For Fawkes’ Sake

Chocolate Gingerbread

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder, treason and plot,
I know of no reason
Why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t’was his intent
To blow up King and Parli’ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England’s overthrow;
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

My seasonal sparkler of a friend, Sarah, is having a Bonfire Night party tomorrow. Séan’s shopping for the biggest firework he can find (it’s what men do to keep themselves busy once the barbecue season’s over) and I’ve been thinking about a sweet offering which will appeal to the grown ups as well as Sarah and Robert’s gorgeous kids, Louis, Rose and Sonny.

I’ve been dying to make Dorie Greenspan’s Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread ever since Karen declared it the best she’d ever tasted. She is a woman whose judgment I trust in all things. And besides, it contains both of the major food groups, chocolate and ginger (fresh, ground and stem, oh glorious triumvirate). Just the thing to keep the cold out and the spirits up on a chilly November evening in North London.

You can find this recipe in Dorie’s bowl-lickingly wonderful book, Baking From My Home To Yours or online here, at Serious Eats.

P1170829I have 18 cute-orama mini tins, oval and rectangular, so I decided to use those rather than bake the gingerbread in one, big square. If you want to try this, bake them for 15-17 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool in the tins for four or five minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. You’ll need twice as much icing, too.

Mmmmmmmmuffins…

Cranberry & White chocolate muffins

When I was walking the hound in the park this morning, my friend Howard called with a delicious enquiry. He’s got a stand at a conference tomorrow and wanted to make his display stand out. He is a very wise man. He knows that baked goods refresh the parts Powerpoint cannot reach.

As Barney played ‘now you see me now you don’t’ in the fallen leaves, Howard and I decided on mini muffins. White chocolate and cranberry mini muffins, to be precise. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of white chocolate – toooo sweet – but I thought tart little cranberries would provide the perfect counterpoint. Once home, a quick Google brought up this easy treat of a recipe from the Waitrose site. I hope Howard’s clients enjoy them. I hope you do too.

White chocolate and cranberry mini muffins

100g plain flour
1 tsp mixed spice
50g Demerara sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
75g white chocolate chips

75g dried cranberries
1 medium egg, beaten
150ml milk
50g butter, melted and cooled

To finish
100g white chocolate
25g dried cranberries, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas mark 6. Line two 12-hole mini muffin tins with mini muffin or petit four cases.

Mix the dry ingredients, chocolate and cranberries in a bowl. Make a well in the centre. Mix the wet ingredients, pour into the dry and stir for about 20 seconds until you have a lumpy batter. Don’t overmix. Spoon into the cases and bake for 15 minutes. Cool on a rack.

To finish, melt the chocolate in the microwave or in a bain marie, scrape into a polythene bag and cool so it thickens a little. Cut a tiny hole in the corner of the bag. Drizzle the chocolate over the muffins and top with dried cranberries. I had chocolate left over, so I criss-crossed the tops with skinny little lines to add a final flourish. The secret to doing this is to start piping your lines about an inch or so to the side of the cooling rack so by the time they hit the muffins, your lines are skinny rather than gloopy. It’s gloriously messy.

Chocolate, cherries and secrets

Cherry Clafoutis

My gorgeous nephew is coming to stay for a few days. We have a busy itinerary – a football match, a comedy show (Tom, we’re expecting big laughs. No pressure.), restaurants of course, and a day strolling around some of Oxford’s beautiful colleges. Naturally, there will be food, lots of it, given that this is the 4,000 calorie a day boy. Angus loves chocolate, so I’m planning on revisiting a pudding we made together in France. It’s decadent, delicious and easy. If you’re not on a 4,000 calorie a day diet, then my tip is not to eat the whole thing at once.

Chocolate and cherry clafoutis

I’ve tweaked this recipe from one I discovered in a heavenly book I bought on our trip to France, Le B.A-ba du Chocolat by France’s own Nigella, Julie Andrieu. I overcooked it slightly as I was waiting for the slivered almonds to brown a little. When I make it again, I’ll either leave them out altogether or toast them a bit before sprinkling them over the top.

