Sunday, 30 October 2016

One Last Challenge

I had expected something really challenging for the last technical challenge of the Great British Bake Off 2016... An extravagant gateau, an elegant pandoro or a towering croquembouche... especially a croquembouche because I want an excuse to make one... so I was quite taken aback when it was announced that the bakers had to make a simple Victoria Sponge.

Surely any half decent baker can make a Victoria sponge even without instructions? And this is the final challenge! But then I remembered my experience with the "Spongy sponge" and thought perhaps I was being too blase and so I challenged myself to make the best Victoria Sponge I possibly could, without instructions just like the three finalists in the show.

And it was then that I started to realise how many decisions there were to be made and the controversy surrounding such a simple bake. I know Mary Berry prefers the all in one method, which also requires adding extra baking powder to the mix, and she is not adverse to using margarine which I cannot abide (the list of ingredients on the side of any margarine tub is so off putting and it tastes revolting), although she claims it gives a lighter bake. I opted for the creaming method and butter. I weighed my eggs in their shells (four of them) and then used equal quantities of butter, white caster sugar and sifted self raising flour plus a couple of tablespoons of milk. I also like to add half a teaspoon of vanilla to my sponge. This mixture was baked in two 8" tins at 180 deg C for 25 mins.

Then there is the filling... apparently the W.I. says absolutely nothing other than raspberry jam, definitely no fresh cream or buttercream, but that does sound rather frugal, so I went with challenge on the show to add buttercream. Other times I might be tempted to add fresh cream and even some fresh fruit. First of all I made my raspberry jam using 120g raspberries and 135g jam sugar which made just the right quantity for a good thick coating. I would usually reach for a good jar of ready made jam but it did taste lovely and fresh and not too much effort to make my own.

The buttercream was made with 100g butter, 200g icing sugar and a splash of milk and vanilla... and I went to the trouble of piping it, which I wouldn't normally do. I thought it looked quite pretty until a friend on Facebook said it looked like a grinning set of dentures! She's not wrong!

But I was actually really pleased with the result and as my Mum and two of my boys joined us for lunch today it disappeared rapidly with second helpings for some! It tasted quite delicious and I declared it was probably not such a bad technical challenge after all. And although buttercream might not be for the Victoria Sponge purists, it certain makes it taste rather scrummy!

So that is all ten technical challenges from this year's show tackled... and another sixty by sixty challenge crossed off my list! 

Joining in with Jenny from Mummy Mishaps who has very kindly hosted this blog link up over the past ten weeks for the Great Bloggers Bake Off 2016

Mummy Mishaps

Friday, 28 October 2016

An Extra Slice

Now you will already know I'm a huge fan of The Great British Bake Off, but I also enjoy the spin off programme An Extra Slice on Friday evenings with Jo Brand.

So you can imagine my delight when I was offered the chance of tickets to be in the audience via the clandestine cake club... not just any old tickets either but right up the front, sat around the tables, where the audience is invited to bring a cake. I immediately decided I would bring a Pumpkin cake being as it is almost Halloween (as did two other people too!) but then I found out there was a Royal theme so I converted my Pumpkin into Cinderella's coach. On Wednesday me, my friend Anne and my rather large cake in its box went into London on the train and underground to the ITV studios on the South Bank

Anne and I were shown into a holding area which was the last chance to take a photo before being ushered into the studio. Once there all bags, coats and phones etc had to be handed in so there are no photos of the actual filming or the set, which looked fabulous. 

At this point we were told that unfortunately there wouldn't be time to see any audience bakes with it being the final show... there was a brief moment of disappointment when I realised that Mary Berry would probably never taste my cake but it was very brief indeed because the whole experience was amazing. First of all we were shown the final of the Bake Off and sworn to secrecy over the winner. We then met all the other contestants who mingled among us. We spoke to Kate, Michael, Tom and Rav (who said he wanted to try  my cake!) Val was just as dippy... and lovely as she appeared on the show. Louise and Lee were there too, although Benjamina and Selasi couldn't be there. There was a warm up man who got us all laughing and then the filming commenced. They filmed continuously for an hour and a half  - Jo Brand chatting with Mary Berry, Sarah Millican and Hal Cruttenden before meeting the runners up Andrew and Jane and finally the winner Candice.

