Baking Bad: Recreating the Technical Challenges from the Great British Bake Off – Week 1: Jaffa Cakes

So the Great British Bake Off is back on our screens and in full flow (by that I mean coming up to week 3). I’m an avid fan of the bake off as well as being an amateur baker myself. You can find some of my recipes in the archives to the right if you’re interested in what I’ve done so far.

Despite all my baking I’ve never decided that I was crazy enough to attempt the rounds of the Bake Off. Yes I’ve occasionally made a few different recipes that have featured on the show, but there’s one thing that has often eluded me – the Technical Challenge. But what is a technical challenge I hear you ask? Well, allow me to show you this extract from the Bake Off’s website:

Technical Bake

This challenge separates the wheat from the chaff. Take one basic recipe, with the same ingredients and instructions, and ask our bakers to produce the finished product… sound easy? Well, any variation on the finished product will be a result of their own technical knowledge and experience – or lack of. Bakers are laid bare in this task and this is where the pressure’s really on in the bake-off.

So without further ado I’ve decided to bake each of the technical challenges from this season of the bake off and see how I do, as an amateur baker in my own tiny kitchen. Let’s get on with it!

Week One: Jaffa Cakes

First up – it’s Jaffa Cakes! Who doesn’t love a jaffa cake? Gorgeous little spongey, orangey, chocolatey packs of goodness. They are simply amazing, especially with a cup of tea (though no dunking!). If you don’t know what a jaffa cake is, then check out this brief section from the ever knowing wikipedia:

“Jaffa Cakes are biscuit-sized cakes introduced by McVitie and Price in the UK in 1927 and named after Jaffa oranges. The most common form of Jaffa Cakes are circular, 2 1⁄8 inches (54 mm) in diameter and have three layers: a Genoise sponge base, a layer of orange flavoured jelly and a coating of chocolate.”

So what does the Queen of Baking herself have to say about Jaffa Cakes? Well, this blurb comes from the start of her technical challenge recipe.

“Jaffa cakes are nowhere near as tricky to make at home as you might think.” Well, what could go wrong?  Follow Mary’s recipe here to make your own and see!

Firstly its a case of zesting an orange and adding it to some orange flavoured jelly and boiling water. So far so good, right?nothing can go wrong? Well, thats my first issue. I followed the recipe and zested what I’d consider a small orange. Turns out it was not a small orange and I ended up with far too much zest in my jelly! Still, it tasted fine, if a little pulpy – though it set fine and went into discs perfectly, as seen below.

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Next up was the sponge. I’ve made a fair few sponge cakes in my time and I’d say that I’ve gotten pretty good at it too, though I’ve never made a whisked sponge before. I was a little apprehensive, but I absolutely nailed it! I think the sponge was the best part of my Jaffa attempts! Simples!

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Now the board is set, the pieces are moving. Time to put it together and melt some chocolate. I assembled the jaffa cakes, putting the disc of jelly onto the sponge. I melted down the chocolate. And that’s when it all went to pot. Pouring with a spoon didn’t work as the hot chocolate wanted nothing about staying with the cold jelly. It disappeared down the side of the cake in a weird gloopy mess. Piping the chocolate worked a little better but still left gaps. The whole thing looked a mess. I’ve had issues with chocolate in the past when I bake and this was no exception. Guess I need to work on it before I apply myself! 😉

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Still, a quick trip to the fridge solved the problem mostly and they tasted great! Overall, I’d give myself a 4/10 for presentation and a 7/10 for taste.

But what about Mary’s judgement I hear you say? Well, I’d rate this bake as a Concerned Mary Berry.

273Stay tuned for next time – I take on biscuit week and Viennese Whirls!

Kitchen Hell: Utensils

I love spending time in the kitchen (you would never have guessed what with all the recipes I post on here…). Cooking relaxes me, it makes me happy and chills me out when I’ve had a hard day. I like to challenge myself in the kitchen too, giving myself recipes that I never thought I would be able to make and then taking a stab at it anyway. Nine times out of ten, after much air scorching profanity hard work and perseverance, the results are exactly what I wanted and I leave the kitchen feeling fulfilled, both in my cooking ability and in my belly.

So you would think that if I’m one of these people that cooks to relax, surely I love everything to do with cooking. Well, no. The kitchen can turn very quickly from my little oasis of serenity into a coliseum of abject hatred pitting hungry, angry lions against a toddler armed only with a butter knife stressful arena of irritation and annoyance. Unfortunately it only takes one thing to do this: Utensils.

