Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Super Easy, Super Delicious Vegan Pretzel Buns

Wow. A year and a half since I last posted anything on here - I guess what they don't tell you about Masters life is that it consumes you! I lived in halls for the first 3 semesters as well so baking wasn't really a possibility, however I've just moved into a new place all of my own and now I have the space and desire to bake again - just not really the time! 

1 month ago, it was my 27th birthday. And on my 27th birthday I received the best present I think I've ever had, and will ever get... A kitchenaid! Ok, so it's a bit overdramatic calling this the best thing I've ever received but having lusted after these beautiful machines since I was about 15 it really was a complete shock and a dream come true.

Meet Percy, the Pistachio Kitchenaid:-

 Man of my dreams.

In today's adventure, Percy and I decided to make pretzel buns. I've made these a couple of times and am playing with recipes at the moment to get the best one, but this is the best I've found so far... enjoy!

Fresh pretzels will always hold a special place in my heart as I grew up in South Germany and often used to grab a brezlen as a great way to start the day... or for lunch... or as a snack... Chewy, salty, sweet, with that unmistakable pretzel taste. This recipe is one that I've tweaked from a couple of different sources to come up with an infallible result. The nice thing is this is also a vegan recipe; it doesn't have to be though - it just happens that I had almond milk and margarine in rather than cow's milk and butter! These are super easy to make, incredibly versatile and can be used as lunch rolls or a dinner accompaniment.

1 Cup almond milk
2 Tablespoons margarine
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
1 Tablespoon dried yeast

2 Teaspoons salt
2 Cups strong white bread flour - + 1 cup if needed.

3 Cups boiling water
1/2 Cup bicarbonate of soda

Coarse sea salt

1) Heat the milk, margarine and sugar in a saucepan, do not allow to boil. Remove from the heat when the milk is just hot to the touch (the margarine may not be melted yet). Stand for 5 - 10 minutes until it's warm and add the yeast. Stir and stand for 15 minutes. By the end of this time, the yeast should be gooey and bubbly.

2) Slowly pour the yeast mixture into a stand mixer with the dough hook attached and the salt and bread flour in. I used 2 cups initially then added about 3/4 of the 3rd cup; the final 1/4 I used to knead the dough with. If you don't have a stand mixer then get your hands involved!

Percy loves an action shot

3) Mix until it forms a smooth dough; in the mixer it'll take about 10 minutes but by hand could be longer. Removing the dough from the bowl, knead in the remaining flour for about 5 minutes until the dough is smoother and easy to shape. Grease a bowl that's at least double the size of your dough, place the dough inside and cover with clingfilm. Rest for at least 1.5 hours in a warm, dry place. (I tend to preheat my oven, turn it off when I'm making the dough and shove it in there with the door cracked).

Post Kneading!

4) Once the dough has at least doubled in size, turn it out onto a very lightly floured surface and gently knock it back (knead it again, but be very gentle). You just want to get it to a point where you can shape it again - about 30 seconds is probably too much.

Just starting...

Nearly there...

And we're risen!
 5) Shape the dough in 18 balls. Using a saucepan with the boiling water and bicarbonate of soda in (it'll fizz, don't worry but keep an eye on it), carefully place each ball of dough into the water for 20 seconds then drain and place on a baking tray. Sprinkle the tops of each one with a little sea salt.

6) Bake for 12 - 15 minutes at 180 degrees or until browned and cracked in appearance (they should sound hollow if you tap the bottom). Make sure to put a pan with some water in in the bottom of your oven when you bake them too as the steam adds to a gorgeous crust!

Chewy, crunchy, soft, salty. Perfect

If your rolls are a bit soggy it might be difficult to get them off the tray - make sure you use a knife or scraper to force them off whilst they're still warm or you'll have to tear them away. They can be frozen once baked, and are great defrosted and warmed up again!

Hopefully now I have my own space and energy to bake again I'll be updating the blog a bit more. See ya around!

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Saturday, 2 January 2016

2015 Round Up

For some reason I didn't do a review of 2014 - perhaps because 2014 was absolutely shit - but hey ho. Onwards and upwards. Here's a quick review of my year.

Nothing much happened in January, nothing much really ever happens in January. Mainly the month was spent sleeping, drinking and pole dancing. Not knowing if my job would be extended past March, I went for an interview at a 'rival' NHS Trust (but didn't get the job!)

Oooph. Yeah, this pose hurts.

