Cottonrake: English Custard Tart

I’ve just had a taste sensation that will stay with me for a very, very long time.

These last couple of days, I’ve had a flavour of what life might have been like if I had made the choices many urged me to make – my lovely wife went to work put people to sleep all day, and I got up and took the dog out, made myself tea and then coffee upon coffee and I wrote.

I had breaks in between writing, of course, to visit the local cheese shop (I J Mellis on Great Western Road), and to the bakery just across the road – Cottonrake.

I always recommend Cottonrake as the best bakery in the West End, nay Glasgow, and not just because of its handiness. Stefan and his team make an awesome selection of patisserie and viennoiserie; all of it in-house, in their tiny, tiny kitchen. They produce a mean sourdough, and the only authentic baguettes around.

Popping in for my pastry fix between the third and fourth thousand word today, Stef handed me a little brown bag. He said – “It’s an English Custard Tart. I’m fed up with these Portuguese ones.”

I think my look must have been of slight bewilderment – “It’s been 3 months in the making, and I think we’ve got it. Proper puff pastry, made here, with a little bit of a soggy bottom. It should remind you of a Tesco custard tart, at least a bit.”

Now just confused, I thanked Stef and untied the dog and walked home. First, another flat white. Then, the tart.

This tart. This English tart made in a wee Scottish bakery. A three month labour of love. From the top, it looks like any other. From the bottom, though, look at that organised lamination. That deep, sweet golden brown. It hints at what is to come.

One bite and I was laughing-out-loud with joy. The soft, eggy custard. The crisp outer layer pastry of flaking pastry and, Stef’s right, just that perfect measurement of stodge. It makes it. It is sublime. It is perfect.

I’m not sure if it’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten, but it feels like it is just now. I can’t say when they’ll have this as a regular feature (it might already be, for all I know) but I can see the word spreading at such a rate that they’ll have queues out the door of tourists from every continent, and they’ll have travelled here only to taste this little £1.50 custard tart. – 497 Great Western Road, Glasgow



Summer Lager Taste Test

As Britain is drowned in mediocre craft beer and crusty real ale, it’s easy to overlook the lager. Understated, humble lager. Given a bad name by the macrobreweries that ruin them, some examples deserve some serious respect. No, they aren’t swamped with hops, barrel-aged or 15% abv, but give them a little sunshine and they cannot be matched.

Ask most here in Glasgow which lager they prefer and you’ll likely get one unified chant: Tennent’s. The local pint. If ever the West was to become independent from the rest of Scotland, the saltire would be replaced with a Red T. Tennent’s begins life as a strong, foul-smelling fermented syrup, polluting the eastern parts of our city with the stench of Edinburgh. It’s then watered down (“cut”) before canning or kegging at a nearly-tolerable 4%. Because it’s mostly water, it’s actually not bad; a bit less horrible than Carling or Stella. It is truly artisanal compared with Miller.

I’ve enjoyed many-a-can of tepid Tennant’s in plenty of our public parks, but now I feel there’s just no excuse for that. There are far tastier and thirst quenching options available in the smallest supermarkets and local off-licences alike.


Name: Früh Kölsch

Style: Kölsch

Origin: Germany

Abv: 4.8%


Name: Augustiner Lagerbier Hell

Style: Munich Helles

Origin: Germany

Abv: 5.2%


Name: Alechemy Talisman

Style: Pale Lager

Origin: UK

Abv: 4.1%


Name: Camden Hells Lager

Style: Munich Helles

Origin: UK

Abv: 4.6%


Name: Coors Light

Style: American Light Lager

Origin: USA

Abv: 4.2%



This was a blind study conducted by two beer snobs. Myself and a friend each poured the five beers, in a random order, into numbered glasses. These were tasted one by one and each marked according to the Beer Judge Certification Program style guidelines. Beers gained points for appearance, aroma, flavour, mouthfeel and overall impression, up to a maximum of 50 points. We have then combined our scores and simplified this to an overall score of 1 to 10, with a separate score for how refreshing we felt each was.


Früh Kölsch

A Kolsch is a beer from Cologne, and this was one of a few examples of the style available in the local and excellent beer shop, Hippo Beers. It’s a ‘hybrid’ style – meaning it’s fermented with a yeast that gives lager-like qualities, but at the higher temperatures of an ale yeast. Kolsches, for that reason, are very popular amongst home brewers who struggle to control temperature accurately.

