• Mince pies and all things Christmas

    Okay, I have to let you into a bit of a secret.  Last year when I was working at Lynwood & Co I was responsible for making the mince pies at Christmas.  As you will know from my posts at the time these went down very well, especially with the gentleman (and photographer) who lives in the flat above the Coln Community Stores.  What I didn’t mention at the time was that while the mince pies were indeed delicious, they were made with ready-made puff pastry and mincemeat.   I was just responsible for cutting the pastry to shape (the bases and stars); filling the pastry shells; baking them (of course to perfection – tongue firmly in cheek) and dusting them with a light dusting of icing sugar.  As we had to make a lot of them at Lynwood & Co, it would not have been commercially viable to make the mincemeat or the pastry from scratch on a regular basis.

    However, chatting to one of the regular customers at the Coln Community Stores recently, she mentioned that she enjoyed almond pastry mince pies.  Intrigued by her suggestion and also feeling that I should at least make mincemeat from scratch once in my life, I set about finding a recipe for almond mince pies.  It didn’t take long to find a recipe on the Delicious magazine website.

    The first step was to make the mincemeat.  I didn’t realise that making mincemeat was such a prolonged process (okay, I exaggerate, but it did take longer than I thought it would).  The first thing I needed to do was leave all of the mixed, mincemeat ingredients overnight to macerate.  The following day the mincemeat was cooked out at a low temperature for a couple of hours before placing it in steralised jars.  I left my mincemeat to ‘mature’ for a couple of days (not much time to mature, I know, but I was keen to try out the mince pies).  I then set about making the almond shortcrust pastry, which was relatively straight forward, albeit a bit more fragile than normal shortcrust pastry.  I chose to make mince pies topped with almond pastry stars rather than ‘lids’.  After 20 minutes in the oven, the pastry stars were still looking a bit anaemic so I left my pies in the oven for another 5 minutes.  In retrospect I should have only cooked them for a couple more minutes instead of 5 minutes as although not a mitigated disaster the pastry was still a bit over-baked.  That being said, overall, I think the pies tasted relatively good.  I took a couple to my Mum’s house and as my greatest critic, she was quick to point out that although she liked the pies, she felt that the mincemeat could have matured more before using.  She was correct of course (although don’t tell her), as the alcohol was still quite strong.

    With my Mum’s voice ringing in my ears, I left my mincemeat to mature for about 10 days before I incorporated it into another bake.  This time a Christmas cake, which just happened to be another recipe from Delicious magazine; a recipe for spiced rum butter mincemeat cake.  As I already had my own mincemeat, I used this instead of the rum butter mincemeat suggested in the recipe.

    I have to say that despite being on this planet for over half a century, this was the first Christmas cake that I have ever made. I have made many a fruit loaf or malted fruit loaf but never a Christmas cake.  What I found interesting about the bake, was that I had to line the tin with two layers of baking paper on the inside and newspaper on the the outside, as well as a wadge of newspaper underneath.  On top of all this protection from the heat and drying out during a two hour bake, I then had to cover the cake with a double layer of baking paper with a small hole cut out in the centre.  After two hours, the cake was looking well baked, albeit slightly under-coloured on top.  I took the decision to cook the cake for a little longer without the baking paper on top to get it a little more coloured.  While I don’t think this was entirely the wrong decision, I think I should have possibly left it as the recipe said – a two hour bake.

    No sooner had I baked and cooled the cake, and before I had time to wrap it and feed it alcohol for Christmas, my husband suggested that the cake would not last until Christmas.  He was right.  When I came home from work the next day, half the cake had disappeared.  My husband had taken it with him on a business trip to Holland, where he proceeded to eat most of it for breakfast on the few days that he was away.  As the cake was half eaten, I felt that there was no point trying to save the other half until Christmas so I have had a few pieces since then.  It is a lovely flavoursome cake with a boozy kick.  The only thing I would change if I made the cake again (as I suggested earlier) is reduce the baking time slightly as the cake is slightly crumbly – possibly the result of being slightly over-baked or otherwise being so jam-packed with fruit.

    As I was finishing my blog post, one of my neighbours knocked on the door and asked whether I would make 48 mince pies for the Coln Community Stores volunteers’ Christmas party.  Although I enjoyed the almond mince pies, I am not sure whether the almond pastry is my favourite, so I think I may need to experiment a bit before the 10 December.  I will keep you posted.  In the meantime, I will leave you with the mincemeat recipe that I used in my almond pastry mince pies and Christmas cake, as this is definitely a winner.

    Mince meat

    Ingredients

    • 340g sultanas
    • 250g raisins
    • 140g currants
    • 50g dried cranberries, finely chopped
    • 250g Pink Lady apples, peeled and cubed
    • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
    • Zest of 2 oranges, juice of 3
    • 50g candied orange peel
    • 300g dark muscovado sugar
    • 1 ball stem ginger, finely chopped
    • 3 tsp cinnamon
    • 1 ½ tsp cloves
    • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
    • 1 tsp all spice
    • Pinch of sea salt
    • 90g shredded vegetarian suet
    • 90g unsalted butter, melted
    • 150g flaked almonds, toasted
    • 160ml Grand Marnier, or ordinary cognac

    Method

    • Stir the dried fruit together in a large bowl.  Dice the apples and add them to the bowl, grate over the lemon zest; squeeze in the juice and stir to coat the fruit.  Next add the orange zest and juice, sugar, spices, peel, salt and fat then stir until everything is evenly coated. If using ordinary cognac, add the zest of the 3rd orange.  Carefully fold through the almonds. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave in a warm spot overnight, stirring occasionally to agitate the flavours.
    • Preheat oven to 90°C fan.   Place the mincemeat to a baking tray, cover the top with foil and bake for 2 hours.  Set aside to cool slightly, and then stir in the alcohol.   Transfer to sealable sterilised jars.
  • Autumnal pizzas

    Scrolling through my Instagram account a couple or so weeks back I came across an OoniHQ post about an autumnal pizza using spiced pumpkin puree instead of tomato sauce, which was topped with zucchini, pine nuts and fresh chilli.

