• Izzy, a new arrival

    Last time I posted, I promised to write about my recent baking activities.  Some time has passed since I made my promise – almost four months.  As you would have gathered, I have had a busy four months.

    We have almost completed the renovation of our new home.  We have a lot of bits and piece to complete, but we are around 90% there.

    We moved into our new house in August, a little prematurely as on our holiday up to the Lake District in August to celebrate my Birthday with my family and to compete in a couple of races (cancelled because of the weather and other unforeseen circumstances), we acquired a little Labrador puppy, which we named Izzy.

    Bored on the journey up to the Lake District, I searched to see whether there were any Labrador puppies ready to go to new homes.  Lo and behold, I found a breeder with a litter of 11 Labrador puppies and made the dangerous decision to message him to ask him if he had any dogs left.  To cut a long story short, despite going to find a boy Labrador, we took home a little girl as she was the one that came up to me when we went to view the puppies.  The boys were not remotely interested in us – they were tucked up in their bed, tired after a meal.  I always said that I would take home the puppy who chose me rather than the other way around.  Anyway, with a new puppy in tow, we decided to move into our new home prematurely so that we could house train her in one house rather than in two.  The move to our new house is significant for a number of reasons, most significant I guess is that it has changed my priorities quite a bit, but more of that later.

    My new job has gone from strength to strength.  I have been made permanent and have been promoted to a management position.  I am thoroughly enjoying my new job, but like with everything, there are potential downsides to every good decision.  The demands on me in my new job have increased at the same time as my baking business expanded.  Over the last few months, my baking business went from strength to strength and I ended up baking for four customers on a regular basis, as well as doing event baking.  I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, as well as baking for a lovely range of customers.  The feedback I was given was great and my bakes were being well received.  Unfortunately however, on the back of everything: new house, new job and increased demands on me re: baking, my health has taken a hit again and I had to make a very difficult decision a few weeks ago to stop baking for my regular customers.  I have not given up baking, but have decided to re-orientate my business towards event baking and one off bakes.  I think this will help me get the balance right between my demanding day job and baking and hopefully get my health back on track.

    Despite my recent difficult decision, we had a good summer of catering for a range of events.  Mainly sporting events (obstacle course races, running events and gym competitions) and the Coln Fun Day in August.   I also did a lot of catering for one of my regular customers who put on regular events over the summer period.  One weekend I had to supply enough cake to feed around 300 guests.  Baking over four days left me quite exhausted but also with a great sense of achievement of catering for that many people on my own.

    As they say, every cloud has a silver lining – although I am upset at having to give up baking for my regular customers, not baking the same range of cakes on a weekly basis will hopefully allow me to experiment more on the baking front again.  This is something that has fallen by the wayside over the last few months as after I developed my repertoire for my regular customers (see below a list of my regular bakes), these bakes became my go to bakes every week.  Event catering and one off baking gives me a bit more scope to play around with my offer.

    • Carrot and ginger loaf cake
    • Carrot cake
    • Double chocolate loaf cake
    • Victoria sponge
    • Coffee and walnut cake
    • Lemon drizzle cake
    • Lemon loaf cake
    • Flapjacks – regular, fruit and chocolate drizzled
    • Millionaire slice
    • Brownies
    • Giant chocolate chip cookies

    Okay, listing these makes me realise that over a period of a few months, I did in fact try out a few things.  This is not even the full list – I have baked a range of other biscuits, slices and cakes for my other customers as well.

    Oh yes, back to my change of priorities.  After losing our first dog, Montague to illness in January this year, and with the acquisition of our little girl puppy, I have decided that being a ‘Mum’ to a puppy is more important than other things.  I have not given up on my dream of making people happy through my baking, but in the short term at least, my priority is ensuring that Izzy feels as much loved and part of the family as Montague did.

  • If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan but never the goal

    I have been meaning to write this post for a while, but I have been so busy with my new job and baking for various customers and events that I have not had an opportunity to do so.  Speaking about my new job, this is the main reason that I am writing this post.

    A while back, in March to be exact, it became quite clear that despite some intimations that the place that I was working would stock my bakes in their cafe, that this was no longer part of their plan.  I had taken the job for two main reasons: (1) to gain experience in a cafe, especially using a coffee machine and (2) to bake for the cafe/shop.  While I certainly had an opportunity to gain experience in the cafe and ‘front of house’ experience, after a year hoping that the offer in the cafe would be extended (with my cakes being part of that extension) I reluctantly decided to hand in my notice – the plan no longer worked so I decided to change the plan, not my goal.  I say reluctantly, as despite the plan no longer working, there were many aspects of the job that I liked, most importantly, the lovely customers who frequented the shop on a regular and not so regular basis.

    Another thing recently changed in our life, which meant that I needed to rethink things as well.  After renting in various locations over the last few years (Aberdeenshire, Devonshire and Gloucestershire) we decided to put in an offer on a house.  The Friday before last, we became the proud owners of our fifth house. (not fifth house at the same time, but fifth house ever owned).

    We have bought a semi-detached house in Lechlade, a market town in The Cotswolds.  It is not as picturesque as Coln St Aldwyns, where we currently rent, but it is close to the river Thames for running and paddle-boarding  and has a wonderful array of cafes, eateries and other amenities.  Everything you want in a short distance.

