Tuesday, 9 June 2020

RECIPES - Baking bread in a cast iron pot (Dutch Oven) 3.Wholemeal

Baking bread in a cast iron pot -  Wholemeal Loaf 

Wholemeal loaf

I used my bread machine on the dough setting to make this loaf, using the quantities given in the recipe for a 100% wholemeal loaf that came with the machine.  If you are using a bread machine I would suggest you follow the recipe and instructions that came with the machine as every one is different.

If you do not have a bread machine just follow any wholemeal loaf recipe for making one manually (or with the aid of a food mixer) as far as completion of the first rise then follow the method below.

Using my bread machine the ingredients were as follows:


 ¾ cup water
1 ½ tbsp skimmed milk powder
1 ½  tbsp butter
2 ½  tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
2 cups Strong Wholemeal flour
1 tsp dry yeast
1 x 100g Vitamin C tablet (optional)

Adding Vitamin C improves the rise of the loaf and should be crushed and added to the flour.


Whichever recipe you are following, at the end of the first rise place the risen dough on a floured surface.

Dough after first rise

There is no need to knead the dough, well only a little - just gently knock back and shape into a ball

Knock back and gently knead

Shape dough into a ball

Using a sharp knife cut a slit across the top,, cutting about 1 inch deep.

slash top with sharp knife

Place the shaped dough into a cast iron casserole dish, that has been lined with baking paper.

 dough in casserole dish lined with baking paper

Put the lid on the casserole dish and place in a cold conventional oven. Set oven temperature to 240C and turn on. Leave to cook with the lid on for 35 minutes. 

remove lid after cooking for 35 minutes

After 35 minutes remove the lid and continue cooking for a further ten minutes but keep an eye on it in case it burns.

loaf removed from oven after 10 mins cooking with lid off

Remove from oven, lift out loaf and place on a wire rack to cool

loaf cooling on rack

When cool, slice and enjoy.

John Austin
Hove, June 2020

Friday, 5 June 2020

Life on The Weald - May 2020

Life on The Weald  (and in isolation) - May 2020 

Rainbow chard - 1 May

Silver leaf chard - 1 May

May Day on the allotment was a time for gathering chard and the following day, to amuse myself in isolation, attempting to create a collage and, with a pack of puff pastry and some cheese, some mini chard pies, roughly using the recipe for Spanokopita

Rainbow chard - a collage

Chard and cheese puffs

The first early Duke of York potatoes were beginning to show signs of flowering.

First early Duke of York potatoes - 4 May

Duke of York, beginning to flower - 4 May

May Day (Friday) had been cloudy with a maximum temperature around 14C falling to 12C over the weekend but feeling much colder due to the wind. The first full week was sunny, however, with the temperature rising to 17C and a high of 22C on Saturday 9 May. But it was not to last as rain came on Sunday 10 May with temperatures falling dramatically by 10 degrees with strong winds.

I had grown some butternut squash plants indoors and had put them out in the garden to harden off but, even in the warm temperatures, they had taken a battering from the wind although they had been covered with a cloche overnight. On Sunday 10 May I decided it was time to bring them back indoors - I doubt whether they would have survived outside and it remains to be seen whether they will recover indoors. 

I acquired a yellow courgette and a Crown Prince squash from a neighbour on the allotment and although they looked OK in the sunshine on Saturday, I also brought them indoors on Sunday.

It was a bit breezy on Monday 11 with a high temperature of only 11C but it felt much colder, so I spent time indoors potting up seedlings that had been sown in seed trays in March and April.  These included a number of chillies which had been sown from seed acquired at Seedy Sunday in February.  Some of them are extremely powerful on the Scoville Scale (see my blog February 2020)

We had our first picking of broad beans on 4 May - I picked about a kilo which yielded about 250g of beans.  They were beautiful but the pods had not filled out as well as I had hoped.  I put that down to a lack of water at the crucial time in April, but there are many more to come both from the November sowings and the later January/March sown crop.

