Cotton Cheesecake

Week 6 of the GBBO and it was Japanese week, an unusual first to celebrate 100 episodes of possibly the greatest show on the television. The signature bake was steamed savoury buns, an Asian staple. However, as last week I had made Cornish Pasties I decided to give the buns a miss. The technical bake was a ridiculous multi-layered pancake cake, which like last weeks pastry cage, nobody in their right mind would ever make. For the showstopper, Lottie, this weeks star baker, made a Japanese style cotton cheesecake to look like a toadstool. This was my challenge, to make a plain and simple cotton cheesecake, also known as a ‘jiggle’ cheesecake.

Definitely the most complicated bake that I had ever attempted, with many stages, most of which were new to me. First off I had to separate 5 eggs. Then melt butter, sugar and cream cheese together, take off the heat and add plain flour and cornflour, the egg yolks and some milk. Gently stir it together. Then make meringue, something which I had never done before, but managed with some expert tuition from my amazing wife. Carefully fold the meringue into the other mixture.

The baking is also complicated as the cake tins have to be placed into a Bain-Marie, which meant that the cake tins couldn’t be spring loaded or with a removable bottom, otherwise water would seep in. I also needed to line the cake tins with grease proof paper with a collar above the tin. The oven temperature needed to be quite low, and then reduced, before the cakes are left in the oven for a final ten minutes with the oven off.

I was quite excited about this recipe, and almost out of breath as I popped the cakes into the oven. I was using two small cake tins rather than one big one, and they did rise very quickly. I then adjusted the temperature and left them alone. The problems arose when I tried to remove them from the tins. I hadn’t greased the bottom of the tins enough, and both cakes left a significant chunk behind, and looked a little deflated.

Ignoring what they looked like, how did they taste, and did they ‘jiggle’? There was a certain amount of ‘jiggle’, although this goes as they cool. Taste wise, they were very light and fluffy, but a little eggy. I don’t think I folded in the meringue enough as you can see a few white splodges. This is difficult because if you mix in the meringue too much you will lose the fluffy nature of the cake, not enough and you get what I had.

90 minutes ago I was very disappointed, but on reflection I will take a great deal from this. I used a basic cream cheese and should have used mascarpone. Lottie’s recipe used half milk and half cream, whereas I only used milk, and she added the zest of a lime, which would have helped with the flavour. Also, she advised to use a regular spring loaded tin, but double wrap the outside with tin foil to keep it waterproof. Finally, I might not have cooked the cakes long enough on the high temperature.

As I say, this was my most difficult bake yet, and I have learnt a lot. My wife suggested having another go this afternoon, but I’m going to leave it for a few weeks before I have another attempt.

Anyway, we were both quite sad to see Mark go this week, and we noticed that Dave shed a tear. Next week is 80’s week, which might be prawn cocktails and black forest gateaux.

Book Review: Manson by Jeff Guinn

A couple of months ago we watched the Tarantino film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood starring Brad Pitt and Leonardo Dicaprio. We found it to be a hugely enjoyable film, and if you’ve seen it, you’ll know that much of it involves an alternative version of the Charles Manson Family, one where Sharon Tate isn’t killed.

Apart from the Beatles link with the song Helter Skelter, I knew very little about Charles Manson, so one of the books that my lovely and amazing wife bought for me for my birthday was ‘The life and times of Charles Manson’.

First impression of the book is how well researched it was, with interviews with as many people as possible, including his estranged sister. Manson had a troubled upbringing, but it was obvious to most people near to him that he had some serious problems.

I won’t go into too much detail about his life, except to say that it is all covered very extensively in the book. Manson definitely created a cult and could easily have ended up as another Jonestown, although Manson never managed to brainwash as many followers as Jim Jones. However Manson’s ‘family’ were prepared to say that he had nothing to do with the murders to save him, even if it meant the gas chamber for themselves.

Other details in the book explain how no body really knows if there were any other murders committed by the Family. Additionally, Manson and the detectives all come across as slightly inept. It took months for Manson and the Family to be arrested, despite many of the members boasting about the killings. Additionally, crucial evidence handed into the police wasn’t investigated until Manson had already been arrested.

