Monday, 29 June 2015

It's Wimbledon season - time to pimp your strawberries!

Strawberries and cream. As quintessentially part of British summer time as the rain, midges, hay fever, nettle stings, unexpected sunburned noses etc etc.

Strawberries and non-dairy cream hasn't ever quite hit the spot for me. Very cold Oatly cream (to the point that is has started to thicken) comes fairly close.

But one of the important lessons I've learned over the past 4 and a half years of cooking dairy free is that there are inevitably some things you can't emulate, and that sometimes the best option at times like this is to go totally off piste for an alternative.

And in that vein I bring you… strawberries and chocolate peanut butter sauce! Oh yeah.
Don't knock it until you've tried it - and once you've tried it, I'm pretty sure you won't knock it. It's really easy too.
And if you swap out the honey for agave or maple syrup it's vegan too.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Sauce for Strawberries (serves 3)

  • 2 tbsp whole nut peanut butter
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp mild runny honey (sub for another syrupy to make it vegan)
  • icing sugar to taste (I added 1 tsp)
  • 1-2 tbsp non-dairy milk (or even water) to reach the desired consistency

In a small bowl mixed the cocoa powder to a paste with a little splash of boiling water then add all of the other ingredient and whisk it all together. Jobs a goodun!

Like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches - but fresher and tastier
Don't let the title limit you - it would also be awesome on ice cream, cake, pancakes, porridge, a spoon, licked out of the bowl - you get the picture.

All gone!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

A Towering Tall Tale: Cake Fest Edinburgh

What did you get up to at the weekend? Making two replica high-rise tower blocks from cake? What? You didn't? That must just have been me then (and my lovely family and inlaws who I roped in to help…)
Tower blocks. Made of cake. Still upright - take that gravity!

I was in good company though, with  52 other baking teams around Edinburgh who were also busy madly constructing feats of cake and fondant engineering as part of the Cake Fest Edinburgh Cake Map.

I'm not joking.  Such a thing did exist and it was awesome.

Sunday afternoon saw the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh overrun with cake enthusiasts (so much so that it broke the record for the highest ever visitor numbers, with almost 16,000 people through the garden gates!). Not only that - the sun shone :-)

Bakers were invited to volunteer to recreate iconic Edinburgh landmarks as part of the Cake Map - a 70m2 representation of our beautiful city in all it's cake-y glory. And since I'm a sucker for ridiculous challenges and cake, of course I was quick to sign up.

My chosen 'icon' was the pair of yellow and blue high-rise tower blocks in Leith: Persevere Court and Citadel court. I can see them from my living room window. They are visible from pretty much anywhere in Leith - in fact they're visible from most places in Edinburgh, (and the Proclaimers 'Sunshine on Leith' album cover, but I digress…). I think of them affectionately as "my" tower blocks - so I bagged them a spot on the map, and in doing so set myself off on what was by far and a long way my most extreme cake to date.

Before I launch into photographic overload, I have to confess (although it's hardly secret): there was a teeny little structural issue. As in, one of the tower blocks - Persevere Court to be precise - fell over. Catastrophic failure - into the Docks and almost took out the Royal Yacht Britannia. Probably this is the point that I should keep quiet about my civil engineering degree, right….?! (In my defence, it wasn't structural engineering, and cake wasn't on the materials syllabus). I'm looking on it as a community service to all of the other bakers. Someone had to be the baker whose building collapsed - and since it was me, everyone else could therefore feel relieved (and probably just a little bit smug) that it wasn't them. 

I missed the actual moment of collapse itself. The event was so busy and 4 year olds are only compatible for 6-deep crowds for a very limited time, so after a while we found a sunny spot on the grass and settled down to enjoy the atmosphere and some ice lollies. With 35 mins to go before cutting (by which time it had been listing for about 2hrs) I started to think that it might actually manage to remain upright-ish to the bitter end. However the collective intake of breath, audible groan and flurry of photo taking a few minutes later indicated otherwise. It wasn't without a little bit of pride that I thought "that's my cake!";o)

And yes, a little part of me was very glad to arrive back home after the event to see both tower blocks still very much upright in real life!

The first of very many batches of marshmallow crispy cake
Probably should have used a bigger mixing bowl...
Let the fruitcake baking begin...
Highly technical plans (ahem)
Detailed architectural plans (aka "Mummy, why do you need my blue and yellow pens?"
Mmmm - concrete coloured icing. Both unappetising and structurally useless
IKEA shelves - for when regular cake boards just aren't big enough
Proof that there were structural supports
Halfway up and still level. I was so proud - but it still fell over!
Probably not got a future career as a plasterer ahead of me either
"Yes, of course you can come and stay for the weekend" / "Now that you're here can you just make a hundred fondant windows - thanks!"
A family effort - fondant rose maker and flag designer extraordinnaire
Modular construction, and 2:30am - bedtime!
Ready to go...

