Monday, 27 February 2012

Strawberry Meringue Nests

Recipe Number One Hundred & Sixty Four: Page 358.

What with this unseasonably warm weather we've been gratefully receiving of late, I was in the mood for something summery. I spent ages deliberating over which recipe to use and I kept coming back to these meringue nests. I hope you'll forgive me for using strawberries as they're of course completely out of season!! I suppose I could have waited for Neil's strawberries to grow but no doubt I would be waiting a rather long time!

As we were heading into town in the morning I added strawberries to my ever lengthening shopping list. I wanted to take Isaac to soft play before heading to the supermarket. Strangely, Neil decided to head to the bank and library while Isaac and I entered a large room full of toddlers, tired parents and a heck of a lot of noise. We only had half an hour, so we made the most of it. We enjoyed a rather inelegant bounce on the bouncy castle; I pushed Isaac around in cars, on tractors and bikes. Isaac happily went down the slides and we both crawled through the tunnel. Thankfully it was large enough to accommodate my wide frame! Well, half an hour was more than long enough as I was absolutely exhausted – I hadn't realised how unfit I was! Isaac would have happily whizzed around for longer if given the chance. After a spot of shopping we headed home and I collapsed in a hot heap on the sofa. Neil had kindly bought sandwiches for lunch so I could stay in my position a little longer.

With a nicely full tummy and energy somewhat restored, I shuffled to my post in the kitchen. I hadn't made meringue for a while, so I could only vaguely remember what to do. I was thrown off course when I saw that I should use icing sugar instead of caster. This recipe was obviously different to what I was used to. I read the recipe header and saw that this particular version is called Meringue Cuite (what a great name) apparently it is drier and is good at holding its shape.

I started off by separating the four eggs and put the whites into my mixing bowl. It always seems wasteful to throw away the yolks, so I decided to save them for a helping of rich scrambled eggs. I was just to whisk the whites until foaming; this took mere moments. To help eliminate the mess which seems inevitable when using icing sugar, I sifted it into the bowl little by little. The next part really was very different to what I had been used to. I had to set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk it to within an inch of its life. The whole time I kept my eyes peeled for any signs that the mixture was overheating. Mary mentions that the meringue can crust around the edges if it gets too hot. Thankfully I was lucky enough to avoid that happening. It did take several minutes to get the mixture nice and stiff. Once firm it held its shape brilliantly. As I've said many times before, I loathe piping. The only reason for this hatred is because I can't do it!! The mixture was so thick it was tricky getting it all pushed down into the piping bag and I in turn ended up completely smothered. As expected, my attempt at piping meringue nests was untidy and they all seemed to lean lopsidedly to one side! At least they held their shape as promised. I placed the tray of six nests into the oven on a very low heat and hoped for the best. Meanwhile I happily gorged on raw meringue, yum!

According to the instructions, the nests should be ready after about forty five minutes in the oven. I should be so lucky! They were meant to be crisp and dry and mine were still soft underneath, so they ended up with an extra half an hour in the oven. In the end two never did harden but I got bored waiting! It took next to no time for the meringue nests to cool, so I set about slicing up the super sized strawberries; they were big’uns! I filled each nest with the juicy strawberries and then spooned over some warmed redcurrant jelly. The nests did look rather pretty, especially with the red of the fruit contrasting against the white of the meringue. When I tucked into a nest I realised that Mary wasn't kidding; they really are dry and crunchy. However, the bases were still a little soft and chewy. All in all these little nests were quite delicious. My only disappointment was not having a hefty dollop of cream inside my meringue nest. Having said that, there is nothing to stop me from adding my own, or better still a scoop or two of ice cream. Now there's a thought!
Strawberries make me think of summer :-)

Cranberry and Apricot Fruit Cake

Recipe Number One Hundred & Sixty Three:  Page 63.

This challenge has made me realise just how closed off I used to be to new flavours and ideas; there's so much I'd never ventured to try. Cranberries feature heavily in this recipe and I am ashamed to admit that a cranberry has never before passed my lips! I've nothing against this apparently sour berry; I'd just never thought to try them before. Mary does mention that cherries can be used instead of the cranberries in this recipe. As tempting as that sounded to my cherry loving heart, I decided to stick to the recipe and embrace the cranberries. After all, it's always good to try something new.

By the time I got around to my cake making it was early evening, so I was glad to be eased in gently with my first task. Chopping the pineapple was nice and straightforward as it was from a can; I only needed to make the slices a little smaller. I was delighted that the juice wouldn't be needed in the recipe as this meant I could drink it. Pineapple juice is very tasty! With fruity goodness coursing through my veins I felt ready to tackle the enormous pile of dried apricots. As I snipped at the apricots with a pair of scissors, I couldn't help feeling that the pile wasn't getting any smaller. My will to live was ebbing!!! Some ten minutes later I triumphantly snipped the very last apricot and shook out my aching hand. Alas my euphoria was brief. My next job was to chop 100g of blanched almonds – this equalled another ten uncomfortable minutes! Funny how all this chopping and snipping doesn't look much in the book; it only takes up one small paragraph!!

Finally I could place the drained pineapple, apricots and blanched almonds into a large mixing bowl. The bowl was half full but I'd only just begun! Next to be included were the dried cranberries, not one but two packets! It is probably a good thing I'd never used them before as they cost a small fortune. I was roughly 20g shy of the total required amount but I refused to pay for a third packet!! After adding the perhaps gold plated cranberries, I tipped in some ground almonds and a huge quantity of sultanas. The fruit and nuts were now right to the top of the bowl. Thank goodness the last ingredient to be added was the zest from two lemons; it wouldn't take up much room!

In another large bowl I was to weigh in some flour, sugar and butter in equal quantities. A grand total of five eggs were then to be added. I get through so many eggs I've had to order them from the milkman every week. If we had a bigger garden it might be worth housing some chickens! At this point it dawned on me that the recipe had a lot of similarities to the Victorian Christmas cake on page 136, so I turned to it to compare notes. The only difference in this recipe was cranberries instead of cherries. I couldn't help but feel a little cheated! Pushing my disappointment to one side, I retrieved my electric whisk and mixed everything together until smooth, which took a little longer than expected. Next came the interesting part of adding the fruity mixture to the cake mixture. Mary says to fold in the fruit - easier said than done! The combined ingredients threatened to spill over the sides of the bowl at the slightest touch. Using my wooden spoon, the best I could do was to push the fruit down into the cake mix with a stabbing action!

