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Risk it for the biscuit

For all that Anzac biscuits recipes share an ancestry, their variations are many. I discovered this over the weekend, as I tackled six different recipes and munched my way through seven different forms of Anzac biscuits. Five cups of oats. Seven tablespoons of Golden Syrup. Three cups of coconut. Walnuts. 800 grams of butter and a horrifying amount of sugar. Welcome to my weekend, where I literally risked it (my blood sugar levels) to figure out the biscuit.

I baked each of the recipes in my previous post, and thought I’d share my thoughts and experiences on each of these recipes, as well as the crowd favourites. Let’s get stuck in!

1915: the first known recipe with Anzac in the name
Anzac Cakes
Ingredients: One pound flour, 1/2 lb sugar, 6 oz Waitaki Butter, 1 teaspoonful baking powder, 1/2 lb fruit.”

This presented a challenge. With no method and no liquid, I had no idea how I was going to make it work. I ended up trying to rub the butter into the flour in the hope I could squeeze it into balls, but it formed such a fine crumb that the mix wouldn’t stick. I ended up adding 150ml of milk just to bind it, and shaped it into one big, flat cake, which was sliced into squares, and some little individual balls. Later, a friend commented that I ought to have tried creaming the butter and sugar first, before adding the flour. Genius.

Anzac Cakes, original Anzac biscuit

While not an Anzac Biscuit, these little rock cakes are very good.

Anzac Biscuit, Original Anzac Biscuit recipe, St Andrews Cookery Book 1919

The first Anzac Biscuit recipe, found by Emeritus Professor Helen Leach in the St Andrew’s Cookery Book, 1919.

Anzac Biscuit

You’d have to have fingers with no nerve endings, the patience of a saint, and a relaxed attitude towards perfection to make these biscuits.

I had imagined that these would spread and be easily rolled, like a brandy snap, but oh, was I wrong. The biscuits didn’t really spread as much as I imagined, and rolling was nigh on impossible: the biscuits would just break as you were three-quarters of the way through the first roll, probably because of the proportion of starch in them. Rolling them while hot burned your fingers, and at first were too squishy to even lift the edge. I gave up and served them flat and round. Their toffee-like flavour and chew factor was a hit, and were chosen as a quintessential Anzac biscuit by about one third of my testers. They were very enjoyable.

This was the first recipe to include coconut, which is the first lasting evolution of the biscuit since its introduction in 1919. I would bake these again, without the effort of rolling them.


1968-1982 The Aunt Daisy Cookbook

“Anzac Biscuits

Melt 1/4lb butter with 1 tablespoon golden syrup. Add 1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water. Then add following: 1 cup sugar, 1 cup coconut, 1 cup wheatmeal, 1 cup chopped walnuts, 3/4 cup flour. Take small teaspoonfuls and roll into small balls, then place on cold oven sheet, leaving space between each. Cook 1/2 hour in slow oven.”

Let’s be honest: this recipe is an aberration to what an Anzac Biscuit is. Aunt Daisy was a beloved, trusted broadcaster who shared recipes, household hints and tidbits that she knew to work: so how this completely random recipe came to be included as an Anzac Biscuit is beyond me. The recipe contains no oats, but a mix of white and wholemeal flour. There’s coconut and the requisite chemical reaction between the baking soda, butter and golden syrup, which is usual, but there are also walnuts. As my friend’s daughter reacted when I said this – “Whaaaaaat?” this recipe is weird.

The biscuits were the easiest to roll into balls, but we all agreed: these were not Anzac Biscuits. They didn’t look like them or taste like them: they felt like Anzac biscuits on a health bender. Sorry, Aunt Daisy.

Aunt Daisy, Aunt Daisy's Cookbook, Anzac Biscuits

Aunt Daisy’s Anzac Biscuits: the black sheep of the recipe

2018: New Zealand Women’s Weekly

“Anzac Biscuits

1 cup flour
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup desiccated coconut
2 cups rolled oats
125g butter
2 tbsp golden syrup
1 tsp baking soda
3 tbsp boiling water

Heat oven to 180°C (160°C fan bake). Line two baking trays with nonstick baking paper. Place flour, caster sugar, coconut and oats in a bowl and stir to combine. Make a well in the centre.

Place butter and golden syrup in a saucepan to melt, or microwave in a bowl to melt. Dissolve baking soda in boiling water. Add melted ingredients and dissolved baking soda to dry ingredients and mix to combine.

