Sourdough update

•July 22, 2009 • 2 Comments

Today I made a few variations on the basic sourdough recipe that I posted last night, and just in case you have decided that sourdough baking is going to be your thing I thought I’d share them with you.


Wholemeal: substitute 1/3 of the plain breadmaking flour for wholemeal (preferably strong breadmaking flour) and use the wholemeal flour to dust the bench when you are kneading. You could use more wholemeal, but I like my loaves to remain light-I have found previously that baking with wholemeal can make bread a little heavy.

Light Rye: susbsitute  1/3 of the plain flour with rye flour. This also keeps the loaf nice and light, not dense and heavy.

Fruitloaf: Use only 1/2 the amount of salt for the quantity of bread you are making. Dissolve 50 grams of golden syrup in the water with the salt, and add 2 teaspoons of cinnamon to the flour before mixing the dough together. After the first rising, flatten the dough into a round shape (not too thin-maybe 2 cm thick) with your fingers. Then scatter your desired quantity and type of dried fruit over the dough-avoiding the area about 0.5 cm from the edges. Roll the dough up and pinch and taper the ends to give you a nice loaf shape. This works better than kneading the fruit through because you don’t get fruit sticking out through the outside crust, where it just gets burnt and yucky.

So what fruit did I use? Well, I discovered at the very last minute that all I had was currants-so I used about 2 tablespoons in each loaf. What I really wanted was some juicy raisins or sultanas…you might be more organised than I am.

Hope you all become sourdough converts too!


No sleep ’til b(r)e(a)dtime

•July 21, 2009 • 6 Comments

Hey y’all. So here I am, back with a post on my mind and an ear on the baby monitor. As I mentioned in my quick place-holder message the other day, we’ve been having a busy time with our favourite little teething insomniac…

I’ve been able to cook a few projects here and there, and I have been working in tiny increments on my sewing projects-the orange bag is at a standstill, but I have 3 pairs of jeans in progress. But the going IS a little slow when there is only time to sew a seam here and there. It’s ok though-this is a phase and it won’t last forever-so we’ll just ride it out and do the best we can.


What I HAVE been doing regularly is baking bread-I decided I didn’t want us to buy commercial supermarket bread any more, and I’ve been busy keeping a sourdough ‘mother’ alive, feeding it every day and baking from it weekly-with pleasing results! I’m quite excited about this. I’ve started sourdough cultures before and either not been able to get them going, or found that they got ‘polluted’ by unwanted organisms and had to be thrown out, or-most heartbreaking of all-I had one or two that thrived and looked to be working well, but then fell prey to my forgetfulness in feeding them, or to a holiday when they didn’t get fed, and they died. Tragic!

Now, I hear you say, what exactly is a sourdough mother? It is a live culture that is grown from the wild yeasts found naturally in flour and the air in your environment. You feed these yeasts with water and flour every day, they multiply and eventually there is enough ‘oomph’ in your starter culture to bake bread without the need to use commercial yeast-you just use part of your sourdough culture, or ‘mother’. The natural fermentation of the yeast as it does its’ thing is what gives the culture its sour flavour.

The culture, ready to bake from-check out all of those lovely bubbles. It's alive!

The culture, ready to bake from-check out all of those lovely bubbles. It's alive!

The cool thing about a sourdough culture is that the flavour of it is peculiar to the environment it is grown in. So even if I were to give you some of my sourdough mother to take home and grow at your house-and even if we lived next door to each other-the flavours of the resulting bread would be different, be it subtle or more pronounced. In fact I think that I can detect a difference in flavour in my own sourdough with each baking, as the culture matures further and the depth of sourness in my culture changes.

So-want to start your own sourdough culture? Remember, you need to be willing to feed it every day…

You can either purchase a sachet of dried starter culture from a site like this. But you still need to go through all of the steps to build the starter up to a stage where you can use it, and feed it every day. Or you can build one from scratch, using directions like these.

Once your starter is active, you can bake from it. This will be about a week or so after you start it, depending on the temperature of your kitchen, your remembering to feed it, the activation of the cultures etc. Yippeee!

I love kneading the dough by hand and feeling it transform from flour and water to a beautiful, smooth, elastic mass.

