Author Archives: Vanessa Foran


 Steph (centre) won Star Baker for the third time last night with her’choff-ee’ lava bombe (top) on Channel 4’s Great British Bake-Off, watched by Vanessa Foran (above)

I could easily have been in that tent last night with the running commentary that was going on; Ah Priya that looks like a faded Wexford Jersey …. too many nuts Steph

You’ll already recognise why I’m singling out those two. It was absolutely Priya’s turn to go no matter what she got up to last night.

In fairness we’ve all had good days and bad bakes, yet each sending off to the Extra Slice this year has kept in sync with their rankings; well with my 1-13 anyway.

Even if the Handshakes aren’t.  Jesus Christ give her a handshake ya bollix. 

Would you have preferred a Hollywood handshake or your third Star Baker?  Well if it’s of any use to you, I couldn’t tell you what I’d pick either, but I do think the Hollywood was being a prick about it last night; and he has only given out two over 18 by x no. of bakers so far.

Even if her Signature Eton Mess Meringue Cake had already placed her in the running for Star Baker, Steph was definitely short changed by the Hollywood for her showstopper Bombe just as much as she was last week with her Sour Lime Cocktail Cake.

And now, since we’re entering the business end of this season in the tent, a quick bit of Star Baker revision wouldn’t do any harm.

The Three-in-Row Star Baker was previously achieved, in season five, the Ice Cream – Freezer gate one, Richard got five in total, and his last three were consecutive.

An important note to add about this little Bakeoff’ricity is that he didn’t win the final.  Nancy did. Who oddly enough, only got one Star Baker, week one – Cake week, which is exactly where Alice is.

So, Steph keep it to together girl.

Speaking of keeping it together, Michael was definitely in better shape last night. So I’m still singling out Steph and Michael for the final, and maybe Alice – based on previous like

A quick word about last night’s Signature It’s great to see every day bakes being featured; especially ones that can be adapted, tarted up or dressed down, no matter what the occasion or what’s in the press.

Meringue is every baker’s best shout when caught short; the only problem with Meringue is that it’s fussy about who it works best with.

So David and his Cloves should have a clatter from Paul.

Actually you could tell desserts weren’t his thing anyway, and you know, I’d say he was already planning his work out to shift those Meringue Cake calories –

And that makes him a Fake Baker in my book; send him home next Paul.  I don’t care if he’s got a handshake.

You can’t call yourself an amateur home baker and get to this level without being one of us; it’s all about desserts and the treats, and the sugery chocolately creamy stuff, and always, always worth the calories.

A quick note specifically to the still-not-convinced about home baking and the Bake’Sheet monologues; Meringue is just two ingredients; egg white and sugar; in a 1:2 ratio, that you bate until white glossy and lickable (although I wouldn’t.) And par for the baking bit, 120° for 120 minutes.

The oven is never too hot for smallies, and you can stuff it, paste it, fill it, or crumble it with anything you like.

Speaking of crumbling – Eton Mess is my new name for Brexit.

Onto the technical.  Ah so what; posh fancy pants trifle.  But Prue’s receipe does break down into nice elements, like that Streusel is something you might want to keep for that whenever occasion we keep promising ourselves with.

The Bombe Showstopper has been dabbled with before in the tent, and like the Signature, this can be dolled up or down, depending on the occasion or your mood.  Skill level or ingredients don’t really control the effort or the outcome.

All in all, it was a good week in the tent because all the challenges can be attempted by all and any level of home baker; and better again, no kit is really really needed beyond a bowl, a mixer, a tray and an oven.

Unfortunately there isn’t much to offer this week by way of recipes; but given the challenges – Meringue, Trifle and a cold Dessert Bombe, I don’t think it would stop anyone from giving a Meringue Cake a lash while Lorenzo passes over.

Next week is another original; Festivals, so I suppose anything can happen inside a tent at a festival.

So ‘till then; BAKE!

Pic: Channel 4

From top: High tea with the Great British Bake-Off presenters, from left: Prue Leith, Noel Fielding, Sandi Toksvig, and Paul Hollywood; Vanessa Foran

Last night.

Great British Bake-Off viewers were transported back to the roaring 1920s in the fifth episode of the Channel 4 series.

Vanessa Foran writes:

I loved the theme especially the idea of a Cocktail Cake, but to the veteran Bake Offender and Hollywood watchers the ending was predictable from early on; the Hollywood’s facial expressions pretty much gave the game away anyway.

But the brilliance of Bake- Off is that sometimes even knowing the ending doesn’t matter, and it certainly didn’t ruin Roaring Twenties’ night for me.

Like last week I’m opening with the ending.

The moment Helena said lavender I could feel the Hollywood’s eye roll so didn’t really need his this isn’t going to end well smirk as he moved on to know how he really felt.

