10 Tips For Success When Using Your Bread Maker

Bread maker machines are advertised as easy to use — and they are, once you get to know them. But your first results can be disappointingly deflating. Small, dense and under-cooked loaves are often a problem for new machine owners. You can, of course, go with a bread mix, which has all the ingredients in one bag. Just add yeast and water and you’re ready to go.

But if you’d rather start from scratch, here are ten tips to make sure your loaves are the best every single time.

Flour

Use high grade flour

In some countries, you can buy “bread flour” which has an even higher gluten content (12-14%) but New Zealand’s high grade usually works well enough.

You’ll have noticed many different types of flour on the supermarket shelves, and each is best-suited to a particular use. In New Zealand, high-grade flour is the best for bread making because it has the higher gluten content (11%) needed for elasticity in the dough. Standard flour has a lower gluten content and bread simply won’t rise as well if you use it.

Warm The Flour

It’s a good idea to make sure the flour is at least room temperature before it goes into the bread maker. My flour lives in the pantry, so in winter I make sure I bring it inside for a while before I need to get started. I often pop the bag down by the fire if I need it to warm up in a hurry.

Measure The Flour Correctly

Bread maker recipes will give you two ways to measure: cups and weight. Using a set of scales will give you a consistently accurate amount of flour each time. The amount of flour in a cupful can vary quite considerably, depending on whether you heap it or not. Some people pour the flour into the cup, others scoop it out of the flour bin. Each method will result in a slightly different amount of flour in the cup.

Be Generous Measuring Other Ingredients

The standard ingredients for an ordinary loaf of bread are flour, sugar, salt, oil, milk powder and yeast. I find that the amounts stated in the recipe in my bread maker book are a bit small. The amounts I use for a loaf made from 450g (1lb) of high-grade flour are:

  • 1 ½ tbsp olive or rice bran oil
  • 1 ½ tbsp milk powder (1 ½ tbsp of liquid milk works too)
  • 2 tbsp sugar (white sugar or coconut sugar both work well)
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • Yeast (see below)

Tbsp = tablespoon (15 ml in NZ)        Tsp = teaspoon (5 ml)

Your machine is probably not made in New Zealand, and the measurements given in its recipe book may be using Australian or US tablespoons, which are actually a different size to NZ ones. An Aussie tablespoon, for example, is 20 ml whereas a NZ one is only 15 ml.

To be on the safe side, I use the largest tablespoon in my set which is actually NZ1½ tbsp.

Warm Water Is Important

Use water that is warm to the touch but not hot. Water that is too hot will kill the yeast, but cold water will take too long to activate it, and your bread is less likely to rise properly.

Yeast

Use a Yeast With Added Improvers

In New Zealand, you need to add flour improvers to your mix, because of the comparatively low protein/gluten content in our flour (even high grade.) The easiest way to do this is to use a yeast with improvers already added.

I use Edmonds Surebake Yeast — look for the jars with red tops in the baking aisle — but I have seen at least one other brand which also offered a yeast+improver option.

3 tsp is a good amount to add.

Breadmaker recipes vary as to the amount of yeast to use. Some will break it down into a yeast measurement and an improver measurement.

I’ve experimented with amounts over the years, and have found that 3 tsp of Surebake Yeast has given a well-risen loaf every time.

Check the date on the yeast jar.

If you’ve done everything else correctly and the bread still doesn’t rise properly, check the date on the yeast jar. If it’s a long way past the “best before” date then stale yeast could be the problem.

Add the ingredients in the order listed for your bread maker.

Your bread maker machine recipe book will have a list of ingredients and the order you should put them into the bread pan. Some start with the water, and add the flour and yeast last. Others list the yeast first. It’s probably best to add them in the order recommended for your machine.

Check the crust setting

Not all bread maker machines have a crust setting. If yours does, experiment with the setting that works best for you. On my machine, dark is the best option to use.

Yum — Fresh Bread

Bowl of soup with a slice of bread fresh from the bread maker.
Soup and fresh, homemade bread is such a treat, especially in winter. I often put a big pot of homemade soup on the slow-burning wood burner and let it cook all night. Next morning I pop bread ingredients into the bread maker and hey presto! By lunchtime, we have a delicious meal ready to eat.

