Live webchat and bake day with Dan Lepard

Dan making the icingAward-winning food writer and baker Dan Lepard was our guest for our first Mumsnet bake day on 8 Jan 2010. This is an edited version of the webchat. Plus, watch a step-by-step guide to making and icing our bake-day carrot and apple muffins recipe.

Making the bake-day recipe | Making bread | Making sourdough bread | Sugar-free baking | Making dumplings | Making marmalade | Making pancakes | Allergy-free recipes | Making souffles

DanLepard: Hi everyone on Mumsnet, I've been watching the goings-on here for a while, been very moved by so many of the posts – particularly the threads about bullying at school and the campaign against advertisers twisting the minds of young viewers with guilt about their perfectly fine bodies – so I'm glad to be a part of it. Even if it's just to encourage anyone who wants to bake, and to drum up some support for our Marmalade Festival in Cumbria early next month.

If you make marmalade, tell me about it. Otherwise, let me know how you're doing with your baking. I'm here making a batch of muffins, but I've just discovered a bundt tin in Carrie's cupboard, so I'm going to wing it and see how the mixture bakes as a big cake. So be creative.

Making the bake-day recipe

Letter QMmeLindt: Muffin mixture smells very strongly of olive oil.

Letter ADanLepard: MmeLindt, ahh yes, if the olive oil is very strong and "extra virgin" it might still taste of olive oil. A problem? Maybe not, let's wait and see how they taste...

Letter QTeamEdward: My mixture is very thick...

Letter ADanLepard: This will be affected by how juicy your carrots and apples are, and perhaps a little bit by the absorbancy of your flour. Don't worry unduly yet, you might find that everything is OK when they're baked. I've worried about this in the past and often found that everything baked fine. So carry on...

Letter QTeamEdward: OK, mine are in the oven. 180C for how long?

Letter ADanLepard: At 180C (160C fan) look at them after 25 minutes, but they might need 30 depending on how cold your ingredients were. It's warm here in Carrie's kitchen. What's it like where you are?

Letter QGuimauve: Was going to do this but have accidentally used all my carrots. Do you suppose two courgettes and a parsnip will do?

Letter ADanLepard: Yes, in Ponymum's recipe I would substitute the carrots for a combination of parsnip and courgette. I know, it sounds mad but it will taste really good. Both parsnips and courgettes are really good in grated-veg style recipes.

Letter Qsis: Two-spoon method? Two teaspoons or tablespoons or...?

Letter ADanLepard: Tthe "two-spoon" method of spooning the batter into the papers is something my mother taught me years ago. Scoop the mixture - using a teaspoon or tablespoon - into one spoon from the bowl, then scrape it off with the other spoon. Easy.

Letter QPonymum: If you can, Dan, could you give some tips on getting the best out of this recipe? Mine just didn't rise today like they usually do. The things I did different are:

  • Lower oven temp, as you said 160C if it's a fan oven (I usually do 180C fan)
  • Used sunflower oil instead of olive oil
  • Whizzed the whole lot together in the Magimix to save time as the grated stuff was already in there
  • Instead of self-raising flour I added 1 heaped tsp baking powder to 125g flour. Was that not enough?

Any or all of the above likely to contribute to poor rising? Too embarrassed to post a photo but they taste nice.

Letter ADanLepard: Your oven might be cooler. Do bake them at 180C. Sunflower instead of olive oil? Shouldn't make a difference. Maybe you've answered your "do not overbeat" question. Baking powder and plain flour, instead of SR flour? That sounds about right but you could add more depending on the ingredients. Old SR flour, by the way, produces a much lighter result than fresh flour. I'm sure using one of those SR sponge flours would produce an extra light result.

Letter QMmeLindt: Is there anything that I can use instead of cream cheese for the creamy icing? Just realised that I have none. Have butter and icing sugar.

Letter ADanLepard: For a cream-cheese-free creamy frosting use butter and icing sugar (2/3 sugar and 1/3 butter) together with 2 tbsp marmalade, beat like crazy and work in just enough water to make it soft and spreadable.

