Episode Five: (Biscuits &) Tray Bake

I (Henry) need to find a way of surviving the bake off. What started out as an innocent idea (baking every week) has turned into an obsession in my free time. I’m living to bake, rather than baking to live. It’s exactly the opposite of what Socrates was saying… anyway… in a real bid to survive, I am avoiding chocolate (well, mostly) in my recipes. Instead I’m opting for interesting recipes that involve actual fruits. The little steps I take to counterbalance the amount of sugar I’m ingesting will be worth it – or so I tell myself.

This week my challenge was tray bake. Pish-posh. How easy? Well, actually, yes. I wanted to challenge myself a little and so I decided to make two different tray-bakes. One would be easy, and the second would involve new methods and ingredients.  I’m all about the challenge, me: ]

The first: Strawberry and Macadamia Blondies


(To be honest, if you can’t follow this, you don’t deserve to be reading this post – so go away now)

The second: Lemon Cake with Coconut Crumble


(I chose this recipe because the picture looked so inviting, and to be honest, the photo doesn’t do justice to all the nice colours this dessert gives!)

I’m really going to comment on the Lemon Cake. You simply have to make this recipe at some point. It was my second bake of the evening, and I was very tired, so I probably could have been a bit quicker (and I made a wee mistake towards the end). I’m not a fan of coconut generally*, but it really complements the lemon here, and it’s not as chewy as I thought it was going to be. (*I’m also not a fan of coconut water; so don’t ever buy me any!).

The amount of sugar that went into this recipe is, to be honest, quite shocking. I’m never going to look at cake the same way again. This is a heavy mixture. There are a lot of ingredients, and two or three steps so the risk-factors are higher, and I wasn’t sure my little oven was going to be up for the task, as it tends to cut out at random. I was worried about the weight of the coconut crumble on top of the cake, and I was worried that the centre would be under baked/raw/ liquid. I was a fool to have doubted myself (or the BBC Website). I have to say that I was/ am really happy with the result. which when it emerges from the oven is really impressive. It’s a dessert with height and gravitas (well, as much as desserts can have) and it feels like effort went into it. My pieces were cut up small – and I really feel that you should only serve small pieces of this as it’s very filling (and also very full of sugar). However it will look really impressive cutting this dessert into pieces, as it’s still smoking from the heat of the oven. Those who don’t like coconut can shut up (or just scrape it off).

Um. Yeah. That’s pretty much my bake. The recipes were clear, and delivered what they were going to. I’ve never made brownies (well, blondies) or such a ‘big’ cake before, and if I can do it  – well, maybe there’s even hope for a less talented person (kidding, no, really, I really am kidding: there’s no hope!).

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Filo Pastry

It nearly broke me (Babs). No joke. I searched and searched for a recipe. Found one online, but only one… that’s crazy. Then I went onto youtube and at least I had some chance. Now I tried every book, then found a pastry book. No joke, the book suggested buying filo pastry. Every other type they gave you the recipe.

So I was nervous. And I didn’t own a rolling pin which didn’t help matters. Luckily I live with a man that owns a pasta maker. So I decided to make this recipe http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/7456/homemade-filo-pastry.aspx

and I followed these instructions http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGDgXiaFbE8

There was a slight issue that the recipe said cook for an hour and the recipe that I used for the filling (which used bought filo) said cook for 20 minutes. To be honest. I’m still traumatised by the whole process. But in the end it tasted lovely. It looked “rustic” (really un appetising) but it really tasted lovely.

One of my friends (who made filo pastry once when 10 years ago) said when I told her what I was making this week “you can do it Babs, but you’ll never do it again, believe me”.

She was right. So if you want to make filo, go buy it, feckit there are better things to do with your time! But the filling was chill, butternut squash, spinage and onion. So the crowd was happy.

Look pictures!


Episode Four – Pie (Mary Berry Apple Pie)

I (Henry) think pie is where it’s at. When people think about baking – they’re usually thinking about pie. Everybody has a sentimental attachment to pie. Though it’s not technically that difficult to make (well, it depends on the pie, of course; and no, mine wasn’t perfect) pie elicts a sentimental response from most people. We all have our favourites – and it’s usually whatever was served on your birthday when you were a child. (Sentimentality is also the same reason most of you eat meat – but anyway, that’s for a different blog post).