The tower blocks - with the real thing in the background (you'll have to take my word for it!)

Careful cake transport speed - 7mph

Cake supervision duty for the backseat passengers
Loading up...
And we're off, with the fabulous volunteers, on the nervewracking journey to the marquee
Cake assembly in front of an audience - guaranteed to give you wobbly hands!
Assembly in situ
Ready for the last window
If only outside really was covered with squiggly grass and multi coloured roses...
Oh dear. Even the hastily rigged twine / screwdriver support mechanism wasn't enough to stop the slide
Pick your angle - looks fine from here!
Behold, the Leaning Tower of Leith
And then, unsurprisingly, this happened
Missed Brtiannia by a whisker (after some earlier judicious repositioning) - phew!
Mr E having a Godzilla moment
Kitchen worktops - all vestiges of icing sugar finally gone
I've never had a cake in the news before...
Not to mention the photo in Monday's metro with yours truly's collapsed cake right in the foreground!

This might be my favourite photo of the day though - Mini M proudly displaying her "Hero Baker" rosette for participation. It was proudly worn to pre-school today for show and tell, along with the flag, which was salvaged from the wreckage!

And, and, and - before I finish and go to bed… I'm especially proud that both tower blocks had no dairy ingredients in them, and one was also made without any gluten ingredients. Plus the DF fruitcake and GF chocolate crispy were vegan. So not only where they structural cake behemoths, they were inclusive into the bargain. :o)

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Daring Cooks' May 2015 Challenge - Turkish Delight

Brinkmanship. Starting your Daring Cooks challenge with 3hrs to go until the posting deadline. Certainly not a triumph of forward planning!

Almost at the magic 127C
However, I did, and it's done (sort of). Technically it's not finished but in project management speak I'm classing it as "substantially complete".

Blog-checking lines:  For the Month of May, Rachael from Pizzarossa challenged us to make candy but not just any candy!
She challenged us to make Turkish Delight, or Lokum.

So I'd better up-front with my confession - I hate Turkish delight. That might have something to do with my slowness in getting around to tackling the challenge - that and a crazy busy time at work.

Cherries and pistachios to add some texture and flavour
And before anyone suggests it, my hatred was not because I'd not tried "real" Turkish delight. Yup - tried it, in Istanbul, still hated it. Admittedly marginally less than the Fry's variety, however still at the bottom of my confectionery ranking.

Cornstarch gloop
However, Mr E loves Turkish delight - so I'm hoping that he'll take this offering into his work and dispatch with it.

I ended up making 2 batches - the first one turned out OK in the end, but the sugar caramelised too much before I added the cornstarch, so it was golden. I didn't add the fruit I'd been planning, in case it was a burnt disaster, but instead  mixed in half a teaspoon of cola flavour, which I thought might complement the caramel under tones.

Caramel cola - will it set… yes!
The second batch I switched to a smaller pan, which seemed to make the difference - I added pistachios, glade cherries and a couple of drops each of rosewater and vanilla.

Batch 2 underway - just like very sweet wallpaper paste
Keep your fingers crossed that it sets / cuts tomorrow!

If nothing else, I achieved a good cherry / pistachio distribution!
Thanks for pushing me out of my comfort (and taste) zone ;o)

PS - it's dairy free and vegan - and the recipe here on the Daring Kitchen website is very thorough and easy to follow

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Daring Cooks Challenge April 2015: Homemade Spice Blends

Daring Cooks posting time.
On time! 10 points to me :-)

Minus 9 points for lack of culinary imagination on my part, and using a homemade spice blend… made by someone else!

Work is crazy busy. Life is crazy busy. There's not a surplus of time for cooking, blogging, etc. but I'm determined to still squeeze it in when and where I can.

The Daring Cooks challenge this month is to make homemade spice blends and use them in a recipe.

Blog-checking linesFor the month of April, Sawsan from Chef in disguise challenged us to spice things up by making our own spice blends from scratch

My very lovely sister L made us some spice mixes for Christmas, and I thought I'd showcase one of those here, in the absence of my own blend.

She made us a spice blend for fish, combining turmeric, saffron, garlic, pepper and paprika. And cute labels! She ground the spices up in a coffee grinder before packaging them up into little jars for giving.

I took her instruction to heart and added a generous pinch of sea salt, then used 2 tsp of spice rub to coat the top of 2 salmon fillets. I left them to marinade for 15 minutes, then cooked them super simply - on a plate, covered in cling-film and poached in the microwave for a few minutes.

We had it for lunch - with chopped tomatoes, ketchup and oatcakes for Mini-M and for the grown ups, served on top of a salad of tomatoes and avocado. Delicious!

So there you have it. Minimal cooking but it's the taking part that counts…. or something! I'll finish with a promise to do better next month.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Cakes for a good cause

Since my hot date tonight is of the water bottle and lemsip variety, I thought I'd use the opportunity to post a roundup of the cakes I've made so far since volunteering with Free Cakes for Kids.