Serious contenders for this competition would know by now Paul Hollywood has no grá for lavender.  (He’d be right at home in my house; I can’t stand it either.  It smells nice in the garden tho’.)

The only thing that could save Helena after that was a showstopper to make him forget she put soapy custard in front of him the day before.

Now I have stood by Helena up to now, but in the end she just took the Halloween shtick too far.  By last night it was silly, sloppy and childish.

But worse again, she ignored the task and snubbed the theme of the week, so she had to go.

Over the years of this series people, and especially rejected bakers, read too much into the Technical, but they only count when it’s a close call; I suppose you could call them the photo finish of the Bake-Off Tent.

And last night’s, ah here Technical, Prue’s fried choux balls pretty much had the batens’ of everyone, so I knew it would be the double elimination show.

I know choux makes a fool out me all the time.  But in all fairness, how could a sauce with three ingredients – one of them liquor get so badly mangled.

I am not surprised to see Michelle go either since all parts of her weekend were Depression-era stuff.

Steph’s has been my champion since week one, and when I saw that razor thin pastry last night I knew she was on the Star Baker short list again.

Even though it was David who got the Handshake last night; I’m still not convinced but I do like his recipe and they were Flappertastic looking; too good looking to eat maybe.

So that’s two HH’s and we’re halfway through so they must mean something and I’ll never question or doubt Paul Hollywood.

All through the show Michael looked in need of an assistance animal or something to relieve his anxiety.  Star Baker in Bread week and the first Handshake of the season ffs, he needs to get a grip on himself now if he’s to do himself any justice.

His baking is definitely final level stuff.  And last night, now I tried to get video it from the telly but I made a mickey of it, but when he introduced his signature Lime and Mango tarts the Hollywood was visibly smacking his lips.

See Helena, Michael did his homework, Lime is one of the Hollywood’s favourites.

And so did Steph – I am totally drooling over her Lime sponge Showstopper and totally deserved a Handshake.

Her recipe says it needs skill, but that really only applies to the decoration; and shur’ since when do we decorate to match the picture on the recipe?

Henry the tie man and Pirya are still in it, so them surviving last week was no fluke.

And a back-to-back for my shout out Steph Star Baker was well deserved last night, I really saw no other contender after David’s showstopper sagged.

Dr Rosie went to great lengths with her Impressive Domes, went one further by showing tribute to what custard pies are more known for, slapstick splat.

So much for my earlier reservations as she showed some real class in both her signature and her showstopper, so much so I was really hoping to have her White Russian Cocktail Cake recipe for ye today.

That’s it folks, if ye’re up to it lets hear what your own Cocktail Cake would be, and in the meantime Tip of the Week:water’ spray on the drizzle, thank you Henry.

Next week:
Desserts, or as gaeilge, Afters, so till then; BAKE! 

From top: Disgusted by the quality of cakes, Paul Hollywood walks out of the tent during last night’s Great British Bake-Off on Channel 4; Vanessa Foran

And the responsorial psalm is Full fat all the way;

I know he went home (and we’ll talk some more about it later) but for many of us that’s pure gospel; maybe a truck driver called Phil is my Patronus; maybe not, but he speaks to my spirit anyway. Full fat all the way.

There’s so much to talk about in last night’s Signature, but first I want to just bring us back to our own Bakesheet interests.

The first bake I did from the new kitchen here was Millie Murderlarks Buttermilk Sponge from last season’s Bakesheet; I remember her saying it was a Friendly Cake.  I didn’t share this with ye before because, well, nobody was really in the humour for cake least of all a Friendly Cake at the time.

Anyway, it was a no brainer for me to follow through with because I usually have a litre of buttermilk in the fridge just for baking.  Just like a baker will always have both plain and self-raising, and a range of sugars from caster to dark muscovado to icing.

And of course tubs of sour cream for just about everything else.

I was delighted with myself following the Signature last night, like there was more going on than just cultured dairy to share with the bakers at home; I loved that it was Cake, and pretty much all of them are easy, well the four here are tagged easy.

I wouldn’t be so sure about Helena’s spooky sponge or Michael’s Sour Lemon sponge with cheesecake filling – but feck I would have ate it, all of it, even the plate it was on, no matter what condition it came in.

The only difficulties are, and by way of an Ask a Broadsheeter – oil spray or butter for those fancy Bundt tins?

It is well established by now that I hate to promote anything here that requires kit that isn’t already in the everyday kitchen baking press.

But since I’ve a healthy suspicion it might be on a lot of bakers Christmas wish list; and I’m getting one anyway, so I thought I’d ask and share a Mary Berry’ism that I live by myself; get the very best you can afford.

So if you have fifty yoyos – spend the fifty, and not go home with one reduced to twenty.

And in fairness, Steph’s Rasa Chocolate Fudge was made for it.  Shur you’re worth it.  (and if someone can post up a reliable source for the freeze dried rasas’ you’ll be on the short list for the hamper.)

