Sunday, 19 October 2014

Photography Workshop with Currys

I was kindly invited along to a photography workshop recently on behalf of Currys. Seen as my camera and photography knowledge is at a beginner's level I decided it definitely couldn't hurt to take a lesson! I don't even own a 'proper' camera, mostly because I wouldn't know what to do with one, so I borrowed my Stepdad's Nikon D60 and headed to Manchester Photographic, located in the Northern Quarter area of the city centre.

The teacher Chris, started by giving us a brief talking to about how we held our cameras and the correct stance to have. Have your feet firmly planted on the ground and about shoulder length apart to strengthen your balance. When holding the camera you should hold the lens and the side. It's important to keep the lens as steady as possible, if you don't have a tripod, be the tripod.

We learnt that the three most important things to master in photography are aperture, ISO and shutter speed. Shutter speed is simply the time in which the lens is open for. I got the cool picture above of Chris jumping by adjusting my shutter speed.

Aperture is all about focus. If you've ever seen a photo where the main subject is crystal clear and the background is blurry - that is done using the aperture settings on the camera. Slightly confusingly, a 'wide aperture' means the subject is less is focus. It's called 'wide' because the lens is open wider. Aperture is connected to shutter speed because if the lens is open wider, it lets more light in, so the shutter speed needs to be shorter. If the aperture is smaller, then the shutter speed would be longer. It's all about balance!

ISO means the international standard to the sensitivity of light of the camera's digital sensor. No I don't really understand that either! ISO can cause 'grain' on photos (very good example of this on the photo above!), so all you need to know is that Chris recommended an ISO of 100 on a clear sunny day, and 400/600 for a cloudy day. Sorted.

We headed off to the Manchester Food & Drink Festival to take some photos with out newly learned skills. And what happened to me at this point... my battery died! So apart from the hurridly snapped photos above of Manchester Town Hall, I wasn't able to take any photos on the day. I am saving up for a fancy camera so hopefully you will see much improved photos from me very soon. If you'd like to see some of the fab photos the other bloggers took on the day (they are certainly worth a look!) please check out the blogs below. I hope the tips will help you with your photography too!


Monday, 13 October 2014

Croissants: GBBO The Final

The final episode of series five of The Great British Bake Off started by summarising some of the notable moments from the series. Norman's lavender meringue, Luis amazing sugar work and of course Iain's Baked Alaska disaster! I felt so tense at the start as it really was such a close competition. I had no idea who would win as they are all so talented. Richard has won star baker five times (a show record), Nancy has years of baking experience behind her and Luis is such an imaginative and creative baker.

For the signature challenge they were asked to make two different types of viennoiserie, which can include things like croissaints, pain au chocolats and brioche. Paul said it is extremely difficult to master viennoiserie. Luis made Apple, Walnut, Raisin & Cheese Chaussons, and Rapsberry & White Chocolatea Pain Au Chocolat.

Nancy made Almond & Raspberry Croissaints, and Lemon and Apple Kites. She used freeze dried raspberry powder instead of fresh fruit as it the moisture from the fruit can affect the bake. Richard made Pain Au Lait, and Pain Au Chocolat with Pear. He used creamed butter as a shortcut to laminating his dough, but Paul suspected this may make his Pain Au Lait too bread like. None of them had a perfect judging result, with Paul and Mary finding issues with everyone's pastries.

I loved this week's technical challenge. Perfect for the final in my eyes as it really is about being a master of the basics. They were asked to make 12 mini scones, 12 mini victoria sponges and 12 mini tart au citrons. Earlier in the week I had been wondering to myself what the technical would be and I thought that it would be interesting if they were asked to make something like a white loaf of bread, but do it perfectly. I was so excited that my prediction came sort of true!

There were no instructions for the bakers to follow, they just had to use their existing knowledge. The hardest part was that they only had 2 hours to make everything. This was a very intense challenge to watch! Richard came third, he had never made a tart au citron before and his lemon filling ended up as lemon scrambled egg, his jam was also very runny. Luis came second, he also had trouble with his tart au citron, the pastry was too thick and he didnt have time to pipe the chocolate writing on top. Nancy won the challenge, with the judges only complaint being that she didn't pipe the cream in her victoria sponges. They loved her tart au citrons.

A spectactular, enormous and eleborate pièce montée was the final showstopper challenge. A pièce montée is basically cake architecture. It's an edible scuplture made from cake, sugar work, choux pastry and petit fours. The bakers could use any flavours they wanted, but had to construct their pièce montée into a design. Paul said that this was the ultimate patisserie challenge as it had to be vast and intricate. Both judges wanted absolute perfection.

