Free from festival

Here we go again....

This time around it's not 3 days but 1 day. Participating and excited to be at the Free from Festival with like minded business and meeting lots of people and of course SELL :-)

So until the 30th May, will be testing more recipes, increasing the portfolio and also making the vegan offer a bit more robust.

Life has changed quite a bit in the past year. Change is not necessarily bad but it can be terribly painful. So the time came for evaluation of everything including Nuuk. Time to focus, to reorganise my life and move forward. Just keep on making something with love and passion and that's all it matters. The rest follows.

Promise to be a bit more hands on this journal and to be super active on the website.

Check us out there on www.freefromfestival.co.uk/exhibitors/

See you there.

Isabel

Cake&Bake London

As a child I used to run some errands for my parents and would be rewarded with the change. Or I would go stand behind the dinning room table and sell them what they had asked me to go out and buy.

The newspaper and cigarettes for my dad or kitchen stuff for my mum. That meant I always had pocket money and managed my income. Because of that I soon realised I needed a place to store my hard earned cash. A piggy bank of some sort. Once it was a pirate looking caterpillar that moved around the box grabbing the money. Then over Christmas I upgraded myself to an actual cash register. It was a pretend one of course but it had to make the sound of an old cash registered when it opened. That was very important :-)

Years have gone by....I have studied, travelled, been a consultant for some of the biggest companies in the world, and this weekend I stood, not behind my parents dinning room table but behind my own counter at the Cake&Bake exhibition that I created, with a brand developed in my spare time and my own grown up version of my childhood piggy bank. An actual money box.

What I made in these three days, I can normally do in half a day as a consultant, but it's not about the money.

It's about taking action and getting yourself out there. Being uncomfortable and unsure and still go for it forcing yourself to go out of your daily routine and challenge the status quo of your life.

Learn, fail, grow, try and improve in the process because it's far better to fail because you try than never try at all. And doing it is far better than thinking about it and wonder what could be...

The future? Completely unknown.....As it should be :-)

Thank you to my sister Ana and Dino who helped me during these days because alone it would have been impossible.

That little girl charging for my dad's cigarettes behind the dinning room table was with me the whole time....I love my blue money box. Such a small thing....but these are the little things that keep us moving forward.

Teaching

And it starts...

I have now officially announced my baking courses. Starting with gluten free bread because it was almost this stubborn nagging thing in my head of wanting to prove that GF bread doesn't have to be hard and dry and overall just edible the second it comes out of the oven. 

I don't want to compete with pre sliced bread sold on Free From aisles at the supermarket. There is room for all of us. If in the event that I have eaten all of my frozen GF bread I do go and buy the ready one for an emergency. And it's quite fine. On a regular basis I wouldn't eat it though.

So hopefully the hours spent in the kitchen testing recipes for months will pay off and my future students will enjoy them as I do.

The intention is to add other courses for other types of bread, gluten free pastry and sweet treats.

I have taught before and enjoy it. Most of all I like the interaction with people and exchanging ideas, experiences. I don't know it all and have no arrogance to think that I do. I am a believer that we learn something new everyday or we should aim to learn. 

It's all very exciting really because we are always a bit concerned on how people will take it and if they are going to enjoy the recipes, the experience and overall me. Silly I know, but it's true. You want to do your best and since they are paying I am very aware of customer satisfaction. As relaxed as I can be about my teaching methods and the atmosphere I have in my kitchen, people attended my courses are paying for the knowledge and for a good recipe. I know myself from attending other people's courses how I would rate them. 

So, let's venture ourselves in this new adventure of sharing and make baking FUN.

 

Cooking...habit or passion

There's no escape on spending time in the kitchen cooking. As humans we need food to survive, so might as well make it pleasurable and with flavour rather than bland and boring. Sure I can go to M&S or Waitrose and buy ready meals. But it's not for me. Some items for sure like chargrilled artichokes which I wouldn't dare making not even for all the money in the world, but the day to day staples I can make myself. First because I grew up having homemade meals and knowing what goes into it and second because I enjoy it.

Do I enjoy it all the time? NO. There's the occasion here and there I don't really fancy spending time in front of the hob. But they are rare.

I might be a bit of a freak but it's OK. I am at peace with my domestic goddess side. Nigella? Well....there's room for both of us :-) I can be the closet one hahaha

And you won't see me in a silk robe raiding the fridge at night binging on left overs. Nigella or not, doesn't look very attractive to me, but then again I am not a man to find that appealing.

Back to reality...

Beyond cakes and sweets which pretty much almost dominate my brain, how sad, there's also normal food. The one I eat for energy and basic nutrition. 

