The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009

The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009
The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009

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Sunday, 26 August 2012

Baker's delight

Getting great flour is not so difficult in this Internet age, but getting flour at a reasonable price is not so easy.

I recently spotted the story of a home baker scaling up - Birch Cottage Bread. An interesting subject for me as my Kenwood mixer bought specially for preparing dough had stopped working, and I was feeling a need to make more bread in less time. I quizzed Lucie about equipment and flour. It is from her I learned that Amazon can be a good source for flour.

There's lots of flours with all sorts of qualities, but brown breads for me have to be made with stoneground flour. Organic or not? I'm undecided - although I use mostly organic. A favourite is from Waitrose with a great texture and flavour. 
There are many craft millers up and down the country who can sell flour on-line but the killer is delivery charges which can add upto 50% on the price. Amazon somehow absorb the delivery costs, and will even provide a discounted price for regular monthly orders.
Bacheldre mill is an example of a miller that delivers to customers via Amazon. With prices around £1 per kilo for 16 kilo bags this beats the best supermarket prices for a similar product but of unknown provenance.

Buying at the mill can be another way of saving on delivery cost. I managed to do this recently at Cann mills near Shaftesbury. There's not a lot to see, but to hear the clatter of the equiment and to talk to the miller about the flour all serves to build the anticipation of using it.
My target was his 100% Wholemeal Organic Wheat flour, but of course there's a whole range of flours available. I ended up also with a large bag of his 81% organic flour too which is produced by filtering out some of the bran. I always imagined this was made by adding white flour to the 100% - so this was a learning for me!
 The upper picture shows the 100%, while the lower the 81%. If you look closely at any of these flours they have a characteristic texture which I consider 'oily' from stonegrinding.

Having baked both flours several times now with conventional yeast for the 100% and using a sourdough starter for the 81% there's nothing to say against them. A taste test? That's a bit difficult - none of my subjects can definitively say they prefer this over the other stoneground flours I use.

I recently read a rave review of some organic white flour which made 'fabulous' pizza, so I did buy one small bag of Stoates Stoneground Organic Strong White (£2.20 for 1.5kg) - this had a lovely creamy colour. In a Pizza bake-off against Sainsbury Strong White (70pence for 1.5kg) - it was almost indistiguishable, so I'll be continuing to buy some flour in the supermarket!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

TGO Reflections #1

I gave up carry a big camera on walking trips some years ago when I discovered that this was a major source of back trouble. Now compact digital is the order of the day.

Digital cameras don't enjoy wet conditions however. My older Pentax Optio was often out of action for a few days after rain until it could be fully dried out. My current favourite from Sony is the Cyber-Shot DSC-HX5 (more here When it rains it is double wrapped in my pack or pocket - it feels and looks too delicate for rough all-weather handling.

You'll see lots of good pictures from the TGOC despite the challenging conditions. How is this achieved? My answer is to use this Olympus 'Tough' camera when wet weather is expected. It can sit in my pocket without a case, attached to my anorak by a length of dynema chord and is then ready to take a picture at any time.

In 4 or 5 years of service I have come to understand how to use it at its best and despite its shortcomings in the schema of hi-fidelity photography (imagining resources who provide some of the best equipment reviews suspended a recent review because of the image quality) it can take satifactory pictures in any weather.

I appreciate two features not found on any of my other cameras. One is an LED light which is useful instead of flash for close-up (macro) photography. Another is tap control which enable the selection of some setting options by tapping the camera on the side or top - this is a partial remedy to the difficulty of pressing the tiny control buttons with thick gloves or mittens.

This is the latest incarnation Olympus Tough TG-1 HS. Despite significant improvements it is hard to justify an upgrade while my current one still delivers . Temptation on Amazon at a bit under £300!

Spare batteries are essential for a trip like this. With OEM batteries costing around £30 I've gone to Ebay more than once and generally been satisfied with what I get for £5 or £6. A charger is another necessity. The Olympus charges the battery in situ - not the best option for public places. This year I found a great light-weight charger that is good for most camera and mobile phone batteries and will also charge AA batteries.

The only other accessory is a mini-tripod to be used for self portraits and group pictures!