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The Great British Baking Show

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Sweet Louise Bakeshop via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
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We have never spent time on Radio Kitchen talking about TV cooking shows, but one has emerged that deserves our attention. As the pandemic slogs on, many of us have often found it hard to shake the blues. But there is one source of comfort and relief these days and that is The Great British Baking Show. As Chef Jerry Pellegrino recalls, the early days of the pandemic were marked by a bread making craze.

Whether we were good at it or not, there was something warm and wonderful about trying our hand at bread baking. And it's that warmth and wonder that The Great British Baking Show delivers by the truckload.

 

Originally produced by the BBC, the show premiered in 2010 and has been going strong ever since. It has been broadcast in the US since 2014, with the seasons presented somewhat out of order. Currently there are no less than 10 seasons available to US viewers, and the show seems to have been developing a loyal following.

 

The show is a ten week long baking contest that whittles down 12 contestants to a three person finale. The bakers are all amateurs, and all decidedly "normal" people,with one exception: they all are very, very good in the kitchen.

The vibe of the show is what most appeals to fans. It's very gentle, very kind, very 

soothing. The bakers seem to care more about each other than clawing their way to victory. Hugs, kisses and tears mark each departure from the show, and people say that long-lasting relationships are formed.

 

But the heart of the show is the baking, and the show runners present very stiff challenges to the contestants. Unlike "Top Chef" and "Chopped" the hosts allow a reasonable amount of time for the bakes. And what comes out of the ovens is often nothing less than spectacular.

 

But I think it is the process we witness that most warms our hearts. The careful measuring of flour, the hearty whisking of batter, the painstaking application of decorations and yes, the anxiety in their faces draw us in.

 

And this is why The Great British Baking Show is so important during this time of the pandemic. We see talent springing up from unexpected sources. We feel the comfort of gently rising dough. We see people just like us doing remarkable things, and inevitably we want to try it too. It's all about optimism.

 

Whether you try to bake a simple loaf of bread or a stunning ceremonial cake, the act is its own reward. Many of the contestants bake almost daily, sending their baked goods off to neighbors, schools and hospitals. Baking like that is Goodness Incarnate.

 

Several of the former contestants have gone on to professional careers in baking, and some have written cookbooks. One of my favorites, Chetna Makan, has several books out including "The Cardamom Trail." I bought a copy for Vickie for Christmas, and I am hoping she will tackle a few of the recipes.

Recipes such as "Fig and Chocolate Macarons", "Aubergine and Onion Tart", and "Date, Walnut and Nutmeg Cake". The finished dishes don't have to be showstoppers to achieve success. The joy of baking during these dark days is its own reward. The actual dish is just icing on the cake.

 

Here are a few of Jerry's favorite baking recipes.

Red Velvet Cupcake

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup unsalted butter, softened

1 ½ cups sugar

2 eggs

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

2 ounces water

2 ounces red food coloring

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare cupcake tins.

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy.

Add eggs and blend well.

Make a paste of cocoa and food coloring and add to the butter mixture.

Sift flour and salt together into this mixture.

One at a time, add the following ingredients: buttermilk, vanilla, and water.

In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and baking soda. Fold it into the cake batter. Make sure it's incorporated, but don't beat it.

Pour the batter into the cupcake tins. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cake springs back when touched.

Remove from oven and let cool for about 10 minutes, then turn the cupcakes out of the tins and onto a rack to finish cooling completely.

Add one candied pecan to each cupcake if you don’t eat them all first.

 

Tarte Normande a la Crème 

1-10 ½ inch Pate Sablée Shell, unbaked

4 large Granny Smith Apples, peeled, cored and cut into ½ inch cubes

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and kept warm

2/3 cup sugar

4 large eggs

2/3 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss the apples with the melted butter until they are well coated.

Combine ½ cup of the sugar and the eggs and beat until creamy and pale yellow.

Add the cream and vanilla extract and beat until well combined.

Spread the apples evenly over the bottom of the tart shell. Pour in the cream mixture and fill the shell until just below the crust’s rim.

Sprinkle the remaining sugar over the top of the tart.

Set the tart on a baking sheet and bake in the center of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the batter is set.

Paté Sablée

This is a rich sweet and crunchy pastry crust, very similar to sugar cookies. It works best with simple fruit tarts.

12 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

2 large eggs, beaten

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

2 Tablespoons ground almonds (optional)

½ Teaspoon salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

Combine the butter, confectioner’s sugar, eggs, vanilla, almonds and salt in a food processor. Process using the pulse button for five or six short pulses or until well blended.

Add the flour, ½ cup at a time, pulsing two or three times after each addition until all of the flour is blended and the dough comes together. Do not let it form a ball. The dough should be pliable, but not sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and work it together into a ball with your hands.

Place the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and from it into a flat disc.

Cover the dough completely and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour, or up to overnight.

Sprinkle the yeast into the water and let sit until the yeast looks “milky,” about 5 minutes, then add the poolish.

Meanwhile, combine the flours in a bowl. Rub the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles sand.

Add the sugar, salt, and flour mixture to the yeast and mix until a dough forms (about 4 minutes on low with a dough hook), scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue mixing until a wet and tacky dough has formed (about 2 additional minutes at medium speed).

Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl, turn once to coat all sides and cover with plastic wrap or a clean towel. Let rise until an indentation remains when lightly pressed with a fingertip, about 45-60 minutes.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and fold it into thirds like a letter. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until an indentation remains when lightly pressed with a fingertip, about 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 475°F (use of a baking stone is useful but not necessary). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Uncover the dough and lightly dust both sides with semolina flour. Gently roll or pat out the dough to about ½” thickness (take care not to deflate the dough too much). Using English muffin rings or a pastry/pizza wheel, punch or cut to the desired shape (about 3″ wide).

Place the muffins on one prepared baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest for 15 minutes.

Heat a nonstick skillet on medium heat for 5 minutes. Taking care not to crowd the pan, cook the muffins in batches until both sides are browned. Place cooked muffins on clean prepared baking sheet.

Bake muffins until the internal temperature reads 205°F, about 6-8 minutes.

Remove from the hot baking sheet and let cool on a rack before slicing.

 

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.