Monday 29 September 2014

Desert Island Books

As you know, I've been listening to a lot of Desert Island Discs recently (today: Beryl Bainbridge, who is bizarre in hers, and Joan Plowright's second recording) - and, of course, that got me thinking about Desert Island Books. I could put together a list of eight records (and I might still do that) but, unlike many of you, I am not an adept appreciator of music. I would certainly swap any number of records for an extra book, on my desert island.

I stole this sketch from a 2007 post... 

I can't believe I've been blogging for so long without doing one of these properly. Which probably means that I've made my list and forgotten about it, doesn't it?  But, following the same rules, I shall tell you the eight books I would take to a desert island, and my reasons for doing so. Because, of course, it isn't simply the most favourite books.

1. The Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
This book - which has all four of the series in, which isn't cheating since I own the book (I'm not just making up a non-existent collected version, as many castaways on the series do), would always be fresh to me, I think. So amusing, so witty, and I have already read it any number of times without getting tired of it.

2. The World of Pooh by A.A. Milne
I believe this is the two-in-one title. If I can only have one of the two, I'd pick The House at Pooh Corner, because that way I get Tigger, and that impossibly moving ending. I have to admit, I don't quite trust or respect people who don't 'get' Pooh et al. Sorry...

3. Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker
We all knew this would be here, didn't we?

4. A Writer's Diary by Virginia Woolf
I ummed and ahhed over which of her novels I would take - and had written down To The Lighthouse - when I realised I could compromise and take the book that explores all of the rest of her writings. True, I wouldn't be able to indulge in the astonishing beauty of her fiction sentences, but it is a sacrifice I will have to make. (And unlike some, I don't really mind that Leonard was the editor. Someone had to be, and she trusted him.)

5. The Mitford Sisters: Letters Between Six Sisters ed. Charlotte Moseley
There is so much in this volume. So much social history, so much about what it is to be a family. And, practically speaking, it is enormously long, so I wouldn't race through it.

6. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
There aren't many books I consider to be works of genius (although most of Woolf's would make that grade). But this one is.

7. Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield
I think this exists. Otherwise I'll picked a 'selected', or maybe just the collection Bliss. Her writing is so beautiful, precise, and observant - it would be like having people around, because she understood people so well. But her stories do tend to be rather melancholy, so I'd have to turn to Pooh or something afterwards.

8. My doctoral thesis
Is this monumentally arrogant? Probably, but I'd love to take this - not just as a reminder of years of hard work, and the most my mind will ever be stretched, but because I still find the topic so fascinating. And my memory is so bad that it will quickly feel like somebody else wrote it.

I'll swap the books and music around, allowing me one record (instead of one book) - and I choose My Song is Love Unknown. I think everybody who has a relationship with God marvels especially at one aspect of His nature, and - for me - that is His incredible love. "Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be" is a wonderful line, I think. And I would ideally choose a version that isn't by a fancy choir. I always prefer versions that sound sincere, i.e. I want it to sound like it would in a normal church service, more or less, rather than a cathedral choir. But that sort of thing isn't on YouTube, so I'll settle for this version, which is at least sung by grown ups...

And my luxury? Sorry to be boringly British, but it's an enormous supply of tea. I don't know if I can get milk alongside, but if not, I'll learn to like black tea. But a life without tea? Unthinkable.

Over to you! Pick your eight books, your song, and your luxury. Let me know in the comments if you have a go. And I might well do the more traditional version of Desert Island Discs soon...

Sunday 28 September 2014

Song for a Sunday

Love this: Iron Sky by Paolo Nutini

Thursday 25 September 2014

The Great British Bake Off: Series Five: Episode Eight

Many thanks again for filling in for me last week, Elaine! This week I'm back - and what a week it was. I could write the whole thing about Nancy... but I'll try not to ignore everybody else...

It's 'advanced dough' week (whatever that means; no History of Cake this week to fill us in) and we're treated to a velociraptor impressions from Mel and Sue on the flimsiest of premises.

The bakers walk into the tent, and although we see a cursory shot from the undergrowth, the cameraman's heart isn't in it. He - or indeed she - needs fresh pastures and new adventures. He/she has apparently crammed their entire body and camera equipment into the corner of this shelf. It couldn't be said that the shot is effective, but at least it's confusing and unnecessary.

Unforeseen ramekins

Martha laughs cheerfully about having been haunted by eclairs, and hopes that this week things will be "more planned". Surely you know whether or not you've planned, Marth?

"It's important you go in and execute everything," says Nancy, followed by the longest pause known to man, before weakly adding " perfection." Remember her guillotine? Remember her passion for the paraphernalia of the death penalty? It's all back in play.

Guns don't kill people; bakers do

It wouldn't be a GBBO recap without Blazer Watch, would it? Paul is letting the side down (but, as ever, is ready for a line-dance). Sue's jacket looks like it's appeared before, only now it has shrunk in the wash. Mary obviously ran out of clothes, so cut up the jacket of a fortnight ago, repurposing it as a top, and has created her blazer by cutting the back off Paul's shirt.

The signature challenge is a sweet fruit loaf, using enriched dough. And it's a no-tin challenge; they have to be free-form loaves. Because... why not? The initial reactions from the bakers give us our first mention of proving of the episode. Good grief, I'm sick of people talking about proving. The whole series seems to have been one long debate about proving. They might as well call it Fermat's Great British Bake Off. Maths joke, y'all.

Chetters, of course, is running madly around the room.

Hurry! Ovens won't stare at themselves.

