from where I worked at GEC’s head office on Stanhope Gate. When work pressures became too much I would occasionally seek sanctuary here at lunchtimes, leafing through the pages of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s book and marvelling at her descriptions of pistachio marzipan, white spice pound cake, orange fruit mousseline and the like.

It turns out that “A Taste of Heaven” is Ms Beranbaum’s version of the classic Swiss cake, a Zuger Kirschtorte. I find myself drawn to all things Swiss so it was funny I’d picked this cake not knowing its Swiss origins at the time.

The different components of the cake are two heart-shaped Dacquoise (nut meringue) discs; 1 Génoise Classique (whisked sponge) heart-shaped cake; syrup flavoured with kirsch for moistening the Génoise; kirsch flavoured buttercream; and finally a handful or so of toasted flaked almonds.

The crisp Dacquoise discs were spread with a thin layer of buttercream and used to sandwich the kirsch-syrup moistened Génoise. The top and sides of the cake were frosted with the remaining buttercream and the flaked toasted almonds were gently pressed around the sides of the cake.

I suggest just two changes to Ms Beranbaum’s recipe:

1) To halve the quantity of buttercream from the full heart attack-inducing 1 pound 9.25 ounces to a more modest 12.5 ounces.

2) If, like me, you like to avoid artificial food colouring, you can achieve a pink buttercream by beating into the mix 4-6 tablespoons of puréed cherry compôte instead of a few drops of red food colouring. This gives a gorgeous ever so slightly sour true cherry flavour to the buttercream.

I went ever so slightly over the top when I added the cherry purée to my buttercream and ended up with an in-your-face pink frosting which, I assure you, despite its garish looks, is 100% natural.

I give the recipe for the Génoise Classique below as this is arguably the most useful and versatile component of the cake. Ms Beranbaum’s special twists to the classic French recipe are to substitute browned butter (beurre noisette) for the usual plain melted butter and to use half cornflour half cake flour rather than just cake flour. If I were to attempt to reproduce here the recipes for all the cake components, plus all the advice and troubleshooting tips in the Cake Bible I’d be writing this post for days. If you are at all serious about baking I’d urge you to buy or borrow a copy.

I started by making the Dacquoise (nut meringue) discs. There was nowhere near enough mixture to pipe the heart shaped discs so instead I piped a border a few millimetres inside the template I’d drawn (to allow for a slight spreading of the mixture as it bakes) and spooned the meringue mixture into the centre and gently spread it to fill the outline using a small crank-handled palette knife.

This is how the cooked Dacquoise disc looked:

The next step was to make the Génoise Classique whisked egg sponge. Ms Beranbaum’s special twist is to fold in not ordinary melted butter but browned clarified butter. This imparts a subtle nutty depth of flavour to the finished cake. Here’s my browned butter and the dregs left behind to show the depth of toasting achieved without going so far as to burn the butter:

Ms Beranbaum’s other handy tips when making Génoise are to use a mixture of cornflour and cake flour and is to whisk a spoonful or so of the beaten egg mix into the melted butter before adding the butter to the main bowl. This certainly helps incorporation of the butter. Whenever I’ve made Génoise before I’ve always encountered the problem of the melted butter sinking to the bottom of the bowl which didn’t happen this time.

Here’s the bowl of butter and egg mix ready for incorporation, along with the flours, into the big bowl of super-foamy whisked egg:

The cake batter was carefully spooned into the prepared heart-shaped cake tin, base lined with a double thickness of baking paper. This is how the finished cake looked:

It wasn’t quite as deep as I was expecting so I decided not to attempt trimming it before drizzling with the kirsch-flavoured syrup.

The next major cake component was the cherry buttercream. Here are some of the raw ingredients – note the authentic Alpine butter for this Alpine cake (though my butter was in fact German rather than Swiss).

The Bonne Maman cherry compôte was a real find – intense sour cherry flavour, gorgeous colour and not too sweet. Definitely a new store-cupboard standby for whipping up a sauce for duck or adding to a pudding.

The buttercream is no mere amalgamation of icing sugar and butter. Looking at the recipe it’s immediately apparent that there is quite a low ratio of sugar to butter which means that the end result is silkily textured yet not too sweet. I began by beating a hot sugar syrup into my egg yolks, a slightly tense step without a sugar thermometer relying on the cold water test, speed and a bit of luck. The resulting mix if it all turns out right is a pale, foamy mass. The picture shows a 6 egg yolk quantity which turned out to be way too much for one cake.