I’ve made many mistakes with my bread over the years, but if a loaf doesn’t rise properly then it’s usually because I haven’t followed my own tips.

Farm Recipes on Time of my Life

Food is such a part of farming culture. The first thing you’re likely to hear when you walk into our house is “have a cuppa.” 

Apart from fresh bread, I’ve got some go-to recipes for keeping my farmer and guests well fed. Cheese scones are another perfect accompaniment to soup, or a quick snack to whip up when your farmer suddenly turns up with guests in tow.

Winter Memories: Feeding Out On The Farm

Highland cattle eating hay
Highland cattle eating hay
Our pet highland cattle love their hay. Photo courtesy of Jenny McNamee.

Winter is an interesting season on the farm. It gets cold down here in the South. Not frigid like Siberia, or Alaska of course, but chilly by New Zealand standards. The grass doesn’t grow much in winter and feeding out takes up a big part of the farmer’s day. Of course, it wasn’t always as easy as it is today.

These days Terry can handle the feeding out by himself. The tractor. a feed-out machine and our new, automated grain bin are all he needs to be a one-man-band. But it hasn’t always been that way.

The Bales Were Smaller Back Then

When I first came to the farm, feeding out was a two-person job. Instead of the mammoth-sized round bales of today, we used to make the hay in rectangular bales tied with twine. These were small enough for one person to lift by hand.

We kept the hay dry in big barns which were dotted around the farm. There was an art to stacking it — the bales had to be interlocked so that the whole stack felt solid and wasn’t in danger of falling apart while you climbed on it.

Small hay bales stacked in a hay barn
Small hay bales in a hay barn. Photo courtesy of Pam and Peter Naylor.

Loading The Hay

Every day we would drive the red Land Rover truck up to a hay barn and load the hay onto its flat deck. Once again, we had to carefully interlock the bales as we stacked them — often higher than the cab. It was quite easy to lose your footing and fall off the back as the truck bounced along. Having a heap of bales tumble on top of you made the fall much worse.

I learned that the hard way one day when the hay, two kids and I all came off the deck. Fortunately, it happened in slow motion and no one was hurt. I was much more careful with my hay-stacking-technique after that.

 

Farm truck stacked with small bales, surrounded by sheep.
Farm truck stacked with small bales, surrounded by sheep waiting anxiously for feeding out to begin. Photo courtesy of Pam and Peter Naylor.

Feeding Out 

Once the bales were loaded, we would set off to feed a mob of sheep. One of us drove, while the other balanced precariously on top of the hay bales ready to feed the sheep. The job wasn’t too difficult.

First, you cut the string of the hindmost bale with a sharp pocket knife then tossed wads of hay out to the milling sheep below. Usually, it easily separated into sections and wasn’t hard to throw down.

As soon as the first bale was gone, you cut the strings of the second one, stuck the open knife in the bale behind so it didn’t get lost, and started throwing hay again.

There was an art to it of course:

  1. Cut the strings just after the knot and hold the knotted ends in your left hand.
  2. Feed out with your right hand.
  3. When all the bales are gone, knot the strings together in a tidy loop as you nonchalantly balance on the empty deck, while the truck heads for the gate.

Freezing Fingers and Toes

Once out of the paddock, we jumped off the deck and shut the gate with freezing fingers. It was a relief to hop into the warm cab while the truck returned to the shed to pick up the next load.

It was difficult to find the best gloves for the job. Certainly, thick, sturdy ones were no good. I couldn’t handle the knife if the gloves were too thick. However, woollen gloves quickly wore out, and I went through several pairs each winter. Even the holey ones were better than nothing, but they did get soaked when you fed out in the rain.  

Oh yes, this wasn’t a fine-weather job. Just like the postman, we were out in all weather. It didn’t matter if it was raining, snowing or just a hard frost, the sheep had to be fed.

Close up of sheep eating lucerne bale.
Ewes eating some lucerne (a nutritious alternative to grass hay.) Photo Lyn McNamee

Adding In The Grain

In July we added grain to the feeding out routine.

The grain bin was a huge, heavy affair, with two compartments. The grain poured into it through a tricky-to-start augur in the grain silo. Fortunately, it held enough barley or oats to feed several mobs of sheep before having to be refilled, so you only had to do that once a day.

