Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Daily Bread

I love to read about baking the way some people love to read about fashion.  (Offer me a Vogue magazine or a  King Arthur's catalogue, and I'll always choose King Art.)  Sometimes I daydream of baking my way (a la Julie and Julia) through some glutenous masterpiece like The Cake Bible or Crust & Crumb, garnering plaudits and praise from friends and family alike.  Alas, there are no little Micawbers to eat these creations, half my immediate family is gluten-intolerant, and the annual income does not support the regular production of Neo-Classic Buttercream or the construction of a wood-fired brick oven.  (Nor would our landlord appreciate the last.)  And the exigencies of everyday life can limit the time and ingredients available for tinkering in the kitchen.

So I save the specialty breads and spectactular cakes for rare and special occasions, and in the meantime fall back on tried-and-true recipes that I can put together easily--the blue jeans of baking, if you will.  Here's one of them.  It's our everyday, workhorse, basic bread recipe;  flexible, forgiving, and reliable.  It can be started the night before baking, or the morning of the day on which you'd like to eat it.  As with any really good bread recipe, the time from start to finish can seem long (6-24 hours), but the periods of active work are brief.  We love this bread, and I hope you will too.

Mrs. Micawber's Daily Bread - Makes 2 large or 3 medium loaves

Starter (if you have a stand mixer, make the starter in the mixer bowl)
Dissolve 3/4 teaspoon yeast in 3/4 cup warm water
Stir in 1-1/2 cups unbleached flour

Cover and let sit for 3-24 hours. It will get nice and bubbly, like this:

To starter, add:
3 teaspoons active dry yeast (for the quickest rise; 1-1/2 teaspoons if you're not in a hurry)
1-1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons oil (optional)
1 tablespoon brown sugar or 1 teaspoon honey (optional)

Stir the above a few times, then add:
600 grams* flour of your choice**
2 teaspoons salt

*I'm sorry I can't give volume measurements here - weighing the flour is the most reliable way to keep the integrity of the recipe. If you take your breadbaking seriously and plan to do it regularly, a little kitchen scale is worth the investment. I got mine about 15 years ago for around $11 on sale and it has been invaluable. Check Target, Amazon, or your local kitchen store and you should be able to find a good deal.  If you live on a Micawber-like income and just can't afford one, ask for it as a birthday or Christmas gift.

**I usually use about 300-400 grams whole-wheat flour and 100-200 grams unbleached flour or semolina flour. Sometimes I include old-fashioned oatmeal as one of the "flours". You can use whatever combination you like, as long as the total weight is 600 grams, at least half of which should be gluten-containing flour. The dough in these pictures was made with whole-wheat and semolina flours.

If desired, add some seeds at this point. Suggestions include:

Sunflower seeds
Flax seeds
Sesame seeds

I don't measure the seeds - I just put in a handful or two of whatever's handy. Today it was flax seed (DH had eaten all the sesame and sunflower seeds and neglected to tell me we were out).

Knead for 7-8 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic, with tiny bubbles under the surface. It will still be slightly moist and tacky, but that's okay. As the Italians say, the wetter the dough, the better the bread.

After kneading (and removing the dough hook), cover the bowl and leave the dough alone until it doubles in size. This may take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and cut into 2 or 3 portions.  I use my handy-dandy bench scraper for this (it goes by the charming name of Bash'N'Chop and works wonders for cutting dough, flipping pie crust, and cleaning sticky countertops).

Shape 1 portion at a time into a round or oblong loaf. I like James Beard's method (from Beard on Bread) for shaping the dough: Instead of rolling it out with a rolling pin, you just roll it into a ball, turn it 90 degrees, then roll again, about 6-8 times. Then pinch shut any open areas. If you want a round loaf, you can stop here, flip it over, and place it on the baking pan. If you like an oblong loaf, as I do, then gently roll it from the long side, pinch, roll again, pinch again, occasionally tucking the ends up and in, until it reaches the length you like. Then flip it over and put it on your pan.  Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I've included a little video to demonstrate this method (this is a silent movie, so no need to turn up the volume):

Unfortunately my memory card filled up and the camera stopped  before I could finish the process.  But you get the general idea.

Place dough on greased baking sheet.  If you have a silicone mat, by all means use it (no need for greasing in that case).  You can also use parchment paper, although it will crinkle up a bit under the dough during baking.

Newly formed loaves

Cover the dough.  (I like to use 2 plastic grocery bags, sliding one over each end of the pan, so they overlap in the middle.)  Place pan in warm spot until loaves have doubled in size, about 45-60 minutes.  When your loaves have been rising for about 25 minutes, turn the oven on to 400º, and get 6-8 ice cubes ready in a bowl in your freezer.