The next step involves combining the egg yolk foam with the softened butter:

And the final step was to beat in the kirsch and sieved cherry compôte to flavour the buttercream and tint it a 100% natural totally girly pink:

A word of warning – do stick to Ms Beranbaum’s guidelines when it comes to beating in extras to buttercream: I went above her recommended ratios when beating in the water-based cherry compôte to the fat-based buttercream. Although it was fine at first, I set the bowl aside in a cool room to use later and, horror of horrors, when I attempted to beat the mixture to soften it it split! I managed to re-emulsify it by warming the bowl very gently, adding a little more sifted icing sugar and beating like crazy.

The end result was a beautifully flavoured, unusual cake, a welcome change from the current surfeit of chocolate (and would be a great choice for a Valentine’s Day treat too).

Recipe for Génoise Classique

From Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “The Cake Bible”. She says “Since this recipe first appeared in print in 1981, I have received more calls about it from readers than for any other recipe. Many say that for the first time in their lives they have succeeded in making the perfect génoise”. Praise indeed.

For a 9 inch by 2 inch round or heart shaped cake tin or 8 inch by 2 inch square cake tin, greased, bottom lined with parchment, and then greased again and floured.


37g clarified beurre noisette*
4 g vanilla extract
4 whole large eggs, 200g weighed without shells
100g sugar
50g sifted cake flour (not self raising)
50g cornflour

*In a heavy saucepan melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat, partially covered to prevent splattering. When the butter looks clear, cook uncovered, watching carefully until the solids drop and begin to brown. Pour immediately through a fine strainer or a strainer lined with cheesecloth.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Warm the beurre noisette until almost hot. Add the vanilla and keep warm.

In a large mixing bowl set over a pan of simmering water heat the eggs and sugar until just lukewarm, stirring constantly to prevent curdling.

Using the whisk beater, beat the mixture on high speed for 5 minutes or until triple in volume.

While the eggs are beating, sift together the flour and cornflour.

Remove 1 scant cup of the egg mixture and thoroughly whisk it into the beurre noisette.

Sift half the flour mixture over the remaining egg mixture and fold it in gently but rapidly with a large balloon whisk, slotted skimmer, or rubber spatula until almost all the flour has disappeared. Repeat with the remaining flour mixture until the flour has disappeared completely. Fold in the butter mixture until just incorporated.

Pour immediately into the prepared tin (it will be about 2/3 full) and bake 25-35 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and starts to shrink slightly from the sides of the pan. (No need for a cake tester. Once the sides shrink the cake is done.) Avoid opening the oven door before the minimum time or the cake could fall. Test toward the end of baking by opening the door slightly and, if at a quick glance it does not appear done, close door back at once and check again in 5 minutes.

Loosen the sides of the cake with a small metal spatula and turn out at once onto a lightly greased rack.

Many Happy Returns Vivienne and here’s to the next decade!

Tour de France around the North Circular

January 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

We’ve been celebrating New Year’s Eve with two other families for a number of years now – in fact over a pre-dinner glass of champagne we worked out that 2010/2011 would be unbelievably our twelfth such celebration.

This year it fell to Shelley and Neal to host the event at their home in North London and the chosen theme was “Tour de France”. This left the dress code wide open and host Neal led the way by sporting slinky black and white lycra…

Fortunately Shelley had decided not to continue in this vein by serving up carbohydrate gels, bananas and a cocktail of hard drugs. We began in a very civilised manner with the silkiest Côte Atlantique smoked salmon mousse canapés to accompany our Laurent Perrier champagne:

Our first course looked to the mountains for inspiration – charcuterie from the Alps accompanied by rustic pain de campagne. The delicious ham was snaffled up too quickly for me to take a photo but here’s the batch of pain de campagne I made earlier – using the pain au levain recipe learned on my School of Artisan food baking course in October 2010.

The race now headed south with bouillabaisse à la marseillaise served en verrine. This was the course Shelley had tasked me with preparing so I’m able to give the recipe below. Verrines (small glass containers for serving food) are all the rage in France so we just had to give them a try.

We continued our tour clockwise with the next stage ending in the Aveyron département of Southern France, home to the limestone caves where Roquefort cheese is matured. Our next course was a crunchy salade d’endive, noix et roquefort prepared by Shelley using a Raymond Blanc recipe:

It was then onwards and upwards to red wine country with Shelley’s deeply savoury Coq au vin, again using a Raymond Blanc recipe:

Next up was France’s favourite English cheese, le stilton – yes I know we departed from our theme somewhat but stilton this good (Colston Bassett from Neal’s Yard (no relation) Dairy) is too good not to serve at a special dinner. And of course the 2007 prologue was in London wasn’t it?

