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I was messing about with my denim stash yesterday and ended up making this little bag from the leg of an old pair of jeans. It was the perfect size for our neighbourhood bread deliveries.

It worked so well and was so quick to make that I started experimenting with other fabrics. Three hours and ten bags later, and I’m happy to share the instructions!

Start with two rectangles of fabric – approximately 15″ x 11″ (38cm x 28cm). Also, cut a strap 2½” (6½cm) wide by whatever length you prefer.  My handles all ended up different lengths, determined by whatever scrap I was using…

Place the rectangles right sides together. Cut 2″ (5cm) squares out of the bottom corners…

Sew the bottom and side seams, then overlock around the top. I overlocked all the seams just because it’s easier, but you could straight stitch and finish them if you prefer…

Now open up the fabric in the corners and match the side and bottom seams…

Stitch to form a boxed base…

Turn the top edge over and hem. At the same time, hem the long sides of the strap. At this point, down tools and go and iron everything as it will be harder to do so later…

Centre the strap over the side seams and attach it in place with two rows of stitching. That’s it, all done! Easy, right?

These bags are proving to be very useful! They’re the perfect size for one of my loaves…

…and for BYOing two bottles of wine to dinner…

I’ve made them in quilting scrap, denim, tea towels – just about any sturdy non-stretch fabric will work…

If you’re a bit more experienced and want to try making the bag from old jeans, you’ll need to make sure the leg circumference is wide enough (most skinny jeans won’t work). Make sure you have a sturdy sewing machine and walk the needle over the thick seams or risk breaking it (I learnt that the hard way).

Here’s how I cut the bag out of a jean’s leg…

I love how they turn out, but mitering the corners is a bit trickier. You could, of course, just leave that step out…

I love quick and easy sewing projects like this! The dimensions can be easily adapted as needed, so in theory the basic pattern could be used for everything from lolly bags to shopping totes (although the straps might need changing for the latter to provide more support).

I’ll be making them as bread and wine carriers, but I suspect we’ll find a multitude of different things to do with them.  I hope you’ll give them a go! ♥

It’s taken us a few attempts, but we’ve figured out how to smoke beef brisket in Rosie theTraeger Pro 34.

Well, we’ve figured out a method that works for us – I suspect true barbecue aficionados will take umbrage to some of our suggestions…

We start with a grassfed Cape Grim brisket. This alone is a fabulous find – Cape Grim produces some of the best beef in Australia and it usually carries a hefty price tag. However, brisket is less popular than other cuts, and Harris Farm Markets in Leichhardt sells it for just $13.99/kg…

Traditional American barbecue uses grainfed beef, but we try to avoid it for animal welfare reasons, plus we find it a bit too rich and fatty for our tastes. Because it isn’t as heavily marbled, grassfed brisket is less moist when smoked, but it’s incredibly delicious nonetheless!

We took advice from two sources – the amazing Steven Raichlen book Project Smoke, which is available in Kindle/iPad format for about $10…

…and the excellent PBS series BBQ with Franklin, as well as Aaron’s fabulous YouTube videos…

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We start by trimming most of the fat from the brisket, leaving just a few millimetres (about ¼”) all over. It’s a rookie error to leave too much fat, as the low smoking temperature doesn’t render it all out or crisp it up.

The meat is coated with ground black pepper and kosher salt (flaky salt would work as well) in equal parts by volume. The pepper is ground in a spice grinder and then sieved to remove the superfine dust – we only use the coarser bits. The rub is evenly sprinkled on and patted into the meat, which is fridge cold for trimming and coating, and then left to come to room temperature before smoking.

We place the brisket in an aluminium tray, fat side up. A temperature probe is inserted  into the thickest part (more on that later). Now, conventional wisdom is to place the meat straight on the bars, and I’m sure you get a better result that way, but we’re lazy and don’t want the extra cleaning up.

It’s worth mentioning that Rosie is a 34″/90cm pellet smoker, with a relatively large hopper. This means that we can confidently load her up with wood pellets before going to bed, knowing that she’ll have more than enough fuel to keep her chugging along until the following morning. You might need to make adjustments if you’re using a different type or size of smoker.

