1. A month of mushrooms

    Although mushrooms are available all year, October has been deemed National Mushroom Month by The Mushroom Bureau which is not surprising as they are a rather ‘autumnal’ aren’t they? Urvashi Roe explores the range of varieties available in the UK, discusses the health benefits of these fantastic fungi and shares some of her favourite mushroom recipes

    A range of varieties now available across the British Isles

    There are a number of varieties that we can get widely all across the UK nowadays.  First off, plain old White mushrooms.  Probably the cheapest of the bunch and very easy to find the different types - button, closed cup, open cup and large. The white colour is because they’ve been grown indoors and out of the light.  Conversely brown mushrooms such as Chestnut and Portobello are denser and nuttier in flavour and have been left to grow in size. 

    Oyster mushrooms were first cultivated in Germany during WW2 and are probably my favourite. They remind me of dainty fairy wings and their flavour is rather dainty and delicate too.  They come in all sorts of beautiful colours – brown, grey, pink and yellow.  

    In contrast Enoki mushrooms are crisp. They are named after the enoki tree in Japan and sometimes also called the golden needle mushroom.  Another Japanese mushroom is the wonderful clustered Shimeji mushrooms.  These are sold in their clusters because the actual mushroom head is very small and the flavour is in the long, thin stem.  

    Another variety which originates from Japan is the Shiitake mushroom which comes in a dried and powder form as well as fresh.  It is meatier than the other Japanese varieties and even more so than Portobello mushrooms but also has a smoky flavour. 

    Some of the most expensive varieties are Morels and Porcini.  Morels grow in dry and sandy areas.  They have a conical shaped cap and honeycomby insides but are actually quite hollow.  If you find a patch, you’re very lucky as they are expensive when sold!  Porcini are also sometimes known as Cep mushrooms and are the crème de la crème of the funghi world. 

    Fantastic funghi health benefits

    I’ve learned a few interesting facts about mushrooms recently.  For example an 80g serving contributes towards your 5-a-day.  That’s just one large flat mushroom. On top of that, if you are a vegetarian like me, they are rich in protein. 

    Aside from that they have very little fat or calories and are rich in fibre so you will feel fuller for longer as well as keep those free radicals at bay because of all the antioxidants packed in these fantastic funghis.  

    Great for all kinds of meals

    The final great thing about mushrooms is that they are so versatile.  Aside from desserts, you can find a host of recipes for starters, canapés or mains.  I chose these Wild mushroom, spinach and goat’s cheese vol-au-vents with poached duck egg and pimento cream by Mark Dodson to start. I didn’t use the eggs as I wanted something light.

    I followed this with a main course of Risotto Milanese with wild mushrooms by Galton Blackiston. This is a staple in our house during the autumn.  Especially now the nights are getting a little darker and colder. 


    I tend to use whichever mushrooms I can find at the market like the chestnut ones in this picture.

    How do you like to eat your mushrooms? Do you prefer them raw or cooked gourmet style? What’s the most expensive mushroom dish you’ve ever eaten? 

  2. Dipping Disasters and Chiffon Cake Creations in The Great British Bake Off Final

    After nine weeks of entertaining baking, we were down to the final episode of Great British Bake Off.  For the first time ever there was an all male final and over 6.5 million people were on the edge of their seats as the results were announced.  Former contestant Urvashi Roe has a round up of the show and reveals who would take home the prize & title of Britain’s best amateur baker for 2012.

    It’s been a summer of creativity and entertaining baking but we were down to the final three. All very different styles and all very different types of people.  I think Paul did a really good job of summing them up.

    Brendan – the most knowledgeable baker creating nostalgic home baking with a classic style and great flavours.

    James – the most innovative baker always trying to reach the pinnacle of what can be done.

    John  - perhaps the most passionate out of the whole group this year defined by his bold, modern designs influenced by French patisserie.

    The Final Signature Bake

    The bakers were put through their pastry paces for the last time with the signature bake requiring them to make a Savoury Pithivier – a round ‘pie’ made with two discs of puff pastry.  The filling is piled into a mound shape in the middle and the pastry enclosed over it.  It’s traditionally decorated with spiral lines drawn from the top downwards and a scalloping of the edges.

    Paul was looking for a good flake with the rough puff pastry and impressive layers.  Mary wanted to see the traditional lines and a good shiny finish.

    All three finalists looked incredibly nervous. Even James who is usually smiley and bubbly from the start seemed to have caught the nerves. He had decided on a Spanish themed bake using chorizo, chicken and red peppers. 

    John opted for Italian with Taleggio cheese, Italian sausage and roasted vegetables.  My favourite however was Brendan’s vegetarian idea using caramelised garlic – lots of garlic! – with potato, pepper and spinach with goat’s cheese to bulk up the filling and avoid any juices seeping into the pastry. Brendan’s was also the best looking in my opinion.  Beautifully scalloped edges and lovely clean lines marked on top of the pastry.  One for our lunch table this Saturday I think! 

    All three received praise for their great flavours but whilst Brendan and John could breathe easy with perfect pastry, poor James produced the final soggy bottom of the series.  How would this impact his nerves going into the technical challenge? He’s usually incredibly calm and laid back but would his ‘winging it’ style pay off this week?

    Technically the worst fondant fancies the judges had ever seen

    25 perfect Fondant Fancies.  I thought this was a brilliant final, technical challenge.  Fiddly, delicate and time sensitive.  As expected, all three produced excellent cake but then there was the dilemma of how to cut 25 perfect squares. 

    The ruler was out for Brendan – the man of precision.  James too. John decided to go smaller than the other two and left a large chunk of wasted cake.  I could understand his logic as all the fondant fancies I’ve seen are petite but Mary was to chastise him for this later.

    Who knew that buttercream would bring so many decisions?  How soft? Cold or warm? How to paste on etc etc. So many dilemmas!  Perhaps these were just distractions for the bakers from the fiddling with fondant to come.  All three had differing ‘techniques’. 

    1.       Plopping the cake square into the bowl of fondant and attempting to scoop it out.

    2.       Dipping the cake square into the fondant and trying to keep hold while coating it evenly.

    3.       Holding the cake square and pouring fondant over the top praying for an even finish.

    Which one would you had opted for?

    With credit to the three finalists, they all finished and displayed 25 fondant fancies but Mel and Sue did comment it was more like being on the set of The Generation Game than the Great British Bake Off Final.

    The judges weren’t too impressed either.  The comments were harsh …. Too small, too wet, sloppy – in general it was ‘a bit of a mess across the board’ according to Paul. 

    Oh dear.  How would this impact the last bake for each of them?

    Creative Chiffon Cakes For The Final Showstopper Bake

    I loved this last challenge. I think it was really interesting to see a difficult bake at this stage in the competition paired with the opportunity to let us into each of the finalist’s personalities.

    There was a wobbly moment for Brendan as he described his idea of ‘Reunion’. He talked about a cake to bring different parts of his family together after 30 years apart which I think was very brave to do in front of the millions of viewers last night.  I loved that he’d stayed true to his traditional flavours with a raspberry and almond combination.  It looked beautiful with a lovely heart shaped cake just sitting perfectly at the top. A really worthy final bake.

