Bake along with Bake Off: In Dairy Week, baker Kate bakes Henry VIII’s favourite, Maids of Honour.
- Credit: Kate Royall
Baking along with Bake Off to create cakes fit for a King
This week I studiously sat down at 8pm to watch The Great British Bake Off - in the spirit of a keen student I sat there, notepad and pen in hand.
Having decided to bake along with the show this year, I felt that taking notes was a surefire way to success.
My previous three bakes had been OK but there was a lot of room left for improvement - taking notes was bound to make me remember the top tips that are were revealed throughout the course of the technical challenge - from both the judges and contestants.
It was a new way of working but one I had great faith in.
Pen poised, the technical challenge was revealed - Maids of Honour.
Maids of what?
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Apparently they were a favourite of Henry VIII who preferred them served at tea time whist at Hampton Court Palace.
It all sounded rather wonderful. Being dairy week I'd been expecting the challenge to be Portuguese custard tarts but this was so much more regal!
Then I found out what the process of making them involved.
Puff-pastry tartlets. Filled with lemon curd. Topped with sweetened curd cheese.
Decorated with an icing sugar Tudor rose.
There was one element of the tart that slightly put me off - sweetened curd cheese - I didn't really know what that was.
I knew that Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey but the ingredient is not as widely used today in baking as it once was.
It turns out that making curd is very simple. Curds and whey are traditionally products of cheese making. Very simply you curdle warmed milk by adding vinegar and wait for the magic to happen - the curd and whey split and you're left with two ingredients.
For the tarts the curd is left to drain for more than 30 minutes before being added to lemon zest, sugar and eggs (whisking incessantly until smooth) to form the main bulk of the filling.
But: back to my notes.
Prue said "All the elements are equally important"
The lemon curd should be lemony
The cheese curd should be silky smooth
They should be well risen
The puff pastry should be flaky
I also made a note of contestant Henry's reaction to the task - "I haven't made curd before, I haven't made puff pastry before - hell!" - He's already my favourite baker.
I set aside time on Sunday to attempt the task for which the bakers had been given two and a half hours.
I started with the curd cheese which was very straightforward to make and while the curds were draining I tackled the pastry - puff pastry.
I've made it a few times, but I've almost always lost a little bit of butter from it - which in the world of baking is disastrous. As I know from my interview for The Great British Bake Off, they key to great puff pastry is lamination.
In the interview one of the questions I was asked was What's the key to making puff pastry?
Puff pastry is a flaky light pastry made from laminated dough. Frozen butter is grated on an oblong of dough which is repeatedly folded, chilled and rolled before being baked. It takes time and precision - and I had that, I was going to get it right this time.
This process alone takes 75 minutes in elapsed time.
In between I prepped my lemon curd - who knew it was so easy to make? Mix butter, sugar, lemon zest and juice in a bain-marie and then add an egg - whisk until custard-like, pass through a sieve and cool (this will now be a regular condiment for toast in our house).
At this point I realised that I was missing a vital piece of equipment - a 12-hole muffin tray - eeek! Normally I read the ingredients and equipment list thoroughly but this time I had slacked and had forgotten to cast my eye down the equipment list.
I battled on with a 12-hole bun tin (yes, there is a huge difference) and was annoyed that I wouldn't get the depth of tart Prue was so keen on - but needs must.
I whacked the oven on to 230C fan (the hottest I've ever had it at) and prepped the pastry.
I was feeling good - as I rolled out the pastry there didn't seem to be any butter oozing out of the sides and sticking to the rolling pin - maybe this would work?
The rounds varied in thickness but being puff pastry I couldn't rework it so I stuck with what I had.
I delicately placed the pastry rounds in the tin, making sure not to puncture the pastry and lined them with parchment and baking beans.
They were meant to bake for 20 minutes - which seemed an awfully long time at such a high heat. My oven is a hot one - I know that sounds ridiculous but I've become accustomed to its intensity so I knocked the temperature down to 210C and cooked them for 12 minutes.
They looked just as Prue had hoped - flaky.
Reducing the oven to 160C I added the lemon curd to the blind-baked tartlets and topped with curd cheese filling before placing them back into the oven for 12 minutes.
I used this time to lovingly craft a Tudor rose stencil. I wanted it to be beautiful - it might have been the only part of the dish that was!
Opening the oven, I felt ever-so-slightly joyous, the pastry was still golden and flaky and the filling had risen - it wasn't the hell that Henry and I had envisaged.
