My kitchen’s been like a cake factory this week. Not bad timing for the first week of The Great British Bake Off to start again.
Without a doubt, the food I’m asked to make more often than any other is cakes. Don’t get me wrong, I love cakes as much as the next man, but before going on The Great British Bake Off myself, I didn’t actually have a huge amount of experience in making them compared to other bakes. That’s certainly changed now and I’ve also found cake to be pretty useful currency these days too. Bake Off was back this week with a cracking first episode and, as is the tradition, it started with Cake Week. I won my own Star Baker awards for biscuits, puddings, pastry, doughnuts, and for the semi-final. But it was Paul Hollywood’s comments to me on tasting my cake in the first week – “you’re in the wrong job” – that stood out as one of my best memories of being on the show.
I was really glad to settle in for a Wednesday evening’s Bake Off again, and over 10 million viewers for the first episode proves that there’s still a huge appetite for the show. I did a Skype interview with BBC News in my kitchen just before the first episode. Then straight after it was finished I headed to Euston Station to catch a train to Manchester for the next morning’s BBC Breakfast. I was pleased for Jane, earning the first Star Baker award of the series, but I think Selasi put in an excellent performance too. It’s very hard to tell the runners and riders from watching the first episode, especially as some people may struggle with cake but nail bread or savoury bakes. They seem a close bunch this year (follow them on Twitter here) and pretty young too so I’m sure we’re going to be getting some interesting bakes from them. My baking philosophy is to try and use ingredients that are affordable and readily available – classics done well are hard to beat. I wanted my bakes on the show to be ones that people watching would say “I really want to try that myself” but I still worried each week that I wasn’t being experimental enough. If you’re looking for somewhere to start, I made a video for BT.com featuring my own cake making tips here.
Inspired by the first episode, I took my own lemon drizzle cake along to BBC Breakfast on Thursday: four layers of lemon and poppy seed sponge, sandwiched with lemon Italian meringue buttercream and lemon curd, and a lemon drizzle icing on top. The recipes for the cake, buttercream and curd are all in my book, B.I.Y. Bake It Yourself, which is currently only £4.99 with Amazon here. The chocolate cake pictured in the background of the picture above is also from my book. The BBC Breakfast team did a sterling effort in producing their own bakes for Nancy and me to judge. I think I was a bit easier on them than Bake Off’s ‘male judge’ would be though!
Nancy and I both had a fantastic time up in Salford on Thursday morning. In addition to the incredible Team GB gold medallists we met (some of the women’s hockey team pictured with us above), I met the lovely Eowyn Ivey – a Pulitzer Prize nominated author from Alaska, who’s just written ‘To The Bright Edge of the World’. I’ve just ordered her book and I’m looking forward to starting it this week. Fifteen years ago I went on a trip of a lifetime fishing in Alaska and Eowyn’s husband is a biologist who deals with fish populations in Alaska’s rivers. That’s pretty much my dream job, though making cakes and building houses in North London’s not a bad life either! I also met Adam Pearson, whose documentary ‘My Amazing Twin’ was on BBC2 this week (catch it on iPlayer here). Adam used to drink in the same Brighton pubs and clubs as me so it was great to chat to him and reminisce about my former life running a nightclub in Brighton.
The only break from baking I’ve had this week (apart from doing my actual day job, where I’ve been fitting a bathroom!) was on Friday night, when my wife Sarah and I took our eldest daughter to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo for a silent cinema viewing of Jurassic Park. A silent cinema is where all the viewers wear noise cancelling headphones and the film is played through them. This means it doesn’t disturb any of the zoo animals in the evening. It was a wonderful night that I’d thoroughly recommend as you go in after the zoo has closed to visitors. We had a magnificent bird display and then picnicked under the stars while we watched the film. It was the perfect setting for Jurassic Park, as we watched them travel around the park in jeeps in the film while the zoo staff were patrolling Whipsnade around us in their own jeeps. Events like this help to raise money for the incredible conservation work that ZSL is involved in. There are future silent cinema events taking place at London Zoo in September, that you can find out more about here.
I’m very grateful that the people at Homepride have sent me so much flour to bake with as it’s really been non-stop this week: a cake to watch the first episode of Bake Off with, the BBC Breakfast cake and a mammoth cake this weekend too. I was also sent some ingredients from Lotus Biscoff, after I judged a cake made with their biscuit spread in a competition a few weeks ago (see here) and couldn’t stop thinking about it. I made two versions of it this week – the first with a coffee buttercream, which slightly overpowered the Biscoff flavour, and secondly with a crunchy Biscoff buttercream, which was perfect. I’ve posted the recipe for this below. I also had to make a nut-free carrot cake this week so I turned to my Bake Off pal Luis‘s recipe from his book, Bake It Great. I have my usual go-to carrot cake recipe but Sarah had remembered how good Luis’s tasted at his book launch, and that it worked really well with no nuts in the mix.
I made the 50th birthday cake pictured above for Sarah’s aunt Marianne this weekend. The top tier was four layers of Lotus Biscoff sponge with crunchy buttercream and the bottom tier was five layers of Luis’s carrot cake recipe with vanilla buttercream. I love a cream cheese frosting on a carrot cake but I’m always wary of using it for a cake that’s travelling or is going to be sitting out on a warm day as it’s not especially stable. I’m making six different cake flavours this week for a wedding cake tasting (follow me on Instagram to see what I’m making) so still more cakes to come from my kitchen. Even though the Bake Off is moving onto Biscuit Week – it’s still Cake Week for me! If you want something delicious to watch along with, give my Lotus Biscoff cake recipe a go and you won’t regret it. Until next week – Happy Baking!
Lotus Biscoff Cake Recipe
For the sponges
- 100g Lotus Biscoff spread (smooth)
- 200g unsalted butter (room temperature)
- 175g caster sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 200g plain flour
- 2tsp baking powder
For the buttercream
- 100g Lotus Biscoff spread (crunchy)
- 125g butter (room temperature)
- 250g icing sugar
- N.B. I have made this cake using four layers of 6″ / 15cm sponge, but it can also be made with two layers of 8″ / 20cm sponge if you don’t have 6″ / 15cm round tins (these are mine).
- Grease and line your tins. I only have two 6″ / 15cm tins so I bake this in two goes, but the mix will stay good
- Pre-heat the oven to 180oC / fan 160oC / gas mark 4
- For the sponges, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric hand whisk.
- Beat two of the eggs into the mix, then add the smooth Lotus Biscoff spread and beat this in.
- Beat the remaining two eggs into the mix.
- Mix the baking powder into the plain flour (alternatively, if you have a fresh bag of self-raising flour you can use this instead).
- Fold the flour into the mix with a silicone spatula.
- Put each of your 6″ / 15cm cake tins onto a weighing scale and add 220g of cake batter to each tin (double this if using 8″ / 20cm tins) and smooth the surface with an offset palette knife.
- Bake for 15-16 minutes or until a cocktail stick poked into the centre comes out clean. (If you’re using the larger tins, bake for 23-27 minutes.)
- Allow the sponges to cool in their tins for 10 minutes before taking them out and putting them on a cooling rack.
- Wash your cake tins, grease and line again, load with the remaining cake batter and bake.
- To make the buttercream, add the butter and sugar into the bowl and beat slowly until mixed, then add the crunchy Lotus Biscoff spread and beat faster until you have a smooth mix.
- Build the cake by spreading layers of buttercream between each of the four sponges with an offset palette knife. Dust the top sponge with icing sugar. (I decorated mine with some edible flowers I brought back from my holiday in France last week.)
- Normally I like cake with tea but this goes great with a cup of coffee so get the kettle on and tuck in.