Roll spoonfuls into balls and press onto prepared baking trays, allowing space for biscuits to spread while cooking.

Bake for 15 minutes or until firm and golden brown. Remove to a wire rack to cool, and enjoy!”

Along with the 1919 Anzac Crispies, this modern recipe enjoyed strong popularity. My testers said they looked like Anzac Biscuits, with their physical shape, colour, and visible oats and coconut.

Like the Australian 1933 recipe, this version contains 2 cups of oats, but has more flour, butter, and golden syrup to hold them together and make shaping them easy. The flavour was better than the 1919 version for Anzac Crispies, possibly due to the chemical reaction between the syrup and baking soda to give them a more toffee-like flavour, and the inclusion of coconut to add some milky sweetness. Testers commented on how fat they were, and that they had a lovely chewiness to them.

Anzac Biscuit

2018 NZ Women’s Weekly Anzac Biscuits

If you wanted to bake an Anzac biscuit, I’d personally recommend either the 1919 recipe or the 2018 recipe: despite being 99 years apart, they share a strong kinship in flavour, appearance, and texture. I also wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if the 1937 Anzac rolls appeal: they’re also a good version.

There is a final note to the taste-off: I mentioned in the introduction that there were seven biscuits that we tried. I bought a packet for RSA Fundraising Anzac Biscuits from the supermarket, out of curiosity to compare homemade and commercial recipes. The RSA has also introduced a chocolate-drizzle and a cranberry version, which I suppose is to widen the appeal and offers an insight into the ongoing evolution of the biscuit. I myself sometimes include raisins in my Anzac Biscuits, so I am not the one to make any accusations about ‘sticking to traditions’ here.

The first comment about these biscuits was that they “smell like vanilla” – a brilliant observation from one of the children, and which was actually overpowering. The ingredients included margarine – all of the above recipes used butter – and while oats, golden syrup and coconut was listed, you could see that the ratio wasn’t as dense as homemade versions. The ingredient’s final inclusion – “flavour” – was the source of much hilarity and bemusement. And honestly: none of us liked the biscuits. Their flavour was wrong, being too sweet and perfumed, and the as was the texture was chewy but not oaty enough. They’d make an acceptable dunking-in-your-tea biscuit, but came last in the taste-off.

RSA Biscuit Reaction

“Huh?” – A genuine reaction to the RSA Anzac Biscuits.

To be fair, I imagine that there are very different considerations that go in to making biscuits for mass consumption. The biscuits would need to have along shelf life (unlike the homemade ones, which as I noted in my last post, would have been unlikely to last the long journey to The Front). There are likely cost considerations to be made as well, hence the margarine and mysterious ‘flavour’. Few of us wanted to finish the biscuit, and we didn’t want to buy them either. Saying that: do support your RSA, as they do wonderful work. Maybe just make a donation instead, especailly as all that donation will go the the RSA and not just a portion.

Which Biscuit?

Our final rating of the biscuits (excluding the 1915 recipe, which could not be included because it bore no similarity to the others) was as follows:

1st equal = 1937 Anzac Rolls and 2018 Anzac Biscuits

3rd = 1919 Anzac Crispies

4th = 1933 Anzac Biscuits

5th = 1968-1982 Anzac Biscuits

6th = RSA fundraising Biscuits

Depending on what you like in your Anzac Biscuit, your rating may be different. But in terms of historic authenticity, flavour, smell, texture, and appearance, I do think that the original and modern recipes are by far the best bets, but the Anzac rolls are a great crowd pleaser.

Happy baking, and do tell me if you attempt any of these recipes!
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The Anzac Biscuit

Australia and New Zealand celebrate our day of remembrance on April 25, Anzac Day. The day commemorates Australians and New Zealanders killed in war, and honours returned servicemen and women. And, like any worthy national day, Anzac day has its own name-sake food: the Anzac biscuit. These biscuits are beloved in both nations, and range from dense and chewy to crisp and crumbly. There are hundreds of recipes to be found: but they all have the same key ingredients: rolled oats, golden syrup, coconut and butter. So how did such a simple biscuit become so incredibly popular and so strongly associated with our day of remembrance?

