Easy Afghan Biscuits, My Flora Addiction and 200 Seal Pups

We have been traveling around New Zealand for a month now and with our budget diminishing and the up-coming Inca Trail, we have spent a lot of time walking up and down mountains. Which has led me to a not-so-mild obsession of drawing flora. My worry with flowers and cakes is, that they can become ‘fluffy’ – sickly sweet looking and way too pretty. It’s dodgy territory which I need to keep a close eye on! But, inspired by the rainforest hikes, alpine summits and the springlike weather that New Zealand has in August, (it’s glorious!) my sketchbook filled with doodles of ferns, moss and tiny blossoms. Blossoms that can only survive in hardy conditions, like a heather; where even in snow and wind it can still produce a buds of colour.

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Then, as if in complete rebellion, yesterday I came across a magnificent display of multicoloured poppies in Nelson city. Possibly one of the most fragile looking flowers ever. And now I can’t stop drawing them either. So I thought I would blog a few sketches which I am excited to incorporate into my cakes when I get home: in 55 days and 3 countries time.

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As well as incredible views of snow caped mountains, red woods, mirrored lakes and the ocean, we have also come across lots of seals! In Kaikoura (south island) I went to a little waterfall where the baby seal pups go until they reach abut 9 months old. Here they are safe from predators, learn social skills and become pretty nifty at walking (waddling) on rocks. They are incredibly curious fellas and kept poking their noses on my legs when I tried to pose for this picture. It was a very emotional experience to see them so safe and wild – for once a happy story about animals surviving and the numbers actually growing. There are at least 200 pups that play here.

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‘Easy As’ Afghan Biscuit Recipe

Now for some kiwi baking! We found these on display in lots of cafes, a true regional treat. They are fabulously chocolatey and the corn flakes add a bit of crunch, so you gotta try them. Also, I reckon they would keep quite well for about a week in an airtight jar, which is always handy for when you have surprise guests for tea. Something that I really miss whilst I’ve been travelling. Don’t leave out the walnut by the way, it’s crucial and works so well with the chocolate, also, it looks really cool sat on top.

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Ingredients:
200g butter, softened
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 1/4 cups flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 1/3 cups cornflakes
Chocolate icing, recipe follows
1/2 cup walnut halves, to decorate

1. Heat oven to 180 degrees and line two baking trays with non-stick baking paper.

2. Place butter and sugar in a bowl and beat until pale and creamy. Sift flour and cocoa powder over creamed mixture and stir to combine. Lastly, stir in cornflakes.

3. Place tablespoonfuls of mixture on prepared baking trays. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until firm and golden brown. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

4. Ice the cold biscuits with chocolate icing and decorate with a walnut half.
You can see more recipes like this on here: http://www.nzwomansweekly.co.nz/food/recipes

Last note of the day:
On thursday we are in Fiji and I hear that guinea pig should be on the menu. Fun! I will report back.

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Warm, Homemade Cinnamon Shortbread

bunny and tea
Feeling festive in July isn’t common, but today I am drinking tea with warm, homemade cinnamon shortbread. Mmmmmmm!
You can join me too, just add a heaped teaspoon of ground cinnamon and a squeeze of lemon juice to this shortbread recipe on Mumsnet.com
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I also made Lemon, Thyme and Ginger Shortbread out of half of the dough. It has been a very fun baking trial I must say.
These are two recipes that are strong contenders for my 2013 Christmas Hampers.
Oh, and another thing that is fun is the very occasional, surprise cookie cutter…weee!
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Homemade Lemon, Thyme and Ginger Shortbread

GTL shortbread
I know it’s only July but as I get back to the UK in late October I am starting to think about my Christmas Hampers. I’m at my friend’s house in Sydney this week and am playing Cakery in her Kitchen whilst she is at work during the day, it’s very fun indeed.
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So, I have a few recipes I need to try in my notepad and first up was shortbread. I have never made any before and with my usual baking arrogance, I decide not to follow just one recipe.
The basic shortbread recipe I chose to follow was from MumsNet.com. One point on the recipe is that my friends oven took twice as long to turn the nice golden colour, so play around with your oven if you are going to try out some shortbread of your own.
So, I didn’t add the vanilla, it sounds lovely but I wanted to branch out into something a bit more interesting.
I divided the dough into 2 and for the first batch I added grated fresh ginger, chopped lemon rind, lemon juice and fresh thyme leaves.
(The 2nd batch I made was Cinnamon and Lemon Shortbread)
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This recipe turned out some lovely, buttery biscuits, but next time I will go full pelt with the additional flavours – less is not more with shortbread apparently!
There is no point using fun ingredients if they don’t jump up and say ‘hello’ when you eat them. Especially not in my Christmas Hampers. Oh, and another thing, the smell of these fun shortbreads cooking was ridiculous, the warm thyme really fills the house with lots of yummy more-ish-ness.
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My Day Baking Bread in the ‘Blackbird Bread’ Nest!

