Category Archives: Cakes

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 20: Kouign Amann

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).

***

When most people can’t sleep, they read or watch T.V. or you know, do something normal.

But, I’m not most people. So when I can’t sleep, I bake obscure pastries featured on The Great British Baking Show.

Because, well, because…

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Anyway, the weird thing I did this week was make kouign amann, a Breton cake, which was the technical challenge in season 1 episode 7 of GBBS.

Don’t know what kouign amann is? Yeah, I didn’t either, and neither did any of the contestants on the show.

Basically, it’s a traditional pastry from the Brittany region of France – a region known for its butter. According to this handy article from the Huffington Post: “kouign amann” is the Breton phrase for butter cake. Which makes sense, because there’s a hell of a lot of butter in this thing.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Kouign amann is usually a round cake made with bread dough which is layered with butter and sugar. Supposedly it’s similar to puff pastry, but it just has fewer layers. Ideally, it’s cooked slowly so that, as the dough puffs up, the butter melts and the sugar caramelizes. According to the Huff Post article, it’s “simple.”

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Photo Credit: Giphy

So I went into the kouign amann challenge relatively confident, with emphasis on the word “relatively.” The way I figured it, if even the GBBS contestants didn’t know how to do this thing, I shouldn’t feel bad even if I totally blew it.

That being said, the GBBS contestants had very minimal instructions whereas I had a complete recipe. But hell, they’re practically pros and I’m just some woman baking in her small kitchen in Nebraska when she should be sleeping. I figured if I made something edible I’d call it a win.

I did.

(And I only set the fire alarm off once.)

 

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Photo Credit: Giphy

More on that later – first, let’s start from the top where, I totally killed it. Compared to other technical challenges that can have upwards of 20 ingredients, the kouign amann ingredients list was very short.

All I needed was strong plain flour – or as we say in ‘Merica – “bread flour”, fast action yeast – or instant yeast as I usually call it, salt, warm water, melted butter, cold butter and caster sugar.

Note that the recipe mentions butter in two forms – it’s not messing around.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

I just had to put the flour in a bowl of a freestanding mixer with a dough hook. Then I put the yeast on one side of the bowl and the salt on the other. (This is important for fancy baking reasons that Paul Hollywood always talks about). Then I put the water and melted butter in and mixed it on slow for two minutes and medium speed for six minutes.

When I was mixing it on medium speed, it definitely sounded that the dough was going to fly out of the mixer and hit me in the face or something. It didn’t. And I was totally not worried that it would. Not at all. I just always make this face.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Anyway, after the dough miraculously stayed in the bowl, I just had to dump it on my floured work surface, make it a ball and put it in a lightly oiled bowl. Then I had to cover that with Saran Wrap and let it rise for an hour.

And I totally nailed that whole process, ya’ll. 

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I was smug, like this. I was, however, significantly less adorable because, unfortunately, despite how much I want to be, I am not Kristen Bell.  P.S. I love Kristen Bell, in case that was not clear.

Then came the fun part. I had to take a big ole chuck of butter, place it between two sheets of parchment paper and bash the crap out of it. Okay, technically, the recipe didn’t say “bash the crap out of it” but I assure you, that was the gist of it. Then I had to roll my bashed butter out into a 5 and a half inch square and put it in the fridge to keep chilled.

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This is all just butter.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “Hmm, that seems like an awful lot of butter,” you’re right. It’s so much butter.

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Since butter’s not a carb, it’s practically a health food, right? I thought so. Photo Credit: Giphy 

Now here is where things got tricky, because I had to do a bit of math – or just, you know, simple counting and measuring.

I had roll out my risen dough into an 8 inch square, then I had to place my butter square inside of that square on a diagonal. That meant that each side of the butter should face a corner of the dough. Then I was supposed to fold the corners of the dough, up and over the butter to close it up like it was in an envelope.

(Best thing to ever be in an envelope.)

From there, I had to roll the dough out into an 18 by 6 inch rectangle and then fold it in thirds. This was supposed to make a sandwich of three layers of butter and three layers of dough. Then I had to wrap it in Saran Wrap and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes.

I had do do this process twice more so that in the end I had done a total of three of these turns, chilling the dough for 30 minutes between each turn. Since I’m easily distracted, I could have totally forgotten a turn – so that’s why I kept track of what I did on this handy Post-it-Note. (Shh…I know I spelled “kouign amann” wrong there.)

After the last turn, I was supposed to roll the dough into a rectangle like before and then sprinkle the dough with caster sugar and fold it into thirds again. Then I had to roll it into a 16 by 12 inch rectangle, sprinkle the dough with more caster sugar and cut it into 12, equal squares.

If that looks like a lot of sugar to you, you’re right. Also if it looks like my square are not equal or even squares, you are also right. At this point, I didn’t care that they weren’t equal or squares, I just cared that they looked like dough, so I shoved them into my prepared muffin tin as instructed.

I had greased a 12-cup muffin tin with oil. Then I was supposed to gather these “squares” up by their four corners and put them in the tins. The corners were supposed to come together in the middle of each tin so they looked like pretty, four-leaf clovers. Then I was supposed to sprinkle them with MORE caster sugar, and leave them to rise for 30 minutes until they were slightly puffed up.

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These do not look like four leaf clovers.

Anyway, this is when things took a slight turn for the worse. Okay, remember in the past when I would complain about my oven? It was basically my arch enemy. It was one of my least favorite things. It would not preheat. Or it would preheat and then decide to turn off in the middle of cooking for no reason and with no warning. It was a wild card basically.

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This was my oven. Photo Credit: Giphy

But last week I got rid of that crazy jerkface of an oven and got a brand-new one. The good news is it works great. The bad news is, when I screw up recipes, I have no one to blame but me, so this one is on me guys. This burnt one is on me.

So the recipe told me to bake the pastries for 30 to 40 minutes at 425 F. until they were golden brown. I was supposed to cover them with foil halfway through cooking if I felt that they were starting to brown too much. So that’s what I did. I checked ’em around the 20-minute mark and they looked like this:

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They look promising, right?

