Category Archives: Bits and bobs

My Top 5 Adventurous Bakes

I feel terrible.  My blog is supposed to be about baking the adventurous.  What did I end up making for Easter?  A batch of biscuits.  OK, they were from the ‘Fancy Biscuit’ section of Mary Berry’s Baking Bible but they didn’t either look that fancy or taste that great and, according to my dad, their dunkability was also questionable.

easter biscuits

They were hot cross bun flavoured biscuits, and, to be honest, who wants a hot cross bun flavoured biscuit when they could have a a real hot cross bun?

Given that my baking hasn’t been particularly adventurous for a while, I thought I’d have a look at the exciting stuff I’ve made over the last couple of years to see if I could get my baking mojo back.

Here’s my top 5.

  1. My favourite cake was the prinsesstarta  I made from The Great British Bake Off, Big Book of Baking (the recipe is also available on the BBC Food website).  It was set as one of the technical bakes in the 2014 Bake Off series and, Good Lord, technical it was too.  It took three days and involved making custard, jam, green marzipan and fancy fondant icing flowers as well as a cake. How I managed to do it I don’t know, but I did and it really was worth it.

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2. Mary Berry’s Marjolaine was another good one.  Another technical bake from    the  Great British Bake Off (Series 7 this time), and another twelve or so (worthwhile) hours in the kitchen.

 

marjolaine

 

3.  In August last year, I attempted a fraisier from Edd Kimber’s Patisserie Made Simple.      It involved acetate so certainly qualified as adventurous.  I haven’t even opened Patisserie Made Simple for a few months.  It’s definitely time I went back to it.

final fraisier

4. Although it’s a bit less adventurous, I think the coconut cake from James Martin’s Sweet has to be in my top five.  It didn’t take twelve plus hours of kitchen time, but it did taste absolutely lovely.  It would be easy enough to make again once the price of coconut oil comes down.

coconut cake

5.  Deciding on number five has been difficult.  I’ve been scrolling through my pictures remembering the trials and triumphs of the things I’ve made over the past couple of years.  I think I have to go with grasshopper slices from the Hummingbird Bakery’s Home Sweet Home.  The main reason I had for making these was that I was looking for something green because I was baking the jersey colours of the Tour de France (don’t ask).  It was either these or something green tea flavoured.  Green tea, or mint chocolate ganache?  A no-brainer.

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So, there we are.  My top five Let’s Bake the Books adventurous bakes.  Have I got my baking mojo back?  I may have.  I can’t wait for a cup of tea and half an hour with The Books this afternoon, and that’s certainly a start.

Curate’s Egg Caramels

I’ve had one of those rare weeks when I’m fed up of cake.  I’m also fed up of biscuits. Fed up to the extent that I put half a packet of Christmas shortbread out for the birds.  A very rare week indeed.

I didn’t want cake and I didn’t want biscuits so I decided to give sweets a go.  I thought I’d try caramels from Edd Kimber’s Patisserie Made Simple, I thought I should make something from the book, given that I never quite managed the beautiful rose, raspberry and lychee cake.    The recipe is really short (three paragraphs) so caramel making must be a doddle, right?

The first step was to grease and line a 23×13 loaf tin with baking parchment or foil, and grease it again.  I used foil.  Tesco never has baking parchment and I’m not too sure whether the greasproof paper that it does have can be used where the recipe says parchment.

The next steps were to melt caster sugar in a medium pan and warm cream in a small pan.  I’m sure I’ve griped about this before, but how big is a medium pan and how small is a small pan?  I never know whether my small pans are too big, or my medium pans are, really, large pans.  Anyway, as per the recipe, I heated caster sugar in one of my medium pans and put some double cream over a low heat in one of my small ones.

The caster sugar has to be heated until it is a dark copper-caramel colour and it must not be stirred.  I had a bit of trouble here, since the sugar at the bottom of the pan turned coppery before the sugar at the top even started to melt.  Since no stirring was allowed I started to swirl until everything was dark.  Once all the sugar was coppery I gave the warm cream a quick stir (to get rid of the skin that I hadn’t noticed forming on the surface), took the sugar off the heat and carefully poured half of the cream into the sugar.  The effect was pretty volcanic.  Once the fizzing had stopped, I poured in the rest of the cream and added cubed butter and sea salt.  Could I stir it now?  I wasn’t sure.  The recipe didn’t say I could, but it didn’t say I couldn’t either.  I dabbled about a bit with a wooden spoon.  A bit more than a swirl, but not quite a stir.

I put the pan back onto the heat and put my thermometer in.  I’ve upgraded from my sugar thermometer to one of those whizzy electric ones that bleep when you hit the right temperature.  It was set at 122°C and, as soon as the bleep went, I poured the mixture into my tin and left it to set.  Then, with the choice of several heat-proof surfaces to put it on, I chose the kitchen table and peeled off the top layer of paint.  I moved the tin to somewhere a bit more suitable and left the caramel to set.  It looked OK.  It was a bit darker than Edd Kimber’s perfect slab, and it did have a big bubble in the middle, but otherwise, I was pretty pleased.

When the pan had cooled a bit, I did scrape some of the mixture off the bottom to try.  It tasted OK.  I doused the pan in Cilit Bang Grease & Sparkle Turbo Foam and tried to forget about it. I hope it’s going to survive.

I left the caramel to set for around five hours.  The recipe suggests leaving at least four.  It wasn’t set after five hours and it didn’t look like it was going to.  I put the tin into the fridge for a while to firm up so that I could cut it into pieces.

These are what I ended up with (well, there were a few more, but they’d gone before I got around to taking the picture).

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Something was definitely wrong with them.  They were too soft to hold their shape out of the fridge, and there were hard bits and crunchy bits that just shouldn’t have been there. There was also the slightest hint of a burnt taste about some of them.

I think I should have swirled more at the beginning, stirred more when I added the butter and salt and let the mixture get a tiny bit hotter before pouring it into the tin.  That said, if these are the result of so many mistakes, then I can’t imagine how delicious caramels with no mistakes would be.

Calling them curate’s egg caramels doesn’t really do them justice because, even the parts that weren’t good tasted great.  They were like a salty version of Thornton’s Special Toffee that doesn’t yank your fillings out – which can only be a good thing. I Can’t wait to have another go at these if my pan survives.