Man, guys, I have been slacking. I took a week off from posting for Christmas, and I baked this particular entry half a month ago. I think I over-baked myself for the holidays, and this recipe (as well as the next one) were dodgy at best. They turned out delicious, but the baking process was enough for me to say "Screw it, just rise when you're going to rise. I'm not going to knead you anymore, and if you turn out terribly, at least Paul Hollywood isn't actually here."
With that, I'll warn you that this cake week was a bread week disguised as a cake week, and next week is real bread week--but two bread dishes in a row is more than my little heart can handle. Throw into the mix that my body hasn't been digesting yeast very well lately, and you have a very frustrated baker.
That said, welcome to season 3! And cake week. But probably the worst cake week ever, because yeast. Don't get me wrong, yeast is a wonderful thing. It's why bread is so chewy, with such a distinct and malleable crumb. I love yeast and yeasted things (hello, donuts; hello beignets), but dealing with a yeasted thing that is also supposed to be sweet and delicate means that thing in progress is going to be sticky.
So sticky, in fact, that the act of kneading really becomes more of a sloshing around on your surface. There was no stretching, no pulling, no folding over of this dough, because it would spread out and stick to literally everything it touched. If I were doing this for myself, I would definitely have pulled out the stand mixer--far easier to knead sticky doughs mechanically. But, I'm doing this for Paul Hollywood and for this challenge, and I know he doesn't quite approve of stand mixers for kneading. But god I wish I could get my hands on the actual video of the bakers in the tent making this, because I have no idea how they managed. I ended up just smushing the dough around my work surface for a minute before sighing and moving on.
The next step make things marginally easier, because a healthy amount of grease keeps things from sticking. But it makes things slippery, so you have a whole other mess of issues. Kneading the butter in is fun (when is working with butter not fun?), but I was so tired from trying to get a smooth ball that I ended up half-heartedly combining the ingredients. I did the bare minimum and went to the couch for an hour wondering where I went wrong and if I just wasted butter (a crime in these parts).
Things were looking up after letting the yeast do what it does, and when I came back an hour or so later, the dough had definitely doubled, and I thought that maybe it wasn't a total loss. But this was for sure not how it was supposed to be. While I was second-guessing this project on the couch, feeling a failure, I looked up videos on YouTube about how to make rum babas--something I normally do before embarking on the recipe--and they all had a more liquidy dough that wouldn't stick as much, but would freely drip from a spatula, which is what was used to mix (not knead) the batter (not dough).
The videos all also easily piped out their batter (again, not dough) into their ramekins, where as I had to force mine out of a piping bag and then smooth it with my fingers, creating another mess and forcing me to clean my surfaces for probably the 20th time to allow me to take somewhat decent pictures.
When they came out of the oven, I was relieved. They had risen, they had browned, they were smelling good, and I saw they were pulling away from the sides of the dishes, meaning they had cooked enough and had not gotten stuck to the sides. I let them rest a few minutes, and then hurried to tip them out (too soon - I had some fallout) to see what the rest of the baba looked like. I was anxious to finish these.
Enter the rum. Neither my husband nor I are rum drinkers. We lean more toward vodka and bourbon, and the occassional (nightly?) Aperol spritz. However, we happened to come into a handle of possibly some of the worst rum on the planet a few months back, as a wedding leftover for some pre-gamers who attended. My associations with Bacardi begin and end with a fateful night as a sophomore in college and a night that started with Mike's Hard Lemonade, proceeded to Goldschlager, and ended with Bacardi 151 in a Gatorade bottle. Ah, to be 19 again.
I wasn't about to go buy an entire bottle of rum for the 4 tablespoons I needed, and I didn't think to run to BevMo and get single serve airplane bottles, so I said "This recipe is fucked anyway, I might as well go whole hog" and whipped out this bottle for my soaking syrup. I heated, poured, and let the cakes hang out covered in the fridge for a day, and I'll say one thing for this recipe: you can make it in advance and store it in the fridge and it only gets better--the rum soaks deeper into the cake and gives you a deeper flavor. I would make this at least one and probably up to three days ahead of when you'll be serving them.
