Technical Challenge: Mary Berry’s Cherry Cake
Items purchased: maraschino cherries, flaked almonds
Items borrowed: bundt pan
British-English Lexicon: glacé cherries = candied cherries
This one was a little… complicated.
Surely one of the ingredients of a lovely summery cherry cake would be fresh cherries, right? But no.
And it’s impossible to find candied cherries (like you find in fruit cakes and Christmas cookies) in the stores this time of year. So I did some research, and found a recipe to candy your own cherries! You take maraschino cherries, cook them down with a little sugar, and voila! I tried it the other day, and it was a fail.
Fail, fail, fail.
Turns out you can over-candy cherries… I ended up with hard candies shaped like cherries. On the bright side, I put the syrup into some silicon molds I had and ended up with a decent hard candy. In the words of my nephew, “It dissolves for two minutes then you have to chew it for ten!”
I decided to try it again, but I bought an extra jar of maraschinos. As a back up.
I planned to just use them in their current, maraschino’d state and just drain them really well. You know, just in case.
Things went better this time though. I’m still not convinced it actually did anything, beyond a very light layer of extra sugar in the skin – the insides were still like any maraschino cherry. I should know. Because I had to cut them all up into tiny pieces.
In the show, most things that are baked are practiced and perfected before arriving for filming. But the technical challenge represents a real test of the bakers knowledge. They are not able to practice ahead or even know what the challenge is, and the recipe they are given is “stripped down” – read: missing some things. So unless they happen to have memorized every recipe book ever, they’re not likely to know, say, how long to cook this cake for if it’s not included in the sheet they’re given.
I have been trying to locate the recipes that the bakers are given with no luck – all I can find is the full recipes, or similar recipes, so far. Which is probably for the best – I’m not quite as prepared for this as some of the contestants are in terms of familiarity with techniques, rules of thumb for bakers, etc.
At any rate, I have a bit of an unfair advantage over the show bakers. But what can you do? Insert shrug emoji here.
The recipe I found over here, (thanks PBS. Now about airing the rest of the seasons…?) and here’s what we’re looking for in this cake, per judge Mary Berry herself: “the right preparation of the cherries” – they don’t all sink to the bottom (actually the top when it’s turned over) of the cake and icing that isn’t too runny, “it’s got to just gently trickle off.” OK. I can do that. especially since my recipe tells me how to do the cherries the right way – rinse, dry, and coat them in flour first. It’s like, MAGIC or something to keep fruit from sinking in a baked good. Literal magic, I’m assuming. Because I don’t see how a little flour doesn’t just get absorbed right up by the batter. But it WORKS, OK?
This cake calls for the all-in-one method, which means you put everything in the bowl pretty much simultaneously and mix it (as opposed to creaming the butter and sugar first, for example), which I didn’t know was a “method” so much as it was a “putting of everything into a bowl at the same time” but, I guess anything can be called a method if you do it that way more than once. So there’s that.
I creamed a little. Sue me. Just a teensy bit! It felt unnatural not to.
So, all-in-one your ingredients, fold in your cherries, and then plop it into a bundt pan, pop it in the oven, and wait. What comes out is lovely.
It’s really quite pretty, just like that! But it’s nicer with icing.
I feel like I missed a great opportunity for an action shot of the icing going on. But my cameraperson had abandoned me by this time to go on a date. Get what you pay for, I guess.
I think the icing looks nice! Like maybe it was just about the right consistency.
Also, look at that distribution of cherries! Mary would be proud.
So on those basic criteria, I think I did rather well. However, the taste… was not optimal. I believe I overbaked it, even though I used the lower end of the timing range, and checked my oven temp before putting the cake in. Paul Hollywood is very harsh on the overbaking baker. Don’t get me wrong, it tasted fine, almondy and lemony with little cherry bites! Just not exceptional. It wasn’t a cake I wanted a second slice of. And again, I used that old powdered sugar! Tasted a bit off… I’m throwing the rest out, don’t worry.
Technical challenges are judged blindly – Mary and Paul leave, and the bakers set out all their bakes at once so Mary and Paul don’t know whose is whose. Then they rank them. Overall, I’d say the fact that my cake looked good, tasted fine, and had even distribution of cherries would be enough to put me squarely in the middle of the bakers as they judged them. Not a bad place to be as we’re going into the next phase.
Next up, a showstopper!