Author Archives: Vanessa Foran

From top: Noel Fielding (left) and Matt Lucas, of The Great British Bake-Off, ‘Cork Battenburg’; Vanessa Foran

Within the last few words of Bake’Sheet Season 10, I said Bake Off could do with a bit of a shake up, but I can’t deny there was some phewing relief when they got it going this year and that it was so familiar to me; like an old friend broke through restrictions and gave me a hug.  A new location and a new presenter, yet I haven’t actually felt the loss Sandi.

Which I feel bad about, I don’t think Bake Off followers, fans or just stuck under the thumb of the remote controller watchers ever saw the best out of her. A tis what it is.

But t’was a blast from the past that made me want to put this oddball re-meander together.

You may not know this but some of my favourite Bake Offs, since this kicked off here, back then, when t’was just Frilly and all of ye, were actually shows I didn’t write up.

One of those was the Festive special just gone with The Derry Girls.  Here, treat yourselves.

Meanwhile; Sister Michael, and it must be said, and not just ‘cause the girl’s from Cork, Siobhán McSweeney’s Sister Michael boots from her own half that Father Jack off into the scruffy mound of old seat cushions that do’be corned in the suite of feckie religious cranks from the telly.

There I said it and have a Hon de Mná with it as well.

Damn right there is no denying Siobhan McSweeney’s roots when she introduced the Cork Battenburg to the Tent.

When Siobhan was describing her showstopper to the Judges I knew exactly what they were going to get.  And I was already sniggering and kinda gagging, but kinda whistful and weepy when the Hollywood was giving her his piercing blue stink eye, while Prue was the dotie dottie domestic science teacher she assumes when she’s around celebrities and non(ish) bakers. Coorke Battenburg well….

To clarify, to us tis Battenburg, just Battenburg, and the only Battenburg bhoy; and it was what our Mam’s and their Mam’s before them got in when something a bit better than a swiss roll was called for.  The early evening visit from the School Head or the Parish Priest stuff.

So you know the occasion, and naturally it’s the one that arises with eff all notice to put together some decent ham for sandwiches, a flan and some tea brack.

The Cork Battenburg was a pyramid shaped log, shaped by brown and yellow heavy dense sponge layers, with a miserable thin white spread running between.  A Thompson’s Bakery confection (since that Bakery is no longer with us,  a better more accurate provenance would be welcomed btw.)

I have no honest idea what the flavours actually were ‘cause they all tasted the same.

The lot was then slabbed, and I mean slabbed in gawkish cheap cooking chocolate, that was raked front to back top to bottom with a fork.  If it helps at all – picture a Toblerone in cake formation.

The Cork Battenburg could cap a roofing truss.

But what the Cork Battenburg’s arrival into the Bake Off tent also promised me, was that I knew we’d get see to everyone else’s Battenburg some day in the tent, and there it was – the very first challenge of the Covid Bubble Tent Bake Off.

Long windy intro, I know, but it was a flash back, even the smell of the crap chocolate type exterior came back to me so I couldn’t refuse it.

Then came 80’s week, and it all got me thinking, or as Frilly would have said back in the first Season of Bake’Sheet;  tinking

Throughout this entire series here on Broadsheet, I have stuck loyally to the principle that Home Baking is a spectrum of its own, everyone is on it somewhere, from the disasters to the Bake Off winners enclosures.  From those that burn the shop bought Apple Tart that only needed a bitta warming to the five tier Showstoppers with sugar work, tempered chocolate and home made fondant figurines.

Not even a Pandemic could this Season flop.

And I’m loving it so far, but not for the Bakers, my favourite two to watch are gone anyway (Lottie the Panto Producer and Rowan the Panto Queen.)  Although I’m going to lay heavy on Hermine for the outright win.  BTW Lottie was robbed.

I’m loving it for the challenges.

This year they really have made it about everyday home baking.  The resurgence in home baking that lockdown activated; although I question the wisdom of sourdough bread being the first adventure with flour and an oven. Homemade proper bakes is the one ongoing theme of Bake Off’s eleventh season.

This time last year no-one would have ventured a bread week featuring Soda Bread? Or Brownies, or Quiches – the rightly honourable baked beans have even made it into the tent.  All deserving and not a bit out of place.

And that’s what’s triggered me out of my retreat from Bake’Sheet.

