This week saw the bakers minus one return to the tent to face the tricky challenges posed by Cake Week.
In some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded in the tent, they were tasked with creating a tray bake signature, a complex technical with a fairly unusual ingredient and a two-or-more tiered cake decorated with tempered chocolate wraps.
Chocolate can be a difficult customer at the best of times, but in the extreme heat of the tent, it did not want to play ball at all.
When it came to this week’s technical, the challenge was set by Prue Leith, who told Paul it’s a favourite of hers as Claude Monet used to enjoy one every year on his birthday. This seems a fairly illogical reason for enjoying a cake to me, but who am I to judge?
The French impressionist painter, who died in 1926, was well-known for his love of food and he is reported to have grown his own fruits and vegetables and kept his own brood of chickens – long before being organic became trendy.
He was also a fan of Something Sweet (a little bit of self-promotion there) and recorded many of his own recipes in his journals, which have since been collated into the volume, Monet’s Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet.
This tome does contain a recipe for Le Gâteau Vert, but the Bake Off recipe is actually an homage created by GBBO judge, Prue Leith.
Her Gâteau Vert (which literally translates as Green Cake) uses all-natural ingredients to achieve its eponymous colouring – including the somewhat eyebrow-raising addition of spinach to colour the fondant glaze that is used give the cake its final covering.
Naturally all of my social media channels went into meltdown at this revelation, but I was not to be swayed. I pledged to attempt all of the technical bakes, so the spinach cake it is…
Le Gâteau Vert is a complex beast, made up of a genoise sponge (the downfall of many a GBBO baker), a crème au beurre filling and a layer of pistachio marzipan to cover the cake, before the whole thing is covered in a green fondant glaze and decorated with fresh edible flowers and ground pistachios.
Interestingly, during the judging of the tent baker’s technical bakes, much was made of achieving a bright green colour for the fondant glaze, but I noticed that the one presented as Prue’s at the start of the challenge was much paler in colour – as is the one on the Bake Off recipe page. As such, I decided that I would also go for the far more appealing pale green – I think the darker green just doesn’t scream ‘dessert’ to me…
Oh, and while I’m on the subject, they also were quite damning about the ‘roundedness’ of Luke’s bake during judging too, but have another look at the above image from the Bake Off website – looks pretty rounded to me, right? But anyway, I digress.
As I explained in my last #bakealongwithGBBO post, because of some of the more unusual ingredients required for this bake, I needed to head to Ocado, the delivery arm of Waitrose to track these down. If you’re struggling to find fresh edible flowers in a hurry, Waitrose can usually be relied upon to have these in stock – at least in the larger stores. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to track down any pistachio essence though, so I had to leave this ingredient out – although I did substitute it with vanilla extract for the fondant glaze.
The time allowed for this challenge was a measly two-and-a-quarter hours and there was a huge amount of work to fit in within the time. It really was a tough challenge – I’m wondering if GBBO is starting to fall down the rabbit hole of more and more complex bakes, like we’ve seen before. But enough about that for now – let’s get to it…
Like the bakers in the tent, I decided to start with the genoise sponge, so that I could be getting on with the other elements while it was in the oven. There really wasn’t any time to waste during this challenge, so organisation and speed were essential.
A genoise sponge is a very light and delicate sponge, unique in that it contains very little fat – only 25g of butter in this recipe – and no raising agent. To achieve a good rise in a genoise, one must whip as much air into the eggs as possible and then be careful not to knock any of this out as you continue to work with it.
There are many different schools of thought when it comes to achieving the essential aeration of the eggs, including gently heating them over a pan of simmering water as you whip them or beating the egg whites separately before recombining them with the rest of the mix. However, I’m a bit of a classicist and tend to just whisk my eggs for up to ten minutes, gradually adding the sugar until the eggs have tripled in size.
You can tell that your eggs are ready when the ribbon of mix from the whisk attachment remains on the surface for over ten seconds. Mine was then combined with ground pistachios, flour, melted butter and lemon zest, before being carefully poured into my cake pan and placed in the oven for 30 minutes.
Once my cake was in the oven, I turned my attention to the pistachio marzipan. I have made fresh marzipan many times before, but never with pistachios. It behaved very much in the same way though, so I think that this was this week’s ‘easy’ bit.
