When I was little and went out shopping with my Mum – not supermarket shopping, but proper driving-to-Newcastle shopping – we would go to the John Lewis cafe. To eight year old me, this was the height of sophistication, sitting up at the tall stools and slim bars. We tended to go there for tea and cake, and the lemon drizzle cake remains in my memory the best cake I have ever tasted, I’m sure more for its air of glamour than its baking merits. But there was one item that always called to me from the hot food counter: The Welsh rarebit. Even the name sounded exotic.
I assumed at the time that it was a fancypants cheese on toast, crowned with bacon and slices of tomato. One day, our midmorning trip was delayed to lunch time and I grasped the opportunity with both hands: Welsh Rarebit would be mine.
I ordered it in the most grown up voice I could muster. My mother raised an eyebrow at me, questioningly, but I ignored her. We sat down, in our usual place, and tucked in. And I… I hated it. The heat of the mustard, the strange, unexpected texture of the sauce… the exquisite disappointment of something that looked so much like cheese on toast being so close and yet so far from its likeness. I didn’t eat it again for 16 years.
But then on my first date with Sam, him full of cold and me full of nerves, he whipped up a batch of the stuff. And I ate it out of politeness, because I wanted this boy to like me. And he did. But also, and perhaps more importantly, I liked the Welsh Rarebit.
On making this bread, it became apparent that its one true calling was Welsh Rarebit. Malthouse bread toasts brilliantly in any event, but when studded with little jewels of smoked bacon, it’s even better: the bacon on the surface of the bread crisps up, and the pieces within stay soft and yielding. Smothered in a thick mornay sauce, with lots of dijon mustard, and maybe a little cider, grilled under brown and bubbling, it is heaven.
I use this flour, but if it’s a faff to get hold of for you, this bread will still work brilliantly with strong white bread flour, or a wholemeal mix.
It goes like this:
Malthouse Bacon Bread
Makes: 1 large cob loaf
Takes: 2 hours including proving time
Bakes: 45 minutes
500g malthouse bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon quick yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
325ml warm water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (or 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat)
1. First, fry your lardons. Heat a frying pan until hot, and then place the lardons in them, cooking them until golden on all sides. Set to one side to cool, reserving a tablespoon of the bacon fat if enough has been given out.
2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt, yeast and sugar. Add the water and oil or bacon fat, and mix until the dough comes together but is still craggy. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough becomes smoother and easier to handle. Place in a clean bowl, cover with clingfilm, and leave in a warm place for one hour.
3. Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and knock the air out of it. Flatten the dough into a large disc, and place the lardons on top. Fold the edges of the disc into the middle, covering the lardons. Flip the dough and turn it clockwise, quite fast, until the dough starts to tighten. Flatten out into a disc, and repeat again twice, until you have a tight, smooth cob-shaped dough ball.
4. If you have a proving basket, flour it well, and place the loaf upside down in it, so that the seam is facing you. If you don’t have a proving basket, place the cob in a deep casserole dish. Leave to prove for a further 40 minutes.
5. Preheat the oven to 200°C. If you’ve used a proving basket, turn the dough out into a deep casserole dish. Place the lid on the casserole dish, and the dish in the oven. After 20 minutes, remove the lid. Baked for a further 20-25 minutes until the loaf is firm and golden, and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.
6. Ta Dah!
Icing on the Cake
We smothered this in mornay sauce and ate it as Welsh rarebit, of course!