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!