Serves 4-6

The ingredients

80g of plain chocolate, about 70%
200ml single cream or crème fraîche
50g caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
30g plain flour
100g ground almonds
40 cherries
1tbsp Amaretto, kirsch or crème de cacao (optional)
20g slivered almonds, very lightly toasted (optional)
A little butter, softened, for greasing
A good pinch of salt

Whisking Whisking…

Stirring Stirring…

Folding Folding…

Pouring Pouring…

Serving Serving.

Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas mark 2. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water.

Beat together the cream and sugar in a bowl, then stir in the eggs and liqueur if using. Fold in the flour, salt and ground almonds, then the melted chocolate. Butter four ramequins or one baking dish and distribute the cherries evenly in the dish/es. Do not stone them, unless you are serving them to children or the very absent minded – the cherries are much more juicy and flavoursome cooked whole. You could even leave the stalks in, as they look quite marvellous sticking out of the batter, though I’d only do this if I weren’t adding the slivered almonds. Pour over the chocolate batter, sprinkle on the lightly toasted almonds if using, and cook for 18-20 minutes, until just set but still a bit wobbly. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

And now for the secrets. Two of my favourite bloggers, Catherine at The Unconfidential Cook , and Lady P at Madly Creative recently passed onto me these two lovely awards, the Kreativ Blogger Award and the Honest Scrap Award. I’m supposed to share seven things about myself and then pass on the award to seven bloggers I admire.

Kreativ Blogger Awardhonest_award-300x290 I hope you all enjoy my nominees as much as I do. They are:

Cookie Pie, because her blog is a warm, friendly place to land on a frantic day.
Gratinée, because she writes exquisitely and her deep understanding of and love for food shines from every paragraph.
Nora the Kitchen ‘Splorer, because I love her recipes and am near addicted to her Wednesday Round Up of Deliciousness.
Real Food Lover, because she makes you think, she makes you cook, what could be better?
Syrian Foodie in London, because I want to make every single one of his recipes.
Through My Kitchen Window, because Mariana is just wonderful, even though every trip to her blog gives me a severe case of lifestyle envy.
Writing Junkie, because Avril writes so inspirationally, so clearly, so beautifully about the writing life.

As I received two awards at around about the same time which require me to do the same thing, please take your pick of the one you would like to receive. If you don’t participate in awards, then do accept this as a very small thank you for the pleasure your blogs have given me over the past few months. If you would like to participate, then post the award, link back to me and send it on to seven more people. Finally, and most interestingly, list seven curious, crazy, interesting things about yourself…

Here are mine…

1. In 1990 and 1991, I lived in Moscow. I watched tanks roll down the street, heard Pavarotti sing in a sports hall, bribed policemen with cartons of red Marlborough and learned that -20C in dry-aired Moscow feels less cold than -1C in damp old London town. I went to tea parties at embassies and met jittery young anarchists in Gorky Park. I watched Soviet statues being pulled down and Tesco supermarkets going up. And this is where I really, really learned how to cook.

2. My secret vice is vice. If I hadn’t followed the ink-splattered path into journalism, I would have loved to be a detective. Instead, I’m addicted to cop shows, crime shows, and have an unsavoury weakness for anything billed ‘based on a true story’. If I go to bed before my husband, it’s testament to his courage that he’ll curl up beside me as I fall asleep watching Snapped: Women Who Kill.

3. I have a difficult relationship with change. Hot, angry tears pricked at my eyes when the balsa-headed philistines at Hackney Council replaced the lovely old lampposts in our high street with hideous modern ones. I realise this attitude has its drawbacks. If all humankind were like me, we’d still be living in caves. But what wonderfully appointed and well catered caves they would be.

4. Sean and I met and married so quickly, when I went to apply for our marriage licence, I had no idea what his middle name was.

5. After a lifetime of owning cats, two years ago we got a dog. When he snuggled onto my lap, I found myself questioning whether he was happy or not. Subconsciously I was waiting for him to purrrrrr.

6. I’m a pretty easy-going person but I feel primal, violent, seething rage when I see people dropping litter. Come the Licked Spoon Revolution, they’ll all be buried in a pit of their own filth.

7. As a young graduate working in the slave-wage environment of book publishing, my idea of wealth was being able to afford black taxis, good cheese, cut flowers and hardback books whenever I wanted them. Twenty years on, this is still my definition of luxury. I pinch myself every time I jump into a cab with a slab of Colston Bassett, a bunch of billowy roses and some artfully jacketed tome tucked into my market basket.

