Tomato Soup and a Toasted Sandwich

Tomato soup & Toasted Sandwich

Wotchers!

Simplicity is the order of the day with today’s post – the ultimate comfort food of tomato soup and a toasted sandwich. But just because it is simple, doesn’t mean there should be any compromise on flavour, and these recipes have maximum flavour with minimum fuss. Not as minimum as opening a tin, I grant you, but for just five active minutes of your time, this soup can be supped in just under an hour and is so simple, after the first time you won’t need to refer to the recipe ever again.

But do keep coming back to the blog, because I’d miss you otherwise!

Tomato Soup

This soup is extremely low in fat, gluten-free and vegetarian/vegan.

Tomato Soup and Oatcakes

Tomato Soup and Oatcakes – on a less gloomy day than the top photo!

Makes approx. 1.5 litres

2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes – Aldi ‘Sweet Harvest’ are best for colour/flavour/value
2tbs vegetable oil
1 onion
3tbs concentrated tomato paste
1 litre vegetable stock or water + bouillon
1 large potato to make 300g once peeled/cubed
salt & pepper to taste.

  • Pour the chopped tomatoes onto a shallow ovenproof fish and spread out into a thin layer.
  • Place in the oven and turn the heat to 220°C, 200°C Fan.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, stirring thoroughly after 15 minutes, or until no excess liquid is visible.
  • While the tomatoes are baking, peel and chop the onion.
  • Add the oil to a saucepan, then add the onion and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally. The object is to concentrate the flavour through evaporation, without allowing the onion to caramelise.
  • When the tomatoes are done, scrape them into the saucepan with the onion, and add the tomato paste, stock and cubed potato.
  • Cover and simmer on medium heat for 10-15 minutes or until the potato is cooked.
  • Use a stick blender to puree the soup.
  • Rub through a fine-meshed sieve for extra smoothness.
  • Return to the pan and warm through.
  • Taste & add salt and pepper as liked.

Variations

  • Add garlic: peel up to 6 cloves of garlic and toss them in the oil. Lift out and stir into the tomatoes to roast in the oven.
  • Spice it up: red pepper flakes, cayenne, paprika or herbs such as rosemary or basil.
  • Crunch time: Make some sippets by dicing bread into 1cm cubes and either frying them in a pan with oil or bake in the oven until crisped and brown.
  • Meatify me! : Make some little meatballs from beef or lamb mince, fry them in a pan, drain on kitchen roll and add to each bowl before serving.
  • Creamy: Add a little double cream or creme fraiche if liked, but in all honesty, it doesn’t need it.
  • Fast Forward: If you need this even more quickly, this can be ready in as little as half the time. Once the tomatoes are in the oven, put everything else in the saucepan and simmer while the tomatoes bake. When the tomatoes are ready, stir everything together and blitz smooth.

Toasted Sandwiches

Regular listeners will recall that over the winter I was without my oven, which included the grill I used for making toast. Yes, my kitchen is so small, I can’t afford to sacrifice the counter space for a toaster. So I used this method to make toast in a large non-stick pan, which makes delicious and perfect toast if you are prepared to wait the 10 minutes it takes to brown.

More usually, I use this method for toasted sandwiches because kitchen….small….no counter space…..etc, etc. but also because the toasted sandwiches it make are so much nicer than the ones I see made elsewhere AND it gives me a chance to have a bit of a rant, so here goes.

  • Butter on the outside of the bread.
    So greasy, and so messy too. I mean come on, people, we’re living in the 21st century with all its wonderful technological advances and more kitchen gadgetry than you could shake a stick at, which includes non-stick pans! There’s simply no need to go slathering on great schmears of butter on every available bread surface. Lay a slice of bread in a dry non-stick pan over heat, and it will brown, no fat needed.
  • Squished bread
    Whether by panini press or, if you’re old like me/in the UK/ both, by those electric sandwich makers, I’m just not a fan of bread being compressed and then welded together by melted cheese the temperature of LAVA. If you need industrial equipment to force your sandwich down to a manageable height for your mouth, you’re doing it wrong.
  • Squished fillings
    I like to savour every one of the additions to my melty cheese sandwich filling, which is tricky to do when it is squirting out the sides from being squished by some gadget.

