Bread isn’t scary after all

bread-150x150I’ve always looked at folk who bake bread as some sort of evil geniuses who have this amazing secret that makes them somehow better than everyone else.

Well all it took was a little courage and the acceptance that getting it wrong wasn’t the end of the world and finally I have joined that list of special folk who bake their own bread. And yes… I feel very smug.

So in the tradition of One and a half cooks… I’m going to share that secret with you. Don’t be scared, making bread is easy.

So you’ll need


· 500g white bread flour , plus extra for dusting

· 7g sachet fast-action dried yeast

· 1tsp salt

· up to 350ml lukewarm water and a little sunflower oil , for greasing .

How to:

Ok firstly you make the dough by tipping the flour, yeast and salt into a large bowl and making a well in the middle so that you can add the water.

Pour in about half of the water and use your fingers to mix the flour and remaining water together until combined to a slightly wet, pillowy, workable dough. Ok this is messy work so don’t panic at having a sticky mess, you can always add a bit more flour or more water if you need to, you just need the courage to get your hands in and get gooey.

Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for at least 10 mins until smooth and elastic, kneading is basically using the heel of your hand to push and stretch the dough away from you and then roll it back and do it again and again. You’ll be able to see and feel the change this makes to the dough, it will go from sticky to smooth and stretchy and no longer sticky.

Place the dough in a clean, oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave to rise somewhere warm until it has doubled in size. ( I live in Scotland which is a cold country so I cheat, I put the oven on to the absolute lowest temperature and once it’s heated I switch it off and put the dough in there to rise).

Once the dough has risen to about twice it’s size, get ready to make the bread happen.

Heat the oven to 220C/ fan 200C/ gas mark 7.

Knock back the dough by tipping it back onto a floured surface and pushing the air out. (I know it seems mad after you went to all the effort to put all that air in there but trust me).

Mould the dough into a rugby ball shape or any other shape you want for the bread and then cover with a clean tea towel and leave to prove for a further 30 mins (it should rise again at least a bit).

Dust the top of the loaf with a little more flour and slash the top with a sharp knife if you want.

Bake the bread for 15 mins, then reduce the heat to 190C/ fan 170C/gas 5 and continue to bake for 30 mins until the loaf sounds hollow when removed from the tin and tapped on the base.

Leave the bread on a wire rack to cool completely before enjoying it with real butter or jam.



Cheddar and caramelised onion bread

wpid-IMAG1143-2-300x169A while back you joined me in my first nervous steps into bread making, so I thought it was time to bring you back to bread making and some of the fabulous new breads I’ve learned.

Cheese breads are a favourite of Kate’s, and cheddar and caramelised onion was an idea of hers.

This loaf is packed with flavours and has a lovely soft crust, perfect for ripping and sharing with family or friends. It’s best served warm to get it at it’s very best.

Ingredients for bread

  • 400 grams of strong white bread flower
  • 100 grams of wholemeal bread flour
  • 40 grams softened unsalted butter
  • 10 grams yeast
  • 7 grams salt
  • around 330 ml water

Ingredients for filling

  • Two chopped and caramelised onions
  • 150 grams grated cheddar cheese

Be careful with your salt addition as the cheddar will add saltiness to your bread.


There are 4 stages to making your bread;

1. mixing and kneading the bread dough

2. rising

3. knocking back & proofing

4. cooking

The reason I lay out the stages like this, is to make it easier to be organised about what you have to do or at least, how I like to do it.

Stage 1.

Add the flour, softened butter, yeast and salt to a large bowl and bring together a little using your hands, then begin to add the water a bit at a time making sure to really mix it all together and incorporate it before adding any more.

I said around 330ml of water and you may not need it all or you may need more, the trick is to take your time and mix.

Once you have a dough – a little sticky – you want to empty the bowl out onto a surface and begin to knead the bread dough. Remember from last time that the sticky dough will become less sticky and more soft and pliable as you knead (takes around 7 or 8 mins).

Stage 2. Letting the dough rise.

You need to put the dough back in its bowl and cover with some cling film then leave it somewhere warm (not hot) for at leat an hour, or until it has doubled in size. Don’t be over eager to force this to happen quickly, the longer rising and proving take – the better the flavour of the bread.

Once the bread is proving, this is your chance to grate your cheese and cook your onions ready to add them once they have cooled.

If you have ever caramalised onions before, you can go here to learn

Stage 3. Incorporating the onions and cheese and proofing the bread.

