Using a starter for an everyday loaf……..


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…..


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… 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… 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….


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.


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……


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… 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…….

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…..


(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)


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… 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 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)

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) 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….remove about 3/4 of the leaven and to the remaining 1/4 add 100g of warm water and 125 g of bread flour….gently mix, then cover and leave for another 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 the second 24 hours)

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… 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, 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)

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…………


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…..




Bread, books, socks and swatches…….

sesame and spelt

I’m none too sure what’s happened to the past week, it’s pretty much flown by without me knowing and I don’t feel I’ve got all that much to show for it….mostly I’ve been poodling, drafting up new patterns, mostly reworkings of pieces to go into my Folksy shop (hopefully they’ll be ready next week) but also I’ve spent a few minutes tinkering with a pattern for a dress based on a dirndl skirt I cobbled together a couple of years ago from a mustardy floral pair of curtains I’d bought at a car boot…the fabric was a bit faded near the hem but I didn’t mind that, it’s one of those nice and comfy skirts that I’d wear everyday given half the chance.  I don’t have a whole lot of tops that really go with it though so I thought to make a dress version which is why I spent an afternoon in the bathroom pinning bits of pattern cutting paper to my thermals (I do have a dress makers dummy but sometimes I find just pinning to me a bit easier) before drafting out something that hopefully will be wearable and which I can stash bust with……

garter toe sock

I’ve also been knitting more socks, well a sock…and if truth be told I don’t even have one of those properly finished to show as this was a test run to understand a new to me pattern….there is a sock knitting kal running over in the Joeli Creates group on Ravelry for knitting socks without nylon….my Shetland spindrift socks I made earlier in the year were knitted without nylon and are so warm that I really wanted to knit another pair of pure wool socks….though I didn’t want to just keep repeating the same pattern as I’d already made so I decided to try knit a pair of toe up socks…..lovely Julia (who knits truly beautiful socks) bought me this pattern for Christmas as part of a small gestures swop….Anne had already been round earlier in the year to explain short rows to me (I do seem to get on better with someone showing me and talking me slowly through a process then just reading about it)….anyway, this is my first attempt, the toe seemed a bit gapey at the sides so I un-ravelled it and had another go and second time it looked much better (not the fault of the pattern but me being a complete numpty and forgetting to wrap my stitches)….I used this yarn just as a tester “have a bit of a play” attempt, the real sock uses some beautiful homemade strawberry ice-cream pink Blacker Classsic woollen yarn I bought from Brit Yarn  (sadly this colour has now been discontinued but I’ve got enough for at least two pairs of socks)……it’s taking a few attempts as I keep turning the sock inside out as I knit it, I’m also finding it hard to start a section of pattern with a purl using dpns so I’ve unravelled again and am just waiting for a 9 inch circular needle to arrive in the post which hopefully will make knitting them a bit easier….

famous tales book

A couple of weeks ago I met up with my friend Debbie for a coffee and as I walked in to town quicker than I thought I would, I had a few minutes spare to have a browse in some charity shops I don’t tend to visit all that often, which I should really make the time to visit them as I nearly always find something of interest in them….I’ve mentioned my love of fairy tale and folk story books on here several times before so was very happy to find this one for a couple of pounds.  The illustrations are by a selection of artists…most of the pictures are quite small black and white drawings but there are also a handful of very pretty watercolours, a bit on the bright and gawdy side but I like them.

big book of knitting 1973

And I also bought this book which is such good reading…’s from the early seventies and all the things in the book have been made by Swiss children.  The pattern instructions are at times a bit sketchy and left up to you to decipher, so I think you’re supposed to have a certain mount of knitty know how…..but I just fell in love with those little blue booties and knitted pony on the front cover.

