As the 2015 Great British Bake Off BBC series was starting, I felt a jolt of inspiration again towards baking. I hadn’t baked for a while and the thought of getting messy in the kitchen again as I created beautiful bakes was fun.
I’ve made cupcakes. In fact I’ve made some damn fine cupcakes in my time. So good in fact, Ionce had a friend who wanted to open a bakery with me. Yep. That good. Which lead me to the catastrophically wrong belief that “baking’s not so hard”.
With this – let’s call it – arrogance, I thought I could easily do whatever the bakers did in the tent. They had the pressure of being in the tent after all; I only had my own kitchen and nobody judging me (ignoring Mr ‘I like it as long as it’s plain’ Tiller, and work folk. I could follow along with the contestants bakes and maybe learn a few more techniques to add to my baking repertoire of…just cupcakes really.
I’ll let you into a little secret, my husband has a nickname for me. A nickname purely used in times when any kind of cooking or baking is involved. The nickname? Susan. Sweet, huh? What, you don’t get it? Just watch the first ten seconds of either of these clips from the BBC series My Family and you’ll get the idea (her name’s Susan btw).
Dan’s first question after I’ve (lovingly, I might add) cooked up some magic in the kitchen, is – ‘so what have you added this time that you shouldn’t?’ Which isn’t an entirely unfair question. I do have a habit of taking my eye off the recipe and adding something/anything that I come across in my cupboard. After all, that is how great discoveries are made! Doesn’t always work but sometimes it does. Regardless of the triumphant times, I get this question – every time I am in the kitchen.
Anyway, now you understand a bit more about my baking/cooking abilities, I can get into the Bake Off’s as they happened, week-by-week. For those who don’t know what The Great British Bake Off is, it’s an anomaly. It is a BBC reality TV show filled with tension, drama, hiding behind your hands moments, those ‘YES! COME ON!’ screaming at the TV moments, and plenty of suspense. What’s it about, you ask? No word of a lie, it’s a competition show about baking. AND IT IS THE BEST SHOW ON EARTH – FULL STOP!
I only discovered it last year. This fact makes me incredibly sad, since the programme was going for about three years prior. That’s three series’ of this incredible show with its happiness inducing powers, that I missed. I am not kidding, The Great British Bake Off, makes me so unbelievably happy in a giddy child-like way, that I wish everyone could watch it and love it just as much. But this blog post will be never ending if I don’t leave it there and get on with the rest of the post.
So. For the first episode I wanted to make sure I had my own nice bit of cake to eat whilst watching it, otherwise I’d just sit there watching and wishing I had some, this would solve that problem head on.
Week one – The First Show
At the end of the show it gave a preview of what was coming up in the next week’s episode – this gave me a great idea! I could bake something that would fit with the show week-on-week! I’d be actively involved with the show in my own way and I’d learn more about baking along the way. This could not fail!
Week two – Biscuit Week
I decided to use a biscuit recipe I’d had success with before, viennese whirls, but because I knew this was a fail-safe recipe I decided to make it a bit harder for myself by making the jam for them too. I’d never made jam before so this was a big thing for me. I made nectarine jam (as I had a load of nectarines that were about to go off) and it turned out really nice! I’d have made the chunks smaller if I’d have realised they wouldn’t go down to mush of their own accord but apart from that it’s a good tasting jam – which I am still enjoying.
Week three – Bread Week
In the post about my nectarine jam I asked for suggestions of what I could easily make for the upcoming bread week. Mickeytbull kindly suggested focaccia bread. I found a recipe for it online and still not content with just making the bread I also decided to make a lasagne. Why I do these things to myself – I will never know.
Week four – Pudding Week
Pudding week, and one of the tasks on the show was a round in cheesecake making! This was the start of my downfall. I started out making a pastry encased cheesecake, but when the pastry shrank, I crumbled it up and made it into a normal looking cheesecake with a biscuit base (apart from it was pastry at the bottom). The recipe I used, was massive! So I halved all the ingredients…forgetting to also halve the cooking time…basically it ended up being a super hard way of making scrambled egg. Next week’s would be better, I could feel it!
