This post is part of my personal challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the showstopper challenge for week eight (the final) of series two: petit fours.
You would be forgiven for not having even noticed that the Wimbledon Championships had started, what with everything else hogging the headlines at the moment. In any other year, Djokovic crashing out in the third round would be the upset of the summer and Andy Murray would probably have had a nervous breakdown from the pressure, given that this is possibly the first Championship game he’s gone into as a favourite. The scrutiny, however, is off him this year. He could probably play his next match naked and it would barely get a mention.
Around a year ago I made a strawberry meringue pie for a Mens’ Final viewing party; this year, I’m suggesting a very British platterful of petit fours to see out the final matches. I made the petit fours as part of my very, painfully slow progress through my Great British Bake-Off challenge. The brief for the finale of series two was to make petit fours – meringue, pastry, and cake – twelve of each, with the theme of the Great British Summer. Only I kind of messed up because I didn’t check my notes and thought one of the petit fours was biscuits, rather than pastry, but frankly I was so pleased with the outcome that I’m not going to quibble.
The British summer usually means three things: rain, blustery wind, and the bitter taste of disappointment in your mouth as you huddle in the sweaters you haven’t yet packed away for another year. Or! It can mean watching the Wimbledon Finals, drinking Pimms and eating strawberries, strolling down to the park and lying on the grass, visiting gaudy seaside towns and the ubiquitous 99 Flake ice cream. Those days are, in their rarity, all the more precious.
For the biscuit petit fours, I was inspired to make mini 99 Flakes, those soft-serve ice creams crowned with a Cadbury’s Flake chocolate bar. For the cone I used a pliable tuile recipe, draping them around pastry cone mounds when just baked and holding them in place until they hardened in a cone shape. This is work for those with robust hands. I find tuiles a somewhat difficult biscuit to master: I have never managed to make them truly thin and shatteringly crisp, and they tend to brown a little too quickly in my somewhat unreliable oven (everything goes a bit too dark around the edges in there). Still, once they were shaped and cream piped in through a star nozzle, and decorated with a sliver of chocolate to resemble the Flake, they tasted just great: buttery, tender-crisp biscuit, soft pillowy cream, bite of dark and bitter chocolate.
Strawberry and cream, cream and meringue: so classic as to be unoriginal, perhaps even dull, but there’s nothing half-hearted about people’s response this combination. I piped out nests of meringue and filled them with dollops of cream and slices of strawberry in the shape of butterfly’s wings; to give them that something extra, and emphasise their Britishness (or perhaps simply Englishness?), I filled the centres with a wibbly, electric jelly of Pimms and lemonade. I actually used the special strawberry and mint Pimms rather than the classic version. By adding the jelly, the meringue and cream also hearkened to the classic British child’s birthday party favourite of jelly with ice cream. (Fun fact: I was not allowed to eat jelly as a child and now, as an adult, don’t enjoy it very much, and certainly what enjoyment I have pales in comparison to that of my British friends, for whom jelly and cream is the taste of childhood).
But my absolute favourite part of the petit four platter was the cake – in the conception, the baking, and the eating thereof. I very much wanted to use my cake pop pan – partly to justify the fact that I even own such a thing – and immediately two things came to mind: one was Wimbledon and tennis balls, the other the classic British summer flavour of tangy rhubarb combined with soft, cool, vanilla-flecked custard. To capture both, I baked a custard-flavoured sponge in the cake pop tin, released the perfect little spheres, let them cool, and then doused them in a white chocolate ganache flavoured with rhubarb extract. I had dribbled a mixture of yellow and green food colouring into the ganache to capture the yellow of the tennis balls – you will need quite a bit to identifiably colour the ganache and it didn’t really come together for me until I added the green food colouring, drop by careful drop, swirling through carefully each time. I drew in the white seams with a white chocolate icing pen, bought commercially, which was about ten thousand times easier than trying to melt white chocolate and make a little paper icing cone. With the icing pen, I had a lot of control over the end product. I mean, I know the icing lines are squiggly, but it would have been so much worse with a DYI product.