Another whinge for what was a great mutual Signature collective experience is that Rosie’s homemade Limoncello isn’t included in the recipe for her Limoncello & Basil cake and I think we are being short changed here.

OK, I know we are getting the recipe for free from the producers, but in fairness she got a brag and they got a telly moment out’ve Prue sneaking it away. It’s a Just Saying, that’s all.

The Technical; so bad it was good.  Even the Hollywood turned his backside to it.  Good in the sense we were introduced to a bake we’d never heard of, and one we wouldn’t dream of, Mary Anne Boermans excepted of course (who has the best bake blog going – @wotchers btw.)

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she came up with that technical for the producers.

Is it any wonder I’m now gagging at sharing this, I’d say that tent smelled like baby’s vomit – in the back seat of a ten year old car, in July.  And no matter the state of it was, Steph was the best of the lot.

Showstoppers; would ye?  Definitely not for me, boiling milk and stirring and stirring? I’d rather change the beds.

So I’ll be leaving it for the milk sweet experts and the lovers of Mishtie, the only interest I had in it was hoping Helena’s lemon sherbet recipe would be shared, and shouting you silly boy! at Henry to leave the freezer closed.

Jesus he couldn’t leave it alone, I was convinced he was going, I really was, so when Phil got called out, I too was shocked.

But you know, he wasn’t going to progress all that much further anyway; and it’s worth remembering we don’t get to see everything in the tent or witness the full depth of the judging.

Yet even from my own viewing of this year’s bakers, I would agree that Henry the tie man and Pirya deserved another round of challenges before being culled.

Big shout out to my fav from the start, Steph , Star Baker was well deserved last night.  She’s enjoyable and endearing; and good telly , also my pick for the final, along with last week’s Star Baker Michael.

Another great night for Helena who is clearly thriving.

I’m not getting Michelle or Dr Rosie but they deserve to be taking seriously in fairness.

Roaring Twenties next week.  Cocktails and Custards apparently.

I think I’ll have to go all out and put feathers in my hair.  Till then; BAKE!

Pic: Channel4

From top: Paul Hollywood (right) gave his first handshake of current series of the Great British Bake-Off on Channel 4 last night: Vanessa Foran

Interestingly, the weakest three on Great British Bake-Off Week 1 are now gone, and in the correct order. In fairness to Amber she was the better of the three.

However I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Amelia  I expect her to start appearing on daytime telly any minute now showing us how to make curtains in-between homemade healthy lunch box’ibles and dinners for a fiver.

There is nowhere to hide in Bread Week, it’s the Marquee Event, the Cork v Tipp Munster Hurling Final of Bake Off. Even Gardeners and Anglers would tune in for it.

It could be just me, but the Hollywood was more visible around the bakers last night than in other years, and we finally got a handshake out of him.

The moment he turned over Michael’s signature Keralan Star Bread  to check the bottom I knew he was smitten; btw this isn’t as complicated as it looks, and that that Coconut chutney recipe is a keeper.

As I’ve said before, the really the great thing about breads is that there is no kit needed; only patience and your respect.

So tell me; what’s more important, the burger or the bun. A veggie burger? From Paul Hollywood? On Bread Week? That might be all you need to hear from me about the technical last night.

But if, and it does happen, say if you had someone awkward or worse again – a vegan, coming for a proper sit down with matching plates, and candles, you could always say it’s a Paul Hollywood recipe , so it’s worth bringing it to your attention; but he can keep his baps. I’ll still be buying them from the old SuperQuinn Bakery in Walkinstown.

If I’m being honest, I wasn’t really arsed with last night’s technical and didn’t even give the judging much attention, like – a veggie burger, come on. The Bake-Off Lifer can hardly be expected to hang off every word the Hollywood has to say about a veggie burger; besides I had a hidden bar of Dark Milk to find.

I preferred the tradition of doing more international bakes in the set technicals, like that Couronne  (series 4) and Dampfnudel  (series 7).

Before I take us through the Showstopper to the end, Tear and Share isn’t a new in the tent, and I remember Dan’s Chelsea Buns getting a HH.

I’m mentioning this type of bake because I’m a divil for the Cinnamon Roll myself and we saw two attempts last night. I know I would have preferred Helena’s  and to be fair I think the Hollywood tried to as well. But here’s David’s  Cinnamon Swirls  because if you’re going to the effort of a show-off brunch you might as well make them more fancy.

I loved the Showstopper.

Especially the Judging. The Hollywood was handling and dissecting those loaves of bread like he was a forensic pathologist. I was quite giddy; it must be said.

You don’t even need a surgical scalpel to achieve the look most got last night, so do try Steph’s Wholemeal loaf  (Although I would be more likely to do a mix of lemon balm and purple thyme rather than just the rosemary.)

