The Great Birthday Bake Off

Baking is definitely the new rock and roll, with the added bonus that you can whisk along to the beat. What with Masterchef and the Great British Bake Off, there’s more inspiration than ever to get baking.

For my friend Ruth’s 50th, as well as making her a cake, I bought her a session at a cookery school so she could learn a few more baking skills from a professional. And as I’m partial to a bit of baking myself, I joined her.

Creme patissiere

We turned up at the Simply Cooking Harmony House Cookery School, near York, ready to bake everything anyone could ever want for an English afternoon tea. I made my first ever batch of crème patisserie, the semi-set custard of vanilla slices. It turned out to be quite simple, though unfortunately I over-catered, so Ruth and I had to eat the leftovers right out of the bowl. Waste not, want not, eh? The same went for the battenberg which had oodles of excess marzipan and cake cuttings, we were like human Hoovers. Though at least I didn’t disgrace myself and eat the cake mixture left in the bowl, not that I’m owning up to, anyway.

Great fun, with edible results. Ruth confessed that she was relieved I hadn’t gone with my other option for her present, a day’s gardening tuition, which would have included digging and weeding. That, she admitted, was definitely too much like hard work!

The failed jelly baby experiment

Here's looking at you..
Here’s looking at you..

Enthused and inspired by the super-bakers on The Great British Bake-Off and the supercooks on Masterchef, where every dish is served ‘with a twist’, I let my creativity go crazy in concocting a new kind of cookie.

As I weighed out the ingredients and made the gloopy mixture, tasting as I went along, licking out the bowl, just to make double sure it was absolutely perfect, you know, I could hear the Masterchef music and the voiceover….

“Anne is making a sugar cookie with a jelly baby centre, decorated with slivers of jelly baby and jelly baby bellies.”

Well, that’s what Anne set out to do, still full of ideas of treating her friends from the running club to a special homage to the energy booster of choice on those long runs, the jelly baby. What the voiceover actually did say was:

“Anne has made a batch of sugar volcanos, see how the molten jelly babies bubble and spews in the heat of the oven, sending a stream of molten lava-like sugar and dismembered bellies across the floor and into the cat’s dish. The black ones look particularly disgusting and the cat’s not impressed either.”

So that was the end of that, I chucked them in the bin, ate the rest of the jelly babies and made flapjacks. That was after I’d raced to the postbox and fished through the opening to retrieve my applications for The Great British Bake Off and Masterchef.

Just call me Heston

With the new series of Masterchef starting on the BBC this week, I felt my Saturday menu should be inspired, imaginative, bold, inventive, Heston Blumenthalesque. So when my red wine reduction was reduced to cinders and smoke-filled the house, I declared it was (in my best French accent) vapeur . I think I got away with it……..

Michel Roux Jr, Jamie, Raymond Blanc, Nigella and old snail porridge man himself Heston have a lot to answer for with their fancy pants food. Every time I forget to cut the crusts off for my cordon bleu presentation of beans on toast, or find shell in Eggy Bread à la StripeyAnne, I can hear Michel’s disappointed tones, “This is not fine dining.” Desolé.

The starter went well, goats cheese soufflé, a bit of a challenge with gluten-free flour for my coeliac friend, but they rose – and fell a little – to the occasion. The main course, belly pork and chorizo with cannellini beans and dauphinoise potatoes was fine, despite my poncy presentation, plated up and arranged with a flourish (well, it IS fine dining), everyone just wanted to dive in and help themselves to seconds – I could hear Michel’s tutting from afar.

Then the sweet, or pudding as we call it in Yorkshire, was poached pears with a stilton and apricot mousse and, pièce de resistance, a red wine reduction. All it needed was for me not to drink more than a couple of glasses of wine and not to forget I’d put a light under the pan of wine, spices and sugar, which was full when I left it.

Next thing I knew, there was a waft of something not too aromatic coming from the kitchen. The smoke alarm sang its song and I put my down my wine glass without hiccupping, fast thinking was needed.

“Your pudding,” I informed the attentive guests, “is served with a vapeur of red wine to the tune of the smoke alarm, ” I said, adding “it’s being ironic.” They looked impressed.

“Take a spoonful of pear and mousse, then inhale.” They did, I think they were impressed. From afar, Michel was smiling. I could tell.

And coffee to finish.......