Tag Archives: Great British Bake Off 2013

Great British Bake Off 2013 – The Final

Well, all my plans to be a more committed blogger this half term have come to naught it seems. I even managed to be out last night for the final of The Great British Bake Off.

I sat through the encore performance of the NT Live Hamlet with half a mind on murder most foul and the other half on whether someone would accidentally set the tent on fire in the technical challenge.  It wasn’t the most committed I’ve ever been to watching Hamlet, it has to be said.

I think Hamlet would have been a terrible baker. He’d have always been nipping off to brood in the corner, or run off a quick soliloquy while his muffins burned to flinders. I think he’d definitely have been prone to a soggy bottom.

He looks the sort.

The children and I bundled downstairs in our pyjamas this morning and watched Bake Off before breakfast. We couldn’t wait any longer.

You can watch the final here.

We had Kimberley, Frances and Ruby in this episode, battling it out for a much more tasteful trophy this year.  I’ve always slightly pitied the winners in previous years, having to cart home that monstrous award that looks like a 3d model of the uterine system made with balloon whisks and pipettes.  This year’s glass cake stand was much more the thing.

All my favourites had gone by this time, as you know, but I was obliged to pick a new favourite for the final, because it’s just not the same if you haven’t got someone to cheer on from the sidelines is it?

I picked Frances for my team. 

Let’s recap:

Frances is well known for her love of placing cakes on vintage records.  She has done this several times during the course of the series.  I suspect she’s a bit of a nightmare to take to HMV – smearing cream horns over white label remixes of Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’. It may explain why we no longer see their stores on the high street.  Too much icing sugar in the grooves can prove fatal.  

She is also very artistic, whipping up scale models of gigantic match boxes, or small potting sheds with ease.  Unlike Ruby, her sheds would never have subsidence issues, although she did have a collapsing tower of biscuits earlier in the series which caused not a little excitement.  Despite this, she has risen like a phoenix from the flames.  In fact, it is a wonder that this was not the theme of her show stopper this week.

Kimberley is the Mary Poppins of the Bake Off this year.  There is always one baker with a penchant for a slide rule and methods executed with ruthless efficiency.  This year it has been Kimberley’s turn to nod knowledgeably about the stretch quotient of gluten when squeezed in a lightly floured hand, or how many macarons make five.  I am torn when it comes to Kimberley. Everything she makes looks delicious, plus her hair is ace, and she has a fantastic smile which you just can’t help beaming along with. On the other hand, her naked ambition scares me and makes me want to hide along the back of the sofa and whimper gently into a paper bag.

Ruby does not do naked ambition.  Ruby does doleful, woebegone with a hint of spaniel. I had hoped that this, like her execrable taste for alpine knitwear, might have worn off over the weeks, as she has remained in the competition, but it hasn’t, and I just couldn’t find it in myself to back her as my favourite, even at this point.  I do not hate her, and I would pay good money to try the things she has made that look like they will see her going home on the last bus from tentsville, which are proclaimed delicious.  They must be truly delicious, because they quite often look like a bag of spanners. A bag of spanners with subsidence, and possibly jumper hair.

It is my one great annoyance with the Bake Off, that I cannot sample the products.

Maybe this will happen when it moves to BBC1 next year. You will be able to apply for tickets, like Glastonbury – and bits of cake will be mailed out to you at the end of every episode.

It was all to play for in the final, and the signature challenge saw the contestants making a picnic pie with a pastry crust and distinctive layers.

Paul and Mary have been big on layers this season.  I think the term ‘distinctive layers’ should take over from soggy bottom as the catch phrase for the series, except that it doesn’t sound as rude and isn’t as fun to say.  One could combine the two and have a Juicy Couture track suit with ‘soggy bottom’ tastefully embroidered across your arse, and ‘distinctive layers’ snaking across your bosoms.

That would be nice.  Mary and Paul could have his ‘n’ hers ones.

Ruby and Frances both made a pie in the shape of a picnic basket, and I have to confess that I had my first inkling of sympathy for Ruby when she found out that they were having a picnic basket head to head. 

You just knew that Frances’ pie would probably be woven in an artisan pattern handed down through the generations, and that each strand would be decorated so you could see the knot holes in the willow withies – and then you thought about shedtastrophe and knew that if you were in the same position, your mouth would be doing the same thing as Ruby’s. i.e. looking a bit like a cat when it’s smelled something really terrible.

As it was, Ruby’s pie actually got more praise than Frances’ in the end, and did actually look properly finished, which genuinely shocked everyone, including the camera man and the man who puts up the tent poles.

Kimberley’s on the other hand was a piemare – which was almost as shocking.  It was not a final lacking in excitement.  The world had gone topsy turvy and it was only the first round.

Kimberley’s pie oozed and crumbled, and crumbled and oozed, and was deemed claggy in the mouth.  This is not good. Claggy is a word best used to describe things like mud, and other things it is probably best not to put into your mouth.  Claggy is something one suffers from around the calf and ankle region generally, and one rarely hears Heston, for example, trying for a claggy consistency in anything at all.

Poor Kimberley.

The technical challenge saw the bakers having to make pretzels.

It was not a fantastic success for anyone, this round.  It resulted in great strands of dough being flung about like laggy bands in a school playground, and me humming ‘Double Dutch’ by Malcolm McLaren as everyone attempted double loops and going around the outside.  Twisting and poaching and browning, and achieving crunch with chew just gave everyone a massive headache and produced many, many pretzels, all of which looked a bit like a cross between glazed dog pooh and bagels.

Paul’s eyebrows were doing overtime at this point in proceedings.  Rather like the  dough twisting. 

I did not check to see whether they looped themselves up so much they actually produced pretzel shaped eyebrows.  I wouldn’t put it past him.  I may have to watch again on iPlayer.

