Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Easter bake off - Emily vs Melissa

A belated Happy Easter to everyone!  I hope you suitably overindulged like we did and are ready for another long weekend courtesy of the royal family in a few days' time.

This Easter, instead of giving each other chocolate eggs, Melissa suggested we should bake each other some Easter inspired treats.  I jumped at the idea - not only would we save money, but receiving a homemade gift means so much more than a shop bought egg that anyone can give.  We had a week to plan our presents and budget of £4 each and the challenge was set.

I scoured all my recipe books and what felt like half the internet trying to search for something creative and Easter related, but with the glorious weather outside the last thing I wanted to bake was a big rich simnel cake.  I spent 5 days humming and ha-ing, then I remembered the gorgeous Biscuiteers Book of Iced Biscuits that I was given as a Christmas present by my aunt and uncle and was inspired to make some Easter biscuits.  When Melissa saw me making the biscuit dough and spotted the 'plain biscuit recipe' over my shoulder she cried out - "Is that all you're making for the bake off?  Plain biscuits??"  I sheepishly replied, "I'm putting vanilla in them," which she scoffed at, as she thought her creation was going to take much more effort and it didn't seem like I was trying very hard.

Oh how the tables turned the next day.

More than 3 hours of icing and dozens of piping cornets later, my Easter biscuits were ready:

I knew the biscuits would take a while but I really had no idea what I was in for with that amount of icing and all those colours.  I'll remember to take a very deep breath before climbing that mountain again. 

And in the green corner, Melissa baked up a cracker of an Easter chocolate tart from our trusty Rachel Allen Bake book which was absolutely divine (and this comes from a girl that doesn't even really like chocolate):

And hats off to her for managing to make it in a deep cake tin because we left our fluted flan tin round at her sisters.

PS Although we were both completely full from all the Easter treats, Melissa did have to eat her words afterwards about me not trying hard enough....

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Brighton Bakery B&B

Since Melissa and I moved down to Brighton our friends and family have been taking advantage of a visit to the seaside most weekends and we've been very happy to oblige.  Although the Brighton marathon was last Sunday, we paid it tribute this weekend with a hatrick of couples that came down to visit. 

When we came back from our travels, Melissa and I made a pact that we're not going to buy any bread from the shops and we're going to make it all ourselves.  Unfortunately we managed to allow another sourdough starter to die through neglect (yes it really does need to be fed every day, and until we manage to do this Melissa's not allowed to get a cat).  For some reason we didn't take a picture of the wholemeal loaf that could double as a doorstop as Melissa got impatient and forgot to let it rise once the loaf had been shaped.  But we've learned from experience now and the last loaf was a big improvement.  What's slightly annoying about our new pact is that it takes a quite a long time to make fresh bread the regular way.  So when we've had guests down they've mostly been treated to soda bread for breakfast as you can make a delicious loaf in 45 minutes from start to finish.

Having made quite a few regular soda breads we fancied a change, and for Melissa's parents we tried out the River Cottage Everyday 6 seeded soda bread (although we didn't have any linseeds so it was actually only 5 seeded soda bread):

The unusual addition of fennel seeds gives the bread a lovely flavour that goes really well with a slice of strong cheddar for a picnic lunch.

Today Melissa's sister and her boyfriend were treated to some zesty citrus shortbread alongside some homemade lemon ice cream.  I was especially happy as the recipe made plenty of biscuits for me to enjoy with a cup of tea when I was hungover after Karrie and Jon's visit on Friday night:

It's really lovely having people down to visit and the bonus for me is that there's always plenty of leftover treats for us to enjoy after our guests have gone!

Secret mushroom muffins

A few people have suggested that being in Brighton I should try offering some *special* cakes which might go down well with a certain local clientele.  I hope that I'm not disappointing readers of this blog by revealing that the secret mushrooms in these savoury muffins are good old chestnut mushrooms from the local greengrocer.

A little while ago my friend Big Nick sent me a picture for some broccoli muffins as a cool idea for the bakery.  I was so intrigued that I scoured the internet for the recipe and discovered one of my now favourite blogs  Ever since then, my mind has been running at tangents trying to conjure up my own variations on a theme.  This is my first attempt, adapted from Ele's broccoli recipe, and they weren't half bad...