A scarf by Beatrice

The illustrations inside are rather miserable black and white photos which don’t do any of the knits justice but you can get an idea of what things are supposed to look like…..dotted throughout the book are these little letters and notes made by the children who’ve knitted the pieces…it’s interesting to read how young some of these knitters are, and also their notes on pattern making.  I don’t think I’m up to making everything in here but there are a couple of sock patterns I’d certainly like to knit, and I need someone to have a baby so I can knit those booties.

shetland heather swatch

More knitting news…..I’ve finished knitting the Unicorn shawl, which I made for Louise Hunt’s brilliant un-kal, it’s currently washed and blocking….I’d forgotten that tapestry wool is a bit rum smelling when it gets wet…it doesn’t smell anywhere near as nice as something sheepy and lanolin rich…’s had a couple of tentative pokes by Bernard but on the whole he’s leaving it alone, which is a good thing as the alpaca/silk wants to snag just looking at it.

I’m quite excited about what’s curently now on my needles though…my first ever cardigan….it’s the Ramona cardigan by Elizabeth Smith.  It’s knitted top down and has nice, clean and simple lines, nothing too fancy but enough to make me have to re-read the instructions and sigh little “pfhoo” noises when I’ve worked a row of increases and my number count of stitches is right…I’m not a quiet knitter and do seem to pfaff, pfhooo and rustle my pattern pages, scribble down notes and observations…tut and sigh as I realize I’ve made a right daft mistake…..initially I was planning to knit this in some beautiful Aran wool from Jamieson and Smith, and while I love the pattern and love the yarn, together….it wasn’t making my heart skip….but then I remembered the Shetland Heather wool I’d started to use for an Open Sky shawl……it’s a murky old grey brown, flecked with quite a cold, clear blue……doesn’t sound like much of a catch but when it’s knitted up in stocking stitch is very pretty….it makes me think of the sea when we used to go to Southwold or Dunwich…not for us the bright azure blue of the Mediterranean waters……there’s about two weeks in August where you can go to the beach without a cardigan or a jumper, the rest of the time, it’s a bit nippy and you need to wrap up, so I thought the pairing of the yarn with this pattern would be perfect.

I’ve learnt my lesson about not making a swatch so knitted up this big boy (just over 10 inches wide) and I couldn’t quite believe it but my tenson gauge is spot on….I washed and blocked it, allowed it a few days to dry nicely…..perfect.  I’ve had it pinned inside a dress and it’s not particulary scratchy, I know it’s there but it wasn’t unpleasant so now it’s all systems go.

fat paws

Weather wise the past week has been proper rubbish…the odd day or even hour of sunshine, and then just as we pull on boots and a coat to go for a walk, the heavens open and it pours down…sometimes rain, yesterday hail.  Loads needs doing in the garden but everywhere is muddy and wet……the birds for the most part are busy gathering up bits of what we call “garden fluff” (this is often bought into the house by Bernard, he rolls around and his fur hoovers up all sorts of muck which he then proceeds to drop all over the carpet and up the stairs)….I keep making trips out with handfuls of fleece* for the birds, I stick it in an old fat ball feeder which has a littel roof so it keeps pretty dry inside, and then go and sit and watch the tits pull it about for nesting.  It’s so much fun as they seem like they’re pulling the fibres ready to spin it…..they gather up huge beakfuls til they look like tiny Amish farmers and then they go flying off with their woolly beards.

natural shades and lichens

When the sun does actually make an appearance Bernard goes trotting down the path to find a patch of sunshine for some outdoors wriggling….often he mews until I go over and rub his tummy and depending on his mood (mischievious or tarty) he’ll purr and purr fit to burst or suddenly grab hold of my hand and fingers, holding on tight with his claws and teeth……

sun wriggling

He’s really showing off his very own Nature’s Shades here as he exposes his tummy….such a mass of Weetabix scented** fluffiness…..I love those splotches of lichen on the pathway underneath him, silver sage and mustard, white and gold……I’m really hoping at some point to use those soft subtle greys of Bernard as a starting point for some stranded knitting….what a great kal that would be….match the colours of your cat’s coat.

*I bought a load of fleece years ago or needle felting but figure the birds seem to make better use of it.

**I’m not sure why but his tummy really smells of Weetabix, but figure that’s way better to when he’s windy and musical of bottom.

