Bake Off Bake Along Week 7 Roundup & Week 8 | Patisserie

We made it! We all made it through the nightmare that was Victorian week. I genuinely thought I was going to pass out from fear at tackling one of those bakes, and then pass out from boredom when actually baking my choice of tennis cake. Still it went down a right treat at work, and was worth all the compliments, even after nearly breaking my arm carrying it to work (such a heavy cake) as well as surviving the torrential downpour that morning and a nice rush-hour crush, being winded by my own cake box. Thumbs up all round eh?

Before I get onto this week's bake, which I thoroughly enjoyed doing, we've picked our favourites for last week - and what a bunch of stars you all are!

So without further ado, below are the fabulous favourites of Victorian week, a big fat round of applause to:

Sophie and her stunning game pie, Cate and her excellently on-point tennis cake and Kat and her perfect looking Charlotte Russe - congratulations ladies, you absolutely smashed it! But I do still think we all deserve a pat on the back because that was a TOUGH week.

As always, don't forget to link up your bakes at the bottom of this post! We announced some pretty awesome prizes for the end of the series last week from House of Fraser and Dr Oetker, there's still time to get involved! You can find out more info about the prizes here.And on we go... Even though I was pleased with last week's cake I didn't exactly stick to the brief. However this week, I really feel like I've got my baking mojo back. Just as a side note, despite what the photos show, I did actually make 16 religieuse (I doubled the recipe) and believe it or not, they all turned out pretty fab, if a little mishapen.Ok so I've made choux pastry a couple of times before, but hands down this has been my best ever attempt. I used this recipe for the whole lot, instead of mixing and matching elements, and I'm so impressed with Mary's choux instructions that I don't think I'll ever make it any other way again. I know you can only really make choux one way but I'm sure I've done it differently before, and the pastry didn't cook that well or taste that nice, whereas these choux buns rose amazingly and taste pretty darn good as well.The only thing I struggled with ever so slightly was the creme patissiere. In the recipe it says after mixing the milk with the egg/sugar/flour mixture you only need to heat and whisk for a minute, which is quite clearly not the case, you really need to keep going until it properly thickens, and this process took me a good 10-15 mins, not the 'one minute' quoted in the recipe, UNLESS I did something wrong beforehand, but I don't think I did because it looks like custard and tastes like custard.HOWEVER, I did decide to add some instant coffee when infusing the milk, so the creme pat has a lovely subtle but complimentary milky coffee taste which makes the religieuse a little different, but nothing too outrageous.Doing this challenge, as messy as it was has actually made me feel a lot better about my baking skills - I was starting to feel a little bummed out by how many fails had happened so far during this year's bake along, and has also confirmed my pastry ability - I'm starting to get quite good at it.Needless to say these things taste absolutely heavenly, and are as one of my housemates put it, 'profiteroles on crack'. They're so indulgent but HEY! How often does anyone make choux pastry? I definitely think if I was ever to go on Come Dine With Me, I'd serve these for dessert because they give the wow factor, although I'm not sure I could just stop at one.An InLinkz Link-up

Bake Off Bake Along Week 7 | The Victorians

I know I'm about to read exactly the same sentiments in every other bake along post this week... but I'm going to say it anyway, Victorian baking wtf?!

I'm struggling to know what to write because I'm just in shock at that category, let alone how difficult it was to even pick one to bake. I liked the idea of doing the pie, but then I'm not that fond of game meat and also I'm not made of money. I thought the Charlotte Russe looked interesting but there seemed like too many elements, so I ended up landing on the tennis cake, which as you can probably already tell from my photos that I decided to get a bit creative and drift from the original recipe as there's not a hint of tennis to be found on this cake. 

And yes, I thought about turning it into a rugby cake, but I much prefer the little pastel iced gem look anyway. Half my reasoning behind not going the whole hog was because I couldn't justify spending even more money on making the almond paste, after committing to the fondant icing. And I know what you're thinking, 'what fondant icing?' well I've included a photo just to prove that I did actually make it, but I didn't let the leaf gelatine melt enough or more it just wasn't melting so there were stringy and clumpy bits of jelly in the fondant, which nobody needs to see or eat. Still I was quite pleased with it as a first try for fondant icing, and I'd definitely like to try it again.

