Monthly Archives: April 2010

Brown Bread

Same procedure as the white bread recipe, but use 50:50 white:wholemeal flour. I’d be inclined to add about 5 – 10g of sugar. Something interesting, like Muscovado would be good, but caster sugar is fine. Treacle, Golden Syrup, molasses and honey are all acceptable alternatives.

The resulting dough, below, looks quite white.

But goes a reassuring shade of brown, once done. Note that it doesn’t rise as much as a white loaf.


Croque Monsieur

Ahem. Toast the bread first, in the toaster, but get the grill going now. Spread the toast with a layer of wholegrain mustard: this stops the ham curling up at the edges. Ham. Cheese: preferably hard and mean, so a strong Cheddar, Gruyère, Comté or Cantal.  Under the now hot grill until the cheese starts to bubble. Black pepper. Job done.


Apparently, if I were keeping up with the Joneses, then I would be baking sourdough this season. Or possibly spelt. Or, to demonstrate my culinary bravura, spelt sourdough. I raise my hat to the devoted bakers out there: those with the time, the patience, and the nurturing love for their biga, poolish or leaven. My time is minimal, and my patience short, so…

…back to the basics. Ordinary flour from the supermarket. Dried yeast from a sachet. Salt. Water. A tiny bit of elbow grease, and a great deal of enjoyment.

This will require fifteen minutes’ work, spread out over three hours. You will need…

  • a 5g packet of “easy blend” dried yeast – don’t worry if it’s 7g – the bread will simply rise a bit faster
  • 500g of strong white flour – this is bread making flour, as opposed to plain flour, which is the kind you use to make cakes and pastry
  • 5g salt (or more, if you prefer – I wouldn’t go beyond 10g)
  • 400mL of very warm (but not hot) water – you won’t need it all
  • extra flour for dusting/kneading/etc

Put all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix together. I wouldn’t worry about sifting: this is a relic from the days of yore, when flour had lumps and weevil shit in it.

Make a well in the centre of the flour and gradually add 350mL of the water whilst stirring. This will clump together and then turn into dough. Depending upon the age and grind of the flour you may find it absorbs all the water, in which case add the remaining water in two 25mL lots. You may find it’s too sloppy, in which case, just leave it for a few minutes and the starch in the flour will soak up the excess water. What you need to end up with is a slightly sticky goopy mass that has absorbed all the flour.

Now, spread about a tablespoon of flour on a clean area of the kitchen bench, and get some all over your hands as well. Hoik the dough out of the bowl and onto the bench. It will not look very attractive, and it will feel strangely flaccid.

Start kneading it, and by kneading, what I mean is gently push it out in front of you, using the heels of your hands until it’s twice as long as wide. Then fold the far edge back over the near edge, and turn it 90º clockwise. And repeat. It will start to look like this.

You’ll need to knead (fnarr!) for about ten minutes. It’s not hard work: imagine you’re massaging it, rather than punishing it. Beware of flouring the bench too much, as the dough will soak up the extra flour and you’ll end up with drier bread. (If you’re feeling a little brave, have a go at kneading without flour at all. Initially, this will seem like an exercise in messy messy futility, but after about five minutes the dough will start sticking to itself in preference to anything else, and order will arise from chaos.)

About halfway through, something magic will happen. The dough will start to feel springy and elastic, and you’ll start to feel some resistance. Keep going. You’ll find that the elasticity means you’ll do more stretching than pushing. This is good. Once the ten minutes is up, roll it into a ball, put it into a clean bowl, and cover with a dampish teatowel.

Now it has to rise: this is when the yeast munches the sugar in the starch, burping it out as carbon dioxide and alcohol. Yes, it’s the same kind of yeast you use to make wine and beer, but the alcohol gets burnt off during the cooking; sorry. (Particularly snooty works on bread making will refer to this as “fermentation”. They also measure their water in grams, which is odd.)

Anyway, this will take from 45 minutes to two hours. It was 20ºC in my kitchen this morning, so it took an hour. You can tell it has risen, as it will roughly double in size, as below, and possibly have small blistery bubbles on its surface.