    Scrolling down even further I came across another autumnal pizza topped with butternut squash, chilli, mascarpone, mozzarella and basil.

    Inspired and intrigued by these more unconventional toppings and with a couple of butternut squashes in my fridge from our neighbour who has a very productive vegetable garden, I decided that I would give both of the pizzas a go.

    Not put off by the autumnal weather and the dark (it only added to the theme), my husband, Jo, fired up our UuniPro.  Okay, he didn’t fire up our UuniPro immediately as I had quite a few preparations to do (if you own an UuniPro, you will know that it doesn’t take very long to get to the required temperature) but he did when he knew that I was nearly ready for the pizzas to be cooked.

    When I say that I had a few preparations, I mean the making of the pizza dough and in this case, the making of the pumpkin puree.  If I can say so myself (although they do say that pride comes before a fall), I have got my tried and tested pizza dough down to a fine art.  In the early days, I used to knead the dough by hand but one day when I was pressed for time I decided to use my trusty Kenwood instead.  Releasing 10 minutes of my time to do other preparations, the dough was kneaded just as well with my Kenwood dough hook than by hand.  That being said, I always finish the dough off with a bit of hand kneading before proving, just to ensure that the dough is beautifully smooth and elastic.

    The pumpkin puree was made by simply roasting and pureeing the pumpkin and then adding olive oil, garlic and seasoning.  Once the dough was proven, divided and shaped, the only thing left to do was to top both varieties of the pizza with the pumpkin puree, add the respective toppings and bake them in my UuniPro.  I should possibly mention that Ooni’s recipe for one of the pizzas was for a vegan pizza i.e. pumpkin puree, courgette and chilli.  I added a bit of mozzarella as I am a bit of a cheese fiend.  I am sure that it was not necessary, but I personally loved the addition of a bit of melted mozarella.

    The result of my husband and my toil was two vibrant and delicious varieties of pizza.  Warming to look at and warming to eat (aided of course by the hint of chilli on both) – perfect for an autumnal evening.

    Inspired by my autumnal pizza experimentation, I used the remaining two portions of pizza dough the following night to make another non-tomato based pizza.  This time, I topped my pizza dough with a mound of mushrooms, sauteed in olive oil and garlic.  To this, I added a generous sprinkle of freshly ground pepper, mascarpone and Parmesan before baking.  With the final addition of fresh parsley before serving, Jo and I tucked into another delicious pizza.  I have to say that this concoction was a treat for the taste buds and definitely one to be repeated.

    Having bought our UuniPro this year, I have definitely been stretching myself (and a lot of pizza dough) when it comes to pizza toppings.  With the ideas on Ooni’s Instagram and Facebook pages, as well as their website, I don’t think I will ever be short of ideas.

  • At Nigella’s table

    For quite some time now we have not had access to terrestrial TV.   In the absence of terrestrial TV, I got a little hooked on Netflix.  Initially, it was ‘research’ where I watched almost every cookery programme on Netflix:

    • Chef’s Table
    • Chuck and Danny’s Road Trip
    • Cook your Ass Off
    • Martha Bakes
    • Rebel Without a Kitchen
    • Sugar Rush
    • Ugly Delicious
    • Zumbo’s Just Desserts

    After almost exhausting what Netflix had to offer cookery-wise, I have to admit that I got a little hooked on ‘box sets’, watching back to back episodes over a short period of time.  Not a good use of my time when I should have been concentrating my efforts on setting up a business.

    Anyway after being devoid of terrestrial television for a while, I was delighted to be able to watch a range of cookery programmes when our aerial was finally fixed; programmes like The Great British Menu; Great British Bake Off and At Nigella’s Table.

    Not long after I started watching At Nigella’s Table, Nigella made a ginger and walnut carrot cake.  As a huge fan of ginger, I loved the fact that the cake contained three types: ground ginger, crystalised ginger and fresh ginger.   I first made the cake a month back and it was met with great enthusiasm when I took it into the Coln Community Stores for my colleagues to try.   The second incarnation of Nigella’s ginger and walnut carrot cake was a celebration cake for my mother’s 78th Birthday today (5th November).   My plan was to use the ginger and walnut carrot cake as a base for a bonfire style cake.  The colours of the cake lent themselves to being a bonfire cake, as did the crystallised ginger and walnut pieces  which decorated the cream cheese icing.  Despite having an excellent base, I wanted to elevate the cake by topping it with honeycomb and caramel shards; so yesterday morning my mission began.  I started by making the cake and the icing.  While the cake was baking and the icing was cooling in the fridge I turned my attention to making the honeycomb and caramel shards.  Working with sugar is always a potentially difficult task, as not heating it enough will give you an insipid and poorly set end result.  Heating it too much will make the end result too dark with a burnt taste.  It was my lucky day and both the honeycomb and caramel came out as I had hoped.  The only thing I would have changed was to use a non-textured baking paper and tray as my honeycomb had a bit of an unwanted texture to it.