I’m not going to lambast all kitchen utensils – most are generally quite useful. No, instead I’m going to list what I think are the MOST annoying, vexing, irritating, downright frustrating and pointless utensils ever created and exactly why they need to be sent to:

kitchen hell

Sieves
Does any other utensil take quite so long to wash as a sieve? Trying to get it clean is like trying to make a donkey do a Charleston. It won’t work but even if it did no one would ever believe you anyway. Other than this issue, I’ve got nothing against sieves, but my hatred for washing them up is enough by far to force them into Hell with no remorse. Goodbye you messy devils.

Tea Strainers
See ‘Sieves’. Enough said.

Graters
I have lost count of the amount of times I’ll be absent mindedly grating something and then BAM I manage to grate my fingers into the same pile as the rest of my food. You might say that this could be solved by me paying more attention when I grate, but I have managed to do it even when fully concentrating, on that last bit of cheese/carrot/etc that tricks you into thinking it’s large enough to grate. I don’t know if you’ve ever done it yourselves but its akin to someone rubbing you down with sandpaper after a relaxing full body massage.

Whisks
I hate whisks purely because I can’t find one in the size I want that isn’t silicone. It’s been two years and it’s still driving me nuts.

Paring Knives
Living as I do on a student budget, it is impossible to afford a top of the line knife block with a paring knife that is halfway decent. Unfortunately my paring knife is too short to be of any use, I mean it slices perfectly fine and doesn’t need sharpening but it’s just too small to be used on most of the veg I buy. It’s a shame really but I don’t really need a “button mushroom knife”…

Now in the immortal words of Gandalf the White: “Send these foul beasts into the ABYSS!”

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It was too much for Gandalf to bear when he was asked to clean ALL the sieves in Minas Tirith

 

Are there any useless utensils that you think I’ve missed? Do any more deserve to go into KITCHEN HELL? Do you think any of mine should come out of the abyss? Leave a comment and let me know!

Recipe: Apple Turnovers

One of the modules that I’m taking this year features some of the best friends I’ve made from my course whilst at uni. We all bonded during the previous years modules and they’re a solid bunch. The best thing is that they love baking almost as much as I do, so much so that every now and then one of us will bake something and bring it in for everybody to enjoy – even our lecturer! Ever since this little ‘tradition’ of ours started, I have been pestered by one particular member of the group to make apple turnovers. This relentless pestering went on and on throughout the term until finally, in the last lecture of 2012, I turned up with a box full of turnovers.

Apple Turnovers:Makes 6

Appleturnovers1Ingredients:25g butter
3 medium sized Bramley apples
75g golden caster sugar
1 egg
4tsp cinnamon
2tsp brown sugar
1 shot water
375g puff pastry

Method:
Preheat the oven to Gas mark 6 (200 degrees C)
Peel and chop the apples into small chunks.
Melt the butter in a saucepan and add in the apples, cinnamon, brown sugar and water.  Heat gently until the apples soften, roughly 5-10 minutes.
Flour the surface and roll out the puff pastry to around half the thickness of a pound coin.
Cut the pastry into 6 equal squares, being careful to remove ragged edges.
Place 1tbsp of the softened apple mixture into the middle of each square and sprinkle over some of the golden caster sugar, before brushing the edges of the pastry square with water.
Fold the pastry squares in half, corner to corner, to form a triangle. Press down the edges and prick a small hole in the centre to allow steam to escape.
Line a baking tray with baking paper and transfer the turnovers onto it.
Brush each turnover liberally with the egg and pour the rest of the sugar over the tops.
Whack the tray in the oven and bake for around 20 minutes until puffed up and golden brown.
Remove and allow to cool for 5 minutes before eating.

And that’s all there is to it! Before baking these I was a bit nervous as I’d never even thought about making them before. Still, it turned out to be really simple and of course you can experiment with all the different flavours, though I’m always going to be a fan of brown sugar and cinnamon, giving that slightly caramelized, slightly spicy taste. Why limit yourself to just apples either?!

