Summer

the bake off bake along, week 1

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so, what do you do when it’s too hot too go outside? stay in and bake, of course! i have never seen the bbc program, the great british bake-off, until a couple days ago when i decided to give it a go. (hey, it was too hot to do anything else) i actually really enjoyed it– it reminded me of my love of british programming and britain itself. after my seven week stint falling in love with the UK three years ago living with hosts throughout scotland, you can go ahead and call me an anglophile. (full on. card carrying member.) so! with the dog days of summer in full swing, i thought i may as well try my hand at baking along with amanda and ala, who are hosting “the bake off bake along” for the next few months! really excited.

now, i do not call myself a baker. i only sort of learned how to cook when i was 21, studying in berlin, and found myself standing in the middle of a kaisers supermarket having a breakdown because “I CAN’T MAKE ANYTHING!” cue the panicked emails to my mother to tell me how to make all her best recipes. 

living abroad is the thing that pushed me over the edge in terms of learning to cook. when you can’t go out and buy anything instant, gotta make it from scratch yourself. with my love of  vegetarian and vegan cooking, i would say cooking delicious (usually asian inspired) meals is far more my thing than baking. i have been known to bake the occasional cookie, yes, but this will be a challenge for me, i think. it will also be a source of tasty vittles for alex, so i think everyone’s happy.

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the first challenge: the classic british madeira cake, this week’s signature bake. i went with the signature bake, and will probably continue to do so throughout the bake off bake along because i’m a simple kind of baker. if you can call me a baker. hmmm.

i went with loosely following the instructions from this recipe from bbc good food. and a new wedding gift apron from my mother-in-law. (thanks diane!) here we go!

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first, gathered my ingredients. i’m choosing walnuts instead of the traditional almonds because, well, i have walnuts. some madeira cake recipes call for no nuts at all, but that’s just booooooring.

first, i need to take care of my candied lemon peels before we start anything else, since they’re a bit time consuming. i’ll plop them into a small amount of cold water and bring them to a simmer for 30 minutes. meanwhile, i’ll zest my lemon. (is zest a verb or only a noun?) action shot!

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oh dear. i should have expected this when i asked a boy to take photos of me baking.

right then, time to start the batter.  after pre-heating the oven to 150 C, i mix my sugar and butter together until light and fluffy. then, in goes the three eggs, a few drops of vanilla extract, and the lemon zest.

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now, time to chop the walnuts until they are the perfect size. if there’s anything i’ve learned so far from the GBBO, it’s that if you don’t know what the “perfect size” of chopped walnuts is, you can just go bugger off now.
yes, i do think this size would please mary berry. way to go, cynthia! so far, so good!

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meanwhile, what’s going on with my peels? the water has all evaporated, so i add about 100g of cool water in with the peels and 100g of sugar, let it mix together, and simmer for another 20 minutes. then, i take it off the heat to sit in the syrup for about 10 minutes more.

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since i’m not using self-rising flour, i add an additional 1 ½ teaspoon of baking powder to the batter. time to now add the flour… slowly… until the batter is “thick, but still falls off the spoon”. well, what does that really mean anyway?

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okay, it’s probably just right, so i plop it all into my new fancy loaf pan from tiger obtained during the recent home improvement shopping spree. who knew it would come into use this soon? hoorah!
in it goes to the oven until done (about 40-45 minutes in my fan oven). 

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oh dang, it’s almost noon! time to take a 3DS break to buy turnips on animal crossing. my animal crossing nerds will feel me on this one. if i do not do this, it could have serious financial repercussions. serious face.

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alex interjects: cynthia, don’t forget about your peels! we don’t want another white bean incident.”
ohh yeah, where my peels at? they are ready to take out! i place them onto baking paper and let them dry off for awhile. mmmm, there is some lemony simple syrup leftover that i will be hanging onto. looks like it would go great in iced-tea or anywhere you want to sweeten something with a lemon flavor. nice!

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(after 25 minutes) is there a crack yet???? where is the crack???
yes! a right ol’ impressive crack. i have done it! have you ever seen such a lovely crack? after only 40 minutes, the cake looks ready to come out. i tested it with a fork for doneness, and yes, i have suspected correctly.

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while it cools, i take my peels out of the oven. due to lack of time, i stuck ‘em in there for like 5 minutes and i think it really helped the hardening process along. i really do want perfect peels! time to roll them around in sugar… as they’re still a bit sticky from the syrup, they pick up the sugar quite nicely.

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ooooh, now that is a fine (foine) looking madeira. i hope paul and mary would agree!
now, time for the taste test. first… the candied peels…. hit the plate with a beautiful “thunk”. i’ve done it!

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upon tasting, i feel that it has a slightly crispy crust, a hint of lemon, and the walnuts don’t overshadow the cake but still add a nice flavor and texture. then again, since i’ve never had a madeira cake before, i have no idea what i’m doing or talking about. i’d say, it’s not earth-shaking, but for a simple cake, it is a success.

time for the alex to try. “WHEN DO I GET TO TRY IT?” when i’m done taking pictures!

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alex’s reaction: “mmmm. yes, it’s good.”
can you elaborate on that?
“mmm, yes, it was good you didn’t add the lemon juice.” (we both have a dislike of sweets that are too lemony)
what about the walnuts? the original recipe called for almonds.
“yes, i think walnuts worked here. they’re small enough that i wasn’t aware i was eating a nut.” (he hates that) “i think walnuts are good with yellow foods. bananas, lemons, things like that.” (expert guy opinion)

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and that, folks, is my first attempt to bake along!  i think it went well. it is my novice opinion that to be good at baking you just need a couple things: a keen attention to detail & to really put all of your care and work into it.
hope you’ve enjoyed it! if time allows, there will be more where that came from.

see my other cooking projects from last year: lentil-tempeh tacos & ukranian borscht

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