As you know, for a fair few years now, I have been baking along with The Great British Bake Off and I absolutely love it. It has probably had the single biggest impact on the quality of my baking than anything else I do, because, each year, it pushes me to try new and unusual bakes that I would never even think about trying otherwise.
Obviously, I’m a bit behind with the latest series of GBBO, because the first episode screened while I was away on my UK tour (see Mr Baker’s Blog on Tour to read more about that), so I have somewhat ambitiously decided to try and crack out both last week and this week’s technical bakes this weekend to get me back up to speed.
Yes, you read that correctly: although on my first couple of attempts I allowed myself to cherry-pick which challenges I would attempt (out of the signature, the technical OR the showstopper), two years ago, I found myself being repeatedly drawn to the technical challenges and so, last year, I made the decision to limit myself to just the technical bakes.
As with last year, throughout this series, I will be attempting the same bake as the bakers in the tent each week, following the same rules and timings as the contestants and I will post the result of my efforts, regardless of how successful I may or may not have been.
So let’s get to it…
In a rather dramatic shift away from all of the previous series, week one of The Great British Bake Off 2018 saw the bakers attempt not cakes, but rather biscuits in the first episode.
The first technical, which was set by ‘the male judge’, challenged our newest band of bakers to recreate Wagon Wheel biscuits, the childhood favourite first introduced to the UK 70 years ago by Burton Foods. Paul explained that he had chosen the classic confection due to the many different elements that go into it, in the hope that it would really test the bakers’ abilities to create multiple elements under pressure.
The bakers were given two-and-a-quarter hours to create eight individual Wagon Wheels, each made up of two crunchy biscuits, a light and fluffy layer of marshmallow, a seedless raspberry jam and, of course, the all-important chocolate coating.
The recipe that the bakers were given was suitably vague, but I think that (as usual) I have noticed an issue with it (check out last year’s posts to explore my conspiracy theories regarding the GBBO Issue of the Week): it seems that the bakers were instructed to use a combination of both milk and plain chocolate to coat their wagon wheels, whereas the published recipe online (which you can find here) only calls for dark chocolate. Hmmm…
I decided to go with the combination for mine, in a ratio of two parts 70% dark chocolate to one part milk chocolate. I find that dark chocolate on its own can be rather overpowering in a multi-flavoured bake, so I hoped that the milk chocolate would offset this somewhat.
Because of some of the more unusual ingredients required for my next challenge (Cake Week’s Le Gâteau Vert), I was forced to order this week’s food shop from Ocado, rather than my usual Sainsbury’s and I was sat on the edge of my seat waiting impatiently for it to arrive when I got home from work. Luckily it finally got here (right at the end of my possible delivery slot, of course), but in all of the panic, I stupidly forgot to arrange all of my ingredients for the all-important ‘gingham alter’ posed shot – gutting! However, with no time to waste, the timer was set for two hours and fifteen minutes and I got cracking on my first #bakealongwithGBBO of 2018.
I started by creating my biscuit dough in my favourite supersized Mason Cash vintage-style mixing bowl. Anything that involves me getting wrist-deep into pastry or dough has to be whipped up in my trusty old-fashioned bowl as it takes me right back to my early days of baking with my grandmother, the original Mrs Baker.
I then popped this into the fridge to cool for 30 minutes, while I turned my attention to the raspberry jam – something we bakealongers have made MANY times now, so no issues there.
The marshmallow however was an entirely different animal, commanding a whole four steps of its own on the official GBBO recipe.
I started by preparing the gelatine, before setting it aside and creating a syrup of sugar, glucose and water – heating it until it reached 120°C on my trusty sugar thermometer (a fortunate gift that I received last Christmas after destroying my last one during 2017’s #bakealongwithGBBO).
This was then combined with the gelatine, before being slowly poured over whipped egg whites until thick and glossy. Finally, I added vanilla extract before spooning it into a piping bag and leaving it to cool.
The piping bag was supposed to be fitted with a 1cm round piping nozzle, but after seeing how many of the bakers struggled with excess marshmallow, I decided to go nozzle-less in the hope that this would avoid me going overboard while piping (isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?).
