The Great British Bake Off is back! And that can mean only one thing. So is the Bake Off Challenge! This is my third year of doing the challenges and this time I am not impeding on my Mum’s kitchen, which is just as well, because this was a messy challenge that left me with a lot of washing up.

It has been a while since I’ve blogged. I’m hoping to get back in the swing of things fairly quickly and though I do like to be descriptive and let the words flow onto the page, I will be trying to keep these posts defined and to the point.

So let’s get to it!

First item on the agenda, was the actual biscuit. These turned out to have a shortbread-like texture, assuming this was what they needed to be like. When rubbing the flour and the butter together, the dough was supposed to appear like breadcrumbs before applying the vanilla and egg yolk, but I think my butter had softened too much whilst working it, so the dough actually started to cream together. This meant that when it came to cutting out the 8cm sections, they lost their shape when transferring them to the baking parchment. It was nigh impossible to create 16 identical discs, which meant sandwiching them together later became a bit more difficult.

It was actually the marsh mellow that I was most concerned about. I’ve never made marsh mellow before. I even went out and bought a sugar thermometer just to give myself a fighting chance. Thankfully, that went pretty smoothly. It was just a question of patience and keeping an eye on the temperature, and having plenty of bowls and pans to complete each step of the process. Although I ended up using maybe a quarter for the Wagon Wheels. Now I am looking for suggestions what to do with the other three quarters I have stored in my fridge. Any suggestions?

Confession time; I didn’t end up using homemade jam. I tried. I made the jam, and at first, it had gone quite well. Jam’s not usually my speciality, but after taking it off the heat and passing it through a sieve, I had a lovely, glossy looking jam that would have been perfect, had I used it there and then. But where the recipe said to “leave to cool and set”, when it actually came to applying the jam, it had set to the point that my knife could stand upright in it. It was beyond help and un-spreadable.

In retrospect, I would have made the jam at a later point in the process, once the biscuit bases were cooled and out of the oven. Applying the jam while it was cooling would have allowed it to set on the biscuits where it wouldn’t become a problem later on. Oh for the benefit of hindsight. So in the end I resorted to using store-bought jam. It’s fine. The judges won’t know. It’ll be our little secret.

The assembly of the layers was relatively straightforward (once I was using store-bought jam). I actually impressed myself with my piping work, which turned out to be very important to applying the marshmellow. I did try placing a spoonful on the biscuit and spreading it that way. Don’t do this! You’ll just make a mess. Piping it is far easier to manage and means that when you place layer 1 on top of layer 2, you can get a much more sophisticated finish.

It was working with the melted chocolate that was most difficult and not just because the impulsion is to taste test it at every step. The difficulty was getting a nice covering around the sides, so you end up with a nice, solid biscuit. I tried using a spatula to spread it around evenly, but this just made a mess. Pouring it directly over the top and allowing it to pool over the sides made even more of a mess. It was just as well I placed the wire rack over some more baking parchment.

I had a similar problem with the Swiss Rolls last year. The theory of getting a nice, smooth layer just didn’t come naturally, so I will be looking for tips if anyone is willing to share their secrets.

Looking back at the process, it’s not an overly complicated bake, but it does at times feel like you’re spinning several plates at the same time and it can feel overwhelming. But in truth, once the dough is ready, that can be set aside. When the marshmellow is done, that can be set aside. It’s the jam that needs to be timed well.

Have you taken on the Bake Off Challenge this year? Did you have a go at making the Wagon Wheels? If so, what did you find most challenging?

Bake Off Challenge: Week 10 – Iced Ginger Biscuits

I believe my first reaction to the final challenge was the following:

“Ginger biscuits? That’s it? Easy.”

Then they showed the icing design that they wanted on top. Then I went to Facebook:

“Well that’s me screwed #gbbofinal”

I don’t have the best track record with icing. It’s never elegant. It’s always messy. But you know what, what the hell? It was the last challenge; may as well give it a go. And if it all went wrong, I’d have ginger biscuits topped with icing. Can’t go wrong with that outcome.

