Tuesday, 30 August 2011

No Longer Just A Bun In The Oven!

Thank you all so much for your kind comments, emails, and well wishes leading up to the birth of my first baby.

It is with great pleasure that I announce the arrival of my son baby Jayden, born at 5:38am on Friday August 26th weighing 6lbs 9oz.



I'll spare you the details, but the birth went very smoothly and I even managed to get my last post up in between contractions while they still weren't too bad.  After heading to the hospital at 2:30am, and only 3 hours in the hospital baby Jayden arrived!

Mom, dad and baby are all doing fantastic, and settling in well as a family.

Thank you all again for your well wishes, and I hope to have more posts and guest posts up for you soon.

- Andrea x

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Waitrose Cake Mix Bag Review

I know it's been ages since I wrote my last blog post, but the truth is I've been so busy - not with anything terribly exciting - just getting ready for baby to arrive.  It's been over 2 weeks since I left work and went on maternity leave and to be honest, aside from the baking I did for my baby shower - which I'll share with you soon, I haven't done any!  I've been so busy organising the baby room, cleaning, running around doing last minute errands, and spending time with my mom who was visiting from Canada.  I've still got a few things that I want to try and bake before the baby arrives, but as everyone knows babies are unpredictable and they can arrive without notice.  

And now on to some more recent baking!


About a month or so ago the lovely folks over at Waitrose sent me two of their new summer cake mix bags to try. These aren't your typical cake mixes - rather than having 1 bag of dry ingredients to dump into a bowl and mix with oil, water and eggs, these cake mix bags have real ingredients like flour, sugar, and chocolate that are all pre-measured for you.  You'll still need to add in a few things that aren't included with the bagged mix like butter, eggs and a few other small items.  Because these cake mix bags use real ingredients that you'd find in your own pantry, I'd still consider them to be "made from scratch" because you really are still doing all of the hard work yourself.  So no need to worry about cheating and passing a boxed cake mix off as your own - this is as close to the real thing that you're going to get without buying and measuring the ingredients yourself.

Waitrose currently has two flavours of bagged cake mixes available - a Lemon Pistachio & Poppy Seed Loaf, and a Chocolate & Hazelnut Cake.  The range is also set to expand in September.  


First up I made the Lemon Pistachio & Poppy Seed Loaf which I brought into the office to share.  Sure enough, all of the ingredients with the exception of the lemons, eggs and butter came pre-weighed and in little individual bags, so all I had to do was follow the directions on the package.  


Because the cake was essentially baked from scratch (with exception of weighing the ingredients) it took longer to make than I had anticipated - I just assumed it would be super quick like a Betty Crocker Cake Mix.  My initial thoughts about the Lemon Pistachio & Poppy Seed Loaf were:

- The instructions on the bag called for a loaf tin measured by volume - not centimetres, which I found really confusing because I have several loaf tins of various sizes, and I have absolutely no idea what the volume of any of them is.  In fact, I've never heard of a baking pan measured by volume rather than dimensions.

- The instructions state to beat the eggs and sugar until they're light and fluffy.  I think giving a time would have been helpful here, as it did take quite a while to get them light and fluffy even when using an electric mixer.


The collective feedback from myself and the people that ate it was that we liked the texture and moistness of the cake, but we didn't feel that the lemon flavour was strong enough in the cake.  The glaze was delicious, but we would have liked a stronger lemon flavour, so next time I'd add in more lemon zest and juice.  We also thought it would have been better if the pistachios were left out of the cake.  I don't like nuts in my cakes because they go soft, but as I was trying these cake bags for the first time I thought I should follow the directions exactly. Next time I'd leave them out.  That's the nice thing about these cake mix bags - you can add in or leave out a specific ingredient if you don't like it.


The following week I made the Chocolate Hazelnut Cake and brought it to share with the girls in my NCT baby group.  As with the Lemon Loaf, all the ingredients were conveniently weighed out for me with the exception of the eggs, butter and milk.  I took note from the Lemon Pistachio Loaf and omitted the whole hazelnuts from the cake, and only used them on top as a garnish.  My feedback for the chocolate hazelnut cake is below:

- I didn't think there was enough chocolate icing to go in between and on top of the cake, so I ended up doubling it using my own ingredients.

- Included in the mix are some small toffee balls that you need to melt in a small pan in order to coat some of the whole hazelnuts.  Although this wasn't particularly hard, it would have been a lot easier if they came pre-coated in the toffee.


I much preferred this Chocolate and Hazelnut Cake over the Lemon Pistachio and Poppyseed Loaf.  Perhaps it's because I'm a huge chocoholic, but I also thought the flavours were stronger than the lemon loaf. 

I'd suggest that Waitrose remove the weights that are printed on each of individual ingredient bags.  A savvy person only has to write down the weight of each ingredient in order to recreate the recipe, which would remove the need to purchase the cake mix bags.  I'd also suggest that the ingredients be simplified by adding all of the dry ingredients together in one bag to make things faster and easier.  This would also reduce the possibility of people actually weighing each of the ingredient bags to recreate the recipe.


Overall I'd say the Waitrose cake mix bags were pretty good, and they were moister than I had thought they would be.  My main concern with them would be their price - at £5 for the Lemon Loaf and £7 for the Chocolate Hazelnut Cake, they seem rather expensive when you compare them to a) a store bought cake, b) a regular cake mix (which has no where near the quality of ingredients), and c) if you were to use your own ingredients most of which you'd already have in your pantry.  The quality of ingredients is definitely better than any other cake mix I've seen, but don't let the fact that these are cake mix bags fool you, as they still do take a fair bit of time to bake because you're still technically baking them from scratch and not just adding eggs, oil and water to a dry mix.  I would definitely recommend these for someone who needs to bake a cake to bring along to a friends place for dinner, because you do still get that homemade look and taste with less fuss than you would be if you made them entirely from scratch.  

