Sunday, 8 November 2015

Easy, Quick, No-knead Soft Sandwich Loaf (UK Recipe)

This is my Saturday morning bread recipe; a reliable sandwich loaf that's good for toasting, dipping in soup, and making sandwiches (of course).  I make it most Saturday mornings, getting it started while I make my morning coffee before I've even woken up properly and it's ready by [insert suitable time of day that doesn't make me sound lazy].  It's easy, no kneading just a bit of folding, it's quick, no 24 hour waiting, and the ingredients are straightforward, no weird bubbling sour dough starters to keep alive.

please don't look at how much my extractor switch needs cleaning, look at the lovely loaf. mmm loaf.
375g (Organic) Strong White Bread Flour
125g (Organic) Strong Wholemeal Bread Flour (or you could use all white)
7g Easy/Quick Yeast (the kind that you add straight into the flour), this is about 2 tsps
7-8g Salt, (it's important to weigh the salt because one tsp of salt flakes has a much bigger volume than 1 tsp of table salt) 
Wet (wet should come to 335 to 340g)
1 tbsp of oil
1 tbsp of cider vinegar (I use raw unfiltered organic cider vinegar)
About 80ml semi skimmed milk
"arm (not hot) water (about 200-250 ml, but weight it, rather than measure it, see below)
1 generous tbsp of honey

Equipment: Large mixing bowl, add-and-weigh scales, 2lb loaf tin, and some measuring spoons.

Ingredients, soft no-knead sandwich loaf, white & wholemeal

1. Measure out your ingredients:
You can weigh everything into the large mixing bowl to save on washing, just go slowly when adding the water as it's the hardest bit to remove if you go over!  Weigh your flour, zero the scales and add the yeast, stir it in and add the salt.  Zero your scales and add the oil and vinegar, top up with milk until your scales read about 100g, then slowly pour in the lukewarm water until the scales read 335-340g. Then add a tablespoon of honey.

2. Mix your dough:
Stir it all together with a metal spoon, scraping the sides of the bowl down. You'll probably need to finish off with your hands. All you need to do is get all of the dough evenly wet making sure that you don't have any big lumps of dry flour.  You don't have to knead the dough, in fact it's too sticky for kneading, which is a good excuse not to.  Cover the bowl with cling film.
Your mixed dough will look shaggy, like this, it's supposed to, honest.

3. Prove your dough / First rise:
Microwave a cup of water for 60 seconds to warm up the microwave interior. Then put the bowl in the microwave and leave it for 40 minutes. No microwave? Leave the dough somewhere warm (preferably about 22C, but 18-21C works, just add another 5, 10 or 15 minutes if the dough hasn't puffed up).

In the meantime oil and flour your loaf tin. Use kitchen paper to spread oil evenly over the interior of the loaf tin, then sprinkle it generously with flour and shake it around so that there is a light dusting everywhere, then tip out any excess onto the board you'll be using to shape your dough.

Oiled and floured Mermaid 2lb loaf tin, this makes the loaf slip out easily. No sticking! No Teflon required.

 After 40 minutes the dough should be big and puffy.

This dough has puffed up. You could leave this one a little longer, I used the dough like this.

4. Shape your loaf and second rise:
Sprinkle a layer of flour over a big chopping board, or non-stick silicon mat, and spread it around with both hands.
Flour your work surface; this is a silicon mat from Lakeland, less mess than working on the counter
Tip the dough onto the board. It will be sticky, you'll see the dough be stringy - that's the moisture working on the gluten.

Your dough should look stringy like this after first rise (without kneading)

(1) flatten
You're not going to knead the loaf, but you do need to make the dough hold it's shape a little better. You're going to do that by gently folding the dough over, then making it the right shape for the tin.

Flatten out your dough into a rough oval (1).

Then fold the dough in thirds, by taking the right third over the middle third (2).

(2) fold in right third
Take hold of the left third and then gently stretch it over the other folded pieces (3).

Fold the dough in half top to bottom, then squidge the dough flat and do the same serires of folds again, right third, left third, which will leave you with an oblong piece of dough.

It should now feel a bit more cooperative, but will still want to stick to your hands, don't worry, that's just what this dough is like.

(3) fold left third over the other 2 thirds

roll up your dough like a swiss roll

To shape the loaf for the tin, you need to roll it up like a swiss roll. Shape the dough into a rough square that is a little bit narrower than the width of your baking tin then roll the dough up tightly like a swiss roll and tuck the ends underneath.

Turn the dough over, then flatten is slightly. Then gently roll the dough up again, you might only be able to do this in thirds or it might roll a little tighter.

after the second roll-up, pinch the seam together

Tuck the edges under, and pinch the seam together.