The ginger biscuits themselves turned out great. I’ve made gingerbread before but I was interested in Prue’s edition, and the added black treacle really worked a treat. The only issue I really had was when I was rolling out the dough (after chilling) to cut into shapes. The dough was still far too sticky and kept griping to the work surface, so I had to dust with a lot more flour to make it more malleable.

Thankfully this didn’t affect the bake. The biscuits were firm and held their shape, but were nice and soft on the inside. They did lose their shape every so slightly when they came out of the oven, but for some I just trimmed the edges to neaten them up, even if Prue would have frowned at the prospect.

The icing though, that’s a different story. I did try! I promise you, but I have no idea how they managed it. I had a thin, precision nozzle for my piping bag, but I could not for the life of me control it. You can see my attempt at the square design below, but for the ovals, I didn’t have a chance. The icing ran into each other, losing what little design I had managed to achieve and having taken so long to get that far, I thought f**k it, I’ll improvise.

Which is why mine are multi-coloured and beautiful!

I think they look pretty damn good, and taste pretty good too. Give me one of these any day. There was no method to it. I literally just piped the white icing and let it fall where it fell. In a  strange way because I wasn’t following a design, they looked intentional. For the multi-coloured ones (including the Christmas-like trees), I simply used a teaspoon to flick the icing over the biscuit, layered it up with different colours and using a cocktail stick, drew lines down it to give it that final pattern.

They would definetly not have got me into the final, but I’m ok with that. Piping has never been my strong suit and this week was always going to be tricky. But over the past 10 weeks I have achieved bakes I never thought I’d be able to do and I’m pretty damn proud with myself. At the end of the road, I thought it would be better to simply have a bit of fun.

And that’s that. I hope to write a closing post for this year’s challenge, reviewing the bakes across the 10 weeks and ranking which one was the best and worst.

Until then, I am always looking for new things to try. It doesn’t matter what it is, if you have a recipe that I can make, get in touch or leave a comment below.

Expect more baking posts throughout the year.

Until then, that’s a wrap.

Bake Off Challenge: Week 9 – Les Misérables

Now, I had mixed feelings about this week. 5 hours later and 5 episode of the Graham Norton Show later, I was staring at these nine cakes and asking myself, “was that really worth it?” I had been stuck in a hot kitchen, on a lovely day, on my day off, for almost five hours. I was hot, I was tired, I’d made one hell of a mess and at the time, the only answer I could give myself was “no”.

However, once I’d had a cup of tea and finally plattered them up ready for their photo shoot, I have to say this is the one I’m most proud of. They look fab, they taste gorgeous and I learnt a lot while doing it. It was a tough one and a long one, but it was all worth it. I do say that a lot with these bakes, but that statement is the most applicable to the Les Misérables.

The general process mainly felt like a lot of juggling. There are many components to make before you assemble, and due to my limited number of utensils and baking trays, I was using, washing and re-using certain items which definitely slowed down my time.

Patience is a virtue in this game. The joconde and the buttercream proved that. On paper, they shouldn’t take too long, but I was sadly mistaken. To be fair, I was following the recipe to the letter and I’m sure there are places where you can cut corners and speed up the process, but on my first go, I didn’t want to tempt fate.

Whipping up the meringues were perhaps the longest part, but that’s meringues for you. After that it was a case of folding them into the mixture, presumably to thicken it up, add the flour, add the butter and then divide it to make your two colours. Alas, I had no pistachio paste (but if you look it up, it’s actually quite expensive) but I used what I thought was enough green colouring to make it look right. Thing is, once it was baked, it lost the rich green colour that the mixture had. Thankfully there was enough of a difference to make the layers contrast with one another.

