No need for a runcible spoon……

slicing-quince-for-jelly

The last of the wildlings are just about ready to fall off the trees, easy to see now that the branches are half bare and the fruit has turned golden yellow…one of my favourite breakfast jams (well more of a jelly along the lines of a wobbly, peel-less marmalade) to make is Quince and Wildling jelly….this isn’t the true quince as eaten off a runcible spoon by the owl and the pussycat, but the smaller fruiting Japonica quince (Chaenomeles)….I noticed one growing up up the road and round the corner a ways a few years ago and decided to pick some fruit and make a jelly…the results were very good as the fruit contains plenty of pectin and also takes on other flavours well too….I tend to use it alongside the wildlings as the small quince never harvest very much (though this year I gathered just under 850 grammes) …

I tend to pick the quince before they are fully ripe and then get to enjoy a couple of weeks as they slowly ripen in a huge bowl in our sitting room…the scent is all sherbetty and citrussy and makes me think of Turkish Delight and Arabian Nights….

apples and quinces

The quince need to be simmered a little longer than the apples so I tend to give them a wipe over with a clean damp cloth and then slice them into discs, pop them into a large heavy bottomed pan where they are covered with water and slowly allowed to soften…then the prepared wildlings are tumbled in and simmered…

The golden hued jelly is lovely as a breakfast preserve, it really suits soft brioche rolls and fluffy breakfast buns rather than wholemeal toasts (though feel free to eat it like that if you  prefer)…it also works well to heat and use as a glaze on top of pastries….

quince and wildling jelly

(sometimes I run out of jam jars for the last little bit of jelly so I just put what is left in the pan in a tea cup and keep it in the fridge)

This is a link to my original recipe (I used half a cinnamon quill to add another note of flavour) but this is the version I made this week…..

Golden hued quince and wildling jelly

Ingredients

850 g  Japonica quince

1500 g of wildlings (what we call apples that just grow randomly and whose variety is unknown)

Granulated Sugar (I tend to keep a couple of those huge 2 kilo size bags around for making jelly and jam this time of year)

(allowing the juice to slowly drip I got 1500ml of juice, but then I squeezed the bag and measured out another 350 ml….I could have squeezed more if I had wanted…)

sliced quince

Method….

Wash the japonica quince in cool water, pat dry, and slice into discs….place all the fruit into a large heavy bottomed pan (or a stainless steel jam pan), cover with water (for every 100 g of fruit you need to use 200 ml of water)…on a gentle heat, bring to a slow simmer and allow the fruit to soften…

After about half an hour, wash and wipe over the wildlings and chop into pieces, add the apples to the quince (including the cores) and also some more water…this time for every 100 g of apples I use 75 ml of water….continue to allow the fruit to simmer til the apples become fluffy and “lambswoolly”…..while the apples and quince are cookng you can add a quill of cinnamon or a dried star anise, but this time I added a couple of leaves from my Attar of Roses Pelargonium for a delicate floral note……

Once the fruit has softened, allow to cool…if you like you can break the fruit up even more with a potato masher…once the fruity pulp has fully cooled, pour it into a wet jelly bag (I tend to use an old pillow case that I use only for jam and jelly making)…hang the bag of fruit pulp up so it can slowly drip into a bowl and leave for a good few hours or overnight…

If you don’t squeeze the bag the resulting jelly will be clear and dazzling, but if you aren’t planning on using the jelly for Village Fetes or local shows, then squeeze away as you will be able to make several more jars with the resulting juice, it will still taste as nice but won’t be quite so ooh to look at…..

Measure the juice, for every litre of juice you want to use 1 kilo of granulated sugar…..

At this stage, pop a couple of saucers into the freezer ready to use for a set test…and make sure you have plenty of sterilized jam jars being kept warm….

In a clean jam pan, combine the juice and sugar….slowly heat and allow the sugar to dissolve, keep stirring and then turn up the heat so you get a nice rolling boil….. being wild fruit, a lot more white froth will be produced, it’s best to try and remove as much of this as you can as the froth contains a lot of air and this will prevent the jelly from keeping as well as it should….

Once the fruity syrup has been boiling for about 5 minutes, check for a set…I tend to do this by spooning out a little of the syrupy liquid onto a saucer straight from the freezer…give it a minute or so and then push your finger into it….if it wrinkles then it is ready, if it remains all liquidy then give the jelly another minute or two at the rolling boil and test again but be careful not to overboil….once you get the wrinkle, carefully laddle the jelly syrup into sterilised jars and gently lay on top waxed paper discs, allow to fully  cool before covering with cellophane circles and elastic bands………this is quite a soft set jelly, so it’s lovely and wobbly…..

The resulting colour is a beautiful mellow, golden and honey jelly and is just perfect for slow weekend breakfasts on brioche rolls or fluffy white breakfast buns….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One a penny, two a penny…my best hot cross buns yet…….

sourdough hot cross buns

I love baking bread, tinkering with the recipe slightly to create different tasting loaves….and while I’m happy to make a fruity loaf any old time of the year, I only make Hot Cross buns for Easter or Ostara weekend…..

When I was small my mum seemed to spend all day baking them, there were lots of hungry little mouths wanting “just one more”, and then my dad could eat 2 or 3 with a cup of tea no worries…..we’d eat them from Friday through to Sunday then that would be that for another year…and when I got older and left home I just started baking my own, something that has seemed as natural to do as any other seasonal eating like making jam or marmalade or gingerbread….