Lift the loaf and place it gently in your floured tin, seam-side down. Sprinkle with flour and cover with cling film.

Warm the microwave up again by nuking a cup of water.Then put the dough in the microwave to rise for about 45 minutes.

Loaf shaped dough, just put into the oiled 2lb tin. The ends are a bit fat on this one, but it turns out OK!

The risen dough will puff up past the sides of the tin

After 45 minutes, the dough should be just starting to rise above the tin.  If not leave it a bit longer, but check every 5 minutes; this is a wet dough that might collapse if you leave it too long.

5. Bake your loaf:
Turn the oven on to heat up with a target temperature of 190C fan. After about 5 minutes of warming up, put the loaf in the oven (minus the cling film!). Set the timer for 25 minutes.
This loaf is baked at a slightly lower temperature than I see for most loaf recipes, that's to stop the crust from getting too dark or too hard (the honey makes a loaf that burns easily) or generally becoming OH unfriendly.  My disclaimer is of course, that these are the temperatures that my smallish digital oven claims it is baking at, your oven might make different claims. I know my big oven burns everything it sets it's eyes on in one back corner. So, use your experience of your own oven to make adjustments.

After 25 minutes, turn the heat off and let the loaf cook for another 5 minutes in the residual heat of the oven. The loaf should come out mid-brown. Take it out of the tin and a tap on the bottom of the loaf should sound hollow, if it doesn't it might need another 5 minutes.

Let the loaf cool *completely* on a rack before trying to slice it. That's very important. The bread isn't finished until it's cool. Cut too early and the middle will make claggy dough balls. Patience friends. Patience.

If you don't get through bread quickly, you can keep a sliced loaf in the freezer, just taking out a slice or two when you need it. No waste.

My bread-making equipment:
This recipe makes a loaf the right size for a 2lb loaf tin. The loaf in the picture is from one of my two hard anodised Mermaid tins, which I like better than non-stick coated for high oven temperatures. I also use Alan Silverwood 2lb Loaf Tins, which are slightly lower and wider and also hard anodised rather than Teflon coated.  You can double the recipe to make two loaves and bake them side-by-side.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Earning decent interest on your savings, Part 2: P2P

Remember how I’m not qualified, and this isn't financial advice, and might be a bad idea for you, etc? Just so.  This post includes referral links to accounts that I really use (and only services I really use), no referrals hidden behind the urls, most of them come with a new customer bonus for the referrals.  Alternative Savings (in rough order of IMHO preference):

LendInvest: New in at the top for me this year is LendInvest. LendInvest sell receivables direct to general public investors (what?). Basically, you buy a share of a bridging loan that they have already fulfilled, the receivable you're buying is the interest on your portion of the loan and, obviously, getting paid your capital back at the end of the loan. The loans are typically bridging loans to owners of commercial or residential (buy to let) properties, about 12 months long. You get paid interest monthly, and your capital is repaid at the end of the loan.  The loans are all secured on a 1st charge (i.e. first dibs) mortgage on a bricks and mortar property.  My portfolio of loans pays about 7.4%. You start earning interest as soon as you buy the receivable. There's a minimum investment of £1,000 per loan part purchased, so, you have to weight up the risks for yourselves. I've not had any bad debt over the year or so I've been investing with them.   No referral link for this one.

Ratesetter:  Ratesetter is for peer-to-peer loans, and seem to have a good rate/risk combination the moment. They lend mainly to individuals but have started to include business loans. You don't choose you the individual loans, but you can choose the rate (though the default now has changed to "market rate").  Haven’t had any bad debt in Ratesetter, in theory the provision fund would repay my capital if the borrow did not pay it back. that’s a referral link, I get £25, you get £25 (this has been upped temporarily to £50 each for November).
(Each valid referral will result in the referring Member and the new Member receiving £25 automatically credited to their accounts and immediately lent in the monthly access market, at the current rate. A referred RateSetter Lender must deposit a minimum of £1,000 and have that £1,000 out on loan to be considered as a completed referral.)
I wonder if there is a way to insert the current rates? Anyway, today: 3 year income is 5.0% 5 year income is 6.1%. There’s also 1 year capital 3.6% and a monthly option that hovers between 2.5 and 3%.

Wellesley and Co, I like because loans are secured on property and there’s a provision fund too, they lend their own money first, and if someone doesn’t cough up, pay out customers before themselves. They’re quite new, so keep that in mind from a risk perspective, and the loans they provide are huge (in the high hundreds of thousands to millions, so there’s more of a concentration risk).   You don't choose your loans, your money is spread across all the available loans. All of the loans pay back capital at the end of the term, you can choose to have interest paid monthly or at the end of the term in one lot.  That might be interesting for someone likely to have a tax change in a few years, s an interesting way of deferring the tax treatment to a time when you might be in a lower tax band, for example, if you're nearing retirement.   The interest% is a higher number but that's because you don't get compounding of interest, so it's actually equivalent to the monthly interest option if you reinvested your income.   You earn interest from the moment that you confirm your loan term.

