What I’m Reading

This month, I’ve been busy doing some research for the Sourdough Challenge we’ve started at the forum on Easter Monday.  The first part — creating the starter — has just ended, although a few of us are yet to finish with the preparations.  We are going to start baking together on Monday, the 1st of May and I can tell it’s going to be a lot of fun.

The Rustic Sourdough I baked yesterday to prepare for the next part of the Challenge. This is another good loaf, part rye/wholemeal/white flour from my favourite Wayne Gisslen book. I think we’ll be having this on regular rotation.

Here’s my reading list for the month of April:
A whole heap of sourdough and artisan bread books from the library. Simply too many for me to list. A few odd books thrown in this stack too for Donuts, Sewing, and General Cookery. Not in photo is Bread Revolution by Peter Reinhart (a book of the same title as the one in photo, but much better and by a different author). My knitting is near the back — it’s a Super Easy Lap Blanket from Purl Soho using Bendigo Woollen Mills’ Luxury Autumn 12-ply.

The Millionaire Next Door (2016 ed.) by Thomas Stanley (cited in the latest Barefoot Investor book) was finally available for me at the library, so I’ve been leafing through that too.  I find some of the behaviours identified quite interesting.  I am not sure, though, if the figures have been updated, and at times the author tends to repeat a point too often.

Risotto with Nettles by Anna del Conte became available at the library again so I am reading through it when I’m resting.  Julie and Julia by Julie Powell is waiting in the wings.

A second batch of the other day’s baking challenge (Hokkaido Milk Toast), double the recipe this time, and shaped into 4 snails by 3 loaves. Definitely a hit with the Little Miss who has declared them “the best toast ever”. No relation to this post, I know.

Lastly, I have been referencing (again) One Magic Square and Outside the Magic Square by Lolo Houbein for ideas on planting groups this month and next.

What have you been reading this month?  I always love to hear about books that people find interesting — I often wish I lived in a house full of wall-to-wall bookcases!

My Baking Challenge, Autumn #8

I can’t believe I’m on the eighth week of this challenge!  I am really happy I chose to blog about it.  I’ve been tempted to be lazy a few times and I’m sure I’d have given in, if I didn’t have to tell you all about it.

This week’s recipe is the Hokkaido Milk Toast (Tangzhong method) from one of my favourite Aussie food bloggers.

Mr Meagre and I got married in Singapore nearly a decade ago now, and one of the things I still miss about that place is the food.  I just love the variety — from the multitude of curries (Thai, Indian, Malaysian), to the noodles (Mee Siam and Char Kway Teo are my favourites), and rice dishes (Nasi Goreng and Nasi Lemak).  They do have the usual meat-and-three vege of course, but I don’t recall seeing much of it at the hawker’s centres…

And then there is the bread.  Soft, fluffy, milky bread that comes plain, or topped with anything from pork floss to sprinkles, and even wrapped around a frankfurt sometimes.  I remember grabbing a few from nearly any corner bakery or mall outlet, and the bread would always stay soft for days on end.  I never understood how they did it until I discovered baking with tangzhong.

Hokkaido Milk Toast from Christine’s Recipes. Brushed with milk and baked for about 30 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius. The dough filled a 1-1/2 lb bread tin and it is a nice, big size for sandwiches and toasties.

I made a few changes to the recipe,  Firstly, I used plain flour with about two teaspoons of gluten flour, or what other American sites call vital wheat gluten.  And then there is the amount of eggs (I made do with one egg plus an eggwhite I had left over from another dish).  I also substituted cream with milk and a bit of softened butter.

The tangzhong needs to cool a bit before being added to the dough. Everytime I make this, I remember the paste that my grandmother used to make when were young. It looks like that gluppy liquid that she used when we tore pages off a directory and turned them into paper envelopes, akin to “doggie bags” or brown paper lunch bags. I think the ironing starch was pretty much the same method, too — I hate ironing so don’t quote me on that.
After the first rise, the dough is split into three, rolled out and folded according to her instructions.
Flipped over and rolled from the nice side…
and flipped back on the wrong side to be curled up into a snail. As I rolled the dough, it felt strangely familiar… supple and smooth, like something I’d worked on very recently, but couldn’t quite place.