Over the past couple of years I’ve tried to experiment a bit more with what I call our daily loaf, using natural starters and leavens to make the bread rise, the dough this makes is really good for pizzas and fruit topped breakfast breads (a bit like a German style Kuchen) and last year I wondered how an even longer time for the sponge to sit and the dough to prove would fit in with my daily routine so the buns would be ready for breakfast……..

It was a tiny bit pfaffy because you need to make a bread sponge (which is just some flour and water added to the starter) on Wednesday evening, but then you just cover it with a clean cloth til late afternoon the following day, add the rest of the ingredients and allow the dough to prove til you make a pre bedtime drink, shape the buns then put them on a tray into the fridge overnight, next day you’ll want to set the alarm early, take the buns out so they have about a couple of hours in the warm kitchen before you pop them in the oven and bake them……but the mmm’s and sighs of appreciation you’ll hear as your friends and family eat them are well worth any extra effort…

These really were the best buns I think I’ve ever made and while I like my other recipes for hot cross buns just fine, I certainly do think these are the most mmmm ones yet……

My best hot cross buns yet (as far as I’m concerned)…..

fourth-stage-of-the-starter

Wednesday Night

Sponge

200g Bread Flour

160g Starter

300ml Tepid Water

A handful of currants

2 desertspoons of dark brown sugar

Now normally I use milk to make hot cross buns but as I knew this was going to be sitting out overnight I used water…..

In a medium sized bowl mix together the above ingredients, then cover with a clean cloth and leave overnight until late afternoon the next day…..the sponge will be lovely and light and airy and all hubbley bubbley….

Thursday afternoon

Making the Dough

100g bread flour plus as much as the dough will need

30g melted butter

1 large egg beaten

Spice mix*

1 teaspoon Maldon sea salt

*1 tsp of cinnamon, some nutmeg, 1/2 tsp of ground clove and then 1/2 tsp of ground cumin

Add all the ingredients into the sponge and mix together with a silicon spatula (it’s going to be really sticky)…keep adding a small handful of bread flour at a time and once the dough stops being quite so sticky, empty it out onto a worktop and begin to knead it together…add more flour as and when the dough requires…once the dough becomes cool and silky, lightly oil a large bowl, place in the dough, turn it over so it’s lightly coated and again cover with a clean cloth….allow to prove for a few hours…..

sticky and still hot from the oven

Making the buns

Once the dough has been left to prove for a few hours, gently knock it back and then cut the dough in half, then half, then half and finally half again so you end up with 16 pieces of dough which you will want to roll in your hand to make a nice shape….

Place the buns onto a lined baking tray and then with a plastic spatula or fish slice, press down and then again at 90 degrees to make a cross in the top of the bun (I find dipping the spatula into flour every other time stops it from sticking in the dough)…then leave the buns in the fridge overnight.

The next morning

Egg Wash

1 egg

a splash of milk

Just whisk the two ingredients together….. Any left over can be put in the fridge and used for lunch in an omelette)

Flour Paste

3 or 4 heaped tablespoons of plain flour

2 teaspoons of castor sugar

2 or 3 tablespoons of water

Mix the paste well, you want it to be nice and thick, not runny or the cross will just slide right off

Sugar Syrup

A tablespoon of castor sugar

A tablespoon of just boiled water

Try to make this just before the buns come out of the oven, I tend to make it in a little cup and then as soon as the buns come out, I quickly smear them all with this……it makes them all glossy and completely irresistible to all and sundry…..

Method

Take the buns out of the fridge and depending on how warm the kitchen is you’ll need to give them between one and a half – two and a half hours to come up to room temp….

Before they go into the oven, give them a light egg wash and then dribble over the paste to highlight the cross…..

Bake in a gas mark 6 oven for approx 17- 20 minutes ….it depends how hot and tempermental your oven is……

As soon as they are out of the oven, quickly daub over the hot sugar syrup and then prepare to watch them disappear at an alarming rate……

The extra time for the sponge to do it’s hubble bubbling and for the dough to prove means these buns become incredibly light and airy, and yet they aren’t all pappy like a lot of shop bought ones, but still have a nice bit of chew and have lots of depth to the flavour…..

Same day Hot Cross buns….these won’t be ready for breakfast but are nice to have in the afternoon or to have toasted over the weekend….this recipe also uses a natural starter….

If you don’t have a starter in the bottom of the fridge then fear not, you can still make a very nice bun with dry yeast….This is my recipe for regular hot cross buns…….

 

 

 

 

Not really been “feeling the burn” this January but instead I’ve been baking bread and knitting, and flirting something terribly with the neighbour’s cat…..

karise-shawl-2

And all of a sudden it’s nearly the end of January, I’ve barely touched “things to do” lists and while I don’t really do New Year Resolutions , even good intentions to feel the burn with Jane Fonda or Mister Motivator have been a bit neglected (maybe I need to knit up some stripey legwarmers so I cna at least dress the part)….. however, I’ve had some good tidy ups of cupboards where fed up with wips go to die, or are shoved at the back of or ferreted away until I feel inspired with them again….

