RSS

Baking challenge: 24 petit four

This post is part of my personal challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the showstopper challenge for week two of series two: make 24 miniature sweet tarts.

I was keen to cap off the third and final part of my series two pastry week challenge, but then I stalled. And stalled, and stalled, and stalled. I kept telling myself that it was because plans to see people kept being cancelled or postponed and I didn’t want to have lots of sweet things lying around at home to eat when feeling undisciplined (which is basically all the time). However, I think the length of time it took for me to get around to making these indicates that, although I love pastry work, my heart really wasn’t in making dozens of shop-window-perfect mini tartlets around the busy Christmas period. Further, I chose a really simple recipe for speculoos tarts that probably wouldn’t have won me any kudos were I taking part in the national baking competition itself.

Simple, however, can be good, and I had some of the most positive responses to these tartlets that I have ever had towards my baking. In fact, my friend Tina, who sampled them, immediately went shopping with me to buy the necessary ingredients and borrowed my petit four tins to make them for her boyfriend’s family, who she was staying with over Christmas. Eaten warm, these tartlets have a soft, heartwarming, spicey centre; eaten cold, they are like homely, brown-sugar meringues, with a crunchy, shiny texture.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 26, 2014 in Baking, Pastry, Recipes

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Baking challenge: tarte au citron

<trite insertion about being busy, not spending time baking or writing or following up on the challenge. True, but trite nonetheless> And happy new year! I think I made this tart sometime in October or November, so as you can tell I really am quite behind.

Lemon desserts are delicious, and tarte au citron must be the most delicious of all, irresistibly combining sharp citrus and cream (as well as – ideally – crisp, buttery pastry). I find most tartes au citron irresistible yet, in their coffee-shop incarnation, often disappointing: sweet, with glazed pastry baked to the colour of mahogany and the texture of terracotta. Sad times. Yet I had never made a tarte au citron, despite this – mainly because my boyfriend doesn’t enjoy them, meaning I would end up eating it all. I made this technical challenge bake (Mary Berry’s choice for series two, episode two…gosh, I have a way to go yet) when some friends came round, but still ended up eating most of it: it was just so irresistibly zesty and fresh, with that melting texture I just wanted to experience over and over again.

However wonderful the finished product, it can’t be denied that Mary Berry’s instructions were fussy and impractical, at least for me. I tried to follow her meticulously laid-out instructions for rolling out the pastry on the base of the tin, but I found this method fussy and tedious, and it just didn’t work for me – the pastry kept cracking on the hard edge of the tin base and breaking off. In the end I balled up the pastry in frustration, rolled it out again and patted it smooth, and lined the tin in the normal way (i.e. roll out and drape in the tin). The instructions below are therefore modified to reflect this. This glitch aside, this lemon tart is absolutely stunning: very simple, very sensible (no need to chuck or set aside five egg whites) and extremely delicious.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 12, 2014 in Baking, Pastry, Recipes

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Baking challenge: leek and salmon quiche

It’s a sign of how out of date I am with posting up my baking challenge that there was still some trace of warmth in the air when I served up my salmon and leek quiche (alongside a salad), which I made for the series two pastry week signature challenge (since my birthday I’ve been in a pretty hectic phase). The recipe I chose was an adaptation of one from the famous and iconic food blog Chocolate and Zucchini, which I have been reading since I was a teenager. The first food blog I discovered actually no longer exists – a sad day indeed – but Chocolate and Zucchini was the second I started reading regularly. I combined this recipe with some of the proportions from a spring vegetable quiche baked by Janet, one of the series two contestants, who did really well on quiche week. The proportions for the savoury custard from the Chocolate and Zucchini recipe seemed a little off for my taste, hence the merger of the recipes.

I was very proud of this quiche: unusually for me I took my time and was patient in assembling, chilling, and blind baking, with the result that the base of the quiche was golden, short and crisp throughout – the three of us eating the quiche jokingly scraped the underside and there was no sign of the ‘soggy bottom’, the fear of which apparently plagues contestants throughout pastry week, but which has also become a bit of a tedious Bake-Off catchphrase (like ‘style over substance’, constantly lobbed at series four winner Frances).

