There is an emanation from the heart

which cannot be described,

but is immediately felt and puts

the stranger at his ease.

~Washington Irving

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough...

.........and more.

It turns denial into acceptance,
chaos to order, confusion to clarity.

It can turn a meal into a feast,

a house into a home,

a stranger into a friend.

~Melody Beattie

Don't be satisfied with stories,

how things have gone with others.

Unfold your own myth.

May my life be like a great

hospitable tree, and may

weary wanderers find in

me a rest.

~John Henry Jowett

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Great British Bake Off

There's a phenomenon going on in Britain called 'The Great British Bake Off.' It's a baking competition that starts out with 12 contestants, doing three different challenges/bakes in the hour show, with one person voted off at the end of each show. It's taken Britain by storm and it's just as popular with men as with women.  Last year's final was on the same night as an England championship football (soccer) match--and more men watched the Bake Off than the football, including Stuart.

The Bake Off (#GBBO for Twitter followers) has added baking terminology to the everyday British lexicon, as well as sparking in-depth discussions about the merits or pitfalls "creme pat" (creme patisserie), soggy bottoms and how to avoid them, or the difference between a short-crust or a hot-water crust.  Five years ago not many people knew how to spell choux pastry much less how to pipe it.  There are even Bake Off scandals discussed on morning television, the most recent being 'freezergate'.  One of the contestants took someone's ice cream out of the refrigerator, on a very hot day, making his show-stopper challenge a complete disaster.  Words flew, hackles were raised, and Tweets raged--just what the producers where hoping for, and it's made for some great TV.  Who knew watching 12 people bake Florentines could be so much fun?!

The producers tried to export the GBBO to the U.S. last year, but it just didn't work. Outside of the context of the English countryside, a marquee decorated like a village fete fell as flat on the American audience as a cake that's fallen in the oven.  On British soil though, the Bake Off has become almost an institution on Wednesday night, especially since it's come of age and moved from BBC2 to BBC1.

Our supplies laid in for tonight's doughnut challenge
Tonight is Episode 8, 'enriched dough' week, including doughnuts, and Stuart and I are already salivating. Being a daughter of the midwest, I love a good doughnut, and I know there's no way I'll be able to sit for an hour and watch people make sweet breads and doughnuts without having a one myself--or at least two, maybe three doughnuts, but definitely no more than four.  You can see we're fully prepared.

The mixing bowl used for my first cake
and my first and only rolling pin.
What I think Stuart loves most about the GBBO, is that the next day I usually try my hand at one of the recipes.  He gets to come home after a day of giving tours to the sweet smells of something baked, fresh out of the oven.  I've always loved baking--cooking not so much, baking is what I do best.  I'd much rather be outdoors, working in my garden, growing beautiful things, than indoors cooking, but baking has always been a pleasure.  I still have the same mixing bowl I used to mix my first cake (from scratch) when I was 8 years old, and my original rolling pin and cake tins from when I first had a kitchen of my own.

If you're not British but you've seen the
movie 'Calender Girls', you'll know just 
what a Victoria Sponge is.
Baking in my adopted country hasn't been without it's pitfalls though, and I've baked a few disasters in the past six years.  I've had to get used to using Celsius rather than Fahrenheit, weighing ingredients with the metric system rather than using 'cups', and a fan-assisted oven. Terminology is different too.  British cake baking usually involves baking a 'sponge', what Americans would just call 'cake'. A sponge to me is like an American chiffon or angel food cake that uses air to give it structure, while a British 'sponge' is a mix of an American 'yellow' cake and a pound cake.  But I've prevailed and I bake a mean sponge now, and there's nothing I like better than baking a Victoria Sponge.

If you'd like to try baking a Victoria Sponge, here's the BBC's own recipe. American's can just use plain sugar rather than the British castor sugar, which is finer and used for baking.  Good luck, enjoy, and I'll let you know how the doughnuts turned out!


This is the original recipe for the first cake 
I ever baked, out of the old 
Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook.

It's still a classic cookbook and no self-respecting
housewife in 1950's America would have been without one.

One of my favorite pages in Betty's cookbook
is this helpful Short Cuts page.  You'll see your classic 50's
housewife gaily going about her dawn to dusk routine of 
cooking, cleaning, dish washing and laundry--being told 
to "Harbor pleasant thoughts while working. It will make 
every task lighter and pleasanter."  I wonder if that even 
worked while rinsing and washing loads of baby diapers/nappies.

My very favorite tip is this little gem.
Of course a proper 1950's housewife 
would never actually go sit in a chair or
lie on a bed to rest from her drudgery.  The 
best she can hope for is to lie in the middle 
of the kitchen floor, collapsed in exhaustion
and hope no one walks in on her.  Oh, and no
more than 3 to 5 minutes!

The American version of 'sponge', which
is a type of cake that uses air beat into
it to give it it's structure.


Nancy under the watchful and
highly disapproving steely blue
eyes of Paul Hollywood.
Last night's Great British Bake Off brought doughnuts and drama, as only an episode of 'enriched dough' can.  We were met with the burning questions of will the dough prove (rise), even though it's heavy laden with sugar, butter, fruit, and is the size of a "small labrador"?  Will the controversy of Nancy proving her dough in the microwave be her downfall and will she survive the steely arrows of Paul Hollywood's blue eyes when she told him her plan to do just that?  Will we ever get the memory out of our minds of Mary Berry being slightly sozzled as she sipped Luis' "cocktail doughnuts"?

Luis' "cocktail doughnuts" featured
a shot of Bailey's in each one, and changed the
landscape of the doughnut world forever.

Beside Stuart and I making ourselves thoroughly ill on our own doughnuts, the best part of the episode for me was Richard's 'signature bake', a Swedish Tea Ring.  I've been eating Swedish Tea Rings at Christmas since I was about two, when my mom made them every Christmas by the dozens.  I started baking them myself about thirty-eight years ago, so you might say it's my signature bake as well.

Our original recipe from the 1950's, and yes it is spectacular.

Betty Crocker's Swedish Tea Ring
I fill the center of my tea rings with lots of cinnamon & sugar, and of course butter.  I never followed the margarine craze in baking, when everyone was touting the evils of butter. I've always liked to use good quality butter in my bakes, especially in sweet or enriched dough, and it makes a difference as Paula Dean knows--she starts nearly every recipe with a "stick of buttah."  Richard's tea ring had more dried fruit and nuts in it than the Betty Crocker recipe, and it was a big success, helping him become 'star baker' for the fourth time--a GBBO first.
Our Martha

We were so sad to see 17 year old Martha leave the tent last night--her doughnut dough had over-proved and her technical challenge was raw as Paul Hollywood's 'thumb of doom' proved. An entire nation was rooting for this tender, young baker and we're all sad to see her leave the GBBO tent.  There are only two more episodes to go, so stay tuned, and now if you'll excuse me I think it's time to bake a Swedish Tea Ring of my own.

Our family's classic Swedish Tea Ring

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