Fun With Friends, Cakes and An Extra Slice!

IMG_1543I’ve previously mentioned that I belong to a Twitter-based group called ‘The Sunday Baking Club’. During the week a baking theme is set for the following weekend and on the Sunday, people post photographs on Twitter of their creations. The top 10 are selected and put to a public vote. Whoever gains the most votes wins the big prize, namely a ‘virtual’ Golden Spoon Award. With an incentive like that, who wouldn’t want to take part?

Anyway, the BBC picked up that the group existed and Dominique the organiser was asked if any members would like to attend filming of ‘An Extra Slice’, which is the spin off to ‘The Great British Bake Off’ and airs on a Friday night. A robust group of individuals (me included) took up this exciting opportunity and on Sunday 20th September 2015 we found ourselves heading to Waterloo station to meet up before heading to the TV studio nearby. I didn’t have to travel too far as I live in Surrey / south London but I was astounded to see that other Bake Off loving Sunday Baking Club fans had travelled from the Midlands, Staffordshire, Norfolk and even Leeds to attend the filming. Now that is true dedication to the baking cause. Some of the attendees had met previously while others identified themselves by their Twitter names which was very amusing but put everyone at ease right away. It did feel a little weird though saying “I’m The Little PK. How do you do?”!

Of course, our group didn’t just consist of a number of bodies – there were large amounts of cake and patisserie items too – well it was ‘patisserie week’ after all. I’m in awe of those people who travelled great distances with large boxes while navigating trains, tubes and buses and managed to keep their bakes in one piece.

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We trooped of to the ITV studios and arrived at 1.15pm to be checked in. Here’s the group photograph taken in the reception area. What a fine, upstanding bunch of cakey bakey enthusiasts we are. Can you tell we were just a little bit excited?

We were given rather fetching lilac wristbands and then were escorted to a room where we had to sign a confidentiality agreement. This was because we would be seeing the following week’s episode and would know before the general population who was booted out. After that, we unveiled our cakes and bakes and a chap called Oliver walked round asking people for details of what they had made. The TV team were clearly going to highlight any unusual or interesting bakes that would be discussed during filming. image2 - Copy (15)

I’m afraid that I wasn’t able to bring anything spectacular. As I’d spent the day before viewing houses, I hadn’t had time to make a large cakey extravaganza so I’d kept it simple with lemon madeleines and cherry bakewell chocolate dipped Viennese whirls. They tasted rather good though so I was pleased with them. (I used Edd Kimber’s recipe for the Madeleine which was in his book “Patisserie Made Simple”.) At least I had something to display when the phrase “Show us your bakes” was announced later on.

However, some of the Sunday Baking Club devotees had come up with some great creations – more about those later.

All this took us to almost 2pm when we were told we wouldn’t be needed until 3.45pm so most of us toddled across to the pub and had lunch which involved varying degrees of sausages and mash, fish and chips and possibly someone had a salad. I’m not quite sure what that was about when the day was all about cake and indulgence. However, it does explain why some people are slim and I’m not! We knew it was going to be a long day so we needed to fuel up while we had the chance. Ahem. Let’s move on……

Back at the studio and after a bit of hanging around and a briefing from the Extra Slice producer, we were led into the area where filming would take place. Our group was fortunate that we were all seated in ‘First Class’ i.e. at the tables close to where Jo Brand and the celebrity guest panel would be sitting. Except that Jo Brand was not available that day and so the lovely Sarah Millican was standing in.

We watched the following week’s episode and therefore were aware of who got knocked out. As I’m posting this after this has become public knowledge and after the Extra Slice show has aired, I can now say that I was very disappointed that Paul the Prison Governor left this week. He’d had a few hairy moments earlier on in the series and it was sad to see that patisserie week got the better of him. I was hoping he would be in the final but it wasn’t to be.

