Tag Archives: English Baking

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 6: 3-D Biscuit Scene

I decided to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS for short) and write about it. Don’t know much about GBBS? No worries. Check out my first blog in this series to learn more about the show and about why I decided to do this, for better or for worse (so far, mostly worse).

***

This week I’m making the 3-D biscuit scene that was the showstopper challenge in Season 1 Episode 2 of GBBS.

In this episode, some of the bakers excelled (Ahem…Richard and Luis.)

Some of the other bakers umm…didn’t do so well. As for me, I did a little worse than the people who did not do so well. Or, well, a lot worse if you wanna make me be honest about it.

But at least I learned from the experience. Namely, I learned that hindsight is sort of a jerk and also I learned that I know nothing about cars, which oddly, actually does come into play in this baking challenge.

On the show, most of the contestants used variations of gingerbread dough for this challenge, but I went with sugar cookie dough instead because I like sugar cookies, and, also, because I’m a rebel. Obviously.

I used the “My Favorite Christmas Cookie” recipe from Ree Drummond’s (aka the Pioneer Woman) A Year of Holidays cookbook.

She has a similar recipe online. This recipe has all the same ingredients. She just tweaked the amounts. Basically the one in the cookbook has more of almost everything, including shortening.

(Yeah, I know, shortening is kind of gross. I like to use the butter-flavored Crisco because it looks like butter and tastes more like butter, so I basically just pretend it is butter. Denial works for me.)

Anyway, first you do the usual. Cream the sugar and the shortening together (while pretending it’s sugar and butter). Then comes the fun part, you also add in some orange or lemon zest. (I have a pretty low bar for “fun” apparently.)

Then add in the eggs and vanilla and shift in the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder and salt and mix it all up. Add some milk. Mix it again and you should have something that looks like this:

Scene--Mix
Gah, why does raw cookie dough look so good? Why? Because it’s the Salmonella’s siren song, that’s why.

Then split the dough in half and put it in plastic bags or wrap it in waxed paper or plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge for an hour. (Or for 20 minutes in the freezer. Ree didn’t put this little freezer tip in the cookbook version, just in the online version. So I ended up putting it in the fridge for an hour like a regular ole’ schmuck. It’s cool how I’m not bitter about that though, right?)

Scene1
Dough ready to sit in the fridge for an hour to prove I’m a schmuck who should have just used the freezer.

Then after the dough has chilled for the necessary amount of time, take it out and roll each section out with a rolling pin. I put plastic wrap on top of the dough because I get really, irrationally angry when dough sticks to the rolling pin. I just don’t like it, guys. I really don’t like it.

Then I busted out those cookie cutters I kept bragging about in the savory biscuits blog a few weeks ago.

I just grabbed random cookie cutters and hoped I’d find some way to make it all make sense later. Hindsight: not the best plan.

Scene2
See? I told you there’d be cars.

Then I baked each batch of cookies for about 7 to 8 minutes and they came out looking like this:

Scene3.jpg
Are those things dump trucks? Are they fire trucks? I didn’t know. And later that will become very apparent.

Then I baked some more cars and some more trees (because I was committed to them apparently).

Then I baked some too much.

Scene4
I totally could have taken the ugly ones out of the pic but I didn’t because HONESTY, but to a greater extent, laziness.

Then I made some icing. I didn’t use Ree’s recipe, because I’m weird about putting raw eggs or milk in stuff you don’t then cook. So I just mixed together powdered sugar and water with a lil’ bit of vanilla instead.

I put in some food coloring and put the icing in a piping bag and went to town on some trees and some circles.

Scene5
Shh!! You can’t even tell some of these are too-done. The icing totally covers that. You can’t tell at all. Nope, you can’t tell.

Now here’s where hindsight comes in again to be a smart aleck jerkface.

When I watched the GBBS show of this challenge, I didn’t notice that all of the contestants only outlined their cookies with icing rather than icing the whole cookie.

Do you know why they do that? They do that because icing cookies takes a really stupidly long time apparently. Like I don’t even want to admit how much time this took for me to do. Let’s just say that it took the better part of a Sunday evening and more than a better part of a bag of powdered sugar. So much powdered sugar.

But once I started icing the whole cookie on some, I felt like I had to do it on all of them. Even when part of my cookie scene was a road. A road that was supposed to be gray. Gray! As soon as I started to put gray icing on the cookie, I realized:

regret_this_decision_anchorman

But it was too late. I’d already grayed it. And yeah, it looked like a road, but not a road I wanted to eat because it was gray.

Scene8
Gray was a bad choice.