Three snails done. I should have known myself well enough to bring out my electronic scales, instead of simply dividing the dough the way she does.
The temperature was a cool 18 degrees Celsius outside, no doubt cooler in the kitchen. I used the hot-water-in-sink method and started to preheat when the snails touched each other, and the sides of the pan.
By the time my oven was ready, the dough looked like this. Against the side of the pan in the lower part of the photo, you can just see the “stretch”…
A milk brush and half an hour later, the bread was done. I couldn’t resist a sideways photo — doesn’t the snail shape just look so quaint and charming?
Here is the leftover tangzhong — I haven’t decided what to bake with it yet.

Will I bake this again?  Yes, yes, yes!  My daughter loves it in her lunchbox and it would compensate for the times I have to force my sourdough loaves on her (LOL).  It’s been over two days, and the loaf is still as fresh and soft as it was on the day it was baked.  When I sliced the loaf, I realised why it was eerily familiar.  It feels just like the dough from the Challah I made a few weeks back, only, this one is a bit lighter and less crumbly after baking.

Next week:  Bacon-Onion Rye Rolls, from one of my go-to sites, King Arthur Flour.

What I’m Doing

Happy Easter Monday!

We’ve sadly come to the end of a long weekend, amd tomorrow is the first day of the school term.  Mr Meagre will be back at work, the Little Miss will be back at school, and I will need to declutter the spare room while chasing after the toddler.

Here’s a glimpse of what we’ve been doing the past few days.

Wednesday night. I woke up one of my dried starters while I was preparing food to take with us on a road trip the next day. This is a starter made out of unbleached bakers flour that I had dried a month ago. To wake it up, I dissolved a quarter-cup of the chips with the same amount of filtered water. When the chips had dissolved after a few hours, I fed it with a quarter-cup of plain flour (I ran out of bakers flour).
Thursday. Great Ocean Road Trip.

We set out shortly after 6am on Thursday for our day trip.  The weather forecast wasn’t looking good for the rest of the long weekend, so we decided that this was the best day to do it.  We took the long, scenic route to the Twelve Apostles.  It was a lovely sight with all the rock formations.  I probably will blog about it when I can get organised enough to copy photos from the camera.

Surprisingly, the kids were well-behaved, apart from a few Are-we-there-yet’s and sleepy meltdowns.  We took some meat pies, sausage rolls, Danish Spirals, chips, and drinks.  I also used the thermal cooker we bought from Aldi to make a beef stew (I highly recommend it, but must remember not to use the top pan unless I am not fussed about its contents spilling).  We did have to make a pit stop for food — it was at a Macca’s on the way home, for the obligatory Happy Meal and Frozen McSpider for the Little Miss.  She says it was the best trip ever.  She obviously doesn’t get a Happy Meal as often as she wants, LOL.

This is what we came home to on Thursday night. The starter is alive! I shoved it into the fridge so I can bake with it later.

On Friday night, we stayed at home and scoured the internet and local newspapers for used car ads.  We have been saving up for a new-to-us car, automatically setting aside some money each payday and parking it in our mortgage to help with the interest (we are able to redraw it without charge).  Our goal was to purchase a four-wheel drive in 2018 and we had been planning to buy one with a towbar, ready for when we save enough money for a used caravan. We made the decision to purchase it earlier because our mums (Mr Meagre and mine) will be here on a three-month vacation very soon, and our current car is a five-seater.

Mr Meagre’s “new” car, which he has already nicknamed Gru. Our current car is named Scarlett and the one before her was Herb. The Minions are quite popular in this household.

Fortunately, we were able to find a suitable one and we will be picking it up next week.  Mr Meagre seems happy enough with his 12-year old 4wd — it is not the shiny offroader of his dreams, but at least we were able to resist taking out a loan for that.
If you are interested in sourdough baking, I invite you to join us at the The Home Maker’s.  We will be making our sourdough starters today, and the sourdough bake-alongs will begin in May. I am pretty excited at having so many people to bake sourdough with!  The internet is awesome.

My sourdough “mother” from last month. I will be repeating this method for our Sourdough Starter Challenge at The Home Maker’s Forum, with only half the recipe. There are two other starter methods to choose from.

What have you been busy with this past month?

My Baking Challenge, Autumn #7

I’ve done a bit of absent-minded baking today;  my mind is occupied with preparations for a day trip we shall be having tomorrow.

Today’s recipe:  Danish Spirals from Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen, and I chose the Danish Pastry Dough (Brioche-Style).

