Country Style
About Us
Bread time readingour unique culture  |  brands  |  news  
recruitment  |  bread time reading  
associations  |  responsibility  
Here you'll find all the latest book reviews and articles to do with bread and baking!

Going wild

Yeast is one of the great natural miracles - and one that we should hold in great esteem as it enables us to make three essentials: bread, beer and wine!

When the first caveman baked his first loaf, however, he didn't have baker's yeast available to him. The process of fermentation is enabled by the hundreds of thousands of strains of yeast that float upon the breeze. In Belgium they make an ale called lambic by leaving it in a flat open-topped vessel high up in the brew house and waiting for the indigenous yeasts to land on the new source of food. The resulting brew ferments very slowly and has a delightful sour character. But distinctive yeasts are also found much closer to home. Home bakers can even make their own sourdough starter from airborne yeasts. In his rather good book "The Handmade Loaf", Dan Lepard sets out a way for home bakers to make a "leaven" or sourdough starter. He suggests that you add small amounts of rye flour, strong white flour, raisins and yoghurt to warm water and then "feed" the mixture daily with additional flour until it is bubbling with life. Then you nurse this "mother" and re-grow it whenever you take some out to make a loaf.

At Country Style we have grown our own unique culture and it is the backbone of all our breads. It is said that during the Californian gold rush prospectors would carry a jar of their sourdough starter with them (clamped in an armpit to keep it warm as they stumbled through the rocky mountain winter). Perhaps the well regarded sourdough bread in San Francisco owes its rich taste to the descendants of those prospectors yeast colonies? There's no doubt that good sourdough bread has a magnificent depth of flavour. We hope that Country Style will be known for its unique strain of "Yorkshire" natural yeasts.

We visited the site of the old Knapton Lane Orchard. Once, one of the network of commercial apple orchards which ringed the city of York and supplied the local markets from the mid 1800s up to the 1920s.

The old orchard is divided into domestic gardens now but many of the original trees still remain. These trees form a unique and invaluable repository of the diverse apple varieties that used to make up our national heritage. Rare and indigenous varieties such as Flower of the Town, Ribston Pippin and Lord Hindlip can still be found here and it is the yeast cultures which flourish on the skins of these apples which we were looking for to help us grow our levain culture.

Joe Wood

OOH! AARGH! - Made in Devon

In the 1980's a manufacturer of tinned rice pudding ran advertisements that just went on about the wonders of Devon milk. They didn't make the claim that they had a secret recipe, or that there was anything very difficult about what they were doing, instead they pointed out rather sensibly that good food is linked to good ingredients and craftsmanship. Which is pretty much how we feel about our new venture Devonshire Desserts.

This is the latest addition to the Country Style family - the plant is in Okehampton, Devon, and will be specialising in cheesecakes. If it's true that the quality of ingredients are all-important when you're making rice pudding then it must be doubly so when you're talking cheesecake.

We are looking forward to turning out the richest, fruitiest cheesecakes. Desserts with plenty of Devonian deliciousness!

Joe Wood

Let them eat wedding cake

As the cheering subsides and everyone goes back to grumbling, the Royal Wedding does seem to have made us all a little more optimistic. For once the all important cake seemed to get some of the limelight. In February Fiona Cairns got the dramatic phone call and learnt that she was commissioned to make Will and Kate's wedding cake. (Ms Cairns cakes are sold in Harrods and Selfridges and she counts Paul McCartney among her fans - he orders one of her fruit cakes each Christmas). The cake that dominated the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace for the wedding of the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge took two days to set up, having been brought down from Leicestershire in sections. As well as being enormous the cake had a wealth of detail all linked to the "language of flowers", so Ms Cairns and her crew had to dash off several bouquets' worth of roses, daffodils, shamrock, thistles, oak leaves and acorns, myrtle, ivy leaves and lily of the valley all in white icing. It's a far cry from that pink and yellow stalwart - the Battenberg cake - which was first created in honour of the marriage in 1884 of Queen Victoria's granddaughter to Prince Louis of Battenberg, with the four squares representing the four Battenberg princes: Louis, Alexander, Henry and Francis Joseph.

Prince William also put in a special request for one of his childhood favourites the "chocolate biscuit cake" which has always been a winner with the sweet toothed royals. This delicacy is made from crumbled Rich Tea biscuits and dark chocolate. McVities were delighted to get the call and Paul Courtney, the firm's cake designer and development head chef, rustled up a large and elegant version of the Windsor's tea time staple. In some ways it was a very traditional option because McVities have made many of the wedding and christening cakes for members of the Royal Family starting with the wedding cake for the marriage of George V to Queen Mary in 1893!

Chocolate biscuit cake may be very delicious, but the hearty congratulations go to Ms Cairns and her team. Even when all the tiers have survived the journey to the venue it's still a tense and nervous time, and until it is assembled properly there is always the unthinkable possibility of dropping a vital layer only to see it smash on the floor! Best wishes to the happy couple from all of us at Country Style.

Joe Wood

Savouring the Sweet Stuff

With the Nation gripped by Corrie's Fiftieth Anniversary you have to wonder what Ena Sharples would make of the increasing number of cake crazes that are now all the rage. Mrs Sharples was not averse to an "iced fancy" but it's hard to see her tucking into cupcakes with the girls from "Sex and the City".

