Thursday, 25 April 2013

A study in bread

As I write, there are two granary loaves having their second prove and due to go in the oven just after 8am. It would be true to say that I am developing the body clock of a baker and in order to bake bread seem to be waking up earlier and earlier without any alarm clock. Lucky I do not have to leave the house early for work today but I am still off out just after nine with one of the loaves as a gift. Well, actually, more like showing off. This will be the first time I have truly made a double batch of bread so that I can bake one to use and one to give away.

In order of play....

This was my very first loaf of bread. Made just two weeks ago to the day using a simple Paul Hollywood recipe.

Inside the same loaf. I do not yet fully understand the terminology such as what is a good crumb, all I know is I was amazed and impressed and it tasted good.

Due to work commitments I had to wait until Saturday morning before I could bake again and I started off with this variation on the same recipe using half and half white and wholemeal flour. It is dusted with oatmeal we had in the cupboard. Another tasty loaf.

That same morning (yes, it is still Saturday morning) I decide to go stupidly ambitious and try for Paul Hollywood's 8 plait loaf. That plaiting was hard and not executed right on account of something going amiss with me and the recipe and the dough was far too wet. The fact any shape remained was really quite something it was that wet. Next time I'd go for just a 3 or 4 plait bread. The other thing was the recipe I picked up from the BBC website only said one sachet of yeast and all other recipes said two sachets. Since then, I have only gone for recipes that weigh out yeast and since I am making quite a bit of bread now buy yeast in more economical tins.

With the egg wash, the 8 plait is looking like chollah bread and tastes a bit like it and has that weight and texture so this loaf was still a great success. Needs more work!

Next up on Saturday, deciding I wanted more of a tin shaped loaf, I made a wholemeal tin. Rather nice and nothing to complain about this loaf. I am still amazed that all my bread so far is not tasting yeasty and is quite delicious. The bread is stacking up.

The Saturday baking marathon rolls on with Chelsea Buns. Made with leftover dried fruits I had which happened to be luxurious dried cranberries and blueberries, with cinnamon, butter and sugar. By now I am getting blase and I forgot to take a picture of all of them - a tray of 12 plus a few extra. I also forgot to put a little sugar glaze on them. They did dry out very quickly and in the recipe they say they should be eaten the same day. So what is a girl to do ..... the other half plus the breads were popped into a basket and I walked them round to my sister to share the bounty.

That same day I managed to pop out to the supermarket to buy different flours and some yeast to experiment. Sunday was yet to come and I wasn't really intending to bake bread again. Honest!

First up was my "granary" loaf using malted grain flour. How curious that the word "granary" is a trademark of Hovis or so I read on a number of websites! Anyway, this was my most delicious loaf so far. Yum yum. I topped with pumpkin and sunflower seeds but they just fell off when the bread was cut.

I just checked my two loaves and they are nearly ready to go in the oven so the oven is on heating up. This would then make three loaves of bread from one bag of specialist flour which admittedly was a bit pricey compared to an 80p bag of white bread flour but I know which I prefer to eat on a regular basis.

Whilst I was waiting for the granary to rise, or maybe I started these first as they took hours to do their thing - normally an overnight but as I started early on the Sunday they were ready to continue by Sunday afternoon - I whipped up a batch of ....

Bagels! They look a bit wrinkly and indeed they were. My working with the dough has a way to go. There is something to be said for confidence with the dough. Oh yes, the other thing is that most people use those big professional mixers to mix this heavy dough but we do not have one. So it was a hand job - a whole half hour using my bingo-winged arms as dough hooks in a bowl on the floor. After their rising they were boiled briefly and then into the oven to cook at which point they fluffed up and tidied up to this state. They tasted OK too. Not too bready, very dense and chewy. Not quite the standard of Bagels from Radlett and nowhere near the delights of Brick Lane but not bad.

Clearly I am becoming blase with taking pictures as we do not have pictures more closeup or inside the bagels. Nor do I have any pictures of the burger buns I made the same day which we ate for dinner as burgers. Nor do we have pictures of the crumpets I attempted the following week. That Paul Hollywood and his Monday night programme (series now ended) has a lot to answer for. The crumpets were interesting and had promise though not right. Probably because I did not have regular plain flour and I made such a tiny quantity. And then everyone kept phoning me up and needing me that morning that the batter did not have my full attention. Another one to work one.

I did however, take a photo of the next thing I made last Thursday...

Four French sticks! I still can not believe I am making these breads. Inside they seemed pretty authentic with their fluffiness. The outside sounded crunchy. Oh yes. Heaven. I have more to work on with these as I want the crusts to be crunchier still. The amount of youtubes I have watched and websites I have read about bread making have been obscene. I'm feeling like a sponge having discovered a new toy soaking up as much as I can. Life and work really does get in the way a bit!

