Telegraph Great British Bake Off: episode five, biscuits and traybakes

Date:20-09-2013 07:58:30 read:4

Telegraph Great British Bake Off: episode five, biscuits and traybakes

Claire Carter and Maria Fitzpatrick battle burnt chocolate and smoking food processors for this week's Great British Bake Off challenge.

Claire Carter with her brownies: 'I learn being able to melt chocolate is fundamental to making a chocolate brownie...' Photo: Paul Grover

Claire Carter: chocolate, cherry and hazelnut brownies

When making chocolate brownies, one of the key skills is being able to melt chocolate properly. Sounds easy, doesn't it?

So when I attempted Beca’s chocolate, hazelnut and cherry brownies, the instruction to melt some white chocolate and delicately ‘swirl it’ on the end of a cocktail stick before adding a cherry, didn’t phase me.

It should have.

As the stirring of ingredients got underway, I was feeling confident. This mixture has a large amount of ingredients and, while it was really easy to follow, lots of chocolate bulked out by hazelnuts, cherries, and an incredibly large amount of caster sugar meant I had to switch to a bigger bowl twice.

Mixing it up: making the traybake batter (PAUL GROVER)

Everything looked right, a few taste tests along the way seemed to show it was going in the right direction and then all I had to do was melt the white chocolate and use it to make my brownies look as pretty as Beca’s.

The only issue I had was that as you were left with such a small amount of white chocolate after adding some to the cake mixture, it didn’t so much melt as burn. And it didn’t so much as swirl as come out looking distinctly like bits of scrambled egg, complete with a cherry poked in the middle. I’d definitely failed at the decoration hurdle.

Being a baking novice, I didn’t have the correctly-sized tin and knew there was no way I would make the perfectly identical-sized pieces from my tray bakes required of the challenge. But I soldiered on regardless with my two mismatched tins and a promise that taste was what really mattered – or Paul’s substance over style.

I’d watched the Great British Bake Off the night before, and seen Beca struggle with being told by Paul Hollywood that the middle section of her traybake wasn’t cooked enough. I’d put this down to a lack of time, but after I took my brownies out of the oven and returned them not once but twice (to the delight of the photographer, ready to get a picture of the completed product), I realised I was having the same problem – the mixture was so thick it took forever to bake.

Also in my eagerness I’d removed some of the brownies too early, causing them to crack and crumble into far smaller pieces. Thankfully, a liberal sprinkling of caster sugar proved the perfect disguise.

A cracking effort: Claire removed her brownies too early, making some of them crumble (PAUL GROVER)

In short: Being able to melt chocolate is fundamental to making a chocolate brownie.

Would I do it again? Maybe, but I wouldn’t bother buying cocktail sticks for the swirls.

Maria Fitzpatrick: millionaire’s shortbread banoffee traybake

My food processor started smoking – not puffs of biscuit crumbs, an actual curl of smoke and a disconcerting burning smell to match. How's that for a technical challenge?

I thought I was being smart getting a jump on some of the recipe's later instructions before the time came to add them in. You don't want to be messing around, back and forth all over the kitchen, when you're supposed to be tending to a pan of boiling caramel.

And so it was that I discovered that soft banana chips - the hazards are never where you expect them, are they? - were going to prove a problem. The recipe calls for two types: hard chips to grind up and add to the caramel as powder, presumably to spread the banana flavour evenly, and soft, chewy pieces that are cut up and added to the caramel for texture. The recipe says clearly that if you can't find hard chips (and even Waitrose, the baker's mecca, didn't have them) that you can use chewy ones throughout.

They spent ages being swung about in the food processor - I think the blade, on its last legs, had trouble with their stickiness - and the only grinding was coming from my teeth. Then the smoke started. In the spirit of Bake Off stoicism, I added a sprinkling of golden caster sugar (there's loads of it in the caramel anyway) to try to add a bit of friction, then a smidge of custard powder (creative or desperate?) to dry them out slightly, but no good. So a combination of fine chopping and a hand-mixer was the best I could do.

The ‘smooth dough’ for the biscuit base was a breeze in comparison – fling it all in the blender and pulse it for a bit, then press it firmly into the base of your greased tray. My weapon of choice was a potato masher. I think Mary and Paul would be well within their rights to avert their eyes and bite a fist at this, but it was really effective for spreading the pastry and melding it so that there were no air holes, and it got the required ‘neat edge’.

I should mention at this point that I have something of Tim Henman about me where baking is concerned; I love the sport, and I’m more than up to the task, but on the big day, with an audience…well, you know the rest. Just ask my family about birthday breakfast pancake batter, which never fails on any old Tuesday, but is inedible when it really counts.

It’s surprising how the pressure of knowing you only have one try can make any bit of flair or finesse go out the window. Doing the Bake Off challenge in my own kitchen, no camera crew or TV presenter over my shoulder, it still felt like the moment when your PE teacher calls “You’re up!” and you have to step up, a springboard and a gymnastics horse in front of you, and 26 pairs of eyes behind. Woe.

However, once the base was baking away gently, the caramel turned a beautiful deep golden and thickened at exactly the ten-minute mark, as the recipe said it would. My base took longer than the recommended 20-30 minutes, so I was channelling my inner octopus, checking the base for firmness and stirring the caramel. Then, in with the smooth mashed banana and the ground (let’s say diced) and chewy pieces, before pouring the caramel on top of the cooling biscuit base, and sprinkling on the flaked sea salt. Exciting times.

Then, it was a simple matter of melting the dark chocolate and pouring it on (I left mine overnight in the fridge). I resisted the optional garnish of banana chips adorned with gold leaf; I know it’s millionaire’s shortbread, but thought it might be like putting a pig in a ballgown.

It didn't taste bad. Quite difficult to cut cleanly, as the chocolate sets hard and breaks up a bit, but no harm: it looks homemade. The recipe is excessively sweet for my personal taste – even despite the sea salt taking the edge off it a little – but I think it’ll be a crowd-pleaser (unless my colleagues don't like banana). Hopefully no-one will take it upon themselves to ‘do a Mary’ and point out that my banana caramel is a bit bobbly, not smooth.

Crowd-pleaser: Maria's shortbread banoffee traybake

In short: a straightforward recipe – any competent baker could do it - that's popular with the masses, and would get much easier to do quickly once you've had a run-through trial. Diabetics shouldn’t even be in the same room.

Would I do it again? Yes, but I'd search high and low for those hard banana chips - I think they'd make all the difference. And I'd ask Father Christmas for a new Kenwood first.

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