Hi. I'm 49 and busy setting up a vintage china hire and afternoon tea business. I have three grown up children and a baby grandson. I live with my husband and our three dogs in a house we are currently renovating from top to bottom. My dream is to buy a chateau in France and run a guest house.
I was self-isolating long before Boris Johnson put us all on lockdown. Shortly before my birthday earlier this month I developed a dry cough and a slightly tight chest. As I usually suffer from hay fever when the Spring blossom comes out I assumed this was what was happening and began using my nasal spray. I made sure everyone stayed away just in case. Mother’s Day came and went without a visit from my kids or grandson and the cough worsened. My husband began to have flu-like symptoms with a fever. Although he suffers from asthma he didn’t experience any breathing problems but he was confined to the sofa for a few days which is very unlike him.
After about five days of continuous coughing and breathlessness I was quite unwell. I had horrible back pain from the coughing and the glands in my neck were swollen. I lost all sense of taste and smell, in fact I haven’t yet recovered these. I suffered stomach pains and I struggled to take a deep breath. The only way I can describe it is that its like having a huge bulldog clip clamped onto the bottom half of my lungs, preventing me from doing more than taking small sips of air. At night this was particularly bad meaning that I had to doze sitting almost upright. Big began to feel much better after a week or so and resumed working from home, but he is still not completely recovered.
I have not been outside the house for weeks now. My daughter has been doing our shopping for us and leaving it on the doorstep. A few days ago I woke up feeling brighter and decided to do some light housework but after about an hour I was exhausted. I spoke to my mum on the phone that evening and told her I thought I was over the worst but a few hours later I was running a fever and the cough was back with a vengeance, only this time it was chesty and more painful than ever. This was accompanied by flu-like symptoms of a snotty nose and achey limbs. I am now more than two weeks in with what I am assuming is Coronavirus, though I have not been tested. I am concerned about the tightness in my chest getting worse, especially as I am diabetic. Thankfully no one else in the family is unwell as yet. I hope it is not too much longer before I start to recover and I sincerely hope that you are all keeping well and coping with this unprecedented situation.
Ok, I have a very good reason for being away for so long. I’d had enough of plodding along with the odd china hire booking here and there. I wanted more. Much more. So I decided to take the bull by the horns and put myself out there. I’m not the most confident of people as you know, I find social situations difficult to say the least, so I started off by looking up all the local cafes, farm shops and markets I could find and writing emails to them all. Initially I had some interest from a newly opened cafe just down the road. I sent her some pictures of my work and provided her with some prices. I had made a gender reveal cake to photograph for my social media pages and since no one at home wanted to eat it I offered it to the cafe as a free sample. While delivering the cake I met with the owner for a chat and she explained that although she would love to support a local baker, it was difficult to buy homemade cakes at a low enough price to make a good margin. I got what she was saying. She could buy from catering companies at a much lower cost as their products are produced in bulk. She later sent me a message saying that my cake was delicious which is always reassuring to hear.
A few days later I had a reply from the manager of a cafe situated inside a farm shop. I have been to the shop a few times but had always found the cafe too busy to get a table. The manager Sarah wanted to set up a meeting so I put my brain to good use and came up with selection of original recipes to take with me. The cafe is very busy as I have mentioned so it was a few weeks before we got an opportunity to meet. Sarah was impressed with the look of all the cakes, one was a Hummingbird cake which had no refined sugars. It was sweetened with Agave which is a natural syrup derived from a plant. After a positive meeting Sarah emailed me to say that she had sat down with her head chef and they had tasted all the cakes. They loved them but the costings I had given her didn’t give her a big enough margin. We then went back and forth with numbers until finally we agreed on a mutually acceptable arrangement. At one point I was convinced it would not happen and I was incredibly stressed but I kept myself busy as much as I could.
Now I can finally tell people my news. From Friday I will be supplying the cafe with cakes and I couldn’t be happier. To see people enjoying my cakes in such a lovely bustling environment will be joyous. And perhaps it will get my name out there, bringing more work my way. I’ll keep you posted about how it all goes.