After we’d seen the episode, the panel came in and filming started. The panel consisted, as usual, of three people and I’m embarrassed to say that I’d only heard of Gregg Wallace. The patisserie expert was a lady called Cherish Finden who is the Executive Pastry Chef at the Langham Hotel. It seems one of her finest moments was making doughnuts for Lady Gaga but from what she said, they were above average doughnuts. The other panellist was a (very) young comedian called Joe Lycett who was quite funny and had a style of delivery reminiscent of Julian Clary (who is more my age group). Sarah Millican introduced the proceedings and discussed the episode with the panel. I thought she did a good job of covering for Jo Brand (who I would have liked to see) but Sarah does talk remarkably quickly and I found it a bit of a challenge keeping up with her!

The filming then moved to showing bakes – both good and bad – that had been sent in via social media. The less successful bakes did elicit a few sniggers but they were very funny. I think it’s great that people can make fun of themselves and are such good sports.

And then, the moment I’d been looking forward to – some of the Sunday Baking Club members were picked out to discuss their bakes which was great fun. Rebecca talked about her ‘drunken Mary Berry’ cake

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and John spoke about his elegant looking ‘chocolate and Marmite macarons’ which clearly intrigued the panel, who insisted on tasting them. Now I’d tasted one of these earlier in the afternoon and John didn’t mention Marmite to me at the time. I found it to be delicious but either my taste buds are lacking or I have got used to Marmite but I could only sense a rich chocolatey flavour, certainly no hint of the savoury yeastiness that you either love or hate.

One or two other bakes were picked out for discussion but I wasn’t close enough to see them properly. And then hilarity ensued when a lady was asked to show what she had brought along and it was – apparently – a hedgehog made of choux pastry with a few chocolate fingers added. Well, the studio dissolved into laughter as quite frankly, it looked like a hedgehog that had been run over. It looked like roadkill. To paraphrase the Monty Python dead parrot sketch (yes, I am that old….), “The hedgehog is no more. It has ceased to be. This is a late hedgehog. It’s a stiff.” You get my drift.

And then came the big moment when poor evicted Paul was interviewed about his performance during patisserie week and his thoughts on the whole Bake Off experience. I thought he was a lovely chap even when he was ribbed about his flat Genoise cake and his banana disasters. Given the amount of time that was spent filming the panel discussions which was then going to be edited down to fit the half hour time slot for the programme, I felt that not much time was spent on Paul and his story but that’s life I suppose. The filming concluded with Sarah Millican recording the trailers for the programme and redoing a couple of earlier talky bits.

We, the audience, didn’t leave the TV studio until almost 8.30pm so it turned out to be a very long day although it was good fun (bar the various times spent hanging around). I love meeting up with fellow baking enthusiasts and the members of the Sunday Baking Club are a great group of people. I went home tired but happy with a warm, fuzzy glow after meeting up with the cakey crowd. The fact that I was also clutching a box of marvellous macarons given to me by SBC member Joyce rounded off the day nicely.

Having now viewed the programme, I was a bit disappointed that I’d blended into the background so well that the cameras completely missed me (apart from one fleeting glimpse at the beginning) thus depriving me of even 15 seconds of fame. BUT it was lovely that my baking friend John had his Marmite macarons tasted and discussed by the panel and to see bakes by other friends getting some screen time. Sadly Rebecca’s cake (pictured above) didn’t make the final cut.

I leave you with a final cake made by Clare that was fabulous but perhaps a little too risqué for the BBC!

Hollywood cake SBC

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The Flavoured Shortbread Bakery – purveyors of very special shortbread

Shortbread 2When I attended the BBC Good Food Festival at Hampton Court last month, I met a lot of food (and drink!) producers and sampled various goodies, some of which I’ve already written about on this blog.

Another stand that I saw, I liked and I tasted at was run by Rayo Earls who makes a variety of flavoured shortbreads. Now you may think that shortbread is shortbread and that’s it but Rayo’s products took it to another level. I’ve had lavender shortbread before (which I have to say isn’t to my taste) and some with nuts in but that’s about as far as my shortbread experience goes. I tend not to make it at home as we aren’t a particularly ‘biscuity’ family.

