Vol au Vent They Work?

Welcome back to baking on a budget! I experienced some difficulties with these due to lack of proper equipment. Cookie cutters would have been a HUGE help when it came to cutting the circles out of the pastry (I definitely bought some for the second time I tried these), instead I used the next logical choice – the circular bottom of a toothpick package.

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This particular pack was extra helpful as it had another ring inside it which perfectly marked where I would cut the inside circle out of half the batch to make the top rings. The real trouble came when I had to actually start cutting, I used a knife, but the softer the pastry became the more difficult it was to cut. Getting these pieces out of the pastry involved lots of slow dotting with the knife to form a sort of perforated line, then cutting that away to pull out the full circle. To then make it even more time-consuming I had to perform the same task again on a smaller circle inside half of those I had already cut (first-world-on-a-budget problems!). I ended up with only 12 Vol au Vents because I was plain lazy! They were not British Bake Off standard, to say the least.

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I decided to get experimental with all of the leftover pastry. Do people normally make croissants out of puff pastry?? I don’t know, but I’ll be honest with you, mine didn’t turn out so great and they ended up in the bin. Not even my boyfriend and I, animals that we are, would eat them.

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Lots of guessing and checking random vol au vent recipes online went into deciding on an oven temperature and bake time. In the end I went for 180 degrees celsius for about 20 minutes. In hindsight they definitely could have gone another few minutes in the oven, they looked quite pale and not as puffy as one might hope!

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Overall though, I was happy with how they turned out for a first time making my own puff pastry. I piped in some crème patisserie, and got creative using a freezer bag, which had a double corner…making it completely useless as a piping bag. With two thick streams of custard gushing into my vol au vents, it was not the clean, sophisticated decorating session I had imagined. I covered up some of the mess by adding some fresh raspberries and blueberries, they didn’t look half bad.

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The second batch of puff pastry turned out A LOT better, it helped that I had cookie cutters to make the process faster and much neater! I left them in the oven for a bit longer to get them golden brown, with a nice rise.

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I decided to get extra creative by flavouring the custard with orange, and dipping the rims in dark chocolate…chocolate orange! Things got a bit messy when it came to the dipping.

 

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To flavour the custard I added orange zest to the milk while it was heating, hoping that might help infuse the flavour (I sieved it out before adding it to the yolk and sugar mixture). I also added orange essence to the final custard.

I had also made profiteroles and imagined, somehow, that one batch of crème pat would fill 24 profiteroles AND 20 vol au vents….ummmm! So when I inevitably ran out of crème pat it was late and I couldn’t be bothered to make more so I took some lovely photos of the ones that were finished (for insta of course), meanwhile the reality was a bunch of chocolate dipped, but empty, vol au vents and some unfilled profiteroles. Did they all get filled in the end you ask? Nope! HA! My boyfriend and I, like the savages we are, slowly picked at them over the next few days. We started with the custard filled ones, of course, but we really hit rock bottom when we began breaking the chocolate dipped rims off the vol au vents and discarding the bases. So there is some reality for you guys, don’t believe everything you see on instgram!!

What you see on insta:

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What you don’t see:

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Sending love and pixie dust,

Anonymous Girl.

 

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Puff, The Magic Pastry

Roll me out and puff me up, its Pastry time! Got rolling on the puff pastry the other day, felt like I had completed about 20 push-ups afterward. It took me while to find a recipe for traditional puff pastry, one that wasn’t rough puff. I eventually found one online that uses pictures to illustrate each step, definitely a great help! https://www.meilleurduchef.com/en/recipe/puff-pastry.html. Although the video was in French the method was written in English, wouldn’t you trust a French pastry chef when it comes to making pastry? Oui!

For this weeks challenge I had to extend my utensil collection by purchasing a brand new rolling pin. I know when you buy a wooden chopping board its recommended that you oil it, something about stopping the wood from chipping I believe. I decided it couldn’t hurt so I oiled that baby up and was ready to get the pin rolling on this pastry challenge!