I thought they still needed a bit longer though, so I put them back in the oven. And here’s where things went a bit wonky. Remember that butter? All of that butter? It started pouring out of these babies like crazy – so much so that it rained down onto the bottom of my (formerly pristine) oven and started to burn on.

Which set off the fire alarm – at midnight.

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By frantically turning on every fan in the house and waving a tea towel in front of the alarm, I got it off pretty quickly. The dog didn’t even bark and my husband didn’t even seem to notice. (In retrospect, I’m not sure either one of them woke up, which is sort of not good. Since that’s what the alarms are for.)

Anyway, while I was doing this – I ended up cooking my kouign amann too long. Like way too long – so that when I took them out of the oven, they looked like this:

Ummm…yeah.

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But, then I figured, eh, why don’t I try to scrape off the brunt bits. So I did, and turns out that, underneath that pile of crap were actually delicious, buttery, sugary pastries – which yeah, may have been a bit too browned – but were so full of butter it didn’t really matter.

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There’s probably some lesson in here about how you should look for the best in even the crappiest of situations. But, I’m going to ignore that lesson and instead suggest two things I learned from this: number one: don’t bake at midnight, number two: you can never have too much butter.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Next week, I’ll move on to the showstopper challenge of the Pastries episode, which means I have to make éclairs.

This should be a breeze, right?

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Tune in next time for what may well be a complete disaster.

P.S. If you like the blog, please consider following it by email. Just click on the convenient “follow” button on the right-hand side of your computer screen that looks like this:

How to follow

You’ll just get an email every time I write a new blog – which, let’s face it, is supposed to be every week, but is more like once a month. So though that means I’m lazy, that also means I won’t be clogging up your inbox.

P.P.S. Or follow me on Twitter @ashleystrehle. Sometimes, the amazing Nadiya Hussian from GBBS likes my stuff, for real. It’s really happened. I’m not even making this up.

OK, that’s the end of my post-scripts.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

 

 

 

 

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Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 18: Hungarian Dobos Torte

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 am not usually a laid-back person. I’m not a “let’s just wing it” sort of gal.

Most of the time, I’m at the other end of the spectrum. I’m the type of person who actually reads Terms and Conditions documents all the way through. I’m a champion list maker.

Like Leslie Knope, this is one of my favorite hobbies:

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You get it. I’m finicky and I really, really hate it when stuff doesn’t go according to plan.

Sort of like this:

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Photo Credit: Giphy

But not exactly like that. Sometimes I’m more British with it and it looks a little more like this:

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But however I decide to show my emotions, this is what’s usually going on inside my head:
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But, if the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that most things are beyond your control. Even if you are the most perfectionist, meticulous, persnickety person in the world, it’s still impossible for you to stop all bad things from happening.

Sometimes, stuff just happens. Sometimes that job doesn’t work out, despite your best efforts. Sometimes you get in that car accident. Sometimes you get really sick, for no good reason.

That’s just life. That’s the deal. You get the good with the bad. So instead of focusing on a doomsday, high-alert, stop-everything-bad-from-happening approach, you can try a different track.  You can try to shift your focus to the good stuff. You can try to fill your life and your world with good things and appreciate them more when you see them.

Even if the good stuff is just dark chocolate buttercream.

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Which leads me back to the bake. I’m now working through GBBS’s Episode 6 “Continental Cakes”. My assignment was to make a Hungarian Dobos Torte, which is a layered sponge cake with chocolate buttercream and caramel topping. It’s famous in, you guessed it, Hungary. (Here I could insert a lame pun about it making you hungry, but I won’t do that to you. Never mind, I already did.)

The GBBS contestants were supposed to make a two-tiered version, but for the sake of my sanity and because I like to avoid food waste, I went with a one-tier version instead.

I used a Hungarian Dobos Torte recipe from the Cooking the Globe blog. (I’m so disappointed that I didn’t think of this blog idea first myself. I’ll just have to follow and cook along with his.)

I chose this recipe because it seemed more manageable than Dobos Torte recipe Mary Berry used on GBBS’s Masterclass. Plus, the caramel work seemed less daunting.

The GBBS contestants were also judged on their caramel work on this cake. It needed to be chockablock full of caramel. (Look how I just casually used British slang there? Chockablock sounds so much better than “a lot”.)

Unfortunately, my caramel work wouldn’t have won me Marys’ praise or one of Paul’s handshakes.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

But, more on that later. Back to the cake.

Technically speaking, the cake wasn’t too hard. The ingredients were pretty standard, though it took me some time to find almond flour in my small hometown. The sheer amount of ingredients, though, was surprising. This cake has three sticks of butter and a full dozen eggs. Just. In. The. Cake.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

I know, it’s nuts, right?

My first task was to separate the eggs, which I did seamlessly.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

From there, it was pretty straightforward. First, I had to beat the butter with half of the sugar until it turned white and fluffy. Then I was supposed to add in the egg yolks into this mixture, individually, beating after each one.

And here’s where I made my first mistake.

Call it distraction or just a moment of not-thinking, but I accidentally added in the egg whites instead of the egg yolks.

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I was supposed to add the egg whites later after I had beat them until soft peaks had formed. This would have made them light and fluffy, and in turn, it would have made the cake lighter and fluffier.

But…I did that wrong.

At this point, I could have started over. I didn’t do that though, because I didn’t want to drive into town to get more eggs and because I didn’t want to waste all the eggs I had already used. I’m cheap, even if my mom was the one who bought the cake ingredients this time.

So, cheap and lazy, I forged ahead with my slightly-messed-up cake. I added in the vanilla extract, salt, lemon zest and the rest of the eggs and the sifted flour. It looked like this:

Batter

The recipe told me to make six, 9-inch circles with my dough, using about one cup of dough on each circle.

I traced a pie tin on parchment paper and I ended up having enough dough for seven dough circles.

 

I cooked each dough circle individually in a 425 degree F oven for 8 minutes. Thankfully, I was using my mom’s oven and not my own, so there were no cooking surprises like I often have with my unreliable oven.

