Baking; Preserves; wine making.

These pages are dedicated to my love of baking, making preserves and sauces and last but not least my resurrected enthusiasm for making wine. If at all possible, I like to try out new dishes that I have never cooked before.

25th May 2014 - Elderflower cordial Elderflower Champagne & sourdough improvement

The UK has experienced very warm weather since around March and as such everything is blooming earlier than normal, including the elderflowers.

My sewing friend Viv gave me some of her elderflower champagne back in September, which I loved, and have been waiting since then for the elderflowers to come into bloom so I could make some and some elderflower cordial.

What do you think of my lovely basket - we stopped at a local house on our way back from our anniversary lunch last weekend.  The man told us he learnt the craft 20 years ago and now makes these types of baskets, and other wicker work goods as a hobby/small business.  I love it.

For the Cordial I used the following ingredients:-

  • 30 elderflower heads (flowers removed from stalks)
  • 2kg  of sugar
  • 1.3 ltrs of water
  • 50-75g of citric acid
  • juice and rind of 3 lemons
  1. Boil the water, remove from heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved and leave to cool
  2. remove the flowers from the stalks (a fork is helpful here) and place in a large bowl
  3. add rind and juice of the lemons to the elderflowers together with the citric acid.
  4. pour sugar water over the elderflowers, stir and leave covered with a muslin cloth for 24 hours.
  5. Strain the elderflower syrup through a clean muslin cloth into sterilised bottles (I used some nice swing top glass bottles) but any will do.
  6. Serve diluted with water (soda, still, sparkling) to taste - I added a couple of sprigs of mint, slice of lemon and some ice cubes  - delicious...................
Elderflower Champagne

  • 8 Elderflower heads
  • 5 ltrs of water
  • 900g of sugar
  • 250ml of white grape concentrate
  • pkt of wine yeast (if available champagne yeast)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of yeast nutrient
  • juice and rind of 2 lemons
  1. Put the elderflower heads, lemon juice and rind , grape concentrate into a sterilised bucket, and pour over 2.5 ltrs of boiling water, stir.
  2. Add remaining cool water together with the yeast nutrient and the yeast, stir, and leave for 5 days stirring daily.
  3. Strain the mixture through a muslin cloth into a  sterilised demijohn, and add an airlock.  This should have quite a few bubbles in it and you should see a bubble in the airlock every few seconds.
  4. After the first week test the brew using a hydrometer aiming for a 1010 level - if its not there after a week, leave a little longer.
  5. Once its reached the right level, syphon into sterilised bottle that can withstand pressure and leave for several weeks for drinking.
If you google Elderflower champagne recipes some, writers state that this brew can be quite explosive.   Hmmm could be interesting.  Whether or not mine will be as delicious as my friend Viv's I'll let you know.  

I intend to pick some more elderflowers and place them in a plastic bag and freeze them.  The famous Mary Berry does this if she isn't ready to make her cordial at the time the flowers are out - I am going to give this a go.  I also want to make a 2nd batch of champagne using a champagne yeast I only had wine yeast and Viv says it does make a difference.

I'll let you know how it turns out.

Sourdough improvement.

There are so many recipes for the best ever sourdough but at the end of the day, your own water, environment, oven will all make a difference to how your bread turns out.

I have made one change the the sourdough experiment recipe below in that I feed my sourdough starter before I go to bed making sure there is enough to pour 300g/ml into my flour.  If it is going well, you will have a lovely yeast that have bubbled up in your container.  

I no longer do the overnight rise, I now start early in the morning by mixing my flour, sourdough starter, water and salt together and start the rising process.  I knock it back at least 2-3 times before placing it in the basket for the final rise before baking.

I have made around 3 loaves using this method and each have been fantastic.

4th May 2014 - Oxtail soup & Sourdough experiment

So below you see my recipe for my sourdough.  I have had excellent results with my organic Canadian strong flour, but yesterday I purchased an 89p bag of Tesco strong white flour and last night made up my same recipe x 2 - one with my usual flour (£1.90) and one with my cheap flour (89p).  I want to know if the success of my bread lately is 1. me mastering the sourdough technique, or 2. the quality of the flour.

Last night I made up two separate batches of sourdough - one with the cheap flour and one with the organic more expensive flour - I am currently on my 3rd rise so will continue this post once I have completed the experiment together with photos.

So here are the photographs as promised:-

Of course looks are not everything, so next was the taste test.  To be honest, there was very little between the two.  The question is do I/we prefer the thought of eating organic flour, so therefore no pesticides etc should have been used when growing the wheat?

A 1.5kg bag of flour produces 2 loaves - so from a cost perspective we are looking at, per loaf, approx 50p for the cheap flour v £1 for the organic flour (I have allowed something for baking).

Commercially produced sourdough bread, purchased from an artisan bakery would cost around £3.50, so either way, we are saving loads, but of course, this isn't down to cost.  I have sort of become obsessed with perfecting the sourdough loaf and when I saw these loaves puff up, like a crusty pillow, I sort of patted myself on my back. 

Oxtail Soup

I have never cooked oxtail before so this is a first for me.  I found this recipe here on the BBC food website which I am giving a whirl for dinner tonight.

Here is a portion of oxtail purchased in our supermarket for £1.50.

