It may be old news to some of you, but I saw the full-screen disclaimer, “This programme contains product placement” for the first time last week, before Jamie’s Money Saving Meals on C4. I don’t like it. It cheapens Jamie. But at least it’s honest and upfront, rather than sinister and subconscious. And it features in this week’s Telly Addict, which also looks at The Tunnel on Sky Atlantic, the Anglo-French cover version of The Bridge; Stephen Fry Out There on C4 (this programme contains product placement); the semis of The Great British Bake Off on BBC2 (for the last time); the return of AMC’s The Walking Dead to Fox; the finale of Peaky Blinders on BBC2; and the ambient arrival of HBO’s Hello Ladies on Sky Atlantic.
Once again, apologies for blogging so infrequently of late: I am doing four jobs at once and working right into the weekends. Telly Addict endures. This week, the return of Homeland to C4; the arrival of The Blacklist to Sky Living; the return of Citizen Khan to BBC1; the continuation of The Great British Bake Off on BBC2 (with mysterious invader); the return of Louie to Fox; the return of True Blood, also to Fox; and the finale of The Story Of The Jews on BBC2. Bear with me.
Unlike David Loftus, who was in the year above me at Chelsea School of Art in the mid-80s and is now Jamie Oliver’s go-to guy, I am no food photographer. But I’m quite proud of the above snap of this weekend’s experimental Lemon and Grape Muffins. I’d love to say I “pimped” the recipe in Linda Collister’s Great British Bake Off: Learn To Bake book (with foreword by Mary Berry), but all I did was replace 200g of blueberries with 200g of grapes. This seems to have been a controversial move within the home baking community. I threw out a call for advice via Twitter, and @-ed in @BritishBakeOff for luck, asking if I could use grapes for blueberries in muffins. (I’ve only ever made muffins once before, without a dedicated muffin tray, and they came out like muffiny pancakes: lovely, but not muffins. I was keen to use my new tray.)
A few decided to greet my sincere query with withering responses along the lines of, “This is what bakers call ‘raisin muffins'”, which were atypically unhelpful and snidey, two qualities I do not associate with Twitter’s bake-iverse. Most people kind of said, “Hell, why not?”; one supplied a link to a British Heart Foundation recipe in which grapes were the number one choice; others cautioned against the grapes sinking the muffin (I had always planned to cut the grapes up); and Ali, current contestant on The Great British Bake Off, wished me well and advised me to peel the grapes. (Currant contestant, more like.)
Home bakers are, on the whole, nice. This is my nuanced conclusion. (On the wholemeal, more like.)
I peeled the grapes. It was a fiddly, but worth it. I then quartered them and threw them in at the point where the blueberries would be thrown in. I enjoy baking muffins and cakes, I find: the arm-breaking creaming of the butter and sugar (and lemon rind), and the follow-up workout with the beaten egg, adding a gloopy spoonful at a time. The addition of lemon juice to the natural yoghurt. The ethereal dust of sieved flour and bicarb. I don’t use the Magimix when baking. I don’t know if this is martyrdom, but I like to feel like I have added the air myself, with my bare hands. It’s not a macho thing. And there is an element of laziness: can’t be bothered to clean the dishwasher-unsafe mixer parts.
It’s a thrill when you finally blob the mix into the paper cases using a succession of spoons. It’s even more of a thrill when you “discover” that you have just enough “spare” on the spatula for a good lick: the ultimate perk of the home baker. Recognise: these are only my second batch of muffins ever. Allow: I’m quite proud of them. Ali was right; peeling the grapes was worth the effort (I envisaged the horror of curly tomato skin in homemade soup). What you get is little, jelly-like bombs of grape flavour, not too sweet, not too sour, perfectly encased in the muffin mix. Unlike blueberries, there’s no attractive “bleeding” of purple, but it’s still a worthwhile experiment. Jamie’s all about pricing up portions on his disingenuous Money Saving Meals, and I started home baking in order to fend off any evil temptation to spend money on pre-made carbohydrate parcels in the Outside World. Shop-bought muffins, which are mostly air – industrially pumped factory air – cost a fortune. Mine – and I got 15 out of a recipe promising a dozen – cost pence.