Once the layers were cooked and cooled, I trimmed them into neater, 8-inch circles using a smaller, 8-inch pie tin as a guide.

With how thin they were, my cake circles sort of looked like pancakes. Had I added the whipped egg whites like I was supposed to, the cakes would have probably been fluffier and, therefore had more height.

But, oh well.

As the cakes were cooling, I started working on the buttercream. I mixed four egg whites and sugar in a heat-proof bowl placed over a pan of simmering water. I had to whisk it continuously until the sugar dissolved and the mixture reached (about 160 degrees F) which is also warm enough to cook the egg.

Then I removed it from the heat and beat it until it was light and fluffy. This took about six minutes. Then I added the butter, lots of butter and beat it some more and repeated that process again with the melted chocolate.

 

This process took some time. It was boring and forever-taking.

Once my frosting was ready, it was time for assembly. This was pretty simple. It was just a layer of cake, then a layer of chocolate buttercream until I used up all my layers. I used about a 1/3 cup of buttercream on each layer, like the recipe suggested. I put the rest of the buttercream into a piping bag and decorated the tops and sides of the cake.

 

I was supposed to use toasted almond slices to decorate the sides of the cake, but I didn’t do that because I don’t like flaked almonds that much (and again, laziness).

The recipe told me to refrigerate the cake overnight and in the morning I was planning on making the top caramel layer. Basically, I was supposed to make a caramel with sugar, butter and heavy cream. Then I was supposed to very quickly use a buttered knife to spread that caramel onto one of the cake layers I had set aside. I would then cut that into eight pieces and artfully decorate my cake with it.

Ideally my cake would have then looked like this:

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Photo Credit: Cooking the Globe

 

But, my finished cake did not look like that, because my caramel looked like this:

Failed Caramel

Obviously, the best time to attempt to make a caramel sauce for my cake was about 10 minutes before I was supposed to head to my family Christmas celebration, right?

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Photo Credit: Giphy

 

Yeah, it wasn’t the best timing. As the photograph of my caramel clearly proves.

I should have seen this coming. If you’ve read this blog before, particularly, my Self-Saucing Pudding attempt in Week 10, you’ll know I have issues with caramel.

 

I just left my sugar on a few seconds too long and it hardened up on me. It’s possible that I could have done it in my second attempt, but I didn’t have time for a second attempt. So my cake went without its caramel topper.

It was just a chocolate cake which was a little denser than it should have been because of my little egg mistake with the batter.

But, heck, it looked like a cake and it tasted like a cake, so that’s pretty darn good.

 

And, I don’t know about you, but I’ll take all the good I can get.

I hope your life is chockablock full of good things this holiday season and all through 2018! Happy New Year’s!

P.S. Special thanks to my mom who let me take over (and partially destroy) her kitchen on Christmas Eve before she had to host the family Christmas dinner there. Sorry I covered everything in chocolate buttercream and splatters of cake dough.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

P.P.S. Like the blog? If so, please consider sharing it on Facebook or Twitter or whatever cool social media app kids use these days that I’m not smart enough to understand. Thanks! Love, Ash.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

 

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 17: Swedish Princess Cake

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).

***

You know when you watch something on television and think:

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Photo credit: Giphy

That’s not the way I felt when I saw Season 1 Episode 6 of GBBS where the contestants made a Prinsesstarta (Princess Cake).

Instead, I felt a bit like this:

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Photo credit: Giphy

I felt like there was no way in the world I could make this cake. And it turns out I was right to feel that way.

At least for the most part.

I couldn’t make a Prinsesstarta.

I could make parts of it though and I’m taking that as a win, because this was by far the hardest thing I’ve had to bake in my GBBS challenge. I mean, come on, just look at this recipe.

There are two dozen ingredients and just as many steps.

I had to make a sponge cake, vanilla custard, raspberry jam, whipped cream, a fondant rose and marzipan.

But…I didn’t actually end up making all of those things.

We’ll get to that later.

First, let’s start with what went well – the custard. It was amazing custard. It was beautiful. And it made me feel like this:

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Photo credit: Giphy

I didn’t technically follow the custard directions though. I was supposed to make the custard with milk, egg yolks, caster sugar, cornstarch, butter and 1 vanilla pod.

But,because the grocery store I visited only had one crazy-expensive vanilla pod for like $15, I swapped out the vanilla pod for the three teaspoons of vanilla extract instead. I found the conversions here.

Otherwise, I did what the recipe said. This involved a lot of cooking over low heat and a whole lot more whisking. I whisked and whisked and whisked it until the mixture thickened (and my arm hurt a lot).

It was a lot of work, but it was worth it because in the end it looked and tasted like custard.

 

And, just in case I haven’t made this clear yet, it was:

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Photo credit: Giphy

It was so good, guys.

The jam on the other hand, wasn’t quite as good. I mean, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as good as the custard, which, again, was amazing. (Sorry, I’m really jazzed about the custard.)

Anyway, back to the jam, I was supposed to make it using raspberries and jam sugar. But I couldn’t find jam sugar in my grocery store, so instead I swapped in caster sugar.

It seemed to work okay, but, again, I have no real frame of reference since I’ve never made jam before. It tasted slightly worse than what I’ve bought in a jar though.

This is because I overcooked the jam a bit, even though I very diligently used my sugar thermometer.

Okay, okay, you got me. I may have walked away from the pot (and the thermometer) for a bit.

 

 

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Photo credit: Giphy

But rather than holding my head down in shame and walking away, I decided to just  use the jam anyway. This is mainly because I only had one container of raspberries and I wasn’t about to go out and buy another. Again with the cheap thing. This seems to be a recurring theme.

Anyway, on to the cake. I didn’t mess up the cake (that much).

The cake was just a simple sponge cake. It was just eggs, caster sugar, cornstarch, flour and baking powder. The only hard part about it was I had to cut it in thirds, horizontally.

Why is Mary Berry constantly making people cut cakes in halves and thirds? Just make multiple, separate cakes, Mary. It’s easier. Sheesh.