Once the bread has risen, you need to do what’s called knocking it back. This means knocking all the air out of the bread by kneading it again for a minute or two. This is also the stage where you add your cheese and onions. Add them a bit at a time and knead them into the dough. If you get any random bits which fall out of the dough, simply poke them back in again.

Again you want to leave the bread to rise for about an hour or until it’s doubled in size, but this time you don’t put it back in its bowl. This time, shape your dough to look the final loaf you want and then cover it with cling film before leaving it to rise.

Stage 4. Cooking

To cook your bread and fill your home with the most amazing bread smells, pre-heat your oven to 220 degrees (or 200 for a fan) and cook for 20 mins. When it’s had 20 mins, turn it over and tap the bottom, if it’s cooked it should sound hollow.

Guaranteed, your house will smell amazing and your bread will be wonderful.



What’s cooking – a book review


One of our big successes of 2014 wasn’t veggies we’d grown or even beer we’d brewed. It was quite simply that we tidied the shelf in the den creating space to organise our ever-growing pile of cookery books. Previously we’d kept the books in a messy pile in the living room but because it had become so difficult to find the one you were after, they had mostly sat about being ignored.

The new organised shelf mean that we are re-discovering some of our favourites and trying some new recipes.

So we thought we’d share our current favourite cookery books and recipes with you.


Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall – of River Cottage fame

everydayOne of the first and indeed most used cookery books we bought was the “Every day” book.  It came about because our friends Hayley and Luke cooked a few dishes for us that we really loved and when we asked about them, Hayley raved about this book and let us have a leaf through it. By the time Kate had driven us home that evening, I had been online on my phone and bought a copy.

The recipes in the book are nice and simple and very easy to follow and if you are eagle-eyed you will find a few of our versions of these recipes on our blog. Stuffed squash is a particular favourite of our as well as beetroot tart.



Gok Wan – Fashion Guru????????

gokThis one may throw you a little. Yes Gok Wan of TV fame for being a fashion design guru.

Lots of people are a bit confused about why he has released a cookery book after all he’s not a tv chef, doesn’t do cookery shows etc but it turns out he grew up cooking in his dad’s Chinese restaurant and has reworked a lot of his old favourite dishes into  slightly more healthy and less stodgy versions.

I love them.

In fact one of my favourite dishes to cook came from this book – Garlic Chicken.


Paul Hollywood – of Great British Bake Off fame

hollywoodOk I have to admit to my deep, dark secret. I am a massive Paul Holllywood fan – massive.

I had a nightmare of a time trying to learn how to make bread and then got his “How to Bake” book. An overnight transformation and I’m now making bread easily and sometimes I’m even a wee bit adventurous. Again I have to admit, it was Luke that turned me onto this book – he was making a cottage loaf one afternoon for lunch and I can still remember how amazing it smelled.

I think I had even ordered that book before we got home.

I now own 3 or 4 of Paul Hollywood’s books and even though he is a self-confessed “yellow, fizzy swill drinker”, I’m a fan.


Allegria Mcevery – TV chef

AllegriaAlledria Mcevery’s “Big Table Busy Kitchen” is a new purchase for us and so far we’ve only made one recipe from it, her Key Lime Pie. However it was fantastic, so I know I am going to be using this book more as the year goes on and I’m happy to recommend it.

I think my next experiment is going to be into pastry and tarts and there are certainly a few in this book that have caught my eye – who knows I may tell you all about it.


So there you have it, our kitchen reading recommendations for 2015. Stock up your bookshelves and get cooking.


The traditional Cottage Loaf – bake it yourself

Cottage loaf

The cottage loaf is a traditional British loaf shape from the Victorian era and possibly even earlier although it’s rarely seen in shops these days. I use my standard bread recipe but this loaf is shaped by putting a small ball of dough on top of a bigger one to make something like a dough snowman then using your fore finger to punch a hole through both balls of dough.

It looks difficult but it’s actually pretty easy to do.


  • 500g bread flour
  • 10g dried yeast
  • 10g salt
  • 30g unsalted butter
  • Roughly about 320ml of tepid water. Just enough to make a silky dough.

If you’ve never made bread before, it might be worthwhile to read my previous post which goes into more detail about the process.

Cheddar and caramelised onion bread


Step 1 – mix

Combine everything in a bowl and get your hands in there to mix into a dough. Don’t add all the water at once as you may not need it all. Just add a little at a time until everything comes together.

Step 2 – knead

Then knead on your work surface for about ten minutes. You want to stretch the dough, fold it over on itself and stretch it again until it’s very soft and silky feeling. By kneading you are allowing the gluten to form giving the dough the elasticity it needs to rise and be soft and pillowy.