Luis explains that he'll be making a series of tear-off buns in the shape of a tree, and he gets an amazing couple of Mary Berry Reaction Faces. I would be thrilled if anybody could turn this sequence into a gif, because she switches from delighted grin into confused Pierrot so quickly that she seems to be modelling for a Janus theatre mask set.

We don't see her face when Luis presents her with the cherry brandy he'll be using, presumably because she was dribbling with anticipation. (Sorry Mary... love you.)

The King of Gilded Olives has discovered green cherries and is thrilled to pieces by it.

A product entirely wasted on the colour blind.

Chetna is inspired by a Croatian bread, which she tries - and repeatedly fails - to pronounce, while Mary looks on like a patient, albeit disappointed, grandmother.

"No threepenny bit for you, my girl."

Amusingly, Sue's voiceover immediately pronounces it entirely differently from Chetna's efforts, and the coloured pencils man calls it quits and just writes 'swirl bread'. It looks, let's face it, like a pile of sausage rolls.

Nancy is making Lincolnshire Plum Braid - a clever pun, as she laboriously explains, upon Lincolnshire Plum Bread. She actually says "it's a play on words" in case, lost in the intricacies of her accent, we miss the quip. Even before she was finished telling us this, you can see that she realises that she is sailing her ship of humour upon an unforgiving sea.

You'd think that this week's show was announcing the dawn of the microwave. It is, apparently, the first time that our Nance has seen one (and now she'll sell you a lovely one for £10, no questions asked). She gets over-excited, and is determined to microwave ALL THE THINGS. She has to be held back from flinging herself bodily into the thing. First of all, she decides to prove her dough in the microwave. Who knew that was a thing? And, Nancy, weren't you aware that you had a PROVING DRAWER?

"I beg your what now."

Since someone tried to prove their dough in a fridge a week or two ago, the microwave isn't a terrible idea - but it comes as no surprise that Paul is pretty suspicious about it. "It's a dangerous thing to do," he says - the Bake Off equivalent of having the emergency services on stand by, and a full step up from "That's brave", which is alarming enough - but Nancy is entirely uncowed by him. "It is!" she bellows, clearly having the time of her life.

Paul is always delighted when people don't do well at bread - the town isn't big enough for two bread bakers - so I'm longing for Nancy's controversial method to succeed. His comments are swiftly followed by two wonderful moments. One is Mary telling Paul that he has "learnt something today" - at which he is visibly angry - and the other is Mel spraying what she believes to be masala directly into her mouth, only to discover it is cooking oil. And, in Microwave Corner...

Luis is quick to witness the unprecedented act (calling her 'our Nance' in the process - love it). Meanwhile, Mezza and Paul are perched awkwardly on a table (blithely ignoring the dozens of chairs immediately available to them) while he explains that microwaves are death traps. If the show were broadcast in 1830 they couldn't be more alarmed about the microwave.

"Tell me more about this electricity, Future Man."
A clever bit of editing sees Paul's warning segue straight into a bowl of fruit spontaneously collapsing. What can't microwaves do??  Double bolt your doors tonight, readers.

Chetna defends her bread against Sue's accusations of messiness, saying "It's my bread!" I think she's missed the point of the show. Martha, meanwhile, advertises her bread by saying "It's like jam on toast, with the jam already inside!" The product nobody was asking for. Bless her heart.

And Luis? Well, he's forgotten to add any fruit to his fruit loaf. It's going well, folks.

We have a nice montage of people opening and shutting proving drawers - except Nance, of course; she's over by the microwave ("This could be my death knell," she announces, and it is to my lasting disappointment that the microwave didn't ping at that point) - and Chetters is the first to put her loaf in the oven. "See you in 50 minutes," she says, suggesting that she's going to climb in there with it.  The camera pans away, so perhaps she did.

It's been a while since we had an arbitrary shot of someone's feet, hasn't it?


Luis takes his beautiful bread tree out of the oven, and Paul starts his menacing amble (can an amble be menacing?) around the tent.

He;s quite rude. Basically he goes from station to station, prodding at finished loaves. Rude.

Sue says that Nancy's loaf is the "size of a labrador".

Richard says that "it's looking a bit wrinkly on the outside". That's quite enough about Mary. A-ha-ha. (Oh, Mary, I love you lots. I should stop being mean.)

Aaaand - they're done! Luis' and Richard's look amazing; Martha's looks rather bizarre. Nancy's is too big to look at in one go. Basically everyone does pretty well, particularly Richard. Mary confides to Chetna that she's not fond of dates, "between you and me". Does she realise that she's being filmed? She also immediately contradicts almost all of Paul's criticisms, for which I love her.

And what of Nancy's labrador loaf? Paul struggles to find something to criticise, but it seems pretty good. "It's not awful, is it?" Nancy squawks, and Paul has to admit that it is not.

What will the technical challenge be? First, Mel requests happy faces:

Remember Smiling Rob?

It's... something unpronounceable. The same unpronounceable thing Chetna was unable to pronounce in the first challenge! Considering they have to get all their recipes approved far in advance, it's a little surprising that they let this happen, but Chetna is giddy with excitement. Remember how much she shrieks with laughter at everyday non-events? Well, this coincidence has her waving her arms in the air, clutching her head, and generally putting on a three-act dumb show of delight.

"I'm really excited" she says, unnecessarily.

Richard says he will 'learn by watching', hastening to add that this is not the same as copying.

Mary, as usual, pretends to be amazed at what Paul says in the here's-one-I-made-earlier segment. His example is pretty neat.

