Baking can be a source of solace – all that soothing power of measuring and mixing followed by the simple satisfaction of watching something rise, or turn golden.
But baking can also be the pits. It requires time and effort and comes with no guarantees. The meltdowns that accompany cracked pav’s and curdled crème pats are real.
Maybe you’ve spent the best part of an hour smoothing off your buttercream, and now you have to transfer the whole thing to another board, using your doughy human hands. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if you just put your face in it? Because is this some kind of joke? Or maybe your third batch of caramel is crystallising in the pan, while the walls of your kitchen close in around you. Or maybe you’ve spent six hours vigilantly turning and folding a hapless blob. It doesn’t matter how ‘level-headed’ you are – these are moments of deep despair. They just are.
So if you can’t face it, here’s how you fake it. Ready, set, faaaaaaaake!
It’s harder than you might imagine to find unadorned round cakes in supermarkets. But you can easily get your hands on loaf cakes and make sandwich loaves/ mockeries out of them – by slicing vertically and cementing back together with dairy products. Fill a Madeira cake with raspberries, mascarpone and lemon curd, or a combo of marmalade and crème fraiche. Consider cherry jam in a chocolate loaf, cream cheese and chocolate in a banana bread, rhubarb jam in a ginger cake. Get out that jar of salted caramel. Whip up some white chocolate buttercream. Do whatever it takes.
Apply the same carefree frosting principles to a batch of plain fairy cakes. You might get a kick out of this Biscoff glaze, or this maple cream cheese frosting, or how about mixing smooth peanut butter with cream cheese and icing sugar? Whatever frosting you choose, top your fairy cakes with crumbled Ginger Nuts, pretzels or Flakes, or a single, sophisticated Rolo. Then, shower them with stardust, or spray them gold.
Oh, and here's how you'd turn a baked goods aisle into a train.
As you know, no one makes puff pastry outside of the tent. Admittedly there's abit of baking involved with Lorraine Pascale’s mille-feuille (recipe below), but all it is is sheets of shop-bought puff, layered with lemony cream and blueberries.. Thank you Lorraine for your understanding in this matter. And incidentally, palmiers – all curvaceous and grandiose – are also just bits of rolled up puff. Master this seemingly advanced technique and our beloved Nadiya will have to watch her back.
I’m enticed by pre-made pastry cases – their untold possibilities. What if you were to load one with a carton of custard, and add a layer of chopped banana and a cloud of whipped cream? Banana cream pie, ladies and gentlemen. Or, switch out the custard for mascarpone mixed with Nutella. Right?
And that’s before we get on to biscuit bases, which are a faker’s dream. This key lime pie is as easy as… well. And once you’ve made a Ginger Nut jacket for this nectarine and mascarpone tart, it’s merely a matter of emptying some containers.
Buy a box of this perfect brownie mix into your cupboard, for a start. And then let us count the ways that brownies are adaptable. You just need to add cream cheese, an egg, sugar and vanilla to your ingredients list to make cheesecake brownies. Or, mix in chilli and cinnamon. Or, dot the mix with spoonfuls of caramel and bury some marshmallows. Throw in toasted hazelnuts, peanut butter or chunks of Oreos. Or, just buy a sheet of brownie and frost it to oblivion.
Most supermarkets seem to do a variant of this flapjack traybake. We can work with this. Melt a bowl of dark chocolate and a bowl of white chocolate, and put spoons of each all over the top, before using a palette knife to swirl and marble.
But I am more interested in crepe cakes, in which crepes are stacked on top of one another. You begin by buying the crèpes. Then, it’s up to you what you use to bind them. I like the idea of whipped cream, mascarpone, Grand Marnier and icing sugar (keep it classic), or switch out the Grand Marnier for cocoa powder and hazelnut liqueur. The internet is absolutely chocka with crepe cakes – here are a few: strawberries and cream, bananas foster, lemon curd.
ADVANCED DOUGH WEEK
A pile of doughnuts. With Flying Saucers on top. Because everything is meaningless.
LORRAINE PASCALE'S BLUEBERRY AND LEMON MILLEFEUILLE
- 115g (4oz) icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
- 250g (9oz) shop-bought puff pastry
- 200g (7oz or 1 punnet) blueberries
- 165g (51⁄2oz) whipping cream
- 25g (1oz) icing sugar
- Seeds of 1 vanilla pod or 2 drops of vanilla extract
- Finely grated zest of 1 lemon and a squeeze of juice
Hot chocolate sauce:
- 165ml (51/2fl oz) double cream
- 100g (31⁄2oz) good milk or dark chocolate (or a combo of both), finely chopped or grated
- 25g (1oz) butter
- 1 generous tbsp golden syrup
- Line a large baking tray with baking paper. Dust the work surface with lots of icing sugar and roll out the pastry to a rectangle just larger than 27 x 30cm (10½ x 12in), trimming the edges straight. It should be super thin, as thin as you can get it.
- Cut out 18 rectangles about 9cm (31⁄2 in) long and 5cm (2in) wide and place them on the prepared baking tray.
- Sprinkle with lots of icing sugar and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F), Gas Mark 6. Remove the pastry from the fridge and bake in the oven for 5 minutes, then remove from the oven and sprinkle the pastry with more icing sugar.
- Return to the oven and bake for a further 5 minutes, or until the pastry turns a golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside.
- For the cream, put the cream, icing sugar and vanilla in a large bowl and whip until medium-stiff peaks form. Fold in the lemon zest and juice to taste, then scoop the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm (1⁄2 in) straight nozzle.
- To make the chocolate sauce, heat the cream in a pan until just boiling. Remove the pan from the heat, add the chocolate and butter, don’t stir and leave to stand for 5 minutes, then stir until everything is just mixed in and looks smooth and uniform. Add the golden syrup and stir a couple of times. Set aside.
- Place one of the pastry thins on a serving plate. Pipe blobs of cream over the pastry (see picture) and put the blueberries between the cream then put another pastry thin on top and repeat with one more layer. Sprinkle the top layer with more icing sugar and repeat until all the pastries and cream are used up. Serve with the hot chocolate sauce poured all over.
Baking Made Easy by Lorraine Pascale is published by HarperCollins, £20. Photography by Myles New.