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A Year in Cake – 2016

As I’m currently tucked up in bed with a rotten cold on New Year’s Eve, I thought I’d do another blog post like I did this time last year looking at my top bakes of 2016.

I won’t bore you with the details but this year has been the worst one for a long time for many reasons and has left me a bit emotionally battered to say the least. I’m hoping with all my strength that 2017 is an improvement and that the changes I’m desperate to make in my life will come about.

Still, baking is a part of my life come rain or shine and I’ve managed quite a few successful bakes this year, including several celebration cakes which I was really pleased with. My creations will never be up there in the showstopper stakes, but I think my presentation skills have improved and I’ve been a bit more daring with decoration.

One new thing I’ve tried this year is meringues. I’d always been a bit nervous to try them as I got the impression they’d be very temperamental and difficult to pull off, but happily I was wrong. My piping skills are still as dire as ever, but they were surprisingly easy to make and tasted absolutely delicious – crispy on the outside with a gooey marshmallow-like interior. And so SO much better than the brittle, chalky shop-bought ones. I was hoping to make a chocolate or cappuccino pavlova for NYE dessert and unfortunately being ill has put paid to that, but I’m keen to make something meringuey again soon! Like an idiot I forgot to include the fruits of my labour in the collage below so here’s a snap of my cute little ghost meringues from Halloween:

screenshot_2016-12-31-15-49-49-1

I’ve decided to make on culinary resolution this year, and I’m sure I’ve made it before. I would really like to have a go at making proper bread, i.e. using yeast (not soda bread!) I’m a very impatient cook which is what’s put me off trying this previously but the effort would be worth it in order to create a nice big tear-and-share centrepiece, either a delicious chocolatey monkey bread or a mouth-watering sundried tomato and cheese number. I also fancy having a go at brioche, which is my all-time favourite bread, with its indulgent melt-in-the-mouth buttery sweetness and cloud-like texture. Watch this space!

So anyway, here’s a wee compilation of my personal favourite bakes from 2016:

collage-2

  1. Chocolate Orange Bonfire Cake (recipe here)
  2. Spiced Tea & Chocolate Cake with Cinnamon Ganache Icing (recipe here)
  3. Banana, Peanut Butter & Caramac Loaf (recipe here)
  4. Honeycomb & Chocolate Flapjacks with Marzipan Bees (recipe here)
  5. Raisin Spice Christmas Cake with Fondant Sealies (base recipe from the 1000 Cakes & Bakes cookbook)
  6. Moomin Lebkuchen (base recipe from the Bake Off Christmas cookbook)
  7. Lady Baltimore Cake (recipe here)
  8. Ducky Custard Cream Cake (base recipe here)
  9. Cheese & Sundried Tomato Quiche (recipe here)

I’ll sign off now by wishing everyone in the Bakeosphere a very happy and healthy 2017! 🙂

Cloud9.1 x

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A Year in Cake – 2015

As the end of 2015 is very nearly upon us, I thought I’d have a look back at the year’s baking and eating adventures and muse what culinary activities 2016 might have in store.

I don’t want this to become one of those tedious new-year-new-me-embarking-on-a-detox-diet-frenzy-until-the-novelty-wears-off-after-a-week type posts that are a common side effect of January’s imminent approach. However, I have been thinking about my recent eating habits and would like to make more of an effort to be healthier in the new year.

I drink gallons of water and, in terms of my savoury diet, I eat a good deal of wholegrains, fish and a hell of a lot more veggies than I used to, but fatty, sugary sweet treats really are my downfall. My typical daily work situation is as follows: eat a lovely healthy lunch of delicious homemade cous cous salad with, say, mackerel or a bit of feta cheese, accompanied by a banana, a nutritious homemade oat or raw/vegan-type bar and perhaps a packet of low fat crisps, preceded by a mid-morning snack of dried fruit or a cereal bar…and then the 3pm slump hits and I stuff my face with the abundance of chocolate, cake and/or biscuits that are a continual feature of the office.