Remember what I said about yeast and bread baking; patience and respect. And these scored loafs are an example of patience and respect. Even if it’s a a homemade shiv your using to slash the shape of a daffodil.

The oven doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care who has mixed the ingredients, what their socio-economic status is or if the operator has a gender. It doesn’t demand you have your shots before your go in nor dose it ask your for a reference. You give it its instructions and its contents.

A recipe doesn’t proscribe religion or who its follower should vote for, or the define a family or even who you use it for.

Baking is the great equaliser, it keeps manners on everyone; and the Hollywood is its independent authority.

So what about our Bakers, Star Baker Michael’s was in no doubt, I didn’t even look at anyone else in the line-up. He reminds me a lot of John Thwaite  who went on to win (series 3), and actually has some of the best recipe books out there.

John was also accident prone and took his baking seriously, but not personally if it went wrong; and he was watchable, Just like Michael.

Delighted Steph and Helena had good weeks, but I’m just not warming to Rosie.

In a way they’re all still in it but I have a suspicion David might struggle next week; Dairy

He just doesn’t have the look of a lad who likes his creamy custard, thick ganache, crème pat or even keeps a just in case carton of double cream in the fridge.

Yes, you read that right. Dairy.

Pic: Channel 4

Previously: Vanessa Foran on Broadsheet

On last night’s Great British Bake-Off on Channel 4, Alice Fevronia’s chocolate and honeycomb confections made her Star Baker for biscuit week

I did say I would be a day late [with this review], but I still need to apologise. I just couldn’t wait to get this one out and there were moments yesterday it felt like I was trying to hide a soggy bottom in a puddle of custard from ye.

Over the Bake’ Sheet series, it may have come across that I never took this particular Bake-Off setting seriously, like last year I did take issue with the sequence in the schedule, and the previous year I set out my own feeble and lazy reasoning for snubbing the home baked biscuit.

But you know what, I think I have to change my tune.

The tenth Biscuit Tent’venture event was brilliant. Every single crumb and snap of it.

I’m not going to pretend any of us, or even the bakers in the Tent would do biscuit bars by choice; but I reckon I’m not the only one changing their mind. Even for a one off.

Honestly, if I’m to toast Bake-Off for anything this year it is that it put biscuits back into our recipe folders, drawers and tubs. I even predict trays of dedicated recipe books by Christmas.

Before I go on, let’s get the who and why out of the way. Jamie had to go, like, I was surprised he even came back for a second weekend. It was distressing telly at times, but no harm was done to any other baker. Nor should the producers be blamed, as Henry is coping so well he does it in a shirt and tie.

On a technical point, the Hollywood is wrong, Henry is not the first baker to wear a tie, Nick Hewer ; and anyone remember the very first baker to go?

Now I’m only half convinced about Alice , but from the Signature “BAKE” blow gun she was the Star Baker  all the way; and I have a feeling people will get very attached to her.

You’ll find in her Showstopper a tidy recipe for coconut shortbread, and you might even be tempted to give it a go as a celebration cake. Like everything marked as challenging, just isolate out the individual elements and give yourself an overnight to complete.

I can’t exactly put my finger on my favourite from the Signature Challenge, but I don’t think I was the only one, even the producers have provided four recipes  from it.

I don’t think they have ever been that generous, and bearing in mind nothing we are likely to be producing will ever be subject to Hollywood scrutiny, I am encouraging all of us to give one a go as a traybake.

Who seriously didn’t want a whole packet of Rosie’s  to be in the press? Or who wouldn’t mind just a taste of Henry’s fancy pantsy afternoon tea ones?

The only thing I’m reluctant about touting these bakes is that the kit isn’t in everyone’s press, but most of those ingredients are, OK maybe not that pink chocolate or gold fake, but if I spot those trays in the Aldi/ Lidl I absolutely would.

Did you ever try a fig roll? Shur ye know I didn’t, but I will, Again, this is set to challenging, but you know I don’t think it is, so this is it; my first technical try-this-at-home. Not this weekend, but the first chance I get.

A brief look back to the Signature; Helena and those Wicked Fingers. I have actually done a Witchy Finger before, ladies’ fingers with an almond nail, and the syrup from fake blood sweets that you see in Tuthills.

Besides that personal context, I am also so glad she turned it around, I really did feel from our first meeting last week that she had a lot more baking skill than we were seeing.

Meanwhile, next week is Bread Week, and all I can wonder is: will the Hollywood break one out?

Pic: Channel 4


From top: The Great British Bake-Off returned last night on C4; Vanessa Foran

For the truly engaged  Great British Bake-off viewer and fan, last night’s Fruit Cake was a great challange as we all have one or two recipes that we will never depart from, but it was also a very unfair one.

Fruit Cake is instantly recognised as a dried fruit bake, just like Meringue is egg whites, so it must be said that two and half hours is no time for a proper fruit cake, nor is three and a half.