Rayo had samples of several different shortbreads on offer and of course, I couldn’t write about them without having a nibble first! Rayo flavours her shortbread with a combination of herbs, spices, fruits and nuts and while some combinations may be well known, others are quite different for instance ‘walnut & fennel’, ‘cardamom & pistachio’ and ‘juniper, gin and lemon’. The shortbread itself is made from only butter, flour and sugar and so the flavour combinations are not dulled by additional ingredients or additives (and all ingredients are sourced from the UK with a preference for local suppliers).

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I was interested to find out how Rayo’s company came about. She told me that she had taken a career break from working as an engineering consultant before starting her baking business. Like many people, Rayo baked to relax and after successfully testing some flavoured shortbread on a group of friends, the idea grew from there.

Rayo bases her flavour  combinations on things she thinks will go well together and does a lot of trialling with willing volunteers (I must give her my address!) before finally selecting a flavour that will go on sale. Her target market is quite simply people who love shortbread and enjoy experimenting with new and potentially unusual taste sensations.

At the moment, Rayo has a regular stall at the monthly Farmers’ Market at Walton-On-Thames (9.30am to 2pm on 1st Saturday of the month) and has plans to supply independent shops and farm shops and thus get the shortbread word out there.

If you’d like to read more about Rayo’s company and her variety of flavoured shortbreads – which you can order by post – please visit her website: www.theflavouredshortbreadbakery.com.

I hope to work with more small, independent foodie producers to review their products on my blog. If you know of any that wish to get their name ‘out there’, please point them in my direction!

Disclaimer: I did not receive any freebies from The Flavoured Shortbread Bakery nor was I paid or asked to write this review. 

With The Girlies At Galu

OK so I’ve used a bit of artistic licence with the title of this post as no way could we three friends realistically be classed as ‘girlies’. None of us will see 40 again although my friends are nearer to it than I am. Anyway, let’s move on……..

My friend K was abroad for her birthday in August and so on Friday 4th September 2015 we went with another friend J for a belated birthday meal at Galu, a restaurant in Banstead, Surrey. Galu is a ‘Mediterranean bar and grill’ with a bespoke open flame charcoal grill located in the heart of the open view kitchen. As you enter the premises, the stylish bar is to the left and the restaurant to the right.

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We were seated immediately and I was struck by the spacious feel of the restaurant despite the fact that it was busy. It also is light and airy due in part to the floor to ceiling windows along one side of the building. The lighting was a little subdued but not so much that you couldn’t read the menus or see each other. I have a real issue with lighting that’s ‘barely there’. If you’re having a romantic meal (which K, J and I weren’t), dimmed lights might be quite conducive but generally I like to be able to see the people I’m dining with and not hazard a guess at what’s on the menu!

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We were presented with the a la carte menu as well as details of the day’s ‘specials’. There was a wide choice of dishes available so there really should be something to suit everyone. For starters, J and I had the seared king scallops wrapped in pancetta and served with a pea puree while K had warm goat’s cheese served on aubergine with rocket. If scallops are on a menu I always tend to choose them as I’m not allowed to cook anything vaguely ‘fishy’ or ‘sea foody’ at home as my husband believes that the whole house smells of fish for days afterwards. The scallops we had were outstanding: tender, juicy and more importantly not overcooked. A rubbery scallop does not a happy diner make!

For the main course I chose calves liver with bacon, buttered spinach and creamy mash. I don’t ever cook or eat liver at home due to my husband’s queasiness about offal so this was a real treat for me. K had a dish from the ‘specials’ list: herb crusted rump of lamb with roasted new potatoes and creamed spinach while J couldn’t resist a juicy sirloin steak with peppercorn sauce. Judging by the ‘mmmms’ and ‘ooohs’ I heard coming from their direction, their meals were equally delicious.

