Fruit, nut and seed bars

breakfast bars

These are great. They’re similar to flapjacks, but because they’ve got fruit in, you can call them “breakfast bars” and say they’re healthy.

Ingredients
Makes 16

140g light muscovado sugar
3 tbsp golden syrup
140g butter
250 rolled oats
150g walnut pieces
150g mixed dried fruit (I used a mixed dried berries pack)
50g sesame seeds or mixed seeds

The Cooking

It’s really easy. Pre-heat the oven to 160C/320F/gas 3. Pop the butter, sugar and syrup into a pan and heat until they’re melted. Meanwhile put all the other ingredients into a large bowl. Once the sugar, syrup and butter have melted, pour it over the rest of the ingredients and mix it until everything’s coated.

Spoon the combined mixture into a square tin (about 23cm x 23cm or thereabouts) and then pat it all down so it’s compacted. Put it in the oven for 35 minutes.

Leave it to cool completely, then cut up into bars. It’s that simple!

A Magical Bread Recipe for Novices That Works Every Time

white bread

It’s so satisfying. It’s just a plain white loaf, made by hand. But it works every time and it’s ridiculously simple. If you think you can’t do bread, you can. This will work I PROMISE.

Ingredients
500g white strong bread flour.
7g dried yeast sachet.
1tsp salt
300ml water
3tbsp olive oil. Plus a bit extra.

The Cooking

Mix the flour, yeast and salt together in a large bowl. Pour in the water and the olive oil. Mix with wooden spoon until it’s together enough to take out of the bowl.

Kneed on a floury surface until the dough feels elastic and silky smooth the the touch, and bounces back slightly when prodded. This should take about ten minutes.

Place in a warmish area and leave to rise until doubled in size. This should take about one hour.

Knock back the dough and kneed for a minute or so. Dough will be elastic and bouncy when prodded. Mould the dough into a round-ish shape or put it in a loaf tin. Slather the surface with olive oil (this will give a soft, chewy crust).

Leave to rise for another hour or so on the tray or in the loaf tin which you are going to put it into the oven.

Pre-heat oven to 220/200 fan/gas mark 7. Bake dough for 25 – 30 minutes until a nice golden colour.

Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Ta dah! Seriously, try this recipe. Your friends will be astonished at your baking prowess.

Classic Lemon Cheesecake

cheesecake

I’d never made a cheesecake before, but it was really easy. I combined bits from two recipes I have according to what I thought would taste best and and it worked well.

Ingredients

For the base:
About 10 digestive biscuits
About 25g butter

For the filling:
700g cream cheese (Philadelphia is good)
150g sugar
Grated rind and the juice of half a lemon
1tsp vanilla essence
3 eggs, beaten

The Cooking

You need a deep cake tin approximately 8 inches/20cm. Grease it well with butter and then you need to put it on some foil and press the foil all around the sides of the tin. This is so that when you place the cake in water (which you will) the water won’t seep into the cake tin and the cake.

Pre-heat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas mark 3. Get a large roasting tin and fill it with water to a depth of about an inch. Put the roasting tray of water into the oven. This is a bain-marie.

Now bash up the biscuits. Put them in a plastic bag and hit them with a blunt instrument. Try not to do yourself an injury. Cut up the butter finely and mix it with the biscuit crumbs with your fingers until it’s all mixed in and there are no big lumps of butter. Alternatively, just whizz the whole biscuits and butter in the mixer for a minute.

Press the crushed biscuits into the bottom of the cake tin in an even layer.

Now beat together the cream cheese, lemon juice and rind, sugar and vanilla essense. When it is smooth, add the egg a bit at a time, whisking it through so it is all smooth. I used a handheld blender.

Pour the mixture into the cake tin on top of the biscuits. Put the cake tin, protected by the foil, into the bain-marie. Bake it for about an hour, then turn the oven off and let it sit in the oven for another 45 minutes or so. Take it out, let it cool, then gently remove it from the tin, running a knife around the edge to loosen it if you need to.

Chill it well before serving, and you can make it look pretty by sprinkling some icing sugar over the top. My mother in law liked this cake very much.

