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As I mentioned in my previous post I also managed to squeeze in a nice little trip to Croatia with my partner last year.  We both quite fancied a trip somewhere sunny and relaxing, but were aware that we both get slightly bored just lying on the beach all day, so we wanted to be able to go and soak up a little culture too. We were on a bit of a budget and in all honesty weren’t overly fussed where we ended up, just as long as it was nice. We ended up staying in Cavtat on the Dalmation Coast. Now I’d previously been to Cavtat with my family and I’m not normally one for re-visiting places I’ve been, however, in this case I knew it was exactly what we were after. We managed to get the flight and accommodation without it costing a fortune and just had to hope that the weather was on our side.

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As you’ve probably guessed from the photos, the weather played it’s part pretty well (mostly… more on that later). Cavtat is a small town about 10 miles or so away from Dubrovnik. It’s small and pretty chilled out, but with a fair few restaurants and a small old town to wander around. It’s also nice and close to Dubrovnik, so in just 40 odd minutes on a boat you can be somewhere new. It’s a pretty impressive journey too, hugging the coast as you make your way to the imposing walled city you get some lovely views and can spot small little houses perched on top of the sea cliffs.

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When you get towards Dubrovnik itself you can start to make out little people walking along the city walls and can get a sense of just how impenetrable it must have appeared back in the day. I’ve heard many people say that photos rarely do Dubrovnik justice, and I’m inclined to agree. The feeling of being there is never going to be captured in photo.

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After getting off the boat the first temptation is to just shoot off into the back streets and see what you can find, which is exactly what we did. Dubrovnik obviously suffered extensive damage during the Croatian War of Independence but they’ve done a fantastic job of restoring it. There are lots of tiny houses all squashed together within the walls, and it’s hard to believe that people are living in them, but little signs like the washing hanging out of windows proves there are.  It’s also strange to think that the majority of the buildings and roofs were damaged, but when you look closely there are differing tile types on the roofs where they had to be replaced.

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I’m a big fan of cable cars – I think it’s the mix of getting brilliant views, being pretty terrified of heights and having childhood memories of going to the Heights of Abraham at Matlock Bath. It always makes for an exciting journey! Luckily Dubrovnik has a good cable car and it allows you some might impressive views of the Old Town below.

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As well as looking spectacular from up above, it doesn’t look too shabby from on the ground level either. It really does feel like an old medieval city and if you can get away from the crowds (tricky, but occasionally possible) then it can really feel like you’re in a time warp. I particularly like the little signs of modernity you can accidentally stumble upon, such as the Jägermeister and football net.

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You can’t really visit Dubrovnik without walking along the city walls. It’s a good way to get your bearings for when you’re back down at ground level, and allows for some good views out into the Adriatic Sea.

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Despite having mainly good weather, we did encounter a pretty hefty downpour on one of the days we were in Dubrovnik. Never a pair to miss an opportunity we ran to the nearest bar that had shelter and had a sneaky drink. I really like seeing how cities react when it rains. I remember one time I was in Rome and it started to bucket it down, and it was absolute pandemonium. Everyone running for the nearest Metro stop which quickly became uncomfortably crowded, all because of a bit of rain. Dubrovnik handled it in a much cooler fashion, with people whipping out their umbrellas and carrying on about their business (admittedly in a slightly quicker way…). Whilst having our drinks I saw a lot of people holding umbrellas walk past the little alley and thought it would make for a nice photo.

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As a break from the city sight seeing we went a boat trip that took us around the three main Elafiti Islands,  Koločep, Lopud and Šipan. It was a beautiful day and made for a nice change. Lots of fresh sea air, food and wine to have on the boat and even an accidental massive walk up a hill in the sweltering midday heat to find some ruins of an old church (that one was my fault…). We didn’t get a huge amount of time on each island, such is the nature of these boat trips, but it was enough to have a look around and get a bit of a feel for each one.

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It was great going back to Croatia, and Cavtat is definitely a place I’d recommend staying if you’re wanting to visit Dubrovnik. It had become a lot more ‘touristy’ in the few years between my two visits, but it was still a beautiful place to make your base. The crowds in Dubrovnik can be quite tiring, lots of cruise ship visitors descend on mass and it can be super crowded. Cavtat is a lot quieter, and also considerably cheaper despite having some great restaurants. This place in particular was unbelievable and I would say it deserves it top spot on TripAdvisor. Finally, I’ll leave you with one final reason why Cavtat was pretty special – the evening view from our apartment.