    As the new house is a ‘do it upper’, I really needed to find a job which allowed me to contribute to the household coffers more.  So after almost three years out of my previous career (first studying for my Diploma in Professional Patisserie and then working in the catering industry), I have returned to Human Resources on a 6.5 month contract focusing on Learning and Development.  I have been able to negotiate a 4 day a week contract, which means that I have Friday as my baking day.  This enables me to bake for my regular customers and cater for weekend events.

    So far, so good.  I am enjoying being back in a office environment and using my brain in a different way again.  The only downside (if you can call it that) is that I am now super busy and am finding difficult to fit everything I need and want to do in a day.  Okay, this is not quite true, I could find time to do everything (if I didn’t settle down to watch Netflix or terrestrial television of an evening) but by the time I get home and have something to eat, I can’t seem to be motivated to do anything too hectic.  I don’t think my evening inertia has been helped by the fact that the weather has been so poorly of late.  Okay, this sounds like a lot of excuses when written down in black and white, so I am going to make a mental note to self to get off the sofa and be more productive of an evening.  Netflix will have to wait, but I won’t be giving up my weekly date with Rob Lowe now that his new show, Wild Bill, is airing on ITV on a Wednesday.  He has been one of my firm favourites since I saw him in St Elmo’s Fire all those years ago and it is very good to see him back on our screens – well for me anyway.

    Speaking of not being inert, I am just about to do a self-imposed morning HIIT session to get myself going before a day behind a desk, but I will write again soon as although this post has focused on what has been happening in my personal life, a lot has also been happening on the baking front too.  But more of that later.

  • Forest Warrior – taking Bake to a new venue

    I apologise for being a bit quiet of late – I have been very busy on the baking front.  A week or so ago (the last weekend in April) we catered at Forest Warrior, an OCR in the Forest of Dean.  We usually compete in the event, but this time we were fortunate enough to be given a catering opportunity at the event.

    Not long before the event, the organiser contacted us to say that their main caterer was no longer able to cater for the event and asked whether we would be able to increase our catering commitment at the event.  After a great deal of consideration, as well as considering doing the event with another local food provider, we committed to providing bakes on the Saturday and pizzas and bakes on the Sunday.  We did advise the organiser however that we were a small outfit and were unable to mass cater for the event.

    After an early morning shift (5.30am to 10.30am) I set about baking for Saturday.  With my mis en place and recipes at the ready (my chef-tutor at Ashburton Cookery School would have been pleased) I started with vegan cookies.  Before lunch, I had made a double batch of vegan cookies, two gastro trays of flapjacks and started the nutella and lemon crumble slices.  Replete with a rather large lunch in my belly, I set about completing the two bakes I started before lunch.  Obviously distracted by my break, I made a fundamental error in my lemon crumble slice, which I only discovered much later.  Unaware of my error, I proceeded to complete the rest of my bakes: an apricot and coconut slice, a batch of brownies and a Mars bar slice.

    Having drizzled one of the flapjacks with chocolate and blasted it in the fridge for half an hour or so, so that the chocolate could set, I set about cutting up my bakes into the appropriate size for selling while my husband Jo went into Swindon to pick up reinforcements in the form of Josh and Chiara (our eldest son and his girlfriend), our happy help for the weekend.

    It didn’t take long to realise the mistake had made when making the lemon crumble slice.  Firstly, the slice did not come out of the gastro tray as easily as it should have.  Secondly, when looking at the texture of the slice after the first cut, I realised that the shortbread base was not cooked – not under-cooked, but almost ‘raw’.  Perplexed, I took a look at the recipe again and realised to my horror that it was a recipe that required me to bake the base first before I added the topping and crumble before a second bake.  I could have sworn that I had read the recipe, but clearly I had not.  There was nothing else that I could do but throw the whole bake in the bin.  As per the Law of the Sod, it was the most expensive bake of the day.  With a knot in my stomach, I proceeded to cut up the rest of the bakes and consider what I could bake as a replacement for my failed lemon crumble slice.  Despite knowing that I would need to do another bake, I decided to have a quick meal of a Sourdough Revolution pizza with my family.  After a break and hopefully not distracted this time, I settled on making a batch of blondies as a replacement for the lemon crumble slice.  I found the recipe below on www.sugarspunrun.com.  I doubled the recipe to make enough for the gastro tray.

    Ingredients

    • 226g  unsalted butter melted
    • 250g light brown sugar
    • 2 large eggs + 1 egg yolk room temperature
    • 2 tsp vanilla extract
    • 285g cups plain flour
    • 2 tsp cornflour 
    • 1/2 tsp baking powder
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 115g white chocolate chips
    • 130g macadamia nuts

    Method

    • Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius and grease and line a 33 x 23 cm baking tray with baking paper.
    • Combine the melted butter and sugar in a large bowl and stir well.
    • Add eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla extract and stir until completely combined. Set aside.
    • In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cornflour, baking powder, and salt.
    • Gradually stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until completely combined.
    • Fold in the white chocolate chips and macadamia nuts.
    • Spread the blondie batter into the prepared baking tray and transfer to the oven.
    • Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean or with a few crumbs on it.
    • Allow to cool before cutting.

    Satisfied that the blondies turned out okay, we all turned in for the night.  Jo, Josh and Chiara left early Saturday morning for the event to sell the bakes while I set about preparing pizza dough for 80 pizzas, tomato sauce, caramelised onions, mozzarella and cheddar cheese.  Although they all came home happy with their experience at the event, sales were not particularly good – the nature of the event (running rather than obstacle) and the poor weather (cold and windy) meant that people did not really hang around at the venue after the event.

