honey, do I look old in this?

I like needlepoint. There, I said it.

I also own and use granny glasses

Earlier this year I said I’d try to post more of my crafts, as a conscious effort to make more and actually finish things I start. My first crafty post of the year is about something I LOVE but haven’t really picked up in a while.

Needlepoint.

I taught myself to needlepoint (which means my technique is probably appalling) out of spite. My mother told me it was really difficult and that there was a good amount of knowledge behind it when I scoffed at her admiration for the fact that someone did it. Yes I am petty get over it okay.

I bought a needlepoint kit (instructions enclosed) and started and finished it in the space of a month (more or less, with an involuntary break when I ran out of yarn). This is actually my second project.

i made this

It’s inspired by William Morris’ The Strawberry Thief, a print that he created after he saw some birds stealing fruit in his garden. It is actually Morris’ most popular print, and you can still find it everywhere. Liberty’s of London even make fabrics inspired by it (must. resist. urge. to buy.).

My favourite thing about it is how unbelievably satisfying it is to see the colours come to life as I weave them into the canvas. Seriously, it’s exciting. I promise I’m not a grandma.

It has taken me a bit longer than a month to make this one, because I keep baking and starting other projects, but hopefully posting it here will make me have to get on with it.

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mac and cheese (minus the cheese)

Yes that is a misleading title. I just needed a pretext to talk about some macarons I made, and the above seems good enough. Little known fact about me: I’ve never had mac and cheese.

I will though. Tomorrow. But I made macarons.

peter rabbit and macs

I tried a new recipe for these, just to see what happened. I had quite a few egg whites, and decided I would take no prisoners. So, I tried lovely Raiza from Dulce Delight‘s chocolate macarons recipe.

Boys and girls, let me tell you: what a recipe. What a recipe, what a recipe. They came out per-FECT. Beautiful. Lovely tall feet, and soft chewy centres with crisp shells.

A. making a rare appearance in the background

You know I’m quite partial to BraveTart and her kickass recipe, but let me tell you – this other recipe is a corker. I have tried it with different flavours as well and have always had the same results, so it’s going straight into my saved macarons recipe folder. If I was to split hairs I would say this recipe gives them a texture that’s closer to that of italian meringue, but honestly, that may just be because I haven’t made a BraveTart macaron in a while (and I’d have to compare them side by side – which I might do someday!)

i have way too many pictures of these

Macarons take time to get right, and while I feel like I’m getting there, there’s still some work to be done to fully hone my macaron style; I am not consistent yet. These are so far my macaron notes:

1. forget ageing the whites – that is not necessary at all and I have never deliberately done it (although sometimes I do use old – and I mean OLD – egg whites)

2. drying the shells – I know BraveTart says you don’t have to, but I’ve never had a good result without drying them so I am sticking to it. Do what works for you.

3. my shells have definitely improved with the grinder A. got me recently – I wouldn’t call it an essential item but it does make them smoother and allows you to play with different nuts/ seeds/ whatevah (these macarons are pre-grinder).

4. beat the crap out of that meringue – honestly, I whisk it to within an inch of its life and it seems to be working.

5. count your strokes as you fold – and once you get your desired result, try to stick to that count. This is obviously directly related to the quantity you’re making, as I find that mine vary between 25 and 50. I don’t know exactly how many, but counting them helps me to keep track of whether I’m close and paying more attention to the mixture as that happens (as often I am watching TV as I do that).

macs teasing mr. rabbit

I don’t know if there is anything else I do in addition to either BT of DD’s recipes, although I suppose trying them both has taught me that there is no ONE method. Several might (probably will) work, which means that macarons aren’t as temperamental as they might seem at first  – they’re just a biscuit after all.

So here are my chocolate macarons following Raiza’s recipe. Dudes, she is good at what she does. Totally worth checking her blog regularly.

Dulce Delight’s Chocolate French Macarons with Dulce de Leche

And BraveTart’s because she is brilliant and funny and has just posted her recipe for love hearts.

BraveTart’s Macarons

peter rabbit got none

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dare to make scones

So,

Here is the latest installment of the sometimes exciting, sometimes not so much, Daring Bakers. This month the challenge was brought to us by someone called Audax Artifex. Well, I’m sure that’s not his name, but that’s his, let’s stay internet stagename persona for lack of a more tortured and over-worked expression. I admire this person mainly for the sheer amount of stuff he bakes. He essentially bakes well, constantly.

