Buying my first very own Le Creuset felt like a giant leap. Having grown up with a Francophile French teacher mum, Le Creuset was a name I had known all my life. On holidays to France, mum would make a trip to the quincaillerie, or hardware store – for this was about the only place the heavy orange enamel pans were sold in those days – and stock up on heavy lidded pots. And so, buying a large red Le Creuset casserole at the age of 25 or so, marked a milestone for me. No longer a student, earning money, living with my boyfriend in London, owning a Le Creuset. I was a grown up! (How did that happen?) And now I have two children, and the red Le Creuset has a little brother, a smaller blue one, and I couldn’t live without (any of) them.
They are expensive, I admit, but boy, do they last. And boy, are they versatile. Which is why we love Le Creuset, and why these amazing enamel, heavy duty pans get a mention on the blog. Every busy mum – or dad – trying to get dinner on the table needs a Le Creuset, I think. I use mine all the time, and can’t imagine what I’d do without them. Whether it’s to make soup or a stew (the heavy enamel base conducts heat really effectively), to make Bolognese sauce (get all your ingredients in, in the usual way, bring to a simmer and then transfer straight from the hob to the pre-heated oven for 45 mins), or for casserole that goes straight from oven to table, they are simply unbeatable. Perfect for the one-handed cook … Yes, you can even stir them one-handed – they don’t tend to move when they’re on the hob – they’re so darn heavy!
To buy or not to buy a Le Creuset: weighing up the options
– Heavy, solid, a Le Creuset is a quality bit of kitchen kit that will last you for decades (they make a great wedding gift)
– Transfer your dish straight from the hob to the oven, and back again if needs be, and then straight to the table (less hassle, fewer dishes to wash)
– They conduct heat really efficiently
– Le Creuset pans look really attractive and come in an array of beautiful hues to match any kitchen colour scheme, including yellow. (And if your enamel chips, they look even more rustic!)
– They have their own Pinterest page! www.pinterest.com/lecreusetuk
– They weigh a ton. Not for the feeble.
– They are pricey, but they do last for ever, practically (see above).
So there you have it. Le Lowdown on Le Creuset.
So after the success of my first white loaf, I decided to turn my hand to granary bread, having discovered Wessex Mill Six Seed Bread Flour in my mum-in-law’s local health food shop – where I also found poppy seeds and fresh yeast (I was very excited). I loved the sound of this flour, which contains linseeds, millet seeds, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds, plus it won three stars and a Great Taste Gold award in 2012. Yes, please.
Fresh yeast seems to make the dough rise even better, and Loaf 2 was more successful than Loaf 1. Once again, the Aga came into its own. Following the success of Loaf 2, I made Loaf 3 on Friday – without an Aga, back in London – and not only did it work, but I found it really easy to fit around my day – I made the dough after school pick-up and let it rise for a couple of hours, then kneaded for a couple of minutes and let it prove for another half an hour or so while the littles were in the bath, and then baked it when it suited me. Having originally been put off by the idea of making bread because it felt as though it would be a hassle, it actually feels as though I can fit bread-making into everyday life. Rising and proving times seem to be pretty flexible, which when you’ve got two small and unpredictable children in your care, is a Good Thing.
In term of eating the stuff, the Wessex Mill flour makes a fantastic loaf with a lovely springy texture and a great taste, and I am really happy with my Mermaid 2lb loaf tin. I like knowing exactly what is in our bread, and I highly recommend trying it. This granary loaf is lovely eaten freshly sliced, also toasted with butter or for sandwiches. The added bonus is the lovely smell of fresh bread baking in the oven wafting through the house.
So, the only challenge remaining is to not bore my entire family to tears as I endlessly discuss a) making bread b) the bread I made and c) what I’m going to make next.
(Cue Mutley laugh.)
So, here’s the recipe that has worked every time. It’s from The Aga Book by baking doyenne Mary Berry. The book is, as far as I can tell, out of print. I like this recipe as it’s worked three times in a row, plus it doesn’t really require much effort. Which we like.