I wasn’t entirely sure what a ‘double crusted fruit pie’ was, but it turns out it’s a pie with crust on top and bottom – so I’m calling mine the top-bottom fruity pie.


After a quick search into a search engine I realised there was only one recipe for me: Mary Berry’s Double Crusted Apple Fruit Pie. Now, you may have guessed it, but apple pie was *that* pie for me: my sentimental childhood culinary comfort blanket. I was happy occasionally to dip into the world of rhubarb – and very infrequently into the word of mixed berries – but I was always much happier dipping out again on my merry way back to apple! Rhubarb and Berries were ‘Cry Me a River’ (Julie London version) played on solo clarinet, and apple pie was  C&C Music Factory ‘Everybody Dance Now’.

Cry Me a River:

Everybody Dance Now:

So the question I know you’re asking yourself is, well, Henry, what did yours turn out like?

Well – it was a bit of a hybrid; an anarchic remix by @OFTV


Firstly, I need to say that Mary’s recipe was a pleasure to follow. I couldn’t and wouldn’t fault it (well, I would if it genuinely had a fault). Instead I’m blaming the web editor who forgot to tell me exactly how big my baking dish should be. If you’ve read any of my other posts (and I’m guessing you haven’t), I’m a stickler for the details (and I have no life).


There’s no point in my talking you through the recipe, because Dame Mary does a better job – what I *will* advise you is to buy lots of apples, and (depending on the size of the dish you opt for) really pile the apples high (I forgot that apples decrease in size when baked) so that your pie looks really fulsome.  My pie looked a little flat and could have done with an implant. The taste was also a little tart – but it was nice that you could taste the fruit rather than just the sugar. I served it with pouring cream which took the tart edge away.

My pie also resembled a sunflower, because I didn’t understand what to ‘edge’ and ‘flute’ meant – so i simply ‘cut’ and ‘pinched’ – and then added a sunflower on top for decoration. I’m a bit down that I did this, because my pastry was really well done and I probably could have given the pie the finish it deserved. I also wish it had gone a little more brown on the top, but this was not the case either, so maybe it could have done with a sprinkle more of sugar to help.

Either way. I definitely recommend this recipe for first time apple tarts as the result was quite nice and there was ne’er a bottom of sogginess around.

“Everybody dance now….”


Episode 3: Desserts – The Showstopper

I (Aodh) am not going to relate half of my contribution to this week’s incitement-to-obesity since part of my practice involved throwing boiling passion fruit juice, cream and white chocolate into a pot, then running away from it because shut up that’s why and I know that anyone following this is here for the recipes and not the Monica’s-overthought-undermanaged-catering-for-Carol’s-lesbian-wedding-style cooking disasters and highly specific application of Friends references.

It was a sesame tuile with white chocolate and passion fruit ganache.

One of the tuiles looked like Ireland.

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The other petit four I made was chili chocolate cake with salted caramel buttercream; the idea was to take some savoury touches and make a dessert of them. For the cake, I used a recipe from Jane Spice Make Taste., which is is both a website name you can dance to and a website whose owner’s name is Jane Spice and who writes about cooking with spices (“Sure, if you name a kid that, what do you expect them to grow up to be? – Joey, The One With All The Jealousy)


I followed the recipe very closely but when it came to baking I split the mixture across two tins and baked it for 12 minutes, when the fork came away cleanly. The cakes had a browniesque texture to them; I was ploughing a new furrow with my baking of this cake so I’m mostly glad it wasn’t suppurating.

The buttercream sauce was a Nigella classic in so far as I ate some double cream directly from the carton while making it.


I followed the recipe closely again but had bought some mascarpone as an emergency thickener which I needed because I was down to the wire with this one too. I used it to sandwich and then dab (technical term!) on top.

Here is a picture (ignore the foreground,  it didn’t actually happen)

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They were the best thing I made so far – very measured in sweetness, the chocolate coming through gradually and the chili making itself known like a Chandler inflection at the end.