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The first step was to make the dough, by “simply” mixing water, flour and salt. Seems easy, right? Apparently not! The recipe I was using was for 1kg of puff pastry, I thought that might be a little too much so I decided to make half. I measured out half the flour and half the salt, making a well in the flour on my bench top for adding the water. Not sure why this well was suggested, it just seemed to make matters more difficult and more messy! My well could not contain the water, and like flood-waters breaking through a mismanaged dam, I had cascades of flour-clouded water flowing in all directions over the bench top. With some panic-induced quick thinking I was able to prevent most of it water falling to the floor. Basically, I ended up combining the dough by wiping the flour all over the bench top to soak up the rivers that had channeled out in all directions. I took a moment to be thankful I had thoroughly cleaned the bench beforehand.

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The dough was immediately overly clingy before I had poured the rest of my water over the bench top, reminding me of the bread from last week, so now I know it wasn’t the yeast! (is it the gluten in the flour??) I continued to add the water gradually and the dough just seemed to get stickier and stickier…

Something was wrong! I’m sure that some of you may have already cracked on to what my error was. Yes, I halved the amount of flour and I halved the amount of salt, but alas forgot about the water! So the universe, it seemed, had decided I would be making 1kg of puff pastry. I quickly added another half amount of flour and salt, pretending that it had always been there, hoping that it wouldn’t make a difference to the final product. I added the extra flour and salt by, of course, pouring it over the top of the dough on the bench top. I got that dough squashed up and rounded into a nice little ball, cut a big X in it’s top to help with shaping later, wrapped it in cling film and placed it in the fridge.

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Next, came my favourite part, the first time I would get to use my rolling pin. I measured out the right amount of butter, placing the block and a half between to pieces of parchment paper. I took a deep breath, sought out all my pent up frustrations with life and unleashed them upon that poor, unassuming butter. I beat it down into a flat, somewhat rectangular shape (I definitely cut the edges to re-shape, adding the off-cuts back on top to roll and blend). Now, calm and relaxed, I wrapped my flat butter in the paper and put it back in the fridge to harden up again. I checked on the dough – it was still quite soft. At this point a sane person would close the fridge and simply leave it for longer. Clearly I am not a sane person, I proceeded to turn down the temperature of the fridge (yet to learn the lasting effects of this), and when that did not have an immediate effect, I resorted to the freezer.

Once I was somewhat satisfied with the temperature of my dough (still softer than I would have liked, possibly too much water), I pulled it out of the freezer and moved onto the next step – rolling it out. This was the part where the X shape became helpful. I rolled out each corner of the X, turning them into flaps, I imagined that is what envelopes would look like before being constructed.

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Then I took my great hunk of butter, all 375g of it and slapped it down in the square centre of the deconstructed envelope of dough…it didn’t quite fit, but with some quick slicing and dicing it was perfect.

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Now was the time to assemble my little package of pastry. Bottom flap, top flap, left and right, making sure the corners were sealed so none of that greasy, sunshine could leak out.

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Another fun part, bashing with the rolling pin again, I was a bit softer this time because I didn’t want the butter to explode out of its envelope! Then I rolled it out into a LONG rectangle (my work-top is a bit short for this) and managed my first thirds-fold, Yay!! Repeat and refrigerate.

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Repeat x 2, which will equal six-folds in total, apparently making 729 layers….WHAAAAAT?! I have no idea why or how this works, if anyone knows please share your knowledge!

Waiting 30 minutes between each fold while the dough chilled left me with a lot of time to kill. Between visits from the boyf and my flat mate, I decided to try making Crème Patisserie (custard) for the first time. I think the crème pat deserves its own separate post, so please wait in eager anticipation for that, I’ll leave you in suspense about how it turned out.

After some pre-bedtime research, it seems my pastry may not be right, it’s streaky (it shouldn’t be).

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I’ve rolled over the edges (you’re not suppose to). I think it’s shaping up to be a first attempt, followed by a couple more. I will have arms of steel by the end of this!

I guess now is when I make something with the Puff Pastry to test it out, hmmm Vol au Vents maybe? Vill or Von’t they work? – let’s bake and see!

