12. Carribean Christmas Cake – Jamaicing me crazy and setting the kitchen on fire

My battered Delia Recipe

I LOVE Christmas and Christmas Cake! A few years ago I decided, the week before Christmas, to make my first ever independent Christmas Cake. I now know that this is breaking all of the Christmas Cake rules. It needs time to mature, to be fed Brandy and then the icing needs to be spaced out, one layer at a time over a week, so the marzipan has time to dry out and to achieve a much smoother finish. But in true Lauren style, I dove straight in and was sitting up til 1am waiting for the cake to bake. Then a spot of slap dash icing (which I had never EVER done before) til ridiculous o’clock on Christmas Eve.

My first ever Christmas Cake and decoration attempt. I went a bit overboard with the fondant icing! The marzipan snowman lost his head on the way too!

I didn’t want to make the same mistake(s) again this time. My Mam has a fantastic recipe, but I ended up adapting a Delia Recipe as it was a very spur of the moment decision when I first baked it and I have used it ever since. Even the same print out to be exact!

As per usual I didn’t have the correct ingredients in the cupboard so I had to substitute a the vast majority of Delia’s recipe. Ending up with dried mango, dates and raisins instead of cherries, candied peel and currants. Although I did splash out on a big bottle of brandy.

As the rules of Around the World in Eighty Bakes states, I have to bake something that I haven’t baked before. I pondered over this for a while and decided to modify my Christmas Cake and put a Caribbean twist on it. Also I wanted to make mini Christmas Cakes so I can give them as presents this year too,  inspired by a wonderful little short story by Truman Capote, A Christmas Memory.

Rum Soaked Fruit

In order to put a different slant on the classic Christmas Cake I replaced the Brandy with Rum. There’s always some in my cupboard and having tried to drink the leftover Brandy following reading  Gone with The Wind (Scarlett was a Brandy advocate) I realised I’m not a huge fan, perhaps Tesco Value Brandy is not the best to start with….

After soaking all the dried fruit in rum for a day. Opting for cranberries (very Christmassy), raisins and apricots, it was time to start mixing everything together. The butter was a bit hard so I decided to soften it slightly in the microwave, after ensuring the butter packet was paper only I popped the whole block in the microwave for 30 seconds.

The microwave went up in a loud bang and a massive white flash. I created fireworks in the kitchen! A little girly squeal from me and I ripped open the microwave door, to discover actual flames coming from the cleverly disguised tin foil sandwiched inbetween the paper of the packet.

I’ve never set the kitchen on fire before, so I got a bit of a shock.  But I managed to think quick and decided to blow the flames out, whilst balanced precariously on my tip toes. The microwave is on top of the fridge and I’m only 5 foot 2 (ish) so it’s a bit of a stretch at the best of times… Thankfully it worked and I rescued the butter and the kitchen.

The Offending Article

I persevered following the slight disaster and finished mixing the ingredients, with the addition of coconut too. Let’s hope this tastes nice!

Lovely Mixing. (Make a wish)

Then to grease and line 14 small tins of various sizes! This was a bit of test of my patience. I made the next mistake of popping another pack of butter directly on the oven shelf, ‘just for a minute’ to soften. I forgot about it and returned about 20 minutes later to an empty pack of butter and an oven swimming in grease. Eugh!

Oh dear

I got a bit bored of making lids for my mini cakes and decided to wrap the entire tray in baking paper to protect it from the heat. As the cakes are much smaller than the norm I reduced the cooking time slightly
too, so no 1am cake vigils for me!

Mini Cakes. Individually greased and lined.

Patience wearing thin... I'll wrap the entire tray!

They look lovely and smell beautiful too. These cakes are most definitely a labour of love. Now to feed them rum on a regular basis. I’ll store them for a few weeks then attempt some sort of creative decoration. I predict some sort of gold lustre making an appearance. I will keep you posted on my progress!

Phew! 14 mini Christmas Cakes baked

Close up

11. Pavlova Continued… Modified Meringues!

2 days after the tanned Pavlova creation, I still wasn’t happy with my meringue techniques. I can remember my Aunty Janet making beautiful chewy mini meringues and eating loads of them with my cousin Andrew. They were beautifully piped  and subtly golden. I’ve always wanted to attempt petite meringues like my Aunty Janet used to make. Unfortunately I don’t have her recipe, so I thought I would modify the BBC recipe that I used for the Pavlova.

Super Hans. The cat that got the meringue.