A wee sprig of blue, baking bread, ladybirds and the shawl thief strikes again…..

this weeks sourdough loaf

It’s been lovely and Spring sun-shiny here today,  at times there was a little bit of overcast and cloud but for the most part it’s been just glorious….I’m still feeling an hour behind myself with the clock change last weekend but hopefully this next week will see me perk up a bit more….this morning though I felt too tired to get up and so lolled in bed with Bernard using my hand as a public resting post…he likes it if I wrap my fingers behind his ears and scritch, as I get a bit drowsy my fingers slowly stop and then he soon perks up and pokes me in the nose with a fat paw to make me wake up and continue my scritchy scritchy.

I made sourdough bread on Thursday and it’s come out a fair bit smaller than normal, the beloved said it tastes fine and not to stress.  One of the things I like about baking bread at home is how no two loaves ever seem to come out quite the same but when a loaf comes out not up to scratch (in my opinion) I get a bit sulky. Not sure why this one didn’t bloom as well as the ones I’ve been making, I forgot to let the sponge bubble away over night like I’ve been doing so suspect this may be the reason.

first of the forget me nots

Earlier I had a bit of a nose around the garden as it was so smashing outside today and was so happy to find the first of  this year’s forget-me-nots…. and once I spotted this wee sprig I became aware of other tiny smudges of blue dotted around in sunny spots.

ladybird ladybird

And it wasn’t just forget-me-nots I started noticing, there were also a fair few ladybirds scurrying around or basking in the sunshine like this one….I love ladybirds, they always make me think of Summer, and on a day that’s warm and really rather splendid, then thinking of Summer doesn’t feel too daft….and hearing an ice-cream van just down the road really created the right mood (though we didn’t pop out for a Choc Ice …..I always used to like the slice of ice-cream wedged in between two wafers).

hiding amongst the strawberries

I also spotted this one hiding up in one of the wild strawberry plants , scuttling about under dry leaves it seemed very busy though I’m not too sure what it was up to.

wild strawberries

Some of the wild strawberries are already i blossom, dainty milky white blossoms with such a bright yellow centre…these ones were being visited most of the morning by some really fat bees….we’ve noticed a lot of bees around here this year, proper fat bumbles that are nearly as large as my thumb……just up the road there’s a house with a little tree in the garden that’s had the sweetest grey catkins, so soft and downy just like kitten paws…they’ve become so powdery and fuzzy the last week or so, and yesterday I stood and watched at least a dozen bees rolling around and tumbling over the the blossoming catkins…covered in the prettiest powdery yellow pollen.

The other leaves along the bottom edge are cowslips, I first grew these some years ago and bought the seeds from some old plants with me when I moved…we’ve (well he’s) dug up and moved two of the apple trees so theses should get a bit more light this year…the apple trees weren’t doing so well where they were so we’re (he’s) just deciding where is the best spot to position them)…..I like pottering and doing as I’m told in the garden but he’s the ones with the green fingers.

Bernard and his new shawl

I’ve finally finished my Nature’s Shades Moonraker shawl, I’m so pleased with it, it’s incredibly soft and drapey, and much warmer than I thought it was going to be.  I’ve washed it in some Eucalan and have blocked it pretty hard to get it to form a nice triangle. I ended up using a couple of hefty old metal yard sticks to make a solid long straight line between the shawl tips so I could pull the knitting out accurately, and 3 boxes of knit pro blocking pins.

It’s now dry and I was hoping so much to get out and persuade the boyfriend to take some snaps of me in it while the weather was so good however “someone” has been sprawling out on it for most of the day (there’s been more than a little bit of paddy paws plucky plucky going on so I’m going to have to wriggle and pull in a couple of the stitches to bring them back into shape.   He got really grouchy with me when I tried to move him off and that tail was flicking like nobody’s business so I felt it safer to just let him be rather than risk anymore damage by him holding on tightly as I lifted him up.

The mid-brown Blue Faced Leicester that I’ve used for the main body of the shawl is so similar in colour to how Bernard looks…it’s much more of a grey than brown but when it’s sunny those brown hues really do shine.  I’ve loved doing this kal, and the other finished knits over on Brit Yarns Ravelry page are just stunning.  I’m not normally one for naturals, greys and browns but I really like the different shades of cream and milk combined with the darker shades of charcoal and smokey grey.  I’d certainly consider using these beautiful un-dyed shades again, maybe in a cardigan or a tank top to wear with something really bright.

update for the hot cross bun experiment…..

sourdough hot cross buns

Thought I’d quickly just share the results of my  “hot cross buns/ sourdough overnight”experiment….what a success.  I can honestly say, hand on heart these are the best tasting hot cross buns I think I’ve ever made or ever tasted, they’re very light but still have a nice robustness about them, and because they’re home-made ones don’t taste all pappy and over sweet (which I always think is the trouble with shop bought ones unless you toast them)….

