All posts by Kate

About Kate

Writer and editor, with an unhealthy (or rather healthy) obsession with food...

Rouille-ing the day

Sorry. Not sorry…

The first of my ‘recipes I’ve never used before’ (see previous post) has come from a book I have had for years. Had for years and used remorselessly – though not for some time. It was published in 1987 to accompany a TV series, and it’s by one of my all-time favourite writers: Claudia Roden. It’s the illustrated edition of her wonderful Mediterranean Food.

Boxing Day, and I was invited to a friend’s house for lunch. But… he was cooking a bouillabaisse, and would I do the accompaniments? After all, my name is about as Provençal as you can get: I’m actually a small nativity figure, traditional at this time of year, so helping with a typically Provençal dish should be no problem. ‘What did he need?’ I asked: oh, you know, the aïoli, the rouille, some homemade bread would be good. Aïoli, no problem. Homebaked sourdough, no problem (well, there was, because I managed to kill my starter, but that’s another story). Rouille? Eaten it, or rather slurped it into a fish soup. Not made it.

I had my first task!

I thought I knew what I was getting into: a bread-based purée, flavoured with garlic and cayenne or chillis, ideal for thickening a soup or a rather liquid stew as well as adding flavour. But that’s when the problems started. Digging around, I found a split, a schism, an existential crisis. What is, or what is not, a rouille? Is it a flavoured mayo, according to Wikipedia and even Anthony Bourdain? My battered old Cuisine du Terroir is unequivocal:

‘The accompaniment to certain Provençal soups, including the legendary bouillabaisse. The recipe given […] is a reminder that the modern tendency to make a sort of aïoli with chillis is historically incorrect.’

Well, I’m not going to go against that. Why would you want another mayo-based accompaniment, anyway? And I’m not missing out on the aïoli, which I can eat by the bucketfull. I turned to Claudia, and then I discovered schism number two, amongst the traditional bread-based rouille makers. Essentially, it’s about technology. Do you use a blender, or do you make it a bit like a mayo, pounding the bread in a mortar and adding the oil gradually?

Er, for me there’s no debate. Especially on Boxing Day morning. Blender it is. Please. My comment in Cuisine (mortar and pestle, natch) reads ‘seriously, guys’.

So I settled down with Claudia, and inevitably had to adapt the recipe. And this is what I got:

It was absolutely, four star, zappo, amazing, DELICIOUS.

Now. I had to do some adapting. First, you’re supposed to cut the crusts off the bread. Owing to the starter crisis, all I had was bread with crusts. If I’d cut the crusts off I’d have had about a teaspoon of bread. So I reduced the crusts to the finest possible breadcrumbs before starting. How much, though? The recipe says ‘four slices’. Well, in the late 80s a slice of bread was about 25g, so I went with 100g.

I put my breadcrumbs in a bowl with crushed garlic, a teaspoon of paprika and a pinch of cayenne, five tablespoons of olive oil and a squeezette of tomato purée (controversial, that, but hey, I was going to be wielding a blender, I laugh in the face of controversy). I had some veg stock ready to let it down – should have been fish stock from the bouillabaisse, but that was five miles away – and mixed it all together in the bowl first. My stick blender did a brilliant job, much better than my stand blender – yes, I did try.

The taste? As noted above – fabulous. Yes, I’m sure it would have been smoother if I’d not used crusted bread, but at the same time I’m also sure that my home-made crusted bread was more tasty than the boiled baby’s blanket which passed for bread in the 1980s, and still does in many supermarkets today.

Here’s a link to Claudia’s original recipe, published with her bouillabaisse as one of the Guardian’s ‘20 best French recipes‘. Entirely justified.



Reading, testing, eating…

It’s the books. I’ve got, er, quite a few. There are cookery and food books everywhere. (Though I have managed to keep them out of the bedside pile. For the moment.)







Some have been barely used, some are stained and mangled and barely legible, some – 1970s edition of the Hamlyn All-colour Cookbook, I’m looking at you despite Mary Berry having contributed a section – are best described as having largely historical interest and are shelved in the basement. So, decision time.

