Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Great British Bake Off Series Three: A Round Up

So, fellow lovers of The Great British Bake Off, what did we all think of series 3? Personally, as much as I will always love this brilliant baking series, I felt a little underwhelmed...

When this series started, I was championing Sarah-Jane to win, she seemed so bubbly and baked the same sort of recipes that I would, but alas, she went about half way through. Sad face. I think I would have struggled, like her, with the eight strand plaited loaf, but unfortunately her beef wellington failed to impress as she didn't  listen to Mary's advice, or should I say, look at Mary's face... that kind of gave her feelings away... However I loved the idea of her banana and caramel tarte tatin!! YUM!

My boyfriend, however, was behind James and his epic glasses and woolly wonders to win. So, as you can imagine, I was a tad gutted that he beat Sarah-Jane, but that he also got to final. Now when it came to the final I  must admit that I swapped teams and thought James was the one who should have won. He was a bit cheeky when it came to his baking and I think his gingerbread house was the epitome of this, but for me he always seemed to pull it off and was pretty much exceptional!

In fact, while we are on gingerbread house gate, I may as well talk about the other contestants in this particular round. I believe each of the gingerbread houses really represented each bakers skills to a tee. Both Danny and Cathryn had brilliant ideas and each week surprised themselves with their flavors  but usually their finishes weren't the best. They both created iconic buildings of London, Danny with Big Ben and Cathryn with Buckingham Palace, and I think with a little more time, and a little less stress (aka not being on GBBO) they would have been amazing!

However, John's gingerbread Colosseum was absolutely amazing!! It was precisely planed and much more imaginative than Brendan's.  Now before I go any further I just want to say that I wasn't Brendan's biggest fan. I wont go on here to slag him off, because you cannot fault his baking talents and I am envious of his knowledge, but to me, Brendan was annoying from the start and his gingerbread house was his worst. He didn't really show off his skills for creating a gingerbread house structure, he instead covered the whole thing in icing and shredded wheat and ended up creating something that was very outdated and rather twee. However, I do agree he should have made it to the final, but I am rather glad he didn't win.

Overall, I think the reason why I was a teeny tiny bit disappointed with this years show, was just how difficult the show has gotten. It's given any hope of me being able to apply for the show to shoot right of the window.  I also think that Paul and Mary, especially Paul, were a lot harsher this year. I'm not sure if that's because they were expecting higher from the contestants as the show is so well established now, or they were trying to be constructive. Perhaps a mixture of the two. I loved it when Cathryn has a few one liners to come back at Paul, when he may have taken his comments a touch to far. All the contestants really worked their buts off, and on several occasions were shown being so proud of their achievements, to then have Paul come round and crush them. Okay, yes John did have it coming when he mixed the salt and sugar around, but if Danny likes her tarts with a bit of Rum in, let it be! Mary liked it!

Phew... rant over!

Now to the GOOD stuff!

This series was filled to brim with challenging technical bakes and beautiful showstoppers, as well as some baking blunders - john's bleeding finger and Cathryn's dough on the floor incident to name but a few! It hasn't stopped me from buying the book, 'Showstoppers', and probably wont stop me from buying the second, yes second, accompanying book, 'Learn to Bake'. I'm a baking book-acholic if there is such a name! I was lucky enough to actually see Mary and Paul and the Cake and Bake Show this year and watching them in action has convinced me to buy all their books if I could because they are baking magicians!

Anyway, back to the show! Every year I am tempted to try and make something from the show and this year  I am keen to make a few! I would love to make a tarte tatin or a quiche. If I can get the silicone mold I would absolutely love to try to make tea cakes, and Mary's Queen of Puddings looked so scrumptious, I think I actually drooled watching that one being made, even more so when I watched Mary make it herself in the extra shows that are on this week!

Although I don't have the kneading skills of Paul, I would love to try and make bread. This has been niggling at me for over a year now, and I know that it can be very simple but I just get too distracted in all the cakes and biscuits and I've been making. Maybe this can be a new years resolution... a year of bread?! Something to ponder.

Okay, I think I've chewed your ear enough on what I thought of this years show, keep reading for my next baking adventure in my titchy cave of a kitchen!

Thank chew!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

1920's Glamour Cake!

