Master baker Dan Lepard on how to cook great pub food

28 September 2011
Master baker Dan Lepard on how to cook great pub food

In the first of a series of extracts from his new book, "Short & Sweet", award-winning baker Dan Lepard looks at essential recipes that make pub food great

For every chef and caterer today, the impetus to source excellent baking or produce it in-house is more important than it's ever been. For customers, there's a huge comfort and reassurance when they first sit down at the table and freshly baked bread is brought out. And if the pastry on a menu is rich with flavour and good ingredients then every mouthful is a joy, not just the first.

Believe me, these results are achievable in some way in every establishment, either by sourcing well or by baking yourself. Over the years, I've worked in some of the best kitchens and arguably some of the worst, too, and in every case the finest things we've baked started with a firm decision to do our best with the equipment and time we had, and patiently improve what we baked every single day. Good reliable recipes combined with care and quality ingredients will do most of the work. And for brilliance, just keep at it.

My new book just out, Short & Sweet, is the baking manual I wished I had when I started. The recipes make small batches, just the thing while you find your way, but they scale up perfectly for big events. The book covers most of the challenges you'll encounter when you bake, with huge how-to sections at the beginning of each chapter. Stuff you've heard before? I doubt it. I'll get you questioning your own methods with new ideas and reinvigorate your baking.

There's still so much to be discovered about the interactions in baking and cooking, and more creativity and excitement we can get on the plate, no matter whether we're trying to re-establish the traditions of our country or surprise the customer with new combinations and flavours. If you think you know how to bake then it's time to take what you know further.

In this first extract, I look at one of those essential recipes that make pub food great - a big hearty roll made with your best ale, to hold the finest local bangers or bacon with pride. It's time to get into the kitchen and bake.

Order your own signed copy of of Short & Sweet today for £25 (plus p&p).

Dan Lepard's essential baking book, Short & Sweet, contains more than 280 recipes, either new or expanded from his Guardian column. Eight chapters over 575 pages cover everything from simple breads to classic suppers and great desserts. Tested and dependable, it's the baking compendium every chef needs in their kitchen. Signed copies are available from for £25 (+p&p). For more baking tips and recipes check out


These rolls stay really moist inside because of the cooked oats and butter. They taste a little bit like "granary" bread with a slight nutty flavour and a gentle sweetness from both the malt in the ale and the honey, so make them big for an amazing cheese and pickle sandwich or small to serve warm with dinner.
INGREDIENTS (Makes five sandwich rolls)
75g rolled oats
440ml ale or stout
25g unsalted butter
25g honey
450g strong white flour, plus extra for shaping and dusting
100g wholemeal, rye or spelt flour
2tsp fast action yeast
2tsp fine salt
Oil for kneading and oats (optional) for finishing

METHOD Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/390°F/gas 6. Place the oats on a tray in the oven for a bit over 25 minutes or until they turn a rich golden brown. Pour the ale into a saucepan and add the oats, then bring to the boil over a medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat, add the butter and honey, pop the lid on and leave it about 30 minutes till it's barely warm.

Mix the white and wholemeal flour, the yeast and salt together in a large bowl. Pour in the warm oat and ale mixture and stir everything together with your fingers, adding a little cold water if necessary to make a soft dough, then cover the bowl and leave for 10 minutes. Lightly oil the work surface and your hands, scoop the dough out of the bowl and gently knead it for 10 seconds. Scoop the dough back into the bowl, cover, then repeat the light knead twice more at 10-minute intervals. Leave the dough for 30 minutes, ideally somewhere it won't get chilled, then divide it into pieces.

For huge sandwich rolls, weigh about five 235g pieces; for dinner rolls, weigh about a dozen 100g pieces. Shape each piece of dough into a ball on a lightly floured surface. To protect the bottoms of the rolls from scorching due to the honey and the malt in the ale, line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. If you want a coating of oats on the rolls, lay a sheet of wet paper kitchen towel on one dinner plate and spoon rolled oats on to another, then roll each dough ball first across the wet paper and then through the oats. Sit each roll on the baking tray spaced 4-5cm apart, cover the tray loosely with a carrier bag and leave for about an hour until risen in height by a half.

Heat the oven to 210°C/190°C fan/410°F/gas 61/2. Bake the rolls for 20 minutes then reduce the heat to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/gas 4 and bake until a good golden brown, then leave to cool on a wire rack covered loosely with a dry tea towel.

Baking from frozen To make life a bit more relaxed I make these ahead but only lightly bake them, perhaps 20 minutes in the oven. Then I leave them on the tray to cool and freeze them in a ziplock bag. Then just before dinner, or whenever I need them, they get baked once more from frozen in a preheated oven at 200°C/180°C fan/390°F/gas 6 for 10 to 12 minutes.

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