Proving A Point…

Yesterday I decided that Sunday would be baking day at Gidday HQ.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since I got the More Secrets from the Beechworth Bakery cookbook for Christmas. Reading through it has made me think how wonderful it would be to develop some proficiency in bread making so that I could just whip up a tasty loaf or two on a whim rather than it occurring like an enormous ordeal.

The silly part is that I’ve already had some previous successes with a scrumptious Rosemary and Walnut Loaf and my very first attempt at Easter buns being rather light and fruity (and delicious with lashings of butter) so my thinking’s that I just need a little more practice.

Anyhow after an inspirational Saturday evening watching my favourite foodie movie Julie and Julia, I decided to face up to last year’s Easter bun bomb and have another go.

Getting ready…I like to have everything measured out before I start.

Thirty minutes in and the first proving had appeared to have gone nicely…

Results of the first proving look promising

With hopeful spirit, I folded and rolled my dough and submitted it to its second proving…

Back into my home-made prover (hot water in the sink with a towel over it!)

I’m attempting Tiger Bread which involves painting the top of the proven dough with a paste of plain flour, rice flour, water, caster sugar, salt and vegetable oil. So it’s swish swish swish with my brush and into the oven…

My basted Tiger Bread goes into the oven

…and about 40 minutes later look what I had!

Tiger Bread: looks more like leopard spots to me but who am I to argue with the Beechworth Bakery?

I tapped it on the bottom to make sure it was cooked through then left it to cool a little before carving myself a slice.

It was delicious! So much so that I decided that the only thing for it was to whip up a batch of pumpkin soup to go with it for lunch.

I feel positively Delia-ish!

And now that I’ve proven my point – albeit to myself – I can’t wait to dip back into the secrets of the Beechworth Bakery and try something else. Easter’s just around the corner you know and I need to redeem myself with regard to my unauspicious output from last year…

Gidday Disclaimer:
This is a bread-maker free home. I do not need another gadget to take up more valuable space at the back of the cupboard and the addition of my beloved birthday coffee maker to the Gidday HQ benchtop last year is as far as I’m prepared to go on that score.
Yours in Baking Earnestness
The (Only) Gidday Bread-Maker

The Bold And The Beautiful…

The spoiler’s in the title peeps. Today turned into a veritable flour frenzy at Gidday HQ as I tried my luck with my next baking challenge – Biscuits.

(I know I did Anzac biscuits in August but I don’t really eat them/they didn’t really look like biscuits so I thought I should have another go.)

Having bought a couple of extra ingredients yesterday while out and about – not wishing to give myself any excuse for shying away from this next frontier – I thought I’d get inspired this morning by catching up on last week’s episode of The Great British Bake Off, a series currently running on BBC. (I am now wondering whether BBC actually stands for Biscuits, Bread and Cakes but I digress). Last week it was biscuits. ‘Perfect!’ I thought making myself comfy, spatula within reach. 

There were some disasters and some triumphs and as long as I wasn’t attempting brandy snaps (that curl thing looks quite difficult) or macaroons (a high proportion of contestant tribulations here), I figured I’d be ok.

My first recipe was Double Chocolate Cookies (thanks to a recipe in Sainsbury’s Magazine). All went smoothly, I put them in the oven to bake and checked on my 13 little biscuit bundles (recipe said makes twelve but hey, I’ll eat one to test and then we’ll be square) after about 20 minutes. They weren’t kidding when they said leave 5cm between each ‘walnut-sized’ mound (how big is a walnut anyway?) – I had one rather large Double Chocolate Cookie on my hands! ‘What to do? What to do?’ my frantic mind muttered. And then inspiration struck.

This, my friends, is what an eggcup is for!

A useful gift and in Vegemite colours – what’s not to like?

And so I cut and cut and cut, popped them back in the oven for another seven minutes and out came these little beauties.

Proud little soldiers – all cute and chocolate-y!

Inspired, I started on my second batch, Zingy Ginger and Lemon (props again to Sainsbury’s magazine!). This one took a little creative thinking as the mixture just didn’t seem to be quite as ‘roll-into-walnut-shaped-balls’-able as my chocolate attempt but I soldiered on, dribbling little dollops of water until things looked (and felt) a bit more promising.

I am one who always learns lessons in life so out came two baking trays and soon there were 16 dollops ready for the oven.

But blow me down at the 20 minute mark they’d spread again – like they couldn’t bear to be away from each other – and although not faced with an indistinct tray-shaped cookie like last time, I thought it was time for more inspired culinary thinking. You see, while the eggcup thing worked quite well, it did leave rather a lot of ‘inbetween’ bits which, try as I might, I could not eat in these quantities…

The inbetweeners – a bit like donut holes

So I grabbed some of those little round dishes you have for dipping sauce with Asian food and Voila!