The cupcake has been around for ages but in 2001 the Magnolia Bakery in the West Village, New York got some prime time television coverage for Sarah Jessica Parker's favourite sugar rush. The rest, as they say, is history and within four or five years dedicated cupcake bakeries were springing up all over the place. The question is whether cupcake fever has run its course? Bakers have certainly shown a good deal of tenacity and inventiveness as they try to squeeze everything possible from the craze, there have been ghoulish Halloween cupcakes and one company has been making "cupcake bouquets".... that's right a dozen cupcakes bound together as if they were giant rosebuds in a display. (

But as soon as the cupcake started to falter it was on to the "Whoopie Pie", these originated in New England (America again!) you make them by sandwiching two cookies together with plenty of whipped cream. No one knows quite why they are called Whoopie but an unkind person would say it was the delighted cry of laundrymen everywhere, these "pies" are impossible to eat without squirting cream all over yourself. Before dismissing the Whoopie Pie as a fad it's worth noting that they even ended up on the shelves in Tesco, Asda and Marks and Spencer which makes them mainstream.

Another great success of the last four or five years is the Macaron - this is the French version of what British bakers used to call the Macaroon. Ours were about four inches across, substantial, chewy, rich with almonds and sat upon a sheet of rice paper; theirs are tiny, pastel-coloured and astonishingly pricy. The great French patissiers - Laduree, Pierre Hermes - specialise in weird and wonderful combinations of flavours. In the run up to Christmas, Hermes recommended "Chocolate & Foie Gras", or (as they put it) with a more traditional approach, "Fig, Eglantine and Foie Gras" Another of their seasonal offerings is a macaron flavoured with "White Truffle and Hazelnut." I suspect that even M&S will not be taking up flavour combinations like these.

Then there is the "What next?" question and there are already murmurings that the "next big thing" will be the éclair - once again you can banish any thoughts of the traditional baker's éclair - a six inch tube of choux pastry filled with cream and with some coffee icing to add glamour! One chic London hotel has already added the "Strawberry and Veuve Cliquot Champagne éclair" to its tea time menu. Or how about "Chocolate and Green Tea"? Or "Coconut and Lime Leaf? Will 2011 be the year of the éclair?

There's a trend here, fashionistas take an unremarkable bakery treat and make it smaller, more exotic and much more expensive. I think there's a good chance that the next item up for a makeover could well be the doughnut - whatever would Ena Sharples think of that?

Joe Wood

Grocer Own Label Awards

Multigrain Bagel
Bagels - then and now

Like so many old-established and delicious breads the humble bagel (in all its many different spellings) is surrounded by a host of myths and legends. Some books say that the bagel was a stirrup-shaped bread created to commemorate the victory of the Polish king over the Ottoman Turks in 1683, but this version sound very close to the story of Hungarian bakers creating the croissant during a siege by a similar Turkish invader. Well before this time "bajgiels" were a staple of the Polish national diet. And that leads us to the nub of the problem, bagels definitely have a Jewish pedigree, and some authorities attribute this to the manufacturing process. Jewish households were able to make the bagel dough before the Sabbath, leave it to rise during the day itself when no work is permitted and then bake it after the Sabbath was over. This fable seems like a good call as after the preparatory stages and slow fermentation bagels are quick and easy to bake.

The other key feature of the bagel (that's the American spelling, in 19th Century Britain they were spelt beigel) is the leathery, half crunchy crust. The combination of a dense yeast dough inside and the shiny-chewy crust means that bagels keep very well. This texture is a result the steaming. When the dough has proved, the ring shaped bagels are flooded in a deluge of steam; this effectively bakes the outside so that it doesn't expand any further and that makes sure that the inner dough stays dense. The traditional ring shape was developed for the convenience of street sellers who were able to carry a large number of bagels on a pole.

In the Americas there is a fierce rivalry between the "Montreal" style bagel which is made with added malt and sugar but no salt and topped with black poppy seeds or white sesame seeds, and the "New York" bagel (which tends to be unseeded, but does include salt in the recipe). The traditional London beigel has a rather denser crumb and a harder crust.

In Britain bagels are most popular in cities where there has been a vibrant Jewish community - Leeds, London, Manchester and Newcastle. Although the trend towards filled bagels has meant that as well as Jewish favourites like bagel with cream cheese, or cream cheese and smoked salmon; there are some rather un-Jewish variants like bagel with cream cheese and crisp bacon!

Joe Wood

"A bag of bagels please!"

Carmelli's Bagel Bakery

126-128 Golders Green Road, NW11 8HB.
020 8445 3063

This brightly lit bakery operates long hours and is at the heart of the social life in Golders Green North London. The bagels range from cream cheese; to smoked salmon and cream cheese; or "baby bagels" topped with chopped herring or egg mayonnaise for buffets. The bagels here are satisfyingly chewy. Jewish specialty breads such as Cholla are also good here.

Britain's First & Best Beigel Shop
(Also known as Aaron's Beigels)
155 Brick Lane, E1 6SB.
020 7729 0826

There's a serious rivalry between the two Beigel shops on Brick Lane. Their existence testifies to the fact this part of London once had a pre-dominantly Jewish community. Because they stay open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week they have become a magnet for clubbers and night-owls. Aficionados would have it that the sausage rolls (not a very Jewish delicacy) are better here than at number 159.

Brick Lane Beigel Bake
159 Brick Lane, E1 6SB.
020 7729 0616

When it comes to stopping off for a bag of beigels in the small hours the Brick Lane Beigel Bake is my favourite. You may have to queue while your patient cabbie waits a little way up the street, but the beigels here are fresh, a good size, and have a perfect slightly chewy crust. The competition with number 155 has also kept the prices down.

