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I’ll spare you all from yet another bread post, but I really haven’t been baking much else lately. So here’s a slightly bizarre collection of miscellaneous photos from January – it’s been a fun month!

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My very first coffee of 2015 had a koala on it. I was hopeful that it meant I’d be able to spend most of the year up a tree, slightly stoned (hasn’t happened)…

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Do you read xkcd comics? They’re offbeat, geeky and quirky, and they make my hubby laugh very loudly…

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Pete said I wasn’t allowed to write…”In my kitchen there’s a chicken’s arse”… so the photos are in this post instead. Charlie asked me recently about prepping a goose for roasting. My Chinese mother insists that with any poultry, the oil gland of the bird should be removed before cooking.

It’s located on the “bishop’s nose”, and it’s the gland that secretes oil which the bird uses to waterproof its feathers. I trim it off and discard it…

I’m sure you’re all delighted to know that…(Pete reckons I’ve grossed you out)…

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On Polyxeni’s advice, we popped into Aquadisiac in Surry Hills to check out their fish. As well as saucer sized freshwater stingrays (at $800 each), they also have a giant Arowana on display.

He and I got into a staring contest…

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Happily, the garden continues to thrive. We normally can’t grow broccoli raab in summer – the seedlings usually flower straight away – but this year we have a bumper crop…

And for the first time ever, our Finger Lime tree is producing fruit! The dozen or so ripening limes make enduring the needle-like thorns worthwhile…

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Our friend Lucinda married handsome Dan last weekend. We’ve known Luce since she was born, so it was a very exciting occasion. I bought a silk kaftan to wear (the ideal choice for spanx-free dining) and then decided I needed new jewellery to go with it.

Luckily I had a string of 60 year old Swarovski starlight crystals in my stash…

Always one to leave things to the last minute, I finished this set on the day of the wedding…

As you can tell, I was pretty excited by the idea of a party…

I’m not sure either of them could have looked any happier…

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Finally, Oliver the Orange has come home! He was Big Boy’s favourite toy when he was two, and he’s been through five other toddlers since then. Twenty years is a pretty good innings for a stuffed toy, and I think he’s held up very well…

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How was your January? I hope you all had a great month too!

Over the past couple of months, I’ve sent out dozens of packets of sourdough starter (the last two I had in the fridge went out today).

Some of the folks who receive them might never get around to using them, others will revive their starter, bake a few loaves, then decide it’s not really for them. And you know what? That’s completely fine. I’m very unprecious about Priscilla – she was sent out as a gift with no strings attached whatsoever.

But for some, the little bag of starter has proven to be a tiny satchel of magic. They begin like everyone else – waking up the wild yeasts, feeding them and watching them bubble, then baking their first loaf. It might not be perfect, but it’s proof of concept, and they’re inspired to try again. Then they’ll bake a second loaf, changing the recipe or methodology just a little bit along the way. By the third loaf, they’re off – they’ve studied books and blogs, experimented with overnight or cold proving, fiddled with hydration levels and bake times, and started adding their starter’s name to birthday cards. They’ve been bitten by the bread equivalent of Peter Parker’s radioactive spider.

With every success or failure, they learn a bit more. Their friends and family get caught up in the excitement, eat far more bread than is recommended by national guidelines, and provide often unsolicited feedback. Slowly, their superpower builds. Almost magically, they can now turn flour and water into food. And they think…just look at what I’ve made! I never thought I could do that. I wonder what else I can do?

A couple of friends have said to me, “you must be so proud of how far Priscilla has spread!” It’s hard to explain, but it’s not really pride that I feel. I know Priscilla is a fabulous starter, and I’m pretty confident most people will be able to make a successful loaf with her, but all I’m doing is sending a few dried flakes and a recipe out in the mail. I’m not making the dough, I’m not even really in the kitchen to talk anyone through the process. So pride is the wrong word.

What I feel is enormous joy at being able to pass on a tiny gift which empowers people. Empowers them to feel good about themselves, knowing they can achieve something they’d previously not thought possible. And along the way, we’re building a worldwide community of excited bakers. It’s been unbelievably satisfying.

I’ve watched Selma go from a perfect first loaf to sharing her starter Twinkle with half a dozen friends across Europe, who in turn have baked their own perfect loaves.

Selma’s Cinnamon Sourdough Fruit Loaf

Annie’s breadmaking skills have developed so rapidly that not only is she distributing loaves to everyone she knows, she’s now teaching others to bake as well.

