Strawberries and Cream Baked Alaska

strawberries and cream baked alaska gbbo greatbloggersbakeoff2014

This week’s #greatbloggersbakeoff2014 features something I’ve wanted to try for a while – Baked Alaska. Apparently Rob and I both had a very deprived childhood, as neither of us can recall ever having even eaten this, let alone made it. Challenge set!

One thing that struck me about this week’s GBBO program – unless I missed something – was that none of the contestants actually baked their Alaska, they just blow-torched the outside. Surely this is cheating?! I wanted to do things the proper way, and loosely followed this Mary Berry recipe, scaling down slightly for just the two of us.

Time and equipment not permitting, I must admit I didn’t make my own ice cream. We do actually own an ice-cream-making KitchenAid attachment, it was on promotion when we bought the mixer, but doesn’t actually fit in our freezer, so sits in the cupboard unused!

For the sponge base, I divided the mixture into two, and added a tablespoon of strawberry puree to one half, and half a teaspoon of vanilla to the other. Alternating spoonfuls of the mixture went into the mould, finished with a quick swirl from a cocktail stick – to give a marbled strawberry cake.

strawberry marble cake for baked alaska gbbo strawberry marble cake base for baked alaska greatbloggersbakeoff2014

Once this was cool, it was simply a case of stacking up the strawberries and ice-cream…

piling strawberries and cream for baked alaska recipe

…and covering in meringue.

meringe covering on strawberries and cream baked alaska

Simple, right? With my oven heating up itself and apparently the entire kitchen at the same time, I began to realise how the GBBO bakers had got so fraught in the tent. Trying to construct a dessert is one thing, doing it neatly quite another, and whilst the whole thing is melting at the same time – it’s really rather easy to have a complete meltdown!

Luckily everything just about held together. I’d originally planned to pipe some swirls, but lo and behold had run out piping bags, so food colouring and a paintbrush it was.

painted swirls on strawberries and cream baked alaska

A quick 10 minutes in the oven and it certainly was looking good from the outside. A perfectly crisp meringue shell, and no tell-tale signs of ice-cream puddling out.

freshly baked alaska strawberries and cream painted swirl pattern on meringue painted swirl meringue baked alaska

The moment of truth…

cutting into baked alaska moment of truth strawberries and cream design

And inside, well not bad at all I’d say! The ice cream only really started melting once it was cut and the layers looked pretty good for a first effort. A point to note that taking photos whilst making this rather technical bake is an added challenge – so sorry they’re not amazing!

inside baked alaska strawberries and cream gbbo

The taste was pretty good too – a great contrast between the crisp outer meringue, squishy inner, cold ice cream, and of course cake to finish. I’d definitely like to try it again.

Check out Jenny’s blog to see how the other bakers fared with their desserts this week.

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Caramel and Apple Opera Cake

caramel apple opera cake recipe white chocolate topping gbbo great bloggers bake off british

This week my parents came over for dinner, providing a perfect opportunity to try out another dessert from The Great British Bake Off, as part of The Great Bloggers Bake Off. The choices from the semi-final program were a Charlotte Royale ‘brain cake’ from the technical challenge, or a rather more appealing layered Opera cake. Easy choice.

The Opera cake recipe is pretty much the same all over the web – for the basic Joconde (almond) sponge at least. My recipe was based on this one over on BBC Food. However on reading through, my baking tins were not 18 x 13 inches as they’d used – so I scaled it down to 2/3 to fit with my 14 x 11 inch tins, which are your standard kitchen baking trays.

Ingredients – Joconde sponge

4 egg whites (you can use the yolks in a french buttercream, see below)
18g sugar
150g ground almonds
150g icing sugar
4 eggs
55g plain flour
58g butter, melted

Method

– Beat the egg whites to a soft peak stage, and add the sugar to form a stiff peak meringue mixture
– In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, ground almonds and sieved icing sugar for about 5 minutes, until roughly double the size
– Fold the egg whites gently into the almond mixture, before folding in the melted butter, a couple of spoonfuls at a time
– Spread the mixture into 2 tins – approx. 14 x 11 inches, lined and well greased. Ensure it fills up the corners
– Bake at 220 degrees for 5 – 7 minutes, until lightly golden on top and springy to the touch
– Remove from the oven and carefully peel off the paper. I found cooling on top of another sheet of baking paper helped move them around during assembly. Slice in half and fill.

opera cake method joconde sponge recipe meringue mixture ground almonds melted butter

opera cake joconde sponge mixture in prepared trays 11 by 14 inches

joconde sponge for opera cake sliced into two for layers

To fill

Buttercream – french or otherwise! My attempts at French buttercream weren’t great, but it’s a great way to use the leftover egg yolks, and is the perfect complement to the almond sponge.

