Millefeuille and Fairy Cakes and Crème Anglaise oh my! The Great British Baking Show returns for a brand new season this summer on WETA (and your local PBS station).
The fourth season of The Great British Baking Show has finally arrived. Twelve wide eyed amateur bakers have entered the Union Jack swaged tent at Welford Park in Berkshire; judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood have conjured up 30 new challenges to test their baking mettle; and co-hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins are sure to keep them on track and laughing when the tension gets as thick as black treacle in January. Which contestant is prepared to “ready, set, bake” their way into the top spot – Britain’s Best Amateur Baker?
If you have not already binge-watched the previous three seasons of The Great British Baking Show (GBBS) be prepared for a surprisingly addictive experience filled with drama, humor, and great food. Yes. I just used an Oxford comma to emphasize the pure Britishness of this cooking show. In a world of cut-throat reality TV, GBBS is a refreshing respite—a place where civility rules the day—even in the heat of the kitchen!
The format is brilliant. Twelves amateur bakers from diverse backgrounds compete each week in three challenges: the Signature Bake, testing their skill and creativity; the Technical Bake, requiring instinct and intuition; and the Showstopper Bake, a no holds barred finale spotlighting the depth of their skill and talent. Each week the judges crown a Star Baker, and sadly, one contestant departs the tent. To offset the tension of under-baked bread, weak flavors, or the dreaded “soggy bottom,” the two co-hosts add the quirky, over-the-top humor that Brits are famous for.
The Signature Challenge of episode one required the contestants to bake a British classic—the drizzle cake. A light, moist and flavorful teatime favorite perfected during the Victorian era, American viewers might not be familiar with the term drizzle cake. However, any baker worth their weight in butter will recognize the technique—a sponge cake doused with a strong liquid, topped with sugar icing. I have a Triple Lemon Cake recipe that includes a lemon sponge cake, lemon glaze (drizzle) and a lemon icing. It is always a hit at parties!
The sponge cake is a staple in the baking arsenal. Its success lies is in the technique. Created in the mid-17th century by Italian pastry chef Giovan Battista Cabona, it originally consisted of four ingredients: eggs, butter, sugar, and flour. To create its light, airy and sponge-like texture, the wet ingredients are beaten briskly to add air, which increases the volume, and the flour is very gently folded in to complete the batter. This can be a tricky challenge, even to the expert baker. Not enough volume and the cake is too dense. Too much and it falls. When baking powder was commercially produced in the mid-19th century, cooks included it as the fifth ingredient—resulting in a more consistent rise. Some of the most famous sponge cakes are: Victoria sponge, named after a British Queen; Battenburg cake, the pink and yellow checkered cake wrapped in marzipan; and the Angel Food cake, a variation using only egg whites and no butter, creating a very high, white cake fit for the angels.
Drizzle cakes are all about a moist texture and intense flavor. The drizzling liquid is a key ingredient, making a great dessert even better. Judge Paul Hollywood admits that it is his favorite type of cake. That is really no surprise. He loves intense bakes—often warning contestants to watch their flavors; praising those who use unique combinations or censuring those who don’t. Judge Mary Berry tells us that the most popular drizzle cake in England is lemon flavored—however, she expects the contestants to be much more inventive. A few of them are. Notwithstanding the citrus variations in the challenge such as Louise’s Orange Liqueur and Lemonade Drizzle Cake and Benjamina’s Pistachio, Cardamom and Lemon Drizzle Cake, the more creative combinations included Candice’s Raspberry and Rhubarb Drizzle Cake and Tom’s Gin & Tonic Drizzle Cake. Interestingly, Jane received the highest praise for her classic combination of Lemon and Poppy Seed Drizzle Cake, which later helped her to be awarded Star Baker of the week. Brit’s do like their traditional flavors, it appears. Honestly, her drizzle cake looked fabulous too.
If you would like to bake like the GBBS contestants, try your hand at a drizzle cake. Here is a recipe for Jane’s winning Lemon and Poppy Seed Drizzle Cake from the BBC.
You can’t get much more British than that. It produces the classic sponge cake that some of the contestants were upended by in the first Signature Bake. May the baking Gods endow you with a light, moist and flavorful results! Don’t forget to share your pictures on Twitter and Instagram using #PBSBakingShow. Episode two of The Great British Baking Show covers biscuits, or as us Yanks like to call them, cookies.