Although I am actually quite pleased with how the cake has turned out and how yummy it is, it was actually really boring to make. A lot of chopping, slicing and waiting around and I actually think I could have done this in the time frame the bakers were given. The cake isn't that hard to make, you've just got to make sure it stays in the oven for the required two hours.

I do have a gripe though, I used this recipe which calls for a ridiculously small tin, and yes I get it's supposed to be deep but it really was tiny, I spent about 10 minutes in the shop making sure I wasn't going crazy and the recipe said what it did. I ended up opting for a bigger pan so the cake wasn't as deep but I'm ok with that because the cake is more easily distributed.

Cake for everyone!

Travel Planning | Deciding Where To Go

When the decision was made that, yes we are going travelling, the next steps of starting to plan this thing were alarmingly difficult. Having never done anything like this before and neither of us knew where to start.

Logically to us, the first place to start was to decide where in the world we wanted to go, and kind of simultaneously, how much money we are willing to spend/take with us. We had a look over google maps and looked up some travel agencies which helped us hone in on the kind of routes people generally take. Narrowing down your route and listed countries is a lot harder that first anticipated, especially with two people involved. We decided to settle on backpacking around Southeast Asia and onto Australia to work and top up some more money and then initially we thought we'd head to Fiji but after seeing some photos of two friends who headed off on an adventure earlier in the year of New Zealand, I think our hearts are now set on going along to see what all the fuss is about... It would be rude not to I think?!

So off we popped to the STA Travel office in Shoreditch to have a discussion about routes, tickets, prices and beginning to put plans in place. The experience of going in and talking to someone was invaluable, our agent Isobel put a large world map in front of us and gave us some ideas, as well as some brochures and potential costings for the flights we wanted to pay ahead for - we don't intend on doing much flying apart from where necessary when we're away so we actually only have two flights booked so far - eep!

By the end of the next week, our deposits were down for our flights, £49 to secure the price, the balance of which needed to be paid 10 weeks before departure and this was back in February so I'm convinced we got a really great price without having the financial strain there and then to cough up the money. We also purchased some flexi passes, which will allow us to change our second flight date and any other flights we might book through them whilst out there.

I like the service that STA have given us, the right amount of input and opinion where needed but also standing back to let us hold the reigns so to speak on our own trip - nothing pushy at all. I also like the idea of being able to contact them whilst we are away to book any impromptu flights to somewhere we might not have thought of visiting beforehand.

Then the task of pin pointing a route down, as much as possible lay before us, and ever since I've been reading about bus trips, bus stations, boats, internal flights and costs because I hate the idea of not knowing where I'm going, but I guess it's just something I'll have to get used to and appreciate.

Bake Off Bake Along Week 5 roundup & Week 6 - Pastry

Hello fellow GBBO fans! Welcome to this week's roundup post for the 'free-from' week aka, the most daunting week so far and my own bake for week 6 which just so happens to be pastry week, finally something I know I can get on with!

JUST before we get down to presenting this week's favourites, Amanda and I are excited to finally announce some of the prizes available to the winner of the Bake Off Bake Along. First we have an incredible Mason Cash package from House of Fraser worth over £60. There's some beautiful kitchen scales, a Mason Cash cake pop set,v a Mason Cash gingerbread man set, and a Mason Cash flour shaker. How amazing is that? Just LOOK at that flour shaker, and um, all of it? 

We've also got a runner's up prize from Dr Oetker, a hamper of their products including: a Gold Shimmer Spray, Giant Chocolate Stars, Sugar Strands, Premium Extra Dark Chocolate, Salted Caramel Surprise Inside Cupcake Centres and a Madagascan Vanilla Grinder. So a nice few products to stock up your baking cupboard with.

Congratulations to KatAngela, and Ashlyn for their amazing bakes this week, Kat tackled the sugar-free cake and produced a wonderful looking, completely sugar free brownie, Angela amazingly tackled those gluten-free pittas and wow wow wow to Ashlyn for her amazing mermaid dairy-free arctic role. Fantastic work ladies!

As per usual, the link up for this week is at the bottom of this post - I'm looking forward to seeing lots of delicious pastry bakes!

