These savoury bread rolls make for great finger food to take along to a party and share. They are easily adjusted to vegetarians or vegans and can be very delicious, especially when straight from the oven.
I make a basic bread dough and let it rise for half an hour, then roll it out. This needs to rise for another 30 to 45 minutes, preferably in a warm and damp environment. I usually put it into the oven, covering the inside of the door with a tea towel wet with hot water.
Meanwhile, collect an assortment of “toppings”. Semi-dried tomatoes work great, salami or Chorizo slices, goats cheese or Swiss Gruyere, chopped olives, rosemary, fresh thyme, basil. Whatever your garden has to offer, or that magic cupboard in the larder. Perhaps you could even use up one of those jars of relish, pickles or chutney?
Spread and sprinkle the toppings of your choice across the surface of the bread dough, then roll up into one large roll and cut into slices.
Now lay out the slices on a tray with baking parchment and let recover from the ordeal for another 30 to 45 minutes, again preferably in a warm and not dry environment, then dust lightly with flour and bake at 200 C until ready within approximately 15 minutes.
Few things are better than a real and really fresh Focaccia straight from the oven. The extraordinary amounts consumed with enthusiasm at our house on various occasions are simply stunning.
It is very easy to make, but you need to be around to see to it every 20 minutes over two or three hours:
Make a basic bread dough from 65 ml water on 100 ml white wheat flour. Use 400 g flour for a standard square baking tray, 250 g for a round one.
Prepare the dough. Roll it out after the second kneading and put it on baking parchment onto the tray.
Infuse 120 ml olive oil with a crushed glove of garlic and 4 crushed dried red chillies. (100 ml for a round tray).
Let the dough rise for 20 minutes, then apply the following treatment:
Use a fork to prick the dough. Penetrate the surface and 2/3 of the depth but don’t go all the way through. Then brush on as much of the oil as the dough will take; don’t let puddles sit on the surface but let it sink into your holes.
Repeat this every 20 to 30 minutes, at least four or five times or until all the oil has been absorbed. Then sprinkle with chopped rosemary and sea salt, optionally adding more red chilly flakes. Give it another 30 minutes to recover from this treatment.
Bake at 210 C (410 F) until it looks right, about 25 minutes.
Transfer on a cooling rack, cut and eat just as soon as you dare.
Croque Monsieur is a ham and cheese toasted sandwich. Croque Madame is the same, with an added fried egg on top.
I say, forget the ham. Use 3 rashers of dry-cured smoked streaky bacon instead. Fry them in a pan until they begin to caramelize, then leave to cool on kitchen tissue so that they crisp up.
I say, forget the toast. Use a thick slice of Rye or Sourdough bread instead, rub generously with garlic, then rub both sides with olive oil. Fry the bread in the bacon fat until both sides turn golden, then leave to drain on kitchen tissue.
Crack a free-range egg into the very hot pan. Season with salt, crushed black pepper and a sprinkle of smoked paprika. Egg whites firm, yolk still runny, please.
I say, forget the subtle cheese flavour. Be bold, use blue cheese, or Reblochon, or at the very least use Gruyere.
Now make a sandwich: bread, then bacon, then cheese, then egg. Optionally top with a few capers or dress with a spoon full of Sauce Bearnaise or Sauce Hollandaise.
Voila. This is now known as a Croque Man. It’s my favourite bachelor meal, but it is so good that even the Missus would like it.
These are the real Bretzeln, not the crisp, bone-dry Pretzels you are given on an aeroplane.
You need pure caustic soda for this. You can buy crystals of pure sodium hydroxide and make your own lye. Pure chemicals fit for use in food can be bought under the name Bretzellauge from a number of German online suppliers.
Don’t mess about with substitutes, such as dissolved bicarbonate of soda. It’s a very, very poor substitute.
Make a 4% lye from 40 g pure sodium hydroxide crystals on one litre of water, following procedures and safety advise on the packaging. You can store this in a glass bottle, as it can be reused many times. The lye shouldn’t be in contact with textiles, your eyes or any mucous membrane, but it is not very aggressive. A cheap pair of plastic gloves protect your hands, your reading glasses take care of your eyes. My worktop and my silicone baking sheets tolerate this lye with ease.
