Tag Archives: baking

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…

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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 🙂

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…

Crunchy oat and cereal bars

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Remember how my first attempt at making cereal bars turned out? Well, if at first you don’t succeed… right? 🙂

I was determined to figure out a good recipe for homemade bars that ticked the following boxes:

  • They had to be egg-free, because I need them to keep well (unfridged) for a whole week
  • They had to be easy to vary, because I just don’t do monotony :mrgreen:
  • They had to dry into a hard, crunchy form – and stay that way
  • They had to be as healthy as possible
  • And of course, they had to taste great

Cereal bars

Here’s the first recipe I came up with after trying to balance the wet and dry ingredients so the bars wouldn’t fall apart:

Ingredients

2 C cereal (I used Kellogg’s rice-and-wheat cereal flakes that I crushed a little)

1 C puffed brown rice

1 C desiccated coconut

1/4 C syrup

1/4 C peanut butter

1/4 C honey

1 t vanilla essence

40 g butter

Method

1. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Step 1

2. Melt together the syrup, peanut butter, honey, butter and vanilla essence.

Step 2

3. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry and stir well.

4. Press the mixture into a lined baking tray.

Step 4

Step 4

5. Bake at 190 °C for 15–20 minutes, until golden and toasty.

6. Carefully cut into slices as soon as they’re out the oven, then leave to cool completely.

Step 6

Step 6

Note: Don’t be like me, thinking you can squeeze in a game (or three) of Plants vs Zombies while these bake! Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn. Mine were a teensy bit too toasted, though still edible.

Crunchy cereal bars

Crunchy cereal bars

Verdict

  • These weren’t bad for a thumb-sucked recipe, but they were a bit too peanut buttery for my liking.
  • They held together very well and stayed crunchy all week (I wrapped them individually in clingwrap and stored them in an airtight biscuit tin).
  • This recipe would really benefit from using rice paper to line the baking tray. I had a tough time getting the bars off the baking paper and vice versa.
  • The wet ingredient mix was just a tiny bit short, so at the last moment of mixing I had to add a further blob of melted butter so that all the wet and dry ingredients would form a proper mixture.

Healthy lunchbox snacks

After we’d eaten up that first batch, I made the recipe again for the next week, but with the following tweaks:

Ingredients

1 C puffed brown rice

1 C cereal

1 C rolled oats

3/4 C desiccated coconut

1/4 C filled with pumpkin seeds, flax seeds (linseeds) and sesame seeds

1/4 C syrup

1/8 C honey

1/8 C peanut butter

1 t vanilla essence

50 g butter

1 small carob chunk

Method

The method is the same as above, except that I melted a carob chunk with the rest of the wet ingredients.

Verdict

These refinements to the recipe made it even better. I preferred the bars with less peanut butter, and the carob added a pleasant chocolatey flavour. The bars were slightly soft though, so I’m thinking of reducing the butter to 40 g next time so that the bars aren’t too moist. They lasted well for a whole week, although by Friday they were starting to feel a bit soft.

I’ll keep tweaking an experimenting until I find the perfect concoction! 🙂

Banana bread / banana muffins recipe

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I know there are a million gazillion banana bread and banana muffin recipes on the net, but permit me to add just one more 😉 Everyone needs a go-to banana bread recipe for when those lovely yellow fruit go ripe before you can eat them all.

I’ve been trying to bake a few homemade treats for Ninja’s and my work lunchboxes, and these banana muffins, made from my mom’s banana bread recipe, worked wonderfully. They lasted a whole week (due to rationing and self-control – not because we didn’t want to eat them all in one go!) and kept well in an airtight tin.

Banana muffins

Banana muffins

Ingredients

125 g butter

3/4 C sugar

2 eggs

4 ripe bananas

2 C flour

1/4 t salt

2 t baking powder

1/4 t bicarb

1/2 C milk

1/2 t vanilla essence

1/2 C pecan nuts, chopped (I didn’t have any though, so I just left these out)

 

Method

1. Grease and line a loaf tin, or line a muffin tray with muffin papers.

2. Cream butter and sugar.

3. Add eggs, beating thoroughly after each.

4. Mash bananas and add.

5. Sift in flour, salt and baking powder.

6. Mix bicarb with a little of the milk and add.

7. Gradually add rest of milk and vanilla essence.

8. Fold in nuts (if using) and pour into loaf tin or into muffin papers.

9. Bake at 180 °C for 1 hour or until knife inserted comes out clean.

Yum!

Yum!

Because they’re made from a bread recipe, these muffins do take a while to bake… but the results are fantastic: a crispy golden-brown crust with a soft cakey centre. Mmmmm 🙂

Custard cake with cashews, currants and banana

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What do you get when you combine quiet hours on a cold Sunday afternoon with an experimental, sweet-toothed housewife and the bare month-end essentials in the cupboards? A recipe for an unusually yummy cake, of course!

