Great British Bake Off by Karen Wright – THE FINAL

22nd September 2021

Great British Bake Off

The Final

GBBO 2021

Ten weeks have gone by in a flash. We started with twelve bakers and one by one they have left the Great British Bake-Off tent leaving just three bakers to battle it out in the final and one of them to be proclaimed the winner. Who would it be, all over Social Media people were talking about it, all over the radio too! I spoke to eight radio stations yesterday it was totally frantic and excellent fun.

Ok, we started the final with Chigs, Crystelle and Giuseppe all entering the now slightly eerie tent. Most of the work benches are removed so it’s much more spacious in there and very quiet. All the bakers understandably were showing some nerves, everything rides on these last bakes.

The Signature challenge was a carrot cake. I was a bit underwhelmed by the idea of it, it seemed too simple to me but then again, nothing is simple in the tent, up against the clock cakes are notorious for never cooling enough to decorate. They all got stuck in and as normal were adding flavour and ingredient elements to try to impress. Chigs used star anise and pineapple, but he also included 900g grated carrot, now that is a lot of carrot let me tell you! Crystell was all over cardamon, orange, pistachio and mascarpone and Giuseppe chose figs and walnuts.

As expected, well by me anyway, the cakes were not cool enough when the bakers started to assemble and frost, and they were either breaking up or leaning a bit. I did think Chigs cake looked very pretty!

The judges thought that Crystelle’s cake was too high and too hot so was moving a bit, but Prue loved the flavors and Paul said it was well balanced. They thought Giuseppes was also too hot with movement but looked nice and hade delicious flavors. Chigs cake looked nice with good piping but was very rubbery.

So, on to the technical challenge. Crystelle was the only baker of the three never to have won this challenge. It was a Belgian Bun, this time there were no proper instructions at all, just to make them! All three bakers seemed baffled and spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how they should look. This challenge is designed to stretch the baker’s knowledge and experience. I knew it was really just a Chelsea bun in disguise, where you make an enriched dough then roll it out into a rectangle, cover it with filling, roll it up, cut into sections and bake it. All the bakers got there in the end with different results. Crystelle’s were a bit erratic looking but tasted OK, Chigs were to small, too high and too thick and Giuseppes looked authentic but were overbaked and too dark.

Crystelle won her first technical, Chigs came second and Giuseppe third.

Oh my, I didn’t know which this was going now. I thought Crystelle was in a very strong position, and she certainly seemed to be in control of her workbench.

What would the Showstopper Challenge be? This would be the decider at this point anything could and often does happen!

The challenge was to make a Mad hatters tea party display, incorporating at least four different baking disciplines both sweet and savory. I loved this idea; I would have liked a go myself. The bakers were allocated four and a half hours, it sounds a lot, believe me, it is not.

They set to work, Paul said there needed to be something in the oven all the time, so it was an awful moment when Giuseppe discovered he had not closed the oven door properly, so it was stone cold. He looked so concerned as this would have wasted about twenty minutes of baking time and could cost him the title.

The displays started to take shape and I thought they were all stunning. Chigs main feature was a Cheshire Cat cake plus some rather splendid playing card biscuits, Crystelle’s main feature was to be a Focaccia bread clock and Giuseppes centerpiece was a very large mushroom shaped brioche. I found the whole bake mesmerizing and when the whistle was blown for time, I could not have made a guess who would be picked the winner, everything looked worthy of being in the tent for the final.

The judges gave the feedback and mostly it was positive. Except for one big blunder, Crystelle’s focaccia clock was pronounced as inedible. Oh, my word, that is the worst thing that could be said to a baker, my heart sank for her.

The moment arrived when the scene was set for the announcement. Due to Covid measures it is very different to when I was in the show. Back then all the bakers plus their invited family and friends had a day at the venue, which was very exciting for everyone, I had about twenty of my guests at the tent for the day to hear the result and to sample the bakes. This year just the bakers and crew sere there when the announcement was made by Noel.

The winner of The Great British Bake Off 2021 is……. drumroll…….GIUSEPPE!

Paul Hollywood did say that when he first saw Giuseppes Mini rolls way back in Cake week, he thought “this looks like a winner to me!”

Giuseppe has been strong all the way through, he along with Jurgen were my early favorites but you know it really is not about winning the title, it is just about having a go. I urge anyone who fancies it to apply now, the deadline is December the 5th.