One such wip, though this wasn’t tucked away in a cupboard but was at the bottom of a knitting basket, has been this Karise shawl by Karie Westermann…this will no doubt look a bit like Deja Vu as not only have I knit this shawl before (this is now the fourth time I’ve knit this pattern) but I’ve also knit it in this very same yarn (but that one was a gift for my sister Rachie and this one is for me)………now I want to make this very clear, I love love love this pattern, it’s incredibly easy to follow and because it was the first lace knitting I ever did, the pattern will always own a huge chunk of my heart….however I fell so out of love with the yarn that it just put me off finishing it (I love the colour but the yarn is an alpaca/silk blend which now feels a bit on the scratchy and dry side)….perhaps I should have bought some bamboo needles as I was using metal ones and the yarn was just very slippy on my metal tips…..I don’t know why I thought one pair of needles would work for all the yarns, coming from a sewing background I have umpteen assorted needlecases each with different needle types in them and I suppose the variations in knitting needles works much the same way……

Anyway, other newer projects took over, and for the most part these were all using woolly and sheepy scented yarns, those are by far the yarns I love to touch and hold and to knit with….but I really wanted to start the New Year with clean knitting needles, no new cast on’s until the knitty wips were finished…..I haven’t got a finished picture to share yet, but the shawl is all blocked and I know come Summer when I want to sit outside right early in the morning or on the back door step in the evening, then this will feel lovely, but at the same time I know it’s not a yarn I’d make a special effort to purchase again….if you are at all interested then more notes are just here on my Ravelry project page.

 

ready-to-eat

Other things I’ve been doing have included baking bread again….for the past year our main oven has been playing up, the temperature has been rather erratic and fingers would be kept crossed while bread and cakes were baking….but finally we had to stop using it, we can still use the top stove or rings and we have a very small oven to use while we save up for a  new, sadly bread was one of the things that had to stop being made as I found the little back up oven a bit complicated and I was worried I’d break it….but then in October my boyfriend became rather poorly and where as normally I’d call him down to turn it all on for me, I really had to get to grips with it myself….and after a couple of months of getting a bit more used to it and a bit more confident I wasn’t going to burn the house down, I decided over the holidays to wake up the natural starter in the fridge and see how a loaf of bread would bake in it…

Well actually I was quite pleasantly surprised…I’ll be the first to say they aren’t quite as good as when they were baking in the gas oven, but the boyfriend is giving them thumbs up and that is what counts…..I’ve had to tinker a bit with cooking times, and to make the dough a little drier than normal….the sponge seems to like being left over night, and then the dough has some hours to gently prove in the morning before I need to bake it….but the loaf I baked early this week came out so well I was actually tempted to have a small taste myself….(I ended up with terrible stabby pains and felt like the wolf in Red Riding Hood with rocks sewn up in his tummy) but it was nice and crumby, with a gentle mellow flavour of sesame seeds and honey……

winter-blossom

I’ve not really been out over the marshes for the long walks I’ve been sharing over the past few years, it’s felt bitter cold and has been a bit wet…a local farmer grazes his cows on the comman land and marshes and I think they were on there a bit later than normal as the ground is all hoofed up, and huge areas are a right old mud bath…..when it’s like this it’s not very tempting to bundle up and head out like when it’s nice and sunny…..but the signs of Spring are coming up all around us….just down the road there are trees in blossom, I think some of these are winter flowering cherries but already I’m seeing sharp green shoots poking up out of the ground and most walks down to the shop involve stopping to notice what’s growing and coming up in all my neighbour’s gardens….

And it’s not just things growing…..one of our neighbours (not a next door one but a chap I say hello to because he has a lovely Newfoundland dog that is very friendly…a couple of months ago she ran off with my basket and we had to chase her…it was a bit like a Benny Hill sketch as we chased her around the green…..she’s completley gorgeous and I happily give her cuddles even though she’s a bit slobbery), anyway he mentioned he had a Maine Coon cat and ever since I’ve been keeping a look out for it…..well guess who I’ve now met…..oohh he’s so beautiful, and so so big, almost twice the size of our Bernard….I’m none too sure how Bernard would feel if we took on another cat…hmmm….yeah, maybe I do,  he’d be right pouty and those whiskers would go all forward and he’d put his parts on and play up so perhaps it’s best we’re a one cat family…..

lunar-tides

Another wip I’ve finally manged to finish were these socks…the pattern is called Lunar Tides and it’s by Louise Tilbrook…what I thought was so clever about them is that the pattern can be followed either top/cuff down…or toe up…..I’ll be writing more about these socks in the next day or so, but they really were a great knit…there were times I found them rather difficult, however once I got going and understood what I had to do aroud the heel I was fine….this was a great introduction to knitting cables and I would certainly look at not just knitting these again but also at knitting more of her patterns as a lot of them use softly flowing cables….

The yarn used is by John Arbon which I bought last Spring from Meadowyarn (they are an on-line shop but are actually based about a mile or two from where I grew up and are in the next village along to where my mum and one of my sisters still live), it’s a lovely and sticky woolly yarn  (which is handy if you manage to catch a needle on your fingerless mitts when you’re knitting on the bus and suddenly there’s no needle holding the stitches together……) and has a soft haze over the stitches….

