WRITING CHALLENGE: From Props to Plays

Here’s something a bit different…

I was set a challenge yesterday, to come up with a full plot for a play based purely on a props list, a title and a handful of characters. I have never seen the play before, I have never heard of the play before. This was merely an intriguing experiment/writing exercise to see what I could come up with, and to me and my friends surprise, there were areas where I was getting pretty close.

Everything highlighted in bold was a listed prop. You can find the full prop’s list at the bottom.


Raising Martha 

Martha is a Cannabis plant. Martha belongs to Tom and is his prize plant. Tom’s partners in crime, Gerry and Joel want to sell “Martha” to a prospective buyer, Jago, but Tom is a little too attached and won’t sell. Jago brings a suitcase full of cash to pay upfront for the prized Martha, but Tom just won’t budge.

Gerry and Joel sneak back in the dead of night, armed with head torches, a sack and spades to dig up Martha so they can sell her to Jago. Joel is the dim one and also brings a pickaxe until Gerry tells him to put it down. But as they’re digging, they find a Femur bone and a library card. Knowing how attached Tom is to Martha, they deduct (wrongly) that Tom has murdered the last person who tried to take Martha away from him. Tom then catches them in the act, a little tired (or a little stoned, who knows) and doesn’t really comprehend what’s happening. He goes to make a cup of coffee to wake up. Afraid that they’ll end up in the dirt and become plant food for Martha, Gerry and Joel abandon their endeavour.

Gerry and Joel contemplate what they’ve just discovered. Gerry is terrified, wrapped up in a blanket for the shock, while Joel sits beside him playing his guitar and editing his music sheets. Gerry’s wondering what they should do, but Joel (oddly being the voice of reason) asks why should they do anything? Just play it cool and pretend like they found nothing. Gerry eventually agrees, then turns to Joel and asks: since when do you play the guitar? Joel turns back to him and says: I don’t. We’re stoned. Sure enough, the scene changes to reality, with both of them smoking joints. Joel stubs his out into the ash tray and Gerry finishes the last of his whiskey before throwing the bottle into a bucket.

Next day, Gerry and Joel go back to Tom’s, only to find that the police are there! There’s police tape across the doors, a police officer called Roger with a police badge and everything, but they don’t seem to have noticed that Tom is growing a massive cannabis plant in his front room. Tom explains that two people broke into his house and attacked him last night and the police are investigating. Gerry and Joel do a terrible job of pretending that everything’s normal as Tom gets checked over by the official medical officer, using a stethoscope, otoscope and reflex hammer. The entire search gets video-taped and Officer Roger continually takes down notes.

Worried about what Tom is going to do to them when he finds out what they did, they take more drugs to try and calm down. But the subject matter and hallucinogenics is not a good combination, as Gerry finds himself on a medical trolley with Tom bearing over him in a surgical mask, with an array of medical equipment including a Victorian surgical saw that Tom prepares to dissect him with. Joel is in the corner watching, munching on a sandwich. Blood and guts empty onto the stage and once he is finished, Tom covers Gerry with the surgical sheet. Joel still eats his sandwich.

Gerry and Joel go back to the scene of the crime (quite literally) to see Tom. But to their surprise, the place is empty. The police have gone, but all their things are still there. Martha stands there, watching. Looking around for Tom, Joel finds a sack which turns out to be full of bones. Elsewhere, Gerry finds a kneecap bone, a breast bone, a skull, the police badge and Jago’s phone and suitcase. Officer Roger’s Dictaphone lies nearby and playing back the recording, they hear cries for help and a very angry voice in the background. Fearing the worst, Gerry and Joel safely assume that Tom has gone off his rocker. He’s also standing right behind them.

Tom has gone psychotic. He knows that it was Gerry and Joel who broke into his flat, who tried to take Martha away from him and how he would never let anyone take Martha away from him. He goes to his cupboard, cycling through his arsenal of weapons, deciding which one to kill Gerry and Joel with. There’s a sledge hammer, machete knives, a shotgun, but he decides to settle for the sickle (or scythe). Gerry and Joel, pleading for their lives, grab whatever they can to defend themselves with. Gerry grabs a baseball bat, Joel grabs the suitcase but Tom is going to let them take Martha. With pure rage, he strikes!

Gerry, Joel and Tom all pull off their blind folds, in the same room, in the same place, except Martha has gone. Each of them has got a huge joint that they’ve all been smoking. “That’s some strong shit”, Gerry says, stubbing the rest out into the ash tray. “I told you” replies Tom, “She’s perfection. I raised her good and proper.”

It was all a dream! Or a hallucination. Cliché still applies.


Rather fittingly, this play seems to have been written by someone on drugs (I will stress however that I was very much of sound mind!) but it was the props list to blame for the rather bizarre series of events that unfolded during this challenge.

That being said, there were some plot points that were pretty close to the mark, which was surprising since I was aiming to be as far away from the mark as possible. They are as follows:

  • Two characters do attempt to dig something up and the library card is found where the digging takes place
  • There is a “dim one”
  • The policeman does fail to notice that there is a cannabis plant in the room
  • There is a hallucination involving the medical trolley, the medical equipment and involves human dissection.
  • There is a moment where loads of weapons are taken from a cupboard.
  • There is a lot of ‘what should be do’ wondering

However, there was one thing that I got 100% wrong with my version of Raising Martha.