Hello! I've finally managed to find some time to blog about my hardest baking attempt yet, my 1920's themed cake for my lovely friend Kat's birthday last Saturday! I say it was my hardest for several reasons; firstly I had no idea how I was going to make the icing gold, then I had to find out where to buy the stuff, I was making a tiered cake which I had never done before, and last but not least, the cake was Red Velvet Cake!

As you can tell by SOME of the ingredients that this was quiet a challenge! I could not believe how much bloomin' butter this cake was going to need! I should point out at this point that I didn't use two blocks if that makes anyone who ate the cake feel any better! I got the recipe from Lorraine Pascale's book, Baking Made Easy. I found it really difficult to find a Red Velvet recipe that wasn't for cupcakes or included substitute ingredients to make the recipe either healthier or gluten free. Which, although I am all up from trying, considering this cake was going to be for a birthday I thought I shouldn't risk it!


All that butter was pretty much needed for the butter cream icing that was placed in the middle of each cake and around the cake to stick the royal icing to. Personally there was too much butter cream. The recipe was for a three tier cake, but after doing both my cakes I still had 3/4 of a huge bowl left of the stuff, which was a waste, tasty, but a waste.

My favourite part of the bake was making the cake red! For all those who don't know, a Red Velvet cake is a normal sponge with cocoa power and a shed load of red food colouring! Try 50ml per cake!! Although this might seem a lot, it was exactly what the cake needed to become the sumptuous looking colour you can see above! I also think it helped to make the cake light and moist!

My biggest challenge was decorating it. I had been planning this cake for a good couple of months, so I had already had it in my head what the overall design would look like. I really wanted to have the black and gold motifs that are synonymous with 1920's cinema on each corner, as well as writing 'Happy Birthday Kat' on the top. In the end I managed to complete the motifs, but the writing was just too difficult, and I think that the cake looked better without the writing as it kept the cake looking clean and symmetrical.

As you can see from above, I had to hand paint each motifs with edible paint and attach them using edible glue. I'm not sure it was because I am a complete beginner at this type of baking or that I wasn't using the product correctly but the black paint didn't end up drying, even though it was left for 24 hours. It meant that people had messy black hands and the appearance looked a little cracked. If anyone out there knows why this happened I would love to know! Tips please!

After 9 1/2 hours hard work I can proudly say that the cake was a success! Kat loved it, (I hope) and people were happily munching through the cake for the whole evening, which was if you hadn't already guessed was a 1920's fancy dress party! What I loved about the final product was that when you sliced through the very monochrome icing you were surprised by the vibrant red of the cake! It might be awhile before I attempt such a cake again, but I am so happy at how it ended up! The cake was light, moist and was so tasty! I had never tasted let all tried a red velvet cake or cupcake for that matter before and I now know what all the fuss is about! They are delicious!

Saturday, 11 August 2012

A Quick Catch Up

Hello everybody!

Massive apologies, yet again for my lack of blogging, but don't fret, it isn't down to no baking! Hell no! I've still been baking like a trooper, and this post is just a quick recap so you can see what I've been up to and then, hopefully I shall post again straight after this (or maybe tomorrow) with my rather epic birthday cake...

First, I shall start with a few of the amazing baking purchases I've made over the last few months! I've been buying like a mad woman and have notched up another 5 baking books since I last posted, well I think it's 5 it may be more! I snapped up Cake Angels by Julia Thomas and The Birthday Cake Book by Fiona Cairns for so many fabulous reasons! For a start The Birthday Cake Book is spectacular, I bought it to be inspired for my friends birthday cake and it certainly didn't fail!! I also bought Cake Angels because it contains gluten, wheat and dairy free cakes and baking recipes which, if you've read my other posts, is something that I really want to give a go and there are so many mouth watering recipes in there that i want to try, for example the sticky toffee tray bake! One word - yum!

On the same theme of buying gluten free cook books I finally managed to buy Harry Eastwood's Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache! I posted that everyone should buy this book in my last minute christmas stocking fillers post and I am so happy that I finally have my greedy little paws on it! I especially want to try the Caramel Swiss Roll with Passionfruit Cream! I class this book as not only one my favourites because of its sumptuous recipes and Harry's clever use of vegetables and ingredients, but this is one of my 'pretty' books! It's so lovely to look through and I love how the recipes have been themed to the seasons of the year! Please people, go and find this book!

