Bake Off Technical; Dessert Week – Marjolaine

Ah. Dessert week.

As long as I’ve been following Bake Off (2013-), the technicals for this have always been something fiendishly complex, usually French and meringue based. Think Floating Islands or Spanische Wintertorte. And Mary Berry, the usual recipe issuer for dessert week, continued this theme this year.

French? Check.

Meringue? Check.

Hideously complicated and time consuming? CHECK.

This time, the remaining bakers were asked to make something known as a marjolaine, which from research, tells me is the doyenne of French dessert patisserie. It is an oblong, layered gateau but doesn’t have any sponge cake (though some recipes call for a single layer of whisked génoise), instead made up of meringue, chocolate ganache and buttercream flavoured with praline. Nut allergy sufferers, look away now.

Just reading the recipe on the BBC website made me question my own sanity and just what on EARTH I had let myself in for. Watching the bakers make it was challenging enough. But I am never one to back away from a challenge. The whole point of this scheme of baking EVERY technical was to push my own skills to the limit and see how competent a baker I actually am.

Never made a dacquoise before.

Never made caramel before, let alone praline.

Soft ball stage sugar? French butter cream?! Nope.

This was either going to be a triumph. Or a mess. I was thinking mess.

Firstly though, I was also trying to keep to a reasonable budget – I did not go out and buy 2 swiss roll tins, instead opting for my 2 faithful baking trays, which measured the same dimensions and were deep enough to cook the meringue in. My food processor had died a few months ago, and I wasn;t going to rush and buy a replacement just yet. I had a hand blender, cling film, a jug and a rolling pin. I could manage.  I also couldn’t get hold of slivered pistachios in time for the topping, instead I chose to buy shelled ones and chop them. Won’t be as violently jade to look at, but add enough contrast for visual impact. Cop out? Lazy? Maybe. But I’m a home cook and can count on one hand the amount of times I’d need a swiss roll tin. I don’t make them, or roulades.

Anyway, back to the 4 hours of hell (The bakers had 3…I tried to do it in 3 but it didn’t happen) on a Sunday afternoon in early October.

First step was blitz up hazelnuts and blanched almonds and roast. The hand blender in a jug did a reasonable job, but they weren’t, shall we say even. And also, I felt the oven didn’t roast them enough so I bunged them in a dry pan. And overdid them. Great. Screwed up the first step whilst trying to multitask (I was separating eggs into the Kenwood whilst the nuts toasted). Thankfully they were salvageable and I didn’t have to start again. Besides, I told myself, meringue is stupidly sweet anyway. A hint of bitterness might be desirable as I like some complexity in my sweet treats, not just one-note diabetic relentlessness. I’m not 10 years old anymore.

Nuts mixed with sugar (a 2kg bag of the stuff was bought for this just in case!) and cornflour and left aside, I started on the meringue. Fairly straightforward, whisk until stiff (I once tried to whip egg whites years ago when my hand whisk broke and the balloon whisk had gone walkies. A fork doesn’t do the same job. It was pain on another level and taught me a valuable lesson about planning and procrastination) peaks form, and then ass the sugar spoonful by spoonful until once more stiff and glossy. Hold over head to check for doneness. Nuts folded through, I took a sneaky taste of the raw meringue (which is actually up there with condensed milk as one of those things you shouldn’t eat but you do in clandestine rapaciousness) and there was no undesirable burnt bitterness detected. YES. I could hide my previous cock up. I spread the manilla-toned, nut-speckled mix onto the parchment-lined trays and set in the low oven to bake for 45 to 60 minutes. Perfect time to get on with the other stages.


Time to lose my caramel virginity. I’ve done caramel sauces with butter and cream before, but never the proper stuff with just sugar and water. I knew that leaving the pan even for a microsecond was a no-no, so off I went. I stood by the pan like a sentry, and my first observation was….man this takes forever. Slowly the syrup began to turn the palest of golds….then darker and darker….as soon as my partner’s stepdad, who was casually observing, said it ‘looked and smelled like caramel’ I whipped it off the head and bunged in my toasted almonds (done with shaky optimism whilst panwatching), spreading it on a sheet of parchment and sighing with relief that potential burnt sugar hot mess had been averted.

When it came to blitzing the praline, I decided to go for the primeval bag and rolling pin method and luckily it broke into uneven chunks fairly easily. But I knew I had to get the blender out once more, so yet more eye-watering sounds, pieces flying across the countertop followed. But I had a mostly fine powder with a few bigger chunks. But I was happy with that….would add texture.


Chocolate ganache? Easy peasy, I thought, but I made a fatal mistake here which was to bite me on the arse later on. The recipe called for 360g plain chocolate (I had a mix of cheap value plain stuff and 85% gourmet stuff), and I got so engrossed in the serene repeition of snapping dark brown squares into a bowl that I inadvertently threw in the entire 400g…and I wondered why the warmed cream didn’t melt it all and why there were a few chunks of partially melted chocolate sitting gloatingly within the shining pond of ganache. More on that later. Blissfully unaware of my second mess-up, I threw the ganache gaily into the fridge and moved onto the next stage, the daunting French buttercream.

