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. 

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Reasons Why You Should Run

Running has quickly become a huge part of my life - I currently run three to four times a week and often feel a bit 'odd' if I don't get chance to run. But if you'd have said to me even five months ago that I'd be running this much, training for a 10k in October and loving every second of it I'd have called you crazy. See, I haven't always been a runner... My running watch will tell you that much. I've dabbled in running since I was at university but never really pushed myself to run to a routine, or to run further/faster/better. Until I moved back home in April this year, that is.

See, the end of my four year long relationship with my ex boyfriend brought me to a turning point - I could either sit and mope around, doing nothing with my life or I can grab my newly single self and shake shit up. I chose the latter. So I chose running. I dropped some cash on a new set of running shoes and wrote up some goals to try and achieve.

I started out with 3.5k, and have worked my way up to 6.5k for a regular run and 10k when I'm feeling fresh. But how? Running is horrible. Well, it is when you start. The reasons I run include:
  • The feeling of achieving my goals. At first it was just to run continuously for 15 - 20 - 25 minutes, now it's 50 - 55 - 60 minutes. Pace wise I started out running at a 6:30 pace consistently; I'm now working to bring that down to a 5:20 pace and my ultimate goal is a sub 5 minute/km pace for initially a 5k, then 10k.
  • The feeling of setting new goals and knowing that I will eventually achieve them. My original goal of running a 5k has now morphed in a 10k and actually, I'm strongly considering the idea of a half marathon next summer.
  • The knowledge that I am infinitely more mentally strong than I give myself credit for. Mental strength and will power, much like physical strength, are muscles that must be exercised to be improved. Every time I come home from work and lace up my running shoes I am flexing those muscles. Every time I want to sit on the sofa and eat chocolate all night rather than be a productive member of society I have to exercise those muscles.
  • The calm tranquility of a long run cannot be beaten. All worries slip away when all you've got to worry about is whether or not you're keeping the right pace. Nothing else matters but your foot steps. On my runs I write stories, I listen to music, I debate philosophy and ethics, I muse about what car I want to drive in ten years time.
  • That runners high. I promise it exists (it took about three months of three runs a week for mine to appear though).
  • You can improve very quickly in a very short space of time with running  - check out my running progress on my MapMyRun profile. If I can do it, then so can you!
  • For every bad run, there is an equally great one.
  • Because one day, I won't be able to run.
Whether you run 1km or 10km, it doesn't matter. Nor does it matter if you run at a 7 minute per kilometre pace or a 4 minute per kilometre pace - because the battle you are fighting on each run is your own. No-one out there knows how far you've run, how far you have left or how fast you're running. And anyone who cares probably aint running themselves, so sod them. Just get out there and run. 

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Great British Bake Off Challenge - Week 4; Baked Cheesecake

Oh dear, it had to happen at least once in this challenge, didn't it? I had a total fail. An absolute flop. If I had been in The Tent, it  may have ended up being another Bin-Gate style scandal (Cheesecake-Gate doesn't have the same ring to it, thankfully). It was so bad it went almost straight in the bin. Dessert week got me, and it got me good. Not wanting to make crème brûlées and not really knowing what a Spanischer Windtorte was, I decided to tackle baked cheesecake. I'm not a particular fan of baked cheesecake so I've never attempted one before and well... I probably won't attempt one again any time soon. 

I had grand ideas for this; what about a chocolate and honeycomb baked cheesecake with a dark chocolate biscuit base and honeycomb crushed over the top? It'd surely look and taste amazing. Rich, creamy dark chocolate cheesecake and crackly, golden homemade honeycomb running through it. Yum. A true showstopper! 

The best laid plans eh?

That being said, I don't think it was the recipe that was the problem. It was me. I overworked the mixture, and then cooked it totally inappropriately. I ended up with this rather sad mess:

Oooph. I can hear Sue softly weeping in the background. I can feel Paul's glare. Mary would have a small heart attack trying to summon up something nice to say about this monstrosity.

Poor, poor cheesecake. I couldn't do much other than put it out of it's misery... by putting it in the bin. I did try a bit (for science!) and it made me feel thoroughly sick.

Yes, that base is burnt. The sides are burnt. The top is burnt with shards of honeycomb melted into it (apparently if you sprinkle honeycomb on top of something that's going to bake for 45 minutes it'll melt and then harden, because you know, high sugar content). The middle is strangely under AND overcooked. The honeycomb has dissolved from the mixture to nothing. It's sunk in the middle and become dense and uh, chewy. The honeycomb that I made largely stuck to the pan and ended up being abandoned until two days later when it had become a soft sticky mess.

No recipe this week because who the frick would want to recreate that mess?! Maybe I overworked the mix (I definitely overworked the mix). Maybe I had the temperature on the wrong setting (180 - would 160 have been better for my fan oven?). Maybe I set it too close to the bottom of the oven. Should I have used Tamal's bain marie method? Maybe, Should I have just eaten the chilled base and not bothered adding the mixture? I'm inclined to say yes.

Whilst I lick my wounds, I'll be sticking to chilled cheesecakes for a little while I think. Though things may take another turn for the worse as I attempt to tackle polenta cake for Week 5 - Alternative Ingredients week...