I whipped the eggs and the sugar together. Then out with a piping bag! I should probably invest in  something a little more sturdy than a Wilko’s 90p effort, but this was breakfast cooking at it’s best. I free handedly piped little meringue swirls  onto the baking paper saving a little meringue to experiment with later. Super Hans, my cat, was very intrigued by this recipe and insisted on sniffing some of the leftovers…

Freshly Piped Petite Meringues

I thought ‘let’s have a go at pink meringues and make them more like macaroons by throwing in some ground almonds!’ In my mind these were going to be pretty little pink swirls all light and chewy…

Meringue Dots

A second whisk is not what meringues like. A runny pink mess ensued and I struggled to get it into and keep it in the piping bag. Therefore I invented Meringue Dots. Mainly due to the fact that the piping bag kept  dripping meringue everywhere.

Some meringues didn't quite survive.

I guessed at the cooking time again with these being very little meringues and left them for about 40 minutes or so to dry out in the warm oven. Frightened they would weld themselves to the baking paper I quickly removed them and let them cool fully whilst sampling a few on the way. One for the tray , one for me. Oh dear, that one broke. Two for me, one for the tin..

Petite Meringues

I liked these a lot. And one batch makes tonnes of petite meringues!! Although I can’t say they are anywhere as good as my Aunty Janet’s, for a little experiment I quite enjoyed them. Perhaps the piping bag may have to come out to play more often.

The Final Presentation

Perfect little presents too

Not wanting to waste all those egg yolks I whipped up a quick batch of Nigella’s Egg Yolk Sponge Cakes too.

Egg Yolk Sponge Cakes

11. Pavlova – New Zealand and the Ram Van

I love New Zealand. When we visited it was the middle of winter and despite the snow and a week in a The Ram Van camper sleeping in all my clothes and a body warmer, I still loved the experience. Rambling through river beds to touch the nose of Fox Glacier, bathing in the naturally hot spring waters at the bottom of a snow capped mountains (and freezing to death jumping between the pools) at Hamner Springs and 5 hours on a very rocky ferry accompanied by the little known Hugh Grant classic ‘Music and Lyrics’ (that film got me through a very dark point in my life of extreme seasickness). It doesn’t get much better than this. Such a beautiful country.

Me in the Ram (Camper) van. Can you see the snow capped mountains in the background?

I can’t actually remember eating very much cake whilst in New Zealand, but I do remember eating pumpkin soup when we had to stay in a motel when I cried following the horrific storm filled ferry crossing. It was the best pumpkin soup I’ve ever had. Also coffee and cream from a tube that we had whilst camping. I’ve since tried to buy it in England and it’s unheard of here! Travesty! All those outdoor shops we have and not a sign of coffee in a tube! I really wanted to buy some but thought $35 was a bit too steep to mail order some.

It doesn't get much better than this!

I feel a bit like a broken record, but I’ve never baked a Pavlova before and thought why not give it a go? It can’t be that difficult, can it? Perhaps I should have went for something a bit easier when I had friends coming round for dinner? Perhaps this was a bit too daring, baking New Zealand’s National Dish without practicing or preparing beforehand? Perhaps I should have baked something a little less technical when I hadpeople visiting?? Perhaps, perhaps perhaps, but I always seem to throw myself in at the deep end and look forward to seeing if it turns out ok.

Action shot

Somehow I hadn’t really thought about the hour and a half that it requires in the oven on a very low temperature and that it needs to cool down quite a lot before you can serve it. But I had already whisked  everything up by the time I realised this and the oven was already full of pork and potatoes, which needed 2 hours at a very high temperature… Compromises had to be made and we didn’t eat until ridiculous o’clock (sorry Sarah and Ole!). We were all very hungry by this point!

Glossy and fluffy

I thoroughly enjoyed whisking the egg whites this time without any traces of yolk (Hurrah, progress!) and watching them become very glossy and stand up on end. Throwing in sugar I whisked it all up into a frenzy. The meringue mix too on the light brown hue of the soft demerea sugar that I had blitzed in the blender to make it an even finer grain.

The most difficult part was trying to plonk it all in some sort of attractive mess on a baking tray. Genius struck when I realised I could separate the round flat tin from the loose bottom cake tin and use that instead of trying to squish it into a baking sheet, and it would give a good pavlova shape too!

Sculpture of meringue

It took forever to bake and due to the pork emergency we were having I left it in a bit longer than required on a slightly higher temperature than required. Resulting in a rather two toned, tanned pavlova.

