shewhomust: (bibendum)
As we drove away from Lindisfarne at midsummer, we called in at the farm shop in Belford. In past years this has been a favourite stop, and a good place to buy supplies, but this time there wasn't much that appealed. Blame it on the circumstances: we didn't need food to cook on the island, and I suspect we caught the shop before they were really awake. So I bought a bag of bread flour with added seeds - I'm sceptical about bread-flour-with-added-whatever, as I am about cheese-with-added-whatever, but this seemed worth a try.

The first batch I baked with it, I used it neat. Which is to say, not quite neat, as my process uses white flour for the sourdough starter, and three times the same quantity of various flours for the loaf itself. So, 1:3 white flour: seeded flour, and it made a soft, sticky dough which rose spectacularly. I'd been thinking of making rolls for dinner anyway, and was quite glad I had, because it felt too fragile to bake in a tin (and there was a slick, almost putty-like feel to the dough which was not entirely agreeable). The rolls were fine, and very light, if not as full of flavour as my usual bread (I had also been cautious with the salt, which was a mistake).

So I added buckwheat flour to the next batch. Counting the starter, that's 1:1:2 white flour: buckwheat: seeded flour. This, too, rose like mad, both in the bowl and in the oven, and it tasted more interesting, but still not as good as my usual loaf - though I did enjoy the more open texture, especially toasted (who am I kidding? I ate it all toasted).

You'll think me pretty slow on the uptake, but around this point it occurred to me that maybe these features were not some magical property of this particular brand of flour, but a result of using a higher than usual proportion of white flour. So the next loaf was, still counting the starter, 2:1:1 white flour: spelt flour: wholemeal, and it, too rose better than my usual loaf (in which the starter provides the only white flour). I added walnuts and used the last of the walnut oil, and it was fine, but still not as good as the more wholemeal mix. Which doesn't prove anything, but does support the hypothesis.

The loaf I made yesterday, and sliced into this morning, was 1:1:1:1 white flour (starter): seeded flour: buckwheat: wholemeal, and I was surprised how good it is. The more open texture toasts well, and the combination of buckwheat and wholemeal emphasises the nutty flavour. If the seeds in the flour contribute anything, it's subliminal, which isn't to say that they don't contribute. But when this bag runs out, I'll try these proportions with white flour before I try to hunt down another bag of the seeded.

Of course, if I continue to reduce the proportion of seeded flour each time, the bag will never run out.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Ten days ago, the Guardian submitted supermarket croissants to a taste test. The highest scoring (8/10) were from Waitrose, which surprised me, as I had bought a pack of croissants from Waitrose and been very disappointed: light and flaky is good, but so flaky and insubstantial that you end up with a plateful of crumbs and nothing else. I'd preferred Lidl. Then I realised that my Waitrose croissants had been a pack of four, I forget the exact brand but something indicating 'Waitrose superior'; the Guardian's were 'Waitrose 1' brand, and a pack of two cost £1.50, which the Guardian thought was pricey.

That sent me off on a happy wild goose chase across the internet. I'm sure that when I spent a year in France, the price of croissants, like the price of the baguette, was regulated. Evidently that's no longer the case, and what's more, people seem more interested in the price of a pain au chocolat than of a croissant (pause in which I reflect on the depravity of modern tastes). The best I can do is this piece in Le Figaro about the popular entertainment of quizzing politicians about the price of everyday items. Last October, Jean-François Copé (of whom I have never heard) was asked how much a pain au chocolat cost, and guessed "Aux alentours de 10 ou 15 centimes d'euros, non?" The correct answer, says Le Figaro, is that you'd pay about ten times that much at the baker's. Which makes Waitrose's £1.50 for two croissants look about right. One of the comments below the article points out that in the local supermarket, a pack of right costs €1.89 € (24 cents each), but in the bakery section of the same shop they are 95 cents each - and in the café across the road, &euro4 each. From all of which I conclude that you make your choice and you get what you pay for, and, to come back to that 'taste test', which supermarket you buy from matters less than where in the supermarket. Despite which, I have a highest opinion of Lidl's bakery.

However.

This had set me thinking about croissants, and the obvious next move was to have another go at baking my own. I took down Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery - no, I know this isn't exactly English cookery, but that wasn't the problem. First, Mrs David says, "I have only limited tolerance towards all the rolling and folding and turning involved in puff pastry..." and since for croissants you submit a yeasted dough to exactly the same process, she doesn't often bother. Secondly, she says, on those rare occasions when she does bake croissants, she uses Julia Child's recipe, and instructs the reader to do likewise. She relents only to the extent of giving what is evidently a professional's recipe for baking industrial quantities of croissants, with some hints about how to modify it for home use. Well, that's OK - she doesn't give an exact recipe, but since I adapt for my sourdough bread, an exact recipe would be wasted on me. What's more, I added a further random factor by carefully measuring out and adding too much water to my dough (no, I don't know what I was thinking either; these things happen). So the usefulness of this post as a reminder of what I did is as much awful warning as model to follow. Well, that's useful, too.

