Baking bread in lockdown

Food & drink
Baking bread in lockdown post image

It’s a strange time to be a baker.

Our isolation encourages a regression to more basic needs, more elemental things. We remember, slowly remember, some of the things we used to do, the way things used to be. Necessity is a great leveler and an excellent coach, and the sudden resurgence of people discovering the joy of a fresh loaf of bread all over my Instagram feed is something truly wonderful. It reminds me that technical proficiency is merely an affectation. Simply ‘doing’ is the answer. The search for perfection is not.

Doing, learning, doing again, and again and again.

I feel lucky to have some experience of baking bread, but this is one of those areas where you’re always the student. There’s always something to learn, the key is to just start. Don’t they say that the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, or failing that, today? The same applies to learning how to bake a loaf of bread.

There’s power in that dough, power more potent than the mere flour, water and salt it contains. It teaches you to care, to nurture, to wait, to be patient. It forces you to stop and listen, to feel, to be cautious, to be bold. There’s nothing like it. It’s elemental and basic, alive and ancient.

Where to start? Here’s a list of resources and recipes to get you going. You don’t need much – flour, water, salt at the bare minimum, yeast or baking soda, a book or two.

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Sarto, Leeds

Eating out
Sarto, Leeds post image

Some new ground for two of Leeds’ existing and best-known independents, Sarto is a restaurant collaboration between the people behind The Brunswick on North Street, up past The Reliance, and the frankly awesome Laynes Espresso just outside the station.

It focuses squarely on pasta, and was born out of a series of test pop-up events that clearly showed the demand. Sarto serves a decent variety of fresh pasta dishes at pretty good prices in a space in Munro House, close to Leeds College of Music and the BBC.

The food is excellent. Fresh pasta, cooked well, with care and attention. Big bowls of rigatoni dressed sparsely with slow cooked shoulder of lamb and mint, fettuccine with wild mushrooms and cream, spike with marsala, big bowls of sourdough bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar … you get the idea. More …

Where to eat in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York

Eating out
Where to eat in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York post image

New York, New York. The king of cities. Bustling, frenetic, funny, edgy, and with literally thousands of places to eat.

Here’s a quick round up of the places we ate on a recent short break in the New York, based in the much-recommended neighbourhood of Williamsburg, over in Brooklyn, about five minutes ride from Manhattan on the L train.

Where to eat in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York

First off, the grandfather of New York pizza is Di Fara’s in Brooklyn, but Brooklyn is a massive place, and after we realised it’d take the best part of an hour on the subway to get there, then having to face into an infamously slow and somewhat unpredictable service, we decided to give the relatively new Williamburg branch a go instead. Housed in a really good food market type place on N 3rd Street, this outpost is said to be the twin of it’s more famous brother, and it did not disappoint. I’d go as far as saying that this was the best pizza I’ve had outside of Italy. Light, and tasty dough, with a good zing of acidity through it, topped with perfect combinations of ingredients and excellent tomato sauce and slices of mozzarella. So good we ordered more.

Di Fara’s pizza, Williamsburg

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Pasteis de Nata, or Portuguese custard tarts

Food & drink
Pasteis de Nata, or Portuguese custard tarts post image

These little custard tarts present something of a problem. They’re best cooked very quickly, at very high temperatures, so that the top and the edges scorch in an attractive way. That means that ordinary ovens probably aren’t going to cut it, but that pizza oven out in my back garden might just.

That thing is a beast. It hits 450c with ease, a flame rolling over the inside of the dome to cook a pizza through in about two minutes. It makes short work of a custard tart.

I experimented with a pack of ordinary, shop-bought puff pastry. It’s a wonderful product – consistent, dependable, quick, and it’s well worth having a pack or two stashed away in the freezer. Later attempts using homemade puff pastry, using this recipe, were better but far less convenient. There’s a great recipe for puff pastry here.

Scandinavian cinnamon and cardamom buns

Books, Food & drink
Scandinavian cinnamon and cardamom buns post image

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a book, a massive seven hundred and sixty-seven page hulk of a book about Nordic food, perhaps unimaginatively entitled The Nordic Cookbook.

My short review is that it’s well worth thirty quid of anybody’s money, and this is the first thing I’ve cooked from it and also one of the chief reasons I bought it.

Scandinavian baking is excellent. There’s an easy path between bread and cake that fits well into my way of cooking, and these cinnamon buns, rolled sweet pastry laced with cardamom and stuffed with butter and sugar are a superb example. They’re common across all of the Scandinavian countries in one form or another, and they’re fairly easy and forgiving to make.

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