Happening Bagel Bakery
284a Seven Sisters Road, London N4
020 8809 1519

This cavernous bakery in Finsbury Park, North East London bakes an admirable range of bagels and is open late into the night. The bagels here have a very good chewy and crunchy crust - the rye bagel is particularly fine. The filled bagels include Coronation chicken, or salt beef and dill pickle. Those with a sweet tooth will enjoy the cinnamon and raisin bagels. This bakery also make industrial-sized cakes and Jamaica patties!

Bagel of the North
93 Grey Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 6EG
0191 260 5700

The cupcake side of the business ( seems to be stealing the limelight here but there are still decent bagels to takeaway, with elaborate daily specials such as "chicken, avocado, goats' cheese, salsa and pesto" - perhaps a little too complicated? It's hard to beat a simple, freshly-baked, bagel.

Joe Wood

Edinburgh: part one

The bakery business is very competitive in Edinburgh, and well-refreshed customers will be knocking on the backdoor of decent bakery shops in the small hours for something hot from the oven to sustain them.

Storries on Leith Walk is a typical, small bakery. Very busy and featuring a range of freshly baked goods the tantalising smell wafts down the street. One of the Scottish specialities is the "Morning Roll", this is a soft bread roll with a thin crust, the interior crumb is much fluffier and lighter than an English Bap or Tea Cake. They are excellent for making that other treat the bacon roll. You can also choose to have your morning rolls "dark" - the baker leaves a couple of trays in for some extra baking and they are tad crisper and browner.

Storries also make the rather disconcertingly named (well, to Southerners anyway) "Mince Pies". These are raised mutton pies with a rim of pastry around the top to contain the brown sauce that is the traditional accompaniment. Also good are the "Forfar Bridies" - these are pasties by another name, semi-circular in shape, flaky pastry outside and minced lamb and onions within. Very tasty. In Edinburgh traditional small bakers seem to be doing very well indeed.

Storries Home Bakery, 279 Leith Walk, Edinburgh

Joe Wood

Edinburgh: part two

The other great baking tradition in Edinburgh is the Italian Bakery. Like many port cities Edinburgh has a sizeable Italian community and this has led to the establishment of several Italian bakeries. One that is small but prosperous is Angelo's (or Marcella's - there seems to be some confusion over just what this place is called, but it does say Angelo's on the neon sign in the window). This is the archetypical local shop, but as well as bakery it serves as restaurant and café. You can pop in for a spaghetti bolognaise, a pizza, or coffee and cake at the handful of dimly lit, Formica topped, tables. Here the "Morning Roll" morphs into the "Italian Roll" - to the outsider the Italian roll is flatter, larger, with a more chewy foccacia-like crust and a slightly denser crumb. But the house specialities are the large cakes/tarts that are sold by the hefty slice. Italian/Scottish heritage means that a wedge of apple pie is 3cm deep with the outer pastry a mere 5mm thick, chock full of large pieces of apple. Good to eat, if a little on the messy side.

Other stand outs are the cherry tart and the chocolate tart. The patisserie work gets a little more prominence at Angelo's than at many Edinburgh bakeries and there are fancy marzipan logs; a majestic fruit slice and a chocolate truffle.

Angelo's (or Marcella's) Italian Bakery, 20 Brougham Place, Edinburgh

Joe Wood

Wakey Wakey to a Yorkshire delicacy: Rhubarb Pies

There's nothing better than a well-made rhubarb pie and at Country Style we make many thousand a week during the early spring.

The contrast between rich pastry and the sharpness of the rhubarb is very satisfying, even before you add a heavy dollop of creamy yellow custard!

At the moment forced, or "champagne" rhubarb, is the ingredient of choice with the fanciest chefs (forced rhubarb is available January until Mid March). At Brassiere Blanc in Leeds the chefs are serving rhubarb tarts; a classic rhubarb fool; and a rhubarb Cranachan. While last year, Rick Stein featured a rather more complicated dish: "roast foie gras, new season Champagne rhubarb, white miso, fennel and black truffle salad"!

But despite it's current role in the gastro-limelight rhubarb is a traditional Yorkshire delicacy and during the season in the dark and warm of the forcing sheds, tens of thousands of rhubarb plants are growing so fast that you can hear the snap and pop of their opening buds. The stems are still picked by candle-light so that they stay in the dark and keep growing.

Rhubarb growing became established in Yorkshire because there was plenty of coal - to heat the sheds - plus a good train service to rush the tender crop to London. The heighday of the "rhubarb triangle" (Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell - but frequently incorrectly referred to as being located between Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield) came at the end of the last century when rhubarb was the wonder food of its day and much prized for remarkable purgative properties.

Only last week Look North carried a news story about new reaseach which shows that eating baked rhubarb could help fight cancer.

Whatever the medicinal benefits I think I will still be opting for rhubarb pie because of the way it tastes!

Joe Wood

Leeds to Lucerne

October saw me travelling to Lucerne and the The Worshipful Company of Bakers' Richemont Course. The Richemont Craft Bakery School sets standards for the rest of the world and covers everything from craft baking to chocolate work. As well as formal lectures and practicals Richemont organises trips for visiting students to visit bakers, chocolatiers and confisiers all over Switzerland. I would recommend that anyone even slightly doubtful about the pre-eminence of Swiss bakers and patissiers should make this trip as the school manages to combine both traditional standards and modern state of the art techniques. The Richemont Club embodies all that is good about International co-operation and there are branches in several European countries. It seems to me that this is just more evidence proving that baking is the universal language.

