If Britain was regarded as the grain sack of the Roman Empire, then Spain was its bakery. Of all the early provinces of Rome, the bakers of Spain and Portugal (Iberia in Roman days) were regarded as the most accomplished in Europe.

As with the dining tables of modern day Italy, an essential supplement to any contemporary meal in Spain is still bread. Shapes are recognisably regional, but textures and tastes remain similar. In rural pueblos, the expertise of local Spanish bakers is still widely respected.

During a brief stay in Catalonia, we spotted a reserved stack of these loaves in a local bakery. However it was made all too clear that there were none on offer for passing shoppers who’d failed to book ahead. After tracking down a number of suitable recipes, which I am assured can differ slightly from region to region, I settled on this one. It provides a finely textured crumb and a range of exciting background flavours.

I know the recipe looks a little left-field, with unmistakable hints of aniseed sweetness and a definite kick from the olive oil, but with some simple and well chosen sauces; Allioli, Pear Compote, Quince, even a Salsa Mayonnaise, a bread board of torn Cocas makes a surprisingly savoury repast.

Flatbread with Pine Nuts, Sugar and Anis [Coca de Azúcar con Piñones y Anis] from Spain (2013). Jeff Koehler

510 gms all-purpose flour

2 tsp salt

2 tsp dried yeast

60 ml extra-virgin olive oil

50 g pine nuts

Sugar for sprinkling

Anisette, anise extract for dribbling, I used Pernod

In a large bowl, combine the flour and the salt, tip in the yeast, add the olive oil and begin working in 360 ml warm water until it forms a moist , sticky ball

Let sit for 5 minutes

Transfer to a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand for 10 minutes, until the dough is supple and elastic and still slightly sticky. Or use a mechanical bread hook

Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rest at warm room temperature for 1½ hours, or until it has doubled in size

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats

Transfer the dough to a work space and divide in half. Form by hand into oblong rolls and transfer to sheets

Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C/gas mark 7

Gently stretch and press put the dough with your fingertips into ovals just over 1.25 cm thick and 36 cms long and 14 cms wide

Generously brush with olive oil, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 15 minutes to rise again

Sprinkle over the pine nuts and then very generously sprinkle the cocas with sugar. Shake some drops of anisette over the top

Bake until lightly golden and rich brown in places, 20 to 25 minutes

Cool on wire rack before serving

Wine thoughts

Totally dependent on the accompanying sauce (of course), I would suggest we stay in Catalonia. More specifically, the heartland of Cava – Alt Penedès. To enhance the restrained sweetness of our bread, look out for a Cava semi seco, floweryyeasty and off-dry, rather than sweet. For a more innovatory al fresco lunch, choose a Cava Rosado, a chilled, pink espumoso would happily partner this unexpectedly delicious bread – almost indulgent, but spared by simple delight.