"The bap is the breakfast roll of Scotland. Properly made and properly handled it can justly be called noble ... Flour, salt, lard, yeast, sugar, milk, water. These are the ingredients, but a reverential approach is essential. Badly made, the bap can be horrid." Victor MacClure
A few days ago I was shopping for bread and a bag of floury baps caught my eye. I just love these rolls which I think are not called baps here. Sometimes they are called damper type rolls, but really they have nothing to do with damper which is a soda bread, as these are definitely yeasty bread rolls. Very light, very soft, and very fluffy - and doubtless filled will all manner of evil chemicals and sugar. Now I also love David's sourdough, and baguettes from Coles - indeed all kinds of different breads. These days I'm not such a fan of white sliced bread, although I will admit that when it comes to making perfect classic kind of sandwiches - egg, cucumber, tuna, that kind of thing then sliced white bread is the way to go.
But baps I just love them. They have to be dusted with flour though. And I'm sure the ones I bought from Coles would most likely be classed as 'horrid' by people who know about these things. Which is not me. I am an uncritical lover of what is probably rubbish. As you can see, I like to eat them split in half with each half buttered generously and topped with cheese. Tomato is also good, but cheese would be my favourite topping. The tomato is best as a side and palate cleanser. This time it was Aldi's Red Leicester cheese - another slightly guilty favourite of mine, eaten with a few of my tiny cherry tomatoes from the garden. I had absolutely no need to buy the baps - indeed, I felt so guilty I just extracted two from the bag of six. Four were put into the freezer for another day, and one put back into the fridge for an earlier another day. Although I shall probably have to toast it because they are best eaten really fresh. They don't keep very well.
They are also my favourite kind of roll to use for hamburgers, although I do confess that they go a bit soggy and doughy from the juices from the burger. I just cannot eat hamburgers gracefully.
So I started out just seeing if I could find a quick and easy recipe to make some of my own. And I did indeed find a few, although I suspect that none of the ones I found are really like the original Scottish baps which are made with those few ingredients listed at the top of the page. I have also seen that butter could sometimes be used - probably by the rather better off financially.
I searched the net and found a few recipes, but before I go there, I am returning to Elizabeth David. We think of Elizabeth David and France/Mediterranean in the same breath, but she actually also wrote two books which were very learnedly and thoroughly about British, mostly English, food. Her recipe for baps in English Bread and Yeast Cookery, which can be found on the Sharing the Food we Love website is based on one proposed by Victor MacClure, whom she quotes - as seen at the top of the page - but for some reason, not explained she leaves out the lard. She doesn't even replace it with butter, which is interesting because she is a bit of a pedant at times, and particularly in this book, and Mr. MacClure is not alone in saying that you have to include lard (or butter) as this is what makes them so light. The photograph is from the lady who posted Elizabeth David's recipe on her website Sharing the Food we Love. She says the results were 'pleasing' but notes that they are best eaten fresh as 'cold they are slightly dry.' A sentiment reiterated by various others. My shop bought ones stay fresh for a day or so, but then they are probably chock full of things to make them like that.
"A bap is, at its simplest, a bread roll. At its more complicated, it is tender pillow of dough, often made with milk, lard, and butter. A more humble, Scottish version of the brioche" Sydney Oland - Serious Eats
I think Dan Lepard is considered to be one of Britain's top bread people these days, and indeed he does have a few versions. The 'basic' one is actually not that basic, in that you seem to make a bread kind of dough, and then when it has risen you add a mix that includes melted butter and milk, before rising again, shaping and baking. But you could give it a go. He is considered to be an expert. He also has a Buttermilk baps version, which looks rather simpler, and a rather more trendy Cornmeal baps recipe. My guess is that these would not be as light and fluffy - and they have eggs in them too.
None of my favourite English cooks did baps, although they did use them in various recipes, so I turned to the Australians. Here are two rather different offerings - one which actually may be the most traditional of all the ones I found is from The Australian Women's Weekly - well they would be classic wouldn't they? The other is from the Recipe Tin Eats lady who has a no-knead version and she just calls them Soft no-knead dinner rolls. They're not called baps, they don't have flour on top, (easily fixed), they include eggs, but they do have butter. So they are as much a bap as Dan Lepard's cornmeal ones really.
Nigel Slater also couldn't resist fiddling and being a trendy kind of chef he added kefir and feta. To be fair he doesn't call them baps, just Soft rolls with feta and kefir, so maybe they should be allowed as a variation.
One last thing about baps though - when you put them in the oven to cook you make a depression in the top as they are not supposed to rise too high. Well that's what somebody said. Personally I think it's just a stylistic flourish - and look Coles have actually included that particular stylistic flourish in their soft white rolls. Plus the flour. You have to have the flour.
Whilst I was perusing all these variations I came across this from a website called Cuisine Fiend.
"the ultimate bacon butty should be housed in an old-fashioned bap ... Baps are comfortingly squidgy, sticking to the roof of your mouth a little, providing a soft floury pillow for the crispy bacon. A slice of tomato on top of the bacon, to leak juices down your chin, and your breakfast is bliss." Cuisine Fiend
Which struck a chord, because of my own propensity to use baps for hamburgers. I don't do bacon butties - sandwiches to you - but I was absolutely aware of them and so I decided to have a quick look at them as well, and this is where Felicity Cloake came up trumps.
"the holy trinity of bread, salty fatty pork and piquant sauce being a bona fide national institution. Indeed, so central a part does it play in British culture that it's impossible to imagine any other dish which so reliably raises the national spirits in times of trouble – devoured by hungry builders, peckish pensioners and footsore royal wedding goers with equal enthusiasm, it's the simple pleasure which unites the country." Felicity Cloake
Not everyone makes bacon butties/sandwiches with baps, These days the trend is to sourdough and Jamie is one of this who follows that trend, but having tested out all the possibilities, Felicity decided in the end that the bap was the way to go.
"Unlike my usual robust sourdough, which takes more chewing than the meat itself, the fluffiness of a bap is a lovely contrast to the crispness of the bacon " Felicity Cloake
And some people add a fried egg as well. So added to one's already guilty pleasure of a bap one adds more guilty pleasures. It's something that the British are famous for. Unhealthy food that is. Although I actually think that it's a reputation that is perhaps not quite deserved. It is interesting though isn't it that unhealthy things like white bread, and greasy bacon should taste so good? It's the overriding problem of junk food. It tastes good.
Several of the cooks I visited in my travels did think that a bap was a perfect package for a hamburger - and these days a hamburger can be meat free, gluten free, vegan, and anyway if made at home a traditional hamburger can actually be a healthy meal.
I am making up for my sin of two days ago, by fasting today. That way I don't feel so guilty. Although I'm sure to do it again not too far in the future, because I just love soft fluffy, floury white rolls with butter and cheese.