Stephen’s team’s square biscuits are neatly patterned and beautifully crumbly but Benoit isn’t impressed by their cockeyed discs of vanilla and chocolate sablé filled with honey and praline ganache. However, Claire loves the taste and Cherish calls them ‘brilliant’. Claire spots a little cracking in Christophe’s classic biscuits but it’s the team’s creative crackers that really spark the judges’ taste buds. Two fingers of chocolate sablé are sandwiched with a core of salted caramel and dipped in milk chocolate, like the world’s most elegant Penguin. Claire calls it ‘delightful’ and Cherish cries, ‘I love it!’
The third miniature is a tarte aux fruits. Stefan is keen to show off his pâtisserie prowess by hand-cutting squares of pastry to support domes of lychee, raspberry and rose mousse. Benoit says it’s ‘not a tart’ and Cherish thinks a little basil leaf garnish has overpowered the subtle fruity flavours. No fear of that with the team’s second pastry, which is fruitless to begin with – it’s a tarte sans fruits –but the judges don’t seem to mind. With salted caramel, blonde chocolate Chantilly cream and tempered chocolate decorations, Claire thinks it’s lovely and Benoit calls it ‘a nice treat’.
Mark’s also taking the chocolate path but with the reassuring addition of fruit, in the form of a passion fruit jelly and curd. A less welcome addition occurs when Sam’s chocolate ganache splits; Mark suggest masking it with a dusting of cocoa powder but the covering is too heavy and Sam resorts to blowing it off. Yes, I know it’s something you might do in the privacy of your own home, but it’s slightly disturbing to see a master chocolatier heavily breathing on pastries. Nevertheless, Sam’s breath is a huge success. Claire decides the tarte ‘eats really, really, really well’. (Presumably pastries that ‘eat badly’ aren’t just the ones that pick at their plates and rest their elbows on the table.) Cherish almost looks disappointed with herself when she admits, ‘I don’t say this very often – it is exquisite’.
As Valeria painstakingly pares blueberries for her team’s classic tartes, disaster strikes with the pastry cases for the other – a recipe mishap produces a tray of soggy shapeless butter pats. Thinking quickly, Christophe employs leftover chocolate sablé dough to make a fresh batch. It’s a successful substitution, complementing the blackcurrant mousse, chocolate sabayon cream and cassis glaze. Unfortunately, the finishing touch of a dark chocolate square doesn’t match Cherish’s exacting visual standards. She says she’d only be happy eating it with a blindfold on. Benoit’s not happy with the team’s other tarts either – Valeria has accurately placed three slices of blueberry on every one but both she and Josua lost count of the tarte total and they’re missing two. Despite being ‘nicely baked’ Benoit’s verdict is that there’s ‘far too much fruit business’ on top. A shamed Valeria skulks off to consider the potential for a patented blueberry slicer.
At half time it’s a draw between the two chocolate masters Stephen and Mark, but Christophe’s team is only just behind by six points.