Great British Bake Off
When I was in the Bake-Off tent three years ago, week five, which is the halfway point, proved to be my nemesis. In that season week five was Spice week and we were making a spicy cake as a signature and a biscuit chandelier as a showstopper, I mean, really! A chandelier made from biscuits! Anyway, I gave it my best shot, but my time had come, and I left the tent.
This year, week five was German week. There is often a country used as a theme in the series, in my year it was Denmark. This year the signature bake was biscuits. German biscuits are synonymous with Christmas and are often small and spicy. The judges were expecting two batches of twelve Bavarian biscuits that needed to be exquisite and highly decorated.
The challenge started with Jurgen, who is German, wishing good luck to the bakers, he spoke in German, and it was translated as “break a leg and break your neck”. I think Jurgen must have felt more pressure this week, he has done very well up to press and with him being German it must have been like someone from Yorkshire competing in a Yorkshire pudding challenge!
There were biscuits of all manner of different shapes and flavours. As always, the bakers were racing against the clock. Biscuits usually benefit from time chilling in the fridge prior to baking, if they are not chilled, they risk spreading and losing their shape in the oven.
All the bakers did well in my opinion, there were a few mishaps along the way which is normal and as a viewer it is what we secretly enjoy. Jurgen once again triumphed with beautifully crafted results which were described by Paul as uniform and perfect, all worries about pressure gone and he was once again awarded the “Hollywood Handshake”.
The Technical challenge was a difficult one in my opinion. A Prince Regent cake, this is built from eight layers of thin Genoese sponges sandwiched together with chocolate ganache and then all covered with ganache and piped rosettes on the top. Genoese sponge can be tricky to make as it can result in a sponge with the texture of a rubber doormat if it is not handled with the utmost care. I was very pleased I was not facing that one. All the bakers had something half decent to present and the judges picked Giuseppe as the best bake and Amanda limped in last.
The Showstopper in German week was described as a tiered yeast leavened cake. The bakers had four and a half hours to create the showstoppers. This sounds lots of time but with yeast, there must be adequate time built into the bake to enable a decent prove, which gives the rise and texture to the bake that the judges are looking for. The process reminded me a bit of my showstopper challenge in bread week, which I really enjoyed and got quite a spectacular result.
The clock was ticking, and the bakers rushed to finish their bakes and to get some decorations and definition into the styling of the bake. Jurgan put lots of booze into his bake and it was braided which is a look I really like. Lizzie also included alcohol, in her case it was Gin, I really liked the finish of her bake; it was a Hansel and Gretal fairytale look. Amanda also used booze; she soaked her kilo of raisins in a litre of rum, and she built her bake up using an Edelweiss theme. Crystelle’s bake was astonishingly beautiful, three tiers with a sash of roses running down them.
The bakers presented the tiered bakes for judging and all of them looked great to me. I could not make my mind up who would be leaving this week, I did however plump for Giuseppe as Star Baker and my hunch was correct. Freya was deemed to be the baker that would leave the tent. She was quite tearful when this was announced, as was I in that same situation. It is such an emotional and highly charged situation. She quite rightly said she was proud of her journey in the tent, only nineteen years old and baking with Vegan ingredients, quite an achievement.
Next week it is Pastry week…..
GBBO Week Four Dessert Week
Week four of GBBO is dessert week, in my season I found it the toughest week. We had to make a meringue roulade signature, a blancmange for the Technical and a melting chocolate dome to serve four for the Showstopper. I did OK with the meringue, but the blancmange really let me down. When Prue announced what it was, I thought “well I remember this from being a kid, I should be OK” but of course when I was a kid Mum made it out of packets, making it from scratch is another matter, it nearly cost me my place in the tent, but I managed to pull it back from the brink with a lovely chocolate dome show stopping challenge.
Last night I was sitting on the edge of my seat as I watched the remaining bakers tackle the challenges. First up, the Signature, Pavlova. I think this was a straightforward thing to make. Paul Hollywood said he was looking for “a crisp outer shell with a soft pillow like centre”. The first thing to do is whip up egg whites and slowly add the sugar until the mixture is thick and glossy. Then the mixture is baked on a low setting for about an hour, ideally it should be left to cool in the oven to try to avoid cracks, but of course time is the one thing that is always in short supply on the Bake Off.
We had a variety of fillings on offer from Crystelle’s Key Lime flavours to Lizzie’s blueberry and rosemary Easter theme. My favourite was the one Chigs made, it looked totally stunning, and Paul Hollywood agreed with me and awarded him the coveted handshake.