They are a community based charity which provides free birthday cakes, baked and decorated by volunteers, to children and families that would otherwise be unlikely to have one.

Having a special birthday cake is undeniably one of the lovely simple pleasures of childhood. It's just so exciting - choosing the cake you want, dropping some stupendously unsubtle hints, and the final surprise of seeing what it looks like in all it's iced glory.

The sad fact is that there are a great many children in the UK whose birthdays won't be celebrated with cake, or indeed really celebrated at all. This could be for a whole host of reasons, including financial, health, housing or many other issues. That's where Free Cakes for Kids comes in. It works with local organisations all over the UK, and accepts referrals for cakes, which are then allocated to volunteered bakers to supply.

To each individual volunteer baker, the cost is small, the effort rewarding and collectively the organisation provides hundreds if not thousands of cakes to children all around the country each year.

I've been baking with my local branch for several months now, so I thought I'd post a few photos of my creations!

Monsters High

Music and Singing

Not a birthday but a good luck cake for a work placement abroad

Woodland fairy
It's lovely to feel you are doing something that brings a burst of fun and excitement into the difficult lives that many children end up leading. So if you're looking for an excuse to get stuck in with the fondant and food colouring on a semi-regular basis, then I thoroughly recommend checking out your nearest group on the website and getting in touch.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Daring Bakers' March 2015 Challenge: Tarte Tatin

I'm on time with this blog post (or at least in the correct 24hr time period, once time zones etc are considered). Yep, it's the 27th so it's the posting day for the Daring Bakers' March challenge.

For the March Daring bakers' challenge, Korena from Korena in the Kitchen taught us that some treats are best enjoyed upside down. She challenged us to make a tarte tatin from scratch.

Mini-M was my official kitchen helper for this challenge. She made the pastry herself.*

*(well, that's what she'd probably like you to think. In the name of making sure there was actually pastry mix left in the bowl after rubbing in the fat and flour, I stepped in to intervene…)

She also chose the filling: figs, apple and cashew nuts. Slightly unconventional but still delicious.

In order to make the pastry dairy free, I used a mixture of coconut oil and DF margarine. I'd have used all coconut oil, however the jar was emptier than I thought. I also chucked in a handful of chia seeds to give the pastry some added crunch.

Ready to flip...
Sigh of relief - still in one piece and ready to serve
We made the pastry and put in in the fridge to chill, then life got in the way a little, as often happens, so I chucked it in the freezer, and I can also report that it froze and defrosted really well. A good tip!

Here's our recipe…

Dairy Free Figgy Tarte Tatin (Serves 8)

For the pastry:

  • 125g plain flour
  • 60g coconut oil (chill until solid if you live somewhere warm  - no problems here in Scotland!)
  • 60g DF margarine
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 60ml iced water

Sieve the flour into a bowl. Chop the coconut oil and margarine into cubes, then use 2 knives (or one of those fancy pastry gadgets) to but the fat into the flour. Once you're down to small pieces, use your hands to give a last rub in - you want there still to be pea-sized pieces of fat remaining. If you're working with coconut oil or DF margarine and you start rubbing it from the start, it will get very sticky as they often melt more easily.
Stir in the chia seeds.
Add the iced water and mix in with a knife.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a couple of times to combine, then wrap and chill for an hour in the fridge (or freeze until you need it). Take it out of the fridge 15 mins before you want to start making the dessert (and longer if it's frozen). It's also unsweetened so would work just as well in a savoury topped pie.

For the fruit:

  • 8 small fresh figs
  • 2 eating apples
  • handful unsalted cashew nuts
  • 50g coconut oil
  • 150g caster sugar
  • pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 190C (180C fan).
In an oven proof iron skillet, slowly melt the sugar and coconut oil. They won't seem to combine properly, like butter and sugar would, but don't worry - it'll all come OK in the end.
At the same time, top and tail your figs and chop. We were aiming for quarters, but 4yr old knife skills meant a slightly more haphazard effect.
Peel and thinly slice the apples
Allow the mixture to bubble over a medium heat for a minute or so to start to caramelise. Keep an eye so that it doesn't catch. Coconut oil can often cause the sugar to crystallise, and go crunchy - again don't worry!
One it is starting to just take a very pale colour, add the salt, nuts and fruit (both figs and apples) and give it a stir around to coat. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for a couple of minutes.
Roll out the pastry into a circle that is slightly larger than your pan, and carefully place it on top of the bubbling fruity mixture, and tuck in the sides.
Cut holes in the top to let steam escape, and bake for around 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is bubbling around the edges.
Cool a little before inverting carefully (I made Mr E do this). Enjoy!

Chief fig chopper/squasher (it's a fine line to tread…)

Crispy pastry, gooey topping
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