Monday 16 June 2014

Weekend FO: Barber Pole

It's actually last weekend's FO, but you'll have to let me off.

Pattern: Nostalgia Top by Marina Hayes
Yarn: Patons Smoothie, just under two balls of red, just over two balls of white
Needle: 3.25mm (and don't I know it)
Mods: As discussed before, I did the bottom edge as an icord bind off instead of doing the ribbing, thus changing the shape of the top from something tight at top and bottom with a baggy middle, which is I guess the nostalgia part, being quite 1920s.
I did some short rows on the top ribbing to make it slightly raised at the front, as I didn't really want 3 inches of ribbing all the way around.
I used that fabulous striped grosgrain ribbon for straps instead of knitting straps.

Spot the dodgy kitchener. I haven't blocked it yet and I am hoping this will make that a bit more even. I am also unhappy with the bind off; I did Jeny's surprisingly stretchy bind off bit it's a bit too floppy. I'm not sure I can face ripping it back because that will involve removing the straps; if blocking doesn't help I might thread a little shirring elastic through the top of the bind off.

It is really very comfortable, and I was very relieved and pleased when I got about halfway through knitting the rectangle and realised that one edge was coming out a big longer than the other, possibly thanks to me slipping the first stitch of each wrong side row to make picking up easier. This became my top edge.

It got lots of compliments from my colleague on the school residential I attended at the weekend. I really like it a lot.

Sunday 8 June 2014

Sunday Baking: Meringue Buttercream again

So, last week's chocolate mojito cupcakes went down OK. They were tasty, and everyone at work said they were nice, but I still wasn't happy with that meringue buttercream. It still tasted more sort of greasy than like sweet icing. I chatted with my friend Caroline about it who said that she thought meringue buttercream was meant to sort of set, like meringue, and that perhaps I needed to beat it for longer. I went and looked at some blogs online, as well. And I had another go.

It was more successful this time. Here's my recipe -
3 egg whites
180g soft light brown sugar
250g unsalted butter
Zest of one lime
Generous tbsp of rum

I heated the egg whites with the sugar in the Kenwood bowl over a pan of water, instead of over the direct heat, as the recipe I used last week told me. The mixture was extremely dark and I felt very worried; I wanted to use brown sugar for a more authentic mojito taste (I spent most of Friday night testing mojitos in my kitchen to find the perfect flavour; unfortunately I can't remember the combinations after the first three...odd) but I didn't bargain on it going the colour of mud.

I then transferred the bowl to the mixer and set it whisking. I whisked for much longer than 5 minutes. I was aiming for 10. The mixture quite quickly lightened until it was a very pale caramel colour - perfect. I whisked on. By the time I eventually stopped, it was tasty enough to eat on its own. Mmmmm.

I added the lime. I cut the butter into 10 cubes and started adding them; and this time, although the butter had been out of the fridge overnight to soften, I put it back in the fridge for half an hour before I needed it to firm it back up again. I added 5 cubes of butter, beating in between each one, then scraped down and added the rum, then 2 more cubes of butter. I tasted. "Ah ha," I exclaimed, "this is how it should taste!" It was very yummy - light, sweet, not greasy.

I started mixing again and added the final 3 butter cubes. This may have been an error. The mixture started to look distinctly curdled but I remembered the blogs and kept whisking and eventually it came back together. The final product is good, but I think it would have been even better if I had stopped before adding the final 3 butter cubes. It's light and fluffy and sweet and rum flavoured; but it has an edge of greasiness.

I don't think it is supposed to set like meringue, though. I'm going to ignore that portion of the advice.

Oh, and if you're wondering about the mint, I hit upon the idea of making the chocolate muffins with mint chocolate to get the flavour in there instead. It's a bit strong and lacking that fresh-garden-mint flavour but it made for a much easier meringue buttercream experience.

Monday 2 June 2014

Weekend WIP

When I initially announced my intention it knit 12 garments in 2014, I forgot that I had (a) a fairly complex lace project to finish and (b) 22ish hats to knit for Christmas. So, I think I might be onto a loser with that resolution; but managing to churn out a top in roughly the month of May has helped make me think it might still be possible, even though I know I am clutching at straws.

Still, if the projects are all this straightforward, you never know.

I grafted the tube together on Thursday night, then picked up round the bottom, knit one row and did an i-cord bind off to finish it off. I do love the way it looks but it took aaaaaaaages. It has changed the shape of the garment, though, so that it doesn't hug at the bottom which would not have been a great look for me.

Then on Saturday I picked up round the top and started the ribbing. I managed to spear my index finger in the same place three times, so now I have an actual hole in the skin and it's quite sore; srsly, I cannot recommend knitting Smoothie on 3.25mm needles. The fabric is good and firm, at least.

I reckon another inch or so and I can bind off and add the ribbon straps.

Sunday 1 June 2014

Sunday Baking: Grapefruit Teacakes and Chocolate Mojito Muffins

It's been a while, I know.

I rolled over in bed one morning last week and found myself lying on top of one of my baking books. It happened to be Lily Vanilli's. I have no idea how it ended up in the bed with me, but I took it as a sign. I bought this book with a voucher from Granny Hand a couple of years ago and, while her recipe for brownies has become my go-to, I couldn't remember having baked any of the other recipes from it. This one with pink grapefruit caught my eye, since everyone at work knows I am a grapefruit fiend.

They are little (little because I baked them mini instead of normal sized...this might have something to do with my mini muffin tin being non-stick and therefore not requiring greasing) almondy frangipanes with grapefruit zest in and a piece of pink grapefruit pushed into the top. Lily recommended glazing the finished cakes with apricot jam but this made no sense to me. Why ruin a beautifully delicate grapefruit cake with a splash of sweet apricot? I used grapefruit marmalade instead. I'm sure everyone at work will love them, if they last that long. They're so little and moreish I can't guarantee it.

Then, onto the chocolate muffins. I was inspired by one of my favourite baking blogs, Sprinklebakes, who reworked a recipe for grasshopper cupcakes, mixing whipped cream with rum, lime and mint for the topping. Genius. But not quite what I wanted, especially when I found out the recipe called for creme de menthe. I was more interested in a recipe that would help me tackle this triffid.

I'm afraid one day I will find the mitten dead in the middle of it.

I also wanted to have another go at meringue buttercream, now I have my Kenwood.....essentially I bought the Kenwood so I would be successful with meringue buttercream.

It took me a while to work out how to marry fresh mint with the buttercream recipe. I could add lime zest and dark rum right into the icing, like vanilla extract; but I am very lazy at chopping, especially finely, and I didn't want big pieces of mint leaf through there. So, I grabbed a couple of enormous branches sprigs, washed them off and bashed them in the bottom of the saucepan, layering the sugar and eggs whites over the top. I left this to marinate for about an hour before I got started. Then, when I did the gentle-heating-of-the-egg-whites-and-melting-of-the-sugar portion of the recipe, I left the mint in there, fishing it out when I put the egg whites into the Kenwood for their whisking.

It worked OK. I was mainly pleased that the frosting worked - look at this peak! I was very relieved because these egg whites had been frozen for quite some time.

I added the zest of a lime and a tablespoon of dark rum into the mixture too. It was quite a subtle flavour; I am interested to see if it develops much overnight. I tend to get the rum first, then the lime; but there was a faintly herbal taste to the egg white mixture before the other flavourings went in, so it sort of worked. I think maybe next time I would leave the mint in with the sugar overnight.

The base is the same chocolate custard muffin recipe I love to haul out every so often, only with half cornflour and half plain flour in the custard because I ran out of cornflour. Now they're in the fridge. I am trying to be strong and wait until tomorrow.