Sunday, 14 September 2014

Baking Along With GBBO: Weeks Four and Five: Tiramisu Cake and Wee Pies

Husband makes a fuss about having to watch the Bake Off with me - he would prefer to mainline Game of Thrones (it's as well that we have to ease off that sometimes, in fact. We're coming ominously near to running out of episodes).

However, he is more excited about the Tiramisu Cake from the Puddings episode than he has been about any foodstuff for a long time...

What with that and Ice Cream-gate, it was a pretty exciting episode all round.

Now, I can take or leave tiramisu, generally - I don't really like coffee and chocolatey puddings don't do that much for me, but any recipe which has the nerve to include THREE entire tubs of mascarpone has to be tried at least once in a lifetime, I reckon.

Turns out I don't have a square tin (hard to believe, I know), so mine is round.

Also, who can be faffed with making silly chocolate decorations? Honestly... *sigh*

Because of being on Champagne Holiday last week, I have a bit of catching up to do, so I have also shoehorned Pie Week into this post.

I love pie. I love making pie and I quite like eating it too.

I was hoping that the custard tarts would be the technical challenge of the week, as I am partial to a bit of tartage (as many people that have been here for force feeding dinner here can testify). However, it was clearly not to be, and pear mini pies were the order of the day.

When I saw these on TV, I thought that they were a bit lame, but now that I have made them myself, I am COMPLETELY in love with them - they are gorgeous. Simple and gorgeous.

Definitely one to make again and again (possibly with apples, which are a good deal yummier than pears in my humble opinion).

I'm going to make my family eat all these things at a barbecue this weekend, as the technical challenges are becoming increasingly impractical for transporting into work (BBC, please take note ;) ).

Tune in again for (equally, if not more, impractical) princess cake.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Baking Along With GBBO: Week Three: Ciabatta

I always think that "bread week" is a bit of a scam on GBBO and this season was no exception.

I mean, HOW long did they give them to knock out those ciabattas? The only recipes I've used have been ones that take literally days. Days.

I don't know what kind of trickery they use to make it work on TV, whether it's editing magic, secret advance preparation or just inedible over yeasting, but I'm not altogether sure I approve.

Interesting, Mr H's recipe, per the BBC website, which at least *looks* like the one used on the show, also purports to take at least six (likely way more) hours.

I usually use a recipe from my most utilised and bizarre bread book, The Christian Aid Book of Bread (which I thoroughly recommend, if you want a really clear easy book full of bread recipes), but instead, in the interests of Doing Things Properly, I used the one linked above for this.

Do to a slightly hectic schedule and a general lack of organisation, both proves of this loaf were a little (or a lot - these things are all relative, right?) longer than intended and the final stage stretch and fold was a little half hearted.

I also made it into one loaf instead of two, which meant that it was bigger and less flat than the recipe intended, but more practical from a household bread perspective.

It turned out ok - I think I probably could have cooked it for a teeny tiny bit longer and better folding would have made nicer bubbles.

I'm probably not going to ditch the Christian Aid recipe in favour of this - I like it better - it's a wetter dough and gives an airier, more ciabatta-like texture, but this one was better than I expected.

I still wouldn't want to do it in an hour, though, or whatever the silly TV time is.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, 15 August 2014

Baking Along With GBBO: Week Two: Florentines

I confess that I wasn't massively excited about biscuit week - I have a few nice biscuit/cookie recipes that I use over and over again, as they clearly represent a handy portable baked item, but I can't say that I find them very, well, exciting.

Anyway, the technical challenge turned out to be florentines, which I'm not certain I'd ever really considered even to be a biscuit, but I'd certainly never made before.

Not super challenging, I think, other than the tempering of the chocolate (I used a nasty cheap chocolate for the first lot that entirely refused to temper and switched to some kind of Aldi dark for the remainder which worked much better), but a bit of microwaving took care of that.

They turned out pretty well, though I was far too lazy to make the proper zigzags that the judges were so inexplicably keen on :)

Husband conducted a taste test during a period of extreme hunger when I was late home for dinner last night.
He declared them "OK - tasty (and crisp like Mary Berry wanted), but not really a biscuit", which, I think pretty much sums them up.

I might make them for Christmas - they seem festive.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Baking Along With GBBO: Week One: Cherry Cake

Like much of the rest of the country, I tuned in to watch the first episode of the Great British Bake Off last week.

I'm not certain I love it that much as a concept - it's all a bit "reality TVish" what with the tears and recriminations and whatnot - but I do like cake and, as with all these things, they are very good at making it compelling viewing, even if it makes the viewer feel a bit grubby ��.

Anyway, I thought that maybe I could use it to channel my baking energies and become an Awesome Baker, so I'm going to try to "bake along" with the technical challenges.

(In all likelihood, this will only last for a week or two - I have a very back track record with consistency...)

Here's the first one, then - the Mary Berry Cherry Cake, which can be found here:

It seems like a pretty straightforward one to start with - I don't think it was too challenging for the TV people, or, happily, for me...