Anyway, I was excited I was even able to cut my cake into three layers.

I wasn’t excited that you could see some bits of flour in some of them though. If you look closely at the second pic you can see the offensive flour spots. But, shhh….we don’t need to talk about that. Let’s just focus on the fact that, otherwise, the cakes were  a massive success.

The marzipan on the other hand. Well, there’s only one way to describe the marzipan:

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Photo credit: Giphy

It was a complete and total disaster.

Just for comparison sake, let’s look at what the marzipan is supposed to look like. See that nice, smooth green cover on top of the cake on the left? That’s the marzipan. See that mess that looks like green ricotta cheese on the right? That’s my marzipan.

It looks, disgusting, right? Here are two appropriate reactions to my marzipan. These are the only appropriate responses to my marzipan.

It was nasty.

I was supposed to make the marzipan by mixing ground almonds, caster sugar and powdered sugar in a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Then I was supposed to add eggs and almond extract.

From there I was supposed to knead it until it formed a stiff dough, turn it out onto a surface dusted with icing sugar and add a tiny bit of food coloring to it.

I went wrong right from the beginning though with my ground almonds. I tried to grind the almonds myself just using a food processor. This didn’t break them up into small enough pieces though, so instead of being like flour, my ground almonds were more like almond chunks or chunky peanut butter.

This was a mistake. A big one.

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Photo credit: Giphy

This made it impossible for me to do the next step of my marzipan process. I was supposed to roll the marzipan dough into a circle large enough to cover the cake and then gently set it on top and smooth down the sides.

But I couldn’t roll my marzipan, because, just a reminder, it was like chunky peanut butter.

I threw it away. Then I proceeded with my cake sans marzipan. (A girl only has so many almonds.)

Besides, it was the same cake, basically. It was just naked.

So I started the layering. There was a lot of layering.

I spooned a quarter of the custard into a piping bag and piped a border of it around the first sponge. Then I spread the jam between the custard border.

Then I whipped some cream and folded half of it into the remaining custard and spread this over the jam. I put on the second sponge on top of that and spread over the rest of the custard cream and put the third sponge on top.

You get it. There were a lot of cream, cake and custard layers going on. Here’s what the process looked like in action:

Even after all of this layering there was still  more custard and cream. So that got slathered on the sides and piled on top.  So in the end, it looked like this:

It looks decidedly less impressive without its marzipan cover and the accompanying fondant rose and chocolate swirls, but, you know what, it still tasted good.

It tasted really good, like a very fancy cream puff that took a whole heck of a lot of time to make.

But considering how scared I was to even attempt this in the first place, I’m taking the whole thing as a win. Besides, next time, I might even do better. You never know, it’s possible.

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Photo credit: Giphy

Okay, okay, it’s doubtful. But possible, all the same. At least next time there is no marzipan. I’ve got that going for me.

Next time I am attempting to make a contemporary version of the Hungarian Dobos torte though and these things look pretty scary:

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Photo credit: Giphy

But who knows, maybe next time, I will actually do all the steps. That’d be cool.

So, yeah, check in next time to hopefully see me do better, or you know, fail spectacularly again. Whichever.

Bye…

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Photo Credit: Giphy

P.S. You can follow me on Facebook here and Twitter here. You know, if you feel like it. No pressure.

P.P.S. Please don’t judge me for how few followers I have on Twitter…I know it’s embarrassing.

 

 

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 16: Yeast-Leavened Cakes

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).

***

After last week’s Tower of Pies challenge, which, I’ll be honest, was sort of a mess sometimes, I was pretty psyched going into this week.

I just had to make a yeast-leavened cake. And I’ve made cakes. Tons of cakes. So basically, I was like, I’ve got this.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

This sense of overconfidence has burned me (and my bakes before). Just check out, well, most of my other baking blogs for proof of that.

But this time things actually did go well.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Shocking, I know.

But it turns out that making a yeast-leavened cake is just a whole heck of a lot like making cake and also sort of like making bread.

And I’ve done both, and you can do both too.

Because I really cannot overstate how easy this particular bake was. I used a King Arthur Flour recipe for a Yeasted Lemon Cake. Here’s the recipe.

It’s really simple. I just had to combine flour, instant yeast (not active dry yeast), sugar, salt, warm milk, melted butter, eggs and lemon zest in a tube pan. (I used an angel food cake pan and that seemed to work just fine.)

Then, the hardest part for me – I had to wait, for an hour for the dough to raise. The waiting always sucks.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Then after the excruciating (or just mildly boring) wait time, I just popped the raised dough into the oven. (Heads up, it didn’t raise nearly as much as I thought it would but I put it in the oven anyway, because I’m impatient and I wanted to eat my cake.)

 

So basically the whole thing was easy peasy. A piece of cake. (Yeah, I couldn’t resist making that pun. Roll your eyes all you want.)

 

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Photo Credit: Giphy

And for once, my oven actually worked. Like I put something in the oven for the amount of time the recipe instructed and the oven actually cooked the thing like it was supposed to. It was amazing.

Heck yeah!

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Photo Credit: Giphy

But then I had to make the syrup and obviously something had to go wrong here because nothing had gone wrong so far so I was totally pushing it.

For the syrup I just had to combine sugar and water in a saucepan, boil it and simmer it for 10 minutes until it thickened. Except after 10 minutes and then 15 minutes and then maybe 20 minutes (I stopped keeping track) it still hadn’t really thickened. Like at all. Just check out this nonsense.

 

So yeah, I took my not-very-thickened syrup and added lemon juice to it like the recipe told me to, which obviously made the syrup even thinner. At this point, my syrup wasn’t so much syrup as it was just weak lemonade.

Then once my cake was cooked I was supposed to brush the syrup over the bottom of my cake. Since my syrup wasn’t really brush-worthy, I just tried to drizzle it on with a spoon. Then I had to wait for the cake to cool for five minutes.

This is the point where many people who commented on the recipe’s webpage ran into problems. They claimed that when they flipped their cake over onto a baking rack covered with parchment paper or onto a baking sheet, their cake would break up and become a big mess.