One of my weaknesses is that I am terrible with portion control – I can’t stop at a couple of squares of Dairy Milk or one Bourbon biscuit once I start munching. I eat a balanced home-cooked meal when I get home, and then the sweet cravings start again later in the evening, only this time tenfold.

And this is why I have put on weight and frequently feel more bloated than a waterlogged whale without a blowhole. Although I walk to and from work, 20 minutes each way, every day and practise yoga once a week, my energy levels are currently zero and I generally don’t feel great in myself. This is why I really want to better my eating habits – I don’t want to use the word ‘diet’ as I’m not about to launch some desperate bid to lose a ton of weight (although shedding a few pounds would be a welcome bonus); it’s more for general reasons of all-round health and happiness.

With this in mind, I’ve been bookmarking some delicious-sounding healthier bakes. I’m also looking forward to making some of the lighter recipes I’ve tried out previously with success when feeling health-conscious, like my Christmas pudding brownies, matzo meal muffins and other treats that can be found here: https://cloud9point1.wordpress.com/category/healthier/ (I’m hoping 2016 will see this category of my blog expand!)

Here are a few new recipes I’ve found that I’m already keen to try out soon:

  • Healthy Digestive Biscuits – http://www.talesfromthekitchenshed.com/2015/01/healthy-digestive-biscuits/
  • The Hairy Dieters’ Low Fat Fruit Tea Loaf – http://www.waitrose.com/home/recipes/recipe_directory/h/hairy-bikers-lowfatfruittealoaf.html
  • Skinny Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes – https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0ahUKEwj_6Mrh0ITKAhVBVxQKHUUtBQ0QFggmMAE&url=http%3A%2F%2Fsallysbakingaddiction.com%2F2013%2F02%2F19%2Fskinny-chocolate-peanut-butter-swirl-cupcakes%2F&usg=AFQjCNGet8gHepME-iC6PzI4BJbtI8MAGA
  • Vegan Apricot Crumble Bars – http://embracethecake.co.uk/post-a-recipe/2015/6/12/apricot-crumble-bars
  • Cinnamon macaron-style cookies; I haven’t found an actual recipe yet but I’m thinking of experimenting with maple syrup or sweetener or something to lower the refined sugar content in these low fat cookies – watch this space!

Aaaand finally, here’s a selection of my favourite bakes from 2015 🙂

collage

  1. Healthy No-Bake Choco-Date Bars (https://cloud9point1.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/healthy-no-bake-choco-date-bars/)
  2. Autumn Bliss Cake (https://cloud9point1.wordpress.com/2015/10/17/autumn-bliss-cake/)
  3. Banana Toffee Cake (https://cloud9point1.wordpress.com/2015/06/10/banana-toffee-cake-with-brown-sugar-buttercream/)
  4. Cherry Bakewell & Cherry Chocolate Scones (https://cloud9point1.wordpress.com/2015/07/06/cherry-bakewell-cherry-chocolate-scones/)
  5. Mary Berry’s Coffee Cake (https://cloud9point1.wordpress.com/2015/07/31/cookbook-challenge-1-mary-berrys-coffee-cake/)
  6. Nigella’s Devil’s Food Cake (https://cloud9point1.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/cookbook-challenge-2-nigellas-devils-food-cake/)
  7. Trine Hahnemann’s Scandi Marzipan Tarts (https://cloud9point1.wordpress.com/2015/09/27/cookbook-challenge-3-trine-hahnemanns-scandinavian-marzipan-tarts/)
  8. Nigella’s Chocolate Fudge Cake (available at nigella.com)
  9. Oatmeal Gingerbread (from the 1000 Cakes & Bakes cookbook)
  10. Minimalist Raisin Spice Christmas Cake (from the 1000 Cakes & Bakes cookbook)
  11. Stollen Biscotti (https://cloud9point1.wordpress.com/2015/12/23/stollen-biscotti/)
  12. Neapolitan Cake (https://cloud9point1.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/neapolitan-cake/)

Best wishes for a fantastic 2016, fellow bakers and bloggers – I hope it’s a happy and healthy one!

