I think it is safe to say that baking is not my forte. When the children were younger I did make an effort to develop these skills by attending a Basic Bakery for Beginners course at the Christina Martin School of Food and Wine. I learnt how to make pâte à sucre, pâte brisée, crème pâtissière and some very elaborate cakes and tarts. Immediately after the course, fired up with enthusiasm, I rushed across the road to a kitchen shop (run, rather incongruously, by a bodybuilder) and bought all the necessary equipment. And that, I’m afraid, was the end of that. The fancy stuff got put away and instead I bought a book called “Muffins and More” by Barbara Limon and Daphne Zarenda and a muffin tin. And for a while, according to an essay Kiera wrote when she was at school, I became “Muffin Mom”, churning out muffins at the drop of a hat. Then I discovered an excellent home industries shop in Clarence Road and a mother at Alex’s school who sold the best homemade biscuits ever and my baking days were over. And other than a few muffin-making forays, I’ve more-or-less steered clear of the world of baking ever since.
Someone who has mastered this art is Sharyn Breval, who owns a home-based speciality cake business in Nottingham Road, called Sharyn’s Cakes. She is known for her bespoke wedding and celebration cakes and, in fact, she made Kiera and James’ delicious wedding cake and red velvet cupcakes, which I wrote about in my post I’m Sticking With You part 2 cont.
I first met Sharyn about 4 years ago when we did aqua aerobics together at Fordoun. When the classes ended we lost touch, until last year when we bumped into each other in Nottingham Road. I happened to mention that I had become rather reclusive and she urged me to sign up for bridge lessons with Lenora and join her bridge club in Gowrie Village so as to be more sociable. I am so pleased that I took her advice as I am thoroughly enjoying playing cards, as well as getting to know some very nice people.
It was at one of our social bridge games that I mentioned that I volunteer at the local farm school once a week. Sharyn then, very kindly, offered to come and do baking with the littlies. So last week she visited the Curry’s Post Primary School to introduce the children in grades R, 1 and 2 to the wonderful art of baking.
There was such excitement as the children gathered in the school’s new Science Centre. They donned their plastic aprons (courtesy of the Nottingham Road Spar) and perched on the lab stools, eyes wide open in anticipation. Sharyn had prepared cupcakes for each child to decorate. Once they had been persuaded not to eat the cakes, the children were given bowls of icing sugar and encouraged to examine the taste and texture of it. “Mnandi” they all agreed, licking their fingers. Sharyn showed them how, when mixed with a little bit of water, icing sugar turns into a paste. She then added drops of the most luminous food colouring and there were murmurs of amazement as the white icing transformed into beautiful, bright colours. The children iced their cupcakes and took great care in decorating them with a variety of sprinkles, also kindly donated by the Spar.
Next, Sharyn showed the children what happens when you microwave a marshmallow. Everyone, including the teachers, watched in fascination as the marshmallows puffed up and became deliciously gooey. The children then sandwiched the marshmallows between Marie biscuits before smothering them with more icing and sprinkles.
It was a real hands-on learning experience, resulting in lots of sticky fingers and a bunch of very excited children all keen to visit the Science Centre again!
Afterwards, I waxed lyrical to my mother about how much the children had enjoyed the baking session with Sharyn and how much Thandi’s daughter, when she visited us during the holidays, had enjoyed helping me make a cheesecake. I described how I let her climb on a stool and mix the ingredients and lick the bowl. I paused and waited for my mother to say something along the lines of “That’s nice dear”. But she couldn’t resist pushing that little button again – “It’s funny” she said “but I don’t remember you doing that with your own children”. Grrrrrr!
In the interests of frugality and self sufficiency, I have started baking again and fortunately still have all the paraphernalia, as good as new. Perhaps one of these days I’ll unearth Christina Martins’ pâtisserie recipes, but in the meantime I’m keeping it simple and sticking to foolproof recipes.
This recipe is from Muffins and More.
Best Banana Muffins
- 4 medium bananas
- 200 ml (¾ cup) sugar
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 80 ml (1/3 cup) melted butter
- 375 ml (1½ cups) flour
- 5 ml (1 t) baking powder
- 5 ml (1t) baking soda / bicarbonate of soda
- Pinch salt
Preheat oven to 180ºC.
Mash the bananas and add the sugar and egg. Mix in the butter. Add mixture to sifted dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Spoon into greased muffin tins and bake at 180ºC for 20 minutes.