Frances bombed in this round, with Kimberley coming out the victor (but not too victorious due to dog pooh shaped issues) and Ruby hovering in the middle – which meant that everything was to play for in the show stopper, which involved making a three tier wedding cake which had to be exciting inside and out – and no doubt would ideally incorporate distinctive layers somewhere.

The show stopper was tense, not because I doubted the outcome of this one, which I was pretty sure Frances would nail – but because, as Frances said, six hours to make a three tier wedding cake is pretty nail biting – most people take about six days to make a cake like this.

The final show stopper is always a feat of endurance, and you could see even the normally cool and collected Kimberley scrunching up ribbons of icing and muttering the word ‘compromise’ – which in her book is probably a swear word, and in my book is a word to live by.

Ruby went about constructing her cake in much the way I would do it, i.e. on a wing and a prayer with very little forethought. It would be what I would call a prototype – but sadly prototypes don’t cut it in the final of finals and Ruby’s winning hopes faded along with her sunset themed cake. 

Kimberley didn’t quite manage the perfect finish on her cake, due no doubt to all the compromises that had to be made – and it was Frances, with her beautiful inside and out cake that not only won that round but also the Bake Off as whole.

I have been reading a lot of grumbles in the media about Frances winning, and I feel it is unjust of  people to moan. The Bake Off has always been a competition where the judging is mostly about what you do on the day, not how you have done over the whole of the series.  I think, had it been judged across the whole series, Kimberley should have won, as the consistently more perfect baker. On the other hand, judged as it is, Frances was a worthy winner, as she really did pull it out of the bag on the day. She absolutely deserved to win.

I was delighted that the sun shone as they handed out the cake plate, and we got to see Howard and Glenn mingling on the lawn with everyone, and everything looked idyllic as the final credits rolled.  It kind of summed up what Bake Off is all about. Camp drama with buns and extreme loveliness all played out on an English lawn.

 Long may it last.

 

 

Great British Bake Off 2013 – Episode Nine – The French

Dear readers.

I have a confession to make.

Usually, by now (half eleven at night), I have written my Great British Bake Off Blog, edited it, tweaked it and posted it.

Tonight I have only just started it. My va va voom has va va went, and I am a little disconsolate about the whole affair.

Were I a parrot, this would be the episode where I stalk around the bottom of the cage, tossing lumps of Trill to the four winds and pulling my feathers out.

You see, for me, the tent is a bit of a lacklustre affair. Everyone is so intent on winning now – it’s all getting a bit too serious, and there is not enough joy to my viewing

and I love a bit of joy, and melodrama, and jam sponge.

There were bright spots, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted scintillation. I wanted titivation. I wanted things ending in – ation.

Sparkly things.

Instead I got four driven women wrapped in damp canvas making French baked goods with intent.

Mel and Sue tried to liven things up with a gallic shrug here and a bit of light opera there, and to be fair to Beca, she joined in with a marvellous contralto ‘banana’ – but it still lacked sparkle.  We needed Glenn, who I still sorely miss, with his petit fours the size of Belgium.  We needed another custard poaching incident, or a bit of light bun kneeling – although I suspect had that happened there would have been Violet Elizabeth style tantrums before bed time.

Instead we got the ghost of Howard, wafting around the tent in a denim shirt with fringes, singing sad songs about macarons of yore, and how his dog done gone and upped and went and died after drinking too much vanilla essence, and his woman left and took the family scone recipe with her…

Let us battle on through the gloom into the semi finals. You can watch the episode here.

Firstly, the signature bake involved making three different kind of canapes. I would add an accent to the e on canapes there, but I have no idea how to do it with WordPress, so you’ll have to imagine it instead.

I am torn about the world of canapes.  I love the idea of them, and the taste of them, and the fact that there are lots of different ones to try if you go to a truly proper and excellent posh party.

But there are two things that bother me.

Firstly, they are too small. I am showing my working class roots here, but I really do not understand the concept of the ‘nibble’ as an actual thing in its own right, which is effectively what a canape is.  A nibble is something you do to the edge of a 12 inch pizza, before you fall face first into it.  It is not something that provides any satisfaction in and of itself.

I only have two settings when it comes to matters of the appetite – bloody starving or bloody stuffed.  A canape/nibble does not help in either of these situations. It teases the starving, it is a waffer thin mint too far for the stuffed.

My friend Nicki and I were discussing this. We are in agreement on the canape question, and have come up with an invention, which is basically a Yo Sushi style conveyor belt, but straight – a superhighway of food, if you please – and one which delivers a never ending stream of delicious canapes straight into your pie hole.

Good, no?

My second issue with canapes is the vol au vent

No.

That is all.

The ones on display in the tent were all ‘Yes’ nibbles. I could have cleared that tent of bite sized snacks in under five minutes, even with the distraction of being filmed.

Everything looked delicious.

The technical challenge on the other hand, did not look delicious.  It was called a Charlotte Royal – which I believe is a made up pudding.

I say this once every series when I am presented with something new and astonishing, and am inevitably proved wrong when it turns out that everyone else in the Western hemisphere has been hoofing them down with impugnity since time immemorial, but I did feel justified this week when Sue confessed she’d never heard of it either.

She also cheered me rather when she said what everyone was thinking, i.e. that it looked rather like a brain.

A gelatinous, oozing brain.

A Charlotte Royal is basically slices of swiss roll moulded into a dome shape, filled with fruit and bavarois, which is then left to set, and then glazed with some kind of jelly mixture.

I have never had one, although I am a devotee of the bavarois sans Swiss roll, in its naked state, and I have nothing against Swiss roll either.

I’m not sure about the gelatinous coating though.

I’m a bit squeamish when it comes to gooey things, particularly things that are or have been made out of boiled up animal hooves at some stage in their lives.

I once had a friend who worked in a pork pie factory one summer when we were at university, and his descriptions of a life in pie were vivid, and disturbing. Rather like a David Kronenburg film, but with more meat based jelly.

Hence my natural distrust of things like the Charlotte royal.