I used all wheat flour, in order to get the highest possible gluten content, but I couldn't bring myself to use all white flour, because that's not a thing I do. So I used five oz wholemeal flour, and since I had inadvertently added too much water, I had to keep adding white flour until I could handle it. Which was so much higher a proportion than usual that it might be worth nerving myself to use all white next time, just to see what happens. Made the dough, knocked it back, adding more flour rather than oil - and again. Next time, I added butter. The recipe says 450g butter to a kilo of flour, so I aimed for half a pound to my (notional, actually substantially more) of flour; the recipe says spread butter on half the dough and fold in half, but I sliced butter from the fridge over two thirds of the dough, then folded in thirds (the unbuttered third over, and then the unfolded third over that). Leave in a cool place, and repeat twice more. Then rolls out, cut into triangles and shape the croissants. Brush with beaten egg, leave to prove again, brush with more egg (this took one whole egg altogether) and bake, in the top of the over, mark 6 for 20 minutes.

Here's the thing I need to remember: it was not actually all that hard work. And the results were - well, I have had worse. They were chewy rather than flaky, and quite dense, and the layers were - vestigial. But worth it, I think. Certainly all the folding is just another thing to find time for, and I think the results would be better if I'd found more time, not for the process but for letting the dough rest between rounds. Start earlier, and steal time from the initial proving, maybe? It might actually be worth buying salted butter, which I don't usually do, and not salting the dough. And that two-stage egg wash is certainly worth the fuss.

Daily bread

Apr. 8th, 2017 09:52 pm
shewhomust: (bibendum)
I continue to bake my sourdough loaf if not daily then never less than weekly, and sometimes more. I haven't posted much about it lately because there doesn't seem much to say - it's a routine, it doesn't demand much effort and the results are pretty reliable. Good toast and good coffee for breakfast, it's worth the effort. "Good," of course, means "the way I like them," but that's the point of the exercise.

I have been meaning, though, to record that my default loaf is currently quite a plain mix, containing a proportion of buckwheat flour, which gives it a slightly nutty flavour and a satisfying crunch. Yotam Ottolenghi remarked in The Guardian that buckwheat and walnut is a classic combination; he was talking about grains for salad, but since walnut bread is another favourite, I gave it a try. It didn't work. It wasn't horrible, but the two distinctive flavours cancelled each other out.

Despite which, I am writing this now to record that I may, finally, have cracked the saffron loaf. After two not-entirely-successful attempts I was nervous, but I followed the quantities I had noted in September, which made a very dry, rather sluggish dough. When I couldn't delay any longer, I put it on the lower shelf of the oven at mark 4 for 20 minutes (until the cottage pie on the top shelf was ready) and then moved it up a shelf and a gas mark. After 50 minutes it was smelling wonderful, and I decided it was done. This really does seem to have worked: good, if not spectacular rise, great saffron flavour. I had added a handful of citron peel and pistachio nuts: I thought I had been overgenerous with these when I was trying to knead them into the load, but they are well dispersed in the baked loaf - and if anything have risen towards the top of the loaf (the opposite of what fruit does in cakes).

I'm hoping there will be time for a batch of spice buns before we set off on holiday...
shewhomust: (bibendum)
The instructions [livejournal.com profile] desperance gave me, when he gave me my sourdough starter, tell me to put a bowl of water in the oven with the loaf: this is said to improve the rise. Every now and then I think yes, I really should try that..., but I am lazy, and clumsy with bowls of boiling water. and one way and another I never do.

But yesterday I was cooking haggis (of course) and the instructions for this required it, too, to be placed in in the oven, in a bowl containing an inch of water. Which gave me an overlap: not entirely by chance, but not entirely by planning, either, the bread spent its first quarter hour in an oven which also contained a bowl of water.

It certainly rose better than usual. This is not a scientific test: it was rising enthusiastically throughout the process, but nonetheless, for the record, oatmeal-raisin bread, bowl of water (surely the haggis is not an active ingredient?), completely satisfactory loaf.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
For the first time in over two months, we slept in our own bed last night.

We have been using the spare bedroom while our room was being redecorated, and yes, one way and another it really has taken that long: waiting for carpet to be delivered, then waiting for new mattress and for curtains, and finally buying some more curtain hooks... Even now, there are drawers full of clothes and bedding in the weong room, not to mention the books (don't mention the books!). But the room is ready to be slept in:

The newly decorated bedroom


and we were ready to sleep in it. I wish I could say I had a wonderful night's sleep, but I didn't (sometimes I don't). It took us a while to get used to the spare bed - it's narrower than our own bed, and the mattress is very bouncy - and now it's going to take a while to get unused to it again. And I miss having a bedside cabinet (there isn't really room for anything on my side of the bed). Nonetheless, it's good to be back.