8 egg yolks were required for this, so in addition to the leftovers from the dacquoise, I separated 2 more eggs and got to work. It was time to get scientific and look up how to test for the ‘soft ball’ stage as I don’t have a candy thermometer. Simple enough, just drop a small amount of hot sugar into a bowl of ice cold water and see what it forms – if it makes a soft ball, as the name suggests, then it’s ready. So yet more sugar and water in a pan on the heat, off I went, anxiously watching and willing myself ‘Don’t fuck it up’ (my subconscious had taken on the form of RuPaul today it seemed). After a good few tentative tests, I had what I thought was a soft ball forming in the water so I took it off the heat rapidly and got the mixer going on the yolks. I was instructed to drizzle the warm syrup slowly into the beating egg yolks until thick and completely cool. 5-10 minutes. For God’s sake.  When it looked and felt just that, it was time to add the eye-watering 350g of cubed, soft butter bit by bit, whisking all the while. Essentially I was making a very decadent, sweet mayonnaise or bearnaise, wasn’t I? Jesus wept. WHAT WAS WRONG WITH REGULAR BUTTERCREAM?! I raged internally. It is ten times easier to make, or is it too uncouth for this fine patisserie, Mary?! But eventually I had a bowl full of what looked to me like a cross between cake frosting and mayo, and it seemed to be enough to fill and coat the gateau. I gingerly folded in the crunchy, golden powdered praline and placed into a bowl to go in the fridge alongside the fucked-up (excuse my language but you need to get SOME idea of the stress I felt when assembling!) ganache.

I then got busy clearing up (I was adamant that clean-as-you-go would be imperative here and I was so glad I did!) and toasting flaked almonds as well as chopping more hazelnuts and pistachios somewhat haphazardly with my trusty mezzaluna (yes it is Nigella’s official cookware one FYI) to get ready for the grand assembly.

It was crunch time.

I got out a tape measure to mark where to cut the cooled meringue sheets and made a small indentation with my thumbnail. It was a little tight-rope-between-skyscrapers but I successfully managed to have 4 rectangles, albeit very fragile. And the only serving platter that would fit this monster of a gateau would be a chopping board. So I placed the first sheet of meringue and began to slather on about a quarter of the buttercream, using the nearby stepdad’s “builder’s eye” to check it was level.

First layer done.

Topped with another sheet of meringue, the next layer was ganache. WHY WAS IT SO HARD?! A quick microwave blast to loosen it slightly and I was just about managing to spread it. Good enough, I decided, and topped with the third sheet, before slathering on another rough quarter of the buttercream. It didn’t look like there would be enough to cover the cake….did I beat it enough? Was the sugar syrup not at the right stage? Who knew? Or was I being paranoid?

Final sheet placed atop, it was then time for the bit I hate when frosting cakes (a practice I do rarely because of this), the coating. Gingerly and shakily, I began to use a standard kitchen knife (I really should just buy an offset spatula or even a pallet knife..I’m such a culinary Scrooge) and just about managed to coat 3 of the 4 sides with this stuff I was already sick of the sight of. Sod it, I can slice off the messy-ass front for a ‘layers’ photo.

I slapped on handfuls of toasted flaked almonds much like a kid does with glitter and glue when making a nursery Christmas card, and managed to successfully coat the back and sides with them.

And it was then I realised my earlier cock up as the stiff ganache REFUSED to be piped, oozing through the stitching in my piping bag and all over my fingers. And then a chunk of excess unmelted chocolate jammed the nozzle. I had to run upstairs before I threw the wretched gateau at the wall. And it was time to go pick up my partner for work, the optimistic 3 hours extended by 45 minutes. In a blind stressed out rage, I heated the ganache in the microwave again and threw it in the fridge, veins throbbing in my temples. Everyone and everything was the devil incarnate. And I’d run out of cigarettes! Life was laughing at me and I HATE leaving jobs unfinished. Plus I’d also set myself the additional task of roasting a joint of beef once I’d done the gateau.

So once back home, my partner suggested try reheating the ganache (it had of course, solidified YET again) and just see what happens. So he took that job whilst I SEETHED, contemplating throwing the bloody unfinished thing in the bin and cursing Mary Berry’s name and the pointlessness of piping excessively. Ganache much softer, I dumped it in the piping bag and grudgingly set about finishing the now 4 plus hours of torture. Somewhat sloppily, a frame and 5 diagonal lines were piped, with a little help from a dessert spoon handle to join any gaps. Ridges weren’t that defined, but by this time I couldn’t have given two shits.

However, once the gaps were filled with contrasting shades of chopped hazelnuts and pistachios….the marjolaine was finished. And despite the obvious issues here and there visually, I thought, begrudgingly so (though everyone else at home, who of course had to be an audience, which I hate when taking on a cooking task I struggle with. thought it looked really good), didn’t look too bad, and even looked, dare I say it…impressive?

And as soon as it was finished, the fierce homicidal rage evaporated and relief swept through me. I had conquered the most challenging bake I had ever done, albeit with some mistakes. But sometimes “this will do” is enough. Life is too short sometimes.


But I can tell you that this vodka/cream soda with grenadine sunrise in my hand was MUCH needed.



There is no sadness in his eyes, just relief at finally making it through the wilderness.


As I write this up, I haven’t seen Tudor Week but I know the technical involves ornate biscuits. Nothing, I tell myself, nothing, can top this hideous nightmare. I’ll take anything.