    John described how the ups and downs of 2012 had led to his idea of a ‘Heaven and Hell’ cake.  A base layer of chocolate and orange chiffon cake topped with smaller cloud like cakes using lemon curd and coconut.  This was the one I would have been keen to taste. It sounded and looked utterly amazing.  Another worthy final bake.

    James opted for a theme of ‘United’ and shocked everyone when he announced he’d be making five different cakes representing the momentous year 2012 had been for Great Britain. An ambitious idea from the innovative baker.  Sadly though this time he didn’t pull it off.  As Paul highlighted, the final creation had little unity and so the requirement of the challenge for one cake was rather missed. The decoration paled into insignificance compared to the other two cakes as did the taste.  Paul commented that the dry crumb was welding his mouth together and Mary just had that look of utter disappointment.   But was this the twist? Would the judges base their decision on all the previous weeks or go with these three, final challenges? 

    And the winner is ……

    Paul and Mary said they were unanimous in their decision on the winner. 

    Twitter was undecided between #teamjames and #teamjohn.  Poland’s waterlogged pitch had even driven football fans to the final.  6.5 million viewers waited tensely for Sue to announce the winner.

    It was John!

    John Whaite - A Law Student from Manchester.  Humble, hardworking and honest all the way through the competition had wowed the judges and claimed the 2012 title.

    Both previous winners, Edd and Jo, have gone on to write well received, baking books showing off their unique styles.  John’s style is very different to both and the final credits explained how he wants to save up to attend a Parisian Patisserie School. It will be interesting to see what his chosen path will be and as a young man he has so much time to decide.  Good luck John!

    But not forgetting James and Brendan.  Both brilliant bakers who will also no doubt go on to do great things in the baking business as the other finalists have done.  For starters, all three will be at The BBC Good Food Show in November.  Good luck to them all! 

    What did you think of the finals?  Did your favourite win?

  3. Gujerat – Home of Simple Vegetarian Curries

    Onions are an extremely common ingredient in curries.  However they are not essential for a good curry.  Urvashi Roe explores the common misconception that all curries start by frying onions and shares her delicious recipe for Potato Shak

    National Curry Week is all about exploring new types of curry whilst raising money for the The Curry Tree Foundation.  I’d like to draw your attention to the curries and food of the Western state of Gujerat (or Gujarat as some spell it). It’s primarily coastline but we don’t eat any seafood.  It has some game but we don’t eat meat.  There are large farming communities and so the vast majority of the population are vegetarian.  

    Not Every Curry Starts with Frying Onions

    There are many common misconceptions in the world of cooking and I think the biggest one is that all curries start with frying onions. In my family, we never fry onions.  Firstly because my father doesn’t like the taste and secondly because they are actually very heavy to digest.  In fact our curries start with very little oil and the simplicity of just a handful of spices.

    First cumin seeds and mustard seeds. These are thrown into hot oil and as they fizzle and pop wildly, to release their flavours, vegetables are added and tossed gently together.

    Next red chilli powder for igniting the bloodstream..

    This is followed by turmeric powder for antiseptic calm and an earthy tone..

    And finally cumin and coriander powder for the balance of heat on the tongue.

    Of course salt is added to taste and some families also add lemon and ginger too.   

    This really is the basic toolkit for a simple Gujerati ‘curry’ or ‘shak’ as we say.

    Here is a simple recipe for Potato Shak if you’d like to have a go. 


    1 medium sized potato per person – this recipe is using 4

    2 tbsp vegetable oil

    1 tsp mustard seeds

    1 tsp cumin seeds

    Half tsp turmeric powder

    1 tsp red chilli powder

    2 tsp coriander and cumin powder (dhana jeeru)

    1 tsp salt

    2 tbsp tomato puree

    1 cup of water

    Handful of coriander to garnish

    To make it

    Peel the potatoes and then chop them into large cubes.  Wash and then set them aside.

    Mix the water with the tomato puree and set aside.

    Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium flame and make sure the lid is set aside within easy reach. This is because the seeds may pop out from the hot oil when the potatoes are added so it’s handy to cover up quickly.

    Test the oil by adding a couple of mustard and cumin seeds. If they fizzle around, it’s ready so add the rest and then quickly add the chopped potatoes and cover with the lid.

    Turn the heat down and then add the turmeric, chilli powder, coriander and cumin powder and salt.

    Pour over the water and purée mix, cover and leave to cook with the lid on until the potatoes are soft giving the mixture a little stir every now and then. If the potatoes are sticking, it’s too hot so turn the heat down and add a little more water.

    Garnish with fresh coriander and serve with rice or Indian breads. 

    Do you always use onions when making curry? What are some of your favourite vegetable curries?  

  4. French Week in The Great British Bake Off

    Week nine of The Great British Bake Off and the semi-finals of the show. This week the contestants would take on some French cookery skills & try their hand at petits fours and choux gateaux. Former contestant Urvashi Roe, the Botanical Baker, watched the show and presents her thoughts as the four semi finalists become three for the finals.

    There was a distinctly sombre mood this week from the start.  The music was slower. The bakers looked tense and agitated.  There was some light humour with exaggerated accents from Mel and Sue and I loved the lingering shots of snails as the show went all French in theme. 

    Perfect petit fours

    First up were Petit Fours.  In the last series this was one of the final bakes so I was really interested to see what the contestants would come up with.  They were tasked with three different baking styles and had to present twelve of each.  I thought this was a tough one and as Paul and Mary both said, it was all about time management.  Paul was looking for flavoursome, little mouthfuls – small, exquisite and perfect.

    Perfection has been the name of the game with Brendan and his objective was uniformity, great flavours and contrast.  He certainly delivered this with his amazing Choux Pastry Cygnets.  These were pure class and raised the game in the tent to a new level.  His Coffee Meringues with Hazelnut Cream and Apricot Friands looked equally amazing.  Real showstopper quality.

    The other three semi finalists opted to include macarons of some variation. Chilli, Lime and Raspberry for James, Blackberry and Peppermint for Danny and Chocolate and Cherry for John.  I think after last year’s macaron shenanigans, avid viewers will know how tricky these little blighters are and it was great to see no disasters.

    There was an even spread of “Mmmmm” and “great flavours” married with a few “nice bake” and “scrummy” comments but overall all the contestants did well except John.  His presentation ‘looked terrible’ according Paul and it wasn’t ‘exciting’ enough for Mary which was a shame as the idea of ‘bejewelled’ Madeleines was something I was looking forward to seeing.

    The grandfather of the home oven and the patron saint of baking

    They really pulled out some great interludes this week.  I was fascinated to learn about Alexis Soyer – the man who brought the gas oven into British homes and kept those soldiers well fed during the Crimean war.  He even had time to create soup kitchens and some of the first recipe books of the time. 

    And Saint Honore – the 6th Century bishop who got the title of ‘Patron Saint’ of Baking after a miracle witnessed by his nanny.  She refused to believe that this 6 year old boy would become a bishop.  She said she’d only believe it if the orange peel she was baking sprouted flowers which of course they did.

