Life on the inside: 10 baking challenges to tackle during lockdown
Few things are as therapeutic as baking. There’s something so soothing about mixing up the batter, popping it in the oven and pulling out a freshly made cake, cookie or pastry.
If you find yourself with a bit more time on your hands and in need of cheering up, now is the perfect opportunity to experiment with some new recipes.
If you do manage to get your hands on flour and eggs, here are some challenges to up your baking game:
1. Banana bread
It’s not that much of a test because banana bread is pretty simple to make, but you might as well jump on the bandwagon. Banana bread has somehow become the signature food of quarantine, so if you haven’t made it yet you’re really missing out. Make sure your bananas are extra ripe.
2. Sourdough bread
Sourdough is the other type of bake that people have become obsessed with in isolation. Maybe it’s because a sourdough starter requires constant love and attention, so if you’re stuck at home all the time it’s much easier to feed it and not accidentally forget about it. Sourdough is made without yeast (perfect if your local supermarket has run out), instead the rise comes from using fermented flour and water mixture, or preferment.
With their buttery, flaky pastry, croissants are the ultimate crowd-pleaser. But while you might be a connoisseur, have you ever actually made one yourself? If the answer is no, now’s the perfect time to give it a go.
The pastry takes a fair amount of effort – you have to fold butter into different layers in a process called laminating – but the results will be well worth it. You might be a bit astounded at how much butter actually goes into a croissant, though.
4. Baked Alaska
Baked Alaska is a retro dessert: cake and ice cream covered with meringue, which has been set on fire. It’s a tricky thing to make because there are so many different elements; if you’re feeling particularly industrious you need to make your own cake, ice cream and meringue. All of this, and you have to make sure the meringue covers everything perfectly with no leakages, before the ice cream melts.
The majority of Instagram-posted bakes seem to be sweet, so why not impress with something savoury? A cheese souffle is delicious when it rises properly and as light as air. The lightness is all down to how well you whip the eggs and how precise your timings are in the oven.
If you’re a dab hand at baking cookies, it’s time to try macarons. These French biscuit-like treats are made with egg whites, sugar, almond meal and food colouring, and are sandwiched together with buttercream or ganache. It might sound simple, but macarons are notoriously tricky to get right as you have to get the biscuit to the right texture – light and slightly chewy, with a crunchy top.
A croquembouche is a French dessert made up of a tower of profiteroles – choux pastry puffs filled with cream – covered in spun sugar. You want your choux to be light and airy, not flat and dense like a pancake. It might look like a lot of effort, but choux is one of the easiest pastries to make, and just think of the ‘likes’ on social media.
You don’t need a lot of ingredients to make baklava; the Middle Eastern pastry is made of layers of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and covered with syrup or honey. However, if you’ve ever worked with filo before, you’ll know making your own isn’t a walk in the park, and the delicate layers can be tricky to work with.
9. Hot cross buns
A mix between a cake and a bread, hot cross buns are perfect for springtime. They’re so delicious shop-bought that few people consider making their own. Working with yeast makes hot cross buns harder than baking your average cake, but the result will be well worth it.
10. Torta setteveli
The torta setteveli was one of the toughest technical challenges ever set on the Great British Bake Off, and you can see why. This Italian cake is made up of seven layers of chocolate and hazelnut, finished off with a shiny mirror glaze.
Prue Leith’s recipe has a whopping 21 steps.