Bacon and Comte Bread

I got hooked on making my own bread after visiting my aunt who makes award winning sourdough loaves. She donated me a small sample of her starter dough, which I brought home and cultured until it had grown to a decent enough size for me to begin making my own crunchy, tangy loaves. Although this is not a sourdough recipe, I feel obliged to mention my aunt as it was the impressive texture and flavour of her sourdough bread that convinced me to start making my own every day.

All the best bread begins with a starter. This is either a sourdough starter (levain), or a poolish, which is a 50-50 mixture of flour and water with a small amount of yeast that’s left for about 1 day to ferment before adding more flour, yeast and water to create the actual dough. Using a starter will create a superior texture and give the bread more depth of flavour. A mature sourdough starter will give you more flavour and texture, but fact that the poolish only requires 1 day of planning (compared to 1 week or more with the sourdough) makes it an attractive option.

The basis of this recipe is similar to that found in Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. I have simplified the method to make it a little less labour intensive. It’s a compromise; the outcome of Keller’s recipe is slightly superior, although not by much! This recipe is quicker and easier, and pretty-much-as-good as Keller’s. It’s still quite a bit of effort for a loaf of bread, but trust me, it’s worth it. I have added bacon and comté cheese, along with some rich tasting rapeseed oil; this is a luxurious treat.

The vital crunchy crust is achieved firstly by having a really hot oven before you put the bread in; secondly by scoring the bread, either down the center, across in stripes or a random pattern, with a sharp knife just before putting in the oven; and lastly by throwing a mugful of water into the bottom of the oven just before you close the door.

For the final shaping and proving of the bread, you’ll need a baker’s linen cloth, or you can simply use a heavy-ish tea-towel instead. Also, a wide, flat baking sheet or stone is needed.

  • 415g warm water
  • 725g strong white flour
  • 2 ⅛ tsp dried yeast
  • 13g salt
  • 3 tbsp high quality rapeseed oil
  • 120g comté
  • 6 rashers unsmoked streaky bacon
  1. Make the poolish; mix 125g of flour, 125g of water and ⅛ tsp yeast in a bowl until thoroughly mixed. Cover lightly with cling film and leave for 24 hours. When it’s ready, it’s surface will be completely covered in tiny bubbles.

  2. Mix the rest of the flour, yeast and salt in a bowl then make a well in the center. Add the water, rapeseed oil and starter and thoroughly mix to form a wet, sticky dough.

  3. Turn out onto a floured surface and pat into a flat rectangle. Stretch out the right-hand two corners as far as they will go and fold back into the center. Repeat with the opposite two corners, then turn over the dough, pat into a rectangle again and repeat. Repeat this whole procedure 3 times, then place back in the bowl, cover and leave for 1 hour.

  4. Stretch and fold the dough again. Cover and leave for another 1 hour.

  5. Fry the bacon over a medium heat until cooked, and only lightly coloured. Leave to cool, then cut into approx 3mm squares. Cut the comté into 3mm cubes.

  6. Divide the dough into 2 balls and split the bacon and comté into 2 equal portions. Knead the bacon and comté into the dough ensuring that it’s evenly distributed. Cover and leave for 20 minutes. Roll each into a baguette shape about 10 inches in length and 2.5 inches in diameter. Flour your cloth and place the loaves in, creating some folds to allow baguettes to keep their shape. Weigh the edges of the cloth down and cover with cling film. Leave for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

  7. Meanwhile heat oven to 210C and get your baking tray nice and hot. Transfer the baguettes one at a time to the hot tray, score with a sharp knife and place in oven. Throw a mugful of boiling water in the bottom to generate the steam required to get your crunchy crust. Bake for 25-30 mins until golden brown, and feel lighter than they look when you pick them up. Cool on a wire rack.

I got hooked on making my own bread after visiting my aunt who makes award winning sourdough loaves. She ...

