The Great British Baking Show: Walton Edition, Episode 35 – Mandy’s Test Kitchen #002

Welcome back to The Great British Baking Show: Walton Edition! This week we once again trade our aprons for lab coats and get to work in Mandy’s Test Kitchen! Join us as Mandy bakes a seriously chocolatey cake, Mark roughs up some tarts, and Chris samples experimental crisps from jolly olde England!

In the secret laboratory complex deep beneath La Maison Mizer, on the shores of Laid Étang Par La Saleté, the scientists and visionaries of Mandy’s Test Kitchen toil away day and night to make the world better for us surface dwellers. It’s a hard life, not for the faint of heart, but for those who choose it there are wonders to behold! Sweat and tears (and blood, if Mandy is in a foul temper) are the price paid for culinary excellence.

In these hallowed halls of gastronomic science, Mandy rules with a cast iron fist, forged by Lodge and cured with the death wails of the unworthy (upside down on a middle oven rack at 375°for one hour). Come on in and see some of our latest experiments!

Experiment #001473801343: CHOCOLATE BROWNIE CAKE
Baker: MANDY

This is Mandy’s brownie cake. I am not usually a fan of chocolate cake. More often than not they are dry and overbaked. This one, however, was dense and moist and wonderfully flavorful. This experiment was a rousing success, but unfortunately my documentation was not. I asked her how she made this cake, and she told me her secrets. I think. It was one boxed chocolate cake mix, one boxed brownie mix, and… something. Mandy told me the alterations she made to the baking instructions, but, like much information that comes my way, only bits and pieces made it to long term storage. In this case, the databanks only contain the boxed mixes.

I asked Mandy for additional information and she sent me this text: “I made this brownie cake”. That was less than helpful, but a few minutes later she sent me a follow up saying, once again, “I made this brownie cake”. Note that I placed the period outside the quotation marks; Mandy didn’t feel my query was deserving of punctuation. She even attached the same photo again, as if to drive home the fact that further elucidation would not be forthcoming. And, sure enough, requests for additional information have been met with radio silence. I don’t even have another picture of the cake. I am certain to be punished harshly for my carelessness, so this may be my last lab report. As for her reticence to speak further on the matter, I can only assume that Mandy stumbled upon some forgotten ancient Aztec chocolate wisdom that she is not yet ready to share with the world. We will bring you updates if and when they become available.

Experiment #067475: ROUGH PUFF TARTS
Baker: MARK

Last year, on the Sunday before my birthday, Mark very kindly made miniature apple tarts and blueberry tarts, two of my favorite pie fruits. Not only that, Mark made his own rough puff pastry, something none of us had tried!

I’m not sure how long homemade rough puff takes, but the flavor and texture are hard to argue with. As you can see above, the pastry separated as it was meant to into discrete, flaky layers. Puff pastry bakes up a bit more crisp than rough puff, but I think Mark’s pastry was far tastier than frozen puff pastry. If I had to choose, rough puff is the way to go. It was fantastic, and a really nice birthday treat. Thank you again, Mark!

And now, it’s time for another exciting installment of…

Chris’s Taste Test is where Chris tests things by tasting them. It’s super self explanatory. This paragraph is only here because having two images too close together looks tacky. Blah-bitty blah blah. Words, words, words.

Taste Test #43252009054402449255: WALKERS 2009 ‘DO US A FLAVOUR’ CAMPAIGN CRISPS

No, I didn’t eat chips from 2009. Well, I did, but I ate them in 2009. Let me start again…

I took these pics way back on 4 April 2009 when I taste tested these chips. Excuse me, these crisps. Mustn’t forget they’re British, love. Anyway, these pics were taken 13 years ago with a flip phone, so they aren’t exactly great photos. But you get the point.

In order to improve flagging sales, the wise people at Walkers opted to forego traditional advertising and corporate research, and instead turn over creative control of the company’s future to the people of Great Britain. This wildly successful tactic brought in a lot of revenue, and put six new flavors of potato chips in my mouth. We’ll get to those soon, but first lets taste the chips Walkers already had on the market, ones that weren’t part of the Do Us A Flavour “campaign.”

Subject 3454173: Ready Salted

These appear to be standard, baseline potato chips. Nothing new to report here.

Subject 54171364: Salt & Vinegar

Salt and vinegar isn’t really anything special these days, but I remember it seeming unusual back in 2009. But these are British crisps, not American chips, so the flavor was a bit more subtle. They seemed perhaps a bit more salty, but otherwise fairly normal chips. Nothing like the intense punch of sourness our modern vinegar and salt chips offer.

Subject 3353010: Cheese & Onion

These were good. These were damned good. These were so good that I had to wonder why we didn’t have them here. Of course, now, 13 years later, we do. When it comes to the future of salty potato-based snacks, look to Britain. Those people are chip savants.

Subject 8818: BBQ Rib

Holy balls, these were AMAZING! Just opening the bag unleashed the mouthwatering aroma of smokehouse meat. Despite my travels and generally liberal outlook, the insular, unworldly part of me for some reason associates strong, hearty meat aromas and flavors with America. Particularly American steakhouses. That was my first impression upon opening the bag: “This smells American.” And they were wonderful, although the chip seemed to taste more of normal potato chips than anything else. The aroma was much more forward than the flavor. But still, a fantastic chip.