We started off using the Traeger Hickory pellets, but we now buy the Green Mountain Premium Fruitwood Blend from BBQ Aroma in Leichhardt. They’re a slightly more affordable option and they burn well…

If we’re having people over for lunch the following day, we start smoking at 9pm the night before. Rosie is brought to temperature (107°C/225ºF) and the tray is placed in the smoker with an accompanying pie tin of water. It’s then left to do its magic overnight.

The briskets we buy vary from five to six kilos, but trimming reduces that substantially. We’ve found the meat can take anywhere from 12 to 14 hours to smoke (depending on the thickness of the cut), so we need to allow extra time just in case. In addition, the longer the meat rests (within reason), the better the final result!

Once the internal temperature of the meat gets to between 76ºC to 80ºC (169ºF to 176ºF), which is usually about 6am the following morning, I turn the temperature up to 121ºC (250ºF), refill the water tin, and cover the meat with parchment paper.

On that point – Aaron Franklin recommends taking the meat out, wrapping it in butchers paper, and then putting it back in to finish smoking. When we tried that, the temperature of the meat dropped massively and took ages to heat up again. As our brisket is already on a tray,  just covering it with parchment to prevent it from drying out seems to work well for us.

When the internal temperature reaches 93ºC (200°F), we take the meat out. The test for doneness is if you can insert a finger into the brisket without too much difficulty – we use a wooden spoon handle.

Here’s how our last smoke looked just out of Rosie…

. . . . .

We remove the cooked meat from the tray and wrap it in a double layer of butchers paper, then pop it into a clean esky (insulated cool box) to rest for up to four hours. It probably needs at least two hours resting time.

A note on the wrapping – smoked meats are traditionally wrapped in foil to rest, but recent thinking suggests that the foil causes the meat to steam a little as it cools, resulting in a slightly stewed flavour. Franklin and Raichlen both suggest butchers paper – I didn’t want to pay for the fancy peach coloured paper they recommended, so I sourced a locally made food safe white version on eBay…

And the moment of truth, the slicing! Because of the tray, we don’t get a smoke ring the whole way around, but there is usually a decent pink stripe at the top…

. . . . .

So…how to serve it? With coleslaw of course – we like to make ours with Chinese cabbage as it’s a little sweeter and gentler on my stomach.

Pete also made an amazing cheese souffle last time, using this dead simple recipe from Kitchn. It will be a house staple from now on…

I made potato salad using Kestrels and dressed it in an excellent honey mustard vinaigrette from Chew Out Loud – this will also be our go-to henceforth.

Now here’s our personal contribution – we served our brisket in…tah-dah!…deepfried DOUGHNUT buns. Brisket doughnut sliders are a thing!

I made a large batch of yeasted sweet dough and once it had proved, shaped it into 50g balls. These were given a second rise before flattening slightly and deepfrying…

Here’s my assorted plate of leftovers. Because there are always leftovers!

And before I forget – a final note on probe thermometers. The Traeger Pro 34 comes with two, which record the internal temperature of the meat as it smokes. The problem though is that the smoker sits on the back deck and the first time we used it for brisket, I found myself getting up three times overnight to check the temps. It was like having a newborn baby!

Our darling friend and neighbour PeteV took pity on us and bought us a Meater Thermometer. It’s the bomb. It bluetooths to our phones and iPads, and the alarm function has saved us on more than one occasion from badly overcooked meat. Brisket is a particularly tough cut, so it needs to be cooked very slowly until well done (93ºC or 200ºF). It’s much easier not to stuff that up when the internal temperature is being electronically tracked…

Image result for meater thermometer

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We’re still newbies to smoking and barbecues, so if you have any tips, we’d be very grateful for them. And I’d love to hear about your barbecue adventures as well!

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PS. I loved this show about spending 24 hours working at Franklin Barbecue – it’s fun to watch if you have ten minutes spare. I can’t believe folks queue up for six hours!

One final post on our Singapore trip, but this one’s a doozy, so you might want to grab a cup of tea and pull up a chair. It was a busy, family-filled two weeks with too many happy moments to recount, so let me just share some highlights with you.