Joe Wood

Dirty Carrots and Hand Made Loaves

As we look back on the first decade of the new millennium the noughties may be remembered as the decade of the Farmers' Market.

Foodie shoppers have bought in to the idea of local and natural fresh food and that has been good for the bakery industry. A classic example is the occasional relationship between the bakers at St John Restaurant in London and the Islington Farmers' Market. At St John they make very good bread. Fergus Henderson is head chef of the Michelin starred restaurant and the bakery is headed up by Justin Piers Gellatly. From time to time the bakers take a van full of loaves to the Farmers' Market, there they up the price and still sell out briskly - they make very good sourdough (both white and brown). The irony is that the restaurant is only a short walk away from the site of the market and if the foodies of Islington had any nous they could walk down the road and get the same bread more cheaply and hot from the oven!

Back in the day when every High Street had a craft bakery, good bread was a very localised experience, different regions had different breads (see "Round Britain by bun") and these variations are worth preserving. At St John they make the most magnificent Eccles cakes, large and heavy with fruit, they are served as a bar snack with a wedge of Lancashire cheese. No wonder they got a Michelin star.

The Bakery, St John Bar and Restaurant, 26 St. John Street London, EC1M 4AY

Joe Wood

No Boundaries for Sir Terence Conran

Sir Terence Conran has an unrivalled track record when it comes to predicting which way the intelligent restaurant-goer will jump. His design acumen first underpinned the success of Habitat, then a couple of dozen top restaurants and now, at an age when others might expect him to be happily retired, he is still embarking on new ventures. The "Boundary Project" which opened in 2009 is jaw-droppingly ambitious - there's a slick hotel complete with a roof terrace bar that's a boon for anyone (who like Sir Terence) enjoys a cigar. There's a smart restaurant and cocktail bar down in the basement. And most importantly of all, bolted onto one side of the building is the Albion Caff and Bakery. Sir T has always understood the pulling power of fresh bread and his "Gastrodome" on the South Bank of the Thames included a bakery that not only served the restaurants - Pont de La Tour; Cantina del Ponte; Butler's Wharf Chophouse - but also lead the foodie shopping opportunities.

At Boundary the Albion Caff is a glorious and informal place serving the best of British food - things like really good home made pork scratchings, proper breakfast served throughout the day. Late nighters can tuck into a splendid Welsh Rabbit or Kedgeree. This ultra modern version of the traditional "Caff" is backed up by a craft bakery with an eclectic product range (it looks to me as if the bakers are given a pretty free hand and make whatever the fancy inspires them to bake). Successful lines range from Guinness bread, to a classic Bloomer by way of lemon rye; chestnut bread; baguettes; almond croissants; golden garlic croissants; apple turnovers; cupcakes and full on cakes. The level of skill is high and the level of innovation is even higher! You can sign up to Albionsoven on Twitter and they will send you a tweet whenever a batch of muffins comes out the oven so that you can rush down to Albion and get them while they are piping hot. I don't know if that would work for every High Street bakery but I bet it is perfectly in tune with the folk who live in and around Shoreditch.

Albion Caff & Bakery, 2-4 Boundary Street, London, E2 7DD (020 7729 1051)

Joe Wood

Round Britain by bun

One of the engaging things about the bakery trade is the way that we guard our heritage. Most traditional bakers subscribe to the "if it isn't broken don't fix it" philosophy and continue to produce baked goods their fathers would have recognised. There is also a strong regional bias to baking and many similar products have different names depending on just where in the country they have been made. Thus a Welsh cake may be Welsh and a Scotch pancake may be Scottish but they look remarkably similar when they crop up on the same tea tray! Here's my guide to de-coding some regional delicacies:

bannock is a Scottish term for a loaf with a high proportion of oatmeal, some bakers add bacon fat for flavour and the bannock is raised with baking powder.

Bara Brith
is the Welsh for "speckled bread" and that is just what it is: a yeast raised dough, heavy with fruit and plenty of mixed spice. It's best enjoyed sliced and buttered. A true tea bread.

Barm Cakes
these are large soft bread rolls, or baps, often made from wholemeal flour. Barm is the Lancashire word for the froth on top of working beer (used as a raising agent for the buns). It also gives rise to the expression "a bit of a barm pot" meaning frothy but insubstantial.

Bath Bun
the Bath Bun dates back to the 19th Century. By the time of the Great Exhibition in 1851 records show that many thousand "London Bath Buns" were consumed. The buns were originally a brioche or rich egg and butter dough topped with crushed caraway seed comfits. Today's Bath bun is made from a sweet yeast dough and is sprinkled with crushed sugar after baking and sometimes has a sugar lump in the centre of the bun.

Black Bun
this is a formidable Scottish treat. A thin pastry case contains a thick black mass of dried fruit that has been squashed together. The Black Bun is traditionally offered to "First Footers" on Hogmanay and is said to cure developing hangovers!

Chelsea Bun
A personal favourite of mine from among our own range. These buns were created by the Hands family and were sold at the Old Chelsea Bun House on Grosvenor Row, London. They probably date from the early 1700's. The recipe has changed over the years and dried fruit is now added. Like many buns this variant has stayed in favour because it makes a useful way for a baker to use up any spare dough: roll it out, sprinkle with dried fruit, roll it up and then cut across the roll to make the buns.