    With all my component parts made, I assembled my cake.  I iced my ginger and walnut carrot cake with a generous layer of cream cheese icing, flavoured with fresh ginger and topped it with a scattering of crystallised ginger and walnut pieces.  I then added my shards of honeycomb and caramel.  I left adding my shards to the last moment as I knew that the moisture in the icing would start to dissolve the sugar in the honeycomb and caramel.  I then crossed my fingers hoping that all would be well at the big reveal at my Mum’s Birthday lunch.  The aim was to add sparklers at the last moment for a grand bonfire cake.  Unfortunately it was not to be.  The pub was so warm that the heat contributed to the melting of the shards (not completely, but the shards became a little wilted in the heat).  To add insult to injury, I was not allowed to bring out the cake at dessert time (the pub required us to eat their desserts), so I didn’t add the ‘crowning’ glory, the sparklers , to my bonfire extravaganza.  With my family dissipating in different directions after lunch, the best I could do is send them off with pieces of carrot cake without its crowning glory.  Thank goodness I took a photo of the cake with its honeycomb and caramel shards before we headed off for lunch.  However, despite this my vision for my bonfire cake was never fully realised.

    Irrespective of my slight disappointment, nothing can take away from the fact that Nigella’s cake, without any added decoration, is a triumph in itself.  So much so that I am sharing it with you below.

    Ginger and walnut carrot cake

     Ingredients

     Cake

    •  200g plain flour
    • 1tsp baking powder
    • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
    • 2 tsp ground ginger
    • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
    • 175g soft light brown sugar
    • 2 large free-range eggs at room temperature
    • 200ml vegetable oil, plus extra for greasing
    • 200g carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
    • 100g walnut pieces, roughly chopped, plus extra for decorating
    • 75g crystallised ginger, finely chopped, plus extra for decorating

    Icing

    • 100g butter, softened
    • 100g icing sugar, sieved if lumpy
    • 1 tsp cornflour
    • 100g cream cheese
    • 1 tbsp coarsely grated fresh ginger

    Method

    • Preheat the oven to 150C Fan and grease the sides and line the base of a 20cm springform cake tin with baking paper.
    • Mix the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, ground ginger and salt together in a bowl.
    • Beat the sugar, eggs and oil in another large bowl until they are completely mixed together, then gradually add the flour mixture. At this stage the mixture may seem alarmingly stiff, but the carrots will loosen it up. Beat in the carrots and then fold in the walnuts and crystallised ginger, until everything is evenly combined.
    • Spoon into the prepared tin. Don’t worry if it looks as if you haven’t got enough batter, as the cake will rise well as it bakes. Smooth the top and bake for 55 minutes (as much as an hour). When it’s ready, the cake will be set and golden-brown on top, beginning to shrink away from the edges of the tin and a cake tester will come out with just a few crumbs stuck to it. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool in its tin.
    • Meanwhile, to make the icing, beat the butter and icing sugar together and when combined, beat in the cornflour, followed by half the cream cheese. Once that’s incorporated, beat in the remaining half. Be careful not to over-beat or the icing will get too runny. Squeeze the juice from the grated ginger into the bowl and mix in, discard the ginger flesh. Cover with cling film and place in the fridge.
    • When the cake is completely cold, take the icing out of the fridge for about 20 minutes. Beat briefly to make sure it’s smooth. Remove the cake from its tin and place on a plate or cake stand. Spread the icing on top, swirling it a little, then sprinkle some chopped walnuts and crystallised ginger on top.

    Source: www.bbc.com (Nigella Lawson)

  • Baked green tomatoes at Main Street, Coln St Aldwyns

    My very lovely colleague at the Coln Community Stores had an abundance of green tomatoes which he didn’t know what to do with, so he gave them to me.

    He said that he knew that I you could make fried green tomatoes and chutney with them but he wasn’t sure what else you could make out of green tomatoes.  He challenged me to come up with some ideas.  Green tomato chutney was definitely on the list when I searched for green tomato recipes on the Internet.  Green tomato and bacon soup was also one of the results.  Not long into my search I came across an article entitled ’15 fabulous green tomato recipes’ by The Spruce Eats.  Their suggestions included:

    • green tomato rice
    • easy fried green tomatoes
    • sweetcorn and green tomato fritters
    • bacon, lettuce and friend green tomato sandwich
    • green tomato soup with country ham
    • green tomato ketchup
    • green tomato relish
    • green tomato cake
    • sweet and tangy green tomato pickles
    • green tomato pie
    • green tomato quick bread

    Intrigued by the idea of a green tomato cake, but inspired to make a green tomato pie, I searched the Internet for green tomato pies to see which one I liked best.  After a bit of a search, I found a recipe by Roti n Rice ( www.rotinrice.com) for a green tomato pie which appealed to me even more than the one offered by The Spruce Eats.

    After trying one of the green tomatoes raw (it was quite bitter), I started to doubt my choice of recipe, but having already made the pastry, which was slightly sweetened with sugar, I thought I would persevere.  I am glad that I did.  The tart, with layers of cheddar cheese, caramelised onions and green tomatoes, topped with herbs, feta and mint was absolutely delicious.  It certainly did not feed the number it was intended to feed (eight) and we wolfed down half the tart in no time at all.  Although the tart was delicious, there are two things I would do differently if (or when) I cook the tart again: (1) I would use a shallower tart tin as the ratio of filling to pastry was not quite right and (2) I would bake the pastry less as it was a little too brown, albeit that the colour of the pastry did not detract from the overall taste of the tart.

