Spice up your life.

I can’t believe its October already. September passed in a blur. During the first week our new orangery went up, well, the walls and the frame for the roof. It was a stressful time as we were going on holiday the week after they started work and we needed the basic structure completed before we left. On the final day, one of the builders accidentally cut through the broadband and landline cable. Our son, who was looking after the house and our dogs was not best pleased at being left with no internet access! We managed to arrange an engineer for the following week and left the house with some trepidation.

Two weeks of utter luxury and relaxation followed. Our villa on the Greek island of Ithaca had stunning sea views, the weather was glorious and we enjoyed many bottles of local wine. There was a brief tense moment when the expected engineer failed to arrive, but we managed to get it sorted with a few urgent phone calls and all was well again at home. Whilst lying beside the pool I browsed the internet one morning and found some beautiful vintage cutlery for my tea party business. The seller kindly held it for me to collect when I got back which was very kind of her. And, of course, every Tuesday evening I settled down to watch The Bake Off. I made notes and planned what I was going to bake when we got back to England.

Week 3 – Bread week was a bit disappointing. Chelsea buns are something I’ve made many times and are really not too challenging. The showstopper, a Ukrainian wedding bread called Korovai, was unnecessarily complex, yet produced uninteresting results. In short, I was uninspired by what the contestants had been asked to bake. The world of bread is vast and rich in variety, and a showstopper should be just that. The clue is in the name. Anyway, I digress. As I would have several weeks to catch up on when I returned to the UK, I decided not to bake anything from this show for the moment, although, if I get a quiet few days later on, I will attempt a Korovai just to see if I can do a better job than the Bake Off bakers!

Week 4 – Spice week, a first in the history of GBBO. Second week of my holiday, I was tanned and relaxed to the point of unconsciousness, although I had been mercilessly bitten by Greek mozzies, so I thoroughly enjoyed this new addition to the show. I love using spices in baking, gingerbread being a firm favourite with my family. I had been planning a surprise party for my son’s girlfriends 21st birthday, so I used a recipe I had for spiced Chai cake and paired it with whipped cream and salted caramel sauce to make it worthy of a signature bake. The cake is so easy to make. First line three 18cm round tins and pre heat your oven to 190 degrees (170 for fan ovens). Put 225g of baking margarine, 225g of caster sugar, 4 medium eggs, 1tsp of vanilla extract, 250g of plain flour, 1tbsp of baking powder and 3tsps of Chai tea powder into a large bowl or stand mixer and whisk until the ingredients are just combined. You can use the creaming method, which is traditionally used to make sponges, but I find that putting all the ingredients into a bowl and mixing for a short time avoids overworking the flour and produces a light, fluffy, well-risen sponge. Divide the batter between the tins and bake for 30 minutes, or until just firm to the touch. Once the cakes are cooled, whip 350ml of double cream until it makes soft peaks, then fold in 1tsp of vanilla extract and 1tbsp of icing sugar. Use a quarter of the cream to top the first sponge, then drizzle on some salted caramel sauce. (You can make caramel sauce quite easily but it is time-consuming and ready-made jars are just as good). Repeat this process with the second sponge and use the remaining cream to pipe rosettes all over the top of the cake, then drizzle more of the caramel sauce on top. Finish with a dusting of Chai tea powder.


So, week 5 – Dessert week. Now we are really sorting the wheat from the chaff. Some of the contestants are shining. Shy, modest, thoughtful and brilliant Rahul being one, and, of course, lovely Briony who is finding her feet and showing us what she can do. Others are floundering slightly, not helped by Paul and Prue’s cruel and unusual challenges this year. I loved Kim Joy’s space turtle showstopper, it was quirky, fun and beautifully executed. I’m also delighted that Channel 4 are giving Noel a platform to flex his comedic muscles periodically, he really is very good at it. People are finally discovering what us Mighty Boosh fans have known for many years!

Again, I chose the signature challenge for my bake. I mentioned my son’s girlfriend Francesca earlier. Her favourite cake is Black Forest gateaux, so I decided to make a Black Forest meringue roulade for her surprise party. This was somewhat daunting. Rolling meringue can be tricky and I was anxious to get that “swirl” that Prue is always banging on about. I used a chocolate meringue recipe I found online and adapted it for the roulade.

Pre heat your oven to 150 degrees. Its best not to use the fan on your oven if you can turn it off, but if not, your meringue will need a little more time to dry out. Next line a 15 x 11 inch swiss roll tin with parchment or baking paper. whisk 5 egg whites in a very clean bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add in 150g of caster sugar, whisking continuously until nearly stiff peaks form. Fold in 2tsps of cornflour and 1tbsp of cocoa powder until well combined. Spoon the mixture into the tin, level out and bake for one hour, or until set but still pliable. Set aside to cool. I cooked mine for an hour and 10 minutes, but it could have done with longer as it was a bit soft. Once cooled, cover another sheet of parchment paper with an even layer of icing sugar and turn the meringue out onto it. Whip 400ml of double cream until soft peaks. Carefully add 1tbsp of icing sugar and 1tsp of vanilla bean paste and fold into the cream. Spread three-quarters of the cream onto the meringue, right to the edges. Add 4tbsps of black cherry jam and half a jar of black cherries in kirsch, drained. Using the parchment paper to help you, roll from the shorter edge, keeping the edge tucked in as tightly as possible. It will crack so don’t panic. I used the rest of the cream to pipe roses along the top of the roulade. I then topped each one with a cherry and a chocolate star. I finished with a generous dusting of cocoa powder. This went down very well at the party with everyone and was absolutely delicious. I will be making it again.


So now I’m all caught up with my baking, I’m planning what to bake from Pastry week. I’m also organising a very special Macmillan tea party with my sister, featuring a full English afternoon tea set in my orangery. More about that in my next blog.

Thanks for reading and happy baking. Love Michelle. xx



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