I was five or six, and for some reason, every so often in assembly, we would sing 'Yellow Submarine' — I had no idea who the Beatles were, let John Lennon who had just been shot, although not in my assembly — and less frequently, but with no less gusto, 'Sinnerman' by Nina Simone.If you look at me closely, you can tell I didn't grow up as an African American, and yet, the reasons lost to me (and probably the whole of my 1970s hugely white suburban, middle class, Catholic primary school outside Reading), our perm-laden television-sized glasses wearing music teacher used to get us all tunelessly belting these out like some disfunctional gospel choir.To a child just grasping the concept of a cat sitting on a mat, Yellow Submarine is a suitable song. But why anyone would sing a song questioning where some cinnamon was going, where it was running to, where it was going to hide was beyond me.To this day, the two are superglued firmly together; Simone's song and some aromatic tree bark. When I cook with it I sing the song and when I hear the song I think of the spice. It's a strange place, sometimes, the mind.To that end, today's recipe is cinnamon buns. Soft, sweet, pillowy spirals of spiced dough wrapped around melting, sugary cinnamon butter. I quickly made these while waiting for a beetroot chutney to finish cooking. A nice treat, I thought, for the children to come home from school to. They don't go to after school club on Mondays, so they need something to keep them quiet for a little while.Noah loved them. Silence for a calm ten minutes. Maya took one bite and threw the rest in the bin.In the town, where I was born, that would have got me a clip round the ear.Ingredients1/3 small block of fresh yeast or a 7g sachet140ml water300g plain flour1tsp salt1tbsp brown sugar1tbsp ground cinnamon130g butter2tbsp ground cinnamon75g coconut or brown sugar4tbsp icing sugar (sieved otherwise it's lumpier than school porridge)2tbsp waterMethodMix the yeast with a tablespoon of the water and leave somewhere warm for about five minutes.Pour the flour, salt, brown sugar, 1tbsp of cinnamon and the water into a bowl and mix well until you have a soft dough. Almost sticky, but not quite. Knead for ten minutes (stand mixers and processors are handy here) and leave somewhere warm until it has doubled in size. This could take between 30-60 minutes. Longer, probably, if you live in Alaska.Dust the worktop with some flour and roll the dough out into a 25cmx45cm rectangle. Melt the butter, 75g sugar and 2tbsp ground cinnamon together and pour evenly and carefully over the dough.Sprinkle the sugar all over the top and give it a little light roll with the rolling pin.Roll up along the longest edge until you have a long cylinder and then cut evenly into 15.Put face up in an oven tray and leave to rise again for 45 minutes to an hour. Cover the tray with some film so they don't dry out.Heat the oven to 180c and bake for about 25 minutes until golden and springy. I think it was about this long, I'd forgotten to set the timer. Just cook them until they're done.Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tray for five minutes then transfer them to a wire rack.Mix together the icing sugar and water until you have a smooth glaze then drizzle over the buns. Serve slightly warm if you like.
The dough has risen again after the first thirty minutes. I knocked it back with a gentle flick or two of the wrist and folded it in on itself a few times before shaping into a smooth ball.The soft, smooth, elastic dough felt good and I just knew it would be delicious when cooked on a firey hot griddle pan. The olive oil and yoghurt and the spoonful of sourdough starter added to the mixture has given it a silken tang and it gently springs back on itself when prodded.I leave it for another hour in the bowl by the warm oven, covered with clingfilm and check on it every now and then, watching it double and transform slowly before me.This is the joy of bread making. I get the most from it when I do it by touch and feel, judging the amount of flour or water needed by sight and how the wet dough clings to my fingers or crumbles in my hand, needing more liquid. In my mind, it's a living thing that needs looking after and caring for until it's ready for the oven or pan. And when, miraculously, you've managed to keep a starter going for nearly two years, each loaf or dough feels that much more special.I have written a pitta bread recipe here before, and while that was more than good enough, this one has a few tweaks that I feel improve it. But I can guarantee that the next time it will again be different. Once you get the hang of feeling how the dough works, you can do what you want with it. You'll know when it's going to work or not.I cooked these on the griddle pan then finished them on the open gas flame, the bread bubbling and inflating here and there, smoking slightly, occasionally catching fire. Charred and hot, I covered one flatbread with a base made from crushed butter beans mixed with a tablespoon of harissa, some natural yoghurt, salt and pepper and some chopped parsley. On the still hot griddle pan. I charred some courgette slices with a little olive oil and ground cumin, well seasoned. A few chilli flakes wouldn't have gone amiss here, but I was too hungry by this point. Sliced there and then on the worktop, I ate it plateless and very inelegantly, in such a way that I would have told the children off for. However, they were still at school and they can eat theirs later, at the table.MethodIn a large bowl, mix together a good few handfuls of strong flour. If you want measurements, I'd say probably around 400g. To this, add a handful of semolina flour, about a tablespoon of fresh yeast, which you can get from most supermarkets. I just broke a cube of it in half and sprinkled that in. On the other side of the bowl, throw in a large pinch of salt. A chef's pinch, as it were, which is more like a small fistful...Add some olive oil, probably about 75ml, enough water to make a soft dough (this will be around 350ml), a tablespoon or two of natural yoghurt, and if you have it, some sourdough starter.Mix well until it comes together nicely and fold it in on itself a few times until you have a nice, pliable and soft dough that doesn't stick to your hands too much but also isn't flaky. A little like a soft pillow...Shape into a ball and leave covered in the bowl for half an hour. Punch it gently to deflate it and fold it around itself again a few times before reshaping into a ball, covering again and leaving for about an hour.Throw some semolina on the worktop, break off small balls of dough and roll them into thin circles about the size of a single. That's 7".Heat a griddle pan, cook the bread each side until starting to char and finish off on the gas flame if you have one. If not, never mind...Keep warm in a towel and finish the rest of the dough. Serve immediately with the butter bean mixture or some houmous or suchlike.
Every weekday Maya needs a packed lunch for nursery. That will come to an end as she moves into year one in the autumn, but until then, each morning I will continue to run around like a loon with one shoe on, half a cup of coffee reheated from the night before and a slight sense of panic that there is only a questionably fresh slice of ham or two in the fridge to go in her sandwich along with the banana that has been making day trips to class with her.I do, however, know there will be bread. On Sunday I make the loaves for the week. Usually two. One sourdough and one of these. This is so easy and quick to make there really is no need to buy bad bread ever again. If you have a mixer with a dough hook, it's about two minutes work and a little waiting while the yeast does its job. If not, well it's not an hour of knead, more like ten minutes and surely that's worth it. You can add all kinds of extra things to it as you see fit. I'll often throw in some pumpkin seeds, rye grains, quinoa or sunflower seeds.Half an hour in the oven and you have a loaf of homemade bread with no funny business going on. It's a challenge well worth rising to.Ingredients250 organic stoneground strong white flour (I like Gilchesters)50g rye flour50g wholemeal flour7g dried yeastA large pinch of salt225-250ml warm waterMethodAdd the yeast to the warm water and let it foam for about five minutes.Add everything else to the mixer's bowl and start it off slowly.Pour in the water and yeast and let the machine knead it for about ten minutes.Heat the oven to 180c.Put the dough into a 1kg greased loaf tin and let it rise somewhere warm for about half an hour, or until it's filled the tin and risen well.Throw an ice cube in the oven to create a little steam then bake the dough for about half and hour.It should be soft yet still sound hollow when tapped. Leave to cool in the tin and store in the bread bin.