Caramelized Brown Bread & Pecan Ice Cream

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Smooth, creamy custard swirled with crunchy nuggets of brown bread

Fact: Britains throw away over four million tons of edible food every year.

Do you know what’s number one on the list of wasted products? Bread. Approximately one third of this beautiful crunchy-crusted, tender-crumbed, breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner staple purchased is binned by households on an annual basis, at a cost to the country of over a billion pounds.

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Sourdough: My very first loaf

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My first ever sourdough loaf!

At the end of February the little loaf blog turned one. As the anniversary approached I started to think about ways in which I could celebrate, pulling together pictures of cakes, recipes for frosting and decorating techniques from my various recipe folders, bookmarks and pinboards. However, even as ideas began to take form for lines of little loaf cakes, sparkling candles and layers of chocolate, I realized I wanted to do something a little more special. Not necessarily anything fancy, but a new challenge to kick off the year to come.

The answer, in all its simple, slow brewing, tangy tasting glory was to start a sourdough culture. Mulchy, brown and bubbling away in a little kilner jar, it was hardly going to provide the glamour shots I’d originally intended for this first birthday post with my multi-tiered celebration cake. But it was exciting in its own way – an acknowledgement of how far I’ve come since that very first wholemeal loaf emerged from my oven and the start of something new. Continue reading

Potato, Prosciutto & Rosemary Schiacciata

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Golden crust, melting onions, slices of soft potato & crispy prosciutto

What’s your favourite type of Italian bread?

Ask this question of almost anyone and you’re on pretty safe ground. Italian breads are an established part of our everyday vocabulary (even if not always part of our diet in an increasingly carb-phobic society), pizza being one of the most popular foods in the world and cafes, shops and delis all over the place serving up ciabatta, focaccia, grissini and panini (the singular of which, panino, means none other than ‘little loaf’).

Slightly less familiar, perhaps, is schiacciata, a flattened bread which takes its name from the Italian ‘schiacciare’, to flatten or to crush. In Sicily they stuff their schiacciata with potatoes, spinach, meat or cheese while in Tuscany it’s an altogether more basic affair, not unlike a focaccia. The topping can be as simple as a sprinkling of salt or scattering of tomatoes, although they also make an unusual, and utterly delicious, version with seeded black wine grapes, rosemary and a little scattering of sugar to celebrate the Tuscan grape harvest. Continue reading

Sourdough Starter: One year of blogging & the start of something new

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Day one for my sourdough starter & the start of a new year

Exactly one year ago today, I sat down in front of my computer to pen my very first post. A few weeks prior to that I had decided to start baking my own bread, and the day before I had produced what I proudly felt to be my first loaf worthy of a write up i.e. something that didn’t sit in your stomach for days or have the consistency of a slightly spongy brick. Thelittleloaf blog was to be a catalogue of my adventures with bread – a way to express myself, to tell some stories and to put my money where my mouth was by baking my own bread on a regular basis.

Little did I know what a big part of my life my blog would become. Or how much I had to say about so much more than just bread. I’ve always had a sweet tooth, always been the one wanting to help out in the kitchen at parties, prepare and hand round nibbles and make cakes look beautiful on birthdays, but since starting this blog I’ve found an even greater joy in food – cooking and sharing it with those I love, researching recipes, writing stories and trying to make it look just as beautiful as it tastes. Continue reading

Pumpkin, Poppy & Sesame Seed Bagels

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Dense, chewy & scattered with seeds

Growing up there was always good bread available in the little loaf household. My mum didn’t regularly make her own – although when she did we’d fall on it fresh from the oven, devouring slabs of buttered bread so hot they still felt slightly doughy – but she’d always buy loaves from the local bakery rather than anything more mass produced. Nothing particularly fancy, just good a wholemeal tin, nutty malted grain or a batch of poppy seed rolls to fill for our packed lunches at school.

With the arrival of a farmers market in more recent years, her loyalty has strayed. The bakery is still there, but while their honest loaves are perfectly good, they pale in comparison to the six-seeded spelt, rustic rye and ancient sourdough on offer around the corner every Saturday morning. While I’d have to agree that the market-bought breads are delicious, exciting and most likely more expertly made than those from this bakery, I still have to sneak a peak in the window every time I pass to see what’s on offer, for old times’ sake. Continue reading

Dan Lepard’s Sesame Seed Slider Buns

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Sesame-topped bun rich with soft, sweet onions & packed with flavour

When was the last time you left something in the oven for too long?

