You’ve seen it on Instagram, you’ve seen it on Buzzfeed, you’ve seen it all over the Internet – trendy, stylish foods that toe the line between disgusting and impressively creative. Yet we can’t get enough! We line up for hours to try rainbow bagels and cookie dough served in ice cream cones. We “do it for the ‘gram.” We are foodies.
I am one of these foodies. I watch Food Network, I follow more food Instagram profiles than anything else. I’ve made lists of restaurants to try. I can name exotic foods and spices, and I yell at Chopped contestants like I’m watching football.
But I also have a secret… I never actually learned how to cook.
I was a picky eater as a child. No one in my family ever seemed to be particularly excited about food. Growing up, I saw cooking as more of a chore than a hobby. Once I got into food, I found myself wanting to make the dishes I saw on Pinterest or practice the skills I saw on TV. In 2015, I started this blog on another platform. Now I’m continuing that blog here as of 2018.
The point of this blog is to document both my pre-med journey and my culinary exploration and share it with my readers. I hope to share the lessons I’ve learned, as well as my successes and many failures. I feel learning to cook is not only a great hobby, but a way to encourage a healthy lifestyle while I pursue my dream of being a physician.
“…no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.” -Julia Child
Although I can’t stand the way Paul Hollywood pronounces “ciabatta” the man knows how to bake bread. For bread week the challenge was to make 4 loaves of ciabatta. Based on Paul’s instructions, this is going to be a very wet dough. I’m going to try very hard not to handle it too much so keeping it from sticking to everything is going to be a challenge.
Also I cannot stand the way that Paul Hollywood pronounces ciabatta.
1) The Dough
This dough doesn’t necessarily need to be kneaded, but mixed enough so the water is fully mixed in.
This dough was sticky. The descriptions weren’t kidding. I didn’t have a square tub so I used one of my glass cooking pans. I think I used one that was too big.
3) Shape & Rise Again
Separating the dough was harder than I thought. I cut it but it wouldn’t separate. I ended up handling the dough more than I intended.
The next rise didn’t change the dough much.
I used the whole oven (instead of my half oven). I think this got the bake just right.
The Final Result
The crumb is not bad. It’s light and airy, baked through properly. There’s a nice crust on the outside with a light golden-brown color. The issue is in the shape.
I suspect two issues for the lack of rise to the proper dough shape. Firstly, I used regular yeast instead of instant. I did activate the yeast, but perhaps I should have used warm water and let it cool. The second issue was the container for the first prove. I think if I had used a smaller but taller container, the shape would have been better.
Week 3 is for bread, starting with a classic rye roll. In the episode, there was an entire discussion of why rye flour is so difficult to work with, which does worry me a bit. I’ve made some bread. I’m hoping this goes better than biscuit week… Fortunately, instead of 36 I only have to make 12 this time. Again, consistency is key.
Some of the bakers used flavors like orange and cardamom, which just doesn’t quite mix well in my head. I’ve only had rye as sandwich bread. I can’t recall ever eating sweet rye, so I looked for some tasty but not too boring rye rolls.
I was surprised how complicated the recipes have been! I figured it wouldn’t be much different from a regular bread roll but there is so much more involved! I ended up choosing a dark pumperknickel bread. I will not be using a breadmaker. That’s cheating. My biggest concern is the bake. The dark color of the bread is going to make it difficult to tell when it’s truly done. I don’t want the crumb to close either, since rye is a tough, strong flour.
The batter was so strange. It looked like I was making chocolate cupcakes, but it smelled so odd with the combination of rye and cocoa and yeast.
My poor Kitchenaid took a beating trying to beat this tough dough. It started to soften slightly but I can’t tell if I over or under-mixed it.
I got a pretty decent rise in the oven. I like to proof my doughs in an oven that was warmed to 175 then turned off.
4. Roll & Raise Again
I tried to weigh out the dough and make things even. The trick with my dinner rolls didn’t seem to work with rye dough.
The dark color made these tricky. I probably should have baked on the middle rack. I lowered the bake time to 25 minutes, but I opened my test roll and there were parts that still seemed underbaked. Another 5 minutes in the oven and well…
The Final Result
This was a complete and total failure. I can’t tell if I over-kneaded the dough and made it too tough, or if I under-kneaded and prevented the gluten from breaking down enough for an elastic dough.