But one thing I have taken from this experience, is that I want to try cooking meringue more. So this coming weekend, I will take on the 2013 dessert week technical, Iles Flottante (floating islands), which is poached meringue quenelles on a ‘sea’ of creme anglaise (vanilla custard). I may write it up as a special post as it sort-of fits the Bake Off technicals, just one from 3 years ago! And then, I will tackle the Tudor Week one!

See you next time!



Bake Off Technical; Botanical Week – Fresh Herb Fougasses

Firstly, let me apologise for the late posting for Pastry Week, I made it a fortnight ago, but just never got round to the write-up until this week. Obviously Dessert Week has now come and gone,  but THAT (ARGH) is an epic mess to come.

Rewind back to last week, when there was the newly-added ‘Botanical Week’, whereby the bakers had to make goods with flavours inspired by nature. Citrus meringue pies were the signature (have to say that was a bit of a copout by the producers), whilst the Showstopper was to be floral-inspired tiered cakes. The technical was an altogether different beast.

I groaned when I saw that it was to be a bread, meaning it was one of Paul’s. YAY. Or not. And as guessed by the preview, it was indeed a Fougasse, flavoured with herbs.

A fougasse is a French leavened flatbread, related to the more well-known Italian foccacia,hailing from the Provence region and usually flavoured with olives and anchovies (YES PLEASE), and slashed to resemble ears of wheat or a leaf. I was familiar with them, having seen them on sale alongside the pizzas in Waitrose.

I took a deep breath, and decided to get on with it without cursing CowellLite Hollywood’s name. Thankfully the recipe required no hand kneading, and you could do the dough entirely in a stand mixer. Thank God for that. It sounded easy enough, so armed with herbs, flour, yeast, olive oil and salt, off I went.

I ran the dough hook-armed Kenwood for the allotted 8 minutes and noted that the dough was fairly wet, but stretched out the bowl as the recipe told me. So far, so good. I placed it an oiled bowl and left in my top oven to rise for an hour at least. Upon my return, I saw the dough hadn’t risen a lot (maybe I’d left the bottom oven too warm) , but deciding to press on, I scattered semolina and flour over the worktop and split it into two balls, flattening them out on two baking trays lined with greaseproof paper.


The recipe stated you needed a pizza cutter to make the fougasse’s signature slashes – I don’t own one, as I don’t ever buy chilled pizzas (only choosing to have them delivered if I didn’t want to make one myself) and rather than keep buying utensils for these one recipes, I stuck to a sharp knife. However, although I managed to get 14 slashes on each dough oval, they took a good few goes with the knife and weren’t very open and emphasised. Undeterred, I placed them back in the top oven for 20 minutes for a second prove.


When it was time to bake, I removed the uncooked loaves and tried to open the holes a bit more, with only moderate success. I was then instructed to drizzle with olive oil and scatter with dried oregano, which I duly did. They then went into the oven for a 20 minute bake.

Perhaps I should have got some steam going in there as star baker Tom did for this, as although the loaves baked through in that time and got a decent golden colour, they still had very narrow holes. Oh well, they were cooked, sounded hollow and weren’t burned. Good enough for me. I peeled them off their parchment bases and placed on a cooling rack, brushing with olive oil whilst hot as instructed, before finishing off with a scattering of Maldon salt.

I floured them before baking. Some may say overdone. And where are the holes?

Hollywood would probably give them 4/10 for appearance but I don’t care. I wanted to see how they tasted as the savoury scent of sage, rosemary, thyme and oregano wafting through the house as they baked was mouth watering. Because it made 2 loaves, I saved one for our household and took the other into work.

Both went in a very short space of time. I myself was pretty taken with the crunchy, bready savouriness (though I had to admit the herb flavour wasn’t especially strong) and devoured a fairly large amount of each loaf – by the way, it made fantastic dipping components for soft boiled eggs when cut into small sticks.

I would have if left unsupervised. Salty, herb bread. HEAVEN.

Verdict. The first Hollywood technical I would make again. Only this time, I won’t bother with fresh herbs, instead going for the saline punch of chopped olives and anchovies as in the authentic Provencal version of the bread. Much more up my street. Not that this herbal take was a bad thing as the flavours were still sunny and Mediterranean. I liked how it was easy to knock up in the stand mixer, though perhaps a pizza cutter would be a better tool for the essential slashes. And perhaps bigger baking trays. But I’m sure I’d do just fine without, and if I changed the flavourings to olives and anchovies, plus topped them with cheese before baking, I have essentially created my own recipe. So watch this space.

Next time – prepare for tears and a nervous breakdown as I tackle the most hideous technical to date. Mary Berry’s marjolaine. How on EARTH…..but I intend on seeing this through to the final. I took this on as a test of my baking skills.

T x


Bake Off Technical; Pastry Week – Bakewell Tart

After the disaster that was the pointless lacy pancakes, I was relieved to see that Pastry Week’s technical was something manageable. Thankfully the hideousness of laminated dough (I can’t do it) was confined to Danish pastries for the signature challenge, whilst the showstopper was something else I would NEVER try, filo pastry. Eccentric barmy aunt Val was the one to leave, whilst my favourite (and it seems, many people’s least…I have no idea why. Probably because of her non-RP accent) Candice won star baker. But you all knew this anyway, so on to the important stuff.