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In terms of Holidays 2014 was a bit of a treat for me as I managed to shoot away to sunnier climes twice in one year, which is something I’ve not had the luxury of for a while. I managed to get away in the Spring with my Parents to visit my Sister who lives out in Gran Canaria, and I also went to Croatia with my girlfriend for a nice summer break. Both were great and it also gave me a chance to play around with my camera again. I’ve not been great at taking photos recently and tend to just take photos of the bread I make and not much else, so I really enjoyed taking some holiday snaps. Getting away last year has also inspired me to save up for more adventures abroad in the future. I’ve been to a fair few places around Europe but there are many more I’d like to see. Obviously getting out of Europe would be amazing too but that would take a fair bit of saving up – one for in a few years I think!

First off was Gran Canaria. I went there in March last year and, as bad as this may sound, was surprised at how nice it was. Whenever I heard of Gran Canaria I tended to think of lairy Brits Abroad. I think the South of the Island is possibly a little bit like that, but my sister lives in Las Palmas which is in the North and is very different. It’s a proper working city so it’s not just people on their holidays, and there is a great promenade called “Playa de Las Canteras”. It was a stones throw from my sisters apartment and a great place to have a wander along in the morning sun.

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We also hired a car so we could escape up into mountains where there are some spectacular views of little villages set against some pretty imposing rocks. The most famous of which is Roque Nublo, which is this little chap below.

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I didn’t know a huge amount about Gran Canaria but I did know it was meant to be dry and dusty. Surprisingly it was actually cool and rainy on a couple of days when I was out there, and had been for a few weeks prior. Not ideal for giving my pasty body a bit of colour, but it did mean that the mountains were a lot more lush than I was expecting.

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At the beginning of our mountain exploration day I was determined to get some photos, unfortunately as we rose higher and higher the fog became thicker and thicker. When we arrived into Cruz de Tejeda for a coffee we could barely see 20 meters in front of us. I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, ready with for snapping away with my camera hanging round my neck and I was bloody freezing! I thought my chance to get any semi decent photos were long gone. However, as we slowly decended on our way to Roque Nublo we started to see glimpses of green grass and grey rock. Eventually we appeared to be driving through falling clouds, a surreal feeling but unfortunately one difficult to capture in a still image. I did however capture some of the impressive rock formations through the clouds which helped with the atmosphere if nothing else.

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After escaping the clouds we stopped and looked back and were treated with the view below. For the sense of scale click on the image for the full size.

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During the time we also visited the Cocodrilo Park. I’m normally quite wary of places with animals kept in captivity, for the pretty obvious ethical reasons. However this one does appear to do quite a lot of good work. A lot of animals are rescued from captivity by  SEPRONA, the Nature Protection Service in Spain. I imagine due to being held in captivity prior to being rescued they can’t be released back into the wild, so they are brought to the park to recover and live. I’m sure it’s not perfect, these things never are, but at least it does some good!

The bus stop for the park was in a pretty impressive location – I liked the contrast of the wild terrain and the mundanity of public transport.

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Despite the name Crocodrilo Park they do take in other animals too, although the primary occupants appear to the cold-blooded type. It’s hard not to take photos of interesting looking animals, so I was snapping away during our trip.

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We also visited Cenobio de Valeron – a series of caves built into the rocks which were used as grain stores. I didn’t get any particualrly original photos of the caves themselves. A quick google image search will bring up lots of photos though. As well as the impressive caves, there were also loads of Lizards – mainly Gran Canarian Giant Lizards. They were huge and because there were so many, lots of oppurtunies to try and get a photo of them. My favourite is the one below, I managed to get within a few metres of this bad boy.

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All in all it was a really enjoyable holiday and not what I expected at all. I can’t speak for the South of the Island, but in the the North if you can hire a car then you can visit some amazing place and see some spectacular views.

It’s been about a year since I first started dabbling with baking bread and I feel like I’ve attempted a decent variety of breads in that time. The vast majority of stuff I bake doesn’t grace these pages as if I documented them all I’d never get round to eating them, and that would be a disaster.  As well as the usual white and brown loaves I make,  I’ve also had a pop at spelt and rye bread, often plain but occasionally with something else thrown in for luck.

One thing I’ve discovered is I bloody well love bread with bits in it, and this is a great example of that. It’s a mix of wholemeal and white flour and some of the liquid is milk which makes it softer and leads to a tighter, more even crumb (I think!). There’s also a dollop of honey thrown in there which adds a slight bit of sweetness, but not so much as to overpower it.

I was very happy with overall bake of these loaves. They had a really nice crust and my single score down the middle of the loaves worked really well. I tend to overproof bread and it goes a bit flat, but this had a great rise and inside it was nice and light.

