Thursday, 29 December 2011

Xmas gifts given and received

I feel a truly lucky Scubamonkey this Christmas and a crafty / home baked theme seems to have occurred in presents I have received.  I have a book on making your own macaroons, the second Great British Bake-off book (with the recipe for Mary Berry's Tarte au Citron....yum yum yum), a muffin recipe book, a sock knitter on the road pattern book and a book on what else to do with a skein of sock yarn, other than.......... socks!  Just browsing through them all should keep me occupied for a while.  But then what to try first???

I also got an amazing cake-stand to put said goodies on, some lovely hand-dyed yarn from the very talented DyeSpinKnitUK and a gorgeous Art Deco tea-cup and saucer set from my lovely Mum.

On the gifts given, here are some links to the brilliant Ravelry patterns, where I get lots of inspirations and ideas.  For my Sis I made a Whipple Shawl, designed by the very talented Pmcblonde. 

My Mum got some Dragonfly socks in yarn by DyeSpinKnitUK .

And my running buddy and chief baking tester and critic, Anita, some Simple Stripy socks to match her funky cushions at home.

Good job I've got lots of new inspiration for next years presents!  I'm going to join in a year-long Knit along with one of the Ravelry groups this year, which will be supporting British sock pattern designers and yarn dyers.  So I wonder what some people will be getting next Xmas?????  Best get knitting.

Happy New Year

Friday, 23 December 2011

Xmas bags, Gingerbread biscuits and chocolate hazelnut splats!

See, I don't blog for ages and then they all come along like the No 37 bus.

In the run up to Christmas my sewing machine goes into over-drive.  Throughout the year I like to make jam, jellies and chutneys for my own consumption, as well as to give away for Xmas gifts.  Rather than wrap them up in paper or cellophane I tend to clothe them in little fabric bags.  They are so simple to make.  Simply get a rectangle of fabric that will go around the jar and allow about 2" extra for seams at the side and bottom and about an extra 5" on the top for the fabric to fan out.  Fold a small seam over along the top edge to tidy it up and sew (unless you want the rustic look!).  Then fold the fabric in half, right-sides facing together and sew down the side and along the bottom.  Turn the right way out, pop your jar in, tie up with some ribbon, add a card, bells or whatever jazz you like and voila..........

nearly as quick as wrapping it with paper.......honest!

The cookie cutters also come out and I like to make lots of gingerbread biscuits which get taken off to be munched in various places.  I have been using a really simple recipe I cut out of a magazine a few years ago.
Preheat an oven to 170c and line baking trays with baking parchment or Bake-o-Glide.  Melt 125g unsalted butter, 100g dark muscovado sugar (although I use whatever is in the cupboard of the brown sugar variety) and 4 tbsp of golden syrup until dissolved.  Take off the heat.  Sieve 325g plain flour, 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda and 2 tsp of ground ginger into a bowl.  Stir in the melted ingredients to make a stiff dough.  Tip out onto a floured surface, roll out to about 5mm thickness and then start cutting out with your favourite festive shaped cutters. Keep balling and rolling the dough out until you have used it all up.  Place on the baking trays and bake in batches for about 9-10 minutes until light golden brown. 

The recipe will make 30 - 40 biscuits depending on the size of your cutters.  This year I made snowflakes and angels.  Allow to cool on a rack and then consume.  They will last in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks......unlikely.

I also tried some hazelnut biscuits from a recipe given to me by a lovely lady I know of Swiss origins.  It comes from a book called Tante Heidi's Swiss Kitchen.  Lets just say the first batch tasted great, but went a little splat like.  They have been compared to a biscuit version of a Ferrero Rocher!  Not a bad complement, just need to make them hold their shape a tad better.  Would you believe they went into the oven as Angels and Stars!!

 More recipe info when they are a little more perfected......

