Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Great British Bake-Off

I've been desperately clutching at straws to find an excuse to write about The Great British Bake-Off because, well, it's really all I'm watching at the moment. I love it. I am obsessed by it. And I know I am not alone. I wake up every Wednesday morning already excited about that evening's episode. (I'm sorry, but I have a young child and I take life's small pleasures whenever I can.) Usually, I want to eat everything they make (apart from the lavender meringue), though rarely believe I could attempt anything remotely similar. Nonetheless, I suck up all of Mary Berry's careful baking advice. And I have learned not to let Paul Hollywood's smugness wind me up any more. And while Mel and Sue's banter is getting ever more ridiculous, it's still making me snigger. As does Jo Brand's Extra Slice on a Friday night.
I don't think this sort of thing is allowed

But The Great British Bake-Off didn't really fit in with the required "travel memory" aspect of my blog. For starters, this series the tent has unhelpfully moved location to Welford Park in Berkshire. I have been on a few visits to Berkshire - and while these were generally confined to the M4 or the First Great Western railway, they include six to Windsor and Eton, two to Reading, and even one to Slough, but none to anywhere near Welford Park.

But my grandmother in Grasmere did once make us a Baked Alaska. I remember the day-long build-up to it being much more exciting than the end product. And not long ago, my friend Clare made Ryan's famous Key Lime Pie for Sunday lunch, and it was indeed as divine as Paul and Mary had claimed. But these links were all rather tenuous.

Then finally, last night during European Cakes Week, Sue got drunk on cake in South Jutland, Denmark and I thought, "I did that once at an 18th birthday party" (though the drunkenness in my case was all barbed-wire schnaps and not cake), and I was good to go.

So where were we last night? Bereft of Norman's dourness, we have been left with a mighty six of baking ingenuity: Luis, lovable Manc who always makes simply beautiful food. Martha, who has been on far too many skiing holidays for someone her age and is obviously at some sort of Swiss finishing school run by Betty's of Harrogate. Chetna, who has an annoying manner with a kitchen timer. Nancy, who is as down to earth as they come and dismisses Paul as "the male judge". Richard, who with his pencil still behind his ear is starting to show more typical British builder traits of unreliability. And finally Kate, last week's star baker, with her perfect curls and dreamy air. My husband said right at the start that none of them would be going home.
And what would "the male judge" say about this?

This week, everybody seems to be talking about winging it, even Martha, who is busy revising for exams. Nancy talks about her relevant experience and training - "I've had lots of European holidays, and I've probably eaten lots of cake, but not thought about how they're made or what they're called." Mel and Sue are simply talking in dodgy accents.

First up is a yeast-leavened cake. Lots of gigantic zig-zaggy tins are wielded. Mel says one looks like a piles cushion. German dialectal variation or just badly consistent spelling is in evidence in cake name captions. Nancy decides to bypass Europe entirely and go with a Caribbean theme somewhere along the lines of a Del Boy in Peckham pina colada. Kate is making an Israeli inspired cake, which she thinks is allowed because Israel takes part in Eurovision.

Then the technical challenge. Mary Berry's Swedish Princess Cake. It looks amazing. There is jam, creme patissiere, whipped cream, genoese sponge, more whipped cream, green marzipan, chocolate piping and a dainty rose on top. Thankfully, I've learned today that they serve them in the IKEA cafe, so I will be off to Batley shortly to buy one.

Then the showstopper, a Hungarian dobos torte, which involved dozens of stripey layers of sponge and ganache and ridiculous amounts of caramel artwork on top. Or that is the remit, anyway. Martha uses a mould to make chess pieces. Mary tuts. And Kate, because she felt that a two tiered cake looked too much "like a hat", decides to make an extra tier, which means she only has time to caramelise a few pistachios, which just simply isn't good enough, apparently. Whereas Richard's "bird", cut in inch-thick crude-cut toffee, gives him plenty of caramel, but looks like I'd made it. Meanwhile, Chetna is busy caramelising grapes. And masterful Luis makes a Hungarian style castle cage on a hill and still has about 20 minutes left to spare at the finish. He is shown calmly wiping down his work surface while all frantic hell breaks loose around him. "It's spectacular. It's what I call a showstopper," says Mary about the end result. Too right. "Sorry about destroying it," says Paul, merrily carving straight through with a giant knife.

There is no doubt that Kate and Richard have ballsed up. Richard's is the second cake of the day to be described as "sad". But Mary and the male judge can't decide which of Richard and Kate has ballsed up more. When really they can both be brilliant. I had hoped to see previously unseen footage of this heated debate on An Extra Slice on Friday night. But there was none. Maybe the battle was just too bloody. In any case, all six contestants get to live another day. A pasty day. David Cameron will be excited. Chetna's caramelised grapes leave her crowned star baker, even if she did commit the crime of making a Victoria rather than a Genoese sponge for her showstopper. Which must be up there with a soggy bottom, surely?

The cakes I gorged that day all those years ago in Denmark still linger in my memory. One involved layers of raspberry mousse between delicate slices of sponge, with little Danish flags on top. The other was small rectangles of perfect coconut sponge and with a sticky caramel topping.  So a good hint of the challenges on last night's Bake Off in both. And both absolutely ruined by those shots of Aalborg Akvavit.

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