Baking challenge: you need to make these iced fingers right now

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 technical challenge for week seven (patisserie week) of series two: iced fingers.

Iced fingers - nulging with cream!
Iced fingers – bulging with cream!

As food personalities go, Paul Hollywood arouses some controversy. There are those who see him as a silver fox and melt in the intensity of his steely blue-eyed stare. His sometimes harsh criticism of the contestants’ bakes just fans the flames of their passion as they consider the challenge of pleasing him. Rightly, they point out that his praise is even more precious given how critical he can be, especially since he tends to judge contestants according to professional standards (even though it’s meant to be an amateur baking competition). Even in the ill-starred US version, The American Baking Competition, which was more or less a farcical parody of everything that makes the Great British Bake-Off, well, great (read into that what you will), the women contestants were going gooey over Paul. To others, Hollywood is a rude, callous, even bullying, blowhard who shot out of nowhere (it was a particular complaint with the first series) and sticks his fingers into people’s bakes for no real reason and likes to contradict Saint Mary of Berry just because. (If you’re in the latter camp, you should definitely listen to his Desert Island Discs interview, which shows a very different side to the picky judge of the competition).

But however you feel about Paul Hollywood, you definitely, definitely have to make his iced finger recipe, which he set as a technical challenge in series two of GBBO. Because they are absolutely nothing short of miraculously delicious.

Yum! I wouldn’t push this fella out of bed.

I grew up in Singapore, and a particular feature of ice cream stalls was the selling of ice cream sandwiches: not scoops of ice cream nestled between two crunchy biscuits, which is usually how ice cream sandwiches are presented, but placed between a pastel rainbow-coloured slice of soft, almost crustless, bread. The idea of eating this never appealed to me and to be honest I was similarly put off by the concept of an iced finger. Cream and jam on a scone: yes. Between soft, slightly sweet enriched bread drizzled with water icing? I wasn’t sure. I was wrong.

The firm, yet pillowy bread contrasts beautifully with the softness of the cream and the jam cuts through the plainness of both. The icing adds a touch of additional sweetness to the bread which harmonises the whole thing and turns it into a teatime treat rather than a bread. You need to make this – it was hearty and substantial yet sweet and light: perfect. Given the time of year, could there be a better time to indulge than Christmas morning? Helpfully, no crazy or expensive ingredients or niche bakeware is required.

Call me if you make them. I’ll come over.

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Baking challenge: who ate all the miniature pork pies?

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 technical challenge for week five (pastry week) of series two: make six miniature pork pies with a perfectly cooked (of course!) quail egg in the centre.

Pork pies – who doesn’t love them? They are an essential part of British food culture, an indigenous tradition – and, much like the mince pie, not one I have taken to. Dense pastry and pork do not set this non-Brit’s heart alight, and the combination of eggs and meat is one I have serious difficulties with. I grew up in Singapore and scarcely ate any Chinese or Malay food when I lived there, and I’ve realised that the ubiquitous addition of eggs to meat stews and laksas had much to do with eat.

A tower of pies
A tower of pies

But to my British boyfriend and a dear friend these pies were truly delightful, with their fresh, meaty filling, the touch of bacon giving it depth of flavour, and the parsley a hint of freshness. For my boyfriend, the egg in the middle which was my personal nemesis was his favourite part – he described it as a ‘lovely surprise’ when he ate the first pie (as he wasn’t aware they were in there) and as something to look forward to. So there we go. It takes all sorts, really.

I actually ended up repeating this recipe (both batches eaten gratefully by the boyfriend and friend), and so below can go into some extra tips I picked up along the way.

Could have been more golden.
Could have been more golden.

A warning of sorts to those who may wish to try out this Paul Hollywood recipe for themselves: quail’s eggs are the very devil to peel. In the how-to video Mary recommends peeling the eggs as soon as they are cool, but even so I found it quite difficult.

This recipe is made not with shortcrust pastry, but the more traditional hot water crust pastry, which starts off life sticky but becomes dry and brittle relatively quickly. Work fast. I covered it in a damp tea towel in between rolling and stamping out the pie cases and tops to ensure it didn’t dry out. Don’t rest it as you would a shortcrust pastry. Lard – used in the pastry – smells disgusting, especially when melted, so be prepared. A food processor makes it easier to chop up all the pie filling, though be gentle – you don’t want to end up with a smooth, homogenous paste. Finally, I found using jumbo muffin tins about a thousand times easier to make the pies in than a standard-sized muffin tin.

Finally, reader – I did not make the gelatine. This was principally because the promised hollow or gap within the pie never materialised. My pies were crammed full of meat and egg and the filling didn’t shrink. It did bubble juicily out of the pastry, however, where it baked on sticky and black and actually looked quite appetising, I thought.

At risk of rambling I feel that I must add that although these are called ‘small pork pies’ they are by no means ‘mini’ – they’re small only relative to one of those huge full-size pork pies.

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Baking challenge: Technically, focaccia

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 technical challenge for week three (bread week) of series two: make Paul Hollywood’s focaccia.

I always like it when one of the bakes I do for this slightly crazy challenge is savoury. I do have a strong sweet tooth but sometimes it’s nice to be able to bring one of my baked goods in to lunch for work or have it as a non-sugary snack.

