Toast, Nigel Slater’s autobiography, is one of the funniest and most touching food-related books I’ve ever come across. It’s such a warm, inclusive read, you don’t have to be a foodie to enjoy it – he simply tells the story of his childhood and adolescence through brief, witty anecdotes about food. Genuinely sad stories of his troubled family relationships are interspersed with hilarious recollections of his first encounter with spaghetti bolognese, musings on the best things you could get at the sweet shop and some truly horrific descriptions of the food that was eaten in his youth (pretty much everything seemed to come from a can). I always imagine chefs to come from families of obsessive food snobs, but that was not true in this case at all – the book is named after the food his mother burned on a daily basis. Actually, it’s not a bad motivation for becoming a chef – it was the only chance he had for some decent food! (Incidentally, it’s also well worth watching the film adaptation, not least for the always amazing Helena Bonham Carter and an impressive array of lemon meringue pies.)
In honour of the book that kept me so entertained, here is the only Nigel Slater recipe I’ve ever made. And it’s a good one: soda bread. It’s unbelievably quick and easy to make – you can have this ready in 30 minutes, meaning that it’s entirely possible to have freshly baked bread for breakfast. I’ve made it in the past following the recipe exactly – making the full quantity, baking it inside a warmed-up casserole dish. This time I was just trying to use up half a carton of buttermilk, so it was only half the quantity, and my oven is too small for a casserole dish, so I used a pre-heated baking tray. I’ve included pictures of my little mini-loaf, as well as the more attractive original one – I’d recommend going for the full quantity and casserole dish, if you can.
Nigel Slater’s Lazy Loaf
225g plain flour
225g wholemeal flour
1 tsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
350ml buttermilk (or natural yoghurt)
1. Preheat the oven to 220C. Put a large casserole dish and its lid in the oven to warm up.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients with your fingers.
3. Pour in the buttermilk and work quickly to bring the mixture together as a soft dough – it may be quite sticky. Shape into a disc about 4cm thick.
4. Carefully remove the hot dish (or tray) from the oven and dust it with a little extra flour. Place the dough in, cover with the lid if using a casserole dish, and cook for 25 minutes. (You can score a cross on the top of the dough if you like.)
5. Remove from the oven and leave in place for 5 minutes, then turn out and allow it to cool slightly. Best eaten while it’s still warm!