I have been to crochet class. I did not stab anyone, or indeed, want to stab anyone. A distinct improvement.
Also, there was cake – real, not crocheted, made by one of the class. It was a nice cake, and she is a whizz at crochet. I did not feel bitter about this, because I cannot feel bitterly towards anyone who offers me cake. It is impossible.
Consequently I returned home for The Great British Bake Off feeling rather more sanguine about things, and ready to embrace European Cake Week, and indeed Europe in a gesture of open armed affection, ending with me clasping it to my peculiarly British bosom, or just my peculiar bosom that happens to live in Britain.
I am not insular when it comes to cake consumption, despite being offered various evil fruit based products in my limited time living in Germany, and fearing anything that comes out of Italy that isn’t a panettone.
It is interesting that European cake week focussed very much on the more Germanic/Scandinavian parts of Europe, rather than France. It may be that the French and their Frenchified ways tend to infiltrate most areas of baking regardless, so they were disqualified from taking part this week due to being too ruddy good at things. It may be down to our long standing animosity to the so called ‘cheese eating surrender monkeys’. Never cross the cake/fromage streams and all that.
It may be that the success of The Killing and the Bridge and our national joy at being able to shout ‘Tak’ and ‘Compewdah’ and erroneously feel that we have mastered an entire language skewed things towards the North. Who knows? I was just disappointed that neither Mary nor Paul decided to don interesting knitwear this week. If there had ever been a week to grasp the nettle with regard to jumpers, this was it. Although I am quite pleased that Paul didn’t turn up in a ribbed turtle neck in festive colours adorned with snowflakes.
For the sake of my poor eyes.
Having said that I’d like to see Mary eating eclairs in a snood. And not getting cream down the neck hole.
Just for the hell of it.
Let us get down to discussing the baking. If you missed the episode you can catch up here.
The signature challenge this week was to create a cake inspired by the great cakes of Europe, cakes which must also be leavened with yeast.
According to Paul and Mary, the key to a successful yeast based cake is timing. It is all about the rise, as with bread. It transpires that yeast is a temperamental little bugger, and requires coaxing and gentle prodding and it does not like it when you add ‘stuff’ and ‘things’ that might inhibit it from being its true, yeasty self. These ‘stuff’ and ‘things’ turned out to be anything. Anything at all that you might want to put in a cake and basically stop your cake actually being a bread roll with icing and a cherry on top.
According to me, it seems that there are two, crucial elements to a yeast leavened cake. Firstly you must have some kind of ridiculous tin to bake it in. Circular, domed, tiered, in an old sand castle bucket, the armpit of your Scandinavian sweater – that sort of thing. Something odd that you are really going to struggle to get the cake out of in one piece. Something that makes you sweat and long to be making a Victoria sponge in a loose bottomed 7 inch, non stick tin.
Secondly it must have a name which has the suffix ‘hupf’, ‘hopf’, ‘hoeuf’, or ‘gluph’, or things will go badly awry for you.
Or you can just throw caution to the winds and make a savarin. Which is a bit like a trained killer for hire. But a cake.
Martha really wasn’t with it this week, ricocheting between worrying about Bake Off and worrying about impending exams, and experiencing half term melt down meant that she hadn’t practised her cake or revised. Winging it completely in this round she managed to produce a triumphant hoooflehupf entirely by accident. Poor Richard, whose magic pencil bobbed up and down like a demented woodpecker, produced an average heuvenhoeuf with disappointing glaze, AND got into trouble because he admitted to winging it. It hardly seemed fair. Although, them’s the bakes.
Luis produced a smerffengluph of architectural splendour to great acclaim. This week he was the Isembard Kingdom Brunel of the cake world. Chetna meanwhile, produced a soggy savarin which tasted like the best soggiest savarin in the world and which made Paul hum with contentment. He likes Chetna’s flavours.
I just think it’s unfair that I don’t get to try them too. I know I’d like them.
Nancy channelled Brendan from two series ago with a Seventies, kitsch inspired savarin, sprouting pink flamingoes and glitter. All that was missing was an ice bucket in the shape of a pineapple, Bruce Forsyth dancing a samba and some coconut matting and we could have had a party. Kate’s was my favourite this week, sounding lush, as she made Bubka with dark chocolate and cherries. Sadly she made the fatal mistake of making something reasonably pronounceable which did not end in ‘hupf’, which was her downfall.
The technical challenge this week was to produce a frankly bonkers cake from Denmark called a Prinsestarta. It translates as a Princess cake.
