I used to bake. Back in my early twenties, when I convinced myself I’d never find anyone who would want to marry me unless I oozed a combination of Carrie Bradshaw and Nigella Lawson, with a bit of someone athletic like Jessica Ennis thrown in. And then I grew up. And realised that not only was it unrealistic, but also unnecessary, to be perfect in order to be happy. But that’s a topic for another blog.
I also realised that the more cakes I baked, the more cakes I ate, which wasn’t doing my waistline any good. So I put the muffin cases, baking tins and recipe books away and stuck to trying slightly healthier culinary feats. There’s been an occasional dabble since then, but nothing great.
So, when we decided to have a work Bake Off for Comic Relief, this was serious stuff. I may not be Mary Berry, but I’m pretty damn competitive, so out came the books, the apron was dusted off, and I planned to impress my colleagues with my wares.I decided on an Olive Magazine recipe I’d tested on Mr M years ago when we were first courting. Caramel, banana and white chocolate blondies (a bit like brownies, but not brown). It’s a tray bake, and not too complicated, so a good choice for a foray back into the world of baking after a long time in retirement. The ingredients are quite simple – bananas, golden caster sugar, butter, Nestle carnation caramel (or any caramel, but this is nice and easy), white chocolate, eggs and self-raising flour.
The execution is even simpler – melt the sugar, butter, caramel and chocolate together (I did it in the microwave), cool a bit, mix in the eggs and then flour, then fold in the sliced bananas.
Pour into a lined tin, put a few more blobs of caramel on top, and bake in the oven. Turn it out, cool on a wire rack, then cut into nice chunky blondies. And bob’s your uncle, so to speak. Gooey, moist blondies, sweet and indulgent, with lumps of banana spread throughout. Not forgetting the occasional hit of caramel if you’re lucky enough to get a lump in your piece.
So off I toddled to work, happy with my creations. Little did I know how stiff the competition would be. As my rivals arrived, my heart sank. Beautifully presented ginger cake topped with mascarpone and salted caramel; lemon drizzle cupcakes; banana muffins topped with banana chips, presented in a classy wicker basket. And then there were rich, soft chocolate cookies; a moist chocolate cake; decorated and iced cupcakes; and a bourbon-laced pecan pie. Not to mention some amazing onion bhajis (yes they’re fried so they got disqualified but they were still amazing). The spread, presentation and quality of entries would have impressed even the tough Mr Hollywood, I’m sure.
The judges split their favourites on taste and presentation. The lemon drizzle cupcakes won on taste, with the ginger cake and chocolate cookies as runners-up. In the presentation category, the ginger cake took the title, with the banana muffins coming second and the lemon cakes again making it onto the podium. The overall winner was declared the lemon cakes, and well-deserved too. Light, fluffy and sweet with the tangy lemon balancing the taste perfectly.
So no, I didn’t win, didn’t even come close. But the blondies were declared a success and received plenty of positive feedback. Not bad for a return to the saddle after quite a while off. I was reminded of the pleasure baking brings, especially the satisfying feeling when your selection of ingredients somehow emerge from an oven in the form of a successful bake. It’s inspired me to return to the world of cakes and bakes. Now I just need someone to eat it!
In case you want to replicate it, here’s the recipe courtesy of Olive Magazine.
2 ripe bananas, sliced
250g golden caster sugar
100g white chocolate
200g self-raising flour
1. Melt the butter, sugar, caramel and chocolate together until smooth.
2. Cool a little and add the eggs. Fold in the flour and slice banana.
3. Pour into a lined 20cm square tin and add blobs of caramel on top.
4. Bake for 45-ish mins until risen and set.