 

Student Survival: Recipe: Simple Soup

Dr. Egon Spengler: I have a radical idea. The door swings both ways, we could reverse the particle flow through the gate.
Dr. Peter Venkman: How?
Dr. Egon Spengler: [hesitates] We’ll cross the streams.
Dr. Peter Venkman: ‘Scuse me Egon? You said crossing the streams was bad!
Dr Ray Stantz: Cross the streams…
Dr. Peter Venkman: You’re gonna endanger us, you’re gonna endanger our client – the nice lady, who paid us in advance, before she became a dog…
Dr. Egon Spengler: Not necessarily. There’s definitely a *very slim* chance we’ll survive.
[pause while they consider this]
Dr. Peter Venkman: [slaps Ray] I love this plan! I’m excited to be a part of it! LET’S DO IT!

Yes it’s time for the second instalment of Student Survival Recipes! This time, since the days are getting darker and the weather is getting colder, I thought I would offer up a quick and easy lunch that is still pretty dang healthy! All it takes is a little bit of preparation and you can have quite a few days worth from this one cooking session! Break out the Tupperware and lets get started!

Simple Leek and Potato Soup
Makes 4 servings

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Ingredients
2 leeks
4-6 medium potatoes
1 1/2 pints of boiling water
1 vegetable stock cube
Salt
Pepper
Paprika

Method
Thinly slice the leeks and add to a saucepan to soften.
Peel and chop the potatoes into small pieces then add to the leeks.
Fry for 5-10 minutes until slightly softened.
Add the stock cube to the water and stir until completely dissolved.
Pour the stock into the saucepan with the leek and potatoes and cover.
Simmer for 30 minutes.
There are now two ways that you can continue, depending on personal preference and equipment on hand
EITHER:
Take off of the heat and use a hand blender to blend the vegetables and stock into a thick and creamy mixture,
OR
Use a potato masher to smash up the larger chunks, turning the soup into a chunky broth.
Season with salt, pepper and paprika to taste.
Serve, store and enjoy!

How easy was that!!? There will be a few more of these kinds of posts over the coming months as quite a few people have told me that they “can’t cook anything decent”. If you have any requests, feel free to email them in using the contact details on my profile or leave them in comments!

Student Survival: Recipe: Speedy Beef Stroganoff

Egon Spengler: There’s something very important I forgot to tell you.
Peter Venkman: What?
Spengler: Don’t cross the streams.
Venkman: Why?
Spengler: It would be bad.
Venkman: I’m fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, “bad”?
Spengler: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.
Ray Stantz: Total protonic reversal.
Venkman: Right. That’s bad. Okay. All right. Important safety tip. Thanks, Egon.

That’s right, today I am going to completely disregard and flaunt the most important rule of Ghost busting. I am going to cross the streams! Unfortunately I don’t own a proton pack (I can imagine that I wouldn’t get anything done if i did have one…) so the streams that I’ll be crossing will be purely blog based. It’s time to mix student life with cooking, in an attempt to keep your diets fresh, your lifestyles healthy and your wallets full!

This meal is a personal favourite of mine as it is cheap, quick, simple and super tasty! It really fills you up and can be pretty warming on these sharp autumn evenings!

Speedy Beef Stroganoff
Number of servings: 2

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Ingredients
1/2 red onion
6 medium mushrooms
250g beef mince
1/2 tub of soured cream
200ml beef stock
2tbsp paprika
1tsp back pepper
2/3 mug of rice per person

Method
Fry the onions until starting to colour
Add in the mushrooms and fry for a few minutes until beginning to brown
Add the mince and cook for 5-10 mins until completely browned
Put rice on to boil for 10-15 minutes
Stir in soured cream and coat mixture in it
Add paprika and pepper and mix well
Stir in beef stock and simmer for 10 mins.
Drain rice and serve with stroganoff

Recipe: Plaited Loaf

Somedays when I go to write a blog it seems like I’m only writing this thing for all the dough… No, that’s not a clever way to reference that I’m making money through this blog (lets be honest, I don’t think that I’d ever become that popular what with my ridiculous rants…), but it is a cunning pun which allows me to awkwardly segue into today’s recipe post! Bread!

Yes, once again I have been watching GBBO (see the Muffin recipe to learn about the initialism (it’s not an acronym before you start! Acronyms are pronounceable!) if you don’t know what I’m talking about! Anyway, one of the challenges the bakers faced this week was to bake an Eight Strand Plaited Loaf of bread, according to the recipe handed out by one of the Judges, Paul Hollywood. I had some spare time on Friday, so I thought that I would give it a try and it is a fantastic looking loaf, if I do say so myself! Here is a recipe for you so that you can impress your friends with an…

Eight Strand Plaited Loaf!