I did actually feel quite sorry for Ruby this week, during the technical challenge. She pretty much comprehensively stuffed it up, and even Paul didn’t really have much to say that could redeem the situation.

The show stopper challenge this week was to create an Opera Cake.  An opera cake is a many layered thing of wonder, usually tasting of chocolate and coffee and splendidness.

The key to an Opera cake, we learned, was not how squiggly your writing was on the top – which is a shame, as I could probably do squiggles – not legible ones, but certainly very squiggly ones.

No – the key to an Opera cake is clearly differentiated layers of cake and filling, preferably with interesting textures, so that one may, as in many an English A level essay of yesteryear, compare and contrast the different elements that go to make up the cake.

Even Kimberley, who up to this point, had been practically perfect at everything in a Mary Poppins way, managed to mess things up with this challenge. The crunchiness of her top chocolate layer didn’t sit well with the squishiness of her lime jelly layer, which you could see as it squirted out the sides of the cake, perilously near to Paul’s trouserage. It also tasted too ‘chocolatey’.

I cannot imagine this – but Mary was in agreement and I trust her, so I must try to picture the scene.

Ruby’s looked like an elephant had sat on it, but apparently tasted of cherub spit, so that was alright.

Again.

Frances made a thing of beauty, flavoured with lemon and lavender, which I imagined might come out tasting rather like a cross between my granny’s knicker drawer and a soap dish, but which turned out to be not that exciting in the end.

Boo.

And this made Kimberley star baker.  Which she deserved, except that she knew she deserved it, and that made it less fun, and I wish they’d have been able to bring someone back in at the last moment as a surprise guest and say they’d won it instead.

Someone like Toby from Episode One, who would possibly have been wheeled in on a trolley, disguised as a giant cake.

I’d totally have been up for that.

And Beca, lovely Beca managed to stuff it all up this week because her flavours were, like me, rather lacking in va va voom this week – which meant goodbye from her, and goodbye from me until next week, when it is THE FINAL.

WAAAAAHHHHH

 

 

Great British Bake Off 2013 – Episode 8

It was the quarter finals of The Great British Bake Off today.

Eep.

You can watch it here.

I was sad because of the episode eightness, which means it will nearly be episode ten, and then there will be none and I will have to start thinking about the Dr. Who special instead, but it’s not the same. Fish fingers and custard are no substitute for an eclair made by the hand of a stressed out baker in a tent.

Controversial view point, I know, but I speak as I find.

I was sad because there was no Glenn and no Howard this week, and it was just a tent full of ladies, and Paul, (who doesn’t count because he is a silver back baking ninja) and I have had to switch my baking allegiance to Beca, even though I like her very much because she’s just down to earth and gets on with things without much waily waily.

But I miss Glenn’s burly presence, and Howard’s country and western air of impending doom.

And, unlike many ladies of my acquaintance – I am not consoled by Paul. He wouldn’t tolerate the fact I like cheap, white sliced bread to make toast with, and I feel he would look critically at my cheap custard creams too.

Talking of intolerance, I have so much waily waily in my daily life at the moment I really cannot tolerate it in other people, which makes Ruby my least favourite baker of all time, I am afraid to say.

I concede the fact that she might bake things that taste like gossamer angel’s wings on toast – but the whole ‘Oh, woe is me! I am so rubbish. I never bake things as I have no oven, kitchen,house (delete where appropriate). Oh! Goodness! Am I really star baker – again? What? Little ole me?’ is beginning to wear very, very thin.

It is like having Tiny Tim round for Christmas dinner all the bloody time, and knowing that if you don’t give him all the breast meat and the crunchiest roasties, you’ll look like an unfeeling, callous bastard – and resenting him for it but not being able to say anything, because he’s lame.

And the less bakers there are, the more time there is to focus on such matters, and the less patience I have, and I am notoriously impatient and judgemental at the best of times.

It wouldn’t stop me testing all the cakes mind you.

Hypocritical, I know.

This week the Bake Off was all about weird baking.  The episode guide said it was going to be about pastry – but they lied.  Mostly it was about complicated flour that didn’t exist before 2011, despite what anyone tells you about paleolithic spelt grains turning up in the digestive tracts of diplodoci etc, and cakes made out of vegetable matter.

I suspect, had they put that as the title in the episode guide, viewing figures might have taken rather a nose dive – so they fibbed a bit to keep things buoyant at the Beeb.

The signature round was to make a loaf out of strange and improbable flour. If I were doing it, I would probably have made one out of plaster of Paris and watched Paul fly into a rage like Tom Thumb in Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Two Bad Mice, when he finds out the ham in the doll’s house isn’t real, and smashes it with a pair of fire tongs.

Just for a laugh.

This is why I am not in the tent in this round.

Kimberley made something that looked delicious, filled with wild garlic pesto and  ham. It looked amazing, and by the time we got to Beca’s potato focaccia, I was chewing the arm of the chair.  It hadn’t helped that while waiting for Tallulah to finish with the math’s tutor this evening I caught a bit of the Hairy Bikers on the telly, also making focaccia.

I was in focaccia frenzy.

The cat was beginning to look alarmingly like a furry focaccia I was that obsessed.

The technical challenge was to make a dacquoise (pronounced along the lines of dakwise). A dacquoise is a confection made from layers of hazelnut meringue, sandwiched together with a mousse like coffee cream and liberally sprinkled with nuts and chocolate.

I have eaten many a dacquoise in my life, and loved them all.  I sensed that the ones on offer in the tent tonight would have been worthy additions to the long line of the already fallen.

You see? There’s the hypocrisy right there – I’d have eaten Ruby’s technical challenge winning dacquoise in a heart beat, even though she knows a song that will get on my nerves – the ‘what this old thing?’ blues.

The show stopper round was to make a three dimensional cake (surely all cakes are three dimensional in real life? – or am I already in the new episode of Dr. Who, where we discover something quantum and yet touchingly human about time travelling methods of making hot water pastry?), out of vegetables, and which could contain no dairy, but which also had to be FUN to look at.