But mine didn’t, guys. So I think that means I have become a baking genius.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Then once my totally-not-ruined cake was flipped over, I had to drizzle the rest of the lemonade/lemon syrup mixture on top of the cake and then let the whole thing cool completely.

This took practically forever (or maybe like a half hour) I don’t know. I lost track. I just wanted my cake.

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Anyway after it had finally cooled. The cake looked pretty damn awesome.

 

And it tasted good too. A few people had commented on the recipe that they thought the cake was too dry and not sweet enough.

I disagreed. Thanks to my overly-runny syrup my cake wasn’t dry at all. It was moist

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Photo Credit: Giphy

(Yeah, sorry about that. I hate that word too.)

Anyway, moving on…

I didn’t think the cake should be sweeter, because, as a whole, I usually think desserts are way too sweet.

Besides, a few days after Halloween and pounds of leftover Halloween candy, a less-sweet, fruity cake almost seems healthy. Almost…but not really at all.

I got off pretty easy this week with a cake that actually ended up looking (and tasting) like a cake.

Next week, though, things get real. I have to make a Swedish Prinsesstarta (Princess Cake).

It has sponge cake, marzipan, fondant, jam and custard. All of which I have to make from scratch. It has more ingredients than I even want to count and the recipe has two dozen steps. Two dozen. Also it looks like this:

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Photo Credit: BBC

Yeah, if you’re looking at that picture and thinking there’s no way in hell Ashley can make that, I’m right there with you. Just looking at that pic sort of makes me feel like this:

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Photo Credit: Giphy

So yeah, check in next week for what will probably be a total disaster.

P.S. Sharing is cool, guys. If you know someone who likes baking, stupid GIFs or just reading about someone else’s mistakes, please share the blog: sometimesibakemistakesblog.wordpress.com or the Facebook page with them: www.facebook.com/sometimesibakemistakesblog.

P.P.S. This is totally unrelated, but if you haven’t watched Stranger Things yet, just do it already. What are you waiting for?

Go watch Stranger Things now. Just trust me on this.

Bye.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes: Birthday Party Edition

Hi, guys. It’s been awhile. I’ve been busy with some work stuff and more importantly, some birthday party stuff.

Yeah, I’m 31 years old and I still care about my birthday. I realize this may seem juvenile, or just plain self-centered, and, yeah, it may very well be those things. But to me at least, it’s also something more.

If you know me fairly well, you’ll know that the last few years have been pretty rough. Between health problems that have lingered for far too long and the anxiety and depression that so often go along with feeling bad for far too long, things haven’t been great sometimes.

I don’t say that for pity or sympathy or anything. (I suck with pity and sympathy. Don’t give it to me. I’ll be awkward about it.) Besides, I am getting better. Just far more slowly than I’d like to. And, even with all that, I’m still far luckier than a whole heck of a lot of other people. I get that.

I just say these things because I want you to know where I’m coming from when I tell you that sometimes feeling well enough to celebrate is reason enough to celebrate.

Life is too short, and frankly sometimes too hard, for you not to do the things you want to do when you want to do them.

So if you feel good (physically, mentally, the whole deal) celebrate, man. Find the things that bring you joy and embrace them unapologetically and enthusiastically. Even if they seem silly. Even if they seem stupid. Even if they seem weird.

Because who cares if it’s weird? Just be you. Just go for it. Go big. Go bold.

Or, in my case, go bake.

***

Which leads me to the birthday party. I had a Great British Baking Show-themed birthday party. (Because of course I did.)

And I had big plans for it. Because I love big plans. (This is one of the several hundred ways I hope to one day be like Leslie Knope.)

Unfortunately, unlike Leslie Knope, I sometimes don’t do as well with time-management, so my big plans are fine until I actually need to do them. At this point, I usually realize I have overdone it and I look a little something like this:

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Because the thing is, I got carried away with the bakes. As it was a GBBS-themed birthday party, I had to deliver on the bakes, right? Of course, I did. The only problem was I decided to deliver on six of them.

If you’ve been following along with the blog, you’ll know that I’m still a novice baker. With most of the desserts I’ve tackled so far, the time I make them for the blog is the first time I’ve baked them. So, yeah, just to remind you, I’m essentially approaching every bake like this:

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But, I figured I would just do some of the bakes I’d done before, so it should be no big deal, right? I mean, I’d already done them once (to varying degrees of success) but I figured the second time would be easier.

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Photo credit: Giphy

Uhh….yeah, I was wrong. Because some of the bakes weren’t necessarily easier the second time around and some of them I didn’t end up doing at all, because, umm, time was a factor (a factor I did not manage well).

Okay, here’s what I attempted to bake in a span of two days for more than two dozen guests: a Swiss Cake Roll, Mary Berry’s Cherry Cake, Mini Coffee and Walnut Cakes, Sugar Cookies (which I shaped like tea bags – because, Britain, guys), a Tiramisu Cake and Florentines.

Of these, Mary Berry’s Cherry Cake is the only thing I abandoned entirely, because I didn’t have time. I did however manage to bake everything else, again to varying degrees of success.

But I can say that my Swiss Cake Roll actually looked like a Swiss Cake Roll this time. Which is a massive improvement from my first attempt which looked like a folded, cracked mess of cream. Don’t remember that particular bake? Check out the first blog in my series. Yeah, I’ve come a long way from there baby, if I do say so myself (at least when it comes to Swiss Cake Rolls.

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Photo credit: Giphy

I did however manage to sort of (mostly) burn a good chunk of the Florentines and the sugar cookies. I then decided to partially dip the sugar cookies in almond bark to cover up the burned bits. Shhhh…don’t tell anyone they were a little burned. It will be our little secret.

And the tiramisu cake, well, that turned out to be the most annoying thing of all. In retrospect, the fact that I was making it about an hour before people arrived and I probably wasn’t in the best head-space was probably part of the problem.

