Demo stages, trestles tables, tents and a bus!

I remember my first ever stage demonstration. It was at the Surrey County Show which is local to me, about 6 years ago.

I thought it would be a good way to let the people of Surrey know about my bread making courses in the area, but I must admit I hadn’t taken the time to really think it through properly. I don’t mean the demonstration itself, I’d done them before and it was well planned out, it was more about the fact that I’d be up on stage in front of a ton of people. That was the part I hadn’t thought about, and when it was time to go on, I just did not want to get up there!

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I can’t remember what I made, it was certainly bread, but what I do remember is getting heckled by two men in the middle of the audience who had clearly enjoyed too many pints of Hogs Back Ale. I got through it and fortunately, as I was about to learn, things like heckling tend to go down quite well with the audience…

Since then, live demos on stages all over the country have become my favourite part of what I do. I have been to food festivals all over meeting tons of people, both in the audience and backstage, demonstrating on trestle tables in the rain, huge stages like Countryfile Live last week and even this time last year on a super cool and super intimate vintage bus (not moving).

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I love being up there. I love chatting with all of you in the audience and I love it when there’s time for tasters (see Foodies Festivals!) and questions at the end. However long my slot is, for me it’s always too short, I could chat all day.

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There have been a few mistakes over the years, there’s bound to be right? Like the time I forgot my dusting flour and had to send the compare out to get some from a nearby creperie while I accidentally knocked my microphone pack with a doughy knuckle turning the volume up way too loud! I did my best to keep the audience entertained while holding the microphone at arms length from my face until she returned with the flour and fixed my mic.

Or the time I accidentally put a demo dough into what I thought was a fridge ahead of a demonstration, only to pull it out on stage for shaping to find it was frozen solid.

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But all these things are fixable and the magic part is that all of these things go down quite well. There’s something special about being up there, having so much fun, and really interacting with the audience that I’ve worked hard on for so long. And there’s something about making a mistake and being honest about it that brings us closer together.

I realise in this post it sounds like every time I demonstrate there’s some kind of disaster, but there really isn’t. Those experiences came from the olden days of Bake with Jack. The days when I’d wake up at 1:30am three days in a row to bake bread ready for a show. The days when I would unload my gazebo and trestle tables from the Bake-with-Jack-mobile to set up my stall so I could sell all the bread that I’d made. I used to man my stall all day long and chat to all of you about the courses I was hosting locally. I used to sneakily make bread dough at my stall and stash it under the table to be ready and puffed up for the “here’s one I made earlier” moment later when I popped out to go on stage. Most of the time, I never even had time to have lunch, so I think it is fair to say I was a little tired and probably not at the top of my game.

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I used to pack all my gear back up each day, back into the car and head home in the evening ready to do it all again tomorrow. And the next day. There was even a time in 2017 when I Vlogged the whole thing (and yes, you can still find them buried deep somewhere on the Bake with Jack YouTube channel).

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Looking back, I guess this is part of what it took to make Bake with Jack what it is now, although at the time that was never the reason why I did things that way. I intended to do the thing that I liked at the time. I intended to work hard and do something I thought was right, to enable me to move forward. I intended to have fun and I did, and still do, although things go a little differently now.

From wet trestle tables of the olden days to the huge Le Creuset cookery theatre at Countryfile Live last week I love a good food show demonstration, and I’ve met a lot of you along the way. Some of you may even remember the days we used to chat at my stall, that might even be where we met! I have a lot to thank you for and I’m glad I hit the stage at that first show six years ago, despite what the butterflies in my tummy were saying.

There are still a few more shows left for this year, if you’d like to come along to see me in action (and not making mistakes) you can find the dates here.

Butter papers: A lesson in less waste

There was a time in the olden days when worked in a Michelin starred restaurant. It was a short time, and a very hard time, but I’ll tell you about that another time, because the story is LONG. For now I want to talk about butter papers.

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I learned a lot it my short time at what we will call “The Michelin Restaurant”. A lot of cooking and preparation skills, a lot about discipline and also how to clean windows properly, at 1am. But I also learned about waste.

You see we kept the butter papers. Every time we finished a packet of butter the paper was wiped and stacked in a pile to keep for service. Then, when a piece of fish needed to be steamed we’d put it on a butter paper instead of a fresh slice of parchment. Or if a small piece of meat needed something to cover it, or something between it and the tray it was cooking on, it was half of a butter paper and the point of all of this is coming soon I promise.