    On Sunday, we returned (this time with me en tow) to the event not only to sell bakes, but this time pizzas as well.  It was a slow start.  At one point, I wondered if we would sell a single pizza.  One of our early customers, a young lad, heartened me a bit.  He not only bought one pizza, but came back for a second.  I shouldn’t have been concerned as when lunch time hit (and a number of people returned from their waves) things went a bit crazy and it was very difficult to keep up with demand – both on the bake and pizza front, but especially on the pizza front.  At one time we had about a half hour wait for pizzas – much longer than I would have ideally liked.  Most importantly, the feedback on the bakes and pizzas was very positive.  One of the volunteers came up to us before completing the volunteers’ wave to check whether we would still be making pizzas when the volunteer wave finished – we had made a pizza for the volunteers earlier and she had liked it so much that she wanted more.

    The event wound up late afternoon and we set about the arduous task of taking down the awning and packing everything away.  With all of the competitors finished for the day, I had a go on some of the obstacles near the finish line.  We had hoped to do the last wave of the day but with things as hectic as they were at the stall it had not been possible.  Having a go on a few of the obstacles was the next best thing.

    Exhausted from three days of cooking (I had baked for another event on the Thursday) we made our weary way home.  There was still no rest for the wicked when we got home as we still had to do the clean up.  We did the best we could with the energy we had left and then celebrated our hard work with a glass or two of red wine, knowing that another busy week at work awaited us.

    Although we would definitely consider the event a success, it was a lot of hard work with little financial return.  Would we do it again?  Yes we would.  In fact we have been invited back the Sunday after next to do it all again but on a smaller scale.  We have also been invited to cater for another event on the back of Forest Warrior – someone who saw us at the event has asked us to cater at an event they are holding in July.  We are hopeful that it will go ahead.  Watch this space.

  • That’s the way the cookie crumbles

    A few weeks ago, four to be precise, I was tasked with finding the perfect cookie for one of my customers.  As they have a single pricing structure, I needed to ensure that whatever I produced was not only tasty, but also large enough to justify the proposed price.  My first attempt was giant chocolate chip cookies, using a Tesco recipe.  The recipe suggested adding Minstrels to the warm cookies just as they came out of the oven..  Although sceptical, I decorated half my batch of cookies with Minstrels and left the other half ‘naked’.  I have to say that that I preferred the look and the texture of the ones with the added Minstrels – the Minstrels added a bit of ‘gloss’ to the otherwise rustic cookies and a crunch to the otherwise soft cookies.

    I delivered the cookies as required and the initial reaction was ‘Wow!’.

    I am not sure how well they went down with the customers, as the next time I was asked to bake cookies, I was asked to make double chocolate chip cookies.  Drawing on a recipe from www.sallysbakingaddiction for ‘inside out chocolate chip cookies’, but replacing the white chocolate chips with milk/dark chocolate chips and making a bigger version of the cookies, I delivered the cookies to my customer for tasting.

    I don’t recall any direct feedback on the double chocolate chip cookies, but the next time I was asked to bake, the request was for chocolate chip cookies rather than double chocolate chip cookies.

    I reverted to the Tesco recipe, but without Minstrels (as requested by the customer).  As I was making a caramel slice at the same time and was nervous about how long it would take to set, I woke up at 4.15 am before an early shift to make the biscuit and caramel layer for the caramel slice.  As I had a bit of time to spare before my 5.30 am start, I decided to make my cookie dough and leave it in the fridge to chill until after I returned from my shift some hours later.

    Following the instruction to let my cookie dough warm up a bit before portioning and rolling it into balls for baking, I popped the cookies into the oven to bake.  Rather than preventing the cookies from spreading too much (one of the reasons you chill cookie dough in the first place – see the other reasons below), the chill seemed to make the cookies spread further/crisp too much on the edges.

    With the cookies not resembling the cookies the first time I baked them, I decided to make a second batch of cookies for the customer.  As they say, consistency is key when baking regularly for the same customer, so I wanted to provide them with something at least similar to the last time I baked the cookies.  I do however feel that baking from home and experimenting with different brands of ingredients, my bakes are not as consistent as they could be.  Hopefully over time as my ingredients become more consistent, these will translate into more consistent bakes.  The second batch of cookies were definitely better.  However, as per the law of the sod, a couple of the cookies of the good batch broke when decanting them into boxes for delivery and I had to include a couple of the original ones to make up the required order number.  The feedback on the bake was that the cookies were too thin i.e. not chunky enough.

    Back to the drawing board, I searched the Internet for thick chocolate chip cookies, which I found after a bit of searching.  With the recipe only making seven very large cookies (100 grams each), crispy on the outside and ‘soft and gooey’ on the inside, I delivered my cookies to my customer for taste testing.  With a repeat order for the cookies and a request for some of the next order to be double chocolate chip, I felt that after three attempts, I may have just found what my customer was looking for.  As I felt that I had finally found a cookie that suited my customer’s needs, I decided to adjust the recipe for the thick chocolate chip cookies and make them double chocolate chip cookies. A simple subtraction of flour (40 grams of the original 240 grams) and addition of cocoa powder (40 grams), saw my chocolate chip cookies transform into double chocolate chip cookies.

    A week later and another order for cookies (half regular and half Easter), I was informed that:

    ‘The cookies seem to be a firm favourite.  We sold out last week.’

    As the say, ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’.

    And finally … as promised, the reasons for chilling cookie dough, if like me you wanted to know.

