GBBO 2015: Episode 4 (Desserts)

It might have been raining outside the tent but inside all was dry – and occasionally too crumbly. But never mind, it’s dessert week.

rainy_bakeoff

  • Signature Round: Crème brulee, a classic. But this is GBBO so classic must not equal boring. Yes, it needs to have the right wobble and a hard, crackable surface (the result of grilling, not blow-torching) but it needs to have a twist.
  • Technical Challenge: Spanische Windtorte – or, you prefer, Spanish Wind Cake. Or as I prefer to think of it – a pavlova that got all dolled up and has nowhere to go.
  • Showstopper: cheesecake. But not one, not two – THREE and they must be stacked. Cheesecake is not known for it’s structural integrity to this will no doubt be worth watching.

SANDY: Oh Sandy, I’m going to miss you so much. You were having so much fun and it was fun to watch you. Your wobbles, your sparkly shoes, your joy when things went right, your unwillingness to let things get you down. As I’ve said before, everyone can have an off day – and you weren’t alone this time, Alvin wasn’t having the best of weekends either. But your crème brulee didn’t set – Paul described it as soup and I have to admit, I was with Mary when she expressed doubts about the liquorice flavour. Your showstopper was two tiers and not three – not from lack of stacking effort on your part (and Tamal’s bless his helpful little heart) – but because the cakes were too heavy (the world’s thickest crust didn’t help there) and the bake time was off so the cheesecakes didn’t set. You said yourself – you should have followed your instincts. 🙁

sandy_gbbo
Sandy, I will miss seeing you on next week’s show but by golly, you are a baking role model. I wanna bake with the same sense of fun as you.

IAN: DAMNED, Ian! Star Baker 3rd week in a row? I’d say that Ian is unstoppable but that would be both premature and wrong. After all, Richard Burr (the baking builder of last series with the sassy pencil behind his ear) got Star Baker 3 weeks in a row too. And did he win? he did not. Not that winning matters when it comes to post-GBBO longevity. Winners or not, the baking success and public popularity of contestants seems solely based on their personalities and willingness to continue baking in the public eye.

Ian’s taste combos continue to puzzle Mary and give her pause until she tastes them and then she can hardly shut up about them. Yes, Mary we KNOW no one has ever suggested tarragon and apple to you before but you love it – you’ve said it 4 or 5 times now. He knows tricks no one else seems to know – pre-caramelising the caramel? BRILLIANT and a great way to keep the grill time down! Nothing seems to rattle Ian – or maybe something would if he encountered a problem He seems to bake serenely and steadily, without incident. Surely at some point Ian will be in the middle of something that comes utterly unstuck and we will see the Dalai Lama’s official photographer lose his crackers. But this week – it was smooth sailing, from the creme brulees that Mary adored to the technical challenge that looked amazing and more importantly in this case correct – and finally to his showstopper cheesecakes.

As Paul Hollywood said, “The Ian train blows on, three Star Bakers on the bounce.” That said – it does make you wonder what someone is gonna have to do to beat Ian.

NADIYA: The queen of expressive faces was expressing away all hour – and impressing us not only with the end result on the showstopper cheesecake tower (super fun and super adorable) but also with the steps she made in preparation for it. Reducing 3 fizzy drinks down to syrup over 10 hours? Good gads, woman. And hello? the third meringue of the evening – Nadiya, having survived Swiss and French meringue during the technical challenge, uses Italian meringue for the “fizz” of her fizzy drink. I shall rename her the Marchioness of Meringue. I also note that her brulee is tea flavoured – she does like her tea notes doesn’t she? And adorably served in tea cups. Go, Nadiya! She also had one of the great lines from tonight: “I produced what they wanted, just the ugly version.” None of it was ugly, Nadiya. Stop being so hard on yourself.

nadiyapop

FLORA: We were watching Flora this week and were trying to figure out what it is that makes 19 year old Flora so – well, un-19ish. I don’t mean she looks older than 19. I mean she has the confidence of someone much older at a guess, as was suggested by dungeekin, I’d say Flora grew up not only socializing with children her own age but also spent a lot of time hanging out with the adults as well. Also, she does rock a slightly retro look – which suits her. Interestingly though – she’s kinda firmly upper middle of the pack. She’s obviously a very informed baker, has done it since she was high enough to reach the top of the counter, researches what she wants to do etc … and while engaged in the act of baking, confident, well-spoken relaxed. When being judged she is all nail-biting and winces – and though it doesn’t happen often, when something goes wrong (even though it doesn’t go HIDEOUSLY wrong) she deflates. We know Flora is the eldest of a number of siblings and I suspect a type A child of type A parents.

flora_pipes

PAUL 2: You know, I think Paul 2 just might finally be enjoying himself. Yes, the brulees puffed up too much despite all that practice but his technical challenge was top of the field and his showstopper won smiles all around. After that special commendation-winning lion, we want Paul 2 to stick around so we can see what he does next. His goal this week seemed to be “Get Mary drunk” what with the “adult” creme brulee and the booze soaked cheese cakes. It might have worked if Mary were judging alone but Paul H is made of sterner stuff. From a looks perspective by the by – I adored Paul 2’s cheesecake tower. Those berries were GORGEOUS.