My flabby little biceps were put to work when it was time to heave the densely fruited mixture into the lined cake tin. It was hard work! After levelling the top of the cake, I was to place circles of blanched almonds over the top. Again this mirrored the Victorian Christmas cake. I glanced at the clock after heaving the full tin into the oven. With a two hour cooking time it would hopefully be ready at 9.30pm. I passed the time by watching a film but, as I was so worried about the top of the cake burning, it had to be paused several times so I could check. I'm not sure Neil was best pleased but I think he's used to it by now!!! Thankfully I had no need to place any foil over the top of the cake. After two hours I lifted out the tin and turned off the oven. After rechecking the recipe I very quickly turned it back on. It turned out it should cook for two and a half hours not just two – whoops! Another half an hour later and I really could turn the oven off. The cake appeared to be cooked through when tested and the top was a lovely golden brown. After half an hour cooling in the tin it was time to tip the gigantic cake out of the constraints of its tin. I was pleased as it did look pretty. I left it to cool overnight and headed up to the comfort of my bed. I think I was asleep in less than ten seconds!

The next day it was time to grab a knife and cut into the temptingly fruity cake. Once sliced it revealed just how light in colour it was. I am used to baking much darker fruit cakes. This particular cake really was packed to the brim with fruit; it looked really colourful, especially with the red of the cranberries. I took a large bite and found myself chewing for some time – the apricots were still rather chewy. My first thought was that it was mostly fruit and the cake was purely the scaffolding. The flavours did all seem to come through, especially the lemon. I found it just a touch too sweet, which is surprising as I have such a sweet tooth! Isaac enjoyed a few helpings of this cake. I have to say it was quite entertaining watching him eat it. His little jaw was put to work with the chewy apricots. I don't think I've known him be quiet for so long!
You'll get your five a day with this cake!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Carrot and Orange Loaf

Recipe Number One Hundred & Sixty Two:  Page 308.

This Carrot and Orange Loaf streaked to an easy victory on my Facebook Poll this week. It certainly was a popular choice. If I were to list my favourite cakes, then carrot cake would definitely have the top spot. Rather ironically the root vegetable in question rarely visits my dinner plate and, when it does, it is smothered in gravy. How do all those super healthy people eat them raw? It is certainly an acquired taste! However, shove some in a cake and I'm ecstatic!

As I'm sure you can imagine, I was eager to tuck into this cake! Alas, I was a little forlorn when I realised there would be no delicious cream cheese icing. I don't think I've ever eaten a carrot cake without icing before. There is of course a first time for everything and I had to admit that it would benefit my ever increasing waistline!

I intended to pay a visit to the shop after our morning trip to the swings as I needed to buy an orange. Unfortunately, due to some badly timed drizzle, we ended up making a hasty retreat from the park and galloping home at high speed. A single orange wasn't worth getting drenched for, so we bypassed the shop! This turned out to be a wise decision as, once we were through the front door, the heavens immediately opened. As an orange is obviously integral to this recipe, hence its mention in the title, I decided to make do with the clementines we buy especially for our little boy. I had a rummage in the fruit bowl and extracted two good sized clementines. I trusted that Isaac wouldn't mind my pinching them! Using two in place of an orange would, I hoped, do the trick!

After turning on the oven and lining my loaf tin, I grated the zest from both of the clementines. One took mere seconds, while the other was far squidgier; it clearly wasn't keen on the idea of baldness! After grating the zest, I was instructed to cut away the pith and thinly slice the orange, or clementines in my case. I wondered what would happen to the slices. Further reading of the recipe explained that they would be placed on top of the cooked cake. I know I should never question Mary but I wasn't sure that I liked the idea!

A few minutes later, and with clementine juice dripping from both of my hands, I thought I might as well deal with the carrots next. It might be a good idea to get rid of all the messy jobs first! After peeling the carrots I glanced back at the Baking Bible. I was forced to use my limited common sense as Mary does not say what to do with them. I suppose it is blindingly obvious that they should be grated; it wouldn't really be wise to add them whilst still whole!! Bits of carrot merrily flicked everywhere as I grated them into the mixing bowl; a big clean up job would be needed once the cake was in the oven. Something to savour!!

With both the zest and grated carrot finally in the bowl, I turned my attention to adding all the other ingredients. As I'm used to using oil in carrot cakes, it felt a little strange to be weighing out butter instead. It would be interesting to see if I could taste the difference. I've mentioned countless times before my love for muscovado sugar and I was really pleased to be using the light variety in this recipe. Its rich almost toffee flavour is delicious. After adding in the sugar, I weighed in the self-raising flour and a little baking powder. I was instructed to beat the eggs before they made their way into the bowl. I obediently cracked them into a cup before absentmindedly tipping them straight into the mixing bowl still in their unbeaten state! Well, that was a waste of time!

I like my carrot cake to have a touch of spice, so I was pleased to be including some mixed spice. However, I wasn't sure I would really notice it as it was such a small amount. The time had finally come to combine all of the ingredients together. Mary doesn't say to beat the mixture but I couldn't see how else I could easily break up the butter, so I reached for my electric whisk. I gave it a very quick mix on the lowest setting just in case I was doing the wrong thing!

Isaac, who'd been happily observing the cake making process, decided that now was the time to clear up Mummy's mess. He picked up some pieces of grated carrot from the floor and exclaimed “dirty” before trotting off and putting them into the living room bin. Now, if I could just teach him to do the dusting and washing up, I would be onto a winner!

Mary mentions to add a tablespoon of milk to the mixture if needed to create a dropping consistency. I found that this was necessary. I was a little heavy handed when measuring in the milk and an extra splash found its way into the bowl. Hopefully all would be well! I spooned the cake mixture into the waiting loaf tin and then placed it into the oven. It would need to cook for about an hour, so I got on with making lunch. I alternated between sandwich making and licking out the bowl. I have to admit that the raw mixture was so delicious that I found it to be quite distracting; it was some time before a finished sandwich was produced!

An hour later I discovered that the cake was browning at an alarming rate! Luckily now was the time to add the slices of clementine on top. As I reluctantly dotted slices of clementine over the surface of the cake, I couldn't help but shake my head; it really did look peculiar! I brushed some clear honey over the cake and then placed it back into the oven for another fifteen minutes.

Once the cake was out of the oven, I left it to cool for a few minutes in the tin before attempting to tip it out onto a wire rack. How on earth could I tip it out without all the clementine slices falling off?! Of course the inevitable happened and they immediately gave in to gravity. No attempt was made to stay in place!! I did my best to reassemble the squashed fruit even though I couldn't help but think that the cake looked better plain.

After the cake had cooled, I tried to slice it for the important photograph. I found it really tricky to cut into neat slices as the cake was so moist. This meant I ended up sampling earlier than intended; I couldn't resist all the broken pieces. It was absolutely delicious! The orange flavour and the hint of mixed spices complemented each other perfectly. I have to say that carrot and orange is a match made in heaven; I'll be using them together from now on. I could also clearly taste the honey. I think this contributed to the moistness of the cake. Due to its overall moist nature, Mary says to store in the fridge if it’s to be kept for any length of time. Fat chance of that happening in this house – it will be gone in no time!

