Knitting Odds and Ends


A few pictures today of knitting projects I completed this year. They all helped me to learn something new about this wonderful world of knitting, from the simplest purl stitch to the more complicated knitted lace with its many slipped stitches.

First up, a really simple woolly hat, ideal for the freezy weather we’re having now. I know that winter happens every year, but part of me seems to be eternally convinced that, this time, it won’t.

It does.

Purple Hat Bear

Bear and scarf not included

 

The pattern for this hat is really simple, and it’s knitted flat which is a great bonus when you’re just beginning and are a bit frightened of knitting in the round. Double pointed needles? But… but… they’re so pointy! You can find the pattern here at Gina Michelle – I’ve used it twice to make quick, plain hats. You use really thick yarn and big needles, and you can whip up a hat in a few hours. I’m not positive what yarn I used – I bought it in real life so there’s no paper trail – but I know it was a value, chunky yarn, possibly King Cole Super Chunky in heather. If you don’t make the ear flaps, the hat only takes one 100g ball of yarn, which is convenient – what you don’t use in knitting the hat, you use in making a pom-pom for the top. I’ve also made it with Stylecraft Life Super Chunky in Damson. Any really chunky wool will work a treat, though you may want to check your gauge and leave out a few stitches here or there.

 

Yes, the original pattern calls for ear flaps, and I skipped them my first few goes around. That said, it was only a matter of time before I got involved in making some of those…

 

Cunning Hat

 

Cunning, dontcha think? This is modeled on Jayne from Firefly’s hat, as some of you may already realise. It’s supposed to look homemade and kinda goofy. That mega seam down the side might be excessively rustic, though. I knitted this on a train in about four hours, start to finish. This included trying it on and watching from the corner of my eye as my travel comrades tried not to look directly at me. This was knitted mainly in Stylecraft Swift Knit Super Chunky, shades ruby red and pepper. The yellow, again, I’m missing the paper trail for – it was a chunky wool that matched the colours in the original hat. I compared it very closely to the reference photo I was using on my phone. I didn’t notice anyone else in the shop doing that.

 

The Jayne hat was a combination of the Gina Michelle pattern and this Megan E Sass pattern for a simple beanie hat. I skipped the ribbing, which did create a weird ridge where I’d cast on. Also, if the ear flaps weren’t there to weigh it down, the brim on the hat would definitely roll up round the edge. Stockinette stitch is a bugger for that.

 

My final hat for this post (it turns out that hats are really easy so I’ve made a lot of them), is my sock monkey hat. I made this after a fruitless scour of Glasgow city centre, looking for a sock monkey hat for GISHWHES-related activities. Since I couldn’t find one (and a lot of the people I asked didn’t even know what I was on about), I put one together myself.

 

sock monkey

 

I cheated on the mouth and used some white felt. The whole thing took about three hours, and I still can’t decide if it’s adorable or terrifying. I like the raggedy braids a lot. Side note: button shopping is awesome. I would never have guessed!

 

So, we now know that I can knock up a serviceable hat in a short space of time. I’m pretty sure that counts as a zombie apocalypse skill. But moving on from hats, here’s a really early creation – a little TARDIS cushion.

 

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It’s adorably (or amateurishly, depending how you want to look at it) lumpen and the seams are a bit wonky… But it’s a knitted TARDIS and that makes up for a lot of sins, in my book. It’s created with a series of strategic purls, so nothing fancy or advanced, but it’s good practise in following a pattern, because get one of those purls wrong and you’ve lost the game. You can find the pattern from Holynarfcrafts here. I made two, then sewed them together and stuffed for a tiny cushion. It’s made in Marriner Double Knit, in dark blue – the same as my TARDIS tea cosy.

 

Finally, the most complicated of the lot – a lovely leaf lace scarf from The Purl Bee. This demanded a lot of concentration, and there were times when I slipped the wrong stitch or knitted when I should have purled. I think this scarf brought my knitting abilities on tenfold. It also taught me how much a stockinette stitch will roll when left to its own devices.

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The wool was the same value brand I made my checkered blanket from – Knitting Essentials. I went through maybe 200g of it to get a decent length. This particular pattern is knitted in two halves, and then joined in the middle. To make a (theoretically) invisible seam where the sides join, I used the Kitchener stitch. This is a way to join two live rows of knitting – ie rows that haven’t been bound off – and it’s a bit of a mind-bender, but when done right it looks just like another row of knitting. The Kitchener stitch tutorial from Purl Bee is really good, though I did have to try it a couple of times to get it right.