How did they taste? Like alcohol, what did you expect? As I said earlier, my body has been having problems digesting yeast lately, so I only had a few bites, but I brought these to my family's Hanukkah dinner (I told you I'm belated in posting this), and they were a hit. It's actually very cool to see a dessert made with yeast, as normally yeast is saved for savory bread or deep-fried donuts. This was a cake with a texture unlike any other--spongey, but also chewy, though tender because of the moistness brought on by the sauce. But that sauce, with its Bacardi lace, was a bit too strong, a bit too "spirit-forward" for all of us--except my Mom. She's self-proclaimed "not a drinker," but she could not stop talking about how good this dessert was. "Especially the sauce" she made sure to emphasize, alongside with "...and I don't like alcohol!" Yeah, right... lush.
makes four individual rum babas
220 grams (8 ounces) ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR
7 grams INSTANT YEAST
1/2 teaspoon SALT
50 grams (2 ounces) GRANULATED SUGAR (plus extra for lining ramekins)
2 large EGGS
4 1/2 tablespoons (70 milliliters) MILK
100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) (7 tablespoons) BUTTER, softened
250 grams (9 ounces) GRANULATED SUGAR
4 tablespoons DARK RUM
7 fluid ounces (200 milliliters) WATER
WHIPPED CREAM, optional
FRESH FRUIT, optional
1. Place the FLOUR in a large bowl, then the YEAST on one side of the bowl and the SALT on the other side (salt kills yeast, so you can't pile them on one another), then add the SUGAR and stir everything together
2. In a separate bowl, whisk the EGGS and MILK until well combined
3. Add 3/4 of the egg mixture to the flower and combine into a shaggy mess
4. Mix in the rest of the egg mixture and knead the dough until it has come together and is fully incorporated
5. Add in the softened BUTTER and work through the dough until it is completely incorporated and the dough is silky, smooth, and stretchy -- it will still be very sticky
6. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat dough in oil, then cover in plastic wrap and set aside to rise until doubled in size, at least an hour
7. Grease and coat in sugar the inside of the four ramekins
8. Turn the dough out of the bowl and knead the air out of it, then place the dough in a piping bag
9. Cut a large opening out of the end of the piping bag and pipe the dough equally into the four ramekins
10. Preheat your oven to 350F
11. Proof dough a second time until the dough has almost expanded to the top, between 45 minutes and an hour
12. Once proofed, bake for 20-25 minutes
13. Take babas out of the oven and allow to cook while you make the syrup.
13. Place the SUGAR, WATER, and DARK RUM in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melting the sugar and warming the liquid -- keep warm
14. While babas are still warm, place them on a rimmed baking sheet and pour over half the syrup, then flip the babas and pour the remainder of the syrup over top
15. Transfer to the fridge to chill, covered in aluminum foil
16. To serve, optionally add a dollop of whipped cream and/or fresh berries
Season 2 begins...! And we start with the ever-classic Cake Week. And a recipe that encapsulates why I wanted to do this project. Trying new, sort of different recipes that taste delicious and use techniques and flavors and ingredients I don't normally use in my everyday baking. When I get a cake craving, I would normally turn to a trusty recipe and sale it up or own depending on how much cake I want to eat. I wouldn't make up a pan to cook two different cakes and trim and construct a checkerboard log of deliciousness. Too much work. But for the Bake Off? Anything.
Call me an OCD organizational nerd, but I love a recipe that starts with good pan prep. And this is a fun pan prep. I suppose you could just use two loaf pans to cook this, but then you have to clean two pans, and I like to minimize my dishes. That's why I always prefer to make pie dough by hand and not with a food processor (I also don't own a food processor), and why I make whip cream by hand and usually whip egg whites by hand. It's not that I feel more "legit" by doing it the manual way, it's that I have to do less dishes.
I actually decided to do everything manually in this recipe, including the beating of the batter. I've noticed as you bake more and more you start to see patterns in ingredients and instructions. So, when I started reading the recipe for the Battenberg, I noticed that it's basically a Victoria Sponge, that later gets doctored up. You just dump everything into a bowl and mix it up. This time, I just took a wooden spoon to it, and, as I learned in S01E01, didn't worry about over-mixing.
This is where the recipe gets fun -- mix coffee and walnuts into half of the batter and vanilla into the other half of the batter, and you start to see the two tones of the cake that will eventually show.
Two words of warning. First, if you use the recipe from a *.co.uk site, remember that Mary Berry loves self-raising flour, and if you use all-purpose flour, add more baking powder and salt per the standard conversion. I do not have self-raising flour because I live in San Francisco, my kitchen is small, and I don't need extra flours hanging around. I also have a fleeting attention to detail and forgot to add more baking powder and salt into this recipe, so yours may end up puffing up more than mine and creating a much more precise square shape in the end. Second, try to keep the parchment part in the center of the pan straight when pouring in the batter. I did not, and the walnut/coffee batter created a bit of a squiggly line in the pan, which yielded unequal amounts of the two cakes. Not that it was a big deal--I trimmed the excess anyway and got to eat the scraps--but just a best practice you can follow.
It doesn't seem like a lot of frosting, so I actually ended up adding in another knob of butter, but I think I actually ended up with too much. This cake isn't your standard cake + frosting assembly. The frosting actually acts as a simple glue to keep everything together, not as a big portion of the cake. So don't go overboard.
