This post contains spoilers.
(Now you can't say I didn't warn you.)
This has been a great couple of weeks for me. I've been shortlisted for the Blog Awards Ireland best food/drink blog, my close friend got engaged (and has asked me to make her wedding cake!!!), and I've really been enjoying the run up to my GIBO blog series.
There's been a lot of excitement about Ireland's own Great Irish Bake Off airing this September. The Bake Off franchise is just brilliant to watch, even if you've never held a wooden spoon in your life, well, to bake with anyway. So I definitely wasn't surprised about all the chatter happening in all avenues of social media during the first ever airing of episode 1.
But, before I actually get into the episode itself, and with it, all the spoilers, I'll first introduce you to my recipe for this week, that way if you haven't yet had a chance to watch this week's GIBO (get on it!), you can at least read about the recipe and then skip past my musings about the episode.
This week's GIBO theme was all about cake (that's not a spoiler, that was in the TV listings...) and the contestants were faced with a round of cupcakes and a round involving genoise cake. I couldn't help myself, I decided to go with cupcakes as inspiration. I don't care how 2012 they are in the food blogging world, I still love cupcakes. They can be as cute as a Teacup Pig, are easy to share, and in my experience, one of the first things to get noshed when on offer.
I've also been thoroughly in love with a recipe I came across that uses yoghurt and olive oil for the liquid and fat, so this recipe is another adaptation of it. At least you know I stick by my recipes when I keep using them myself!
While not wildly creative, I think they're interesting, pretty to look at, tasty, and dare I say it, GIBO Signature Bake worthy.
I've always been an advocate for the fruit we get back in South Africa. I'm quite fiercely loyal to our citrus fruits and might always consider them best on the planet. A berry lover, I was also quite happy with our home-grown offerings. Then I moved to Ireland. And I tasted an Irish grown strawberry. SA, your strawberries have nothing on Irish ones. Sorry to betray my old home, but my new home wins hands down.
Sooooo sweet, soooo plump and red and juicy and fragrant and just all round amazing.
I've tried making cupcakes with strawberries before, but I was never really happy with the way they turned out. But since discovering my new favourite sponge recipe, I think I've finally nailed it.
Moist cupcakes that are incredibly light and fluffy with a good strong flavour of strawberry coming from the berries dotting the sponge. You could give me a plate of them with no fillings or frostings and I'd be quite happy to devour all of them in one sitting.
But, as if I were looking to impress the GIBO judges, I didn't settle at that. Instead, I added a surprise to the middle. I love adding a little something to the middle of a cupcake, I think it's great having a new flavour or texture halfway through. My little extra something is a strawberry white chocolate ganache. Again. Give me a spoon and a bowl of the stuff, and I'll be quite happy. It is, without a doubt, one of the concoctions I'm most proudest of.
I've tried making strawberry ganache using jam, and even strawberry milk powder, but the best flavour I've ever been able to get is by steeping fresh strawberries in the warm double cream. It imparts the most amazing "real" strawberry flavour, and even colours the cream a lovely light shade of pink.
Sometimes I get into the habit of using the same old buttercreams when there are other delicious frostings to try. So I decided to go with something light and fluffy, a meringue frosting.
The strawberry rich cupcakes goes very well with the not-too-sweet meringue and some of the receivers of these delicious strawberry cupcakes thought the frosting was the best part, not that the cupcake itself isn't good, they just really loved the sticky white topping.
I topped mine with cute fondant buttons that I made with a nifty gumpaste mould, I thought they'd look cute and suite the them of this post, but these cupcakes would also look gorgeous topped with bright red strawberries. (But then you lose out on saying they're as cute as a button cupcakes... .)
The cupcakes themselves keep quite well for 2-3 days because the oil, yoghurt and berries help keep them super moist, but the meringue frosting is only good on the day, maybe the next day if you're not in a humid climate. So go with a buttercream, or even stabalised whipped cream if you want to keep them for longer. Otherwise, definitely go with the meringue!
Right, recipe ramblings done! Episode 1!
Obviously, in our first week we're introduced to our twelve contestants, and here they are...
What I love about Bake Off is that it's mostly focused on the actual baking and finished product, it's not over-dramatised with scandal and he-said, she-did type crap. So I'm going to get straight to the baking.
The first challenge they're put to is to make twelve cupcakes; six of one flavour, six of another. A tight deadline, and the judges impress upon us that the most important thing is the flavour, then the presentation. Although Biddy thinks there may be some difference in opinion in the flavour category as she doesn't like overly sweet things, while Paul has a killer sweet-tooth.