Two things I learned from this bake: I learned that the ‘r’ in ‘mascarpone’ comes between the ‘a’ and the ‘p’, not the ‘a’ and the ‘s’, which is almost as big as that time when I discovered the word was ‘itinerary’, not ‘itinery’; and always buy unsalted butter because salt is added to butter to mask the impurities.

I am sorry for the brevity of this post but I’m like a cartoon of tiredness that a coffee company would commission in a dystopian future where on one side there is the governmentally-supported coffee-pushers and on the other side there’s like these anti-coffee, pro-sleeping-more herbalists who are ineffective because they have trouble organising.

And tomorrow I get to do it all again!

Episode Three: Desserts: A trifling example…

Desserts: A trifling example of getting on with it

I (Henry) was a little disgruntled about making Trifle. I’ve never considered it a real dessert. I guess I must have repressed memories of being forced to eat it as a child; my small child senses knowing that custard, jelly and sponge were all individual elements and trifle was a really bad compound element of no use to anybody.

So. Yeah. I was a little indifferent. Like a good academic (and novice baker) the first thing I did was type ‘trifle’ into a search engine. The gaudy and ostentatious results confirmed what I feared – Trifle was the Liberace of desserts. After checking out a few recipes – none of which interested me – I decided I’d make my own version. Now this here, is one of the good things about trifle. It’s probably one of the easiest desserts to customize. You can include any ingredients you want, as long as there’s something spongy at the bottom, followed by something jelly-like, something custard-like, and something cream-like. I was tempted to make an Oreo trifle (amazeballs, I know), but finally decided to make something called an Anti Tifle. My concept was to get real ants – yes – no – not from my garden – from a shop, and have them dotted in a line across the top as if the trifle was infested or left out on a kitchen sill. At first I was excited. My colleague (a chef, and cookbook editor) told me ants taste like lemon. Question solved. I’d make a lemoncello trifle. However, the only ants I could find, the package told me, tasted like crispy bacon. So. Yeah. I threw that idea out the window faster than a burning crème caramel.

Instead I decided to just shut up and do what lazy housewives have been doing for generations. I’d make a wham-bam-thank-you-mam traditional pile of slush.

And how did I do it? I got jam jars, and I put sponge in, I splashed it with Cherry booze, I gelatinized berries, and I threw them in, I threw some custard in, and I whipped cream (with red colouring) and I threw that in, I manically blended almonds and I threw them on top, and then I decided to infest them with some sugar mice. And hey presto…hey trifle…

No. I didn’t bake a sponge base, and no I didn’t make my own custard – and you know why? Because most of the recipes I found (including ones by Paul Hollywood himself, endorsed by the BBC!) just said go buy some. So that’s what I did.

And you know what, dear, dear reader? It tasted pretty good. I still don’t consider it a real dessert though.

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Floating Islands; or the dessert the French got wrong

The second I (Babs) realised how complicated this recipe was I knew I was doing the technical  challenge. I’ve only eaten floating islands once in my life and I remembered not liking them very much, so I may be slightly (and by that I mean that I am completely) biased against them. My main issue is poaching meringue, it remains quite eggy. In a way that  baked or swiss or italian are not. I tried a recipe I found on BBC Food


by Michel Roux Jr. knowing that if there’s going to be a good, and trustworthy recipe this would be it. Like I said, poaching meringue simply isn’t for me, so for our Tuesday night feast, I decided to make my own version.

I remain shocked that the meringue floated. You could have bowled me over with some spun sugar!

I made Lemon and Basil Creme Anglaise (which I’ve renamed Creme Irlandes) with Italian Meringue.

Ingredients Creme Irlandes

6 egg yolks

1 lemon

120g sugar

1 pt whole milk

3 sprigs of basil

1. Mix the egg yolks, sugar and the juice of the lemon in a bowl.

2. Put the basil (washed) in the milk.

3. Heat the milk and basil to simmering, for 4-5 minutes.

4. Pour the milk mixture slowly into the egg mixture making sure to whisk the whole time. Then put back into the saucepan. Keep it over a medium heat and keep stirring. In about 6-7 minutes it will become thicker and coat the back of the spoon. I think it took a little longer than Creme Anglaise because of the lemon, but it may have been my dodgy oven. The most important thing is that you keep an eye on the mixture and keep stirring.

