Thursday, 28 June 2012

Foodie penpals: from Catherine to Emma

Last month was my first experience of foodie penpals and it was definitely an interesting one. So, with a month gone by, foodie penpals time has come round again.

For those who don’t know what foodie penpals involves- near the beginning of the month, you’re contacted with details of somebody to send a package to. You get in touch and ask foodie preferences and where to send the package to, and you’ll receive an email yourself asking the same questions you’ve just asked someone else. Some interesting shopping, creative packaging and sometimes expensive posting later, your package is sent and you receive one yourself.

I sent a package to Emma in Norwich, the details of which you can see here:

And I received a package from Catherine, who was sending from Leeds.

The day the package arrived, I happened to be at work, but mum was greeted with a note through the door when she came home telling her that a parcel was “in blue bin (to protect from rain)”... which made me giggle when I saw it. Parcel in the wheelie bin, but I least I got it that day and it was dry!

Upon opening the parcel, I found plenty of interesting goodies. Catherine had included marmalade (I’ve brought some plain sourdough home from work specially to go with this) and lovely, melt in the mouth meringues, both home made.

In the letter she’d included, Catherine explained that she was originally from South Africa and had included a few things that reminded her at home- a Safari guava fruit roll and a strawberry fizzer. She’d also trawled the local farm shops and found farmers pickle, blackberry vinegar (not sure how to use it yet but it tastes tangy and interesting) and Yorkshire mix boiled sweets.

I’ve already cracked into most of the things I got sent. Schemes are developing as to what to do with the rest of it. Thanks Catherine!

Foodie penpals: a package for Emma

This was my first foodie pen pals and I got paired with Emma from  I can say it was a total delight and I was over the moon with my foodie package.
I got my email from Emma on the 5th June explaining she would be my foodie pen pal this month. After asking me some questions in regards to what I like, I explained that I had a very sweet tooth and love baking. The reply email couldn’t have been more exciting; Emma told me that she is in fact a baker, she’s just finished doing a pastry chef NVQ and she has been doing lots of experimenting with chocolate. And some of that should make it’s way into my parcel. Well if I wasn’t excited enough about my first package, to then find out I was paired with a baker who was “experimenting with chocolate” just put the cherry on the cake.

The 18th June came round and to my delight my post women knocked at the door holding a parcel; I couldn’t take it out of her hands quick enough.  The first thing that struck me was the weight of it. I was like a child at Christmas. Once I had opened it I was in absolute amazement. I was expecting 1 or 2 items and secretly hoping it would be something Emma had made. I was right!
In my Box:

A lovely hand written card explaining the reasons behind the items in the box.
Eccles cakes & Parma Violets – both very local to Emma. I loved the story about how the Swizzles Matlow factory used to test new sweet flavors out on a local school.
Rhubarb & Ginger jam.
Freeze dried strawberries, Edible gold leaf, Red magic sprinkles – all to decorate my cakes & bakes.
Natural Jelly Belly jelly beans and Hershey’s cookies & cream chocolate.
 And of course homemade salted caramel millionaire’s shortbread – this was heavenly and I would buy this buy the lorry load.
All in all it was a fab experience and thank you so much Emma for an amazing package!!! I loved everything!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Dough diaries beyond bread

My blogging activity levels have taken a bit of a nosedive recently. Working in a bakery means that I'm not baking a hell of a lot of bread at home anymore so actual things to write about have sort of dried up.

I'm missing blogging though so I think it's about time to widen the remit of my blog and include some of the other things that I've been tinkering with at home, even if they're not bread related. Because, believe me, I've not been completely idle at home while I've been working at the bakery.

May have to come up with a new blog name though... watch this space

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Foodie Penpals: from Louise to Emma

Well, this is the first post in a while! I’ve been a bit too busy with work recently to do any bread baking at home but I’ve been getting involved in a few food-related... well, I suppose “communities” is probably a good way of phrasing it. A few week ago, it was Clandestine Cake Club. This time round, it’s Foodie Penpals.

So, how does Foodie Penpals work? You sign up and, on the 5th of the month, you receive an email telling you who you are sending a package to. You get in touch with your receiver and sender, exchange foodie preferences and a postal address and then gather together stuff for a parcel of food to send to your receiver penpal, which you then post by the 20th of the month. Shortly after sending a package on yourself, you get one from sender penpal. Cue excitement when a massive parcel of random goodies appears at your house.

I sent a package to Pia; she doesn’t currently have a blog of her own but she’s guesting on mine this time round, so please check her post out!:

I received a package from Louise. Of course, I missed it when the postman tried to deliver it and it required a visit to the post office depot to retrieve it. No real surprise that it didn’t fit through the letter box... it was huge! And heavy. Didn’t even have to open it to know that Louise had gone to town with this one.