Subject 407411: Prawn Cocktail

Full disclosure, I don’t like shrimp cocktails. I don’t like my shrimp cold, and cocktail sauce is nasty. It’s like someone with a grudge against shrimp invented a dish to ruin them. That being said, these were so light on flavor, all I got was a distant sense of cocktail sauce. No prawn whatsoever. Not really much cocktail sauce, either, come to think of it. It might be faulty memory, but I recall more of a slight waft of horseradish in the back of my throat than anything. If “whatever” was a flavor, this would have been it.

Subject 03573543: Worchester Sauce

I don’t remember these at all. Either they weren’t that impressive, or they contained roofies. I photographed them, I ate them, and I have forgotten them utterly.

Subject 114775: Chilli & Chocolate

Okay, now that the veteran players have been introduced, let’s meet our rookies. Our first entry in the Walkers 2009 ‘Do Us A Flavour’ Campaign to find the next big thing was Chilli & Chocolate. Ever since Chocolat, that delightful romantic comedy featuring brutal wife beating, arson, and attempted murder, people have been tripping over themselves to shove hot peppers into chocolate in any way they can. It had been done to death by 2009, and I was over it.

Subject 116777: Cajun Squirrel

I am 75,000% certain that the Walkers people sampled no squirrel meat whatsoever in the making of this flavor. It’s not even something I’d heard of Cajuns eating. But, much to my surprise, some quick poking around online shows that Louisiana has a squirrel hunting season during which 800,000 SQUIRRELS ARE KILLED EVERY YEAR. Jesus Christ, people! You have access to swamps full of delicious primordial monsters. Why bother with scrawny, hyperactive tree rats? 800,000 squirrels adds up to about six pounds of squirrel meat. It’s not worth your time.

Did Cajun Squirrel have that authentic squirrel flavor you can only find in Louisiana? How the hell would I know? Nobody knows what squirrels taste like. To tell you the truth, I don’t really remember tasting much meat flavor at all. But the seasonings! Cajun Squirrel was DELICIOUS. Damned impressive. A lot better than a lot of crap right here in the US that gets passed off as Cajun or “blackened.” Cajun Squirrel crisps were outstanding. I’d buy these on the regular if I could get them. They should be on every grocer’s shelves year round.

Subject 176184: Crispy Duck & Hoisin

Another memory that 13 years has erased. No recollection of these at all.

Subject 221032: Onion Bhaji

I’ve never seen onion bhaji on a menu. I’ve eaten a LOT of Indian food, but I don’t even know what onion bhaji is. But if it’s anything like the crisps, I want to eat it every damned day of my life. These were one of my favorites. Snack manufacturers of the world, hear me: more onion flavored chips, please!

Subject 218270: Fish & Chips

It has been 13 years and the memory of these chips is so present in my mind that it may as well have been yesterday. I need to talk about this.

As a prelude to tasting each of the crisps in this article, I first opened the bags and smelled them deeply. The aromas of a food are a big part of the experience, and it’s important to savor them. My experience with Fish & Chips crisps would be no different. I enjoyed fish and chips in England and Scotland, and I was certain I would enjoy these crispy wafer interpretations while sitting here in Kentucky. Anticipating something wonderful, I opened the bag and took in their scent.

Not all of my readers will understand what I’m about to convey. I know that. But if you are sexually active and have gone down on, let’s say, at least four women, then you have, in all likelihood, encountered the smell of these chips. And I don’t mean the approximate scent, I’m here to tell you that you have encountered this EXACT aroma. People describe the smell as fishy or sometimes metallic, but those adjectives have never been quite right, have they? Because this smell is its own thing. It is, perhaps, reminiscent of those other scents, but not exactly the same. It’s a feminine smell. A biological smell. Not necessarily a bad smell. But an extraordinarily SPECIFIC smell. And Walkers captured it perfectly.

I try not to be puerile. I really do. Sometimes it’s a struggle, particularly when confronted with something unexpectedly sexual, but still I try. But I’m only so strong. I can’t always maintain. I wasn’t eating these chips alone that night. I was with a friend who has, like myself, encountered the aroma of which I’m speaking. We each smelled our crisps, we looked at one another, and we burst into laughter. No words were needed. The smell was that spot on.

So there I was, nose in the bag, surprised by a powerful, intimate aroma. It was bold. It was breathtaking. My baser instincts told me to recoil. But I had come this far, hadn’t I? I had spread it wide, and my whole face was in it. I was committed. There was an unspoken requirement, a socially accepted plan to follow that left no room for deviation. I knew what was expected of me, so I did exactly what I was supposed to in this circumstance… I ATE.

You heard me, goddamn it, I ate. IT’S WHAT YOU DO. You don’t complain, and you sure as hell don’t comment. You just eat. I was there to get a job done, and by god that was what I did. I closed my eyes and thought of England.

