Bread diary No.2 – Crusty white yeast bread (again)

My first effort at bread making turned out surprisingly well. So much so in fact that I was a bit worried that it was all a bit of a fluke. I decided therefore to make the same bread as last week – A white yeast bread.

Again, two delicious loaves of bread, it wasn’t just beginners luck! This time though, I felt a bit more organised and got into the rhythm a lot better. I now feel that this crusty white loaf is my benchmark and that I can move on from here and try something less basic. I have also realised that this recipe requires me to be around for a total of 3 hours (although with lots of gaps) which is good to know.

I was interested in working out the economics of self baking, but it is quite difficult to be very precise. 1.5kg of strong white flour (90p) makes almost 4 decent sized loaves of bread which would make 22.5p per loaf. I bought some amazing sea salt in France (a 1.5kg bag for E1.50) and have so far used dry yeast (46p for 125g) which makes these costs fairly negligible. It’s then only the oven cost for 50 minutes on a high heat which I have no idea. Artisan bread at Borough Market costs £3-4 so regardless of how I add up the variables, it makes quite a saving!

Can’t wait to try a new recipe next week!

Bread diary No. 1 – Crusty white yeast bread

The yeast dough
The yeast dough

I have done a little bit of travelling and it never quite fails to amaze me that almost every country in the world seems to make better bread than the UK. It is a fundamental basic of food and yet I feel badly served by the majority of loaves on offer in my own country. Yes I can go to a specialist bakery (and pay a fortune) but in somewhere like France the basic baguette is usually good if not excellent. I have also been to places with no electricity and little running water and had some of the best bread of my life.

I have therefore decided to give a go to making my own bread in the hope that I can end up making something half decent.

Ready for the oven
Ready for the oven

For my first attempt I’ve had a go at a ‘Country sourdough-yeast bread‘ that looked fairly nice and is definitely the kind of bread I love to eat. I learnt several things in the making of this bread. Firstly, don’t let your 2 year old (and very inquisitive) daughter try to ‘help’ you. Secondly I found that while the whole process took a couple of hours, there were huge intervals of ‘proving’, ‘rising’ and baking that all allow you to go off and do other things.

With some trepidation I took my two loafs from the oven, gave them a bit of a tap and was relieved to find a nice crust and a vaguely hollow sound. I waited agonisedly for the bread to cool down a bit before I cut myself a slice off the end, spread a little butter and had a taste. Not bad, in fact actually quite good. It’s possible that this was beginners luck but my first attempt seems to be a winner – a lovely crusty soft white loaf. Yay!

The finished loafs
The finished loafs

Coffees of the month – Ethiopia Yirgacheffe and Sumatra Lingtong Takengon

Here is the next episode of my ‘coffee of the month‘ series which documents my introduction into the world of gourmet coffees. Just to re-cap, i’ve been trying a new coffee (or two) each month since March 2009. I’ve slightly slipped behind with this latest report so it will have to be brief.

Ethiopia Yirgacheffe
Smooth and slightly fruity this was really lovely and really exemplifies what I think is my favourite type of coffee. Given the chance I could drink this all day.

Sumatra Lingtong Takengon
A great counterpoint to the Yirgacheffe this is a bit raw and full-on but I really liked that. This was a great wake-up coffee for me on a work day. The Yirgacheffe was much more of a relaxing weekend coffee.

I would definitely have both of these again.

Coffees of the month – Yemen Mocha Matari and Guatemala El Bosque Amatitlan Red Bourbon

Another month, another ‘coffee of the month’ review. This time I look at coffees from very different places.

Coffee from the finest estates
Coffee from the finest estates

Yemen Mocha Matari
The classic, original mocha (not to be confused with the chocolate coffee drink). I was keen to give this a try as Yemen is an old and high profile coffee growing country and mocha it’s most famous ‘brand’. I found this quite delicious – rich and, not surprisingly, a bit chocolately. I liked this and am keen to try some more mocha.