No bad debt for me in about 13 months of using them.  Rates are from 4% (3 years interest) to 5.5% (5 years capital), plus they have mini bonds at 7% for 5 years. I have something in every term and bond they offer. £50 for you, £50 for me.
If your friend opens an account and starts lending with £2,000 or more, we will pay you and your friend £50 each.
Assetz Capital to make me feel environmentally friendly (watch this for risk, the subsidy funding for green energy has very recently massively changed): 7% fixed 3yr term for Green projects.  Warm and fuzzy, no?  They don’t have an official referral link as far as I can find one.  Update as of late December 2015: loans are showing up faster on the platform again now, and Assetz have introduced two new account products, a Quick Access Account, into which you can choose to lend any "idle" funds (i.e. funds waiting for loans to draw down) or just use it as an instant access account paying 3.75%, and the Great British Business Account which automatically lends out your funds across all available loans and pays a fixed 7%. Both of the new accounts are covered by provision funds (lacks some detail on current status but aims to have "5% bad debt coverage") so that the accounts provide regular and reliable income.  I've put funds into both of the new accounts, and I have funds in their standard Manual Load Investments Account, where you choose which loans you want to take part in, my portfolio currently pays about 10.5%.

I’ll post about Abundance another day. 20 year debentures need a bit more explanation!

Zopa: One of the oldest P2P. Rates not as good as the ones above because of the way they charge for services, but always been good service and seem pretty stable. But the rates are guaranteed per month.  Used to have bad debt, but now they’ve changed the way the lending works and have the equivalent of a provision fund concept too. sort of.  Rates: 4% 3 years, 5.1% for 5 after fee.
(Earn £25 each for every new person you refer who takes out a loan or lends between £1000 and £2000. Earn £50 each for every new person you refer who lends £2000 or more)
Funding Circle: I lost more in bad debt than I made in interest after the tax was taken into account.  There is a referral link, but as I'm running down this account, I've not put it in.

On any of the P2P platforms, remember no tax has been deducted, so you have to declare the whole interest  to HMRC, and fees/bad debt can't be deducted for income tax (though bad debt can be offset against capital gains, that's unlikely to make any difference to any person I know). They are fixed term investments, so think about inflation risk, they are not covered by Financial Services scheme.

Thus ends my financial ramblings today. Yes. I think about this a lot. It’s not like the banks are our friends (though Ratesetter seem like very nice people who keep sending me invites for drinks).  If you want to see the latest rates on the P2P platforms in once place, I'm keeping an eye on them here.

hm, and while I'm at it: get a myWaitrose card if you work near a Waitrose; one free coffee every day.  £10 a week saving on your coffee habit?

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Earning decent interest on your savings, Part 1: 5% current accounts

This isn’t financial advice; your mileage may vary, don't trust everything you read on the Internet, etc. If you go overdrawn, this is not for you!
These are not accounts you want to be going overdrawn in, but, if you have some cash earning a pittance of interest, spend 30 minutes applying for accounts online, and 20 minutes after they are active to set up some simple automatic standing orders and your direct debits, and you can get yourself some decent interest and make use of the new £1000 (or £500) tax free interest limit! All through accounts covered by the FCS guarantee (MoneyWise, Telegraph and various other sites have published similar lists).  Follow me, if you will … the links in this post don't earn anything other than the warm fuzzy feeling that you too are getting paid decent interest for a change.

All the switching suggested in the initial post I wrote has been done. So my current set up is:

Starting balances:

Lloyds: at least £4000, no more than £5000 (4%), 2 Direct Debits
TSB Classic: keep at £2000 (5%)
S123: at least £3000 (3%), maximum £20,000 (all other DDs, at least 2)
optional TSB Joint (joint can't be set up Online):  £2000 (5%)
optional Halifax: enough to cover Direct Debits (£5 per month) 2 Direct Debits

Standing orders and direct debits to set up:
Day 1: S123  £1800 ->  Lloyds Club (2 DDs approx £50)
Day 3: Lloyds    £750 ->  Halifax (2 DDs including credit card, approx £500).
Day 3: Lloyds    £500 -> TSB classic
Day 3: Lloyds    £500 -> TSB Classic Joint Account
Day 6: Halifax  £200 ->  S123.
Day 6: TSB Classic  £500->  S123
Day 6: TSB Joint   £500 -> S123

Annual interest earned: Between £410 and £960 
S123: between £90 and £600 (less however much of the monthly fee your DD cashback doesn't cover)
Lloyds: between £160 and £200 (£4000 to £5000 balance)
TSB: £100 per account (£2000 balance)
Halifax: £60

Old article with links:

You can mix the start and land points up but mine goes like this to the most of direct debits:

Salary paid into Santander 123 account (pays 1% for  balances >£1000, 2% for >£2000, 3% on the entire balance if it's over £3,000 and up to 20,0000) direct debits pay cashback of 1, 2 or 3%. There’s £5 monthly account fee (cashback calculator: ). I set my biggest direct debits in this account for the cashback value. Minimum requirements: £500 per month paid in, at least two direct debits paid out. This one only really pays out if you use have your utility direct debits paid out of it to off-set the monthly fee.