Finally, to capture the look of the grass surface which tennis at Wimbledon is played on, I doused a handful of dessicated coconut in green food colouring until it was as green as the lawn and rested the tennis ball cakes on a bed of this.
I will not lie: this platter was quite time-consuming to make and is the kind of thing you might only do if you are hosting a Wimbledon-themed party, but the end results elicited gasps of admiration from my friends and, most importantly, all were delicious as well as super cute.
Rhubarb and custard tennis ball cake pops
Note: To make this recipe as written, you will need a cake pop tin. I used a metal one from NordicWare, but silicone versions are common and available quite cheaply if you don’t want to invest (which is totally the sane attitude to take; i just really don’t like silicone bakeware)
You will need to leave enough time for the ganache coating
- 100g plain flour
- 1.5 TBS custard powder (Nigella specifies Bird’s, but I used a generic version from Lidl and it was fine)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 2 eggs
- 115g butter, softened
- 100g caster sugar
- 2-3 TBS milk
- Preheat the oven to 180C. If using a metal cake pop tin, butter both sides of the mould. If using silicone moulds, please follow the instructions which came with the moulds – some require that the moulds be both greased and floured.
- Combine all the ingredients, apart from the milk, into a food processor and mix until a smooth batter forms. Add the milk a tablespoon at a time until it reaches dropping consistency (which is what it sounds like – put some of the mixture onto a wooden spoon and give it a shake; it should gently drop off).
- Divide the mixture into the moulds, filling the bottom half to the top, and clipping the top mould onto it. Bake for around 10 minutes, testing with a skewer to ensure it comes away clean.
- Let sit in the moulds for five minutes after removing from the oven, then unclip the mould and gently ease away the cake pops onto a wire rack. I found they came away fairly easily.
- Repeat with the remaining batter
- Let the cake pops cool completely before going on to decorate
For the rhubarb white chocolate ganache
- 400g white chocolate, broken into pieces
- 150ml double cream
- Rhubarb extract (optional) (I bought mine from Lakeland but it is now discontinued. You may find similar products online. If wished, you could use a teaspoon of vanilla extract instead)
- Yellow food colouring
- Green food colouring (optional)
- Heat the double cream in a saucepan until just simmering. Add the white chocolate and remove the pan from the heat. Stir or whisk the white chocolate until all of it has melted and it is completely smooth.
- If using the rhubarb extract, add a few drops, stir until thoroughly combined, tatse, and add a drop or two more if necessary. Repeat this step until the mixture has the strength of taste you prefer, making sure to mix thoroughly each time.
- Add the yellow food colouring to the white chocolate and stir to combine completely. I had to add quite a lot to colour the chocolate, and I could have added more, but decided to leave the yellow reasonably pale. If wished, carefully add a few drops of green food colouring – adding it drop by drop and mixing thoroughly between additions – in order to achieve the slightly greenish yellow shade of tennis balls.
To decorate and assemble
- Baked cake pops
- White chocolate icing pen or white icing pen (the one I used was called Cake Decor Choco Writers, and is available in Sainsbury’s, Lakeland and online)
- Dessicated coconut
- Green food colouring
- Set aside a large, flat platter. Dip the cooled cake pops into the coloured white chocolate ganache. You can either do this using two forks/spoons or by impaling the cake pops onto a skewer or lollipop stick and dipping it in. This bit is super messy.
- Once dipped, you may find the coating a little thin. If so, set the cake pop onto your platter and dip the other cake pops. Once the chocolate coating has set a little, dip them into the mixture a second time until opaque. If the chocolate mixture cools too rapidly and becomes too stiff, heat it up in a small pan until fluid, but let it cool a little before using. If the surface of the cake pops looks too textured, smoothen the ganache with the back of a teaspoon.
- When you set them back down, try and do so on the same ‘side’ of the pop (not that a sphere has sides), because the chocolate will flatten and pool a little there and create a little foot. This is fine – if it’s too large it can be broken off if needs be, and it’s a flat surface so the cake pops don’t roll, but creating these on too many sides will distort the spherical look of the cake pops.
