When the Great British Bake-Off was on the BBC last year, I really enjoyed watching the contestants progress through the rounds, seeing what they would come up with for the various different challenges, and seeing how they all interpreted the 'technical challenge' recipes set by Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. I can't say I've baked many of either Mary or Paul's recipes, not owning any books by them. Quite a few of the recipes from the first series are available here, on the BBC Food website. The new series starts on Tuesday 16th August, 8-9pm, BBC2. There will be 11 episodes and I'm looking forward to it!
I'm sure you can probably guess where this is leading... I was recently contacted by someone from Random House, the publishers who are behind the book that accompanies the new series of the Great British Bake Off to see if I would like to review the book. Now I didn't immediately jump at this offer, because I wasn't sure if the book would contain anything new or indeed, anything I wanted to bake, but after a delay and some umming and ahhing I decided to accept their offer. A book speedily arrived.
Disclaimer: Clearly, this is a publicity exercise for the book, and I received my copy free of charge. However, I have not been paid to write this review, and the opinions contained are my own - good or bad.
The book is laid out in chapters, presumably according to the order of the challenges that the participants will undertake in the TV series; Cakes, Biscuits and Teatime Treats, Bread, Pies and Savoury pastry, Tarts and Sweet Pastry, Patisserie, Puddings and Desserts and finally, Celebration Cakes. The recipes are predominantly by Linda Collister, with some of the technical challenge recipes (7 in total) by Mary Berry or Paul Hollywood, with some 'Best of the Bake Off' recipes in each chapter which are the contestant's own. I really like Linda Collister's baking, from another book that I already own by her, which swayed me to accepting this offer. And although initially dubious I'm glad I did.
The book is well laid out, and beautifully photographed and although some of the recipes don't have corresponding photos there are some very indepth step by step recipe photographs, for the 'How to Make the Perfect....' (one of these in most chapters) and the technical challenge recipes, which is a good idea. I appreciate photos of what I'm aiming for, being more of the inspired by photos than intimidated by them school of thought.
As I went through the book I was glad I'd accepted the offer because there are quite a few recipes that I wanted to bake straightaway, and more that I would like to bake when I have more time or want to challenge myself with something new (pastry and patisserie chapters, I'm thinking of you!). Some of the particularly delicious sounding recipes (well, to my mind anyway) are Rhubarb and Custard Cupcakes, Brandy Snaps, Sticky Maple-Apple Traybake, Monkey Bread, Stilton, Potato and Caramelised Onion Pie, Chocolate, Fennel and Ginger tarts and Chocolate Fudge Hot-Pot Pudding but there are many more calling out my name. I have lots of baking books but I really could spend a long time just baking from this one!
So what did I decide to make to start? I chose Stem Ginger Shortbread, Sticky Orange Marmalade Cake, and Chocolate Velvet Cup Cakes with Chocolate Fudge Frosting.
The stem ginger shortbread was lovely and easy to make, and eat. Perhaps not as crumbly as some I have made before, not my best, but a lovely basic recipe all the same. The sticky orange marmalade cake was lovely - again easy to make (are you seeing a theme emerging here!) but it looked really lovely and showed off my lovely homemade orange marmalade off to good effect. The only slight problem I had with it was that it sunk slightly when it cooled and had overbrowned slightly in the oven. I removed the very top layer of over-browning because the marmalade glaze on the cake and the icing would hide the top of the cake, but I found myself berating myself for not managing to make it perfectly and imagining what Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood would have said had my cake been up for judging. I'm sure that the dip in the middle wouldn't have gone down well, but I think they would have been pleased with the final taste and texture!
My favourite was the chocolate velvet cup cakes with chocolate fudge frosting. These can be found right at the back of the book, in the celebration cakes chapter, and it would be a shame to miss them, because they're delicious!
Chocolate Velvet Cup Cakes with Chocolate Fudge Frosting (reproduced with permission)
175ml semi-skimmed or full-fat milk (I used semi-skimmed aka 2%)
100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
125g caster sugar
60g unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large free-range egg, at room temperature, beaten
150g self raising flour, sifted
- Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Pour the milk into a small, heavy-based pan (preferably non-stick). Chop the chocolate and add to the milk with one-third of the sugar. Set over the lowest possible heat and leave until melted and smooth, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat. If necessary, give the liquid a quick whisk to amalgamate, then set aside until needed.
- Put the butter into a mixing bowl and beat until creamy with a wooden spoon or an electric mixer. Add the rest of the sugar and the vanilla and beat thoroughly for about 4 minutes or until the mixture is very light and fluffy.
- Gradually add the egg, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl from time to time. Using a large metal spoon fold in the flour in 3 batches alternatley with the chocolate liquid. When completely amalgamated spoon the mixture into the paper casess so they are evenly filled.
- Bake for 15-18 minutes or until the cakes are well risen and spring back when gently pressed with a finger. Remove the tray from the oven and leave to cool for about 2 minutes, then transfer the cup cakes to a wire rack and leave to cool completely before icing.
Chocolate fudge frosting
Enough for 12 cupcakes
100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped or broken up
1 rounded tablespoon golden syrup
50g unsalted butter
- Put the chocolate, golden syrup and butter into a heatproof bowl. Set over a pan of steaming hot but not boiling water (don't let the base of the bowl touch the water) and melt gently, stirring frequently. As soon as the mixture is smooth remove the bowl from the pan and cool, stirring frequently.
- When very thick and on the point of setting, swirl the frosting on top of the cup cakes using a round-bladed knife. Quickly add any decorations and leave to set.
- My chocolate mixture did look a bit grainy, but it seemed to work ok.
- I inadvertently added half of the sugar to the milk mixture (why can't I divide 125g by three and get 40g not 60g???) but just put the rest in with the butter and it was fine!
- They actually took 15 minutes to bake!!! Yay, I usually find my cakes need longer than stated!
- Don't worry that the batter is very runny. I sort of spoon/poured it into the cases feeling very dubious indeed with visions of flat pancakes coming out of the oven only to be greeted by the beauties in the pic below!
I love this chocolate fudge frosting! It was beautifully bitter (I used Green and Black's 72% cooking chocolate) to offset the smooth sweetness of the cakes.
- Don't be greedy like me, and increase the quantities by 50%, you'll have far too much to fit on the cakes!
- The frosting took about 2 hours at ambient temperature (about 20C here) to reach almost-setting point, and until then was pretty much liquid. Have faith, and patience and you'll be rewarded!
These were utterly delicious. The cake was soft and smooth, moist and sweet and was offset really well by the slightly bitter chocolate frosting. I think this will be my go-to recipe for chocolate cupcakes from now, with the added advantage of needing less butter and eggs than a standard recipe and tasting fabulous! I'll also try and remember to make the frosting too, I much, much prefer it to chocolate buttercream which I tend to find too sickly sweet.
And if you've managed to get all the way to the end of that.... I have been offered two copies of the book to give away to my readers, but because it's a heavy book I'm sorry that this is only open to UK readers. Apologies to all my international visitors. To have a chance to win a copy of this book;1. Become a follower of Cake, Crumbs and Cooking, if you aren't already.
2. Leave me a comment and let me know what your baking nemesis is - does pastry make you pale? do your scones leave people speechless? and what is your absolute favourite thing to bake?
This will close at midnight on the 20th August and I'll pick the winners by random number generator. I'll then contact you by email so if your email isn't obvious on your blog/website, please leave it in your comment :-)