So many of this year’s challenges are all about the Home Baker.  The everyday Baker.  The Budget Baker.  The Bedsit Baker to the all Mod Cons plus latest gadget room for a pony Baker.

There was even a Technical that was just pancakes, albeit Hipster flavoured crepes if you don’t mind stacked between a filling you can put together while sitting in traffic.

It might suggest the influence of their sponsors this year, Aldi.  But I don’t care, this year’s season is less showstopper and technical, and all about the basic mainstream of bakes, the bakes that 99.99% of bakers all turn to.

So this is where I am reaching out to all of ye, there is no point in me putting together recipes and hints and mince.  Let’s have a tent of ye.

Broadsheet Things that look like …. Soda Bread, Brownies, Quiche, Loaf Cake, posh Visitor Cake, Occasion Cake, Baking with Mammy Daddy Blended Family Cake, Tray Bakes and Biscuits.  Trifles, Tarts and stuff you can do with Baked Beans.

I’ll start by tidying up Soda Bread with Notions, a Beat Back Covid with Turmeric bikkies and a Flexi Cookie Pastry ye’ll love so much ye’ll hate me for.

Before I go, if I still have ye like, just to say I’m glad to see more balance now between Matt and Noel in the presenting, general chit chat and continuity bits and pieces.  And Covid wouldn’t stop the Hollywood Handshake.

One whinge and that’s that the Producers this year are a bit mean with the recipes they are making available, but one they did release might be worth a Bank Holiday effort, Peter’s Blackberry & Lemon Tart. Now don’t be put off by the skill level its set at, that’s only the bitta sugar work they stuck in to impress The Hollywood.  And if you’re like me you’ll recognise that as the faff stuff that can be left out.

And its called Jelly Art btw, give it a lash here for a fiver – Shop bought Jelly – shur don’t we all………….

And if you’re not wobbling about Jelly, and can split the faff from the full recipe; go for Lottie’s finest moment. No doubt Wobble Cakes will be a challenge in a future Series anyway, so no harm to get ready to judge them like the all the rest of us armchair amateurs.

You all know how and where to get involved in Broadsheet Bakes that look like (working title)

so lets have ye.

Recipes to marked ‘Recipe’.

Pic: Channel 4

From top: John Delaney; Accountant and FAI VP Paul Cooke (left) and FAI President Donal Conway at the Football Association of Ireland Annual accounts publication for 2018 last Monday where it was disclosed that the organistaion has current liabilities of more than 55M Euro; Vanessa Foran

Before Kick Off, allow me revise my own FAI Year in Review from earlier this year.

I realised as I was running the rule over the 2018 accounts, that I had no choice but to go back into the now Revised 2017 year to try and establish the real financial story from its corrected opening position.

The first and most obvious observation in the Revised 2017 Financial Statements and Report is how stark, contrite and austere it is to the heady days of March 2019. And its rosy Audit Opinion.

In the same month the flamboyancy of the original Report of 2017 was making its splash , its Financial content was already ordered (by ODCE) to be Revised.

I get that, it’s not uncommon and the report did flag the loan from a Director.  But within a month again, April 2019 – Deloitte’s admitted (and what I had already warned) “proper accounts and records had not been kept.”

Also subsequent to the Balance Sheet date and before March 2019; a mighty Revenue Audit that caught VAT and what I consider to be the scummiest of all employer behaviours – underpayment of Employer Taxes. The expression used is “significant underpayment.” 

Yet further down into the report (detailed fully on page 38 (ii)) we find the still only estimated charge is €2,712,721.00, and the payroll taxes are attached to the former CEO’s PPS number, so at least they weren’t deducting the canteen staffs payroll and spending it on birthday parties.

And page 3 lives up to its reputation – it also reveals a number of cracks in the Governance structure, such as no Internal Audit, no Procurement Policy, and the one that takes my breath away “There was no policy or standard protocol regarding business cases, options appraisal or business justifications.”

In other words, the Board, the Council and the Staff could use the FAI’s cash to buy, pay, spend, acquire, promise, guarantee and dispose without any control mechanisms and safeguards, like purchase orders or even a tender procedure.

This would explain why their former CEO’s additional payroll benefits (see pg 38 (i) but have a stiff drink first) were never documented or fully costed or even approved.