Standing Order 1: On the 13th: £1000 paid in to NationWide FlexDirect from S123. NationWide Pays 5% interest on balances up to £2500. The trick is to try to keep the balance at £2500 and sweep extra back out to another account.
Minimum requirements, pay in £1000 per month. Must go paperless. Only pays 5% for first 12 months: ditch this account and find another after 12 months.

Edit: An alternative to this account, that I've now switched to after the end of the 1yr bonus at NW, is Lloyds Club. It pays 4% on balances between £4,000 and £5,000, and you get some free cinema tickets.  You have to pay in quite a bit to this one: £1500 per month, and you must set up at least 2 direct debits.

Standing Order 2: On the 15th £1005 (ish) paid in to TSB Classic Plus from NW. Pays 5% interest on balances up to £2000. Again trick is to keep the balance at £2000 sweep any extra into follow on account.
Minimum requirements, pay in £500 per month, must choose paperless.

Standing Order 3: On the 18th pay everything else back into S123 account, a total of £1010. So I’ve swept through at least the minimum amounts for each account, left excess in there for the least amount of time and swept up the interest back into S123.

In summary:
You can have up to £4500 being paid interest at 5% (the eagle eyed, will spot you don’t get compounding, so have to move the interest out monthly), and get the cashback from Santander, and any other money at 3%.  You can also open up a joint account with TSB for another £2000 at 5%, and the same goes for Lloyds too. 

I'll shortly be adding the Lloyds account which pays 4% if you have between £4,000 and £5,000 (and gives you 6 free cinema tickets per year) as the NationWide offer is coming up to  the end of the 12 month bonus. I'm going to use the Halifax switching service to switch out of the NW for which I'll get £125 one off switching bonus and then £5 per month for staying in credit, having two direct debits paid out and paying in £750 per month. I'm also adding a joint account with my partner at TSB for another £2000 at 5%. That means I'll have to set up a new merry-go-round of standing orders, but it's easy, and oddly satisfying.

Where you have accounts with a balance at the maximum limit, you should sweep the monthly interest into S123 as it won't be earning any interest above the maximum amounts.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Interim allotment dividend

So, my new 1/2 allotment is mostly covered in black plastic and it's not exactly a vegetable production power-house as yet. But, since someone left a trailer-sized pile of horse manure at the lotty gate and no-one else wanted to barrow it up the hill, I piled it into 3 mini heaps amongst the sea of plastic. In a fit of enthusiastic optimism, I sowed some winter squash rather late, and planted them on the muck heaps.

This is what I harvested last Saturday. In theory they are "curing" (their skin drying and hardening ready for storage) basking in the sun (!) in the warm (!?) conservatory on a slatted bench. 

winter squash drying on a bench
winter squash, pears and peppers

From what I can remember, these are, clockwise from the front: Blue Banana (somewhat under-ripe, so more green than blue but you can see what it was aiming for), a majestic-looking Hubbard,  2 x Burgess Vine Buttercup, one large, one small,  something intimidatingly large and a bit gnarly that I can't remember the name of, I dub it "Two-Hand-Carry Squash of Awesome" for now, and behind that is another one where I didn't check the plant label when I harvested it, it's a large zeppelin-shaped dark  blue/green with light blue stripes squash that might be a Blue Banana but looks considerably darker and more stripy than the actually definitely a Blue Banana squash (note to self: check labels), behind the mysteries there is a properly ripe pale blue Blue Banana, and finally a Squashkin.

You can also see some lovely Doyenne du Comice and Garden Pearl pears (from trees that grow in air pots on the patio) and the last 3 of this years Gypsy (sweet) Peppers from the conservatory.  They are not quite ripe, but following a spectacular red spider mite breakout, the plants were ditched early this year. Much sprinkling of diatomaceous earth. Much sadness. Much grumbling.

Anyway, actually bringing something back from the black plastic wasteland keeps me motivated to dig on. I'm clearing weeds by hand (well, with a shovel and a fork too, not just hands, that would not be super-effective) at the less than impressive rate of 10 sq ft per hour.