And now onto my own bake for pastry week. Having had a few, let's be honest, less than half decent bakes, I knew I had to up my game for pastry week as it's something I do feel quite comfortable with. I've previously made puff, rough puff and shortcrust a number of times so I felt confident, to a certain extent. I decided to go with my first show stopper bake along which I'm actually, if I say so myself, quite pleased with.

The challenge was to make 48 Vol Au Vents, the ultimate '70s dinner party element. I ended up making 24 overall, 12 of each flavour, and I decided to go with a prawn cocktail on one, which is just excellent as a chilled vol au vent and the second, a much more me flavour, melted mozzarella with a grilled cherry plum tomato, chorizo garnished with some basil - so very much like a pizza.

One thing that I had forgotten about making puff is that when you're on your last round and cutting out the shapes, you have to be quick to keep it cold otherwise it all just becomes one big mess.

Aside from that, I'm really pleased with the actual puff pastry, it was beautifully flaky, even if some of the vol au vents came out extremely lop-sided, some of them were definitely presentable. I'd be interested to find out why some rose to the side and why others were much more well behaved.

Having done this now, and knowing how much fun and how pleasing on the eye they are, I'd totally feel comfortable doing something similar when having poeple round, although I'd definitely be tempted to make them a little smaller... but then again, when has anyone ever looked attractive eating canapes? They haven't. There's no amount of hand cupping that can counter act crumbs... everywhere.

So what do you think? Have I managed to pull it back this week?

Travel Planning | Making The Decision To Go

Deciding to up sticks and leave the country for the forseeable future was a somewhat impulsive decision but also one that we really talked through the logistics of.

As two very home and family orientated people, and certainly as someone who ended up getting extremely homesick whilst at university (haha) it's going to be a different and new transition for the both of us.

The thought of leaving everything and everyone we know behind for a year or more makes me feel anxious to say the least, but the excitement of escaping the 9 to 5 routine, going to places I never actually thought I would and having loads of amazing experiences way out weighs that nervous feeling.

There's a couple of things that really lead us to make this decision, one being that neither Shay or myself have ever done anything like this before, we both went straight from school/uni to work, without a break during education or after - as well as having been together for six years now, it's kind of come at a good time, before houses, weddings hehe, etc. and whilst we have little to no responsibilities.

Basically, if we don't do it now, we probably won't get the chance again.

The internet has been invaluable to me in researching towns and places to go. In fact, I'm pretty sure google maps is probably up there with my most visited sites now. I never really realised *just* how much planning was involved. When people talk about going travelling, it's all through rose-tinted glasses - maybe it's because I'm a bit of a control freak, but I'm feeling the need to organise and plan as much as possible, which isn't really much considering our only two booked flights are to Thailand and then a few months later onto Australia.

I'll be honest, the most valuable information I've found has been from blogs and although reading the Lonely Planet guide fo SE Asia has been useful, it's hard to take it in prior to the trip, mainly because it's more like a directory of what to do and where to go - like most travel guides funnily enough. The lonely planet website though, I've found to be completely useless, it's hard to navigate and quite impersonal, in my own opinion. So my advice around researching would be to be prepared to go passed page one of google ha.

As mentioned previously I'd like to put together a comprehensive guide of our planning stages for travelling around SE Asia as far as I can do, because it's definitely something that has been missing when I've been reading up. I'm probably not looking in the right places but there's bits here and there about this and that, but nothing too involved, like how do we manage our money when we're away? Cash card? Travel credit card? What are the best options? And which countries do we need to apply for visas for beforehand? And does that cover a double entry?

Basically I'm trying to minimise the amount of sticky situations we might end up in, which for novice travellers is probably not even going to scratch the surface, still I can try.

Is there anything you guys would like to know for future reference about planning an extended trip? Or likewise long-term travelling? If you've got any questions, do let me know as it's very fresh and at the forefront of my mind.

I'm hoping to making this a weekly thing so stay-tuned!

Bake Off Bake Along Week 5 | Free-From Week

Well looky here, we're already at week 5 of the bake off!