The buttercream, again, was quite simple but just took time and a lot of steps. Getting the syrup to the softball stage proved tricky, but it got there in the end (again, patience) and the longest part was adding the butter in, small pieces at a time. I don’t what the theory behind this instruction is, but there is a lot of butter to add. What I did do was read the recipe wrong and rather than have one with vanilla paste, and one with raspberries, I added the two together. Thankfully I left some out for the piping. No harm done. Just not what Prue would have wanted.

The lemon syrup, again, pretty straight forward. Pop your water, your sugar and your lemon juice into the pan and just stir until the sugar dissolves. Easiest syrup I’ve had to make.

Assembling was a lot of fun. Instead of using baking parchment I took advice from a friend and used cling film instead – it was only going in the fridge to chill after all. It was a little “informal” when it came out of the tin, but the recipe advises you to trim the assembled cake anyway, so you can neat it up afterwards. Look for those layers!

Now here’s the part I was most proud of. For the chocolate curls, the recipe asked for asatate and chef rings in order to give them their shape. I had neither. Instead, I used a sheet of baking parchment and once the chocolate had semi set, curled it around a rolling pin. It was not perfect or elegant but it worked. And I was damn impressed by the alternative.

The taste is something I don’t often talk about. It’s not easy to describe but my primary critic (my Mum) said that it was the best tasting bake to date. It wasn’t overly rich, but you couldn’t have more than one slice. It’s just the right balance between quality and quantity. Can’t knock that. And after tasting one for myself, I’d have to agree.

I finished this bake vowing I would never do this bake again. But having taken a step back and seen what I had achieved, I’m at risk of breaking that vow. There was a great sense of achievement, something I don’t always feel after completing these challenges so I will look back on this week as one do the best, if not trying.

Final week to go! I am ready!

Bake Off Challenge – Week 8: Cumberland Rum Nicky

Considering how difficult this initially looked, in practice this wasn’t half bad and I was absolutely chuffed with the result. My choice of dish was perhaps a little too shallow and I maybe could have left it in a little longer, but all in all, I absolutely loved this week.

Although, to try and keep costs down, I opted against the use of dates, dried apricots and crystallised ginger (the last one I couldn’t even find) and instead used a packet of mixed dried fruits. I imagine if I told this to Paul Hollywood, his glare alone would send me to an early grave.

Let’s face it. The technical part of this challenge comes from the pastry and the lattice work, not your choice of filling.

Don’t worry – rum was still used.

The method for pastry was perhaps the easiest I’ve used so far. Simple, straight forward and leaves you with sticky fingers. I had to be careful with the amount of extra flour I used to prepare my surface since I could start to see that the pastry dough was struggling to come back together as I kneaded it. Thankfully once I’d left it to rest in the fridge, we were back in business.

Perhaps I rolled it out a little too thin, but I did have pastry left over. The hardest part (which was more fiddley than difficult) was the lattice topping. They weren’t all uniform, but that was more because I finished missing three lattice stripes and had to remould a few thicker ones to spilt them as evenly as I could.

It was actually great fun to do. Paul’s recipe suggests preparing the lattice pattern on a sheet of baking parchment, so you can then theoretically “tip it” on top of your already prepared pie. This didn’t work. It became a tangle of pastry and needed a fair bit of touching up, but we got there in the end. My main concern were the gaps. I remember Paul saying that the gaps needed to be big enough to let the alcohol evaporate out of the fruits but even with the size of my dish and the right amount of lattice strips, pre-baked it looked quite squashed together. Perhaps I should have cut them thinner.

It was actually the simplest part of this challenge that I got quite wrong; the rum butter. Now, I’ve made Brandy butter before (my Grandad’s speciality at Christmas time), so I presumed that the process would be quite similar. I just forgot to account for one thing; the brown sugar. For some reason, whether it was my fault or not, the brown sugar did not combine with the butter. After reading up post-bake, other recipes suggested using an electric whisk to combine the butter and sugar before even considering to add the rum. But, after adding the rum, it was still very grainy and, let’s face it, doesn’t look very pleasant. It resembles an infamous soup that a housemate of mine in my first year of uni terrified us with. Needless to say, it put me off.

