My Blogs

6 Aug

I blog regularly at R for Biochemists – it’s about using the the statistical programming language.

Also popular is My Brick Oven Blog – all about building and cooking on an outdoor brick oven.

I work at Cardiff University and blog occasionally about that.

More home stuff below including cider tasting, cider making and growing food.

Tasty rye loaf…

5 Oct

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For lunch today, I had some of my tasty rye sourdough. I do think it’s one of the most flavoursome loaves in my baking repertoire. It’s not for everybody (my children won’t eat it) but it does have some fans.

Here’s the story behind it:

I have tried baking with rye flour over quite a few years but not with much success. Last year, To try to learn more I attended a bread making course entitled ‘Sourdough with Heritage Grains‘ with Alex Gooch at Humble by Nature. Alex was a really inspiring baker and I enjoyed it a lot. Most importantly he showed us how to make a very tasty rye sourdough. It quite dense but very tasty.

The key to using rye flour seems to be to have lots of a very lively rye sourdough starter. Alex arrived with a very large container of lovely fresh starter.

This is my recipe:

Tasty Rye Sourdough (adapted from recipe by Alex Gooch)

(makes 2 loaves which each fit into a 1 lb tin).

  • Light Rye Flour         400g
  • Dark Rye Starter       300g
  • Water                        330g
  • Salt                             10g

This is the basis of the bread and the key is the large amount of rye starter to flour. The use of the light rye flour makes a lighter loaf. You can use dark here too. Depending on where you get your flour from you may not have the choice of light and dark rye. You can make your rye lighter by sieving some. I have done this but it’s a bit of a pain.

To the basic mixture, I add the following (these are all optional and other things could be used):

  • Treacle or golden syrup                 45g
  • Sultanas                                       200g
  • Roasted corriander seeds      1 tablespoon
  • Chopped rye grains                2 tablespoons

The steps:

  1. Make a dark rye starter or leaven – if you have a leaven of any kind – mix some with rye flour. Use about equal amounts rye flour and water. It takes about 24 hours to turn your leaven into a rye leaven.
  2. Generously grease up two 1lb loaf tins. These seem quite small but you are making quite a dense bread and small slices are the key. I often use butter but it’s good to use non-dairy spreads too.
  3. For a nice effect on the loaf, spread some corriander seeds around the bottom and sides of the loaf.
  4. Mix up ALL the ingredients in a good size bowl really well. Use a spoon or your hands as you prefer but make sure all the flour is incorporated. This doesn’t take very long – maybe 10 minutes.
  5. Divide the mixture into the two bread tins – about 650g of mixture in each. It should about half fill the tins.
  6. Cover to keep the environment humid but try to avoid the top of the tins as the mixture may rise up to this. I use plastic bags one for each loaf tin.
  7. Leave to rise for about 3-4 hours depending on the temperature of the room. It should approximately double in size and you will notice little ‘holes’ on the top of the loaf as some of the bubbles in the bread have popped.
  8. Preheat oven to 200 degrees centigrade. Bake for between 35 and 45 minutes depending on how dark you like the bread. Allow to cool.

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A few comments:

  • In my opinion and experience, this bread lasts well for a week. It’s also very tasty toasted.
  • It also freezes well for quite a few months.
  • I have shared these loaves with about ten people to very positive responses. This loaf is very different to what you will buy and is very tasty.
  • Initial recipe uses treacle but I didn’t have any and used golden syrup. It gave a lighter loaf that was a little sweeter and very nice.
  • As part of my research after this successful loaf, I re-read Andrew Whitley’s book entitled “Bread Matters”. I understood his recipes much better after attending the course. One of his loaves had 440g of rye starter to 330g of flour. He had a recipe for Borodinsky Bread that is very similar to the one above. I got my copy of “Bread Matters” when I joined the Real Bread Campaign.

Tasting two very different but tasty ciders….