I gave Isaac a few pieces to try; he gave me a lovely big smile and said “good”. This really made my day as he has never said that word before and it made it clear that this cake is considered a real winner. Praise indeed! Although it isn't really much to look at, looks are deceiving in this case. It is absolutely scrumptious. Next time I make it though, I think it's safe to say that I'll leave the orange slices off the top!!
It may look odd but it tastes fab - promise!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Almond Spice Cake

Recipe Number One Hundred & Sixty One:  Page 84.

I have to confess that I find the photograph of this cake in the Baking Bible a little off putting! There is nothing actually wrong with it but its overall brownness isn't very appealing to me! However, after reading through the recipe, I was converted. It turns out that there is a layer of marzipan running through the middle of the cake. This sounded delicious. Funnily enough I used to loathe marzipan but now I'll seek it out; I love the stuff! Now, armed with a new enthusiasm for this cake, I really was looking forward to making and eating it.

I was enjoying such a lovely and relaxing day that, by the time I thought about making this cake, it was already mid-afternoon. I peeled my body from the sofa and gathered up my very well worn Baking Bible. It really is on its last legs! I felt a spring in my step as I walked into the kitchen. I knew that in a few hours I'd be tucking into a large slice of cake – hooray!

After the dreaded job of lining the tin I turned my attention to the marzipan. I had some left over from Christmas. As it had been wrapped and stored well it was still in perfect condition. This would be a great way to use it up. Of course I couldn't resist pulling off a large piece for myself! I rolled out the marzipan to fit the shape of the tin. The resulting circle was surprisingly thin. I suppose if it were much thicker it might overpower the cake. I placed the skinny piece of marzipan to one side while I got on with the cake making.

The cake itself was surprisingly simple and straightforward. This pleased me! I placed the butter and caster sugar into the bowl. Due to the dark appearance of this cake in the Baking Bible photograph, I'd expected to use perhaps muscovado or brown sugar. I was very surprised to use caster sugar – not at all what I'd imagined! Maybe this cake would turn out a lot lighter than I had at first thought. Next, I tipped in some self-raising flour and baking powder. As this recipe has the word spice in the title I assumed that spices would be plentiful. I was amazed to be instructed to add just half a teaspoon of cinnamon and barely a pinch of ground cloves! I have to admit that I'm not a lover of cloves, so I was pleased it was such a tiny amount. After I had cracked in a couple of eggs it was time to take out my electric whisk and give the mixture a thorough beating.

I retrieved the jar of flaked almonds from the kitchen shelf. I've taken to keeping them in a jar as I find they seem to enjoy spilling out of their packets! I couldn't help thinking that it was perhaps a little unusual to have flaked almonds in a cake with no fruit to accompany it. I suppose I'm just used to adding them to fruit cakes or using them on top of a cake for decoration. Finally it's the flaked almonds chance to take centre stage! After folding the substantial quantity of flaked almonds into the mixture, it was time to get it into the waiting tin. I spooned half of the thick mixture into the tin and then carefully placed the thin circle of marzipan on top. All that was left to do was to dollop on the rest of the cake mixture and neatly spread it to cover up the marzipan. Into the oven it went, where it would need to stay for a least an hour.

While it cooked I had a lovely chat with my Mum. We certainly enjoyed putting the world to rights! An hour quickly passed. I had to break the conversation a couple of times to check on the cake. By the time I was off the phone the cake was ready. It was a lovely golden brown and seemed to be cooked through. It was tricky to test with the moist layer of marzipan in the middle.

Once the cake was cold I got on with making the topping. I'd never made this sort of thing before. I measured a modest amount of butter into a saucepan along with a heftier quantity of light muscovado sugar. I knew muscovado sugar had to appear in this recipe somewhere!!! I also required two tablespoons of double cream. It hardly seemed worth opening the tub for such a small quantity. Thankfully, I had something in mind for our evening meal that would use the remainder up! I added the cream to the pan and turned on the heat. Once everything had melted I was to bring it up to boil, which didn't take long at all. It looked very runny and dark! The by now cold cake was sitting on a wire rack waiting to receive its intriguing topping. I placed a baking tray under the wire rack to catch any drips and then poured the boiling hot topping over the cake. The drips merrily glided straight off the sides of the cake. I was worried I'd be left with a naked cake! Surprisingly the icing solidified almost immediately, so the topping which was left on the cake stayed in place. Stalactites of icing hung in suspension from the wire rack! I quickly grabbed my jar of flaked almonds once more and sprinkled some over the sticky surface. I stood back to take a look at the finished cake. It definitely couldn't be called pretty but it looked far more appealing than I had anticipated. It was nowhere near as dark as I'd expected but there was no getting away from the fact that it was very brown!

I cut us all slices of cake and had to keep wiping my hands; it was a very sticky business. Isaac had his minus the topping as I don't want to rot his teeth before he reaches pre-school! He thoroughly enjoyed his little helping. That boy does love his cake! Neil and I enjoyed our substantially larger portions. I particularly enjoyed it – it was my kind of cake. It was moist, lightly spiced and had a delightful almond flavour. I could really taste the flaked almonds. The layer of marzipan was a delicious bonus but I personally could have done with a thicker layer! Despite its messiness the topping was gorgeous. It reminded me of toffee sauce – yum. I couldn't resist scooping the excess from the baking tray; it was equally yummy on its own! The only snag to this cake that I found was that it doesn't keep very well. The next day it was a little on the dry side. That's my own fault for not scoffing the whole lot in one go!!!
A very brown cake!

A lot lighter inside!

Shrewsbury Biscuits

Recipe Number One Hundred & Sixty:  Page 202.

I've not made many biscuits of late and I fancied something other than cake. I wanted something to munch on with my afternoon mug of tea. Mary describes these biscuits as having a delicate lemony flavour. I love anything lemony, so I felt very eager to try them.

When I awoke on Saturday morning I was feeling very excited but also a little nervous. Later in the day I would be meeting up with three lovely ladies who happen to be rather keen on baking! We each have our own baking Facebook pages and have encouraged and supported each other from the very beginning. A year later and we were finally going to meet in Oxford for afternoon tea!

I knew I would be too tired to make the biscuits when I returned home in the evening but would most probably be in the mood to eat them! After rolling out of bed, I headed straight down to the kitchen to make a start.

By some small miracle I'd actually remembered to leave the butter out of the fridge overnight, so it was all lovely and soft. I sliced several chunks of butter into a mixing bowl and then tipped in the caster sugar. Mary says to cream until light and fluffy. My muscles were still asleep, so I grabbed hold of my little electric whisk and put it to work. Moments later the butter and sugar were suitably light and fluffy, so it was time to beat in a solitary egg yolk. The white would be put to good use later. I was a little aggrieved to have to sift the plain flour! In most of the Baking Bible recipes sieving is not necessary. The flour is simply weighed straight into the awaiting bowl. As I'm a lazy baker I like this method!

