Back to School

As part of my preparation for the business I booked myself onto a Food Hygiene course. Apparently, having this certificate is not mandatory, there is no legal requirement for me to have it! Of course it looks good if you do and it turns out a lot of markets etc will ask to see it as part of vetting you. I also felt that it would help me work out what I need to do to my kitchen to make it ready for inspection by the local environmental health officers.

I found a course at my local adult education college in Peckham, a CIEH (Chartered Institute of Environmental Health) Level 2 course in Food Hygiene in Catering. A two day course over two weeks, 5 hours each day with an exam and a certificate (if the exam is passed, of course) at the end. There are a lot of providers out there and just a simple search on the web brings up hundreds of options. This one seemed like a good one and it is local, about a 30 minute walk from home. It costs £58 for the two days.

The first day was last Friday and I don’t mind saying I was a little bit nervous as I walked over to the college. I haven’t done any formal learning for a long time and  this was a whole new world of food hygiene. I am a trained nurse (I trained straight out of school and practised for about 12 years) so there is some knowledge about the subject deep down in the recesses of my brain, hopefully. As it turned out I didn’t need to be nervous, it was relatively painless.

It’s always interesting to see who attends these sort of courses, why everyone else is doing it. There were five other people (all women) there and four of them needed the certificate for child minding and one for her catering business. And me for my cakes. Our tutor was Danish and a strict timekeeper! If you weren’t in the room when he said he would start and you would miss out, he kept to his word too and three of the students missed the first 5 minutes of one of the sessions. Their attitude was interesting, they felt aggrieved that he had started without them even though he did warn them. I was a model student, of course! But then I can’t bear to be late for anything.

A lot of the course is fairly common sense, some science, law and temperatures. Lots about temperatures, disinfection temperature (82C), the danger zone (between 5C and 63C) and many more. At the end of the day I felt a bit deflated as I worried about how to do all this in a domestic kitchen, overwhelmed with all the information and things that have to be translated into my kitchen. But other people do it so it can’t be too hard and once I have completed the course I can then attack the kitchen and get it ship shape.

The second day is this Friday and the exam is in the last hour, 30 multiple choice questions of which you need to get 20 correct to pass. Hopefully after studying my course book this week I will pass with flying colours. I will update you after Friday.

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Baci di Dama or Lady’s Kisses to you

I mentioned in my previous post that I was off to Italy a couple of weekends ago which is always a good opportunity to seek out yummy Italian food. My brother lives near Pavia which is a smallish town outside Milan (about 30 minutes on the train). One of the main products grown in the surrounding fields is rice, for risotto (I did tell my friend that it was where they grow risotto!) and as a result they use a lot of rice flour in baking. One of these delicious treats is Baci di Dama (literally Lady’s Kisses). These are two hazelnut biscuits sandwiched with a chocolate hazelnut spread (yes, Nutella) and are originally from Tortona in Piedmonte (this is next to Lombardy where we were visiting). Made with rice flour they also have the advantage of being gluten free.

I have done a bit of research on these sweet treats and there is division over the filling, some use melted chocolate and some use Nutella. Given that Nutella was born in Piedmonte (and it is my favourite chocolate hazelnut spread) I’m going to go with the latter. I found this recipe on the David Liebovitz blog, he’s an American living in Paris so probably not the most authentic but his I like style and there are lots of pictures!

They are very easy to make especially if you use a food processor to do the mixing for you as I did, the recipe calls for hand mixing but I figured as I was using the mixer to grind the hazelnuts I might as well just add the rest of the ingredients as well. It worked fine and I only had to knead the mixture a little bit at the end. I divided my dough into three and put two in the freezer for a later date and made a batch of 8 cookies with the third.

Pre-oven cookies
Pre-oven cookies

They bake in a low oven, 160C, for about 14 minutes and then they need to cool completely before handling as they are very delicate. Mine flattened a bit in the cooking, David’s (and other pictures I have seen) were very domed. Mine started off like that but ended up a bit more like a conventional cookie.

