When I’ve made flatbreads or English muffins or pizza, I love to make breadsticks out of the last of the dough.


I use a simple recipe for everything inspired by recipes from the River Cottage Bread handbook by Daniel Stevens. Mine is 500g each of whole and white spelt, 10g of yeast, 650ml of warm water, though I usually make up part of that with sourdough culture to deepen the flavour, 20g of sea salt, and a good glug of olive oil. I knead that well and leave it to rise, covered, overnight before using it for various recipes. Preheat the oven to about 200 C/375 F.

Roll out a good handful of the dough to a half centimeter on a floured surface.


Slice lengths of about a finger’s width;


Arrange them on an oiled tray in shapes as you please. The spirals are delightful, my children adore them. I like to drizzle the bread with garlic-infused olive oil and sprinkle them with coarse sea salt.


Bake them through, about 18-20 minutes. I once made the mistake of putting them in a piping hot oven I’d been baking pizza in, and it swiftly turned them to charcoal.


Breadsticks! So great for simple meals out in the garden.


Now, you might think that after the surprises I had at how effortless it is to make my own oatcakes and flatbreads and pizzas and English muffins, I wouldn’t be phased by anything. Yet I am astonished by the simplicity of handmade pasta. My lovely friend Sabine inspired me to try it. Flour, eggs, a rolling pin and a good knife are all that is needed.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

I am liberated from the late supermarket run: if there are flour and eggs in the house, and a bit of time, we can eat pasta. I measured out 300 grams of white spelt flour;


I made a well in the hill of flour, and cracked in three eggs. These are from our local organic farm, Old Plawhatch, aren’t they blindingly yellow! From healthy, happy chickens.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Mix them together with your fingers til you’ve got a breadcrumb-like consistency, and then start kneading. Unlike breadmaking, this dough is incredibly stiff, and put me in mind of wedging clay. Wrap the dough up, airtight, and leave it if you can take the time, at least twenty minutes, to relax the gluten. I went off to a homeschooling group and a violin lesson, and came back to find the dough considerably softer.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Cut the dough in two, shape a flat round, flour your surface and your pin, and roll it out just as thin as you can. Even thinner. Next time I’ll push it a bit further. Amazingly, though it’s very stiff, the dough doesn’t crack easily.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Now flour the dough a little if necessary, and roll it up.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012


homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Where’s that sharp knife? Yes, decide how wide to slice the pasta. I’ll slice them more narrowly next time, say, half a centimeter.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

When I buy a bag of dry pasta I’m not joyful like this, nor am I compelled to gaze at the shapes in delight. The pleasures of homemade continue to astound me.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Unroll the spirals of dough and leave them to dry til brittle. Long enough to make a wonderful sauce, or go for a long walk, depending on the humidity in your kitchen. I laid some over a drying rack, and left some on the marble, but I’d like to hang the noodles over a dowel next time. The pasta nests people make are also very sweet, but wouldn’t dry very quickly in a chilly old cottage like this one!

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Cook them in sea salted water as you would cook any fresh pasta, al dente, once you have a sauce ready. Oh! The flavour is quite wonderful. You can freeze the dried pasta for later use. The children are determined to try using cutters on the pasta dough, with grand plans for ravioli and tortellini! For an everyday meal I am completely content with my wide, wobbly linguine. I love it.

english muffins

At diners, in supermarkets, the English muffin would arrive, ready-made, and I never thought much about it, excepting that it must be a difficult thing, to make an English muffin. Possibly requiring specialist equipment. Mysterious. A very different muffin from the handmade sort I grew up with, certainly, one that slotted effortlessly into a toaster. It wasn’t until I actually made them this weekend with my little girls, and our English friend, that it dawned on me. Allow me to show you.

english muffins © elisa rathje 2012

The Ingredients

500g spelt flour or similar
325g tepid water (or a scoop of sourdough starter topped up with tepid water to this amount)
5g dry yeast (or 10g if you’ve no sourdough starter, or, skip it if your starter is strong!)
10g sea salt
a glug of olive oil if you like

We took the very same recipe that we use for pizza dough and flatbreads and breadsticks, since we had lots of it. We’d mixed it well, kneaded it smooth, and left it to sit for a few hours, covered with a plate and a beeswax cloth.

