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Baking challenge: Technically, focaccia

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 technical challenge for week three (bread week) of series two: make Paul Hollywood’s focaccia.

I always like it when one of the bakes I do for this slightly crazy challenge is savoury. I do have a strong sweet tooth but sometimes it’s nice to be able to bring one of my baked goods in to lunch for work or have it as a non-sugary snack.

Paul Hollywood's focaccia

Paul Hollywood’s focaccia

So, Paul Hollywood’s focaccia, one of the technical challenges in series two. What I primarily remember about this challenge is that the dough was very wet and some of the contestants struggled with its liquid nature and added more flour. The trick, as Paul H articulated in the episode itself, is to add the water gradually, so that the flour slowly absorbs it, rather than all it once – when it just becomes gloopy, sloshy paste. The recipe does specify some turning and folding and honestly, the dough was so liquid that it was very difficult to follow through as it just all flowed back into one. I went through the motions of the actions required, however, and miraculously the dough did over time develop a structure and got a bit more body. It was certainly never as solid as the more conventional bread doughs which can be kneaded and pummeled, though, so don’t expect that.

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Posted by on November 30, 2014 in Baking, Bread, Recipes

 

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Baking challenge: Flavoured free-form loaf

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 three of series two: make a free-form (i.e. hand-shaped, not baked in a tin), flavoured loaf.

“I’ve lost my baking mojo,” I said to my boyfriend.

“What about that baking challenge? Are you still doing that?”

“I put it on hold while writing my dissertation.”

“Well, obviously. You should pick it up again. Mm, cake.”

Paul Hollywood's fruit loaf

Paul Hollywood’s fruit loaf – clockwise from left: finished product sliced; baked; being iced; one iced loaf; two iced loaves

So, that skit above is my hello-world! return to proper cooking, baking and food blogging. Since the start of the year I suddenly found it basically impossible to keep up with my commitments, namely juggling work, and my history MA, and seeing friends, and baking. I had to knuckle down to research and write my dissertation and cut out almost all social events with friends. However, I have now submitted and it feels like I am walking into the light from out of a slightly isolated, though book-lined, cave. I was still feeling the after-effects of having handed in the dissertation – slightly exhausted and a bit at a loose end – when my boyfriend reminded me that I should really, really pick up on the baking challenge. The fifth series of the Great British Bake-Off has finished and I am still baking from the second series. I must plough on.

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Posted by on November 22, 2014 in Baking, Bread, Recipes

 

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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.

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

 

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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.

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

 

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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.

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

 

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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.

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

 

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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.

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

 

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