Also a bit hypnotic.

Guess what? It's all about proving. OH, THE PROVING DECISIONS. Nance suggests she might turn to the microwave, in the manner of one discussing secret black market products.

They all stretch out their pastries, which would be my nightmare (since I'm disproportionately useless at the seemingly-simple task of rolling things). Nancy thinks "it probably needs to be the same size as this cloth", although what she's basing that on I can't imagine. The instructions say "as big as you can", not "as big as any arbitrarily-sized piece of fabric you happen to have on your person."

They then spend quite some time experimenting with the best way to spread the walnut filling on the dough...

This dough is NOT the same size as her cloth.
Everybody is finding it pretty much impossible (and this is the point at which I would have a destroyed mess of pastry mixed with walnut mush.) Guess what Nancy's solution is?

"The microwave is the only way forward." - thing she says

She does have the bright thought of using an icing bag, which is immediately copied by Richard (and openly; "what's she done, then?" he asks). Has he copied the microwaving too? We don't know; the good people of GBBO don't show us. More than one microwave shot per segment would raise the rating from PG to 15.

If I never see someone open a proving drawer again, it'll be too soon.

Chetna bakes her dough long before everyone else, which startles Sue immensely. However, Chetna knows what's up. People are too busy being beguiled by piping bags, and don't copy her. Martha, instead, takes her coiled-up dough out of the tin and makes it longer. Ooooh dear.

Nancy, apropos of nothing, makes royal icing. Diana wanders across the background with a tray of pastry triangles.

They start to come out of the ovens. "It's a funny looking thing," says Nancy, and it's hard to argue with her.

Cue lots of fanning with baking sheets, and Nancy using her royal icing with some sense that it's all gone horribly wrong for her.

And the results? Well, they're all raw except for Chetna's. Martha's is the rawest of all, and she comes last. Chetna, of course, comes first. Mary calls Richard's loaf drunk. Takes a beetle to know a beetle... The best thing, of course, is Nancy's ecstatic reaction to coming third. Apparently, had she come last, she wouldn't have admitted to it.

What a woman.

This, in turn, is nothing compared to Chetna's adorable glee at coming first. She's such a sweetie.

We move onto the final challenge, and it becomes clear that Martha and Nancy are in the bottom two. I don't know how to cope with that. And the final challenge is... doughnuts! As with eclairs last week, this doesn't seem super difficult. But I guess that gives more room for the showstopperiness to come through.

Paul brags about making 30,000 doughnuts in his life. If anything, it comes across as a little creepy.

Luis has grated hundreds of limes, but I have a theory that lime makes everything better. Test that theory if you dare. He tells Mary that he's making cocktail doughnuts, and this is her instant reaction:

That lady loves her alcs.
At this point Our Vicar's Wife, previously worried that I would be sued for slander, emails me to say that I can get away with my teasing. She's so excited about cocktail-themed doughnuts. I am a bit, too.

Nancy: "I've learned that if you say something's in something, you've got to be able to taste it." I have been annoyed time and again by Paul saying that he thinks orange (for instance) would be horrible in a baked product, and then complaining when he can't taste the orange. But that's what you wanted in the first place, Paul. Make up your doughnut-addled mind.

Chetna has apparently exhausted the world's supply of mangos, and is now putting potatoes (could it really have been potatoes??) in her doughnuts. And one of her doughnuts is braided. So not even doughnut-shaped.

Martha is making a cronut, but obviously isn't allowed to call it that.

And, inevitably, return of the flipping proving drawers.

Richard is making fair-inspired doughnuts: toffee apple (sure) and rhubarb-and-custard (what? Does Richard imagine that fairs are replete with people chomping on rhubarb? We all know fairs are filled with candy floss and crying children. Make crying children doughnuts, Rich, if anything.) He's making heart-shaped doughnuts, and says his wife loves them. Awwwwww. Shout out to Sarah Burr, who has been a very kind supporter of these recaps!

Also, general applause for 'doughnuts' rather than the insidious 'donuts'.

Nancy - as if she were not already queen of my heart - is making a bunch of doughnuts with Paul's face on. She talks about piercing blue eyes &c. &c. and he staunchly refuses to engage at all. He does reference her 'male judge' comment but, Paul, we've all moved on since then. And, lord knows, this programme would never repeat a joke. It's not in its nature.

Mel takes away the empties from Mary's coffee break.

Nancy tries to teach us the name for making the doughnuts into balls - 'key', apparently - but loses heart halfway through. She knows that her role is not bothering about anything. Like moments later when she's picking up her dough and saying "very very delicate" as the dough collapses out of any recognisable shape.

Richard (were you aware?) is a builder. Builders love doughnuts, apparently.

Marth has OVER-PROVED. She's pretty distraught. Mel gives the dubious advice just to put more filling in, and hope they get bigger that way.

"Mary will probably hate it," says Luis, of his Irish-cream-filled straws. Has he met this woman?

Nancy starts icing her Paul faces.

Uncanny, no?
Also: horrible flashbacks to Death Becomes Her.

Aaaand... it's over! Surprisingly little to say about this whole process. Only a bizarre close-up of a vocal duck separates us from the judging.

My favourites end up being almost all of them...

Richard does pretty well, and they certainly love the flavours - although not so much the presentation.

Nancy's doughnuts are a bit too dry and overdone, but otherwise ok - and Paul, again, refuses to acknowledge that his face is all over the tree. "They look all right to me," she says. Love her.

