Bake Off Technical; Tudor Week – Jumbles

Sorry I haven’t been up to date with my technical write ups! It’s been a rollercoaster couple of weeks, as my precious Vauxhall Nova failed its MOT and along with other issues in life (those who follow me on Facebook will probably know about my mental health…anyway, enough of that). I have baked all bar the Final as of today (October 30) I just haven’t had the time or motivation lately to write them up!

This year for the quarter finals, it was the newly-introduced Tudor Week, and the technical this time (nothing could be worse than the painful marjolaine!!)  was something called ‘jumbles’, a rubbed-in biscuit apparent popular in the period. Flavoured with a medieval blend of aniseed, mace and caraway, the jumbles were baked in elaborate celtic knot designs.

Recipe issuer was Paul Hollywood (groan), and he specified that the biscuits were to be half double-knots, and half triquetra knots. WHAT. Just looking at the other bakers’ attempts made my eyes water. How can you tie biscuit dough into such an elaborate knot?! (Google ‘triquetra’ or ‘trinity knot’ to see what I mean for those who didn’t watch!)

My first problem was that I couldn’t procure aniseeds. Waitrose didn’t stock them and neither did ASDA. As the recipe only asked for half a teaspoon, I decided to just substitute for fennel seeds, which I did have in already. They offered a similar flavour, albeit slightly more muted.

When it came to actually making the recipe, I came armed with a WikiHow tutorial on tying a trinity knot and my stand mixer (well gadgets make life easier!) and it was easy enough to mix up a biscuit dough. It made a fairly sticky dough, so I liberally dusted the surface with flour whilst it had some time to chill in the fridge – you had to make 8 balls of dough, and weigh each dough ball so they were exactly the same. The trinity knots were to be slightly bigger balls.

The double-knots were a pain enough to tie – I had my tape measure out so the dough strips were the correct size, but it still broke upon knotting so I just lashed them up a little to ensure some uniformity.

Double knots. Or Knot. Ha. Life is too short for this.

Now it was time to tie the triquetras. Oh dear. Biscuit dough is not the same as ribbon. The first one was a mess. I decided life was too freaking short, and just formed the dough into the three ‘petals’ and then placed the rings on top. They’ll weld upon baking and nobody will know the difference!  I brushed the raw biscuits with beaten egg and sprinkled caster sugar on top.

These were the ‘tied’ triquetras. Mess.
And these were the cheats ones…laid out into the shape as opposed to tied. I thought they looked far superior.

The double knots needed 5 more minutes because they were thicker, but on the whole, this was a fairly painless technical. Yeah, I took a short cut with the trinity knots, but I had social media snaps to take and the ones laid out into the shape instead of being knotted looked infinitely better, as the photo shows.

But they were meant to be eaten as well as look ornate (ish), so verdict on the flavour. Maybe it was my smokers’ tastebuds, but I found them midly bland. They had the correct texture of crisp outside and fluffy interior, more scone-like than crunchy traditional biscuits, which was what Mary and Paul were expecting. Mine were fairly pale when baked, but I don’t think that detracted too much.

They are somewhat hefty. One is enough with a brew. The triquetras were better to eat, the double-knots were too bland and heavy for my taste. 

Now the important question: Would I make again?

Yes and no. The triquetras do look very, very attractive and would look nice displayed in a bakery window. So I plan on using this recipe as a bassline and fusing it with a Dutch traditional winter bake that Waitrose have put on their shelves for their 2016 Christmas range, speculaas.

Speculaas are a spiced soft biscuit, filled with almond paste , often moulded in shapes (windmills are a popular design) and eaten at Christmas time. I pondered this after a London-based speculaas spice blend seller contacted me on Twitter when I gushed about how delicious they were. Not only am I giving an independent seller business, I’m also baking a traditional Dutch treat whilst creating my own spin.

