October 24, 2008

Friday High Tea Challenge Number One... Take Two...

I know I will regret this.
What I am about to do will undoubtedly incur the wrath of Miss Rose, and I know I will suffer the consequences of my actions in due course. But I ask you, how can I possibly resist the temptation of a sarcastic taunt when, on the rarest of occasions, Miss Rose strays from her organisational best?
You see, it was decided that in addition to baking Sundays when we would combine our baking prowess, Miss Rose and Miss Emily would also face-off against one another in our probably-monthly Friday High Tea Challenge. Miss Rose – the competitive little poppet that she is – thought this was a fantastic idea, and suggested our first challenge be a simple biscuit. No filling, no icing, just a plain but delicious biscuit of your choosing. So the occasion of our first Friday High Tea saw the following entrants…
Miss Emily's..................................Miss Rose's…
I realise the scheduling of work obligations was out of Miss Rose's hands and a postponement was unavoidable, but following the filthy slander I received earlier in the week, and the power vested in me as official blog scribe, I just couldn't help myself. So in the absence of any real competition, the chewy, caramel pistachio-apricot oatmeal cookies prevailed and Miss Emily was declared the unofficial winner of the "preliminary challenge" that was Friday High Tea. Consequently, I was therefore bestowed with the task of selecting the theme for our next challenge.
Miss Rose is principally responsible for acquiring the ingredients required by Team Pretty Bake, and over the past few weeks has met with some delightful providores who have shown a keen interest in Team Pretty Bake, offered many helpful tips and suggestions in regards to their own areas of expertise, and have provided some of the finest produce to be used in the construction of our creations. Mr. Peter not only supplied the quatre épices for our simple country terrine, but offered the following sagely advice: within the pages of the Presbyterian Women's Missionary Union Centenary Cookbook (1904-2004) can be found "recipes of sublime simplicity and taste". His case in point was their butter cream, so it seemed fate that this should serve as the theme for Team Pretty Bakes first official Friday High Tea Challenge.
The rules of baking were simple: (i) a 'plain' cake to serve as the butter cream canvas; (ii) fillings were allowed but should not detract from the feature cream, and (iii) butter cream was to be made using the basic PWMU recipe lovingly bestowed by Mr Peter, and could be adapted to one's desired flavourings. If attempts at the specified butter cream failed, a back-up could be employed, but the original must be submitted "in-bowl" and points would be deducted accordingly.
Now, when I say "a basic, classic butter cream", I would just like to point out to those who do not bake that nothing about a classic butter cream is basic. Adding soft-ball sugar syrup to egg yolks is fraught with danger, and I will reluctantly admit that my first attempt was an absolute disaster. I did, however, quickly learn from my mistakes, and the luscious butter cream that resulted the second time around was well worth the frustration. Miss Rose was less willing to confide her encountered difficulties (need I reiterate just how competitive she can be?), but I suspect this was a learning experience for us both.
So, after a long night of baking and appropriate arrangements made to balance artistic presentation and transport logistics, we arrived at Friday High Tea. Contestants, your submissions please…

Miss Emily's vanilla bean buttermilk cake with orange curd butter cream

Miss Rose's white sponge with praline butter cream; so pretty! Yes indeed!

Miss Emily took a classic approach – a simple vanilla bean buttermilk cake topped with a luscious butter cream enriched with tangy orange curd. Judges were impressed with the "traditional yet elegant" design and enjoyed the tang, but thought the cake "could have been moister".
Miss Rose, on the other hand, intended to win over the judging panel with a high degree of difficulty, (store-bought) "pretty flowers", and a not-so-subtle attempt at subliminal suggestion (see last-minute place card). Judges were particularly impressed by the "consistency of layering" of white sponge and praline butter cream, and those that detected the use of apricot jam lubrication thought this added "a nice tang". The serving of this carefully constructed masterpiece was met by many "oohs" and "aahs", and although some felt that perhaps the flavourings were "a little overpowering", for others it was a case of "tastebud parties".
Both cakes were thoroughly enjoyed by all, and while most judges would have been happy to retire to their workstations with a strong cup of tea to recover from their respective sugar-highs, a task was still at hand. This was, after all, a Friday High Tea Challenge. And as there can be only one, the winner is…

