Our latest series runs down the truth behind the popular bakes featured on The Great British Baking Show. This week: Desserts!
Unlike our first three episodes, which featured self-explanatory categories like "Cake," "Bread," and "Tarts," "Dessert" week on The Great British Baking Show is historically a bit of a mish-mosh, usually featuring bakes that don't fit comfortably into any other strictly defined set.
Technically, a torte is a style of cake, filled with jams, buttercreams or other rich fillings. Baking Show has done them before, the "Dobos Torte," a many-layered Hungarian variation, was the Showstopper in Season 1 during "European Cake Week." That's because these cakes historically hail from Europe, with some of the more famous examples being the Austrian Linzertorte, the French Gâteau St. Honoré and the German Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte.
The Dobos Torte is credited for kicking off the craze in the 1880s in what was then Austria-Hungary, with other European countries following suit. They were originally cakes for royalty, supposedly the Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary Franz Joseph I and his wife Empress Elisabeth tasted the Dobos Torte when it was first presented at the National General Exhibition of Budapest in 1885. Nowadays, the layered cake descendant of it is our standardized birthday treat.
One of my all-time favorite desserts, the crème caramel, is a famous French dessert featuring a softly molded custard with a soft shell of caramelized sugar on top. Not to be confused with the other custard-based French caramel dessert the crème brûlée, which is a dish full of custard with a hard shell of caramelized sugar over top, the crème caramel is the older of the two, first introduced to Europe via the Moorish cooks who brought it over from medieval Arab countries.
In Spain, the dessert is known as "flan" and in Italy as "cream caramella," which is where the French "crème caramel" name comes from. The dessert peaked in popularity in post-WWII Europe in restaurants, as they were an easy make-ahead dessert that could be kept refrigerated and served at a moment's notice.
Meringue is one of Baking Show's favorite go-to creations. The show has featured Meringue desserts almost every season, from Season 2's Dacquoise to last year's Citrus Meringue Pie. (Even the three seasons we haven't seen in America have had Meringue challenges.) No one can agree who invented it, the Swiss, the French, or the Italians, but everyone can agree once it existed, it was considered one of the most decadent desserts around, and Marie Antoinette loved them.
One reason GBBS loves them is due to the variety that can be found in what is really just egg whites and sugar. There is the French Meringue, which is the standard hard outside, soft interior. There is the Italian version which is far softer and made with simple syrup. Then there is the Swiss version, which is more like marshmallow creme. The sheer variety of desserts and uses makes it one of the most challenging yet cheapest creations around.
Next Week: Pies!