I don’t have a team of “girls and boys” like Jamie does, to calculate exactly how many pence, but I do have a freezer drawer – if not the massive chest freezer Jamie assumes to be in every dream home – and I’ve already entombed 12 of my muffins in there, to be removed at a fixed rate of one a day for the next 12 days. That’s how to make these moreish morsels go further. And to save money. I laugh in the face of the expensive cakes and pastries on sale through the Peyton & Byrne concession at the British Library.
Yes, I Tweeted the above pics of my still-warm wares on Sunday. I can’t help it. It feels so right. And it never feels like showing off, merely sharing. Self-raising is the great leveller. And it’s sweet when bakers on the other end of social media type, “Save me one,” or “Send me one.” It’s enough that the request is made. No cake need actually change hands; we never need to meet, we Twitter-connected home cooks. It’s enough to know that others are creaming, beating and pricking with a cocktail stick for victory.
While I’m here, I feel moved to publish this spring and summer’s other baking highlights: the lemon drizzle cake of June 2; the trayless “pancake” muffins of July 20 (don’t inspect them for too long; they tasted super); and the flapjacks of 4 May.
It’s amazing what some flour, butter, eggs and sugar can do, along with the willpower to self-ration, as if there’s a war on (which there always is, somewhere). By the way, I have eaten one muffin today, and I ate one muffin yesterday. My evil plan to beat George Osborne is working. He’ll never take away our freedom to save money and – get set – bake!
An educational Telly Addict this week. Well, the schools have gone back, and the nights are drawing in. Paying brief thematic respect to Big School on BBC1, Bad Education on BBC3 and Waterloo Road on BBC1, we give the following documentaries a double-period: Harrow: A Very British School on Sky1, and the far more relevant Educating Yorkshire on C4; then it’s a lip-smacking erotic montage from The Great British Bake Off on BBC2; congrats to this year’s Celebrity Masterchef, on BBC1; a warm on the re-entrance of Jon Stewart to Comedy Central’s The Daily Show; and a doff of the hardhat to the exceptional Rebuilding The World Trade Center on C4. See me.
After publicly identifying the “Now, If You’ll Excuse Me, Inspector” moment in ITV’s Lewis on last week’s Telly Addict – in which arrogant Oxford academics rudely make excuses and walk away from Lewis when he’s investigating them about a murder – I have three more prime NIYEMIs on this week’s. I also return to Utopia on C4 to see how it’s getting on after the first rush of blood; give the pilot episode of Fox/Sky Atlantic’s serial killer-based thriller The Following a chance; sigh heavily at the lack of jeopardy on the otherwise well-intentioned Great Comic Relief Bake Off on BBC2; and give a preview of my promised review of Louie on Fox. And another look at the mesmerising ITV logo.
Well, after all those months of hype, HBO’s mumblecom Girls finally arrives on Sky Atlantic, and thus on Telly Addict, written by Lena Dunham, directed by Lena Dunham, produced by Lena Dunham, executive produced by Lena Dunham and starring Lena Dunham; another new US import, Elementary, from CBS, starts here on Sky Living, probably not watched by Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat or Sue Virtue; and, belatedly, a look at the first episode of season three of The Walking Dead, on FX here, but AMC over there: with 10.9 million viewers the most watched single cable entertainment telecast of all time, so I’m led to believe. Of course, there’s also room for a quick nibble of The Great British Bake Off Masterclass on BBC2, but though it was designed to make obsessives happy, it served only to make me sad that the actual competition is over. Let’s not be a plait about it.
It’s all sex and drugs and buns this week on Telly Addict (three things apart from telly, of course, that you can be addicted to). Nigella returns to BBC2 in the Italian-themed Nigellissima; Keith Allen returns to C4 with Drugs Live, except he doesn’t really, he’s just one of 25 volunteers taking drugs, but not live, in actual current affairs’ latest attempt to outdo Brass Eye; and over at the Great British Bake Off, two bakers will stop rising in a double-knockout. But which two? And will either of my two favourites remain? (There are no Bake Off spoilers here, by the way, so if you have “taped” Week 7, you may tune in with confidence. Having said that, it’s bloody Friday! Watch the programme!)