• 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.

  • 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’.

  • Viennese biscuits

    My third challenge saw me make Vienesse biscuits.  I have to admit that I really did not feel like doing my third challenge, as on Friday last week we had to let our beloved dog, Montague, go after a period of ill health.  Montague was effectively my third son and I am lost without him.  He has been my constant companion for almost 14 years – he has been there for me when my sons left home to go to university and when my husband regularly goes away on business trips.

    I have spent the last week sort of avoiding being at home.  In fact as I write this blog post, I am sitting in Vera’s Kitchen in Lechlade having a lunch of parsnip and apple sauce with artisan bread.  This is something I rarely do on my own, but having completed an early shift at work, I didn’t fancy spending the rest of the day at home on my own.  That being said, I have a lot I could and should do.  I should be putting together a price list for supplying a range of cakes and savoury bakes for an event in June/July; updating my costing sheets; trying out a range of new vegan bakes etc.

    Anyway, back to my 3rd challenge.  On the way back from a belated Christmas get-together with my husband’s side of the family in Devon last weekend (we delayed going down until the Saturday because of Montague), I realised that I needed to complete my 3rd challenge before the week was up.  Less than enthused, I decided that the bakes in the list that I drafted in 12 months, 52 weeks, 52 pastries were a little too complicated for someone whose mind was elsewhere, so I looked for something that classified as patisserie, but was relatively easy to make.  Or so I thought ….

    I settled on Viennese biscuits from BBC Good Food.  All was going relatively well until it came to piping the biscuits.  I had forgotten how tough it was to pipe Viennese biscuit dough until I started trying to pipe them.  We had made Viennese biscuits once on my Diploma in Professional Patisserie at Ashburton Cookery School and I recall most of us having difficulty piping neat shapes.  In this attempt, I initially put too much dough in the piping bag and couldn’t budge it through the nozzle despite using a large star nozzle.  Not surprisingly my first piping bag burst.  I reduced the amount of biscuit dough in the piping bag and tried again.  After bursting a second bag, I eventually got the piping right.   Not perfect but right.  I should possibly mention that the recipe (which I have written below) called for softened butter.  As this was a last minute bake (early evening on Sunday), I didn’t take the butter out of the fridge earlier enough to soften before making the biscuit dough.  Hence the dough was harder than it should have been, despite beating the butter with the icing sugar, as per the recipe.

    Rather than making Viennese sandwich biscuits as described in the recipe, I decided to pipe the biscuit dough into a range of shapes as I wanted both variety, as well as an opportunity to practice my piping skills.  I tried:

    • swirls with glace Morello cherries and blanched almonds in the centre
    • fingers dipped in dark chocolate; and
    • plain and chocolate-dipped double ‘S-shapes’

    I have to say that despite the piping difficulties, the end result was the lightest, butteriest, delicious, melt-in-the-mouth biscuits.  Too good, not to share.

    Ingredients

    • 200g slightly salted butter, softened
    • 50g icing sugar
    • 2 tsp vanilla extract
    • 200g plain flour
    • 2 tsp cornflour
    • ½ tsp baking powder

    Method

    • Heat oven to 160C fan and line a baking tray/s with baking parchment.  Put the butter and icing sugar in a large bowl and beat with an electric hand whisk for about 5 mins until pale and fluffy.  Add the vanilla extract and beat again until fully incorporated.
    • Sift in the flour, cornflour and baking powder, and fold into the mixture using a spatula until combined (the dough should have a tacky consistency).  Spoon the dough into a piping bag fitted with a large star-shaped nozzle. It is easier to pipe in small batches.
    • Pipe circles, double S-shapes and fingers onto the baking sheet/s making sure that there is a 3cm space between each biscuit.  Place a single blanched almond or glace morello cherries in the centre of the circles.
    • Bake for 10-12 mins, swapping the trays (if using more than one tray) over halfway through the cooking time so the biscuits are evenly baked, until pale golden and cooked through.  Leave to cool on the baking tray/s for a few minutes, then transfer to cooling rack/s.
    • While the biscuits are cooling, melt the chocolate in a metal bowl over a pan of boiling water (the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl) .  When melted, dip both ends of the fingers and the edge of the length of the double S-shaped biscuits in chocolate.  Place dipped biscuits on cooling rack/s for the chocolate to harden.

    (Source: BBC Good Food)

  • A request: meringues, nuts & chocolate

    Just before Christmas, one of my neighbours invited us to dinner at his house over the festive period.  During the discussions as to what he may cook on the night (we settled on something containing fish), I volunteered to make the dessert if he provided the pre-dinner nibbles and the main meal.  Why I offered to make the dessert after 5 days of almost solid baking (for customers and family), I don’t know, but I did.

    Keen to provide a dessert which he liked (bearing in mind that he is the neighbour who had a strong opinion about my mincemeat and pecan crumble slices), I asked him what his favourite dessert would be.  He said that it would be something containing meringues, nuts and chocolate.  Already armed with a go-to meringue recipe in the form of a Martha Collison recipe from her recipe book, ‘Twist’ (an excellent book if you would like my opinion), I had to have a little think about what I needed to make to accompany the meringues.  Knowing that I had a couple of bags of hazelnuts which needed to be used, I googled ‘hazelnut meringues’.  As if by magic, my favourite recipe site, ‘BBC Good Food’ popped up with a recipe which incorporated the three ingredients I required, meringues, nuts and chocolate.  As I already had a meringue recipe to hand, I used the BBC Good Food recipe for hazelnut praline and chocolate sauce.