“Martha is definitely not a Cannabis plant”

If you like to write then I would 100% recommend using this challenge as some form of an exercise. Maybe 120 props was a pretty tall order to merge into some form of tangible plot. But how about this? Pop into your local charity shop, pick something random and start from there. See what you come up with. That’s where I’m heading next, so be warned! There could be some other weird and wonderful plot lines coming your way, so stay tuned for more.

Image result for writing


Props List

Coffee Table, Wooden Chairs, Briefcase, Headtorch, Coffee Cup, Tea Bag, Spray Bottle for Cannabis Plants, Scissors for Cannabis Plants, Keys for USL Door, Mag IIt Torches x2, Pick Axe, Spade 1, Spade 2, Inhaler, Sack, Femur Bone, Policeman Badge, Policeman Radio, Police Tape, Library Card, Blanket, Guitar, Guitar Strings, Cannabis Plants, Music Paper, Pencil/Pen, Poker, Towel, Dish Cloth, Evidence Bag, Bucket, Metal Crash Box, Incident Sign, Head towel, Empty Whiskey bottle, Joint, Lighter, Ash Tray, Shower Gel, Jago phone, Police Notebook and Pencil, Scales, Black hardback book, Plastic zip bags, Cling Film, Cannabis, Tank, Cane Toad, Resin, Pen Knife, White clipboard, Medical Form, Fountain Pen, Stethoscope, Otoscope, Reflex Hammer, Scalpel, Heavy Metal Instrument, Evidence Bag (for Camera and Tripod), Video camera, Tripod, Mini pad of paper, Black Flag with Frog, Pad of Yellow Paper, Pen, House Brick (with note), Measuring Tape, Notebook/Pencil, Ear Plugs, Whiskey Glass, Bottle of Whiskey/Scotch, Coke, Scissors, Peeling Device, Bucket with Mud and Wood, Sandwich, Saw (Victorian Surgical), Surgical Masks, Medical Trolley, Silver Tray, Medical equipment, Syringe, Magnifying glass, Bowl for hand washing, Surgical sheet, Blood and guts, Duvet and duvet cover, Sack of bones, Mandible bone, Kneecap bone, Breast bone, Bath towl, Tibla bone, Mug, Sandwich, Dictaphone, Skull, rucksack, Roger’s phone, Jago’s phone, double barrelled shot gun, baseball bat, machete knives, sickle/scythe, man trap, crowbar, sledge hammer, suitcase, table cloth, hand-tie rope, blind fold, large knife, huge joints, ash tray.

(48 out of 120 props successfully used)


 

Final Bake Off Challenge – Week 10: Victoria Sponge

And so the end is here, as we face the final curtain.

It’s been a long ten weeks filled with highs and lows, great tastes and bad tastes, but somehow we’ve reached the end of this little experiment.

Before we get into the nitty gritty of this week’s final bake, a little bit of housekeeping: unlike the contestants, I did use Mary Berry’s Victoria Sponge recipe, rather than try and make it up as I go along. I have made Victoria Sponges before, and successfully I may add (I’m sure it’s something that a lot of other people have done as well), but I wanted to end this streak of challenges on a high (especially after the disaster that was last week’s Savarin) – but I’m thankful that I did.


WEEK 10: Victoria Sponge

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Though it was much deliberated by the contestants, Mary Berry’s words of wisdom state that you should use the all-in-one method, which is exactly what I did. There’s not a lot to really pick apart with this part of the method, other than to make sure that your butter is substantially creamed into the mixture. Even after using both an electric whisk and a spoon, there were little chunks of butter that were there mocking me, and the last thing I wanted was for there to be chunks of butter in the actual sponge. Patience I think was the key word here.

Rather than opting for a straight-out-of-the-jam-jar jam, I did have another go at making the jam from scratch a second time. Though my pan is once again in need of another deep clean, it worked just as well as it had when making the Bakewell Tart. Although, as we found out when we sampled the cake, the jam was rather chewy. Having left the jam to set (as instructed), it was a very stiff consistency. So what I really needed was a solution to making it more liquidy and… you know, more like jam. It did taste good so, you know, can’t knock it too much.

Piping definitely isn’t my strong point. I don’t know they worked with the Viennese
Whirls way back in Week 2, but I still have a long way to go before I become a master of the piping bag. As you can see from this disgraceful photo below, the interior piping went a bit haywire. In my defense, after scooping the buttercream into the bag, it would appear that a surviving chunk of butter had found its way inside, and incidentally blocked the nozzle attachment. Hence why it is very important to make sure all your butter is creamed thoroughly.

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(When I read some of these sentences back, I can understand why baking terms can often be interpreted as innuendos!)

All in all, this was a good one to go out on. The sponge probably could have come out a little earlier to retain its golden-brown finish. It does look a little overdone, though tastes far from it, and I have yet to achieve the flat surface rather than the mound that I got.


THE END

So there we have it. Ten weeks, ten bakes and ten posts.

And since this is the last chance I’ll get to bother you with my rambling words for a while, I’ve ranked each week from best to worst.