Miss Rose and her divine praline butter cream!
While the vote tally showed that the two were inseparable on taste, flavour and texture, Miss Emily's buttermilk cake was simply no match for the impressive crafting of Miss Rose's layered sponge.
So having learnt that taste alone will not win you the prize, Miss Emily retired to the drawing room to work on her creativity. Miss Rose, basking in the adulation and sugar-drenched glory of a thoroughly deserved win, looked down from the dizzying heights of her success, and quietly pondered what theme to select for Team Pretty Bakes next Friday High Tea.

Will Miss Rose retain her crown, or crumble under the pressure of trying to uphold FHTC supremacy? Will Miss Emily get her creative juices flowing, or continue to be 'the plain one'? Tune in next time to find out!

October 20, 2008

Froglettes for a weekend...

Team Pretty Bake's French baking odyssey began in the wee hours of Saturday morning. A combination of work commitments, obligatory slow cooking incubations and a Sunday morning walkathon meant work began early. Miss Emily was left alone in the kitchen to begin the simple country terrine, and my oh my, there is nothing quite like offal to start the day. Or pork back fat for that matter. Still, we must do these things for the greater good.

The terrine filling marinating contently in the fridge, it was time for bônet. Touted as the ultimate dessert combination – caramel, chocolate, custard and nuts – Team Pretty Bake thought it was a worthy addition to their carte du jour. Marsala caramel was poured and set, topped with amaretti-adorned chocolate custard and then all we had to do was wait…
Miss Rose returned from her morning's outings to immediately commence the cassoulet. A simple undertaking this was not. Almost all ingredients were measured by the kilo, there was every cut of pork you could possibly imagine, and then a few that you'd probably rather not.
As Miss Emily took charge of the wild mushroom pate, Miss Rose created the most extraordinary lemon cream imaginable. To go with the pastry case Miss Emily had prepared earlier, how could we possibly hold a classic French luncheon without French lemon cream tart? The terrine was assembled, slow-cooked, and left to press with a rather ingenious method of weighting.
And so it was that Saturday ended in a flurry of preparation but without a single TPB creation consumed. For that, we required patience…


While Miss Emily and her team of willing participants loped and ambled to make good their sponsors expectations, Miss Rose ensured that all was in readiness for Team Pretty Bake Sunday. As the expectant diners descended on Chateau de Rose, they were treated to an entrée of wild mushroom pate and simple country terrine with cornichons, all atop fresh crusty bread.

A short pause to complete construction of sweet delights (you must always, always, whip the lemon cream), and then it was on to the cassoulet. Who knew that pork and beans could be so delicious? Well, obviously the French.

We completed our French experience in style – bônet, lemon cream tart with strawberries, and finally a pungent Gorgonzola served with oat crackers and port-soaked muscatels.


French lemon cream tart

Oat crackers with Gorgonzola and port-soaked muscatels
And with that, our busy weekend was over. Our guests were thoroughly impressed, and Team Pretty Bake contented by their first satisfactory foray into cuisine from the mother continent.
Viva la France.

October 10, 2008

A fine spring day for Sunday baking…

A changing of the seasons saw the day beginning most pleasantly with a perfect springly morning. With Team Pretty Bake now a serious entity – an über-organised, well-oiled machine – we were so prepared there was even a menu…

Breakfast began with crumpets. A virgin experience for us both, it took a labour of love from Miss Rose to make those babies, but with a little technical tweaking along the way, she managed to produce doughy delights that were denser and downright tastier than their store-bought counterparts. Topped with whipped maple butter which melted into every crevasse to produce bursts of sugary goodness, one was inclined to think that every day should begin this way.