Week 9

Patisserie Week

The Semi Final

Oh, my goodness, what a semi-final that was! It was excruciating, it was tense, it was exquisite, it was controversial, it was all those things, and it was fabulous!

Just four bakers left in the iconic tent, all ready to battle as hard as they could to earn a place in next week’s final, Jurgen (my secret soft spot) Crystelle, Giuseppe and Chiggs. First challenge up, the signature, this week it was a multi layered slice. The judges were expecting eight slices, all identical, that were able to hold their shape and were flawless, high-end bakes. A tough call but then again, it was the semis, so all the challenges were going to be tough. Paul wanted very clear and visible layers, he wanted finesse, and he said of the bakers “we have the best of the best here”

Crystelle pulled a very unusual looking bake out of the bag, with her usual tropical flavors she combined Yuzu, black sesame, white chocolate ganache and coconut. It was described as striking, caterpillar colors, it had an unusual texture and Paul said, “it was a little bit of genius” She received a Hollywood handshake!

Giuseppe, being Italian opted for his take on Tiramisu, he very nearly made a big mistake, he made his batter, popped it into the oven and immediately realised he had forgotten to mix in the flour! Out came the mix, re hashed, this time with flour and it worked out just fine. The resulting bake was described as “delicious, very elegant and stylish” He received a Hollywood handshake!

Chiggs, made a beautiful set of slices. He chose raspberry and chocolate as his flavors; he included a raspberry mousse and a thin raspberry jelly. It was described as “very Parisienne” and he received a Hollywood handshake!

Jurgen themed his bake on his favorite opera, he called it murder at the opera. He used beetroot as an ingredient and made little biscuit daggers to decorate the top. The judges said “his layers were stark and sharp layers and that the daggers were great” Prue thought it was sensational and that the texture was perfect, Paul however was not as impressed, Jurgen did not receive a Hollywood handshake!

On to the technical challenge. Jurgen realizing he was in danger was determined to do well. The challenge was to make a Sable Breton Tart. Prue who set the challenge said, “use your time wisely, setting and chilling are very important” The tart is a thick biscuit disc, topped with jam and then a pistachio Mousseline, covered with berries and then decorated with gilded meringue kisses and chocolate curls. A mousseline is a custard with butter added to it. Only Jurgen seemed to recall seeing one of these before which is always a plus if you have an idea of how it should look.

Chiggs had massive issues with his mousseline not setting, Crystelle couldn’t figure out if the biscuit should have sides like a pastry shell would have,it was all tense but fun to watch! Judging the tarts Chiggs came last as his had terrible custard and meringue kisses and not a good sable biscuit either. Crystelle was third was a pretty but thin tart, Giuseppe was third with a pretty tart but not much fruit and Jurgen did it, he came first with a slightly overbaked but good-looking bake.

So, was Jurgen now in a safe position? Everything hinging on the showstopper challenge they set to work. The challenge was to make a spectacular themed banquet with twelve entremets set around an edible centerpiece. They were allocated five hours.

An Entremet is a small cake with layers of flavors and textures usually covered in some sort of beautiful glaze.

Giuseppe decided to create a leaning tower of Pisa out of rice crispies and marshmallow, that looked great I thought, his cakes were Chocolate and cherry domes covered in a very bright green glaze.

Jurgen went all Japanese, with a biscuit centerpiece representation of a Tori Gate. His little cakes were shaped like boats, and he used Macha and white chocolate.

Crystelle designed a meringue wedding arch, and her piping was so gorgeous. Her cakes were vanilla and coconut and again were dome shapes.

Chiggs made a gingerbread tree and surrounded it with his cakes that were shaped like apples. He had a slight mishap when his tree snapped but he repaired it.

There was much running back and fro the freezer trying to set the entremets, it was such a tense thing to watch with the clock ticking away. Finally, time was called, and the bakers had done all they could.

Judging was hard to watch! Giuseppes bake was deemed to be “amazing” lacking a bit of flavor but good looking and a great texture. Chiggs they said was “impressive” with exceptional taste and balanced flavors although the apples were a weird color” which they totally were in my opinion too. Crystelle was described as “stunning, flawless and beautiful” Then Jurgens bake, they loved the Tori Gate biscuit but thought that the cakes were a bit lacking and bland in appearance but for all of that tasted good.

