Immersed in a peaceful contemplation of new titles in the cookery section of my favourite book store my gaze halted on an image of a simple crusty loaf on a dark wooden board. This is nothing new; it’s uncomplicated, even primitive, so maybe that’s why this ‘staff of life’ pictured beautifully has such an immediate pull. It cried out “take me home now”, but knew my copy was on its way…
Why on earth would I need another cookbook about bread when I already have at least seven on the subject plus the various chapters in numerous other volumes on my shelf? A fleeting thought that this was a tome too far, until I got stuck into this new book Bread by New Zealand baker Dan Brettschneider.
The art of dough can be so elusive and changeable, scientific but infinitely organic as so many forces of nature, from microbes to temperature, can affect the final result. It’s a subject that rewards total immersion and a lifetime of perusal (study is far too austere a word). This book leads you in, shows you around and holds your hand and offers a wide variety of dough projects to get your hands stuck into.
So what makes this book different?
Before you even start getting the flour and yeast out of the cupboard, there is a chapter on The History of Bread Making. This precedes the most comprehensive section on Ingredients that I’ve ever seen in a bread cookery book. It reminded me of my biology books at school – but in a good way as it explains in detail the structure of a grain of wheat, milling techniques and extraction rates, other types of flours, and what effect this has on bread making. A wide variety of other things you might use in bread are covered with very practical advice. Did you know that a maximum of 10 per cent of cocoa to bread flour should be used, for instance, as it is acidic and contains starch (which tends to absorb moisture in a cake batter).
Equipment is discussed in similar depth and then we are onto bread proper or ‘Bread Know-how‘. Text and a multiple series of black and white images demonstrate exactly how each process of the dough should look and feel (and why). Testing the dough for correct proof with the ‘indentation test’ is super helpful and has three photographs to show under-proved, over-proved and correctly proved. Brilliant.
There’s a section of formulas and an extensive glossary at the back too.
Onto the recipes and the bread itself. The chapters cover Savoury breads and sourdoughs, Grainy and healthy breads, Quick breads and scones, Festive breads, ‘Not quite bread’ (from lavash style crackers to Danish pastries) and Sweet bread. As well as the basic loaves, there are lots of ideas to tempt you: beetroot and thyme baguettes, a loaf with a whole Brie baked inside, a spinach, pumpkin, cumin and feta damper.
With Christmas coming up, I’ve bookmarked the Panettone (which uses a sponge dough ferment), Swedish Rye Crackers, Dresden Christmas Stollen and Italian Panforte recipes and there is a beautiful Celebration loaf which definitely deserves the title ‘show-stopper’.
There’s not much to dislike about this book. Perhaps it’s because Dan is from a New Zealand background that the odd recipe doesn’t strike a chord with me (the Boston Bun, the Hundreds and Thousands Iced Bun). The tone errs on the side of a professional baker which may be slightly off-putting if you are a very novice baker – however the information is exemplary. I found the order of recipes was a bit strange – most books start with the simplest and get more complicated but these are dotted around. The inclusion of a couple of recipes for left over bread (bread salad, French toast) is slightly random too – a whole chapter would have been more appropriate and useful.
So many to dive into, as well as trying the festive recipes, the Rye and caraway bread is calling my name, a Cranberry and orange twisted loaf that I’m itching to get my hands into …. and Apple and custard brioche tarts…. naturally.
An excellent addition to my bread baking book collection which brings another dimension of expertise and information as well as inspiration. It’s a good-looking book with a clean layout and gorgeous bread pics. While all my other books tell me how to do it right, this is the most comprehensive about what’s happening when it goes wrong. An encyclopedic resource for a beginner with enough to keep a more confident bread baker happy too.
Published by Jacqui Small Books www.jacquismallpub.com (@JacquiSmallPub) and available from Kinokunya Book World in Dubai and the usual book sellers elsewhere. Thanks to Jacqui Small for sending me this copy to review – all thoughts and opinions my own.
Do you make bread? If you don’t what’s stopping you? Do you have a favourite bread book?