Now I cannot go and buy all these baking books without buying the few that kicked my butt into truly giving baking a go and that is all down to The Great British Bake Off! I always liked baking, and was comfortable with making cupcakes galore, but after watching the second series of the Great British Bake Off last year, I finally caught the bug and went baking mad, as you can tell. So, since then I have bought Edd Kimber's The Boy Who Bakes, Jo Wheatley's A Passion for Baking and most recently, and most importantly, the brand new Great British Bake Off book - Showstoppers! This is the book to accompany the new series due to start on Tuesday 14th August, and I can't wait! I can promise you this, with the exception of one week where I will be on holiday seeing the folks I will be blogging about the baking treats this year's contenders come up with!

Now, I suppose I should stop talking about the books, (that's just the bookseller coming out in me), and crack on with what baking treats I have come up with.

I promise you I haven't been idle and just reading these books, nope I've happily made chocolate banana loaf, my first ever marble loaf and my monthly flapjacks for a start! Banana loaf or bread, is something I remember baking with my mum from a young age, and I believe it's one of my dad's favourites, so it felt appropriate that I made a loaf for when they came up to see me a couple of months ago and luckily I didn't disappoint! In fact my parents seemed rather disappointed that they couldn't take the whole load home with them. Compliment or what!?

However, I couldn't write a post of my baking exploits if I didn't mention my entry in the first competition from Jo Wheatley! I was so blooming excited! It was all tied in with the release of her new book and the challenge was to recreate her Chocolate Birthday Cake. It was like fate, I woke up in the morning intending to bake that cake for another friend's birthday and just happened to look on Facebook and saw she was putting up this competition! I couldn't believe it! I spent all day baking this and was the FIRST person to enter! I ended up getting something crazy of over 70 likes and so many lovely comments, I still can't believe it considering it was my first ever entry into a baking competition. I didn't go on to win, but honestly the level of competition was outstanding and I was just so happy that i got the courage to compete and I had such a wonderful response! Jo has since then continued to put up more baking competitions, but I haven't yet had the chance to enter another but at least now I can!

Phew, sorry for the massive ramble, but now you should be up-to-date on my baking activities! However I shall leave you with this last final comment... I HAVE A TICKET TO THE CAKE AND BAKE SHOW 2012 in Earls Court in September!!!!! I will finally see the baking queen herself Mary Berry, as well Paul Hollywood and maybe even Jo Wheartley among so many other talented bakers!

Look out for my next post on my 1920's inspired birthday cake...

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Mini Egg Cupcakes and Scrumptious Scones

Hello everyone, massive apologies for my lack of blogging recently. I can make a million excuses but instead I'm going to skip straight over this and update you on my baking delights!

My first baking mission was to bake some special Easter themed treats! I was torn between simple chick shapes biscuits or vanilla cupcakes with a mini egg twist... I think you can tell from the photo which idea I went with. One of the main reasons why I went with the cupcakes Is because they are just much more fun, and I had a evil bag of mini eggs staring at me everyday, so by putting them on cupcakes they seemed more friendly and I could share they joy.

Yet again, the basic vanilla cupcake recipe came from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. It is my go-to book for cupcakes and for the first time I managed to really concentrate and make the perfect batch of 12, so they were the right size and consistency. More importantly I restrained myself this time and I didn't over do it on the vanilla extract and I now understand less is more! I used be a little sneaky and add 1/2 teaspoon more than the recipe stated and the same in the icing. I thought it would make them taste better, but I can now safely say that these Easter cupcakes were delicious with the right amount!

I was thinking about making chocolate cupcakes so that it would go better with the chocolate mini eggs, but I wanted to play around with a colour scheme. I had just received a new 2 tiered cake stand that was pink and white, new pink and white polka dot cupcake cases, so you guessed it, I wanted to make pink and white icing. Not only did the whole theme work really well, but the pastel colours of the mini eggs looked much prettier against a pale background. Only a select few friends were special enough to have these little gems, but they still went down a storm!

Now for my most recent baking accomplishments....

Me and my good friend Hannah, usually have a tea and cake day about once a month, hunting out the best cake shops in Bath. This week, however, the weather, money and Hannah being a tad poorly, meant that we decided to have a nice chilled out movie and baking day, and what did we make... scones!

It was my first ever attempt at making scones and I think I did alright! They were so unbelievably simple to make and took no time at all! For the first time I actually managed to track down Buttermilk in Morrison's, well, actually Hannah did with her beady little eyes! I also treated myself to some scrumptious clotted cream, which is a bit of given with scones, and some extra special strawberry jam!

