The Great Baking Challenge

Welcome one and all to The Great Baking Challenge! I am your host, Sophia, as well as a contestant, amateur baker, friend, sister, daughter, and wife!

If baking is any labor at all, it’s a labor of love. A love that gets passed from generation to generation.”

~Regina Brett

Who here loves watching The Great British Baking Show? I am definitely guilty of binge watching episode upon episode while judging a baker for forgetting to turn their oven on, or for adding fondant to anything! (Seriously, that stuff is the worst.)

My question is, how difficult are the technical challenges? Well, folks, we are about to find out!

Challenge: Once a week, I will be attempting to bake a technical challenge. Starting with the first season of The Great British Baking Show and working my way down. You folks at home can follow along with me.

Week 1: Mary Berry’s Cherry Cake

Wish me luck!

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This is usually what my face looks like while baking.
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The Princess Cake Challenge

It is nothing short of a miracle that I survived the past week and this extremely daunting challenge. The recipe called for 26 ingredients and had 14 different steps. There’s a sponge to make, raspberry jam, crème patisserie, whipped cream, marzipan, and a fondant rose to create. The contestants for this episode were given a mere 2 hours and 25 minutes to pull this off. That’s it. I have definitely developed a whole new appreciation as to the torture that Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood put these poor bakers through.

I decided instead of putting myself through the same torture, that I would break up the different aspects of the cake and spread them out throughout the week. However, I must enjoy torturing myself. Because I had the brilliant idea based off of my last blog post. Looking at last week’s church bulletin I saw an event that sparked my interest. My church was holding an event called “The Taste of Saint Francis”. Basically, parishioners were asked to sign up their favorite dishes in a given category to be sampled and judged by others. Now I thought that this would be killing two birds with one stone. First. I will be able to serve my bake and directly get feedback as to the taste and I would be getting rid of a dessert that neither I nor my husband need eat by ourselves. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

It’s a delicious cake. In Sweden, they have it in all sorts of celebrations. As you cut through, you will see the bottom layer will be Genoese: a tricky sponge to make. On top of that would be jam with a ridged pipe of crème patisserie around the outside.Then a layer of sponge, on top of that a mixture of crème patisserie and cream. Then a layer of sponge and a dome of cream on top. Lastly, that blanket of green marzipan…Don’t count the calories, but oh so good.” ~Mary Berry (Season 1, Episode 6)

The first layer that I started on was the raspberry jam because it seemed like the easiest. I have never before in my life ever thought about making homemade jam, but I was eager to learn. All I needed was 7 ounces of raspberries and some jam sugar, whatever that was. However, after extensive research and several trips to the store, I couldn’t find what I needed. It was only by accident that I stumbled upon the jam/jelly/canning section at Walmart that I spied pectin. It seemed to do exactly what jam sugar did except that I needed to add sugar to it as well. So by making the necessary adjustments, I was able to pull off an extremely tasty raspberry jam. I was feeling pretty confident about the rest of the cake since I was amazing at making jam. Oh, so naïve.

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The next day, I decided to tackle the crème patisserie. Crème patisserie is basically a very thick custard and pretty straightforward to make. Basically, all that needed to be done was to simmer to milk in with vanilla, take it off the heat to add the egg yoks, flour, and sugar, then put it back on the heat and whisk while it slowly thickened. Again, I had never attempted making custard before and found the whole experience rather enjoyable. At this point, I’m thinking to myself “Wow, I am amazing!”

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Then came the sponge. After the Tiramisu Challenge, I was pretty sure I knew what had gone wrong with my sponge and so was determined to get it right this time. I took my time whipping up the eggs and the sugar until it had reach a very pale yellow color and were extremely fluffy. I then, very carefully folded the flour mixture in trying not to over mix. However, pockets full of flour kept popping up as I folded and had to continue until all of it was incorporated. When I was sure everything was mixed in, I poured it into the prepared baking dish and let it bake in the oven for the allotted time. When I pulled the sponge out of the oven, I was disappointed in the rise of the sponge. Given, it definitely rose more than my tiramisu sponge, but I still wasn’t happy with it.

