Monday, 7 September 2015

Great British Bake Off Challenge - Week 5; 'Alternative Ingredients'

The first thing that sprang to mind when I heard that the initial bake of week 5 was sugar free cake was beetroot chocolate cake so lets ignore the fact that I said in my cheesecake post I'd be making a polenta cake, shall we? 

Mind you, a polenta cake may have been more sensible and my kitchen may not look like a crime scene if I had stuck to that plan, but ohhhh well. 

Beetroot added to cake sounds disgusting but is actually probably one of my favourite methods because when done well it yields a wonderfully sticky, moist and fudgey texture to a chocolate cake. This cake is no different however the lack of sugar means that it tastes rather... uhm, earthy. Whilst there is some definite sweetness to the taste it's not overwhelming and if your taste buds are tuned to sweetness like most peoples are when presented with a slice of cake then you'll probably dislike this quite a lot. I am in two minds whether I like it or not. I mean, I don't dislike it, but I wouldn't go crazy over making it again in this form. I'd happily make another beetroot cake! 

The ganache and strawberries really save this cake even though the ganache definitely defeats the object of not using refined sugar. Whilst we're tentatively on the subject of what you can legitimately use in a sugar free cake, I think we need to have a brief discussion about how a) what you bake on the show should probably be edible and b) how a cake is a sweet item, and not a savoury one, so not including any sugar at all would not yield a cake at the end. Yes, honey, maple syrup and agave syrup are all still sugars but then so are fruits (fructose) and natural sweeteners such as Xylitol and stevia. I saw the challenge as more of a 'Don't make a cake using your traditional grain sugars' rather than 'Don't use any sweet ingredients at all'. 


Once again, I've slightly adapted a recipe I've found online, this time it's from The Wholesome Cook

3 cups self raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarb of soda
6 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tsp Chinese five spice powder
1 cup of raw grated beetroot

2/3 cup of olive oil
2/3 cup of honey
1 1/3 cup of cold water
2 tbsp vanilla extract 

250g dark chocolate
275ml double cream

Oven temp: 150 degrees fan. Line a spring release tin with greaseproof paper.

Combine all the dry ingredients with the beetroot and mix well. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients and combine with the dry. Fold in gentley with a wooden spoon. 

Transfer to the pre-pared tin and bake for 30 - 35 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

To make the ganache put the double cream in a glass bowl over a bain marie until warm (don't boil it). Add the chocolate and remove from the heat, stir until all melted. Chill in the fridge for two hours or until set enough to spread on the cake. 

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Reasons Why You Should Run

Running has quickly become a huge part of my life - I currently run three to four times a week and often feel a bit 'odd' if I don't get chance to run. But if you'd have said to me even five months ago that I'd be running this much, training for a 10k in October and loving every second of it I'd have called you crazy. See, I haven't always been a runner... My running watch will tell you that much. I've dabbled in running since I was at university but never really pushed myself to run to a routine, or to run further/faster/better. Until I moved back home in April this year, that is.

See, the end of my four year long relationship with my ex boyfriend brought me to a turning point - I could either sit and mope around, doing nothing with my life or I can grab my newly single self and shake shit up. I chose the latter. So I chose running. I dropped some cash on a new set of running shoes and wrote up some goals to try and achieve.