Broad beans picked 6 May

Around the pond the irises were coming into flower and not far behind were the water or pond irises (yellow flags) so it was time for yet another tidy up around the pond and to clear yet more of the ubiquitous bind-weed.  I don't think it will ever be possible to remove it completely since the root runners seem to go around and under the pond itself, but at least it looks tidy for a time.  We have also removed the papyrus from the pond as it was in danger of taking over.  The roots had completely filled the pots they were in and broken through and although submerged had also been taken over by couch grass! I will split the plants, re-pot and return a little.

Irises by the pond

Water irises about to flower

Another plant that had become pot-bound at home was our Moroccan Mint, perhaps the best of the culinary varieties.  I had promised to pot one up for a friend but could not pull out any with a root.  In the end, with brute force we removed the entire plant which was completely root-bound as the roots had grown round and round the inside of the pot.

Roots of pot-bound Moroccan mint

On 7 May, whilst riddling the mound of couch grass to recover the soil, Sylvi found a friendly slow worm.  That's a good sign that the soil should be in good condition and their presence is very beneficial as they feed on slugs and snails.

a friendly slow worm

By 11 May the irises were in full flower


...and there appeared to be a good supply of gooseberries.

Early showing of gooseberries

Gooseberries - 11 May

I planted out a second row of celery and continued clearing an area for the brassicas.

Celery 11 May

There was a good showing of plums that had set on the trees at the back of the plot but very little sign of fruit on the other ones.

Plums - 13 May

Whilst clearing weeds from the potential brassica patch, I acquired a new friend!

My new friend

Looking for worms?

Having cleared a suitable area, I took a risk and planted out some kale, cavolo nero and kalettes

Kalettes 13 May

In the middle of the month I was in panic mode sowing more seeds and potting up various seedlings that I had sown earlier plus some that I had acquired from other plot-holders. At the beginning of the month, I had sown some Borlotti (climbing beans) directly in the ground but as there was no sign of them a fortnight later, I sowed some more in pots indoors - the seeds were from an old packet from last year and perhaps they haven't kept well.  I also sowed some runner beans and French beans in pots and trays and some more peas.

I have potted on the tomatoes which I had been given but the writing on the labels had partly worn off or was indecipherable and as a result I'm not sure which ones are which; but I believe I have some red, black and yellow cherry varieties, a beef tomato and a regular salad tomato.  In addition I had bought 3 plugs on the internet; an Alicante, a Marmande and a Sweet Million (cherry tomato).  I also potted on some yellow cherry tomatoes that I had grown from seed that my brother had given me and which had done so well in pots last year.  I think I may have gone a bit over the top and will have difficulty finding room for them all on the patio!   I am also waiting for the daffodils and tulips to die back to free up some of the larger pots.  Earlier in the year I had rescued a pot-bound English Mace and have begun splitting this and now have dozens of plants to give away.

The bush mulberry at home has flowered and the fruit just beginning to set so I have given this a feed with the liquid feed I use for the tomatoes.  On the allotment the blueberries have finished flowering and the fruit is setting and I have given them another ericaceous feed.

With the weather forecast predicting temperatures approaching 20C for Sunday 17 May, I planted out some butternut squashes but hope it was not a mistake as the temperature didn't get above 15C and there was a cool wind.  I did provide a bit of protection with improvised cloches made from plastic bottles for both the squashes and the kalettes and kale so hope they will survive.

improvised cloches for kale and kalettes

At home in mid-May the front and back gardens were looking more colourful with the summer flowering shrubs and bulbs coming into flower.

The week beginning 18 May saw continuing sunshine and no rain, so watering the newly planted vegetables was important.  The kalettes, cavolo nero and kale planted the previous week were doing well so this prompted me to plant out the first of the runner beans which I had grown in pots at home.

First Prizewinner runner beans planted

And the good news..........at last the Borlotto climbing beans sown some weeks ago have not been eaten by rodents, and they have germinated and are beginning to break the surface.

