Raining. Again. And I’ve been in the country less than a week and I’ve got a cold. How did that happen?
My life at the moment is a whirlwind of ibuprofen (throat/headache), pholcodine (irritating cough), Strepsils (anything not covered by the above) and gallons of water and tea. The upside is that I don’t have to go out for anything, there are no urgent jobs to do, there’s plenty of firewood, we’ve got English telly and I’ve got about a squillion second-hand cookbooks to work my way through.
It would be fair to say it’s not been a good hair day. In fact, it’s not been a good hair week. A combination of ‘haven’t the strength or inclination to wave the hairdryer about for more than three consecutive minutes,’ combined with the humid, wet and windy weather, has led Robin to liken my ‘look’ to that of an Irish water spaniel. I think he might be on to something. I do look really quite like this, it has to be said (no, I’m not posting a selfie, as I’m not fit for public consumption and you don’t need to see it, you’ll just have to take my word for it that I look something like the doggy on the left, only probably slightly more dishevelled). I bet Amal Clooney’s hair never looks like this. Why haven’t I got a personal hairdresser?
This morning, I had a bit of a freezer sort out, as I couldn’t fit anything in and there seemed to be a few ‘iffy’ looking parcels lurking at the back. I found some dubious stragglers of last new year’s eve’s M&S pre-dinner nibbles (what my friend Carole rather accurately refers to as ‘orange food’), which are now in the bin, along with a completely mystery item that was lurking in a Tupperware box (no idea if it was sweet or savoury, or indeed solid or liquid) and several bags of ice that I must have bagged up in case of any emergency Pimms situations back in the summer. I’ve amalgamated the various half bags of blackberries and now have lots of Ikea resealable bags washed and dried and ready for their second innings. I try not to use freezer bags, but if I feel nothing else will do, then at least the Ikea ones can be re-used – they are the gold standard in resealable bags, as far as I am concerned. The good news is that, during this excavation, I found a solitary piece of swordfish and a tiny parcel of streaky bacon, so tonight’s dinner is going to be a simplified version of this already very simple fish stew. The bacon will stand in for the anchovies, of which my cupboard is unusually devoid.
The bad news was that there was no bread suitable for stew-dunking purposes and my flour supplies have not yet been restocked, so it had to be something for which I could use white flour. I couldn’t be bothered with ciabatta (I’m ill, you know), so I decided on what the Yorkshire branch of our family used to call a plain teacake, otherwise known by other people as oven-bottom bread (this Monika seemed to apply to either individual loaves the size of a conventional teacake or a big one for sharing). I’m not baking mine actually on the oven bottom and I’m doing it at a higher temperature, so it should be crispy and brown, rather than white and stodgy. Fingers crossed.
I decided at the eleventh hour, while my teacake was just starting its final prove, to also make a loaf of soda bread while the oven was on. That meant that my teacake had grown into a monster by the time the soda bread was out. In fact, I have just inspected it – it has some baking time to go yet – and I’ve definitely created a whopper. I think I should have divided it into two. Ooops.
I used my stand mixer to mix the dough, because I was feeling totally lazy, but you could just as easily mix it in a bowl and knead it by hand. In fact, it took me so long to find the dough hook for the mixer (it was in the Tupperware drawer, obviously) that I could have had the blessed stuff mixed and baked before I’d managed to locate the necessary equipment.
I have deliberately not put any sugar in the dough, as I didn’t want the loaf to brown too much, but this can make the yeast work a bit more slowly, so if you are in a hurry, add half a teaspoon of sugar when you mix the dry ingredients together.
Makes one very large loaf!
500g plain flour (you can use strong if you have it, but plain white will do)
½ level teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar (optional – see note above)
1 x 7g sachet of rapid action dried yeast
60g dairy-free margarine, melted or very soft (you can use butter if you are not keeping this vegan)
300ml lukewarm water
You will need a baking tray, lined with parchment paper, and cling film
Put the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl (or in the bowl of a stand mixer) and mix briefly. This is important, as it ensures that the salt (which can kill off the yeast if they have too much close contact) is evenly distributed before the liquid is added.
Pour in the liquid and mix, using a table knife (or let the mixer do the work), until the dough starts to come together – if you are using a mixer, you will probably need to scrape down the sides with a spatula a couple of times. Let the dough knead for a couple of minutes in the mixer or tip on to a very lightly floured worktop and knead by hand for a few minutes, until the dough feels smooth and elastic.
Lightly brush a large bowl with oil, tip the dough into it, then cover with cling film or a damp tea towel, and leave in a draught-free place until the dough has doubled in size. Depending on whether you used the sugar and how warm the room temperature is, this will probably take 1 – 1½ hours.
When the dough is ready, tip it out of the bowl, knead it gently to deflate the air, then form it into a ball. Put the dough onto your lined baking tray, then gently flatten the ball into a shallow round, about 2 – 3 cm thick (mine was quite bouncy and I couldn’t make it very flat – nor was it very round). Cover with lightly oiled cling film and leave to prove for around 45 minutes, switching on the oven to pre-heat (220°C) after 35 minutes.
Once the dough has roughly risen to twice its size, discard the clingfilm and gently slash the top with a very sharp knife, then dust with a little flour.
Place your loaf in the pre-heated oven. Bake for 20 minutes, remove from the oven, turn the loaf over, then bake again for a further 5 – 10 minutes, until the loaf is crispy and brown all over and the base sounds hollow when tapped with your knuckle. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool before attempting to cut it.