Quiche, before cutting

Quiche, before cutting

The quiche is truly delicious. Although it combines rich, slightly sweet salmon, slippery-sweet leeks and unctuous cream, it wasn’t heavy or cloying, but rich and smooth. The subtle onion taste of leek is really perfectly matched with salmon, and the crisp texture of the pastry was a lovely counterfoil. The quiche has lots of different textures, as well. I was pleased I’d increased the savoury custard element as it was necessary to hold all the filling together. My only note of caution would be that you ensure you season everything well. It’s really lovely and light (in sensation rather than ingredients) and is a recipe I’d be happy to make again (not something that I can say of everything I’ve made for the baking challenge, much of which has been delightful but a decided one off).

A chunky, deep, flavourful slice

A chunky, deep, flavourful slice

Incidentally, I realised that I need to draw a line under the baking challenge. I started it with the intent of improving my baking, genuinely belieiving the Great British Bake-Off would last five, maybe six series or so, before being lovingly retired. However, the show has become a phenomenon, watched by the general public, discussed in offices, and not just by foodies, and is even moving from BBC Two to BBC One, a sure mark that it’s set to become the next MasterChef. I don’t want my life (or blog) to be beholden against my will to a challenge I set myself on a whim; hence, I will be carrying out the challenges up to the end of series four, and then taking stock and moving on. There are other projects I want to set myself and I want the challenge to remain fun and creative, rather than a millstone I drag with me into middle age. Also, as the GBBO challenges are becoming more complex and professional, I am starting to think about limits to what I can achieve in the kitchen.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
2 Comments

Posted by on November 18, 2013 in Baking, Pastry, Recipes, Savoury

 

Tags: , , ,

Baking challenge: Even the cake was in tiers

When it comes to my little baking challenge (baking all the challenges of The Great British Bake-Off, yadda ya), I never pay attention to the time limitations imposed on the bakers during the GBBO. I also make other adaptations based on the stomach capacity of my two-person household, in order to minimise waste, but ignoring the time management aspect is probably my biggest deviation from The Great British Bake-Off. This is mostly because I have to try and fit the baking around my life and sometimes life involves making cake layers and then wandering off for several hours before filling.

In making this three-tier cake for the showstopper challenge of series two’s first week (cake week), however, I was up against the clock, as I was making it for my birthday party, taking place that very evening [NB more details on the stipulations of the challenge below the jump]. I had intended to get started on all the cookery bits the night before but ended up staying out late – very late – at a colleague’s leaving drinks and yapping for hours with my colleagues about work, relationships, imperialism and the colonial legacy and intervention in Syria (in that order, as the night wore on and the drinks flowed). I had also decided to occupy my oven for much of the day by making potted beef (slow-cooked; very slow) and spent a lot of time making salmon mousse and gougeres and three different jellies and chocolate-coated marzipan balls and chocolate cherries and all kinds of fiddly bits. Then, finally, cake. I decided, well, maybe the tiered cake can be for another time. But as I made decent progress I returned to the idea of the tiered cake, which I had been planning for some time. How could I let my friends down! When else would I have enough people round to gobble down a three-tier cake!

Suddenly, there was about an hour to go till the party, the kitchen was a mess, I was a complete mess, smeared with chocolate and flour, sticky and crispy with sugar, and I was approaching bake meltdown. Cake layers were all over the kitchen, ganache was too melty and the cakes I had stacked were gently sliding apart. I knew what it must be like to be a GBBO baker.

This is what cake meltdown looks like

This is what cake meltdown looks like

I wiped my tiers (ha!) (and my tears), put the cakes together and, just before serving, piled the cakes high with squirty cream. My friends lit the sparkler candles, the lights went off and my horrible, melty, monstrous three-tier cake was served. And unlike Paul and Mary, who would have needed to judge harshly, my friends were kind and full of compliments, and I remembered that I could have served them a slab of brownies and it would basically have been okay. I was glad, though, that I had made the effort with the cake.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 8, 2013 in Baking, Cakes, Recipes

 

Tags: , , ,

Baking challenge: a technical coffee-walnut Battenberg

I am falling slightly behind on the baking challenge – I have actually mostly caught up to my posts and now I just have to press on with the actual baking. However, I have been distracted by watching the actual Great British Bake-Off, series four, and by September, which is a busy month at work and personally (birthday!). It’s good fun, even though I kind of regretted starting this challenge when I saw they had to make filo pastry in this series. It looks so hard to roll it out thinly! Surely making filo at home is only for the slightly mad?