To disguise the vegetables.

And the lack of dairy.

In this round, I would have iced a marrow, made it some hair with strawberry bootlaces, and drawn a face on it in non toxic crayons.

Proof, if further proof were needed, of why I am not under canvas, worrying about icing sugar clumping like cat lit, and struggling to pronounce the word Bavarois in front of a camera crew.

Ruby made a garden plot with a shed on it, which Mary and Paul both rhapsodised over, and which I am afraid I went ‘huh?’ about.  It looked rather like one of the homework projects that Oscar and I embark upon from time to time in a fit of creative excitement which far outweighs our technical skills.

By the time the finished piece got to the judging table I would say that the shed had experienced quite a lot of subsidence, and it looked like a structural engineer might have to get involved.

As Ruby got star baker again this week I theorise that despite looking like a thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, it must have tasted like Ambrosia.

Christine made an alarmingly phallic guitar, not helped by the fact that she iced it in disturbingly flesh coloured icing. It was not helped by being mounted on a light up, novelty cake stand either.

I suspect her husband made it for her – but we won’t go into that after the dibber in the earlier round.

I am making alarming pictures in my head.  There is no need for you to join in.

Frances got extraordinarily stressed about her vegetable plot themed garden, and Beca, who made a fabulous looking cake in the shape of cheese on a cheese board, complete with cute sugar mice, also went to pieces after harsh criticism from Mary and Paul.  Kimberley survived the week by creating a fairy toadstool out of various vegetables heavily disguised with icing and fourteen tonnes of spice mixture.

It was Christine who went home this week, leaving the final four to battle it out over French pastries in next week’s semi finals.

See you there.

Great British Bake Off 2013 – Episode 7 – Pastry

I had an absolute brainwave today. I was so impressed with myself I gave myself a gold star, and a smiley face.

I took the children out to lunch (strike day at school), and we ate so much we couldn’t quite squeeze in pudding, delicious though it looked. We hate missing pudding, so we had ours boxed up to bring home to eat.  We went here, by the way. It was excellent, and is only up the road – Frabjous day.

I saved mine until after The Great British Bake Off.

Oh yeah!

You have to admit that it’s genius.

I am always, always starving after Bake Off, and this week  – the week of pastry baked goodness, was no exception.

You can watch it here.

I am typing this with the residue of cream cheese frosting on my chin and the delightfully satisfied  aura of a woman who has just consumed a large wedge of carrot cake.

This week was week seven. WEEK SEVEN people. That means there are only three episodes left.

Good God. I cannot stand it.

It should be on all year round, and twice on Christmas day.

What will I do afterwards?

It doesn’t bear thinking about.

So let us concentrate on the evening’s events instead.

First up was the suet pudding signature bake.  I once made a suet pudding for Jason, when we were first together. It was a token of love, made from the fat from round an animal’s kidneys and some jam.

I’ve always been a romantic.

It took three hours and steamed all the wallpaper off the kitchen wall in our rented house – which wasn’t very romantic in the end.  In fact, it was a bit stressful.

Tasted nice though. The pudding. Not the wallpaper.

And I suppose the great benefit of doing your pudding steaming in a tent is that the steam can escape through the flaps in the canvas, which is one of the only positive uses I can think of for a tent, except it being God’s way to remind you to buy a house.

There was a fine showing on the suet pudding front.  My friend Nicki and I agreed that we would be happy to eat all of them. I particularly fancied Christine’s ice cream as well, although Frances’s ice cream with a hint of goat didn’t really do it for me, and I like goat’s cheese as a rule. I don’t think goat’s cheese 99’s with red razz are going to catch on in these parts for some years to come.  Mr. Whippy, your ice cream crown is safe.

The first round went so smoothly I found myself getting increasingly tense about the technical challenge. It just isn’t possible to have an episode of Bake Off where things go brilliantly all the way through.

I was right to worry.  They had to make Religeuses, which are basically profiteroles stacked up to make jolly, round nun shapes, smothered in chocolate and cream and filled with creme patissiere.  Nun snowmen of joy, if you will.

I went to a convent school for three years (which I know explains a lot), and I never saw nuns like that.  If I had, I might have considered a life of religious contemplation a bit more carefully.  Although it would have been rather stressful to have been eaten, unless that’s what Jesus really wanted, obviously.

Being filled with creme patissiere would have been brilliant though, as long as the nozzle was at the right end.

And I’m not averse to being dipped in chocolate ganache either, although purely for medicinal purposes.

No sexy time thank you. Kind regards.

Choux pastry is not exactly biddable it seems.  It’s a bit like Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront, mean and moody and wearing an awkward hat that doesn’t really go with anything, and never stays on properly.  Although I doubt choux buns keep pigeons on health and safety grounds.

Christine’s choux buns turned out to be more like burned, choux pebbles. Even she admitted that dousing them in chocolate ganache was hardly likely to fool Mary into thinking that all was well in the order of St. Christine.  It looked more like Henry VIII had been in to dissolve them.

Glenn’s buns were somewhat lumpy, bordering on the grotesque by the time he’d stacked them all together. When they started squirting custard everywhere it was rather disturbing.  It’s not really a mental image I was happy to revisit, but I go there, so you don’t have to. It’s all part of the service.

Kimberley was rather annoyingly Mary Poppinsish this week I thought. She can be lovely, but every now and again her constant assertions that things are easy and her raging confidence is a little wearing on my shattered nerves.  Things are never easy at Boo Towers, and it’s being so cheerful with our constant, low level moaning that keeps us going.  We fear the relentlessly up beat.

Today, when she made some remark about how religeuses were actually quite simple and basically some people just worried too much instead of getting on with it, it made me a bit grrrr and arrggh, because if you can’t lose your shit trying to balance choux buns on top of each other with only ganache and piped cream swirls to hold them together, while you’re being filmed, in a tent, with scary sheep outside – when can you?

