…Paul would have walked out (no joke).
Prue would have reassuringly picked out any positives (there weren’t any).
Noel would have been aghast.
Sandi would have displaced the tension by saying something witty.
It’s fair to say the 1920s week wasn’t my week.
What went wrong? Well, what went well – that’s the real question we need to ask.
I had tuned into 1920s week on The Great British Bake Off with a sense of skepticism – I wasn’t entirely sure how they’d tailor a whole episode around an era rather than a foodstuff (the themes seem to be getting more and more obscure).
It made you wonder what technical challenge we’d all be in for.
Before the challenge was revealed Prue’s words of wisdom for success were: “Four basic skills are needed for this challenge and you need to get them all right.” Cheers Prue.
The challenge was to make 18 beignets souffle – crisp on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside. Essentially we had deep-fried choux puffs filled with jam and served with a boozy sabayon.
The first contestant to react to this was Michelle, who said: “I’ve never heard of it in my life” – me neither Michelle, me neither.
On Sunday, I had a cooking day – does anyone else ever do that? For me they’re a luxury and very therapeutic.
I had a list of dishes I wanted to make – a full on Sunday brunch fry up (to fuel the day), bay leaf ice cream (I’ve been meaning to try it for years), pears poached in red wine and homemade cassis, roast pork with crushed grapes, marsala and juniper and this wonderful challenge.
The recipe for beignets souffle told me that the process would take 30 minutes with a baking time of 40 minutes.
That would be all fine and well if indeed that was the case (one of my biggest bug-bears is the inaccuracy of the timings at the top of a recipe. It might say that the recipe will take 1 hour 40 minutes but it doesn’t tell you from the outset that that it needs marinating overnight, proving for three hours or chilling for at least six hours).
So, while this one said 30 minutes, it didn’t include the 30 minutes you needed to wait for the choux pastry to cool, the 20 minutes it took for the choux pastry to rest or the 30 minutes it would take for the oil to get to temperature.
What starts as something you’ve allowed 90 mins for turns into three hours before you know it (I know, I know, I should read the recipe through properly!).
The process of making the beignet batter was simple and straightforward, it was choux pastry – the lightest, crispiest, airiest pastry used most often to make profiteroles and éclairs.
Beignet batter made, cooled and rested it was time to cook the souffles.
I don’t have a deep-fat fryer so as I waited for my saucepan of oil to creep up to 190C I tackled the washing up, made the base for my bay leaf ice cream and started poaching the pears.
I dropped the first two beignets into the pan with the help of two oiled dessert spoons (using two spoons to drop the batter into the fat will help achieve roundness said Prue) – the batter turned out to be impossible to quenelle (it was too wet) and the two lumps of batter looked more like a creature from the deep than the lovely rounded beignets they were supposed to be.
I reverted to an oiled ice cream scoop and dropped the batter in with gusto – the mixture puffed up in the oil and it was round-ish.
Never have you seen a more satisfied cook.
They weren’t perfectly round but life is too short for such trivialities.
Once cool enough to handle I split them open – inside the batter was still uncooked.
I wasn’t giving up.
I dropped more batter in the pan with a little more delicacy. I waited the allotted five minutes per side and put them on kitchen paper to drain.
I kept going until the batter was no more and I inspected my pile of crispy-on-the-outside-wet-in-the-middle, oily beignets with disappointment – not a single one was edible.
What went wrong? Honestly, I don’t know. The oil was at temperature, the batter looked silky and smooth – the cause of the disaster remains a mystery.
Instead of crying over my soggy beignets I consoled myself in the knowledge that life doesn’t always go to plan and made a pot of coffee and regrouped.
Do I consider it three hours of my life lost – yes.
Would I attempt them again? No.
Now, I could have tried again, but three hours is a long time. I didn’t need to make them again to prove anything to myself. I know I can make doughnuts – so I did.
I decided that although beignets souffle baked to perfection were probably utterly scrummy – doughnuts would probably still be better.
I had doughnut dough in the freezer, I let the balls prove in their own good time and whacked them in the oil to cook.
I ate them happily, enjoying life with the September sunshine on my back – sheer bliss.
Would this have been my week to go home. Yes.
But the joy of cooking from the comfort of my own kitchen means I’ll be back next week for dessert week – apparently it involves delicate assembly and precise decoration, as long as I don’t have to fry anything I’ll be happy.
On an end note, I enjoyed the headline in the Eastern Daily Press on my article about last week’s technical challenge – Maids of Honour…