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#BAKEALONGWITHGBBO: Week 9 – Patisserie

What… a… week…!

Going into the semi-finals, it seemed the tent was once again engulfed in an oppressive heat wave and the bakers – and their bakes – were suffering as a result. It was Patisserie Week this week and our final four, Sophie, Steven, Kate and Stacey, were facing a choux bun signature, with craquelin toppings; Prue’s souped-up version of the traditional Belgian Misérables for their technical; and elaborate meringue showstoppers that had everybody cracking under the pressure.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I found this week’s episode particularly hard viewing. Maybe it was the lack of Liam’s humour and youthful exuberance in the tent, but something was definitely missing. Although flapping around in a panic seems to be Stacey’s MO when baking (I can relate!), she seemed to be particularly stressed this week and when Steven’s chocolate basket was melting in the ridiculous temperatures, it seemed like it could be a metaphor to represent his dying hopes at judgement time. I was practically yelling at the television when both he and Sophie were manhandling their cracking meringues and making them even worse. All in all, not fun at all.

Luckily for all of us #teamsteven-ers, he was allowed to continue through to the finals, along with Kate and this week’s star baker, Sophie. But sadly, we said goodbye to Mrs ‘I’m going to go again’ herself, Stacey.

But anyway – that technical? What?! I couldn’t believe the amount of work the bakers were expected to cram into three hours – I was even getting texts from my friends saying, ‘Surely you’re going to skip this one?!’ Well in spite of the fact that Cake International is only a week away and my competition entry is FAR from complete, I was not going to be beaten by patisserie!

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To assemble all of the ingredients for Prue’s Les Misérables, I had to visit three – yes THREE – supermarkets and lay out a small fortune – and that was without replacing my sugar thermometer which sadly died a death during Pastry Week. I actually considered starting a crowdfunding campaign to pay for these at one point…!

Now, there are so many individual elements to this bake, that I’m not going to bore you all with a blow-by-blow account of the whole thing, but rather touch on the highs and lows of the task…

Last time I made a joconde sponge, I managed to knock too much of the air out of my eggs, so I was really happy that I managed two separate successful jocondes for this bake with no problems. Well almost no problems – I might not have mixed my food colouring in as well as I could. There MIGHT be a couple of particularly green hotspots inside my pistachio joconde!

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The French buttercream was a bit of a tricky spot though, as it involved heating a sugar syrup to precisely 116°C, which was difficult without my thermometer. I had to resort to the technique usually reserved for jam making – sticking a tea plate in the fridge and dropping spots of the syrup on to see how they set. It seemed to work and I might actually be a little bit in love with French buttercream now.

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The other hard bit was trying to temper chocolate – still without a thermometer AND in high humidity. I did get to crack out my marble slab though. I got it as a gift last year and this was literally the first time I have ever used it for the purpose it is intended for. If I’m honest, my chocolate isn’t tempered, there is no shine and it still has a low melting point, but I got them on there, so I’m calling it a win.

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When it comes to the taste of this bake, I honestly think that there is too much going on. You’ve got the almond running throughout, then the flavour of lemon from the lemon joconde and the lemon syrup liberally applied to each layer of sponge; vanilla from the vanilla bean French Buttercream; raspberry from the fresh raspberries and the freeze-dried raspberry powder; pistachio from the pistachio joconde AND dark chocolate. Too much! A traditional Misérables simply marries up the flavours of an almond joconde with a vanilla bean French Buttercream – a divine combination. I often think in the case of patisserie that less is more – perhaps a lesson that the Bake Off researchers could learn?

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Has anyone else had a go at the recipe? What did you think? A case of technique-over-taste or did you like the flavour combinations? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Next week, we head into the grand final of The Great British Bake Off! Who will win? Steven, Sophie or Kate? I’ll see you next week to find out…

All Content, GBBO

#BAKEALONGWITHGBBO: Week 8 – Forgotten Bakes

Is it safe to talk about Bake Off yet? Have we all calmed down?