Letter QPussinJimmyChoos: I love muffins but one thing that I find confusing is that the the recipies always state to combine the wet/dry ingredients but to not overmix as this makes the mixture too heavy. However, not overmixing means I have big bits of floury mixture. What would you advise?

Letter ADanLepard: Hmm, it's true, if you beat the mixture like a demon it might get elastic and rubbery but, really, most of the lightness will be in the amount of baking powder in relation to the other ingredients. Also, when you mix, scoop right down to the bottom of the bowl right from the start and keep doing that. This will help the mixture to become even quicker.


Making bread

Letter Qmidnightexpress: Dan, I love your book The Handmade Loaf. But real yeast is difficult to find, natural leaven is a faff to keep going and I generally don't have the time needed to make lots of the lovely breads in the book. So, whilst I appreciate that proper bread-making is a wonderful thing, what are your best tips/recipes for the harried bread baker?

Letter ADanLepard: For anyone rushed off their feet and wanting to sometimes bake a great loaf without too much faff there is this easy recipe, about three to four hours tops. And here's a very quick loaf recipe. I'm posting links rather than recipes here as there are lots of reader questions and photos there that make the links much more helpful.

Letter QCarrieDaBabi: Can I bake bread out of plain or self-raising flour? I have no strong flour in.

Letter ADanLepard: Bread with plain flour. Yes, it's possible, but don't let it rise too much. Also, add 1/2 500mg crushed tablet of vitamin C to the flour and this will help it rise better (the vit C strengthens the gluten in the flour).

Letter QStarlightWonderStarlightBright: Talk to me about kneading. Is it ever worth the muscle pain? We just eat homemade bread really dense because we can't stand the army drill. Is there a short cut? I tried a hand-held kneader but the bowl just wizzes around because I'm not strong enough to hold it still.

Letter ADanLepard: I never knead bread in the traditional sense and haven't for about eight years. My bread is great, tastes lovely and looks picture perfect. Most of the users of my forum, and lots of readers around the world now knead bread very little or not at all. But a quick Google will find home cooks and bakers who swear by it. So, clearly, it's not necessary but do it if you like it. As for no-kneading, no-rising bread, SoupDragon has the right idea. A bread machine.

Letter QPonymum: My question for you Dan (on behalf of DH who is a hardcore fan of yours and the breadmaker in this house) is, ever since we moved house and inherited a not brilliant built in oven, DH is not having success with making bread. He is convinced it is because this oven simply won't get hot enough. Are there any tricks or tips to get successful bread out of a domestic oven that refuses to get really hot? He likes to use your pain blanc recipe from Baking with Passion.

Letter ADanLepard: Ovens that don't get hot enough. I know about that one. First off, save up and plan for a new oven. My (now old) new oven transformed my home life and I can't imagine getting through Christmas without it.

But until that day comes, get a plain, thick, unglazed terracotta floor tile, big enough to fit in the oven with a few inches to spare around so that the heat can circulate. Place it in the oven before you switch it on and then let the oven preheat for about 50 minutes. I know, it makes it an expensive loaf of bread and probably creates your own little patch of missing ozone from the sky, but it will help keep the heat in your oven.

Letter QSlng: I tried the sour rye bread and the sweet rye bread in The Handmade Loaf, but they both turned out to be like bricks (though my little boy loved it and continues to demand the "really hard" bread). I used stoneground rye flour rather than fine rye flour. Would that be why? Where can you get fine rye flour? Shipton Mill, which you recommend, has 'light rye flour'. Is that it?

Letter ADanLepard: You asked why my sour rye bread and sweet rye bread both turned out to be like bricks? Because they're meant to be like bricks. Your son is right, that 'really hard bread ' does have some fans - I'm one - but it sounds like you're not. I slice it very thinly and have it toasted in the morning with marmalade. The sour and the sweet go lovely together.

Letter QOliviaMumsnet: I am sure my DH would love me to be able to make sourdough, it's one of his fave things ever, but have never tried even basic breadmaking since our breadmaker some years hence (now on permanent loan to a mate as twas woefully underused). Please can you tell me how hard it is to get started?

Letter ADanLepard: You asked how hard it is to make a simple loaf of bread by hand. Do try this one for easy white bread.

