Friday, 21 September 2012

Cream Tea Cupcakes

I recently went for a last minute jaunt down to the Jurassic Coast for a spot of fossil hunting, fish and chips on the beach and, of course, a cream tea. I have mentioned before that my boyfriend is a gluten-dodger, so we feared getting a good cream tea might be too tricky to find. Thankfully, we found a beautiful hotel called The Alexandra in Lyme Regis, apparently famous for their gluten-free cream teas. We jumped in the car and rocketed over with as much speed as was legal.

Out of curiosity, I also had a gluten-free cream tea and I can report back that it was absolutely delicious, but much more cake-y than I expected. No bad thing. Cogs turned and I decided to make cream tea cupcakes on my return to London, but not just any old cupcakes.

Richard and I stayed in a delightful cottage on Laverstock Farm in Dorset, owned by Emma and Ludo Blackburn. Emma, very kindly, gave me a box of fresh duck eggs to take home and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them.

I adore cakes made with duck eggs. The sponge is yellower and richer, thanks to their enormous yolks and you can use them as a direct substitute in pretty much any recipe that calls for hens’, but you can especially taste the difference in a Victoria sponge or vanilla cupcakes.

As it's National Cupcake Week, it had to be vanilla cupcakes, all the way. Once the duck egg cupcakes were cooked, I cut a little hole (about half an inch deep) in their middles, in preparation for a big splodge of jam, or should that be clotted cream?

Now we all know about the scones debate. No, not that one about how you should pronounce it, we will never find a resolution there. I’m talking about the cream versus jam debate: which goes  first? Some think only a lunatic would put the jam on first, while others believe cream-first devotees are only inches away from a long trip to the asylum. Personally, I’m not particular. I’d probably go for cream first if it was nearer my greedy, grabbing hand, or jam first if someone else was occupying the cream bowl. They all go down the same pie hole (or should I say cake hole) in the end anyway.

In an attempt to settle this debate, I looked it up on Wikipedia  did some important research and discovered that in Devon, the cream goes on first and the jam (which must be strawberry), goes on top. In Cornwall, it’s the other way around. As I was so close to the East Devon border, I thought it would only be polite to go native and go for cream first, but there are no such rules in south London. For my Dorset duck egg cream tea cupcakes, I thought it would be only right to try it both ways – it just wouldn’t be in the spirit of fairness not to. 

I’m sorry to say, Cornwall, although they were both equally delicious, Devon won it by a hair’s breadth for being slightly less messy to eat. Having said that, I probably ought to go back and check again, just to be sure, you understand. It just wouldn’t be in the spirit of fairness not to.

Duck egg cream tea cupcakes

For the cakes

Line a 12 hole muffin tray with cupcake cases and preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan)/ 350°F (325°F fan)/ Gas mark 4

3 duck eggs
6 oz/ 170g soft, unsalted butter
6oz/ 170g caster sugar
6 oz/ 170g self raising flour, sifted
1 tsp of baking powder (optional)
A generous splash (none of your “a few drops” nonsense) of vanilla extract

Strawberry jam
Clotted cream

Use the all-in-one method (mix everything at the same time) if you are using an electric whisk. If making it by hand, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy, before adding the eggs and vanilla and then mixing in the flour.

Divide the batter between the cases (you want to be quite generous as the cakes need to rise above the paper cases) and bake for 20 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.

You can serve them warm or leave them to cool, before cutting out a shallow cone shape from the centre of each cake (you can just slice their tops off if you prefer). Fill the hole with cream before topping it with a blob of jam. Or the other way around if you prefer.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Great British Bake Off, Episode 6

This week's episode started with a snotty Sarah-Jane under a transparent umbrella outside the Bake Off tent, gloomily looking up at the sky. "These rain clouds are a sign of impending doom", she said, her cheeks stained with tears and streaks of mascara. It was clear from the off, that week six was going to be brimming with high drama. Downton Abbey has nothing on Bake Off. Lady Mary shagging a Turkish diplomat to actual death and the Earl of Grantham's dodgy financial investments pale into insignificance, when faced with soggy bottoms, dropped cakes and Magimix cuts. There were the rumblings of an uprising in the Bake Off tent, with the contestants, Mary AND Mel, all questioning Hollywood's authority. Who knew puddings could provide so much tension and intrigue? 

First up was the signature challenge, where the contestants were given two hours to make two different flavoured sponge puddings with two different accompaniments:
"Six of one, six of another with two different sauces. How simple is that?"
declared Hollywood, though Sue on the V.O. had different ideas:
"Perfecting two recipes is hard enough, doing both at the same time, makes this the most demanding signature challenge the bakers are yet to face".
Hang on, didn't they have to make two different flat breads in week two, both at the same time?  

Ryan's choc fondants and sticky date and ginger puddings used three raising agents. "Last week's star baker, [unnecessarily long pause] you've got a lot to live up to this weekend", Hollywood scoffed, with an intimidating smirk, designed, I'm sure, to further crush Ryan's already fractured ego. 

