Category Archives: Baking

Goal #49: Our housewarming party

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Ah, now I know we are well and truly HOME! 🙂

Ninja and I finally managed to arrange our housewarming party, two months after we’d moved into our new place. It took the format of a tea party in the garden, because there was no way to squeeze 20-odd visitors inside our little cottage! In answer to prayer it was a gorgeous day out – clear blue Joburg winter skies; windstill and sunny – and so wonderful to have our dear friends gathering at our new address.

Continue reading…

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Happy World Baking Day!

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Yay! Today was World Baking Day. It’s a fairly popular day, but I hope it’s also obscure enough to count towards Goal #36 on my list!

Biscotti 1

The premise behind World Baking Day is that those who love baking will pledge to bake something for someone in their lives, and give a reason. I would’ve liked to have baked for Ninja, as a token of my appreciation for how hard he’s been working as my provider, but… well… to bake something he’d truly enjoy, I’d have to bake little more than a plain vanilla cake! And of course I wanted to be a bit more adventurous than that 😉

So I’ve decided to bake for my parents and my colleagues: my parents coz they’ve helped us have a new home, and my work team just coz they’re such a great bunch of people 🙂

To celebrate this occasion I chose to try out a new recipe from a trusted source: Sharon Glass’s delicious book Sweet Endings. I picked her White Chocolate Coffee Biscotti, and for a good (though strange) reason. During my battle with eczema over the last few months, I’ve begun discovering a few dietary triggers that seem to cause my skin to flare up noticeably.

For the recipe and more, keep reading…

Goal #22: Bake 5 different cakes – done!

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Greetings from a very wet and surprisingly cold Johannesburg!

This sure is baking weather we’ve been having, so recently I decided to bake my fifth and final cake to tick off my 22nd goal. You see, even though some goals will be changing soon, I’m still working on a few that are staying on my list 🙂

The cake I chose was a buttermilk and pecan cake, from this recipe.

Buttermilk cake (plain and with pecans)

Unfortunately, I can’t say I was amazingly impressed with the results. Which is no reflection on the original recipe – it’s just that after going from this cake and that one then on to this one and that one, the buttermilk cake with pecans didn’t exactly make my tastebuds samba, if you know what I’m sayin’!

The recipe worked well but the flavours were a bit mild (the plain version was for Ninja, of course, and the nutty one for me). Plus, although the cake was tasty straight out of the oven, it didn’t keep very well and became a bit mushy. So it wasn’t the flashiest way to end off my five forays into cake baking…

Buttermilk pecan cake 2

Nevertheless, my Goal #22 is now complete. Of all the recipes I tried, my favourite by far was Kate Bracks’s lime, coconut and sour cream cake. That was gobbled up so quickly I didn’t get a chance to test how well it would keep! Second to that was the lovely fresh raspberry cake, and in third place I’d rate the versatile eggless custard cake.

This was a great goal to have on my list, especially because previously I used to only bake cupcakes and be worried that actual cakes would be flops. Now I know that if you pick a good recipe, and if you’re brave enough to experiment sometimes, there’s no need to fear the art of caking 😀

Valentine’s cake and stargazing

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Valentine’s Day sped by in a blur this year. Remember last year’s fanfare? Well, this year was quieter but still fun, and I used the celebration to work on two more of my goals: #22 (bake another cake) and #30 (visit a planetarium).

We went to the Johannesburg Planetarium for their Valentine’s Day show. It was really funny being in a crowd of about 150 couples! The show was cute, and one could opt to screen a personal message in the stars. This is what I wrote for my man:

Ninja

You are strong, handsome, godly, funny, loving and an incredible husband. No matter what happens in life, always look up!

With love, respect and stars in my eyes,

Zest

All together now: “Awwww!” 🙂

As I mentioned, I also managed to bake the fourth of five cakes on my 22nd goal: a fresh raspberry cake. The recipe for this treat (and all the credit!) for the cake can be found here: http://bakingbites.com/2013/06/fresh-raspberry-cake/. (The only thing I changed was using 1 t lemon juice instead of 1 t lemon zest.) Here are my pics to whet your appetite:

Fresh raspberry cake

Fresh raspberry cake

The batter only fills part of the tin

The batter only fills part of the tin

Then you dot in the raspberries

Sprinkle the cake with sugar

Sprinkle the cake with sugar

And bake till it's lovely golden colour

And bake till it’s lovely golden colour

I can’t imagine this cake with any berries other than these tart red delights, but of course you could try other berries if you wanted to. Next time I make this I might experiment with using less sugar, as a whole cup seemed like a huge portion, but otherwise this was fantastic and gobbled up by all those I shared it with. (FYI: I did notice that it’s probably best eaten fresh, as the longer you keep it the softer the berries will become.)