Leaping onto the narrow timber boat, our knees buckle as it wobbles in the tide from larger craft. The motor roars and we chug across the water, the rapidly rising morning sun blinding our eyes and robbing the Grand Mosque and Rulers Court of their detail. Sweeping over to the other bank within a few minutes, we pass close to the bulging hulls of trading dhows. These wooden vessels are painted every shade of cornflower blue and aqua, and in various states of peeling and wear. They look calm and picturesque from the water but a wander along the quay revels a hub of activity with cargo being loaded, sailors staring down from wooden parapets, and noisy gatherings of men on the pavement.
The 14 lane highway that slices through the centre of Dubai and streaks off to Abu Dhabi is now the heart of the city’s communications. Flanked by gleaming high-rise towers that all flash and blink a variety of coloured lights at night, fringed by the Metro, its stations resembling shiny woodlice or a series of mirrored Thunderbird 2s, it keeps Dubai moving with an estimated 140,000 plus daily journeys.
A few decades ago the Sheikh Zayed Road was a single track where the main danger was a camel wandering into your path at night. The place where journeys were made, cargo was delivered, the business of the city was done, was the Dubai Creek. It wasn’t much to look at as a waterway being impeded by sand banks. Pearl divers took their wooden boats out into the Persian Gulf and a few Barasti huts grouped either side of its mouth. It took Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum to have the vision, in the 1960s, to dredge the sand away so that boats could glide up into the creek and moor on its banks to unload their precious cargo, and the first chapter of the new Dubai was written.
When I arrived almost 15 years ago, I used to visit shops and tailors in the areas Bur Dubai and Deira on opposite sides of the Creek. As Dubai expanded and got busier there was no need and the grid locked roads made it really difficult to get to. It was easy to forget this part of Dubai. I’d wander down occasionally to the Majlis Gallery or the fish market but always with a purpose. Tourist companies targeted a few spots and crocodiles of visitors with their guides jostle you in the Spice Souk.
Arriving early, when the hawkers from the souk have barely risen, when the corridors are empty and the light is low, is like stepping into a theatre before the play has begun. You notice details that would be overshadowed in the hustle and bustle of the main performance. And with a guide like my good friend Arva, you get under the superficial skin of Dubai that so many people pelt with derisive words as though the show was found wanting.
There is far too much to relate from the two tours I’ve done recently but I learned how to spot sustainable fish at the market, the health-giving properties of scores of mysterious spices, ate the best fresh dates and munched on the most interesting lgeimat (tiny doughnuts) I’ve ever tasted. I quenched my thirst with the water of a freshly hulled coconut, strong Ethiopian coffee in a museum filled with its artifacts, and black tea shared cross-legged on the floor of a dhow with Iranian sailors. I lost count of the times I whizzed back and forth across the Creek on a water taxi or abra, with numerous interesting other passengers going about their every day lives, the slight breeze giving solace from the intensity of the sun. I also ate the best kababs known to man, but the secret for these lies with Arva…
These pictures give a tiny glimpse of what there is to discover on the banks of the Creek in Bur Dubai and Deira:
Top tips for exploring the Dubai Creek
If you want to visit this area here are a few tips to guide your journey:
- Take the metro. Parking is extremely limited and the roads confusing and congested. Get off at Al Fahidi metro station and walk down the D90 street in the direction of the Creek. You’ll soon reach the Al Fahidi district and see the windtowers of the buildings.
- Visit the Majlis Gallery. In the heart of old Bur Dubai, this family-owned gallery has been established for 25 years and has exhibitions of modern, fine art as well as furniture and gifts. Worth a look to see the inside of a traditional building and it’s a calm pleasant place to wander round with some seriously collectable artworks (my walls are full of them!).
- Take a break at Creekside. This cafe is right on the water with a clean, modern interior, terrace with a view and a menu based on Emirati traditions. They’ll give you a map to the area too – as will the Majlis Gallery.
- Get up early for the fish market. It’s a must-do Dubai experience and is about to be modernised so do this while you can. But don’t take your fish on the metro – this is not allowed!
- Pop into Mawaheb for a coffee. This art studio for adults with special needs loves to have visitors and the art works are something special to take home.
- Grab a coconut. The most refreshing drink you can ask for this fruit with its top hacked off and a straw inserted. Fresh orange juice is good too; hygiene inspectors in Dubai mean that hawker stalls can be trusted however ramshackle they appear.
