Day 141 21 May – pound cake

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Our local supermarket Countdown had mangoes on special this weekend, so naturally I bought a bagful. Apart from making a mango salad for the kids’ lunchboxes, I made a Mango Coconut Pound Cake. The original recipe can be found here.

I have a soft spot for a traditional pound cake. It is a versatile cake and really easy to put together. Traditionally a pound cake is made by using a pound of each of the 4 ingredients: flour, butter, eggs and sugar. Today however, a pound cake has been adapted to often include flavouring agents, dried /fresh fruits and raising agents and most have changed the amount of ingredients needed to make the lighter and more moist. I prefer the traditional pound cake which is sliced like a loaf of bread, but there is a sense of freedom knowing you can experiment with tradition without loosing the heart of the recipe.

Happiness is finding comfort in mangoes and cake.

Day 122 2 May – fragrance

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With Mother’s Day around the corner, I started working on a new cookie flavour combination. I’ve always wanted to work with lavender but the thought of it tasting like soap always put me off. I knew getting the correct type of lavender (culinary lavender) will be beneficial so my search started. We have several lavender farms in New Zealand of which some are local, but most of them grow the fragrant lavender meant for soaps and lavender rich products. I finally found a farm in Masterton who grows cooking lavender, or more precisely . I ordered 2 packets and couldn’t wait to experiment with it.

Now, I didn’t want to only make a lavender cookie and looked at options that will elevate the lavender yet still stand out flavour wise. From what I read lemon and lavender are great friends and I know lemon adds a gorgeous citrus flavour to any dish.

Obviously I didn’t want to be heavy handed when adding the lavender, so I first grind it a little finer to release the lavender fragrance and then pinch-by-pinch added it to the wet batter until I could slightly smell and taste it. Once in the oven and baked, the most beautiful aroma oozes from the cookies. The most subtle lemon flavour followed by a stream of lavender.

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I am really happy with these beautiful cookies and every small mouthful is a pleasure.

L&L

Procrastibaking – when there’s a pile of laundry to iron but you bake instead

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My sister tagged me in a post on Facebook to which I could only giggle as it is so very true. I have always enjoyed baking but only truly found my passion for it over the past few years. I think it came about when I started baking to fundraise for my daughter’s gymnastics competitions back in 2011. We had additional costs that year as we were travelling up to Auckland from Cambridge once a week for extensive training. I started out by baking one of the best biscuits I had ever tasted called Death by Chocolate biscuits. It is not an easy biscuit to bake compare to the ones I bake now, but they are devilish good. Rich, sweet, decadent and literally melt in the mouth.

Soon afterwards my husband bought me my first Nigella Lawson cookbook. I have made several of her desserts and baked goods but what I love the most about her books is the way she writes them. You might as well be having a one-on-one conversation with her. It’s personal, funny, witty, just like her.

Baking cakes only started in 2013 when I worked for a company where sharing your baking was considered the best thing since slice bread. At first I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes (the seasoned company bakers) so I didn’t bake anything for the first few months. It was only when we moved to our new premises in April 2014 and we lost more than 1/2 of our workforce that I brought my baking in. I baked traditional and fail proof cakes, muffins and biscuits at first. It was through the encouragement of my work mates that I started experimenting with flavours and cake combinations. Whatever I baked I took with to work. I baked for individual employees, whether it was to celebrate their birthday or send them off as a farewell. I felt great joy when I could share these baked goods with them. My most memorable cake was the Hummingbird Cake which I baked for the sales manager’s farewell. It was rustic and full of flavour and oh so pretty.

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Today I still mainly bake to share. I bake to give as gifts, to show love and empathy when friends loose a loved one, for my husband to share at work (expecially when the ladies ask for anything sweet with chocolate). One of those cakes was a traditional Black Forest Cherry Gateau. I baked it for my husband’s birthday so naturally he took it into work for everyone to share.

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I bake because I learn something new every time. I bake because I can’t think of anything more satisfying to do. I bake because nothing smells more divine than the aroma of freshly baked cookies. I bake because I owe it to myself to enjoy food.

Day 98 8 April – cookie time

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Today I launched my cookie label, Say It With Cookies. I am very fortunate to have my parents support in that I can promote the cookies in their shops. I have been baking these cookies for about 5 years now and have managed to successfully get 5 flavours from them:

  • Triple Choc
  • White Choc & Macadamia Nut
  • Dark Choc & Hazelnut
  • Mint Choc
  • Choc Chip & Orange

I started baking them as a fundraiser for my daughter’s gymnastics when she had a competition in Wellington and we couldn’t financially afford the trip. I managed to sell enough cookies to cover her flight and accommodation for two days. We sold them at her school and at my parents shop.

Since then I have baked them for morning tea work treats, as gifts for special friends and for the just because-our-cookie-jar-is-empty days.