Sometimes I add a handful of chopped pecan nuts.
Notes on the above
- According to Limon and Zarenda, “the secret to successful muffins lies in the mixing. To mix, the liquid ingredients are added to the dry ingredients in a few quick strokes. Mixing is kept to a minimum. This will leave the batter lumpy, but this is how it should be. If the mixture is overbeaten, the gluten in the flour will develop and toughen the dough, causing tunnels. The batter should not be mixed until it can be poured from a spoon, but should rather break into coarse globs.”
- I’ve started using Champagne Valley, stoneground flour (GMO free, unbleached with no preservatives or additives). And organic sugar. And it really does improve the flavour.
Also from Muffins and More is this recipe for:
Easy Banana Bread
- 300 ml (1¼ cups) flour
- 5 ml (1 t) baking soda / bicarbonate of soda
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 125 ml (½ cup) oil
- 250 ml (1 cup) sugar
- 2 ripe bananas, mashed
- 60 ml (¼ cup) chopped nuts
Preheat oven to 180ºC.
Sift together the flour and baking soda. Mix together the remaining ingredients and add to the flour. Stir until blended. Pour into a greased medium loaf tin and bake at 180ºC for 45 minutes. Reduce heat to 160ºC and bake for a further 15 minutes
(I haven’t made this since I stopped using seed oils so I’m not sure what I could use as a substitute. Any ideas?)
This is the cheesecake I made with Thandi’s daughter.
No-Bake No-Cheese Blueberry “Cheesecake”
- 1 packet digestive biscuits
- 80 g butter, melted
- 250 ml (1 cup) fresh cream
- 1 x 385 g can of condensed milk
- 180 ml (¾ cup) fresh lemon juice
- Finely grated rind of 1 lemon
- 250 g (1 punnet) blueberries
- 50 g (¼ cup) caster sugar
Crush the biscuits in a food processor and blend with the butter. Press into a 20 cm loose-bottomed cake tin sprayed with cooking spray. Beat the cream until it starts to thicken, then stir in the condensed milk. Add the lemon juice and rind and blend until the mixture thickens. Pour over the biscuits and chill for at least 2 hours. The cake freezes well and is delicious served frozen.
Rinse the blueberries, place in a pot with the sugar and cook over a gentle heat until the berries soften and release juice. Cool completely. Spoon berry mixture over cheesecake just before serving.
Notes on the above
- I came across a recipe by Mary-Ann Shearer for a wheat-free crust. I have adjusted the quantities for my 20 cm cake tin. It is delicious and I often use it instead of the digestive biscuits:
- 1 cup almonds
- ¼ cup pitted dates
- Sprinkle of cinnamon
- ± 2 Tbsp water
Grind almonds and dates in a coffee grinder until fairly fine. Add cinnamon and then mix with your hands while gradually adding enough water to form a dough. Press into the cake tin and chill.
- To make the berries a bit more luxurious a fruit liqueur can be added. Put 60 ml (¼ cup) dark brown soft sugar and 2–3 Tbsp fruit liqueur (I use Crème de Cassis) in a saucepan over a moderate heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the berries, or any fruit for that matter, and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
And finally, the recipe for Seed Crackers from the Real Meal Revolution which I copied from food lovers recipes.
- 200 g sunflower seeds
- 60 g flax seeds
- 100 g sesame seeds
- 30 ml psyllium husks
- 500 ml water
- 5 ml salt
Preheat oven to 160ºC – do not make it any warmer.
Combine all ingredients in mixing bowl and leave the mixture to stand until it is thick and pliable – about 10 minutes. Spread the mixture out as thinly as possible onto a silicone mat on a baking tray (I used 2 baking trays). If you do not have a silicone mat, use the dull side of tinfoil but be sure to use a lot of spray and cook on it otherwise it will stick to the tinfoil. Once spread it should have no holes in it. Bake for 1 hour. If outer edges pretty dry and hard, break them off and spread open the remainder and return to oven. You can continue to bake them till all nicely and seriously crisp and dried out. It took me approximately 1 to 1½ hours to get to this stage – depending on your oven. Once all done remove from the oven and leave to cool. Once cooled, break them into any size you like and store in airtight container.
Nice to use with any pates or dips or use as bread with any topping you would have used on bread.
Note on the above
- I use 1 ½ packets of the Breakfast Seed Mix from Woolworths – it is a blend of pumpkin, sesame, flax and sunflower seeds.