Rum Babas

Week 9 of the 2020 GBBO and the bakers were tasked with making Savarins for their signature bake. Savarin dough is wetter and stickier than a regular dough, making it almost impossible to knead by hand, something that I wished I had known before starting. The end dough is therefore piped into the moulds. One of the most well known savarins would be the rum baba, which is what I attempted to make yesterday.

I found a recipe on the BBC Food website by Paul Hollywood, which isn’t a good start for me as I always seem to struggle with his recipes. Anyway, everything about making rum babas would be steps into the unknown for me.

First step was to make the enriched dough. I have made bread a few times in the past and not having a food mixer at the time I’ve always done it by hand. First mistake, I should have used the food mixer that we know own. I should also have read up a little more about savarin dough so that I would have known what to expect. Because I couldn’t knead it by hand I ended up adding lots more flour until it behaved more like a regular dough. I will admit that I became slightly frustrated. To calm down I took Nelly our Pointer to the park while the dough proved.

Upon returning the dough had nicely risen, so I rolled it into the savarin moulds. I should have been able to pipe the dough. After a short prove they were put in the oven. After five minutes they had risen amazingly. Due to the wetter nature of a savarin dough, it shouldn’t rise too much more, and not above the level of the mould, which mine had.

While this was going on I could make the rum syrup, another new step for me, although this was quite easy. Water, sugar and rum into a pan and bring to a rolling boil until the mixture is nice and syrupy.

After nearly 25 minutes I could bring the savarins out of the oven to cool on a rack. I carefully popped them out of their moulds and poured the syrup over them, turning them over to repeat on the other side.

Next up was to make Chantilly cream. Another new step for me, although once again this was nice and easy. Double cream plus icing sugar with a little vanilla essence was whipped up until nice and firm. The cream was then piped into the centre of the savarins, adding fresh raspberries and a light dusting of icing sugar.

Arty photograph once again courtesy of my lovely wife, and as you can probably tell, my rum babas look nothing like rum babas. However they did taste really good, much like a rum soaked brioche. Definitely not a waste of time or ingredients, and at least I know where I went wrong. Another bake which I will be trying again over the winter.

Next weekend me and Helen will be attempting the technical bake from the final, namely making Walnut Whips. This involves making walnut biscuit, chocolate ganache, marshmallow and tempered chocolate. What could possibly go wrong 🙂

All of my other bakes can be found here.

Book Review: The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen

My lovely wife doesn’t like to read horror novels because, by their very nature, they are horrific. I disagree. I believe that horror books by and large are not horrific because of the paranormal or sci-fi elements. It is highly unlikely that you will meet a vampire or a ghost. Clive Barker likes to twist our perceptions in that the monsters in his books are not monsters, and the real ‘monsters’ are humans.

This brings me on nicely to The Surgeon; an above average crime thriller which had me gripped most of the way through. However, it isn’t very nice. In fact it is more horrific than almost any horror novel that I’ve ever read, except maybe for some of Shaun Hutson’s books where horrific is the only purpose to the detriment of any kind of storyline.

In the book a serial killer is on the loose. He is tying women up and removing their uterus. He is targeting a doctor in Boston who was the only surviving victim of a different serial killer a few years previous in a different city. Are the two events linked?

The story unfolds through the eyes of the two main homicide detectives, Rizzoli and Moore, as well as from the intended targets point of view. It all moves along nicely, although there are some of the usual tropes, for example, the misogynist detective and the family of the female detective who don’t take her seriously.

I gave the book 4 out of 5 on Goodreads as I did want to know what would happen next. I also found out that Tess has written another 12 books with the same two detectives. That is a great of time and money to invest and even though I did (kind of) enjoy The Surgeon, I’m not sure if I want to wade through any moor books that horrible.

Book Review: 65 Proof by J. A. Konrath

Until about a year ago I had never heard of J. A. Konrath, but then I found out that he had written a short mash-up with one of my favourite authors F. Paul Wilson.

Before I review 65 Proof a little interesting back story about Mr Konrath. He always wanted to be a writer, and never stopped writing. He would submit short stories to every single place imaginable, more often than not receiving rejection. But he persevered, and his writing improved, he honed his craft, and eventually the rejections became acceptances. He then managed to publish the first of his Lt. Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels thriller series, which now number in the double figures. Mr Konrath is living proof of never giving up.

Anyway, 65 Proof is a collection of 65 short stories, most of which have already been published in various magazines or anthologies. The collection is split into four distinct sections; Jacqueline Daniels and friends, Crime, Horror and lastly Humour.