Dogs, biscuits and birthdays

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Biscuits
The only thing I ever miss about working in an office is those sentences which begin ‘Oh my God, you won’t believe what happened last night’. I love working on my laptop at the kitchen counter while something delicious bubbles on the stove, popping out to water my herbs in between emails, catching an old episode of Gilmore Girls over lunch. (Have you seen Suki’s culinary marvels – I consider it essential research. At least that’s what I tried to explain to my accountant when I attempted to include a receipt for the Special Edition Box Set with my tax return.)
Since we got Barney, I don’t even have to miss out on those water cooler moments. Each morning, you can find me in the park with a dozen or so people and even more dogs catching up on local scandal, swapping recipes, scribbling down film and book recommendations, sharing expertise on anything from computers to ridding your wardrobe of cashmere-crazed moths – all the while trying to avoid the ducklings in spring and the deepest, muddiest puddles in winter.
We are plumbers and teachers, opera singers and mums, actors and life coaches, social workers and publicans, decorators and gardeners…All sorts really, a bit like the dogs, who range in size from Toy Terrier to Great Dane. Mark, king of the dog walkers, is our glorious leader and Clissold Park’s answer to Cesar Milan. He loves the odd drink, an occasional cigarette and has a passion for the choreography of Matthew Bourne. Actually, what I wanted to write was ‘booze, fags and ballet’ as it scans so nicely, but that makes him sound like a lush with a tutu fetish. This may or may not be true, but he’s the one I phone at nine o’clock at night begging for a bit of doggy day care for the next morning and he always says yes. This is not something I ever wish to jeopardise. For one thing, Barney would never forgive me. And for another, Michelin-starred chefs don’t really care for scruffy terriers in their dining rooms.
Strangely, my park popularity seems commensurate with the amount of baked good I have about my person. (On a couple of slobbery occasions, this has included treats for the dogs too.) It’s my birthday today, so I thought I might make something sweet to eat with our take-away cups of cappuccino. The coffee’s so wretched you need something to take the taste away. Brake fluid would do it, but I thought Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Biscuits would be better.
Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Biscuits

All racked up

This is one of my favourite recipes from one of my favourite baking books, Rose Carrarini’s Breakfast Lunch Tea: The Many Little Meals of the Rose Bakery. If you’re ever in Paris, do seek out this wonderful Anglo-French café. It’s tucked away on the rue des Martyrs, conveniently close to the Gare du Nord for refuelling before you get on the Eurostar.
I’ve doubled the quantities for the biscuits (25 wouldn’t have even got us close to completing essential discussions on the latest Hackney Council lunacy), so it was a bit of a struggle to get everything into my mixer by the time I added the chocolate. I just stirred it by hand and it was fine. At least I had no complaints and that park lot can be picky. They may, however, have had their critical faculties dulled by the sight of Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls, doing an enthusiastic Hokey Cokey at his kids’ sports day which was taking place in the dog-free area at the time. ‘You put your expense claim in, expense claim out. In, out, in out, your career is in doubt. You flip your secondary residence and you shake it all about…’
Makes about 50

400g (scant 2 cups) unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
400g (2 cups) crunchy peanut butter
500g (2 ½ cups) soft light brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs
670g (4 ½ cups) plain flour, sieved, plus extra for dusting
2 tsp salt – I used Halen Môn vanilla salt as I love it with chocolaty things, but any salt will do
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
500g chocolate, chopped
The ingredients

The observant among you may notice a little bowl of raisins in this collection of ingredients. I’d measured everything out and realised I was 100g short on the chocolate, so added a few raisins to make up the weight. Not bad, but not chocolate…
Pretty eggs
Lovely Burford Brown eggs from Clarence Court
Chunky chocolate
Make sure you keep the chocolate quite chunky. Use whole bars and chop them up rather than miserly chocolate chips.