- Take an abra at the stations for a couple of dirhams. Visitors will be approached and offered a private journey. You may want to do this but a jaunt across the Creek with everyone else who is taking a water taxi is just as nice (I think).
- Have breakfast at the Sheikh Mohamad Centre for Cultural Understanding.
- Book a Frying Pan Food Adventure. Both my recent visits (and I’m a serial food tourist) have been led by Arva. I was a willing Guinea pig for the Food Lover’s Morning March and the new Creekside Photo Walk Series – both highly recommended.
Also to visit: the souks (spice souk, material souk, gold souk, and commercial souk), the new coffee museum, other art galleries such as XVA, the new Museum district in Deira, Heritage and Diving Village, the 10 dirham shops, abra crossings, Dubai Muncipality museum, scores of tiny restaurants and kiosks selling the most delicious and diverse food and the best view of the Creek from the top floor of the car park next to the spice souk.
Have you visited the Creek in Dubai? What’s your favourite part about it? Is there a hidden gem where you live?
Are you into equality? Do you believe in treating all people equally? How about animals? Are all animals equal in your world?
Every summer I visit the Cotswold Farm Park in Gloucestershire, UK. A parade of youngsters queue up eager to cradle a fluffy chick in their hands or chase after the runaway piglets. If the evidence of the purchasing habits in our supermarkets is correct, many of those happy families drive back through the countryside barely glancing at the huge sheds on quiet farmland crammed with serried rows of cages or pens where living creatures never see the light of day. They walk their dog, stroke their cat and then dig into their cheap chicken breast or pork chop without thinking twice about anything but the price…in monetary terms. Not the price of the life that the animal paid to be on their plate – it’s life in a cage.
Would the horse meat scandal have gained so much attention if the animal wasn’t graceful with a long mane and tail? People marched and protested for the end of chasing Mr Fox with his bushy tail. We bay for the blood of any shark which dares to harm man. All those inelegant beaked feathery creatures which can barely move in life but are so easy to cram down our children as cheap nuggets and make such a small dent in our food budget. The inequality of how we treat animals based on how cute or useful they are to us.
- In Europe 700 million farm animals are confined in cages every year.
- Not only hens (in ‘enriched cages’), but pigs (in sow stalls and farrowing crates), ducks and geese (for foie gras production), quail and even rabbits are all farmed in cages.
- Rabbits are the most caged farm animal in Europe
What can you do?
On this Blog Action Day 2014, help end the inequality of how we treat animals. Think about how you shop for food. If you eat meat, or dairy products ask questions about the way it was raised and where it comes from. Join the ‘End the Cage Age’ campaign and support Compassion in World Farming.
When the Farmers’ Market opens again at the end of November, I’ll buy all my veg for the week direct from the farmer who grows it (organically). Fresh (picked that morning), full of flavour and reasonably priced is what brings me there to buy, but I’ve learned so much about different vegetables and ways to cook them just through asking the stallholders and other shoppers. ‘Local’ in the U.A.E. usually refers to the indigenous Emiratis but as eighty per cent of our community is made up of other nationalities I’ve received advice from people from all sorts of cultures, traditions and backgrounds.
I would love to have a similar opportunity to get to know the people who grow and make the wine I drink. Having grown up in the UK and living in the Middle East for almost twenty years this has not ever been possible. That’s not to say this region is devoid of wine growing traditions or vineyards. Iran is just across the Persian Gulf and, while sales of alcohol have been banned since 1979, wine forms an integral part of Persian culture. Mey, the word for wine, and Saghi, the wine pourer, have been central motifs of Persian poetry for well over a thousand years; there is evidence that Shiraz, a city in South-West Iran, is one of the earliest wine-making sites.
The nearest places to Dubai that are currently producing wine are India, Jordan and Syria. Yes, I did say Syria. One producer, Domaine de Bargylus, is still growing grapes, making wine and selling them to high-end restaurants across the world. Being a wine maker in a war zone is not easy. Sandro and Karim Saade, the brothers who own the vineyard, and their wine consultant Stephane Derenoncourt make their harvesting and wine-making decisions remotely from Lebanon and haven’t been able to visit for two years. They inspect the fruit by sending refrigerated grapes over the border in a taxi. Exporting the finished wine is also difficult as it has to be sent via Egypt and Lebanon. However, the wine has many high-profile supporters and is served in Michelin-starred restaurants including those headed up by Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing in the UK.
