Friday, 31 August 2012

Great British Bake Off, Episode 3

Episode 3 saw the contestants tarting it up. We saw more of "Mary, Mary, Not In The Least Contrary", which gave the show a gentler and fluffier edge than bread week and thankfully we didn't see a repeat of last Tuesday's trial by sniffing. 

I had a proud moment too, when I managed to unlock the key to understanding some of the judges' stock phrases, which I feel duty-bound to share with you now. Mary uses the words, "that sounds interesting" synonymously with "I am suspicious of your proposed flavour combination and probably won't like it, but I am far too polite to say so". Hollywood uses the word,  "brave" similarly. When Hollywood says, "brave" he actually means, "idiotic". "Good luck" has a silent "you're going to need it" on the end. When Hollywood raises his eyebrows at the same time as saying the word, "brave", what he really means is, "idiotic" but in a scoffing tone that would suggest he is already getting excited about preparing his told-you-so speech. Which is, as I'm sure you'll agree, exactly the tone to take with an eclectic bunch of amateur sweethearts with a love of baked goods.

First up was the signature challenge. Contestants were given two and a half hours to create their own version of the French classic, Tarte Tatin. This week, intensive care consultant, Danny's take on the Tarte Tatin was a savoury pear, walnut, thyme and Roquefort combination. Hollywood seemed keener than Berry, but issued a warning to Danny not to "overwhelm the pears with Roquefort". Danny was given some extra focus in this week's episode and we saw her enthusiastically recreate that scene in When Harry Met Sally when she successfully turned out her tart in one piece. After describing her Tatin as "dark" and "inviting", Hollywood about-turned on his earlier comment: 

"You needed more Roquefort. Roquefort's quite a strong flavour, 
but don't be afraid to use it"

She probably wouldn't have been afraid to use it if Hollywood hadn't already put the wind up her.

Most of the contestants opted to make rough puff pastry as time was short, but sweet, bespectacled James opted to make proper puff pastry from scratch for his apple and lavender Tarte Tatin, because "to be quite honest, I've no idea what rough puff pastry is or how to make it, so this is the only one I knew". This decision proved fruitful as Mary declared he had really "conquered" his tart.

Victoria likes only a trace of flavour in her food (sounds awful), but decided to up the ante for the judges, who like "Flavour (said in a mockney accent for reasons unknown) with a capital F". She received a "good luck" from Hollywood when she revealed her chosen flavour combination of figs, walnuts and pink peppercorns, which didn't bode well from the off.

Ryan, Manisha and John opted for twists on tradition. Ryan made a delicious-sounding vanilla and cinnamon spiced pear tart, Manisha went for Cinnamon, apple and pear and John baked an apple and vanilla tart with walnut praline. Stuart placed a layer of marzipan in between his fruit and pastry, which, Hollywood warned, "could look very messy", but actually proved to be one of the judges' favourites. Sarah-Jane brought in her own special knife to make her grandmother's recipe for banana Tarte Tatin and Brendan went for apple and ginger, with enormous pieces of interlocking apple. Sue remarked, "that's not only the tart of France, that's the size of France". She wasn't wrong. The apples in Brendan's Tarte Tatin were so big, you could have been forgiven for mistaking them for giant Duplo. It's surprising that real-life silver haired Lego man, Hollywood, didn't take to it more eagerly.

After all the talk of "soggy bottoms" and varying standards of "the bake", Sarah-Jane's banana Tarte Tatin (which, although tasty-looking, oddly resembled cherry tomatoes) wowed the judges. She said it was "up there with one of [her] best life experiences" when Mary Berry "legend" said her tart was perfectly baked. Cathryn's plum, cherry and five-spice wasn't such a hit, but she decided to plough on through to the next challenge and "forget about it being a bit pants".

Sarah-Jane's cherry tomato banana Tarte Tatin
After a brief interlude about "invalid tarts" and "dietetics" - when special hospital recipes were designed to help their patients on the road to recovery - the contestants were given two hours to complete the technical challenge. Luckily, this week, Mary managed to get a word in edgewise and she was even allowed to use her own recipe for treacle tart for the technical challenge. I must admit, I was surprised when cake week used a Hollywood recipe for the technical challenge, but what does Mary Berry, author of over 70 cookbooks (mostly about baking), know about cake?

Mary's treacle tart called for a woven lattice top. The contestants struggled with this. Stuart misread the recipe, Victoria overworked her pastry and John was worried there wasn't enough water in it, but said, "I'm not going to fiddle with Mary Berry. She'll have me". Yet another "Ooh, Matron!" moment for the #GBBOinnuendos to have a field day with on Twitter.

Brendan's lattice looked good but his tart tasted "cloy-y", whereas Sarah-Jane was on the receiving end of some harsh words for not "bothering to lattice it". Hollywood described her twisted pastry design as "lazy" and we saw her sobbing her heart out in the garden:

"I can't believe I've actually cried. It's ridiculous!"

