Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Crying over bread, of How to make the most delicious bread you've ever tasted.

So you know that the basic bread formula is flour, water, salt and yeast, right?   Yesterday, I made a loaf that will make strong women weep and men beg for more. 

Secret ingredient - Potato water.  The water you've used to boil up some potatoes.  That water.  Next time you want a bread with an indefinable taste that will have your family in a swoon, use a bit of potato water.  Yeasties love a bit of starch to grow on, so when the starchy water and the yeasties meet each other, heaven happens.  Now don't salt the water when you boil the potatoes.  You don't need the extra salt, and your bread doesn't want too much salt; you want the fool thing to rise and salt impedes it.

Next secret ingredient - Chives.  Common ordinary chives.  Cut from your garden, or go to Penzeys and buy some.  They really are excellent dried.

Here's the recipe:
  • 1 cup of potato water heated until warm to the touch
  • 1 tsp kosher salt.  Don't use table salt; it's way too salty for your bread.
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp yeast  Yes, only 1 tsp.
  • 1-2 TB chives
That's it.  Mix it up however you like, give it a good knead, let it rise, gently deflate, shape into one gigando loaf, place on parchment paper onto top of a cookie sheet, cover and let rise for 1/2 hour.  Nah, I don't even put it into a warm area.

Put oven on to 500 deg F.

Set timer for another 15 minutes. 

Slash bread.

Brush with water. Trust me on this; it gives the bread a lovely crust and you don't have to play with the ice cubes, spraying the loaf with water thingie.  Just gently brush with cold water.

Put in oven.

Reduce oven temp to 425 deg.

Bake for 32-33 minutes until nicely golden brown.

Remove from oven and immediately brush again with cold water. Do this right from the oven.  It'll give you more of that crackly crust that you can't resist.  You'll actually hear it crackle.  Place on a cake rack to cool off.

Eat and eat and eat.  Toast it.  Eat plain.  Butter bread or toast.  Cheese melted on top of it.  If your family is good, allow them to have a small piece.

When you slice your bread, gather up the crumbs and store in the refrig.  After a few loaves, you'll have the nicest dried bread crumbs going.  And all for FREE!

If you and the gang don't like the ends, slice them up into crouton shapes, let dry or not, and put on top of your salad.

Yeast note:  I've been using only 1 tsp of yeast forever.  That's all you knead need.  Trust me.  And the more you bake bread, the more wild yeasties live in your kitchen and the better your bread will taste.  If you bake a lot of bread, go buy a 1lb bag of Fleishmann's yeast at King Arthur flour.  Keep it in the freezer, and it lasts at least a year.  Don't waste your money on the packets.  First of all, you don't need all that yeast in a single loaf, and wow, is it ever pricey.  If you buy it in the jars, it's better, but if you bake bread 2-3 times a week, buy the lb.

Kneading the dough:  I've done it all, from totally by hand to the Kitchen-Aid to the food processor to the bread machine.  The bread machine kneads it the best, and then provides a nice warm area for the first rise. The machine is not infallible; you must pay a bit of attention to the dough for the first few minutes to make sure that it's neither too soggy nor too dry.  After that, you can go out to the gym and for a long walk and ignore it all.  If you want incredible bread, however, do NOT bake in the bread machine.  It can't do awesome crusts, and the bread doesn't begin to approach the wonderfulness of an oven bake.  Anyhow, knead it however you like. 

You don't need vital wheat gluten, sugar or anything like that for a simple white bread.  If you're playing with rye or whole wheat, vital wheat gluten gives your loaves a nice boost.

Next time?  Maybe a bit of a biga loaf or perhaps Tejes Kolacs.  We'll see what I feel like baking.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Stars and hexies, oh my!

And here she is:  The Starry Menace, coming down to the wire.  I figure another horizontal and another vertical row, and she just might be done.  I'm done.  Enough already.  She'll be a good size for cuddling in, and I'm not into making a bed quilt.  Now how to finish those edges.....Any ideas, folks?  I think I'll buy a Kaffe print for the back and for the binding.  Right now, she's sitting on the living room floor, where she thinks she belongs.

And here's the new craze:  Hexies!  1.25" hexies in the cutest fabric from Connecting Threads, Hello Sunshine.

The plan is to have 5 rows of hexies, with half hexies filling in the edges.  Then using some coordinating solids, put a border or two around them, and then sew those boxes together.  Nope, I didn't think of this.  I got the idea from Tacha Bruecher's book, Hexa-Go-Go: English Paper Piecing 16 Quilt Projects. 