Step 3 – rise

Set it aside in a bowl covered with cling film and leave it to rise until it has at least doubled in size. In a warm room, this is about 40 to 60 minutes.

Step 4 – shape

Then, we knock it back.  This means basically you do it all again but only for 5 minutes.

Shaping a cottage loafNext we have to shape the dough into the loaf shape we want it to end up looking like. In this case, split the dough into two pieces, one about a third the size of the other and form them into balls. Then place the smaller of the two pieces on top of the larger one, making  a snow man type shape.

Use a floured finger to press all the way down through the centre of the loaf, as far as possible, so it almost touches the baking sheet and then use the tip of a knife to score lines around the dough.

Step 5 – prove

Now you want to cover the dough with a clean tea towel and put it aside to rise again, just like before. This is called proving and is when the dough will take on its final shape and size before you bake it. At this point you want to put the dough onto the baking tray you are going to use to bake it as you don’t want to have to handle the dough once it has risen.

Again it will take roughly an hour for the dough to become twice its size and ready for the oven.

While the dough is proving you can get your oven pre-heated to 200C  (180C fan). Put a small dish or baking tray onto the floor of the oven, when we bake our bread we are going to put some water in this tray to create steam in the oven, this helps get a nice crust on the bread.

Step 6  – bake

Put the dough on its tray onto the middle oven shelf and add a cup of water to the tray on the oven floor.

Bake your bread for around 35 – 40 minutes, when it’s  done, tapping on the bottom should give a hollow sound.

Fresh out the oven



If you love Pizza, you’ll love making your own

Pizza and beer in the gardenI love pizza, I make pizza a lot, so when  I had a random conversation with a colleague from work, Suzie,  yesterday where we were talking about making bread and she admitted she’s never tried to make pizza, I promised to do a quick blog post with my recipe so she could try.

For a very long time, Kate and I had a Friday night treat of “Beer, Pizza and movie night”. Originally, this meant a shop bought or takeaway pizza, but once I leaned to make my own, shop bought pizza’s have just become a disappointment.

We don’t do pizza every Friday night anymore (way too many calories), but we do have it as a random treat every now and then and it’s always homemade. We have even tried all sorts of experiments to reduce the calories, making the base out of cauliflower, reduced fat mozzarella etc but the result of these experiments is DON’T! It’s not worth it, just make smaller pizzas.

Ok So my recipe (Makes 2 large pizzas)

The basic dough

  • 150 g bread flour
  • 100 g wholemeal flour
  • 7 g dried yeast
  • 5 g salt
  • 20 ml oil
  • around 300 ml water

You can also add any herbs and flavouring s you want to the dough, we usually add some herbs from the garden.


Add the flour, oil, yeast and salt to a large bowl and bring together a little using your hands, then begin to add the water a bit at a time making sure to really mix it all together and incorporate it before adding any more.

I said around 3o0 ml of water and you may not need it all or you may need more, the trick is to take your time and mix.

Once you have a rough dough which lifts all the flour off the bowl – you want to empty the bowl out onto a surface and begin to knead the bread dough. The dough will become less sticky and more soft and pliable as you knead (takes around 7 or 8 mins).

Next you need to put the dough back in its bowl and cover with some cling film then leave it somewhere warm (not hot) for at least an hour, or until it has doubled in size. Don’t be over eager to force this to happen quickly, the longer this takes – the better the flavour.

There you go, that’s the basis of the dough.

A basic sauce

What makes pizza so good is that combination of bread, tomato sauce and loads of cheese, so here is my basic pizza sauce recipe.

  • 2 tins plum tomatoes
  • 4 cloves of garlic – chopped
  • chopped herbs of your choice
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil


You can just spread tomato puree over your base, we do that when we are just wanting a quick pizza fix, but for the luxurious pizza, you can’t beat a rich sauce.

In your frying pan, heat the oil and garlic until it just starts to sizzle then drop in your plum tomatoes and squish them up with your wooden spoon, squish them good.

Let that heat for a few minutes until it just starts boiling, give it a minute or two on the boil and then you want to push all of this through a sieve, to make it nice and smooth, really work it.

Put your new smooth mixture back in the pan and let it simmer and reduce and maximize all those lovely flavours, this is a good point to add any herbs, really let it thicken up, but stir it frequently to stop it burning.

Put it all together

Now you get to have some fun.

Split your dough into two, and get rolling.

There is no rule saying your pizza has to be round, just roll it out to the shape you want and thickness you want. I like my pizzas thin and crispy so I roll mine out really thin.

