April 6, 2009

The Bakers' Strike Back...

That's right, dear friends, we're back.
After a long hiatus during which our individual metamorphoses into the ultimate Hausfrau were completed (we now cook, clean, and home-renovate-redecorate); and Miss Emily experienced her cupping depucelation, Team Pretty Bake has finally made it back to the kitchen and is once again ready to rock your world. While I could go on for days about how tremendously-splendid an evening I had tasting and learning about blended and single origin coffees, and why gentlemanly baristas are now my most favourite people in the world (among these reasons, however, being that (i) they a delicious blend of physicist/engineer/foodie whom I would let talk to me for hours about double boilers, PID and the pros and cons of pre-infusion; and (ii) their ultimate goal in life is to make you the perfect coffee – marvellous!), I will simply say that the team at Padre are devilishly sublime and most certainly worth a visit if ever you're in the neighbourhood. But I digress… as you are not here to read about my passions for the beautiful bean, but rather to discover what came to pass on our Simply Swellegant Sunday.

With Miss Rose comfortably settled in to her new abode it was time to dust off our aprons and get back to business. To help aclimatise to our virgin surrounds and assess the capabilities of the new-old equipment at hand, we decided on a few standard baked treats to establish whether the Modern Maid could suitably perform to our superciliously high standards.

First up – doughnuts. For those of you who did not follow our first foray to the nuts of dough this may seem a strange selection for putting an oven through it paces, and while I too was sceptical at first, I must insist that the virtues of a baked doughnut are indeed many. The ever-frightening and oft redolent deep-frying experience is more simply replaced by a ten minute bake followed by a quick dip in a butter bath and a dunking in cinnamon sugar. I know - things are always better when there is a bath of butter involved. To stray from the apple maple original we instead opted for a traditional jam filling, using TPB jam, of course.

The method was perhaps better suited to the sturdier prescribed filling, as we experienced a few constructural mishaps – resulting in what became known as the 'clam doughnut' – but this did not detract from the deliciousness of our labours; so while the strawberry was a traditional treat and the chocolate filling rather indulgent, it was the morello cherry conserve-filled sugary nuts of dough that were purely luxurious and bordering on heavenly.

mmm… doughnut

jam doughnut

clam doughnut

Now we could not gauge the extent of Modern Maid's capabilities without baking a cake, and for that we had in mind a little lady Miss Rose had been eyeing for some time. Actually, 'little' may adjectively be somewhat misleading, as the Pink Lady cake was in fact a four-tiered monolith which, at over 12 cm in height, was certainly the tallest baked spectacle I've ever witnessed.

A delicious and sturdy buttery sponge laced with strawberry puree was layered with cream cheese icing and finished with a few decorative touches so that it was most certainly, pretty in pink. Miss Rose was a little disappointed with her first attempts of piping creativity (it's the tools, Miss Rose, tools!) but could not deny that the cake itself was still stunning and undoubtedly scrumptious.

What made this occasion even more exciting (do not start with me on the odd things I get excited about), was that it was our first opportunity to use this…

TPB Vanilla Extract, aged six months

You see, back in October 2008, Team Pretty Bake undertook to make our own vanilla extract. While rather simple in preparation, a great deal of patience is required, and on the advice of Mr Peter, our 2008 vintage was cellared to allow the full range of flavours to develop. Six months on we finally gave in to temptation and were cheerfully rewarded – beautifully dark, thick and syrupy, TPB vanilla extract 2008 smells divine and is just so far above and beyond anything commercially available that I do not think I can go back from homemade, which is quite fortunate really, as we have rather a lot of it…

But amongst all these sweets there was also some swanky new cookware to trial so we did manage to include something savoury in the form of ragù alla Bolognese. A failsafe stalwart of many kitchens, it seems ragù is one of those things where you learn your mother's recipe and never again deviate from this 'traditional' formula. This also means that every family has their own way with ragù, allowing those of us with rebellious tendencies to continually search for what is touted as the perfect concoction.

A few months back we began our search, and although the Traveller's ragù Bolognese was nice, it wasn't perfect. This time around we followed the instruction of the Italian institution that is Giorgio Locatelli. I must admit I was decidedly more comfortable with the base of passata and red wine, and I do so enjoy a recipe where the measurements are in bottles and carries the statement "At this point, the meat is ready to take the wine". Indeed.

fortunately, wine bottles now come with instructions

And the verdict? It was good, very good. I'm not sure that it will be enough to convince me to settle, but Giorgio's ragù alla Bolognese was certainly more to my liking, and as I believe a good ragù matures somewhat over time, I will see how it performs over the next few days before bringing final judgement. That said it was definitely a fitting end to a most excellent day's return to the kitchen for TPB.

Giorgio Locatelli's ragù alla Bolognese

So with the Pink Lady finally conquered, the neighbour's children thoroughly full of sugary goodness and Team Pretty Bake having come one step closer to the perfect ragù, we retired content in the knowledge that our new surrounds were indeed a fine place to be. All that is left now is to contemplate what next, and I do believe it may have something to do with your hot buns, Mr SJ Watson…

Toodle pip

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