Guatemala El Bosque Amatitlan Red Bourbon
This was a very drinkable coffee, nice and fruity and a little acidic! I am finding over time that I prefer smooth, less acidic coffees so while this was good I much prefered the Mocha this month. I also generally found that this coffee didn’t particularly stand out from others I tried so I may not be getting it again.

Coffees of the Month – Kenya Gethumbwini and El Salvador Finca La Fany Bourbon

Another instalment of ‘coffee of the month’. This time I have a couple of corkers.

Kenya Gethumbwini
Fruity and yet smooth I really liked this coffee. Kenya as a region makes coffee I like very much and this one didn’t disappoint me. I would have this again. Perfect in the french press.

Coffee from Has Bean
Coffee from Has Bean

El Salvador Finca La Fany Bourbon
Steve from Has Bean eulogises a lot about the great coffee from El Salvador so I thought I should give one a go and picked this one more or less at random. Very nice indeed particularly in the aeropress. It was nice to have two coffees that lent themselves to different brewing methods, something I might try to do going forward.

Grinder
All top coffee people advocate the grinding of coffee in a burr grinder as it produces a much more even result than the blade machines. The burr grinders are, however, quite a bit more pricey and I’ve been using a reasonable de longhi blade grinder so far. It produced a fairly even grind to begin with, but now it has had a lot more use it’s slowly getting worse. I need to save some pennies…

Bread, cheese and wine – Beaune, France – Part 2

This continues my families adventures in France. If you’ve not done so already, read Part 1.

The river in Beaune
The river in Beaune

Vin, pain et fromage

Lovely fromage
Lovely fromage

I have to agree with the French in their outlook on food and wine and Beaune did not disappoint us on this front. For a start Beaune is the centre of some of the best wine in France and there are numerous Caves around town very willing to prove it. There were some superb boulengeries and we ate (a lot) of very fine bread indeed. We also paid a visit to the Saturday morning market and got ourselves some splendid cheeses, the highlight of which may have been a fine, gooey Epoisse. Oh my we ate and drank well.

Lunch

On Sunday our hosts took us to a very lovely restaurant called Auberge des Vignes. We ate our splendid meal on the terrace looking out on a vineyard and with the gently rolling hills as a backdrop. The wine flowed, the food (including some snails) were great and we left with that nice glowing feeling. Pretty reasonable too I may add.

The view from our table at lunch
Our lunch venue - Auberge des Vignes

The Home of Photography

The house where the first ever photograph was taken
The house where the first ever photograph was taken

The man credited with taking the first permanent photographic image (previous ones faded after a few hours) is Joseph Nicéphore Niépce who lived in Chalon-sur-Saône not too far from where we were staying. As we were so close it would have been rude not to have gone to the home of photography. By chance there was a small museum attached to the house where Niepce took the first photo, so we took the tour.

On the one hand it was amazing to stand in the very room where the first ever picture was taken. On the other hand I couldn’t beleive that a photography museum wouldn’t let me take a picture myself. All I wanted was to take a picture out of the same window as an homage. Sadly not said the otherwise very nice guide. An interesting trip for photography buffs. I was fairly chuffed myself.

Wine tasting

A trip to Beaune of course would not have been complete without a visit to a cave for a spot of wine tasting.

Our hosts took us along to Bouchard Aine & Fils, a very distinguished looking place. We took the tour of the cave or cellar, which looked suitably dark and barrelly. Moving from cellar to cellar we were given increasingly nicer wines to taste, the last being particularly lovely. One nice feature was a room with lots of jars containing different flavours – oranges, cinnamon, chocolate etc. – to give an idea of smells to look out for. Possibly a gimmick, but I quite liked it and my one year old was highly intrigued.

Vineyards near Beaune
Vineyards near Beaune

What a lovely place

I can report that Beaune is a lovely part of the world and somewhere I’d be keen to spend more time in. A wonderful trip.