And the chips, for their part, extended the metaphor. True to similar experiences, the aroma was powerful but flavor was largely absent. They were a little salty, but I was intrigued to discover they didn’t really taste like much of anything. It was all so… accurate.

I have difficulty believing the Walkers people didn’t know what they were doing. There had to have been more than one taste tester that knew what was up. Maybe it was on purpose, or maybe it was accidental and they just didn’t bother making any changes, but someone somewhere was giggling the day these shipped out.

Subject 232336: Builder’s Breakfast

Have you ever been to England? More specifically, have you ever been to a hotel or pub in England where they serve you breakfast? But not somewhere you get to order what you want. Not an overly fussy breakfast from a menu that allows you to make decisions. No, I’m talking about one of those old school institutions that just have “breakfast.” A place where you are given a breakfast… a very weird, very English breakfast, where they are happy to feed to you as long as they decide what you will get, no options, take it or leave it. If not, you should. It’s a unique experience.

The first thing I noticed about my English breakfast was the beans. They call them baked beans, but we Americans would recognize them as pork and beans. They covered half of the plate. There were so many beans it was almost as if the wait staff were challenging me to complain. It was beyond any rational bean to meal ratio. Beans are not a normal American breakfast staple, admittedly, but this wasn’t America, and I wasn’t there for an American meal. Besides, I like pork and beans. I ate them all happily. Chris 1, England 0.

Pictured here: approximately 1/50th the amount of beans you will actually receive.

Then there was the tomato. Well, half a tomato. They sliced a smallish tomato in half, then placed the cut side down on what must have been a very hot grill. The sear marks were deeply black, but the tomato was only lightly cooked. Not that it mattered. Tomatoes are meant to be ingredients in other things. They aren’t fit to eat by themselves, no matter how you prepare them. It stayed on the plate, untouched. Which was better than it deserved. Fuckin’ tomatoes.

The fried eggs, toast, and bacon/ham were standard affairs; well prepared and predictably enjoyable. The sausages were mild, nothing like the strong punch of American breakfast sausage, but nonetheless quite tasty. Most descriptions of English breakfasts mention potatoes and/or mushrooms, but those were absent from my plate, presumably to leave more acreage for the beans. If you thought of the tomato as a garnish, just there for a splash of color, my English breakfast was, up to that point, really quite nice. I could totally picture myself eating it a couple of times a week.

And then I tried the black pudding.

Pictured here: an egregious and revolting waste of parsley.

In case you aren’t familiar with British vernacular, “pudding” is not the smooth, custard-like dessert we enjoy here in the States. There, “pudding” is the term for dessert in general. Pudding is whatever sweet, after dinner reward you might get for eating your boring, grown up food. But the British also have a dark and wicked sense of irony, and will sometimes name perfectly terrible things after something wonderful and happy, just to ruin it for everyone. So it is with black pudding.

Black pudding a type of blood sausage, made from pig’s blood, cow’s blood, or sometimes both – yum! They mix the blood with fat and grains and, if my palate is correct, equal measures of sin and misery. The texture is mushy, which enhances its vomitous qualities quite effectively. If you want an idea what it’s like to eat black pudding, imagine thick, gluey mashed potatoes that taste like chewing on wet, infected scabs. Black pudding is about as far from “pudding” as it gets. I would go so far as to say it’s the opposite of pudding. And also the opposite of food.

English mathematicians have determined that a Full English breakfast contains 809% Full English breakfast ingredients. At 89%, bacon accounts for just over 11% of this 809% total.

I can’t say I specifically recall the flavor of black pudding in these crisps, mercifully, but I can tell you that these are the most amazing potato chips I have ever eaten in my life. I didn’t know how they could possibly mix these flavors together and make them taste like anything, and, to my astonishment, they didn’t. You got all the egg, bacon, bean, and tomato flavors, but you got them individually. And not on different chips.

Don’t ask me how this is possible, but the sorcerers at Walkers managed to develop a chip that changed flavor as you chewed. I can’t remember the order in which the flavors appeared, but there was a distinct taste of pork and beans at one point, and the distinct flavor of eggs at another time. They didn’t blend. One flavor would come forward then fade as another stepped up to take its place. The bacon made its appearance, then gracefully exited stage left. Even the tomato, which tasted like an actual tomato, not a sauce, was there, with just a hint of smokiness from the grill. Eggs and bacon and beans may not be the most exotic flavors, but the way in which these flavors presented themselves made these chips truly remarkable. I have never tasted another chip like them.

The people of England agreed with me, and voted Builder’s Breakfast the winning flavor. They even celebrated by having the chips madly devoured in public by noted British celebrity Random Englishman. Jolly good, Random! We love when you do those things you do that you’re definitely famous for doing. God save the Queen!

Thank you for joining us on this excursion into Mandy’s Test Kitchen! Be sure to join us next week as our bakers bask in the warm weather and celebrate the fruits of the sun in Citrus Week! Until next time, bon appétit!

Oh, for those who read my less than flattering take on Mark’s dish during our last bake, Mark replied in his own inimitable style. His message follows:

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