Sunday, 28 January 2018

let's cook: mince pies

Our final cooking challenge of 2017 was mince pies. It was just me and my mum competing in this one, and we decided to make them ready in time for a group taste test on Christmas day. Pictured above is a sample pie from each of our batches. My mum's is on the left, and mine is on the right.

As there were a lot of vegans in the group at Christmas, we both opted for vegan recipes so everyone could taste test both pies. In fact, we both ended up choosing the same recipe - this one from BBC Good Food. Ben and I got the BBC Good Food Vegetarian Christmas magazine and cooked a load of stuff from that over the festive period - it had a great selection of recipes.

My mum did really well and followed the recipe pretty closely, whereas I struggled to find any black cherries in kirsch so supplemented for some extra dried fruit and a dash of Christmas pudding flavoured liqueur - that's the same kind of thing, right? I also substituted the hazelnuts for walnuts.

Oh, and I don't actually have any circular pastry cutters (something I should have asked Santa for!) so I had to use a couple of glasses to try and cut my pastry out in the right size. You can see how much wonkier my pies are than my mums as a result...

I like the star shapes my mum used on her pies - they look much neater than my single holly leaves. For presentation alone, my mum's were definitely the best.

When it came to the judging we served everyone up half a pie each (one each would've been too much after our huge Christmas dinner), and did some taste testing.

Around the room most people seemed to favour my mum's filling (probably because I tampered with mine) whereas my pastry got the biggest thumbs up, as it was a bit flakier. The scores were quite similar too, with a few sevens and eights. In the end we settled on 8/10 each which seemed pretty fair, although I think my mum should probably get a little higher based on the appearance of her pies.

It worked out quite well for me and Ben as we were left with a tin of mince pies to work our way through in the couple of weeks following Christmas. A good snack for the first week back at work.

Our next cooking challenge (the first of 2018) is going to be pretzels. Wish us luck!

Saturday, 6 January 2018

let's cook: carrot cake

We managed to do six cooking challenges in 2017, and our fifth was carrot cake.

It's great that we've had more participants this past year and we had three entries again for this one; me, my mum and Audrey (photos above in the same order). Unfortunately I don't have that many photos of this challenge, which is often the way in the autumn and winter, when it's dark outside.

The cakes

Audrey made her cake first, and actually made two different versions, both as birthday cakes for Ben's dad, John. One had cooked and pureed carrots mixed with walnuts and coconuts and the other had raw grated carrots with sultanas and orange zest. She took them along to their Ramblers meeting and said she got some favourable comments! Her only slight disappointment was that the cream cheese frosting went a bit runny out of the fridge.

My mum went next, and used a Mary Berry recipe. She said it was nice and moist, which she thought was probably because the recipe used oil rather than butter in the mixture. She also went for a cream cheese icing, topped with walnuts, which she said was really delicious.

Also, look at this artistic photo she sent through for me to use... bonus points deserved maybe?

I was a bit slow off the mark this time and actually had to have two attempts at my cake. I used the same recipe both times, from this 'Easy Vegan' book my mum shared with me. On my first attempt I think I took it out of the oven a bit too soon, so it was beyond moist and more like a soft sponge pudding than a cake (better with a spoon than fingers). 

Ben actually really liked my first attempt, but I don't think it was quite cakey enough, so I didn't bother icing it and decided to try again. 

My second attempt had a much better consistency and was more cake-like, although still nice and moist. I decorated it with a lemony non-dairy butter frosting and chopped pistachios, which was delicious but very sweet. I'm actually not normally a big fan of carrot cake or the cream cheese frosting and it wouldn't be my cake of choice but I did enjoy this one, although perhaps one slice was enough for me.

The results

The scores awarded were as follows...

  • Audrey's carrot cake was scored 8/10 by John - a very good score!
  • Ben tried to give my first failed attempt a 10, but I overruled him, and he gave my second attempt a solid 9/10.
  • My mum was the star baker this time and was awarded an excellent 10/10 by my brother, who called out the icing as the best bit.

What a successful challenge! I feel like we've had a pretty good run of them this year.

Our final challenge of 2017 was festive themed and we decided to do mince pies this year, with a combined judging held on Christmas Day.

Write up to follow soon....