Baking: no short cuts

Baking is not one of my strengths. For one simple reason. The best baker is one who methodically follows routines and directions. That’s not me. The best baker is one who bakes constantly; who has taken the routines into the soul and can reproduce them this way and that at will; that’s not me either. I can’t imagine having the time and discipline to define and refine and perfect; and finally, the best baker is inclined to be, shall we say, corpulent. That would be me, and my family, if I were a baker. We share a marvellous lack of discipline when it comes to cakes and tarts and buns and puddings.

Bread is a different matter. I need bread. I need it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I use it in ways which drive my wife crazy. Still she cannot understand that a potato sandwich is one of the world’s great delights, still she cannot understand that the lamb which took her ages to prepare tastes doubly wonderful on top of a piece of crusty bread, still she cannot understand that such theatrics are my ultimate compliment; and now that our children are doing it too, she cannot see that as a reasonable maintenance of close family bonds.

We got lazy with bread making, somewhere in the sixties. It was too easy to buy what appeared to be attractive and flavoursome; we got busy, and didn’t put aside the time to make our own. Soon enough, the flour we needed for bread making was no longer easily available. A skill which once came naturally, was too hard for the person with two cars, a PC, a dishwasher, a fan-forced oven, a microwave and a whizzo mixer.

What I enjoy about baking bread is its lack of discipline. When you’re making a special cake, or a delicate scone, or a mighty muffin, you need to measure to the line. With bread, the more flamboyant you are, the more fun the end result is. And it doesn’t make you fat.What you’ll need


You must have so-called ’strong’ flour for making any sort of bread. ‘Strong’ means ripping with protein, or gluten. This is the muscle of the flour, the organiser of the strands of molecules and such, which will keep the mass together when the dough is expanding. If your flour does not have the gluten strength, your best endeavours will get you nowhere. Buy bread flour in large quantities – it’s cheaper and it encourages you to make it, and make it, and make it.


Make sure you have a supply of dried yeast as a permanent fixture in your pantry or freezer. Yeast works perfectly well straight from the freezer, although I have never felt the need for such preservation. Yeast does not hang around if you use it every day.


An old-fashioned mixer, with all the beating attachments. These machines drifted out of fashion when the modern food processor arrived on the scene. Whizzers are marvellous, but unless you have a commercial version, they are neither powerful enough to work dough, nor large enough to produce a batch to feed the family. The Kenwood mixer is just the thing for terrific bread making. But don’t be discouraged if you haven’t got one: the first loaf was put together with shoulders and forearms and strong hands. Instead of going to aerobics, make your own bread.The recipes

Bread, for starters 228

Sourdough, from the beginning 229

Focaccia, pizza, or whatever 231

A little like pizza, or bruschetta; an oily loaf 233

Hot cross buns 234

Michele Day’s fruit cake 236

Scones, slow and easy 237

Passionfruit muffins, given an extra zing with raspberries 238

Muffins with pears and sultanas 239

Banana cake splashed ivith passionfruit syrup 239

Puff pastry and football 240