Blackbird Bread
@blackbirdbread Hello, we bake bread and cake for Twickenham! Check out our blog http://blackbirdbread.blogspot.co.uk/

Lorna
@lornas_cakery
 ooh! Do you fancy letting me see your bread making skills? I’m desperate to get better! I could pay you in cake? X

Blackbird Bread

@blackbirdbread Sounds like a fair deal! Let’s get something sorted out!

And it was as simple as that. We met up the following friday at Mark’s house – Mr and Mrs Blackbird run a micro-bakery from home. This is where they bake bread for their local residents up and down the street (well, actually now its a fair few streets as the word has spread of the wonderfully light, fluffy, crusty warm homemade bread!)

Is it time for a bigger oven yet Mark?

When I arrived, at the leisurely 10am, Mark had already been baking for 5 hours. He bakes 3 times a week and gets orders via text message from his neighbours, it sounds so simple and it really works. So anyway, I walked in and was allowed to get stuck in straight away! I was so excited to have a day of messy hands and floury clothes whilst learning a real trade from a true home baker. It was the best day. We made so many loaves…

  • a White Loaf,
  • Focaccia
  • Hippy Loaf,
  • Spelt Loaf,
  • Hippy Loaf
  • and a Wholemeal Loaf

MEGA!

I was allowed to bake and take home two loaves, so I chose a white loaf…
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and the Hippy Loaf (lots of seeds and texture in this one, and some honey… mmmmmmm!) this was before it was in the firey hot oven…IT’S COVERED IN POPPY SEEDS! Just awesome.
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I was truley spoilt and all I paid Mr and Mrs Blackbird was a Fudge cake, I am in debt to them as I learnt tonnes and they were so generous with thier time and patience. They even put up with my stupid jokes and sense of humour – for instance, when I arrived the first thing I said to break the ice was; “Well this is weird isn’t it!” (I was referring to meeting on twitter and then turning up at thier home to bake bread a week later) anyway…

Throughout the day I kept telling Mark how he should run ‘bread days’ – classes from home. He was such a great teacher and zapped the fear out of baking bread. I went along with concerns that there was a ‘trick’ to kneading that I wasn’t getting right, or something really wrong with what I was doing. But in actual fact I think I was just giving up before mastering THE BREAD. I also realised I wasn’t ‘stretching the dough’ and making the dough work hard during the riseing process – a must if you want a light loaf! My loaves before were really dense.

I remember my first few sponges (OK I was only about 12 years old) but they were pants! They didn’t rise and they dipped in the middle but I just kept going and voila, now they are pretty tasty.  I think the key is understanding the ingredients. For instance – don’t put the salt and the yeast on top of each other when you put them in the bowl (the salt kills the yeast) and other tips like, have a really hot hot hot HOT HOT HOT oven ready for your loaf to go into. And, if possible get a heavy-duty pan in the bottom of the oven so you can put some water in it to create steam and get an awesome crust on your bread.

All this info and more tips can be found on BlackBird Bread’s blog – Please check it out and give it a go, it’s really fun! (or, if you are local to Twickenham, text the nest and get Mark to bake you some!)

This little bread adventure happened last November, just before the Cake International competition and the 2012 Hamper mayhem … and because I have been so crazy busy (Oh, and the fact I am rubbish!) I havent written this post until now. I also have to confess, my bread making hasn’t taken off quite how I had anticipated – but I am not giving up, I just need a few hours spare but with the kitchen now packed up and our around the world trip next week, I’m gonna have to wait until November to finish what I have started and really master The Bread.

In the meantime, if you want to get into bread, Mark recommends checking out (@danielscookhous) Daniel Stevens, a fine bread master as well as the amazing (@dan_lepard) Daniel Lepard, baking guide for the Guardian.co.uk and judge on the Aussie Bake Off.

So, signing out for now, THANK YOU MR AND MRS BLACKBIRD, TRUE BREAD MASTERS!! x