Syrup to moisten the sponges

Ganache, or caramel in my case

Chocolate, to top

I borrowed some great tips from Joe Pastry for this bake as a whole. One of the best ones being covering the bottom sponge white another layer of chocolate, so it wouldn’t stick to the plate and would be easier to slice. Cool with the chocolate face down on a layer of greaseproof paper.

To moisten each layer of sponge, I made a caramel apple syrup. 2 apples, chopped (I didn’t peel them, the red skin added to both the colour and flavour), boiled in a saucepan on a medium heat with 1 tablespoon of water and 60g brown sugar, stirring to prevent sticking and burning, for 5-10 minutes, until the apple turns into a mushy puree. I added a couple of tablespoons of amaretto and left to cool, sieving, and spreading on each layer before adding the fillings. Another good tip I picked up was to have the cake facing upwards as it had baked, as the top is more porous than the bottom.

caramel apple syrup puree simple sieved for use on joconde sponges in opera cake

spreading apple caramel syrup on joconde sponge in opera cake layers

For the bottom layer of my cake, I used a spiced apple buttercream. Chopping the apple into small pieces, I microwaved it for a few minutes to remove most of the water, and soften to a stiff puree. When cool this was beaten with 30g butter and about 75g icing sugar – enough to make a stiff paste, and flavoured with 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch each of ginger and nutmeg.

dehydrated apple puree for making spiced apple buttercream

In the centre – a gooey caramel. I used about half a can (200g) of ready made dulce de leche, available in the supermarket, or you can make your own.

dulce de leche tinned caramel layer on cake with palette knife opera cake recipe

And the top section, some caramelised, spiced apple chunks for a bit of texture – 2 apples chopped and heated in 30g brown sugar, a teaspoon of water and a little cinnamon, for just a few minutes to soften.

crunchy caramelised fruit pieces in caramel apple opera cake recipe

I topped these with my no-so-great attempt at French buttercream. Made using egg yolks, a boiled sugar syrup, and butter, all whipped to (supposed) perfection, I think my problem came with not testing the sugar syrup temperature / texture, so it may not have been cooked enough. I followed this lovely recipe and simple steps, it looks so easy in the pictures!
Nevertheless whilst building my other layers, I found it was starting to set in the fridge, so chanced using it on this top layer. It was a bit thin but did add a certain something taste wise.

thin french buttercream spread over applie pieces in opera cake patisserie

Finally, my chocolate topping. Having a tableful of guests waiting for dinner I had no time to temper it, but honestly don’t think it mattered! I used around 150g of white chocolate although could have got away with a bit less.

white chocolate topping on caramel apple opera cake layered

At this point the cake was a little oozy – mostly from the French buttercream – but half an hour in the fridge did wonders!

oozing layers of caramel apple opera cake french butter cream dulce de leche

And to finish – decoration with more white chocolate.

opera cake white chocolate writing and swirls topping

The edges needed a quick trim to neaten them up – this is best done with a hot knife (run under hot water and dry), so as to get a smooth cut and not stick to any of the layers. This end wasn’t so straight – Paul Hollywood wouldn’t be pleased!

opera cake trimmed layers buttercream caramel dulce de leche apple white chocolte

And finally ready to serve – some websites suggest edible gold, I opted for a sprinkle of iridescent edible glitter for that shimmering touch.

opera cake great bloogers bake off gbbo caramel apple with white chocolate recipe

Again sliced with a hot knife, and I was so happy with how the layers looked inside!

opera cake perfect slice four layers joconde almond sponge buttercream dulce de leche caramel spiced apples french recipe

It was a lovely showstopper of a dessert, quite rich, but very well received. As for the 4+ hours spent in the kitchen making and assembling – lovely as it was, I think this might be a one off!

See more attempts at this weeks GBBO challenges over at the Great Bloggers Bake Off with Helen and Jenny.

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