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).
So, I wasn’t looking forward to this one…
There are a lot of reasons I put off doing this challenge.
For one, I don’t like pears.
Second, this recipe calls for me to wrap up pears in pastry and I’m definitely a pastry newbie.
Third, when I watched the GBBS contestants make this on the show, even they screwed up. Like a lot. Even my favorite contestant, Richard the builder, botched this one. And it is literally his job to construct things – even if they are pastry-wrapped pears.
So trust me when I say, I did not go into this one with much confidence. Truth be told though, I don’t go into most things with much confidence (thanks to general pessimism and more specific anxiety).
But, hey, sometimes pessimism and anxiety are proved wrong – and this week, they were proved wrong by pears.
Because this week went WAY BETTER than I expected, even if things weren’t looking so hot in the beginning
The first thing I had to do was make a “rough puff pastry” by putting some flour in a bowl and then grating frozen butter and lard into it. Yeah, I had to grate butter and lard. It was gross. Here’s a picture of the aftermath.
Anyway, then the recipe called for me to “use a knife to coat the butter and lard in the flour”. This seemed like a very weird instruction to me, so basically I just mixed the flour and butter/lard mixture up with a knife like I would have with a spoon. It was weird, and also I don’t think it worked very well.
Then, after it was “mixed”, I had to add in 120-150 ml. cold water and mix it until it formed a firm dough.
Here’s a little thing about me, I always add too much water right away, instead of starting with the smaller amount and then working up as necessary. This may be a character flaw and it’s certainly bad for dough-making.
Thankfully, flour came to the rescue of my sad, wet dough.
I was supposed to roll the pastry dough out into a rectangle on a floured work surface, so to combat my too-wet dough, I used a very floured work surface. That seemed to help with the dough’s consistency.
Then I had to make my dough into a rectangle and fold the top third of that rectangle down and then fold the bottom third of that rectangle up and over the top third I just folded, then turn the whole thing 90 degrees or a quarter turn and repeat the rolling and folding all over again.
This sounded very complicated to me the first time I read it and I was like uh…
But, then I read it again, and it made sense so I did what the recipe said and created this little, folded dough masterpiece.
I had to put my dough parcel in the fridge for 20 minutes and after it was chilled, I had to take it out of the fridge and repeat the “rolling, folding and chilling” process two more times.
That meant this dough took more than an hour to make if you think about it. And, for once, I actually thought about it. Unlike last week’s timing disaster, this week, I actually read the whole recipe through and thought about how to time things correctly. I learned something ya’ll.
Yay me! Imaginary mic drop in celebration of this baking break-through:
I started on the second step of the bake while my dough was chilling the second time.
At this point, I had to poach some pears. (I keep typing “pouch” not “poach” by default, which makes me laugh because I think of kangaroos smuggling pears in their pouch.) Anyhoo, on to poaching not pouching.
I had to peel the pears, keeping the stems intact and then make a poaching syrup. Which yeah, I had never done before, but it didn’t sound too bad. I thought:
And I was right…sort of.
To make the syrup, I just had to dump a bunch of sugar into a large saucepan with water, white wine, some cinnamon sticks and the zest of one orange. I had to slowly bring this to a boil and stir it until the sugar dissolved. Then I had to boil it for three more minutes.
Just in case you were wondering, yes, this did smell absolutely amazing. If I couldn’t think of much better uses for wine, I would just boil this syrup on my stove all the time simply for the smell of it.
But, like I said, there are better uses for wine:
Anyway, when those three minutes were up, I added my peeled pears to the pot, brought the syrup back to a boil and then simmered and cooked the pears in the syrup for 15 minutes.
I removed the pears from the syrup with a slotted spoon and set them aside to cool. Later, I’d use a small spoon to remove their core (but I kept the stem, because that’s important later to make them look pretty, plus, it was a handy handle).
I had to return the remaining syrup to the heat and boil it rapidly for 10 to 15 minutes or until “the volume of the liquid is reduced by half and the syrup is thick.” Then I had to set it aside to cool too.
I’m terrible at cooking things until they are thick. Ordinarily, I get bored and give up cooking whatever I’m cooking while it’s still very thin, because of well, boredom and general impatience.
So yeah, I usually I give up on thickening things way before they are actually thick. This time, wanting to avoid the same fate, I did what a lot of people do when they try to address a mistake — I over-corrected.
More on that later…
For now, let’s get back to the dough.
After it was rolled, folded and chilled those three times, I rolled it out again into the shape of a very long, rectangle about 2 feet long by 8 inches wide. My dough was not supposed to be more than a 1/4 of an inch thick.
Watching the show, I’d seen the pitfalls of having pastry that was too thick, so again I over-corrected. My dough was thin, very thin.
In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have taken a picture of this almost-white dough, on my almost-white counter. You can’t really see anything. Just trust me here, the dough is thin and despite me using a ruler, my strips are somewhat less than straight.
Now, after my pears and my syrup had cooled, it was time for the hard part – wrapping my strips of pastry around the pears. I wasn’t looking forward to this bit. But, naturally, I was totally calm about it.
So, at this point I was supposed to brush my pears with a bit of the cooled sugar syrup I made earlier.
Then starting from the bottom of the pear, I was supposed to press and adhere a strip of pastry and wrap it around the pear. According to the recipe, it would take me about three strips of pastry to cover each pear.
I really should have taken a picture of this process, but I’ll be real with you, I was focusing on mummifying some pears and not on taking pictures of the process, so let’s just assume I looked like this as I was doing it:
Anyway, I ran into a couple problems. Remember how I said I over-corrected on my poaching syrup? I wasn’t kidding. I was supposed to make a syrup, but what I created was more like jelly.
The bad thing about this was, it was really hard to brush on my pears. The good thing about this was, this stuff was like glue, baby. The pastry strips were not coming off once I stuck them on.
So eventually after a long time wrapping pears, I ended up with something that looked like this:
So my wrapped pears may have not been the neatest ones in town, but they looked far better than I had expected. I even bothered to make the little leaves on top, like the recipe told me to.
The weirdest thing about the recipe at this point though, was my pastry dough. I had way too much dough left over:
Anyway, after I’d made my little dough leaves and stuck them on with my poaching syrup (or in my case, poaching super glue) I had to brush my covered pears in egg wash and sprinkle on some sugar.
Then I was supposed to put them in the oven at 400 F for about 25 to 30 minutes. But after 30 minutes, mine totally weren’t done at all, because my oven is a jerk.
This is what I would say to my oven, if I didn’t realize it was crazy to talk to my oven:
After more like 40 to 45 minutes, my pears were pleasingly golden brown so I took them out of oven and let them cool for 10 to 15 minutes like the recipe told me to.
And, yeah, they looked pretty damn awesome.
Naturally, I did a bit of this in celebration:
And they tasted okay too, I suppose, if you like pear. But as I mentioned, I don’t. Pears are pointless.
I’m happy to be moving away from pears next week when my challenge is to make a towering collection of pies.
Yeah, you read that right. I said a “towering collection of pies.”
That should be…interesting.
P.S. If you want to see the results of that bake, or if you just want to see a bunch of GBBS memes, consider liking my Facebook page: “Sometimes I Bake Mistakes Blog.”
And, as for all of you who have done that already, you’re the freaking best! Here’s a picture of Professor McGonagall applauding you, because you’re just that awesome.
Way to go, you!