Once I had reluctantly sifted in the plain flour, I moved on to grating and then adding the zest of a lemon. As I haven't used lemon in a recipe for quite some time, I particularly enjoyed the whiff of lemony freshness! I used my wooden spoon to mix everything thoroughly together. The mixture was very dry but I hadn't finished yet! After adding a seemingly small quantity of currants, I measured in a couple of tablespoons of milk. The milk did the trick, and soon the mixture easily combined to form a soft dough. I gave the dough a light knead on the kitchen worktop and was surprised by how easy it was to work. Very little flour was required to roll it out. My fluted cutters were either too big or else smaller than suggested, so I decided to live life on the edge and make two different sizes! As I laid the cut dough onto the baking trays, I couldn't help but compare them to Easter biscuits. They certainly looked very similar to me.

As my biscuits were different sizes I placed them into the oven one after the other on separate trays. They needed to cook for around eight minutes and then come out of the oven to be glazed. This is where the egg white comes in. I quickly brushed the egg white onto each biscuit before sprinkling over a generous amount of caster sugar. Then it was back into the oven for another four or five minutes. It took a while for all the biscuits to cook, and I was aware that the time was ticking on. I still needed to get ready, eeeek! Eventually, all the biscuits were cooked and they could be left to cool on a wire rack. I was very pleased with their appearance; they were a pale golden brown and looked quite pretty. The sprinkled caster sugar still sat proudly atop each biscuit. How did it survive the heat?! Finally I was free to run upstairs and preen myself – I didn't have long!

In a moment of pure insanity I decided to take some of the biscuits with me!! I felt the need to take a homemade gift for the ladies. Unfortunately I didn't have time to hunt for a fancy tin (not that I own one anyway), so I hurriedly threw them into an airtight tub. Maybe I'd be able to find something better in Oxford. I grabbed my camera and coat, gave goodbye kisses to Neil and Isaac and ran out through the door. I was convinced that I would miss the train! I ran along the road, my handbag falling off my shoulder and the oversized carrier bag slamming against my thigh. This was not a good look for me! Luckily this unflattering experience didn't last long as our lovely neighbours were just heading off in their car. Seeing my plight, they very kindly offered me a lift down to the station. I shall be eternally grateful. I feel sure I would have missed the train without their help!!

Once in Oxford the heavens opened, I hoped this wasn't a bad omen! To keep out of the rain I felt forced to take shelter in a bookshop. I tried but failed to resist buying several more baking books – whoops! Soon it was time to make my way for afternoon tea. As I walked along the road it dawned on me that the ladies I was about to meet were all fantastic bakers, way beyond my level. I decided the biscuits would be coming home with me; there was no way I would be sharing them!! Soon I arrived at the beautiful hotel – it was absolutely stunning. Before I'd even had a chance to touch the door handle, the door swiftly opened and I was ushered inside. I was made to feel very important and was even called madam - wow! Thankfully, no mention was made of my dripping umbrella and bags of shopping! The lovely Dor soon arrived and we chatted like we had known each other for years. Jo and Elli came together a little while later. We were all so busy talking that we only managed to take a few photographs! A couple of them are on my Facebook page if you'd like to see them. The tea was lovely, but of course we couldn't help but rate it. Elli mentioned that we should have brought score cards! I can definitely vouch that the scones were particularly good. After a couple of hours of chatter and laughter it was time sadly to say our goodbyes. I think it is safe to say that we all had a wonderful afternoon and would love a chance to do it again one day.

Sitting on the train on my way home I couldn't resist nibbling on a biscuit! I wish I hadn't been so worried about sharing them as they were actually rather yummy. They were light and crumbly with a gorgeous lemon flavour. I hadn't thought there would be enough currants, but of course the quantity was just right.

Neil was delighted when I returned clutching a doggy bag from the afternoon tea! I ended up eating another scone and biscuit – oink oink!

I'll certainly make these delightful biscuits again. They were very easy to make and were rather scrummy to eat. All in all it was a wonderful day with memories to treasure for a lifetime.
A few of the biscuits (the best ones)!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Coconut Pyramids

Recipe Number One Hundred & Fifty Nine:  Page 255.

These intriguing pyramids won the vote on my Facebook Poll this week. I must confess that I'd never heard of such a thing before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. From the title, I could at least guess that the coconuty treats should be pyramid shaped. Thankfully, Mary mentions that dariole moulds (used to make madeleines) make for a good substitute. As I do not own any pyramid moulds I was relieved to hear this. My pyramids would just have to make do with a flat top!

I had friends due to visit late morning and, after a mad dash round with the vacuum cleaner, I decided I had just enough time to make the coconut pyramids. As the recipe is in the children's section of the Baking Bible, I thought it only appropriate to make them with my 19 month old little boy. I made the mistake of asking Isaac if he would like to help Mummy make some cake. Isaac was soon frantically searching the kitchen and shouting “CAKE” - whoops!

Once calm was restored we cracked on with making the coconut pyramids. First of all I weighed a huge amount of coconut into the mixing bowl and Isaac managed to pass me the sugar from the shelf – without any spillages! Considering the large quantity of coconut, I was surprised that I didn’t need to add anywhere near as much sugar. Isaac watched attentively as I stirred the coconut and sugar together. Little hands couldn't resist reaching into the bowl, so the kitchen floor was soon covered in a fine layer of coconut! The next thing was the messy part of adding the eggs. First I had to crack them into a glass; I thought it best if I did this without the assistance of my little helper! Once I had lightly beaten the eggs, I sat on the floor and added them slowly to the mixing bowl. Mary says to add enough to bind the mixture together. I found that I required every last drop. Isaac helped stir the thick mixture; he nearly upended the bowl once or twice but soon settled down to a much gentler action! A big smile stretched across his little face. It was plain to see how much he was enjoying himself. It was amazing that no other ingredient was required. I had expected to use some flour or perhaps some butter! There was the option of adding a drop or two of pink food colouring. I couldn't resist adding a few drops. Isaac looked confused at this point; he saw the white mixture turn pink before his very eyes!

I only needed to use one dariole mould as the coconut pyramids are not cooked in the moulds. This was good as it would save on the washing up! I rinsed the mould with some cold water and then I did as I was told to make sure it was well drained. I just gave mine a quick shake and that seemed to do the trick! I filled the mould with the garish pink mixture and pressed it down gently with the back of a spoon. The next thing was to tip it out onto my lined baking tray. I assumed that this would end in disaster. With bated breath I lifted the mould from the paper and, hey presto, there was a perfectly shaped, albeit flat topped pyramid!! Amazingly, every single one held its shape, what are the chances? I have to admit that they looked rather odd and not exactly pretty. Before I put them into the oven I asked Neil what he thought. Apparently they looked like towers of minced beef - well I hadn't quite expected that reply!!!!

