I met Bert’s stepbrother, Ben, nine years ago when he was seven. I’ve cooked him birthday cakes, created special, birthday evening versions of his favourite dinner (sausage and mash), come up with our regular Christmas Eve tradition of baked ham and Dauphinois potatoes followed by sticky toffee pudding, handed him warm pancakes while he was playing FIFA or killing zombies, made pizza, self-saucing pudding and roast pork with crackling… I’ve been cooking for Bert since he was born, if you count producing breastmilk as cooking, coming up with all kinds of combinations of pureed veg, introducing him to curry, showing him how to make biscuits, threading meat onto tiny skewers, cooking veg perfectly and also hiding it in sauces to hit it from both angles. I’ve made him warm banana pancakes, fruit bread and peach and honey cake.
They’ve refused things politely (‘Too nice’ – Bert, ‘No thank you, thank you’ – Ben), eaten them happily, offered them to Ray and thrown them across the room (Bert, at least). But they’ve largely just accepted warm, home made food as something that happens. (I wouldn’t really want it any other way.)
But I hand them both a plate of doughballs (zero imagination, 5 mins active prep, 10 mins cooking time) and they practically stand up in unison and start singing Hallelujah while saluting me.
There’s a lesson in here somewhere, I just don’t know what it is.
Makes about 25
150ml warm water
7g dried yeast
225g strong bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
Mix everything together and kneed for about eight minutes. I do the lot in a mixer. Cover and leave to rise for an hour. Then form the dough into small balls, about 2cm diameter, place on a baking tray, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for about another hour. Your hands need to be dry and not sticky when you roll them, so it’s worth keeping a bowl of water and a tea towel next to you.
Meanwhile preheat the oven to 180/ gas mark 4 (gas mark 5 in our oven, which is a bit cool). Cook for 8-10 minutes, till just starting to turn pale golden brown. Accept that praise isn’t always proportionate to effort. Serve with little pots of garlic butter or plain butter to dip into.
Bert ate maybe eight or nine. Then a bowl of pasta bake. Then a chocolate and secret-beetroot brownie.