Unlike filo pastry, the Battenberg cake – a Mary Berry recipe and the technical challenge for the first episode, second series of GBBO – was actually quite easy to put together, even if my result wasn’t entirely even. I have seen The Hairy Bakers make Battenberg cake in a dedicated specialist tin with metal strips dividing the pan. Although I am not really one who needs much convincing when it comes to buying single use kitchen appliances and accessories, I mentally drew the line at a Battenberg cake tin. I do not like Battenberg cake very much and only made it for this baking challenge. Fortunately, Mary Berry is made of sterner stuff and provides instructions in her recipe for constructing your own cake divider out of baking paper. She says baking paper, but I think that you will need some foil-lined baking paper to create a sturdier divider, just as they used on the show (you can buy it at Lakeland, as noted below, which also appears to stock half the show just based on a brief glance at the GBBO set and Lakeland shelves). Presumably Mary recommended plain old baking paper as it’s easier to get hold of.

Despite the need to construct things with baking paper and string (I didn’t bother with the string. String? Do people keep that around? I may be adult enough to wipe up spills, recycle empty wine bottles and keep a little stash of rubber bands in my cabinets…but not enough to hoard kitchen string. Sorry Mary).

Incidentally, I thought I’d mention my favourite GBBO round-ups from the Internet. GBBO, by its nature genteel, charming and likeable – with equally likeable ‘characters’ whose loveliness is often approvingly contrasted to contestants on The Apprentice – with fairly low stakes (I mean, we are talking baked goods rather than heart surgery, and winning a trophy and a bunch of flowers) lends itself to some pretty funny, good-humoured writing. The dramatic incidental music and editing also leads to wry commentary, as does Paul Hollywood’s oft over-the-top judging. Some of the funniest writing on the GBBO has come from forums and blogs.

Most of the main newspapers do round-ups/summaries/recaps/what-have-yous of the GBBO, but I like The Guardian’s the best: funny, affectionate, and lacking the occasional sneering that some recaps from other newspapers have featured (not mentioning any names, of course…). The Guardian’s blog reads like it was written by someone who actually likes the show, whereas some of the others seem to be written by people who disdain it rather.

I really enjoy the episode summaries from Stuck in a Book, which is primarily a literature/book-y blog. The writer started rounding up series three quite late in the series, showcasing a love for Sarah Jane, the vicar’s wife, and Cathryn ‘Oh-my-giddy-aunt’ Dresser, but it was worth the wait, and series four has been recapped. A blogging break was recently announced but there are plenty of episodes to catch up on. A favourite feature is the Official Andrex Puppy Most Adorable Mary Berry Moments.

A devastating though sadly short and one-off description of GBBO is available on a forum. Although only a paragraph, it’s a description that I have come back to time and time again. Paul Hollywood described as “a chubby bloke with a beard [...] with a mafia-like ‘Do I amuse you’ stance” pops into my head every time they zoom in on him chewing. I can’t even read this out to my boyfriend because I laugh so much.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 26, 2013 in Baking, Cakes, Recipes

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Baking challenge: 24 chocolate raspberry cupcakes

If you haven’t yet read Wolf Hall or Bring up the Bodies, could I recommend it? I just finished the latter and feel shivery and sad, obviously two emotions everyone should feel regularly. I’m so glad that the head of state can’t summarily execute people anymore where I live.

I’m on to the first of the challenges for series two of my ‘bake my way through the Great British Bake-Off challenges’ challenge! Very excited to have crossed this Rubicon (not this one – not big on mango). (Note from my personal musical history: I first heard the phrase ‘Cross[ing] the Rubicon’ in this song by Aimee Mann.