Happy Christmas, Joyeux Noel,  Frohliche Weihnachten........ and all that malarkey

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Roman Style Spelt Loaf

I must confess, I have been a little absent in the baking department.  Back at the end of November, OH and I spent a lovely week on the North Pembrokeshire coast in a little village called Newport.  Not only a gorgeous spot on the headland looking back across Newport Sands, it is also a hot spot for foodies.  Some great pubs, restaurants and cafes serving local, mainly organic produce and a super little Farmers Market every Monday morning all provided much tingling of the taste-buds  Thankfully the weather was unseasonably beautiful so allowed much hiking and strolling opportunities to walk off all the yummies.  What it didn't help was allowing us to use the log-burner which I had gone to great lengths to make sure we had.  Too blinking hot!!

Whilst in Pembrokeshire I came across quite a few loaves of bread made with spelt flour.  Not a flour I have used before in bread-making, I thought I would give it a go on our return.  Newport also has a fantastic wholefoods shop, where I purchased some Doves Farm Wholegrain Spelt Flour.  Handily on the back was a recipe for a Roman Style Spelt Loaf.  If you want a relatively quick loaf to make, Spelt is your flour to use.  It requires very little kneading and is pretty quick to prove and rise.  Widely grown since Roman times, it has a nice rustic feel to it. 
This recipe also uses quite a high ratio of water to flour, so has quite a crumpet crumb texture.  In a large bowl mix together 500g spelt flour, 1/2 tsp salt and 1 tsp quick yeast.  Dissolve 1 tbsp of honey in 400ml of warm water and roughly mix into the flour.  Whilst still craggy add 1 tbsp of olive oil and mix well.  Knead or work the dough for a few minutes then divide between two 1lb loaf tins.  I only have a 2lb loaf tin, so popped the whole mixture in one.

It doesn't look at all like a regular bread dough, more like a solid cake mix, but bare with it.  Cover with a t-towel and allow it to double in size.  The recipe says this will take about 25 minutes.  I found it needed closer to an hour, but will depend on how warm your room is.

Now, I am not adverse to showing off my "failures" as well as "successes".  What the recipe didn't say was to grease the tin well, being it is a very sticky dough.  Hence my first attempt came out like this........

Thankfully the crispy bits on the bottom of the tin were quite tasty!  On the next attempt I used a loaf tin liner that I use for cake baking and the results were much better.

I should add you bake in a pre-heated oven at 200c / 180c fan for 40-45 minutes, until hollow sounding when you tap the bottom.
With the addition of honey, its quite a sweet loaf, so lovely with jam or marmalade and still surprisingly nice with Marmite for breakfast........thankfully.
I will certainly be making this one again, if I need a loaf in a hurry.  Tonight's bread baking was a cupboard rummage loaf, so consisted of white, wholemeal and rye flour.  You never know quite what you're going to get flavour wise.

On the crafting front I have been finishing off my Xmas gifts in time for the weekend, so will post patterns and pictures after the recipients have received them.  Some rather special news is I am now an Auntie to little Eleanor Charlotte, so she shall be getting lots of hand-knit goodies in the New Year, plus I found out the my Grandma's gorgeous Singer sewing machine, shown in an earlier post was manufactured between January to June 1910 in Clydebank.  How cool is that to have that kind of info!!  101 years old and still going strong.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Portuguese custard tarts & the willing volunteer

Its my own fault.  Really it is.  If you go and blog about having willing volunteers to test your wares, its only to be expected that in time they are going to start requesting more goodies.  Especially if you have been spreading the baking love around a number of other guinea pigs.  I take this as a great compliment, as hopefully it means my baking is yummy. So what to bake I ask myself?  I have held this little treat up my sleeve for a while now as I know a certain couple of people (Jane & Henry!!) will be thrilled if it works out, but I would hate to get it wrong. 

And so I present the Portuguese Custard Tart.  To look at, they resemble a rather shameful Yorkshire pudding with a bit of splodge in the middle, but if made right they can be quite exquisite.