    • Less spread:  Chilling cookie dough reduces the dreaded spread by cooling down the fat. Butter and other fats become firm when chilled, which means the dough starts out more solid and you’ll minimized the spread when the fat heats up during baking.
    • Better flavor: As the cookie dough chills, the sugar in the dough absorbs moisture from other, more liquid ingredients.  The carbohydrates in flour also begin to break down into sugar. The combination of these chemical reactions makes for a more condensed flavor and a more mellow, pronounced sweetness.  As a result, the cookies are more flavourful.
    • A more appealing colour:  Sugar is responsible for giving cookies the necessary golden brown colour.  As the sugar becomes more pronounced with the dough’s chilling, it promotes more even browning.
    • Perfectly crispy edges: Reducing excess moisture from the dough and cooling down the fat in your cookie dough also helps improve the texture of the finished cookies.  The concentration of all the ingredients plus the limited spread means that you’re more likely to attain a chewy texture inside and a crispy texture outside. (www.shopmybluprint.com)

     

  • When life gives you limes rearrange the letters until they say smile

    Sorry for not writing for a while – I have been a little preoccupied with a few things.

    I had the idea for this post a while back.  I guess, in a way it follows on from my post, ‘when life gives you lemons’.  I was going to start the post, by launching straight into a discussion about a bake that I did recently, but then I read one of the comments on my blog, which said:

    ‘Hey, you used to write wonderful, but the last several posts have been kinda boring.  I miss your great writings. Past few posts are just a little out of track!  Come on!’.

    While no-one (I am assuming, of course) likes negative feedback, I can understand where the reader is coming from.  There has been a shift in my writing recently.  I have been focusing more on factual information and less on personal observations.  It was a conscious decision to make the shift, but not necessarily a voluntary one.  Given the reader’s comment, I am going to try to inject my personality back into my posts.

    With a sort of an explanation of my recent change in posting style, let me get back to the content of my proposed post.  I chose the title of this blog for a couple of reason.  Firstly, and following on from  my post ‘when life gives you lemons’, I feel that life has thrown me a few lemons and limes recently, but rather than focusing on the negative, I wanted to turn my metaphorical and literal lemons and limes onto something more positive.  Secondly, I recently did some baking with limes and thought it would be a good idea to write about this bake and link it back to another metaphor.

    As you will remember, I have been trying out a number of vegan bakes of late.  The last time I wrote about them was in my Valentine post.  Since the Valentine post, I have only experimented with one more vegan bake, as well as had a lot of practice with vegan cookies as I now provide one of my customers with a batch of chocolate and a batch of macadamia and white chocolate vegan cookies on a weekly basis.

    A while back, I bought myself an Excalibur dehydrator with the intention of dehydrating a range of fruits to decorate my cakes.   For a long time after my purchase, my dehydrator lay dejected, gathering dust.  Sad for my dejected dehydrator and being reminded of how much my dehydrator cost me, I felt that it was high time that I brought my dehydrator out of hiding and dehydrated a bit of fruit.

    Having dehydrated various fruits (lemons, apples, oranges etc.) on my Diploma in Professional Patisserie, I religiously followed my Ashburton Cookery School recipe for dehydrated fruit – a recipe which involved simmering sliced lemons and limes in a stock syrup until translucent and then dehydrating them in the dehydrator until dry.

    Although I say that I followed the Ashburton Cookery School recipe religiously, this is not exactly correct as I think I inadvertently simmered my fruit in the stock syrup for too long so the fruit was less intact than it should have been.  The lemons and limes are supposed to be simmered until the pith becomes translucent.  Let’s just say that the piths were ‘stubborn little suckers’ and did not want to transform themselves from opaque to translucent.  As a result, and as I mentioned already, the end result was that my limes and lemons were less intact than they should have been.  That being said, the limes fared better than the lemons.

    Although not the perfect, I posted a photo of my dehydrated limes on my Instagram account, @bakebybuffy in which I tagged @excaliburdehydrator.  Their response was ‘Hopefully you’ll share the final product.  Dehydrated citrus + Baked Goods = 😋😍.  My response was that ‘I will definitely post when I make the final product’.  With this promise, I needed to find a bake that I could decorated with dehydrated limes.  Having been inspired with my Valentine bake of a vegan chocolate and raspberry cake, I thought that I could play around with the recipe a bit and make a vegan chocolate and lime cake.  It wasn’t exactly rocket science.  Instead of raspberries in the icing, I added lime juice and adjusted the other icing ingredients accordingly.  I also added some lime zest into the chocolate cake for some extra zing.  Most importantly however, I finished decorating the cakes with a bit of fresh lime zest and a dehydrated lime.  I was quite pleased with the final look, even if I say so myself.

    I tried the cake myself and gave one to my chief taste-tester, Jo (my husband).  I also gave a couple to my vegan/vegetarian neighbours.  By all accounts the end result was a successful bake.   Having promised to share a photo of the final product, I posted my chocolate and lime cakes on Instagram, tagging @excaliburdehydrator.  Their response was ‘Wow!😍 These look incredible!’.

    Happy with the overall result and positive comments about my bake, the title of my post seems quite apt: ‘when life gives you limes rearrange the letters until they say smile or better still, bake them into a chocolate cake and share them with family and friends.

  • What was all the flap(jack) about?

    A couple or so week’s ago I was contacted by a potential customer who had seen my profile on Instagram.  Within a couple of days I had met with the potential customer, put together a price list, shopped for ingredients and completed my first bake.