One person could manage on his own, but it was a precarious and dangerous task. It was much safer to feed the grain with two people on the job.

The Driver…

Terry usually drove the truck, slowly towing the bin around the paddock at exactly the right speed. He had to be especially careful only to drive on firm ground. Parts of the paddocks got very wet over winter, and it paid to know which bits were safe to drive on, and which parts would get you bogged.

And She Who Ran Behind

My job was to open the slot at the bottom of the bin so that the grain fell onto the ground. I would pull a handle sticking out from the bottom end of the bin, and the whole slot would open. Then I either trotted behind the truck and bin or leapt up onto the towbar and rode until it was time to close things down.

This was easier said than done. Sheep love grain even more than hay, and they mobbed the bin well before we even started feeding it out. I had to carefully check the flow of grain too. There had to be consistent flow so that each sheep got the right amount to eat.

That depended on how fast the truck was moving and how far I had managed to open the slot. Sometimes the grain was sticky and I had to climb on top of the bin (while it was still moving) and poke it down the hole.

The Hardest Part Came Last

When enough grain had been fed, it was time to shut off the flow. The opening was easy enough because I just grabbed the hooked handle and let the truck’s momentum pull it open. However, closing the slot was more difficult.

The truck couldn’t stop when the bin was open because the grain would pile out. So I had to run behind on the slippery ground, bend down low and push the stiff handle back in. I usually carried a heavy spanner with me because it was much easier to give the lever a hearty whack and close it that way.

I Get To Drive…

Sometimes I was allocated the driving role. This was tricky too. The sheep mobbed front of the truck too and were in grave danger of being run over. I wasn’t allowed to drive too fast, but too slow was just as bad. If I misjudged the speed the farmer would yell!

Then there was the problem of knowing exactly where in the paddock it was safe to drive the truck. Sometimes the ground looked firm enough, but in reality, a bog lay underneath just waiting for me to fall into its trap.

Trailer wheel stuck in the mud,.
Oh dear! Photo Lyn McNamee

…But Not For Long

Etched forever in my mind, is the day I got the bin stuck not once, not twice, but three times in the same paddock, right outside my brother-in-law’s house. Terry had to pull the truck and bin out each time with the tractor, much to the delight of my audience of three little boys. I learned a few unrepeatable words that day, and exactly where the wet spots were in that particular paddock.

Red Land Rover, hay bale and grain bin.
Our red Land Rover, complete with hay and grain bin, one snowy winter’s day. Photo courtesy of Trevor Baker.

Big Round Bales

Eventually, modern times caught up with us on the farm. We bought a new baler which made big round bales (actually cylindrical in shape.) However we didn’t buy a feed-out machine for another two years, so to feed out we had to unwind the bales by hand.

Loading the round bales was much quicker — the tractor did all the work. But feeding out the hay required a whole new technique.

The bale fitted exactly onto the Land Rover’s deck, which left a toe-hold in each corner for me. I clambered round and round, peeling off swathes of hay, clinging spider-like to the ever-decreasing bale. It’s a wonder I didn’t fall off every single day, but my balance must have improved because I stayed on most of the time.

Moving With The Times

Feeding out changed forever when we bought a brand-new feed-out machine. Now one farmer could handle the whole job alone.

Feeding out was tougher 35 years ago, but for a new-to-the-job farmer’s wife, it was a lot of fun too. I was sad, in a way, to see my role go, but there’s no denying that the whole process is much easier now.

Highland Cattle image is courtesy of Jenny McNamee, of Postcard Puzzles.

How To Make Perfect Cheese Scones

Cheese scones on a plate

Making a Savoury Cheese Scone

My daughters believe that I’ve always been able to make perfect cheese scones. When visitors arrive unexpectedly, or the family congregates, it’s no trouble to whip up a batch of scones and bring them out golden hot.

But, in reality, my road to the perfect cheese scone has been a long one. It started back in 1980 after a “bake off” with my boyfriend. At the time scones were the one thing I actually knew how to make. So when Neill showed me his scone recipe — which was very different from the one I used —  I was somewhat scathing about it. I distinctly recall saying “that’ll never work.”