Danny's sponge puddings
Danny opted for banoffee pudding with walnut butterscotch sauce and orange zest chocolate fondants. Brendan, Sarah-Jane and John all chose to make classic sticky toffee puddings as one of their flavours. "Everyone likes a good sticky toff," insisted John, which possibly inspired his decision to soak his dates in Lady Grey tea. Like John, I always soak mine in black tea too. It really does give a lovely added flavour. 

John's sponge puddings
John was serving his sticky toffs alongside raspberry and white chocolate puddings, enriched with Mascarpone. When asked by Mel if he'd like to win Bake Off, he told her,
"Oh God yeah. So much so, that I've already tried to trip Brendan up a few times today, but that man is infallible, he's just like a machine, I'm sure he's the Terminator".
Or more apposite still, the "bakinator", offered Mel, as we cut to Brendan, happily whisking in his EasyJet-orange shirt. When it came to judgement, Mary enthused about the quantities of white chocolate and raspberries in John's sponge, while Hollywood stayed silent, cocking his head as if listening out for the gift of vocabulary. "Sponge is bland," said Hollywood. "Bland?" questioned a wounded John. "Absolutely," retorted Hollywood "if you never had anything else with it, you may as well be chewing on a piece of card". A now indignant John retaliated, "That's a bit harsh" he reasoned, before Hollywood contorted his face into an unreadable expression, "No, honestly" he insisted. His spicy sticky toff fared better, "Mmm, that's very moreish," beamed Mary kindly, "and you've got the topping just right. How could you refuse that?". Hollywood agreed, but couldn't let any praise hang in the air too long. He took away John's short-lived high with, "That first one needs a lot of work"

Bakinator Brendan's flavours were rhubarb, strawberry and ginger puddings and sticky toffee flavoured with rum. "I haven't gone in for any fancy tricks," he said, while going on to explain his quest for authenticity. "Heston Blumenthal has a lot to answer for" he declared, which earned him a wink from Mary. She wasn't impressed by his use of a blow torch on his sticky toffee sauce though, but he brought it all back with a "perfect" crème anglaise.

Sarah-Jane was flustered again this week, she was "feeling a bit all over the place" as she became increasingly "confused" by all the different ingredients on her worktop. As well as her sticky toffee puddings, Sarah-Jane made her Granny's saucy lemon puddings.
"Sometimes your techniques let you down a bit but your flavours have always been there," 
opined Hollywood, helpfully. Just what Sarah-Jane needs at a time of blind panic and confusion: an insult hidden within a compliment. When judgement time came, Mary didn't think her Granny's saucy lemon puddings were lemon-y enough, while Paul went further, staring fiercely and unblinkingly at Sarah-Jane's worried face, and said:
"That is not a sponge".
Her sticky toffee divided the judges. Mary thought it was a little dry and slightly over-baked, while Hollywood, like a man possessed, silently peered at Sarah-Jane's sponge, fingering it firmly before breaking it into pieces. A confused Sarah-Jane looked on, not knowing what her appropriate response should be. Possibly because there wasn't one. "Can I disagree with you Mary," said insolent Hollywood, "I think the opposite. I think it's actually alright". Apparently prodding the inside of a cake with your fingers is a better indication of whether it's too dry than its mouthfeel. 

Mary thought Ryan's chocolate fondants looked "indulgent", but Hollywood thought they had a "very dry texture". I don't know how he was able to tell without sticking his big square fists in and having a root about, but perhaps the rules for detecting dryness are different for sticky toffee puddings and chocolate fondants.  Mary, who already had a bee in her bonnet about Ryan's use of three raising agents, thought they gave his sponges a "bitter" aftertaste. Ryan was suspicious of this particular criticism:
"What annoyed me most was I think they went in there ready to give me a good kicking because I put three different raising agents in there. I really don't think it made that much difference to the bake"
Cathryn's walnut whips
I was most excited by self-doubter Cathryn's pudding flavours. She opted for chocolate walnut whip puddings and elderflower sponges topped with clotted cream rice pudding. But there was mutiny in the ranks amongst the judges. Hollywood thought Cathryn's rice was "undercooked". "Al dente", he said, "It's not a good thing on that". The worm began to turn when Mel jumped in to say she thought the rice was cooked and Mary followed suit, "I think the rice is cooked". Hollywood placed a mouthful of walnut whip in his mouth and shook his head in horror. "You don't like those either?" asked a frustrated Cathryn. Hollywood, again, without getting his fingers in there, declared Cathryn's walnut whips "too dry". Mary reassured her, while Cathryn scowled justifiably in Hollywood's direction.

James went for Scottish classic, clootie dumplings, this week. He wasn't feeling anxious because as far as he was concerned, "it's a very safe one to play, because it is very nice", before he about-turned and growled, "Stressed! Why am I stressed? Just baking". But he was right to be stressed. His clooties were too soft, because he'd under-floured them. The wheels looked like they were about to come off for poor James, who is usually so relaxed. The bananas in his banana and clove puddings with home-brewed beer got stuck in their dariole moulds. He nearly brought it back with his use of a traditional Shetland blowtorch, but Hollywood eloquently described it as having "too much of a chew".