Cornish Pasty Canapes

Cornish pasties

I have made Cornish Pasties before, but this recipe is adapted for little mini pasties. They’re good for taking to parties (dinner or otherwise) as a starter/snack/nibble or for impressing your friends and workmates.

This recipe makes about 35 mini pasties, which may seem a lot but they’ll go quickly. Also, it’s difficult to make them in smaller quantities because even though you’re only using one small potato and one small carrot, you need 225g meat to get meat-to-veg ratio right and a little of the filling goes a long way. If you wanted to, you could make less by using half a potato and half a carrot but frankly, that way madness lies. You’d be left with random halves of vegetables lying around. That’s no use to anyone.

Ingredients
Makes around 35

For the pastry
330g plain flour
175g butter
1 egg
A pinch of salt
A pinch of cayenne pepper (if you have it)
A pinch of mustard powder (again, if you have it)

For the filling
225g lean minced (ground) beef
1 small onion
1 small potato
1 small carrot
1 teaspoon plain flour
Worcestershire sauce
About a cup’s worth of stock – veg or beef
1 egg

The Cooking

People get scared of pastry and think it’s some big mystery, but it’s really not – it’s just flour, butter and something to bind them together. Nothing scary about that. First of all, measure out your ingredients, put the flour, salt, cayenne and mustard powder into a big bowl and cube the butter thusly:

pastry ingredients

Now put the butter into the flour and using your fingertips rub the butter into the flour. Try to do this lightly and be patient, it will get there in the end.

mixing pastry

Yes, those are my hands. What you’re aiming for in a texture like rough breadcrumbs:

making pastry

Now beat the 1 egg and pour it in. With a wooden spoon, give it a stir and the ingredients will start to stick together. Use your hands to bring it all together into a ball. Behold:

pastry dough

Pop it in some cling film (saran wrap) or into a plastic sandwich bag (that’s what I use, less fiddly) and put it in the fridge to chill for half an hour.

While that’s chilling, do your veg prep. Finely dice the onion, potato and carrot. Set a non-stick frying pan on a high heat and when it’s good and hot, tip in the minced meat and move it about, browning it. After a couple of minutes, tip in the diced veg and give it a stir. Splash over a few shakes of worcestershire sauce and some salt and pepper. Be a little more generous with the pepper than you normally would be. Sprinkle over the tablespoon of plain flour, mix it in and cook for a further minute. Now pour over a cup of stock and reduce the heat to a simmer.

After 5 minutes or so the veg should be softening up and the liquid thickening and reducing. You don’t want it too wet otherwise it’ll make the pastry soggy – it just wants to be moist. If there’s too much liquid, turn up the heat and reduce it a bit.

Take the filling mix off the heat and set it aside to cool. Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

Okay, now take the pastry out of the fridge, divide it into thirds and wrap two pieces back up and put them back in the fridge. Sprinkle flour on a large chopping board or just a kitchen surface and sprinkle some on your rolling pin to stop it sticking. Roll out the pastry until it’s quite thin – about as thin as you dare before you think it might tear when you move it. Now cut circles out of the pastry – if you have a pastry cutter, well done and you should use that. I don’t have one, so I use the end of a can of tomatoes which works just as well. Peal away the offcuts of pastry, ball it up and cover it to stop it getting dry.

Now put a small amount of pilling in the middle of each circle like this:

cornish pastie canapes

And fold the circle over. Pinch the edges together and put it pinched end up on a baking try. Do the same with the rest of the circles and roll out the rest of the pastry and repeat until it’s all used up. Beat an egg and if you have a pastry brush, brush the egg over the pasties to glaze them. I don’t have a pastry brush so I used some kitchen roll dipped into the egg and then wiped over the pasties. Works just as well.

Put the baking tray with the pasties into the oven for 10-15 minutes until they’re golden brown. Do it in batches if necessary.

Now, eat! Hot or cold, both works well. Tasty, innit?

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Cornish Pasties

cornish pasties

A classic British recipe, these pasties are fantastic for taking out and about or eating at home. We ate ours walking down the high street on the way to the dog races, how’s that for Laaahnden life? Sorry Cornwallians, the pasties were right at home with us.