Annie’s loaves have very sexy curves!

If a text message could squeal with joy, then my old friend Mary’s did at 5am on Saturday morning when she baked her first loaf. Her daughter Polyxeni has become an expert baker overnight, producing loaves that look like they’ve come straight out of an artisan bakery. Things are getting just a little bit competitive in their kitchen…

This was the photo Mary sent me on Saturday morning. I was squealing too!

Polyxeni told me that she is never ever buying bread again…

The stories are too numerous to recount and coming in from all around the globe – Manuela is baking the most amazing bread in a remote part of Canada where bison roam freely. She baked her first loaf one morning, knotted rolls that afternoon, and a second round of loaves in the evening. All on the first day.

Manuela’s wholemeal sourdough loaf has delighted her hubby!

It’s amazing to think we’re baking with related starters all around the world!

Tandy’s starter Cordelia has been living happily in her South African kitchen for a couple of years now, providing enormous satisfaction on a weekly basis…

Tandy’s overnight loaf recipe is on her blog now!

Nancy and Jen in Shanghai are as excited as teenagers over their starters and are now happily sharing them across China. They’ve produced stunning loaves under tricky conditions, wrapping dough in blankets and proving them in bathtubs…

Nancy’s second loaf was even better than her first!

Every loaf of sourdough bread is unique. The discovery of bakers’ yeast in the late 1800s led to large scale bread production because it enabled bakers to replicate results consistently enough to produce commercial quantities. Sourdough is quite the opposite of that – each loaf is slightly different and results can vary on any given day.

More importantly, every baker owns their process. They might start with a given recipe, but by about the third loaf, that’s been tweaked and changed, personalised to the kitchen they’re in and the hands working the dough. I love that. It’s why I ask folks to rename their starter when it arrives – because it’s their starter in their kitchen, and it’s heading off on a brand new sourdough journey.

To everyone out there who has a Priscilla offspring, thank you for sharing your baking adventures with us. It’s been more rewarding that you can possibly imagine!

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Empowerment

Actively Seeking Enthusiasms

Sharing the Sourdough Love

Sometimes we get a bit snobby about food in tins, but in the case of fruit, we really shouldn’t. Aussie tinned fruit is generally superb – the produce is picked at the peak of its ripeness and canned almost immediately. It doesn’t have the same texture as fresh fruit for eating raw, but it’s perfect for cooking with, and in many cases the quality will be superior to what’s on offer on the shelves of the fruit market.

Better still, the tins last for ages in the pantry and there are always bargains to be had. Like the boxes of SPC peaches I bought at the end of last year – at $10 a dozen, they were an absolute steal compared to the $3.50 each that they sell for at the supermarkets…

And the reason for the discount? The ones I bought don’t have ringpulls on the top like the newer ones do. Otherwise, the tins, and the peaches in them, are in perfect condition. I’d had plans to stock up on a few boxes like a doomsday prepper, but Big Boy has discovered them and is eating a whole tin every three days on his muesli…

At the end of last month, still recovering from the Christmas rush, I thought it might be nice to make a very simple tea cake using the peaches and a little tinned passionfruit…

I made up a batch of our very easy tea cake batter and topped it with the fruit. I could have bought fresh peaches, peeled them, sliced them and poached them, but this was much easier…

Here’s the recipe again to save you the trouble of clicking back and forth. I now use a food processor to make this cake, but it works just as well in the mixer (instructions are here):

  • 250g unsalted butter, soft but not melted
  • 200g caster (superfine) sugar
  • 4 large free range eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used homemade)
  • 150g self-raising flour
  • 150g almond meal
  • sliced tinned peaches
  • tinned passionfruit pulp

1. Preheat oven to 160C with fan and line a baking tray with parchment paper (I used a rectangular 30cm x 23cm/12″x9″ pan enamel baking pan).

2. In the large bowl of the food processor, blitz together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and pulse until combined, adding in a spoonful of the flour if required to stop the batter from splitting. Scrape down the sides as needed. Add the vanilla and pulse again.

3. Stir or sift the flour and almond meal together, then add to the food processor and pulse until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared tray and top with the peaches, artistically arranged. They will sink into the cake as it bakes. Drizzle over the passionfruit pulp.

4. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until a fine skewer inserted comes out clean. Rotate the tray half way through the baking time if needed. Watch carefully to ensure the seeds on top don’t burn. Allow to rest briefly in the pan before lifting out and cooling completely on a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar before serving.

I’m pretty sure this would work with most tinned stone fruit (hmm…maybe not lychees). It’s an easy dessert or afternoon tea to pull together from pantry ingredients!

Our gloriously boozy festive season was kicked off by the arrival of Beth and Anne’s homemade brews. All three were delicious, but the sloe gin was the unanimous favourite. I had to laugh – Pete asked if “doing Slamseys” was hipster-speak for slamming down shots…

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We opened the bottle of 1992 Howard Park that I’d been carefully cellaring for Big Boy (it’s his birth year). It was sublime

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We’ve discovered a ginger beer that we all love! It’s very gingery and not overly sweet. Made in the UK, it’s available at Dan Murphy’s and it’s much nicer than any local brews we’ve tried…

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Big Boy put me on to Mr Black, an Australian made cold-drip coffee liqueur. It’s extremely fine. I really haven’t been doing all that well at keeping my caffeine intake in check

Mr Black is produced in small numbered batches and packaged in a very slick bottle which pours badly. As the bottle is drunk down, the custom artwork on the back is revealed…

Mixed with Belvedere vodka, it made a divine Espresso Martini

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I don’t have a good relationship with tequila, but I’ve now discovered one that doesn’t make me (overly) paranoid…

Besides, how could I resist a label with a skeleton riding an enraged rooster?

We’ve perfected our margarita recipe:

  • 45ml Espolòn tequila
  • 15ml Cointreau
  • 45ml combined of freshly squeezed lime and lemon
  • loads of ice

Shake everything together well in a cocktail shaker then strain into a salt-rimmed glass…

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Our final boozy discovery over the festive season was this fabulous free iPhone/iPad app. Based on your age, weight and gender, it estimates your blood alcohol over the course of the night. You enter each drink in real time as it’s consumed.

Just as an experiment (sigh..Anne isn’t going to believe this), I tried entering three drinks in quick succession and this is what it came up with. Remember, people care about you…

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Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could do this all year long? Unfortunately I doubt my liver would cope, so it’s back to herbal teas in the evening!

It all started when Emma mentioned that she’d been baking huge sourdough loaves.

I sent her a little bit of Priscilla in December, and since then her baby starter, Miss Smilla, has been going gangbusters. Emma was making our overnight sourdough recipe, but baking the whole batch as a single large loaf. I’d never tried anything like that, so I was keen to give it a go.

First I texted our baker friend Craig for advice – baking times would obviously have to be adjusted to accommodate the much larger loaf. Craig’s advice was to bake for a total of between 75 – 90 minutes, with the first 50 minutes in a covered pot.

Thankfully I had the 36cm enamel goose roaster

The end result was the photo at the top – I baked the entire 1918g dough as a single loaf. It worked brilliantly – I dubbed it Breadalapooza and tweeted photos of it to my mates.

And then…we were off! Jason picked up the ball and ran with it, knocking up an almost FIVE kilo dough (he’d meant to make a three kilo one but his maths was out) which baked into the most amazing ginormous spaceship. You can read all about it in his post here

J’s loaf turned out so well that I was inspired to try sizing mine up, so I mixed together a three kilo batch of dough and let it rise overnight. I shaped it the following morning and put it into the cold roaster to rise while the oven preheated (Jason and I had both found manoeuvring a humungous dough into a blazing hot pan a little intimidating)…

In the pot to rise – it had half an hour or so to puff up before slashing and baking.

Just for the record, the dough baked covered at 245C with fan for 15 minutes, and then the temperature was lowered to 220C with fan for a further 35 minutes. At the 50 minute mark, the lid was removed and the temperature dropped to 175C with fan. I gave the loaf another 20 minutes in the pot, then finished it off for 20 minutes on the oven rack.

PRISZILLA was born! She was bigger than my head…

…and, as Pete kindly pointed out, my bust…

She filled the 36cm roaster completely…

Once cooled, I cut her straight down the middle and was absolutely delighted to find that she’d baked all the way through…

The ridged base on the roaster produced a lovely spiral bottom…

Just so much fun! The bread itself was very tasty, with an elastic crumb and a chewy, toothsome crust. I’m not quite sure what to do with three kilos of it, but I’ve learnt a great deal about sourdough baking through these experiments. And that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? ♥

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