 

Thus ends this highlights post. It was fun to look back on some of the things I’ve made already. I have so many more lined up for next year, too. It’s getting ridiculous – I have more bookmarked patterns that there will ever be hours in the day. I think that counts for normal, among knitters…


Martini Glass Celebration Cake


Well, there’s a title that doesn’t leave any room for surprises, eh?

 

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This was a cake for my buddy’s 30th birthday. We had a sit down and a chat about what she’d like, and it soon emerged that there was a martini glass theme going on with the decorations. She asked if I could make the cake fit in, and out came the slide rule and scientific calculator.

 

I exaggerate a little, but I did start to do some sketches, and some maths (“what’s the square root of six?”), to see what size it would have to be to feed  a party of 50. Turns out, a martini glass shaped cake to feed 50 would all be a bit Land of the Giants, so we had a re-think.

 

There was talk of cupcakes to bulk out the servings, but we soon landed on the final idea, which I like much better. The silver underneath the martini glass up there? It’s a cake, too.

 

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Look at that! I guess there was a little surprise there, after all.

 

This way, we had enough cake to feed everyone (with some left over, as it traditional), but we could also have the cool shape without hiring a crane to transport it to the party. Plus, I don’t think the pub would have been OK with having a wall taken down to get it in.

 

The cake is a simple vanilla sponge, filled with buttercream and jam, with a fondant icing covering. Yes, the fondant is really thick. I’m still learning how best to apply fondant, and I find that my main mistake is always to roll it too thin. I’ve swung the other way a bit – I’m looking for a happy medium. However, the cake looked lovely and smooth, which I was really chuffed with.

 

The silver colour is a lustre spray,and not only did it coat the cake nicely, it has also coated everything in my house. I’m not really joking. Things that were on the other side of the room from the cake are glittering. I’m still finding bits of glitter on my face. At this point I suppose I might be imagining the glitter… or perhaps some of it got on my optic nerve? I wouldn’t be entirely surprised. Be ready, if you’re ever using this product, for the fallout. All that moaning aside, it adds alight sugary flavour to your icing, and looks super cool. Which is the main consideration, of course.

 

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Truth: I baked the massive rectangular cake in my grill pan. A stroke of cleverness! It was well-scrubbed and triple lined with tinfoil, first, and then it made a very serviceable gigantic cake tin. The final cake, after some trimming, was a little over 10″ x 12″. It doesn’t sound that much, written down, but it makes for a heavy cake, I can tell you. The glass shape was made from a 7″ square cake, cut diagonally in half and then layered. The stem was trimmed from the body of the rectangular cake, which had the added effect of straightening out the edges on that cake. Two birds, one stone, my friends.

 

I had fun working with this cake (with the exception of the last half hour or so of working on the fondant, by which time I was 110% done with the cake’s nonsense and just wanted to have a nice quiet sit down. That’s always what happens), and it came together fairly quickly – one night to bake all the sponge, layer up, and give a thin coat of buttercream. Then a second night to cover it all in fondant, smooth it out, and add the detail round the rim of the glass, and the wee olive on a stick. These are nights after work, mind – it probably could have been done in one day, though that day might have been a long one.

 

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Many of the ingredients for this cake were provided by Baking Mad, who generously sent me a hamper to work with. It included Allinson’s self raising flour, which turns out to be beautifully finely milled. I’m not much of a flour sifter – I feel like life is too short to sift flour or make a roux – but generally still have good results with my sponges. uch as it pains me to admit it, I did notice a difference with this flour. The end result was a really light, springy sponge, and it mixed in to the batter very smoothly.

I also used the Nielsen-Massey vanilla extract. I clearly need to replace the vanilla pod in my homemade vanilla essence. The powerful smell of the N-M extract reminded me what vanilla should really taste like, and if it was good in the sponge (it was), it really sang in the buttercream.

The last thing I used from the hamper was Billington sugar. The kind I used for the cake was the unrefined golden caster sugar – this is the kind of sugar I prefer for my baking. I love the colour and I think it has a less toothachingly sweet flavour than refined sugar.

Baking Mad also have a really clear, step by step tutorial up on their site, which might be good for you if other Christmas cake recipes give you the Fear and seem daunting (eg Step One: start making your cake in July. If you forget, your cake and, indeed, all of Christmas is doomed). Have a look – there are also tips on how long you can store the finished cake (but not, really not, in a sealed plastic container. They warn against this three times. They’re serious).


