The Challenge:

Bake a show-stopping bread center-piece with a sweet filling.

My Bake:

A layered star-bread with middle-eastern inspired flavors of date and cardamon.

What happened?

Having produced completely inedible bagel-shaped raw dough rings. I knew I had to pull something good in this bake to stay in the game. I was pretty sure this star bread would do it all I had to do was make it perfectly. The dough is actually lovely to work with. Very soft and pleasant when you get it right.

The filling is all about getting the spices right but it smells fantastic!  I got the idea for the filling for this bread from an article on middle eastern sweet treats. Unfortunately I can’t seem to find the link any more but these were based on the filling of a cookie from Iraq called a Kleicha I made a few changes to make it more appropriate for a bread but the main flavor is still there.

The main thing with assembling this is that the dough is really soft so if you try and spread the filling just directly on it will rip the dough apart. So I came up with this idea of rolling the filling out in sheets and laying it down on the bread layers. It worked really nicely and the assembly went perfectly.

I got it done in good time and the simple pistachio and honey glaze gives it a lovely finish. Pretty pleased with this one!

Judging:

The breads all looked pretty spectacular so I was feeling like it was stiff competition. Mine looked a little small in comparison to some but it looks great from the top! I think Bruno and Rochelle were pleasantly surprised when they cut in to see the layers. Which frankly so was I – they looked better than they ever had before! It was perfectly baked and Rochelle described the flavor as delightful. So a definite come-back!

Conclusion:

It worked great. I might have just saved my neck!

Sentencing:

I still wasn’t sure I’d done enough so I was super nervous. I didn’t have a great idea of who stood where so I was actually quite surprised when Sinclair was sent home. I breathed a sigh of relief but felt rather frustrated to have been in the danger zone. Bread is my thing. I should have done better.

 

The Challenge:

One dozen Montreal-style bagels. Half poppy-seed, half sesame seed.

What happened?

I love Montreal bagels. Sorry New York, yes yours are ok, but to me the Montreal bagel is the best by far. I remember the first time we managed to make our own – it was in Denmark of all places. I used this recipe from the blog Munchin with Munchkin. I was so deliriously happy to have made them. We made them several times since – usually if we were having people for brunch. I can make them. And they’re good. And people have said so. So there!

So when they announced that the bread week technical was going to be bagels I was very happy. Not quite as happy as Corey Shefman but the two of us were pretty much sure we had this one in the bag. So, hardly glancing at the recipe,  I dove straight in. One of the tricks of making bagel dough is to add the flour a bit at a time to the wet ingredients. You start with a whisk and as the dough gets stiffer with each half cup of flour you switch to a spoon and then your hands until you are kneading. You don’t knead it too much but just until you have a lovely soft, elastic dough. It’s a really nice feeling dough and up to this point I was really happy. I was kneading away with great gusto convinced of my inevitable crushing of the opposition under my perfect bagels. My only slight worry was Corey who I could hear merrily explaining to camera how to make the finest bagels in all of Canada.

We bakers had been sitting around before bread week discussing what the technical bread challenge might be. I was pretty convinced it was going to be bagels until several people confidently told me it couldn’t be done in the time. As a result I had started to second guess myself so that when it came to it I was starting to worry a bit about the rising time. I thought I remembered it being fairly short but now I was not convinced. Then I remembered our new discovery from the focaccia challenge – the proving drawer. And so (like several others) I thought I should stick my dough in there to speed it up – and so the trap was sprung! It said “rest” on the recipe – you know the one I wasn’t really reading – not “prove”, “rest”. Rest just means sit there and do nothing on the bench not stick it in a warming drawer for the yeast to have a party.

So within no time I had a ball of over-proved dough. When over-proved like this it becomes sticky and unmanageable. This makes it very difficult to shape. It also started sticking to my hands which meant as I dropped it into the poaching water it was getting pretty deformed. On top of that the water wasn’t really hot enough so they were not really looking all that great.

At that point I also turned my attention to the bagel boards. Now I’ve never used one of these things. It’s basically a cedar plank with some hessian type material. Apparently you pop the poached bagels on them to dry out in the oven and then flip them over on the baking stone. I know that now but at the time I had never seen one and neither had I actually used  a baking stone. I figured the thing to do was to cover the hessian with seeds and then drop the wet bagels onto the board. Probably wrong but it turned out I had bigger problems.