I have thinking of baking them to sell for a broader market but fear, disappointment and doubt always puts a stop to this. I have spoken to my dad regarding an action plan, how to start small and then build once you see an increase in sales. I have made the sums and he has double checked the cost. I bought the ingredients, spend 2 days baking, decorating and filling bags. To promote the cookies I have an Easter themed cookie called Speckled Egg Cookies. They are sweet and crispy from the candy coated speckled eggs.

I will give it a few weeks to see how sales go inside the shop, but ideally I would like to have my product at market places where people tend to be a bit more open to new baking endeavours.

For now, it’s cookies by the dozen.

 

Day 97 7 April – fishy tales

There’s a great buzz in the house this afternoon because not only do I have 1 1/2 hours left to bake cupcakes for the school disco tonight, but the kids are joyously getting themselves ready. A 10 year old boy who wants his hair coloured to represent the theme of Under the Sea and a 12 year old girl who wants her hair straightened and the tips coloured blue, because that’s fashionable (so I am told).

I thought of the cupcake decoration during the busyness of the day. I found cute little chocolate fish at a local sweet shop and found this very easy and tasty vanilla cupcake recipe. The rest was left to me making the buttercream icing, playing around with the icing colour and popping the little chocolate fish on top.

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The kids had an amazing time at the disco and my son has stiff, sore arms and shoulders from all the dancing aka showing off. What a great way to end a very busy week.

Day 81 22 March – feijoas

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There is a lovely green and aromatic fruit called Feijoa which is widely found in New Zealand during the autumn and winter months. It is a fruit which our family loves to eat, whether we eat it fresh by scooping the flesh out with a spoon or use it in desserts and baking.

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My husband bought 2 bags today, and after dinner the kids each had a few fresh ones to munch on while I contemplated what to bake 😊 I had before baked feijoa and white chocolate muffins but wanted to explore the versatility of this fruit. I found a feijoa muffins with a sticky coconut topping recipe and after reading the reviews I decided to turn it into a cake instead. I made a few changes:

  • I changed the baking time to 35-40 minutes
  • I changed the temperature to 190C and after 25 minutes turned it down to 160C
  • I added approximately 10 ml more cream to the topping (while it was on the stove) as it didn’t seem like enough to cover the entire cake.

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The caramelized coconut certainly smelled tropical while baking and the cake came out without a hitch. I definitely recommend eating the cake soon after as the heat provides it with the needed moisture, otherwise you can add a syrup or even a decent dollop of cream. The feijoa looses it’s aromatic flavor once baked so a feijoa syrup will provide it with a burst of fruitiness.

Which seasonal fruits to you enjoy baking with during autumn and winter?

 

Day 80 21 March – éclairs

Tonight is the season finale of the Great British Beak Off (2015), and I have my money on Nadiya. I am always inspired to bake every time I watch this show. These are ordinary people; mothers, fathers, labourers but all with a common interest, home baking. They strive to improve and correct their mistakes. But what I am most impressed with is the their determination to create difficult bakes with each challenge. I would have withered into a ball of hopelessness if I had to come across a ‘flop’.

In honour of the show, and to finish off my own baking challenge, I decided to bake éclairs. I have made choux pastry before and it is such an easy dough to make, but for some reason I have always thought that making an éclair is much harder than profiteroles. I found this easy to follow coffee éclair recipe.

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I find it therapeutic beating the choux with all my might to get it shiny and to a dropping consistency, and lightly squeezing the piping bag to create perfectly even (yeah right) finger size shapes. My mind escapes to an old bake house, where I bake in for the small village community. The residents waving as they pass the window and greeting me with their thick yet delicate accent. I have no worries, no concerns, no anxiety.

Once the oven buzzer goes off, I noticed the top tray’s éclairs didn’t rise as well as the bottom ones. It wasn’t after they came out that I realized I never sprinkled water on the grease-proof paper before piping the dough. I did however do that for the second batch and they are perfect. From what I understand the sprinkle of water provides the moisture for the dough to create steam. I surely wasn’t going to waste the not so perfect éclairs and also filled them with vanilla cream and dipped them into the coffee icing and you couldn’t tell the difference, basically you fake it till you make it!

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Baking feeds more than the soul, it nourishes the mind too.

Day 76 17 March – Key Lime Pie

I have always been fascinated by a Key Lime Pie. I have NEVER tasted one before and I had some misconceptions about this pie:

  1. I thought it had tequila in it, you know like ‘1 tequila, 2 tequila, 3 tequila, floor’.
  2. I thought it was Jamaican inspired.
  3. I thought it was a green coloured pie.
  4. I thought it sets in the fridge, similar to a cheese cake.
  5. I thought it was a difficult tart to make.

How wrong could I have been!