It's not burnt... it's just a bit oven tanned.

I whipped up the cream with lemon zest (very nice touch, I will do that more often!) I threw it all together and attempted to balance an enormous amount of fruit (raspberries, blueberries and strawberries) on top and hoped they wouldn’t fall off when I walked through the beaded curtain from our kitchen to the living room.

Extreme Close Up

This is definitely a dessert to assemble 5 minutes before it’s served and eaten straight away. I was surprised by how soft the meringue was, possibly because I used a different type of sugar as I don’t have golden caster sugar… and possibly because it hadn’t completely cooled down. It was more like a sponge cake on the bottom, once the cream had been added, and chewy meringue on the edges. We all cleared our plates so it must have been ok!

8. Make and Bake – Chocolate Cheesecake – America – Hummingbird Bakery

With it being Chocolate Week last week and National Baking Week this week, I thought I should bake something else chocolatey and lovely. A triumphant return to America to one of the few Hummingbird Bakery Recipes that I was still to attempt… Baked Chocolate Cheesecake.

Baked Chocolate Cheesecake

After watching the Baked Cheesecake GBBO episode I was aware of how tricky this would be. But I’m still dreaming about Jo’s Rum and Raisin Cheesecake! I was a little surprised in the supermarket when purchasing all the cream cheese needed for this one… 4 packets of cheese seems like a lot!!

Beacoup de Cream Cheese

I decided to improvise with the biscuits as I already had rich tea in the house rather than buy digestives. That won’t make too much of a difference right?

Biscuity Base

I must admit I was in a little bit of a hurry when putting this one together and roughly blended rich tea biscuits and cocoa powder into sweet dust which permeated the entire kitchen with my little hand whisk. An emergency tea towel was required to protect my eyes.

I pressed the biscuity mess into my borrowed loose bottomed tin and shoved it the fridge to set.

I threw all the cheese with the melted chocolate into a bowl and whisked it all up then added all the eggs… Using one hand to smash the eggs and one hand to whisk, i ended up with egg shells all over the floor, but an effective method nonetheless.

Thoroughly Whisked

I poured it all into the tin then once again disaster struck. I’m most definitely consistent in one area. My inability to read recipes. Dear Lord, I despair at my own ridiculousness. I realised I hadn’t read to the end of the recipe! I didn’t have a tray big enough to submerge the cake in, in order to bake it in a bath of water. I only had another loose bottomed cake tin which I managed to gently manoeuvre the runny cheesecake into. Upon pouring water into the second tin, I thought I could hear rain. No. It was all the water running out of my cake tin over the electrical items down the back of the kitchen units and onto the floor. BRILLIANT.

I had to abandon the water bath idea and hope that it wouldn’t burn being baking directly in the oven.

Just as I was lifting the precariously full tin unto the oven I had a flash of panic. I’ve forgotten something…. SUGAR! (and also vanilla). How did I forget sugar??!! I was so very lucky to have realised at the very last minute, as this would have been a rather expensive and disgusting cheese and chocolate bake.

not quite oven ready... quick hand me a ladle!!

Quick to rescue yet another failure on my part I grabbed a ladle and scooped the gloopy mixture it of the tin and back into the bowl. A quick whisk of sugar and vanilla and it was time for the oven again.

Oven Ready?

To compensate for the lack of water I turned the oven down to hopefully prevent burning. From watching GBBO I know the cheesecake has to wobble a bit in the middle, but mine just kept wobbling all over. I probably kept it in the oven a bit too long.

The Double Tin Effect - sadly no water (probably should have stopped baking at this point...)

An hour and a half later I had one massive chocolate cheesecake on my hands, albeit with a huge crack down the middle, it looked ok!

Rather than at this point...

It needed a night in the fridge and then it was ready for tasting. It’s definitely rich and creamy. It’s so filling  you can only eat a little bit in one go, but I quite like it. The Rich Tea base is actually pretty good too! This feeds about 25 people.

But from this angle (and if you squint a little) the disaster disappears! Magic!

I’ve even purchased some take way pots to deliver take away cheesecake to my friends and family this week. If you’re visiting me this week please beware you will be fed cheesecake and then take some home with you too! Its good to share!

