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Baking Against the Grain

I think it is fair to say that we don’t like being misled, especially so if it is done cynically. My simple view of sourdough bread - and I think most bakers - is that it is bread made using live, wild yeast and bacteria culture to slow prove the dough with nothing artificial and no trickery. If only the world was that simple. Since there is no legal standardisation of the term sourdough, large food producers can use the term whimsically. As a result, supermarkets are full of bread called sourdough but that is still produced in the highly efficient, highly mechanised Chorleywood way. That is, for maximum profit and least flavour. To feel comfortable about calling it sourdough, various flavours and other stuff has been added from the opposite end of the artisan spectrum. This is not sourdough, created with care, good ingredients, skill and time: this is fast food and calling it sourdough sleight of hand.

I am far from the only person getting hot under the collar about this. The Real Bread Campaign, Vanessa and others have been lobbying DEFRA of late to try to persuade them that the sourdough term ought to have a legal definition which would mean that consumers know what they are buying and to give artisan bakers a fighting chance against the big producers. It seems to me that DEFRA isn’t keen to make too many waves and so the lobbying is not getting anywhere quickly. Read Vanessa’s experience here.

Sourdough Centre-stage at DEFRA

…and so back to baking… Vanessa has persuaded me to feature loaf cakes this week. I have to admit that as a bread baker I rarely find myself baking traditional cakes: happily I have children who do that and enjoy messing up the kitchen. However, a cake in the shape of a loaf, I am up for that.

Going Underground

There is a story to this cake. It began about 5 years ago when I started writing my first book when I advertised for recipe testers on Twitter. At the time I had just 40 followers and one of the many lovely ladies that came forward was Lynn Hill. Little did we know that 5 years on, I am testing one of her recipes from her second book. I contributed a recipe to Lynn’s first book, and while I am a bread baker by nature, I do love the occasional cake, and have been known to pop along to one of her Clandestine Cake Club meetings which has 17,221 registered members and 200 groups around the country.

Of course I had to check the recipe out, and sit with a nice cup of tea, just to see if it was really as good as it looked and it really is an outstanding loaf. In fact it is so good that I recommend not just that you bake two and give one away to a friend but also that you use a Panibois wooden case to bake it in for easy transport and storage. The Archiduc ones are best for this recipe unless you want smaller ones in which case divide into two of the Duc ones. Of course I couldn’t resist fiddling about a bit with the basic recipe, so I used some frozen mulberries instead of raspberries and dusted the top with golden granulated sugar and vanilla powder.

My main tip, aside from making two, is not to be alarmed by the viscosity of the batter. It is really quite liquid and my oven, which is rather fierce at times, took an hour to bake this recipe through. This might be because the defrosted mulberries were more liquid, but the Mulino Marino Type 0 flour has about 12% protein in it and is a great flour to bake a loaf cake such as this and it is slightly more absorbent than regular self-raising flour. I am also slightly more generous with the bio baking powder…erring on the side of a good heaped teaspoon. If, like me you have a fan oven then cover the loaf with some foil for the last 20 minutes to stop it catching.

So I am delighted to say that we have a copy of Lynn’s book to give away this week, to someone ordering the Mulino Marino Type 0 flour this week.


CONTENT From A Year of Cake by Lynn Hill

RECIPE BY Claire Howarth

Born in India in 1869, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was the
 leader of the Indian nationalist movement against British rule and is widely considered one of the greatest political and spiritual leaders the world has ever seen. Known as ‘Mahatma’, meaning ‘great soul’, Gandhi is renowned for his non-violent demonstrations and inspiring struggle for justice. To celebrate the life of such a remarkable man, this fragrant, moist loaf cake is made with one of his nation’s biggest exports, tea. The malty notes of Assam tea are a lovely complement to tart raspberries but you could try using a Darjeeling if you like, which would also be a natural partner to the gentle warmth of cinnamon.


1. Preheat the oven to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5. Grease and line a 900g loaf tin (unless using a Panibois case).

2. Bring the milk to the boil then drop in the teabags. Stir then remove from the heat and put to one side (with the teabags still in the milk) and leave it to steep as it cools.

3. Beat the sugar, eggs and vanilla extract using an electric whisk on a medium–high speed until thoroughly combined and the mixture resembles a thick paste.

4. Add the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, vegetable oil and 100ml of the tea-flavoured milk (you will find the teabags absorb some of the milk so you will probably need to give them a squeeze to get your 100ml out of the original 150ml). Mix on a slow speed until fully incorporated – take care not to over mix.

5. In a separate bowl, gently crush the raspberries (a potato masher works). You want them to retain their size and rough shape but just start to release their juice. Add the raspberries to the cake mix and stir them in by hand.

6. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 45–50 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out on to a wire rack to cool completely.

7. While the cake is baking you can make the frosting. Place the margarine or butter in a large bowl and sift the icing sugar over the top. Cream the ingredients together. Press the raspberries through a sieve to give a purée (and remove the seeds). Gradually add the purée to the frosting mix, stirring gently. You may not need to add all the purée and take care not to over mix or it might start to separate (it will still taste nice but will not look as pretty). Once the cake is cool, spread the frosting over the top.


150ml semi-skimmed milk 2 Assam or Darjeeling teabags 200g caster sugar 2 medium eggs 1⁄2 tsp Ndali vanilla extract 200g plain 0 flour sifted 1 heaped tsp organic baking powder 1 tsp ground cinnamon 75ml vegetable / rapeseed oil 120g raspberries


70g margarine or unsalted butter, softened 130g icing sugar 3 raspberries


Under £10

Cotton Bread Bag, 40x50cm | £4.99

Stop your bread getting sweaty by keeping it in our attractive and washable bag rather than in a plastic one. High-grade natural cotton bag 40x50cm, made for us with a draw-cord perfect for keeping your artisan bake fresh.

Professional Lame or Grignette | £6.76

The Boulange by Mure and Peyrot. Ergonomically designed for both left-handed and right-handed bakers.

Flour Shaker | £7.56

Lovely and practical vintage style flour shaker to add to your baking essentials.

Farmhouse Loaf Tin, 2lb or 900g | £8.64

A 2lb or 900g farmhouse loaf tin with steep sides and folded ends, just right for the farmhouse loaf shape.

Do you have a sourdough question for Vanessa? Send it to us and the best ones will appear in our next postbag edition and receive a dough whisk.

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