Devonshire Splits
these are sweet, white, yeast raised bread buns made with milk. They are at the heart of the traditional cream tea - the buns are split and loaded with clotted cream and jam. If the filling is changed to clotted cream and treacle the correct name is "Thunder and Lightning".

Fat Rascals
these are superstar Yorkshire rock buns, made with plenty of fruit and a decent whiff of spice. Another super favourite of mine!

this is an East Kent tea bread, there is nothing very special about it apart from a rather nice name, (although they do contain a little lard for flavour) tradition has it that they should be baked with a hole in the middle.

Pitchy Bread, Pikelets and Crumpets
it is claimed that the griddle-cooked, very light, yeast raised batter was invented in Wales (pitchy bread), and that it then migrated to the North of England where it became known as a pikelet. Then bakers in the South of England put much the same mix into a ring mould before cooking and it became crumpet!

Saffron Buns
there is a long tradition of Cornish bakers making "golden" buns heavy with saffron. Some say this dates back to the days when the West of England ports were vital to overseas trade and we were a saffron producing nation.

Sally Lunn
a rich, yeast raised bun containing cream, eggs, plenty of spice and sometimes grated lemon peel. There is a good deal of academic squabbling over the derivation of the name. A bun named Sally Lunn is first mentioned in 1780 - but in her book Modern Cookery published in 1845 Eliza Acton has a recipe for a "rich French breakfast cake" called solimenne which scholars say is a version of the French "Soleil et Lune" (sun and moon cake), which in turn became "Sally Lunn" when shouted by a West Country pastry cook! My mother and father first started making Sally Lunns at their bakery in Starbeck, and they were always very popular indeed. It also made me popular, when I used to take two or three into school with me!

Singing Hinny
Singing Hinnies come from Sunderland and it is said that they get their name from the noise (or 'singing') they make when they are being fried in a heavy pan. These flat scones are raised with baking powder and contain both lard and butter for flavour as well as raisins. In her family recipe Sophie Grigson insists we should use a piece of lamb fat to grease the griddle, it's not often you bake anything using butter, lard and lamb fat!

Stotty Cake
this is a yeast raised bread, made with a touch of margarine or lard and it's a big favourite in the North East of England.

Welsh Cakes, Scotch Pancakes and Drop Scones
three different names for what is essentially the same thing. These are all cooked on a griddle and contain self-raising flour, butter, mixed fruit (sometimes), an egg and some mixed spice (sometimes).

Belgian Bun
this is a sweet yeast dough bun, containing sultanas and usually topped with fondant icing and half a glace cherry. The bun is usually round or sometimes square shaped, with rounded off edges, making it similar in appearance to a Chelsea bun. No firm link has so far been established between the bun and Belgium! Belgium produces as one of its specialities a very similar pastry (with much less icing) known as a couque suisse.

Whigs and Scarborough Muffins
these are spiced plain rolls containing butter, cream, nutmeg, mace, cloves and caraway seeds. The Hawkshead Whig was said to have been the favourite bun of William Wordsworth when he lived in the Lake District.

Joe Wood

Bringing the Alps to the Dales

Betty's is another iconic bakery, and it too owes some of it fine principles to the Continent. Betty's founder - Frederic Belmont trained as a baker in Switzerland at the turn of the century. In 1919 he set up Betty's as a bakery, café and tea rooms and since then the business has gone from strength to strength. Today his great nephew Jonathan Wild heads up what is still a family business. All the baking is done in a craft bakery in Harrogate that supplies five other Betty's café /shops in North Yorkshire as well as the iconic Betty's Tearooms on Parliament Street Harrogate. It's worth noting that none of the Betty's outlets is more than 30 miles from the bakery - any further and it would be impossible to maintain a constant supply of fresh bread.

During the summer of 2008 the Harrogate Betty's went through a major refurbishment and reorganisation of its floor space, a smart new retail shop was added and the old sales area is well on its way to becoming a new café . Meanwhile the original café and Spindle room continue to do terrific business - if you fancy having breakfast there at the weekend come early, although they don't start serving until 9am it's not unusual to see the queue forming at 8.30am! In the 1960's Betty's merged with tea and coffee specialists Taylor's of Harrogate and together they have gone on to market Yorkshire Tea and various Taylor's Coffees through supermarkets on every high street. It's very unusual to find any firm that manages to be obsessed about quality and artisan production techniques on the one hand - Betty's make some very fine hand-made loaves - while still being alert to the opportunities of the mass market on another - witness the astonishing success of Yorkshire Tea. Perhaps Betty's most sensational loaf is the Swiss Breakfast Bread, this is a large and elegant sourdough bread with an off-white crumb and a very good crust. The sourdough taste is present but not over-assertive. Also worth trying are the Swiss Fitness Loaf; the Mouse Bread (an organic white loaf cooked in a wood fired oven for a well coloured crust); and the Spelt and sunflower bread. As you'd expect given the amazing popularity of Betty's tearoom the sweeter lines are also very well made - check out the Fat Rascals (a sort of superstar Yorkshire rock bun, plenty of fruit and a decent whiff of spice) or there are pikelets and splendid traditional white muffins. Betty's is something of a Yorkshire institution call in for tea and you'll find traditional values and a genuine love of baking go hand in hand.

