For all those keen bakers and cake-lovers out there, the last couple of months have provided endless excitement and entertainment, courtesy of BBC2’s return of The Great British Bake-Off. This year the standards seemed higher than ever, with heightened drama in the Bake Off kitchen; from heatwaves to knife wounds, to violent winds and cakes nose-diving the floor. This series has in fact seen a huge number of bakes and cakes that are serious showstoppers, which really wouldn’t look out of place in a professional cake shop or French patisserie.
So, the big question remains – can students ever seriously aspire to concoct such mouth-watering and visually inspiring bakes? Or is a 3D edible construction of the coliseum really punching above your average student’s weight? Sarah Webster argues that when two of the 2012 finalists, James and John, were in fact students, anything is possible.
Cue Bake Off’s latest book to accompany the 2012 series, The Great British Bake Off: How To Turn Everyday Bakes into Showstoppers by Linda Collister, Mary Berry & Paul Hollywood. A real treasure trove of the best of the Bake Off creations from the latest series, the book has a wide variety of recipes that are bound to impress, from breads and biscuits, to pies and cakes. At times, because it is the showstopper book, you can feel like one of the bakers in the middle of a technical challenge and panic can set in when the recipe simply says “make the jam”. However, the book endeavours to explain most of the relative basics to the amateur baker, and what it really offers is exciting and innovative flavour combinations, so that, even with a slightly flawed finish, whatever you cook still tastes incredible. As long as you have the correct tools to work with there is no reason why you can’t also become ‘star baker’!
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Warm Blackberry Torte
Bake Off says: ‘This simple yet totally more-ish dessert is a cross between a rich sponge cake and a juicy fruit crumble with a crunchy topping. It’s great served with crème fraiche, but is even more comforting with cinnamon ice cream or custard.’
Sarah says: ‘A no hassle, easy to make dessert, popular with friends and it tastes great warm from the oven or cool from the fridge. The blackberries are really juicy and compliment the cinnamon and almond flavours well too.’
150g unsalted butter, softened
150g caster sugar
150g ground almonds
150g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large free-range egg, at room temperature, beaten
3 drops of almond extract (optional)
2 tablespoons of crème fraiche
300g fresh blackberries
2 tablespoons flaked almonds
1×23 springclip tin, well greased and the base lined with baking paper
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Put the soft butter, caster sugar, ground almonds, flour, cinnamon, egg and almond extract, if using, into a large mixing bowl. Beat with a wooden spoon or an electric mixer until thoroughly combined to make a fairly stiff cake mixture.
Spoon half of the mixture into another bowl and reserve for the topping. Mix the crème fraiche into the remaining mixture, then transfer to the prepared tin and spread evenly. Scatter the blackberries over the top, making sure they are evenly distributed.
To make the topping, pinch off pea-sized pieces of the reserved cake mixture and dot over the fruit so it is almost entirely covered. Scatter the flaked almonds over the top. Bake for 50-60 minutes until a good golden brown and just firm to the touch. It the top is browning too quickly during baking, cover with a sheet of baking paper or foil.
Remove from the oven and run a round-bladed knife around the inside of the tin to loosen the cake, then carefully unclip the tin side. Set the tore on a serving platter and dust with sifted icing sugar followed by a sprinkling of cinnamon. Serve warm. Any leftovers can be served at room temperature as a cake, or gently reheated (7-10 minutes in a 160°C/325°F/gas 3 oven).
Judge’s Signature Bake: Mary’s Toffee Apple & Pecan Pudding
Bake Off says: ‘A good recipe to have at hand, at any time of year, this is a quickly made, light baked sponge pudding. What makes it special is how you use the toffee pecan sauce!’
Sarah says: ‘This is a great recipe, particularly at this time of the year while we are in the mid-season for apples. The apples combined with the toffee sauce are really reminiscent of autumn-time and will be a great bake for either Halloween or Bonfire Night. You can also cheat with this one if you don’t have a pudding basin and simply cook in a Victoria sandwich tin; and it will still taste great with or without the pecan nuts!’
FOR THE TOFFEE SAUCE
300ml double cream
75g butter, softened
100g light brown muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
75g pecan nuts, roughly chopped
FOR THE SPONGE
125g butter, softened
125g light brown muscovado sugar
2 large free-range eggs, beaten
125g self-raising flour
250g Bramley apples, peeled and diced
1×1 litre pudding basin, well buttered a jam jar lid, a large saucepan
To make the toffee sauce, measure all the ingredients, except the nuts, into a saucepan. Stir over the heat until melted, then boil for 2 minutes. Set aside to cool.