Beat the butter with the peanut butter and sugar until light, then add the vanilla extract. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the bowl and beater between each egg. Fold in the flour and salt. Mix the bicarbonate of soda with two teaspoons of hot water and quickly add this to the mixture. Finally, fold in the chocolate. Try to stop yourself from eating too much of the dough.
Mix it upAdd an egg or fourMixing in the chocolate by hand
Divide the dough into batches of about 300g (11oz). On a lightly floured surface, roll each batch out into a log about 4cm (1 ½ inches) wide, wrap and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours until hard. If you don’t want to bake it all at once, wrap the extra logs in cling film and freeze. You can cook them straight from frozen, just add a minute or two to the cooking time.
Rolled up and ready to chillKeep the slices thick
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/ Gas mark 4. Butter your baking trays and line them with baking parchment. If you’re making the full amount, you’ll need to do this in batches, so only cut enough dough for each batch. Leave the rest in the fridge until you’re ready to bake them. Cut the dough into slices about 10mm thick (½ an inch) and place them well apart on the trays. Bake them for 10-12 minutes until pale golden – don’t overbake or the texture will be dry. Cool on a rack. Take to the park, to the office, anywhere a conversation is likely to begin with ‘Oh my God, you won’t believe what happened last night’.

What the doctor ordered

Just spreading the chocolate

Want to know what we had after the squid? Last week, I enjoyed a wonderful lunch at Moro which culminated in a slice of the most irresistibly seductive apricot and chocolate tart. I thought about it all evening. I thought about it as I walked the dog the next morning, running through its finer qualities rather as you might after a date with a meltingly wicked lover. It was calling my name and I wasn’t playing hard to get. Back at the house, I’d hardly unhooked the hound from his lead before I pulled my copy of Moro The Cookbook down from the shelves.

My sister-in-law’s visit was the perfect opportunity to reacquaint ourselves. (That little tart and I, I mean, not me and my sister-in-law. We’re quite well acquainted.) Clare is a mountain-climbing-scuba-diving-fell-walking-cycling-to-work-triathlon-training-bastion-of-self-restraint hospital doctor. But I know her weakness and it’s chocolate. Chocolate. Say it, and her eyes light up like her brother’s do on the first Saturday of the football season.

Apricot and chocolate tart

Served with creme fraiche

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee from the melting, buttery shortbreadyness of your crust to the tart-sweet shimmer of your apricot sea. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height your dark, mousse-y chocolate crown can reach. And I shall but love thee better after dinner. (With many, many apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who is most certainly spinning in her grave as I type this.)

I was excited to try this recipe because, though I’ve read about grating pastry instead of rolling it out, I’ve never tried it. Also, though it needs a little blind baking, you don’t need to line it with parchment and baking beans first. This was so straightforward and the results so good, I’ll definitely use this shell for other sweet tarts.

Grated pastry

Press down evenly

Ready to blind bake

In Moro The Cookbook, the apricot layer is a simple, concentrated purée but when I ate it at the restaurant last week, it had pieces of apricot in it too. It was a good addition, I thought, so I’ve added a small handful here. You could leave them out if you wish. It would still be heaven.

For the case:
140g plain flour
30g icing sugar
75g chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk

For the filling:
180g apricot leather (see NOTE for alternative), cut into smallish squares
About 8-10 dried apricots, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes or so to plump up and then cut into sixths
4-5 tbsps water
2 tbsps lemon juice
135g unsalted butter
110g dark chocolate, about 70%, broken up into small pieces
2 large eggs
60g caster sugar

Sift the flour and sugar together. In a food processor or by hand, blend the butter with the flour and sugar until you have the texture of fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and mix until it more or less comes together. If it looks a little dry, add a tiny splash of milk or water. Shape into a ball, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Using the coarse side of a box grater, grate the pastry into a loose-bottomed 24cm tart tin and press it evenly around the bottom and sides of the tin. Prick the base with a fork and pop it in the fridge for half an hour or so. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas mark 7. Bake the tart shell for 10-15 minutes until light brown. Remove and cool on a rack while you prepare the rest. Reduce the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4.

Apricot layer

Chocolate layer

Finished tart

Place the apricot paste in a saucepan over a low heat with the water and lemon juice and stir until you have a smooth paste. Spread the apricot on the base of the tart shell and leave to cool until it forms a slight skin – it should wrinkle a bit when you push it with your finger.

