Wobbly-Start Tart, Very Mary Berry Finish

#5, jonagold apple

My oven’s been on the fritz. Had a Sears guy out this a.m., which makes three visits. Three no-resolution visits. He took the brain out again, which had already been sent to Illinois for repair, returned, and reinstalled, to re-send. This after much telephone conversation with putative experts on the other end of the line, one of whom finally responded affirmatively to his out-of-ideas question about should he send the board in again. You might think it’d be a little comforting that he the actual tech had his calls end several times and was left hanging on hold for, at one point, a solid 30 minutes. Techs, they’re just like us, blahblahblah. No, I can tell you, it was not, comforting. It was only more no-working-oven.

Anythewho, at some point in this sad interim I bought a countertop oven so I could investigate a Mary Berry tart that had intrigued me. So I could BAKE, in other words. I just finished a rewatch of Masterclasses from The Great British Bake-Off, in anticipation of the new season, and Mary illustrated Season 4’s two-crust fruit pie sig chal with her Wobbly Apricot Tart—wobbly referring to the top crust following the undulating apricot curves. What caught my baker’s eye (other than calling for marzipan, which matched up nicely with an overstock in my pantry) was the high proportion of powdered sugar in the pastry, which I could see resulting in a nice crisp crust, just as Mary said. It is unsurprising in the extreme that she Mary was right. Very nice tart pastry. The thin top crust revealingly draping the fruit underneath like a bias-cut sheath is some kinda genius.

#1, yellow peach


I used big yellow peaches, peeled and sliced, in the first one—we’d just returned from a mini road trip to the Santa Ynez Valley with the usual fruit-and-veg souvenirs. Very well received by those who 1. like a piece of such things with tea in the morning, and 2. like a piece of such things with Dr. Who late at night. (These are the same people.)


#2, white nectarine/blackberry


Second one used the last Santa Ynez white nectarine and last blackberries. (This iteration remains the favorite of one of the Dr. Whoers.)




#3, jonagold apple


Third, and fourth: Santa Ynez jonagold apples, only just in season when we drove past Dittmar’s, and very good for baking. One of these I served to neighbors after dinner, sending the remainder home with an attendee, because tea and Dr. Who were covered by already-baked #4. The other day, the final three small jonagolds were baked into #5.


I made just a couple of changes, in service of supporting my habit of finishing the top of tarts with a sprinkle of large-gauge sparkling sugar—I added a teaspoon or two of water to the egg I beat for the pastry, and held back a scant teaspoon to brush on the top before sugaring and baking. Mary goes for a post-bake dusting of icing sugar from her always-to-hand dredger; we each have our tart habits.

In conclusion: Countertop oven does a nice job on tarts, even has convection; Sears doesn’t give a flying fig if my Master Protection Agreement-covered appliance ever works again; and, I’m going to need more marzipan.

Find Mary’s recipe here: Wobbly Apricot Tart.

GBBO 2.0—or is it (Channel) 4.0?

Please note: There aren’t any spoilers here—the new season of The Great British Bake-Off hasn’t yet aired. If you are GBBO spoiler-averse, in future, please avert your eyes.

I was as disappointed as anyone else when The Great British Bake-Off jumped the Good Ship BBC for (still ultimately publicly owned) Channel 4. I just knew it was all over, this thing I loved—deep fatalism is so good about providing for instant, total, and complete resignation.

© Love Productions / Channel 4 / Mark Bourdillon

Acute tristesse was actually pretty brief—after all, TV is merely TV, a primordial blob from which capriciously emerges both the nearly sublime and the abjectly awful. A most undependable medium. Besides, Channel 4 already seemed a friendly place to me, home as it is of Jamie Oliver, who I like a lot. And the salient fact is Love Productions created and makes GBBO, no matter who’s doing the broadcasting. We can visit with the lovely Mary Berry during her own BBC shows.