It became pretty obvious why it was heavy when I opened it and clearly I’m going to have to get back to making bread at home, because the parcel included spelt flour, rye flour and yeast. There was time for a bit of speculation after that, because it looks like Louise may have popped into a South East Asian supermarket; goodies along this line included palm sugar, creamed coconut, Hello Kitty chocolate-covered breadsticks and fortune cookies (which were the first things to be cracked open as we were having a Chinese takeaway that night). There was a bit more unwrapping to do because there were some heavy, jar-shaped items in bubble wrap. Looks like Louise has been busy because the jars were lime pickle and pear and vanilla jam.

This is the first time I’ve been involved in Foodie Penpals but sending and receiving the packages has been great fun and a bit of a challenge to. Can’t wait to crack into some of the ingredients that Louise has sent me, especially the palm sugar... I’m wondering if I can incorporate it in some dessert or bit of chocolate work. And I know what’ll be cracked out next time we’ve got poppadoms in. Thanks Louise!

Foodie Penpals: a package for Pia

So, this is the first month that I've taken part in foodie penpals, which I explain in more depth in the next post. I sent a package to Pia, who lives in Germany and who was also taking part for the first time. She doesn't currently have her own blog so, this time round, she's guesting on mine. Here's what Pia thought of foodie penpals this month.


Hi, I am Pia and this is my first package while joining foodiepenpals.

This month it is from Emma and it was awesome.

Funny: when I opened the parcel, I was wearing my favourite vans and Emma put all of her food in a vans shoebox, what a coincidence!

She baked delicious lavender short bread for me, which tasted wonderful and smelled divine.

Because I love italian and indian food, she put porcini mushrooms and a indian dessert for me in the box. I will try both in the near future, especially the mushrooms, because I like them very much.

She sent me some lovely English breakfast tea with tea bag tweezers, which I never tried before and it tasted delicious. My husband loved it ;)

The last two items were English mustard (spicy and yummy) and some local food: Lancashire Eccles Cakes, which until then I didn't know.

Highlight, besides the food, was the lovely written card with a picture of a famous tudor building, which is near her home.

I have sent a package to Beth and you can read (and see) what was inside on her blog: !

Enjoying foodiepenpals so much, it is like birthday and christmas in one and I am looking forward to my next foodiepenpal, so I have an excuse to go shopping!!!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Let's twist again

Not much bread done again at home still because I’m still working at Bramhall Bakery. Don’t get to do a hell of a lot of the bread there myself either, I get there too late in the morning (most of it having been done by 6 am when I turn in). But one of the things I did get to help with today was the teatime twist. This one’s a versatile bread, so get your imagination going.

You start with a basic dough. For the particular ones that I was working on, it was a bun dough with currants and the like in it, but you can (and we do) use a basic white dough for a savoury “twist”. Once it’s been kneaded and had its first rest, turn it out onto a worktop (we don’t need to flour ours but you might feel more secure doing that at home) and squish it down with your knuckles to make a rough square shape, about 20cm each way.
Time to start pimping up your twist. The one pictured is a custard twist, which got smeared with incredibly thick custard with a little strip left at the bottom and a bigger strip left at the top. Our other teatime twist is smeared with apple sauce and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. And we do savoury ones smeared with garlic paste and topped with cheddar cheese, and ones with spinach, feta and cheddar cheese, and ones with chorizo, sundried tomatoes, roasted peppers and more cheese... you can see where we’re going with these ideas, can’t you? Grab your favourite pizza toppings, or the most imaginative things you can think of to smear on toast or top a pancake with, and you can bung these in your twist.
Now, the tricky bit. Well... it’s not that tricky, but if you don’t get it right then you’re twist isn’t going to be much of a twist. Start at the end where you left the smaller gap and fold this end over on itself, then press it down firmly to seal.
Place your hands on top of this bit and roll away from your body. You shouldn’t need to apply too much pressure for this to happen correctly. Use two hands for an even roll... I’m only using one hand in the picture because the other was occupied with the camera
Once rolled, you should have something that looks a little like this.
Next you need to crack out the scissors. And, if you’re me, you might need to grow a bigger pair of hands to open them wide enough to get them all the way round your roll of dough. You’ll need to make around 8 or 9 cuts in your dough, at about 45° and very close to all the way through but leaving a little bit, like a spine, to hold your twist together.
You’ve currently got lots of arrow-shaped cuts. Starting at the end the arrows point to, pull the end bit of dough to one side (e.g. left), then pull the next bit to the other side (... e.g. right). Continue to alternate pulling the pieces of dough out to the side until you reach the top, then gently pick it up and push it together slightly. You now have your twist!
Leave your twist to double in size before cooking as per the dough instructions. You want it to come out of the oven lightly golden and fairly soft. If you’re doing a savoury, cheesy one, take the twist out of the oven 3-4 minutes before time, top with more cheese and put it back in the oven for the cheese to melt.
For your sweet twists, you can glaze then with sugar syrup (or something like a Chelsea bun glaze) or dust them with icing sugar when they come out of the oven.
Finally... tear off a piece and enjoy.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Bee sting cake

Writing on Monday...