Don't worry, Sarah-Jane, we've all cried over a tart.

Once all tears had dried, the contestants made their way back into the tent for the show stopper round. Brilliant Sue addressed them with "Hello, hot stuffs" before Mel explained the task ahead. They each needed to make one large fruit tart, fit for a window display. Who had the flair of a pâtissier?

Cathryn had "worry behind the eyes" and Mel scandalised her with the suggestion that she try overcoming her nerves by imagining Hollywood naked. Thousands of hearts were a-flutter on Twitter at the very thought, while thousands more felt a lurching nausea perform a sharp flip in their stomachs. 

Brendan made a beautiful looking tart edged with florentines, while Manisha's rum and tropical fruit with a layer of coconut sponge impressed the judges with its originality. Danny made a pineapple and coconut tart which Hollywood described as a "gorgeous" flavour combination. Who would have thought Hollywood would be a piña colada man?

After hanging on by the skin of his teeth and only just scraping through for the last two weeks, Stuart shocked everyone (none more so than himself) when he upped his game with a raspberry and triple chocolate layer tart.  Stuart really does make a beautiful tart. Just look at it:

Victoria's soggy bottomed tropical fruit tart with black pepper pastry was too heavy handed on the lime and her creme patissiere was "loose and sour". It really wasn't Victoria's week this week.  It may have been because she wasn't wearing one of her trusty roll necks, but these last mistakes relegated her to the bottom of the bake off pile. 

When Sue delivered the bad news, Victoria said she was "relieved" and that it was "absolutely the right decision". She was impressively gracious in defeat:

"No case to answer. Guilty, m'lud"

Conversely, James could do no wrong this week and he was crowned star baker after producing an incredibly beautiful macaron-topped rose, lychee and raspberry Mascarpone tart. Hollywood said it tasted like "Turkish Delight" while Mary said it was like eating a "rose cream". Despite this, they really seemed to love it. Good work James! He does seem ever so sweet and I hope he and his woolly tank tops go far in this competition. 

Next week is all about puddings, from signature tortes, to creme caramels and quadruple layer show stopping meringues. I am literally champing at the bit to see who will make it through to week 5 and who will be left wiping tear stains off their aprons. 

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Great British Bake Off, Episode 2

This week was bread week. As to be expected with steely eyed Hollywood on the scene, we saw precious little of lovely Mary. "Understand bread, understand baking" intoned Hollywood, with a characteristically expressionless face. Well, he would say that, wouldn't he? Him being a bread man and all. I'd like to see Hollywood in a head-to-head bake off with Pierre Hermé and time how long it took him to change his position. I'd wager it wouldn't be long.

Flat breads were on the menu for this week's signature bake and not all the contestants were brimming with confidence. Last week's star baker was nervous about this week's challenges, but her lemon and coriander naans and black cardamom, garlic and parsnip chapatis looked delicious. Victoria might not have the foggiest clue about bread, but she certainly knows her seasonal basics. Sporting another fetching roll neck, Victoria modelled the perfect summer weather staple, especially suitable when eleven hot ovens are on the go all at the same time.

Ryan's nerves were kept under check by his singing (albeit through clenched teeth). The dulcet tones of "if you're happy and you know it clap your hands" helped him keep his head, while all about him were losing their's.

Brendan, who just gets better and better every week, explained how he had been working through a self-set challenge to bake his way through the breads of the world. He has baked 90 of them so far and has several hundred left to go. He baked his flatbreads over "river-washed hot rocks". I expected nothing less from this delightful bread tourist.

Jolly vicar's wife, Sarah-Jane, impressed Hollywood with her beer oatcakes. She gave him a pint of ale to gain a few extra brownie points, which worked a treat. We witnessed him glug the lot in one go, while poor Mary was left with little more than Hollywood's backwash. 

Peter's "very salty" efforts in this round were overshadowed by his revelations of potential stalker tendencies. He had a picture of Mel and Sue from circa the mid '90's on his work bench and revealed that he has been following their careers for years. Sue held the photo up as proof that she "was young once" and Hollywood attempted to join in the jovial banter by adding the misjudged "and good looking". Oh dear.

James, my favourite from last week, didn't disappoint. Sue was "captivated" by his "yeast slapping" and from that moment on, the live tweeters had a field day and a new hashtag was born: #GBBOinnuendo. Those of you still not convinced by the magic of this show's hour long weekly whimsy may change your minds after reading this "Carry On..." style thread. 

The next challenge was the technical round: an eight strand plaited loaf. Mary and Paul exited the tent almost as quickly as they'd entered it, while the worried contestants were left to get on with the "Rapunzel Challenge". They had only two hours (far too short a time in my view) to plate up their plaits.