    The request was relatively straight forward, a batch of brownies and a batch of flapjacks.  Nothing that I hadn’t done before.  However, most of my brownie and flapjack baking was done when I was at Lynwood & Co. and as you will know if you have eaten at Lynwood & Co, both their flapjacks and brownies are exceedingly good.  Despite being exceedingly good and despite being familiar with their recipes, it would not have been right to use these recipes when baking for a potential customer.

    With about 24 hours in which to research, cook and deliver the bake, I did not have time to develop my own recipes from scratch.  So armed with an array of my cookbooks around me on my bed, as well as the Internet to hand, I scoured all the recipes I could to find a suitable flapjack and brownie.  I settled on the one flapjack recipe that I had baked in the last couple of years (other than the Lynwood & Co recipe of course) and a chocolate fudge brownie.

    The bakes were relatively straight forward, especially the flapjacks.  The chocolate fudge brownies were a little more complicated with a few more steps, including hand beating the eggs and sugar into a light, thick and smooth mixture with no sugar granules and melting the chocolate and butter in a Bain-Marie, stirring regularly and preventing the chocolate from getting too hot (simmering water which does not come into contact with the bottom of the bowl in which the chocolate and butter are being melted).

    With an order being placed for 15 brownies and 15 flapjacks, I cut the respective bakes into 15 pieces and delivered them to the potential customer.  As there were no pieces to spare, except for a few brownie crumbs, I was unable to taste my bakes before they were dispatched.

    This is not how I would normally operate.  My usual modus operandi is to allow potential customers to ‘try before they buy’ or at least test the bakes before I deliver them.  However this time, there was no time.

    Although the brownies went down well, the flapjacks needed to be more gooey and the size of the bakes were not quite right for the price that the customer wanted to charge for them.  Taking on board the feedback and rising to the challenge, I tweaked the original flapjack recipe.  I upped the quantity of ingredients as a whole to make larger flapjacks and tripled the amount of syrup to make them more gooey.  I also tried a second flapjack recipe, which professed to be the ‘best ever flapjack’.  Cutting both flapjacks into larger portions and tasting both flapjacks I headed off to drop off my bakes.

    A day later, I received the news that ‘taste-testers’ thought that both flapjacks were delicious but that they preferred the new recipe.  I have to confess that I had initially preferred the adapted original recipe, albeit that I thought it could do with a bit more syrup.  However, when I tried the flapjacks the following day, it was definitely the new recipe that I preferred.

    And with that, I now have a brownie and flapjack recipe under my belt and hopefully a happy customer who I can provide regular bakes to.  As they say, all is well that ends well.

  • Roses are red, violets are blue, be my Valentine & I’ll be yours too

    “I think that Valentine’s Day is only as good as you want it to be.  You know, I don’t think it should be anything fancy, nothing crazy.  As long as you’re spending time with that person that’s special, I think that’s a great Valentine’s Day.”  Prince Royce

    I tend to agree with Prince Royce (American singer and song writer) that Valentine’s day does not need to be anything fancy, nothing crazy.  So with this in mind, I bought my husband of 25 years a few of his favourite things: some coffee beans from Rave; a bottle of good red wine and a card.  The only thing that was missing was a personal gift from yours truly, so I decided to bake a cake.

    To backtrack a bit, Valentine’s day did not start off well.  I had the early shift at work (a 5.30am start) and no sooner had I walked through the door than the fire alarm went off for no rhyme or reason.  After struggling for a while I rang the doorbell of the gentleman upstairs to see whether he could reset the alarm – he was unable to do so.  So after one slightly distressed call to the Assistant Manager (it was his day off from the early shift), he came in and saved the day.  He reset the alarm and peace descended once again.

    All was going well until one of our regular customers came in and when I mentioned that my day had started badly because of the fire alarm going off (and me not being able to reset it) he said that he knew as he could hear the fire alarm going off down the road.  Feeling mortified that I had not only woken the gentleman upstairs, but possible others in the street, we got talking about Valentine’ day and our respective plans.  I mentioned that I was planning on baking my husband a cake.  To this, the gentleman said ‘what, just for your husband?’  With this question, I knew that I would now need to make a couple of cakes.  The least I could do under the circumstances.

    Still interested in exploring vegan baking, I found a recipe for vegan mini chocolate and raspberry loaf cakes on www.biddieskitchen.com.  The bake was a relatively straight forward one, albeit that the icing was something that I had not made before.  It was a combination of crushed, fresh raspberries, icing sugar, melted coconut oil, vanilla bean paste and a pinch of salt.  Although I said that the recipe was straightforward, I changed the method for the icing slightly.  Instead of combining and whisking the raspberry puree, coconut oil, vanilla bean paste together and then adding the icing sugar until the correct consistency was obtained, I combined the raspberry puree, vanilla bean paste, salt and icing sugar together and then gradually added the coconut oil until I got the required consistency.  This allowed me to created an icing which could be piped rather than spread on top of the mini loaf cakes.  Irrespective of the method, the end result was a rich and decadent chocolate cake with refreshing and tasty icing.  Not only was the icing refreshing and tasty, but it also had a lovely consistency to pipe.

    I tried out a couple of simple finishes – one with multi-coloured sprinkles and the other with heart-shaped sweets.  I boxed up the the cakes in a kraft boxes and tied them up with raffia and wooden hearts.  I kept the one with the hearts for my husband and then hand-delivered the other to the gentleman I had disturbed when I set off the alarm on Valentine’s morning.  He was delighted with his unexpected Valentine’s gift and had plans to eat a slice before an evening meal with some friends in the village.  Lo and behold, not long after I returned home, I got the message below in my inbox.