Love,
Cloud9.1 x

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Budget Brand Buys – What’s the Scoop?

My supermarket shopping trolley tends to be a mixed bag of products of different brands and prices. The number of products with modestly-packaged budget alternatives seems to be at an all-time high but their quality varies – I find that some items are hardly distinguishable from their more costly counterparts, while others are nothing short of an assault on the palate! Cheaper chains Aldi and Lidl are currently enjoying something of a Renaissance, having become very in-vogue with shoppers recently due to their stocking of great quality products at low prices, as well as winning various taste tests (Aldi even beat Fortnum & Mason for the best mince pies last Christmas!), suggesting that the standards of cheaper groceries are rising. But is this true of the larger supermarkets’ budget lines? Earlier this year, Good Food magazine conducted a large-scale taste test study of value groceries in all the main supermarket chains and concluded overall that the majority were received favourably, with the notable exceptions of meat, eggs and jam. This post is based on my personal experience from Tesco’s Value and Sainsbury’s Basics range.

Everyday Value range

Image copyright thedrum.com

Here are my top and bottom 6 buys…

Top 6

1) Chocolate
Okay, admittedly nothing’s ever going to beat Cadbury’s Dairy Milk for me in the chocolate stakes, but both Tesco Value and Sainsbury’s Basics milk, white and dark chocolate bars are actually very nice. The white and milk varities are lovely and creamy and the dark, though its cocoa content is significantly lower than more costly brands, has a nice fudgy taste. I always have plenty of all three types in my cupboards for baking as I find them surprisingly forgiving when they’re melted in the microwave, but I often find myself nibbling on them purely because of their taste as well.

2) Flour
Flour is one of those things where I simply can’t tell the difference between the budget types and the more expensive ones. Perhaps the pricier ones are slightly more finely ground but personally I wouldn’t pay more when my cakes always turn out fine using Value or Basics self-raising.

3) Cream cheese
If I’m opting for a full-fat variety, I find Tesco Value cream cheese a fantastic cheaper alternative to Philadelphia. It has a smooth, creamy taste and texture and is great for cheesecakes.The ironic thing is, I actually don’t like the Tesco (non-Value) own-brand Healthy Eating version and tend to buy Philadelphia Lighter if I’m feeling calorie conscious and want low-fat cream cheese.

4) Biscuits
I love Tesco Value milk and dark chocolate digestives and individually wrapped chocolate digestive biscuit bars. I also find their bourbons, custard creams, shortbread and ginger nuts very eatable considering the low price tag. I’d buy fancier biccies if it was for a special occasion but these old faithfuls are perfect to keep in the cupboard to go with a cuppa.

5) Jam (for baking)
I can see why budget jam tends to be unpopular with shoppers in comparison with more expensive brands due to its overly smooth, synthetic taste and lack of real fruit pieces, and it certainly doesn’t compare with homemade. However, I often use Value or Basics strawberry jam in baking as its smoothness and spreadability (is that a word?!) makes it perfect for sandwiching sponges or biscuits or putting a neat blob in thumbprint cookies without any lumps or bits.

6) Margarine spread (for baking)
I certainly wouldn’t spread this on my toast but when you’re on a budget and make lots of cakes the big 1kg tubs of cheap margarine are a thrifty godsend. I tend to use real butter in things like shortbread or scones, especially if I’m making them for other people, as I find I can taste the difference in these, but I honestly can’t fault budget margarine for a nice fluffy Victoria sponge or chocolate cake.

Bottom 6

1) Mayonnaise
The less said about Tesco Value mayo, the better. I find the vinegary taste and sloppy texture simply awful. Hellman’s or Heinz all the way when it comes to this condiment!