Next we recalled France’s Atlantic coast islands (Belle Île, the Archipel des Glénans and the like) with Îles flottantes, façon Maman Blanc – yes you guessed it, a Raymond Blanc favourite. Janet prepared this technically demanding course involving poached meringue and egg custard thickened without the aid of stabilising cornflour. She also had to handle deftly the caramelised sugar final decoration at close to midnight:

The final stage is always in Paris around the Arc de Triomphe which we recalled in culinary fashion with a dainty plateful of pistachio flavoured macarons parisiens :

As we nibbled on a macaroon at midnight we heard he patter of not-so-tiny feet as 8 children celebrated a real midnight feast – a landmark occasion as they’ve been fast asleep by midnight in previous years.

Happy new year to all and huge thanks to our generous hosts Neal and Shelley once again for a magnificent meal. Now we’re off the tour it’s on to the wagon for my annual no alcohol January semi-detox. Fantasising already about what my first glass of wine will be in February…

To conclude here’s the recipe for bouillabaisse – I know it’s lengthy but it’s really not as complex as it looks.

Recipe for bouillabaisse cooked and served en verrine

I used as my starting point the fish soup and rouille recipes from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle and tweaked them to turn them into a refined version of bouillabaisse suitable for serving as part of a multi-course dinner.

Using the kilner jars is not merely a modish presentation but is an easy and stress-free way of gently cooking the pieces of fish in the broth, sealing in all the flavours and ensuring that the delicate fish like bass does not break up when cooked and served.

These ingredients will fill 8 small (12 oz) kilner jars and leave you with plenty of fish soup left over which sets to a gelatinous firmness and freezes well.

Ingredients for the fish soup base

4 oz chopped onions
3 oz chopped leek
2 oz chopped celery (my addition, no celery in Julia Child recipe)
1/4 pint olive oil
4 cloves mashed garlic
1 lb ripe tomatoes roughly chopped or 1 tin tomatoes roughly chopped (I used a standard tin of tomatoes – 14 oz/400g including all the juice whereas Julia Child recipe suggests draining the tomatoes)
3 and 1/2 pints water
6 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon thyme or basil (I used fresh thyme leaves stripped from the stalk)
1/8 teaspoon fennel (not sure whether original recipe wants dried fennel, fennel seeds – I used a few leaves of fresh tarragon for a similar aniseedy hit)
A 2 inch piece of orange peel (I used a vegetable peeler to remove this)
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon salt (I added this gradually to taste rather than all at once as salt is a personal thing)
3 to 4 lb lean fish heads, bones and trimmings, raw shellfish remains, lean fish or frozen raw fish.

Note on fish choice

Julia Child, catering for her US and Northern European readership suggests choosing fish from the following list: cod, conger or sea eel, gurnard, haddock, hake or whiting, halibut, John Dory, lemon sole, perch, plaice, pollack, coalfish or saithe, red or grey mullet, rock or sea bass, sea bream, sea devil, frogfish or angler, freshwater trout, sea trout, turbot, weever, wrasse, shellfish – scallops, mussels, crab, lobster. Many will tell you that an authentic bouillabaisse can’t be made without rascasse – by all means add this to the list if you can get hold of it but providing you include plenty of lean bony fish in the soup it will turn out just fine.

Making this recipe in the dark period (in food distribution terms) between Christmas and New Year all that was available at my local fishmonger was sea bass and sea bream bones heads and trimmings. Despite the lack of variety of fish, the soup was nevertheless suitably flavoursome – it need not be an enormous production and can be varied according to what you have. It’s probably best to avoid oily fish such as salmon and mackerel though as these won’t give the right flavour to the soup.

In a large saucepan, cook the onions, leeks and celery slowly in the olive oil for 5 minutes or untll almost tender but not browned. Stir in the garlic and tomatoes. Raise heat to moderate and cook 5 minutes more. Add the water, herbs, seasonings and fish to the pan and cook uncovered at a moderate boil for 30 to 40 minutes.

The Julia Child recipe specifies straining the soup at this point, pressing the juice out of the ingredients. I wanted a slightly thickened soup but without resorting to flour so I lifted out the fish bones and heads with a slotted spoon and gave the soup a blast with a stick blender to liquidise partially the soup vegetables. I then strained the resulting soup through a coarse sieve, pressing it through as per the original recipe.

Correct seasoning adding a bit more saffron if you feel it necessary.

Soup can be cooled at this stage until you are ready to complete the bouillabaisse. I froze my soup and took it down to London with me and defrosted it a couple of days later to turn it into my finished dish.

