January 23, 2011

A country weekend...

The weekend began beautifully, and as a glorious summer day dawned it was time to head off on a country adventure. Mum had suggested a getaway visit to Aunty K, and while the packed baking supplies had me excited, I nonetheless clambered into the car with some trepidation. Now don't get me wrong, I love my family dearly and believe they are some of the most genuine, beautiful people you could ever have the pleasure of knowing. The thing is, my mother is one of five sisters, and I one of six nieces, and so when a gathering is suggested, be it with one or many of the above, the oestrogen potential alone makes me nauseous. Add to that mum mumbling something about a "crafternoon" and I was immediately breaking out in a cold sweat.

But quips about their powers of chitchat and crotchetry aside, the Blood women do have a number of desirable attributes, with intelligence and green thumbs ranking highly among them. Honorable traits, yes, but ones that would also ultimately prove my downfall since, knowing full well the envy I have for their resplendent garden-bound properties, K quickly identified my Achilles' heel and made an offer she knew I simply could not refuse:

"Em, we have lots of raspberries and some red currants if you'd like to do something on the day - you can take over the kitchen..."

 Oh wanton temptress! Entrapment indeed! All the crotcheted turtles in the world could not outweigh the desire for homegrown raspberries and free reign in a fantastic country cottage kitchen complete with herb garden and other such farmly delights. 

There are just some things in life worth letting your will be broken for...

 sheepy baa-lambs


shaggy alpacas

hilarious llama

So after last week's disasters I was determined to rekindle my baking prowess, and when you need something to inspire and delight, there is only one place to turn - Ottolenghi - and naturally, they did not disappoint.

The brioche galette was amazing. To me, brioche dough is one of the most heavenly aromas imaginable, and this particular version was light, fluffy, and as perfect as this buttery goodness could be. Topped with mascarpone cream, cinnamon almond crumble and an array of raspberries, mulberries and red currants fresh-picked from the farm it was an absolute treat indeed.

And things only got better with the semolina and raspberry tart. A luscious vanilla-flecked custard was made gloriously creamy by the addition of semolina, and studded with such beautiful crimson berries it will definitely be a hard tart to beat.

It was lovely to get out of town for the day, to bake something delicious and to share it in such pleasant company. And returning home with a bounty of plums, raspberries, eggs and alpaca, I couldn't help but be grateful for having such a generous and grounded family.

 Glenview plum cordial

With access to such gorgeous ingredients, and having reinvigorated the baking desires, one might almost admit to being contentedly happy...


January 15, 2011

An epiphany regarding failure...

About this time last year I went on a little ramble about the yearning for traditions. I suspect it had a lot to do with my starting afresh in a new space and figuring out how to get by when, due to various devastating experiences, life had been thrown askew. Being myself, I find that when things get too serious it always pays to be flippant - and so rather than any deep introspection, this was to be about new baking challenges and most importantly, pastry.

In my moments of searching, one of the cuter traditions I'd come across was that of l'Epiphanie, a delightful French holiday that ticked all the boxes regarding tradition, fun and pastries. Naturally, having decided this was something I'd like to adopt, I wasn't about to let the fact that I'm not French, nor religious and am notably sans familie come between me and a perfect excuse for delectable pastry treats. So I made my first attempt at galette des rois - from scratch - and, while I didn't go so well recruiting anyone to share it with, was rather pleased with the delectable flaky results.

Of course, the trick with traditions is that you do them more than once, and while I again missed l'Epiphanie proper, the French thankfully consider it fine to celebrate throughout the entire month of January. So when a cool enough day finally came to pass, a beautiful puff was lovingly and meticulously rolled, and this season's galette des rois was turned out.

butter package (*snicker*)

homemade puff pastry

crème d'amande et pistache

Now, those of you who were playing along last year would probably be expecting something like this to happen next:

Sadly that was not the case, and rather what did eventuate was one of the more spectacular kitchen failures witnessed in kitchen TPB for quite some time. Maybe it was because I tried a new crème recipe? Maybe it was the decision to do smaller ones that proved fatal? Maybe it was the weather? It may also have been all of the above, although I somehow suspect it was the executor most likely at fault...

But in the interests of ensuring our posts are more frequent I shall sacrifice all professional integrity, offer an admission of absolute failure, and present what a galette des rois should not look like:

  there shall be no l'Epiphanie had here

What made it particularly disappointing was that my pastry worked perfectly, and would have been so lovely to share.

 at least the puff puffed...

Perhaps it wasn't such a bad thing though. After all, I'm still working on finding la fève, and there remains a notable Royal absence, so at least the strive for perfection will keep me occupied for some time yet. 

And I guess at the end of the day it never hurts to remind oneself that we're fallible. That said, it also doesn't hurt to distract from our baking ineptitude with a spot of peach, basil and lemon thyme sorbet either... 

 meilleurs vœux

January 2, 2011


The latter half of 2010 has been a bit of a struggle for Team Pretty Bake, and due to various extenuating circumstances we haven't made it into the kitchen nearly as much as we would have liked. But with Christmas just around the corner, and the expectation of TPB hampers looming large we managed a quick festive session and once again turned out some tasty treats for our nearest and dearests.

Admittedly we were a little out of practice. Our timing wasn't quite as streamlined as it used to be and I forgot to photograph most things, but Miss Rose's ball handling skills were of their usual high standard, and it wasn't long before the laughter and lewd innuendo were back to their smutty best. We were, unfortunately, a little more business than pleasure this time and as such there are no great anecdotes with which to entertain you. So instead, I shall distract you with treats.

This year's hamper bounty included...

Stephanie Alexander's sesame & coriander dukkah

Greg Malouf's Baharat, Seafood or Lamb spice mix

Skye Gyngell's tomato & chilli jam

Ottolenghi Granola, naturally

Heidi Swanson's triple ginger cookies

Dan Lepard's stem ginger macaroons

While it's always a busy time, I love doing our little Christmas hampers. Not just for the fun of baking, or the joy of seeing people's faces as they rummage through to find out 'what else is in the bag?', but to be able to express my sincerest thanks to all the wonderful people in my life for whom I hold the greatest love and respect is really quite something. For all that we share, it is an absolute pleasure.

So as 2010 draws to a close, I would like to thank you all for sharing it with us and wish you (a somewhat belated) safe and happy holidays. We're looking forward to being around a little more in 2011, with many a treat so share, and we do hope you'll join us...

With love,
x Miss Emily