When I saw a bottle of Bargylus at Le Clos at Dubai airport when I was flying out to Istanbul, I had no idea of this incredible story. I just knew that if there was a bottle of fine wine from Syria I had to try some. When I opened it a couple of weeks ago, I still hadn’t done my research so just poured and sipped with a friend and no preconceptions. A gleaming, golden liquid with intense depth of flavour but with surprising acidity which just makes it super drinkable. Rich, creamy round and balanced with stone fruit and soft citrus aromas and palate with a trace of steely minerality. Beautiful texture. A real pleasure to drink. This is an opulent wine which I think would have pleased the Romans who also cultivated the same slopes 3000 years ago.
Where to buy Bargylus in the U.A.E.
If you want to take a bottle home with you it’s stocked at Al Hamra Cellar, Ras Al Khaimah. Currently Bargylus Blanc is 110 AED and Bargylus Rouge 154 AED. You can order through MMI Al Wasl branch or through Le Clos in the airport. More info about buying wine in the U.A.E. here.
When dining out, Bargylus is on the wine list at Qbara, La Serre, The Royal Mirage and Jumeirah Emirates Towers.
With terrible news from Syria on a daily basis, it’s hard to believe that pickers have been out in the vineyard harvesting the grapes by hand this week. With such a humanitarian tragedy still happening right on our doorstep, it’s amazing to be able to report this.
The pictures here are from a visit to Syria in 2008.
Do you have the opportunity to drink locally produced wine where you live? Do you think it’s an advantage to visit the vineyard and meet the grower and winemaker of the wine you are drinking?
I’m joining the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #MWWC12 with this article – read all about it over on The Drunken Cyclist. Theme this month – Local.
It was one of those special nights, spent with good friends who have known each other forever. The wines were good, the banter was lively, within moments at the table white damask napkins were knotted as handkerchief hats, soon the dog was wearing one too. The menu planning was just right so I wasn’t dashing around at the last-minute and there were enough murmurs of contentment to reassure me that everyone was happy.
The evening began in the kitchen, as it inevitably does, with Sipsmith gin and tonics and nibbles. I gave a warning that the olives, in their strange coating of purple-brown, knobbly dressing, might be, ahem, rather unusual. As one after another were speared from the bowl to a chorus of ‘God, they’re gorgeous’ one olive-hating friend stood back. In the end, the commotion got the better of him and he reached out tentatively with a cocktail stick. A Damascene moment, an olive conversion. Don’t you just love it when that happens?
Menu with an Iranian influence
is what I dubbed this dinner; this was the menu for ten of us:
- Plov (from Do-Ahead Dinners by James Ramsden) – chicken thighs cooked in spices, deboned and shredded, stirred into fragrant rice, rice with chicken stock, tangy with herbs and pomegranate seeds.
- Carrots roasted with smoky Emirati honey and za’atar, sprinkled with fresh herbs and toasted pine nuts (from the same book).
- Yoghurt, cucumber and mint or maast va khiar (From A Persian Kitchen by Jila Dana-Haeri)
- Tamarind coriander chutney or chutni-e gashneez (as above) – a spicy, tangy, addictive sauce, the perfect foil for the plov
- Salad e Shirazi – a salad of diced cucumber, tomato and onion tossed with vinegar and dried and fresh mint (Pomegranates and Roses by Ariana Bundy)
- Chocolate and apricot tart (Art of the Tart by Tamasin Day-Lewis) – very un-Persian except for the sheet of apricot paste used in the filling which comes from Iran. Most requested dinner party dessert.
- Cheese board including a baked Camembert (I have to serve cheese).
Iranian style sweet and sour olives
I adapted this from Jila Dana-Haeri’s recipe for zeiton parvardeh as I thought 4 cloves of raw garlic might be particularly anti-social. It also looked very brown so the pomegranate seed garnish is not traditional but, to me, seemed appropriate and added a nice, sharp crunch.