Richard made a ginger sponge hill with a croquembouche windmill on top and almond brittle sails. Each bakers got a short segment on their background, Richard is a 4th generation builder who built his family home. He worked in a high street cake shop as a youngster and when I found out his wife and one of his daughters is ginger, as a fellow ginger myself, I immediately loved him more! The judges weren't sure about the bright colours he used for his icing, and his almond brittle had started to 'flop'. They said the cake had fantastic flavour and his choux were 'first class'.

Nancy made a four layer cake, with a croquembouche platform for a windmill made out of ginger and orange biscuits with red dyed caramel sails. There were also mini shortbread petit fours on the cake and the sails of the windmill moved! Nancy's background showed how determined she is. In her 40s she went back to university and got a masters, and when she got into training dogs she ended up at Crufts. She also has eight adorable grandchildren. The judges thought her pièce montée was a highly skilled bake, with first rate shortbread biscuit, good flavours, a beautiful and light sponge, and good biscuit.

Luis made a tribute to Poynton, which is his home town and has a mining history. He made a two tone sponge cake, a biscuit mining wheel with a choux rope, wheat shaped caramel decoration and mint macarons. As well as baking, Luis performs in his local ukelele club. He has Spanish parents who influenced his love of food. The judges thought his pièce montée was a very clever design and a piece of art. It had a very nice flavour and striking two tonemsponge, but the chocolate one was dry and the italian meringue lacked flavour, however they said his chocolate biscuit was beautiful. Luis is so adorable, he looked so happy when he took his bake back to his bench!

And the winner is... Nancy! Paul said she nailed the final and Mary called her a perfectionist. I had no idea at the start who would win, unfortunately Richard didn't do very well so I knew it would be either Luis or Nancy towards the end of the episode. I am pleased for her and I am excited to see what her and all the other bakers get up to now the series has ended.

I decided to make crossaints for my final GBBO challenge bake. They make puff pastry a lot on the show and I've never made it from scratch before so I thought it was about time I gave it a go. It is a long process so I started the day before as the dough has to chill over night once the layers have been made.

To make the dough I mixed together 300g strong white flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 30g caster sugar, 2 1/2 tsp dried yeast and some warm water. Add enough warm water to make a soft dough, I used about 100ml. I kneaded it for 10 minutes, then put it into a bowl covered with cling film and chilled it in the fridge for 1 hour.

I bashed up and flattened a 250g block of butter between two sheets greaseproof paper using a rolling pin.

I rolled out the pastry into a long rectangle and placed the squashed butter in the middle.

I folded the pastry around the butter like an envelope, wrapped it in cling film and chilled in the fridge for 1 hour.

I rolled out the dough again, folded it again, and chilled it for 1 hour again. I did this three times in total, then left it in the fridge overnight. As I said, it's a long process!

The next day I got it out of the fridge and it had risen somewhat overnight.

I cut the dough in half and it was lovely to see all the layers that had built up!

I rolled out the first half of the dough into a long rectangle. The dough was very stretchy and sprung back on itself a lot.

I cut it into three squares, then each square into triangles making 6 triangles.

I tried both rolling it into crescent shapes and rolling it straight. The crescent shapes did not look as good and did not bake well. I'd definitely recommend the straight ones if you make these!

I brushed them with beaten egg, then baked them on 220C/425F/Gas Mark 7 for 10 minutes, then turned it down to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5 and baked for a further 5 minutes.

I filled mine with jam, butter was definitely not required as they were super buttery! My boyfriend loved them and feasted well for a Sunday morning brunch. I was really happy that they worked and turned out so well, I would have liked the bake to be a bit more even and the rolls a little neater, but that's just the perfectionist in me. Puff pastry is time consuming from scratch so it's not something I'll do often, but definitely a nice treat for a special occassion like a birthday breakfast for example.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Salted Caramel & Pecan Baklava: GBBO Week #9

Can you believe it was the semi finals of The Great British Bake Off last week already?! As usual it's gone so quickly. The theme for episode nine was patisserie, although there wasn't much pastry being made... it was more to do with layered desserts. The first challenge was the only challenge that involved making pastry. The judges asked for two different types of Baklava, a Turkish pastry made with layers of filo and filled, usually, with pistachios and walnuts. Syrup is drizzled over the Baklava after baking. The bakers were allowed to flavour and shape the Baklava any way they liked.

Richard stayed traditional with a Pistachio & Rose Baklava, and a Walnut & Almond Baklava. While Chetna experimented with a Chocolate Orange Baklava, and a Masala Chai Baklava. I was intruigued to see how they all shaped their Baklavas differently. Only Nancy made the traditional square shaped ones. Everyone also had their own way of pronouncing this pastry dessert's name!