  1. FOUGASSE BREAD (WEEK 6) – I couldn’t stop thinking about that bread right through into the next challenge. It looked great, it tasted fantastic and the only criticisms were that it was a tad too salty (easily fixable) and the slits to make the leaf shape were not wide enough (but who cares). It’s the one that out of everything, I really want to make again.
  2. VIENNESE WHIRLS (WEEK 2) – Was stupendously happy with these ones, especially for Week 2. Some of them were a bit big and they did crumble quite easily, but the taste (though very sweet) was marvellous and a real motivator that I could actually do these challenges.
  3. VICTORIA SPONGE (WEEK 1o) – the jam was a bit tough and the sponge a bit brown, but the taste was as good as you’d expect and was a great way to end this Bake Off challenge.
  4. MARJOLAINE (WEEK 7) – odd how I’ve placed this quite high despite absolutely hating the process and still never want to bake with nuts again. But even though it didn’t look much like it should have, it actually tasted pretty great. I still wouldn’t make it again though any time soon.
  5. JUMBLE BISCUITS (WEEK 8) – loved the presentation of these and the taste was pretty good, if not unusual.
  6. BAKEWELL TART (WEEK 5) – pastry was a little overcooked and the flavours were heavy but very sweet. Was the first time I’d ever made one of these and for a first time, I think I did a good job.
  7. DAMPFNUDEL (WEEK3) – never thought I’d be able to say (1) I know what they are and (2), I have made them. These were very unusual – steamed bread, whatever next – and though they did taste a bit doughy, they would have been great with some icing.
  8. JAFFA CAKES (WEEK 1) – despite the fact they tasted alright, the presentation was just way off. But hey, it was Week 1. That was only in the beginning.
  9. LACY PANCAKES (WEEK 4) – bit hard to rank this one because this was more to do with artistic talents with a squeezy bottle, something I didn’t really have that day. All good fun nonetheless.
  10. SAVARIN (WEEK 9) – the fact that the sponge or bread or whatever you want to call it was so dry, it was practically inedible and literally and shamefully had to be thrown away.

Do you agree with my rankings? Or do you think I’ve got it wrong somewhere down the line?

Thank you for sticking with me throughout these weeks and come back for more ramblings about life, or other challenges I put to myself.

You can also follow me on Twitter @jm00re497

Until the next time, there’s no more from me.


 

Bake Off Challenge – Week 9: Savarin

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “that doesn’t look anything like a Savarin”. And you’re right. It’s not. Although I am still trying to figure out what a savarin is. Is it cake? Is it bread? Who knows? I still don’t.

This week doesn’t have a happy ending I’m afraid and debatably will be listed as the worst bake of the challenge. I hated this one more than the Marjolaine. Now that was a sentence I never thought I’d write!

This was down to a combination of the following factors: I didn’t have the correct equipment (namely the baking tin), my scheduling meant that this was baked over the course of a couple of days (with breaks during crucial moments which I now know why they are important) and over the course of said couple of days, I lost a lot of love for what I was actually making. That last point was the real shame. There have been ups and downs over the past ten weeks with some unspeakable horrors which I wish could be forgotten, but there has always been a level of enjoyment. But this week, I lost it entirely.

Urgh! This just got depressing. Let’s be more constructive.


WEEK 9: Savarin

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Ok, so it could have looked worse. The presentation isn’t all that bad and looks appetising enough, so I’ll give myself some brownie points for working with what I had and not giving up and throwing it in the bin.

The savarin itself was just a basic batter mixture which you need to leave around two hours in total to let it prove. I don’t know if I was using a different kind of yeast that worked differently but across the two hours, the batter didn’t seem to rise much at all, if at all. It was very difficult to tell. It did rise a little while baking though because I had a lot less than the contestants did during that week, it seemed to bake far quicker to the point that the top was patchy brown.

But here was the crucial part where I should defiantly not have taken a break.

After it’s cool enough to remove from the tin, at that point you are supposed to cover it with the syrup. In theory, the idea is that the still warm cake absorbs the syrup so it seeps right through into the centre and adds a bit of moisture. If you try and add the syrup after the cake has cooled completely, it won’t absorb properly. This is what I discovered.

In actual fact, my syrup didn’t work at all, wasting 100ml of orange liquor. Nothing seemed to happen when I had it over the heat. It didn’t thicken. It didn’t change the colour and the recipe didn’t really tell me what to look out for. So instead, I glazed the sponge with some golden syrup (Paul Hollywood will have me thrown off a cliff). Won’t have the same taste, but it’ll add something.

Without it, the cake tastes very dry. I haven’t sampled the one pictured here just yet, but I had to do a second batch due to the amount of mixture leftover. This had no syrup applied and I wanted to know whether it tasted more of cake or bread. It swings towards bread, but the inside of the sponge is very dry and you can understand why it needs to absorb the syrup. I’m hoping that the final product tastes better with both the cream and the syrup; otherwise this may have been a total waste of time.

