Monday, 17 August 2015

Great British Bake Off Challenge - Week 2; Arlette Biscuits

It amazes me every year how they manage to come up with different technical challenges to bake - and every year I think I know each one but rarely do! The Arlette biscuit from last week's show is not something I've ever come across but being a lover of cinnamon swirls and always up for a pastry related challenge I decided that I would try the blind technical challenge.

Luckily for me, the official GBBO website has the full website with complete instructions on so I don't have to guess at timings, quantities or method! Which is great because this is a strangely complicated recipe that requires hours to do. I'm not exaggerating - from weighing my first ingredients out to having a finished product cooked it took over 4 hours. You can make these using store bought puff pastry which would speed the process up but where's the fun in that? 

However - they are completely worth the effort.

They're not quite what I'd call a biscuit, more of a pastry to me, but they are absolutely yummy and I would definitely make them again. I'd probably make them from scratch again; it is a lovely feeling to know that you've put all the effort in. I did run into a couple of butter related issues but overall they seem to have turned out ok! I doubled the recipe so I ended up with 16 decent sized biscuits. 

I learnt a few of things along the way - 

1) Don't rush the chill times. Equally, don't overchill. My pastry was fine but my butter layer cracked when I tried to incorporate it. I'm not sure if this is because I overchilled it (I chilled it for nearly an hour rather than half an hour as it still felt squidgy) or because I underchilled it but it meant that I had to attempt to incorporate squidgy butter into hard pastry... In the end I dolloped as much underneath and on top as I could and rewrapped it in clingfilm. This made it easier to get the butter into the pastry. Arguably this has affected the end result, as puff pastry puffs from the butter in between the pastry layers.

2) Turn them in the middle of the cooking time. I often neglect to do this with other biscuits but it really makes a difference with these; if you don't turn them then the bottom sugar/cinnamon combination will probably catch and burn. Turning them ensures a nice colour all around.

3) Don't skimp on the sugar and cinnamon mixture. It looks like a lot to go in but if you skimp then you'll end up with quite bland puff pastry that doesn't really resemble a biscuit in any way.

4) Roll the pastry as tight as you can at the penultimate stage. A loose roll will mean that it's harder to cut your biscuits and they will not make a 'whole' biscuit when they're baked.

5) Using a small rolling pin is easier than a large one when you're rolling out the rounds prior to baking. Aim for as thin as you can get - the thinner they are, the better the taste. 

Yes, it's a four hour effort. But you're actually only working on these every 30 - 45 minutes and only for five to ten minutes at the time. Set aside a morning and get them done! 

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Great British Bake Off Challenge - Week 1; Madeira Cake

This year I am challenging myself to make at least one bake from the British TV show, The Great British Bake Off. GBBO is hands down my favourite annual TV event (the Rugby Six Nations comes a close second) and every year I loudly shout about how I'm going to make some of the recipes... but I never do.

Not this year. This year I will hold my word.

I have decided - nay, promised - that I will make at least one of the bakes from the show each week.

The first episode of the 2015 series saw the new bakers tackle Madeira cake, whip out a Walnut cake, and finish up with decadent Black Forest Gateaux. All three are bakes I would love to make and consume as they're among my favourite baked goods (BFG... unffff) but in the interest of ease, creativity and intrigue I've opted for a Madeira sponge.

I've never made a Madeira before, which is largely why I chose it for my first GBBO challenge, but equally as I really wanted to try candied peel. What can I say? I'm an overachiever.

I ended up making two; one to take into work with me and one to devour with my family. This was irrefutably a good plan as there's now just half of the second one left even though they only came out of the oven 2 hours ago...

Hows that crumb looking? Sadly this one came out a little overcooked on the sides and top but the inside is still fairly moist and has a lovely vanilla and lemon flavour. The recipe I used (see below) called for almond extract but in it's absence I used vanilla. It's a fairly close textured cake but I feel it would probably come under a fair bit of scrutiny from Mr Hollywood!

I'm pleasantly pleased with how the candided peel/orange slices came out. I used to the left over syrup on top of both of the cakes and found I had just enough to drizzle. Nice. It was a lot simpler to make than I thought it would be as well - the first recipe I found suggested it would take over 3 hours to make; mine took 35 minutes.

Hopefully this one will be appreciated tomorrow!

Madeira Cake recipe

Adapted from I'd Much Rather Bake Than...

  • 175g butter, room temperature
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs, room temperature, cracked and whisked
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 150g self raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 75g ground almonds
  • Splash of milk
Cream the butter for around 5 minutes with a hand mixer until it's very soft and creamy. It should go a lot lighter; almost white. 

Slowly add in the sugar, whilst still using the mixer. Keep mixing it for another 5 or so minutes - your aim is to completely combine the sugar and butter into a creamy paste. 

Combine the eggs and vanilla extract in a jug and add slowly to the mix in stages. Keep mixing as you add. For the first few glugs the mixture will start to thicken but by the last it should have started to release again. 

Sift in the flour, baking powder and almonds in two parts. Be sure not to get any almond lumps or 'debris' in the mix. Fold this in using a metal spoon. You've added a lot of air in the previous three stages, now you're folding in the dry ingredients gently to keep that air there! 

Splash the milk in so that the mixture releases a little more. It should be fairly runny. Turn the mix into either a lined loaf tin or a lined and greased round tin.

Bake for 30 - 45 minutes at 150oC, keeping an eye on the top. You should get a crack down the middle but be careful not to let the colour go too dark. If it's starting to catch then cover the cake with tin foil and return to the oven. I put a cake tin with water in at the bottom of my oven to generate some steam; which I think helped. I will have to try without and compare the two!

The cake is done when a skewer comes out cleanly. Leave it in the tin for ten minutes and then turn it out. 

If you're using syrup, poke some holes in the cake with a toothpick and drizzle the syrup when the cake is out of the tin.

Candied Peel Recipe

  • 1 large orange 
  • 1 1/2 cups of water
  • 1/2 cup of granulated sugar
Either slice the orange thinly or remove the peel in thin chunks and lines using a sharp knife. Set aside. 

Put the water and sugar in a saucepan and stir; bring to the boil. 

Once boiling, add the orange pieces or peel. Simmer for 20 - 25 minutes until the syrup has thickened and the fruit has gone translucent. Remove from the pan and place on greaseproof paper to cool. Drizzle the remaining syrup over the cake and place the orange pieces/peel on decoratively.

If you're making candied peel, be very careful as sugar water gets very hot and it sticks if it touches your skin! 

Next week it's biscuits - another enjoyable thing to bake!