In my twenties, I had promised myself that I would go on a trip to Paris when I turned 30.  Such is my love for patisserie that I was willing to go on a solitary trip to see the sights and eat French pastry at a cafe everyday!  Unfortunately, life had other plans for me — I met Mr Meagre the year I turned 29, and we were married shortly before I turned 31.  Somewhere in between those years, life got a little busy with us changing jobs, moving countries, and of course my silly little Paris dream had slowly faded into the distance.  I still love French pastry though.  If there is one thing I desperately want to learn to bake, it will definitely be that.

So, without digressing even further, here is my (futile?) attempt at learning patisserie at home.

Cinnamon-sugar filled Danish Spirals from Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen, using the Brioche-style pastry dough. I made them up into Figure-eight rolls (left) and Three-leaf rolls (right).
Tuesday night. I left a whole bar of butter to soften and took two pieces of baking paper (each roughly 20cm x 24cm), along with my rolling pin. I have neither a marble countertop, nor a cold kitchen, so I decided that my best bet would be to lay a sheet of cold butter into the dough just before folding. I have seen some places selling butter like this (very expensive!) to be used for croissants and other French pastry.
Making a butter sheet a little less than 20cm wide (conveniently, the size of my rolling pin without the handles)…
… and 24cm long. In hindsight, I should have read the instructions for folding the dough correctly. I would have found out that I was supposed to roll out a dough 20cm x 30cm and spread the butter only over two-thirds its length.

I shoved the butter sheet into the fridge, quite chuffed at myself for having thought of doing that in advance.  Woke up the next day, and bleary-eyed me decided I didn’t have the time to knead the brioche dough by hand.  So I measured the ingredients before breakfast and even did some washing on the side…

Beep beep went my bread machine on the brioche dough cycle, so I excitedly opened the lid… only to find a cottage-cheese looking dough inside! I couldn’t believe my eyes — I hadn’t seen dough that bad since I was learning not to make bricks out of bread many moons ago. (Note: this photo is not the sight I saw — it is much better as I tried to knead it by hand, and in my shock, I forgot to take a photo).

By this time, my mind was racing through all the new ingredients I had tried today… Is it the yeast they sent me?  Or did I add way too much gluten flour into my plain flour?  Was my bread machine acting up again?  (I felt that it was a little warmer than it should have been as I picked the tin up).  I was pacing through the kitchen with the dough in my hands, wondering if I can still rescue it… but knowing that it had already undergone first rise, I just closed my eyes, held my breath, and chucked it in the bin.  Ah well, back to square one…

Danish Pastry, take two! Not trusting myself or the bread maker again, I decided to knead it by hand this time, and plop the open book right in front of my bowl… and that’s when it hit me: I had forgotten to put in the second quantity of milk!
Lumpy dough mystery solved? We shall see… At this point I was still quite worried that my dough wasn’t looking very smooth. I popped the bowl into the fridge for the first rise, just in case I coudn’t get to it within the next hour or so.
Out of the fridge after about four hours. Time to roll it out into a rectangle…
lay the butter sheet over the top two-thirds of the dough…
fold up, and fold down…
and turn 90 degrees. This is to fold the butter into the sheet. I rolled it out into a rectangle again, repeat the fold up and fold down, turn the dough 90 degrees…
and mark the dough with one thumbprint before popping it into the fridge for 30 minutes.
After half an hour, I roll the dough out (making sure it is rotated 90 degrees from last rolling out), fold up and fold down, and mark the dough with two thumbprints. Then right back into the fridge for another 30 minutes.

After the third rolling out, the dough was ready to be filled and shaped into a log. I chose to fill it with cinnamon sugar, but I can imagine many other possibilities like nuts or sultanas. I shape the dough and let it proof.

After brushing with an egg wash, I popped them into the oven at 200 degrees Celsius.  They were buttery and golden brown after about 25 minutes.
Will I bake them again?  Quite frankly, I am not sure.  I love the crunch of these Danish spirals, and I desperately want to learn this craft.  However, the insane amount of butter has put me off baking it for a while.  I will definitely not delve into patisserie again unless I can give it my full attention.

Next week:  Hokkaido Milk Toast (Tangzhong Method), from one of my favourite Aussie food bloggers, Christine Ho.

In the Garden:  April

Here are some photos from our warm temperate garden this month.

Baby chokos hiding. The winds have been very strong these past few days, and the trellis supporting the choko vine has been under constant threat of collapse. It is obviously very heavy, laden with small flowers and fruit.

The pomegranates are slowly turning bright red. When do we harvest them?