Betty's, 1 Parliament Street, Harrogate, North Yorkshire, HG1 2QU

01423 877300

Joe Wood

French flair woos English shoppers

In 1932 a baker opened for business in the Rue du Cherche Midi in Paris and the Poilâne story started its first chapter. Like many young businessmen Pierre Poilâne had his share of luck and after World War II the large, round, sourdough loaves he favoured came into their own. At this time most French housewives were thoroughly sick of the black bread that had seen them through the years of occupation, and Poilâne's large white loaves quickly became fashionable. It helped that they were sourdough because that meant they kept much better than the baguettes (baguettes went stale so quickly that bakers had to make them at least twice a day - this morning's bread would not do to accompany dinner). The Poilâne recipe was a simple one stone ground flour, sea salt from the Guerande and a wood fired oven, this is still the rule today. Lionel Poilâne took over the family business in 1970 and some thirty years later he opened a shop in London, due to our rather fierce health and safety regulations it was another two years before the London shop got its own wood fired oven. The British customers posed another problem for him, the big (2kg) loaves are magnificent and do keep well but they cost around the £9 mark, and very few Brits were comfortable about parting with such a large sum for a loaf of bread. It also proved difficult to persuade them to pop in for half a loaf (sold by weight) or even a quarter - it's just not how we do things over here! So saying, the Poilâne sourdough is a very good loaf, it has just enough authentic sourness and a magnificent crust, this is no loaf for those who wear dentures. The croissants made at the Elizabeth Street bakery are also worthy of a mention very flaky, very buttery without falling into the trap of being too greasy. Today Lionel's daughter Apollonia heads up the company and it continues to grow.

Poilâne, 46 Elizabeth Street, London SW1W 9PA

020 7808 4910

Joe Wood

I'm With Homer

There's something fabulous about a good doughnut. Each doughnut is a few minutes of pure indulgence, you don't eat doughnuts because they are good for you; and you don't eat doughnuts in order to show off. We all eat doughnuts because we like them. Somewhere along the line the food we eat risks becoming disconnected from pleasure, sure we all know that we should be eating more healthily but one of the benefits you get from food should still be enjoyment, as Homer Simpson knows only too well.

At Country Style we're proud of our doughnuts and are long term supporters of National Doughnut Week - this year it runs between 10th and 17th May and this year Country Style will be making its usual donation to the Children's Trust.

On a recent visit to London I popped into a branch of Krispy Kreme to try out their doughnuts - strictly in the spirit of research you understand! KK have been selling fresh, hot, glazed doughnuts since 1937 and their red logo and old-fashioned packaging reflects their position as a cultural icon. Their doughnuts are very American. To European tastes they are very much too sweet, and then there's the question of balance - a jam doughnut needs the right combination of fresh cooked dough and jam; cream doughnuts should be neither all cream or all bun.

Some of the 15 or so varieties on offer are interesting - the one with "maple flavour icing"; the "chocolate iced and custard filled"; the "powdered blueberry filled". But none of these are cheap - an Original Glazed costs £1.10; a plain ring doughnut £1.20; and filled doughnuts £1.35. Krispy Kreme's strategy is to try and sell doughnuts by the dozen and they are sized and priced accordingly. A dozen Originals will set you back £7.45 (works out at 62p a doughnut, which just goes to show how expensive buying a single doughnut can prove). The KK doughnuts would be a lot nicer if they were a bit bigger and not so sickly sweet.

As always the Japanese have their own take on the doughnut question and it has arrived in Britain with the first Beard Papa Cafe opening on Oxford Street in London. At Beard Papa (he's an odd looking cartoon character with a yellow hat like a sou'wester, a white beard and a pipe) you get "fresh'n natural cream puffs". Patissiers will recognise their old friend the choux bun, but filled with confectioners' cream - as the blurb would have it, "A delectable crunchy puff stuffed with delicious whipped cream custard". Give me an eclair any day. They are strangely soggy to eat and once again err on the side of oversweet. A single "Original Vanilla Cream Puff" costs £1.29 (£5.99 for five and £10.99 for ten). They also do flavoured puffs that include a flavour of the day. These "puffs" are just plain spooky and I will be very surprised if they ever catch on.

Because of the Country Style recipe and the way we cook our doughnuts they make the perfect indulgence and even the careful will be happy with the 145 Kcal per doughnut - after all according to their literature an Original Glazed Krispy Kreme contains 217 Kcal and is nearly 20% sugar. It's time to enjoy a decent doughnut... and I do mean enjoy.

Joe Wood

The Whole Story

Whole Foods Market, The Barkers Building, 63-97 Kensington High Street, London W8 5SE

020 7368 4500

When we were in London earlier in the year we made a point of visiting the huge new shop set up by the Whole Foods Market group over three floors in what was once the Barkers Building. There had been a lot of comment in the press about beautiful presentation being offset by sky-high prices and also speculation about just how true to the Organic ideal this ostensibly worthy retail operation manages to be. Whole Foods Market was started in 1980 by John Mackey in the USA and there are now 195 stores scattered across the globe. What is interesting about the new store (which is more of a tourist attraction than a corner shop!) is the importance they place on bread and baking. The bakery counters get pride of place just inside the front door, and there is a feeling of spaciousness helped by the high ceiling. They have also set out elegant displays of freshly baked bread on small tables so that the crowds of customers swirl around them as they press into the stores - since it opened the shop has been very busy. The bakery produces 35 different kinds of bread and the list changes from day to day as different breads are replaced by others. Whole Foods Market has a reputation for taking bread seriously and in the U.S.A. they have a huge bakery plant dedicated to producing gluten free products which are then distributed from store to store. In London they obviously want to make a mark and it can be no coincidence that they leave the sacks of Shipton Mill flour stacked under the counter in plain sight. The bread is well made, there is a good range, but....and it's a big but, prices are astonishingly high. When interviewed in the London Evening Standard one customer observed, "I don't think Londoners are ready to pay over £5 for a loaf", and you have to agree even thought the loaf in question was nice looking 1,300g square tin, rye bread. It cost £5.13, which makes it strictly a tourist purchase rather than part of the weekly shop.