In February I drove down to Stone Henge with my ex-boyfriend, an English Heritage site, and visited Ireland with my job for my first international recruitment trip (very exciting, much Guinness was consumed). I also enjoyed the Six Nations with a few good pints.

It was a tad chilly.
March saw my first invert in pole dancing, as well as a visit to Harry Potter World (Watford) as a very belated birthday present for my ex. I started to accept that my ex really was leaving in a months time and considered where I wanted to go next - back to uni? Move abroad? Stay in my current role and hope that my contract became permanent? In the end my job was extended to March 2016 and I started to look at work experience and volunteering for whenever I decided to go back to university.

Oh me? Just chilling.

Not a great month in some ways, a fantastic month in others. Actually, looking back, it was one of those months that felt like the world was imploding but actually it's a month that has changed me as a person for the better. My ex moved out at the end of the month and I moved back home; but more significantly I applied for a Masters program in Occupational Therapy. Four days before the deadline. Feeling incredibly raw and unloved, I spent the last few days of April licking my wounds and hoping that this might be the change I need. 

Well, if April was the worst month of the year, then May was one of the best ones. I went to see Avenue Q (absolutely hilarious, you must go see it!), had a lovely birthday, did my first 10km run (in just a few seconds over an hour) and most of all, got an interview for the Masters course I applied for on the spur of the moment. I started working out more and running more regularly. I also started volunteering with an amazing local charity called Lindengate who work with service users with a history of mental illness and promote health through socio-therapeutic horticulture. 

Throughout June I got the chance to spend time with my family, as my Mum, sister and I banded together to surprise my Dad with a day trip to a local lake and beauty spot for Fathers Day. Unfortunately my tickets for the Foo Fighters at Wembley were cancelled as Dave Grohl broke his leg in an earlier show and I took a trip up North to visit two universities with a view to studying next September. One was massively unsuccessful and had me questioning my new career choice but the other was significantly more positive. 

Where to start with July? Busy busy month. But an amazing one! Firstly, the annual Summer Ball happened and as always, it was a fantastic night out with lots of laughter and fun. We had another family outing, this time to Waddesdon Manor, a local National Trust estate home. I got tickets for the rescheduled Foo Fighters gig and picked up a couple more for Of Monsters and Men and Bullet for My Valentine. More pole dancing happened but most importantly I received a very important letter telling me I'd been accepted to study on the Masters I interviewed for back in May. 

August started with a bang as I attended one of my best friend's hen dos, comprising of a high ropes obstacle course and then a lot of drinking! Her wedding came in August as well and I had a wonderful time with old friends celebrating the marriage of a fantastic couple. Far too much champagne was consumed! As well as celebrating with old friends, I spent time celebrating the unique fun of pole dancing with new friends. I made a decent start on baking my way through the Great British Bake Off 2015, but ultimately would succumb to the evil of 'no time to bake' 5 weeks in. (N.B. no photos of August because apparently... I spent nearly all of it drunk).

I performed my first ever pole routine in my school's competition and had a whale of a time watching everyone else dance, Saw the Foo Fighters perform at the MK Bowl (one to tick off the music bucket list!). Made an awful, awful cheesecake and an even worse beetroot cake. But I did make a pretty special fox cake - see below - and saw The Great British Bake Off; An Extra Slice being filmed - and got to meet Mat, the baker who left that week after the filming! Lets not talk about the main event of September too much, eh? Even though the English performance in the Rugby World Cup was horrendously disappointing, I did have a great evening seeing Fiji vs Uruguay and I will never forget the Japan vs South Africa game. Exciting stuff. I had a wonderful weekend with the annual Pluck family gathering, this time complete with extended family in attendance.

Francois - He's a sophisticated French victorian gent, thank you very much

October bought with it the wind and the rain, as well as my one year pole-anniversary! I ran my first 10k race, finishing 34th out of 87 women, and clocked a time of 56 minutes 15 seconds, on a largely grassy track, which is definitely going to add minutes if you normally run on the road like I do (yeah... that's what I keep telling myself anyway). 2016s 10km aim has therefore become a sub 56 minute 10k. My parents left me to watch house for two weeks, so naturally I responded by having an awesome house party with some old friends. Hallowe'en came and went in a blur of zombie cheerleader makeup and tequila shots.