The flat topped pyramids went into the oven for around twenty minutes. This gave me enough time for a half hearted spot of dusting. My friends arrived just before the coconut pyramids were cooked and, of course, I got chatting. By the time I ran to the oven, the tops were a little brown. I carefully lifted each pyramid from the tray and onto a wire rack. I quickly learnt to use a palette knife for assistance. Using fingers equalled broken pyramids! After ten or so minutes they felt cool to the touch. As I was so annoyed that they were brown on top I dusted over a little icing sugar, which helped just a little. I think these are one of the few things that, although pink, do not look pretty! They looked a little odd and unfinished.

They went down very well with my visitors although Isaac wasn't so sure. They are quite tricky to eat when you have tiny hands. They tend to fall apart. Despite exclaiming that they looked like minced beef, Neil thought that they tasted lovely; he was really rather taken with them. I thought they were very coconuty - well obviously! I love coconut but there was a lot of it and it had an annoying habit of getting stuck around my teeth!! They were also quite sweet and the texture was perhaps a bit too soft for my liking. However, they were great fun to make and Isaac really enjoyed himself. I would happily make them again to keep him entertained. This is definitely one to make with the kiddies!
Flat Pyramids!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Cheese and Olive Scone Bake

Recipe Number One Hundred & Fifty Eight:  Page 325.

I approached this recipe with mixed feelings. I liked the cheesy aspect of these scones but I did have one small problem. I hate olives!!! I have only encountered olives once or twice in my life and I can't say I have ever enjoyed them. In fact they make my skin crawl!

Before I could make the scone bake, we needed to pop to the supermarket to buy the black olives. I asked the lady behind the delicatessen counter for 100 grams. I was alarmed to see how many olives went into the plastic container! I could only hope that, once they were encased in the cheesy scone, I might find them to be more palatable.

I made a start on the scone bake as soon as we arrived home. There was no time to sit down as I was keen to get cracking. I had decided that I couldn't dismiss a recipe just because I didn't like one of the ingredients; I might actually end up enjoying it!! I retrieved a bowl and a plate from the cupboards and dug out my sharpest knife. As I knew my hands were going to get messy working with the dough, I decided to cut up the oily little olives first. It took ages to work my way through them all but at least they were easy to cut. I put the small mountain of olives to one side whilst I got on with making the scone.

I required a large quantity of self-raising flour and big lump of butter. It took a while to rub the butter into the flour as it was another chilly day and my hands felt like blocks of ice. Eventually I achieved a breadcrumb consistency! Obviously I knew there would be cheese in this scone, but I hadn't been expecting quite so much. There was a spare five grams or so of cheese left over. It didn't seem worth keeping so, instead of adding extra to the scone, I scoffed it! I might as well add some more saturated fat to my flagging arteries! Now it was time to add in the dreaded chopped olives. I then stirred all of the ingredients together. I grabbed a couple of eggs and broke them into a measuring jug. Mary says to top it up to 300ml with some milk. I gave the eggy milk a quick stir and then poured it into the mixing bowl. I used a knife to mix the dough together; it is something I learnt at school but I have no idea if it is the right or wrong way to do it! As I am lazy, I decided to disobey instructions and press the scone dough directly into my traybake tin instead of rolling it out first. It worked perfectly well and also helped me avoid adding extra flour! I marked the scone into twelve squares, brushed it with a little milk and then shoved it into the hot oven. I patiently waited for fifteen minutes; the smell coming from the oven was wonderfully cheesy! After the time was up, I whipped the scone out of the oven, sprinkled it with Parmesan cheese and then popped it back to cook for a further five minutes. Once it was cooked, I felt really pleased with the look of my scone bake. It was a lovely golden brown, while the sprinkled Parmesan was a pretty finishing touch. I tried to ignore the fact that, to me, the olives resembled squashed flies!!!

I tipped the scone out onto a wire rack to cool and then re-cut it into generous slices. Neil was the first to have a taste and I can't say that he seemed overly impressed! I thought it was very cheesy, and so it should be with all the cheese it contains! I am afraid I just couldn't get past the olives. I thought they made the scone taste rather salty and I'm not much of a fan of salt. If I could have picked the olives out I think I would have thoroughly enjoyed this scone. It had a gorgeous light texture and was so rich and cheesy. I think it all comes down to a matter of personal taste. Olives, you either love them or hate them!!
Gorgeous if you like olives!!

Borrowdale Teabread

Recipe Number One Hundred & Fifty Seven:  Page 315.

I've been saving this recipe for Neil's granny's 92nd birthday. The happy day occurred over the weekend, so I was finally able to try this long awaited teabread. There was to be an afternoon knees up and all of Edith's family and friends were invited. As I had been told that there would be lots of cakes on offer, I decided I had better dig out my trousers with the elasticated waist! For those not wishing to resort to an elasticated waistband, my cake would provide the low fat option!

As the fruit needed to soak overnight in a copious amount of strong tea, I made a start the evening before the big day. Everyone was already in bed and I was soon to follow, but first I needed to get the cake underway. I had already had a bath, so was wrapped up in a dressing gown with my feet tucked into oversized slippers. I padded into the kitchen and boiled the kettle. It was tempting to add extra water and have a cup of tea. However, I decided that this probably wasn't a good idea just before bed! While I waited for the kettle to boil, I weighed the dried fruit into a large bowl. I had a little panic when I couldn't find the currants. After nearly toppling from my chair, it seems that these slippers are best suited to solid ground; I managed to put my hand on a half empty packet, hurrah! I weighed the currants, sultanas and raisins into a bowl in equal quantities. Soon I heard the kettle reach a frantic boil; this meant it was time to measure a pint of boiling water into a jug. Mary says that the tea should be strong. I wasn't sure how many teabags I should use to achieve this but decided on two. I left the tea to stew for around five minutes while I checked that both the front and back doors were locked and the TV unplugged; this is my nightly ritual! Once I had reassured myself that everything was as it should be, I could move on to pouring the hot, stewed tea over the dried fruit. There seemed to be an awful amount of liquid; the fruit was practically swimming. However, I felt pretty confident that, by morning, the tea would all have been absorbed and the fruit would be swollen and juicy!

The following morning I decided to get up and finish the cake before getting dressed. I trotted down the stairs with my hair stuck up on end and with a pillow crease sketched across my cheek! I felt a sense of déjà vu when I walked into the kitchen once again wrapped up in my dressing gown!

I turned the oven on and then carried out the boring task of lining my loaf tin. Neil offered a welcome distraction in the form of a cup of tea. I couldn't resist sitting down whilst sipping my piping hot drink. This delayed the baking by at least half an hour, whoops! Eventually I was back at my post and ready to weigh out the ingredients. First of all I added a very generous amount of light muscovado sugar and a couple of eggs to a bowl. I was instructed to mix them together until light and fluffy. I used my balloon whisk and it took a minute or two of whisking until my mixture had reached the all important light and fluffy stage. Now I needed to add in a large quantity of wholemeal flour. At this point I wondered how on earth I was going to fit in all the soaked fruit; it would certainly be a squeeze! I noticed that not all of the tea had soaked into the fruit, there was still a good amount sitting in the bottom of the bowl. Mary says to add any remaining liquid, so I tried not to let it worry me, but it did seem such a lot! Now came the part of mixing it all together. A fair amount of elbow grease was required to combine everything but I got there in the end! I spooned the thick, heavily fruited mixture into my awaiting tin. I had so much mixture. It was only half an inch from the top of the tin; surely it would spill over the sides whilst in the oven.