This one was a moderate hit. It was by the far the fruitiest of the beers, and definitely betrayed its ale origins. We agreed it was not nearly as dry as we’d hoped for and that it had a moderate, quite harsh bitterness. Much of the more delicate malt- and yeast-derived flavours you might hope for in a Kolsch were not present, but this could be down to the time it took for the bottle to get here.

Overall score: 7/10

Refreshment rating: 6/10

Augustiner Lagerbier Hell

This is a personal favourite of both of ours, and so it was to my fellow judge’s great disappointment that he slammed it. It is for this reason alone that he did not wish to be identified. From Munich, this beer is an oft-cited example of a Helles, a style that should be extra pale, malt-forward, not very hoppy and supremely drinkable.

I found it to be brilliant in all of those regards – straw-gold, completely clean, plenty of maltiness but with a bone-dry finish – and gave it a world-class score of 43/50. My friend didn’t, and said he was picking up on astringent after-taste. He didn’t think it was a bad beer by any means, but was put off enough to mark it down. We had to agree to compromise on the final score.

Overall score: 7/10

Refreshment Rating: 8/10

Alechemy Talisman

This bottle was included as the wild card – I wanted something from the latest wave of Scottish craft breweries, and it even had “refreshing” on the bottle. How could I resist? Unfortunately, we had to discount this beer from the final ranking. On pouring the 5 beers, this was significantly darker than the rest, so we could immediately identify it.

But still, we tried it. I really wanted to like it, because I know that Alechemy and James, the head brewer, are both excellent at what they do. But neither of us could stomach more than a mouthful. It reeked of diacetyl, a butter-like aroma that’s one of the most basic and horrible off-flavours that can be present in a lager. It was far too sweet, almost cloying. Definitely not refreshing, definitely not one to have again. Try their other beers and avoid this one.

Overall score: N/A

Refreshment rating: N/A

Camden Hells

Another Helles, but this time fresh from London. This was a surprise and overwhelming hit. I’d had it before, and never had I quite appreciated what an excellent beer it was. Maybe that’s down to beer snobbery. Maybe I’d assumed a good Helles must be made by rotund moustachioed men from Munich and not from some hipster English upstart. How wrong I was.

We both ranked this beer as world class. Even more malty than the Augustiner, and completely clean. It finished very dry and not-too-bitter and just begged you to go back for another sip. I finished my entire 100ml glass and once the rest of beers were ranked and the results revealed, this was the first I went back for.

Overall score: 9/10

Refreshment Rating: 10/10


Coors Light

Don’t mock. If someone complains that they do not like a Coors Light, they’re an untrustworthy individual. It is impossible to find fault in this beer, because it tastes and smells of nothing. And sometimes that’s what you want. I’d rather have an American Light Lager any day, over pretty much any other mass-produced pish. This tastes like nothing; they taste of nastiness.

When I went to sniff this beer I had to look down to check that there was indeed beer in the glass. Another sniff filled my nostrils with foam and still I perceived nothing. Myself and my fellow judge were in agreement – supremely refreshing, expertly brewed and utterly tasteless.

Overall Rating: 5/10

Refreshment Rating: 10/10


The oil? Who cares. It does not matter. In a mere 100 years, Scotland would still be independent and the oil would be long-gone.

I’ve stayed out of the debate as much as I could bear. To potentially polarise my already diminishing demographic? My publishers would be appalled. My single foray into the promotion of the mostly-incompetent Better Together campaign involved nothing more than approval of a few bland words of support ( This smallest of gestures resulted in mountains of social media manure from some of the more dubious (and universally male) Yes supporters. The nastiness was such that I was put off getting involved again.

But now the vote is coming. Now I’m scared.

Now I feel I’ve got to do something. Anything I can. Now I feel compelled to plead. To you who still could be convinced either way and to you, who haven’t decided if you’re going to vote or not.

You might see leaving the United Kingdom as thrusting off the rusty shackles of the Tories to form a new Social-Democratic utopia where health and economic equality is the norm. A phoenix emerging from the ashes of a failed state, so to speak. If this is you, you probably admit to some clear risks, but see them as worth it.

But it doesn’t take much to see Independence a different way. A less panglossian way. I see Independence as a people running away from the problems that plague their country. I see Reporting Scotland as our national news and I shudder with shame. I see the idea of creating a new state for ideological, ethnic, religious or any reason other than to escape persecution, as inherently ridiculous.