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Anyhoo, on GBBS, Mary Berry’s Tiramisu Cake was a technical challenge so our normally-lovable GBBS judge, Mary Berry, made it extra tricky for the GBBS contestants. For starters, she made the bakers cut a sponge cake that was approximately an inch thick, in half. Horizontally. This is just brutal.

I wanted to have the tallest sponge cake possible for my tiramisu cake, because, well I had to cut in half. Horizontally, remember? Which is just nuts. So I was careful not to over-mix, which Mary warned me could reduce the cake’s height. Unfortunately, I under-mixed it. So when I cut my sponge cake in half, there where just a bunch of chunks of unmixed flour inside of it.

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So, yeah, I had to make a whole other sponge cake for the Tiramisu Cake. But this time I wasn’t playing Mary Berry’s cut-cakes-in-half-horizontally-game, so instead I just doubled the recipe and made two cakes. That way I wouldn’t have to cut them in half to get the number of layers I needed. This was sort of genius on my part. So yeah, I was feeling pretty good.

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Photo credit: Giphy

Unfortunately, when I was putting the cake together, I forgot that I had essentially doubled the thickness of my sponge cake, so in turn, I would need to double the amount of coffee/rum mixture I would need to soak said sponges. So, yeah my cake wasn’t as coffee/rum soaked as it should have been.

And, as for the coffee and walnut cakes, yeah, those didn’t get their little decorations on top because yeah, time was a problem.

But the thing is, none of that really mattered. All that mattered is the fact that I had a Great British Baking Show party. And it had all of this stuff:

And all of this food:

But, most importantly, of all, it had a bunch of my favorite people in the same place at the same time. And that’s pretty freaking great and had me feeling like:

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Photo credit: Giphy

So thanks to everyone who came out for the party! And special thanks to Molly who did the decorations. (She will pretend I did, but I did not.) And to Sharon and Beth for helping me with last-minute cooking, baking and dish-washing. You’re the best. And to Aunt Mona who was smart enough to take photos, when I was not. P.S. I used some of your pictures.

Anyhoo, next week, I’ll get back to my regular baking schedule. I’m supposed to be making a tower of pies. Which after the party, should be easy, right?

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Photo credit: Giphy

Or, you know, maybe not.

P.S. Just a reminder “Sometimes I Bake Mistakes” has a Facebook page now. It’s @sometimesibakemistakesblog.

You can follow it, if you feel like it. No pressure.

Later, gators.

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Photo credit: Giphy

 

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 3: Mini English Classic Cakes

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).

***

Ordinarily when I want to procrastinate, I cook something — anything, just something so I can avoid doing what I’m supposed to be doing while tricking myself into believing that I’m still doing something productive.

Sure, I’m putting off writing an article for work, but I made roasted Parmesan potatoes so that’s something, right?

This tactic usually works for me, but this week I was avoiding baking.

I was really dreading making this week’s showstopper challenge – 36 miniature English classic cakes.

But I couldn’t put off this task my normal way, because putting off baking by cooking was a bit too ridiculous even for me.

So instead I wrote my article for work early (for possibly the first time ever). (Side note: If you don’t know, I write bar reviews for the Omaha World-Herald. You can check them out here.)

Then after I did that, I cleaned everything in the house. I vacuumed. I dusted. I mopped. I laundered. Then I considered doing a bunch of ironing that I had been putting off.

And that’s when I realized things had gotten a bit out of hand.

I didn’t want to iron. Sheesh.

My procrastination had to be stopped.

It was time to make these damn cakes.

I had decided to make miniature coffee and walnut cakes. Which are apparently a classic English cake. I had no idea what a “classic English cake” was going in, so I decided to go official and use a recipe from the show – specifically, the contestant Richard‘s recipe. The recipe is available on the GBBS website here.

But, recipe decided, I still didn’t want to make these damn cakes.

Because it looked like so much work. There were multiple cakes. There were three layers. There were too many words in the recipe.

It seemed like there were too many steps, too many opportunities for me to mess things up.

So to hedge my bets and because previous attempts have taught me that “winging it” is not a good idea (see here for an example), I got really anal retentive about it.

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Photographic proof of anal retentiveness (and also of bad handwriting).

Then came the actual baking, which took approximately forever. I made the dough and then had to separate it into three pans which would be for the three cakes that would make up my three layers.

I could have baked all the cakes at once obviously, but I didn’t because, frankly, my oven and I have trust issues. We haven’t worked together long and we’re still feeling each other out. (Yes, I know my oven is not a person. I’m just saying, we’ve got to work out a few kinks in our relationship before I trust it. I’ve been burnt before. Get it? Burnt by the oven….okay, yeah, not my best pun.)

Anyway, so I baked the cakes one at a time, and they turned out crazy thin. Like Richard really should have warned me in the recipe about how thin these cakes would be. (And don’t worry, I actually think they’re supposed to be like this. I looked at the pictures of his cake.) But still, to reiterate. It was alarmingly thin for a cake. See, look:

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Alarmingly thin cake.

Then I had to wait for the cakes to cool and cut them into 54 circles. Fifty-four is a strange number for someone making 36 cakes, huh? I thought so too. That’s when I read the recipe fully for the first time. (Yeah, I realize I should have done this sooner.)

Turns out I was cutting them into 54 circles because I was only making 18 cakes. Eighteen cakes with three layers. Not 36 cakes with three layers.

I felt like the Great British Baking Show had lied to me. After all, I had used Richard’s recipe they had posted on their website for their “36 Mini English Classic Cakes” episode assuming (I now realize, incorrectly) that it would make 36 cakes.

It didn’t. It made 18. And thank God for that.

Thirty six cakes would have been way too many cakes for my family to eat. Eighteen is almost too many, because these cakes aren’t messing around.

These are little sugar and butter bombs that explode in your mouth and go straight to your brain (and, probably, though I really don’t want to think about it right now, your arteries).

If you can eat more than one, I’m just going to say it, there is something seriously wrong with you. You must have developed a superhuman butter and sugar tolerance or something. You’re weird.

I just ate one and I feel like a little kid who just drank an entire bottle of Surge (you guys, remember Surge?) and then drank a shot of melted butter.

