Monday, 24 October 2016

Great British Bake Off: The Final and a Celebratory Bingo

Image result for great british bake
Sniff Sniff

With sixty more minutes of Paul and Mary judging together,  one last technical challenge and a concluding hour of Mel-n-Sue puns, we've reached the final of Series 7 of The Great British Bake Off.

Truth is, I've found the series to be a bit of a soggy bottom. I'm not sure if it's because the Bake Off had reached its zenith with the joy of Nadiya winning last year, whether they were scraping the (biscuit) barrel with some of the challenges or whether it's the knowledge the Bake Off as we know it has only 58 minutes left on the BBC, but I haven't been that excited by this series. Even more so now The King of Cool, Selasi has left the tent. Sure, I know the Charmer from Ghana's savarin sucked and he fluffed his fondant fancies, but the guy was the most charismatic contestant by far this year. Last week he took over Sue's presenting duties because he was bored and looking for something to do. Pure genius and telly gold.

But this year has had no custard sabotage, no bin-gate, no Nadiya- esque journey... infact, not even a well endowed squirrel. Instead it's felt a bit sterile and too competitive. Where's the jolly, friendly, warm, village fete tent of previous years gone?

                                          Image result for great british bake

Of course that's not going to stop me and 12 million others tuning in this week for a theme of 'Royal Bakes' fit for the Queen. Candice is hot favourite to win, having been star baker the most but my money is on Andrew who, just like a champion racehorse, is coming into form just in time, having won star baker last week. To celebrate the finale of #GBBO as we know it, I'll be joining in a game of Bake Off Bingo this Wednesday evening. Take a gulp of your favourite tipple or a large bite of your favourite cake for any occurrence of the following:

  • Jane stares intently into the oven trying to send subliminal messages to her bake to perfectly rise
  • There's a soft focus clip of the contestant's families speaking fondly of how they've loved baking since they were knee high to a grasshopper
  • Andrew uses one of the following: protractor, adjustable set square, scale ruler or a compass
  • Paul Hollywood takes enormous pleasure in viciously stabbing a contestant's intricate, lovingly created bake as the judging commences
  • The camera focuses on a bank of kitchen timers that resemble the New York Stock Exchange
  • Mary Berry dons yet another fashionable floral jacket
  • Candice chews her bottom lip nervously as the judging takes place and yet her MAGIC LIPSTICK NEVER COMES OFF ON HER TEETH
  • When asked who they feel might win, all previous contestant's carefully name a different finalist as the BBC is all about fairness 
  • Mel and Sue are just as awesome as usual (you might get rather drunk/full with this one)


Thursday, 6 October 2016

The Art of Bread Baking: Sourdough Secrets at E5 Bakehouse

The other month, I went along to the E5 Bakehouse, an East London artisan bakery and cafe, to learn pretty much everything there is possibly to know about sourdough bread. 

On an exceptionally wet and soggy day, manhandling my oversized umbrella and mounting excitement onto a packed commuter tube, I traveled across the city to London Fields, where, tucked away under the railway arches, is the bake house. On arrival, the scent of roasting coffee and warm, freshly baked bread tickled our senses; I immediately understood why there are often long queues on a Saturday of patient locals waiting to pick up a loaf of the specialty Hackney Wick.


Together with my nine classmates we learnt the secrets to successful sourdough. Here are just a few tips I gleaned along the way:

  • Although it may seem a very complicated, intimidating way of producing a nice loaf, Sourdough is pretty straightforward. But it is not to be rushed; it can take up to three days from putting together the leaven* to making your lunchtime sandwich
  • When baking bread at home, create as much steam as possible in the oven. This creates a lovely crusty loaf and allows the loaf to reach full size. There are several ways to do this: put a baking tray of boiling water or ice cubes at the bottom of the oven; use of a water sprayer to douse the opened oven or bake the loaf in a cast iron pot (pre-heating the oven with the cast iron pot inside before placing the loaf inside)
  • Use semolina flour to dust your baking tray or baking/pizza stone rather than flour as this prevents the dough sticking 
  • Use a serrated knife when scoring the loaf before baking
  • Going away for a few weeks? Your sourdough starter can be placed in the freezer. The yeast and bacteria will become dormant and, on your return, can be reactivated by defrosting and refreshing the dough
  • If you've baked a homemade loaf but haven't got round to eating it after a day or two, first ask yourself why on earth not, then you can pop it in hot oven for around five minutes to 'refresh' the loaf
  • Bread baking books that were recommended included: The River Cottage Handbook No.3: Bread by Daniel Stevens; The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard and Bread: A Beginner's Book of Techniques and Recipes by Jeffrey Hamelman 

*A small amount of the starter fed with flour and water that forms the basis of any sourdough loaf


Between weighing, stretching and folding our own dough we were able to have sneaky peaks at the work of the bakery team, who we were assured were simply doing exactly what we were learning but on a much, much bigger scale; the bakery make over 1000 loaves a week to sell in the cafe and to local businesses.

