Macaroons

Well the title says it all, I have finally had another go at macaroons. My first attempt was a couple of years ago and resulted in disaster. I had been given a piping kit for my last birthday back in may and decided that new years day would be a good day to have a go. It was also a good excuse to use my new Christmas mixer from Phil.

I decided to keep them simple and went for a chocolate macaroon recipe. My first batch were a little runny and spread into each other and I contemplated giving up. But I had some lunch and left the mixture to stand. This allowed it to thicken which meant they kept their shape when piped. Result!

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I then sandwiched them together with some chocolate cream.

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They probably wouldn’t win star baker for looks but they tasted good.  I even used them with some left over chocolate cream to decorate a chocolate cake (also made using my mixer), sandwiched with my apple and sloe jam. Yummy and no wasted macaroons.

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Christmas 2013

I know Christmas is long gone, but I still want to write this post about my Christmas of baking.  I decided that I would bake presents for friends and family instead of buying all my gifts. Thus making it the year of the Christmas bake box.

I started practicing my bakes back in November, which Phil enjoyed as he got to taste test everything.

I decided to bake things that could be frozen first to stock up the freezer and stop all the bakes being left to the last minute. So I started with stollen cake ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/mini_stollen_10408) and festive brownies ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/christmas_brownies_41164). The picture is of some practice stollen cakes, I decided not to ice the ones for the boxes as they went sticky over night. I did put some icing sugar in the boxes.

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Nearer to christmas I made two batches each of gingerbread ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/christmas_gingerbread_84244) and shortbread ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/christmasbiscuits_93733), which I decorated with a mixture of icing and melted plain chocolate.

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The bags of cakes and biscuits were then packed into gift boxes ready for Christmas.

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The feedback I received was positive and it felt good to get such good reactions to things that made. It was definitely worth the effort and made for a merry Christmas all round.

Apples and sloes

This post is based on some recent bakes using freely acquired ingredients, some sloes and some apples.  Having never used sloes before I was not sure where to start and wanted to steer away from the obvious. I did some googling and found a recipe for sloe and apple jam ( http://www.pickleandpreserve.co.uk/index.php/blog/sloe-and-apple-jam.html).  So I thought why not.  Despite being a mucky experience the jam was worth the effort and will certainly be used in future bakes.

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Once the jam was finished I still had some sloes left. So I decided to try some experimental sloe and white chocolate muffins. I just stoned the sloes and added them to a basic muffin mix instead of blueberries and then added some chunks of white chocolate for some sweetness to counteract the sourness of the sloes. I think they worked well.

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I used the remaining apples this weekend to make an apple frangipane tart ( http://www.waitrose.com/home/recipes/recipe_directory/a/apple_frangipane_tart.html). Despite some initial difficulties finding some ground almonds the tart was a success and went well with a good helping of cream.

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So that concludes my blog on making the most of freely available ingredients during the autumn. I’m starting to think towards some festive bakes now, so watch this space.

Bake off thoughts

Its been a while since I last blogged. I’ve still been baking and I have some blogs in the pipeline on cupcakes and bread. But first I want to reflect on another series of the great British bake off.

Its worrying how quick the last ten weeks have gone. It feels like only yesterday that I baked Howard’s coconut and passion fruit cake after week one.  I will admit now that I cried when he was voted off.  The series was brilliant with so many bakers who deserved to win.  I must say that I was not expecting Frances to win, but she deserved it with her inventive presentation.

I have been asked by a few friends if I would consider applying, but I really don’t think I am good enough to face Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, especially when it comes to the dreaded technical challenge.  I am happy enough with a recipe in front of me but would have no idea how to make custard with out a recipe.

Following on from the final I had an overwhelming urge to bake some pretzels. So on Saturday I disappeared into the kitchen, with Mr Hollywood’s recipe in hand, full of expectation.  Making the dough was simple enough and I even enjoyed rolling the dough and eventually mastered the double loop and making the pretzel shape. The resulting pretzels were not that bad, with the sweet ones holding their shape better than the savory ones (I made the sweet ones after the savoury and had got the hang of the double loop process by then). The results are shown below.

