Happy telly

There has been much excitement at Gidday HQ today. Yes peeps, the ultimate in happy telly – the Great British Bake Off – is back. That’s ten whole weeks of signatures bakes, technical challenges and showstoppers to look forward to.

Yippee!!

So this afternoon I raced home from work, got two loads of washing on and with dinner done and dusted, I curled up on the comfy couch just in time to enjoy the opening sequence, the white peaks of the marquee sweeping into view amidst swathes of green and accompanied by the familiar tinkling of the GBBO theme tune.

Week one was Cake Week and the twelve contestants (I always think that thirteen i.e. a baker’s dozen, would be more appropriate) whipped – and in a lot of cases rewhipped – their way to a drizzle cake, produced a passable batch of Jaffa cakes and showcased the art of mirror glaze.

There were winners and grinners, triers and even a few fliers with Candice piffing her genoise sponge across the tent. The first Star Baker was announced and someone else’s spatula was despatched to the back of the GBBO cupboard. It seems that a nice weekend in the countryside (albeit a rainy one in what amounts to a big tent with nineteen strangers plus a film crew) and a judge’s nod to being one of the top twelve bakers in the nation pales quite a bit against the ignominy of being the first one to leave.

It’s probably a little early to be laying claim to my favourites but cool Selasi (could he be any more laid back?), pragmatic Jane and brave Benjamina were the ones that won my heart this week. How did they fare? Well there is a strict no spoilers policy here at Gidday from the UK so my lips are sealed. Unless of course there’s cake involved.

Speaking of cake, I pushed the boat out for a birthday bake earlier this month. A forage through the pages of my More Secrets From The Beechworth Bakery cookbook unearthed a recipe for Dutch Apple Cake so I set forth, wielding my spatula and turned out a veritable treat…

IMAG5200 (640x640)

My delicious Dutch Apple Cake: full of sugar and spice and all things nice and fattening!

…which was rapidly demolished by my workmates the next day.

Just when I was thinking my hips were safe again, there has been talk of an Office Bake Off. And next week the Great British Bake Off brings us Biscuit Week.

Hmmmm. Shame that.

The halls of power

Here I am on the last of my 5 day Easter staycation and today has been a committed pyjama day. I’ve lazed about with Audrey for a bit, been inspired by a couple of episodes of The Great British Bake Off Series 1 (the series I missed!) and am starting to prepare for a work trip tomorrow with a bit of feel-good Whoopi Goldberg (in Sister Act II) in the background.

Quite frankly, it’s a rather fab way to finish things.

But the long weekend has not been spent in a haze of nothing-ness and sloth. I’ve caught up with friends, been for a flotation tank session, and added a couple of newly discovered gems to my figurative album of London Love. I wrote about my dip into Camden Market in my last post and on Saturday I immersed myself in another cultural melting pot with a tour of the Houses of Parliament.

As I walked through security and emerged on the other side of those black iron gates, I felt a little frisson of excitement. I was soon to learn that entry to the Palace of Westminster is not restricted to those on tours but I felt the sense of history and importance enfold me in its gothic embrace all the same.

Taken from the entrance to Westminster Hall

The tour was absolutely amazing. Meeting our guide in the magnificent Westminster Hall, we headed up the stairs and along the corridors to start our story in the Norman Porch right at the top of the stairs where the Queen herself enters each year for the State Opening of Parliament. 75 minutes of anecdotes, architecture and atmosphere later we left the Commons Chamber and headed back to Westminster Hall to be surrounded by King William Rufus’ 6ft thick walls from 1097, the place where it all began.

Westminster Hall looking back towards the entrance.

For the first half of the tour, we scuttled along behind our tour guide in the footsteps of our sovereign, from the top of the stairs under the Norman Porch through the Queen’s Robing Room, down the Royal Gallery and into the Lords Chamber. We stopped to marvel at the copy of the Magna Carta and the death warrant of Charles II and gazed at the massive portraits of the Battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo in the Royal Gallery.

The Lords Chamber was quite spectacular. The throne is the piece d’resistance, covered with gold and filigree and is in stark contrast to the Woolpack in front of it, the seat of The Lord Speaker and a homage to the importance of wool in Britain’s economic past.

It was also under the Lords Chamber that the Gunpowder Plot was foiled. The plot was aimed at killing the Catholic sovereign King James I by blowing up the Palace during the Opening of Parliament in 1605. A ceremonial check is still carried out as part of the State Opening preparations to ensure that no gunpowder lies beneath the Palace and the plot’s failure is celebrated each year on November 5th with effigies of the captured traitor Guy Fawkes burnt on bonfires around the country.