Letter Qfishie: I make my own bread, usually with a white flour starter which I keep in the fridge and use about once a week. I know that you advise rye flour for starters, but I find it needs to be used more often or else it becomes rather sharp. How would half-white, half-rye do?

And where on earth can I get fresh yeast? All the books say "ask at your local bakery" but since mine is a Hovis factory I don't think they'd take kindly to me appearing at the door with a bowl. I asked at Borough market and they just blinked at me.

Letter ADanLepard: You asked about varying the types of flour used when you refresh a sourdough starter. Yes, do, go for it, nothing will go wrong and it's crucial that you make a loaf that you're absolutely happy with rather than following my scripture or anyone elses. Half-white, half-rye sounds good to me.

I no longer reply on fresh yeast. Replace fresh yeast in a recipe with the same volume (1/2 tsp of fresh yeast weighs about 3.5g, whereas 1/2 tsp dry instant weighs about 1.75g) of dry instant.

CarrieDaBabi: What are your views on swan meringues? Retro cool or totally naff?

DanLepard: Swan meringues = retro cool.

Letter Qonebatmother: Daa-aaan <read in voice of whiny child>, why does some packet (not fresh) yeast bubble and some not? I make pizza not bread - is it necessary, thees bubbleeng?

Letter ADanLepard: It could fail sometimes, so that's why making a batter (what cooks used to call a 'sponge') with a little flour and warm water from the recipe and the yeast, and leaving this for an hour, will help. Try mixing this sponge with very warm water, hot bathwater temperature, and see if that helps. Also, I have less trouble with the instant yeast type in the sachet. I'd take it back to the shop and make a fuss.

Letter QMmeLindt: I have a yeast question, too. I have been using a bread recipe that requires quick yeast, which is handy and does not scare me as fresh yeast tends to do. Would my bread be so much better with fresh yeast?

Letter ADanLepard: Is fresh yeast better than instant yeast? Good question. I use instant yeast all the time because - in the time since writing my book where I recommend fresh yeast - it's become even harder to buy it. If you keep the yeast to a minimum and shape the dough as soon as you see air bubbles in the dough, or when it has risen by 50% in volume, you shouldn't be able to taste a difference. I can't. Your posts read as if you're well into baking, MmeLindt!

Letter Qphdlife: I've tried Dan's soy and linseed loaf three times and every time it has come out about 1" tall. But I make lots of Andrew Whitley bread ("pulling" kneading) with the same yeast and that just turns out dandy.

Letter ADanLepard: Very sorry to read you have problems with the soy and linseed loaf, though if it's any help you can read and see lots of successes with this recipe. And you're the first I know of to have a problem with it. My guess, without comparing the recipes, would be that Andrew uses more yeast and warmer water, as this would make it rise faster, and maybe that works better in your kitchen.

Letter Qmark12: Have you considered using marmalade and chopped whole orange in a tea loaf style? Instead of using mixed fruits, use chopped orange and the sweetness comes from marmalade and a little honey. Use your favorite recipe and then substitute as above.

Letter ADanLepard: I wasn't certain whether you have tried this, or if you wondered if I had? I haven't tried it, and as an idea I would want to look at how much liquid the fresh orange was adding to the cake mixture. The best cakes are low in watery liquid, as too much will make the texture rubbery. I think I might be tempted to make a hot rum syrup, pour this over the chopped orange pieces and serve it with a slice of the cake and a spoonful of softly whipped cream.


Making sourdough bread

Letter QNobodyKnowsIAmACat: I've been trying my hand at sourdough (though I need to resurrect my poor starter), but I've been trying to limit the amount of salt I use to make a lower salt loaf more suitable for my baby to eat. How can I improve the flavour of a basic white loaf without adding more salt? I've only been using approx 5g in what must be a 1kg loaf, which I believe is quite a small amount.

Letter ADanLepard: How to reduce the salt? A good question. With all recipes, including mine, you can leave the salt out and the bread will still rise and bake well. It might rise a little too quickly so leave the dough after mixing and kneading until it has risen by 50% - no more - then shape it and let it rise again by 50% - 75%. Flavour with less salt. Try adding a teaspoon of marmite (!) mixed into the water for making the dough in place of salt in the recipe. This will give the bread a richer flavour.