- Let the chocolate coating harden completely on the cake pops. Once set, if there is quite a large pool or ‘foot’ of hardened white chocolate ganache around your cake pop, which protrudes from where it has dripped off, just break it off gently to retain the spherical shape, but don’t stress about it too much.
- Once set, using a white chocolate icing pen or standard icing pen to draw the seams onto the tennis balls. This is more or less a concave oval, squeezed in the middle, over the curve of the cake pops. I just did this freehand.
- Mix the dessicated coconut and green food colouring in a small bowl. If you are using liquid food colouring, it’s as simple as that. If, however, you are using a gel, I would advise dissolving the gel in a teaspoon or two of water so that there is enough liquid to douse all the dessicated coconut you are using.
- Arrange your green coconut onto a serving platter and place the tennis ball cake pops on top.
Strawberry and cream meringues with Pimms jelly
Note: For the jelly, I used a standard 12g bag of gelatine powder, which sets a pint of liquid. Almost every cookbook I have read with a recipe for jelly of any stripe recommends using gelatine leaves, and it’s common to read that gelatine powder is unreliable compared to the leaves. Honestly, I found the gelatine powder perfectly fine. Maybe the jelly didn’t have the perfect clarity and set of one made with gelatine leaves, but it’s just jelly. It was pretty neon from the Pimms so elegance had been thrown out of the window here.
The recipe below will yield more jelly than you need for the meringues alone.
For the Pimms jelly
- 330ml good-quality lemonade (I used a can of San Pellegrino because it was the smallest amount I could find, but you could use cloudy or other non0fizzy lemonade)
- 250ml Pimms (I used strawberry and mint Pimms)
- 1 (12g) sachet of gelatine powder (I used the Dr Oetker brand)
- Measure out 120ml of the lemonade and heat gently in a small pan until the edges just simmer but the centre is warm. Decant to a bowl or jug and sprinkle the gelatine into the hot liquid. Stir or whisk until thoroughly mixed. Let cool slightly but not to the point where it sets; just until hand-hot.
- Combine the remaining lemonade and Pimms.
- Combine the gelatine mixture and remaining liquid mixture. Pour into a plastic box with a lid (the shallower the box, the faster it will set) and cover. Refrigerate until set – ideally let it set overnight. The jelly will still be quite soft and wobbly rather than a very stiff set.
For the meringue
Proportions (but not exactly following the method) from Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat
- 2 egg whites
- 120g caster sugar
- Preheat the oven to 150C. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
- Using an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites until stiff, starting on a low speed and gradually increasing it. The peaks should retain their shape and keep pointing upwards when you remove the beaters.
- Gradually, with the mixer running, sprinkle in the sugar a bit at a time. The mixture will thicken and become satiny and become quite stiff. Be careful not to overbeat.
- You can shape the meringue nests by dolloping them onto the tray in circles with a metal spoon, or you can do as I did and pipe them. To pipe, fit a piping bag with a star nozzle. Fill the piping bag: some people like to do this by standing the piping bag in a glass/cocktail shaker, but I prefer folding the edges of the bag over to create a cuff, opening out the bag, and then holding it under the cuff. This is hard to explain, but this video illustrates it, more or less. Pipe out circles onto the baking tray, leaving some space between them. You can choose the size: mine were admittedly bigger than the classic petit four bite size, at around 7cm in diameter (they puffed up a little more during baking). If you want them to be absolutely identical, you can draw circles with a pencil onto the baking paper and then flip the paper over, tracing over the circles with the meringue.
- However you shape them, they should be in rough nest shapes, so ensure that the edges are a little higher than the centre by piping more meringue at the side or smoothing the meringue out from the centre with your spoon.
- If you have piped the meringue, it is likely that you will have a little ‘nipple’ of meringue where you lifted off the piping nozzle (see my photo of unbaked meringues, above). To flatten this, moisten a finger with a little water and pat it down. When flattening them, you can also smooth out the shape to a nest with your finger by pushing a little of the meringue mixture out from the centre onto the sides.