The Technical challenge was a sticky toffee pudding with crème Anglais and a caramel sauce. The bakers also were asked to make Tuile biscuits to serve alongside the pudding. What sounded to me like a perfectly manageable challenge really did cause some of the baker’s problems. Making the caramel sauce was a bit of a nightmare for a few. Sugar can very easily crystalise when you are melting it and if this happens you need to start again which is very frustrating. When you get it right it is a simple matter of waiting for the sugar syrup to turn an amber colour and then stir through some cream, delicious! Crème anglais is just a thin custard but again there can be issues making this too, usually it is the eggs causing problems and instead of a lovely custard you can be looking at a pan of scrambled eggs! The puddings themselves were baked in individual tins and the bakers had difficulties judging if they were cooked through as there are never any baking times given in the instructions. The technical challenge is really designed to test the bakers experience and intuition. When Paul and Prue returned to the tent to judge the puddings, they found a few were raw inside, but there were some good ones and the first, second and third places being awarded to Jurgen, Lizzie and Chiggs. Poor Maggie limped in last as she had forgotten to put her flour in the mix and the Paul said the resulting mounds looked like caramalised onion chutney!
The showstopper this year was a belter. I am so glad I didn’t have to tackle this one. It was a multi layered cake encased in a Jaconde sponge collar which was imprinted with a pattern. So, in laymen’s terms the collar is made of a sponge baked with ground almond flour which enables the sponge to be rolled or shaped without cracking. The bakers all piped a pattern onto a sheet of baking papers and then carefully covered the pattern with the sponge mixture. This is baked for just a few minutes, very much like you do with a Swiss roll. Then the bakers had to make a gateau with different layers, most made genoise sponges and filled with either Bavarois cream or mousses and jellies. To assemble the whole thing, they needed to line a tin with the imprinted Jaconde collar and then fill with the other components. Plenty of chill time in the freezer was needed to set the layers but as in true Bake-Off tent fashion some did not work out and the inevitable leaks and collapsing cakes were presented for judging.
Some of the showstoppers were stunning though, Jurgens was deemed “amazing” Giuseppes was “pretty and elegant” Lizzie had a “fabulous Liverpool skyline” and Chigs geometric design was “startling with superb flavours”. At the other end of the scale, we found Maggie with her strawberry cake oozing along with Amanda who and a similar issue and Freya who had struggled using her preference for vegan ingredients.
My predictions were right again this week with Chiggs getting Star Baker and Maggie unfortunately leaving the competition. It was such an exciting week to watch, I really did enjoy it and as I said earlier, I would have found that Showstopper hard to pull out of the bag. Well, done to all the bakers!
Next week it is German Week, there is often a country used for a theme, when I was on, we had a Danish week. Of course, Jurgen is German so perhaps he will be quick off the starting blocks next week, but then will that be added expectation and pressure? How exciting, we are at the halfway mark now in the show, the tension is building!
WEEK 3 – BREAD WEEK
This week it was bread week on the show. It is one of the most challenging weeks, most bakers have a little flutter of nerves when bread week looms. I think this is for a couple of reasons, the main one is Paul Hollywood, he is passionate about bread, it is his “thing”. Also, bread can be quite difficult to work with, you need to knead it long enough to get the gluten in the flour activated and then you need enough time at the right temperature to get the bread to prove.
I really enjoyed my bread week; I was very happy with my results even though Paul Hollywood was a little bit sniffy about my showstopper!
This week the first challenge as usual was the signature and the bakers had to make Focaccia bread. Paul explained that what he was looking for was a crispy crust with an irregular crumb. The bakers set to work, the bakers had chosen their fillings and toppings carefully, most featured olives and tomatoes which are always delicious but the most unusual combination for me was Jurgen with kippers as the main taste. Freya used a fajita as her inspiration and Lizzie went for truffle oil and truffles which was very fancy. All the bakers turned out Focaccia that looked pretty good and Giuseppe got the Paul Hollywood handshake!
The technical challenge was a similar bread, again Italian and this time it was Ciabatta breadsticks. They needed to serve this with a Tzatziki which I thought was an odd choice with it being Greek. Anyway, the bakers all struggled a little with how wet the dough was, they said it was about 80% hydration, which means there is loads of water in the mix and it is difficult to handle and shape. The bakers had two hours to work with which is not a great deal of time in bread world. When the bakers brought the breadsticks up to the table for judging they generally looked fine. It is always hard to get a bake identical, these needed to be 35cm long and the same width. The judges decided that Rochica came in last and that Giuseppe came first. Of course, the bread challenges were right up his street is he is Italian.
