An American Bake Off in England?

Well, there are rumors…

And I am only going to keep it to the level of rumor until there is a formal announcement because the exclusive came from The Sun of all places.  While The Sun forces you to pay to read their fine journalistic craftsmanship and look at women’s tits, the story has been reported in other places.

Apparently, there is talk of ABC creating a baking competition show in the style of The Great British Bake Off (GBBO), only ABC will ship a bunch of Americans over to England, stick them under the baking tent, and give Mary Berry the honor of judging them.

How do I put this delicately?  Hmm…

Now I am writing this as an American.  If this ABC gives this show the green light, it will suck at such a low level that we will long for the return of The New Leave It to Beaver.

First of all, there is Mary.  What is wonderful about Mary in GBBO is that she has been a fixture in British cookery for decades.  People know her, and she has the credibility.  The production company didn’t just cast her because they tipped back a few gin and tonics.  But knowing American television, the powers that be are either going to portray her as Mary Poppins or Cruella De Vil thanks to skillful editing.  (Don’t forget that Disney owns ABC.)  She is English, so she can’t be a complete person, you know.

Then there is the superfluous exercise of sending a bunch of Americans to invade England armed with Grandma’s Brown Betty recipe.  I am sure it will attract the Anglophile viewers who will get all misty-eyed over the London field trips and countryside coach tours on which the contestants will embark.   Gives a boost to the British tourism industry, I guess.  However, it will be yet another program that plays into the stereotype of how everything is “quaint” and “charming” in the U.K., and, once again, Americans do not really see just how complex the country truly is.

Of course, the casting agents are not going to choose anyone with any modicum of knowledge about the U.K. and any of its baking.  Where is the fun in that?  Embarrassment and disasters draw ratings.  The producers also want the people with the personalities that are going to clash to create the most drama and to be sure they fill their demographic quotas.  I would be spending most of the show rolling my eyes over how ill-informed these people are, if I can get past the first 15 minutes of the first episode.

“Hey! We’re a different bunch of Americans misidentifying this as London Bridge, even though Karen is using the same photo as last time she made this joke.” “Tower Bridge from Shad Thames” by © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons

And I can imagine the technical challenges. Oh, let’s have some fun and give the Americans some exotic British ingredients. Make a jam roly-poly and use this.

By Ardfern (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Ardfern (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
“Um? What is this Aorta stuff? How do you say it? Sweat?”

But there could be an upside to this.  If the bakers are particularly, shall we say, misguided, we can have Mary set them straight.  Because they can’t do this style over substance Food Network/Duff Goldman/Cake Boss/Cupcake Wars business with the icing to the ceiling and explosives.  I am also talking about those who think it is OK to put Crisco in a buttercream and because they care about their rosettes being rigid more than the flavor.  It would be so worth it, if Mary just lost it after taking a bite, stepped out of character, and stated,

“This tastes like arse.”

Then I would take everything I just wrote all back.

L’Shana Tova

I just wished you a Happy New Year in just enough time before we go to temple.

Rosh Hashanah starts soon around my parts, and we are about to enter the Hebrew year 5776. But I plan to party like it is 5760.

One of the hopes of the new year is sweetness, so dipping apples in honey is a common practice in ceremonies at home. Since The Sprog, our Boston Baby, never took to honey, we adapted with maple syrup. So is eating baked goods. Now is a great excuse for The Boffin to make his first apple crumble of the year with the help of Bird’s Custard Powder. So we bring a little bit of Britain over here.

IMG_0752

Hey, if there enough interest, I will gladly post the recipe tomorrow. In the meantime, a good evening to you and yours.

Ask the Boffin #1 – Hot Dogs and Informality

Thank you for responding so quickly with questions, and The Boffin got right on the case.  I have had no input into these answers.

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A Political Science Graduate Student Originally from the Philadelphia Area Asked:

Is a hot dog a sandwich?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a sandwich as “An item of food consisting of two pieces of bread with a filling between them, eaten as a light meal.”

However, a hot dog is defined as: “A frankfurter, especially one served in a long, soft roll and topped with various condiments.”

Therefore, a hot dog exists in two states, either with or without a bun. In both cases, two pieces of bread are not required in order for it to constitute a hot dog. Therefore, a sandwich, it isn’t.

Knowing the background of the person who asked a question and the use of hot dogs in their hometown American football stadium, I would also like to question whether ‘projectile’ is a closer way to define the item?

Hitting Swoop gives you a Triple Bonus score.
Hitting Swoop gives you a Triple Bonus score. “Philadelphia Eagles Mascot Swoop” by Kevin Burkett from Philadelphia, Pa., USA – Originally posted to Flickr as Philadelphia Eagles Swoop. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons

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Shadowseye Asked:

Is American society or are Americans, in general, more informal than Brits? Or vice versa?

Dictionary time!!! Formality is defined as: “The rigid observance of rules of convention or etiquette.

The stiffness of behavior or style.”