Secret Mushroom Muffins Recipe
12 mushrooms (each one should fit comfortably within a muffin mould, but remember they do shrink a bit)
275g softened butter
50g golden caster sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
300g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp fresh thyme, leaves picked
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
60g mature cheddar, grated

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.  While the oven is preheating, clean the mushrooms and brush with a small amount of butter.  Place the mushrooms face down in each hole of your muffin tray and pop in the oven for a few minutes until just tender, then set aside.
2. Using electric beaters, whip up the butter until very soft, then add in the sugar and beat again until light and fluffy.  Crack the eggs into a jug and break them up slightly with a fork, then add a little at a time to the butter, beating well after each addition.  If it starts to split then you can add a large pinch of the flour which will help bring it back into shape. 
3. In a separate bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, thyme, turmeric and salt, then fold this into the butter and egg mix with a spatula, followed by the grated cheese.
4.  Make sure you've taken the mushrooms out of the tin (but you don't need to bother cleaning it), then place a heaped tablespoon of the batter in each muffin case.  Next stick a mushroom stalk first into each yellow pile and top with another spoonful of batter, spreading the batter out to fill each case and making sure the tops of the mushrooms are well covered.
5. Bake the muffins for about 30 minutes until golden brown and firm on top.  Don't worry if some of the butter bubbles out during cooking, I think this helps make a crispier crust.  Cool the muffins on a wire rack before serving as a decadent teatime treat or a mid-morning lunchbox snack at your desk.  Mmmm.

One thing I would remember for next time is not to use mushrooms that are too small as they do shrink when you cook them and I think it gives a better effect if they fill more of the muffin.  I also think the recipe would work well with dried thyme (but use just 1 teaspoon) if you don't have fresh thyme to hand.  It's also very easy to halve the recipe if you only want to make 6 muffins as they are at their best eaten within a day or so.

Watch this space as I have plenty more surprise muffins to follow - they all sound good in my head but I hope I can translate these ideas into good recipes...

Happy baking x

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

An inspector calls

It's a legal requirement that all new food businesses need to register with the council 28 days before opening.  I was super keen and registered in January when we formed the company and we're still yet to sell a single brownie.  Ever since then I've been dreading the health and safety inspection and secretly hoped that we wouldn't have to have one. 

We were supposed to have our inspection 2 weeks ago, but unfortunately we had a builder in doing some plastering and he accidentally managed to blow the electricity circuit for the whole house an hour before our inspection.  I was so frustrated that Melissa had to make the phonecall to rearrange, but luckily the lady at the council was really understanding. 

So for the last two weeks I've tried to put to the back of my mind all the negative thoughts like maybe we're not allowed a basement kitchen, what if we need to buy a new kitchen table because our wooden one isn't hygienic enough, where are we going to be able to buy blue plasters??  And as I was trying to avoid a mild panic attack brought on by too much kitchen surface wiping, right on the dot of 10am, Jo the health inspector from Brighton and Hove Council turned up on our doorstep.

I'm not sure what I was expecting (Inspector Gadget maybe?) but Jo was very nice and extremely helpful. She didn't take any swabs of the surfaces or check how clean the inside of the cooker was but she did look inside the fridge so I'm glad it was spotlessly clean.  Most of the inspection was sitting at the kitchen table talking through our cooking, cleaning and storing procedures and most of it was common sense.  I'm happy to report that we are on the right track in most areas, the only recommendations she made were for us to get a fridge thermometer (and she's going to send us one in the post), a fly screen for if we want to open the window in the summer and for us to change our kitchen cleaner for one that's anti-bacterial.  Apparently Ecover is great for cleaning but doesn't actually kill germs - who would have known? 

We have a bit of paperwork to fill out but now my worries can be laid to rest - we've passed and are free to trade our own baked goods.  To celebrate Melissa and I had a beer with lunch and a piece of cake.  Well we may as well make the most of being home in the daytime....

Soda bread breakfast scones

We had planned to have some homemade sourdough bread for breakfast on Sunday morning, but when Melissa went to begin the recipe, she discovered that our homemade starter had died from neglect.  After a period of mourning we decided to learn the lesson that it definitely needs feeding every day, and said goodbye as Sarah the starter was resigned to the bin. 

Still we picked ourselves up and decided to start(er) again, and this time we have a bright pink postit reminder on the starter bowl:

We've decided that before we can get a pet (Melissa has been trying to persuade me to get a cat) we have to prove that we can look after the new starter and remember to feed it.  Updates to follow.

