Lessons Learned from Baking

Earlier in December, I was watching the Christmas special of the Great British Bake Off with Mary Berry & Paul Hollywood.

I must confess that I really enjoy watching this show about amateur bakers competing to win. I’ve now watched most of the British seasons and a couple of the Canadian seasons. It’s so much fun to see the challenges and watch how each baker rises to the challenges.

From my vantage point of home viewer, I’ve learned quite a bit about baking since first discovering this show. So, much so, that I decided that I could easily whip up an elaborate dessert simply by watching Mary Berry create the dessert.

If you don’t know, Mary Berry, is a graduate of The Cordon Bleu cooking school sometime in the 1950’s and has written over 75 cookbooks, including one called the “Baking Bible” in 2009. She has been perfecting her skills in baking for decades.

So, when I watched the 10-minute segment on how to create a stunning dessert for Christmas as prepared by Mary Berry, it looked so easy.

How hard could it be, right?

I decided that I could create the same dessert easily.

I found the recipe online, printed it off, purchased the ingredients, watched the show again and started to bake the dessert.

The dessert I wanted to make is called Rosace à l’Orange and it comprises of three components. Candied oranges, a sponge cake and cream.

Easy, right?

I started bright and early on Sunday morning, two days before Christmas, with the intention to be complete by noon.

First, I started by making the candied orange slices in equal parts sugar and water. The recipe said they needed to simmer slowly for 2 hours.


Dessert Oranges.JPG

Simmering Oranges

On their way to being candied.

That’s simple. Or, so I thought.

As the oranges simmered away, I turned my attention to making the pastry cream or crème pâtissière as the recipe called it.

This part of the recipe went very well. I now had to let it cool completely.

This took several hours.

Dessert Creme.JPG

Creme Patissiere

As the cream was cooling, I then started to make the sponge cake or genoise as the recipe referred to it.

As I was pouring the cake batter into the tin, it looked pretty good and I was quite pleased with myself. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly as I’ve made a few cakes from cake mixes in the past and felt that I knew how to put a cake together.

After all, how difficult could baking a sponge cake be? I’ve watched the amateur bakers on the show do it many times.

I put the cake in the oven with full expectations that it would rise to double in size.

I decided it was now time to take a break. I checked on the orange slices and they were bubbling nicely. Bubbling a little too nicely, I learned later.

The cake needed about 30 minutes to bake, so I went to sit down.

The time passed quickly, and I came to take the cake out of the oven.

The cake did not rise as the recipe said it would. I certainly was not the light and fluffy sponge cake that I expected.

Dessert Cake 2.JPG

The Sponge Cake

I was wondering what to do when I decided I’d just make a second cake. This time, I made sure to follow every single step in the recipe.

Well, the second cake came out a bit higher, but no where near what it had for Mary Berry.

That’s okay, I decided, I would just use both cakes.

Who’s gonna know?

Now it was time to check on the oranges.

Oh no!!! They were dark brown in colour!!! Mary Berry’s were certainly not dark brown. Even worse, they tasted like burnt sugar.

The orange slices and 2 hours of time all went into the compost. I started all over again with the oranges.

This time, I moved them to a smaller burner and watched them more closely as they simmered for two hours.

By now, it was the middle of the afternoon and I was still attempting to create this one dessert for Christmas.

I started to really doubt if all this time and energy and frustration and effort was worth it. After all, I told myself, how many people are going to even want to eat dessert after Christmas dinner?

I decided to persevere and keep going.

Everything was finally cooled off and I could make the whipped cream to fold into the crème pâtissière.

This was easy and done quickly. Things were looking up again.

Next, it was time to assemble the dessert with the orange slices going in first, then half the cream mixture, then the cake, then the other half of the cream and finally the bottom cake. The cake is doused in the orange syrup combined with Grand Marnier. Then it goes in the refrigerator to chill for several hours.

At this point, it was 5:30 p.m. and I was exhausted. I was also frustrated and full of self-doubt.

Would it turn out on Christmas Day or would I have a mess of cake and pudding?

I wouldn’t know how it turned out until I flipped it upside-down after dinner on Christmas.

I had to wait for another 48 hours before I would know.

Finally, Christmas dinner was over, and I could see if my Christmas Dessert was going to be a show stopper or a flop.

Dessert Before.jpg

Voilà! Rosace à l’Orange!

I turned the dessert over onto the cake plate as was delighted by how beautiful it was. I was pleased with the result and happy to show everyone how lovely it looked. It was so pretty, I didn’t want to cut into it.

At last, I could clearly see that the full day of my time, my energy and all my efforts were rewarded in that single moment.

Everyone was very kind, and they each had a slice and every plate was clean by the time they were done.

I had served about half of the dessert when I turned slightly to see if the person behind me also wanted some. As I turned, the cake platter flipped over and the cake was now lying on the table.

I acted quickly and picked it up and slopped it back onto the plate.

Dessert After.jpg

After…

After being dumped onto the table.

I remember hearing the surprise and then laughter around the table.

We all had a good giggle about the mishap. Including me.

It still tasted good and it was just fine, even if it looked worse that I had originally imagined.

I’m telling you all of this because I wanted to share with you the many lessons that I learned from this experience and will apply to business.

  • Someone with years of experience in their craft, like Mary Berry, will always make something that is quite intricate and detailed look simple.

  • Follow the recipe of the expert and pay attention to all the details.

  • Always focus on each phase, giving it your full attention. Otherwise, something may burn.

  • Persevere, even in the face of self-doubt.

  • Celebrate when it turns out better than you ever imagined.

  • Laugh at yourself and with others when you make a mistake. Learn from your mishaps. Remember that there is no failure, only feedback.

  • Let it go and just enjoy the moment.

I am now searching for another Mary Berry recipe for next Christmas. In hindsight, this was a fun experience and I’d like to try something new.

Perhaps a Yule Log next year?

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