We, as a world, are heading towards a more inclusive, integrated and borderless society and this is a wonderful thing. Imagine, for a moment, that lots of states decided to split whenever a certain ethnic or geographical portion of the population disagreed with the central government. The world would be a cesspool of international bickering at best and military conflict on questionable grounds at worst.

We share more with the people of the cities of England than we do with any other people in the world, genetically and ideologically. And we should be proud of sharing one thing most of all: our tolerance. Our multicultural population in the UK is probably the best example of international integration in the world. We welcome those in need and we are happy to pay our taxes to support them. My problem with Yes campaigners (not necessarily Yes voters) is their absoluteness. Their lack of doubt and their lack of tolerance for anything anti-Yes. There is no debate, there is only Yes. This is where trouble likely lies. Real trouble. Whichever way the vote goes, ask any of your English friends if they’d be comfortable walking the streets of Glasgow on Friday night.

Despite what the more fervent nationalists will say, it is clear that there would be no question of a Yes if the vote was held when a Labour Government was in power. The choice has been elegantly pitched, by those same nationalists, as The Left (Scotland) vs. The Right (England). Given that choice, it’s a wonder the polls didn’t narrow sooner. But of course, that isn’t the true choice. Just the same as there’s a significant political divide in England, there is too here in Scotland. As is obvious, we don’t all agree with one another up here:

The fact that Scotland’s vote hasn’t been the deciding factor in 14 of the last 18 general elections is often lauded by Yes as justification for leaving like-minded Britons to their own devices. But our vote has swung left and right, just like in the rest of the islands. Moreover, our vote has decided 22% of those last 18 elections, despite our population being a mere 8.3% of the UK. We already have disproportionate influence.

And imagine what that influence could do if we were all as politically riled as this great debate has made us. Just imagine what influence we could have on an international scale if we were as driven as we are now. United. Together we would stand a much better chance at doing good internationally, our voices channelled and amplified through the imposing halls of London. It’s a far better choice than running away into our wee Edinburgh hole, oblivious to the troubles beyond Unst or Dumfries.


Whilst Big Ali D might make the cringeworthy mistake of pitching the debate as Labour vs. Salmond and the SNP, nearly every news story similarly focuses on fairly inconsequential issues. The permanence of this vote doesn’t seem to have been grasped. The oil? Who cares. It doesn’t matter. In a mere 100 years, Scotland would still be independent and the oil would be long-gone. The pound? Might still be around, who knows. The SNP’s plan to turn Scotland into a tax haven operated out of Trump Tower? No, that doesn’t matter either. All we’re hung up on is our own interests, when we should be thinking about the outnumbering generations to come.

The problem we face is that we just don’t know what problems our children will face. We know that there are plenty of risks involved in going it alone, but we do not know the doubtless risks that have yet to be revealed. The poverty and obesity crises in Scotland are already huge elephants in the room as we refuse to talk about our own clear deficiencies as a state.

Alongside my own romantic nationalism, it is the presence of these risks to our nation and our wealth that decided it early on for me. Not without some doubt and regular re-examination of my position. Then, when the evidence for the maybe-benefits of an independent Scotland are so easily unpicked with minimal research, there can only be one way to vote. I’ll see you there. Tomorrow.

A letter to the #GBBO haters

The Bake-Off comes to a close for another year with more innuendo, innovation and twitter abuse than ever before. And I’m sad that it is this last point that has come to define this series as far as the press is concerned – reading certain fascist publications, it seems some contestants can cause differences of opinion that drive apart families. I’d love to write about the positive, brilliant aspects of Bake-Off that we’ll see in tonight’s final, but I couldn’t help think about why some people feel the need to be so abhorrent.

As journalists have failed to get hold of this series’ bunch, we as the flavours of yester years have been repeatedly interviewed about “how it felt to be in this position last time” and to give our views on this year’s contestants. And we’ve been glad to comment, as far as I can tell; all of us with something to sell (did you know I’ve got a book out?!)

One thing I haven’t commented on, however, is that this year’s cruelty isn’t a unique occurrence to any particular Bake-Off contestant. It happens across the board; it was there last year and, like these last few weeks, was targeted at the perceived younger and more attractive women…


Dear misogynists and other anthropoid assemblages of bitterness,

I respect that some of you hurling your e-faeces at the wonderful Ms Tandoh et al are genuine e-wankers. And I guess that many of you, like Mr Blanc, forgivably don’t understand how the Internet works. But most of you are respectable people in reality, so why do you have to share your difficulty in coping with seeing someone, who you perceive as being beneath your over-inflated self, not doing what you would in an enviable position?