I’ve not been baking at home over the past week because I’ve been working for most of it... some of it in a bakery, which kept me happy on that front. I’ve heading back into the home kitchen this week on Bank Holiday Monday, because on the following Tuesday I’m off to a Clandestine Cake Club meeting and need to take a cake!

For those who don’t know, Clandestine Cake Clubs are where people sign up to meet on a specific day in a certain area and bring cake. You don’t know where you’re going until the day before but you’re given a theme in advance and should design your cake around this theme. This time round, the theme is “Cakes inspired by books”.

I had an immediate mind blank when this theme came up  but, while flicking through a recipe book, spotted something with honey in and thought “aha, Winnie the Pooh!”. That wasn’t actually the recipe I went for but I’d remembered one from the new Hairy Bikers’ book called a “Bee Sting Cake”, which seemed to totally fit the bill. And, to make it even more “me”, it’s leavened with yeast.

Mild panic ensued when I realised that I’d be spending most of my time at work, at college or jogging (I’m doing the Manchester 10k in a few weeks and the lungs definitely need the practice!) and couldn’t think when I’d get this cake done, especially because of rising and proving times. Thank goodness for pointless bank holidays! Because the May Day Bank Holiday, however cold and windy it’s been outside, gave me plenty of time to get the cake sorted.

So, where did I start? 15g fresh yeast got pulled out of the freezer after I realised that I’d forgotten to get it out earlier... so it got chopped up and left on the work surface to thaw out while I weighed out everything else. Once it was actually defrosted, it went in a jug with 4 tablespoons warm milk and ½ teaspoon caster sugar; this all got mixed together and left to froth for 10 minutes, snuggled up to my wheat bag for warmth. I was a bit dubious about the next bit because the recipe called for plain flour, but I stuck with it and reasoned that plain flour could result in a cakey texture... which would probably be alright as I was making a cake rather than bread. That got sifted into the mixing bowl on my mixer, along with ½ teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon caster sugar. Once the yeasty milk was frothy, that got poured into the mixing bowl along with 2 beaten eggs. The dough hook went down and I turned the mixer on...

Only to find that it just wasn’t taking up any of the flour from the sides. If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know I normally hand knead anyway, but I’d gone for the mixer this time because lots of butter needed incorporating. So I scraped the flour down, turned it on again... scraped the flour down a bit more, tried again... and eventually, it came together as a dough... only to get stuck in one position on the dough hook and simply pirouette around the mixing bowl. I resolved that there wasn’t enough dough in there for it to work properly... and that the dough hook was a bit useless... so turned the whole lot out on to the work top and got back to using good old elbow grease.

Time to incorporate lashings of butter. This is no airy-fairy Genoise sponge but a cake of much flour and a fair whack of butter. I’d cut it up into cubes and let it soften. I then started chucking lumps in and squishing, kneading and generally pummelling the whole lot until dough and butter became one. The dough needed even more kneading then to get it to the stage of “very pliable, smooth and slightly shiny but no longer sticky”. More flour was required but, of course, the bag was back in the cupboard. Mum just happened to walk into the kitchen at that stage (ah, what timing) so kindly got it out for me so that I didn’t spread dough all over the place. 10 minutes later and I had something resembling the right consistency. It went into a lightly greased bowl, got covered and went in a very, very, very low oven to double in size. I was a bit worried that it would start to weep butter but a half-time check confirmed that all was good, so back in the oven it went.
It plumped up nicely and, after an hour, got turned out into a cake tin (the bottom lined- I’ve learnt my lesson from the spelt bread!) and knuckled down until it filled it evenly. The cover went back on and got stowed back in the oven to plump back up again. This then required a bit of oven juggling... best not to start preheating with the dough still in.

Now, you may have noticed that no honey has actually made its way into this bee sting cake as yet. Fear not, because the next step involved smothering the top of the cake with warm honey and cinnamon. I didn’t do this quite delicately enough and popped some of the larger air bubbles while spreading, but it wasn’t too squished. A sprinkling of flaked almonds later and it went into the oven at 180°C  for 25 minutes, before coming out for another honey basting and getting another 5 minutes in the oven.

Things looked positive when it finally came out of the oven. The cake had a fairly craggy top under its sticky, nutty layer and had a good bit of spring when pushed gently. I let it cool before cutting it in half horizontally, which gave me a chance to look at the texture inside. And hey presto, we have cake! There was a consistent and nicely proportioned crumb structure inside and the cake was buttery yellow and gave off a combined smell of honey, cinnamon and yeast. However, it definitely wasn’t for eating straight away. It got tucked away in the freezer for the night (to preserve the crust) to be pulled out again the following day...