I think as it was my first attempt they wouldn't win any prizes, but they were a perfect little cheer up treat for two very worn out lasses! A few things I would perhaps adjust for next time, is that I would use a larger pastry cutter as these scones turned out a little on the wee side, but they looked cute so I don't mind. I would also keep a better eye on the timer as the last three were a little more cooked than the others... but who cares they still tasted delicious! I'm eating my last one as I write this post!

Sorry again, for such a big gap between posts, but I am making a promise right here to try and bake every Saturday, funds and exhaustion permitted, and blog the following day to keep you updated on my baking adventures! Next week, sausage rolls...

Monday, 5 March 2012

Saints vs Sinners Brownies

I am like every other girl on this planet, I love a bit of chocolate to keep me going and chocolate brownies are the perfect treat! This week I bought the winner of The Great British Bake Off series 1, Edd Kimber's book, The Boy Who Bakes. Oh yes he does. And what did my eyes spy when flicking through, only the most amazing chocolate fudge brownies, so obviously I had to give it a go!

Now until today I had never attempted to make any form of brownies and thought they would be a bit fiddly, but they were the quickest and easiest thing I've made all year! However, I can not lie and say that they are the healthiest thing I've baked this year... 300g of dark chocolate, a total of 380g of light brown sugar and caster sugar not to mention the criminal amount of butter...200g! However, you can't put a price on taste, all that naughty stuff made these brownies heavenly!

Like I said, they were so quick and easy to make, but still being a novice baker I did have to do a double take at the recipe when it said to put both the butter and the chocolate in a medium pan on a medium heat. I presumed the butter would be melted separately and the heat from that would naturally melt the chocolate once combined, so I was extra careful not burn it. In fact I would say I kept it at a low heat and melted the contents very slowly, but I don't think anyone could have a go at me for that, I was just using the ol' noggin!

As the phrase goes though, the taste is in the pudding and after a few small nibbles I can proudly say that these brownies are scrumptious! Well done Edd Kimber!! My two little pieces of advice for all those attempting this recipe or any similar are:

1. They go so blooming well with a glass of cold milk! They are a bit rich, having been made with dark chocolate, and they were so moist and gooey they stuck to the roof of your mouth. And good glug of milk is definitely advised!

2. Secondly... if you are anything like me, I would say for every small piece of brownies (Ash and I only had a piece the size of 50p) have a piece of fruit! Just to combat the nagging voice in your head that you're waist wont like what you've just eaten, even though your taste buds will be having a chocolate extravaganza of a party!

Now, just before I end I should say that there are some really good if not excellent recipes out there if you love the taste of a good chocolate brownie, but without the horible calories. There are also lots of great brownie recipes for those of us out there that have a few dietry requirements, from gluten free, wheat free, sugar free....

Check out these cookbooks for some of these options:
  • The Food Hospital
  • Cake Angels
  • Harry Eastwood's Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache
They are all fantastic recipes, including some which substitute ingrediants for vegetables, such as beetroot to keep in moisture, or simply adding prunes and apple juice with a lower calorie drinking chocolate. There are so many options out there so don't feel like you have to miss out! Infact I keep meaning to buy Harry Eastwood's book so sooner, rather than later, I might be able to try a few of the recipes and let you know what they are like!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Be My Valentine

Ahhh that time of year again, and my chance to get all pink and girly and make valentines themed creations! If you read my other posts, you will know that I intended to make peppermint cremes in the style of buttons. Well I changed my mind again and instead, for the first time ever, I got imaginative with my baking and mixed a few ideas together to come up with my own creation! I made strawberry and vanilla cupcakes, with strawberry cream stars on the top!

I used a combination of different recipes, mostly from The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook, which is one of my favourites, to make these cupcakes and I took plenty of photographs to show you the steps I took!

The first step I took was to make the strawberry cream stars that go on top of the cupcakes. It is the exact same recipe to make peppermint cremes except that I replaced the mint flavouring for strawberry and I added a red food colouring to make them more appealing for the valentines theme. Once rolled out and cut out with my star cutters they were left to chill while I continued on to the next stage.