Letter Qpersonanongrata: Dan, don't have your book, I'm afraid, and want to make sourdough bread (because tediously got to avoid yeast) as shop-bought sourdough while tasty is also pricey. Can you point me to some failsafe recipes, please? And someone earlier said keeping sourdough leaven going is a faff. Is it? Are there any shortcuts?

Letter ADanLepard: First off, I have to be honest and say that - at first - getting a sourdough going is a bit of a faff, and not entirely failsafe. Yes, I know that X baker, Y telly chef and Z magazine food writer all say that sourdough is fun, quick and easy. Utter crap. It's like driving a car. Easy when you know how, and at first a nightmare.

But these tips will make it easier:

  • Look at these websites:, and and read them slowly to get an overall idea first. In fact, all you will ever need is probably within those three websites, and they're free. The benefit of a website over a book is that they get updated, and as we learn more about what goes on in a sourdough ( I know, 2,000 years and we still don't know everything). And they contain help from hundreds of bakers around the world.
  • Remember that the yeast and bacteria you need in your leaven will be contained in any organic wholemeal flour and simply refreshing it each and every day until you have a good, vigorous, vinegar-aroma starter is enough to start it.
  • Keeping the leaven. I freeze it, and that way it's faff-free. Read about it here.


Letter Qventone: I feel that I have conquered my 50% rye sourdough but I have two problems that I can't seem to get around. My bubbles are very small and not characteristically big as it is meant to be on sourdough. The second thing is that my dough rises for 3 hours (optimal for my environment) but if I leave it (ie: forget) and it goes to 3 and 1/2 hours when I slash it to put in the oven it deflates. I suppose this indicated a tired yeast at this stage that is paste its 3 hour zenith. Any tips on extending this window of opportunity a little?

Letter ADanLepard: Lack of big bubbles in 50% rye sourdough. Actually I'd be surprised if you can get any. When you add rye flour it closes the texture of the dough as it - effectively - lowers the gluten in the dough and that means it can't stretch enough to hold big bubbles. But what you can do is try using one of those 'extra' strong flours, plus 1/2 500mg tablet of vit C crushed to a powder, and a little extra water and see if that helps.

If you want you dough to take longer to mature, add less sourdough to it at the beginning. Try reducing the amount added by 25% and that should mean it will take longer to peak.

Letter Qhenmum: For those who don't know, Dan is a great baking expert because he tries things out and explains how and why they work, in detail, rather than just issuing recipes (eg the famous 'hardly any kneading' bread). Dan, my question is about sourdough and pumpernickel - sort of two questions but linked as I believe rye/pumpernickel is made by the sourdough method.

I would like to make the sort of German heavy sticky wholegrain rye bread known here as pumpernickel - not Americal style pumpernickel, which is light rye bread. Do you have a recipe? I have only found recipes for the American style one online.

I have tried to make a sourdough starter but gave up after two weeks and masses of flour wasted, partly because it was too much trouble, also I wasn't quite sure what I was doing. Also, I couldn't have kept it going. Is there a shortcut/easy method?

IKEA do a pumpernickel style bread mix which is fantastic - just add water and bake, for great results. (it's expensive though). I read somewhere that they have managed to dry and incorporate the sourdough starter in the mix. Does this hold out any hope for the home baker?

Letter ADanLepard: You asked for a recipe for heavy, sticky German-style rye bread pumpernickel. You know, that is one of the breads I haven't really mastered or got to grips with and - this will sound a bit bread geeky - but one of my resolutions for this year is to make great pumpernickel bread. Keep your eye on my website and I'll post the recipe there when I've got it right.

Letter QGuimauve: Dan, when I've made sourdough up until now, I've used a method I found on Chocolate and Zucchini, where you put the dough into a Dutch oven with the lid on, put it into a cold oven and then bake it for one hour from the point you turn the oven on (to max). It's always produced an OK loaf, but lacking height/spring. Do you think this is due to the style of baking, or the dough itself?

Letter ADanLepard: You asked whether dough placed in a dutch oven (clay pot with a lid) and place in a cold oven - which is then switched on and left to heat up and bake the dough - would have as much oven spring as one baked by placing the cold dough in a hot oven. No it wouldn't, you'll get more oven spring and height by placing the cold dough into a hot oven.

