Balsamic Onion Baguettes with Shaping Guide

Balsamic Onion Baguettes

This was a bread brought out of necessity. I had the hunger to bake last night, and it needed satiated. But shock! Only a little strong flour left and I didn’t quite feel like cake, so I checked out the fridge. Onions and eggs.

You can make fantastic bread without bread flour, and it’s even easier if you enrich it with eggs. This far richer dough, when combined with the sweetness of the onions and the acidity of the vinegar, is sublime. I made it into a sort-of short baguette shape so that it can sliced into easily enjoyable portions, and this gives a great opportunity to demonstrate the easy (and best…) way to shape baguettes.  Enjoy with strong cheese or tomato-based soups.



400g plain white flour

100g strong white flour

14g fast action yeast

10g salt

2 eggs

Around 250g milk

40g caster sugar


1 large (or 2 small) white onions

A good, good slug of olive oil

3 TBSP Balsamic Vinegar


Method (makes 2 short baguettes)

1. Combine the flours, yeast and salt in a large bowl, keeping the salt and yeast separate.

2. Into a set of scales, break the two eggs and make up the total weight to 350g using milk. Mix in 40g sugar and place on a low heat (always stirring) until just tepid.

3. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together until a soft dough and knead for about 10 minutes or until it begins to become smooth. Cover and leave to rest whilst you prepare the onions.

4. Thinly slice the onions into lengths and soften in a pan on a medium heat with the olive oil. They should reach the consistency you might find suitable for enjoying on hotdogs; slightly browned with some bite left. Then chuck in all the balsamic and reduce until sticky, just another couple of minutes. Leave them to cool for about 10-15 minutes.

5. Once the onions are just warm, combine them into the dough until the colour is consistent throughout. Cover and rest until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

6. Take your risen dough and shape it on a heavily floured surface into a short baguette shape (one that will fit in your oven… a mistake I’ve made too many times) – here is my guide on how to do it:

7. Prove for a final 30-40 minutes on a heavily floured tea towel, separating each baguette with a fold (so they all support each other). Once proved, bake in a preheated oven, preferably on a hot baking stone, for 20-25 minutes at 210 degrees. Don’t worry if it colours quickly, this is to be expected due to the presence of eggs – you want it quite dark!

Bread Bubbles and Crusts

Bubbles are what make bread big.

Have you ever noticed the bubbles that litter the artisan loaf?

No, not those inner bubbles. Those bubbles that are elusive until the crust is cut and are so exquisitely enormous and irregular in such a bread are not the bubbles I mean. Those bubbles collectively make up the “crumb”. If you want to describe the crumb, just say what you see when you cut your bread in half:

Sourdough Crumb Art


Anyway, the bubbles I’m talking about are the ones that are immediately explicit. These are the ones that scatter the surface of some well-browned breads and I think are somewhat sweet:


The Bubbles


These are Bird’s Eye bubbles. They don’t come by the quarter pound or are frozen within 2 hours of being picked, so I don’t know why they are called what they are. But their existence is telling. Their presence indicate your bread has been protractedly proved, and you can make them flourish by baking with steam.

While the science behind them isn’t totally clear to me, I like to think of them as little hernias breaking through a dried and cracking outer skin of dough. This rind forms during a long and cold prove, during your dough’s exposure to the fridged air. The steam you create by adding water to your oven superheats the dough and delays the formation of a crust, giving these bubbles a the power and time to break through without crisping up.

But these bubbles aren’t limited to the master baker; you can get them at home too. After you’ve shaped your bread and popped it into your proving basket, cover just the top with oiled cling film and prove in the fridge for a good 10-12 hours, or until doubled in size. Then, turn it out and pop it softly onto your hot baking stone and pour half a mug of water onto the bottom of your oven and bake as directed. It’s that simple. (If you’ve not got a proving basket, just prove your bread on a semolina encrusted surface to stop it sticking and make sure your dough can endure the whole prove without splaying out everywhere).

You might have noticed that bird’s eye bubbles are on trend. And rightly so, I say. They look pretty cool and indicate that the loaf you’re about to tuck into will have complexities of flavour that fast-proved doughs don’t develop. But they haven’t always been so hip. They don’t actually impart any particular distinctions into the finished product, apart from their aesthetic value. But like all things we see, that’s subjective, and if like many bakers of yesteryear you think you’d rather not see them, just wrap your whole proving basket loosely in cling film and high humidity will be maintained. You won’t form a skin and you won’t get the bubbles. Simple.