This was the hard part. I really had no idea how they would go with the judging. Paul said it was very hard as they had to choose “the worst of the best” they said it was very close…… drumroll time, Crystelle was chosen as star baker and Jurgen left the tent!

Oh my, what a shocker! All the bakers were stunned, Jurgen took the decision well saying, “the other bakers were more surprised than him” They all congratulated each other which was great to see.

So next week is the final episode of this year’s season, I cannot predict, I always felt that Jurgen would make the final, I was wrong there so let us all just wait and see what next week brings!

Episode 8

The quarter final of GBB0 2021 last night was “Free From”. I must admit I was intrigued by this as I have little experience baking with so many restrictions on the ingredients list. The bakes this week were a dairy free signature challenge, a vegan technical challenge and a gluten free showstopper. How would the five remaining bakers tackle them, and would there be any baking fails this week?

First up then, the signature bake. The bakers were asked to make eight identical ice cream sandwiches. The baked element was to be a biscuit without dairy, so no butter and then ice cream, had to be made without milk or cream.

As usual there was a good variety of flavors on offer from the remaining bakers. Jurgan opted for banana and coconut iced cream and his biscuits were macarons. Lizzie chose vanilla and almond praline ice cream, sandwiched between discs of black biscuits (think Oreos). Chiggs went down the tropical route with a coconut milk and mango ice cream with pistachio and cardamom biscuits, Crystelle used a plant-based cream and cashews in her biscuits and a coffee ice cream and finally Giuseppe used tofu and orange in his ice cream. All the biscuits looked great to me, I thought they did great. The judges decided that Giuseppes look lovely and had good flavor, Jurgan’s macarons were not “rested”, however they were great tasting, nice and chewy and the ice cream was a good flavor balance. Crystelle’s were deemed “lovely and a good job”, Chiggs presented professional looking sandwiches, which were neat and beautiful and finally, Lizzie, hers were huge and messy looking but a great texture.

The technical challenge was set by Prue. Her parting words before leaving the bakers to get started were “flavor is always important but, in this recipe, it is key” The challenge was to make eight individual vegan sausage rolls with a mushroom and walnut filling and while they baked, they had to make a red onion chutney to serve with it. My sort of baking this, I often make a vegan pastry as my oldest daughter is vegan.

It was, as is often the case in the tent a mad rush. Jurgan managed to drop his rolls on the floor, he administered the five second rule and served them anyway. Lizzie explained what laminating pastry meant and said she loved making rough puff from scratch. Crystelle explained that Miso paste, which was an ingredient in the filling gave the rolls that “meaty” flavor. I really enjoyed watching them all beavering away and plating up their offerings.

Chiggs did great, he came in first, with a good bake and a great chutney. Giuseppe was second, a good taste but a bit over baked, Lizzie was third, hers were overbaked but had good lamination, Jurgan was fourth with his big, clumsy rolls but they did have good flavor, which was possibly carpet extract! Crystelle was last, with a “pasty” which was deemed rough and ready but had not a bad taste.

On to the showstopper. This time a cake which needed to be a minimum of two tiers, and it should be gluten free. The problem with using a gluten free flour is that it can be difficult to get a texture that is like regular cake, it is often very soft. To combat this, bakers often use more eggs and xanthan gum. The xanthan gum acts as a stabilizer and binder.

The bakers got cracking and I was astonished how they fared. All five cakes were beautiful, I of course know exactly how it feels to be baking a big cake in that tent, but they had added pressure as it was now the quarter finals, and they were all fighting for a place in the semifinal next week.

At the start of the challenge Paul and Prue told us that both Lizzie and Crystelle were in the danger zone. We also know that anything can happen and frequently does, which is one of the reasons we love the show so much.

The upshot was that Jurgen presented a gorgeous three-tiered ombre cake with dark, milk and white chocolate layers, astonishing! Chiggs cake was described by the judges as “really impressive, spot on and couldn’t be faulted” He made a chocolate collar too which was a fabulous element. Giuseppe went for Black Forest; Paul was a bit “underwhelmed” by it, but Prue thought it was good. The girls who were in the danger zone presented two outstandingly gorgeous cakes. Crystelle’s was a ball gown design with a bodice and pearls and piped pink roses. Lizzie at last pulled “finesse” out of the bag. A stunning bright, bold, multicolored showstopper, it really was in my opinion fantastic. It was meant to represent herself as she explained her various special needs, dyslexia being just one of them.