The Showstopper Challenge was a milk bread. Milk bread really is just a regular loaf but using milk as the liquid rather than water. Paul explained that the milk makes for a softer bread which would make it difficult to shape with corners. The bakers had to construct a 3D themed display. The themes were very varied, Maggie was going down the beach hut route again and was using seaweed as an ingredient. Amanda made a fab orange Octopus flavoured with coconut and mango. Jurgen made a baby on a playmat, Freya made a Vegan Sea creatures display, Lizzie made a hog roast. Time management as always with these challenges is the key to it. The bakers all managed to turn something out and some looked really amazing. I had my suspicions now as to who might be leaving the tent and who would be awarded Star Baker. This week I predicted that Rochica would go and that Giuseppe would be star. Correct. I thought Rochica took the decision well, it is such an emotional thing, especially when you have cameras in front of you, I think she knew it was her time. Giuseppe is such a strong all-around baker so far.
Next week it is dessert week, so this means a change of baking tempo, I think pavlova is involved as I saw a clip-on TV so I am looking forward now to see what billowing creations the remaining bakers concoct.
Week 2 – Biscuit Week
I had the pleasure of taking tea and cake with last week’s Star Baker Jurgen last Sunday at his home in Brighton. I was visiting my daughter in the area, and I sent him a message that I was in town. It was lovely to meet him, his wife and son and have a bit of a Bake Off catch up, we spent quite a while talking about the experience of being chosen to be on the show and how it felt being in the Iconic tent.
Of course, we didn’t talk about this series or how he got on, it’s just something you know not to ask about. It didn’t surprise me one bit though when I watched the second episode last night and discovered that Jurgan was Star Baker once again.
Week two this year was biscuit week. Biscuits you may think are simple bakes, after all children often make them but, they can be a nightmare. They need to be crisp not chewy, tender not hard, firm not bendy, biscuits can make or break you, that is just the way the cookie crumbles!
The signature this week was Brany Snaps. I remember these were always made on Bonfire night when I was a child, just a tube made by rolling the cooked biscuit around a wooden spoon handle before they set hard. The ones on the show this week were an array of shapes and sizes. We had the tubes but also cones, baskets, cup shapes and so on, all filled with either cream, ganache or caramel. There were a few issues including over whipped cream and blocked piping nozzles. All the bakers eventually presented decent brandy snaps, but Guiseppe and Jurgan’s were particularly good looking.
This week the technical challenge was a Jammy Dodger. Two shortbread biscuits sandwiched together with buttercream and a homemade raspberry jam, and of course there must be the little heart shaped hole in the top biscuit so you can see the jam underneath. The tent was warm, and this made for a difficult dough, hard to roll and handle. I thought it was a difficult challenge and can imagine that it was a stressful thing to try to do, as there is very little in the way of instructions and you really must rely on your baking experience or just your intuition as you go along. Paul Hollywood gave these words of advice at the start “read the recipe well as we are looking for perfection” When the bakers presented the biscuits for judging they all looked OK to me considering how tricky the method had been and a good dusting of icing sugar always makes a bake look better. The bakes were ranked with Rochica coming in last and of course Jurgan coming first again. He was christened “the baking terminator”.
The Showstopper challenge in biscuit week when I was on the show was one of my favorites and most successful. We had to make a massive Selfie biscuit and it had to be a minimum of forty centimeters square. Mine was a riot of color and I think it represented me quite well. I remember Paul saying I looked like a cross between Dame Edna and Sue Pollard! This year the bakers were tasked with making an interactive toy they remembered from their childhood. What a selection of toys we had brought to the table. There were, rocking horses, an aeroplane, a ship, a beach scene, a snooker table, a pinball machine, a board game, a vanity playset and a windmill. All the bakers bar one used gingerbread as the biscuit as it is sturdy and is good for construction. Amanda used a regular sugar biscuit and although her design started out looking amazing unfortunately it did not stand up to the rigors of the tent and she suffered the heartbreak of seeing her work crumble. The judges thought the biscuits all tasted good though and praised the standard of workmanship.
I was trying to predict who would be Star Baker again and who would leave the tent. I got star right and it was my new friend Jurgen for the second time, but I couldn’t pick who would leave. It was Jairzeno, he had made the boat design, but the judges decided it was a bit clumsy looking and his time in the tent ended.