And at the end of the day we each heaved bags full of the bread we'd been baking: ciabiatta rolls, bagels, a rye loaf and the famous Hackney Wick.

A combination of informative, relaxed and knowledgeable teaching, combined with plentiful supply of delicious coffee and sweet treats from the attached cafe plus more tips and advice on bread baking than the number of holes in a world-class sourdough loaf meant it was a really, really enjoyable day. 


My husband bought me the Sourdough Baking Class at E5 Bakehouse as a Christmas present. And as you can probably tell: I'd highly recommend it!

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

An Ode To The Baby Changing Bag

How my Pacapod change bag should look

Approximately fifteen months ago, I spent a frankly ridiculous, extraordinarily long trying to decide on a baby changing bag. I genuinely think I spent longer debating and deliberating this decision than we spent debating and deliberating baby names.

It just seemed such a momentous decision at the time. Looking at me, full of indecision, in the baby department of John Lewis, you'd have thought I'd be about to spend my life savings on a designer Chanel handbag, not a wipe-clean, plastic £65 changing bag. What if I got it wrong? Made a bad colour choice? Would the baby hate me?!*

I think I was looking for the changing bag equivalent of an enchanted Mary Poppins bag but instead of a hat stand being magically extracted, a high chair would be plucked out when a little cheerful music hall style ditty is sung.

I've since discovered that due to the volume of baby paraphernalia required each day the changing bag is bursting at the seams as though a small monster created from bibs, nappies and raisins is trying to work its way out. I haven't seen the bottom of the bag since the baby came home from hospital, but I suspect if I did dare delve into its murky depths I'd find a congealed mass of used baby wipes, rotting teething toys and thousands of ruddy raisins. Honestly, a 10p bag for life would do the job.

However, should someone wish to invent a Mary Poppins magical bottomless changing bag, my goodness would they be living off handsome profits, spending the rest of their days lounging on their own private island in the Caribbean eating caviar and quaffing the finest champagne.

Infact, that is how I'm going to make my fortune! Anyone got an application form for Dragon's Den handy?

*Pregnancy hormones were at an all time peak

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The Great British Bake Off is Back!

Image result for great british bake off 2016
                                                              Image courtesy of BBC

After a little unintentional blogging hiatus* rather like The Great British Bake Off I'm back! 

Yep, the new series of the Bake Off starts tomorrow night! Hurrah!

Despite last year's rumours of the Best Show on Telly (Trademark) being snaffled up by ITV, tomorrow night will have the majority of the nation** glued to the Beeb at 8pm. Imagine though, if the show had jumped ship to ITV. The Silver Fox would be replaced by Simon Cowell ('It's a no from me!'), Mel-n-Sue replaced by Ant-n-Dec and the tent by Wembley Stadium. Yes, the Bake Off would become Britain's Got Talent.

Image result for great british bake off 2016
Image courtesy of BBC

Thing is though, after last year's joy and happiness when Nadiya won both the Bake Off and the entire nation's hearts, is it going to be possible to replicate such a high point? Well, hopefully the new 'batter week' will 'better' the cause of the new series plus the contestants are the usual brilliantly eclectic mix of Britishness (although apparently they took longer to bond this year...a sign of a super competitive tent perhaps?) and there's already been plenty of controversy

And if you fancy baking along to the Bake Off, you'd better stock up now as the show is the third most important event in the nation's home-baking calendar, with only Christmas and Easter ahead. Sales of ground almonds shot up by 161% in one supermarket after biscuit week last year featured biscottis. Crikey,  if it sounds as though the tent might be competitive this year, the home baking aisles of Waitrose surely aren't that far behind?!

* new job, the baby starting nursery and ... well,  just life 

** 'tis true; it was the most watched show of 2015