Writing on Tuesday...

Just in time to be filled and finished for the Clandestine Cake Club meeting. The Hairy Bikers’ recipe said to fill it with jam and cream but, as this was meant to be a cake inspired by Winnie the Pooh, I and my friend Levi smothered each half of sponge in more warmed honey and cinnamon, then filled it with freshly whipped double cream and gently reassembled it. The cake was ready for its big moment!

The Clandestine Cake Club meeting this time round was rather crowded and the night included several scrums; when the cakes got displayed on the table, when it was time to eat, when it was time for seconds... thirds... and when it was time to rescue leftover cakes and boxes before going home. Our bee sting cake joined some really imaginative takes on the “cakes inspired by books” theme, including one based on a Dickens character, a Clockwork orange cake, a butterbeer cake (and if you don’t know what book that’s from, you’ve shielded yourself from contemporary popular culture very well) and plenty of others. Levi and I pretty much caked ourselves out over the course of the evening, but dived into the bee sting cake first to make sure we got a sample.

The texture was really intriguing, especially compared to the many dense sponges that it sat alongside. There was a certain crispness and crumbliness to it but it wasn’t dry. But I’m glad we opted for the extra honey, or it wouldn’t have had much of that flavour. There was a definite yeastly flavour to the cake which added a really interesting and tasty extra dimension. The fresh cream in the middle was also sort of “refreshing” (not sure if that’s exactly the word, but... well, it was a break from the overwhelming sweetness of some of the other cake fillings.. partly because I’d forgot to sweeten it, as the original recipe had suggested) and the almonds added a nice texture contrast.

A bread/cake well made, methinks, and I’m really glad I tried this one out. Yeast levening for cakes... a definite... well, optional... way forward.

Simplified recipe

For the cake
1 ½ teaspoons fast action yeast or 15g fresh yeast
½ teaspoon caster sugar
4 tablespoons warm milk (but not too hot; it needs to be yeast-friendly)
250g plain flour (yep, you read that right, plain flour), plus extra for kneading
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon caster sugar
2 medium eggs (at room temperature), beaten
85g softened unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
For the topping
5 tablespoons clear honey
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
20g flaked almonds
For the filling
300ml double cream
150ml honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1.       Put your warm milk in a jug and add the yeast and the ½ teaspoon caster sugar. Stir and leave in a warm place for 10 minutes, until frothy
2.       Sift the flour, salt and the 1 tablespoon caster sugar into a mixing bowl
3.       Make a well in the middle and add the yeasty milk and the eggs. Get your hands stuck in and combine the ingredients, then turn out onto a work surface and knead until smooth (about 5 minutes)
4.       Begin adding the butter a little at a time (the book says a teaspoon but I think I ended up us doing slightly more, just to speed things up) and working it into the dough. You may want to sprinkle a little flour about while doing this as the dough will become very sticky
5.       Once all the butter is incorporated, place it on a clean, floured work surface and continue to work it until it becomes “very pliable, smooth and slightly shiny but no longer sticky”, which should take about 10 minutes. You may need to incorporate more flour while you’re doing this
6.       Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and leave in a warm place to double in size (about 1 to 1 ½ hours)
7.       While you’re waiting, grab a 25cm spring-clip or loose-bottomed cake tin and line the bottom with greaseproof paper
8.       When the dough is ready, turn it out into the cake tin and press it down with your knuckles until it evenly fills the tin. Cover it back up and put it back in a warm place to prove until doubled in size about (about 30-45 minutes)
9.       Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F or gas mark 4)
10.   Get your topping ready. Put the honey and the cinnamon in a saucepan and heat until runny
11.   Once your dough is ready and the oven preheated, spread the top of the dough with ¾ of the honey and sprinkle with the flaked almonds
12.   Place in the oven and bake for 25 minutes “until risen and golden brown”. Brush with the rest of the honey (which may need re-warming) and bake for a further 3-4 minutes
13.   Place the cake on a cooling wire while still in the tin and leave for 10 minutes, then take it out, peel off the baking parchment and allow to cool
14.   For the filling, whip the double cream to form soft peaks. Fit a piping bag with a star nozzle and spoon in the cream
15.   Carefully cut the cake in half horizontally. Warm the second lot of honey with the cinnamon and spread over the base. “Pipe the cream in concentric circles on top” and then carefully top with the other half of the cake (although, actually, we just plonked the cream on. Worked fine)
16.   Either serve immediately or keep chilled until it’s time to serve (because you don’t want to ruin a good cake with curdled cream)

The Hairy Bikers’ Big Book of Baking, Si King and Dave Myers, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2012