So far I have approx 12 of 14 prints already made up into hexies, and I want 17 hexies making up each box.  I love doing these little guys whenever I have a few moments.  I've been sewing the hexies onto the  cardboard templates by sewing through both the fabric and the paper.  I did try a few just by sewing through the fabric, but it annoyed me to do this.  I'll try glue next, and then decide which one to use in the future.  The thought of glue kind of bothers me, although I know that lots of people do it.  Whatever, it's fun to do.

If you are just exploring EPP (English paper piecing), Tacha's book is full of great ideas.  She has projects where you do just a bit of EPP, and then the rest is machine sewing, and then she has a bunch where EPP rules.  

I buy my little templates from Paper Pieces, and it saves me tons of time in cutting out the little pieces, plus the pieces are really accurate, as opposed to my not-so-great cutting.  What can I tell you?  I'm not the most accurate sewer in the world, and never will be, but I'm pretty darn good at these little guys.  Another source for hexagon templates is here, but you have to cut them out yourself.  On the other hand, you can use the other side of scrap printer paper, and feel good about recycling paper.  Just don't cut them out with your sewing scissors or you'll get a very crummy pair of shears.  

Other news:  Our most fun 12 year old grand has gone home, the house is quiet and messy, but then it's always messy.  We mess, therefore we are.  I could seriously use a wife.

I'm back to the gym with a vengeance.  All of a sudden, my body wants to exercise.  I can't believe it either, but I just love the feeling of fatigues muscles.  I feel so delightfully tired and virtuous. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

What's on my needles Friday

Done!  Finished!  Washed, dried and ready to pack away.  Size?  Somewhere around 6 mos, I think.  It doesn't matter; at some point, it will fit a baby.

Did you see that nice collar shaping?  I do this with short rows plus a couple of extra stitches just before the garter border.  No formula, just as I go along.  I've been making sweaters for sooooo long, that I just do my thing.

This little guy has a front started.  The fake side seams are visible.  It'll be a crew neck, maybe with a collar.  I have tons of yarn, so I could do a hood instead.  The little string on the right is where I've taken off sts for the front shaping.

This one shows the back side of the pattern.  I like it so much that I'm going to do the sleeves in it just for a change.  I was going to do the bodice in it, but baby sweaters are so tiny that it hardly makes a difference, so I'll leave it for the sleeves.

Yarn is my Penny sock yarn dyed by me in a lovely turquoise color.

Again, this is raw knitting and looks it.  When it's finished and blocked, there will be an enormous difference.

Next on the needles?  I don't know.  I'm hankering to do a baby sweater side to side.  I haven't done any sweater like this in ages.  I'll use some of my Bambi yarn for it, and I think I'll make it 22" for a size larger.  Now to figure out what colors to dye the yarn.   Such fun, no?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A much better neckline

Remember this from last Friday?

I was very unhappy with the band and the buttonholes; it all looked so ugly and klutzy.  So, I ripped it out and redid it with a collar and a better buttonhole  (which you can barely see in the pic).

Now isn't that nicer?  I shaped the collar with short rows and by adding a couple of stitches and it fits so much better.
Here is a pic with one sleeve knitted on; the other has just been picked up and I should finish it tonight.
When it's all finished and washed, it'll look so cute.  I need to buy a button, but I have plenty of time to do that.

Monday, August 6, 2012

And the Starry Menace goes on.

It's developed a life of its own.  Every time I add a block, I feel like I'm wrestling with an elephant.  Not that it's heavy; it's as light as a feather, but it's getting large and I have to tame it to stay in place.

I'm longing for a bit of sewing machine lightning speed, but with another grand kid visit coming up, I still can't set up the machine in the guest/sewing room. 

In the meantime, I'm also very busy with baby knitting and crochet to the point where I could use a couple more project bags. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

What's on my needles

Working away on all those baby projects.  I have a lot of ideas on what to knit next, but these have to be finished first. 

Baby sweater 1:

Pretty raw at this point, but after the sleeves are added and it's blocked, it should be rather cute.  The garter stitch stripes are because I got bored with endless stockinette.

Baby sweater 2:

Because of the mistake rib stitch, this little guy stretches unbelievably.  I'm making it very small, more for a newborn, but it will fit around a much older baby, too.  I'll make it long enough for a 6 month size just because it's so flexible.

Baby blankie:

Just about doubled in size since last week.  This is my watching-the-Olympics project.  Total auto-pilot.

And that's it for today.  Lots of ideas in my head, but first finish the sweaters.


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