Back to school





Finally I have started my long, overdue Patisserie course. And this month it’s all about bread, folks. I am not going to go into detail about it but this is something I should have done a while ago. But finally my patience has paid off. And I am pleased as punch about it. One of the reasons being that I am studying at Westiminster Catering College, where Jamie Oliver did his training. Not that I am star-struck but I reasoned that if he studied there it had to be a very, very good establishment when it comes to the Catering  and Hospitality industry. And I wasn’t wrong. Not only that but it also happens to be one of the oldest Catering colleges in London. I have already started making full use of the library which is absolutely amazing. What more can I say?

I am over the moon about it and I am in sponge-mode every Thursday when I turn up promptly for my lesson. It reminds me of a cartoon character we had in Argentina called Juan el pregunton or Juan the one who asks too many questions. Well, I am a bit like that. I just want to know it all or at least, as much as possible.

We started with a fool-proof bread. I am fascinated by the whole bread-making process. Some of the things we’ve been doing so far include fancy bread rolls, focaccia, ciabatta, Irish soda bread, doughnuts, cinnamon and Chelsea buns… all in all we managed to squeeze quite a lot in just three weeks and yet there is sooooooooooooooooo much more to it, so many more breads I want to learn how to make… baguettes, brioche… if I had it my way I guess the course would have to last, I don’t know… so much longer… 




There is nothing more satisfactory than taking a batch of freshly home-baked bread out of the oven. I have enjoyed each and every class immensely. And it’s only the beginning!

That’s the good news.

Bad news is that I don’t think my course lecturer will be exactly thrilled if I start publishing their recipes in cyberspace. For those of you who should feel cheated if I don’t include any recipe, I have looked for similar recipes which should give you a fairly good idea of the method to follow should you want to try your hand at any of the breads mentioned in this post.  For the bread rolls, follow the recipe for basic bread and just shape the dough in any shape you like. The toppings in the photo include poppy, pumpking and sesame seeds and that, again, is up to you. The only rule is that each roll has to weight 60g but that’s only if you are baking them for service. If you’re baking them at home it’s a completely different ball game as you can see from the photo of the ones I baked last Christmas. I still remember the first time we baked them in Catering College. I was just playing it by ear, cutting them “more or less” equally until the chef lecturer came running after me shouting (truly horrified, poor man): “Weigh them! Weigh them!” Never did them ever again without religiously and carefully weighing them.

What you see in the next photo is Irish Soda Bread. This bread is super easy because it is made with baking powder or bicarbonate of soda instead of yeast and therefore it does not require any proving. This is why it is a bread… and it isn’t.

In any case, you have to cut a cross on the loaf and make a hole with your finger in each intersection (I am not sure you can actually see it in the photo). According to Irish folklore, both the cross and the holes are made… to let the fairies out. Now, is that cute or what? 




Ballymaloe white soda bread – adapted from Rachel Allen’s Bake

makes 1 loaf  


400g plain flour
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
350ml buttermilk




1. Preheat the oven to 230C/gas 6.
2. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in most of the buttermilk (leaving about 60ml in the measuring jug). Using one hand with your fingers outstretched like a claw, bring the flour and liquid together, adding more buttermilk if necessary. Do not knead the mixture or it will become heavy. The dough should be soft but not too wet and sticky.
3. When the dough comes together, turn onto a floured work surface and bring together a little more. Pat the dough into a round about 4cm deep and cut a deep cross in the top.
4. Place the dough onto a baking tray and bake in the oven for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200C/gas 6 and bake for a further 30. When ready, the loaf will sound slightly hollow when tapped on the base and be golden in colour.


5. Allow to cool on a wire rack before serving.


 Next we made focaccia.
What gives a focaccia its character (and its name) are the toppings, just like the pizza. That and the holes you have to make in the dough before putting the toppings. Which is why you can use the recipe below to make any focaccia you like. At college, we could top ours to our hearts content. Mine were made with black olives (chopped and added to the dough and halved and stoned in the topping) and a little caramelized red onion. The other foccaccia had caramelized red onion and rock sea salt. Both were absolutely yummy.



 Rosemary, rock salt and frantoio olive oil focaccia by Narda Lepes



1 kg. flour 0000
1 tbsp. sugar
20 g salt 
30 g fresh yeast or 1 packet dry yeast
500 ml. tepid water
200 ml. frantoio olive oil 
fresh rosemary
1 tbsp. rock sea salt
Dissolve the yeast in a little bit of the tepid water with 1 tbsp. sugar and 1 tbsp. flour. Leave in a warm place until the yeast ferments and is bubbly. Place the flour in a bowl and add the salt, mix and make a well in the centre. Add the olive oil and the fermented yeast. Work the flour from the inside out and add the water gradually until you have a sticky dough. Work for 5 minutes and cover with clingfilm or a tea towel. Leave to prove in a warm place until it doubles in size. Then knock back together. Spread the dough out on an oiled tray  pressing it with your fingers. Make holes all over the dough and press the rosemary twigs on the top. Sprinkle with olive oil and rock sea salt. Bake in the oven at 180°C for 30-40 minutes. Take off the tray and place on a wiring rack to cool. Brush the top with some extra frantoio olive oil to give it a shiny crust. 
Westminster Kingsway College:



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