Posts Tagged ‘baking’

My Favourite UPT

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Throughout my trip to Northern Ireland, I learnt more and more about the Unique Personality Traits (UPTs) of family members and the local population in general. It didn’t take me long to work out what my favourite local custom was – the tray bake. I have never before heard the phrase ‘tray bake’ used as frequently as I did in this country. After confirming that a ‘tray bake’ is Irish/British for what I would call a ‘slice’, it amazed me how regularly it popped up in conversation.

While I was never offered of a tray bake during my stay (although at our first family member visit the table was covered in pikelets, meringues, short bread (one could argue that this is a form of tray bake), biscuits and eventually a trifle, but we had already eaten) I did discover that many of Sir Pubert’s family members had freezers full of pre-prepared tray bakes. And not only tray bakes but scones, soup, and entire meals, all frozen and ready to go on demand. One aunt had nine types of scones in her freezer – now that’s my kind of household. Baked goods on demand.

In honour of what I learned on my trip to Northern Ireland, I spent the afternoon at home today and whipped up a little carrot cake in order to use up some eggs. While it won’t go in the freezer and it isn’t a tray bake, I feel it is the least I can do to recognise the tray bake phenomenon of Northern Ireland.

Carrot cake

Walnutty, carrotty goodness.

Searching for ANZACs

Monday, April 28th, 2014

April is great. It is one of the months of the year that brings GFE (Great Food Eating) opportunities – something I greatly appreciate. Last week I was gorging myself on hot cross buns of both the fruit and chocolate variety. These were backed up by Easter eggs that, while over priced for the cost-to-grams-of-chocolate-ratio, offer such a good excuse for chocolate eating. It would be inappropriate not to eat another Cadbury’s Creme egg – it would hurt the Easter Bunny’s feelings.

Then came ANZAC Day on the 25th April. This year marks the start of the centenary of World War I, an event that has increased in significance for me since moving to England and learning more about my great grandfather. Having a personal connection with the war offers a new level of meaning and it has been quite an emotional discovery for me. So I felt it gravely important to bake Australia’s most significant biscuit in honour of the ANZACs and my great grandfather.

I have now baked ANZACs in three different countries – Australia, France and England. For obvious reasons, sourcing the required ingredients in Australia is a breeze. Every supermarket stocks the required products just in case someone is feeling the urge to bake buttery balls of oaty goodness. No problemo.

France was a challenge; golden syrup is not an ingredient that is frequently used in French cuisine and sourcing a jar of the sticky, sweet syrup was difficult. While it was frustrating, I could understand the lack of golden syrup and I did eventually find it in a supermarket frequented by Anglosaxon expats. Moving to England, I saw golden syrup of the shelves of almost every supermarket and felt great relief that my ANZAC biscuit baking undertakings would be not be hindered by the lack of syrup. But then I tried to find desiccated coconut.

I will start this by stating that most of the supermarkets in Manchester city centre are small and generally useless. There numerous Tesco Expresses and Sainsbury’s Locals that stock your basic necessities at slightly inflated prices. Depending on which supermarket you go to, you can find different items depending on the people who live or work nearby so you can generally find everything you need by visiting one or two stores. HOWEVER, it would appear that no one needs desiccated coconut. I went to five supermarkets looking for the fairly ordinary item but came out empty handed. Where was the coconut? As ANZAC day drew closer, I became increasingly anxious and even contemplated making them without coconut. The horror.

I desperately asked a friend where on earth he thought I would find this ingredient and after looking frazzled and perplexed he suggested I look in China Town. YES. The chinese supermarkets somehow manage to pack everything you could possibly imagine onto their shelves. And sure enough, there it was, next to dried mushrooms and chillies, a bag of mysterious dry white shavings.

I made my ANZACs a day late but I don’t think it matters. They were perfect – crunchy outside and chewy innards. I have now fed them to four Brits experiencing ANZAC biscuits for the first time. And all of them said, “Is there coconut in this?” Yes. Yes there is.



