Semi-Final time and it was Chocolate Week but who would keep their nerve?
Then there were four. This was the semi-final and amidst all the tension each contestant knew that anything less than perfection would likely see them in trouble. A question of nerve as much as nous then.
At least the challenges were relatively simple as the signature was a chocolate tart. Tamal went for a Chocolate New York Pie, the origin of which was not exactly explained but featured a chocolate filling topped with a layer of raspberry coulis and pecan brittle. The success came in the combinations; the filling to pastry ratio, the crunch and sweetness of the pecan brittle with the smooth filling and tart coulis. Paul Hollywood did his usual bad cop routine of umming and ahing before finally deciding that he did actually like it. Of course he did.
Anyone who has watched Bake Off this season will know that the real problem with Flora is not with her baking but her decision making. After being repeatedly told to cut out the extras she simply cannot help herself. Alas, this week she failed to heed the lesson again as her macarons were overbaked and pretty much pointless. That said her tart did look spectacular as cute passion fruit jellies sat on a (disappointingly) matte finish dark chocolate ganache. The passion fruit custard had split but at least, combined with the milk chocolate mousse, the layers were bright and distinctive.
Regular viewers will also know that Iain likes to show off with his flavours. This week it was a bay leaf-infused salted caramel sauce which simply did not work. Mary Berry struggled to taste it and despite the mirror glaze the effort looked relatively pointless. Nadiya also went for salted caramel and combined hers with peanut which drew a handshake from Paul. Even Mary liked the combination and she is admitted not being a fan of peanuts. Despite the pained expression on Nadiya’s face throughout she ended with a look of blissful surprise. They liked it, they really liked it.
In what was a first for Bake Off there were staggered start off times for the technical challenge. At least they had all heard of a chocolate soufflé before but none had actually made one. At one point it appeared that Iain was suffering a brainfreeze and would simply stare at his workstation for an hour while Nadiya snapped at her cement-like crème patisserie. Flora was up first and you could see the worry on her face at knowing she would have to get each element spot on and knowing full well that one slip up could be disastrous. Going first and being judged in whispers ranked up the tension and meant she had no idea how she had done. In fact she was top with the bottom two struggling with large pieces of meringue (Nadiya) and overfolding (Iain). With so many chances to get it wrong it was a credit to all four that all were passable.
With no-one really standing out so far the showstopper really was definitive. The 3D Chocolate Centrepiece needed to demonstrate tempered chocolate work, artistry and exquisite biscuits. Nail all three and you were in the final, stumble on a single element and that could be the difference.
As Mary rightly said, from a distance Tamal’s Bell Tower looked stunning yet on closer inspection looked rather shoddy. The tempering was admittedly impressive and the vanilla shortbread with star anise biscuit displayed his excellent sense of flavour, as usual so he had done enough. For ingenuity and precision Iain would win every single week, hands down. Alas, Bake Off asks for more and despite his working Chocolate Well looking fit for a wedding it lacked any real artistry. He had used chocolate moulds but not shown any chocolate work yet the buttery shortbread probably just about excused him.
After finishing last in the technical Nadiya probably felt even more tense than usual yet despite her hands shaking she kept her nerve and her Chocolate Peacock looked spectacular. The bright, blue detail on the tail feathers was exquisite given the pressure and when you thought she had given herself too much to do she composed herself and got through it. Even the flavours of her biscuit were spot on so the overall design did not take anything away from the taste meaning she was again Star Baker.
Poor Flora. For once her extras actually worked as white chocolate ganache horses proved the highlight of her Cocoa Carousel. Everything else just looked a bit off; the design looked wonky and the finish appeared flat. Usually when Paul cuts into a showstopper and all that hard work falls apart there is a sense of accomplishment, here it was just disappointment. No-one really deserved to leave, especially not at the semi-final stage, yet Flora’s time had come. Then there were three.
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