Sourdough Bread aka a work in progress

Who doesn’t love the smell of freshly baked bread?!  And, let’s be honest, nothing, nothing beats home-made bread.  Apart from the fact that it just tastes so much better, you also control what you put in it – no chemicals or preservatives.

I enjoy baking bread – I don’t have a bread-maker, I don’t have a food processor with a dough hook, I enjoy kneading the bread, that feeling when it goes from no longer being a lump of dough, to something that has the start of life in it, and, of course, kneading is so therapeutic!  I have never wanted to bake sourdough bread though, until I came across this recipe for sourdough bread  in the BBC Good Food magazine, which also involved creating your own starter. Yes!  None of this cheating nonsense for me!  I would create a starter and bake the bread.  I am woman, hear me roar…. To be honest though, I was more interested in the process than the end result.

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The idea of creating this “living thing” out of just flour and water fascinated me.  I did have a moment of panic, thinking what if this recipe is wrong and there should be some additional ingredients in the starter……and so to Aunty Google, only to find there are numerous different recipes for starters and I was more confused than ever.  I decided to stick with this recipe, and see it through.

And so began day 1.  A mix of white and wholemeal bread flours and a bit of water, and wait for the natural airborne yeasts to dive in.  That was it. The recipe called for the starter to be left open, before sealing and setting aside for 24 hours.  I kept looking at it.  You know how when you get a new washing machine you feel you have to watch the laundry tumbling around inside? Silly, isn’t it! 24 hours later I started to have doubts – there was some condensation on the inside of the jar.  This didn’t seem right to me, it would encourage the wrong stuff to grow.  I threw it away and started again.  This time I just covered the top of the jar with a cloth, I didn’t seal it.

Each day I threw half the starter into the compost heap, and replaced with the same quantity of flour and water.

A few days in on starter number 2 and a layer of clear light brown liquid had developed on the top.  Back to Aunty Google…..this liquid was hooch, and indicated that my starter was needing a feed – one recipe called for a twice a day feed, or that the feed I was adding each day to the starter was too wet.  Urgh…there was no one definitive answer.  I figured it wasn’t lack of feeding that was the problem, and decided to stick with once a day.  At “feeding time” I made sure the new mixture was drier.  A couple of days later there was a small dark patch on the top of the starter.  Was this mould?  Was it an optical illusion??? I decided to sod it, binned the starter and started once again from the beginning.

This time I was moving  house and took my starter with me to my new home.  And so the process continued.

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My starter was beginning to look really healthy, with textbook behaviour.  At last, I was on the right track!  Although I could have used it earlier, in the end I baked on day 12.  I was somewhat nervous – would this new starter really work?

I mixed the two flours, a bit of salt, some water and some of my starter and began the therapeutic knead.  Slowly, I could feel the dough becoming more pliable and elastic. The process required two 3-hour rises. I am not usually patient enough, but I’d committed myself to this and followed it through.

The second rise called for a linen cloth to be dusted well with flour and put in a proving basked or a bowl.  I had to settle for a bowl.  So far, so good….until the time to take the dough out and put it in the oven to bake.  The dough had stuck to the linen cloth (cue weeping and wailing from me). In my effort to extract the dough from the cloth and put it on the baking tray, the dough deflated, leaving me convinced I would end up with a thick pancake instead of bread.  I’m guessing I could have just given it a light knead and left it to rise again before baking.  In addition, it had a crease in it from the cloth, which meant that the “design” I had hoped to cut onto the top of the loaf wasn’t an option.  Instead I had to improvise.  Lack of experience led me to cut the dough too lightly – I know now that I can create much deeper slashes in the top of the dough to create a pattern.

Into the oven my dough went…..halfway through the cooking time I peered through the oven glass….my dough had somehow risen quite significantly – a bit puzzling but at least it wasn’t going to be a pancake.  And finally, the end result.  My loaf was a bit mis-shaped (that “home-made look”) and my slashes could have been deeper.  The true test was when it had cooled and I could cut it and taste my sourdough bread.

The bread smelled lovely, it tasted lovely, but…..you guessed it, there’s a big but….I discovered the reason for its sudden rise in the oven.