To make the sponge, measure the butter and sugar into a bowl and beat with a hand-held electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add half of the beaten eggs and beat well, then add the remaining eggs plus a heaped tablespoon of flour. Beat until smooth. Using a metal spoon, fold in the remaining flour until combined. Fold in the apples.
Spoon half the toffee sauce into the pudding basin and scatter over half the pecans, then leave to cool. Spoon the apple sponge into the basin and level the surface. Cut a disc of baking paper to neatly fit the top of the sponge. Cut a square of foil to make a lid for the basin, butter it and fold a pleat along the centre. Top the sponge with the baking paper circle and cover the top of the basin with the foil lid and fold under the edges to seal. Cut a 21cm wide strip of foil (it needs to be long enough to hang over the edges of the saucepan when the pudding is in position). Folded the strip 3 times to create a 7cm-wide strip of foil and position a jam jar lid in the centre. Set the basin on the jam jar lid.
Put the foil, jam jar lid and pudding basin into a large saucepan, so that the foil ends hang over the edge of the saucepan. Pour boiling water into the saucepan so that it reaches half way up the sides of the basin. Cover the saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce3 the heat to a simmer and leave to cook for 2 ½ hours or until the sponge is golden, risen and spring to touch (lift the foil and baking paper lid to check this).
Remove the foil lid and baking paper. Loosen the sides of the pudding from the basin and invert it onto a serving plate within a lip. Heat the remaining toffee sauce in a pan. Spoon a little over the sponge and serve the rest alongside.
Mini Ricotta Cheesecakes
Bake Off says: ‘Very light and fluffy, these individual cheesecakes are made with low-fat ricotta rather than cream cheese, and are finished with a caramelized orange topping and sauce.’
Sarah says: ‘Even though this cheesecake is partly oven-baked, it tastes as if it had been made only in the fridge. If you don’t want to make 12 individual ricotta cakes in little ramekins, you can use this recipe to make one giant cheesecake, which in turn can be divided into 12 for those sharing people, or left as one whole for the greedy baker himself!’
FOR THE BASES
150g digestive biscuits, crushed
75g unsalted butter
FOR THE FILLING
200ml sourced cream
2 large free-range eggs, beaten
100g icing sugar
2 tablespoons ground almonds
Finely grated zest of 1 large unwaxed lemon and 1 medium unwaxed orange
FOR THE TOPPING
2 medium oranges
100g caster sugar
1×12-cup loose-based mini sandwich tin, greased; a baking sheet
Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/gas 2. To make the base, mix the biscuits with the melted butter. Divide evenly among the cups of the tin (about 1 ½ tablespoons crumbs for each). Press onto the base and halfway up the sides of each cup using a teaspoon; be sure there are no holes or gaps in the crust. Set the tin on the baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Remove and leave to cool while making the filling. Leave the oven on.
Put the filling ingredients into a food-processor and process until very smooth, then pour into a jug. Carefully pour the mixture into the cups in the sandwich tin (still on the baking sheet) to fill completely.
Bake for about 25 minutes until just firm, then remove from the oven – the mixture will continue cooking so don’t over-bake. When the cheesecakes are cold, cover the tin and chill for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight.
To make the topping, peel the oranges (work over a bowl to catch the juices). Cut each orange into 6 thin slices and add to the juice in the bowl. Make a caramel with the sugar and 3 tablespoons water (see page 197). Remove from the heat, then carefully pour in 3 tablespoons water. Return to the heat and stir gently until the caramel melts to make a thick sauce. Remove the pan from the heat and add the orange slices and juice. Tip the pan back and forth so the slices are coated in caramel, then leave to cool.
When ready to assemble, remove the sandwich tin from the fridge and leave at room temperature for 5 minutes to ‘come to’, then gently un-mould the cheesecakes by pushing up the base of each cup. Remove the cup bases with a small, round-bladed knife. Arrange the cheesecakes, biscuit side down, on a serving plate or individual plates.
Set an orange slice on top of each cheesecake and spoon over a little of the caramel. Serve the remaining caramel in a small jug. Best eaten within a couple of hours of decorating.
The Great British Bake Off; How To Turn Everyday Bakes into Showstoppers by Linda Collister, Mary Berry & Paul Hollywood
Published by BBC BOOKS
words: Sarah Webster