Danny dropped a couple of her chocolate fondants all over the floor and converse trainers. "I could cry," she said, "it's ruined. It's absolutely ruined. I'm so going out". She was inconsolable despite Mel's best efforts. "I am waiting to be mauled by Paul," said Danny, under a wet brolly, "there's no way I can pull this back". Mary was sweetly reassuring to a deflated Danny, "Accidents happen, don't they? Only too often in my kitchen!" Hollywood stared at her, as if assessing how far he'd have to go before she'd burst into tears, then thought better of it, "both of them taste extremely good, but just be careful of your bake".

After a brief interlude about confectionaries, the bakers were given their second challenge: the technical round. This week's test was Queen of Puddings. "There's always a certain amount of dread that you're going to make a prat out of yourself on the technical challenge" said Brendan, speaking for all the bakers as they tried to do justice to Mary's recipe.

Queen of Puddings
Brendan excluded, the contestants struggled with making jam, making custard and making meringue: the three components of Queen of Puddings. Sarah-Jane and Danny didn't fare too badly in the end, but Ryan's meringue was a little under-whipped. Cathryn's jam was too runny but she came in third place. James' custard had been "obliterated" from over-baking. It had separated and gone watery and left him in bottom place. Brendan won the technical round again,   "sheer perfection and a joy to eat" applauded Mary. 

The final challenge of the weekend was the show stopper round. This week, strudels were on the menu. Within minutes, John was sporting a blue latex glove, having cut his finger on a Magimix blade.

Brendan's spinach, walnut and cheese strudel was achieved by rolling up his sleeves and oiling up his arms. Brendan demonstrated that he knew exactly what he was doing, but Hollywood, as is his wont, chipped in with some extra advice anyway,
"Roll it carefully, so it doesn't break and obviously keeping it moist while you do it"
Vicar's wife Sarah-Jane said she wanted her pastry to be so thin, she could read her bible through it. Hollywood, peacock feathers out, grabbed her dough and started slapping it about on her work surface. Sarah-Jane looked terrified by his grabbing, slapping, flicking and twisting, before having a go herself and getting quite into it, "ooh this is fun!". James looked on sceptically, "It's rubbish," he said, "it is utter rubbish. I mean, it's traditional so you can't slag it, but it's rubbish". Before turning to his KitchenAid, "I mean, this'll put in more power than I ever could", he said, before piercing his raisins with a hypodermic needle; probably just the nearest thing to hand, if you're a medical student. 

Sarah-Jane, keen to share her new found knowledge, got Cathryn to have a go at slapping and twisting her dough too. It was all looking good, until Cathryn's dough pinged out of her hand like a cheap rubber band and fell to the floor. "It's got green carpet in it", she said, "I'm not serving Mary Berry green carpet".  

A dizzy John's earlier Magimix injury came back into focus, as his latex glove filled with so much blood, he had a "blood glove" that leaked and dripped down his arm. Intensive care consultant, Danny, came to the rescue. John couldn't continue and had to leave the tent before his strudel was complete. And there was more drama to come,
"My strudel's got a haemorrhage! Do I mean haemorrhage? Haemorrhage or haemorrhoid?"
asked Cathryn and she wasn't the only one with leakage problems. An exhausted and sweaty James took his strudel out of the oven before it was properly brown, because it had ruptured in the middle, exposing its strawberry innards."That reminds me of John's finger earlier on" said Sue. "It's just like a mush," said Hollywood, on tasting it. 

Cathryn's strudel
Cathryn's couscous strudel was "filled with interest", Sarah-Jane's pastry wasn't thin enough and was too pale, but her filling was "lovely". Danny's strudel was perfect, helping her recover from the earlier mishaps of the day and "clever sausage", Brendan, completed his strudel with a latticed top. 

Brendan's strudel
"I feel slightly drained and hysterical after our strudel dramas", said Mel, as they all sat down to discuss who would be star baker and whose time it was to go. Brendan tipped the scales with his consistency and technical abilities and was crowned star baker for the second week running. Danny was the star of the day in my eyes, when she stopped what she was doing to come to John's bloody aid. The already hysterical Sarah-Jane broke down into full sobs when it was revealed that no one was leaving this week. I almost sobbed myself, but I had drunk three quarters of a bottle of white wine. Hollywood explained the judges decision not to give anyone the chop:
"The thing that John injured himself, it created a new president,"
he said, surprising us all. Who knew John's finger could command such power?

Next week, two contestants will go. Hollywood will be watching them like he's never watched them before. I dread to think what that will involve, but we'll have to wait until next Tuesday to find out. 

Who's baking on borrowed time and who's closer to getting crowned Bake Off King or Queen 2013?

