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Flour power

When I first started baking my own bread regularly some 15 years ago, I remember being very taken with the idea that you could make such a wonderful food out of such a humble, cheap ingredient.

I loved the idea that you could (at that time anyway!) pay a small amount of money for a big bag of flour and make the kind of bread that would cost you a fortune to buy in the shops.

I appreciate that the price of flour has not been immune from the current cost of living crisis, but it still has to be one of the most versatile, great value products you can get – certainly as my confidence in handling flour has grown over the years, so has my fascination with the amount of things you can make with it.

And they are so much nicer than the equivalent products in the shops!

Shortcrust pastry for a pie topping can be knocked up in a few minutes and is way tastier than shop-bought ready-made pastry. Sweet and savoury flans too become far nicer with home made pastry cases. I pinched a brilliant tip from one of my chef heros, Tom Kerridge, who for a sweet flan base mixes powdered bran flakes in with the flour – it’s amazing!

Croutons also become a thing of beauty and creativity using your left over bits of bread. I store the odd stale bit or cut off in the freezer, then defrost them and soak them in olive oil flavoured up with all sorts - anchovies, chillies, herbs. Baked in the oven they are fantastic in salads.

I’ve also discovered the joy of home-made pizza bases. How often do we all love a pizza on a Saturday night? Dead simple to prepare and far better than the bits of dull cardboard you get in the supermarket masquerading as ready-made bases.

I was given one of those pasta machines some years ago, and have not looked back since. I can’t remember the last time I bought dried pasta. The first time I made spaghetti using it was a revelation – real taste and texture to the bite that I had never had from spaghetti bought in the shops. I regularly roll out different pastas using semolina, white and brown flours to go with simple Italian meals.

The machine is also a brilliant cheat for producing grissini bread sticks. I’m just addicted to them. So simple to prep the dough and run them through the pasta maker to produce strips for baking. As well as plain, I make variations with Parmesan, chilli or herbs to go with that Friday night G&T.

And last but not least, I’ve discovered the joy of home-made puff pastry, croissants and pains au chocolat. Not quite as often as the other simpler breads I bake, I grant you. They do take a little longer to prepare so you need a bit of time on your hands. But now and then they are a real treat, especially when you splash out on a really top-end butter – the taste explosion is amazing!

And all from that humble bag of plain flour…….

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