    “I can tell you straight away…..it’s delicious!  I’ve obeyed instructions and eaten the icing and the cake together….a perfect combination. And I rather like the bit of crunch with the little sugar sprinkles.

    Thank you very much…..and I hope you won’t have to bring a peace offering for any sounds that might go off tonight!! On the other hand…….”

    My husband eventually got his cake when he returned home that evening, after a few days away on business.  I am not sure who was more excited at receiving their cake, but it seems that both enjoyed their sweet treat.  As they say ‘the way to man’s heart is through their stomach’.

  • Life is what you bake of it – vegan baking

    As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been focusing on vegan baking recently.   Although I have baked a couple of vegan bakes in the past (an apple and rhubarb cake and chocolate and hazelnut cookies when I was the prep chef at Lynwood & Co) I was keen to explore vegan baking further.  Firstly, as part of my 52 week challenge, I wanted to explore a different type of baking.  Secondly, as veganism is on the increase, I wanted to be able to offer my current and future customers a range of vegan bakes.

    I started by making a chocolate sheet cake using a recipe from www.domesticgothness.com.   The first step was to make a ganache so that it could cool down in the fridge while the cake was being made.  I have made traditional ganache many times, both at Ashburton Cookery School and since I left the School, but I have never made a ganache with coconut oil.  It worked very well.  The only thing I would do differently next time is cool it for shorter as I had to work the ganache quite a bit to get it into a spreadable form to ice the cake.

    The chocolate sheet cake was a simple bake.  A simple recipe of mixing the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another and then whisking in the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until smooth.  It is important not to over mix the batter as this with develop the gluten in the flour and make the cake tough.

    A possible unusual element of the bake was the use of cider vinegar, something I haven’t really used in cake baking in the past.  I was aware that cider vinegar is widely used in vegan baking, so it wasn’t a surprise that it popped up as one of the ingredients.   Info: cider vinegar is used for its leavening and flavour enhancing properties.

    The end result was a delicious-tasting, light chocolate cake with a lovely texture.  The coconut milk ganache added a decadence to the bake and the eating.  I have included the recipe below in case you wish to give it a try.  Happy baking!

    Chocolate sheet cake

    Ingredients

    Ganache

    • 200g dairy free dark chocolate
    • 100g dairy free milk chocolate
    • 250ml full fat coconut milk

     Cake

    •  480 ml unsweetened almond milk (or other plant milk)
    • 2tsp cider vinegar
    • 250g caster sugar
    • 100g light brown soft sugar
    • 200ml sunflower oil
    • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
    • 300g plain flour
    • 100g cocoa powder
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 1 ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
    • ½ tsp salt

    Method

    •  Start by making the ganache. Chop the chocolate finely and place in a heat-proof bowl. Heat the coconut milk until it is just coming up to the boil.
    • Pour the hot milk over the chocolate and set aside for two minutes then stir until melted and smooth. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge to set for about 2 hours while you make the cake.
    • Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line a 23 x 33cm rectangular cake tin.
    • Whisk together the almond milk, vinegar, caster sugar, brown sugar, sunflower oil and vanilla extract in a bowl.
    • In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt.
    • Gradually whisk the wet ingredients into the dry until smooth.
    • Pour the batter into the prepared tin and spread level.  Bake for 25-35 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
    • Leave the cake to cool in the tin.  Once cool, carefully flip it out onto a wire rack.
    • When the ganache is thick and spreadable, spread the ganache over the top of the cake and top with chocolate curls.  If the ganache is too runny when checked, return it to the fridge/freezer until it is firm.  If it is too thick, warm it over a pan of hot water until it has softened.
    • The cake will keep for up to five days in an airtight container at room temperature.  If it is warm, place the cake in the fridge so that the ganache doesn’t become too soft.

    Like many people, I am partial to a lemon cake.  So when considering baking vegan cakes, I knew I had to include a lemon cake in my repertoire.   I came across a recipe for an iced lemon cake on www.allrecipes.co.uk.  As with the chocolate cake, the cake was a simple one.  Mixing wet ingredients into sifted dry ingredients.  The iced lemon cake was even easier to make than the chocolate cake as the icing was simply, sieved icing sugar mixed with lemon juice to the right consistency.  Despite the simplicity of the bake, the recipe (see below) yielded another delicious, well-textured cake.

    Iced lemon cake

    Ingredients

    • 275g self raising flour
    • 200g caster sugar
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 1 lemon, juiced and zested
    • 100ml vegetable oil
    • 200ml cold water
    • 150g icing sugar

    Method

    • Preheat oven to 180 C. Grease and line a loaf tin.
    • Add the sieved flour, sugar, baking powder and lemon zest to a large bowl. Mix the juice of half a lemon, oil and water. Add to the bowl and stir mixture until thoroughly combined.
    • Pour into the tin and bake until a skewer comes out clean, approximately 30 minutes.  Remove from the tin after 10 minutes and leave to completely cool before adding the icing.
    • To make the icing, sieve the icing sugar into a bowl and mix in enough of the remaining lemon juice until it is thick enough to pour over the cake.  Avoid adding too much juice into the mixture or the icing will run down the sides and form a puddle at the base.

    My final vegan cake as part of my foray into vegan baking, was a vegan ginger cake with orange and almond from www.littlesugarsnaps.com.