The Method

Form the dough, about the size of a mandarin orange, into little rounds. Small hands are excellent at this part. You’re meant to pat them flat, but I forgot that bit.

english muffins © elisa rathje 2012

Lay them out on a floured woodblock, covered to keep out air, and leave them by the wood stove or somewhere cosy to rise til double in size. We just couldn’t wait that long and got started after a half hour. The dough had risen plenty, having been made the day before, so nothing to worry about.

english muffins © elisa rathje 2012

We heated a pan to a steady medium heat on the hob, or you can set a cast iron pan on the wood stove and settle a few rounds in for a minute.


Then we flipped them, and kept flipping them, every now and then for a dozen minutes, to cook them evenly on each side. All of a sudden they looked just like English muffins! Oh! They’re flipped back and forth, cooked in a dry pan! Thus the flatness, the scone-like cracks! What do you know.

english muffins © elisa rathje 2012

Best of all, they are magical with a pat of butter and a spoonful of homemade marmalade.


Baking is a great pleasure, particularly when the steps are simple and the results are glorious. I’ve become very fond of learning to make the most basic, regularly bought baked goods myself. Making breads and crackers is so astonishingly inexpensive, compared to what we could buy for the same quality. I’m regularly amazed to discover how easy they are to prepare and how versatile a good dough can be. Flatbread is one of these delights.

flatbread © elisa rathje 2012

I’ve learned to make these recipes well in advance to allow for a long, slow rise, making the breads flavourful and easily digested, in the old-time way. A few minutes to mix the ingredients, a few more to knead them. The only trick is remembering that I’ve set the mixing bowl away in the airing cupboard for the night. I’ve spent time making sourdough and was inspired by a baking class at River Cottage to try a yeast dough. I used the pizza dough recipe from my beloved copy of River Cottage Bread. I did toss in a bit of sourdough culture for some depth.

flatbread © elisa rathje 2012

Such a pleasure to roll these out. They were quite sticky and required lots of flour. With my sweet friend Heather, visiting us at our country cottage, we decided to use the dough to make ourselves wraps for lunch, cooked rapidly on a hot dry skillet and turned when puffy and golden, then filled with fresh vegetables and avocado. We were adventurous and made mozzarella together as well, and chilled it for our evening meal. So great to cook with a good friend. We rolled out the dough the same way that night, each of us choosing what we wanted on our own little pizza. Heaven. The next day I treated the bread as a tortilla, and filled it with beans, cheese, vegetables and spices. There are so many wonderful variations on leavened and unleavened flatbreads and what to eat with them, I think we’ll make it a weekly ritual.

wild sourdough culture

Naming your sourdough culture like a pet may a seem a little odd, but I’m hoping that it means we won’t forget to feed it. (I’ve set a reminder on the calendar just in case we neglect it anyway.) The children measured a cup of flour (we used whole spelt but will use rye in future, it works better) and a cup of warm water, into the jar, and stirred it. Take your time stirring in, as lots of air is a very good idea; the wild cultures are in the air around you. Tomorrow, and the next day, and possibly a dozen after that, we’ll feed the culture: we’ll toss out half (better yet, use it in baking, or pancakes!) and add half a cup of flour and the same or a little less in water.

wild sourdough culture

If brown liquid appears it isn’t such a good sign, but you can pour a little off or stir it in if it is dry, and plan to feed the culture more often for a bit. (A professional baker later told me you can feed it twice a day!) You want a scent like a fine beer brewing, rather than something going off, if you see what I mean.

When the culture starts to bubble, and is doubling in size, it is beginning to be ready, but could ideally use a couple of weeks of daily feeding. The best ritual is when you are removing half of it to bake with, and feeding the other half a little when you do, but for the home baker sometimes that isn’t possible. Better to culture and use a sourdough starter imperfectly than not at all, I say. After a couple of weeks, we’ll feed it every day if we are using it often; if not, it goes into the fridge to be fed once a week, and brought out and fed daily to get it back up to an energetic bubble again. Soon we can use it to start our first traditional slow sourdough. If we are really devoted, we can use this culture for our whole lives. The children named the wild sourdough culture Flower.


p>Read more about sourdough culture over here, as I get more experienced with it!