Paul Hollywood's focaccia
Paul Hollywood’s focaccia

So, Paul Hollywood’s focaccia, one of the technical challenges in series two. What I primarily remember about this challenge is that the dough was very wet and some of the contestants struggled with its liquid nature and added more flour. The trick, as Paul H articulated in the episode itself, is to add the water gradually, so that the flour slowly absorbs it, rather than all it once – when it just becomes gloopy, sloshy paste. The recipe does specify some turning and folding and honestly, the dough was so liquid that it was very difficult to follow through as it just all flowed back into one. I went through the motions of the actions required, however, and miraculously the dough did over time develop a structure and got a bit more body. It was certainly never as solid as the more conventional bread doughs which can be kneaded and pummeled, though, so don’t expect that.

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Baking challenge: Flavoured free-form loaf

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 three of series two: make a free-form (i.e. hand-shaped, not baked in a tin), flavoured loaf.

“I’ve lost my baking mojo,” I said to my boyfriend.

“What about that baking challenge? Are you still doing that?”

“I put it on hold while writing my dissertation.”

“Well, obviously. You should pick it up again. Mm, cake.”

Paul Hollywood's fruit loaf
Paul Hollywood’s fruit loaf – clockwise from left: finished product sliced; baked; being iced; one iced loaf; two iced loaves

So, that skit above is my hello-world! return to proper cooking, baking and food blogging. Since the start of the year I suddenly found it basically impossible to keep up with my commitments, namely juggling work, and my history MA, and seeing friends, and baking. I had to knuckle down to research and write my dissertation and cut out almost all social events with friends. However, I have now submitted and it feels like I am walking into the light from out of a slightly isolated, though book-lined, cave. I was still feeling the after-effects of having handed in the dissertation – slightly exhausted and a bit at a loose end – when my boyfriend reminded me that I should really, really pick up on the baking challenge. The fifth series of the Great British Bake-Off has finished and I am still baking from the second series. I must plough on.

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Baking challenge: Paul Hollywood’s cob loaf

I was excited to notice this week that the very first series of the Great British Bake-Off is being rerun by the BBC! This is great news for me – I get to watch it again and remind myself of the details of some of the challenges, since I am relying on Wikipedia’s summary of the baking challenges for the first and second series (I started writing them down in fairly significant detail during the third series). Watching it, I was also somewhat touched and amused by the slightly clumsy sweetness of the show. Being new, it was still finding its feet, and the challenges were slightly more gentle than in later series (particularly the third). It was also a bit more random in the introduction of the bakers: they were just introduced as ‘Britain’s best’ with no real idea of the process behind selecting them. Some of them were really simply habitual home bakers rather than champing-at-the-bit semi-professionals.

Re-watching I also noticed a few different things, namely that Paul Hollywood certainly did some to have favourites from the get-go (he was jokey with Edd and almost flirtatious with Ruth), and that Miranda was never going to win since from day one it was clear Paul wasn’t a fan of over baking style (but why! Brownie meringue cake with amazing raspberry icing – do not understand what’s not to love!). Paul’s alleged favouritism is often discussed in reviews and message boards about the show and while I acknowledge that there’s an editing process, it certainly does appear that he likes some people a lot and then backs them all the way – slightly (though in fairness not dramatically) disproportionately. I was also reminded of how great a baker Edd was from the get-go, really impressive and accomplished though in an understated way at first.

The technical challenge for bread week in series one was Paul Hollywood’s cob loaf. The recipe called for dry yeast, which I haven’t used in ages. While I don’t think the crumb of the loaf had the deliciousness and complexity compared to when made with fresh yeast, the flour rubbed into the crust, which caramelised in the heat of the oven, was fantastic. It made the bread truly addictive. Also, I appreciated the tenderness of the crust; much as I enjoy the crispy, crackly crust of a sourdough, which breaks into gum-splintering shards, it can make for difficult eating, especially the next day! And also, this loaf was beautiful to look at as well. Truly, Paul has knocked it out of the park for me with this recipe, even if his judging occasionally causes me to raise an eyebrow…I can’t wait to rewatch bread week so I can find out if my effort matched the ideal!

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Baking challenge: Scones a la Paul Hollywood

I made Paul Hollywood’s scones for tea-time, and I made them for the Great British Bake-Off series one, episode two technical bake. The chief thing I remember about this episode is Paul’s pride and absolute confidence in his scone recipe, which he’d baked for the Queen. Also, it’s notable, again, how simple the challenges were in the first series: scones are definitely something a competent home baker should know how to make.

My usual go-to scone recipe is Darina Allen’s, which are soft, fluffy and barely sweet. Darina Allen’s recipe makes a never-ending supply of scones which taste pretty good the next day. Paul’s recipe was simple, despite his calling for a  ‘chaffing’ technique (pretty easy but effective), the scones themselves were pleasantly sweet and they were fluffy and rose high. Sumptuous out of the oven, they were much better fresh than the next day and dried out fairly quickly, so make sure to cover them in an airtight container. A keeper. I suspect that the key to the lovely texture of Paul’s scones is the technique – the chaffing and the relaxing of the dough – so if you have a recipe whose flavour you love I’m sure you could incorporate the method used for Paul’s scones.

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