Don’t worry – you can still taste the rum. And the sugar. And the butter.

The less said about the butter the better.

So that’s that – Paul’s Cumberland Rum Nicky, perhaps the oddest title to a bake so far. Despite it looking complex, stripped back it was quite simple and good fun to make. I could have perhaps done with a deeper dish and had a tough time trying to get it out once cooked, but all in all, I am absolutely thrilled with how this bake turned out and cannot wait for the next.

FUN FACT: Today’s accompanying film whilst baking was Oblivion (2013)

Bake Off Challenge: Week 7 – Margherita Pizza

Its pizza ain’t it.

To be fair, this wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. It is the easiest challenge of the series so far, but not without its difficulties.

The dough was simple enough. I did try tossing it in the air like the contestants were “attempting” to do on the show. Turns out, that’s quite difficult. The dough becomes so thin and hard to handle that I was afraid of tearing it in two. So instead I went around the edges, stretching it out and trying to form it into a circle. That also proved difficult. The best I could get it to was an oblong. The important thing – I didn’t cheat and use a rolling pin, although I kind of wish I had.

Side note: I didn’t use 00’ flour. I opted for strong white bread flour which worked just as well.

The topping, again, was simple enough but not perfect. I assume what they were after was the equivalent of a puree, but I couldn’t get my sauce smooth enough to match that description. Perhaps it was because of the tomatoes that I used (not San Mareno; I went for something from Tesco’s that was branded ‘Italia’) or maybe it just needed a bit of a blend. Not authentic Italian baking, but then again, I’m not Italian.

Note to self: do not leave the pizza uncooked once prepared. Thinking it would be a better idea to cook the pizza when we were actually ready to eat it, I left the fully prepared pizza in the fridge, covering with the same lightly oiled cling film that I’d used to prove it in the first place. (In retrospect, that probably wasn’t the best idea). When I came back to cooking the pizza, the dough had doubled in size – again! Not exactly what I was looking for. This meant, when cooked, the crust tasted quite dense, but lacked flavour. So if you have the same idea as me and decide to leave it – don’t!

To conclude, I don’t think I’ll be employed by any authentic Italian restaurants anytime soon. Did I make pizza? Yes. Did it taste good? Yes. But if we’re comparing mine to what Prue was looking for, I think I may have gotten one of her long, cold stares.

Now that Italian week is out of the way, I’m off to buy dates, dried apricots and crystallised ginger (oh, and the rum!) in prep for Paul’s Cumberland Rum Nicky.

Stay tuned!

Waste Not, Want Not: Egg whites into Meringues

This week’s recipe for Pasties De Nata, called for 7 egg yolks and while the custard that they were used for turned out to be something quite special (even for someone who is not a fan of custard), that left over a lot of egg whites that would have otherwise, disposed.

So instead of wasting all that potential, I put in a Google search: “what to do with leftover egg whites” and the most obvious answer popped up on screen – meringues. I don’t remember ever making meringues before. I’ve eaten my fair share, but never made them, so I thought why the hell not. I did a second Google search, found my recipe and got to work.

For the original recipe, click here.

Everything went (more or less) according to plan. The egg whites, as expected, took a very long time to form into the soft peaks that were needed and after that it was a simple case of adding the sugar, one tablespoon at a time and making sure they were thoroughly combined. The same with the icing sugar, except by folding instead of whisking.

Meringues shouldn’t be that difficult, but I made the crucial error that you should never do, especially when trying out a recipe for the first time.

I changed things.

I had a lot of egg whites and therefore a lot of meringue, so I thought why not divide the mixture up and add a bit of food colouring and flavouring into the mix. In principle, this wouldn’t have been a problem. But as you can see from the photo below, the first batch didn’t work out so well.


The photo shows my attempt at the meringues with red food colouring and no flavouring, and I’m not sure whether there’s a kind way of describing how they turned out. They went straight into the bin. I did the same with orange extract and yellow food colouring. They went the same way.