Do I throw? Oh, please. Books? Never. Do I recycle? Yes, some can definitely head towards charity shops, though possibly not the ones with the graffiti and the soup stains. If they’ve been used to that extent, they are ones I may well need. Either now, or at some indefinable point in the future. But what about the ones I’ve not really used?

So, I’m setting myself a task, the cooking equivalent of a Goodreads ‘how many books can you read in a year’ challenge (though I did quit Goodreads; it just got silly, and so might this). Every week, things like holidays permitting, I will use a new recipe from one of my little-used books. They will often, doubtless, be veggie, given that I have an abundance of things like this to use in the season:

And they will doubtless be adapted, often to allow for my lactose intolerance but sometimes just because I’m missing an ingredient or in a hurry – after all, that’s how recipes have to work in the real world. They need to be adaptable, like my fave roast tom passata from the River Cottage Preserves handbook:

And here the graffiti inform me that it’s ‘sensational with Cuor di Bue, 2010’, ‘done for freezing, mostly with Harbinger, tough skins, 2009’, ‘add a slug of wine, too, yum’, and ‘large roasting dish covered in toms makes about 1 litre’. It also adds, in biro, ‘don’t burn!!!!’ and ‘omit the sugar unless the tomatoes are crap’. No point repeating that recipe for this experiment…

I’m not going to do a random pick, because that wouldn’t work: suddenly dashing out to find kohlrabi or fennel pollen is impractical round here, and anyway I don’t like kohlrabi and am ‘meh’ about fennel pollen. I will also avoid any books I’ve edited, since I know those recipes and – hopefully, no, certainly, given the testing undertaken – they’ll work.

But it will always be a recipe I haven’t used before, and maybe from a book I haven’t used at all, just drooled over. And I will do my best to be good and follow the recipe as I should, and I will certainly note any silly errors – editorial, mostly: missing ingredients, missing steps in the method, assumptions that probably shouldn’t be assumptions but spelled-out certainties.

So, first week of January = first recipe. What will it be, I wonder? What cuisine will it come from? Will it be from one of my older books (except, possibly, the Hamlyn All-Colour Cookbook), or from something brand spanking new? Who knows? I don’t…

Hm, tapas…

Oh, and I will not be republishing the actual recipe – no way. I seem to spend far too much time saying things like ‘no, you cannot just copy a Jamie Oliver recipe in your book’, ‘yes, it is one of his, it’s from XXX, easy to track down’, ‘yes, copyright applies to recipes’ and ‘yes, he will notice, or his people will, after all, I did, even though you didn’t mention him’ to some authors. I will add a link, if I can find a legitimate source, and I will summarise. But I will not be copying Jamie Oliver recipes on Twelve Miles. Promise. Tools, at the ready!

In search of lost soup

I know, I know, it’s been a million years. But, as a quick glance at the previous two posts will reveal, there have been reasons. But I refuse to be beaten by an ill-advised foray into draft beer at a festival.

So I’ve had to adapt. Lactose, in the form of milk, cream and most forms of soft cheese, is emphatically out. I have to be careful with fat. But everything else is fine, including wine (and for someone who spends time editing wine books, that’s a big plus). Current wine find? I can’t quite believe it, but Tesco’s ‘Finest’ Soave Superiore Classico is amazing value for money.

And the whole thing got me thinking about food I really enjoy. Not about great glistening mounds of roast pork, huge piles of meringues stuffed with cream: they belong in the past. But about things which I can really enjoy without fear of sparking anything off. Bread. Beautiful sourdough, crisply crusty and delicious; soda breads, sharp and tasty, breads flavoured with carraway, olives or herbes de Provence. Roast chicken, sans, naturally these days, the skin. Soups… and the latter prompted me to remember a soup which I once loved very much indeed.