There was a little bit of fannying about making them but really that was more in the preparation, making the sponge on Wednesday night and then making the bread dough yesterday…but the taste was worth it……I shouldn’t really eat bread anymore as it makes me feel so wretched but one mouthful of these wasn’t enough so I ate a whole one,and I fully expect to spend this afternoon in a poorly bed on the sofa but for now I’m thinking it was worth it.

My weights and measures  are very sketchy as I’ve just adapted my regular bread recipe which changes from week to week but roughly I made a sponge using bread flour (about 200g) starter (about 160g) some tepid water, I used this rather than milk as I knew it was going to be sitting out (just under 300 ml) about a handful of currants and a couple of desert spoons of dark brown sugar…this was all stirred together and left in a big bowl overnight covered with a tea towel.

sticky and still hot from the oven

I made the sponge about 9.30 at night…and left it until about 5.00 in the afternoon the next day so it had plenty of time to bubble and do it’s thing (which sourdough breads really do benefit from)…to the bubbled sponge I added some more bread flour, about 100g, then some melted unsalted butter (about 30g), a beaten egg, a couple of teaspoons of spice (1 tsp of cinnamon, some nutmeg, 1/2 tsp of ground clove and then 1/2 tsp of ground cumin) and  a teaspoon of sea salt.  This was mixed together with a silicone spatula as it’s pretty sticky and then I just kept adding more bread flour, once it’s coming together as a dough rather than a sticky mass, I emptied it out on the worktop and began kneading and adding flour as and when the dough wanted it…..then once the dough becomes cool and silky feeling, I popped it into a clean bowl which had a quick wipe of oil, covered it with a cloth and left it for a few hours……

Just before bed (about 9.30 ish) I took the dough out, gently knocked it back and cut it in half, and again and again and again….so you have 16 pieces of dough, roll them in your hands and place them onto a lined baking sheet.  Using 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.

I got up at 6 this morning, took the buns out and gave them about 2 1/2 hours to come to room temp before giving them an egg wash and dribbling a flour paste cross on top then popping them into a gas mark 6 oven….our oven has been getting a bit hot agian so I gave them 17 minutes….they’d really swelled up in the oven and tore apart very easily…..once they are out I coated them with a sticky sugar syrup….they’d barely cooled before one was split open and salty butter was smeared inside, quickly disappearing into the boyfriend’s mouth…now you see it, now you don’t.

Like I said, they are a bit of a fanny about but it just involved being a bit organized, and they taste so good so I think the extra trouble is worth it.

If you’ve got a starter in the fridge then you could begin these today and have them ready for breakfast on Sunday.  But if you don’t want to pfaff about, this is the recipe I used for years and years before I began using a natural starter, and which taste good as well.



Hot cross buns using a sourdough starter….

allow the buns to rise at room temp for about an hour and a half

Last year I adapted my recipe for hot cross buns which I’ve used pretty much for twenty and then some years to one that is made with a natural starter which I called Hipster hot cross buns (because as we know, hipsters do like their natural starters and making pickles…oh wait, does that mean I’m a ……)

I was a bit late putting the recipe up for the Hipster buns so it didn’t give you a lot of time to fit in the rising time that a sourdough needs so I thought to mention it again today so if you want to make them for this year you can get prepared…..also I wasn’t really sure how they’d turn out….and while they didn’t look the prettiest buns in the world, the boyfriend wolfed them down so I think we can happily say they tasted good too.

paint the buns with flour and sugar water crosses

Even if you don’t use a natural starter then you can still get ahead  by making the buns the night before and leaving them to rise in the fridge, then if on Good Friday you get up nice and early, allow the buns to rise for an hour or so in a warm kitchen before putting them into the oven to bake then you’ll have warm and sticky buns for breakfast.  These are easily my favourite seasonal/celebrational food to make.