But the cold oven method uses less fuel and thus better for the environment. It's a tricky one to decide, perhaps, if you're after the best loaf.

Letter QBusyMummyof3: In France I love to eat pain de campagne aux noix. I was just wandering if this is the same as sourdough with a few walnuts added? I tried a recipe I found online but it tasted nothing like the real thing.

Letter ADanLepard: You know, it is partly the flour and it might have a good leaven (sourdough) in it as well. This one is pretty authentic but a bit tricky, or this one is easier.

Sugar-free baking

Letter QFaintlyMacabre: Any ideas on sugar-free baking? A friend of mine has problems with migraines if she has refined sugar and I'd love to try making her a birthday cake. I was thinking of using fruit purees (particularly prune or dried apricots) to get the necessary sweetness, but then there might be too much liquid. Any thoughts?

Letter ADanLepard: Try my Alchemist's chocolate cake. A tip is to puree the fruit in a blender with honey or agave syrup, and add something like oat flour in place of some of the regular flour to give it a better flavour. The oat flour makes it 'chewy' as if there's more sugar in it.

Letter QGuimauve: What about honey or agave, Faintly?

Letter ADanLepard: I'd go for agave, as it has less of a strong flavour, but remember it will also add liquid so you might wnt to add about half the amount of sugar as 'liquid sugar' (ie honey or agave). The other trick to add sweetness rather than sugar is to add vanilla or grated orange zest.

Making dumplings

Letter QDavidTennantAteMyHeart: Can I ask about dumplings, please? I made baked cheesy dumplings. Bear with me, as it was the first time I've made dumpling for about 20 years. Some were lovely and light, and the taste was fantastic. Some were a bit stodgy. Why's this? Sloppy rubbing in? Could it be too much liquid in the casserole drowning some but not others?

I didn't have any onion left (snow!) so I made them without the onion and a splash extra milk to help them bind together (less than 20ml). I have to say it's a long time since I've seen my DH quite so happy after a weekday lunch so I will be making them again, but I'd like them to be better!

Letter ADanLepard: What makes some dumplings in a layer over a casserole lovely and light, and the others a bit stodgy? You're right about the liquid in the casserole. What happens is that the chunks in the casserole release less moisture than the gravy and so the dumplings above the chunks are lighter and crisper while the dumplings above the sauce are softer (stodgy?) and moist.

You could bake them on a baking sheet on the shelf below the casserole and drop them in after it comes out of the oven.

Making marmalade

Letter Qgiannah: Someone told me that there's a category in which the winner can have their marmalade sold in Fortnum & Mason's if they get a double gold from the judges. Is that really true? It sounds amazing.

Letter ADanLepard: This will be possible, but only from the Artisan Producers category - sorry if this disappoints you, but I'm not sure many home marmalade makers would want to turn their kitchens over to making marmalade on even a small commercial scale!

Letter Qdundeemarmalade: OK, so this is a massively cheeky request but I actually have three questions. Can I just say that I am (I think) the only mumsnetter who actually has marmalade in their name! I make so much and eat so much of it (dd's almost-first word was marmalala...) and - is it really that wrong to play the sympathy card - my dear step-mil has recently been diagnosed with the kind of condition that Hospice at Home know all about.

Please could you answer a question that has been causing controversy in my family for several generations: I thought that absolutely all pith needs to be removed, whereas my elders and betters say that chopping the fruit finely enough makes it OK. Who is right?

Also, as an afterthought, any chance of a sourdough bread solution? Have had much success with Nigella's fresh yeast recipe from How to Eat, but would love to combine this with sourdough preparation. With heartiest best wishes from all at marmalade towers, Dr dundeemarmalade.

Letter ADanLepard: You asked whether all pith needs to be removed when making marmalade, or if chopping the fruit finely is OK. They are both right, but for different reasons and according to who you ask.