It has become the done thing amongst some to treat those on telly as something to help express yourself by – this can be in a positive way, like by tweeting #TeamRuby #TeamKimberley or #TeamFrances. A bit of harmless fun and something I’m happy to enjoy. But I take a look at your replies and see bitching to a level never before associated with cake.

There are loads of ways I’ve seen this behaviour justified. Those guys are on telly. We don’t know them; they’re just a face on a screen. They’re never going to read what we’ve written. They’re in such a privileged position; they can take it. They put themselves in the public eye; they should expect to divide people. We’d never say any of this IRL, never to their faces!

On any kind of examination, any attempts at justification are just such total nonsense. Unkindness is still being committed.

I’d like to make something clear: the abuse is felt. Do you think that the contestants don’t read their twitter interactions? Back when I was on, I’d search in the little box at the top right for “#GBBO James” in order to find every mention, the good and the worst. This was just my way of coping with a strange situation. 

Please, stop. Whether you get picked up by the “papers” (who will seek out the most vile tweets as examples) or your words are read directly, you will be responsible for making someone, and their family, sad. 

Keep being hurtful, and us at the other end just have to hope that you are for no other reason than you enjoy it. 

Hope you enjoy the final!


The Power of Pots

The Power of Pots


If you’ve read my book (did you know I’ve got a book out?), you might have noticed I’m a fan of baking bread in cast-iron pots. It’s simple: all you’ve got to do is preheat your pot, lid and all, to as hot as your oven goes. Then, slide your risen loaf into it and bake with the lid on for 20 minutes and another 20-30 minutes with it off.

Cooking on a thick, hot surface helps give you a good crust and even bake all round. The pot’s heavy lid keeps any steam inside, helping to caramelise the sugars on the surface and give a crispy, tasty final crust. On top of that, the humidity delays this crust’s formation to give you a better ‘oven spring’ (the rise of the loaf in the oven).

What I didn’t emphasise enough in the book is just how AWESOME cooking in pots is.

If you’ve read all those wandering words, you might notice I also talk about the two proves and how underappreciated the first prove is. It is far more important than the second. To emphasise this, and the power of the pot, I did a wee experiment.


I made a loaf with the following ingredients:

420g strong white flour

80g plain wholemeal flour

10g table salt

7g instant yeast

390g tepid water

And I didn’t knead, I left the rough dough for ½ an hour, gave it a few stretches and folds in the bowl until it had a smooth surface and then I proved for not-far-off 2 hours. By this time, it had got big, but not to the point of collapsing. I scraped it out, shaped into a tight ball and placed it in a proving basket to prove.

Straight away, I put this in the fridge and I put my Le Creuset pot in the oven at 250C for 20 minutes to preheat.

Then I scored and slid my loaf into the scorching pot and baked. When I closed the lid over it was barely bigger then when I put in the fridge and a little squint due to the way it had fallen (not a concern). And then the next I saw, it was spectacular.



In that first prove, there are loads of bubbles that you then smoosh whilst shaping. But if you’ve shaped well, those bubbles aren’t gone, you’ve just squeezed most of the CO2 out of them. The potential space is still there. Then, because of the steam that’s kept in by the pot, you’ve got a humid and unrestricted environment for what little gas is there to expand HUGELY. As a result, you get the most phenomenal oven spring.

The result is a loaf that is just about as massive as a loaf that has had a 2nd prove that is 3x as long. So check out these pictures (sorry, just taken on my iPhone) and remember: take your time with the first prove.



(you’ll notice it’s a bit wonky – this is due to the sliding and will affect it’s appearance but not it’s overall texture)



NB: Some bakers don’t like this. Some would say this loaf was “underproved”. But it’s not – it has been proved enough to plenty it a good flavour and good structure. It’s just been baked and shaped at different times. It is still of exceptionally light texture.


Order Brilliant Bread here!

Behind Brilliant Bread

This article was originally published in Shetland Life magazine and was written upon receiving my first copy of “Brilliant Bread”


Writing a book not long after finding yourself churned from a reality television show, you come to expect a standard set of questions from tabloid journalists: “Has your life changed? How long did it take you to write your book? Did you write it all? Did you bake everything in the pictures?”

