Monday, 1 February 2016

Livin' the dream ...




Oh my goodness! Where has time gone?

Is it really January? 2016?

I'm so sorry - I'm clearly guilty of neglecting this blog, mainly due to being incredibly tired and/or busy. 12 months' of sleep deprivation got in the way.

Anyway, as a few of you were kind enough to enquire how things are going (waving to you Gem and Denise), I thought I'd post an update on our foray into small business.

Firstly, the purchase of the shop took much longer than we'd anticipated. It's really not that clear to us why, other than solicitors and surveyors etc seem to operate in an entirely different time zone of their own. Sometimes gobsmackingly so. To give an example, our solicitor had the nerve to say to us in early December: "Oh well, as we won't complete before Christmas now, I suppose there's no rush ...". 

No, it's only that this deal has been dragging on for six months now, and Mike and I need to get on, get with it and hopefully start earning a living. Tsk.

We finally took ownership on 21 January 2015. God, there was a lot of work to do. We were having a bit of a re-fit, and our builders weren't able to start for a few weeks.

And then the typical builders' estimate of six days, inevitably became three and a half weeks and several thousand pounds more.

Finally, we had the place to ourselves.

Then the fun really started as we had decided to decorate the place ourselves. The first hurdle was deciding what colours could possibly mask the horrible orangey-brown combination we'd inherited. The next was teaching Josh and Ben one end of a paintbrush from the other.




Where we started, and where we were going, colour-wise



Then gradually, what had been (in my view) an orange and brown hell hole of a coffee shop, started to look brighter, as cream, dark grey and teal began to make an impression.



The delay at least meant that we were also able to kick on with our recruitment. We received over 70 applications, and eventually whittled them down to four. Four really great people.

Our team was in place and we had our first get-together in the coffee shop on 25 February.


We opened on 3 March - just for a few hours - and then opened full time on 8 March. (That seems so long ago now!).

Within a few weeks, we'd had our anxiously awaited food hygiene inspection.



We achieved a '5' which we were really pleased with.

And now it's going well. Yes, really well.


We've had to learn lots, and there have been a few mistakes along the way. We are sooo tired, with having just a couple of days off since we opened. Mike bears the brunt of this, as when Sam is not in nursery on a Saturday, he has been in the coffee shop while I toddler-sit.

And Sundays more often than not are spent either on trips to the wholesaler, or carrying out some maintenance/primping to the shop. Or both.

And there is usually baking that needs to be done so that we have a decent selection of cake available.

Or accounts, or some other form of paperwork.

I could go on, but I guess you're starting to get the picture.

The tiredness makes us tetchy. It's not been great for my stress and depression, and there have been times when I thought we were going to snap.

But there are great moments that are carrying us through.

The previous owners had clearly lost interest in the shop by the time they sold it. It was unloved and with a dodgy reputation. We have had to work hard to turn this around, and try to get across that we are an entirely different business. It's a real pick me up to overhear a new-to-us customer commenting that the place is 'so different now' and 'lovely'.


Afternoon Tea - Sweet Style

It's been amazing watching Mike and the boys develop their barista skills. And the relationship with the customers, some of whom were a little, ahem, surly at first,  and win them over. We've got a real cohort of regulars now, and we've worked hard to build a sense of community.

We've done some fundraising for local charities, and held a bake-off as part of the Whitchurch Festival. Good times.

As a keen - yet anxious - baker, it's been an ego boost to get  some fabulous feedback. People actually like my cake! People who've actually tasted it!  And they come back. Whoop!



We've had our first engagement on the back of some of our Red Velvet Cupcakes. We've seen babies  whose first birthday has been celebrated with one of our cakes turn into toddlers. We've had our first Christmas, with lots and lots of twinkling fairy lights, hot chocolate and mince pies.

We've been building our social media, too, with Facebook and Twitter, and our website. We've had some reviews - on Facebook, Google and Trip Advisor - which have been really encouraging.

There's so much more we want to do, but we've needed to take time to learn the business. It's been so much harder than we anticipated, but we're still here, nearly twelve months later.

Hopefully, I won't leave my next post so long. 