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I have to say that the pretzels were yummy and Phil, my chief taste tester also agreed (although I don’t know how these pretzels are supposed to taste). Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to fill in the form and get to bake in the famous tent.

Baking Experiment – Lemon Meringue Pie

Last weekend I decided to flick through one of my many cookery books looking for something different to bake for dessert for an upcoming Sunday lunch.  I happened to come across a recipe for lemon meringue pie. This happens to be my boyfriend Phil’s favourite, so it was crying out to be baked.  I had never considered making my own before as you can buy them quite cheaply in most supermarkets (but they are always too small).  Having never made one before it seemed sensible to do a practice run (and Phil did not object).

The recipe started with ‘buy a ready made pastry case’, I objected to this and found a recipe in the same book for homemade sweet pastry and made my own.  I blind baked the pastry to avoid a soggy bottom.  All the stages were simple to follow and the resulting pie is shown below.

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The pie was so good and was am improvement on shop bought pies. I certainly will be making my own from now on and can’t wait to see the reaction in a couple of weekends time.

With another weekend approaching I need to decide what to bake next. If you have any suggestions feel free to comment and I will use these in future blogs.

Mmmm cookies

Having recently dusted off my mixing bowl and baking equipment, the bug and need to bake has definitely returned. I tried to ignore the urge to bake last weekend. But I had booked a couple of days off work to extend the weekend and the urge was hard to resist. I gave in on Saturday night and made some raisin and nut cookies, based on this recipe, http://m.goodfoodchannel.co.uk/recipe/607380/cookie-recipe–how-to-make-cookies/?rtn=/uktv/food.recipe/aid/607380.

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I think I needed to flatten the dough more before baking (or started with smaller balls), as the biscuits did not cook all the way through despite being in the oven for twice as long as recommended. They were still nice enough.

I felt that I needed some biscuit redemption, so after work on Monday I baked some snickerdoodles, inspired by the big bang theory.  I found this recipe, http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/snickerdoodles-730, and made some cinnamon sugar coated ones and chocolate chip.

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I was really impressed with the outcome. They were also a hit with my boyfriend. Think snickerdoodles are now my new favourite biscuits. I also like saying the word too.

In my last post I wrote about a coffee and walnut cake. This cake was well received in my office. Its was even enjoyed by non coffee lovers, bonus.  Will be baking that one again.

This weekend I am working with pastry and baking a lemon meringue pie (a favourite of my boyfriend). So watch this space for how it turns out.

Teacakes, coffee and crackers

This weekend, like last weekend has involved some new bakes.  Saturday began with making the dough for teacakes as it had to be proved twice before baking. Since i had not been to the gym for a while the kneading was welcome workout.  Whilst the dough was proving I was able to get on with making the sponges for a coffee and walnut cake.

The teacakes, although time consuming to make were really tasty and worth the effort. The chosen recipe was from the Hairy Bikers as and can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/spiced_teacakes_29429.  I think next time I split the dough into more than the suggested six as they are quite filling.

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I have not sampled the coffee and walnut cake yet as it is a present for a work colleague who is leaving next week. I will provide the verdict in my next posting. I have included a picture.  The recipe for this cake can be found at http://www.odlums.ie/recipes/odlums-recipes/cakes/coffee-and-walnut-cake/.

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I did consider having a lazy Sunday as my boyfriend was playing golf. But I was itching to make something else. So I settled for a quick bake and made some crackers, using a recipe by John Waite, winner of last years bake off, found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/asian_spice_crackers_17679.  I am not sure what they are supposed to taste like but they have a nice kick to them.

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After all the baking, I am enjoying a cup of tea before doing the washing up.  Then I think a lazy afternoon is in order.