Monday, November 5, 2012

Doth mine eyes deceive me?

One passion I have intensely developed is a refusal to accept that gluten and dairy intolerance sufferers should have to compromise on the quality of baked goods. I have lately undertaken this as my personal mission to prove the "you-can't-have-banoffee-pie-without-dairy" sentiment wrong.

My dear husband even doubted. I threw the gauntlet down before his very eyes, and I conquered: 

The conquest wasn't easy. After over an hour of experimenting with spun sugar, resulting in a burnt finger and burnt saucepan, I began to doubt my efforts. However, the fact that if I had not said it was dairy-free and fellow munchers would have been none-the-wiser...HUZZAH! 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ode to Fail-Bakes

A year ago my cakes were horrendous
To the point where their content was dangerous.
Once I used salt
Not sugar (in fault)
So the thought of baking was preposterous.

I kid thee not that a year ago - nay, 6 months ago! - I could not bake. I found some photos to share with you, to partially prove my point, but also for your amusement!
This was my attempt at lemon drizzle cupcakes!

Above is a fine example of a cake that I have named after the epic tv show, Lost. The 'Lost' cake is  a most excellent way to decorate (I feel 'salvage' is a little too strong a word) a cake that is lost beyond all hope. All you need is some ready-made royal icing, and some squeezy chocolate writing icing.  And don't forget your plastic googley-eyes for the Smoke Monster's finishing touches! None of that 'home made' malarky for this work of art!

Finally, my piece de resistance. Below is the cake that earned its locally infamous title 'Salt Cake'.   This recipe merely requires you to confuse sugar with salt. I highly recommend trying the batter before pouring into your baking tins, as the saltiness will recoil your tongue. Add more 'sugar' to the batter, in hope of sweetening the mixture. Eventually place the cake in the oven, and hope that the heat will change the saltiness to pure confectioner's delight. Suggested occasion for the cake is April Fool's Day. 

Simply decorate with a sea-side image, elegantly incorporating the cake's flavour with its image. Cocktail umbrellas are a must. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Once more unto the oven, dear friends, once more!

I realise I haven't blogged in a while, partially due to my struggles with this blasted device we call 'internet', coupled with the abstinence of computers.

My husband daily encourages me to keep blogging; I love photography, and baking has become a real challenge and solace to me. I'm still learning how to write these posts, as it feels rather egocentric at times.

This week I had a particularly tough Wednesday and Thursday. I really had very little to do, and money isn't great at the moment so buying baking goods was an expense we could do without. I felt quite useless and lonely, and so I went in to my husband's office to see if they needed any help, which being a church office, they inevitably did. To my comfort, the place was warm and full of smiley people. I also realised that baking has become important to me as it provides me with a sense of achievement, when often I feel quite useless after a torrent of rejections from employers. I'm not afraid about the future, but it's tough to live in the present.


On Friday I decided to bake, and attempt decorating with chocolate. We had a tonne of oranges, nutmeg, and orange flavouring, and I've never made biscuits before (edible ones at least), so I bought some eggs, and unto the oven I went.

These are chocolate and orange biscuits, with a hint of vanilla and nutmeg:
(Makes about 30 'small' ones, or 15 'big' ones)

1. Measure out 300g plain flour, 250g butter (I used soya), 250g caster sugar. I usually put them in three separate bowls so it's easy to mix in together into the big bowl.
2. Get 1 egg yolk in a separate bowl, and with 2 tsps vanilla extract and 2 tsps orange extract, whisk with a fork.
3. In the big bowl, mix together the butter and sugar with a spatular. It's hard work at first but worth it. My Mum always said..."light, white, and fluffy". Well mixed will do...!
4. Add the wet mixture (egg etc.). Mix well.
5. Grate in the zest of one orange (it will make your biscuits feels sophisticated).
6. Add in cocoa powder (if you're going milk-free, check if this has milk in as some do and some don't). Add in as much or as little as you feel necessary. I put in about 2 tbs. I had some left over dark chocolate, so I smashed it up with a hammer and chucked that in too.
7. Add the flour. Don't worry about sieving it as when you stir it with the spatular you'll get LOADS of air (so long as you make a point of stirring it in such a way that you do!).
8. I found my mixture was a bit sloppy, so really I should have chucked in a bit more flour, but didn't. If it feels to sloppy to roll-out, then add more flour.
9. NOW heat the oven, otherwise you waste the energy. My oven cooks hot, so when it says 180'c I go about 150'c. But anywhere between 150-200'c is fine, if you get to know your oven!
10. Get your chopping bored/work surface, and cover with some baking parchment, because then you're not using more flour and getting a bitter coating on your biscuits. Roll out bit by bit. I do because I struggle to cope with too much mixture.
11. Lay on a tray covered in baking parchment, not flour!!! Banish the nasty flour coating!
12. Bake! Make sure your thick ones aren't under-cooked. Mine were a bit so I chucked them back in the oven upside-down.

Make them look pretentious by adding rose petals, or whatever half-dead foliage you have lying about the house. Et voi la!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I wandered, lonely as a cloud

Today's bake is the child of boredom.

Today was my first day of properly feeling 'unemployed', rather than feeling like a housewife, and this is certainly symptomatic of mind not ruling over matter.

Last night, hubby and I had some wonderful friends over, and they enjoyed the cardamom meringues (huzzah!). I had some rose water kicking about (as one does, darling) so lightly whisked it into some double-cream, so it bubbled but didn't thicken. Hubby and I forgot to take the blackforest fruits out of the freezer until about an hour before our friends were arriving, so with all the dalliance he could muster, hubby recommended serving the meringues with an improvised compot.

I left hubby to his heroic dinner-saving quest he found himself upon.