By page 4 is what I suspected here all along, yet big pockets Deloitte’s signed off anyway “… it was noted that not all relevant audit information had been provided to the Association’s statutory auditor.”

And for how many years did Deloitte’s provide the assurance of their External Audit opinion, and the other Assurance Services to the Stakeholders of the FAI?  Answers on the back of a beermat.

Note this: the Board nor its elected Treasurer or its Finance Department or its External Auditors noticed John Delaney was costing an additional € 428,571 per year since 2014 and NOBODY thought to budget for it until 2022.

And yet it was all there, in front of the senior Management, the Auditors and the Directors.  Even today, look at what the FAI think the function of Governance is.

You’d want to be a Siberian Nomad to not be aware of the decades of messing at the top of the FAI, but John Delaney’s employment contract rolling out like this, apparently agreed and signed off without the Board having anything to do with it, is for me anyway, when the Board officially lost control of the organisation.

The established scatty environment already embedded in the FAI allowed his ego to prosper when he joined, so it was only a matter of time before the Board would be answering to a man that dictated his own terms.

It never made sense to me, and I may have commented here or there about doubting John Delaney’s claims that he would be paid likewise in the private sector, it’s sad that nobody really challenged that until it came to this point.

John Delaney brought few skills to and had no capacity to enhance the organisation.  His appointment was flawed from the start.  And people knew that then; yet here we are.

Whatever happens next between all the external investigations, from Revenue, to CAB,  to the next Audit team, the very fact that he held posts that required both the very best of Fitness and Probity standards from himself, it also required he, along with his Chair, had oversight of the Fitness and Probity regime;  yet he still allowed his real cost to his employer be under reported by €428,571 a year.

But John Delaney’s finally finalised total renumeration cost is not what has the FAI in the trouble it is in today; it was his incompetence to run a high-profile multi-activity and very publicly enfranchised organisation.

He got away with year on year failures, by pandering and promises, back-pats and unhampered power building. A blind eye was cast by more than just the Board, but it is the Board that is responsible.

They failed to protect the organisation, they failed to ensure the growth and prosperity of the organisation; and they failed the primary duty of a Director, that of Independence and being Free from Influence.

They abandoned stewardship of the governing body of a sport that contributes to the identity of millions of Irish everywhere.

They were supposed to be the curators of Irish Soccer for their terms of office, yet they humiliated it by not giving it the respect and attention the FAI deserved from its Directors; they mutilated its reputation – and treated it like roadkill.

The Directors over the years they allowed John Delaney to run the organisation into insolvency, may well think they should have been able to trust the endorsement of their External Auditors, with their annual nothing-to-see-here Audit Opinions.  Wrong.

They, and I can respect the role of a Volunteer Director as I walk in those shoes, so I take no pleasure in this, they – those directors should be rightly ashamed of themselves.

For reasons I’ll not disclose, I do sincerely believe that Donal Conway is a man who held the interests of the organisation and the grassroots of Irish Soccer dearly, yet he cannot deny he allowed himself to be influenced and persuaded.

I regret this has happened to a man whose volunteerism and passion for the game he himself nurtured in so many young players will not be the legacy he deserves.

Yet despite all the above, and all around the media, and all the lads liking each other on twitter, I would not be as pessimistic about the FAI’s future and its recovery as everyone else seems to be.

I am of the view that it can trade its way out, it has a unique market and they have it all to themselves; they are still capable of earning over 45 million a year just even at a standstill, and they do get so much right outside it’s Blanchardstown Headquarters.

Therefore, I would propose an order seeking to put them into Administration but then, I’m not sure an Independent Board and an Administrator can be secured.

There are too many moving parts, conflicts and personalities in this story; Shane Ross, the Sports Council especially its Chair-for-Hire Mulvey, even John Delaney and UEFA themselves, the Players past present pro, semi-pro or the now pundits, the Fans, the Volunteers, the Clubs the Leagues the Sponsors and the Employees.

Nor can I ignore the reach of Deloitte’s and the Mainstream Media, or the goo-goo eyes of Politicians of every rank and file.

Before I go, if you are wondering why I haven’t gone into the 2018 accounts for ye; well I just didn’t bother. But at least the opening balances are presented with some confidence.

The year was hit with some exceptional one-off charges, such as the costs of the various investigations and John Delaney’s payroll costs, and you’ll see all these including his severance again in 2019.

