Last weekend I was mostly filling my boots with cake, cake and more cake! I do love cake, no question, but I have to admit I very almost reached my limit whilst judging the Cambridge Bake Off quarter finals on Saturday, and an internal John Lewis Bake Off for the Cambridge store on Sunday (also in the quarter final stage). Only last year I was taking part in the Cambridge Bake Off myself and therefore knew exactly how most of the bakers would be feeling. So, this year I was very happy to leave the shakes at home and enjoy the competition from the “other side”.
For the Cambridge Bake Off, twenty-four home bakers were challenged to bake their best ever chocolate cake in 2.5 hours at the Cambridge Cookery School. Marks were then awarded for taste, texture and presentation. Chocolate is wonderful in its own right (you don’t need me to tell you that!) but also perfect for pairing with other flavours to create a truly unique and wonderful cake. Last year I won the chocolate cake round with my raspberry, Chambord and chocolate génoise so I have to admit that my expectations for this year’s round were high.
Whilst many bakers opted for a relatively straightforward tried-and-tested chocolate cake, the stand-out cakes for me were those that pushed the boundaries of what one might expect from this type of cake, creating something both intriguing in taste and texture, and lip-smackingly good. The two highest scoring cakes were a South-American-inspired spiced chocolate cake with apricot jam, which altogether delivered an incredibly complex and exquisitely-balanced flavour teamed with the most melt-in-the-mouth texture. The decoration was also great and perfectly complemented the theme. This cake deservedly scored full marks.
The second cake, which I think was actually my favourite in terms of flavour and texture, was a layered mousse cake. If my memory serves me correctly, this cake consisted of layers of chewy hazelnut dacquoise, a nutty and crunchy feuilletine, rich chocolate mousse and dark chocolate sponge. All of this was topped with a dark chocolate ganache, which in my opinion was a little too dark but thankfully didn’t detract too much from the otherwise wonderful flavours of this cake.
Also worthy of a special mention was the brilliant and inspired “Death by Chocolate” cake, complete with hand-moulded white chocolate skull and roses and oozing cherry jam “blood” in the centre of the sponge. Needless to say we awarded full marks for presentation here!
After tasting and deliberating over the 24 chocolate cakes (it was harder than it sounds!), eight bakers made it through to the next round, the semi-finals. For this round the bakers will be whipping themselves into a frenzy as they prepare an edible concoction containing crème pâtissière and fresh fruits. This was my favourite challenge last year so I’m really looking forward to seeing what the bakers come up with; something sinfully bad but oh so good, I hope!
And so from the Cambridge Bake Off on Saturday to the John Lewis Bake Off on Sunday. I once again returned to the Cambridge Cookery School and was relieved to discover that the challenge was a lemon drizzle cake – man, was I glad it wasn’t chocolate (that’s next round!). Twelve bakers were expected but only five were present; I breathed a sigh of relief but was still thankful for my elasticated jeggings. After the cake scoffing…ahem judging…we decided that since so few were present all bakers should be put through to the next round. We were however impressed with one drizzle cake in particular and awarded Star-baker to the only male and youngest competitor, 17-year-old Toby (who’s mum was on the judging panel – aww sweet – but we didn’t let her participate in the judging of that cake, honest!).
Phew what a weekend! Now where did I leave my running shoes…?