Cheesy and Chocolatey

We’re Jammin’ – Marguerite Patten’s Apple and Ginger Jam – England

Homemade Apple and Ginger Jam

Technically not a bake but as I set my own rules and disregard them frequently, I declare that making something on the oven is almost the same as in the oven. Why quibble over semantics?! Also jam making is a skill that I’m yet to master as my previous charred cherry remains and ruined pan are testament to. Watching a 10 minute River Cottage Preserves Programme does make me a jam expert. New baking commandment. Thou shalt not invent your own jam recipe. Disaster shall prevail if so….

My Own Cherry Jam Recipe... Burnt Toffee

Jam features in so many baked items so I think it’s essential to teach myself how to make it. Also I’m sure Holly Bell whipped up a quick pan of jam in The Great British Bake Off final  therefore I can justify it.

My Wonderful Annotations. Thankfully I can now spell milk... My Mam must have loved those additions to her book.

I dug out my Mam’s proper cookbook. The original Prince cooking bible, complete with little Lauren scribbles and misspelt notes. (Mam must have been thrilled when I did that.) She taught me how to bake from this. I tried to help whenever I could with Graham Gingerbread, Carrot Cake and of course, Rock Buns.

My Mam has always been very good and artistic making impressive celebration cakes for the family. I was a very lucky child to have the Pink Panther, Hello Kitty and most recently Frank n Furter recreated in cake, icing, licorice and glitter for my birthdays. I wish I had some photos to share with you here! I tried to repay the honour by baking Mam her favourite, Christmas Cake. Unfortunately the marzipan snowman got a bit squashed when I pushed a tin lid on it…

The First Ever Christmas Cake That I Baked (2009)

I didn’t really appreciate the wonder of this Everyday Cookbook until I started looking through it over the last couple of weeks. I didn’t even know who Marguerite Patten was, or that she received  for her contributions to cooking, a pioneer of economical cookery. A woman after my own heart.

The one and only Marguerite Patton Ever Day Cook Book

With my remaining wedding apples I wanted to do something special. I LOVE apple and ginger jam and can’t find it anywhere apart from Tynemouth Market once, 2 years ago. But lo and behold Marguerite has a recipe for it!

Apples in Ginger

Only one slight hand injury incurred during some late night apple chopping and I left the apples to marinade in a lot of ginger powder overnight. When I tried to measure out the sugar needed I realised that I had been looking at the wrong side of my scales and had over 1kg of apples, not 1lb that the recipe required. (How did I carry them all back from James and Lara’s wedding!?) It was a very close call and a good catch. I re-weighed everything and after a bit of mental arithmetic I worked out very roughly the proportions of sugar to apple that I needed to get the consistency right.

Rather a lot of apples required...

I know jam is a complicated and delicate process but despite not measuring things correctly, I then threw all of the sugar in at the very start. Upon re-reading the recipe I realised this is NOT what you do. It’s all about getting the magical pectin to seep out of the fruit to make it set, but I had probably ruined it. I followed the rest of the rules however and didn’t stir it once it reached boiling point and hoped that I wouldn’t have to throw out my best pan. Putting the lid on I watched it nervously steam and froth.

Don't Panic! It's all (kind of) under control

It didn’t take long, maybe 15 minutes at the most and then I had jam! But I wouldn’t recommend tasting it at this stage. It’s far too hot…

Looking Jammy

I got a bit carried away when jar shopping . Luckily I bought extra jars, just incase I made more jam than the recipe predicted. It’s almost like I’m psychic. The recipe was only supposed to produce 1lb of jam. I made enough to fill 2 1lbs jars!

Marguerite Pattons' Preserves

I kept a little bit back to have on my toast for breakfast and it was fantastic! Real jam!

If you burn the toast perfectly then Hello Kitty's face appears. It's an art form.

Breakfast Time. Perfect with a cup of tea

Now just to decide if I should keep it all for myself, bake it in a cake or give it away as Christmas presents… What could say ‘I love you’ more than a big jar of homemade jam or ‘I built you a cake?’ What you will need to make your own Apple and Ginger Jam

  • 1lb of apples peeled and chopped in the cubes
  • 1 tsp of ground ginger (although I added far more and think the more ginger the better!)
  • 1lb of granulated sugar
  • No extra citric acid is needed when making apple jam as its got enough pectin in the fruit to set the jam

This recipe yields 1    2/3 lb of jam in total. When I made it it filled two 1lb jars.  Marguerite’s Jam Tips!