I love a recipe where you get to use a ruler. There's something about the exactitude in a ruler-based construction that gives me solace. Especially because I'm not the greatest at the "decorating" part of "cake decorating." I excel at the baking part, that much I know. But putting it all together and making it look pretty? I get nervous and perfectionist. But I do love seeing everything lined up, even, exact, prepped.
Putting everything together though is exciting, because it means you're that much closer to eating the full thing. Sure, I snack on scraps and lick the spatulae (who doesn't?), but your first bit of a completed project is what it's all about. Except if you're making brownies. Then it's all about the batter.
At every point in making a cake, there's a moment where I think "I did this all wrong. I should throw this away. This is going to be terrible" and this moment was the one for this recipe. My layers weren't even, I thought I had either too much or not enough frosting, my marzipan was not rolled out evenly, it was too thick, and everything was sticking everywhere. I'm not a fan of wasting ingredients though, and I am stupidly optimistic. Nothing is ever perfect, and while you can strive for perfection, you always need to keep perspective and say, "Let's see what happens."
So, in spite of everything I knew was going wrong with the cake, I said "Eh, we'll see what happens." Did I say I'm not great at decorating? Here's a tip for the rest of you who suffer in that arena: hide your mistakes! I couldn't roll the marzipan out thin enough to cover the cake without it tearing (possibly because I used 7 ounces instead of 8 ounces--since my grocery store only sold marzipan in 7 ounce tubes and I wasn't going to buy two of them).
It right here I realized I had left out the extra baking powder and salt that I should have added for using all-purpose instead of self-raising flour--it became obvious my square was more of a rectangle. But man, it looked pretty. Proportions notwithstanding, the checkerboard was there, the colors were there, the walnut decorations were on point, and my patchwork job was invisible underneath the cake.
The taste was fantastic. Obviously, if you're not a walnut or coffee fan, you're not going to like half of this cake. But as a devoted fan of both (and vanilla), it was great. I'm not even the biggest marzipan fan, but the sweetness of the marzipan was countered by the bitterness of the coffee, and just gave it a nutty almond flavor that played well off the nutty walnut flavor. The frosting added the right amount of moisture to cut through the cake, which is on the dry side, and it was fun to eat--like a black and white cookie where you get to eat the flavors individually or together. Plus, it's pretty gorgeous, and definitely impressive for such a simple batter.
Coffee + Walnut Battenberg
makes one ~4"x8" rectangular cake (serves 5-10)
100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) (7 tablespoons) BUTTER
100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) (1/2 cup) GRANULATED SUGAR
2 large EGGS
100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) FLOUR
1 3/4 teaspoons BAKING POWDER
1/4 teaspoon SALT
50 grams (1 3/4 ounces) GROUND ALMONDS
3 teaspoons MILK
1/4 teaspoon VANILLA EXTRACT
1 1/2 teaspoon INSTANT COFFEE
25 grams (1 ounce) CHOPPED WALNUTS
100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) (1 cup) POWDERED SUGAR
40 grams (1 1/2 ounces) (3 tablespoons) BUTTER
1/2 teaspoon INSTANT COFFEE
1 1/2 teaspoons MILK
225 grams (8 ounces) MARZIPAN
5 WHOLE WALNUT PIECES (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 325F
2. Prepare an 8" square pan by greasing the pan and cutting a piece of parchment paper about 2x as long as the pan (16"), then fold the parchment to create a divider in the middle of the pan, with overhang on either side to lift the cakes out of the pan when baked
3. Beat BUTTER, SUGAR, EGGS, FLOUR, BAKING POWDER, SALT, and GROUND ALMONDS for 2-3 minutes, until the batter is smooth, light in color, and glossy
4. Divide the mixture into two different bowls
5. Into one mixture, stir in VANILLA and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the MILK
6. In another small bowl or ramekin, dissolve INSTANT COFFEE in the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons of the MILK
7. Into the other mixture, stir in the now liquid coffee and fold in the CHOPPED WALNUTS
8. Transfer each of the two batters into the two sides of the pan
9. Bake 35-40 minutes, until toothpick in the center comes out clean
frosting and assembly:
1. Sift POWDERED SUGAR
2. Beat together sugar, BUTTER, INSTANT COFFEE, and MILK until smooth and fully combined
3. Take cooled cake out of pan and trim into four equal strips
4. Glue strips together in a checkerboard pattern with a very thin layer of frosting in between each strip of cake
5. Frost the top of the cake and set aside
6. Roll MARZIPAN out on a surface lightly dusted with powdered sugar in an oblong shape, large enough to wrap around the cake (mine had to be 8"x7", as it was 8" long and a little less than 2" on each side)
7. Lay the cake frosting side-down on the marzipan and frost all long sides (no need to frost the ends), make sure to keep a bit of the frosting for final assembly later
8. Fold the marzipan up and join the seam at the top with a little bit of water or frosting.
9. Place the cake seam-side-down on your serving platter, and finish with any or all of the following:
> crimp the edges of the long sides with thumb and forefinger
> score the top of the cake in a diagonal line or diamond pattern
> sift powdered sugar over the top
> place 5 WHOLE WALNUT PIECES on top of the cake, evenly spaced, and secure with leftover frosting
Series 1, episode 1. Cake week. So it begins.