This probably explains why some of them were decorated loafs, not cakes. Just saying, because Mary Berry would have said so too.

Either way the odds were against them getting this as good as they get it at home, so it made good sense that many used ring moulds or loaf tins in the reduced baking time.

I have a plain ring mould myself but if I see the fancy Bundt one on special offer somewhere I might go for it, because Phil’s recipe . definitely appealed to me, shur look at how easy it was to decorate and make fancy.

However, I would twerk it somewhat, remove the marzipan for a start, and probably mix Kahlua with the rum.

You can’t not make a good fruit cake, it’s like ironing, even if there are still a few creases on the sleeve, the shirt is still wearable.

But before any novice or first time baker considers Phil’s, or any other fruit cake, be it a simple everyday brack or the proper one-stone Christmas Cake, there are two things that will always feature with this type of bake.

Firstly, there are loads of ingredients, and prepping them, and assembling them may put you off, but do push through. Because (and secondly) the smell in your kitchen and your home will reward you for days afterwards.

One tip, you will see in Phil’s recipe, how to make Pumpkin Spice on its own, this is the sort of thing I might make a batch of and keep in the baking press.

Oh, a third thing to remember about proper Fruit Cake bakes; they last ages. I still have some of Nigella’s Christmas Cake here still a tin. It will be three this Christmas. (It was too expensive a bake to throw out!)

So, to the Technical; I wouldn’t buy an angel slice, and I wouldn’t eat one if offered so I’m never going to bake one.

However, possible spoiler alert; the teenager is at me to attempt the technicals as a special side order type of thing. I’m not so sure but if anyone wants to give it a lash Prue’s recipe can be followed, but it is correctly classified as Challenging.

I love the Showstoppers usually, and in one-way last night’s was fun. But these big themed ornate cakes are not anything I do myself, although I do have the kits and the books and reasonable facilities. The thing really is that I don’t really like thick icing or edible fondant creations or marzipan anything. Nor do I have the imagination.

If there was anything in the challenge last night is that some potential Star Bakers started to make themselves known more obviously than in the Signature or the Technical did.

Michael’s treasure chest is worth a shout out, and David’s snake was very accomplished; like him actually, a bit too practiced and way too proficiently efficient and unfussy.

Same for Henry, I actually sniggered when his house fell apart. While he’s one of the youngest (20) this year, he’s actually the oldest one in the tent. I just know he’s got a soggy bottom ahead of him.

I’m loving Steph  and think she’s one to watch. She has self-depreciating yet everyday personality that I always find myself familiar with, so I hope she gets a good run at it, even just for the telly appeal.

As some of the others are all a bit too perfect and make being organised look so normal – like their life is a recipe that they are just following themselves.

I’m also expecting Phil to still be around in October.

Yet I couldn’t call Star Baker last night.
Although no complaints when Michelle got the call up. I don’t fancy her chances.

But Dan had to go. While I do think it had an unfair time allocation last night, there is no excuse for getting your Signature so badly wrong.

It’s a promising start, we’ll know way way more about our bakers after bread, so still too early to call. Which might explain the number of Hollywood Handshakes (HHs) being nil. But there is a risk we might have already reached peak innuendo; Furry Garden will be hard bate in fairness.

Next up, Biscuit week: while I may be a day or so late with the post-mortem, let me leave this with ye; Are you ready to crumble?

Pic: Channel 4

From top: hosts and contestants on The Great British Bake-Off 2019; Vanessa Foran

Season 10; who knew?

And who remembered?

Channel Four kept it all very quiet, there was no word at all until they announced the cast (as you were btw) and the Season Premier a fortnight ago.

There was barely a mention until the competing bakers were announced this day last week.

Even I needed reminding that the tent was back up, and the news came from a lad who’d have an anxiety attack if he had to separate eggs.

Before we flour our worktops and roll out this year’s Bake-Sheet series, I need to make what I think is an important disclosure; towards the latter end of last year’s (Season 9) I got stumped in a swamp of lethargy and fatigue.

Out of the nine series so far, I have only missed one show, last year’s final, and between one thing and another I couldn’t even summon the curiosity to see what the bakes were or follow the recipes. I still haven’t. So, I will be somewhat lacking in background to bakes and winners.

I just lost my appetite I suppose. I couldn’t even gather the excitement for Celebrity Bake Off, and it was the best run yet; Russell Brand ffs  (on a side note Harry Hill a Star Baker himself, is signed up for Junior Bake Off 2019).

Hopefully this gap doesn’t interfere or hinder Bake-Sheet 2019; after all it always and only ever is about the bake in front of us. And the Hollywood handshake.

On that I don’t care what conspiracies are rising out there, or his threats to cease delivering the award. There is no bigger currency in baking than a Paul Hollywood handshake. It will never lose its lustre or its true value.

So now to tonight, and a few eye-openers.