Disposable plastic piping bags are a thing by the way. They come on a roll. You tear one off, fill it up, snip the end, pipe your choux buns and toss the spent bag into the bin. Here at The Michelin Restaurant there was just one. One single disposable piping bag hanging up to dry because it was used over and over again and washed up in between.

Are you getting it yet? One more…

We had chef jackets too. One each. We wore them for the day and popped them all in the wash at night before we went home. Then the following day we’d wear it again straight from the machine. No laundry service, no man in a van, no pickup, no drop off, no starch, no hot press, no nothing. Simple.

This was a while ago, like 13 years ago, but the principle holds true that sometimes we don’t need to “use-up” a lot of things. If we are clever about it we can keep things simple and waste less at the same time, and it’s not even hard to do.

At this point in time we are ALL trying to use less plastic. Because it has been made more obvious that it’s important. That everything ever that was made of plastic is still somewhere NOT biodegrading. Just sitting in a pile, or floating in the ocean, or buried in a hole in the ground or whatever. Everyone is talking about it and it can’t be missed.

There have been times in my life and career when I’ve been in the habit of using-up things without even thinking about it. Like rolls of clingfilm, piping bags, blue gloves, food bags, even disposable aprons (a legal requirement in some places!) because it’s easy and that’s just the way things are done. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The remnants of some of these habits that have remained become very evident when I’m in class, doing what I do, with people around me, watching. In that scenario, I’m very aware of them. And so, I’ve started to use more containers and less bags, parchment paper can be folded and re-used, epecially if it’s only been used to bake biscuits or bread, and even cling film used to cover you’re bread dough can be dusted and folded ready to use again next time. I spoke about that in a recent video.

Sometimes it takes others to point out the things I no longer see. Things that have just become “normal” and could be made better if only I’d noticed. And sometimes a 13 year old memory about butter papers might pop into my head with a very important lesson buried inside it that I hadn’t noticed at the time, and prompt me to question “why” I do things the way I do them. And whether they are really necessary.

So thanks to those that have pointed out the seemingly obvious because often things aren’t as obvious as they seem. I continue to try to look at things with fresh eyes and make small changes as I go along that make a big difference. That’s the new normal.

I’m not saying save up your butter papers but take this as an example to think about. If we use one disposable piping bag ten times, we’ve just saved nine piping bags from going onto the pile forever. Multiply that by your lifetime, and that’s a lot of plastic saved, so why not use that bag twenty or fifty or a hundred times? Just imagine the power of that one decision, and the size of the difference you could make on the world from one simple change. It’s huge by the way…

I hope this thought remains present and as important as it seems now for the rest of our lives. Then the small things will continue to change the world forever, for the better.

Oh, and I cleaned the windows with old news papers by the way. It’s the proper way.

A Light Summertime Meal from a Humble Pita Bread

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I feel like bread gets forgotten a little at summertime. Like it’s too hot to be kneading, and baking, and even eating a loaf of bread, and I totally get it! But bread doesn’t have to be hot and steamy accompanied by a warming stew, it can be light and tasty accompanied by dips, olives and salad and actually, I feel like those meals are my favourite kind.

Those kinds of meals are exactly what I’ve been putting together in my bread making courses since day one. Firstly, because it’s what I like to eat, and secondly to show that even just one bread made with care can be at the heart of an amazing meal.

This one pictured here is a recreation of what I made at a pitta bread demonstration just the other day. Everything here has been put together with care, and just like I mentioned in the Christmas Canape article, that’s exactly what makes it special. I made the dips, I pickled the vegetables, marinated the olives and feta cheese, in every element on the board there is care and attention, right down to the way it has been placed.

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I recreated the whole spread at home so I can break down the recipes for each accompaniment for you if you’d like to make them. The bread doesn’t have to be pitta, that’s just one of the breads from this year’s Summertime Bread Making Workshop, it could be focaccia, or middle eastern spiced flat breads, even simple toasted tortillas will do the trick (homemade of course).

This meal was designed from the very beginning to be super practical and hassle free on serving day. Everything can be made in advance and then when the time comes it’s simply a case of selecting what you’d like to serve it on, and taking your time to build it up with a few cheffy finishing touches.

I’ll put each recipe here and at the bottom of the page you’ll find a few pointers that might be helpful when it comes to putting it all together.

I hope you enjoy it.


Roasted Hazelnut Romesco

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3 Red peppers

4 Plum size tomatoes

4 Peeled garlic cloves

35g Blanched (skin off) hazelnuts

Olive oil

Red wine vinegar

Salt

Parsley

 

Preheat your oven to 180°C Fan/356°F/Gas Mark 5.