Something where timing really matters, that is. I don’t mean slow-roasted shoulder of pork or a melt-in-the-mouth stew – dishes which work well with the odd inattentive slurp and stir every half hour or so – I’m talking food that is measured in minutes, where ‘too long’ can result in a complete catastrophe and clouds of smoke billowing from the cremated contents of your oven. Cakes and cookies, biscuits and bread – let’s face it, pretty much all baked goods – fall within this category; just a few minutes too many can mean the difference between a feather light sponge and piece of cardboard, a lovely loaf and a lump of lead.

The best example I’ve ever seen of something being left to bake for too long involves my Mum and a (now infamous in my family) hot cross bun. When I was little, we’d often have rolls for breakfast on the weekend. Rather than putting them in the toaster we’d warm them in the oven; the bread stayed soft but the butter would melt instantly on impact, making a simple yet indulgent change from the usual toast of the working week. Sometimes we’d branch out – croissants from the local bakery if we were feeling fancy or special seasonal produce such as hot cross buns, but only a few weeks either side of Easter. You might see where I’m going with this story when I tell you that the hot cross bun in question was discovered at some point during the Christmas holidays . . .

An Introduction to Bread Making with Richard Bertinet

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There are few things more delicious than the smell of freshly baked bread

‘Hold the bread close to your nose and breathe in deeply. What can you smell?’

My mum and I are standing amidst an assortment of aspiring bakers in the cosy kitchens of Richard Bertinet’s eponymous cookery school in Bath. Any grumbles about leaving London at crack of dawn have long been suppressed by rounds of toasted Bertinet bread and butter on arrival, and we’re bright- eyed and ready to learn. Having undergone a set of AA-style round-the-room introductions – ‘my name’s Kate and I’m a baking addict . . .’ – we’re now ready to address the task at hand. Bread.

We all clutch a piece close to our noses and breathe in. There’s a slightly sweet smell, the unmistakeable tang of vinegar, and vague undertones of…

‘Armpit. Your bread smells like a sweaty armpit’. Continue reading

Homemade Garlic Bread Baguettes

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Crusty homemade bread with wedges of creamy garlic butter

Garlic bread. The ultimate in comfort food, this simple snack was elevated to superstar status back in 2003 by Bolton-born Peter Kay’s famous sketch. Since then, it’s become nigh on impossible for people in the UK to pass a packet, produce a plate or merely mention the stuff without some smart arse chipping in with a round of ‘Garlic bread?’ intoned in a slightly nasal Northern accent.

Kay may have had his reservations, but there are few things more satisfying than the simple combination of good bread and garlic. Bruschetta made from toasted bread straight off the barbeque –  rubbed with garlic and drizzled in olive oil – is one of life’s greatest pleasures, but for something with a little more rib-sticking clout, it’s hard to beat a buttery stick of good homemade garlic bread. Continue reading

Simple White Tin Loaf

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Simple crusty white loaf with a soft, buttery crumb

One of the things I love about bread is its versatility. Even a shop bought loaf can be used in a dozen different ways, from slices of toast to sandwiches, breadcrumbs to bread and butter pudding, the savoury crunch of a crouton or stirred through smooth sweet ice cream. And when you start to bake your own, the combinations are endless – crusty loaves and fluffy rolls, baguettes and baps, sprinkled with seeds, or run through with olives and cheese, fruit, nuts and more.

When I first started writing this blog, I made it my mission to bake my own bread on a regular basis. I’ve since experimented with various different flours and techniques, but the staple loaf I return to time and again is a simple mix of wholemeal and malted grain flour. The latter is fairly forgiving, lending the loaf a lovely lightness of texture and depth of flavour. I tend to do my baking on a Sunday afternoon, and each week a freshly baked loaf of bread makes getting up on a Monday morning just that little bit easier. Continue reading

Fougasse two ways: September Fresh from the Oven challenge

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Fougasse – plain & with semi-dried tomatoes

Baking bread is something that scares a lot of people. The chemistry and craft involved in each stage of weighing, kneading, proving and baking can seem like a daunting task, so it’s important to approach the process with some background knowledge, and even a guide to hold your hand. When I first embarked on the mission of making my own bread, my helping hand existed in the form of the River Cottage Bread Handbook.

I’ve sung its praises countless times on this blog; from simple wholemeal loaves to home made croissants, this lovely little book will guide you through the world of baking in a simple, straightforward way. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I’m also a massive fan of Guardian columnist and baking guru Dan Lepard; I’m yet to make a recipe of his which hasn’t turned out wonderfully. But there’s one more person I’d like to add to this list, completing a holy trinity of baking brilliance – award winning chef, baker and all round good guy, Richard Bertinet. Continue reading