Sending love and pixie dust,

Anonymous Girl.

P.S. I forgot to take photos of some of the steps during my first attempt, so re-tried making the puff for illustration purposes. Points for whoever can guess which photos are from the first and which are the second attempt! Seemed a bit thicker for my second attempt which might be better. Will add photos of Vol au Vents baked from both attempts in my next post!

Achy, Bakey Bread

It happened, the baking of the bread was done and what an interesting experience it was. I decided to use a Paul Hollywood recipe for a simple cob loaf, seemed like a good idea to start with something that seemed fairly straight-forward, no plaiting or adding fancy bits. Then began bread-making on a budget, with limited utensils, utter joy!!

I don’t have a kitchen scale, so a lot of Googling and estimation went into measuring out portions, which isn’t really a great start but you gotta work with what you have, right? Surely this is how it would have been done it back in the day!

IMG_1351I remembered to add the salt and yeast on different sides of the mixing bowl (aka a metal cooking pot), which I thought was a great achievement, helping to keep the yeast alive. As soon as I began adding the water and hand mixing the dough, I started to doubt my choice of fast acting yeast (fast acting is the same as instant, right?) I wasn’t sure if the mixture was meant to be this clingy so soon, but I persisted and began to knead my sticky (?) dough. Whilst kneading I noticed large lumps of butter, perhaps suggesting I should have softened the butter a bit more before adding it in…whoops! So there I was kneading the dough and hopefully blending in the butter. After some vigorous slapping and kneading, and a quick Google check that bread dough can be proved in a metal receptacle (it seemed fine), I placed the dough back into the mixing bowl (cooking pot) and left it to sit under some cling wrap for 1-3 hours as advised by Mr. Hollywood.

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After one and a half hours of a baking show and eating dinner, I decided the dough looked about double its original size (definitely could have left it for a bite longer) – time for shaping! Let me be honest, the instructions for shaping the dough are a little difficult to picture, in hindsight I probably could have done with watching a YouTube video or two, but alas I shaped that dough within an inch of its loaf, pulling, rolling, slapping and pushing. Then I placed it on a tray covered with some parchment paper (I splashed out some dough on this one, parchment/baking paper is expensive in England!) and slid the tray inside a somewhat clean Tesco bag (this counts as a clean plastic bag, right?) for its final prove (rise).

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One hour later and huzzah, the dough had risen significantly! I sliced an X on top, making sure to cut it fairly deep for the steam to escape while baking. I poured hot water into a tray at the bottom of the oven, as specified in the recipe, apparently it helps form a crust on the bread.

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Some more loafing about, and half an hour later I was pulling a very brown cob out of the oven. I tried the hollow bottom tap test but doubted whether it sounded hollow enough – what should hollow sound like on a loaf of bread?? Although I was concerned about the possibility of burning I put it back in for a few more minutes.

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Now the loaf if cooling, I read somewhere that you should allow bread to cool for at least 2 hours before cutting into it otherwise it will seem soggy. Guess that means I’ll have to report back on the taste and how well the bake is in the morning. I go to sleep concerned that it may be under-baked, finger-crossed things haven’t gone a rye.

The next morning I sliced into my loaf to discover it wasn’t too bad after all, although it seemed a bit dense inside, the taste was good. My flat mates and boyfriend all agreed they liked it, asking that I make more in the future. A good start to bread-making methinks!

Lessons for next time: Try proving longer, kneading more and don’t panic-add flour when the dough seems too sticky. These are internet suggestions for lighter, less-dense loaves.

Next week: I think I’ll give puff pastry a go – making my own from scratch that is!

If there are any fellow, but more experienced bakers reading this – please share your advice! Any novices with good baking stories, also share, I love to hear about other people who also make it up as they go along!

Sending love and pixie dust,

Anonymous Girl.

p.s. For the puns, I bread your forgiveness!

Challenge Accepted!