Or so it seems anyway. Every time there’s a challenge, he is always the first to share what he’s done and he shares and shares and shares. And shares. I guess I kind of am a bit envious that he has the time to make things over and over again, but most of all I am envious that he knows enough people to eat all the stuff he makes. I mean, no one person can eat all of that – I think. He’d have to be Hulk-sized to get through the amount of breads, cakes, croissants etc. Maybe he is. I’ve never seen him and know nothing else about him, so I made up a back story and now just assume it to be true. I don’t care what the truth is really, as long as my story is entertaining to me. Hulk.

ANYWAY, I was going to talk about his choice for the January DB challenge. And it couldn’t have been better: scones. Scones are by no means a challenge, more of a pleasure to make, and I think his intention was that people tried different recipes and techniques. Well, I did no such thing – daring bakers, meet the rogue member of your tribe.

Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers’ host. Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (a/k/a biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens!

(may I just express massive freakout at the use of forward slash to separate letters in an acronym)

The one thing my good friend and Art-full Dodger Nancy and I decided to experiment with was four-hand scones. We made one batch of savoury ones and one batch of sweet ones.

yes that is parmesan on top

Savoury ones first: we made cheese scones, obvzlyz. Following a Paul Hollywood recipe, these were awesome, especially when slathered in butter. They use whole wheat flour – so you can pretend they’re healthy – and lots and lots of wonderful cheeses, meaning that butter is clearly unnecessary, but then again, why would you ever hold off on butter? Utterly unreasonable. Forget all that stuff about being healthy too.

if you tilt your head to the left you can see these the right way around

The stars of the show were definitely Nancy and Mary Berry’s Very Best Scones. Yes Mary, they do stand up to their name. Naturally, Nancy mixed in the sugar out of order (therefore cementing our role as the black sheep of DB – putting the daring into daring bakers), but it ultimately resulted in a lovely flaky scone. Covered in clotted cream and raspberry jam (‘are you a clotted cream first or jam first person?‘ cue discussion over which is best etc. just eat them already), we had a winner batch.

Unfortunately there is only poorly lit evidence of the cheese scones, and none of the other ones – indeed they were so marvellous and the day so short that there was no way we were ever going to manage any decent pictures.

accept the yellowness of the pictures and move on

In essence, they looked like scones. Just google ‘scones’ and you’ll see similar ones.

And follow the link for Paul’s recipe – worth the try:

Wholemeal Cheese SconesPaul Hollywood

last chance to look at scones!

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meringue

The story isn’t new: girl decides to make custard, girl is left with lots of egg whites, girl doesn’t know what to do with them, girl trawls the internet in search of a good recipe, girl ends up making the simplest one she can find because she is essentially lazy.

meringues!

The above explains the origin of these meringues. I had 3 egg whites and wanted to make something that would challenge me in some way. Meringue is not a challenge, at least not at the moment, while I am happy in the safety of the french method. However, if there is something that I can always use some practice in, that is indeed piping. So instead of my usual meringue nest – or blob or whatever you’d like to call it, I set my sights on small meringue kisses.

Using this recipe from Canelle et Vanille – this is where I point out that I envy this post because the idea of making white sweets is so incredibly clever. I made white clouds of icing sugar and then white clouds of meringue. Patiently piped onto silpats and baked for about half an hour each, I was left with I think over a hundred small meringue kisses and no idea what to do with them.

look at them

And then, epiphany: Eton mess.

There is nothing better than Eton mess. In fact, if you ever have any meringue at home and don’t know what to do with it – just make Eton Mess. It’s easy, no fuss and absolutely delicious. Seriously, there aren’t many desserts out there that can give you as much satisfaction.

they sort of look like garlic cloves

So we had a week of Eton Mess and it always disappeared so quickly that there was no time for pictures. Anyway, I can’t possibly take good pictures of that – just trust me when I say it’s wonderful and if you’ve never tried it you should let me know – I will either judge you or make you some. It’s incredibly simple: either crush meringue (or if it’s small enough use it whole) with some cream whipped to your preferred consistency – mine is sort of soft peaks – and add fresh or frozen red fruits. Quantities to your discretion.

