Lilly Higgins's Bake Off Diary: A taste of Italy and a mouthful of roses

Week Five on TV’s Great Irish Bake Off turned everything upside down

In the latest episode of The Great Irish Bake Off the judges review Cathy's Italian Favourites Cake. Video: TV3

 

This week I really felt that the competition was heating up. The bakers were given a lovely signature challenge to make a cake from their favourite country.

I was delighted with James’ Dobos Torte and it was great to see his talent shining through. Fionnadh’s cake was a classic example of less is more. She really did cover that entire cake in rose petals and often I’m guilty of guilding the lily like that too.

Once you add one rose petal you end up going overboard and throw them all on. But you have to take into consideration taste and texture. Just because some decorative flowers like roses are edible doesn’t mean you would eat a whole bowl of them. They’re incredibly papery. In constrast my fellow judge Paul loved it - it’s good to have differing opinions as judges to give a fair assessment of the bakes.

For me Cathy’s cake was perfection. It tasted incredible, so light and airy. The way she decorated the cake was so natural, asymmetrical and pretty. I’m not a fan of fondant and much prefer her approach. The candied olives were really unusual, I can’t say I loved them but they were a great idea and so creative, offering us something different and fulfilling the brief beautifully. That cake represented everything delicious about Italy.

The technical challenge was a great one. As bakers they should know how to make a basic cake or cupcake batter and be able to create a pineapple upside down cake. The cakes were demolished by all the crew once we finished filming, it’s such a classic bake. We even had some for breakfast the next day. Fionnadhs’ was gorgeous and I was delighted for her and hoped it would give her more confidence in her baking ability.

Cathy more than deserved to win star baker this week but it was terrible to lose the lovely Sandra. We really missed her but I’m told her bakes are available at Sylvester’s Market in Malahide on Saturdays.

Here’s my favourite country cake recipe, it’s from my second book Dream Deli.

Sicilian Wedding Cake
(Serves 35-40)

This wedding cake is inspired by one I ate at a wedding a few years ago in Italy. After an amazingly elaborate meal a round table covered in a white cloth was brought out and placed centre stage amongst the guests. The chef brought out a huge platter with a biscuit base, several bowls of berries and a large bowl of what looked like clotted cream. The room soon became silent as we were all transfixed on him as he assembled this incredibly theatrical cake. He spread out the creamy mixture then layers of berries, scattering them generously by hand. Finally he dotted a few sprigs of mint around the cake and dusted the entire thing with icing sugar. It was the first dessert I had ever seen someone get a standing ovation for!

And not only was it beautiful to look at the cake tasted amazing. I just had to figure out what the creamy mixture was. After much research I discovered a Sicilian Cassata Cake recipe. It’s ricotta based filling is the closest I’ve come to recapturing that magical dish.

I made this for guests at one of our Supper Clubs a few years ago and it had the same dramatic effect as I assembled it in front of everyone!

  • 1500g digestive biscuits
  • 750g butter
  • 2000ml cream
  • 1200g ricotta (6 tubs)
  • 4 tbsp vanilla essence
  • 6 tbsp icing sugar
  • Zest of 4 lemon
  • 900g approx of each: blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and redcurrants
  • Icing Sugar for dusting

Crush the digestives in the food processor until there are crumbs and some large bits. You don’t want dust! Melt the butter and mix well in a large bowl with the biscuit crumbs.

Tip the buttered crumb mixture onto your serving plate. Work quickly while the mixture is still warm. Shape into a large circle or rectangle and make sure it is compact by flattening with the back of a spoon so that it will set into a nice crunchy biscuit layer that you can cut into. 

Whilst the base is setting prepare your berries. Place them in nice serving bowls, slice and sugar the strawberries. 

Place the ricotta, lemon zest, vanilla and icing sugar into a bowl, beat until combined 

Whip the cream until it is soft. Gently fold the cream into the ricotta mixture using a large spatula. 

To serve spread the ricotta cream mixture over the base, top with the berries and dust with icing sugar.

Lilly Higgins appears on The Great Irish Bake-Off every Sunday at 9pm on TV3

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