23 March 2013

Review: Paul Hollywood's How to Bake

Hello lovelies! Busy week again -I missed the train on Wednesday, so got back over an hour late; on Thursday I attended an open evening on post-sixth form options and on Friday I was working all evening. On top of that, all my teachers have decided to give me lots of work all over Easter because -argh -exams are just a few weeks away.

I have mentioned in previous posts about my love of Paul Hollywood's How to Bake, so I thought it was about time I posted up a review. My Father and I have been making our way through many of the bread recipes in there, and there hasn't been a disappointment yet.
How to Bake is largely a book on breads, but towards the back there are chapters on pastries; puddings, bisuits and cakes; and pies. The breads are sorted into chapters of progressing difficulty, from basic and flavoured breads to sourdoughs, so the book is a staple for those learning, and is full of fresh ideas for bakers of any ability. I would like to get a new sourdough starter going for some breads, and I am also pretty keen to try my hand at croissant -How to Bake includes a recipe for frangipan-filled almond croissants, which are my absolute favourite, so my aim is to perfect those.

Hollywood includes invaluable tips on techniques, such as oiling a surface for kneading the bread dough rather than flouring, using a dough hook for stickier breads and how to form a neat loaf.

We've made milk loaves, white bloomers, tricky-to-knead fruit loaves; the softest 'barm cakes' (white rolls) and this rich rye cobbler:
There are some intriguing filled rolls and flat breads with toppings that look mouth watering. I'd love to make some crumpets, but I need to get hold of some crumpet rings, or at least some biscuit cutters first. Careful readers will notice a few recipes from Bake Off including Pithivier, studel and wholemeal scones.

If you want a book specifically on bread, and ways in which to use it, I'd recommend Hollywood's new book Paul Hollywood's Bread. But How to Bake is a gem that is really worth having, regardless of your baking ability.

18 March 2013

Kew Gardens

I am writing a somewhat different post to the norm today. Last week, myself and the rest of the RSPB's Phoenix Forum members were invited to hold our latest meeting in Kew Gardens.

The Royal Botanical Gardens, to give them their full name, was first created in 1759, and was later bought by King George 3rd to use the Dutch House there as a nursery for his children. Kew Gardens became famed for it's large collection of exotic plants in the Victorian era, and would later become known as the location for the mapping of plant DNA into an accurate family tree for a huge number of species. It is also utterly gorgeous, both within the grounds and inside the impressive glass houses.

We were treated to a behind the scenes tour of one of the conservatories holding orchids and cacti, which was fascinating.There was such a huge array of species from around the globe, including some ferocious carnivorous plants, like the Sundew plant that was so sticky that when you touched it, you had to put considerable effort into pulling your finger away. A fly would have no chance!

 The most impressive plants were easily the group of Titan Arum plants, also known as carrion flowers due to the smell of rotting flesh that they emit when flowering. Luckily, when we went, all the plants were safely in leaf or berry form. The plants were huge -they can reach over 3m in height -and had some pretty unusual traits.  Despite it's size, the plant that you see above is just one single leaf structure. It gradually stores energy from photosynthesis -energy from the sun -in a huge tuber. Each year it dies back, to produce either a new leaf or a group of berries. It can take ten years worth of storing energy before the plant is able to produce it's famously smelly flower. Frankly though, I'm not sure that I would go near a Titan Arum fully flowered -much to much like Day of the Triffids for my liking!!

In all, it was a really interesting day, and for a first visit to Kew, I was impressed. I was also pretty surprised to spot lots of parakeets; as a non-Londoner, I had forgotten that lots had escaped into the South East!!

13 March 2013

Competition Wins: Benefit and Cath Kidston

I thought that I'd do a quick post on a couple of things that I've won lately. Both came through the post this last week, which was a nice surprise.
The first was an umbrella from Benefit Cosmetics. It was a Twitter giveaway for their popular blusher, Hervana, (which I really want need to get!) being a year old. It didn't turn up after some weeks, so I sent a message to Benefit querying this, who quickly replied and dispatched me another one in under a week, which was great. I wanted a new umbrella, and this one is really pretty, with a proper, vintage-y curled handle, so I am a happy bunny right now!

 Above is a cheeky sneak peak at my new bedding. I'm waiting for my curtains to be made, and I'm thinking of getting a dresser or chest of drawers, then I will do a bedroom post ;)

Next, came my Cath Kidston oven mitt from the lovely Victoria of Victoria's Vintage. I was really happy when I opened this up, as the mitt came in one of my favourite prints, Trailing Floral. The giveaway was sponsored by the Lifestyle Boutique, whom I would love to start buying from. They wrapped the oven mitt up in their signature gift wrap, which was a nice touch. I haven't been able to try it out yet, but by the feel of the fabric, it is pretty heat resistant, which is a must.

Hopefully, these will be the first of many competition wins... fingers crossed!

