From Scratch – The results of the no-knead bread experiment

bread white boule dark and rye

Regular readers (Hi Ma!) may recall I’ve been playing with no-knead bread recipes, trying to create one of those crusty, artisanal, country style boule loaves you might see at the Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC or,closer to home, up the road at Olaf’s.  The frugal side of me would like to think I can do it for less than the $7.50 market rate for good bread.

And here’s the upshot:: The no knead white bread recipe by Jim Lahey/Sullivan Street Bakery is a definite keeper.  No fluke.  It’s good, really good.  It’s my new go-to bread recipe.

The pros are:

  • It really is the closest you’ll get to making a real ‘artisan’ country style white boule, especially in my kitchen, with my crappy old oven (the Bermuda Triangle of my kitchen renovation)
  • It’s seriously bragworthy in appearance.  If you’re shallow and approval seeking like me, this counts
  • The inside ‘crumb’ is moist and appropriately slightly holey.  It is the bread which disappears from the bench before all others.. It’s delicious and I find it better, more authentic than the artisan bread in five minutes per day method, probably due to the longer fermentation period.
  • The kids like it.  They like to risk dismemberment with the serrated knife and cut it themselves.   The crust is chewy and thick and the minions like to walk around chewing them
  • It’s damned easy with the smallest possible hands on time.  Five minutes to mix, then five minutes shaping plus baking time.
  • While some people will laugh at the idea of a bread which has been left for 12-18 hours to ferment being called easy, or quick, the fact is, it bubbles around in a bowl for 99.8% of that time. If you’re the sort of person who regularly uses a yoghurt maker or remembers to take meat out of the freezer the night before (yeah, sometimes me neither), then you can do it!
  • Makes tasty toast
  • Cheap.  Three cups of flour, 1/4 teaspoon of yeast and some salt aren’t going to break the bank anytime soon.
  • It feels good to make good bread!

The cons are:

  • Sticky business: the fermented dough is quite wet and sticky to handle which takes a little getting used to handling.
  • Burny hot! If you check the method here you’ll see that the loaf’s caramel exterior and moist interior are created by the atmosphere within a lidded metal casserole inside your oven. Getting a red hot metal casserole or ‘dutch oven’ in and out of the oven is a bit tricky.  Those suckers are heavy! If you have removed the knob from the lid, then levering the lid on and off again is trickier still. If your knob is metal, then you’re fine but the black bakelite type ones don’t handle above 240c well, so I have had to remove it and fill the screw hole hole with foil to maintain the seal. As a result, I have been eyeing up those daft silicone non slip oven gloves with a little more serious consideration than usual.
  • It’s a round boule shape, so it’s not conveniently shaped for your lunchbox (that’s a future mission)
  • Not a quick fix.  It’s still bread. If you’re in a hurry, make scones.

I tried three mixes: The white, whole wheat and rye flour.  What I learned (a no brainer really) was that the recipe is designed for the properties of white flour only, the others were difficult to handle, very wet and not entirely successful.   I have Jim Lahey’s book My Bread now, so I’ll take a closer look at how he handles whole wheat recipes.

bread white wholemeal comparisonAs a result of my going off-piste in my non-informed way, the whole wheat was very disappointing (see loaf to the left). It hardly rose, was dry, and quickly went stale.




Bread rye flatHowever the big surprise was the rye bread.  As rye contains very little gluten, I didn’t expect much of a rise, and as you can see here, it’s pretty flat.  However it was delicious, moist, and flavoursome, slightly tangy and chewy.  It also stayed fresh and edible much longer than expected.  Sliced, it was perfect with avocado and a little haloumi or smoked chicken (all conveniently oblong shaped foods!) It also made really yummy toast.  I would definitely make it again, although I will look at some mixes with higher gluten flours for a more ‘high-rise result’.

If you want to have a go yourself  I’d really encourage you.  Clearly, kneading is not necessary and you can surprise yourself with some pretty delicious and impressive results.  Not to mention saving yourself a bill at the bakery.

Check out the recipe here.

Let me know if you’ve had a play around with no knead recipes.  I’d be keen to hear about any old favourites.  And please let me know if you have a good reliable sandwich loaf recipe.


Inspiration: Paper to Petal – 75 Whimsical Paper Flowers to Craft by Hand


This gallery contains 14 photos.

Paper to Petal – 75 Whimsical Paper Flowers to Craft by Hand by Rebecca Thuss and Patrick Farrell, published by Potter Craft Review in short: This book makes my heart beat faster. Review at length:  As a confessed ‘binge crafter’ of immense and rapid enthusiasms (my personal style but you can borrow it), I love the thrill of the new.  I skip passionately from one activity to the next, bogging on in, mastering the basics and moving on.  There are so many fun and interesting things to do, so why confine yourself to just the one thing?  Shirley Conran once said ‘Life’s too short to stuff a mushroom’. I disagree, but … Continue reading

Rub your eyes and purify your heart

Purified heartWhile being deported to the Gulags, Nobel Literature prize winning author Solzenitzyn observed a mother and daughter engaged in a petty squabble on his bus.  In response, he wrote the following:

“Do not pursue what is illusory – property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated on one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life – don’t be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter does not last forever and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if you don’t freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger don’t claw at your insides. If your back isn’t broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes see, and if both ears hear, then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart – and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well.”

As we go through some significant changes in our work and family life, this quotation resonates strongly with us.  Even now as I read it the hairs rise on the back of my neck in recognition of the the essential truth.  We are blessed to have people in our lives who care about us and who wish us well. We are healthy and strong enough to live with integrity, love, honesty and kindness.

What else could possibly matter?