If you’re interested, the answers are: yes; two months; yes; yes. But then comes the most inevitable and quickly the most exhausting: “Why bread?” Normally I try to shyly shrug this off with a few mentions of satisfaction and science and with the frequent use of the word ‘awesome’. All of what I say is true and bread really is awesome. But the most genuine answer would take too much time and reveal far more about myself than I’d rather.

For whatever reason, now, here’s why and how I wrote about bread.


Soon after we filmed the third season of the Great British Bake-Off, a few of us were put in touch with literary agents. It was put to us: 5 of the 6 previous finalists now have book deals. It was taken as a given that we would follow in a cold new exercise to capitalise on our temporary popularity. It seemed a purely financial exercise in which the production company had a reasonable cut.

It was expressed to me in no uncertain terms that a general baking book encompassing a wide variety of culinary categories would be both easiest to sell to the publishers and to the public. This is what people would expect. But gradually, through meetings and tele-conferences with producers and agents, my own suggestions and ideas were, to my surprise, encouraged. I was tentatively told to start down the route I suggested above all else: bread. If my enthusiasm was to be ignored by those who mattered, we could always re-strategize. That was the theory.

My obsession with the idea of a bread book was that I loved it more than any other baking discipline, but that there wasn’t a single book on the subject that didn’t have irritating faults. I saw them all as both single minded and subjective; they advocated one particular set of techniques and skills and denounced all others, without any evidence to justify it.

Not one approached baking from an evidence-based perspective. But more than that, every bread book so far has been written by a professional baker. The worst contain nothing but toned down commercial recipes without much introduction or thought for what the home-baker can replicate at home. The best contain too much detail on copying professional loaves and so become too complicated and alienating for most.

I wanted to write the best bread book on the market. And the concept I devised, as far as I could tell, was mostly that. I didn’t want to churn out 100 recipes and pose with a superimposed cake on the cover of a glossy book for sale for a fiver in Tesco. I didn’t want to be another reality TV reject, even though that is what I clearly am (and I’ve come to terms with it). I wanted to do something well – nay, I wanted to do something the best; better than anyone else had done before. And that is why I picked bread; I thought I could do it justice and start to make a name for myself that didn’t involve the Bake-Off.

I’m sitting with one of the first advance copies of “Brilliant Bread” and I’m proud to say I’m happy. It’s overwhelming to hold it; it is everything I wanted it to be. And I can’t leaf through it without thinking of how it got here.

The first hurdle is the ‘proposal’. This is where you set out exactly how you see your book looking and what it will contain, in just a few pages. This is sent off, via your literary agent (many publishers will simply refuse to read manuscripts not submitted through agents) to a variety and in turn they send a response. For some, it was a blanket “we’ve got too many bread authors already” and others “we’re not interested in the bake-off”. But a few saw enough potential to get me down to London for a meeting.

All the summits were set for a single day – 5 hours down on the train, 5 hours pottering around from posh parts of London to posher, then 5 hours’ journey back up to Glasgow. A whirlwind of coffee, biscuits and enough free cookbooks in branded canvas bags to scar my shoulder.

Within a few weeks, they come back to you with whether they’d like to publish the book and their rough terms. At this point, every publisher wants to get as much out of you as they can: they don’t offer much money and the contracts are one sided. Long negotiations ensue between agents and editors and one emerges triumphant. In my case, I’ll admit Ebury won me over as soon as I walked in and they said, beaming: “We’re the biggest publisher and we don’t have a bread book.”

The problem is that at this point, a contract is concluded and everyone’s celebrating, but the book is still merely an idea. I’ve got a rough plan, jotted down quantities and three months until my exams. I gave myself a month to study, and vowed to write furiously for the first two. This desperate struggle worked out, undramatically; I submitted my manuscript on time and proceeded to pass my exams with comfortable margins.

It’s often pointed out to me that writing 60,000 words in two months on top of a medical degree is a tough ask. It was hard, but it was do-able. If I’d been writing a cake book, though? Patisserie? Nope. I wouldn’t have had the enthusiasm or drive to get it in on time. Because it was bread, I was fervent to get on to the next chapter or the next section. I saved ‘Sourdough’ to the very end as a treat; I indulged in going over and over it and cutting many a superfluous word.