Therefore, it comes down to who defines the rules of convention and etiquette.  Guess what? In 1776, the US wrote a little document which basically lanced the part of society that defined the rules. People sitting in diners in New Jersey are rarely seen as purveyors of etiquette. However, guess what, in the U.S., they are! The U.K. is held hostage, meanwhile, by a small group of people who hold the keys to the mythical ‘Upper Class’. This is the group who set convention and etiquette. They know how to hold a fork (guess what Americans…. you have no clue). How to drink soup. How to have polite conversation. How to have affairs with married women called Camilla. In the U.K., formality (and therefore informality) is driven by this group of people, who really should have no greater say in how we should act as a people than Bob in the diner who is on his third stack of pancakes.

However, if you remove the cream of society (rich, thick and full of clots), then you actually discover that society can make up its own mind over what is acceptable. We still have our rules in the U.S., but they are always in flux. Our definition of formality is not set by someone who’s great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather once let the King borrow some troops to help bash down a few monasteries. Instead, we make group decisions. There is less stiffness, but we are still bound by rules of convention. However, as there is no single set of rules, you get to pick the one that best suits you. As a result, the U.S. is more informal because we really can’t agree on what being formal is.

So to all the Brits who come over to the U.S., either as tourists or expats, I say enjoy the freedom of U.S. informality and stare at somebody else’s shoes for a change.

The Great British Bake Off Addendum

Custard
“Custard”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

It turns out I am behind the times, but yet I am not.

I posted the other day about The Great British Bake Off being back like the show was a novelty in the United States.  It turns out The 5th series of The Great British Bake Off was aired in the States on PBS back in December as The Great British Baking Show.  It was such a success that PBS will be showing Series 4 in September, so nobody tell anyone about Howard’s disaster, OK?

The Great British Bake Off is Back!

Yes, I am one of those.

For my readers in the States, I am going to take you back to the beginning with the first episode of the first series.

Last night, BBC1 started airing Series 6 of the cooking foray that sends the U.K. (not everyone, of course) into a frenzy every time it’s on.  It’s a food porn knockout competition that is about as humorously bourgeois as you can get.  It’s formulaic.  It’s corny as hell, but I am a baker, and I love it.  I am ashamed, but yet, I am not.  Let me explain…

The Judges

Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood – Mary is the kindly, but firm grandmother you want who would make you yummy things.  She has been a fixture on the British cooking airwaves for years and has numerous cookbooks and shows under her belt to prove it.  The Bake Off is the culmination of her career.  Paul is supposed to be the Tough Guy.  However, I think he comes off as the bloke at the pub with whom you can chat with about auto racing; he does drive, by the way.  How tough can you be on a baking show, really?  He looks like he would make a great Satan, if you stick a red devil costume on him.

The Hosts

Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins – Mel and Sue are a very popular comedy duo and are ideal for this baking show being that they aren’t really the subversive sorts. They are more cheeky and naughty with their banter.  I really do want them to wig out and kick over a few bowls and throw some pies around.  Perhaps they could stick a few eggs down Paul’s pants.  Just once.  They have to break the rules at some point.

Photo courtesy of the BBC
Mary and Paul about to tuck into some hot cross buns.  Photo courtesy of BBC Food

The Competition

It all starts with 12 ethnically diverse contestants gathering under the baking tent in a tranquil country setting, each with their own kitchenette area.  Every week, someone gets crowned Star Baker and just gets the glory of the honor.  But some sad individual has to go home because he or she did not appease Paul and Mary.  How do you appease them?  By passing three acid tests based on the day’s theme, e.g. cakes, biscuits, pies, etc.

The Signature Challenge – The bakers bring in their tried-and-true recipes revolving around the theme of the day.  There is always someone who has to have something tea-infused or lemon/lime with ginger.  It’s the law apparently.  And if you want to hear how bourgeois this show can get, one of the contestants last night had trouble with her madeira cake because she forgot to get her oven going.  You see, she has an AGA running continuously at her house.  An AGA cooker that is continuously running is wood-burning (although you can get ones that run on other fuels that switch off) and costs about £7000 or approximately $10,000.  If you happen to buy a house with an AGA cooker, consider yourself lucky.

The Technical Challenge – Paul or Mary dig deep into their Books of Psychotically Difficult Recipes and force the bakers to make them in half the time normal humans can do.  To make the challenge even worse, the bakers are left with only part of the recipe, so they don’t know things like cooking times or techniques.  It is purely a skills test.  Meanwhile, the bakers moan, get flustered, and cry “Ooooh,” and “I don’t know what I am doing,” and “What do they mean by this?” and “I never made these before”.  Then they slap what they created on a long table next to pictures facing them and sit on stools looking petrified, so Paul and Mary can do the blind taste tests.  Somehow one or two of the bakers manages to pull the recipe out of their arses.  Not literally.  That would be disgusting but interesting television.