2) White bread
I try to avoid eating too much white bread as a rule anyway as it doesn’t agree with my digestive system but I find budget sliced white particularly unpleasant. I remember reading that if you scrunch a piece of bread up in your hand and it doesn’t uncurl it’s a sign of a poor quality loaf, which your stomach will not thank you for ingesting as it struggles to break down its toxic stodginess. In my experience, Tesco Value sliced white bread is the epitome of this!

3) Teabags
I wouldn’t say these are outright disgusting but their flavour and strength doesn’t match brands such as PG Tips, Tetley, Typhoo, Yorkshire Tea or Twinings in my opinion. As a passionate tea drinker, I really like to properly enjoy my cuppa, and I like it strong!

4) Meat
I’m really not a fan of any budget brand meat, despite its wallet-friendly price tag. I remember buying some cook-from-frozen Value chicken fillets packed full of additional water, salt and preservatives and they shrunk by at least a third of their size when cooked! They also tasted pretty hideous. For great meat, you really can’t beat your local butcher; it’s well worth the extra pennies.

5) Cereal
I recently tried Tesco Value’s Shreddies equivalent and I have to say they were quite nice, but the budget versions of Coco Pops, Rice Kripsies and Cornflakes are grim in my experience, with a bland flavour and strangely chewy texture.

6) Cakes
I sang the praises of budget biscuits earlier but for me the same can’t be said for cakes. Tesco Value jaffa cakes are the worst offenders in my view – they’re horribly dry and stale-tasting. Tesco’s Value chocolate chip cake bars aren’t terrible but they taste rather processed and look a bit sad and lifeless.

What are your experiences of budget products, good or bad? Are you a fan of supermarket value ranges or do you avoid them completely? I’d love to know other bloggers’ thoughts!

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Up-to-date!

Hello bakers! Just a quick post to let you know that I’ve finished transferring the recipes over from my old Blogspot account (all 33 of them, phew!) All posts from here onwards will be ‘live’. I have many more recipes to come – watch this space for rhubarb & custard and chocolate & peanut butter thumbprint cookies and some unusual scones in the near future 🙂

Thank you so much to everyone who’s followed my blog and liked or commented on my posts so far, I really appreciate it ❤

Happy baking!

Cloud9.1 x

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World Baking Day!

Originally posted 19/05/2015

Just a quick post to say that my submission to World Baking Day’s ‘Victory Bakes’ on Twitter received a rosette 🙂 My contribution was the birthday cake I made for my best friend’s birthday last July – Victoria sponge filled with jam and fresh cream and decorated with white chocolate finger biscuits, strawberries and purple glitter, adorned with shortbread hearts as a finishing touch. I chose this cake because a) although it was actually very easy to make, I think it looks the most impressive and professional of all my bakes, and b) World Baking Day is about baking for someone you love and my bestie Danielle is one of the people I love most in this world!

On the actual day (Sunday 17th May) I made some rhubarb & custard and peanut butter & chocolate thumbprint cookies for my parents and their friends who came over for dinner – recipe will be up on the blog soon 🙂

Did you participate in World Baking Day? If so, what did you make and who was the lucky recipient?

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Cloud9.1’s Baking Blog

Hi there! Just to let you know that I’m in the process of transferring my baking Blogger – http://www.cloudninepointone.blogspot.com – over to WordPress so this site is currently a work in progress. I have two years’ worth of recipes on there so it may take a while, but please bear with me and look out for scrumptious cakey posts coming soon!

My new English language blog, Word Nerdery, is still alive and well but I’ve transferred the domain name over to here: http://www.wordnerdery1.wordpress.com. Apologies to anyone who commented on my posts or followed at this address before I moved it but please feel free to check it out in its new location 🙂

Happy baking! See you soon…

Cloud9.1 x

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