I was a baby bookseller in London, paid very little. My friends, almost without exception, were in similar straits. I used to go to a – well, what was it? Not really a restaurant. A canteen? That’s more like it. It was run by a church, not sure which one, but it was vegetarian, as was I at the time. (They weren’t Buddhist; I was queueing to pay when one of the precise young men on the till killed a fly. ‘That’s not very Buddhist,’ said the man in front of me, mildly. ‘I am NOT A BUDDHIST!’ yelled the cashier, going red in the face and clenching his fists; he was hurried away by a companion. So, not Buddhist.) It was in a basement, and I remember it as dark and cosy and a favourite haunt of a potter friend.

We used to go there regularly, and I was always overjoyed if a particular soup was on the menu. It wasn’t, often, but come the colder months it could be found more reliably. I’ve messed with trying to recreate it, but I think I’ve finally got there.

Potato and dill soup
(serves 3, or 4 with more liquid)

I tsp vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
500g potatoes, partly peeled and chopped (floury: Maris Piper are ideal)
1 bay leaf
800ml vegetable stock
1 tsp freeze-dried dill tops (if using fresh, add more)

Warm the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan, and sweat the onion down; don’t let it catch. Then add the garlic and the potatoes and swirl them around in the softened onions. Add the bay leaf and the stock and bring to the boil. Then lower the heat and simmer the soup for about 12-15 minutes, or until the potatoes are nice and soft. Then add the dill and cook for another minute. Remove the pan from the heat and blend the soup: it should be smooth and thick, so it’s probably best to use a stand rather than a stick blender. Check for seasoning, and serve with crusty bread.

(Add extra liquid at the blending stage, if wished – but go easy. My failed recreations were often too watery.)

I am so pleased that I’ve got there – the bay leaf made all the difference. And it tastes almost as good as it did when I was  a 22-year-old impoverished bookseller, sitting on a communal table in a dark basement and putting the world to rights in my lunch break.


What to do when you’ve too much yoghurt…

I shouldn’t succumb to BOGOF offers. I inevitably end up with too many of something or too much of something, and a general inclination to give the extras away. My new resolution is to practise restraint and moderation in the face of offers that are too good to be true (and designed for families of 18 anyway). But in the meanwhile I checked the dates on my bulk buy of yoghurt and discovered that two large pots were on the edge. So what could I do? Make more yoghurt, obviously, but I already had too much (curse you and your buckets of amazing Greek yoghurt, Lidl). Then I remembered. I’d not made it for ages.

Yay! Soda bread!

Once upon a time there was a little local dairy near here, run out of an extension to the owner’s house. However, that closed some time ago and since then I’ve not been able to get buttermilk. But you can use yoghurt instead, and in the face of the yoghurt lake I decided not to be a purist. And the result was – well, though I say it myself, yummy. One thing, though: take the yoghurt out of the fridge about 30 minutes beforehand.

500g wholemeal flour (or half wholemeal, half spelt)
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 level tsp salt
400g plain yoghurt
and maybe a little milk.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C, 180 fan / GM 6.
Mix the flour, bicarb and salt thoroughly. Then add the yoghurt, and a little milk if necessary, and mix it all together with your hands until you have a soft but not alarmingly sticky dough. Knead it a little, gently, and then form it into a round loaf on a baking tray. Cut a deep cross in the top.
Bake it in the oven for 45 minutes, but check it after 35; it may be ready. If it sounds hollow when you tap on the underside, it is.

Eat it on the same day or freeze it in chunks; it goes stale quickly. This is generally not a problem…

PS: it’s especially good with home-made – and therefore not too sweet – marmalade. Nom.

I’m back – with reservations….

What a funny old year. I know, I know, it’s been forever since I posted, but there’s a reason. Well, there are many – being inundated with work, having all sorts of things to keep up with on behalf of clients, etc, etc. So much, so no excuse really. But I do have a better excuse: this is a food blog, and last year I developed something that stopped me eating what I wanted. LPR: laryngeal pharyngeal reflux*. Lovely.

It started, I think, with a bug. That was not helped by a dodgy hog roast and/or a half of dirty beer. I know, I know again: at a festival or whatever, drink beer in bottles or cans. Yeah, right.

I was not well.