To accompany our meal, we had two bottles of wine, one of which was a pink Prosecco (yes, PINK!) – both bottles went down rather well, I must say.

We were so satisfied by our two courses and our wine that we couldn’t manage any puds even though the dessert menu was rather tempting.

We did, however, manage to squeeze in a complementary drink at the bar after dinner thanks to Vas (who owns the restaurant with his father John). J had a rather spectacular fruity based cocktail which she found to be a little livelier taste wise than she first thought while K and I settled for the simpler options of wine (her) and Irish cream (me). While we were in the bar, I was quite taken with the mixology skills of the barman and just had to take a photo of him in action. Apologies for the poor quality of the picture – my flash was playing up. Note to self: buy a decent camera for blog purposes!

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One other very important point: the ladies’ loos were spotless. I can’t comment on the gents (a review too far I’d say) but I’m sure they were equally gleaming. I’ve been in so many restaurants where there is a lack of lavatorial attention so Galu got extra brownie points for that.

I couldn’t fault the food, service or atmosphere at Galu and my friends and I had a great time. I will definitely go back again and I’d recommend that anyone who lives within a reasonable distance of Banstead also gives it a try. You won’t be disappointed but if you go on a Friday or Saturday night you’d be sensible to make a reservation as it’s a very popular place.

Disclaimer: We paid for our meal but accepted complementary drinks from the restaurant owner. I was not paid for or asked to write this review.

Chilling With A Coole Swan

Given that I’m not a big drinker, it’s quite ironic that the two items I came home with after the BBC Good Food Festival at Hampton Court at the weekend were both bottles of alcohol! Well, you have to enter into the spirit (pun not intentional) of the event and there were quite a few stands promoting and selling a variety of alcoholic tipples. It would have been rude not to buy something!

I’ve already posted about the gin I bought so now I’m going to fill you in on the joys of ‘Coole Swan’ which is an Irish cream liqueur. I’ve tried quite a few cream liqueurs in my time including Baileys, Carolans and some supermarket own brands and they were all reasonably similar in taste, colour and ‘mouthfeel’. With some, there is a strong aftertaste of the Irish whiskey and with others it’s the creaminess that lingers.

The Coole Swan bottles are quite eye catching with the blue writing contrasting elegantly against the pure white of the liqueur. As other Irish cream liqueurs are often somewhat beige in colour (due to the addition of caramel colouring), this was something different. Moving closer, I noticed that the ingredients consisted of single malt Irish whiskey, cocoa, vanilla and double cream. Now other cream liqueurs have similar ingredients but the gleaming whiteness of the Coole Swan made me want to dive right in. Well, I simply had to taste it and the helpful young people manning the stand poured me a small one. If it hadn’t been so popular, I may have had a larger one but you can’t have everything!

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As I’ve made clear elsewhere on this blog, I’m not able to quote phrases bandied about by connoisseurs within the drinks industry as I generally only drink a couple of times a month when I go out with friends. I also can’t say how a single malt may be better than any other. What I can say about Coole Swan is that it’s quite light and by that I mean it doesn’t thickly coat your tongue like some others do. It has a very smooth texture, almost velvety, and the alcohol doesn’t hit you between the eyes. The mellowness may be due to the fact that real chocolate is gently melted into the cream which for me is a match made in heaven. But please don’t think that you can’t taste the whiskey – you can!

I bought a bottle of Coole Swan at the Food Festival for a special show price and last night I chilled a small glass in the freezer and poured in a small measure of the chilled white stuff. It was a delicious end to a very wet and uninspiring August Bank Holiday. If you like Irish cream liqueurs but want something a bit different, I suggest you try Coole Swan. Look at the beautiful bottle – go on, you know you want to!

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Please note that I purchased a bottle of Coole Swan and was not paid or asked to write a review of it. I am enthusiastic about the product and this post reflects my honest opinion. For more information on Coole Swan Irish cream liqueur, please look at the company’s website – http://www.cooleswan.com