Roughly chop the tomatoes and the flesh from your red peppers and place them in a large mixing bowl with the whole garlic cloves. Toss with enough olive oil to make them shine all over and season with salt. Spread out on a parchment lined tray and roast in the oven for 40 minutes.

TIP: Make sure the garlic is tucked in underneath some of the tomato or pepper so that it roasts up nicely, becoming soft and sweet as apposed to dry and burnt.

While your vegetables are roasting you can roast your hazelnuts. Spread them out on a smaller tray and pop them in the oven too. They will take around 12-15 minutes to get nice and golden.

Tip your nuts into a food processor and process until they are roughly chopped. Add your roasted vegetables and garlic along with two tablespoons of olive oil and one tablespoon of red wine vinegar. Blend to a course consistency. Chop a few sprigs of parsley and stir them through the dip.

Taste the sauce, adjust the seasoning if you need to, and serve. I garnished mine with some picked parsley leaves, a sprinkling of some chopped hazelnuts that I had kept to one side, and drizzle of olive oil.

Notes on texture

I didn’t peel the peppers or tomatoes in this recipe and that’s personal choice because I wanted a rustic textured dip. If you prefer a more refined dip you can remove skins before blending or blend until smooth and pass through a sieve pressing the puree through with the back of a ladle.


 Beetroot and Orange Hummus

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For the hummus

1 Medium sized fresh beetroot

1 tin of chickpeas, drained

Juice of 1 orange

1 tbsp Tahini paste

2 tbsp Olive Oil

Salt 

For the topping 

1 tbsp Sesame seeds

1 tbsp Cumin seeds

1 tbsp Caraway seeds

Plain yoghurt

A few orange segments

Fresh coriander leaves

Olive oil

 

Wrap your beetroot in tin foil and roast it in the oven at 180°C Fan/356°F/Gas Mark 5 for 1 hour. Leave to cool inside the tin foil and you’ll be able to peel off the skin super easily pushing it away with your fingers.

Chop up your beetroot and put into a food processor with the chickpeas, orange juice, tahini, olive oil and a pinch of salt. Blend until you reach your desired consistency.

Taste your hummus and adjust the seasoning if you need to, then set aside.

Put the sesame, cumin and caraway seeds into a cold dry frying pan. Bring the pan up to a medium heat and gently toast the seeds tossing all the time until they release their aromas. Set aside to cool.

If you dress your hummus on a plate as apposed to a pot you have more surface area to sprinkle on your toppings and garnish meaning more flavour! It’s not just because it looks nice on Instagram…

Spread it over the base of a nice plate, dress with yoghurt and then orange segments. Finish with your toasted seed mix, a few coriander leaves and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve.


 Minty Tzatziki

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10cm Piece of cucumber

½ Clove of garlic

200g Greek Yoghurt

2 tsp Olive oil

½ tsp White wine vinegar

Salt

 

Slice the cucumber longways into half centimetre slices. Slice longways again into sticks, and then turn to chop into small cubes. Place them into a mixing bowl, finely grate in your garlic and season well with salt. Leave to rest for 30-40 minutes and the salt will draw out the moisture from the cucumber, preventing a watery tzatziki. Tip the water away.

Add all remaining ingredients to the bowl and mix together. Taste and adjust the seasoning before serving.

Mint leaves are the obvious choice for garnishing tzatziki and saving the really tiny ones purely for that purpose might sound silly but makes all the difference. Little cubes of cucumber with the skin on look nice too. I like to finish with a drizzle of olive oil and pinch of cracked black pepper before serving.

Notes on flavour

All of these dips taste better having been made in advance, but this one especially. Once it has rested overnight the garlic really permeates the yoghurt and the mint brings out it’s full favour too.


 Finishing Touches…

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Pickled Vegetables

Pickled vegetables are a welcome sweet and acidic element to cut through the richness of everything else and also to bring crunch to the otherwise soft bread and silky dips.

Think of subtle and fragrant root vegetables, I went with fennel and carrot, and slice them thinly.  Place them in a food bag or container and toss with 100g of white wine vinegar, 65g of caster sugar, a pinch of salt and a teaspoon each of caraway and coriander seeds.

Then cover and put into the fridge for at least two hours to pickle, tossing every once in a while to make sure every bit gets a cover of pickling liquid at some point.

You can keep your pickled vegetables in the fridge for a few days and they will keep their crunch. Drain before serving.

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Marinated Olives

Any olives can be marinated or you can, of course, buy them already done for you.

I like to keep my olives au natural and marinate them in whatever I have. For these I used finely grated garlic, chopped parsley and lemon zest all brought together with a little olive oil.