Hands Off My Croquembouche

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

I have always thought my brother is a bit of a genius and have often had little sister jealousy over his ability to be brilliant at EVERYTHING he tries. At school he was always the smart one – he won all of the awards, he was good at maths AND art, and he was loved by all the teachers and students. He has studied various degrees (and been good at ALL of them) and has now moved to England where he is studying artisan baking – the ultimate mix of mathematical precision and artistic flair. He is, of course, doing very well at it.

And while part of me is jealous that once again he has found something he’s freakishly good at, this skill I have been able to benefit from in the form of delicious, delicious baked goods. Mmm… food. Ben met me at Dubai airport on our way home to Perth with a large bag of crumbs which, a few hours earlier, had been chocolate biscuits. I can tell you that there is nothing more satisfying than standing in the middle of Dubai airport at 2 o’clock in the morning stuffing your face with chocolate crumbs. We may have looked like drug addicts eating weird powdery goods from a plastic bag, but it was worth getting arrested over.

And that was just the start – the real treat came for Grandma’s birthday when Ben decided he would attempt the impossible by making a croquembouche (a profiterole tower) in a kitchen he had never been to, in a hotel chalet at the Bunker Bay resort. INSANITY.

Ben baking

I don’t think this kitchen had ever been used for any sort of real cooking up until now.

I volunteered myself as sous-chef and was given the task of finding a round object about the size of a 20 cent coin to then trace circles on baking paper for Ben to pipe regular sized choux pastry balls. Luckily, I have a collection of oversized red rings, one of which was the perfect shape. I was fulfilling my role as sous-chef well so far. A much harder task was to sit for 35 minutes watching a chocolate cake bake in my cousin’s chalet, inhaling wafts of delicious 70% dark chocolate smells as the cake rose and my mouth filled with saliva. That was just cruel.

Ben had never built a croquembouche before and so there was an element of “Is this going to work”? for a majority of the morning. However, as I carefully selected each profiterole based on size and shape, handed them to Ben and he then dipped them in molten sugar and stuck them all together, the miracle of Grandma’s-90th-Birthday came to be. The sugar hardened, the profiteroles stuck together and the tower of goodness came to be.


Adding the final sugary touch

Standing back and watching Ben create this tower was really exciting. Not only was it amazing that the tower didn’t fall over, but the skill and precision Ben used to create the croquembouche meant that the end result was beautiful and looked professionally crafted. So this time, I wasn’t so much jealous of Ben’s skills but proud of the fact that it was MY BROTHER who had made such a wonderful birthday cake for his 90-year old Grandmother. And that I was going to get to eat it.

Birthday cake

Oh cake. I love you.

Ben is almost at the end of his baking course and is currently planning on establishing a bakery with a fellow student in Sheffield. Looks like I’ll be making many trips to England for free baked goods.


Monday, April 30th, 2012

As I mentioned in my last entry, one of the main reasons why I am uncertain about my ability to complete the 40-in-40 challenge is that I need to eat. However, I will claim baking and the invention of desserts as a creative challenge. Therefore my strawberry and rhubarb pie that I baked to take to my friends’ house for dinner counts.

Strawberry and rhubarb pie


It was a bit of a flop. It tasted ok but the pastry didn’t turn out how I hoped and it exploded in the oven, so as far as baking successes go, this wasn’t really one of them. However, we learn from our mistakes, don’t we kids? Next time I know to be less lazy and make my own pastry rather than blindly buying pre-made pastry from the supermarket and choosing the wrong one. Oops.

French ANZACs

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

It is amazing how your pride for your country emerges when you are living overseas. Suddenly national holidays become very significant and I feel like marching and saluting and drinking VB. Actually, that last bit is a lie. I’d never drink VB. Anyway, today being ANZAC day was a great excuse to make biscuits. I have always been an ANZAC biscuit maker. They are so good. Essentially butter balls – who wouldn’t want to make and eat them?


Now that's butter.

