Week Six - Soufflé
When I told people “I’m going to make soufflé”, they became nervous and started giving unsolicited advice on how to avoid disastrous collapses. “Leave the oven door alone whilst it’s in there”, “Don’t make any sudden movements, or loud noises in your kitchen when it’s cooking”. I hadn’t been anxious about this challenge beforehand, but now I was.
The initial steps go well, and I put the soufflés in the oven and try and wash up the mixing bowl as quietly as I can whilst things cook. I’d say each soufflé rose. Two of them even stayed risen! A 50/50 success rate isn’t too bad for a first attempt!
My friend taste testing this week was easy to please as he’d just returned to England from a long trip to China where cheese was hard to find, so I won’t let his positive feedback go to my head. The biggest challenge will come next week. I’m looking forward to meeting all the other Disaster Chefs. See you in London!
Week Five - Walnut Cake
In a case of fitfully ambitious scheduling on my part, this competition has coincided almost exactly with the final weeks of my four year PhD. I find myself coming back from university only to work on a different kind of experiment in the kitchen! The penultimate challenge is the perfect sugary boost for thesis writing; strawberry and walnut cake.
The recipe contains some unusual features; strawberries in almost every imaginable form, and vinegar in the icing! The bottom layer looks so beautiful with all its layered fruit I’m almost sad to cover it with the second.
I had some friends over for dinner as taste testers and, to showcase my new skills, and I made for them last week’s cheese tart as a main course. The cake was very well received (when is cake ever not?) and the drizzled strawberry jam in the middle gave a brilliantly concentrated flavour to the icing. I'm getting hungry just writing about it, I'm off to have another slice.
Week Four - Pastry
For this challenge we made a Swiss chard and Comté cheese tart. I’d personally never come across Comté, but I heard on the news that four tonnes of this cheese was stolen in a heist at French dairy last Monday, so I guess it has its fans.
Rolling out the pastry in cling-film I got something that could pass as a circle if you weren’t looking too hard, and fitted this in to the tart ring. This was my first real attempt at baking a tart, so I was pleased when Raymond Blanc let us off the blind baking stage.
The tart came out of the oven looking lovely and brown, and smelling amazing. This week’s taste testers commented at how the pastry bottom wasn’t soggy; great feedback, but it’s quite telling about their expectations of my cooking skills! Comté was a hit, maybe we should get to work planning a cheese heist of our own!
Week Three - Dim Sum
I was excited for this week’s challenge, as normally I’d never dare try making something like Dim Sum from scratch. We are now well out of my comfort zone! The crucial thing about the pasta making seems to be not to stick your fingers through the fragile dough strips. Using awkward back-handed acrobatics I managed to keep it whole and cut out some even-ish squares.
As I'm vegetarian, my version of the recipe substituted tofu for the pork, which I fried in chilli oil before adding it to the filling. So many people wanted to come over and help eat the wontons that I had to double quantities!
Everyone enjoyed pitching in to help fold the wonton parcels together. It was tough to keep track of what had gone in to the boiling pan and when; luckily the 5 minute cooking time seemed fairly flexible. The dipping sauce added a lot to the taste, I’ll definitely be trying this one again.
Week Two - Meringue
This week, I’ll admit, was slightly less successful.
My meringue got off to a great start but it was when it came to the cooking that things got messy. I spooned the glossy discs out onto two oven trays for the long bake; as the meringues heated, the two on the lower layer rose enthusiastically and collided with the metal tray above. This left them a little broken and burnt around the edges. This was a shame, but the instructional video emphasised that we were going for the home-made aesthetic, so in a way I’ve achieved this, creating a particularly authentic look.
Assembly was quite a feat of architecture, and the end result could have easily featured on the London skyline next to The Shard and The Gherkin. It tasted great though, and this week’s taste testers cheerfully overlooked the ‘caramelised’ side of the finished product.
Week One - Brioche
I have been told that the famous quote “Let them eat cake”, in its original language reads “Qu'ils mangent de la brioche”, “Let them eat brioche”. This week’s challenge leaves me wondering whether things would have turned out differently for Marie Antoinette had her court kitchens had access to a Kenwood mixer. Following Raymond Blanc’s instructions the dough came together very quickly, though I had to leave it to prove a little longer than normal in my chilly flat. In something of a first for my attempts at cooking, the brioche came out of the oven without setting the fire alarm off, and I was pretty pleased with the result. I served it up to some willing test subjects along with blueberries, strawberries and peaches. It went down well, but the guests commented on brioche’s identity crisis as it feels like it's neither cake nor bread.
PHD Student Josie needs desperate help in the kitchen. Josie’s kitchen calamities include putting her cakes under a grill and confusing teaspoons of spice with tablespoons. Once, in an effort to impress a prospective housemate who she was eager to fill her vacant room, Josie decided to try her hand at baking some homemade baguettes and fill the house with the enticing, delicious smell of freshly baked bread. Josie had read that a tray of water in the base of the oven would create steam to give a better crust.
What she had not accounted for was the sharp temperature changes between boiling water, tray, and hot oven, causing the glass tray to shatter into pieces with an almighty crack and the consequent flood of hot water. The prospective housemate was taken aback by the sound and sight of a flooded kitchen covered in shattered glass and opted not to move in. Josie entered the Disaster Chef competition to improve her culinary skills and ensure she can be more reliant on her baking skills in future.