I love kneading the dough by hand and feeling it transform from flour and water to a beautiful, smooth, elastic mass

My current basic recipe for sourdough bread (there are many recipes and ways you can use your culture) is:

375grams of active sourdough culture

710 grams of breadmaking flour

10 grams of diastatic malt mixed well through the flour ( this is optional, but DON”T use bread improver when making sourdough.)

385 mls/grams of lukewarm water (it is a good idea to weigh ingredients when baking bread. Including liquid.)

20 grams of sea salt (I feel this is a lot so I use 3/4 of this amount-but any less and I’ve found the flavour to be a little lacking.)

Dissolve the salt in the water. Put the culture in a large mixing bowl, put the flour in the bowl, pour the water in and mix well. Rest the dough for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until the dough is lovely and smooth and elastic.

Lightly grease your bowl (I use canola oil spray) and pop your dough in there, cover with clingwrap and a towel, and set in a warm place to rise for around 2 hours-or until doubled in size.

Preheat your oven to 220 degrees C-and be sure to put your pizza stone in the bottom of the oven if you have one-you’ll see why in a minute.

Turn your bread out onto a lightly floured surface, divide it as you please (this recipe makes two loaves or about 14 rolls. You pick.) and shape the dough. Pop your loaves or rolls onto a baking tray lined with non-stick paper, and cover them with another sheet of baking paper lightly sprayed with oil, then cover this with a teatowel (to prevent the outside from drying out and skinning over-which will make it rise strangely) and leave in a warm spot to rise for another hour.

A loaf after slashing, ready for the oven

A loaf after slashing, ready for the oven

Just before you put the dough into the oven, boil the kettle with about 2 cups of water inside. Then, using a very very sharp knife or razor blade, slash the top of your loaves and put them in to cook. As soon as the dough goes into the oven, pour about 1/3 of a cup of water (I do more actually) onto your pizza stone and close the oven door ASAP. This creates a lovely steamy environment to ensure you get a beautiful chewy, slightly shiny crust. I wait a few minutes and then repeat this process to get the crust just as I like it.

Bake for 10 minutes at 220, then reduce the oven temperature to 190, crack the door for 5 minutes, then cook for a further 25-35 minutes. (less for rolls-check regularly.)

To test if the bread is cooked, pick it up and tap the underside-it should sound hollow.

(This recipe comes courtesy of Greenliving Australia)

And that’s it! I’ve been raising a double amount of mother and cooking 4 loaves at a time, letting it cool, slicing it and freezing the loaves, so we can use them a slice at a time. Like most bread, this is most delicious shortly after baking, but it also makes fabulous toast for a few days after.


Now all we need is some more sleep. Send me your recipes for this, people!


Yoo hoo!

•July 16, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Hello dear Red Hen Friends. I just wanted to brush the cobwebs off my little blog and let you know that I haven’t gone AWOL-we are just experiencing a temporary set back while Little D exercises her right not to sleep.

This has slowed down the progress of projects at the tree house a little, but rest assured there are a few crafty and cooking stories to tell in the near future. I just need a few moments that I don’t currently have to post them for you.

Back soon, I promise.


‘Tis the season. Still.

•July 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Yep-there is still more citrus fruit coming from my little trees. I don’t have that many, and they are very young, so it is not as though the yield is enormous. But it is still keeping me busy, making sure that none is wasted. What on earth would I do if they were fully grown trees? I can imagine friends and family starting to run off as they see me advancing upon them with more and more bags of fruit to give away!
So, I’ve already used up a colander full of lemons for the lemon tart last weekend. What next?

Lemon curd, that’s what.
I have had store-bought lemon curd a few times, and I found it quite bizarrely awful on the whole. Nothing like the creamy, smooth, sweet-but-tart homemade stuff I am used to. The commercial curd often seems to have been artificially thickened, and sometimes seems to use lemon oil rather than juice as the main flavouring, which tastes too strong and a little detergent-ey for my liking. Or worse, they use artificial flavours.
You know what? I’d rather make my own. It’s not hard and is a great way to use up lots of lemons when they are ripe for the pickin’. You can adjust quantities to suit-this recipe only makes about 400mls, which is only 2 small jars. It is such a lovely thing to give away, you might as well make extra so everyone can have some.

lemon curd toast

lemon curd toast

And don’t just use it for toast-it is nice on scones, as a topping for banana cake and one of my favourites-mixed into lovely thick greek-style yoghurt with a little extra sugar or honey and some lemon zest, then churned in an icecream maker (or just frozen in a tray and stirred regularly while freezing) for delicious frozen yoghurt in summer.