Meringue Kisses  – by Canelle et Vanille (clickety click for lots of other delicious recipes and the most beautiful photos)

ready for cream and berries

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rye sourdough

So I missed the DB challenge in December. All the Christmas and New Year preparations (along with all the pre-christmas deadlines at work) ensured that I was unable to get a sourdough starter ready in time.

In fact, I didn’t even get it done in December. I had to get to January to be able to finally make it.

Sourdough with a lovely tea mug brought to me by Nancy (clickety click)

And I’m glad I have. Honestly, these Daring Bakers challenges – one month they are great, the next they’re just rubs. This was an awesome month. I’ve wanted to make sourdough for quite a while, but always thought that it would imply baking bread way more often than I was willing to. Not to mention how long it takes to get everything ready, even if your starter is all set to go.

Making bread using this technique is a time-consuming task. From start to finish, this challenge took me 6 days. 4 days to create the starter, one day to let the bread rise and bake it, one day to rest it. Yes this is true dedication to the power of natural yeasts. Was it worth it? You bet, buster! I now have a rye sourdough starter that I have to feed only once a month and a lovely rye loaf that will bring me plenty of pastrami on rye joy.

that is goat's cheese by it. And some clementines - don't judge.

It’s a long blurb from the DBs this month:

Our Daring Bakers Host for December 2011 was Jessica of My Recipe Project and she showed us how fun it is to create Sour Dough bread in our own kitchens! She provided us with Sour Dough recipes from Bread Matters by Andrew Whitley as well as delicious recipes to use our Sour Dough bread in from Tonia George’s Things on Toast and Canteen’s Great British Food!

So I guess I made half the challenge – I didn’t cook anything with my sourdough loaf. Hey, the challenge is baking, isn’t it? Baking. I baked. I baked therefore I comply. Descartes would totally back me up on this.

look at the structure on that loaf.

Unless you count sandwiches. I have so far made a number of very delicious sandwiches that I have been enjoying as breakfast and packed lunch. A. doesn’t like the bread, so all the more for me… and yes that will not stop me from making more soon.

This post is getting a bit strange, so I’ll try to rein it back in by making a step by step commentary of my findings re: sourdough:

1. at first making the sourdough starter is boring as. Nothing seems to be happening other than it getting a little stinky.

2. when you prepare the actual loaf starter by adding more flour and water to part of the sourdough starter (I am going to use the word ‘starter’ a lot in the next few paragraphs so bear with me) it starts to get interesting.

3. the loaf starter gets bubbles.

4. the mixture is too wet to knead. Also the recipe does not tell you to knead at all. I found this pretty weird and borderline unbelievable, so decided that I would knead mine. The result was a very dirty worktop and a dough as runny as before.

5. I let my dough rise for well over 8 hours – more like 24. First I put it in the oven after we had cooked dinner (the oven was cooling down so it wasn’t a very warm temperature) and it rose a little. Then, because I do have a day job, I put it in the fridge covered with a plastic bag (I really need to find an alternative for this as I hate hate hate plastic bags) and hoped for the best.

6. I didn’t really expect the sourdough to rise much in the fridge because of the temperature. I was wrong. Sourdough is badass.

7. I baked it for about an hour, and the top didn’t look very appealing. The sides and bottom looked amazing, but the top is a bit anaemic. I am hoping to improve on this.

8. I love sourdough.

a crumb to make Paul Hollywood proud

So it was a really good way to enter the new year in DB. I am looking forward to more fun projects like this. Also, I can’t wait to make some tweaks to the recipe and adapt it to my oven and lifestyle. And I know it’s supposed to be a secret, but I expect great things from this month’s – already!

Rye Sourdough Loaf – Recipe in the Daring Bakers website – and check out the other bakers’ loaves (that sounds a bit dirty).

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blogobirthday

So what better way of celebrating this here blog’s first birthday than by wishing everyone a happy new year? NONE.

So Happy New Year, everybody.

I know I haven’t posted for well over a month, but well, blame daylight savings. Seriously, this is annoying the hell out of me and I can’t really get over how crap my pictures are. And no pictures means no posts and no posts means a boring blog. Sorry.