Flavour-wise, the cupcakes that I liked the sound of were from bakers Stephen (watch out Steve, I predict a tall rugby playing cute baking guy like you is going to be getting quite a bit of attention from all of this!), Maryanne, Laura (the youngest baker in the group), Bridget (who's got a wicked sense of humour, love it!), Tom, Will and Oonagh.
Execution, however, changed a few things.
Laura's Jaffa & Salted Caramel cupcakes seemed to hit it out the park with flavour, the judges were seriously impressed. I was happy to see that she did so well, I was definitely wanting to see more from her. Could have done more with presentation though.
I loved the look of Oonagh's Elderflower & Raspberry cupcakes, very cute. Her espresso cupcakes weren't as pretty, but seemed to deliver in flavour. I'm a sucker for any coffee flavoured treat. Biddy seemed to agree, if I read her bouncing and flapping arms reaction correctly!
Will went with a very brave move and only produced one flavour of cupcake, I wondered if he would be penalised for this, but the judges didn't seem to mind. His Black Forest cupcakes looked great, but Paul commented that they were a little dry. I wonder if that was an oven issue.
Both of Stephen's cupcakes looked amazing. My favourite cake of all time is carrot, and his looked incredible. I was also very curious about the flavour with the inclusion of his Herman the German sourdough starter! And kudos on the Swiss meringue buttercream! It wasn't mentioned that any other baker used Swiss Meringue and it is a labourious frosting to make, especially when you're in a hot tent, so I gave him extra brownie points for that. I also happen to like Swiss Meringue, it's nowhere near as sweet as regular simple buttercream (a fact that somehow the judges were surprised with when they tasted it) and it's super creamy.
I think Bridget could have done a little bit more with her decorating, especially the Pina Colada cupcakes (fresh pineapple wedges perhaps...) but her lemon cupcakes were super cute. The judges seemed to like the flavours, but the bake on her lemon cupcakes let her down a bit. Either underbaked or overmixed.
Maryanne's cupcakes were brilliant, and from Paul's reaction, "Oh my God..." you know the flavour was there too. I loved the simple fondant flowers on the Banoffee Cupcakes, and I can just imagine how good they would taste. I love a good Banoffee tart, so this cupcake definitely is on my to-do list. Mint and chocolate are a classic pairing, and her After Eight Cupcakes combined those two flavours, as well as looking quite elegant with their little gold touched fondant topper. Maryanne is also a baker after my own heart, putting a little extra something in the middle to surprise you.
Unfortunately the episode didn't include any critique about Tom's sourdough cupcakes, of which I was very curious about. I especially wanted to hear the judges take on them when we saw that they came out of the oven looking rather black on top. That would surely have been something that would give negative marks. I would say that they looked lovely though, I did see one shot showing Tom piping a buttercream rose onto his cupcake. An impressive and beautiful touch.
Then it was time for the dreaded technical challenge! Trying a new and rather involved recipe with all the instructions clearly marked out and in the comfort of your own familiar kitchen is one thing, but being given a recipe with vague instructions and having to use equipment that's not your own is something completely different. Technical is without a doubt the most dreaded part of each Bake Off.
And Paul didn't make it easy.
The challenge: A genoise cake cut into three, soaked with some passionfruit syrup, then layered with chantilly cream, strawberries, and an unusual "white chocolate crunch", all to be finished off with more whipped cream, topped with fresh strawberries and jam, and as if there wasn't enough to do, covered with toasted coconut. Sure, no sweat! Yeah right.
Laura was seriously chuffed, she loves genoise cake and makes it regularly. But the editor in me tweaked that they might be playing up that fact a bit too much, so I was already on alert for disaster. And boy was it a disaster.
She burnt her hand on a hot oven dish, and from there is just seemed to go downhill. Laura's sponge ended up getting burnt, and now operating with only one good hand, had to try and salvage what she could. After trimming off black bits and somehow managing to assemble the layers, of which she made a rookie mistake (actually, a lot of the bakers made this same mistake) she had assembled her cake on a cooling rack and then had to transfer it to the cake plate. To say that the transfer didn't go well would be an understatement, and in her own words, "What a disaster." She was left with a pile of cake, cream, strawberries and tears. My heart went out to her and you could see how upset she was. It really was one of the hardest things to watch.
There were a couple of other baking bloopers, Steve added his butter to the eggs far too early so he couldn't get the eggs to ribbon stage. But he kept a cool head and started again, and it paid off, his sponge looked pretty good. Nice one Steve.
Jarek also seemed to have a problem, after 35 minutes in the oven, his sponge still wasn't baked, so he cranked the heat and hoped it would bake in time.
