Friday, 30 August 2013

English Muffins: GBBO Week #2

Bread week on Tuesday's Great British Bake Off started with breadsticks. The judges wanted 36 of them, 25cm in length, and made with yeast. A tall order! Breadsticks are known as grissini in Italy where they were invented, and traditionally the breadsticks have to be the same length as the baker's arm!

Kimberley, Ali and Ruby did really well in this challenge (Ruby's Mexican Twists pictured above). Their breadsticks had great flavour, a good snap and looked attractive - all the thing the judges were after. Making breadsticks looks pretty tricky, especially making 36 identical ones all of the same length! Uniformity is not an easy thing for a home baker. Rob advised to bake slowly on a low heat to draw all of the moisture out, ensuring a good snap as the breadsticks should not be chewy. Kimberley also mentioned that she had made 200 breadsticks to practise this bake, and it certainly paid off!

Frances again stood out with her creativity and presentation, by making these 'matchstick' breadsticks pictured above. Flavoured with ginger, and dipped in chilli chocolate. the judges loved the presentation, although were unsure if the flavours should be used for a breadstick.

The technical challenge was English Muffins - my bake along this week! We learnt that there really was a muffin man back in the 18th century when these were first popular. Following a Paul Hollywood recipe, the bakers were asked for eight English muffins which should be evenly baked, have a chewy texture and light air holes. Poor Howard's muffin's suffered an accidental elbowing from Sue!

Bread week isn't my favourite as bread is not my forte, but I always learn something! Here's what I learned about English Muffins... The dough for the muffins is very wet and sticky, but you just have to keep working it until smooth. As muffins are made with an enriched dough, this slows down the gluten and so it can be difficult to tell when the dough is proved. It should have air holes and spring back when touched. The proved dough should be handled with care to maintain the air holes. Kimberley advised me not to twist the cutter, and to resist adding more flour to the dough. I'd take her advice as she won this challenge!

For the showstopper a beautifully decorative shaped loaf was requested. The bakers got extremely creative with a Physic Octopus Tribute Loaf (Rob), a White Chocolate & Orange Peacock (Ruby), and a Yin & Yang loaf flavoured with chicken tikka and paneer on one side and white chocolate and apricot on the other side (Ali)! I was really impressed with the level of creativity here and the look of the loaves. Ruby got star baker this week, admittedly I wanted Kimberley to get it as I think she was best overall, but I think it's a great boost to Ruby's confidence and definitely deserved for what she produced this episode.

Sadly Lucy's loaf looked rather unimpressive compared to everyone else's and after coming last in the technical challenge and her breadsticks being branded as 'very plain', she left us this week. I was disappointed to see her go as I enjoyed what she did in week one. It was strange how she really experimented with flavour in the cakes, but her bread flavours were extremely simple. I think sometimes it is hard to please the judges as well as pleasing yourself.

As I mentioned, I'm not the best with bread. I've made several things in the past - bagels, pretzels, flatbreads - and they were always yummy, but I find bread quite hard work and it doesn't come as naturally to me as cakes and other sweet goodies. I decided to follow the technical challenge again this week as I do find my creativity is not as strong when it comes to bread.

I followed a recipe from Victoria at A Kick At The Pantry Door. She is much more of a natural with bread than me so I trust her opinion! I doubled her recipe to get a few more English Muffins, and I started by dissolving a sachet of dried fast action yeast in 125ml tepid water.

I then added another 125ml of tepid water and 150g natural yoghurt and mixed in until smooth.

In another bowl I weighed out 450g strong white bread flour and 1 tsp salt.

I poured the yeast and yoghurt mixture into the flour and mixed it to form a dough. I kneaded the dough for about 10 minutes. It was so sticky! I hoped it would start to smooth out, but nothing was happening and I didn't want to over knead it, so I put it back in the bowl, covered it, and put it in a warm place (my boiler cupboard!) to prove for an hour.

After an hour it had definitely risen, but was still extremely sticky. I was concerned I had done something wrong, but decided to carry on and see what happened. I gently rolled out the dough to 2cm thick, and cut rounds out of it until all the dough was used up. I did have to flour it a bit at this point, but I tried not to go to crazy.