Bitter melon fruits have been harvested and turned into stir-fries, much to Little Miss Meagre’s disgust. I haven’t seen anyone so glad to see the bitter melon plant has finished for the season.

Our dwarf persimmon tree is keeling over from the sheer weight of its fruits. They’ve turned a bright orange and we’ve tasted a few. They’re nice and crunchy but still not ripe and sweet enough.

Has anyone else noticed how spring-blooming flowers and fruit are coming up so early?  We just saw some new asparagus spears popping up, and the muscari have been sending out shoots as well.  It worries me that they might not have enough energy left when springtime comes around for real.

What are you doing in the garden this week?  I have some saffron bulbs cooling in the fridge crisper and I can’t wait to plant them!

My Baking Challenge, Autumn #6

This week’s recipe is a Basic ‘Almost’ White Sourdough loaf from Yoke Mardewi’s second book, Sourdough: From Pastries to Gluten-Free Wholegrain Breads.

Two loaves of Yoke’s Basic ‘Almost’ White Sourdough, baked in 1-1/2 lb bread tins.

As some of you may remember, I am the only sourdough fan in this household.  Mr Meagre often wonders why the bread sometimes tastes “sour”;  of course, Little Miss Meagre is even worse — she expects bread to be made out of white flour, and crust-less, as many young children do.

I don’t often make no-knead breads and sourdough breads consecutively, however, this time around I really wanted to see what their reaction might be to this white flour-lookalike loaf.

Here is the recipe I adapted from Yoke Mardewi:

Basic ‘Almost’ White Sourdough
Makes two loaves

200 grams rye starter, ready to bake with, and fed according to her instructions*

800 grams plain (all-purpose) flour.  She suggests unbleached white wheat or spelt, both of which I ran out of.

480 grams filtered tap water, or just tap water left to stand a few hours

2 teaspoons non-iodised cooking salt

*Yoke feeds her rye starter with a ratio of 150 grams water for every 100 grams rye flour.

My rye starter is fed in equal parts by weight, or 100 grams water for every 100 grams rye flour.  It lives in the fridge, so I knew it was going to take longer than she specifies in her recipe.  With her instructions, a ripe starter is assumed, so the dough is mixed the previous day.  I added a few more days to that, so to bake a loaf on Thursday, I started feeding the starter two days before.
Tuesday, 10am

  • Take starter out of the fridge.  Take 70 grams of starter and dump in a big mixing bowl.  Add 105 grams of filtered water and stir.  Mix in 70 grams of rye flour.  This will be our sourdough sponge, or levain.  I leave the mixing bowl on the countertop, covered with a plate.
  • To the starter jar, add in 35 grams of filtered water and stir.  Mix in 35 grams of rye flour and put back in the fridge.  It will not need to be fed again until we take starter out, or after one week from last feed.

Tuesday, 6pm

  • I observe my starter and see if it is bubbly.  If it needs a little more help, I feed it again by taking out 100 grams of starter, and adding 60 grams of filtered water and 40 grams rye flour.

Wednesday, 9am

  • I observe my starter again and feed as per Tuesday night.

Wednesday, 5:30pm

  • I could have prepared my dough at this time;  however it was a little cold so the starter is less bubbly than I would like.  I decide to feed it again and have a go tomorrow morning.

Thursday, 8am

  • Baking day!  I weigh the starter and keep only what I need (200 grams for this recipe).  I then proceed to add the water, flour, and salt.  I mix it just until the ingredients come together.
    My ever-dependable glass bowl, with the flour, water and salt added to the levain. I let it rest to autolyse.
  • After waiting roughly 20 minutes for the dough to autolyse (a fancy baker’s term for resting the dough to let the flours absorb the water), I knead it by lifting and slapping the dough against the bowl.  Ordinarily, I would have brought out my wooden kneading board.  However, today I had to run around the house chasing after a particularly naughty toddler.  So I took the dough with me and stretched it with my two hands while walking;  twisting, turning and folding the dough back onto itself.  I simply imagine playing a heavy accordion and keep going until the dough is smooth and elastic.
    I stop kneading the dough when it is “smooth as a baby’s bottom”, as they say. I plop it back onto the bowl which had been smeared with a bit of olive oil. Seam side up first to coat the top, the turn it over to coat the bottom seams too.
  • 9am:  Let the dough rise until roughly doubled.
If the weather is not a pleasant “room temperature”, or I simply want to guarantee a timely rise, I often let the dough rise in a clean sink with a bit of hot water around the bowl’s bottom. The steam is enough to give gentle heat and ensure that the dough doesn’t dry out.