Bread, cheese and wine – Beaune, France – Part 1

One of life’s truths is that almost every country in the world will have nicer bread and tomatoes than the UK. That’s why it was nice to be able to pop over to visit our friends Muriel and Lionel in France, a country that know how to eat well.

Rue Victor Hugo, Lyon
Rue Victor Hugo, Lyon

Tortuous journey
We were making our way to Beaune in mid-eastern France which made it a slightly tricky place to get to. After much talk of driving and eurostars we settled on flying to Lyon and then the train. Traveling can be difficult and stressful enough, but taking a one year old too (who loves to run around) made it all slightly trickier. Suffice to say that it all went to plan, but was a bit of a trial.

View from Fourviere, Lyon
View from Fourviere, Lyon

Lyon
As part of the trip we found ourselves with the best part of an afternoon in Lyon, the third largest city in France. I’d failed to do much research before we left but was delighted to learn that it’s centre (an island between the Rhone and Saone rivers) was a lovely old town. As well as lots of shops there were some lovely cafe’s and we stopped for a delightful lunch on the Place Bellcour.

Rent a bike, Lyon
Rent a bike, Lyon

After our meal (and wine) we made our way up to the fourvier and it’s wonderful basilica and fine views of Lyon. We sadly didn’t have too much time to hang around and had to make our way back to the station for our train to Beaune. I think Lyon deserves at least a good day to look round and enjoy – maybe next time.

Arrival in Beaune
It had been a hot, humid and muggy day which finally led to rain as we got to Beaune. Luckily for us Lionel was there to pick us up in the car and so we didn’t have to get too wet.

The next day while our hosts went to work, we were able to have a look round the lovely and picturesque town of Beaune. The centre is still shaped from the original medieval walls, many of which still stand.

Hospices de Beaune
Hospices de Beaune

Hospices
The main cultural highlight of the town is the wonderful Hospices de Beaune (or Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune). This was a medieval hospital, mainly for the poor and funded by extensive vineyards given by wealthy patrons. Amazingly it was still being used as a medical establishment until the 1970s. Even now part of the complex is still used as a retirement home.

The roof of the building is clearly it’s most obvious stand-out feature and it is something to behold. Apparently this style was copied for many of the great houses in burgundy.

Inside is a wonderfully restored museum, giving an excellent idea of what things would have been like in medieval times. I did think the main hall where the beds were looked as if it would be really cold in winter though.

A really excellent visit and well worth a look if your in the area.

Hospices de Beaune
Hospices de Beaune
Inside the Hospices de Beaune
Inside the Hospices de Beaune

Now look out for part deux of the trip….

Coffees of the Month – Bolivia Machacamarca and Ethiopian Harrar

As you can see from the title, the coffee of the month series has gone plural. My home coffee consumption has risen and I now seem to be using around 500g of coffee a month. Ironically, however, this has actually made a real term saving as I find I don’t buy so much coffee from the coffee chains on the way to work any more.

I’ve also abandoned my continent rotation policy and am now just going for the coffees that look interesting at the time of purchase.

Bolivia Machacamarca
This was the coffee used by Colin Harmon, the Irish champion at the World Barista championship (where he came fourth in the world) so again my expectations were quite high. As usual I tried a few different brewing methods, the aeropress and the french press, and while this was fine for both it worked best I thought in the aeropress from which I usually make americano. I guess this should be no surprise as it was as an espresso that it was used in the WBC.

This was one of those wonderful rich, luxurious and chocolaty coffees that was fairly complex yet very drinkable and moreish. This is pretty much my favourite coffee of the ones I tried this year and I would highly recommend it.

Ethiopian Harrar
Well, here I am essentially going back to the home of coffee, the only place in the world where it grows naturally in the forest and probably the place it originated. I’ve been wanting to try an Ethiopian for a while and picked this one more or less at random.

Very different from the Machacamarca, this is a bit rough around the edges and far less sophisticated. In fact the first couple of times I drank it I was even thinking to myself that I might not finish the bag. Since then and with a little perseverance it has grown on me. I’ve almost got to quite like the slightly harsh taste for my morning ‘wake-up’. This is no thoroughbred, but worth a try. I did wonder if this would work better as part of a blend maybe?

