Baking, I believe, is such a fun and satisfying hobby. You put in a bit of work, mix a few ingredients together and if you follow the recipe, you end up with something delicious to munch on with your afternoon cup of tea. I know some people don’t need a result necessarily from any hobby, but having something positive come out at the end is always great because it gives you a reason to keep doing it. For instance, if you like to write (or do any other form of art really), you get to unleash your creativity, and it’s often very therapeutic (and who knows maybe one day you’ll earn a living on your creative ventures). If a sport is your hobby, that means exercise, getting to interact with other people if it’s a team thing, and it’s often an outlet, much like the arts, for any frustration or emotions you may be feeling.
The reason I love baking as a hobby is because it is so therapeutic. There’s a subtle science to it, because if you don’t follow the recipe or know what you’re doing, then the result can often be quite disastrous. It’s methodical and relaxing to measure things out, mix it all up and get a pleasing result at the end, and the best part is that once you’ve put in the work, there’s something delicious to eat. You make your own reward! Maybe that’s why there’s that whole quote about skinny chefs … because to make such delicious food and not want to devour it and leave no trace just baffles me.
So, as you might have guessed, I adore baking and seeing as I have a family that includes two brothers and people with more than one sweet tooth, I get to enjoy doing it quite a bit. Now I may not have had much time to bake in the last two years (school, travelling blah blah blah) but then came lockdown and as depressing as it is, it’s actually given me the ideal opportunity to reignite so many of the hobbies I love. Because the one thing we could always have more of is time and the lack of it when life is normal means that hobbies are often the first thing to suffer. Lockdown may be a really crummy situation (baking pun totally intended), and the reason for it certainly isn’t something to celebrate, but I always like to look at the glass half full, and that means taking advantage of all the extra time at home to do things I love. I’ve already gotten so much more reading and writing done, so now I thought it’s time to tackle baking.
This week has actually been quite a busy one because like the overachiever I am, I wanted to go above and beyond the normal. Sure I adore baking cupcakes (you might have realised from all the cupcake recipes I’ve posted), pies are lots of fun, and choc chip cookies are my favourite thing to make, but they’re the types of things I usually make even when I don’t have all the extra time. So, I decided to crank things up a notch and try to make things that I’ve never attempted before …
*cue scary music
The menu this week included macaroons (two different flavours), chocolate croissants, or pain au chocolat to be technically correct and a koi fish pond cake, with a jelly centre. Sounds scary and complicated? Oh believe me it was – but it was still lots of fun, so I’m going to break down each one and just share a little story of how the making went. 😊
Macaroons – Espresso and Lemon
No that would not be espresso and lemon together in one flavour. I made one batch of coffee macaroons and one of lemon, and they actually tasted pretty darn good.
Now I’ve always been under the impression (as well as been told multiple times) that macaroons are one of the hardest things to bake. They are delicate French meringue cookies, and anyone who’s ever worked with egg whites knows that they can be so temperamental. You need to cook the egg whites until they’re just the right temperature, whip them a certain amount and then beat in the other ingredients until they reach the perfect consistency. No pressure, right? Next, you need to pipe them just so and leave them to out long enough to dry but not too long; otherwise, the texture isn’t right. Essentially, the process is quite a mission, and just a minor lapse in concentration might mean needing to start all over again. How depressing.
So, it’s safe to say that when I made these, I followed the recipe so accurately I even measured a portion of an egg-white (and those slimy things are so hard to divide). I’m usually quite exact when baking, but there are moments when I guesstimate amounts or decide to divert from the recipe just a tad because I know that it won’t ruin anything. With these macaroons though, I was too terrified to stray from the recipe by even a fraction, and I think that’s what helped me out so much. When the afternoon was over, I had stacks of beautiful macaroon shells (only a few had cracks in them, courtesy of the baking stones I had to use to flatten my silicone mat) sandwiched together with silky buttercream. YUM! So my first baking adventure I’d definitely mark off as a success 😊 I’m definitely going to be making macaroons again, probably with different, more exciting flavours because even though they were quite finicky, they were lots of fun to make. If I do, would you be interested in me posting a step-by-step recipe demonstration?? Let me know in the comments 😉 If you’re going to be making any yourself, I’d say don’t be scared by the level of difficulty! If you follow the recipe 110%, then I have full confidence your macaroons will be a success! (Also just in case anyone finds this interesting, macaroons are gluten-free, so they’re the perfect dessert for anyone you know who might be gluten-intolerant).
Pain au chocolat
I don’t know about you, but there are few things more satisfying than taking a massive bite of a freshly made chocolate croissant. That flaky, buttery pastry with the crisp outside and gooey chocolate middle – just writing about them is making me hungry. You might think I’m on a French pastry roll, but these were actually a request from my dad. He loves fresh croissants and seeing as I was trying new recipes out, I thought I might as well give these a shot too. Let me tell you, it was easier making the macaroons … and that’s saying something.