So today as a means of celebrating this birthday (and the new year woohooo) I am posting some pictures I took this morning of things we made yesterday for our NYE party (or should I say Harry Potter Marathon – one more film to go!). Some of the things in the picture (coughcakecough) are slightly older… actually older than the blog itself. And you know what? It works. I shall be making another one in the next few weeks, and keeping it until next year.

NYE desserts l-r: trifle, christmas cake, mince pies

What else? Ah, the lovely trifle. I used a Gordon Ramsay recipe that was really lovely, but had to replace the raspberry filled swiss roll with madeira cake – it works rather well. Also, I cut down on the cream. That amount of cream in one single recipe should be illegal.

yeah that's as good as my photos are going to be now

There were mince pies as well (the first ones ever to come out ok in my kitchen) and in order to make them I had the help of my lovely assistant A., also known as my boyfriend.

We used my own homemade mincemeat – I know it seems a bit daft to share recipes like mincemeat just as the holiday period end, so I may leave it to later.

Of course this is the ending of an intense baking month, or even year really. I guess that the blog has forced me to bake more than ever before, and I guess the first of the month (of the year) is a good time to look back on some of the stuff I made – not for long though, I know you’re all busy people.

one more for good measure

I started out energetically, with a goal of 2 or more posts a week. I was able to keep that going for a while, but then of course it all went slightly pear-shaped due mostly to how lazy I am. All in all though, I feel like I have greatly improved my baking skills, my baking knowledge, and my baking allegiances. Yes move over masters of old, my new hero is Mary Berry. You know she’s your hero too.

My most proud achievement, still the macarons that I made over and over and over again.

Looking forward, I hope the new year brings out a more experimental me, and a more crafty me – it’s time to get the needles out and get back to knitting, sewing and whatever else may come my way.

And it’s thus my goodbye to 2011 and to all the good and bad times it had. And my lovely Mia.

Miazinha

 

Christmas Trifle recipe – by Gordon Ramsay (I used Madeira cake instead of swiss roll)
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meringue challenges

So,

it’s that time of the month again. Daring Bakers day.

Word of warning – this is a long post. If you are not a fan of my ramblings I suggest you scroll down for the recipe and pictures, or even turn away now and save yourself 5 minutes of your life.

This month’s Daring Bakers Challenge… erm, I read it and wasn’t impressed. It is becoming a sort of trend with me but to be honest, the Filipino dessert didn’t look more challenging than say, making meringue. And I can think of ways I’d prefer to present a cake that includes meringue. I don’t know if that breaks the DB rules, but I see DB as more of a means to learning new things rather than just following the recipe posted; as analytical learning in a way. You may disagree.

I guess I am just against the idea of hiding meringue behind a cloak of buttercream – to me it seems wrong. Meringue is light and fluffy and looks absolutely beautiful, so to conceal that by decorating it with a frosting, I don’t know; why would you? I bought all the ingredients (which included an ungodly amount of egg whites) and everything. But I just kept postponing it and not feeling terribly excited about the whole thing.

apricot meringue roulade

If you met me IRL, and especially at my job, you would realise that truth in what I do matters a lot to me. It is an essential ingredient in my work, and my passion for it depends entirely on that (I’m an architect by the way). I guess it’s a weird concept to explain, but essentially, a building should tell the truth about what it is. A building that’s made in timber is fundamentally different from a building that is made of bricks, and the way in which it is designed and built should reflect those differences. It should speak the language of the materials.

I didn’t realise up until this point that I extend this belief to my baking. To me a meringue cake is just not an iced layer cake; and even if it would be delicious and I am missing an opportunity,  I am perfectly comfortable with that.

So in the end I decided to not do it. I put my ingredients to what was to me a more experimental use, one which showed meringue in all its glory and made it the protagonist of a delicious-looking dessert  (in spite of what the photographs may tell you).

So yeah, deal with it. I’m not making this month’s Daring Bakers challenge. And to add insult to injury, I will post the blog-checking lines, and the meringue dessert that I made, which was to me an actual challenge. Consider it part of the challenge, disregard it – entirely your decision, as this is mine.