I had all my bagels ready to go into the oven. Specifically into a nice hot oven at 450F. But the oven was not hot. In fact not even warm. Remember that energetic kneading I was doing? Yeah well it turns out I had managed to knock the oven control off. The oven was at about 200F by now and I only had 20 mins left to bake them. I was basically screwed now. I cranked the oven as high as it would go and tried to flip them in but they just stuck to the baking stone. I chiseled the inedible dough rings off the stone and put them on the Gingham Altar with everyone else.

Judging:

Many of us did not do so well on this bake. There was a fair few fell into the proving drawer trap. Corey, my partner in hubris, did manage to make better bagels than me but since the judges refused to even taste mine that was a pretty low bar to set.

Overall:

I can make damn fine bagels (see image below!) this was a bit of a kick in the ego. So lesson learned was that I shouldn’t assume I know stuff! Read the bloody recipe idiot! Oh and check the oven temperature! Still, after “inedible” the only way is up.

The Challenge:

A focaccia, with flavorful toppings of our choice

My Bake:

Focaccia with blue-cheese, pear and walnut topping

What happened?

Feeling good. Bread is my area. We have done focaccia fairly often at home. Judith usually makes it but I’ve done it a couple of times so this should not be a problem. I wanted to do something a bit different so I went for nice rich flavor of blue-cheese pear and walnut.

Everything went pretty much according to plan. Focaccia is a wet dough which is a bit tricky to work with so the stretch and fold technique is the perfect kneading method. Then I discover the proofing drawer. I’ve never had one of these. It’s very exciting. It’s a drawer that keeps things warm! … yeah well I thought it was exciting. So it’s great for speeding up the proving process, but as we would later discover – it’s a trap!

But on with Focaccia – it proved perfectly, I rolled and dimpled and added my caramelized onions, pears and other toppings. I was starting to run a bit out of time and would have liked to let it go a little longer but it was fine. All in all not much to say on this one – it worked!

Judging:

Both judges liked the flavor and the look. It had the correct focaccia structure. All in all a great bake – and Dan loved it too!

Overall:

Yay! Bread week is going to be fantastic! Star baker for sure! I can taste victory! What can possibly go wrong?

 

The Challenge:

A chocolate layer cake

My Bake:

A chocolate record player illusion cake. Featuring a mirror glaze, wood-effect fondant and molded chocolate controls.

What Happened?

Oh god! Do I really need to talk about this one? Can’t we just pretend it never happened? Way back, when I was just a GBBO fan and they hadn’t even announced a Canadian version, I authoritatively mansplained to anyone who might listen that the optimum strategy for the first few episodes of these kinds of shows was: aim for the middle. Pick things which you know will work and which you can execute well. Don’t try to do anything too elaborate or novel that might not work and leave you in danger of getting kicked off.

That’s great advice, which I totally ignored in this bake. Somehow I got it into my head that, I needed to make a cake which looked like something – an illusion cake – which was not in the brief so I really have no idea where that came from. Next I decided it required showing a million different skills – most of which I had only a rudimentary handle on. So I had a mirror glaze, 3-tone chocolate fondant, white-chocolate marscapone butter cream and molded, filled chocolate details for which I 3d printed my own molds. So like I say, not too elaborate. On top of that, although I had practiced all these elements separately, I apparently thought that just sticking them together in the tent wouldn’t really present a problem.

The one sensible decision I made was to use a base cake which I know works. Based on the Moosewood Cookbook’s “Six-minute Chocolate Cake” – this is a cake risen with baking soda and vinegar which is mixed directly in the pan – no bowl needed – it does take about six minutes to throw together and then it goes straight in the oven. We make this cake regularly at home, it tastes fantastic and I figured if I get that in quickly I have hours to do all the other stuff.

Yeah well that was the plan.I was worried about getting the cake out of the pan in one piece because it wasn’t spring form and I thought it might stick. We don’t really worry about that at home because we just take slices straight from the pan. So I lined the pans with parchment paper. The problem was though that as I mixed the batter the parchment came away from the pan and the batter leaked under it so I had to fish the paper out again. I did this by hand and in the process things got messy – really very messy.

Since I already had my hands covered in batter by this time I just continued trying to mix the whole thing by hand. This apparently caused some controversy in some quarters. A few people have claimed this was “unhygienic”.  I’m not buying this: Bread dough is mixed by hand, so too is shortcrust pastry, in fact all manner of baked products are mixed by hand, it’s just easier in most cases. I washed my hands first, the batter itself was completely vegan (mostly just oil, cocoa and flour) so no this was not a health and safety issue! A totally messy ridiculous thing to do – sure.