Ice coffee

Frappaccino
Frappaccino

It was a hot, weekend afternoon, I wanted some caffeine but hot coffee just seemed inappropriate. What I fancied was a frappaccino and thought i’d have a stab at making my own.

I made a quadruple espresso in the aeropress which I let cool and popped in the blender with some ice, milk and ‘taste the difference’ vanilla ice cream and gave it a buzz. What turned out was quite nice but I realise I got my ratios a bit wrong. Next time I’ll use less milk and more ice and ice-cream. Great for those afternoons in the garden with the paper.

Drinking vs tasting
Just wanted to pass on this little video from the sweet maria’s blog. Like so many of the best idea’s it’s so simple – don’t juts drink coffee, taste it. Watch the video as they explain it better than I can.

Coffee of the Month – Australian Skyberry

Welcome to the fifth instalment of ‘Coffee of the Month‘ and this time I’m drinking some Australian coffee. Yes, you read it right. Who’d have thought our antipodean friends made coffee? In my continent rotation policy, this is counting as ‘Asia’.

French press
French press

Australian Skyberry
The cupping notes from the roaster I bought it from said that this coffee has many of the properties of Jamaican blue mountain but at a fraction of the cost. I’ll have to take Steve’s word on that as it’s been a long time since I had some blue mountain.

What I can say about the skyberry though is that it is immensely balanced and consistent. I tried this coffee in the aeropress and the french press and it was equally good in both. I suspect that it would work well as an espresso too. It doesn’t seem to be outlandish or funky in any way, but neither is it bland. I really liked it and would be happy to drink this every day.

Brewing habits
Over the last couple of months I’ve been refining my brewing skills and I feel that I’ve got my french press nearly perfect. I generally start the day with a couple of cups. At work we also have french presses, but the coffee is just normal stuff and pre-ground. I find myself wrinkling my nose at this stuff now.

I think I’ve become a coffee snob. Oh dear.

Coffee of the month – Rwanda Kopabagaki

Here we go with the fourth installment of the ‘Coffee of the month‘ reviews, although I notice that I’m drinking enough coffee to do them slightly more often. Keeping with my plan to rotate around the coffee growing continents we are back at the beginning – Africa.

Rwanda Kopabagaki
Up to now, I’ve been getting my coffee from Has Bean but this month I got a bag from the Square Mile coffee company. One of their interesting quirks is that instead of the usual 250g bags they go for 350g. I did find this quantity a bit more useful, especially as I try various brewing methods for each coffee before I settle on a favourite.

One relatively significant problem I had while trying this coffee was a fairly substantial cold that severely reduced my power of smell and taste. This has turned out to be shame as it was only towards the end of the packet that my cold went and I got to fully appreciate this coffee.

So here it is, the verdict. Very nice. I could go on to say that it was smooth and approachable and was enormously more-some (something I wouldn’t always say even about coffees I adore). Not quite as light and effortless as many Kenyans I’ve had but in that region (geographically and in flavour). The Kenyan Kirgia I tried a few months back probably has the edge, but this was close.

Aeropress
Aeropress

As usual I gave this a few different brewing methods but was finding that the simple french press seemed to work best for me. I gave it a couple of goes in the aeropress and it was good, I’m just not sure that it was this coffee’s strength.

Raw Potato
The coffee site gave a warning of a potential defect to look out for with this coffee – raw potato. Not any actual raw potato you understand, just the smell. Apparently the coffee cherry is sometimes attacked by an insect and the consequence, which only comes out once ground, is the strong smell of raw potato. I was almost disappointed not to find this with any of my batch. Interesting though.

Coffee fact of the month
After Brazil the second largest producer of coffee in the world is in fact Vietnam. It’s mostly robusta beans, but still, it’s not a name synonymous with coffee.