Saturday, 10 October 2015

GBBO 2015 Bakealong: Week 10: The FINAL!

The leaves are turning brown, skies are greying, the autumn nights are drawing in and GBBO is over for another year...

Despite many good intentions, that almost certainly means mothballing the blog again, but before I go, here is my final GBBO bake along of the year.

I enjoyed the final - the right person won, the nation was in tears and we ate a lot of cheese while it happened.

As in previous years, though, I was a bit surprised by the comparative simplicity of the tasks - the millefeuilles seemed fairly straightforward (though allegedly were chosen because all three finalists had had pastry problems in the past), though were reasonably cheering from my lots-of-leftover-rough-puff-in-the-fridge perspective and the showstopper specification seemed vague enough just to be saying "bake a nice cake" (which is not unreasonable).

Once again, though, my real interest was in the signature bake. Iced buns! Noone could fail to be cheered by an iced bun!

The TV ones had to be filled, but I felt like that was a little unnecessary for my purposes (though it would be easy enough to fill with cream and jam as desired, obviously) and would make them less portable. Well - maybe one. Just to see how it tasted.

I used a bun dough recipe from Darina Allen's Forgotten Skills of Cooking (a genuinely brilliant book that I honestly don't look at or use enough), which is a fairly standard, slightly sweet, yeasted dough enriched with butter and eggs (though, interestingly, not milk).

It's actually a really good dough - I've used it in the past for everything from chelsea buns to doughnuts and they've all been delightful.

As an aside, I fairly recently discovered that it was possible to buy fresh yeast from Morrisons, so now I make everything with (usually frozen) fresh instead of dried or instant. I don't know why I should be surprised by this, but it is MUCH MUCH better. Everyone needs to get back into fresh yeast! Given that it freezes so easily, it's really no more trouble than the dried kind and your bread will be far superior!

I opted for the traditional finger shape (I'm not remotely precious about them being batch cooked, stuck together and torn apart - I actually rather like the effect) with white royal icing on top, but they'd be equally good round with cherries and or happy faces.

I also left mine plain, as I prefer them that way, but they lend themselves pretty well to having dried fruit added at the final shaping stage if you're that way inclined.

So that's it - I am all baked along for another year and will now be grabbing hold of the opportunity to stop eating for a few weeks. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

GBBO 2015 Bakealong: Weeks 8 and 9: Patisserie and Chocolate

A bit of a catch up this week (again)...

I actually made the pastry for my cream horns AGES ago, but it's been sitting in the fridge for a bit, as it struck me that cream horns were a touch on the impractical side when it comes to transporting to work or to the rowing club or wherever, so I've been putting off the actual baking part.

Anyway - week 8 was Patisserie week. I'm honestly not sure that there is a difference between pastry (see week 6) and patisserie, but I assume what they were looking for here was something a bit posher. Posh pastry!

This included the most ridiculous showstopper yet, the amazing religieuse a l'ancienne, a kind of tower of eclairs allegedly in the shape of a nun. Definitely recipe for tears and collapses.
The technical whatnot was a mokatine, which seemed to be a wee coffee cake with added complexity.

The signature bake, though, my own particular interest, was the cream horn - a deceptively simple bit of baking and one that, unexpectedly, I had never attempted before.

I did, however, turn out to have a set of metal cream horn cone mould things (leftover from this wee escapade), so I was all set!

Having watched the show, I opted for a rough puff pastry (courtesy, once again, of Pastry) using a mix of plain and strong flour for added non-falling-apart-ness.
I rolled it out thinly (possibly not thinly enough - I'll know better next time) when I did eventually get round to doing the baking part, cut it into strips, wound it round the cones, painted it with egg white and sugar and baked them till they were done.
I was quite boring and just filled them with a slightly vanillaey mix of whipped cream and mascarpone, with a bit of jam in the bottom for a bit of interest.

They were good - the pastry in particular was v pleasing -  I might do them again.
Probably just as well, as there is still pastry in the fridge.

All this was followed by Week 9 - Chocolate Week.