Eh?

Which was why I was quite pleased when her buns didn’t quite cut it and she didn’t flash her usual cheery grin.

Sorry Kimberley.

Your hair is still ace though.

The show stopper this week was to make puff pastry.  Not only puff pastry, but three different types of puff pastry, twelve of each sort – in four hours.

This is hardly fair. Bake Off die hards will know that puff pastry is all about the rolling and folding and resting, and the folding and resting and rolling, repeat to fade.  It takes about three days to achieve puff pastry perfection and this perfect lamination that Paul is so keen on.

No, not the disease horses get…

Nor the stuff that stops your formica peeling…

The stuff that makes your puff pastry all shiny and flaky and phwoargh.

Four hours was just enough time to reduce everyone to a pulp of raw nerve endings and icing sugar, but not quite enough time to get everything as perfect as Paul and Mary would like, which makes great telly, but does prove exhausting both to the viewer and the viewee.

This was where Glenn, the lovely Glenn who up to now had been having a stonking week, despite the gargoyle like nature of his religieuses, went insane. The minute he looked confidently at the camera and announced that he was trying a ‘new’ version of puff pastry, my heart sank.

‘No!’ we all said in unison. ‘NO GLENN! Don’t Do IT!’

But he did.

And Paul and Mary’s utter scepticism was proved as his pastry broke into hundreds of sharp, weeny shards of pastry doom, and lodged in Paul’s icy heart like a horrible, baking version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, and you knew that Glenn was out.

‘No!’ we all said in unison: ‘Glenn! Don’t go! We miss you so!’

But he did, and we do – and now we are in a lachrymose world of woe.

And it doesn’t matter that Beca had a brilliant week, and I think she deserved star baker more than Frances, who eventually won it because she put some cream horns on a record (like I couldn’t do that. I  could so do that. It would have to be Custard Creams on a CD of Sixties lounge music at the moment, but I’d get there in the end), or that Christine made triumphant Eccles cakes – because Glenn has gone.

I’m off to rend my apron and wail into my mixing bowl until next week’s quarter finals, where it says there will be more pastry.

 

 

 

 

The Great British Bake Off 2013 – Episode Six – Sweet Dough

There were tears people. There were tears.

This week’s episode of The Great British Bake Off nearly finished us off here at Boo Towers.

Tilly lost the plot completely, I was sniffing hard, and Oscar threw the sofa cushions at the wall in sheer manly frustration. Even Tallulah was chewing her fingernails, and she is quite unemotional as a rule. When Tallulah chews her fingernails it means most other people will be wailing in sack cloth and ashes and rending will be occurring.  Seriously, that child is nails.

I have put money in the therapy jars for use in later life.

It will be like Alice’s pool of tears by the final at this rate. They might have to scrap the baking bit and just have a giant caucus race instead.

This week saw the contestants dealing, or not, with sweet dough.

You can watch the episode here.

First up was the signature bake. Tea loaf a go go.

I am not a huge fan of fruited bakes as a rule, but I have always had a soft spot for a tea loaf. It’s less demanding than the industrial strength Dundee cake, or anything with glace cherries in (urgh). This week saw the heavy handed use of the apricot as a fruit of choice for many of the bakers, and I can only applaud that. I do love an apricot. Squishy, hairy little beastie that it is.

The secret with a tea loaf, we now know, is in the length of proving.  It needs time to get to grips with its own fruitiness. It cannot be rushed – which is probably why I don’t make them very often. There is a lot of rushing going on in this house as a rule.  We cannot relax with raisins. We have things to do.

The bakers were all finding the chilling with dried fruit business tricky this week. There just wasn’t enough time, and even Kimberley managed to get a soggy bake this week.

Sogginess, it seems, is one of the universal crimes of baking.  Nothing must be soggy, ever.  Moistness has its place (unlike in a towelette where I just say NO), but sogginess is verboten.

Woe.

The show this week was really about Howard and Glenn, my two favourite bakers.  Both of them went off piste with the tea loaf idea, pushing the boundaries of acceptable loafishness and generally getting all Hestonish on the collective baking ass.

I don’t think Paul likes that. It reminds him of the competition.  His eyebrows start rippling like epileptic caterpillars when this kind of recipe craziness goes on, and his mouth looks a bit like a rat’s bottom when he has to taste test.

Howard reverted to type (i.e. bonkers, country and western  crooning rice flour ingredients man) by making something with hemp flour, which ended up resembling a giant cow pat.  He himself admitted that it was not quite as soignee as he had hoped.  To be fair to Howard, cow pats are hardly ever soignee.

You don’t see Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s with a giant cow pat on her head now do you? And if anyone is going to rock soignee it’s our Audrey.

Mary, ever kind, had to resort to saying that the cow pat had an interesting flavour.

She had been intrigued by the use of hemp and it was clear, upon tasting that it may have gone down better if Howard had just gone the whole hog and made an enormous hash cake studded with some kind of fruit that acts as a mild hallucinogen.  She may have baulked at the taste initially but come back for seconds about half an hour later, and warmed to it about forty minutes in, after eating everyone else’s tea loaf in quick succession.

He’d have been the outright winner by the end of the episode and they’d all have been having a party in the lake as the credits rolled.

My friend had a mother who, when she really loathed something you were wearing, but felt she had to say something encouraging, would say; ‘Unusual, but effective’. I feel that Mary’s use of the word ‘interesting’ had much the same tone here.

Poor Howard.

He took it remarkably well.

Glenn made a saffron panettone which he suspended in a bowl using a Heath Robinesonesque contraption made from skewers and string.  Apparently this awesome feat of engineering did not impress Dame Hollywood one iota, who merely arched an eyebrow and disputed its panettoneish qualities.  It is obvious from this interlude that panettone brings out Hollywood’s most divaish qualities.  Something I must remember if he ever pops round for Christmas lunch.