I've never washed glacé cherries before, though - that seems like utterly bizarre behaviour to me.

Here is my cake. I think MB would be disappointed with the consistency of my icing, but otherwise pretty good (and it was her recipe, after all ��).

And here is the inside - good distribution of cherries, I'd say, though a wee bit dry for my taste, perhaps.

I also made a big (entirely unnecessary) pile of doughnuts from the Justin Gellatly book of loveliness.

And a birthday Iggle Piggle cake for the lovely charity that is Free Cakes for Kids Hackney.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Simple Shortbread Cookies and the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap

This year, whilst mindlessly flicking through Twitter, my attention was drawn to this - the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.

Of course, I signed up immediately and spent the next few weeks constantly plotting what kind of utterly mind-blowing cookie I could come up with.

My workmates came up with all kinds of wacky suggestions, some of which we actually experimented with, but, in the end, it was all too complicated and I plumped for something a bit more classic - I'm sure my cookie giftees were relieved!

Shortbread seemed practical for posting - it lasts well and is delicious. The addition of sour cherries and almonds seemed kind of festive to me - also, sour cherries are kind of unbelievable - they taste quite a lot like tangfastics :)

Sour Cherry and Almond Shortbread


- Butter (at room temperature)
- Caster sugar
- Plain flour (I like the superfine stuff)
- Ground almonds
- Pinch of salt
- Dried sour cherries
- Blanched almonds


- Preheat the oven to about 150.
- Mix together the butter, sugar, ground almonds, flour and salt - I did this in an electric mixer - you can also use a wooden spoon or your hands. Don't overmix - just do enough to make sure that everything is properly combined.
- Gently mix in the sour cherries and almonds (I kept the almonds whole - I like the great big chunks in the cookies - but there would be no harm in chopping them up a bit if you preferred).
- Roll the whole lot out into a big sausage, wrap it in greaseproof paper and stick it in the fridge for at least half an hour (overnight is totally fine).
- When you're ready to bake the cookies, take the dough-sausage out of the fridge,  chop it into (fattish) rounds and arrange on a lined baking sheet. They don't spread much, but worth leaving a bit of space between them just in case.
- Stick them in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes. They won't colour much and might look undercooked (always the way with shortbread), but you just have to believe.
- Take them out of the oven and cool on wire racks.

Super easy, no?

You can decorate them with drizzled white and dark chocolate if you want, or try to make pretty icing patterns on them for extra bakewelliness, but I chose to leave mine plain - I like them better than way.

The best part about the Cookie Swap was that I also received THREE batches of delicious cookies from three other lovely bloggers - I'll update on those later.

Happy baking, everyone!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Birthday Cake

I haven't written anything here for several hundred years (again), so here's a quick something that I did a couple of weeks ago.

For a few months now, I have been occasionally volunteering for a very very lovely charity called Free Cakes For Kids in Hackney, which is the local branch of a small national charity which provides cakes (mostly birthday cakes) to children who wouldn't otherwise get them - local bakers bake things and deliver them to schools, nurseries etc - all very simple.

It seems a small thing, but for most of us (certainly for me), birthday cakes and parties as a child were genuinely formative events, and there are few of mine that I don't remember extremely clearly*.
It is a sad fact that, actually, birthday cakes are expensive (in cash and time terms) to produce or provide, and there are people for whom they are an unaffordable luxury.
For someone like me, who obsessively bakes unnecessary things and is always on the lookout for new cake victims, this is really a pretty obvious collaboration.

My most recent cake was for a fifth birthday party and had a Rainbow Dash (nope - I didn't know either) brief.

Rainbow Dash, as it turns out, is one of the new breed of My Little Ponies (pretty sure they didn't have names when I used to have them), as husband discovered during extensive "research" through the medium of YouTube (thus becoming a member of a slightly odd new social group).

Anyway, since she is a rainbow character, a rainbow cake seemed like the way to go.
I toyed with the idea of making a sugarpaste pony or piping her onto the top, but, honestly, life is too short, and I figured that, if it was MY fifth birthday, I'd probably prefer a Rainbow Dash that I could actually keep afterwards, in any case.
I was also tempted to cut out the middle of the cake and fill it with (rainbow themed, obviously) skittles or similar, so that they would all come pouring out when it was cut, but, as I had to deliver first thing in the morning, I was a bit worried about leaving them in there overnight in case the colour ran and made some kind of unholy sludgy mess, so I wimped out. I still quite fancy this for another time.

So - here's how it all went down (I wrote this recipe out, fairly hurriedly, for the FCFK website - I hope it makes sense)...