Most of us Brits love a Bakewell tart, be it the real McCoy from the town in the Derbyshire Dales or the mass-produced small kind topped with fondant and a glacé cherry.  There is no actual evidence it originated in Bakewell, but it is a close relative of Bakewell pudding, which did come from the town. Anyway, I am a fan of them and have never made them before, the closest being Nigella Lawson’s raspberry Bakewell slices from her Kitchen book.

The recipe, thankfully, is by Mary Berry, who despite my not being a huge fan of, definitely prefer hers over the intolerable Paul Hollywood’s.  It seemed fairly straightforward, though she also asks for a thick glacé icing topping, feathered with pink. This caused some controversy (don’t you just love people’s ability on social media to get whipped up into a frenzy about food?) as of course, the traditional tart is uniced, merely garnished with flaked almonds atop the frangipane filling.

It called for a sweet shortcrust, raspberry jam (the same one as for the Viennese whirls) and of course the frangipane (a sponge made with ground almonds instead of flour, for those who don’t know what it is. An underrated confection in my book. I should make it more. Especially given my fondness for stone fruit which is of course from the same botanical family as the almond), as well as this aforementioned icing.

First problem I encountered was the tart tin. The bottom to my nonstick flan had gone walkies and, also, was possibly too big, being over the 23cm/9inches specified. So I had to plump for a china flan dish, which looked to be about that size (don’t ask me how I guessed but yeah, we’re going into X-rated territory). I had no qualms about serving the tart to my guinea pigs (work colleagues) out of the dish. Not taking any chances, I buttered and floured the thing and got on with it.

The jam turned out better than with the whirls, having timed it religiously and it was now cooling and setting patiently as I heaved out my Kenwood to mix up the pastry (sorry but gadgets win and plus you are meant to handle pastry as little as possible). Fairly easily done, no drama, and it was sent to the fridge to chill for half an hour.

No big sheets of jam this time.

After the waiting game, it was time to blind bake. I am well versed in this so this was no bother. Admittedly the pastry shrunk back a bit, but I was unfazed. As long as it sufficiently dried out, there should be none of the dreaded soggy bottom. It was baked for 15 minutes with the parchment and uncooked rice (I have a jar of much-used stuff especially for this purpose – too cheap to buy ceramic baking beans) and then another 5 with this paraphernalia off to dry it out.

Pastry was a bit of a pain to work with, hence the messy base. Personally I’d have gone with a basic plain shortcrust for this as the icing, jam and filling are sweet enough.

Case baked, cooled a little and spread with jam, it was time to get the mixer set up for the filling. Equal measures of sugar, butter and ground almonds plus 1 beaten egg and some almond essence.  Again, no drama and it was set into the reduced oven to cook. This is where the first problem arose….it needed a good extra 5 minutes over the maximum 35 cooking time as stated within the recipe. Once baked, it was left to cool and hopefully settle down into a flat surface.

Frangipane filling awaiting its pink and white anointment. As you can see, several skewer holes to check for ‘done-ness’. A little patchy colour-wise but that didn’t matter as the icing would hide those sins.

I perhaps got too eager and made up the icing in advance, and it had to be stirred a good few times to stop it setting, and it also may have been a bit on the thick side. However, it was just enough to cover the top of the tart, and when it got to the feathering (fine piping isn’t my forte and the lines were a touch messy) I had way too much pink icing left over. But the tart was finished.

However, the proof of the pudding IS in the eating, and it was devoured with gusto by my work colleagues. Can’t ask for more than that. Perhaps the base was a little thick at the edges if I was being hyper critical but apart from that, the china pie dish was a decent stand in, and serving the tart from the dish didn’t hurt – it cut nicely without breaking.

Verdict on this one: A good, solid recipe, though the feathered icing topping is cause for contention amongst purists. However, some find the plain unanointed variant of the Bakewell a touch dry, and I do love a Mr Kipling Cherry Bakewell – the satiny tooth-aching synthetic sweetness of the fondant (almond flavouring in that is desirable) is a good enough contrast. Like the Viennese whirls, this has been added to the ‘will bake again’ file.

Next time……I get to grips with Fresh Herb Fougasses..

Bake Off Technical; Batter Week – Lacy Pancakes (Or not)

It’s been a busy week and a bit and I’ve only just found time to finally attempt the fourth technical challenge of the final series of Bake Off  as we know it, how apropos on the day Mary Berry follows Mel and Sue in staying with the BBC, leaving just Paul Hollywood and the tent remaining on the painful journey to C4.

It was a new one for 2016 – Batter Week. The bakers had to make 12 filled Yorkshire Puddings for their signature; the technical was classic pancakes with a twist, whilst the showstopper was the Spanish traditional snack, churros.

Obviously I am concentrating on the technical, which for this week again, was set by the blue-eyed wannabe Simon Cowell of baked goods, Paul Hollywood. Joy.

This time the bakers were instructed to make 12 lacy pancakes. Not the delicate, thin French crepes, but pancakes in the shape of lacy heart patterns. OK. The bakers reached varying degrees of intricacy with theirs…

Pancakes? I thought. I can do that! Lacy ones? Sure! No problem…

This what they should look like. Image copyright: BBC

Oh how wrong I was.

I can make a pancake. I have NEVER bought the add-water-and-shake travesties on Shrove Tuesday, instead choosing to make the batter from scratch. Generally speaking, I have always done OK. I would have the ingredients in, and it’ll all be fine. But, perhaps to my detriment, I decided to not waste money on a plastic squeezy bottle, instead opting to use a washed-up old ketchup bottle – it was already in the house, it was plastic and squeezy. No problem.