And I think I’ve mentioned this before but I’m now on Instagram…I’m still at the oooh this is very exciting stage and tend to post 2 or 3 times a day on there with a fair bit of waffle but you know me….mostly it’s a little bit of everything, sort of like how I write my blog I suppose , though I know for some people my blog has been a bit too yarny, a bit too woolly this past year……I’m sorry those people feel that way, I’m certainly not sorry for writing about the incredible enjoyment I’ve got this past year from playing with pointy sticks….I love story, knowing about something’s history or background, whether it’s is bit of old cloth belonging to your great aunty Frieda, uncle George’s gardening tools etc…and I’m having a lot of fun finding out about different sheep breeds, and local to me yarns….I love all the different stories behind the yarns and  I’m enjouing discovering similarities between knitting and embroidery and patchwork…more of which I’ll write about soon..

a-lichen-miten

We did mange to get out of the house a couple of times over the Winter holidays on one of those glorious sunshiney but still bitterly cold days…..while we were down near the river this lichen caught my eye, I thought the colour was particularly splendid but also was fascinated by how it looked like a mass of tiny mustardy blossoms….I shared it on Instagram and had lots of people say how much they thought it looked like a woolly mitten….I’d totally not seen that but now…I just can’t not see it…so some little thumbnaily scribbles are being made as I’d like to knit a little pair of something woolly which reflects those colours…

bernard-shawl-testing

And it wouldn’t be a proper catch up if I didn’t share a Bernard up-date…he’s all fine, as I said back in September, the vet is very pleased with how he’s doing, and there seems to be no sign of the cancer returning …so hoorah….being told that was such a weight off our shoulders, we don’t have any children so all that love gets spent on our furry and rather windy bottomed boy…. he’s still pretty mischievious and is firmly of the belief that anything knitted is for him…he’s definitely king of the shawl thieves, and while there are a couple that are kept well out of his way, I don’t mind too much if he likes to nap on this one……

You may remember this was the first real bit of knitting I did,  I was waking up super early to work on it, and while the rest of the house was sleeping and it was all dark outside, Bernard would keep me company on the sofa while I purled or knitted…and more often than not, un-knitted to correct a mistake…so I very much feel it’s both our shawls, and a few bits of grey fluff aren’t the end of  the world by anymeans……

That mostly brings me up to date, and more posts are already being written, lots of things and ideas to share but I’ll save those now for another day…and in the meantime, hope you have a great weekend.

 

Using a starter for an everyday loaf……..

starter-is-ready-to-use

Making a bread with a natural starter takes a little longer than a dried yeast loaf but to be honest, most of the extra time is” leave it alone so it can do it’s thng” time, time where you can pretty much forget about it for a few hours and get on with whatever else you’re doing……

You need to start off with a natural leaven or starter, if you’re not sure how to make one or have one lurking away in a jar at the back of your fridge then yesterday’s post explains how to wake the leaven or starter from hibernation, and also how to make a natural leaven if you don’t already have one…..

Our main gas oven which I’ve used in the past to make big family sized loaves has been on the blink so I used a small top heated oven…it’s not ideal but I was curious as to whether I could use it to make a loaf of bread…..the measurements aren’t written in stone, more often than not I tinker with my bread recipe so no two loaves are ever really the same, but this should give you an idea of the stages involved…..

making-bread-with-the-starter

First you need to make a bread sponge…I decided to make two small loaves as I thought they would bake better in our little oven…..normally I make a sponge before I go to bed and leave it overnight, then as I’m a really early riser I can give it a gentle kneed in the morning while the house is still sleeping….this way you can have a loaf ready to eat for lunch time, if not it will be a supper time loaf…..

150 g of starter

250 ml of tepid warm water

200g of strong bread flour

1 teaped spoon of honey (the size you use to eat pudding or soup with)

small handful of sesame seeds (this is optional but I think it gives the bread a lovely mellow smell and flavour)

Take the starter or leaven out from the fridge,  weigh out the amount you need of your leaven in a medium sized baking bowl* (I like to use ceramic bowls) pour in the tepid warm water, mix and stir in a good dollop of honey and add about 200 g of strong bread flour…if you like you can now also add a small handful of sesame seeds……. (if I’ve got them, I’ll also add a handful of strong porridge oats…for this size loaf I’d use 125 g flour and then 75 g oats…)

Cover with a clean cloth and leave until the starter/leaven is all bubbling up lke something out of a Shakespearean witches cauldron… (this is where leaving it overnight comes in very handy…..you can leave it for a few hours if you like but I find leaving it overnight gives me the best results)

Next morning, add a little more bread flour to the sticky mix (I often use spelt flour at this stage, I never use rye flour as my boyfriend doesn’t like it but feel free to use it if you want…..) along with a glug of oil and a good pinch of salt….I use sunflower oil but if you’re making a foccacia style bread or pizza base then olive oil would be ideal, and for spiced buns I use cooled melted butter…..before adding more bread flour…..how much is going to depend in part on your bread…for these loaves I ended up using another 200g….just add it a sprinkle at a time….

You need to knead the floury mess into a dough but for just long enough for the dough to go from feeling sticky to silky and smooth, it also feels a bit cooler to the touch……this won’t take too long at all….

Now lightly oil a large baking bowl, place the dough in there and move it around so it’s lightly covered, this helps the surface from drying out as it rises…now cover and leave for a few hours until the dough has about doubled……

Top left, mix flour in to the starter/leaven…. Top right, Cover the leaven and leave to bubble up…Bottom left, knead the ingredients into a dough….Bottom right, allow the dough to rise in a lightly oiled bowl….

add-extra-flour-and-kneed-the-dough-until-it-stops-feeling-sticky

Once the dough has swelled up you want to gently knock it down, you want to be firm but not bash it…… and just very gently knead it back into a round ball again.

second-part-of-making-bread-with-the-starter

If you are using tins, line or oil/flour them before placing in the dough and allow the dough to prove or rise again…….more often than not I bake those Venus of Willendorf looking loaves, so I use a wooden proving bowl, I lay in a muslin cloth well sprinkled with flour and place the dough in there, then when it’s risen, I place a baking parchment lined tray overtop, and flip everything over just before slashing the top and putitng it in the oven….however as I was using our small oven I used these little panibois from Shipton Mill….allow the dough to rise again, when it’s almost doubled (generally around an hour or so) turn on the oven to a good hot temperature…just before placing the loaves in, slash the top, I used a really sharp kitchen knife but you can buy a grignette or bread lame if you want……..slashing the dough allows the loaf to expand and stretch….