Ingredients
Makes 7

For the pastry:
400g plain (all-pupose) flour
A pinch of salt
120g cold butter, cubed
75g cold lard or vegetable fat, cubed
3 tablespoons very cold water

For the filling:
300g chuck steak
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large potato, finely diced
1/2 a swede (rutabega), finely diced
salt and freshly ground black pepper

To glaze: 3 egg yolks

The Cooking

Okay, make sure you’re wearing an apron. Making pastry is messy. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl and then rub in the cubes of lard and butter with your fingertips. Try to do this lightly with the tips of your fingers and persevere until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. This takes about 5 or 10 minutes.

Add two tablespoons of very cold water to the mixture and mix it to a firm dough, first with a knife and then with your hands. If absolutely necessary, add more water but the pastry should not be too damp – although crumbly pastry is more difficult to handle, it produces a lighter result.

Roll the pastry into a ball, cover in it clingfilm (saran wrap) and pop it in the fridge while you get on with the filling.

cornish pasty mix

I made half my pasties with meat and half without for my vegetarian friends. If you’d like to do this, use 200g chuck steak instead of 300g and divide the vegetables unevenly to make each half have an equal amount of filling.

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4

Take the pastry out of the fridge and divide it into 7 balls. Flour your chopping board and rolling pin and roll out the balls of dough to about 5mm thickness. Take about a handful of the filling and pop it in the centre of each rolled out pastry. Do this is batches if you haven’t got room. Fold the pastry over the filling and squish the edges together to seal it. Bring the edges in towards the centre and fold over, so you create a kind of rolled edge. Using your thumb and forefinger, crimp this roll by doing little pinches all along it – see the above picture for how this looks.

Place on a baking tray and brush with the egg yolks all over to glaze them. Pop them in the oven for 45-50 minutes. If they look like they’re going too brown, cover them.

Eat hot or cold. Lovely.

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Chocolate Profiteroles

profiteroles

There’s a lot of emphasis these days put on “easy” cooking. And sure, it’s important to have a good stock of simple recipes you can knock up in no time. But sometimes, it’s good to take on a challenge. Choux pastry takes a bit of concentration, but it’s not the hardest thing on he world and once you’ve learnt how to do it, it’s an excellent string to a cook’s bow.

Ingredients
Serves 6-8

CHOUX PASTRY
225mls/7.5fl.oz water
75g/3oz butter
95g/3 3/4oz plain (all-purpose) flour, seived with a pinch of salt
3 medium eggs, beaten with a fork.

FILLING
300mls/10fl.oz double or whipping cream

CHOCOLATE SAUCE
175g/6oz plain chocolate
300mls/10fl.oz water
125g/4oz caster (superfine) sugar

The Cooking

With most recipes you can mess around a bit, fudge the amounts, cut stuff out if you feel like it. But please, don’t do that here. Measure carefully, that’s the secret to choux pastry. I made this in a cookery class and the teacher was standing over me, making sure I measured exactly, and it’s good that she did because it came out well. Follow the recipe carefully, it’s tried and tested and will work, I promise.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6

First, put the water and butter for the pastry in a saucepan and bring them slowly to the boil, making sure that that the butter melts before the water boils. Grab a whisk, have it handy, then pour in the flour all at once, immediately whisking firmly and quickly until the dough comes away from the sides of the pan. It’ll be a bit like wallpaper paste, smooth and glossy.

Take the pan off the heat and add the beaten eggs a little at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon all the time. Don’t panic if it goes a bit sloppy, just keep stirring. Once all the eggs have been added, it should have the same texture as it did before you added the eggs but will now be glossy. Glossy wallpaper paste. Lovely.

Grease a baking tray and using a spoon (or two) , put small balls of the dough about the size of a pingpong ball onto the tray.

Sprinkle water around the pastires and turn the oven up to 220F/425F/Gas 7. Bake the pastries for 30-40 minutes until well-risen and light brown.

While the pastries are in the oven, make the chocolate sauce:

Melt the chocolate with the water in a saucepan over a low heat. When it’s smooth, add the sugar. When the sugar has dissolved bring the solution to the boil and boil for 10-15 minutes until the sauce is rich and syrupy.

