Thursday, 29 December 2016

Happy Christmas!

A rather belated but very merry Christmas! I'm not entirely sure when etiquette experts recommend switching from wishing a Happy Christmas to a Happy New Year but as Father Christmas didn't deliver a copy of Debrettes this year, I'm sticking to Christmas. Even if the tree is looking decidedly wonky, tired and sad, the leftover turkey made into at least 352 supplementary dishes and the Internet is awash with "50 ways to lose those Christmas pounds" rather than "50 ways to make your  Christmas Pudding even more indulgent". 

Hope y'all had a good time. The toddler, although yet to be aware of quite what Christmas is about, certainly nailed the unwrapping of presents this year. As relatively new parents, we'd made the fatal mistake of wrapping said presents around 10pm on Christmas Eve, not realising that the toy kitchen we had bought was flat-ruddy-pack. With instructions that I'm sure were practically written by the toddler. In other words, little more than doodles of the kitchen at different stages of construction that after a few festive G & Ts were just a little bit tricky to decipher. 

I do love this indulgent hiatus week between Christmas and New Year. Where it's still acceptable to eat Quality Street and Wensleydale with Cranberries for breakfast. To not get dressed until midday and still wear Christmas jumpers on frosty winter walks. To contemplate doing worthy things like the crossword or a game of scrabble but instead watch a feast of films on the telly (that you inevitably watched last Christmas. And the one before that). When you have friends round on the pretext of being social but have a hidden agenda of making sure they help you eat every last mince pie which you panic bought on Christmas Eve, forgetting that the shops only close for 24 hours and your freezer is full of homemade ones. And spend the best part of the week trying to decide what to do on New Years Eve... and settle on a quiet night in. 

Talking of which, a happy, happy New Year to you all.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Bonfire Baking: Apple, Toffee and Hazelnut Loaf Cake

Hurrah it's Bonfire Night!

Or, if you live in a community similar to ours, Bonfire Week, as we've been hearing fireworks pretty much every night for the last seven days. Good to get some practice in I guess and perhaps my neighbours didn't get the memo; prior to 1959 it was illegal not to celebrate Bonfire Night.

It was of course thanks to an incompetent Guy Fawkes who failed miserably to blow up the Houses of Parliament, that each November 5th we set off rockets, light the bonfire and start the Catherine Wheels whizzing. Interestingly each year, prior to the State Opening of Parliament, the Yeoman of the Guard still search the cellars to ensure there are no conspirators hiding down there, a tradition since 1605.

It looks a super weekend for a firework display with dry, cold weather forecast. The only decisions left are which sweet treats to enjoy while craning your neck to get the best view of the fireworks. Will it be a traditional gingery parkin? A teeth-numbing, dentist-visiting Toffee Apple? Or will you stick to savoury and enjoy a couple of bangers (of the sausage kind)?

This warming apple, hazelnut and toffee cake is just the thing to take along to your bonfire night celebration. Tuck in to a slice or two in between trying desperately to write your name in the dark sky with a sparkler (alright if you are a Sue, not so if you a Sebastian).

Apple, Hazelnut and Toffee Cake

150g unsalted butter
150g light brown sugar
150g golden syrup
200ml milk
250g plain flour
2 tsps mixed spice
1.5 tsp baking powder
3 medium eggs
75g hazelnuts, roughly chopped
3 eating apples, cored, peeled and chopped roughly into chunks
Handful of toffees
Icing sugar for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a 2l loaf tine
2. Melt the butter, sugar and syrup over a gentle heat until melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the milk before setting aside to cool
3. In a large bowl, sift the flour with the spice and baking powder. Make a well in the centre and pour in the cooled butter mixture. Gently stir togther with a wooden spoon. Fold in the eggs, nuts and apple
4. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool for five minutes in the tin then transfer to a wire rack
5. For the toffee sauce, put the toffees into a saucepan with a splash of milk and melt, stirring regularly. Drizzle over the cake and dust with icing sugar

This is based on a delicious magazine recipe 

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Orange, Pistachio and Rose Cake

Isn't this just the sunniest cake you've seen? A little antidote to the January blues, the dark evenings and the freezing cold mornings. A cake to comfort now that Len has left Strictly and the Bake Off is 100%, definitely no more after those cheery Christmas specials. A simple, straightforward bake that looks far more lavish than it really ought to.

Infact, if hygge (aka lifestyle choice of the moment) was a cake, this would be it. Hygge, hailing from the happiest nation in the world, Denmark, is the concept of cosy contentment. Think a focus on simplicity, wrapped up warm on a frosty winter's walk, spending time with those we love, a good book infront of a roaring fire, a hot bath surrounded in bubbles... Yes, this is one lifestyle craze I am more than happy to jump on the bandwagon with and join in wholeheartedly. Heck, it certainly sounds a lot more enjoyable and edible than previous Scandanivian exports: scary crime thrillers and saunas in the nude.

This recipe is from Nadiya Hussain, last year's Great British Bake Off winner, and possibly the most successful winner ever. It's her first recipe I've tried making and it certainly gets a big thumbs up (and second portions, please). The orange adds a much needed dose of sunshine at this time of year and crunch of the pistachios offsetting the sweetness and fragrance of the edible roses.

The full recipe can be found on The Times website where Nadiya has a weekly column. Happy baking!

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Happy Halloween! Zombie Coconut Truffles

Happy Halloween! 

Halloween is now the second biggest party night after New Years Eve, with Tesco expecting to sell over three million pumpkins for us to creatively carve into amazing designs we've seen on Pinterest and zombie costumes the biggest seller on eBay. 

But for those of us who much prefer Bonfire Night (me, me, me!)  a recent YouGov survey suggests people actually prefer Bonfire Night to Halloween and despite Halloween's growth in recent years more money is still spent on Bonfire Night. Roll on November 5th, toffee apples and catherine wheels. 

Nope, you won't find me dressed up as a zombie or blunting every kitchen knife attempting and miserably failing to carve a pumpkin this weekend. But in a nod to Halloween, it's all about the treats on this baking blog. These simple but scrumptious coconut chocolate truffles can be whipped up quicker than you can tear up an old bed sheet for the world worst ghost costume.

As you can see decorating is NOT my strong point. Not in a billion zombie-fied years. But I was reassured to read Nadiya, last year's Bake off winner wrote in her weekly baking column in The Times that it's all about the taste, the aesthetics are a bonus. And, having eaten more of these truffles than a dentist would strictly recommend, they are ruddy delicious. 

Coconut Zombie Truffles 

150g dark chocolate (I used bourneville because it's Mary Berry's fave)
150g double cream
25g unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
50g dessicated coconut
Black fondant icing

1. Break the chocolate into small pieces and place into a large bowl
2. On a gentle heat, warm the cream and butter until simmering and pour over the chocolate
3. Stir until smooth and place into the fridge for a at least four hours to set
4. Using either a spoon or melon baller, create the truffle balls and roll in the coconut
5. Use the fondant icing to create ghoulish faces

And here a few treats from Halloweens of the past: 

Monday, 24 October 2016

Great British Bake Off: The Final and a Celebratory Bingo

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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!

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                                                              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.

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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