Bake On! 9 – Brandy Snaps

The story so far

Bake On! 9 – Brandy Snaps– Season 2 Episode 4


For the brandy snaps


  • Preheat the oven. Line two baking trays with baking parchment then oil a thickish handle of a wooden spoon and lay it on a cooling rack.

Thickish? Not the thickest, but not thinnish.



  • Measure the butter, sugar and syrup into a small, heavy-based pan. The easiest way is to measure the butter, then the sugar on the scales (in the pan if you have digital scales), then measure the syrup on top to make up to 165g/6oz total weight.


I didn’t do that. I measured it all individually. Still worked. Although that’s Mary, looking out for how many dishes you have to do.

  • Heat gently until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. This will take about 15 minutes over a low heat. 

15 minutes? LOL!!! I ain’t waiting that long. Just make sure it doesn’t burn or boil and there is no graininess left over from the sugar.


  • img_20160424_172115Leave the mixture to cool slightly, then sieve in the flour and ginger. Pour in the lemon juice and mix thoroughly. Drop the mixture onto each of the prepared baking trays to make neat circles.

Can we go with neat-ish circles? How neat is neat? Tell me!!! (These were neat enough)


  • Bake until the mixture is well spread out, looks lacey and is a dark golden colour. Once baked, you need to work fast to shape the brandy snaps, so its easier if you bake one tray at a time. Remove each tray from the oven and leave for a minute or so to firm up slightly, then lift from the baking parchment using a fish slice. The mixture needs to be just firm enough to remove, but pliable enough to shape. Check by releasing around and under the edges with a small palette knife.img_20160424_173205


So dark you think they might burn, much darker than a cookie. Have faith, trust in Berry.

I had two pans going – one cooling and being rolled while the other baked. That worked out well. You’re going to be on your feet for a while with this one, wear comfortable shoes, have your drink ready (I always drink coffee when I bake [That’s a lie, sometimes I drink beer]).


  • Quickly roll a circle of the warm mixture around the handle of the wooden spoon, having the join underneath. Press the join lightly together to seal, then slide the brandy snap off the spoon and leave it to firm up on the wire rack.img_20160424_173324


You need to hit these at just the right moment. Too soon and the edges will just crumple in front of the spatula, too late and they will crack.

Have fun with different molding shapes.  Cigars are fun, you can wrap them around oranges for little bowls that you can fill with custard or something else delicious. There are many possibilities for these. Given how quick and easy they are, go nuts. Even if the shape doesn’t come out, they still taste good!


I waited until serving to add the whipped cream so the snaps wouldn’t soften. 


Verdict: Good! Very tasty in a caramel sort of way.


Simple and easy to make, lots of fun as well, especially if you get into doing various shapes. You could do some really fun desserts with little baskets or bowls filled with other delicious things. A would bake again.

Next time on Bake On!: Miniature Pork Pies



Bake on 7 – Tarte Au Citron

Bake 7 – Tarte Au Citron – Season 2 – Episode 2

Special Guest Kitchen – My father in law’s house and his hard to understand oven controls and long unused appliances.

Get your shit together
  • plain flour
  • cold butter  – butter temperature is a crucial thing. Too hot or too cold and your bake will not come out.
  • powdered sugar
  • egg yolk
  • cold water


This was my first sweet pastry. I was poking right along, using the food processor that father in law has probably not used in a decade. I got it all pulsed and looking like breadcrumb, pulled it out, kneaded it and realized I had forgotten the powdered sugar.

I threw it all back in the processor, added in the powdered sugar and hoped like hell I wasn’t overworking it.

Could be a disaster, could be delicious.
Could be a disaster, could be delicious.

Given that I had that cock up, I chilled the pastry before rolling it out as an appeasement to the pastry gods. I think if you can you should probably always chill if you have time. If you’re smart, you should plan it so you do always have time.

I got a shiny, new proper tart tin for this, using the old employee discount. The edges are quite sharp, like, you could use it as a very large cookie cutter, sharp.

When I watched the masterclass video, Mary had a particular way of rolling out the pastry.

Lay a piece of parchment paper on the work surface. Remove the base from the tart tin and lay it on the paper. Using a pencil, draw a circle onto the paper 4cm/1½in bigger than the tin base.