Of course, France posed some problems for me when it came to gathering the ingredients. They are not complex things – butter, oats, flour, golden syrup and sugar. That’s about it. However, we’re talking about Paris where I usually visit two to three supermarkets every day in order to get all of the ingredients I need to make a very simple dinner. The two challenge ingredients – oats and golden syrup.

Essentially, I failed on both. I managed to find some quick cooking oats and added some “Toasted Flakes of Five Grains” that one of my ex-Canadian neighbours gave me when she left the Récollets. The golden syrup became impossible and I gave up after three supermarkets. Research on the internet suggests it is possible to find, but many ‘foreign’ ingredients are only found in certain areas of Paris, depending on who lives there. Clearly there aren’t many Brits living in Montmartre or the 10th arrondissement. So an experiment with honey and maple syrup was required.

After 12 minutes in my little Seb oven, deliciousness was created. Amazing!

ANZAC biscuits

Crunchy on the outside, chewy on inside.

Not quite a true blue ANZAC but not bad for a French version.


Sunday, November 27th, 2011

The great thing about living at the Récollets is that I get to meet people from all over the world who bring with them delicious food-based holidays. Tonight Tom and I have been invited to a belated Thanks Giving dinner with our two American friends, Jen and Greg. They have recently managed to score themselves an apartment in Paris (how they managed to do this is still a mystery to me) and so we’re celebrating with turkey and pilgrims.

As I am the proud owner of an oven and I stupidly said, “I’ll do it!”, I have been put in charge of the pumpkin pie. I figured it couldn’t be THAT hard because everyone in America and Canada makes pumpkin pie every year and if they can do it then I can too. It was then that multiple Americans informed me that the now ‘traditional’ way of making pumpkin pie is to buy a pre-made pastry case, pour in canned “Pie Pumpkin” and then bake. That’s called cheating. I not only REFUSED to use canned pumpkin, I also realised there was no way in the world I would ever find it in France, so I then had to find a real pumpkin. That’s almost as difficult. Pumpkin isn’t really France’s number one vegetable, despite it being versatile and utterly delicious! Crazy French. But by some sort of Thanks Giving miracle, I managed to find myself a butternut pumpkin in the first fruit and vegetable store I looked in. Thank you, Holy Pilgrims.

Yesterday evening I made the pastry and the pumpkin mush, in preparation for today, thinking I might be heading out and doing something. Turns out I have spent the entire day at home making this thing. Pastry and I aren’t really friends although I have managed to produce something resembling short crust pastry. It’s just a bit stumpy in the pan and resulting in the size of my pie being reduced significantly. Therefore I had far too much filling, the left overs of which I have just cooked in the oven without pastry in order to taste the pumpkiny-centre to check that no one will die.

And it has been a success! It tastes GOOOOOOOOOOD! I am looking forward to having the pastried version now and am feeling slightly less worried about presenting the pie to my relatively new friends. I figure it isn’t my fault it isn’t the perfect pumpkin pie because I’m not American and therefore do not have the genetics to create such a thing.

Pumpkin pie

Mmm... pie...

A Visit From Big Brother

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Last week saw the arrival of my older brother, Ben, visiting his little sis before heading to England to learn how to bake at the School of Artisan Food. Despite being siblings, we tend to get along quite well and have quite a few things in common, including a desire to make things. We went on an exploratory tour of Paris’s sewing and knitting shops and discovered a few new gems that I will return to another time to either undertake courses or buy fun things like knitting needles, wool and cross stitch patterns. We also completed two courses – a macaron baking course and a knitting course. Fun fun!

The macaron course was run by La Cuisine which delivers English courses on a variety of cooking topics. The course consisted of around 10 people and was run by Jenni, the woman who also happens to bake the cakes that I eat at my favourite coffee shop, Kooka Boora. The students were split into two teams – the other group made a chocolate ganache macaron, while Ben, Tom, another student and I worked on a salted butter caramel macaron. Despite the class only going for two hours, it was very hands on and it was up to the students to make everything. Jenni provided clear explanation and assistance while the students made mixtures, piped macaron biscuits and heated sugar.