The crème au beurre however was not so obliging. This was where the spinach came into play and I started by sweating off the vast pile of leaves in the largest pan I have. Once it had reduced down to the tiny little clump that you always end up with when cooking spinach, it was time to blitz it in the blender before passing it through some muslin to catch all of the bright green liquid required for today’s bake. I had a bit of a disaster here – I wasn’t holding my muslin as securely as I should and proceeded to spray puréed spinach all over the kitchen! It genuinely looked like I had murdered Shrek or similar!
After cleaning that up, I continued with the bake, using the spinach water to create a syrup which was then combined with whipped egg yolks and butter – and a pistachio paste that I had created in the food processor – to create my crème au beurre.
In fact, this bake used more gadgets than any GBBO bake I have ever attempted: my coffee grinder was used to powder the pistachios for the cake, my food processor was needed for the marzipan and the pistachio paste, the blender came out for the spinach and, of course, my trusty Kenwood stand mixer was earning its keep, being responsible for the cake mix and the crème au beurre. I will be interested to see how Colin’s Time to Bake manages with this challenge, with half of his baking gear still en route to his new home.
By the time I had finished playing with complex cake fillings, my cake had been removed from the oven and was pretty much cool enough for me to start thinking about assembly. Usually, if I am working with genoise sponge, I would bake it the day before I need it as it’s much easier to work with once it has had a chance to relax, but time was ticking on and needs must.
On the show, we saw the bakers struggling to torte their cakes with bread knives and Prue telling Paul that the bakers really needed to achieve a cake of at least an inch-and-a-half to be able to do this effectively. My cake was about two inches tall, but even so, I wasn’t prepared to take any risks with a knife and instead reached for one of my favourite bits of cake kit – the Agbay cake leveller. It has a razor-sharp blade that makes easy work of levelling any cake.
After that, it was time to fill the cake with the crème au beurre and stack it up. Unfortunately, I was so short on time by this point that I simply didn’t have the luxury of being able to take photographs, so apologies for the lack of images from here onwards. Next, I covered the cake with a crumb coat of the remaining crème au beurre and then covered it in my marzipan (keeping the trimmings to munch on later – it really is good!).
Then I popped it all in the fridge, while I turned my attention to the fondant glaze. I have had a bag of Squires Kitchen Fondant Icing languishing in my cake room for a while now, so it was great to be able to use it finally. The recipe instructs us to use the remaining spinach water to colour it green and the amount of this one uses dictates how vivid the green colour is in the final result.
As I mentioned above, I decided to go for a paler colour – in the interests of making it more appetising – so I used a blend of both spinach water and cooled, boiled water to make my glaze. This was then poured over the final cake before I transferred it to the cake stand and added my edible flowers and crushed pistachios.
I had hoped to recreate the crushed pistachios around the base that we had seen on Prue’s bake during the episode, but I managed to confuse myself while writing my shopping list and didn’t quite have enough (you need a LOT of pistachios for the Green Cake). Instead, I focussed my efforts on making the top look nice and pretty and I think it looks… alright?
When it comes to the taste, I really REALLY like the pistachio marzipan, and the cake is nice enough – I’m not so sure about the crème au beurre though. I have asked some of the tent bakers what they thought of it, but none of them can remember tasting it. I don’t know if I have made a mistake along the way or if it is simply a matter of personal taste, but sadly, my regular taste tester won’t even try it – he’s put off by the spinach – so you will have to purely rely on my opinion. Regardless of this, I don’t think that I will be adding Le Gâteau Vert to my regular repertoire.
Next week, bread week returns to the tent and, from the previews, it looks like we will be tackling naan bread during the technical challenge. If you have any top tips to achieving the perfect naan between now and then, then please feel free to send them my way. Based on how this series has gone so far, it’s beginning to look like I will need all the help that I can get.
If you want to follow my ongoing #bakealongwithGBBO adventures, then don’t forget to hit the subscribe button (on the right if on desktop or at the bottom of the page if on mobile) before you go – you will also need to hit confirm in the email that I send you.
Oh, and if you fancy having a go at Prue’s Le Gâteau Vert (DON’T DO IT!), I have added the recipe link to my recipes page – click the tab above. Don’t forget to let me know how you get on…