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I found an easy to follow recipe on Jamie Oliver’s website today and decided to educate myself within the realm of baking school. The recipe is all written in pounds and ounces so I bought what I thought is equivalent to grams. I bought way to many ingredients, but at least they are all dry products and will soon be used for other baking adventures. While paying for my shopping, the cashier looked at the huge bag of limes and stated “Are you making a drink from these limes?” I might look like I need a drink today but I said laughingly “No, I making a key lime pie”. She looked intrigued and gave a good-on-you nod.

I thoroughly enjoyed making this pie. I found a small bag of macadamia nuts and incorporated it into my base. I usually deviate from a recipe and this was the only change I made. The rest I followed to the exact measurement. Chef Google is the perfect place to search for pound conversions to grams. The filling, prior to baking, is very similar to a South African tart called a Cremora tart, which is basically a lemon fridge tart, so you can imagine my surprise when I read that the pie is meant to be baked. Once baked, I touched the surface of the pie and it had completely set. After cooling I placed it in the fridge overnight as directed.

The morning of 18 March:

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I woke up early to get myself ready for work, and quickly beat the honey and double cream until it formed soft peaks, spread it gently over the set filling and topped it with grated lime zest. I had a very tiny taster before taking some to work with me, and oh my goodness it is divine! Tangy, sweet, creamy with the crunchy base.

1 lime, 2 limes, 3 limes, pie!

Day 67 8 March – mini pavs

I still had a 1 litre container left of thick whipped cream after yesterdays crème brûlée, because again I don’t read recipes thoroughly. The recipe requested 600ml of cream, so I bought 2x 500ml cream. But at the time of measuring out my brain did not connect to my head and I poured and whipped both containers…now I have an excess of cream. What to do?!? What can I make that will use most if not all of the cream? PAVLOVAS!

I didn’t want to make 1 large pav as we won’t be able to eat it all, so I decided to make mini pavs from scratch. It is super easy to make as you only have 2 ingredients; egg whites and caster sugar. The tricky part again comes with baking it, as you need to drop the temperature when they go into the oven, bake and then switch the oven off with them still in it and let them cool inside. Each recipe I read gave a different baking time variant which wasn’t very helpful. I followed the recipe from Chelsea Sugar which states a baking time of 1 hour. I was unsure about such a lengthy bake time so I set the timer for 40 minutes. Our oven is very temperamental which is fine if you have tried and tested certain recipes, but for a first timer to pavlova, I was literally on edge waiting for the timer to go off.

After 40 minutes I should have switched the oven off and let them cool down as I truly think they were ready, but I didn’t want to go against the recipe, so I switched the trays around and continue baking for another 20 minutes (I did turn the temperate down to about 120°C). Once cooled and out of the oven, I broke the top of each one to make space for the toppings. I could tell that some of them were dryer than other, but they were crunchy and somewhat marshmallow-like inside. For the toppings I added fresh passionfruit to the cream, and topped the cream with plums, blueberries and more passionfruit pulp.

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Crunchy and fruity.

 

Day 66 7 March – cappuccino créme

When I get a spontaneous idea in my head it is usually very hard to convince myself to not follow through. During the day I had this thought of making crème brûlée. I have always wanted to try making it but the thought alone of how quickly something can go wrong is overwhelming.

During the current televised season of The Great British Bake Off one of the challenges were to create a crème brûlée. I watched the episode three times trying to understand the making of it, but they don’t usually show the contestants recipes from start to finish, and it still seemed like an immense task. I asked chef Google to find me an easy to follow recipe, and I ended up with Mary Berry’s Cappuccino Crème Brûlée. This was also a good opportunity to add another item to my baking project.

The only ingredient I needed to buy was cream. Now true to my style, I misread the recipe and bought normal cream instead of thick (or double) cream. I had to adjust the recipe and whisked the cream to a thick consistency. The only problem with that is, you whip air into it which surely will effect the outcome of the final product. The rest of the method was very easy to follow and it doesn’t have a lot of steps either. The tricky part is the baking. I placed my ramekins into the water bath and set the timer. It all hangs in the balance!

A few minutes before the timer goes off I peeped through the oven door to see what, if anything, is happening. Now I know what the whisked cream does when baked, it forms a thick froth-like texture over the top which separates from the custard. It looks horrendous but thankfully once the ramekins are removed, it is easy to scoop it off the top and you are left with the crème.

After cooling the custard down and giving it some time to set, I sprinkled brown sugar over the top (as per another recipe’s instruction) and placed it under the grill for about 3 minutes until the sugar crystalizes. I was very doubtful that the custard will be edible but we still gave it a try. And YES it was! It was a little bit thicker than what it should be, but it did NOT separate or scramble. *happy dance*

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It was perhaps a little ambitious of me to try add a sharp flavour such as coffee as my first attempt so next time I will try a traditional vanilla crème and work on my technique.