Sourdough pancake recipe

Published on Yahoo Lifestyle UK & Ireland on 8th February 2013:

Sourdough pancakes

While I was training as a chef at Leiths School of Food and Wine, we had a lecture on wild yeasts from bread expert, Hilary Cacchio.

Cacchio was all about making breads using sourdough starters and yeasts from the atmosphere. She had great anecdotes that really inspired me to start a sourdough culture myself.

With some helpful instruction from Virtuous Bread (it actually took a little longer than I thought it would) I soon had an active sourdough starter.

The trouble is, with a culture that’s constantly being fed and growing, I felt pressured to eat different variations of sourdough breads every week. As delicious as they were, it was time for a change.

I have always made pancakes in the American style, with added baking powder for an extra rise, so I decided to give the sourdough starter a try. And it worked a treat.

The result is a delicate pancake reminiscent of freshly made crumpets with a hint of acidity, not unlike the normal kind drizzled with lemon juice.

Here’s the recipe for sourdough pancakes. Makes around 18 small pancakes:

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Cookery school tips from the frontline

In January I started the Two Term Diploma at Leiths School of Food and Wine. It seems that after 12 years at school, three years at university and six months training to be a journalist, I was back to where I started: at school. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I saved up and signed up for the course to gain a solid foundation knowledge about cooking. This, I figured, would help me to improve my writing about food and drink and focus on the finer details. The days speed by when you’re cooking all day and writing all night. I’ve already completed a month on the course – time to share a few of the things I’ve learned so far.

Speed – it comes from preparation:
The thing that I really worried about before starting the course was being able to cook at speed. At home, I cooked for pleasure and at a leisurely pace – not something chefs have the luxury of doing in the kitchen. In the first few weeks I struggled to finish on time. Then I realised that the reason why the students doing the full Diploma were so good was because they had everything they needed ready and knew what they were doing. When I started doing the same, I got a whole lot quicker.

Organisation – it’s part of your preparation:
One of the most tedious and time consuming aspects of the course is the time plan, something I haven’t had to do since Food GCSE at school. It’s basically a piece of paper with all your ingredients and instructions on, including what you should be doing when. As annoying as it is to do, it is incredibly useful in helping you to be organised. Of course, it’s no good if you don’t know what’s on it so you need to absorb as much of it as you can. In the kitchen, it should only be a frame of reference rather than something you look at every two minutes.

Presentation – from mise en place to plating up:
When you cook for yourself, family and friends, flavour is generally more important than presentation. But sometimes even when you put together a considered arrangement on a plate, it somehow doesn’t look like it would in a quality restaurant. Perhaps that’s because the very premise of restaurant food is that it needs to be presentable so from the outset, the food is prepared and cooked in a specific way. For example, the presentation side of fish is always cooked first, the knuckles on poultry are always trimmed, any exposed bone is always scraped clean and so on. Your beautifully presented dish really started with perfect preparation and careful cooking. That said, don’t forget to do any post-processing before you serve it.

Knife skills – practice makes perfect:
This one is probably the oldest nut of wisdom in the book but it’s very true. It’s not just about hacking a carrot any old way though, you have to roll-slice it. That is, leaving the tip of the knife on the chopping board and lifting only the heel of the knife so you can push forward and down to cut in a rolling motion. In essence you’re moving the blade through the food rather than straight down which makes chopping a lot easier and cutting yourself much less likely. Admittedly it’s not the most natural movement to start with but with practice it does work. You will need a very sharp knife and chefs’ knives are exceptionally sharp – much more so than regular knives it seems. But don’t fear your knife, you’re more likely to cut yourself while cleaning it.

Summer puddings workshop at Leiths

Published on Foodepedia on 22nd June 2011:

Strawberry champagne jelly at Leiths

The frequent interval of rain and shine over the last couple of months has been fostering in me a sense of perpetual spring. The smallest hints of summer are constantly and rapidly snatched away by morose clouds bearing melancholic rain. There’s no denying that we are in the month of June, but those thundery showers have certainly put a dampener on things.

The unpredictable weather hasn’t stopped Leiths from putting on a summer puddings workshop though, and for a sweet tooth like mine, the offer to attend was never going to be met with much resistance. So there I was on a surprisingly sunny Saturday morning, a large collection of Tupperware in tow, arriving to attend the workshop led by Maxine Clark.

Maxine, or Max as she likes to be called, is the co-author of the Leiths Meat Bible. She’s been with the school for some 20 years but still oozes with enthusiasm. In fact, she says that she can lead an entire workshop just on jelly combinations and given the number of ideas she freely disseminates in the space of five minutes, you can believe her too.

After gathering in the library with coffee and pastries, Max introduces the workshop menu to the group in the airy teaching kitchen. It’s a trio of desserts we were making: rose petal and raspberry meringues with raspberry compote and framboise mascarpone, sparkling Champagne and strawberry jellies with elderflower cream and cherry tartlets with Black Forest sauce. I want to say berry good but that will probably raise a few groans.

Berry meringue at LeithsThe dessert selection doesn’t read like much work but when Max starts talking about the methodology and the techniques involved, it begins to feel a little daunting. The meringues in particular appear to be laden with a multitude of sins that seem daunting even for someone who enjoys making lemon meringue pies by hand. There’s lots of things that I had never considered like if you start whisking the egg whites and then leave them, they will never turn into meringues when you come back. Or if you over-whisk your eggs white, the meringues will similarly fail.

And despite it being just three desserts, when you consider the sauces and creams as accompaniments, there seems to be a million steps between the raw ingredients and the finished products. It’s reassuring to be given a schedule to follow as well as the recipes, and that’s all part of the hand holding at a Leiths’ course. We do have a little luxury though – all the ingredients had been weighed out for us ahead of the class and there’s no washing up afterwards.

Chocolate tart at LeithsEven though it’s not the first dessert on the list, we start with soaking the gelatine leaves so that the champagne and strawberry jelly has time to set. Then over the course of the workshop we whisk through the meringues and roll over the pastry shells until, at last, there’s the final frenzy of whipping and stirring to finish all the accompanying sauces and creams. Generous glasses of dessert wine are poured as we put the finishing touches to the desserts.

The only way of describing the end of the course is a satisfying relief – when everything comes together and there’s nothing more to do but enjoy. Well, aside from meticulously packing everything up in assorted Tupperware and carrying the whole load home.

For a full list of Leiths courses, visit their website at