Do they need the cross, not really, do they need the flour and water dribbled on top, nope…but doing both is for me part and parcel of their appeal, and whether it’s to signify a crucifxion or to mark the four seasons then to me they aren’t hot cross buns without them (they don’t make the buns taste any different if you decide not to worry about doing’s purely visual.)

sticky and sweet sourdough buns

I’ve been looking at my past pictures of buns, and they really have my mouth watering and tummy grumbling….both batches look homemade rather than shop bought and these ones from last year look….well very rustic  (I think that the ones I made the year  before that came out looking better) but the spicy aroma while they were baking was just intoxicationg as it wafted around the house…..

So what changes to the recipe this year……well as you know I bake a fair amount of bread, and just recently I’ve made a few changes to how I make it , though to be honest the recipes I use don’t tend to be writ in stone and are often tinkered with, however this change has meant baking bread especially at a weekend fits in so well with what we’re doing.  Rather than get the starter out of the fridge and make the bread sponge first thing in the morning, I now do it while the kettle is boiling for a pre-bed time cup of tea……making the sponge late at night means it’s all ready to have extra ingredients added when I get up (kneading bread while you’re still all sleepy eyed is the nicest and gentlest way to wake up) and then a few hours proving while the dough rises means freshly baked bread can be served at lunch time…..

So I’m going to try out making the sponge tonight (Wednesday) and then plan to leave it til about lunch time tomorrow before kneading the dough and allowing it to slowly prove before shaping the rolls…..I’ll let them sit overnight Thursday in the fridge and then take them out first thing Friday morning so the boyfriend can have freshly baked buns for breakfast, with pats of yellow salty butter melting in the middle……

I know it all sounds like a right old rigmarole and a lot of fuss over something that will be gobbled up soon as looked at, but all the prepping and planning is part and parcel of the ritual, making these just once a year means I don’t mind spending extra time and attention to them, like marking those crosses, and it’s one of the ways in what I love about celebration food and traditions.

baking bread, a colourful laksa, woolly tails and some gentle knitting….

Bernard and a selection of my china dogs

After a week of busy-ness and knitting we’re having a quiet couple of days, mostly it’s tidying my work room, getting things ready for next Saturday’s craft fair at Glory Days in Holt, making notes of any last minute sewing that needs to be finished…..obviously some of us always seem to be taking it easy.

For best part of the last week himself has been taking up residence in his cat basket which we’ve had to move up onto the coffee table….he’s not one for sleeping low down and likes high places where he has a bit of a view, right by the window is perfect as he can peer out while loud chatty people wait for the bus, (generally giving them a proper Paddington Bear stare) it’s also a good spot to pounce on balls of wool if they roll onto the floor…I’m always amazed at how nimble he can be when he wants.

milk and silver

I’m about half way through my Moonraker shawl, I’m now just taking it slow and steady, knitting this has been really nice.  I had a lovely chat with the lady who owns my local yarn shop yesterday about how therapeutic knitting is, she said just watching someone knit apparently releases lots of endorphins which help you to feel calm, grounded……I know Bernard loves watching me knit, he gets a bit excited sometimes if the wool is wobbling around near to his face (yeah sometimes I do dangle it about to tease him so if he gets a bit swipey I only have myself to blame)…a couple of times I’ve draped this around him and it blends right in against his fur…all soft and moody, shades and sulks of grey with little “pips” in milk and creamy gold…..the above two rows are Blue Faced Leicester by Woolyknits from my local yarn shop and some good old Seely Suffolk from June Onigbanjo…I’ve also used a little Wensleydale from Serena Plenderleith in some earlier rows which is such a golden glossy wool…like the top of clotted cream.