And then umm, we’ve reached the cars. As soon as I started decorating them, I realized this:

gob.gif

I know nothing about cars, most notably I do not know how to ice cookies to look like cars. Like. At. All.

Scene9
It’s like I’ve never seen cars before. Also the black icing smeared everywhere. Boo you icing!

Take it away, Andy from The Office:

andy

And, yeah, I’ve realized I’ve stopped talking and am now just allowing GIFs to communicate for me. This is a pretty half-baked blog. (Get it? Half-baked? That was my required bad baking pun for this blog.)

But the thing is, I’m tired from too much icing. (Sidenote: I don’t even. like. icing.) And I’ve diagnosed myself with a case of Too-Much-Icing-Hand which I’m pretty sure is now a thing because I just said it was and typing is too much work right now so just go easy on me.

Then go easy on me when you see my finished project photo.

Scene7
“I should have just made a bunch of trees,” said Hindsight, unhelpfully.

Then go really easy on me when you realize I totally cheated and used toothpicks to hold up the cookies here. But at least I was honest about it right? That makes it okay, right?

Anyway, I’m just glad to have this project in a rear-view mirror. (I’ve switched to using car puns now apparently.)

Next week, I move on to GBBS’s Season 1 Episode 3 – “Bread” which is great, because, like Oprah, I.LOVE.BREAD.

P.S. Maybe next week I’ll stop speaking in GIFs.

Hopefully.

 

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 5: Florentines

I decided to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS for short) and write about it. Don’t know much about GBBS? No worries. Check out my first blog in this series to learn more about the show and about why I decided to do this, for better or for worse (so far, mostly worse).

***

I’m not really a dessert person.

And yeah, I know that’s weird.

Look, even Jessica Day from New Girl thinks it’s weird.

not a desert person

I’d freak her out.

But it is what it is. I just, generally don’t go crazy for sweets. They’re not my go-to. And it’s not a health-conscious thing. I mean I will do work on some mozzarella sticks or nachos. Real work. Like work overtime on those things.

But I don’t feel the same way about desserts, which I understand is strange considering I’m baking my way through the Great British Baking Show.

I decided to do this anyway though because it’s fun to learn new things. (Also, I’m pretty sure no one is going to fault me for sharing the majority of what I make.)

But I’m also doing it because I think it’s possible that I just haven’t found the right desserts to make me into a dessert person yet, and this seems like a darn good way to find them.

My most recent baking challenge is definitely one positive step in that direction.

This week I made florentines. Don’t know what florentines are? I didn’t either. They’re a super thin and crispy cookie with a bunch of nuts and dried and/or candied fruit inside and a coating of dark chocolate on the outside.

I went all official and used my favorite GBBS judge Mary Berry‘s recipe. This is the same recipe the GBBS contestants used in the technical challenge in Season 1’s Episode 2. (Again, I’m using what’s available on Netflix in the U.S. so the episodes may not correspond correctly to what was aired in other countries.)

Since this was the technical challenge that episode, the contestants used a very scaled down version of the recipe that was missing a great deal of the steps and tips. Whereas I got a bit of extra help from the great Mary Berry herself.

(Okay, fine so Mary didn’t personally fly over to Nebraska to help me or anything, but she does give step-by-step instructions on how to make this recipe in one of GBBS’s Masterclass episodes where she and Paul run through the recipes used on the show. These episodes are predictably very helpful and predictably Mary is a bit more helpful than Paul.)

So yeah, armed with Mary’s sort-of, personal assistance, I went into this week’s baking challenge much more optimistic than I usually do – and amazingly, that seemed to work out for me.

It just helps to watch someone else make the recipe so you know you haven’t totally messed things up. And there were definitely points in this process where I needed that reassurance, because at various points in this process, the florentines looked weird, guys.

In fact, they looked weird right from the very beginning. For instance, check out this roundup of ingredients.

Florentines.Ingredients
The beer is not technically an ingredient but it is a necessary part of the baking process, because BEER.

That’s it. That’s all the ingredients to make 18 decent-sized cookies, which seems well, weird.

Sidenote on the ingredients, I couldn’t find the golden syrup called for in the recipe so I substituted corn syrup like any good corn-loving Nebraskan.

I also swapped out the demerara sugar for turbinado sugar, because I couldn’t find demerara anywhere and by anywhere I mean the one store where I looked for it.

The recipe also called for “candied peel” which apparently you can buy already made some places – but not here. I could have made my own. I found a few recipes for making candied orange and lemon peel online but, well for the sake of time, money and general laziness, I just left out the “candied peel” and put that much more dried cranberries in instead. That seemed to work out fine, but again, I really have no idea what I’m doing so who really knows if it did.