    Fabulous and Floppy Fraisers

    A Fraiser is essentially a strawberry sponge cake.  In this week’s technical challenge the judges were after a light, Genoese sponge – eggs and sugar whisked over a hot water bath til almost four times in volume and then flour folded in while trying to retain this volume and finally melted, cooled butter added.  It’s a lovely light and rich sponge which Rob from last year’s series did just right in episode one.  They were also looking for a thick crème patisserie as this would need to hold firm in the middle.  And then the final technical element was piping with melted chocolate on top of the marzipan topping.

    I think they all did really well.  I’ve made one of these after attending a Masterclass with Eric Lanlard and it’s a tough one.

    My first crème patisserie was floppy and oozed out of the middle just like Danny’s.  Brendan’s was better but still not as stiff as it should be to cut into a firm slice.  James came top but it was a close one and John simply looked relieved to have made it through after the poor comments during the first challenge.  

    A Showstopping Semi Final

    The final fab four were asked to create a Choux Pastry Gateau. What a wonderful way to end the semi-final.  This is my favourite type of pastry and I think this was a beautiful challenge to let the bakers be creative and really go to town on making something showstopping.

    All the flavours sounded amazing. Danny brought back the wonderful Isfahan flavours that had inspired James in Tart Week Lychee, Raspberry and Rosewater.  John’s Passionfruit Curd sounded lovely too and it was Brendan that decided to play it safe with just a little Kirsch.

    All three were making a Gateau St Honore whereas James was going all out in creativity with his unique take on a classic Paris Brest. 

    He created a bicycle shaped cake filled with toffee and hazelnut cream.  It was inspired by the origins of the cake which commemorated the 1200km Paris-Brest-Paris cycle race in 1891. I thought this was truly worthy of a semi-final bake and the others looked simple and plain in comparison.

    Paul and Mary were impressed with Brendan’s presentation and simple flavours and John’s choux but felt Danny had overdone it with the rose flavour.  Easy to do with rosewater and Danny looked completely devastated.  You almost could see the frustration oozing out of her.

    James and his ‘winging it’ ways paid off this time because the judges punctured his pastry wheels to gush over the tastes coming through each layer.  Paul’s only comment was that the wheels could have done with a little more inflation.

    And farewell…

    So after three amazing bakes, James was quite rightly crowned Star Baker for the second week in a row.  He looked genuinely surprised to have gotten through but I don’t think he realises how good he actually is.  I think even some professional chefs would struggle to make a chocolate mousse using the scientific method he showed this week.  That really was a technique worthy of a semi finalist.

    Danny was the one to leave this week.  She looked tired, frustrated and a little lost in her final interview but did well to hold back the tears.  She’s performed consistently well during the series, producing some amazing bakes but runny crème patisserie and overpowering rosewater got the better of her this week. I bet she won’t be able to look at a rose for a long time. 

    So…an all boy final next week.  The bakers with very different styles will make it really interesting viewing. Who are you keeping those fingers crossed for? 

  5. Crackers, Crispbreads & Gigantic Gingerbread in The Great British Bake Off

    Week eight of The Great British Bake Off and the quarter finals of the show. The challenges were heating up with crispbreads, crackers, chocolate teacakes and show stopping gingerbread. Former contestant Urvashi Roe, the Botanical Baker, watched the show and presents her thoughts on the five remaining bakers.

    It was the quarter finals this week and there was much hype on Twitter about the difficulty of the challenges this week.  I would have to agree. For me this was by far the best week. Biscuits was the theme and it was great to see the loose links to this because let’s be honest Miranda Gore-Browne in series one really did set the bar on this. 

    Crackers and Crispbreads

    The contestants had to bake 48 identical crackers to start.  They could be leaved or unleavened, use any kind of flour but above all they must be thin and produce a crack. This was a test of consistency.  Mary was looking for a thorough crispness all the way over the top and then also on the underside.  Paul was only interested in the flavour and the snap.

    James and Cathryn decided on yeasted versions which meant they would be short on time as the flour would need to prove.  It also meant there was more chance of the flavours not coming through. 

    It was really nice to see the range this week and I particularly liked the use of spices in most of the bakes.  John with his Asian Spiced Crackers used cumin, coriander and Fennel.

    Danny – original as always – bound her flour base with yoghurt and added Ras –Al Hanout and James used a polenta dough with cayenne, cumin and chilli.  “What no whisky!” exclaimed Sue in a disappointed tone. 

    It was also nice to see the techniques.  Danny used the same technique as me which was to roll between two pieces of greaseproof paper.  I would never roll cracker dough on a plain surface like Brendan did as I am fearful of sticking.  He had however oiled the wooden surface and seemed to have no trouble lifted his identical pieces of.  What amused me was his use of a workman’s measuring tape and a gardener’s spray bottle.  It reminded me of when Ben from my series turned up with an enormous suitcase of spray painting tools.  Oh the things we do for Bake Off!

    There was just so much more attention to detail this week with everyone except Cathryn. She seemed ashamed to present them to the judges and quite rightly so.  The rest of the group fared well and passed ‘The Hollywood Crack’ test producing a ‘nice bake and a nice break’.  I think I would have been rather drunk by this point had I started a drinking game based on Mary saying ‘wafer thin’ as her comment was the same for each. 

    Technical Teacakes

    A wonderful and very proper technical challenge this week with teacakes as there is huge skills required across all the elements of bringing this iconic ‘biscuit’ together. 

    Firstly the contestants needed to produce a perfect digestive.  No easy task I can tell you because the balance of thin and thick and then length in the oven is a difficult one.  You can so easily loose the sweet flavour to a bitter after taste. The contestants were only given the oven temperature so it was all a guessing game as none had made these before. 

    Second, the marshmallow filling. Meringue is hard enough to make in a time limit but the addition of golden syrup over a bain-marie needs to be done slowly with care – again not an easy task in the tent. Panic really does take over as soon as you don’t understand anything on the recipe card and your mind starts interpreting everything a million different ways and then all of a sudden there is only half an hour left!

    Finally there was melted chocolate involved which required tempering.  This simply means melting the chocolate to 45 degrees and then bringing the temperature back down again to 33 degrees.  I am assuming there were no instructions on how to temper and it seemed all of the contestants at least knew how to do this.  However it was a hot day in the tent and they all needed to put the chocolate in the fridge.  Big mistake as it produces ridges and loses the sheen. 

    I think all of the contestants did brilliantly except Cathryn.  She was the only one who waivered about putting her chocolate in the fridge and sadly it was not solid enough to peel away from the mould easily like the others.  It stuck and left gaping holes of marshmallow.  Danny and John had marshmallow that looked a little scrambled so James and Brendan came out on top.  All Paul had to say was that the bases were too thick.

    I think I’m going to have to have a go at this one! I’m not a fan of marshmallow but it looks like something that needs mastering for the baking belt!

    Showstopping Gingerbread Structures to put Grasmere on the map

    The showstopper bake was focussed on gingerbread which has a wonderful history that Sue related with the help of various historians.  It originates from Grasmere in Cumbria and was traditional given as a love token to fair maidens by knights before they went into joust.  The spices are said to warm the blood and encourage love.  This tradition evolved into gift giving across Europe from the common folk right the way up to the nobles.  Ornate and intricate moulds date back to the 17th Century and these were frequently decorated with marzipan and gold leaf.

