September 26, 2018 11:50 am Leave your thoughts
It’s Spice Week – semaine des epices (merci, Manon). Like fireworks over a wedding marquee, the spices crackle and spark, bringing a burst of heat, a blossoming of flavour, an intensity and vibrancy to this week’s biscuits and cakes.
Through clouds of ground powder and puffed icing sugar, the bakers gingerly attempt family tea-time cakes, ancient Middle Eastern pastries and a hanging biscuit chandelier (‘It’s a ridiculous idea, no offence, Paul’ ventures Dan). But there’s a cloud on Paul’s brow as he – flying solo – judges the final efforts. And clouds are gathering too from the start for Karen and Terry.
Paul and Prue aren’t all that happy with the bakers’ efforts this week. Too claggy, they declaim. Too dry, too boozy, too runny, too messy, too glue-y, too dense, too spicy, not spicy enough. Other countries televise endurance contests and cookery programmes where people yell and steal each other’s ingredients. Britain likes nothing more than watching someone gently criticize the standard of someone else’s pastry (in a tent).
Is it time to update your spice rack?
Like fireworks, spices need to be carefully handled. Too much and you’ve overpowered the bake. Too little and they fail to spark at all. The judges were looking for delicate baking this week, for just a floral hint of spice. Jon realizes, a little too late, that while it might be Spice Week, you can’t just ‘go for it’ and bung in handfuls of powder.
At Naturally Good Food we sell the finest organic spices. Arriving in plain brown paper bags, they’re a delight for the eyes when opened, gleamingly bright or entrancingly dusky. They’re as rich in flavour as in colour, and as fresh as can be. Spices are derived from roots and fruits: with these organic varieties, you can taste their origins – there’s a fruitiness, a pungency to them all. And a pinch packs a powerful punch.
Spices aren’t expensive, but they’re often neglected, turning to dusty powder in ancient spice racks as the decades roll by. Is it time you updated your own spice-rack? Our organic spices will raise your baking, and all your dishes, to another level. We’ve got the very best cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, allspice and mixed spice at NGF – as well as the liquorice, as used by Karen.
And, of course, we’ve got the ginger for the ginger cake signature challenge: ground, stem and crystallised. It’s a spice that brings warmth to dishes both sweet and, as Rahul said, savoury, making amazingly goo-ey sweet gingerbread as well as gently warming, fragrant curries.
Rocketing to the top
The first challenge was a family tea-time ginger cake, homely and honeyish, sticky with golden syrup and treacle. The bakers had two hours, which is approximately one hour and fifteen minutes longer than most of us have to spend on our family tea-time cakes.
The Middle Eastern cakes for the technical challenge included some new spices (new to us too). ‘Interesting’ remarked Dan, ‘And by interesting, I mean awful’. If you’re inspired to make your own, you’ll need our walnuts and dates as well, for the fillings.
The showstopper spiced biscuit chandelier, meanwhile, was a crazy idea. ‘It’s all about the spice’ claimed Paul, but clearly it was in fact, all about the strings and structure. Ruby noted that ‘perspex holds much better than plain biscuit’, as though any explanation was needed as to why flour and water paste isn’t widely used for light fittings.
‘If you do an internet search for a biscuit chandelier, do you know what comes up?’, asked Dan, ‘Nothing’. ‘Exactly’, growled Paul.
Nevertheless, the contestants managed to produce some impressive dangly biscuits, despite no-one being anywhere near finished with five minutes to go. ‘It’s almost like time was against you all the way’, mused Paul to Rahul, giving him hints for making his 150-biscuit chandelier even more exciting next time, in the unlikely event of him ever attempting this challenge again.
Who exploded with happiness?
Rahul, rich in handshakes and compliments – ‘a little genius’ (Paul), ‘one helluva baker’ (Prue) – is trying his very hardest to be happy about it all. His Bonfire Night Caramel Ginger Cake topped with cinder toffee (Karen had a version of it too) was ‘awesome’. Like a cooling blast of nitrous oxide, Rahul doesn’t fluster, even as cakes topple and slither around him in the relentless heat.
Kim-Joy, meanwhile, who crafts miniature gingerbread houses and exquisitely intricate decorations, was deservedly star-baker.
Who’s a damp squib?
They said it would be a double firing this week, and while some doubted they could be so cruel, the judges stuck to their word. Karen was sanguine about her chances. ‘Clearly’, she remarked, ‘I’m going home’ – shortly after putting the wrong filling in the wrong pastry. Despite aiming for a ‘carking great showstopper’, she could see the writing on the wall. One of my favourite contestants, she trotted off for a break in her caravan happily enough.
More sadly, Terry went too. It doesn’t take much watching of Bake-Off to see that there’s a lot of love in the tent. The bakers love what they do and they do it for the love of it. Bakes are aimed at and dedicated to loved ones – to mothers, daughters, husbands, wives and fiances. Terry, it transpires, took up baking to fill the void left by the death of his wife; it was clear that his success up to this point meant a lot more to him than a handshake from Paul. Love is the secret spice in all baking. And even Naturally Good Food can’t sell you that.
Spicy autumn cake recipe
It truly is all about the spices, and all about the sugar, in this dark, rich, Bonfire-Night-inspired Autumn Cake. With a kick of heat from the ginger, and dusky undertones of cinnamon, it’s a treacly autumnal celebration of a cake – just right for this time of year.
225g soft dark sugar
280g black treacle
280g plain flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100ml warm milk
Heat the butter, sugar and treacle in a pan until liquid. Meanwhile, mix the flour and spices in a bowl. Beat in the eggs. Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in the warm milk and add to the mixture. Stir in the liquid from the pan, then turn out into a lined loaf tin.
Cook in a preheated oven at 180C for around 50 minutes. And don’t worry if it sinks slightly in the middle!allspice, cardamom, cardamon, cloves, crystallised ginger, dates, GBBO5, Great British Bake Off, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, licorice, liquorice, mixed spice, nutmeg, organic ginger, organic spices, spice week, stem ginger, sugar, turmeric, walnuts
This post was written by Yzanne