After I’d gathered up the ingredients (or my makeshift ingredients) – the rest of the recipe was pretty simple. I just had to mix the sugar, syrup and butter together in a pot over “gentle heat” until the butter was melted.

Floretines1.jpg
This is just sugar, corn syrup and butter but I sort of wanted to eat it right out of the pot which is gross. I know. So I didn’t do it. But…I wanted to. 

From there you just add in the flour, fruit and nuts and mix it up really well until it looks like this.

Floretines2.jpg
Boom! Florentine dough. 

Yeah, that’s all the dough it makes for 18 cookies. Nuts, huh? (Get it, nuts, because there are nuts in it?)

I would have been freaking out about how much dough there was (or more correctly, how much dough there wasn’t) but I’d watched Mary make these bad boys so I knew that this was nothing to worry about.

Then I popped 18 teaspoons of dough on three lined-baking trays just like Mary told me to, because I followed her instructions to a T(easpoon). (That was another lame baking pun. If you watched the show, you’d understand that I basically have to do this. Like, I have to.)

Florentines3
Lil cookies. 

At this point, came the hard part, which really isn’t that hard if you’re not impatient like me. I had to melt the chocolate. Mary always stresses that you don’t need much heat to melt chocolate. Over and over in the Masterclass episodes, to the point where it is almost one of her catchphrases, Mary will say “Now remember, chocolate will melt in a child’s pocket.”

This saying is number one adorable. (I mean, come on. Can you imagine more grandma-like baking advice? I can’t.) Number two, it’s really helpful for people like me who are impatient and end up jacking up the heat as high as possible to make the chocolate melt faster and then end up with ugly chocolate. Because ugly chocolate is a thing. I’ve learned the hard way.

According to Mary, you have to melt the chocolate nice and slow and gently so it comes out all shiny and pretty like this:

Florentines4
Forget gold, silver and diamonds. This is a shiny stuff I’m interested in. I’m sort of easy to please.

I was careful with this chocolate. I even repeatedly checked its temperature because Mary told me to wait for it to cool down a bit before I slathered it on the back of the cookies.

So I waited and waited for approximately forever. I was supposed to let it get down to 79 degrees and our kitchen itself was 78 degrees. Yesterday was hot, guys. So this took awhile. A long while.

 

Then once it (finally) cooled, I used a spatula to spread some of the  chocolate on to the back of the cookies and I used a fork to make these little ridge designs in the back like Mary told me to.

And then I had to wait for that chocolate to set before I could eat one. This recipe may as well have just been called “Wait Around on the Chocolate Cookies”.

Florentines5
Chocolate that is deliberately not setting, just to be a jerk. 

Much like how a watched pot never boils, I can assure you that stared-at chocolate does not set.

So I forced myself to walk away and magically the chocolate set. Or it wasn’t magic and just enough time had passed – whichever.

And tada: I had Florentines:

Florentines6
The middle row is upside down so you can see the chocolate underside. Swirltastic.

Anyway, after all was said and done and (set), the florentines were probably my favorite GBBS challenge yet. Crispy, and coated in a rich dark chocolate, they weren’t half bad. Even if I do say so myself. And I’m not even a dessert person (yet).

Next week, I will tackle probably my hardest task to date. I have to make a three-dimensional biscuit scene. Seeing as how I’ve never managed to pull off a structurally-sound gingerbread house in my life, I’m not very optimistic about this one…

P.S. I realize that I’ve been totally slacking on talking about the actual show. But so far only one contestant had been voted off and all my favorite bakers are still around – Richard, the builder who keeps a pencil tucked behind his ear; Kate, who I still want to be my British best friend, but you know only if she feels like it, no pressure; and Iain’s beard. (Yeah, I meant beard not bread. That was not a typo.)

P.S.S. I ironically always misspell typo as type-o. Every freaking time. That’s also weird.

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 4: Savory Biscuits

I decided to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS for short) and write about it. Don’t know much about GBBS? No worries. Check out my first blog in this series to learn more about the show and about why I decided to do this, for better or for worse (so far, mostly worse).

***

There are a great many things English people do better than us. (For a handy list of them, check out this clip from Love Actually.)

One thing the British don’t do better  than us – is using the word “biscuits”.

I hate the word “biscuits”. They use it to mean “cookies”. They use it to mean “crackers”. They use it to mean, “biscuits” as we Yanks would typically define them.

It’s confusing. It’s annoyingly ambiguous. It has never bothered me until now. But now I’ve moved on to the second episode of The Great British Baking Show – the “Biscuits” episode, so it’s bugging me, far more than my actual baking project did.

