Tag 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.

finished kouign aman

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:

Jammin on planner

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 11: Tiramisu 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).

***

Update 7-12-2017: It’s come to my attention that this blog post has been posted on a cooking website, without my knowledge and without giving me credit. I’m all for sharing, but please give me credit or at least link to my site so people can see my other original content. Thanks.

I usually start each post by announcing what this week’s bake was, but this time I have to talk about something else first.

I’ve got to talk about Val, guys! I just have to.

The new (for America) GBBS season 4 is now on PBS. Four episodes are available so far, and in those four episodes, I have fallen in love with Val. Everyone has fallen in love with Val.

Val is a semi-retired, primary school head teacher who has been baking for more than 60 years. She dances around while she bakes, and says her cakes sing to her when they’re ready. Also, she makes everywhere she goes happier and brighter and kinder, simply by being there.

She’s lovely, just lovely. (Even Paul Hollywood, of glacial stare fame, said “I love Val.” He doesn’t normally throw that kind of affection around. But it seems that even he couldn’t help himself. No one can help themselves. Val’s loveliness is infectious.)

I mean, just check out some of her highlights:

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Val is ridiculously sweet, silly, warm and kind. And the world could always use more people like her.

Kindness, in particular is the most underrated quality in people, and it especially seems like that lately when, in our Internet-troll-filled world, cruelty is often mistaken for cleverness and rudeness is mistaken for strength.

For the sake of my sanity and my faith in humanity, I have to be reminded that there are nice people out there. I need to hear about the Vals of the world. I’ve got to know they’re out there, sharing baked goods and goodness and just generally Hufflepuffing it up.

(P.S. If you don’t know what Hufflepuffs are, seriously, just go read Harry Potter already, please. But suffice it to say that the Hufflepuffs are the nice ones in the Harry Potter universe. They’re also the best ones, not that any true Hufflepuff would say that, because you know, bragging’s not nice and stuff.)

So, since the Hufflepuffs of the world aren’t going to say it for themselves, I’ll say it for them. They’re the best. The gosh darn best. Thank God for the Hufflepuffs, thank God for Val and thank God for nice.

We could use more of all three.

***

Now, on to the bake:

This week I took on Mary Berry’s tiramisu cake which was the technical challenge in Season 1 Episode 4’s Desserts episode.

I freaking love tiramisu, so I was super excited about this bake and because I’ve eaten a fair bit of the dessert in my time, I was also dangerously cocky.

Basically, I was like, I’ve got this.

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Except sometimes I didn’t have it, really. And that started right from the very beginning with my baking set-up. The recipe called for me to build up layers of brandy-and-coffee-soaked sponge cake, mascarpone cheese and chocolate shavings in a square pan.

According to Ms. Berry’s helpful instructions on her and Paul’s GBBS Masterclass Season 1 Part 2 episode, ideally I’d have a loose-based, high-sided, square pan for this assembly. And, yeah, I didn’t have that. I also couldn’t easily find one at local stores and I wasn’t about to pay more than $30 for the ones I saw online. So, I got creative and I basically used trash.

First, I cut a roughly 7-inch square from a piece of cardboard. I used a beer six-pack container. I didn’t actually dig the cardboard out of the trash. I took this out of the beer fridge. (Shhhh. Everyone has beer fridges. That’s totally normal.) Then I covered my cardboard square with tinfoil.

Then I got out the only square baking dish I had, a glass one without a loose bottom. I made two very long strips of parchment paper and placed one vertically across the dish and one horizontally. (This part’s pretty close to Mary’s instruction’s actually.) Then I put my tinfoil-covered cardboard square on top of that. This was my attempt at making a loose bottom pan alternative.

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I did this. I’m basically a kitchen MacGyver. Wait, do people still know who that is?

And yeah, I was really, weirdly proud of it. I had no idea if it would work, but I thought it looked pretty handy, considering I had no idea what I was doing.