  • Marguerite explains that although it’s best to use preserving sugar which has more pectin added to it to encourage the jam to set, you can still use loaf/granulated sugar (which is often cheaper) particularly when preserving fruits with higher levels of natural pectin such as Blackberries.
  • Some fruits such as cherries have low levels of pectin and therefore you will need to use more fruit than sugar and add some citric acid, such as lemon juice to encourage it to set more.
  • If using a fruit with high levels of pectin such as blackcurrants you should use more sugar than fruit. You should get better results when you use more sugar than fruit in any jam as this helps the jam to set.
  • Stew the fruit slowly to maximise the vital pectin extraction

6. Chocolate Roulade – France

Not just any Chocolate Roulade, but Mary Berry’s quintessential Chocolate Roulade. I wanted to push myself further (yet again) and chose another technical challenge to bake for my Book Group friends. This time round I studied and re-examined the Mary Berry Chocolate Roulade Recipe  which was one of the technical challenges posed to the Great British Bake Off contestants. I wanted to make sure that I fully grasped the method. I even double checked I had all the right ingredients the day before (very unlike me!).

It took a lot of will power not to eat this

I’ve never baked something without flour. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever whipped up so many eggs before. Hoping that my little whisk had made a miraculous recovery I cracked on. Literally. Separating 6 eggs. Disaster struck when one egg yolk split and oozed into the egg whites. I could hear the sage like Mary Berry in my head saying, ‘The egg whites must not contain any trace of yolk or they won’t set when you whisk them’ Frantically scooping yolk from the whites, as my guests were arriving in under an hour and I only had 1 pack of eggs, there was no room for error. I managed to get most of it and then crossed my fingers and hoped for the best!

Splitting the eggs (note the not so white, whites)

Another lesson learnt. Perhaps in future so as to not ruin all of the eggs, I will crack each egg into a cup first, letting the egg white run through my fingers  leaving the yoke,  which can be put into its own separate jug. I won’t be using the sharp egg shell to separate eggs again! My promise to Mary. Only when I know the egg white is pure will I then pour each one individually into the bowl.

Fluffy Eggs Whites (with a splash of yoke... tut tut tut)

The eggs whites did fluff up nicely when I whisked them, but not having done this before I wasn’t entirely sure at what point to step away from the mixer… How much whisking is too much?

As I whisked and folded chocolate into egg yolk more pearls of wisdom from Mary Berry floated into my mind. ‘Use a metal spoon to fold the whisked so no air is lost’ (Emmm I only have a slotted metal spoon Mary, will this do?). ‘Fold the eggs gently, but any flecks of white left will be visible in the Roulade’. This was much harder than I had anticipated and had to resist the urge to just give it a good stir! But persevering it all eventually combined into a lovely chocolatey paste. I then forced it into the pre-prepared (get me planning ahead!) tin.

Ready for the oven

Drum Roll Please...

I now fully appreciate why this was a technical challenge on GBBO. It was so crumbly! It cracked and crumbled all over, but I coaxed it in to a roll -ish shape and then made my own greaseproof paper piping bag to pipe in a little extra cream to hopefully hold it all together. Ta da!

The Final Roulade!

It was so good (even if I do say so myself!) I really enjoyed it and I’m not a big fan of cream. Such a fantastic combination of textures. Light and fluffy on the inside and ever so slighty crispy on the outside. The cream softening it further, so it almost melted in the mouth. It may not have looked perfect but it tasted amazing. The girls loved it and conservation quietened slightly as we devoured it. Always a good sign that a cake is a success that concentration is required to savour it. All praise to Mary!

So Chocolatey, So Lovely

5. Viennese Apple Strudel – Austria (The 4 Foot Pastry Monster- most tricky bake yet)

This week I may have baked myself into oblivion. Following my muffin experiment I wanted to explore a country that I am still yet to visit, Austria. (which I am assured is not in Germany and Prussia no longer exists). We went to our friends’ beautiful wedding last weekend where I was kindly given a boatload of homegrown apples. Congratulations and thank you James and Lara they are very tasty! This is my second bake using said apples.

James and Lara's Wedding Apples

I wanted to find an authentic recipe for something a bit more challenging, stepping up the baking ante. I chose a rather traditional Viennese Apple Strudel Recipe. This involved an enormous amount of apples and butter and yet another pastry effort.

Peeling and chopping a mountain of apples and simultaneously sauteing my previous homemade baguettes in butter I got stuck in.

Best Oxfam purchase ever

Sauteed Baguette

The pastry was epic! My poor little electric whisk started to smell like the blown out birthday candles and I fear it will never be the same again. There’s pastry still trapped inside, even after a took a knife to it, to coax it out!