Upend the contents of the bowl back onto the floured bench, and gently squish it down. You’ll feel all the air being forced out and it will return to its previous size. This is known as “knocking back”, or sometimes “punching down”, but shouldn’t be a violent activity.

Spread some flour on a solid baking sheet and transfer the dough here, and organise it into an approximation of its final shape. Some people go for a ball, I prefer a kind of sausage shape. (See Dan Stevens’ book for its magisterial section on shaping.)

Dust it with flour, and cover it with a teatowel; again dampish. This is to stop the outside from drying out too much.

It’s going to need to rise again for about another hour. This is called “proving”, although some writers use this term for the first rise. Towards the end of this period, get the oven going as hot as you dare. The dough may do more spreading than rising, so just before it goes in, tuck the edges under if necessary.

Now it needs to go into the oven. When it cooks it will probably double in height, so make sure you’ve adjusted the shelving in the oven to give it some headroom. Otherwise it will wrap itself around your overhead grill, which would be Ugly.

Now, after the first ten minutes at maximum, drop the temperature down to about 200ºC and leave it to cook for another half hour or so, but keep an eye on it after twenty minutes. (Lop about ten minutes off the total time if you’ve halved the dough into two loaves.)

The reliable test at the end of this is to pick it up in a teatowel (carefully! fold the teatowel a few times!) and rap the underside with your knuckles: it ought to sound hollow and drum like. If not, back in the oven for another ten.

Pop it onto a cooling rack and leave for twenty minutes. It will smell fantastic, and make appealing crackling sounds as it cools and the crust solidifies.


You could, before proving, break it into two smaller loaves, but don’t forget to place them a fair distance from each other on the baking sheet, and reduce the cooking time slightly.

Oh, and in a fan forced oven, the side closest to the fan will get more heat. If this uneven tan bothers you, rotate the tray about ten minutes before the end.

About 50g of semolina will add a certain crunch, or you could use the semolina for kneading etc.

You could also use this recipe with a 50:50 mix of wholemeal and white flour. Note that the bread won’t rise as much.

*slightly too little yeast will result in a longer rising time and slightly too much a shorter rising time – but vary the amount too much and the bread won’t work – always ignore the instructions about the dough only needing to rise once!

Breakfast(!) Pizza

The last grisly remains of the pizza dough were favouring me with an accusatory glare from the bottom shelf of the fridge this morning.

The dough yielded one useful lump, which was duly rolled out and adorned with ham, except for the centre, which I left bare. After five minutes in the oven, I broke an egg into the recess in the middle and covered the lot with a handful of grana. A few more minutes and behold, the breakfast of champions.

The egg, of course, didn’t confine itself to the well in the middle, and some of it escaped over the baking sheet, and has become carbonised laminate. Oh well, fun with the washing up.

The remaining odds and sods of dough were rolled into a single flattish piece (about two centimetres thick) brushed with olive oil, more salt, and popped in for a 20 minutes. A very rough, but quite palatable, ciabatta/focaccia/thing resulted.


I love pizza, as should all Right Thinking Men and Women.

It’s easy to make at home, and fun. A favourite procedure of mine is this: make the dough and the sauce the night before, as they’ll keep in the fridge. Then, get each guest to bring: a pizza ingredient, and a cheese. (Co-ordinate before, so we don’t have the scenario from Sesame Street where everyone brings potato salad to the King’s Picnic.) Then, all you need do is have plenty of cold, cold beer on hand, and whip up pizzas over the course of the evening. If the combinations become more eccentric as the night goes on, so be it.

Note: This procedure produces thin, crusty pizzas. If you want American style, deep pizzas, then I can’t help you.

The Dough

For enough dough to feed six in one sitting, i.e. make about six smallish pizzas, I use the following:

  • 300g strong flour (i.e. bread flour)
  • 200g plain flour – I’m not quite sure where these proportions come from, they’re scribbled on a piece of manky paper from years ago – you could probably just go with 100% strong flour if you prefer – you might also try 100% Italian “doppio zero” flour for authenticity
  • one sachet dried yeast (normally about 5-7g)
  • 10g salt (the posh brand of sea salt is good here, save the other stuff for boiling pasta)
  • a gloop, alright 20mL, of olive oil, yer best extra-virgin-on-the-ridiculous – you could be authentic and replace with the same amount of lard, this is called the strutto
  • 375mL very warm water

Place the dry ingredients in a bowl and combine, and gradually add the water, whilst stirring.