I am also mindful that its future will be in the hands of a different CEO who will be allowed build their own team, and a Board that will be ideally experienced Independent Directors who will not be recruited from within.

Running the Governing Body of Irish Soccer is an important responsibility, so let’s make sure we get the best people to do it.

The FAI let us down, but they will always have the Irish Support,.

They just need to deserve it.

Vanessa Foran is a principal at Recovery Partners.


Top from left: Mike Murphy with Ryan Turbridy (back) Pat Kenny, Moya Doherty, John McColgan and Joe Duffy on a special live edition of The Late Late Show broadcast in tribute to Gay Byrne last Tuesday night on RTÉ One; Vanessa Foran

This might surprise you, but I am opening this RTÉ special with something I wrote about INM from back when;

The most important asset I have as someone who works in professional practice is my independence which includes the perception of that independence.

As a director you are responsible for the welfare of the company, followed by the shareholders, and you must make decisions in the best interests of the company, at all times, and you must never allow that be questioned or mistrusted.

Over the last day you have being caught up into a spin cycle about Dee Forbes and RTÉ operations, cuts, sell offs, closures and NUJ crying games.

Yet all I see is a cloud of silt rising from the boots of shop floor employees as it poises a murky veil around the failure of its board.

You may think that it’s current board weren’t around when ridiculous salaries were being signed off, and their mandate for news and current affairs programming got riddled with propaganda, and you might be inclined to rebut me with it’s not their fault.

Yet you would be wrong, the board and every single one of its directors assume the responsibility of Stewardship and Governance when they accept the baton in a Going Concern entity.

Stewardship and Governance of both a State Asset and a Responsibility.  RTÉ got the gift of their infrastructure and their licence to operate as they liked for free.  RTÉ are responsible for public service broadcasting, specifically news reporting and current affairs; and its board of directors are responsible for RTÉ.

They have failed.

Over the weekend just past, I attended an event where the PRA and the Central Bank gave presentations about Governance and the roles and responsibilities of both Directors and Board Oversight/ Supervisors.  I accept regulated financial institutions are not the point here, but Governance is, and one very simple but significant point the PRA were keen to establish was about Relatives.

Relatives on a board of directors, or relatives of senior management, or indeed employees at any level within the operations of the organisation, or relatives of material suppliers, contributors and stakeholders on a Board of Directors is bad Governance.

It is harmful Governance and it puts organisations at risk, and way beyond what we should accept as a naturally occurring consequence of our feckless attitude to Conflict of Interest.

The jobs-for-the-boys norm we’ve all adjusted to can be blamed for the damage to this Country and its future, yet in RTÉ we are being charged a licence fee to watch it from our own front rooms.

RTÉ is not a family business.

Stop whimpering over job losses and the end of an era, it is time to accept that its failure, and it happened on our watch, that its failure starts and ends at its Governance level.

I don’t care how sexy it is to talk about Dee Forbes’ salary and car allowance, its board of directors at some point bred a Celtic Tiger culture into the organisation that it hasn’t shifted, it’s like the crash was only something that happened to other people, so they just tipped their hat at it by reporting it as it unfolded for ten years.

Over this week we are been fed reels and reels of archive footage containing Gay Byrne and maybe some of us might have dawdled some thoughts about what RTÉ might have been without him.  Or indeed this Country.  We could still be watching reruns of the Papal Visit while Fr D’Arcy hosts the Late Debate.

So let me say this; those great moments in television and the trigger for change they were to become don’t deserve to be used as cover for the abject and shameless failure of RTÉ.

The failure is both Financial and Operational; and it was all under the jurisdiction of its strategic level decision makers, its board of directors.

They agreed the current Strategy while Dee Forbes is employed to implement it.

Look up and note again what I said about relatives; Renewing RTÉ for the next generation was doomed to fail by page three; RTÉ will be outward looking, creative, respectful, sustainable and accountable, collaborative and transparent.

It’s hard to know if they had their fingers crossed when adopted it into the minutes, or whether they were laughing, or whether they were just too full of themselves for their next appointment to know it never stood a chance.

I commented on their Financial Statements here for Year Ends 2016 2017 and 2018 ; and I think I can get away with saying that everything I flagged here over those three columns is coming home to roost today.