Hi there fellow bloggers! I have not written a post for a while, apologies. Things here have been a bit hectic. I have been booked to do a big fayre in May and every waking moment has been spent planning the menu, thinking about how best to lay out my stall and stressing about all of the above! I am the lone baker in my little business so there is only so much I can produce from my kitchen. I plan to start in April and bake every day, freezing what I can in advance then finishing it all off at the last minute. My sister will be helping on the day but until then its just me.
A few weeks ago I heard from a childhood friend that she had sadly been diagnosed with kidney cancer. She is younger than me, fit and healthy and had no worrying symptoms. A chance remark to her doctor about having had several urine infections that year prompted a precautionary ultrasound examination and biopsy and in the New Year she had the kidney removed. Thankfully she is recovering well and tests have shown that the cancer did not spread so hopefully she will be able to live a normal life but it makes you think, doesn’t it? I wanted to do something more than just a personal donation on my friends JustGiving page so I have pledged a portion of the proceeds from the fayre to Kidney Cancer UK who were apparently a lifeline after her diagnosis. This has added even more pressure to succeed but I am happy to be contributing to such a good cause.
I’ve been baking regularly this year, at times I have so much cake that I am forcing it onto friends and neighbours as my family cannot eat it all. I’ve talked before about my regret at not being able to master macarons. Well, my youngest son gifted me a voucher for Christmas which enabled me to attend a Macaron Masterclass run by a local company. I was so excited that I jumped around the room a bit! The classes are very popular but I managed to get a place on a course after a cancellation so at the end of January I went along for my first ever baking class. There were ten “students” altogether, all of mixed ages and abilities, including two French ladies who admitted to eating many macarons but being unable to make them, much like myself.
The class started with a demonstration and as I watched these tricky little meringue biscuits being made I could see immediately where I had been going wrong. There is so much more to macaron making than merely following a recipe. The technique is equally important in achieving good results. After the demonstration it was our turn to recreate the recipe from memory, with the two teachers on hand to help if needed. I made lilac coloured shells and once they were all in the oven we took a short break for refreshments, tea and of course, freshly baked macarons which were divine, before heading back to the kitchen to talk fillings. Everybody’s shells had come out really well, I was so pleased as my previous attempts had never looked as good as these beauties! It really is about knowing a failsafe recipe and a few secret techniques. I chose to fill my shells with blackcurrant flavoured buttercream in a matching lilac colour. Then all too soon it was time to pack up our wares and head home. The following day I made coffee and chocolate flavoured macarons and they were even better than the ones I made in class. Since then I have made several more batches, experimenting with different flavours and colours and they have all worked perfectly. I am so grateful to my son for buying me that voucher and enabling me to finally crack macarons!
I’ve just realised that I have not posted in a while. The whirlwind of Christmas cake orders and family celebrations have left me with no time to sit and write. Now I have space in my schedule to plan this year and how I can build on my business. I have already agreed to do a local fayre in the Spring and I have some new bookings coming in for parties so things are looking good. Hopefully I will have time in the next few weeks to try a few new recipes and share the results with you.
This is the second Christmas cake I made. It’s a traditional fruit cake, fed for weeks with brandy and finished with marzipan and fondant decorations. I enjoy cutting it into cubes and eating it with cheese. X
Me again. The hotly anticipated kitchen inspection happened on Wednesday. I was incredibly nervous and barely slept the night beforehand. A member of the Food Safety team put me through my paces. She was very thorough, and rightly so. She checked all my baking ingredients for unregulated colourings, expiry dates and storage methods. She grilled me on my working methods, how I deal with the dangers of allergens and what I know about preparing food safely. She checked that the cleaning products I use conform with the current standards and she inspected my written records to ensure I have been keeping them up to date. Eventually she awarded me a five rating, the top score you can be given and told me that everything was perfect. I was elated. I have always believed that if I decide to do something I will do it to the best of my ability so only the highest score would have been acceptable.
So, onwards and upwards. I have the green light to get this business off the ground and I am so excited for the upcoming year. Fingers crossed I will get the chance to show people the passion I have for baking and hosting wonderful events.
I am really enjoying Junior Bake Off. It is so much more enjoyable to watch than the adult version for a few reasons.
