Which is where Nigel Slater comes into it. His cookbooks are really simple. You can make the vast majority of his food from stuff you have at home already, which is great when you come home in the evening, starving, and lacking either the inspiration or will to go shopping. His recipes are sparse of detail (some of this, a bit of that) and he often proposes alternative ingredients to what is in the recipes (if you don’t have this, use that or this). His book ‘Eating for England’ is some sort of Willy Wonka fantasy shopping list (don’t read it if you’re on a diet).
‘Appetite’ is the book I turn to most often. It opens with chapters of advice on what to eat, how to shop, the different types of meat, what’s in season, how to cook. It also has a very simple bread recipe.
You need, aside from a couple of hours:
1kg of white bread flour (I used the ‘pain’ flour)
1 cube of fresh yeast (his recipe uses 2x7g sachets)
a teaspoon of honey
In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt. As I use fresh yeast, I dissolve this in 500ml of warm water with a spoonful of honey, and add this to the flour. Add most of the rest of the water and mix. In all, your dough should come together with no bits at the bottom of the bowl – if there are bits, add a little (ie: a teaspoon) more water – nor should it be too liquid – you should be able to handle it. If it’s like this, add a little more flour.
Flour your counter top and turn out the dough. With the heel of your dominant hand, push into the dough. Lift your hand out and with your other hand turn the dough about 45°. Keep this up for 10 minutes – you’ll notice the dough will get softer. This means the yeast is working. If you find yourself getting tired, you’re kneading too hard. It’s supposed to be gentle.
Pour a little olive oil into your bowl and using your hand, smear it up the sides. When the dough is soft and elastic, put it back into the bowl and cover it with a damp teatowel. Don’t be tempted to clean up your countertop. Put the dough somewhere warm – I use a radiator or a sunny window sill. After an hour or so, the dough should be twice its original size.
Once it’s grown and is in danger of taking over your kitchen, it’s time to fight back. Tip it onto the floured countertop and knead it again for a couple of minutes. It should regain some of its original size. Flour a baking tray and put the ball of dough on it and leave for another hour. If you’re so inclined, you can clean up your countertop as you won’t need to knead anymore. After the hour, put the oven on to 250°and knock the dough ball back into shape (you can keep it on the baking sheet for this).
Cook the dough at 250° for 10 minutes (just don’t slam the oven door or the bread won’t recover from the fright of the loud noise). Turn the oven down to 220°. Watch the epic battle taking place in your oven as the yeast fights to expand once more while the heat cooks it, sealing a crust that the yeast cannot break free from.
After 30 minutes, check the bread. Knock the bottom of the loaf. If it sounds hollow, you’re good; if there’s a heaviness in reply to your knock, leave the bread in the oven for another 10 minutes or so.
Cool on a wire rack. I know it’s tempting to dive in and take a slice of it now, but your bread needs to literally let off steam and dry out, so wait until it’s fully cooled before you attack it with a bread knife.
Or you could just nip to the local bakery. But where’s the fun in that?