The dough will stick so flour the surface and your rolling-pin when you are rolling it out.


IMAG0138IMAG0139 I have a pizza stone I cook on (gives a fantastic crispy base) but basically you want to put your pizza onto either a hot pizza stone or hot oven tray when it’s ready to cook. So this is what I do.

I put my pizza stone in the oven (on full) or on my garden grill and let it get really hot. REALLY hot!

While that’s heating up, I roll out my dough and then I put it onto another oven tray to use as a peel. A pizza peel is basically a large flat surface you can use to slip your pizza onto the hot stone. The trick to this to stop it sticking, and so you get it to slide off nice and easy, is to dust the peel/tray with flour or polenta.

So dust your tray, and put your freshly rolled out dough on there.

Now the fun starts, you get to top your pizza


Random left overs from the fridge
Random leftovers from the fridge

Basically, there are no rules, add whatever you want. You can try to go with traditional toppings like margarita or Neapolitan or you can just add anything you like. One of my favourites is red onion, peppers, mushrooms, chorizo, and mozzarella. But I’m also partial to a Florentine, which is spinach and egg. Don’t knock it until you’d tried it.

If you are adding meat, like chicken, cook it before you add it to your pizza. It’s going to be in the oven for less than 15 minutes so cook your meat ahead of time to make sure it’s not raw when your pizza is ready.

The only other advice I’d give here is in the order of your toppings. Basically, sauce first and cheese last. The cheese will melt over all your topping goodies and stop them burning.

The one exception to this rule is on a Florentine, the eggs go on last.



Cooking your pizza

Pizzas are cooked on a high heat, quite quickly. The hot stone or tray will cook the base from the bottom up and the general heat of the oven will cook your toppings. So oven has been on full heating your pizza stone, turn it down to about 220 C and very carefully so as not to burn yourself, use your tray to slide your pizza on there. You might have to wiggle it a bit.

That’s you. Give it ten minutes and check on it, then just give it a minute or so at a time until you are happy that it’s cooked.

Then sit back and enjoy your first home-made pizza.

another eggy one
another eggy one 

Making a six strand braided challah bread

I’ve been eating challah since I was a kid and I used to bring it home from the kosher deli I worked in at weekends. It’s a sweet, enriched dough bread which makes the most amazing sandwiches and it looks super impressive because it’s braided but it’s actually really easy to do.

The recipe I use is in american cups but if you don’t have cup measures google does a pretty good converter.

So what do we need?


  • 2 teaspoons yeast
  • 1 cup of lukewarm water
  • 4 cups of bread flour
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup of butter (or oil if you are keeping it kosher)

What to do

Add the yeast to the water in a small bowl with a little sprinkle of sugar. Give it a stir and leave it to do its thing while you get everything else ready. It should start to froth away in the bowl. Then when you add it to your dough, it’s already active and will get things going quicker.

In a big bowl stir together all your dry ingredients.  The flour, sugar, and salt. Make sure you get them all mixed together then add the eggs,  egg yolk, oil and your lovely frothing yeast. Get this really mixed well. This bit is hard work so feel free to use a stand mixer if you have one. Trust me it’s hard going.


Kneading is the most important step in making bread, this is what makes those gluten strands form and helps your dough to be pillowy soft and rise. You want to knead for about 8 – 10 minutes. You can do this by hand or with a dough hook on a mixer. It might seem sticky, but don’t worry, the more you knead the less sticky it will become. It just takes time.

If you aren’t sure how to knead bread, watch my really short youtube video which shows the process.


Once you have kneaded the bread is ready to do what we call proofing. This basically means letting it rise for the first time. You want it to roughly double in size. So put  the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with cling film, and place somewhere warm. Depending on how warm that place is, it could take between 40 minutes and a couple of hours, be patient.

Braiding your bread

Once you are happy that your bread has risen to double the size, you are going to take it out the bowl and do what we call “knocking back”, this just means kneading it again for 5 minutes. You are basically knocking all the air out of it so the yeast gets a second chance to eat all the lovely sugars and rise again.

Now separate the dough into 6 even lumps and roll them into strands or ropes.

Now for the fun, you have 6 strands, so lets plat them / braid them.

I have another short youtube video you can watch to see how this is done but trust this is much easier than it sounds.

Ok so gather the strands and squeeze them together at the very top and lay them out so you have your 6 strands vertically in front of you.

Right here we go…. we are going to work from right to left.

