Spring is a tricky time of year.  There’s new life bursting out all over the place, lambs, calves, and weeds.  And it’s too windy.

Even more so than over the winter, I’ve been firing up my wood-burning stove of late. 

Nothing can touch a genuine Stanley cooker when it comes to baking bread, cakes, or roasting meat.  Which is not to say it’s all idyllic – there are trees to cut down and an ash pan to empty occasionally.  It must also be said that there’s a certain knack for using things.

After many years I have the technique down pat.  Once the cake is in the oven, the trick is to sit in front of Stan, a cup of tea at hand, book in the other and watch the thing like a hawk.  If the oven temperature drops, more wood needs to be shoved in.  If it becomes too hot, urgent action is necessary and the oven door is opened immediately.  This takes a lot of skill and sometimes three cups of tea.  It is a fine and noble way to spend a chilly Sunday afternoon.

The wood-burning stove is particularly brilliant at bread, and now I have found the best bread baking recipe in the universe.

It is a fact that I used to make bad bread.  It came easily to me - personally, I blame the recipe.  It was from some hippie cookbook, which should have been a warning.  This was a no-knead, no time for rising bread, with lots of wholemeal.  Unhappily, it tasted like sacking.  The dairy farmer would come home from a hard morning in the paddock and sit down to a plate of this not-so-tasty bread, and roll his eyes when my back was turned. 

And then I visited a friend who makes the best bread I’ve ever tasted in my life.

Loaves and loaves of golden, crusty, tasty fabulous bread would issue forth from Pat’s farm-house kitchen, slathered in butter and homemade jams. This is heaven, and her bread is the stuff of life, I realised into my fourth slice.  Years passed and from time to time we would visit, and share bread and tales with her, and finally, I shyly asked for the recipe.

She was only too delighted and rattled off a complex list of instructions that made sense at the time. A couple of phone calls to clarify were needed once I got back home, but the highlight of my baking career came a few days later when the husband sliced himself a chunk of steaming bread and said “I think you’ve finally cracked it.”  Not that I’m resentful of the fact that he could have lied all those years I was making the horrid stuff.

I’m sure this is not exactly the way Pat makes her bread.  She performs magic in the kitchen and I need another 20 years at least before I’m qualified.  I’ve modified the recipe slightly for my wood-burning stove, but this should work in any oven.  Be prepared to experiment and modify, the important thing is to get your hands floury.  And to sit in front of a warm oven for a bit.

Pat’s  bread

  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1 dstsp salt
  • 1 good Tbsp red cap yeast
  • ½  Tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 cup cold water
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 2 cups white flour
  • ½ cup wholemeal flour
  • ½ cup warm water

Put one cup of white flour into a bowl. Add the salt and yeast and mix together, followed by the golden syrup.  

Pour in the cold water and then the boiling water.  Mix this to a thick slurry.

Add two cups white, half a cup wholemeal flour, and half a cup warm water.  Stir together, and then scrape out onto a floured surface.

With floured hands, knead the dough until smooth, at least 10 minutes.  Add more flour if necessary.

Lightly oil a bowl and put the dough inside, cover with a dampish towel, and put in a warm place (a hot-water cupboard is good) to rise – an hour or two is good.  Too much rising is as bad as too little; it should double in size.

Butter a loaf tin.  Tip out onto a floured surface and knead again, for about five minutes.  Shape it into an oblong, about 2.5cm thick, and roll it up as you would a Swiss roll (this improves the texture.)

Place, fold side down, in tin, and leave in a warm place, until it has risen again.  (about an hour)  Bake for 20 minutes at 200 C.  (Some modifications may be necessary for individual ovens.)  Remove the loaf onto a rack.