14 Jan

Today, I enjoyed two bottles of cider. The first was a bottle of Dan Kelly’s Cider from Drogheda, Ireland. The second was a bottle of Yarlington Mill Cider from Gwatkin’s in Herefordshire. I picked the Dan Kelly’s first because I wanted to open a bottle of Irish cider in memory of my sister. It would have been her birthday today and she was a great lover of cider. Because my wife was enjoying the cider with me, we had to open a second bottle and I chose a bottle I knew would be very different for contrast.

Dan Kelly’s Cider

Dan Kelly's front labelFor me, Dan Kelly’s Cider is quite a lightly flavoured cider with a taste of apple peel. It’s fizzy and slightly cloudy. At 4.5% it’s not too strong. The light flavour comes from a mixture of both cider, cooking and eating apples.

According to the website: “Cider apples are blended with Bramley and dessert fruit to give the cider a dry finish.” I’m a little perturbed by the inclusion of Bramley as a specific named variety in this list. Does this mean that Bramley make up a lot of the volume of apples.

Dan Kelly's cider back and glass

Ingredients: Apple juice, water. Interestingly it says “May contain Sulphites”. This is just to cover themselves as the website says: “We don’t use sulphites or cultured yeasts. We don’t add acid, artificial colours, sweeteners or anything else. We simply press the apples and let wild yeasts do their thing. We then add some juice before pasteurising to allow the crisp, fresh and refreshing flavour develop.” Nice!

Yarlington Mill Cider from Gwatkin’s

Gwatkin's front label

Selected for contrast was a bottle of Yarlington Mill Cider from Gwatkin in Herefordshire. This is a cider with a much longer tannic structure that goes all the way across the middle of the mouth down to the throat. It has a floral, sherry perfumed scent and tastes quite sweet – probably partly due to the maturation in oak barrels. It was lightly sparkling and is a stronger cider at 7% vol. It’s a single apple variety – Yarlington Mill which is a bittersweet apple. “Ingredients: Apple juice, natural sugars and sulphites (trace)”

Gwatkin side one

Gwatkin side 2

More “natural” yeasts

Both of these bottles of cider include the word “natural” for their yeasts. To be more precise Dan Kelly’s talk about “natural wild yeasts”. For the purposes of understanding how the ciders are made, the word “wild” is a more useful. Using wild yeasts that are present on the apples and in the air is likely to include many different types of yeast that will give the cider a variable flavour profile. Dan Kelly are very clear about this on the website which is interesting and useful information.

In contrast, Gwatkin’s describe a cider that is “Matured in oak barrels with natural yeasts”. This could imply no addition of cultured yeast but it’s not very clear. ‘Cultured yeast’ are also natural and since they don’t say wild it difficult to be sure. The website shows a wide range of ciders that are made and include a shop that sells bottles and bag in boxes but doesn’t provide much extra information about how the cider was made. This was a little disappointing.

In summary, these are two ciders that reflect the local tradition of cider making in their area. They are both interesting and well made drinks. I enjoyed them. The variation in style and taste is one of the things I enjoy about cider.

Day trip to Herefordshire… and a bottle of Oldfields Orchard Cider…

18 Dec

Today, I took a day trip to England, to the county of Herefordshire. I went to pick up three apple trees from a high quality apple tree grower, John Worle. I was very lucky as John offered to show me some of his nursery fields. One field contained 200,000 trees.

On the way home, I visited the Cider Museum in Hereford City. The Cider Museum has the widest selection of ciders, I have ever seen. I was keen to pick up a few bottles of local good quality cider. I bought 14 different bottles of cider from the vast array and I am excited about tasting them over the few weeks or so.

On arrival home, I decided the best reward was to open a bottle. I chose Oldfields Orchard Medium Dry Cider. The bottle (below) has a lovely illustration on the front and a nice story of a tipsy wasp on the back. It includes good cider apple varieties: Dabinett, Harry Masters Jersey and Yarlington Mill.