6 eggs
Weight of the eggs in butter (or margarine), caster sugar and self raising flour
Vanilla extract (for the cake)
Pinch of salt
Rainbow coloured gel food colours (I used red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple – no indigo – I’m not totally sure I know what indigo even is) – these are fantastic – much better than the liquid colours of my youth – unbelievably strong colours even when baked.
250g block of butter
650g icing sugar
Vanilla extract (for the icing)

Edible lustre sprays in pearl and sky blue (optional)

I made the cake in three batches (mainly because I only have one set of sandwich cake tins and one oven).
-       *Weigh two eggs and preheat the oven to 180 (165 fan).
-       Weight the same amount of butter (margarine) and sugar into a bowl and add a splodge of vanilla extract. Cream this until it goes white and fluffy (I did it with a stand mixer, but a hand whisk or wooden spoon is also totally viable).
-       Measure out (separately) the same weight of flour and add the pinch of salt.
-       Add the two eggs to the butter/sugar mix gradually and beat in (not too much, just till it’s all combined well).
-       If the egg/butter/sugar mix starts to look a bit curdled, just chuck in a little handful of the flour between egg additions.
-       Chuck in the flour and fold it in to the mix – keep it quick and only fold until combined – don’t overmix.
-       Split this mixture in half and colour each half with one of your rainbow colours.
-       Stick these two coloured batters into your sandwich tins and stick in the oven for about 15 minutes till they are cooked – they will be fairly thin cakes – this is a good thing – you are going to end up with six layers, after all.
-       When the cakes are cool enough, turn them out onto racks and leave to cool completely.

-       Frantically wash your bowls and tins and start again from * with the next two colours until you have six lovely layers.
-       When all your cakes are cooked, level them off as necessary (it matters more with more layers – you don’t want a Leaning Tower of Pisa cake for this one) and layer them up on a board with jam in between to stick them together nicely.

-       Refrigerate while you make the icing (for an hour at least).
-       To make the icing, stick the butter (at room temperature) and icing sugar into a bowl and beat (slowly at first – icing sugar is messy stuff) until all incorporated (it might be a bit crumby – that is fine at this stage). Again – you can do this by hand if you’re feeling strong, but icing is where those stand mixers really come into their own.
-       Add a good splodge of vanilla and possibly a splash of milk if things are looking a bit dry and beat frantically until it’s lovely and fluffy – it takes about 5 minutes in the stand mixer – probably more by hand.
-       Use up to half the icing to crumb coat your cake, making a nice smooth layer and locking all the crumbs in – it’s fine if it doesn’t look nice – it just needs to give a good base.
-       Refrigerate the whole thing overnight (or at least for a couple of hours) for the icing to set and chill.
-       The next day, spread the rest of the icing over the crumb coat – this time, make it as beautiful as you can!
-       I decorated the whole thing by spraying the icing all over with pearlescent lustre and then using stencils (cut of old bits of paper) to make clouds and spraying with blue. This is obviously optional, but I thought that since Rainbow Dash is a proper flutter pony, she’d probably quite like a sky background and it makes the cake a little bit interesting on the outside as well as being a rainbow inside.

-       Finally, I stuck my Rainbow Dash figure on top (she’s just plastic – I contemplated icing her on, but thought that, if it was my birthday, I’d probably prefer something I could actually keep afterwards) and chucked a couple of packets of Skittles round the cake to reemphasise the rainbow theme.
-       Et voila – Rainbow Dash rainbow cake! Obviously these are at their best when they’re actually sliced and you get the whole rainbow effect, but I didn’t get to see that here (it always looks awesome, though).

(This is a previous, not so neat, sideways, but seven layered example).

*We had a LOT of good birthday cakes - pianos, trains, swimming pools, castles - you name it. Mainly down to hard work from my mum, dad and granny, and in no small part, thanks to the magic of the (slightly odd, but also awesome) Australian Women's Weekly Birthday Cake Book.
There must be photos of loads of them - some time I'll try to find and post them.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Bakeoff Bakealong: Week 2: Bread

So - week 2 - English muffins. Or just "muffins", as they were called when we used to eat them growing up.

I'm on holiday this week, so my kitchen setup is a little more, well, "basic" than usual.
Don't worry, though, I'm not going to regale you with tales of baking on the boat-based primus stove or anything, though I'm pleased to report that I DO still know how to light it - always a challenge from year to year.

I made these muffins today, despite the fact that it's only me here and that I'm going home tomorrow - always the sensible one.

They were pretty easy, as it turned out, and obviously a fairly robust recipe, since I left the dough to prove for about 5 hours longer than necessary (I got trapped out by an unexpected rain shower - the kitchen is pretty cold - I reckon it didn't overprove *that* much) and I didn't have a griddle. Or a heavy based frying pan. Or any cutters. Or all of the right ingredients. Oh - or any remotely accurate scales.

Still - they look pretty good, I'd say, despite the lack of roundness. And they taste muffiny. I know this, having eaten one or two*.

Rustic. I think that's the word.


[EDIT] This morning, I bacon-and-egg-ed them up in the style of Maccy D... I think you'll agree that this is extremely pleasing.

I watched week three in the garden on my laptop yesterday - iles flottant it is, I guess - those are going to be DIFFICULT to get into work in the morning :)

Also - just for a bit of extra holiday vibe - there were some amazing rainbows here yesterday - I honestly don't think I've ever seen one so bright.

* A big big lot.