And I know what you’re thinking here. “Ashley, that’s probably at least partially because of the caffeine, you dummy. These are coffee and walnut cakes after all.”

Nope. I used decaf.

I’m glad I did, because otherwise I think these things may have been way too much for me to handle. Now they’re just this side of way too much.

I realize that the Surge and melted butter shot comparison made them sound less than appetizing, but really, they’re quite good. (If I do say so myself.)  And really, they don’t look so bad either.

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Sugar and Butter Bombs aka Mini Coffee and Walnut Cakes

They were hard. But it’s the hard that makes it great.

(I did not think of that line myself. I stole it from a Superstore episode I watched yesterday that stole it from a League of Their Own. Both of these things are good. You should watch  them.)

But in this case at least, maybe it wasn’t the hard that made it great. Maybe it was just the coffee-flavored buttercream. (It was definitely the buttercream.)

P.S. A special thanks to my husband who was very nice to me even after I very slightly burned myself this week and then acted more than slightly like Michael Scott in the episode of The Office when he accidentally burns his foot on his George Foreman grill.

Forgot that episode? Here’s a recap. Yeah, I acted sort of like that. Yeah, I know, it’s a miracle my husband keeps me around.

P.P.S. Next week, I break into the second episode of the Great British Baking  show which focuses on biscuits or as we Yanks call them, cookies, or well, crackers. They kind of make both in this episode so I’ll be honest here – I’m not real clear on their definition of “biscuits.” But hey, there’s plenty of time for me to figure that out. Like, I have until next week.

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 2: Mary Berry’s Cherry Cake

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).

***

Cake number two on my baking journey through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS) was a cherry cake. But not just any cherry cake – Mary Berry’s Cherry Cake.

For you GBBS newbies who may not be in the know, Mary Berry is one of the two judges on the show (and the best one). She is basically Britain’s Queen of Cakes, which isn’t a bad title if you can get it.

Also, because it has to be said, every time I type her name I feel like it is something out of a bad, old nursery rhyme. “Mary Berry, quite contrary, baked a cake, made of cherry…” or you know, something like that. You get the idea.

Anyway, I’m getting off track. Back to the cherry cake.

For this attempt, I went really official with it. I got very British. Or, at least as British as a life-long Midwesterner who has never been to Europe can get.

And by this, I mean I used a recipe with metric measurements, guys. I got all gram-y with it.

To do that, I first had to buy a digital scale. Which, admittedly, I probably should have had already, but I didn’t.

I’m more of a cook than a baker. And I’m also more of the kind of cook who just throws random stuff together, sans measurements (metric or otherwise) and simply hopes for the best. Things usually turn out okay.

But baking is a harsher mistress. She requires precision.

So I got a scale. It was pretty cheap, so I figure it’s a small sacrifice to pay for some Mary Berry cake.

But then the shopping got a bit more complicated. It turns out that some of what I assume are standard baking ingredients in jolly ole England are a bit harder to find in Nebraska. Like, way harder.

First of all, the recipe called for 200 grams (look, at me using grams like it’s no big deal) of red glace cherries.

Don’t know what red glace cherries are? Good. I didn’t either. Turns out they’re also called candied cherries and they’re frequently used in stuff like fruit cakes. (Cakes that are not frequently made in Nebraska in April, apparently.)

So I looked for these cherries in tons of stores and by tons of stores, I mean three, and one of them was a home improvement store because I was already there for something else and I figured, eh, what the heck? But yeah, none of these stores had candied cherries.

No biggie. I figured I’d just straight-up substitute maraschino cherries. That’d work, right? They’re the same, right?

No. They’re not. They’re different. Don’t do this.

I didn’t do this. I used a recipe I found online to turn maraschino cherries into candied cherries.

It worked. I think. Again, I have no actual experience with glace cherries or candied cherries or whatever the heck you’re supposed to call them so really I don’t know if it worked.

I’m just going to assume it did because the cherries tasted candied or “glaced” to me. (Again, not that I know what those cherries are supposed to taste like.)

The recipe also called for caster sugar, which I also could not find anywhere (and by anywhere I mean just those three stores). So I used magic to turn granulated sugar into caster sugar and by magic I mean I used a blender. I pulsed it a few times. Supposedly this is all you need to do. But again, I have no real idea if it worked. I’m just gonna assume it did.

Then once the ingredients were corralled (or the make-shift ingredients, at least), came the hardest part — actually making the cake.

Just kidding. That part was actually way easier than the ingredients search.

For one thing the cake is a normal cake-shape. Unlike the cake I attempted last week, a Swiss Cake Roll, which seems to defy the very laws of nature. Seriously? Who decided we needed to roll cakes up? I’m fine with flat ones. I’ll just take the fillings in layers.

This cake though was just poured into a handy dandy bundt pan. There was nothing tricky a-bundt it. (Horrible pan pun.)

This time, I didn’t go off book, or off recipe like I did last time (mostly to bad results). This time, I followed the recipe exactly and I didn’t mess around with the recipe either, I used Mary Berry’s recipe from the official GBBS website.

And since I followed the recipe exactly, that means I did every little thing Mary Berry asked me to do which meant the recipe was time-consuming. Though this cake was technically easier than last week’s, it still took awhile. I’ve never in my life spent so much time drying cherries with paper towels, and I hope I will never spend that much time doing it again.

But apparently it’s important because that’s what helps ensure that the cherries are evenly distributed throughout the cake. At least that’s what one of the GBBS contestants said as she was baking her cake. Then she won that challenge.

I, however, would not have won.

My cake isn’t bad and it tastes really good, but Mary Berry (in her infinite generosity) would still have had to dock me some points.

For one, my cake cracked again, probably because I over-baked it a bit, again.

A little something about me — I’m an over-baker. Nine times out of ten, I will over-bake rather than under-bake things. Food safety, yo.

Unfortunately, that led to my cake being a bit dry. Fortunately, the icing helps.