The good news is, you don’t have to suffer any of the above with my patent-pending, counter-space-saving, practically-foolproof method of toasty sammich creation! The outsides of the sandwich are crisp, browned and free from grease and the insides are warm and melty. And so without further ado, on with the method!

The Non-Gadget Toasty Sammich Method

  • Put a clean, dry non-stick pan on medium-low heat to warm up.
  • Take 2 slices of your bread.  Now it can be artisinal sourdough, or pre-sliced from a bag, no judgement here. This method will work beautifully with all types of bread.
  • Lay one slice on something that will help you transfer the sandwich to the pan – a palette knife if your balance skills are good, a cake lifter if they’re not.
  • Add a layer of butter onto the bread (optional). You can use other things such as mayonnaise or chutney if you prefer.
  • Whatever cheese you’re using, add half in a layer over the bread. Either cut it in thin slices or dice it in 5mm cubes. The smaller/thinner the cheese pieces, the more easily they will melt.
  • Add any additional flavourings. Purists maintain there is only ever cheese in a toasty cheese sammich (see top photo) but I am of the opinion that cheese is merely compulsory, not exclusive. There are some suggestions below for fillings that pair well with tomato soup. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.
  • Finish with the rest of your cheese. When this double layer of cheese melts, it will gently cradle the rest of your sandwich ingredients and hold them together so that your sandwich doesn’t fall apart, even when cut.
  • Add the final piece of bread, buttered or not, as you like, and press down gently.
  • Transfer the sandwich to the pan.
  • To help melt the cheese effectively, cover your sandwich with a lid, preferably one that doesn’t press down upon the sandwich itself. If you non-stick pan has a lid, then use that. Personally, I use a lid from a small saucepan that sits snugly over the whole sandwich but is deep enough not to compress it. Ensuring the cheese is mostly melted before you turn the sandwich will help keep your filling where it is supposed to be – inside the sandwich. A lid will trap the heat underneath, effectively making a little oven and help to melt the cheese faster.
  • When the underside of your sandwich is browned, (depending on the heat of your pan, around 5 minutes), slide under your utensil of choice and gently turn it over. If the cheese is melted, then you can leave off the lid, which will also keep the toasted top of the sandwich from becoming soggy through trapped moisture.
  • Toast for a further 5 minutes until the underside is browned, then lift out of the pan.
  • Cut your sandwich with either a pizza wheel, or with a sharp, serrated knife: don’t saw at it, make a sharp, forward-and-downward motion with the knife. You can see from the picture below, how beautifully crisp, dry and unsquished the toast is, and how the filling is melted but still held between the bread.
Toasted cheese sandwiches

Smoked Brunswik Ham, Apple & Vintage Cheddar on Overnight Bread (L), Allinson Wholemeal Sliced Bread with Cheese & Brine Pickles (R)

Sandwich Suggestions

  • Overnight Bread, vintage cheddar. If you’re in the UK, I can recommend (black pack) Collier’s Welsh cheddar, Wyke Farms Vintage cheddar (in a green pack) or a newly-discovered favourite Welsh slate-cavern aged cheddar from South Caernarfon Creameries, available at Sainsbury’s deli counters.
  • Overnight Bread, diced Brunswick Ham, thinly-sliced Jaz/Braeburn apple, vintage cheddar.
  • Sliced wholemeal bread, mix of finely diced mature cheddar  & Gouda, thinly-sliced pickled cucumbers/gherkins. NB For best results, be sure they are brined and not in vinegar.
  • Bacon or Bacon Jam, mature cheddar, de-seeded, diced tomato (not pictured).
  • Cheese and chutney (not pictured).

Staffordshire Oatcakes

Staffordshire Oatcakes with Cheese and Bacon
Wotchers!

Staffordshire Oatcakes are, quite possibly, the best regional speciality you’ve never heard of.