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After a few internet searches sponge tips, I attempted the sponge again. This time I was sure to use a wooden spoon, I sifted the flour, I made sure the eggs were at room temperature, and I folded in a little flour at a time to ensure it didn’t sink to the bottom of the eggs. I was sure that I had covered all of my sponge bases. Alas, the sponge had improved slightly, but still not perfect. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to make another sponge. This one would just have to do. Now I’m thinking that the worse was behind me. All that was left was layering the cake and making the marzipan! Should be all downhill from here.

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Friday. The assembly of the cake. All was going well with the first layer. Sponge on the bottom, a small layer of the custard, a piping of the custard around the boarder, and several spoonful of the jam within the layer. First layer done, two more to go. Tragedy didn’t hit until the second layer. I placed the second sponge on top of the first layer and started spooning the whipped cream custard combination on the sponge. I started to notice that my formerly beloved jam and custard seeping down the sides of the first layer. Panic mode struck. I instantly took a knife and attempted to scoop the mess back into the first layer, but to no avail. Then, I was struck with an epiphany! I will pop the cake in the freezer to harden up a bit so I could finish adding the layers. After a mad dash to find a suitable space in my small freezer with every second more jam and custard falling down the sides, I was situate the cake in the freezer. I was sure that the cake was ruined with no way to recover. Without anything to do but wait for the cold to do its work, I watched a couple episodes of The Office to decompress. Worked like a charm.

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After an hour, I took the cake out. It wasn’t pretty but it was salvageable. I quickly added the last layers, including the whipped cream dome on top and returned it to its home in the freezer until the next day. I figured that it would be a lot easier to place the marzipan on top of the whipped cream if it was a bit more solid. Now surely, that had to be the hardest bit!

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Saturday….A day that most people use to sleep in, relax a bit, and take a load off from the week’s work. Those are very fortunate people. I needed to have this cake finished, decorated and ready to go by 5:00 at the latest. At 5:00, we had to make our way to the church to decorate our table and have the cake ready for the judges and samplers. Did I mention that I like to punish myself? On top of entering a cake in to this event, on Monday I decided that I would also enter a soup. My logic being that this soup was low maintenance and only took 20 minutes to make. I really wish I could be right every once in a while. It’d make a nice change.

After gathering decorations for the tables, I started on the marzipan. Now, I can’t say that I had ever previously tasted marzipan or made it until this recipe. However, I should have been a bit better at my critical thinking skills. The recipe said it needed 14 ounces of ground almonds. I ground up the almonds until they were itty bitty pieces. I added the sugar and powdered sugar to it, and then later the eggs and vanilla. As the mixer did its work, I couldn’t help but notice that the ball of sticky, chunky, brown speckled dough resembled nothing of the smooth unicolor dough that I needed to make. I thought perhaps a little time hand kneading it would get it to the right consistency. I dusted the counter with powdered sugar and plopped the blob down. As I kneaded, I slowly came to the realization that something had gone horribly wrong. I called my husband over and after a brief glance the mistakes became very apparent. First off, I didn’t use blanched almonds…which was why the dough was speckled, but more importantly, the almonds were not grounded properly. Ground to a powder was what was meant to happen. Again, all I needed to do was to look at what needed to happen to understand the meaning of “ground”. I honestly disappointment myself with my stupidity sometimes.

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A quick trip to the store later to gather more almonds, I was make at the mixer with properly ground almonds. What a difference! The dough formed a smooth thick dough, just what was needed. I turned the dough out on the powdered sugar dusted counter and started kneading a drop of green food coloring in at a time until the desired color was reached. I rolled the dough out to a giant circle big enough to cover the entire surface.

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All that was left was to dress the cake in its pretty green garment. I proceeded to lift the marzipan off of the counter….and it tore and tipped because the center of the dough was stuck to the counter. (Here I believe an animal like wail emitted from the kitchen) With immense frustration, and a ticking clock, I formed the marzipan in a ball and rolled it out again. This time my husband suggested rolling it out on top of parchment paper instead of directly on the counter. The second time was the charm and I was successful in wrapping the cake up.