There was saffron bread for breakfast. It's taken a while, after the disaster of my last attempt, for me to gather the nerve, but I've been thinking how nice saffron bread would be, so I tried again. And since I was disappointed not to find a better record of what I did last time, here are the numbers )

Considering how much higher it was risen after baking, I was surprised at how dense the crumb is - more like cake than bread. But it toasts well enough. Because we have been to IKEA (see lightshade in the picture) I have lingonberry jam. It would be better if it was less sweet, but it's not at all bad.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
  • Contestant on Only Connect, deliberating with team-mates: I alway get 'Flaubert's Parrot' mixed up with 'Foucault's Pendulum'.


  • The decorators, having finished a previous job earlier than expected, arrived on Tuesday afternoon. The builder, to whom I had given the sample of my chosen wallpaper and the brochure with my chosen paint colours marked on it before we went on holiday, has not passed them on and has in fact lost them. We have, as of today, reinstated that order, and the decorator is confident that this won't hold things up. That may be because the condition of the plaster under the wallpaper is worse than they had expected, and what with patching the plaster and lining the walls, they will have plenty to keep them occupied. The room, our bedroom, had not been decorated since we moved in in 1975; yes, I am quite excited at getting rid of the Lincrusta wallpaper - but what I am really excited about is the prospect of adequate wardrobe space.


  • The man in front of me at the till in Marks & Spencers had his money ready, a five pound note on top of his two-for-a-fiver ready meals. He completely confused the till assistant by asking "Is there tax on top of that?", but I thought of all the times I've been caught unawares in the States, when there was tax on top of that, and I sympathised.


  • I made pizza with today's batch of bread - actually, with about half of it, and the rest has made a round of buns. It rose spectacularly: a combination of hot weather and sloppier than usual dough, presumably. For the first time ever, the final rise before shaping had the dough nudging the dishcloth I'd laid over the top of it. I'll try the rolls for breakfast tomorrow - it doesn't seem right to breakfast on pizza, even if it's disguised as rolls and has no toppings on it. Well, if I don't like it, I'll thing of something else...


  • Last Saturday's Travel supplement told me that Tucson had become a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. I didn't know there was such a thing, and it sounded great. looking it up, it would seem to be part of a Creative Cities network, which seems more nebulous, with overtones of marketing, and why does it have to be all about cities, anyway? Downtown Tucson looked pretty and colourful, though.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
  • I breakfasted this morning on the last corner of a loaf of the rye / cornmeal bread. The dough had been very wet - too wet, really, I misjudged it, and as a result it was very sticky and hard to handle. But it had risen - and spread - spectacularly, which supports the hypothesis that the wetter the dough, the better the rise. If this were the only change from the usual I'd say "proves" rather than "supports", but I also forgot to add any salt. And yes, I could taste the difference. It was still good enough that I served it with cream cheese and smoked salmon as first course when J. came to dinner on Saturday.


  • The problem with being so enamoured of my own baking is that going out to breakfast, as we did on Monday, isn't the treat it should be. [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler had been looking for a reason to breakfast at Broom House Farm, and he always enjoys the traditional cooked breakfast. I quite enjoy it, but not at breakfast time, even if I've swum a thousand metres first, so I chose 'eggy bread' from the children's menu. It was excellent, but a massive helping: two thick doorsteps of fluffy wholemeal bread. Afterwards we came home to a pot of our own coffee - and I would have made toast, too, out of sheer greed, if I thought I could possibly have eaten it!


  • The snowdrops were blooming along the lane that leads to the farm.


  • The reason we chose to breakfast out on Monday was that it was going to be difficult to fit lunch in, as I was due at the Eye Infirmary at 1.30 for laser treatment to clear the clouding in my left eye (a not uncommon sequel to the cataract operation, apparently). This went very smoothly. I had expected to be aware of the laser beam, but didn't feel a thing - other than the lens which they put in the eye to help target the laser, which felt huge and angular, especially when I had to look up, down, left, tight... Anyway, I am beginning to see an improvement in my vision, which is encouraging.


  • STAnza, the St Andrews Poetry Festival, have been compiling a poetry map of Scotland. Almost all the poems seem very recent: so far I've only found one I already knew (attached to Sule Skerry) but I liked this Egilsay Calendar.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
... I tipped the last of a bag of nuts and raisins into the bread dough. Not cake exactly, but a festive Chazmas loaf.

Happy birthday, [livejournal.com profile] desperance!
shewhomust: (dandelion)
  • I wasn't consciously nervous about getting back on the horse after that total failure of my baking-fu. But somehow the next loaf didn't happen - that is, as the days passed and it kept being not convenient, and the starter aged, I eventually admitted defeat, used a spoonful of starter to seed the next batch and threw the rest away. The loaf after that, however, is a perfectly acceptable raisin and outmeal loaf: a little fragile, perhaps, but that's what you get if a loaf with a high oatmeal content rises nicely. I might try baking for (slightly) longer in a (slightly) lower oven, or I might not. Anyway, as [livejournal.com profile] weegoddess would say, I have toast - and that's the main thing.