The little bits were fun to do; mainly because they were far simpler. Rather than wiping “Savarin” onto the chocolate disc (who has the time for that?), I just drizzled the white chocolate over to make it look pretty. The cream took a while to form (I recommend using an electric whisk for this part) and tasted fabulous and the caramel shards are fun to make because you hit it with a spoon and it pretty much explodes. They tasted pretty foul though. They looked good, but they tasted burnt. Use for decoration only.

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So concludes another week and another episode of “Ambitious But Rubbish.” I dare say I will not be trying this one anytime soon, but hey, “always look on the bright side of the life.”

I’m just thankful for my final challenge this year will be a Victoria Sponge… and yes, I will be using a recipe.


 

Bake Off Challenge – Week 8: Jumble Biscuits

Late again! I’ve been falling behind schedule recently. The real world is catching up with me. I haven’t even watched this week’s episode of Bake Off – which is a first! I mean who doesn’t base their entire Wednesday around the 8 o’clock start time. I may need help!


WEEK 8: Jumble Biscuits

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So, first things first, I was unable to find any ground aniseed. I made a grand tour of the local Tescos, Sainsbury’s and Booths (we’re not posh enough to have a Waitrose) and puzzled a few people about where on earth we could find this so-called ground aniseed. So for argument’s sake, I left that out of the recipe, compensating with a full teaspoon of ground mace rather than a ½ teaspoon of each. How it would have affected the flavour I won’t know, but with the mace and the caraway seeds, they don’t taste half bad.

If anything, the basic dough recipe is pretty straight forward. The caraway seeds do take some time to get it to be a fine powder so be patient with it and you just need to be careful with the amount of extra flour you use to ensure it doesn’t dry out. After adding the eggs, the dough still felt quite sticky and thereby impossible to divide into smooth portions, so for balance, I added a bit more flour. It’s more important to watch your flour levels after they’ve chilled. When you’re rolling them out into long ropes, you will want to lightly flour your surface so that they don’t break apart when thinned out. But too much flour and you’ll have a hard time joining the ends together, when you’ve actually achieved your shape.

That is where the technical part came into the challenge this week. Ironically, the recipe that the Bake Off contestants got may have been easier to follow. I may choke on my words one day, but at least they had a rough diagram of what they were looking for. I had to resort to Google images in hope that some sort of instructions would be made available, but it turns out even Google can be unhelpful sometimes.

I even went back to the episode and re-watched the technical, hoping that there would some pearls of wisdom on offer, but there was no such luck. Oddly enough, the editing cut out the moment they actually constructed both the double knot and the Celtic knot from start to finish. You got bits, but when you’re trying to have a go yourself, not helpful.

If anything, I now know how to do both a double knot and a Celtic knot blindfolded. Most of my time was spent trying to perfect the shapes with the dough mixture, that resulted in a mixture of too small, too large, too fat, too thin and too unlike what we were actually aiming for. I still would have failed in the actual given time limit, but I’m comforted by the fact that I spent most of that extra time just trying to work out the shape. I’m improving!


WORDS OF ADVICE

For the Celtic knot, if you start with the top curve and then cross the two ends over each other, it’s a far easier starting point to complete the shape.


I did discover this little gem though while looking for a tutorial on how to make a Celtic knot, which you can watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIu1x-Tme44

I’d be lying if I said that this week’s didn’t look slightly “informal”, a word I have been using a lot with my bakes, but at least it wasn’t as “informal” as last week’s Marjolaine. (Still not working with nuts for a long time!). Very much like the Lacy Pancakes, Paul’s technical challenges seem to be more about the skill in presentation rather than the actual complexity of the bake. Although I had it spelt out for me. I even had some left over and attempted a few different shapes.

Now that that’s over with, I’m going to catch up on the latest episode of Bake Off, and find out what’s on the cards this week.

Not long to go until competition.

Thanks for reading.

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Bake Off Challenge – Week 7: Marjolaine

Who knew that nuts needed so much preparation?

This entry was supposed to come a lot sooner than this. I was all ready to make it on the Wednesday, but had to postponed until the Thursday, and here’s why.

You see, to cut costs I thought buying fresh almonds and blanching them myself would be a far better option. Blanching them doesn’t take much effort. You boil them in a pan of water for about 3 minutes, pat them dry and literally pop them out of their skins. They can burst out of their skins and fly halfway across the room (which is a lot of fun but quite impractical) but the point is they come out easily. It just takes a lot of time and patience as you literally have to do them one at a time.

Hazelnuts – not so much. They need a slightly different method to blanch, which includes adding baking soda (something I didn’t actually have) but even if you try boiling them/roasting them, the skins are incredibly tough to get off because of their shape.

Spare yourself that pain! Buy pre-blanched hazelnuts. It’s far easier and you are more likely to keep your sanity.


WEEK 7: MARJOLAINE

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It did feel like I needed to have a proper battle plan to get through this week. I underestimated the sheer amount of things that needed doing for this bake. How the guys on the show pulled this off in a fraction of the time it took me (closer to 5 hours I’d estimate) is nothing short of incredible. The show is stressful enough, but doing these challenges just makes me realise how skilled these guys have to be in order to survive week after week.