Doubled and ready to bake

Ice cubes ready to go

When oven is hot and dough has doubled, remove the plastic bags and slash the tops of the loaves about 3/4 - 1" deep (I use my bread knife for this).

Put the pan near the oven.  Get your bowl of ice cubes out of the freezer and throw them in the oven, then put the pan in and shut the door quickly to keep in the steam.

Bake loaves for 30 minutes at 400º, then 10 minutes at 375º.  Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack.  Try to wait 20 minutes before cutting into one.  Then enjoy your fresh home-baked bread!

P.S.  I store my bread in leftover plastic produce bags from the supermarket.  I put the bagged extra loaves in a regular plastic grocery bag and freeze them.  To thaw, remove loaf from produce bag.  Turn produce bag inside-out so any moisture can evaporate (this helps avoid mold when you re-bag your thawed bread).  Thaw bread on countertop for an hour or two.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Simple Pleasures - Spring

I walked to the grocery store this morning. After the long Midwestern winter of discontent, today is a gentle foretaste of glorious summer. The sapphire hardness of the wintry sky has softened to aquamarine and opal, delicate and translucent. The trees, like Adam, have awoken to their nakedness and are preparing to make themselves garments of leaves. The sun is pouring over all a baptism of warmth and rebirth.

My house geraniums are thinking about what to wear for Easter...

And the chives are up!

Happy Spring.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bean Blossom Scarf

After a winter of heavy sweaters, dark colours, and darker days, it's fun to pick up some pastel yarn and look ahead to warmer weather.

Here's a little scarf I dreamed up yesterday. Its twisting chains remind me of green beans clustered on the vine, and the flowers interspersed are of course the bean blossoms. (It also reminded me of asparagus roots, but that doesn't make such a nice pattern name.)

This pattern is super-easy, super-quick, and offers lots of potential for variations. As usual, the charted pattern comes first (very hastily sketched), then the shorthand instructions, then the tutorial with instructions in plain English.  Use any yarn you like with the appropriate-sized hook.  My scarf was made with Naturally Caron Spa and hook size I.

Beginning ring and loops

Join loops with sc, make new ring.

Showing one side border and one end done.

Shorthand Instructions:
Ch 6. Join with sl st to form ring.
Ch 1, sc in ring. *Ch 20, sc in ring (2 times). Ch 11. Join with sc in top of ch-20 loops to form cluster.
Ch 3. DC in joining sc to form ring. Ch 1, TURN, sc 1.
Repeat from * until scarf is as long as you like.
To make end ring, ch 6 and join with sl st to sc.
**Ch 11. SC 2, ch 4, sc 2, ch 4, sc 2 in next ring.
Repeat from ** up to ring just before other end of scarf. Ch 11.
In end ring, SC 2, ch 4 (5 times) in end ring. SC 2.
Repeat from ** up other side of scarf until you reach the end ring. SC 2/ch 4 as with first end ring (5 times), ending with sc 2.
Attach with sl st to sc at base. Weave in ends. Wear!

Starting Ring
Chain 6. Join with slip stitch to form ring.  Chain 1 and make single crochet in ring:
Strands and Rings
Chain 20, loop back down, and join to ring with single crochet:
Chain 20 again, loop back, join to ring with single crochet (look like bunny ears, don't they? I think I'll call them that):

Chain 11:

Join bunny ears with a single crochet. (Put hook through top of the 2 bunny ears just made, yarn over, and pull through. You should now have 2 loops on your hook. Yarn over again, and pull through both loops on hook.)


Chain 3, and make a double crochet in the single crochet you just made to form a new ring:

Chain 1, TURN, and make single crochet in ring:

Now you're ready to chain 20 and make your next set of strands (or bunny ears).  See how quick it is?  Keep making strands and rings until the scarf is as long as you like.

Ending Ring
For the final ring, chain 6 and join with slip stitch in single crochet at base of ring.  Now you're ready to go back around and make the side strands and blossoms.

Side strands and Blossoms
Chain 11:

Join to next ring: single crochet 2/chain 4, single crochet 2/chain 4, single crochet 2:

You may have to scooch the stitches over to the right to make them all fit.

The ring should look like this, with 2 petals sticking out:

Repeat the above step, all the way down one side of the scarf, ending with chain 11 at the the starting ring.  To make the end blossom, single crochet 2/chain 4 around the ring until you have 5 petals, ending with 2 single crochets.  It should look like this:

Now you're ready to go back up the other side of the scarf.  Follow the
"Side Strands and Blossoms" steps above...

...until you get to the ending ring.  Make another end blossom, join with slip stitch, and you're done!