The judging must have been so difficult. Both the girls starting the bake in danger, yet both produced equally wonderful creations, which way would it go? Paul explained that they couldn’t choose between them on the showstopper so needed to choose the stronger baker overall. This is not usual; it is normally just on that week! Quite controversial!

Chiggs was awarded Star Baker and Lizzie left the competition. Her final bake, however stunning simply couldn’t keep her in the tent. What a wonderful episode, I was on the edge of my seat, fabulous TV!

Week 7 Caramel Week

I was very excited to watch last night’s episode of Bake Off. I am always keen to watch but this week it was caramel week and with caramel anything can happen, and frequently does, which of course can give us great television. Why is caramel tricky then? Working with sugar, which is what caramel is, can be very frustrating. Sugar is a nightmare in humid conditions, have you ever opened a bag and found it all lumpy? that’s because of humidity. To make caramel in the traditional way you need to melt sugar and keep the heat on just until it turns a lovely amber colour. However, it often crystalizes during the process and then it will never work, and you will need to try again. I find the “wet” method works best for me, which is ironically where you wet the sugar in the pan, so it is like wet sand and then start to heat it up. I was keen to tune in for another reason too. Next week I am teaching a class based on the signature challenge in caramel week and I needed to see what they did. Now that I have viewed it, I am all geared up now for Sunday when my class, which is sold out will be held.

Right then, the Signature Challenge, what was it? The bakers were tasked with creating a sharing sized tart with caramel as the star of the bake, it needed to be highly decorated, and they had two and a half hours to make it. All the bakers got cracking on the pastry which they “blind Baked” to hopefully ensure there were no “soggy bottoms”.  Then they created the fillings. Some bakers made a caramel that set in the fridge others baked the caramel. They all as usual had their own favorite flavors which included banoffee, pineapple, apple and pecan and various nuts. There were the usual concerns regarding if things were set, cooled etc. but all the bakers eventually managed to get a tart on the table to present at the end of the allotted time. Giuseppe as usual did very well indeed, Jurgen produced a tart that the judges declared not his best work, George didn’t get a thumbs up for his caramel custard, Chiggs tart looked beautiful, but the caramel was a bit dark, Crystelle’s was good looking but a bit treacly and Lizzies had a good crispy base, good flavors but lacked finesse!

The technical challenge was a bake we all know and most likely love! It was a version of a Twix. The bakers were asked to make ten identical finger biscuits, Paul said he wanted “perfection and no excuses”. The bakers all got cracking with the shortbread biscuit and when it was cooled, they sliced it into ten portions. The caramel element was the next thing and with this it was important to gauge how long to boil the caramel for, too long it would set like toffee too little it would be too runny. It is a hard call that. They needed to pipe a thick line of caramel along the biscuit. This they did with varying degrees of success. Last up was coating it with chocolate, hard to know how to approach this, do you pour, or do you dip? I think for all it sounds simple it would be a hard bake to get the perfection that Paul was expecting. The judging went as follows, Giuseppe first place and then Jurgen, Chiggs, Crystelle, lizzie and last George.

So as is often the case everything is decided on day two which is the Showstopper challenge. This week the judges were expecting a gorgeous dessert comprised of at least one baked element and two caramel elements with a sugar work dome on the top. This was another one of the occasions when I was glad not to be in the tent. Where would you even start on such a thing. They were allowed to use a product called Isomalt if they wished for the dome rather than the more difficult molten sugar. It reminded me a little of when I had to make a chocolate dome when I was in the tent. I used a balloon as a mould but some bakers used plastic spheres or this year Crystelle used a silicone mould. I was very impressed with Lizzie on this part of her challenge. She poured blue isolmalt over a balloon, it was such a vivid and striking thing she produced. One way or another the bakers all managed to pull something out of the bag, Crystelle struggled so much with her dome and tried time and time again, finally with help from Lizzie she got there.

The judges had some good comments for everyone and of course some less positive feedback too. Jurgens looked spectacular and was delicious, Giuseppe’s was elegant, but the glaze was a bit gluey, for Chiggs they said it looked a bit messy but had good flavor’s, George’s looked amazing, and he had made his dome from actual sugar, Lizzie’s blue creation this time looked great, had finesse but they didn’t really like the bake aspect, Crystelle’s cactus garden was charming.

