Monthly Archives: April 2013

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.

Candied Orange Peel

In my continuing task to use or preserve the oranges that we’ve collected from our Abel & Cole box I decided to try candying orange peel. This is the sort of thing I would usually stay well away from, it just seems too fiddly and will I actually ever use the candied oranges? Or will they just waste away, staring at me mournfully every time I open the fridge?

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After some research I could see it’s not a difficult process it just needs a little time. There are lots of recipes around and in the end I settled for this recipe on Leite’s Culinaria by Carole Bloom. I had 8 small and slightly dodgy looking oranges to use and I didn’t have any orange liqueur so I used brandy instead because, well why not?

To make the candied orange peel, you cut the oranges up into fine slices, with some flesh attached, this stops the pith becoming too bitter. You then boil them for 5 minutes 3 times, each time refreshing the water and heating it from cold. Then you remove any leftover flesh, which is a bit of a faff, before mixing them with the sugar and brandy and cooking for an hour and a half over a low heat to allow them to fully soften and absorb all the sugar.

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A couple of my orange’s had really thin skin purely because they were old, but by the end of the third 5 minute boil you couldn’t tell which of the peel was from these oranges as they’d really bulked out. I was worried that the oranges being old was going to be a problem, but actually I think this is a great way to use up any oranges that have been forgotten about and have got a bit ropey.

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I rolled the cooked peel, hot out of the pan, in sugar which gives them a crunch. I did this in batches so some of the peel cooked for longer, meaning the syrup turned into more of a caramel giving the later peels a bit more of a snap. Both the softer and the more carmelised peel is really tasty, but it’s something to be aware of if you want them all to be the same consistency, you’d need to tip them all out of the pan at once, which I can imagine being quite messy and would probably waste a lot of sugar, something I tried to avoid. I’ve been keeping these in a tub in the fridge and The Boy & I keep stealing a couple whenever we fancy something sweet, so I needn’t have worried about them going to waste. I think they’re also going to make great cake decoration, perhaps combined with a certain blood orange curd.

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I’ve already been thinking about these for this year’s Christmas presents, perhaps cooked down with spices in the brandy syrup then dipped in dark chocolate. April’s a bit early for this really isn’t it? I’d better make a note of it somewhere and come back to it later in the year.

Market Cafe Brunch

This weekend was the first weekend of spring. After months of grey skies and freakishly low temperatures the sun finally broke through and warmed our cockles, a few degrees at least.

The temperature change was minimal, but there was enough of a change on Saturday for East London to emerge from it’s winter hideout en masse. The parks were littered with groups of friends, sat in their coats and hats, beer in hand, enjoying what sunshine they could. The pavements outside of the pubs were crammed with punters savouring the early evening rays with their beer and I had to dodge more than a couple of people on my evening run who had over-indulged during the afternoon.

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Sunday was slightly colder, but the sun was still bright so The Boy and I ventured out for brunch and a little walk. As it wasn’t market day I didn’t get distracted by the delights of Spinach and Agushi so we made it all the way down Broadway Market to try Market Cafe. I’d heard good things about the new set up and the brunch had got a special mention.

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The second I saw the words ‘eggs benedict’ my mind was made up as for some reason it had been on my mind all week. The Boy tried the ham hock hash with a fried egg and a flat white to contrast my breakfast tea. The atmosphere was just what I look for in a brunch venue, busy enough to feel lively, but not packed to the rafters or so loud that you can’t hear each other speak.

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Both dishes looked great. The ham hock hash was a big pile of crispy, meaty goodness topped with a beautifully fried egg. My eggs benedict was almost perfect. The sauce was creamy and slightly sharp and the ham was lovely. The muffin was a little over toasted, but I love slightly burnt toast so I’m not really complaining, and while one of my poached eggs was spot on, the other was a bit watery and just not quite right. If I’m honest though, I could have licked the plate clean afterwards, so it can’t have been too bad.

Market Cafe
2 Broadway Market, London, E8 4QJ

Sourdough Successes

I realised that after documenting my struggles with learning how to make sourdough bread, I never got round to blogging my successes!