woolly tails

As I mentioned on Thursday I’ve just found out about a brilliant kal over on the Caithness Craft Collective Ravelry group…it’s split up into 3 divisions…division 1..old wips…things you’ve put aside and have forgotten about  but which you still love and need to finish, division 2…knit a “unicorn”, basically knitting something to please yourself, a project you’ve been wanting to knit but hadn’t got round to it for whatever reason, and finally division 3, more of an unkal really as it’s about unfrogging something you know you’ve fell out of love with.  It’s such a great idea and just opening the doors of my cupboard where my clothes and “truck” get kept I’m always half in fear of my life with things tumbling down on top of me….most of my wips tend to be sewing related (so many half started patchworks)…but my main woolly wip would have to be my grannies paperweight blanket…..the main part of the blanket is all done and dusted, but turn it over and there are all those tails….my heart sinks every time I see them….and I also need to finish off the sides, I’ve thought a lot about making a border using all browns and greys to pick up the colours of the boy and since knitting with the undyed natural shades I’m definitely thinking those are the colours to use…

sesame and spelt overnight sourdough

It would be a rum old week if there wasn’t some bread being made at some point….after leaving the sponge for the bread out overnight and making the dough the next morning I’ve experimented this week a bit more (I’ll say experimented but if truth be told I forgot all about the left out sponge til nearly two in the afternoon)..the sponge had about 17 hours to bubble and get all activated, I made the dough, let it rise for about 3 and a bit hours, gently knocked it back, let it prove for just over an hour and a half in a proving basket before popping it into a hot oven….I’d added a handful or so of sesame seeds to the dough before kneading it and the smell of them was so tummy growlingly good when the bread came out…..the boyfriend said this was one of my best loaves yet, the taste of the sourdough starter was much stronger, it also had a firm, chewy crust which he likes for his sandwiches…it smelt so nice the next morning for toast with some salty butter slowly melting in little golden pools…..

pumpkin and tomato thai style soup

It was pretty chilly at the start of the week, we woke on Monday to a proper snowfall (which sadly had all but melted away by mid morning) so I felt a spicy soup was needed for tea….I love Thai food but it’s really difficult for us to buy ready made pastes as we don’t eat fish and most Thai dishes seem to have fish sauce in there somewhere…I’ve bought some Thai curry paste before from a health food/vegetarian grocers but it was really heavy on the garlic (which I really do not like and have never actually used when I cook…the boyfriend uses it and that’s how much I love him..I’ll eat garlic for him but if I’m the one cooking then the garlic isn’t anywhere to be seen)… now I tend to make my own paste, and make up enough for several meals, putting extra servings in the freezer so the paste is good to go as and when I need it….my paste is made up of fresh ginger, red chillies, lemongrass and coriander, all pounded up with a big fat mortar and pestle before blitzing in a food choppy whizzer thing with lime juice, fresh mint, lots of salt…each time I make it it’s a little different.

The soup is based on Nigel Slater’s Pumpkin and Tomato Laksa which uses steamed squash or pumpkin and cherry tomatoes (this time of the year we use tinned ones).  Changes I’ve made to his recipe include adding mushrooms and using a can of coconut milk along with a third of a block of coconut cream (I find the coconut block has a more intense coconutty taste, but the the milk gives it a nice smooth texture).

We like the soup with spring rolls and a fiery sweet chilli dipping sauce, then any laksa left over I have the next day for lunch.  I never mind how dreary and dismal it looks outside when I have this to eat, it’s so bright and orangey, all tingles to my taste buds….it just makes me so happy to cook it and then eat it.

doughy delights and simple pleasures…

dough proving

Last week I was chatting to one of the lovely chaps at Norwich Providore (they have a stall on Norwich Market where they sell award winning bread and the lightest, meltiest croissants and  pastries)….he was telling me how their bakers work through the night and I was saying how I get up early on a Sunday to make bread for my boyfriend but it’s only really ready in the evening (due to the natural starters taking longer to rise) and he suggested making the sponge for the bread before I went to bed, that way the natural starter will have been able to do it’s thing in the way it likes best…slowly……then when I get up I can add the other ingredients, knead the dough and then let it prove and hopefully it’ll be ready around lunch time.

It seemed such a simple and clever idea that I felt a bit daft I’d not thought to do it like that before now…….anyway, Saturday evening I weighed out the ingredients for a bread sponge while waiting for the kettle to boil for a bedtime drink, these are only ever approximate measures as I didn’t write them down and each time I make it my bread always comes out a litle bit differently….the joys of being a home baker.