The cake had to cook for about an hour, so I used this time to head back upstairs to try to make myself presentable. This took some time and I only just made it back in time to check the cake an hour later! When I pulled the heavy tin from the oven, I saw that I had created a monster; it was absolutely gigantic!!! I always find it hard to test when a fruit cake is cooked through as they are so moist. I would have been mortified if it had been found to be uncooked at the party. I used my metal cake tester and inserted it into the middle of the cake. As it came out sticky I knew it wasn't cooked through, so back into the oven it went. In the end the teabread required an extra twenty five minutes! I am not very confident that our oven keeps its temperature very well. The cake needed to cool in the tin and time was ticking on. In the end I had to tip it out before it was completely cool. I quickly wrapped it up and we all headed off to the shindig.

Things were already well under way by the time we arrived and there were lots of delicious cakes on offer. It is always nice to try someone else’s creation and I really enjoyed my large slice of yummy chocolate cake. Isaac worked his way around the room and had soon charmed everyone into sharing their cake with him!! When my cake was unwrapped someone exclaimed that it was still warm! With bated breath I waited while it was cut into slices and I prayed that it was cooked through. My prayers were answered and it was fine. The slices of cake were massive due to the sheer height of the loaf. It went down very well particularly, I noticed, with the men! I did manage to sneak some of Neil's large slice and to carry out the important taste test. The first thing that struck me was how healthy it appeared to be. I could clearly taste the wholemeal flour. I had wondered if using entirely wholemeal flour might make the loaf heavy but it worked perfectly and also complimented the earthy flavour of the tea. I loved the flavour of the muscovado sugar. Considering the amount of sugar used, I was surprised that it wasn't too sweet! Mary says to serve the teabread buttered. I personally didn't think it needed it as it was so moist from all the delicious soaked fruit.

The birthday girl seemed to enjoy the day with all her family and friends around her. What better way to celebrate your birthday than with the people you love and lots of cake!
Monster of a cake!
A rushed photo at the party!!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Almond and Chocolate Chip Cake

Recipe Number One Hundred & Fifty Six:  Page 106.

This cake had a tough fight to win the Facebook Poll this week. It was neck and neck with orange drop scones until the final few seconds – it was quite exciting watching the votes come in!!! Despite almost ending up in second place it was still a very popular choice. Maybe the thought of almonds and chocolate together was just too tempting to ignore!

I've always considered cherries to be the perfect almond accompaniment; I had never considered the possibility of putting almond and chocolate together. It's always good to think outside the box every once a while, so I was looking forward to trying this hopefully delicious combination. I love almonds and chocolate, so I couldn't see what wasn't to like about it!

After a freezing cold trip to the park, I almost wished I'd kicked myself out of bed early to make the cake. It would have been lovely to have a large slice waiting to welcome me home. Alas, I am eternally lazy and I savour every second in my comfy warm bed, so that is never going to happen!!! Once through the front door I immediately turned the heating up a few notches and put on an extra pair of socks. My goodness it was cold! Just before I took my little boy up for his nap I remembered that I hadn't taken the butter out of the fridge. It would take forever to soften in these arctic temperatures. I didn't want to zap it in the microwave as I always manage to melt it, which is no good at all! In the end I decided to pre-heat the oven and place the butter on the hob above. By the time I'd taken Isaac up to bed, read a story and sung a few songs, the butter had been sitting on top of a hot oven for almost half an hour. I gingerly lifted the packet from the hob. Oh dear, it felt a bit squidgy! As I carefully peeled back the wrapper, I was amazed to find that the butter had only melted around the edges but it was very, VERY soft!!

I scraped the butter from the wrapper and into my mixing bowl; at least it would be easy to combine it into the rest of the ingredients! After adding the self-raising flour I automatically reached for the baking powder. When I checked to see how much I should need, I did a double take as it wasn't listed in the ingredients. I think this is the first 'all in one' recipe where Mary hasn't included baking powder. Not having the extra lift of a raising agent made me wonder if this cake was doomed to be as flat as a pancake. All I could do was hope for the best! Next, I moved on to adding the eggs and a good amount of sugar to the mixing bowl. Before reading through the recipe I'd assumed that I would simply use a few drops of almond essence for flavour. However, I was delighted to be using my much loved ground almonds. As I've mentioned before, I always make sure I have several packets in stock. It has become something of an obsession! The next step was the part I'd been looking forward to the most, adding in the chocolate chips. Mary says to use plain chocolate chips. By some miracle I still had half a packet tucked away but, as I required almost two packets, I'd had to pay a visit to the shop. Unfortunately they only sold the milk chocolate variety, so I was forced to use a mixture of the two. As I weighed the chocolate into the bowl I was amazed by the quantity – it was a chocoholic’s dream! I couldn't resist pinching a few of the leftovers; I am only human after all. I kept going back for more, so I had to shove the remainder into the hidden depths of our messy 'I don't know where else to put you’ drawer!! The last ingredient was a bit of a surprise. A teaspoonful of vanilla extract was required. This seemed a lot; I hoped it wouldn't overwhelm the flavour of the ground almonds.

I grabbed my electric whisk and glanced at the clock; I had to beat the mixture for two minutes. After the initial splattering of cake mix and a few escaping chocolate chips, things soon calmed down and I had a lovely smooth mixture. I wondered if it needed to be beaten for a long time to help create some lift and make up for the lack of baking powder. I scooped the thick mixture into the awaiting tin, gave it a good old sprinkling of flaked almonds and popped it straight into the oven.

The cake needed to cook for just over an hour. This seemed to me to be a long time for a relatively light cake. While it cooked I got on with other things and would have completely forgotten about it had it not of been for the gorgeous aroma wafting from the oven. It was truly a wonderful smell – one of the best yet! The cake was perhaps a little too brown by the time I extracted it from the oven but it still looked good. It appeared very wholesome; there was no obvious clue that a calorific amount of chocolate was lurking beneath the virtuous flaked almonds!

I just couldn't wait until the cake was completely cold before cutting a large slice. I'm glad I didn't resist as this cake is particularly delicious whilst still warm. The flavours were lovely, the almonds and chocolate combined beautifully. It was very sweet, but I think this was due to using milk chocolate chips instead of purely plain. The ground almonds really shone through and they also gave a denser texture. As Mary says, this is a great family cake. I have to agree. It is so easy to whip up and the whole family can enjoy it. I know mine did!!
This cake didn't last long!!

