The truth about show-off bakes

By
Jack Birch and Imogen Denny
Added
03 November, 2016

We find out the secrets behind show-off bakes.

The truth about show-off bakes



Imo’s bake



First impressions



Despite being an avid fan of GBBO, I don’t remember hearing of a Fraisier cake before this one came into my life, and I can’t say I was delighted at the prospect. The shiny jelly glistening in the picture reminded me of many disappointing experiences in French bakeries where nothing ever quite tasted as delicious I hoped. All too often tricked into eating marzipan, or preserved fruit, or bitter coffee cake, sucked in by the lurid colours and shiny toppings, this is now exactly the kind of cake I try to avoid…


However, Richard Burr’s positivity is infectious, he says that no part of this cake is terribly complicated, it’s just timing, and timing I can handle. Besides, the combination of pistachio and strawberries does sound tempting.


The baking


I began, as instructed, with the crème patissiere. Wary of curdling, and remembering the horrors of lumpy custard at school, I did this super carefully, very slowly and gently… This turned out to be my greatest mistake. Blessed with a very efficient food processor both the pistachio syrup and the marzipan went off without a hitch, and looking back on all of this, I wish I had appreciated it more at the time!


The next step is the sponge, and my first obvious hurdle: I finished the cornflour in the custard, no problem, I substitute potato starch. A quick Google doesn’t reveal any terrible consequences of this – and the sponge emerges from the oven in good shape. A little flatter than I hoped perhaps, but I don’t think it needs to be terribly thick, and it smelled delicious.


Here is where things began to go downhill. Once I placed the strawberries neatly around the edge of the tin, I smothered them in crème pat. Smothered is the only word for this filling that seeped out of the sides of the tin and followed the pistachio syrup into the sponge until it was completely saturated. It got all over my fridge, work surface, elbows, face, clothes. I had worried this might happen… it was not setting so I had added lots of cornflour, extra whipped cream and still no joy. My thought was if I could get it assembled and back into the fridge, maybe, just maybe, it would hold. No dice. I was forced to disassemble the whole thing, and replace the time-consuming crème pat with some very ordinary (but still delicious) vanilla-spiked whipped cream. A cop out, I hear you say? This cake had wreaked so much havoc in my kitchen already that there was no way I could go back and begin this again. Not without being prepared to admit defeat and Frisbee my pistachio sponge out of the window if it went wrong once more.


Onwards! Trying my hardest not to think about how much I dislike the flavour, texture, smell, and feel of marzipan, I began to roll it out, only to find that there was about double the necessary volume (quickly disposed of) and that what was left was so sticky that only copious amounts of icing sugar was going to make rolling it possible. Eventually I managed to create a piece of marzipan that was the right sort of shape and thickness for my Fraisier. Placing it on the cake I swore to myself I’d never make homemade marzipan again.


Finally, the last (major) step – the jelly! This I could do, no problem. Smugly stirring, heating and cooling the fruit I let my cake rest, waiting for its shiny topping to be nice and cool. When at last, it was ready, I spooned it over, only to find I was left with a pathetic pink pool that nowhere near covered the whole thing. I needed three more batches of jelly to cover the marzipan, that included the bit that leaked down one side… Were my strawberries too small? Did I let too much jelly evaporate? I have no idea, but when it came to the white chocolate, the only consolation was that there was plenty for me to eat once I’d piped a few swirls on the jelly.


Conclusion


This cake was a complete nightmare, not to mention the mountain of washing up it created. There were so many parts that could go wrong, inevitably some of them did! And to top it all after 4 hours in the kitchen, my Fraisier didn’t look anywhere near as neat and tidy as Richard Burr’s, the marzipan needed an extra trim and it only looked ok when the side that the jelly leaked down was facing the wall. Having said that it did taste pretty good. I think the sponge soaked with the runny crème pat might have helped a little…




Jack’s bake




First impressions


The morning of making the fraisier cake I walked past a local bakery that had an example in the front centre of their shop window. I eyeballed my competition, noting that the sponge seemed browner than usual, the strawberries slightly wonky and the chocolate work was uninventive. Mine would be tidier. Much more creative. Baked to perfection.