Use your imagination, if you have some fresh chilli and you like the heat then go for it! Chilli, orange zest and thyme would be quite a nice combination, and again, this is one of those things that tastes so much better having prepared them the day before.

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Feta in Olive Oil

This is quite a nice thing to do to jazz up a feta cheese.

Cut your feta into cubes and place in a large mixing bowl. Pick some thyme leaves into the bowl and add some finely chopped red chilli and cracked black pepper. Toss everything together gently, just enough so that every bit of feta has something on it but not so much that the feta is all broken up.

Layer it up snuggly in a clean jar. We are not doing this to preserve the cheese for any length of time, just to introduce a little flavour and so there is no need to sterilise anything. Choose a jar that you like the look of, then top it up with good olive oil. It’ll last happily in the fridge for a week.

I served my feta on the day straight out of the jar. You can use the excess now flavoured oil to dress a salad or roast some potatoes or vegetables.

Leaves and extras

For me a fresh crisp lettuce wins over any mixed leaves on this board. Baby gem lettuce was my choice and I simply sliced a couple into wedges and sprinkled over a few pink pomegranate seeds.


You see, there is a lot going on here. A little effort in every element goes a long way for the final finished spread and effort is always rewarded. That’s what people truly see when they look at dish and say “wow”, whether they know it or not. We can learn so many lessons from this one meal alone, and if you’re prepared to take it on, below are a few pointers and tips you might find useful.

Make it your own

A note on presentation…

When you are building and garnishing food like this take a little time before hand to have a think about what you are going to do. If you like you can do everything exactly like I did, but don’t feel like you have to. As helpful as a suggestion may be, it may often blind you to other possibilities, stifling the creativity that’s already inside of you. As you might have heard me say before, sit down with a pencil. Think, write, sketch and see what you come up with.

When I am garnishing a dish, I think about what I’ve already used in the recipe and use other elements of that to garnish it. For example, the beetroot hummus is freshened up with the juice of an orange and so, I’ve used a few orange segments to garnish bringing colour against the purple of the beetroot and white of the yoghurt. In terms of flavour it works by default because orange is already in the hummus. I could have used the zest of the orange, or some beetroot slices, or crispy toasted chickpeas or whatever. I think you get what I mean, have a play!

Decisions, decisions

Think first, relax later…

Whatever you do decide to do in terms of garnish and presentation, decide nice and early. Like before it’s time to build and dress the food. If you are having guests over for an al fresco lunch the last thing you want to be doing is deciding on what you are doing while you are trying to do it. I’ve learned over the years that things normally take longer than I think they do. If I hadn’t decided early and pre-prepared everything I could, I’d be flustered and then lunch time soon turns into dinner time.

I hope that you enjoyed this post and it’s filled you with ideas to create a great meal around great bread. Bread after all doesn’t have to be just for the chilly months. In fact, as temperature sensitive as bread dough is, in summer here in the UK the weather is on our side. It’s the perfect time to practice your bread making skills, start your bread making journey or learn some new things.

These Sour Cream and Chive Pitta breads are one of the breads on this years Summertime and BBQ Bread Making Workshop. If you’d like to learn more about it, click here.


I hope you got some value out of this post, making bread is not the only thing that I do and there’s so much to be said about everything else that goes with it. I’ve been preparing and cooking food in professional environments since I left school 17 years ago and theres so much I’ve learned from others and from myself along the way that I’m itching to share.

Enjoy the weather that this season brings us and have a great time making, and eating, great food,

Jack :-)

Why bread?

Why bread?

Somebody asked me this at the school drop off the other day. Why bread? Why is that your thing? Why did you make it your job?

It’s something I get asked a lot and it’s a question that I always struggle to answer off the cuff, and I guess it’s because it was never really about bread in the first place...

Making it work for live TV...

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So London called...

It said “hey man, we’ve been looking for a bread expert to come and chat with us on Sunday Brunch on Channel 4 and hey presto, we came across this chap who’s made 100 videos on YouTube...”

Ok, so that’s not EXACTLY what they said but it is pretty much the gist ;-)

I was delighted! Not nervous. In fact, I was a little delighted but as with all things in “showbiz” these things come and go. I had been so close to being on TV before for a different show, literally prepped and ready to go the day before filming and the phone line went dead, only to receive an email two weeks later saying sorry but I didn’t make it. And so, without feeling negative about things, when the call came in I guess I felt a bit nothing really. After all things don’t happen until they happen and I knew that. This time things were a little different though, I was asked to come to London to meet with the producer and that hadn’t happened before…

So here was the deal, I would talk through four breads I had made, people (celebrities) were going to eat and share their opinion of my homemade bread live on Channel 4 before deciding which was their favourite and then telling the world. No Pressure. That meant that the bread had to be as close to fresh as possible at 10:33am on Sunday morning, and they were sending a car to pick me up at 6:20am.