I hope this boyish excitement comes across inside– and I hope I do Shetland justice. Please don’t shout at me for my (girdle) bannock recipe until you’ve tried it, because it’s actually pretty good.


Order now!

Bread Beckons

Last night’s GBBO4 debut brought back some memories.

The initial exhilaration at meeting Mel and Sue. Memories of the massive marquee and the hundreds of insects that would congregate in the peaks of its rolling ceiling. And memories of the intense nausea brought on by faltering self-control in the face of unlimited cake and its constituent ingredients. I imagined half the chocolate chips involved in this year’s cocoa-showstopper went raw into the mouths of the contestants and crew and comediennes.

After our first two days of filming, we were all averse to sweetness – the mere thought brought on the boak. There was one flicker of optimism and that was that next week was bread week. Savoury week. The week where we were released from our saccharine shackles and could pig out without fear of repercussion.


And now, today, next week is bread week. I’m worried. My own bread experience on GBBO was less than ideal – I was frustrated with my results in every challenge and selfishly lashed out at Paul and producers for setting such short challenges. Good bread takes time. Great bread takes a lot of time – with spells that can be spent doing other things. By asking us to produce a plaited loaf in 2 hours (TWO HOURS) you’re simply condoning this drivel to the population.

Last year, I pleaded for a challenge for next year’s contestants in which there was an unlimited or protracted time limit – let us see the best of the best of what they can do. Today, I can see why they won’t do this (it’s TV, after all) but I still live in hope. I want to see some acknowledgement of this glorious school of baking that often seems as diverse as all others combined; I want to see sourdoughs and wholegrains and not just underproved and underbaked white breads with each contestant’s own desperate ‘twist’. I’m guilty of using the beyond-clichéd ‘Ispahan’ combination (rose, lychee, raspberry) but last night we saw it too many times. Maybe when bake-off becomes tired and the format needs rejigging, maybe we’ll see true innovation. But the problem is that for the moment, it’s just too darn good to change.


On Tuesday next week, there will be GBBO’s bread episode. I fully expect it to reduce breadbaking to a circus and will not in any way shine light on the remarkable abilities of 12 beautifully talented individuals left.

But if you want a proper introduction to bread, wait until Thursday. To see just how hard bakers can make loaves look (and how easy it really is), to see how you can bend baking amazing breads around the busiest of lives and to be taken through every step in as much or as little detail as you and still always make something to be proud of, wait until Thursday.

On Thursday, my first book is out. It’s called “Brilliant Bread”. Notice: Mr Hollywood’s book is merely “Bread”.


And I’m proud of those 60,000 words. My aim was not just to take bread baking to a new and younger audience, it was to try and produce the best beginner bread book on the market. I think we’ve done that.

Inside, you’ll find a full set of step by steps for every process I felt couldn’t be accurately portrayed in words. And the step-by-step theme continues: you’ll find a range of breads for a range of circumstances and abilities. Begin as a book is meant to: at the beginning. Read my spiel about the ingredients and the processes and take it one step at a time. I promise that do it this way, listening to what I have to say and baking just a bread or two from each chapter, you’ll soon be baking loaves as good as the best Artisan Bakeries in the world. Truly: world-class bread is achievable by the even the indifferent amateur. I love that about bread.

45193_RAND_BBR_P0044.pdf 45193_RAND_BBR_P0045.pdf

And people say to me: “YOU can bake great bread in 5 minutes, maybe. But me? Naw.” Please trust me: anyone can. Just read the book and don’t try a sourdough or a panettone as your first go. You’ll be grand. Moreover, you’ll save the full cost of the book after just the first two times you leave a bottle of wine at home bring fresh focaccia or magnificent miche round as a dinner party gift instead.


Order here and it will be with you on Thursday: AMAZON

BakeryBits Bread Baking Kit Giveaway

Yet another corporate sell out having to resort to free giveaways to generate traffic for his blog? No, actually.

This is something I’ve been working personally to organise for a while. The unadulterated truth is that for getting professional bread baking results at home, there is only one place I get my bread stuff: BakeryBits. I think I’m right in saying GBBO Judge Mr Hollywood goes here too. There are good reasons: everything is really good quality and very reasonably priced. It’s great for hard-to-get-at-home stuff like Aroma Panettone and Diastatic Malt Flour. But it’s even better for it’s selection of basic equipment for home and trade alike.