I couldn’t have been more wrong.


In the blurb Richard Burr suggests ‘nothing here is especially complicated’ and with my initial read-through, I had to agree. I can make a sponge – I’ve made it lots of times before. Although crème patisserie and marzipan were new to me, I am a huge fan of both, so should be able to judge how they look and taste.


The toolkit was pretty straight forward as well, although I didn’t have 23cm cake tin, but had a 25cm one. What difference could 2cm make? A lot, as it turns out.


The baking


A disaster. Before this I had never seen the cruel, uncaring face of baking. Things had gone wrong, sure, but not to the extreme levels of this fraisier cake. I am a broken man.


As I didn’t have a food processor, making the pistachio powder for the sponge required a sleeves-rolled up session with the pestle and mortar. Otherwise making the sponge seemed to be no problem, but on pouring it out I almost immediately knew that my baking tin was far too big. I weighed up the options, including a sprint to my local Argos, fashioning a cake tin, Bear Grylls style, from whatever I could find in my cupboard, and adding a cylinder to the middle to create a doughnut-cake. I was already on the precipice of madness, before deciding that I would pray that the cake would rise higher than expected. Of course, it didn’t.


Marzipan! Everyone knows what marzipan looks like. The appearance of fresh snowfall. A perfectly placed tablecloth. Smooth... So, why was mine peeling off into gap-toothed roof tiles?


Again, as I was without a food processor I had to ‘thoroughly’ mix the almonds, sugar and egg whites myself. This exhausting effort was either over-mixed or under-mixed, because clumps of ground almond began to form and would not blend properly. Whatever it was that I wrapped up in clingfilm was far too soggy and lumpy. As I tried to roll the marzipan out, half of the mixture tried to up-sticks with my rolling pin, and half decided to tear itself away. By the end, I had nuggets of almondy goo rather than the pristine marzipan that appeared on Richard Burr’s example.


Mocking me, the sponge, while taking it out of the oven, dramatically collapsed in the middle. It was also, predictably, far too thin. As I tried to slice it in half I could see the blade through the top of the cake. It was far too flat to make two good sponges, so I sacrificed the top level which, in places, had the thickness of tissue paper. I began positioning my strawberries and to to pipe my crème patisserie (the crème pat was fairly simple to make, so I won’t dwell on it here). As my sponges were so wide, I quickly realised that I didn’t have enough crème patisserie to fill the gaps between the strawberries. So the middle, that was already sunk, 

had to sink some more.


It was at this point that I gave up.


I made a token effort with the jelly, but when I took it out of the fridge I knew that it could not save my fraisier cake. After stamping my feet a few times, and sulking in the next room for a few minutes, I poured the jelly on. Instead of melting the white chocolate I took the wise decision to eat it instead.


Conclusion


Sometimes when you have a disastrous bake, you can scoop up the mix of sugar, flour, cream and fruit and it tastes divine. This was not the case with my fraisier cake. The sponge was rubbery and my ‘finely ground’ pistachios had sunk to the bottom. The marzipan had an unbearable texture, like chewing old newspapers. It left the adequate crème patisserie too much to do to lift the cake to edible levels. Even my nearest and dearest described it as ‘awful’, my friends openly laughed and refused to have a slice. Three and a half hours of cooking and the great majority of it ended up in the bin.


As the fraisier has so many elements, I think it would be best to learn them individually before taking on the cake in its entirety. Master marzipan. Perfect the jelly. Nail the sponge. And for god’s sake use the correct size cake tin.


When the scars eventually heal, I’d like to have another go at making the fraisier cake. Next time I’ll prepare for disappointment and (hopefully) be surprised.




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