Technical chocolate soufflés were the order of the day with a side of further tears and collapses (I've never made a chocolate soufflé either, so no judgement from me).

I failed to completely understand the showstopper on this episode - maybe I should watch it again and pay a bit more attention to the specification - it seemed to be a Chocolate Thing Including Biscuits. Anyway, it all looked very exciting and, honestly, who doesn't love a working chocolate well?

I was quite pleased to see that the signature bake was a chocolate tart, though a little more dismayed that it required chocolate pastry (and not *just* because there is a lump of "spare" shortcrust currently in residence in my fridge).

This wide brief was a bit of an issue. I could just have made a ganache type chocolate tart or maybe one in a baked custard style, but that seemed a bit dull in lots of ways.

I'm quite a fan of baked goods based on cheap chocolate bars - I've made some nice Twix themed tarts in the past and am partial to sticking caramel and chocolate in a sponge and describing it as a Rolo cake, so I went for something along those lines.

I surveyed my colleagues and Milky Ways came up reasonably often, which seemed as good a way to decide as any.
Having said that, research determined that American Milky Ways have a layer of caramel (though are still somehow distinct from a Mars Bar - not certain how that works) and a layer of caramel never made anything worse. Thus a plan was made.

I made a chocolate shortcrust with a mixture of lard and butter (mine was unsweetened - I thought the filling would be sugary enough). It turns out that the contestants weren't wrong when they made all that fuss about chocolate pastry - replacing a bit of flour in your shortcrust with cocoa powder really does make it a bit weird... Having said that, it was also pleasingly short when baked, so, y'know, silver linings and all that!
I blind baked it for a bit, then took out the baking beans, brushed it with egg white and baked it a bit longer till it was nice and crispy.

I made an experimental caramel with a bit of vanilla and mascarpone instead of cream (fridge supply limitations), cooled it a bit, poured it into my tart case and cooled it in the fridge.
The mascarpone made a nice sauce - slightly sharper than sometimes - though I'd make it a bit thicker next time, I think, for slightly better setting potential.

I made a weak ganache/cream thing from a bit of milk chocolate, cream and a smidge of butter.
If I'd been a bit cleverer about this, I'd have refrigerated it overnight and then whipped it, but that turns out to be difficult without a bit of foresight. I did chill it a bit, though.

I whisked some egg whites with sugar into a meringuey thing (again - next time, maybe Swiss or Italian meringue for extra stability, though I do like the fluffiness of the raw white).

I folded the whites into the chocolatey cream to make a kind of mousse and poured/spread it over the caramel layer to almost fill my tart and stuck it back in the fridge (whilst simultaneously sticking the leftover "overflow mousse" into my mouth).

I was going to make a beautiful shiny tempered chocolate topping for the whole thing, until I remembered that, whilst it would be very pretty (and would doubtless elicit gasps of awe at my beautiful tempering skills), combined with quite a soft filling, it would render my tart completely impossible to slice, so I opted for a buttery (and a teeny bit golden syrupy) ganache thing instead.

Oof - well done for reading if you've made it this far!

We ate both these things while watching the actual real GBBO final, which was pleasing.

Just one more bakealong to go, that means - iced buns for the win!

Friday, 25 September 2015

GBBO 2015 Bakealong: Week 7: Victorian Week

Two episodes ago was apparently a first for GBBO - Victorian week - a slightly random selection, I'm sure you'll agree, but a reasonably entertaining one nonetheless.

The tennis cake was frankly bizarre. Quite apart from the fact that the length of time given to properly cook a fruit cake was completely insufficient (we usually cook our Christmas cakes for upwards of 12 hours, for example), the whole tennis thing was gloriously nuts. Why did noone ask why? It tested some fun skills, though, and I fully endorse Mat's decision to try to dry out the icing in the oven (I might have made it a bit cooler) - royal icing in the fridge will surely just go sticky?

The showstopping charlotte russe looked like a good dessert - definitely one I'll be trying at some stage (and I LOVED the fruit carving - what a delightfully odd skill to have picked up in life).