  • Talking of [livejournal.com profile] weegoddess, she sent me this penguin mirror: it's a strange sort of mirror, and of course penguins aren't puffins, but we can't all be puffins. The fan is good, too.

  • I'm not looking for holiday ideas, thank you; and I'm particularly not looking for ideas for walking holidays, not until we've returned to walking more than we have been lately (one regret about our recent tour of the Hebrides is that I'd have liked less driving, more walking); I'd like to see more of Spain, though I was thinking of the north, not the south: despite all of which this looks fun.

  • The Co-op Membership Services e-mail me to say: "Every day is a picnic - You don't have to plan for a picnic when there's a Co-op nearby, so visit your Stornoway store for picnic inspiration, whatever the weather." And we did, it's true, visit the Stornoway store to buy provisions for a picnic, to be eaten in our B&B on a rainy evening. But "nearby"? Not really...

  • Other people's holiday shopping is more glamorous. J. invited us to dinner on Sunday, on the pretext that she wanted to empty and defrost the freezer. Dessert, however, was a tasting of Valrhona chocolate which she had bought, after much sampling, at the manufacturer's shop in Tain l'Hermitage: four bars of dark chocolate from different parts of the world, to be tasted in a specified order. I didn't take notes, and the website isn't helping, so all I can say is that they were all good, but that we disagreed with the recommended order, and thought #4 was an anticlimax after #3. All four were 62/64% cocoa solids, which supports my theory about the prevalent fetish for 85% (in brief, that it's a mistake. Or rather, that it's fine for cooking with, when you might as well start as high-cocoa as you can, since you're going to dilute it with other things; but if it's for eating, higher fat gives a better mouth-feel).
shewhomust: (dandelion)
I thought I was getting the hang of bread baking: the last few loaves have been well-behaved, rising as well as can be expected given my methods and choice of ingredients. So I was ready to experiment a little. It begins to feel like summer, and I wanted to make a lighter loaf - and it's a while since I've used saffron, which seemed appropriate, too.

I found a recipe in Elizabeth David's Bread Book - I found two, but opted for the (I think) first, the less cake-like of the two, for a variety of reasons, one of which was that it was to be baked in a loaf tin. I didn't follow it, exactly, but I took it as my starting point, and obeyed its instruction to steep the saffron in less milk than I would have anticipated, and then add more butter. This produced a dough which was almost, but not quite, too soft to handle, as long as my hands were well floured. After the usual pattern of rising and knocking back, the loaf that went into the oven was disconcertinly well-risen, standing proud above the tin.

After half an hour in the oven I could smell something - not burning, but definitely toasting. Too soon, surely! But I looked, and the top crust was well browned. Should I turn down the oven, oe move it down to a lower shelf? I gave the tin a shake, and the loaf moved freely, turned out without difficulty: this is usually a sign that it's done. I tapped the bottom, and it sounded hollow, which is usually conclusive.

But the following morning, when I tried to cut a slice for my breakfast, I discovered that the reason the loaf sounded hollow is that it was hollow. The outside is cooked (and makes perfectly acceptable, if rather fragile, toast), but there is a seam of undercooked dough and, running right through the middle of my golden beauty, a hole.

The next loaf will be one of my familiar, reliable bricks.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
[livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler, watching me take today's loaf* out of the oven: "It's risen unevenly**. It looks like Cross Fell."

*Swedish Summer Rye, more or less, from the Tassajara Bread Book; high bake, because we were so busy talking I forgot about it.

**It had not risen unevenly. But by the time I put it in the tin, it was extremely sticky, and uneven in shape. An even rise has preserved this.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
The last two loaves I made have both contained a proportion of buckwheat. I was a bit hesitant about this, as none of my bread recipes mention buckwheat, and the bag has been at the back of the drawer for quite a long time. In fact, "quite a long time" is several years: it must be, because I bought the flour in France, and when did I last have an opportunity to do that? I buy buckwheat flour (sarrasin or blé noir to make savoury pancakes, as they do in Brittany, and just had to check that buckwheat really is the English name. My French/English dictionary won't tell me the French for 'buckwheat', but it's willing to tell me the English for sarrasin, so that's all right. Books tell you that flour becomes rancid if you keep it too long, but I've never noticed any problems.

Proportions were: the usual starter, made with white flour, plus a third each of (wholemeal) spelt, buckwheat and the crunchy wholemeal from Lode Mill.

First time round, I used sunflour oil, and added sunflower seeds at the last kneading, so that most of them were on the crust, for added crunch. I ran out of time, so it didn't have as long for the final rise as I would have liked, but it wasn't too dense, and had a good nutty flavour. It made excellent toast, but it was too crumbly to make good sandwiches (they tasted fine, but tended to disintegrate).

Next time, having remembered to buy some sesame seeds, I used sesame oil, and I may have been too mean with it (it's quite strongly flavoured, and I didn't want to overdo it) as the resultant loaf had a rather cracked crust. It tasted fine, but bits fell off when I sliced it. I meant to give it longer to rise in the tin, but forgot to do this before we went out for tea with J., so this loaf, too, had a short final rise; despite which it rose very nicely in the oven, and the sesame seeds made a very tasty crust.