Having Googled for a suitable recipe I came across the "Something for the Weekend" version by Simon Rimmer.  It looked realistic enough, so off I went.
You have to roll the pastry up like a swiss roll and then divide it into 12 pieces.  These are then rolled into little discs and you can still just about make out the rings.  They look like the rings of a tree when sawn through.  I presume the extra rolling up and rolling out add to the delicate texture of pastry.

Theres certainly nothing uniform about these little ones!  Custard made and cooled it gets divided into the 12 pastry cases and popped in the oven for about 20 minutes.  I realised I had knocked the temp up from 180 to 230c by mistake after they had gone in so quickly reduced the temperature and kept an extra eye on them til they were ready.  I've never baked custard before, so its all a learning curve.
A little point to make, I always bake on a static oven setting, rather than a fan-oven setting, as I think for baking this works better in most cases and helps prevent burnt tops.
Out the oven and cool in the tins.

Like I say nothing to look at.  I have to confess I was really worried about my two testers trying these, as they both love the proper thing, so you cannot imagine how chuffed I was when they both said they really liked them.  After critical analysis, we have come to the following conclusions:-
- Trim off the excess pastry around the top of the muffin tips.  This allows for more a more balanced custard/pastry mouthful.
- Be a bit more liberal with icing sugar whilst dusting to sweeten the pastry slightly.
- Not thicken the custard too much prior to baking, allowing a lighter custard when cooked.
- Roll the pastry a little thinner
- Last but not least, bake another batch!

So on that note I am off to the kitchen to perfect a little more and bake another batch for OH to take to work tomorrow.  Apparently there was nearly a ruckus due to lack of quantity.  And that makes me very happy  :-)

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Oh my loaf, its Gluten-free!

Firstly, I must just say how much I like Mary Berry, the doyenne of home baking and cooking.  Having just read an article about her, not only does she not fuss about all her buns being the same size or a little bit of cracking in her pastry, she starts her day.......every day...... with toast and marmite.  All hail Mary Berry!

So, back to the point...... this weekends challenge - Gluten-free baking! Spurred on by conversations with a Ravelry friend in Sweden I thought I would venture into the world of non wheat / non gluten baking.  I have no reason to do this (other than eating to much shop bought bread makes me swell up like a hot air-balloon....too much info, yup!), but me likes a new challenge.  Not one to do things by half measures, I tried bread and cake!  But why do I always do it when I am time poor!

Friday saw me attempt a gluten-free bread recipe that I doctored from the Gluten Free Goddess blogspot.*  Going via Waitrose on the way home, I was on the lookout for gluten free bread flour.  I had normal plain gluten-free flour in the cupboard.  But my rather stupid Friday evening brain forgot to comprehend that gluten-free really means no gluten.  And strong bread flour, rather than plain baking flour has lots of gluten.  So basically making gluten-free bread is rather like baking a cake. 

The mixture has a consistency of a thick cake batter, not the lovely doughy texture you get from a bread dough, it requires no kneading and only a short rise of about 45 minutes.  It proved to be quite an expensive experiment as the flour I purchased was twice the price of the perfectly usable one I had in the cupboard already.  Oh well.  All I can say is it tastes nice with marmite.....if a little cake like in texture.

 It won't be my go-to bread recipe, but at least it didn't turn out like a burnt brick.

Yesterday my Mum came over for dinner and about 30 minutes before she was due to arrive I remembered I had done no preparation.  I blame Miss Marple!  She is very distracting.  As well as trying a new pork recipe, I also had a go at River Cottage's Gluten-free Lime & Coconut Cake.  Its a rather heavenly drizzle cake. 

Made like a regular cake, baked like a regular cake.  Just gluten-free.  Ignoring the sugar and butter, I felt very virtuous eating it and urge you to give it a go.  As you can see Mum seems to like it :)

I like the idea of having of having a few "free-from" recipes to hand, just in case I need them.  Good thing a copy of The Gluten-free Baker just happened to drop into my Amazon shopping order.  I am looking forward to salivating through that one.