TAMAL: Was very much, in my mind, up for Star Baker this week. Tamal, like Sandy, always keeps his sense of humour about him but unlike Sandy this week, also kept his head. His creme brulees were spot on and during the technical challenge he seemed to be the only person in the tent who KNEW what violets were supposed to look like. This no doubt helped balance out the fact that he only had ONE kind of piping on his Tarted Up Pavlova – sorry, Spanish Wind cake. He leapt in to help Sandy, was even more devastated than she was when her bake went flop but this in no way impacted on his results since his cheesecakes kicked ass from a taste and look perspective. While I have no issue with Ian winning Star Baker – I do think Tamal did JUST as well (if not a SMIDGE better) this week and he deserved it. But you know what? Tamal has been consistently top notch. He’ll get it at some point.

tamal_cheesecake

UGNE: Oh Ugne get your hair out of your eyes. You can’t bake if you can’t see. Also, I am beginning to think Ugne has a bit of a chocolate fixation. Not that this is a bad thing – I myself have one. I just note it and think MAYBE it’s gonna end up getting in the way for her. What becomes important as the episodes click by is showing a breadth of skills and bakes. If it’s chocolate and caramel, every single week someone’s gonna get bored (Paul quite likely) and they will call you out for being too one-note (Again, quite likely Paul but Mary might gently suggest a bit of variety would be welcome). Also, quit using things we’ve never heard of! What the hell is marula?

MAT: Thanks to Mat, we learned that Mary does not care for desiccated coconut. Actually, we learned that Mary has “come to enjoy coconut a bit more” – which translates to “Coconut? Ewwww.” Both of which she said to you, Mat during the first round. So what did you do in the third round? Used coconut. Mat, what I said last week about raising your game still stands. Oh and Mat – stop flirting with Ugne. “how do yours wobble? The brulees that is.” She’s a body builder and will break you in half, assuming Mrs Mat has not done so after the sassiness of last week. Also – Mat, you remember what I said last week about raising your game? Your custard was runny and your judge wasn’t happy. Get on that.

ALVIN: This week Alvin learned that to survive , you don’t have to be better than everyone – just be better than one. And this week, he was ever so slightly better off than Sandy. Well, according to Paul and Mary. I might have made a different decision – especially based on the results of the technical challenge. Both Alvin and Sandy had trouble getting things to set – custard and cheesecake but Alvin really screwed the pooch on the Spanish Wind Torte. There is a definite difference between French meringue and Swiss meringue. If the judges can’t tell the difference when judging, something has gone more than wrong. Another thing – Alvin doesn’t seem to be learning from his mistakes. More than once, Alvin has been kneecapped by fresh fruit making things too wet. Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Alvin – stop the insanity.

Next week: ‘Free-from’ baking. Yes, it is exactly what you think it is – recipes with no gluten, no sugar or no dairy. Hmmmm …

In the meantime, keep on dancin’ Sandy

sandy_sue_wobble

GBBO 2015: Episode 3 (Bread)

Bread. Amazing stuff bread. It is both basic and complex. Wondrous in its variation and a stern task master.

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It was bread week on Bake Off and the rounds were as follows:

  • Signature Round: Quick bread –  that would be bread made without yeast and which get their rise from bicarb or baking powder. Or in the case of Unge, both.
  • Technical Challenge: Baguette.
  • Showstopper: Bread sculpture, 3 different breads at least one of which should be filled.

Bread, as we know, also happens to be Paul Hollywood’s THING so his eyes narrow and glint even more than usual, his expression disconcerts and his questions rattle contestants almost as much as his silence.  So, who did what?

DORRET: OK, let’s get this out of the way. Dorret has gone home.  I was not surprised. I don’t think anyone was surprised – and not because Mary let it slip a during an interview earlier in the day.  No, we were not surprised because Dorret seemed overwhelmed and unprepared from the start. Her bakes didn’t come together, her taste balance was off or missing altogether. Maybe the first week can be written off by nerves and settling in but this week showed that Dorret just wasn’t up to the task. She admitted — to the camera and THEN to Mary and Paul — that she didn’t practice the showstopper at all. Now, I know others have “winged it” in the past – James famously winged it all the time but he practiced the base recipe and then improvised a bit on the day. He didn’t just show up with something utterly untested and untried. Also, worth noting that James was a dab hand at taste composition. He got away with a lot because of his abilities in that regard.  Dorret didn’t have that to fall back on and only lasted as long as she did because Stu and Marie made bigger mistakes than she did. This week her previous stumbles caught up with her and her lack of preparation sealed her fate.

No, Dorret didn't seem surprised either.
No, Dorret didn’t seem surprised either.

FLORA:  fig and hazelnut quick bread sounded nice except for the rye flour … I’m not a huge fan and the texture doesn’t thrill me. But Flora is canny and had  mixed her rye flour with regular flour. Her baguettes were baguette shaped ( which put her well ahead of about 6 of the others who had produced ciabatta) and her baguettes relatively crispy since she knew to put water in the oven. And speaking of that step – I know the instructions didn’t say put water in the oven but surely they’ve all seen the show before and they know not all the steps are included. Also I have to believe that as they are all interested in baking and KNOW bread is coming, they’ve looked at Paul’s rule for baking – which includes putting water in the oven for crispness. Hell, I don’t make bread and I know it. As for Flora’s showstopper – I was impressed. Not as impressed as I was about the lion because LION but Flora’s skirt and corset were works of delicate bread art.