However, the final batch (for which I just added some peppermint extract – from Mini Chocolate Roll week) turned out perfectly fine. The difference? I gave the mixture another quick whisk with the mixer to get it back to the soft peaks stage.

So in theory, all I needed to do to make the other two mixtures work, was to give them a final mix before putting them in the oven. When I was dividing up the mixture and adding the different food colourings, the mixture must have softened and become much looser than the soft peaks consistency that was needed.

It’s a small thing, but something I missed. But that’s the way to learn, isn’t it? From your mistakes? From trial and error? Not everyone gets something right the first time round. They try, they fail and they try again. There was a quote that came across once (I can’t remember who it was quoted from) but it read: “Good decisions come from experience; experience comes from bad decisions.” Now it may not be as black and white as that, and you’re probably wondering why this blog post about meringues has suddenly turned out to be so deep, but the point I am making is that I don’t consider myself to be a great baker. But I want to be and to be that, I’m not always going to get it right.

So for anyone out there who is worried about not getting it right, whether it’s about baking or anything else where this applies, just chalk everything up as experience. Good or bad, learn from it and move on, because let’s face it… life is too short to worry.


Bake Off Challenge: Week 6 – Pastiés De Nata

Bake Off Tweet

Not the first thing that you want to hear about a technical challenge and of course it’s something that Paul Hollywood would say. And to be fair, this was a really difficult, and time consuming challenge. Right up until they came out of the oven, I thought they were going to fail. I needed a miracle and somehow, I got one. The pastry perhaps didn’t puff up as much as it needed to, but the pastry held and the custard filling with the cinnamon flavouring was sublime.

But when Paul says it can go wrong from the very beginning, he wasn’t wrong.

NUMBER ONE: folding the actual pastry. Once again Hollywood’s recipes use a lot of words to describe something that’s actually quite simple. It’s almost as if he wants to catch you out. I had to put a search into YouTube just to see how to actually fold it and after that it was ten times easier.

NUMBER TWO: grating the frozen butter. Should be straightforward. It wasn’t. While grating it, the butter started to soften as it was worked between my fingers and against the grater. I don’t know how this affects the process, but maybe after grating the butter, it would be wise to pop it back in the freezer to harden back up, before actually applying it to the pastry.

NUMBER THREE: the swirl – the defining feature (apparently) of the Pastiés De Nata. It was a little bit of trial and error. After the pastry is rolled up (almost like a Swiss Roll) and cut into individual slices, the challenge was keeping that swirl while working it into the muffin tins. Not only could you potentially flatten the pastry too much to the point you lose the swirl, but as you can see from the photos below, once the shape was right, the layer of pastry looked terrifyingly thin and I was sceptical about them holding the custard once cooked.

Also bizarrely, you don’t have to butter/grease the muffin tin before putting in the pastry. I did for about half of them (just in case) but it didn’t make a blind bit of difference.

The custard was perhaps the easiest part but that’s not saying much. Stage one didn’t thicken up as much as the recipe wanted and when making the syrup element, my lack of thermometer meant that I was judging it off appearance and consistency. The syrup needed to be in a soft thread stage, which basically means when you pour a little into cold water, you can see the syrup form like a thin thread. That’s what I was going for anyway. It seemed to work.

After that it was a case of pour the custard into the pastry cases, cook and there you go. Like I say, the pastry didn’t puff up like the stock photo showed, but the cases held, the custard settled with little brown spots and they tasted fabulous.

Strangely enough, they are one I will do again. It’s not the hardest one (so far); the Fortune Cookies hold the top spot, but I feel like now I’ve done the Pastiés De Nata once, I can do it again, but this time better.

I also made Meringues this week, due to the amount of egg whites that had been left unused, which you can read about here.

So that’s Pastry Week out of the way. Here’s to Italian Week.