On the crafty front I have finally finished these lovely Embossed leaves socks that have been on the back-burner for a while.   A few more pressies are on the knitting needles, but if I put them on here you might see what you're getting.

That Christmas is a good incentive to get things finished.

* I used 3 cups of Bobs Red Mill G/F baking flour rather than a variety of flours, dried active yeast which is re-activated in the warm water rather than my usual fast action yeast and 1 egg (why would I use egg substitute?).  Otherwise as per the "not using a bread machine" recipe, baking at 180c in a oiled loaf tin.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Cookie update!

Ok, so I am terrible when I don't get recipes just right on the first attempt.  I want to try them again straight away.  There wasn't anything "wrong" with the last batch of cookies, they just weren't "right".  So I have tried them again at a higher temperature. I would have tried this yesterday if I wasn't out all day (more on that later.....), so instead rushed home after work to try another batch.  This time I baked exactly the same recipe at 170c in a fan-oven for 10-12 mins, taking them out halfway through and slamming them on the side to get the air out (Gas mark 5 or 190c in a regular oven I would guess) and they came out totally different!  This time they didn't "splat" as much and were a more raised cookie.  Still quite scrummy though.  I am sure next time I try them, they will differ again.  Still my taste testers have given this batch the thumbs up again, so I guess I should be satisfied!

Sunday was a fun day of teaching little Christmas bell decorations at a Taster Day for my local wool shop Thistle, in Cowplain, Hampshire.  Thistle is a lovely family run business, (without them I would not have such a sock knitting addition) with a sister shop in Portsmouth and they have been running Taster days for a few years now.  You get to try 3 different projects during the day and its great for inspiration.  As I only had to teach 2 sessions this time, I got to have a go myself at making a cute little bag.  Perfect as a gift-bag for Christmas cookies me thinks.

Anyhow, it has inspired me to get my Grandma's lovely Singer sewing machine out of its box and get sewing.  She's a beauty isn't she!

A good excuse to use up some of my fabric stash.........or buy some more :)

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Peanut butter and choc chip cookies

So yesterday my Mum dropped off some rather scrummy homemade peanut butter and choc chip cookies, which came from the blog of  Jo Wheatley.  The lovely Jo won this years Great British Bake-off and was my favourite from the start.  In our household I live with a rather large cat and a OH who doesn't have much of a sweet tooth.  However, these disappeared quicker than Usain Bolt running the 100m sprint.  (No it wasn't the cat!!)  Not wanting to be out-baked, I had to give them a try.  Plus I had been out for a lovely run with my running buddy and her daughter KT today and we just happened to get talking food, (OK, I know, I do most of the gas-bagging) and discovered KT is rather partial to peanut butter!  I'm always on the look-out for guinea-pigs, so a little cookie parcel may arrive on her doorstop tomorrow. Its a basic recipe, but the flavours are great (even if you're not a peanut butter fan like me).  The recipe is based on cooking in an Aga and the suggested fan oven temperature is 110c.  Blimey that's low I thought.  It actually should say 190c, so mine took a while longer, but will definitely be making them again at the correct temperature. 

Ooopps, theres 1 missing!  Well I did have to try one.  Tasty and chewy and a good excuse to try out "Bake-O-Glide" for the first time.  No more wasted bits of cookie sticking to the baking sheet for me no more.  Or throwing away baking parchment.  Reduce, re-use, re-cycle.

On the crafting front, I am helping out at my local yarn store tomorrow, by teaching the making of these cute little Christmas Bell Decorations.  I confess I did cheat on the first one and use the sewing machine, so thought I better test it hand sewn as well.  Quick and fun to make, I think I am going to have to try and make-up a Christmas Tree version.