Take the strand on the far right and it goes OVER the two to its left, then UNDER the next one and lastly OVER the next two. So basically you always start with the strand on the far right and go







and then start again and you just keep doing this until you have too little left of your stands to pleat, so then you just gather up the end like you did the top and you have your pleated bread.


Let your pleated bread rise again, for around an hour. I usually put it on a baking sheet and then put a clean tea towel over it and just leave it alone. Once it’s risen again and looks luscious, I egg wash the top (you can use the spare egg white) and I like to sprinkle poppy seeds over it.

When it’s ready pop it into your pre-heated oven on about 170C or 160C for a fan oven for around  35 minutes.

Braided bread

finished challah bread

You can see me make this very loaf on youtube.

An adventure with sourdough

I have been on the most epic adventure over the last few weeks. Well I say few weeks, in truth this adventure started last year but it didn’t pan out, so I’ve chosen to completely gloss over it and pretend it didn’t happen. So last few weeks it is, and anyone who says otherwise is a liar 🙂  Not really.

With all the bread making experiments I have done, sourdough really does seem like a very natural thing for me to try out, especially given how fashionable “artisanal bread” is at the moment.  However, there was always one small detail holding me back and stopping me from really going for it, the sour bit of sourdough. Don’t get me wrong, by sour, I don’t mean the flavour idea was putting me off. In fact, I love the taste of sourdough bread. It was the sour as in the actual yeast that was putting me off.

You see, the type of yeast that makes your sourdough bread are the very same yeast that I work so hard to get rid of in my house so that they don’t spoil my beer.  Yup, wild, natural yeast are the very thing you want in sour beers, but they spoil standard beer, plus I don’t like sour beers. So as you can imagine, when I had a go at growing a sourdough starter last year, I wasn’t really wholeheartedly in it and I think if I’m honest, I gave up a bit soon citing that the time and effort required wasn’t worth the outcome. You are about to see that I lied about that too, cause, in reality, it isn’t really much effort and the time difference isn’t all that a big deal.

The starter

Sourdough bread is made with natural yeast that are present in the air around us, instead of the shop bought stuff that has been “bred” to be fast acting and give certain flavours. The benefits of using the natural yeast are a completely different, slightly sour flavour and apparently, it is better for us physically. Let me explain.

The downside of sourdough is that it takes much longer to make, and much longer for the yeast to do its thing and cause the bread to rise. It’s this slow process that apparently makes the bread better for us, as apparently, this lets nature do its thing and begin the process of breaking down the proteins etc in the bread meaning when we digest it, it is much easier for our systems to cope with. I don’t know how true this is, but that’s the sales pitch you’ll hear.

So, if you don’t buy yeast to make your bread, what do you do?

This is where the starter comes in, you basically grow the yeast. Over the course of about 5 days, you gradually build up your stock of yeast so that you have enough to make your bread rise. This is the bit of the adventure I started on last year. I have to be honest though, I binned the starter I made last year because I decided then I wasn’t going to bother keeping this sourdough thing going. So for my adventure this year, I bought a little bit of ready-made starter online and grew it. But for those of you who fancy trying this out,  this is how I made the starter last year and how I have been keeping this new one alive.

To make a starter…

Grab a large, clean jar or deep dish and add equal amounts of flour and water and give it a really good stir. You don’t need much, about 200g of each will do perfectly. Also, the ideal flour to use is organic rye flour as this has a higher concentration of natural yeast.

Cover it with something porus like a clean tea towel and leave it to sit at room temperature, not hot, just warm so don’t put it near a radiator or fire. Give it a good stir every day and watch as after a few days you should start to see evidence of some bubbles. 2 things to NOT worry about, you might get a beery liquid on top, just stir it back in, that’s natural and you might think it’s not worked. Just be patient. It could take 4 or 5 days for you to see any evidence of yeast taking hold (bubbles are a sure sign as is,  if the mixture starts to swell). If you haven’t seen any signs after a week, just ditch this lot and try again.

Once it has really puffed up and you see lots of bubbles, its time to feed it. This is the bit of the process that scares people the most but not to worry, just think of it like this. You are keeping pet yeast, they need attention and feeding, like a grown-up Tamagotchi.

How to feed

Very simply, you want to give the yeast a wee feed every day, I just give it 50g of flour and 50ml of water and a good stir every day and that works a treat. If you do this, you’ll have a brilliant starter to bake with, in another week’s time.

But what if I don’t want to feed it every day or bake bread every day?

