• Scones, pronounced ‘Scons’ or ‘Sc-owns’

    Over the last few months I have been baking quite a few scones.  Not for any other reason than I like scones, both savoury and sweet.  I have tried white and wholemeal scones, with and without dried fruit.  I have tried cheese & sweetcorn scones and cheese & poppy seed scones.  I have tried scones using flour containing gluten and scones using gluten-free flour.  I have even tried gluten-free scones with fresh fruit i.e. pear and blueberries.

    A couple of weeks ago one of my neighbours came into the Coln Community Stores and asked when we were likely to be making and selling fresh scones at the Store.  I couldn’t offer her fresh scones from the Store, but I did offer to make her some scones.  Her stipulation was wholemeal scones with sultanas in them, hence the mention of wholemeal scones with dried fruit above.  As I do, I scoured the Internet for recipes for wholemeal scones.  What I discovered is that the majority of wholemeal scones have a higher proportion of white than wholemeal flour in them.   Not deterred, I settled on a recipe for wholemeal scones courtesy of the National Trust, albeit that the ratio of wholemeal:white self-raising flour was 1:14.   I egg washed half the scones and left the other half ‘naked’ and after cooking presented them in a box to my neighbour (after having one myself for testing).  My verdict was that the  balance or flours, along with other ingredients (butter, caster sugar, baking powder, sultanas and milk) created a delicious and light scone with a nutty taste.  I did however request feedback from my neighbours, who thanked me both in person and with a card, which said:

    ‘Thanks so much for the scones, which were delicious!!  Look forward to the time when they are available for sale in the shop on a regular basis’.

    The feedback in person was equally as favourable, albeit that the request was that if I made them again that I should try a scone with more wholemeal flour and less sugar.  They also mentioned that they preferred the unglazed scones.

    Not deterred by the quest to find a scone with a higher percentage of wholemeal flour and less sugar, and with a further request by the same neighbours for more scones, I scoured the Internet again.  This time to see if there was such a thing as a scone recipe book.

    I found a couple on the all too accessible www.amazon.co.uk website: The National Trust Book of Scones and The Secret Life of Scones.  Of course, even with Amazon Prime they were not going to arrive on time for my second attempt at wholemeal scones, so yet again I scoured the Internet for wholemeal scone recipes.  This time I came across a recipe courtesy of The Irish Times, which offered a wholemeal brown scone with a 1:1 ratio of wholemeal:white self-raising flour and only 30g of sugar (which was optional).  It also had the welcome addition of buttermilk instead of milk which adds a ‘tangy flavour’ to the scone, as well as according to www.Livestrong.com, ‘adds complexity and depth to the finished baked good’.  Buttermilk, allegedly, also helps with the rise (see tips below).  While the end result was less to my liking than the National Trust wholemeal scones (they were a little too dense), my neighbours enjoyed them and in fact preferred them to my first offering.   I was even paid for my efforts!

    Not long after I made and delivered my second attempt at wholemeal scones, than I heard the familiar knock at the door of the Amazon delivery man (he is an all too regular visitor at the moment as I set up my professional kitchen at home) with my first of two ‘scone books’, National Trust Book of Scones.  To cut a long story short, my second ‘scone’ book arrived on Sunday and I spent the afternoon reading through the information and recipes – a perfect way to pass the time on a drizzly summer afternoon.  I even attempted another variety of scone yesterday, the ‘Ploughman’s scone’, a light and delicious white scone, flavoured with cheddar cheese, pickled onions and apple.  Eaten warm with a generous spread of butter it was a perfect lunch.

    Who would have thought that you could write so much in a post about the simple scone, but then I guess if you can dedicate a whole book (or more than one book) to the subject, then there must be more to the scone than meets the eye.  I am sure that you will hear more on the subject from me – I do after all have 50 delicious recipes to consider and possibly make in one book and many more in the other – but in the meantime, let me leave you with some handy tips about making scones:

    • scones ‘like the cold’ – use cold butter straight from the fridge; cold houses make better scones; if the recipe calls for water, use cold water from the fridge
    • scones ‘don’t like to be overworked’ as it will make them tough – use a food processor or work quickly
    • scones ‘like to be in contact with each other while baking’ as it helps them to rise evenly
    • adding a bit of lemon juice to a recipe which calls for milk (rather than buttermilk) helps the scones to rise as the acid in the lemon reacts with the raising agents in the mixture
    • scones should be at least 2.5/3 cm thick
    • if glazing scones, don’t allow the egg or milk to dribble down the side of the scones as it will prevent them from rising
    • preheat the baking tray with the oven so that the scones are placed on a hot surface
    • get the scones into the oven as soon as you have made your dough as the raising process starts as soon as the ingredients are combined and this process should happen in a hot oven
    • when cutting out scones, always cut down and do not twist as twisting can result in uneven rising and therefore uneven baking – dusting the cutter before each cut helps the scones to rise evenly as well

    (Tips courtesy of www.type1kitchen.com and www.meatandtravel.com)

  • Upping my game in a sweet way

    If you have read my previous posts or seen my photos on Instagram or Twitter (or on this site) you will know that my style in quite simple.  My focus has always been on taste and simplicity in decoration rather than anything ornate.  However, as my plan is to meet potential customers’ baking requirements, I have had to rethink what I can offer.  I don’t think offering cupcakes with a simple swirl or a carrot cake/loaf with cream cheese frosting is going to cut it so I have decided to up my game when it comes to decorating cakes and bakes.

    As part of my Diploma in Professional Patisserie, we did sugar craft for a couple of days, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but have not done since.  We made sugar craft roses, leaves, ivy, honeysuckle and jasmine, if I recall correctly.  With my renewed interest in developing my decorating skills, I decided to scour the Internet for suitable courses.  Let’s just say that there are a lot of courses out there, the majority of which are too expensive, too long, not long enough, too far away or not the right subject matter.  At this point, I want to develop my skills in two areas: sugar craft and buttercream.  Despite many of the courses on the Internet not being what I was looking for, I came across the Rock Bakehouse and a 1 day course called Modern Sugar Flowers.   The course met my brief.  Being in London it was not too far away (as well as was an excellent opportunity to visit our eldest son, who has recently relocated to London from Glasgow); being a 1 day course it was long enough, but not too long and as I was the last person on the course, I even got the course at a slightly reduced rate.

    So, on Friday, on what was supposed to be the hottest day of the year in London, I arrived slightly early to the course (we were told not to arrive more than 15 minutes early as they would be setting up) to be ‘greeted’ by a very unassuming, partially shuttered building, with the small sign in the window, identifying it as Rock Bakehouse.  I can’t lie, I honestly felt that I had made a mistake booking onto the course as the first impression was definitely not a good one.   With a quiet word in my own ear, I reminded myself not to judge a book by its cover and then went for a short walk around the block in search of a coffee and to while away a few minutes until 15 minutes before the course started.

    Let’s just say that I was right to have a quiet word in my own ear, as once I got inside the rather unassuming building, I was met by a light and airy, well set up teaching room, all ready for a day of sugar flower making.

    I could take you through 6 hours of tutoring step by step, but I am sure I would put you to sleep very quickly, so I will recap what we covered in a few points:

    • wiring stamens
    • inserting and gluing florist wire into petals and leaves
    • colouring sugar paste
    • cutting and shaping petals for roses, peonies and hydrangeas
    • cutting and veining leaves
    • enhancing sugar flowers with lustre dusts
    • assembling sugar flowers
    • arranging sugar flowers into a display safely and securely
    • key equipment you need to make sugar flowers (I will post a list separately, not only to assist anyone who wants to get into sugar flower making, but also so that I have my own shopping list)

    The result of my day’s work was a beautiful peony, a rose and rose bud, five hydrangea flowers and some leaves.  Was the result of my toil a perfect display of sugar flowers?  In a word, ‘no’.  Was I pleased with the result?  In three words, ‘in the main’.  Am I glad I did it?  Most definitely, ‘yes’.  Did I set out what I set out to achieve?  A vehement ‘yes’.  And finally, would I recommend the course to others?  A definite ‘yes’.    Anyway, as always, you can judge for yourself by looking at the photograph which accompanies this post.

    PS, I should mention that the tutor on the course was excellent.  Highly skilled and very good at explaining what to do.

  • Nothing beats a warm banana and walnut muffin for breakfast

    Muffins have always been something that I have enjoyed making.  They are easier than most bakes, but still result in a delicious morsel to eat in a fraction of the time.  No mixers, blenders required, just a couple of bowls, one with your dry ingredients and one with your wet ingredients and a fork or spoon to combine the two.  The only care you need to take is when you add and mix your wet ingredients into your dry ingredients, as over-mixing at this stage of the process will result in an over-processed looking muffin with a chewy rather than light and fluffy texture.