It turns out that the Danes are totally insane when it comes to cake. They do not produce cakes with less than thirty ingredients in. They do not do ‘one’ cake for tea. They do not even do tea. They just do banqueting tables laden with cakes, where the hostess of the cakequet politely forces you to eat slices of every one of the ninety cakes she has prepared earlier for your delectation and delight. You are allowed to wash this down with flagons of strong coffee, and be carried home hyperventilating, on a stretcher.
I knew I didn’t just love the Danes for their liberal politics, hairy jumpers and excessive fondness for macabre violence. Everything I learn about them makes me yearn to chain myself to the Little Mermaid and stay for a thousand years.
As far as prinsestarta goes, I know for a solid gold fact that these exist, ludicrously excessive though they sound, made with forty million layers of creme patissiere, whipped cream, jam, sponge, marzipan, icing, chocolate, bananas, bunches of keys and side boards, because I’ve seen them in the restaurant at Ikea.
Ikea – not just for furniture. Also – get your improbable cakes here. Form a line.
In Ikea they call them Steg, and you have to assemble them yourself with two flimsy allan keys and a diagram drawn by a monkey wearing a tea cosy as a hat – over its eyes.
This is not true.
Would that it were.
I have never tried a prinsestarta because I do not like marzipan. However, now that I know what lurks under the marzipan lid, I will be first in the queue at my next outing to Ikea with my allan keys drumming on the table, shouting ‘Moar! Moar!’
For the bakers it was a nightmare of juggling layers and cooling things so that there were no leaks or collapses, or a lack of structural integrity. Much like, in fact, trying to build Billy book case in an hour with the help of your children and possibly soon to be ex husband/wife.
Kate lost the plot entirely. Her sponges went wrong. Her filling collapsed, and her marzipan was a patchwork of hope over experience. It lost her the technical, as she came resoundingly bottom of the pack. Richard trailed closely behind. Nancy won this week’s challenge with a perfect dome, and despite calling Paul, ‘The Male Judge’ in a fit of pique.
You can’t argue with a perfect dome. Not even if you are ‘The Male Judge.’
Chetna pulled it out the bag, despite having the world’s flattest sponge and having to make another one, and produced something else which made everyone go ‘mmmm’.
This was a mere warm up for the show stopper round in which she triumphed to become a well deserved star baker this week.
In order to do this she had to, along with everyone else, create a version of the traditional Hungarian dobos torte, with added caramel. Caramel indeed, should be added at every conceivable moment, before, during and after the bake.
I do not have a problem with this, despite never having heard of a dobos torte before today. It is another one of those cakes where I feel it may well be fictional and only exist on telly. Having said that, given that it is a huge cake, consisting of layers and layers of sponge, sandwiched with some kind of ridiculously rich caramel/chocolate/whipped stuff filling, iced with ganache type stuff and slathered with chocolate and caramel, I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, and room in my capacious pudding pouch.
The cake had to be many, many layered, and indeed many tiered. I lost count of the number of sponge layers people were baking, forty, fifty, eleventy, twelveteen, o’clock. It was all counting, and layering, and stacking and slathering and a frenzy of construction.
Luis embraced his crazy and his OCD, and created a piece of architecture rendered in cake and spun sugar in homage to a monument near his home. I’m glad nobody left in the Bake Off lives near here. I cannot imagine the Clock Tower, which smells always of wee and chip wrappings, and is festooned with born again Christians shouting into microphones, being recreated via the medium of cake.
Probably easier to go for the car park where Richard III was dug up. Even I could make caramel tarmac at a push.
Martha made a chess cake which went distinctly awry and was rather frilly at the edges. Mary disapproved of the fact that she hadn’t sculpted her chess pieces by hand. Yeah! What a lightweight, right? Whenever I make a three dimensional cake chess board and all the pieces, I always use weeny chisels and hammers to make my pawns. Tsk. That Martha…What a slacker.
Nancy got the hang of crisp lines, smart layers and hiding her grainy chocolate work, unlike Richard.
Richard’s cake construction left a lot to be desired this week, with wonky grouting, slap dash, plastering and issues with his structure. His magic pencil really let him down this week. It was all a bit bish, bash, bosh at the end of the day. Which will never do. Kate also had a disastrous round in which she ran out of time to do her caramel work and ended up glueing forty seven and a half caramel dipped nuts onto the outside of her cake before having to throw in the towel.
And there we left Paul and Mary slugging it out over whether Richard or Kate messed up badly enough to go home this week. Apparently they came to blows and filming had to be halted while Paul’s fat lip went down and Mary got some raw steak for her black eye. In the end, fearing paring knives at dawn, it was decided that both Richard and Kate would live to fight another day and nobody would be evicted this week.
I, for one, was very happy about this, although not as happy as Kate and Richard I’m sure.
They get to slog it out all over again next week when we move on to complex pastries.