he pub was where I realised it: with just over 100 days to go, I am on a crash course for relearning patience. Perhaps not relearning; perhaps stretching through deep breaths and pressing outwards, like yoga. 100 days until the referendum, I mean, of course. Referendum debate is unavoidable now, whether it’s through facebook — oh god, facebook — or thrust into your actual face by a man waving The Sun, in a strangely accusatory manner, in a south London boozer.
Because that’s how the conversations start. Not through a natural topic change, but as a result of one person brandishing their opinion, treating their anecdotes like knuckledusters, as if when they hit you enough, they’ll win.
It won’t relent over the next three months; the same old arguments will continue to be trotted out by the same people, often unprompted, and unnecessary when we both know neither will change their mind. And I will be there thinking, “We could be talking about books right now, or food, or anything, honestly anything, else.” So we breathe, and we press at the barriers of our tolerance, feeling them expand, and we let these next few months run their course.
This bread, too, requires patience, and the ability to know when it’s time to walk away and let things play out. All the grinding and rising and warming and soaking and blitzing that has to be done before you can enjoy the waft of butter and spice from the oven.
But it’s worth it.
These are at their best fresh, sliced and slathered in butter, with a mug of coffee. If you’re eating them not-fresh, warm through before eating. Trust me.
Makes three six-inch wreaths
1 (7g) package active dry yeast
250ml milk, warmed
100g caster sugar
15 cardamom pods, split and seeds ground
450g plain flour
75g butter, softened and cubed
A pinch of salt
2 medium eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g dates, pitted and chopped
2 tsp cinnamon
Knob of butter
Cinnamon sugar (1 tsp cinnamon to 5 tsp sugar – I keep a little pot of this in my spice rack)
Add the yeast to the warm milk and set aside while, in a large bowl, you mix sugar, cardamom, flour, butter, salt, eggs, and vanilla extract.
Add the milk/yeast to the bowl, and mix using a dough hook attachment.Eventually it’ll come together and become smooth. It is a wet dough but you’ll know you’re there when it starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl when you move the dough hooks near the edges. Transfer to an oiled/greased bowl, cover with cling film and set aside in a warm place for about an hour, or until doubled in size.
While it rises, make the date filling, by soaking the chopped dates in just-boiled water until soft (the water will turn brownish). Transfer to a food processor and blitz with the cinnamon and butter until smooth. Set aside.
When the dough has risen, turn it out onto a fairly well floured surface (floof) and knock back. Split into three portions.
Roll a portion out into a rough rectangle, as big as you can make it! Spread 1/3 of the date mixture over, and roll it up. Slice through the middle, so the date layers are revealed. Braid the two strands, right over left, right over left, in a straight line, then bring the two ends of the braid together to create the wreath. Repeat with the other two portions. (If you’re making these the night before, now’s the time to pop the pans in the fridge! Continue from step 7)
Cover with a tea towel, and again leave in a warm place for about half an hour. Preheat oven to 180C (170C fan).
Preheat oven to 180C (170C fan). When the wreaths have risen, bake for around 25 minutes, until golden, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
The lady behind The Dinner Bell! I’m that person who doesn’t let you leave their flat without eating something, and will probably press a parcel of cookies or cake into your hands as you head to the door.
I’m a sub-editor by day, avid book-reader by night, and octopus fan always. I live in north London, but little bits of my heart still belong to Norfolk, where I grew up, and Sheffield, where I went to uni and finally lost my bumpkin accent.