I took my time with this book, never reading more than one chapter a day, partly because the murders were brutal and shocking, and partly because it isn’t fiction. I gave the book 5 stars on Goodreads and I would say that it is the definitive book about Manson.

1000 Strava Challenges

I’ve completed 1,000 Strava Challenges. Actually I’m at 1,016 as I hit 1,000 a couple of weeks ago. I still enjoy the challenges, although I think that there might be too many of them. September was the biggest month for ever, completing 52 challenges in one month alone. It took me almost one year to complete that many all those years ago. However, with all these new challenges there are loads that I don’t manage to complete.

I had a thought that maybe I should call it quits and not do any more challenges; leave it at 1,000, but then I completed a few more without realising it. In the end it doesn’t really mean anything, although sometimes it does push me out of the door if I know it is the last day of a challenge and I’m nearly there. I’m definitely fitter for them.

I will keep on doing them, and then I will keep on blogging as I reach ever greater mile stones. Here’s to the next 1,000.

Anyway, you can read about my 300 milestone here, 500 here, and 750 here.

Do you do the Strava Challenges?

Book Review: Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh

The cover for this book has it written as ‘TH1RT3EN’ but as that hurts my eyes and my brain I’m going to stick with ‘Thirteen’. My lovely wife bought this book from our local Waterstones a few weeks ago, and loved it so much she told me that I just had to read it as well. I don’t as a rule read crime thrillers, unless there is a sci-fi or supernatural element, although I used to read all of the Kay Scarpetta series of thrillers by Patricia Cornwell. I stopped reading them because I realised that they were on the whole fairly horrible. That might sound strange coming from someone who is a self confessed horror addict. The difference is that horror isn’t real, it’s escapism, and a crime thriller is by it’s very nature trying to be ‘real’.

Anyway, after that fairly convoluted introduction, back to Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh. The hook is that the serial killer isn’t on trial, he’s on the jury. An ex-con, Eddie Flynn, is the defense attorney and his client is a Hollywood A-list star accused of murdering his wife and her lover. Can Eddie prevent his client from being found guilty, and at the same time expose the serial killer on the jury?

The plot is clever with plenty of twists and turns, as well as there being a whole group of characters. However, it is very easy to follow and as with my wife, I couldn’t put it down, rushing through it in three or four days. I don’t try to guess how a book will turn out, and even if I did try to guess, I would never have got it right with this thriller.

What we didn’t realise is that this is the fourth book in the Eddie Flynn series, with a short ebook set before book 1. Don’t let this put you off as you definitely don’t need to have read the other books. I gave this 5 out of 5 on Goodreads, and the test of an author is would you buy more from them. well, I am pleased to say that my amazing wife has already bought another book by Steve Cavanagh, although not one of the Eddie Flynn series. As a bonus, I’ve just purchased the ebook version of Fifty-Fifty, the just released fifth Eddie Flynn book, and it was at the discounted price of only 0.99p, which I will assume is for a limited period only.

Stunning Silverdale

This morning we went for a gentle little run around Silverdale. ‘We’ being me, the bearded one, Helen, the beautiful one, and Nelly, the unruly one. When Helen was training for leg 5 of the Bay Limestone Round she downloaded the app Wikiloc to her phone. One of the best features of this particular app is the volume of routes that have been uploaded to it. Helen searched for something around Silverdale as we had to drop off a wallpaper steamer back to a friend. The first good route Helen found was mostly leg 5, which neither of us fancied. The next route looked perfect; 7 and a bit miles, not too hilly and by the look of it footpaths we hadn’t been down before.

We parked up at the very popular Eaves Wood National Trust car park and headed off down Moss Lane towards the Gait Barrows National Nature Reserve and the slightly misleadingly named Hawes Water. Perfect trail running as we rounded the lake, coming across the newly refurbished Gait Barrows Summerhouse.

Due to Covid it wasn’t open, but the idea is that it would give respite to wet and tired walkers, as well as allowing visitors a good view of the wildlife. It has also been designed to allow bats somewhere to live.

After a short section on the road we ran back into Eaves Wood, letting Nelly off the lead for a good scamper. We passed a woman walking her dogs who asked if Nelly was an English Pointer (she is). We then noticed that one of the woman’s dogs was a beautiful young German Pointer, with a gorgeous white tipped tail. She was only 18 months old and was having a great time playing with Nelly.

