Gail’s and I have history. This iconic London neighbourhood artisan bakery group doesn’t know it, but we definitely have history.
I won’t go into the gory details, but suffice it to say that the staff on the day we visited rescued a very unpleasant situation involving a dive-bombing seagull and an al fresco breakfast.
Despite a shock affected memory I do recall the rustic counters and crate shelving at 138 Portobello Road displaying almost anything you would wish to eat in bread form – from actual breads (30 kinds, in fact) to various croissants – sweet with best chocolate, and almond cream; and split and filled with delicious savoury things. Bulging cream-dough buns, golden, fruit-heavy muffins, and slabs of their breads piled Swedish-style with top-quality produce also tempted.
I was swayed by a croissant with a volcano of ripe melting cheese and burst tomatoes. Andrew choose several items – sweet and savoury: he’s very tall and needs filling up. And then ‘the thing’ happened.
Once tidied up a bit we were treated – indoors – not only to our breakfast again (well I hadn’t had the chance to sample mine first go round. Andrew got seconds!) but a parade of curious staff came to our table bearing little treats from the counter.
And you know, sugar can cure shock. I felt much better, and even laughed about it once I had polished off the plates, my fingers pressing into every last crumb. I am not a sugar-in-the-morning person, but honestly, one of Gail’s Bakery almond croissants – the soft, pull-apart, almost melting ones of dreams – rescued this damsel in distress.
We headed back to the hotel, where I cleaned up further, removing all traces of my tangle with the local wildlife. We were so grateful for the lovely treatment by the staff at the Portobello shop. So, when I recently saw that Gail’s had produced a cookbook I jumped at the chance to review it. This is not my normal post promoting super duper healthy, vegan-ish food, but this place, and now this book, holds a special place in my heart. Besides, they do salads too! Just not at breakfast. 😉 A little of what you fancy, and all that.
Gail’s Artisan Bakery Cookbook reflects the attention to quality ingredients and slow food methods that make Gail’s Bakeries such great places to eat. As co-founder Gail Mejia says, “this book is about much more than bread…The thread that runs through it is that nobody will take care of our wellbeing more seriously than us.” That’s kind of what I have said in a few recent posts. And this sentence does indeed suffuse all of the truly scrumptious looking recipes.
It starts with Essentials – store cupboard and baking tools sections – with lots of detail (good!) as to why one uses them. Nothing specialist is listed, so the recipes should be accessible to most of us. In fact, the recipes aren’t just scaled down versions of what is in the bakery/cafes, but completely re-worked and tested for use and enjoyment by non-bakers such as myself. But you will want to rush to a bakery or supermarket to buy or blag some fresh yeast for the non-sourdough breads. Otherwise, all should be easily available.
And like all good baking books, there is a comprehensive and photo-filled section of baking techniques, as well as a few pages of basic recipes – think flaky fromage frais pastry and almond cream – that are stitched into numerous recipes. But the big daddy recipe of the book is in the Bread section – the sourdough starter. It is the centre of this artisan bakery’s universe, and the basis of their iconic French Dark Sourdough Bread. I’m getting peckish as I type. But other, less drawn-out, ways of achieving a fine loaf are also described – how to make the perfect ‘poolish’ starter for bread they term as ‘sourdough light’, Focaccia, Spelt Rolls, Brioche Loaves. Really, just the things we would all be drawn to make on a regular basis.
And then there is the true luxury bread item. The Croissant. I’ve always fancied having a go at making these ultra-buttery treats (and sharing them, not eating them all to myself!!), but never had the nerve. Head baker, and the author of the book, Roy Levy’s recipe – and again, step-by-step photos for ninnies such as myself – bring this tentative wish closer to fruition. And it is the basis for the bun that sorted me out on that July day last year – the splendid Almond Croissant. My un-asked for but oh so vivifying treat. Their croissant dough is also the dough used for some other pretty spectacular bakery basics – Cinnamon Buns, Fruit Danish and even their Ricotta, Cherry and Crumble Croissants.
Beyond breads, Gail’s covers Breakfast, Lunch, Tea and Supper. Roy Levy’s book gives a good balance of sweet and savoury recipes: breakfast and tea favour a light and sweet approach, while lunch and supper veer naturally towards the savoury and filling. Most recipes could be enjoyed at any time of day.
Me being me I dove straight into the Lunch section, making a version of Cheese, Spinach and Tomato Scone Tray. I trusted the book so much that I made this recipe up for a group at work without tasting it myself. I got a lovely email from a colleague saying how delicious it was and that every last crumb was enjoyed.
Here are some highlights from Breakfast, Lunch, Tea and Supper. Don’t they all just scream “make me”?
Breakfast: Maple Brioche Buns; Toasted Cornbread with Avocado Salsa and Fried Eggs; Shakshuka; Croque Madame
Lunch: Smoked Salmon and Spinach Tart; Sourdough Lasagne; Red Quinoa Salad with Smoky Aubergine Yogurt; Truffle, Raclette and Shallot Toastie
Tea: Hazelnut, Honey and Brown Butter Financiers; Chocolate and Custard Tartlets; Sourdough and Currant Tart; Baked Vanilla and White Chocolate Cheesecake
Supper: Pizzette Bianca; Spring Vegetable Stew on Toast with Goat’s Curd; Baked Sardines with Sourdough Crumbs and Heritage Tomato Salad; Burnt Tomato Dip
Who is this book for? I would say that this book is aimed at a fairly confident cook and baker, although the clear instructions and good header notes would help anyone not as experienced but with time to take things slowly. Beautiful and realistic images by Haarala Hamilton accompany about two-thirds of the recipes, inspiring and guiding the reader/baker/cook.
Gail’s Artisan Bakery Cookbook is published by Ebury Press (£20 RRP). Here is a list of buying options, including of course, Amazon.
The publishers have kindly offered two copies of Gail’s Artisan Bakery Cookbook to two food to glow readers. To enter, all you need do is leave a comment here on the blog. To get one more chance of winning you can also follow me on Twitter and tweet a link to this post, including me – @foodtoglow – in your tweet. Winners will be picked at random. This giveaway is open to anyone and closes on Saturday, June 14 at 12 midnight GMT. Thanks so much to Amelia at Ebury Press for organising the giveaway. ***GIVEAWAY CLOSED***