Winter Wonderland, sourdough and welsh baking stone

January is whooshing past and I have so many things to write about. I think I will start with today and work backwards. Today was another winter wonderland day in Derbyshire. I opened the blind  to a beautiful sunrise and everything white over. I'ts not a photo failure, it really was that pink and purple!  


Yesterday there was a sprinkling of  snow at home with much more forecast so I elected to work from home. Information Technology has it's benefits and being at home meant that I had no travel worries. The main advantage was that I could start at 07:30 (after a lie-in), and then when the working day was done it was only 4:00pm and the rest of the day was my own. I quickly russled up a big pan of chicken risotto and a butternut squash and lentil dahl (all from the fridge, freezer and cupboard - I love impromptu cooking) and then did an hour's yoga before tea. And there was still loads of time left to crochet in front of the telly!

The picture above is my leather footstool aka wool store which also doubles as my work table. Gone are they days where I had a whole bedroom as a playroom, at least for a short while. I'm currently working on using up the rug wool, which has proved to be so successful that I have actually run out before finishing the article in hand.  As you can see my basket is not very deep and is currently being used as a remote control store. Why are there so many remote controls and where are you supposed to keep them? Anyway, I've ordered more wool to make the basket more basket-y. It will probably end up being too big in the end, but hey ho, it keeps me occupied. As a stop gap, I've been planning my entry for this year's Bakewell Show 'Show us yer sheep' competition.  Obviously, it is going to involve some crochet :) and you can see my sample is underway. A lot more work is needed on this one though, so I will have to get on with it so that it doesn't turn into a mad panic at the end. 

One of the unexpected pleasures of our little rented abode is that we have the most marvelous view. I've just been watching the sunset as I type away and noticed a bright light in the sky which I initially thought was an aircraft. But, it didn't move at all. Aha, I thought, as my mind drifted on,  I bet it's a UFO. However, back to reality, it's not a spaceship, idiot.  I must watch (and read) too much sci-fi.  A quick google and it was revealed to be planet Venus. I watched it a bit more and then thought that it would be nice to take a photo, but by the time that I'd assembled the tripod and set up the camera a great black cloud was looming and it was just too dark to get it. I've left the tripod up in the hope that I can capture it tomorrow. That's guaranteed to make it rain!

Santa was good to me this year. In my secret santa letter, I suggested that it would be really nice to have a Welsh Baking Stone from the Bakery Bits website. The stone is actually a cast iron griddle and not a stone at all, and can be used on the cooker top as well as in the oven. Santa did me proud, and I duly received the baking stone with a few other goodies which included a packet of San Francisco sourdough starter. I already have a sourdough starter which has been up and running for over a year now. I now call it the 'Derbyshire' sourdough starter, although it was called Suzie in it's early days. The extract below is the description from the Bakery Bits website. I didn't really believe that it could be that much different to my Derbyshire starter, but after getting it going and comparing with mine it really is different. It has a sharper, more tangy smell and seems to be much more vigorous than mine, although I have only used it on white bread flour whereas I usually feed it with wholemeal.

BakeryBits is the exclusive stockist outside the US of this world-famous starter. This sachet allows you to quickly create your own sourdough starter, based on the same wild yeast that the early California goldrush settlers of 1849 discovered. We send our own instructions for getting the starter going with each sachet which can also be downloaded here.
Sourdough "starter", "leaven", "levain" or "mother" is a flour-based mix containing wild yeasts that give sourdough bread its distinctive, sophisticated flavour. Sourdough was as much part of the Californian goldrush of 1849 as gold itself. Travelling throughout the West in the back-packs of miners and settlers, it eventually found its home in San Francisco. The air in the Golden Gate region enhanced the bread made there with a wonderfully distinctive taste, thanks to Lactobacillus Sanfrancisco, a unique wild yeast which imparts the much sought-after flavour desired by bread bakers the world over. Once you have your starter, it will, if correctly fed and watered, last indefinitely.

I wasted no time getting the new starter....started, and took it on holiday at New Year.  Not as crazy as it sounds, as at the previous New Year holiday I was just at the beginning of my sourdough journey/obsession and took full advantage of the opportunity to bake a loaf of bread every day and have it taste tested by a load of foodies. So, again, the New Year crowd were subjected to a daily sourdough loaf to supplement the every day supermarket bread. Happily, it worked really well despite the unfamiliar kitchen and equipment which made it a real test of improvisation, and the daily bread was greatly appreciated. Several members of the group were inspired to bake at home and took home a sample of the starter to have a go themselves.  

Now a little about the Welsh Baking Stone. I didn't manage to try this out before the holidays, but had a go as soon as we got home. First of all it needed the protective paint to be scrubbed off and then it was seasoned by rubbing with oil and then baking in the oven for a bit. I was impatient to use it so as soon it was seasoned I made some dough, separated it into several balls, rolled them out into flat discs,  and heated up the griddle. This time I used the griddle on the hot plate so that I could handle the flat breads. It was so exciting seeing the flat discs of dough puff up and move around on the hot plate. Shrieks of excitement ensued -  I'm so easily pleased.  Unfortunately, I was so caught up with the excitement of it all I didn't take any photo's........For my second go with the baking stone, I followed Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's flat bread recipe from the River Cottage Everyday book. This dough didn't have any yeast - it was just flour and water. I really thought that nothing was going to happen and that my flat discs of flour and water dough would just bake into strange biscuits. Again, whoops of delight emanated from the kitchen. It's like a magic trick, it's sooo exciting. And flat breads to accompany our lentil and butternut squash dahl and rice for tea. Mmmm....