Last night's dinner meant the house was cleaned, and the kitchen is in a pretty good state. With nothing to clean, and having visited numerous employment agencies, I returned home. Tired, hungry, I soon saw myself stumbling into the slough of despond. Thus, the banana and walnut loaf was born:

I didn't like it very much.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Meringue Mastery...muwahaha..hahaha...

Today's attempt at beginners culinary conquest was cardamom meringues. So far I have only made sloppy-crispy sweet omelettes. Although unique, I don't think most people would order one in a patisserie.

Determined to master the meringue, having friends over for dinner tomorrow night was the perfect excuse to get my bake on.

I followed a recipe on the BBC website (if you type in cardamom meringue on google, it comes up), but found I had to use my knowledge ascertained through practice and other websites. Delia is pretty insistent that you whisk meringue slowly to get the stiff peaks (and I'm sure she also insists that you get the giggling out of your system sooner rather than later too..). I used an electric whisk, which was a gift from an ex-flat mate who I used to flutter eyelashes and ask to do all my whisking for me...I kept the whisk on the lowest setting, gently moving it around the bowl.

Now, apparently the sugar stabilises the mix, so I decided not too get to upset when my egg whites weren't very stiff. Through the fear and doubt, I soldiered on, slowly adding the sugar (yes, SLOWLY, as Lady Delia insists), and lo! Hark! Hwaet! The mixture stabilized! ('Hwaet' is the Middle English equivalent for 'Yo', as on 'Yo, check 'dis out', honestly). It wasn't what I personally would call stable, but I guess in baking-terms it is.

Anyway, I folded in the cardamom seeds using a spatula, unelegently stuffed the mixture into a piping bag, and piped away...

I've learnt I'm quite tenacious...and impatient...and frankly quite disobedient...all of which are bad qualities for baking.

If the recipe says leave alone for an hour. LEAVE IT ALONE WOMAN is what I had to tell myself every time I was tempted to peek into the oven...I did as I was told, for once. Et voi la:

I'm planning to serve these pretentious delights with blackforest fruits, fresh mint, and soya cream.

TODAY'S LESSON: Do are you're told! You can bargain about oven temperature etc, but generally (and honestly) have faith in the culinary champions. They teach us for a reason.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pastry Danger

It's 9:41am, and I've made my first attempt at pastry. 

I've never made it before, and I've never seen my mum make it either. Being of continental heritage, good ol' English pastry isn't something my family would cook, aside from puff pastry for strudel (which we would buy pre-made anyway). My hubby is an English village boy (secretly wishing he was Hugh Grant) so pastry has had a frequent appearance in his growing-up (and growing-out). 

But, there is danger afoot...

The mother-in-law is a bad-ass cook. My mother-in-law was the person to introduce me to quiche, as she made a spectacular gluten and dairy-free quiche. I cower in her footsteps.

One of my bridesmaids gave me the advice before our wedding to never try and cook his favourite meal. Thankfully the beef wellington is far beyond me at this moment in time.


I cooked the quiche, but the middle didn't set properly, and I'm not really sure why. I'll have to try again (huzzah!).

At first I wasn't overly happy about the pastry and the shape in the dish, so after leaving it for a few hours, I decided to roll it out again. I'm glad I did, but I made the mistake of cutting it before cooking it. My husband doesn't seem to believe me that pastry shrinks, but this batch certainly did.
And baking beans are not pointless, I promise you.

Feeling rather unwell on Saturday, I decided to try and make gluten and lacto-fee bread as I was grossly disappointed by the bread-machine effort.

The chief problem was the lack of warm space to leave the dough to prove. I plugged in an oil heater, but realised I would either burn the house down, or achieve nothing and waste electricity.

Despondantly,  I left the bowl of dough on the table, and went back to watching a marathon of Location, Location, Location (I was feeling unwell!!).

Having ignored the dough for two hours, I re-visited the bowl only to find it had risen, though not doubled. I then thought I may as well cook it, and see what happens.

I cooked it. I saw what happened:

All I will say is you really never know until you try.

I've learnt my biggest issue with baking (and cooking generally) is confidence. I now would even say I "love" baking, but only on my own. One of my real dreams is to be baking cakes with our children, if/when we are blessed with them. It's worth learning to bake just for that alone.


Friday, September 14, 2012

An ominous sigh from the wind, and my husband left our hobbit-hole flat.

A British day - gloriously rainy, windy - reassures me that I am indeed not so hapless that I might spend my morning sipping coffee in my dressing-gown, preparing myself for the jobs of the day.

As a young wife without a paid job, the prospect of 'housewife' is daunting. It occurred to me that it seems only culturally acceptable if your husband is earning a handsome sum that you are permitted to identify yourself as a housewife. Otherwise you're just unemployed and a work-a-phobe.

I beg to differ.

I decided that in order to honor the work my husband does, I would work hard at home; until my employment situation would change, this would be my job.

It was with this in mind that I realised I had many battles up ahead:
I am a hopeless cook - how will I feed him up good-and-proper if I don't learn and practice?!
We have wedding 'thank you' cards to make and write - he hates craft and long messages!
Shirts, boxers, and socks need washing for him to go to work clean!

I don't say this to silence us women into submission and imprison us within our kitchens, but to encourage other women (and men) to see that we do have a vital role to play within our relationships and marriages. For some this role involves working outside the home, for others this role involves ruling as queen of the castle. I believe that a real queen serves her people, and for me, part of my royal duty is to embark upon missions of culinary conquest. (I'm really not lying when I said I'm a terrible cook).

To complicate matters, I am both gluten and dairy intolerant. My hubby is a savvy cook, but I'm choosing to take up arms and fight on the feasting front for him, as he works away outside the home.

I aslo believe that daily encouragement is crucial, whether to people known or unknown.

It is with that in mind that this blog begins, and I hope to share the lessons and encouragements with you.