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Tough judges test British bakers’ skills

January 10, 2019

I used to be proud of my apple walnut cake. It seemed like such a gourmet recipe with its various pungent spices and creamy hot caramel sauce. Handing a dessert plate holding a large square of the cake drizzled with buttery sauce to a guest usually was the cause for a few oohs and ahhs on their end and a satisfying smile on mine.

I’ve made cream-filled eclairs and crepes since I was in grade school and have always liked the challenge of making a new New York cheesecake or German potato salad.

Then I started watching The Great British Baking Show and the confidence in my baking ability has been shaken.

The contestants on the famous baking competition are challenged in each show’s episode to make some sort of cake, pastry, bread or dessert within a certain allotted time for each of 10 episodes with the difficulty of each challenge increasing until a winner is crowned.

A recent episode had the contestants toiling over the task of making the perfect fruit cake. They were using all sorts of unique ingredients such as glace cherries, currants and something called a sultana.

These bakers know what they’re doing as they put in a dash of this secret ingredient and that, tasting the batter as they go along with a dreamy look in their eyes.

Terms such as “muscovado” and “treacle” are thrown around as if everyone has a little of each in their kitchen cupboard to toss in a recipe as needed.

They then set the pan of carefully mixed ingredients into their station’s oven and subsequently sit on the floor next to the oven or wring their hands nearby until they think it’s done.

It’s quite a stressful ordeal and, watching, you have to sympathize with them when the cake falls or gets too done around the edges.

Once the beautifully baked cake is placed on a special platter adorned with fancily cut fruit animals and candied nuts, it is presented to judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood for a taste and a few words of praise or criticism.

Some of the small bites they take are bit into with looks of food tasting ecstasy while other times, the two celebrity judges express their disappointment with what seems like small criticisms like the dismal look of the cake top or the unwelcome crunch of too large of walnut piece.

Still, after watching the various English dishes being made, I was inspired to make a Yule Log for Christmas this year. I used more real cream than I usually would and had to make a trip to the grocery store for some kahlua, which I don’t usually keep in stock.

I have to say I was pretty proud of the final product although I’m sure the final shape of the log wouldn’t have passed Mary and Paul’s critical eyes. I’m definitely upping my baking game.

Though my apple walnut cake isn’t ready to be in the bright lights of a big baking show, I’m still going to continue making it — although don’t be surprised if there’s a bit of sultana in next year’s cake.

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