I have been through the entire website and have compiled a list of essential bread baking kit that I think will help take any home baker’s bread to the next level. These are the EXACT SAME products that I use at home. I own at least one of everything that have kindly agreed to donate for one lucky winner (and no, they didn’t give them to me; I’ve owned them for a while).

This includes:

A BakeryBits Dough Scraper

A BakeryBits Stainless Steel Dough Cutter

A proper High Sided Loaf Tin

A super-sharp Landaise Lame

A BakeryBits 1kg Round Banneton (proving basket)

A BakeryBits Dough Whisk


To be in with a chance of winning, all you need to do is enter below. Click the wee ‘tweet’ button to tweet a link to the competition and then confirm it. You can also like the BakeryBits facebook page for a chance of winning.


(some people saying they are having trouble tweeting – enter with your email address and the little tweet button definitely should come up)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Raise some Dough for Children in Knead

This is just an idea.

Bake sales are popular. You can’t turn a corner without the local sexual health charity peddling rude cupcakes or student communists shouting after you to try their patisserie.

Bake sales are popular because they represent all things brilliant in society. They not only raise mind-boggling cash for charity, but they’re super fun to run and everyone, customer and vendor alike, gets right into the spirit. So why not try starting a bake sale with a difference?

You’ve got the chance to both raise lots of cash for charity and try a new thing – bread. Bread can be intimidating, but there’s genuinely nothing to get stressed about! There are plenty of great beginner books out there (Richard Bertinet and Dan Lepard probably best), but also a fantastic resource online (The Fresh Loaf amongst others ). Not only that, but here’s a Bake Sale Specific Recipe for you – I hope you’ll find it so simple that you’ll not only make pots of money for a good cause, but you’ll keep baking bread forever more.

And what cause is better than Children in Need? As well as the truly wonderful work that is done on their behalf, it provides opportunity to get everyone baking bread and utilise possibly the best bun in baking: it’s time to Raise Some Dough for Children in Knead. (I’ll admit, it was actually my father (@thebeatcroft) who came up with it…)

Go on. Give it a go! I’m sure someone can lend you a folding table or picnic blanket.



Crusty Bake Sale Buns


500g Strong White Flour (or plain flour if that’s all you’ve got)

One 7g sachet fast-action yeast (make sure it’s in date!)

10g Salt

340g water (weigh all your ingredients if you can for better accuracy)

Optional: a flavouring of your choice; fresh herbs, dried fruit, and nuts all work well


Makes 12 buns.

Total time required in the kitchen: 5-10 minutes. Start them the evening before your bake sale for best results.

1. In a large bowl, weigh the flour. With your fingers, rub in the salt at one edge of the bowl and the sachet of dried yeast on the opposite side (the salt can stop the yeast working). Add the flavouring if you’re using.

2. Add the water to the dry ingredients, and mix together until it forms a coherent dough (use your dough to mop up all the flour on the bowl). Cover your bowl with a damp tea towel or cling film and rest in a warm place for at least 30-40 minutes, or until noticeably expanded in size.

3. Wet the fingers of one hand, and slide your fingertips between the bowl and the dough and fold the dough in half. Turn the bowl a quarter turn, and repeat until you have removed all of the air and it is noticeably smooth. Keep your fingers wet to stop them sticking. Cover your bowl again, and rest the dough for a full hour, or until noticeably ballooned in size.

4. Scrape the dough out onto a floured surface and using floured hands this time, roll it up into a long sausage shape. Cut the sausage in half and in half again. Divide each piece of dough into 3 so you have 12 rough pieces of dough.

5.  On a surface without any flour on it, place your piece of dough. Rub some flour into the palm of one hand, getting rid of any excess. Cup your floured hand as if you had to carry water in it, then turn it upside down keeping that same shape. Place your hand around your little piece of dough and make big circular movements with your hand. You should feel the dough turning with the friction between your hand and the work surface – this will tighten it into a nice ball. Repeat, placing the rolls on an oiled baking tray.

6. Pop your tray in the fridge overnight; this slows the yeast right down. In the morning they should almost be touching (it doesn’t matter if they do touch, you can tear them apart after baking!). Preheat your oven to 200C (190 fan) about 20 minutes before you want to bake them.

7. Before you bake them, lightly slash the top of each roll in a cross shape using a bread knife. Pop your baking tray in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until your rolls are a dark golden brown.

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!