Let’s imagine it’s Sunday morning. You’re in bed. The curtains are still drawn where you left them last night but a little chink is letting in just enough light to make you stir. Cocooned in a warm envelope of covers, your eyes and nose peek out over the top and, as you begin to wake, the salty, smoky smell of sizzling meat wafts in under the door. Someone – probably someone who loves you very, very much – is making you a bacon sandwich.
From the ages of eleven to twenty I was a vegetarian. I’d never really liked a lot of meat anyway (except sausages, salami and, perhaps somewhat surprisingly for a small girl, thick slabs of t-bone steak) but it was the welfare issue that clinched it: I couldn’t get along with the idea of eating animals when there was no way I could bring myself to kill them or even begin to think about the process that led to producing a packet of meat. However as I got older, I started to feel like I was missing out, that there was a world of food out there I needed to be trying and that perhaps, just perhaps, I could make as much of a difference by buying organic and higher welfare meats than by taking a stance and not eating them at all.
Predictably – apparently it’s the thing that turns most vegetarians – the first meat I ate was a bacon sandwich. I was round at Carnivorous – then Boyfriend’s – student house at university and hadn’t had any supper. In amongst the sky high piles of washing up – some stacked in the sink, others used as ash trays (ever wondered whether to live with six boys in their early twenties? Definitely don’t do it) – we’d managed to locate a loaf of bread with which to fashion a meal. No butter, of course, but there was an open pack of bacon in the fridge. I could eat a piece of plain bread, he said, or be introduced to the joys of a sizzling, salty, greasily good bacon sandwich for the very first time. I didn’t have much choice.
Nowadays I’m a little more discerning about my bacon sandwiches. The bacon needs to be free range, thick cut smoked back bacon, just the right side of crispy (I’ll forgive you if you’re a fan of streaky but I’m not so sure about unsmoked). The bread needs to be soft, not toasted, and thinly spread with real butter. I might add a scrunch of black pepper if I’m feeling adventurous. A squeeze of ketchup but not brown sauce. Never an egg – that’s Carnivorous Fiancé’s domain and he’d probably cram in three – the simple combination of bacon, bread and butter is good enough for me.
Which, of course, brings me onto the bread. While brown bread wins hands down in my every day eating baking hall of fame, when it comes to bacon sandwiches, white is my slice of choice. BLT? Brown bread every time. Buttery bacon sandwich? It has to be white. The bread should be soft and slightly bouncy, thick enough cut to soak up all those lovely salty juices with just enough chew to contrast against crispy meat and melting butter.
Milk loaves have a softer, more golden crust than their watery counterparts with a delicately sweet flavour. Using softened rather than melted butter gives this loaf a beautiful, light texture and the taste is rich, buttery and perfect for breakfast. I made two loaves this weekend just gone as we had a lot of people staying: this and my usual white tin loaf, and when comparing the two the milk loaf is definitely softer with a slightly tighter crumb.
Sliced thick it’s the ultimate bread for bacon sandwiches and is just as good the next day as toast, charred and crunchy and slathered in slightly salty butter. Next time someone’s making you breakfast, see if they wouldn’t mind rustling up one of these while they’re at it.
Sesame Milk Loaf
(makes one 1kg loaf)
500g strong white bread flour
25g golden caster sugar
10g instant yeast
30g unsalted butter, softened
320ml warm full fat milk
1 – 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
Tip the flour into a large bowl. Add the salt and sugar to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. Add the softened butter and three quarters of the milk then bring the dough together with your fingertips. Slowly add the rest of the milk to bring the dough together – you want it soft, not soggy so may not need all the liquid.
Tip the dough onto a lightly oiled work surface and knead for five to ten minutes or until the dough is smooth and silky. Roll into a ball then leave in a lightly oiled bowl covered with a tea towel until doubled in size. This should take an hour or so but it’s fine to leave for two or even three.
Brush a 1kg loaf tin with a little olive oil or melted butter. Tip your risen dough onto a lightly floured surface and knock back the air by folding inward repeatedly on itself. Form the dough into an oblong by flattening it out slightly and folding the sides into the middle. Roll the whole lot up so that the top is smooth with the join running along the base then put into the prepared tin. Slash the top lengthways then brush with a little water and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Put the tin inside a clean plastic bag and leave to prove for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size and springs back quickly if prodded. Preheat the oven to 210 degrees C.
Bake the loaf for 25 minutes or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped underneath. Remove from the tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack before slicing and making the best bacon sandwiches of your life.