I started out with 3.5k, and have worked my way up to 6.5k for a regular run and 10k when I'm feeling fresh. But how? Running is horrible. Well, it is when you start. The reasons I run include:
  • The feeling of achieving my goals. At first it was just to run continuously for 15 - 20 - 25 minutes, now it's 50 - 55 - 60 minutes. Pace wise I started out running at a 6:30 pace consistently; I'm now working to bring that down to a 5:20 pace and my ultimate goal is a sub 5 minute/km pace for initially a 5k, then 10k.
  • The feeling of setting new goals and knowing that I will eventually achieve them. My original goal of running a 5k has now morphed in a 10k and actually, I'm strongly considering the idea of a half marathon next summer.
  • The knowledge that I am infinitely more mentally strong than I give myself credit for. Mental strength and will power, much like physical strength, are muscles that must be exercised to be improved. Every time I come home from work and lace up my running shoes I am flexing those muscles. Every time I want to sit on the sofa and eat chocolate all night rather than be a productive member of society I have to exercise those muscles.
  • The calm tranquility of a long run cannot be beaten. All worries slip away when all you've got to worry about is whether or not you're keeping the right pace. Nothing else matters but your foot steps. On my runs I write stories, I listen to music, I debate philosophy and ethics, I muse about what car I want to drive in ten years time.
  • That runners high. I promise it exists (it took about three months of three runs a week for mine to appear though).
  • You can improve very quickly in a very short space of time with running  - check out my running progress on my MapMyRun profile. If I can do it, then so can you!
  • For every bad run, there is an equally great one.
  • Because one day, I won't be able to run.
Whether you run 1km or 10km, it doesn't matter. Nor does it matter if you run at a 7 minute per kilometre pace or a 4 minute per kilometre pace - because the battle you are fighting on each run is your own. No-one out there knows how far you've run, how far you have left or how fast you're running. And anyone who cares probably aint running themselves, so sod them. Just get out there and run. 

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Great British Bake Off Challenge - Week 4; Baked Cheesecake

Oh dear, it had to happen at least once in this challenge, didn't it? I had a total fail. An absolute flop. If I had been in The Tent, it  may have ended up being another Bin-Gate style scandal (Cheesecake-Gate doesn't have the same ring to it, thankfully). It was so bad it went almost straight in the bin. Dessert week got me, and it got me good. Not wanting to make crème brûlées and not really knowing what a Spanischer Windtorte was, I decided to tackle baked cheesecake. I'm not a particular fan of baked cheesecake so I've never attempted one before and well... I probably won't attempt one again any time soon. 

I had grand ideas for this; what about a chocolate and honeycomb baked cheesecake with a dark chocolate biscuit base and honeycomb crushed over the top? It'd surely look and taste amazing. Rich, creamy dark chocolate cheesecake and crackly, golden homemade honeycomb running through it. Yum. A true showstopper! 

The best laid plans eh?

That being said, I don't think it was the recipe that was the problem. It was me. I overworked the mixture, and then cooked it totally inappropriately. I ended up with this rather sad mess:

Oooph. I can hear Sue softly weeping in the background. I can feel Paul's glare. Mary would have a small heart attack trying to summon up something nice to say about this monstrosity.

Poor, poor cheesecake. I couldn't do much other than put it out of it's misery... by putting it in the bin. I did try a bit (for science!) and it made me feel thoroughly sick.

Yes, that base is burnt. The sides are burnt. The top is burnt with shards of honeycomb melted into it (apparently if you sprinkle honeycomb on top of something that's going to bake for 45 minutes it'll melt and then harden, because you know, high sugar content). The middle is strangely under AND overcooked. The honeycomb has dissolved from the mixture to nothing. It's sunk in the middle and become dense and uh, chewy. The honeycomb that I made largely stuck to the pan and ended up being abandoned until two days later when it had become a soft sticky mess.

No recipe this week because who the frick would want to recreate that mess?! Maybe I overworked the mix (I definitely overworked the mix). Maybe I had the temperature on the wrong setting (180 - would 160 have been better for my fan oven?). Maybe I set it too close to the bottom of the oven. Should I have used Tamal's bain marie method? Maybe, Should I have just eaten the chilled base and not bothered adding the mixture? I'm inclined to say yes.

Whilst I lick my wounds, I'll be sticking to chilled cheesecakes for a little while I think. Though things may take another turn for the worse as I attempt to tackle polenta cake for Week 5 - Alternative Ingredients week...

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Great British Bake Off Challenge - Week 3; Quick Bread

Apologies for the late entry for this post; my laptop mouse pad has had a bit of a senior moment so I've had to hunt down a mouse in order to use it. As such, week 4 will be coming up tomorrow...