Thank you, Baking Bites, for sharing this recipe with us! The sweetest side of baking is in the sharing 🙂

Crispy savoury homemade crackers

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We call them biscuits here in South Africa, actually. But I think what Americans call biscuits are more like puffy scones to us, so I thought I’d go for ‘crackers’ instead.

Anyway, the point is: here’s a recipe for the easiest, crunchiest, thinnest, spiciest savoury crackers you’ll ever make at home… courtesy of my dear mom’s collection of recipes from years of kitcheneering 😉

Four main ingredients

Four main ingredients

Crispy savoury crackers

Ingredients

1 C cake/all-purpose flour

2.5 ml salt

1 ml pepper (1 ml? Seriously? Why not just say a pinch?)

1 ml cayenne pepper (or more if you like it hot)

15 ml butter

1/2 C cheddar cheese, finely grated (I like mature cheddar for this)

Cold water

Method

1. Sift together dry ingredients in a bowl.

2. Rub in the butter.

3. Add the cheese and just enough water to make a stiff dough. (Add it bit by bit and ‘cut’ it gently into the flour with a knife.)

NB: Avoid any unnecessary kneading and pressing. This is the only tricky part of the recipe. Your dough should be dry-ish to the touch but sticky enough to form a messy clump:

Don’t overmix or add too much water!

4. Roll out very thinly. What I mean by thin is this:

Roll out thinly

Roll out thinly

If it’s three millimetres thick, that’s about the max 🙂

Thin now = crunchy later

5. Cut out shapes with a cookie cutter of your choice and place crackers on a greased baking tray.

6. Prick the crackers with a fork several times each.

Pricked and primed for the oven

7. Bake for approx. 20 minutes at 190 °C. Afterwards, leave them to cool on the tray and they should just pop off easily.

NB #2: They burn very suddenly! Please keep an eye on them after the first 10 minutes and take them out when they start to look golden. They’re irredeemable when burnt but they’re fantastic when caught just a few minutes before that :mrgreen:

Golden harvest!

Golden harvest!

The idea is that you then use them as a base for any savoury topping you like… if you can stop yourself from eating them all before you prepare the first topping!

Perfect with savoury toppings or eaten plain

Perfect with savoury toppings or eaten plain

I’m sure you could change the spices in this recipe as you like, even adding dried herbs or changing the whole recipe into a sweet cracker instead (mmm… with cinnamon and cardamom perhaps… served still warm cracked over cold ice cream…). Ah, I was born to bake 🙂

Rat-themed cupcakes

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It’s a rainy grey day in my corner of the world today – and as you know, this weather always draws me into the kitchen to make sweet treats (boy it’s a good thing I don’t live in the UK or I’d become a real roly poly!). I baked ratty cupcakes today, and tried out a new marshmallow frosting technique for fun.

Rat-themed cupcakes

Rat-themed cupcakes

The cupcake recipe is the same one I used for my husband’s ninja-themed party. This isn’t the first time I’ve tried a rat or mouse theme with baking, but it’s the first time I’ve used cute mini Marie biscuits for ears 🙂 The eyes are noses are just silver and red dragees. I would have loved to have added whiskers too; maybe next time…

The marshmallow icing was sticky messy fun 😀 It’s a quick alternative to normal icing with confectioner’s sugar – if you happen to have marshmallows on hand, of course.

Making marshmallow frosting

Making marshmallow frosting

It’s as simple as taking the cupcakes out of the oven about two minutes before they’re done baking. Place a marshmallow on top of each warm cupcake and pop them all back in the oven.

Marshmallow frosted cupcakes

Marshmallow frosted cupcakes

Hardly a minute later, as you see the marshmallows sliding and melting, take them out again and smooth the sticky sweets over the surface of the cupcakes. Then pop them back in one last time for a minute longer so they melt completely. Take them out again, decorate and cool as usual.

Cute rat cupcakes

Cute rat cupcakes

The marshmallow icing is very sticky to work with but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s not too sweet if you only use one ‘mallow per cupcake.

So, did I share my ratty cupcakes with my ratties?

What do you think? 😉

Spring Day feast

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Happy Spring Day to those in the southern hemisphere! Sorry my northern friends, I don’t mean to rub it in that your warm weather is slowly seeping southwards 😉

But winter isn’t over for us yet – it was absolutely freezing icy cold this morning. When we went to church we joined huddles of hunched-over people wrapped in thick coats and jerseys. Even the heartiest singing didn’t warm us up today!

