Friday, 29 April 2011

The pizza is NOT your lunch!

Day two rolled around and the apprentice chefs rolled in. Fairly literally after all the food on day one! We got off to a good start with lavender scones today to accompany our morning tea.

Today, we were told, we would be making different types of bread and pizza. The pizza, however, would not be our lunch. Repeat, NOT OUR LUNCH.

We were taken through the day by the wonderful Gideon Hitchin, master of breads, who started by teaching us that different breads can be made from what begins essentially as the same dough, made with different proportions of wet to dry ingredients.

Our first was a standard white loaf, with 2% salt and a generous 1% yeast with 60% water. Contrary to popular belief, water temperature is not that important, and you can make bread dough with chilled water and leave it to prove in the fridge if wanted; this will simply take longer. This does not work to the other end of the spectrum however and a properly made loaf should take no less than two and a half hours from start to finish. A floured surface is also not essential as a dough with the right water quantity should become pliable and not sticky.

After making our dough, using 300g of strong white flour (aiming for a nice small loaf), we kneaded for a few minutes by smearing the dough away from us and rolling it back several times, before folding the dough inwards on itself and working it into a ball which was left to prove for an hour and a half.

Then we moved on to ciabatta. This had the same basis but his time 80% water, making it almost like a porridge. We mixed the dough in a bowl before emptying it onto the worktop (again, unfloured) and worked the dough as in the video. Great fun!

'The Thing' was moved onto a floured area of the worktop after being worked for five minutes and deftly moved into a bowl, to be left quietly for an hour or so.

While we were working on 'The Thing', the lovely Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (with his newly cropped hairdo) popped in to say hello. Everyone was given the opportunity to have a chat and get their copy of 'River Cottage Every Day' signed whilst we enjoyed Baker's Nip (note the theme from yesterday) - a little apple brandy with some smoked pollock pate on toast. For some reason my conversational skills stretched to talking about the horse box I was stuck behind on the way to Park Farm that morning.

After kneading our loaf bread dough again (mine had grown a bubble!) before re-resting it, we made shortbread.

Sadly, I do not have pattissiere hands. Creaming butter and sugar was fine but trying to delicately encourage this into breadcrumbs on a pile of soft flour simply did not work for me, although Gideon kindly added flour to try to de-lumpify my mixture before scattering chopped roasted hazlenuts, pressing the mixture and putting it in the oven.

Then we went out to make pizza. A mobile pizza oven was awaiting along with a vat of dough and lots of pizza toppings including chorizo, freshly-made black pudding, mozzarella, tomato sauce, rosemary and garlic or chilli oil, caramelised onions, basil, the list goes on. We were once again reminded that THIS WAS NOT LUNCH and that we would need to make and share our pizzas so that nobody would have to wait to eat, and away we went. After rolling and topping, we got to try our hand at loading the pizzas into the 400 degree heat and took it in turns to unload pizzas 90 seconds later, cut them up and share them out. It wasn't long before the sound of satisfied pizza groans and smell of sizzling cheese and chorizo lured Hugh over to us again and he might possibly have stolen a few slices of pizza. There is photographic evidence out there!

I may possibly have made not one, but two pizzas, and I may also possibly paid no attention to the THIS IS NOT YOUR LUNCH instruction and wiped out the best part of both pizzas all by myself along with a good few slices of other pizzas on offer.

Possibly. In my defence I have developed an addiction to wood-baked pizzas thanks to Franco Manca in Brixton so this was tame behaviour.

Sadly we had to be dragged away from the pizza oven to remove our cooked shortbread from the oven and finish our loaves. This involved squashing the dough before folding it into three and tucking it in on itself and then rolling it into shape with a seam underneath. To seed the loaf, the topside was dipped on a plate of water before dipping on a second plate of poppy or sunflower seeds.

The loaves were snugly tucked to rest on a floured cloth ready to go into the oven after a short few minutes while we got to work on the ciabatta. See how lovely they looked?

There came a little later a nerve-wracking moment where we each needed to slash the surface of our loaves to allow them to expand. Too tame a slashing and the loaf could be deflated and would need further resting, to vigorous a slashing would cut too deeply into the loaf. I am pleased to report that I have a good slashing motion.

The ciabatta dough had by now doubled in size inside the bowl we were asked to very carefully loosen it from the sides of the bowl before lifting sections and folding over into the centre, oiling it a little and leaving it to rest again.

And then came lunch! Olly, one of the newer recruits to River Cottage HQ (although you'd never guess as he seems right at home) had made a lovely ballotine of overnight slow-roasted lamb shoulder. The day before he had called over whoever of us might have been in the kitchen to ask our opinion of what was needed to make it just right. This was served with a shallot and tomato puree and was beautiful. To accompany our shortbread Olly had also made lemon posset.

After lunch, all we needed to do was use a brain surgeon's skill to empty our ciabatta dough onto a semolina-dusted work surface and cut it into sections, dust it with more semolina and bake it for 12 minutes.

Hilariously, while we had been eating, the loaf timer had gone off in the kitchen and been reset, and everyone's loaf had gently caramelised. But I can attest to its looking pretty. The ciabatta, however, was an all-round winner.

Tomorrow, we were told, would be fish!


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