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Baking challenge: finally, flavoured biscuits

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 technicalsignature challenge for week four (biscuits week) of series two: make 12 biscuits, combining unusual flavours.

I always like it when the baking challenges are for bread as it’s nice to have a savoury option or three. Biscuits are admittedly much more fiddly and not really something I make on a day-to-day basis. In fact, there’s a reason I still haven’t attempted the showstopper part of the biscuit week challenge, macarons: it’s just something quite fiddly which requires patience, focus and diligence – three qualities which I try and apply to my day jobs but I am in increasingly short supply of elsewhere.

So it was a pleasant surprise that the recipe I played around with was actually relatively simple, and despite using some intricate snowflake cutters and several components to sandwich together, it all actually came together relatively easily, even on a day when I was busy with other things. The key is to have your surfaces impeccably clean before starting and to have cleared enough counter space to roll out the biscuits.

Pepparkakor, cranberry sauce and vanilla cookies

Pepparkakor, cranberry sauce and vanilla cookies

The signature bake challenge for this biscuit week was, simply, 12 biscuits. So far so simple – but they had to have an ‘unusual flavour combination’. I made these for a Christmas party which I throw every year (yes, I’m late writing up) so I wanted to use seasonal flavours. I’d made cranberry sauce for the first time in December and started thinking about matching it with spiced gingery biscuits – which naturally led me to pepparkakor, the essential Scandinavian Christmas biscuit. Something else was needed to pull it all together: soft, pudding-like vanilla frosting. And indeed the unusual contrast of crisp, warmly-spiced biscuit, sharp, citrus-laced cranberry sauce and almost bland, creamy icing worked very well together.

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Posted by on March 10, 2015 in Baking, Biscuits and cookies

 

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Baking challenge: the showstopper that left me a basket case

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 (bread week) of series two: 12 sweet and 12 savoury rolls…served in a bread basket. A BREAD BASKET. I ask you…

For the longest time, I just didn’t do it. I don’t do fiddly food. I don’t ice biscuits, don’t roll fondant, don’t twiddle with decorations. I could say that’s because I’m a generous, hearty, rustic kind of cook – but really it’s because I lack the patient dedication and the skill that go into craftsmanlike work. I have no aptitude for the fine arts. Long story short: I didn’t want to make a bread basket. By which I mean an actual basket, woven out of bread dough, and baked.

But I did it.

But I did it.

Do I weave? Do I ‘eck. Etc etc.

The basket was meant to hold 24 rolls – two types, 12 sweet and 12 savoury. This didn’t actually faze me at all. It was the weaving that put me off for a while. And then I reasoned that the whole idea of setting myself a ‘baking challenge’ was that it should be a…challenge.

And yet, when I actually did it, it was…not easy, exactly, and I won’t claim I’ve done it since, just for fun, but something about making that basket from raw bread dough was logical and came together. Because of the yeast, bread dough properly proven has a bit of a spring to it, so sometimes the rolled-out dough strips bounces back a little, which isn’t the most fun in the world. And, although I had a recipe and instructions in front of me, at one point I had to forget careful and structured overlapping and just went for something that held together. In the end, however, I was rewarded with something I really thought I could never bake and that was beyond my structural abilities. The basket wasn’t picture-perfect but, unlike some of the contestants’ it stood upright and held the bread rolls (although it could only hold one batch at a time).

Bread basket how-to

How to make a bread basket: cover your mould; roll out the dough; lay out your strips. You will get there!

Oh, and the contents? Black Forest ham and cheese rolls from Dan Lepard, which were sturdy and hearty – the kind of warm, filling food which would make a hearty addition to a picnic (it can be cold if you picnic in the first flush of early spring enthusiasm) or a complementary side to cabbage soup. The rye gives them not only heft but a little smokey depth which I like. And for the sweet,┬áBaba a Louis Sticky Buns from Diana Henry’s Roast Figs Sugar Snow, which sadly disappointed me – they were a little too vrunchy and the sugar caramelised hard rather than remaining gooey as promised. It may have been user error – my oven could have been running hot, for example – so I have included the recipe for reference below.

Sweet and savoury

Sweet and savoury – Baba a Louis Sticky buns (L) and Black Forest Ham and Cheese Rolls (R)

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Posted by on March 7, 2015 in Baking, Bread, Recipes

 

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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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