Susie x 


Monday, 17 November 2014

Pistachio and Lemon Cake (with a helping of news on the side)

Gosh, where has the time gone?

So how've you been? Good I hope.

Great stuff.

And Me?

Not so much. But getting there.

I've been away a while, I know. Lots of things happening. Some not, but hey, that's life.

Since we last spoke, I've left my job of 19 years (health reasons), and that seems scary.

Mike's job was victim to a reorganisation, so that gave him the opportunity to take redundancy. That seems scary, too.

As they say, timing is everything. So in a burst of mid-life shenanigans, we've decided to start our own business.

A coffee shop. With a bakery - cakery attached.

O. M. G.

That seems very freakin' scary! But exciting, too.


Hopefully soon, we'll be taking on the lease of a small shop near us. Fitting it out, and then opening our doors to entice hungry shoppers with the delicious smell of good coffee and freshly baked cakes.

It's going to be a lot of hard work.

I can't wait.

But I have to. The legalities, you know? Take time. Meh.

So to keep myself occupied I've been practise baking the kind of cakes that we want to offer.

Chocolate Cake.

Carrot Cake.

Lemon Drizzle.

Ginger and Lime Loaf.

etc. etc. etc.

And this one.

A Pistachio and Lemon Cake.


There seem to be quite a few recipes around for this cake, all with slightly different variations.

This one, from Lola's Forever, is a gaw-geous cuddle of a cake. Full of ground pistachios and almonds, it's incredibly moist, yet the crust becomes almost caramelised with the heat from the tin. There is a small amount of flour, so it's not a gluten free cake.

Lemon zest and juice in the batter, and the lemon icing act as a counterpoint to the sweet, nutty pistachios.


At least it keeps me occupied while I wait.

And wait.


The light at the end of the tunnel is getting a bit brighter, though, so hopefully I'll have more news soon.

Susie

xx

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Cranberry and Orange Cake


Over the last few months, I've been trying to get organised around the house. That's included having a mega clear out of 'stuff'.

All different kinds of 'stuff'.

It's been liberating, but there is still a lot around the house (not that I'm a hoarder or anything ...).

So, last week, I decided to weed out the recipes I wanted to keep from a pile of foodie type magazines I'd accumulated. Rediscovering recipes I had forgotten about was fun - and got me back baking again.


This cake is adapted from a recipe I found in an issue of 'Baking Heaven' (the original, though, uses blueberries).

It's a great big comfort blanket of a cake - billowy sweet sponge which shakes you up whenever you hit a cranberry. (Yes, I'm one of those people that love the tingly taste of Haribo Tangfastics).

It's lovely just warm from the oven.

A scoop of vanilla ice cream would seal the deal.


Cranberry and Orange Cake

Ingredients

300g self raising flour
295g caster sugar
2 medium free range eggs
190ml milk
grated zest and juice of one orange
130g butter, melted
200g fresh or frozen cranberries

Preheat the oven to 160 Fan / 180 Conventional / 350 F / Gas 4.

Grease and baseline a 22 cm (9 inch) spring-form pan.

I used a Ruby Orange - love the amazing colour!
Combine all the ingredients (except the cranberries) in a bowl and mix until combined.

Spoon the mixture into the tin, and then top with half the cranberries.

Frozen cranberries - you can add these as is (no need to defrost)
Bake in the centre of the oven for 20 minutes.

Remove (carefully, as the centre will still be soft), and sprinkle over the remaining cranberries (try and spread the cranberries out, and if you can, press them into the surface of the cake a little - I didn't, and so some that simply sat on the top got a little singed!).


Bake for a further 25 - 30 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and leave in the tin for 10 minutes to cool. Then run a knife around the edge, loosen the spring-form and gently take it off. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack.



This is quite a generous cake, so should serve 10 people easily. I enjoyed mine this afternoon, alongside a cup of tea, while staring out of the window at apple blossom being drenched with pouring rain. 

In other words, the typical run up to a British Bank Holiday weekend.

Enjoy,

Susie xx


Wow!

I've actually managed to post something.

I'm sorry it's taken me nearly four months to do so. I hope you're still around and reading (and enjoying)!