Monday, 6 February 2012

Frosted Walnut Layer Cake

Recipe Number One Hundred & Fifty Five:  Page 71.

At first glance this recipe might appear to verge on the bland side. Surely a cake containing just walnuts would be plain and uninspiring. I might have thought this, had it not been for the photograph which accompanies the recipe. The cake looks spectacular, generously smothered with sparkling white American frosting, with walnut halves dotted over the surface hinting at what lies beneath. It looked far from boring!

Before I made a start on the cake there was fun to be had outside! It had snowed the night before and we were keen to take our little boy out for a snowy adventure. We went to the park where Neil made a snowman in the hope of impressing Isaac. Neil was left feeling a little dejected when Isaac gave it a quick once-over before heading to his most favourite thing, the swings! Before heading home, we decided to make footprints in the field behind our house. We do not own a sledge, so made do with a large cardboard box and a bit of rope! Of course a 19 month old didn't mind sitting on cardboard instead of plastic or wood; he thoroughly enjoyed himself, as did we! By the time we arrived home we had pink cheeks and icy hands and feet. We all required a change of clothes, then it was time to jostle for position in front of the radiator!!!

Once I had regained the feeling in my fingers and toes it was time to crack on with the baking. I was thankful that, although I was making three layers of cake, the recipe itself was incredibly straightforward. It was essentially a Victoria Sandwich. I could cope with that! Of course, the down side was having to line THREE sandwich tins. This took some time! I'd almost lost the will to live by the time I was ready to start adding the ingredients to the bowl. I needed almost an entire packet of butter. I almost wished that the whole packet could be used, as now I was left with a tiny little sliver which would no doubt get lost at the back of the fridge and resurface in several months, by which time it would be out of date! Sugar, flour and baking powder were also added to the bowl. One of the required eggs almost managed a successful escape. After I had put the egg box away, I found an egg hiding behind my herbs and spices rack!! As I'd only just tidied up and cleaned the kitchen I knew it was fresh!!! After all the eggy confusion, it was time to add the star of the show - the walnuts. I wasn't overly impressed with my brand new packet of walnuts as they all felt rather soft. They would have to do! I broke the walnuts up into small pieces with my fingers. Not only is this more fun but I find it to be less messy. If I try to chop them with a knife they invariably shoot all over the place! Once all the walnuts were in the bowl I used my electric whisk to beat the mixture for a minute or two. I didn't bother to weigh equal quantities of cake mix into each of the three tins; they would just have to be a bit uneven. I was more worried that I didn't have much mixture to go round. Using a spatula helped get as much out of the bowl as possible. In fact it was too good at its job and there was barely anything left for me to lick out!! I placed the three cakes into the oven and left them to cook for about half an hour.

Whilst the cakes cooked I sat down to eat my lunch. Neil had bought some crumpets on a whim. I wholeheartedly approved of this whim; they went down especially well on a cold snowy day! After gorging on hot buttery crumpets and a mug of tea, I trotted back into the kitchen to collect the cakes from the oven. I had hoped they might have risen a bit more than they had; they certainly hadn't put in much effort! Whilst they cooled on wire racks I got on with the frosting.

Mary gives the recipe for her simple American frosting. I have made this once before for her Devil's Food cake. I remember getting rather stressed making it! I didn't have enough to fill and cover the cake and it set like concrete. Mary says if you have a sugar thermometer to turn to page 393 and try the more traditional American frosting. I decided I would give this recipe a go. I just couldn't face dealing with the sugar concrete again! For this version I heated a HUGE quantity of caster sugar with a modest amount of water until it reached 115 degrees. As soon as it reached this magic number I slowly poured it into some stiff egg whites, whilst continuously whisking. I had to keep beating the mixture until it stood in peaks. I couldn't believe how much the volume increased. It barely fitted in the bowl and both I and the floor got splattered with the very sticky and also hot mixture. I would need a second change of clothes and it wasn't even 2pm yet!

Even though I ended up with a large quantity of white frosting, I still felt cautious and used it sparingly to sandwich the layers of cake together. I, of course, had way too much to cover the top and sides of the cake. It was a very sticky business and I had to keep stopping to wash my hands and wipe the frosting from the plate. Unlike the quick American frosting which seemed to set instantly, I had much more time to play with using this traditional method. The cake looked rather impressive once iced. I placed some walnut halves over the top which I thought was a nice finishing touch. It lets you know what lies beneath the voluminous layer of white frosting!

I rushed to take the all important pictures as the light was fading fast. Isaac didn't help matters by running around after me trying to grab the cake. His little hands were everywhere! Finally I was able to cut a cut a slice for us all to share. I felt the frosting was too sweet for Isaac, so I scraped it off and gave him a 'naked' piece. He ‘hoovered’ his up in mere seconds, so I think he liked it! Neil and I really liked the cake as it was light and fluffy and, surprisingly, we could clearly taste the walnuts; it wasn't bland at all. As we'd been impatient, the frosting wasn't quite set. It was jaw achingly sweet and had a smooth mousse like texture. It was just too sickly for us really to enjoy and we didn't think it worked with a simple walnut cake. However, we should of course have listened to Mary and waited until the frosting had set! The frosting was completely different once it had a chance to firm up. It was crisp and powdery and tasted just like a delicious meringue. It even melted in the mouth. What more could you want?! Although still sweet, it was no longer overwhelming. So, after eating our second helping of cake, we agreed that a simple walnut cake goes exceptionally well with an American frosting – you just have to have a bit of patience!
I feel rather proud of this cake!
Icing wasn't quite set!!

Irish Soda Bread

Recipe Number One Hundred & Fifty Four:  Page 293.

I've never made or even tasted soda bread before and it wasn't on my list of 'must bakes'. I wasn't sure I'd enjoy taste testing this recipe! I found it hard to believe that a bread which contains no yeast and does not require any kneading would be up to much. If it wasn't for this challenge I very much doubt I would ever have taken the time to give it a go!

Neil took a trip into town in the morning partly to get some shopping but mostly to escape the germs that both our son and I were brewing. It was too late for Isaac but I decided to put up a fight and spent the day frantically sucking on throat soothers and drinking gallons of orange juice! Neil was triumphant on his return. He proudly produced a box of yeast and announced it was for my bread. I had to break it to him that soda bread doesn't contain any yeast. This news confused Neil - he couldn't understand how it had the nerve to call itself a bread!

To my amazement, Isaac fell straight to sleep for his lunchtime nap; this gave me time to head to the kitchen and whip up the soda bread. I weighed out the strong bread flour and then retrieved the rarely used bicarbonate of soda from the shelf. I measured in a level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda followed by the same amount of salt and stirred the three ingredients together. Now it was time to collect the buttermilk from the fridge. As I poured the buttermilk into the bowl I wondered if it might be too cold. I reassured myself that the temperature wouldn't matter as there were no yeast creatures to feed!!! Any positivity was short-lived as the next instruction was to add a little tepid water. I felt confused! Nevertheless, I mixed the cold buttermilk and warm water into the dry ingredients until it had formed a soft dough. As no kneading is required, I just had to shape the dough into a large round shape and place it onto a greased baking tray. I thought I might miss the kneading, but I have to admit that I didn't miss the aching biceps or the messy worktop! I grabbed my sharpest knife, scored a cross into the top of the dough and placed it in the hot oven.