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The plan was to bake everything on Saturday evening to various stages of “baked” then finish it off in the studio prep kitchen moments before going live, easy. But I was already booked for a private bread making course in somebodies home on the Saturday, leaving at 1pm and likely getting home at around 8pm. Not ideal. Here’s how I made it work…

I decided on the recipes early on, four breads that were good for beginners: black olive fougasse, seeded sandwich loaf, “no-knead” focaccia and hot cross buns since it was nearly Easter. I had a small window on Saturday morning to make the dough and a small oven to bake one or two before leaving the house for the day. I made all four of my doughs that morning.

Fougasse only needs a single rest, there’s no need to prove them up them up again after shaping and before baking, I was making six, and could part-bake two at a time for 10 minutes each before cooling and wrapping ready to finish off at the studio. Sorted.

If one of the breads was to be fully baked it would be the sandwich loaf as the size and shape of it would allow it to hold the moisture the best of them all for the longest, so in theory the fully baked loaves would still be relatively fresh the following day. I baked them fully on the Saturday morning. Two down, two to go.

The other two doughs I stashed in the fridge to chill and tick over nice and slowly for later while I was out for the day.

Now, if I returned home from my private course at 8pm and removed the dough from the fridge it would have taken a good 90 minutes to come back to room temperature before I could shape, prove and bake them. Then we are talking shaping at 9:30pm, baking two batches at 11pm & 11:45pm, in bed by 12:30 at night to wake up again at 5am to get ready, pack up and leave to go live on TV. Again, not ideal.

I did some maths and my wife and I had a chat.

If she could remove the dough from the fridge at 6pm while I was out teaching, it would be ready to shape upon my return shaving two clear hours of my evening bake making bedtime a far more sensible 10:30pm and that’s exactly what we did.

The following morning, I woke with nothing to do but to get ready and double check my packing list. The car arrived at 6:20am to pick me up, I loaded my things and spent the next 45 minutes chatting to the driver and getting increasingly nervous.

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The show was great! I had an hour and a half in the prep kitchen to finish everything off, cut tasters and dress the display before wheeling it to the studio and putting everything in place super fast during the ad break. Then 3, 2, 1, GO!

I was so nervous but it could not have been better. Everybody I came into contact with on the day was so lovely. There is a ton of work involved in creating a show like Sunday Brunch both on and off set, so many people involved, and as corny as it sounds they are like a big family. Even if somebody spent 40 seconds attaching my microphone to my jacket they would introduce themselves, ask me how I was and how I was feeling about going on. They really looked after me and the feature was a great success.

A whole day in preparation for 8 minutes on TV and it felt great. You guys across social media went ABSOLUTEY CRACKERS with your support. Thank you so much!

The reality is that the whole day I spent in preparation is nothing compared to time spent working hard since the day Bake with Jack was created. So really, that one day becomes 6 years in preparation.

Actually, you could say that without such a disjointed restaurant/hotel/event chef career, then Bake with Jack would never have been created in the first place. So then, perhaps we are 16 years in.

In fact. Without the slight disinterest I had in academic studies then perhaps I would have never put on those chef whites in the first place. I said I was playing the long game in a post last year. I said that I used to get laughed at when I dreamed of being on TV, and here we are, 32 years in and I made it to the slightly-bigger-than-your-telephone screen. YESSSSS!!!

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If you missed the show, I think it has disappeared now from All4 but at the time of writing this you can still catch up on my second appearance featuring a few of the breads from the new Summertime and BBQ bread course. If you are in the UK Click here to watch it in Episode 16 and scroll forward to 58 minutes in, after the Bake Off Professionals clip.

I said on Instagram that I hoped this could be the beginning of something great, and if it wasn’t then that would be ok too. It’s what I have been working towards for so long, for the most part without even knowing it, and when I look back on the past 6 or 16 or 32 years I realise that surely everything has been, and continues to be the beginning of something great. Even if it didn’t feel like it at the time.

Thank you all so much for watching and for your support before, during and after. I spent the next whole week after the show answering all of your comments, emails, tweets and messages on Instagram and Facebook and I hope I got them all!

Thanks for being part of this massive milestone with me, here’s to whatever happens next…

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