Learning to bake has been a relatively recent discovery for me. It is only in the past couple of years that I've started to get to grips with it and produce cakes and bakes that are edible rather than total disasters.
I have to admit that I still have my fair share of disasters but getting things to turn out well has been really satisfying - I remember managing to get madeleines to rise as they were supposed to, making chocolate pastry tarts that actually looked pretty and tasted nice, and finally managing to ice cookies properly! I hope you can hear that element of surprise in my voice because it really is a surprise when anything I cook turns out well.
What I discovered most was how much I enjoyed being in the kitchen and learning to bake. It became my 'therapy'. Once I discovered that a kind of magic happens when you throw together eggs, sugar, butter and flour and end up with cake, it became something I did to escape and relax.
But the more I baked, the bigger my waistline was getting and a couple of months ago I decided enough was enough. I started to eat better but it meant an end to the baking.
Whilst I'd cut out the cakes and biscuits and refined sugar treats, I still needed a sweet treat to get me through the day. I discovered cacao powder - (which for ages I had assumed was a misspelling of cocoa) and things like cacao nibs. I discovered almond flour and buckwheat flour and that amaranth seeds can be puffed liked tiny popcorn.
Then the most beautiful cookery book caught my eye in Waitrose. It was called 'Clean Cakes' and had a stunning cover. I had a quick peek inside but the ingredients seemed even stranger than all the unusual stuff I was just getting to grips with. So I put the book down but made a mental note to look up the author and see what I could find out.
I ended up at Henrietta Inman's website and found a wealth of recipes there which I am hoping to try out. The book went on my birthday list along with The Saffron Tales (my husband gets annoyed if I just buy them when I want them as it leaves nothing for him to give to me for my birthday) but in the meantime I just had to try out the recipe for Homemade chocolate when it popped up on Henrietta's blog.
I just made a fifth of the quantity and used small plastic moulds that I had saved from packaging (I love keeping packaging to re-use as it can come it very handy like when I made chocolate TARDIS for the kids instead of Easter eggs one year!)
And I was so pleased when my chocolate set that it turned out so well!
I used the suggestions in the recipe as inspiration for the flavours using rose petals, chopped pistachio and freeze dried raspberries as one combination. Goji berry, mulberry and pumpkin seeds as another, and finally raisins, hazlenuts and whole almonds as my final flavour. They were all wonderful!
I'm so pleased that I have found somewhere to get inspiration for healthier alternatives to sweet treats.