    No moulds for the contestants though.  Instead there were templates, rulers, set squares and measuring tapes as they assembled a gingerbread structure far beyond a house. Cathryn and Danny stayed patriotic and on British soil with Buckingham Palace and Big Ben.  James and Brendan went a bit twee with a bird house and a barn.  Most spectacular and showstoppery for me was John with his magnificent Coliseum.  What I liked was that he had also thought linking his flavours to his build as he’s added the strength and depth of black treacle and a strong ginger flavour to represent the power of the building.  Genius. Utter genius. 

    Most were systematic in their builds as the pieces they would need to build first needed baking as a priority.  John and Brendan were the most systematic with no apparent disasters.  The rest struggled with caramel not sticking the pieces or time to assemble. 

    Cathryn presented the front half of Buckingham Palace and there was no commentary at all about this unfinished task.  (I think the judges minds were made up already at this point).

    James had done a masterful job on a dilapidated barn with sugar strands of cobwebs and ginger bake bricks falling to pieces.  The effect was obviously not intential but brilliant nevertheless.

    Danny’s Big Ben towered strongly though was not quite as polished and complete as she would have liked.  I liked the little clock detail.

    Brendan’s bird house was beautiful but he got marked down for using a cereal biscuit to make the tiles.  Personally I think he did an amazing job and the judges were being picky.

    John stole the show with his Roman beauty complete with edible gravel and paving slabs. 

    The judges had lots of comments on taste.  They didn’t like Brendan’s as it was too spicy.  Danny’s biscuit was too soft and needed longer in the oven and James got Mary’s winning smile as she munched away at his perfectly spiced biscuit door.

    And farewell……

    ‘Barnstorming Birthday Boy James won Star Baker.  I loved his beaming smile of pride. 

    Unsurprisingly Cathryn was booted out this week.  I would have to agree on the choice.  She has been shoddy for a couple of weeks now and to be honest the whining was getting rather tiresome.  (Sorry!)

    So a brilliant semi final line up.  All Star Bakers and all with very different styles.  Can’t wait for next week! 

    Did you watch Great British Bake Off?  Who’s would have got the Star Baker in your opinion? 

  6. Baking Frenzy as 21,000 visit The Cake and Bake Show

    The inaugural Cake & Bake Show held last weekend was an absolute sell out!  More than 21,000 baking fans were welcomed through the door during the two day extravaganza at London’s Earls Court.  Urvashi Roe was lucky enough to get a ticket & reviews her thoughts of the event

    The inaugural Cake & Bake Show was an absolute sell out! In fact the organisers had to release evening tickets and line up more demonstrations to keep pace with demand.  More than 21,000 baking fans were welcomed through the door during the two day event which was at London’s Earls Court.

    Of course most of the crowd had come along to see their favourite celebrity bakers.  I saw the lovely Tom Herbert from the Fabulous Baker Boys.

    The very clever Peggy Porschen.  Competition winners had the opportunity for a very intimate workshop.

    Annabel Karmel was among the chefs demonstrating and running workshop in the dedicated area organised by Grainchain.  It was great to see so many children enthused about baking.

    I also spotted Lotte Duncan at The Celebrity Bake Book stand.

    And finally, I caught up with my lovely friend Jo Wheatley from the last series of the Great British Bake Off.

    There were sugarcraft supplies galore with lots of demonstrations of various techniques. 

    There were also lots of hands on workshops organised by bakeware suppliers. 

    What I loved was the seaside themed competition.  There were some amazing displays of cakes made by bakers of all ages.

    There were some very inspired things for sale.

    And of course there were lots and lots and lots of yummy cakes and baked things to eat!

    A great and unusual touch was this wonderful guest book made entirely from edible materials that people could sign as a memento of the event with edible ink pens. 

    Following on from the success of this launch event, the organisers have announced dates for next year.  The show will be held in Manchester for three days from 5th-7th April 2013, before returning to London again in September.   

    You’ll find some delicious items to bake in our baking collection at Great British Chefs.  Why do you think that baking has become so popular?   Is it shows like Great British Bake Off?  Or is there something really comforting about baking itself? What are some of your favourite items to bake?

  7. Showstopping Sweet Dough in The Great British Bake Off

    Week seven of The Great British Bake Off saw the contestants & presenters grapple with sweet dough in the shape of buns, doughnuts and celebration loaves.  After last week’s episode when no one left the show, this week was going to see two of the bakers leave. Former contestant Urvashi Roe, the Botanical Baker, gave her thoughts on how the seven would turn to five.

    Buns and baps were the name of the game this week. Sweet ones, gooey ones, jammy ones and bit fat ones but it was “nice firm buns” that Mary Berry was after in the Signature Sweet Bake.  The bakers were asked to make 24 buns using an “enriched dough” which is a flour, salt, yeast and water mixture but with added eggs, fat, milk or sugar.  I think 24 was quite a tall order within the timeframe.  Paul was looking for perfection with a base dough that was soft and bordering on wet so the buns would be lovely and soft rather than crusty.

    Cathryn was trying hard to distinguish herself this week with her version of a local and historical recipe for Lady Arundel Manchet Buns filled with cream and jam.  Ryan opted for Lardy Bunds inspired by Bake boy Tom Herbert. 

    Most of the bakers however decided to go with a Chelsea Bun variation.  Brendan’s Bunskis had a poppy seed twist, John’s a Cherry, Almond and Saffron focus.

    Some did look decidedly burned and overcooked and as the judges cut into each one by one, there was some underbaking and under proving but there was also a lot of bland and poor flavours.  Cathryn, John, James and Sarah Jane all produced less than perfection. 

    Ryan did so well that he got a hearty hand shake from Paul.  Brendan’s were unusual and delicious.  The ones that stole the show for me and the judges were Danny’s Bakewell Buns flavoured with sour cherries and almonds.  They looked so lovely but what made it all worthwhile was the huge smile on Danny’s face.  I’ve loved watching her gain confidence week by week and was keeping fingers crossed it wouldn’t go pear shaped for her as the weekend wore on.

    Cornish Saffron Buns - a saviour for the local community

    How amazed I was that a humble sweet bun could curb problematic drunken locals.  Mel’s narrative related how these simple buns were handed out to the local community after a procession marking the ascension of Christ.  The buns were flavoured with currants, sultanas and saffron brought over by Venetian traders. 

    A Jammy Technical Challenge for James

    The technical challenge this week also took inspiration from history.  In 1942 The Amercian GIs were treated to a taste of home with doughnuts served at the Service Clubs to boost their morale.  Better still they were served by “Doughnut Dollies” who were specially hired to be an entertaining and sympathetic ear.  The whole idea was so successful that it was repeated during WW2 and special Clubmobiles were created taking the Douhghnut Dollies on the road. 

    Would the bakers live up to the doughnuts made by these wonderful Doughnut Dollies?

    James was the only one who’d made doughnuts before and he was very confident with the technique Paul was looking for.  Soft dough which was wet enough to produce a bouncy, round doughnut, light in colour and fully cooked inside. 

