It’s the time of year when aprons are dusted off and traditional recipes dug out to make a Christmas cake for the family.
Here at Wigan Today we wanted to go one better and show off a couple of “surprise design” ideas that are apparently all the rage at the moment on baking social media (yes, that’s an actual thing).
Like any friendly rivalry between colleagues, the idea was pitched, the battle lines drawn and very quickly the challenge snowballed into a full-blown rivalry.
In one corner, the Evening Post’s resident baking expert Sophie Arnold with her Christmas tree design. Her opponent, James Illingworth, a baking novice, with his attempt at making a hidden bauble cake.
In the Mary Berry role was newsdesk assistant Jean Fisher. So in the words of Mel and Sue...3-2-1, Bake!
It seemed like a simple enough idea, in my head anyway.
But typically I committed the sin that so many Bake Off contestants before me have fallen foul of and went at it with all guns blazing, accidently making it far more difficult for myself than necessary.
This resulted in me baking a ridiculous amount of cake before setting about painstakingly cutting cones out of each layer.
In my head, the tree would have been a lovely dark forest green colour but food colouring never quite comes out the way you expect it to.
I didn’t quite expect the icing to be such a lurid shade either but you live and learn.
Nevertheless I was pleasantly surprised at the result. I was expecting there to be a weird green smush in the middle ruining an otherwise fine cake but the fact it vaguely resembled a Christmas tree was a win for me.
Was it worth spending my Sunday afternoon slaving away the kitchen baking green cake and cutting stars out of fondant icing? I would probably have to say no.
I do like baking and I was impressed with the results but doing something like that is only worth it if it is going to improve the taste if you ask me.
Plus, I was left with a ridiculous amount of leftover cake, which, had I not so many obliging colleagues, would have gone to waste.
The first thing that needs to be said about this challenge is that it was a real David versus Goliath match-up.
I’m by no means a regular baker whereas Sophie should be classed as a semi-professional. Whenever she has a baking Sunday she puts up a bake-off style tent in her back garden and has a sponsorship deal for all of her equipment.
It’s also a little known fact Paul Hollywood is a close family friend of the Arnold family and he was on the other end of the phone for Sophie whenever she needed advice.
In my kitchen it was me, a 50p wooden spoon I bought specially for this challenge, a basic recipe for a sponge cake and a few pictures of the type of “surprise design” cake I was going for. The aim was to make a sponge with a Christmas bauble on the inside, I knew Sophie was attempting a tree (much more complicated) so I wanted to keep things simple.
Having made the two layers of sponge, all I had to do was scoop out half a sphere from each and then place layers of coloured sponge in the cavity to make the bauble design.
To make sure the two half-circles matched up I used a plastic ball cut in half with a cocktail stick in the centre (ingenious, I know).
Against all odds it worked quite well apart from the layers of the bauble sinking quite a bit because I probably overdid it with the buttercream. Sophie’s tree really worked but that’s not too much of a surprise given she plays in the big leagues.