    So pleased was I with the result that I have decided to share the recipe with you:

    Ingredients:

    Pastry

    • 200g cup plain flour
    • 1 tbsp icing sugar
    • 85g cold salted butter (cubed)
    • 3 to 4 tbsp cold water

    Filling

    • 28g butter
    • 2 medium onions (thinly sliced)
    • 170g grated cheese
    • 450g green cherry tomatoes (halved)
    • ½ tsp dried thyme
    • ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
    • ½ tsp salt

     Garnish

    • 30g feta
    • 5g mint

    Method:

    Pastry/Tart case

    1. Place plain flour, icing sugar, and cold salted butter into a bowl.  Rub the butter into the flour and sugar mixture until it resembles coarse bread crumbs.  Add cold water and mix until a sticky dough forms.
    2. Place the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Form into a disc and wrap in cling film.   Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
    3. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius.
    4. Remove the dough from the fridge.  Unwrap the dough and roll into a 30 cm circle.
    5. Place the rolled-out dough into a 23 cm loose bottom tart tin.  Press the dough evenly into the bottom and sides of the tart tin. Trim the dough to the edges of the tart tin.
    6. Prick the dough with a fork. Line the dough with baking paper and baking beans and bake for 15 minutes.

    Filling

    1. While the tart case is in the oven, melt the butter in a frying pan. Add the onions and cook until light golden (about 10 minutes).

    Putting the tart together

    1. Remove the tart case out of the oven and increase the oven temperature to 200 degrees Celsius.
    2. Layer 115g of grated cheese evenly over the tart crust followed by the caramelised onions.
    3. Arranged the halved green cherry tomatoes on the top of the caramelised onions.
    4. Sprinkle dried thyme, ground pepper, and salt over the tomatoes. Bake for 30 minutes.
    5. Remove the tart from the oven and sprinkle the remaining 55g of grated cheese over the top.  Return the tart to the oven and bake for another 10 minutes.

    Garnish

    1. Remove tart from the oven. Sprinkle the feta and mint leaves over the top.  Serve.

    [Source: Roti n Rice]

    Happy baking

  • Video debut in my quest at becoming an Uuni Pro

    As you already know, I am the proud owner of an Uuni Pro and have been for a fair few months.  We have had a Summer of eating wood-fired pizzas cooked in our Uuni Pro shared with family and friends, as well as with the residents of Coln St Alwyns and the surrounding villages at the the Coln St Aldwyns fete in early September.

    As you will also know, I have an Instagram account called ‘bakebybuffy’ and being a proud owner of an Uuni Pro, I follow Ooni on Instagram.   While scrolling through my Instagram feed on the 14 September 2018, as I do every morning as a means of keeping awake after my alarm goes off, I came across the following on oonihq:

    ‘Attention all pizza lovers!  We’re searching for Pizza Taste Testers – these are paid roles combining working on and tasting new recipes, being the first to give our new products a whirl, and showcasing Ooni to the world through your social media profiles.  Sound like you?  Click the link in our bio to read the full job description’.

    Reading through the post, I felt that the job had my name written all over it.  Since reading the post and seeing the 927 likes and 232 comments, I have realised that many people feel the same way.  As they say though ‘you have to be in it to win it’ so over the last few weeks I have been working on my 1 minute video application, which Ooni want instead of a traditional CV application.

    Filled with excitement, my friend Colin from Design and Code and I came up with an idea for a video – my Uuni Pro and I on the road.  Initially we planned to take our Uuni Pro on the road down to Devon where Jo and I were spending the weekend, so that he could finally pick up the surfboard that he had painstakingly handcrafted out of poplar for his 50 Birthday in June.  We had offered to cook pizzas for all the surfers on the Saturday night, but the owner of Otter Surfboards had already made arrangements for Canteen to provide the evening meal.  We had also thought of making pizzas on the beach on Sunday as the sun went down, but none of this happened as the weather over the weekend was some of the worst weather we had for a while – torrential downpours.  Not deterred, we decided on plan B.   Not quite as exotic as Plan A but a plan nevertheless.

    Late on the Friday afternoon, we decided to stop overnight at our in-laws in Bath en route to Devon.  As we had imposed ourselves on them at a late stage, we offered to take our Uuni Pro with us and cook pizzas for the family.  I started the dough at home, trusting that it would prove on our 1.5 hour journey to Bath.  It did – by the time we got to Bath, the dough had proved well.  As soon as we arrived, Jo unloaded the Uuni Pro and set it up for lighting.  At the same time, I got on to making the tomato sauce and caramelised onions and prepping the toppings and the pizza bases.  The whole process took 3 hours (starting at 17.45 pm and finishing at 20.45 pm with us sitting down to eat a range of four pizzas), including a 1.5 hour trip from Coln St Aldwyns to Bath.  Not bad, even if I say so myself and certainly helped by the efficiency of my Uuni Pro – transporting, setting up and lighting and cooking (60 seconds).  I should possibly mention the most important part i.e. that we were shooting footage of all the stages as we went so that I could put together the 1 minute video required for the application.  Although there is always room for improvement, the evening resulted in us having enough video footage for my application.  We also had delicious pizzas for dinner – an added bonus.

    Since our pizza making evening in Bath we have been working on editing the footage into a 1 minute video fit for submission.  After quite a bit of tweaking, I finally submitted my application on Tuesday.  The closing date for applications is the 14 October so I will have to be patient for a few days.  I am crossing all appendages until then.  If successful, I will definitely share my video with you.

  • Baking for a good cause?

    Earlier last week one of the volunteers at the Coln Community Stores asked me if I would bake him a couple of loaf cakes for the Macmillan’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning, a lemon drizzle and a fruit loaf.  Not only did he ask me if I would bake for him, but that he would pay me for the fruits of my labour.  I jumped at the chance, both of paid employment as well as baking for such a worthwhile cause.  I did offer to bake the cakes at cost for such a good cause, but I was told that he wanted to pay the full price of the cakes.

