I am completely in love with the new PBS program 'The Great British Baking Show'. Better than Downton Abbey, better than Doctor Who. It's true, this is not an exaggeration. Personally, I don't understand my fascination with this show. Except for the rare episode of Ina Garten, I do not even watch Food TV. Unlike such shows as 'Cupcake Wars' and the 'Next Food Network Star'—where the contestants are cutthroats and catty—these Brits are actually quite helpful and kind to one another. There's also no prize for the eventual winner, except bragging rights. Image that.
Set in the most gorgeous English countryside sits a tent covered with an abundance of British bunting. An amazing tent I might add, decked out with first-rate ovens and other kitchen appliances. GBBS features 12 amateur bakers competing to bake the most amazing cakes, biscuits, breads, and desserts, to be then judged by Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood—seriously, that is his name.
Each one hour episode includes:
- A Signature Challenge – a bake using a tried and tested recipe that the amateur bakers make for their family and friends.
- A Technical Challenge – a bake using the same ingredients and recipe provided by the judges Berry and Hollywood. The recipe however is intentionally sparse and has missing instructions, as it is designed to test the knowledge and skill of the bakers. The bakers are not told beforehand what the challenge might be. The judges also judge this blind as everyone has been given the same recipe, and the judges then rank the bakers from worst to best.
- A Showstopper Challenge – a bake designed to impress the judges. What the bake looks like is also taken into consideration.
I suppose my interest in GBBS stems from my years of participating in food competitions. I see myself in many of these bakers. Praying my cake or tart will come out of the oven evenly baked and perfect. Other than screaming, what do you do when your baked good doesn't release from the pan properly? It can be problematic. Baking for a food competition is often a stressful situation in my kitchen—and no one is even filming me! These Brits are cool cucumbers, well maybe with the exception of Iain in the 5th season. He flipped his wig when his Baked Alaska didn't turn out as planned—and in the trash it did go! My motto is 'if you bake it, you take it'! And I've even won a few ribbons with cakes I thought were only worthy of my trash can. You just never know Iain!
For the technical challenge this last week, the bakers had to bake Mini Pear Pies. They looked so yummy and seemed to be the perfect wintertime dessert. I looked them up and here's the recipe!
MINI PEAR PIES
Coming straight to you from Great Britain, this recipe has odd measurements and quirky wording. It looks labor intensive. I have not tried it out, but plan on making it for a special occasion—maybe Valentine's Day!
Makes 6 PIES
For the rough puff pastry:
- 200g (7 oz) plain flour, plus extra for rolling
- 100g (3½ oz) butter, in a block, frozen
- 100g (3½ oz) lard, in a block, frozen
- 1 free-range egg, beaten
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
For the poached pears:
- 6 large, firm pears (preferably ones that are straight and tall)
- 300g (10½ oz) caster sugar
- 500ml (18fl oz) dry white wine
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 orange, zest only
- For the rough puff pastry, measure the flour into a bowl and grate the butter and lard into the flour. Use a knife to coat the butter and lard in the flour. Add 120-150ml (4-5fl oz) cold water and mix until it comes together to form a firm dough.
- Roll out the pastry on a floured work surface to a rectangle. Fold the top third down and then fold the bottom third up and over. Turn it 90 degrees (a quarter turn) and repeat the rolling and folding. Set aside, covered, in the fridge for 20 minutes.
- Repeat the rolling, folding and chilling twice more so you have a total of four folds and turns. Set aside, wrapped in cling film, in the fridge until ready to use.
- Meanwhile, for the poached pears, peel the pears, keeping the stems intact. Tip the caster sugar into a large saucepan with 400ml (14fl oz) water, the white wine, cinnamon and orange zest and slowly bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Boil for three minutes.
- Add the pears to the pan. Bring back to the boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Reserving the syrup, remove the pears from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool on kitchen paper. Using a melon baller or small teaspoon remove the core from the pears.
- Return the syrup to the heat and boil rapidly for 10-15 minutes until the volume of the liquid is reduced by half and the syrup is thick. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
- When the fruit and syrup are cool, roll out the chilled pastry to a rectangle measuring 60x20cm (23½x8 in) and a thickness of no more than 5mm/¼in.
- Using a sharp knife and a ruler cut the pastry into long strips 8mm (⅓ in) wide. You will need about 18-20 strips.
- Brush the pears with the cooled sugar syrup and starting from the bottom, wrap the pastry strips around the pears. When you come to the end of the pastry strip, brush the end lightly with syrup and press to adhere to the next pastry strip. Continue wrapping until you reach the top of the pear. (Three strips should cover each pear). Tuck the end of the last pastry piece behind the previous dough spiral.
- Cut out six leaf shapes from the remaining pastry. Draw veins on the leaves with a sharp knife and stick one leaf below the stem of each pastry pear, with a little sugar syrup.
- Preheat the oven to 200C/180C(Fan)/400F/Gas 6. Place the pastry covered pears on a baking tray. Brush the pastry with beaten egg and sprinkle with the granulated sugar. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 10-15 minutes then serve with a drizzle of the reduced sugar syrup.
'The Great British Baking Show' airs on PBS on Sunday nights, 7 pm CST. It's followed by Downton Abbey and Grantchester—which I am also hooked on! Sunday night's programs on PBS have quickly become my favorite tv line-up! You can find more info on GBBS at pbs.org/great-british-baking-show. Recipe and photos provided by PBS.
America, “The Great British Baking Show” Is The Best British Show You Will Watch This Year, trust me on this!
The Domestic Curator