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While the cake rested in the freezer again, I quickly made the soup. With about half an hour left before we had to leave, I hurriedly decorated the cake, took a quick shower, dressed, packed up the cake and the soup and left for the church.

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I’m happy to report that the cake received many compliments on how it looked as well as the taste. I had successfully cut up enough of the cake for the majority of the people who attended. Though I was very relieved when I was done. Overall, the cake didn’t taste too bad. I’m very happy with how delicious the jam was and the sponge actually turned out alright and was pretty good. I did discover that I didn’t care for marzipan very much. It just was just like fondant and I hate fondant. I mean look, fondant is pretty much sweet plastic that gets arranged and tucked on a cake. No, thank you.

 

Although my Princess Cake didn’t receive any award, I felt very accomplished that I had pulled off this extremely difficult challenge. I probably will never make it again, but I’m glad I persevered until the very end.

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Next Challenge: Kouign Amann

The Mini Pear Pie Challenge

Since starting this blog, my husband and I have been eating a lot more delicious baked goods and breads. Which may not seem like a negative, until stepping on the scale. We came to the conclusion that we cannot possible eat every single challenge I make. To combat this, we are searching for ideas on how we can distribute the baked goods elsewhere. I will be making some phone calls at our church to sign up for a ministry to make meals for families in need, or who have experienced loss or a new baby. If you have any other ideas let me know! I think this definitely will not only safe our waistlines, but will also be a charitable ministry in which my husband and I can partake.

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Mini Pear Pies…While watching this episode I couldn’t help but marvel at how delicate and pretty the pear pies looked. I also noticed how much attention to detailed it would require. For those of you that know me, attention to detail is not my forte. In school, negative marks on my homework or tests were usually due to me not reading the instructions thoroughly. Actually, if you’ve been reading this blog you would notice that a lot of the time there is some sort of over sight on my part because I didn’t pay attention closely enough to the recipe. It’s a flaw them I’m fully aware of possessing and would do anything to try to overcome it. This recipe gave me the perfect opportunity.

I think it’s a great challenge to check their timing. First of all, they got to make a cheat puff pastry, but the other angle is that they got to poach a pear and bake it. The tricky thing is trying to cool the pear and trying to chill the dough. If the pear is too hot, the pastry will just simply fall off. It’s a very difficult challenge but, we’re here to test them.” ~Paul Hollywood (Season 1, Episode 5)

I’ve been looking forward to making homemade puff pastry. The technique absolutely fascinated me! For the pear pies, however, the recipe made what is called rough puff pastry or cheat. It is sonamed this way because instead of folding in the blocks of lard and butter into the dough, you shred the frozen blocks into the dough as you mix it. While still a tedious process, it’s easier than the other way.

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Except for the part where I’m grating the frozen butter and lard. I would virtually be on a roll with the grating, when my hand would slip and I end up grating a bit of my hand. I decided to dispose of the grater and cut them up instead.

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The dough that was made was very sticky, and I had to keep laying more flour on the counter to efficiently roll out the dough. After a two folds, the dough was chucked in the freezer for 20 minutes and then the process repeated. The dough needed to rest in the fridge so that after handling it the butter and lard didn’t dissolve and become fully integrated into the dough. When it comes to baking time, the butter and lard will melt allowing for those beautiful, flakey layers to form.

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After the final folding of the dough, my focus turned to the pears. Creating a syrup out of dry white wine and a TON of sugar, I brought the syrup to a boil before placing the peeled pears in the pot. The pears soak in its sugary hot tub for about 20 minutes or so before coming out to cool on a piece of baking paper. The syrup was brought back to a boil and reduced until it became thicker. Then the syrup was taken off the heat to cool completely before assembling the pears.

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I was extremely vigilant as I rolled out the cold dough on the counter to the exact measurements indicated, and cut the strips needed to wrap the pears. As I worked, I made sure that each pear received a generous coating of syrup and that I took my time ensuring that the dough being wrapped was even. My patience paid off when all of the pears were wrapped and looking extremely Instagram worthy. I made little leaves and attached them to each of the pears using the syrup.