In fact, that is much more of a generalisation than you may realise, because they’re specifically regional to North Staffordshire, centering on the region around Stoke-on-Trent.

It’s historic origins are mixed, with some anecdotes suggesting they originated from soldiers returning from India and trying to reproduce the chapatis they had eaten, with local produce. A more likely scenario, is as one of the various traditional ‘bakestone’ items found in workers cottages all over the country. With wheat being a valuable commodity, most people used flour from cheaper oats and barley, and with a cooking time of mere minutes, they are surprisingly sustaining.

They can be eaten hot from the pan, but as with other griddle bakes such as muffins, crumpets and pikelets, they can be made in batches, and then toasted as required, making, if anything, an even speedier snack.

Oatcake shops used to be small and plentiful, with sales being made through open windows. Alas, the last of this kind of  shop, the Hole In The Wall in Stoke-on-Trent, closed down due to re-development of the area in 2012. Commercial producers are still churning out batches in 6s and 12s, and they are even stocked by some of the large supermarket chains, but they taste best when home-made. Obvs.

Before we get to the recipe, a word or two about ingredients…

  • These oatcakes are made mostly of oats, in the form of oat flour. If you want to hunt out some oat flour, then have at it, but I’ve found, through trial and error, that whizzing some steel-rolled oats in a spice grinder is both easier and cheaper. You could probably use a blender as well, as they too have the off-set blades necessary to chop the oats into a suitable fineness. Whatever is easiest being the main order of the day.
  • You can use instant yeast, but I must admit, the batter made with fresh yeast always tastes better to me.
  • I’ve read a lot of recipes and watched many a documentary clip on Staffordshire Oatcakes and I’m going to confess up front that this recipe might be viewed poorly by oatcake devotees. It makes a batter that is rather thicker than the traditional, which results in a thicker oatcake. In my defence, it makes for a more durable oatcake which I can then turn easily in the pan without it breaking, and it ‘laces’ beautifully, with the surface becoming dappled with the characteristic pockmarks and holes seen also on pikelets and crumpets. The thickness also allows for a wonderful contrast when toasted between the crisp outsides and the fluffy insides. If all this is a heresy to you, feel free to dilute the batter down to your liking after the 1-hour rise.
  • If you have a decent non-stick pan, you can cook these fat-free.

Staffordshire Oatcakes

280g oat flour – ground from steel-rolled oats
110g stoneground wholemeal bread flour
110g strong white bread flour
1tsp granulated sugar
1tsp table salt
20g fresh yeast, crumbled or 1 sachet fast-action yeast
450ml whole milk – warmed
450ml warm water

  • Put everything into a large bowl and whisk together with a balloon whisk. Alternatively, use a stick blender.
  • Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place to rise.
  • Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat. If your pan is in need of a little help, use a sparing layer of fat (bacon fat or lard) to help prevent your oatcakes from sticking.
  • Gently stir your oatcake batter. The yeast and rising time will have turned it into a liquid with the consistency of frothy double cream.
  • Put 1 ladle/cup of batter into the middle of your pan and tilt the pan around until the batter has spread fully. Don’t be tempted to use the back of your ladle/cup to spread the batter out, as it’s very easy to spread it too thin and either make holes in the middle, or edges so thin they begin to burn before the middle is cooked.
  • The moisture in the batter will soon evaporate, leaving a lacy surface of holes and craters where bubbles from the batter burst.
  • Allow the oatcake to cook until there is no moisture visible on the surface – about 2 minutes.
  • Using a spatula or slice, loosen the edges and then the undersides of the oatcake until it is freely sliding around in the pan.
  • Flip the oatcake over and cook for another 2 minutes or until the surface is starting to brown (see photo).
  • When done, slide out of the pan onto a wire rack to cool.
  • Continue until all the batter is used up. This will make a batch of about 10 sturdy oatcakes.

As the oatcakes cool, they will soften and take on the appearance of a floppy pancake. Wrap in plastic and store in the fridge until required.

Oatcakes for Breakfast/Brunch/Snack/Whenever

You can put whatever you like in your oatcakes, but a filling of bacon and cheese is not only traditional but forms one of those rare, simple ingredient combinations that border the sublime.