Bake Off Challenge: Week 5 – Molten Puddings

I have to start off with a confession this week. I didn’t use Peanut Butter as Paul Hollywood wanted. No one in my house liked it so we opted for something sweeter. And they taste just as good with Nutella in the centre, it not better. Just don’t put two “heaped” teaspoons of the stuff into your mix. One is quite enough.

But I loved making these this week. Not too difficult at all and it’s hard to argue with the taste. I even bought a set of Paul Hollywood pudding pots to make them and they worked a treat. The puddings quite literally dropped out of the pots when I turned them out onto plates.

There was only really one thing that went wrong with the puddings, and to be honest it was no biggy. When the puddings came out of the oven after the full 12 minutes, the centres had sunken ever so slightly so that when turned out into the plates, the chocolate centre would start to pool out.

There are two possible reasons for this. Either, I didn’t put enough of the sponge mixture on top of the Nutella centre, or there was something wrong with the consistency which meant it couldn’t cook and “solidify” like the rest of the pudding. But to be honest, I think it was the former.

The rest of the recipe was pretty straight forward and didn’t involve much of a challenge, and that’s not me trying to get ahead of myself. Once again, I had the full recipe to work with. They didn’t. Just make sure that you leave the melted chocolate and butter mixture to complete cool before mixing it with the whisked eggs and sugar.

There isn’t much else to say this time. It’s turned out to be a shorter entry than I anticipated. All I can say is, make them! I certainly will. I will at some point try one with a peanut butter filling, to appease the other side of my family who love the stuff but I’m looking to try more variations. Such as, putting the Nutella in first and the sponge mixture on top, so that when it’s turned out onto the plate, the melted chocolate oozes down the sides. And what about syrup puddings? Same principle but minus the chocolate.

Time to go recipe hunting.

If you know of any (particularly unusual ones, whatever that may be) pitch them at me. Once these challenges are over, I have a list of recipes that I’m ready to try out. The more the merrier. I need something else to blog about when GBBO isn’t on.

See you next week.

UPDATE: I did another one with the Nutella in first. Didn’t quite work out how I planned, but instead of a Molten Pudding, I have a Volcano Pudding. Sounds like a result to me.


Bake Off Challenge: Week 4 – Stroopwaffels

When Stroopwaffels were announced as last week’s technical, and I realised what was needed to make them, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to write this week’s blog. I didn’t have a Waffle Maker and couldn’t justify spending £20 plus for something I’d potentially only make once (FUN FACT: They were £18 on Amazon the day Bake Off when on air. The next day, they’d gone up to £24. Rotters!). Yet, a few days later, I turned around and said f**k it and bought one with Next Day Delivery. And I’ve not looked back.

Because I will definetly be making these again! They’re a mess to make, but pretty easy and the finished result both looks and tastes fantastic! My sister loves Stroopwaffels so I fear there will be heavy demand in the future. Plus, I can now make Ice Cream cones – added bonus.

Onto the actual challenge. The basic dough is pretty straightforward, however I was a bit concerned by the last part. Prue’s recipe said to add the egg last, yet it failed to mention whether to beat the egg beforehand, or throw it in whole. I went for “beat the egg first and ask questions later” and while this didn’t seem to affect the consistency of my dough, it didn’t bring the dough together as initially described. Remembering some wise words from Bread Week, I had to add more flour in order to stop the dough from breaking apart all over my hands into one big, sticky mess. Eventually it did come together and all was well again, but I had to add a lot more flour in order to fix it.

I was also surprised of how easy it was to cut each waffle in half after putting them in the Press. After taking great care not to burn my fingers (I recommend using gloves) when it came to cutting them in two, the knife went through cleanly and, to my amazement, in a straight line. The top and bottom of each waffle was crisp enough to act as a barrier against the blade so it cut cleanly through the softer centre. So the hardest part of this challenge turned out to be easiest.

And the main aspect of this week – the caramel. I haven’t much experience with caramel and given the sticky situations that the contestants got into last week, I approached it with much trepidation. To be perfectly honest, I needn’t have worried. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was looking for. I thought the caramel would boil over and thicken up, similar to what happens when you’re making jam, but it turns out, it was none of that. It thickened up slightly, but was still quite runny and easy to pour into the waffles. And boy, does it taste good!