This is the part that puts people off making sourdough bread, and to be honest, this put me off last year so I eventually just ditched my starter and went back to shop bought bread, but then recently I started thinking about the fact that this is just yeast… I’ve learned loads about yeast over the past few years through brewing, so one thing I refused to accept was that I had to feed this starter every day. Why couldn’t I just throw it in the fridge so it would go to sleep, then it wouldn’t need to be fed so often? That’s what I did with yeast for beer. This was my wee experiment… and it works.

So here is the method I have worked out

I only bake at weekends, so I have worked out this cunning plan.

Once my starter was going and looking strong. I binned half of it. I know this sounds shocking but you don’t need more than a couple of hundred grams of starter at a time so there is no point building up huge amounts of this stuff if you aren’t going to use it. So once it’s looking healthy, grit your teeth and chuck out about half. Then add 50g of flour and water, mix it well and put it in the fridge.

This is the bit that most people are shocked by, but yeast slows down in the cold, eats less sugar, a bit like it goes into hibernation. You can revive it again by warming it up. Now the important thing to remember here is that you can’t just put it in the fridge and ignore it for months. You will still have to feed it, but just much less regularly.

So this is how I do things, I only bake at the weekend, so I get my starter out of the fridge on Tuesday night and leave it on the worktop to let it come up to room temperature.

On Wednesday and Thursday morning, I feed it with 50g of flour and 50ml of water and give it a good stir.

On Friday morning I make what is called a sponge, this is essentially a super-powered starter to get your bread off to a good start. I add 150ml of the bubbling starter to my big mixing bowl and then mix in 250g flour and 275ml warm water. Give this a really good stir. It makes a slightly thicker mix, I cover it with clingfilm and leave it on the kitchen worktop and go off to work.

On Friday evening, I turn this sponge into my bread dough by adding 300g more flour, 30ml of oil and 10g of salt and giving it a good mix and then a good knead for about 10 minutes.

This is now your bread dough, just like any dough you have made for baking bread before, except it will just be much slower to do its thing. So I leave it for another two to three hours to begin to rise and then before bed, I punch it down, give it another shorter knead and then shape it.

Now to help it keep its shape on the second rise, it’s much easier if you have a baking basket or a shallow bowl. basically, line this with a clean tea towel liberally dusted with flour and drop your shaped ball of dough into this to rise. Put the seam (messy side) up so that when you turn the dough out, this is on the bottom.

I then cover this with a tea towel and go to bed, the yeast will do its thing overnight, giving you a lovely loaf of bread to cook in the morning.

220C (fan) for 40 mins.

It’s not just for your daily loaf

Although most often you’ll hear  sourdough spoken about in terms of a loaf of bread,  it works great for pizza,  flat breads,  rolls etc too. I’ve even seen a Swedish bakery selling sourdough scones.

Give it a try. Everyone needs a little bit me adventure sometimes. 

Focaccia bread with rosemary

Every so often now I catch myself making a comment about just about any yeast-based dough recipes and saying, “ach I can do that”. I say catch myself because as regular readers here will know, there was a time when making bread seemed like some sort of magical, dark art to me. You can actually read more about my journey of learning to make bread here if you missed it, but what I actually, learned, is that making bread is really simple and just takes a wee bit of practice to get the hang of how things should look and feel. So with that in mind, and the fact that today is our wedding anniversary, I am finally making a bread that I always wanted to try but thought it was just too complicated, so I never did. Then I forgot all about it.

For anniversary, valentine etc dinners, we tend to go Italian, usually making fresh pasta and treat ourselves to a lovely creamy, luxurious sauce. Again, if you fancy joining us and learning just how easy it is to make your own fresh pasta at home, have a read.  So for tonight, not only are we treating ourselves to some lovely homemade pappardelle in a creamy marsala sauce, but I am also making focaccia.


  • 500g bread flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 15g dried yeast
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • around 350ml water (you may not need it all)
  • olive oil, for drizzling
  • sea salt flakes
  • Rosemary


Add the flour, salt, yeast, olive oil and half of the water into a large bowl and start bringing it together with your hand. It will be sticky, so don’t worry, it’s meant to be. If you are a bit worried about working with a sticky dough, you can always use a stand mixer if you have one. As you mix the dough, gradually add the rest of the water until you have a soft, slightly sticky dough.

With a wet dough like this, its much easier to get it going in the bowl rather than on a worktop where it will stick and make life hard, so for the first 5 or so minutes, stretch the dough around in the bowl, pull it and then tuck it back into the centre, turn the bowl a quarter turn and then 180 degrees repeat, keep doing this for about 5 minutes.  (If you are using a mixer, then let the mixer take the strain and leave it to knead for about 10 minutes).