Naturally he challenged me to a scone baking contest. He cooked every day. I could barely boil an egg. In hindsight, I don’t know what I was thinking. Of course he won the contest, hands down. His scones were light, moist and HUGE. Mine were tiny and tasteless. Oh no! I buried the remnants of my pride and wrote down his recipe.

Since then, I’ve made countless batches of scones. And I’ve given out that same recipe to many, including my daughters. For some reason the results never seem to work out quite as well for anyone else. Last month, I finally realised why…

I don’t actually use that recipe to make my cheese scones.

Over the years I’ve slowly changed it to fit my somewhat haphazard cooking style. It’s similar, but with important differences. Oops!

So here — with apologies to Steph, Debbie and Jenny for not realising the truth earlier — is the ACTUAL recipe that I now use for making light and delicious, perfect cheese scones.

scones, cooked, in the oven

Lyn’s Perfect Cheese Scones

2 heaped cups of plain flour         

4 heaped tsp baking powder

2 cups tasty cheddar cheese (shredded)    

1 egg

1 dessert spoon sugar

50g butter (melted)                        

Approximately 1 cup milk*               

pinch salt

*You may need a little more milk than this, depending on how much you’ve heaped the cups of flour.

What to do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C.  I use fan bake.
  2. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and cheese into a large bowl.
  3. Make a well in the dry ingredients. (A well is like a hollow or depression.)
  4. Mix egg and sugar in a cup and pour into the well. Don’t mix it in yet.
  5. Melt the butter and add it to the well. Still don’t mix.
  6. Pour 1 cup of milk into the well. Now you get to mix.
  7. Use a spurtle (see Tip No. 1) to combine the ingredients so they form quite a sticky dough (see Tip No. 3). Add more milk if necessary. 
  8. Turn out onto a floured surface and gently squeeze the mixture  with both hands to further combine. (See Tip No. 4)
  9. Press, roll and pat with your hands until you’ve formed a long, fat rectangle.Raw scone dough
  10. Cut in half lengthways, and then cut each half into 6 pieces. Place the 12 scones onto a metal baking sheet, slightly separated. They shouldn’t stick to the tray.

Bake at 200°C for 13-15 minutes. Makes 12

Notes:

Perfect cheese scones are best served warm, with your favourite toppings. I like lashings of butter. Others prefer to add jam; my Farmer always tops his with honey. Some of the family love to add slices of tomato and ham, and —  if you’re in New Zealand — you can always add some Vegemite. (A special savoury topping, loved by New Zealanders and Australians.)

These scones will keep for a day in an airtight container, or can be frozen up to 3 months. You can refresh them in the microwave, wrapped in a dry paper towel.

Five Tips to Make You a Scone Expert

4 essentials for making scones: cheese, heaped cup of flour, an egg and a spurtle.

# Tip 1 — Use a spurtle to mix your scones.

A scone mixture shouldn’t be stirred. Instead you pull a spurtle through the mixture, almost as if you’re cutting it. As you cut, turn it over to mix. Stop mixing as soon as the dough comes together.

If you don’t have a spurtle, a blunt knife is the next best option.

# Tip 2 — Be generous with your measurements.                              

Scones respond well to generosity. My cupfuls look like mini flour mountains.

# Tip 3 — The dough should be somewhat sticky and moist.  

It should still be dough-like, but dry dough equals dry scones. It’s better to make it slightly too wet than too dry. You can always add more flour to the board when you tip the mixture out, to counteract any excess stickiness.

# Tip 4 — Don’t over-mix the dough.

As soon as it comes together, turn it out onto a floured surface. Squeeze and pat it with your hands until it forms into a long, fat sausage. The less you have to handle it the better. Having said that, over-mixing is not a catastrophic mistake. The scones will still taste great but might not be quite as light.

# Tip 5 — Practice makes perfect.

The more you make these, the better they—and you— will get.

Thanks are due

To Jessica, from A Taste For Living   who taught me a lot about recipe writing while we edited this together.

Collaborating in real-time on Google Docs was an experience we both had fun with.
Cheers, Jess.

Autumn or Fall

Yellow leaves frame a boat marina at Lake Te Anau.

A Breathtaking Season By Any Name

Autumn: It conjures colours in my mind. Deep reds, brilliant oranges and bright yellow; vivid hillsides or fiery avenues; these are the scenes that await in the South Island during March, April and May. Time to bring out the camera or the paint brushes. How to capture so much splendour?