Thankfully, though, Jozi is usually sunny even when it’s cold, so as I write here this afternoon I have warm bright sunshine flooding my desk… and cheerfully highlighting all the dust I haven’t got around to cleaning… Meh.

Anyway, enough of that. What I’m really here to write about is the delightful Spring Day feast I made for Ninja and my parents today. My folks were originally coming over to meet their new ‘grandrats’, but since that’s been delayed we just turned it into a celebration of the first day of spring.

Spring Day 2013

Spring Day 2013

For the decor I chose mismatched and cheerful colours, using what I had around the house instead of spending extra on new fancy stuff. For example, I had these bright orange paper cups in the cupboard, so I just prettied them up with spring-themed flower stickers.

For Marzipan

For Marzipan

I used my multicoloured bamboo placemats and colourful serviettes left over from my first special dinner. Ninja had also bought these cool 3D/holographic bookmarks for each of us, so we gave my mom the horsey one and my dad the eagly one (oops, couldn’t resist inventing a word there).

For Daz

For Daz

I also snipped a few sprigs off a jasmine bush to use as our centrepiece. I so enjoy the scent of those flowers: it always tells me my favourite season has arrived at last.

Jasmine

Jasmine

And now for the best part: the food 😀 I made us a three-course meal as follows:

Spring Day menu

Spring Day menu

In case you can’t see the text on the pic, our starters were those mini pizza mushrooms that I first made for this dinner and then again for this dinner. I also recently hosted my in-laws for lunch and made it for them too. In fact, I could quite easily make that starter for every fancy dinner for as long as I live, and never tire of it. Those ‘shrooms are just so darn delicious!!!

The main course was ham and spring onion clafoutis with roasted cherry tomatoes and avocado with basil pesto mayo. This is where I had the most fun, since I love experimenting with new dishes and flavours. (I’m determined not to lose that interest even though I no longer have as much spare time for experimenting as I had before…).

I’d never made a clafoutis (say: ‘klafootee’) before, but I based my recipe on this one and simply substituted ham and spring onions for the basil and tomatoes. I also used four small ramekins rather than one big dish. It’s such a simple and easy recipe, and my family enjoyed it (though we all added some extra salt, without which it would have tasted far too mild and milky).

Tomatoes ready for the oven

Tomatoes ready for the oven

The roasted cherry tomatoes are an idea shared with me by my best friend. She first made it for me with pasta and wilted spinach (oh, how well we ate that day!), but the tomatoes work perfectly on their own too. Simply wash them, pop them in an ovenproof dish, drizzle with olive oil and season with whatever herbs and spices you like (I used origanum, pepper, chives and salt). Then bake them for 30 minutes at 180 °C – which was ideal in this case because that’s the same as for the clafoutis, so I baked them together.

Savoury clafoutis with roasted tomatoes and avo with basil pesto mayo

Savoury clafoutis with roasted tomatoes and avo with basil pesto mayo

As you can see from the pic above, the poor clafoutis had no patience with me fussing with the photography… it started to deflate almost as soon as I took it from the oven 😛 Still delicious though.

The basil pesto mayo was also a hit (with everyone except my plain-eating husband, hehe). Since I enjoy basil but can’t eat the garlic they usually put in commercial pestos, I decided to make my own pesto. As a replacement for the pine nuts used in standard pestos, I added a few spoons of ground almonds. Hmmm. Didn’t do much for me. Then I simply mixed up low-fat mayo and milk, and stirred tiny shreds of fresh basil into the mix. Yum! A perfect complement to the plain avocado, with none of the disadvantages (for me at least) of using garlic.

And the dessert of fresh strawberries and hot marshmallow sauce? That’ll be my next post 🙂

Lime, sour cream & coconut cake

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For National Women’s Day this past week I baked my third ever cake, thanks to the delicious recipe from Kate Bracks, winner of MasterChef Australia Season 3.

Cake batter

Cake batter

And wow, all I can say to you is: Bake. This. Cake!

Lime juice and zest

Lime juice and zest

The recipe is easy and the ingredients not too pricey; the method is also interesting because of the hot syrup you pour over at the end. I was intrigued by the use of sour cream, but it works a treat, and this cake really is as moist as Kate promises.

