Well what a day! I leaked on Facebook last Sunday that I had been asked to go the Great British Bake Off’s spin off show, An Extra Slice. I’d emailed the production team a photo of the Peach Melba Mousse Cake I made for my sister-in-law’s birthday and within a few hours, I’d been invited to bake something and bring it along to the show! Now before I go any further, I should tell you I am writing this blog post on the train home to the Apple Chapel and have no idea how the editing will go but I wanted to share are this amazing experience before I forget the details. You see, it started with signing a confidentiality act and waiver as soon as we arrived the studios so I can’t tell a soul a single thing until after the show airs! Which it just did, if you are reading this as I scheduled it’s publishing date ;).
It took a few weeks of emails to the production team to firm up the details and much of it happened very last minute. What you who read about The Bake Off (if you are interested in such things) is true – they are a very, very secretive bunch and details are purely on a need to know basis. And not until the minute you really need to know! I was given three weeks I could have chosen from – all of which are filmed on the Sunday before the episode airs on British TV. Sunday 7th September was the best fit for me. I was told (eventually) that the theme was European cakes to go with the main episode of the Bake Off which airs every Wednesday during the current season. I was given a selection of ideas but encouraged to be as creative as I liked and interpret the theme in whichever way I wanted. It really didn’t take me long to decide to go off piste and create my own European themed cake which I showed you all a picture of on the day of filming via Facebook.
I enlisted the help of two friends to help me come up with this bake. Shazza is an Australian friend I’ve known for years and as a trained school cook who has performed extremely well at several national competitions, I knew I needed her input. My second buddy who came up trumps on the European theme was Joost or as you may know him – The Vegetable Chopper. Having recently acquired some fabulous speculaas spice from Van Dotsch after another little friend also called Sharon (or Lil Miss Epic as I call her, as she’s the fittest person I know!) put the idea in my head to make my own lotus biscuits, it seemed only right to go down that route. So between the three of us, we brain stormed around the theme and I did some serious Pinterest stalking and came up with this multi-layered, gateau-esque cake. In another setting I would have made it differently with mousses instead of quite so much simple buttercream but it had to travel a couple of hundred miles so I had to make some compromises. What I ended up with four layers of fatless hazelnut and speculaas spice sponge, layered with one layer of Nutella and frangelico buttercream and two of lotus biscuit spread buttercream. I used some of the latter to pipe the rosettes on top. The top of the cake is a “mirroir” glaze – a cocoa glaze set with gelatine which doesn’t lose it’s shine on refrigerating. Appropriately enough, this came from Mary-Anne Boermans (whom my contact from Love Productions called Jonny told me, is the most lovely person – like, genuinely, lovely) who is married to a Dutch man! I made some caramelised hazelnut clusters to decorate which tied in the hazelnut, Nutella and frangelico from the rest of the bake. The biscuits which I used to decorate the sides where a suggestion by Joost – one of his favourite old fashioned Dutch cookies and I absolutely adore them already. Bokkenpootjes or “goats feet” (believe it or not!) are like a Dutch macaron with vanilla, lemon and cinnamon in them to flavour them. Double dipping in tempered chocolate gives them the little “hooves” from which their name derives. Joost did need to FaceTime me to tell me how to pronounce them so I didn’t look daft on tele! But enough about the bake, as it really is a small part of today.
On arriving at the studio, me and my friend and guest Shaz were shown to a holding room with a bunch of other hopefuls. Our bakes were examined, notes were made by two members of the team who were genuinely interested in our bakes. They questioned my choices, how long it took to bake, the inspiration behind it. Jonny was a bit taken aback at the fact it took me 12 hours to make this and four batches of goats feet lol! Shazza brought some gorgeous vegan speculaas cookies dubbed “vegan cuddle cookies” by her daughter as one of the panellists we were yet to meet is vegan. There was an awful lot of waiting around – like an awful lot. But I was so excited to be there, chatting to the other bakers and oo-ing and ah-ing at their cakes it really wasn’t too bad a day, now was it?! We stayed in the otherwise deserted studios until the audience was rounded up and herded in and then the real thrill began – we got to watch the next episode of the Great British Bake Off before anyone else in the country! Oh what a treat! After a minor disappointment in finding out I wasn’t to be one of the bakers selected to be featured and be briefly interviewed live by the host (comedian Jo Brand) or panellists, we were shown I to the studio where filming took place. Oh my! It was just like being back stage at the dance shows of my youth and walking through the wings and lighting rigs was such a rush. Once through the technical bit, we emerged into a surprisingly well lit, bunting clad, cake stand galore bestowed set with quirky, mismatched garden tables, chairs and shelves upon shelves of baking kit. It was like santa’s workshop to a baking mad gal like me. Shaz quickly spied a table at the front was free so we rushed straight to it and claimed our seats. Very excitingly, I discovered I was sat next to a dresser with contestant Norman’s Swiss roll cake stand he had made in his own home kiln right next to me! We sat (well I bounced around in my seat) whilst the chosen few were wired for sound, the audience were shown in and then finally – the celebrity guests were announced. Jo Brand is the resident host and each week three guests are invited to be on her panel – today, these were Irish chef extraordinaire Richard Corrigan, actress and home cook Fay Ripley and comedian Romesh Ranganathan who is a huge and I mean huge bake off fan despite being vegan, meaning he can’t eat 99% of the baking which goes on on his favourite show! Some jokes and quips fell flat, notes needed to be checked and “scenes” needed reshooting but they were mostly on fine form and in particular, Jo Brand was firing out spontaneous jokes between pauses in filming which kept us rolling about laughing. Some were a little rude so won’t make it to the final cut, mores the pity 😉 Filming went on for about two hours to create the 30 minute programme which airs weekly as the series progresses.