Part of the problem, I think, is that this recipe is for a whole loaf. Rolling these seemed to make layers that prevented the second rise and the rise in the oven. I also suspect that I overbaked them. Some of the layers seemed to stay raw despite 30 minutes in the oven.
As a result these rolls were hard as rocks. I managed to open one. The flavor wasn’t bad. I could taste a bit of the coffee and molasses flavors. The inside was okay, but the outside had a tough crust. Once out of the oven and cooled, they were just solid.
Here’s another challenge when British terminology tripped me up. For dessert weak, the bakers were asked to make eight self-saucing puddings. Pudding is the British word meaning dessert. After re-watching the episode and doing some research, this is essentially a lava cake. You should be able to bake a cake that oozes when you cut into it.
Also yes I’m
Once I figured out what “self-saucing” meant it was just a matter of picking a cake that wasn’t just pure chocolate. I stumbled upon these clever “churro” cakes filled with chocolate. I’ll only be making four to minimize food waste.
I used a tip to freeze the chocolate ganache in the hopes it would keep the filling from exploding…. more on that later.
2. The Batter
I used cinnamon sugar instead of putting the cinnamon in the flour. I also used cinnamon sugar for the ramekins.
3. The Bake
Batter in first, then the filling, but I wondered about covering the filling first.
The Final Result
If I’d ekked by for the past few weeks, then this week would definitely have sent me home! I think by incorporating the cinnamon into the sugar, I darkened the cake more than I intended. The chocolate exploded out and baked, so there was no “self-saucing.” I managed to salvage the appearance by flipping the cakes upside down, but the color was off-putting even with more cinnamon sugar.
Flavor wise, there wasn’t really a “wow” factor. The cake was dense and the molten filling would have added some much needed moisture.
The showstopper for the Biscuit Week was an exercise in creativity. The bakers needed to design a freestanding 3D biscuit scene. Biscuit choices were left up to the bakers, as well as the concept of the scene. Watching, you could tell there was a variety of approaches. Whether it was the type or flavor of cookie, the scene itself, or how they got the cookies to stand, everyone did something different. I had my work cut out for me.
This will be an entire scene, which means there’s much more planning involved than a simple cake or cookie. First I had to decide what kind of scene to make. I didn’t want to repeat anything that had already been done. I thought about re-creating my clinic, then maybe something nerdy. I settled on the idea of witches cooking in a cemetary.
Then I needed to pick the type of biscuit/cookie to use. The key to this is picking a dough with a structure sturdy enough to maintain a 3D shape without buckling or collapsing. The biscuit also needs to be baked enough to have that “snap” when eaten. (If not, well… that’s one of the reasons Enwezor went home that week). Most of the bakers chose flavored gingerbreads, and that sounded like a good idea.
I’ll be using orange and chocolate gingerbreads for my spooky witch scene. The plan is 2 biscuit witches standing over a cauldron. The cauldron will probably not be biscuit, possibly a cupcake. The witches will be beside a large tomb structure. There will be several (probably three) tombstones. I’m currently debating whether to make the fencing of the graveyard out of biscuit versus pretzel sticks.
1 . Make Doughs
This was the easiest part. Make 2 different doughs according to their respective recipes and chill.
2. Roll & Cut
Roll out the chilled dough and cut into needed shapes. I drew my shapes on cardstock, cut them out, then used them as stencils on the dough. Worked out pretty well!
They puffed up a lot more than I expected! The chocolate looked burnt on a few pieces, so I probably should have watched closer. The dark dough can really trip you up!
4. Make ‘Em Stand!
Once cool, I made royal icing (for the first time!) and used it as glue. I also added coloring into small batches to help decorate.
I had a total of four tombstones (just in case). Two witches with arms to keep the scene from being too static. I created a small tray of Oreo dirt (not part of the tasting!). I also made a quick mugcake for my cauldron. I finally got the little suckers to stand on the dirt after much struggle.
The Final Result
Ya’ll… this was the hardest challenge by far. The cookies kept falling over and getting messy. I was so frustrated I abandoned most of my decor plans because I just did not have the energy anymore! I wanted a fence and color on the witches. The cauldron could have been better. I’m also kicking myself for not having an edible marker to write on the tombstones, though I guess I could have used food coloring.