And some things were never going to be anything other than little.  Some of this years allottment offerings were nothing more than 1/2 pint sized.  I don't think I can bare to use the butternut squash, its so ickle :)

The wine glass is purely for sizing........honest......

Happy baking/crafting/gardening!

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Getting outside the comfort zone

The main reason behind starting my blog was to get outside of my comfort zone when making things.  This was especially true for baking, as I do like my old faithfuls (courgette cake and chocolate muffins to name a couple).  Whilst being glued to the Great British Bake-Off and enjoying all the triumphs and disasters, it reminded me that I hadn't actually cooked anything from the copy of the book I was given last year.  So by starting the blog I have challenged myself to try new recipes and expand my baking repertoire!  Thankfully for my waistline, I have a few willing testers who I can offload the produce on, including OH's work colleagues and some of my clients. 

Today I had a go at muffins.  Now, you say, muffins you have tried before!  But these are Sour cream, pecan and apple crumble muffins no less.  From Roast Figs, Sugar Snow a lovely book my Mum bought me a couple of years ago, its full of winter warming recipes.

I enjoyed making them, but they definitely need working on.  The recipe said to put them in a greased muffin tin, but being lazy I used muffin cases in the tin.  Today I learnt that this slows up the cooking time (the mixture is not directly touching the nice hot tin).  Plus the mixture seemed so thick I was uncertain it would ever rise and sat on the floor in front of the oven staring and willing them to rise.  The smell in the kitchen (it has cinnamon in it!) was divine and the end product certainly edible, if in need of some improvement. 

Spurred on by the lovely Malinky on Ravelry I am also going to be trying some gluten-free baking in the near future and thus a good excuse for new ingredient shopping, so watch this space.......

The sponge method!

Another tip from River Cottage was to use the sponge method when making your own bread.  Usually used with sourdough, the sponge method can also be used with regular bread making and gets half of the flour fermenting for a few hours before you knead.  It helps improve the flavour and I like to think the digestibility of the loaf.

As my bread stocks were getting drastically low a couple of days ago, it was a good excuse to use my new mixing bowl which OH very kindly bought me earlier in the week.  You know you are a bit sad (or is that baking mad?) when you get more excited over the mixing bowl, rather than the nice orchid I got too.  It is very bright red.... who could resist?  Here beautifully modelled by my ginormous cat.  Yup, its a big bowl :)

I digress.  If making a 1kg batch of bread, put 500g of bread flour into a large mixing bowl. Add 10g of dried yeast and 600ml of water. 

Stir it all together well and it will look like a sloppy mess.  This is fine, its how you want it.  Cover with a big plastic bag or bin liner and leave for a good 5-6 hours. (Overnight or whilst you are out at work is fine too).

When you are ready for the next stage, you add the remaining 500g of flour and 20g of salt.  Mix it all up and then plop onto your work surface and knead for at least 10 minutes until the dough is nice and silky.  I tried a new flour mix from Waitrose's Love life range.  Its their Seeded and Malted bread flour.  In general bread making I always use 1kg flour, 600ml water, 10g yeast and 20g salt, however, looking on the flour packet it suggested less water.  That'll teach me not to read the packet.  No worry, whilst kneading I just kept adding a bit extra regular bread flour to the work surface to make it less sticky.

Once kneaded, pop it back in the bowl to rise for 1 1/2 hour to 2 hours or however long it takes to double in size.

Back out onto the work surface again and divide into 2 or 3 loaves.  Pop into your floured proving baskets, cover and allow to double in size again.

Then pop onto baking sheets and throw into a 250c fan oven (or the hottest you can get it).  After 10 minutes turn down to 170c and cook for a further 10 minutes.  Ovens vary, but hopefully if you knock the bottom and they sound hollow, voila, you have some scrummy bread.