Week eight brought us to the quarter finals and Forgotten Bakes week, with Prue and Paul (or their researchers at least) scouring ancient cookbooks to find “classic creations of yesteryear that have been overlooked” AKA the most obscure and fiddly recipes they could muster up.

Our signature challenge, this week, was the Bedfordshire Clanger, a pasty-like, suet pastry-based bake that marries savoury and sweet fillings to provide a whole meal on the go – and provide ample opportunities for witty word play. Would anyone ‘drop a clanger?’ (Incidentally, yes. Kate did.) The technical required the bakers to create a Cumberland Rum Nicky, topped with a 14-strand lattice and served with a batch of traditional rum butter. Finally, the show stopper saw the bakers crafting a selection of elaborate fat-less sponges with no raising agent: the Savoy Cake. Served on a plinth also made of sponge.

At the start of the episode, we were treated to a VT of the nation’s favourite uni student, Liam optimistically declaring, “I just need to be consistent, bang out three good bakes and I should be fine. See what happens, innit?” And as it happened, Liam did remain consistent, failing to impress the judges in any of the three rounds and sadly, he was sent home, with Stacey claiming Star Baker.

As the nation collectively gasped in horror, accusations began to fly around. How had Kate survived after quite literally dropping a clanger? Did Stacey deserve her star baker win after ripping the oven door off its hinges? Both have fielded complaining tweets admirably this week and ultimately, the judges’ decision is final, but I know many didn’t take the decision well – myself included (I do love a GIF).

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Now, after my BB8 dramas last week, it looked like I wouldn’t have time to craft my Cumberland Rum Nicky before tomorrow’s episode arrived, but thankfully this week is half term and so I have afforded myself the luxury of a day of baking today. Granted I also have my Cake International pieces AND a tutorial to complete this week, but my Nicky was top of my list.

On the show, the bakers were provided with a gorgeous wide-rimmed pie dish in which to create their Nickys (Nickies?), but I don’t have anything similar at home and my local supermarket failed to provide anything also. I decided to use a flan tin instead and just opted to mentally prepare myself for this to be a terrible decision, as is usually the case when one deviates from the GBBO recipe.

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The recipe calls for the inclusion of medjool dates, which are large and amber in colour, but I already had some bog standard dried dates in the cupboard, so I just used those. These were coarsely chopped and added to chopped apricots, crystallised ginger, brown sugar and 50ml of rum. The bakers were not afforded a way of measuring their 50ml of rum, so, in sympathy, I opted to free pour too. These were then left to soak (in my grandmother’s old pudding basin) while I tackled the pastry. As always, Paul dictated a particularly fiddly method of crafting a sweet shortcrust, but luckily it was not vastly dissimilar to those we have seen before and so this made for a fairly easy start to the bake.

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The #disasteroftheweek struck, when it came to splitting the pastry to ensure I had some set aside for my fourteen-strand lattice. In my distracted state (the phone rang), I managed to drop the third I had set aside for the lattice on the floor. Brilliant. Due to time constraints (and laziness), I decided that I would just make my lattice from the cut-offs, once I had lined the tin. This meant I could only manage a ten-strand lattice, but I honestly don’t think it would have been too much of an issue even in the tent. Paul’s usually OCD about such things seemed somewhat lacking this week.

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Once finished, it was time to place it in the oven for an initial bake of 15 minutes (after which I trimmed the edges – flan tin, remember?) and a second bake of 20  minutes at a slightly reduced heat.

While it was in the oven, I turned my attention to the rum butter and immediately screwed it up by adding my rum too quickly – causing the mix to separate and curdle. Yum. Luckily I had enough time and ingredients left to go again – which meant I got to hand-beat my butter twice! Yay*!

[*please note some exuberance may be sarcastic in nature.]

Removing the gooey tart from the tin provided a final challenge, but luckily I eventually managed this without a hitch and then it was time to taste it!

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VERDICT: All in all, I don’t think the Cumberland Rum Nicky deserves to be consigned to the history books. The rum and the ginger pack a flavour-filled punch and rum fans in particular will like its pairing with rum butter. I found the two together a little over powering, but the Nicky on its own is delicious. I could easily see it proving a popular addition to our Christmas dinner dessert selection.