There is an enduring myth that the biscuits were sent to loved ones on the front, but the truth is that few of what we know as Anzac biscuits were actually sent overseas. This isn’t for lack of love but logistics: the biscuits needed to keep well on a long joinery overseas, and their arrival at the Front whole and unharmed was unlikely: non-perishable foods, such as jam, was infinitely more likely to survive and provide that sweet taste of home. That’s not to say that no biscuits were sent at all: Nga Taonga (New Zealand’s Audiovisual Archive) hold an audio interview from 1965 with 100 year old Helena Marion Barnard, who baked tons of gingernut biscuits – literally – and popularised a particular recipe for the biscuits. She received the British Empire Medal for her efforts. On a less tasty note, there were biscuits known at times to the soldiers as Anzac biscuits, but they were hated hard-tack biscuits: a part of their rations and reputably tooth-breakingly hard. There are some reports men even ground them down to make porridge. Such a food isn’t going to make its way into the national cuisine.

Instead, Anzac biscuits were made and eaten in New Zealand and Australia, and often sold as a fundraiser at galas and fairs. The first published reference to what became an ‘Anzac biscuit’ can be found in the 8th edition of the St Andrew’s Cookery Book, published in Dunedin in 1919. The recipe for ‘Anzac Crispies’ was found by Otago University’s Professor Helen Leach, who I am indebted to for sharing her research and findings to help shape this post. However, it wasn’t the first instance of the name Anzac being linked to a food. That honour goes to the 1915 St. Andrew’s Cookery Book, 7th ed., which included a list of recipes advertising Waitaki Butter, and was the last of a list of five recipes. This was a ‘recipe’ for Anzac Cakes, and Professor Leach told me that “it looks as though it would have made a plain fruit cake, but since the title of the recipe says cakes plural we must assume the mixture was divided between muffin tins or simply spooned on to the baking tray. Without egg or other liquid it would have made a firm cake or cakes”. The Anzac Cakes recipe offers no method: just ingredients. The recipe (kindly transcribed for me by Professor Leach, and included below) bears no resemblance to the Anzac Crispies recipe that appeared in the following edition in 1919.

Professor Leach wisely pointed out that when the history of a recipe is being compared, it is important to take into consideration both the name and the ingredients to do a comprehensive cross-referencing of a food’s past. The 1915 recipe may have been the first known recipe to have Anzac in the name, but it is not an Anzac biscuit as Australians and New Zealanders would commonly accept as an Anzac Biscuit today. A similar situation occurs from The War Chest Cookery Book, published in Sydney, Australia in 1917: Anzac was in the name but had entirely the wrong ingredients: not an oat in sight. The 1919 Crispie recipe is the first biscuit-like name with the right combination of ingredients, and is followed with a published recipe for Anzac Biscuits in the Melbourne Argus, Australia in 1921.

This original 1919 recipe shows the evolution of the biscuit: being a mix of oats, flour, sugar, butter, treacle or golden syrup, and baking soda dissolved in boiling water. The recipe has evolved and today always includes coconut, and sometimes raisins. The RSA in New Zealand sell the biscuits as a fundraiser, and have introduced a chocolate drizzle and a cranberry version: no doubt tasty and continues the tradition of food evolving over the years.

As a fun digression (and another look into New Zealand English, our food culture and science) the baking soda and water that is added to the mix of melted golden syrup and butter produces a chemical reaction between the soda and acidic syrup, forming an unstable carbonic acid, which breaks down into carbon dioxide. The heat speeds up the reaction, and causes the mixture to increase in size, making it much easier to spread amongst the dry ingredients. The same reaction is used to make the sweet known as honeycomb toffee, known in New Zealand as hokey pokey. An early recipe for Hokey Pokey can be found in Wellington’s Evening Post from 1927, and the word has permeated our edible culture: Hokey Pokey is a popular kiwi ice-cream flavour, apparently having been in New Zealand’s freezers since the 40s. Hokey Pokey ice-cream has little nuggets of honeycomb toffee suspended in vanilla ice cream. The word Hokey Pokey actually already has strong links to ice cream, having been a slang term in parts of America and the United Kingdom during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and ice cream street vendors were known as “hokey-pokey” men. The question is, what was named first: the toffee or the ice cream? My bet’s on the ice cream, which may have lended its name to the toffee as the flavour grew in popularity here in New Zealand.

But back to the biscuit in hand: Anzac biscuits as we know them have a sweet, toffee-like flavour, balanced by the starch of the oats and mellowed by the coconut. So let’s have a look at the recipes to see their evolution. I list here a range of recipes from the first suggestion of Anzac with a dish, to the first proper recipe progressing to modern.