You’ll probably want to stop after about 325mL, if the dough is fairly dry, add another 25mL, so you end up with something slightly sticky. If it’s still dry, then you may need the final 25mL. Mix in the olive oil. You’ll probably find that the spoon became fairly useless about halfway through the mixing process and you’ll need to use your hands.

Knead for about ten minutes, and then plonk into a clean bowl, cover with a teatowel, and allow to rise. It’ll need about an hour, depending on the ambient temperature. (Some recipes tell you to oil the bowl first, to stop the dough sticking. I’ve never had a problem.)

That’s it. You don’t need a second rising: it’s ready for action. At this point, you can also put it in the fridge, and it will keep for a week in an airtight container. Not too airtight, as it will continue to rise and you don’t want an explosion. (One of my friends says “three weeks”, as apparently the yeast is so mean, no other microbes will dare go anywhere near it.)

The Sauce

Forget this pizza bianca crap. There’s gotta be tomato sauce, and I think it ought to be homemade. Doesn’t need to be fancy, though. Assuming you’ve made the dough in the quantities above, you’ll need…

  • four cloves of garlic
  • a tablespoon of olive oil
  • a 500g carton of passata

Just chop up the garlic and fry it in the olive oil, when done, add the passata, bring to the boil, and then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste. After about an hour the sauce will have reduced by half and be ready for action.

Now, that’s a pretty inoffensive sauce; inoffensive being a synonym for unexciting. I’d also consider some of the following:

  • chuck in half a teaspoon of chillis when frying the garlic
  • a spoon of dried oregano once you’ve added the tomatoes
  • some anchovies
  • a shake of the Tabasco bottle
  • a teaspoon of red wine vinegar
  • some dried basil (save the fresh stuff for the pizza topping)

The Topping

Less is more, alright. Anything that can be, should be thinly sliced.

  • salami and olives
  • prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella
  • anchovies and anything
  • raw prawns that have been marinated in something interesting
  • capers, crème fraîche, and smoked salmon (put it on after the pizza has come out of the oven)
  • those “chicken tikka mini fillets” you get from M&S, some mango chutney, and a splash of yoghurt (with some dried mint mixed in) once it comes out of the oven
  • anything from the antipasto counter at Camisa’s
  • someone said that putting bolognese sauce on it was wrong – I was so intrigued by this that I tried it with some leftovers and it was marvellous

Putting it all Together

Now for the fun bit.

Get the oven going, and crank it up as far as it will go. Place a heavy baking sheet on a high shelf, and let that heat up.

Get another baking sheet, the same size as the one that’s heating up, and use this as your rolling board: it’ll be obvious in a few paragraphs why. Spread a handful of dry semolina or coarse polenta over it, which will stop the dough sticking.

Break off a fist sized chunk of dough, about 150g, and start rolling it out.

This will make a pizza big enough to fit on a large dinner plate. I’ve never owned a rolling pin, so end up using a wine bottle. You want to get it about half a centimetre thick. Once you’ve got it reasonably flat, feel free to use your hands to stretch it. Make sure, once it’s done, that there’s plenty of semolina underneath, and it slides around without too much trouble. You’ll notice quite a bit of the semolina embeds itself in the surface of the dough. This will cook, and add an extra crunchiness to the finished product, so don’t be shy.

Put the ingredients on top.

Now take it over to the oven. With a bit of luck, and enough semolina underneath, you can slide it off the cold baking sheet and onto the hot baking sheet. About eight minutes in the oven should do it.

Stating the Obvious

Some things to note:

  • if you’re going to top with mozzarella, make sure it’s the industrial strength stuff from the cow, and not the exquisitely delicate stuff from the buffalo – you can use the latter, but if you do, pop it on a minute before you take it out of the oven
  • beer is mandatory
  • pineapple is an abomination
  • so is processed ham