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Great British Bake Off, Episode 5

With only eight remaining contestants, week five in the Bake Off challenge was all about pies. We saw the bakers tackle pastry on tart week, but this week their tarts needed lids. Well, most of them did anyway.

The first challenge was, as always, the signature bake and this week, they were given three hours to make a Wellington completely covered in pastry and, as specified by Hollywood, at least eight inches long. Manisha and James opted for puff pastry, despite Manisha's initial doubts: "I mean who actually makes their own puff pastry these days? No one", she said, like a teenager being told to clean her bedroom, before changing her tune within a matter of seconds, "It's actually quite enjoyable". I've said it before and I'll say it again, puff pastry isn't the feat of alchemy so many people think it is. It's just rolling and folding with a bit of chill out time in the fridge in between. 

The rest of the contestants went for rough puff, probably because it's quicker. John's nerves were close to the surface during this challenge. "Every element is a potential pitfall for me today", he said, before being given a live demo by steely eyed Hollywood. "You doing book or single?" Hollywood interrogated, inadvertently revealing his rampant hunger to show off how clever and knowledgable he is. A confused John bleated something unintelligible back, before Hollywood grabbed his pastry and demonstrated a book turn. In fairness, it was a useful tip, albeit executed with his usual self-importance. John's venison and haggis wellington, adorned with "Monarch of the Glen" style antlers, had a "great flavour" according to Hollywood, but the pastry was too thin:

"Not many layers in there. it's trying to be flaky... It's too thin. You can see how thin it is, it can't flake. It's trying to, but it can't"
Brendan pushed the boat out with his salmon coulibiac with Scandinavian pastry using Quark cheese, which proved to be a winner with the judges. Mary had never tried Quark pastry before, so found Brendan's choices "really exciting". Brendan modestly blushed with pride while the judges enthused about his "decent bake" and his "lovely colours".

Ryan looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights, having clearly had the wind well and truly sent through him last week with Hollywood's firm handshake and blunt warning to "raise your game, mate, raise your game". He was worried about the amount of moisture in his choice of ingredients for his Malaysian spiced seabass and puy lentil en croute. And he was right to be. Ryan had a "soggy bottom", but his flavour choices and presentation saved him in this round.

Sarah-Jane was in a flap from the start. "Everything is tricky about this bake. Everything", she said in a state of mild hysteria. She opted to make a traditional beef wellington with the added ingredient of Gorgonzola to shake things up a bit. Her terror seemed mainly centred on the expense of the enormous piece of beef fillet she was using and she offered this wise insight into the potential pitfalls:
"If I mess it up and make it disgusting, that'll be awful".
Luckily her wellington wasn't in the least bit disgusting. She'd have had to do something pretty extraordinarily awful to make a fillet of beef disgusting. But, it did look like a bit of a dog's dinner. Sarah-Jane had made the call not to chill her seared meat before wrapping it in pastry. Mary Berry was stunned into silence and this fateful decision caused Sarah-Jane's wellington to literally come unstuck. The pastry slid off down one side, and crestfallen SJ was left powerless to change anything as she peered, hopelessly, through the oven door. Her cheeks, flushed from panic, had a tiny tear-shaped splodge of flour on, adding to the pathos:
"I would say I don't think it could have gone much worse, but I think it could have gone worse. Well, no, at the moment, it couldn't have gone worse"
Despite her lack of soggy bottom, Hollywood wasn't a fan of Danny's chickpea, spinach and red pepper wellington:
"It needs more substance running through it. There's not much about it. I think it's missing something".
He was fooling no one with his lack of specificity, we all knew what Hollywood thought was missing from Danny's wellington: the meat. Despite his earlier claims that a wellington was all about the pastry, James' four pig pie got a massive thumbs up despite its soggy bottom, whereas Danny's pastry was perfection, but got a big thumbs down for failing to have a single pig in it. 

Cathryn's "family wellington" was also a huge hit. Probably due to the sheer force of its protein levels: basically everything Cathryn could smash and grab from the butcher's her mother works in, plus a few hard boiled eggs for good measure. Meat man Hollywood declared her giant sausage roll to be "quite impressive, that".

After a brief interlude about eels, it was time for the technical challenge: hand raised chicken, bacon and apricot pies. This was a fairly disappointing challenge as it was far too similar, in my view, to last year's pork pie challenge. Though I suppose it's a clever trick to repeat it so soon. Only the most paranoid swots think last year's exam questions will come up again this year after all. So, hot water pastry again, but this time using dollies - something every contestant struggled with:
"Why would you use a stupid thing like this these days when you can use a tin? We're not in the 1600s now, let's face it"
said John, clearly not destined for a career as a food historian. The dollies were universally hated by the bakers, "it's all about the pastry these days" said a troubled Manisha, seemingly unaware of what Bake Off week she was competing in. Sarah-Jane's yelps of excitement at having got her hot water pastry off her dolly caused Brendan to pull an incredibly pleasing, "what's that racket next door?" expression. A personal highlight of the episode.

