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