Baking fun soon turned serious as Miss Emily sweated over her Marsala sugar syrup. Although showing signs of impatience at the apparent sedentary movement of the candy thermometer, we finally made it to the soft ball, and combining with all stages of dairy breakdown products produced the most velvety, delicious custard I have so far had the pleasure of producing.
Meanwhile, Miss Rose was all over the apple cinnamon sugar bread. Despite concluding that mini loaf tins should be employed for all future sugar breads, what came from the oven was decadently moist and the crunchy nut topping divine. A tasty treat perfectly enjoyed with a good cup of tea.

Of course, as you well know, baking can be hard work, and fuel came in the form of pork polpette. Enjoyed atop crusty white bread and Dench house white sourdough, these delicious little balls of meat rekindled the baking energy and after a short break to enjoy the sunshine, the ladies were back in the kitchen and ready for the next round.

As Miss Emily set about constructing her tiramisu with the help of a strong pot of coffee and ladyfingers that somehow smack of innuendo; Miss Rose continued her quest for gingery satisfaction, this time aided by not dried but fresh ginger roots. If our puerile minds had not yet descended to their usual level of smuttiness, any pretense of elegance and refinement was rapidly destroyed by le vessel de golden syrupee. Few inanimate objects can so effortlessly produce the most horrendously comical fart noises, inducing fits of hysteria from all within auditory circumference, but this little plastic creation achieved such a feat very efficiently. Despite this timely distraction, the ginger cake was completed and the pears caramelised without further ado. What resulted was a deliciously light and moist monster of a cake perfectly complemented by the freshness of the pears and a dollop of yoghurt cream. The use of fresh ginger seemed to achieve a subtlety of flavour without losing its intensity. Rather than slapping you in the face it instead did so surreptitiously from within.

With the baking complete, Team Pretty Bake sought sustenance in the form of good old bangers and mash, and hurriedly moved on to dessert…

Here I will pause to preempt the biggest failure of the day in saying that we both agreed that this was indeed the best tiramisu we have so far had the pleasure of consuming. That said, things did go a little awry, with – how shall I put this – a catastrophic failure in the structural integrity of our creations.

Oh dear!

Looks aside, they tasted fantastic, and with some lessons learnt in the fundamentals of baking architecture, we will certainly be doing that again. It is also worth noting that mother tiramisu was definitely more stable, and a little bit of patience also helps with the hold.

So with that we concluded the first official Team Pretty Bake event. Satisfied with our creations we retired with a pot of tea to set about planning our next baking adventures. Perhaps a tour de France…

TPB gets a uniform…

The fledgling activity of Team Pretty Bake saw a flurry of culinary excitement.
So many things to bake!
Our little hearts aflutter with nervous enthusiasm we quickly went into organisational overdrive. A plan was hatched to embark on Christmas baking of epic proportions… but there was something missing. How could the imagined Team Pretty Bake materialise in all its glory without appropriate kitchen apparel? Aprons were needed, and they were needed fast! In consultation with Sewmeister Sue a pattern was quickly traced, materials bought, modifications made, frills applied, and from a flurry of sewing and ironing mayhem emerged five pretty little pinafores. What follows is a montage of apronly delights. Do excuse the model, who is both inexperienced and in various stages of tolerance regarding the happy snapper behind the camera. Adding the "pretty" to Team Pretty Bake, just imagine what we can do in these puppies…

Doughnut matinee…

Although a solo effort and not specifically a Team Pretty Bake occasion, I cannot help but send you to nuts of dough.
Miss Rose hosted a breakfast which in other circumstances may not have been so enjoyed due to pre-wedding jitters. Instead, the almost-bride Miss Emily and some treasured friends were treated to a feast of pesto-feta scrambled eggs with trout atop buttered cornbread… But the doughnuts…Oh my, the doughnuts. Doughy goodness, apple-maple filling, a butter bath and a shiny cinnamon sugar coat. Need I say more? So amazing they deserve a blog of their own:

From the primordial soup a flower emerges…

Before Team Pretty Bake was but a twinkle in our collective eyes, Misses Rose and Emily embarked on their first baking adventure, in search of novel culinary delights and a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Little did we know that this delightful day would spawn such a creature that is being nurtured as Team Pretty Bake. The planning was only momentary, and the photography experimental (read inexperienced and highly under-qualified), but if this was just the beginning, imagine what's to come.