    If the hot-water-in-sink trick doesn’t cut it, I heat water in a mug in the microwave for two minutes, put the dough in with the heated cup, and close the microwave for about two hours. I just have to make sure nobody uses the microwave during that time. In the winter, I often preheat the oven to the lowest temp and turn it off; then pop the bowl of dough in with some hot water in a tray underneath.
    Dough after first rise.

    • 11am.  First rise done.  I partition the dough into two loaves and let them proof.
    At this point, Yoke suggests that the dough could go through the retardation phase in the fridge (overnight) and baked the following day. However, I wanted to bake the loaves today because (1) we were out of bread; and (2) retardation enhances the sourdough characteristics further and I was trying to avoid that for this ‘white’ loaf.
    • 3pm.  The loaves have finished proving.  I preheat the oven to 235 degrees Celsius, brush the top of the loaves with milk, and sprinkle some sesame seeds.
    Waiting for the oven to preheat. They bake for 10 minutes at 235 degrees Celsius and a further 25-35 minutes at 215 degrees Celsius.

    The verdict:  It is a good recipe for a sourdough loaf;  however, not what I was after as a white loaf replacement.  I will bake this again soon, but will increase the sourdough starter amount so it will rise faster and taste less “sourdough-y”.  

    I will also be using two 1-lb tins rather than the 1-1/2lb tins I used, to get a higher loaf.  Lastly, I will be baking it at a lower temperature (probably 180-190 degrees Celsius) to give a softer crust.

    Next week:  Danish Spirals from Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen.

    Preparing for an Emergency

    The recent storms in Queensland and unseasonal snowfall in Japan, among others, have encouraged us to revisit our plans and identify weaknesses in our emergency preparedness.  Living close enough to the city means that big shopping centres with 24-hour shops are within our walking distance;  however it also means that the food and supplies that they sell are very highly dependent on freight trucks and good road access.

    We aren’t extreme “preppers” ready for a doomsday scenario, although if you ask Mr Meagre he will probably say he is preparing for a zombie apocalypse.  He has also been known to mention the need for cigarettes and wine in our arsenal — it will be useful for bartering, he says.  All jokes aside, however, emergency preparedness is a very serious matter around here and we aim to continually improve our readiness.

    Here are the things that we currently have in place:

    1. Drinking water.  Many sources recommend 10 litres of water per person, to last three days at a minimum.  At the moment, we stock spring water in 10-litre plastic casks with a spout — these are sold at all supermarkets for about $4.  There is currently enough to meet the minimum, however I am considering setting aside $4 every month to purchase some more to last us seven days.
    2. Food stockpile.  I remember someone telling me about the survival rules of 3… A person can last 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food.  Our stockpile will probably last us a month at the moment.  I will need to go around the pantry again;  I think we are running a bit low on the tinned meats, beans, and long-life/powdered milk because we have been so focused on extra mortgage repayments recently.
      Our stockpile shelves for rice, pasta, and sweeteners. Dried legumes, pulses, and flours are in another shelf; tinned meats, tomatoes, and vegetables are in yet another. We also have a chest freezer for meats, dairy, and frozen vegetables. At the moment, we don’t have a generator to run it in case of a prolonged power outage.
    3. Personal care stockpile.  Toilet paper, soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste and the like.
    4. Radio.  We have an old-fashioned radio beside the kitchen — I listen to the news or some music while loading the dishwasher some days.  It is powered from the mains for daily use, but in emergencies we can top it up with batteries.  We also have walkie-talkies and extra mobile phones (old-school keypad ones) and chargers.
    5. Lamps, torches, and candles.  We have about four small LED lamps loaded with batteries in the event of a power outage.  We also have torches on our bedside and in our bags, and candles under the bathroom sink.
    6. Alternative cooking sources.  In the shed, we have a charcoal bbq, some briquettes and fire starters.  A big pack of matches is always under the kitchen sink.  We also bought a thermal cooker from Aldi recently.  We can take it with us on long drives or when camping, but as a bonus we can use it for prolonged emergencies when gas supply is limited.
      On the left, the thermal cooker from Aldi. On the right, one of our 10-litre casks of emergency drinking water.
    7. Medicines.  We always have a first aid kit at home, along with roughly a months’ supply of prescription and over-the-counter medicines that we might need.
    8. Clean blankets and towels.  We keep clean towels and blankets in each bedroom and in the ensuite.  In the event of a flood, they would hopefully keep us warm and dry, and prevent smoke inhalation in case of a fire.  We also check our fire extinguisher yearly, and ensure that a fire blanket is accessible in the kitchen at all times.
    9. On-the-go bags.  This is a throwback from when we used to live in a mid-rise apartment.  We realised then how necessary it was to have our important documents safe and sound in a backpack in case we needed to evacuate in haste (we did, more than once).  It has proven so useful that we have expanded the contents and now have them in two separate backpacks, one for each adult.  What is sorely lacking in these bags is a bit of spare cash, so I will need to make a note of that.
      Our emergency bag #1. Medicine, water purification tablets, baby wipes, toilet paper, wind-up torch and radio, a pen, multi-tool knives, matches in a ziplock bag…
      … toiletries, change of clothes for everyone, muesli bars for energy, crackers, easy-open tins of tuna, bottled water. The documents are in a separate backpack. A portion of our home journal is there and it contains insurance documents, receipts for big ticket appliances and home improvements, and a list of important contacts and other information.
    10. In the car, we have a picnic mat and a full picnic basket, a jumpstarter with torch, a first aid kit, water, and some more muesli bars.  We also bought a jerry can for petrol, although we haven’t really used it yet.
    11. On our mobile phones, Mr Meagre and I have our names listed under ICE1 (In Case of Emergency 1).  Both of us also have ICE2’s, and they are contact numbers for our relatives interstate.  Little Miss Meagre has been taught early on to memorise her name, her parents’ names, address, and mobile numbers.  No doubt we will be teaching the little boy too when it is time.
    12. Offsite copies of important documents.