200 g bread flour (I always use flour from Shipton Mill)

100 g of oats

a good dollop of honey

300-350 ml of warm water

200 g of natural starter

Everything goes into a bowl together and is gently mixed together, then is covered with a large cloth and left overnight.

scored into eights

Sunday morning was lovely, glorious Winter sunshine filled the kitchen and we had the windows and the back door open so I could let in the fresh air and hear those long tailed tits I wrote about yesterday…..

I lifted up the cloth and checked the sponge, there was a good old bubble going on, also the sponge smelt stronger than usual, it’s that lovely warm bready aroma that bread always seemd to have when I was a little girl……

To the sponge I added some more flour, just a handful or two at this stage, a glug of oil (we had some rapeseed from Cornwall and that worked fine), a generous pinch of Maldon sea salt rubbed together between my fingertips and a handful of sesame and sunflower seeds……then it’s a case of slowly mixing everything together…adding a bit more flour until the dough is ready to be kneaded which is probably the most relaxing part of making bread….every so often I add a little more flour until the dough feels cool and silky.  I always add a splash of oil to my proving bowl and smear it around the inside before popping in the dough and covering the bowl with the cloth again……..I left the dough in a sunny spot on the table for a couple of hours then lifted it out, gently knocked the dough back, re-shaped it and then placed it in a floured muslin cloth which sits in a big wooden proving basket.

bread flour a few good handfuls…how much exactly depend s on the flour, your dough, even the weather…..

pinch of Maldon salt

glug of oil

handful of seeds

and out of the oven

Then I sprinkled a bit of flour over the dough, lightly covered it with the muslin cloth edge and left it for about 40/45 minutes…turned the oven on to get good and hot which in my oven takes about 15 minutes…..then I just turned the dough out onto a lined baking sheet and scored the top with a sharp knife….gently placed it into the oven on gas 7 for about 15 minutes, then turned it down to  gas 6 for another 30/35 minutes before allowing to cool on a rack where plenty of air is able to move about underneath.

The crumb of the bread seemed a little lighter than normal, and even with a cold and a snuffly old nose I could really smell that lovely warm wheaty aroma….and as with all things edible, proof of the pudding being in the eating of …..the toast taster said it was really good.

the homiest comforts and the shawl thief strikes again….

spelt and seed blend

When it’s cold and wet outside I find myself spending more and more time in the kitchen, pottering about with slowly simmering pans on the stove or baking bread.  Sadly we don’t have a huge kitchen so no room for a table in there which is probably a good thing as I’m imagining myself sitting there with a comfy old cushion underneath me, a pot of tea on the table (which would no doubt be all cup ringed and marked), a stack of cookery books all dog eared and pieces of paper torn off envelopes to keep my place for a “oh that looks nice” recipe….I’d wave goodbye to the boy as he cycles off to work and then plonk myself down and take root….anyway I can dream of the day we have a roomier space and content myself in the meantime while washing up with gazing out the window watching the birds at the feeders hanging from the cherry tree….

Baking bread has become part and parcel of my routine, some weeks I only seem to bake on a Sunday, other times I need to do a mid week bake as well…..I’ve been using a natural starter (or a sourdough starter) to make bread for getting on for a couple of years now I suppose, and while it means the bread takes longer to make it’s really more time to allow the bread to prove and rise rather than actually doing anything to it…and I can happily fit my work in and around the bread making.

oat and honey bread

Usually I add a few handfuls of oats, some honey, a selection of seeds and a glug of oil to the bread flour…whenI remember a grated apple gets put in to as I’ve found that seems to stop the bread drying out too quickly…I can’t really eat bread anymore myself but my boyfriend is a bit of bread fiend and will happily have toast with honey as a pudding in the evening, however there’s a limit to what he can eat and I think homemade bread is always best in the first day or so, so the apple (and the oats too) help stop it going stale too quickly.