I'll preface this entry with a simple fact; I hate baking bread. I hate baking bread with a passion. I hate having to knead it because it makes my hands sticky, I hate waiting for it to prove because I'm impatient and most of all I hate that 9 times out of 10 when I attempt to bake bread it doesn't work. I hate it I hate it I HATE IT! So needless to say bread week is not my favourite and was indeed the episode I was looking least forward to creating something from.

That is, until I discovered Alvin's Prosciutto, Manchego and Balsamic Red Onion Soda Bread recipe. This stuff is amazing. I've made three loaves of it since the episode aired two weeks ago and I will be making it again without a shadow of a doubt. It's a hearty, stout bread that is just as fantastic on it's own as it is with a soup. I'm very much looking forward to making loaves of this in the depths of winter to go with stew, goulash, pies and other 'stick to your ribs' meals. You can eat this plain or smother it with butter. Either way, it's a definite treat and one that's sure to go down well with anyone who enjoys a good filling bread.

Ingredients ready to go in

I can't get over how easy this bread really is to make. It's so simple - there's no prooving, no kneading, no yeast that needs to be alive and smells like a brewery. It's just like a cake really with a some unconventional mixing methods! Well, apart from the fact that you get a wonderful loaf of bread at the end rather than a yummy cake snack. And compared to how long it took me to make the Arlettes of week 2, this was a walk in the park!

Finished loaf

You could adapt the ingredients in this fairly easily. Instead of Manchego cheese (impossible to find in my semi-rural local Tesco) I plumped for Comte cheese, on the basis that it looked like a hard cheese and Manchego is hard, right? Well, not really the same thing as Manchego is a sheeps cheese and Comte is an unpasteurised cows cheese; but having never eaten either before I was sure that they'd swap easily enough. Comte is a fairly nutty flavoured cheese compared to Manchego's 'buttery texture' (thanks Google) but it is certainly a good accompaniment to the acid-y sweetness of the onions and the salty ham. I swapped prosciutto and parma ham for similar reasons in my original bake but went back to prosciutto for the second and third loaves and honestly can't tell the difference. I also left out the extra salt as I found that my first loaf was fairly salty from the ham.

The final adaptation I made was to not put the ham on top of my second and third loaves - I found on the first loaf it just burnt and turned into extremely crispy bacon. Putting the foil on top after it's had chance to brown stops this from happening to the onions that are placed on top.

Don't forget to score it into quarters, as this helps the bread to grow and bake properly.

You can find the original recipe here; I would urge you to go there straight away and bake this little beauty for yourself. I adapted it slightly as per the below:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large red onions, finely sliced
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar

450g plain white flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (double check it's in date as it's the only raising agent in this bread!)
Pinch of dried herbs - I used basil, parsley, a small amount of coriander and rosemary
30g cold salted butter, diced
200g Comte cheese, diced irregularly
80g Prosciutto or other finely sliced ham, roughly torn
300ml buttermilk with 25ml cold water stirred through

Oven temp: 200C/180C Fan oven. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

Warm the oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add the sliced red onions and stir, reducing the heat slightly. Cover and cook for 15 minutes stirring occasionally so they don't stick. Turn the heat down low and add the sugar and vinegar; stir and increase the heat and cook for a further 5 to 8 minutes, until sticky and the vinegar has almost all evaporated. Set aside to cool.

Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda and herbs in a bowl. Using your fingertips rub the butter in until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. I find it easier to keep going until you think it's done and then shake the bowl vigorously to bring any further butter chunks to the top of the bowl.

Keeping back 1 tablespoon of the cooked onions and a small amount of cheese for the topping, add the remaining cheese, onions and all of the proscuitto/ham. Toss to incorporate - at first the onions and ham will clump together but eventually the flour will dry them enough to allow all three ingredients to disperse evenly in the mixture. Just have faith and keep going!

Make a well in the middle of the flour mix and pour in roughly three quarters of the buttermilk and water mixture. Using a clawed hand mix the flour into the buttermilk well until a sticky dough is formed. Add further buttermilk if you feel like the mixture is too dry (I ended up adding all the buttermilk all three times I've made this). It should be fairly sticky and no flour should be left in the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape roughly. You can work it a little bit here but you don't need to. You do need to try and shape the dough though so if you are finding it's falling all over the place you may want to give it a bit of a light battering. Once shaped, transfer onto the greaseproof paper and score the top quite deeply with a cross.