To avoid increasing my problems I had to trim my diet right down. Plain rice was fine, mashed potato was just about OK as long as there was no milk (I’m lactose intolerant anyway) or excessive fat. The same applied to cold meat, and I generally ate cold chicken; I knew beef would be too fatty and ham, good ham, just needed too much delicious fat trimming off. All fried food was out, and boy did I get fed up with scrambled egg. In fact, if I never scramble another egg I’ll be happy.

I drank loads: water. Coffee was out. Alcohol was unthinkable. Some herb teas were OK though – camomile, fennel. Pepperminty things were out.

Anything acidic was out. Anything with oomph – lots of onion, garlic, chilli – was out. Fruit? Even my beloved apples were out. I’d got lots of purée in the freezer, the result of the usual glut,

but no. Bananas? One a day. Maybe. Depending. What kept me semi-sane, hilariously, were chewy sweets – wine gums, pastilles, that sort of thing – and chewing gum, but not mint varieties. This does not an exciting food blog make. Oh, and eating out was a no-no. Or a complete nightmare.

Come October and I was down in London, still being very careful (such a waste). We strolled round the warehouses at Spa Terminus (nobody goes to Borough Market these days, ho ho); I tested nothing. We went out for dinner. I had the plainest dishes on the menu, and water. I wanted to buy something to eat on the journey back to Wales, and in the whole of Euston could not find anything my stomach could tolerate other than a tube of Rowntree’s Pastilles. Boring, boring, boring.

LPR does, however, eventually go (I’m having a mini flare up at the moment, again prompted by a bug that’s been doing the rounds, but very mini and I’m damned if I’m taking the tablets again). In the meanwhile a few things did save my sanity, and one was a miso sauce from a fabulous reader’s recipe I found in the Guardian. I’ve still got the cutting, so I can credit it correctly to Anna Thompson who ran a guest house in Kyoto with her husband. I adapted it for my needs and quantities, and this is my version. You need a small jar with a lid you can seal (don’t ask me why I’m putting so much stress on the seal; let me just say that cleaning ceilings is awkward at the best of times).

3 tsp miso paste
4 tsp olive oil
3 tsp rice wine
2 tsp clear honey
1 tsp shoyu
grated fresh ginger to taste

Put all the ingredients in a small jar with a decent lid (see above). Shake violently to combine; if it’s a bit thick, let it down with a very little water. Then use it as a dressing – for a salad, for crunchy oriental greens or, as frequently in my case, for plain rice.

The original also includes crushed garlic, but I couldn’t handle that raw. I can now. Yippee!


*LPR is a variety of acid reflux, sometimes called ‘silent reflux’, marked by constant coughing and throat clearing and hoarseness from damaged vocal chords, as well as the lovely feeling that you’ve got something stuck in your throat. It’s often the result of some infection, as with me. Happily it usually clears up with treatment, and usually doesn’t result in complications; unhappily, the treatment ‘requires larger doses of medication for weeks to months’ than normal acid reflux. And I didn’t get on with the drugs.


In praise of chocolate

Ages ago, when I first moved here, I felt deeply deprived. I had a chocolate problem.

Coffee, anyone?When working at home – and I often was – I had developed a ritual. I’d been used to getting a bar of wonderful, amazing, sensational dark chocolate and having a piece every lunchtime with my scary Costa Rican high-roast coffee (made in a Bialetti on my gas hob, of course).

Then I  moved. The hob went (no gas here), the Bialetti went (ridiculous waste of electricity, even on the smallest ring), the coffee stayed thanks to the Algerian Coffee Stores’ mail order, but I had a chocolate difficulty. Cadbury’s Bourneville did NOT cut it.

It didn’t take long for my assumed metropolitan attitudes to drop away (a relatively rural upbringing soon reasserts itself once you’re back in a place where you can get lambing ointment more easily than lemongrass). Soon a coffee roaster opened up locally – Poblado Coffi’s roasts are a great substitute for my ear-zinging, head-tingling Costa Rican blend – but I still missed the chocolate. The Bourneville experiment was not repeated.