The orange cookie was alright, but not very “gingerbread”. The chocolate gingerbread was fantastic! I’ll be keeping that recipe for Christmastime. Unfortunately, the biscuits missed the “snap” the judges mentioned. I think this was because my dough wasn’t thin enough, so it puffed and became too thick as a cookie.
I’m a little disappointed in myself this round. I probably would have gotten a lot of the same criticism Norman did for lack of color, though Norm had a much neater presentation.
Who knows… maybe I would have ekked through based on my technical?
Week 2 (Biscuits) presented the florentine as a technical challenge. These cookies are made of nuts and candied fruit melded together with a caramel-like consistency, then dipped in chocolate. The cookies need to be thin and lacey without falling apart.
Gathering the ingredients was a challenge in and of itself! I had to buy another type of sugar (putting me at a grand total of 5 types of sugar in my house). Golden syrup is not something traditionally sold in the U.S. Essentially golden syrup is the lighter cousin of molasses. Some people have substituted this with corn syrup, but I’ve been warned against that. I had to order it on Amazon.
Apparently “candied peel” isn’t an American staple either, so I’ve been forced to substitute with dried apricots. I’m hoping the similar texture will be okay.
There are lots of small nuts and chopped fruits for this. I cut and weighed them, then cut them again to make sure they were really finely chopped.
2. Melt & Mix
The sugar gets melted into the heated golden syrup (which tastes a bit like honeycomb) and incorporated with butter as it melts. Does this count as a caramel?
3. Spread & Bake
I think I should have spent more time at this step to make sure they were proportionate and well-shaped. I also stacked the cookies thicker than I should have, which prevented some spread.
4. Temper Chocolate & Spread
I’m giving myself kudos for beautifully tempering this chocolate. It was shiny and pretty. I brushed on the chocolate to the backs of the cookies, but that zigzag was tough! I got pretty decent lines once I realized I should be using the back of the fork.
As I’m not the biggest fan of nuts and dried fruits, I did not care for the taste. I’ve never had a florentine so I wasn’t sure if there was supposed to be a “snap” or if they should be as chewy as mine. I had some others try the cookies and they enjoyed the taste, so I’m blaming my personal bias against almonds and dried apricots.
I got some laciness on the larger cookies, which spread more. I did not however manage 18 cookies, only 12. I must have used too much batter and not spread the cookies enough. I got some odd shapes and the sizes weren’t consistent.
The chocolate, however, did not leak through the cookies. It was well-tempered and shiny even if the zigzag wasn’t the prettiest.
I definitely wouldn’t be in the top three for this technical challenge but I don’t think I’d be at the bottom either (mostly because I didn’t use a cookie cutter- sorry Enwezor!)
Week 2 is biscuit week, and the signature challenge is to make 36 savory biscuits. Again with the 36! Who is going to eat all of these?! Anyway, the challenge is to make 36 cheesy, savory British-style biscuits which are consistent in bake, size, and shape. Now as an American biscuits do not mean the same thing to me. When I hear “biscuit” I think Southern biscuit and gravy, light fluffy bread. What the British mean is something akin to a cookie or a cracker. While re-watching the episode they mentioned water biscuits/crackers and what “digestives” are.
Originally I wanted to go with a cacio e pepe shortbread (because yum), but based on the description of the challenge this would be baked more like a slice of cookie than the desired biscuit. As I searched there were plenty of options, making it more difficult to choose from.
I skipped out on anything including a jam, as it is supposed to be savory, so I want to avoid sweetness like fig jam. I liked the idea of an herb paired with a cheese, so when I stumbled across Stilton and rosemary shortbread, I knew they’d be perfect. What’s more British than Stilton cheese? Unfortunately, Stilton is tricky to get here in the U.S so I substituted another blue cheese.
Making the Dough
This was honestly just a weird experience attempting to cream butter and blue cheese. The dry ingredients came next, but rather than add the rosemary after (as instructed) I’d heard on Spring Baking Championship that you can rub the herbs into the dry ingredients to get more flavor.
2. Roll & Chill
Shortbread is a really crumbly dough. I managed to stick it together, though I did consider adding cold water like a pie dough. Once chilled, I tried to roll it into a log shape so I could cut out even biscuits. Unfortunately they ended up flat on one end.