This week I could not predict what might happen, oh it was tense! Jurgen was awarded star baker and George, even though they loved his showstopper, it was not enough to save him, and he was the seventh baker to leave the tent. I thoroughly enjoyed the episode, well done to all and bring on next week, its Free From!!

WEEK 6

Week six is pastry week

We are past the halfway mark now in this year’s series of The Great British Bake Off. Last night was week six and pastry week. I didn’t get to week six in my series, which was a shame as I am very much a savoury person and love a good pie. We did of course practice for all the episodes, so I did have my showstopper planned. It would have been a Fleur de Lys design, filled with beef bourguignon. Alas it was not meant to be!

First challenge up as always is the Signature Challenge. This year it was Chouxnuts. What are Chouxnuts when they are at home anyway? That was the question my husband asked me. It’s a cross between a choux bun and a donut. I have never made these. What the bakers had to do was mix a choux pastry batter which is used for eclairs and profiteroles etc. Then instead of baking the mixture they had to pipe it into a donut shape and deep fry it. Paul Hollywood had set the challenge and he wanted two batches of them, one batch filled, and the other batch not filled. The bakers needed to focus on flavour too, which is always part of any challenge. The bakers all brought something different to the bakes, George went for sticky toffee, Giuseppe for limoncello, Chiggs for Paris Brest, Amanda went off piste with maple and bacon, Crystelle went all umami, Jurgen chose something I have never heard of and Lizzie, well, she was just terrified of the whole thing. I thought all the bakers made a decent show of it, no disasters to report at all!

On to the technical challenge. When it was revealed that the bake was to be a large Baclava, the Middle Eastern honey and nut dessert, I thought “thank goodness I was never asked to do that”. Making Filo pastry from scratch is very difficult. I only know one person that makes it and that is my friend Terry from my series of Bake Off, and he is just a genius! I think all the bakers in the tent felt intimidated by it. Paul’s words before they started was “this is going to push you to your limits, don’t waste any time”. They were given two- and three-quarter hours to produce the baclava, which is a long bake, but they needed every minute.

Once again, the bakers did well, and all produced something that looked good. Of course, as a viewer we cannot taste so we rely on the judges to describe each bake. The judges decided that Jurgen came in first place followed by Crystelle, Chiggs, Giuseppe, Annabelle, George and then Lizzie.

Day two, always is a fresh start and a chance to redeem yourself if you have had a few wobbles with the signature and technical challenges. It is showstopper day. I seemed to need to pull my socks up a bit every week and needed to pull a decent showstopper out of the bag, it is lots of pressure, but it can give you that boost you need to prove yourself. The showstopper this week was a terrine style pie, decorated on the outside and with a good design on the inside. I found this challenge to be the most exciting yet, right up my street. Paul described the bake to be like a French Pate En Croute. The bakers chose to use a hot water crust dough which is what is used in pork pie making. It is a robust pastry and can hold up well shape wise but needs to be rolled and shaped whilst still warm otherwise it will just crack.

As usual the bakers had to have a “back story” or theme for the bake. They had four and a half hours to complete the bake, but this included cooling time, critical with a meaty pie as the filling needs time to firm up. Jurgen used a recipe from his hometown of Frieberg, which involved beef and horseradish, total yum ingredients in my book! George went down the Christmas dinner route with his choice of ingredients, Amanda had some very cute little pastry pigs to decorate her pie, Lizzie made a mermaid themed pie with potato fish shapes running through the centre of the filling, Giuseppe crafted a very beautiful owl design, Chiggs is from Leicestershire so he went down the Melton Mowbray route and Crystelle made a curry filling and her design was a Kenyan cottage which was very beautiful and earned her a “Hollywood Handshake”.

There were two bakes that went a bit “belly up” and this was simply due to not enough cooling time. Both George and Amanda had issues with breakage. Chiggs was a hero in my eyes as he tried his level best to save Amandas pie form disaster but unfortunately, he couldn’t salvage the damage.

The final judging took place and once again my predictions were correct, Crystelle was Star Baker and Amanda had to leave the tent. Next week it is quarter finals, things are really revving up now, who is going to win this competition? Hard to predict that one at this stage, I would say Jurgen, Giuseppe and Crystelle are the front runners, but Chiggs has been very consistent, he keeps up to the pace, so one to watch now! Lizzie, well, she is doing very well too, and George keeps on hanging in there. It is all to play for and anything could happen in that magical Bake-Off tent!

Week 5

German Week

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.

Week 1

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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