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).
Part of the reason I decided to bake my way through GBBS was because I wanted to get better at making mistakes and learning from them.
In that way, my attempt at a Baked Alaska was a rousing success. That was the only way in which it was a success.
To be clear, things went…badly.
Like, this badly:
But, to back it up a bit, let’s recap.
The Baked Alaska was the showstopper challenge in Season 1 Episode 4’s Desserts episode. And because I didn’t want to make my own ice cream like the contestants had to, I had decided to use GBBS judge Mary Berry’s recipe for a Neapolitan Baked Alaska which uses store-bought ice cream.
Last week, in Part 1 of my Baked Alaska challenge, I had gotten through about three steps in that recipe and those three steps were basically just mixing up store-bought ice cream and sticking it in a bowl in the freezer to well, freeze.
But, I nailed that part, nailed it.
So, naturally I was feeling pretty pleased with myself.
This week, after my Kitchenaid mixer arrived though, I started in on the harder parts of the Baked Alaska – the chocolate sponge cake base and the meringue that was supposed to cover all of the Baked Alaska to help insulate the ice cream from the heat when I put the whole thing in on the oven. More on that later… (Spoiler! It does not go well.)
Anyway, Mary explains this recipe further in her and and fellow GBBS judge, Paul Hollywood’s Masterclass series. So, naturally, I watched that and listened to everything Mary said. In that episode, she said that it was a good idea to bake the sponge cake the day before so it was “stone cold” before you attempt to put your ice cream on it.
(This seemed clever. Though the idea of putting ice cream into an oven — which is something she told me to do later in the recipe — did not seem clever.)
But, despite my reservations, I did as Mary instructed, baking my sponge cake base the night before. It was a simple recipe, just some eggs, caster sugar (I just use granulated), self-rising flour, cocoa powder and melted butter.
You just beat the egg and sugar at full speed with an electric mixer until it’s pale in color and “thick enough to leave a trail when the whisk is lifted”. Then you shift in the flour and cocoa powder and “gently fold it in”. Then you pour the butter down the side of the bowl and “gently fold in” that too.
Mary Berry is big on mixing cakes gently. There are legit reasons for this, namely so you can avoiding knocking the air out of the cake mixture which will cause it to lose its volume. But, personally I think Mary would mix up cakes gently even if this wasn’t the case, simply because she’s all lady-like like that.
That’s not really my style. I’m not great with finesse. So, my first attempt at a sponge cake, fell decidedly flat.
But then, I tried again the next morning and followed Mary’s directions better and, probably not surprisingly, that made for a better, fatter, more air-filled sponge cake.
So yeah, after that I was feeling pretty good. I could follow directions. I could make simple sponge cakes. I wasn’t burning things. I was getting cocky basically.
It was time to take on the meringue.
To make the meringue, I had to put caster sugar and a bit of water into a saucepan and heat it until the sugar dissolved and the whole thing reached 230 F.
Meanwhile, I had to whisk the egg whites in a large bowl of an electric mixer until they were stiff. When my sugar/water mixture reached 240 F, I had to carefully pour that into my beaten-up egg whites. Then I just had to let my mixer mix that for about 15 minutes or until the meringue mixture was completely cold.
Then while that was happening, I took my ice cream I froze the other day out of the freezer. Since I had wrapped the bowl with cling film, it came out pretty easily.
I got out my good, “stone cold” sponge cake and put it on an ovenproof pan. Mary wanted me to put it on a pretty, oven-proof plate or something but I don’t have that so I just plopped it on a cookie sheet. It was less fancy, but it did the trick.
Then I flipped over my ice cream on top of the cake and removed the cling film. (Sidenote: I should not have removed the cling film already. More on that later…)
So far, so good. At this point I basically just had a bunch of layers of ice cream sitting on top of a sponge cake. If I would have just stopped here, I would have come out ahead. But, I just had to add the meringue.
You know how when someone is really good at something, they can make even technically difficult things look ridiculously easy? Yeah, Mary does that sort of thing all the time and watching her can make you dangerously over-confident in your own abilities.
As such, I went into the next part of the recipe, a bit like this:
Mary’s recipe calls for you to take your ice cream/cake creation out of the freezer and remove the cling film at this point. (I had already removed my cling film earlier which allowed for some condensation to grow on the outside of my ice cream. This would not be good for me.)
Then Mary said I should use a palette knife to spread a thin layer of meringue over the ice cream and the sponge to form a coating. When I watched Mary do this in her Masterclass episode, it looked so easy. Like so ridiculously easy.
It was not easy.
My meringue kept slipping off the cake because of the condensation, so I had to keep using more and more of it to cover the cake.
But eventually, after a lot of time and a bunch of meringue, I had managed to cover my Baked Alaska.
From there, I was supposed to take the rest my meringue and put it into a large, disposable piping bag. First, I used a pasty brush to paint a thin line of food coloring along the inside of each side of the bag. Mary used yellow and pink. I used orange and pink. Then I spooned my meringue into the piping bag.
Starting from the top of ice cream, I was supposed to cover my Baked Alaska with rosettes of meringue until it was completely covered.
But the problem was I didn’t have nearly enough meringue left to do this. I was able to get rosettes of meringue over about the top two thirds of the cake. But then I ran out, so what I had looked something like this:
At this point, I had a couple options. I could have ruined the pretty rosette effect and instead just spread the meringue that was already on the cake out to completely cover the Baked Alaska. I could have tried to quickly make more meringue to cover the thing completely. Or I could have just said screw it, and threw the thing in the oven anyway.
I did the last thing. Because, once again, this blog is called “Sometimes I Bake Mistakes” not “Sometimes I Make Really Practical, Rational Choices That Require Hard Work and Patience But Pay Off Very Well For Me In the End.”
So, according to Mary’s instructions, I had my oven preset to 450 degrees F, so I could put ice cream in it.
(Seriously, is it just me or are Baked Alaskas just disasters waiting to happen? Sure. Put ice cream into the oven. What’s the worse that could happen?)
I was supposed to bake it for 4 to 5 minutes or until my meringue turned golden brown.
And, as I sat there watching it in the oven with the oven light on for a few minutes things looked promising. There was no melting. The meringue looked like it was cooking. Things were looking good…
But then, they weren’t:
And as for me, I did this:
Just kidding, I didn’t do that.
For once, I was actually pretty chill (ice cream pun intended) about this mistake.
Because, the thing is, despite how disastrous this bake looked and, by golly, did it look disastrous, it was still just ice cream and cake and meringue and it was still delicious.
Delicious, but really ugly.
All in all, it basically just tasted like a slightly-less good, Dairy Queen ice cream cake. So, if you end up with something that tastes even remotely like that, you can’t complain too much.
And hell, at least I didn’t throw it in the trash can. This is a low bar for success, but sometimes you need a low bar.
Next week, I move on to Season 1 Episode 5’s Pies and Tarts episode.
My first challenge will be a custard tart, which, yeah, I’ve never made before in my life. But at least it doesn’t require me to put ice cream into an oven, so for that I am already very thankful and cautiously optimistic.
P.S. I started a Facebook page for the blog. If you want to “like” or “follow” it, it’s called “Sometimes I Bake Mistakes Blog”.
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Thanks for reading.
Sorry, this one was well, sort of a disaster. We’ll get ’em next time, guys.