To get into the mood of this challenge (which I've just realized will be one year and two weeks long, not including the currently-airing season -- what did I get myself into?), I started by re-watching series 1, episode 1 of The Great British Bake Off. Where it all began. The early days of the show are actually a lot like this cake: simple, unobtrusive, straightforward, easy, sweet, and... not really that interesting. At least on the surface, but there is definitely something special lurking underneath. Something that needs time to understand how amazing it is.
I had never heard of a Victoria Sandwich before the show, and when I learned what it was, I thought "So what? It's two butter cakes sandwiched with some jam? That sounds boring." When I started in on this project and found Mary Berry's original recipe, I also thought, "So what? Four ingredients, all the same quantities, and one bowl? That sounds awful." I thought it would be too buttery, or too sugary, or have a tough texture from over-mixing the flour.
I was wrong.
I woke up this morning, took a shower and popped a couple Advil (what? I was out late last night). Whipping out my kitchen scale and my mixer, and I loaded in the ingredients. Everything in one, big bowl.
When I see a bowl like that, I get nervous. In every baking book, on every baking show, you're advised to add things in one at a time, otherwise the flour will over-beat and leave you with a tough cake, or the fat won't emulsify and the mixture will curdle and separate. But, Mary Berry is Queen Baker, and I wasn't about to argue with her -- not on a technical challenge! So, I threw it all in one bowl, flipped the switch to mix, and trusted in the recipe.
I mixed on low, then medium, then high (because I'm dangerous like that), knowing I was looking for what Mary calls a "drooping" batter. As you can see in the picture above on the right, drooping it was not. It was much stiffer than I was expecting (that's what she said?). I tried to think of what that might do to the cake. Liquids evaporate when cooking, so maybe the thinner the batter, the lighter and fluffier and maybe more moist it is? Was my cake about to come out dense and dry? At this point, I didn't have time to turn to the Internet, so, again, I trusted in the recipe.
25 minutes later, it came out of the oven, golden brown with a springy texture, just as Mary Berry told me it would be. A quick cool and some assembly later, and I completed my very first technical challenge.
And because I'm baking at home, and not on a televised competition show (though, I would be more than happy to--call me?), I got to judge myself. And let me tell you: I had nothing to worry about with the weird ratios and too-easy-to-be-good instructions. It was , in a word, delicious.
First off, the cake was tender. That springiness test in the oven was no lie. The cake was on the drier side, but the raspberry jam counteracted that with perfect balance. The outside was crusty because of the high sugar ratio, and also accentuated by a sprinkling of granulated sugar--do not leave that out, and do not substitute powdered sugar. Regular old sugar is a deceptively simple, but perfectly appropriate topping for this cake.
To be fair, it wasn't perfect. Paul Hollywood most likely would have told me it was too dry, not even enough of a crumb, and a little over-salted. However, I would have given myself Star Baker for the week, absolutely.
Mary Berry's Perfect Victoria Sandwich
makes 1x8" round cake (2 layers)
4 LARGE EGGS
225 grams (8 ounces) (1 cup) GRANULATED SUGAR
225 grams (8 ounces) (1.75 cups) ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR
4.75 teaspoons BAKING POWDER
1 teaspoon SALT
225 grams (8 ounces) (1 cup) SOFTENED BUTTER
4-6 tablespoons RASPBERRY JAM
GRANULATED SUGAR, for sprinkling
1. Preheat oven to 350F, prepare two 8" cake pans with parchment paper and butter
2. Break the EGGS into a mixing bowl, add the SUGAR, FLOUR, BAKING POWDER, SALT, and BUTTER
3. Mix everything together until well combined. The finished mixture should be of a soft drooping consistency--it should fall of a spoon easily
4. Divide the mixture evenly between the pans and smooth the surface of the cakes
5. Bake in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes--and don't open the door
6. The cakes are done when they're golden-brown, springy to the touch, and coming away from the edge of the pans
7. Cool the cakes in their pans for 5 minutes, then run a knife along the inside edge and turn the cakes onto the cooling rack and let cool completely
1. Place one cake upside down onto a plate and spread it with 4-6 tablespoons of RASPBERRY JAM
2. Top with second cake, its prettiest side up, and sprinkle with GRANULATED SUGAR
A personal challenge to conquer every technical challenge, and select signature bakes, from The Great British Bake Off
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