I’ve never read any of his Lt. Daniels books, and I’m not a particular fan of generic ‘Crime’, so it took me a while to read the first half of the collection. However there were a couple of real gems hidden among the horror shorts. One with a werewolf who meets a weresquirrel and a weretortoise, who are being hunted by a red suited nemesis known as Satan’s Claws. Thoroughly entertaining, as was the story of two serial killers. One who kills hitchhikers and the other who is a hitchhiker and kills the people who offer her lifts. Who will gain the upper hand when they meet?

What I like about short story collections is that I can read one at night and then put it away to read something a bit meatier. As a few of the stories didn’t really work for me I gave the collection 4 out of 5 on Goodreads, which was probably a little generous, but as I said, there were a few absolute gems.

Baked Cheesecake

The most recent week on Bake Off was week 9, however I am now a week behind with my baking as we went 10 days without a kitchen. Salads and take-outs only, but we are now the proud owners of a brilliant new kitchen, with plenty of space for baking. It is very exciting.

I will be honest and say that cheesecake is probably my favourite pudding, so when the bakers were tasked with baked cheesecake for their signature bake in week 8 it was an obvious choice for me. I have made a non baked cheesecake a couple of times in the past, so once again this is another first for me.

A quick search online and Delicious Magazine had 20 recipes to chose from. Trying to keep it simple I went with blueberry. The ingredients were fairly simple; mascarpone, cream cheese, blueberries, sugar, zest of an orange, three eggs and then crushed biscuits with melted butter for the base.

I have to say that this was one of the easiest bakes I’ve done. Put everything into a bowl and let the food mixer do its thing. Once the mix is nice and smooth add most of the berries. Pour into the springform cake tin on top of the biscuit base, add the last few berries and bake in the oven on a medium/low heat for 50 minutes.

It didn’t look too bad and the good quality arty photo was taken by my amazing wife. Thank you Helen.

How did it taste? Bloomin’ amazing! It was still nice and light inside and the orange zest complimented the sweetness. Possibly it could have done with a couple more minutes in the oven, but I was worried that it might burn. Another success.

Week 8 also saw the departure of Lottie, our favourite baker. Sad but it was the right decision after her ice cream cake collapsed.

Week 9 was patisserie week and the signature bake was to make six savarins, which are a light cake made with yeast and soaked in liquer-flavoured syrup, or just use some alcohol. I have a love for rum, so next weekend I will have an attempt at a Rum Baba.

All of my previous bakes can be found here. Who else is looking forward to the final on Tuesday?

Book Review: The City by Dean Koontz

I’ve been a fan of Dean Koontz for over thirty years ever since I was given a copy of Phantoms by my uncle. However I’m not a sycophant with his books. I will say if I don’t think they hit the mark. Sometimes, like Stephen King, his books are needlessly long, and some of his books are probably best left staying published under a pseudonym, for example, The House of Thunder by Leigh Nichols. I recommended a couple of Dean’s books to my lovely wife, who doesn’t generally enjoy horror, sci-fi or the paranormal, but she thoroughly enjoyed Watchers, his best book. The City was one book that Helen bought but struggled with, so I gave it a go.

Set in an unnamed city, the story is told through the eyes of a dying musician as he looks back upon his youth. Jonah is a prodigious pianist, with a mother who is a talented singer and her father who is also a pianist. While this seems important, looking back I realised that this is incidental to the story. When Jonah is ten he meets a woman who is the embodiment of the city, and she guides and aids Jonah as his father forms an alliance with a group of murderous thieves.

My thought on the book was that at times I had to work at it, almost plow on through it. The book would benefit from losing at least 100 pages from the first half and losing an additional 50 pages from the second half. Mr Koonts also uses one of his favourite tropes for the climatic ending with a thunder storm. I gave it three stars on Goodreads and one for the fans only. There is also a prequel called The Neighbor, which unless I stumble across it in a charity shop or the free little library on the next street, I will probably give it a miss.

You can find all of my Dean Koontz reviews here.

Zombie High Street

My lovely wife has started an online writing course, and assignment 1 has already been sent off. Helen had to write a 500 word descriptive piece, and I have to say it was better than anything I have ever written or probably ever will. Part of assignment 2 is to write a ‘filler’.

Magazines and newspapers are always hungry for ‘fillers’, which generally run between 300 and 500 words. These short pieces are used to plug the spaces left in the overall design of a newspaper or magazine after positioning the main pieces on the page. Apparently they can be a good source in extra income for writers and journalists.

What does any of this have to do with the Zombie High Street. I had an idea for a short blog entry, which could, in theory, be used as a filler, if it’s any good, although I wouldn’t have a clue how or where to submit it.

