Wednesday, 1 January 2014

A 2013 Baking Retrospective

Happy New Year everybody!  It feels like it has come around rather fast and 2014 is promising to be a big year, at least for me.  I get married in July this year (and there is still so much to organise); I shall finish my post-grad in June and graduate as a probationary level primary school teacher; and as a result, I should get my first job as a primary school teacher with my own classroom and everything.  Scary!  But, of course, I also cannot forget that my blog will turn 2 years old at the end of March!  I have to admit I am surprised that I have lasted this long but I do love doing it and want to continue doing it.  So before I embark on what I hope will be another good year for baking I thought it would be nice to look back over how 2013 was on Becca's Baking Blog!

2013 Post Round-Up

So I did not quite make the same number of posts this year as I did back in 2012 but, honestly, I was nowhere near as busy in that year.  Sure, I had a part-time job but it doesn't eat up as much time as a post-grad course and teaching placements do.  However, I still managed to bake 66 new recipes, among which were 15 cookie/biscuit recipes, 24 cupcake recipes,  7 large cake recipes and 3 ice cream recipes.

The Most Popular Recipes of 2013

In third place is the After Eight (Chocolate and Peppermint) Cupcakes.  These were a fun experiment which worked out REALLY well.  They were really popular with my guinea pigs at the time and I was asked to remake them for one of the guinea pigs to give as a going away present to her colleagues when she left work (along with the Ferrero Rocher Cupcakes).

In second place is the Pumpkin Sandwich Cakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Filling.  This was a surprise success.  I had never baked using either pumpkin or cream cheese but thanks to the Lady Behind the Curtain Dessert Challenge (which is thankfully continuing this year) I was prompted to do just that and everyone loved them.  I was also particularly pleased with how they turned out, especially in terms of their appearance.  

But the most popular of my 2013 recipes was for Lemon Fudge.  I admit, I wasn't expecting this but at the same time, I am not surprised.  This stuff is heavenly and really quite easy to make, providing you don't let it get too hot because then it goes weird.  It was nice to have a fudge recipe that did not rely on melting sugar to a certain temperature.  It was also nice that it did not take me 3 days to clean the saucepan afterwards too!  I should make this again soon.  I believe I do have lemon pudding mix in the cupboard...

My Favourite Ideas of 2013

I feel I really got to stretch my creative wings this year.  The blog challenge let me experiment with some new ingredients and combinations but I also got to try out some things of my own, particularly trying to make cakes based on other things.  Some of my more successful ideas were:

The Ferror Rocher cupcakes and birthday cake - the cupcakes were actually not my idea but a challenge set by my guinea pigs at the time, after the After Eight cakes had been so successful.  Now, I know it's also not an original idea but I wanted to create a version that did not just have a Ferrero Rocher in the centre.  Oh no, I was going to construct the cake as if it was a Ferrero Rocher, with all the different layers.  Despite the biscuit shell not working out quite as intended, the cupcakes went over really well and have been declared a favourite of some.  So when I was asked to make a birthday cake version I was determined to do it well.  Unfortunately, the initial attempt to make a spherical version collapsed.  However, the more generic shape held and worked really well and was scoffed.

Creme Egg Cupcakes - I do believe this was my first foray into making something based on something else.  I had seen creme egg cupcakes about but not quite like mine.  I was determined to make it as close to the actual sweet as I could, making use of Cadbury chocolate for all the chocolate elements and making sure there is only the fondant on the inside was coloured like an egg yolk.  It's just a shame I didn't have the right colour cases to go with them.

Milk and Cookies Cupcakes - Okay, again, not a completely original idea.  Milk and cookies (or cookies and cream) have been done before but I picked all my component pieces myself.  I was particularly pleased with the idea of using a Tres Leches cupcake recipe for the milk part, and then cookie dough buttercream (and a cookie) for the cookie part.

My Favourite Recipe of 2013

The Chocolate Topped Orange Shortbread was my absolute favourite recipe I baked in 2013 and the one I have remade the most over the year.  It has become my go-to biscuit bake for gifts because not only are they pretty simple to make, they are so scrummy!  It is also my go-to biscuit when want something sweet to eat and have nothing else about.