Fall — the American name —  brings a later time to mind. Leaves gently floating, one following the other. Or a windy night, followed by a red-gold and brown crunchy carpet — all the leaves downed at once. This is playtime: children shouting, laughing, scuffing through the leaves and building great heaps to leap into and to toss in the air.

Autumn Down Under

In the Southern Hemisphere everything seems topsy-turvey to those from northern parts. When we have winter — you have summer; we’re in daylight — you’re in night. Ideally, Our houses face north, if they can,  because southerly weather in New Zealand comes from Antarctica and it’s COLD.

You might think that being such a small country our climate would be the same throughout, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Living here in Garston we are closer to the South Pole than to the equator, and the weather is quite different to that of New Zealand’s northerly provinces. So are the seasons.

New Zealand native trees are mostly evergreen so their colour comes from beautiful flowers and berries. But our English pioneers missed the trees of home and planted many, many deciduous trees, especially in the South Island where they’ve flourished.

A Stunning Season

So autumn is a beautiful season down here. The awareness that cold weather is on its way causes the deciduous trees to withdraw the green chlorophyll from the leaves back into the branches and trunk where it will wait out the winter, ready to be used come spring. Now it’s time for other pigments in the leaves to shine, and what a glorious show they make.

My Class Loves Painting in Autumn

I’m not a great artist myself, but I love teaching art to my class of 5 – 7 year olds at Garston School.  We love the autumn colours around our school. Last week we learned one way of showing reflections with autumn colours.

Here are 3 of my favourites:

Another post in the series Autumn Harvest on the Farm.

 

 

 

 

The Old Apple Tree

An ancient apple tree, grows alone in a farm gully.
She nestles in a gully, far from prying eyes.

On our farm, there is a very special apple tree. She grows quietly; standing by herself in a little gully, far from prying eyes. No one knows how she got there, miles from the houses and farm sheds. The creek is dry now, but it wasn’t always so. Maybe an apple rolled downstream, thrown by a careless hand. Perhaps a bird deposited an apple seed there. However it happened, the seed sprouted and this ancient tree grew. She is old in New Zealand apple-tree-years, make no mistake about that.

A Special Apple Tree

But it’s not just the isolation, nor even her age that makes her special, for she is a heritage tree. She may very well be unique — the only one of her kind in the world. How special is that? And her apples are beautiful. Cooking apples like your great-grandmother grew. You can’t buy anything like them in a shop. Raw they are tart on your taste buds, but when you cook them up they’re fluffy, sweet and delicious.

I love this old apple tree, and each year at harvest time I’ve worried about losing her. What if a fire raced unexpectedly down the gully or disease struck? The world is losing its unique plants and animals at an alarming rate. It would be sad if our tree was added to the list. So this year we were delighted when the Guytons arrived unexpectedly on our doorstep.

Robert and Robyn Guyton are passionate permaculturalists and have developed their Riverton property into a food farm which supplies most of their daily needs. Robert and Robyn are also the guiding lights behind the Riverton Environmental Centre and are well known in Southland for their conservation efforts and their enthusiasm about saving heritage apples.

Protecting Our Heritage

On a windy, wet Sunday in early spring, Robert and Robyn came to explore the old orchards around the Garston area. Our son Chris found them at our Woolshed. “These trees are okay,” he told them, waving his hand around the nearby orchard, “but would you like to see the best tree on the farm?” Of course they would!  When we drove home from church that Sunday, we came across them all, dripping wet and happily stowing cuttings into their car boot. “What a find!” they chorused.

Photographing the heritage apples.
Robyn Shields

One of the Guytons’ missions is to train other people up in the art of tree-saving. So they passed the cuttings onto Robyn Shields, a former pupil of theirs, who lives not far from Queenstown. Robyn grafted the cuttings (called scions) onto hardy rootstock and they have grown happily into 6 sturdy little trees. She came up to the farm recently, to photograph the original tree complete with apples, and to collect some of them as samples. She invited me to come and visit her little tree nursery and to see the new little apple trees, so I’m very much looking forward to that.

In the meantime, these lovely apples are ready to harvest and I’ve just picked a big bucket full. Yum.