It needed to cook for half an hour and I had to remember to turn the bread over and cook the base for a further ten or so minutes. The smell from the oven whilst it was cooking was not as delicious as a standard loaf but it was pleasant enough; it was just lacking that gorgeous bready smell! Once the bread was cooked I laid it onto a wire rack to cool. The top of the soda bread was a lovely golden brown but looked rather dry. I couldn't help thinking that it could have done with a glaze. Once it was cold, I found the bread tough to cut into. I began to wonder if I should search Neil's tool box for a saw! As I was inspecting the inside, not only did I notice how soft the texture was, but also that I'd cut into the bread as if it were a cake! I had meant to slice it into neat slices, not to cut a huge wodge! I spread some butter onto the triangular piece of bread whilst it was still warm; it looked very inviting. The taste was pleasant enough but I thought that the bicarbonate of soda was too much in evidence. However, I was really pleased with the texture as it was so soft, not heavy at all – I had been proved wrong! Whilst cutting another slice, I spied some unappetising brown spots in the bread. I had a taste and realised it must be uncombined baking soda – yuck! There were only a few of these vile spots on display but I was cross with myself as I clearly hadn't stirred it into the flour thoroughly enough. I think it would be a good idea to sift in the bicarbonate of soda next time, to be sure that it doesn't clump.

I can confirm that this bread is absolutely perfect with a bowl of soup, especially on a cold day. I've decided to make this bread every time we have soup. I very rarely get to feel like a domestic goddess but, if I can whip this up and have it on the table within an hour, then I think I'm getting close!
My 'wrinkly' soda bread!  
Forgot I was cutting bread not cake!! ;-)

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Sugared Pretzels

Recipe Number One Hundred & Fifty Three:  Page 223.

I haven't eaten a pretzel for years and I've certainly never eaten a sweet one before. I was curious as to how these would taste. There is no photograph to accompany this recipe but thankfully there is a helpful illustration. I found this useful as I couldn't remember the exact shape of a pretzel; it was good to have a reminder! It didn't appear to be difficult but I suspected that it might be a fiddly job.

Isaac, my little boy, is very much into play dough at the moment. We have a multicoloured carpet due to all the trodden in pieces! One of the many advantages of having children is the excuse to play with their toys; play dough is no exception! I enjoy creating shapes, animals and even flowers with the squidgy stuff! As I was feeling a little apprehensive about shaping the pretzels, I thought I'd have a practice run with the play dough. It may sound like an odd idea but I'm glad I did! I roughly worked out how long the dough would need to be to twist into the traditional shape. Hopefully finding this out beforehand would stop me over working the pretzel dough. After a few goes I felt I had perfected the shape as much as I could, having also had lots of fun in the process!

For a change, I already had everything required in stock. It was nice to make something which required so few ingredients. The recipe was very straightforward and easy to follow. I simply weighed some plain flour into a bowl and then rubbed in a modest quantity of butter. It was such a chilly day that it took an age for me to work the butter into the flour. My hands were like ice, which didn't help matters! Finally I achieved a breadcrumb texture and I could move onto stirring in a little sugar. The only liquid in this recipe was a beaten egg and a few drops of vanilla essence. I brought the mixture together and kneaded it gently until smooth. It was a little sticky to start with but, with the help of a little flour on the worktop, the dough was soon smooth and manageable. At this point I noticed that Mary refers to the dough as pastry. As the recipe was in the biscuit section of the book I felt a little confused. I'd never considered a pretzel to be in any way related to pastry! The dough, pastry or whatever you wish to call it, needed to chill in the fridge for half an hour. While it had a rest I quickly made sandwiches and Neil came and joined me for his lunch break. I'm not sure that Neil much enjoyed his break as I used the opportunity to talk nonstop about cakes. I think he was relieved when his half hour was up!

Once Neil was safely back at his desk it was time for me to extract the chilled dough from the fridge. Mary says that 18 walnut sized pieces can be made from the lump of dough. After a lot of adjustments I finally ended up with 18 small balls. Throughout the practice session with the play dough I'd found it difficult to roll a long sausage shape between my hands. Either the ends would break off or the shape was uneven. I found it much easier and also more successful to roll it directly on the worktop using both my hands. Unfortunately, when I attempted this method with my pretzel dough, I made the mistake of generously dusting the worktop with flour. This made the dough flatten as I rolled instead of staying in a sausage shape. I had to stop what I was doing and wipe the worktop clean. I lightly dusted my hands in flour instead of the worktop and this did the trick – hooray! As I worked, I couldn't help but compare the long thin sausage shape to a worm. This made me feel a little queasy! I followed the diagram in the Baking Bible and shaped the dough to the form of a pretzel. Mary describes it well when she remarks that it resembles a loose knot. I really felt quite pleased with the result; I was having so much fun too!

I put one batch into the warm oven whilst I made up the next set. After only eight minutes I took the sizzling hot pretzels from the oven. Whilst cooking they had lost their neat shape; I felt quite disappointed. Within seconds the sizzling had stopped and they easily came away from the tray. To avoid a soggy bottom, they went straight onto a wire rack. I quickly grabbed the bag of icing sugar and a sieve and smothered them with a heavy dusting. A thick layer of icing sugar also landed on the worktop – great! With my next batch of pretzels I attempted to make the shape more definite to allow for the spreading in the oven. I thankfully had more luck with these. However, I couldn't help but feel a little alarmed by how pale they were even though Mary says they shouldn't change colour in the oven. Surely they shouldn't look so anaemic. I'd always thought a pretzel should be dark brown!!

I didn't really know what to expect when I tried a pretzel. Although I'd thoroughly enjoyed making them, would they taste good? I have to say that they definitely tasted more like a pastry than a biscuit. The texture was surprisingly soft – it reminded me a little of a Palmier. The flavour was pleasant but not particularly exciting; it could have done with some more vanilla essence as the taste was a little bland. The icing sugar might have made a complete mess of the kitchen but it gave a welcome sweetness to the pretzels. I was surprised to find myself eating one after the other. As soon as a pretzel had entered my mouth my hand was already holding the next one!! I had planned to deliver some to a neighbour but they never made it! I can honestly say that these are addictive, but I'm not sure why!

Without a doubt I will make these again and add in a few extra drops of vanilla essence. I think it could make all the difference. Next time I'll have to enlist the help of Isaac. He'll love it as he will think we are playing with play dough. However, making pretzels is even more fun as we can eat them too!!
Pale and not very interesting! ;-)