If I replaced the caster sugar with dark brown, and the anise/mace/caraway with speculaas spice blend (I will namecheck the seller) that means I’ve changed 2 key elements of the recipe, making it my own. I will fill the ‘loops’ of the triquetras with almond paste (I make my own for the Christmas cake and when I occasionally bake Battenbergs) and place a blanched almond in the centre. Triquetra Speculaas anyone?

Off-piste, I know, but hey, it was spun off from this challenge! Watch this space for when I go about testing this theory out. If they’re a success, then I shall post the recipe!

Until then, you can hear about my exploits with the semi-final technical, the savarin!


T x


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)


Rocket Fuel: Chocolate Concrete


School dinners of the mid-late-20th century have experienced somewhat of a nolstalgic revival in recent years, especially in the post-Jamie Oliver crackdown. What were once reviled as days of sulphurous overboiled cabbage and lumpy custard are now looked back on extremely fondly as simple yet evocative fare. I’m perhaps slightly too young to be part of this era of school dinners but I still own a copy of Becky Thorn’s hard-to-get School Dinners cookbook on Kindle and have attempted a few.

This recipe however, came from a childhood friend’s mother in 2001 who worked in a primary school in Birmingham. I was 12 and remember her cooking it for us one visit 2 years previous and asked her for the recipe. I found it many years later in my mother’s recipe file in 2013 and copied it into my own. It has lost NONE of it’s charm.

Chocolate Concrete, or Chocolate Crunch as it’s sometimes known, was a popular dessert amongst schoolchildren, and Giles Coren and Sue Perkins showed it on a Supersizers feature on school dinners if I remember correctly. It is essentially a crude version of shortbread, served warm in glorious brown slabs with chocolate flavoured custard poured thickly over the top. However it can also be served cold and eaten like any other biscuit/cookie. I have taken it into work before and it received rave reviews – one colleague christened it ‘rocket fuel’ as it packs a calorific burst and childhood chocolate hit, perfect to get you through the rest of your shift.

It is a very simple recipe and very cheap to make – obviously it was designed be made quickly and served in large quantities out of those epic square tins. Don’t worry though – this recipe fits a small roasting tin and you won’t have stale pieces haunting you 10 days later! You will most likely have all the ingredients to hand in your store cupboard.

Final word of note – the standard recipe is gratifying enough, but feel free to substitute ingredients to take it from misty-eyed school lunchtimes into something more grown-up – use dark muscovado sugar instead of regular, for example; wholemeal flour for extra texture; replace some of the flour with rice flour a-la some shortbread recipes; add vanilla extract to the melted butter; add some salt to cut some of the juvenile sweetness; replace some of the cocoa with a little instant espresso powder to add adult bitterness – the list is endless. You can even forego the cocoa entirely and make a blonde vanilla concrete sister version. I will be bossy though and insist an oblong tin is compulsory, and it shall not  be served in any way other than being cut into dense, crunchy squares.


Chocolate Concrete


8oz flour (can be plain or self-raising)

2oz cocoa powder

4oz sugar

4oz melted butter or margarine

  1. Preheat oven to gas mark 3/140C fan/160C electric
  2. Mix the dry ingredients together.
  3. Add melted butter or margarine. Be warned that you may need more as flour can annoyingly vary in its absorbent qualities; or add a little water if the mixture behaves impossibly.
  4. Mix (No?!). Best started with a regular dessert spoon and then finish it with your hands. You won’t get a full dough, but rather a mixture resembling damp soil. Be careful to not overmix.
  5. Tip this glorious mound of Aztec earth into a small rectangular baking tin, (ungreased  but lined with parchment if you intend on serving it cold as a biscuit for easy lifting out) and press in with your hands or the back of a spoon. Compact it down as hard as you can.
  6. Brush the top with water and sprinkle with some caster or granulated sugar.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes. When cooked, leave to cool in the tin – like cookies and shortbread, it will harden as it cools.
  8. Best eaten warm on the same day, cut into equal squares with some chocolate custard -(good old Bird’s custard, please, to which a few squares of cooking chocolate is added) or left to cool completely before cutting.