The whole experience was just wonderful from meeting lots of lovely people to seeing the whole process of filming a TV show. We returned home... with the cake... absolutely exhausted but having had a fabulous time. And if you tune into BBC2 tonight (i.e Friday in England) at 8.30 pm you might even get a glimpse of me and my cake!*

As for the cake... which was a spiced pumpkin cake with pecan nuts and freshly grated pumpkin and a buttercream frosting, with a hidden trick or treat centre filled with jelly snakes... I took it along to a charity quiz last night where it was shared out for donations to the charity so it didn't get wasted. I don't think we could have eaten all that ourselves!

Look out for me on the telly!
I had "See a tv show recording in the studio" on my sixty x sixty list but I never dreamed it would be this one!

* A little update... if you watched the show you would have seen a lot of the back of my head but a friend managed to capture the screen shot above, which does at least show me (in the red cardigan)  and my cake!

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Week Nine in the Bake Off Tent

Well that's another series of GBBO almost over and I've had mixed feelings about this series. I don't think I've enjoyed it quite as much as I usually do... some funny old themes and it has taken a while to warm to some of the contestants, although I have huge admiration for all of them. It was sad to see Selasi go this week as he always made me smile but I think it was the right decision although I don't think Benjamina should have gone last week. It was a shame she just had a really bad week. But I guess that it the nature of the competition. It took me a long while to warm to Candice... that pouty mouth was just too much but I do think she is a great baker and love the way she really pushes herself. I think my money might be on her. Who do you think will win?

Of course for me, another week in the tent meant another technical challenge and this week the bakers had to make a Savarin... a sort of orangey flavoured Rum Baba. The base is a yeasted cake which starts as a very soft batter so I used my mixer again. While the dough was rising there were lots of other things to be getting on with, one of which was to make the soaking syrup... almost a whole pint of liquer flavoured sugar syrup!

The cake is baked in a very well greased bundt tin... the biggest problem is always turning out cakes in these tins as they can't be lined.

Also while it was rising I had to make caramel shards. I made my sheet of caramel and then Stewart dropped a pot on to it (he was washing up for me at the time). After a moment of panic we realised the shards were just perfect!

The cake baked beautifully... but would it turn out of the tin?

Hooray! It was then left to cool down and soak up all that syrup... something the bakers in the tent really didn't have time to do properly. Every last drop soaked into the cake!

It was then a case of assembling the cake with whipped cream and fresh fruit and a little chocolate sign... no, I would definitely not bother with this another time!

As you can see my piping skills could do with improvement!

But unlike Selasi, I did segment my oranges cutting them away from the membrane. I also used plums and golden kiwi fruit.

Luckily we were going to my step daughter's for dinner last night so we brought it along to share for pudding... but there is still loads left.

But it was rather good so I don't think it will hang around here for long!

So that is my ninth technical challenge completed and also another week joining in with Jenny from Mummy Mishaps for the Great Bloggers Bake Off 2016

Mummy Mishaps

Saturday, 22 October 2016


Do you eat breakfast or do you abstain? Do you grab something on the go or sit and take your time? Or maybe you just take breakfast at weekends. I'm definitely in the breakfast camp and become quite grouchy if I miss it. I also like to savour my breakfast and think it is probably my favourite meal.... Okay maybe not, mabe just my favourite meal before 10 am! One of the things I love about staying away in hotels is the prospect of breakfast but I'm often disappointed by the sliced loaves, ubiquitous Kellogs variety packs and congealed eggs.

But not in the wonderful Ibsens hotel where we stayed in Copenhagen. Every morning was a feast with a wonderful array of fabulous seasonal food on offer. There were beautifully arranged flavoursome grainy loaves and handmixed museli.

A lovely selection of jams in large glass jars. The apple and rosehip jam was exceptionally good on a nutty rye bread.