As always, the first episode of the series was cake week. The signature challenge was to bake 24 cupcakes with the sponge and icing in different, yet complementary, flavours (up to two varieties – I only made one). Looking over the challenges for series two in my notebook, I note several patterns: one, the introduction of stipulations on quantities in almost all challenges, and the requirement that various elements of the bake be in ‘different’ flavours, indicating that they were eagerly scouring out those with a talent for combining flavours in unusual ways. The second series of the show was much more polished than the first; for example, Mary and Paul used to wander round the tent during the technical bakes in the first series, but the judging really was ‘blind’ from the second series onward. When re-watching the episodes a while ago (when they were on the iPlayer) so entrenched had the technical challenge as ‘judged blind’ become in my head that I was really shocked by this!

Anyway, creative cuppety cakes. One of the limitations I face when making the challenge is that I want the things I make to be pleasing to people around me, and also eaten by them, so while I had lots of ideas for lime and mint cupcakes and similar, I thought they wouldn’t be particularly appealing to the people I was serving them to (boyfriend and his two siblings), and I didn’t want to be responsible for eating lots of cake myself, so I chose a relatively classic, even safe, combination, that of chocolate and raspberry. Unusually for me (!) I made a ‘normal’ buttercream, that is, just butter and icing sugar, rather than attempting a Swiss meringue. This was because I thought the raspberries would add too much extra liquid for the Swiss meringue buttercream to take, but excess moisture is easier to adjust in a standard buttercream. I didn’t like the texture as much as a Swiss meringue buttercream, though it was nice enough if I pretended to forget how much sugar went into it. I used quite a bit of the raspberry coulis, which made the frosting quite soft and spreading: it only held its piped lines for a few hours. I do think the addition of raspberry extract or liqueur is necessary for a punch of flavour.

The recipe I made was based on a cupcake recipe from the blog Annie’s Eats, and it states that she couldn’t remember how many cupcakes the batch of batter yielded, but it was probably around sixteen with a little left over. I therefore erred on the side of caution and made the cakes in shallow, small bun trays rather than larger American-sized cupcake tins, and I just about managed to eke out 24 as per the dictates of the challenge. More likely you will get 16-18.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 2, 2013 in Baking, Cakes, Recipes

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Baking challenge: tea party in the sun

I’m a bit behind on posting up my progress on my personal baking challenge. For the final challenge for the series one challenges, I baked up a tea party’s worth of treats for some friends, which we enjoyed in my sun-dappled flat sometime in July. In the meantime I’ve been on holiday and when I returned it was raining heavily. However, a tea party in the rain could be just as good. Especially as, when I made everything, it was extremely hot and actually a little uncomfortable to bake so much. However, it did mean the bread rose incredibly fast.

The final challenge (and also Finals challenge) for the first series of the Great British Bake Off was to make brown and white bread for sandwiches; a miniature pastry; and scones, all coming together in a traditional afternoon tea. I made cucumber and ham and cheese sandwiches, using Nigella Lawson’s recipes for bread; chocolate meringue tartlets; and maple scones (a North American twist on a British invention to be sure). The maple scones were the standout hit; when I baked them, my friend exclaimed “what is this amazing smell filling the room?” With so many baked goods, there were leftovers, which tasted fine the next day, even the scones.

Series four of the Great British Bake-off is now showing, and I caught up on the first episode yesterday (I was away when it first aired) (also, some spoilers below). I was surprised at how simple the first challenges were after the technically demanding and complex challenges of series three (sandwich cake, angel food cake, chocolate cake for series four, versus upside down cake, rum baba and hidden design cake in series three). Maybe the show wants to go a bit more ‘back to basics’? Or maybe they were running out of ideas for challenges – there is, perhaps, a limit on how you can challenge people with cake. Still, despite the simplicity, there were quite a few screw-ups as people struggled under the challenge of time pressure, cameras and (probably) little sleep. Paul was up to his usual antics, and if anything seemed to be playing up to type more than ever: he criticised the concept of a grapefruit cake (why? grapefruit is delicious!) and then said “annoyingly, I really like that”, which is a line he pulled when judging a bacon, peanut butter and chocolate pie for the American Baking Competition, the US version of GBBO. The space engineer who was Star Baker was amazing: the chocolate cigarettes he made looked stunning.

 

Read the rest of this entry »

 
4 Comments

Posted by on August 26, 2013 in Baking, Biscuits and cookies, Pastry

 

Tags: , , ,

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 44 other followers