Cheddar and parsnip bread


‘You’re too gorgeous,’ I said to Bert, grabbing him for a cuddle as this was cooking for our lunch.

‘I not too gorgeous,’ he said strictly. ‘I right amount gorgeous.’

Too true.

Makes 2 small loaves

175g self raising flour

50g grated strong Cheddar

175g grated parsnip (about 3 parsnips)

1 lightly beaten egg

4-5 tablespoons whole milk

Salt

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/ 180. Combine all the ingredients gently until they’re just formed into a dough, then split into 2 rough, round loafs. Bake on a lined baking sheet for abou 35-40 minutes, until they’re golden and hollow-sounding when the bottom’s tapped.

Doughballs

img_6438

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.

Beer and seed bread

bread

Home made bread was a big part of my childhood. It was a real treat to have a slice that was buttered while it was still warm from the oven.

After much nerding out and research, this recipe has been updated. I love home made bread, but it often has that sitting in the bottom of your stomach like a lead weight quality. This solves the problem and gives you a really light loaf. The trick is to replace one cup of flour with self raising flour and to do a really quick first rise and a long second one when it’s shaped to go in the oven (it’s normally the other way round).

Makes one large loaf or two small ones

350g strong white flour

150g self raising flour

500g seeded bread flour

10g quick acting yeast

20g salt

300ml beer and 300ml water – together they need to be hand hot, so I add water from the hot tap at its hottest. Or use 600ml of hand hot water.

1 tablespoon melted butter

If you’re lucky enough to have a Kenwood mixer (thanks Tony’s mum) then weigh all the ingredients into it, mix with the dough hook and then knead for ten minutes. Otherwise mix into a dough, tip out onto a very lightly floured surface and knead for ten minutes or so.

When all the flour’s incorporated and before you start your ten minute knead, have a look at the dough. It will be very wet. Do not panic.

Leave it in the bowl in a warm place for just half an hour. Then knock it back to push out the air and pop it in a loaf tin. I like my rolls kind of craggy so I just tear off small pieces. In theory, for loaves, round or tin, it’s best to fold the ends underneath so you create a kind of platform for the bread. That works with a dryer dough, but for this I just sort of pour it in.

Get the bread in its shape and in its tin and then leave it to rise again. This is the long rise – maybe an hour, maybe an hour and a half, till it’s doubled in size and is springy. By my warm Aga it just takes half an hour, so keep checking it. Push your finger in and – counter intuitively to me – the dent will remain if it’s ready to bake. You can adjust your rise time by leaving somewhere cooler for a slower rise or warmer for a quicker rise, depending on how much time you’ve got. I think a slow rise is generally better – tastier and supposedly gentler on the stomach. Keep looking and keep pushing a finger in.

Anyway, after its second rise you need to prepare it for the oven. Slash the top, sprinkle with seeds, wash with egg or milk or dust with flour. I brush mine with milk and sprinkle seeds on top.

Then it goes into a hot oven. Put a dish of boiling water from the kettle on the bottom of the oven first – that gives your bread a good crust. If you’ve got a conventional oven, give the loaf a blast in a hot oven first (the hottest you can get it for 10 minutes – gas mark 9 or 240) then turn it down to 170 degrees (gas mark 3) for another 30 minutes.

In an Aga, which seems better suited to bread making, just pop it in two rungs up from the bottom of the roasting oven (that’s about 200 degrees, I think). Total time: 10-20 minutes for rolls, 30-40 minutes for a small loaf, 40-50 for a large loaf. In my Aga this quantity of dough takes 30-35 minutes, but Agas are not neccessarily representative I don’t think. In the gas oven it’s the 10 minute blast then 30 minutes at the lower temperature.

Pre-Bert I used to make this bread all the time. This is maybe the second time I’ve made it since he was born. I suppose the length of the recipe tells you why, but remembering my fresh bread filled childhood has inspired me to start again.

Not panettone

panetone

Makes one large loaf

I looked up the recipe for panettone and quite quickly decided I was too lazy and unskilled to attempt it. This is a fruited, enriched raisin bread that’s sweetened with caster sugar and vanilla. But it’s not panettone.

500g 00 flour

100g golden caster sugar

7g quick acting yeast

150g raisins

2 teaspoons vanilla essence

1 egg

300ml warm milk

Combine all the ingredients and knead, by hand or with the dough hook on a food processor, for around 10 minutes. It will be a soft, sticky dough that’s very stretchy and elastic. Flour a tin and push the mixture into it, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise till it’s doubled in size, before cooking in a hot oven (180 degrees or on the grid shelf on the bottom of the Aga roasting oven) for 30-40 minutes.

Serve warm from the oven with butter or toasted the next morning.

Raspberry and soft cheese sandwich

raspsand

Okay, I admit I didn’t eat this myself, but Bert loved it. I’ve been struggling with lunches since he stopped eating eggs and refuses most sandwiches, but this worked. Now, how can I sneak a carrot in?

Serves a greedy 0.5

1 English muffin

Generous slathering of Philadelphia cheese

Scattering of raspberries

Split the muffin, spread with cheese, squish in the raspberries and stuff in face.

We walked Ray, hunted Gruffolos and Bert ate a picnic in his baby carrier, which he found a totally hilarious concept. At one point, Ray ran into the woods and a couple of seconds later three black spaniels, including Ray, ran out – also hilarious if you’re one and a half.

Gran’s sweetcorn pudding

sweetcorn

My mum used to make something like this when we were small. It came to me in a flash today and I thought it would be nice with the pulled pork I put in the oven at lunchtime.

Serves 4-6 (just me and Bert here though, ahem)

2 thick slices white bread – about 170g

2 eggs

400ml milk

1/2 teaspoon paprika

250g can sweetcorn, drained

salt to taste

100g grated pecorino

Break the bread into chunks and put in a pan with the milk. Warm till the bread’s absorbed the milk and is soft. Break it up into smaller pieces with the back of a fork or spoon until it looks like mash. Then stir in the paprika, salt, sweetcorn and beaten eggs. Put in an ovenproof dish, top with the grated cheese and bake at 180-200 degrees (or near the bottom of the Aga roasting oven) for about 25 minutes till it’s puffed up and golden.

While it was cooking, I desperately tried to add ‘mummy’ to Bert’s repetoire, which now includes car, hiya, RaRa (for the dog), Didda (for daddy) and bye bye. Priorities, Bert!

Eggy bread

eggybread

Serves 1.5

2 slices of bread, the airier the better – sour dough’s good or white sliced

2 eggs

60 ml whole milk

Knob of butter

Sprinkle of cinnamon

Mix together the eggs and milk and decrust the bread. Soak the bread in the milk and egg mixture, one slice at a time, turning after a minute or so. Melt the butter in a reasonably hot pan – you want the bread to cook fairly quickly but not to burn before it cooks through – and pop in the first slice. You can start soaking the second as you cook, turning the soaking one as you turn the one in the pan. Cook till golden brown on both sides. It should feel reasonably firm under the pressure of a spatula, meaning the egg’s cooked through. Sprinkle with cinnamon or serveĀ  your own with crispy bacon and maple syrup and watch your baby’s little face contort with jealousy.