Yesterday I ticked off another cake for my Goal #22 of baking five different cakes. Since I had no eggs in the house I used the egg-free, dairy-free custard cake recipe I’ve posted about before, but dressed it up with a number of delicious tweaks.

The idea came to me when I thought about some of the fruits, nuts and spices that I enjoy adding when I make a bowl of custard for dessert. If those ingredients taste great with custard dessert, why not add them to custard cake?

To the dry ingredients I added 1 teaspoon mixed spice. To the wet ingredients I added 1 small mashed banana. Then when the mix was combined, I folded in 1/4 C cashews (chipped and toasted) and 1/4 C currants. Those amounts were arbitrary, based on all I had left of the ingredients. But they turned out to be just right 🙂

Cashews and currants about to be stirred into the mix

Cashews and currants about to be stirred into the mix

The recipe made enough for one small square pan.

Cake mix in the pan

Cake mix in the pan

The first time I tried the custard cake recipe I sprinkled white sugar to make a crispy crust. This time I went half-half with white sugar and brown treacle sugar.

White sugar and treacle sugar toppings

White sugar and treacle sugar toppings

The cake looked and smelled great when it came out of the oven. I didn’t wait long to taste it!

Custard cake with cashews, currants and banana

Custard cake with cashews, currants and banana

The results were even better than expected: a moist, slightly dense cake with a pleasant dash of fruitiness. I was also excited to discover that the treacle sugar had added a surprise element… it had melted and trickled down into the cake, so that some slices contained a warm and sticky molasses centre. Nom nom nom nom! :mrgreen:

Treacle sugar surprise

Treacle sugar surprise

Well, I knew I loved it, but would it pass the hubby taste test? At first Ninja looked dubious about the currants (he loathes cooked fruit), but soon he was asking for a large second slice 😀 Success!

Proof that eggless cakes can be awesome too

Proof that eggless cakes can be awesome too

Paired with a steaming cup of rooibos tea on a chilly autumn night, this cake made a splendid after-dinner treat.

We all know it’s risky to experiment with baking… many recipes will flop if you mess around with their ingredients too much. But never let that stop you from adding new flavours to your old favourites – you’d be amazed at what a couple of arb additions can do 🙂

Mixed blessings

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Wow, it’s an utterly freezing cold grey day in Jo’burg today. Biting wind, gusts of rain and sombre grey clouds blanketing the skies. It’s the perfect weather to attempt to bake some bread, based on this great recipe… but unfortunately it didn’t turn out so well.

Sob! I have visions of myself being the ultimate housewife, whipping up a steaming pot of soup and a freshly baked bread on icy days like this… but the reality is that we’ll be ordering in for dinner because I’ve run out of both ingredients and chutzpah now. Bleh. 🙄

The bread (or edible parts thereof) actually tasted delicious, so my mess isn’t meant to reflect poorly on the recipe at all. I’m sure in more skilled hands it would have come out flawlessly. In my case I had to add some extra water because for some reason my dough was far too dry… and then – because my oven is a temperamental old thing – I had to bake the bread for half an hour longer than the recipe suggested… and even then, only one third of the loaf was edible: the rest was doughy mush. As if that wasn’t saddening enough, I took lovely photos throughout… which I have just accidentally shift+deleted 😦

Not. My. Day.

Anyway, so darling hubby is out rescuing me by getting us takeaways. And while I wait for the meal that someone else will mercifully prepare for me, I thought I’d blog about a mixed blessing that’s recently come my way.

I’ve been offered a temp position at my previous company, to work in-house for three months, from early May to early Aug. There are both pros and cons to accepting an offer like this. The main con is that it will take me away from my home duties, which means Ninja and I will have to multitask like crazy again to keep things running smoothly with working, shopping and housework. The other thing that makes it not so great is that if today’s weather is a foretaste of how our winter is going to be, it’ll be very tough to get used to leaving early… or even getting out of bed!

But those are not impossible or unbearable obstacles, I know. I guess I’ve just settled into my homely comfort zone so well, it will seem odd to go back to what I left behind. On the plus side, however, I have several motivating factors – one of which is money. And not just money for money’s sake. But money for my dream camera! :mrgreen:

Ninja and I have budgeted that after all our expenses are covered, this work opportunity should allow me to put aside a substantial sum towards getting my first DSLR and related kit. That alone makes all the disadvantages of working outside the home fade away 🙂

To keep myself motivated through the winter (the time of year I’m most likely to feel a bit gloomy), I created a poster of two goals I hope to reach after this season of working is over. I’ve stuck it up in a prominent spot and hope it will help me to stay focused on what I want to achieve through this busy season. The main goal is my camera and the second goal is staying fit and training for my first 5km run, which takes place in October.

Poster of goals

Poster of goals

On the left of the poster you can see health-related pics, such as orange juice to remind me to boost my immune system through the winter months. The rest of the poster is devoted to my dream cam (the Nikon D7100, which I plan to post about separately) and miscellaneous photography gear.

But now you’ll have to excuse me.

My chicken-pine-salad wrap has just arrived 😉