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OK, so, back to the discussion from yesterday.  I really hope you’re not bored of my bread nerdiness yet!

To recap: we tried both Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and No-Knead Bread, and No-Knead is definitely the superior bread.  It has a longer rise, and that out of the fridge, which means superior development and thus better flavour.  It is cooked in a cast iron pot, which works better than any amount of fuss with steam and a domestic oven.  But it’s still just great white bread, and I won’t bother baking for anything less than sourdough.

There is a lot of unneccessary mysticism around sourdough, and I think that’s why people give up on baking it at home.  So here’s the essential information:

Sour ferments are lactobacillus cultures — not born of yeast, but great neighbours. There is no magic trick to them.   They’re useful because they taste good, and because they impart a little rise by producing gas: this is how rye breads, which have little gluten, can be cajoled into lightness. The starters used for breadmaking are a convenient double-bill of yeast and tasty bacteria. 

Like yoghurt , sour cultures are an ingredient that you can keep alive in a jar in your fridge.  They need less than 30 seconds’ effort each week, less than it takes to find an ingredient in the supermarket.  Trust me, you CAN fit a sour bread in to “five minutes a day”.

To sum up:

  • Simple bread = (flour/water/salt) + lots of yeast + a little time.  [“5-minute Artisan” method].
  • Elegant, tasty bread = (flour/water/salt) + a little yeast + a lot of time.  [No-Knead method]
  • Delicious sourdough = (flour/water/salt) + a little yeast + lactobacillus culture + a lot of time.

With only one more step, you can have no-knead, no-babysit sourdough loaf that’s every bit as good as a fancy-pants $5 deli bread.  You can have it warm with butter.  It is so good.  I’m hungry again just thinking about it.

Nom.

Make, buy, beg or steal a sourdough culture.  There are lots of different starters  for sale on the internet and for a few dollars, you can pick and choose the one that you like best.   If you’re in America, specialists sell a range so get something great — my Californian friend Tammi would kill me if I didn’t recommend a San Francisco lactobacillus.  For Aussies, there is a baker in Tasmania that sells a great one online.  You can also start your own if you have the patience, but I won’t go into that here — I bought mine because I’ve started a number of sours myself and they’ve never tasted as good.  Stands to reason: the guy who sold it to me is a master baker and had already done the hard work of finding a great tasting culture.

Stick it in your fridge and feed it once a week: a purchased starter will come with instructions for “waking up”.  Mine also came with a long and complex recipe for bread, with several rises, which is awesome if you don’t have a job, children, or anything else but bread in your life.  If that is you, good luck to you.  You don’t need my help!!

This is our starter –getting a bit low.  This photo was taken just before I took out all but 50g, and added 200g each of flour and water — which is the full extent of necessary starter maintenance and should be done weekly — more often if you bake every day and need more starter.

Every time we want a loaf, we break off a heaped tablespoon from the starter and mix it into some of the water required for the recipe.  From that point, the recipe is exactly the same.

Sour No-Knead Bread

  • 1 heaped tablespoon sourdough starter
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 3 cups white flour (if you can, buy a bag of organic flour from a health food shop with good turnover — it’s not only better for you, it develops into a better tasting bread.)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt

Put the starter into the water and break it up with your fingers.

Add everything into a container:

Make a shaggy dough:

Wait 12 to 18 hours and turf it out on to a floured surface.  Stretch and fold (see the video from my last post: I’m not a star at this so I’m not going to show you my sad efforts!)

Wrap it up to rise for two hours in a well floured tea towel.  At one hour, pop a cast iron pot in your oven and turn it up to about 210C.

Invert your dough into the pot (be careful with the hot cast iron!).  Bake 30 mins lid on, then brown with the lid off (around 15 minutes more).  Clean your bench with one of these, it’s a pastry or dough scraper and is worth every cent in a quick cleanup.

Compose smug face.

(The same guys who sell the starter I recommend, also sell scrapers, but kitchenware stores do stock them also.)

After I uploaded these photos, I realised that this last shot is of the rye version*, and I didn’t take photos of the white loaf from folding until after it was baked — here they are side by side.

You can see how the rye is a little more dense.  That’s how it’s supposed to look — as mentioned above, rye flour has little gluten and benefits from the sour ferment for even this more modest rise.

Allow to cool, at least most of the way to room temperature, before slicing.  All sourdough breads are tastier the next day, if you can wait that long.  The cracked surface is made by baking seam side up, the smooth by baking seam down.  You can also make fancy slashes with a kitchen knife, should artistry strike.

And that is how you make sourdough bread, as good as any you can buy, without killing yourself or sacrificing your marriage.

I got Dan to watch the No-Knead video and he got really excited about making it himself.  From a man who watches my baking as if I’m performing some magical voodoo rite, this is great.  (He told me yesterday that he’s never separated an egg.  What??  Is it even possible to live 30 years and not separate a yolk from a white?).

Sometimes it’s frustrating to live with a city boy.  Other times — like seeing him pick fresh berries for the first time in his life as I did on our honeymoon, or listening to him tell our friends how easy it is to make sourdough bread — it’s awesome.

Anyway.  Time for me to leave you alone.  You could have set some bread on in the time I’ve been blathering on.