Danny, clearly desperate for reassurance from Cathryn as they both peered at her pies through the oven door, was left wanting from this rather awkward exchange:
Danny: "Look at them, they're hideous. Absolutely hideous" 
Cathryn: "Isn't this just the most horrible challenge you've ever done in your life?" 
Danny: "Yeah... They look awful. They look absolutely awful".
Most bakers had trouble with their jelly. It slipped straight through, which, if you're anything like me, would frankly be a blessed relief. FYI Hollywood, the jelly's the gross bit everyone puts up with out of some kind of misplaced duty. Pies without jelly in, unless they are ice cream pies, are better. Fact.

The frankly overwrought contestants were left to wait overnight before they received their judgement, which leant an extra edge of hysteria to day two. Ryan summed up the general feeling in the tent:
"It's almost beyond baking now. It's not about life or death, it's about good bakes and bad bakes".
It was reassuring to see how all the bakers were managing to keep things in perspective.

The appraisals were mostly pretty awful for this round with Ryan coming last for making a pasty instead of a hand raised pie, while Cathryn came first with this glowing endorsement from Hollywood:
"It looks the closest to mine".
The final round was the show stopper, and this week the bakers were challenged to make a "lidless" sweet American pie. Now, call me old fashioned, but isn't a lidless pie just a tart? Please set me straight, my American readers, if I'm wrong, but I've always been under the impression that one of the most defining features of a pie is the fact that it has a pastry lid? Non?

Hollywood, in an attempt to curry favour with American viewers, came out with this particularly well-considered gem:
"To be honest, most of the American pies I've had before, I wouldn't go back for more"
Before showing how to lose friends and alienate people by offering this helpful piece of advice to American patisserie chefs everywhere:
"For me, to make a good American pie, you almost have to make it British"
It's nice to see the guidelines of the challenge being so clearly defined. Go and make an American tart pie! Just make sure it's British!

While the contestants were busy panicking over their pies, we were given a brief history of American apple pie - essentially created thanks to the settlers' paranoia and distrust of indigenous produce. Apparently, "it was a sign of motherhood to be able to make a good pie" and the American troops in WW2 were "fighting for mom and apple pie". Hopefully in that order.

The pies were a mixed bag. Danny fell short thanks to Hollywood's horror of hard liquor. Her inclusion of rum in her trick-or-treat pumpkin pie was her downfall, as Hollywood whined about having the taste of rum lingering round his chops and the nation were left shaking their heads in disbelief again about what exactly Hollywood has against the contestants dipping into the drinks' cabinet. 

Cathryn went "from hero to zero" with her peanut butter, squash and chocolate pie. The general consensus was that it looked beautiful but tasted unfortunate. "I don't like that at all," said Hollywood, "it's like eating a pot full of crunchy peanut butter with none of the flavour". 

Brendan's pie was everything he had promised:
"It will be big, it will be special occasion, Thanksgiving-like"
But it was Ryan's key lime pie with ginger that stole the show. Hollywood was uncharacteristically effusive in his praise, "You've absolutely nailed that. That is very special" and Mary was so taken with Ryan's pie she described it as "sheer perfection" and declared that she was planning to go home that night to bake her own version. A stunned Ryan was sweetly shocked and choked up by all the praise and his special key lime pie earned him the title of star baker, despite coming last in the technical round - an unprecedented Bake Off first.

It wasn't all plain sailing. Manisha made one too many mistakes this week and became the latest contestant to leave the Bake Off tent. She choked back her tears which brought tears to my eyes as she expressed her hopes that she hadn't disappointed her family. Even if you have, Manisha, you have delighted the nation with your humour and sweetness. 

Next week, there will be blood!

Monday, 17 September 2012

Dark and Stormy Cocktail Cupcakes

Dark and Stormy cupcakes

Cupcakes have slightly fallen out of favour in the last few years. Largely down to their over-exposure and their over-buttercreamed tops.  The Sex and the City girls made them de rigueur in the late ‘90’s and early noughties and everyone else followed suit. They were obligatory offerings at product launches, corporate events, birthday parties and weddings. Cupcakes were the bunting of five years ago and, like bunting is today, they were absolutely everywhere. But people got tired of these sweet individual treats and moved on to newer pastures. The doors were opened for macarons and cake pops, but can't we find enough room for everyone?

Lots of Brits bemoaned the rise of cupcakes, fearing they were overshadowing our lovely little fairy cakes – cupcakes' more petite cousins. I adore fairy cakes, or, better still, butterfly cakes. Barely two bites of cake (or one, if you’ve got a big gob) and you’re done. There are no sickly billowing clouds of piped buttercream to sit heavily in your tum after a fairy cake. In fact, the more I think about it, they're practically a diet food. Cupcakes, on the other hand, are for greedier days, when a single bite just won’t cut it. The days when you need to give in to pleasure with total and mischievous abandon.