The raised game pie, though, was obviously the thing I was really interested in.
They were supposed to be made with hot water crust pastry, in the manner of a pork pie, but apparently, unlike the pork pie, the jelly is optional.
Now I have some previous with pork pies (which I thought I had probably shared with you before, though a quick squizz through my archives suggests that I may be mistaken) which have generally been successful, though my advice on the matter is to be a bit careful if you are going to make them with jelly lovingly formulated with many hours of trotter boiling, as people seem (v unreasonably, in my opinion) to be a bit unhappy if you accidentally use purple carrots and make it bright pink.
I sadly opted for no jelly, as husband is a bit funny about that stuff.

Anyway, I bought some game pie mix (and some incidental delicious quails) from the nice people The Wild Meat Company (situated in a very lovely part of the world that you must all visit as soon as you get a chance) and got on with things.

My recipe wasn't a million miles away from this *actual GBBO* recipe, though I filled it with a mixture of my game pie mix (venison, pheasant, rabbit, pigeon and boar, I believe), some sausagemeat, a bit of garlic and onion and a packet of chestnuts that I found in a cupboard (oh, and a load of herbs and pepper).
I thought there was some lard in the fridge, but it turned out to have been a trifle imaginary, so I used dripping instead.

I made it in a tin, which I thought was kind of cheating when it comes to "raised" pies, but everyone on the television did the same, so presumably it isn't too terrible a sin.

Mine was NOT beautifully decorated with dolphins or anything else - Mary would have been very disappointed with me.

In addition, due to unforeseen time constraints, we were forced to eat it while it was still warm, so there are no lovely pictures of beautifully cut fridge slices and it was a bit, well, juicy...

It was a good pie, though - as evidenced by the fact that, when I went to bed there was still half a pie left and when I got up in the morning, there was almost none. Big win for game!

Stayed tuned for cream horns!

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

GBBO 2015 Bakealong: Week 6: Pastry Week

After the stresses and strains of Alternative Ingredients week, Pastry week last week was a great relief.

Like bread, I think pastry has a pleasing "something from nothing" quality - to be able to create a delicious whatnot from just flour and butter is really quite magical, with the added benefit that, to me at least, pastry basically means Tarts (and who doesn't love a Tart?).

Despite the fact that the show's researchers are clearly scraping the barrel a bit to find technical challenges that the bakers (and audience) have never seen, or indeed heard of, I thought the flaounes looked quite fun, in a cheesy kind of way and although we can doubtless all agree that making puff pastry with a time limit is a *little* bit ridiculous, vol au vents are basically an awesome thing!

The frangipane (not frangipani, dudes, those are flowers) signature bake was a lovely one, though - it's one of those infallibly delicious things that you really just can't make often enough.

I thought that all the tarts on the show with pretty fruit arrangements looked beautiful as well as delicious, but for me, there was really no other choice than Bakewell Tart - the king of frangipane.

Jennie's Bakewell Tart

For the shortcrust pastry:
300g plain flour
150g butter (cold)
pinch of salt
(As long as you have approximately twice as much flour as fat, you can't go wrong here. Normally, I'd use half butter, half lard - I think it makes a better pastry - but since I was planning to foist this one on a Rosh Hashanah dinner, I thought just butter might be a bit more appropriate!)

For the tart:
180g butter
180g caster sugar
3 eggs
almond essence
180g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
raspberry jam (if I was a real bake off person, I'd probably have made it, as they seem keen on that stuff now, and if I had, it would probably have been rhubarb jam instead of raspberry, because yum, but, given that this was real life and not a bake off bubble, I just used a jar that I found in a cupboard)
flaked almonds