Some 2013 Failures

Now, I can't say that everything I made this year came out perfectly.  Or even near perfect.  There were some complete disasters but obviously they never made it onto the blog.  However, I will list them here as there are certainly some I would like to get right some day:
  • Pumpkin Fudge - back when doing the Pumpkin and Cream Cheese challenge, this was my first idea.  I thought it would be cool.  Alas, I could not make it, even after three attempts.  The first batch burnt, the second turned to some bizarre, crumbly powder and the last just, whilst better, had completely the wrong texture.  Plus I ended up with pans that were really hard to clean.
  • Baked Doughnuts - now, I have failed at these before, back in 2012, which I did blog about.  At the time I was all about trying to recognise my mistakes and learn from them, in public, but my ego and perfectionism has stopped me from doing it any more, except for talking about it when I do finally perfect it or if it pertains to the development of a different/better recipe, like the fudge above leading to the pumpkin cakes.  Anyway, back on topic, I did try these again, with...two different recipes I believe.  They didn't work out for me.  They just came out like bread rolls again.  Of course, I've never actually had a baked doughnut so I do not know if this is actually how they taste.  But I don't like it.  It's weird!  Admittedly, the fiancĂ© enjoyed them, especially the ones that got coated in cinnamon.  I love doughnuts, so I do want to be able to make them myself one day, baked or fried.
  • Chocolate and Raspberry Tart - oh so many things went wrong with this.  I thought I started well: the chocolate pastry came together great.  It just went downhill from there.  I think in part I suffered from not having a proper pie tin and particularly one that has a loose bottom for making it easier to remove.  The pastry adhered itself to the dish I was using and there's no way I was getting it out in one piece.  Not that it mattered because the other problem I had was the ganache.  Curse you ganache, you are my nemesis!  The wretched thing split on me and I could not repair it.  I was so disappointed, as I had intended it to be a good-bye treat for the teachers are Markinch Primary School as I was finishing up as a classroom assistant.
  • Chocolate and Marshmallow Stuffed Cookies - I was having a marshmallow-y week back in February, as I said when I made the S'mores Cupcakes.  I had seen the idea for these on Pinterest, in giant form, and wanted to see if I could make a smaller version because it sounded so yummy.  Unfortunately, the dough recipe I chose to use spread far too much when baking so they did not work out as intended.  I am still determined to get these right because I am certain they will be delicious!  Maybe this year they will be better?
Firsts for 2013

This year was a good year for firsts!  I am determined to expand my baking repertoire (I need to if I want to apply to the Great British Bake Off one day) and, as every blogger does, I really want to increase the traffic to my blog.  I took steps towards both this year so here are some of them:

First puff pastry - this is the biggest thing for me.  Pastry is a weakness of mine because I have no cause to make it.  I do not like pastry.  Except raw pastry.  I always used to eat the leftover raw pastry when my Mum made chicken pie.  But if I want to be a good baker then I need to make the stuff, and from scratch too!  So many rounds on the GBBO involve working with pastry... So this year I took the opportunity to try making puff pastry, which is apparently quite difficult, and admittedly it is, with all that butter trying to escape.  It is also very time consuming.  But I did it and it turned out rather well for a first (technically second) attempt and I produced some great apple and cinnamon turnovers.  Just a shame I burnt the second batch.

First time making bagels - ever since I saw it on the GBBO I had been a bit dubious of trying to make them myself because of the poaching involved.  I'd never poached anything in my life and the process scared me: especially since timing was so crucial.  However, it turns out it wasn't so bad after all and I ended up with some pretty good looking bagels!  I need to try and make myself some regular ones at some point.

First Blog Party Challenge - which has led to me getting to try out lots of new flavour combinations (peaches and cream; pumpkin and cream cheese; pear and maple) and increased my traffic somewhat.  But the thing I have liked the most about this is how much fun it is!  You may have noticed that even though my activity dropped significantly thanks to university studies, I still made time for this challenge.  I enjoy it so much and intend to keep taking part in it in the coming year.

This year was also my first time sending biscuits in the post, back in Easter when I decided to try and send something to my family.  It worked out well and since then I've sent a few more biscuit parcels to people as gifts, including more orange shortbread to my Dad because he loves them.

What I Want to Do In 2014

And to round out this post I figure I should post some goals for the upcoming year.  Here's hoping it's a good one!
  • Conquer ganache!  I want to be able to make this flawlessly every time and not have it split on me!
  • Try (successfully) making another sort of pastry, possibly sweet crust or ruff puff.  Possibly extend this and try and make a pie!
  • Make more fudge without so many failures and so many temporarily ruined pans.  Hopefully investing in that cast iron one will have been worth it.
  • Take part in all the Dessert Challenges for the year.  There are a lot of interesting combinations coming up so it should be fun!
  • Take part in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap
  • Save up for a DSLR camera because as much as I do like my point and shoot camera, it doesn't always produce the best pictures.
And possibly the most important one of all:
Make my wedding cake!

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