The Big London Bake kindly invited Helen and I to one of their events. It’s based on the television programme ‘The Great British Bake-Off’ (of which I’ve never seen but Helen loves it) and sounded like fun so we said ‘Yes, please!’
There are multiple events held daily in a large light and airy marquee in the garden to the rear of The Castle Pub in Tooting. Helen once lived quite literally just around the corner, so we knew that on a Sunday we could park on the road for free. Plus, as it’s only a hop, skip and a jump away from Tooting Broadway tube station, we could head into central London for something to eat later.
There are twelve work stations inside the marquee and we worked in pairs. Underneath the work surface was a cupboard for our belongings, drawers containing utensils, an apron, an AEG food mixer and oven/hob, a laminate card with all the instructions required to make the cake and the ingredients which were laid out for us, pre-measured into bowls. Everything we needed for a no-fuss bake!
The cake for July was Genoise Swiss Roll. I’m so glad we didn’t go this month (August) because it’s now Gravity Cake, you know, where it looks like tons of M&M’s (or similar) are spilling out of a bag onto the cake. Quite a challenge that would be! I dread to think how ours would have turned out!
Making things a little more fun, and keeping the adrenaline high, it’s a competition too! There’s nothing for third or second place, although they are announced, the winners receive a bag of cooking goodies. Despite not being bakers ourselves (only tasters!) we were in it to win it!
We were the only ones baking a vegan cake and to be honest, there was no way we were going to produce a light, fluffy, moist, feathery sponge with aquafaba. Ain’t gonna happen! There were many different flavourings available for us to create our own unique flavour combinations. Helen and I decided on a pistachio flavoured sponge, raspberry jam and lemon buttercream. A winning combination we thought.
We had 90 minutes in which to make the cake and have it judged. Helen and I worked well together, we didn’t fight over who’d do what. Whilst I was being mesmerized by watching the mixer blades going round and round Helen set about preparing the baking tray. I then made the jam from scratch and Helen the buttercream.
I’ve never made a Swiss roll before, thinking it’d be quite difficult rolling it. Once Helen had carefully scraped the ‘sponge’ off the lining paper we then had to transfer it onto a fresh one dusted with icing sugar, that was a bit tricky. I spread the jam and some of the buttercream over the now cooled sponge. In hindsight, we wished we’d used a little more buttercream in it. Surprisingly, rolling up the sponge was fairly easy.
We were given a pot of frozen berries to make some jam with and another pot of unfrozen berries to decorate the cake. Other items for decoration such as flaked almonds, desiccated coconut etc., were available to us. There were several members of staff on hand walking around to help us if we needed extra items or advice. They also took away dirty utensils and bowls and replaced them if needed.
We only had one ‘OMG’ moment and that was when we’d realised that we (Helen) hadn’t set the timer on the oven so had to guess how long the sponge had been in there for. A couple of times we looked around at others to see what step they were on so we had a good idea to know that we weren’t falling behind.
We were told when we had 20 minutes left so we had to get cracking. The pressure was on! As Helen added the lemon flavouring to the buttercream her teaspoon went flying across the room – bit embarrassing, everyone looked. She’d added the flavouring whilst the mixer blades were still on at a high speed causing the spoon to hit the blades. Lesson learnt! Vegan butter is quite soft and we were worried it would just slide off the cake so we had to keep adding more and more icing sugar to thicken it. We placed the cake onto the silver board provided and we both set about icing a side each and then decorated the cake with the berries and some pistachios which I’d chopped up, the hardest part was trying to get them to stick to the side of the cake. I attempted to try my hand at a strawberry ‘rose’, not bad for a first attempt.
We were quite pleased with our cake and how it had turned out but in fact everyone’s cake looked really good. We placed our cakes onto a cake stand and took them up to the main table at the front of the room and all stood around it (safely distanced of course) and waited for the cakes to be judged. The head baker looked at the cakes first and then cut the end off each one to check the ‘swirl’ of the jam within (most important apparently) and also the quality of the sponge.
Alas, we didn’t come third, second or first but as they say ‘it’s the taking part that’s important’ – Yeah right! It was impossible to compete with the bounciness of a non-vegan sponge! We were given a box to place our cake into so we could carry it home. I’m glad we were parked just around the corner and that we didn’t have to take it into central London with us.
If I may say so myself, the cake was really tasty, I think the buttercream helped a lot though. The vegan sponge was debatable, it had a chewy like consistency and the pistachio flavour was a little odd. Altogether though this was a great tasting cake and it lasted a mere 24 hours in our house.
The Big London Bake Off is priced from £37.50 and makes an excellent, fun activity for friends, hen/stag parties, work colleagues, first dates, hell, for anybody and everybody, you don’t even have to know how to bake! You can come as a couple, a large group or on your own if you wish. They currently have 10% off if you book before the end of August. We had a really great time! Are you up for the challenge?
Living life, loving baking,