Just out of the oven
Just out of the oven

Once they had cooled I sanwiched them together with a blob of Nutella (tasting it first just to make sure it was ok!) and they looked pretty good. Not as domed as they should be and they also had some cracks in the baked dough but that can be worked on. The taste, however, was divine. A crunchy, nutty, chocolatey mouthful of yum that would go very nicely with an afternoon espresso.

The finished article
The finished article
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Posted in Cakes

Totally Organic Cupcake

It’s Thursday already and I haven’t hit my blog posting quota for this week, I have been distracted by “things”. I realise that being my own boss means I am the one that sets the agenda for my day/week and this is very new to me. Having worked for someone else all my working life it is a bit of a shock to be the boss of myself! In work I was the organised one, lists, reminders, diaries etc. At home I am a bit, shall we say, sloppy?! So I need to start separating the work from the play and set myself tasks for the week otherwise we could be here a while!

One thing I have done this week is do a lot of research into ingredients, the main four i.e. flour, butter, sugar and eggs. As I mentioned in my previous post I am struggling with organic or not organic and I think I have come to the conclusion that to be wholly organic is possible but may not be practical across all ingredients. It is also expensive e.g. 17p per free range Sainsbury egg versus 38p for a Wholefioods organic free range egg, that is a heck of a difference (heck coming from my viewing of the fabulous Fargo on C4 at the moment!!). The other question is what difference does wholly organic make to the taste of the cake? Does it make a difference? Or is it just a warm fuzzy feeling inside knowing that no cupcakes were harmed in the making of these cupcakes?

Taste test time. I have never made a cake that used all organic ingredients so it was time to test the waters. I went into town yesterday to get some presents for my niece and nephew who we are seeing this weekend and decided to make a visit to Wholefoods to see what they had to offer. My research had narrowed down the options in all the “main four”: Flour – Marriages, Doves, Wessex; Sugar – Billingtons, Suma, Tradecraft; Butter – Yeo Valley, Rachels, Kerrygold; Eggs – Happy Egg Co., Own brand supermarket organic free range. I knew what I was looking for.

I have to say that I was disappointed by Wholefoods variety of these products. I went to the one at Piccadilly Circus and others may be better, I remember the Kensington High Street branch having more variety. The ONLY oragnic plain flour they had was Doves, likewise the ONLY organic sugar they had was Billingtons. They had lots of free range eggs but just one organic free range. They did have both Yeo Valley and Rachels butter and a French brand too. Not impressed, there are lots out there and Wholefoods should the the place to find them, right?

Given that I bought a Doves plain flour (1kg @ £1.39), Billingtons Caster Sugar (500g @ £1.87), Rachels’ unsalted butter (250g @ £1.70) and organic free range eggs (6 @ £2.29) and decided to make an organic cupcake (ok, 12 organic cupcakes, also I used Doves baking powder that I have in the cupboard). The butter was more yellow than my normal butter (I have been using Le President) and the egg yolks were also more yellow. This made for a richer coloured batter and this was born out in the finished product, a richer more golden colour (see the picture below). We tasted them last night and they were good but I’m not sure that I would have noticed a difference if I hadn’t already known about the organicness of the ingredients. Not a scientific test, I need to taste the different cakes alongside each other, then you can get a better idea.

As for the cost it worked out at £1.86 for 12 organic cupcakes versus £1.34 for 12 normal cupcakes. The big difference in price is in the sugar and the eggs, the sugar is almost three times more expensive and the egg almost twice as expensive. But not as huge a difference as I had thought, food for thought.

So the next step is to set up a taste test with some willing guinea pigs (that’s you, friends) and make cakes using the various different ingredients and see what comes out on top. I think in the end I will choose a mixture of organic, local, sustainable ingredients but always the best ingredient for the job.

SAMSUNG CSC

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Posted in Cakes