Week 5 Showstopper: 3-Tiered Pies

In true showstopper fashion, the final challenge was to build a three-tiered self-supporting structure of three pies all with a central theme. Luis picked the four seasons. Nancy made three pies with some variation of apple. Some bakers chose watercrust pastry for savory pies and then stacked them all on top of each other. Some used a type of display which depended on the pie for structure.

I’ve decided to skip the “tiered” aspect. Instead, I’ll be baking three pie under a common theme. This is a lot of food and I don’t want to waste it by making all three pies at once. I doubt my small family would be able to eat enough to make it worth it.

The Plan

The first job is to pick the theme and number of pies. I’m sticking with three. That’s already SO many pies!! As for the theme, I tried to come up with options but I kept going back to the same idea: boozy pies. I wanted to bake pies inspired by cocktails. My goal is to utilize different alcohols, so that I avoid a one-note underlying flavor in these pies.

Pie #1: Mint Julep

The mint julep is a classic cocktail made of bourbon and mint simple syrup. This pie uses a chocolate wafer crust, a mint julep filling, and whipped cream.

1. Crust

I know I cheated because I used Famous Chocolate Wafers for the crust. Everyone knows I can bake cookies already.

2. The Custard

This was my first time making a custard with gelatin. I see the bakers on GBBBO use gelatin but I was a bit nervous. I had access to the powder rather than gelatin sheets. Making this made me so nervous. Sticking my measuring cup in boiling water.

3. Whipped Cream

I made whipped cream with mint simple syrup a few days ahead. Unfortunately by the time I made the pie it tasted rotten! Tub of Cool Whip to the rescue!

4. Bake

This was a quick bake with all of the filling ingredients followed by a long freeze.

5. Final Thoughts

This tasted like a grasshopper pie, so it tasted good. I caught some of the bourbon in some of the bites, but overall it didn’t remind me of a mint julep. However, the filling is like a cross between a popsicle and ice cream. I really enjoyed the texture.

Pie #2: Rum Old-Fashioned

Featuring rum and bitters (spirits infused with fruit, spices, leaves, bark, roots, and herbs), this pie is a play on a lattice peach pie.

  1. The Crust

I’ve made pie crust a million times at this point. It came together nicely with a good moisture level. Chilled it as a disc in saran wrap. Rolled it out, pricked the base with a fork, then chilled again.

2. The Peaches

I actually bought fresh peaches, sliced them, and then froze them. Probably not the best idea because they wouldn’t thaw. They got a little ugly after defrosting but they were still good.

3. The Filling

I was fiddling with the pie crust instead of paying attention to my pan. I combined the juice and alcohol from the macerated peaches with cornstarch. It thickened while I wasn’t paying attention and nearly stuck to the pan and burned.

4. The Assembly

I had never thought of braiding the lattice before! I gave it a shot and it looked nice. I’ll have to think the rest of the lattice through next time.

5. The Bake

The edges of the crust caught a little bit. I put the crust shields on a little too late. The inside seemed baked, but it looked like some of it congealed more (possibly because I overcooked the filling?).

Final Thoughts

The crust held together and did not get soggy. When you cut into the pie the filling stayed intact. You could definitely taste the booze, but I may adjust the bitters if I ever make this again.

Pie #3: Margarita Pie

Margaritas (not the frozen kind) are made with lime, tequila, and an orange liquer called triple sec. I switched out triple sec for Cointreau in this baked then chilled pie.

  1. The Crust

I’ll admit I cheated a bit. I did not want to bake my own graham crackers for this crust. This crust is made of crushed graham cracker crumbs with salt and butter, then baked for a short time before filled and baked again.

2. The Filling

There’s is soooo much lime juice in this. I now need to buy a juicer to prevent my poor husband from struggling against them ever again.

3. Bake & Chill

I use a pizza stone for my pies (as per the pie queen herself- Erin McDowell). It helps evenly distribute heat.

4. The Decorations

I piped whipped cream onto the cooled custard then topped with salted limes – like a margarita!

5. Final Thoughts

So much lime! You get hit with lime then the bitter bite of tequila. It was set nicely and didn’t slop over or leak when sliced. It was also quite pretty. I only worried that perhaps I didn’t mix it enough because I could see swirls of egg yolk in places.