BrewDog #MixDog Cocktail Competition

There are a few areas in which the BrewDog lads from Fraserburgh cannot be faulted. The first is their unrelenting drive to introduce US-style craft beer (and so pimped up tasted buds) to the whole of the country. The other area in which they excel is their marketing. And it is into one of these pompous PR stunts that I have fallen and I suggest you follow too.

Why? Because it’s fun! It’s a way to play around with your palate and see what flavours work together and which don’t. Different styles of beers are great flavour additions to a number of baked goods (See Banana, Clove and Hefeweizen Puddings from GBBO Ep6). On top of that, you could win bunch of lovely stuff ( ).


My #MixDog Entry – Hardcore Sour (name under development)

New Hardcore (9.2%) was always going to be the beer to use. The first thing you’ll notice on the nose is it fires off a ton of citrus, notably grapefruit and orange. The idea with this very simple cocktail is to take these aromas and encompass them within toffee-ish flavour profile. It uses a little dry vermouth to give potency, but also reminiscence of the original classics.



1x 25ml measure Dry Vermouth

1/2 tsp Demerara Sugar

A firm squeeze of half a pink grapefruit

A firm squeeze of half an orange

1/2 a Bottle Hardcore IPA

Wedge of lime, to serve



Into a cocktail mixer, measure the vermouth, sugar, grapefruit juice and orange juice. Shake until the sugar is dissolved.

Drain into a glass and top up with Hardcore IPA to taste (some bitterness should come through), around half a bottle.

Into the glass, pierce and squeeze a wedge of lime. Garnish the rim with a little zest from the fruit, if desired. Enjoy!


The UPDATED #GBBO Drinking Game!

After far too many complaints and even several hospital admissions from the original iteration of the ‘just too hardcore” Great British Bake-Off drinking game, I was forced to make it a little more liver friendly in the form of the “Semi-Skimmed” version. For your diet coke, or Fortnum’s chai.

But for the magnificent Series 4 final: here’s an UPDATED version! With more drinking than ever before:

(The original version can be found here.)


Directions: Have a glass and a bottle of your preferred tipple ready. Fill the glass and drink as below. Only re-fill your glass when it is empty, then it must be fully refilled.

Drink 1 Finger:

  • Every time the words “Soggy Bottom” are mentioned
  • Every “Good Bake” or “Good Crumb”
  • Every time the presenters eat something
  • Every time Mary gives a silent but clearly disapproving gaze
  • Every time Ruby pulls a brilliant face

Drink 2 fingers:

  • Every double entendre or innuendo, intended or unintended
  • For each disaster in the technical bake
  • Every time Paul scrapes or pokes a bake with his big knife
  • Every time Kimberley laughs

Drink 3 fingers:

  • Every time someone prays in front of an oven
  • If you spot a knitted toy
  • If a contestant drops a bake
  • For every bake of Frances’s with a cool, hidden concept

Finish your drink:

  • If a contestant cries
  • When the winner is announced

The Great British Bake-Off – Behind the Scenes

Article published in Shetland Life magazine, September 2012. This is the unedited version, so apologies for errors!


Despite the multiple interviews, the auditions, the many warnings, the psychologist screening, the screen testing and endless whisking, I’d made a decisive error: who’s idea was it to wear Fair Isle?


“It can get quite hot in the tent,” says Matt, our carer – or the person supposed to stop us inexperienced in television going into places or touching things that we aren’t meant to. “So layer up, but remember continuity.”

“Ah,” I say, remembering. “So like a blue jumper with a blue T-shirt underneath.”

“Err… no.” Matt says. “So, like a jumper, with an identical jumper over the top. And maybe another over the top of that.”

Walking away feeling that this could only confuse viewers and in the knowledge that I only had one of each of the Jamieson’s knitted numbers that I planned to break out in support of the whole Shetlandic cliché, I mentally committed to wear them regardless. And one at a time. I would suffer the consequences.


On the first day of filming the Great British Bake-Off, it was hot. But despite the sun (and the surprise peril – the ovens) I needed to get the jumpers on television before I invariably ‘went home’; this could be my only chance. And on seeing what I was wearing, the jumper divided the unfamiliar production team. The stylists and editors were elated, if slightly concerned for my welfare, but a few groaned with mutterings of ‘patterns’ and ‘strobing’.