The praline was fascinating to make. It’s something I’ve never done before. Thankfully I didn’t burn the bottom of my pan again when making the caramel (or sugar syrup as the recipe calls it). It cools very quickly so get it in the baking tray as fast as possible, but as you can see in the photo, it sets completely solid. It looked and felt like glass. You’ve got to be careful though when breaking it into pieces. The edges aren’t as sharp as glass obviously, but they are sharp nonetheless, so take care.

The ganache and the buttercream was pretty straight forward. I didn’t think that pouring over the heated cream would fully melt the vast amount of chocolate but I was wrong. It worked perfectly (and tasted even better). It was also another first for my baking experience. Add ganache to the skill tree.

Buttercream; just follow the recipe, although the recipe this week wasn’t as clear as it could have been. It was as though it was actively trying to confuse you. The thing I would say is when adding the praline powder (after it’s gone through the blender), use a sieve to make sure any chunks are not mixed into the cream. It makes for a finer and smoother buttercream finish.

Assembling, again, was pretty straight forward. It’s just time consuming. Be generous with the filling. I used far too little of the ganache and had a lot leftover which shamefully will go unused (unless I just eat it out of the bowl which is a high likelihood).

I did cut the meringue a little too small. I didn’t quite follow the measurements and ended up cutting it a little too short in favour of making it look neater. Rather than a long and narrow meringue tower it looked a little square. Also, don’t worry if it looks messy when you’re stacking the layers. The buttercream will cover up any mistakes and the additional nuts cover the rest.

To be honest, this could have gone a lot worse but I wasn’t overly happy about the result. It looks alright but nowhere near close to what it should have looked like. For the cost and the time that went into this bake (it really did feel like an eternity), it just looked a little too informal to be worth all that effort. But hey, I learned a bunch of new skills, made things I haven’t made before and despite its rather “informal” appearance, it taste pretty good.

But working with nuts is far more complicated that I would ever have thought and will not be doing so again, for a long time.

Next time, I may just stick to bread. It would have taken a lot to beat last week’s Fougasse.

See you all for Tudor week.

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Bake Off Challenge – Week 6: Fresh Herb Fougasse

I’m going to keep it short and sweet this week, unlike my Fougasse which was big and savoury (my dough proved maybe a little too much), as very little went wrong and I’m trying to reduce the words I use each week anyhow. Turns out I can waffle quite a bit about baking.

So Fougasse, which is essentially just herby bread, didn’t require a lot of ingredients as most of them had already been bought previously and the herbs (unless you want them fresh) are typically found in your average kitchen. Prior to the first proving, it can be a messy business, especially when you aren’t supposed to knead it, but once the yeast has done its work, if you follow the recipe, it feels pretty straightforward.


WEEK 6: Fresh Herb Fougasse

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Literally the only thing that I was disappointed with this week was the incisions you make to give it the leaf design. As raw dough, it looked just like it did on the programme (I just wish that I had taken photos to prove it to you), but a mix up with my timings meant that rather than leaving it to prove in a plastic bag for 20 minutes, I actually left it proving for 4 hours. (I had to go to work; the things that get in the way of a good Bake Off). When I’d gotten back the dough had practically doubled in size and the cuts had healed themselves. Thankfully while it baked, the indents were still visible so the leaf design remained. There just weren’t any gaps in the mixture.

Other than that, very little went wrong, which is a first. When using the mixer, as the dough formed it started climbing up the dough hooks and tried to jam the mechanism which was a bit of a pain, but just required a lot of stop-start action. I didn’t bother using Semolina (simply because I didn’t know what it was) and just used flour which worked just as well. And while baking, I had to leave it in there a lot longer due to the amount of dough that needed to be cooked through, and just had to flip them over towards the end for a further five minutes to make sure that the bottoms sounded hollow when tapped.

There was a bit of a kafuffle with the yeast as I tried to work out what the difference was between Instant Yeast and Fast-Action Dried Yeast. Having already bought Fast-Action Yeast from when I made the Dampfnudel I didn’t want to waste it by getting another version, but it turns out there’s very little difference. It turned out perfectly fine.

And the taste! By God! Of all the bakes that I have made, this was by far the best tasting one. All the herbs that went into the dough were beautiful and it was pretty much impossible not to go back for more. I was just as surprised considering all the sweet things that have been made over the past five weeks, but the taste was perfect.

It’s left me contemplating whether the Fougasse has topped the table and knocked the Viennese Whirls off their perch. They may not look as pretty, but compared with what the “professionals” made in the technical; it wasn’t that far off the mark.

So there you have it. Possibly the most successful bake so far.

Now I am going to sit in and a corner and cry as I think about how the hell I’m going to do this week’s.

And for those of you who were actually concerned about the state of last week’s pan after it suffered the wrath of jam-making, it’s now squeaky clean and good as new. All it needed was a soak and a bit of elbow grease. (Phew!)


To have a go at the Fresh Herb Fougasse, and I thoroughly recommend that you do, click here for the recipe. Happy Baking!

Bake Off Challenge – Week 5: Bakewell Tart

That took far longer than it should have been. What is stated on the recipe as a 1-2 hour job, it feels like I have been working on this all day. If and when I repeat this challenge next year I really need to work on my timings, because I remain to be a slow baker. But by god am I happy with it. The shortcrust pastry wasn’t entirely up to scratch but the overall effect is pleasing and the top decoration worked a treat.

