OK, first off, after watching our bakers use those ice cream machines for the Showstopper Challenge, I now want one! Yes, I know the last thing I need is another reason to eat ice cream, and I only have a teeny tiny NYC apartment kitchen anyway (with just about enough counter space to make a sandwich), so I (technically) have no room for more appliances. But I feel that if only I had that ice cream machine I could come up with all sorts of new ice cream flavors for the betterment of all mankind (that will be the rationalization). Yes, it is that kind of shopping rationalization that is the reason I will never have enough savings to retire. Sigh. But, (maybe) I’ll have some homemade ice cream!
This week’s Signature Challenge was to make a sugar-free cake. It could be sweetened with honey, fruit, syrup, anything, so long as it didn’t come in a bag. Ugne went a step further and made her sugar-free cake gluten free as well, AND a complicated checkerboard design too, requiring cuts and reassembly, (and possibly a miter saw). The problem is, when you remove gluten you remove elasticity, so her cake cracked and she sadly ended up with a mudslide. Mat and Paul both made carrot cakes, though Paul fared better. Mat’s was deemed really nice but, because it had everything but the kitchen sink in there, more like pudding, while Paul’s was deemed great (including for the ‘superb’ icing design).
Nadiya’s cake was dry but it was layered with her own special blueberry jam that Paul though beautiful, daring and spot on – and it looked fantastic. Flora’s cake looked stunning too but the choice of apples made it seem underdone. According to Paul Hollywood, Ian made a misstep using pears. His beautiful looking, flower covered pear, ginger and honey layer cake was deemed too simple by the judges. Too simple? Did it seem like after three weeks at the top the judges just wanted to criticize Ian this week to make the competition more of a horse race? (Not that I’m paranoid.) Tamal made a gorgeous grapefruit polenta cake and again utilized the syringe method of injecting a cake with flavor. Kind of a semi-high tech Jell-o cake, I think. He got congrats from Mary and they loved his flavors.
Kudos to Alvin who didn’t allow his fear to overcome him. He decided on a simple pineapple upside down cake, then had second thoughts when he was finished while everyone else was still working. But he didn’t panic and try to reinvent the wheel; he just occupied himself with some abstract busyness as he nervously looked around the room. He was rewarded with a rave review for his cracking cake.
Free At Last:
This week’s Technical Challenge was gluten free! Yay! I’ve been hoping that they would get around doing a gluten-free challenge so I could learn The Big Secret (there must be one) of how to make gluten-free stuff taste (and more importantly, have the texture and consistency) of regular baked goods. The choice of pita bread was kind of a letdown (for me) in that department. I was hoping for something I really miss, since being diagnosed Celiac, like a nice crusty boule that won’t cause a blunt force trauma if you accidentally drop it on your foot. Even Paul described this, his own pita bread recipe, as merely ‘almost as good’ as regular pita bread. If Paul Hollywood, Master Baker, thinks ‘almost as good’ is good enough, what chance do we have of ever seeing gluten-free Pepperidge Farm Mint Milanos?? Sigh. But I digress…
I actually did toy with the idea of making Paul’s pita recipe for my own baking challenge this week, but it called for that mysterious brown powder – psyllium powder. I went to the grocery store looking for it, and found it in the supplement aisle under colon cleansers! Say what? They must have edited out the scene where Mary and Paul went running to the loo.
A good pita is a difficult challenge. It has to be just right to get that pocket. And you have to know what shape it’s supposed to be, which I always thought was round, but there were some oblong ones and the judges made no mention of it. Poor Alvin though. He was utterly confused. Should it be a circle? A square? A trapezoid? He wandered from table to table searching for the answer and no one would tell him. For a minute he seemed to settle on triangle and I feared he was going to end up with hamantaschen. Sometimes I worry about Alvin. Ian was nervous about this bake too. Ugne was more zen, saying it could be better; it could be worse. Yes, at least the pitas didn’t crack and slide off the table!
This week’s best producer fake-out came from Paul, who said he was concerned, yet ended up with pitas the judges described as having a proper pocket. But the winner was Nadiya. After weeks of being at the bottom of every technical challenge, Nadiya finally wins one!
I Scream, You Scream:
This week’s Showstopper Challenge was to make an ice cream roll, but dairy free. This roll should have ice cream (natch) with jam, all rolled up snug in a sponge cake. Our bakers replaced regular milk and cream with coconut milk. One of my coworkers, a vegan who makes his own ice cream quite a lot, confirmed that coconut milk already has a strong flavor that needs to be worked around. In fact, he says he can’t get a true vanilla flavored ice cream with it. But with all the unusual flavors our bakers were using here, it seemed to work fine.
Most of our bakers surrounded their ice cream with the jam, but Ian, Nadiya and Ugne put theirs in the center of their ice cream logs. Again, Ian had a tool (metal extruder tubes and boat-like molds), to achieve perfection for his twiddly bits flavored ice cream roll. Tamal actually did (literally) have a cracking cake. Or at least a cracked one. His passion fruit ice cream and pineapple jam could not be contained. The henna-style sponge cake design employed by six of our bakers was cool (and something I’d like to try sometime). It was used most successfully by Nadiya, who made a gorgeous display of ice cream rolls with raspberry mousse centers. And then there was Mat, who had no centers and no ice cream; it turned up missing. A police report has been filed.