Fortunately, Fair Isle is chunky enough to avoid such issues, but as filming gets underway, I became aware of the gravity of my decision:

12 Bakers, 12 Very Hot Ovens, 50 (yes, five-zero) crew, a comedy double-act and Mel and Sue, in a tent in Somerset.

My jumper was indeed a bad choice, but on reflection, it soaked up the sweat admirably. The claustrophobia, though, intensified the heat. Within a couple of weeks we’d got used to the proximity of large men holding Huge Black Boxes, but during those first challenges we were petrified, glancing at the oven to the cake timer to the camera in a triad of concern, blabbering back at the very leading questions fired at us.

The uncomfortable working conditions were eased by only one thing: the people who surrounded me. It has often been said that reality television is a horrible, exploitative industry that cares not for the emotional damage it inflicts on its contestants, profiting from those they deem marketable. Probably true, but let this never be said of the Great British Bake-Off.

The entire crew were approachable, likeable and beautifully professional. In those situations of extreme pressure, like when you’ve got to turn a tarte tatin upside down (or right way up, depending on your outlook on life), the cameramen would utilise their extraordinarily expensive lenses to film you from the edge of the tent, whilst the soundie’s arms ached with the longest of booms. The Home Economists would find you the oddest of ingredients in seconds, and even come round with homemade focaccia when all we’d eaten all day was icing and food colouring and were craving something savoury. The executives even, listened to your concerns and were sympathetic to any strife. We forgot we weren’t getting paid for our time.

But even more than the crew, the other contestants made the experience for me. There isn’t a single one of them that I would not love to spend time with again – surprising, maybe, with such a perfectly diverse group and when we are forced to spend up to 16 hours a day in each others exclusive company. But no cracks appeared, and I miss every one of them. Especially Brendan.

And Mel and Sue! As well as literal shoulders to cry on (thankfully, never me, I think), Mel was our TV-mother, caring and compassionate at every doughy disaster, whereas Sue was the ultra-clever comedy master whose every perfectly annunciated word hurt our sides. It was awe-inspiring, and confirmed in my mind that most of those in true celebrity circles are not those with privilege and luck, but those whose talent is unapproachable. A degree from Cambridge probably helps too, though?

And you think all television is fake? Well, think again. What you see is what you get: the judges really decide who wins, the only thing that’s set up is the endless walking into the marquee and putting our pinnies on. Although the editors exaggerate, they do not alter.

Now, watching the series back, I find it funny that I have this relentless positivity, when at the time I can definitely remember it being the most stressful time of my life. Reflecting, I cannot forget the amount of time invested in this process. Indeed, before filming even began I knew it was going to be tough, as my end of year Med School exams would be happening about the same time. Of course I’d kept this quiet from my concerned parents, who were a distant voice of reason throughout the process.

But I convinced myself: “I can manage it,” and on realising this was delusion, I thought “There’s always resits,” – referring to the embarrassing set of last-chance resit exams in August. I simply hadn’t considered the extra time I’d need to commit. Even before filming began, we had to submit full recipes for every episode, and so needed to practice elaborate dishes that we may not get to bake on the show. This was both hugely expensive for a student and procrastination galore.

Then during filming, I thought I’d get loads of studying done on location. But when you’re on a 12-16 hour-a-day adrenaline rush, you need a full day to recover.

This led to a sense of apathy some weeks, despite a generally cheery façade. Often, I just wanted to be home. Despite the glamour of television, posh hotels and all-expenses-paid restaurant trips, it was hard – away from home with people I’d just met when all I wanted was a very savoury home-cooked meal and a curative episode of The Thick of It with my brilliant and supportive girlfriend.

And now, I worry about the footage they’ve got and my intermittent refusal to play the television game and the potential havoc they could inflict. But then I remember the crew. I remember the people I am dealing with, and I remember that GBBO is the nicest thing on television. I’d be a nervous wreck now, and I’d have been one back then, without the brilliance those around me.




Why bread can be easy

Bread has this reputation as being a difficult part of baking. This is a stigma I want to put an end to.


Yes, to make a decent 8-plaited loaf in 2 hours in a tent is not far off impossible. It’s made more difficult when you’ve got Mr Hollywood’s blue stare burned into your mind, distracting you from your very bare instructions.


But when you’re not against the clock, bread baking is easy.  And I mean so easy. Easier than the easiest Victoria Sponge. You don’t need loads of time, you just minutes home, every so often. Today, I’m making a Pain de Campagne. And so far, I’ve spent about 3 minutes in the kitchen:


5.30pm: In a big bowl, mixed flours, yeast, salt, water with a wooden spoon until it formed a dough. Covered with a damp tea towel and left it.


