I’ve been busy.
Busy is good. Not only have I been occupied working but I also been busy taking my taste buds on a sensory adventure. Now it’s time to play catch up.
Last week I happened to be in London and since that’s a bit a rarity for me to venture across the Tamar, I leapt at the invitation from the ‘make mine Milk’ team to learn a few proper coffee making skills along with a group of other bloggers. It was a ruse to get some feedback on their campaign so far and discuss upcoming activity for 2011, however I’m easily seduced by the fantastic spread of breakfast they provided us with.
Daisy Rollo, originally from Brittany, was our barista trainer. She grew up with the smell of cafe au lait and a warm croissant in her nostrils everyday. I grew up with Tetley tea and burnt toast in mine so I feel I started life – as most Brits – with a certain plebeian disadvantage.
Daisy gave a quick run down on coffee botany. The Tropics, on either side of the Equator, is basically the ‘coffee belt’ and the countries within that belt is where our coffee grows. The difference in taste of coffee blends created with the different types of Ethiopian, Indonesian and Kenyan Arabica beans have varying floral aromas, an acidity yet sweetness and some delicious nuttiness about them and appeal to the most sophisticated and discerning palates. On the other hand, the saliva stripping Robusta coffees might add body but on their own they are basically for taste buds on death row.
At the end we were required to put our new skills to the test with a coffee competition. I was rubbish at the latte art, my attempts at a ‘heart’ shape was more like a great white moony which made me blush as I presented it tentatively to the judge. Needless to say I didn’t win. However, I did come away with a better appreciation of a good cup of coffee and a snobby attitude towards an over frothed, flavour-dillute Costa coffees.
I discovered a bread recipe in the River Cottage Family Cookbook which has always worked well for me. Even my 12 year old makes perfect bread this way without assistance. But the one thing I remember is the 10 minute work out that’s required to knead the bread.
However, Vicky’s bread is distinctly different. Mention words like ‘kneading’ and ‘knocking back’ and she’d start to wince and cringe as if we’d uttered the worse kind of profanity in her presence. She makes French-style sourdough, award wining, artisan breads which require the lightest and gentlest of treatments.
Sourdough is used where I’d have used yeast as the natural raising agent. It’s the bread ‘pet’ that you feed regularly to waken and liven it up when you want to make bread, and then keep a bit back to sleep in the fridge for the next time you want to make bread.
By the end of the day I’d made a white Bordelais – as Vicky described, “the little black dress” of breads as it goes with everything; a flavoursome Wholemeal Levain, an irresistibly delicious smelling Roasted Potato, Garlic and Onion Levain and a dozen or more buttery Rosette rolls. I came home with a massive cardboard box full of breads feeling like a veritable baker.
A couple of tips I shall remember because they are so smugly satisfying once achieved. When your dough is ready to cook, it should be very smooth and springy and when you poke it gently it should bounce back without leaving an indentation. The other is the ‘windowpane test’ to test for the gluten strands. If you can pull and stretch it until it is almost translucent and it doesn’t break, it’s perfect.
Vicky’s Bread bakery makes up to 1,400 loaves a day and they are sold all over Cornwall. I’d also thoroughly recommend taking one of Vicky’s Saturday bread-making courses which are as phenomenally good as is her bread.
Now all I need to do is get my sourdough dough to wake up, get it fermenting with enthusiasm again and I’ll be ready to bake at home.