Illustration by George Cruikshank in 1840 – source: Wikipedia

After an explanation on the ceremony surrounding the State Opening of Parliament and a tally of the roles of the various types of Lords, we were off again, down the Peers Corridor, towards the Central Lobby.

Did you know that the word ‘lobbying’ was first coined to reflect the activity in this space? It’s the place where any voter can enter and request to speak to their Member of Parliament via the Reception Desk located there – members who are present in the ‘House’ are obliged to come to the Central Lobby to meet their constituent who ‘lobbies’ them although it might pay to check that they are ‘in’ before traipsing down to Westminster and being subjected to security screening.

A hurried scamper down the Commons Corridor brought us to the Members’ Lobby, a working space for the parliamentarians complete with electronic message board and four rather formidable statues of Britain’s former Prime Ministers – Clement Atlee, Winston Churchill, David Lloyd-George and Margaret Thatcher. And this segues nicely into our next stop and the penultimate section of the tour – the Commons Chamber.

The House of Commons is comprised of our Members of Parliament (MPs) who are elected by voters in their respective constituencies. This is where David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Milliband and their ministers meet to debate the issues of the day, initiating and amending laws (called Bills) which pass to and from the Houses of Lords and Commons through quite a series of checks and balances before coming into legislation.

Voting in the Houses is also very transparent with the positions of the Members shown by their physical movement out of the Chamber into two neighbouring passages known as the Yes and No Lobbies. (In the case of the Lords, these are the corridors of Content or Not Content).

Finally we found ourselves back in Westminster Hall. The hall has served many purposes in its 1000 year history including housing the Law Courts, hosting famous speakers like Nelson Mandela and Pope Benedict XVI, the first visit by a Pope since the Reformation in the 16th Century, and the laying in state of the Queen Mother following her death in August 2009.

Britain’s links to the rest of the world were laid bare in the entertaining story-telling of our guide, Isabel and with my head crammed full of fascinating facts and anecdotes, I was glad that I’d decided to invest in the official guidebook so that I could revisit our political past in far more detail and at my leisure.

With the tour over, it was time to brave the chill outside again and with my guidebook tucked firmly under my arm, I couldn’t wait to get on the tube and lose myself between the covers. Certainly when I next emerge from Westminster tube station – to be greeted by Big Ben and the gothic spires of the palace – it will hold a whole new meaning for me and getting in to Prime Minster’s Question Time might just be next on my To-Do List of London.


Notes:

  1. Unfortunately, there are no photos permitted once the tour leaves Westminster Hall but there is an official flickr site if you’d like to see more. 
  2. I’ve also reviewed the Tour on Weekend Notes so for a slightly different perspective (as well as information on costs and opening times), click here.

The Fabulous Baking Boys…

After a couple of weeks of travelling, this weekend I have curled my exhausted body up on the couch and caught up with some of my fave telly. This has included a dip into The Best of Saturday Kitchen – with Tom Kitchin making an amazing mallard and cabbage roll and James Martin pulling together a mouth-watering monkfish curry, all in the time it took me to have a couple of crumpets with peanut butter and a coffee. 

But I digress – easy to do when there’s food involved.

The piece d’resistance of my comfy couch-based catch-up has been the quarter- and semi-finals of my favourite bastion of Britishness, The Great British Bake-Off.

Clever clogs: one of the contestants this series actually made this
(For the life of me I cannot remember who…sorry!)

I LOVE this show. There is something so quintessentially British about a bunch of baking boffins wielding their spatulas and icing bags in a big white tent in the middle of the English countryside. Having had a little go at baking myself, I can completely appreciate how skilled, clever and brave these men and women are, much more so than me. 

While I have, quite literally, not been in a position to experience the flavours and textures of scrumptious scones, donuts and petit fours, watching the critique from GBBO duo Mary Berry (great baking surname) and Paul Hollywood (super showbiz moniker) brings a smile to my dial every time. The contestants’ trials and tribulations also make for many highs and lows in the baking rollercoaster. In the meantime, hosts Mel and Sue meander around the marquee revealing the human side of baking, providing words of encouragement, shoulders to cry on and a ‘Mel and Sue’ sandwich for each week’s evicted baker.

L to R: Sue, Mary, Paul and Mel

After last year’s all female final, this series has been ambushed by the men and Tuesday’s Final will see Brendan, James and John battle it out for line honours. It has been a generational joust with the experience and exactitude of Brendan’s years going head to head each week with 21 year old James’ experimentation with form and flavour. And John – well 22 year old John has ridden the rollercoaster in between the two, producing both the awe-inspiring (like his gingerbread Colosseum in the quarter-final) and occasionally abysmal. He has also been the source of the greatest drama with a bloody injury mid-series saving all bakers from the usual weekly eviction (only for them all to face a double eviction the following week). I always knew puddings were not for the faint-hearted.