PAUL: (who from now on I shall call Paul 2)  – I can hardly remember anything Paul 2 did OTHER than the lion. Hell, I can barely remember the rest of the episode at all – other than the lion. The lion was glorious. A white bread head, a wholemeal tail, and a body filled with figs and walnuts. Paul 2 also seemed slightly more relaxed this week. He wasn’t a laugh riot and he wasn’t the life of the party – I suspect he never will be – but he didn’t seem as uptight as before. Even when Paul H was TRYING to unsettle him.  Dude, the lion was the most rocking thing ever. You deserved that commendation. Oh – also, I applaud the decision to go with a citrus soda bread. Not only did it get you a handshake from Grumpy Paul, it was different and sounded yummy. Keep shaking things up, Paul 2.

breadlion

SANDY: I remain firmly Team Sandy, never more so than when she announced her bacon and onion soda bread.  Bacon, as we know, makes everything better. Sandy is also now a fashion icon for me – while waiting for the baguette dough to prove, Sandy displayed the most fab sparkly slipper shoes. I want them! OK, her baguettes were soft and her sculpture wasn’t sleek and stylish. I don’t care. Sandy is fun, her bread tastes good and I adore her.

IAN: Ian’s soda bread uses wild garlic that he picked himself. I suppose now that all the people who were giving Flora grief for being too posh will now go after Ian. Never mind those people. They don’t know what they are talking about.  The garlic pesto soda bread was awesome and the first of many excellent rounds for Ian, again winner of star baker. His baguettes were the best – even, uniform, crisp. He is bread man. Hear him roar. His showstopper was gorgeous AND innovative. They’d never had anyone bake in a flower pot before on the show. They do like novelty.

bread_flowers

UNGE: a chocolate quick bread? Um … ok. I don’t really – I mean, I have to say it didn’t LOOK very appetising. And Mary said it smelled of raising agent. But once they tasted  it, Paul and Mary were ALL smiles. So, Unge knows more about these things that I do.  That’s OK – I know more about baguettes than she does. You never use a proving drawer at home? No, neither do we – because we don’t have one – but if I were making baguettes on the clock, I’d damned well use a proving drawer. She also threw down during the showstopper about her use of truffle oil. Paul H looked doubtful but she said it would be fine. He’d love the easter basket with bread bunnies, she assured him.

TAMAL: He had me at Goat’s cheese in his quick bread. I was still thinking about the quick bread during the technical challenge so I will overlook his baguette results. I love love love his  ‘breadcycle’ (and the Chelsea bun wheels did hold up – again despite Doubting Paul’s doubts). I was impressed (as I always am) by the braided bread he used as a chain for the bike. I cannot braid bread so I admire those who can.

NADIYA: Like Mat, Nadiya’s quick bread was a spicy Mexican bread but the colour on hers was fab! In fact, the colour of her showstopper bread snake in a charmer’s basket was also remarkable. Especially as she mentions – almost in passing – that when she tried this at home, the snake kept exploding. Nadiya wins for best colour work this week (except for the lion – always except for the lion) and she always wins for most expressive face. Honestly, I hope she doesn’t play poker because her face is like an enormous open book. Big brown eyes, lovely smile and the most flexible face on the show.  I am not the only one who thinks her facial expressions are a highlight each week.

snake_bread

MAT: I thought Mat’s soda bread (the cheddar and smoked salt) sounded lovely. It looked a bit flat and apparently needed to crumble more. His baguettes were pretty bad (yes, Mat, I think it had something to do with your decision not to use the amount of water listed in the recipe. What on EARTH were you thinking?) but he gave the Brighton Pavilion Made of Bread a good go and it held together despite Paul Hollywood’s doubts.  Mat is safe. But as he was told – he has to raise his game.  He also wins innuendo of the week “Doing as my wife says – leaving it in for an extra ten minutes!”

ALVIN: Alvin, like Tamal, has gone for a cheese quick bread. He has used manchego cheese, proscuitto and basil (lots and lots of basil) for a cheese representing the romance languages of Europe. I had my doubts it would hold together but apparently it tasted amazing and looked really impressive. Alvin’s baguette were distinctly ciabatta-like and his showstopper was on the large size as well. But only large in volume – not a sculpture as much as a display of bread like you might find in a bakery window. If the cornucopia horn had been bigger and the bread inside ot it – yes. But it wasn’t. It was just a pile of bread.

allthebread
Impressive bread, yes. But not a sculpture.

All in all, a good week and though there were problems – I think a strong week for most of the field. Especially when you consider that Paul “Bread is my Life” Hollywood was prowling the tent, judgment oozing from every pore of his being.

flora_quote

Next week – desserts, which confuses me as a theme since many of the bakes throughout the competition are desserts. Cake? Hello?

GBBO 2015: Episode 2 (Biscuits)

If it’s Thursday, it’s time for the Fabulous Foodie Great British Bake Off Recap.  Before I get to that however, I should touch upon the two bits of drama that occurred between last week and this week.

First, betting was again suspended on GBBO results amid fears of a leak  – that someone or rather several someone’s know the winner already. I hope it can be contained because I hate spoilers.

The other GBBO-related headlines this week were about Marie having taken a week long class decades ago. The kerfuffle-makers said this meant she wasn’t an amateur. The BBC, who know more about the rules (having written them) and the contestants (having interviewed and vetted them over many months) had no issue with it as she had never made a living as a cook/chef and week long cookery courses do not a professional chef make.  It was one week, 30 years ago (10 years being the time frame in the BBC rules). I took some tap dancing lessons 30 years ago – but I’m not about to star in the remake of Singing in the Rain any time soon.