3. Shape & Bake
I tried to shape the biscuits into little squares but they crumbled easily. I ended up with an odd shape and very little consistency between biscuits. Fortunately, the bake got a nice golden brown on the edges (despite making my house stink!).
While the first batch baked, I tried re-working the dough. Rolling out the dough between saran wrap finally got the dough to come together. I cut out square shapes (though I honestly should have used a ruler) and baked again. These biscuits were wonderfully flaky with multiple layers. These are the ones I would have given to the judges.
So it turns out not many people are a fan of blue cheese. One of my coworkers spit out the biscuit! One person who loved blue cheese liked the flavor. Boyfriend even enjoyed some, taking the whole biscuit when I offered him bites. Brother-in-Law also enjoyed them. One of the doctors at my office was impressed by the layers in the redo batch.
I guess whether or not I did well depends on if the judges like blue cheese. Stay tuned for the technical challenge!
The showstopper challenge for cake week was to make 36 miniature classic British cakes. The bakers chose Victorian sponge, Jaffa cakes, lemon drizzle cakes, and more. The cakes needed to be aesthetically pleasing and as consistently identical as possible. Since supplies are short right now, I cut back to 24 mini-cakes. As an American, I’m decidedly unfamiliar with “classic” British cakes other than the obvious Victoria sponge. However, both Jaffa cakes and Victorian sponge cakes end up being challenges later on in the show, so I decided to go with the lemon drizzle.
NY times Cooking actually wrote about the Great British Baking Show, and included some recipes including a “classic” lemon drizzle cake. However, a plain lemon drizzle is not exactly “showstopping.” I rewatched the episode for inspiration.
Luis added elderberry syrup, which got me thinking about using fruit. Since I used strawberry for the signature bake, I figured this time I would use raspberries. Martha and Iain both used marscapone in a cream, which I figured would balance some of the tart fruit flavors.
The cakes will be evenly shaped, two-layer cakes. The middle will be filled with a marscapone whipped cream/cream cheese frosting and raspberry compote, then topped with piped cream and fresh raspberries.
Step 1: Batter
I read later on that there is so much baking powder (which makes cakes rise) because the original recipe uses self-rising flour. Is that the go-to flour in Britain? Either way the batter tasted nice. I think this is one of the first cakes I haven’t used vanilla as an ingredient.
I was just watching Spring Baking Championship. Several bakers mentioned using herbs and other aromatics in the flour for more flavor! I’m excited I got to try it out.
Step 2: Bake & Glaze
Of course with all that baking powder it certainly puffed up! I thought I might have overbaked it but it was perfectly springy to the touch. I’m starting to like darker colors on my bake.
I think my glaze was a little too thick. I also expected it to be more like a simple syrup. I spread it across the cake prior to trimming. I’m not sure if the cake was warm enough but I did manage to spread it fairly evenly.
Step 3: Whipped Cream & the Couli
I was a little disappointed in my choice of whipped cream. Perhaps I’m used to sweeter desserts as an American. Fortunately, in combination with the cake it added a nice mild creaminess.
I absolutely did not buy enough raspberries. I wanted to put a raspberry on top but I used them all in the couli. Can’t stop a challenge to grocery shop!
Step 4: Cool and Cut
I tried to make these as even as possible, but because I didn’t use a perfectly square pan I had to trim, then it ended up being 11.5 inches long. Kind of annoying for trying to make even squares. I did have 24 but one fell apart when I cut it!
Step 5: Assemble
I thought about stacking the cakes on top of each other but then they would have been huge! I remembered the judges making a comment about that to Ian. I cut the cake slices in half instead. Boy do I wish I had the guillotine that Nancy’s husband made her.
Next was the cream and filling between the layers. Piping all of the little whipped cream stars was exhausting! I’m mostly disappointed it didn’t look as nice as I thought it would…
Well I only made 23 out of 24 cakes, but at least they were baked! Appearance-wise I really wish I had fresh raspberries to brighten it up. The bake is consistent, as is color, but size is a little off. Some were much larger than others. Most of my coworkers commented that they were “cute.”