19 May The first sign of Borlotto beans - Firetongue (Lingua di Fuoco)

Having planted out some home-grown runner beans, I had completely forgotten that I had ordered some plugs earlier in the year on-line and my recently constructed bean frame was full.  This necessitated the rapid clearing of one of the raised beds and construction of a wigwam before planting out the plugs.

Rapidly constructed wigwam for runner beans -22 May

Having cleared the area around the pond, it was time to plant something.  I had sown some wild flower seeds earlier and hopefully some will germinate, but I have added some aromatic mints - pineapple and grapefruit - and planted out some English Mace (sweet yarrow or sweet-nancy)

planting out around the pond

At Christmas, my son Toby and his wife Jane had given me some bean seeds that they had harvested from their crop last year - they were black and white, Ying-Yang - I checked with them that they were not a climbing variety, as I had run out of space for any more frames, and reassured that they were a dwarf variety I sowed some in pots at home. 

Ying-Yang beans

I now need to ask if you can eat them like flagelots when young or need to dry them and use like haricot beans or black-eye peas.

The raspberries have gone rampant and are beginning to send out suckers which are coming up all over the place, including in the raised beds.  It is a struggle to keep them in check but the fruit has set and we look to be in for a bumper crop.


The latter part of the month saw lots of sunshine and temperatures soaring to the mid-twenties - and no rain! So watering became a daily necessity.

30 May - grapes setting on the vine

30 May - plums and blue skies

30 May - plums and blue skies

And at home (with the Salvia hot lips flowering behind) the Nicola 2nd early potatoes were in full flower.

30 May - Nicola 2nd early potatoes

A glorious end to a very sunny month.

John Austin
Hove, May 2020

Monday, 25 May 2020

RECIPES - Baking bread in a cast iron pot (Dutch Oven) 2. 50/50 White/Brown

Baking bread in a cast iron pot - 

a 50/50 White and Wholemeal Loaf 

I made this loaf using the cast-iron pot method as shown in my earlier post for a basic white loaf

I used a bread machine to make the basic dough, but you can use any recipe up to an including the first rise.  As I didn't have a recipe for a 50/50 loaf, I made my own by combining and adapting two recipes designed for my machine, one for a Basic White Loaf and the other for a Wholemeal loaf.


¾ cup water
1 ¾  tbsp skimmed milk powder
1 ¾ tbsp butter
¾  tbsp granulated sugar
1 ¼ tbsp soft brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup Strong white bread flour
1 cup Strong Wholemeal flour
1 tsp dry yeast

Adding a vitamin C tablet (crushed and added before the flour) is often recommended when using wholemeal flour, to aid the rise.  I didn't on this occasion as I didn't have one and as it was 50% strong white flour felt it wouldn't need it anyway. 

I followed the machine instructions and added the ingredients, in the above order, to the pan and set the machine to the dough setting which is 6 minutes mixing, 34 minutes kneading and 1 hour rising at 32C.

(if you don't have a bread machine, follow any recipe either for making by hand or food mixer with a dough hook then leave to rise until doubled in size then follow the rest of this method).

I then removed the dough from the machine.....

end of the first rise
.... kneaded gently for a few minutes on a floured board and then shaped into a ball

dough shaped in a ball, ready for baking
... then made one deep slash across the top with a sharp knife

the uncooked loaf

....placed the shaped dough in my cast iron casserole pot, which I had lined with baking paper

the pot
....placed the lid on top and put the dish in a cold conventional oven.  I set the oven to 240C and switched on.  After 30 minutes I took a peek to see how it was doing 

loaf after 30 minutes baking in oven with lid on
I put it back in the oven for a further 5 minutes with the lid on, then removed the lid and cooked for a further 10 minutes - total cooking time 45 minutes (35 minutes lid on, final 10 minutes lid removed).

This was the final result

loaf removed from oven
I left the loaf for 5 minutes in the pot, then removed and placed on a rack

the final result
Whilst it was still warm, but cool enough to handle, I could not resist trying a slice

the proof of the pudding is in the eating
I am pleased to say it was a successful result.  Now I have done a basic white loaf and a 50/50, it's time to try this method with a 100% wholemeal !