That was the end of the bag of flour; no more buckwheat loaves until I've been to France to stock up again.

And in other culinary news, dinner was a gammon joint with Jersey new potatoes, asparagus and Provençal rosé, with raspberries to follow. Despite the grey clouds, I am trying to will it to be summer - we head north on Thursday.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
My views on the correct time to eat hot cross buns are narrow in the extreme. It doesn't seem right that they appear in the shops as soon as Christmas is over, or even before; they should wait until Easter is within sight. But by then, of course, it is Lent, when a rich spiced dough would not be appropriate. So hot cross buns are permissible on Easter Sunday morning, and for a few days after - and that's all. Not that I observe Lent, or Easter for that matter, but I do enjoy the association of particular foods with particular seasons. So when it occurred to me that [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler would probably enjoy a bun with his birthday breakfast, I didn't make hot cross buns, I made spice buns (the difference being that they are cut across the top with a single slash, not a cross).

I knew I had done this before, and that I had adapted the recipe from Elizabeth David's bread book to suit my own method, so I assumed I would have some record of what I had done. But when I tracked down the relevant post, all I had written was "a mash-up of my basic sourdough, the recipe from Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery and what ingredients came to hand." Moreover, those ingredients were no longer to hand. So here, for the benefit of my future self, is what I did this time:

I warmed a scant 200 ml of milk in a saucepan with 2 oz butter, then let it cool a little before I beat in 2 eggs. This was the liquid that I added to the starter, and to which I added the flour: the resultant mixture was too wet - yes, wet is good, but this was too sticky to handle, and I had to add more flour. My first thought was that I should reduce the quantity of milk, but there is a further variable, because I had just started a new bag of flour.

The flour was one third plain white, one third spelt, and one third wholemeal; the wholemeal was from a bag I had bought last summer from Lode Mill at Anglesey Abbey, and it had an unexpected crunchiness about it. This made for a good crust, but I wonder whether the flour absorbs less liquid than usual? I must have added an extra couple of ounces of white flour to my basic pound of flour.

The spices were the traditional cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves: plenty of nutmeg and cautious with the cloves. I may have been over-cautious, because the nutmeg predominated. I wondered whether I should add some sugar, didn't do it, didn't miss it. The recipe calls for 4 oz currants, which is quite a lot, and even though the dough was shedding currants all the way, they must have contributed plenty of sweetness. If I were using the recipe to make hot cross buns, I might substitute a mixture of sultanas and candied peel, but I couldn't say why that feels more appropriate.

This made a dozen good-sized buns: I see no need to adjust the quantities, but a touch less liquid requiring a touch less flour wouldn't do any harm.

ETA (1.03.2016): 180 mls milk, 2oz butter, 1 egg wasn't enough liquid this time round. I had to add a small amount of water, and the resultant buns were a bit dense. This may also be an effect of a minimal final rise (one hour from forming into buns) but I don't think so: the rise was unspectacular throughout.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
I returned to the Guardian's recipe for 'Hot pink beetroot and spelt flour bread' (one of the submissions for 'best pink recipe'). The description is "This is light and fluffy with a sharp, tangy taste from the beetroot. It's perfect toasted and spread with homemade chutney," and I had some beetroot and wanted a loaf which would make good cheese sandwiches. I'd made it before, and it wasn't particularly pink, and it wasn't particularly tangy - but maybe this time I'd do better.

On the second attempt, the result was a light and fluffy loaf, with chunks of beetroot in it. It wasn't hot or pink - should I have used the cooking liquid from the beetroot? should I have grated it? the recipe didn't call for either of these things - and it still wasn't particularly tangy: I wonder whether you're supposed to use pickled beetroot? It made perfectly acceptable cheese sandwiches. I thought the thyme (and I'd been quite generous with the thyme) might make it over-savoury for breakfast, and that I'd do better to butter it and skip the sweet spreads - but then I tried it with the ginger curd I'd brought home from the market, and that was a great combination, especially as I've now reached the bottom of the jar where the pieces of ginger were all lurking.

Bear in mind that although I was following the recipe, I was following it at some difference, since I was adapting it for my sourdough process. Even so, it was a useful demonstration of factors that result in a lighter loaf: don't add too much flour (keep it on the soft-and-sticky side), use a higher proportion of white flour (or don't - lightness isn't everything). The use of butter rather than oil, and more of it than usual, may have had something to do with it, too. Since I had put butter in the load, I greased the tin with butter, and the loaf jumped out of the tin so sweetly, you'd never guess it's sometimes a problem - I'll be doing that again.

The other thing I learned is that if you add chopped beetroot to your bread, what you get is a loaf of bread with beetroot in it. I never seem to learn this lesson permanently. How often have I seen something on a menu and thought "Interesting combination - I wouldn't have thought that would work"? And then I order it, and it doesn't. The components are not magically transformed by being combined (except when they are, of course, but don't count on it).