You will need:

oatcakes
back bacon rashers – 2-3 per oatcake
grated vintage cheddar cheese

Sauce – brown or red (optional)

  • Grill your bacon or cook in a pan until beginning to caramelise. Set aside and keep warm.
  • Take your oatcake and put into a hot, dry pan – ideally the one you originally cooked it in. An oatcake has two very different sides, the pockmarked ‘front’ and the smooth, brown ‘back’. Put the ‘back’ of the oatcake into the pan first.
  • Allow the oatcake to heat through for 1.5-2 minutes.
  • Flip the oatcake.
  • Sprinkle the cheese over the hot ‘back’ (which is now uppermost) of the oatcake. It will melt as the other side toasts.
  • When the underside of the oatcake is warmed through and crisp, lay 2-3 rashers of bacon on top of the melted cheese on one half of the oatcake and fold the other half of the oatcake over (as in the photo).
  • Slide onto a plate and enjoy with sauce, if liked.
  • Repeat as often as necessary.

 


Stuffed Muffins

Stuffed Muffins
Wotchers!

Here’s an idea I came up with for a no-mess breakfast sandwich, snack on the go – or brunch whilst lolling around on a Sunday.

Stuffed muffins!

Stuffins!

Soft, pillowy muffin dough is folded around a filling of your choice, and cooked on the griddle (or in my case, a heavy-duty frying pan) for just 7 minutes each side. No more worrying that your filling is going to slide out from between your muffin layers, or spill down your front. Best of all, no greasy fingers!

I opted for a mixture of well-seasoned caramelised onions, chestnut mushrooms softened in butter and a feisty cheddar. It’s a combination that I’ve only recently discovered, having been rather ambivalent about mushrooms for many years, but now I’m slightly obsessed with it. The earthiness of the mushrooms, the richness of the onions and the sharp tang of cheese is seriously delicious. Chestnut mushrooms have a rich mushroomy-y flavour without the black of portobello mushrooms.

You can obviously customise the filling to your own tastes. I would heartily recommend a cheese of some sort – to bind everything together in a delicious, gooey bundle.

Stuffed Muffins

Makes 10

1 batch of fresh yeast muffin dough, after the first rise
6 onions, peeled and diced small
250g chestnut mushrooms – sliced thinly
60g unsalted butter
30ml vegetable oil
pepper and salt
100g cheese of choice

cornflour to sprinkle

  • Melt 30g of butter in a heavy pan over a medium heat.
  • Add the mushrooms, sprinkle with a little salt and cook until the mushrooms are softened and most of the liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool.
  • Melt the remaining butter and the oil in the pan and add the onions.
  • Sprinkle with a little salt and stir over a medium low heat until softened and starting to brown. Season with pepper.
  • Drain the excess oil from the onions by placing a sieve over a bowl and pouring the onions into the sieve. Leave to drain and cool.
  • Cut the cheese into small (5mm) dice.
  • Mix together the cheese, onions and mushrooms in equal quantities by volume. Use a cup. Any cup. You’ll have onions and mushrooms to spare. Keep the remainder in the fridge in plastic boxes to brighten up sandwiches and snacks.
  • Tip out your risen muffin dough and divide into 100g pieces.
  • For each piece of dough, fold the edges in towards the middle, then turn over so that the folds are underneath and the top is smooth. Cup your hand over the dough and roll it in small circles, shaping the dough into a smooth ball.
  • When all the dough has been shaped, for each piece of dough, roll out gently to a diameter of about 10cm.
    • Add 2tbs of filling to one half of the dough. Dampen the edge of the dough with a little water, then fold the dough over the filling.
    • Pinch the edges together neatly to form a tight seal.
    • Sprinkle the worktop with cornflour and set the shaped and filled dough aside to rise.
    • By the time you’ve finished filling and shaping all of the dough, the first ones will be ready to cook.
  • To cook the stuffins:
    • Heat a heavy bottomed pan over medium high heat until thoroughly hot.
    • Turn the heat down to low and add in 2 or 3 of the stuffins turning them upside down as you do so. By cooking the slightly dried top first, the stuffins will retain a more muffin-y shape.
    • Cover and cook for 7 minutes.
    • Gently turn the stuffins over and cook, uncovered, for another 7 minutes.
    • Cool on a wire rack.
  • Serve warm.
  • To reheat, zap in the microwave for 15-20 seconds, then toast each side for 1 minute in a dry pan.