I’ll be baking up a storm over this weekend and hosting a taste off of these recipes as I seek to get to know the biscuit, so come back on April 25 if you’d like to read about the time I made too many Anzac Biscuits. To tide you over, I provide the recipes below:


St Andrew’s Cookbook, Dunedin, New Zealand; 1915

“Anzac Cakes
Ingredients: One pound flour, 1/2 lb sugar, 6 oz Waitaki Butter, 1 teaspoonful baking powder, 1/2 lb fruit.”

St Andrew’s Cookbook, Dunedin, New Zealand; 1919

Anzac Biscuit, Original Anzac Biscuit recipe, St Andrews Cookery Book 1919

The first Anzac ‘Biscuit’ recipe, found by Emeritus Professor Helen Leach


1933 Calender Cook Book, Country Women’s Association, NSW, Australia

Anzac Biscuits

“2 cups rolled oats, ½ cup flour, 1 small cup sugar, ¼ cup butter, 1tablesp. golden syrup, 1teasp.carb.soda, 3tablesp.boiling water. Put rolled oats and flour into basin: melt butter and sugar together and mix well with flour and oats; dissolve syrup in water and stir in soda till it foams well, then add to other ingredients and mix well. Put in 1/2 teaspoon drops on a cold, well greased slide and bake in a very a very slow oven, as they burn very easily. It is necessary to put them fairly far apart on the slide as they spread.

– Miss Murray, Manildra Branch”


The Cookery Book of the N.Z. Women’s Institutes, Levin, New Zealand; 1937

Anzac Biscuit, old Anzac Biscuit recipe, 1930s recipes

An unusual iteration of the Anzac Biscuit from 1937, with the biscuits rolled into spiralled tubes.


The Aunt Daisy Cookbook, Auckland, New Zealand; 1982 (first published 1968)

Anzac Biscuits

Melt 1/4lb butter with 1 tablespoon golden syrup. Add 1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water. Then add following: 1 cup sugar, 1 cup coconut, 1 cup wheatmeal, 1 cup chopped walnuts, 3/4 cup flour. Take small teaspoonfuls and roll into small balls, then place on cold oven sheet, leaving space between each. Cook 1/2 hour in slow oven.”


New Zealand Women’s Weekly, digital, 2018

“1 cup flour
1 cupcaster sugar
1 cup desiccated coconut
2 cupsrolled oats
125 gbutter
2 tbsp golden syrup
1 tsp baking soda
3 tbsp boiling water

Heat oven to 180°C (160°C fan bake). Line two baking trays with nonstick baking paper. Place flour, caster sugar, coconut and oats in a bowl and stir to combine. Make a well in the centre.

Place butter and golden syrup in a saucepan to melt, or microwave in a bowl to melt. Dissolve baking soda in boiling water. Add melted ingredients and dissolved baking soda to dry ingredients and mix to combine.

Roll spoonfuls into balls and press onto prepared baking trays, allowing space for biscuits to spread while cooking.

Bake for 15 minutes or until firm and golden brown. Remove to a wire rack to cool, and enjoy!”

Want to know more? Great! Here’s some of what I read (and who I spoke to) to write this post:

Hokey Pokey, The Evening Post,. Papers past, accessed 17/4/18.

Leach, Helen. Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, Otago University.

The Real ANZAC Biscuit Story, National Army Museum. Accessed 17/4/2018.

Traditional recipe. Country Women’s Association Exeter Branch,

Was the “real” Anzac biscuit … a ginger nut? Nga Taonga, reviewed 17/4/2018.

General reading on Anzac Biscuits came from Allyson Gofton,, Fairfax media, Unibic, Auckland Council, and the old devil, wikipedia. Ice cream references from The National Library (search Hokey Pokey) and New Zealand Herald.

To make French Bread the best way

Take a gallon of fine flour, and a pint of good new ale barm, and put it to the flour, with the whites of six new laid eggs well beaten in a dish, and mixt with the barm in the middle of the flour, also three spoonfuls of fine salt; then warm some milk and fair water, and put to it, and make it up pretty stiff, being well wrought and worked up, cover it in a boul or tray with a warm cloth till your oven be hot; then make it up either in rouls, or fashion it in little wooden dishes and bake it, being baked in a quick oven, chip it hot.

Or so says Robert May, who published The Accomplisht Cook in 1678.