There's nothing wrong with bread with beetroot in it, but I can think of any number of things I'd rather find in my breakfast toast. Which is why today's loaf has walnuts in it. The fat content is walnut oil, but I greased the tin with a butter wrapper, and a couple of shakes made the loaf jump out so sweetly...

Final verdict after breakfast tomorrow, but it's looking good...

EtA: Talking to the Bread Lady at the market this morning - she makes her beetroot sourdough with organic beetroot juice, not actual beetroot. Even so, it isn't all that pink. It might be interesting to try that approach, but with walnuts instead of chunks of beetroot, and maybe a little orange zest.

And I bought a loaf of her carrot sourdough (made with carrot juice) to try, because it's such a pretty colour, and I wanted some bread to accompany a Greek salad for tomorrow's first course.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
  1. Nigel Slater fantasises about what he would do if someone left a box of quinces on his doorstep - and then gives two recipes, one of which is, effectively 'serve poaches quince with gorgonzola cream' (sounds good); the other is for Quince and panettone pudding, but the proportions seem off: the recipe specifies 1.2 kilos of quinces (peeled and cored weight) to 220g panettone (or brioche): that's a whole lot of quinces.

  2. Mistakes do happen. In yesterday's Cook supplement, Henry Dimbleby concludes his introduction to a digest of his 'Back to Basics' series with the words: "And, finally, we have not included baked potatoes in the contents because I was weong. I am so sorry to all of you who sent me photos of your ovens looking like a culinary crime scene. Baked potatoes really can explode if you don't prick them with a fork. Quite violently, it turns out." Oh, yes. Been there, done that, washed the T-shirt. I've typed out the text, because I can't find it on the Guardian's website (though the column in which he claims that the exploding spud is an urban myth is still there).

  3. We had haggis for dinner. Since we did a big supermarket shop rather than going in to Durham yesterday, it was some fancy brand, i.e. not MacSween's, and it was not as good. The casing was some dark thin plastic, and the contents dense and claggy - not unpleasant, but, as [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler says, we'll be having the real thing on Burns Night.

  4. On the bright side, since I was cooking a haggis in the oven (in a bowl of water, because that's what you do), I was able to observe the effects of putting a bowl of water into the oven while the bread is baking. Today's chestnut loaf was rising very nicely even before it went into the oven, so this isn't conclusive, but it does seem to have helped.

  5. This is further support for the hypothesis that the wetter the dough, the better it rises - and the harder it is to get out of the tin.


ETA: some quince links, courtesy of [livejournal.com profile] cmcmck and [livejournal.com profile] browngirl: The NYT praises the quince, because there are quince trees at the Cloisters Museum. But there are more, at the USDA National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon. Quinces seem to be having a moment, and there are several cookbooks (or cooking and growing) books devoted entirely to quinces. Barbara Ghazarian wrote one of them. She has a quince blog.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Back in the dark days of December, I made Lussekatter.

A sequence of loaves had been, for one reason or another (one reason being a tendency to leave them too long in the oven, but another is a bit of a mystery) particularly crusty and / or dense. An oatmeal loaf, in particular, had refused to rise, and although the flavour was still good, and my breakfast toast still put me in a good mood for the day, it was a challenge to the teeth, and to the breadknife. I was ready to bake something completely different.

Then someone mentioned that it was nearly St Lucy's Day, and there must be Lussekatter. "Yes!" I thought. "I can do that." I had, of course, read [livejournal.com profile] mrissa's definitive post on the subject, and I knew this wasn't going to be easy: but baking with saffron, baking to bring back the sun, this sounded like what I needed.

So I selected a recipe from the many offered by the internet, and on the Thursday I baked; on the Friday we went to Richard's funeral, and on Saturday which was St Lucy's Day, there were golden saffron squiggles, just as there should be. They were good enough that I'd gladly do it again, so here's my version of the recipe:
Sourdough starter
300 ml milk
generous pinch saffron - reaally generous
3 oz sugar
4 oz butter
15oz plain flour
1 egg
salt
dried cranberries

  1. Warm, don't boil, the milk in a pan and add the butter and the saffron. Mix in a big bowl with the sourdough starter.

  2. Add the flour and mix into a smooth dough.

  3. Let it rise, knock it back, knead it a bit.

  4. Do it again. Kneading it was not as hard work as I had expected, and it really did do that thing the recipes promise where if you only keep kneading long enough the sticky mess will transform into a silky and coherent dough. That's never happened to me before.

  5. Divide the dough into 24 pieces, and knead each one lightly into a little bun (I saw that the recipe said '24 servings', and disbelieved; but it really did make 24 neat little cakes, smaller than I had pictured them but not ridiculously fiddly to handle).