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A huge air-bubble.  It looks like Batman flew through the center of my loaf……or is that a sad face I see…..my research tells me the oven could have been too hot, I could left my dough to prove for too long, I could have just inadvertently folded a huge air-bubble into my dough…..I just don’t know.  I am very disappointed, but the bread itself is perfectly edible.  I still have the starter on the go, and so I will definitely make this bread again soon, and I have more confidence in what to expect.  I am determined to get it right!

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, I wish you a peaceful weekend 🙂

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Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting

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I am still looking for different ways to use the leftover ground almonds I have (remember my marmalade loaf cake?)  I will probably end up adding it to my muesli mix in the end, but I did manage to use up some of it in these cupcakes.

I found this recipe for chocolate and almond cupcakes on the Sainsbury’s recipes website.  What’s not to love about a chocolate cupcake, eh!!  I wanted to do something slightly different for the frosting though, and peanut butter came to mind.  Chocolate and peanut butter?  Win-win.

Ground almonds in a cake batter always gives a different texture to a standard sponge mixture.  It works very well in a lot of cases.

The recipe itself is the ‘standard cream the butter and sugar, add eggs and then add dry ingredients’ format. Although the recipe didn’t call for it, I added a teaspoon of vanilla paste to the cake batter, because after all, what’s life without a bit of deviation!!

I really do need a holiday.  My focus is not strong and I found myself thinking what the hell and being just a bit too casual about the whole process.  I have made cupcakes plenty of times, and more than enough times to know things can and do go wrong.

This recipe claims to make 12 cupcakes, but I only managed to eke out 10 from the mixture.  You know when you read the ingredients and think….surely not, there’s not enough here….and then you find it really only stretched to 10 cupcakes after all.  I shouldn’t complain because the cupcake recipes I most often use claim to make 12 cupcakes and I get 18 out of them (smug face).

I looked up different recipes for peanut butter frosting but they all had ingredients I didn’t want to use.  In the end I decided to wing it.  I was so convinced the cakes would be a disaster that I didn’t measure what I did.  Dear reader, I put some softened butter in a bowl, threw in some icing sugar, some vanilla essence and whisked it until it was light and fluffy.  Dust cloud alert:  mix well with a spoon before applying the electric whisk! Then I threw in a large quantity of peanut butter and whisked again.  Quantities?  I don’t know.  But it worked.  You can’t go far wrong with a frosting.

The end result:  the cupcake is light and fluffy.  I personally would have preferred a slightly more deep chocolatey flavour, but it’s fine as it is.  I don’t know if that would have been the difference between using cocoa powder versus melted chocolate in the batter.  The frosting is delicious (of course I licked the bowl) it has a good peanut butter flavour, but not overpowering and is not over-sweet.

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, I wish you a peaceful weekend 🙂

 

Coconut & Lime Drizzle Cake

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I love lime and I love coconut, and together they make a heavenly combination.  I saw this recipe for a lime and coconut drizzle cake in Sainsbury’s Magazine, and knew I had to try it.  I have always fancied substituting lemons for limes in a lemon drizzle cake and here was my chance, with the addition of coconut.

This is a fairly standard loaf cake recipe, easy to follow and easy to do. I followed the recipe for the most part, other than not using coconut flakes for the topping, and I used 4 limes for the drizzle instead of 3.

The recipe calls for the addition of coconut milk and I used slightly more than called for.  I was mixing the butter and sugar with my electric whisk but instead of becoming light and fluffy, it had the consistency of gritty bread crumbs.  I didn’t want to add more butter to the recipe, so I added a couple of tablespoons of coconut milk to the butter and sugar, and that helped create the right texture.

Personally I find that when adding zest to the mixture and whisking it, the zest seems to collect on the whisk in great big clumps instead of being mixed into the batter.  So although the recipe called for the butter, sugar and zest to be whisked together, I added the zest when I folded in the flour.

The cake baked nicely, rising well and had a good colour.  I like the “drizzle” element of a cake to be nice and sharp, and so I added extra lime juice, and poured the drizzle over the warm cake.

The end result?  It is a lovely cake – please check out the recipe from the link at the beginning of this post. Personally though, I didn’t feel it had enough “zing”.  I guess because it is a drizzle cake, I had wanted (as happens with lemon drizzle cake) a lovely sharpness.  In this cake the coconut softens out the sharpness of the lime.  Both flavours are there, and the combination is lovely though.  Maybe next time I will use the lemon drizzle cake recipe and just use limes instead.