*For a rye loaf:

  • 1 heaped tablespoon sourdough starter
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 2.5 cups white flour
  • .5 cup rye flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)

You can use the starter with either No-Knead or Five Minute methods — if you want to use it in the latter, I’d recommend substituting one cup of starter for one of the packets of yeast, and baking in a cast iron pot.

If I had to choose one thing to sew, and had to stick to that one thing for the rest of forever, it would be quilts to welcome babies into the world.  Because when you take a simple quilt and add this:

It’s just all kinds of better.

Would you please welcome Bethany?  She is, by my estimate, now ten days old.  She is the daughter of my longtime friend Caroline and her husband Kris (in fact it’s their first wedding anniversary this week, so what a sweet present).  Caroline and I used to muck around making plays at Uni: she wrote them late into the night and into the morning, and I made sets and costumes at variable levels of competence and crazy.

I can’t believe we’re both at the stage of life where we’re getting married, settling down, being grown ups.  Bethany is a new and incredibly real step forward.

Although, come to think of it, Caroline is probably getting about as much sleep as she used to when we were 19.  So we’re not yet past it!

Squeee!  Urban Chiks, through Moda, is releasing these vintage sheet prints, in quilting cottons!  (dance dance dance).  They’re not all in stock at Sew, Mama, Sew, but you can find them on Etsy too and I’m sure these will be a hit, with yardage coming soon.  I am THERE for a layer cake — that’s enough of each print for my little hexies and for my Dear Jane too.

I have made so. many. purses. this weekend.  It’s the ANZAC day long weekend and there were two excuses to sew birthdays in it.  But of course I didn’t have the self control to stop at two. This one is a full size purse, big enough for cards, money, and most anything else you can throw at it.  Most importantly though.

CUTE!

Ridiculously cute.

It’s back to work tomorrow, so no more sewing for a couple of days.  Maybe I’ll learn some self control in the mean time.  Probably not, though.

These kittens are in the Etsy shop now, if you’re interested in giving them a home.

(which needs an iron!  That’s the problem with cameras these days — they show you things you miss in real life!)

I can’t believe it’s been so long since I made a block for my sampler quilt.  Seriously — the last one was in April last year.  0_O !!

So then it’s appropriate that this be something special, something I’ve been saving.  Like a tribute to the ‘Sundial Coverlet’, a patchwork and applique extravaganza held by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London:

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O14716/patchwork-quilt/

It’s around three metres squared — an enormous quilt worthy of the largest of king size beds, and then some.  I seem to remember reading somewhere that beds used to be a lot larger in the 18th century.  Any historians out there who could back that up with some actual facts?  There are ducks and stars and pinwheels and all manner of geometric motifs, all dancing around a sundial and a date from long ago.  I’m just going to go out on a limb and imagine that 1797 is the date it was finished, but that would be because it’s the date a modern quilter would use, and I may be wrong.

In any case, I’ve been in love with this quilt since I saw it reproduced in Kaffe Fassett’s V&A book oh, around ten years ago, before I had made any quilt more complicated than a puff patch.  Kaffe and his team didn’t reproduce any of the applique, instead choosing to recreate the impression of the patchwork in their version — they were working with time constraints, of course, and the quilter who took this on would never see the light of day again!

I chose two particularly appealing applique blocks to reproduce, one with scissors and thimble, the other with a clamp and heart.  A clamp was a sewing tool back in the day — one might clamp the end of the seam to a table, then stitch towards it.  Makes sense for a straight and even line of stitching.

I took a photo of the quilt from Kaffe’s book with a macro-enabled camera, cut the photo down into the pieces I wanted, blew it up in Photoshop until I got around about the right size, and then used the Trace tool in EQ to create applique shapes.

Could I have drawn it freehand and saved the bother?  Probably,  but this way makes me feel a lot more connected to the mysterious quilter who made all these wonderful, magical blocks.  It must have taken so many years.

Patches in this block: 5

Patches so far: 878

We just got back from a week’s honeymoon on the Surf Coast.  In between defragging the house to make it kinda worthy of amazing wedding gifts, I’ve been watching this.  Over and over.  It really was the best day.  And now I’m Mrs Shea, which feels weird of course — and very awkward when I need to sign my name — but it’s wonderful.

The dress — well, you know about the dress!   I was worried it would look odd but I loved it and I’m so glad I made it myself.  My sister-in-law Mel (yay, I can call her that now!) made my earrings and the bridesmaids’ jewelry.  My brides-men refused to wear jewelry but Evan and Peter rocked their hot pink ties!  Everyone went to a huge effort to decorate the clifftop, to look their best, to get music going, to make cake… it was an overwhelming day of special kindness.

If you would like to see static photos, there are a few on Jessie’s website and I’ll share more as I get them.

Excitement aside, I am very much looking forward to having more time to spend here on the blog, not least to share with you the fun DIY bits and the final details on the dress!  Hint: that weird-looking guest book is not destined to be a book for long…

Better late than never.  My little brother played this for us on Christmas Day, and for me it’s just perfect.  A secular Australian Christmas with my mum, my dad, my brother, my husband-to-be, two dogs and the cat.  And a drink in the sun.  Sorry to be late but — I hope you all had a wonderful and restorative holiday.

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