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And then, feeling-pretty dang pleased with myself, I got on with my bake. First, you start with a simple sponge cake which only has eggs, caster sugar (I’ve just given up and just started using granulated sugar) and self-rising flour.

When I watched the Masterclass episode on this, Mary repeatedly talked about how the most important part thing about this cake was that it maintained its volume.  So to do that, I had to try to keep as many air bubbles in it as possible.

That meant I had to whip up the eggs and sugar for a really, really long time. I used an electric hand mixer on it for about five minutes. (Okay, my definition of a “really, really long time” may be different than other people’s).  Mary said the mixture was supposed to become very pale and thick.

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This looks like mayo. Doesn’t taste like mayo.

Then I had to sift in the flour and fold it in gently. Mary was very clear on this. She was also insistent that when I pour the batter into the pan, I didn’t do it from a great height, because apparently this removes some of the air bubbles from the cake and takes away its volume. So I did everything as she instructed and my cake batter did look pretty bubblicious.

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Look at all these cute little bubbles! : )

I felt pretty pleased with myself, bubble-wise. At this point, I basically thought I was crushing it and I was feeling pretty good.

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Then I had to bake the cake for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit or until, as Mary said, it was risen, golden-brown and springy to the touch. And, for once, I did. I didn’t burn it, guys. Just look at this:

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Totally not burnt. This is a low-bar for success, but, hell, I’m taking it.

At this point, I was getting dangerously pleased with myself and I was totally ready to take on the next step, the filling.

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The filling is pretty simple. You dissolve instant coffee granules in boiling water and mix it with a bit of brandy (100 ml.) and then you let it cool. Then you mix together 3 (9 oz) tubs of full-fat mascarpone cheese, heavy whipping cream (the Brits call it “double cream”) and sifted powered sugar (Brits call it “icing sugar) in a big bowl. And, you do the step I forgot to do at this point: you grate some dark chocolate. I used baking milk chocolate instead.

I also made a small substitution for the mascarpone cheese. I was supposed to use 3 (9 oz) tubs but the kind I found in the store came in 8 ounces, so I just used those. I could have bought a fourth tub to make up the difference, but I was too cheap to do that.

Anyway, here’s what my mixed up mascarpone cheese filling looked like, once it was all whipped up:

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You totally can’t tell I’m 3 ounces short of mascarpone here, right?  I didn’t think so.

Then I popped that in the fridge and since my cake was now cool, it was time for the cutting. I was really nervous for this part because my cake wasn’t exactly tall, but somehow I was supposed to cut it in half horizontally. Which totally seemed impossible.

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I’m supposed to cut this in half. In half. Horizontally!? How?!

I was worried about this for two reasons: 1) because, frankly I didn’t think there was enough cake there to cut in half and 2) because, I’m super crazy klutzy and cutting a cake in half horizontally seemed like a prime time for me to accidentally cut myself.

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But, guess what, guys? I didn’t cut myself and I somehow actually cut that super-thin cake in half. Horizontally! I put my makeshift cake bottom on the cake to steady it and then I used a knife in a saw-like motion to cut across the cake, just like Mary told me to. And, it actually worked. Then I used the cake bottom as a guide again to cut two, 7-inch squares from each of my new cake layers.

And, yeah, they didn’t look perfect, but they looked far better than I thought they would, so I took it as a win.

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Then came the layering. First, I put my fake cake bottom back in my pan and I put one of my new square cake layers on top of that. The recipe then says to spoon a quarter of your coffee-brandy mixture over the cake.

(I poured the mixture into a measuring cup and it turned out to be exactly a cup of liquid, so I just put a 1/4 cup on each layer of cake.) Then, as Mary advised, I put a quarter of my mascarpone cheese mixture on that and then I was supposed to put a third of my chocolate shavings on top of that.

(At this point, I realized I hadn’t grated my chocolate. Since yesterday was one of the hottest days of the year the chocolate grating was well, grating my nerves. As Mary so often says on Masterclass “Chocolate doesn’t need much heat to melt, it will melt in a child’s pocket.” It also melted all over my hands. It was a mess but a delicious mess.)