Martha's haven't risen, as she knew. Paul congratulates her chocolate icing for not falling off - as the chocolate shatters and falls.

Chetna's are complimented, except for having "more of a ganache than a mousse". The horrors.

Luis' gets this wonderful moment, when Mary takes a sip from the straw and realises that they're choc full of alcohol. "Oh-hoh!" she cries.

"How naughty!"

"Why are we bothering with the doughnuts?" she says, going in for more. And she likes them more than Paul does... quelle surprise.

Star baker could have been almost anybody, really, and I was a bit surprised that it was someone who came fourth in the technical challenge - but also delighted that it's my favourite, Richard!

But going home is...

Very sad to see Martha go, but I'd have been even more heartbroken if Nancy had gone. Still, I thought Martha would win. As Sue says, "You are 17, and you are brilliant. You are going to rule the world, my darling."

See you next week for the semi-finals! I can't wait to see what Nancy does with patisserie. I can only presume she'll just throw all the ingredients in the microwave and hope for the best.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Firstly - very sad to hear about the death of Debo Devonshire (Debo Mitford). She lived a long and busy life, but it is the end of an era - and the end of that faint hope I had of meeting her.

Secondly - my review of Sarah Waters' new novel The Paying Guests. I actually read this for Shiny New Books, but some miscommunication revealed that somebody else was actually reviewing it for our third issue (our in early October - eek, so many books to read by then) so, instead, I reviewed it over at Vulpes Libris!

I love Waters, but each of her novels always seems (to me) just to fall short of being truly great. So... what did I think of The Paying Guests? That tantalising question can lead you straight into my review...

Tuesday 23 September 2014

The Literary Press

I had a fun coincidence waiting for me when I got back from holiday. Just before I went I had the excitement of one of my Abebooks 'wants' alerts coming into my inbox, and one I've been wanting for years: My Husband Simon by Mollie Panter-Downes. A click or two and it was on its way...

And you've already seen my Norfolk haul, including The Sleeper Awakes by H.G. Wells - it was only when I returned from holiday and opened the parcel waiting for me that I saw that the two books came in the same series, from The Literary Press. And I'm pretty sure I don't own any others in this series - what a fun coincidence!

Does this series ring a bell with anyone? They might well appear in secondhand bookshops on those shelves filled with Everyman Classics etc. which, all too often, I overlook. Rows and rows of easily-findable (in the UK) books by Priestley, Kipling, Trollope etc. don't make for thrilling browsing, but I have found rare copies of E.H. Young and Elizabeth von Arnim titles on the everything-looks-the-same-shelves, and now this. I'll have to look even more carefully in future...

Sunday 21 September 2014

The books I bought in Norfolk...

I had a lovely week away in this beautiful cottage (it's the far right in a terrace of three, with lovely views of the church):

I did lots of reading, and a fair bit of visiting bookshops (although it would have been more if Colin hadn't intervened...) and bought quite a few books. Many of them came from a wonderful little bookshop in Watton. It wasn't huge, but it was super-filled with books - double-stacked, hidden under bookcases, piled in corners. In no particular order, and certainly not in the order in the photo, here is what I bought...

Time, Gentlemen, Time by Norah Hoult
I loved There Were No Windows, so I picked up this Hoult - and was excited to see that it was signed and a limited edition for her friends and family. What fun!

A Saturday Life by Radclyffe Hall
I've only read one short story by Hall, but I can't resist a lovely VMC.

No Place Like Home by Beverley Nichols
I must hold the record for the person with the most books by Nichols who hasn't actually read any.

On the Side of the Angels by Betty Miller
Oops, I think I already have this one.

Heritage by Vita Sackville-West
Oooo, and this one too... I just remember Thomas/My Porch snatching it out of my hands in a Virginia bookshop, and had forgotten that, since then, I'd been given a lovely Bello edition.

Caravan by Lady Eleanor Smith
Does anybody know anything about this book or this author? I picked it up in a charity shop, because I can't resist a cheap old hardback of a certain age.

Studies of Contemporary Poets by Mary C. Sturgeon
I didn't notice the 'poet' bit of the title until after I'd bought it, but I mostly picked it up for the chapter on Rose Macaulay.

Mrs Bindle by Herbert Jenkins
The Bindles on the Rocks by Herbert Jenkins
I haven't read Mr Bindle yet, but I loved Patricia Brent, Spinster so much that I'm keen to gather up more.

The Sleeper Awakes by H.G. Wells
This was mentioned in some book I was reading, and it sounded intriguing - it's about a man who wakes up to find everyone else is dead (I think...)

Three Lives by Lettice Cooper
A Persephone author in an old hardback is not something I am likely to leave behind, is it?

An Interrupted Life: the Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941-43
And the same goes for an actual Persephone that I don't already own!

Lucy Carmichael by Margaret Kennedy
I thought I already had this, but it appears not - and it might come in handy for Margaret Kennedy Reading Week.

Better Bed Manners by Horton and Balliol
One of the more niche bookish interests I have is in fake etiquette guides. There aren't all that many around, that I know of (Virginia Graham wrote two gems) - this one will hopefully be as fun as the others!

The Genius and the Goddess by Aldous Huxley
And over to the less-niche books... after Crome Yellow, and discovering Huxley wasn't all dystopian futures, I thought I'd see what else wasout there.

The Understudy by David Nicholls
Another charity shop purchase - I've been meaning to read more Nicholls since enjoying One Day, like everyone else in the country.