    After a mid day shift at the Coln Community Stores on Wednesday (10 am to 3 pm), the day of the bake, my stomach started to niggle.  This shift is always the worst for me as invariably I eat badly and don’t hydrate enough on this shift.  I had intended to sleep when I got home to try to shake off the niggle, but various things got in the way.

    After a bit of a rest (but not sleep) I set about making the lemon drizzle and fruit cake.  As usual, I had scoured the Internet for suitable recipes.  After an extensive search I came across a lemon drizzle cake from Baking Mad and a fruit loaf from The Kitchen Sanctuary.  Of course there is always a danger of baking something you have never baked before for a client, but I didn’t have tried and tested recipes for either loaf cake.

    As I had started the fruit cake before my 10 am shift at the Stores as the dried fruit needed to soak in the tea for several hours before use, I thought I should complete the fruit cake before I started on the lemon drizzle cake.  The bake went relatively smoothly.  I kept a beady eye on the cake whilst baking ensuring that the top of the cake was not becoming too dark.  It was only in the last 15 minutes that I covered it with foil to prevent further darkening of the top.  Although I felt that the bake was not too dark, when I photographed the cake for my Instagram page, I noticed that the bake was a little darker than I had initially thought.  On these occasions I hear the words of my Chef Tutor in my ear saying ‘colour is flavour’ and hope that his words are correct.

    After my fruit loaf was safely out of the oven and cooling nicely, I set about preparing and baking my lemon drizzle cake (which I had started preparing while the fruit cake was in the oven).  The bake went well, except for the fact that I had to bake the cakes in my domestic oven rather than my professional oven as I couldn’t find the 13 amp extension lead for the professional oven and I didn’t have the energy to drag it by myself across the kitchen floor to plug it into the 13 amp plug.  I am not sure what it is about my domestic oven, but I am convinced that the fan is a little too fierce and blows a mighty gale in one direction, as my bakes often look a little windswept.  The lemon drizzle cake was no exception.  I half convinced myself to do the bake again, but it was getting late and I really needed to get to bed for my morning shift.  There was nothing wrong with the bake of the lemon drizzle cake, it was just the the left side of the cake was a little higher than the right, despite the fact that I had evened out the top of the cake mixture prior to placing it in the oven, as instructed.

    I wrapped the cooled cakes in some baking parchment, tied with raffia and a ‘bake’ label and went to bed.  I managed to get through the bake, as well as do the costings for the cake without my stomach causing me too much trouble.  Or so I thought ….

    At about 1.30 am, I woke up with very severe abdominal pains.  I lie down in a hot bath, a couple of paracetamol and hot water bottle did not do the trick for long and sometime between 1.30 am and 5.40 am when my alarm goes off, I got out of bed and was violently ill.  Although I did go back to sleep after this, it didn’t take me long to realise when I woke up that I was too ill to go into work.  I also had to decide what to do about the cakes.  Although I was almost entirely convinced that this episode was related to my underlying health condition, I couldn’t be 100 % certain and so I took the decision to inform the person I had made the cakes for about the situation.  I left it to him whether he used the cakes for the coffee morning or not.  Mustering enough energy to take the cakes (with note) up to the Coln Community Store just before 8 am on the Thursday, I went home and back to bed, where I remained for the best part of two days.  I literally slept for the first 24 hours.

    Although still bearing the scars of this most recent episode of illness, I am now back at work.  I learnt on my return that the gentlemen who I made the cakes for didn’t donate them to the coffee morning, but instead decided to eat them himself (with the assistance of his wife).  They have eaten the lemon drizzle cake and are now working their way through the fruit loaf.  I have been advised that both cakes were very delicious.

    The sad thing is that although I was poorly, it wasn’t anything contagious (just my own medical condition).  By being cautious (and honest) my cakes couldn’t be used as intended to help a good cause.  Although I only got the cost of the ingredients (which I was grateful for), I still wouldn’t change what I did as could not have forgiven myself if someone had got ill eating one of my bakes.  Lets hope I have better luck next time.

  • Coln St Aldwyns doughgirl

    The mid to end of the last week in August was a challenging one with a number of new experiences.  The time had finally come to prepare for the Coln St Aldwyns fete.  When we agreed to make 80 pizzas for the Coln St Aldwyns fete in our OoniPro Professional outdoor pizza oven some months ago it seemed like months away.  However, there I was mid week the week before last ensuring that my ingredients for the pizzas would be delivered as scheduled.  I should add at this point that although the original plan was just to make 80 pizzas for the fete, I was asked by the owner of Lynwood & Co to make the guess the weight of the cake, cake so in addition to checking ingredients mid week there I was making sugar craft coffee berries, leaves and letters, spelling Lynwood.

    Thursday was final shopping day for the remaining ingredients before prep day on Friday.  Friday had a slow start as I had scheduled in my pre-holiday manicure and pedicure and required waxing a while back so my first stop of the day was to Purely Divine in Fairford.  Although I find manicures and pedicures decidedly boring, I wasn’t worried about the time as our dog walker/sitter wasn’t arriving until 1 pm to pick up the hound and I didn’t want to start cooking until my dog and its fur were well away.  I was also waiting for my Blue Seal Turbofan Compact Convection Oven to arrive at 2pm to do my baking as I had a four layer cake to make.  Talk about Just in Time Philosophy.

    Still not perturbed as I had my list and knew what I needed to do when, all should have gone to plan had my underlying stomach issues not started to play up.  Bad eating and lack of hydration on Wednesday and Thursday (because of my shifts at the Coln Community Stores) had caused my stomach to niggle and because I had to be on my feet all day Friday, rather than resting, by 9 o’clock even pain killers could not keep the pain at bay.  I had no option but to forge ahead as I had both the Coln St Aldwyns Fete Committee and Lynwood & Co relying on me to deliver.