Cupcakes are about convenient indulgence and the good ones really can’t be beaten. Soft, moist cake topped with a splodge not a spade’s worth of buttercream, royal icing or Italian meringue. They’re already made to be the perfect portion, so there’s no need to cut it up and get crumbs all over the floor. They come in their own little wrapper, so you won’t be left with a mountain of small plates to wash up and they come in as many flavours as your imagination can come up with. And, if you make them yourself, they don’t need to be two-thirds icing to one-third cake. Unless, of course, that’s just the way you like them.

As it’s National Cupcake Week, I thought I’d push the boat out and make a cupcake you could raise a glass to. But a glass of what? Dark and Stormy cocktails are clean, refreshing and just a little bit fiery: dark rum, hot ginger beer and a squeeze of fresh lime. Mimsy ginger ale isn’t welcome here. You want a full on ginger kick to stand up to the spiciness of the rum.  This recipe is gluten free, but it needn’t be. For a wheaty version of the sponge, simply replace the rice flour and baking powder with self-raising wheat flour.

This is a great cake for the lazy, as there’s minimal washing up and you don’t need to wait for the butter to come up to room temperature before you put your pinny on.

Dark and Stormy cupcakes

Makes 12

150g unsalted butter
100g molasses sugar
5 tbsp golden syrup
150ml whole milk
2 eggs, beaten
185g rice flour
2 level tsp baking powder (choose GF baking powder if you want to keep it gluten free)
4 tsp ground ginger
The finely grated zest of 2 limes
4 balls of stem ginger, finely chopped
A pinch of salt

For the syrup

3 tbsp ginger syrup (from the stem ginger jar)
2 tbsp rum
The juice of 1 lime

For the buttercream

100g soft, unsalted butter
200g icing sugar, sifted
A good splash of dark rum, to taste
Finely grated lime zest

Preheat the oven to 160°C (150°C Fan)/ 325°F (300°F Fan)/ Gas Mark 3

Place the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan set over a gentle. Stir until melted and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for 5 – 10 minutes. Whisk in the milk and eggs and then sift over the flour, baking powder and ground ginger. Beat with a wooden spoon until you have a smooth batter and stir in the lime zest, salt and chopped stem ginger.

Spoon the batter into a muffin tray lined with 12 cupcake cases and bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. While the cakes are baking, pop all the syrup ingredients into a saucepan over a gentle heat until the alcohol has burnt off.

When the cakes are out of the oven, stab them all over with a skewer before drizzling a little syrup over each cake.

To make the buttercream, whisk the butter until soft and sift over half the icing sugar and beat together before sifting the remaining icing sugar over the top and beating it in. Whisk in the rum to taste, this will also slightly slacken the mixture, and spread a little buttercream over each cake before sprinkling a little lime zest over their tops.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Great British Bake Off, Episode 4

Mary Berry's Crème Caramel

What's that you say? A whole Great British Bake Off episode deliciously dedicated to desserts! 


This week's Bake Off was all about pudding. Mel was off because she had to get her "electronic bracelet refitted to her ankle", which meant the ever-wonderful Sue Perkins had to fly solo.  

First up was the Signature Bake and episode 4 put tortes in the spotlight. The contestants were given 3 hours to bake and decorate their tortes, which had to be more than 20cm (8-inches) in diameter. I couldn't watch the show live this week, as I was too busy stuffing my face with half-price Spanish food with the delightful Dolly Alderton and the delicious Richard Hurst. I deliberately avoided Twitter for fear of reading this week's outcome, but looking back at the #GBBO twitter feed, I am genuinely surprised at the number of people who didn't know what a torte was and I fear, after watching this week's Bake Off, they're unlikely to be any the wiser. 

Sue declared at the beginning of the show that a torte is a wheat flour-free cake, which is indeed all right and correct, but then bafflingly she went on to say (GBBO researchers, I need a word) that a torte must be multilayered and filled with jam, mousse or cream. This is categorically not true. It can, of course, have as many layers and fillings as you wish, but multiple layers is not a defining feature of a torte. Indeed, one of the most famous tortes in the world, the Sachertorte, is a single layered chocolate cake, brushed with a thin layer of apricot jam, before being coated in chocolate ganache. There have been a few arguments about whether a Sacher should also be sandwiched with a thin jam layer, but whichever method you subscribe to, neither option could possibly be described as multilayered.  

There was also much hot air talked about how difficult a torte is to make, mostly by the V.O. and Hollywood. Rest assured, they're really not that complex. It's just a different process to a wheat flour sponge, so don't let their nonsense put you off having a go. Just don't do what we saw Stuart do and try to fold in your beaten egg whites with a wooden spoon. It's large metal spoons all the way, if you don't want to knock out all that lovely air from your whisked whites.

Danny's potato torte

Danny opted for a controversial potato flour savoy sponge, flavoured with white chocolate, lemon, elderflower and blackberries. Mary said she had only used potato flour in drop scones and Hollywood admitted to having never used the stuff at all, having always avoided it "like the plague" due to its high starch content, but, in characteristic fashion, he still had plenty to opine about it. "It's very different. And very tricky", he said, which only made it all the more joyous that Danny pulled it off and wowed the judges with her pretty potato cake.