Stuart had to remake his dough as his bread fell floor bound after it got stuck to his wrist and he was rather too forceful in shaking it off. But his "off the cuff" dough came in useful for practice-plaiting later on, so all was not lost for the 26 year old P.E. teacher after all.

Poor Sarah-Jane looked again to be on the verge of a nervous bake-down, as she explained how she was a "constant source of disappointment" to her daughter for not being able to plait her hair. We saw an entertaining twenty minutes of "Rain Man" counting and confusion. Mel said the challenge was like "the Generation Game gone wrong" as the instructions for "knitting" together the tentacles baffled all but one contestant.

John's plait was a sight to behold. Beautifully glossy and neat, with a tight well-formed and even plait. This 22 year old law graduate who wants to be a patisserie chef in Paris, wowed the judges with his loaf. Poor old stalker-Peter didn't fare quite so well. Hollywood didn't stop at declaring his efforts disastrous, he went further:

"To say it's a disaster would be a humiliation to disaster"

There's something so reassuring and helpful about Hollywood's gently-gently approach to criticism.

The final challenge was the show stopper round. This week, the contestants had to make twelve sweet and twelve savoury bagels. I must admit to feeling rather crestfallen that they didn't have to hide some bread inside some other bread, à la the show stopper cake from last week.

James made the "brave" decision to make savoury sourdough bagels, which, despite Hollywood's raised eyebrows, he pulled off a treat. Go James! Brendan disappointed the judges with his chocolate and vanilla offerings, as "no deviation" Hollywood scoffed that he'd made bread rings not bagels. I thought they looked jolly pretty though, Brendan. 

Ryan's singing couldn't save the day for his over-wet cinnamon and date dough. His sweet bagels might not have puffed up properly, but he did manage to invent a new kind of bread: "flagels"  - half flat bread and half bagel. Perhaps he was aiming to combine two rounds in one, to make the day go quicker.

The tension was palpable at the end of this round, as Hollywood upped the levels of intimidation by sniffing his way round the room on his initial bagel inspections. "Last minute Larry" Cathryn found his sniffing "really unnerving" and I must say, so did I. 

Peter's holes were too small, thus turning his bagels into bread rolls and this mistake put the final nail in his Bake Off coffin. His nervous laughter and rocking suggested he knew he was on shaky ground and he wasn't wrong. Stalker-Peter became the second contestant to be knocked out of the competition, but I'm sure his disappointment was eased by his "Mel and Sue sandwich".

John was voted this week's star baker and Hollywood declared him one to watch as "all past winners of Bake Off have done well on bread week". My money's still on James. But that may only be because he has a sweet face and wears nice jumpers, which he shared the origin of on Twitter. If you want a jumper like James', you can buy it here. Stuart struggled through by the skin of his teeth again and we saw almost as little of Danny and Manisha as we did on episode one. 

In other news, I accidentally caught an episode of Junior Bake Off this week too. Hollywood and Mary Berry judge the baking efforts of tiny children who are put through unimaginable stresses. This week's episode featured the wonderful Michel Roux Jr as a guest judge. I do like him ever so much on Master Chef: The Professionals and he was all smiles and encouragement to the Bake Off kids. Now there's a genuine silver fox if ever I saw one. 

Roll on next week, where we will see the contestants tarting it up!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Great British Bake Off, Episode One

It's finally back! Great British Bake Off is once again gracing our screens to help make Tuesday nights altogether fluffier and more fun. Last night saw twelve hopeful amateur bakers (though I think the beeb's missed a trick by not making it thirteen for a baker's dozen) compete to go through to the second round. Real life silver haired lego man, Paul Hollywood, and angel delight of a judge, Mary Berry, are back and... well... exactly the same as ever. 

Hollywood is still blowing as much hot air up his loaf as he can muster. I'm not saying the man doesn't know his stuff, but why he feels the need to describe every single recipe as a near-Herculean challenge is beyond me. Steely eyed and head-shaking over any deviation,  Hollywood doesn't want any boats pushed out, he wants the whole fleet to remain firmly in the harbour. If I'm being unfair it's because I still haven't forgiven him for turning his nose up at Mary-Anne's syllabub last year for being too alcoholic (as if there's such a thing!) or for that horrifying spectacle when he made buttercream with his bare hands. Mary Berry, on the other hand, is as charming and whimsical as ever. Always there with a kind word and an appreciative "Mmm", she's the great aunt of all our dreams and is ever ready to give Hollywood the gentle scoldings he so desperately deserves.

For me, it's really Mel and Sue who make this show. From their lighthearted puns and tea mug-holding support for all the contestants, to their informative historical interludes, interviewing experts and uncovering eccentric laws of our baking past, we really couldn't want for more. But the show would be nothing without its contestants.