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Once the oven was preheated, I brushed each pear with egg and sprinkled generously with sugar. Now in this episode of The Great British Baking Show, Richard, who is usually very meticulous in his work, received last place in this challenge. His Mini Pear Pies ended up collapsing while baking. Now, my thought is, if Richard wasn’t able to successfully bake the pears then how was I supposed to? I was fearful that while they were baking, my pears would suffer the same fate.

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I was pleasantly surprised, however, when I took the pears out of them oven. They had stayed intact and were a beautiful golden-brown color. After taking numerous pictures, again they areperfect for Instagram, I packed them up and brought them to the New Year’s Eve party that we were attending.

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The pears were received with many praises, but for me the real test was in the taste. As we dove into the pies, it was discovered that the pears could have used just a tad more time in the hot tub to poach. They were just a bit hard, but not overly so. Overall, they were very refreshing and went perfect with the champagne we had at midnight to ring in 2019.

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Next Challenge: Princess Cake

The Tiramisu Cake Challenge: The Great Sister Bake Off!

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Please excuse this very old yet highly appropriate photo

This week’s post is a little special. Instead of doing a challenge on my own, I will be going up against an intense adversary: my sister, Adrienne.

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Known for her ruthless competitive nature, Adrienne was given the same recipe to work off of and was given the guidelines that she was to receive no outside help. Now you, as the unbiased audience, will have the chance to vote and rate your favorite bakes. Adrienne will give an account of her experience, including pictures, and I will do the same. May the kitchen be ever in our favor.

What I’m looking for is every layer to be soaked evenly in the coffee and brandy. And even layers of the creamy mixture. We certainly don’t want one layer dry because they haven’t soaked it with the coffee evenly distributed.” Mary Berry (Season 1, Episode 4)

Adrienne: Hello readers of Sophie’s exciting new blog! I am Sophie’s favorite sister and family best friend (obviously). I loved Sophie’s idea for this new blog so much (and quite frankly was a little jealous that I didn’t think of it first) that I had to suggest she does an occasional sister bake off challenge so I could have a little part of the action!

When Sophie told me that this week’s challenge would be Tiramisu, I was so excited and thought I had really lucked out. For one I LOVE to make desserts and on top of that I would be in Fort Wayne, IN, during the time of this challenge, spending time with my family for the holidays and this would make a most excellent Christmas dessert!

To prep for this challenge, all of the little people at home and myself sat down on Christmas Eve to watch this episode of the show to learn what we could. I was shocked by how hard everyone seemed to find this challenge but did pick up a couple of tips of what not to do.

On Christmas day, after the festivities of the morning were taken care of and the oven was finally available after my Mom had cooked the prime rib to perfection that we would enjoy for dinner and borrowing my Dad’s mail scale to use for measurement, I started on my Tiramisu quest.

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I found the sponge cake to be very easy, although I had to use some adjustments. For one, instead of caster sugar I used Domino Superfine Sugar that I’m pretty sure is supposed to be for coffee and dissolves quickly, so I figured that was as close as I was going to get. The other adjustment I made, is that I did not have the same size pan that they used in the recipe so I did a 9×13 inch glass pan. One mistake that I noticed some of the fellas made on the show, is that they did not mix it long enough to get all of the air into the mixture. I was very pleased that I was able to avoid that and turn it into a light and frothy batter. The sponge turned out beautifully and cooled quickly. Slicing it in half was a little awkward, but not as difficult as suspected.

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I put together the other elements of the tiramisu. I used the full fat mascarpone (which in my opinion looks better than it tastes) and created the espresso concoction that would be used to soak the sponge. One change I did make, is that instead of using Brandy, I used the alcohol that I had on hand which was Buffalo Trace Kentucky Bourbon Cream (delish!).

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Now the really awkward part of this recipe was the construction of the Tiramisu. I did not have a fancy little square, springform pan type of baking tool like the others did on the show, so I used an 8×8 glass pan. Trying to figure out how best to shape the sponge slices was awkward but once I started constructing, you couldn’t really tell if the pieces where of uneven sizes.