1. The kids are not only very talented bakers, they are completely transparent by nature. When they are under pressure they show it, when they are confused the audience can almost see the cogs in their brains trying to work it out. When they are voted out they cry. They are not afraid to show their true emotions and that is really endearing. I think this is why Rahul was so popular in the GBBO. His childlike naivety made us all feel protective towards him and so we naturally rooted for his success.
2. Although each child wants to win, their competitive natures are still overridden by their need to help others. When a contestant is struggling the others automatically rally round, comforting the distressed child and reassuring them, while making sure they have something to put up at the end. It restores my faith in humanity. These kids are all striving towards the ultimate prize, winning the coveted trophy, but they drop everything and help out when someone in the group is in trouble. Brilliant.
3. Liam Charles. He’s just a natural around the kids. He offers constructive criticism and sound advice and the delight on his face when he tastes something delicious is wonderful. I also think that he brings out the best in Prue who can sometimes be a little stiff and proper.
4. Harry Hill. Enough said.
Liam and Prue do not go any easier on the contestants because they are children. Some of the technical challenges are fiendishly tricky, and yet the kids seem to come up trumps every time, even if they are trying to make something they have never even heard of. And the showstoppers. The unlimited imaginations of these bakers have inspired me to try and think more like a child when I’m designing my own creations. I don’t generally flap when things go wrong in the kitchen. When I am baking I’m in my comfort zone, I know how to fix things and if I can’t, I start again until I get it right. The kids on Junior Bake Off are amazing resilient too. When Eliza’s Italian meringue buttercream wasn’t coming together quickly enough, she switched to a normal buttercream and got the job done on time. When Tom’s caramel crystallised into one big lump, he scrapped it and started again. These young people are truly amazing. I wish I had been half as talented as them at their age and I just know that they are all going to make inspirational adults. I haven’t finished watching the series yet so I don’t know who won but they are all winners in my eyes.
My certificate arrived in the post. I now have Food Safety and Hygiene Level 2 and I can finally begin to sell my wares to the general public. I know how to store food safely, how to label it properly with the correct allergen information, how to ensure that everything is cooked to the right temperature, chilled to the right temperature. Yes, the course was intensive and so it should be. Baking uses mainly low-risk ingredients but I never want to make a customer, or my family for that matter, ill with food poisoning. This course would actually be a good thing for everyone to do, I was surprised how much I learned.
I feel like I am on the brink of something very exciting, a dream I have held for some time may just come true. To work for myself and make money doing something I am passionate about would be amazing. I have had some preparation to do, my kitchen has been reorganised somewhat into zones, one for preparing raw meat and fish, one for raw fruit and vegetables and one for ready to eat foods. All must be kept scrupulously clean and tidy. I have to keep written records, noting the temperature in the fridge every day, planning a cleaning schedule and making sure my baking supplies are stored in order so that nothing goes out of date. It is a lot of work but I’m hoping that it will all become second nature over time.
The Christmas menu is going up on my website very soon and then I will have to keep my fingers crossed that the orders come in. My business cards have gone into all the local coffee shops, in fact every shop I can talk into displaying them for me, well, you have to be out there don’t you?
I just realised that I haven’t blogged about baking for ages. I have been baking, of course. Since the kitchen was finished I haven’t stopped. I have been testing recipes in order to create a menu which customers can order from. Next week I take a food safety course after which I will be fully ready to open for business. I decided to offer some speciality breads as well as cakes and biscuits for the Halloween and Christmas holidays so I have been kneading for England. Above is a French Couronne, meaning ‘crown’, an enriched dough stuffed with fruits, nuts and marzipan and twisted into a circle. Baked in France for Christmas, it is glazed with a sweet icing and finished with flaked almonds. In my opinion it would make a lovely change from a traditional fruit cake. I also made a Brioche au Nutella, light fluffy bread made with eggs and butter and full of chocolate hazelnut spread. Yesterday I baked some savoury loaves with bacon and cheddar cheese. Thinking about it, maybe that is why I had the nightmare, all that cheese!
I will post separately with some photos of my cakes and let you know how the training course went (and if I passed)!