Four or five different juices but in keeping with all things seasonal and local there were no citrus juices just various berries and apple.

A selection of Danish cheeses and cured meats as well as large bowls of apples and plums.

Skyr (strained yoghurt) with honey and nuts

And dinky little bowls of porridge topped with chopped apple and nuts.

And of course, there were pastries. These poppy seed squares were filled with a delicious almond paste... I know because I had one every morning! Everything was so beautifully presented, fresh and delicious and once again we were reminded of the Danish concept of hygge which not only means cosy blankets, slippers and candles but a sense of well being and taking care of oneself. Eating a breakfast like this certainly feels like taking care of oneself!

I was delighted when browsing my latest cookbook purchase to find a recipe for the poppy seed squares... or Tebirkes as they are called in Denmark

I haven't tried making them yet but I will!

Meanwhile, since our return from Copenhagen I've been taking my time to make myself porridge every morning but trying to keep it seasonal and have found a new favourite breakfast. Not so much a recipe as such but a guide so if you want to try it yourself...

Make up your porridge in your preferred way - in the microwave or in a pan on the stove, with milk or with water (I like mine with water) or both, but before cooking add three quarters of an apple, grated with the skin on, plus a sprinkling of cinnamon. Once cooked pour into your favourite bowl, add a small spoonful of honey and a splash of milk or cream. Top with the remaining apple, chopped, some sliced plum and a sprinkling of mixed seeds. It's what I'll be eating this morning!

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Raisin Banana Cupcakes

It is that time again when the Cake Slice Bakers reveal what they have baked this month. October is the last month we will be baking from Maida Heatter's Cakes and I have to say I've been pleasantly surprised with the bakes I've made from this book over the year and many I've ended up making more than once. The Zucchini loaf has been a firm favourite all the time courgettes have been plentiful, the blackberry cheesecake has already become a family classic and I'm looking forward to seeing fresh cranberries back in the shops so I can make this cranberry upside down cake again. This month we got to choose anything we liked from the book.

There are so many wonderful sounding cakes it was almost an impossible task, so I made the decision on what I already had in the cupboard, and given time was tight this month it had to be quick and simple... no elaborate frosting or decoration. A little while ago the Farm Shop gave me a big bag of black bananas which I froze for making cakes. Every time I take a few out I expect it to be the last few but there seem to be as many bananas as ever so I'm always looking for banana cake recipes. So Raisin Banana cupcakes sounded ideal.

The first step was to steam the raisins! Yes, I'm not kidding. Now I know I'm all for new experiences but steaming raisins is not exactly high up there on my list. Instead, I measured them into a bowl, poured boiling water over them and left them to soak while I measured out all the other ingredients. I figured it would have the same effect. 

 The recipe also states it makes 20 cupcakes and then Maida goes on to say line 12 holes in a muffin pan. I actually made 15 cakes... So make of that what you will. Maybe arithmetic isn't Maida's strong point!

But despite these little oddities and discrepancies they made lovely light and delicious little cakes... Moist, full of flavour and not too sweet. I would describe them more as a muffin than a cupcake. I chose to make mine gluten free because I was taking them in to my embroidery class where one lady cannot eat wheat. All I did was substitute the flour for a good gluten free brand. You would never know the difference. I also added baking powder despite using self raising flour as bananas can make a cake a bit dense.

Not too big, not too sticky... and a perfect (almost) guilt free snack. After all they are full of fruit and relatively low on sugar for a cake! The sort of thing I would have whipped up for my boys for after school many years ago. And they really were whipped up... exactly one hour after taking the bananas out of the freezer I had fifteen cupcakes cooling on the rack... and all the washing up done!

But not having lots of boys at home anymore and to save the one big boy's expanding waistline I took them into class instead, where they were well received. They might have all just been being polite but they all ate one!