Week five – Alternative Ingredients Week
The next week’s was not any better. I made a cake from cornflour, honey and eggs. It took FOREVER to cook, and was tasteless. I wanted to save it with icing – which would then negate using honey instead of sugar – but desperate times and all that; but I didn’t have any icing anyway, so it was just a disaster from start to finish. Let’s move on.
Week six – Pastry Week
I’d already attempted pastry in week four so thought – perhaps this time it will turn out better. No. Just no. I don’t know what went wrong but they would not hold their shape of love nor money. They just crumbled into a very messy heap. A nice tasting heap of pastry, rhubarb and apple, but not easily eaten.
Week seven – Victorian Week
I knew this was going to be hard. The Victorians didn’t do things by halves, especially not with their lavish cooking. I needed to find something fairly simple and easy to do to restore a bit of faith in myself. It was not to be found in Victorian Week. I chose a cider cake recipe, which, yet again, turned out I didn’t have all the ingredients for – so I compromised! I had no cider but found a bottle of wine in the cupboard – that’ll do. I had no raising agent or self-raising flour; plain flour will do! You get the picture. Well, it didn’t work. I did try this again when I had more of the right ingredients but still used the wine (it was a full bottle – I wasn’t going to throw it) and took it with us on our trip to Swanage, but still no one wanted to try any. Sad really. It didn’t work as cake at all – it worked best as toast, as toast it was delightful, even when I professed this – still no one wanted to try any. We did however try the wine that I used…oh dear lord – it was awful stuff! I am going to try and perfect this recipe but will definitely first find a nice beverage to use in it.
Week eight – Patisserie Week
This is the week that finally broke me. Broke me. I turned into a hysterical laughing lunatic, convinced that there was some conspiracy to break my spirit – well it worked! They won! Lorraine Pascal and her Macarons were the straw that broke the camel’s back. These were so bad I even sent a photo of them in to Extra Slice with Jo Brand so they could have a laugh at them on the show, but they weren’t even good enough for that. What a blow.
Week nine – Chocolate Week
I took it right back to basics for Chocolate Week. I was visiting my brother-in-law at his new uni flat and thought I’d make him some simple muffins. Just muffins. But I was terrified! Honestly, I was so nervous about making these – I was convinced something was going to go wrong and they were going to be a disaster. I was almost on the verge of tears at one stage. I thought, if these don’t work, I will never bake again! But apart from being a little bit dry – in my opinion – they turned out alright. Phew! I lived to bake another day.
Week ten – The Final
For the final, I didn’t want to stray too far into the dark side of baking again, so I kept it simple with a chocolate and potato cake. Yes potato. Apparently this is a weird thing to do, but it’s what the recipe called for – what do you want from me? Dan was determined not to like it – before he’d even tried it he put out into his twitterverse about his ‘weirdo wife’ making up recipes again. Then he tried it. IN HIS FACE – he liked it! But I’m still waiting for that apology.
And there we have it, my Bake Off’s week-by-week. A sad bunch, eh? So, what can I add to my baking repertoire after these ten intensive weeks? Nothing. Absolutely bloody nothing. What have I learnt from this experiment? That baking, and cooking in general, is a science. How ingredients work together and react differently with different ingredients – is a type of magic that I do not understand, and sadly don’t think I ever will.But I will persevere in the upcoming cold months when cooking and baking is a comforting pastime, and hopefully learn a thing or two more about it all.
Anyone know any good techniques for improving baking or cooking skills? Or is there anyone who feels my pain and is simply terrible in the kitchen too?
Thank you for reading, and sorry it’s was so long! I’ll try to keep the next one shorter.
Until next time.
P.S. I have done some more baking! I made this potato and leek pie. It won’t win any beauty competitions, took me hours to make and wasn’t cooked enough when we ate it – but apart from that it was great! An improvement I’d say.