November 17, 2008

Strawberry fields forever...

…It's getting hard to be someone but it all works out
It doesn't matter much to me
Let me take you down, 'cause I'm going to…
'Twas a crisp November morning that saw Team Pretty Bake embark on their first countryside adventure in the form of a leisurely drive in search of Fragarian fields. It was a beautiful day indeed, and as we slowly distanced ourselves from the bustling metropolis, it immediately became apparent that Miss Rose had not often ventured far from her city dwellings. Her delighted squealings and excited exclamations as to the identity of various farmyard inhabitants were equally met by my own pointed expletives describing the nature and direction of the road ahead.
Travelling misadventures aside, following a brief diversion to be beside the sea (and, oh, how we did like it), we arrived at our intended destination that was a Ridge most Sunny. To the fields we did go, and immediately commenced picking. These Earthly delights were warm and ripe, ruby red and simply glistening in the morning sun. Enveloped in the heavenly scent of sun-ripened strawberries, we quickly filled our buckets and thoroughly enjoyed the country air.

Strawberries, you may be interested to note, are in fact a "false fruit". Unlike what I presume to be true fruit whose flesh originates from the plants ovaries, the flesh of a strawberry is instead derived from the peg at the bottom of the bowl-shaped hypanthium that holds the fruits ovaries. Ladies may also appreciate this point of botanical nomenclature, in which you will find that the scientific name for plant ovaries is achenes. Rather appropriate, I think.

Having picked our fill, and even taken some time to experience peninsular craft, we returned to our more familiar urban habitat and began the usual TPB kitchen shenanigans. First up on this week's bill of fare was Miss Rose's Strawberry Pecan Crumble muffins. Deliciously light and fruity, and topped with crunchy, crumbly goodness, these were indeed a scrumptious beginning to the afternoon.

We then commenced on our items of delayed gratification. Dubbed 'she with previous experience', I was in charge of the strawberry jam. The fruit was hulled, drawn and quartered (if such a thing as 'drawing' a berry is indeed possible), and gently boiled with an unmentionably vast quantity of sugar until what resulted was a vat of syrupy decadence. Team Pretty Bake's jam most strawberry was then dispensed into retentively-sterilised jars, covered, and left for, well, you will see…

Meanwhile, Miss Rose was responsible for our gelato di fragola e balsamico. Our lovingly acquired berries were macerated in sugar and balsamic vinegar, and then blended with marscapone and additional dairy. Repeatedly frozen and whipped, the end result was a luscious icy treat with stunning flavour. Certainly a most fitting servant to our spectacular produce.

With patience required to reap the rewards of our efforts thus far, instant gratification was sought in the form of dessert. It is near impossible to work with strawberries and avoid the use of cream. This mutualism bordering on co-dependence is simply one of those all-time classic culinary combinations that must be used and abused whenever possible. And how better to undertake this depravity than in the form of Eton mess? Whipped cream, strawberries and crushed meringue; enchantingly simple and equally pleasurable; a mess indeed, but a thoroughly delightful one.

By this stage, Team Pretty Bake's strawberry supply was starting to dwindle, but there was still baking tasks requiring attention. Miss Emily, having accepted a mission as part of the 'cake crusaders' to provide wedding cakes for certain impending nuptial celebrations, undertook a test run of said nuptial cake to ensure wedding day disasters would be avoided. Dr Catherine will be pleased to note that all went smoothly, and this member of her baking minions, at least, has everything under control.

Miss Rose, not to be outdone or sit idly by, rounded out the evening with pumpkin bread. Enjoyed warm fresh from the oven, this scrumptious loaf was dense and moist, carrying a delectable scent and is certainly one of the prettier loaves that I have ever seen.

And, of course, what better to do with strawberry jam than scones…

Once again, Team Pretty Bake concluded their Sunday baking session thoroughly gorged and immensely satisfied with their efforts. The quietude of picking berries in the countryside on a warm spring morning, if but just for a moment, shone a little light on the soul, and offered temptation to visit strawberry fields forever…

November 3, 2008

Saccharomyces cerevisiae, you dirty, dirty thing…

This might make me sound a little odd, but for me there's just something about bread that is reminiscent of love. I'm not quite sure what it is. Maybe it's the devotion of time, the gentleness and care, the emotions you experience as you caress and nurture something so tender, the little moments that make you giddy with excitement. Maybe it's the romantic notion that arriving home to the waft of the most heavenly aromas means you are cared for with the greatest of passions. Or could it simply be that when you get it just right, it's one of the most wonderful things in the world?

Whatever it may be, Team Pretty Bake were instilled with a desire to unleash the rampant domestic goddess within and send mortal knees a-quivering, and so they embarked on their latest Sunday baking odyssey centered around one of the oldest prepared foods known to man.

