I didn’t get nervous about the Swiss meringue until I saw the polyester sleeve of my mother’s dressing gown dangling perilously close to the flame flying out of the blowtorch.
Let me start at the beginning. When we decided to make cakes for my mother’s birthday, I went with my usual method of imagining something and deciding to leap in without being fully sure of my method. It sounds like a reckless process when I write it down like that, but “Eh, I’ll learn by trying” has served me pretty well so far.
What I didn’t realise when I pictured a cake topped with fluffy meringue, piped tips torched golden, is that Swiss meringue is notoriously finicky. Thanks to reactions between proteins that I don’t completely understand and definitely can’t pronounce, Swiss meringue can be both unstable and less fluffy than you’d hope. It can weep. It can collapse. If I’d known this, I might have been nervous earlier than when I had visions of my hand flying off to the left and setting the kitchen on fire.
Thankfully, using this method, the meringue – and I – did not weep or collapse. Instead, it came out glossier than a show horse, and once I’d moved that pesky sleeve out of the way, turned the most glorious golden colour after being kissed by a blowtorch.
That’s right, perfect poached eggs. It’s time, I think, to pull together *dramatic movie dun-dun-DUUHNN* a definitive guide to poaching eggs, beyond the pods.
Since I started writing this blog, through its evolution from pure baking to a more rounded focus, one thing has been a constant. The typefaces have changed, my home has changed, and the URL has changed, but this one thing has, for almost three years, remained the same.
I have consistently been haunted by poach pods.
A little how-to on silicone poach pods has been my most popular post for a long time, and by a huge margin. They’re there 11 months of the year, hanging out at the top of blog stats. Tripping me up when I’m looking at actual recipes. Because, let’s face it, we can do better.
made the mistake a couple of months back of impulse buying a book while on a Sunday mooch around the city. I do this quite a lot, but it’s rarely a mistake (I said rarely. Looking at you, Cloud Atlas). But, having wandered into Angel after a visit to the Ray Stitch haberdashery, the lures of Waterstones and coffee were too strong and I ended up walking out with the London Coffee Guide*.
You know what’s in the London Coffee Guide? Recommendations, broken down by area.
You know what’s abundant on the internet for free? Recommendations, broken down by area, with loads of photos and personal notes.
As much as it kills me to admit that a book might have been made a touch redundant by the wealth of information online, it’s true in this case. So, here’s a few of my favourite ways to find out about London’s best coffee shops. Bring on the flat whites, chilled out music, and cosy nooks. Read More
ovelty chocolate klaxon! You know those foods that are so odd, for the first 30 seconds of eating them your mouth doesn’t quite know what to do? When your tastebuds are totally confused as each bit of your tongue is hit with a new flavour? This fig & pink pepper dark chocolate is one of those, but unlike the time my oldest brother tricked me into eating wasabi Lindt, when your tongue finally settles down you’ll be reaching for another piece.
Betty & Walter have teamed up with Creighton’s, the geniuses behind bacon chocolate, to create a limited edition range of quirky chocolate bars. Check out the four new flavours here.*
Bonus link – here’s a little love letter to lunchboxes. Who doesn’t love a compartmentalised airtight box?
Tip of the Week – chopping chocolate
Keeping on theme here, there’s one super easy tip that’ll stop chunks of chocolate flying everywhere when you chop it – it’s not just me, right?
Instead of using a straight knife, use a bread knife, particularly when cutting through large blocks. The serrated edge reduces resistance, making the cut less jerky and difficult. Keep the tip of the knife on your chopping board using your spare hand as you cut down. No more three-second-rule-floor chocolate. (Sorry. Ew.)
As a natural ginger, I often find summer kind of tough – I’ve got skin that burns quicker than a slice of toast if I’m not careful, and would rather be caught in autumn drizzle than stuck in the stifling heat of midday sun bouncing off buildings. This used to mean a) browsing in supermarket frozen aisles for a long time, and b) clutching a Starbucks frappucino more frequently than anyone’s bank balance can really take.
Homemade iced coffees just weren’t the same, with the drink getting weaker with every drop of melted cube. Enter coffee ice cubes. Made with coffee stronger than what you’d actually drink, they stop your drink from losing its power. They do tend to be a little sticky – you can encourage them out of the tray by running the back of it under the tap before popping them out. Happy bank balance, happy inner thermostat.