As for taste, I’m immensely pleased. The cake itself was not too sweet. You get the tang of the lemon from the drizzle and some extra tart from the raspberry. The crumb of the cake was nice. Even if it was a bit dry, the balance from the whipped cream and raspberry filling made a nice moist bite. They may not be the prettiest but they sure tasted divine!
What do you guys think? Would I make it to week 2?
Technical challenges, obviously, are designed to challenge the bakers’ knowledge of baking. For Mary Berry’s cherry cake, the challenge was focused on how to suspend the cherries evenly throughout the cake, as well as how long to bake the cake.
For me, the challenge will be using ingredients I’ve never used (glacé cherries and self-rising flour), as well as toasting almonds for the first time. Even in the episode, Kate burnt her almonds.
As this is essentially a fancy bundt cake, I’m not predicting too much difficulty in making this cherry cake. However, I do hope I can get the cherries to suspend evenly. Mary Berry’s recipe can be found here.
Step 1: Prep
I ground my own almonds. Cutting the cherries took me so long I’m still kind of stunned. Also my fingers will probably be red for about a week.
Step 2: Batter
I’ve never used ground almond in a cake mix before. I mixed cakes like I’m used to (cream butter and sugar, then wet, then dry). I already knew about the trick with the cherries, both from watching the episode and from making Irish soda bread (the raisins have to be rinsed, dried, and coated in flour). I’m not a fan of the taste with the almond. Perhaps I haven’t ground them fine enough. I also have very little experience with self-rising flour.
Step 3: Bake
The instructions say to bake at 180 Celcius, which is about 350 F. My oven requires turning halfway through a bake, otherwise it will overbake one side. I baked for 20 minutes then rotated. I checked about 10 minutes before I hit 40 minutes (recommended bake time 35-40 minutes). The cake was dark brown on the bottom and came out clean when poked with a skewer. When I turned it over, it was a little delicate but looked baked consistently and all the way through. I probably should have baked in the center rack because the edges are more brown.
Step 4: Decorate
I ran out of icing sugar for the icing! I also bought slivered almonds instead of shaved, but that probably kept me from burning them. I have never toasted nuts. I thought about using the oven, but I remember the bakers using the stovetop. So I assumed its butter and almonds? Remember no research! They turned out a nice golden brown, which I’m hoping doesn’t mean they are burnt.
I love how this turned out! I’m super proud of myself. As for the cake, Mary Berry would probably say it’s slightly overbaked, which made it a bit dry. My icing was also “higgledy piggledy” and I also iced a little too soon (before the cake was completely cooled). The flavor tastes lovely. The cherries add some moisture and the lemon keeps the cake from being overwhelmingly sweet.
The key to this challenge was the distribution of the cherries. Since the cake was fairly small, it seemed the cherries were spread throughout the levels of the batter. I’d say I’m still in the running this week, wouldn’t you?
For their first bake, the contestants were required to make a Swiss Roll. As usual the signature bake should taste and look pretty. The Swiss roll is actually an Austrian sponge cake which has been filled with whipped cream, jam, or icing. The tricky part of this challenge is the roll. If not rolled correctly the cake will crack. Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood were particularly focused on the presentation of the spiral of filling and cake.
I found some recipes for a Swiss roll on Pinterest. I have made a Swiss roll as a Yule Log before, so this won’t be entirely new to me. I found this recipe for a champagne cake roll. Now of course, I didn’t want to be too simple. A plan champagne cake with powdered sugar is not Baking Show worthy. I started brainstorming appearance ideas. That brought about the idea of pairing with champagne: chocolate and strawberries. I love the idea of a light cake with a sort of decadence in the flavor profile.
I’ve never tried strawberry roses. Do the roses need leaves? There was the idea of sugared, candied, or soaked strawberries as well. I decided to leave them as is, to prevent an overpowering sweetness.
Then I came up with the idea of filling the roll with strawberries as well. I decided not to soak the strawberries in champagne. Though champagne is subtle in many baked goods, I want to avoid a one-note flavor to the cake.
The final draft is a champagne rolled cake soaked in reduced champagne, sprinkled with cocoa powder on the inside, and filled with champagne whipped cream and strawberries. The outside will be lightly dusted with powdered sugar and decorated with strawberry roses [and chocolate?]
Step 1: Reduce the champagne
Reductions have always been a weak spot for me. If they’re supposed to be sticky, then this did not reach that consistency. It was on the stove for 30 minutes! I tasted toward the end and the champagne seemed a bit bitter so I didn’t want that flavor to get stronger.