- 1 large clove of garlic
- 50g walnuts
- 120ml pomegranate molasses
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried mint
- scant 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 teaspoon golpar (Persian hogweed, sometimes known as Angelica seeds)
- 300g small green olives, with or without stones
- handful of fresh pomegranate seeds (optional)
- The easiest way to make this is in a small food processor or grinder (I use the attachment with my stick blender). Whizz up the garlic until finely minced then add the walnut and process again until finely chopped but not a powder. Otherwise chop them by hand until fine. Transfer to a bowl.
- Stir in the pomegranate molasses, half the lemon juice, the mint and thyme (or golpar). Fold in the olives. Taste – it will be sour but the molasses can also be quite sweet. If you want a fresher taste add a bit more lemon juice until it’s the way you like it.
- Cover with cling film and refrigerate for a couple of hours (will keep happily for several days).
- Serve garnished with pomegranate seeds and some cocktail sticks (the olives are sticky).
Marinated olives are simple to do and have a wow factor when friends come round. Here are three more marinade ideas from Laura. The pomegranates from Oman mean that these definitely qualify for Ren’s Simple and in Season.
What’s your favourite thing to cook for a crowd?
There’s a relaxed and joyful feeling about Dubai this weekend. Many people are celebrating Eid Al-Adha, one of the biggest events of the year in the Muslim calendar. Others are marking Vijayadashami or Dussehra and the victory of good over evil in the Hindu religion. As for my family, we had good friends round for supper on Thursday. It was a ‘dry night’ (i.e. no alcohol was served in shops, restaurants or hotels from Thursday night until Friday evening) so I expect many people were staying in. It’s a long weekend so my mind has turned to Christmas cooking including giving the fruit for my cake a gentle stir now and again. It also gave me a reason to think about the benefits of living in a place with over 80 different nationalities, each with their own beliefs and customs.
Getting the fruit started as early as possible is the key to cutting into a luscious, moist, crumbly, fragrant cake on Christmas day. A week ago I made a light sugar syrup, let it cool, added booze and folded it into a mixture of dried fruit. I got this idea from the Pink Whisk and Bourke Street Bakery a few years ago and that’s what I do every year now with tweaks and variations along the way.
In the past I’ve taken favourite cake recipes (Nigella’s and Tamasin Day Lewis) and introduced the boozy soaking element. This year I thought I’d go back to Bourke Street. This is a lovely book by Paul Allum and David McGuinness who started a small, artisan bakery in Sydney’s Surry Hills which gained huge popularity and renown. I replaced the figs with extra dried fruit, I’ll stir in some fresh dates from the market in a few weeks time, plus I used Jack Daniels Single Barrel which is super-smooth with a slick of vanilla. If I buy individual bags of raisins, sultanas and currants, there are dribs and drabs hanging around at the back of the cupboard so I use a bag of plump, mixed, flame raisins and sultanas from Waitrose. I’d avoid the mixed fruit mixtures with candied peel as they tend to be poor quality.
Christmas old soak
- 55g vanilla caster sugar
- 55ml water
- 160 ml bourbon (or other spirit such as whisky or brandy)
- 455g mixed fruit (see above)
- 110g stoneless prunes, chopped
- 55g homemade or good quality mixed peel
- 1 knob stem ginger, chopped finely
- 80g fresh dates (at the rotab stage of ripeness) – use dried if not available
- Put the sugar and water in a small pan and heat gently, swirling the pan until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and then take off the heat.
- Let the sugar solution cool and add the bourbon (whisky or brandy).
- Put all the fruit except the fresh dates into a plastic container with a lid. Pour in the soak and give a good stir.
- Stir everyday for one week – the aroma will be amazing.
- After this you need to stir the fruit once a week, for the next four weeks. Add the fresh dates two weeks before you are going to bake with the mixture.
- If you start really early, after four weeks you can keep the fruit in the fridge. Bourke Street says up to 2 months but I’ve kept steeping fruits in the fridge for over a year and it only gets better.
The baking part will follow in a few weeks time (I’ll supply the Christmas cake recipe), but for now just get your old soak on. It’ll be well worth it. What have you been up to this weekend in your kitchen?
