The day I thought would never arrive was here – it was the grand finale of The Great British Bake Off.
For the past ten weeks I have baked (and occasionally cooked) my way through nine technical challenges – I’ll not lie it has felt like a lifetime.
At times it has been emotional, at times it has been sheer bliss.
I’ve had a go at bakes I wouldn’t normally dream of and I’ve learnt a hell of a lot – even when things have been challenging (and boy have they) I’ve persevered.
As I diligently tuned into the final I wondered what on earth the final technical challenge would be.
This series has brought with it some utterly obscure themes – we’ve had festival week, 1920s week and dairy week.
Gone are the days when contestants were challenged with making a Victoria sponge, instead we’ve been hit with beignets souffle, gâteau Saint Honoré and cassatelles.
It’s been a journey through the traditional (fig rolls and floury baps), the nostalgic (angel cake), the historic (maids of honour and beignets souffle), the exotic (mango, coconut and raspberry verrines), through Europe (cassatelles and gâteau Saint Honoré) and through Africa (Moroccan pie).
But, back to the final…
As I sat transfixed to the show, Sandi told the contestants that the pressure was about to rise – God help us!
Paul set the challenge and said: “On this challenge you have to be delicate.” I can be delicate I thought.
We were to make six twice-baked Stilton souffles, well risen and fluffy in texture and accompanied by triangular seeded crackers.
The contestants had 1 hour, 10 minutes – compared to many of the other challenges, this was no time at all.
After the previous week I didn’t think I could face another five hour stint in the kitchen trying to pull off another elaborate technical bake.
This one sounded right up my street.
Paul told us that the souffles should be very proud, tall and golden. “Remember if you don’t whisk the eggs enough they won’t carry the air, you need to concentrate and watch your oven.”
This wasn’t the first time that I’d pined for an oven with a glass door.
Now, I’ve made souffles before – cheese ones, chocolate ones and fruit ones – but never a twice baked one.
But, I know a man who has – and I’ve tried it – so I had an idea of what I needed to produce.
I set about the challenge with gusto and optimism.
I was probably full of positivity because I’d made the crackers the day before – and I can honestly say they are one of the easiest things I’ve ever baked. They took only minutes from start to finish and tasted superb. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I think I even vowed to no longer buy crackers for cheese.
The cracker dough was a breeze – a mix of plain flour, wholemeal flour, salt, olive oil and water, rolled to within an inch of its life (or more like 5mm) and sprinkled with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, fennel seeds, chia seeds and sea salt flakes (I must admit mine was a variation on the theme, but if you do make them, you must include fennel seeds – they really do lift the bake).
They turned out just as they should have – with a blistered surface and a clean snap when broken.
The next day was souffle day.
It all started with a four-egg-yolk roux, deliciously rich and equally as thick – packed with fresh herbs and cheese.
It was then onto the egg whites, five in total, whisked to stiff peaks.
I always think that at this point it’s make or break time for the souffle – the all important folding in of the whites to the yolk mix.
But this time it went swimmingly – for one reason and one reason only, the spatula.
A month or so ago my wonderful mother-in-law bought me a spatula, but it wasn’t just any spatula. When she heard about the trouble I was having with my genoise sponge she sent me an email – it said: “You may have heard me saying that decades ago I took a Cordon Bleu cookery course. The lady who ran the course introduced us to an extremely handy gadget perfect for incorporating flour in to either the lightest mix or in to really heavy Christmas cake mixtures. Basically, it is a very flexible stainless steel spatula. She sent off to Australia for a clutch of these once she had persuaded enough of her students to buy one. Over the years it has never let me down. I am convinced this is what you need to assist with incorporating flour in to your delicate whisked loveliness.”
And boy was she right!
She lovingly sent away for one for me from Australia and to date I’ve used it to make creme Chiboust and my souffle mix and it has brilliantly done the same for me as it has for her – it has never let me down (all I need to do now is tackle my nemesis again – genoise sponge).
Back to the souffles – the mix was fluffy and light.
I buttered and floured my dariole moulds and set about filling them with the mixture before placing them in a bain marie and baking them in the oven for 16 minutes. I must admit to checking them once, praying that opening the oven wouldn’t deflate them
The were risen, fluffy and golden – YES!
At this point I wasn’t in too much of a rush to turn them out because, according to Paul, you can prepare them to this stage and attempt the second baking just before service (as it turns out leaving them overnight from this point makes no difference to the finished souffle).
I ran a knife round the edge of the mould and each and every one of the souffles dropped out fully formed and beautifully cooked.
They were turned out directly onto a lined baking tray and smothered in a sauce of double cream, egg yolk and parmesan before being placed into a hot oven for eight minutes.
The sauce bubbled and turned golden, the souffles kept their height and I gasped in wonder.
I used my wonder-spatula to lift them delicately onto plates, topping them with parsley and surrounding them in the seedy crackers.
Now, souffles are bloody marvellous but twice-baked souffles are completely wonderous.
They were light, moist, fluffy, cheesy and set off beautifully with the fragrant, salty crackers.
It was sheer bliss.
Thank you Bake Off – it was a joy to finish on a high and my happiness at having produced a dish that will now be served to family and friends really did distract me from the emptiness the lack of challenges will leave in my weekly routine.
But, onwards and upwards, my plans to bake continue – and may quite heavily revolve around souffles for some time to come…