Dust the base of the tin with flour. Place the pastry ball in the centre of the tin base and flatten it out slightly. Roll out the pastry, still on the base, until it meets the circle mark. As you are rolling out, turn the pastry by turning the paper. Gently fold the pastry surrounding the tin base in towards the centre.”


Into the tin…

-When I watched this part on the masterclass video I was so impressed with Mary’s cleverness. She is all about getting you there as quickly and easily as possible while getting “a result.” This even goes to making sure you have as few dishes to wash as possible. When I watch her cooking videos, her care for home bakers, among which she places herself, really comes across. This technique was perfect for this pastry, which was frighteningly delicate.

… and up the sides with minimal touching and no major cracking.

This is when you can grab a little extra piece of the pastry to press pastry on pastry to avoid over heating it with your fingers. The pastry felt fragile and I was petrified of it cracking as I placed it in the tin. Didn’t though, went in a charm using Mary’s method.




Time to blind bake (that’s baking a pie shell with weights but no filling so the bottom doesn’t puff or or become…soggy!). I used lentils, that’s what was in the guest kitchen. (How does it feel, Niel?)

IMG_20160312_211238I didn’t blind bake long enough. I will give it a minute or two longer in the future. From this bake and others I have learned that I don’t get good results when I have a time pressure – like getting a tart done in time for the kid to go to bed. You can see below how pale the pastry was. Needed just a bit more color.IMG_20160312_215009

The Filling


  • eggs
  • double cream
  • sugar
  • lemons, juice and zest
  • powdered sugar, for dusting (nope. I hold no truck with putting bloody powdered sugar on every damn thing) (See, I’m getting opinionated – that means I’m growing as a baker)


I prepped everything while the pastry case was chilling and baking. I filled the pastry case as it sat on the rack, partially in the oven. It was nerve wracking. Getting it as full as I dared and then holding my breath as I slid it in the oven. I want a fancy oven with the racks on rollers so they glide in and out. Failing that I think I might take care to clean and lube my rack edges.

One bakes until there is just a wobble. This is one of those things that is just based on experience. My brother in law, who is a professor of theoretical physics, and I stared at the center of the tart. We shook the rack a bit and agreed that it had stopped being jiggly and had moved to a wobble. I’ve got science on my side for this one.

Or was that a wibble?

(I had never seen the technique of putting the tart pan on a large jar to get it out before I watched Bake Off. Genius.)


I wanted, per Paul’s criticism of Norman in Season 5, perfectly straight, clean, shiny custard. It was straight. The shine wasn’t perfect. Some of the fat in my heavy cream had separated and I shook it to redistribute it. The shaking made bubbles that carried through the custard making and the bake. The pastry could have used a minute or two more in the blind bake but there was no soggy bottom. We also ate it too early (a common flaw in my bakes is that we don’t wait very long before we eat them) so the custard wasn’t completely set.


It was completely delicious with a wonderful texture and a light flaky pastry. When my lemon tree recovers from the ill timed pruning I gave it last year this tart will definitely appear again. It would also be wonderful with other citrus flavors. I’m partial to lime.

You should make it, it’s not difficult and you’ll feel like a boss. Just get a consult on the wobble and you’ll be fine.



Bake On 6 – Coffee & Almond Battenberg

Bake 6 – Coffee and Walnut Battenberg  – Season 2 – Episode 1

(All the bakes, all the time)

The Season 1 technical bakes were really quite easy, if you had the recipe in front of you. The first season of GBBO that I watched was season five. When I went back to watch season 1 I thought “are they joking?” The standard was so much lower. I think that a lot of people watched the first season and thought “Well, I bake a lot better than that, I’ll have a go!”

Thus, the Season 2 Technical Bakes are no joke. Even with the recipe and the masterclass videos – wherein Mary and Paul show you exactly how to make the recipes – the recipes have been difficult to execute. (Yeah, I’ve almost finished the Season 2 bakes and am well behind on blogging – much content to follow!)

So, the Battenberg. You may have noticed that the title and the assignment differ. My brother, who judges the bakes, is allergic to walnuts. I adapted this so he could eat it. Yep, it’s not the same, nope, I’m not sorry.

Mooom, no pictures, the ingredients are shy!

Instant Coffee was the weirdest ingredient I had to get for this, that and margarine (or “baking spread”). The instant coffee adds a full cup worth of coffee flavour without the excess moisture that would mess up the sponge texture.