I popped them onto a cooling rack and stared at them (mouth agape, I won't lie). The pastry had a form of lamination that I'd never achieved before. That alone made my day.
Now, they weren't particularly pretty or uniform - but neither were any of the contestants' efforts.
This was a technical challenge that had stumped most of them on the show - to the point where Paul Hollywood mockingly pretended to walk away from their efforts when they were presented for judging.
The success of mine was all going to depend on the taste - if the curd was lumpy, or even cheesy, it was game over.
I dusted my icing sugar over the stencil on top of the tarts, in a flurry of anticipation.
I took a deep breath and took a bite - I've said it before and I'll say it again, the only time I've come close to a food-gasm is while tucking into Puits D'Amour (rounds of rough puff pastry topped with a circle of choux pastry and filled with strawberry compote and creme patisserie), but this was a close second.
The pastry was flaky and crisp, the lemon curd was tangy and fresh and the curd cheese was smooth and fluffy - they were so light they felt almost healthy.
They might not have had the depth that a muffin tin would have given them but I was proud none-the-less.
Would I make them again? Most definitely (given time).
Were they difficult to make? No, but they needed time and patience. This is not a bake to rush.
Were they worth it? Hell, yes.
What would Paul and Prue think? Optimistically I'd like to think I'd be in the top third!
At this point, I felt like I was back on track - this was the first technical challenge that had pretty much gone to plan and where the final bake was almost spot on.
Let's see what next week brings - the theme is the roaring twenties.
Your guess is as good as mine…
Read more at Kate's blog, diaryofacountrygirl.com
Prue Leith's Maids of Honour
For the curd cheese:
900ml whole milk
1 tsp fine salt
45ml white wine vinegar
For the rough puff pastry:
200g plain flour, sifted, plus extra for dusting
pinch of salt
35g cold, unsalted butter, diced
80g unsalted butter, frozen
For the lemon curd:
finely grated zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
50g caster sugar
25g unsalted butter, diced
One large egg, beaten
For the filling:
200g curd cheese (from above)
finely grated zest of 2 unwaxed lemons
100g caster sugar
10g plain flour
Two large eggs
Icing sugar, for dusting
For the curd cheese, pour the milk into a large pan and add the salt. Bring to a very gentle boil over a medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vinegar. Leave to stand without stirring for 5 minutes, until the curds separate from the whey.
Pour the mixture into the prepared sieve and leave to drain into the bowl for at least 30 minutes, until cool. Tip the curd cheese into a separate bowl. You should have just over 200g of curd cheese.
For the rough puff pastry, mix the flour and salt together in a bowl. Rub in the chilled butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Gradually add 5-7 tablespoons of water to form a dough.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a rectangle measuring 30 x 12cm. Grate half of the frozen butter over the bottom two thirds of the dough. Fold down the top third and fold up the bottom third as if you were folding a letter. Rotate the dough through 90 degrees and roll it again into a 30 x 12cm rectangle.
Grate the remaining frozen butter over the bottom two thirds of the dough. Fold down the top third and fold up the bottom third as if you were folding a letter. Rotate the dough through 90 degrees. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Repeat the rolling and folding of the pastry twice more, each time wrapping in cling film and leaving to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.
For the lemon curd, put the lemon zest and juice and the sugar and butter in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Stir occasionally until the butter has melted, then whisk in the beaten egg. Gently whisk the mixture over the heat for about 10 minutes, until thickened like custard. Pour the cooked curd through a sieve into a clean bowl to remove the zest, then leave to cool and set.
Heat the oven to 250°C/230°C fan/Gas 9. Roll out the chilled pastry on a lightly floured surface to about 3mm thick and, using a 10cm round cutter, cut out 12 rounds. Use these to line the 12-hole muffin tray, then line each with a square of baking paper. Fill with baking beans and bake for 20 minutes, then remove the paper and beans and set aside.
For the filling, reduce the oven temperature to 180°C/160°C fan/Gas 4. Place the curd cheese, lemon zest, sugar, flour and eggs into a bowl and whisk together until smooth.
Place 1 teaspoon of lemon curd into the base of each pastry case, then pour the filling into the cases until they are full, but not overflowing. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until set, then transfer the tray to a wire rack and allow the tarts to cool.
Hold the stencil over a tart and dust with icing sugar to create a rose motif. Repeat for the remaining tarts.