I found this recipe in my copy of The Cornucopia, a compilation of historic recipes from 1390 to 1899: it’s a gem of a book with a wide range of recipes, including this one. I was really keen to give it a try, especially as all online versions of this recipe used modern, commercial yeast. But this wasn’t available in the 17th Century, so I needed barm. As indicated in my first post, barm was a name for yeast used in brewing and baking. I can be a little tough to get, but if you know some brewers, they’re your best bet of getting the yeasty, beery concoction. I used the top-fermenting yeast from the krauzen – the foamy crown of yeast atop a fermenting beer – from a fermenting batch of beer at our local brewpub, and the yeasty slurry at the bottom of my husband’s fermentation barrel after he bottled his latest brew. In the 17th Century the barm would have likely been a wild mixture of different yeast strains, nurtured by a brewer for each new batch of beer, so it seemed fitting to mix two different strains for this bread.

There is a second curious addition to this recipe: its use of egg whites. I chatted with a few chefs and bakers about this and our best guess was to increase the likelihood that there was going to be ample protein in the dough to trap the CO2 produced by the yeast: a pseudo-gluten, if you will. The strength of flour is even today a little dependable in each crop, so eggs would have been a good way to ensure that there was going to be some strength. It made the bread’s crumb a bit heavy, but not unpleasantly so: I ate just a roll for dinner and really enjoyed it.

Finally, there is no way that the whiteness of modern white flour was equal to white/ fine flour in the 17th Century: to fix this, I took a few serving spoon’s worth of white flour out of the bowl, and added an equal amount of wholegrain flour to dirty it up. Historical white flour was put through a horsehair sieve to remove the bran: I can’t be sure how thorough that was, so I decided that a few spoon’s worth of wholegrain flour would take modern flour to a slightly-closer-to-17th-Century flour.

I made a half-size batch, as the thought of kneading a full gallon of flour (about 3kg!) was terrifying. This recipe is as faithfully close to the original as I could make it, with conversions into modern measures to make it more readable.

To make French Bread the best way


1.5 kg flour, mostly white with a bit of wholegrain

3 egg whites

30g salt

400ml yeast from a friendly brewer*

250ml water and 250ml milk, warmed

Bread, bread recipe, historic bread


Mix the flour and salt together, pile onto the bench top, and make a big well in the middle. Beat the egg whites to the point before a soft peak, pour into the well, and add the barm. Use your hands in a gentle circular motion to start slowly incorporating the egg white and barm, and then little by little start mixing in some of the flour walls of your well. It will form sticky chunks and be unwilling to take in more flour once about half of the flour is incorporated.

At this point, you can either slowly add the warmed water and milk to the well and keep going, or transfer it all to a big bowl and get stuck in, squishing it all in. Add about half of the liquid to start, and add the rest in dashes until the dry flour is incorporated, and your hands look more like dough than anything else. If you added the liquid in a bowl, now’s the time to tip it back onto the bench for kneading. If you used the well method: congratulations! You saved yourself a dish, unlike me.

Bread, bread making kneading, historic bread

Knead the dough until it slowly stops sticking to the bench and eventually to you. It will become a soft, elastic ball that is more interested in sticking to itself even though it doesn’t feel likely at the beginning. If it feels far too wet (but don’t confuse sticky with wet) don’t be afraid to add a spoonful of flour to firm it up. Knead it well: my kneading time to this point took about 15-20 minutes. Eventually, I was left with a beautiful ball of dough that very happily stood up to the twisting mentioned in my sourdough post. You can see here what twisting does on the bottom of the dough to create tension: –

Bread, bread making, dough, historic bread

Lightly flour the top of the dough, and pop it upside down in a bowl, and leave in a warm spot to rise. (The authors of The Cornucopia helpfully included annotations, and indicate here that it took around two hours to warm your oven up in the 17th Century). Let the loaf rise for 2 hours in a warm spot, during which the dough ought to double in size.

Curiously, the recipe doesn’t include instructions to punch the dough down and give it a second rise, which goes against all of my instincts. But as my intention is to stay true to Robert May’s instructions, divide the dough into portions and shape into loaves or buns (roles – aka rolls). It is very easy dough to divide with a knife. I made up four buns and a small loaf with one half of the bread, and a large loaf with the other half. Bake your dough in a hot 200° Celsius oven, in a dish or exposed. I baked the buns on a baking tray, exposed in the oven for 30 minutes, which gave them a beautiful burnish. I baked the loaves in cast iron pots, for 20 minutes with the lid on and 20 minutes after without. When you remove the lids you get a lovely waft of beer coming out of the oven, which adds to the delicious bread smell filling the house.