For the pastry - I mixed the flour and salt together and rubbed in the butter. I'm not necessarily that big on doing things by hand - I love my Kenwood - but pastry is one of those things which is quite fun to do the "proper" way, I think.
I added a little bit of cold water and mixed it in until the whole thing just came together and stuck it in the fridge for an hour or so to firm up.
When it was cool (and I had finished doing whatever it was that I was doing in the non-baking World), I took it out, rolled it as thinly as I could and used it to line my tart tin. I left some overhang round the edges. It's not the easiest thing to roll, as it's quite a "short" pastry, but as long as you don't mind doing a bit of patching if necessary, it works out ok.
I stuck in some baking parchment, filled my tart case with baking beans and blind baked at 180 for about 15-20 minutes (taking the beans/paper out for the last 5 for a bit of crispiness).
While the tart case was baking, I mixed up the frangipane.
I creamed the butter and sugar until it was white and super fluffy, then beat in the eggs and almond essence (adding a bit of almonds where necessary, to stop it curdling).
I folded in the almonds, salt and baking powder until it was all just combined.
When the tart has had cooled a teeny tiny bit (for maybe 5 minutes or so), I spread the jam into it (thickly - I think the jam is an important tart component, particularly when using unsweetened pastry like this) and dolloped the frangipane mix over it in as even a way as I could manage (this is the hardest part!) and spread it out smoothly.
I sprinkled lots of flaked almonds over the top and stuck it in the oven.
As soon as it hit the oven, I turned it down to about 160 and baked for probably 35 minutes (until it looked cooked).

I realised when I saw the beautiful pistachio frangipane created by Gin and Crumpets (she is much posher than I am...) that a "real" bakewell tart would probably have had drizzled icing over the top.
You will just have to use your imaginations to provide that.

It was pretty good, even without the icing, and wasn't even too soggy bottomed (which I think is a danger with extreme jam).

We were all obviously far too full even to contemplate pudding after the many courses of challah, salads and amazing chicken, but were able to force down a *small* assiette of desserts (the two frangipane tarts and the chocolate chip Rosh Hashanah style honey cake - photographed here with Much Cream by the v clever @Shedlikesfood). What sacrifice...

I think it's some kind of historic baking episode next time? I thought that I hadn't seen a trailer, but there are game pies in my head, which I assume means that I have subconsciously absorbed one from somewhere.
Hopefully I'm not wrong about it - pie is one of my favourite things!

Saturday, 12 September 2015

GBBO 2015 Bakealong: Weeks 4 and 5

A bit of a catch up from me this time!

I have been nobly baking along to Bake Off in the background all this time, but I've not actually managed to tell anyone about it.

First up - Dessert Week! I thoroughly enjoyed the desserts, despite the splendid ridiculousness of the Spanische Windtorte technical challenge, which seemed like an awful lot of very complex stuff to make something which ultimately looks quite a lot like a pavlova (a delicious pavlova, no doubt - is there any other kind? But a pavlova nonetheless).

The cheesecakes also looked great - who doesn't love a baked cheesecake? But lest I ever forget and think that I might like to make one, please remind me that a three layered cheesecake is a foolish endeavour that will inevitably lead to tears.

Creme brulee, on the other hand, is a perfect pudding in almost every way.
It is straightforward to make, can be formulated in advance (so that there's no need to hide in the kitchen for hours while your dinner guests get drunk without you a la Come Dine With Me) and, most importantly, is delicious.

I made a pretty simple version, with blackberry and apple puree underneath my custard and an unashamedly blow torched crunchy caramel topping (grilling - honestly!!)
I had just come back from a holiday in Suffolk and had a million garden tree apples and a whole load of painstakingly picked blackberries (the nettle and bramble scars have faded now, but those blackberries have very effective defensive systems in place).

I don't usually bother with the whole bain marie thing, but I did it this time, out of a sense of GBBO duty. I think I won't bother again - the overflow custard that I just baked was just as nice, if not better.
Otherwise, they turned out pretty well - delicious and just a bit of nice bleeding between the puree and the custard (I can't imagine why this was something the judges complained about on the show - it's so PRETTY) and a delicious just-the-right-side-of-burnt scrunchy topping!

And so - onto the following week - Alternative Ingredients.

I am completely on board with feeding people things they can eat. Gluten free pitta breads (and other such things) are perfect for people with coeliac disease and allergies and dairy free ice cream is entirely approriate for vegans and the lactose intolerant (though why did nobody make sorbet? I'd have made arctic sorbet rolls - surely they would be delicious..). Ditto alternatives to the many other things that people are allergic to - it is reasonable and desirable to find good alternatives, and it provides an entertaining baking challenge.