Additional ingredients to turn the soup into bouillabaisse

Purchased from the redoubtable Walter Purkis & Sons fishmongers in Crouch End

6 fish fillets (I used 2 sea bass and 1 sea bream – again all that was available in the intra Christmas and New Year dark period) cut on the diagonal into generous bite-sized pieces
8 giant raw prawns, peeled except for tail and deveined
Sufficient mussels to allow 3 per serving once any duds discarded – scrubbed and debearded
a tablespoon each of chopped onion and celery plus generous glass of white wine for steaming the mussels
generous pinch saffron strands
zest of 1 orange
tablespoon shredded basil
tablespoon pernod

small slices of pain de campagne drizzled lightly with olive oil and baked until crisp plus a bowl of rouille to serve (recipe below)

Set the kilner jars into a deep roasting tin. Divide the fish fillet pieces evenly between the jars and drop in 1 giant prawn per jar, tail pointing upwards for easy removal. Ladle in reheated fish stock to cover. Season each jar with a few saffron strands, a couple of drops of pernod and a couple of shreds of orange zest and seal the kilner jars. Pour boiling water from the kettle into the roasting tin. The jars should be at least half covered. Put the roasting tin into an oven preheated to 125 degrees C and bake for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, steam the mussels for a few minutes in a lidded sauté pan or large saucepan with the chopped onion and celery and glass of white wine until they open. Discard any that do not open. Set aside until you are ready to serve.

Remove the kilner jars from the oven. Using rubber gloves or similar to protect your hands from the heat remove each jar from the water bath roasting tin, flip open the lid and drop in 3 cooked mussels in their shell. Half close lid but do not reseal and place the hot jar on an individual serving plate. Place 2 baked bread croutons onto each plate and serve.

Pass the bowl of rouille separately. Diners can spread the rouille on the croutons and dip into the soup and/or drop a spoonful of rouille directly into their soup once it’s half eaten to enrich the remaining broth.

As this was a party, I decorated my plates with seashells and a few fronds of fennel arranged artfully to look like strands of seaweed on the shore…

Ingredients for the red pepper and garlic sauce – rouille

For about 1/2 pint sauce

1 oz chopped red pepper simmered for several minutes in salted water and drained or tinned pimento
(these days one might bake a red pepper until charred and remove the skin – I cheated as time was short on New Year’s Eve and used a couple of pieces of chargrilled red pepper preserved in oil from a jar)
A small chilli pepper boiled until tender, or drops of Tabasco sauce
1 peeled medium potato cooked in the soup
4 cloves mashed garlic
1 teaspoon chopped basil, thyme or savory
4-6 tablespoons fruity olive oil
Salt and pepper

Pound all the ingredients in a large pestle and mortar for several minutes to form a very smooth, sticky paste. I found it difficult to achieve a smooth paste so went with a slightly rough, rustic paste which was fine. I avoided using a food processor as this would turn the potato into a gloopy paste.

Drop by drop, pound or beat in the olive oil as for making a mayonnaise. Season to taste.

If liked, just before serving, beat in drop by drop 2-3 tablespoons hot fish soup before decanting sauce into serving bowl or sauceboat.

Macaroons made in Manchester revisited

January 4, 2011 § 1 Comment

Just had a look at my blog stats for 2010 and apparently had over 12,000 visits last year. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the page most visited was a post entitled “Macaroons Made in Manchester” which detailed my first not particularly successful attempt at making Parisian style macarons.

I imagine most people were looking for a supplier for these dainty morsels not wanting to see what some bumbling amateur was attempting to turn out.

I hate to disappoint so I’m delighted to report that there are at least 3 places where you can buy macaroons in Manchester now:

1) English Rose Bakery was started up in June 2010 by friends Emma Brown and Wendy Lewis – they bake from premises in Oldham Street Manchester and sell at farmers’ and food markets in Chorlton and around Manchester. Website pics look gorgeousm very professional – I haven’ tried them yet but hope to catch up at their next event on Jan 15th.

2) My friend Gywneth and business partner Mike have set up “Vintage Afternoon Teas” and I believe sell a box of 10 macaroons for £6.00. Phone 07811 684 365 with enquiries.

3) Finally the mass-market option – Waitrose now with stores in Manchester, Altrincham and Wilmslow stock a box of 12 Maison Blanc macaroons priced at £6.49.

Happy shopping!

Happy new year 2011 and review of 2010

January 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how my blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is on fire!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2010. That’s about 29 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 55 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 93 posts. There were 358 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 1gb. That’s about 7 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was December 23rd with 77 views. The most popular post that day was Macaroons made in Manchester.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for rhubarb fool, macaroons manchester, kabuni, breakfast in afghanistan, and albanian recipes.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Macaroons made in Manchester April 2010


Breakfast in Afghanistan July 2009


Albanian Adventure October 2009


Preparing for Christmas: recipes for cake, pudding and mincemeat November 2009


The Rhubarb Recipe Page May 2010

Where Am I?

You are currently viewing the archives for January, 2011 at The Rhubarb Fool.