5.35pm: Went to Tesco’s.


6.30pm: Came home, bashed all the air out of my dough.


6.35pm: Began to make and then eat dinner.


7.30pm: Turned out my dough onto a floured surface, made it into a ball and put it in the fridge to prove. (This is the only bit that benefits from a little practice, but once you’ve been shown once it’s easy! Youtube is a great place to learn). If I wasn’t confident shaping, I’d simply roll up and chuck in a loaf tin.




8pm: About to go out to a house party. Could be messy.


In the morning, I’ll preheat my baking stone (or baking tray, if I didn’t have one) for about 40 minutes, take the dough out the fridge, turn it out, score it with a knife and slide my bread onto my hot stone for another 40 minutes-ish.


Done. No difficult processes, just waiting. No patience, even. If you’re going out for any reason, chuck it in the fridge and forget about it.


I urge you to go out and make some bread. All you need is a standard recipe (for White try 500g flour, 360g water, 10g salt, 7g sachet yeast) and some time at home enough to bake. There’s no need to knead.

Great British Bake-Off Drinking Game

The Only OFFICIAL(ish) Great British Bake-Off Drinking Game: Full Rules

Do feel free to add your own/edit…

UPDATE: Lightweight version can be found here.


  • Drink 1 finger for each statement of political provocation
  • Drink 1 finger for every proud relative present
  • Drink 2 fingers for every use of the word ‘gloopy’
  • Drink a bottle of gin when the winner is announced

Drink 1 Finger:

  • Every time the words “Soggy Bottom” are mentioned
  • Every “Good Bake”
  • Every “Good Crumb”
  • Every “under-“ or “over-baked”
  • Every time Paul slags a bake, with an additional 2 fingers if Mary follows with a tactful yet backhanded compliment
  • Every time the presenters eat something
  • Every time there is a close up of a contestant doing an odd facial expression


Drink 2 fingers:

  • Every intended double entendre or innuendo from Mel and Sue
  • For each individual disaster in the technical bake
  • Every montage with sheep or animals
  • Every time Paul scrapes a bake with his knife


Drink 3 fingers:

  • Every unintended double entendre from Mary, Paul or the contestants
  • Every time someone pleads or prays in front of an oven
  • Every time Mary gives a silent but clearly disapproving glance

Finish your drink:

  • Every time you spot a knitted Owl
  • Every time a contestant cries
  • If a squirrel is mentioned or shown
  • If someone drops a cake

Super-fast Brioche

Brioche is a bread that I adore, but can never be arsed to make – I always envisage a decent, complex brioche as requiring a separate sponge and retarded prove, meaning that it just isn’t really worth the bother.

Until today, when I experimented with a few recipes, and have come up with what I can honestly say is something worth baking on a very regular basis. This recipe is so wet it resembles cake mix, so cannot be made into individual brioche a tetes (you’ll need to make it in a loaf tin). The key is the Sourdough Starter, which gives complexity in a very short prove – you’ve got to give it a chance to develop its flavour, though, so use it about 24 hours after its last feed, once it has started to fall in activity. The result is a beautifully light bread that is not very good for you.


100g White Sourdough Starter (once it has begun to fall back down in activity and size)

170g Plain Flour

30g Strong White Flour

One 7g sachet Instant Yeast

20g Caster Sugar

3 eggs (try and make it as close to 150g of egg if you can)

5g salt

125g butter, softened and cubed


1 more egg, for glazing at the end



1. Preheat oven to 220 C (200 fan) and very heavily grease (with butter) and line a 1lb loaf tin/brioche tin.

2. Using a wooden spoon or electric mixer, beat together all dough ingredients except the butter. Keep beating very vigorously until both your arms are very sore and you can go no longer – probably around 5-10 minutes – and you can see the dough become more elastic and stringy. If you are very competent with dough handling, you can attempt some stretches and folds.

3. Beat in the butter until fully incorporated and the dough is totally smooth, another 5 minutes. You will notice the dough change – it will become firmer. Using hands or a dough scraper, fold the dough over into the middle of your bowl, tightening it. Cover and rest for 30 minutes at room temperature

4. Using your hands or a dough scraper again, fold the sides of the dough into the middle, working your way all around the bowl several times. You will see the dough tightening – you want help it hold its shape at the end. Cover and rest the dough a further  50 minutes.

