Earlier this month, I sat at a big farmhouse table drinking wine with my aunt and my sister and we reminisced about how my mum smelt. To my sister, she will always smell of Chanel Chance, the perfume she wore as we got older. To me it is Chance mixed with the Clarins facewash she used and the Silk Cut cigarettes she smoked.
I remember further back, too: to the Max Factor face powder she always wore, and Elizabeth Arden’s Sunflowers, a scent she sprayed throughout the 90s, that makes me think of family holidays and summer and her dressing table. My aunt, however, can reel off all of my mother’s perfumes, her smells, her signatures and signs, smells that elude me, that predate me. Smells that were my mother before she became my mother. We sit together, shouting over each other, yelling brand names triumphantly, like we are on a strange game show, clutching at things that we can still hold, that are tangible. Names of things that still exist.
But the smell that I most equate with my mother isn’t any of her perfumes, lotions or potions. It is the smell of cooking leeks that is the smell of my childhood. It is the smell of home, the smell of my mother in the kitchen. My mother would have had no truck with cooking fudge. She didn’t bake tarts or tortes. But what she did cook was utter comfort and reassurance: minestrone soups laden with ribbons of leek, snippets of bacon and tiny macaroni, shepherd’s pie with cheddar and leeks laced through the mashed potato, leek and potato soup with enough black pepper to make your eyes water. To me, the smell of comfort and reassurance is the smell of leeks, frying gently in butter. It is only when I cook leeks that my kitchen resembles hers.
This bread is based heavily on Honey & Co’s Balkan Bread, and is a yeasted, slightly enriched dough – a beautiful dough to work with, gentle, springy and silky – with buttery, fragrant leeks and two different types of cheese pummelled into it. Slightly spicy, rich and golden. Feel free to leave out the sausage meat if it’s not to your taste.
This is the perfect recipe for a cold February snap: spicy and rich, filling and comforting. What more could you want? It goes like this…
Cheesy Leek and Sausage Bread
Makes: 1 substantial loaf of bread
Takes: 3 hours (including proving time)
Bakes: 30 minutes
For the dough
1½ tsp dried yeast
150ml lukewarm water
2 tsp caster sugar
300g plain flour
½ tsp table salt
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp vegetable oil, plus 1 tbsp for the top
For the filling
2 pork sausages
20g unsalted butter
1 large leek, sliced and washed
½ tsp chilli flakes
100g feta cheese, crumbled
For the topping
30g kashkaval or pecorino cheese (really any strong flavoured hard cheese works – I sometimes use Parmesan or Grana Padano)
Pinch of sweet paprika
1. First you need to activate the yeast. Place it in a jug or cup with two teaspoons of sugar and 150ml of warm water. Give it a quick stir and leave it alone for five minutes.
2. Place the rest of the dough ingredients in a big bowl, and add the activated yeast mixture, slowly mixing. If you have a stand mixer, you can then leave it to whir on a dough hook and do it’s thing for 2-3 minutes and skip to step 4, but if (like me), you don’t, you’ll need to knead by hand.
3. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and push the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, then fold it back on itself, constantly stretching. The dough will be sticky, but slowly, it will become more pliable. Have faith, and it will form a beautiful satin-like dough, that you can roll into a pleasing ball.
4. Rub some vegetable oil onto your hand and smooth it over the ball of dough. Place it in a clean bowl, cover with clingfilm, and leave it in a warmish place for two hours, for it to rise.
5. Slit the skin of the sausage, if using, and crumble the sausage meat into a frying pan over a medium heat, frying until cooked through (this will only take a very few minutes). Decant into a heat proof bowl, and add the butter and chopped leeks to the pan, lowering the heat. Cook very gently for about 15 minutes, until the leeks are thoroughly softened. Season and add chilli flakes. Add to the sausage meat, and stir through the feta cheese.
6. Line a 20cm springform pan with baking paper, and grease the sides. When the dough has had its first proving time, place the ball into the springform pan and squish down so that it covers the base of the pan. Spoon the filling onto the centre of the disc of dough and fold the dough over the top, in on itself so that there is only a small portion of the filling showing. Clingfilm the tin and leave to prove for another 30 minutes.
7. Just before you reach the end of the proving time, preheat the oven to 200°C. Crack your remaining egg into a small bowl, add a teaspoon of water, and mix it all together using a fork. Paint this eggwash onto any visible dough, and then finally grate the hard cheese over the top and sprinkle with paprika. Bake for 30 minutes, turning the tin round once half-way through if it’s browning unevenly.
8. Allow to cool in the tin for 15 minutes before releasing.
9. TA DAH!
Icing on the Cake
We eat this hot from the oven, or rewarmed, smeared with butter. When I make it with sausages, it is almost a complete meal in itself, stromboli-like, cut into fat wedges; without it is delightful cut into long slices and toasted.