I shall hide the Boo panettone in a cupboard for Boxing Day.  Glenn can come over and share it.

The technical challenge was to make an apricot couronne.  I had to look this up.

Every year on Bake Off there is something they make that everyone else in the world nods wisely at and says: ‘Oooh yes, I’ve had it millions and hundreds of times.’ and I go: ‘What? I have never heard of that?’

I think it’s because I’ve spent a lot of my life living in the East Midlands. Apricot couronnes probably do not travel well. Perhaps they are so tasty that people keep meaning to bring me one, but then eating it in transit.

Anyway, it’s basically a fancy Danish pastry shaped like a sort of exploded crown and covered in runny icing and almonds.  It can only really be delicious.

Should I ever  be allowed to leave the East Midlands again, I will be sure to track one down and try it.

Howard had problems with the technical bake this week. His crown was too etiolated. It is a terrible affliction.  The poor man was pretty heartbroken about it. It looked fine to me, but then who am I to judge the correct thick or thinness of a crown, never having been privy to crown judging methods before?

The show stopper challenge this week was to make two lots of twelve buns of European extraction.  There were two camps on the bun front this week. In one corner were the Scandi buns, which had a huge surge in popularity, in part, I am convinced, due to the popularity of The Killing and Borgen.  They’re always necking buns in cafes in Borgen, when they’re not making political history.

More interestingly, I wonder if Ruby’s jumpers have some connection here as an oblique reference to The Killing?

I am now concerned that the whole Bake Off may actually be a long prelude to a grizzly, bun related death in episode eight, and the ultimate winner will actually be revealed as the best at making both suet pudding, and a sculpture out of human thigh bones which they’ve been hoarding in tupperware containers under a tent flap for the past nine episodes?

All those twitter accounts we’ve been following since episode one may be a gigantic red herring set up by the manipulative, sweater clad murderer…

Ruby…

No wonder she looks so grumpy a lot of the time.

She’s got a lot of little jobs on hand in the background. It’s not philosophy exams, it’s boiling the flesh off squirrel bones and working out what would be the most appropriate episode to off Kimberley, her greatest threat, without giving the game away.

Ruby, I am so on to you.

And I applaud the BBC for merging two clear ratings winners, Scandinoir and baking successfully.

The other bun camp went for brioche.

I love a brioche.  I have stopped buying them I love them so much.  That’s how much  I love a brioche.  I love them to the point of a dough related infarction.

Glenn and Howard were at it again.  Glenn making some kind of Scandinavian plaited skipping rope affair which was meant to be glued together with caramel stuff and things, but which gently unfurled in the tin instead of coming out beautifully formed.  I particularly loved the way Kimberley urged him to bash them out of the tin when time was running out and then promptly washed her hands of the whole affair when it they unravelled like a melancholic Rapunzel’s plait all over the table.

Harsh.

Howard went all out, making buns which looked like peaches, all nestled in a fabulous wooden fruit crate, but which unfortunately tasted of nothing at all, despite looking exactly like they could flatten Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge at a single roll.

I’d cast Paul as Aunt Sponge.

Not even Mel calling him her little snail could quite soften the blow, and it was Howard who went home, even though Glenn, and us, were expecting it to be him this week.

Honestly, we did not want either Howard or Glenn to go. We love them both dearly – hence the tears, on telly and off.

I was so distraught at the end of the episode that I even forgot to remember what next week’s episode will bring.  I had to look it up just to let you know that next week we will be big on suet and the causes of suet in the pastry round.

Pass me the tissues will you?

Great British Bake Off 2013 – Episode 5 – Biscuits and Tray Bakes

A man can show no greater love for his wife than to get the house tidied, the dishwasher emptied, the laundry sorted and the telly on, all ready for instant Bake Off when we got home tonight.

It is even more impressive as Jason spurns Bake Off in favour of hiding in his man cave, shooting at things and drowning out the sounds of us panicking in unison as biscuit towers topple or…

When tuiles go bad….

with Troy ‘Hollywood’ McLure.

So, tonight’s episode of the Great British Bake Off was biscuitastic.

You can watch it here.

The first challenge was a signature tray bake.  The key to a top tray bake is distinct layering and evenness, and in this case, each bit of the tray bake looking like the other bit of the tray bake, even when it has been prised out of the tray prayerfully, lubricated by your hot, salty tears.

That rules out my signature bake which is mostly signaturised by its entirely random and haphazard nature and the fact that it is a miracle if I can get it out of the tray in one bit, whatever flavour it turns out to be.  For example, I have only managed to get brownies out of their tin successfully since investing in the Rolls Royce of tins, which actually comes apart around the brownies.  I wept when I found out someone had invented this, honestly and promisedly I did.

Tears of joy.

Baking is a very fraught and emotional process, even if you’re not in a tent surrounded by starey eyed sheep and sugar crazed squirrels who are prepared to chew through space shuttle grade plastic to get their fix of Demerara.

My theory that the bakers, after spending so long swaddled in damp canvas together, share a kind of hive mind when it comes to deciding what to bake, was borne out this week by the abundance of Bakewell tray bakes on offer.

I want food scientists at McVites to do some kind of experiment to prove my theory.  I am imagining Paul and Mary under stringent laboratory conditions, in separate rooms, possibly in different buildings, both wearing canvas hats in the shape of pyramids (to mimic the shape of the tent), being put through a series of punishing signature bakes by men with enormous foreheads and biscuit crumbs in their top pockets, to see if they both come up with the same thing week after week.

I bet they do.

Canvas – the baking equivalent of those ESP cards with little weirdy signs on they used in Ghostbusters.

I was a little disappointed by the tray bakes, I have to confess. I am not a big fan of the Bakewell. Regular readers may remember of the trauma of the Bonfire Night party in which granddad was instructed to go out and return with ‘pudding’.  Pudding which turned out to consist of an entire carrier bag stuffed to the rafters with boxes of Bakewells in mind boggling numbers and flavours that I feel slightly sick thinking about it, even now – after many years have passed.