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Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, I wish you a peaceful weekend 🙂

 

Marmalade Loaf Cake

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Have you ever had one of those days (times, lives??) where you feel like you’re 97 years old and decide to bake, and you fling ingredients in with a pretty much WTH attitude, but all the time believing you’re doing fine….but at the same time you have a sinking feeling that it’s not fine…..Oh, welcome to my life.  Except, I’m not 97.

My baking mojo has gone AWOL, I keep trying to recapture it, but I’m not that successful.  Am I just going through a “phase”, is it because I am exhausted, permanently.  Welcome to insomnia. Or that over the last few years there have been more major life stresses which I have not yet had a chance to deal with, and every so often, the emotion resurfaces and flashbacks happen, and I’m drained and stressed.  I don’t know.  This post is not supposed to be about all that.  I am just frustrated that I am having more failures than successes in my baking.  Let’s move on…..

Remember my post on Chocolate Orange Pudding Cake? I had leftover marmalade.  I could have made that pudding week after week until I’d used all the marmalade, but really, I need to try different things.  So, on to Aunty Google, where I came upon this recipe for Marmalade Loaf Cake.  And here we are today!

Believe it or not, I didn’t deviate from the recipe at all.  Not one tiny little bit.  This cake has, amongst other ingredients, orange zest, orange marmalade and ground almonds.  The addition of ground almonds to cake batter makes for a lovely textured cake.

The recipe was simple enough, and the basic technique of whisking butter and sugar, before adding eggs and then the dry ingredients and flavourings is pretty standard.

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The cooking time was 40 to 45 minutes, and so I set my timer for 43 minutes.  I got my skewer to test if the cake was done, and within a split second of opening the oven door, my beautifully risen loaf cake sank, leaving a deep valley through the centre.  I swear it did that on purpose….I left the cake in for another 5 minutes, by which time it was properly cooked, but sunken in the middle. Grrrr….snarl….

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After cooling in the tin for 5 minutes, I took it out and left it on a rack to finish cooling.  I decided not to add the marmalade glaze which the recipe calls for, though it probably adds a lovely finish to the cake, both in appearance and taste.

My sunken cake passed the taste test. The texture is lovely and it has a really nice orange flavour.  I would make it again, definitely.  I might even drizzle some dark chocolate over the top instead of using the glaze.  I just hope next time my cake stays beautifully risen!!

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, I wish you all a peaceful day 🙂

Chocolate Orange Pudding Cake

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I have long been a huge fan of Nigella Lawson.  I first discovered her when she did a food column for Vogue magazine.  She was less well known then, not having written her cookery books, but has deservedly gone on to even greater heights.  Today’s bake is one I used to do often when I had friends over for dinner.  It was always a success, and is so easy to make.  It is, as it says, a pudding cake.  The texture is dense and slightly squidgy (technical term) and is more pudding than cake.  I wrote the recipe down when I first baked it, and have since tried to Google it.  I am unable to find this one other than looking at other bloggers’ sites.  I am guessing it might have appeared in her Vogue column.  There is a similar (but not identical) version with raspberries in her fabulous book “How to Eat“. But, again I cannot find this recipe online other than via other bloggers’ sites.

Ingredients:

125 butter

100g dark chocolate, broken into pieces.

300g good orange marmalade

150g sugar

2 eggs, beaten with a pinch of salt

150g self raising flour.

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180°C.  Butter and flour a 20cm springform cake tin – or use a cake tin liner.

Put the butter in a heavy-based saucepan and melt over a low heat (you can also do it with a double boiler, or a heatproof bowl over a pan of hot water).  When the butter is nearly melted, add the chocolate.  Remove from the heat and stir until the butter and chocolate are smooth and liquid.  Set aside to cool for a bit.

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Add the marmalade and sugar (I used light muscovado sugar, but plain white sugar is fine too).  Use any type of marmalade you like, one with a coarse shred adds more texture to the cake, but not everyone prefers that.  Add the beaten eggs and mix well until amalgamated.  Stir in the flour, and pour into the cake tin.  Place in the oven and bake for approximately 50 minutes – ovens vary and I find my cake needs just under an hour of cooking time, but check, insert a skewer and if it comes out clean, the cake is ready.  Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out.