TO FINISH:

Lift the pastries off the baking tray and prick each one to release the steam. Allow them to go cold. Whisk the cream until it’s light and fluffy, make a slit in the bottom of each pastry and either spoon or pipe the cream in.

Pile the pastries into a pyramid and pour over the sauce. Await praise from your friends and family.

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Pear Tart with Walnut Pastry

pear tart

Check that baby out. It was my first time making this and if I can make it look and taste that good, you can too.

Ingredients

French Pastry
200g/8oz Plain (all-purpose) Flour
100g/4oz Caster (superfine) Sugar
100g/4oz Butter
50ml water
2 eggs
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
40g/1.5oz Chopped walnuts
Filling
5 Pears
Sugar Syrup
50g/2oz Caster (superfine) sugar
300ml water

The Cooking

Crack the eggs and separate the yolks (don’t throw away the egg whites). Make a ring of flour on your chopping board. But the butter, egg yolks, sugar, cinnamon and water in the centre of the circle and mush it all together with your hands. Gradually draw the flour into the mush, flicking it in a bit at a time until the whole thing is mixed together well. It will seem quite wet but don’t worry about it. Mix in the chopped walnuts. Pop the whole lot in some cling film (saran wrap), wrap it up and put it in the fridge for an hour or so.

Peel and quarter the pears and carefully cut the cores out. Put the water and sugar into a pan and bring it to the boil. Let it boil for 10 minutes or so until it goes a bit glossy. Put the pear quarters in the sugar solution and simmer for about 4 minutes. Remove the pears from the liquid and set aside on some kitchen paper to dry and cool.

After an hour, take the dough out of the fridge. It should be slightly firmer. On a floured chopping board roll out two thirds the dough into a circle with a rolling pin until it is the right size to fit the tart dish. Carefully lift the rolled out dough by rolling it round the rolling pin and lifting it – if it’s sticky, put some flour on the rolling pin. This might take a couple of tries because it’s quite tricky, but persevere. Lay the dough onto the tart dish and press down gently so it fits the dish snugly. Don’t worry if the edges aren’t neat, you can either trim it and patch it or leave it as it is for that home-made look.

Now put the pear quarters in the dish in a circle with the thinner end towards the middle in a wheel shape. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F.

Roll out the remaining third of the dough in a circle until it’s the right size to fit over the top of the pears and reach the edge. Stamp out a 3-inch circle in the middle of the dough (I used the end of a tin of beans, pressed into the middle of the dough). Now lift the ring of pastry and put it over the pears and smoosh the edges with the dough that’s lining the tart. Fold the edges of the dough that’s lining the dish over the edge of the top layer of dough.

Brush the dough with the egg white you reserved in a cup earlier – this will make it shiny when cooked.

Put the whole thing into the pre-heated oven for 30/35 minutes until it is golden brown. Sprinkle some sugar over the top and serve it hot or cold with cream or ice cream. Wickedly delicious.

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Caramelised Onion Tart

onion tart

This is Achievement Food. Once made, you can say “I made this” and be proud. And then you can eat it. And it will be tasty.

I made the pastry myself. You don’t have to, you can buy ready-made, I won’t think any less of you I promise. But I urge you to have a go if you’ve got the time. I’ve learned that making pastry is a lot less frightening and difficult that I thought it would be and it’s a skill worth having, if only because hardly anyone bothers any more. Its a good string to a cook’s bow.

This onion tart is sweet and savoury, the sweetness of the very slowly cooked onion, the savouryness of the cheese and the egg. Lovely.

Ingredients
This is for a 71/2 inch flan/quich/tart dish

For the shortcrust pastry

170g plain flour
a pinch of salt
30g lard (LARD!), cubed
55g butter, cubed
Very cold water to mix
1 egg yolk

For the onion filling

2 small onions or 1 1/2 large ones
30g Cheddar cheese, grated
2 eggs
5 tablespoons milk
5 tablespoons single cream
Salt and Pepper
A knob of butter

The Cooking

Peel the onions and cut in half lengthways. Slice the halves thinly and break up into individual crescents. Melt the knob of butter in a non-stick frying (or sauce) pan and pop the onions in. Make sure it’s on the very lowest heat and then simply leave it alone.