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Ingredients
500g strong white bread flour
2 x 7g sachet of fast action dried yeast
10g salt
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
340ml water
1 egg
Flour for dusting

Method
Put the flour into a mixing bowl and add the yeast on one side and the salt on other. Stir the ingredients together.

Add the olive oil and 3/4 of the water and mix together by hand. Then add the remaining water.

Turn the dough out and knead until silky and smooth looking – about 10 mins.

Put the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave to prove and rise for about an hour.

    OPTIONAL STEP: Have a nice cup of tea!

Turn the dough out and knead for a few minutes. Separate the dough into 8strands of equal size, 16 inches long and roll into sausage shapes.

Fan the strands out from a central point at the top, like an octopus and stick the tops of the strands together, and then onto to the work surface. Now comes the tricky part.

Plait the dough. Follow this plan:

Label the strands 1 to 8, from left to right. Each time you move a strand, it will take the number of its new position in the row of strands.
Step 1: place 8 under 7 and over 1. Step 2: place 8 over 5. Step 3: place 2 under 3 and over 8. Step 4: place 1 over 4. Step 5: place 7 under 6 and over 1. Repeat steps 2 to 5 until all dough is braided.

The full recipe and plaiting guide can be found here: Full Recipe

Tuck both ends of the dough underneath to make it look nice and place on a floured baking tray before leaving to prove again, for another hour.

    OPTIONAL STEP: Have more tea!

Beat the egg and brush it over the loaf so that it bakes a nice golden brown colour.

Place the tray into a preheated oven at Gas Mark 5 (200 degrees) and bake for 20 – 30 minutes.

That’s it! Pretty simple huh! Check out the full recipe, linked above, to see videos on how to knead and knock back the bread if you’re unsure, and you can even find tonnes more recipes from the Bake Off!

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Recipe: Stud Muffins

‘The Great British Bake Off’ started again this week! In case you don’t know, it’s an amazing TV show which takes 12 amateur bakers and pits them against each other to see who is the best baker. Like all good head to head shows, someone is booted out by the judges for failing to impress with the bakes that they’ve produced that week and so the show goes until the final when the Master Baker is pronounced the winner. This is TV at its finest, Masterchef for only baked goods! Needless to say, if you’re free Tuesday Nights at 8pm UK time, you need to watch this.

In case you haven’t been reading my blog long, or you have been and you are thoroughly unperceptive, you might not know that I LOVE cooking. Any kind of food, any course, any cuisine I just like to cook. My real passion in cooking though, is baking. Cakes are a particular speciality of mine, and combined with my housemate, we’ve made a few impressive looking birthday cakes for friends (not to blow our own trumpets here but these cakes are pretty doggone awesome). Unfortunately, one baking fad that I’ve never really got into has been cupcakes. If you go anywhere on the Internet that has anything to do with baking at all, you’ll see someone that has made a cupcake. Now these cupcakes can just be regular, plain run of the mill iced cupcakes, but more often than not they’ll be some pretty amazing pieces of baked artwork. In contrast to some of these fantastically beautiful cupcake creations, I’m going to share a recipe for the cupcakes ugly cousin. Today, we’re making…

    Double Chocolate Chip Muffins!

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Ingredients:

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250g self raising flour
25g cocoa powder
2tsp baking powder
170g caster sugar
1/2 pack chocolate chips
175ml milk
2 eggs
100ml sunflower oil
1 – 2 tsp vanilla extract

Method:

Mix all the dry ingredients together into a bowl and stir them to combine.

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Add in the eggs, milk, vanilla and oil and fold them into the mixture until everything is combined.

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Spoon the mixture into muffin cases and place on a tray (paper muffin cases are fine, but we have reusable silicone ones).

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Place the muffins into a hot oven for 10 minutes, then turn them and put them back in for another 6 minutes.

Whip the muffins out of the oven and make sure that they have risen properly.

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Remove the muffins from the case if you’re using silicone cases or they’ll sweat!

Enjoy them!

They’re really easy to make and absolutely delicious, so why not show some love for the less attractive sibling of the cupcake and make a batch of your own muffins and share them in the comments!