What other food programme could descend from baking for amateurs into a mildly insane saga of showercaps, broomsticks, a hot air balloon pie and the appearance of a ‘mushroom club’ on the scene (who knew those existed?), other than one which involves the general British public?
Get your tarty side out everyone, it’s time for endless soggy bottom puns and crumbly pastry nightmares, on the Great British Bake-Off.
If we manage to look beyond Christine’s mild hysterics and Ruby’s perma-fear of not being the teachers’ pet, beneath Frances’ school-teacher creations and Howard’s potential (man)crush on Paul Hollywood, there is some discrete but thoroughly decent baking going on. Kimberley’s star bake made my bowl of pasta taste like ashes, and Ruby’s greaseproof strips turning her custard tarts into a turn-out triumph were the envy of my baking brain. How can we ever aspire to these heights?
Let me see. Onward to my own personal trials and tribulations. This week’s technical challenge of custard tarts, in theory (and with time), sounds not too technical. It involves sweet pastry, which if you have permanently cold hands like me, should be a doddle. It also involves custard. Also fairly easy, although it can taste a bit bland and/or rubbery. However, done carefully, not too tricky either.
In practice, however, my attempt was an (ahem) slightly different story. The ground almonds made my pastry incurably crumbly, and having added some water to remedy this, it turned into a slushy mess. Take Two (having the facilities of home kitchen and endless supplies help a lot at this point) was more successful. This one went in the fridge for future use. The other one went to the dog.
The recipe otherwise went without too many hiccups, however I’m fairly certain I took at least half as long again as they had to bake these. As ever, the trick is in the timing.
Moving back to the on-screen dramas, if you look beneath the scandalously banal gossip and beyond the obsteperous kitchen bloggers biting at the BBC about the rules of the game, how many props you’re allowed, and who has to leave for stealing Howard’s custard, this is really just a fun show with an innocent and light-hearted core. Sadly, this is steadily being corroded and Big Brothered, just so there is something to write about in the papers. Pot, kettle, black, I know.
However, there is still much to enjoy about the Bake-Off, not least something which it loses as its contestants steadily and tearfully depart; that is the cameraderie and the joy for baking which moves gleefully among the contestants. As Glenn sagely noted at the end, you do actually start to care after a while.
Custard Tarts: Courtesy of Paul Hollywood
165g plain flour
25g ground almonds
55g caster sugar
700ml full-fat milk
7 egg yolks
90g caster sugar
freshly ground nutmeg.
1. For the pastry, mix the ground almonds and flour together, then add in cubed butter. rub together gently until the mix looks like breadcrumbs.
2. Stir in caster sugar, then add egg and mix until all dry mixture sticks together. Gather it into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and leave it in the fridge for a while.
3. Take it out of the fridge, shape roughly into a disk, and then roll until thinner than a pound coin width.
4. Preheat oven to 200C. Use a pastry cutter, correct size mug or glass, and cut out 12 circles and put in a cupcake tray. Replace in the fridge.
5. For the filling, warm the milk in a pan (do NOT boil). Separately whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy.
6. Slowly add the warm milk to the eggs, stirring all the time. Add nutmeg, plus any other spices or flavourings you want.
7. Pour mixture into the pastry cases, and place carefully in the oven for 10-15 mins. turn down the oven to 180C and bake for a further 10 mins.
8. Pastry should be golden brown and firm, custard should have a very slight dome on the top. Leave to cool (don’t remove early at risk of having a total disaster, see episode) for 30 mins, then remove and look smug.
9. Tell yourself you are just as good as that lot on TV. Yeah. No soggy bottoms around here.