Peanut Caramel Cheesecake

This is another one for all the peanut butter lovers out there, and in fact I’d be willing to bet that even peanut butter haters will enjoy this dessert! There’s something about the flavour and texture of peanut butter that makes it quite uncompromising; for some, the richness is too much on its own, and is only palatable when paired with something sweet. In the contest to be the most loved peanut butter dish, the old-school favourite peanut butter and jam is arguably winning. I would, however, argue that this cheesecake beats it hands-down.

Broadly speaking, there are two classes of cheesecake: baked, and unbaked. This one falls into the latter (slightly quicker and easier) option. The general technique for the filling is very simple; make a thick puree (peanut caramel in this case, although strawberry, raspberry or chocolate also work well), and mix in cream cheese. Now simply soft-peak-whip some cream and gently fold in.

This cheesecake is mousse-like in texture and rich in taste. The biscuit base provides a nice contrast to the creamy-cheesy peanut mix that sits atop. Traditionally, Digestive biscuits have been used for a cheesecake base, but why use Digestives when you could use Hobnobs instead? After all, they taste better and it’s what Delia would do.

In addition to the ingredients below, you will also need a cake ring 22cm in diameter and 5cm deep, and some greaseproof paper.

  • 270g condensed milk
  • 145g smooth peanut butter
  • 125g golden syrup
  • 180g unsalted butter
  • 175g Hobnob biscuits
  • 50g flaked almonds, finely chopped
  • 250g whipping cream
  • 250g cream cheese
  1. To make the peanut caramel; place the condensed milk, peanut butter, golden syrup and 110g of butter in a pan over a medium heat and stir until melted. Continue to cook for 5 minutes, until almost bubbling and the caramel has thickened. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

  2. Grease the inside of the cake ring lightly with vegetable oil or butter and line with a strip of greaseproof paper.

  3. Crush the Hobnob biscuits to a breadcrumb-like consistency, and place in a bowl along with the chopped almonds. Melt the 70g of butter, and mix thoroughly with the biscuit mix. Empty the biscuit mix into the cake ring and press into an even layer, smoothing it out with the back of a spoon. Place in the fridge to set.

  4. Once the peanut caramel has cooled to room temperature, transfer it into a mixing bowl. Use a plastic spatula to ensure you don’t waste any of it! Now add the cream cheese and mix until thoroughly incorporated. In a separate bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks form when you lift up the whisk. Fold the cream gently into the peanut and cheese mixture in 3 stages, ensuring that each stage is completely mixed before adding the next.

  5. Spoon the cheesecake mixture into the cake ring, filling right to the edges, and place in the fridge to set for at least 2 hours.

Cod With Cockles a la Creme

In my mind, the main reason cockles are so great is not because of the excellent flavour of the actual cockle meat itself (which is excellent), but the strong flavoured liquid that results from cooking them. Just like it’s more glamorous relative the mussel, the cockle contains an abundance of naturally salty juices which are released into your saucepan when cooked. Enhanced with a little white wine, shallots and some aromatics like thyme or bay, the result is fantastically flavoursome, and served with some chips to dunk in the sauce, is a fine meal in itself.

Cockles are also a lovey accompaniment to fish. For this meal, I’ve reduced the liquor from the cockles by half, then added an equal quantity of double cream before reducing further to a fairly light but richly flavoured sauce. I’ve finished it with a nice chiffonade of parsley. The rest of the meal is pretty straight forward; crisp pan-fried cod fillets, and some crushed potatoes with spinach. Wonderful.

  • 250g fillet of cod, scaled and pin-boned
  • 500g fresh cockles
  • 50g baby shallots (about 2) finely chopped
  • 80g spinach, washed
  • 200g new potatoes
  • 125ml (1 glassful) dry white wine
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • vegetable oil, for cooking
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1 bunch of parsley, leaves picked and finely chopped
  • 100g double cream
  • 10g butter
  • 1 wedge of lemon
  1. Cut the cod fillet into equal sized portions. Remove any bones, and carefully dry the skin with some kitchen paper. Leave it on a board skin side up, allowing it to dry out further. Thoroughly rinse the cockles in cold water.