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I have always been awful at frosting so spreading the marscapone was of slight difficulty, but I’m thankful there was enough marscapone to do thick layers of mascarpone and I ended up getting the hang of it quickly.

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Now the most embarrassing part was the chocolate design pieces. I am not the most patient person or the most artistic so this was a particular challenge. I’m creative just do not have the technical talent that some of my sister’s possess. I didn’t wait long enough for the melted chocolate to thicken up before I tried to pipe designs out of my crude little, homemade, parchment paper piper (try saying that 10x fast). I initially thought that I would create some winterish/ Christmas design and make my initials to stake my territory… That didn’t go as plan and the designs were just weird. So I broke up some of the pieces and used that for my final presentation

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The tiramisu was not as sweet as I or the rest of my family would have liked it (dang European desserts) but my dad absolutely loved it so based on that alone I would call the recipe and the challenge a success. If I decide to create this version of Mary Berry’s Tiramisu in the future, I will definitely be adding lots more sugar and maybe substituting in some whip cream so it’s not as heavy with cheese.

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Thank you for letting me participate and can’t wait until the next challenge!

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Sophie: I am no stranger to making tiramisu. It’s one of my absolute favorite desserts! However, I may have underestimated the challenge. Mary Berry’s recipe required you to make a sponge, instead of the “shortcut” of using dry lady fingers. Again though, I thought this would have been pretty simple. I whipped up the eggs and sugar until I was confident that they were ready. Poured it all out into a prepped jelly roll pan and into the oven. I didn’t expect it to rise very much, but what I received was a little ridiculous.

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The sponge was pretty thin and crusty around the edges. I didn’t really think anything of it at the time because I had seen how ladyfingers worked in a tiramisu and figured this is how it’s supposed to look. That is, until I was told to slice the entire thing in half…horizontally. I believe I stood before the sponge knife in hand contemplating my life choices and strategy for a good 20 minutes before diving in to do the impossible. It wasn’t pretty…but I got it done.

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To layer the cake, I had looked at every grocery store near me for a square pan with a loose bottom that I could lift the cake above the edges after assembly. I had no such luck finding it, except on Amazon which would have arrived 2 weeks after I needed it. To solve this problem, I buttered all along the inside of the regular square pan that I owned and lined the pan with parchment paper, allowing extra over the sides for easy extraction. Then began, the layering of the cake.

I cut out four squares from the sponge and laid the best of the squares on the bottom of the pan. I then coated that layer with the espresso and brandy mixture. The hard part was then to spread the mascarpone fluffy thinly, and delicately onto the now soaked sponge without destroying it. After a lot of whining and demanding my husband to stay out of the kitchen while I concentrated, the cream was applied. Only four more layers to go…

Assembling the cake was a painstakingly difficult process, and there were times I was doubting it ever turning out. Alas, I was finally done! Now, my thought was in the future; getting this cake to come out of the pan without completely destroying it…I was struck with a stroke of brilliance! I will freeze it over night!The logic being that it won’t be as gooey to try to force out. It may stand a chance of surviving my clumsy ways!

The final step was to temper some chocolate to create the beautiful and fragile chocolate work for the cake. I had very excitedly made a purchase that I boasted to my sister about. It was a decorating pen that would make designing the chocolate decorations a little more simple. However, Adrienne demanded that I make my own piping bag since that is what she had to do and what the recipe told us to do. Begrudgingly, I agreed and proceeded to create my piping bag out of a Ziploc bag. After the chocolate was ready, I spooned it all inside my makeshift bag and impatiently waited for it to cool a bit more before making my designs. The first couple of attempts at making something decent prove futile, because the chocolate was still too warm. However, as I went on the chocolate became more workable and I was able to create quite a few designs to put on the final cake.

