WHEN Julia White wrote a letter to the Guernsey Press, she never expected the response to be so huge.
She was searching for the elusive recipe that would give her the perfect gache... from a breadmaker.
Frustrated that she couldn't find one that worked in her Panasonic machine, she hoped readers could help – and help they did. In droves.
Within days, islanders were giving up the secrets of their favourite recipes in a bid to help this cook-in-distress.
'I was absolutely swamped with hand-written notes and typed-out recipes.
'The response was overwhelming and it was surprising to see the range of different ways people made gache,' said Julia.
She approached the project scientifically and decided to try one that was middle of the road.
It worked and with a few minor tweaks since – including substituting half the plain flour for wholemeal and adding nutmeg – she now has her perfect gache recipe.
But we needed to know if it was really was the best. And with at least 10 recipes on Julia's 'greatest gache' shortlist, we also needed help.
Marion Lewis was the woman for the job and as far back as the end of September she began testing the recipes sent in by readers.
Then she offered the three best samples to her neighbours at a tea party.
Several months and a broken breadmaker later, these are the results.
Marion knows a thing or two about Guernsey gache.
She regularly enters classes in both the North Show and the Eisteddfod with hers but making it in a breadmaker is a relatively new thing.
Five years ago she was given one aand she hasn't looked back since.
This quest, though, brought that machine to its knees.
'It packed up. I managed to do a few of them in it but then I had to buy a new one,' said Marion.
Time and a rusty casing were cited, but I suspect it was more likely to be dried fruit. And possibly mixed peel.
'I don't think it was anything to do with the gaches,' Marion confirmed.
The major problem with making them in a machine, she revealed, is the sheer quantity of fruit that goes into this Guernsey classic.
Most modern machines have a basket that distributes it evenly – and the basket is just not up to this job.
The bottom line is that Guernsey gache requires more fruit than an electric machine can cope with.
But a gache lacking in fruit would not do at all. The trick is to add some extra at a crucial point in the proceedings.
'I lift the lid and add some more but it has to be at the same time as the basket containing the fruit drops,' explained Marion.
At this point, those of you with modern breadmakers should be less confused than others.
Because this was sounding complicated.
I had visions of ears straining for the clunk of the fruit basket 'drop', around 45 minutes into proceedings.
But the truth is that the success or failure of gache in a breadmaker is down to the compatibility of the recipe and your machine.
As I understand it, there are several top runners: those made by Panasonic, LG and Russell Hobbs.
Marion and her friends talk about their machines as if they are cars, discussing their various best times, speeds and chassis.'
The Panasonic appears to be the Ferrari of the pack.
'There is quite a difference in the machines nowadays. As long as you study your machine and adapt the recipe to work for it, it should be fine,' she assured me.
Her breadmaker of choice?
A Panasonic, of course.
Some were immediately dismissed. One used a whole sachet of yeast, (two-and-a half teaspoons) which Marion thought an unnecessarily large quantity – the average is one teaspoon.
Another included an egg – the raw ingredients of that one never graced the inside of her machines, old or new.
'That's not a gache,' she said.
It is imperative, I learned, that the yeast and the water are initially kept well away from each other in the machine. They are separated like a couple of naughty children by the flour.
But Marion stressed the importance of reading the instructions for your own particular machine. They are all different.
Each gache takes four hours to make and when I visited, Marion had made the top three: one that morning, the other two the previous day.
The one made that day was enormous and the general consensus was that it was the best, with more of a bread-like consistency than its rivals.
Marion's favourite was the densest of the three, similar in consistency to a Senner's gache.
'Although it has sunk a bit in the middle, it's lovely and keeps well for a few days,' she said.
The third was not as successful, although when Marion had tried it in her old machine, it had worked much better.
'This one is too dry and the fruit hasn't mixed in properly, it's all around the sides,' she complained.
It was – and appearance-wise, it had a touch of elephantiasis.
Marion reported that the machine had been shaking under the pressure of trying to cope with the mixture. Apparently there is something to be said for dusting the fruit in flour, which helps to distribute it evenly.
The reason this gache – giant or not – might have failed to live up to expectations was the recipe measurements themselves.
'They were in cups and these can vary in size quite drastically, as can a teaspoon or a tablespoon of something,' said Marion.
In Marion's old Panasonic – the one that broke – she added dried milk, such as Marvel, to bread recipes.
In the new machine, she omitted it.
There was no milk in the recipe that produced the most successful gache from Marion's top three.
But the gache-maker supreme had other ideas.
'If I was going to make it again I think I would add some dried milk anyway,' she said. Rebel.
At the end of our epic tea and gache session and as we were clearing away, Marion quietly dropped a bit of a bombshell.
'You still can't beat a good gache made by hand,' she confided with a smile.
The top three recipes
Pam West supplied the most successful recipe, which is best made in a Panasonic SD-251. She said it is best served with a generous spreading of Guernsey butter.
1.5 tsps active dried yeast
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1lb white flour
1.25 tsp salt
1 tbspn sugar
Half pint water
Add the ingredients in the order listed above and bake on raisin setting with medium crust.
After approximately 52 minutes the 'raisin beep' sounds. Add 12oz sultanas and 2-4oz mixed peel (optional) and continue cooking.
You have one minute to do this before the machine carries on with its cycle. Total cooking time is four hours.
A word of caution. If you miss the raisin beep, all the fruit sits in one large lump and is not mixed throughout the loaf.
* The later Panasonic model has a fruit basket – this means the fruit must be added as the basket 'drops'.
Marion's own recipe
14oz strong white flour
0.75 tsp salt
1 tsp dried yeast
1 tbspn dried milk powder
0.75 tbspn sugar
8 fl oz water
On raisin bleep, add:
2oz mixed peel
12oz sultanas or currants
Items should be placed in the bread maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Bake on 2A.
* Top tip from Marion: use Waitrose Canadian flour (£1.19) from Checkers.
This recipe was supplied by John de Putron, who said that while it had always been successful in his own Panasonic machine, it could not be guaranteed in other makes.
2 tsps yeast
266g strong white flour
1.5 tbspns light brown sugar
30g unsalted Guernsey butter
1 tbspn Marvel dried milk
1.5 tsps salt
10g mixed peel
Place the mixed peel and as many of the sultanas as will fit into the dispenser of the machine. Add the rest when the basket is activated.
Add remaining ingredients to the machine in the order listed above. The settings for this machine are basic – bake raisin – medium – light – programme. Takes four hours.