For one quantity you need:
125ml of lemon juice
200g caster sugar
3 eggs
100g unsalted butter cut into small pieces

also: sterilised jars-I fill mine half full of water, put them in the microwave for 5 minutes, then dry them in a low oven on a tray lined with a couple of teatowels. I kept the oven door open a little so I could make sure that the teatowels weren’t catching on fire!

You also need to rig up a double-boiler-type arrangement: a saucepan or pot with water simmering in it and your heatproof dish (I used a big stainless steel mixing bowl) that sits over the top but DOES NOT tough the water itself (if it does you risk curdled, scrambled, sugary, lemony eggs. Not good.)

double boiler-vanquish any sweet scrambled egg problems

double boiler-vanquish any sweet scrambled egg problems

Mix the lemon juice and sugar in a heatproof bowl until the sugar has dissolved.
Sieve the eggs (use a spatula or spoon to press them through the sieve) to ensure that the curd is as smooth as possible, then mix the eggs into the lemon and sugar.

sieving eggs. its a bit gross, but apparently necessary. hmm.

sieving eggs. its a bit gross, but apparently necessary. hmm.

Then pop your bowl over the simmering water and stir the mixture constantly and gently until it thickens-mine took about 15 minutes. It is quite like making custard-when it coats the back of a wooden spoon, you know it’s ready.
Take the mixture off the heat and stand it on a wooden or plastic chopping board. Then stir or whisk the butter in, a few pieces at a time, until it has all melted.

the butter going in

the butter going in

Get your hot jars out of the oven and put them on something to protect them from thermal shock-another wooden or plastic chopping board, a wad of teatowels or newspaper.
Then fill your hot, sterilised jars with the curd while it is still warm, pop the lids on and leave the jars on their thermal protecting layer until they are cool.
Then put your jars in the fridge until you use them or give them away-within about 5 or 6 weeks, which shouldn’t be a problem because its so nice you’ll be scarfing it down faster than you feel you should!

Better work fast, Hen, 'cos your helper is getting restless...

Better work fast, Hen, 'cos your helper is getting restless...

But what about…

•June 23, 2009 • 4 Comments

…all of the egg whites I have left over from making my lemon tart, eh Hen? What do I do with 9 egg whites, huh?

Meringues, dear friends. Make a shirt load of meringues. Or one big one and turn it into a pavlova. But my choice is mini meringues-after the richness of the lemon tart you might like having some little low-fat (but yes, sugar-heavy) treats kicking about the place.

9 egg whites gives you quite a lot of meringue mix, so I split mine into three parts and made 3 flavours-brown sugar, chocolate and coffee.

So unless you have thought of a more crafty use for all of your egg whites-other than forgetting about them in the fridge and then giving them to the dogs-here’s what you do:

Preheat your oven to 120 degrees C. I have read plenty of recipes that say that a fan forced oven spells doom for the meringue. Well maybe they don’t do their best in one, but really-I haven’t had too many issues with mine, so don’t be put off by the naysayers!

Next, in a spotlessly clean (no traces of oil or detergent) bowl, whip your egg whites (9) and a pinch of salt OR pinch of cream-of-tartar until you have the legendary soft peaks of fluff, and/or can turn the bowl upside-down over your head without wearing your whites. This test is really more for the daredevils and those who care not for mess and wastage on a large scale. Do what you will.

whip it good. sorry.

whip it good. sorry.

Then, mix in your sugar (200g brown sugar and 220g caster) quickly but gently if that makes sense-you don’t want to knock out all of the air that you just whipped into your egg whites. That = waste of effort + crappy, flat meringues. Boo. I just kept them in the Kitchen-Aid that I mixed the whites with in the first place.