Sadly, depression is a complete bugger - you never know when it's going to overwhelm you. I'm finally feeling like I'm making some progress, though, so hope to be around a bit more often.

'til next time ... xx

Friday, 31 January 2014

Devil's Food Cake


Grey days deserve roaring fireplaces, comfy sofas, snug slippers, a mug of steaming hot tea, and cake.  

An absolutely splendiferous cake. 

This is mine.


For a cake that contains a mahoosive amount of chocolate, sugar, cream, and cocoa, it balances the flavours perfectly. Moist chocolate sponge, with a fudgy frosting. 

It's not overly sweet, but is very rich, so if you are calorie conscious, the merest sliver will satisfy the cravings of the chocolate deprived.

If, on the other hand, you're a complete greedy guts, *ahem*, you will still get a significant number of portions out of it (think at least 12).



Devil's Food Cake* (makes one 9 inch cake)

Ingredients 

330g plain flour
90g cocoa powder
1 1/2 tspn baking powder
1/2 tspn bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tspn salt
185g unsalted butter at room temperature
500g (yes, that's 500g!) soft light brown sugar
2 tspn vanilla extract
4 eggs, each around the 60g mark 
375ml buttermilk at room temperature

Frosting
375g plain chocolate (around 70%), finely chopped
430ml double cream
125g sour cream
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 160 Fan / 180 Conventional 350 F / Gas 4.

Grease, baseline and flour three 9 inch (23cm) sandwich pans.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, bicarb and salt. Set aside. 

In a jug, lightly beat the eggs, and then stir in the vanilla. Set aside. 

In another bowl (or stand mixer using the paddle and at medium speed) beat the softened butter until smooth. Gradually add the brown sugar and continue beating until fluffy.

Gradually, add the egg and vanilla mixture, beating well after each addition.

Add a third of the flour mixture and mix on low, then add half of the buttermilk, then a third of the flour then the second half of the buttermilk, and finish with the final third of the flour. Mix gently after each addition.

Divide the batter evenly between the three pans, smooth the tops level,tap them gently on the counter (to dispel any air bubbles - as the mixture is a little runnier than most cake mixes) and then place in the oven. 



Bake for around 20 - 25 minutes until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. 

Place on a wire rack to cool, and then after about 10 - 15 minutes, run a knife around the edge of the pans, and turn out the cakes. Gently peel off the baking parchment and allow to cool completely.


To make the frosting, combine the chocolate and cream in a bowl and melt gently over a saucepan of hot water (ensure that the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl).

Remove from the heat, and stir to ensure that it is fully blended. Allow to cool a little, then add the soured cream and salt, stirring until just blended. When it has cooled to room temperature, whisk briefly until lighter in colour and thick enough to spread.

Assemble the cake, by sandwiching the layers together with frosting, and then apply frosting over the outside of the cake.


This is not something to be fussy about decoration with.

And there is something rather sinful about sinking your teeth into swirled, thick ganache.

Enjoy,

Susie xx

*Adapted from 'The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book'

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Raspberry Buttermilk Sponge - The Cake That Saved My Baking Mojo


That probably sounds a bit dramatic, after all this is only a cake. But it is one of the few cakes that I have made over the last six months. And it's so simple (easy to remember), and so delicious that I've made it repeatedly. As it's New Year's Eve, and tomorrow is supposed to bring the promise of new starts, I thought it was the perfect way to get back to baking on here.

When I didn't really feel like doing anything, let alone heading into the kitchen, it's been my comfort food stand-by, and has been something that Mike and I have regularly enjoyed with an afternoon cuppa. It's helped me focus on something, and its simplicity when it delivers such great results, feels like it is one of the keys to getting me back into baking more often.


The recipe is adapted from one in the Great British Bake Off Everyday book, but having made it once with the original blackberry filling, I then tried raspberries, and have made it that way ever since. The raspberries are deliciously tart against the sweet, soft, fluffy sponge. A sprinkling of demerera sugar over the top before baking gives it a lovely crunch.

I guess you could use any kind of berry, depending on your preference.