Next week is one of the most exciting weeks in my opinion, it is Bread week, will the bakers rise to the occasion. They need to “prove” themselves in this episode! So many anecdotes around bread. I loved my bread week and since then I try to make bread as often as possible. It is quite simple to do and very satisfying to see it rising in the oven and of course the kitchen always smells divine when there is bread baking.
Join me this time next week to see who leaves the tent in week three and who gets the Star baker accolade.
It’s three years now since I first stepped into the Bake-Off tent. What a fantastic experience that was. Each year when the new batch of bakers is announced, Bake Off fans get excited. We look forward to the show, and speculate of what the bakes will be, how the bakers will cope and who will be Star Baker each week and who will sadly leave the tent.
This year week one was cake week. We were introduced to all twelve bakers, Amanda, Chigs, Crystelle, Freya, George, Giuseppe, Jairzeno, Jurgen, Lizzie, Maggie, Rochina and Tom. They always do some filming before the show airs of the bakers at home or at work. This is called the backstory. When I was on the show, they filmed me at Asda where I worked giving out samples, they also came to our house for footage of me in the kitchen, it was all very top secret!
Each week there are three challenges for the bakers. When I was on the show the first and second challenges were filmed on Saturday and then the third, the Showstopper was filmed on the Sunday. The first challenge is the Signature which is usually a straightforward bake, well in principle, it rarely is though. The second challenge is the Technical, this is the bake that can really sort the bakers into two camps, those that really have lots of experience and those that don’t. The Technical is the unknown element of the show, the bake that has not been practiced at home and is revealed to the bakers on the day with no time to swot up, if you have never even heard of the bake you could be in trouble!
The signature for cake week was a classic, mini rolls. Most of us have eaten mini rolls but has anyone ever made them? I certainly haven’t so I was very excited to watch how they got on with them. It is all about getting the perfect swirl inside the roll. Working on tiny things is always tricky, so fiddly, some of the bakers did well, I was impressed. Three bakers had chosen Black Forest as a filling, always popular that, a combination of chocolate, cherries and cream. Jurgen is German so you might expect he would choose that; he did a great bake, and his mini rolls were cute with a tiny chocolate tree on the top. For me, the best-looking rolls were Giuseppe’s, so neat and identical, both things that Paul and Prue, the judges are looking for and they had a perfect swirl.
The Technical challenge was Malt Loaf. Again, not something that I have made but something that my husband often buys from the supermarket. I know how to make a malt loaf though, it is just flour, eggs, black tea, sugar, baking powder, dried fruit and the ingredient that puts the malt into the bread, malt extract. Malt extract can be purchased in the Ridings at Holland and Barrett, and it is now on my shopping list so that I can have a go at the bake. All twelve bakes looked very similar so it must have been very difficult to judge. The judges do not watch this challenge being baked, so they have no idea who has baked what. Sitting on the stools watching and listening to your offering being critiqued is a very bizarre experience. Maggie, who is the oldest baker and looks very like Prue came in first and Amanda unfortunately came last.
The Showstopper challenge is always a big one. Usually about four hours allocated for the bake, which is never enough time but that is part of the challenge, being able to manage the time you have. The showstopper can make or break you. I found that I always did better in this challenge than my others and my Showstoppers always were just that and kept me in the show for a bit longer.
This week it was a gravity defying illusion cake. I have made one of these before and it is a tricky one. The bakers must have a theme for the bake which is relevant to them and their lives. The production team send the bakers the brief for each of the bakes a few weeks in advance of when they need the final recipe to be submitted. This allows the baker to practice as many times as they want to. I remember getting up at four in the morning to practice my showstopper cake, there I was with my timer set for four hours and by the time my husband John came down for breakfast a magnificent two-tiered chocolate collar cake was sitting there next to the cornflakes packet!
Inevitably the cake that you practiced at home is far superior to the one you bake in the tent. There are so many things in the tent that can put you off, just being in a tent baking is weird but all the bakers gave it their best shot. Some bakes worked well and some not so well. Crystelle made a wonderful bouquet of flowers, Guiseppe a complex Jack in the Beanstalk affair and Jurgen a reading lamp hovering over a book, all fantastic.
The judges review all three of each baker’s challenges and decide the overall star baker for that week, this week it was Jurgen, then they decide who will leave the tent, this week it was Tom. I always try to predict who gets star and who goes home, this week I was wrong on both counts, it’s just a bit of fun and of course us viewers can only see and not taste, Paul always says “it must not be style over substance”
So, that is one week done and just nine more to go, I thoroughly enjoyed week one and now I must dash, I need to go to the Ridings and buy my ingredients for the Malt loaf!
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