Now turn your oven down to 90 degrees C. Line a few baking trays/sheets with non-stick baking paper, and get your piping bag ready. Or you can just use a snap-lock bag, but it’d be good if you had a piping bag nozzle to drop into the corner you snip off. You could also just use a couple of dessert spoons dipped in water if you live in an entirely bagless household. And if you have no spoons I think you’re a bit weird, to be honest.

Get a second bowl ready and scoop about 1/3 of your meringue into it. Sift approx 1.5 teaspoons of cocoa powder into the mix and use a spatula or metal spoon to gently mix the cocoa through the egg white, again, trying not to loose the air in your meringue mix.

Scoop this mix into your bag and pipe it onto your trays in small whirls with as much skill and panache as you can muster. Try not to make them look like little turds. Very unappetising, and will cause the onlookers to this project to mock you. Frustrating.

I got 'disposable' piping bags and nozzles at the supermarket-but they are easy to wash and use again...

I got 'disposable' piping bags and nozzles at the supermarket-but they are easy to wash and use again...

Scoop half of your remaining mix into the second bowl and sift a teaspoon of instant coffee powder onto it and mix through. Repeat piping step.

Pipe the remaining mix as-is onto the trays and pop them in the oven for 1 hour (this is for meringues with a slightly chewy centre. If you want them crispy all the way through, do 1.5 hours. 090

Turn off the oven and leave the meringues in there to cool. Then be sure to load them into an airtight container or snaplock bag to store them, as moisture in the air will make the meringues sticky and then soft. And therefore gross.

Hope you like ’em-I am particularly enamoured of the chocolate ones…

And if you don’t have quite so many whites to use up or don’t want quite so many meringues (this made 3 trays of small ones) then just reduce the sugar by the same proportion as the egg whites.


Whatever you do, DON’T GET IN THE CAR!

•June 22, 2009 • 2 Comments

Rainy Saturday afternoon. Mr Hen is watching The Godfather (hence the title of this post-seems if you get into a car with The Mob you’ll end up sleeping with the fishes…) And Little D is hanging out in her playpen, experimenting with her new-found squealing voice. Finally, a bit of time for me to do some cooking. Where has the time been going lately?


Mr Hen calls this Zombie Baby. Braaains!...As you can see, if you are a pumpkin, then yes, you're in a lot of trouble.

We’re rapidly finding out that getting things done takes a lot more time as the months go by. Life is a lot more fun as a trio, of course. But it is getting a bit (er-lot) harder to find time to squeeze in the fun projects at the moment.

So here’s one I’ve been wanting to try for a while but haven’t had the chance. Lemon tart. Oh, delicious.

Cue Pavlovian response to the mention of lemon tart.*drool*

Cue Pavlovian response to the mention of lemon tart.*drool*

I love love LOVE lemon tart but it is very much like the story of the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead-when it is good, it is very, very good. But when it is bad-well, it really is horrid. And a lot of the time, what is passed off as lemon tart is certainly in the latter category. (shudder)

I spied this recipe in the last couple of months of my pregnancy with Little D, but due to never-ending morning sickness, making it back then was completely out of the question. So I filed it away and finally got the chance (and a severe hankering for lemon tart) to make it this arvo. Woohoo!!  The other reason for making it now? My little lemon tree has been hard at work, and as my Grandma would say “we have an elegant sufficiency” of lemons at the treehouse en ce moment.022

The recipe comes from Nikkishell. I have been reading this blog for a while, and Nichola writes about a lot of things that I find interesting-crafting and sewing, cooking, living simply, life with small children…I am especially fond of some posts she did a while ago about making play food for kids-there are some fantastic felt sausages, ravioli and a cute donut which impressed me no end. I used to love playing shops and imaginary games like that when I was little and I’m looking forward to figuring out fun props for playing with Little D when she is a bit bigger.

You should really pop on over there and have a look and make yourself a lemon tart!

You do need quite a few lemons to get the 300ml of juice...Luckily, I have heaps.

You do need quite a few lemons to get the 300ml of juice. These I have.

I usually find pastry-making offputting-but this one is easy...