In June I ventured myself in the world of Whole30 which means eating incredibly clean. Whole 30 is a 30 day nutrition plan that intends to remove all possible inflammatory foods to detoxify the body and get in touch with your body. That means that for 30 days gluten, alcohol, grains, sugar or sweeteners, dairy is out. After the 30 days (or more) we can start reintroducing some of the eliminated foods one at the time to check the impact on the body.

I enjoyed it a lot. It forces you to be creative and cook other things to make it interesting. I already eat gluten free, but all the others were part of my diet even if sparely. 

And so between whole30, and cakes I can safely say I spend a lot of my life in the kitchen. Humm....

Yesterday despite the horrible flu I have at the moment (seems a recurring event), I cooked quite a bit for the week. No grain scotch eggs and beef chilli. Also made some Mayo, zingy ginger dressing another sauce with sesame paste for a thai chicken dish. All experiences from the blog Theclothesmakethegirl.com.

Little protein hit 

Little protein hit 

The best thing about this chilli? it has unsweetened cocoa powder :-)

 

Even roasted some tomatoes to add to the chilli

Even roasted some tomatoes to add to the chilli

But you might be thinking. But where are the cakes? I have a few to make this week and will post them for sure. 

Now I just want the flu to go away so that I can enjoy my bike outside. Also have a presentation on Wednesday and need my brain to work and not be clogged up as it is now. Not to mention the sexy breathing with my mouth open, ear ache and overall crap feeling. 

And because I'm doing whole30, I can't have tea with honey....ohhhhh

I am going to rest now...but in the world of Arnie, "I'll be back"

 

 

And the password is....Chocolate

It's 11:35pm in the evening on a Saturday night. Lounging in the sofa with DIY SOS Big build on the TV, laptop on my lap, marble cake on the kitchen counter sliced in half waiting for the double cream to make ganache. There is always one thing that's missing from the shopping list. This time was the cream. Tomorrow is another day. 

My lovely boyfriend went out to meet a friend from South Africa to catch up and for sure tell him about his Amazon jungle adventures in Peru. I missed him a lot but supported him 100% on him going by himself to Peru for this retreat to celebrate his 40th birthday. I have travelled around the world on my own lots of times but he hasn't. It's so important to be comfortable with yourself and go explore knowing that life is there for you to grab it. My mother is from that generation that if you don't have a partner, you don't do A or B because you should do it with your better half. What if you never find it? What if you do have one but your schedule is not the same? Or your friends are married with kids and have other priorities in life? 

Is it bad timing? Is it unfortunate? Not really. Their life is theirs. Their journey. Mine was made of a job that meant I needed to travel and live in different locations for work. Ireland, France, China, Spain, Portugal, USA. And yes, sometimes it was lonely living in hotels and being away from friends and family. But what I was missing never stopped me because I always believed I was gaining a lot by doing that. I was seeing the world, meeting new people, new cultures, new food, knowing myself and my limits, my fears, my sense of adventure or lack of it. 

My boyfriend's journey was radically different from mine. Stable family, long term relationships, marriage. So, never alone. And when we met I told him I found that weird. That he never spent time by himself. At that point I was not sure my wise words would go against me, but they didn't :-) We are very much together but he's realising that being with someone doesn't mean being glued to the other person 24/7. We are two individuals coming together where the point is to complement each other without annulling and annihilating our own personal tastes and desires. Respect and trust are key. And so he went to Peru and I went to Lisbon a few days to visit family and friends. 

It's been a couple a weeks now since his return. Happy days. And today we went to Angel in Islington to check out the Chocolate Festival. Hummmm......We had never been in the Business Design center but it's quite a good venue. The exhibits of chocolate were OK. 

I confess that close to Easter I was expecting a lot more from it. Spectacular creations and art sculpture made of chocolate, in addition to beautiful cakes, truffles and other mouth watering chocolate products. But what we saw was a few stands of chocolate brownies, Easter eggs, hot chocolate (made with water) and a few other products. All good but in my view not nearly enough to Wow me.

But regardless I did take a few photos to showcase the products and the best thing was the tasting. It was also good to see new business showing and promoting their products. There were some known brands but mostly there were young people developing new ideas and their view on the usage of chocolate and presenting it to the public. That is always positive. 

I came out with a sample bottle of Baileys chocolate and a bag of tea from TeaHuggers. Dino helped me choose the tea because he's trying to get into herbal teas but so far it's not working. More for me :-) He doesn't go beyond Roibbos, his trusted South African tea.

Me, I can't have anything with caffeine so no choice really, but despite that I do like herbal infusions and very happy with the tea we bought. 

Tomorrow cannot forget to buy the double cream for the ganache and finish my test. 