I placed the rounds of dough onto a floured and lined baking tray. It was hard to get neat rounds. I only had a small plastic cutter, I think a larger metal one would have been better. I sprinkled semolina over the rounds, covered with cling film and a tea towel and left for 40 minutes.

It puffed up nicely. I heated a little drizzle of oil, about the size of a 1p piece in a frying pan. I have an electric hob that goes up to number 9, I kept the heat on 4 and this was perfect I thought.

I placed the rounds in the pan in batches, I cooked for 7 minutes (no more than 8) on one side, then flipped.

When they were cooking they puffed up a lot, this is a good sign as it shows there's air still in the dough.

When I flipped the muffins they had browned nicely.

I cooled them on a cooling rack.

I cut into one to see if it was fully cooked, check out the air holes! Perfection! Light and airy. I was so chuffed when I saw this. All my concerns and doubts about the wet dough went away.

I made 10 muffins from this batch, which I will be enjoying over the weekend. I'm planning on having eggs on them!

I had a little bit with butter on, and was really happy with the texture and taste. I felt good after making these, and it has boosted my confidence with bread. It is a lot of work, and waiting, and for me - worrying! But I felt proud of what I had made at the end so it was definitely worth the journey.

print recipe

English Muffins
  • 1 sachet Dried fast action yeast
  • 250ml Tepid Water
  • 150g Natural yoghurt
  • 450g Strong white bread flour
  • 1 tsp Salt
Dissolve the yeast in 125ml of the tepid waterAdd the rest of the tepid water and the natural yoghurt and mix until smoothIn a bowl weighed out the strong white bread flour and saltPour the yeast and yoghurt mixture into the flour and mix to form a dough. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, put it back in the bowl, cover it, and put it in a warm place to prove for an hourGently roll out the dough to 2cm thick, and cut rounds out of it until all the dough is used upPlace rounds of dough onto a floured and lined baking tray. Sprinkle semolina over the rounds, covere with cling film and a tea towel and leave for 40 minutesHeat a little drizzle of oil on a medium heat in a frying panPlace the rounds in the pan in batches, cook for 7 minutes (no more than 8) on one side, then flipCool on a cooling rack, then slice and serve

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Angel Food Cake - GBBO Season 4 Begins!

It's baaaaccckkkk!! The Great British Bake Off returned to our screens on Tuesday with it's first episode all about cake. This series we have 13 bakers, whittled down from over 10,000 applicants. I bet the judges gained a lot of weight during the decision process! The first challenge was to make a sandwich cake. Easy enough you might think, but as Paul points out, if they mess it up, it will be plain to see. Most of the bakers went for fruity flavours like grapefruit (Becca), lemon (Mark), pineapple (Deborah) and blood orange (Kimberley).

A few other bakers were braver with flavour. Lucy used cardamon and Ali used pistachio, rose and lychee (pictured below). Howard stood out by using rice flour and xanthan gum in his gluten free cake, and Frances actually made her cake into the shape of a sandwich and created a 'paper' bag for it. I'm excited to see what both of these two come up with in the future!

It's painful to see how easily the bakers crumble under the pressure of the cameras, time deadlines and prospect of Mary & Paul tasting their bakes. Things they have made or done many times before suddenly go wrong. Ruby's cream patisserie curdled, Mark didn't pre-heat the oven, Howard's cake wasn't cool before he applied the buttercream, and Christine didn't have enough time to complete her basket piping work. It's amazing how this show can make a simple sandwich cake look like an absolute nightmare to make!

Most of the bakers got good results from the judges. Paul loved Ali, Becca and Howard's cakes. Rob who made a pecan and apple cake, Toby who made a carrot cake, and Lucy also got good comments. Mark, Ruby and Christine were not so lucky. And Frances fab jam sandwich cake lost points for the jam filling tasting too strongly of rose, but the judges agreed it was a very fun and creative idea.