While the apricot is cooling, place the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water (the water shouldn’t touch the bottom of the bowl). When the chocolate has melted, whisk the eggs and sugar together in a separate bowl until pale, light and fluffy. Fold the eggs and chocolate together, pour into the tart shell and smooth with a spatula. Bake for 20-25 minutes – the filling should still have a bit of wobble to it and a very thin crust on top when you take it out. I’d be tempted to start checking it after 15 minutes as I took mine out after 20 minutes and it was a little firmer than the one I’d enjoyed in the restaurant. Serve with Greek yoghurt or crème fraîche.

APRICOT NOTE

P1150314

Apricot leather or paste – labelled as ‘amradeen’ or ‘kamaredin’ in Middle Eastern or Turkish shops – is a warm, glowing amber with the translucence of a stained glass window. It’s as delicious as it is beautiful and it’s used in all kinds of recipes, from drinks, puddings and ice creams to lamb stews and dishes of grilled aubergine. During Ramadan, it’s sometimes served before and after the day-long fast.

If you can’t get hold of apricot leather, Sam and Sam West of Moro suggest using 180g of dried apricots instead. Simply chop them very finely then tip them into a saucepan with 4-5 tbsps of water and 2 tbsps of lemon juice and simmer for about 5 minutes until very soft. Purée in blender. You want a mixture that tastes slightly tart to provide the perfect foil for the rich chocolate layer.

Happy birthday Luca, with love from Auntie D x


The birthday cake
The glorious day has dawned. My lovely godson Luca – thinker, bicycle speed merchant, keen gardener and chocolate connoisseur – is no longer ‘Nearly five!’, he’s really five. Every year, I make his birthday cake, a tradition I plan to continue long after baked offerings from his Auntie D will embarrass his cool, adult self.
I’ve just got back from France, so no time this year for elaborate confections of imaginative shape and refined decoration. Instead, I majored on chocolate, one of Luca’s favourite things in the world, along with frogs, cars and water pipes.
I looked for inspiration to Annie Bell’s fab Gorgeous Cakes and adapted her Chocolate Sensation recipe for the occasion, with the creamy filling for her Birthday Angel Smartie Cake in place of the richer filling she advocates for the rather refined and adult original. Also, I love the combination of raspberries and chocolate. I hope Luca and his friends at the Pirate House will too, or I’ll be walking the gangplank by dusk…
Luca’s birthday cake
There are lots of things I love about Annie’s simple-to-make but impressive-to-eat cake. The buttermilk, vinegar and bicarb combination makes it wonderfully light for a start. Also, the easy, pourable icing takes minutes to make and looks wonderfully glossy on the cake. In her grown-up version, she dips amaretti biscuits into melted chocolate for decoration – a delicious and sophisticated final flourish.

For the cake: 180g unsalted butter, softened
450g caster sugar
3 eggs
400g plain flour, sifted
340ml buttermilk
1 ½ tsp sea salt
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
75g cocoa powder, sifted
1 ½ tbsps raspberry vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the filling: 300g mascarpone
130g raspberry jam (I like St Dalfour jams – 100% fruit sweetened only with concentrated grape juice. They’re intensely fruity and taste like the best homemade.)
For the icing: 350g chocolate, for Luca’s cake I used 64%, but for an adult version I’d probably go for something of 70% or more
70g unsalted butter
2 tbsps espresso, or strong black coffee (optional)
For decoration: Smarties, of course
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4. Butter three 22cm/9in cake tins with removable bases and line the bases with circles of baking parchment. Butter the paper.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixer until very light and fluffy – about 6 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition and scraping down the bowl after each egg. Stir in the flour in three stages, alternating with the buttermilk and ending with the last batch of flour (flour/buttermilk/flour/buttermilk/flour). Add the salt, vanilla extract and cocoa. In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar and bicarb – it will fizz quite a bit – then add this to the batter too. Divide the mixture equally between the three tins, smooth gently with a spatula and bake for 20-25 minutes until the cakes shrink from the sides slightly and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the middle come out clean. Leave to cool for 10 minutes then turn the cakes out onto a wire rack, remove the paper and cool completely.
Second coatSecond coat
While the cakes are cooling, make the filling by beating together the mascarpone and raspberry jam until smooth. Chill slightly. When the cakes are completely cool, sandwich them together with the creamy mixture.
To make the icing, melt together half of the chocolate and butter in a small pan over a low heat, stirring until smooth, the stir in a tablespoon of the coffee if you’re using it. Put the cake on a rack and pour over the icing, smoothing it over the sides with a palette knife as you go. Leave it to set for an hour and then repeat with the remaining half of the ingredients, this time pouring over the icing and smoothing it onto the cake as lightly as possible with the palette knife to ensure a nice, glossy coating. Arrange the Smarties over the top and leave for another hour to set. Transfer to a cake plate or board. If you like, you can store the cake in an airtight container in the fridge for a couple of days, but bring it back up to room temperature for half an hour before serving.
Five! The birthday boy.

