For the uninitiated 12 amateur bakers, chosen from countrywide heats (that I didn't know were going on - hrrumph!!), compete to win the title of um, Great British Baker Off -er I suppose, under the beady judgemental eyes of Mary Berry (she of numerous cookery books) and master baker Paul Hollywood, renowned in this neck of the woods for his artisan bread, (having tasted his bread I would attest to it's tastiness, goodness and shape). Each week has a theme and each contestant makes three dishes, one of which has to be the required element which will be Mary Berry or Paul Hollywood recipe. For the required element contestants are all given the same recipe which they have to follow although they are allowed a certain amount of interpretation as there are missing elements from the recipe. The required element is judged blind so that the contestants personalities cannot be a factor. This can at times be very telling. The judges eliminate one person each week.
This year I have decided I am going to make one recipe from each show and feature it here (you lucky people). Not all the recipes are on the website so I will be a bit limited but no doubt will find something that takes my fancy.
The first episode was cake - my favourite. There were so many cakes. Big cakes, little cakes, tiered cakes, cup cakes. Chocolate marble cake, chocolate and raspberry opera cake, cherry bakewell cupcakes, raspberry and cream cupcakes, chocolate and orange cupcakes to name but a few. So which cake did I choose to make? Why, the required element of course. The required element being a Battenberg. I actually chose to make a cake which must be symmetrical. I may have mentioned, once or twice, that I seem to have a slight lack spatial awareness? Well, it's actually much worse than that.
Throughout my life there have been glaring examples of my inability to judge distances, misread tape measures together with my lack of dexterity in those mind game paper puzzle things where you have to move pieces around into the right shaped holes without first cutting them up. I took life art classes and my work was held up as an example of bad perspective. One of my housemates at uni was adept at throwing things into a pan and ending up with one person sized portions. I have tried and tried but if I throw things anywhere without following a recipe the smallest amount I seem to be able to cook would feed a family of four, for a week. I can't tell you the panic I feel when someone says to me 'it's just 200 yards up the road' - I don't know what 200 yards looks like and no explanations will get my brain to register it. One sad day earlier in the year found me in Marks and Spencer with a tape measure actually measuring slices of bread because Delia said the bread for her Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding had to be 1/4 of an inch thick and I just couldn't work out what that looked like - thick, medium, thin - which was it. In my defence I would mention that I just happened to have the tape measure in my bag anyway, although I can't remember why and I was having a particularly bad day - but even so!!
I have a brother who has no concept of time whatsoever and he doesn't seem to realise this. In the same way I have no concept of space. However, unlike my brother, I recognise this trait in myself. I believe I have spatial dyslexia. But for some strange reason I just seem to forget I have this problem.
Which can be the only reason why, having just seen 12 contestants using tape measures and rulers to get their cakes and marzipan into the required shape for this cake, my decision to make it too didn't ring any alarm bells in my head.
And it started off so well......................
I should perhaps mention at this point that Mary Berry's recipe was for Coffee and Walnut Battenberg. I have an allergy to coffee and so I chose to make the traditional pink and yellow version and used Lorraine Pascale's recipe from Baking Made Easy.
I put the correct quantities and the correct ingredients in - always a good idea
and mixed it quite well, if I can say so myself
then instead of gently warming the jam I forgot about it and it burnt
burnt jam - throw away and start again
burnt jam - throw away and start again
The recipe said to divide the mixture into two and colour each with food colouring. One with yellow and one with pink. Only put one drop in or you will get psychedelic cake (which I thought quite a nice idea)
I had to put this much in to get even a faint yellow hue to the mixture. The same thing happened with the pink half - many, many drops
and in they go
and out they come
(yellow left , pink right)
(yellow left , pink right)
why are they two different sizes when the tins are the same size?
and this is where I suddenly remembered my paticular issue with spatial directions.
I can't tell you how long it took me to work out that 'with the longest side facing you, cut the sponges in half horizontally' meant
do it like this....
Then I had to use the apricot jam (second batch) (this was coffee buttercream in the actual challenge) to stick the pieces together so that I got the traditional symmetrical square which is similar to this... and yes this is what they looked like after I had trimmed them to make them the right size and fit!!
I did better with the marzipan which, although not the retangle it should be, was the right size in the middle. I know because I measured it.
So why didn't it fit??
and why didn't the apricot jam stick it together? I used more than the recipe said as well.
Well, here it is. The finished article.
It was longer than this but I kept trimming it trying to get it straight.
Here's a tip. If you put an extra bit of marzipan on the bottom (to cover the space where it didn't meet) and up the edge of the outside with the intention of smoothing it in so that the join can't be seen - don't. It doesn't work. It doesn't smooth. It crumbles.
And from this angle you can't see the joins (so much). A little wonky perhaps but a Battenberg nonetheless
The cake was meant to be a present for LH who said Battenberg was one of her favourite cakes (I actually don't like it very much). I do a lot of voluntary work at the moment and LH helps run the office at Seeds for Africa where I help out once a week. She has just finished radiotherapy for breast cancer and so I wanted to do something nice for her. When I gave the said Battenberg to LH with profuse apologies for it's appearance she said 'you don't want home baked cakes to look like they have come from a shop do you'. I just laughed and thanked her for her kindness.
I then bumped into Mrs Pao in town yesterday and over tea and cake showed her a photo of the Battenberg. She said she actually liked it all the more because it wasn't symmetrical. Again I laughed and thanked her for her kindness but when I got home I thought about both the above comments.
I do try really, really hard to make my cooking look like the recipe. I want to make perfect looking cakes, pies, cookies and meals but actually my cooking is no less lovely because of the way it looks. It generally tastes nice. And I get so much pleasure from the process of cooking, the giving and the comments I get about the taste. My cooking makes people smile. But because it doesn't look like it 'should' I always feel I can't make any sort of living from this occupation I so love doing. I can't possibly ask money for anything I make because it looks 'wrong'.
As a society we are so totally obsessed with looks in almost every aspect of our life and it brings so many problems to so many people who desire to measure up to 'societies' view of how things 'should be'. So, in the interests of optimism (which has been sadly lacking in my life lately) I am going to embrace my abilities to turn any recipe into a travesty/caricature of its popular image.
I shall see this as a career opportunity. I could start a bakery and call it Baking with Character or Quirky Cakes or Smiley Bun Time. I shall fly the flag for all of us who are made to feel inadequate by the Mary Berrys of this world. I shall strike a blow for all of us who are less than 'societies' perceived view of perfection. Wonky is good. Perfection is not necessary. Homely and comforting is the new Prozac. I will win the Noble Peace prize for reducing the stress levels of millions of ordinary cooks. I can write a book about how I got in touch with the hearts of so many people and brought harmony back into their lives. My television show will be networked to thousands of countries. My quirky cookery books will outsell Mary Berry, Delia, Lorraine, Rachel, James and Jamie. Ooooh, ooooh they will make a film about me!!! Meryl Streep will play me - have to go and adapt my oscar acceptance speech right now!
Now I wonder how I go about starting my new career?....................