John Austin

Hove 25 May 2020

Sunday, 24 May 2020

RECIPES - Baking bread in a cast iron pot (Dutch Oven) 1. Basic White

Baking bread in a cast iron casserole dish - a basic White loaf

My first loaf using this method

This unusual method of baking bread was given to me by my nephew, Lyndon, who works in the catering, restaurant and hospitality industry in France.  He sent me a photo of a loaf he had made in his Staub cast-iron stew pot and some basic instructions regarding the method.

Lyndon's loaf
Lyndon advised that this method works well as it keeps the moisture inside as the bread is cooked with the lid on (except for the final 10 minutes).

Another advantage of this method is that it doesn't require a second raise.  Lyndon suggested an initial kneading of 20 minutes, then leaving the dough to rise, "knocking back" - a brief 5 minute kneading - shaping into a ball then placing in the pot which had been lined with non-stick baking paper, putting on the lid, placing in a cold oven, turning the oven to 240C, cooking for 35 minutes, then removing the lid and continuing to cook for a further 10 minutes.  All that is then needed is to remove from the oven and place the loaf on a rack to cool.

For my first venture I decided to make a basic white loaf using my bread machine recipe.  In the past, I have tried using the bread machine for the whole process but have never found the results satisfactory (and you get a strange shaped loaf!).  But where the bread machine really comes into its own is using the dough setting which takes away all the hard work up to and including the first rise and then you continue as for a normal loaf and bake in the oven.

On the dough setting, my bread machine mixes the ingredients for 6 minutes then kneads for 34 minutes and then leaves the dough to rise at 32C for an hour.

For my basic white bread the ingredients for a 1lb loaf are:


¾ cup water
2 tbsp skimmed milk powder
2 tbsp butter
1¼ tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 cups Strong white bread flour
1 tsp dry yeast

I followed the instructions that came with the bread machine, using the measure provided, and this basically means putting all the ingredients in the baking pan in the order listed above.

If you are using a bread machine, follow the manufacturer's instructions and use the "dough" setting.  Alternatively, find a recipe for a traditional white loaf and follow to the end of the first rise.

Lyndon has a Staub cast-iron pot, I used my Chasseur cast-iron casserole dish. Basically the pot serves as a Dutch Oven.

My cooking pot

When the raise cycle had finished, I took the dough from the machine, knocked back the dough for a couple of minutes, but did not really knead it, shaped it into a ball and placed inside the casserole dish which I had lined with baking paper.

I have a fan oven and a smaller conventional oven and decided to use the latter.  I thought the temperature in the fan oven might rise too quickly and interfere with the rising of the dough whereas the conventional oven would heat up more slowly enabling the dough to rise.  I placed the dish in the oven with the lid on as instructed, set the temperature to 240C, set my alarm for half an hour, poured myself a glass of wine and relaxed.

After 30 minutes I took a sneaky peek to check that all was well - and as it looked OK,  replaced the lid and let it cook a further 5 minutes (ie completing the full 35 minutes advised by Lyndon) and then removed the lid leaving it to cook for a further 10 minutes.  I then took the dish from the oven, tapped the loaf to see if it sounded hollow - which it did - and left it to cool slightly for a further 5 minutes.

My loaf straight from the oven
After 5 minutes, I lifted the loaf from the dish and placed on a rack to cool.

My first attempt
It was a great success. My wife, Sylvi and her son, Luke, have both seen recipes using this cooking method but which follow a recipe needing no kneading at all.  We will give that a try soon.

In the meantime Luke has followed Lyndon's method and baked a loaf using two thirds white flour and one third light rye flour.  I fear this may have precipitated a loaf war on twitter!

Luke's loaf as seen on Twitter @Luke1972

Tonight I will have a go making a 50/50 loaf using strong white bread flour and strong wholemeal.  Watch this space.

John Austin

Hove, 23 May 2020