Life is uncertain. Eat Dessert first.

Great British Bake Off


Two recipes in a row from the Great British Bake Off – How To Bake book! This recipe for home-made focaccia is actually quite straight-forward, but benefits from having reassuringly detailed instructions in the book, and also being able to check the video clip online of Paul Hollywood making it on the show itself.

As advised on the show, and reiterated in the book, this is a really wet dough, and handling it is messy. Make sure to add the water gradually, and be sure to add all of the water. Because you are adding cold water, the dough will be slower to rise, ┬ábut it will increase by three to four times it’s original size, so make sure you let it rise in a bowl that will be big enough!

Before you bake this bread you can add olives, sun-dried tomatoes, pancetta etc to the dough. I left mine plain and just drizzled some basil oil over it when it was cooked. The following quantities will make two large loaves.


500g strong white bread flour

10g crushed sea salt flakes

2 x 7g sachets fast-action dried yeast, or 18g fresh yeast

2 tablespoons olive oil (plus extra for drizzling)

fine sea salt, for sprinkling

2 baking trays, about 30x20cm, lined with baking paper

Put the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and stir in the dried yeast. Make a well in the centre and add the olive oil and 300ml cool water. (If using fresh yeast, crumble it into the water and mix together, then make a well in the flour and pour in the yeast liquid and oil).

Gradually mix the flour into the liquid using a wooden spoon or your hand to form a rough dough. Gently massage the dough in the bowl for 5 minutes, very slowly mixing in about 100ml more cool water. The dough will have a wet consistency.

Work the dough in the bowl for about 5 minutes – first stretch the dough by pulling on one side using your fingers and palms of your hand. Then fold the stretched dough into the centre. Turn the bowl 80 degrees and repeat the stretching and folding process.

When the 5 minutes is up, tip the dough onto a well-oiled worktop. Knead using your knuckles and palms for 5 minutes, pushing the dough away from you and then folding it back on itself.

Oil the bowl and return the dough to it. Cover with a snap-on lid or cling-film. Leave to rise at room temperature for about one and a half hours or until increased to about four times its original size.

Gently tip the dough onto a lightly floured worktop, trying to keep as much air as possible in the dough. Divide the dough in half. Put one half in each baking tray and press out gently, pushing the dough into the corner of the tray.

Leave the shaped dough to rise, uncovered, at room temperature for about 1 hour or until at least doubled in size. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 220degC. Drizzle a little olive oil evenly over the dough.

Sprinkle with fine sea salt, then bake for 20 to 25 minutes: check that the focaccia is cooked by tipping it out of the tray – the underside should be browned. Sprinkle the focaccia with a little more olive oil and serve hot, or allow to cool and serve the next day.



Chocolate Crackles

Bad New Year’s Resolution: “I will give up eating biscuits and cakes”. Good New Year’s Resolution: “I will only eat biscuits and cakes I make myself”. This first recipe for 2012 is from The Great British Bake-Off How To Bake book, which is one of the three baking cookbooks I was lucky to receive as gifts over Christmas (more to follow from the other two at later dates!). A fantastic book that does justice to a very enjoyable TV show (probably my favourite from last year), it includes all of Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood’s Masterclass recipes, as well as clear step-by-step instructions on how to make the more difficult bakes.

These dark chocolate biscuits are rolled in icing sugar just before baking, which gives them their crazy paving look. The following quantites make about 30, so there’s plenty to put aside in a airtight container to eat over the next five days, or else bring in to work the next day to impress your colleagues!


100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)

100g softened unsalted butter

150g light brown muscovado sugar

1 large free-range egg, room temperature

half teaspoon vanilla extract

175g self-raising flour

half teaspoon bicarbonate soda

2-3 tablespoons icing sugar

Put the chopped chocolate in a large heat-proof bowl and set over a pan of steaming hot but not boiling water (don’t let the base of the bowl touch the hot water). Leave to melt gently. Remove the bowl from the pan and stir in the butter. When the mixture is completely smooth stir in the muscovado sugar. Leave to cool for 5 minutes.

Beat the egg with the vanilla just until combined, then add to the bowl. Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda into the bowl and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and chill for about one hour until firm.

Preheat the oven to 200degC. Divide the chocolate dough into 30 even-ish shaped pieces and roll into neat balls. Spoon the icing sugar into a shallow dish. Roll the balls, one at a time, in the sugar to coat thickly. Set the balls on the prepared baking sheets, spacing well apart to allow for spreading (bake the biscuits in batches, if necessary).

Bake for 10 minutes for a softer biscuit, or 12 minutes for a crisp result. Remove from the oven and leave on the sheets for a minute, then transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely. The biscuits will continue to firm up as they cool.