  1. brown the oxtail on all sides and set aside.
  2. chop onion, celery, crush a clove of garlic and soften in the pan.
  3. deglaze the pan with a glass of red wine. 
  4. Add beef stock, thyme and bay leaves, salt and pepper
  5. simmer for appox 2 hours until meat is tender.
  6. pour liquid into a bowl and pop in fridge (ideally overnight, but I couldn't be bothered to do all this last night) to allow the fat in the liquid to solidify.
  7. strip the meat from the bones, removing any bits of fat and grizzle.
  8. skim off the fat from the liquid, and return liquid to pan.  Add flour and tomato paste with the meat to thicken.
  9. Served with crusty sourdough loaf - and enjoy.
And here is my oxtail soup served with my sourdough bread (the cheap one).  It was really delicious and if you haven't tried this before try it.  I think I would probably make a larger batch and then pop the soup in the freezer as a great standby.  The soup has enough body to make it a substantial supper dish.

Sourdough - recipe and how I got on.

Since we moved into our new home at the end of Oct 2013 I have been making my own sourdough.  We got hooked on the bread we bought in London from Gails bakery which make a lovely loaf, and I have had a quest to recreate the lovely sour tasty, rather hole filled loaves.

Just recently I purchased the River Cottage handbook No.3 where I learnt that they knock back their dough 2-3 times (the Fabulous Baker Brothers don't suggest this in their YouTube clip) .  Keen to try this out, I too did the same thing, and below is the result - let me tell you it makes the BEST EVER toast.

Here is the recipe I used:-

500g strong white flour - I used a Canadian organic flour which I have had great results with, but its a little more expensive.
300g of sourdough starter - I use strong wholemeal flour for mine - equal parts flour to warm water and feed daily.
250ml of warm water (250g of water is the same as 250ml) 
good pinch of salt (I use Maldon sea salt)

  1. Mix the dough in your mixer for around 10 minutes - check that the dough is neither too wet or too dry (flour has different levels of humidity) so be prepared to add extra flour if too wet or hold back some of the water and add at the end.......either way works.
  2. Hopefully your dough will be around the dough hook - generally if its wet, you get a puddle of dough on the bottom of the bowl and the rest on the hook.
  3. Pour a little vegetable oil on both the work surface and your hand (helps to stop sticking) and then I usually knead for another few minutes, stretching it out, rolling it up and repeating until it is nice and bouncy and shape into a ball.
  4. Pop dough back in the mixing bowl and cover - I use a shower cap (I collect these up when I travel and bring them home especially for this - I have been known to ask all my work colleagues to collect these for me on group work business trips).  Leave the dough in the kitchen overnight to do its magic.
  5. Next morning you should have a nice raised dough that when you pull it out of the bowl looks like stringy chewing gum.
  6. Repeat stage 3 and 4 but this time only leave the dough for about 1- 1.5 hours.
  7. Repeat stage 6
  8. Now you can if you like repeat stage 6 again, or this time shape your loaf and put it into your banneton basket, I use one like this.
  9. Before you use your basket sprinkle the inside with gluten free flour (essentially rice flour) and having been doing this for a while - found this to be 100% successful against the dough getting stuck to the basket.  Pop the dough into the basket which you will have shaped into a ball, smooth side down, and then sprinkle a little of the flour on the top of the dough to stop the dough sticking to the shower cap when it rises.
  10. Leave the covered dough on your work surface for approx 1-2 hours (it should be about level with the top of the basket) - the repeated kneading will create all those lovely air bubbles which = holes in the bread.
  11. When your dough has risen for the last time, heat your oven to 250c - I use a pizza stone in mine  and the set below was bought as a recent wedding present and all items are used almost on a daily basis.
  12. Tear a piece of parchment/greaseproof paper to line the pizza paddle, then tip your dough onto the parchment paper.  Gently brush off any excess flour with a soft brush and then score your bread.  I use a lame and it is much better than a sharp knife (guess you could use an old razor blade but you must make sure you put it in something you'll not cut yourself.  Get artistic and make whatever score pattern you want.
  13. Using the pizza paddle take the dough loaf to the oven, and slip the bread and parchment paper onto the pizza stone.  Using a spray water container, spray cold water into the oven (I usually do around 6-7 sprays) alternatively put a tray at the bottom of the oven when heating up and and pour cold water or ice-cubes onto it.  What you are doing is creating steam and steam = crusty loaf.
  14. Bake for 10 minutes at 250c and then check, turn loaf, and turn the temp down to 200c and continue to bake for another 15 minutes - check, turn, bake for another 15 minutes.  You are usually needing around 30-40 minutes for this sized loaf, but I am using a fan oven.
  15. Your last check should be to see if the base when tapped sounds hollow and if yes, place your loaf on a cooling rack and try to resist eating too soon - wait at least 15 minutes before you take off the crust and butter............yummy - let me know how you get on.

3rd May 2014 - Slow-Cooked Rabbit Stew

Today I wanted to try cooking rabbit, something I haven't really eaten before (think I tasted a tiny bit off someone's plate) so I searched the internet and found this recipe on the Good Food website.

This was a really easy dish to prepare and then the rest is just done in the oven for 2 hours while I got on with painting the allotment frame.

The rabbit was a wild rabbit purchased from our local farm shop and for those of you who haven't eaten rabbit it tastes rather like chicken.  In fact you could easily exchange this recipe with chicken, but you probably would lose some of the gamey taste.