From here we moved on to a fairly standard sponge mix (that’s cake, America) and a craft project.

Greezy! (You can’t see but it’s a Sur La Table pan, don’t tell my boss!)

I am now confident in my ability to make sure the cake comes out of the pan. Thoroughness is the key. Grease, maybe some flour and  parchment paper. Don’t skimp (my mom was a skimper because her mom – who taught her – was raised in the Depression when skrimping was really just being. I’m learning better ways now. And that has been a short lesson on how poverty interacts with multiple generations of a family long after members of that family are actually poor. /sjwrant) and your cakes will come out!

You can go out and buy a special Battenberg pan. I was not about that.  I am completely willing to buy equipment as I go about my quest, but I am pretty sure I’m not going to be popping out Battenbergs again (spoiler?). Mary Berry, being crafty like ice is cold (I put on my records, she knew all the grooves) shows one how to  use foil backed parchment to separate your pan into two baking chambers.

Fold and cut, so that it will go into the cake pan nicely.
There is the peak that will separate the two sponges.
Making sure that the fold in in the middle.

My pan was 8*8 instead of 7*7, so my Battenbergs were more rectangular than square. No biggie.

Beat up the sponge, then, split it in half and add flavor to each half. Instead of walnuts, I used almonds.  Next time I would toast them to add even more flavour.

I tried to be exact on this part, to get identical sponges.




And yet, my sponges were quite different sizes.  That was frustrating. I tried very hard to make them even before baking and it just didn’t happen.  I don’t know if it was the nuts. I got the sponges out, separated them and then went for a run.




Break time.

Coming back it was time to assemble!

Umm, yeah! Just like this!


I mixed up a truly miniscule bit of frosting. It was not enough!! You are meant to use it to stick the pieces of Battenberg together and then coat the outside so the marzipan sticks. There was just not enough of it to do all of that.  The sponge was crumbling when I tried to get the icing layer thinner and by the time I got to trying to stick on the marzipan there was none left.

Uneven sponges, meet knife.
All evened up and ready for slicing.
Should have sliced my almonds thinner. There were big gouges when I cut the stack of cake down the middle


Marzipan! or Almond Paste? Marzipan! The recipe called for 8 oz of marzipan. The package had seven. I didn’t buy a second package so I would have the right amount and then have six ounces of marzipan left over. It didn’t make a difference.  I had enough to roll out and cover the cake.

Marzipan is suspicious…..
Bash it and roll it out. Board is covered in powdered sugar instead of flour.


Engage child to cover the sponges in the marzipan. Rent child if necessary, this step cannot be skipped.

Rolling the marzipan and wrapping up the sponges was much easier than I had been anticipating. As a material, marzipan was fun and easy to work with. Paul likes to crimp, so I crimped and added almonds on top.




Super Cute!

It looked good! The marzipan was separating from the sides due to the lack of frosting to stick it on.

We sliced it, ate it and… it was really gross. The commercial marzipan was disgustingly sweet. You couldn’t taste much coffee or almond, just sugar. For all that work it was not delicious. I would not make this again, unless I made my own marzipan (which I have done in the mean time and it came out great). If you make this, be selective about your marzipan and I think you will be much happier than I was.


Next Time:  Tart au Citron!


Bake On! 5 – Cornish Pasties

GBBO Season 1, Episode five

I must say, the husbeast and I were really looking forward to this bake…

pasty reference

Cornish Pasties!!

When I lived in the UK I loved these things. Whenever I went into town I would go to the Cornish Pasty Shop and grab one of these guys. A pasty (pronounced pass-tee) is basically thick stew in a handy carrying case. Eating the pastry case is somewhat optional. Like fajitas, when originally devised the pastry was not meant to be eaten but was effectively the equivalent of a Tupperware. I’m not a coal miner or a cowboy so my food stays cleaner and thus the pastry should be tasty _and_ functional.


This recipe is a bog standard, traditional pasty with beef, swede (rutabaga), potato, and onion filling.

The baking equivalent of this.
Ready, Steady…


Some things that we use are just tools. Some things have more meaning. Growing up, in my mom’s kitchen we had a bowl that looked a lot like this one.