Apple of My Eye by Helen Hanff
I thought I had all Hanff's books, but I hadn't heard of this one - which is about New York.

Stella Benson by Joy Grant
I'm currently reading my third Benson novel, and - having heard a great talk about her at a conference earlier in the year - I'm keen to read more about her life.

Another World Than This - ed. by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson
SOMEONE is going to have to get me to like poetry, and it might as well be this poetry-loving pair and their anthology.

Many Furrows by Alpha of the Plough
More essays and thoughts by this writer, whose book I enjoyed last year.

William The Bad - Richmal Crompton
William The Outlaw - Richmal Crompton
William in Trouble - Richmal Crompton
I continue to pick these up when I find them cheaply, as you can't go wrong.

Right! As usual - which have you read, or would you like to read? Tell me all!

Saturday 20 September 2014

Great British Bake Off: Series Five: Episode Seven (guest blog)

I have just got back from my lovely holiday in Norfolk - I'll fill you in on all the books I bought (and it was MANY) - but, first, Elaine has very kindly written a GBBO recap for me. Thanks so much Elaine! I have yet actually to watch the episode (as the TV in our cottage didn't get BBC) but I don't want to keep you waiting any longer... make her feel welcome!

I foolishly offered to fill in for Simon this week on his recap of the GBBO. I am now regretting my decision and tearing my hair out but here goes.

I like all the contestants who are left. Usually by this time I have developed a real loathing for some unfortunate because they have cross eyes or an annoying laugh or something similar, but those who are still in The Tent are all lovely and I like them all and will be sorry whoever leaves.

OK so off we go.

To start – pasties.  Chetna and Kate are both using Indian flavours and deep frying them. Healthy?  No but who cares.  Luis is also deep frying his pasties which he remembered eating as a child in Spain and is going to try and recreate the recipe.  I am pretty sure he will do so perfectly, I have never met a man more organised in all my life.

Paul sashays up to Nancy and says ‘Can the Male Judge ask what you are making?’  Ooh Nancy you will never be allowed to forget you called him that. He had a gimlet gleam there I tell you. She is doing spicy duck.

Martha is making mini beef Wellingtons and much discussion ensues about the meat being cooked beforehand or put raw into the pastry.  It is a close call to make but Martha, such a sensible child, sears the meet first to start it off.

Richard is doing lamb and mint patties and he has his pencil firmly in place this week. I am sure the reason he did not do well in the last round is because he forgot it.

Leakage is the buzz word here. There simply cannot be any leakage at all. Lots of crimping of pastry going on which all looks very impressive and then Shock Horror Kate realises her deep fat fryer has turned off. ‘It’s on a timer’ says Luis helpfully.  

Kate clutches her hair

Luis’s pasties are underdone, but there is no leakage says Paul so that is a plus.

Nancy – not enough filling but flavour is good

Kate – ‘Interesting’ says Paul when he looks at them.   When told about the deep  fryer problem he is totally unsympathetic ‘you should have watched it’.   Final damning word ‘Undercooked.

Chetna – good colour, great flavour and Paul is staggered at the number of different spices she has used

Martha – a bit of leakage but pastry is golden and flavours great.

OK enough about leakage. Please. It is conjuring up thoughts I do not want.

We now have the obligatory bit of food history in between bakes and this week we learn that Cornish miners went to work in Mexico and took their Cornish Pasty with them. Well, not the actual Cornish Pasty as it took fourteen months to get there and would have been a bit stale on arrival, but the recipe and it seems the Mexicans took to it with great gusto.  Now I have tried Cornish Pasties in several Ye Olde Original Cornish Pasty Shoppes in Cornwall and I have to admit I am not a fan. I find the pastry heavy and too thick and the filling, some of them have turnips (YUK) inedible.  The idea that you had a sweet end and a savoury end is something I prefer not to think about.

Anyway back to the Technical Challenge and this week it is ……hang on I need to go and look up the spelling of this one. It is Kouign-Amann and this is apparently a buttery layered pastry from Breton. None of the bakers have ever heard of it. Neither have I. I am expecting something spectacular.

So off they go and the instructions tell them to leave the dough to prove. But for how long and to what state? It is all guess work at this stage. Close up of Luis looking as if he is doing his maths homework on a piece of paper, lots of numbers.   Richard is bashing his butter between to sheets of greaseproof paper. ‘Relieves the tension a bit don’t you think?’ says he cheerfully.   The pencil has not moved. I really think it is superglued to his ear.

All this layering and folding is very confusing but the pastries are now in their tins and seems they need proving again. Kate decides to put hers in the fridge. NO. NO. Kate don’t do it. Fridge and yeast and prove should never appear in the same sentence. She seems fairly sanguine about it all, probably has reached the Sod it I don’t care stage by now.

All sit round on their stools looking bored. Sue wonders if it is some new form of meditation.

The end result is really disappointing. Working on this for three hours and it seems all Whatever they are Called are pastries with layers and a bit of sugar on top. Apparently the sugar is the vital ingredient and if put in all the layers can melt and cause total meltdown. Only two bakers have guessed correctly and only added it to the final layer.

Seems these whatsits have to have LAMINATION.  Yes, Lamination. I thought that was what kitchen cupboards are made out of so if he wants them to have a nice shiny glow then just say so Paul. Don’t go blinding us with science.   They certainly need something, three hours working with six ingredients to produce these. I spent three hours today painting my kitchen and tiling a wall and was well satisfied with the end result. Not sure three hours producing these pastries would have given me the same sense of satisfaction.