So. The first reviews are in—I’ve linked a few below—but I already had a little good anticipation after seeing the GBBO Season 8 trailer, with a Paul McCartney song and animated baked goods. The spot garnered a surprising amount of offended-sensibilities opprobrium in the foodsphere, but I found it charming all ‘round, probably from being raised on the freakazoid stop-action claymation of Art Clokey’s Gumby, and Terry Gilliam’s Victorian clip-art mini-monstrosities for Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I even have (measured) good feeling about the new cohorts for Paul Hollywood: years ago I picked up an excellent Prue Leith book at a used bookstore, I do not ignore that Sandi Toksvig has been vetted by the likes o’ Stephen Fry, and Noel Fielding was my favorite part of The IT Crowd. The best revelation has been the return of Extra Slice, the Jo Brand-hosted aftershow with cake-loving comedians, where the leaving baker is debriefed and audience bakes are displayed.

Some reviews… the tl;dr takeaway is it isn’t ruined. My aforementioned fatalism will be the judge of that, however. Here’s The Guardian, Radio Times, and the Telegraph for those interested in pre-game due diligence.

GBBO Season 7 Episode 1—Bakers Aweigh

Bake Off’s back! That’d be The Great British Bake Off, airing over there in Merrie Olde on BBC One. I watch it here in Southern California through VPN magick.

GBBO 4If you’ve seen the show on PBS, unfortunately re-titled The Great British Baking Show, apparently due to Pillsbury having a trademark lock on “Bake Off,” you’ve seen the tip of the iceberg. And it’ll be a long, cold day indeed before they let you see more—was the same situation with Downton Abbey that spurred me to seek out an alternative. Aren’t the days long past when television networks get to dictate when we consume television? Rhetorical question, but the sort of rhetorical that happens to have an answer, and that answer is YES.

So, if you’re in a non-BBC place, and plan to try to watch this season of GBBO when—maybe if, think about that!—PBS deigns to show it, you might want to give my recaps a miss, even though as in-fact recaps they’ll leave something to be desired. Of course this will be to your detriment, but as free men and women it is your right to decide and we shan’t speak of this further. I happen to be the sort of person that has no problem with spoilers of any stripe no matter the show. Maybe there are a few more out there like me. In which case, welcome. And let’s get to the bakes.

But firstly: Meet the Bakers, if you haven’t previously. Place your early-bird wagers now; announce your predictions; keep your secret crushes to yourselves.

Episode 1: Cake Week! My favorite week, unless you count Bread Week, upcoming—biscuit week is immediately next, howevah.

The sig bake was the very British, and I can only imagine before long the world’s, drizzle cake. Sponges of various shapes, poked and soaked. Then, for the tech bake, Mary Berry charged the bakers with jaffa cakes, the beloved packaged treat that probably most of us picture being manufactured entirely untouched by human hands. Not so, here in The Tent. In The Tent, jaffa cakes are artisanal. The showstopper is, truth be told, my least-favorite event. I am sure I am quite in the minority with this view, and that’s OK with me. Occasionally we get something really fantastic in this segment, like the bread lion face, lion bread face, from contestant Paul last season. The mirror-finish cakes of this first episode were not bad at all, blessedly lacking the over-the-topness that’s usually what puts me off more outlandish assemblages. The problem with several was they also lacked a, you know, mirror finish. A couple looked nomworthy, though, and having to no one’s surprise affable banker Selasi’s won the category. Jane was made Star Baker, and the token Old White Guy was sent home. A shame, he seemed nice, but do you hear the world-wide brain scream? For God’s sake how in the world did he make it into The Tent with those subpar skills? Bye-bye, ta very much, see you on An Extra Slice.

An Extra Slice is a bonus not only for the dismissed baker of the week, but also for viewers, as we get to retread the episode just past with acerbic yet sympathetic Jo Brand and guests, often comedians or chefs. Both are good, but most days I’ll take the comedians. The charming Josh Widdicombe was very funny last season, for instance—hope we see him again.

Jaffa cakes photo


Here’s the recipe for Mary Berry’s Jaffa Cakes. See if you can’t get them right-way-up, with a thin disc of orange gelée perfectly napped in hash-marked choccy, just like they emerge from the McVitie’s factory.