  2. Place the new potatoes in a medium pot and cover with cold water. Add a generous pinch of salt, and bring to the boil over a high heat. Turn down to a barely trembling simmer and cook for approximately 15 minutes, or until tender. You can check this easily by inserting a small knife into a potato; it should pass through with barely any resistance.

  3. Meanwhile, to cook the cockles, place a medium sized pan over a medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Allow the oil to get hot, then add the shallots, thyme, bay, a pinch of salt and a generous pinch of cracked black pepper. Turn the heat to low and sweat the shallots slowly, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes until soft and sweet. Now turn the heat to high. Drain the water off the cockles, then add to the pan. Stir once, then add the white wine. Cover with either a lid or some kitchen foil, and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the cockles have all opened up. Strain the cockles through a fine sieve over a bowl, reserving the liquid. When the cockles have cooled, remove the cockle meat from the shells, and place in a bowl along with 10 shells, and most of the diced shallots. Discard the remainder of the shells.

  4. To make the sauce, transfer the cockle liquid to a saucepan and bring to the boil. Boil until it’s reduced by about half. Now add the cream, and continue to reduce until you have a nice sauce consistency. When ready, cover the pan tightly with cling film to avoid getting a skin, and set aside.

  5. When the potatoes are done, drain and chop into chunks or crush with the pack of a spoon. Take another pan and place over a medium heat. Add a little vegetable oil and sauté the spinach, along with a small pinch of salt, until wilted. Drain of any excess liquid, mix through the potatoes and set aside.

  6. To cook the cod, take a large heavy based frying pan and get it smoking hot over a high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and wait 10 seconds for it to get hot. Season the cod fillets all over with salt, and place in the pan, skin side down. Press the fillets gently for about 10 seconds to make the skin is lying flat. Turn the heat down to medium, and cook for around 3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets. When the fillets are about two-thirds cooked, add the butter and allow it to foam, then squeeze in the lemon juice. Baste the fillets for about 1 minute until almost cooked, then flip them over, being careful not to break the skin. By this time the butter should have turned a nutty brown colour. Turn the heat off and leave in the pan for 30 seconds.

  7. While the cod is cooking, get the other components of the dish nice and hot. Add the parsley and cockles (including shells) to the sauce. Put a pile of spinach and potatoes in the center of each plate, and 5 shells around. Pour the sauce and cockles over, and place the cod in the center.

Recent Recipes

Lamb Bolognese

Bolognese sauce in our household was always quite different to what most would consider classic bolognese, which would typically be made with beef and pork. Our sauce would nearly always contain some lamb due to the abundant supply in our freezer. The mince from our own lamb was usually quite fatty and, when mixed in equal parts with lean beef mince, gave a lovely depth of flavour and body to the sauce. It always tasted fantastic; ladled onto a mountain of spaghetti with handfuls of grated parmesan I would devour it with gusto. Lamb bolognese is almost unheard of, which is a shame because it’s so delicious! In my view this is tastier than the classic beef bolognese and I bet that many would agree. Saying that, the recipe I’ve made here is not a plain spag-bol but a modified version, or upgraded, I should say. I made it a little bit creamier than usual, and added extra garlic. A good pile of baby spinach is thrown in and wilted down to tangle with the spaghetti as everything is mixed together. Parmesan cheese is mixed in, along with a splash of the salted starchy pasta water and finally some cherry tomatoes at the very last just to warm through gently. The final sauce is really rich and creamy, with the spinach and tomatoes giving a juiciness that stands up to the strong flavoured lamb.