A layered marble cake with a crunchy bottom (made of feuilletine, praline paste and chocolate), marble sponge and ganache. The idea is to add different textures and make the cake less dense by breaking it up a bit. Let's see how it works out. 

Baking and Broken Bodies

 Life is not made of cakes, at least for the most part. It's made up of lots of other things. One of them being waking up and after stretching slightly putting on the gym gear and face the world. 

That's how I like to start my day. Either strength training in the gym next door, or doing my couch to 5km program. I used to run a bit and then started focusing on weight lifting and abandoned it.  But now I have come back to it again and do both.... :-) together with Muay Thai. Over the past 3 weeks I've been sick with a persistent cold so Muay Thai has taken back seat. Who can endure one and a half hours of non stop gruelling workout without being able to breathe properly? Not me. Instead I have been going along the canal for a 8km brisk walk. And the cold is still here...Annoying!

After all that calorie burning exhaustion, it was time to face the stacked cake to decorate. The inspiration came from walking in the streets of London and noticing that flowers are starting to bloom and trees showing the first signs of Spring. So I decided on a simple, bucolic Cherry tree. 

By now you might have guessed I'm not loud and extravagant on my tastes. I appreciate the simplicity of things and find beauty more often on a low key but elegant ensamble, whatever it may be, than in something with the full range of colours, patterns and in your face type of effect. And so my cherry tree is simple, but sweet.

Three  tier cherry tree cake (vanilla sponge with raspberry jam and vanilla buttercream)

Three  tier cherry tree cake (vanilla sponge with raspberry jam and vanilla buttercream)

So I guess my day does revolve around cakes and decorating cakes but beyond that there is movies and books and searching for a new bike. I fell last weekend when cycling back home from Covent Garden. Here I was all happy with my new havaianas, and pow, a guy lost control of his bike in front of me and in a split second I was a body stacked in a pile of bikes. My limbs are as I speak in different parts, a light green and purple. Nice one. Muay Thai needs to wait again. No way I'm going boxing all purple. My boyfriend tells me to toughen up...Yeah right. Later...I can do boxing but deep down I am a girl. I like hitting and kicking but not very hard and do not like being hit. But because I make jokes with everything, Muay thai for me is a lot of fun. I make everyone laugh, except when the teacher is killing us with burpees and push ups. Ouch....

And then I get back to sugar paste, and flowers and butter creams and all that....what a sweet world I live in.

Tomorrow is time to bake some gluten free Hawaiian rolls to take back to Portugal for my sister to try out. They are very tasty and I make small rolls which is the perfect guilt free portion.

I normally freeze them and take one out every time I have a carb craving. I put it in the microwave 1 minute and then a bit of unsalted butter, or some cheese or ham. They are delicious. Hawaiian rolls traditionally are baked with pineapple juice so there is a hint of sweetness but not over the top. Enough to go well with whatever you want to put in it.

 

Gluten Free Hawaiian rolls for breakfast...

Gluten Free Hawaiian rolls for breakfast...

Because I'm going to Lisbon for 3 days, I won't be baking but will be cooking as my mother broke her left wrist and it's finding it a bit challenging to cook. So it seems it's good timing that I go there now.

So tomorrow is Saturday and apart from working out as soon as I wake up and get that part done for the day there is still a big list of to do's. Bike testing, rolls for sister, Boots trip to get an oil a friend asked me to buy and whatever else creeps up on me....I am hungry now. Time for stir fry. Yay!

 

 

Buttercream

The quest for the best buttercream is as subjective as saying which is my favourite colour. 

But I am going to do it anyway :-) . Because there are some varieties and all can be used in reality but a couple of them are in my opinion better. It's the case of Italian merengue buttercream and swiss buttercream. There are two big differences to the traditional buttercream. First there is no icing sugar involved and that creates the two differences, the level of sweetness and the texture. Swiss and italian buttercream are by far smoother and less sweet than traditional buttercream (including the cream cheese buttercream). 

Personally I feel that unless the cake is not particularly sweet, I wouldn't use all butter buttercream. Simply because a cake with icing needs to be balanced and that can only happen if one complements the other. If the cake is rich and sweet and the icing is also sweet then it's an overkill of sugar. Some people obviously with a sweet tooth may find this absolute heaven, but I think it's not a well balanced cake.

Additionally, the texture of IMB and SMB is amazingly smooth, like velvet and the somewhat gritty texture of icing sugar doesn't exist which creates that luscious feel in our mouth.

