Thursday, 24 January 2013

On Your Marks, Get Set, BAKE OFF!

It is back; kneading its way on to TV screens near you every night this week, hold on tight for four hours worth of cakes, floral bomber jackets, burnt choux buns and soggy bottoms. Yes, the show that would be nothing without a shot of a passing (but hopefully not flashing) squirrel is back, my favourite contest of them all, The Great British Bake Off. In aid of Comic Relief, Queen Berry, the Silver Fox and the blonde half of Mel and Sue return, to guide, chastise and comfort a select group of celebrities as they burn their sponges, over-season their scones, puzzle over blind baking and drop around 80% of everything they produce from the oven.

It is entirely unsurprising, and utterly unfortunate for my waistline, that The Great British Bake Off (GBBO to its friends) is right up my biscuit-paved street. The combination of cake, Paul Hollywood wearing his favourite supply teacher outfit and best steel-eyed glower, some dodgy looking squirrels and a marquee is, for me, a match made in TV heaven- And I must admit that the Red nosed edition is my absolute favourite. With the same tension as the original show, Paul Hollywood’s glare immediately striking any pretender from their stool (bought in bulk when Westlife went their separate ways) if even a whiff of over-worked biscuit is detected, and the classic wistful gaze of the contestants as they try to figure out why on earth they decided to make a cake in the shape of a cliff as the ovens are finally turned off and we can all relax once again, 8 o’clock is complete once more. Even if the majority of what emerges from the celebrity ovens can be deemed a success if they resemble anything even vaguely safe for human consumption, let alone the Croc en Bouches and Sachertortes of the original series, watching Claudia Winkleman murder a lemon meringue is entirely worth its weight in gold plated cake slices.

The love of the Bake Off runs deep in the Gaffer-House. My Mum, who updated her Facebook status more during the first episode than during the whole of last year, has quite seriously declared on several occasions that she would vote for Mazza (Berry not MCcartney) as Prime Minister... But wouldn’t we all, the Cornish Pasty tax would be out quicker than you can say ‘custard slice’.
And it definitely runs in the family. I mean what could possibly be wrong with mixing the Mary Godmother, a dragon fresh from the den, and the frosty Queen of Newsnight with a metre high gateaux and a Madeira cake Soldier? Which, whilst sadly not the tagline for ‘Great British Bake Off the Pantomime’, sums up the real-life joys served up so far this week...Cue flaming puff pastry, flying biscuits, Jo Brand sitting on her butter, the wicked witch berating someone’s soggy bottom (Paul Hollywood of course) and a more than liberal scattering of innuendo.

It had to be done...
But behind all of the portrait cake making frivolity (I can honestly think of nothing more terrifying than being presented with a gateaux with my own face emblazoned upon it in glitter,) the show has been produced with a serious message running through its sweet, spongy centre. Comic Relief is a charity that pops up onto our screens every year in the chirpy form of Red Nose Day. Supporting projects across the UK and abroad all year round; helping victims of domestic abuse, to young carers, to people affected by HIV and AIDS; the charity is such an important and worthy cause.

And this year, using the Bake Off as inspiration, is the year to get cooking. Hold a bake sale in the school hall, take a tin of red nose emblazoned cupcakes to work; even if you make biscuits that could be used as anti-aircraft weapons, just think, if Jo Brand can do it, then so can you.

And if you are out of inspiration, maybe give these super-easy, super-scrummy raspberry and almond jammy-dodger style biscuits a go; their ruby red noses fit the bill just perfectly. Go on, Mary would want you to...

Red Nose Biscuits

165g butter
100g golden caster sugar
Pinch of salt
110g ground almonds
200g plain flour
Zest of 1 lemon
Raspberry jam

Preheat the oven to 160oc.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy, preferably using a hand mixer, unless you have extra large arm muscles.

Add the flour, almonds and zest and mix until just combined, before bringing the mixture together with your hands to form a smooth ball. Wrap in cling film and refridgerate for 30 minutes, or unilt ready to roll out.

On a floured surface, roll the dough until 0.5cm thick, and cut using a medium round cutter. To achieve the desired ‘red nose’ effect, cut a smaller hole in the middle of half of the biscuits.

Bake on a greased baking tray for 15 minutes, or until barely coloured. Leave to cool on the tray for at least 10 minutes before carefully transferring to a cooling rack using a palette knife.

Spread around a teaspoon of the jam (also delicious with lemon curd on less charitable days, or how about custard shortbreads with rhubarb jam?) on to the non-holey biscuit and sandwich with the holey one!

Dust with icing sugar if you wish and voila, go make some money for Comic Relief!

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