Hide those yarn ends, fling your new bean blossom scarf around your neck (or the nearest vase), and head outside to make the most of spring.

Ideas for Variations:

~Make 2 or 3 scarves and join them at the blossom sections.  I hope to post an example of this soon.

~Lengthen or shorten the chain strands.  Just make sure you use an even number of chains for the long loops, and half that number + 1 for the side chains.

~Make the flower rings longer/taller, and add more petals.

~Make crocheted flowers to stick through the blossom holes, turning the petals into leaves.

~Make several scarves in different colours and wear them together.

You may do whatever you like with items you make from this pattern, but you may not sell the pattern. (Thanks to Snowcatcher for that handy phrase.  Crocheters and cyclists everywhere should check out her stunningly beautiful blog.)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Velvety Whole Wheat Brown Sugar Brownies

A brownie is a little chocolate square of love. I like to kid myself that these are healthy brownies - the whole wheat flour salves my dietary conscience, and the brown sugar gives them a slight molasses-y edge. But really, they're just plain good. Especially if you have the iron self-control to let them sit overnight.

Makes 16

Heat oven to 350.  Butter 8"x8" pan.

In small saucepan, melt:
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)

Remove from heat and with fork or whisk stir in, one at a time:
1/2 cup cocoa
2 tablespoons boiling water OR hot coffee
1 cup packed brown sugar (I could stop here and just eat the batter, but I don't)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs

When smooth, stir in:
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Scant 1/8 teaspoon baking soda (optional, for a cakier brownie)

Pour into buttered pan.  If desired, sprinkle chocolate chips over the top.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.  Cool completely.

Frost if desired and enjoy!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lemon Oatmeal Scones

Start your morning with the sunny tang of lemon and some whole-grain goodness.

Makes 8

Preheat oven to 425.

Zest half of one lemon. (Save the other half for glaze.) Squeeze juice from lemon half into measuring cup and add milk, cream or rice milk to equal 3/4 cup.

In food processor or bowl, combine:
1 cup unbleached flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup oats
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg or mace
Lemon zest from above

Cut in:
1 stick butter

Slowly add milk/lemon juice mixture until combined. Scoop out dough onto lightly floured surface and knead gently until it comes together into a ball.

Pat dough into 8" circle. Cut with pizza cutter or bench knife into 8 equal triangles. Place on greased baking sheet about 1" apart.  (I bake mine on a pizza stone;  no need to grease.)

In bowl, lightly beat 1 egg with fork. Brush scones with beaten egg and sprinkle with raw sugar.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and cool slightly on rack.

While scones are baking, make glaze in small bowl:

Melt 1 tablespoon butter
Add zest from other half of lemon
Squeeze some of the juice from leftover lemon half

Stir in 3/4 cup powdered sugar. Add lemon juice/powdered sugar as needed to make a good spreading consistency.

When scones have cooled slightly, spread with glaze. Enjoy!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Embellished Cardigan

Many of my favorite clothes are thrifted, including this 90's vintage cotton sweater.  It's drab, boxy, and has rather hideous yellowed buttons.  On the plus side, it's well-made and just the right length for me.  Maybe that's why I can't get rid of it:

But in the spring, a sewer's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of new clothes, or, in the Micawber household, updated versions of existing garments. Time to give this sweater a facelift with some little fabric roses and stems.  What I had in mind:

What I ended up with:

The flowers were inspired by these gorgeous rolled fabric roses from Portabellopixie.  Since I'm not the large-flower type, I figured I'd scale them down, using bias tubes for flexibility, and tucking the ends in underneath for washability without fraying.

Tiny rolled fabric roses.

I made some bias tube stems as well, and played around with the arrangement until it fell into place.  (The fabric-covered button idea was scrapped at this point):

Funny how designs rarely work out the way we plan.  But I was happy with it.   Got the flowers and stems pinned/basted:

Then set to work blind-stitching them in place.  All the bias tube ends were turned in and stitched to prevent fraying.

Once the flowers were all sewed down, Threads Magazine provided the inspiration for the fabric knot buttons, which also got the turned-in ends treatment:

And the final step:  take the sides in a bit to control some of that boxiness.

When I wore it to work, a co-worker asked if I'd gotten a new sweater. Guess the facelift worked!

P.S.  Thanks to all these GREAT sites for their fantastic sweater remake inspiration:

Thimbly Things
Crap I've Made (and can't we all agree with that name?)
Academic Chic
Wardrobe Refashion
Naturally Inspired Mama
Sew Petite Gal
Adventures in Dressmaking

And to Tip Junkie for her awesome assemblage of fabric flower tutorials.