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As I’ve been baking my own bread for a while I’ve become fairly blasé about the smell of bread baking in my oven (now there’s a wanky sentence I never thought I’d type out) but when these beauties were baking the smell was incredible. I think it was the mix of walnuts, wholemeal flour and honey that created a really comforting smell, perfect for these dark autumnal evenings. I imagine the closer towards winter we get the darker my breads are going to get – they just feel more appropriate for this time of year.

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Now I actually added slightly less walnuts than the recipe called for (again, a James Morton one) because there did seem to be quite a few – 200g in total. I decided to lower it to 100g, partly just in case I buggered it up and ended up with a burnt loaf and 200g of wanuts in the bin. Next time I make this I think I will up the walnut quantity, as it was occasionally difficult to spot them hiding in there. It’s really tasty toasted in the morning with some butter and I also used some for a cheese and chutney sandwich. Highly recommended!

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Tea Loaf #1

I have very fond memories of toasted tea cakes from family holidays to Ashbourne. I’m not entirely sure why as I really wasn’t wasn’t keen on them at the time… I was never a fan of raisins and thought they ruined pretty much anything they were in. I was obviously a fussy eater as a child.

After thinking about Ashbourne I did a little searching and I’m pretty sure we always used to stop for a hot drink and (tea) cakes at the Tuck Stop on the Tissington Trail. I’ve not idea what it was called back then, but looking at the photos makes me think that was the spot. I got a little wave of nostalgia trying to figure out where it was we used to go!

Anyway, over time I’ve realised that raisins aren’t the work of the Devil, and it turns out I don’t mind a few of the little buggers finding their way into some dishes now and then, and this bread is a perfect home for them.  I followed this recipe, but rather than making one big loaf I made two little ones. I’ll explain why in a bit…

 

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This bread uses what I think is effectively an enriched dough, so it contains milk, butter and eggs. A fair bit of fat basically. It also contains lots of other tasty things, like sugar and spice. Due to the fact it has a higher sugar and far content then most other bread I make it seemed to take on colour a lot quicker. The first time I attempted this bread it ended up being an absolute bloody disaster. Probably the first time I ended up with something completely unusable.

I put all of the dough into one loaf tin and chucked it in the oven. The top of the bread rose quickly and confidently. Then, like an oven based interpretation of the Daedalus and Icarus legend the bread drifted far too close to the sun. The top started burning so I quickly tried to take the bread out of the loaf tin and flip it upside down but unfortunately the bread hadn’t been in the oven long enough. I managed to get it out of the loaf tin and then it collapsed into a sad, gloopy mess. I was very unhappy.

So this time I thought I’d split the dough and make two smaller loaves, and it was a success! I didn’t score the tops of these, I think they were too low down in the loaf tin to reach. They’re not perfect by any means but they tasted nice.

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Due to the fat from the butter, milk and eggs the crumb was fairly tight, but it was also nice and soft. Just like the tea cakes I mentioned before, this loaf is perfect when it’s toasted and has big slab of butter spread over it. You should also definitely have it with a nice cup of tea too.

 

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Naan Bread #1

I know what you’re thinking… “Why the hell are you still blogging about bread you big idiot?” And if you’re not thinking that, then you’re probably thinking “That’s not a naan bread, that looks like a burnt chapati”. I would agree with you whole heartedly. This did not work out as I expected.

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I absolutely love Indian food. I’d say it’s a Young Family Favourite. Whenever we return back to Chesterfield there is a 90% chance of a curry being eaten at some point. If one of us has something to celebrate I’d say it’s 99%. When I was a child I was introduced to the wonders of a curry by my parents and I’ve loved them ever since. I started off preferring a chapati but I steadily moved over to enjoying a good naan bread. Especially a peshwari naan with a fairly spicy curry, it’s the mix of the sweet bread with the hot curry. Brilliant.

I’ve attempted to make naan bread a few times, with decidedly mixed results. I’ve had some terrible ones and some fairly good ones, but I’ve never made amazing ones. I’d like to blame this on a lack of a tandoor oven, but you know the saying – “a bad workman always blames his tools”. So I’m determined to make a perfect naan bread, I’ll just have to keep practising.

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I’ve tried various recipes and often they include milk and yoghurt. This recipe was just flour, yeast, salt and water. The actual dough felt fine and I know that it was the “baking” that went wrong.  I say “baking” because this thing didn’t go near an oven, despite the recipe asking for it… Silly me. In the recipe (from this book, as usual) it suggests slapping the bread against the inside of the glass of a very hot oven or if your oven isn’t clean enough then pre-heat a baking tray and slap the bread straight onto that. I did try that previously and failed, so  thought I’d attempt to cook this on a heavy based frying pan on the hob. As you can probably see, this ended up burning it!