Place the dough in the oven and allow to bake…… these loaves were on 230c which is about gas 8 for 35 minutes……

Top left, divide the dough into the panibois….Top right, allow the dough to rise….Bottom Left, slash the dough immediately before the dough goes into the oven…Bottom right, Remove from oven and allow to cool……

ready-to-eat

So how did the first loaves in a long time turn out….boyfriend said the bread was lovely as he ate a piece smeared over with a local honey…..it certainly smelt nice though not as rich and deep as when I’ve used the gas oven…next time I’d bake the bread in a metal tin on a metal tray so more heat is conducted underneath….before I didn’t have to worry about that as the gas flame was beneath……

I’ve always gotten really good results using Shipton Mill flour, their mail order service is excellent and along with a wonderful range of flours they also sell some nice baking equipment such as proving bowls and panibois and bread scrapers…..they don’t sell grignettes or bread lames but they aren’t hard to find on-line….if you’re lucky enough to be able to buy a locally milled bread flour then try and support them, a local miller is a real wonder in this day and age.

I’m not a fancy baker or anything like that, this is just how I bake an everyday bread, one we can use for toast and sandwiches…..some loaves look a bit rum and lumpy…others I could happily cuddle….but all smell wonderful and soon seem to disappear…..

*Don’t forget, once you’ve made your sponge you’ll need to “feed” your starter…all this means is topping up with tepid water and flour in a ration of 4:5 to the amount you’ve taken out….so if you used say 225g of starter you will need to stir in 100 g of water and then 125 g of flour…re-seal and put back in the fridge…..

Waking and making natural leavens and starters for the best tasting home baked breads…….

waking-up-a-natural-starter

I’ve always loved baking bread, mixing ingredients and allowing the dough to magically rise has never failed to delight…it’s very calming and even if I’m really busy and have like a million and one things to do, just taking a few minutes out to tumble in flour and yeast, warm water into a large bowl….allows me to breathe…..feel human again.

A few years back my friend Daisy gave me some of a natural leaven or starter she’d made and by “feeding” it regularly with flour and water I was able to make some rather wonderful loaves…..the past some months we’ve been without a main oven and the small one we’re using doesn’t get over hot so I’ve allowed the leaven to hibernate at the bottom of the fridge……but over the holidays I thought about waking it up and seeing how a loaf would turn out in the small oven.

Waking a leaven isn’t that hard, it just takes a bit of time to allow the ingredients to slowly stretch back into feeling all perky again…..

Waking the starter or leaven….

Day one…..The top picture is the leaven, it doesn’t look too pretty at this stage, it’s all sludgy covered with a tangy pickle juice liquid, tip this off (you’ll want to save it) …under the liquid the leaven is a bit like putty….remove a heaped teaspoon of it into a bowl and mix in 100 grammes of tepid warm water…..it probably sounds odd to measure your water but it’s more accurate. You can pour the pickle smelling liquid back over of your hibernating leaven and put it back into your fridge.

Top Left, the hibernating leaven…. top right, pour off the liquid….bottom right, a teaspoon or so of leaven….bottom left, mixed in with some water

second-part-of-the-natural-starter

After you’ve mixed in the tepid warm water and the “putty” has dissolved, add 125 grammes of strong bread flour (I like to use bread flour from Shipton Mill, I don’t use a rye flour or anything fancy, just a good strong flour that is especially for bread)..at this stage you might prefer to mix with a spoon but I like using a whisk….mix it so the flour is all blended in and then cover with a clean cloth for 24 hours……..

Day Two….you’ll now see that the floury mixture will look rather putty like.

Top left add flour to the leaven….top right mix in the flour…bottom right leave the bowl for 24 hours …bottom left, the leaven after 24 hours.

third-part-of-the-natural-starter

Day Three….Take a good heaped teaspoon of the putty like leaven and again mix in 100 grammes of tepid warm water, you’ll find the putty is more springy this time and I find I need to add some of the flour to help it blend in…..in total you ‘ll need to add 125 grammes of flour, and you’ll find using a spoon now easier than the whisk……. cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave for 24 hours

Top left, place some of the leaven in to a bowl…. Top right, mix in water….Bottom left, the leaven after about 12 hours …..Bottom right, the leaven after 24 hours

fourth-stage-of-the-starter

Day Four….the leaven will have a glossy sheen, its full of air and has a nice fresh yeasty aroma…… using a bread scraper or spatular, transfer all the leaven into a medium sized bowl, add 100 grammes of tepid warm water and then slowly mix in 125 of flour……

Cover the bowl and leave for a couple of hours.  The leaven will now be fully awake and look very lively…it looks a fair bit paler,almost white, and is ready to now use to make your bread…………

Top left, add water to the leaven and mix…..Top Right, add some flour and mix in ….Bottom left,add the last of the flour and mix in ….Bottom right, the leaven after it’s been left and is ready to use

Making a natural starter or leaven…..

If you need to make a leaven from scratch it’s very similar to the stages above, it’s ready to use on day 6 so it’s a good idea to make on a monday and then will be ready to use at the weekend…

Day 1…50g tepid warm water and 2 fat teaspoons of strong bread flour…. mix in a bowl, and cover (or you can use a 500 ml Kilner jar) .leave at room temp.