Luis does not have enough layers and are too sweet. Chetna’s are overbaked. Martha’s are underproved.  Kate’s are flat (that is what you get for proving in the fridge), Nancy’s are not all the same size but taste good.   Richard has good layers which sounds like he keeps chickens but we all know what Paul means. He thinks they are so good that they are ‘close to mine’.   Oooooh!

Richard wins the technical with Chetna bottom and the others in the middle, obviously but don’t have all their places correctly noted.

And so on to the Showstopper and this week it is eclairs.   Now for me an éclair is choux pastry stuffed with cream or crème pat and a blob of chocolate on top. Seemple. However, it seems this is not good enough for GBBO and we have a bewildering amount of flavours to contend with.

We have lemon meringue eclairs, chocolate choux eclairs with mango filling, Raspberry ripple, Rhubarb and custard, lavender and blueberry (dangerous, Norm fell foul of the lavender and was ejected from the tent pretty quick) and rhubarb and custard.

Nancy is doing salmon and horseradish.   Pass the sick bag.

Seems Martha wrote a dissertation in her AS level and it was all about choux pastry. Wonder which university she is going to and what she will Read….

I was going to refrain from saying that Chetnas’s  chocolate choux pastry which she is piping look like turds, but then I thought, no they DO look like turds. Pretty sure from the glances from other contestants that they are thinking exactly the same.

Martha’s crème pat is all runny and she is panicking and close to tears.  She can’t work out what is wrong with it and Richard, who has just put all his eclairs on a flight of stairs, yes honestly, he made it, and Chetna rush over to help her and calm her down.   I feel a nice warm glow watching them do this. Nice.

Apparently Kate put Basil in her eclairs. Why would you want to do that?  Mary says she cannot taste it. Paul says he can.    Chetna’s look good and it seems she has made thirteen and not twelve. Luis stars and stripes eclairs look amazing and earn high praise but poor Martha’s look ‘a mess’ and she is on the verge of tears. Goes back to her seat looking distressed and Lovely Luis smiles and gives her a chin up gesture. Nice. Again.

So the power of the pencil has done its work and Richard is star baker and, I think we had all guessed by this time, that Kate is the one to go.   Cold deep fat fryer and then proving in the fridge can only mean that she is off. Shame, I liked her and I loved her mad hair.

Next week is all about enriched doughs which I cannot get too enthused about but we shall see what excitement is in store.

I know this has been a pretty poor substitute for Simon and so glad he will be back with you next week but I have enjoyed it.

Keeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep Dancing

Whoops wrong show.

Saturday 13 September 2014

Off on hols

As mentioned in my previous post, I'm off on holiday - to Norfolk, to be precise, with Colin. So - no blog this week, but hopefully lots of books read while I'm away.

I shan't be recapping GBBO this week, but Elaine (Random Jottings) has very kindly offered to step into my shoes, and I'll post her recap when I'm back.


Friday 12 September 2014

Great British Bake Off: Series Five: Episode Six

Hey everyone - are you ready for a week where maps of Europe are thrown out the window, Mary delivers her most difficult technical challenge to date, and Nancy steals my coveted spot for Best Moment of the Series?  I hope so...

Intro: Mel and Sue enter our screens, agree that an analogy has gone too far when it has reached only the foothills of their usual mountainous punnery, and the bakers stride across the lawn while the cameraman still lurks in the undergrowth. Plus ça change.

I don't know how much of the introduction will make sense to transatlantic viewers, but it's an absolute delight to people like me who avidly watch the Eurovision Song Contest. Quick run-down: every country around Europe (and several which have little-to-no claim to be part of Europe) send some singer given to costumes and histrionics off to a big tent in the middle of nowhere, where they caterwaul and strobe-light their way through a song consisting half of 'la-la-la' and half of vague encouragements towards world peace. It's glorious. It's my second favourite big-tent-in-the-middle-of-nowhere event of the year.

Equally glorious is the way Mel and Sue re-enact the infuriating time-lag and presenter-waffle of the voting section of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Nancy leans against a fence and brags about all the holidays she's been on; Richard says he's aiming for mediocrity; Martha babbles about nerves. We're good to go. And the first challenge is... yeast cakes. I love bread and I love cake, but I can't help but feel that this combination is a terrible mistake. Still, the rest of Europe apparently live for the things, so let's see what happens. (Incidentally, this show - like almost everyone I know in the UK - uses the word 'Europe' to mean 'all of Europe except us'.)

Blazer-watch? Nothing exceptional here - but Mel and Sue should maybe have discussed shades of yellow before getting dressed this week.

Paul remains resolutely in line-dance mode.

Paul steals a march on History of Cake by telling us when baking powder was invented - in protest, I don't listen  - and uses the appetising sentence 'these cakes have been around an awfully long time, and they're all embedded right the way throughout Europe'. Mary nabs the first "Not too long or too short in the oven" of the episode, while seemingly perched on a bird table.

Luis isn't gilding any olives this week, but does have an amazing tin, which gives fancy ridges and the like. Chetna is making a 'mainly orange-flavoured' (mainly?) savarin which gets a very sweet Mary Berry Reaction Face:


Mel has a field day with pronouncing 'savarin' - rolling the r so much she could be mistaken for a rolling pin - and also with the tin looking like a piles cushion. Never having seen said object, I couldn't say.

I do, however, want this natty food mixer; it would match my toaster and kettle.

A shade that Argos lovingly describe as 'bubblegum blue'.