Tip the dough out onto an oiled worktop and keep kneading for another five minutes. If you are unsure about kneading, we, of course, have a helpful video on youtube:

Once you are happy that you have a pillow soft, lovely dough, oil the bowl and put the dough back into it, cover with clingfilm and leave to rise until doubled in size. This can take as little as half an hour or a whole lot longer depending on the room temperature.

Once the dough has doubled in size, oil two large baking sheets and then tip the dough out of the bowl and divide into two. Flatten each portion onto a baking sheet, making sure to push into the corners, then leave to prove for another half hour.

Meanwhile, get the oven preheated to 230C.  Drizzle both “loaves” with olive oil and sprinkle with rosemary and fine sea salt then bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Then turn the temperature down to 200C and keep baking for a further 10 minutes

When cooked, drizzle with a little more olive oil and serve warm.

Panettone – Italian Christmas Bread

We all grow up with family traditions based around certain times of year – birthdays, special events, cultural holidays etc, but as an adult, you get to choose which traditions you carry on and share with your family or indeed which ones you choose to leave behind.

The creation of our own family traditions has been one of the best things about sharing Christmas with Kate and over the years we’ve developed a few which are unique to us, for instance, we have french onion soup for tea on Christmas Eve. Kate makes the soup and I make the bread croutons. We open our presents while sitting on the floor at the tree and we each give each other one silly present, like a onesie, just to have a giggle on Christmas morning.

There is one thing that Kate has been asking for all this time and we’ve never done though. Kate asks every year if I could make panetonne as she is a massive fan. I’ve never made it for her, because it always seemed terrifyingly complicated.

That will change as we add a new tradition this year, we will be having panettone and coffee for breakfast on Christmas morning.

I have really been learning about bread making over the last couple of years, and now, I’d say there is nothing complicated about panettone at all so I’m going to share the recipe I’ve come up with and my hints and tips so that you can make this too.

Makes 1 large or 18 small individual panettone

Treat additions
120g mixed dried fruits
120g candied lemon and orange peel (finely chopped)
200g of chocolate chips
4 tablespoons orange juice

For the Dough
1 1/2 tbsp fast action dry yeast
150ml warm milk
50g fine sugar
650g strong bread flour
1 tsp salt
6 free-range eggs (5 for the dough and 1 to glaze)
250g (1 pack) softened unsalted butter
zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange

Get prepared

Put all the dried fruits into a bowl and cover with the orange juice. I like to do this a good 5 or 6 hours ahead to give the fruit a chance to plump up. You could do this overnight.

Make the dough

TOP TIP – this is a wet dough, it’s much easier to work in a stand mixer than by hand.

Heat your milk to warm, but not hot and stir in the sugar until it dissolves, then add the yeast and leave it aside to let the yeast come to life a little.

Add your flour to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and sprinkle the salt in, let the dough hook mix this gentle for a few seconds before adding your yeast and milk, which hopefully is showing signs of life by now.

Keep the mixer on a slow speed and begin adding your other ingredients, first the Start by mixing on a slow speed to combine the ingredients. Add 5 beaten eggs slowly, letting them incorporate into the dough and then turn the mixer up to a medium speed to get things properly incorporated.  

Add the zest from the lemon and orange.

This is where my experience may be useful for first timers with enriched dough. This is a very wet and sticky dough, don’t worry, that’s why it ends up being so fluffy. Just keep going, I promise, it will all come together and make the most gorgeous, pillowy soft dough in the end. It just takes a bit longer.

Next, again top tip, don’t try to rush this. Add your butter about a tablespoon at a time and let it properly mix in before adding the next amount. It is going to take time to get that oily butter to properly mix in rather than just make the dough greasy, be patient.

When you first add it, you’ll see it smear all over the mixing bowl, just let the mixer do the work and suddenly just before you give up hope, it will vanish. That’s when you add the next bit of butter.

Now let the mixer knead away for at least 5-10 more minutes, this is when the dough becomes that pillow of softness I spoke about. Don’t worry about how soft and unmanagable it appears, remember this is all texture 🙂

Grease a large baking bowl and put your dough in there to let it prove. Cover it with cling film or put it in a baking bag to stop a skin forming on top. Leave your dough aside and be patient.

You want this to at least double in size, but ideally treble, so be patient.

Turn the dough into panettone

Ok so now that your dough is HUGE and you are a little worried it may eat you… time to add all your treaty bits and shape it.

Tip your dough out onto a floured worktop and gently spread it out with your fingertips. It will deflate but don’t worry, although try not to be overly heavy-handed.