Throw the rest of the cheese and onions on top. Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes and then cover so that the onions don't burn. Bake for a further 20 - 25 minutes or until it comes away cleanly from the greaseproof paper and sounds hollow when tapped.

Cool on a wire rack; at least until lukewarm as this is truly a bread that needs a little time to sit and chill. The runny cheese inside though is quite a treat if you can't wait that long!

Monday, 17 August 2015

Great British Bake Off Challenge - Week 2; Arlette Biscuits

It amazes me every year how they manage to come up with different technical challenges to bake - and every year I think I know each one but rarely do! The Arlette biscuit from last week's show is not something I've ever come across but being a lover of cinnamon swirls and always up for a pastry related challenge I decided that I would try the blind technical challenge.

Luckily for me, the official GBBO website has the full website with complete instructions on so I don't have to guess at timings, quantities or method! Which is great because this is a strangely complicated recipe that requires hours to do. I'm not exaggerating - from weighing my first ingredients out to having a finished product cooked it took over 4 hours. You can make these using store bought puff pastry which would speed the process up but where's the fun in that? 

However - they are completely worth the effort.

They're not quite what I'd call a biscuit, more of a pastry to me, but they are absolutely yummy and I would definitely make them again. I'd probably make them from scratch again; it is a lovely feeling to know that you've put all the effort in. I did run into a couple of butter related issues but overall they seem to have turned out ok! I doubled the recipe so I ended up with 16 decent sized biscuits. 

I learnt a few of things along the way - 

1) Don't rush the chill times. Equally, don't overchill. My pastry was fine but my butter layer cracked when I tried to incorporate it. I'm not sure if this is because I overchilled it (I chilled it for nearly an hour rather than half an hour as it still felt squidgy) or because I underchilled it but it meant that I had to attempt to incorporate squidgy butter into hard pastry... In the end I dolloped as much underneath and on top as I could and rewrapped it in clingfilm. This made it easier to get the butter into the pastry. Arguably this has affected the end result, as puff pastry puffs from the butter in between the pastry layers.

2) Turn them in the middle of the cooking time. I often neglect to do this with other biscuits but it really makes a difference with these; if you don't turn them then the bottom sugar/cinnamon combination will probably catch and burn. Turning them ensures a nice colour all around.

3) Don't skimp on the sugar and cinnamon mixture. It looks like a lot to go in but if you skimp then you'll end up with quite bland puff pastry that doesn't really resemble a biscuit in any way.

4) Roll the pastry as tight as you can at the penultimate stage. A loose roll will mean that it's harder to cut your biscuits and they will not make a 'whole' biscuit when they're baked.

5) Using a small rolling pin is easier than a large one when you're rolling out the rounds prior to baking. Aim for as thin as you can get - the thinner they are, the better the taste. 

Yes, it's a four hour effort. But you're actually only working on these every 30 - 45 minutes and only for five to ten minutes at the time. Set aside a morning and get them done! 

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Great British Bake Off Challenge - Week 1; Madeira Cake

This year I am challenging myself to make at least one bake from the British TV show, The Great British Bake Off. GBBO is hands down my favourite annual TV event (the Rugby Six Nations comes a close second) and every year I loudly shout about how I'm going to make some of the recipes... but I never do.

Not this year. This year I will hold my word.

I have decided - nay, promised - that I will make at least one of the bakes from the show each week.

The first episode of the 2015 series saw the new bakers tackle Madeira cake, whip out a Walnut cake, and finish up with decadent Black Forest Gateaux. All three are bakes I would love to make and consume as they're among my favourite baked goods (BFG... unffff) but in the interest of ease, creativity and intrigue I've opted for a Madeira sponge.

I've never made a Madeira before, which is largely why I chose it for my first GBBO challenge, but equally as I really wanted to try candied peel. What can I say? I'm an overachiever.