Day 2…50 g water and 4 heaped teaspoons of bread flour….stir the water into the leaven and then add the flour…..cover and leave for 24 hours

Day 3…100g tepid warm water and 8 heaped teaspoons of bread flour….add the water, stir well to combine everything and then add the flour, stir ell again and then cover…leave for 24 hours

Day 4…100g tepid warm water and 125g bread flour….mix the leaven and remove and discard 3/4 of it……to the remaining 1/4 add teh water, stir and and then add the flour, stir well and cover….leave for 24 hours….

Day 5…100g tepid warm water, 125 g bread flour…..stir the leaven, remove and discard 3/4 of it…to the remaining 1/4 add the water, stir well and then add the flour so you have a nice thick paste….cover and leave for 24 hours.

Day 6….the leaven or starter will now be all bubbles, light and airy and smeling slightly pickley…it’s now ready to use…..

 

 

 

A little bit of seasonal pottering in the kitchen and a round up of our favourite Yuletide recipes…..

almond biscuits 005

I know not everyone likes pottering about in the kitchen but I’ve always enjoyed using my time in there to mark the seasons…we try to eat seasonally with our vegetables and I find my baking or jam making shifts accordingly too…..I’m always happy to try out new recipes but over the past some years I find myself returning to the following tried and trusted recipes, which for us, have become a big part of our seasonal celebrations….I’m currently writing up a selection* of our favourite recipes as part of a Christmas/New Year present for some friends that live a really long way away which means we only get to see them very occaisonally… (I thought they could add to what we send with favourite recipes from their family)….I’ve gone through the things we like the most and thought I’d round them all up and put links to them here tooo which makes it easier to share them with other people too….

Citrussy almond biscuits…..(light and delicate and all citrussy, these aren’t only nice and refreshing but if you get a gippy tummy at all or wake up a bit nauseus due to overindulging rather the night before then they seem to very good at helping to calm down the flutters)

marmalade 006

While you probably won’t see the seville oranges pre Christmas, for some reason I always think of this as a Christmas make…..the smell of those oranges is so wonderful and fresh…just watch out for little bears who may want you to make them a sandwich…..

A slow simmering marmalade…..

gingerbread man 003

You can’t catch me I’m the gingerbread man…sticky and dark or crisp and biscuitty…I love both versions of gingerbread…the spicier the better….

dark and sticky…slowly filling the house with good smells while it bakes….

crisp and biscuitty…good for building houses and cutting little figures from…

homemade mincepies

I love mincemeat, the smell of it wafting up throughout the house while the fruit is simmering away on the stove is such an evocative Christmassy smell….while I have a really silly amount of different recipes for making it, these are the two I find I use more than any other…..

mincemeat made with cider…..

mincemeat made with vegetable suet….

breakfast buns

And I don’t just save mincemeat for the mince pies….. a good old dollop or two of mincemeat makes for an instant fruity loaf if you fancy baking some bread, and if you enrich the dough with butter milk and eggs you can easily make a sort of panettone style mufffin…..I also like adding a heaped spoonful or two of mincemeat into a plum or apple crumble……

It also works well in this recipe for fruity breakfast buns…..so good with salty butter and a smear of dark jam…..but you could also use it in a dough mix for hot cross bun style buns…..

And if you have bits of pastry left after making any mincepies then this recipe for tiny spiced biscuits makes use of every last scrap……

cinnamon swirl biscuits…..

Hope you enjoy baking and cooking these as much as we do……….

*The book will include recipes that we regularly cook and bake such as casseroles and breads, cakes etc but will also include recipes for jams and jellys, furniture polish and hand salves…..

Seasonal smells and simmering spiced fruits…..

making-mincemeat

Last year I wrote a lengthy old post about marvellous mincemeat and how I like to use it in the kitchen and also included one of my various recipes for it but a few weeks ago I found up this recipe which I used to use all the time, it’s a little bit different in that it uses vegetable suet and doesn’t use cider which, at the time I was using this recipe didn’t use to drink…well even now, I’m not like a real cider quoffing Worzel but am just happy to have a small glass (anymore then that and I’m sound asleep on the sofa)…. generally  when it comes to making mincemeat you’re just mixing some chopped fruit with something sweet to preserve it so there is a lot of scope for having a tinker with it….It’s really easy to make as it’s just a big pan stir of chopped apples and fruits, plenty of spice and a few generous glogs of something warming to add festive spirit and Yuletide cheer….

I always think this makes for a really nice and fairly easy on the pocket gift if you have friends who like homemade jams and chutneys, it makes a change from those and apart from using it to fill little pastry tarts it also comes in handy with other Wintery bakes…..a generous dollop or so in an apple crumble or plum crumble right lifts those up and I’ll often add a couple of heaped spoonfuls to a bread sponge for a spicy loaf (so good for toasting when it’s chilly out) and have used it to make mini panettone style breads…

I say Wintery bakes but even in Summer I can smear this over puff pastry and quickly make pain aux raisins for breakfast.

homemade mincepies

This will make a generous amount of jars (it depends how large they are but you should get at least 6 x 450g/ 1 Ib jars)…the ingredients list does look rather colossal so you might want to buy them over a couple of days if you have to carry them home…and if you make this in the Autumn (something to try and remember to do next year) then it is a very good recipe for using up windfalls or wildlings that are foraged……

In my last house I used to make a big pan of this, while it was gently simmering and filling the house with it’s spicy aroma, I’d sit on the kitchen step (I had steps leading down to it…no room in there for a chair so a cushion on a step sufficed) and would start making my Christmas present/Christmas card list…..it’s a nice way to ease into the festive season…..admittedly I’ve left it a bit late this year but just taking a few minutes away from a long list of things that need doing to make this always helps me catch my breath and feel calmer…..

cinnamon and fruit sourdough loaf

Ingredients….

