Watching the final of Great British Bake Off, lamenting the fact that it was the last we shall see of the mighty Mary Berry, Kitty and myself couldn’t help but notice the the final technical challenge looked within our skill set. Let’s be honest, it looked easy. This is the story of one Tuesday morning, procrasti-baking from our dissertations, that Kitty and I out-baked the Great British Bake Off – or tried.
Do you think about what goes in a Victoria’s Sponge? You don’t. Do you think you have the ingredients in your grimy student kitchen? You don’t. We had to scrounge these eggs. After briefly debating whether or not a sponge includes milk, and resisting the urge to use Google, we trekked back with North Road Tesco Metro’s finest to concoct our traditional English delicacy.
Our hour on the clock starts and blind panic ensues. We set the oven to 180 degrees, because that seems like a temperature that things might cook at. We’re already beating Andrew in remembering this stage. The plan we decide upon is 200 g of everything (meaning flour, sugar and butter, not actually everything) and 2 eggs. Egg quantity was controversial.
Kitty and I wrack our memory for the difference between Mary’s all-in-one method and whatever the other one was. Do we cream the sugar and butter first? The butter is rock hard. We microwave. Doe GBBO have microwaves? How would one plug a microwave in in a tent? How do they even have ovens in tents? These are real questions. We wish we were in a tent, for authenticity. Sadly, the basement of a Hawthorn house is all we can manage.
We decide to controversially cream butter and sugar first. The fact the sugar has sat in a box all summer is not conducive to smooth mixing. All we have as an instrument is a misshapen orange whisk – you guessed it, not electric. All its seems to do is collect the butter into congealed mass. We abandon the whisk, and use a trusty wooden spoon. You can’t go wrong with a bit of wood in the morning. It takes the shape we would hope creamed butter would take the shape of.
We sieve 200g of flour into our creamed butter mix, and the eggs. The mixture is a doughy, globular blob. We add to a tea spoon of vanilla in the hope of loosening it up. It unsurprisingly does not. We decide to add milk despite out previous reservations – having not bought milk in Tesco and therefore scrounging yet more off my housemates. Another debate ensues about how much milk to add – what even is the consistency of cake mix. Is it liquid enough to be poured? Or more viscous? Everything we thought we knew was thrown into sceptical doubt, and we were very conscious of being alone in a dark universe waiting for death.
Kitty asks whether she should add a tablespoon of baking powder. She meant a teaspoon. SHE MEANT A TEASPOON. Panic subsides. Crisis averted.
We add yet more milk, with the profound observation from Kitty being “If its too brick it won’t rise”. Interpret as you will.
The next question we face: do we bake in a singular tin or two? Two is less room for error as it removes the cutting element, which could go horribly wrong. One however means the two sponges may be more even in terms of thickness, for aesthetic advantage. We decide on two, and grease them with the remaining butter. We definitely over greased.
Pouring the cake into the tins, Kitty laments that we hadn’t added yet more milk. The tension is very real. The mixture does not cover the whole tin. What has gone wrong? We don’t know, we cannot Google yet. The pressure is on. We stick cake in the oven with only 30 minutes of our time left. We decide to check it in 20.
We have never made jam before in our lives. All we have is sugar and raspberries. I personally feel there is a special jam sugar that we should be using, sadly Tesco did not seem to stock “jam sugar”. Does jam have gelatine in it? We think equal amounts, based on our faulty memory of the GBBO final (it was a few weeks ago). We weigh the raspberries (312g), feeling impressed as this seems like a thing only professionals would do., and weigh an equal portion of sugar.
We know it is made in a saucepan, our memory serves well there. We decide upon a shove in and mash method, which entails shoving the ingredients into a saucepan, and mashing them. We pour all fruit into a pan and put it on heat. We add enough water to cover the bottom, and throw sugar on top. We wonder when to commence mashing jam. Do we mix now and mash later? Do we mash now and mix later? The amount of sugar seems excessive. We question our life choices. I think that sugar crystallises sometimes, so heat it gently? Who knows.
We take this opportunity to do our washing up, something they do not show you on GBBO. Who does their washing up? Is it them? Could this be a graduate job? We shall investigate further.
We sneakily Google the recipe before time is up. We realise now that the cake is in oven, that it should have been 4 eggs. Whoops.
If jam is as easy as I now think it is, I will make jam all the time. I just want to have my own fruit trees and make my own jam. That is what success looks like. That and a herb garden. Future plans done.
We realise why the jam has not been heating, we turned the wrong hob on. The spilt sugar has burned and formed a very hard caramel substance on the surface of our oven. Kitty has new found sympathy for Andrew and his oven. As well as Flora’s AGA of last season. Middle class problems. We get it.
Thinking about it, we realise jam needs to set in order not to be runny. Surely it need a setting agent. We don’t know what a setting agent is, and we certainly did not buy one at Tesco. We, in panic now at the 15 minute mark, message housemates and ask if anyone has gelatine. We turn the jam up. Our housemates do not have gelatine; shock.
We realise the extra thick cream (insert joke here) does not need whisking, relief. As we have no whisk, and we have no time.
We take out the top cake, its very done. We swap the bottom on to the top shelf as Kitty describes it as flaccid (if cake can be flaccid) and needs more time. We don’t have more time. WE ARE OUT OF TIME.
We attempt to fan cake in an effort to cool it down. I don’t think fanning is as effective as it is on TV. Having no room in the freezer, we resort to Durham’s natural freezer – our garden. It best not rain. Hygiene is of no issue with five and a half minutes to go.
The jam is completely liquified. My fear of crystallising the jam has played a part in this. I am letting the team down. We waste more valuable sugar on the raspberry mess we have created.
The timer goes. We have to make crucial decision. Do we fix things? Distract Paul and Mary by sensually dancing perhaps? Or assemble what we have and not cheat?
The cakes have not risen, due to lack of self raising flour. Our jam is liquid. Our cream is in a bowl, unwhisked. The dappled complexion of one of the cakes is due to the over-greasing of our pans, we feel it looks like the face of a horse. Extra points for accidental art?
We give ourselves some extra time to thicken our jam. We think if we had boiled jam for whole time we would have made our deadline so WE DON’T FEEL BAD. We find mini jams in housemate’s cupboard. Probably to cute to steal. As the jam is boiling viciously, Kitty and I feel hopeful that this can be rectified. Never once to we question our use of time in our third year of university, or whether we will actually graduate.
THE JAM THICKENS. Everything is worthwhile again. We take jam outside to cool with our new found cooling method.
We decide to whisk cream upon reflection. It was not as extra thick as we thought (insert joke here). It took serious muscle. And some icing sugar to cheat. We are already getting diabetes just looking at the jam.The jam tastes mildly of baked beans. We wonder who cooked what in the pan last, and why everyone is so bad at washing up.
WE FINALLY ASSEMBLE CAKE 45 MINUTES AFTER TIME RAN OUT
The cake is quite close textured, we think more like a scone than a cake, which is fine as we like scones. The cream and jam ratio to cake is perfect – as what is cake but a vehicle for cream and jam? The colour is pale, which is good, and it is not over cooked (though edges are undeniably crispy. The cream a saving grace, as icing sugar added cheat makes it delicious. Jam receives mixed reviews (Helen think it tastes like baked beans but no one else does) though thick and holding shape. All in all, we’d probably win.
Photograph: Katherine Raven