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Great British Bake Off Challenge - Week 3; Quick Bread

Apologies for the late entry for this post; my laptop mouse pad has had a bit of a senior moment so I've had to hunt down a mouse in order to use it. As such, week 4 will be coming up tomorrow...

I'll preface this entry with a simple fact; I hate baking bread. I hate baking bread with a passion. I hate having to knead it because it makes my hands sticky, I hate waiting for it to prove because I'm impatient and most of all I hate that 9 times out of 10 when I attempt to bake bread it doesn't work. I hate it I hate it I HATE IT! So needless to say bread week is not my favourite and was indeed the episode I was looking least forward to creating something from.

That is, until I discovered Alvin's Prosciutto, Manchego and Balsamic Red Onion Soda Bread recipe. This stuff is amazing. I've made three loaves of it since the episode aired two weeks ago and I will be making it again without a shadow of a doubt. It's a hearty, stout bread that is just as fantastic on it's own as it is with a soup. I'm very much looking forward to making loaves of this in the depths of winter to go with stew, goulash, pies and other 'stick to your ribs' meals. You can eat this plain or smother it with butter. Either way, it's a definite treat and one that's sure to go down well with anyone who enjoys a good filling bread.

Ingredients ready to go in

I can't get over how easy this bread really is to make. It's so simple - there's no prooving, no kneading, no yeast that needs to be alive and smells like a brewery. It's just like a cake really with a some unconventional mixing methods! Well, apart from the fact that you get a wonderful loaf of bread at the end rather than a yummy cake snack. And compared to how long it took me to make the Arlettes of week 2, this was a walk in the park!

Finished loaf

You could adapt the ingredients in this fairly easily. Instead of Manchego cheese (impossible to find in my semi-rural local Tesco) I plumped for Comte cheese, on the basis that it looked like a hard cheese and Manchego is hard, right? Well, not really the same thing as Manchego is a sheeps cheese and Comte is an unpasteurised cows cheese; but having never eaten either before I was sure that they'd swap easily enough. Comte is a fairly nutty flavoured cheese compared to Manchego's 'buttery texture' (thanks Google) but it is certainly a good accompaniment to the acid-y sweetness of the onions and the salty ham. I swapped prosciutto and parma ham for similar reasons in my original bake but went back to prosciutto for the second and third loaves and honestly can't tell the difference. I also left out the extra salt as I found that my first loaf was fairly salty from the ham.

The final adaptation I made was to not put the ham on top of my second and third loaves - I found on the first loaf it just burnt and turned into extremely crispy bacon. Putting the foil on top after it's had chance to brown stops this from happening to the onions that are placed on top.

Don't forget to score it into quarters, as this helps the bread to grow and bake properly.

You can find the original recipe here; I would urge you to go there straight away and bake this little beauty for yourself. I adapted it slightly as per the below:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large red onions, finely sliced
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar

450g plain white flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (double check it's in date as it's the only raising agent in this bread!)
Pinch of dried herbs - I used basil, parsley, a small amount of coriander and rosemary
30g cold salted butter, diced
200g Comte cheese, diced irregularly
80g Prosciutto or other finely sliced ham, roughly torn
300ml buttermilk with 25ml cold water stirred through

Oven temp: 200C/180C Fan oven. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

Warm the oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add the sliced red onions and stir, reducing the heat slightly. Cover and cook for 15 minutes stirring occasionally so they don't stick. Turn the heat down low and add the sugar and vinegar; stir and increase the heat and cook for a further 5 to 8 minutes, until sticky and the vinegar has almost all evaporated. Set aside to cool.

Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda and herbs in a bowl. Using your fingertips rub the butter in until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. I find it easier to keep going until you think it's done and then shake the bowl vigorously to bring any further butter chunks to the top of the bowl.

Keeping back 1 tablespoon of the cooked onions and a small amount of cheese for the topping, add the remaining cheese, onions and all of the proscuitto/ham. Toss to incorporate - at first the onions and ham will clump together but eventually the flour will dry them enough to allow all three ingredients to disperse evenly in the mixture. Just have faith and keep going!

Make a well in the middle of the flour mix and pour in roughly three quarters of the buttermilk and water mixture. Using a clawed hand mix the flour into the buttermilk well until a sticky dough is formed. Add further buttermilk if you feel like the mixture is too dry (I ended up adding all the buttermilk all three times I've made this). It should be fairly sticky and no flour should be left in the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape roughly. You can work it a little bit here but you don't need to. You do need to try and shape the dough though so if you are finding it's falling all over the place you may want to give it a bit of a light battering. Once shaped, transfer onto the greaseproof paper and score the top quite deeply with a cross.

Throw the rest of the cheese and onions on top. Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes and then cover so that the onions don't burn. Bake for a further 20 - 25 minutes or until it comes away cleanly from the greaseproof paper and sounds hollow when tapped.

Cool on a wire rack; at least until lukewarm as this is truly a bread that needs a little time to sit and chill. The runny cheese inside though is quite a treat if you can't wait that long!