I usually find pastry-making offputting-but this one is easy...

...and any pastry left after you make your beautiful pastry shell...

...and any pastry left after you make your beautiful pastry shell...

...makes great biccies to sustain you while you wait for the tart to cook. Phew!

...makes great biccies to sustain you while you wait for the tart to cook. Phew!





•June 11, 2009 • 7 Comments

‘Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you said you had been making cheeeeeese. Er. Haha.’

That was the gist of a conversation I had with a new friend a couple of weeks ago. And I HAD said I had been making cheese. She hadn’t missheard me. And now your turn-‘Say what, Hen? Cheese? What do you mean?’

I mean cheese. Mozzarella, to be specific. Why? Because I like to know how to do things myself, even better if the project is a little fiddly and involved. And because I like cheese, dammit!

Now, this is not something that you can just make at home without a few specific ingredients that you need to organise first.

And while the cheese ingredients that I bought did come with some recipes and how-to tips, I’ve also been doing some extra reading about the art of cheesemaking. If you are interested too, I recommend that you check out these books. And if making your own cheese is not something you’d be up for, you might still find it interesting to know how the cheese you like to eat is made, so read on. And if not-well, apart from a few hopefully witty asides, you may not be into this post and  might want to have a look at one from another day. Or not. Up to you really.

I won’t give you the recipe exactly because it is a bit wordy and as I mentioned, you are unlikely to have the ingredients just lying around. And if you DO decide to make some for yourself, my advice would be to read one of  the books I have linked to above. And maybe get your own cheese making kit from a place like Green Living Australia (who, incidentally, I am not affiliated with, even though I keep mentioning them-they just seem like the best place to get these kinds of ingredients in Australia. You could also try somewhere like Cheeselinks.)

Ok, cheesy friends who have chosen to read on-have a gander at what you need to get started:


Special and not-so-special cheesy ingredients:

4 litres of full cream milk in a big pot with a thick base. You can use buffalo or sheep milk if you can get it, otherwise cow’s milk is fine;

calcium chloride-this is an ingredient needed to counter the effects of homogenisation  on the supermarket milk you are probably using. If you don’t add the calcium chloride you will not get proper curd formation in your milk;

citric acid-commonly found in citrus juices-isn’t as ‘chemically’ as it sounds and increases the acidity of the milk;

lipase-an enzyme, and an optional add-in, especially recommended if you have used supermarket-type pasteurised and homogenised milk. It enhances the flavour of the cheese;

vegetarian rennet-coagulates the milk, causing it to separate it into curds and whey;

cheese salt-normal table salt has a different crystal shape apparently, and that makes it unsuitable for cheesemaking. Also, cheese salt is not iodised. The salt is used not only for flavour but is also an important element in preserving the cheese. (I actually found my cheese to be a little bit salty for my taste as I prefer creamy, less salty mozzarella-I will reduce it slightly next time.)

So, the process: (from Green Living Australia’s 30 minute mozzarella booklet and my hard-won experience)

Firstly you add the calcium chloride, lipase and citric acid, all dissolved individually in some unchlorinated water and stirred in separately to the milk. So far it still just looks like a pot of milk.

Milk starting to curdle as it warms up...

Milk starting to curdle as it warms up...

Then you slowly heat the milk to 32 degrees C, which doesn’t seem like much-but with the heat the milk starts to curdle. Once you reach the right temperature you add the rennet (also dissolved in water like the other ingredients) and heat it further, up to 38-40 degrees C. Regulating the temperature is a bit hard, I found I needed to turn the gas flame off before I got to the right temperature so it didn’t shoot up beyond 40 degrees. Maybe I need one of those tricky heat dispersing mats? By now the milk has started to separate into curds (the solid parts) and whey. Exciting!

Hey-curds and whey! (You can see the line between the curd-solid-and the whey-the liquid-at the edge) Pull up a tuffet and keep your eyes peeled for spiders...

Hey-curds and whey! (You can see the line between the curd-solid-and the whey-the liquid-at the edge) Pull up a tuffet and keep your eyes peeled for spiders...