    Sadly none except Brendan and James managed this task well.  Most were undercooked and even raw in Sarah Jane’s case.  Ryan’s were the opposite – over proved , flat and chewy. 

    A Showstopping Celebratory Loaf to finish

    I don’t think this was a particularly interesting challenge.  None of the bakes were very showstopper in my view and so meeting the judge’s brief of producing something spectacular which also tasted great was going to be hard.

    Some of the bakers opted for an overnight rise or starter dough which would produce a more intense flavour but others relied on the flavour combinations to win the judges over.  The only two who succeeded were Danny with her lovely sounding but rustic looking Christmas Wreath, and Brendan with a Black Forest Stollen baked in a bundt tin.

    Sarah Jane’s was burned on the outside and raw on the inside which was a shame as I rather liked her idea of a plaited loaf – each strand a different flavour.  Ryan had the great, original idea of making a savoury Char Sui Bau – A large pork bun traditionally served at Chinese New Year but sadly it was not cooked and squidgy inside. 

    James struggled to get his whisky balance right, John’s was flat and stodgy and Cathryn produced a cake (again).

    There was lots of talk of no flavour this week which really hit a nerve with me.  Those were the comments from the judges that hurt the most because after all food does need to taste amazing as well as look good.  Presentation isn’t everything sometimes.

    And farewell……

    Despite Brendan’s consistent performance he missed a hat-trick of the Star Baker accolade and Danny scooped the win which was wonderful to see. 

    This week two contestants were up for “eviction” and I thought it would be Sarah-Jane and Cathryn.  Both had received poor comments throughout the baking and the flavours had not been too inspired either so I was very shocked when Ryan’s name was called.  He’d done so well in the first round that I thought he’d be safe! Sadly no.  The Key Lime Pie Magic would forever be remembered though.  Sarah -Jane left in the floods of tears we’ve seen over the last few weeks. I can relate to that though so did rather empathise with her.  It’s a combination of relief, exhaustion, disappointment and fatigue all rolled into big fat teardrops!

    Both were lovely contestants and I’m sure they’ll do well with their respective baking futures but now the tension really begins. Quarter finals next week!

    Blog post for Great British Chefs by Urvashi Roe  

    What did you think of last night’s episode of The Great British Bake Off? Have you ever made doughnuts? What are some of your favourite buns?  Let us know over on Great British Chefs Facebook Page.

  8. Pudding Pallavers in The Great British Bake Off

    Week six of The Great British Bake Off saw the contestants grapple with puddings, strudels and the right royal Queen of Puddings. How did the remaining magnificent seven fare? Former contestant Urvashi Roe, the Botanical Baker, gives a run-down of last night’s episode.

    Blog post for Great British Chefs by Urvashi Roe 

    After the “hot, saucey, spongey” dialogue from Mel and Sue to intro this programme, I’m starting to wonder if this is now about baking at all! In fact the innuendos have gone rather crazy on Twitter but it was rather gratifying to see #GBBO trending on Twitter last night.  Who would have though baking would be so popular again. 

    Signature Sponges

    The remaining “magnificent seven” were asked this week to make two types of mini sponges – either baked, boiled or steamed. Six of each.  (It’s a baking show so personally I think allowing ‘boiling’ was a bit outside of the remit).  The judges were looking for a “light sponge with a sticky topping or served with ice cream”.  Any underbaking results in a gooey middle and over baking in a dry cake like mixture.

    Personally I didn’t see the difficulty in this challenge other than time.  Getting two different types done in two hours would require a lot of juggling and I think this challenge was there to catch the disorganised.

    Sticky Toffee Puddings were the order of the day for John, Brendan and Sarah Jane as well as Chocolate Fondants for Ryan and Danny.  I love the way James brings a little of Scotland into each week.  This week it was Clooties which didn’t quite turn out as he expected.  They looked like a sticky, gooey mess but I loved how he ingeniously used a blow torch to dry them out.  

    Danny was in despair as her chocolate fondants fell on the floor when coming out of the oven.  Accidents happen. You all remember the lovely Rob from last year dropping his cake on the floor on week one?  What I remember is lots of expletives and Paul Hollywood rushing to have a taste before it was swept away!  Secretly I was incredibly grateful as I was having a chocolate disaster of my own at the time. The judges forgive accidents so I knew she’d be fine as long as they tasted great.  But the judges were divided.  Paul was adamant that she get marked down for puddings that were not bold and upright but Mary was insistent the flavours were there and all home cooks have accidents. 

    The most original were Cathryn’s Walnut whip inspired sponges.  I loved Walnut Whips and though her rice pudding filling was undercooked, both judges loved the idea and taste.

    Sugar Wizards of Days Gone By

    The historical interlude focused on confectioners this week and was rather short, and not as interesting, as previous weeks in my view.  I would have liked to have seen more of the contraptions used by these amazing “sugar wizards” as Sue called them.  I loved the idea of the Cabinet Pudding.  How thrifty the cooks of old were in using up bits of leftover sponge to make wonderful towers using custard or ice cream.  I guess the modern day equivalent would be cake pops which is what I thought this was leading up to for the technical challenge. 

    The Queen of Baking Sets a Regal Technical Challenge

    It was the turn of a Mary Berry recipe this week – The Queen of Puddings – Layers of baked custard, jam topped with crunchy and marshmallow like meringue.  She was looking for three distinct layers and not a  “right Royal mess”. 

    The challenge was of course to get the right setting point for the custard and the jam.  Most had not made jam before so the instruction from Mary to “make the jam” was taken with bafflement and bewilderment. 

    And Now For The Science Bit!

    There is a lot of great science in the show this year.  Mel explained how the egg protein changes shape to set the custard but will crack if overheated.  With meringue she explained how the protein molecules trap the air to stiffen the egg but over whipping weakens the structure so it collapses.  I do hope teachers across the country embrace this national enthusiasm for baking and incorporate a little of this into their lesson planning!

    Overall the results were good.  The only Royal mess was from James who up until now has been consistent.  Brendan came top followed by the lovely Danny and I was keeping my fingers crossed for her this week for the Star Baker accolade. 

    Showstopping Strudels

    What a brilliant challenge this week.  When I lived in Germany my flatmate used to bring home amazing strudel from her grandmother and I wish now I had gone with her to visit all those times.  What a fabulous, therapeutic pastime it must be and I am compelled to give it a go despite even Mary admitting that it’s the one pastry she buys. 

    What the judges were looking for was crisp and wafer thin pastry with a soft and succulent filling.  It was great to see some savoury fillings in the mix too because baking is now all about the sweet stuff as many tend to forget.  Brendan’s Spinach, Cheese and Walnut was my favourite and he was as cool as a cucumber about the whole process too.   Where others were grinding their teeth and falling into a sweat filled panic about the pastry, he was calmly oiling his arms to ensure the pastry didn’t get stuck and using his flowery tea towel as a guide to ensure his pastry was as thin as it should be.  AND he still had time to make some lattice pastry to go on top of his strudel!  I think Mary was standing at the back writing all this down to put in her next book! 

