Saturday, 29 September 2012

Kit and caboodle

I'll make no bones about it, I'd like a nice shiny Kitchen Aid freestanding mixer, or a cheery new Kenwood K-mix. But for the moment I'll make do with this ...

Bless it! I have no idea how old it is, I inherited it (as I have a lot of my kitchen kit) from someone else.

I got to thinking the other day about kit and we when you bake or cook a lot you tend to rely on certain pieces of equipment. I'm personally still in mourning for a particular wooden spoon Mr Blackbird broke; it was my favourite scrambled egg/white sauce making spoon, with a little pointy bit at the end - for the pan scraping.

I've realised that the kit I use the most, and that I'm most fond of isn't that expensive (as I said above a lot of things have been passed down to me). So alongside my relic from the 70s (I think) these are the others in my top 5.

Actually, this is one I did buy, solely because Delia informed me (reliably as it turned out) that making royal icing by hand with a balloon whisk wasn't something you wanted to get involved with. But in the stead of a the aforementioned freestanding mixer it has served me very well. Many of Blackbird Bread's drizzle loaf cakes have been whisked by it and unlike my handheld blender whisk attachment it doesn't start to burn out at the first sign of some 'not-very-well' softened butter.

Now this has served me well over the years and is still a kitchen classic. Another inherited piece. Yes, I've got some nice modern plastic mixing bowls with non-slip bottoms and lips for ease of pouring, but this makes me feel like I'm doing proper grown up baking! Probably because growing up all the mums I knew had one.

I love this little chap. He came free with a magazine and was once pink. He's had loads of use and is considerably more flexible and useful than the spatula I actually paid money for.

Aah, only higher in my affections than Mr Spatula comes my silicone pastry brush. Once this fella came into my life I was no longer afflicted with old-style brushes that would moult over my pastry (looking suspiciously like cat hairs). I think I paid a whole six English pounds for this, but he's a top investment to avoid guests looking worriedly from the ginger tom to their plate.

To be fair, I am a bit obsessive about my kitchen (not that it is anything to look at). Sharing it with Mr Blackbird Bread can be an interesting experiment in marital harmony. And I also have a habit of tidying up his work surface which, if it was the other way around, I would consider emotional cruelty! I'm not too bad about sharing the kit (apart from that wooden spoon - think you can gather I'm still smarting about that one) in fact in the background he's making breadcrumbs (some loaves just don't make it!) in the ancient Kenwood mixer. Although that may change if I ever get may hands on a KitchenAid.

So, I guess what I'm saying is sometimes it doesn't matter how much something cost, how you came by it (as long as it was legal) or who you share it with, love your kit and it will serve you well.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

All fired up!

Ah, a wood fired oven. The smell of burning flesh, mosquitoes singing in your ears and bread you can't see and a temperature you can't control. Heaven!

We recently stayed at a farm that let me use their outdoor wood fired oven, (yes, yes, I baked them a loaf too!). I was incredibly nervous and excited at the prospect, especially as they mentioned no one had tried to cook a loaf in it before, they use it for pizzas.

The oven was lit around three hours before I needed it. I was reliably informed by the farmer, that you shouldn't use the oven until all the wood is white and has turned to ash, like a barbecue. The only other guidance I had was from my ever faithful Daniel Stevens' Bread book (essential purchase by the way) who memorably talks about using a clay (not wood fired) oven in his great book. He says the oven's ready when the hairs on your arm start to char!

I also used the opportunity to take some nice outdoorsy pics for the blog! Like this:
I went for a good old white bloomer. This is the scene after the initial knead, the dough proving in a huge bowl, inside a bin bag, and represents the view from our tent. Never mind mouldy old dough, more like lucky old dough! Full sunshine for one hour, then this:

As I wanted two loaves, I halved it (approximately), formed into rounds and left for a further quarter of an hour. Then I covered them in a bin bag and left for another hour to rise again.
I put them onto the farm's impressive-looking peel, shaped again and gave them two horizontal slashes with a breadknife followed by a good soaking of water.

Gloves on (no, not those ones from your Auntie at Christmas, proper ones!), I opened the door and popped the loaves in one at a time.
Now, this is the interesting bit. I couldn't move and had to time everything very carefully. In four minutes, I opened up the door and was saddened to see that one loaf had burnt slightly. Lesson learnt - don't put the loaf too far back in the oven (as the wood is pushed to the back when the oven is ready so the majority of the heat is there). The closer to the door the better I would say, or the heat is too much and you are at risk of charring the crust and under cooking the middle of your loaf.

I moved them around every two minutes and in seven to eight minutes they were ready to come out. This is the one I'm happy to share with the world!
The taste was amazing, like nothing I've tasted. The effect that the wood fire had on the crust was unbelievable.

Next time, I will place it nearer to the door and leave it undisturbed for two minutes, then turn it around every two minutes until the base goes boom boom boom, like my heart was!