Appliance love: Sew, sew your pants up!

Sewing machineThere is a current of love which hums between creative women and their sewing machines.  Unlike appliances such as printers which are universally a source of frustration, unreliability and misery, sewing machines represent potential, self sufficiency, affordable embellishment, satisfaction and accomplishment.

The first sewing machine I ever used was my mother’s old Elna.  From there a relationship began with that brand, a joy which even the nasty old primary school ‘manual’ sewing teacher failed to kill. When I think of that machine, which Mum still owns and uses today, I associate it with creativity, colour, fabric, ball dresses past and the feeling of love channelled through the act of making.

My mother learned to sew from her widowed mother who brought in much needed income for her family of four as a ‘tailoress’.  Maternal family recollections are often based around outfits, fabrics and special occasions distinguished purely by the dressmaking skill which allowed them to feel lovely despite their lack of income.  Even in recent times, when family income is not the problem it once was, one of the most beautifully dressed groups at my wedding was almost entirely outfitted by my Aunty Carol.

Skill with a whirring machine runs through that family.  As a girl, my mother’s cousin Myrla was legendary for not even needing a pattern, but placing her (then) very expensive fabric on the floor and taking to it with her shears to cut out her garment pieces. There’s a definite unsung genius and quite a dash of derring-do in that course of action, which even now makes others draw in their breath and shake their heads.

As a child, late night shopping on a Friday would often feature the fabric shop with Mum, standing at the steeply angled pattern book counters and flipping through line drawings in the heavy Simplicity, Butterick and Vogue catalogues.  Then, the fabric choice which involved wandering around the different fabric types giving each fabric a quick mean squeeze to see how badly it held a crease. We may well have been the scourge of the shop, leaving a trail of crumpled textiles in a behind us.We were regulars in the haberdashery shop, where Mrs Spencer would let me pat her dainty black pomeranian dog.

There’s poetry and history in the names of those fabrics: linen, crepe de chine, georgette, sandwashed silk, faille, grosgrain. And as much as we joke as a family about Mum’s colour fixation (and perfect colour memory), the distinctions between indigo and navy, french and royal blue became clear, evocative and significant. And why just get by with red, when you can revel in cherry or scarlet?

Lacking patience, precision and attention to detail, I can’t claim the dressmaking skills of my mother’s side of the family.   I’m a ‘bog on in, give it a go’ kind of sewer.  But I like to make gifts, home furnishings, uneven bed quilts and and pyjama pants, all which are more forgiving of an uneven seam allowance, and still enormously satisfying.

When I turned forty, my mother bought me an old Elna machine if my own.  It suffered from age and being left in a room with a small boy who loved to twiddle its knobs and try to make it go when I wasn’t looking.  For the past two years it has sat reproachfully in a corner.  Every now and again I would think, ‘I’ll just fix/run up/make a…Oh’.

Yesterday I put my Elna into the care and custody of a sewing machine savant. Paul works out of his garage in Onehunga, his walls lined with old machines, each sporting its own manilla ticket featuring precise handwriting. The place has the tired but cherished feel of a doll’s hospital.  The lady ahead of me was leaving her machine to be repaired.  And although she was considering trading it in for a later model, you could see she really didn’t want to. She kept her hand on it through the whole conversation, and as she left she gave it a little pat, much as you might leave a loved dog with the vet.

When Paul saw my machine he smiled in warm appreciation, as he showed me how to shut the case properly for once. “Your timing is 25% out.  Even if you haven’t broken that plastic gear you’ll still need to replace it with this nylon one.  You’re still going to be sewing on this machine in forty years’ time. You wouldn’t get another like it under a thousand dollars”. I felt proprietorial and oddly proud.

“Just give me a week with it” he said as I left.

I gave my machine a small pat on the way out.


Inspiration – A short hymn to Rob Ryan

rob ryanWho could possibly be more inspiring than a craftsman-artist who can take a neglected artform and infuse it with freshness, wit and relevance?

Rob Ryan creates beautiful, quirky and instantly recognisable works. He is best known for his clever and intricate paper cuttings.  And though, as part of the Etsy fuelled crafter rennaissance, he has spawned a thousand imitators, his work remains distinctive, so clearly are they imbued with his individual approach and voice. Somehow his works also retain a sense of place while approaching universal appeal.

Rob has written and illustrated books, and designed card ranges as you might expect. However it’s exciting to me when artists and illustrators go beyond the two dimensional and take their quirky voice into other domains.

robert-ryan-vogue-dressRob has has also collaborated with fashion designers and his designs find a natural home on many fabrics

rye-2He has also branched out into ceramics, with a  mug  here and recently, in a lovely joint venture, some  modern Staffordshire cats (!).

There’s a special place in my heart for artists who work with the written word and he often incorporates text, sayings and lines of poetry and humour into his works.  On the base of this Rye mug it reads: ‘Rye Mug July 2013. Asked by his Teacher in History Class when did the Dark Ages in England end? He answered with mock surprise ”I never realised they had finished!” Printed and fired at The Mangle studio London E2. R Ryan.’ 


And will you just look at his lovely shop.  Hate to go all marketer-y on you, but his clear and consistent brand vision is admirable. And even more so because it seems to come from a place of authenticity.

For anybody who isn’t already familiar with Rob Ryan’s work or who wants to know more, his online shop here and here is his blog.

AD20111022995225-Rob Ryan tapestThe last word goes to Rob Ryan via the motto imprinted on a tapestry kit he designed.  It’s a credo which I think would appeal to many an artist crafter. Give me work to last me all of my life.

Amen to that.

PS There’s a lovely article here too for those who are interested