As winter’s long nights come in and Christmas looms ahead, look on the bright side: wintertime is one of the best times of year to get out the cookbooks and bake some of Britain’s most delicious and traditional recipes.
There’s nothing simpler or more satisfying than making your own bread, and guests are always impressed with a loaf or baguettes still warm from the oven. Just combine flour, water, salt and yeast into a dough, and knead it out on the countertop – marble counters are particularly great for this because dough tends not to stick, meaning you need to add less dusting flour, keeping the dough to the right wetness for the recipe. Let it rise, knock it back, a second rise and it’s time to bake. Easy.
Christmas is the perfect time of year for spiced pastries and gingerbread is a firm British favourite. It’s so easy to make: it’s just a regular batter (self-raising flour, butter, sugar, egg) with powdered ginger and a little cinnamon. Roll out on your marble or granite countertop to prevent sticking, and bring out the cookie cutters. Decorate traditionally with currants, or with piped icing or ready-rolled fudge icing. Best of all, box them up and the biscuits will last for days – if you don’t eat them all first.
What’s better on a cold winter night than to sit down to a steaming pie? Marble worktops are perfect for making pastry from scratch because they stay cool as you fold and refold the pastry, thanks to their large thermal mass – handy if you have the oven blasting away too. There are so many varieties from dense, crumbling short- and hot-water-crust to crisp, flaky pastry. You can even make your own croissants!
Nothing is more indulgent than handmade chocolate treats. Getting melted chocolate to set without crumbling and white blooms is tricky; it’s a process called ‘tempering’. The best method of tempering chocolate at home – without the aid of an expensive tempering machine – is to melt your chocolate in a double-boiler on the stove and then scoop it out onto a cool stone surface (professional chefs use chilled stone slabs, but you can use your marble worktop) and repeatedly refold it in order to let it cool evenly and let the small seed crystals form that stop blooming. Then back into the pot for a gentle reheat and you’re ready to use it – perhaps for drizzled chocolate shapes or moulded truffles.
Winter is the best time for toffee whether you like it gooey or crunchy. Toffee, caramel, butter tablet and fudge all use the same basic ingredients of butter, sugar, and a little water, heated slowly to a high temperature in a pan. While fudge can be set in a lined tray, toffee is ideally poured out quickly at its highest temperature onto a stone tray or marble countertop that’s been slicked with vegetable oil first. If necessary roll out with an oiled marble pin to even out the thickness, and score deeply with a knife as it begins to set so that you can break it into chunks. Clean that knife quickly afterwards!