Brendan's clementine, chestnut and lemon verbena torte

Brendan, who loves to bake for his gluten-intolerant friends, made a delicious sounding chestnut cake with lemon verbena and clementines, because, as he said, "clementines suggest citrus". I'd venture as far as to say they go further than merely suggest it, Brendan, seeing as they are, in actual fact, citrus. Brendan pulled it off and Hollywood declared that it was "a decent bake with that chestnut flour" which he claimed was "quite tricky to do". I love a cake made with chestnut flour, as you can see here. Mary said his cake was "very very pleasing" and despite Hollywood's distaste at Brendan's 1970's decoration, the cake was a big hit all round, with Sue describing it as a "flourless antidepressant". And who wouldn't benefit from a slice of that?

Sarah-Jane made an almond and chocolate torte using crushed up amaretti biscuits and almond liqueur, a dream pudding for her and her husband. It sounds like entering Bake Off has been a genuinely life changing experience for this sweet vicar's wife, as she said:

"This is the bravest thing I've ever done. But until this, getting here on the train 
by myself was the bravest thing I've ever done"

Another piece of evidence, if any were needed, that Bake Off makes the world a better place. Unfortunately the judges weren't all that impressed with her torte. Mary thought it was a touch dry and Hollywood made this extraordinary statement:

"The problem is, when you have a chocolate torte like that, 
with ground almonds, they will try and dry the thing out, 
because essentially it is quite a dry meal"

Maybe Hollywood stores his ground almonds in an open jar until they get dry and dusty like that cheap sawdust they use in schools to soak up children's vomit, but contrary to this staggering piece of nonsense he tried to pull off as accepted wisdom, ground almonds actually ADD moisture to cakes and they are certainly not in the Machiavellian business of trying to sabotage your baked goods to "try and dry the thing out".  The reason Sarah-Jane's cake was dry was almost certainly down to a simple matter of over-baking. Leave the almonds alone, Hollywood! You know not of what you speak.

James' hazelnut, chocolate and passionfruit torte

"Clever and cosy" James made a delicious sounding chocolate, hazelnut and passionfruit torte,  topped with a ring of chocolate and passionfruit truffles. It looked like a chocolate simnel cake and it certainly got both judges excited, with worldly Hollywood declaring James' inclusion of passionfruit as "fascinating". Cathryn's macadamia, white chocolate and coffee torte was "beautifully moist" and prettily decorated to look like a Mr Kipling's Bakewell tart. Manisha's almond, cherry and chocolate torte didn't fare quite so well. Delightful Mary loved the finish but thought it was a trifle dry. Hollywood thought there was too much alcohol. "It's become almost Black Forest", he said, while the nation scratched its collective head trying to work out how on earth this could be construed as a bad thing.

Stuart went for full on layers again this week (seven in total) with a Black Forest torte, including milk chocolate ganache, cherry jelly and a mirror glaze. I personally wouldn't call a mirror glaze a layer per se, but it would have been an impressive feat to achieve in the time, if everything had gone to plan. "I hope you pull it off, mate" intoned Hollywood, unconvinced. And for once, he was right to be wary. Stuart was over-ambitious for his levels of skill and the time he was given. He didn't skim his fruit so his jelly was cloudy, nothing had time to set and it looked like his mirror glaze was too hot when he poured it on his torte top. Mary sweetly commended his flavours, before adding that it looked "a little bit untidy". There was no such holding back from Hollywood. Like a Lego bull in a china shop, he sneered at Stu's efforts with this hard talking analysis: "It looks a mess". To be fair, it really did.

Stuart's Black Forest torte

Ryan looked like he was feeling the pressure this week, and burned some of his layers, "If all else fails, I'm going to booze it up and get Mary sloshed", he said. A man after my own heart. If you want to avoid Ryan's mistakes when torte-making, don't spread your cake batter out to within an inch of its life in the tin. You'll knock out all the air that you worked so hard to fold in and you'll end up with a cake with little more depth than a digestive biscuit. 

Ryan's burnt torte

In the end, Ryan's green tea opera cake looked pretty as a picture, but the flavour was too bitter for the judges. Hollywood thought white chocolate would have been more complementary, but I'm not overly keen on its nursery sweetness. I love dark chocolate with green tea cake, as long as the ganache is slightly sweetened and, best of all, flavoured with either vanilla or ginger. 

Ryan's green tea opera torte

Talking of ganache, John had terrible trouble with his, and it looked like he'd made several hundred batches by the end of the show. His cream was too hot when he poured it over his chopped chocolate, causing it to split. If you make the same mistake and find you too end up with a big, stodgy and greasy mess, all is not necessarily lost. If you have actually burnt the chocolate it's good for nowhere but the bin, but otherwise it can probably be rescued. First, try whisking it with an electric hand whisk for a couple of minutes. This can often be enough to make the ganache emulsify, but if that fails you, simply whisk in cubes of butter until you get a shiny and smooth consistency - I often find a generous slug of booze also doesn't hurt - either in the ganache or in your gob.  