Poor little whisk

The recipe called for a 4 foot length of cloth to stretch the 4 feet of pastry out on. I’m not even sure my workbench is 4 foot long?! With limited resources yet again I found a subsitiute for cotton, in cling film. (I don’t think this is the traditional method in Austria,) Selotaping vast amounts of cling film to the bench seemed to be my best bet. I felt like the Cling Film Queen. Christening my new fabuolous rolling pin, I set to work flattening it all out and stretching the pastry to within an inch of it’s life.

Miles and Miles of Pastry (new rolling pin!)

Then to add the filling and breadcrumbs quickly before the pastry fell apart. It was very delicate. I had to coat the inside in even more butter, in addition to the extra chunks of butter the recipe requested to accompany the apples and raisins! I hope my guests like butter…

I thought the next bit would be really difficult, folding the pastry over to roll it all up. I was very proud of myself when I got to this point. Who needs 4 feet of cloth to wrap up a strudel?! I thought whimsically. It wasn’t easy, I hasten to add, as the cling film kept tearing but what was still yet to come almost had me in tears…

Roll Up! Roll Up!

Entering in to my second hour of preparation I was getting to that almost frazzled point and needed some stroke of genius to enlighten me as to how I was going to a) get this 4 foot pastry monster out of the cling film and b) on to my quite small baking tray.

I made sure this time I greased the paper very well! But every little attempt to move the strudel made the corners of the apple chunks inside poke through the pastry. Patting down the increasingly thin pastry I went for the Band Aid Method, throw it into the tray and rip off the cling film. I was up to my elbows in butter by this point. Hallelujah! It was on the tray in a Horseshoe shape. Phew!

A Horseshoe Shape?

Now you may notice the obvious mistake here. Despite having the recipe printed out in front of me (without any photos) I still managed to misread it! This is getting beyond a joke. Is my eyesight or my brain failing me? I may have to start wearing my glasses whilst baking. The recipe prescribed half of the bread crumbs to be put into the mix which I successfully did. Then in all the excitement of rolling it up, I thought it said to sprinkle the rest on the strudel. I realised, to my horror, after I sprinkled them all over the final product I had missed a step. The recipe said to put them inside the strudel just before rolling. Damn!! I had a good giggle at my stupidity though. It wasn’t life or death, but I was worried the breadcrumbs would burn and smell like burnt toast.

I'm ready for my close up and look a little twisted but that's ok

Thankfully it was ok in the end! It smelled quite lovely, but as it was now 11pm I wasn’t in the mood for sampling it. Also we had friends coming over the following evening for food so I wanted to save it for them.

No smell of burnt toast at all 🙂

A quick reheat in the oven and lashings of custard and the strudel was a success!

It was well received

The sweet apples and raisins contrasted nicely with the savoury pastry. It should also feed the 5 thousand as it’s enormous. 4 of us hardly put a dent in it! Please send tupperware, or even bring a plate and you can have a slice!

The Final Slice

I may have now reached my pastry capacity now. I may explode. Next bake will have to be something a little different I think…

4. Accidental Breakfast Muffins – America

I had a vision for what I wanted to bake but didn’t have a recipe to achieve it. I’ve attempted American muffins from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook about 5 times now and failed miserably to get them to rise and to look more appetising than a sludgey, sticky, tray bake, rather than lovely risen individual muffins. I give up!

Me in LA with Cary Grant

I’ve been to America quite a few times and they do indulgent food so well. I have quite a few American items on my baking wish list so where better a place to start than the good old fruit muffin.

Accidental Breakfast Muffins

I had over ripe bananas, oats, honey, raisins and rather a lot of apples to use up in the cupboards so I concocted this next baking attempt. I was thinking about how wonderful and creative the contestants on GBBO are and how they invent their own recipes so I found a basic banana muffin recipe and for better or worse, improvised…

Accidental Breakfast Muffins Recipe:

1 cup (115 grams) oats

2 and half  cups (230 grams) plain flour

2 cups (3/4 cup (150 grams) combination of half brown and half granulated white sugar.

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 large eggs lightly beaten

25grams unsalted butter

2 large ripe bananas mashed well (about 1-1/2 cups)

2 large apples diced

1 handful of raisins

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

sprinkle of honey and oats for the top of the muffins

Chopping the apples up in a hurry before yoga, I left them along with the oats to marinade in the fruity, sugary, cinammony mess that I had made. All that was left to do was to throw the rest of the dry ingredients in and gently mix it all together..