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I spent a joyous afternoon exploring Chinatown, Arab Street, Haji Lane and Little India on foot. I started at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum in Chinatown…

I stopped to listen to the call to prayers at Masjid Sultan in Muscat Street.This national monument was built in 1824…

The Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple (Hindu) was hard to photograph against the bright sky, but it was wonderful in person. I walked past it in Little India…

Arab Street and Haji Lane run parallel to each other, offering amazing textiles and ceramics, as well as fabulous street art…

On Big Boy’s recommendation, I had lunch at the legendary Zam Zam restaurant on North Bridge Road, where this enormous beef murtabak and teh tarik set me back a tiny $6.20…

Little India was less touristy than Arab Street, selling essential food supplies…

…and wonderful handicrafts like these dabu ink blocks. The streets were filled with sari shops, grocers, eateries and gold merchants…

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The following day, my lovely new niece Rachel (we were in Singapore to attend her wedding to our nephew Nick), took me to the National Gallery of Singapore.

We had fun posing in front of Anish Kapoor’s mirror creation…

Tatsuo Miyajima’s Mega Death is always stunning, but it was particularly interesting to see it installed in a different space to the MCA

My favourite work of the day was Passages and Bridges (2018) by Filipino artist Mark Justiniani. It was structured as a perspex bridge that the viewer walked on, over a seemingly bottomless abyss filled with books and other memorabilia.

I loved it so much that Rach had to drag me away. The photos below were taken looking straight down as I walked over the bridge…

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Sentosa Island in Singapore has one of the world’s largest aquariums! It can get very crowded, but if you pick your time carefully (go early), there’s a great deal to see and do.

If for no other reason, go to see the amazing Open Ocean habitat, which measures 36 metres wide by 8.3 metres tall. It’s hard to comprehend just how large that is, so I took these videos to show you. We’re talking full size manta rays and sharks…

 

 

 

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Being in the tropics meant that fascinating wildlife was everywhere. We saw tortoises and monkeys and hornbills and sea eagles and colourful, noisy parrots. And peacocks, just wandering about…

While on Sentosa Island, we visited a butterfly park – Pete found it a bit underwhelming, but Small Man and I loved watching these Rice Paper Butterflies emerging and drying off their wings before their maiden flights…

The park also had scarlet macaws and tortoises…

And how often do you get to pat a green land iguana? (Yes, I really did pat him)

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I have, of course, left the best for last. Food! Singaporeans seem to live for food! Coupled with the country’s diverse cultural and religious influences, the result is an astonishing array of cuisines at almost every price point.

Having said that…are you sitting down?

Singapore is reputed to have the best Japanese food outside of Japan. My sister and brother-in-law very kindly took us to Kuriya Dining for the finest sushi I’ve ever eaten…

Then this came out. And I tried it. It’s cod sperm. Raw cod sperm. Well, technically, the whole male reproductive tract.

It’s a rare delicacy and I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to taste it…just once. And in case you’re curious, it has a texture similar to a raw oyster…

Then we had monkfish liver, which was actually very good…

The following day, we went to Outram Park Ya Hua Bak Kut Teh (which is no longer in Outram Park) to try their traditional pork rib soup. Proper, delicious hawker fare, eaten in an open air setting, served family style for sharing…

That evening, we went out for a feast!

Possibly the best thing I ate in Singapore (big call, I know) was the dry prawn noodle (har mee) served from a stall at the Zion Riverside Food Centre. It’s so good that it’s been awarded Michelin Bib Gourmand status. This is my niece Sweet Pea and her dad’s favourite – they always order the dry version, which comes with separate chilli noodles and large prawns in the most flavourful broth imaginable…

Finally (not really finally, as there was so much more to tell, but I’m exercising restraint), we ate some amazing Teochew food during our visit. My brother-in-law CC was appalled that I’d never been to a Teochew restaurant before (as it’s our native province), so he took us to one on our second night there.

Suckling pig is a regional specialty…

I can still remember my grandmother making ngoh hiang – minced pork and prawn wrapped in bean curd skin and deep fried…

That really is just a small sample of our two weeks of manic eating – we also had an amazing Peranakan meal, oodles of awesome street food and delicious home cooking, but I was too slow to take photos. It was hard to hold back the eaters long enough to frame a shot!