I have a problem, an addiction really. I find myself with cravings during the day, wondering when I’ll have my next fix. Sometimes at work my mind will wander to all those white powders, all of the agents that go into them, all the different ways to knead. Then, when I do find some free time, I will indulge myself for hours on end, sometimes dedicating entire days to satiate my need. The support groups only seem to make the desire stronger. I cannot stop and I am always seeking something new and different to top the last hit. There is so much choice out there and so many new options coming along. I have my favourite comfort choices of course, but I’m not afraid to branch out and try something new.

I am addicted….

Addicted to cooking shows, more specifically to shows about baking. The challenges, the tension, the high-emotion, the laughter, and lets be honest the awkward moments which are oh so entertaining, but most of all those moments of grand achievement, when a contestant pulls something wonderful together and you can’t help but shed a few tears for them. Watching so many of these shows I have started to learn some key terms and techniques, if you, like me have put in the hours, then you too must sometimes watch a contestant and just know their tempered chocolate will not crack because they did not heat it to a high enough temperature. When someone starts to stir their sugar and water while it’s heating, oh no, well we all know that caramel is going to be very grainy! The other day I was watching The Great British Bake-off (Jo Wheatley’s season), just a casual day at home. I had an interesting thought, here I am riding this roller-coaster of emotion with these strangers, while they bake their hearts out I sit here and judge them from the comfort of my bed. What if, I thought to myself, I took my casual dabbling to another level and actually challenged myself? Have I ever made bread? No. What about a croissant? Nope. Genoise sponge cake? Um no. And then I thought, well why can’t I give it a go? As Nadiya from GBBO season 6 would say “I can and I will!”. That very afternoon, I dragged my laptop to the kitchen and set about making meringue for the very first time, and they didn’t turn out too badly if I do say so myself.

So begins my journey to being a star baker, or you know, a somewhat passable baker! I will be aiming for at least one bake a week. To get started let’s jump right into the deep end with bread. For the record, I have never made bread and the knowledge I have of how it should be done all comes from my extensive research over the years…watching Bread week on GBBO. This should be interesting, stay-tuned for my bread-adventure!

Sending love and pixie dust,

Anonymous Girl.

Jealousy

It is definitely one of those unwanted emotions. That burning in your chest, it leaves you feeling ambivalent and ashamed.

Jealousy, it was something I was feeling just the other day, in the face of the success of an acquaintance. At a time when all I wanted to feel was happiness for the achievement that had come from all of their hard work, all I could find was shame at my own lack thereof. Although I put on a brave face, even going so far as to message the individual my congratulations to prove my vicarious happiness – to them or myself? Who knows! An activity that did nothing to alleviate the burning ball of jealous that had taken root in my soul.

What is jealousy? It is defined as ‘feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages’.
While it often has quite negative connotations, there may just be a way of turning it into something positive. From my past experience jealousy seems to signal a lack of satisfaction with ones own life and activities – we are not currently living up to our own values. Being aware of this has allowed me to take those moments of jealousy and learn from them – it can be a catalyst for self-evaluation and change (that big, scary thing I wrote about in a previous post 😉 …not always so big and scary).

My aim now is to use my moments of jealousy to focus inward, look at what things can be incorporated into my life to achieve a sense of fulfillment, what do I need to change about myself.

Sending love and pixie dust,

Anonymous Girl

Change is Hard

We all know change is difficult, sometimes it is exciting, sometimes it’s terrifying, and sometimes it’s both all at once. Either way it is always difficult to face. With change comes new challenges to overcome, new things to adjust and adapt to, something that becomes more difficult as we get older.

