Watching The Great British Bake Off? Who isn’t! The new batch of bakers were pulling out all the stops in the first week with pipettes, skateboards and Japanese pop culture. 2013 finalist, Kimberley Wilson gives us an insider’s view of the highs and lows of the first week’s kitchen antics…
The Great British Bake Off returned to our screens last night and the puns were as prevalent as the buns. Being able to make a decent sponge is the foundation of being a good baker, so it made sense that the new batch of contestants were asked to prove their worth with cake…
The signature challenge
What a first challenge! The Swiss roll is just the right balance of familiarity and technical ability. Too long in the oven and it will crack when it’s rolled, not long enough and it will fall apart when filled. Then there are the flavours and proportions of filling to get right. A tough ask when the nerves kick-in and the pressure of being in ‘that tent’ for the first time descends.
The trick for rolling a Swiss Roll is to do it while it is still hot and allow it to cool completely before unrolling and filling. I am firmly in the ‘pre-roll’ camp.
Iain was attempting a technique that I hadn’t seen before, of scoring the inside of his sponge to prevent it from cracking when rolled. Sadly he had a few problems rolling, though it looked like it might have been more to do with having over-baked his sponge.
What would Kimberley do…
If I was doing this challenge I think I might have gone for a tried and tested crowd-pleaser - a combination of chocolate, caramel and nuts. A chocolate sponge, with a caramel cream and roast almond praline, for example.
For the first technical challenge of the year the bakers were asked to make Mary Berry’s own recipe for cherry cake - a deceptively simple task.
As with all of her challenges, Mary was looking out for neat decoration. She likes a cake to look as though the presentation has been thought about. The primary task with a fruit cake is to get an even distribution throughout. Achieving this requires being able to balance the density of the fruit with the batter, as well as remembering little tricks like dusting the fruit in flour to give the batter something to adhere to. Also, the cakes were being baked in a savarin, so required less time in the oven as they cooked from the middle outwards, as well as from the outside in.
On top of that, a savarin can’t be lined so the bakers would have to ensure that it was properly greased in order to be able to turn the cake out. And that’s all before we’ve even started talking about the consistency of the icing and not burning your nuts.
The instruction to ‘prepare the cherries’ gives you an idea of how sparse on detail these technical challenges are. You have to rely on your baking experience and instinct. But, as with any exam, you should always take a few minutes to read through the full recipe first. That way you can at least prioritise the tasks – for example if one component needs to cool before it can be used you’ll want to crack on with that first.
The Showstopper Challenge was to make 36 cake miniatures based on a Victoria sponge. This is a classic test of consistency. The judges want to know whether the bakers are skilled enough to produce uniformity across the entire batch of 36. Sometimes it’s hard to do that with one cake.
I think I would have opted for a coconut sponge, with a coconut milk buttercream and filled with something a little surprising like a raspberry and basil jam. I’d be tempted to use some textures of raspberry too, so perhaps sprinkle with raspberry powder, or adorn each one with a gold-plated fresh raspberry.
Kimberley’s Star Bakers…
From the off Nancy looked as though she was particularly good at handling the pressure. She had a slight problem in the first challenge with the caramel for her hazelnuts, which crystallised (it is likely that she was stirring it too much) but coolly decided to whizz it into praline and coat her Swiss Roll instead. An expert rescue.
*Spoiler alert* The result…
I maintain that it is unfair to send anyone home during the first week of the competition. There’s just so much to contend with - the new environment, the cameras, all the crew and your own nerves. That said, I think the right decisions were made. Nancy kept her cool and triumphed with precision and consistency while Claire, sadly, was unable to lift her performance in the Showstopper.
I’m looking forward to seeing more from Luis and Martha too – both impressive in this first, nerve-filled week!
Kimberely Wilson was a finalist on the 2013 series of The Great British Bake Off and will be with us every week to reflect on the happenings in this year's kitchen.
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