I must at this point briefly digress to deal with matters of a housekeeping nature. Firstly, my sincerest apologies go to Mr. McDonald for my birthday celebration absenteeism. Please understand that it is very difficult to abort once fermentation processes have been initiated. I will attempt to make amends forthwith. Secondly, upon early inspection of recipes for the day, it immediately became apparent that a challenge had inadvertently been set for the master scribe. You see, in addition to instilling one with a sense of love, the baking of bread also brings with it some of the greatest and crassest innuendo one will ever encounter – and I am yet to be convinced these two are not interrelated. Recipes with such sexually explicit overtones could not be easier to come by, so in the honour of poor taste and good humour (a tenet by which I believe we should all live our lives), I see it as my solemn duty to list as many of these in this article as possible. It is therefore also necessary for me to apologise to those with dissimilar dispositions to myself for what is about to follow.

First up on TPB's agenda was a browned butter vanilla bean brioche. Miss Rose assumed control of this devious fiend. Having been forewarned of a catastrophe most probable, she merely laughed in the face of others misfortune and got to work. Her trusty Kitchen Aid was employed and worked to within an inch of its life, quite literally as some very intense slapping nearly saw a bench to floor spatial relocation. Said Aid retreated to a corner to lick its wounds, and some late-night pounding by Miss Rose resulted in divinely silky and elastic dough.
Sunday morning came, and it was time to unveil Miss Rose's brioche. Lovingly-formed loaves were allowed to prove, painted with a glistening baste and baked to a golden blush. Subtly perfumed and deliciously flecked with vanilla, their delicate interiors softly sighed as we enjoyed their buttery, yeasty delights. Miss Rose, you are indeed a master baker.

A better start for our baking adventures we could not have had, but with hours of proving ahead of us, we were acutely aware that we would not last the distance without adequate sustenance. Brunch was thus required, and materialised in the form of corn fritters, crispy bacon, arugula and tomato relish.

Satisfied with a fine pork, Misses Rose and Emily thrust forward into a baking frenzy. As Miss Emily carefully set about preparing her croissants, methodically rolling and folding, rolling and folding, Miss Rose sunk her teeth into TPB's hot, sticky buns. Massaging Miss Emily's lovingly prepared dough, the buns were sweetened, rolled, crafted and caressed, then left to rise in a bath of caramel glaze. On baking, these soft mounds produced an aroma so blissful we even managed to attract the neighbours. Tempting them to Miss Rose's bawdy abode, Mr. Andy and Mistress Maureen could not resist Team Pretty Bakes' hot buns, which were turned out into a glistening pile of sweet, sticky, sugary goodness.

Held captive by our irresistible delicacies, the neighbours confirmed we did indeed have "nice buns" and were powerless to resist the temptations of a fresh-baked croissant. As the afternoon rapidly descended into a rather sticky affair, Mistress Maureen withstood the lure of such wanton behaviour, obliging demureness and entertaining the masses with tales of the historical origins of the croissant. Admittedly I was quite delighted by the idea that this humble pastry was baked as a creative "up-yours" gesture by the Viennese in 1683 to celebrate the defeat of the Turkish siege of the city. However, upon further investigation it seems that such fanciful stories of this flaky crescent are steeped in culinary legend. Fables of creation stretch from the croissant being invented in Poland in 732 to celebrate the defeat of a Muslim invasion by the Franks at the decisive Battle of Tours, through links to the 1686 capture of the Hungarian capital Buda by Austria (who then, presumably, in an act of post-siege mockery executed the most profound insult by claiming the kifli breakfast pastry as their own), to the detailed hankerings of Marie Antoinette for a tasty pastry treat.

Regardless of their true beginnings, it was clear that ours originated from the oven, and despite having a far-from-classic presentation, consisted of delicate layers of soft buttery pastry that were in a word, delicious.

To afford some sense of balance, the savoury feature in Team Pretty Bakes' bread epic was Georgian cheese bread. Simple dough which required frequent punching with a wet fist enveloped salty cheesy balls. The dough-sheathed sphere was flattened, scored to expose the inner cheesy goodness and then baked in a hot oven to produce a glistening disk enclosing molten delights.

Exhausted from a day filled with the pounding of fists, patient observation awaiting adequate swelling, vigorous beating and gas production to excess, Team Pretty Bake finished the occasion with a feast of veal saltimbocca accompanied by parpadelle in a sauce of hazelnuts and goats curd.

So having devoured many a baked treat and impressed with our hot sticky buns, Team Pretty Bake ended their latest Sunday baking session with a great deal of satisfaction. And despite the fact that if all else fails there is always Mills & Boon, we were content in the belief that TPB are rapidly becoming true master bakers (and I even managed to refrain from using the phrase "a moist fisting"...Oh dear...).

Until next time, dear friends, adieu…