If not, just pop it back the oven for a couple more minutes.  The timings are based on dividing the dough into 3 loaves, so 2 loaves will take longer. It sounds like a real palaver, but each process only takes 10 minutes or so to complete and you get your own homemade bread!  Go on, give it a go, you know you want too!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Awesome Angelicas

Today's been a bit of a washout gardening wise, but it did give me a bit of time to crack on and finish a test knit for the lovely tessvintageknits.  I really like to support some of the designers I know on Ravelry, by road-testing test patterns when I have time.  I get to have a go at a pattern before its released, plus the resulting items all add towards my Xmas stockpile of presents.  Oh and it eats into my ever-increasing stash of yarn and fibre, which lets face it, is helping to insulate the house.
So todays offering is this cute pair of Angelica mittens, where I got to learn some new stitches.......oh and buy some new wooden knitting needles.......who need know?

Perhaps now I might get on and finish (correction - get it past being no bigger than a small tissue!) the Whipple shawl I have been promising my sis for a while.  At least its on the needles though!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Mini mitts

As well as enjoying baking some bread and doing a super lovely run across the South Downs with 2 friends this morning, I also found a snippet of time to finish a pair of mittens I had promised to little Charlie.  As he was staying for the weekend, it was a good excuse to do mitten number 2.  He seems quite chuffed with them and just need to make another pair for older brother Callum!

As I like knitting mittens, nearly as much as socks (can it be possible!?!), I have also signed up to knit a test pair of Angelica mittens for the the lovely Tessvintageknits
More on those shortly.................................

Sleepless white

About a year ago I was lucky enough to spend a day at River Cottage on one of their Bread making courses.  We learnt so much about technique, taste and baking enjoyment, that I now make all of my own bread to fill my daily toast and marmite fix.  Occasionally I do allow Jam to make its way onto the bread, but usually only when its fresh out the oven.  But heh, thats just me.  With marmite, you either love it or hate it!  I can't imagine a day without it.  By making a 1kg batch ( 2 or 3 loaves) you have one to eat and a couple to freeze, so you are not having to constantly bake your "daily bread"
Back to the point........ this weekend, we had friends to stay with their two young boys, so I thought it was a great excuse to make a batch of  "Sleepless White" bread.  This recipe actually comes from an article in one of the Sunday papers that my Mum very kindly kept for me.  Its by The Handmade Bakery, who sound just up my street.

You start the night before, by mixing your ingredients (1kg strong white flour, 2.5g dry yeast, 20g salt and 560g cool water) and giving at least a good 10 minute knead.  It has a fraction of the normal amount of yeast, as it is then left overnight to rise for 16 - 20 hours.

A huge frothing mass awaits you in the morning........

Its then divided into 3 (the recipe suggests 2 loaves) loaves, placed in proving baskets (I cheat and go cheap...pasta bowls and tea-towels are very effective) and allowed to rise for another 2 hours or so, until they look like this........

Then they get popped in a nice hot oven on baking sheets (i baked at 230c in a fan-assisted oven) for about 20 minutes.  Admittedly I did get a bit sidetracked on Ravelry and they got toasted for a few extra minutes than they should, but the final result ended up like this

Very scrummy and enjoyed by the 10 month old and 3 year old visitors as much as the adults.
I urge you to give baking your own bread a go.  The first attempts may be brick like (or soft and delectable), but the trick is usually in a good long knead.  A fab way to get the stresses of the day out, makes your house smell heavenly and you get to say.....i did that!
Happy baking

Monday, 17 October 2011

My first Blog!

So, as I enter into the world of blogging, I thought I better introduce myself!  My name is Scubamonkey (Aka Kate) and I work as a gardener.  In my spare time I love to knit, run, bake and create.  I am a regular on Ravelry, a fantastic site for knitters and crocheters, where you can get much inspiration for handcrafted goodies.
My most recent finished object is a test knit for the lovely pmcblonde.  They are called Flapjacks and will no doubt get much usage now the cooler weather is setting in.

Off to scour through the recipe books for some autumnal treats to bake and munch!