The icing was just a mixture of lemon juice from one lemon and some powdered sugar. I don’t know what kind of wimpy lemons they have in Britain, but my lemon must have been too juicy because my icing was so runny it ran down the sides to form a little lemon icing sea in the middle of my cake. A gosh darn delicious lemon icing sea. (I really like lemon.)

Anyway, here’s a picture of my Mary Berry Cherry Cake where I just realized you totally cannot see the lemon sea. If I wouldn’t have told you about it, you never would have known. Oh well. My bad.

Cherry Cake

Anyway, there’s probably some sort of lesson here about how when life hands you lemons, you should make lemon icing with it, provided your lemons aren’t too juicy. But I’m too lazy to look for that lesson now. I’m tired from hand-drying seemingly a million cherries.

Next week, I’ll attempt to make classic British cakes. 36 of them. In miniature. (Yeah, I’m not sure how I’m going to do that either.)

P.S. A special thanks to Mattie who helped me on the ingredients search.

P.P.S. I just realized it’s my second post and I still haven’t talked about GBBS much. Here are my favorite contestants in the first episode of the first season: Richard (a builder who always keeps a pencil tucked behind his ear like any good carpenter), Kate (who I want to move to Nebraska so she can be my British best friend. You know, if she felt like it. No pressure.) and Iain’s beard. (Yeah, beard not bread. That was not a typo. I know what I said, what I typed, and what I meant.)

P.P.P.S. I won’t apologize for my possible overuse of post scripts. I love post scripts almost as much as I love lemon icing. So, yeah, a lot.

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 1: Swiss Cake Roll

If you’re one of my Facebook friends or one of the approximately 15 people I talk to in real life, you’ll know that at the moment I cannot (will not) stop talking about The Great British Baking Show.

As the name suggests, it’s a British baking show and it’s great.

Twelve amateur bakers compete in three baking challenges each week and then, at the end of each episode, the show’s judges, everyone’s fantasy British grandma, Mary Berry, and bread-making guru, Paul Hollywood, send one of the bakers packing.

(Sidenote: I just realized right now that Mary and Paul’s names sound totally made-up.)

Anyway, at the end of the ten-week competition, one person is crowned Britain’s best baker. For this, the winner is awarded an overly-large bouquet and a not-very-impressive plaque. This show leads me to believe that the British are easy to please trophy-wise.

And to gauge by GBBS (yeah, I’m going to acronym it from here on out), British people also appear to be much (much) nicer on reality television than Americans. Not only are they not mean to each other, the contestants actually go out of their way to be relentlessly, aggressively nice to each other.

It’s weird, but in a good way. It’s also exactly what I needed in my life right now.

I’m guessing I’m not alone when I say I’ve been kind of overwhelmed by negativity lately. That seems to be going around.

I needed some nice in my life and the GBBS is chockful of nice, so I fell in love with it and then became slightly obsessed with it.

So obsessed, that I’ve decided to try it myself.

I’m going to attempt to bake my way through the competition from the nonjudgmental, no-television-crew safety of my kitchen.

But then I’m going to blog about it, because to tell you the truth, I’m sick of talking about bad things so I’ve decided to talk about cakes instead (at least most of the time).

Baking’s nice because it’s one of the few things in the world where even failures can still turn out to be kind of delicious.

Which leads me into my first GBBS challenge I tried this week — the Swiss Cake Roll.

(Point of clarification here: I’m going to be using the GBBS episodes available on PBS and Netflix as my guidelines. So when I say I’m doing a recipe from season 1, I mean the first season on PBS or Netlfix. This will differ from what was season 1 in the U.K.. Just roll with me on this, please. And, yes, that was a pun with the word “roll” there. Puns happen a lot on this show and they will happen a lot in this blog, too.)

Anyway, the Swiss Cake Roll was the baker’s very first challenge. Some of the bakers made great ones, others made okay ones, but none of them made one quite as ugly as mine.

In my defense, I’ve never made a Swiss Cake Roll before so I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into.

Not in my defense, I went into this a bit cocky. Like all adults who were once type-A children, I was overly-confident in my ability to follow directions. Plus, since I’m just a wee bit Swiss, I assumed that I had some sort of innate ability to make baller Swiss Cake Rolls.

I did not.

My cake was crack-tastic, in that when I tried to roll it up, it got a whole heck of a lot of cracks in it. Cracks that I then tried to cover up with a bunch of powdered sugar and strawberries.

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And it sort of worked.
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But, not really.

Also, the cake wasn’t so much rolled, as it was badly folded.

And since I used a recipe that called for the traditional jelly as well as cream, the roll was a bit overstuffed and some of the cream smooshed out. (I’m pretty sure “smooshed” is the most technically-correct word in this scenario.)

Basically, it wasn’t pretty and it would definitely be considered a Pinterest fail.

But, all in all, it tasted pretty darn good even if it looked pretty darn bad. So I’m taking that as a small victory.

See how chill about that messed up cake I was just there? I was all “Keep calm and carry on” and stiff British upper-lip about it. But in real life, when my messed up roll-up was completed, I cursed, whined to my husband about it, dramatically hurled myself on the couch and then had a beer.

But then I actually tasted it, and yeah, like I said, it wasn’t half bad, provided I just covered it with more strawberries and pretended it was a pound cake.

I’m pretty sure there’s some sort of lesson in there about how a situation changes based on how you look at it, but honestly I’m too lazy to look for that lesson right now. I’m tired from baking cakes. But, I just thought I’d throw that out there, so you could tease that lesson out yourself if you were so inclined.

I’m pretty sure there’s also a lesson in there about how when you have a problem, you should just throw some sugar at it. But, it’s possible that lesson only works with cake.

Annnnyyyyway, in the future, these posts will include the recipe I used. But this week I’m not doing that because a) it was a test run, b) I actually mix-and-matched two recipes at once, which I now realize was a really bad idea, and c) because I want to protect the innocent recipe-writers who really should not be blamed for my cake-tastrophe. (That was another pun. Like I said, that’s going to happen a lot.)

P.P.S. Next week I’ll attempt Mary Berry’s Cherry Cake. Apologizes in advance to Mary Berry and to cherries.