The route took us along more brilliant footpaths until we reached the coast, stopping for more photos, although they never look as good as they should. We were tempted to let Nelly off the lead again but the ‘beach’ was mainly mud.

We continued on through a couple of fields and then headed towards Jenny Brown’s point, passing a couple of disused lime kilns.

It was a bit of a slippery mud fest as we struggled across some exposed limestone, or slimestone, as it is often called. The route followed a very gently inclined bridleway up to Hollins Lane. We followed the road for another short section before the route took us down Bottoms Lane, along another great little footpath and back to Eaves Wood carpark.

This was one of the best little runs that we had ever done, full of great views and lovely trails. A big thank you to the anonymous Wikiloc user who uploaded this brilliant little trail route.

Vegetarian Cornish Pasty

Week 5 of the GBBO and this week it was pastry week. Linda was incredibly excited and then promptly managed to mess up all three challenges, which was a shame as I liked her. But, that’s the way the pastry crumbles. Both me and my lovely wife, Helen, are enjoying this series, probably because the bakers and challenges are a bit more normal. However, no one would ever in their right mind make a pastry cage.

This week the signature bake was Cornish Pastries and the technical bake was eclairs. I have never made Choux pastry and it must have been over 20 years since I made regular savoury pastry. Therefore we decided that my challenge today was to bake some tasty Cornish Pastries.

First up I chopped and roasted some potatoes, carrots, onion, squash and cauliflower, tossed in turmeric, cumin, coriander and chilli powder. Once softened I added some frozen peas and fresh chopped coriander. I then left it too cool.

Next up was the pastry. Using a Mary Berry recipe it came together easily and quickly. While I mentioned that I haven’t made pastry for years, I do often make crumbles, so I knew the basics. The pastry was then left in the fridge for 20 mins.

I then split the pastry into four pieces, rolled each one out, spooned in the filling and tried to seal and crimp the pasties. Again, this is where I came unstuck as they all looked different and only one of them looked good. I had also made far too much filling (or not enough pastry). I egg washed them and popped them in the oven for 25 minutes.

As you can see my egg washing was very slapdash.

The inside did look good, and the pastry was very good, in fact my amazing wife said that it was the best pastry and the best pasty that she had ever tasted. Proud moment for little old me, especially as once again it was my first attempt.

Next week is a first for Bake Off with Japanese week, whatever that means.

Book Review: American Scream by Cynthia True

American Scream is one of many unauthorised biographies of the late great comedian Bill Hicks. Obviously all biographies will be unauthorised as he died way too young at the age of just 32 from pancreatic cancer.

Bill Hicks was almost unheard of in America, but over here in the UK he was huge. He appeared at the Playhouse in Oxford when I lived there, but I was too slow to get a ticket. Fortunately the live show became available as a CD where you could hear him riffing with the audience. When someone told him that they were a student Bill asked if he went to Cowley High. An in joke.

Bill could be crude and vulgar, but he was also savage in his hatred for Republicans, pro-lifers, George Bush Snr, the first Iraq war and fundamental Christians. Famously he once said that humans were a virus with shoes. He could also do very funny observational comedy. Finding himself in a waffle house in the deep south of America the waitress came over and asked him ‘what are you reading for?’ Not, what are you reading, but, what are you reading for? There are some deep pockets of humanity.

Bill began his comedy as a 15 year old, escaping out of his bedroom window and performing at open mic nights in Houston. In his 20’s he went from being tea-total, non-smoker, non-drug taker to the complete opposite almost overnight. His comedy became more confrontational and he ended up burning a lot of bridges. His agent tried to hook him up with recovering alcoholic comedians, which worked as he went cold turkey and his comedy benefited. He would still indulge in the odd magic mushroom, which he found incredibly funny that it grew on cow shit.

To end, Bill Hicks was one of the greatest comedians of all time and I would encourage everyone to check out some of his stuff and if you’re easily offended find his Letterman stuff.

Book Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

This was another booked that I picked up for free from the Free Little Library on the next street, and it had been sitting on my bedside cabinet for months and months. Recently I have made a concerted effort to plough on through all of my ‘waiting to read’ books, instead of using my Kindle. I am pleased to say that I am nearly through them all, although there are always more books.