The next step was the chop up all the sumptuous strawberries that would be the base of my cupcakes. I must admit I couldn't help eating a few whilst I was chopping them up to small pieces. Once cut I then divided them into the cupcake cases and moved onto making the cupcake mixture. This was a simple vanilla mixture from the Hummingbird Bakery cupcake book and yet again, I might have wiped up the last little dribbles with my finger... delicious!

Twenty five minutes later, out came the golden cupcakes and left to cool. It was now the time to make some mouthwatering vanilla frosting, but instead of just scraping it onto the cupcakes using a flat knife like I have in the past, this time I got to use my new piping bag for the very first time! It wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be, but it still took a few attempts and I'm not going to deny that they look a little rough! I think next time I will go a little slower and not worry if I don't finish them all. As it was my first try I was anxious to cover them all.

The last finishing touch was to add the strawberry stars and voila, heavenly strawberry cupcake goodness!

One last little note, I couldn't do a recent baking post without commenting on my friend Caroline's delicious raspberry butter cake that she baked for myself and a group of friends on a Pimms and Pictionary night. It was lovely, a light sponge with little bursts of flavour from the raspberries served with a dollop (or two) of clotted cream. Thank you Caroline!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Going Bananas...

... for mini muffins!!! A couple of days ago I started to notice that my bananas we going to that horrible sludgy brown colour, so obviously I had to get my baking booty into shape and make some delicious banana and cinnamon mini muffins! Now I'm calling them mini muffins as I ran out of muffin cases and had to use your average joe cupcake cases, but this made them more like a lovely light and spongy biscuit - perfect for a cheeky dunk in your cuppa! The best bit of this adjustment to cupcake cases meant that instead of making 12 muffins I actually made a whopping 36 mini muffins! More to pass round I say! And that is exactly what I did...

There is no way I can eat 36 mini muffins, actually that's a lie, I could easily sit down and munch my way through all of these mini treats, but that wouldn't be fair to all my friends who like to get their taste buds on my creations. I kept a small section for myself and put the rest in my tin and took them on my merry way to work. Apart from the fact that I couldn't spell cinnamon when writing a little note to the ol' colleagues, my little muffins were practically gone before my first break, and I made a little profit towards my baking fund for next time!

Oh, and If you were wondering from my previous post, I've decided to make a selection of peppermint creams for valentines day. Not only will they be different shapes, sizes and colours but they might not just be peppermint... On that note I shall leave you for today and my next post will reveal all!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Getting Inspired for Valentines Day...

Valentines is coming up again, and like last year I want to get my creative on and bake some lovingly scrumptious valentines treats. Last year I made chocolate chip and vanilla heart shaped cupcakes with pink vanilla frosting. I based the recipe from one from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook, which was my first and the one I will always refer to compare to other recipes. Anyway... the way I made them heart shaped is by using heart shaped silicone cases, and although they looked pretty it was such a mess and such a hassle to eat them. Because they are made of rubber, you have to sort of pop the whole cupcake out, which, if you're as clumsy as me means a lot of icing everywhere. I'm a sucker for traditional paper cases, so I can just rip into it and get my munch on.

So this year, as much as I lke to make cupcakes, I want to experiment... (let's just hope my boyfriend doesn't read this post or else he'll be ruining the possible surprise). 

I'm torn to bake some delicious biscuits like these, which I spotted on the best little website I've found recently, HelloGiggles. I first looked on this website, because it is co-founded by my celebrity crush Zooey Deschanel, and then I saw these... I bought an icing set in the January sales and haven't used it yet, so making biscuits like these would not only be amazingly tasty but I could practise my icing skills. However, I can see a very big downside to making these. I haven't really iced anything before using a piping bag and I know that if I can't ice the biscuits as nicely as these I would sulk and that would defeat the point of valentines day a bit...

I first saw these amazing peppermint button shaped treats in my friends Australian magazine Frankie and I was inspired immediately! This would be so much hard work, and there is no way mine would look anything like these as these were probably made with molds. But what I love about these are the different colours and shapes, and I could definitely incorporate some heart shaped ones in there. Plus I've already made peppermint creams in the past, they are so simple to make and just enough of a sugary treat, when handed round a group of work colleagues!

My last teeny tiny idea, is based on left over candy canes from Christmas... I was thinking, yes back to the cupcakes again, that I could made red velvet cupcakes with crushed up candy canes on the top. They are still the Valentines colours after all...

Give me your thoughts... what do you think I should bake for the very lucky man :)