Honey Granola

Honey Granola
Wotchers!

I’m still ovenless, so improvisation is still the name of the game here, with this gloriously crunchy and chewy granola you can make in the microwave!

I’ve used gluten-free oats and coconut oil to make it both gluten and dairy free, but you could easily substitute ordinary oats and butter.

You can customise the recipe by adding in your own choice of dried fruit after the granola has cooled. I recommend going for tart/sharp fruits to contrast with the sweet and crunchy oats and nuts.

You can also easily customise this recipe if you’re thinking of making edible gifts this Christmas. In addition to varying the fruit and nuts, you could also sprinkle some spice over the finished mixture such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, mixed spice, etc.

Honey Granola

250g gluten-free oats
60g coconut ribbons
120g pumpkin seeds
120g sunflower seeds
120g pecans – chopped
1tsp salt
250g runny honey
110g coconut oil
110g dark Muscovado sugar

To add after cooling

flaked almonds
currants
dried blueberries
chopped, dried apricot
dried cherries
dried barberries
dried cranberries

  • Tip the oats into a large, dry pan and stir over medium heat for 5-10 minutes until lightly toasted.
  • Transfer the oats to a large bowl and add the coconut, seeds, nuts and salt. Stir thoroughly.
  • Put the sugar, coconut oil and honey into a pan and heat gently until the coconut oil has melted.
  • Pour the warm mixture over the oat mixture and stir well to coat.
  • Pour half the oat mixture onto a piece of baking parchment and microwave on High for 2 minutes.
  • Stir the mix, then microwave on High for a further 2 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool.
  • Repeat with the other half of the mixture.
  • When the mixture has cooled completely, transfer the granola to a large bowl and break up into clumps.
  • Add in dried fruit to taste and mix thoroughly.
  • Store in a sealed container. If the mixture is sticky, store in the fridge.

 


Tartiflette

Tartiflette

Wotchers!

This recipe is just right for warming the cockles of your heart either after an invigorating walk or standing around a crackling bonfire.

It is a peasant dish, originating in Savoie, the region of the French Alps and is of a similar origin to Cholera Pie, in that it is composed of store-cupboard staples. Don’t be fooled into thinking that it is in any way a dull dish – it is packed with flavour and quite satisfying enough for a main meal, served alongside a crisp salad. Whilst this incarnation of the dish has only been around since the 1980s, it is actually derived from a much older regional recipe called La péla. In the older, vegetarian version, the unpeeled, raw potatoes are cubed and pan-fried in oil. Onions are added and when these turn golden brown, slices of reblochon are laid over the top. The dish is served when the cheese has melted.

There are lots of Tartiflette recipes online, many of which veer dangerously close to being a variation of either Dauphinois Potatoes or a potato fondue, neither of which are authentic. In this recipe, which comes from a little French book of Grandmothers’ recipes, the flecks of bacon and onion and the rich, melted cheese just coat the potatoes without overpowering or drowning them in too much liquid.

Speaking of potatoes, allow me to recommend a very special variety which is both my absolute favourite and absolutely perfect for this recipe. Grab them if you can find them: Pink Fir Apple Potatoes.

Pink Fir Apple Potatoes

Pink Fir Apple Potatoes

Similar in appearance to fingerling/Anya potatoes, but with a distinctive pink blush to their skins, they have the unique quality of being a slightly floury, waxy variety with such a delicious flavour, you can eat them on their own. By which I don’t mean ‘on their own with some butter, salt and pepper’, I mean, literally, with nothing else – they taste that good.

If you’re unable to find any Pink Fir Apple, then Anya are an acceptable substitute.