Raspberry Buttermilk Sponge

Ingredients

125g softened unsalted butter
175g golden caster sugar
2 medium eggs
1/2 tspn vanilla extract
100 ml buttermilk
200g self raising flour, sifted
150g fresh raspberries
2 tbspns demerera sugar.

Preheat the oven to 160 Fan / 180 conventional / 350 C / Gas 4.

Grease and baseline an 8 inch / 20cm spring-form cake pan.

Cream the butter and caster sugar together until pale and fluffy.


Add the eggs slowly, and then when mixed in, add the vanilla. Then add a third of the buttermilk, then a third of the flour. Continue until both have been fully incorporated.

Turn the mixture out into the pan, and level. Dot the raspberries around and gently push them into the batter a little way. Sprinkle the demerera sugar over the top.


Bake in the middle of the oven for about 40 minutes, until risen and golden, and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Leave in the tin for 10 minutes to cool slightly, then run a knife around the edge. Remove the spring-form and allow to cool completely.

This can be enjoyed when completely cold, but in my view is best when still slightly warm. You could even dress it up a bit with some ice cream or cream on the side. The picture below doesn't do it justice unfortunately, as I had to take it in artificial light before the cake totally disappeared.


Be warned though, it's best eaten the day it is made, but will keep for another day if necessary. After that, if there was any left, I've found it had gone past its best.

Hope you have a fantastic New Year's Eve, and that 2014 brings you all you wish for,

Susie :) xx

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Dare to Bare - Random Recipes #35


I know this is not exactly a baking post, but being the complete nosey parker that I am, I couldn't resist this month's Random Recipes challenge, hosted by Dom over at Belleau Kitchen. He dared us to bare our pantries, so that the voyeurs among us can have a good gander. I've really enjoyed reading the posts circulating so far, and as sorting out my kitchen cupboards has been a project of mine over the last few months (I'm afraid I'm turning into an organisation junkie), I thought I could join in on this one.

Although I would love to have one of the traditional walk-in pantries, our kitchen does not have enough space for that. We do have quite a few cupboards, and so supplies are spread out between a few of those.

This first one is where I keep breakfast cereals and some baking ingredients like nuts, chocolate, yeast, extracts etc. You get the idea that I am addicted to Kilner jars, yes? To put my addiction into perspective, I've been collecting them for nearly 30 years :-) ! 
 
 
This next one is all about spices, sauces, oils, vinegars and other condiments. I cook a lot, so there is a lot. Especially Indian spices after I did an evening course a few years back.


Next is my basics cupboard, with pasta, tins, and some bulk jars of nuts and berries (I get some of these from Costco but it means they need larger storage - just as well I love cranberries!).


There are a few other stashes dotted around (like snack-y type things) which I haven't pictured, but the one useful one which I've built up recently is the hot beverage shelf located right above our coffee maker and kettle (you an also see my cake dome which is usually occupied with something handy for elevenses!).

This contains teas, coffees (and whole coffee beans), and our increasing collection of different makes of hot chocolate (Mike and I have begun a ritual of a night-time cup, and we have tried a few different ones to find one we like - strangely, we keep gravitating back to Cadbury's. If you can recommend any, or suggest any recipes, please do!)


Finally, there is my baking drawer. This is full of essentials like flours, sugars and the compulsory (at least in our house) chocolate chips.


Right - I shall leave it there for now.

Hope you've enjoyed this peek into my kitchen.

Susie xx

Friday, 27 December 2013

Well that was a year that was ...

... pretty horrendous.

I cannot believe that I'm sitting here typing this more than six months after my last post. My apologies for my silence since June.

By way of explanation, all I can say is that I have been ill. The stresses and strains of the last few years finally took their toll, and in a way I never expected, I was literally knocked for six within the space of a weekend. While things are slowly improving, the last six months have felt like an ordeal just existing, never mind blogging.

So I must admit that I will be glad to see the back of 2013, and hope that 2014 can see me start to move forward a bit more. Getting back to baking, and blogging, I hope will be part of that process.

I hope that you've had a great Christmas, and that the New Year brings all that you wish for.

I'll be back pretty soon with some baking.

Until then, take care,

Susie xx