Accidents happen. Somehow, despite bringing my massive laptop into the kitchen and balancing it precariously on the hob, to avoid touch screen phone issues, I still misread the basic recipe!! Mixing up the measurements for the flour and sugar. I realised a little too late that I had added 3 times the amount of sugar (and extra honey that I had taken the initiative to chuck in too) that the recipe needed. Yikes, these were going to be ridiculously sweet muffins!

To balance this out I added more flour and oats. Creating more problems for myself, as per usual. Now I know that oats soak up all the available moisture, wherever they are. If only hadn’t poured away all the sugary apple juice that had seeped out from the fruit. But hey, you bake, you learn.

Pre baking in lovely silicon cases

I keep considering investing in a proper muffin or cupcake baking tray but have yet to commit to it. Undiscouraged by my lack of baking equipment yet again. (I see it as an opportunity to make life interesting…) I improvised. Using a set of silicon cupcake cases set on a flat baking tray. I filled paper muffin cases with the mixture and squashed them in to the silicon cases. I figured they would hold the muffins in the right place.

Extreme Close Up

You may wonder why I didn’t just cook the muffins in the silicon cases. I’ve had some unfortunate silicon cooking experiences; uncooked bottoms, half the cupcake stuck in the case etc. so prefer to use paper cases these days.  Once I ran out of silicon cases I rummaged round for something else ovenproof to hold the paper cases upright (and avoid  muffin sludgage) and landed upon some ramekins. Perfect.

Ramekins and Yorkshire Pudding TIn

Before I popped them in the oven a sprinkled on a few more oats on each muffin and drizzled on some honey to make them look all rustic and pretty.

The End Product

They smelled amazing and tasted really good too.  They were fully cooked and had a proper shape too! Amazing! Maybe paper cases in ramekins and silicon cases are the way forward? No more rivers of muffins for me! The only improvements that could be made would be to add an extra banana and leave in all the fruit juices. Maybe even a slightly bigger dollop of honey on the top too would add a bit more moisture. They were definitely sweet enough though! For my first attempt at full on recipe creation it wasn’t too bad, especially with a good cup of tea.

Now to share them with everyone at work, as I can’t possibly eat all of these myself!

So many muffins

3. Before Work Baguettes… France (again)

I realise that I’ve baked from France already, but the more I think about what I could bake, the more I realise that I want to bake everything that I’ve never tried before. This could actually be an impossible task. Alas a girl can’t survive on cake alone, although she can give it pretty good go, I must bake something savoury.

I’ve made bread before, mainly in cookery class at school and the odd occasion at home. It usually turns out more like a solid brick, so dense I could probably hammer nails in with it. So  I wanted to try something that is actually supposed to be crunchy. Now I must admit the weekend I conceived the Around the World in Eighty Bakes idea I had began a baking frenzy which did involve baking a plaited loaf. To pay hommage to the Great British Bake Off (yet again) I thank finalist Holly for the wonderful tip of adding a dish of water to the bottom of the oven. Amazing tip! Soft bread!

A plaited loaf. It was pretty good (even if I do say so myself)

A quick google and I found a Paul Hollywood baguette recipe to have a go at. (Thanks for the recipe!) I don’t think it’s the full recipe, so in hindsight it’s more akin to a technical challenge on GBBO with some of the steps missed out. I didn’t really think about the consequences and carried on regardless.

It looked quite simple with chucking flour, water and yeast in and leaving it to prove overnight… I didn’t really take into consideration the other 2 hours of proving required. I set my alarm to get up early thinking I could pop them in the oven before work and have a lovely baguette for lunch. I also rather over estimated my multi tasking abilities and also prepared a chicken and potatoes to roast. (I didn’t cook the home grown ones however.)

Early morning pre work proving (and chicken baking too)

and potato digging?! Disappointly pea sized potatoes

Needless to say the dough was not proved in time for baking so I left it all day to rise instead then finished them when I got home. It probably had an extra 10 hours of proving time (not sure what Paul Hollywood would say?!) and I had to do a bit of substitution. I didn’t have any strong flour so just used plain (this is probably a mortal baking sin) and no fresh yeast so a sachet of dried fast action yeast instead.