Season 10 has increased the slices from 12 to a baker’s dozen (Yes OK, there were 13 bakers in Season 4 (the year Frances Quinn won) and 10 in year 1; I just thought we had settled on 12.

Then there’s the very noticeable age profile of this year’s Bakers. Again, that might just be me; you will meet only one baker tonight older than me.

Admittedly Bake Offenders like myself are always left dazed at what young smarty pants hipster bakers produce, and the flavours and ingredients they introduce, last year’s Kim-Joy being one of the most exciting and unique bakers that ever set foot inside the Tent, so I’m, for now anyway, suggesting that maybe the majority of applications are coming from the under-35s.

Then there’s the reality check; maybe I am that the oul’ wan with the durty laugh, and the old school wooden spoon baking tips?

Fair enough, but I will also have to admit that it would break my heart to see Channel Four exploit their Love Island success, because it would ruin all the previous nine series and what Bake Off grew into from that touring floppy tent in Season 1.

Even with the genius holding up the decision, it still took enormous courage to cast Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding into a mainstream household format.

They took a huge risk by replacing Mary Berry and introducing ad-breaks and sponsors. So, for that reason I trust the producers won’t leave Season 10 down.

A few more things to watch out for; two from Essex. So be prepared for a load of yu’au’ roi darlin.

And there is a Man Bun that might force you to look away.

They took my advice and returned to Cake; but with a twist. Fruit Cake is your episode 1 tonight.

For planning purposes, tonight’s show is 90 mins – maybe two will go and bring us back to normal. Or maybe they are giving us more time with each baker, which was always an issue in the early season.

That would make sense because the contestants were confirmed as far back as February, so maybe, just maybe they couldn’t separate two of them?

Anyway, I am going to leave us all completely open-minded and not cause suggestion that might influence.

So just to remind you all again that I will not be following any GBBO Social Media or Tabloid coverage, and will try to take each bake one by one as independently and as uninfluenced as I can.

In the meantime, grease your baking tins with this

And one spoiler alert. Bread Week is rumoured to be EPIC.

Vanessa will be reviewing each episode.

Pic: Channel 4

From top: RTE’s annual report for 2018; Vanessa Foran

Yesterday, RTÉ published its annual report which revealed a deficit of €13m for 2018.

Vanessa Foran writes:

My very first column for Broadsheet was a walkabout through the RTÉ Year that was 2016. The following (which didn’t make the final cut) is from that first draft back in July 2017:

“Another item s the Orchestra – 7.1% (€12,716,100) Now I would like to think that that activity could pay its own way, and with 211 whole-time staff allocation I feel it needs to be more Value for Money focused rather than its optic and isn’t it nice all the same. Isn’t that what the Arts Council is for?

Yes, I thought then the orchestras were an indulgence in RTÉ, my reasoning was that it’s not their core activity it didn’t deserve to be underwritten by licence payer.

So here we are two years on, and the same expenditure item now – in the just published 2018 report –  has a great big red nose.

So red in fact they went to the trouble of commissioning a report from Helen Boaden of Mediatique to devise a strategy around the future of the RTÉ Orchestras; you’ll find this was introduced to us by the Chair Moya Doherty (pg 18) in the meantime, rightly or wrongly, I’m finding it difficult to put any faith in a firm called Mediatique.

So back to the basics. I will remind you all again that the purpose of published accounts is to allow the user to form their own opinion. Therefore, what follows here is not meant to confirm your opinion or to proffer advice.

In between all the glamour shots of the same faces and bragging statistics, you’ll find this
“RTÉ scored 39 of the top spots on TAM Irelands most watched television in 2018” (pg 6.)

The issue I have with information like this being introduced is that it shouldn’t be left naked of any quantitative detail to allow comparison.

Like; 39 out of what? Were these 39 places 1 to 39 or were there scattered throughout the field? How much of these places were won by own content?

Director General Dee Forbes has had two full financial years under her leadership, 2017 and 2018, (she commenced mid 2016) yet blames Brexit and changing media consumption for the drop in Commercial Revenue (down 1.6m btw. Pg23) and specifically name drops advertising spend and paltry currency €:UK£ takings.

In other words, RTÉ is operating along the basis that revenues are outside their control.

The reason I’m irked is that over the previous columns I have flagged that lack of strategic investment in creating marketable and new content, content that can be sold and exported. Licenced content owned by RTÉ that is not just old news archives. Content that is not fronted by the same faces.

Every bill RTÉ has to pay is pretty much underwritten by the State, so why should we not expect them to be adventurous and ambitious, and take risk with new content, and with new writers and formats?

It’s a very disappointing turn up for me about Dee Forbes, it is her job as CEO to take responsibility, and blaming outsiders for falling income is a tell-tale sign of poor leadership.

Another example is her reference to the monies paid to An Post for collecting the licence; (31.9m pg34 + 9.59m pg30) she actually uses the expression “Not fit For Purpose.”