I was more impressed by Glenn’s bake, not just because it wasn’t a Bakewell, but because he attempted to make something with enough melted chocolate to bring Belgium to its knees, topped with home made marshmallow whipped up in a mere two hours, when apparently it takes six.

Making marshmallow immediately brings to mind a challenge on The Generation Game back in the Seventies when several couples were pitted against each other to make it, and carnage ensued – in nylon kaftans.

Which is as bad as it sounds.

I did worry about Glenn, lack of nylon kaftan notwithstanding.  Marshmallow is sticky and temperamental (much like my children), and Glenn is quite a hirsute chap.  I had visions of globs of gelatinous gluey mallow sticking random items of kitchenalia to his fur and refusing to come out.

I thought the finished bake was an absolute triumph despite Paul calling it grotesque.  My feeling was that Paul clearly hadn’t spent enough time in this house to be qualified to make a call about the nature of the grotesque. Consequently he is now banned from using this word again, unless he can measure it against the great bourbon biscuit disaster of 1991, and find it wanting.

I have spoken.

The technical challenge was to make two types of tuiles.

You may, as I did for many years, have been labouring under the illusion that a tuile was a type of net petticoat, or possibly some kind of Georgian body warmer for the ladies, as sported by historian Lucy Worsley in her attempts to show us that life was not all Farrow and Ball paint charts and swooning at men in lawn shirts clambering out of lakes – but no, the tuile is a fancy French biscuit you mostly find on the side of your coffee cup in up market patisseries and the like.

I like ’em well enough, but there’s not a lot to ’em considering the amount of sweat and stress that goes into making ’em.  They’re all a bit fur coat and no knickers in my opinion.  I could have eaten every single thing the bakers made in under five minutes at the end of that challenge and still been a bit peckish.

That’s not a biscuit – that’s a tease dipped in chocolate.

The tuiles proved Kimberley’s undoing.  She had only just been talking about some complex Japanese idea of improving upon perfection whilst grinning confidently in a field, and to be faced with a slate full of crumbling biscuitry could not have been easy.  It proves one of my other baking theories, that you should never count your tuiles before they’re twirled.

Bad karma.

The show stopper round was to create a tower of biscuits.

Now, I am a woman who likes to keep up with the world of baking – constant testing – that is my motto, and I have never heard of a ‘tower of biscuits’ before, except possibly in a very exciting dream I might have once had.

I wonder whether Paul and Mary were scraping the bottom of the biscuit barrel here, in terms of ideas?

I mean, I have nothing against the notion of a tower of biscuits. In fact, I am all for it. The more towers of baked goods there are around the better in my opinion, especially if they’re positioned near me, but still…

A tower of biscuits?

Really?

I suspect that’s what Frances thought, when her needle of haberdashery style biscuits snapped in half just before time ran out and Mel was left holding the biscuit bodkin and trying to make like she was a biscuit version of herself so that she could stay put.

I felt quite sorry for Frances this week. She triumphed with her cross between millionaire’s shortbread and banoffee pie, which seems like a match made in baking heaven to me – and her tuiles were not a total disaster, so to fall at the final hurdle was devastating.  You could see her lip quivering, and she’s usually such a trouper, even when Paul criticised her matchbox.

Which is hard for a woman to take at the best of times.

Christine triumphed this week with a Swiss chalet crafted entirely out of shortbread.  I preferred Howard’s pagoda made of tea flavoured biscuits that he had wowed his parents with only the week before.

I love Howard with a passion that remains undimmed.  He reveals layers of eccentricity previously unknown as every week progresses.  Watching him from episode to episode is like having a prolonged but marvellous game of pass the parcel, with Howard as every prize in between the layers of paper.

Enough Howard worship for one blog post.  Let us move on to dark and dangerous things.

The biscuit tower proved Rob’s undoing.

Biscuit inferno.

His Dalek crafted lovingly out of biscuits and edible glue cemented his doom.  Everyone imagined his nerdy, space loving, eccentricity would prove to be the making of him, but his Dalek turned on him in the end – which should be no surprise to anyone who knows anything about Daleks – unsociable little blighters.

To mix my science fiction show metaphors, space did prove to be his final frontier, and he returns home while everyone else goes into warp speed for the sweet pastry round next week.

I canna hold her cap’n.

 

 

 

The Great British Bake Off 2013 – Episode 3 – Desserts

It has been a busy old day, with many things to juggle, but my major worry was getting home from maths tuition in time to watch Great British Bake Off live and unleashed. We have it on series link, and indeed there is always iPlayer to fall back on, but there is nothing quite so marvellous as watching it in the moment.

We made it with five minutes to spare – and I broke no speed limits.

Get in!

If you want to watch, you can catch this week’s desserts episode here.

Desserts is a nebulous title really. I’m never entirely sure what it means. I wonder if it’s a catch all for everything else they can’t quite quantify. I have a drawer like that in my kitchen. It has three chop sticks, an assortment of sporks, some half melted birthday candles, some Lego and random string in it.

This is essentially desserts, only they’re tastier.

The first challenge this week was to make a trifle.  The key rule of trifles, according to Paul and Mary, is that they should have distinct layers in them. I like to know these things. I shan’t necessarily follow the rule of trifle, but it is nice to know it’s there just in case of emergency.

I confess to never having made a trifle, something I really must do. I do count myself as being uniquely qualified to criticise everyone else’s trifle though, due to the enormous quantities of trifle I have eaten over the years.

This week I note that the contestants were going for a distinctly tropical theme as far as trifles were concerned. It’s funny how flavours tend to go in waves of popularity. Coconut was featuring largely in a lot of trifles. Not something I’ve ever encountered in a trifle, but I’d be willing to taste test them all just to make sure I approve.