This is not that bowl. This was my mother’s mother’s bowl. I got a fair amount of kitchen equipment when my grandmother died and all of it is special to me. This is my go-to mixing bowl for all applications. Five generations of my family have probably used this bowl. This is part of what I mean when I say that when I bake, I feel connected to the old magic. This is an artifact of the crone and I adore that about it.


Rough, ready for action


Post kneading

Kneading is standard at this point. No worries about overworking this one. Got it smooth and popped it in the frig. While the dough chills out in the frig, get the meat and veg chopped up

You can’t see it but I’m making a mistake in this picture

This was the right size of dice for this bake. It’s not a particularly refined dish so no need to worry too much about perfect little cubes.

It’s in the nature of this project that I have little bits of things left because I’m sticking exactly to the recipes. A tiny bit of swede here, a tiny bit of potato there. The next time I bake these I’ll just use the whole veg rather than leaving 14 grams of onion unused (the horror).


Kitchen Equipment you need – Measuring Tape. Seriously, don’t try to eyeball stuff, measure it. In thirty years, I’m sure I’ll be able to roll something out without measuring but for now I’m keeping one of these in my kitchen drawer.

Cornish Pasties traditionally have 17 to 21 crimps. Did I count? What do you think?

Pre and Post Crimping
Pre and Post Crimping

Of course I did, and I did 17! 18 if you count the fold under at the end. I gave them a hug, as this baker recommends.

Seriously large pasties

Baking was sort of tricky. You need to make sure the meat is fully cooked and that the pastry isn’t overcooked. I didn’t want to stab them with a thermometer because they might lose their precious bodily fluids. My oven is slow, so time is the starting guideline and from there I go by the color I see in the masterclass videos. Egg wash is key!

No soggy bottoms, yo! There was leakage, that seems to be normal.
Golden! Delicious?
Looks like the picture up above.

I ate them with a fork – picking out the filling and eating bits of the pastry. The case worked very well. It was easy to hold onto as I munched its guts.

Verdict – Delicious and pleasing!  I will totally bake more pasties. There were some dry spots. When I made my filling I got it together, added the seasoning and then let it sit for a while. When I put the filling on to the dough there was a lot of liquid left in the bowl, liquid that would have been better off in my pasty.

What will I change?

-If I was going to make it for Mary and Paul I would be more mindful of making them as close to the same size as possible. I would measure and roll the pastry more carefully and weigh out my filling as well.

-Not let my filling sit and lose juice, I have a feeling this was a problem that led to some of the dryness I got.

-Smaller Pasties. These were huuuuuge. I couldn’t finish a whole pasty including the pastry case as my dinner. Little Pip could eat about half a pasty worth of filling. More, smaller pasties would be easier to manage.

-Different fillings. You can go buck wild with pasty fillings. I’m looking forward to changing it up.

Bake On!


Next week, the first technical of Season 2 – the Coffee and Walnut Battenberg

Struck by Lightning – The Great Bake On!

Art is like gambling. The thrill of gambling is the uncertain return. We keep trying because we never know what we are going to get. Media is like that, we keep consuming, reading, playing, watching, listening because we never know when something will hit us in such a way that our lives will be made richer, stranger, or more nuanced by the perspective provided.

I watched a season of The Great British Baking Show (in the UK it’s The Great British Bake Off) and I am hooked. I have watched one of the series all the way through four times. I make my family watch it, I make my kid watch it and pick out dishes to make for her. I remembered that I love to cook. Spending a Saturday picking a recipe or two, shopping for ingredients, and making something is a damn fine way to spend time with my kid who is three and a half now and well into scooping, mixing, patting, and holding the top of the new KitchenAid Mixer.

My Grand Idea is to go back to the beginning and bake my way through the entire run of the show. Each episode has a technical challenge and I’m going to work my way through them posting a review of the episode and my attempt at the bake on a weekly basis.


Well, it’ll be fun. But also, I wonder, what does it take to be a Great British Baker? I’m one of those people who isn’t super creative as a cook but I can follow a recipe with no problem. I turn out reliably good food. The winners on this show? They turn out magnificent bakes. They innovate with shape and flavour. They step off the line and kick ass. Can baking a lot give me the confidence to try? Failure is just a lesson, will I find the courage to fail? The courage to think that I have something to contribute? At the very least, if I don’t become a great baker, will I at least become a better one?

Let’s find out!