It was definitely edible, but it wasn’t fantastic by any stretch of the imagination. It was obviously charred in places, and was also a bit too dense. I’m going to try it again and attempt the hot baking tray, or even better a baking stone. I just need to buy one first… So at some point another naan bread will grace these pages, and hopefully it will look a lot tastier than this one!

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Fougasse #1

Well, this one was very satisfying to make. And eat. I’ll be honest, I’d never even heard of this bread before seeing the recipe for it and as far as I can remember I hadn’t seen it in any bakeries before.  Since starting baking I have seen it mentioned quite a lot, probably because it’s relatively easy to make but the end result is usually really impressive. Not having eaten it before meant I had no idea what I was actually aiming  for. I just had a rough idea of the shape which I’d seen in pictures on the internet and in my books. I’ve still no idea if the texture of what I created was “correct”, but I can say it was pretty bloody tasty so I’m guessing it was. The recipe I used was exactly the same as this one here by Richard Bertinet.

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If you’ve not really baked much bread before I would definitely recommend this one. I personally think it’s easier to make than a standard white loaf because you don’t really get a chance to over prove it, and it’s dead quick to cook because it’s a thin bread. On top of that, due to the fact they always tend to look good you’ll probably feel well proud of yourself (I know I did). That alone makes this a good confidence boosting bread to bake.

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The one I made was obviously pretty plain, so whilst being tasty it was also effectively thin, crusty white bread. Nothing wrong with that, but sometimes you just want something a bit more exciting. This style of bread lends itself naturally to having loads of tasty stuff just chucked into it. I’ve seen lots of recipes for this with olives, but I’m not a huge olive fan… Apart from olive oil – big fan of that. I think sun-dried tomato and parmesan would be very tasty, or red onion and pancetta. I’m definitely going to try both of them at some point in the future. I’m starting to experiment a bit more with bits in my bread so hopefully I’ll get some of them on here at some point.

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Like most bread that just consists of the 4 main ingredients, this goes stale fairly quickly. So that means you either have to just eat it all straight away, which is always fun… Or you can freeze it. I’ve got into the habit of freezing loads of my bread. It keeps surprisingly well, and once defrosted I find it’s fine to eat straight away. You can always chuck it in the oven for 5 minutes after defrosting just to crisp it up a bit too.

So that’s Fougasse. It looks good, tastes good and is easy to make, so there is no excuse to not give this one a shot!

Well, it feels like ages since I’ve blogged about anything! I didn’t mean to leave it quite so long without an update but I feel like I’ve had a particularly busy summer so far.

I headed back to my home town of Chesterfield to see my family and have my obligatory birthday barbecue. After that Kirsty and myself buggered off to Croatia for a week which was lovely. I took some holiday snaps and when I get round to sifting through them I’ll do a little blog post about my holiday. The photos aren’t the most exciting travel photos in the world but I think I’ve got a couple of alright shots whilst I was out there.

After that it was back to Edinburgh for a wedding, then all the way back to Chesterfield for another wedding! I’ve not had a weekend in my own flat for over a month, so I’m feel rather tired. However most of the summer frivolities seemed to have finished (or more specifically my money to fund these frivolities has finished) so I’ll get back onto documenting my bread baking!

During my time away I have actually done the odd bit of baking here and there which seemed to go quite well. For my birthday Kirsty treated me to a few baking bits and bobs, including “Dough” by Richard Bertinet which seems really good so far! Some quite interesting and fun recipes in there including “Bread Shots” which are basically little balls of bread stuffed with whatever you like!

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Kirsty also got me a proving basket which I’ve only used a couple of times so far, but I already love it. It helps shape the bread (especially useful if it’s a fairly wet dough) so you generally get a nice boule shape, and some nice little ridges which are purely aesthetic, but I quite like.

Here is the basket and first loaf I tried – not perfect but a decent tasty loaf of bread.

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During my time back in Chesterfield I also showed my Mum and Sister some of the basic recipes I’ve learnt over the last few months. It was really fun doing some baking with my family and they both say they’re going to give it a shot themselves. We made a basic white loaf and a focaccia, which is always a winner with people, it’s just so moreish.

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So that’s what I’ve been up to baking wise over the last month and a bit. I’m always looking for bready inspiration so if anyone has any recipes they’d recommend I’m all ears. I’m going to start experimenting with some other flours over the next few months, and play around with adding more stuff to the bread. I’ve got a big delivery of various flours and some seeds on the way so fingers crossed there will be some spelt and rye bread gracing these pages before too long!