  • 500g of lamb mince
  • 3 rashers of smoked streaky bacon
  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 3 large cloves of garlic
  • 250ml of red wine
  • 50g of tomato puree
  • 1 litre of lamb stock, or chicken stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes
  • 50ml of double cream
  • 100g of baby spinach leaves
  • 100g of parmesan
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 400g of dried spaghetti
  • olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  1. Cut the bacon into 5mm dice and in a large, wide-based pan, fry in olive oil until golden and crisp. Finely chop the onion and garlic and add to the pan, turning the heat down. Dice the celery and carrot into 5mm dice and add to the pan. Pick the leaves from the sprigs of thyme and add to the pan along with the chilli flakes. Turn the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the lamb mince, red wine, tomato puree and stock. Bring to the boil, then simmer gently for 1.5 hours, or until the lamb is tender and the sauce reduced and thick.

  2. Cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions. While the pasta is cooking, add the cream and spinach to the bolognese and stir until all the spinach has wilted. Add the parmesan and mix thoroughly to melt the cheese and emulsify it into the sauce. The sauce should now be thick and creamy. Half the cherry tomatoes and have them ready. When the pasta is done, drain in a colander, reserving the starchy liquid. Add the pasta along with the cherry tomatoes into the sauce and mix well. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt or parmesan if needed. Serve immediately

Pork Belly, Asparagus and Ale Sauce

The belly has long been my favourite part of the pig. There are two things I generally prefer to do with a pork belly; either salt it and cure it to make dry-cured bacon, or braise it long and slow, for about 12 hours, then press and chill it before roasting it until crispy. Pork belly cooked this way has the most amazing mouthfeel; the meat itself is succulent and has fat running through the layers that melts in your mouth, and the skin that sits atop is the most fantastic crisp pork crackling. It’s a great contrast of textures!

  • 1 1/2kg of pork belly, skin on, bones removed but reserved
  • 200g of pork trimmings, diced
  • 2 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, diced
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • fine sea salt, or table salt
  • 1 sprig of sage
  • sea salt and cracled black pepper
  • 400ml of medium dark ale
  • 1 carrot
  • 1/5 leek
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tomato
  • 1/5 bulb of garlic
  • 1 litre of
  • chcken stock, unseasoned
  • 20g of unsalted butter
  • a little beurre manie
  • 1 spring cabbage
  • 200g of baby spinach
  • 20 spears of medium asparagus, points removed
  1. Heat the oven to 140C. To cook the pork belly, season it with 1 heaped teaspoon of fine salt and rub it into the flesh and skin side. Line a roasting tray that just fits it in snugly with greaseproof paper, and add water until just covered. Add a sprig of thyme and a few sage leaves, then place in the oven for 10-12 hours, until it is absolutely tender and almost falling apart when touching it with a spoon. Remove the liquid from the tray, and set aside. Now cover the belly with another sheet of greaseproof paper and press with another tray on top, followed by a heavy weight (2-3kg). Place in the fridge to chill for at least 6 hours.

  2. To make the pork and ale sauce; take the reserved bones from the belly and cut into small pieces using a cleaver or a heavy pair of scissors. Cut the carrot, leek, onion and tomato into approx 1cm dice, and set aside. Lightly crush the garlic. In a large, heavy based pan, heat about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over a high heat. Saute the bones until golden, then strain in a colander. Reduce the heat to medium, and in the same pan, cook the vegetables with a generous pinch of salt for about 10 minutes. Add the pork bones back in, along with the rest of the thyme and a few sage leaves. Add the ale, and bring to the boil. Reduce until the liquid is completely gone, then add the reserved cooking liquid from the pork belly. Bring to the boil, and reduce until dry again. Add enough chicken stock until just covered, then simmer gently for 30 minutes. Pass the sauce through a fine sieve, and reduce by half, or until you have an intense flavour. Whisk in some beurre manie to thicken, adding just a little bit at a time. Set the sauce aside.

  3. Heat the oven to 180C. Portion the pork belly into 4 equal sized pieces, and score the skin carefully in a criss-cross pattern. Add 3-4 tablespoons of vegetable oil to a large heavy based pan (with an oven-proof handle), then add the pork skin side down and place over a high heat. When it just starts to sizzle, place in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the skin is golden and very crispy.

