Sunday 9 September 2012

The Great British Bake Off, Flapjacks, a Plaited Loaf and a Review

I was recently contacted and asked whether I would like to receive a copy of the Great British Bake Off book to review. Not being one to say no to the offer of a lovely free new book, and being a book which is perfectly in-keeping with the theme of my blog I jumped at the chance. Shortly after, a thump was heard on the doormat and the book was in my possession. Actually, that's a bit of artistic license... what really happened was that I heard the postman trying his very best to shove the book unceremoniously through the letterbox and went and quickly opened the door to relieve him of it before my letterbox was broken. Anyhow, I have my copy which is the important part.

 Ginger flapjacks

I've been enjoying watching the bake off as it has progressed on the television, but don't worry, there are no spoilers here - I haven't really been keeping up to date, what with one thing and another - which is also why it has taken me so long to get round to writing this review of the book. 

6-braided plait

As you may have surmised from the altercation the book had with my letterbox, it's pretty hefty. 320 pages with many, many delicious looking recipes. As in previous years, the majority of the recipes are by Linda Collister, an author whose recipes I enjoy making and has my trust. At the beginning of each chapter is the 'Showstopping Challenge' recipe - a basic recipe is given and then variations on that theme getting more difficult. For example - in the biscuit chapter the basic gingerbread is used to make Gingerbread People (easy), Iced Stars (takes a little time) and then Winter Woodland Cottage (needs a little skill). There are also technical challenge recipes from Paul and Mary throughout the book along with the best of the contestants recipes from the bake off. There are also really helpful pages devoted to 'Showstopping Techniques' such as icing and stacking a cake and chocolate ribbons and bows in the cake chapter, crimping and decorating in the pie chapter and piping meringue swirls in the desserts chapter, among many, many more.

5 braided plait

The chapters of the book are *Cakes *Biscuits *Breads & Sweet Dough *Tarts *Pies *Desserts *Puddings and then finally *The Basics. The majority of the recipes have illustrations (just), and generally the book is beautifully photographed, so it's a little irritating to find that some of the recipes are not illustrated. I counted 108 recipes, of which 37 do not have an illustration (just over a third of them). I wonder if this is down to budget but I wouldn't think so - there are plenty of full page 'lifestyle' shots and shots of the contestants working. It does seem a pity to have so many recipes without any idea of what they should look like when a small photo on the corner of the page would have been more than adequate for some. I do think it's important for the styling of the book that there are 'lifestyle' and contestant photos, but it seems to be at the expense of the recipe shots here.

Ginger flapjacks

For my recipes I decided to choose something really easy, and something that required a little more time. I decided to make the 'Ruby Jacks', a variation on flapjack. The recipe was easy to follow, but used a rather smaller proportion of oats to the recipes for flapjack I usually use, resulting in a rather spectacular rising of the mixture in the oven (I didn't know flapjacks could puff up like these did) and subsequent sinking and the resulting flapjack was very buttery and soft indeed rather than being substantial and chewy. They were very nice, but I'm not quite sure where the name 'Ruby' comes from - the introduction to the recipe suggests that this is due to the ruby hint given by the inclusion of the stem ginger (mmm, ginger, I am such a ginger fiend), but given that stem ginger is yellow(ish) I can't really see why they'd be red(dish) and they weren't! Still tasty though.

Braiding and baking bread

My other recipe was Paul's technical challenge from the Bread episode - a braided bread. The recipe and full instructions can be found on the BBC Food website, so I won't reproduce them in full. The dough itself was straightforward to make - just a simple white dough so I was more interested in the actual braiding process, having never done this before (but having meant to for a very long time - Celia has a lot to answer for I think!). I know that my loaf wouldn't have passed muster with the master of bread - firstly I couldn't get his instructions for an eight stranded plait to work for me (and I haven't had chance to try with a bit of appropriately sized rope - I just don't have that sort of thing hanging around in my house!) and secondly when I baked and cut my bread I had clearly used too much flour to keep the strands separate - they were still visible in the cross section of the loaf. The bread tasted fine - plain white bread but I'm annoyed I couldn't follow the instructions (I'm sure this is my fault, although if the bake-off contestants were given the same instructions I'm not surprised they found it tricky!). In the end I resorted to a different baking book, Bread, by Jeffrey Hamelman as I knew it had some alternative braiding instructions in there and I successfully followed his instructions for a five stranded braid and then cut my remaining three strands in half to give six short ones and made a six-strand braid too. Celia's right though - it is fairly addictive and I'm going to give it a go again (perhaps when I have more time and give myself a chance to read through the instructions for braiding first!)