The End Result

I think i would have been disqualified after this round. Pre-made biscuits and a tub of Cool-Whip weren’t exactly in the rules… However, this challenge has been the bottleneck for this whole bake-through. I’m just glad it’s over!

Week 5 Technical: Mini-Pear Pies

Paul Hollywood’s pear pies posed a tough challenge for the bakers. The pears are poached then wrapped in strips of pastry. If the pastry is too thick or thin, it won’t bake all the way through. If wrapped when the pears are too hot, the pastry can slip down.

Mini Pear Pies Recipe | Pear Recipes | PBS Food

The Bake

I’m going to be a bit nit-picky. I dislike cooking with lard and shortening. Rough puff can be made with purely butter so I’ll be using Erin McDowell’s recipe instead of Paul Hollywood’s. The rest of the recipe will be his.

  1. Rough Puff

I have to admit I was pleased when I first saw some lamination before the folds. I went through four folds (like Paul Hollywood’s recipe). The lamination wasn’t as obvious after multiple folds.

2. The Pears

For the sake of social distancing I ordered my groceries online. One pear wouldn’t sit up straight, one was a little mushy on top, and one barely had a stem. I poached the pears in the syrup, turning them every so often to evenly soak. I had difficulty maintaining a good boil if I turned down the heat at all. They were still a bit firm, which I assumed was probably good since they are still going to be baked. Unfortunately this made the removal of the core a bit tricky.

3. The Syrup

After removing the pears, I kept boiling the syrup to thicken it. I realized it wasn’t really clear when to remove the cinnamon sticks, so I left them in.

4. The Wrap

Okay I will admit that I did not measure the puff pastry like the instructions said. I tried but it was just irritating. I managed roughly even strips and they wrapped nicely.

5. The Bake

The pears baked nicely. More importantly, the pastry didn’t slide down during the bake!!I was worried the puff pastry was underdone because the color was fairly light. I should have been less haphazard with my egg wash.

The Final Result

I MADE PUFF PASTRY (and it didn’t suck)!!!!!!! The pears were cooked nicely and the pastry was cooked all the way through. I was only disappointed that I could only really taste the syrup at the top of the pear (until I poured the syrup over the top of a pear- yum).

I have to say that I have a better appreciation for the challenge. It took me several hours just to make the rough puff. The bakers only had two hours! Plus, they were cooking outside. How do you keep butter cold in an outside tent?!

Week 5 Signature: Apple Rose Custard Tart

The fifth week is for pies and tarts, starting with a classic custard tart. The classic example of this is a tarte au citron (a French lemon custard tart). The edges of the tart should be neat and the custard should be completely set so it doesn’t ooze when cut.

The Plan

There are a million different options for flavors. After some digging through Pinterest, I found a recipe using apple roses (which became popular a few years back). I’ve always wanted to try it, so why not now?

The Bake

  1. Pâte Sablée

Please excuse the fancy term. This is the name of the type of pastry used to make the crust. I wasn’t sure how much to handle it or how high it should go up the sides of the pan. I feel like I beat it up a little bit trying to get an even thickness.

2. The Custard

I was really surprised with how this came together! At first I thought I had messed up because it wasn’t quite coming together and then all of a sudden it started to congeal!

3. The Bake

The crust caught at the edges despite baking it in the middle rack. I think I should have used foil or pie crust guards. However it was nicely baked otherwise – tender and crumbly.

4. The Roses

Here’s where we ran into the issue. I sliced apples thinly with a mandolin. I then soaked the apples in the juice and sugar. I realized some of the apples did not get soaked long enough. To roll, the apple slices needed to be very pliable. Some broke as I rolled. I tried to work in batches. Unfortunately, I sliced my thumb on the mandolin and had to stop after a few roses.

Final Thoughts

This is the first challenge that I was unable to complete. I think it would have looked nice if I had been able to finish, but I’m not confident in the execution either. The custard was not quite set. It didn’t run off completely when I cut into the tart but it wasn’t nice and firm. I also didn’t care for the orange juice that took over the apple flavor. Perhaps apple juice next time?

I might re-try this at some point, but for now I need to wait for my thumb to heal.