Catherine of Munchie Musings was our November Daring Bakers’ host and she challenged us to make a traditional Filipino dessert – the delicious Sans Rival cake! And for those of us who wanted to try an additional Filipino dessert, Catherine also gave us a bonus recipe for Bibingka which comes from her friend Jun of Jun-blog.

in a garden

I got the recipe for my meringue roulade from a Bonne Maman cookbook. Bonne Maman are a conserve making company (I think? they may make biscuits as well?). They have a recipe book, called the Bonne Maman Seasonal Cookbook, currently on offer in the UK. Essentially, if you buy three jam jars and send them the codes on the lids, they will send you a book in the post.

TOTALLY. WORTH. IT. Seriously. If you like jams, or even if like me you just tolerate them, go and buy some Bonne Maman jars of jam this instant – if you do though, make sure they have the promotion label on top.

The book arrived just a couple of days after I sent in the codes, much to my surprise. For some reason I never expected it to arrive.

The roulade recipe caught my eye instantly. One of the jars of jam I bought was apricot, simply because I needed it for my Christmas baking; I expected to have a lot leftover and was worried it might linger in my fridge for a long time, as A is more of a fan of the berry jams.

As I had ridiculous amounts of egg whites (yes I bought the pasteurised kind as I couldn’t bring myself to using up 15 egg yolks), it just seemed like it was meant to be.

Now, back story to roulades. Every year my mother makes buche de noël for Christmas; two to be precise. I remember growing up and watching her carefully rolling the cake with great precision while still warm, to avoid any cracks. My mother is an absolute master at this.

I had read more than one roulade recipe that say you should let the cake cool before you roll it. This always puzzled me, as my mother did it differently with great success. It wasn’t until lovely Mary Berry (I am becoming a huge fan of hers) said in the Great British Bake Off that there is a fundamental difference between a swiss roll and a roulade, which means the first must be rolled out while still warm, or it will crack, and the second can only be rolled out when cold or it will crack – she explained the reason for that but I can’t remember what it is – possibly flour making the swiss roll less elastic? something like that anyway . This may be common knowledge but was precious information for me.

Armed with this, I went for it, and made the recipe in the book. It came out really nicely, the meringue was great and then the filling: the filling is incredible. For someone such as myself, who isn’t a great fan of jams (I will never eat them by choice really), this was a revelation – fresh and rich at the same time, not too sweet and perfectly contrasting with the meringue. My jar of apricot jam, that I feared would be forever abandoned in the back of the fridge, is nearly finished. I may have to get a new one to be able to do my Chrismas cake decorating. I think it could work rather nicely with other jams, or perhaps even lemon curd. I will try them all.

mmmmmmeringue

So yes. A success. Roulade, which I saw as a big challenge, is a challenge no more. I would say that is pretty daring, even if it’s not the Filipino dessert.

Apricot Meringue Roulade
From Bonne Maman – The Seasonal Cookbook (very slightly adapted by me)
For the roulade
5 egg whites (I used 150ml pasteurised egg whites)
275 caster sugar, plus extra for rolling (I used golden caster)
50 g flaked almonds
Icing sugar to dust (I didn’t use any)
For the filling
300 ml double cream
4-5 tablespoons of Bonne Maman Apricot Compote
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C (200 if you’re using fan assisted). Line a large baking sheet with non stick baking parchment. (they say baking sheet but I would imagine they mean tray? I used a large tray)
Whisk egg whites until they form stiff peaks, then slowly add the sugar while whisking continuously, until stiff and glossy. spread on the baking sheet  and sprinkle with the flaked almonds.
Bake in the oven for 10 mins, then turn the temperature down to 170 degrees C (150 fan) for about 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Turn out onto a clean tea towel sprinklered with some caster sugar and remove the parchment paper.
Whip the cream to soft peaks and spread on the meringue. Lightly spread the compote and roll the cake along the longest edge using the tea towel to help you.
Chill and serve dusted with icing sugar.

I used Mary Berry’s method for rolling mine – snap the end when starting to roll so that the spiral is tighter.  I also think that the chilling made it much nicer.

The pictures were taken when more than half of it had been eaten, it was so nice.

Oh and as a general disclaimer, I bought and paid for the jam myself and Bonne Maman are in no way remunerating me for this post. I’m pretty sure they’re not even aware of it.

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