Zombie High Street

For many people, after the hustle and bustle of a busy working week, Saturdays can become an easy going and pleasant routine. Lie in, walk the dog, have a coffee and then wander into town for some retail therapy, a skinny latte and a large slice of carrot cake.

Lockdown 2.0 has hit the UK, just as the shops would be gearing up for the festive bonaza. Only essential shops are open. In our medium sized market town this would be Marks & Spencers, Boots and Wilkinsons. Cafes, pubs, bookstores, charity shops, Lush, WH Smiths, etc, etc, all closed, their staff once again on furlough, worrying if they’ll have a job to go back to.

This Saturday, town was busy, and busy for no reason. Nothing was open, there was nowhere to go. The ‘essential’ shops weren’t unduly busy either, so why were there so many people?

The 1978 classic George Romero zombie film was set in a shopping mall. The place is full of zombies milling around. The undead were drawn to a place that had meant so much to them when they were alive. Have we become living zombies, drawn to town centres because they used to be alive? Is Covid-19 the beginning of the apocalypse?

Many High Streets had almost become ghost towns before the global pandemic hit. I for one hope that the High Street endures, thrives, becomes better with a greater array of diverse smaller shops. Use Amazon if you must (other online retail giants are not available), but the shopping local mantra should guarantee the survival of our towns and prevent us becoming living zombies, searching for what was there, but has gone.

Barbondale Walk

A couple of months ago, my lovely wife and I went for a 9 mile walk around Barbondale. We both love this secluded valley and I’ve blogged about it a couple of times in the past (read about it here).

We parked up in the posh little village of Barbon and headed towards the church. A track meandered alongside Barbon Beck which was safe for Nelly to have a scamper.

She’s always a happy little pooch and today is her 10th birthday. Out of the trees we walked along the valley in the shadow of the incredibly steep Calf Top. We crossed over the road and continued gently up towards Bullpot farm.

At the farm we joined the road for half a mile before heading back onto the hills. With a distinct lake of sheep we could let Nelly free once again. She won’t chase sheep, but a farmer doesn’t know that so we always keep her on a lead when there are sheep about.

Another short section on the road brought us to a long bridleway, with land art sculptures created by Andrew Goldsworthy. The perfect place to have our lunch.

Further along the bridleway there were a collection of bright toadstools. Not for eating!

Back onto the road and past the magnificent Whelprigg, a huge Victorian mansion built in 1834. As we crossed the estate the footpath had a ‘bull in field’ warning sign, so we followed the road back into Barbon.

We finished off our walk with cake and coffee at the brilliant Churchmouse cafe. Definitely one of the best little walks we’ve done all summer, and you know that we’re getting fit when we call a 9 mile walk ‘little’. Helen enjoyed it so much that she returned to run it a fortnight later with a couple of friends. If you’re ever in the area, Barbondale is an absolute hidden gem of the north.

Mini Book Review: The Circus has Landed by Clint Lowe

I don’t generally review short stories unless they are part of a collection, but this one disappeared on me. I was browsing free books to download for my Kindle when this particular one appeared. I ‘bought’ it and later that evening I started to read it. I finished it the next night as it only took about an hour to read, but when Goodreads requested a rating an error message came up. I searched both Goodreads and Amazon and this short story, as I mentioned earlier, had disappeared. Maybe the publisher or author hadn’t intended for it to be available for free. Who knows?

Anyway, a flying circus lands in a small village and a teenage boy pleads with his father to be allowed to see the circus. A grumpy old clown is taking everyone’s money and encouraging them all to buy hot dogs. I can’t really tell you any more of the plot without giving away the ending. Suffice it to say, this book was deservedly in the horror category. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will be keeping an eye out for more books by Clint Lowe.

Book Review: Walking a Golden Mile by William Regal

I am of that age where I used watch religiously Saturday afternoon wrestling on ITV’s World of Sport. I was gutted when it was cancelled. Watched by millions the new controller, Greg Dyke, wasn’t a fan and made the decision to bin it. As a result, the only way to watch wrestling was from the US on satellite TV, while the UK scene died a death. A few years later ITV started showing WCW wrestling from America at random times in the week. I would check to see when it was on and always tape it. Imagine how happy I was when a familiar British face appeared on the screen.

William Regal knew from an early age that he wanted to become a wrestler, and at the age of 16 moved to Blackpool to realise his dream. It was a few years before he found his feet and the Steve Regal moniker, but just as he was becoming a household name, the rug was pulled out from under him, with the previously mentioned cancellation of TV wrestling in the UK.