So should you wish to try these yourself  here is my version of the recipe:

Raisin Banana Cupcakes (adapted from Maida Heatter's Cakes)
You will need one or two 12 hole muffin pans lined with paper muffin cases. Preheat the oven to 190 deg C (170 fan), 375 deg F
  • 100g raisins
  • 280g sifted self raising flour
  • half a teaspoon baking powder
  • half a teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • pinch of salt
  • half a teaspoon nutmeg
  • half a teaspoon cinnamon
  • three large very ripe bananas, mashed (approx 350g)
  • 1 large egg
  • 85g soft dark brown sugar
  • 60 ml vegetable oil
  •  Put the raisins in a bowl and cover with boiling water while you prepare all the other ingredients.
  • Sift the flour and all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl and using a hand mixer, beat the egg and sugar and oil together until pale and creamy. Add the mashed bananas and beat well to mix.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just combined.
  • Drain the raisins and stir into the mixture
  • Divide the mixture between 12-15 muffin cases filling each one about three quarters full.
  • Bake for about 25 minutes or until the tops feel springy.
  • Remove from the oven and cool on a rack

Next month we'll be baking from a brand new book and I can't wait to try some of the bakes. Meanwhile you can see what the other bakers made this month:


Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen

We've not had a holiday in over a year so having decided it was time for a break we booked long weekend in Copenhagen. Ignoring the fact that it is eye wateringly expensive, I can honestly say it was one of the best city breaks we've had. I could easily write a week full of blog posts there was so much to see and do but in fear of boring you, I'll try to keep it brief... for now anyway!

It was cold, but mostly dry (although there was a brisk wind off the sea, lest you think I'm sporting a new hair style!) so as the city centre is easily accessible by foot so we walked for miles, exploring the various sights such as the picturesque but touristy Nyhavn

Of course we also had to see the equally touristy  Little Mermaid, which I can only describe as underwhelming! The industrial harbour backdrop complete with power station has been edited out.

But there were also beautiful churches...

Castles and palaces...

Crown jewels and art galleries, museums and shops selling wonderful Danish design. And when our feet were too sore to walk any further we took a train over the Oresund Bridge to Sweden, where we had a quick coffee in Malmo before coming back again!

But despite all the wonderful things to see, the highlight of the trip has been the food. Every day we were there, we ate the most delicious and mouth watering open sandwiches with fillings ranging from pickled herrings and vegetables, roast beef, venison, salmon, egg and prawns... sometimes from street stalls such as the wonderful Hallernes, situated in Torvehallern food market just a stone's throw from our hotel, famous for its Smorrebrod...

but as a treat on the final day we had lunch at Shonnemann which has been serving Smorrebrod with beer and snapps since 1877. It was magnificent!

Of course we couldn't come to Denmark without eating a Danish Pastry or two (possibly four or five in my case!) They are not actually called Danish Pastries in Denmark but wienerbrod or Austrian bread which come in all sorts of varieties. My favourite were the kanelsnegel... or cinnamon snails!

And we also sampled the very trendy New Nordic cuisine at a fabulous little restaurant called Host. We ate a five course tasting menu and when our fourth course came up served on these huge plates neither of us could quite believe it,. Stewart was waiting for his chips to arrive! But despite laughing at such a little portion on such a huge plate the food was excellent, full of wonderful flavours and neither of us felt hungry by the end of the meal.

Of course we couldn't go to Copenhagen without a visit to the Tivoli Gardens. Fabulously tacky but great fun too. We resisted the roller coasters and other rides (well it didn't take too much resistance to be honest) and just wandered and watched as it grew dark, warming ourselves on cups of Grog and taking in all the lights and Halloween decorations.

It has been a wonderful few days in so many ways but the thing that will stay with me is that just about everyone we met from waiters and hotel staff to ticket inspectors and shop assistants were friendly, polite and cheerful . All the time we were struck by the fact that everyone seemed to want to help... Danish happiness and hygge are things that could make a whole blog post on its own and maybe I'll write it one day but for now I'm reminded that a smile and friendly word costs nothing and it can make all the difference in someone elses day.

Today it was back to work but feeling refreshed after our break... and I've ticked off a few more things from my sixty by sixty list. Still a long way from sixty but the list in my side bar is growing!