Oh dear….

I think somehow my dislike of Hollywood came through as the two practice ones (yes I know) came out dismally. The batter came out of the bottle unevenly without much control, and instead what resulted were not delicate ornate hearts, but hot messes. We even tried piercing the lid of the bottle but it was just coming out the same. So much so, that halfway through, I decided to completely abandon the ‘lacy’ part and just use the batter up by making boring but much easier ‘normal’ pancakes.  My money saving, ultimately cost me.

Ahem. Yes. These are not lacy.

But usually if I fail a recipe, it involves tantrums, strops and questioning my very competence as a cook. I have been known to make a recipe twice if the first one goes wrong, almost like if getting it right cancels out and vanishes the ‘bad one’. This time however, I regretted nothing. It wasn’t a waste of time or ingredients as we still ate pancakes. We had a pancake day in September. How can this be anything other than joyous?

That’s more my thing. Substance over style.

Final verdict. Pointless challenge and really doesn’t test one’s technical skills, except perhaps how steady your hand is. Yes, I’m saying that because I failed it appallingly, but I really couldn’t give a damn. What is even the POINT of ‘lacy pancakes’ other than being the ultimate in style over substance?

Frankly, churros or Yorkshires would have been more suitable as a technical because I haven’t made either (yes. I have never made a Yorkshire pudding, usually leaving it to someone else in the house who doesn’t mind fiddling with tins of hot fat. I NEVER buy them in!) and they both have their own requirements:

Yorkshires – need to be beaten enough to allow for a good rise, and the batter shouldn’t be too thick. Also the oven temperature needs to be hot enough otherwise they become doughy.

Churros – batter needs to be stiff enough to hold its distinct ridged shape from the piping bag, and they need to be cooked correctly to achieve the crispy outside and fluffy interior.

Lacy pancakes though? Most people can make a pancake. Yes, they look pretty if you can be bothered, but you can’t douse them in lemon juice and sugar (it just spills out everywhere), let alone Nutella or golden syrup (whatever your choice of pancake accoutrement may be) and who eats a ‘plain’ pancake?

Eaten standing alone, they are bland to say the least. I wasn’t going to go out and buy a plastic bottle just for this because let’s face it, I wouldn’t make them this way normally. Life is too short to draw ornate patterns in a hot frying pan when you can just as easily make a duller plain disc pancake, which comes alive when dressed in sharply sweet, citrus-soused sugar or cloyingly addictive Nutella.

At least the sauté pan I bought for the dampfnudel  (ugh those wretched things still haunt) actually has other uses in the kitchen so I can sort-of justify that.

My partner summed it up – “making pancakes is usually fun….and this isn’t fun.”

It may not be lacy. But it was a damn good pancake. We had a pancake day in September. Screw you Hollywood.

I write this the day after seeing Pastry Week with a far more interesting technical – Bakewell tart. I have made bakewell slices before so that should be slightly more challenging and makes more sense as a technical (more skills put to the test – pastry making, frangipane, icing feathering, timing, being aware of the layers and proportions). Funny how all of Mary’s technicals seem appealing (I will make the Viennese Whirls again as they had rave reviews from my work colleagues) whereas all of Hollywood’s are stressful and pain-inducing. The ‘botanical week’ of next week’s technical in the preview looked to be some kind of herb fougasse (a leavened Mediterranean flatbread in a distinctive spoked shape) that is no doubt set by Hollywood… that stressfest is also to come.

So I leave you with this. Don’t bother with lace pancakes unless you are dying to show off on Instagram. Make normal ones instead and have an off season pancake day instead. Far more enjoyable.


Bake Off Technical; Bread Week – Dampfnudel

In the wake of the sad news about #Breadxit (BBC losing the rights to Bake Off to Channel 4, and Mel Giedroyc, Sue Perkins and Mary Berry all stepping down), I figured I’d left it long enough to blog how Bread Week’s technical went for me (though in light of a recent financial blow, writing about superfluous baked goods I’m still trying to make my way through almost 4 days later seems a tad…bad form but that’s another story).

The nation watched with open-mouthed bewilderment as the 10 remaining bakers were instructed to make a curiosity known as ‘dampfnudel’, which, according to the insufferable Paul Hollywood was the toughest technical to date (and he was on smug, Cowell-lite form the entire episode. It’s JUST BREAD MATE. Calm the EFF down.)

Dampfnudel, despite the name, are not some weird form of noodle (Nudeln is German for noodle) but steamed buns, cooked in a lidded pan, and using my ultimate baking nemesis, enriched dough – I cannot get on with the stuff, I hate kneading, it never seems to rise for me but just about comes together upon baking. They should also have distinctly caramelised bottoms.

The particular recipe issued by the blue-eyed demon also instructed the bakers to make a plum sauce and vanilla custard as accompaniments. So this meant a fair bit of shopping to boot – although there’s loads of wild plums around my local area, I had to buy foreign imports for this as he asks for 4 ripe examples. Knowing how long it takes the home ripening billiard balls to do so, I had to splash out on ‘Perfectly Ripe’ versions (you can tell where I shopped), of the Flavor King variety, which admittedly do have a wonderful fragrance and glisten crimson upon cutting.