5. Strain the creme Irlandes, throwing away the basil and leave it to cool. I found it thickened even more as it cooled.

Ingredients Italian Meringue

6 egg whites

340g (12oz) Sugar

1 cup water or enough to cover the sugar in a saucepan

tsp lemon juice

You need a sugar thermometer for this recipe. Ours went missing, I spent ages looking for it, luckily thanks to QI I knew if I started repeating the word, I’d have an easier time finding it. It worked!

You will also need an electric whisk, a mixer or incredibly strong arms and lots of stamina. I strongly advise the mixer, I don’t own one but it takes over 10 minutes of whisking with the electric whisk and it would be handy to just leave the mixer at it.

1. Put sugar in a saucepan with enough water to cover.

2. Bring the sugar mixture to the boil to 245F. Keep an eye on this mix but you can get on with the egg whites as it will take a few minutes for it to reach 245F.

3. Whip the egg whites to soft peaks, do this on a low setting, it helps to loosen the protein strands apparently.

3. When sugar (it’s now syrup) has reached 245F, (or 240F if you’re impatient but certainly don’t go over) add the syrup very slowly to the egg whites whisking the whole time. The hot syrup cooks the egg whites and you should keep mixing until the mixture/bowl is cooled completely.

To serve you put the Creme Irlandes into a bowl, top with the meringue. You can (and probably should) do spun sugar but I figured the caramel was now in the meringue rather than on top.



I (Babs) have a sweet tooth (the least shocking revelation ever) and last night I felt like something sweet. Now I could have popped along to the shop like a normal person but I’m in the middle of a baking revolution! Given that I’ve spent the last day or two comparing various floating island recipes, I wanted some caramel. Not just caramel. I wanted butterscotch. And I had all 3 ingredients sugar, water, butter. Well nearly all 3 ingredients. The recipe called for demerara sugar, I had dark brown sugar. Dark brown sugar that I never use. It also asks for unsalted butter and I only had salted but we all know salted caramel is great, so that couldn’t be too bad.

Naturally I took the unknown step into butterscotch making.

It’s ridiculously easy. Though you do need a sugar thermometer, don’t know who owns it, but there was one in my flat.

150ml (1/4 pint) water

450g (1lb) demerara sugar

50g (2oz) unsalted butter

Put the water and sugar on a low heat so it melts together.

Sugar Water begins to boil

Boil it till it reaches 270F (132C)

Really Boil It!

As it’s boiling you can take a pastry brush and brush water round the edges of the pot.

While you’re waiting for for this, time to grease whatever tin you’re using. A tin. Greased.

I was paranoid that that my spring form tin would seep butterscotch so I greased a baking sheet underneath, just in case.

Look at it there, all paranoid.

Look at it there, all paranoid.

Add the butter a little at a time making sure it’s melting (yeah I know, it’s going into boiling caramel, obviously it melts very quickly).

Pour into beloved greased tin.


The bits at the side are the most important. They were the result of scraping the remainder from the pot onto the available paper, and it cooled more quickly so I got to eat it sooner. Also I got to eat it while it was warm and still a bit soft. It was soooooo yummy.

As I chewed on caramel my super athletic flatmate enjoyed a protein shake. I took a picture that highlights the difference of our evening. And medically speaking may provide supporting documentation for why only one of us will have diabetes in later years.

So different and yet living in harmony

So different and yet living in harmony

The recipe said cut when slightly solid but not solid. I ignored this and beat the bejaysus out of it with a wooden spoon when it was hard.

Very satisfying!

It did the job, even if it did taste a bit like butterscotch that’s been smoking 40 a day for a few years (or I just made  Treacle Toffee, or something that tastes exactly like it). I was thinking of blending the remainder to have toffee-smokey-dust for a future dessert. But I’m sitting here gnawing on it while blogging instead.