Baking Up a Storm!

I’m one of those people that gets interested in something, and then that’s all I do for the next month or two. Eventually a semblance of normalcy will return, but not too much (being too normal is boring). My most recent addiction is baking. Now that my sourdough starter is behaving I have been baking almost every weekend.

Last time we talked about bread, I had just made my first sourdough loaf. I loved it, but my husband wanted something less assertive, so I’ve been trying other recipes that use sourdough starter and commercial yeast together.

My first experiment was with Brioche. As in the last post, I used the recipe from Tartine Bread. If you are following along at home, I recommend that you use a half recipe when making this brioche. I made the full recipe, and it barely all fit in my Kitchenaid mixer! I had so much dough that I made 1 giant loaf, a dozen dinner rolls, and a whole passel of doughnuts!

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That’s right, I made doughnuts from scratch. Let me tell you: They were delicious!

I do need to brush up on my frying technique, though. I think the oil was not hot enough, so the doughnuts ended up slightly greasy. Still fantastc, but definitely something to improve on.

The bread has great flavor and texture with a nice, even crumb. It’s great for sandwiches and French Toast, or really anything you might use bread for.

The only thing I might change about the bread is the baking time. The bread seems a touch on the dry side, which makes me think I might have over-baked it slightly.

I am always amazed at how much there is to learn about such a seemingly simple topic as bread. Bon appetit!

Sourdough Update

Last time I talked to you about Sourdough I was having trouble with my starter. I found a lot of conflicting information online, and I was getting confused. I bought Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson to learn more about sourdough baking (I have learned so much from books. It’s my favourite way to learn new things!).

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Chad runs a bakery in California, and he is a master at sourdough bread and variations thereon. He focuses on expending minimal effort to create the best bread possible. He does this by working with the nature of the dough, and by not skipping steps. The book has quite a few variations on several basic bread recipes, and also has recipes for what to do with your bread once it’s baked. Spoiler alert: it’s more than just sandwiches! Once I started following a single method my starter began behaving well – rising very high on a predictable schedule.

20190822_205546Just after mixing the jar was only 1/3 full.

I had a small misstep where I tried to bake a loaf the day before my starter really started to rise. The loaf looked nice, but hardly rose at all and was very dense. This was a good learning opportunity for me, since now I understand better how my starter looks when it is and is not ready. I always use the float test now.

Once my starter was behaving I had to bake some bread! I used the basic sourdough recipe from Tartine Bread. I followed the recipe and the suggested timings as closely as possible, and was rewarded with 2 absolutely beautiful loaves!

I also teamed up with my husband to make a pizza with a sourdough crust. Delicious, but next time I’d like to make the crust thinner, or perhaps bake it before I add the toppings.

I never knew how rewarding it would be to bake bread. There is nothing like enjoying the delicious bread you made yourself, or sharing it with friends. In that way, it’s kind of like knitting.

Finished Skein: Berries and Chocolate

Last October I bought some fiber for my birthday. This is “Lake Huron” on Targhee by Deep Dyed Yarns.

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A few days later I bought some hand cards at SAFF.

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What’s a girl to do when she has new fiber AND new hand cards? Why card it up, that’s what!

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I had originally planned to keep the rolags in the original colour order that they came in, but then I thought of arranging them in a massive gradient, and I couldn’t get the idea out of my head.

Since I now had a box full of beautiful rolags, I had to spin long-draw. Long-draw is a skill I am still learning, so this took me quite a while.

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Once I had finished spinning the singles, I began chain-plying the yarn to preserve the colour order I had so carefully established. My singles broke several times, so finally I ran them back through the wheel to add more twist before finishing the plying. Lesson learned: Make sure your yarn has enough twist before beginning to ply, especially for a chain-plied yarn since there isn’t another singles to provide additional structure!

The finished yarn is a glorious 464 yards of yarn. Since this is handspun and I am still refining my long-draw skills, the yarn varies from almost a laceweight to sport weight, with the majority of the yarn being in the fingering weight range.

I don’t have any definite plans for this skein yet, but it would make a lovely shawl or cowl – something that will use up all the yarn and that doesn’t come in pairs of items. I think it would make a beautiful woven scarf. Conversely, it would be gorgeous as a Lost in Time shawl.

Sourdough

I grew up in a bread family. My mom made a lot of bread, and we all gobbled it up pretty much immediately. I live far away from my mom now, so if I want homemade bread I have to make it myself. Over the last few years I’ve made a few loaves with limited success, but it is frustrating to put in a bunch of time and effort only to end up with mediocre loaves that I’m not excited to eat. Recently I decided to try making bread again. Only this time I would be making sourdough bread.

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To make sourdough bread you begin with a starter. A starter is a mixture of water and flour that ferments – this is where the wild yeast grows, and also where beneficial bacteria grow that give the bread it’s sour flavor. Starters should be easy. I had trouble with mine. I was trying to be too technical, and my starter didn’t like it. After a frustrating first week, I realized I needed to simplify. After all, people have used sourdough starter as a leavening agent for centuries, and they don’t have all the fancy gadgets (or the scientific knowledge as to why and how sourdough works) that we have today. So I stopped worrying so much about temperatures and perfect ratios, and lo and behold my starter started doing what it was supposed to do!

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At this point I had been feeding my starter for 2 weeks and I had no bread to show for it. I had read that you can add sourdough starter to any bread recipe – you just substitute the starter for an equal amount of flour and liquid. So I tried it. I made a normal white bread loaf with some starter added in, and it turned out delicious! I made several lovely sandwiches with this bread, as you can see above.

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Finally after 3 weeks my starter was rising more or less predictably. The time had come to make true sourdough bread. I mixed my starter with an appropriate amount of flour, water, and salt, folded the dough a few times, waited a lot, and came out with an incredible loaf of bread!