The Full Monty:
Paul, Mel and Sue got all giggly over the crotchless bikini on his tropical cake (maybe he does spend too much time in the kitchen), but in the end he saved the modesty of his fondant sunbather and his cake was pronounced excellent. Flora’s pear, chocolate and macadamia nut roll was short on sponge (a strategic mistake, according to the judges), and looked like a giant Yodel (according to me) which is not a bad thing at all. Watching her pour the chocolate over her ice cream roll actually reminded me of those Ring Ding commercials from the 1960’s (that I can still picture) showing the chocolate being poured over the Ring Dings on the assembly line.
Paul and Mary looked rather nonplussed in the first walk through when Ugne said she was doing peanut butter and grape jelly. Is PB&J not a thing in the UK? The idea of a peanut butter and jelly ice cream roll covered in chocolate would be big, BIG hit on this side of the pond! Hello! But Paul and Mary just looked at her like she had three heads. Whatevs. In the end, Ugne ended up having a meltdown to match her ice cream. Mary said it looked ‘rather sad’. It was disaster week all around for Ugne, and that was that. She fell into the trap of trying to do too much. Ugne, her unique flavor combinations, and her optimistic personality will be missed.
In a big comeback, Nadiya wins Star Baker! For the first four weeks she’s been skimming along the bottom of the pack, but this week she pulled up along on the outside, and it was touching to hear her say she was proud of herself for the first time. For his part, Ian had a tough week. He was like the guy in the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. Everyone was chasing him and he choked a bit. Luckily the strength of his ice cream roll saved him.
For this challenge, I went all in like Ugne and made a sugar-free chocolate cake with marshmallow icing. And like Ugne’s it was gluten free (except I didn’t attempt the complicated checkerboard pattern which, I was certain, would have turned my cake into cake croutons). The recipe I used called for one of my two favorite flours: Almond meal flour (my other favorite is garbanzo bean flour). When you go gluten free, you have to be careful to replace the protein and B vitamins you lose when you eliminate wheat from your diet, or you can end up deficient. Some gluten-free flours have virtually no nutritional value, but almond and garbanzo bean flour have the highest protein content of all the various gluten free flours, so they are my go-to flours for most things.
Anyway, to make my cake special, I added finely chopped walnuts (because I loved the walnut cake from episode one), then I got a little adventurous and added chopped dates as well. I say adventurous because I do not understand the first thing about the science of baking, so I have no idea what an ingredient will do to the texture or baking time of things.
I must admit that, from the outset, I was skeptical about making a sugar-free cake. I am lucky that I don’t have any health issues that require me to be sugar free, so I view sugar-free cake the same way I view those fake designer bags they sell on Canal Street. I agree with Marvin and Tammy, who said, ‘Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby.’ Yes, I know that there is a growing amount of research that says sugar is (essentially) poison; that it ages you, that it helps tumors grow, all sorts of scary stuff – but it tastes so, so good! Sigh. I also remember back when researchers said the same thing about butter, and so we all switched to margarine, because they said it was healthy(er); and then decades later, suddenly they said, “ooops!”, it turns out that margarine was worse for you than butter all along (and butter might actually help you avoid diabetes)! So, who knows? It’s all a crap shoot. Besides, my options this week were either sugar free cake or colon cleanse pita bread! I chose the cake.
If I Had Nuts, I’d Have Dates:
Personally, I thought this was my least successful so far and I feared it would be a flop with my judges. It was actually very sweet; maybe too sweet. Maybe because of the dates I added? Maybe I should have used less agave syrup because I added the dates? It was a strategic mistake to experiment with a recipe I’d never actually made before. In the future I think I will stick to making a recipe exactly as directed the first time through, before I start improvising. I usually don’t improvise on the first go-round but I’m making the same mistakes as the contestants (though on a much lower baking level). Also, when I pricked the cake to check if it was done, it went ‘pfffftht’ and sunk in the middle like a fallen soufflé. Despite that, my cake was moist and was another big hit with my judges/coworkers. Go figure.
But would I make a sugar-free cake again? I don’t know. To my way of thinking, love is love, and sugar is sugar (and butter is butter for that matter). Accept no substitutions unless you have too. With gluten I have no choice. With sugar I say, if you want to go sugar free, eat fruit. And by the way, as soon as I wrote that line (above) about the cake croutons I thought, wait a minute, are cake croutons already a thing? Because if they aren’t, they need to be. They’d be great on ice cream – or fruit!
Here are a few luscious looking recipes from this week’s show:
Ugne’s Chocolate, Peanut Butter and Grape Jam Roll (I still say it was a great idea! Ugne was just on the wrong continent!)
Alvin’s Pineapple Upside Down Cake (bake simply, then spend the rest of the day wiping the counter)
Ian’s Honey and flowers cake (It’s Ian; how could it be bad?)
On your marks, get ready…BAKE!!!
If you do bake along, please post pictures of your own baking creations using the hashtag #PBSBakingShow.