Dolgellau market

Then I discovered a local chocolatier, Cathryn Cariad, and particularly her bars (dark chocolate with sea salt and lemon, using Halen Mon salt, natch, and – nom double nom nom – with blackcurrant and liquorice). She pops up at the farmers markets I go to in Dolgellau and Porthmadog, and she is good. She is very good. I will happily kill for her salted caramels, but when I popped into Porthmadog market she had a surprise for me. Umami. Yes, umami-flavoured chocolate. It’s under development, as they say, but my goodness it was good.

UmamiThe umami flavouring comes from another farmers’ market regular, Cynan Jones, The Mushroom Garden. That’s also local, and also making quite an impression away from here too: selling – for instance – the umami flavouring through Booths supermarkets. I may not have access to an extraordinary range of choices, but I think that is more than made up for by the quality of what I do have, and by the wonderful community spirit that affects the food producers in this area. I’m sure it’s the same for many others, and many other areas, but the close collaboration here is particularly effective.

And it’s almost time for the Dolgellau market again – it’s dormant in January and February. I’m hoping the umami chocolate will be in full production, and then I can try it out in savoury dishes (as well as by itself – delicious, lovely long finish). Apparently it’s stunning!


Twelve Miles?

I’ve been bad. I’ve not been keeping Twelve Miles up to date; I have allowed myself to be distracted by things like work. Shocking.

But it has given me a breathing space, time to think about what I want to do and – possibly more crucially – how I can make sure I motivate myself to do it, even in the face of writing and editing jobs that make me want to do something, anything, rather then sit in front of my MacBookPro once the (hopefully soon to be) paid-for work is done.

I have a plan which I will reveal in the New Year, when I am also going to redesign the site. I might come back to this format or, then again, I might not. Who knows?

And in the meanwhile,


and, for any gardeners, have fun with deciding what you’re going to grow next year!


Work, summer and scribbling in cookbooks

What a summer. I had no idea, when I wrote the last post about Dylan’s in Criccieth, that I would be working flat out until the end of September. Not a clue. If I had done, I think I’d have drunk rather more wine…

The rate and extent of work hasn’t just meant that I’ve been a bad blogger. It means I’ve not been quite as committed in the kitchen either – no, I haven’t been forced down the ready-meal route (read the ingredients on 99.9% of supermarket ready meals and you’ll understand why not), but I have been falling back on standards that don’t require much thought any more. Potato salad with sausage? Tick. Pasta with fresh tomato sauce? Tick. Courgette risotto? Tick. And I’ve managed to keep up with breadmaking, though the Flour Quest I planned this time last year didn’t happen. Fell back on reliables there too, and that means using Bacheldre’s Strong White Unbleached Stoneground. Now the work is lessening and it’s soup time again – in the words of Jon Snow and just about any member of House Stark, possibly including the dire wolves, ‘winter is coming’.

Over the summer there was one food-related debate which did make me stop and think quite a bit. It was sparked off by Prue Leith, who asked ‘Whatever happened to serious cookbooks?’ in an article prompted by the imminent-then return of Bake Off. Her theme – essentially and crudely summed up – was that the ‘look of the book dictates the sale’. Someone else divided cookery books into ‘pretty books which you look at, food porn’ and ‘ones you actually use which are covered in gunk’. Personally, I don’t think I’d go so far as to suggest such a deep chasm – I’ve used Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem quite a bit, and that’s surely one of the most beautiful of the relatively recent crop.

pastabilityOn the other hand, and if you can go by the sheer amount of graffiti (‘THIS DOES NOT WORK!‘, ‘don’t use purple cauli, goes vile colour’, ‘not good, weird taste, threw out‘, ‘GO EASY ON THE ****** YOGHURT’, ‘Brilliant, VG!!!!!!’) and food staining, my most used books do seem to be unillustrated, practical, apparently as dry as dust or too specialist to a non-foodie eye, and not that recent.

This, for instance, is the somewhat sticky recipe for pasta tubes with chicken, cream, mushrooms, mustard and Gruyere from Pastability by Lizzie Spender, published in 1987. It got me through a relatively impoverished period when I none the less needed to entertain, and I’m very grateful to it.