White, Brown or Granary Bread
Recipe by Mary Berry with notes by The One-Handed Cook in italics
Makes 2 x 1lb (450g) or 1 x 2lb (900g) loaf
1½lb (675g) strong white, granary or wholemeal flour (plus extra for flouring work surface and hands)
2 tsp salt
¾oz (20g) butter
¾oz (20g) fresh yeast
¾ pint (450ml) water, hand hot
Grease the loaf tins or tin. Measure the flour into a large bowl, add the salt and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Make a well in the centre, crumble in the yeast and then pour in the water. Mix by hand and knead into a ball in the bowl. Turn out onto a clean dry surface and knead for about 4 minutes (brown bread will not require as long). Return the dough to the bowl, cover with loosely oiled clingfilm, or an oiled polythene bag, and leave to rise near the Aga – or any warm place – for 1–1½ hours until double in size.
Put the greased tins near the Aga to warm (without an Aga, just basically find somewhere warm – I put my tin in the top oven to warm, as it retained residual heat from the bottom oven in which I was cooking the kids’ supper at the time), knock back the dough and knead again for 2–3 minutes then divide in half if making two loaves. Slightly flatten the ball of dough with the heel of your hand and fold in two opposite sides, slightly overlapping, roll up like a Swiss Roll. With the fold underneath, put in the loaf tin, or tins, cover with oiled clingfilm (I reuse the bit from last time) and leave to prove for about 30 minutes. Remove clingfilm. Brush the top with whisked egg yolk, and sprinkle with poppyseeds, or sunflower seeds, or whatever you fancy.
If you have an Aga, put in the Roasting Tin with the grid shelf on the floor of the oven and bake for 20–30 minutes for two tins, 35–40 mins for a 2lb loaf until evenly browned and when the loaf is turned out a hollow noise is made when the loaf is knocked on the base. Not sure if my mum-in-law’s Aga was turned up high, but my 2lb loaf cooked in 20 minutes.
At home, I put the fan oven on to 200°C (which would be 220°C in a normal oven) and baked my 2lb loaf for 35 mins (checked it after 30) and it came out perfect.
Try making bread; it’s not as hard as you might think!
Ah, bread. Sourdough. Bloomers. Multiseed. Soda bread. It seems the whole country has gone a bit bread crazy, what with Paul Hollywood’s book racing up the charts and his TV show getting umpteen million viewers every week. It seems we want to know how to get back to basics, how to make focaccia, knead our own dough and fill the air with the wonderful smell of fresh homemade bread baking in the oven.
Not me. Oh, no. I have never been into bread. Sure, I remember making it as a child once or twice, but as a grown-up (sorry, habit) adult, while I have embraced making many different things – cakes of all shapes and sizes, homemade pasta, casseroles, curries, quiches; you name it – bread has never been my thing. Until now.
I received an email a couple of weeks ago from the lovely folks at Mermaid bakeware asking me if I’d like to try their anodized aluminium bakeware in honour of National Bread Week which runs from 16-22 April. I paused, I deliberated … perhaps my reluctance to bake was because I didn’t have a tin? Perhaps with a 2lb loaf tin in my hands I would be inspired? This was my chance! The 2lb/900g loaf tin duly arrived. It is quite a beast. Solid. So solid, it feels as though nothing could ever dent it or scratch it. I liked it from the minute I saw it. A trustworthy tin.
And so, I thought I’d better seek out a recipe. I turned to Jo Wheatley’s trusty cookbook, A Passion for Baking, and in it found a recipe for a Basic White Loaf. Well, you can’t go wrong with a basic white loaf as a starting point, I thought. Miraculously, I even had some Dove’s strong white flour in the cupboard. Perhaps it was meant to be. I should point out that we were going to the in-laws for a long weekend, so I took my loaf tin, my cookbook and my bag of flour with me. My mother-in-law has an Aga – the perfect environment for bread-making – a lovely warm place to let the dough rise and prove. Plus she’s got a Kenwood mixer. She was slightly non-plussed when, on arrival, I announced, ‘I need to make bread’, but she’s coped with a lot more weird stuff over the years, let me tell you.
So, I set to work. I followed Jo’s recipe to a tee (page 163 of her book, if you’re interested), using dried yeast and the Kenwood dough hook to do the 7 minutes’ kneading required (one-handed I hasten to add). An Aga really is an asset when making bread, I have to say. The dough rose beautifully in the bowl, and I was able to leave the tin to warm up before popping in the dough in and, after proving, into the roasting oven (top right). It only took 20 mins to bake, and it was beautiful.