- For meringues around 7cm wide, bake for around 40 minutes, until the surface feels firm (but not dry). If they still feel sticky on the outside, give them an extra 5-10 minutes, and keep checking. Obviously if you have made quite large meringues, they will need longer baking, perhaps an hour or slightly more. Once ready, switch the oven off and keep the meringues in there until they have cooled completely. The residual heat of the oven will cook the meringues through without leaving them chalky-centred. They will still be a bit squidgy in the middle.
- 120ml double cream
- Icing sugar (optional – I don’t use it here)
- Jelly (see above)
- Piping bag fitted with star tip (optional)
- Carefully peel the meringue nests off the baking paper and move onto a plate or board. Slice the strawberries – you shouldn’t need much.
- Whip the double cream, ideally using a balloon whisk, until stiff. If you wish, you can sweeten it with a tablespoon or so of icing sugar, but between the sweet meringue, jelly and strawberry I prefer it unsweetened. Once stiff, fill a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle with the cream. If you don’t want to pipe it, by all means just spoon it on.
- Remove the jelly from the fridge and cut small cubes, about 1-2cm (depending on the size of your meringues). Cutting them might be a bit ambitious; it might be easier just to scoop the requisite size with a sharp-edged teaspoon. Anyway, you will need two to three jelly cubes per meringue, so the amount you cut will depend on how many meringues you shaped, which also depends on their size. I was aiming for 12 meringues and got about 18.
- Pipe the whipped cream into a dollop into the centre of the meringue. Ideally, they will have baked to have a slight hollow in the centre, which was smoothened out or flattened before baking (see instructions above on forming the nest shape). Add two to three jelly cubes in the centre, on top of or around the cream. Add two slices of strawberry on either side of the meringue, pushing them into the cream, so they look like butterfly wings (see top photo).
- Serve immediately. These do not like to hang around. Assemble only as many as you need and store the components separately if necessary.
99 Flake biscuits
Note: I used pastry cream moulds to drape the tuiles over and create the coned shape. I’m sure there are DIY ways to do this, for example by making cones from cardboard, but I think it would be quite difficult/fiddly and not as successful. You could always shape the tuiles into the classic rolled cigar shape around a lightly oiled wooden spoon handle if you don’t want to buy in cream horn moulds (very sensible).
In addition to the cream horn moulds, you will need an offset palette knife.
As I mentioned, I have not quite gotten the hang of tuiles. I include the recipe I used below simply because I am convinced this is a question of my skill level rather than the fault of any recipe.
- 115g butter, softened
- 140g icing sugar
- 3 egg whites
- 115g plain flour
- Line a large baking tray with baking paper.
- Beat the butter and icing sugar together until smooth. Whisk in the egg whites one at a time, until shiny.
- Sieve the flour into the mixture and fold it in gently. Chill in the fridge for twnety minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C.
- Take about 2 heaped teaspoons or a walnut’s worth of tuile dough and place onto the baking tray; spread into a circle shape using the offset palette knife. My circles were between 10-12cm in diameter. Shape no more than four at a time on the tray, leaving plenty of space between them.
- Bake for 4-5 minutes, until the edges start to brown. Remove the baking tray from the oven and, using a metal spatula, gently remove the biscuits from the baking powder.
- Carefully drape the tuiles over the cream horn moulds, wrapping them over the point and holding them together where they overlap so that they form a cone shape. You can also centre the point of the cream horn mould into the centre of the tuiles and bring the sides of the tuile up around the cone-shaped mould, overlapping the tuile to form a cone. Hold them in place for at least 30 seconds, until the tuile stays in the cone shape on its own.
- Leave them to cool here while you bake the next batch. After about ten minutes they should have solidified to the point where they will retain their shape on their own, and you can slip the biscuits off the moulds and on to a wire rack to cool completely, until crisp.
To assemble and decorate
- 125ml double cream
- A bar of dark chocolate
- Piping bag fitted with a star tip
- Whip the cream until stiff. Fill the piping bag with the whipped double cream. Pipe a rosette of cream into the centre of the tuile biscuit cones.
- Cut small strips/splinters of dark chocolate from the bar using a sharp knife and insert into the piped cream rosette to resemble a Flake.
- Serve immediately, as the cream will make these soggy if they hang around. Store the components separately if not serving all in one go.