Report Card: The Great Bake-Off

Well hello good people!  Thanks for dropping past to check that all is well at Gidday HQ after the big birthday bonanza.  42 is going well so far – but it has taken me a week to get my proverbial s**t together to get tap-tap-tapping again.  Who knew it would be such a busy week!

Anyhow, with such a break between posts and a pretty full-on week, there’s lots to catch up on – picnicking at the polo, Kindle exploits (yes, I got one peeps – now just waiting for my free wireless router to be delivered) and Mad Men – but with the passing of August 1st, there is one update that demands my most urgent and immediate attention – My Year Of Baking.

Just over a year ago, when navel-gazing about what I had achieved in my 41 years and what I might like to conquer in the year ahead, I decided to overcome my serious lack of baking experience.  So I set up The Great Bake-Off tab on Gidday From The UK to chart my cake-and-cookie exploits.  Just doing this was a triumph in itself as my excitement back on October 17th will attest to.

Anyhow, as with all good projects, I thought it was time to compile a little Report Card for your comment and review so without further ado, here are a few key stats to start us off.

I baked on 10 occasions.
Double figures – yeah baby – well done me!  And that’s just for the new recipes (although admittedly while I cooked quite a bit, there wasn’t much ‘baking’ outside this list).

I made 6 new recipes.
  30 JUL:  Anzac Biscuits
  10 JUL:  Walnut & Rosemary Bread
  25 APR:  Hot Cross Buns
  17 APR:  Apple & Raspberry Squares
   6 MAR:  Mango Fruit Cake
   6 OCT:  Pineapple & Banana Loaf

On average, that’s one every two months – okay but I could’ve done better. Life at various points just got in the way…

I used lots of ingredients.
I had to clear a space in my cupboard (and for that part, in my life too) for all of my baking essentials – in particular, I used a lot more fruit/flour/butter/sugar:

   Fruit – 2,920g (400g was walnuts – does that count?)
   Flour – 2,255g 
   Sugar – 865g 
   Butter – 360g
   Eggs – 17

More than is probably good for me (and others). But what a blessing it turned out to be!

So that’s the stats bit done. Let’s now check out the highs (and the lows – but only if we must):

High Number 1:  
Most successful – Apple & Raspberry Squares – by a mile!

Amazing what some slightly squished raspberries from the market and a crinkly old apple can produce.  I had people visiting my desk to tell me how good this was and one guy wanted to schedule my next ‘cake’ day in his Outlook calendar as he had missed out on my little squares of fruity joy second time round.

This has sinced morphed into Raspberry and Coconut Cake with as much success.  I made this 3 times and may even morph this further as the blackberries are coming into season along my walk home.

High Number 2: 
Biggest victory – Hot Cross Buns

I LOVE Hot Cross Buns – warm and lovely with lashings of butter.  But since moving to the UK, I have not been able to partake of this little Easter treat as I am allergic to oranges and there is mixed peel in every one of the little blighters.  In the face of significant incentive for mastering this one, there was also a less-than-successful bread-making incident in Home Ec. at High School so I embarked on this one more than a little daunted by that living (breathing?) entity – yeast.

I am pleased to report it went well.  Warm and lovely with lashings of butter…

Having mastered yeast-o-phobia also meant that Walnut & Rosemary Bread was a cinch – twice!

Low Number 1:
Biggest disppointment – Anzac Biscuits

I have to confess that I’ve never been a huge fan of these myself so when these came out of the oven looking like little crunchy lumps of…well not biscuits, I nearly didn’t take them to work.  But they disappeared and people made [polite] yummy noises, so not disasterous by any stretch of the imagination. 

Note to self: only bake what moi likes to eat.

Low Number 2:
Coulda, woulda, shoulda – Lamingtons

The plan for office birthday baking was to educate everyone with a couple of Aussie icons.  I managed the Anzac biscuits with ingredients from the store cupboard (although why I had rolled oats in there I will never know) and they were meant to be accompanied by Lamingtons. Having been inspired last November by A-down-the-hill’s Lamington exploits, I was so looking forward to this but time/energy/enthusiasm faded slowly away last weekend and I ended up whipping up a batch of the Raspberry and Coconut Cake using ingredients I already had. 

Despite the absence of lamingtons in my portfolio, it does make me rather proud to say I ‘whipped up’ a cake.

So there you have it folks.  My Year of Baking.  And there are still items of the pastry, chocolate, mousse, jelly and iced variety to explore as we cruise on-board the SS 42. 

As well as lamingtons. 

Hooray! I say.

Now where did I put that spatula?

Summertime…and the blackberries are easy

We went blackberry picking today….hunting out those fat juicy gems in amongst the thorns and undergrowth…in our car park!

For those of you new to Gidday from the UK or those that have simply forgotten, it was just over a year ago that I discovered the joys of plump, juicy, fresh blackberries and bemoaned the fact it had taken me 40 years to do this.

So today, being J’s birthday and all (Happy Birthday honey!) and before the little blighters got eaten by other wildlife (human or otherwise), we ventured out into our street and car park to snaffle as many as we could.  And snaffle we did…an almost-full ice-cream container.  And I have the proud scratches on my forearms and hands to prove it.

We were going to indulge in these tonight as a post birthday dinner treat but I’d already promised to make my first ever apple crumble (after a birthday resolution to master some basic dessert skills beyond cheese arrangement) so the blackberries are being held in abeyance until tomorrow – but are still on hand if the crumble is appalling.


Wish me luck!

Last of the Summer Wine…

Well, here we are at August Bank Holiday Monday and the official last day of summer here in the UK and the weather has put in a simply splendid show of sunshine to remind us all that summer was actually pretty good over here this year. 

It’s 26C, and whilst I submitted myself to a rather unruly burst of spring-cleaning this morning, I followed this with a couple of hours of luxurious reading under the trees out the front…and we are bbq-ing in earnest tonight to give this English summer of 2009 a proper and fitting ‘cheerio’.

So it’s a toast to farewell Summer…goodbye to tomatoes and blackberries and rosily,sun-kissed cheeks and noses…and to welcome the brilliantly-hued and softly sunshine-y days of Autumn…

Blackberry, blackberry…

Just a small diversion from the Happiest Stories on Earth for a moment to let you know that lately we have been pigging out on juicy, fresh-picked blackberries…and no I did not grow them (although the patch has started to provide the most AMAZINGLY sweet tomatoes). These blackberries grow wild in our car park and just down the hill on the roadside – yes, that’s right – in suburbia.

I have never eaten fresh-picked blackberries before – only restaurant delivered-on-a-plate ones – these are so-o-o-o delicious. J managed to fill an ice-cream container on Saturday with his not-so-slim pickings and has put half in the freezer for prosperity (of our desserts anyway).

Why did no-one tell me about this?? This is definitely the first important lessons of my 40s…