Zingy Ginger – pre lemon

After 10 more minutes in the oven, these emerged to bask on the cooling rack (their chocolate counterparts having cooled sufficiently to migrate to a plate). 

Then there was the great Icing Incident. Don’t try this at home without the right equipment peeps – it won’t go well.

Oh dear – icing may not be my forte!
And not looking much better presented next to the chocolate ones either

Maybe I should have quit while I was ahead. But they taste amazing. Here’s one I was eating earlier…

Delicious – never judge a book by its cover.

You may be wondering what I learned from this afternoon’s baking exploits.  Well I learned that:

a) I am spatially challenged – wearing flat shoes has obviously blunted my appreciation for 5cm heels and who the heck knows what’s meant by walnut-sized anyway.

b) I used think I was ok on the maths front but I cannot for the life of me work out how that much mixture only makes twelve biscuits.

c) I am not an accomplished baker in the presentation stakes but can improvise so that no-one ever suspects – I have not spent 20 years working in Marketing for nothing.

d) I am a mucky pup in the kitchen – a recent learning as I have just discovered some rogue icing on my t-shirt as I sit here tap-tap-tapping away.

But the proof of the pudding is in the tasting so stay tuned for the update after the people at work get their paws on them.


Nom, nom, nom…

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?

All Things New…And 22 Sleeps To Go

It’s been a busy weekend and as a result it’s gotten to Sunday afternoon before I’ve had the opportunity to be tap-tap-tapping away in my front window.  But it’s been a weekend of some new experiences which I want to share with you.

The first happened yesterday afternoon when I went to have my very own studio photo shoot at insspire in Clapham.  Prompted by a couldn’t-resist deal on living social (and the fact that since I’ve had my hair cut short again, I do not have a lot of photos that actually look like me), I’d booked my session several weeks ago and so yesterday found me strolling up Lavender Hill in the afternoon sunshine feeling excited and just a tad nervous.

Taken in hand by the lovely (and official Master of Photography) Monika, first it was into make-up.  I don’t wear very much of this on a day-to-day basis so it felt rather Hollywood to have someone else doing the primping and preening for me – although it was a little disconcerting to have that same someone peering at my face wondering what she could ‘do’ with it.

Half an hour later it was back downstairs to the studio to start shooting.  What can I say except that it was fun and very, very weird.  There was lots of standing, sitting, leaning, lying and draping – and yes, that was all me!  Monika spent an hour coaxing me into different poses and faces: there were lighting changes, set changes, costume changes (well, just one – I changed my top) and even a camera change!

I left feeling a little tired, a little emotional, a little curious to see how the pics come out (viewing is not until the 19th July so stay tuned!) and a lot exhilarated.  Let’s just say that the small top-up Sainsbury’s shop I stopped to do in Wimbledon on the way home took a little longer than it usually does.

The second new thing for this weekend is that I have continued my foray into the The Great Bake-Off with a new challenge.  We are off to Kew the Music at Kew Gardens tonight and part of the deal is that we all bring stuff along to share.  A-down-the-hill let me know yesterday that there was marinated chicken, frittata, olives and snacky things and chocolate whoopie pies already on the menu so this morning I was whipping up a batch of Raspberry and Coconut Cakes (a variation on the Apple and Raspberry Squares I’d done previously).

But this is not the new thing.  Oh no!  I baked TWO things today – yes two! 

So I am enormously proud to present to you the latest addition to The Great Bake-Off family:

TAH DAAAAAAAH!!!!!!!!!!!!

Walnut and Rosemary Bread

I want to take this little beauty intact to tonight’s festivities so there’s a huge risk posed by the fact I have not conducted my usual taste test – but it looks completely wicked right?

Time is a-ticking so I best be off to pack my baked goods and other essentials for tonight’s summer of fun (picnic blanket, folding chair, paper plates, plastic wine glasses, umbrella – yes sadly, showers are forecast).  In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed for a dry evening and some tasty bread!

ps…you’ve had a few days respite from the countdown but with only 22 sleeps to go before the good ship 41 goes into dry dock, I thought it would be very helpful of me to give you a little nudge.  Best not stand next to the ship’s railing peeps – the nudging gets more persistent the closer we get and I wouldn’t want you to end up in ‘the drink’.  Or would I?

Nice Buns!