  4. While the pork belly is cooking, prepare the vegetables; fill a large pot with water and season generously with salt. Bring to the boil. Cut off the bottom 1-2 cm of the asparagus as it is woody and tough. Remove the outer 2 or 3 layers of the cabbage, and cut out the thick veins. Slice coarsely. Wash the baby spinach leaves, then set aside. When the pork belly is about 5 minutes away from finished, heat the butter in a large saute pan until foaming, then add the cabbage along with a pinch of salt. Cook until tender. Cook the asparagus in the boiling salted water until just tender - about 4 minutes. Finally, add the baby spinach to the pan with the cabbage and cook until wilted. Serve the pork belly on the bed of vegetables, and pour the sauce over.

Porridge Oats and Banana Cake

This is a really tasty recipe I found online a few weeks ago, and it’s perfect for breakfast or brunch. Two of breakfast’s long-time favourites, banana and oats, come together here to make a sort of flapjack. Because of the addition of milk and eggs, the texture is more like that of a coarse, oaty cake rather than a flapjack, which I thought was very good. Serve a generous wedge of it with your coffee in the morning for a breakfast of champions!

  • 180g of coarse oats
  • 50g of caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 450ml of whole milk
  • 3 bananas
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 60g of unsalted butter
  • 80g of walnuts
  1. Heat the oven to 180C. Mix the oats, caster sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a large mixing bowl. Melt the butter in a small pan. In another bowl, mash two of the bananas until almost smooth, then whisk in the milk, egg and vanilla extract. Whisk in the melted butter, then pour over the dry ingredients and mix well. Line a baking tray measuring approx. 20 x 20 cm and pour in the mix. Bake in the oven for about 25 - 30 minutes, until the mixture is firm, with golden colour on top.

  2. While the cake is cooking, lay out the walnuts on another baking sheet and bake for about 5 minutes, until browned slightly. When the cake has cooled slightly, slice the remaining banana and arrange on top. Finally garnish with the toasted walnuts.

Cullen Skink

A perfect combination of smoked haddock, potatoes, leeks and cream make up this classic Scottish soup. I have written already about my love for smoked haddock, in particular Arbroath Smokies, and this soup is further evidence for why smoked haddock is basically awesome. Some recipes for Cullen Skink will instruct to keep a rustic broth-like consistency, with pieces of potato and haddock giving a nice chunky texture, but I prefer to make a super smooth soup, like a veloute, and then garnish the soup with diced potatoes, flaked smoked haddock and herbs. This gives a nice texture contrast, but also looks fantastic too.

  • 2 Arbroath Smokies
  • 700ml of whole milk
  • 2 leeks
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 potatoes, about 300g in total
  • 30 g of unsalted butter
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 bunch of dill
  • 30ml of double cream
  • 3 spring onions
  • olive oil
  1. Place the Arbroath smokies, thyme and bay in a large shallow pan and cover with the milk. Bring to the boil, cover and leave to infuse for 30 minutes. In the meantime thinly slice the onion, garlic, and the white part of the leeks. Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium pan and slowly fry the vegetables for about 20 minutes, until soft. Peel and thinly slice ¾ of the potato and add to the pan. Dice the rest of the potato into 5mm cubes and set aside to be sauteed for the garnish.

  2. Remove the smokies from the milk and carefully pick the meat away from the bone, discarding the skin. Set the flaked fish aside. Pass the milk through a sieve into the pan of vegetables. Add the cream, and simmer gently for 10 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked. Pour everything into a blender, add ¾ of the flaked smokies and the butter and blend on full power for 5 minutes, until the soup is very smooth and silky. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

  3. Heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan, and fry the potato dice on a medium heat for 5-10 minutes, or until they are tender and a light golden colour. Drain on some kitchen paper and set aside.

  4. Garnish the soup with thinly sliced spring onions, the remainder of the flaked smokies, and the sauteed potato dice.