She further enhances her point about Ireland’s licence evasion level (14%) with a barred remark that came with a graphic (above) to suggest we are the boldest audience in Europe.

If you were expecting to note some financial markers from me, I have to admit there came a point in the report that I just had enough of it. It was like watching a repeat, of a repeat; which sums up RTÉ very well.

But here’s one I would like to draw your attention to; operating costs are up €5m. Special Events apparently.

Despite their attempt to treat the Presidential election as a special event; IMO it should be accrued over 7 years and it’s obviously in the programme planning.  But that’s it with accounting jargon, since I’m unable to see past the Sustainability and Going Concern issues.

For example, their Papal visit coverage was indulgent, lurid even, while their awe was unreciprocated by their audience. It was 1979 in approach; yet somehow this report will insist it’s the Irish audience’s fault for not paying their licence or that there are “more homes without traditional television.”

In my view these operating costs are only going to go up, which is why I’m drawing attention to it because salaries are about to be reinstated to their full agreement pre- the Voluntary Redundancy/ Early Retirement schemes which probably have had their run.

Just a number of items before I go, on page 29 there is mention of Legal Proceedings. Nothing so see here perhaps, since all public profile entities are dealing with multiple sets of proceedings at anyone time. But you know, I think we were entitled to at least know the value of the provision being set aside, don’t you?

On page 148 Note 26: Related parties’ transactions, specifically (b) transactions with Key Staff / Board members and or their connections; €1.1 million in the year. Oh look, it’s down on €1.4 million in 2017. And that’s all we’re getting.

But I want some more. I want to know who got what from both those sums, down to the last cent; and so should everyone else.

The report was 164 pages, take out the pictures and bragging and you’re left with an organisation that is burning at both ends and using excuses as a fire blanket.

I’m obliged to introduce you to one new face, especially since he beat me out to that seat on the board, Mr Ian Kehoe. To be fair though, I wasn’t even shortlisted by State Boards and the Minister.

Open to correction since I might have been singing or something at the time, but I didn’t hear Mr Kehoe being introduced as a Director on the RTÉ Board the last time he was on the wireless? Did you?

If we expect it from the Sunday Business Post and the siblings of Government Ministers, we must surely insist RTÉ do the same.

Vanessa Foran is a principal at Recovery Partners.

Annual report here

Yesterday: Unsustainable

Meanwhile…

Anyone?

Football Association of Ireland’s Annual Report 2017/18; John Delaney; Vanessa Foran

Ridiculous.

That was my first impression of the FAI Annual Report (year ending 2017).

It’s a healthy 137 pages, and shares news and updates from all their activities, from U-15 Internationals, to Child Welfare to the Defence Forces. It’s glossy, shiny, and loud, like the Green Army on tour, only on paper.

While it might be nice to flick through, most of that update stuff can be easily shared via the internet.

The Financial Statements you’ve all heard about start with the Financial Overview on page 93. and are  completed by page 120, so there isn’t too much distraction from the fixtures and action shots. On a side note, I have never seen such small print in an annual report – I had to go to 130%.

The top line: Turnover – what is interesting is that they had a trading surplus of €2,758,063.00. This is very nice, given the size and obvious limitations of their market; and even nicer is that it sits on top of a previous year surplus of €2,344,291.00.

Both figures accumulating into reserves of €22,323,111.00 (page 104), which definitely drives the questions – why is the League of Ireland prize pot so small and why were they so miserable stumping up for our women’s sides?

A big red flag for me is their Short-Term Creditors – less than 12 months – which is basic day-to-day working capital. Cash, and the cost of it. Year end 2017 introduces a current account Bank Overdraft – €1,363,107.00.

This is a movement from a cash on hand balance at year end 2016 of €937,447.00 to a cash crunch position, and that swing is not explained sufficiently in the promised note 11; cash and cash equivalents.

This €2.3-ish million run happened over a very short period and demonstrates some really poor financial control; and this information was only extracted from the notes, not from the balance sheet.

So, it might be worth looking into the minutes of meetings during the period to see if there were any comments on the month-on-month management accounts to board. That’s where these loans to and from the FAI might be found.

Also interesting is the role, or more accurately, roles, of Deloitte.

Their fees are up from €102,772.00 to €134,554.00; this might not sound like a lot of money but it’s a 24 per cent increase and contains €26,180 for other assurance services – which is worth exploring because also in the €134,554.00 is €44,285 for fees other than audit.

So what other services do we think Deloitte are providing (and if it’s any help, it’s not tax and it’s not internal audit.)

Another thing that doesn’t seem healthy or efficient is that there seems to be loads and loads of personnel rowing in an out of the FAI at strategic level. There is a board of management of 11, which includes John Delaney, and a national council of 58, along with circa 180 staff members around the country.

But, for the life of me, I can’t find the list of directors of the company.

