Monday, 27 January 2014

Rather more than 52 loaves

Clockwise from top left: Shipton Mill overnight loaf; River Cottage muffins; treacle plait; roti

At the rate we're going, I shall have baked far more than 52 loaves this year, and will end up the size of a house, or at least a generous caravan. I am finding that homemade bread is more filling than shop bought so that while I am baking most days, they are little loaves and many are using wholegrain flours and/or seeds.

So, this week the successes have included and overnight rising bread which started with a tiny bit of yeast (recipe here); River Cottage English muffins which are far too delicious to be legal; a plaited loaf from an old Bake Off book that had treacle in it and turned rather brown; and an old favourite, roti that puff up if you get them just right and are gorgeous wrapped around curried chickpeas. Yum Yum.

Evil in bread form

There was, however, one complete disaster. I had been so looking forward to making this loaf, called the Hazel Maizel. It includes maize meal and apple juice and sounded really interesting. It baked up well, looked good and my husband seemed to like it. I cut & buttered two slices for my bread obsessed smaller daughter. After a couple of bites she said "Erm, I'm not that hungry actually, mum," and went off to get ready for school. Not wanting to waste the precious crumbs, I took a bit bite. Oh. Oh dear. I thought I was going to have to spit it out. It was still kicking round the kitchen the next morning, which is unheard of. Needless to say, I shan't be making it again.

Full of promise ...

As to the next batch - exciting times ahead as I start experimenting with a rye sourdough starter that has gone through the first week or so of maturation and is just about ready for use ...

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Back to basics

I am mostly a self taught weaver. I took a term of nightclasses when I was living in the US twenty years ago, and went to a few workshops but most of my baskets were woven from books and patterns and just messing about with rattan cane at home. Since I returned to the UK I have been concentrating on weaving with English willow, learning mostly with Debbie Hall at Salix Arts, and weaving by myself for days and days using rods with gloriously coloured bark.

Recently I discovered there's another basketmaker living locally. Roger specialises in working with buff and white willow, and beautiful decorative plaited borders, and actually makes willow coffins most of the time. I decided to visit last week to make a basket with him, to see how he works and to pick up some tips. I wasn't too worried about what our project was so together we came up with a simple round design that would allow time to look at each stage in very close detail, placing every single stroke with immense care, and the result is a tray that I'm really very proud of. It's rare for me to look at a piece I've made without picking out the mistakes, but this one ... well, for once I can see far more good than bad.

I'll be going back in a couple of weeks to make a different style of basket with a variation on the braid decoration. If it works out you can be certain I'll be showing photos!

Friday, 17 January 2014

The Year in Books: January

I used to belong to a village bookclub that met once a month; we had a lovely group, though to be honest some months there was less book discussion and more drinking wine and chatting. But it was a happy hour or two out, with good company and some interesting reading.

Times change and while the book group is still going, the crowd that were in it when I was no longer attend; the dynamic changed, the books became very serious and I was finding that more often than not I hadn't read them, so I stopped.

Laura's idea for an informal online reading group appealed to me enormously. We get to choose what we read, and how we write about it. Our only commitment is to try to read one book per month, Surely I can manage that?

So, my choice for this month is the Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler. No, it isn't great literature, but I am enjoying it and I am actually reading again, and for now I am happy with that much.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Let's try that again, shall we?

Cloth by Tracy
Did you spot my deliberate mistake? Did you? It is, of course the 2014 bread challenge. I failed the 2013 one. Moving swiftly on ...

I've been baking again this week, so the "not a resolution"is holding up so far. I made another maltloaf/white mix, using 2/3 regular flour and this time while my husband declared it delicious, I thought it lacked much character at all. Might be better with wholemeal and maltloaf ... that's for another day.

I did make granary, with proper granary flour and it did just what granary bread should do, but the standout this week for me was a good old reliable soda bread. Only, instead of using my usual safe white flour version, I made the River Cottage wholemeal variation, with a tablespoon of black treacle added to it. Oh my. I swear the children actually made "yummmm!" noises which is completely unheard of with any form of non plastic bread. Mind you, it was a very late lunch and they were probably starving ...

A bit singed, but undeniably delicious!

Monday, 6 January 2014

2013 Bread Challenge

Happy New Year! Hope you had a good Christmas and New Year. We did, but now it's nearly time for back to school and work - Mr DC has already been back for days. We took down the decorations yesterday, always for me a far more depressing day than Boxing Day ever was.

I don't make resolutions to get fit or lose weight or give up wine or chocolate - I never, ever stick to them and don't have any desire to make myself feel guilty over my inability to keep them. Instead, I've set myself a variation on a challenge I took up a couple of years back. At the start of 2012, I decided to try at least one new recipe every week - which doesn't sound much but we were falling into a tedious pattern of cooking the same meals each week despite having a shelf filled with cookery books. It worked, and we're still sticking to it.

One of those books is the River Cottage bread handbook. It was a birthday present and the recipes are very reliable - I've made the basic white loaf and the focaccia countless times. I've become far braver about hand kneading and working with very sticky dough, and my bread making has definitely improved but I'm ready for a new challenge. So this year, determined to become a better baker, I've decided to work my way through it, nominally one loaf per week but we shall see. I am inspired by @littlegreenshed on twitter, who is involving her whole family in a year long quest to bake a loaf each week.

I had intended to start with seeded granary bread; I was a rather low on supplies, but I pressed on using some Wessex Mill malted flour I had in the cupboard. I opened the packet and was a bit perturbed by the colour; I pressed on regardless but as it turned out to be heading towards malt loaf (which, to be fair, was the manufacturer's intention!) I mixed it half and half with strong white bread flour and threw in a handful of roughly chopped pumpkin seeds. It turned out well, though I'm not sure the flour is one I'd buy again once this bag is used up. I've since read that Baking James Morton used an even smaller proportion of this flour in the loaf he made with it.

It does make good toast though!