Yet that expensive looking strategy wasn’t just a road map for RTÉ and DG Dee Forbes, it was also a promise to us, the Licence Payer, The Viewer, The Citizen, that they were going to get it right and do right my us.

We’ve all been had. 

And there is no gaudier example than the Late Wake Tribute last Tuesday; the current Chair of the RTÉ board and her husband, right in the centre of proceedings.

I don’t begrudge them a bit of their success so don’t pick on it.  But I do take their very presence on our national screen to lick themselves while Moya Doherty chaired the organisation into what ye are seeing today; and she was paid to do it.

I am particularly irritated by an itch that can’t be scratched; RTÉ served all those it employed and engaged, fattened flattered and flaunted, far better than it served any of us, its strategy or is mandated function.

RTÉ are supposed to answer to its Licence Payers and its viewers, and most of all its Public Broadcasting Mandate.  And it doesn’t.

So when DG Dee Forbes says the future of public service broadcasting is at risk, I find myself insulted. Do not blame the source of over half your income (YE18 56%) the Licence Payer,  for the collapse of the organisation both financially and operationally.  

Look again at that Renewing RTÉ for the the next generation , the most important Strategic Plan in the lifetime of the organisation, that within two years has been replaced by “A Plan.”

So even when it was developed, adopted, and probably got a fancy launch; it never stood a chance.  You really have to ask what sort of projections they were playing around with when the Board developed that Strategic Plan and signed it off.

The weekend ahead is going to be filled with Gay Byrne eulogies and RTÉ crisis management spin; and most of it from people who would either qualify as Relatives or Related Parties.

So from this someone, who is a no-one really, but can promise you independence that you could stir your tea with; here is my RTÉ Reboot Receipe

  • All Board and Board Oversight (if any) should be Voluntary

  • All Board and Board Oversight are banned from any programming, unless it is Board / Governance related reporting

  • All Department Heads have to go, and agree not to seek further opportunity from the organisation

  • Relocate the entire facility in Montrose out of Dublin 4

  • Immediately ban News and Current Affairs staff/ contractors from appearing in any Entertainment Division programming, and vice versa.

  • No outside employment for any staff member engaged in any programming department and or division

  • Future HR Ban on employment of Relatives and Related Parties unless signed off by external Auditors

  • Salary Cap of 145K for senior management

  • Dump everyone on over €100k on the wireless, and cap Names; Tubridy, O’Callaghan etc to €225K

  • Move all sports, both News & Current Affairs, and Special Events onto Network 2 & 2fm; SpórTÉ or something

  • Ban on all purchased content from other Television Networks.

  • No series renewal unless export market identified

  • RTÉ 1 and Radio 1 to be main news and current affairs, and special event telly, ie Debates, Toy Show, Elections; introduce more music.  Ban on employees working both divisions, unless engaged in special event, and signed off by two senior producers and DG.

Can it be done; of course it can.

Vanessa Foran is a principal at Recovery Partners.


Yesterday: Everything Must Go

From top: Great British-Bake-Off  2019 Winner David Atherton with Paul Hollywood (left) and Prue Leith; Vanessa Foran

Here we are, finally final, where the 2019 Season’s Baker’s dozen shifted down to three.

My tent pole since Cake week, Steph Blackwell’s final can be summed up by the state of her Technical – the girl just completely slumped like that congealed smelly cheesy mess; except her fringe.

If anyone knows how her hair managed to stay so imposingly straight and perfect, please do let me know.  I only have to boil a kettle to have my own hair turn to candy floss.

The most awkward baker to watch this year, Alice, made the final even more uncomfortable with her own personal drama running alongside her, the only support I could summon was an impatient Grow Up ffs.

And the one I couldn’t get behind all season, like I barely had a decent word to say about the lad, David Atherton is the 2019 Bake Off champion. But I’m happy to reintroduce a quote from Jimbo here last Sunday; winners are always grinners

There was so much off about this year’s final, yet there was so much right about it too.

I’ll run with the good bits first, mainly the integrity of the Judging.

I have never been shy about vouching for the Hollywood’s view of the world, but I can’t provide any better proof than this year’s final outcome.  And in fairness Alice even out of all her own anxiety about her Mammy and Daddy, summed it all up best when she said David just blew them away.