    With the help of Jo (who had to spend time helping me rather than doing all the other tasks he needed to do as part of the Fete Committee) by the time we went to bed all the pizza prep was done and the Lynwood & Co cake was baked.  All that remained was for me to roll out the pizza dough on Saturday morning and to ice and decorate the Lynwood & Co cake.  I should add that I also made 40 cookies on Friday for good measure, cookies which remained largely uneaten as there was no cake stall as I was lead to believe, just a coffee/tea and cake stall, which seemed to be inundated with cakes anyway.  I should possibly add that I also made an additional cake on Saturday morning (again for the imaginary cake stall), which although being displayed at the coffee/tea/cake stall late in the day went very quickly despite the mishap that happened to it shortly after we arrived at the fete on Saturday morning (more of this later).

    With all the preparations on Saturday morning and with Jo rushing between the fete site and home, trying to set up the stalls and take what we needed for the pizza stall, my sister, Gilly and I only arrived at the fete site for 12 pm.  The fete started at 12.30 pm.  With the other food provider (burgers and sausages in a roll) looking mighty fine and up and running when we arrived, we were really on the back foot.   The pizza oven had not even been lit as Jo had been too busy organising other things at the fete, albeit not to the satisfaction of some of the volunteers.

    My sister and I did the best we could to set up as quickly as possible, but if it had not been for Rob, the owner of Lynwood & Co, who started the pizza oven, we would have been even further behind than we were.  The only saving grace (although it didn’t feel like it at the time) was that the interest in the pizzas was very slow at the start so we had a bit of time to start things up.

    Although Rob saved the day by starting the pizza oven, in searching for the pellets to light the pizza oven, Rob turned my Orla Kiely cake tin upside down (thinking it had pellets in it) so the icing and chocolate shavings on top of my chocolate cake were left a little dishevelled as the cake was turned on its head – I managed to neaten it up enough to serve at the coffee/tea/cake stall.

    Despite a slow start, things soon picked up and we were preparing and baking pizzas almost solidly until the fete started to wind down.  Although the feedback on the pizzas was very positive (they were described as excellent) and we have been invited to offer them again at next year’s fete, there are a number of lessons to learn:

    • Don’t over-order ingredients as you will end up with a lot of wastage and unnecessary cost
    • Ensure that you have enough time to set things up so that your stall looks like it was in your mind’s eye
    • Ensure that you hide the containers for transporting goods to the fete under the gingham table cloth so that your stall looks professional (in our rush to set up, this was an oversight, which was unfortunately evidenced in the photos)
    • Don’t panic if sales start out slow – have confidence in your product (we reduced the price of our pizzas by £0.50 at the outset to get things started, which we then had to stick with for the rest of the day)
    • Ensure that you have prices on display (including something about an introductory offer or first 10 pizzas at reduced price) so that potential customers know what they are paying (especially when the burger stall has their prices well displayed) – customers are less likely to be tentative if they know what they are paying upfront
    • Have appropriate containers for serving what you are selling (serviettes may be okay for burgers and sausages in a roll, but not for pizzas) – thank goodness for Rob again for coming to the rescue with some containers (they certainly saved the day)

    Despite the many lessons to be learnt, all in all the day went very well (I couldn’t have done it without the help of Jo, Rob and Gilly).  We finished off with a quick clean up, a drink or two at friends up the road and a meal at the New Inn before doing our final packing for our holiday which was due to start at 3.15 am on Sunday morning – the time our alarm was set to ensure that we would get to Heathrow on time for our early morning flight to Geneva en route to Chamonix for five days of trail running and relaxation.

  • The raspberry: the gone wrong version of a strawberry

    My next door neighbour, but one, caught me in the garden the other day and informed me that her husband and her were off to London for a few days and that she would appreciate it if we could pick (and use up) some of the raspberries growing in her garden.  Having used her raspberries before to make a raspberry coulis, it didn’t take much persuasion and before long, Jo had picked a large punnet of raspberries.

    Mindful that I had a punnet of raspberries in the fridge, I thought I should set about doing a bit of baking.  Whilst flicking through Donna Hay’s ‘Basics to Brilliance’ for her chewy chocolate chip cookie recipe,  I came across her recipe for a raspberry swirl cheesecake.  Raspberries and baked cheesecake, what more could you ask for?  So, on Saturday evening, exhausted from our first session at British Military Fitness, I set about baking the raspberry swirl cheese cake.

    The first step was to make the raspberry syrup.   The second step was to make the ricotta cheesecake base and filling.  All went well with the first two steps, or so I thought…. The third step was to swirl the raspberry syrup through the ricotta cheesecake base.  At this point, I realised that my syrup (after cooling) had become less of a syrup than a jam and rather than being swirled through the ricotta cheesecake it seemed to slide inelegantly through the surface of the cheesecake only to disappear beneath the surface.  Not deterred by my disappearing raspberry syrup (or should I say, jam) I placed my cheesecake in the oven at 150 degrees Celsius for 50 minutes.  After which, I turned off the oven and left my cheesecake in the oven for a further 50 minutes as instructed.   After an hour and forty minutes, I placed my cheesecake into the fridge to cool for at least an hour.  At the point that I placed my cheesecake in the fridge, it looked very much like a cheesecake, albeit without a raspberry swirl.

