Baking Plans And A Couple Of Loaves

I’ve been trying to work out how I can make more bread. I love making it and trying new recipes, but there are only two of us in this house & we can only eat so much! Of course I can give bread to family/friends, but I still want something more regular to work on. So I’ve been debating getting some part time work in a bakery or selling some loaves, which would be amazing because I could try more loaves, learn more and hopefully make some money at the same time. Wins all round I think.

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I was on the Real Bread Campaign website (which I frequent) and spotted an advert from a local cafe looking for home bakers to help them supply bread to their market stalls. I had heard of the Hornbeam Cafe in Walthamstow, but I’ll admit I didn’t know a lot about it. It turns out that all of their bread is provided by the Hornbeam Bakers Collective, which is made up of a group of keen local bakers. They also provide bread to three market stalls on a Saturday, one outside the Walthamstow cafe, one in Leyton and one in Stoke Newington.

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Last week I went and met with Pilar from the collective and took her a couple of my loaves to try, a mixed white & wholemeal loaf made with tea (top) and a 50% spelt loaf (above). It was the first time I’d made the 50% spelt, so it wasn’t perfect but I was really please with the mixed grain loaf. Thankfully they both went down a storm, so from this Saturday I will start to provide bread to the stalls. Just 8 loaves at first as I only have a little oven, but if it goes well then who knows where it will lead…

The Great Wedding Bake Off

May the 4th was my cousin Jo’s wedding. The whole family descended on Henley, even the sun graced us with it’s presence. You can see from her blog that Jo is very crafty so we had predicted that she would have made some of the decorations for the day, but we were totally overwhelmed by how much trouble she went to! Handmade confetti, hand printed table runners, personalised table settings and bright, colourful flower arrangements & bouquets made the day so unique.

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After the simple ceremony, and the fantastic hog roast was another quirky addition to the day, instead of dessert Jo organised The Great Wedding Bake Off. Everyone was invited to bake something and that meant that there were lots of different puddings for everyone to try, which wasn’t exactly a hardship.

A couple of weeks ago I shared with you the ideas I had for what to bake, and everyone seemed to be on the same track as me… the dobos torte. Now I could have done a gorgeous rectangular dobos torte like Deb on Smitten Kitchen, but I like to make life complicated for myself. The notes with the recipe mentioned that you can ‘paint’ the batter into a shape drawn on a baking sheet so I decided that for the wedding I would make the cake in the shape of the bride & groom’s initials. See, always complicating things.

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I baked a practice version for the Band of Bakers party in the shape of ‘BoB’. I was really pleased with it until I saw it next to all the other bakes and realised that I really am hopeless at icing & decorating. It looked awful! Oh well, that’s what a practice run is for and all the feedback said it was delicious which is the main thing.

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So on the Thursday I drew out my ‘NJ’ cake shape on 7 sheets of baking paper mixed up the cake batter and baked them all. I had extra batter left over as the area the ‘NJ’ covers wasn’t very large, so I baked an extra couple of layers. I then froze them until the Friday to make sure they stayed fresh. Then on the Friday I made up the icing, sandwiching the layers together and encasing it in chocolate. To make sure it looked rather better than my Band of Bakers version I bust out a piping bag to stud the outline of the initials and I think it looked beautiful.

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Transporting the cake back to my mother’s house and then on to the wedding was a challenge. We didn’t have anything big enough in the kitchen to cover it, so ended up improvising with a storage box, some cling film and a lot of electrical tape. It was precarious but at least the cake made it there in one piece.

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There were so many great cakes, but as the only obscenely chocolatey one mine proved very popular and at the end of the evening I won a ‘highly commended’ rosette for my trouble. The winner of the bake off was the mother of the groom for making Jo & Neil’s beautiful wedding cake, and you can’t compete with that.