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The next afternoon, I pulled the cake out of the freezer and attempted to get the cake out of the pan. It wouldn’t budge…I then remember that I had coated the pan with butter, which of course, now stuck to the parchment paper. So, taking the spatula, pried the cake loose from the sides of the pan until I was able to pull it free. The trick had worked liked a charm and the cake remained intact. I just prayed it was not frozen in the center when we brought it over to the party.

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To decorate, I grabbed the best of my chocolate worked and stabbed it in the cake…and the entire thing shattered and melted in my hands. So that’s how it’s going to be is it? I tried again, but this time holding the chocolate with a paper towel and first making small holes in the cake with a knife to help ease the chocolate in the frozen top.

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The cake was finished! I don’t believe my layers were verydefined or that the coffee/brandy mixture was very evenly distributed, but it was done. I will never underestimate a recipe again!

Now is your chance! Vote on your favorite cake in the comments below or on my Instagram story @what_a_piece_of_cake

Next Challenge: Mini Pear Pies

The Ciabatta Challenge

Baking bread is one of the most satisfying things you can do. If you’ve ever baked bread then you know exactly what I mean. If you don’t agree with me, however, then you must think I’m some sort of insane bread freak. There is just something about mixing the ingredients together, watching the product rise in the oven, smelling the bread as you take it out, cutting it into the warm loaf, seeing how it turned out, and examining all of the little air holes…ok, maybe I am a bread freak…but, seriously. Baking bread is the best.

There’s a reason why I said: “Be patient.” Bake this dough too early, the air holes turn out too small. Bake it too late and it turns out like a pancake. So, it’s all about the timing. (When) you got a regular structure all through the loaf, it’s a sign that it’s a decent ciabatta.”

~Paul Hollywood (Season 1, Episode 3)

The contestants were given 3 hours to complete the challenge.

After the last couple of challenges (and the struggles of measuring by ounces), my husband bought me a food scale. Which made doing all of the measuring for the ciabatta a piece of cake!

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Ciabatta has a total of 4 ingredients. So, it was really a matter of keeping the yeast away from the salt and how long to proof the dough. The recipe said to put the dough in a lightly oiled “square” container with a lid. Apparently, this is to help in the shaping of the dough. I don’t actually own a square container big enough. So I opted for a rather…octagonal one. It should do the trick well enough.

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After 1 hour and 45 minutes of proofing in the container, I had to gently tip out the dough onto a heavily floured surface. The dough was extremely wet and stretchy. Once it all slimed out, I had to cut it into four loaves. Again, the dough was very wet and sticky, and so it made cutting it a bit difficult. Every time I made a cut, the dough would stick back together again. This called for drastic measures! I grabbed the closest pair of scissors and sliced away until I had four (pretty even) loaves.

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I had allowed the dough loaves to rest for about 45 minutes before popping them in the oven to begin the baking process. The dough going into the oven was relatively flat with some small bubbles showing. Once they were in the oven for about 5 minutes, they inflated like a balloon. The excitement in the kitchen was through the roof! I think I exclaimed “wahoo”!

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(I want to take the time to note, I was baking during the day while my husband was at work. I was also feeling festive and wearing my ugly Christmas sweater. This sweater has the body of an elf with the legs hanging out. Oh, and it has bells attached to it. Imagine, if you will, a grown woman, alone in the apartment, jumping for joy, bells a-ringing, and crying “wahoo!” You’re welcome.)

The aroma of the bread filled the apartment. The bread came out of the oven beautifully golden brown. I waited only a few minutes before cutting into the loaf. I admired the air holes and the crust, before eating a slice. Or two….or ten. I believe, I ate half a loaf in 20 minutes…No regrets.

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While I was waiting for the Ciabatta to bake, I took a look at what sort of challenges were coming up in the near future. Oh boy…the last few challenges were definitely easy compared to what’s in store for me soon. Let me give you a sampler: ever heard of Kougin Amann? Schichtrorte? Povitica? Yeah, me neither. Stay tuned!

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Challenge #3 Paul Hollywood’s Ciabatta: Success!