Joe Wood

"Bread Matters : The State of Modern Bread and a Definitive Guide to Baking Your Own"

Written by Andrew Whitley, published by 4th Estate.

In twenty years time it will be interesting to look back at this book and assess the verdict of history. Whitley is a passionate man and founded the Village Bakery in Melmerby as long ago as 1976 - there's no doubt that can bake a good loaf, and there is no doubt that he has done a great deal to popularise the sourdough loaf.

In this fat book he lays into the plant-baking industry, he attacks the nutritional content of plant-baked bread; he blames fast roll mills for diminishing mineral and vitamin levels; and he worries about enzymes. In short he sees everything as very black and white. Craft Bakers, yes! Plant Bakers, no!

A lot of what he says is very interesting and there are certainly some terrific recipes for the home cook - calzoni; potato and quinoa bread; arkatena bread from Cyprus; caraway rye bread; and many more. But his commentary on the baking industry comes from an extreme standpoint and is sometimes well outside the mainstream of reality. We would all like to eat wild salmon, but we all know that on 99 occasions out of 100 we can only get, and we can only afford, its farmed cousin. With the national diet in such a terrible state it would have been a good thing if he had made the case for people eating more fresh bread. At Country Style we stand squarely behind fresh bread, the technique of part-baking means that supermarket customers can pick up bread that is straight from the oven. Fresh bread has the most appetising smell in the world, and that aroma will do more to change the bread eating habits of Britain for the better than any rant against the Chorley Wood Process. Let's start by getting people to see the merits of fresh bread and then convert them to more artisan breads, such as wholemeal, rye and sourdough. Surely it is more worthwhile to encourage several million ordinary customers to enjoy fresh bread than to provide a small elite with ultra-traditional, slow-risen, exotic breads?

Joe Wood

Seven of the Best

Seven bakeries in and around central London (each chosen for its own special star turn!), by Joe Wood

Click here to view this article as a PDF file.

To download this file directly to your computer, right-click on the link above and select "save target as". You need Adobe Acrobat to view PDF files.

Baker & Spice
54-56 Elizabeth Street, Belgravia, London SW1W 9PB
(020 7730 3033)
47 Denyer Street, Chelsea, London SW3 2LX
(020 7589 4734)
75 Salisbury Road, Queens Park, London NW6 6NH
(020 7604 3636)

The original Baker & Spice was set up by Gail Mejia in a traditional bakery on Walton Street just around the corner from Harrods. To the rear of the shop and downstairs were a pair of magnificent (and ancient) gas fired ovens installed in Victorian times and still working when Baker & Spice were obliged to move out. Now there are three shops across London but all with the same vibe. You'll find a communal table with newspapers, jams and preserves on offer and there is always a commendably unbending attitude to the issue of quality, this is (in the best sense of the word) an ethical business where the search for excellence is on-going. At B&S the signature products are the croissants and the sourdough breads. The croissants are large, flaky and benefit from being freshly baked while the sour dough loaves fall at the "lighter" end of the genre. Gradually B&S has broadened its appeal and is becoming more of a café and a food shop than a purist bakery. We must hope that these diversifications do not undermine the quality of the bread!

Dunn's Bakery
6 The Broadway, Crouch End, London N8 9SN (020 8340 1614)

Despite being called "Dunn's" the bakery in Crouch End has been in the Freeman family for over 150 years, which makes them a fifth generation family of bakers very much like ourselves! But Dunn's is part of a very select group as this baker's shop is still very much at the heart of a community. In the often featureless expanse of North London, Crouch Hill has managed to retain a really villagey feel and, as was once true of every village, at the heart there is a bakery. Currently the business is run by Christopher and Christina Freeman, despite the fact that Christopher is now registered blind. One of his favourite sayings is that "a basket of bread graces any table and is essential as a bowl of fruit", he might have added that fine bread is also just as good for you as that apple a day. Dunn's produce a large range of breads and it is interesting to note how the variety ethnic groups in Crouch End are reflected in the list: ryecob loaves (40% rye); scofa (traditional Scottish crofter's soda bread); crusty white oven bottom breads like cobergs, cottage loaves, bloomers, Danish and crusty rolls; white tin breads (sandwich, split tin and farmhouse); spekkle (with sunflower seeds and soya flakes); ciabatta (plain or with olives); shamrock (an Irish soda bread with buttermilk and oats); sunflower cob (honey and sunflower seeds); oatie (oats, wheat and malt flour); malt "n" seedy (a tin loaf with malt); baguettes (from French wheat); and that old favourite Hovis. It is grand to see a successful, traditional, family bakers bucking all the trends.