After about 5 minutes at this temperature the curds should have formed a fairly solid mass with a clean ‘break’ when you slide a knife into the centre and angle the blade slightly. I never really got this clean break and had to leave the milk at this temperature-which eventually climbed higher-for quite a lot longer, at which point I admit I started feeling a bit nervous that I was going to have 4 litres of soured, slightly coagulated milk to deal with. Oh dear.

Ok-so my temperature has definitely crept above the magical 38-40 degrees C...

Ok-so my temperature has definitely crept above the magical 38-40 degrees C...

...but where is my beautifully formed, solid lump of curds? This can't be right-can it?

...but where is my beautifully formed, solid lump of curds? This can't be right-can it?

After this, you use a long knife to cut the curd into cubes while it is in the pot, then you cook the curds-put the pot back on the heat and stir the curd at 40 degrees for 5 minutes.

And now for the exciting bit. Or the tense bit, depending on how well your curds formed…You can either knead the curds (yes, knead-like bread!) in a hot bath of the whey,which has been heated to 85 degrees C. Thick rubber gloves a must. This is the traditional way that mozzarella is made. But there is another way which involves using the microwave, and that is the method I chose-I didn’t fancy splashing around up to my elbows in hot whey. And good thinking it was, Red Hen, since Little D ended up waking from a snooze right in the middle of this step. That made things a bit awkward and I was glad I didn’t have a big ol’ pot of whey bubbling away on the stove.

The bowl of curds, supposedly ready for kneading. Hmm.

The bowl of curds, supposedly ready for kneading. Hmm.

So, you scoop your curds into a microwave safe bowl. Well-problem number one-my curds hadn’t formed too well and were kind of small and cottage cheese-like-so I actually sieved the curds out of the whey to make sure none went south through the big holes of a colander or slotted spoon! You need to press as much whey as possible out of the curd before you can start the next step which is…

Kneading!! You microwave the curds on high for 1 minute, pour off any extra whey and then fold the curds over themselves until you have formed one piece. Hmm. This really wasn’t happening for my curds at this stage. Oh well, next step…

Same as above but only microwave for 30 seconds before kneading. Ummm-mine is still in little separate curds like cottage cheese. You can’t knead cottage cheese! Help!

Well, the next step is the same-30 seconds of microwaving and kneading, by which stage the curds are supposed to have formed one smooth, lovely, shiny ball when you have kneaded them for a little while. What? But mine is…oh no. Has this been a massive failure and waste of time and milk? You KNOW how I hate wasting milk. And by now Little D was awake and needing attention,’ Mum, I need attention! Play with me! Look at me! Sing a song and do a little dance and now hold me and don’t put me down and stop that project you are doing right now and hang out with meeeee, Mumeeeee, waaaah!’

Ahem. A great environment for concentration as you can tell.

S'ok, Lil' Red. Just keep kneading those curds...

S'ok, Lil' Red. Just keep kneading those curds...

Anyway, by now I was faced with a curdy dilemma. What to do? Well, I guessed I would just have to keep microwaving and kneading-or sloshing around with my gloved hand as the case may be-this pile of curds in the hope that they might eventually come together into a kneadable mass. So I did. And still nothing. And after yet more more microwaving….still nada.

After 5 more rounds with the microwave I was about to give up. It was obviously not going to work. Maybe I should have used more rennet? More citric acid? So disappointing.

Oh well-one more time in the microwave and then that’s it. No more.

Hang on...

Hang on.....those curds are coming together!


And that heart sinking decision to chuck it in seemed to be the magic bullet for my mozzarella-it finally, FINALLY came together and started to get smooth…and shiny…and kind of stretchy…and mozzarella-ey! It felt a lot like kneading a big lump of bubble-gum, which was kind of cool. It got harder and harder to work as it got cold, so I quickly broke it into smaller golf-ball-sized pieces and shaped them into the smoothest looking balls I could and there they were. Mozzarella. Made by me. Woot! How cool.

And that's mozzarella. Sorry for the steamed up camera lens. It was the hot whey. I swear.

And that's mozzarella. Sorry for the steamed up camera lens. It was the hot whey. I swear.

And you know what-they tasted pretty good.

So where did they end up?

On homemade margherita pizzas of course!

Cheesemaking WIN.