Interspersed, we have snippets of their reactions about how they felt about how they did.  Lots of stiff upper lip sort of stuff if they didn’t do so well.  Lots of “glad Paul and Mary liked it but got to keep focused on the next challenge” if they did well.  And we can’t forget the historical featurette showing Mel or Sue going somewhere in Britain telling the story of one of the country’s quintessential baked goods, if the show needs padding.  Because Britons eat that stuff up in more ways than one.  And I admit I like that too.

The Showstopper Challenge – Now the bakers have to make these decorative, science projects out of flour, sugar, and eggs that are actually tasty.  It all about “wowing” the judges, and the pressure is on.  Meanwhile, Mel and Sue are flailing about, staging humorous moments, and getting in the way; one of them will be smacked with a rubber scraper at some point.  Every year, the skill levels of the bakers get higher and higher, so the finished products are on the level of the construction of the Shard.  They might as well get candidates from Les Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, and be done with it.

Then Mel, Sue, Paul, and Mary go back into the war room and pretend to have a thoughtful discussion, while Paul and Mary have already made up their minds about who is going to win Star Baker that week and who is getting kicked to the curb.  Afterwards, out come the big announcements.  Yay to the winner.  Tears for the loser who was just happy to be part of the competition.  Hugs all around.  Here’s what’s coming up next week.  More food porn and some silly antics from Mel and Sue.  Oh, look, someone’s cake fell off the counter.

It’s daft from the way I describe it, but it is a fun kind of daft.  It’s my kind of daft.  It’s a water cooler show, and the national media extensively covers it.  I just have to remember to keep away from Twitter on Wednesday afternoon because the spoilers abound.  So nobody in the UK tell me the results each week, please!

This British-American Life in the Kitchen – Blueberry Muffins

I think it would be safe for me to say that few Americans would turn down the opportunity to each a freshly baked blueberry muffin when given the chance.  It is such a classic American baked good, we just take it for granted that we can get it everywhere.  They even sell them at Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks, and of course, they are the size of your head.

Of course, most people make them in the normal cupcake tins at home.  The recipe I use is a regional one and is based off a beloved department store muffin that King Arthur Flour developed.  Jordan Marsh in Boston served these muffins to their hungry shoppers until the 1990s when it was bought out by (Surprise, surprise, Americans.) Macy’s.  (As an aside, the balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade are filled with the ghosts of the late regional department store owners whose shops they took over.  It’s true.)

Marshall Field was in here.  By Anthony Quintano from Hillsborough, NJ, United States (The 87th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Marshall Field was in here.          By Anthony Quintano from Hillsborough, NJ, United States (The 87th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Actually, I recommend to my U.K. readers to explore the King Arthur Flour site for American recipes.  King Arthur’s flours are the closest to the U.K. flours as far as protein content, so you can do like for like.  And they have a handy click function that automatically converts recipes from volume measurements to ounces and to grams.  They also are very good at responding to problems you have in the comments section.  I am also a veteran home baker, and it’s my flour of choice.  So, while I am waiting for my royalty check…

King Arthur Flour’s Famous Department Store Blueberry Muffins

    • 4 ounces unsalted butter
    • 7 ounces sugar
    • 2 American large or U.K. medium eggs
    • 2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence (extract) or 1/2 tsp almond and 1/2 tsp vanilla essence (extract)
    • 8 1/2 ounces plain (all-purpose) flour
    • 4 ounces milk
    • 12 1/2 ounces blueberries, fresh preferred
    • 1 3/4 ounces course decorating sugar, for topping

1) Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C/Gas Mark 5. Lightly grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin; or line the tin with papers, and grease the papers.

2) In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until well combined.

3) Add the eggs one at a time, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl and beating well after each addition.

4) Beat in the baking powder, salt, and vanilla or vanilla/almond combination.  You can also add some fresh lemon or orange zest to pick up the flavor too.

5) Add the flour alternately with the milk, beating gently just to combine. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.  I highly recommend doing this by hand.  To get the proper crumb texture of the muffin, the flour just needs to be incorporated.  Where people make the mistake is to think the batter needs to be smooth and cake-like.  The truth is the opposite.  

6) Mash 2 oz of the blueberries. Toss the rest of the blueberries with enough flour to just coat them, so they don’t sink to the bottom of the tins when they bake.  Add the mashed and whole berries to the batter, stirring just to combine and distribute.

7) Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin pan; an ice cream scoop works well here.

8) Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon sugar atop each muffin, if desired.  Demerara sugar works, if you can’t find the coarse sugar.

9) Bake the muffins for about 30 minutes, until they’re light golden brown on top, and a toothpick inserted into the middle of one of the center muffins comes out clean.

10) Remove the muffins from the oven, loosen their edges from the pan, and after about 5 minutes transfer them to a rack to cool.

Yield: 12 muffins.

One note about this recipe: This one does not form the traditional muffin top, the bit of the muffin that spills out over the side to form that well-baked harder bit that so many people love.  However, it creates a lovely sugar crust on top, so give it a chance.

Blueberries are in season in my parts, as you know from my last couple of posts, but I know they are not quite ready in the U.K.  Keep this post in mind wherever you are, and consider making these muffins.  Tell me what you think, if you do.