My Year of Baking continued today with a rather splendiferous, Easter-themed foray into Hot Cross BunsNow this was a drama in three parts:

Act I:  The Cast (and a little creative workshopping)

Gathering all of the ingredients before me on the kitchen bench, I proceeded to make the dough and you know what that means – yeast!  I have not worked with this little devil since a disappointing bread-making incident in Year 7 Home Economics, way before the world actually had breadmakers called Kenwood, Panasonic and Morphy Richards.  Nor was I about to be put off by some diametrically opposed instructions: the recipe called for the yeast to be mixed with water whilst the completely contradictory and carefree directions on the yeast packet informed me to basically just toss it in with the flour.  Anyway, after getting in amongst it and ending up with mighty sticky/dough-y fingers, my little mound of yeasty goodness went down for an hour’s kip in my sunlit front window.  As did I.

Act II  Rehearsals (and a little Diva-ish behaviour)

Roused by the insistent beeping of the ‘timer on the stove’, it was time for a little more kneading before separating the bigger-mound-of-dough-than-it-was-before into 12 equal (so they say) balls and fitting them nicely on to my greased baking tray.  However the incising of the cross (without which these would merely be ‘Buns’) was more than these poor darlings could take and they downed tools (or was that me?) and went off for a slightly long-ish 30min, window-warming power nap. 

Part III  Opening Night (for one night only)

The final act was to move these bigger-than-they-were-before mounds into the less temperate environs of the oven.  And just 15mins later they appeared in the wings for their curtain call, ready to be iced and glazed before appearing in front of their adoring public….
…and quite frankly, I couldn’t wait to get myself an autograph!

Happy Easter everyone

Let Me Eat Cake…

I thought it was about time for me to report on my efforts so far in The Great Bake Off

I have to confess it’s not been a frenzy of culinary activity and after an incredibly slow start, there has only been a slight acceleration in pace this year.  But I’ve managed three successes out of three and have become ‘sold’ on the whole concept of planning a Sunday afternoon baking ‘sesh’.

It started out in October last year with Pineapple and Banana Loaf, followed by my inspired return from Christmas in Australia and the even more inspired Mango Fruit Cake adventure in March.  Today’s sunny Sunday success is Apple and Raspberry Squares…
Yes, that is evidence of my choppers tucking in for a little taste…
Whilst not wishing to brag at all (ok, maybe a little bit), I appear to have ‘mastered’ the whole cake with fruit thing so in the spirit in which My Year of Baking was born (ie. to remove the mystery from baking in all its forms), I promise to move into uncharted territory next time (maybe chocolate, pastry?)…although Easter is next week, and if I manage to find a substitute for mixed peel (I am allergic to oranges – but not lemons, limes, grapefruit – go figure), I might just need to give Hot Cross Buns a whirl…
So does anyone know where I can get candied lemon peel in SW London?  Anyone?  There could be a cuppa and a potentially decent Easter Bun in it for you….

Promises, Promises…The Great Bake-Off

Every year on my birthday, apart from celebrating all that is fabulous (and modest, of course) about me, I am always inspired to embark on something new.  This might be a new experience, a new adventure or simply a new ‘education’ but there always seems to be a plethora of things I’d like to conquer – or at the very least have a crack at. 

So when I turned 41 back at the start of August (and realised that, yes I had left my thirties well and truly behind me), I made a little promise to myself that this year I would overcome my trepidation in an area that everyone else makes look effortlessly simple – baking.

I’m not talking about the type of baking to do with vegetables, burritos, fish or lasagne (although having never made one of these before, I might just sneak one in this year).  It’s proper baking I mean to master – cakes, pies, tarts, muffins, loaves, biscuits – all that lovely old-fashioned, apron-clad cleverness that’s absolutely meant for sharing (vs one-pot meals for one or two).

So this week, with a few days off and having been given 4 tins of pineapple pieces (a whole other story!), I decided that I would kill two birds with one stone and try a cake recipe that used canned pineapple…and after a small amount of fossicking on-line (Google, how I love thee!), I embarked on my first venture – Pineapple and Banana Loaf.

After much mashing, measuring, mixing and mulling over the batter-spotted recipe sheet, I got that beast into the oven and just over an hour later was rewarded with this:

There was a still-warm slice each for me ‘n’ J for dessert on Wednesday night and then my Ladies Who Lunch visitor, and baking friend extraordinaire, A polished off another couple of slices on Thursday, whilst making all the ‘right’ noises.  And the rest is going next door tonight to face the ultimate test – a couple of teenagers! 

But the reviews are good…and I have to say, I’m a little bit chuffed with myself!!

However timing will be of the essence in my future baking forays – after all, I cannot be expected to polish off 32 serves on my own – late at night, watching Mad Men, Desperate Housewives, Hells Kitchen or The Apprentice.  Otherwise next year’s promise will be a cinch to select…mastering the discipline of Low Fat Diet & Exercise!