John's breeze block torte

It seemed like one of those days for John, where nothing quite went to plan, but at least he didn't lose his sense of humour, "I'm going to have to work my chest for Mary, because she's not going to be impressed with my torte, I'll tell you that". John, for reasons unknown, wanted to create a torte that was either "intimidating or inviting", but Hollywood sensitively described his efforts as a "chocolate breeze block". My heart broke a little for John when he said he was "ashamed" of himself when his torte didn't quite go to planI think John will be more likely to shine in forthcoming weeks if he takes the pressure he puts on himself down a notch or two. 

Brendan's winning crème caramel

There was a brief and interesting interlude about the history of the sugar industry and the sugar tax of the nineteenth century, before the nervous contestants began their second challenge. This week's technical round gave them 2 and 3/4 hours to make crème caramels. There were the usual struggles with caramel - burnt, solidified, under-coloured - and Manisha and Stuart both opted to separate their eggs and use only the yolks for their custards; a decision that later kicked them in the pants when their crème caramels collapsed into a watery mess on their serving plates. 

Manisha/Stuart's sloppy crème caramel

Cathryn managed to smash her china ramekins in an over-zealous attempt to turn her's out, but luckily Mary and Hollywood managed to walk away unscathed from the blind tastings. No shards of china were swallowed on camera. Brendan won first place in the technical challenge with his "perfect" puddings and the judges applauded him on his "great wobble" which left Brendan blushing with pride.

Next up was the show stopper round: a four layered tower of meringues. Most of the contestants opted to make French meringue, but Sarah-Jane and James opted for slightly more complicated methods: Swiss and Italian. Hollywood aggressively interrogated James on his Italian meringue methods. "Did you boil the sugar?" he asked with frighteningly bullish inflection, which suggested it would be the act of a lunatic if he had. James managed to squeak a "yes" through a nervous smile, before Hollywood's tone took an erratic u-turn, "you did?" he replied, calmly, with a silent "good" at the end. I couldn't help but question Hollywood's credentials as any kind of meringue expert after the peculiarity of this exchange.

Sarah-Jane's meringues

Sarah-Jane made a heart-shaped tower with jam-dipped strawberries that were so big they looked like clowns' noses. Manisha divided the judges with her tiramisu layered meringue. Mary described it as a "crowning glory", while Hollywood didn't pull any punches. "Don't like it" he said, pleased with his own meanness. Sweet-toothed Hollywood thought it was too bitter while Mary conversely thought it was "plenty sweet enough" - an opinion which may have saved Manisha from the chop.

John's pavlova tower

John made a gorgeous tower of elderflower and bramble pavlovas and James' fig, chestnut, cherry and chocolate meringues left Hollywood cold. Mary thought it was "rather an exotic fruit salad within a meringue". I wasn't sure if she thought that was a good or a bad thing and I don't think she did either.

Brendan's Dacquoise

Danny and Brendan both made a beautiful dacquoise. Danny went for chocolate and chestnut mousse, layered with coffee and nut meringues, which had me pining for pudding, while Brendan opted for pear, chocolate and hazelnut dacquoise with Frangelico liqueur: one of my all time favourite boozy drinks ever. Hollywood was suspicious of Brendan's decision to make his ganache so early on, which left me questioning Hollywood again.  I couldn't help but wonder if the steely eyed judge had ever actually made a  ganache before? 

Cathryn was worried her gooseberry, almond and honey cake layered meringue might "look slightly monstrous", while Hollywood made no attempt to hide his surprise that Brendan's looked "good, actually". Ryan made a strawberry, pistachio, rose and raspberry tower fit for a 6 year old girl's birthday party. I don't think I've seen as much baby pink since Jordan and Peter Andre's wedding. 

Ryan's pink meringue

Stuart went for a 6 layered chocka blocka mocha tower. He does love his layers, that one. When pressed by the judges, Stuart couldn't quite make up his mind about how he wanted his show stopper to turn out, so Mary said what we were all thinking:

"I think it's going to be a huge surprise at the end, both for you and for us".

Brendan's show stopper

The end result failed to impress and Mary knocked points off for poor presentation, "it doesn't tempt me to see what's inside". Hollywood remarked that it was so tough to cut "you could wedge a door open with that", while Mary likened it to a "layered trifle". It didn't cut the judges' mustard and Stuart became the fourth contestant to leave the Bake Off tent. He was "gutted" but knew it was his time to go. He said, "The kids at school will give me a bit of jip for this, but hopefully they'll commend me for putting myself out there". Optimistic to the last.

Brendan was deservedly crowned star baker, while Hollywood put the wind up Ryan with a "raise your game, mate. Raise your game" coupled with an overly-firm handshake before leaving the tent.

The only question left is, who ate all the pies? We'll find out tomorrow night, and yes, you've guessed it, episode 5 is pie week.