The technical challenge for dessert week on the Great British Bake Off was a raspberry blancmange served with langues du chat biscuits. The recipe, says that this blancmange is, “a far cry from its wobbly 1970s reputation.” Does blancmange have a bad reputation then? I can’t remember the last time I had any, sometime in the eighties probably, but I always thought that blancmange was great. Even the blancmange we had at school was good. It probably all came out of the same packet. Perhaps it’s one of those things you’re supposed to grow out of, like slushies or anything bubblegum flavoured.
Anyway, the recipe for making the blancmange in the comfort of your own kitchen was different, method-wise, from the one that the Bake Off contestants had. The poor things had to chill theirs in the freezer. As I understand it, you need to be really careful if you do that because if you freeze a gelatin thickened liquid, when it thaws liquid will seep from the gel. I didn’t really get the point of asking the contestants to make a blancmange using a method that clearly wasn’t right. Bake Off loves nothing more than a bit of time pressure I know, and it was hot this summer, but why not simply judge the blancmange after they’d had enough time to set in the fridge?
I made my blancmange without the aid of a freezer. Here it is,
and here’s how I made it.
Step One: Gelatin
I soaked eight leaves of gelatin in cold water. The recipe says that you should do this for five minutes. It doesn’t say what you’re supposed to do with them once the five minutes is up. Do you take them out of the water and keep them somewhere dry? Is it OK to leave them in the water until you’re ready to use them? I left mine soaking. I didn’t think it would be much more than five minutes before I was ready to use them. All I had to do was prepare the raspberries. That shouldn’t take very long.
Step Two: Raspberries
I whizzed two punnets of raspberries in a blender and pushed them through a sieve. As I said, I didn’t think it would take very long. The recipe says that it only takes 30 minutes plus chilling time from start to finish, and that includes a batch of biscuits. Twenty minutes it took me to get my raspberry purée through my sieve. I don’t know whether I have a particularly fine sieve, whether I’m lacking in technique, or whether I’m just weak. I needed a cup of tea before I could move on.
Once I was able to continue, I added a splash of Kirsch to the raspberry purée (the recipe adds raspberry liqueur here, but I didn’t have any and Kirsch was the closest substitute).
Step Three: Blancmange
To make the blancmange itself, I mixed cornflour with whole milk in a saucepan. Again the recipe wasn’t very clear. It says “add a little milk”. How much is a little? What are you supposed to end up with? Do you have to heat it up before you add the rest of the milk?
I vaguely remembered that making a blancmange from a packet is a bit like making custard. You add the powder to a couple of tablespoons of milk and make a paste. I hoped I’d remembered correctly as I made what looked like wallpaper paste with cornflour and milk. I put the pan on the heat and added more milk, sugar and ground almonds. When the mixture started to boil, I turned the heat down, cooked it for a couple of minutes then took it off the heat.
It was only now that I returned to my gelatin. It must have been soaking for more than half an hour. I squeezed water from the leaves and added them to the pan. I did this really carefully, because I’ve tried using gelatin before and ended up with big lumps of jelly that I couldn’t get rid of (I made a fridge-set banana cheesecake that was so awful I couldn’t bring myself to write about it).
Once the gelatin was in, I added almond extract and stirred in double cream and the raspberry purée. At last my mixture was moving away from wallpaper paste into something that may look like a blancmange after a few hours in the fridge.
I poured the mixture into the ring cake tin that I was using as a mould, left it to cool and then put it into the fridge overnight.
Turning to the washing up, I poured the water out of the bowl that my gelatin had soaked in and look what I found.
My blancmange was never going to set.
Step Four: Langues du Chat Biscuits
I had a nightmare with the biscuits. My KitchenAid started spewing oil into my batter when I started to mix it.
I lost heart.
Step Five: Turning Out
The recipe says that, to turn the blancmange out, you dip the mould into hot water. I toyed with the idea of a blow torch around the sides, but it was out of gas, so hot water had to do. The blancmange came out in one piece, but it did have drips around the outside where the hot water had started to melt it.
I waited for it to firm up a bit and put some whipped cream around the edge. Here’s the final version.
Was It Worth It?
The blancmange tasted fine. It was raspberry flavoured. Despite having missed out on a sheet, there was too much gelatin in it and the blancmange had a distinct lack of wobble. Usually, I’d say that it was my fault but this time it wasn’t. It was definitely the recipe. I also didn’t really like the addition of almonds. They gave the whole thing a grainy texture.
I can’t decide whether I’m being unfair because I can’t forgive this blancmange for not tasting like the ones I remembered. The ones that came out of a packet at Sunday teatime in the 70s. If the recipe had been called something different, raspberry and almond cream dessert, or something along those lines, I may have liked it more.
It wasn’t a difficult thing to make and, without the almonds and with a little less gelatin, I may be able to create something more like a blancmange. On the other hand, I could just go and get a packet from Tesco.