Ok, ok, I admit it. Over the Christmas period I watched the festive editions of Bake Off, and was once again sucked into thinking "oh, that looks fun".
In this case, a "wreath" of choux bunsseemed like a great idea to take as a contribution to a new year party.
I had, after all, been given some large-sized piping nozzles for Christmas (veterans may remember the last Bake Off outbreaksuffered from lack of piping nozzles). And choux pastry is pretty easy. And I've made custard plenty of times before, which is practically creme patissiere. So that sounds easy, basically just assembly, right?
So... I can make choux. The thing I cannot do is look at a piping bag full of choux and estimate how big each bun should be so that I end up with 36 of them. I started piping, and way before I ran out of mixture I had way more than 36 buns.
ChrisC came in at this point, as I was adding an extra blob to each bun, and claimed there were only about 33. Rubbish, I said. He counted again. 33.
No, look: I counted up to 36, pointing, and convinced him. Then I piped a few more to finish up the mixture, and then there were 36. I have no real idea what went on here.
Into the oven, obligatory panic about them not rising. Oops, top shelf is rising but bottom is not, swap them over. Oven is inexplicably slow, and the whole process took much longer than it should.
I'm not entirely convinced about the consistency of the creme patissiere I made either; it seemed to thicken much more quickly than expected. Because the BBC's recipes are designed for damnfool units I was cooking in metric, and it's not that easy to weigh out 60g of flour when your scale is marked in increments of 25g. Anyway, I figured it would be what it would be and left it to cool.
Since Mary Berry does like to tart her food up, white chocolate snowflakes were required. (Technically red-dyed caramelized hazelnuts were required as well, but since 75% of the people I knew would be eating the finished product don't like hazelnuts and I don't own any colouring paste I decided we could do without).
Melted chocolate is a bugger to pipe. It's very runny, and pours uncontrollably out of even a teeny nozzle. Right up until it begins to set, and starts blobbing out in fits and starts. Also I lack basic artistic talent.
And I also lack a "long piping nozzle or jam syringe". But boy can I improvise with a Lakeland disposable piping bag and some parcel tape, so the festive custard got in the buns, more or less. Incidentally, if you add extra choux pastry to an existing piped bun then the bun will remember and rise in two balls like a little snowman. Those went at the bottom of the wreath out of sight :)
The final challenge was making caramel, which I've never done before. The BBC recipe provided an instructive video for choux, but just left you to get on with caramel. How hard can it be? I boiled sugar and water, and stirred vigorously so it didn't catch.
...which it turns out is a terrible plan. The one thing you don't do with caramel is stir it. Ever. For fear of crystallization. I was just beginning to wonder if it was ever going to turn golden when there was a crackling noise and suddenly I was stirring very, very hot artificial snow. (Incidentally, it would be fascinating to see slo-mo footage of this happening. I wonder if YouTube can provide.)
Maybe it could be redeemed by adding boiling water? No. Also no, of course not, because chemistry: boiling water is much colder than boiling sugar. Once you reach this point, there is nothing much to do but accept that you are going to be washing up with a chisel.
(You can also Google, find out about the stirring thing, and have another go...)
So I assembled the wreath, committing the second rookie caramel error of assembling on my serving plate, and thus managing to stick the buns not only to each other but to the plate as well. And, of course, error three where you get caramel on your fingers and crap is that stuff hot.
In conclusion, as before, I am not the stuff of which Bake Off contestants are made. But it didn't look bad, in the end, and people seemed to enjoy eating it.