Lime, sour cream and coconut cake (thanks to Kate Bracks)

Kate also suggests eating this cake with fresh cream and blueberries, but when I shared this cake with my best friend and later with my parents, none of us remembered the berries and cream. We were too busy enjoying the cake exactly as it is!

This recipe is definitely a keeper, and was a tasty way to work on one of my goals 🙂

Resisting temptation

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Temptation

Six days left of the 21-day sugar detox, and I’m quite proud of my progress. I’ve managed to avoid sweet and carby temptations for over two weeks now – though it’s not so easy when they get handed to me on a platter!

The cute vanilla and white-chocolate cupcake pictured above is from a work colleague’s birthday tea. My friend and I who are doing the 21DSD each took a cupcake… not to eat but to freeze at home, in readiness for this coming Sunday when the detox ends.

Shew. I haven’t been so close to sugar in weeks. I held it close and inhaled the sweet creamy scent…

But since I’m so close to the end I didn’t want to spoil my good streak. So I snapped a pic and hastily stashed away the cupcake in the freezer.

A marvel of self-control.

:mrgreen:

Seriously though, this detox hasn’t been as hardcore as I expected it to be. In fact, once it’s over I think there are quite a few lessons I can take away and principles I want to adopt on a more permanent basis.

For example, I’ve discovered that I really don’t need sweetener in my tea. With the possible exception of some rather earthy herbal infusions, most of my teas are palatable enough without honey.

I’ve also realised that although carbs do have a place in my normal diet, I can happily reduce the amounts I eat and still feel full. So I can enjoy a warm bowl of oats on a winter’s morning – but it doesn’t have to be a big bowl, or every morning, or sweetened overly much.

I’ve learnt that there are many other fine flavours to be enjoyed other than just ‘level-10 sickly sweet’! So I’ve started looking at sweet treats with new eyes now. I feel drawn to flavourful, healthier, freshly baked, homemade treats rather than store-bought ones packed full of unnecessary extras.

I’ve been surprised at my resistance to my old cravings. I think the beauty of the 21-day sugar detox is that by telling your brain that ‘it’s just a detox, not a diet’, somehow your body relaxes and doesn’t feel so deprived anymore 🙂

On the downside, though, I would be happy not to see meat for the next month. Cutting out carbs has made me increase my protein portions, which isn’t so appealing to someone who was never much of a carnivore in the first place. Hmmm… methinks that once this detox is done, I should give that month of vegetarianism another shot…

Sugar-free gluten-free coconut crumpets

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This 21-day sugar detox has been a surprising experience so far. Until I began this detox, I had no idea such a thing as coconut flour even existed!

Crumpets/pancakes made with coconut flour

Crumpets/pancakes made with coconut flour

Of course once I discovered it, I immediately wanted to try making my favourite food with coconut flour :mrgreen: As you know by now, my favourite food is crepes (called pancakes here in South Africa), with crumpets (called pancakes overseas) following a close second.

The various recipes I browsed through seemed to suggest that crepes would be a bit tricky (though not impossible) to get right with coconut flour, so I decided to try out a recipe for crumpets/pancakes instead. I came across this recipe, which seemed simple and used ingredients I had on hand.

I adapted it a little because I can’t have honey or other sweeteners while I’m on the 21DSD detox, so this is what I used:

Ingredients

4 whole eggs

1/4 C coconut flour (finely sifted to remove all clumps)

1/4 C plain full-cream yoghurt

1 t vanilla essence

1 t mixed spice

Butter/oil/coconut oil for frying

Coconut flour pancakes

Ingredients

Most of the info I read about coconut flour referred to how quickly it absorbs liquids. Since I didn’t want these crumpets to soak up too much butter, I only used a little butter and fried the pancakes in a non-stick pan. It was perfectly easy:

Method

1. Mix all ingredients to make a batter.

2. Fry spoonfuls in a little oil/butter on a medium to high heat.

Fry crumpets in coconut oil, vegetable oil or butter

Fry crumpets in coconut oil, vegetable oil or butter

3. Carefully flip over when the bottom has cooked and bubbles start to form around the top edges.

4. Once golden brown and cooked through, remove from pan and drain (if needed).

Make sure both sides are golden brown

Make sure both sides are golden brown

5. Serve with your toppings of choice.

Coconut flour pancakes with green apple and pecan nuts

Coconut flour pancakes with green apple and pecan nuts

These turned out pleasantly delicious, but I did miss the sweetness I’m used to. To pep up these healthy crumpets, I enjoyed them with my daily allowance of one green apple, as well as some pecan nuts and desiccated coconut.

Not a bad way to make it through another sugarless day 😉