    Sarah Jane nearly got bashed by Paul as he showed her the correct way to knead – “Grab, Twist and Flick”.  It reminded me of the scene in Absolutely Blonde 2 in the hairdresser salon and I half expected a shot of them all lined up doing this.  Indeed as Sarah Jane demonstrated the technique afterwards to Cathryn, it was highly amusing to see her pastry shoot into the air and land near Danny.  I think Danny would have totally lost it if it had hit any of her baking and this I would have liked to see but it was enough to hear Cathryn’s cries of “I’m not serving Mary Berry green carpet!”  Fabulous!

    More disaster with scenes of blood and dismay for poor John who was taken away from the challenge as the kneading had ruptured his cut.  I remember Ian from my series badly cutting his hand during bread week.  Blood everywhere.  Just reinforces how dangerous the kitchen can be. 

    And farewell……

    So the judges were really torn this week and there was lots of bickering between Mary and Paul.  I love it when they argue! 

    Poor Sarah Jane stood with a tear filled face looking up at the “clouds of impending doom”.  I was hoping they wouldn’t let her go this week as her exasperation at every task is becoming very endearing.  But she was in the line-up along with James, John and Ryan.  The twist was that none of them went out.  The judges had both agreed it was too difficult to choose and there would have been a level of unfairness not to include John’s strudel in the mix.  Hmmmm.  I think they had enough contenders to make a decision and creating anticipation for next week won the pecking order.

    Brendan was Star Baker which was pleased about because he had produced perfect and consistent bakes but Danny had done so well too I wished they’d given both of them a joint award this week.   She’s getting better as the weeks progress so I think it will be an interesting final if she makes it all the way. 

    Blog post for Great British Chefs by Urvashi Roe  

    What did you think of last night’s episode of The Great British Bake Off? Have any tips for making strudel or Queen of Puddings? What’s your favourite hot sponge pudding?

  9. Pagodas of Pies in The Great British Bake Off

    Last night’s episode of Great British Bake Off saw the focus on pies, with weighty Wellingtons, perplexing hand raised pies and sweet American dessert pies. Urvashi Roe, a contestant from last year’s season, gives Great British Chefs the lowdown on this week’s show

    Blog post by Urvashi Roe, The Botanical Baker

    Pie week. Hmmmmm. I didn’t get to pie week last year and I was really rather glad because I was absolutely dreading it. And by the challenges the contestants had this year I think they all were too. 

    Giving it some Wellington

    For the first challenge this week, the bakers had to make a Wellington which is traditionally made with a beef filling and puff pastry. For Paul it was “all about the pastry” and Mary was looking for “a lovely even bake and rise in the layers and flakes”. 

    Manisha and James opted for puff pastry which takes longer and to be honest I cannot bear to make anymore. When I was practising for the show, I made about 20 batches and just looking at all the butter on the show today made me shudder. The others went for rough puff which is easier to make but still has lots of butter! (It does taste great, though.) 

    There was lots of dialogue about the method of folding the pastry. ‘Single turns’ seemed to be the order of the day for most and so Paul (very helpfully, I thought) demonstrated his ‘book turn’. 

    Fillings were interesting, too, this week. John’s Haggis with Venison went down a treat with the judges despite the pastry being undercooked, and Manisha’s Rosemary and Lamb was also a hit but again the pastry was poor. The big hits were Ryan’s Malaysian-inspired sea bass and lentils, Brendan’s Norwegian Salmon and Cathryn’s huge sausage roll. How she continues to miss the brief each week and stay in the competition continues to completely baffle me. 

    Personally, Wellingtons don’t appeal, but if you do fancy having a go, top tips from the show are as follows:

    • Take time over your pastry – it’s an essential part of the recipe and, as we saw, let most of the contestants this week down.
    • Partially cook your filling so it cooks in line with the pastry’s baking time.
    • Let the filling cool down after you’ve cooked it, because otherwise the sides of pastry will melt and you’ll do a Sarah-Jane and be left with an ‘alien’ as Paul so vividly described it.
    • Tightly wrap the pastry around your filling to avoid it blistering and leaving large gaps like Danny’s.

    A double whammy of historical interludes 

    I do love the historical breaks. I find history fascinating and I think we have so much to learn from the techniques and skills of our forefathers. I did a lot of reading when I was preparing for the show but the contestant I learned the most from was Mary Ann. She was obsessed with history and always had a story to tell about her bakes each week.  

    The lovely Mel was back this week and she took us back to Victorian London where eels were a staple cockney grub. Eels are strong fish and survived the pollution of the Thames. They were cheap and nutritious, too, so the workforces could fill up relatively cheaply. This was the original London street food, it seems, with as many as 500 street vendors at one time. However, pie and mash shops soon took over and the eel was replaced with beef. 

    The second historical outing took us to America and the humble apple pie. Created from the first crops of apple trees planted by the fussy British settlers who didn’t like the local vegetation or were too scared to try it. They planted apple orchards, which took 10 years to bear fruit, and the settlers made apple pies from the harvest to remind them of home and also because they were one of the few things that could be made in the primitive ovens. These have since evolved as the origins of the settlers have diversified with Scandinavian and Germanic variations for example.  

    Hand raising up to the technical challenge

    This week’s technical bake was incredibly similar to last year. Hot water crust pastry again but this time the contestants had to use wooden ‘dollies’ to create the shape of the base which baffled them all. It would have been really nice if Paul had showed us all how this ancient pie making device worked, but perhaps this will be one of the masterclasses this year, which are towards the end of the series.  

    I don’t think any of the bakers did very well. Most of the pies were lacking something – no gelatine in most, thick crusts, no layers to the filling. It must have been a tough one for the judges to grade this week, but Cathryn came out first and Ryan took the bottom, leaving him in the danger zone.  

    Showstopping American Pies

    The theme was American Pie: a pastry base with a set filling. Great challenge in my view.  So much scope for creativity and there was piles of it, which was great to see. My favourites were Ryan’s very highly commended Key Lime and Ginger Pie which Mary and Paul both drooled over and which earned him ‘Star Baker’. I was very pleased about this because it was nice to see Asian flavours succeeding on the British Bake Off. I also loved Brendan’s Chiffon Pie. I feared the judges would resort to their 70s comments again but he escaped this week with nothing but praise for his flavours.  

    Shocking were Cathryn’s Peanut Butter and Squash Pie. Why?!  It looked nice but Paul and Mary both agreed that it tasted rather disgusting. A very fair judgement, but I do think they just had it in for veggies in pies this week as Danny faired little better with her Pumpkin Pie and James with his Sweet Potato Pie.  

    And farewell……

    I think the clue in who was going out this week was at the beginning of the show when Paul said that it was all about the pastry. Many of the contestants were bad but Manisha’s pastry was consistently terrible and she was the one to leave this week with a few tears in her last interview.  

    It’s interesting what the experience of being on the show gives people. Manisha talked about gaining more confidence in herself despite making mistakes. Would you agree with this? Do you learn from your mistakes or do you simply get irritated and give up?

