On Tuesday I sat down in the snug at 8pm sharp – just as the Great British Bake Off credits began to roll.
You see, I’ve decided to attempt each and every technical bake on this year’s show after doing so for the first time last year and loving it.
I was paying more attention this year to the contestants, the set up and the challenges – earlier in the year I was interviewed for the show. I didn’t make it through but felt all the better for it – I knew I’d crumble under the pressure.
Standards were high and before I knew it the technical challenge was announced – angel cake slices.
We all know what angel cake is, we’re familiar with the lurid pink and yellow sponge adorning supermarket shelves.
This would be a good intro into the technicals – nothing fancy, nothing challenging. The recipe calls for Italian meringue (I can make it – it’s the same mixture used for macarons and marshmallow), feathering on fondant icing (the same beautiful design that adorns Mr Kipling’s bakewell tarts) and then my world was tipped upside down, they said the dreaded two words – genoise sponge.
I’m not afraid to admit it – we’re not the best of friends. Genoise sponge is levened with eggs and I always fail to keep enough air in the mixture when I fold in the flour.
I know many people don’t have a problem with it at all and you’re probably wondering what all the fuss is about but every time I try and make it I hit a brick wall and it’s become my nemesis.
I’m sure all bakers have that one thing (or three) that they just don’t gel with, well mine is genoise sponge.
I approached the challenge with gusto and confidence and started at 12.10pm on a Sunday – pot of coffee close at hand.
I looked at the recipe – the first ingredient was 60g of unsalted butter – melted and then cooled. In the time this took I lined my baking tray with 2 in 1 parchment and foil (I didn’t know such a thing existed) creating three equally sized sections – I hope that the contestants on the show had these pre-constructed for them, I can tell you it was a faff!
The process was complex and involved lots of bowls – and I mean lots of bowls. I was hoping that if I followed the recipe to the letter it would stand me in good stead and this time I’d have a light and fluffy genoise sponge – everything was crossed.
Eggs and sugar were whisked over a pan of beautifully simmering water until they hit 43C.
Flour was sieved and divided into three separate bowls – as was the melted butter (with food colourings and flavourings added – vanilla, lemon and raspberry).
Meanwhile the egg mixture was being beaten (ten to the dozen) in the mixer. I hoped to God that you couldn’t over whisk it.
Thank goodness I have so many bowls, I prepped another three for the egg mixture.
I saw an angel cake attempt on Instagram the other day – it looked glorious. I asked the baker, Hannah, what the secret was to mixing the eggs – she said when you think it’s ready drop some mixture from the whisk into the batter in the shape of the number eight. If it takes 10 seconds or more to disappear it’s ready.
My mixture did just that, it was stiff, mousse-like and glossy. Surely I was onto a winner.
But, as usual, it’s the mixing that lets me down. I sifted flour onto the egg and then folded it in – trying not to make so many folds, but flour can be a stubborn ingredient and it doesn’t always go where I’d like it to. I then went to fold the corresponding butter into the mix, but it’d started to harden so I placed it over a bowl of steaming water to soften ever-so slightly before mixing it in. I repeated this twice more.
Batter in the tin, it was into the oven with silent prayers and more crossed fingers.
I waited 14 minutes – I could smell raspberry – surely this was a good sign?
Then the time was up – I opened the oven door with apprehension. They looked ok, not great, but ok.
As I lifted them out of the oven I could see they were all a similar colour and as they cooled the best way to tell them apart was to smell them, oh goodness!
I battled on – Italian meringue buttercream chilling in the fridge and fondant icing made.
I compiled the cake and sliced. I mean it wasn’t to Prue Leith’s standard but it tasted good.
Of course I was disappointed but let’s face it, as bakers – or cooks – we can’t be good at everything, surely.
So what have I learnt?
I’m good at feathering and Italian meringue buttercream but the dark art of genoise sponge is still a mystery to me.
As contestant Henry said this week on An Extra Slice – ‘Angel cake slices can sod off’. But more to the point I think genoise sponge can too.
I’m sure they won’t all be like this but I’m off to a shaky start – like many of the contestants.
I remain, as always, optimistic and am bracing myself for Week 2 – it’s biscuit week.