The technical challenge was Angel Food Cake (which I have made this week!) with a lemon and passion fruit curd topping. This sponge cake originates from the USA, and is made with egg whites and no butter. It is called angel cake because it is so light and airy.

There was huge debate between the bakers over whether to grease the tin or not. Rob was one of the only ones who didn't and his cake came out beautifully (pictured above). Poor Toby did a 'John' and lined his tin with salt by mistake! From the results the bakers got, lining the tin is definitely a bad idea. Ruby, Toby and Ali were in the bottom three, Christine came third, with Lucy second, and a very modest Rob won the challenge.

The third and final challenge was a chocolate cake, that had to be decorated with at least two types of chocolate. Lucy again braved it with flavour for a thyme cake decorated with figs and chocolate trees. Ali, Rob and Kimberley all used raspberry. Most of the baker made tiered cakes, with Glenn stacking up an epic seven tier's for his almond and espresso cake!

Decorating the chocolate cakes involved tempering chocolate, which is melting it to a specific temperature before shaping it. Rob really impressed me with the stripey chocolate cigars he made. Frances did a nod to the GBBO squirrel and the hidden image cakes of last series first episode with her fantastic squirrel cake. And Howard modelled a silver bear from modelling chocolate for the top of his cake, based on Mr. Hollywood I think!

It was clear that nerves got to the bakers, with almost all of them covered in blue plasters by the end of the episode. I expect that this affected a lot of their skills, and they did things they wouldn't normally do. To make it this far to the live shows they have already proved their baking prowess. Rob won star baker this week, which I think was well deserved as he got glowing results throughout. Sadly Toby (pictured above) was the first to go, although his first bake was liked by the judges, he came last in the technical challenge and his final showstopper was, as Paul said, "a mess". Next week - bread!

I decided to make an Angel Food Cake for my first GBBO challenge. This cake is fat free because of the lack of butter, so of course I smothered it in chocolate!! I used Ina Garten's black and white angel cake recipe and converted the measurements from cups to grams, hence some of the strange gram measurements. I wasn't going to take any chances by rounding up the amounts! When following a technical challenge, sticking to a recipe is my number one tip. Also, you will need A LOT of bowls for making this cake. I used eight! I felt like I was on a constant hunt for more bowls....

I started by sifting together 100g caster sugar and 171g plain flour, I sifted it 4 times to get plenty of air in it.

In my food mixer I whisked up 1 1/2 cups of egg whites, this worked out at 9 eggs, along with 3/4 tsp salt and 1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar. As it mixed I slowly added 300g caster sugar

Once the egg whites formed stiff peaks, I added 1 tsp vanilla and mixed in.

I tipped the egg whites into a large bowl and gently folded in the flour and sugar mixture. I followed Ina's tip for folding. Cut the mixture down the middle with a spatula and pull it round the edge of the bowl, keep doing this and turn the bowl as you fold. I found this to be an excellent method and the amount of air lost was minimal.

Finally I folded in 65g coarsely grated dark chocolate - do this at the start as it takes a while, also there will be bits of chocolate all over your kitchen it you're not careful!

I tipped it into a greased and floured bundt pan - wait you say, greased?! Yes, after a read of Stephanie at Riverside Baking's attempt at Angel Food Cake, I learnt that if you use a non stick tin (like my bundt pan) then you need to grease and flour it so the cake can rise. An angel food cake tin is not non stick, so if you were using one of those, you wouldn't grease it.

I baked on 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for 35 - 40 minutes. Then left to cool upside down on a cooling rack.

Once fully cool I tipped it out and although it did stick a bit to the tin, I was really pleased with the rise I had gotten and the overall appearance!

I made the chocolate glaze by melting together 226g dark chocolate and 175g double cream.

The glaze wasn't as runny as I expected, but I spooned it over the cake, and then added some bronze sprinkles. It looked like a giant donut!

I used a serrated knife to cut the cake, as apparently this is necessary because of the different structure of the cake. It was amazingly light and fluffy! The chocolate glaze was delicious and I loved how light the sponge was - made me feel like I could eat lots of it! What did you think of The Great British Bake Off's first episode?