The first task in this episode is to make “savory biscuits”. Some of the contestants made things we’d traditionally call “biscuits” and others made ones we’d call “crackers”.  It was chaos. Or, you know, it was just people baking stuff.

I went official with it and used a recipe from PBS’ Great British Baking Show website. The recipe is from Paul Hollywood (my second favorite GBBS judge) and it’s called Paul’s Savory Biscuits. (Not a very creative recipe name.)

And yeah, they may be called “savory biscuits” which makes them sound vaguely fancy, but they’re not really. Don’t let the British fool you. These are just crackers, guys.

I’ve never made crackers before, and I don’t know if I’d do it again. It seems like a whole heck of a lot of work for crackers, which you know, come in a box at the store and taste just fine. That being said, as far as GBBS baking goes, this was definitely my easiest task yet which was a nice change of pace after last week’s labor-intensive Classic English Cakes debacle.

Paul’s Savory Biscuits recipe called for me to make a simple dough – just flour, salt, water, egg and a whole heck of a lot of butter. Then you split that dough in half to make two different flavored crackers – sun-dried tomato and poppy seed.

Here’s a pic of the sun-dried tomato that also has Parmesan cheese in it:

SavBiscuits3
I was trying to make a perfect rectangle here. Shapes are hard.

Here’s a pic of the poppy seed dough which has a bizarre amount of poppy seeds. So many poppy seeds.

Sav.Biscuits1
Just a really stupidly ridiculous amount of poppy seeds.

Then after I rolled these bad boys out, I had to cool the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes. (A brief note about me – I don’t like to wait more than 30 minutes to eat crackers. Who does, really?)

After those 30 long (super long) minutes, I got to cut my dough out with cookie cutters. I love doing this because it makes it seem like my extensive cookie cutter collection was a smart purchase. Even if I only use the two round ones, like twice a year.

SavBiscuits2
Oh my gosh, thank goodness I have cookie cutters, right?

After I got good use out of my handy-dandy cookie cutters, I baked the crackers for awhile. Then I baked them a bit longer and a bit longer than that – because my oven hates me and is a liar.

When the baking was finally over, slash I got sick of waiting this long to eat crackers, I pulled the them out of the oven and they looked like this:

Sav.Biscuits4
I tried to hide the ugliest ones in the back. It didn’t work.

As you can see in the photographic evidence above, some of the crackers look quite pretty and others…not so much. But, when I arrange them on a plate like below, they all look like they’re pretty. See:

SavBiscuits5
This plate is a lie. 

See what I did there, I cleverly hid the ugliest crackers on the bottom and then not-so-cleverly told you that I did that.

Then after I spent an embarrassing amount of time moving crackers around on a plate, I ate one of them and then I ate another. The fact that I ate more than one is notable because it’s the only GBBS bake I’ve made so far that I’ve been able to eat more than one of at a time.

(I mean, I probably shouldn’t have eaten more than one. There is a heck of a lot of butter in these guys, but I recently realized butter may be my favorite food. In this way, I’m a lot like Andy Dwyer. So yeah, give Andy and I a break. Butter’s the best, guys.)

So yeah, the crackers were sufficiently buttery enough to be good, but even then, they were just crackers.

Next week, things get a bit trickier as I will attempt to make Mary Berry’s Florentines, which are cookies. They’re cookies. I, a suitably stubborn American, am going to call them cookies even if I’m supposed to call them biscuits.

P.S. A special thanks this week to everyone who told me about the Great British Baking Show’s Masterclass series in which GBBS’s judges Mary Berry and Paul of the Savory Biscuits, bake their ways through the show’s recipes with far more skill than I do and with far less complaining about word choice.

 

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 3: Mini English Classic Cakes

I decided to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS for short) and write about it. Don’t know much about GBBS? No worries. Check out my first blog in this series to learn more about the show and about why I decided to do this, for better or for worse (so far, mostly worse).

***

Ordinarily when I want to procrastinate, I cook something — anything, just something so I can avoid doing what I’m supposed to be doing while tricking myself into believing that I’m still doing something productive.

Sure, I’m putting off writing an article for work, but I made roasted Parmesan potatoes so that’s something, right?

This tactic usually works for me, but this week I was avoiding baking.

I was really dreading making this week’s showstopper challenge – 36 miniature English classic cakes.

But I couldn’t put off this task my normal way, because putting off baking by cooking was a bit too ridiculous even for me.

So instead I wrote my article for work early (for possibly the first time ever). (Side note: If you don’t know, I write bar reviews for the Omaha World-Herald. You can check them out here.)

