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Book Review: River Cottage Bread book, great Christmas Gift Idea for Foodie friends

Tuesday, 27 November 2012  |  Admin

I LOVE cookery books, I'm a complete sucker for them. I like nothing better than cruising the local charity shops for hidden gems (found a brilliant Madhur Jaffrey cookbook there for £1, or seeing what I can find on Amazon in their marketplace.I have to admit though that the River Cottage Bread Book was an Amazon purchase. I've had a breadmaker for a few years but for me, the bread was always a bit disappointing. Never quite as good as the bread from Morrisons bakery (especially the tiger bread. Sad but True.) So the breadmaker languished on my worktop. I still made bread (now and again) both using the machine and by hand but the results varied enormously and I could never really explain why.Then one evening I sat down to watch Masterchef Australia, another guilty pleasure of mine. They had a bread baking masterclass and the lady baker advised the contestants that if they were making bread at home they should preheat their oven to the highest temp for an HOUR before baking. That was news to me but next time I tried to make a loaf (for friends coming round for dinner) I gave it a shot and voila, my bread was much more acceptable.Inspired by my success, I went looking for a bread making bible. I considered a couple of other alternatives (Paul Hollywood's How to bake gets great reviews), but I decided to go for the River Cottage Bread Book as it focused mainly on bread which is what I was looking for.I wasn't disappointed.The book goes through the step by step process of how to make bread and the science behind it, in very fine detail. And it turned out that it wasn't my recipe that was wrong (breadmaking recipes are all pretty much the same) it was my technique that needed improvement. Things like:

  • How to knock the bread back and shape it into a round so it rises more evenly (harder than you would imagine!)
  • How to create a steamy environment in the oven so it rises well there
  • How to create a gorgeous tasty seeded crust on the loaf
My next batch of loaves were actually gorgeous. Proper loaves that you would be happy to pay for, crusty and seeded all over.So of course I haven't stopped there, I've tried quite a few more recipes from the book. The multi-grain loaf was wolfed down by everyone, even the picky 5 year old. The sour-dough bread actually worked and we now keep some sour-dough starter in the fridge (nicknamed Sour-Dough Sally) who we try to remember to feed and beat once a week, so we always have the option of making some at a couple of days notice.So why bother making your own bread?Satisfaction - It is really satisfying to serve up some home-made soup and bread to friends and see them gobble it down to much acclaim. And it isn't time-consuming either really. I try to kick it off before I go to bed of an evening (which takes 5 minutes) and then give the bread a final knock back and prove the next morning, so we'll have the lovely fresh loaves for Saturday lunchtime.Cost - 1.5kg of flour costs about 52p in Lidl and will make about 4 loaves. Yeast probably costs about 20p for those 4 loaves, so in total that's about 20p per loaf. Even allowing for electricity cost that's still a fraction of the price of similar artisan made bakery bread. And as long as you've got a working oven, you don't need any more equipment than that. There's loads of different bits and pieces of equipment that you can buy but most of it isn't necessary - the only thing I'd recommend is getting a good dough scraper as it makes cleaning the worktop easier!All in all, if you have a foodie type to buy a Christmas Gift for, I thoroughly recommend this book. It does what it says on the tin and will revolutionise your bread baking experience!

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