Slices of heaven

Cake

After three hold-your-breath busy days, I was thrilled to spend this morning with one of my favourite people, my godson Luca who is four, no, sorry not four, ‘Nearly FIVE, Auntie Debora’. He’d spent yesterday with his godfather and had a lovely time at ‘Pizza Express, where there’s a POOL on the ROOF!’ Now I know for a fact that they had lunch at Shoreditch House, the chi-chi-la-la members’ club down the road where annual membership costs the equivalent of 70 Pizza Express pizzas.

Luca loves to be in the kitchen. Since he was old enough to sit on one of our high stools, he has done a hero’s job of washing up at our sink. A heap of plastic picnic cups and plates bobbing in the suds would absorb him for long enough for his mum and me to have a cup of tea and catch up.

Baking Cupboard These days, we’re a long way from Fairy Liquid and soggy sleeves. Luca has a patissière’s eye for detail and insists on tasting and testing at every stage, particularly when there’s chocolate involved. There’s always chocolate involved. My baking cupboard is Luca’s Garden of Earthly Delights, with its tubs of sprinkles, crystallised flowers and bags of rainbow sugar. Each container has to be examined and pondered over, before we cut it down to a shortlist of three or four which will make it onto the final cake. Today, our chocolate cake was resplendent with vermicelli, a few yellow sugar roses, a sprinkling of purple sugar and a twinkle of silver balls. We’re nothing if not exuberant.

Luca mixes and Barney watches Luca mixes it up
We also made pizza, proper pizza with a real, thin crust (Richard, I promise I’m not entering into a wicked game of Godparents: The Rivals). Just as we’d debated over sprinkles and sugar roses, so we discussed our toppings in enormous detail. Arrabiata sauce, olives (well, Luca’s Daddy is Portuguese) some dollops of fromage frais and a grating of Parmesan, then some basil leaves and a drizzle of basil oil when they came out of the oven. I have to say, they were a little pizza perfection and when I suggested saving a slice for Mummy, Luca was most emphatic. ‘I am going to eat it ALL. I’m nearly FIVE.’

Great pizza crust

The pizzas

This is a simplified, slightly adapted version of my friend Daniel Stevens’ recipe for pizza from his book River Cottage Handbook No.3 Bread. If you are at all interested in baking bread – and certainly if you think you’d ever like to build a brick oven in your back garden – I’d highly recommend it. He’s a baker from his flour-dusted shoes to his elegant, dough encrusted fingertips. You couldn’t be in safer hands.

Makes 4 large pizzas

Slice of pizza 
250g plain flour
250g strong bread flour
5g powdered yeast
10g salt
325ml warm water
About 1tbsp olive oil

A small handful of semolina or polenta for dusting the baking sheets

In a mixer with a dough hook attachment, mix together the flours, yeast, salt and water on a slow speed then stir in the olive oil. Mix for about 10 minutes until smooth and silky (you can certainly do this by hand, it will just take longer). Put your dough into a warm, lightly oiled bowl, cover with a plastic bag and leave to rise until doubled in size. Luca and I recommend Finding Nemo while waiting for the dough to prove.

Whack your oven up as high as it will go and let it come to temperature before you tip the risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into four. Mould each quarter into rounds with your hands then roll them out as thinly as you can and place them on your semolina-dusted baking sheets. Add your toppings – as Coco Chanel famously said, ‘Elegance is refusal’, so add them thoughtfully and sparingly. An overloaded pizza is not a good thing (the same principal does not apply to chocolate cake, just so you know). Put them in the oven and bake for about 7 minutes, until golden and bubbling. Eat quickly, in thin slices, with your hands. I could never trust a person who eats a pizza with a knife and fork.

End of pizza days

Luca’s baby brother Leo arrives to help, and looks very fetching in a mixing bowl.

Leo