Nancy - who, in this episode, I think has become my favourite - tells us that she is making "what is called a sponge", which is either astonishingly patronising, or 'sponge' is different from what I think it is.

Richard is making a guglhupf (bless you) with lots of fruit and things, and (he emphasises) rum. He knows what Boozehound Bezza is after. But Paul is disgusted to hear that Richard is going to 'wing' his decoration; he rephrases to 'go with his heart', pointing somewhere in the region of his liver, but saves this when adding that his heart is in his stomach. Quick thinking, Richard. Nice work.

'Renegade baker, Nancy' (as she is introduced) is doing a Diana and entirely ignoring the theme of the challenge. Rather than make something from Europe, she's opted for something Caribbean. Apparently Bez is fine with that, so long as rum is involved.

Sadly those decorations are depicted all too accurately.
I can't bring myself to talk about the proving dilemmas again. Rise once? Rise twice? Who cares. But I do love Martha's reasoning for adding margarine to her recipe 'to make it a bit more cakey' and less like bread. That's definitely what I'd do. She's also in on the soak-it-in-booze tactic (almond liqueur) but with the difference that she can't actually buy it herself legally. (Maybe she gets her alcohol from... Martha's Vineyard. Now, where did I leave that klaxon...)

She also confesses to Kate (who appears to be taking a moment to microwave some popcorn) that she doesn't know what a savarin is.

You and me both, love. This link will tell all.

Kate cheerfully confesses that hers also isn't European - excellent work, guys! - and, moments after I say that Israel (the country that inspired her bake) is in the Eurovision Song Contest, she uses the same defence. (Azerbaijan Roll, anyone?) She also adds that, having lived in Israel, she didn't actually like their cakes. What a triumph this is turning out to be.

Incidentally, I'd have loved to see what Norman would do in this challenge. But at least he could have used the defence that the UK is in Europe, and flung a Viccie sponge on the table.

Chetna, as always, is kneeling on the ground and pressing furiously at a timer.

I'd argue that this could be done equally well standing.

There are lots of shots of people pulling out proving drawers, making sauces, and - inexplicably - gasping at nothing quite a lot. And then we turn to Richard talking us through some white gunk he might (but ultimately does not) put on top. I'm more interested in whatever curious activities are going on in the background. Are they casting some sort of spell on the dough?

In all likelihood, no.
I want to talk about how much I enjoyed Mel and Sue's accents throughout, but have no way of transcribing them. All I will say is that they're back on top form.

Luis continues to treat GBBO like his own baking show (actually giving good advice, while Nancy - presumably - falls off her stool in the background), Mel continues to utter dire voiceover warnings about baking-caused world disaster, and the cameraman continues to have a curious obsession with shots of footwear.

I guess he has to get his kicks somewhere.
Geddit, KICKS. It's funny because the word has two meanings.

Luis' money is on Nancy to win the whole series; "defo" he adds. (Don't forget that my money is on YOU, Luis. Adam's money is on Nancy, fans of my office's sweepstake will be pleased to learn.) Some lovely editing leads us straight to a shot of Nancy's cake looking rather a mess.


"Looks more like a Yorkshire pudding," she says, "It would probably do it a favour if I dropped it on the floor." If she'd said "throw it in the bin," she might have won my moment of the series. Still, she has the Cockney Barrowgirl's sense of perspective, and womanfully carries on - and by 'carries on' I, of course, mean 'douses in alcohol'. And... well, let's wait and see her decorations.

They all look pretty impressive (except for Chetna's, which is rather bland) but - although I can take or leave cooked apple - I have to say that Luis' steals the show, appearance-wise.

"When you chew it there's no chew to it at all" - this paradox from Paul is, apparently, a compliment.

Mary gets quite waspish over Nancy's decorations. Let's have a little look at them. "I don't think they add anything," says Mary.

Would that were true.

"Even as I put them on," says Nancy, "I thought they looked a bit naff." That presumably means that, in the shop, on the morning of the bake, and at every moment before she put them on, she was under the impression that green tinsel and a fake flamingo would spell 'classy' to the casual observer.

Cake: As Time Goes By is just an excuse for Sue to gorge at the Danish Embassy.

"Scandinavia is very popular at the moment," says Mel, "with ABBA and The Killing." As Sue points out, ABBA's heyday is rather behind us - but, more importantly, this sounds like either a tawdry tabloid headline or the title to a lost Enid Blyton mystery.

The technical bake is a Swedish 'princess cake'. It sounds bizarrely, and deliciously, complicated - creme pat, cream, sponge, jam, marzipan, etc. 26 separate ingredients, apparently. Like the alphabet. "I've never heard of it, never seen it, never eaten it," says Martha - the last of these probably didn't need saying, unless she's given to eating anonymous food, blindfolded.

The sample that Mary and Paul have laid out before them doesn't have the DEFINED LAYERS that they so ardently (and arbitrarily) demand, but it does look delish.

Those layers couldn't be less defined if they were a word yet to be added to the dictionary.
Paul giggles like a supervillain.

Nancy, taking inspiration from Norman, becomes the jam expert of the tent, and talks about how she makes 'tons of jam'.

"I make SO MUCH JAM."
How green should marzipan be? That question, and others, covered in a baking montage.

And Chetters - gasp - decides to start again, because her sponge hasn't risen enough. From this moment until the end of the challenge she looks frantic and terrified, several stages behind everyone else.

[Note to self: insert swannee-whistle sound effect]

Martha, in a moment unlikely to still any qualms her parents might have about her maths A level results, is entirely stumped at dividing 5 by 3. She then seems uncertain what shape a circle might be.

