Tag Archives: Great British Bake Off

Excuse Me, It’s Baking Time

11 Aug

Apple & Oat Muffins

In the US, we get new seasons of “The Great British Bake Off” a long time after they air in Britain, which means a couple things:

  1. I spend weeks ignoring the “GBBO Bakers: Where are they now?” articles my British friend Angcha sends me because she’s already seen them.
  2. I have bursts of binge baking, which during summer is not the best idea.

The binge baking is good for my friends though–a few years ago for Christmas, I started giving friends empty mason jars. The deal is that I fill them with a recipe I’ve been wanting to try. They eat it and give it back. I refill them throughout the year–usually this is randomly, and sometimes I go for months without doing anything, but then Bake Off is on, and out come the baking tins and GBBO-related cookbooks. It’s a decent system though–the jar method of sharing certainly makes it easier on my waistline, and it’s fun to share the bakes.

Over the last few weeks I’ve made my first tart, done my first blind-bake of a pastry crust and made English muffins. Last night I did my first hot water crust and put together my first meat pie (we’ll find out tonight if it’s any good). Today I’m attempting meringue for the first time as well.

Some friends have asked if I’d ever want to be on a Bake-Off show, but honestly, I’d be petrified. I’ve been a “tried and true recipe” kind of baker. When I make cookies, it’s pretty much just chocolate chip. For bread, I stick to pretzel. For cake, I use the Boy’s vegan chocolate cake recipe, which is plenty tasty and gets around a lot of allergies. It’s not that I don’t mind trying new things–I ventured out into whoopie pies, for instance, but even then, I haven’t ventured into the pages of the whoopie pie cookbook I got as a gift. Yet.

While it’s easier to stay with the tried and true, sometimes they become tired and true (which, incidentally, is how I typed it at first). Sure, I know how to do them well, but it really is exciting to attempt a new recipe–which, even if it fails, is fun because then the challenge is figuring out where it went wrong and correcting those mistakes.

So, maybe I would do Bake-Off someday, given the chance. Just not today–I have a lot more to learn before I’d consider myself an all-around Star Baker. And that starts right now with Italian meringue.

Looking for a Lovely Bake

20 Jan

On the Internet, cooking and baking blogs seem to lean toward either extreme:

I am a fabulous home cook, and let me show you every perfect step along the way


Look how dumb I am, and my recipe hilariously didn’t turn out anything like it was supposed to

I’m not opposed to either version. Cooking can be difficult, and I too look to plenty of amateur cooks to help me get dinner on the table on a regular basis. I also take comfort in the food fails, because, well, not everything goes well on the first attempt, and it’s good to be able to look away from the perfect amateurs and take solace in those who’ve also made their kitchens explode.

Perhaps that’s why I love “The Great British Bake-Off (or “Baking Show,” as it’s called in the US). I’m watching the desserts episode as I write this (a friend is imploring me to catch up), and because these amateur bakers get challenges thrown at them that come with minimal instruction (Make this Mary Berry recipe to the T. Oh, and the recipe doesn’t give you much to go on. See you in two hours. Tootle-Loo!), you get contestants who say–and I quote–“How the hell are you supposed to cut that horizontally?” You get to hold your breath along with the contestants to see if their puddings self-sauce. You get to see several different interpretations of one recipe and see where it goes right and wrong. And you get to watch contestants make a cake, only to realize they seriously fucked up mixing it, and they throw it into the trash and start all over.

This is kind of how I felt this weekend, when I tried making Norman’s Farthing Biscuits. On the biscuit show, they sounded easy–just flour, butter and lard. Nothing to it!

Right. I’ve never worked with lard before, so I’m not sure what to expect.

The recipe is a little lacking in that it doesn’t tell you how much time the recipe should take, other than baking time. Knowing how long various steps should take would be helpful in preventing the internal freak-out of wondering when the hell the ingredients would crumb together, like so:


And then you stir in enough water to form a dough and form it into a ball. Or four.


I somehow cobbled these together in one ball and chilled it according to the recipe. Then you have to roll it out “slightly thinner than the thickness of a pound coin” and stamp out round crackers. Several issues with this. I present Exhibit 1:


The cobbled together dough crumbled and made tons of scraps. You’re supposed to roll out the dough, cut the biscuits, then combine all the scraps together and repeat. Heh! I rolled, cut, then piled up the scraps until I finally tossed them out. Also notice the star-shaped cookie cutter. Yep, I realized I don’t have a round cutter, so star shapes it was (which, to be honest, turned out to be a cool mistake).

Now for Exhibit 2:



This picture is post-bake, but one of these has be be slightly thicker than a pound coin. Apparently it’s been a while since I’ve been to the UK because I don’t seem to have a decent memory of the pound’s size. I should go back for….research….yeah….

The final product involves poking a bunch of holes in the dough and baking them.



On the whole, these turned out OK. If you’re like me, you can serve them with butter or cheeses, and while you’re eating them, you remember that you don’t really like the bland taste of Carr’s Table Water Crackers, which are pretty damn similar. You wonder why you ever decided that Norman’s were going to change your mind–particularly the thicker ones–and you close the book on ever making that recipe again.

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