Leftovers Povitica (or, Thanksgiving Loaf and Crazy Cupboard Loaf)


This was another post made possible by Sainsbury’s. They’re such enablers. They asked me to come up with and blog these recipes in exchange for vouchers. 

 

I’d been considering making another batch of povitica. It is a time consuming project, no doubt about it, but the end results are really striking, and besides, it had been a couple of years since I made any. So, when Sainsbury’s asked me to pitch an idea for recipes to use up leftover turkey and leftover chocolate, the idea of povitica resurfaced.

 

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I made one turkey and stuffing povitica – otherwise christened Thanksgiving Loaf – and one loaf that used up all kinds of things I had lying in the baking cupboard. There were three kinds of leftover chocolate, half a bag of walnuts, a third of a bag of coconut… you know the sort of thing. I’ll list out exactly what I used a bit later, but what this recipe development really taught me was that you can throw almost anything in this loaf, and it’ll come out delicious. Plus, if you’re making it to share, you can be pretty goshdarn sure that nobody else will be bringing the same thing. If you have some time to devote to it, povitica is an awesome potluck contribution to make.

 

Let’s talk about the process for making this swirly loaf. It starts out like a normal bread. You make and rise the dough as usual – the dough is enriched with eggs, sugar and butter, and I made mine with extra strong bread flour. Once it’s risen, you stree-e-eeeetch it out on the table, until it’s as close to see-through as you can get it. Then you spread on your chosen filling, roll it all up like a swiss roll, and fold it into a loaf pan. A short second rise happens while you heat the oven, then you bake for around an hour. Done! It sounds easy enough, right?

 

Here’s a slideshow of the steps, showing the dough being first rolled, then stretched out, topped, and rolled up. It also shows you more of my flat than you would usually see – yes, that’s a TV in the background. Don’t judge me for having a TV in the kitchen, it’s an open plan living room/kitchen arrangement.

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If truth be told, I didn’t stretch the dough to the very max, but I did get it pretty thin. You can kind of see in this photo – the colour of the sheet underneath it is almost visible, as is my hand. Using a very strong bread flour means that there is more gluten, which in turn means you can stretch out the dough thinner without it breaking.

 

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Now that we all know what povitica is, and we’ve had an overview on the method, let’s get down to the recipe. The recipe for the dough comes courtesty of The Daring Kitchen.

Confession: I didn’t roast a whole turkey and then use the leftovers for this loaf.

Bread Dough (makes two loaves):

  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp plain flour
  • 60 ml warm water
  • 1 tbsp dry yeast
  • 240 ml whole milk
  • 85 g sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 60 g unsalted butter, melted
  • 600 – 750g very strong bread flour
  • oil or melted butter for stretching out

 

First, activate the yeast. Mix the sugar, plain flour, water and yeast in a small bowl, and leave for ten minutes to foam up.

While the yeast is bubbling, heat the milk up to just below boiling, stirring constantly so that a film does not form on the top of the milk and it doesn’t burn at the bottom of the pot. When it gets hot enough it will start to shimmer and shake a little, with wisps of steam rising from it, and at that point you can remove it from the heat. Let it cool for five minutes.

When the yeast is ready, mix the scalded milk, the sugar and the salt until combined. The sugar and  salt will dissolve.

Add the beaten eggs, yeast, melted butter, and 300g of flour. Mix thoroughly – you will have a gloopy batter in the bowl. That’s OK. Slowly – a scoop at a time – add more flour, mixing well after each addition. Eventually you’ll have something that resembles a soft dough, which clears the sides of the bowl. You might not have used all of the flour.

Turn the dough out onto floured surface and knead, gradually adding flour a little at a time, until smooth and does not stick. Now, this step does rely on a bit of bread making experience. If you add too much flour, the bread will be dry. If you don’t add enough, it won’t hold together when you try to stretch it. That said, it’s better to err on the side of not enough flour. I used the full 750g this time, but it does depend on egg size and weather conditions, as well as the absorbency of your flour, how much it will take. Always add it slowly, and knead really well between additions. A dough scraper is really handy to keep the surface clean.

When your dough is ready, it will still be slightly tacky to the touch, but it will no longer stick to the work surface.  You will be able to form it into a ball with a taut, smooth surface. When you pinch up a big bit of the dough, you will be able to gently encourage it to stretch out so thin that you can see light through it.