Pick of the Week
Now Wimbledon is over, it’s time to break away from plain old strawberries and cream. You could go with a cake, or cookies, sure, but Kathryn at London Bakes has gone a step further to make these phenomenal balsamic-roasted strawberry margaritas. Balsamic strawberries, tequila, and lime – yeah, I’m gonna need a few of these.
Surprisingly delicious: black pepper cream cheese & fruit
It’s a well-known fact among friends that I’m a weird eater – one of the ladies I went on holiday with was frequently openly baffled by what I ate, although considering one of those experiments was mussels and chocolate sauce, you can hardly blame her. But the juxtaposition of sweet and savoury is one of the best things about pairing foods, as proven by maple syrup and bacon.
So when it comes to snacking, of course I follow suit. Black pepper (light!) cream cheese (so far I’ve seen it in Morrisons and Sainsburys) goes wonderfully with apple and strawberries, keeping that 3pm lull interesting as well as virtuous.
Tip of the Week – How to rescue “seized” chocolate
Seizing – or, to you and I, “Oh balls, the chocolate’s gone grainy” – happens when chocolate overheats or the cocoa powder in it absorbs water. You can bring it back for use in brownies or puddings by gently reheating it in a bain marie and adding 1 tsbp of vegetable oil, boiling water, or hot cream for every 175g of chocolate. No more sadly spooning gritty Green & Blacks into your mouth before dashing to the shops again.
What’s the difference between greaseproof paper and baking parchment?
Baking parchment has been treated with silicone, so it’s non-stick, moisture-resistant and can handle high temperatures, which makes it great for baking. Greaseproof paper, on the other hand, isn’t non-stick or heat-resistant, but is fat-resistant, making it best for wrapping greasy foods such as baked goods and cheese.
Pick of the Week
It’s easy to get snowed under when browsing Pinterest by the hundreds of breads, cakes, and carefully styled homes shots, but Mel’s (The Faux Martha) doughnut board most definitely stands out among the white noise, and shows that the doughnut trend hasn’t passed quite yet.
It’s a well-known fact that it’s almost impossible to cook the right amount of rice. It’s also pretty well-known that reheating those mountains of rice leftovers should be avoided, since it can give you food poisoning.
I’m pretty sure the boys I lived with at uni flouted that rule, but I’m also certain they’ve eaten so many technically non-consumable things that they’re now invincible. Good job, guys.
However, for us mere mortals, it’s necessary to take precautions.
It’s almost Easter! Let’s talk about eggs, but not the chocolate kind (sorry).
I love eggs, as does my flatmate, to the point that we sometimes completely over-buy and yet we never, ever have to throw them away because they’re too old. We’re far from being the only ones: when I asked on Twitter what foods people refuse to scrimp on, almost everybody said free-range eggs.
We’ve all been there: desperately trying to level your latest cake creation with a bread knife before stepping back and realising that, if anything, it’s more wonky than it was before, andnow you’re going to have to battle with crumbs to frost the damn thing.
Or worse, attempting to stack domed cakes and fill the gaps with frosting, leading to an inevitable sponge landslide. There’s a plethora of gadgets and recommended methods for making your cake layers flat-topped and ready for stacking…but really, all you need is a bit of thread or some safety pins, and an old flannel, to create a wrap, like a headband, for your cake tin. Then, simply wet it and wring it out, wrap it around your cake tin, and cook as normal for a perfectly flat-topped cake.
How does it work? The wet towel stops the sides of the cake from getting hot, so it doesn’t bake early on – instead, the whole cake bakes at the same time, and so rises to the same height.
You might be able to buy strips for this purpose from a cookshop – but it’s worth spending a few minutes cutting and sewing, or pinning, to make something that will cost you pennies and last for ages. If you plan on making a few – for different-sized tins, for example – you may be better off cutting up a hand towel.
To make the wrap, cut your (clean!) flannel into strips as wide as the depth of your cake tin, then sew or pin them together end to end, creating a long strip of towel. Run this strip through your hands a few times to remove any fluff or loose bits of towel. Wrap this around your tin, then pin or sew it closed so it’s firmly wrapped around but loose enough to wiggle off when the cake’s done cooking. Each time you want to use it, simply wet it again – and rejoice in never having wonky layer cakes again.