Black bucket full of heritage cooking apples.
So many apples to cook and enjoy.

Autumn on the farm is such a busy season. While the men are busy gathering in the grain, I’m focused on harvesting all the other food that nature is providing. My Autumn Harvest On The Farm series is a celebration of nature’s bounty and the foresight of the farmers who began developing this farm more than 100 years ago.

Mushrooms Galore

Precious Pears

Hops In A Hurry

Gathering In The Grain

Muscovy Ducks On The Farm

Muscovy Ducks swimming on a farm duck pond.
Muscovy ducks on the pond.

How It All Began

Our son, Chris, arrived home from university three years ago. Parking on the front lawn, he produced out of the battered depths of his rusty Toyota two bags and a big box. One overflowing with dirty washing, another filled with hardly-used books and, finally, 10 tiny ducklings —  closely followed by their disgruntled mother and a couple of large, surprisingly mellow, drakes (males). Yes, you read that right, our son brought home some Muscovy ducks.

“These were on the duck pond outside my house,” he casually explained. “The owners didn’t want them anymore. I kinda like them, so I brought them home.”

The big question in my mind, however, was “Who’s going to feed them?”

It was obviously a rhetorical question, you can guess who fed the ducks. And their offspring. And the next generation too. Because now the ducks have made themselves well and truly at home.

Close-up of two muscovy ducks.
The ducks are well and truly at home on the farm.

Muscovy Ducks On The Farm

Muscovies are fascinating birds. They may look alike but their personalities are quite different. Some are shy, others pushy: always arriving first to the meal bucket. Some stick close to the pond while others range far and wide over the paddocks. One duck is a loner and likes to potter up the gravel road far from home.

In Spring and Autumn the ducks and drakes pair off, and begin to prepare their nests. These could be found anywhere: under a bush… in the rushes… between two hay bales… But the one place you’ll never find them is up in a tree. Muscovies are big, heavy birds. They can fly but tend to stay low to the ground. They would never dream of doing anything as precarious as nesting in a tree.

Close-up of Muscovy duck on a nest in the hay barn.
Nesting quietly in the hay barn.

One peculiarity of Muscovies — and this is truly bizarre — the ducklings cannot get wet!  

Say what?  Hey back up — these are water birds that can’t get wet?

Yes, strange as it may seem, if Muscovy ducklings get their backs wet and cold in the first few weeks of life it can be fatal. However, neither ducks nor ducklings are aware of this fact and they scramble to dive into water whenever they see it. I’ve been known to administer life-saving first aid in the form of a warm hair dryer and a towel by the fire when, despite all our care, three ducklings managed to fall into a small bucket of water last spring.

Close-up of mother muscovy duck and day-old ducklings.
Safe from the rain and predators in the sturdy hutch, built for us by the local school’s woodwork class.

So we keep the mothers and babies in sturdy hutches for the first month or two. After that they are free to enjoy the pond on fine days, but we still shut them in at night or when the weather is rough. The cages protect them from more than the weather. There are plenty of stoats, wild cats and even hawks around, all looking to snaffle a tasty treat.

Group of muscovy ducks eating grain.
The ducks love their grain.

Twice a day we head up the paddock to feed the ducklings. I take the early shift as part of my morning walk. The Farmer takes the evening shift. That’s when all the ducks congregate. When they hear the little Polaris chugging towards the pond, they rush in from far and wide to gobble the scattered grain.

Too Many Ducks

Muscovy meat  is tender and sweet, and the eggs are huge and tasty. Both are considered delicacies amongst the duck-connoisseurs in our community. But these birds are our pets, and although we eat the eggs, somehow we just can’t bring ourselves to eat the ducks. However they are prolific breeders and we can’t keep too many of them because the pond won’t stay healthy and clean if it’s overpopulated.

Mum, Dad and the kids. The fifth and final batch this autumn.

So the first time the population rose above 40 I put an ad in the local paper. “Muscovy ducks for sale.” I couldn’t believe how fast they sold. We haven’t had to advertise again. Those same customers now phone up every season:

“Are the ducks for sale yet?”

And when the answer is yes, they can’t get here fast enough. I don’t ask what they do with their ducks. I don’t want to know.