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Bake Off: Crème de la Crème – episode four

Bake Off: Crème de la Crème – episode four

by Howard Middleton 20 April 2016
Jocondes, sticky toffee pudding and sugar-blown flamingoes – Howard Middleton takes us through another high-pressure round of the pâtisserie competition.
More from this series:

Howard Middleton is an amateur baker from Sheffield, who first caught the public’s attention on series four of the BBC’s The Great British Bake Off.

Time – that teasing trickster that ticks off even the most experienced, runs away with a number of Welbeck Abbey’s temporary inhabitants on the latest instalment of Crème de la Crème. Pity poor Tom Kerridge for a start, who seems to be getting a bit behind with his laundry and turns up for work again in the same clothes.

Exacting judge Cherish Finden says the secret of success is time management, which she says three times. Cherish repeats a lot of things for emphasis, emphasis, emphasis.

First to clock in this week is a team of three pastry chefs from London’s Hilton Park Hotel – Sajeela, James and Sam – who bring a precisely planned time schedule. This is either going to make for some uneventful TV or it’ll be in the bin by the end of the programme. Cookery school teacher Mark Tilling from Squires Kitchen is here with two of his former pupils, Helen and Samantha, and an all-French trio from the Comptoir Gourmand Patisserie – Sebastien, Laure and Christian – complete the party.

The miniatures

As usual, we start with the miniatures challenge, the first of which is the Saint Marc slice. Google for a picture and you’ll discover… a plate of croissant and chips at Singapore’s St Marc Bakery and Bar. It may be a winning combination there, but it’s not going to score highly with these judges. Gateau Saint Marc turns out to be a sort of opera cake with fewer layers. Considering this is a light opera there’s little entertainment for our bakers, as all three teams struggle to set their cakes in time.

Mark’s team is making slices with an extra layer of chocolate joconde, using a rich 80% African chocolate. The little cakes cram in an amaretto Chantilly mousse, topped with a chocolate macaron that’s decorated with a portrait of the saint himself. Helen says he hails from Africa, but Google can neither confirm nor deny this holy man’s parentage so we may need a DNA test. Benoit thinks this is all getting too heavy, with too much ‘claggy’ chocolate.

Mark
Mark teamed up with two of his cookery school students for the competition
Laure and Sebastien
Laura and Christian – along with Sebastien – are the contest's only all-French team
Mark and his gang are striping their sfogliatelle with alternate layers of orange and cinnamon pastry. Filled with ricotta and orange zest, they unfortunately bake to look a bit like bacon rashers. The layers are lost and they’re judged to be chewy not crispy, which is not good for sfogliatelle or a bacon sarnie.

Howard Middleton

Sebastien’s mini Marcs marry almond joconde sponge with rum chocolate and Chantilly creams. At the judgement there are too few slices and they’re not standing upright. Claire says they’re ‘nicely imbibed’ (which is how I shall describe myself in future when I’m struggling to stay upright) but Benoit thinks they’re not a Saint Marc.

The almond joconde pops up again in the Hilton team’s slices. Well, I say ‘pops up’ – it actually has to be prised from its tin as it sticks unexpectedly. Sajeela’s cream-free chocolate mousse doesn’t set and the team serves up only thirty-two slices. The precision is missing too – Cherish wields her ruler and says it’s not acceptable.

Next up it’s sfogliatelle (try getting your mouth around that), which is an Italian pastry meaning a small, thin leaf, sometimes called a lobster tail in English. Sebastien’s team is stretching the pastry by hand like strudel and Benoit says the technique is ‘on the money’. The filling of ricotta and semolina is flavoured with lemon, cinnamon and candied orange peel. Crushed pistachios encrust the crustaceous creations (try getting your mouth around that too) but the finished bakes are big, flat and pale.

Mark and his gang are striping their sfogliatelle with alternate layers of orange and cinnamon pastry. Filled with ricotta and orange zest, they unfortunately bake to look a bit like bacon rashers. The layers are lost and they’re judged to be chewy not crispy, which is not good for sfogliatelle or a bacon sarnie.

Sajeela’s sfogliatelle are filled with rum-infused ricotta, raisins and orange zest. Like Mark’s team, the trio is using a pasta maker to get the dough as thin as possible. Tom adds his expert insight – ‘it needs to be wafer thin – not like a pizza dough’. The bakers are enormously grateful for this clarification and put away their tins of anchovies. Good job too – the judges think the super-crisp pastries are rummy and yummy.