Time: 3 hours 15 minutes

Next Challenge: Tiramisu Cake

The Florentines Challenge

After last week’s fail, I was determined to come out smelling like a rose for this challenge. Florentines. Now, I’ll have to admit, I had no idea what the heck Florentines were before beginning this blog. For all intents and purposes, aka the British, it’s a biscuit. However, for all of you Americans out there, it’s a thin, crunchy cookie.

Since I was working off another British recipe (I couldn’t find a satisfactory American version), I had to again carefully convert and measure out all of the ingredients. This time I elicited the help of my husband. He has been a great resource since, being from New Zealand, he has a better understanding on the ins and outs of the different ingredients and ways of measurements. (Better, but not perfect.) This spurred on a whole discussion as why Americans say “1/4th” cup instead of “quarter” cup.

In Mary Berry’s recipe, the ingredients included Demerara sugar, golden syrup, and candied peel. If you’re as confused, welcome to the club. I got as close as I could to substituting these items, because, again, I could not find these in the grocery store to save my life. Demerara sugar was substituted for brown sugar. Golden syrup was substituted for corn syrup. (My husband informed me afterwards that golden syrup is NOT corn syrup…thanks, my dear). I was somehow sure that I could find the candied peel, but, alas, I could not. So, candied peel was substituted for glazed pineapple. (The internet said I could!)

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They’re pretty tricky to make, really. To get absolutely perfect like that. They have a sort of “lacy” appearance and delicate. If they get the chocolate on at the right temperature, it doesn’t leak through.” ~Mary Berry (Season 1, Episode 2)

The contestants were given 1 hour and 15 minutes to complete the challenge.

The first part of the recipe was to finely chop up the nuts and fruit. After careful measurement, each ingredient in turn was chopped via food processor. In retrospect, I may have been too overzealous in the chopping for the nuts resembled sand and the candied fruit resembled…jelly.

 

 

 

After prepping the nuts and fruit, I went to the stove to start making the caramel. As I poured the corn syrup in, my husband noticed that I had bought “light” corn syrup…I didn’t even know they made “light” corn syrup. Aw well, the damage was already done. Let’s just say I meant to put “light” corn syrup in to the recipe. I’m watching my waist line.

I was very satisfied with how the caramel turned out, and after taking it off the heat, I added the rest of the prepared ingredients.

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I spooned out 18 teaspoons of the batter on a cooking tray, 6 at a time, and placed them in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. The recipe said that they were ready to come out when they reached a golden brown color. Once I felt each tray was ready, I pulled them out and allowed them to cool on a rack. I believe after each tray was pulled out, a cackle of joy could be heard coming from the kitchen. I was really excited! The batter had spread and thinned out on the baking tray and the cookies had turned into a nice “lacy” texture that would have made Mary Berry proud!

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The last step was to temper the 70% cocoa bars and to apply them to the backs of each of the cooled cookies. Half of the chopped up chocolate went into a heatproof bowl, which was then placed on top of a pot full of simmering water. Patience was key here for me. The chocolate took its dear sweet time melting. (Mind you, at this point, it was past dinner time and I was getting a tad “hangry”.)

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Once the chocolate was melted, I took it off the heat and added the rest of the chocolate to the bowl and stirred until everything had melted. Tediously, I spread a thin layer on each of the cookies. None of the chocolate seemed to be oozing out of the holes, and for that I was happy.

The signature “zig-zag” on the back of the cookie looked like the easiest part. So, with absolute confidence (and perhaps a wee bit of cockiness) I grabbed a fork and applied my version of a “zig-zag” to the victim cookie. It instantly disappeared into the chocolate…alright, perhaps the chocolate hadn’t cooled enough yet. So I waited for another minute and tried again. This time the “zig-zag” stayed, but I wish it hadn’t. It was hideous! I tried again on a different cookie and received the same result. Clumps of chocolate cake up from the markings in a not-so-attractive way. By the 17th cookie, I didn’t care anymore. I was just ready to be done.

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now was the moment of truth! The taste test! In the episode where this challenge was featured, there was a defining crunch in the biscuit as Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood gave them a taste. That crunch was what I was aiming for in my bake. The edges themselves had a nice crunch but the center was more chewy than crunchy. So, they weren’t perfect, but they were absolutely delicious!

