She is a formidable woman – someone who has the ability to lure money from the grasping hands of the elite to fund the arts with the right bit of schmooze, who radiates confidence and rocks a set of John Lewis dress in colourful print like no one else. There were rumours flying around the she had once been a spy. She makes knockout millionaire’s shortbread and is known, apparently, for her sterling dinner parties.
She was leaving work early one day to prepare for one of her dinner parties. During the patter before staff meeting – the point where you’re still waiting for people to show or settle down with a brew – she told us about it, and mentioned bread.
‘If you really want to intimidate people, make your own bread.’
Now, I am often the opposite of formidable. I am a little meek, a lot awkward. On this particular day I had brought homemade bagels to work. A colleague caught my eye and said ‘That’s why Rosie is so intimidating’, before cackling. I was asked about bread and confirmed I did indeed often make it, and the chief exec looked at me with an expression that suggested I had just shattered her entire world view.
This bread – which is rooted in the pear and walnut pinwheel in Richard Burr’s book BIY – is showing off, but it’s also more than that. It looks like a technical feat, but it’s simple enough. A simple dough, split in two and rolled flat, filled with stuff and then cut a bit.
Bread is old. Bread is historically and culturally significant around the world in its different forms. Bread is the basic necessity of our nutritional existence; we are looked after by ‘bread-winners’, ‘mana’ descended from God came to the Hebrews in the dessert, semen means ‘seed’ in Latin. Bread is life, and as such bread is for sharing and for enjoying. Not completely for showing off.
If I was intimidating, this would be an Intimidating Bread. It would strike fear into the hearts of my social inferiors, would leave them weeping at the sheer inadequacy of their own dinner parties. But to me that’s not the spirit of the thing – it’s cut to be a sharing loaf. This loaf should be ripped apart and eaten while still steaming, different hands fighting to tear it up. The caramelised onions bring sweetness, there’s a tang from the goat’s cheese, and the meatiness means a slice is basically a full sandwich. This is a filling loaf – good for a crowd.
(I forgot to take a proper picture at the end, so here’s an instagram)
- 300g strong flour
- 200g wholemeal flour
- 50g walnuts, roughly chopped,plus 5 or 6 left whole to decorate
- 1 sachet quick yeast
- 10g salt
- 310g water
- 15g oliver oil
- Spinach - two big fistfuls
- 2 red onions, thinly sliced.
- 1 tsp sugar
- 125g soft goat's cheese
- 12 slices prosciutto
- 1 egg, beaten
- Make the dough.Put the flours in a bowl, then the yeast on one side and the salt on the other (putting one on top of the other might kill the yeast). Add the walnuts, water and olive oil - you can do this gradually, and mix as you go, though I like to tip it all in immediately and get my hands straight in. Mix it all together until the flour comes away from the sides and it forms a coherent dough.
- Tip out the dough onto a clean work surface* and knead for 10 minutes (if the walnuts fall out just poke them back in), or until the dough is smooth and elastic.
- Lightly oil a bowl, pop the dough back in and cover with clingfilm. Set aside at room temperature for 1 - 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size.
- Meanwhile, heat some oil in a frying pan over a low heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the sliced onions and stir to coat. Cook for 15 mins, stirring occasionally. Add the sugar, and stir to coat. Keep cooking and stirring until they caramelise. This might take about 30 minutes. When done, set them aside.
- Line a big square baking tray with parchment paper.
- Take your risen dough, and cut it into two. On a lightly dusted surface, roll one piece out to be a big circle - as big as your tray will allow. It's a good idea to transfer this circle to the tray now, since it will be trickier when it's stuffed.
- Paint a few centimetres around the edge of the circle with the beaten egg. Then, lay the spinach out, keeping the leaves quite flat, within the egg circle. Cover this with the onions, then the goat's cheese. Lay the prosciutto over everything. I like to make an extra big pile of prosciutto in the middle
- Roll the second half of the dough to a circle of the same size, again on a lightly floured surface. Flip this onto the top of the spinach-goats-cheese-meaty goodness.
- Place a mug in the middle of the bread, and then use a sharp knife to cut outwards from the mug into sixteen segments.
- Gently pick up a segment and twist twice. Repeat for all segments. Using a sharp knife, cut a corner off each segment (this is just for presentation, not necessity).
- Heat your oven to 220°C. Leave the bread for 30 minutes.
- Once its risen a little, brush the dough with the rest of the beaten egg, place 5 walnuts in the centre if you wish to, then bake for 20 - 25 minutes until golden brown.
- *You can flour a surface, but you don't need to, because as you knead the dough will pick up all the dough left on the counter. Do it lightly if you feel it helps.