And that random final instruction to “chip it hot”? means to chip away the crust, which is actually necessary. This is a bread that makes a solid bottom crust, requiring some serious chewing. Unfortunately, I failed to flour the bottom of my pots, so the super-heavy crust also stuck like a demon to my pans: removing the loaves required chipping to get the bread out!


Would I make this bread again? Absolutely! The only changes I would make would be to flour the bottom of the pans to avoid the sticking/ chipping issue, and I would investigate making a version without the eggs, and another with an experimental second rise. The bread itself is very tasty, and the beery aroma that comes from it is delicious. It is dependant on my being able to procure the barm, but will very likely become an occasional bread recipe of mine. Especially when I serve any beer-focussed dinner.

Bread, bread making, historic recipe, Robert May, French bread the best way, beer bread

The end product: a little doughy, but delicious



* This yeast might be a little chunky, with leftover protein, hop particles, dead and live yeast, all floating in the beer. If this grosses you out, you can rinse or wash your yeast, but I didn’t: it pretty much all went in, as my husband pointed out: the liquid isn’t necessarily the yeast. This actually added to the bread’s flavour: there’s a lovely hint of beery hop bitterness at the back of your palate after each mouthful.

Baking bread at home

My own journey with bread baking began in 2015, when I read Michael Pollan’s Cooked.

I was intrigued, and promptly attempted to make a starter, which never really reached full vigorous health. Through weeks of late nights stretching dough and early mornings baking, I never quite succeeded in achieving the bread that Pollan raved about. My bread was stodgy and without the praised holes characteristic of sourdough, and while tasty was nowhere near as delicious as I had hoped. It was only once I purchased a copy of Chad Robertson’s Tartine bread book, which is referenced extensively in Pollan’s Cooked that my bread baking improved thanks to the obsessively-detailed instructions.

My preferred recipe follows the Tartine process with 75% hydration, but in a halved quantity, as the two of us don’t get through that much bread bread that often. This means that instead of 750 grams of water to 1000 grams (1 kg) of flour, I have 375g of water to 500g of flour. I break my flour down to 50% white flour, 25% wholewheat, and usually 12.5% each of whole rye and whole spelt flour, depending on what’s in the pantry. I get my wholegrain flours (wheat, rye and spelt) come from a local health food shop and cafe in my city, run by Seventh Day Adventists who organically grow their grain locally. For those living in New Zealand, you can order their flours (and other goods) here.

Fabled Food’s household bread

To bake my bread, I follow a process which I have adapted to fit my lifestyle and my need to go to work during the day. It looks like a long recipe, but is honestly simple, requiring short spurts of energy over 24 hours – and the reward of fresh bread is well worth it.

Ingredients – leaven

100g strong white flour

100g wholewheat floor

Dollop of sourdough starter

200g warm water

In the morning, prepare a leaven by mixing 200g of warm water with 100g each of white flour and of wholewheat flour, to which I add a good dollop of starter. Mix it well, cover it with a tea towel and leave it in a warm sheltered spot, and go to work.

Ingredients – bread

1kg flour, split as follows:

250g strong white flour

125g wholewheat flour

125g whole rye flour (which can be split which whole spelt flour, if you like)

350g warm water + 25g warm water for later use

~100g leaven

10g salt



In the early evening (and as soon as possible when you get home (to avoid a late night) test your leaven to ensure it’s aerated well. Fill a cup with warm water and gently drop a spoonful of leaven in. If it floats, it’s ready. If it sinks, warm the oven on the lowest temperature possible for 5 minutes, turn it off and pop the leaven in, allowing the heat to liven up the yeast and encourage them to eat the sugars up and excrete that all-important carbon dioxide. Keep an eye on the leaven and watch for the spurt of activity.

A mix of flour

The different flours for your loaf of bread

Weigh your 500g of flour into a large bowl. Add 100g of leaven and 350g of warm water, mix with your hands, and leave to ‘soak’ the flour for 40 minutes. Meanwhile be sure to stash the remaining leaven in a container to use as a starter in the future. Ask me how I know!

You’ll find a timer is very useful for the following steps!