Paul - Bakery, Shop and Tearoom
115 Marylebone High Street, London, W1 (020 7224 5615)

There's no doubt about it, the Paul chain of bakeries is something of a monster; not content with 250 shops in France they now have 30 more scattered across the world with nearly 20 in Britain. The business started in Lille in 1889 - around the same time as our family started in the flour milling business. Even though Paul is now a large, slick and International business they are to be congratulated for sticking to the principles that make for good bread and the bakeries (which at Marylebone you can glimpse through a window by the toilets) are a blend of the traditional: proper proving baskets - and the modern: plenty of stainless steel. The loaves are good, particulalry the "Country" bread, the "Six Grain" and the "Bio". The croissants on the other hand are a bit of a let down - they are certainly buttery enough but the texture is very light indeed and they seem a little too insubstantial. I'm convinced that the perfect croissant should always have an echo of breadiness. The star turn here is the "Palmier". These pastries are just about perfect - large, not thick but very brittle with a grand flavour. Filling enough to be the perfect compliment to a cup of tea. The management of Paul leave nothing to chance apparently they even insist on wheat grown to their own specifications - over 8,500 acres of it! When you visit Paul, be sure to try the palmier.

Maison Bertaux - Patisserie and Tea Room
28 Greek Street, London W1 (020 7437 6007)

This shop and bakery has occupied the same cramped site in Soho for over a century. The lady who runs it at the moment started as a Saturday girl during the war and it is hard to spot anything that has changed, certainly not the decor. You can only suppose that once upon a time this bakery served Soho's French Community before ending up marooned in the modern world. Somehow Bertaux manages to cling on to the older, more eccentric, Bohemian feel of a bygone age and this shows up in the patisserie which is outstanding - the small fruit tarts and the special occasion cakes are elegant and delicious. Look out for the Paris Brest and the simpler stuff like the traditional eclairs. The star turn here, however, is the croissants which may well be the finest in London. The proprietor Michelle is coy about just what flour they use and there was a ghastly period a year or two ago when they changed the recipe until public outcry made them revert to the old version! These croissants are very flakey and buttery but with great many, quite thick layers. All of which makes them very satisfying to eat. The variants - like the almond croissant, pain au chocolat and even the cheese croissant that's a lunch time favourite are all very well, but I urge you to try the plain croissant in all its simple glory. You have to salute the place, Maison Bertaux is probably the last café in London that refuses to have an espresso machine!

J. Grodzinski & Daughters
9 Northways Parade, Swiss Cottage, London , NW3 5EN (020 7722 4944)

Grodzinski's typifies the rich tradition of Jewish bakers. The Grodzinski family business has its roots in Vilna in Lithuania but by 1888 they had already established themselves in the East End of London. As the Jewish communities have re-located over the last century, so have the bakers and the four Grodzinski shops are now in North London. For anyone passionate about bread it is interesting to explore the links between Jewish dietary restrictions and the styles of loaf we associate with Eastern European bakeries. The Grodzinski product range includes a really stunning "Rye Granary Wholemeal" rich with carawy seeds and with a very good texture - rye often has the reputation for being chewy, but not the Grodzinski. They also make good cholla plaits and bulka - a loaf made with egg-rich, slightly sweet cholla dough - as well as rolls, beigels, and platzels. There's no mistaking that Jewish customers have a well developed sweet tooth - Grodzinski's make several kinds of doughnut including jam, ring and iced, but the dietary laws which curtail the use of dairy products mean that they have to offer a custard or mock cream doughnut, and I would back our real cream doughnut any day!

Flour Power City
Unit 5b, Juno Way, Elizabeth Industrial Estate, Surrey Quays, London SE14 5RW (020 8691 2288)
Bread sold Tuesday to Saturday at a stall in Borough Market, London SE1.

As you'd guess from the name Flour Power City is one of the newer, whizzier, baking operations to hit London and they sell mainly through stalls at farmer's markets including the monster Borough Market which, even if you are only a bit of a foodie, is well worth a visit on Friday and Saturday. The bakery was set up by Matt Jones who was previously a chef at various well respected London restaurants, and they supply a good many top restaurants with fancy breads. Interestingly the bakery recognises the contribution of its flour supplier and gives credit to Shipton Mill who still mill the old fashioned way - low speed with stones. Flour Power make a good rustic-looking organic loaf; and one that is 100% rye. They also do range of rolls and some of the crustiest baguettes in town. From their cake range the chocolate brownie stands out, very rich and with just the right sort of sogginess - they use Caillebaut couverture which may account for the chocolatiness, but our mini chocolate brownies have the edge on them when it comes to presentation. Flour Power City's pastries are also well made, there's a competitive pain au chocolat, an almond croissant and a trad pain au raisin.

Konditor & Cook
46 Grays Inn Road, London WC1 (020 7404 6300)

So, just when is it that a "cake" becomes a "dessert"? I suppose our lemon torte is a cakey sort of dessert and our lemon meringue pie is a desserty sort of cake. Konditor & Cook have now got four shops across London and they have specialised in cakes - even though they produce the sort of cakes that you have to eat with a fork. In an article she wrote for Vogue magazine, Nigella Lawson paid Konditor & Cook a serious compliment describing their products as "Fabulous cakes, the sort you'd make yourself if only you had the time, energy or inclination," and that's really the point: a good dessert (or a good gateaux or torte) should be something that is either elaborate or difficult to do well at home. K&C do a very good lemon tart with just the right balance between sweet and sour, they use unwaxed organic lemons, very light pastry and the filling has a very good texture. Their banofee pie is very well made and they have a seasonal range that includes pumpkin pie during the autumn and a low sugar bramley apple pie. K&C's four outlets also act as cafes, so it is only logical that their range of cakes and desserts is aimed at that market. But like our lemon meringue pie I'll bet that K&C cakes are a vital lifeline for a good many harassed dinner party hosts!

Visit us on Facebook Visit us on Twitter Visit us on YouTube