My chocolate now grated though, I finished my first layer.

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This is some of the small amount of grated chocolate that didn’t just melt all over my hands.

You continue your layers until your fourth and final layer ends on a layer of mascarpone cheese (because you divided the grated chocolate into thirds not quarters). Then put your layered tiramisu cake back in the fridge. For.At.Least.An.Hour.

Here’s the thing: I totally did not realize I had to chill this for an hour, because, I didn’t read the directions that thoroughly before I started. Heads up, you should read the directions thoroughly before you start. Had I done this, I might not have started baking this so late at night, but, eh, honestly, I probably would have anyway. Either way though, now I had some waiting to do. Which sucked.

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On the plus side, this gave me time to work on my next step: the chocolate decorations that are supposed to go on top. First, you have to melt half your dark chocolate you reserved for this and get it to a specific temperature: 127 F. Then you stir in the other half of your chocolate and melt it. From here, let it cool down to at least 88 F or until it’s cool enough to pipe. Mine was around 75 F. Then pour your melted chocolate into a piping bag.

From here, the recipe suggests you lay out a parchment paper to do your designs on. In the Masterclass episode, Mary sketches her designs on paper she places below her parchment paper so she can pipe over them. I did that too. But then I just kind of free-handed my designs anyway, because it was more fun. It wasn’t prettier, but it was more fun.

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As you can seeing drawing (even with chocolate) is not my strong suit.

Then you have to let your chocolate designs cool and set.

Now, it was time for the part I was most scared of, I had to try to remove the cake from the square pan I made it in and move it on to a nearby cake stand. To do this, I brought all four ends of my parchment paper toward the middle of my cake and pulled up on them, placing my hand under my makeshift tinfoil cake base as I did it. Then I put the base on the cake stand and slid the parchment paper out from underneath the base.

(P.S. I would have taken a picture of this step, but I was really focused on the whole, not dropping the cake I spent hours on thing, and there weren’t enough hands for left to take a pic.)

But it totally, absolutely worked, guys!

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Victory!!!!!

Then I sprinkled a bit of cocoa powder on top of my totally-not-ruined cake and, once my chocolate decorations had set, I put those on top too. My cake didn’t look too bad really:

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My not-that-bad-looking tiramisu cake.

And then, finally came the part that I was waiting for. After hours of work and time and energy, I cut myself a piece.

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This is literally a piece of cake.

And, I…didn’t like it.

At first bite, I wasn’t that crazy about this tiramisu cake, which stinks because I am crazy about tiramisu. But, as it happens, I’m not crazy about brandy. Turns out, I’m only a fan of brandy if it’s by Looking Glass or if it’s paired with Monica. (Yeah, those references might not make sense unless you click on the links.)

If I had to make this cake again, which actually I might, because it wasn’t really that hard, I’d make sure to add all of the mascarpone cheese, which would probably help mellow out the taste of the brandy. I also might use a bit less brandy, at least a quarter of a cup less I think and I may add double the amount of powered sugar to the mascarpone cheese just to make it a bit sweeter.

But, the good news is, after a night in the fridge, the tiramisu cake was a lot better this morning after the brandy had had a chance to mellow out. (Yes, I ate tiramisu cake for breakfast. This is a totally normal thing to do.)

So, all’s well that ends well.

And for the record, I’m definitely counting this as an “ends well”.  I didn’t massively screw up a single step this week. So, yay! I’m just going to slink out (or dance out) of here while I’m ahead.

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Next week, I take on the dreaded Baked Alaska, which even in the GBBS world, turned out to be a pretty big deal. And, because I have to, I’ll also delve into the #Bingate controversy. #JusticeforIain.

Until then, I’ll be obsessively re-watching the fourth season of GBBS to get more Val, or I’ll re-watch Sleepless in Seattle, which was what introduced me to tiramisu in the first place.

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Thanks for asking Tom. It’s a delicious dessert. You should make some. It’s easy. But use less brandy. Just trust me on this, Tom.

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.