I know it’s still November, but bearing in mind how the weeks just whoosh ahead at this time of year, I had better say it now: if you’re looking for a Christmas present for a keen baker, I nominate this (though if it’s gluten-free baking you’re after, we have Becky Excell’s How to Bake Everything Gluten-Free making an appearance on Cookbook shortly, and for Christmas baking, keep an eye out for Anja Dunk’s Advent here soon, too). Bread Ahead is an inspiring enterprise; beyond their bakes, they do workshops, courses, as well as online classes. But this book is a great place to start, with chapters covering Breads; Enriched Dough; Pastries & Tarts; Laminated Pastry; Doughnuts & Fillings; Cakes; Cookies; Desserts; Christmas; and, as an adjunct, Jams & Preserves. I know it’s not to the point, but this book has the most beautifully designed cover I’ve seen for a while.
But, of course, it’s what’s inside that counts, and I have spent many a hour lying on the sofa just drinking in these recipes, and preparing happily to bake what seems like most of them! Greedily earmarked so far are the Lazy Foccaccia; Pissaladière, a flat bread topped with caramelised onions, and - if you should so choose, and it’s traditional - anchovies and black olives; the most divine Raisin Loaf; Brioche Buns with Crème Pâtissière; Eccles Cakes; Babka Buns; Palets Bretons, which are salted butter puck-shaped biscuits from Brittany, for which I have a special fondness; Jam Roly Poly; and, of course, the Doughnuts. I say “of course” as the Bread Ahead Doughnuts are justly famous, and from the selection in this book, I plump - and I use the term advisedly - for the Pistachio Custard Doughnuts, the Lemon Curd Doughnuts and, even if they’re not quite for now, at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the Eton Mess Doughnuts. But the recipe I had to share with you is a sweet reminder of the old-fashioned bakeries of my childhood, Belgian Buns. No one has ever satisfactorily explained why this yeasted bun, rolled up around a lemony sultana filling, then dolloped with bright white lemon icing and topped jauntily with a glacé cherry is so called, and it must be a source of deep consternation to the Belgians, but to those of us of a certain vintage they are a nostalgic delight!
Bread Ahead: The Expert Home Bakerby Matthew Jones (Hardie Grant, £26).
Photography: Matt Russell