  6. Let the buns rest for a few minutes, covered by a piece of cloth. Then form each bun into a string, 15-20 cm long (mine weren't as long as this - next time, try harder), then arrange the string in a suitable shape, e.g. an S or double S. Regardless of the shape, the ends of the string should meet.

  7. Press a few raisins into the dough - I tried to add my dried cranberries earlier, to give them a chance to plump up in the dough, but they made the dough harder to hanfle, and kept falling out. Cover the "Lucia cats" with a piece of cloth and let them rise for 40 minutes.

  8. Whip the egg together with a few grains of salt, and paint the "Lucia cats" with the mixture.

  9. Bake them for 5-10 minutes in the oven at 250°C / 475°F /Mark 6 until golden brownish yellow.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
This year it's all about the 31 days of Christmas. You can be as festive as you like in November, and get nothing from me but "Bah, humbug!" I even went to the pantomime in November (there were reasons), and I enjoyed it, but it didn't make me feel Christmassy. Then December arrived, and as if a switch had been thrown, 'tis the season. And these are the signs:
  • December began with a series of heavy frosts. A week on, and we're seeing no two days alike, but we've had some frosty mornings, just to remind us what it's like.

  • It's all Christmas music, all the time - and I don't mind. Some of it's good, and some of it isn't, but that's true of background music in public places all the year round. The month is young, and I may yet tire of it, but just now, it makes me smile.

  • Perhaps because the lights are switched on in November, they don't have the same effect. The evenings are dark and there are lights in the street: so? Durham's illuminated reindeer have been brought out for yet another year, and are looking a bit bedraggled. But lights are just starting at house windows, Christmas trees decorated and lit for the benefit of the people inside the house, then set at the windows to cheers passers-by outside...

  • I not only felt the urge to bake a chestnut loaf, which happens at any season if I have a supply of chestnut flour, but also added dried cranberries to it, so my breakfast toast has been seasonal. It has also been crustier than intended, because for the second time in three loaves I forgot to remove it from the oven until it was a fair bit better done than intended. This confirms my suspicion that the better cooked the loaf, the easier to remove from the tin, but now let's see if I can wind back to the optimum point.

  • I had forgotten all about Fenwick's window, and as I approached from the side lane, past the chapel, it took me a moment to realise what the music was (why does it have to be so loud?). The theme this year is Alice in Wonderland, which made me happy. A couple were trying to photograph themselves staning in front of one of the windows.

Strange things appear in the shops. Marks & Spencers offer a box in the shape of a tree containing, according to the label, chocolate whips. But there's nothing seasonal about that...
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Last weekend was Open Studios time in Newcastle's Ouseburn, and S. invited us to join her for Sunday brunch and to visit some studios thereafter. So we didn't spend as much time for hitting the studios or walking around the Ouseburn as we have done in some previous years, but on the plus side we had a delicious brunch with S., with the full cooked breakfast and ricotta pancakes and blueberries, and bread - well, OK, the bread was of my baking, and I think I have finally cracked Emily Dickinson's rye/cornmeal loaf - and conversation. And [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler and I managed to visit the Mushroom Works before breakfast, where I bought some Christmas presents. I was interested to chat with Jane Frazer: her website shows some of the pieces I liked, her woven mesh and photo pieces, but not the long, loosely knitted strips holding a sequence of tiny pebbles. You could do something similar with my collection of fragments of blue-and-white pottery, I said, and yes, she said, she could...

The Ouseburn Monument

After breakfast we went back to the other end of the Ouseburn - the river runs in a culvert under the monument in the photograph - and wandered through the various studios, and it was all agreeable enough but nothing particularly exciting. The things I liked were by people whose work I already knew I liked, there were no new discoveries.

On Tuesday we went into Newcastle again, for the North East Labour History Society's 'First Tuesday' talk, because it was about William Morris's visit to the North East during the Northumberland Miners' Strike. The speaker said that Morris had only visited Newcastle upon two occasions, and I could nit-pick and say that he travelled through Newcastle on his way to Iceland. But I won't, because it was a good talk, setting one small event in context, in Morris's life and thought, and in the history of the North East, and opening up to lively discussion afterwards.

It took place at the Newcastle Irish Centre, which is on the border of Chinatown, so afterwards we went down Stowell Street in search of Chinese food. We chose the Royal Emperor very nearly at random, and were well pleased. The charming young waiters looked after us, and took pains to serve us quickly so that we could reclaim our car from the car park before it closed. We had both chosen the a stir fry of scallops and broccoli for the main course, and briefly I regretted this - but once I tasted it, I knew I wouldn't have wanted to share it: the broccoli green and crunchy, the scallops milky sweet, the fresh heat of the slivers of ginger.

And since it is now December, we had Christmas music throughout.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
While my back was turned, The Guardian has reorganised its Saturday magazine: as D. says, they have got rid of Lucy Mangan and replaced her with yet more cooking. By and large, this isn't a good thing.