Glenn, who I am beginning to love, and who resembles a slightly ironic teddy bear who has been dragged through a hedge backwards, was winning me over with his extraordinarily large trifle, despite the fact that his layers got a bit submerged.  I do not really approve of small desserts, unless you are allowed to eat vast quantities of them. As far as desserts go, more is always more, something Glenn and I can firmly agree on.  I approved of the fact that his trifle made a satisfyingly squelchy plopping noise as Paul wrenched it unceremoniously from a trifle bowl the size of Gloucestershire.

Howard had a terrible, terrible time with his caramel apple trifle.  I am beginning to worry about Howard. My fears that he may be a secret country and western/blues singer are becoming more pronounced as disaster follows upon disaster. Last week Sue elbowed him in the muffins.  This week, Deborah stole his custard and he was forced to replace it with her below par runny excuse for custard.

To be fair, Deborah clearly did not do this on purpose, and nearly melted on the spot with shame when she was forced to confess to the great custard robbery of 2013. The speed with which she rushed to get Howard a spoon when he needed one nearly produced whizzy lines on the telly, and she grovelled before him with an array of implements, leaving him to coldly choose a slotted spoon, with a face on him that said; ‘This clearly doesn’t change anything. You are going to be in my next song – custard stealing beeatch.’

In the meantime, Ruby of the dratted cardigan, was shamelessly wearing knitwear she had stolen from Mary Berry’s mum whilst sculpting palm trees out of trifle sponges.

As you do.

Ali, had also branched out into hideous knitwear. I figured he thought it had worked for Ruby, so he might as well give it a shot. He had gone for something bright red with an alpine theme knitted into the borders. At times the cardigan was more compelling than what he was baking, particularly in the technical round.

There may be something to the theory of magical, baking knitwear though, as he produced a magnificent trifle, topped with award winning macarons, and generally lorded it over everyone else in the trifle stakes.

Next week, if everyone waltzes on set with hand knitted balaclavas and Starsky and Hutch style zippered cardigans and bakes like Escoffier, my theory will have been proven.

The technical challenge this week was to make something called iles  flottantes.  In layman’s terms this is known as floating islands.  It consists of quenelles (rugby ball shapes) of poached meringues which sit in a sea of creme anglaise (fancy talk for custard), and topped with fine wisps of spun sugar.

I have a taste memory of having eaten iles flottantes, but I cannot recall when or where. I certainly haven’t made them myself as they fall under the auspices of what I like to call ‘fiddly desserts’. I don’t do fiddly desserts.

Neither does Oprah.

Although she has a personal chef to make hers for her. We just do without.

So, back to iles flottantes. They are very tasty, but visually they are rather unappealing, even when executed by la belle dame avec merci, Mary Berry herself.  They are sort of white on white, with added whiteness, and a bit lumpy. Picture dollops of mash in white sauce and you’re about there with iles flottantes.  I like to think of them as the cauliflower cheese of the dessert world.

It is fair to say that this was a technical challenge too far for some.  Howard was now on nips of gin to keep him going after the great custard robbery.  It all proved too much for him, having to shape meringues and make custard, and guard his work station from thieves and elbowists.  He just went to pieces and had to start all over again.

Deborah was more than a bit wobbly, clearly never having executed grand theft in front of a television crew before, and being unable to live down the shame.  Ali was having to resort to pruning his islands to get them into shape, whilst making remarks about Becca’s big ones, and then catching himself making a double entendre which he tried to extract himself from reasonably unsuccessfully, and Mark – well, Mark’s iles did not flot or tante ,or even ile really.  Mostly they were too horrific to contemplate. You never want to hear Paul Hollywood say: ‘This meringue is weeping.’

Ever.

Especially not when he’s looking at you while he says it.

The final, show stopper challenge was to make 24 petit fours, twelve with a biscuit base, twelve with a cake base.

Glenn, as you can imagine, struggled with this concept. Making small things is not really on his radar. You could see the whole ‘why?’ question radiating from his furrowed brow as he faffed about with his creations and Becca summed it up nicely as spending large amounts of time stuffing as many decorations as possible on the smallest cakes in the world.

Quite.

Frances, who is exceptionally gifted at whipping up giant match boxes and other amazing props, which look fabulous but don’t really have a lot to do with food, pulled it out the bag this week with a great ‘sugar plum fairy’ themed cake stand, with delicious cakes and biscuits to match.  Her attention to detail was amazing, as was Christine’s, who has a home made brandy snap dibber, lovingly crafted by her husband (that’s her story and she’s sticking to it).  Becca made the world’s dinkiest macarons which even made Paul’s disapproving eyebrows unknit for a moment, although it wasn’t long before we were back to the standard thunderous monobrow of doom.

Howard was looking tired, but he had spent all night setting up tank traps around his work station and filling a fortified moat with creme anglaise so he could work unimpeded by saboteurs. He really didn’t have much energy to put into his petit fours after all that.

The losers this week were Mark, and Deborah, who were both given the order of the boot. Mark’s petit fours were not petit enough, and even he said that his macarons looked like ‘brains’. What with that and his weeping meringues everything got a bit too medical, and he was out. It’s a baking programme, not Casualty, although the number of blue plasters on show in episode one might raise a few questions with regard to that statement.

In the meantime, Deborah had given up trying to steal everyone else’s kit in favour of self sabotage, as her chocolate cakes failed to come out of the moulds and had to be teased out with toothpicks and tears, and her rose biscuits were so startling they looked like my children had made them with the aid of Play Doh barber’s shop and the remains of Howard’s secret gin supply.

Star baker this week went to Christine. You knew she was a shoe in the minute she brandished her ergonomic, hand crafted brandy snap dibber.

After the show Paul was filmed in the shrubbery doing a Dragon’s Den style deal with her for the rights to the dibber. They’ll be in everyone’s Christmas stockings this year, with La Hollywood’s face emblazoned on all the labelling, you mark my words.

Next week it’s pies all the way. I see your soggy bottom and raised you a hand crimped pie edging.