OK, back to the show.  The Rounds:

  • Signature Round – biscotti. Seems straight-forward enough though biscotti are the kind of thing where Mary expected uniformity and tidiness so the rulers and straight-edges all come out.
  • Technical Round – Arlettes. No, I’d not heard of them but neither had most of the contestants. Here, FYI:

arlette_pic

  • Showstopper Round – biscuits in an edible biscuit box made out of a second kind of biscuit.

So those were the assignments. What were the results:

  • Marie – Let’s get this over with, shall we? Last week’s star baker had a really off weekend. This goes to show that in baking, as in all things, sometimes sh*t happens and it all goes wrong. Marie has made biscotti before – she said as much. But her biscotti goes to pieces (she determines that she has added too much fruit) and her technical challenge results (what there were of them – only 4 out of 8 arlettes) were wrong. Her showstopper was – nice but apparently bland and ordinary taste wise. And that was just not good enough to balance out the results of the previous day. So last week’s star baker went home this week.
Good days and bad days, people. We all have them.
Good days and bad days, people. We all have them.
  • Ugne – Mary tells Ugne her showstopper is garish. *cast my mind back over series after series of Mary’s jacket choices. says nothing because it is important to respect ones elders even when their fashion choices give one pause* Was it garish? Sure, a bit. And I am not sure having a fondant baby climbing INTO the box was entirely necessary for a bake that already looked like a crayon factory had exploded, but to each their own. It certainly fulfilled the brief of showstopper and apparently her Lithuanian biscuits were so good that they made Paul all extra feisty and twinkly. “I don’t like them,” he said, Ugne face falling. “I LOVE them!” Ugne suddenly beamed with relief and joy. Naughty, Paul.
  • Mat – Fireman Mat produced neat, uniform and tasty biscotti (cranberry, pistachio and white chocolate) in the signature round so was off to a great start. OK, technical challenge caught him out but to be fair, it caught out 9 of the 11 contestants this week and he came in 5th so he is in good company and as safe as anyone could be at that point. His showstopper – though perhaps not sophisticated and elegant – was both clever, fun and – key for Mary Berry – showed a variety of skills. A gingerbread fire engine WITH candy windows and filled with earl grey teabag biscuits – in the shape of teabags? Mat, you sir – have my respect!
  • Flora – bakes incredibly calmly and steadily. Don’t get me wrong – I’m sure she’s as nervous and anxious as anyone might be under the circumstances – baking for a TV show must be nerve-wracking and there’s an artificial deadline for these rounds that you wouldn’t have at home. But she moves confidently around, deals with whatever the bake throws at her and brings both instinct and learned knowledge into play. I suspect that Flora’s cookbook collection is well thumbed and has a lot of jottings in the margins . Yes, the top of her biscuit box cracked but frankly when your piping is that even, delicate and gorgeous – who cares. Flora, by the by, also made earl grey biscuits in the shape of teabags, very similar to Mat’s. There’s a “teabagging” joke to be made in there somewhere but I am far too well brought up to make it.

earl-greybox

  • Ian – Ian uses rosemary in his biscotti – a daring move as far as I am concerned, using rosemary in anything because there is a fine line between the right amount and either “where is it” and soapiness. But Ian is a rosemary-whisperer and gets it spot on. He also gets star baker and deservedly so. His showstopper was uniquely constructed, his macarons were gorgeous and both biscuit box and biscuits hit the stop taste-wise for the judges.
  • Sandy – still claiming to be random, Sandy showed up with customized templates for her showstopper (which was brill and looked yummy), took steps to ensure her biscuit box components didn’t rise too much (a lesson Tamal has now learned) and produced very even, tasty biscotti. If that’s random, I’d love to see what Sandy calls organized and focused.
  • Paul – I don’t know what Paul does for fun in his spare time but presumably he does something. If it’s baking, it doesn’t seem to come across here. Don’t get me wrong – he obviously knows what he’s doing and has spent considerable time and effort in developing his baking skills. He MUST enjoy it otherwise he wouldn’t do it. And yet, I’m not getting a “love of baking” from him. It may be, as @dungeekin has suggested – and it’s quite probably the case – that Paul simply isn’t all that expressive and therefore doesn’t come across well on TV. All that aside, he apparently doesn’t know the difference between macaron and macaroon even when he’s making them – he was making macarons, by the way. As some people will have guessed, (White Room Team, I’m looking at you) this irritated me. A lot.

contestant paul

  • Tamal – Last week, the Tamal love was all about the best smile. This week’s reason to love Tamal? The sarcasm. Having reviewed the recipe, Tamal chirps, “They’re really helpful instructions, actually. It just says, ‘Make the dough’, which is great.” Tamal was firmly middle of the road this week. He didn’t have a great week bake wise but he got the taste right – and this can save you when the chips (or biscuits in this case) are down. Luckily for Tamal, others had a worse week that he did and he remains to bake another day. Which pleases me because I think Tamal is going to get pretty darned far in this race.
  • Dorret – I’m not 100% sure about Dorret. She seems awash in doubts – not just occasionally but as a given. Dorret, honey – you beat tens of thousands to get there. You can bake. Take a deep breath. This state of assumed defeat is going to hobble you! She also makes some dodgy decisions – the whole mousse thing last week and the “dangerous to Mary’s dental work” amber sugar crystal topping on her biscotti this week. Then – to use store-bought cookie cutters! Quelle horreur – possibly not explicitly against the rules but clearly not in keeping with the spirit of the thing as we have seen over the life of the show. But then, she manages to produce the best plate of Arlettes (in my opinion, a really tough challenge even amongst technical challenges. I simply don’t know what to think.