Sometimes I like to use an old bread tin, I inheribted a couple of proper oldies when my Nanny died, I think she used them for fruit cakes or tea breads.  But mostly I leave the bread to rise in a proving bowl and then just up-end it onto a lined baking tray, cut the top and pop it into a hot oven where the shape it comes out is a happy surprise…sometimes the loaves look all artisanal and I feel right proud, other days they look more like the Venus of Willensdorf..but the boyfriend asures me they all taste good.

freshly baked and hard to resist

Yesterday was a mid week bake day and I ended up letting the bread rise a bit too long in the proving basket (2 hours rather than 1) and when I turned it out on to the tray it sank a little and spread out….I cut the top and put it in the oven….it rose better than I thought it was going to and smelt…my eyes close now as I love the smell when the oven door opens and it’s that warm and homey smell….so good…perhaps a bit too good as within half an hour someone was making hints to bread and honey as a little evening snack…..the bread seemed very light and springy though and I’m not sure if it even touched the sides of his mouth.  I didn’t add seeds or apple to this loaf, it’s just oats and honey along with the flour and starter.

spindrift damson socks

And while I’m talking homey comforts…..tah dah…I’ve finished my second pair of socks.  I’m really pleased with these as they were a bit me being being all thrifty and using something I had that had been ferreted away in a cupboard…I bought this wool um, 4 nearly 5 years ago I think and it wasn’t getting used…these have been on my feet the past few days and my toes are so so warm……it’s Shetland Spindrift wool from Jamieson’s of Shetland.  The colour is damson and each sock took about a ball, there’s a wee bit left so I’ve made a couple of tiny balls and have tucked them into my darning tin so I can at least repair them in a matching colour for the first couple of darns.  I’m quite a …cough cough…tight knitter…if Anne is reading this I know she’ll be laughing as I don’t think she’s ever seen anyone knit as tight as me….I just need a glass of wine and then my tension seems to improve no end.

I guess I need to test these out a bit first but on warmth alone I’d certainly think of using this wool to knit socks with again…

a sheepy sock read

I’ve spent the past few days reading this amazing book by Debbie Zawinski.  (My boyfriend bought it for me for Valentine’s and it’s such a lovely present…sheep and socks…awesome)

I’d mentioned the book after hearing a review for it on a Knit British podcast (which is so good to listen to, Louise reviews some really interesting knitting books and I’ve got a long list of books I’m waiting for my local library to get in for me) …In the Footsteps of Sheep is the story of how Debbie walks and travels around Shetland and some of the other islands at the top of Scotland, collecting wool from the different breeds of sheep that she finds and then goes on to knit socks from that wool…the people she meets are all fascinating and the pictures of the sheep are amazing, you’ll never think all sheep look the same again.

It’s a really brilliant read and even though I’m a beginner knitter, the patterns for the socks are much easier to understand than a lot I’ve seen.  It’s such a great book and I’m keen to try out the breeds mentioned in it.  In case you’re wondering, there are substitutes given for the wool she has used in her speical socks such as WYS Aire valley so you don’t have to go all the way to Shetland to gather your own wool.

I really like books like this, a combination of things to make and the story behind them.

Guess who has pinched my shawl

Mentioning no names, it seems that the shawl thief has struck once again….I’ve already had to share the shawl with him in the evenings, he perches on the arm of the sofa and gives me a right old fashioned Paddington Bear stare, cheeks all puffed out and whiskers forward, then he clambers over the boyfriend’s lap and climbs all over me, nestles in  my lap and paws the shawl so it folds around him.  But this morning was the limit…I’d only been in the kitchen long enough for the kettle to boil, and came back to find himself all comfy and sprawled out right where I’d been sitting….

I don't have the heart to move him

….when I asked what he thought he was doing…..he chirped and curled himself all up on his back, wriggling his paws and toes at me as if to say “I’m far too cute to be made to move”…..

I've learnt to share the shawl with Bernard

He’s been a bit windy again lately, all trumpety trombone noises so there is always the risk of  his secret weapon being released if I pick him up, and I’m sure you’ll be more than a little shocked to know when I tried to take the shawl away he bit me, not very hard, he just holds on and shakes his head…I’ve seen cats do something similar with kittens so I’m obviously being told off for trying to steal “his” shawl….I figure it’s easier to just leave it be and hope it doesn’t get too covered in cat fluff.