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Challenge #2 Mary Berry’s Florentines: Success!

Time: 2 hours

Next Challenge: Ciabatta

 

The Cherry Cake Challenge

I thought I would be starting out with a nice and easy recipe. I mean, come on, it’s a cherry cake. How hard can it be? After finding and reading the appropriate recipe, I knew I was in for a treat.

the first step was to convert all of the measurements from grams to cups. I should probably invest in a food scale at some point if this ends up being a typical occurrence.

after that was done, I found a few items on the list that I had no idea what they were talking about. Red glacé cherries? Self raising flour? Caster sugar? Ground almonds? Little had I known before this challenge that the British folk tend to call things a little differently than us and may have products available to them that we Americans do not.

A quick couple of minutes on Google and I found The that the glacé cherries are the candied cherries found in fruitcake. Check. Self raising flour is not typically found in your average grocery store, but I had found a website that said for every cup of all-purpose flour to add 2 tsp of baking soda and 1/2 tsp of salt. sweet! Double check. Caster sugar, believe it or not, is super fine grain sugar. This is labeled as such on the bag. Easy peasy! Now…ground almonds…I will have to admit that I didn’t read the recipe closely enough and had assumed that it just said almonds…which I thought I had. I didn’t…so I skipped this step. I mean, c’mon, it only asked for 1 3/4 oz of the darn thing.

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Fun fact: British “large” egg is the equivalent to the American “extra large” egg. Who knew!?

It’s a great British classic, but it’s quite tricky to get absolutely right. Sometimes, the cherries all go to the bottom. So, they got to do the right preparation of the cherries…And also, if you do the icing too watery, it’ll run off. It’s got to just gently trickle down.”

~Mary Berry (Season 1, episode 1 Great British Baking Show)

The bakers were given two hours to complete the challenge.

The trickiest part in preparing the cake was to ensure that the cherries were completely dried. Otherwise, they will sink to the bottom. Of course, these type of cherries are swimming in a sickly sweet syrup and it didn’t go without a fight. When the cherries were dried to my satisfaction, they received a coating of 2 Tbsp of flour and then were gently folded into the batter. Crossing my fingers that they remained suspended as the cake baked.

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I set the timer for 35 minutes and plopped down in front of the oven to watch. The tension is real. I was nervous at this point because it didn’t seem like a lot of batter went into the bunt pan. I was hoping it rose more in the oven.

when the 35 minutes were up, I cautiously opened the oven. The middle part of the cake seemed to have risen more than the edges. The edges themselves were a rather darker brown than the rest of the cake. A toothpick confirmed that the bake was done.

Now it was the moment of truth; turning the cake out of the pan. I was happy that it slid out easily enough, however, the product was lacking in…height. It rose some but not enough. I had only to let it cool before applying the icing. The hard part was over! Or so I thought…

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“Icing sugar” is British for “powdered sugar” or “confectioners sugar”. When I went to the store the previous day, I was confident that I had enough sugar for the icing. All I needed was lemon juice. That all proved to be wrong when I had used the last of the sugar and the icing was still watery and not the correct pure white color. However, I found a substitute! With help from my husband, we pulsed 1 cup of regular sugar with 1 tsp of cornstarch until it resembled powdered sugar. I added a coupl more Tbsp of sugar until I assumed it was ready to be drizzled on the cake.

Drizzle it did…all the way down the sides of the cake and into the sink.the icing that stayed on the cake resembled a slightly white glaze. Which is not at all attractive. The solution? Make more icing and try to cover up the first layer. The second round of icing was thicker, but still too runny. Mary Berry would be so disappointed…

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One last hope remained of an otherwise failed challenge: Were the cherries suspended in the cake?

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No…they were not. The blasted things all sank to the bottom of the bunt pan.

The plus side is that the cake itself was pretty tasty, if not super sweet.

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Challenge #1 Mary Berry’s Cherry Cake: Fail

Time: 4 hours

Next Challenge: Florentines

Rate this Challenge on a scale of 1-10, how well do you think I did?