It’s no secret that the UK has gone a bit flour crazy amidst the Covid-19 lockdown, with supermarket shelves looking rather depleted of their stocks. Or totally empty in the case of my own local shops.
I was beyond delighted to discover my local bakery selling bags of strong flour over the weekend after trying to get hold of some for the last 3 weeks. Who knew at the beginning of the year I’d be carefully measuring out my store cupboard flour stock to make sure I had enough to keep me going.
And it totally makes sense!
I, like so many others, have been talking about the healing power of baking for many years. Time in the kitchen making delicious food is good for the soul and can be a lovely little mental health boost. In fact, it’s so important it’s even spawned the campaign Together We Rise by Sustain and the Real Bread Campaign.
Now is THE perfect time to explore just how lovely baking can be. And if you make a bit too much it’s also a great gift to leave on the doorstep of neighbours who aren’t able to get out and about at the moment.
If you don’t have lots of time to spare (and if you want to get kids involved), you can of course start with something more simple like biscuits. But you could also use this period as an opportunity to start dipping into some more complex techniques and rises, like sourdough (sourdough can take a fair bit of practise to crack, but it’s definitely worth the effort).
I’ve chosen a few of my favourite bakes, including some that I can whip up at short notice, and others that take a little more time.
One upside of this situation is that we are valuing our food and access to ingredients in a whole new way, and I hope this continues far beyond the end of the coronavirus lockdown.
And so, without further ado, my 5 favourite lockdown bakes are:
When I first discovered the ‘pan bang’ method I was beyond excited! (To be honest it doesn’t take that much when chocolate and cookies are involved.) I personally tend to make these a slightly smaller size, but the tapping of the tray part way through baking gives a chewy centre and crispy edge. I actually now often do this with my normal choc chip cookie recipe. If it feels too much you can of course just halve the recipe.
2. Banana Bread
This is a classic recipe of something that’s ubiquitous in Aussie kitchens. A slice of toasted banana bread slathered in butter is also a common accompaniment to a flat white in Australian cafes. And Donna Hay is the queen of simple, delicious cooking. When I’m making banana bread I tend to throw in a generous handful of chopped dark chocolate or nuts, and I substitute honey for the golden syrup. If you are flush with bananas that need using up, it’s also nice to slice an additional one length ways and lay the slices across the top of the batter in the tin before putting it in the oven.
Although brownies can appear to be simple, there’s actually a real skill to getting a fudgy middle and crispy top shell. The secret is not to overcook the brownies (they should still feel a little soft rather than springy when you touch the surface) and to leave them in the tin to cool for a bit. Oh and though it’s tempting, don’t slice them when they’re still hot as they’ll just fall apart. Brownies are another good place to use up old bananas. Reduce the sugar by 50g and add one or two small mashed bananas.
Once you start getting into all things yeasty, baking can seem a little more complicated. But don’t let this put you off! The kneading and rising makes the end result worth the wait (and part of what helps me fell calm). If you follow the recipe, the steps will guide you gently through. This is total comfort food for me and the smell of cinnamon makes me feel instantly calm. I’ve chosen a version with cardamom too as it’s another flavour I love – but feel free to leave this out. I particularly like this recipe as you prove and bake the buns in a cake tin, ripping them off one by one to enjoy.
(And if you’d like a vegan option, look no further than Minimalist Baker’s version.)
I thought I should end with something savoury to balance all the sweetness. Again, a lot of people get scared at the thought of baking bread – and while a few practises will make perfect, it really is worth the effort. Focaccia is one of the more simple breads to make as there’s no real loaf shaping involved. It’s also a great base for creativity! This recipe is topped with rosemary and sea salt, but I also like to add cherry tomato halves, thin slices of courgette or a scattering of anchovies. This is delicious on a table laid out with cheese, olives, salad leaves and any other favourite Italian antipasti treats that tickle your fancy.