What do you do on holiday in France when one of your adult children is a pastry chef and the other an equally keen apprentice, albeit an amateur one? Well you are taught how to make croissants of course. My son went to the local bakery, a good one and bought some fresh yeast in anticipation of his sister’s arrival. As a result we had the loveliest croissants each morning, made up and refrigerated the night before and baked as the coffee was made next morning. And then there was brioche too! You can’t keep a cook out of the kitchen.
Now our big dilemma is why do we need to come to France at all when we don’t need to buy the perfect croissant anymore? For one thing we can breakfast outside, the aromas of coffee and freshly baked Viennoiserie completing the holiday picture. Sadly for the local farmers this has been a lousy summer, with too much rain and little heat, spoiling their harvest. We had their hot summer in England instead.
All this baking brought back many culinary memories of bread and yeast baked delicacies. One I had completely forgotten from my cooking classes that these two keen eaters recalled was a bread filled with ham and cheese. So I dug out the recipe and having bought plenty of bread flour from the local organic shop Felix set to work making the loaf for lunch. The picnic loaf is perfect any time of the year and being quite substantial barely needs an accompaniments.
500g (1lb 2oz) strong white flour, 1½ tsp dried yeast or 15g/ ½ oz fresh yeast, 1 tsp salt, 300ml (10 fl oz) hand hot water, 3 tbs olive oil
filling; 2 balls fresh Buffalo mozzarella cheese, 50g (2oz) mixed fresh basil and oregano leaves, 125g (4½oz) emmantale cheese,90g (3oz) cooked ham, 2 tbs olive oil garnish; thyme sprigs, coarse salt and olive oil
Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in a little water. Sprinkle the yeast over, add the remaining water and mix around quickly to a dough, adding the olive oil when the water is almost absorbed. The dough should be soft without being sticky. Only add more water if you think the dough needs it. Remember that the dough has to be loose enough to grow.
Knead the dough, either with a dough hook or by hand for 5-10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Cover with cling film and leave to rise and double in size, then loosen the dough from the sides of the bowl using a spatula. Tip the dough onto the work surface and fold it over 5 times- just a gentle knead. Leave the dough whilst you prepare the filling.
Cut the mozzarella into cubes and grate the cheese. remove the herb leaves from the stalks. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 33cm (13″) long and 28cm(11″) wide. Scatter over the cheeses, then the leaves. Tear up the ham and scatter over the top. Drizzle over 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Roll up the dough, fairly tightly, like a Swiss roll. Place it, seam side down on a lightly floured tray. Cover loosely with a cloth and leave for 10 minutes.
When ready to bake pierce the roll all over with a carving fork, right down to the base. Brush the surface lightly with olive oil and scatter over a good amount of salt. Stud with little thyme sprigs. Bake at 200C (400F, gas 6) for 30-35 minutes until golden and cooked. Serve warm. It is hard to resist.
Here is another filling to try; Sprinkle the rolled out dough with 100g chopped walnuts, 225g(8oz) crumbled gorgonzola cheese and 1 red onion (quartered, blanched and sliced).