Then after I did that, I cleaned everything in the house. I vacuumed. I dusted. I mopped. I laundered. Then I considered doing a bunch of ironing that I had been putting off.

And that’s when I realized things had gotten a bit out of hand.

I didn’t want to iron. Sheesh.

My procrastination had to be stopped.

It was time to make these damn cakes.

I had decided to make miniature coffee and walnut cakes. Which are apparently a classic English cake. I had no idea what a “classic English cake” was going in, so I decided to go official and use a recipe from the show – specifically, the contestant Richard‘s recipe. The recipe is available on the GBBS website here.

But, recipe decided, I still didn’t want to make these damn cakes.

Because it looked like so much work. There were multiple cakes. There were three layers. There were too many words in the recipe.

It seemed like there were too many steps, too many opportunities for me to mess things up.

So to hedge my bets and because previous attempts have taught me that “winging it” is not a good idea (see here for an example), I got really anal retentive about it.

RichardCake
Photographic proof of anal retentiveness (and also of bad handwriting).

Then came the actual baking, which took approximately forever. I made the dough and then had to separate it into three pans which would be for the three cakes that would make up my three layers.

I could have baked all the cakes at once obviously, but I didn’t because, frankly, my oven and I have trust issues. We haven’t worked together long and we’re still feeling each other out. (Yes, I know my oven is not a person. I’m just saying, we’ve got to work out a few kinks in our relationship before I trust it. I’ve been burnt before. Get it? Burnt by the oven….okay, yeah, not my best pun.)

Anyway, so I baked the cakes one at a time, and they turned out crazy thin. Like Richard really should have warned me in the recipe about how thin these cakes would be. (And don’t worry, I actually think they’re supposed to be like this. I looked at the pictures of his cake.) But still, to reiterate. It was alarmingly thin for a cake. See, look:

RichardCake2
Alarmingly thin cake.

Then I had to wait for the cakes to cool and cut them into 54 circles. Fifty-four is a strange number for someone making 36 cakes, huh? I thought so too. That’s when I read the recipe fully for the first time. (Yeah, I realize I should have done this sooner.)

Turns out I was cutting them into 54 circles because I was only making 18 cakes. Eighteen cakes with three layers. Not 36 cakes with three layers.

I felt like the Great British Baking Show had lied to me. After all, I had used Richard’s recipe they had posted on their website for their “36 Mini English Classic Cakes” episode assuming (I now realize, incorrectly) that it would make 36 cakes.

It didn’t. It made 18. And thank God for that.

Thirty six cakes would have been way too many cakes for my family to eat. Eighteen is almost too many, because these cakes aren’t messing around.

These are little sugar and butter bombs that explode in your mouth and go straight to your brain (and, probably, though I really don’t want to think about it right now, your arteries).

If you can eat more than one, I’m just going to say it, there is something seriously wrong with you. You must have developed a superhuman butter and sugar tolerance or something. You’re weird.

I just ate one and I feel like a little kid who just drank an entire bottle of Surge (you guys, remember Surge?) and then drank a shot of melted butter.

And I know what you’re thinking here. “Ashley, that’s probably at least partially because of the caffeine, you dummy. These are coffee and walnut cakes after all.”

Nope. I used decaf.

I’m glad I did, because otherwise I think these things may have been way too much for me to handle. Now they’re just this side of way too much.

I realize that the Surge and melted butter shot comparison made them sound less than appetizing, but really, they’re quite good. (If I do say so myself.)  And really, they don’t look so bad either.

RichardCake7
Sugar and Butter Bombs aka Mini Coffee and Walnut Cakes

They were hard. But it’s the hard that makes it great.

(I did not think of that line myself. I stole it from a Superstore episode I watched yesterday that stole it from a League of Their Own. Both of these things are good. You should watch  them.)

But in this case at least, maybe it wasn’t the hard that made it great. Maybe it was just the coffee-flavored buttercream. (It was definitely the buttercream.)

P.S. A special thanks to my husband who was very nice to me even after I very slightly burned myself this week and then acted more than slightly like Michael Scott in the episode of The Office when he accidentally burns his foot on his George Foreman grill.

Forgot that episode? Here’s a recap. Yeah, I acted sort of like that. Yeah, I know, it’s a miracle my husband keeps me around.

P.P.S. Next week, I break into the second episode of the Great British Baking  show which focuses on biscuits or as we Yanks call them, cookies, or well, crackers. They kind of make both in this episode so I’ll be honest here – I’m not real clear on their definition of “biscuits.” But hey, there’s plenty of time for me to figure that out. Like, I have until next week.