Anyway, I was now slipping behind schedule. I started work on molded chocolate. So that involves tempering the chocolate. Tempering is a process which controls the crystallization of chocolate to make it predominantly crystallize in a single form which is stable and has a slightly higher melting point which makes the finished product nice and shiny and solid and is less likely to melt to the touch. There are several important rules to follow when tempering, perhaps the most important rule is: “don’t temper chocolate in a tent when it’s 30ºC and 90% humidity and you’re in a hurry”. I got the chocolate in the molds anyway and put them into the freezer without much hope of them working out.

Next up buttercream and mirror glaze – both were pretty straightforward but I was starting to get panicky now and more and more dishes were piling up. The real problem though was the fondant. Fondant usually has gelatin in it and as a vegetarian I do not eat it (plus it generally is a bit gross tasting!) So I was making my own using agar agar – a seaweed based gelling agent which takes the place of gelatin. However in the heat it was just turning into a sloppy mess. I kept adding icing sugar to firm it up – I used several kilos of the stuff! But no matter, it just wouldn’t  turn into the the lovely rollable plastic dough it should have been. It was meant to roll out into a nice large sheet but it just wouldn’t stay together so I stuck it onto the base of the cake in strips. It had totally lost it’s wood grain look. Instead it looked more like the skin of one of those iron age bodies they dig out of Irish peat bogs every now and then – yum!

I had the mirror glaze on the “record” and melting iron-age bog body fondant on the base. It looked absolutely dreadful. But perhaps with the chocolate knobs and arm it would be ok? Nope. The chocolate wouldn’t come out of the molds. I was going to roll a little disk of white fondant to put on the top as a record label but there frankly wasn’t a clean enough inch of workspace left to roll white fondant.

Time was called. It was a horrible mess. I started preparing my gracious going home vox-pop ready for judgement.

Judgement:

Rochelle and Bruno were very kind. They pointed out all the bits that didn’t suck – the mirror glaze was not bad, it looked overall vaguely like a record player. Like a record player that had been rescued from the wreckage of house fire maybe. On the plus side it did taste good. Both the cake and buttercream had worked. I was still pretty sure I was going home.

Conclusion:

Overall it was probably the worst looking cake I have ever made in my life. I learned what I already knew – be authentic, do what you do and do it well. I don’t make fondant covered illusion cakes. I didn’t have to. And it didn’t work!

Sentencing:

I was astonished it was not me who went home. When I first met Pierre I thought “well I wonder who will come second in this series?”  He knows everything about patisserie and I was sure he would be going the distance. He was unlucky, he had a marginally worse day than me.

 

The challenge:

A pistachio and cherry battenburg cake.

What happened:

So first technical challenge: Battenburg. Ok I know what that is. Looking around the tent I see that not many he others do so I’m figuring that’s going to count in my favor. Now, I’ve never made one of them. I have bought them in the UK loads of times but it’s not something I’d ever make – seems like a lot of work for what, in the end, is just a marzipan wrapped sponge cake with some jam in it.

Basically, in the UK, a Battenburg is something your gran is likely to have in the cupboard. It comes in a clear package, is a long rectangular cake wrapped in marzipan with – and this is the “clever” bit – two different colors of cake arrange in a checkerboard pattern inside. The cake is usually pink and yellow. Who know’s what flavor? It’s just sponge with pink and yellow coloring. Importantly though the ends are exposed so you can see the checks. I have to admit my dirty little secret which is that I actually quite like them.

Obviously that sounds pretty uninspiring but we’re making a fancy pants one with cherry and pistachio flavor. Plus, and this break from tradition has already horrified some of my UK friends, an extra layer of fondant is going around the cake.

So down to it. We’ve got a sponge to make, one flavored with cherry, the other with pistachio (in the form of a pistachio paste which has a great if slightly disturbing color). With the cake batter done and in the oven it’s on to rolling out marzipan and fondant. We’re supposed to make the fondant pink. It doesn’t say how pink, I’ve never had fondant on a Battenburg and I never use food coloring. So I put a blob of red food coloring in my white fondant. Shocking pink is alright yes? Maybe it’ll look nice with the pistachios?

So by this time I’m feeling a fairly happy with myself. I can hear lots of people fretting about what it might look like and since I know, I think I’m killing this challenge.

