Great British Bake Off – Wagon Wheels
I haven’t baked anything since the start of the summer holidays but, since they’re almost over and, since the Great British Bake Off started this week, I thought I’d better get back into the kitchen. This time, the Bake Off kicked off with biscuits, and the technical challenge was Wagon Wheels.
When I was little, a Wagon Wheel was the ultimate after swimming snack. I’m not so keen on them these days. Modern Wagon Wheels seem much smaller than I remember them and I feel short-changed. I did buy a packet so that I could compare shop-bought to homemade. Today’s Wagon Wheels are 7cm in diameter and, according to Wikipedia, have always been this size, at least in the UK.
The Wagon Wheel recipe, which is available on the Great British Bake Off website, says that they’re a challenge. The question is then, are they a challenge worth taking, or is it best to stick with shop-bought?
Here are the shop-bought Wagon Wheels compared to my homemade ones. Shop-bought are on the left.
The Bake Off recipe Wagon Wheels are certainly more like the size I remember.
Here they are inside.
When you make your own, you can be as generous as you like with the jam and marshmallow. A definite plus point. Incidentally, the traditional version of the Wagon Wheel, doesn’t include jam, but you can buy Wagon Wheel Jammies which do. I bought the Jammies for my Wagon Wheel comparator.
So, in terms of size and filling, the homemade versions were obviously more generous. What about the taste though, and the all-important time and effort involved in making them?
Here’s how my Wagon Wheel experience went.
Step 1 – The Biscuits
Hampered only by a five-year old who insisted that Wagon Wheels should be shaped like unicorns, I found the biscuit part of the bake easy. I rubbed salted butter into a mixture of plain flour and salt, added some sugar and vanilla paste and made it into a dough using an egg yolk. I wrapped the dough in clingfilm and put it into the fridge. The recipe says that the it needs half an hour in the fridge. I left mine overnight, mainly to avoid any more arguments about the merits of unicorn-shaped Wagon Wheels.
The following day, after delegating all childcare responsibilities to David Attenborough, and sitting the children down in front of an episode of Blue Planet II, I made the biscuits. Sir David doesn’t make me feel quite as guilty as leaving CBeebies in charge.
I rolled out the dough. It was pretty crumbly. I only got five 8cm circles out of the first roll. There were supposed to be 16. I did manage 16 circles in the end, but I did have to roll the dough out three times. I’ve heard that the more the dough gets worked, the tougher the biscuits are. Since the biscuits were going to be covered in chocolate and have marshmallow and jam sandwiched between them, no one was going to notice whether the biscuit bit was tough or not were they? After the last roll, I also had enough left over for a unicorn, a shark and a rabbit.
I put my circles into the freezer for ten minutes while my oven heated up, and then put them in the oven at 160° fan. The baking time given in the recipe is between 10 and 12 minutes. Mine were in the oven for 13. They came out looking slightly golden brown. I let them cool on the trays for a few minutes and then moved them onto a wire rack.
The steps in the Bake Off recipe are ordered so that you can get your Wagon Wheels made in two and a bit hours. The Bake Off contestants had two and a quarter. I’m not a Bake Off contestant, obviously, so I was taking my time – my biscuit dough had already been in the fridge overnight remember. I decided to change the sequence of the recipe and coat my biscuit bottoms with chocolate before moving on to marshmallows and jam.
I melted about a third of the recipe amount of dark chocolate in a bowl over simmering water and, with minimal scalding, dipped one side of eight of the biscuits into it and left them to set.
Step Two – The Marshmallow
This was the part of the recipe that I knew would pose problems. I’ve never made marshmallow before, but I’ve run into problems many times when I’ve had to wrestle with a sugar thermometer and pour things into a moving KitchenAid. Take a look at my attempt at the buttercream for the Gateau moka aux amandes I made when I first started Let’s Bake the Books. I’ve ended up scraping burnt sugar from the base of saucepans and solidified syrup from the side of mixing bowls. This time was no different.
I’d decided to make half the recipe marshmallow amount because the recipe itself said that, if I made it in the quantity suggested there would be too much. I don’t have a ready use for left-over marshmallow so I decided to make less in the first place.
First, I added powdered gelatine to some water, then, separately, dissolved water, cater sugar and liquid glucose in a pan. I also started the KitchenAid and whisked an egg white. Once the sugar had dissolved, I increased the heat and brought the syrup to the boil.
For my first batch of syrup, I kept an eye on the temperature with an electric thermometer. The readings were erratic to say the least. The temperature jumped around, rising 10° within a few seconds and then falling again. I’m sure it was all my fault. I must have been dipping the thermometer in and out of the syrup and generally waving it around in the pan. Anyway, the result was, that the sugar burnt and I had to start again.
I used my jam thermometer this time. Since there wasn’t enough liquid in my pan to cover the thermometer bulb, I doubt whether the reading was any more accurate. I was so worried about it burning again anyway, that I’m sure the syrup hadn’t reached the required 120°C when I took it off the heat. I persevered and added the gelatine to the syrup. Then I cranked the KitchenAid up to high-speed and poured the syrup into the egg white.
The recipe says that you need to whisk for 5-8 minutes until the mixture is thick and glossy. I was concerned that my mixture wasn’t thick enough so I kept the mixer going for a few minutes more. When it looked as it the mixture wasn’t going to get any thicker, I stopped whisking and put it into a piping bag. I had a very full piping bag and about a quarter of the marshmallow left in the bowl of the mixer. This was just half the marshmallow recipe remember. Even half was going to be far too much.
Step Three – The Jam
My jam was perfect. It came straight out of the jar.
Step Four – Assembly
I’d already coated the bottoms of eight of my biscuits with chocolate, and they’d set nicely. Next, I piped marshmallow over the other eight biscuits. The marshmallow seemed a bit runny, but it wasn’t oozing everywhere.
I spread the bare sides of the first eight biscuits with a layer of jam and sandwiched the two layers together. I put the biscuits on top of a wire rack and stood it over a roasting tin. Using two spoons, I poured/scraped a generous amount of melted dark chocolate over each biscuit until they were all covered.
One of my Wagon Wheels very slowly keeled over. I held my breath, thinking that this would be the fate of the other seven. I only started to breathe again when I realised that the collapsed biscuit was sitting directly underneath the light on the extractor fan. The others would be fine. I left them to set before conducting a taste test.
Was it Worth It?
Here are my finished Wagon Wheels.
They were as big as I remember them, with a lovely thick chocolate coating and a generous amount of jam and marshmallow in the middle. I thought they looked great. My six-year-old gave me ten out of ten. Then he heard that the chocolate was dark chocolate. At that point he refused to eat any more because he doesn’t think he likes dark chocolate. My little girl gave me a hundred out of a hundred and left half of hers.
The grown ups thought that the homemade Wagon Wheels compared favourably with the shop-bought ones. The biscuits were good and, the chocolate coating was proper dark chocolate, nice and thick and bitter-sweet. As I said before, the jam was perfect. The marshmallow layer in the homemade Wagon Wheels wasn’t as dense as in the shop-bought biscuits but I wouldn’t say that was a bad thing. A definite win for the homemade version.
Would I make them again? I have to admit that I don’t think so. Yes, the homemade Wagon Wheels did beat the shop-bought ones, but, at the end of the day, a Wagon Wheel is a snack after swimming. It’s just not special enough to labour over for hours. It also seems to me that for every batch of homemade Wagon Wheels there’s a vat and a half of redundant marshmallow clogging either your drains or your arteries. A good challenge to start the Bake Off, but I don’t think homemade Wagon Wheels are going to be a regular thing in our house.