I ended up making two; one to take into work with me and one to devour with my family. This was irrefutably a good plan as there's now just half of the second one left even though they only came out of the oven 2 hours ago...

Hows that crumb looking? Sadly this one came out a little overcooked on the sides and top but the inside is still fairly moist and has a lovely vanilla and lemon flavour. The recipe I used (see below) called for almond extract but in it's absence I used vanilla. It's a fairly close textured cake but I feel it would probably come under a fair bit of scrutiny from Mr Hollywood!

I'm pleasantly pleased with how the candided peel/orange slices came out. I used to the left over syrup on top of both of the cakes and found I had just enough to drizzle. Nice. It was a lot simpler to make than I thought it would be as well - the first recipe I found suggested it would take over 3 hours to make; mine took 35 minutes.

Hopefully this one will be appreciated tomorrow!

Madeira Cake recipe

Adapted from I'd Much Rather Bake Than...

  • 175g butter, room temperature
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs, room temperature, cracked and whisked
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 150g self raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 75g ground almonds
  • Splash of milk
Cream the butter for around 5 minutes with a hand mixer until it's very soft and creamy. It should go a lot lighter; almost white. 

Slowly add in the sugar, whilst still using the mixer. Keep mixing it for another 5 or so minutes - your aim is to completely combine the sugar and butter into a creamy paste. 

Combine the eggs and vanilla extract in a jug and add slowly to the mix in stages. Keep mixing as you add. For the first few glugs the mixture will start to thicken but by the last it should have started to release again. 

Sift in the flour, baking powder and almonds in two parts. Be sure not to get any almond lumps or 'debris' in the mix. Fold this in using a metal spoon. You've added a lot of air in the previous three stages, now you're folding in the dry ingredients gently to keep that air there! 

Splash the milk in so that the mixture releases a little more. It should be fairly runny. Turn the mix into either a lined loaf tin or a lined and greased round tin.

Bake for 30 - 45 minutes at 150oC, keeping an eye on the top. You should get a crack down the middle but be careful not to let the colour go too dark. If it's starting to catch then cover the cake with tin foil and return to the oven. I put a cake tin with water in at the bottom of my oven to generate some steam; which I think helped. I will have to try without and compare the two!

The cake is done when a skewer comes out cleanly. Leave it in the tin for ten minutes and then turn it out. 

If you're using syrup, poke some holes in the cake with a toothpick and drizzle the syrup when the cake is out of the tin.

Candied Peel Recipe

  • 1 large orange 
  • 1 1/2 cups of water
  • 1/2 cup of granulated sugar
Either slice the orange thinly or remove the peel in thin chunks and lines using a sharp knife. Set aside. 

Put the water and sugar in a saucepan and stir; bring to the boil. 

Once boiling, add the orange pieces or peel. Simmer for 20 - 25 minutes until the syrup has thickened and the fruit has gone translucent. Remove from the pan and place on greaseproof paper to cool. Drizzle the remaining syrup over the cake and place the orange pieces/peel on decoratively.

If you're making candied peel, be very careful as sugar water gets very hot and it sticks if it touches your skin! 

Next week it's biscuits - another enjoyable thing to bake! 

Friday, 6 March 2015

Instagram Round Up #2

Since my last Instagram round up back in January last year (!) things have changed an awful lot.

Quite frankly, I have little desire to go and reminisce over last year as it was filled with arguments, deaths and break ups, but I truly believe that we can see beauty in the most dark of places if we look hard enough... so here are some of my favourites photos from the last year and 3 months.

Last year we welcomed Ben and Jerry (Top left and right corners) into our lives and I passed my driving test! I've started to get more involved in my jewellery making and baking, as well as going to the gym - I love working out now. Last year proved to me that family is more than important in my life and I love all of them very much. The blanket in the bottom corner was crocheted for me as a Christmas present by my amazingly talented sister!

I love using Instagram, so don't forget to follow me on there - username is itsanatnat.

You can expect a baking post or two this week coming, as we're having a Red Nose Day bake off at work. Until then, laters!