Foot grab Gemini hold
Even though it was only November, our pole studio's Christmas party was an excellent way to start the month and Christmas festivities (!) as well as an opportunity for some crazy drunken pole dancing. The day after was filled with more friends and board games as we all tried to recover... Later on in the month I travelled to Sheffield to sort out paperwork for my course and got a chance to meet some of the people I'll be working and studying with for the next two and a half years. I rounded off the month with the Of Monsters and Men gig in Lincoln, which was fantastic. 

As it should be, December has been filled with friends, family and lots of festive cheer. By and large I have been making my way around saying goodbye to all the wonderful people I know and love here in my little town in Buckinghamshire whilst trying to remember that Sheffield isn't that far away! A beer festival happened... which was filled with lots of lovely beer and listening to some amazing live bands and ended up in me home by 10pm. My Dad took me and my mum to see the Cambridge vs Oxford varsity rugby match at Twickenham for a great day out. I finished my job with the recruitment team a couple of weeks ago and am now in full swing of getting everything sorted out for the big move next weekend. I went ice skating for the first time in a good few years with my family as a Boxing Day outing and welcomed in the New Year with friends old and new. 

All I can say is... I hope 2016 carries on in the same manner, with lots of great new friends, keeping in contact with the old ones and many more exciting adventures, whether they're drunk, sober or in between! I'm off to university next week to study Occupational Therapy and relive my student years (for about two weeks, until the hard work starts again!). I don't think I'd have believed you this time last year if you'd said it was going to be this good. But it was. It was better than I could ever have hoped for. Most of all, I've learnt this year that happiness doesn't come from others, it comes from yourself. 

My brief goals for 2016: 

- Carry on pole dancing
- Come out of my first year of my Masters with good grades and placement feedback
- Carry on running (2 x 5k races, 1 x 10k race, start training for a half marathon in 2017) 
- Enjoy myself along the way!
- Find a volunteering project similar to Lindengate up in Sheffield in my free time
- Get this blog and my other blog sorted out!
- Lose fat and gain muscle to become mega fit.

I hope you've also had a great year and I would love to hear what your goals are!

Monday, 7 September 2015

Great British Bake Off Challenge - Week 5; 'Alternative Ingredients'

The first thing that sprang to mind when I heard that the initial bake of week 5 was sugar free cake was beetroot chocolate cake so lets ignore the fact that I said in my cheesecake post I'd be making a polenta cake, shall we? 

Mind you, a polenta cake may have been more sensible and my kitchen may not look like a crime scene if I had stuck to that plan, but ohhhh well. 

Beetroot added to cake sounds disgusting but is actually probably one of my favourite methods because when done well it yields a wonderfully sticky, moist and fudgey texture to a chocolate cake. This cake is no different however the lack of sugar means that it tastes rather... uhm, earthy. Whilst there is some definite sweetness to the taste it's not overwhelming and if your taste buds are tuned to sweetness like most peoples are when presented with a slice of cake then you'll probably dislike this quite a lot. I am in two minds whether I like it or not. I mean, I don't dislike it, but I wouldn't go crazy over making it again in this form. I'd happily make another beetroot cake! 

The ganache and strawberries really save this cake even though the ganache definitely defeats the object of not using refined sugar. Whilst we're tentatively on the subject of what you can legitimately use in a sugar free cake, I think we need to have a brief discussion about how a) what you bake on the show should probably be edible and b) how a cake is a sweet item, and not a savoury one, so not including any sugar at all would not yield a cake at the end. Yes, honey, maple syrup and agave syrup are all still sugars but then so are fruits (fructose) and natural sweeteners such as Xylitol and stevia. I saw the challenge as more of a 'Don't make a cake using your traditional grain sugars' rather than 'Don't use any sweet ingredients at all'. 


Once again, I've slightly adapted a recipe I've found online, this time it's from The Wholesome Cook

3 cups self raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarb of soda
6 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tsp Chinese five spice powder
1 cup of raw grated beetroot

2/3 cup of olive oil
2/3 cup of honey
1 1/3 cup of cold water
2 tbsp vanilla extract 

250g dark chocolate
275ml double cream

Oven temp: 150 degrees fan. Line a spring release tin with greaseproof paper.

Combine all the dry ingredients with the beetroot and mix well. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients and combine with the dry. Fold in gentley with a wooden spoon. 

Transfer to the pre-pared tin and bake for 30 - 35 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

To make the ganache put the double cream in a glass bowl over a bain marie until warm (don't boil it). Add the chocolate and remove from the heat, stir until all melted. Chill in the fridge for two hours or until set enough to spread on the cake.