The final rise

Hoping this is what they are supposed to look like before baking

Epic fail. The dough was very very sticky. I didn’t think (or dare to deviate from the recipe) to grease or flour the baking paper in case it changed the consistency of the bread. This resulted in two baguette like breads being welded onto the paper. In fact I think the paper has now become one with the bread. Try as I might, I can’t prise them off the paper. Curses!!!! I’ve learnt my lesson. Follow the recipe but use common sense too. I sampled a slice and it (or the top) does indeed taste very baguetteish. It’s a lovely soft butter texture and a bit of a crunch outside. The water worked yet again.

Baguettes (baking paper still welded to the bottom)

If you don't look closely you can't see the brown smooth papery finish

These baguettes are tasty but must be eaten with a warning. Do not consume the bottom. Must do better next time….

The look relatively baguette-like

A tasty slice

2. My Oh My! My First Apple Pie! England

If I’m ever going to fit in baking eighty things I realised that I need to get cracking. After a little post work trip to the pub I decided to make use of all the apples that we have in the house and attempt my first ever complete pie!

My Nana used to bake an Apple Pie for Sunday tea every week when all the family would congregate at her house in Sunderland. So it seems right that I bake a proper English Apple Pie. I (loosely) used this recipe for the Ultimate Apple Pie.

I didn’t really consider how much time it would take to peel, core and slice 1kg of apples,. After almost taking off a finger tip or two, I succeeded in chopping up rather a lot of apple. I couldn’t quite figure out if the recipe required 1kg of apples pre- chopping and coring or after, so I threw in a couple more for good measure.

Unfortunately I forgot to purchase an adult sized rolling pin so the pastry was a bit on the thick and lumpy side. The recipe called for golden caster sugar, which does not exist in my cupboard.  Instead I concocted my own, from muscovado brown sugar and granulated sugar. This resulted in a rather grainy textured pastry. Probably not what the professionals would do but by this time I had invested too much to start again, so on I ploughed.

miniature Rolling Pin ( Also note Hello Kitty toaster in the background)

I probably should have checked that I owned the correct size pie dish before I began. But who ever thought about planning that far in advance? This didn;t occur to me til I noticed that I had a ridiculous amount of pastry for my little enamel pie dish and that I had rolled it to a similar thickness of turf. I tried to roll it out a little more, but how on earth do you get it into the dish without tearing it?!! I seem to have perfected what can only be described as a ‘pastry flip’, almost like what you do with a pancake, but using pastry flattened onto cling film instead. It did the job and I tried to thin it out further by hand.

In addition to the new sugar combination I decided to stray further from the recipe to my peril. I thought surely with that vast amount of pastry the base will need a bit of blind baking, so I ad libbed. Dangerous. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Then came the fun bit, trying to squash as many of the cinnamon apples into the tin as possible. They look a bit like chips…

Chips or Apples?

Then to carry out another pastry flip. On with the lid. It wasn’t that easy to join the lid to the partially baked base (Maybe that’s why they tell you not to blind bake it? So you get a proper seal?) The result? It didn’t really look anything like what my Nana would bake. More like a pie Desperate Dan may have mistaken as containing an entire cow…

Too many apples inside? Desperate Dan would be proud.

I still had loads of pastry left so I thought I would invent something else. Using my Yorkshire Pudding tin I made some mini apple pies, or cricket balls filled with apple. All that was left to do was to slap on a coat of egg wash with my new pastry brush and whack them into the oven.

Apple filled cricket balls in a Yorkshire Pudding tin.

There seemed to be a lot of apple escaping from my modest steam vent and coating the bottom of the oven, but fret not. They looked a good colour! By this time it was about 11.30pm so it was way past apple pie eating time. I let it cool overnight and then kept it in the fridge for a Sunday treat. I just had a piece and I was very happy with it! I think the lumpy sugar must have melted in the oven, as there was not a chunk to be seen.

The end product

Although it was quite difficult to remove from the tin (a spoon had to be deployed) the pastry was most definitely cooked. I’m not completely sure if there’s supposed to be such a gap between the lid and the filling, but it all tastes the same. Complimented by a splash of custard of course too. The little cricket balls were rather pastry heavy but the Yorkshire Pudding tin worked a treat.  A perfectly handsized pudding and a good accompaniment to our road trip, providing much needed sustenance when we broke down yesterday! I’ve created a slideshow below of all the photos…

ps. Still no news from Paul Hollywood. I guess my Tarte au Citron efforts weren’t up to his standards… I’m very excited to watch the final Great British Bake Off on Tuesday!!! I’ve already ordered the book and Mary Berry’s very 70’s cook book which may help to alleviate the GBBO withdrawal symptoms.

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