Like Hollywood himself, the recipe is anal, pernickety and frankly annoying. Here’s a link because I cannot be bothered to list every ingredient here. First I had to make the dough, making sure yeast and sugar were correctly placed, blah blah. It made a heinously sticky mess and was a bitch to knead. Repeated flouring of surface and hands was required and it eventually came together. I grated the zest of a lemon over it, kneaded it in again as barked at by Paul.  It was placed in a greased bowl and dumped in a warm place (my top oven, already warmed thanks to the main one at 120C sterilising jam jars, as I was also making wild plum jam that day. I may publish a recipe but it was too similar to my Cherry Plum jam in method) to rise for an hour.

Whilst the dough was rising, it was an ideal time to make the two sauces (I chose to not bake the dampfnudel for work because it required too much paraphernalia (serving buns from a pan – a saute one especially bought for this, and because it was reduced to clear at Sainsburys – great timing! – and two jugs of sauces to serve with.). Thankfully, these were easy enough to make; I’ve had experience of making ‘real’ egg yolk custard before and that came together pretty nicely (though I had such buyers remorse at having to get vanilla bean paste for this, especially as I HAD extract and would only need a half teaspoon – but again, I had to stick to doing exactly as the bakers did on the show). The plum sauce also thankfully came out OK, I didn’t overboil them and make it too thick, and it blended to a velvety, glossy, claret goo, heavily scented with fruity aromas.

Plum sauce – glossy, tart and fragrant.
Vanilla sauce AKA custard. Probably the best custard I’ve ever made.

Slight delay to proceedings owing to the wild plum jam taking ages to set, it was time to shape the buns. Quelle-surprise, the dough, despite having over an hour’s proving, stayed obstinately the same size. Rolling my eyes, I shaped it into 12 balls, which cracked a little (too much flour, no doubt because I’m shit at kneading) and left them aside whilst I got on with the poaching liquid, which is milk with a bit of butter and sweetened with caster sugar. Dickhead (sorry but it’s shorter than writing Paul Hollywood every time) instructs that you place the dough balls in the warm liquid and leave them for a second prove for 15 minutes. JESUS. These things had better taste amazing. I was getting irritable.

Here goes nothing….the dampfnudel start steaming after showing barely any rise.

Surprise, suprise, they stayed the same size. Had I murdered my yeast? Would I have wallpaper paste after the cooking time. And it was now time to cook supper. Bugger. They’d have to be served cold after dinner because I wasn’t going to stop now – thankfully my understanding better half stepped in to help with supper so I could FINALLY cook these wretched dampfnudel.

I placed the pan on the hob over a low heat and let cook, remembering to leave the lid ON at all times for 25 minutes. And FINALLY, it looked like things were going right. They began to swell like lemon scented Adipose (yes a Dr Who reference) in their sweet milky bath and when the buzzer pinged, only a scant splash of poaching liquor remained. I lifted off the lid and let them cook a further 5 minutes. YES. The bottoms had caramelised without burning, and the tops did not feel raw.

Success. Thankfully they cooked through in the allotted times…

Supper eaten (chicken enchiladas, all made from scratch FYI) and allowed to go down…It was time to finally try the bloody dampfnudel and see if an afternoon’s slaving was worth it. Turning them out, they didn’t stick to the pan but did come out as one, like a challah loaf, but were easy enough to separate. And the caramelised bits off the pan….WOW. Burnt toffee in the best possible way. They should be served as a snack by themselves.

The buns out the pan. Those caramelised bits are definitely a cook’s treat..

I reheated the sauces and served us one bun apiece, drizzling them artfully with a rough St George’s flag of custard and tangy plum, and then dived in.

Attempting and failing artful presentation

Dense, somewhat tightly structured within, with a subtle lemon flavour, but one thing was for sure, they definitely needed the sauces to finish the job. I was chuffed with the custard (but I usually use skimmed milk and no cream if I ever make it, this was a total splash out) and will keep the recipe for that for the future, the plum sauce was nice and tangy as a contrast. However, the buns themselves were a tad underwhelming. It’s Wednesday as I write this and I still have 4 buns remaining, no custard left. Myself and the better half have been gamely trying to eat them to avoid needless wastage (I will not throw any food away unless it’s unsafe to eat). Microwaving them doesn’t soften them, but dries the crumb inside out to almost inedible levels. Best served warm on day of making, I think.

I can already hear Hollywood criticising the crumb structure.

However, tonight I split a couple and toasted them under the grill, spreading them with a little butter and leftover raspberry jam from the Viennese Whirls. This is highly recommended if you, like me, have dampfnudel haunting you for the following days. They toast brilliantly and their lemony flavour stands up well to sweet jam on top.

If like me, they haunt you for days after making, splitting and toasting breathes new life into the stale dampfnudel, especially with home made jam atop them.

Verdict: Yep, the technicals are getting tougher, and I am doggedly still doing every single one to test my baking skills to the limit. Would I make dampfnudel again? NO. Not unless I was feeding a crowd of Bake Off fans and had enough time beforehand to do so. But I;m glad I did because learning about other countries’ traditional foods is one of my favourite things about being a ‘foodie’ and I got to make something I never would have before.

Technical Challenge gate is proving to be a twisted love affair. The recipes are gruelling, but they are interesting additions to my repertoire, push my abilities and plus, ya know, it’s Bake Off, and I’ve had some awesome responses on my social medias about doing them. However, it seems that ‘Technical Bake Along’ is the trend after a quick Instagram trawl…still, at least I now know I’m not alone in this mission and hopefully, I can reach out to other bloggers trying their GBBO hand.