However (and there was bound to be one coming), correct me if I'm wrong, but I have NEVER met or indeed heard of, anyone who is allergic to sugar. From a bag.
In fact, as many people will already know from my extensive ranting on Twitter/swearing at the television etc, this is a subject that is pretty close to my heart (and pancreas).

I don't think that there is one among us who would dispute that too much sugar is not a Good Thing for any of us. In fact, there are entirely valid debates to be had over what Too Much is represented by, and whether it might actually be "any at all", but that is a question for a blog that is not mainly about cake.
What is not in question, however, is that there is any difference at all, from the point of view of "health" (meaning, in this case, how it acts in and with your body) between sugar from-a-bag (as prohibited in the episode in question), sugar in honey, sugar from syrups/nectars and, indeed, sugar from fruit (or anywhere else). Substituting one of these things into your cake may make it taste better (and will almost certainly make it different), but will not make it any more or less acceptable from a physiological point of view to anyone - there is nobody for whom this cake will be a more "better" thing, unless they happen simply to like the taste (or have some kind of ethical reason for not eating sugar-from-a-bag, perhaps). It is a pointless (if not actually fruitless...) exercise. This was the crux of the first element of my TV-ranting.

The second is a little more specific to my own situation. If it were possible to make an actual (palatable) cake with no sugar at all, it would STILL be a futile exercise from my own point of view as someone with T1 diabetes (which seems to be a fairly frequently cited "reason" for making things - the same also applies to T2 and other types - it's not all about me). This could be done fairly easily if desired, by using one of the genuinely sugar free sugar substitutes (aspartame/xylitol etc), and I was a bit surprised that none of the GBBO people mentioned or tried it. Anyway, the point is that this cake would still be chock full of other carbohydrates (most commonly flour) which would, on eating, be turned to glucose extremely swiftly in the body, which would raise blood sugar levels almost as much as if it had been full of sugar in the first place. Unless you go the whole "low carb" hog (hogs, of course, being about as low carb as they come), the diabetes argument simply doesn't hold water - it might be a little less extreme, but eating (sugar free) bread will spike blood glucose levels in exactly the same way as eating cake. The spikes may be less extreme, but, fundementally, the effect is the same. This forms the basis of rant element number two.

As well as it being a bit annoying, the propagation of misinformation about "sugar free" stuff can be actively quite dangerous. Most (though not all) people with T1 diabetes are aware of how food (specifically carbohydrate in food) affects their blood glucose levels, but many many people with T2 and other types are still not given such good information and are not provided with the means to test the effect on their blood and make their own, informed, decisions - there is a very real danger (and, as someone who hangs out on quite a lot of diabetes forums and things, I can see this happening right now to real people in real life) that people are damaging their health because the media and public understanding of what "sugar free" means is not in line with what it *actually* means.

This obviously extends to people without diabetes too - the effect is similar - it's just that their bodies are equipped to deal with the rises in blood glucose which makes them less immediately damaging, but still likely to contribute to insulin resistance in some people in the long term.

All this aside, I still made a cake with no sugar-from-a-bag in it, and it was very lovely (though didn't *work* as well as a normal cake - that sugar is clever stuff, innit) - husband was pleasingly utterly delighted with it. The orange blossom water gives is a slightly aromatic (non honey aromatic - it obviously already has the aroma of honey) frisson - it actually tastes quite a lot like those delicious honey balls that we used to get from the Greek bakery when we were little.
It is absolutely dripping with honey and will raise your blood glucose levels no end!

Jennie's No-Sugar-From-A-Bag Honey Cake

180 g butter
180g (ish) honey plus a load more to "ice" - I used set honey because I felt like it would give me a less runny mixture - this might have been a delusion
3 eggs
orange blossom water
220g SR flour
a splodge of yogurt

I creamed the butter and honey together, like a "real" cake and beat in  the eggs and orange blossom water a bit at a time (adding some of the flour where necessary to stop it curdling) and then folded in the flour and yogurt.
I baked it at about 160 (fan) for probably 25 minutes or so.
While it was baking, I melted a big load of extra honey and a little bit of extra orange blossom water in a wee saucepan.
When the cake was coolish, I poured the warm honey over the top.