This year's participants seem, so far, to be a bunch of total sweethearts (possibly with one exception, but I'll reserve judgement for now). We've got James, a bespectacled and woolly jumper-wearing medical student from the Shetland Islands, who, at only 21, brings out in me a strong desire to ruffle his hair whenever he gets anything right. He is already one of my favourites and I was delighted to see him hold his nerve when the judges raised their collective eyebrows at the idea of putting parsnip in a cake. Which isn't that weird at all. You clearly need to get out more, Mary and Paul.

There's nervous and bubbly vicar's wife, Sarah-Jane, who, aside from worrying us that an early breakdown might be imminent, was consistently in the top half of the judges' scoreboard. Then there's Ryan. He might not have impressed Hollywood with the polenta in his upside-down cake, but he made a lovely looking "hidden design" cake for the technical challenge. We were also introduced to John, who left his place at Oxford University to study law at Manchester to be nearer his family. John seems to be the 2012 replacement for last year's housewife's favourite, the wet-eyed and floppy-haired Rob. This sweet mummy's boy of 22 declared baking to be "the biggest fashion there is at the minute" and told Sue how he likes to go clubbing before coming home to bake a cake. And he wasn't the only one with disco manoeuvres. Recently retired Brendan gave Mel a crash course in "dips" for when the DJ spins Gloria Gaynor on his turntable. A sight to behold. 

On to Victoria, the CEO of a charity protecting wild flowers (I expected nothing less) and a lovely posho with a penchant for wearing a roll-neck under a shirt. She did a cracking job on the technical round with her "Sing a Song of Sixpence" inspired blackbirds in a pie cake, even if the outside of the cake was more impressive than the image it was hiding. Then there's smily Manisha, who muddled through in good spirits and Cathryn, who (as Brendan pointed out in the programme) looks to have a serious competitive streak. She was "on it like a car bonnet" and may be this year's answer to Head Girl Holly. 

This first episode also saw a Bake Off first. Peter and Stuart went head-to-head in a Union Flag-off. Peter's efforts may have been neater, but he left out the St Patrick's saltire from his design, so is unlikely to win the popular vote with Northern Ireland's viewers. We saw precious little of intensive care consultant, Danny, in episode one. Her plum, ginger and orange upside-down cake sounded delicious, but rather unpleasantly resembled a giant blood clot (her medical training possibly inspiring this choice).

Finally we were briefly introduced to delightful midwife, Natasha, whose pineapple and passionfruit upside-down cake passed the judges' inspection, but her boiled baba and raw rose-soaked show stopper knocked her out of the competition. Such a shame, as she was clearly just having a very bad day and her nerves got the better of her. Her disappointment was hugged away by the ever-wonderful Sue Perkins. I really do love Sue. Since watching Mrs Dickens' Family Christmas, she has firmly cemented her place as one of my absolute favourite television personalities of all time. 

One down, eleven to go. Roll on Tuesday. Who'll be the stale crumbs brushed off next week's Bake Off plate? 

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

All Day French Breakfast Class at Cookery School

Brioche buns and a brioche loaf (in the background)

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to attend an All Day French Breakfast class at the fabulous Cookery School on Little Portland Street. In only a few hours, our little class of five (Olympic travel had prevented a few others from attending) had learnt the art of bread and laminated dough making, been given a crash course in speedy jam making, as well as finding the time to scoff down a delicious breakfast of pain aux raisin and mini croissants and also a fine lunch of homemade bread and posh cheese and pâté. 

Delicious flower salad for lunch picked from Regents Park

Lunchtime baguette. We also had cheese from Le Fromagerie and homemade
pâté, but I was too busy eating to photograph everything.
Rhum babas we learnt to make and then ate for pudding after lunch. The photo is a bit
fuzzy, because Cookery School also give you wine with lunch. How very French!

We were shown the bread ropes by the charismatic teachers, Ghalid and Rosalind, who managed to put us all at ease and show us where we were going wrong. I am no stranger to making bread or laminated dough, but it was wonderful to have an expert on hand offering useful tips and tricks to help me improve my skills. They made even the most intimidating recipes look effortless and we all left with bucket loads of confidence and much welcome goodie bags. It was an excellent way to spend a Sunday and I couldn't recommend it enough. If you don't believe me, just look at the professional looking goods we made.

Pain aux raisin

Beautiful baguettes!

Mini croissants, pain au chocolat and pain aux raisin ready for the oven.

Not only did we go away with a bag of brioche, cinnamon buns and croissant dough, but Cookery School threw in a bag of Billington's sugar and Allinson flour, a bread dough scraper, sour dough starter and all the recipes from the day printed out on little cards and placed in a tidy plastic folder for us. 

I will be teaching a class at Cookery School on how to make your own wedding cake to tie in with the UK launch date of my new book. More details coming soon, but while you're waiting, why not check out their other classes here.