2  1/2 to 3 lbs of sharp apples (cooking or wildlings or windfalls) peeled, cored  and chopped into tiny cubes

12 oz currants

12 oz raisins

12 0z sultanas

6 oz almonds, blanched and finely chopped (note you might need to check no-one who eats these has a nut allergy…though you could just leave out the almonds if you want)

3 oz mixed peel

3 oz glace cherries

14 oz dark muscovado sugar

6 oz vegetarian suet

grated zest of a large un-waxed orange

grated zest and juice of a large un-waxed lemon (or 2 small ones)

1 heaped tablespoon of mixed spice

4 or 5 tablespoons of a good dark rum (I like Lamb’s Navy Rum)

4 fl oz Brandy

Method

In a very large pan, throw in the chopped apples and cover them in the sugar, spices and a splash of brandy to stop them from sticking….on a gentle heat gently warm through and allow the apples to simmer…add all the dry fruit, suet and nuts (if you are using them) also add the zest and lemon juice and simmer for about half an hour …

The fruit becomes rather mushy….allow to cool and add the alcohol, I like to use Lamb’s Navy Rum as that is what my dad liked at Christmas, me and my sisters would always have a sip and shudder and go “ugh”…so a few sploshes of that go into remember Dad…..the resulting mincemeat is burnished and beautiful, all in a sticky and spicy dark syrup….

Spoon into sterilized jars and cover…store in a cool and dark cupboard..if you can remember to turn the jars over every few days then so much the better, it will allow the liquidy mixture to permeate better.

If you don’t use the vegetable suet then I would suggest using about 9 fl oz of a medium dry cider……the fruit needs a little lubrication and the suet melts into the sugar to form the dark sticky syrup….

This stores well for a year, however once the jar is opened it needs to be kept in the fridge and used within 4 weeks.

A calming bake of Christmas spices…..

gingerbread man 003

One of my most favourite smells in the whole wide world is gingerbread….a big pan of bunn and golden syrup melting on the stove, pouring in a fat swirl of treacle and then slowly stirring in freshly grated gingerbread……even when I’m feeling all fraught and anxious, wondering how what’s in my purse will stretch to gifts or how I can make the hands on the clock slow down so I have enough time to check everything off, taking a few minutes out o potter about in the kitchen seems to restore better than you can imagine….

I love making gingerbread men, or little houses and for those I use the recipe I wrote about a couple of years ago….but our main stove is currently not working so I’m making do with a little one and for  that a tray bake will suit much better……

This was originally a recipe from an old Marguerite Pattern book I received when I left Primary school but over the years I’ve tinkered and added to it and have now perfected a really moist and richly spiced Winter cake……

I whole heartedly advise buying a Japanese ginger grater, I bought mine from a local health food shop but you can pick them up quite easily at Asian food stores and they are about a fiver….they grate up the ginger so well, actually they sort of mush it and allow the juice to be extracted so well, the fibrery part I just squeeze out and then pop into the compost…..

I also make up a batch of spice mix at the start of December and then it’s all there ready to use over the holiday season, I like to grind my own spices so they are more intense flavoured but if you use pre-ground you might want to add a little more to what you are making…..

My gingerbread spice mix (good for sticky cake as well as the biscuits)

4 parts Cinnamon……3 parts Ginger……1 part Clove….I part Mace…1 part Star Anise…..

(I also quite often add a handful of dried edible rose petals in the spice grinder and add that scant powder to the spice blend as well…..)

Ingredients

4 oz butter (doesn’t really matter if it is unsalted but it does need to be butter and not a “I can’t believe…” style spread…trust me, you will taste the difference)

40z dark muscovado sugar

4oz golden syryp

40z black treacle or black strap molasses

8 oz plain flour

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda dissolvedin a tablespoon of warm water

1 1/2 tablespoon of mixed spice mix (or 1 really heaped one…sometimes I just do 2 of these)

2 medium eggs beaten

6 tablespoons milk (full fat or semi skimmed or half cream/half semi skimmed…I’ve tried them all and a little fat does make this taste nicer and lighter…)

an adult thumb size piece of fresh ginger that is freshly grated

A well lined 8 inch square baking tin (I use baking parchment)

 

Method

preheat the oven to gas mark 3, 325 f, 170 c…..tin wants ot bee placed in the middle so arrange your shelf height before hand……

in a heavy bottomed pan put in the butter and dollop in the golden syryp and treacle (wiping the spoon over with a little vegetable oil will mean the sticky syrups slide off easy peasy)…slowly lelt over a low heat…..while this is melting add the sugar, spice mix and grate in the ginger (squeeze the fibres that cling to the grater….)….stir well and just breathe in that wonderful aroma…….

take the pan off the heat and stir in the tablespoons of milk, beat the two eggs and gently stir those in two and finally add in the dissolved bicarbonate of soda……

measure out the flour, sift into a large bowl and then pour in the spicy scented thick and sticky liquid, beat until nicley mixed through….this is quite runny, but fear not……

por the batter into the lined tin and bake for between 45-60 minutes……until the bake is risen and just firm when you gently press down on the top.

place the tin on a cooling rack and allow to cool for a good 15 minutes before removing and allowing to further cool on the rack…..

once the cake is cold you can either eat it (yum) or cover it in a lemon icing  (yum yum) or wrap it in tin foil and leave for a few days………hard work knowing it is there but the flavours mingle and the cake gets stickier…once it is unwrapped you can also ice it, the lemony icing seems to cut through the sweet perfectly.