Thus concludes the catch up. Apologies for incoherent ranting.

Normal service should resume next time with frangipane (bakewell tart FTW), which I am much looking forward to!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

GBBO 2015 Bakealong: Week 3: Bread Week

So, Bread Week...

I believe I have expressed my opinions on Bread Week before, so perhaps I won't go into it too much here, but suffice to say, I think there have been problems with realistic timings in the past.
Trying, for example, to make brioche or ciabatta in the time allotted is clearly ridiculous - either they have WAY more time than it looks like on television, or they are just tasting 12 (11?) inedibly undercooked loaves.
In any case, enough of that, and I shall move on to say that I think the signature bake thus week was, under the circumstances, an extremely sensible choice - lovely soda bread - no silly proving time, no fuss over whether of not it is "better" to knead things by hand etc etc...

Personally, I am extremely fond of soda bread - a perfect compromise between breadiness and cakiness, as well as being super swift and easy to make (honestly, SO quick - I easily made it AND my dinner whilst actually watching the episode).

Now, I have a large (some might say excessive) number of books about how to make bread, many of them written by v wise people with much science, cleverness and lovely pictures.
However, the book that I use the most and the one containing the basis of the soda bread recipe I used today is this - the Christian Aid Book of Bread. It has no pictures and no famous master bakers, but I love it dearly, use it extremely frequently, and thoroughly recommend it to all of you.

I didn't have any proper buttermilk, so I chucked in a bit of yogurt and some slightly Heath Robinsonesque "buttermilk" made of milk and vinegar.
I also (rather uncharacteristically) signatured up my bread with pumpkin seeds, as a) they are delicious and b) I happened to find some in a drawer.

And here we go - pumpkin seed soda bread. Good eaten warm slathered with butter!

I vaguely heard someone mention Desserts in a next episode type context, as I was taking my loaf out of the oven, which is an extremely cheering prospect.
I'm on holiday next week, though, so my dessert making facilities may be somewhat limited. I guess we'll see what happens...

Sunday, 16 August 2015

GBBO 2015 Bakealong: Week 2

I missed the second episode of GBBO on Wednesday evening, due to an overdue appointment with some nice people and a great big pizza.
I was a little worried that I might never see it, due to the tragic broadband drought that was going on at my flat, but happily BT came up with the goods and I managed to catch up last night.

Biscuit week seems a bit unpopular on the Social Meejas - I'm not really sure why - I love a nice biscuit.
I'm a little less certain about boxes/structures made of biscuits, tbh, but I can only assume that some people love them (and consider them a worthwhile endeavour).

Biscotti, I am happy with - they can appear a slightly odd beast, I think, until (rather like last week's cake, in fact) you realise that they are much improved by an accompanying glass of something (vin santo if you can find a nice one - I might just reuse the Madeira) to dip them in!

My recipe was a slightly bastardised version of the one from "500 Cookies", a slightly eccentric but very heavily used book that I have had for a fair chunk of forever.

I was a bit unsure about the wisdom of putting dried fruit in biscotti, what with the twice cooking and everything, but it seems to be A Thing, so I went for sour cherry and almond, with a wee bit of orange zest and extract.

They were super easy and came out beautifully, if a touch on the large side - I've made quite a few biscotti in my time, and never quite got the hang of making the initial "loaves" a sensible size.

I confess that I don't really understand the obsession on GBBO with making things a uniform size - part of the joy of things like these biscotti is that they are cut from a loaf, which, by its very nature, is likely to taper at the extremeties... What do they expect you to do with the ends (the Best Bits!)? Throw them away?
Anyway - mine are large and unwieldy, in no way the same size as each other and (as far as I can tell) just tooth-breaking enough and, in my opinion, that is exactly how they should be.

Next week is, apparently, Bread Week - officially the stupidest week to try to squash into two short days of baking... I clearly wasn't really paying attention as I have no clue what the signature bake is going to be - I guess it will be a nice surprise when I find out!