Our first event was a simple affair. The outlay was simple – only things that required the use of Miss Rose's newly adopted Kitchen Aid® (with hilariously over-sized transformer which was indeed more than meets the eye) could be made.

Consultations were made with the omnipotent Mrs. Alexander and Beer, the source of all things that must be true was extensively googled, and combined with Miss Rose's quest to uncover the ultimate gingerbread recipe, the following menu was set:

Fig and Walnut Torte
The baking was intense, the whipping most furious, and fuelled by chicken quesadillas, we completed our first ever baking extravaganza with just a hint of self-satisfaction. As Team Pretty Bake was not yet conceived and the planning not yet blog-inclusive, I will simply give you pictures…



Fig and Walnut Torte

A little bit of serious before we begin…

Before we begin, I must deal with a matter of some seriousness.
Around four months ago, my world fell apart. Two and a half months before our wedding, and almost eight years since we became "us", my beautiful Shane died.

Grief is an unusual thing. It is with you constantly, digging in its claws when you're unprepared, and generally making life less than bearable. At times it can be overwhelming. It is simultaneously gut-wrenchingly real and yet so surreal that it is difficult to comprehend all that has happened. Grief is a very personal thing. As far as I'm concerned you don't recover from grief, you just learn how better to live with it. You don't "move on" from tragedy, but rather move forward, taking as much as you can with you into the new life that you must make for yourself. This is something I am not yet ready for. I am afraid of what lies ahead, and I don't yet want to let go of who I was. I know I am already lost, and I hope what I have become will not last for long. Happiness is but a distant memory that I hope will some day return. Life will forever be tainted by a burden I alone must bear, but we can still long for the return of genuine laughter.
We continue to move forward simply because we have to. As much as we'd rather it didn't, the sun will always set then rise on a new day; and it is of no great surprise that our simple wants cannot alter the laws of physics. We move through a mixture of bad days and worse days, but we know we must move, because to stand still would dishonour his memory. That's not to say it is easy. I was not prepared for the devastation or emptiness, but I was even less prepared for the effort required to make it through each day. Was normal life always like this and you just never noticed because you had someone to share it with and to live for?
But I am getting sidetracked. This is not a blog to air my emotional insecurities or give a semi-anonymous voice to my grief. I have already shared well beyond my comfort zone, and it is unlikely to happen again. This is simply a distraction, a means to give a sense of purpose to each day, and a manner of preoccupation when I need a break from the inner turmoil. And so it is to business…
There are two things that have helped get me through the past few months – preoccupation and friends. To always make sure you have something to do or work towards stops you from sinking into the internal abyss, and this is usually better achieved with the love and fine company of good friends. And so it was that when I needed some form of distraction, the lovely Miss Rose stepped in with a proposition. Miss Rose and I share a number of interests, and to be honest, a few anal-retentive and OCD mannerisms as well. One distinct commonality bordering on insane obsession is a love for all things baking and kitchenware. With our powers combined, we rapidly progressed from some politely enthusiastic discussions over coffee to conceptual planning of epic proportions… And thus, Team Pretty Bake was born. A collective gathering of foodie intellect designed to challenge, impress (nay astound), preoccupy and be shared with those we love. Together we will bake, we will eat, and like true foodie wankers, share our culinary hijinks with anyone we can. And so with that, let the baking begin!