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My niece Baby Girl has been completely obsessed with my fudge brownies for years now, so I taught her how to make them. And yep, she’s wearing one of my rescued denim aprons

She nailed the brownies on her first attempt!

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This trip to Singapore was our first overseas holiday since the start of our waste reduction plan, and I was curious to see if we could stick to our goals while travelling.

It actually proved to be quite easy. As you can see from the photos above, the low cost of labour means that, in some areas, Singapore is much better at waste minimisation than we are – all the food courts and hawker centres serve their dishes on melamine crockery and provide non-disposable cutlery. Eaters bus their dirty plates to a central collection spot and stack them on either Halal and non-Halal racks.

In terms of shopping, we avoided the large malls and instead spent time exploring interesting and unique handicrafts. I picked up these hand painted teaspoons and pendant from a small Peranakan store on Bussorah Lane, and was so happy when owner Robert packaged everything in reused fruit wrap for me. The pendant is made from a fragment of an old Chinese vase…

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was thrilled to find these Iranian plates at 64 Arab Street. Hand beaten, hand painted copper, and very affordable…

I travelled to Singapore with my Keep Cup and cloth napkins, the latter making my sister laugh on several occasions.

She thought it was hilarious when I insisted that stall holders put items directly on to my napkin rather than into a takeaway box – after all, I planned to eat them straight away! I washed our napkins each night in our bathroom sink, and they were dry and ready to go the next morning. No ironing needed…

Lastly, I managed to attend all three weddings last year wearing as much eco-friendly fashion as possible. For Nick and Rachel’s, I wore my recycled sari jacket from Cash Palace Emporium, my Chinese vase pendant and the most gorgeous earrings, which I bought from Fold Formations at a Sydney market before I left.

Kirsty Gorman makes her jewellery entirely from reclaimed materials – even the hooks are recycled sterling silver. The fuschias were carefully crafted from rescued bathroom copper, anodized to create different hues and then trimmed, shaped and assembled. Best of all, they tinkle when I shake my head…

The earrings were labour intensive and therefore expensive, but I’ve worn them half a dozen times since I bought them in December. And I think it’s important that we support young artists who work so hard at being sustainable…

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What a long post – if you’ve made it all the way to the end, thank you! It was a lovely, fun-filled holiday and a wonderful way to end 2018! ♥

My beloved niece Sweet Pea flew back early from London to Singapore, just to spend a couple of extra days with me. Later that week, still recovering from jetlag, the darling girl took me to Gardens by the Bay, a magnificent, sprawling green space filled with carefully curated horticulture and contemporary art…

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We began our explore on the 22 metre high OCBC Skyway in the Supertree Grove. No stairs – except for emergencies – just a comfortable lift ride up to the canopy and glorious views over Singapore…

I’m always intrigued by the colours of a country – whereas I think of Australia in terms of bright sunlight and red soils and distinctive blue skies and seas, Singapore is amazing shades of lush greens and brilliant orchid pinks…

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The outdoor spaces were filled with interesting trees and plants – I found these twirly cactuses particularly fascinating…

And cannonball trees! Walk underneath with caution…

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When the heat and humidity got too much, we escaped into the air-conditioned Cloud Forest. A multi-storey waterfall greeted us at the entrance – we quickly scooted past the scores of tourists taking selfies…

 

The exhibit is huge (0.8 ha) and filled with tropical highland plants normally found at 2000 metres above sea level. It was such a joy to see specimens that I’d never have the chance to otherwise, like these stunning Andean orchids…

An entire level of the Cloud Forest is dedicated to carnivorous plants…I squealed with excitement when I saw pitcher plants…

Venus fly traps, magnified under glass…

These metre-long leaves caught my attention…they have deep curved ridges to allow water to run off them…

Wonderful artworks are discreetly and appropriately placed throughout the exhibits…

As we were leaving the Cloud Forest, having descended from the top of the 35 metre mountain to the very bottom, we passed this beautiful secret vista beneath the waterfall…