Split the dough into two even pieces, and place each in an oiled bowl, in a warm place, to rise for about 90 minutes.

 

Make your filling while the dough is rising. Here are the fillings I used.

 

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Turkey and Stuffing Filling:

  • 18 cocktail size sausages
  • 4 overgrown spring onions (yep, those are spring onions!)
  • few sprigs sage
  • 4 – 8 tbsp white wine, stock or water (or a mix thereof)
  • 4 slices smokey bacon
  • salt and pepper
  • 300g cooked turkey meat

 

Pop the sausages out of their casings, and into the bowl of a food processor. Add the sage, and slice up the spring onion – white and green parts – and add that, too. Add 4 tbsp of whatever liquid you have to hand, and process until the meat forms a thick paste.

Chop the bacon into squares, and add to the food processor. Add more liquid if it’s too thick. Pulse a few times to incorporate the bacon without cutting it up too finely.

If you want to check the seasoning before adding anything, heat a frying pan, and fry off half a spoonful of stuffing mixture, flattening it out into a wee burger shape. When it’s cooked through, you can have a taste and decide if it needs any further salt or pepper.

 

 

Povitica Sweet Ingredients

 

Cupboard Leftovers Filling

  • 50g milk chocolate chips
  • Half a bar dark chocolate
  • 100g walnuts, crushed to a coarse crumb
  • 70g (ish) cream cheese
  • 1.2 jar (ish) blackcurrant jam
  • 50g dessicated coconut
  • 4 biscuits, crushed to crumbs
  • 4 squares white chocolate

I melted the milk and dark chocolate together, then stirred in the walnuts.

I also combined the cream cheese with enough jam to make a thick, full-flavoured spread.

These two mixtures were alternated across the dough, when it was ready. The coconut, biscuit crumbs and white chocolate (which I grated) were scattered over the top.

The point of this loaf is that you can use whatever you have lying around – combining a couple of different fillings makes the loaf more interesting, as with every bite you get a new flavour.

 

Back to the dough…

Once the dough is risen, place it on top of a clean sheet on your table. You will need lots of room to work, and the sheet will help you to roll the bread up at the end.

Roll the dough out with your hands and a rolling pin, at first. Once it’s about 10 x 12 inches, you’re ready to start stretching the dough out. Spray the surface of the dough with a neutral oil, or brush with melted butter. Then, working from the middle, lift and stretch the dough out, working your way from one corner to the next, and stretching each side equally. Try to keep the dough in a rectangle shape as you go.

Once the dough is thin enough to see the sheet through it, you’re ready to apply the filling.

 

For the Turkey and Stuffing Loaf:

Drop large spoonfuls of the stuffing across the surface of the stretched out dough, trying to keep them even. Flatten, spread and join up these dollops with the back of a spoon, until the whole dough is covered evenly.

Scatter the turkey over the top, and press down. Spend a few minutes lifting individual pieces and putting them in places there’s a gap (this step is optional, but I couldn’t help myself from doing it).

Roll the dough and arrange in a loaf tin as shown in the pictures above.

 

For the Cupboard Leftovers Loaf:

Spoon alternating heaps of chocolate and cream cheese mixture onto the dough, then flatten and spread out very thinly until the whole surface is covered. Scatter over biscuit crumbs, coconut and grated white chocolate.

Roll and arrange in a tin as above.

 

Cover the loaf tins and set somewhere nice and warm, to plump up.

 

Heat the oven to 180C. When ready, put the loaves in and bake for 15 minutes.

After the 15 minutes is up, check the loaves to make sure they’re not too browned, then lower the oven temperature to 150C and bakc for about another 40 minutes.

If the tops start to brown too much, cover with tinfoil.

Take out of the oven, and allow to completely cool before slicing. This helps the bread hold its shape.

 

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You will be rewarded for your patience with some amazing swirls of colour and flavour inside each loaf.

As I mentioned, you can use any filling you like the sound of. The traditional filling is either walnut-based, or made with poppyseeds. A quick search brings up tons of varieties for you to browse through.

I took both loaves to work, and while people were at first unsure about the idea of a turkey and stuffing loaf, it disappeared in no time flat. Next time I’d consider putting some mashed potatoes and gravy in there, making a full meal of it… But I might be waiting a couple of years to make another. It’s a labour of love, after all.

 

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