5. Now, shaping can be a little tricky. You’ve got a few options – if you’re very familiar with wet dough you can tighten it enough that it will come away to quickly be transferred to your lined tin. However, for most of us, you’re better off using your dough scraper. Scrape from the side of the dough, bringing it into the centre to make it tight, as you did before. Do this on all sides of the dough very quickly, whilst it is still looking tight, scrape the whole lot of dough up and into the tin. Then once it is in there, us the scraper again, pressing down vertically on one side of the dough to tighten it in the tin and give a smooth surface on top. OR, if you don’t have a dough scraper, piping the dough into your tin using a freezer bag with a 1 inch hole cut in the corner will give a good crumb too.

6. Prove for a final 1 hour. The dough should be light and fragile, but springy on top when prodded.

7. Eggwash the top of the loaf, and turn the oven down to 200 (180 fan) and bake for 40 minutes until very dark brown on top.

8. NOM

“Miller’s” Sourdough Bagels Recipe

Paul seemed to like these, but I like them too. In fact, this, I feel, is one of the very best beginner’s Sourdoughs, as the dough is comparatively very dry and easy to work with. The name, according to the Bourke St Bakery, comes from the tradition of sweeping the floors of the bakery at the end of the day and baking this style of loaf with the sweepings – predominantly white, but with lashings of rye and wholemeal for a wonderful complexity.


400g White Sourdough Starter, 1:1 ratio flour:water (See end for starting your own)

300g Strong White Flour

150g Wholemeal bread flour

150g Light Rye Flour

260g tepid water

40g high quality honey

17g salt

Mixed seeds

Semolina, for dusting



1. Combine flours, water, honey and starter

2. Knead for 5 minutes.

3. ADD SALT (don’t forget…)

4. Knead at least another 5 minutes, until strong dough is formed and salt is totally dissolved

5. Rest 4 hours at room temperature (depending on starter activity and other factors this may vary; was 2 hours in bake off drawer). It may need some folding to keep the dough’s shape.

6. Divide into 12 pieces and shape into a tight baguette shape. Make a ring and roll your hands over the crossed over section. Make sure you’ve got quite a tight shape.

7. Place all the bagels on an oiled piece of baking paper.

8. Prove 1-2 hours depending on temperature. You want quite a dense crumb in a bagel.

9. Bring large pot of water to the boil, adding approx 5g bicarb per litre

10. Boil each bagel for 30 seconds on each side, each spaced 15 seconds apart.

11. As soon as each bagel comes out the water, drain using slotted spoon and plunge into seeds.

12. Place boiled bagels on two separate oiled trays and bake on preheated baking stones in a fan oven for 10-13 minutes, no more.


Don’t have a starter? Then you can make one! I’ve made quite a few and the best results have always come from adding raisins. So mix 100g bread flour and 100g water and some raisins and leave in a jar. Leave for 3-7 days. When you see bubbles, this is good. Add a little extra flour and water. When you’ve got lots of bubbles, this is very good, and pour some starter away and feed with equal quantities of flour and water.


Contrary to popular belief, its quite hard to kill a starter. Even if its black on top, pour away this liquid, and add a LITTLE flour (no water). You want to SLOWLY build the yeast and bacteria back up to being in a ‘fed’ state, and overfeeding really fast can actually stress them out to the extent that they will die.

Bread day!

Today is bread day on the Great British Bake Off. In celebration, therefore, bread must be baked! I am going for three varieties:


100% Wholemeal Sourdough, take three.

– One of the most annoying breads I’ve ever baked and something I’ve been putting off for a while. Attempt 1 was a little stodgy in crumb but full on flavour. Attempt 2 was a little better, more open crumb but still not what I am after (even better flavour though). This attempt will be good. I’m ramping up the wetness to never before attempted levels and using a levain. It has to be good. If it is not then I will try and try and try again.


Miller’s Sourdough Bagels

– I hope you’ll see these on the show tonight, and I aim to reproduce them to be given away for free at the Peerie Shop Cafe tomorrow morning. They’re darn good – the combo of white, wholemeal and rye with the seeds giving an amazing complexity of flavour for such a short sourdough prove.



– This is my favourite bread – a massive sourdough combo of some wholemeal and a high extraction whitish flour, improvised at home by various blends of sieved brown flour. I may not have enough starter left for this, but if not then a levain and a tiny little bit of dried yeast won’t go amiss. Looking for a good open crumb and thick dark crust.


Will let everyone know how they turn out! Recipes to follow.