The important thing when caramelising onions is for them to be on a low heat for a very long time. There’s no getting around this – it’s going to take a while. Ideally about an hour and a half. Give it a stir every 20 minutes or so, and what you want is for the onions to become soft and sticky and very lightly brown. If they start to burn, turn the heat down and put a lid on it so that they will stew in their own juices rather than fry.

While the onions are cooking, you can get on with the pastry. Make sure you’re wearing an apron. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl and then rub in the cubes of lard and butter wth your fingertips. Try to do this lightly and persevere until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. This takes about 5 or 10 minutes.

Add two tablespoons of water to the mixture. As the recipe I work from specifies “very cold”, I use ice-cubes. This may be a bit extreme but it works, so I’m not complaining.

Mix to a firm dough, first with a knife and then with your hands. If absolutely necessary, add more water but the pastry should not be too damp – although crumbly pastry is more difficult to handle, it produces a lighter result. I use 2 ice cubes and don’t need any more.

Once it’s all come together, smoosh it into a ball, pop it in a plastic bag and put it in the fridge for half an hour. This chilling will make it easier to roll out later. Go and make yourself a cup of tea and check on the onions.

Now comes the tricky bit – rolling the out. With a floured rolling pin, roll the pastry out on a floured surface into a circle big enough to line the quiche dish. Now, shortcrust pastry is tricky and I sometimes have to do several attempts before I successfully manage to line the dish – the pastry tears easily. The best way is to roll it out and then roll it round the rolling pin and use that to lift it over the dish, and then roll it back out onto the dish. Be gentle and coaxing with the pastry, and if you get little tears don’t worry about it and just patch it up with the excess pastry, no one will know.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F.

Make sure the pastry is well fitted into the dish, pushing it into the corners. Line the pastry case with some foil or baking parchment and fill it with dried lentils, beans, rice, or even pebbles or coins – this is to prevent the pastry bubbling up during cooking. When the pastry is half-cooked (about 15 minutes), remove the “blind beans” and foil/paper. Brush the pastry with the egg yolk and return to the oven for 5 minutes until it’s turned a nice golden colour. Remove from the oven and set aside. It should look something like this:

pastry case

Turn the oven down to 150F/300C.

By now the onions should be nice and sticky and should even smell a little sweet. Mix together the milk, cream, eggs, cheese and onions and season with salt and pepper. The mixture will be all gloopy. Pour it into the pastry case. It should look something like this:

uncooked quiche

Pop it back in the oven at the lower temperature for 40 minutes. When done, the top of the tart will be slightly golden. Take it out of the oven and let it cool a little and set. You can either eat hot or cold.

I had mine hot with some sauteed potatoes and peas. Lovely

onion quiche

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Quiche Lorraine

Quiche Lorraine

Considering I’ve never made pastry before, let alone quiche, this was a Project. But it’s on The List and what’s a long weekend for if not over-ambitious cookery projects?

The following recipe includes how to make the pastry. If you buy ready-made, just skip that gubbins and make straight for the quiche bit. This recipe is adpated from Leith’s Cookery Bible.

The Ingredients

This is for a 7 1/2 inch quiche dish

For the shortcrust pastry:
170g plain flour
a pinch of salt
30g lard (LARD!), cubed
55g butter, cubed
Very cold water to mix
1 egg yolk

For the quiche:
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
55g rindless streaky bacon, chopped roughly (for US readers, this is ordinary bacon)
A knob of butter (heh, “knob”)
5 tablespoons milk
5 tablespoons single cream
2 eggs
30g Gruyere or string cheddar cheese, grated
Salt and pepper

The Cooking

You want the butter and lard to be cold. This is, apparently, the trick to pastry-making. If they’re soft, they’ll be greasy and won’t make nice pastry. My mother-in-law also tells me you’re supposed to have cold hands, so I got a bag of frozen peas out of the freezer and held it in my hands whenever I felt they were getting a bit warm. This may have been a bit extreme.

Make sure you’re wearing an apron. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl and then rub in the cubes of lard and butter wth your fingertips. Try to do this lightly and persevere until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Add two tablespoons of water to the mixture. As the recipe specifies “very cold”, I used ice-cubes. Again, this may have been a bit extreme. But it worked, so I’m not complaining.