mary_biscotti

  • Nadiya – her biscotti (and her approach to her biscotti) rocked. Oops, she forgot to add the fennel to the dough. No problem, in it does with the coconut for the finishing because as she said, “I said they would get fennel and they will.” The technical challenge wasn’t her finest hour but to be honest only Dorret and Flora produced anything close to the expected finished product so I don’t fault Nadiya there. And then the showstopper round -where Nadiya fell victim to Sue’s wonky spatial awareness. Remember when Sue smooshed Howard’s muffins in series 4? The Perkins did it again – this time breaking the top of Nadiya’s biscuit box. “How can I make amends?” Sue asks contritely. Nadiya with a resigned smile, replies, “If I leave you’re coming with me.” and then gets on with making another lid. Even after Sue’s confession to the judges, Nadiya declared that the box was not decorated because she was committed to providing a whole box with lid. But her fortune cookies were GORGEOUS and according to the judges tasty. And even more important – something no one had done on GBBO to this point. Mary and Paul love a bit of novelty and it’s getting harder and harder for them to get it. Nadiya is my fave for the week. She was plucky and determined throughout. Go, Nadiya, go.
fortune_cookies
“If I’m going down, I’m going down making fortune cookies!” – Nadiya
  • Alvin – Right off the bake, using fresh fruit for biscotti? I’ve never made biscotti and I know this is a mistake. Even before Paul’s VERY LEADING QUESTIONS, I know it’s a mistake. Alvin, therefore, should also have known. In the showstopper round, Nadiya’s determination made Alvin’s lack of biscuit box that much worse. Alvin obviously felt bad about that (and if you don’t fulfill the brief, that can send you home regardless so he was right to worry) but he decided to focus on getting the brandysnaps right and that worked. My issue with Alvin is that I keep forgetting about him. He hasn’t yet don’t anything to stand out for me. Come on, Alvin – show us what you’ve got!

Next week? Bread. Beware the Hollywood. For he is watching.

Bake-Off-4

GBBO 2015: Episode 1 (Cake)

Apologies in advance to those not in the BBC viewing area but it was the return of Great British Bake Off last night and I’ve got some VIEWS on it. Apologies to everyone because ) this got longer than I intended and b) spoilers, obviously.

GBBO2015

I will start at the end rather than the beginning. I am on record as agreeing with the decision to send Stu home. Forget that he irritated me (take your hat off inddors, you ill-mannered, goon. Were you raised in a barn?) but in three rounds he didn’t actually deliver to the brief he was given. So while Dorret may have had a mousse-y melt down, at least she knew the difference between putting a twist on something vs. going completely off the reservation. I’d also like to say that I have rarely seen a face express sadness and utter defeat like Dorret’s when that cake started to ooze all over the table. I almost cried. Speaking of making expressive faces – Ugne’s face when she thought SHE was going out and Stu’s name got called? Like she’d been electrocuted.

So, more generally:

  • Nadyia – is it just me or is she very short? Not that her height is relevant, I was just struck at how much shorter she seemed than EVERYONE else. I was also struck (during the brief segment of her at home) at how massively organized her bakeware is. Nadyia, I salute you. Also, you and Marie win the candied fruit drop test
  • Ugne – Nadyia was not the only impressed with Ugne’s chocolate work (a cup and saucer? fab!) – I was too. Ugne clearly knows what she’s doing but I think she may be one of those who focuses a bit too much on the details and gets caught out by the clock. We see that all the time on GBBO and while it doesn’t mean those people are bad bakers – they do seem to lack time management skills
  • Paul – no, not that Paul, the other one. Fine, I have now made reference to the fact that one of the contestants is named Paul and has similar colouring to Paul Hollywood. That said, I don’t think they actually look alike. But whatever. He had a very middling sort of result. He wasn’t bad but he wasn’t standing out. That’s fine for now but he’ll need to push more as things progress. One thing I did note is that despite the recipe calling for the butter and sugar to be creamed FIRST, he did an “all in one” and figured it wouldn’t matter. It matters, Paul. Creaming gives lift. Even I know that.
  • Ian – Ian said he had practiced his signature bake and yet – he still produced something that, according to Paul Hollywood, was like eating wallpaper paste. Having never eaten wallpaper paste, I will take Mr Hollywood’s word for it. Not sure what happened here with Ian but it shouldn’t have. It’s the first signature bake – signature bake being your chance to show off YOUR recipes so something he’s done not infrequently, a friends and family fave. They asked for something as basic and central to baking as Madeira cake so again, not exactly unheard of if you are a baking person. And presumably Ian IS a baking person because he beat out 20,000 other people to get this far. Ian, you shouldn’t be producing wallpaper paste.
Mary Berry's Frosted Walnut Cake, the first technical challenge of Aug 2015
Mary Berry’s Frosted Walnut Cake, the first technical challenge of Aug 2015
  • Sandy – She says she is random but she seemed pretty on the ball to me. She also has that twinkle in her eye that says she’s a bit sassy. I like Sandy and her method of measuring cherry kirsch. She may not have been baking quite as long as Mary Berry or fellow contestant Marie but she is also confident enough in her skills and experience that when Paul gives her his patented, “I shall unsettle them” stare, she just stares back.
  • Stu – Mary was right – Stu’s cake was not a Madeira cake. He might have gotten away with it if the taste had been there but last time I checked, cake was not supposed to be bitter. Combine that with his struggle in the technical challenge and the fact that when asked for a Black Forest Gateau he delivered as Beetroot Baked Alaska
  • Flora – (the baby of this series) knows how to improvise while still sticking to a brief – as evidenced but her blood orange-flavoured Madeira. Good girl, Flora. Now just remember to turn the oven ON each time and you’ll be good to go.
  • Marie – the most senior of the contestants this time around and KNOWS what she is doing. You could see Star Baker coming for her a mile off. Not only are her cakes ‘grandchild approved’ but she worked steadily through the rounds, with the calmness that decades of baking brings. Her signature bake was declared by Mary Berry to be “the perfect Madeira” (and Mary would know). Oh and Marie tempers chocolate like a pro.
  • Mat – he’s only been at this baking thing for 3 years so he seems a bit skittish (that may be emphasised by the length and gangliness of his limbs) and may well feel like he’ll eternally be playing catch up with Marie but he’s obviously got something going on bake wise. He’s IN the tent and 20,000 other people aren’t. We’ve now heard from previous contestants what the application, interview and audition rounds are like. Note to Mat – if you’re gonna add gin, add enough for Mary. She frowns on skimping in this way.
  • Alvin – He may like it chunky (I refer to the size of his figs) but he fails to take the HINT when Paul asks if he’d ever thought of chopping them up. Of course they sunk to the bottom. He didn’t even dust them with flour, a basic step of ensuring fruit is more evenly dispersed. Listen and learn, Alvin. Look over at Sandy. Her apricots didn’t sink, did they?
  • Tamal – owner of the greatest smile of the series, I suspect Tamal is a lot better at this baking thing than Tamal thinks he is. Tamal worries. Tamal, an anaesthetist, brought the tools of his trade and rather than drizzling his cake, injected rosewater syrup into it. I get that – but I also don’t because wouldn’t that ended up with a sort of clump of over drenched cake? Does that disperse the syrup throughout? I wouldn’t have thought so.

GBBO2015-contestants

And that is that for the week. Anyone else catch the show last night? Thoughts? Observations?

The Old Bake and Switch

Back in Better Baking Tips Part 1, I mentioned that the first thing to do when baking was read the recipe – ingredients and method – all the way through so you weren’t taken by surprise mid-bake.

Have you been doing so? Yes? Excellent. You would make Mary Berry  proud. You might even make Paul Hollywood proud but he wouldn’t let on since he’s been practicing his inscrutable face in preparation for the new series of Bake Off – which, did I mention is coming VERY SOON?

Mary-Berry-Paul-Hollywood-594359What’s that? You haven’t been reading through the recipes before starting? Well, OK. Let’s not mention that to Mary or Paul and see if we can’t come up with a “save” of sorts.

At the end of Better Baking Tips Part 2, we talked about what do when you have no buttermilk and how to make your own self-raising flour from the good old plain stuff. But there are all sorts of things you might find yourself running out of so here are a few more last minute ingredient saves.

Some swaps are straight one to one affairs that won’t actually change anything else. Some may result in minor changes in consistency or flavor. Some of those changes you may come to prefer. You may even want to try a a few of these just to see what happens.

  • Have you run out of baking powder? To replace 1 teaspoon of baking powder, use 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar
  • What if you don’t have cream of tartar? Well, try this swap within a swap! For each teaspoon of cream of tartar you need, use either 2 teaspoons of vinegar or 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
  • sugarsYou’ve looked everywhere for brown sugar and all you can find is white. Don’t worry – if you’ve got molasses, you’re covered. Need light brown sugar? Combine 2 tablespoons molasses with 1 cup of white sugar. Need dark brown sugar? Combine 3 tablespoons molasses with 1 cup of white sugar
  • Is corn syrup on the ingredient list but not in your cupboard? For 1 cup DIY corn syrup substitute, combine 1 and 1/4 cup white sugar with 1/3 cup of water
  • Need 1 cup of unsalted butter and there’s none to be found? Use 1 cup of shortening or 7/8 cup of vegetable oil
  • I can’t imagine running out of vegetable oil but I suppose it might happen – and if it did and I was baking a cake that called for 1 cup of oil, I could swap in 1 cup of applesauce.
  • Does the ingredient list call for a cup of Golden syrup that you don’t have? Use 1 cup maple syrup or 1 cup corn syrup instead.
  • Provided you don’t need to whip the 1 cup of heavy cream called for in the recipe, you can use 3/4 cup milk mixed with plus 1/3 cup melted butter instead.
  • Oh and that buttermilk swap I mentioned in Part 2? It is just one of many. You can also substitute 1 cup sour cream or 1 cup of plain or low fat yogurt for 1 cup of buttermilk. What you may notice about this tip is that there is another tip buried within in – what if you have no sour cream? Well, guess what? You can use the yogurt instead!

So – remember, read the recipe all the way through and do your best to have everything on hand. But you know – life happens. Sometimes we don’t get to the store when we mean to and other times we discover half way around the store that we have accidentally left our very carefully compiled shopping list on the counter. Don’t let these little hiccups stop you from baking up a storm. Swap and switch and bake on!