The bakers all made their own filo, which has to be stretched out into a giant thin layer. As Chetna said, it's impossible to get it as thin as the store bought kind, because that is done by a machine. However, the bakers filos all looked pretty good! Luis flower shaped Baklava's were criticised by the judges as they were not 'proper' Baklava. Nancy also shoved aside tradition by filling her Baklava's with muesli, and got great results.

The technical challenge this week was a 'Schichttorte', which is simpler horizontally layered version of the German cake Baumkuchen. The cake the bakers were given to bake had 20 layers and each one was cooked under the grill. This challenge was to test the bakers consistency as the recipe itself was fairly simple, it was the technique that was the hard part. The layers of batter were extremely thin which left the bakers quite confused as it just didn't look like enough batter. Some of them ended up with less than 20 layers (of course Paul counted them during judging...).

They weren't provided with a grill temperature or a time to grill for, some bakers timed the layers and some just judged it by eye. I thought that all this grilling would make the cake quite dry and on Extra Slice they confirmed that it was a very dry cake. The enternal Bake Off problem of not having enough time for things to cool caused problems with the chocolate glazes. Why can't they give them enough time?! I cry every time I watch the show. Luis came first, Richard second, Nancy third and Chetna fourth.

The bakers were really tested this week with the showstopper challenge. They were asked to make two different types of Entremets, 12 of each. Entremets are the small fancy cakes you see in the window of high end patisseries. Mary wanted to see polished works of art, and Paul wanted precision, beauty and elegance in miniature form.

The bakers layered sponges, mousses, creams and jellys to make these tiny treats. Some of the bakers left their layers visible like Richard with his Hazlenut Mocha Entremets, whereas Nancy covered her Raspberry Nonnettes in a chocolate glaze so that the layers were revealed on cutting. She did very well in judging for flavour, but was marked down for apperance.

Chetna's Chocolate, Orange and Nut Entremets looked stunning, but the judges though they lacked in orange flavour, they also thought her Cappucino ones were untidy and the coffee was too strong. Paul called Richard's entremets "extremely good". Luis also did very well.

Chetna left us this week. It was very sad to see her go as she is an amazing baker, but based on this week's bakes I think it was the right decision. Richard smashed his own record and received Star Baker again!! Next week it's the final! I personally cannot wait.

I had thoughts of making an Entremet this week, but the whole idea of it made me quite stressed! And being stressed before I bake something is not what I want. I bake for enjoyment and I need to be excited about what I'm making. I am not a fan of traditional Baklava so I decided to changed the flavours to things I do like!

I started the night before by making the syrup as it needs to cool overnight in the fridge and thicken up. If you can't do it the night before, make sure it has at least 2 hours cooling time in the fridge before using. On a low heat in a pan I heated 45g brown sugar, 1/2 tsp sea salt, 235ml water and 170g honey (you can replace the honey with golden syrup if you like). Once the sugar is dissolved, let it boil for 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour into a bowl and cool in the fridge.

For the filling I chopped up 150g pecans. I hadn't seen these before in the supermarket, but I found them quite easily.

I added the pecans, 45g light brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg and 1/2 tsp salt into a food processor and pulsed them until they looked like a coarse crumb.

Before layering the Baklava I melted 200g butter in a pan and stirred in 45g light brown sugar until it dissolved.

In a deep sided baking tray I starting layering up the filo sheets, brushing butter between each layer. I did 10 sheets of filo per layer. I didn't make my own filo, I bought 2 packs of Jus Roll. I have made filo before, if you'd like to make your own (or more likely just have a nosey at how I got on!) you can check out my Fruit Strudel post.

After doing 10 filo layers, I added a layer of the pecan filling. I did 10 more filo layers, then another layer of filling, then a final layer of 10 filo. Reserve some of the filling for topping the Baklava after baking, about 2 tbsp should do.

I sliced the baklava up into the pieces I wanted before baking.

I baked on 180C/350F/Gas Mark 5 for 30 minutes. It was quite golden brown by then so I covered it in foil to avoid it catching. I turned the heat down to 150C/300F/Gas Mark 2 and baked for another 25 minutes. When it was done I immediately poured the syrup all over, then sprinkled the remaining filling in the centre of each square along with a sprinkle of sea salt.

The pastry was beautifully crispy and made a great sound when I bit into it. The syrup made it sticky and sweet. I loved the contrast between the saltyness and the sweetness, much better than the traditional Baklava I reckon. My boyfriend demanded that 'not all of these are being taken into your work!' So they must have been good!

I am linking up again to Supergolden Bakes GBBO Bake Along.

Recipe from