Big thumbs up for this week! 12 Stroopwaffels, differing in colour, but all equal in taste. Mine aren’t as crisp as the store bought ones that we had in the cupboard, but the caramel didn’t taste grainy with undissolved sugar, each waffle (so far) bends rather than snaps and they look pretty darn good too.

Stay tuned for PUDDING WEEK


Bake Off Challenge: Week 3 – Cottage Loaf

I’ve always enjoyed making bread. It’s hard work, a bit messy and requires a lot of praying but there’s something about a freshly baked loaf that makes it all worthwhile, no matter what it actually looks like. Last year’s Fougasse Bread (the herby one) was by far my favourite and most successful bake from the last run of challenges, so I was eager to get this one right, in both flavour and presentation. And to be honest, I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out:

The biggest challenge I have with making bread is the kneading. At first, it’s a nightmare to work. It’s sticky, it clings to your fingers, it makes such a mess and it feels like it’s never going to reach that smooth and silky texture they ask for. You’re afraid that if you use too much flour for your work surface to stop it sticking, that it’s going to end up being too dry. You’re afraid that if you keep kneading it, there’s such a thing as too much, to the point where the dough doesn’t come together as easily as it did before.

Remember when I said I love making bread. That’s still true.

Most of the time you’ve got to use your own judgement. A recipe can only tell you so much ,so in the event that your mixture isn’t what the recipe describes, you’ve got to use your brainpower. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. And it just so happens that when it comes to bread, I have the confidence to make that call.

My advice: only use extra flour when absolutely necessary. It might sound obvious but its simple and effective. If it’s sticking, use a bit more. Roll the dough in the dusting on both sides then work at it some more. Eventually you will start to feel it becoming a lot smoother and it’s at that stage where you put the flour away.

What I’ve understood more and more as I’ve done these challenges is the level of skill that the bakers must have to make it through week after week. Reading through the recipe, the level of detail it goes into; letting the bread prove two times, pouring water in a heated roasting tin to create steam in the oven, the technique for folding the dough underneath itself so that the bread will rise rather than expand (a note on that later).

We don’t see the recipes that the bakers have to work with but we know that it is stripped down and contains the bare minimum of instructions. There aren’t a lot of ingredients so the success or failure of these challenges are all on the technique. Considering that I use the full recipe and don’t restrict myself with a time limit, I still haven’t been able to produce on the same level that they so. This isn’t the perfectionist in me or the critic in me. It’s simply a greater understanding and even greater respect for those bakers in the tent.

I don’t even have Paul breathing down my neck.

Quick note with the folding technique; when it said roll the dough into a ball I thought that would be pretty straight forward. It’s not hard to shape your dough once its been worked enough, but the thing here is that it’s a free-standing loaf. It’s not supported by a tin, but if it falls, it falls. Paul’s technique is supposed to help the loaf rise in the oven so that the structure remains relatively intact. If you end up following the recipe, it’s a little long winded, so here are the basic essentials.

  1. Flatten and roll out so its a rough rectangular shape
  2. Fold both ends into the centre so you have a rough squar
  3. With the folds underneath, flip the dough
  4. Cup your hands around and slightly underneath the sides of the dough and rotate to turn your square, into a ball.

I was sat staring at that paragraph for a short while trying to figure out what the hell he was talking about. It is pretty straightforward, but it doesn’t need the excessive explanation.

So guys, the Cottage Loaf… did you have a go? What did you make of it? Did your top get eaten by the bottom? Do you have any advice for kneading our general bread making? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

And now that I’m fully caught up with the challenges, and this post goes live before the latest episode airs, I’m going to cut myself a slice of my new Cottage Loaf, make a cup of tea and sit down to see what hell they’re going to put me through this week.

It’s a new one… Caramel week!

And that means I fear for my pans.