He wiped the floor with his fellow finalists over every step of that Final Weekend, even if his Signature was considered too boozy, it was up against two other cakes that didn’t set off any fireworks either.

David is the first finalist not to have a Star Baker to stand on, and he cleaned up.  Even his apron was immaculate.

Neither Paul nor Prue flinched in favour of the previous weeks or demonstrated any favouritism or sentimentality.

This is why I know Bake Off will always be safe, despite the many criticisms of this year’s season in the Tent, and I have a few myself, but for sure and for absolute certainty, we can always trust the Judges to remain free from bias and judge only what is put in front of them.

Before I introduce some of my own moans about Season 10, I want to mention a few highlights, particularly from the final.

I must stand up for the best chocolate feature cake anyone can bake, the BFG.

The 70’s gave us the fillums Jaws and Saturday Night Fever, back-to-back heatwaves, Concorde, LCD screens, even the Bay City Rollers.

Who the hell is anyone, and even Paul Hollywood is at it, think they are to sneer at the Black Forest Gateau like it’s a bad school photo?

I bet those same people don’t look down their noses at Charlie’s Angels; (and just for my pal Neil off the Telly) what does Star Wars remind ye of?  Strikes, Corporal Punishment in Schools, The Pope’s ’79 visit; my ass it does.

Looking down your nose at the BFG is a snide dig at those of us that don’t need high-brow foodies to tell us what we should like’ and besides, the BFG’s inventor lived well into his 90’s so there must be some goodness in it.

I am thrilled that I can pin up here Steph’s own signiture BFG.  It’s a fabulous recipe and it’s even set to easy.

Also, don’t go mad running around and spending money on Kirsch, just drop into your nearest Polish Supermarket and you’ll have your pick from plenty cherry liqueurs for under twenty quid; enough for twenty BFGs.

I am also thrilled this year’s final gives me another great home bake standard recipe to pin up onto Bake’Sheet; Lemon Pound (kinda) Cake.

This was the main sponge in David’s Picnic Basket Showstopper the other night.  Ok – I don’t know what lemon spice is either, but you have an immediate work around.  I can’t recommend a better home bake loaf cake standard, and I’m kinda glad it came from the Bake Off final and from the winner I had no time for all the way through.

So, the season, overall.  You know I hate to say it, but I think it could have done with more scrappy ah shur’ its only cake Selasi and Norman style bakers.

There were far too many distractions this year, between Henry’s Ties, the silly skits from Noel and Sandi, and all the tears, week in week out bloody tears; too much frump and feck all craic.

In my own opinion, I think the producers interfered a bit too much with the atmosphere, especially placing more scenes of the Hollywood looming and prowling silently around the tent at the bakers in the final cuts, and the miserable level of the Handshakes (four in total btw) we got to cheer about.

I also think the age profile, while no demonstration of skill or ability, didn’t help, it is after all light entertainment even if its a form of reality telly, it’s still telly.

There were no carefree happy go lucky give it a lash jacks, the young ones this year were all too serious, high achieving and you know what?

Humdrum pretty much sums up the majority of the bakers this year.

But to repeat what I said earlier, I think Bake Off while still in the hands of Hollywood and Prue is safe; but it does need a shake up in the format; I personally would love to see guest Judges for a segment like the technical element; specialists like a chocolatier or a regional speciality we may not be familiar with; Russian Cream Crackers or something.

Maybe it’s time to reintroduce the History Segment, I particularly loved being introduced to the Red Cross Doughnut Dollies in WW2, especially when I followed it up myself and learned that many were Irish girls, it actually joined the long finger of script projects.

I wouldn’t touch Noel and Sandi either, but I would reduce the skittish slapstick two handers; there are totally unnecessary and cut into the time available to the producers that were at the expense of Sandi’s natural gift for elegant sartorial continuity joiners that we want to see, and for Noel’s comfy shoulder to cry on.

In the GAA we say there’s always next year, so until then, or maybe not, I will leave ye with what also came attached to what Jimbo said above Who care’s if they’re insufferable …..

Its cake.

Pic: Channel 4

From top: smug David impressed in the Technical on last night’s Great British Bake-Off on Channel 4 but came second; Vanessa Foran

I don’t know if I’ve said this here before, but I wouldn’t be a veggie cake person.

