Week four of The Great British Bake Off saw the contestants grapple with tortes, crème caramel and multiple layers of meringue in the dessert focus of Season 3. How did they fare? Here's Season Two contestant Urvashi Roe, the Botanical Baker, with the run-down of last night's episode.
Blog post for Great British Chefs by Urvashi Roe
Desserts. Well, that can mean a number of different things so I was rather surprised at the challenges this week.
Tortes vs Tarts
This week the bakers’ first brief was to create a torte – a multiple layered dessert over 20cm in diameter. Mary Berry was looking for something that “looks special, has lots of different layers and flavours that compliment”.
I must say, the ‘brief’ is something I must have read at least a dozen times to make sure I was encompassing all of the elements the judges were looking for. Cathryn and Sarah-Jane should perhaps have done the same as their tortes were rather lacking in layerage!
The bakers also had an additional challenge as they were not allowed to use ordinary wheat flour. My heroes in this round were Danny and Brendan. Danny with her wonderful use of potato flour and blackberry curd which is a favourite in my house too. And Brendan for his chestnut flour and lemon verbena. I think Paul was being very harsh in his critical comments about 70’s styling! They both looked stunning in my view.
‘Clever and cosy’ James had a gorgeous combo too – Passion Fruit and Dark Chocolate but poor John this week who created ‘an intimidating cake’ which looked like a “chocolate breeze block” in Paul’s opinion. Again, I think this was very harsh but agree that it was rather on the large side.
Who knew there was so much history and scandal involving sugar? This week Sue Perkins talked us through sweet poisoning, politics and the pioneering reforms of then Prime Minister William Gladstone who abolished sugar taxes and brought prices within the means of the ordinary citizen and this is when dessert making really kicked off in the UK. I for one, am glad it did as without that would we indeed have The Great British Bake Off at all?
Crème Caramel, or "Whole eggs or egg yolks?"
Mary chose a classic dessert for the technical challenge this week: a crème caramel. It required the bakers to “make a custard” which to my surprise confused so many of them. I learned how to make custard at school in home economics and remember being utterly bored at the waiting and then suddenly panicking at the sheer speed at which the thickening process happened. The younger contestants could perhaps have done with my teacher Mrs Evans breathing down their necks because most completely messed this challenge up. I guess the confusion was how much to let the custard thicken and for crème caramel the answer is not at all. It gets poured into the ramekins straight away.
Poor Stuart and Manisha’s were flopping disasters with puddles on the tray. I don’t think neither Paul or Mary would have liked the ceramic shards from Cathryn’s ramekin, which fell out as she banged and turned them over – again – did she meet the brief only delivering five out of the six required?
The best by far were Brendan and Danny who had “proper caramel and not light sugar syrup” according to Paul and a “lovely wobble”.
A Showstopping Meringue Tower
What I really liked about the challenges we had on Series Two was they way they complimented each other so this week I was disappointed that the Showstopper Challenge was a layered meringue when we had seen a layered dessert earlier. Nevertheless, it was great viewing with some fabulous bakes.
It was nice to see the contestants use different methods for the meringue layers.
Most used the French method where egg whites are whisked to stiff peaks and then sugar beaten in slowly until stiff peaks form. Sarah Jane used the Swiss method and whisked her cream of tartar, sugar and egg whites over a bain-marie and beat them vigorously as they cooled. And James used the Italian method which is the only version Sue could taste as the whisked egg whites are cooked and thickened using sugar syrup that has reached 118ºC.
There were some disasters and Ryan’s was the most notable but I think he’s the dark horse this year as he always manages to save the day – even this week when he remade most of his meringue bases in the nick of time as the first batch had come out too soft.
Amazingly Paul did not like James’ creation this week and said so in his usual forthright way. He also didn’t like Danny’s, complaining it was too stodgy. Cathryn met his criticism too this week as it was simply cake and no meringue. Again not on brief. How did she escape being at the bottom this week?
Brendan’s was a hit with Mary and Paul... and me! His Pear, Chocolate and Hazelnut Dacquoise was “lovely and delicate with wonderful flavours”.
I’m so fickle. My favourite has changed from James to Brendan. He was on fire this week and I loved all his bakes. Simply beautiful and elegant creations. I think he’s heading for the final and am so pleased the Star Baker accolade went to him this week.
Unsurprisingly in my view Stuart was out. He’s such a lovely chap but there have been too many blunders compared to the others so I think it was the right choice.
What I noticed this week was how much the group have bonded. They all seemed genuinely sad to see Stuart leave. It’s a stressful situation in that tent and I remember well the analytical conversations we all had at the end of a day of baking and filming forgetting almost about the competitive nature of the show. I hope they will all end up good friends as many of us Series Two contestants have.
Blog post by Urvashi Roe
Tempted to try your hand at torte? We have a fantastic chocolate torte recipe from chef Shaun Hill on Great British Chefs. What did you think of last night's episode of The Great British Bake Off? Have any tips for making crème caramel? How would you have made your towering meringue?