Week 4 Technical: Tiramisu

The cake week technical challenge is the classic Italian cake tiramisu, a coffee and brandy soaked sponge cake with layers of marscapone frosting and chocolate. Tiramisu may not seem like a challenge, but I think the biggest challenge for the bakers was making the appearance to Mary Berry’s standards. Mary Berry asked for even layers that were evenly soaked. I’m just hoping the cake won’t end up looking like it was beat up in a fight…

Tiramisu Cake recipe

The Bake

At first glance the recipe doesn’t seem too complicated, but there are a lot of steps. Again, I think the challenge here is going to be keeping everything neat.

  1. The Batter

This is an odd batter. It only has three ingredients. It would have a meringue base if the egg yolks weren’t included, which means I’ll be getting the most rise from mixing the eggs and sugar. The flour is sifted and I was worried I undermixed it because as I spread it in the tray, I found pockets of flour. I mixed it as best as I could while trying to keep air in the batter.

2. The Bake

This cake came out much earlier than the recipe’s bake time but it was baked until springy (with some slight crisp edges I got to trim off). I was worried I’d have to find a way to trim this cake in half but I had enough to cut four separate squares.

3. Fillings

Nothing in this cake is sweet. The mascarpone “frosting” is essentially mascarpone and cream with a little powdered sugar. The coffee and brandy weren’t reduced into a syrup, just mixed and brushed right onto the cake.

I hate grating chocolate and hope I never do it again.

4. Assembly

My cake squares were not all perfect sizes. As a result, the cake seemed lopsided as I stacked it. Looking at the photo now, I see that I did not use enough of the brandy mixture to soak the sponge and create that darker appearance.

5. Decoration

I had zero idea how to get those loop-the-loops like in the show… I tried using one of my piping bags but the tip I chose was too large and the hot chocolate just poured out.

The Final Result

As I thought the layers were not soaked enough (something I’ll know for next time). The cake actually turned out alright and once I left the cake in the fridge long enough, I was able to trim it so it didn’t look like it had been smooshed. My European coworkers enjoyed that it was not very sweet and my American coworkers liked the high-quality chocolate.

Week 4 Showstopper: Baked Alaska

This is the challenge which became the infamous “Bingate.” The bakers were challenged to make a classic ice cream cake called “Baked Alaska”. This retro treat is essentially a cake topped with ice cream and frosted with meringue, which is then set on fire. Now the bakers were baking outside, which makes working with ice cream extremely difficult. While I have the advantage of working inside, working with ice cream can still be a challenge.

I know this whole week is out of order. I am trying to get the pans I need for the technical!

The Plan

I watched the episode to see if the bakers were making their own ice cream. All of the contestants had ice cream makers at their stations. I don’t own one, but I found a no-churn recipe on NY times that I can use. I chose the cinnamon flavor to complement one of my favorite cakes.

I adapted my favorite red wine cupcake recipe for the cake base. I paired this with a cinnamon flavor for the ice cream and a brown sugar meringue.

The Bake

  1. The Cake Base

I’ve made this cake before but only as cupcakes, so I wasn’t certain it would bake properly as a single layer (without over or underbaking). It did crack, but that would all be hidden by the ice cream.

2. The Ice Cream

I swear I will actually invest in an ice cream maker to avoid the drama and destruction associated with making this.

I over-boiled the cream and made a mess all over my stove. I managed to salvage it. It steeped then I strained. I got to use my immersion blender for the first time, which is how a large portion of my ice cream ended up on the walls, and the floors, and my breadbox… and my face. Then I froze it overnight. I know I said I would try to avoid overnight, but this is ice cream from scratch and I was concerned it would melt even faster.

I had a bear of a fight with the ice cream once it was frozen. I got it into the food processor and it exploded at me for a bit. I had to fight the ice cream to blend.

3. Trim & Shape

I removed the ice cream from its pan and into a bowl lined with plastic wrap. Once this was frozen solid I flipped it onto the cake and trimmed the edges for a nice dome.

4. Meringue

I read that meringue can be made with brown sugar, which I had never tried. I bet that the brown sugar would taste better with the deeper flavors (cinnamon, chocolate, wine) than brighter flavors like mint.