Ok if you were to put a bit of carrot cake in front of me, I’d be polite.  But I wouldn’t make one, clearly that’s the fault of my own palette, and as recently as last weekend there I came across a recipe from Haiti, Sweet Potato Loaf that includes three spotty bananas and maple syrup in the line-out of ingredients; sincere apologies to the Caribbean bakers – but lads that makes no sense to me, it like asking me to stir washing power into my mash.

If I’m being parochial and closed minded here, yeah, I’ll wear that hat. But for now I’m here only to talk about cake.

And we are talking about High End Grand Patisserie so I’ll not be making apologies for stating that David and his beetroot and parsnips and his smug yoga grin should have been sent home.

He might as well have made soup out of his ingredients, and that’s just not playing by the rules of Patisserie Week.

But it’s not his fault nor the Judges’ that I didn’t rate last night’s semi-final since the show for me the moment it dingled into its theme tune was a bit dysfunctional; I’m those ties scratched my nerves as they walked across the green into the tent.

This homage carry-on has become a thing now, and I don’t like it.  Let the viewers follow up with the baker who was sent home, give them a follow, buy their book and leave it at that.

The silliness of it can be grasped easily by any on-looker from the intensity of each bake last night; even from a crumb of sweat you could sense every one of those four semi-finalists was ravenous for the nod, the handshake, the Star Baker, The Win.

None of them were genuinely sad to see Henry the Tie man go. So, stop with the wish he was here’ing. It’s dog eat dog in that tent, so stop letting on it isn’t, its unfair to the great bakers that have come and gone, cried and celebrated there over the last ten years, and its unfair to us the viewer. Ok, rant over.

One thing about the real business of the Bake-Off Semi Final that I want to make sure I mentioned today, was the Signature.  They made it look stressful, fecky and out of reach for the average baker, but they barely had an hour and a half, whereas we’ve got all day and over night in our own kitchens.

Sablee pastry isn’t as fancy as it sounds on the telly nor in Rosie’s recipe; its basically a sweet desert pastry for tartlets so start there.

I think a dome finish can be achieved by any baker’s skill level, and I wouldn’t dream of loading one with the range of combinations Rosie had in hers; mint and raspberry, yuzu, lemon and white chocolate.  But then I’m not putting it in front of the Hollywood, nor am I in their shoes.

Yet Steph has proved time and time again that less is more in the Signatures, (like last week’s onions) and I’m going mad her recipe hasn’t been made available.  But I’m sure we can figure it out.

Start with the tartlet, and here one I made earlier, and off we go with jam, lemon curd mousse maybe, and a bitta’ glaze.  In fairness to our Star Baker last night, Alice’s Chocolate Orange dome tarts are definitely worth a crack.

You might have some interest in the Technical yourselves, but it was of no use last night for Rosie who won but still ends up with Joe Brand on Friday nights Slice.

I tried to enjoy the Showstopper which to be fair ended in a spectacular display when they went before the Judges , and I appreciated learning something new that could be easily attempted at home with the sugar glass; but Alice’s labour pain face was too much – especially when she stood in front of Paul and Pru, it made Cake look painful. 

Actually, I’m already cringing about the Final; but as some of us know about labour pain it’s all easily forgotten.

So our Finalists, Steph Blackwell, Alice Fevronia and the veg meh, David Atherton combine to compete in the youngest (average) age Bake Off Final in its ten years.

I’m going to break with Bake’Sheet tradition here, as it’s my second last one anyway, and infuse a few spoilers because I think ye might want to have a pen and paper ready next week.

Signature will be a Chocolate Cake, and the Technical is a Souffle so expect there to be different starting times and one by one Judging, so nerves in the tent will be like dried seaweed and cracking to the touch.

The Showstopper is a Bake Off favourite, an Illusion Cake, but without any tricks, it must created from three elements only; Cake, Biscuits and Bread.  So while Alice was biscuit week Star Baker she’ll miss using her brightly coloured slash glass for dazzle, and this might prove true, David meh; I don’t care.

I’d like to say good luck to all in the final, but actually I mean, good luck to us the watchers; I’ll not cope with Alice’s crampy labour pain face, or  David’s smirky smuggy vegan grins.

Feck em Steph!  Prove me right girl!