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I had read that the first loaf from a starter may not rise much. This bread certainly isn’t tall, but look at the crumb and the lovely open structure of the bread! It tastes just as good as it looks, too! I still have a lot to learn about Sourdough, but I am so pleased that I finally made this happen! And truthfully, it wasn’t hard to do. The biggest challenge was being patient. If you’ve ever thought about trying your hand at sourdough, I would encourage you to jump right in! The water’s warm and the bread is delicious!

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P.S. This week I celebrated my 8th blogiversary. Thanks for joining me for the ride!

Summer Travels

What a summer it has been! I have so much to tell you, so I’ll start with the biggest thing: I went to Manila! I work with a company that has offices in several places in the world, and most of my department happens to be in Manila in the Philippines. Over the last year and a half that I’ve worked in this department I’ve been emailing, messaging, and calling my team, but there is nothing quite like meeting someone in person. I feel so lucky to have been able to travel for work. I never thought I would be a jet-setting world traveler, but I suppose I’ve had a taste of that now.

My trip was 2 weeks long in the beginning of June. I packed 2 knitting projects and some spinning for good measure, but I barely touched my projects at all while I was away. Let’s dive right in with all the pictures!

The flight from the US to Manila is no joke. I had 3 flights, the longest of which was 14 hours. The total travel time including layovers was about 24 hours, so by the time I landed I was beyond exhausted. But my day wasn’t over yet. I knew if I went to sleep immediately my internal clock would be messed up all week, so I pulled myself together and went into the office long enough to say hi to everyone.

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The next few days were a blur of work and meeting new people. I ate a lot of good food every single day. If you are ever hungry in Manila, that is totally your fault because the food there is awesome!! Or as they say in Tagalog, “Masarap!”

The Philippines is on the other side of the world from the US, so our night is their day. In order to work smoothly with the US offices, the Manila office is most active at night. Working night shift long term would be a big change, but it was quite convenient not to have to change my day to day schedule. Over the weekend we had a team building activity planned during the day, so we had to switch over to day shift. This was difficult, to say the least, but it enabled me to go out and see a little of Manila.

We went all over: The Manila Hotel where the President of the Philippines holds special events, the oldest church in Manila, the National musums… And friends, I found YARN!

We got food (of course), and rode a Calesa, which is a kind of horse-drawn buggy.

The next day was our team building. We learned a lot and had a lot of fun. Pro tip: Filipinos love Karaoke, so if you’re traveling over there brush up on your singing!

The next day (Monday, if you’re keeping track) was time to transition back to night shift. But, this was my best option to go shopping while I was in Manila. A few of my friends took me to the mall to buy ALL THE THINGS.

I tried something called Kwek-kwek, which is hard-boiled quail eggs that are then battered and fried. Delicious, and very fatty.

The 2nd week was similar to the first, and before I knew it the time had come to leave for the airport. But wait, the team couldn’t let me live without a party!

I had such a wonderful time getting to meet my team and form personal friendships with them. I can’t wait to go back and see my friends again!

I Finished the Blanket

I usually have a hard time getting large projects done. Having a deadline helps with that because it helps me push through that stage where I just can’t stand to look at the project anymore. That’s what it was like with my nephew’s baby blanket. I bought the yarn (Anchor Bay by Cascade) and pattern (Bounce by Tin Can Knits) and got started. The first colour sequence went satisfyingly quickly.

The second set of stripes went a little more slowly, and by the time I got to the 3rd stripey section I was ready to put the blanket down for a while.

Only, at that point the baby was due in less than a month. So I powered through and made myself work on it when I had time. I live far away from my family, so one of the main ways my nephew will know me is through my knitting. Knitting is important. Knitting is love.

I finished the knitting a week before my Sister-in-Law’s due date. That’s when I realized I had a massive problem: 80 ends to sew in.

Here again I wanted to throw in the towel. I thought about leaving a decorative fringe on one side of the blanket, but realized that could be dangerous. So I took a deep breath, turned on a movie, and got to work. It took me several evenings to sew all the ends in, but like everything else in life, if you work on it consistently it will eventually get done.

The yarn I used is a 50/50 cotton/superwash merino blend and is meant to be laundered like normal clothing. This is a huge reason I chose this yarn. Babies make messes, and cleanup needs to be as easy as possible. Once I finished sewing in the ends I screwed up my courage and put the blanket in the washer and dryer. It didn’t shrink or felt. In fact, it looked great coming out of the dryer…except that a few of the yarn tails had worked their way to the front. I didn’t see a long-term solution to this problem, so I left things as they are. With any luck this blanket will be chewed on and dragged around so much that a few visible ends will be the least of anyone’s worries.

Tiny Creatures Everywhere!

Last time I wrote, I told you about the blanket I was making for my nephew. I am pleased to tell you that he was born last week, and both he and his mother are home and doing well.

A while ago I asked my Sister-in-law if she wanted anything for her nursery, and she asked for a Narnia-themed baby mobile. I’d never made a mobile before, but I asked myself, how hard can it be? and dived right in. I saw 2 main options: knitting or felting. Felting seemed the faster and more detailed route, so that’s what I did.

I made a lion…

Lucy Pevensie…

Mr. Tumnus…

and a book.

I made the frame of the mobile with a medium and very thin dowel and some hemp cord.

I think it turned out quite nicely!

When I finished with it I sent it to my sister, who makes the most adorable tiny knitted animals.

She added a hedgehog and a rabbit…

a sheep…

and a bumblebee.

I couldn’t be more pleased with how the mobile turned out. I hope it sparks my nephew’s imagination for a long time to come.