Or take Lindsey Bareham’s brilliant 1993 book, A Celebration of Soup, which I’m actually using right now to help me riff on a beetroot recipe. That’s a bit cleaner (I’d moved out of a studio and into somewhere with a bigger kitchen at just that time) but equally annotated. And I’ve used it so much that I’ve split the binding. The beetroot soup, by the way, is delicious. Delicous with knobs on.

Sometimes parts of recipes are underlined with ‘eh??’ written by them where there’s been a bit of an editing shortfall (‘whaddya mean “bring back to the boil”? Never said boil it in the first place!!!) and sometimes there’s been nothing to underline, which is emphasised by the comment ‘WHAT COURGETTE? How much courgette? Where’s the fecking courgette?’ to quote one of my entries in another book by an eminent (and anonymous here) authority.

Prue Leith seemed to be stressing that the rise of the telly chef was almost killing off the serious cook book, but I would argue against that – or I would some of the time, ahem. One of my most used books is an early illustrated TV tie-in, Claudia Roden’s Mediterranean Cookery, published in the same year as Pastability. My graffiti habit continues here, sometimes with big circles round parts of the text such as ‘the mixture should be very moist’ which I have annotated with ‘not too moist; it doesn’t thicken that much’, and sometimes with general comments like ‘yum!!!’. And I still annotate / deface / scrawl on books: Jerusalem, for instance, tells me that I really liked the hummus recipe and its addition of ice-cold water (‘WORKS!’) but that I prefer it with ‘more lemon/less tahini’. And it also tells me that there are editorial whoopsies (‘what “remaining herbs”???’) and notes how I adapted recipes (‘too long for fresh broad beans from the garden; add at the end of cooking’). These pages are much less sticky, but that’s just because I’ve grown into a bigger kitchen and no longer have to prop my recipe book against the wall by the stove.


So, basically, Prue, I don’t think I am using one type of book more than the other. Maybe it’s a generational thing? I grew up as a cook with brightly illustrated books; though I did buy Elisabeth David in Penguin paperbacks, I don’t remember cooking anything from them, though I loved reading her evocative text. In my case I think the heaviest graffiti in the unillustrated books – as in Soups – are often because I’ve just been using the book for longer. Give me another couple of years and I’m sure Jerusalem will be covered in scribble. Hopefully not quite as sticky as Pastability, mind. And here’s a reminder of the earlier form of illustrated book:



A great way to spend a Sunday evening: Dylan’s, Criccieth

There were rumours this was happening for some time. Whispers, vague speculations, gossip. But if we believed everything we heard, all sorts of things would be true that patently are – well, rubbish. However, these rumours became more concrete – almost literally. Dylan’s, the restaurant beloved of those lucky people in Menai Bridge, was coming to Criccieth.

And in what a building.

Dylan's Criccieth

It looks Art Deco, but it was actually built in 1954 – it’s a typical Clough Williams-Ellis design, in that it’s a classy pastiche. It was built as a cafe, but not one like Dylan’s; in fact one of the owners in the early days was Billy Butlin, and people staying in his holiday camps would come for tea dances; after that, it was rented out. It’s listed (grade II), and it is indeed made of concrete.

As soon as we knew Dylan’s were taking bookings, we rang and got in as early as we could – you’ve got to test these exciting developments – and so we piled into the car yesterday evening and set off for our supper. An hour’s drive, yes, but we knew it would be worth it (the Menai Bridge branch has been well, er, researched).

ready and waitingWe were booked in quite early, and when we arrived the place was almost empty, allowing us to have a good look around. It’s a delightful, airy space, with full-height windows giving an magnificent view of the sea and lots of light. The restaurant seems very spacious and I suspect it will continue to do so, however frantic it gets at the height of the season.

Almost empty though it might have been when we arrived, it soon filled up – it was fully booked, in fact, as a few speculative ‘walk-ins’ were being told. The service was – no surprises, given past experience – great: efficient, friendly, chatty without being intrusive. The major problem was deciding what to have. Pizzas (such as the Menai Strait, with lobster and scallops)? A burger (maybe the felafel burger, with its sourdough bun, chunky chips, relishes and pickle)? Mussels (perhaps the Drunken Mussels, steamed in Welsh cider, with leeks and bacon)? A lobster salad?

