Monday, 30 May 2011

Knock, Knock at the Blue Door Bakery

A month ago now I found myself taking a deep breath before I knocked on the dark blue door of a house in Hagley, just outside Birmingham. Inside, I was sure that there would be several friendly faces waiting for me, but I was nervous nonetheless.
You have to understand that I am quite shy and rarely venture out alone. This was going to be different though. I knew that everyone I met here today was going to share one of my passions and that we would at least have something to talk about. Phew. I find uncomfortable silences so, well, uncomfortable.

A smiling woman opened the door
"You must be Alice, you're the last to arrive" (I wasn't late - everyone else was early.)
"What a fantastic jumper!" I had worn one of my favourites and it was highly topical.
"Do you want some tea or coffee? There are some biscuits on the table too if you're peckish."
I instantly relaxed and realised I was going to be okay and that I was probably going to have a lot of fun.

I had arrived at the home of Sarah Barnes, owner of the Blue Door Bakery and I was going to spend the next few hours learning about decorating cupcakes!
All seven of us students sat down around a table and examined the mountain of equipment in front of us -cutters, plungers, foam mats, rolling pins and not forgetting a large selection of gel colours.
We spent the day learning about how to make different swirls from the fluffiest vanilla buttercream and how to make sugar roses and all about the proper use of florist paste.

I was back again a couple of weeks later to learn some more tricks too. It's highly addictive stuff, sitting around, practically relaxing, while you learn all these skills from someone with as much enthusiasm for her work as Sarah. It has ignited a pre-existing passion in me for sugarcraft and cake decoration much more than I could have imagined that it would have done; and since then, well, let's just say I've made a lot of cupcakes and invested a lot of time into decorating them!

If you're happy to sit and look at photos of gorgeous cupcakes, take a trip to the blue door bakery's website here or check out their facebook page. Click on the 'parties and classes' cucpake icon to see if there are any courses you'd like to go on too - but book quickly, these spaces sell like hot cakes!

My finished box of cupcakes, and that jumper.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Italian Classics : Torta della Nonna

Isn't it amazing how powerful and evocative a smell can be? Pine trees, cloves and oranges at christmas. Freshly cut grass and sweet blossoms in spring. Or the simple smell of a custard tart in the oven reminding you of your favourite Italian pasticceria and instantly transporting you back to countless holidays in Florence.

This torta is no exception. Make it and your whole house will smell like a professional bakery.
When I chose to put this on as the restaurant's dessert special for April, I had no idea it would be quite so popular. It is surprisingly simple to make and totally appropriate for our restaurant. L had great fun telling everyone it is a dish that originated in Florence itself.

Torta della Nonna

For the pastry
150g plain flour
60g caster sugar
80g unsalted butter
1tsp baking powder
1 egg yolk
zest 1 lemon
1tsp vanilla extract
For the custard
4 eggs
80g caster sugar
500ml whole milk
49g plain flour
zest 1 orange
50 grams of pine nuts
Icing sugar to dust

For the pastry
Soften the butter at room temperature.
Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl and add the lemon zest and vanilla extract.
Divide the butter into small pieces and rub into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Add the sugar and egg yolk and mix together with your fingers until combined, trying not to over work the dough.
Use a little butter to grease a 26cm springform tin.
Roll the pastry out to the thickness of 5mm on a lightly floured surface.
Transfer it to the tin using the rolling pin to lift it, and press gently in.
Prick the base all over with a fork before placing in the fridge to rest.
Perheat the oven to 150C.
For the custard
Place the milk and orange zest into a heavy bottomed saucepan and just bring to the boil over a medium heat.
Meanwhile, put the egg yolks with the sugar in a bowl and whisk. Slowly add the sifted flour with the remaining vanilla. Very slowly, and using a fine sieve, pour the hot milk in while stirring constantly to prevent lumps.
Pour this mixture back into the saucepan, and stir constantly over a medium heat until it boils.
Stir for another 2-3 minutes while it thickens to get rid of the raw flour taste that might remain.
Remove the pastry from the fridge and pour the custard over it, spreading it out a little to cover the dough.
Sprinkle with pine nuts and cook in the oven for around 35 minutes until the custard has just set and is just going golden in a few places.
Unmold the cake onto a serving plate and let cool.
Dust it with icing sugar to serve.