Being a ‘Yes’ woman, as I feel I have become since starting my blog, has many benefits. True, at times it can make life a little crazy, and I did have to learn when to say no to make sure I don’t give up time for myself or family! But being open to new experiences, challenges, and just generally jumping headfirst out of my comfort zone is something I’ve been quite happily doing for the past year. And I love it.
I’m no chef. I’m a doctor by career path, and one who is passionate about the power of the effect of how we live (food, movement, sleep, stress) on our health. I call this area preventive medicine, and with it, health promotion. As many of you know, I started my blog for two reasons – to create a home for the healthy recipes I was using to fuel a busy junior doctor life, and to create a platform from which to share sustainable healthy living messages with you guys. I absolutely love it. It’s grown as I have, both as a person, a doctor, a foodie and a blogger!
In 2017, somehow, my blog won Best Irish Blog at the Health Blogger’s Community (HBC) Health Blog Awards. I was literally shocked (in a good way!) and so so grateful, and still am! That event connected me with the HBC, the fantastic work they do, and you can read more about those awards and their work in articles I’ve written here.
So this year, when the HBC announced their first ‘Bake Off‘ event, I got REALLY excited. I am 100% much more of a ‘cooker’ than a ‘baker’, if that makes sense – but that was exactly why the event caught my eye. CHALLENGE. And a fun one at that! I absolutely LOVE the Great British Bake Off show too – I watch very little TV, but the GBBO is incredible. I’m sure many of you love it too! I’ll happily admit I loved the idea participating in one myself – but I did feel relieved to know I wouldn’t have Paul Hollywood judging me!
The style of the competition was as follows – as bloggers, we entered a recipe favourite of ours from our blog archives, and a shortlist was created from a combination of public and judges votes. I entered my Black Velvet Beetroot Brownies which I created with the Irish chocolate company Magic Mayan last year, and are one of my proudest tastiest bakes on my site! After doing a week long cookery school in April I figured I had upped my skills a bit this year, so why not just get further out of the comfort zone!
I was so delighted to make the shortlist, and thank you all again for your support and votes to help get me there! That meant a trip to LONDON, a city I am so so fond of, to compete in the Bake Off Final – EEK! Seven of us travelled to the College of Naturopathic Medicine in Percy Circus compete on August 17th – two from Ireland, and the rest from the U.K. All leading ladies! Many of you asked me all about the event before and after, so I figured why not write about it and share the experience!
So, two weeks before the day itself, we were sent two recipes created by Benn Hodges, Head Chef at Eat First, who would of course be one of the judges on the day. The first recipe was a Coconut & Almond Pudding (with poached nectarine and summer berries), and the second was a Cherry Ripe Polenta Cake (with coconut chantilly and cherry sauce). When I opened the email with the recipes, THAT was when the nerves kicked off. Two things in particular stood out to me as cheeky little challenges for me personally – creating a nectarine rosette in the first recipe (see the photos below, it takes SKILLZ guys – and yes, that’s an intentional ‘z’), and the use of polenta in the second. I had never attempted either! EEK!
Entirely out of my blogger comfort zone, I went on an ingredient hunt, and over the next two weeks, practiced both recipes twice each, asking my lovely guinea pig family to be my tasters! It was interesting to see the different tricky parts to both the pudding and the cake. I found the pudding itself simple enough to make well, but the presentation aspect? Not my strong point, to put it lightly! And the polenta cake turned out really well in practice, except that the polenta I used was a little bit too coarse for a decent cake texture. And I hadn’t been able to find a key flavour ingredient – orange blossom water!
It’s safe to say I caught my early flight to London on the 17th feeling VERY excited and just a touch nervous too! I listened to a Podcast interview with Mary Berry herself to channel some inner wisdom and strength… I think it worked! Of course, I knew the event itself was going to be great fun – we were to be given one recipe each to make and present in a time frame of two hours, all of us working in the same kitchen. I chatted to the other bake off contestants, all such lovely girls with amazing blogs/Instagrams, and I’ve linked to the HBC website here so you can find them, and here is a full list of their Instagrams too:
- Mairi Rivers @gingervegan
- Jelena @the_food_dna
- Camilla Dempster
- Sophie Parker @oatsodelicious
- Anna @themellowkitchn
- Rachel Evans @healthyandpsyched
Thankfully, on the day, I was given the Polenta Cake to make – when I saw the finished Coconut Almond Puddings four of the girls had made with beautiful nectarine rosettes, I was VERY relieved that I was spared presenting my embarrassing attempts! We had so much fun baking together. There was music on, chatting, questions, helping hands and laughter throughout. I had a SLIGHT oven issue with my cake (okay fine, so I put it in the oven which in fact, wasn’t actually on…fifteen minutes later we figured that out, there’s more to the story I promise but ANYWAY – haha!), but apart from that, my bake went so well! My cake only came out of the oven with ten minutes to go until presentation to the judges, so it was a flurry of activity to slice and serve as pretty as possible!
We then had a judging session, where everyone brought up their cake or puddings (3 of us made the cake, and 4 made the puddings), before the judges collaborated and picked our worthy winner Mairi, and second and third places for Camilla and Jelena! So puddings came in first and third place, and Camilla’s cake in second! I was so so happy with how my cake turned out – we used a much finer polenta in the bake off, and of course the blossom water, and it made all the difference! The judges were so lovely after tasting my cake, and happily for me, my aunt and uncle happened to be in the U.K. on a holiday, so they got to come and taste too!
The event finished with a Q&A Panel with our judges, which was really interesting, touching on topics like kitchen essentials, food trends, sustainability in cooking, and recipe inspiration. It was such a positive and just FUN experience for me, and I found myself in my kitchen element competing!
I want to say a big thank you to the HBC and the College of Naturopathic Medicine for organising such a unique event, to the judges for their feedback and being so friendly, to my fellow blogger gals for just being lovely talented people, to my family for being great taste-testers, to my aunt and uncle for taking time to come (and eat!), and of course, to YOU guys for your support in voting for me to make the shortlist! I hope you enjoy this little ramble about the experience, and the best bit is, now we have the REAL GBBO to get hooked on!
As always, any questions, comments or vibes in general, just get in touch – I’m @theirishbalance on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook!
Ciara 🙂 x