I shouldn't think even millionaires could eat anything nicer than new bread and real butter and honey for tea.
I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith
This is one of my old favourites. If you didn't read it as a teenager, stay in with tea and toast and do so immediately. Cassandra Mortmain is a character I could spend infinite hours with. She lives in a old dilapidated castle in the English countryside with her family, a collection of eccentric creatures - her father, suffering from a decade of writer's block, a beautiful stepmother who often walks around in nothing but a long pair of boots, a sister who wishes she was in a Jane Austen novel, and a bright younger brother. She captures their life in her diary, speaking directly to us as their lives change following the arrival of two American brothers. And she loves bread and butter and honey.
Bread making is the most therapeutic cooking I know. Livvy and Ella, two bloggers whose writing I know and love (and you really should get to know too) speak about this beautifully. As someone who lives half a world away from much of my family, in a city which does tend to knock you about a bit, it's key in my life. Adding together the cheapest and simplest of ingredients, bashing them around a bit, and leaving them to turn into something new, is a thing of wonder. When nothing else in life seems to be going right - if you fall in love with the man your sister is engaged to, like Cassandra, or sometimes struggle with the pace of London life, like me - bread will rise, can be shaped, and will become dark and form a delicious crust when placed in a hot oven. It's a comforting thought.
Making your own butter will only add to the sense that everything is going to be all right. It's time consuming work, but it's not at all difficult. And placing your own little hand formed pats of butter on a plate, next to a slice of your own freshly baked bread, is a pretty incomparably wonderful feeling.
Bread and Butter
Makes 1 large loaf and plenty of butter
450g strong white bread flour
340g tepid water
7g fast action yeast
200ml double cream
1tsp flaked sea salt
Electric hand whisk
1. Place the flour in a large bowl, and add the salt on one side and yeast on the other. Try to keep the yeast and salt apart for as long as possible, as salt can stop the yeast working.
2. Add the water to the dry ingredients. It should be about blood temperature - if you put your finger in and can’t tell whether it’s hot or cold, then it’s just right. Mix the flour and water with your hand until everything comes together in a ball. Cover the ball with a wet tea towel and leave in a warm place for thirty minutes until it is increased in size.
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured bench and knead it until it is elastic, no longer sticky, and bounces back quickly when prodded. You can knead by stretching, slapping or folding the dough - whatever works for you. Once the dough is ready, you're ready to shape it into a ball. Pinch one side of the dough, stretch it out and fold it across the rest of the dough. Continue to work your way around the dough, repeating this four times. Flip the dough over and bring your hands together underneath it, twisting as you do so. Keep twisting until the dough is a firm ball.
4. Sprinkle a baking tray liberally with flour and place the dough on it, then leave it to prove for a final hour. It should have doubled in size and will spring back when touched. Around twenty minutes before the bread is ready, preheat the oven to 210C.
5. Once the bread is ready, score it a couple of times with a serrated knife and transfer the bread to the oven on a low shelf for around 40 minutes, until the bread is a deep golden brown, and sounds hollow when tapped on its underside.
6. While the bread is baking, you can make the butter. Pour the cream into a mixing bowl and start to whisk it. It's going to take a little while - you need to take it beyond stiffly whipped until it starts separating. Eventually you'll start seeing little yellow flecks swimming in a creamy liquid. Stop whisking at this point.
7. Reach your hand in and, using it as a sieve-of-sorts, press the yellow solid pieces against the side of the bowl, draining off the liquid. Continue with the rest of the cream, removing the yellow clumps to a bowl. Once you have collected them all, sprinkle them with salt (you may like more or less, depending on your taste) and squidge the whole lot together. Voila. You have butter. Place in the fridge to harden a little.
Serve the bread and butter with the nicest honey you can find. The liquid leftover from the butter is buttermilk - keep this in a bottle in the fridge and use within a couple of days. It's very versatile; I made some banana and buttermilk pancakes out of mine (mash a couple of bananas, add buttermilk and an egg, sieve in some flour and a teaspoon of baking powder, then whisk and dollop into a heavy based frying pan).