White Leaven Bread

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I finally got Dan Lepard’s White Leaven Bread recipe to work after repeated disasterous attempts. I was already placing a baking sheet in the oven to get hot and sliding the dough onto it, but this time I added a cloche in the form of an enormous saucepan, upturned on the baking tray. I baked the loaf under the cloche for 30 minutes, enough time for the steam to work it’s magic and then removed the cloche & baking sheet to finish the loaf on the wire oven shelf for the last 20 minutes. The result was a beautifully risen, light and airy white loaf.

The Mill Loaf

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As I felt like I’d finally conquered that recipe, I turned the page and attempted the second recipe in Dan’s The Handmade Loaf, The Mill Loaf. This is a 60% white flour & 40% wholegrain flour sourdough loaf. The recipe makes two much larger loaves than the White Leaven Bread recipe and shaped as batons rather than balls and because of this I couldn’t fit them under my makeshift cloche which left me expecting disaster. I needn’t have worried. Both loaves came out beautifully. The first I baked seam side up and it split spectacularly, the second I slashed and baked, it split a little on the bottom seam and opened up at the top slashes. Interestingly while everyone in the online sourdough world loves enormous rips  and ears on their loaves,  all the non-bakers I showed the pictures to thought the slashed version looked more professional.

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I much prefer wholemeal bread so for me this bread wins over the white loaf as it’s much more flavoursome. I will definitely make this again and I’m looking forward to experimenting with different flours to see what happens.

Sour 100% Rye Bread

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Then this week I moved on to the third recipe in The Handmade Loaf the 100% Rye loaf. My shaping needs work, hopefully I’ll learn some shaping skills on the E5 Bakehouse sourdough bread course next month. The result was a dense and moist loaf with that rich, nutty rye flavour. I loved the feel of this dough too, it was very sticky and springy. I left this loaf wrapped in greaseproof paper & tied up with string overnight as instructed and cut into it for lunch today. I topped slices with pesto, soft cheese, ground black pepper, lettuce & cherry tomatoes for a simple, refreshing lunch. These classic flavours worked with the dense, nutty bread perfectly.

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Lunching at Lardo

As The Boy has been in America with work this week we didn’t get to spend the Easter bank holiday together, so when he returned this morning we decided we’d make up for lost time and go out for lunch. There was a slight hitch in the form of a mini blizzard outside, which didn’t make going out very appealling. Luckily we now have a choice of eateries just along from us on Richmond Road, so we didn’t have to walk very far.

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After hearing many good things we decided on Lardo and arrived like intrepid explorers, covered in snow. The Italian restaurant opened last year and I’m embarrassed to say that despite it being just 5 minutes walk from out house, this was our first visit.

The Boy plumped for pizza, which I managed to resist as I have already had two this week and three pizzas in a week is a little indulgent. He went for the Taleggio & Mushroom and after much deliberation (the Lardo, Spinach & Egg pizza was calling me the entire time) I ordered the Oxtail Brassato with White Polenta. I cooked oxtail for the first time a few weeks ago, and I figured this was a good opportunity to see how it should be done.

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The waitress explained that the oxtail would take 12 minutes to cook, which was fine as for once we were in no rush. There was also a glass of wine or a soft drink included in the price of every Hearty or Pasta dish, which included the oxtail, so I savoured my free diet coke while waiting for lunch to arrive. I took the opportunity to drag details out of The Boy about his trip, he never wants to talk about work once he’s home so it’s always hard work. Then I had plenty of gossip for him from friends I’d seen over the long weekend.

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The food arrived steaming hot and smelling extremely inviting. The Boy’s pizza was generously topped and by all accounts was extremely tasty, although I can’t actually comment because mushrooms are pretty much the only thing I won’t eat. I did steal some crust though and it was thin, crisp & lightly charred, snapping lightly as you bit into it. It was my idea of the perfect pizza crust to be honest, and the fact that the pizza oven it came out of looks like a giant disco ball somehow made it even better.

My oxtail was soft and rich and falling off the bone. The sauce was thick and mixed with the smooth, pearly white polenta to create the perfect comfort lunch for a day when snow was streaming past the windows. It put my home cooked attempt to shame.

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While it took us a while to visit Lardo, but there are so many other dishes I’d love to try I’m sure it won’t take us long to return. We didn’t even manage dessert this time which is pitiful, but the main was deceptively filling. I think if you’re looking for hearty, classic Italian cooking in Hackney and cracking pizza to boot then Lardo is well worth a visit, or two.

LARDO
197-205 Richmond Road, London, E8 3NJ