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June, 2009:

Art on the streets

Blistering hot 30 degree afternoon co-incides with the annual “Festival de peinture et de sculpture” in neighboring Saint-Loup. The streets of the old town are lined with an assortment of local artists all doing their thing and many of the characterful medieval homes are converted into gallery spaces for small single artist exhibitions.




Our neighbours Peacock has been doing the business with his ladies after he’d long given up trying to do the business with our ladies and we were on-hand for chicklet hatching duty for a couple of days.  Giving nature a helping hand? Well… I’m not sure I was helping a great deal at times but it all turned out quite well.


The usual suspects

It’s been a year since I last did an in-depth breadmaking post – I’m still at it and I think my skills are slowly improving. I usually knock up one loaf a week… and that means I’ve probably made 50-something loaves since then. I’ve now achieved a consistent product – I do get busy once in a while and have a few on the go at once… and what we don’t eat gets munched up by the chickens. Here’s the usual suspects, rounded up.


One weeks baking output

Left to right.

#1 A Bâtard of Pain à l’Ancienne. A tweet from my guitarist/accomplished artisan breadmaker chum Guy lead me to this thread on the specific French tradition style breads where I thought I’d have a go. A 19 hour hydration period after minimal initial mixing of just flour and ice-water is key to this and helps with the crust and sugar development in the loaf.

#2 A No-Knead, Stretch and fold loaf. That ballooning of the loaf with it’s explosive oven spring is always a surprise and a bit of a delight. I’ve been caught out before now and had them stick to the top of the oven. For day-to-day use I only have a teensy 30litre combi grill/microwave/convection oven. £65 from Argos! Must do something about that.

#3 a Puffy ‘quick’ loaf. Not a lot of flavour but a fluffed up open crumb. Good for butties and French Toast! The coolest thing about these is the crackle of the crust as it cools when it comes out of the oven. These loaves talk.

#4. Feed the BEAST! My personal flavour fave – a sourdough bread. This takes 6 days all told if you make a fresh pre-ferment culture. I keep one on the go in the fridge now so can make it with a days notice. If I let the acid content get a little high the loaf doesn’t always rise as it should (that one was a little flatter than I’d expected) but the taste reigns supreme. It’s the MutzNutz. It’s the DogsDanglies. Make some!

Back last June in Old Dog, new Tricks I highlighted some key techniques I’d picked up from Dans book (buy it!)

I’ve found the combination of doing the early hydration, minimal mixing and extending it further with a “no-knead” technique that develops the gluten via a stretch and fold has brought on loaves much like #2 above…. it’s close to becoming my house style!

I’m now much more confident using a very wet dough… the kind of thing that would have scared me witless a couple of years ago

Sloppy Doughs

The Wetter, the Better

One thing I haven’t quite got the hang of is keeping the kitchen tidy – always looks like a bomb went off in a flour factory.  Small price to pay I’d say.

Visitor from Foreign Shores

I’m thrilled to bits about this. We’ve seen them around and have often heard them but I think we have a pair of African Hoopoe’s nesting in the hamlet.

hoopoe displaying crest

African Hoopoe - Displaying Crest


Daiquiri for the laydee

Part of your five a day?

Well, perhaps not given the Rhum Agricole content but it does have three fruits in it!


Never a frown, with golden brown

I’d made enough Moussaka to feed a dozen people but it was so hot that we didn’t think about going out to eat until gone 9pm. Although the clouds weren’t spectacular (mostly just contrails) the colours were dramatic last night.

Thinking about going to bed

Sun Going down

Sun dips behind the Gatine

Moments after setting


And now it's gone we have an awesome Golden Sky

The Northern sky gets a little flash of brilliance as the angle of the setting sun is still illuminating the clouds above us briefly. This is our Grange building in silhouette with a giant 3km long lobster claw suspended above it.

Northern sky at Dusk

Lobster Claw Sky!

We stayed out until long after dusk with just the company of owls and bats.

Don’t Stop The Music

On the 7th of June it was the 20th annual music festival at chateau Oiron.  This year 1001 different acts  – from musicians, dancers, street theatre and choirs.



Kitchen Alchemy pt.2

“Enzymes are things invented by biologists that explain things which otherwise require harder thinking.”

So says biologist Jerome Lettvin

And thinking too hard about this will probably do me no good at all, but think I do. Still, enzymes are the key to this further Kitchen Alchemy experiment…

You reap what you sow

A tremendous 3.5Kg harvest of redcurrants this year – a bit of a record for us!

Redcurrant Harvest

Soft Ball, Hard Crack. Kitchen Alchemy pt.1

I’ve written plenty of posts over the last few years with bits and bobs of my Kitchen Exploits. I love cooking and particularly the creative freedom of just mucking about with things. It’s a sad day when I have to resort to a recipe (even though I own hundreds of recipe books they’re mostly for inspiration – I’m more of a do-er than a follower if you catch my drift!) but am always happy to experiment and inflict the results on guests. Sometimes the results aren’t half bad!

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