But testing recipes is to say the least, challenging. I have never been a big fan of butter. I can eat a toast (gluten free) with butter but it needs to be unsalted. I absolutely hate salted butter. But, I must add, my family is weird. Both my mother and sister don't touch any dairy beyond a particular cheese in years. I am more flexible, and tasting the several stages of buttercream is done in the name of  baking art. My favourite part is the end stage adding the flavour and completely changing the appearance, texture and flavour. That's when the buttercream comes alive. Today I made chocolate italian merengue buttercream and it's divine. I am going to use it in some chocolate gluten free cupcakes. Watch out for the photos...I can guarantee you cannot tell the difference between a cupcake made with normal wheat flour and these ones. They are rich, moist, soft and full of flavour. In contrast the buttercream is smooth, with a hint of chocolate but not overly sweet. Simplicity and quality.

I better hit the treadmill tomorrow....the taste of chocolate lingers!

My Love of Baking

Food has always been a huge part of my life. Portugal (where I'm originally from) has amazing regional food and despite being a small country I haven't tried even half of all it's delicacies. Savory and sweet. And although a heart warming roast, or platter of cheese with homemade bread can be very enticing,  it's with sugar that I lose myself. 

I think about it all day and all night. I think I dream in grams already. I dream of chocolate, of ganache pouring into a sponge cake, of a pastel de Belem (custard tart) still warm with sprinkles of icing sugar and cinnamon, with vanilla ice cream with raspberry coolie. The textures, the flavours, the warmth of it all around my taste buds....it's heaven. 

As I grew older and started travelling I got to try different cakes, tarts, biscuits from other parts of the world. Some more to my taste than others but overall it just made my sweet dreams more global. All of a sudden they had carrot cakes, cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies.

And then my world came tumbling down when I started developing an intolerance to wheat and gluten and simply had to remove all of these mouth watering beauties from my life. 

I only got to see them in TV shows, in window displays of trendy bakeries around London and wonder what would happen next.

I didn't give up. I bought some books on GF baking. I searched online for information and recipes and came up with quite a few. 

There is an array of things on the internet, not all of it good. I think sometimes people with allergies settle for less because they fear being a minority and therefore less likely to be the recipient of gorgeous treats like the rest.

And true, some are dry and dense and give GF a bad name, but if you care to go the extra mile, then you are welcomed to a world of deep intense flavour and sometimes even nicer and more interesting than traditional cakes. The use of almonds, hazelnuts and a multitude of flours (rice, spelt, sorghum, gram, chestnut, sweet rice, potato, tapioca....) make Gluten Free baking somewhat tricky and expensive but the flavour never disappoints.

The pleasure of baking and trying new recipes all the time hasn't faded. On the contrary, it grew to the point of restlessness. I need to bake, I must create something that puts a smile on someone's face. There is no bad weather, battered day that a fantastically rich sweet treat won't cure. If your boss is annoying you, the cake won't, if your boyfriend betrayed you, the cake won't, if you forgot your umbrella on a rainy day a hot coffee or tea and that special slice of cake will give you comfort and peace. There is no negativity with a good old fashion cake or cupcake. Brings only joy. Unless you eat the whole cake and can't fit in your jeans after but that's a different story for another blog (weight maintenance around baking obsessive people)...

 

Then the birthday of a special 6 year old arrived and I got a request. "I want a Minion cake". And the adventure began. This was a completely different ball game. Sugarpaste, templates, facial expressions....the world of novelty cakes. I took the Friday off of work to build this beast (it was a hell of a big cake) and it was the coolest thing I have ever done. The Minion had clothes, and eyes and goggles and a smile. And so did I. A very big one. 5 chocolate cakes stacked with layers of milk chocolate ganache and covered with dark chocolate ganache. A yellow funny mega Minion that brought nothing more than amazement to a group of kids and that special moment where they could stuff themselves with a chocolate bomb. PERFECT....just PERFECT.

And so it started....now I sit at home browsing recipes for hours, testing frostings, more sweet, less sweet, more spongy or fudge like....Gluten free or not...Some will always be traditional ones, others will be my adaptation to the world of GF. But one thing I can guarantee. You will not tell the difference or I won't bake that recipe again. I don't settle for stodgy just for the sake of it. I would rather not eat anything of this sort if it's not up to the standard that I think it should be. 

Like the seven wonders of the world, like looking at the most wonderful sunset makes you feel warm inside, or the memories of a visit to an exotic location that fills you up with emotion, so does an amazing cake have that power. We all know the difference between a good cake and a divine one. When you can say without a doubt this is the best cake I've had in my life, you won't forget. It will stay with you forever, and you will want to have it when you're happy and celebrate with others or sad and in need of a pick me up. Reliable, comforting, beautiful and exciting.

The journey has begun.... and a sweet one it is. ;-)

Isabel