    Just listing them down here has helped me realise there are still a few aspects we are not addressing.  Hopefully we can list them down and work through it in the coming weeks.  There is substantial information in this Red Cross manual.  Although there is no one here with a disability, I reckon the document will be a good starting point for our preparedness.

    Do you have your own emergency plan?  Maybe you can share some of your tips with me?

    What We Spent, What We Harvested

    March has really marked the start of the leaner season for us.  Clearly, we have entered that in-between period when the summer plants have finished, and the winter plants are still too young to harvest.

    Our garden harvest tally for the months of January-March.

    With passata season formally over, the chilli and eggplant have taken centre stage.  We have also harvested a few of our less-than-spectacular performers this season, namely, the watermelon and bitter melon.  

    The lone watermelon vine yielded a single fruit the size of a large grapefruit — it was very sweet and tasty, nonetheless.  As for the bitter melon, we could have harvested a lot more than just three.  However, we had misjudged the picking day and it had turned orange when we got around to it.  I washed the pulp off the seeds and left them to dry;  we will be replanting them in the Spring.

    We also spent a fair bit this month.  The figs were getting too big for their pots, and that meant a trip to the big green shed to buy bigger ones.  I also spotted a redcurrant plant which will hopefully be as successful as our blueberries and raspberries in a few years.

    Despite the reduced harvest and a bigger-than-usual outlay, we are still running in the black.  Hopefully, this will continue well into the winter .  We just need to focus on feeding the autumn/winter seedlings and manage the fruit trees well.

    How has your garden been this month?  Have you been affected by the recent storm?

    My Baking Challenge, Autumn #5

    Today’s recipe is an Olive Fougasse from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

    Olive Fougasse from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, using a light wholemeal dough.

    If you’ve never baked using their method before, you are in for a treat.  I bought this book back when it had just been published — way back in 2008.  I have been using their method on and off for years, and I reckon it is one of the easiest and fastest ways to bake bread.

    The method is easy.  Simply mix plain flour, water, salt, and yeast in a big non-airtight container, wait two to three hours (maybe more if the weather’s cooler) for it to rise, then store it in the fridge.  It is similar to batch cooking for bread, plus, you really don’t have to knead the dough.  On baking day, simply tear off a portion of the prepared dough from the fridge, plop it into a sheet and bake.  The prepared dough will store in the fridge for two weeks.

    I usually bake with their Master Recipe but this time around, I decided to go with a Light Wholemeal (simply substitute 1 cup of plain flour with wholemeal in the master recipe).  I have been using Australian cup measures with no ill effects;  however, I convert tablespoons into 3 teaspoons, and use less than 3/4 the amount of salt (I usually have plain cooking salt on hand).