Oonagh also had a tense moment when she cut her first layer and unveiled raw flour lumps that hadn't been folded in to the batter.
The other sponges all looked great and very genoise-like, a good thing when you're baking a genoise.
The presented cakes were all quite different from each other, much to the judge's amusement. Paul commented that Tom's cake had a Halloween look about it, Biddy piping in that it had witches blood dripping down the sides (which didn't stop them from digging in, Biddy going back for seconds because she enjoyed the flavours so much).
Paul also wasn't impressed that Will left the sides of his cake naked, which Steve did as well, and Bridget seemed to have frosted her cake with butter after being a little too eager while whipping her cream.
Some of the cakes were finished off quite beautifully, I quite liked Barbara's glazed strawberry and white chocolate drizzled cake, but in the end, sporty Stephen walked away with the best cake of the round, even with his uneven cake layers and too thick a chocolate crunch. Laura, not shockingly, was last.
Sadly, I would have like to have seen the judges deliberating before announcing the day's results to remind us of the top and bottom three contestants and why they were in those positions, but we just hopped straight to it.
Star Baker of the day went to Maryanne who definitely did a brilliant job on both challenges so it was well deserved, although, I might have also considered Stephen for Star Baker.
And the first contestant to leave the tent was Laura.
To be honest, I don't think that was the right call at all. Although she had a disaster with her Genoise Cake, the flavours were still there and Paul said as much. Also, she had an amazing Signature Bake. There were a couple of other bakers who had two mediocre rounds, even bordering on two bad rounds, and I would have sent one of them home before Laura.
It would have been great to see this enthusiastic 17 year old going further in the competition and I hope she doesn't let this dampen her love of baking because I think she has a huge amount of potential. Maybe she'll be allowed to come back in a future series of the Great Irish Bake Off.
For the official recipes in this episode, visit TV3's GIBO website. But if you think my Cute As A Button Strawberry Cupcakes are Signature Bake worthy, then here's the recipe for you to try yourself.
Makes +- 18 cupcakes
1 1/2 cups Self Raising Flour
1 cup Granulated Sugar
Pinch of Salt
3 Large Eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cups Plain Yoghurt
1/2 cup Light Olive, Canola or Sunflower Oil
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
+- 200g Fresh Strawberries, washed and roughly chopped
- Pre-heat oven to 180°C (160°C Fan Assisted)
- Line cupcake tins with cupcake papers
- In a large bowl, whisk dry ingredients together
- Add the wet ingredients and mix with dry ingredients until just combined
- Fold in chopped strawberries
- Fill cupcake liners with batter to about 2/3 full
- Bake for 18-20mins, until top of cupcake springs back when lightly pressed
- Remove from oven and leave to cool for about 10mins
- Remove cupcakes from pan and leave to cool completely on wire rack
- Once cool, use an apple corer to remove centre of each cupcake
- Fill each cupcake with strawberry white chocolate ganache
- Frost with a swirl of fluffy meringue frosting
Strawberry White Chocolate Ganache
100g Fresh Strawberries, washed and roughly chopped
100ml Double Cream
200g Good Quality White Chocolate
- Combine double cream and strawberries in a small pot
- On medium low, heat cream gently until it just starts to steam, stir now and then and gently press some of the strawberries with the back of a spoon
- Take off heat and leave strawberries to steep for about 30 minutes
- Strain cream and discard strawberries
- Return cream to the pot and heat on medium high until just about to boil (bubbles will appear around the edges of the pot)
- Put finely chopped chocolate in a heat resistant bowl
- Pour scalded cream over chocolate
- Stir with a fork until all chocolate pieces have melted
- Leave ganache mixture to cool and firm
- Tip: You can speed up the firming by putting it in the fridge, just keep an eye on it, it can go from liquid to completely set quite quickly
- Once it's a firm but soft consistency, fill a piping bag with the ganache and fill cooled cupcakes
2 Egg Whites, room temp
1/2 cup Caster Sugar
1/4 tsp Vanilla Extract
- Whisk egg whites in a clean bowl on low until slightly frothy
- Add sugar and increase speed of mixer
- Whisk on high speed until you reach stiff and glossy peaks
- Whisk in vanilla
- Fill a piping bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe swirls of frosting on cooled cupcakes
Just a quick note about my GIBO blog series...
Just to be clear, I do not represent GIBO in any official manner, I'm doing this purely in my own capacity as a baking obsessed blogger who loves the Bake Off franchise. Although, I have been given permission to use certain official photos etc. which is pretty cool. But TV3 will have their own official GIBO website running, sponsored by Odlums, and they'll have loads of great content like recipes from the series and more, so check it out.