    Blog post by Urvashi Roe, The Botanical Baker 

    We’ve seen some incredible baking talent on Great British Bake Off, but also some moments where contestants couldn’t quite make the grade. Nonetheless, it takes incredible drive to be able to compete among some of the best amateur bakers in the country. Well done to all! We can’t wait to see what’s up next on Great British Bake Off.

  10. The Cake and Bake Show at Earls Court, 22-23 September 2012

    As huge fans of baked goods here at Great British Chefs, we are tremendously excited to hear about the upcoming Cake & Bake Show that will be held Saturday and Sunday on the 22nd and 23rd of September. What are we to expect from the bacchanal of baked goods at London’s Earls Court? Urvashi Roe, our Great British Bake Off blogger, gives us a delicious preview of the event

    Blog post by Urvashi Roe, the Botanical Baker

    Have you been caught up Great British Bake Off fever? Are you passionate about baking?Do you love cake?! Then London has the perfect event for you this September. 

    The Cake & Bake Show 2012 launches at Earls Court. You can expect expert demonstrations, hands-on workshops, competitions, a food market and stands selling the latest baking equipment!  

    First off it’s the eating that I am looking forward to the most.  It is cake after all! 

    There is an English Tea Room where you can pick up a picnic hamper or traditional afternoon tea in aid of Macmillan Cancer. The fabulously talented Peggy Porschen is bringing her Belgravia Cake Parlour to the show. You’ll be able to devour some of her utterly gorgeous cupcakes like this one - Vanilla with Cream Cheese Frosting and Marzipan Roses.  

    Demonstrations galore showcasing a myriad of skills from high profile bakers…..

    Master Patissier Eric Lanlard, owner of Cake Boy and star of Baking Mad, will be opening the show. I had the pleasure of meeting this wonderful man a few weeks ago and can tell you that his demonstration style is charming and entertaining. 

    For all you fans of The Great British Bake Off, Edd Kimber and Ruth Clemens from series one will be whisking up some treats to share and my lovely friend and winner of series two, Jo Wheatley, will also take to the stage. I’m not sure what they will be making but if it’s anything like these amazing Chocolate and Passionfruit Macrons from Edd, then get a front row seat! 

    Bread is a big focus as the show. Tom Herbert, Paul Hollywood and Richard Bertinet will all be demonstrating and on hand to sign their books. Aidan Chapman of The Real Bread Campaign will be hosting a debate about the state of bread in Britain today so if you are passionate about your loaf you can have your say too. 

    Chocolate is a favourite ingredient in baking and I’ve never met anyone as passionate about it as Paul A Young. Paul’s well known for his exquisite handmade chocolates. I was fortunate enough to learn all about tempering and have a hands-on lesson making his infamous Chocolate Truffles.  

    They were amazing! Mine were rather “large”. Ssssshhhh!

    Anyway did you know he was also Head Patisserie Chef for Marco Pierre White in a previous life? So clearly he also knows a thing or two about baking and will be sharing his tips about how to bake with chocolate at the show.  

    …and not forgetting the growing community of smaller artisans

    Finally what I think is most lovely about the show is the demonstrations and masterclasses from a handful of smaller artisan bakers and businesses. One such artist is Natasha Collins from Nevie-Pie Cakes. Her speciality is handpainting onto iced cakes and biscuits. She says this is because she can’t pipe like Peggy but I think it’s because it’s where her talent clearly lies. Here is my little corgi painted under her instruction.  

    Not bad for a first attempt I thought and I found the whole activity so therapeutic and relaxing that I may well do more. Her work is a million times better. Just look at the detail on this cookie. 

    Finally, don’t forget to take your books along. There will be a book signing area for you to get them signed. Perhaps grab a brownie or two from The Marketplace as you might have to queue.  

    The Cake & Bake Show 2012 is on Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd September from 10am.

    Blog post by Urvashi Roe, the Botanical Baker

    Will you be going to The Cake & Bake Show this year? What baked goods do you enjoy? Tantalising tarts, or perhaps some magnificent macarons or muffins? 

  11. Towering Tortes and Marvellous Meringues in The Great British Bake Off

    Week four of The Great British Bake Off saw the contestants grapple with tortes, crème caramel and multiple layers of meringue in the dessert focus of Season 3. How did they fare? Here’s Season Two contestant Urvashi Roe, the Botanical Baker, with the run-down of last night’s episode.

    Manisha's chocolate-cherry torte

    Blog post for Great British Chefs by Urvashi Roe 

    Desserts. Well, that can mean a number of different things so I was rather surprised at the challenges this week.  

    Tortes vs Tarts

    This week the bakers’ first brief was to create a torte – a multiple layered dessert over 20cm in diameter. Mary Berry was looking for something that “looks special, has lots of different layers and flavours that compliment”. 

    Cathryn's delightful feathering on her torte

    I must say, the ‘brief’ is something I must have read at least a dozen times to make sure I was encompassing all of the elements the judges were looking for. Cathryn and Sarah-Jane should perhaps have done the same as their tortes were rather lacking in layerage! 

    The bakers also had an additional challenge as they were not allowed to use ordinary wheat flour. My heroes in this round were Danny and Brendan. Danny with her wonderful use of potato flour and blackberry curd which is a favourite in my house too. And Brendan for his chestnut flour and lemon verbena. I think Paul was being very harsh in his critical comments about 70’s styling! They both looked stunning in my view. 

    Brendan's retro-licious clementine torte

    ‘Clever and cosy’ James had a gorgeous combo too – Passion Fruit and Dark Chocolate but poor John this week who created ‘an intimidating cake’ which looked like a “chocolate breeze block” in Paul’s opinion. Again, I think this was very harsh but agree that it was rather on the large side. 

    Historical interludes

    The scandals of sugar

    Who knew there was so much history and scandal involving sugar? This week Sue Perkins talked us through sweet poisoning, politics and the pioneering reforms of then Prime Minister William Gladstone who abolished sugar taxes and brought prices within the means of the ordinary citizen and this is when dessert making really kicked off in the UK. I for one, am glad it did as without that would we indeed have The Great British Bake Off at all?

    Crème Caramel, or “Whole eggs or egg yolks?” 

    Danny's crème caramel

    Mary chose a classic dessert for the technical challenge this week: a crème caramel. It required the bakers to “make a custard” which to my surprise confused so many of them. I learned how to make custard at school in home economics and remember being utterly bored at the waiting and then suddenly panicking at the sheer speed at which the thickening process happened. The younger contestants could perhaps have done with my teacher Mrs Evans breathing down their necks because most completely messed this challenge up. I guess the confusion was how much to let the custard thicken and for crème caramel the answer is not at all. It gets poured into the ramekins straight away.

    Poor Stuart and Manisha’s were flopping disasters with puddles on the tray. I don’t think neither Paul or Mary would have liked the ceramic shards from Cathryn’s ramekin, which fell out as she banged and turned them over – again – did she meet the brief only delivering five out of the six required? 

    Brendan's crème caramel

    The best by far were Brendan and Danny who had “proper caramel and not light sugar syrup” according to Paul and a “lovely wobble”.  

    A Showstopping Meringue Tower

    John's stunning meringue tower

    What I really liked about the challenges we had on Series Two was they way they complimented each other so this week I was disappointed that the Showstopper Challenge was a layered meringue when we had seen a layered dessert earlier. Nevertheless, it was great viewing with some fabulous bakes. 