I never thought making croissants was a very complicated process. Oh my goodness gracious I have never been more wrong. Now don’t get me wrong, they weren’t as technical as the macaroons, as they didn’t have all the finicky steps and processes to making sure the egg whites behaved themselves and got to the right texture, but they certainly weren’t easier. What made the croissants such an exhaustive process was that it actually takes quite a long time to make them, and the dough-making is not one for the faint of heart or those lacking in upper body strength.
The really annoying part is getting the dough just right, because it involves rolling, and rerolling dough about five hundred times over to make sure the slab of butter is integrated into the pastry properly, and you get that delicate flakiness that bakery-level croissants have. Once your dough has risen, you have to fold a slab of butter into the middle, then roll it out. Then fold the dough into three, let it chill, roll it out, fold, chill, roll, fold chill roll and repeat for what feels like an eternity (in reality you only do this about 4 times but dough rolling, especially when you’re trying to get the sides to measure out equally, is very tiresome). But wait, when all of that’s done, you still can’t just pop them in the oven. You have to let them sit out to proof and then only can you bake them. I don’t think I’ve ever made something with such a tiresome, complicated method in my life …
NOW I KNOW WHY CROISSANTS ARE SO FREAKING EXPENSIVE – because they take hours and hours to make properly.
Anywho, after 16 hours of rolling and waiting and rising and rolling and proofing and all the other little things you need to do, the chocolate pains were finally ready! Because I was following the recipe exactly (and my oven is quite powerful), they ended up a little more brown on the top than I would have liked, and I probably would use milk chocolate next time instead of dark (if there ever is a next time), but even though they took forever, I’m thrilled I tried them out. For all those who make them regularly, I salute you. And if you want to try them out, good luck! I hope they turn out well, and you won’t need to go to the gym for about a week after making them.
Koi fish pond cake
Before you question my sanity, I promise this isn’t me losing my mind and making a cake with fish in it. My dad looked quite shocked when I first told him about it too, but just hear me out. There is a method to this madness. So for all those who read my Whatsapp groups and Webinars post, you’ll know that I’m part of a very active, somewhat crazy but very loving and supportive college Whatsapp group. For some reason, we got onto the topic of koi ponds, and someone sent a picture of one made with gelatine. Seeing this just got my creative juices bubbling, as I hadn’t made an intricate cake like this in years.
In a previous life, I was an amateur baker that made specialty cakes (not bakery level fantastic mind you) but given that they take a lot of time and effort to make, I stopped doing them. So, seeing as I had all the time, I’d never tried a cake like this before and wanted to know if I could still use fondant, I thought, why not? In theory, it’s not too hard to make a fondant covered cake. You bake enough cakes to create your structure, you make some icing to fill the layers and use as glue/cement when covering with fondant, and then you just have a ball with the decorations. However, there’s a lot that can go wrong when it comes to cake construction. You might not have enough support and the entire thing can cave in on itself or topple over, the fondant can be stubborn and tear/crack all over the place, your fondant toppings may look more like the drawings of a four-year-old brought to life and don’t even get me started on the jelly in the middle. I’m sure some of you have watched those crazy cake shows on TV? You need an engineer and artist/designer on your team, not just bakers.
It took quite a while – mixing, baking, cooling, icing is quite a lengthy process because you can’t rush it. Then, I needed to put dowels in (because the nice dense chocolate cake is quite heavy and I didn’t want my koi pond to suddenly look like a wreckage), ice some more and then cover up with fondant.
Now I don’t usually do videos, and I haven’t vlogged in ages, but after some convincing from my college, I filmed a small part of the process just so you can see how things look before the finished product. (Don’t judge me too harshly!).
The jelly part was the most terrifying because if it goes wrong, it could ruin the entire cake. But thankfully it seemed like things turned out okay! The decorating I always find the most fun, and it’s a way to patch up any errors you make along the way (for instance, cracks in the fondant). Making this cake was certainly a lengthy task. Still, I really loved it because I got to bake it with my boyfriend, it was new and exciting, and it was fun to see how rusty my amateur baking skills had become. But also, the real people I have to thank is the Snow Squad for inspiring me to make it so this cake is for all of them. 😊
And so there you have it. My house has smelt like a bakery all week, which has been both tantalising and fantastic. While I’m certainly tired and probably not going to do a lot of baking next week, it was really fun to put on my apron and try all these new things out. As always, thank you all so much for reading – what did you think? Which baked good was your favourite and what’s your favourite thing to bake? Also, I’m looking for recommendations for what to try next – any suggestions??
I hope this post didn’t make you too hungry.
Lots of Love
Blondey on a Mission xxx