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My thoughts on the dobos torte: well it was rich, creamy and super chocolatey. Yes, the way I made it was labour intensive but if you follow Deb’s instructions for a rectangular cake then it’s no where near as much hassle. Without a doubt I will make this cake again, it might even become my signature birthday cake.  If you want it to become yours, you can get the Smitten Kitchen Dobos Torte recipe here.

And that just leaves me to say a huge congratulations to Jo & Neil and thank you for inviting us to join you to celebrate your wedding. May the fourth be with you!

Band of Bakers’ 1st Birthday Party

Last Thursday I finally got round to attending my first Band of Bakers meet up. Band of Bakers is a baking group based in South East London, run by Gemma and Naomi who meet roughly every month to share their baking skills and eat a lot of cake. I’ve known Gemma for a few years now and ever since she launched Band of Bakers I’ve been meaning to go, but South East London seems so far away! When I got the email a few weeks ago to announce their 1st birthday party I knew I had to pull my finger out and get involved.

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Every event has a different theme that all of the attendees have to bake something to and as this was a birthday party the theme was ‘celebration’. What’s great about a loose theme like this is that everyone interpreted it so differently! There was an incredible range of bakes, from magnificent layer cakes, tarts & macaroons to mini sausage rolls & celebration breads and of course it wouldn’t be a birthday party without some good old-fashioned chocolate cake.

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Luckily, I had been warned of the inevitable over-indulgence of the evening so had a light lunch, but I was still totally overwhelmed by the amount on offer. I probably didn’t even manage to try a quarter of it, which is a little sad, though I did take some extras home for brunch the next day, which made me rather happy.

The event had a special guest for the evening in the form of baker, Dan Lepard. Now you don’t have to read many posts on this blog to notice that Dan’s recipes crop up rather a lot and I am a bit of a fan. I know that Gemma is also a fan, you only have to check out her Short & Sweet In South East London blog to see that, but had no idea she had invited him along. Now you’d think I would take this rare opportunity to introduce myself to my favourite baker, who’s books I refer to first when looking up anything, who’s sourdough book is almost permanently in my hand, but no. I turned into a total fan-girl and avoided him all evening. A couple of times I turned round to find him stood right by me talking to someone else and I nearly jumped out of my skin. I am such a loser sometimes.

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about my bake for the evening. But I used the party to test run a recipe for another event last week, so I’ll tell you all about it in my next post.

Instagram Eats : April 2013

I have so much blogging to catch up on it’s ridiculous. There are cakes, breads, Band of Bakers, wedding bake offs and some glorious dinners to tell you about, but I’ll start with a belated round up of all the food & drink I documented on my Instagram in April. Follow me here if you so wish.

Last night's late night pizza at Soho Joe's. #pizza #london #pepperoni

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More homemade sourdough pizza. #pizza #baking #sourdough

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Puddle of golden syrup in a bowl of porridge. #breakfast #sugar #porridge #oatmeal

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The Boy brought this back from Texas. Bring on the meat. #bbq #meat #dinner

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#lunch #sourdough #bread #eggs

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White, spelt & wholemeal sourdough pre-bake. #baking #bread #sourdough #readbread

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White, spelt & wholemeal sourdough post-bake. #bread #readbread #sourdough #baking

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Loaf no.2 ready for the oven. #baking #bread #readbread #sourdough

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I have no problem with The Boy travelling more with work. #chocolate

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Bring it on. #meat #dinner

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White chocolate, orange & cream cheese layer cake in the oven... #baking #cake #chocolate

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Celebrating summer.

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Late lunch/early dinner. #lunch #dinner #burger #meat

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We're going to have some good sandwiches this week. #bread #baking #realbread #sourdough

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Loaf #2 ready to go. #baking #bread #realbread #sourdough

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Wedding Cake Ideas

May 4th is my cousin’s wedding day. It’s been in the diary for ages and is suddenly on the horizon. Luckily I’ve almost finished making my dress, so my next challenge is the cake. No, I don’t have to make the actual wedding cake, thank god! The pressure of making someone a wedding cake or dress would kill me. I will never do it.