    Manisha's majestic meringue

    It was nice to see the contestants use different methods for the meringue layers. 

    Most used the French method where egg whites are whisked to stiff peaks and then sugar beaten in slowly til stiff peaks form.  Sarah Jane used the Swiss method and whisked her cream of tartar, sugar and egg whites over a bain-marie and beat them vigorously as they cooled.  And James used the Italian method which is the only version Sue could taste as the whisked egg whites are cooked and thickened using sugar syrup that has reached 118ºC.  

    There were some disasters and Ryan’s was the most notable but I think he’s the dark horse this year as he always manages to save the day – even this week when he remade most of his meringue bases in the nick of time as the first batch had come out too soft. 

    Amazingly Paul did not like James’ creation this week and said so in his usual forthright way. He also didn’t like Danny’s, complaining it was too stodgy. Cathryn met his criticism too this week as it was simply cake and no meringue. Again not on brief. How did she escape being at the bottom this week? 

    Pear, Chocolate and Hazelnut Dacquoise

    Brendan’s was a hit with Mary and Paul… and me! His Pear, Chocolate and Hazelnut Dacquoise was “lovely and delicate with wonderful flavours”.  

    And farewell……

    I’m so fickle. My favourite has changed from James to Brendan. He was on fire this week and I loved all his bakes.  Simply beautiful and elegant creations. I think he’s heading for the final and am so pleased the Star Baker accolade went to him this week.  

    Unsurprisingly in my view Stuart was out. He’s such a lovely chap but there have been too many blunders compared to the others so I think it was the right choice.  

    What I noticed this week was how much the group have bonded. They all seemed genuinely sad to see Stuart leave. It’s a stressful situation in that tent and I remember well the analytical conversations we all had at the end of a day of baking and filming forgetting almost about the competitive nature of the show. I hope they will all end up good friends as many of us Series Two contestants have.  

    Blog post by Urvashi Roe 

    Tempted to try your hand at torte? We have a fantastic chocolate torte recipe from chef Shaun Hill on Great British Chefs. What did you think of last night’s episode of The Great British Bake Off? Have any tips for making crème caramel? How would you have made your towering meringue?

  12. The Great British Bake Off Tarts It Up

    The third episode of the third series of The Great British Bake Off aired last night and the nation tuned in to see amateur bakers from across the country compete in the infamous baking tent.  Former contestant Urvashi Roe aka The Botanical Baker is back to  give her views on the series from the other side of the screen.  Let’s see what she thought of week three.

    Blog post for Great British Chefs by Urvashi Roe 

    Pastry perfection was the objective this week.  We saw rough puff, shortcrust, sweetcrust, pistachio crust, some with egg, some without and of course some falling out and sticking to tins.  All brightening our Tuesday evening.

    A tricky Tart Tatin to start

    Tarte Tatin was first in the running order this week.  Mary Berry was looking for “crisp pastry with enough syrup and shiny caramel to cover but not soak the fruit toppings.  For Paul Hollywood it was of course all about “the bake”. Bake it for too short a time and it would be too pale and undercooked.  He also warned, in his now ubiquitous cautionary tone, about adding too much liquid which would soak into the dough and make it soggy. 

    There were some lovely flavours this week.  James won my heart with his Apple and Lavender combination.  I love the use of flowers in anything and lavender was a flavour I toyed with using for pastry week last year but opted for Elderflower and Honeycomb offset with an edible viola flower. I also loved the simplicity of Sarah Jane’s Banana and Ryan’s Spiced Pear and was so pleased they both got great feedback.

    Some savoury cropped in too with Victoria’s Fig, Walnut and Peppercorn Tart and Danny’s Pear and Roquefort.  I have to admit, neither appealed to me. 

    Of course there were some disasters.  Manisha’s sugar crystallised because she stirred at the wrong time.  Caramel is one of those things that needs the wait and despite how patient you are at home, when the clock is ticking in that tent, the temptation to stir and hurry things along are just too overwhelming. 

    The historical interlude – an Invalid Fruit Tart. 


    This was my favourite part of the show this week! I loved those early ‘dietetics’. What a fabulous job they were doing with a tasty dish that gave a balanced intake of nutrients to aid the path to recovery.  I think there are some simple lessons for their modern day counterparts to take away. 


    A Treacle Tart to technically challenge


    For those not familiar with this part of the show.  The contestants are given the same recipe and the same set of instructions.   These are however rather poor in places so the bakers must use their intuition and skill to get the best results.  In this case as Sue pointed out the bakers were not given the baking time.  They were also unlikely to have been told how big the breadcrumbs or how thin the syrup should be, or even how long to cool the syrup for. 

    The recipe was a classic Mary Berry recipe and what she was looking for was thin pastry, a lattice that interweaves and a moist filling. 

    “Pastry is a cruel mistress if you don’t treat her well” as my wonderful co-contestant Ian stated last year.  Most of the contestants seemed to do well on that front and it was the filling that seemed to mystify.  As James quite rightly pointed out, this was a Treacle Tart with no treacle!  Working at the right pace with the breadcrumb and syrup mixture looked tough but was even tougher was the lattice.  

    Thin strips melted the butter, twisted strips did not meet the brief and some were simply not interwoven.  Mary’s keen eye noticed of course.  Sarah Jane was caught out and we saw the first tears on the show.  As she said, “It’s a bloody Treacle Tart!”  Poor Sarah Jane.  I know exactly how she feels.  It’s really surprising how much of an emotional rollercoaster this show is when you’re in that tent and get one chance to prove yourself.

    A large showstopping Designer Fruit Tart fit for a window display

    This final challenge was a gift in my view.  Three elements that you could be as creative as you liked with.

    First off pastry.  Would it be underbaked or overbaked? A nice even bake, or a consistent bake?  A good strong bake or a poor bake?

    The choice of filling was left to the contestants too and most chose crème patisserie and frangipane but there were some lovely unusual ideas from Manisha with a layer of sponge and Stuart with this triple textured layers of chocolate running through.

    The toppings were very inventive.  Lovely Isfahan - flavours of Turkish Delight – from James, Dragonfruit with Florentines from Brendan and a gorgeous flower on a pool of jelly from Stuart.  Beautiful.

    And farewell……

    “I’m going home. I think that’s very clear”.  It was Victoria who said it and sadly after the wondrous blackbird cake creation in episode one, she was the third to go.  No double eviction like in our third episode and no tears.  She was very matter of fact and stoic I thought and in need of a much needed hug from Sue and Mel.  They do give the best hugs.

    The Star Baker badge was awarded to the person with “superb flavours across the board, fine technical skills and the best tank top in the tent”.  Of course it was James.  (He’s my favourite!)

    Next week holds all manner of sweet desserts in store.  Am salivating already! 

    Blog post for Great British Chefs by Urvashi Roe

    Inspired by last night’s episode? We have a whole collection of tart recipes on Great British Chefs for you to try at home.

    Who was your favourite baker last night?  What fruit tart would you have made in the showstopper round?  Let us know over on Great British Chefs Facebook Page.