This brings me to the sourdough. I started the starter on that first Sunday and then baked my first loaf of bread with it eight days later. The starter was only just developing a foam of bubbles and whilst  making that loaf I discovered that people's sourdough starter actually quadruple in size. Oh dear. And yet, that first loaf rose really well over four hours on the first proving. Meanwhile, I fed my sourdough starter again...

... and had the overflowing beast. I've also discovered that people feed their starter twice a day instead of the once a day I was doing. It is fed flour and water and the natural yeast already present in flour is utilised and becomes the rising agent. So now I have made my first sourdough loaf I am still not sure why I am bothering with all this discarding half and feeding twice a day.

Here it is since having grown and burst forth and then gone back down again. Now I have reduced the sourdough back down to where it should be to allow for rising. I find myself washing out the jar each time, having decanted what I am keeping into a mixing bowl, and it is such a kerfuffle. Now that I have kept feeding and it continually grows my little monster will be going into the refrigerator as I shall be away and that it is the safest place to keep it and then I only need feed it once a week. Anyway, my first sourdough loaf....

During its last rise it stuck to my home made banneton which was a floured tea towel in a bowl. It was also a very wet dough and it just spread and spread. I should have baked it that same night but I was home late from work and thought it would be OK to sit overnight and perhaps it lost all its oomph.

The bread had a wet look about it though it did not feel particularly wet. It actually tasted alright and was eaten. The taste was OK though not worth the effort involved so far. I am still not sure what is to rave about with sourdough.

With all my sourdough starter there was a point in which I thought I do not want to discard. Wrong move though with a nice consequence. Clearly I could not afford to keep feeding this beasty. So for the first time I went into free form and used a lot of starter with a decent wadge of flour and a booster sprinkle of yeast and salt and some oil and less than the usual kneading and made this in a very short period of time as I do work and have umpteen other things I need to do too.

My sourdough and yeast, slightly wholemeal loaf was quite OK. Baked Tuesday night it made good chip buttys last night as we were helping out at another event in the town and we did not have time and we're northerners now you know! I'm not sure I want to risk throwing stuff together too often but this worked out.

Currently the two granary loaves are baking in the oven and filling the place with a lovely smell.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Goddess of domesticity

Something most remarkable has happened in our neck of the woods - the domesticity goddess came to visit a couple of weeks ago and is still here. It started off with a need to either throw out all my good hair bands (for clients) because the velcro had worn out or else to pick the velcro off and sew on new extra long patches. Amazingly, I fetched the sewing machine from my sister and took the latter option. Having completed a job (double yay that I completed something) I then looked around at what else I could sew and took a couple of sizes off my favourite summer shift dress. It is a simple blue gingham Marks & Spencer number that I bought from a charity shop over six years ago and I still wear even though it was getting baggier with my shrinking weight. Now it fits me fabulously, all slim and curvy. All enthused I then hemmed some gorgeous sarong fabric I have and used exciting stitches as it is a computer sewing machine. It took some work getting the tension right and there are still issues which I will work out in due course.

A couple of days later, somewhere out of the blue, I decided to make my first loaf of bread. It was an incredible success. Delicious, risen and not the slightest whiff or taste of yeast. A delight. That weekend followed with waking up unnecessarily at 6am and wandering into the kitchen. By the end of Saturday I had made at least three different types of bread, including wholemeal, a tin loaf, Paul Hollywood's eight plait loaf, and Chelsea Buns. I had always thought Chelsea Buns were too difficult but not in the least. At the end of the day I took my basket of baked goods and walked over to my sis and family to share my wares with suitably impressed responses.

Sunday was a similar story and by the end I had made whole grain malt bread (aka Granary but apparently Granary is a trademarked name!) which I consider to be one of my best breads so far, burger buns (just four so that my son could make us burgers for dinner), bagels, and started a sourdough starter. The bagels were mixed by hand as I do not have one of those fancy kitchen mixers and my goodness the workout I received. They were actually good and tasted like bagels - maybe not the best bagels but not too bready. When making them and with all the workout I thought I'm never doing this again. It was like having a baby, once the finished article was there I am full of excitement to do them again and how to improve (that last bit is definitely not like having a baby because they all come out looking perfect no matter what!). Talking of which, my son actually took a picture of my bagels to show his friend and even wanted to to take some in to work to give to his baking friends! I declined as they are just my first batch and will hopefully be better other times.

