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.
I've been using different types of flour recently, trying more wholegrains as well as looking for interesting flavours and texture. There's more to life than wheat, and anyway, I'm not convinced it's that good for you. I haven't ruled it out though, it just has to be worth it, such as with silky and elastic homemade papardelle or deilcate ravioli. As Oscar Wilde said, "Everything in moderation, including moderation."I believe that homemade is best, especially when it comes to bread. Or at the very least, bread made traditionally and slowly by a proper baker. It takes a little more time, effort and planning, but it's worth it and you can always freeze extra for toasting. This loaf uses khorasan flour, an ancient Egyptian grain that is soft, nutty and delicious.My sourdough starter is one year old this month, I'm very proud of that. I've kept it alive for longer than some animals. Like all pets though, it does have to be fed, and sometimes cleaned up after. I keep mine in the fridge in a state of suspended animation, feeding it once a week when I make a loaf. There are plenty of starter 'recipes' out there, but basically do this:Get a large glass kilner jar, fill it 3/4 full with an equal amount of flour and water. Start with a mix of wheat and rye if you like. Stir it well and leave open on the kitchen bench for a couple of days. Throw away half of it and replace with more flour and water. Leave for another day. Repeat this for five to seven days and you should have a nice bubbly and tangy starter. Now you can close the lid properly. Look after it and it should last indefinetely.To make great sourdough, I would recommend buying a bannetone and using a lidded cast iron casserole dish (also known as a Dutch Oven). It bakes and steams the dough with it's own moisture so you get a beautiful crust. If you don't have one, just use a baking tray and put a bowl of ice cubes in the bottom of the oven to create steam. You will notice the difference if you just take a little time and see bread-making as an act in itself. This recipe works equally with wheat flour or other types, you may just need to add a little more or less water.Ingredients240g sourdough starter300g khorasan flour (kamut)30g rye flour60g strong white wheat flour8g saltApproximately 255ml water. If your dough is too stiff add a little more. Bread making is also about using your senses. These will improve with practice.Extra flour for dustingMethodI use my Kenwood Chef to do all the kneading for me, but you may have tension and anger you want to work out by hand. Either way, the dough needs like us all, to be kneaded. I usually do it for about 12-15 minutes.Add the starter to the bowl and pour in the flour and salt then mix well. Slowly add the water and gently incorporate it until well mixed. Knead on the bench for about 15 minutes then put back in the bowl, cover and leave to rise for four hours.Take the dough out of the bowl, knead for a minute or two and shape into a ballthen dust very well with flour.If you're using a banneton, make sure it is well dusted inside with flour. If you like, you can sprinkle some rye grains or other seeds into it so they come out on top of your loaf. Put the dough in, cover it and leave to rise again for another eight hours. I usually leave mine overnight, but be careful to not leave it too long otherwise it will overprove, have too much air in it and collapse.Heat your oven as hot as you can with the pan inside. Remove the dough from the banneton, dust with a little more flour and put in the pan, covering with the lid. Bake for about 30 minutes, then turn the heat down to medium hot and take the lid off. Bake for another 20 or so minutes then remove from the oven and leave to cool.If you're baking this on an oven tray, make sure the ice is in the oven and keep an eye on the loaf so it doesn't burn. It should sound hollow when you tap it. Again, use youre senses.Serve with unsalted butter, thinly sliced (you can use salted butter if your partner threatens you and sees that as an open act of hostility). Or, as we sometimes do, toast it and top with avocado, chilli, lime juice, tomato, spring onion and coriander. Amazing.