The other main ingredient is Reblochon cheese. This is a soft, rinded cheese with quite a pungent flavour that melts beautifully – a little goes a long way! It is available in UK supermarkets either as a small (10cm) whole cheese or in portions of half of a larger (15cm) cheese.

You can assemble this recipe and heat through immediately, or make ahead and pop it in the oven when you need it. It takes less than 30 minutes to warm through.

Tartiflette serving

Tartiflette

This recipe will serve four, or three if very hungry. Actually, it’ll serve one if you’re ravenous, but I think it’s best to draw a veil over that particular mental image.

800g Pink Fir apple or Anya potatoes
150g smoked bacon lardons
2 medium (apple-sized) onions, chopped fine
125ml reduced fat creme fraiche
1 reblochon cheese, 200-250g
coarse-ground black pepper
chopped parsley to garnish

  • Bring a pan of water to the boil.
  • Wash the potatoes and then steam them in their skins over the boiling water for 15 minutes. Set aside.
  • Put the bacon and onion into a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and starting to caramelise.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the creme fraiche.
  • Cut the reblochon cheese into fat matchsticks.
  • Cut the potatoes into 2cm slices.
  • Butter an ovenproof dish.
  • Layer the ingredients: 1/3 of the potatoes, 1/3 of the bacon mixture, 1/3 of the cheese, pepper.
  • Repeat 3 times until the ingredients have all been used .
  • Cover tightly with foil and set aside until needed.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Put your dish into the oven with its foil covering and bake for 20 minutes.
  • Remove foil and bake for up to 10 minutes more, if necessary, to crisp the top.
  • Sprinkle with the parsley and serve with a fresh salad.

Carrot and Parsnip Tart

Golden Root Vegetable Tart

Wotchers!

I’ve decided to go all autumnal this week with this comforting, root vegetable tart. It was inspired by a recipe from 1604 for parsnip pie.

It can make the basis of a light lunch or be served as an accompaniment to a main meal.

Its simple flavours are enriched by generous use of butter, with which both carrots and parsnips become glorious. And by generous, I mean about 50g, less than two ounces in old money, so hardly extravagent either budget or health-wise.

And yes, I’ve hopped onto the current ‘spiral tart’ craze to provide the impressive appearance, but I would argue that it is only a development of the apple rose tart, so neeners!

Like the apple rose tart, and unlike most of the current crop of spiral tarts, this tart also has a filling beneath the decorative vegetable ribbons – the remains of the vegetables carved up for the decoration are steamed and then mashed together with lashings of butter and pepper. They give the tart both substance and richness.

Equipment Recommendation
I don’t usually mention cooking equipment, mostly because my kitchen is too small to have much of anything, but I heartily recommend this kind of saucepan set:

steamer saucepan set

The top two tiers are steamer pans, over a regular saucepan. You can cook all the side dishes for a Sunday lunch in this – potatoes in the bottom and up to four vegetables in the steamer baskets – at the same time, on one burner/ring on the stove, removing the baskets from the stack as the contents are done. I use mine daily.

Other vegetables you might like to try with this recipe: beetroot, turnip, swede, butternut squash, courgette.

Carrot and Parsnip Tart

1 x 20cm partially blind-baked shortcrust pastry tart shell
5 large parsnips
5 large carrots
50g butter
salt & pepper

  • Peel the carrots and parsnips, then cut into ribbons. I find a Y-shaped peeler is best for this.
  • Cook the ribbons in a steamer basket over boiling water for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  • Chop the remains of the vegetables into cubes and steam over the boiling water until tender. The parsnips will probably require more cooking than the carrots, so have them in separate steamer baskets so you can remove them when done. Even though they will be mashed, you don’t want them mushy.
  • Mash the cooked vegetables together. Don’t be too thorough with your mashing – it’s nice to be able to see flecks of both vegetables in the mix, and it gives a mottled, almost marbling effect. Add 30g of the butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool.
  • When cold, spoon the mashed vegetables into the tart shell and smooth over.
  • Arrange the ribbons of vegetables in alternating circles on top. You can begin in the middle or on the edges of the tart.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Melt the remaining butter and brush lightly over the top of the vegetable ribbons.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, then cover lightly with a foil tent to prevent the vegetable ribbons from burning, and bake for a further 10 minutes.
  • Cool in the tin for 10 mintes before removing and serving.