Lemon Icing

Sift 200g of icing sugar and slowly add the juice of a lemon, you don’t want the icing over runny, drizzle on top of the gingerbread and allow to dry before cutting……enjoy a fat slice with a nice pot of tea.

If you want to substiture 4oz of flour for 4oz of fine oatmeal to make a more traditional parkin (which will want to be kept foil wrapped for a week before cutting) then go ahead…….

(my gingerbread man was made by my friend Sasha)

I love making this so much, like I say, it allows me to switch off, put verything else to one side and just lose myslef in the smells and memories this conjurs up….those all so familiar Tate and Lyle tins which never change and the nose tingling scent of  ginger and spices slowly simmering away on the stove….

 

 

 

 

 

Fluffy plumes, other people’s cats and a fat velvety spider……

next doors cat

Don’t trust that cute little face….. as I mentioned the other day we’ve been getting a new little visitor in the garden of late…..this is Ivy and she lives next door.  She’s about 9 months or so I think and is one mischievious little minx.  We occasionally see her brother Neil but I don’t think him and Bernard get on so well however this young madam seems to becoming Bernards new partner in crime*.

Most mornings when I get breakfast things ready and pop toast under the grill I hear a high pitched mew and when I open the back door this is what I see sitting on the back door step….it’s like she’s asking “is Bernard coming out to play” …. inevitably he’ll appear, slowly stroll out into the garden and then there’ll be nose and face rubs, a bit of bottom sniffing and from time to time Bernard will give her a quick wash, the way she wriggles makes me think she feels it’s a bit like a mum licking a hanky and wiping it over a child’s face.  And then when Bernard is happy and thinks she’s all spick and span, they go running up the path together and then out into the playground that’s the other side of the fence (there’s actually a little hole in it which Bernard treats as his own personal door….)

not our cat but it's in our garden

Whereas Bob used to follow Bernard right through the house as they’d come bolting in from the garden, often all the way up the stairs and then back down again, Ivy tends to just come up to the kitchen door if she sees us about……however, if she thinks we’re not around it’s quite another matter and then she seems more than happy to come in and have a good explore and has made me jump as she suddenly appears from behind a chair or the side of the sofa…..when it’s been hot and we’ve had the door open she’s snuck in and pulled about in my work room (reels of sewing thread seems to delight every cat I’ve ever met) and I’m trying to forget what she did to my knitting…..

I quite like sitting out in the garden on the door step with a cup of tea or with my breakfast, enjoying the peace and tranquility while the day starts to wake or just to have a few minutes breather while waiting for the kettle to boil….however I’ve found that leaving things mid eat on the back step to answer the front door is fatal….I’ve come back to find her face in my yoghurt and have even caught her wolfing down carrot soup…..

And she’s so quite quiet…Bernard wears a collar which has a bell and a name tag and a magnet for the cat flap…he gets grumpy about a lot of things but is as good as gold with having the collar on and it doesn’t seem to bother him….we get lot of birds in the garden and I feel that a bell gives them at least a few seconds warning if he’s lurking around in the undergrowth…but Ivy doesn’t so will silently creep up and spring out, often grabbing poor old Bernard’s tail in the process.

in the nanny chair

I’m particularly fond of Bernard’s tail, it’s fat and fluffy and when he saunters off with it held up high it looks all the world like a peacock plume on a fancy hat and incredily stately and grand….(when I commissioned a picture by my friend Beth, she drew Bernard using it to do the housework with…) and it would appear to be an object of fascination with other cats….Bob and Izzy and the rest of the kittens who lived next door last year were all “worm tails” as are Ivy and Neil.  Bob used to spend ages staring at Bernard’s tail and feathery ruff, gently reaching out to pat them and gazing up with envy…Ivy is a bit more grabby grabby and a couple of times has almost fell off the potting table as she stretches out her paws to take a swipe at that enticing tail.

a monster amongst the raspberries

Otherwise in the garden it’s all been a bit quiet although the raspberries seem to now be coming into their stride….a handful of canes has slowly spread across the garden and we’ve now got quite a decent sized patch.  The variety we like is called Autumn Bliss and we’re often still picking them late October early November…in fact one year I was picking them after a snowfall.

They get really high and some of them out there are easily 7ft.  They first start to fruit around mid-Summer but this first crop is never much to write home about, a few scrabby berries to scatter on breakfast yoghurt or pop on top of an Eaton mess, however the second harvest begins around now and is worth the wait…fat, velvety, rich tasting and full of flavour, the berries also swell up and can become the size of small plums in the blink of an eye…..we generally get a good few kilos of fruit and have enough to make and put down several batches of a French style jam for the pantry and Christmas gifts, as well as stuffing ourselves silly on raspberries and cream for pudding.  Last year we made a raspberry liquor which was very nice and also a cognac jam inspired by Anna Karenina and Kitty’s jam.

If you’re a long time reader then you know there is one creature that can make me shoot across a room and up on to the sofa pretty damn quickly…spiders…. lifting up these berries to find this fat monster did give me a bit of a start, however maybe knitting with natural shades of yarn has rubbed off a bit as I found myself gazing at those soft nut browns and the patterns on it’s body and actually rather appreciating the beauty of this hairy beast.

* I used to think of Bernard and Bob as kitty versions of  Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid…..