I am also happy to report that I did decide to try making the jam from scratch this time. I’m even happier to say that it did seem to work. After it had set it was a little thick which made it more difficult to spread about, but that wasn’t the main problem. You may recall when I was making the Viennese Whirls, that I was afraid of making the jam and ruining one of my Mum’s pans. Well… a photo has is in the gallery at the bottom.

At the time of writing this post, the pan is soaking and hopefully I’ll be able to get it looking sparkling and clean once more. It just needs a bit of elbow grease. Who knew there was so much drama in baking!


WEEK 5: BAKEWELL TART

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Getting the pastry right was the trickiest thing. It’s essentially the make or break of this challenge. The ingredients all form together quite nicely, but I was left with a dough that was basically too sticky. I had to keep sprinkling helpings of flour into the mixture and knead it like bread to get it soft, and even then there were still visible cracks that just wouldn’t disappear. The same thing happened with my Dampfnudel.

The second issue with it was actually getting it moulded into the flan tin. I had to roll out my pastry a good three or four times before I successfully got it into the tin. Each time it would just be that little bit too thin and either broke apart when I tried to get it off my work surface, or wouldn’t stretch out to the edges. Which brings me to my first top tip for this week:


WORDS OF ADVICE

When rolling out your pastry, try rolling it on some baking parchment or a baking tray. It can be a bit fiddly, but you then have the option of turning the tray upside down over the flan tin, so that the pastry falls gently over it.


Using the tray wasn’t perfect. I still needed to put plenty of flour to stop it from sticking entirely, but it made it a lot more manageable when transferring it from A to B. Which brings me to another top tip from my experience:


WORDS OF ADVICE

If you are using a flan tin with a removable base (which is recommended for the end), be careful not to knock it when taking the Tart in and out of the oven. What I ended up doing was using a pizza tray to rest it on. This made it more stable when putting it in and out of the oven, and the holes in the bottom allow the heat to come through.


I did leave my pastry hanging over the sides of the pan, before it went into the oven. I wasn’t entirely sure when to cut those away (the recipe didn’t say anything), so I just left it until it was cooked and had a more solid shape before trying to tidy up the edges. Aside from not being a smooth finish, the sides of my tart were far too thin whereas the base was far too thick. I suppose that’s advisable so that it holds the filling without it collapsing in on itself, but that thickness needed spreading to have a more solid surround.

The rest was pretty straight forward. It was getting the pastry right that was the challenge. Other than nearly destroying one of our pans, making the jam was a simple three steps and set nicely. The sponge filling came together quickly and browned nicely in the oven and the icing on top was thick enough so that it did not run, but thin enough so it could easily spread without sticking to my pallet knife.

There was no pink food colouring available, so I had to settle for red and instead of piping it as the recipe asked for, I ended up using the sauce bottle that I used for the pancakes last week. Once I’d gotten the icing thin enough, the bottle worked wonders in getting the swirly lines across the surface and using a cocktail stick, I struck across them at intervals to give that final presentation design.

I can’t say how it tastes yet. We haven’t dared cut into it, but all in all, I love what I’ve come out with this week. It may have taken me far more hours than it should have, but that time was well spent getting it as good as I could.

Not quite beaten the Viennese Whirls yet, but it definitely hits second place.

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This week’s challenge came to you from the legendary Mary Berry and can be found right here, for those wanting to have a go.

 

Bake Off Challenge – Week 4: Lacy Pancakes

Pancakes!

“How hard can that be?” That was the fool hardy thing that I said upon hearing my technical challenge this week and fatally forgot to touch any wood to prevent fate from rearing its ugly head.

Turns out… very.

What should have been the easier challenge turned out to be one of the most challenging.

And here was me hoping that I would be making Yorkshire Puddings this week.

Now I knew this wouldn’t be as simple as it looked. The actual making of the pancakes isn’t too much of a challenge. It’s a basic pancake recipe (with a few special instructions from Paul) that you then have to make into a masterpiece. And as it turned out, my artistic consistency didn’t go very well.

There isn’t a collective photo this week. Strangely enough as soon as the pancakes were turned out onto a plate, it wasn’t long before they had been gobbled up. What they lacked in style, they made up for in taste. Although if I had somehow managed to muck up making a simple pancake batter, then I would be a black mark on the baking community. Thankfully, I did not and am not (I hope).


WEEK 4: LACY PANCAKES

Here is the “diverse” range of pancake designs that I came up with this week.

In Mary’s words, they are “informal” and Paul would be simply giving me a very blank, but soul-destroying stare, with us both knowing that they were far from identical to one another.

What was annoying was the fact that my Mum’s attempts were far superior to my own, even on her first try. And yes, I did just admit that.

To be fair, my skill at wielding the sauce bottle that held my pancake batter improved dramatically from attempt 1 to attempt whatever I ended up with. My designs did not stay the same. I was trying to find a design that worked well and didn’t break apart when you tried to flip/turn them. I even resorted to using a heart shaped cookie cutter as a template to then fill with the pancake batter so it retained its form. It may not have been lacy, but it was definetly a heart.