Interestingly, the phrase “real cider” is missing. The cider is quite modest in alcohol at just 4.8% which I think suggests that it’s been diluted with water. Looking at the website, the makers give some great detail about how their cider is made. The website say that they “test various blends to come up with our final ‘recipe’ which would decide sweetness or dryness, desired alcoholic content and flavour. The raw cider from each tank was then blended with water, our own apple juice, sugar and SO2”.

The cider is lightly sparkling and gives a scent resulting from the inclusion of good quality cider apples. It’s light on the palate with a light taste of tannins too. It’s pleasant and I like the relatively low alcohol of 4.8%. The flavour is very clean and my wife enjoyed her share. However, I would prefer more flavour in my cider than is apparent in this bottle – either of apples or tannins. As a light, lower alcohol cider, it’s a good choice.

Front of Bottle

Front of Bottle

Back of bottle

Back of bottle


Gift Loaves for Sourdough September…

29 Sep

Today, I have distributed the last three loaves of sourdough bread to celebrate Sourdough September. In all, over the weekend, I baked twenty seven loaves of sourdough bread. Twenty one of these were distributed to friends, neighbours and colleagues. The other six were eaten or put in the freezer for my own family🙂

I also used my brick oven for the first time to bake loaves. It wasn’t entirely successful as I didn’t get the oven hot enough. Still learning!

I made two different types of loaf:

  1. My standard sourdough – 10% brown 90% white Belchedre Flour – to this recipe.
  2. A rye fruit sourdough – I learned to make this on my first bread making course with Alex Gooch.

Here are a few pictures:


Two sourdough loaves

Two lovely loaves – nice oven spring and opened beautifully.

Rye sourdough

Small and large rye fruit sourdough

First eight loaves baked in the brick oven (but finished off with electric….)

To be honest, I’m a bit tired of baking today. Well, I have a whole weekend of real work to keep me busy😉


Scotts Irish Cider

19 Sep

Just finished a bottle of Scotts Irish Cider. I love the stags on the bottle but it’s not overwhelmed with information. Their website lacks any additional information. However, the twitter feed seems to suggest it might be made in Armagh….

So what about the cider. It’s nice. A clear golden colour. Sparkling but not overly so. It tastes of cider apples with good cheeses tannins and a nice long finish. At 5% alcohol by vol, it’s not too strong.

As a question, I wonder if it’s possible to brew cider to 5% alcohol by volume. My pressings always come to over 6% as judged by specific gravity. Does that suggest that cider makers are diluting their juice to make a 5% brew?

Interestingly, Scotts don’t use the term ‘real cider’ on their label. In fairness it tastes pretty good. I would like to know the percentage juice and the types of apples use, more out of interest than anything else.

It’s recommended as a drink – it’s good quality cider for those who can cope with that proper cider flavor.


Brú Rua – a red beer from Co. Meath, Ireland

12 Sep

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Over the summer months, I have been enjoying tasting Irish craft beers. Ireland seems to be exploding with breweries, with one in nearly every county. I have certainly tasted beers from every provence over the last three months.

One suggestion, from an Off Licence, I visited was that the recession in Ireland has prompted many career changes and some of these have led to the creation of a microbreweries. There was also the caution that they’re not all good! Still I bought a bottle  or so from most of the 18 different types they had.

What’s particularly interesting is that, they are making different beers to those being made in the UK. There was oatmeal stout and rye red ale, just to name two types of beer I have never seen in the shops in Cardiff. This was very nice to see.

Tonight, I am drinking Brú Rua, a red beer made by Brú Brewey in Co. Meath. Red ales are popular in Ireland and most of the big and microbreweries will make a version. This one looks the part with a pale brown colour. It tastes dry but a little fruity and my wife says ‘leather’. I’m not so sure about that but it does have a flavour that’s a little difficult to describe. Enjoyable and going down very nicely, thank you very much.

They have some funny sales info on the back of the bottle including a nice picture of Cú Chulainn. Nice.

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