Several of us at We Write Things are obsessed with The Great British Baking Show/Bake Off. We eagerly await new episodes and I think all of us now subscribe to PBS so we can binge to our hearts’ content. We have decided to go through the 2015 season, episode by episode, baking a bake from each, and comparing our results. As one does.
The bake: Mary Berry’s Walnut Cake
I was initially skeptical of this cake because I don’t love walnuts, but I opted to stay true to the recipe and holy crap am I glad I did. This cake is amazing. It tastes like a buttery, marshmallowy dream come true. Given that American self-rising flour and British self-raising flour are slightly different, I opted to use regular flour and make the conversion (adding more baking powder and salt) rather than attempt to figure out the difference between the two and convert. I also used regular granulated sugar as opposed to caster sugar for two reasons: 1) caster sugar is difficult to find, in our area, apparently; 2) American granulated sugar is finer than British granulated sugar, as is. It’s not as fine as superfine sugar, but it is easier to work with already.
The texture of a nutty cake mixed with velvety buttercream, topped with fluffy, marshmallowy 7-minute frosting, crowned with crunchy, caramelized walnuts was one of the best, fanciest cakes I’ve had in a long time. This has already been added to my “go-to” list of recipes for birthdays. I take back all the horrible things I said in my ranking article about this cake.
I am a fan of nuts. (tee hee) I like them in carrot cake and in brownies, and I think walnuts in particular go so well in a chocolate chip cookie. My skepticism about this recipe stemmed from the idea of TWO frostings, one of which is buttercream, and I’m not that into buttercream. I wasn’t at all sure of what the hell boiled frosting was. I also looked at the ingredients for the sponge itself and decided if there were nuts, there should be spices. And if there were spices, there should be a cream cheese frosting.
I followed the cake recipe to the letter, including doing something I’d never done before: weigh my ingredients. There’s a massive amount of satisfaction to be had in measuring out precisely 225 grams of flour, and I knew that Mary Berry would be proud of me. I also made the caramelized (sorry, caramelised) walnuts exactly as the recipe stated, and again, I’m supremely proud of the fact that I only had to boil sugar once, unlike several of the legit contestants on the show.
Due to the altitude of Denver and my super expired baking powder, my cake dipped in the middle and was a bit dry, so next time I would perhaps add some carrots or zucchini to help keep it moist (It already had SO much butter that I can’t comprehend adding more…), and I would also alter the flour ratio to account for the 5,280 feet above sea level at which I currently live. And also, duh, new baking powder. So critical.
I loved the flavor of the cake with the nutty crunchiness of the walnuts dispersed throughout, the tang of the cream cheese frosting and the additional walnuts encased in crunchy, caramelized sugar. Mmmmmm.
Like Jen, I wasn’t into the idea of walnuts. Unlike, Jen, I didn’t stay the course. I went for pecans instead and I have absolutely no regrets. Pecans > Walnuts. Deal with it. I wasn’t aware of the differences between American and British self-rising flour or caster sugar, so I found the best versions I could in my local grocery store. I recruited my longtime baking partner in crime, and our word herder, Kelsey to bake with me and we got to it.
We certainly cursed Mary Berry a few times during the baking of this cake, but ultimately, we were able to realize the bake as intended, less the nut swap — which was pretty brilliant. Though we did leave them off the top of the cake, because things were already feeling quite sweet and textured, and also caramelizing was just not on our side. We also tossed some almond extract into our buttercream because we’re pretty wild and crazy. I’ll say this, we had some struggles of the trial by fire variety, but in the end, we had a pretty tasty, even layered confection that would net us a middle of the pack result in the technical.
Next week, we’ll be tackling biscotti because literally everyone loves a good biscotti!