Present a good loaf of homemade bread and your dinner guests won't notice you're serving scrambled eggs.
Few things speak as profoundly and as eloquently of domestic prowess as the soft scent of bread baking in the oven. You can make the finest of pastries, butcher the fiddliest of birds, fillet the boniest of fish; you can sautée, julienne, roast, and slow-cook all you like.
But still, at the end of it all, I have found that none of it—nothing really—competes with how satisfying it is to make a loaf of bread with your own hands. And how pleasing it is to eat.
How absurdly easy it is to make bread is, in my view, one of the best kept culinary secrets. Somehow, I find, guests at the table are always terribly impressed by homemade bread. So much so, they never seem to notice if I keep the rest of the meal simple. A good soup, scrambled eggs, charcuterie, maybe a green salad—that kind of thing is all you need. Sometimes, it's attention to the smaller details that matters most.
So this is what I do:
Of course there is bread and there is bread. And if you’re not already an avid baker, you might want to start with a simple loaf—one that requires little kneading and no yeast. My favorite is "damper." I used to eat damper as a child, on summer holiday in Australia. It’s a campsite bread, the idea being that you can make it with basic ingredients and in one bowl, then wrap the dough in aluminum foil and cook it slowly among the embers of the campfire. I’ve found this translates quite nicely to the kitchen: no floury surfaces and very little mess to clean up, which is all very handy when you’re expecting company. It's so quick and simple to make that it fits in very nicely with the business of day to day life.
Should you have the time, do try to make a proper bread, too. A favorite of mine is focaccia, which, of course, involves yeaste and proofing. But don’t be put off. You need to allow a little more time before dinner to make it (so it’s more of a Sunday night bread, rather than a Monday night after-work loaf), but it is truly worth it. And if all you’re doing is making a good loaf of bread, you can take all the time you like with it.
An Autumn Supper
A Relaxed Kitchen Supper
450 grams self-rising flour
2 teaspoons salt
30 grams butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon caster (superfine) sugar
350 milliliters water
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon Maldon salt flakes (optional)
Photos by Skye McAlpine