This pudding cake is best eaten slightly warm, with cream, mascarpone or crème fraiche.  This is so simple and easy, and everyone will ask for the recipe!

Of course it would have looked a whole lot better if I had sifted a light dusting of icing sugar over the cake, but hey, it’s all about the taste, isn’t it!!

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, I wish you a peaceful day 🙂

Fig and Walnut Cake

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I have had a packet of dried figs in the cupboard since December last year.  Every now and then I look at it and think…..nah! I put it back and forget about it.  I love figs – fresh figs particularly, but the dried figs were for a Christmas-themed pudding which I didn’t make.  To be honest I’ve been a bit put off dried figs as a snack ever since – years ago – I soaked some, took a nice plump soaked fig and cut it in half, and there was a worm, who, poor thing, had obviously been dried with the fig!! Bleurgh.  It reminds me of the “what’s worse than biting into an apple and seeing a worm?” joke.  The answer of course is “seeing half a worm”.  And, folks, I’ve been there too……but I digress.  I had these dried figs, they had an expiry date, and I needed to use them.

Back to Aunty Google, and I eventually settled on this recipe for a fig and walnut cake.  Plus, fruit, nuts, some of your 5-a-day!  Win-win!

The figs are chopped and soaked in water and melted butter (there were no worms!!).  I did think should I replace some of the water with Cointreau (and reduce the sugar) but I restrained myself……  The sugar and eggs are beaten together and the rest of the ingredients added.  Simple.  There is also mixed spice and cinnamon in the mixture, which gave off a lovely scent as it was baking.

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The mixture is poured into the baking tin and cooks for around an hour.  I did start to get those crazy thoughts….I couldn’t see how the cake could be anything but dry.  I don’t know why that bothered me because the end result was not dry.

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My cake has a crack – it looks like it’s smiling, I can almost see two eyes as well…noooooo!

 

Final verdict?  There was nothing wrong with it, it wasn’t dry, but as a cake, and flavour-wise, it just didn’t work for me.  The spices are very subtle, not “in your face”, you can smell them more than you can taste them. I do think the Cointreau addition and some orange zest might give it a little much needed zing.  So there we are – neither success nor failure strictly speaking, just not my cup of tea!

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, I wish you a peaceful day 🙂

Marbled Chocolate Cheesecake

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It’s about time I did a baked cheesecake, isn’t it!  There are so many lovely recipes for no-bake cheesecake that I have been getting lazy.  So in this week’s search for a new bake, I thought I’d give this a go.  I chose this recipe because I had most of the ingredients already.  I had initially been looking for something with a butterscotch theme….but I’ll restrain myself and do that another time.  I can’t lie, I saw this recipe and I thought hmmmm……what if I do this instead…..what if I tweak that….but I kept some self-control and actually followed the recipe this time 🙂

This is a Mary Berry recipe for Chocolate Ripple Cheesecake (good old Mary Berry, I just felt that I couldn’t fail with her behind the idea).

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And so to the base of the cheesecake – this recipe used a biscuit crumb base – my favourite option, so easy.  I tend to find most recipes for this type of base use too much butter, with the result that the base is rock hard and you end up struggling when you dig in with a spoon to eat it, cautious of either smashing through the pudding bowl, or of half the cheesecake flying across the room.  As a result, I do my own thing, and err on the side of caution.  It’s a fine balance between ending up with a crumbly base which doesn’t hold together, and one that is firmly glued together!

The cream cheese is softened, sugar is added, a couple of eggs and a small amount of vanilla extract.  This mixture is then divided in half, with half of it being mixed into melted dark chocolate.

My attempts at rippling the chocolate mixture through the vanilla mixture were not terribly successful (must try harder next time!). But I dolloped both mixtures into the baking tin and put it in the oven.

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The cheesecake then bakes for its allotted time, and is left in the oven to cool.  This required patience, because it was then refrigerated to cool completely before cutting.  the top of my cheesecake had quite a few cracks in it, and so it looked awful in my photos (which I deleted).

The end result was lovely though, in spite of not being beautifully rippled, it tasted lovely and had that good texture that you get with a baked cheesecake.  All round, a success.

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Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, I wish you a peaceful weekend 🙂