WORDS OF ADVICE

Whatever design you choose, make sure that it is thick enough and there are no loose ends. Otherwise they are likely to break off/snap off when you try flipping/turning them


I even tried to be super clever (dangerous of me to do so) and put a smiley face into one of my pancakes. I thought that if I drew the face out first, then let it cook for a few moments before filling in the rest of the heart, the two “layers” would cook at different levels and therefore colour. But to quote TopGear (not the new one) I was being “ambitious but rubbish.” The face came out a little, but wasn’t very distinct. I knew it was supposed to be there, so it could just be my imagination. See if you can spot the face in the gallery.

Lacy pancakes, clearly not my thing.

Turns out it was a lot more fun to try other designs rather than restricting myself to hearts. For example, writing out your name. For one, they looked a lot better, at least until you tried to flip them. You know how I said about having a thick design so that it doesn’t fall apart. Well writing your name turns out to be pretty thin work and they can very easily break apart. Most of them did. Except for when I wrote out “Bake Off”. Somehow they stayed together. It must be a sign.

There’s not a lot more I can say about this weeks’ challenge. Practicing extensively before piping out your design seems to be key and you need far more than the one practice round that the contestants were granted last week. The batter can feel thin when pouring it into the pan and the end result can be quite messy but those with a steady hand will probably get far better results than I have. Key is don’t be afraid of it. Take your time rather than rush. When it comes out of the bottle it can feel like its out of control.


WORDS OF ADVICE

Experiment with the heat. If you opt for a higher heat, even if your batter is quite runny, as soon as it hits the pan it will start to cook and solidify. It just means you’ve got to be quick on the mark when it comes to your design


Oh god, I’m being pretentious about pancakes.

It may not have been an elegant endgame this week, but it was fun to do and nice to do pancakes again. It’s an easy thing to try with any basic pancake mix and makes your food a little bit different.

Here’s to hoping I can make back some Bake Off Points with next week’s Bakewell Tart, because that one is going to be far from easy.

Image result for GBBO 2016 mel and sue memes


Even though you can find a good, basic pancake recipe almost anyway (sorry Paul), for the official Bake Off one, click here.

Bake Off Challenge – Week 3: Dampfnudel

Confession: I’m not a fan of plums, or plum sauce. Neither am I a fan of custard. So despite being two things that technically should have been made this week, I have done neither. I went for a far easier (and tastier) option: melting chocolate, and Dairy Milk no less. It wasn’t even Tesco Value. But let’s face it, the sauces were not what we were interesting in making this week.

If you were watching last week’s episode and already knew what a dampfnudel was (or thingy-majiggies as I have been calling them) then credit to you, because I was there gawping at the screen through its historical backstory trying to figure out how the hell I was going to tackle this week’s technical.

There was one thing I did know however:

“Do not remove the pan lid”

At least not until Paul’s recipe tells you to.

Ready, Set, Dough!


WEEK 3: DAMPFNUDEL

So, here’s what I ended up with:

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Just ignore the whopping big crater

Now I have made bread before. Back in High School in Hospitality and Catering we did an entire project on bread – and yes, it’s as dull as it sounds. But it did mean we made a lot of bread so for the kneading and folding, I knew what I was doing. After working through the initial sticky phase it’s just a simple case of punching it and folding it again and again until you are left with a smooth surface. Folding it inwards after the initial proving is a bit trickier mainly due to your own personal judgement. The idea is to knock all the air out out of the dough before putting them into the poaching liquid and to be honest, I wish I knew how you can tell. I just kept folding inwards and inwards until the mixture started to return to a sticky state. Then I sprinkled a bit more flour to stiffen it up.


WORDS OF ADVICE

Don’t use a too much flour when kneading your bread dough. Too much and your dough will become too dry. It’s all about balance.


The real challenge turned out to be when there was nothing you could actually do. And here’s why.

When the dough balls had been placed in the poaching liquid, and I’d followed Paul’s golden rule of leaving the lid be, all you can do is watch and wait and judge, which is easier said than done. For starters, Paul’s recipe gives you an estimated time of 25-30 minutes. Watching them underneath the pan lid was agonisingly painful. The poaching liquid intermediately bubbled and the tops of the dampfnudel looked like they were starting to prune and I did everything I could to stop myself from lifting the pan lid.

It was a good thing I didn’t because when I did after the 25 minutes of waiting, the tops were still far too doughy. That’s why you can see a whopping great crater in one of my dampfnudels in the photo. I had to leave it for a further 10 minutes under the lid before cooking them for the further 15 minutes with the lid off. Don’t worry, that part is in Paul’s recipe. What probably didn’t help was that each dough ball was the size of a cricket ball. That’s a lot of dough to cook through all the way and I didn’t want to go the way of Rav with his dampfnudel that could be rolled back into a ball.

I wasn’t sure what we were actually looking for with the taste. They were described as tasting a lot like iced buns and for the most part, I think I accomplished that. They probably could have still done with a bit longer on the heat. The dough wasn’t raw, but I don’t think it had been cooked all the way through. Looking back it may have been better making more than the required 12 dampfnudels, to spread the mixture a little further, especially considering how much each dough ball grows. They may have been smaller, but they may have cooked better and quicker.


