I’m addicted to The Great British Bake Off. I don’t know why, but I am. I can see very clearly why it should be incredibly dull; pretty much everything about it has stayed the same over the course of its five seasons, from the soundtrack, the challenges, the episode structure and order, to the set inside the legendary Bake Off tent. At some point during pretty much every season someone mistakes salt for sugar, has a disastrous bake with a soggy bottom, or ends up crying quietly into their apron on national television because Mary Berry was disappointed with their flavours.
My husband can’t begin to fathom why I love it so (and I don’t blame him), but he’s realised that I tend to make yummy things during Bake Off season, so he supports me in my addiction. He has even started watching it with me occasionally, alternating between mocking it gently, and putting in requests for things for me to try baking myself. I think he’s even starting to enjoy watching it despite himself.
But you know, I think it is precisely it’s unchanging format and the predictability of the show that makes it so very comforting to watch. It’s so English; it’s like teatime and village fetes and country bake sales and talking about the weather in the corner shop. The judges are exacting, but generally in a polite, British way. And the presenters have a silly, sweet, pantomime-ish humour that adds a large dose of charm to the proceedings; they are always quick to cheer up the underdog when it’s going badly for them, or when their time to leave the tent comes. It’s lovely to get to know each new round of contestants through the stories of the things that they bake. This is reality TV at its gentlest and most unobtrusive.
I also love the way the show encourages me to try out new things. After watching the biscuit round, I decided to try making florentines for the first time – something I’ve enjoyed eating but never tried baking. I combined and adapted a few different recipes because I like my florentines to have a hint of ginger, and they came out really well. Here’s the recipe I used, in case you’d like to try them yourselves.
– 150g (5oz) unsalted butter
– 175g (6oz) caster sugar
– 4 tablespoons double cream
– 2 tablespoons maple syrup
– 2 teaspoons (approx.) ginger powder
– 50g (2oz) plain flour
– 200g (7oz) flaked almonds
– 3 tablespoons mixed sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and pine nuts
– 100g (3 1/2oz) dried cranberries
– 150g (5oz) good quality dark chocolate
Grease several large baking sheets and preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.
Combine the nuts, seeds and cranberries with the flour in a bowl. Melt the butter gently in a pan and stir in the sugar. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to the boil, before quickly removing the pan from the heat and stirring in the cream and maple syrup – it should look like a caramel mixture now. Then add the ginger and stir well again.
Pour the caramel-like mixture over the nuts mixture and stir until everything is evenly combined. Now drop evenly sized smallish heaped dollops of the mixture onto the baking sheets, making sure to leave a few inches of space around each one (they will spread like crazy!). Bake in the preheated oven for 7 minutes.
When you take them out, leave the oven on. If they are anything like mine, they will have spread across pretty much the whole tray, but don’t worry – grab a round cookie cutter/mould that is the size you’d like your florentines to be, and shape them into those rounds. The mixture should be very sticky and starting to hold a little, but still malleable enough to shape in the cutter with your fingers and a spoon. I like my florentines to be quite thick, so I packed them pretty densely when I reshaped them. When you’ve shaped them all, put them back in the oven for another 3-4 minutes to bake until they are going golden around the edges.
Remove from the oven and leave them to cool on the baking tray for 5 minutes or so, before putting them in the fridge to finish solidifying. You can break off any bits of the hardened caramel ‘glue’ that has run over to make a more neatly shaped round, if you like. If you don’t have enough baking trays or oven space, you’ll have mixture to spare, so you can now bake up the rest.
Next, melt the chocolate in a bowl over simmering water, and then leave to cool for 10 minutes or so. Lay the florentines out on baking paper upside down, and spread the melted chocolate in a layer over the bottoms. Leave it to cool some more for a few minutes once you’ve spread it, but before it’s is completely set you can drag a fork over the chocolate in several rows to make the traditional wiggly pattern. (I forgot to do this, otherwise I’d include a picture to show you what I mean!) Finally, transfer them carefully, chocolate side still up, to the fridge again so that they can finish setting. You can store them in a tin at room temperature once they have set completely. Enjoy!