Apart from the hilarity and silliness we were also graced by the presence of not one but three bake off contestants! As will be common knowledge now, judges Paul and Mary chose not to send anyone home this week as the bottom two contestants were equally bad (ouch) so instead, we had Diana who bowed out of the current series due to illness plus the winner of last year’s series Frances Quinn and fellow contestant Glenn Cosby. I must say, I was expecting a man mountain but deposited being tall in the grand scheme of things, a giant Glenn wasn’t (I would have loved a cuddle as he looks like a great big teddy bear of a man!) and it really made me think Paul Hollywood must be a lot shorter than his fierce appearance and caustic criticism of the contestants make him seem. Frances and Glenn were pretty much the last but to be filmed and being sat right next to them (about 5 foot away from the stage), during a quiet moment, Glenn looked over to our table and saw my cake. He caught my eye and mouthed “did you make that?” to which I mouthed “yes I did! I made that, that’s my cake!” To which he replied “oh my god that’s amazing!” Which bloody well made my night ;). Alas, I suspect you won’t see my cake at all on the episode just aired (like I said, I’m writing this as I catch the train home on Sunday, just a couple of hours after a wrap was called) but that little moment made me feel pretty good.
As the anticipated end time approached, there were a few more retakes to make, Jo informed us. I glanced, without agenda, at my watch knowing mine was the last train home to Sheffield and I’d be stranded in London if I missed it. Jo caught me and announced to the roll “don’t worry madam, we won’t be long… Got a train to catch?” To which my very small but very loud (and extremely lovely!) buddy Shazza yelped “she’s got to catch a train to Sheffield!” in a voice loud enough to hush the production crew and audience who were busy talking amongst theirselves. Lol, I died a little of embarrassment but before my cheeks could flush crimson to match my dress, Jo asked “are you catching a tube or a taxi? To which station?” I replied taxi as there was no time for the tube at this point to which Jo Brand started to offer to get me a taxi on her, Richard Corrigan jumped in and said “I’ll get her home, I’ll take her in my taxi back to King’s Cross!” To which the audience erupted into applause! There was also much sniggering/laughing as it had all got a bit Carry On by this point and his comment about taking me in his taxi was made with a twinkle in his eye (oh my cheeks were on fire!). Jo Brand said it was just so he could get his hands on my cake and pointed to my creation sat on the table before me. I didn’t have a problem if that was true! Within ten minutes we were actually done and another member of the team was ushering me away from Shazza to collect my belongings and take me and Richard Corrigan (OMG!) to his driver! Lol can you believe this?! I surely couldn’t – oh cruel fate not allowing me to tell a soul until now! There was no time to box up my sadly uneaten cake but Shazza kindly took it home to her family. I hope they enjoyed it.
And that was that. What a day! So utterly thrilling and deposited seeing behind the smoke and mirrors, it did not spoil my enthusiasm for The Bake Off. If anything, I’m even more enthused about it! I just may send off an application this year after all…
Thank you to Shazza for being my guest and putting up with my over excited Tigger-like behaviour! Thank to to Richard Corrigan for being a bit of a knight in shining armour, seeing me to my station safely after regailing me with lots of chat as his driver sped us away from the South Bank. Thank you to the Love Production team who asked me to be there today and all the members of the team who came up to me to tell me my cake was beautiful. They really are a fantastic bunch. And last but not least, thank you to the drag queen in King’s Cross to stopped me as I ran for my train in my pink 1950s full circle dress and petticoat to tell me I looked fierce. Sister, there ain’t no higher praise 😉