The end results were quite impressive for a first attempt and everyone left with a box full of macarons to take home. While Jenni suggested we sample a macaron in its fresh state, she also suggested we leave the rest in the fridge over night as macarons are best served a day old. She was right – by leaving them to settle the outside shell becomes crisp while the inside softens and becomes chewy.


Salted butter caramel macaron

It was a really fun experience and I want to take some more cooking courses. Soon I might rival my brother in his culinary abilities – it will be France vs England in the battle of the baked goods.

The knitting course Ben and I took was held at Sweat Shop, a local sewing/knitting/craft zone where people go and use sewing machines and learn how to sew. We took a two hour course with a very cool, knitted-sweater-wearing Frenchman called Sebastien who in two hours had taught us how to knit, purl, and knit with two colours. Ben was a bit more advanced than me, having learnt to knit in the past few months, but I managed to progress quite quickly which Sebastien was very happy to see. He showed us some of the other beginner students’ work and they were full of holes and generally useless. Not us. We’re pros. So now I have ordered a bunch of knitting books online and am eager to start a project. I’ll need to find some decent knitting needles but I don’t really know what size to purchase. I will investigate once I have a project to work on. I might knit socks and then turn them into sock creatures. That sounds like a good use of time.

Knitting at Sweat Shop

My knitting is just beginning

If you would like to see some more photos of Paris that actually feature me and you want to see what my brother is up to, check out my brother’s Flickr site and visit his website, abitofbutter.


Christmas Eve is Here

Friday, December 24th, 2010

For a while there I just wished it would hurry up but now it has arrived with a big WHACK! It is suddenly Christmas and tonight Father Christmas will come in his sleigh with his flying horses and give everyone presents. Excellent. When I was a kid this moment was one of most unexplainably exciting things that could happen. I would have written a list, made a giant stocking, prepared a glass of milk and a carrot for Santa and his crew and then been far too excited to sleep. This year I have spent the last 2 weeks fretting about what to buy people, complaining about how busy shops are and being a general grouch. Where has my festive spirit gone?

I have realised that I should have just made everyone biscuits. Today I made a batch of Greek Easter biscuits (yes… I know) that are delicious AND the mix makes heaps so I could have given them to everyone. Instead they are forming part of two presents and there are lots left over. Which is also good because I get to eat them. Anyway, this post isn’t really going anywhere – I am currently sitting at home trying to think of things to do. I woke up this morning with a huge list and I have been far too organised and finished way too early. I have two hours until I need to be dressed and ready to go to the boyfriend’s family’s christmas eve party. I might go for a walk.


Birthday Deliciousness

Friday, December 10th, 2010

My Aunt bakes THE BEST chocolate brownie in the world and she recently gave me the recipe so I can make it myself. As we are having family over for my brother’s birthday tomorrow, I decided now was a good time to give it a go. I don’t think mine is as good as my Aunt’s but I’m still willing to eat it.

Chocolate brownie

Mmm... brownie...

When a brownie calls for 250 grams of sugar and just as much butter and lindt chocolate, you know it is going to be good.

Ba-na-na-na-na-na Ba-na-na…

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Make those bodies sing!

It appears that I will do anything for cake. I woke up early this morning, fell out of bed into my sporting outfit (aka. ye olde clothes) and ran (yes, RAN) to my local IGA to buy walnuts. I then ran home, de-stunk and before you could say “Tie me kangaroo down” I was in the kitchen baking banana bread. The results of which you can see here:

Banana bread


A free piece (Terms and Conditions apply, mainly if I’ve eaten it all or you live too far away then tough biccies – make your own.) is on offer to the person who can explain to me the difference between banana bread and banana cake. Because really, in my opinion, this recipe is called “Banana and walnut bread” however the resulting product is very cake like. And if I tried toasting this it would fail miserably and would just crumble. Plus the few times that I have had banana bread at cafés it has just been like eating cake for breakfast and I have felt deliciously guilty at the end of it. So either a. I can’t follow recipe instructions or b. there is no difference or c. Women’s Weekly LIED to me. Someone please reveal the truth!