As the sourdough starter takes 7-10 days before we can use it to bake bread I needed a new plan. I decided I would get up before the others and bake a batch of soda bread, but instead of a large loaf I thought it would be cute to make individual scones and our guests could wake up to the aroma of freshly baked bread in the morning.

Adapted from a River Cottage soda bread recipe, here's how I made them:

Emily's soda bread breakfast scones recipe

250g plain wholemeal flour
250g plain white flour
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon fine salt
400ml natural yoghurt
A little milk, if necessary

Preheat the oven to 200C.
Mix the flours, bicarbonate of soda and salt together in a big bowl. 
Make a well in the centre and stir in the yoghurt until combined.  If the mixture needs it, add a tablespoon or two of milk to bring it together to a soft dough that's not too sticky.  You'll need to get your hands in at this point and bring the dough together into a loose ball.
Turn out onto a floured surface and divide into 8 even pieces. 
Roll gently into balls and place on a floured baking tray, leaving room around each one for them to rise.
Then with a sharp serrated knife cute a deep cross in each scone to let the fairies out (so the Irish legend goes).
Bake for about 22 minutes or until golden brown and when the biggest scone sounds hollow when tapped underneath.

Perfect with proper butter and homemade jam or marmalade and a strong cup of tea to cure a hangover.

Wholemeal honey cake with cinnamon icecreammm...

Melissa and I had our lovely friends (and soon to be neighbours) Laura and Slim down to stay last weekend.  And of course I need the very slightest excuse to get my pinny on and bake up a storm, so I pulled down all my favourite recipe books to search for a new recipe while Melissa rolled her eyes to heaven with a smile usually reserved for toddlers enjoying playtime.

After about two hours poring over photos of dozens of puddings and pies I plumped for a combination of two recipes - a wholemeal honey cake from River Cottage Every Day and cinnamon icecream from Rachel Allen's Entertaining At Home to go on top. 

The cinnamon icecream is a handy no-churn recipe that doesn't need a machine and is a cinch to whip up from just 4 ingredients - eggs, double cream, sugar and cinnamon.  I should say it's easy provided you have an electric whisk, as the cream, egg whites and yolks and sugar all need to be whipped separately to soft peaks - I definitely wouldn't fancy doing that by hand!  Then all you do is fold the mixtures together and freeze overnight until set.  Yum.

The wholemeal honey cake is a fairly standard sponge using a mixture of wholemeal flour and ground almonds which gives it a unique depth of flavour and texture.  It calls for a 23cm tin, but for some reason we have seven 21cm tins but none the required size.  I decided to try my luck anyway, thinking that 2cm can't make that much of a difference.  Turns out that it does.  When I checked to see whether the cake was done at the recommended time it wasn't even nearly done, the batter was clearly wobbling like santa's belly in the tin. It needed a good 20 minutes longer than the recipe said and unfortunately opening the oven door early made it sink a bit in the centre.  It's at these times you really wish your dining table wasn't right in the middle of the kitchen!  Still, it's how it tastes that really counts, and after I'd drizzled more than a healthy amount of honey over the top of the hot cake it was ready to serve up with the homemade icecream:
Although the two recipes weren't written to go together (and each stands up equally well on its own), the combination of the warm syrupy wholemeal sponge with the cool creamy spiced icecream was a good one.  The cake also has a lovely buttery sugary crust at the edge which is a really nice contrast to the soft and comforting sponge.

Laura and Slim's verdict:

And that was after seconds!

Market research part 3 - Lewes Farmers Market

Last Saturday was another sunny Saturday in Sussex and Melissa and I were up nice and early to visit the monthly market in nearby Lewes.  We parked up and took the short stroll down the lovely high street to the bottom of the hill where the market is held.  Once you hit the middle of the street the market is really buzzing - plenty of locals all eager to find some interesting local produce.  And there's some really good stuff here.  From pots of living herbs to the furriest goats cheese I've ever seen there's a really vibrant range of stalls and goods to buy.  There are a few bakery stalls selling different kinds of cakes and breads but I think if we can give our sweet treats a bit of a twist there could definitely be room for a us to have a successful stall.
So now that we're peachy keen to sign up I hope that they reply to my requests for an application form soon!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Purple haze

I was sitting on my new purple sofa, drinking Ribena, eating a purple beetroot brownie and looking at our newly painted purple feature wall thinking - maybe the purple has gone to my head?!