Anyway, The 5th Wave is all about an alien invasion. A very large spaceship arrives and hovers above the planet, not saying anything or trying to make contact, until after a week the 1st wave is unleashed. A huge electro-magnetic pulse is unleashed, disabling everything; cars, phones, electricity, etc, sending the human inhabitants back a couple of hundred years. The 2nd wave floods the coasts with tsunamis, and the 3rd wave is a pestilence, wiping out almost all of the remaining humans.

From this we have our two main characters, although they are leading very separate lives. Cassie and her very young brother find a safe camp, until the army arrives and takes away her brother to ‘safety’. Cassie is then on a mission to rescue her brother and meets the mysterious Evan, while Ben tries to look after Cassie’s brother as they are trained to be killers. The 4th wave is where we learn not to trust anyone, and the 5th wave…

The book started off with a bang, and hooked me in immediately. Unfortunately as I progressed the plot twists became increasingly obvious, and when revealed in the book I uttered ‘about bloody time’. I don’t usually guess what will happen in a book, but the plot was telegraphed a 100 pages earlier. While the ending was exciting, I was slightly annoyed with it all.

There are another two books in the series, and it is unlikely that I will look for either of them, which is a shame, because as I said earlier, the start of the book was brilliant. I gave it 3 out of 5 on Goodreads, which was probably a bit generous.

Bay Limestone Round – Leg 4

Back in the summer I wrote about a new ’round’, the Bay Limestone Round (read about it here). My amazing wife was part of a relay where she completed the final leg, but we both wanted to have a look at the other ‘legs’. Helen would like to do another relay, but doing a different leg, and she also thinks that I could manage doing the whole thing, all 55 miles of it. I’m not sure about that, but over the winter we’re going to have a look at all of the legs.

Today though, Helen wanted to go for a walk/run, and I suggested Leg 4, although we would have to add on a few miles to get back to the car. Leg 4 goes over Farleton Fell and Hutton Roof, and at 7.8 miles long it is the shortest leg in the round.

We parked up at the ‘official’ start of leg 4 and headed off towards Farleton Fell, which I’ve never been up before. The route skirted round the back taking an easier path to the top. The views were amazing, as we could see across the Bay and the Lake District, with the Howgills behind us. Unfortunately the photos didn’t do it justice, so here’s a selfie with the three of us.

There were great slabs of limestone as we dropped down a bit before heading up to the top of Hutton Roof. The top is fairly flat, but a handy trig point indicates the top. Once again we were foiled in the photography department as there were too many other people there, so we found the correct path and headed onwards. We almost missed the turn taking us towards Burton-In-Kendal, but fortunately Helen is a whizz with navigation.

Dropping down there was a lovely footpath with bushes both sides, making it safe for Nelly to run an ahead. Through Burton, across the M6 and another sheep free field for Nelly, and before we knew it we were at the end of leg 4. Not the end for us though, as we still had close to 4 miles to run to get back to the car, but at least it was flat and safe for Nelly.

Back home and Nelly is asleep in her bed, and me and Helen are planning on doing ‘not a lot’.

Overall impression of leg 4 was that it was much more pleasant than leg 5, and we are all looking forward to having a ‘recce’ on the other 3 legs.


Week 4 of the GBBO was chocolate week, with the signature bake being Brownies. However, the technical bake was Babka which my lovely wife liked the look of, so today I have been making my very first Babka.

First off, what is Babka? It is a Jewish celebration cake, made with an enriched dough, filled with chocolate and hazelnuts. I’ve never made an enriched dough, but it wasn’t too difficult, especially when using a food mixer fitted with a dough hook. Enriched dough means that along with the flour there was eggs, butter and milk. Once finished the dough is rolled out and a layer of chocolate added and then a layer of nuts. This is all rolled up, cut down the middle length-wise and plaited. It’s then left to prove for a couple of hours before baking. Once out of the oven the final touch is to coat the top in syrup.

I was using a Paul Hollywood recipe and once again I didn’t find it as easy as a Mary Berry recipe. This might just be me as this was first time making an enriched dough. My dough was very sticky and I struggle to roll and plait it, but it did almost double in size when proving. A proper Babka should have definitive swirls running though the loaf, which mine doesn’t. However, it tasted bloody brilliant.

Bring on week 5.