Since then I have had a full work schedule though somehow have managed to experiment with making crumpets and yesterday I made French baguettes. Oh my goodness. The baguettes looked like something out of a proper bakery and tasted pretty good. I don't have any fancy equipment and used a floured tea towel to help shape them and put them onto a regular baking tray to cook - I don't have a baking stone. The French sticks can still be better and so I am looking forward to making those again. From 500 gm of bread flour plus a little yeast, salt and water yielded 4 medium sticks. A bag of bread flour costs 80 pence and contains three times that amount of flour. I reckon the cost of running the oven for twenty minutes plus heating time cost as much as the flour.

The sourdough starter is being nursed. I am just using the flour and water variety and currently it is at the stinky stage. By early next week it should transform into something supposedly lovely and can be used as a yeast substitute. I am gobsmacked that at last in my life I can eat homemade bread and think "wow" this tastes amazing and not taste the yeast.

One wonders how long this curiosity and enjoyment will last so I am just enjoying it for now. Part of me wants to retire and just bake bread and sew! I have lots of photos of course - just like a new parent. However, as I am off to work shortly it was either a case of what baked goods could I make before going or write a blog post. Photos will have to be added another time.

Busy day and weekend ahead. Have to be somewhere at 6am on Saturday and Sunday as I am volunteering at a community event. Oh joy, when I said I would help I had no idea it would mean 6am starts. And bread making will have to take a back seat. At least I can tend to my sourdough starter.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Croak and splutter

Here I am, once again, weeks later and still with an impressive cough. My voice croaks but at good times sounds impressively gravelly and sexy. I am taking really good supplements and my diet is not too bad. I drink plenty of fluids. I have dabbled again in hydrogen peroxide therapy but can not seem to get past about five or six drops of the stuff at any one time. Dairy is eliminated from my diet apart from one or two isolated incidents which I will endeavour to also desist from. And I have been back on my warrior diet for over a month now, which is about the body healing itself rather than being just in growth mode. I am writing this down here as an aide memoir.

It seems to me that possibly I seem to have a weakness in my coughing faculties. Or perhaps, it is not a weakness and is a strength? How is that for a positive spin ..... after all, my body is trying to expel whatever it is .... so what am I trying to hold on to? Maybe that is at the heart of it all.

Or maybe instead of having my lifelong monthly migraine blowouts, which I no longer have except on a rare occasion these days, my body has transferred to the cough/cold as its illness of choice? It would be true to recognise that I have had an emotionally battered time during the first months of this year. Coping with a dying friend and even though it is not I that is ill, there is something about life and death which keeps punching you in the gut. Something about the mysteries of life as well as actually seeing someone in difficulty and discomfort.

Sometimes I feel like my shoulders are too tiny to cope with the things I do. Or is that just the little child in me wanting to run away or to have an all powerful parent to come and protect.

At this moment, the sun is shining through the windows straight into my eyes. The windows are already open with the cool fresh air of the morning sweeping through. The house is quiet and son will soon be up to get dressed smartly for work: luckily his journey is only a few minutes and he is on flexi time so he will not be late. I might still go give him a call. Mr Doris goes to bed late so he earns the right to get up late... so it is just me here right now with the lovely breeze, and my cough.

Sunday, 7 April 2013


Yesterday morning I could feel it coming on. Persistently like a dark cloud rolling quietly in rather sneakily and not in any dramatic way. Everything I did seem to add to its weight until the point I arrived at work and proceeded to burst into tears. Tears and work just do not mix. Not professionally and not practically. The tears help I suppose by letting the pressure off a little and then I manage to pull myself together because I have to pull myself together for others. My first client soon arrived and that was it, get on with it and do a good job. Which I did and is what I do. Put on a happy face. They do not know and have no idea.

Saturday, 6 April 2013


According to a BBC article that is being read like the gospel, the UK now has seven classes. As in "Class". So of course one takes the handy online calculator because we all like a good online quiz. The end results are baffling on two fronts. One is that my husband and I are both scored as "Precariats" which is defined as: "This is the most deprived class of all with low levels of economic, cultural and social capital. The everyday lives of members of this class are precarious." And the other is, according to this "quiz", where is the financial depression swamping this country? Either there is wealth involved (income and savings) or people are taking part in activities that require money. Playing computer games apparently scores you more points - so who owns the computer or pays for the electricity supply to enable that? Going to the gym scores you more points - who pays for the gym membership?

What sort of quiz can give one the label of "Elite: This is the most privileged class in Great Britain who have high levels of all three capitals. Their high amount of economic capital sets them apart from everyone else." when you put in the highest income, house value and savings and yet score nothing for social and cultural capital. 

The old class system is antiquated and wrong and I reckon any new classification system is inherently wrong too. Leave me out of it.