All of this Cornish winter air has me inspired to bake. My surroundings influence my baking behaviour and, in this instance, my surroundings are beautifully windswept and rustic. Muddy lanes, empty beaches and thick, white-washed walls are an earthy palette, reassuringly solid and peppered with the scent of the sea and woodsmoke. Cold winds create a need for sustenance, stone walls and dark beams suggest a call for the robust. Bread is the ultimate baking sustenance. Nothing else can provide such comfort and vigour for the body and soul. Being in the frost and wind battered southwest means working with wholemeal flours, comforting flavours and rough textures. Everything that comes from the oven is eaten hot and crusty with butter and mugs of tea.
The light in this part of the country is special, when the sun shines it dazzles, pouring through the windows and glittering on the sea. One such sunny morning had me sleepy eyed, out of bed and clattering in the kitchen. I was fortunate enough to source some locally milled wholemeal flour from a farm shop. This was combined with organic strong white flour to make a tumble of soft, freckled rolls. We baked them for breakfast and I ate them with creamy cooked eggs and, later, with salted butter and marmalade. The task of turning and shaping each little wedge of dough into a perfect orb is a simple pleasure. These were light, aerated and resistant to a good prodding. Torn open they were springy and warm, awaiting a creamy melt of butter.
I also made an enormous cheese and butternut damper. Damper is one of my favourite breads, somewhere between a bread and a scone, the texture is moist, buttery and short. Damper is not a yeast leavened bread, it is risen using baking powder and can be cooked quickly in the oven or smokily over an open fire. I used Cornish Yarg which is a local hard cheese with a fresh, tangy taste. The little cubes of pre-roasted butternut squash were sweet and moist and made this hunk of bread mild and distinctive.
The tricks to success with this bread is to handle the dough minimally, score it deeply to help it cook evenly and make sure it enters a fully heated oven. The butternut squash needs to be in small chunks, it distributes it’s moisture and it’s flavour more effectively this way. I believe this to be a foolproof formula that can be adapted to any fruit and fat combination you can dream up; pear and stilton, olive and feta, apple and cheddar. This bread is hearty, simple and sustaining. It needs not much besides a mix with a clawed hand and a quick turn on the counter. The nurturing act of feeding this to my family gave me such a glow of pleasure, from padding about the kitchen before anyone else was up, to watching them butter pieces over breakfast chatter. Make it for cold days, serve fat wedges with soup or stand and eat it warm from the oven, buttering as you go.
Speckled Bread Rolls
250g Wholemeal Flour (I used a locally milled flour)
250g strong white flour
7g packet dried yeast
1 tsp sugar
15 ml Olive Oil
300ml warm water
- Place both flours into a large bowl. Add the salt, sugar and yeast and mix (don’t measure the yeast directly onto the salt, it can kill the yeast but is fine once mixed with the flour)
- Measure out the water and combine with olive oil.
- Make a well in the centre of the flour.
- Pour in water and oil and mix with your hands until it begins to form a soft dough.
- Turn out onto a very lightly oiled surface and knead for 10 minutes.
- Place the dough back into the bowl and cover with a tea towel. Place it somewhere warm for an hour or until doubled in size. It’s important to let it prove properly or the rolls will be dense.
- Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it lightly to remove the air from it.
- Divide it equally into 8 and shape each piece into a ball.
- Place onto a baking sheet and sprinkle the rolls lightly with flour before covering with a tea towel and leaving in a warm place for 30 minutes.
- Ten minutes before the proving time is finished preheat your oven to 220 degrees celsius and place an empty baking tray in the bottom. Boil the kettle.
- Once the oven is hot carefully pour the boiled water into the empty baking tray. This will make the oven steamy and help to give your rolls a better crust.
- Place your rolls into the oven and cook for 15-20 minutes.
- Turn them over and tap them, if there is a hollow sound then they are cooked through.
- Eat them straight away.
Yarg and Butternut Damper
500g Strong white flour
60g cold butter, cubed
1 cup of roasted butternut squash or pumpkin (cut into small cubes)
1 cup grated cheese (I used Cornish Yarg)
1/2 tsp pepper
40g baking powder
1 beaten egg
- Preheat the oven to 210 degrees celsius and line a baking sheet with parchment
- Measure flour and baking powder into a large bowl and combine.
- Add the pepper and rub in the butter until the texture is similar to breadcrumbs
- Pour in the milk and mix with a ‘clawed’ hand until it is barely incorporated. Do not over mix.
- Add the cooked squash and cheese and gently mix by hand until the mix forms a very soft, slightly crumbly, dough.
- Turn the dough onto a flour counter top and roughly bring together in a round disc roughly 2 inches thick.
- Transfer to the baking sheet and use a knife to deeply score the disc into six sections. This will help it to cook evenly.
- Brush the loaf all over with beaten egg
- Bake at 210 degrees C for 30-40 minutes.