18th Century English French Bread

18th Century French Bread
Wotchers!

Bread is a curious topic to go a-hunting in the recipe archives because there are relatively so few recipes. Considering how central it was for such a large part of the population, the proportion of recorded recipes is surprisingly low.

The reason for this might be similar to that often cited as being behind Marco Polo’s failure to mention paper money in his account of travels in China: familiarity. It is a theory that Polo was so familiar with its usage after his many years in the country, and since his memoirs were written so long after his return, he completely forgot the surprise and wonder that the concept paper money would have for his readers. Perhaps the ability to make bread was so fundamental, so ingrained, few thought to write down the recipes since it was a skill everyone possessed.

It was also, however, a specialised craft, requiring both skill and equipment to produce on a large-scale, not to mention the unsociable hours and back-breaking work mixing huge quantities of dough without machinery. As such, as hard, manual labour, it was firmly in the province of the labouring classes, however skilled.

The more well-to-do, whose recipes have survived in household manuscript books, seem to have been partial to French bread, and it has been interesting to note the numbers of recipes for French bread consistently exceeding those for anything English. A large proportion of them are variations on this recipe, using egg whites as part of the liquid component.

French Bread

French Bread recipe dating from 1703, MS7788 in the Wellcome Library

I chose this 1703 recipe because of its simplicity – other recipes use whole eggs/butter/milk/cream, and I wanted to see whether the egg-whites had a noticeable effect on the flavour and texture of the loaf without any other distractions. The answer is yes – it is certainly different to a bread made without egg-whites. There’s no way to tell whether this is a genuine approximation of the French bread of the time, but I suspect that it wouldn’t have been too far removed from the sourdough bread enjoying a resurgence today.

Traditional sourdough, baked in a wood-fired oven, is a wonderful thing – insanely crusty with a great ‘chew’. It’s not to everyone’s tastes, though – which is where this loaf might gain favour. After baking, the crisp crust softens as it cools, making it easy to slice without the dangers of crust fragments ricocheting off at alarming speeds that comes with cutting a traditional sourdough. The crumb is open and springy with enough of a chew to make it very satisfying. From the photo above, it would appear that the centre of the loaf actually has a more open texture than the edges. It can be relished spread with just a little butter – and how long is it since you can say you honestly enjoyed a slice of white bread and butter?

I’ve obviously scaled this recipe down from the original and have made just one change: salt. True to my own code of conduct when working with old recipes, I did bake it ‘as written’ in the first instance, and while it had the great crust and texture described above, the flavour was lacking. Finally, I find it amusing to note that 300 years after it was jotted down, this recipe still takes just 30 minutes to bake.

18th Century English French Bread

450g strong white bread flour
1 sachet fast-action yeast
1tsp salt
50ml egg-white whisked with 300ml warm water
Additional warm water (maybe)

  • Mix the flour, yeast and salt in a bowl.
  • Whisk together the eggwhites and the warm water and add to the dry ingredients.
  • Mix thoroughly, adding more water if required (unlikely), to form a rather soft dough.
  • Knead for 10 minutes.
  • Cover lightly with plastic and set in a warm place to rise for 1 hour. If your kitchen is on the cool side, you can turn the oven to 160°C, 140°C Fan for 2 minutes, then switch it off and put in your dough to prove.
  • Tip out the risen dough and pat gently to deflate.
  • Shape the dough into a smooth ball and transfer to a greased 1kg loaf tin. The dough should half-fill the tin. If you’d prefer a taller loaf, use a smaller or longer shape.
  • Set aside to rise for 30 minutes. On cold days I put the loaf into the small top oven while the main oven below warms up.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, turning the loaf around after 20 minutes to help colour it evenly.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • Slice when cold.