Stay tuned to see how I fare with Batter Week’s technical, which I understand to be ‘lace pancakes’. Oh. Dear. I’m already predicting a hot mess…..


Bake Off Technical; Biscuit Week – Viennese Whirls

So here we go, the second week’s Technical Challenge is upon me (this week’s is actually Bread Week, which won’t be for work, so I shall be attempting the fiendish dampfnudel this weekend!), and my work colleagues will once more be subject to my ham-fisted, woeful-no-doubt attempts at the buttery classic sandwich creation with jam and buttercream.


Despite their name, they are an entirely British creation, said to be inspired by the pastries of the Austrian capital (a country well known for its patisserie – its most famous being the upmarket chocolate and apricot sponge cake known as the Sachertorte) but are entirely unrelated – they are more closely related to the Empire biscuit, another British bake (interestingly also called ‘german biscuits’, ‘Deutsch Biscuits’ and ‘Linzer Biscuits’ – you can see the resemblance).

The Viennese whirl as we know it, was popularised by Mr Kipling and is two shortbread rounds, piped using the star nozzle and sandwiched with buttercream and raspberry jam. Fairly easy, no?

This is how most of us have eaten one of these…by the way, they’ve been nowhere near Austria.

However, the shortbread dough needs to be stiff enough to hold its shape, but not so stiff that it is impossible to squeeze out of the icing bag (I tried to avoid the double entendres but it’s unavoidable isn’t it?).

Ingredients list once more short and straightforward. Though you are instructed to make the jam from scratch too. OK. Cool. I’ve just blogged a jam recipe.

Mary asks for 250g unsalted butter, 50g icing sugar, 225g plain flour and 25g cornstarch for the biscuits, whilst the jam asks for 200g raspberries and 250g jam sugar. The buttercream filling called for 100g unsalted butter, 200g icing sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla. All basic stuff that any supermarket or even corner shop would sell. Perhaps not the jam sugar.

Off I went to make sure I had the correct things in….though I did try and be cheap by using salted butter (Waitrose sell it in 500g blocks which worked out cheaper than buying 2 x 250g unsalted as I’d need a good 400g for the recipe in total), which is a choice I make with all bakes as I think the small percentage of salt just cuts the relentless sweetness slightly and enhances the flavours – it was a tip I picked up from a colleague whose shortbread is the best I’ve ever tasted and can never hope to match.

I also opted for frozen raspberries (£2.20 for 400g instead of £2 for a 180g punnet fresh berries) as they were far cheaper. Good job too, as I found out…

… because my Viennese expedition didn’t get off to a flying start, having chosen a crappy light-bottomed saucepan to make the jam in…. predictably, it burned and caught on the bottom of the pan and I had to start over again. Yippee. Thank God for my penny pinching as I had another 200g of berries ready to go. Using a better pan, I had the jam made. Phew. I poured it into an oblong dish to allow it to set quickly. And set it did. Hard. I could flip it out as one square jam panel – a problem with the jam sugar is that it has a tendency to set jams a bit too hard. However, with a few moments work with a spoon, the jam loosened up a bit and was able to be spread.

A sheet of raspberry jam. Being a cheapskate paid off as the first batch of jam burned owing to bad choice of saucepan. Thankfully as I chose to use frozen berries, I had enough left to start again.

Next came the tedious task of drawing 24 4-cm circles on 3 sheets of baking parchment. I only had 2 baking sheets, so it would have to be done in 2 batches. And neither of my pastry cutters were small enough. I used a small Old Fashioned glass which was more like 4.5 cm but let’s not split hairs here (or perhaps we should, ya know, being the TECHNICAL challenge.). I

When I made the biscuit dough (I had to check the recipe on the BBC and Bake Off sites that the 50g icing sugar wasn’t a typo) I had a flash of horror…WHY did I think I knew better than Mary Berry and use SALTED butter  – initial tasting of the biscuit dough proved a horror – it wasn’t sweet at all! However it was easy enough to pipe, not too stiff and soon, I just about had 24 piped rounds in varying degrees of uniformity (informal, as Mary would say). Unlike the jaffa cakes, I only just had sufficient biscuit dough to make the 24…looks that 0.5cm cost me a bit then.

I stuck to the fan oven temperature listed as biscuits are way too easy to overbake and gave them the minimum 13 minutes (13-15 in the recipe). I did 2 trays of 8, and then once they were cool enough to free up a tray, 1 more tray of 8. Thankfully, they came out nicely gold…..and most importantly they kept their definition! YAAAAS.


Now it was time to let them cool – I gave them a timed 5 minutes on the trays before transferring to a rack to finish cooling off. They felt short and likely to break if handled too enthusiastically. Time to be delicate I think…something I am not.

Finally, once the dreaded washing up was completed, it was time to make the buttercream (like with the biscuit dough, my stand mixer was put to more use. Aint nobody got time for doing it by hand, soz Mary.) which was pretty easy. Piping bag filled, it was time to turn these dull (and no doubt salty AF) biscuits into 12 Viennese whirls. The jam, thankfully spread without breaking the biscuit bases, but was still perhaps too thick to be technically perfect. Piping on the buttercream was also easy enough, and once the ‘tops’ were added…..this uneven bunch of biscuits, too-thick jam and buttercream came together and actually didn’t look half bad! I’d done it…12 Viennese whirls.