L to R: Finalists John, James and Brendan await news of their fate with Semi Final evictee, Danny

So on Tuesday we will see the back end of this season’s BBC baking bonanza and after a joyful – and delightfully pastel coloured – romp through cakes, breads, biscuits and pastries, one of GBBO’s fabulous baking boys will wear the crown. And it’s really anyone’s race – any one of these runners could snatch the winning bake by a nose. So I’m not sure who to put my money on.

What a shame it’s too late for a trifecta.

The Bold And The Beautiful…

The spoiler’s in the title peeps. Today turned into a veritable flour frenzy at Gidday HQ as I tried my luck with my next baking challenge – Biscuits.

(I know I did Anzac biscuits in August but I don’t really eat them/they didn’t really look like biscuits so I thought I should have another go.)

Having bought a couple of extra ingredients yesterday while out and about – not wishing to give myself any excuse for shying away from this next frontier – I thought I’d get inspired this morning by catching up on last week’s episode of The Great British Bake Off, a series currently running on BBC. (I am now wondering whether BBC actually stands for Biscuits, Bread and Cakes but I digress). Last week it was biscuits. ‘Perfect!’ I thought making myself comfy, spatula within reach. 

There were some disasters and some triumphs and as long as I wasn’t attempting brandy snaps (that curl thing looks quite difficult) or macaroons (a high proportion of contestant tribulations here), I figured I’d be ok.

My first recipe was Double Chocolate Cookies (thanks to a recipe in Sainsbury’s Magazine). All went smoothly, I put them in the oven to bake and checked on my 13 little biscuit bundles (recipe said makes twelve but hey, I’ll eat one to test and then we’ll be square) after about 20 minutes. They weren’t kidding when they said leave 5cm between each ‘walnut-sized’ mound (how big is a walnut anyway?) – I had one rather large Double Chocolate Cookie on my hands! ‘What to do? What to do?’ my frantic mind muttered. And then inspiration struck.

This, my friends, is what an eggcup is for!

A useful gift and in Vegemite colours – what’s not to like?

And so I cut and cut and cut, popped them back in the oven for another seven minutes and out came these little beauties.

Proud little soldiers – all cute and chocolate-y!

Inspired, I started on my second batch, Zingy Ginger and Lemon (props again to Sainsbury’s magazine!). This one took a little creative thinking as the mixture just didn’t seem to be quite as ‘roll-into-walnut-shaped-balls’-able as my chocolate attempt but I soldiered on, dribbling little dollops of water until things looked (and felt) a bit more promising.

I am one who always learns lessons in life so out came two baking trays and soon there were 16 dollops ready for the oven.

But blow me down at the 20 minute mark they’d spread again – like they couldn’t bear to be away from each other – and although not faced with an indistinct tray-shaped cookie like last time, I thought it was time for more inspired culinary thinking. You see, while the eggcup thing worked quite well, it did leave rather a lot of ‘inbetween’ bits which, try as I might, I could not eat in these quantities…

The inbetweeners – a bit like donut holes

So I grabbed some of those little round dishes you have for dipping sauce with Asian food and Voila!

Zingy Ginger – pre lemon

After 10 more minutes in the oven, these emerged to bask on the cooling rack (their chocolate counterparts having cooled sufficiently to migrate to a plate). 

Then there was the great Icing Incident. Don’t try this at home without the right equipment peeps – it won’t go well.

Oh dear – icing may not be my forte!
And not looking much better presented next to the chocolate ones either

Maybe I should have quit while I was ahead. But they taste amazing. Here’s one I was eating earlier…

Delicious – never judge a book by its cover.

You may be wondering what I learned from this afternoon’s baking exploits.  Well I learned that:

a) I am spatially challenged – wearing flat shoes has obviously blunted my appreciation for 5cm heels and who the heck knows what’s meant by walnut-sized anyway.

b) I used think I was ok on the maths front but I cannot for the life of me work out how that much mixture only makes twelve biscuits.

c) I am not an accomplished baker in the presentation stakes but can improvise so that no-one ever suspects – I have not spent 20 years working in Marketing for nothing.

d) I am a mucky pup in the kitchen – a recent learning as I have just discovered some rogue icing on my t-shirt as I sit here tap-tap-tapping away.

But the proof of the pudding is in the tasting so stay tuned for the update after the people at work get their paws on them.

Maybe…

Nom, nom, nom…