For one full-sized baking tray (6 to 8 Bretzeln):
300 g white wheat flour, 5 g salt, 1 nob of soft butter (about the size of a walnut), 20 g fresh yeast (or dry yeast if you must), 90 ml lukewarm water, 90 ml lukewarm milk.
Dissolve salt, butter, yeast in the milky water, then add the resulting liquor to the flour.
Knead thoroughly, let rest for 20 minutes, then knead briefly once more. Divide the dough into 6 equal parts for chunkier Bretzeln, or 8 parts for smaller and thinner ones. (Make the chunkier ones first until you have got the hang of it.)
Now roll each chunk into a thin sausage, approximately as thin as my index finger or perhaps your thumb, ~ 15 mm, then swiftly shape into a Bretzel: stretch the roll into a straight line and mentally mark the point one third away from each end. Now take both ends into a smooth loop towards you, twist them around each other just once, and attach the end from the right to the point one third from the right end, the end from the left to the point one third from the left.
This is a lot harder to explain than to do, but you may need a little practise.
Line your baking tray with a silicone baking sheet (alternatively use baking parchment).
Gently pour the lye into a flat dish, such as a Pyrex baking dish. Put on the rubber gloves and dip each Bretzel into the lye. A simple in-and-out will do, the Bretzeln don’t need to rest in the lye. Take care as the lye makes them slippery and makes them fall apart.
Place the Bretzeln on the tray with a little space in between, and give them another 30 minutes to rise further. Sprinkle them lightly with coarse salt (rock salt, sea salt flakes, etc).
Return the remaining lye to the bottle, clean up, preheat the oven to 200 C (390 F).
Bake for approximately 15 minutes, place them on a cooling rack and enjoy as soon as you possibly can. They are best straight from the oven.
We like them just so, or with a little butter, or with steak tartare, or with cheese – almost anything really.
Bread making is surprisingly simple and astonishingly rewarding. Have a go!
This is our daily bread, which we love for its taste, texture, and the fact that it keeps pretty well even though it is made from the most basic ingredients only, and free of any emulgators, stabilisers, colouring, preservatives and what-nots.
The basic dough is simple:
500 g white wheat flour
25 g fresh yeast
10 g salt
60 to 70 ml of lukewarm water per 100 g of flour
your ferment (“mother dough”), see notes below
Use 60 ml if you want to shape the bread by hand, roll it or otherwise sculpt it.
Use 70 ml for proving overnight and subsequent baking in a backing dish. This makes for the richest flavour but is too fluid for shaping.
Another household favourite uses a flour mix from 250 g of white white flour and 50 g each of white spelt flour, whole spelt flour and whole rye flour.
The process is always the same: dissolve all ingredients except for the flour in the liquid, then knead into the flour. Knead very thoroughly to obtain gluten, which gives a strong and chewy bread, knead just enough to make a homogeneous mix for a fluffier, lighter bread. Let rest for 20 to 30 minutes, then knead again. Knead thoroughly or very briefly depending on whether you want the result to be strong or fluffy.
For “immediate” baking, let prove for at least on hour, two is better. Some ovens have a dough proving program (40 C, no fan), that helps to accelerate the process. British traditionalists would place the bowl in the airing cupboard next to the hot water cylinder.
For baking in the next morning, spray with a little water to moisten the surface, then cover with cling film in a tall bowl. It will rise tremendously, and proving times up to 18 hours are no problem at all.
Before you get ready to bake your bread, take away a small fistful of dough. Moisten it with a spray can, let it set uncovered for a few hours, then cover with cling film. This is your ferment, which you’ll add to the next batch. The longer you’ll keep this running the more aromatic and unique your bread will be. This process is similar to making sourdough, but is much easier, less messy. The ferment will sour over time, too, so I do sometimes call our bread soured bread.
A 500 g loaf bakes at 220 C in 40 minutes.
Baguettes, Fougasse or smaller rolls are happy with 200 C for 12 to 18 minutes, just watch the colour.