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Our next stop was the Flower Dome. As you’d expect, it was also filled with magnificent flowers…

…and quirky art…

…but what I really wanted to see were the trees. Like this Australian Baobab…

The Argentinian Palo Borracho (Bottle Tree, also known as the Drunken Tree) belongs to the cotton family…

Elephant’s Foot plant – aptly named, I think…

And possibly my favourite plant in the Flower Dome, this South African Paddle Plant…

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After a morning of walking, Sweet Pea and I stopped at Satay by the Bay, a food court  located within the Gardens. It was full of stalls offering very affordable local fare, and I was chuffed to find my favourite popiah ($3) and teh tarik ($1.50) there. An excellent end to a truly excellent morning…

Thank you, darling Sweet Pea, for spending so much time with me! I love you to the moon and back! And if you’re a plant lover and find yourself with a little spare time in Singapore, then I highly recommend Gardens by the Bay. Try to go in the morning – most Singaporeans are night owls, so you’ll have a better chance of avoiding the crowds if you go early!

Happy New Year! Wishing you all a joyous 2019!

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As I mentioned in my previous post, we spent the last two weeks of December in Singapore. We were there to attend the wedding of our nephew Nick (my cousin Jennie’s son) and darling Rachel. It was the most wonderful day…

Of course, it was impossible for me to spend a fortnight away and not take some sourdough starter with me. I was reluctant to enter Singapore with dodgy looking dried starter, so I opted to take it in liquid form. Yes, I know, I used not one, but two plastic bags, but it seemed the only way to ensure it didn’t leak out over my clothes…

Our new Singapore baby, christened Lah-Lah by my sister Cynthia, sprang to life immediately. We used Waitrose Duchy Organic Strong White Bread Flour from the UK (available in Cold Storage) and it worked very well…

I soon figured out that proving times in 32°C Singapore were much shorter than in Sydney. I suspect the humidity made a difference as well. Lah-Lah was incredibly active, ripe and raring to go within just a few hours of feeding. Doughs that need an overnight rise in Sydney were ready in just five to six hours.

Here are a few adjustments which worked well for my Singapore loaves. (My sister’s kitchen isn’t air-conditioned.)

1. As the ambient temperature stayed high around the clock, I wasn’t confident about letting my sourdoughs prove overnight. By the same token, leaving the starter on the bench for an extended period was also problematic. In the end, we fed Lah-Lah at about 6pm, then popped her back into the fridge for the night.

Very early the following morning (6am), I took the container out of the fridge, poured some into a bowl, and stirred in ¼ cup bread flour and ¼ filtered water. She was then left covered on the bench for three hours, by which time she was usually bubbly and ready to play. Always test that the starter floats before making dough!

2. My Singapore bread schedule involved mixing up the dough at 9am. The high humidity resulted in a wetter mix than usual, which I compensated for by reducing the water quantity a fraction (20g or so). After a 30 minute rest followed by a quick knead, the dough was left to rise  on the bench for five to six hours while we went out exploring. Sometime after 2pm, the dough was shaped and popped into lined bannetons (yes, I took those with me), allowed to prove for a further half an hour or so, then baked on parchment paper in enamel roasters (yup, lugged those over as well, plus welding gloves to manoeuvre them in and out of the oven).

3. It took me a couple of attempts to figure out my sister’s gas oven. We used the Convection Bake setting, but as the heat source was from below, I struggled not to burn the bottom of the loaves. My first chocolate loaf was scorched, but we cut the burnt base off and ate it anyway…

In the end, we lined a cookie tray with parchment paper, then sat the enamel roaster on top. The dough inside was also on a sheet of parchment. The additional paper lining between the cookie tray and the roaster was Pete the engineer’s suggestion – something about breaking the contact between the two metals and diffusing the heat a bit more. Worked a treat!

4. Storing bread in the tropics is tricky! Placed into a sealed plastic box, the loaf sweats and the crust goes squishy. I took beeswax wraps with me and they worked brilliantly – the loaf below was wrapped for several days and while it eventually went stale, there wasn’t a hint of mould…

The problem though – and this one took me by surprise – is lizards. Apparently they can climb into the tiniest cracks, so an unsealed fabric wrapping isn’t much of a deterrent. After some discussion, we found that storing the beeswax wrapped loaf in the toaster oven or microwave kept it both fresh and reptile-free.

