The Great British Bake Off: 8:09 Patisserie Week
With the final in touching distance the contestants only had to endure the hardest semi final yet; Patisserie Week. This brought together all the elements that make The Great British Bake Off a national institution; the ambition, the tension, the cruelty of the competition and the judging. Enough to make you want to hide behind a cushion.
The Signature challenge was the tried and tested Choux Buns. 24 of them in fact with half iced and half with a perfect craquelin, that is the crackly sugar topping we all had to Google immediately. For such a simple looking bun there was an awful lot that could wrong. From the right amount of egg to the right amount of beating, the right thickness of the craquelin and the uniform shape. Once all that was sussed you had to work out the perfect cooking time and temperature for the bun to bake but the craquelin not to burn. This was the semi-final after all.
Steven went for two beloved flavours; Key Lime Cheesecake then Bakewell Tarts with Frangipane Creme Patissiere. For once he looked truly flustered, especially when the craquelin was burnt which conned him into thinking the bun was baked. The Bakewell Tart buns were also untidy but at least the flavours were prominent. Quite what Stacey was thinking with her Choux-nicorns is anyone’s guess. They looked messy but at least the Banana Chantilly Cream looked like a Zapp lolly (only certain people will know what those are) and just as sickly. The Choux-mojis with craquelin also looked decidedly silly yet imaginative. For all the silly ambition Paul described them as a mess with the textures all wrong.
Of all the displays, Kate’s was the most shop ready. The flavours were well thought out too; Valencian Orange Creme Patissiere and a Brown Sugar craquelin then Bellini Peach Cream with Prosecco flavouring. She is indeed Scouse. For all the uniformity, the main thing was that they were delicious. This far into the competition the flavours have to be stand out as well as the design. Sophie almost managed both. Half were filled with Strawberry and Rhubarb Creme Patissiere and topped with craquelin then a batch filled with Chestnut Puree Mousse. They all looked flat albeit fancy and with all the talk of this being the ideal week for her these were disappointing.
Time to check Google again as the Technical was nine Les Miserables Slices. Yup, no idea. Apparently this is a Belgian cake with pistachio as well as lemon joconde sponge, creme au beurre (fancy French buttercream) and tempered chocolate decoration. You could appreciate the contestants getting visibly worried at seeing not one, but two pages of notes. This needed to be executed like a military operation with all the delicacy of flower arranging. Colours needed to be unmistakable and the layers had to be defined. Kate’s looked decidedly shoddy and was last place below Steven’s which was marked down for the chocolate being ‘too gold’, lest you forgot this was the semi-final. Stacey could be forgiven for going overboard on the green colouring for her sponge yet it needed to be as neat as Sophie’s which gained her top spot.
Then the Showstopper; a sculptural meringue centrepiece involving two different types of meringue. The flavours had to be there as did the technical skill to pull off a sturdy design with strong foundations then styled with meringue decorations. This was also not the time to decide on incorporating chocolate as the temperature rose with the tension in the tent. So many elements and so many opportunities for something to go wrong, this was television at its cruellest as you could watch their delicate, well designed hopes collapse in front of their pleading eyes. At least Paul enjoyed putting the knife in.
For all his form going into this week Steven needed to deliver so his creation was suitably ambitious and named ‘Some Air Over The Rainbow’. A Lemon Italian Meringue Pie Cloud at the base then a balloon out of Blackberry Curd, Peppermint White Chocolate Ganache, Macarons and topped with a Balsamic Strawberry Eton Mess with French Meringue. Perhaps this was finally when his ambition caught up with him as he and his creation failed to stand up to the pressure. The visible cracks appeared even bigger when they were greeted with a silent stare from Hollywood. Admittedly, this looked more like a tree than a balloon and Paul pulled off his strongest Bad Cop routine of the series so far on the execution as it clearly should have been baked for longer. This was well below Steven’s usual standards yet he just about got away it, likely on previous form.
Kate went for something similar; a Swiss Meringue Rainbow with an Italian Meringue Cloud decorated with Meringue Kisses and a Mango and Passion Fruit Cream. While Steven’s was overly ambitious this was simple, bold and colourful with each flavour standing up. A pastel paint palette of flavours with the textures there too but it still was not enough for Star Baker. That went to Sophie, even if her showstopper showed cracks this was her time to shine. Her Swiss Meringue Tutu surrounded a nine layer Opera Cake filled with Coffee Mousse and Chocolate Ganache for pure decadence. Paul was wowed as this was technically the most impressive and after a solid week this was her crowning glory.
By this point Stacey had likely learnt her lesson and scaled back her ambition but it was too late. Her Flamingos in Love were of French Meringue with a Vanilla Panna Cotta then a Raspberry and Lemon Mousse served in what looked like takeaway trays. An Italian Meringue nest completed the set and all looked to be going to plan until she accidentally snapped a flamingo neck. More importantly, the flavours were a mismatch; the Italian meringue was too sweet, the mousse and Panne Cotta too tart. After much deliberation and much improvement she had fallen at the final hurdle. Onto the final.