    The result of my bakes was a mound of mini-meringues, a golden hazelnut praline and a smooth, rich and decadent chocolate sauce.  Armed with my meringues, praline and chocolate sauce and a carton of double cream, we made our way to our neighbours around 7.30pm.  After a delicious fish pie accompanied by beans and a Tuscan bean side dish, I assembled my pudding as outlined in the recipe below.   I know you should not blow your own trumpet, but I have to say that the pudding was delicious.  I think everyone else would agree as everyone had seconds.   Jo and I even had thirds the next day after lunch.  Feeling that my waistband may expand too much if I had a forth helping, I sent my younger sister home with the remains of the dessert for her family and friend to enjoy.  She seemed quite happy to relieve me of my goodies.

    So pleased was I with the dessert that I have included the recipes in this blog post for you to try if you so wish.  Happy baking!

    Mini-meringues, praline cream, hazelnut praline and chocolate sauce

    Meringues

    Ingredients

    • 300g white caster sugar
    • 150g egg whites

    Method

    • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (fan) and line a large baking sheet with baking paper.
    • Pour the sugar onto the baking sheet and spread it out in an even layer.  Warm in the oven for about 6 minutes, until it feels hot to the touch.
    • While the sugar is heating up, place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer (ensure that it is clean and grease-free).  Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
    • Remove the hot sugar from the oven when ready and turn the oven down to 100 degrees Celsius.
    • Whisk the hot sugar into the egg whites, adding a spoonful of sugar at a time and ensuring that the sugar is fully mixed before adding the next spoonful.  Add the sugar slowly and carefully as if added too quickly the meringue will collapse,
    • When all the sugar has been added, turn the mixer speed up and whisk the mixture for 8-10 minutes or until the mixture is thick and glossy.  Check the mixture by rubbing a small amount of the mixture between your fingers.  You should not feel any grains of sugar.  If the mixture feels gritty, whisk it for a few more minutes until it feels smooth.
    • Line one or more baking sheets with baking paper (depending on the size of the baking trays).
    • Spoon the meringue mixture into a piping bag with a star or round nozzle or snip off the tip.
    • Pipe out 40-50 meringues, depending on the size you require, leaving spaces between each on the baking sheet.
    • Bake them in the oven for 1.5 hours until crisp on the outside and they can peel of the baking paper without sticking.
    • Let them cool completely.

    Hazelnut praline and praline cream

    Ingredients

    • 150g caster sugar
    • 150g hazelnuts
    • 300ml whipping cream

    Method

    • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (fan) and line a large baking sheet with baking paper.  Place the hazelnuts on the baking sheet and toast in the oven for 6 minutes.
    • In the meantime, warm a small heavy-based pan over a medium heat and cook the caster sugar until it melts and turns a rich caramel colour.  Carefully swirl the toasted hazelnuts around the pan until they are fully coated. Pour the mixture out  onto a tray lined with baking paper.  Leave to cool.
    • Chop two-thirds of the hazelnut praline in a food processor and set aside.  Chop the rest of the hazelnut praline into bite size pieces.
    • Whisk the cream into soft peaks.  Stir half the processed hazelnut praline through the cream (you can be more generous if you wish).

    Chocolate sauce

    Ingredients

    • 50g golden caster sugar
    • 50g cocoa powder
    • 50g dark chocolate

    Method

    • Make the chocolate sauce by heating together 150ml water, the caster sugar and cocoa powder until boiling. Pour over the chocolate and whisk well until smooth.

    To assemble

    • Spoon a layer of the praline cream into the bottom of a glass bowl or rounded glass.
    • Place 5-6 small meringues on top of the cream, pushing the meringues into the cream.
    • Place a generous spoonful of the praline cream on top of the meringues and then pour over a generous helping of chocolate sauce.
    • Top with a sprinkle of the processed hazelnut praline and the hazelnut praline pieces on top.

    (Source: Martha Collison and BBC Good Food)

  • Chocolate chip brownie cookies

    So here is the recipe for chocolate chip brownie cookies from Two Peas and their Pod.  You don’t need a happy mistake brownie to make these.  Use your favourite brownie recipe or if you don’t have time to cook brownies from scratch use shop bought ones.  Happy baking.

    Ingredients:

    • 360g plain flour
    • 1½ tsp baking powder
    • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
    • 1 tsp sea salt
    • 240g unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 100g granulated sugar
    • 270g brown sugar
    • 2 large eggs
    • 2 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1½ cups brownie chunks (use white measuring cup)
    • 1½ cups chocolate chips (use white measuring cup)

    Method:

    •  Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Line 4 large baking with baking paper and set aside
    • In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
    • Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugars together for about 3 minutes. Add in the eggs and vanilla and mix until combined. With the mixer on low, slowly add in the dry ingredients.  Stir in the brownie chunks and chocolate chips.
    • Put cookie dough mixture in the fridge for 30 minutes to ‘set’ slightly.
    • Weigh out 40-45g of cookie dough mixture and form into balls. Place eight to nine cookies on each of the prepared baking sheets, about 5cm apart.  They can spread quite a lot.
    • Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes or until the edges are slightly golden brown.
    • When baked, remove from oven and let cookies cool on the baking sheet for 2-3 minutes.
    • Transfer to a wire cooling rack and cool completely.
    • The cookies will keep in an airtight container for 3-4 days.

    Source: Two Peas and their Pod