Instead, inspired by the popular BBC TV show with a very similar name, Jo is hosting The Great Wedding Bake Off. The invite requests that everyone who wants to enter brings a baked pudding or cake, then everyone can try them and vote for their favourite. It’s an awesome idea and one that suggests we shouldn’t be expecting too traditional a wedding day next week!

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I’ve been through pretty much all of my baking books, I’ve trawled my Pinterest boards, various blogs I follow and Googled every type of ‘celebration cake’ I could think of and here is my short list. I’m off to Band of Bakers 1st birthday party next Thursday and the theme is celebration cake, so I will get a chance to practice it before the wedding competition on the Saturday!

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Top row (l-r):
1. Dobos Torte from Smitten Kitchen or Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cake Book.
2. Torta Alla Gianduia from Nigella Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess.
3. French Fraisier Cake from Food Lover’s Odyssey.

Middle row (l-r):
4. Butterscotch Nut Gateau from the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book.
5. Swedish Prinsesstårta Cake from Donal Skehan or Signe Johansen’s Scandilicious Baking.
6. Bitter Chocolate Orange Cake from Lily Vanilli’s Sweet Tooth.

Bottom row (l-r):
7. Pistachio Angel Cake from the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book.
8. Gateau Moka aux Amandes from Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cake Book.
9. Baumtorte/Baumkuchen German Tree Cake from Global Table Adventure.

Running Brighton Marathon 2013

Since mid December running has dominated my life. I’ve been compulsively following a training plan of 4 runs a week. I’ve planned work around it, skipped social events to make sure I was fresh enough to run, obsessed over my eating and sleeping patterns and talked about almost nothing else. On Sunday I ran Brighton Marathon and now it’s all over. I feel a bit lost if I’m honest.

On Saturday The Boy and I caught the train down to a Brighton gripped by a torrential downpour. We met my sister and her partner sheltering in a bar and they proceeded to drink large quantities of wine, while I comforted myself with several pots of tea. It turns out that laughing at your family getting drunk is an excellent way to distract yourself from pre-marathon nerves.

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In the evening we headed out to our decidedly dodgy hotel in Lewes and the nerves really started to set in. I didn’t sleep. I got up at 5am to eat vast quantities of porridge, but only managed two thirds of what I was supposed to eat before feeling nauseous. I got back into bed and pretended to sleep until the alarm went off at 6.30am. We drove into a grey, drizzly Brighton to the start line at Preston Park. The park was horrendously muddy, but I can’t fault the organisation. Yes, the queues for the loos were insanely long, but they were clean and had loo roll, not an easy feat when faced with 9,000 nervous runners.

20 minutes before kick off it was still drizzling and cold and The Boy had to leave the park before the race started. Panic started to rise as I realised I was hungry, would my bumbag of jelly babies be enough to get me round? Anyway, the race didn’t pander to my anxieties and started on time, I crossed the start line at roughly 9:06am.

The first 14 miles were fantastic. Central Brighton was packed with people cheering, all the runners were in good spirits and I felt good. I felt strong and comfortable and there were signs to read and shouts of encouragement to laugh at, particularly as I was running near a man dressed as a banana.  Despite the thinning crowds and undulating ground as we headed out along the coast spirits were still high and when the crowds were thin on the ground, the runners cheered each other on instead. As we headed back into Brighton the sun came out and it started to warm up, and up, and up.

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Seeing my family & friends at miles 12, 13 & 14 was incredible. It made me feel so proud I almost descended into tears as I ran, which was the first of many times I nearly cried over the next 10 miles as I started to hurt, and ran out of energy, and then ran out of faith. Somewhere between 15 and 16 miles was the first time I walked for about 30 seconds and I can’t explain how hard it was to start running once I’d done that. As soon as I started running I just wanted to walk again. It was agony, but the crowd was amazing. I didn’t know a single person around this stretch, but they shouted and cheered and dished out jelly babies and called people out by name when they were struggling, so I kept running. I stopped for another brief walk somewhere around miles 17/18 but other than that I kept moving. I think. To be honest, a lot of it is a bit blurry.