I was so proud of myself. I’d made a loaf of bread! And I’d really enjoyed it! I don’t know what I had feared all those years. The loaf itself looked nice – Jo suggests brushing the loaf with beaten egg yolk before baking, which gives it a nice sheen. I do think it could rise a bit more, and will experiment next time. But in terms of flavour – wow! I actually wasn’t expecting much, but it tasted really good. As my father-in-law observed, ‘It’s got a proper flavour. It tastes like bread used to taste,’ plus both children really liked it, just plain with a bit of butter. Clearly I’d risen to the occasion (sorry – couldn’t resist a pun). It really did taste great, I have to say. Plus, I knew what was in it. No E numbers, no weird preservatives, no crap. Yes, it takes time to make, but once I know what I’m doing, I reckon I’ll be able to fit bread-making in at the weekend around other activities – and it’s actually relaxing and enjoyable.
Bread-making is clearly addictive, as no sooner had I mastered the Basic White Loaf than I was flicking through Aga cookbooks looking for more recipes. Stay tuned to hear about my Six Seed Granary Loaf, made the very next day. I only wish I could have brought the Aga back to London!
If you’re interested in making the switch to eating real bread check out the Campaign for Real Bread website here.
So it’s the Easter holidays and we’ve seen snow, the death of a former prime minister (politics aside, I grew up in the 1980s and having a female PM did make it entirely conceivable – and indeed normal – for a woman to be in charge, running the country – wise Hannah from Muddling Along has more on this very topic here), and – I am sure most of you are with me on this – eaten a lot of chocolate. We went away for a week to Northumberland with friends – 8 grown-ups and 8 children in one enormous house with an Aga, an open fire, a huge garden and a swimming pool (indoor, heated), some delicious meals and a lot of nice wine. As a result, am now on a bit of a health mission!
Coming home to London, the sun seems to be trying to come out and the buds and the flowers are opening. In honour of Spring I bought a large basil plant in Waitrose at the weekend. Having a pot on the windowsill always feels like I am bringing summer into the kitchen. I love the colour and smell of basil – that lovely green, so fresh, with that wonderful odour – it inspires me to cook simple, healthy dishes.
And so I bring you this very simple basil pesto. You need a decent, heavy pestle and mortar for this one. I know some folks swear by the food processor for making pesto, but I think, frankly, it’s too much hassle for such a simple sauce, plus I enjoy making it by hand. Oh, and I don’t bother toasting the pine nuts, either, but you can if you want to.
This is one to make when you get home tired from the park on a Saturday, or when the kids have had a party and are hungry but don’t want much, or simply for a weeknight post-work supper. Sometimes when I get home and am not sure what I am going to whip up, I start by just putting a saucepan of water on to boil – by the time it’s bubbling, I’ve usually thought of something to rustle together (a top tip).
You will need
Serves 2-3, but you can easily up quantities to taste
Small clove garlic, peeled
Pinch sea salt
Big basil plant, leaves removed and (ideally!) washed and patted dry
50g pine nuts
3tbsp Parmesan, grated
Extra virgin olive oil
Simply crush all the ingredients, bar the olive oil, in your pestle and mortar. If your mortar is very sturdy, you will even be able to do this one-handed. Hurrah indeed. Once it is all mashed together, drizzle in the olive oil until you get the consistency you like. Serve with hot, drained spaghetti or linguine – or other pasta shapes, with extra Parmesan grated on top if you fancy. Yum.
At present, on my health kick, I am into Seeds of Change semi-wholewheat tortiglioni pasta which is available in Waitrose, Tesco and other supermarkets. I find 100% wholewheat pasta a bit too ‘earthy’ tasting, but this is a good compromise. You still get some of the nutritional benefit of the whole grain – so, the B vitamins, vitamin E and fibre, plus a slower release of carbohydrates than white pasta – but it still tastes like ‘proper’ pasta. Plus the sauce clings to it well. Well worth a try, if you’ve had wholewheat pasta before and weren’t keen. Plus the children like it!
Ciao for niao!