10 March 2013

Lemon Cupcakes

Last week I showed you my cupcake designs inspired by a Cath Kidston competition. I made a few batches of these over the week due to various commitments and requests for sugary treats, and I think that I have just about nailed the perfect recipe. Previously, I found that plain cupcake recipes either give me too much of a sloppy mix resulting in heavy cupcakes, or are based on a classic sponge which is to dry a recipe to work for portion-sized cakes. Then I hit upon the idea of using cornflower to thicken the mix and give a light texture. I am an advocate of creaming butter and sugar together, rather than blitzing the butter into the dry ingredients, because it is so easy to be left with a few sneaky lumps of butter. I also like to use lemon curd to give an extra tangy kick.
Lemon Cupcakes -makes 12 large cupcakes or 18-24 fairy cakes
  • 60g butter, at room temperature
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • Zest of 1-2 lemons
  • 2 tbsp lemon curd (optional)
  • 10g corn flour
  • 150ml lukewarm milk, ideally whole
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt (if butter is unsalted)
Preheat the oven to gas mark 3, 170'C
Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl for around five minutes, until creamy and fluffy. Gently beat in the egg -if I have time, I like to separate the egg, give the white a quick beat, then slowly add them in, egg white first. This gives a lighter texture and helps to ensure that the egg doesn't curdle. Beat in the zest and curd, if using.
Mix the corn flour with a little of the milk to form a paste. Add in the rest of the milk slowly to the corn flour paste, stirring well to avoid any lumps. Gradually add half of this to the creamed butter mix. Makes sure that is incorporated, and add in half of the flour with the baking powder, mix, then keep on adding and alternating the milk and flour to the mix until everything is combined. If using, add the salt.
Note: to make vanilla cupcakes, omit the lemon zest and curd, and add vanilla essence to the milk.
Spoon into the cake cases so that each is around two thirds full. Bake for 20-25 minutes -if making smaller cakes, keep an eye on them after 15 minutes -until lightly golden, and they spring back when touched. While they cool, get making the icing. You could simple spread over a little lemon curd, topped with a circle of fondant icing, or make my lemony buttercream:
Lemon Buttercream:
  • 250g icing sugar, sifted a couple of times
  • 50g butter, softened
  •  Zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 tsp lemon curd
  • Milk -I needed 10-15ml.
Gently cream the icing sugar and butter together. I usually do this by hand to save mess. It always amazes me how it all comes together when it looks like there is nowhere near enough butter for the amount of icing. Add the zest and curd, then start to beat, adding milk a drop at a time until you have the right consistency. The icing should be stiff enough to hold it's shape for piping. Continue to beat for at least five minutes with an electric mixer until the icing is nice and light. Transfer into a piping bag, and get icing!

4 March 2013

Gratin au Poisson Fumé

Smoked Fish Bake
I tried out a new Rachel Khoo recipe yesterday, which turned out really well. We had some smoked haddock, which is one of my favourite fish and it is ideal for this fish pie. Usually, fish pie in my house involves salmon and mash, but you would hardly recognise this dish for the more usual salmon pie. This is lovely served with runner beans.
  •  750g (8-10) medium potatoes -this is a good way of using up cooked potatoes like roasties
  • 250g smoked haddock or other white fish
  • Optional: steamed veg such as celery, carrots or peas. This helps to make the dish go further.
  • Handful of chopped fresh parsley
  • Handful of mature cheese -I used smoked Cheddar and Parmesan, but Comté or Gruyere would be even better
  • For the Béchamel sauce:
  • 30g butter
  • 30g plain flour
  • 500ml lukewarm milk (ideally whole)
  • 1/4 onion, skin removed, studded with around 5 cloves
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed by a knife
  • 1 bay leaf
  • grating of nutmeg
  • salt and white pepper
(If using fresh potatoes and veg, set them to steam now)
Firstly, make the Béchamel sauce. In a large, heavy-based sauce pan, melt the butter over a medium heat. Add the flour and beat until smooth. Remove from the heat for two minutes, then slowly add the milk, whisking and beating constantly. Put the pan back on the heat, adding the onion, garlic and bay leaf, and keep beating regularly else the sauce will burn. Simmer for ten minutes, loosening with a little milk if needed. Remove the onion, garlic and bay leaf, and season with the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Using white pepper is purely aesthetic -black pepper will leave black speckles, but is perfectly fine to use. I used my favourite smoked salt from The Cornish Sea Salt Company, to enhance the flavour. Allow to cool a little.

Preheat the oven to 180'C, Gas mark 4.
Chop the potatoes to 1/2 cm slices. Skin the fish and cut into bite-sized chunks and add to the Béchamel sauce, along with the parsley (save a little to garnish) and vegetables, if using. Spoon into a baking dish, and top with the potatoes. Sprinkle over the cheese and remaining parsley, and bake for 25 minutes. If you like a crunchier, caramelised top, leave for an extra five minutes. Serve, and enjoy.