After the 40 minutes is up, add the final 25g of warm water (to take you up to 75% water) and salt. Squish the salt and water into the dough with your hands – the dough will already feel different to the first mix; satisfyingly squashy and more cohesive, and won’t stick to your hand so badly. Once the salt and water is added, leave it for 30 minutes.

You’ll now be able to start developing your dough over the next few hours. This is known as the bulk fermentation, and is a time-consuming but low-effort process. Rather than kneading, you’ll be stretching the dough – with a dough this wet kneading on a countertop would be messy and tear-inducing. Keep it in the big bowl and wet your hand and forearm. Slide your hand between the bowl and dough to the bottom, cup your hand and lift the dough up and away – I stretch it outwards, over the rim of the bowl, but you’ll find the stretching technique that works for you. Fold the dough onto itself, rotate the bowl by 1/3, and repeat twice more. Cover your bowl again, leave it in its sheltered spot, and repeat this stretching process every 30 minutes for the next three hours.

Dough Collage

By the third hour the dough will be getting pretty aerated – you should start to see trapped air bubbles as you stretch the dough, and the dough won’t stick to you as much, and it will feel tense: the third and fourth stretches will be stiffer and harder to stretch the dough out and fold. Treat it gently as you’re folding it from 2.5 hours – no punching down the dough! After about 6 stretching cycles, you’ll be ready to start shaping the dough. Use your intuition and feel the dough to judge how it’s going – if it’s not looking very aerated or is still sticking more to you or the bowl than itself, stretch it a few more times.

Using your hands, gently coax the dough out of the bowl onto a clean, floured work surface. Cup the dough in your hands, and gently but decisively turn the dough in circles, twisting so that you get some tension in the surface. You want the bottom of the dough to grab at your counter top so it forms a nice ball. Cover the dough with a tea towel, and leave the dough to rest for another 20 minutes.

A boule of bread

A boule of bread after the first twists

You’re now ready to shape the loaf. Shaping is essentially adding structure (in the form of layers) within the loaf so it rises better.

With a round of dough in front of you, slip your hands under the dough until about 1/3 of the dough is in your hands. Lift it up slightly, and stretch the dough away from you, before folding it backover the top of your dough. repeat for the left and right sides of the dough, and finally the last quarter of the dough nearest to your body. This time, as you fold the dough over itself, roll the bread over so it’s upside down, with all the folds underneath. Twist the rounds a few more times to give the loaves some more tension, and let the dough rest for another 20 minutes.

Adding more structure

Structure of the first three folds in the dough

Gently place the boule into a medium sized bowl, lined with a smooth tea towel that has been dusted with rice flour, and let the final rise occur overnight. In the winter, I let this rise occur at a cold room temperature, but in the summer (or for warmer climates) leave the boules in the fridge, loosely covered by the tea towel to avoid drying out the dough. Place your baking dish (we use cast iron pots with lids), into the cold oven, and head to bed.

In the morning, we need to be at work by 8am, so have developed the following routine for baking:

6:00am: Turn the oven up as high as the temperature will go. If the boule was in the fridge, take it out to take some of the chill off.

6:20: Take your hot baking dish out, remove the lid, and carefully tip the boule into the dish. If you want to score the loaf, do so now with a sharp blade, and replace the lid and pop back in the oven. Turn the temperature down to 230 degrees Celscius.

6:40: Take the lid off your baking dish, but leave the loaf in the oven to brown.

7:00am: Remove the baking dish and your loaf from the dish, placing it on a wire rack. Make tea and stare hungrily at your beautiful loaf, which is filling the house with the smell of deliciousness.

Freshly baked bread

Breakfast is ready!

The loaves need time to ‘set’ so they slice more easily, which I find takes about an hour, but I usually get stuck in much sooner as the morning rush overtakes me and the need for breakfast kicks in.

I thoroughly recommend investing in the Tartine Bread book, which is so detailed and precise that the process from starter to bake takes 23 pages, with lots of photos to assist you along the way. Many people freak out at the detail – but knowing the process of bread baking is important to achieving a good finish, and when you break it down to actual work you find the effort comes in such short increments that it’s actually easy.

Remember that bread making is a process requiring multiple senses, and is something that should be enjoyed. Every loaf will teach you something different, and before you know it you’ll be confident enough to try different flour combinations, hydration levels, and possibly even to join the Recipes from Tartine Bread Facebook page, which is full of inspiration. Happy baking!