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And for my extended family, here’s how I made the large slab of focaccia for our Christmas dinner. It’s based on Emilie’s wonderful recipe from Artisan Sourdough Made Simple, which I highly recommend if any of you go further on the sourdough journey. I’ve adapted the timings for Cyn’s Singapore kitchen!

1. Take your starter out at 6pm the night before. Tip out about half of it (you could use it for pancakes if  you like) and feed it with ¼ cup bread flour and ¼ cup filtered water. Whisk well, then put the container back in the fridge. Note: if you’re not baking regularly, you’ll need to do this once a week to keep your starter alive.

2. At 6am the following morning, take the starter out of the fridge. Pour about ½ cup into a bowl, then put the container back in the fridge. Into the bowl, add ¼ cup bread flour and ¼ cup filtered water and whisk until combined. Cover the bowl and put it in a warm spot for three hours.

3. At 9am, the starter should look bubbly and bouncy. Test it by putting a teaspoon of starter into a glass of water – if it floats, it’s good to go. If not, wait a bit longer.

4. Make the dough. Using a set of scales, put the following into a large mixing bowl:

  • 100g active starter
  • 750g filtered water
  • 500g bread flour
  • 500g plain flour
  • 18g fine sea salt

Note: halve the quantities if you have a smaller oven, or if you’re not feeding a crowd.

With a clean hand, mix everything together, squishing the mixture between your fingers to evenly combine. Scrape your fingers off, then cover the mixing bowl with a shower cap, plate or clean tea towel.

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5. Half an hour later, wet your hand and give the dough a quick knead in the bowl – just for a minute or so. I like to fold the outside of the dough into the middle, rotate the bowl a bit, and then repeat until I’ve gone the whole way around. Don’t worry too much about it – Em’s original recipe doesn’t include this step, so it’s fine if you just skip it.

Once you’ve done that, cover the bowl again and put it somewhere warm to rise. You can now ignore it for the next few hours.

6. At 3pm, check the dough. It should be puffy and light, but if it isn’t, let it prove for another hour or so. This timing has a bit of flexibility, so don’t panic if you get to the dough a bit later. Priscilla (and Lah-Lah) are quite resilient and they’ll usually bounce back.

Prepare a large baking pan – I used a heavy duty aluminium tray which fit perfectly in Cynthia’s oven. It’s disposable, but can be washed and reused many times. Adjust a rack to the middle of the oven.

Pour ¼ cup of light olive oil into the tray and spread it around with your dough scraper (yep, took those too). Now carefully scrape the puffy dough straight into the pan – don’t worry that it looks like a blob.

Wet your hands, then slip your fingers under one edge of the dough and flip it over so that both sides are coated in oil.

Cover the tray with a tea towel and allow it to rest for about half an hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220°C with fan (I used the Convection Bake setting).

7. Once the dough has rested and relaxed, it should be much more workable. Wet your hands, then pat and stretch the dough to fit the tray. Get your wet fingers under the edges and pull it gently into shape…

8. Sprinkle two good pinches of flaky salt evenly over the top. Then wet your hands again, shake them off, and push your fingertips into the dough – dimpling all the way to the very bottom. This will carry all the flavour through the finished bread…

9. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes, then rotate and bake for a further 5 – 10 minutes, or longer if needed. Every oven will be different, so keep an eye on your focaccia and adjust as necessary. In Cynthia’s gas oven, I baked on the middle rack for a total of 30 minutes, then took the finished loaf out of the tray, flipped it over, and gave it just a couple of minutes more upside down, straight on the rack. Be very careful with this (optional) step as the top can scorch if you leave it too long. Bake until it’s golden brown but not burnt…

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It was huge fun baking in the tropics but it did take a little finessing! Hopefully this post will give you some ideas about adjusting your baking routine to suit your climate. And to all my extended fam – I hope you give the focaccia a go! ♥

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