In tomorrow’s episode, our final four, Steven, Sophie, Stacey and Kate, head into the semi-final, facing challenges including choux buns and a meringue sculpture showstopper.

I’ll see you then…!

All Content, GBBO

#BAKEALONGWITHGBBO: Week 7 – Italian

This week gave us another Bake Off first! During what were apparently some of the hottest temperatures the tent has ever seen (hotter than Palermo we were repeatedly told), the bakers were challenged to create a selection of traditional Italian bakes, while the nation drooled and wished they had some cannoli of their very own…

As soon as the first ever “on your marks, get set….infornare,” were uttered, the bakers were flustered, toiling as they were against the rising temperatures. Speaking of cannoli, this week’s tasks included a cannoli signature (a classic Italian pastry with a crisp bubbly shell and a creamy, sweet ricotta filling), a margherita pizza technical – without rolling pins (dun dun duuuuun!) – and such a horribly complicated showstopper that the sfogliatelle task might as well have been another technical challenge!

After last week’s preview, I was genuinely expecting Kate to be carted off in an ambulanza mid-episode, but it turned out she merely cut her finger on a fan. I don’t know about you, but I want to know what her finger was doing IN the fan?!

Anyway, Italian week saw my favourite baker, Steven finally regain his star baker crown, while the baking scientist and queen of amazingly unusual techniques, Yan was sent home. Sad face!

Back in the Mr Baker’s Cakes kitchen, I’ll admit it, I was feeling cocky. Pizza? I make pizza all the time! In fact, I even help other people make pizza – kids at school, culinarily inept friends – even my other half!

I had to make a couple of minor adjustments to the recipe this week. I know that is technically against the rules, but my local supermarket were out of ‘doppio zero’ (also known as Italian 00 flour) and I didn’t have any fresh yeast on hand. I substituted the doppio zero for normal strong bread flour and the fresh yeast for fast acting Easy Bake Yeast.

I started with the dough, which was pretty painless and against the advice of the recipe, let it prove in an oiled bowl, as I normally would. Due to pizza’s short bake time, I could afford a good 55 minute prove, while still leaving time to cook it throughly.

My first drama actually appeared while making the very simple tomato sauce. My brand new tub of ultra fine sea salt decided that they all wanted in on this bake and erupted out into the pan. Fortunately it was all concentrated in one small area, so I was able to scrape it out and salvage the rest of the mix. I tend to under season anyway (I’m a bit of an anti-saltist), so it probably means my food was adequately seasoned for once.

Once the dough had proved, the fun began. Now I have had my fair share of experience with tossing pizza dough. I think everyone who has made pizza from scratch a fair few times must have at least experimented with it – who knew that being a pretentious poseur would eventually pay off though? The benefit of tossing over rolling is that you form a nice thin base, while still maintaining a thick enough crust to contain all manner of fillings. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to photograph oneself (ahem) tossing and believe me, I tried, so you will need to use your imaginations, I’m afraid.

In the case of this pizza, the only topping provided was the traditional mozzarella, so I generously loaded this on – probably more than I should have done, but I LIKE CHEESE!

I really do like cheese.

Then it was into a roaring oven (240°) for 13 minutes and by the time it was ready, we were both crowded around, ready to enjoy some tasty, bready, tomatoey and cheesy yumminess.

To complete the il Tricolore palette, I added my fresh basil right before serving to ensure it was as fresh as can be. TOP TIP: Leave the largest leaves and aim for those that are slightly smaller towards the top of the plant. They are far more flavoursome!

Confession, we ate the entire thing moments after this picture was taken. Seriously. I was still holding the camera when I took my first bite. While not as tasty as other pizzas I have made, if I do say so myself, this recipe really allows the key Italian flavours of tomato and olive oil to sing and I would happily make it again. And I rarely say that about a Bake Off recipe!

Next week, our final five head into the quarter finals and I shall see you then!

Ciao!