However, a column headed 'Breakfast of Champions' (yes, I know) offered a recipe for Emily Dickinson's rye and cornmeal bread, and that seemed worth trying. I had to make quite a few changes to adapt it to my sourdough process, so what I made wasn't quite Emily Dickinson's version, and it isn't her fault if it came out dense and chewy (and the crust even more so, which made it difficult to slice). But in a good way, so worth further experiment, and here, for my future reference, is what I did:

I added 5 oz cornmeal (all that was left in the jar) to 240 g water and a teaspoonful of salt, brought it to the boil, stirred it for a minute or two, then added a (generous) tablespoonful of molasses - not molasses sugar, whatever that is, but molasses itself, which I find it difficult to spoon other than generously.

I left this mixture to stand while I re-started the sourdough, then scraped it into the big bread bowl and added the remains of the starter, and 5 ozs each white and rye flour. As I mixed in the flour, the dough felt very grainy at first, and it took maybe another ounce of water before all the flour was mixed it.

Thereafter, my usual sourdough process: left it for an hour or so, knocked it back, left it rather longer, knocked it back again, left it another couple of hours, kneaded it into a ball - and by now it was a whole lot easier and springier to handle, much to my relief - rolled it in rye flour and dusted a baking sheet with more flour, slashed the top of the loaf and let it rise on the tray until I was ready to bake it (400°F for maybe 40 minutes, and I didn't do the thing with the boiling water in the oven because I am a wimp).

Another time: well, I was deliberately mean with the water, because it's so easy to end up with a sticky mess. Another time I might use a bit more - though I note that using these quantities, the loaf made a nice round ball, with a smart open slash on the top. A wetter mix might not behave so well (decisions, decisions!). I might also try using this way of incorporating cornmeal into my usual loaf, regardless of the rest of the recipe. I note also that there is no oil in this recipe, and I might try adding the usual amount before kneading. I missed out the baking powder, but no doubt Ms. Dickinson had her reasons for including it, and I probably ought to give it a try before deciding against it.

And one of these days I ought to try that thing with the boiling water...
shewhomust: (dandelion)
- not one LJ post, but two rolled into one.

For one thing, there are the last three loaves of my own baking. Of which the first was a particularly brick-like rye loaf. Lightness is not what I look for in a rye loaf, and the flavour was good, but oh, it was solid! Maybe this was my fault: my timing was off, and I may have fudged the process (leaving it to rise for just as long, but missing out one of the knocking back stages). Not certain, but I may have.

The next time I baked, I added some left-over basmati rice (I don't deliberately boil too much rice, but when I check my scales they seem accurate enough, and since I like the effect of mixing an ounce or so of cooked rice into the bread, I'm pretty relaxed about it). The resulting dough was on the wet side, though I thought I had held back on the water to balance the moistness of the rice, and a bit sticky, but a little oil made it easy enough to handle, and the outcome was a - by my standards - spectacularly light loaf.

It was at this point that I came across [livejournal.com profile] desperance and [livejournal.com profile] mrissa talking about rye dough: nasty sticky stuff, they said, hard work but yes, pretty much rises. This was a challenge, so my next loaf was another rye loaf (actually one part spelt / one rye / one white flour, plus the white flour of the sourdough starter: this may be less rye than last time round). From the start, it was rising cheerfully, and it was hideous to handle ([livejournal.com profile] desperance says that his favourite joke is "What's brown and sticky?" but "sourdough rye" is not the canonical answer). It swallowed as much oil as I was prepared to give it, and then a little more, so in the end I missed out a knocking back stage this time too, because I couln't bear the prospect of having to scrape it out of the bowl again, so I put it straight into the tin. And then left it to rise for longer than I meant to, because I had to be out of the kitchen at a crucial point. It doesn't seem to have suffered at all, and is light and crusty and delicious.

Next time I will follow [livejournal.com profile] mrissa's method: let the dough rest ten minutes after the flour goes in, then knead for forever and a year. And we'll see what happens.

Last night [livejournal.com profile] sunspiral and [livejournal.com profile] roozle came to dinner, and there were another two loaves in that meal, though both of those were bought. The pesto loaf which accompanied the tomato salad was at least artisan work, provided by the Bread Lady from the market. The oaten sliced loaf which I had bought in M & S because it was reduced and I thought it would freeze and be handy for sandwiches was - on second thoughts - ideal for making summer pudding, the dessert that I only decided on when we reached the greengrocer.

What stands out about the evening wasn't the food, though, but the talk. We hadn't met [livejournal.com profile] sunspiral or [livejournal.com profile] roozle before, though we'd heard a lot about them from [livejournal.com profile] weegoddess. on reflection, perhaps we shouldn't have started our acquaintance by trying to drown them, but it seemed like a good idea at the time: [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler Roger met them at their hotel and walked them here by the scenic route, but unfortunately the heavens opened, and they arrived drenched and dripping, and were extremely forebearing about it. The forecast had been for occasional showers, but this was torrential, and it went on and on... We talked about WorldCon and panel moderation and malt whisky and comics and family and...

And look forward to talking more on the other side of the Atlantic.

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