Jeffrey Hamelman's 'Bread' with braiding instructions

I know I am biased because I am a keen buyer of cookbooks, and baking books too but I would recommend this one. I was unsure as to whether it would just be full of 'Showstoppers' that are unachievable, but actually, there are loads of recipes in there that I'd like to make, ranging from very basic to rather special. There are far too many to list here, but I'd really like to try the 'Chess Cake', the 'Caramel Layer Cake', the 'Camembert and Quince Flatbreads', the 'Double Crust Pear Pie' and Mary's 'Creme Caramel' among many others. 

Because these loaves are plaited (or braided) I'm entering them into this month's alphabakes, where the letter is P. Alphabakes is a monthly challenge hosted by Caroline of Caroline Makes and Ros of The More than Occasional Baker. The letter for this month is P and the host is Caroline.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book to review. All views expressed are my own and aside from the book I did not receive payment.


Alicia Foodycat said...

Your plaited loaves look wonderful! I nailed a 4-strand plait by watching youtube tutorials for challah, but anything more than that scares me. And ginger in flapjacks is a fabulous idea!

Laura loves cakes said...

Your plaited loaf looks perfect and the flapjacks look really tasty too! I agree that this is a great book, there's loads of unusual but achievable recipes. I actually made the Choux Swans from it yesterday! The only slight negative that lots of people have mentioned is that not every recipe has a picture but other than that it's fab! :-)

Baking Addict said...

I'd never dare attempt the plaited loaf - yours looks picture perfect. I'm sure Paul would give it top marks! I enjoyed the book too but didn't like the lack of pictures in the book. I went for some 'easier' recipes but I'm sure I'll work my way slowly to the harder ones.

Chele said...

Well the flapjacks look amazing but I am afraid the bake that has really stolen the show is that loaf of bread. How profesh! And the picture with the slice cut off makes it look like a cloud, so light and fluffy.

Please Do Not Feed The Animals. said...

I also think your plaited loaves look perfect. I made challah once for Fresh From The Oven - Dom's recipe but I can't now remember how many strands I plaited - maybe just 3.

Johanna GGG said...

I've never tried braiding bread - but it always looks impressive - my braiding skills only go to 3 strands so I have far to go. I've seen a bit about the bake off on blogs and meant to check out the website more but forgot

Anonymous said...

The ginger flapjacks sound really good!

I really don't like recipes that don't have a photo, it definitely puts me off making them. Do you think this book is different enough from last series' book to make it worth buying?

Caroline said...

Foodycat - ginger in flapjacks is great, but to be honest the treacle and ginger flapjacks I've made before were better than these Youtube is a great idea - I never think of looking there for tutorials.

Laura - yes, lots of different things in there but I do wish there were more photos.

Ros - yes, I'm waiting for more time to attempt some of the more complicated recipes.

Chele - the cross section does look a bit like a cloud doesn't it!

Lou - thank you. I'm definitely going to try braiding again - practice makes perfect and all that.

Johanna - I'm behind with watching the bake off, must catch up!

HH - yes, I much prefer to have a photo. Is the book worth it? Depends on how much shelf space you have and whether it's too expensive. I think I've seen it around for £8.86 which isn't too bad at all. There are some recipes I'd like to try and there are some interesting bits on technique, but if you are stuck for cash and/or space and have last years I might not bother. Have a flick through in the supermarket (cheekily!) and see what you think. Hope that helps a bit!

Unknown said...

Wow the bread was lovely! And one cannot help the flapjacks - one of my favourite cakes from the UK :)

Anonymous said...

I like your supermarket flick-through tip! Most of the books I end up buying are ones that come into the office through the Book People, so I have a week to look through and decide if there are enough recipes I want to make!

Joanna @ Zeb Bakes said...

I am impressed by your braids! I haven't done any for ages and ages. The easiest braidy shaped bread to do is the one I have on my gravatar, the one that looks like a sun, you just cross three strands in the centre and then roll them up sideways. Anyway hope to see your winston knot soon, (winks) Celia did some wonderful instructions for that one, now you are braiding away.

They are lucky to have you as a reviewer, as you do a good job xx Joanna

Choclette said...

Good to hear your thoughts on the book. I had assumed it was just full of amazing cakes that would just never get made, so it\s reassuring to find out there are some more achievable things in there too.

I'm impressed with you having a go at braiding. I remember doing it on our bread course and everyone was finding it difficult - we didn't do eight though, only 7.

Caroline Cowe said...

I've only ever made bread in a bread maker before, I'm impressed! Thanks for entering Alphabakes.

Anne said...

Oooh at ginger flapjacks! I won a copy of the book and know which recipe I will be trying first, love flapjacks!

The plaited bread looks so pretty too!

Maggie said...

Just came across entry in the roundup - you have made a great loaf and it looks very pleasing to the eye too.


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