You know the drill now, this week it's Amanda's turn to show you our favourites from last week so head on over to see all the amazing bakes! As usual, the link-up is at the bottom of this post.

Now, onto my free-from bake for week 5. Having never baked anything remotely 'free-from' ever, this was always going to be a challenge. In fact, I didn't have a clue where to start.

I decided to go with the sugar free cake option because... well... sod gluten free pittas. I totally would have loved to have tried the ice cream roll but alas, I do not own an ice cream maker and if I wasn't heading out of the country soon, I'd totally have gone and bought one but I just can't justify it right now.

So here is my sugar-free raspberry muffin cake... don't laugh.

I really struggled with how to approach this, and read a lot (I mean a lot) about substituting honey and agave for sugar) but I wasn't really up for another total fail like last week, and the week before so I thought I'd play it safe when I came across a muffin recipe in my baking basics book that didn't call for any sugar... win!

The recipe is kind of an odd one anyway as it calls for oil instead of butter - I'm always a bit dubious when olive oil is used due to a pomegranate muffin fail years ago, so next time I'll definitely opt for vegetable oil which is a lot less of a... recognisable taste. I also swapped out the honey for agave which I think did no harm.

I decided to double the recipe and bake it in a cake tin, because I thought doing individual muffins would have been a slight cop out, but I've kind of ended up with a franken-cake that doesn't really know what it is. Shiney on top with a courser muffin texture in the shape of a normal cake sponge. Hm.

I've also cheated a bit... a lot with the icing. I didn't know what to go for so I just used icing sugar with honey. Woops. Sorry Mary & Paul for my sins, but it definitely needed something to perk it up a bit.

Still, I'm being a bit harsh, it does actually taste quite nice and the sweetness from the raspberries is great. Despite the slice I took looking like they've all gathered at the bottom, they haven't, the fruit is quite well dispersed which I'm pleased about because it was a very wet mixture. And lthough it's got a weird sheen on top, I'm actually quite happy with it for a first sugar-free attempt.

I hope you all did better than me, let's just say I'm looking forward to next weeks pastry challenge for sure.

What's For Lunch Today? Eat Saigon | Spitalfields

It's true to say I spend a lot of my time thinking about what I'll be eating for my next meal, or snack or just all the time. When I'm working in an area with a lot of choice for lunch, what to eat becomes a daily struggle. It's like I don't want to waste that meal time on something rubbish and not good. Because, you only live once right?

When I came across Eat Saigon a few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to see another new Vietnamese eatery in East London (lets be honest, there's quite a few of them), because they operate just how I like my lunch places to, with the option of take out, and a standard price for a really good midday meal. After vowing to have a salad on Wednesday and ending up with a Lebanese falafel wrap, I knew I had to go a smidgen healthier on Thursday, so I popped along to Eat Saigon for a shredded chicken bún. Setting me back a fiver, this is probably one of the best value for money lunches I've had in London - high praise, I know.

Maybe it's because I really like bún, maybe it's because on that day, at that time it really hit the spot, but I have nothing but love for Eat Saigon, if I wasn't saving for a trip to Vietnam itself, I'd eat there everyday. The bún was wonderful, with gorgeously tender shredded chicken. I've also sampled their chicken curry (this was a few weeks ago) and the next day I went back to see what their beef pho was like - not the best I've ever had but still good for a quick pho fix.

Their menu ranges from about £4.50 for the banh mi to £6.50 for pho, with other options in between as well as some lovely looking summer rolls that if you had two or three would probably be a lunch meal on their own.

I can't wait to try more of their menu - it's nice knowing there's a good food joint just round the corner when I'm feeling like getting something familiar... which is pretty much most of the time. If you're around the Shoreditch/Spitalfields area and looking for a quick, cheap, cheerful and delicious eat, then head to Eat Saigon, you'll be glad you did.

Camden Night Market | Food Bloggers Meet Up

There are lots of things I love about blogging; the creative process, having an excuse to write about interesting things and likewise nonsense, trying to up my photogrpahy game and making loads of new IRL friends. A few weeks ago, the wonderful Loriley organised a meetup for lots of lovely #fdbloggers at the Camden Night Market and it was great. Like really great.