    After an hour (there is only so long that a girl can wait for her dessert), I removed the still slightly warm cheesecake out of the fridge to cut a couple of pieces for our dessert.  A couple of smallish cracks had appeared on the surface of the cake but I wasn’t overly bothered.   I finished off the cheesecake with a handful of fresh raspberries and all was well in the world of cheesecakes again.  As suspected, the raspberry syrup/jam had sunk to the bottom of the cheesecake i.e. between the base and the cheesecake topping.  While this may not have been as aesthetically pleasing as raspberry ripple it certainly did not affect the taste of the cheesecake.  The cheesecake was a taste delight, even if I say so myself.  It took a lot of will power to refrain from having a second slice.

    The following morning, and in preparation for a large family do at my younger sister’s house, I set about baking my second raspberry bake of the weekend, raspberry Bakewell.  Although I had mentioned to my husband that I needed more raspberries for my second bake the night before, he had either not heard or registered my request so in the morning, as I started my bake, I asked him where the freshly picked raspberries were.  He said that they weren’t any.  Reluctantly, he ventured into the neighbour’s garden in the light of the morning to pick me the raspberries for my bake.  He came back with 200g of the 250g of raspberries I needed for my bake, but I didn’t have the heart to ask him to pick anymore.  I hoped that 200g would be enough.  Following the recipe to the letter, including processing all the ingredients in a food processor (the first time I have made a cake in a food processor), I scattered my raspberries over half the cake mixture in the tin and then covered them with the other half of the cake mixture as instructed.  Not convinced by the texture of the cake mixture (a lot more dense than normal cake mixture), I placed my cake in the oven and baked as instructed.  I was surprised to see that the baked cake had such a good rise and looked as it did in the photo of the BBC Good Food site.  Still a bit nervous, I cut into my bake at my sister’s house after lunch and was very pleasantly surprised to see that the cake had a light, spongy texture and the combination of the almonds and the fresh raspberries went very well (200g of lovely sweet raspberries was enough).

    I should mention that I did take some of my raspberry cheesecake to the lunch as well, albeit somewhat reluctantly as in the morning after my cheesecake bake, I discovered that the cracks on top of my cheesecake had multiplied and deepened overnight and my raspberry cheesecake was no longer the fine looking specimen from the night before.  Knowing that it had a delicious taste and ignoring the adage that ‘you eat with your eyes’, I thrust my cheesecake onto my family members while apologising for its less than perfect appearance.  Let’s just say that taste won the day and my family members were very happy with their dessert options, which also included a delicious Mary Berry chocolate cake, which my younger sister had lovingly prepared.   I have pondered about the cracks since and my theories are as follows: (1) I should have left the cheesecake to cool at ambient temperature first before putting it in the fridge to cool – the cold fridge could have ‘shocked’ the warm cheesecake or (2) as the raspberry syrup was more of a jam than a syrup, perhaps the density of the jam in the light cheesecake caused the cheesecake to crack, especially as the jam and the cheesecake mixture could have cooled at different rates.  Your thoughts?

    On Sunday evening, still uncomfortable with his early morning raspberry forage, I armed my husband with two slices of cheesecake (the best two slices, I might add) and two slices of the raspberry Bakewell and suggested that he took them around to our neighbours to thank them for their raspberries.  Happy that he had confessed to his ‘early morning crime’ (the neighbours were not concerned in the least – funny that!) and giving the neighbours something in return for their raspberries, my husband was able to relax for the rest of the evening with a clear conscience.

    The following morning, my husband received an email entitled ‘We know Coln’s best pastry/pudding chef!’ with the message ‘.. many thanks, Bridget and Jo.  Crowned a perfect evening!’  Our neighbours had been at the local pub with a couple of friends and had followed up their meal at the pub with the raspberry cheesecake and Bakewell cake.  We were even sent a photo of the four of them tucking into their pudding with glee.

    So while the raspberry may be seen as a ‘gone wrong strawberry’, it can still bring delight to many and make me feel that maybe, just maybe, my change in career my be worth it, even if it takes a bit of time to establish myself.

  • Bake well, all things Bakewell

    I mentioned in a recent post that over the last year I have tried various incarnations of the Bakewell tart.  It started with me trying a recipe from Marsha’s Baking Addition for Bakewell tart muffins.  A delicious combination of light sponge with raspberry jam in the centre, topped with icing and cherry with a not too overpowering almond flavour.  Not only did I enjoy these at home but we also sold them at Lynwood & Co for a period of time.  Although they went down well with the customers, they were a bit of a faff to make on a regular basis, given the time restrictions in the kitchen.

    I knew the Bakewell flavour was popular so my next incarnation of the Bakewell was a Bakewell traybake.  I tried an Allrecipe recipe first but although the flavour was good, the rise was not as good as it could have been.  If I recall correctly, the cake did not have enough flour/raising agent (sponge was made largely of ground almonds).  I wanted to make a traybake with a shortcrust pastry base with jam, almond sponge and icing layers (topped with toasted almonds and glace cherries), so I found a similar recipe to the Allrecipe one but with more flour/raising agent from Marsha’s Baking Addition.  The result was excellent and the traybake was very well received at the cafe.  So much so that after a few such traybakes at Lynwood & Co, it became so popular that I could not keep up with the bake and I had to go back to the drawing board again.  It is not that a Bakewell traybake is difficult in itself, it is just that it is more difficult to make in large quantities i.e. a large single sheet of shortcrust pastry, which needs to be chilled, rolled, chilled, blind baked etc. before completing the rest of the bake.  In a larger kitchen with more prep chefs, this would have been possible, but as the main prep chef at the time it proved quite difficult to do when I had the Lynwood signature bakes to complete as well.