Nancy: "I didn't know if I was Arthur or Martha, first thing."

If you thought that was good, wait for what comes next...

"What did the male judge say?"

They play it like she's avoiding Paul's name out of crossness at his critique, but... she clearly had just forgotten it for a bit. I love how unbothered she is by it all. It's so wonderful.

Also wonderful is:

Wonderful but unsanitary.

Everything is looking pretty impressive all round, until they start piping their chocolate - at which point almost everybody seems to lose any sense of style or precision. And... Chetters finished hers! She does this across the tent to Sue, and it's adorable.

Mary is fixated on the dome shape and the distinct layers, neither of which would bother me at all. Paul thinks the piped cream around the cakes looks awful on almost all of them, which I can't see. They're quite critical considering how difficult the challenge was. Kate comes last, and Nancy comes first. Chetna comes second, even with her rushed effort. How do you think she would react?

Artist's impression.

Richard's pencil has SWAPPED EARS. This is NOT a drill. Repeat, this is NOT a drill.

Mel cheerfully enquires whether there is, or is not, a curse for the Star Baker. Paul responds by pointing out that Star Bakers have done quite badly the week after they win - which is obviously what Mel was saying already. Avoiding the question, hmm? Just what a CURSE MASTER might do.

Is it just me, or is the effort to British-theme the table rather cursory?

The showstopper this week is 'a contemporary version of the Hungarian dobos torte' - i.e. a cake with more than one tier and an emphasis on sugarwork. I loves me some caramel, and I'm basically salivating throughout the rest of the programme.

Luis is making a structure based on a local landmark - one, I note, that he carefully avoids naming, presumably so that nobody can question the resemblance.

He's taken the same approach to British-theming, it seems.

Being a graphic designer he has, of course, drawn up plans on paper. Mary Berry Reaction Face says she's pretty impressed.


And, moments later, she's stunned by Richard saying he's going to make 20 layers.

Either that or she's trying to catch one of Chetna's grapes in her mouth.
And who could have thrown it?


I hear the words 'salted caramel' too often, seeing as I don't have any in front of me. No fair. Everything sounds entirely amazing.

Mathematician of the Year Martha announces that 24 is 'a lot'.

Sue feels like nobody has mentioned that Richard is a builder for quite a while, and takes it upon herself. He doesn't help himself by bringing in modelling clay.

Alex/Kate is making a three-tier cake "because I think two-tier cakes look like hats". Oh right, she's mad. (But still great.) As my friend Andrew pointed out, while we were watching it, it looks like Kerplunk.

And, now I look closely, a hat with a cake on top of it.
Mel is her usual helpful self:

Oh good lord, Kate is wearing a sheriff badge. Amazing.

Should those layers be clearly defined? Yes, they should. Who'd have guessed?

Nancy continues her streak of being entirely unflappable by saying that, although her chocolate has gone grainy and wrong, she'll 'scrape it off and start again'. During this pronouncement Chetna has been wandering into shot, and it ends with her giving a wonderfully shocked look in our Nance's direction. She is the Starting Again Queen this week, so it should come as no great surprise.

Also - doesn't Chetna have her own sink?
Sue makes a 'more tiers than an English penalty shoot-out' joke. Topical.

Luis' caramel skillz are crazy good. I don't understand how he's built this and kept everything the same colour - did he make lots of batches of caramel, or build it super quickly, or what? He's even finished before everyone else. While Chetters is still dipping grapes in sugar (sure, why not?) he starts cleaning up the workspace, cleaning spray and all. What a man.

And... time is up! I want to eat all of them. But first, the bakers must stare at their creations while the cameraman pans around them.

Here are my favourite (and it was the pick of an incredible bunch):

  • Nancy gets a good critique in general, and calls Paul 'lovely'.
  • Richard's is 'a bit sad', but he has got a lot of caramel elements.
  • Luis' is praised for appearance, and Mary tries her hand at a pun ("monumental!") and adds, in Miranda's-Mum-mode "It's what I call a showstopper" - but the flavour is lacking.
  • Kate's is criticised for not having enough caramel - which is apparently a worse crime than pretending that Israel borders France.
  • Chetna's grape construction is praised. To my mind it looks a bit mad, but each to their own. Mary says that 'everybody will be copying that at home', showing a sweet. albeit misplaced, optimism.
  • Martha's is disappointingly messy considering it was a great idea. Would it have been so hard to flatten out the surfaces? And - shock! horror! - she used a bought mould for her chess pieces. Where was the modelling clay?
The judges and presenters have their repetitive recap backstage. It comes down to taste vs. challenge-adherence... Richard vs. Kate? Only a superfluous and, frankly, extraordinary clip of mooing cows separates us from the announcement of the Star Baker. It's...

Chetna! Who saw that coming? Nothing in the episode up to this point seemed to be heading this way, but she's a sweetie, so I'm happy.

Who will go home out of Rich and Kate? Mary and Paul waffle on for hours, recapping the whole episode for anybody who tuned in a little early for the next programme (including Paul saying to Alex/Kate "you never did enough caramel" - a life-indictment), and eventually (eventually) tell us that... neither of them are going home! Absolutely nobody is surprised by this point, but it's still lovely to keep them both for another week.

Kate takes it in her stride.


I'm afraid there probably won't be a recap next week, as I'll be away - so I'll see you when I see you!

Hope you've enjoyed European week. Au revoir! (And, Helen... which is the ODO update word?)