I threw out one meringue because I broke an egg yolk in it. I did not have the most luck with this challenge…

5. Bring On the Fire!

I own a rose gold culinary torch (because why not?). I have never had a reason to use it until now. I didn’t burn anything down.

The Final Result

This may have been one of the hardest things to make simply because the ice cream wrecked my kitchen and my soul. But the FLAVOR! Bae said I would be star baker for this. I had to keep myself from eating a big chunk.

My meringue slipped a little, but the swirls were cute. The ice cream as a perfect consistency with a strong but not overwhelming cinnamon flavor. This paired perfectly with my chocolate cake base, which was still moist despite freezing it.

I did battle with Baked Alaska and I won!

Week 3 Showstopper: Russian Chrysanthemum Bread

And we’re back! The 2020 Great British Bake Through continues to 2021!

Week 3 (Bread Week) ended with the a bread-themed showstopper challenge. The bakers were instructed to make filled bread centerpieces. The bread should be filled or stuffed, sweet or savory. Judging was based on appearance, design and crust, bake, and flavor.

The Plan

I’ve made bread rolls stuffed with Thanksgiving leftovers before but these were no “centerpiece.” I thought of stromboli, but again I worry about presentation. It took quite a bit of research before I could decide on the best option.

Jordan was the only baker to make sweet bread. This failed and he was sent home, so I’m sticking to savory. I thought about monkey bread, but I’ve usually made that with pre-made dough. While searching I came across chrysanthemum bread (European not Korean). The bread is stuffed and arranged into a flower, perfect for this challenge.

The Bake

  1. The Filling

The recipe I used calls for a “garlic cheese spread.” My first thought was Boursin cheese, but the rules of the game mean that I can’t use store-bought pre-made foods unless indicated in the challenge. I made a copycat Boursin recipe before mixing with the remaining ingredients. Even if you don’t make this bread, you should definitely try this delicious cheese mix!

The addition of the herbs de provence didn’t seem to do much, but I do like the kick from the chili flakes.

2. The Dough

The recipe’s instructions say to mix all of the dough ingredients at once. I prefer to let my yeast bloom first. Is that the word? I like to feed it to ensure a good rise, especially since I’ll need to handle this dough a lot. The yeast sits in the warm (not hot!) milk with some sugar. Once bubbly, I add it to the remainder of the dough ingredients.

There are so many wet ingredients I was surprised it came together so well. I’m still working on how to tell if the dough is kneaded enough…

3. The Rise

It’s winter right now and my house is freezing, so I let it rise in the oven. I was worried it was too warm in the oven that I’d used earlier in the day so I kept the oven door open for a bit. I had some mild panic when steam built up on the inside of the bowl. I was worried if it was too hot, the yeast would die and the dough wouldn’t rise.

I’m not certain this is the amount of rise I need, but it did, in fact, rise.

4. The Assembly

This was the hard part! The dough gets divided, rolled out, cut into small circles, filled, and formed. Whew!

I shifted the petals around quite a bit. At first I packed them too close together. They’d have no room to rise again or grow while baking.

5. The Bake

At first I started baking without brushing the dough. I’m not sure if it was smart, but I pulled it out and brushed it quickly. I’m concerned that I messed up my timer and then it will either bake too much or not enough.

The Final Result

It browned on top quite nicely. I was a bit worried I pulled it out of the oven too soon because underneath was quite light and soft. I do think I went a little overboard with the red chili flake. Next time I may just skip it entirely.

I’m really pleased with how it looks. I haven’t felt this good about a bake since the technical Cherry Cake.

Week 3 Technical: Ciabatta

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.

The Bake

1) The Dough

This dough doesn’t necessarily need to be kneaded, but mixed enough so the water is fully mixed in.

2) Rise

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.

4) Bake

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 Signature: Rye Rolls

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.

The Planning

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 Bake

  1. Batter

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.

2. Knead

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.

3. Raise

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.

5. Bake

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.

Week 2 Showstopper: 3D Biscuit Scene

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.

The Planning

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.

The Bake

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!

3. Bake

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.

5. Assemble

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 Technical: Florentines

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.

The Plan

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.

The Bake

  1. Prep

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.

The Judging

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!)