And check out the previous baking tips and tricks:

More Tips for Better Baking

The count down to Great British Bake Off continues and so does Fabulous Foodie’s Tips for Better Baking. (See Part 1 here)

Fabulous Foodie’s Tips for Better Baking, Part 2

butterBEAT YOUR BAKE: In many cake or cookie recipes, instructions say to cream the butter and sugar. This does not mean to mix them together for just a minute or two – this means to beat with a beater or in a mixer (or stir rapidly and briskly) until the butter grows lighter in color and texture. Doing so incorporates more air into your mixture and gives you bake more lift.

FLOURY FRUIT: When making a fruit cake, you want the fruit to be distributed throughout the cake not just settled at the bottom. To help ensure an even distribution, dust dried fruits (such as raisins, dried cranberries or blueberries) with a bit of flour before adding them into the mix.

JUST WHAT YOU KNEAD: You don’t want to use too much extra flour when kneading or your dough will dry out – and that can mess up your crust formation. If the dough is sticky, try lightly oiling your hands first and see if that doesn’t make things easier. Some people find a dough scraper useful and while we have a dough scraper and it is one of the most used tools in our kitchen, ironically we have never used it on dough. Go figure.

CrackingEggGET CRACKING: I am about to make a suggestion I know will be greeted with a few rolled eye. HOw do I know? Because I had the same reaction when I first heard it. But via the hard knocks of baking experience, I’ve come around and I say to you: Crack your eggs into a separate bowl first and then incorporate them into your mixture. Even if your recipe says to add one egg at a time. Crack it into the egg bowl, the from there into the mixture.

Yes, yes, I know it creates one more bowl to wash up but trust me. You just never know when you might get a bad egg – it doesn’t happen often but it does happen. It happened to me. Using the separate bowl means that should a bad egg or utterly splintered shell come your way, the only thing you’ve lost is an egg or two, not your whole mixture. Even if you are rolling your eyes now, you will thank me later.

SO CLOSE, SO FAR: It’s frustrating when you realize that you are one ingredient away from having everything you need. Here’s some swaps that mean you can avoid the shops and still get your bake on.

  • Need self-raising flour but only have plain? Just add 2 tsp of baking powder to every 200g (8oz) plain flour and presto! Self-raising flour.
  • Need buttermilk but failed to pick it up when you shopped for everything else? Stir 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar into 1 cup of milk. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for 5 or 10 minutes, then use as you would do store-bought buttermilk.

As always, I hope these tips and tricks are useful should you find yourself in a baking way and I hope you’ll share your baking tips with the rest of us. I’ll be putting more up as we get closer to GBBO day.

 

Fabulous Foodie’s Tips for Better Baking

At Fabulous Foodie, we’re very excited about the return of Great British Bake Off next week.  So much so that we’re finding it hard to think about anything else. To be honest, we haven’t actually tried that hard to think of anything else. I mean, it’s Bake Off! So, having embraced our renewed obsession, we ended up with:

Fabulous Foodie’s Tips for Better Baking

START AT THE START: I’ve said it before, I will say it again and I will keep saying it until I go to the great big bakery in the sky:  Always make sure to read through a recipe before you do anything else. Yes, from start to finish, all the ingredients and instructions. Nothing will upset the apple cart and ruin the apple cobbler like discovering mid-bake that you are missing a vital ingredient or piece of equipment.

flour TAKING MEASURE: Are you scooping your flour directly out of the bag with your measuring cup? You may not be doing yourself or your baking any good. The flour will get compacted that way. Always spoon the flour into the measuring cup and then run a knife over the top to level it.

Brown sugar on the other hand should be compacted.  One cup brown sugar means a packed cup so press down a bit to make sure you’ve got as much as possible into a level cup.  Speaking of brown sugar – have you discovered the brown sugar in the pantry has gone hard? No problem. Place it in a microwave-safe bowl with a damp paper towel on top and zap it for 20 seconds at a time until it’s softened up the way you want.

Bundt-panGETTIN’ GREASY: Want to make sure you’ve greased every nook and cranny of that baking tin with butter? Forget using a piece of butter in paper. Too easy to miss spots that way and doesn’t always make it into corners. Try using a pastry brush instead. Just run the brush over soft butter then swipe it around the tin. I find that it covers better than the paper and goes on faster.

Another top greasing tin tip — learn from my mistakes and remember that when using a bundt pan, greasing the bottom and sides is all well and good but get the center bit also. Trust me. *shuffles embarrassingly at the memory*

CHILL OUT: You’ve remembered to soften the butter but did you remember to take the eggs out of the fridge to warm up? Those of you in the UK will quite likely be wondering why on earth the eggs were in there in the first place – that’s another discussion for another time – but to those of you in the US, trust me. Room temperature eggs emulsify and combine with other ingredients much better than cold eggs. Get those puppies out of the chiller for a couple of hours.

If you forget and need the eggs warmed up quickly, place them in a bowl of warm water for five minutes.

PLAY IT COOL: A lot of recipes offer cooling times, but if they don’t a good rule of thumb for sponge cakes is – leave it to cool in the tin for 5 minutes then turn it out onto a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way. This ensures you don’t end up with slightly soggy edges. If there’s an overabundance of fruit in the cake in question, leave it to cool in the tin. Those fruits carry a lot of moisture and can cause “cake spread” otherwise.