    Vegan ginger cake with orange and almond

    Ingredients

    For the Cake

    • 75g caster sugar
    • 75g dark brown sugar
    • 175g plain flour
    • 50g ground almonds
    • 1 tsp Baking powder
    • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
    • ¼ tsp Salt
    • 4 tsp ground ginger
    • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
    • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
    • 60 ml rapeseed (canola) oil
    • 120 ml almond milk
    • 100 ml orange juice (freshly squeezed)
    • ¾ tsp almond extract
    • ¾ tsp vanilla extract
    • 2 tbsp syrup from a jar of stem ginger
    • Zest from 2 oranges

     Icing

    •  160 icing sugar
    • 25 ml orange juice

     Topping

    • Flaked almonds
    • Crystalised ginger (chopped fine)

    Method

    Cake

    •  Preheat oven to 170C and grease & line a loaf tin with baking parchment.
    • Firstly, remove lumps from the brown sugar.
    • Measure all dry ingredients into a bowl (sugars, flour, ground almonds, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt). Stir to combine.
    • Measure all wet ingredients (oil, milk, juice, extracts, syrup) in a bowl or jug.  Whisk with a whisk until blended. Add the orange zest.
    • Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and beat together with the whisk until just combined.
    • Pour the cake batter into the loaf tin and bake for 50-60 minutes.  After 50 minutes test with a skewer – if it comes out clean the cake is cooked. If not, return to the oven and bake for a few more minutes before testing again.
    • Once baked, set aside to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove from the tin and baking paper and let cool completely on a cooling rack.

    Finishing

    • Mix the icing sugar with 3 tsp of orange juice until smooth.  Add more orange juice, bit by bit, until you obtain the correct consistency (dropping).
    • Spoon the icing over the cake and spread it with a palette knife to cover the top – it drip down the sides.
    • Sprinkle finely chopped crystallised ginger and almond flakes across the top of the cake.
    • Leave to set slightly before serving.
    • Store in an airtight container for 2-3 days.
  • How to swap this for that to make it vegan

    As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been dabbling a bit in vegan baking of late.  I guess it was triggered by veganuary, albeit I did explore vegan baking a bit when I was the prep chef at Lynwood & Co.  Although I will write about my recent vegan bakes shortly, I thought that I would share the fundamentals of vegan baking with you.

    As you will be aware, the principal of veganism is that no animal-derived ingredients are used or consumed.  This means that when ‘baking vegan’ certain traditional baking ingredients e.g. eggs, milk, butter, honey etc. need to be replaced with non animal-derived ingredients.

    With so many non-dairy milks on the market, replacing milk in baking is pretty straight-forward.  Common varieties are soya, almond, oat, rice and coconut.  It is best to use a unsweetened variety of non-dairy milk when substituting for milk as adding a sweetened non-dairy milk, without adjusting the sugar in the recipe is likely to affect the overall sweetness of the bake.  Hazelnut milk and chocolate soya milk can also be used when baking chocolate cakes, albeit that the sugar in the recipe will need to be reduced.

    Quite a few recipes call for buttermilk.  For a simple buttermilk replacement, add 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar per 250ml of soya milk.  Stir with a fork, and leave to curdle for a few minutes before using.

    As with milk, replacing oil and fat in vegan recipes is also quite straight forward.  The role of oil and fat in baking is three-fold: (1) bind ingredients together; (2) add moisture and (3) provide depth of flavour.

    A range of oils can be used in vegan baking.  A commonly used oil is rapeseed oil as it is light in flavour, as well as can withstand high temperatures.   Coconut oil, is also good for baking, albeit that it has a more distinctive flavour than rapeseed oil.  As coconut oil is solid at room temperature but liquid when melted, it is quite versatile i.e. it can be used to replace a solid or liquid fat.

    Although vegan margarine is more processed than the likes of coconut oil, it does have a role to play in vegan baking.  Vegan margarine is most suitable for bakes which require the ‘taste’ that the vegan margarine offers e.g.  cookies.

    If you are thinking of replacing butter with oil, for half a cup of butter (110g) use third a cup of oil.

    Again, replacing honey in vegan baking is relatively straightforward.  There are a variety of alternative sweeteners to honey e.g maple syrup, agave nectar.  You can also use sweeteners such as rice and date syrup, albeit that date syrup has a stronger flavour and is darker in colour so is only suitable for some bakes e.g. flapjacks or bakes containing dates.   Sugar beet, granulated sugar, labelled suitable for vegans is also a suitable for vegan baking.

    Although at first sight it might appear that eggs are more difficult to replace than other ingredients, there are in fact a number of egg substitutes.  As www.onegreenplanet.org suggest ‘Why did it ever come about that eggs got used in a cake in the first place? Well who knows, especially when there are so many cheaper-to-use and just-as-effective options out there – as war-time housewives discovered when eggs were rationed and in short supply.’

    That being said, eggs or egg substitutes have an important role to play in baking.  They are used to bind, help retain moisture, create the crumb texture, lift, thicken and add colour and flavour.  Common egg substitutes and their uses include:

    • Apple sauce (3-4 tbsp unsweetened apple sauce): brownies, muffins and cakes
    • Chia seeds (1 tbsp of ground chia seeds with 3 tbsp of water, allowed to sit for 5-10 minutes until thickened – mix with fork before adding to other ingredients): cookies
    • Mashed banana (half a banana): brownies, muffins and cakes
    • Ground flaxseed mixed with water (1 tbsp of ground flaxseeds with 3 tbsp of water): good for muffins, breads and cookies
    • Silken tofu (3-4 tbsp of silken tofu processed in blender until smooth): brownies, custard pies and thick cakes
    • Soy yoghurt (3-4 tbsp)
    • Starches (2 tbsp arrowroot, cornstarch, potato starch with 3 tbsp water): breads and cakes
    • Vegan buttermilk (soya milk mixed with apple cider vinegar): for bakes requiring buttermilk
    • Mashed vegetables (3-4 tbsp mashed potato, sweet potato, canned pumpkin, canned squash): savoury breads and muffins.
    • Vinegar and baking soda (1 tsp baking soda with 1 tbsp of white or apple cider vinegar): cakes and quick breads.