I also decided that I would slightly change the suggested technique for assembly, by piping a shallow ring of marshmallow on to one of the biscuits (in addition to the layer of marshmallow on the other biscuit), which I could then fill with piped-in jam. I hoped that this would then create a seal and prevent me from having any leakage issues. But I’m rushing ahead…
Once my jam and marshmallow were cooling, it was time return my attention to the biscuits and this is where my first issues arose (#issueoftheweek?). The recipe tells us to roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface, until it is 3mm thick. It then instructs us to take a 8cm cutter to cut out the 16 biscuits required to create the Wagon Wheel’s essential sandwich. At 3mm thick, I simply did not have anywhere near enough dough to cut out 16 biscuits! Flicking back to episode one (I always have it queued up ready, just in case), I did notice that the bakers were told to use a 7cm cutter – is this a potential error in the recipe perhaps? Did anyone else have an issue here?
In the end, I decided to roll out my dough even thinner – to around 2mm – and then managed to cut out the required number of biscuits, which the recipe then told us to place on a lined baking tray and place in the freezer. I don’t know about you, but I cannot fit a large baking sheet in my freezer – and I have a huge American beast, so goodness knows how anyone is supposed to do that?! In the end, I had to take them off of the trays and place the baking paper directly onto the shelf. Hence some of the rather more interesting shapes of my biscuits!
After that, it was time to pop them in the oven for quick 12-minute bake, during which, I really did watch them like a hawk. They looked rather sorry for themselves before they even went into the oven and, afterwards, they weren’t looking much better…
Then it was straight into the fridge for a quick chill before the dreaded assembly. As I’ve already mentioned above, I decided to go fairly rogue with this and it seemed to produce a fairly neat finish – at least until I tried to cover them with chocolate.
I’ll be honest, my freezer was my friend during this challenge, with me throwing my Wagon Wheels in there at every opportunity. After filling and sandwiching them, and with only 15 minutes to go, I decided to pop them back in the freezer to chill them down, setting the marshmallow as much as I could, before I subjected them to the chocolate.
This seemed to be the point where many of the tent’s bakers struggled and a number of different strategies for covering were explored. Some chose to pour the chocolate over the biscuits, while others opted to spread the chocolate with a palette knife. We even saw Jon trying to rub it on by hand and Luke resorted to a pastry brush to try and fill the tricky gap around the outside.
I started off intending to use the pouring method, but it quickly became clear that there wasn’t really enough chocolate to allow me to do it properly and, like many of the tent bakers, I ended up reaching for the palette knife. However, while scraping the sides, I realised that I hadn’t been as clever as I thought with my rogue filling technique. Well, either that or my marshmallow was slightly too runny. Adding the chocolate seemed to encourage further marshmallow splurging and they really did end up a bit of a mess.
I have a lot more sympathy for the bakers now I have been through the drama myself, I can tell you!
In fact, I was really surprised by just how tricky I found this bake. Without the heat issues of the tent and having made most of the constituent parts before, I honestly thought it wouldn’t be too bad. It just goes to show that it can often be the deceptively simple bakes that turn out the most difficult.
I have presented my offerings to the official taste tester and his verdict is that they are yummy, but a little rich – he couldn’t manage more than one. Infinitely better for my dark and milk chocolate combo though…
As I’ve already mentioned, episode two sees the bakers (and me) face a tricky cake technical challenge with one ingredient in particular that raised eyebrows both in the tent and online. I will be getting straight on with that one tomorrow morning, so be sure to pop back and find out how I got on – or of course, you could subscribe using the box on the right (or at the bottom of the page if on mobile) and I will send you an email when the next instalment of my #bakealongwithGBBO2018 is published.
If you fancy having a go at Paul Hollywood’s take on a traditional Wagon Wheel, head to my recipes tab, where I have added the recipe link. If you do give it a whirl, be sure to let me know by messaging my Facebook page or why not join my dedicated Mr Baker’s Blog from Mr Baker’s Cakes Facebook group?