We eventually went for other things. After all, we can come back and check out the pizzas and burgers – and indeed everything else – quite easily now. So I started with Gravadlax, salmon which had been cured for 48 hours in beetroot and gin, and which was served with a potato salad, including lots of fennel (I thought I detected dill instead, but it may just have been very strong fennel). Beautiful.

I follDylansowed this with a Ceasar Salad. I know it may seem boring, but I reckon that’s a good test: the dressing, the quality of the chicken and the Parmesan, even the lettuce – I’ve had some horrors over the past few years. This was a good one. In fact, this was a very good one. The chicken was perfect, and there was plenty of it – another good test: one anaemic, tasteless slice doth not a Caesar Salad make.

I decided to test their chunky chips too (someone has to do these things), and can report back that they were delicious, and I can also say that the house white was a perfectly respectable Sauvignon Blanc. The others had roast halibut and a hake fillet with a herb and parmesan crust, and were equally impressed – but we were too happily full to test the dessert menu. One for another visit…

Finally – the setting:

Dylan's boardwalk

Imagine this in a winter storm, with a warm and welcoming restaurant to watch it from. Perfect.

Dylan’s Restaurant, Maes Y Mor, Criccieth, Gwynedd, LL52 0HU;
01766 522773 – open 11a.m to 11p.m



Chuffed to bits by bread!

Sometimes, when you’re bread making, you have disasters. I’ve produced loaves even the birds won’t touch, and others which have been more air bubble than bread. I’ve made loaves which fell apart at a touch (how the heck did that happen?) and loaves I couldn’t get the bread knife to even scratch.

Those days have, due to huge amounts of practice, largely gone. Oh, I can still have my off days – who can’t? Days when I forget to set the timer, get distracted and have no idea how long the bread has been in for; days when I even forget that the timer exists and am only alerted to imminent disaster by the acrid smell of bread burning. Then there are days when I get everything set up and forget one vital thing. Like whether or not I’ve got enough starter.

I set everything up on Sunday and then looked at the Le Parfait jar in which my starter was sitting, allegedly ready. Only it wasn’t. I’d made the mistake of using almost all of it, and had then had to revive it big time. I’d thrown away most of the first revival – very watery – and done the second. I really needed to do a third, but I was also out of bread and out of fresh (or dried) yeast. And there wasn’t very much of the starter anyway, not if I wanted to keep some back and avoid making the same mistake again. But what there was did look quite lively.

Brilliant BreadThe inspiration struck – I thought I’d seen something in James Morton’s excellent book Brilliant Bread. And I had – a basic formula for a sourdough. One I could adapt to whatever quantity of starter I had available. So I got the scales, found a clean bowl, found the calculator, found a pen, found some paper, had to find the calculator again… but it was worth it.

Essentially the formula is 2 parts white flour to 1 part starter. Easy. I had 160g starter (measured out in my clean bowl), so I needed 320g flour.

Then I had to work out the water I needed – not quite as straightforward, but simple once you realise that the starter can be assumed to be 50:50 flour and water. You need 75% of the total weight of flour, so my starter could be assumed to  contain 80g flour – with the 320g, that made 400g. Three-quarters of 400 is 220g of water.

Made up tepid water in jug, put jug on scales. No idea how much jug itself weighed. Poured out tepid water, replaced empty jug on scales, set scales to 0 (thank goodness for digital scales). Filled jug with tepid water until it weighed 220g.

Salt, nearly forgot salt. Salt should be 2% total flour weight, so 8g in my case. No probelms.

And then I made my sourdough as normal, letting it prove in the fridge overnight. Second prove in the morning, only took about a couple of hours; result? Great – lunching on fresh bread. On the perfect mini sourdough (not so mini, come to that).

Mini sourdough

Obviously I had to adjust the cooking times slightly, but that’s no hassle. And – quite frankly – neither is working out the maths. And the next time I’m faced with a similar problem (OK, piece of stupidity), I know what to do. Find the calculator.

Oh yes. And remember to keep some of the starter back for that next time.