    (Sources: www.veganuary.com and www.onegreenplanet.org)

    And for something a little different,  aquafaba (brine from chick peas) meringues:

    •  90ml  aquafaba (liquid from a can of chickpeas)
    • ¼  tsp Cream of Tartar
    • 100g white sugar
    • ½ tsp vanilla extract

    Method

    • Place the chickpea liquid and cream of tartar into the bowl of an electric mixer.
    • Start at slow speed and whip until foamy.
    • Gradually increase the speed until white and glossy and stiff peaks start to form.
    • Add the sugar in slowly while whipping at fast speed.
    • Add in the vanilla.
    • Keep whipping until glossy stiff peaks form.
    • Preheat your oven to 121°C.
    • Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
    • Pipe the meringue mix into cookie shapes onto the parchment lined tray.
    • Place the meringues into the oven and bake for 45 minutes.  After 45 minutes, switch off the oven but DON’T OPEN IT.  Leave the oven off, but don’t open it for one hour.
    • Remove the meringues from the oven after the combined cooking time.
    • When cool place in an airtight container and store them in the fridge.

    (Source: www.lovingitvegan.com)

    Although I have talked about vegan substitutes in traditional recipes, there are many vegan recipes on the Internet, which don’t require any substitution at all.

  • The straw that broke the camel’s back

    “The straw that broke the camel’s back’, a seemingly minor or routine action that causes an unpredictably large and sudden reaction, because of the cumulative effect of small actions’ (Wikipedia).

    You will know if you have read any of my recent posts that I am partial to a crumble slice.  In fact you will be aware that I have been making quite a number of them:  mincemeat crumble slices, apple crumble slices and yesterday, I added to the list by making a pear and ginger crumble tart (really just a slice in a tart form).  Why, you might ask?  Well, I need to try out a few more crumble slices before my new adventure at the end of March.  I also needed to complete the fifth week of my 52 week challenge and I felt that a tart rather than a slice filled the brief better, albeit that in retrospect I think that my choice of bake may have been a bit of a cop out (not strictly patisserie).

    Despite me thinking that my choice was possibly a bit of a cop out, the bake went well.  I am used to making the crumble bottom and top (a simple mixture of plain flour, caster sugar and melted butter) but I wanted to try another filling.  As I had bought some pears a week or so back, which were definitely past their best so I thought I would make a pear and ginger filling.

    Rather than trying out a new recipe, I played around with the apple filling from Donna Hay’s recipe for apple crumble slice.  I cooked the pears with some sugar, butter, sultanas and ground ginger.  Given that the pears were not at their best, I had to discard quite a lot of pear before I started the filling, so the end result was less voluminous than I would usually have.  When it came to spreading the filling over the already baked base, it didn’t take long to realise that I my filling was a little scant.  I spread the filling as evenly as I could, but felt that the ratio of filling to biscuit base/crumble would have been out so with wishful thinking I opened my larder cupboard to see whether I had a tin of pears stashed away.  Lucky for me, I did.  Even luckier for me, they were in date.  I cut up most of the tinned pears and interspersed them between the pear filling.  The extra pears seemed to do the trick.

    After topping the filling with the crumble topping (which I had scattered a few chopped, toasted hazelnuts through for good measure) and baking it for the required 35 minutes, all that remained was to let my creation cool and then tuck into it.  Although it was a good bake, albeit that the ginger could have been a little stronger, I came to the realisation that after all these months of making crumble slices that maybe I was a little crumbled out.  Both making them and eating them. You could say that this crumble tart was ‘the straw that broke the camels back’.  Hence the title of this blog.

    Despite being all crumbled out, I won’t have any rest from making them as I have a weekly order for an apple crumble slice, but I think I need to give the taste testing a rest for a little while.  In fact, despite my grand plan to do 52 patisserie challenges this year, I think I am going to have to deviate from my plan for a little while (so soon, I hear you say).

    Rather than focusing on sweet bakes for a while (my sweet taste buds and waist line are a little over saturated and my husband is starting to blame me for a extra kilogram or two that he has put on over recent months), I am going to shift my challenge to two areas (1) more savoury bakes and (2) vegan bakes.

    The first, for two reasons.  Firstly, after weeks of baking sweet things, I am craving savoury food.  Secondly, scrolling through Instagram the other day, I came across a post from Nathan Outlaw, promoting a new book from Richard Bertinet, called ‘Crumb: show the dough who’s boss’.  It didn’t take my brain much persuading to pop into Waterstones on the weekend to pick up a copy.  It was so fresh off the press that they hadn’t even put the book on the shelves when I asked whether they had a copy of it.  Needless to say, it is a gem of a book and I am hoping to try my first recipe or two from it this weekend.

    The second is that, with the rapid increase of people exploring a vegan lifestyle or at least dabbling in it from time to time, I am keen to try out more vegan baking recipes.  I have already started experimenting in this area and plan to write a couple of posts on about my foray in vegan baking next.