There is a Hon. Treasurer Eddie Murray; and an audit committee; maybe someone credentialed might be in a position to ask for the minutes of this audit committee too, because they would be the principle liaison with Deloitte.

Worth a mention, the old reliable here, is that John Delaney’s salary is the only one itemised; and that doesn’t make sense to me; in Related Party Transactions? If he’s a director, it is in Directors Emoluments €360,000 (and that’s what’s there.)

So did the FAI loan or borrow €360,000 from a Related Party?

Officers Emoluments are recorded as €70,000; naturally these wouldn’t be day-to-day expenses claimed from  staff attending meetings and events as these would naturally be charged to overheads. Again, these are items within the monthly reports to board, which is where most of the intrigue could be unravelled.

I would love to explore the relationship Deloitte have with the FAI and an FAI “Donor” a bit more, o if anyone is available for some digging and drilling, please do reach out.

Also, if someone can explain the software licencing to me – as in what software licensing they have acquired – as it seems very extravagant to me.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that of the total income for the year that was 2017; 12.5% of it came from grants. So sometimes it’s worth noting that for the large part of the year, they were doing something right.

Vanessa Foran is a principal at Recovery Partners.

Previously: For The Last Time, It Was A BRIDGING Loan

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UPDATE:

 

From top: Minister For Finance Paschal Donohoe; Vanessa Foran

 Derek Mooney was right, I know that doesn’t get said about here a lot, but he was right to question the need for the Red Carpet Event around the Annual Budget

But then I suppose RTÉ would be bereft of 50 hours or so of programming across their various platforms and deprived of scooped soundbites direct from Government Ministers.

This Budget was undramatic, unexciting and just too well flagged that it became irritatingly boring; like compulsory Ethics hours for those of us that have to oblige annual CPD requirements.

Similar to last year , I have handpicked some elements to highlight here, but it was impossible stay ignorant on the squeals that it was a budget for Landlords.

Anyone that has followed my view on the rented sector will have heard me insist that we need more Rental Units, and more again, but more specifically we need more rental units from Private Landlords and less from Reit type lettings.

We have an accommodation emergency; the time for calling it a crisis or a shortage has long since passed. Up to now, private sole-trader type landlords were departing the sector like flocks heading South.

Therefore, I’m of the opinion that relieving their tax burden is a good thing, and hopefully it might encourage more Buy-To-Let investors into the sector.

By the same measure, this move might also serve to reassure those in there already, the lads that do not have the benefit of being incorporated and en’Trusted, or party to cheap sale prices and charitable tax rates.

More Units mean more HAP availability, so there’s that too, despite my reservations on that whole scheme, if it keeps families out of hotels then let’s not fix it just yet.

Since I mentioned Reit, it is worth mentioning now that the Exit Tax Regime was addressed with new Foreign Controlled Corporation Rules.

Many easy shots and sneers at this will mention it was reduced from 33% to 12.5%, but what might be missed was that the drop came with a nice sidebar; the exemptions to the Exit tax (which is also due on the transfer of assets and not just when they cease to be tax residents) have been removed; in full.

And as we all well know exemptions in Tax Law have made many a man a millionaire or more. I’ll take 12.5% on everything, rather than 33% of feck all any day of the week.

While I still think the hotel sector are being bailed out unfairly to the rest of us, I also want to reintroduce something from last year’s comments that is still ticking me off, Employers PRSI.

Many of you will say the increase is only by one tenth of a % – a so-what-of-it perhaps; but anything that shoehorns employees into Sub-Contracting arrangements, while keeping the PRSI frameworks as they are for the purposes of current cashflow, is not good long-term strategy, nor is it good value-for-money for the taxpayers that fill those Social Insurance reservoirs.

Budget ’19 did offer something for those who may be qualify for distributions from the Bank of Mum and Dad; they got themselves a ten grand top up to their (Group A) Gift Tax exemption.

This Government had a summer long of opportunity to address what I think is one of the principle failures of our Housing and Accommodation emergency; Long-term Rental in the family Home Sector not being considered as a viable option, or even as an alternative to Social Housing or Owner Occupied.

It is my opinion this is a sector that should be studied and trailed and tested.

This city is falling over with associations and groups representing tenants and renters; yet I have yet to see any organisation come up with an approach to Affordable Rental Housing that makes it a confident long-term option or choice for anyone.

And since the Government hasn’t, then naturally neither has any one else interested in long-term investments.

I suspect we will have another Budget within the next nine months. Like last year’s, this was not an election budget.

My advocacy for a stronger, wider, healthier, and more competitive private Rental sector will continue, and I will keep shouting until someone in Government cops on that Social Housing needs to be Local and needs to go back to the Local Authorities.

Then we can start to Rebuild this Country on behalf of all of us.

Vanessa Foran is a principal at Recovery Partners. Follow Vanessa on Twitter: @vef_pip.

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