Pic: Channel 4



Steph (top) who was Star Baker on last night’s Great British Bake-Off on Channel 4, watched and reviewed by Vanessa Foran (above)

Heatwave week in the tent; and I can honestly say I was sweating with them.  I nearly had the teenager get me a wet tea towel just so I could join in with the bakers.

An unusual look back this week – well unusual to the format ye might have come to expect here on the Bake’Sheet, and in two respects; one the Technical, I thought it was brilliant, whereas I’m normally meh and I’ll leave it up to yourselves about it.

I never heard of the Warka /Brick pastry before, I thought until I started putting this together earlier that it was the Hollywood’s gentle scouser accent for Water pastry.

Before I go on, let me record a bias with ye; I actually do have an personal interest here because I use Filo pastry a fair bit, Frilly’s Chicken Pie is all about it in fact.

As ye well know I follow the word of Mary Berry like a die-hard true believer – I buy my Filo, but you know what? I’ve every intention of giving this a go.

OK, so we saw they had some specialist kit, but both items, the flat pan and the broad flat pastry brush are easily improvised from what we have in the press anyway; most of us that would be glazers probably have a collection of pastry brushes, and shur who doesn’t have some from of pizza tray?

A word of advice about last night’s Moroccan Chicken pie, Paul Hollywood’s recipes must be followed to the exact mill, degree and second, don’t even think about deviating. But I found loads of stuff on YouTube plugging Warka pastry How-To’s that will take you through it so you won’t be alone.

The other element that wouldn’t be the norm for me, was who went home.  I wasn’t predisposed to picking out any of the three on that step; Rosie , Alice or Henry the Tie man, whereas I’d normally be more inclined somewhere.

In many ways a case was there for any of the three, and with what has been broadcast so far, Rosie could be considered likely as she is the only one without a Star baker notch, and yet I could never deny that she is as good as any other Baker to reach a Bake Off Semi final.

I didn’t have high hopes for Henry at the start of the season, but he was a great contestant, and full of personality. Last night, even in the heat he didn’t wilt, or fail to be a great addition to the Bake Off alumni.

Nonetheless lads, Henry is leaving with both a Hollywood handshake and a Star Baker, so in keeping with the programming technical conditions applied last week, he is currently second runner up GBBO Season 10.

So what harm to him, besides, I’d say he’s going to be great craic on Friday night’s Extra Slice.

I only land on it occasionally, and the part I like the most are the its meant to be a insert etc cake and they ended up with this.  But I will be setting the box for this one.  I think a star has been born.

Hon’ the Steph, and wasn’t she there in it again from the Signature. You know what she does so well? She gets the most out of an ingredient.  Like last night, she wrung out those shallots for everything they had to offer in her Tarte Tatin.

The girl has a flair for pastry, its so naturally inherent that she doesn’t even recognise it.  I don’t for a moment consider her self doubts about her prospects for Pastry week as a blaggard to lower expectations.  She’s just naturally gifted, and shur didn’t we see evidence of this hidden talent back twenties week.

This is a good time to chip in a bit about Tarte Tatin, at home here, it’s a use up stuff before it goes off bake, and there’s no work in it.  But I never considered a savoury version.

So this is another plug for a bake that any level home baker can accomplish.  Buy your puff, and onions which are always included in your shop anyway, come fully loaded with sugar and will naturally caramelise.  I’ve done Onion Tarts before but not in a Tatin formation. I will now tho’

Having dumbed down the Tarte Tatin there, let me strut now for a bit; from the intro to the Judges and the fancy drawings, I already had my fingers crossed that Henry’s Crab and Spud recipe would be put up; and it’s our lucky day.

Especially as only two recipes were given away to us this week, the technical is a formality and lucky us, goodbye Henry’s; which I suspect will be hacked by many, and not just the home bakers, but chefs and bakeries up and down this Country will be having it too. 

I’m not going to bother pestering ye with commentary about last nights Showstopper, only to say that we’ve seen stacked pies before, and S8 finalist Kate’s recipe for Potato Curry Pie deserves to be plugged again.

David has finally broke his streak with a win at the technical, and yeah, he is an alright semi finalist; but I’ve been with Steph all the way from Cake Week, so it would probably break my heart for it to end.

It looks like a Patisserie Semi Final, and do you know what?

I expect Steph and Rosie to progress while David and Alice rattle those stools with their squeaky bums.

So same time same place; ’till then Bake!

Pic: Channel4

 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