 

So then out comes my sponge which I note has not really risen very much not only that I then discover after sawing off the top that there’s a big chunk not really cooked through in the middle. Hmm. Need to do something creative. So with some judicious trimming I grab the good bits from around the outside and hope that no-one notices. Having trimmed away a about 2/3 of my cake I will now be making a petite Battenburg. It’s actually not much smaller than the commercial ones I remember – but putting it on the “Gingham altar” I see it looks a lot smaller than anyone else’s!

Judgement:

So they liked the flavor though the over pinkness and daintiness were mentioned. Overall 5th so middle of the pack

Conclusion:

I probably won’t make Battenburg again and if I do I won’t wrapping it in fondant. Another good starter challenge for our first day in the tent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The challenge:

2 dozen cup cakes in two different flavors.

My bake:

Ginger stout cupcake with whiskey glaze and crystallized ginger

Oatmeal cupcake with apple rose and mousseline creme and praline shards

What happened:

So wait what? This is actually happening? I really am baking in the tent with actual cameras looking at my every move and Dan Levy actually just said “ready steady bake” at me. Ok, this is weird. So after that thought went through my head I figured I should probably bake something.

Everything went pretty well to begin with. Ginger stout cupcake went in the oven, started crystallizing ginger. Then I made the oatmeal cake batter and started making apple roses. Why the hell did I decide to do apple roses?! If you’ve never made them before it involves slicing up an apple super thin in little half moons. Then you take them and have fold them into the petals of roses. For the cupcakes the idea is to press the apple rose into the cake batter and it keeps it in shape. Usually it’s done by wrapping them in puff pastry or similar. It takes forever! You have to slice the apples really thin so you can shape them and it’s totally fiddly. You spend ages sorting through apple slices trying to find the right size and then any you didn’t slice thin enough just break. I had asked for a mandolin to do this bit but I was too scared of it to use one first time on national tv. It took way longer than it should of – but about as long as it had every time I practiced it. Definition of madness: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I got them in the oven but now I was in a rush to get whiskey glaze finished and make a mousseline (which I’d only done once before). I decided to abandon the praline shards – there was not going to be time.

The mousseline seemed to work ok but it was very hot in the tent. I mean really hot! Plus, with the not enough time for the apple cupcake to cool, it was going to have to go on hot. This is a problem – mousseline is a delicate mousse-like cream  which will fall into pool of rather dull custard if it gets to warm. It fell into a pool of rather dull custard.

Not to worry – they weren’t a total disaster just not very inspiring – I plated up anyway. My crystallized ginger worked better than ever and overall the ginger cupcakes were pretty much spot on.

Judgement:

Pretty much as I expected – they liked the ginger cake – the apple oatmeal was a bit boring.

Conclusion:

Not too bad. I was quite happy with it as a first bake in the tent! Everything went as expected including the things that if I’d really thought about it were definitely not going work. So what did I learn? I learned that the time is going to be the killer! It’s not like at home -“the cupcakes will be ready at 5pm” … “oh actually it’ll be more like 5:15pm” … “no problem”. Nope. In the tent 2 hours is 2 hours and not a second more. Oh and don’t try and make mousseline in a boiling hot tent!

 

 

Great Canadian Baking Show Begins!

Woo hoo! The Great Canadian Baking Show is finally underway! I am ridiculously excited / nervous to see how it’s turned out. We bakers haven’t seen the finished version and so we’re going to be watching along with everyone else. We’re having a little neighborhood party to celebrate and view the first episode.

Hope you like it!!!!

Watch the first episode here on CBC

Halloween is cardboard season!

We have a long running tradition in our family  of making our Halloween costumes from cardboard. I love working with corrugated cardboard. It’s surprisingly versatile. With judicious scoring and folding and cutting you can make a whole range of curves and other shapes. Over the years we’ve done R2 D2, a yellow submarine and a puffin. This year Red asked for a dinosaur – velociraptor to be precise. Luckily we just took delivery of 2 seriously overpackaged plant-pots from a popular online general retailer. These were a couple of truly gigantic, heavy duty cardboard boxes – ideal for sculpting!

So I usually start with a quick sketch and then dive right in to the cardboard. The body of this costume is basically a bodice of cardboard attached using velcro with a curved tail. I cut out a pattern for the bodice and the upper face of the tail from a single piece of cardboard. The body comes together under the arms to give a double thickness at the front with a couple of shoulder straps coming down.

Judith painted it – with the help of Red!