The WI, who are the Valhalla gods when it comes to defining what is and isn't true Seville orange marmalade, insist (to me at least) that a true Seville marmalade should be glisteningly clear with very few thin and tender shreds of peel suspended through it. To achieve this all the pith must be removed, then (this is what I do):

Tie the finely chopped zest in a small pouch of muslin and place it in a saucepan with the roughly chopped pith. Barely cover with water, add the juice of a lemon, and simmer for at least two hours until utterly soft. Strain the liquid through muslin without pressing, return with the untied zest to the pan with the sugar and boil to 104C and hold it there until the setting point is reached. This will produce the clearest set.

However, if you just chop the Seville oranges finely, cover with water and cook until tender, add the sugar and bring to the boil, scoop the pips off - they rather helpfully float to the top - then boil to 104C and hold it there until the setting point is reached, this will produce a lovely preserve. Is it still marmalade? I think it is.

Sourdough bread: look through my website forum at and at and but I will look at writing an easier how-to somewhere.

Making pancakes

Letter QEVye: I have

Plain flour
Some milk (not loads)
Caster sugar
Chocolate chips
Cake decorations (hundreds and thousands and mini marshmallows)

We're now out of fruit and yoghurts and I can't get to the shop until tomorrow. I have no self-raising and no yeast. I am also not a very good cook. Any recipe ideas gratefully received

Letter ADanLepard: With your ingredients, I'd make chocolate chip marshmallow pancakes:

350ml milk, plus a little more
50g sugar
4 large eggs
125g plain flour
50g melted butter, plus extra butter for the pan
Chocolate chips and mini marshmallows

Beat the milk, sugar and eggs together, then beat in the milk and melted butter.
Leave for 30 minutes then heat a frying pan with enough extra butter to barely cover the bottom with a thin layer of oil.
Spoon some of the batter into the pan and swirl it around.
Place the pan back on the heat, and when the top is barely cooked sprinkle on a spoonful of the chocolate chips and the marshmallows.
Let it cook for 30 seconds then fold the pancake into four and leave it on a warm plate while you cook the rest.
Serve warm, with ice-cream even better.

Allergy-free recipes

Letter QCMOTdibbler: Dan, if you can come up with a recipe for gluten-free pastry that tastes nice, rolls out, and doesn't bake to something resembling kevlar (especially if double baked for quiche), I'll love you forever.

Letter ADanLepard: This is what I use for sweet gluten-free pastry (for savoury leave out the icing sugar, keep the almonds - that helps the flavour - and add a little pepper and additional salt). It freezes unbaked well, just bring it to cool room temperature before rolling:

500g gluten-free plain flour
75g icing sugar
75g ground almonds
pinch salt
300g unsalted butter, softened
4 egg yolks
50ml ice cold water

Sift the flour, icing sugar and salt into a bowl.
Break the butter into small pieces and rub this through the flour until it vanishes.
Beat the yolks with the water, and stir this into the flour and mix to a very soft and smooth dough. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes before using as it needs time to firm up.

Letter QCMOTdibbler: It would be fab if you added allergy alternatives to your recipes - for a man of your cookery intelligence it should be a nice challenge to do gluten-free/dairy-free/egg-free alternatives, and would be very much appreciated. Now for the tough one: can you do a nice gluten-free bread ?

Letter ADanLepard: I would love to in the Guardian column but I'm only given 225 words to play with. Actually it used to be 250 but with the shrinking economy the page shrank as well. So no room for any ifs or buts. But I do have a nice - no, make that excellent - gluten-free bread recipe.

Making soufflés

Letter QMmeLindt: Don't mention soufflés to me after the disaster on Xmas Eve.

Letter ADanLepard: I will write a recipe based on my Christmas one (I had the same idea). Made excellent mini Grand Marnier orange soufflés for Christmas pud, and I'm sure the depth of the bowl and baking it in a water bath help. Also, I added a pinch of cream of tartar to the egg whites and I think that helped it stay 'up' for longer out of the oven.

DanLepard: Ponymum, thank you so much for the recipe, and I can safely say from everyone here you've been a tremendous inspiration. I'm sure that there is always a bit of hesitation posting a recipe and thinking, "what will people make of it?" Well, it's been good to us.

You know, all the questions are really reassuring and it's clear that all this "no-one's into baking anymore" is a load of bumph.

Last updated: 9 months ago