    Bread prep. I take out the dough container just before using it, dust a bit of flour on my hands, and pick up a grapefuit-sized ball of dough. For the fougasse recipe, the instructions are to heavily flour the board and roll into a half-inch thick circle.
    Sprinkle half a cup of sliced black olives and fold the dough jelly-roll style. It would have looked nicer if I had been careful to buy sliced, pitted olives rather than the whole ones I picked up hastily.
    Roll up the log into a ball…
    …and flatten into a half-inch thick circle once more.
    Make some slits with a sharp knife. By this time, I was amazed at how nice the black olives looked against the dough.
    Lightly grease a cookie sheet with olive oil, and open up the slits before gently transferring the dough in. At this point, I preheat my oven to 200 degrees Celsius with an empty baking tin at the bottom oven tray. I also pop the cover back onto the dough container and return it to the fridge for another baking day.

    This Olive Fougasse was baked for about 25 minutes in my conventional oven.  As I put the cookie sheet in, I throw a cup of cool water into the empty baking tin below to create some steam.

    The verdict:  I like the light wholemeal dough better than the master recipe, but will have to see what everyone else thinks.  Having never eaten a fougasse before, I didn’t what to expect.  It makes lovely bread very similar in taste and texture to a foccaccia.  The crust isn’t crackling but there is just enough bite in the bread to make it pleasant to eat.

    If you are interested in this type of baking, I invite you to join us at The Home Maker’s Forum.  We are sharing tips, tricks and photos of No-Knead Breadmaking for the months of March-April.

    Next week’s recipe is a Basic “Almost-White” Sourdough from Sourdough:  From Pastries to Gluten-Free Wholegrain Breads by Yoke Mardewi.

    Cocoa, Curry, and Cayenne

    I used these three pantry ingredients together recently, and as you probably could guess, it isn’t something edible.

    I made soap using cocoa powder, curry powder, and cayenne pepper as natural colourants. Cold process soap unmoulded and cut after 28 hours. I wonder how much they would fade after curing.

    Nourishing Soap with Avocado Oil and Natural Colourants

    125 grams Avocado Oil

    300 grams Coconut Oil

    275 grams Olive Oil

    250 grams Frymasta Vegetable Oil

    50 grams Oil Garden Relax and Unwind Massage Oil

    380 grams Spring Water

    143 grams Sodium Hydroxide

    Oils I used for this soap experiment.
    Many soapmakers say that Frymasta is Palm Oil, so I decided to give it a go.  I have never used Palm Oil before;  I usually use Olive, Coconut, and Rice Bran Oil as my base.

    Scent and Colourants

    5 ml Oil Garden Relax and Unwind Essential Oil Blend

    1/2 teaspoon Cocoa Powder

    1/2 teaspoon Curry Powder

    1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

    Using up my aromatherapy oils; and trying out pantry ingredients as natural colourants.

    For the scent and colourant amounts in this experiment, I used Natural Soap, Second Edition, by Melinda Coss.  I have not used these natural colourants before and am interested to see how they fare at unmoulding, and over time.

    Repurposed wooden soap mould. This batch just fits into the mould and I was worried about expansion, so I poured a little batter into a silicone loaf mould. Both moulds are from the kitchenware section at Kmart.

    My soap mould is a baking paper-lined Bamboo Drawer Tidy from Kmart that I previously used to hold individual tea bags.  I might see if I can buy another one so I can make a bigger batch.  I would love to have those handcrafted soap moulds sold at specialty shops, but I find them too expensive at the moment.  To cut the soap, I used a Stainless Steel Vegetable Crinkle Cutter.  It is much cheaper than one specially made for soap, although that is probably a lot sturdier and definitely wider.

    Trial unmoulding after 18 hours. This is the extra soap batter that was in the silicone loaf mould. Obviously not ready for unmoulding yet, but the colour has a little potential. I am not a big fan of this essential oil but would probably use more of it the next time around — the smell is very faint even after unmoulding.

    I do not consider myself a soapmaker, so I will not be posting a tutorial here.  If you are interested in soapmaking, Rhonda’s Down to Earth gives a good introduction.  I also follow the soapmaking adventures at Going Grey and Slightly Green.  If I want to learn a new swirling technique, or find out about oils, I always check the Soap Queen.  And finally, the lye calculator I use is SoapCalc.

    Do you make your own soap?  What new ingredients or techniques have you tried recently?