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It all went wrong after mile 19. The course loops out of town, through an industrial estate, to a power station before heading back to the finish. Everyone knows that miles 20+ are the hardest and on this course they are the loneliest. There were almost no crowds between miles 19 and 23 which had a huge effect on moral. Runners were dropping like flies, walking, cramping, fainting. Heading back towards Brighton centre in the blazing sun at about mile 22 I thought I was going to have to walk the rest of the way. I looked at my watch with despair knowing I was never going to break 4:30 if I kept walking, but I couldn’t imagine how I was going to be able to run it.

Eventually I managed to get running again by tagging along behind people and following their footsteps. The problem with this was if they gave up and started walking, I lost my rhythm and ended up walking again too. I felt like I walked more than I ran through these long, painful miles but looking at my time I can’t have done. It just felt like it went on forever. Luckily from about 23 miles the crowd built up again and I managed to run slightly further between each walking break.

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At 24 miles the end was literally in sight and I knew that my family would be waiting somewhere along the road to cheer me on, but despite being able to see it the finish line felt further away than ever. A stranger’s poster from earlier in the race that read ‘don’t stop, people are watching’ had struck a chord and I didn’t want my family to see me walking. So I forced my legs to move and keep moving. Of the entire race I am most proud of the fact that I ran continuously for the last 2 miles because I don’t know how I did it.

My family were there at 25.5 and 26 miles cheering me on and the signs counted down the metres and I just kept swinging my legs in the least natural running style ever and then the finish line was there. I kept walking through the finishing area (rule #1 don’t stop moving when you cross the finish line), muttering to myself ‘oh my god I fucking did it’ like some crazy woman.

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Thinking back on it now it already feels like it never happened, but I know it did because just sitting here typing this my back is aching and when I have to stand up my thighs will scream at me. The later miles are all a bit of a blur as I got more and more tired, but I can vividly remember my emotions swinging between elation and desperation. It’s a miracle I got through the day without crying because even after I finished I was an emotional wreck.

I finished in 4:22:55, which with 2 toilet stops, heat I wasn’t ready for and far too much walking is a really good time. If I ever do it again then I want to do it with someone. I can’t explain how jealous I was of everyone running with a friend/partner/club as I felt so lonely when I was struggling. But somehow I did it.

Throughout my marathon training I’ve been raising money for Goodgym. So far I’ve raised £750 for this tiny East London charity and if my ramblings about my 26 miles of pain have inspired you to do so, please sponsor me just £5 here. Every pound makes every ache worth it and trust me there are plenty of aches to go round.

Fresh Bread In Time For Lunch

Last night I mixed up a couple of 60% white flour, 22% spelt flour & 18% wholemeal flour sourdough loaves following Dan Lepard’s recipe for the mill loaf. After 4 hours fermenting with periodic stretching and folding, I shaped them just before I went to bed and left them in the fridge overnight to proof. Then this morning, while getting on with various chores I baked them for 50 minutes each and by lunchtime I had fresh homemade bread to enjoy.

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As I took the loaves out of the oven they were making cracking and popping sounds, which was rather worrying, but after a quick google I discovered that this is a good thing. The loaves were ‘singing’ to me, the sign of a well baked loaf apparently.

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Upon cutting these open I discovered a really soft, spongy crumb with lots of holes. I think the spelt had a real impact on the smoothness on the crumb, and it tastes divine. Just a little nutty from the wholemeal flour and rye starter but otherwise a light texture with a delicately sour flavour. I think these might be my favourite loaves to date.

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As I had this beautiful fresh bread to use, for lunch I made my perfect fried egg sandwich. Fresh sourdough bread smeared with butter, a sliver of mature cheddar cheese and pile of crisp lettuce topped with a juicy fried egg. A decadent lunch that’s hard to beat.