    I tried a couple of almond and cherry cakes after the Bakewell traybake and although they were still quite popular, they were never quite as delectable as the first two incarnations of the Bakewell.

    My last attempt at Bakewell at Lynwood & Co was in March of this year, when I tried Bakewell biscuits.  Although my bake resulted in the largest biscuits known to all people kind (okay, a hefty exaggeration) they were very delicious indeed.  The only problem with the bake (and a significant one at that) was that they were not too popular with the customers.  What we discovered through trial and error is that the preferred choice of biscuit at Lynwood & Co is the triple or quadruple chocolate cookie, which my colleague Shemaine first baked.

    Not put off entirely, but possibly for some months, my next Bakewell attempt was in August of this year.  Armed with a trusty BBC Good Food recipe, I made a cherry Bakewell cake.  Two light sponge cakes, separated by a cherry jam layer, topped with icing, toasted flaked almonds and glace cherries.  A culinary triumph even if I say so myself (so much so that the image of this bake adorns this post).

    I am not sure if or when there will be another Bakewell bake, but given the evidence above I am sure that I will give the Bakewell another go in the not too distant future.

  • Good Food

    For those of you who have read my posts for a while; the posts which are now private, you will know that BBC Good Food is my go-to site for recipes, particularly cakes and bakes.  The reason is essentially two-fold: (1) they have a large range of cakes and bakes to choose from and (2) the cakes and bakes tend to work well and are very tasty indeed.  Although I have been relying on the BBC Good Food site (not to mention their magazines, which I pick up from the newsagent if I see a copy of the latest edition) for some time now, I have had a bit of a BBC Good Food baking spate over the last few months.

    It started by baking a ‘brilliant banana loaf’ (their words).  My aim was to use my dehydrator, which I bought some months back, for the first time and luck would have it that the ‘brilliant banana loaf’ required dehydrated bananas for decoration, along with a drizzle of icing.  All was going well – the cake was baked and the bananas were dehydrating in the dehydrator – when I realised that I was running out of dehydrating time before my shift at the Coln Community Stores.   Rather than adding fully dehydrated bananas to my delicious banana loaf, I had to add a ‘sun-blushed’ version, which although looked absolutely fine when I photographed my creation, resulted in rather soggy, brown decorations by day two.  The good thing was that my lack of dehydrating time did not affect the taste of the cake in any way, just its appearance on day two.   The other good thing was that most of the cake was eaten on day one, so there was not much evidence of my flacid, discoloured bananas.  Note to self, ensure that you have enough dehydrating time (preferably overnight) and make another opportunity to practice your dehydrating sometime soon – perhaps lemons or oranges next time.

    My next bake was a decadent carrot cake loaf with a cinnamon cream frosting.  This bake came around as I was working one weekend at the Coln Community Stores (I don’t normally work on a weekend) and asked my husband, Jo to do the fruit and vegetable order.  When it came to ordering the carrots, he promises me that he asked the supplier for ‘the usual’ but when the order came in on the Monday, we were greeted with a large mound of carrots, which the Stores were certainly not going to sell in any great hurry.  By about day three, and still embarrassed by Jo (and my) collective faux pas, I decided to purchase about a kg of the carrots and then work out what I could make with them.  Carrot cake seemed the most obvious thing to make with carrots but I didn’t want to make a carrot cake that I had made before.  I also wanted to try a carrot cake loaf rather than cake.  A short google later, yet again the BBC Good Food site came up trumps.  Definitely one of the best carrot cakes I have made and tried to date.  Especially lovely with the walnuts on top.  With a retweet and like from BBC Good Foods, my carrot cake was quite a popular one on Twitter.

    My next two BBC bakes were a sticky malt loaf and a bitter orange and poppy seed cake.   Not to bore you too much with the details of these two bakes, lets just summarise as follows.  The sticky malt loaf was the best malt loaf I have ever tasted, full of flavour and moist (the word that makes everyone squirm).   One of my Twitter commentators remarked: ‘@bakebybuffy@bbcgoodfood that’s just gastro porn, stop it it’s too early ;-)’.  My bake was enjoyed warm with a generous spread of slightly salted butter, accompanied by a cup of tea.  Perfect!  The bitter orange and poppy seed cake was another flavour and texture triumph.  Following a discussion with one of my neighbours earlier in the week about the merits (or lack thereof) of the bakes on offer at the Coln Community Stores, I took a piece of my bitter orange and poppy seed cake around to his to try.  The following morning he approached me at the Coln Community Stores with a great deal of enthusiasm saying that it was the best cake that he had ever tasted.   I am sure he was exaggerating, but you can’t really get a better accolade than that.

    My final two BBC Good Food bakes were a chocolate and banana loaf which I made for my in-laws, when they visited us recently and a cherry Bakewell cake.   While I will briefly mention the chocolate and banana loaf here,  I will devote a separate blog to the cherry Bakewell cake as over the last 12 months I have tried various incarnations of the cherry Bakewell, some which have been a great success while others have been less so.

    Going back to the chocolate and banana loaf briefly, I have to admit that I resorted to using bought dehydrated bananas (as I didn’t have time or didn’t make the time to dehydrate my own with all the cooking I had to do the same weekend) to decorate the loaf.  It was another delicious bake, made especially delicious by a sour cream frosting.  A posting on Twitter seemed to confirm the popularity of the cake, with 11 retweets and 55 likes and with one commentator stating that they had made the loaf for their book club ladies and they all agreed that it was delicious.

    On that note, let me end my blog post by saying that if you are ever at a loss as to what to bake, scour BBC Good Food site.  I am sure that they will have something to your taste and I am sure whatever you choose it won’t disappoint.