2 March 2013

Liebster Award

I am very excited to say that Jojo of Miss Jojangles has nominated Coffee with Croissants for the Liebster Award!
If you are nominated, you need to:
  1. List 11 facts about yourself.
  2. Answer the 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated you.
  3. Chose 11 bloggers with under 200 followers to nominate, and let them know that they have been picked
  4. Write 11 new questions for them
  5. Finally, leave a link back to the blogger who nominated you.
So.... 11 facts about me!!
  1. I did gymnastics for some six years when I was younger, training 13 hours every week. Sufficed to say, I am not as fit as that now!
  2. I am a huge foodie now, but when I was younger I was so fussy that I once spent an hour and a half picking my way through some rice dish.
  3. My favourite TV presenter/chef/awesome person is Rachel Khoo. She is something of an inspiration of mine. :)
  4. I used to seem to have the lucky gene. I always won raffles and tombola's -once winning three out of four available hampers -and my parents always got me to pick raffle and lottery tickets. Sadly, since I became old enough to buy scratch cards, I haven't won a thing!
  5. I have never broken any bones, but I am quite good at getting bruises. 
  6. I don't tan. Every year, I get some awful burn line, which eventually fades.... back to whiteness.
  7. There are times when I think I should be in my thirties. Tea party? Hell yes! Dinner party? Nice. Night clubbing.... not so much. House parties are always fun though, so there's still a bit of teenager in me!
  8. I love vintage clothes, but I'm not often brave enough to wear them!
  9. I didn't take English lit A level, and I really, really miss it. But I'm glad I took what I did, even if Maths is insanely hard!
  10. When I was five, I went to a glass blower's demo in Bath, and for ages afterwards, I wanted to do it as a job!
  11. I think that afternoon tea is possibly the world's greatest invention. Yum!

Jojangles asked me:
  1. Who is your favourite blogger? This is so hard!! I was looking through my Bloglovin page, trying to work out who I read the most of... can I pick three?! I love LauraLovesCakes, and I am always checking out Victoria's Vintage's latest posts. I like to follow Grey+Scout for beautiful interiors ideas. Actually, speaking of bloggers, please post your links down below! I love finding new people.
  2. What is your favourite sound? Right now I am sat at my desk; it is pretty quiet with just the sounds of some birds outside, and that is pretty nice. I can't concentrate even on little things if its too noisy.
  3. What was the last concert that you went to and what is your dream concert? A couple of weeks ago, I went to see the amazing Paloma Faith. I'd like to see someone in one of the really big arenas, with a really talented soloist or band like Bellowhead.
  4. Do you have a lucky number? Don't really have one.
  5. If you could play an instrument, what would it be? I was awful at learning to play anything! Despite school recorder and violin lessons, extra curricular guitar lessons and attempts at the saxaphon, I cannot play anything! I never practised. But if I could play the piano effortlessly, that would be cool.
  6. Favourite childhood story? I read A LOT as a kid! Still do, though I have less time. I read a gorgeous book called North Child (also know as East) which is based on Norwegian folk tales, and Beauty and the Beast, and I still think about it today. Then, obviously, I was a total Potter-head seeing as the series is pretty much as old as I am!
  7. Have you ever dyed your hair? Nope. I am a natural blonde, and happy that way! 
  8. Do you have a nerdy guilty pleasure? For whatever reason, a lot of the guys that I know are Lord of the Rings geeks, and I'm always happy to join in with the Frodo-Samwise bromance talks! But love flipping through recipe books as a bit of kitchen geekery!
  9. Could you give up Facebook? Well as a administrator of a couple of groups I have an excuse not to! But even without it I couldn't. I'm far too nosey!!
  10. What are your favourite flavours? Very similar to Jojangles! Cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon, coconut, chilli.... I love dishes that kick! Just maybe not all of those flavours together...
  11. If you have to go back in time, when would you live? If I were in some nice wealthy family, I'd say the 1920-30's because of all the Art Deco influences and the Jazz Era. But I'd also love the 50's/early 60's for the nostalgia. Both of these eras had a lot of reform and developments like today, so they would be pretty exciting to live in.
My questions:
  1. It's a little cliché, but  I would love to live in Paris. Which city would you like to live in?
  2.  Over the years, I have found some amazing tea rooms and café's. Where is your favourite place to eat?
  3. Horror films -love them or loath them? (I can't even watch the Woman in Black without hiding!)
  4. I am seriously addicted to chocolate. What is your addiction?
  5. Are you a bookworm?
  6. You're given £1000 to spend on one thing. What would it be?
  7. Favourite place? It could be a country, place or even a cosy corner in your house.
  8. Apple or Windows?
  9. Did you make a new year's resolution, and have you been sticking to it? ;)
  10. Be honest: Are you a tidy or messy person? I'm a bit lazy about putting things, but I hate things looking out of place, so eventually do a tidy round.
  11. What is your favourite item in your house?
My chosen bloggers:
  1. Miriam from Coffee Chanel Lipstick
  2. Fiona of 14th and South
  3.  Vicki from Tallulah's Bakery
  4. Jaquina of Jazzyleelbc
  5. Sophie of Sophie's Conscience 
  6. Wil of Gingerbread Lad
  7. Magdalena from Lullaby for Pies
  8. Kelly from Mad about Baking
  9. Rebecca, author of Freckles and Frolics
  10. Helen from Treasure Every Moment
  11. Lauren from A Baked Thesis
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