Your perception of wine made with Merlot might have something to do with a) where in the world you live and b) whether you have watched the film Sideways.
For those not in the latter category, this is a film about a couple of guys who go on a trip around Santa Barbara wine country in the US. Miles, who thinks he knows a lot about wine and reveres Pinot Noir, and is utterly disparaging about Merlot.
If anyone orders Merlot I am leaving. I am not drinking f***ing Merlot!
The irony is that an expensive and rare bottle of wine he is keeping at home for a special occasion is a 1961 Cheval Blanc is is a blend of about 49 percent Merlot and 51 percent Cabernet Franc.
Until varietal labeling hit our shelves a couple of decades ago in Europe, we drank Merlot without even thinking about it, usually blended with other grapes lending a soft, velvet mouthfeel with plum and chocolate or tobacco flavours to balance more tannic, structured elements from other grapes varieties. Any backlash has come from the cheaper, bulk wines, often from the New World that flooded the market.
To encourage everyone to love the much maligned, supremely versatile and, in the right hands, very lovely grape variety, the #MerlotMe campaign has been launched and starts today. This is a month-long celebration, including sharing, tasting and events (centred in the US). Like all these varietal events on social media, everyone around the world can join in and share their Merlot moments by using the hashtag #merlotme.
What to drink during MerlotMe month?
I asked wine experts from the two main suppliers in Dubai for drinking suggestions in three price ranges. I also asked for a wine which was made with grapes grown with organic viticulture. You can probably get these wines where you live if you want to try them. Unless you live in the heart of a wine producing region where they grow Merlot, in which case hit the vineyards with a vengeance (I would). Here’s what Tony and Fraser recommended:
Affordable (30 – 40 AED)
- Valdivieso Merlot, Chile: – A school night classic – easy drinking and satisfying plummy Merlot with a hint of mocha. 39 AED MMI
- Bio Bio Merlot IGT :Italian wine, made from organic grapes and delivering fantastic value for money. Good quality wine with a conscience. 30-49 AED* A+E
A little bit more, (AED 45 – 70)
- Torres Atrium Merlot, Penedes, Spain: Shows a mature side of Merlot – a bit more serious and grown-up. 61 AED MMI
- Casa Merlot, Lapostolle Founded by Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle and her husband in 1994, Lapostolle’s aim is to produce world-class wines using French expertise and the terroirs of Chile. 100% of their vineyards are under organic and biodynamic management. French in Essence. Chilean By Birth. 45 – 50 AED* A+E
Blow the budget (over 100 AED)
- Duckhorn Merlot, Napa Valley, CA , USA The wine that made Duckhorn famous – an absolute quacker. 280 AED MMI
- Merlot, Morgenhof Morgenhof Wine Estate is situated on the slopes of the Simonsberg mountains. This area is renowned
for the high quality of its grapes and the distinctive terroir is reflected in the character of the exceptional
wines. Owned by Mrs Cointreau, it consists of 212 hectares of which 74 hectares are under vines. 110 – 120* AED (Select stores) A+E
- Bonterra Merlot, California Smoky and dense with a purity of fruit, from a much improved property of late. 97 AED MMI
- See ‘affordable’ for Fraser’s recommendation from A+E.
Where to buy in the UAE
A+E in Dubai and Abu Dhabi stores, as well as their new shop in Fujairah (Fujairah Cellars). MMI at 14 shops located across Dubai and the Al Hamra Cellar in the Northern Emirates. Make sure you have a liquor license.
Thanks to Tony Dodds, Head of Group Agency Wine at MMI and Fraser Mackenzie, Marketing Manager Wine at African and Eastern (A+E) for their picks. *Fraser supplied wines recommendations within a price range – for the individual price per bottle please check in store. Prices for all wines exclude Dubai sales tax and are correct at time of writing this.
For a brilliant guide to Merlot tasting, food pairing (it is superbly food friendly) and the main differences between cool and warm climate Merlot, visit Wine Folly. If you follow me on Twitter (@mycustardpie) I’ll be sharing any #MerlotMe events that I hear about in the UAE.
More Merlot or still not convinced? Will you be raising a glass this October and what will be in it?