#BAKEALONGWITHGBBO, All Content, Blog, GBBO

#BAKEALONGWITHGBBO: Week 1 – Biscuits

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.

Cap: All4/Channel 4/Love Productions

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.

As I’ve told you before: if a bake ends up looking a bit ‘informal’, hide it as much as possible with a good blur and a ton of text! 😉

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?

Happy Baking!

All Content, Blog, GBBO

I applied for GBBO – here’s what happened!

This won’t come as a surprise to those of you who have been following my adventures for a while now, but I love The Great British Bake Off. What you may not realise though is that I actually came to GBBO quite late. Although I have been a fan of baking for most of my life, it was only when I started getting a bit more serious with it (around the time that I launched my Facebook Page) that I also starting showing an interest in the world of baking around me – and that includes GBBO.

I had heard of GBBO of course, but I’m not really a big watcher of live television, so I had never caught an episode – in spite of MANY people telling me that I should.

Photo: Love Productions 2014

Purely coincidentally, it was the year that GBBO moved from BBC2 to BBC1 that I eventually gave in to peer pressure and sat down to watch the first episode of series five. I can honestly say that from that first signature challenge onwards, I was well and truly hooked. I have to say that I think I joined at the right time too – it remains one of my favourite series, even now. Obviously, I have now gone back and re-watched all of the earlier series ad nauseum, so don’t worry about that!

It wasn’t until the following year that I decided that it would be even more fun to bakealong with the show and so my #bakealongwithGBBO was born. I originally started by cherry-picking which challenges I would attempt, but as I found myself being drawn to the challenge of the technical bakes more and more, last year, I decided to up the stakes by limiting myself purely to the technical bakes. Across the series, I attempted the same bake as the bakers in the tent and my self-imposed rules were that that I had to follow the same rules (and timings) as the contestants and post the result regardless of how successful I may or may not have been. You can read all about how I got on with last year’s technical challenges here.

2017’s Patisserie Week Technical

During the three years of my #bakealongwithGBBO, I have had so many messages and comments from people telling me that I should apply for GBBO, but I had always laughed them off. Prior to my #bakealongwithGBBO adventures, I had always been a bit of a one-trick pony when it came to my baking – cake was where it was at. However, as my #bakealongwithGBBO broadened my horizons, I started to find enjoyment in more ‘genres’ of baking. It probably has had the single biggest impact on my baking than anything else I do, because it has forced me to try things that perhaps I would never even have thought to try otherwise.

In regards to applying for GBBO, I remained reluctant though. Not only would the filming schedule be pretty much impossible alongside my full-time job, but if I’m honest, I simply have no desire for fame. I am a bit of a hermit and so the thought of suddenly placing myself front and centre on national television wasn’t necessarily something I was prepared to do.

Obviously, as I have started blogging, it has forced me to put myself out there more, including my appearance on The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice last year and so this year, I finally decided that this year was going to be the year. Yes, you heard that right, I FINALLY APPLIED FOR GBBO!

2015’s Bread Week Signature

I’ll be honest, my feelings about ‘fame and fortune’ haven’t changed and I had no idea how I would manage to combine an appearance on the show with my very busy working life, but I felt, if nothing else, it would finally give me a response to all of the people who constantly tell me to apply: ‘I did!’

The first stage of the application process is a VERY long form that you have to complete and it asks you about your experience of baking within many different ‘genres’, including bread, biscuits, patisserie, cakes and a lot more besides.

It was actually very soon after I sent off the form that I received a call from one of the show’s researchers for the next stage of the process – the telephone interview. I was actually still at school on the evening that they called and ended up spending about an hour on the phone to a very friendly chap telling him all about myself, my life, my baking history and a lot more besides – oh, and answering some REALLY tricky baking knowledge test questions. However, it became very clear at this stage that my considerable online presence might be an issue.

GBBO is a competition to find the nations best amateur baker and, although yes, technically I am an amateur baker (Mr Baker’s Cakes is not a business and I don’t sell my cakes), I got the impression that the fact I had previously worked with brands and magazines, had my own website where I posted recipes and tutorials and had competed in international competitions was going to be a problem.

Do you remember last year, when the press discovered Steven Carter-Bailey’s Instagram account and there were all kinds of accusations that he was in fact a closet professional? I wondered if the GBBO team were worried about a similar issue with me…

A follow up discussion with the team reinforced my theory that this was going to be a problem and it ultimately came as no surprise when I didn’t progress to the next stage of the audition process. As I have already said, I already wasn’t 100% on board with competing on the show, so I wasn’t massively disappointed, but at least now, when people ask me why I haven’t appeared on the show, I can answer quite honestly, ‘Well, they didn’t want me…’

It also means that I can continue to enjoy the show from the vantage point of my own sofa, before tackling the technical bake in my kitchen and writing all about it for you here.

Of course, we now know that The Great British Bake Off will be returning to our screens one week from today, on Tuesday 28th August at 8pm on Channel 4 – slap bang in the middle of Mr Baker’s Blog on Tour! Don’t worry though, I will be tuning in from my hotel room in Glasgow and I will be tweeting along with the episode too – feel free to join me live on Twitter.

Photo: Mark Bourdillon/Love Productions

The newest bakers to be welcomed to the GBBO family have been revealed this morning and I am doing my best to obtain one of the hallowed press packs to share them with you all. But in the meantime, you can head to the GBBO social media channels to find out more.

I can’t wait to see what new challenges the GBBO team have dreamt up for the new bakers and can only imagine how tricky it must have been to bake in the tent during some of the crazy weather we had earlier this year. It would only be fair to admit though that at least a small part of me will be smugly sitting there watching and thinking, ‘Rather them than me!’

 

If you want to follow my #bakealongwithGBBO adventures during this year’s series, then be sure to hit the subscribe button on the right before you go! You’ll also need to hit confirm in the email I’ll send you too.

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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.

final

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…