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Stuffed French Toast & A Visit From The Fairy Hobmother!


Stuffed French Toast is one of those things that I've always wanted to try, but never actually got around to doing.  During my visits back home to Canada and while on holiday in the US, stuffed french toast was always one of those things on a menu that called my name, yet for some reason I just never ordered it.  Then before I knew it, my holiday would be over, and I'd have to fly back to the UK where sweet and yummy treats just don't make their way onto the breakfast table - it's just sausages, beans, mushrooms, fried eggs and grilled tomatoes here I'm afraid.  

Because I always seem to miss the opportunity to order stuffed french toast while on holiday, it's been on my "to bake" list for quite some time now.   The other thing that's been on my "to bake" list for even longer is cinnamon raisin bread.  I have a strange obsession with cinnamon raisin bread.  It's one of my favorite things to eat in the morning, all nice and toasted with a bit of melty butter on top!  

I'd been on the hunt for a good cinnamon raisin bread recipe for ages, but it seemed like every one I came across needed a bread maker.  And since I didn't have a bread maker, my search for the perfect recipe continued without much success.  So when I recently came across a blog post on Lay The Table saying that the Fairy Hobmother would grant one readers wish, I got super excited and commented straight away, wishing for a bread maker (or an ice cream maker - I couldn't decide!). 

If you're a regular reader of blogs in the UK, then you're probably pretty familiar with The Fairy Hobmother.  For those of you who aren't familiar with The Fairy Hobmother, she (aka: he) works for Appliances Online, and spends her days visiting blogs and granting wishes! Pretty cool huh?

So, about a month ago I was surprised, but thrilled to see an email in my inbox from the Fairy Hobmother letting me know that my wish had been granted!!  Since I had wished for an ice cream maker or a bread maker, I was told that I could have my choice as to which one I wanted.  It was a hard decision, but I ended up going with the bread maker after remembering all those times I had wanted to bake cinnamon raisin bread, but was never able to.



A few days later, my brand new shiny bread maker arrived, and I have to say I've really been enjoying it!  The great thing about this bread maker (Morphy Richards Daily Loaf) is that it makes loaves 1/2 the size of regular loaves, which is perfect if you live alone, or if you don't eat a lot of bread (like my husband and I).  So far I've made several types of bread, but of course cinnamon raisin had to be the first!  Because this bread maker makes a smaller loaf than normal, I decided it was probably best to use the recipes that were supplied with the machine.  I won't bother including the recipe since most people probably don't have this bread maker, but if I could say one thing about it, it would be that I would double the cinnamon and raisins as I didn't think there was enough of either in the bread, but never the less it was still good.  



So after baking my first loaf of cinnamon raisin bread I decided it would be the perfect excuse to bake stuffed french toast with.  I made my stuffed french toast by cutting extra thick slices of my cinnamon raisin bread, and then making an incision in the bottom of the slice where I could put the filling.  I think this is probably the best way of making stuffed french toast, but if you can't find unsliced loaves of bread, then you can use 2 slices of regular bread, but you'll just need to be careful not to overfill them with the filling, because it will leak out the sides.



Cinnamon Raisin Stuffed French Toast

Ingredients: 

4 thick slices of cinnamon raisin bread

6oz (170g) Cream Cheese
1 1/2 Tbsp Sugar
1/2 tsp Cinnamon

2 Eggs
2/3 Cup (160ml) Milk
1/4 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Ground Nutmeg
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
Pinch of salt 


Instructions:  

1.  Using a sharp knife, make a cut in the bottom of each slice of bread and carefully work your way up 3/4 of the way inside so a little pocket forms.  Set aside



2.  In a small bowl, whip or mix the cream cheese, sugar and cinnamon together until well combined.  Fill a piping bag fitted with a large metal tip with the cream cheese mixture (if you don't have a piping bag - don't worry, you can use a small spoon - a piping bag is just easier). Now take your pieces of bread and insert the metal tip into the opening you cut earlier.  Squeeze gently until you've filled the inside pocket of your bread with the cream cheese mixture.  If you don't have a piping bag, just use a small spoon to carefully spoon the cream cheese mixture into the pocket, making sure not to tear the bread.  Do not overfill.



3.  In a shallow container whisk together the eggs, milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and vanilla.  Heat a non stick frying pan over medium high heat, and coat with non stick cooking spray or a bit of butter or non stick cooking spray.  Pick up a piece of the prepared bread with a fork and lay it flat in the milk and egg mixture.  Let the bread soak up a bit of the liquid (approx 30 seconds) before flipping over to soak the other side (again for approx 30 seconds).  Place in pan, and cook until golden brown before flipping. Once both sides are cooked, place the French toast on a place and sprinkle with powdered sugar and top with syrup.



Tip:  Immediately after placing the soaked bread in the frying pan, I place a lid over the bread in order to help cook the bread thoroughly and prevent it from getting soggy.   


I'm really loving my new bread maker, and I still quite can't believe that the Fairy Hobmother chose to grant my wish!  And here's the best part of the whole thing - I can now pass my luck on to someone else, and it could be you!  All you have to do is leave a comment below telling the Fairy Hobmother what you wish for and it may just come true!!  If you need some inspiration for your wish, then pop on over to Appliances Online - they've got some great things there - especially the Pink Smeg Fridge

Good Luck!!!!
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