I’d happily score myself 6/10, at least going by appearance as there is no total uniformity…

…however the acid test was in the eating, and when the time finally came at work to try them…and just maybe, I DID know better than Berry as the fear of salty, bland biscuits was unfounded. The jam was intensely flavoured with raspberry and the buttercream unctuous, rich, sweet and thick with the nursery aroma of vanilla…so they more than balanced with their light butteriness, resulting in a pretty damn delicious whirl. 3 colleagues took seconds…as did I.

So I have to say, Biscuit week’s technical, despite starting stressfully, was just about managed with a small amount of patience, though I’m sure I’d lose marks for them not ALL being exactly the same in looks. The flavour more than made up for it I think, and obviously, there’s plenty of scope for being creative and changing the kind of jam used, though the flavours of raspberry and vanilla I think work best with the rich shortbread biscuits.

Next…..the evil-looking dampfnudel from Bread Week get the treatment. Have I bitten off more than I can chew this time? And can I bring myself to work to the arrogant, overbearing Paul Hollywood’s pernickety standard? After all, I don’t want wallpaper paste that people will refuse to eat…and bread is not a strong point of mine. Especially enriched dough…….watch this space (if I don’t have a dampfnudel-induced-nervous breakdown first)


Jam For Free? Cherry Plum & Five Spice Jam

I was debating to call this a recipe as I didn’t weigh the fruit or the sugar. This was all done by eye, and only made 1 and a bit jars. But whilst we head into British plum season (and all their glorious hedgerow relatives beloved of countryside cooks for generations – sloes, damsons, bullaces), it seemed appropriate to at least honour a British native fruit that is available free of charge  – I have foraged for these small tart fruits in the countryside before, but suburban Cambridge is full of them. So all I had to do was walk up the high street with an empty Hovis wrapper (an ideal small bag, don’t judge me).

Cherry plums are a small dark red to black plum, (yellow/green when unripe) bigger than the bullace and about the same size as a damson. They are often planted as ornamental trees because some varieties have beautiful dark purple leaves. Often ignored due to many not realising they are edible, and most sadly end up squashed into pavements during July and August, it’s a real shame as these fruit for free have many uses and whilst they are nothing to write home about fresh off the tree, they have a myriad of other uses – as this Guardian article goes into.

However, after finding out a brilliant partner to them is lemon thyme via an episode of The Food Programme, and it of course being slap-bang in the middle of the season, I picked the plums for this jam from a tree near a primary school on my street, and they grow abundantly in large bunches. I came home with 2lbs worth (I was out for about 10 minutes if that) and sadly when i got round to using them 2 days later (a few were still half-yellow at the time of scrumping) a large amount had rotted – you should use foraged fruit quickly! – but I had enough to make jam without turning the house into a cannery.

Ripe Cherry Plums or Myrobalan Plums -Prunus cerasifera- on a tree, Bavaria, Germany – stock photo, not my own. German food incidentally, celebrates the plum.

I’ve done cherry plum crumble before, used them in a chutney and in jams as they are, but this time I fancied adding extra flavours. I’d forgotten to buy lemon thyme, but I found another good partner to the plum is star anise. Taking this on board, I sprinkled in some Chinese 5 spice, of which star anise is the main event player. The added salt within the blend helped to add complexity – it was a tiny amount, just enough to give it a hint without shouting over the flavours of the fruit.

Sorry there’s no specific amounts, it was a freeform affair, and I only had 2 clean, empty jars to hand! However much you make is up to you – plums contain pectin so no need to add apples or lemon.

You should make this even without the spice if I’m honest – these plums are everywhere right now, and they cost nothing to get whilst even the British plums currently on the supermarket shelves are somewhat overpriced. You may even have a tree in your garden or on your street. Plus, the jam is a beautiful, startling scarlet from the skins, and you can control the sweetness. The traditional ratio is equal weights fruit to sugar, but I think you can get away with a little less if you want more tartness. You will need enough to help preserve and set the jam though. So I recommend doing it by eye.

Cherry Plum & 5 Spice Jam


Cherry Plums
Granulated Sugar
Chinese 5 Spice to taste

  1. Place plums whole into a large pan with a small amount of water to prevent them from catching. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat and cover.
  2. Simmer with a lid until the fruit completely breaks down.
  3. Now the not so fun part – use a slotted spoon or tongs to fish out the stones. You can halve and stone them before if you have more patience than me, but generally these are a clingstone fruit and you’ll end up losing half the flesh before you begin!
  4. Once all the stones are out, snow over the sugar (ideally the same weight as your plums but you can use slightly less if you don’t want it too sweet – I did it purely by eye and it set) and stir to help dissolve. Sprinkle over the five spice powder (to taste, but go easy if you can!), and crank the heat to high. Bring to a rollicking boil and do so for 5 or so minutes until jam is set.
  5. To test the set, place a clean saucer in the freezer for a minute or 2 to chill then spoon a tiny bit of the jam onto it. If it wrinkles when you put your thumb through it and doesn’t run back together, it’s done.
  6. Pour/spoon into clean, sterilised (washed in hot soapy water and kept warm in a 120 degree C oven, or put through 1 dishwasher cycle) glass jars are and screw on lids. Label and let cool!