I hope you find these little tips helpful. I’ll be posting more baking tips and tricks over the next few days. After all, it gives me an excuse to wallow in the Bake Off glow just that much more. 🙂 And as always, if you have any tips or tricks you’d like to share – please feel free. We’re always looking for ways to mix it up in the kitchen.

Tarting Up Weekend Leftovers

I may or may not have mentioned that @dungeekin (taking cues from Heston Blumenthal) made triple cooked chips the other night. If I did not mention it, it’s quite likely because I was far too busy stuffing my face with the amazing meal in which the chunky chips featured. Behold!

Anyway, it was delicious but that’s not why I mention it today. I mention it today because it led to another discussion about using leftovers. Continue reading “Tarting Up Weekend Leftovers”

TV: The Good, The Bad & the Bland

I watched two cooking shows last night – one good, the other not so good.

The Good – The Incredible Spice Men. These guys are terrific – they’re funny, knowledgeable, clearly LOVE cooking in addition to being good at it (quite often you don’t get the sense that some of the cooking presenters don’t actually enjoy what they’re doing. Maybe they did at one point but … ) But Cyrus Todiwala and Tony Singh – they love it. They love talking about food, cooking it, sharing it. And the delight they take in it is infectious. If nothing else, you want to sit in that madhouse of a kitchen set and watch them create these spiced up versions of classic British dishes.

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If they can get across nothing else other than the idea that spice does not equal burn, they will have accomplished a lot and I think they are well on their way to that. They are using a vast arsenal of spices in this program for both sweet and savory dishes (adding the vanilla beans to the cheese? Brilliant and I can’t wait to try it) and showing that spices are ingredients worthy of attention, not after thoughts. There’s often a moment I have while watching the show – like when they put cinnamon and pepper with strawberries – when I think “Of course! It seems so obvious now that I’ve seen it done.” Another cinnamon moment was the pulled pork with cinnamon and clove. Pulled pork is a BBQ staple from my childhood and I love it but variety is the spice of life so I have no hesitation about changing up the flavor profile on this childhood favorite, especially as – another “OMG! Of course” moment – both those spices would play so well with pork. Also – because they explain what they are doing and why, extra useful information is imparted as well. I didn’t know how to pick out a decent chunk of ginger before – but now I do.

I’m sure there will be complaints about artificiality – some who don’t care for the puns, the gallivanting around, the “set ups” where we’re led to believe tension is high as spicy fish and chips are presented to “scary” biker gang (which was the mellowest, most clearly non-threatening biker gang I have ever seen in all my days). But it’s a TV show – and by definition it is an artificial construct. The secret to GREAT TV cookery shows is when the viewer feels like they are being talked to as opposed to being talked at – and this show, these men succeed beautifully in that regard.

Jamie Oliver on the other hand …

The Not So Good – Jamie’s Money Saving Meals. I’ll be honest – I’ve never much cared for Jamie Oliver as a TV presenter. His early cookbooks were really interesting and a useful read. But watching him on TV has always been a bit of a slog for me, even in the early days when he was “Gosh-Golly, Who Me?” Jamie. I just don’t think he’s very good as a presenter.

In the early days there were moments where he seemed to forget he was on camera and in THOSE moments, moments where he was just talking about the food to whoever was prompting from off to the left, worked. As soon as he recalled that he needed to hit his mark or hold to get an angle, it fell apart.

Now that he’s “Tilts At Windmills” Jamie, I find him even harder to watch. Not because of the tilting at windmills (he’s often gotten hold of a legitimate issue but then gets a bit ‘bull in a china shop’ when addressing it). No, I find him hard to watch because instead of becoming more at ease with the fact that he’s on TV, he seems to have forgotten how real people move and talk. People complain that Nigella is now a parody of herself, arch beyond words and over the top. But she’s got NOTHING on Jamie Oliver. With every successive show, he is more and more like someone playing Jamie Oliver, all his ticks and schtick while the cooking has all the depth and detail of a cooking sketch on a TV variety show. Dan Aykroyd as Julia Child comes to mind.

J_OLast night was perhaps the most glaring example to date. I commented mid-show that it was more infomercial than cookery show but I should have said it’s like a bad infomercial because there have been infomercials in my life that have imparted more information per sequence than last night’s show. Yes, the tips of storing fresh herbs was useful but mostly because it reminded me I needed to harvest the herbs outside before the weather gets properly chilly. Using leftovers is a great way to cut down on food waste but I can think of several equally interesting, quicker and MUCH cheaper ways to use leftover brisket and I can do it without the relative pantry and equipment luxuries he seems to assume are at hand.

Look, I don’t agree with eviscerating the man for pointing out that fewer and fewer people bother or know how to cook these days (he’s right). The articles last week, shrieking that he’s down on the poor for buying ready meals are clearly built around carefully picked comments from conversations about how PEOPLE (all of them) are subsisting on ready meals or take-aways. But that won’t sell as many papers so it became “Rich man criticizes poor for having audacity to eat.” As tedious in its way as Jamie himself and even more predictable.

Will definitely be keeping up with The Incredible Spice Men (and quite likely buying their book as they seem to share the TransAtlantic Towers outlook on what food and eating it about) and giving Jamie a miss. Might thumb through the book should I come across it in the shops – then make a call on the book separately but if the rest of the series is like last nights, no reason to miss something more interesting. Like emptying the dishwasher.