    If you live in the UK, you will know that it has been very hot and dry (i.e. no rain, not a lack of humidity) of late (the experts are saying unprecedented), well with my reorganisation of my kitchen to make way for home baking, my fruit bowl was relegated to the top of my new storage racks in which there is a place for everything and everything is in its place. However, there is a problem with the relegated spot for my fruit bowl; it is a little too close to the overhead lights, which I turn on when I need a little more light in that part of the kitchen.   As a consequence, when I was taking down a couple of apples to have with my lunch yesterday, I discovered a few browning bananas.  Not wanting to throw them away (as they say, waste not want not), I decided that the first mission of the day today was to turn what would otherwise be food for my food waste bin into a delicious breakfast.

    After Googling banana muffins I settled on a recipe from BBC Good Foods, simply entitled ‘banana muffins’.   It had a five star rating, albeit if I am honest from only one reader.  Despite this and despite not having two of the ingredients required i.e. pecan nuts and buttermilk, I went ahead as planned.

    PS, I should mention that the BBC Good Food site is one of my go-to sites for basic recipes as 9.9 times out of 10, they yield delicious products.

    The 1st step in my banana muffin making was making my buttermilk replacement – mixing the 125 ml milk with a teaspoon of lemon and letting it sit for 20 minutes while I weighed out the rest of my ingredients.   This is a good alternative to buttermilk as sometimes buttermilk is hard to find or not something you necessarily have in your fridge.  Or put another way, you are more likely to have lemon or vinegar (vinegar works just as well) in your kitchen arsenal than buttermilk.

    I had a bag of handy walnuts, so used these instead of pecans.  Not to bore you with the rest of the process; lets just say that I followed the rest of the recipe as outlined on the BBC Good Food site until I got to portioning out my muffins.  Although the recipe suggested that it made 12 muffins, I used large tulip muffin cases and so the recipe only yielded 8 rather plump looking muffins.  Despite this, the cooking time was still around the 20 minute mark in my fan oven at 170 degrees Celsius.

    I ate my first one (yes, I ate two) warm with a cup of tea for breakfast.  Nothing beats a warm muffin just out of the oven.  However, just to check my theory, I thought I would try another one, this time cold, with a cup of coffee to recover from a shopping trip to Fairford.  Okay, shopping trip is a bit exaggerated as I merely picked up a few groceries from Londis, fresh vegetables and bread from the Fairford Market and toiletries from Boots.  Low and behold, my theory seemed to be correct.  The flavours of the muffin seemed to be more enhanced when it was warm.  I needn’t have tried that second muffin after all – while my taste buds may have liked it, I am sure my waistline or the scales won’t be liking it shortly.

    In conclusion, although a very fine muffin indeed, I feel that it could benefit from a little added spice (a pinch or two of cinnamon and/or allspice) and possibly toasting the walnuts (or pecans) before adding them to the mixture to get a nuttier flavour.   I will have to wait until I discover another batch of browned bananas on the top of my storage rack before I can put these suggestions to the test.  However, if you already have some brown bananas which need to be used up give my suggestions a go and let me know what you think.  You will find the recipe for the banana muffins (by Elena Silcock) at www.bbcgoodfood.com.  Happy baking!

  • A new direction

    It was with a lot of thought and a little bit of sadness that I decided to make all of my previous posts private, except for the recipes that I have posted over the past few months.

    What started out as a personal blog, documenting the trials, tribulations and triumphs of me becoming a pastry chef and the 1st year after graduation, now needs to take a new direction.  It needs to become a professional website, where potential customers and interested parties can see what I do on a professional basis.

    This decision was made on the back of getting the very talented people from Design and Code, who set up this site for me in the first place (as I took my first steps to becoming a pastry chef), to make me a flyer to promote my professional home baking business.  With www.bakeblog.co.uk highlighted boldly on the front of the flyer, I decided that, as with the flyer, my website now needs to highlight a different stage in my second career.

    For those have followed my journey up until now and have enjoyed my story and anecdotes, thank you for your readership and comments.  It is always heartening to see the view count climbing.

    While my site may need to focus more on my baking and less on my personal journey going forward, I trust that my posts will still be of interest to those who have read my posts to date and any new visitors to the site.   Knowing me, it will be very difficult to leave out personal anecdotes anyway.