Mix to a firm dough, first with a knife and then with your hands. If absolutely necessary, add more water but the pastry should not be too damp – although crumbly pastry is more difficult to handle, it produces a lighter result. I used 2 ice cubes and didn’t need any more.

Now comes the tricky bit – rolling it out. With a floured rolling pin, roll the pastry out on a floured surface into a circle big enough to line the quiche dish. Now, shortcrust pastry is tricky and I had to do several attempts before I successfully managed to line the dish – the pastry tears easily. The best way is to roll it out and then roll it round the rolling pin (like a swiss-roll type affair), and use that to lift it over the dish, and then roll it back out onto the dish.

Don’t worry if you get little tears, just patch it up with any excess pastry. No one will know. Make sure the pastry is well-fitted into the dish. Now refrigerate it in the fridge for about 30 minutes – this relaxes it and prevents shrinkage when it’s cooked.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F. Go and have a cup of tea.

Line the raw pastry case with some foil or baking parchment and fill it with dried lentils, beans rice, or even pebbles or coins – this is to prevent the pastry bubbling up during cooking. When the pastry is half-cooked (about 15 minutes), remove the “blind beans” and foil/paper. Brush the pastry with the egg yolk and return to the oven for 5 minutes until it’s turned a nice golden colour. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Now the quiche bit…

Fry the onion and bacon gently in the butter until cooked but not coloured. Drain well.

Mix together the milk, cream and eggs and add the onion, bacon and cheese. Season with salt and pepper, remembering that it’s already quite salty from the cheese and bacon. The mixture will be gloopy.

Reduce the oven temperature to 150C/300F and pour the mixture into the prepared flan case. Bake the quiche in the centre of the oven for about 40 minutes.

Remove the quiche outer casing and bake for another 5 minutes to allow the pastry to brown. The top of the quiche should be ever so slightly golden.

Leave it too cool and set for 15 minutes. Serve straight away or later cold. Marvel at your cookery prowess.

Sage and Onion Focaccia

focaccia

Considering I’ve only ever really made white or wholemeal plain loaves before, this was aspirational bread-making. But surprisingly easy, and most impressive.

Ingredients

700g strong plain white flour
pinch of salt
14ml fast-action dried yeast
450ml warm water
60ml good olive oil
Coarse sea salt or crystal salt, for sprinkling.
10-15 leaves fresh sage, chopped
1 small onion, thinly sliced

The Cooking

Get the largest bowl you have. The bigger it is, the less chance of flour getting everywhere. Also, for god’s sake wear an apron. Flour everywhere.

Put the flour, yeast, chopped sage leaves and salt into the bowl, make a well in the centre and gradually work in the warm water and 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Work it all together using a wooden spoon until you can lift it out of the bowl in one go.

Place it on a floured surface and knead it for about ten minutes. What you want is for the dough to feel smooth and to bounce back a bit when you prod it with a finger. Be brave, because it can feel like you’re not going to get to this stage but it’ll happen. If it’s too dry, add a bit more water but not too much, don’t let it go soggy. If it gets soggy, add more flour.

To save washing up, clean the bowl you originally mixed the ingredients in, and then put the kneaded dough back in the bowl. It should look something like this:

Focaccia dough

Leave this covered with a dample cloth for about an hour until it’s doubled in size. Isn’t that clever, how dough rises?

Take the dough out of the bowl and knock it back. Don’t knead it too much, you want to keep a bit of air in it. Just give it a couple of punches. Now roll it out until it’s roughly a rectangle and place it in or on the tray you’re going to bake it in. Stretch it out so that it fits the tray. I used a large roasting tin because it was the most handy thing I had. You could use a large oven tray.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F.

Now make deep dimples all over the suface of the dough using your fingertips. Drizzle with the rest of the olive oil and sprinkle the salt on. Be generous with the salt. Also sprinkle on the sliced onions and a few torn sage leaves. It should now look something like this:

Focaccia dough

Put it in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, until it’s turning golden.

When done, let it cool on a wire rack.

Eat, eat, eat!