 
Saint Marc slices
Saint Marc slices are like Opera cakes, but with less layers
Sajeela
Sajeela's team gained the most points in the first round

In the absence of the historical segments beloved by the original Bake Off, I’ll tell you that this week’s dome-shaped petits gateaux are little cakes shaped like a dome. And domes are classically found on buildings. Where else would you get such insightful excursions into the worlds of architecture and pâtisserie?

There’s a Granny Smith theme to the French team’s domed cakes. Benoit expects the finished cakes to look like apples, but he is disappointed. Apple tatin and mousse sit on a sablé biscuit and green-tinted white chocolate glaçage coats the domes, topped with a chocolate stalk. The glaze turns out to be dull, the flavours aren’t there and the chocolate ‘stalks’ look like little worms wriggling away to escape any embarrassment.

Mark’s team’s petits gateaux have a double-layered raspberry coulis and cream insert, vanilla mousse, pistachio dacquoise, crystallised pistachios, fresh raspberries and a vibrant chocolate glaze with metallic sparkle. It looks like a recipe for Red Nose Day but Monsieur Blin likes the bling. ‘Love it, love it, love it,’ gushes Cherish. She says it has ‘wow’ at first glance but she complains that Mark’s nuts are not uniform. I hope he’s not too uncomfortable with that.

The petits gateaux from Sajeela’s team have a chocolate ganache insert with blood orange mousse, a Florentine base and chocolate ring decorations. The glaze looks like lobster soup. ‘Beautiful layering,’ says Claire, though she thinks the decorations are a little thick.

As the teams prepare to take a little time out, it’s Sajeela and his hotel crew in the lead, closely followed by Mark’s team, with team Sebastien left trailing.

 
Sebastien flamingo
Sebastien's flamingo didn't impress the judges
Sam flower petals
Sam was keen to add the finishing touches to his sugar petals

The showpiece

 
 

This week’s showpiece dessert calls up the creative juices to flow in the direction of a sticky toffee pudding. Mark’s team’s offering starts with a single chocolate tree, but he intends to recreate the Lake District as a tribute to the pudding’s reputed birthplace. Edible mushrooms and foliage flank a caramel lake, whilst the individual puddings rest on a white-chocolate-coated bank of (ahem) polystyrene. The puddings sound delicious – date sponges with a toffee mousse and vanilla cream, served with phials of local whisky. Dry ice adds a little morning mist to the landscape but it still looks like this Cumbrian excursion’s had a bad trip. Mark looks disappointed. Benoit calls it a big chunk, Cherish says ‘less is more’ and Claire thinks it hasn’t got ‘the flavour profile’, which I suspect is a posh way of saying it’s nothing like a sticky toffee pudding. James from the Hilton team carps that the pudding didn’t really originate in the Lake District anyway. If I were James, I’d avoid walking too close to Ullswater.

Sajeela’s showpiece is a toffee tower made from giant brandy snaps and sugar work. The team’s desserts are date sponge with caramel and plum jelly and vanilla mousse. Sam is crafting sugar petals – an admiring Benoit says ‘pulling sugar is my thing’, adding it gives him goosebumps. Who knew that sugar pullers have such fun? Toffee smoke threatens to choke the lot of them, but Cherish says it’s ‘very sexily done’. (Responsible public health warning – smoking is not sexy.)

The French team are flying some distance from the original pudding with a black treacle dacquoise, date and apricot compote and caramel mousse. Sebastien blows a flamingo, which is not something you hear very often, but its flaccid form has all the finesse of a rubber chicken. Benoit asks, ‘Have you worked with sugar before?’ Cherish isn’t content with their sweet confections either, saying ‘crystallisation is a no-no in the sugar world’. I love the notion that she lives on a different planet.

Inspecting their gateaux, Claire complements the team on how clean they are around the bottoms, which is always a relief to discover, but sadly they finish in bottom place. So it’s Sajeela, James and Sam who get a pass to the semi-final, but Mark, Helen and Samantha are still in with a chance as they take the lead as the highest scoring runners-up so far. It would be a nail-biting week of waiting for them if it hadn’t all been recorded months ago.

But let’s give the final word to the bidet-fresh trio from Comptoir Gourmand, who, in the time-honoured tradition of game show contestants who’ve just lost the jackpot, asked if they’ve had a lovely day anyway, say it was ‘une bonne experience’.

 
 

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Bake Off: Crème de la Crème – episode four

 
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