WORDS OF ADVICE

The smoother you can roll your dough balls, the better. If your dough is too dry then this will be more difficult to accomplish this.


The bottoms weren’t very caramalised either, despite being on the heat a lot longer than asked for. There were signs of caramalisation, but it was faint and lacked the colour you would usually expect. Whether this was to do with the lack of heat, or the size of the dampfnudels, I don’t know, but the trend with this technical seemed to be all about time and judgement.

There were very filling all the same, and the combination with the melted chocolate was magical.

Last week’s Viennese Whirls remain at the top of the food chain (for now). Let’s hope that I don’t have to appease a Swedish army any time soon.

Here’s hoping that my artistic skills with pancake batter are better in this week’s challenge.

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Want to have a go at these thingy-majiggies? The recipe is available from the BBC website, but for a shortcut, click here.

Bake Off Challenge – Week 2: Viennese Whirls

Before I get into this weeks’ Technical Challenge, I just need to do a bit of housekeeping which I foolishly forgot to do in the first instalment. To avoid misleading any of my peers, the following must be stated:

  1. The recipes that I use are the full versions available on the Great British Bake Off website. They are not simplified versions (I don’t even know where to get the simplified ones) but they are Mary Berry’s own.
  2. I have not been setting myself a time limit. I am notorious for being a slow cook and for now that is not set to change. Since most of these challenges will be bakes that I’ve never done before, I preferred the idea of taking my time to make something I’m genuinely proud of rather than rushing through blindly and having a gigantic mess. I’ll leave that for the professionals.

Right, now I’ve got that out of the way, let’s begin:


WEEK 2: VIENNESE WHIRLS

Now I do have to start with a confession. I didn’t make my own jam. I know that’s what the recipe called for and I know that’s what the bakers did last week, but where I thought I could just use a simple, straight forward saucepan for making the jam, what I actually needed was something called a ‘deep-sided saucepan.’ Well what difference does that make, you may ask? The truth is I have no idea. But after going a quick Google search and finding that the cheapest jam-making pans were around the £20-30 mark, for a one time only experiment I didn’t really fancy getting one. And so that I wouldn’t risk ruining one of my Mum’s existing pans, a jar of jam will have to do.

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“I must remember to take a landscape photo next time”

This week went a lot better than last weeks’ Jaffa Cakes. I was so much more happier with the presentation of the Viennese Whirls, even if some of them were larger than the others. Admittedly, I didn’t actually make the required 12 either. I ran out of mixture, but that would explain why I had three or four super-sized whirls. I ended up with 10, but if I’d been a bit more generous when piping then I would have easily made the required 12, if not more. At least I was only two off.

The actual recipe is not that difficult (famous last words). The tricky part comes with the piping which I definitely need more practice with. There was a worrying five minutes where my mixture didn’t seem to be coming together and I thought I’d be left with a bowl of very dry breadcrumbs. I must have been mixing it for about twenty minutes or more before it even started to show signs of success and even then took another good beating. When I first put the mixture into the piping bag, it was still too stiff to be used for any actual piping, so I had to spoon it all out and give it another good mix. It turned out to be very messy work.


Words of Advice:

I wasn’t sure whether it would be safe to use an electric whisk to combine the ingredients, but having looked up other recipes afterwards, some do say to use an electric whisk. So if you do have a go and have one, it’s the far quicker and better option.


Now I haven’t done a lot of piping before, not even with icing for decoration. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it’s far from easy, especially since the mixture was refusing to come out the other end. I think I also made the mistake of working outside-in, which thinking about it was the most illogical way to do it. Working inside out would have worked far better to get a much more even shape. Sometimes I wonder how my mind works. Then other times I just don’t argue. So other than the fact that I was piping the wrong way round, I did manage to get 21 out of 24 swirls, ready to be sandwiched. Paul and Mary would not have commended me on the consistency of the shapes and sizes, but I was pretty damn happy with them.

The rest, again was pretty simple. The filling ingredients combined a lot more easily than the actual biscuit mixture, but it is 70% icing sugar which tastes phenomenal and is a classic case of this is so wrong its good. I topped a bit of the filling onto Biscuit Whirl #21 while I was waiting for the others to cool. Oh it was good.


Words of Advice:

If you only have the one piping bag, wash it and leave it to dry while the swirls are in the oven. Turns out you need it to pipe the filling as well, something I forget right until I needed it. Then it was literally a case of watching a piping bag dry.


I did find it easier spreading the jam onto one biscuit, and then the filling on the other. Mary Berry’s recipe calls for you to apply the jam first and then pipe the cream on top, but I found that when I moved away the piping bag, the cream tried to drag the jam off with it. So instead, I had a plate of jammed biscuits, and another with creamed biscuits, and just sandwiched them together. Not that I mean to correct Mary Berry’s recipe (I would never be so bold) but I found it worked better for me. But then again, this is the person who piped outside-in rather than inside-out.

So there we have it – Viennese Whirls. Currently on top of the Ranking List (sorry Jaffa Cakes) but we’re only two weeks in.

I’ll be eagerly waiting for the Technical today.

And it’s Bread week!



Want to have a whirl at these Viennese biscuits? The recipe is available from the BBC website, but for a shortcut, click here.