As I said, he was invited to America and wrestled as a ‘face’ for a few weeks, before turning ‘heel’ as Lord Steven Regal, before becoming William Regal many years later with the WWE, or WWF as it was at the time.

The book is very candid and doesn’t shy away from the drink and drugs, but by God there were a lot of drink and drugs. Much like with John Cooper Clarke I became slightly infuriated with it. However, William did go to rehab, patched things up with his wife and children and achieved even greater success. However, the book finishes in about 2004, and William’s career as a trainer of the next generation of wrestlers, and then as the commissioner of NXT, the feeder organisation for WWE, arguably just as interesting.

This book was for my Kindle and the formatting wasn’t always correct. In a couple of places paragraphs were repeated, and about a dozen times there was a missing space after a comma. Minor things, but there is no excuse from a large publishing house for incorrect formatting, or for that matter with a self published book. It shows that someone cares.

Anyway, I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads, but if you’re not a fan of wrestling you should probably give it a miss.

The Wyre Way

At the weekend me and my lovely wife wanted to go out for a little run/walk. However, with Lockdown 2.0 we didn’t want to drive too far. Helen had a look on Wikiloc and found what looked like a great little 8 mile loop starting and finishing in Abbeystead; all of it on the Wyre Way.

The Wyre Way follows the River Wyre from it’s source near Abbeystead all the way to Fleetwood where it flows into the sea. The route also has a circular loop at each end, and it was the circular loop at the source that we did.

Abbeystead is a popular spot for walkers, but as we were there nice and early the car park only had a couple of other cars. Setting off and once again I hadn’t checked to see which way the route went, so after a couple of minutes we backtracked and headed off anti-clockwise. Almost immediately we ran past Abbeystead House, built in 1886 for the 4th Earl of Sefton.

The picture doesn’t show just how big the house is, and this was as close as the footpath went. Over a little bridge and through a couple of fields on an amazingly sunny November morning. With no sheep we could even let Nelly off her lead for a scamper.

Sometimes it wasn’t obvious where the path headed but Helen’s Garmin was keen to ‘beep’ if we went too far off course. We then had a short section on the Trough Road, before heading back into the Forest of Bowland. Whoever lives in the shooter’s lodge was getting ready for Christmas, with a few very large turkeys.

As with all of the footpaths in the area there are very big ‘No Dogs’ signs, but when you read the small print on the Open Access Land information, it states that dogs are allowed as long as you keep to designated Public Rights of Way, which footpaths are.

We walked up the steep shooters track until a footpath sign took us to the left, where a couple of minutes later we were once again back-tracking to find where exactly the footpath went. This was the only time that we lost the path as the Wyre Way was on the whole very well marked.

There were a couple of very high ladder styles, which Nelly struggled with, although she hates to be carried even less. I have to say that the views were stunning.

We then dropped down to a farm in the tiny hamlet of Tarnbrook. A farmer shouted at us. We weren’t sure why as we were definitely on the footpath. It turned out that he was shouting about having a kennel full of Pointers. His wife rushed out of the farm to chat with us. She is the President of the UK Pointer Club and knew all about Hurstead Pointers, where Helen had picked little Nelly. As expected, having half a dozen pointers she was a fan of the breed. We laughed at the pointer foibles; poor recall and a love of chasing birds is very common, as is wanting to sleep on a human bed. I wouldn’t have any other dog. Later that day we looked at the Pointer Club website and it appears that pointers are often very good at agility or canicross. Even though Nelly is an old girl I would love to have a go at canicross, if she didn’t get too distracted.

From the farm we walked through a couple of muddy fields before returning back to the car. But, we hadn’t finished our run as there was a small one and a bit mile loop around the Abbeystead Reservoir. The path was slow going and muddy, but after passing a sad looking pond we came upon the impressive looking, although small, reservoir.

The reservoir forms an important part of the Lune/Wyre transfer scheme, where water is pumped from the Lune into the Wyre to supply the needs of the growing town of Garstang and the other towns downstream. In 1984 a group of 44 people were visiting the site, and unbeknown to anyone there had been a methane leek from a coal seem a mile underground, and when the pumps were turned on a subsequent explosion killed 8 people, while another 8 died of their injuries later in hospital.

I didn’t know any of this, but Helen remembered about it and had a look on Wikipedia. You really don’t expect a tragedy of that magnitude in a small Lancashire village.

Back at the car and there was a small queue of vehicles waiting for spaces, so we headed off as quick as possible. Another brilliant little run, just over 8 miles, and another thank you to Wikiloc.