I'm a big fan of Camden, there's like a bazillion great pubs and the nightlife is great, as well as the live music scene - but I'd never really associated it with a great food market. I mean obviously the stables market has a lot of food outlets but I would in no way say they are good - jam packed with Chinese food stalls where the noodles are actually spaghetti served in a bland brown sauce and the 'bang bang' chicken is most definitely questionable.

But the night market located to the left of the stables market is something else. There's rows upon rows upon rows of amazing food stalls with amazing looking and smelling food, and certainly that will cater to most food requirements. There were a number of gluten-free and sugar-free options as well as vegetarian and vegan options too, amongst more standard fare. Although I say standard, nothing about this is standard. From the gourmet mac & cheese and the omlette burgers (yes you read correctly, omlette burger) to the pulled pork buns and falafel - there really is something for everything. AND to wash it all down, there are also a few bars dotted around serving, lager, ale, wine, cider, prosecco (oh yeah) and cocktails as well as music and entertainment. I'm going to throw it out there and say it's probably one of the most impressive food markets I've been to in London in terms of choice and atmosphere. It was quite busy but that was mainly the crowd swarming the mac & cheese stall.

So what did I go for? I stopped by Belly N Bao, having never tried Bao and hearing a lot of buzz around this steamed treat, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. They're effectively steamed buns, so the concept wasn't entirely new but I enjoyed a lot it all the same.

Belly N Bao's buns are HUGE, at £6 a pop it's pretty good value for the market - I was so stuffed afterwards. The bun came with a pulled pork that was coated in a very sweet sauce, sweet and sticky. The sweetness was counteracted by the fresh cucumber and the optional chilli sauce, which I obviously went for. You can also top your bao with pork crackling (omg) and fresh chillis. I'm so glad I had this at the market, it was truly divine and washed down with a couple of Brooklyn Brewery lagers, well, it was a match made in heaven.

If you haven't got any plans tonight, I URGE you to head down to the market for some food, if only for a quick bite to eat, it really is worth it. Otherwise, unfortunately you'll just have to wait until next summer!

Bake Off Bake Along Week 3 roundup & Week 4 - Desserts

I think bread week is definitely one of my favourite weeks on GBBO. As I said in my last post, bread is such a gratifying thing to bake because it takes a lot of care and attention and sometimes commitment - I'm looking at you sourdough.

Yet again, Amanda and I are so bowled over by how great everyone's bakes are and the pure creativity oozing out of this blogging series. Hats off to everyone, I'm so loving reading everyone's posts still and the hash tag is getting ridiculous - definitely some contenders for the actual show.

If you'd like to join in on the Bake Off Bake Along just add your post to the link up at the end - we're looking forward to reading your posts! Without further ado, here are our favourites from the bread week round:

For the signature challenge, Cate absolutely smashed it with her Garlic, Sundried Tomato and Goats Cheese Soda bread! Also Cate's posts are super hilarious so go follow along with her if you aren't already!
And I think we can all agree that Angela's baguettes look absolutely divine and totally wouldn't look out of place in a boulangerie! Hats off for doing so well on such a difficult technical challenge.
Sarah, where do I begin? This show stopper, well, really is a show stopper, and it looks insanely delicious too! Such an awesome job.
And now moving onto my own bake for desserts week.

I'm going to be completely honet, I've not go much to show you unfortuantely, and I only really have half a broken bake to submit - in fact it's probably worthy of the bin.

I decided to go with the meringue technical challenge, because not that you could tell from the photos below but I'm pretty confident normally with my mad meringue skills. I set about being able to serve this as a dessert yesterday at a family party, but we were all running around the house before everyone arrived that I simply didn't get a chance to finish it off. And it was pretty rushed and just plain awful anyway.

However, I learnt a few things for sure.

Using large piping bags is the only way to pipe. Unfortunately the bags I was using were way too small and things got messy, quickly.

When the recipe says draw a circle to on the greaseproof paper to great your hoop, just do it. You'll only end up with a squiggly mess afterwards.

Um, don't carry your meringue on a train back to London, it'll only end in a crumbly broken mess.

I have every intention of restarting and completing this challenge this week because I KNOW I can do this and I definitely need to prove my worth after two weeks of disasters.