Step 2: Make the Cake
This a cake without a fat. The air needs to stay in the batter. I actually folded most of my ingredients with a spatula, except for the meringue.
Step 3: Bake
I actually started with the timer at 10 minutes, even though the instructions said 15. It still needed some time but I watched like a hawk. But 14 minutes it sprang back.
Step 4: Invert and Roll
I’m not going to lie. I cheated a bit on this one. I had Bae help me invert since I’m scared of burning myself. I did, however, roll immediately as instructed.
Step 5: Fillings
Strawberries were hulled and chopped into manageable pieces, since apparently the grocery store only had gigantic strawberries available. The whipped cream is fairly easy but I definitely should have tasted before spreading it on the cake.
Step 6: Fill and Roll
I brushed the cake with champagne reduction, careful not to make the cake soggy. After a mishap with the cocoa powder, I lightly sifted some on the cake. I then spread the cream with a spatula and sprinkled sliced strawberries throughout.
Step 7: Decorate
Strawberry roses are hard! The first few attempts did not quite work out, but that’s why I bought extra strawberries. I finally managed to make two decent ones, but I think this will take some more practice.
I’m my own worst critic. The cake was light. No crack in the cake! Unfortunately, I couldn’t really taste the champagne. The strawberry was the right choice to keep the cake from being too sweet, however it was slightly underfilled. In places there were gaps due to lack of whipped cream, but you could still make out the swirl!
Although in my head the appearance was supposed to be classy, it ended up being kind of simple. Perhaps I should have cut more roses or added some chocolate shapes.
Bae played “Paul Hollywood.” He enjoyed the cake, but he couldn’t taste champagne either. He was glad the cake wasn’t tongue-numbingly sweet.
Overall I don’t think I’d be sent home quite yet. Let’s see how the other two challenges go! Next is the technical: Mary Berry’s Cherry Cake.
Well ladies and gentlemen, this COVID-19 business has had been cooped up in my house for the past several days. I’ve enjoyed having more time at home to clean up. In the evenings I have time to get back in my kitchen. Since Sunday I’ve made egg salad (though I was trying to do an Easter post for you all), Irish soda bread, spaghetti sauce for spaghetti and meatballs, chocolate espresso cupcakes, and
Since I’ve had the time and motivation to bake and cook so much, I thought I would get started on a project of mine I’ve been waiting to do: The Great British Bakethrough.
For those of you with Netflix, the Great British Baking Show or “Bake Off” is a British television show in which home bakers from across the U.K are chosen to compete in a competition. The judges (Mary Berry & Paul Hollywood in the early seasons) are famous bakers who present three challenges per episode.
I love the way the show is filmed. The bakers all seem willing to help and encourage each other. In addition, the bakers all push themselves to learn and improve each episode. Seeing their efforts makes me want to try and bake like them. So why not give it a try?
I’m going to be starting with Netflix Collection 1 (which is actually Series 5 from the BBC). It was the first season I ever watched. In fact, I’ve probably re-watched it a dozen times, including while I prepared for this challenge for myself.
The general rules are similar for that of the competitors. Everything must be made from scratch unless otherwise directed, i.e no store-bought frostings or jams. I will be asking friends and family to “judge” the products based on taste, appearance, and the particular qualities specific to each challenge. The only aspect I do not intend to rigorously apply is the time limit. I’m still learning after all! Though I’m going to try my hardest not to leave anything overnight.
There are three types of challenges. In the signature bake, the bakers usually are aware of the challenge beforehand so they have time to prepare and plan. I will do the same. The only caveat is that I cannot use any recipes from the judges or previous contestants (which are provided on BBC’s website). It has to be my own creation, though I can rely on the recipes of others. The same applies to the “Showstopper” challenges.
The technical challenge usually involves one of the judges giving the bakers a generic recipe missing key details. As these are already a challenge, I won’t be missing the details, but I will have to use Mary Berry or Paul Hollywood’s recipes just like in the show!
I’m really excited to try this. I’ve been saying I was going to do it for the past few years and I only ever did two signature bakes. This time I’m going to try and go in order. So far I’ve been happy coming up with a plan for the first episode!