Strain the soaked fruit and discard the juice. Mix with the choc chips and candied peel and spread about half of it out over the dough, and then fold the dough over the fruits and lightly roll the dough around to distribute the fruit evenly through the dough.

Do this again, spread the dough and repeat as before with the remaining fruit.

At this point, the dough is going to be an ugly, bumpy sod. Don’t worry about it, but look it over to make sure the fruit is as evenly distributed as possible.

Now you can choose to make one traditional panettone loaf or lots of smaller indiviudal ones.

For one big loaf, make the dough into a ball.

Grease a panettone tin or paper case. If you have don’t have any of these of these, use a regular cake tin, but line the base and sides with greaseproof paper standing at least 2 inches above the rim.

Drop the dough into the centre of the tin and cover loosely with a tea towel.

For lots of individual panettones

Roll the dough into a long sausage and cut into around 16 equal sized portions. Roll them into small bowls and drop into tulip muffin wrappers and then into a muffin tray and cover with a tea towel.  This acts as your panettone moulds.

Whichever method you chose, leave the dough aside until it rises again. You want the single loaf to be higher than the tin by maybe 2 inches and for the little individual ones, you want them to be just over half way up the muffin wrapper. It’s essential here to be patient. If you want that airy, fluffy texture the essential part is that the dough gets the chance to properly rise.

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Once the oven is heated, make an eggwash by beating the remaining egg and brush over the surface of the panettone.

Bake the large loaf in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes. Lower the heat to 160C or 150C for a fan oven and cook for a further 40 minutes. The panettone is ready when a skewer comes out clean.

For individual panettone, Bake for 30 minutes at 160C or 150C for a fan oven.

Let the cake cool for 5 minutes in the tin on a cooling rack, then remove and leave it to cool completely.

Serve and enjoy!

Banana bread with a peanut butter twist

I’m going to call banana bread a useful cake. Yup, useful cause you know how sometimes you end up with random left over bananas that look less than attractive? You know, the ones that sit lonely in the fruit bowl at the end of the week all brown and yucky? Well this recipe is a great way to use them up. So useful, see?

I do enjoy a slice of banana bread with a cuppa, but Kate had a genius idea, yesterday, to take it to the next level. Peanut butter drizzle.

I have recently developed a love of peanut butter and one of my favourite uses is peanut butter and banana on toast. So this sounded fantastic.

So here is the recipe, and of course you can skip the peanut butter drizzle if you want, the cake is gorgeous on its own.


For one loaf of banana bread

  • 100g soft butter
  • 175g sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 mashed bananas (preferably super ripe)
  • 225g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Splash of milk
  • 100g chocolate chips (added extra you can leave these out if you want)

For the drizzle topping

  • 125g icing sugar
  • 15ml water
  • 1 tps peanut butter or peanut butter powder(made separately following instructions)

Let’s get baking

This has to be one of the easiest cake recipes ever, you need zero skill or prior knowledge of baking for this one, so perfect for a wet, miserable Saturday when you can’t get out into the garden and need to be entertained.

Preheat the oven to 180C or 160C for fan. Grease a loaf tin(or line with grease proof paper) and let’s go.

Chuck all your loaf ingredients into the mixer or mixing bowl. I have a stand mixer which does make life so much easier (I do a lot of bread doughs which are very sticky), but this will mix up fine in a big bowl. I added chocolate chips to mine because I had some in the baking cupboard but these are absolutely not essential. I just thought it would work with the whole peanut butter and banana vibe.

Mix this up for about 2 minutes until you have a batter. It will be quite thick but still pourable.

Pour it into your loaf tin and level it off.

Whack it in the oven for an hour, you can check it’s ready by sticking a skewer into the middle and it should come out clean. Leave it in the tin for 5 mins, just to settle, then take it out and leave it on a wire rack to cool.

Now this is gorgeous as it is, so you don’t have to add any kind of icing etc, we were just having some fun.

So for the drizzle, mix your icing sugar and water into a thick paste. If it seems too runny add more icing sugar, if it’s too thick, add more water (a tiny bit). You want this to be runny but thick if that makes any sense. Basically you want it to run down the sides a little.

Then add your peanut butter and give it a really good mix. If you are using peanut butter powder, make this up according to the instructions first and then add it.

Once you have a nice thick but drizzly icing, just drizzle over your loaf. Warning, this will get messy!! And then pop your loaf in the fridge to help the drizzle set.

Serve as big, thick slices. mmmmmmmmmmm

If this deliciousness has you fancying having a go at making your own peanut butter, it’s dead easy.