I hate to say it but over the last couple of weeks, I really lost interest in baking.
And doing anything that even remotely involved removing myself from the sofa.
I've just had one of those months.
It's been full of downs with very few ups (apart from Cardiff City FC finally reaching the Premier League as Champions, and my first Clandestine Cake Club meet).
We are still dealing with the aftermath of bereavement, and it is amazing how much there is to do when you least feel like it. Plus I've been ill this week. Scarily ill, in that what appeared to be a minor illness deteriorated rapidly and knocked me for six to the point where my GP began talking about hospital. (That never happens to me so it was a shock but, thankfully, I've improved almost as quickly).
So on Thursday, when my copy of the newly published 'John Whaite Bakes' arrived at my door, I was, like, 'meh'.
Interestingly, it's tagged as 'Recipes for Every Day and Every Mood'. The chapters are therefore devoted to 'Moods' and the type of recipes John bakes when these times are upon him. For example, when seeking solace, calming nerves, baking for love, nostalgic memories, or for speediness. Introduced by some of John's personal recollections, it gives you alittle insight to his life beyond the mixing bowl.
I must admit, though, I wasn't initially impressed by the concept. The thing is, I guess emotions are by their nature, very personal. At a time when I barely know how I'm going to feel from one minute to the next, I wasn't sure how this would gel with the recipes as set out in John's book. But as I read through it, I decided to ignore the categorisation, and just focus on the recipes.
The first thing to say, is that there is much here that intrigued me. The recipes cover breads, cakes, sweet and savoury, small and large bakes. There are some that seem to overtly nod to John's involvement (and triumph) in last year's Great British Bake Off. So, if you can recall the various challenges on the series, there is a white plaited loaf; a 'meat and stuffing' hot water crust pie; a salted caramel rum baba; individual apple strudels; a curried halloumi,spinach and potato pithivier; and a 'hellfire and brimstone' chiffon cake reminiscent of his showstopping finale.
There are many varied recipes though, and so many that I'd like to try: Big Sue's Tiny Orange Natas (how could I resist with a name like that?); Midnight Blues Tart (blueberry heaven); Caramelised Onion and Rosemary Fougasse. And those are just from one chapter. Some others include: White Chocolate and Lemon Tartlets; Coffee and Walnut Praline Choux Ring; Cranberry, Orange and Macadamia Nut Buns; and Chocolate and Cassis Cake.
The book is beautifully photographed (without too many pictures of John - sorry, but I like a recipe to focus on the food) and while not every recipe has a photo to accompany it, most do. Always a plus for me. I think it's definitely a worthwhile purchase and I can see myself dipping into it often.
So with this kind of inspiration, and feeling much better on Friday, I managed to shake off the sofa and get back in the kitchen. Feeling still a bit shaky though, I wanted an easy bake, with ingredients I had already to hand. This is where the Raspberry and White Chocolate Melting Layer Cake came in. With some raspberries in the fridge that needed using up, and some white chocolate lurking in the back of the cupboard, I had everything else to hand.
The recipe is intriguing as it involves melting 200g unsalted butter and 100g white chocolate together, allowing to cool slightly before beating in 4 large eggs and 200g caster sugar. My butter and chocolate mix looked decidedly dodgy, as when cooled the chocolate had sunk to the bottom, and I was worried that it would not come back together. However, beating in the eggs and sugar produced a thickish, creamy emulsion which looked vastly more promising.
|Butter, chocolate, eggs and sugar beaten to form a smooth batter|
Once cooled, you layer the two together using a ganache made from 200g white chocolate and 250g double cream. John warns you that this takes ages to cool to the point where it is spreadable. He does not lie. Mine took about five hours in the fridge (stirring every so often) until I felt fairly confident that it might not just pour out of the cake to drip down the side.
It was late at this point, so I left the cake overnight, before finishing it off with some icing sugar ready for pictures. It had held together well, and when Mike and I finally tried it, the flavour was lovely. I was worried that so much white chocolate in it would make it too sweet, but the balance is right. The ganache you could eat from the bowl, but in the cake, it's a glorious counterpoint to the sharpness of the raspberries.The texture was a little dense, but it was moist. It was best tasting a mouthful of sponge and ganache with a little,sharp raspberry nugget. Definitely a good start to the book for me.
While I now feel my motivation to bake (and blog) coming back, I guess the only thing that actually felt depressing about the book, was how it made me feel about GBBO.
It's hard to explain, but I've sensed I've become increasingly uneasy about the commercialisation and 'production' that seems to ramp up in volumes with every series. I remember reading some comments on Twitter during the last one about how it was obvious who the winner was going to be (even though they weren't perceived as the most talented) as they fit a certain category and would appeal to a wide audience. For my part, I only had to look at John's website (which was still in development at the time the series was broadcast but had a clear marketing slant) to know that he would go on to win. [John's tumblr site, 'flour and eggs', is great and you can find it here].
However, there is no denying that John is an extremely talented baker, and I am in awe at the skill and knowledge that enables someone to be able to create recipes like these. To have to perform and deliver in that tent in front of Mary, Paul et al and the cameras should not be underestimated. Reading the experiences of some of the other bakers, and seeing what John has achieved in this book, simply highlights this.
As much as I might like to think otherwise, I know I couldn't do it.
* My copy of John Whaite Bakes was sent to me by my lovely friends at Amazon. They kindly charged me £12 for this pleasure so you can be damn sure all my opinions are my own. :)