I recently finished University, so I am now looking for a new job and a new place to live. It seems that there are so many things changing all at once! I can see a safe predictable future, one that is a definite possibility if I so choose it. This safe future would involve remaining at my current job, moving home or moving in with another friend and getting into a routine of sorts. On the other hand, I see a future that is unpredictable, one that has no plan and could very well include a lot of mistakes and mishaps. My anxiety, which would prefer the safe future, is at war with my adventurous spirit, the part of me that wants to experience all of life and courageously face all of it’s challenges. The thing about safe is that sometimes it’s boring! Safe can be great, everyone needs to feel safe sometimes, to retreat back into their shell occasionally. What makes it boring is when it becomes the everyday life you lead. I have led that life, that predictable, stable, safe existence, my anxiety often pushes it upon me. I have also lived that exhilarating, spontaneous, exciting life, or at least experienced moments of it, and in those moments, as Stephen Chbosky wrote in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, “I feel infinite”. I have barely scratched the surface of what life has to offer, how sad it would be if I let my anxiety become the dominant aspect of who I am, cutting off all possibilities of an exhilarating life before I have even had the chance to discover it.

Yes, I am terrified of making mistakes, and yes I am terrified of dying, I’m also petrified of ending up alone in this world, but the challenge here is to live anyway. And that is not just to passively live, but to ACTIVELY live. My goal for 2016 is to acknowledge my fears, but not allow them to guide my decisions and actions. Change can be good and it can be bad, but it’s what you do with the situation you’re dealt that really counts, that is what makes you who you are, not the change itself. Please, don’t sit back and watch your life just HAPPEN to you, step forward and grasp life, PULL it to you, make with it what you can. The biggest regret anyone could have is that they didn’t even try.

Take note, there is no need to be overwhelmed by this, it doesn’t require you to go out and quit the job you hate and move to another country. There are so many small things you can do everyday that are important, start taking a class on something you’ve always been interested in – I will be picking up a dance class next year. Start small and that small change will grow into something big, maybe one day you will find yourself quitting that job and/or starting your life anew somewhere else. In that moment you might look back and be amazed at how your life changed, and be proud of the person you allowed yourself to become.

The point here is – do those things you want to do, build the courage to face the things you’re scared of, because we only have one life. Make those changes you’ve been meaning to, the ones that go on that resolution list every year, the ones that hide away in the deepest alcoves of your heart. They may be scary, terrifying, but that is what life is about. Once you stop challenging yourself you cease to really live and experience your precious and brief life.

Sending love and pixie dust,

Anonymous Girl.

Regrets Aren’t All Bad

Regrets are a funny thing, we seem to spend so much time worrying about them. Regrets we have, regrets we might have in the future. So much worry, so much effort. I think our perspective might just be a bit off. Maybe what we should be focusing on is not the regret itself, but what it taught us, and changes we made, or can make, because of it. If you can take a mistake and learn something from it, then you should be able to make peace with yourself and let it go. Easier said than done of course.

Just like everything else in life this constructive way of perceiving mistakes and regrets takes practice…a lot of practice! There are so many challenges, like deciding what lesson can be learnt from a regret. What can you learn from a bad break up? So much! Instead of seeing it as a failure, regretting everything you think you did wrong or regretting the entire relationship altogether, what can you take from the experience that might help you in a new relationship?

I have my own personal ‘bad break up’ story, I won’t go into detail, but take my word for it, it was painful, emotional and messy. Hearts were broken. At first all I could see was everything I had done wrong during the long process of breaking up. I beat myself up, and was constantly wracked with guilt about the pain I had caused my now ex-boyfriend. Then followed the weeks of analysing the entire relationship, finding reasons to blame him for the eventual end, as opposed to hating myself for developing feelings for someone else. Eventually I came to terms with it, I realised we had a lot of good memories together, some that I can now look back on fondly. But ultimately we just weren’t right for each other, something that was neither of our faults. Different people just seem to accentuate and appeal to different aspects of your personality. You might find that you don’t like the person you become around particular individuals. Don’t beat yourself up, it just means you learn the types of people that bring out the best in you and seek them out. Those are the people you want closest to you. That is a lesson I took away from my bad break up.

Sometimes the lesson isn’t so immediate, it might come a few months or a few years later. The important thing to remember is that if you leave yourself open to it, one day it will make sense and you will realise making that mistake, having that regret, prepared you for something else, something important. And, this is absolutely not limited to break ups either, it is important in all aspects of life.

Sending love and fairy floss,

Anonymous Girl