Bread. So comforting. All types from the soft and pillowy to the crusty, worthy and hard work. The trashy white slice filled with butter and grated cheese, the ciabatta rubbed with garlic, drenched in olive oil and toasted. The baguette, the base of a pizza, the pitta bread to hot to hold plunged into the houmous.It fills every need and no meal is worse for it being involved somewhere. Sandwiches would be very poor without it.I can't imagine a dahl without naan to dip in it and I love to dredge some focaccia through the rich juices left behind from some tomatoes slowly roasted in olive oil. The restaurants of my childhood memories are full of bread rolls and butter too hard to spread. Even rye bread, denser than the 'contestants' on 'Love Island', has its place, supporting prawns, dill mayonnaise and boiled egg.I'm always keen to try out new variations on what is always based on the simple premise of flour, yeast, water, salt and time and these 'sheermal' are a slightly sweet and soft milk bread. A new addition to the recipe collection. They are great straight from the pan and work well as a breakfast bread with some strong spiced tea but go equally well with a yoghurt dip.There is saffron in them, even though time and time again I ask myself why? It may be a pretty colour, but is it not, ultimately tasteless and a big waste of everybody's time?Ingredients125ml milk250g bread flour1tsp dried yeast1tsp cardamon seeds1tbsp sugarA pinch of salt185g melted butterPinch of saffron1tbsp orange blossom water1tsp vanilla pasteMethodPour the milk into a large bowl and add the yeast, spices and sugar.Mix in the butter and flour then mix in the milk and salt to make a soft dough.Rest for two hours. The bread that is, although feel free to lie down too.Divide the dough into eight balls then roll out into flat circles.Heat a cast iron pan until really hot then cook each bread for ten seconds on each side until colouring. Pile up and serve warm or leave to cool and serve with cucumber yoghurt dip.This weekWatched:Joan of Arc documentary on BBC4. Was she nuts? Was she guided by God? Was the country fighting itself because humans are greedy, corrupt and power crazed? Who knows, but she was certainly committed to her cause and didn't let 15th century attitudes (not too dissimilar to 21st century ones, sadly) stop her.Read:A New Yorker feature on the Faroe Islands dining scene. Fascinating and engaging, but something I'm more than happy to experience vicariously.Listened:The soundtrack to Good Morning Vietnam. Found when I was sorting out my cassettes. For the younger readers, cassettes are terrible things spooling magnetic tape all over the place and when they do function sound awful. However, it brought back good memories and suddenly I was back in 'Nam again. I wasn't, but I was transported somewhere.Eat:Meal of the week was slow roasted tomatoes with harissa, oregano and olive oil cooked in a cocotte. Intense.
There are weeks, like the one just gone where I can barely remember the slightest thing of interest happening in day to day life.Most noteworthy was hurriedly inflating an air bed on the pavement outside my in-laws' house fifteen minutes after the children were due to be asleep on it in our bedroom as there were guests needing theirs. I had to do it outside, in case you were wondering, because the air pump attaches to the car's cigarette lighter. It wasn't because I love the great outdoors.I immediately punctured it on the thorns leading up the path to the house. This is what comes of doing things last minute. We've had this mattress ten years without incident, using it perhaps three times over the decade. The one time we really need it a prick burst it.I've barely cooked this week at home –by home I mean the in-laws house as we continue our stay away from the dust sheets and collapsed lost tomb of the Incas our place resembles– which has made a welcome change. It is nice to have an occasional break from the kitchen, if a little odd. As much as I love feeding people, I like the control I have over something and the feeling I get when making other people happy. Filming every day this week I haven't been around much for my family; I've felt my absence keenly.Still, the food cooked for me by mother-in-law Sue has been delicious. Highlights were the mushroom risotto and an incredibly irresistible pineapple pudding from a Jane Grigson recipe that over the course of three helpings with ice cream overcame my avoidance of sugar during the week. I have a feeling that in a fortnight we will have extended waists as well as a redecorated home.But I have cooked a couple of things. A simple ten second pasta sauce for the children on Saturday (blitz together one tin of tomatoes, 1 clove of garlic, olive oil, a pinch of oregano, a dash of tomato purée and a pinch of salt then cook quickly) which everyone tucked into except me. I had bratwurst onto which I spooned the remains of the salsa verde from the other night. Its zing and freshness had faded like a green velvet curtain left in the sun, it's lost grandeur just a reminder of better times. And because everyone else seems to hate bratwurst in my family I got all the sausages.On Saturday night, as we all sat down to watch 'Strictly', the children's eyes kept open with matchsticks, zombified with tiredness yet unwilling to admit defeat to the enemy of sleep, we ate bowls of haricot beans slowly stewed with chorizo, sofrito, a dash of stock and chicken thighs first browned in the paprika infused oil then left to slowly simmer in the mix until tender. Comforting and very tasty.Here's a recipe the children helped me to make the weekend before we shipped out. The sourdough starter and longer ferment gives the brioche stronger structure and deeper flavour than the standard brioche so it stands up a little more to serious abuse from pouring over a load of hot chocolate sauce, if that's your kind of thing. It is mine. At least when I'm not avoiding sugar...Ingredients2tbsp starter200ml lukewarm water plus 50ml350g flour plus extra for kneading15g fresh yeast (or 7g dried)1 egg, beaten60ml milk, lukewarm80g butter80g golden caster sugarAnother 150g flourA generous pinch of saltChocolate buttons, I used a mix of dark, milk and whiteMethodAdd the water to the starter and stir well until dispersed. Stir in the 350g flour and mix well. Leave to rest for about half an hour.Add the salt and the 50ml water and knead together until mixed. The dough should be quite wet and sticky.Add a little more flour and start to knead on the bench, folding and pushing it until it starts to become smooth and elastic. Add flour a little at a time until it becomes tacky rather than sticky and you can shape it into a nice firm but soft ball of dough.Leave in the bowl, covered with a cloth for four hours.Add the yeast to the milk and stir to dissolve. Pour onto the rested dough and add the butter, sugar and egg to this. Mix into the dough. It will be quite sloppy. Add the 150g flour and knead well for another five minutes, adding a little more flour if the dough gets too sticky. Don't make it too dry and firm though, it needs to be on the wet side of tacky.While kneading, add a little more flour if you need, just so it doesn't stick to the bench too much. It will become sticky but silky enough to handle and shape into a ball.Leave to rise for a further two hours then knock back and shape into eight balls.Put the balls in two lines in two brioche or loaf tins. Brush the top with beaten egg mixed with a splash of milk. Dust the top with sugar crystals and a sprinkle of grated chocolate. Leave to prove for another half an hour and bake at gas 7 (190c) for 25 mins until golden and cooked through. Don't have the heat on too high and blacken them as I did. Leave to cool until just warm before serving.