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Great British Bake Off 2017: pâtisserie week recap

Great British Bake Off 2017: pâtisserie week recap

by Howard Middleton 25 October 2017

Pâtisserie can make or break even the most accomplished baker – Howard Middleton keeps us up-to-date with the goings-on at this year's Bake Off semi-final.

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Tuesday morning and next week’s Radio Times arrives with its annual Bake Off Final cover. Perhaps appropriately ‘caked’ in make-up, it’s hard enough to recognise them, let alone sift any secrets from their inscrutable expressions. Only three of them will actually make it through, but which three?

Facing up to the challenges of patisserie week, Stacey, Kate, Steven and Sophie get going with a signature of twenty-four choux buns – twelve iced and twelve with a baked craquelin crust. Paul is ‘expecting exquisite pastry’. He emphasises ‘exquisite’ with the pride of a man who’s ladled himself up from a pan of scouse to drink from the fine bone china of finesse.

Kate impressively describes her bakes in a way that sounds immediately mouth-watering, with Valencian orange and brown sugar and ‘Bellini’ buns pumped up with peach cream and prosecco. (Her discovery of prosecco flavouring is a revelation to us all). Noel asks Kate if she dreams about the final. ‘Yeah, but I’m not in it’ she self-deprecatingly replies.

Sophie is quietly confident that her patisserie expertise could serve her well. Her impressive choux collection is filled with strawberry and rhubarb and a chestnut and vanilla mousse.

Steven opts for the high risk of high fibre as he creates wholemeal choux filled with the flavour of key lime and coconut cheesecake. He matches them with a batch of Bakewell tart balls.

Sandi is spotting the tell-tale signs of Steven’s stress – red cheeks and a twitchy eye are obvious examples but I also think there’s a bravado shrug that says (in the words of the unsinkable Molly Brown) ‘I ain’t down yet’.

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Stacey is visibly pulsing with adrenaline as she enters the gentle realm of fine patisserie wielding the culinary equivalent of an inflatable plastic hammer and channelling the saccharine brashness of a children’s party. The pristinely beribboned cake boxes of Paris collectively tremble at the sight of her banana and caramel choux-mojis and choux-nicorns. The latter is so shocking that all trace of a flavour is extinguished in three words – ‘multi-coloured crème patissiere’. These cakes deserve nothing less than a fabulously trashy cake shop managed by a drag queen called Créme Pat. Sadly, Stacey’s day is not so fabulous; fingering her unicorn horns she acknowledges she’s having a bad morning, then chants ‘I’ve done it wrong, I’ve done it wrong, I’ve done it wrong’.

Prue agrees – ‘they are a mess’ she admits, adding ‘I’m not sure they look delicious’, by which she means they don’t. Pinning her hopes on the yellow craquelin, Stacey is disappointed to hear it ‘looks like curry’ and Paul adds it’s ‘not your finest hour’.

A generously thick layer of craquelin chars too easily and misleads Steven into thinking his soft choux is baked. His Bakewells are too sweet for Prue. Paul disagrees, saying they’re ‘bloody gorgeous’ but adding they ‘look awful’.

Prue praises the gilded good looks of Sophie’s shiny choux, saying her buns ‘look beautiful’ but Paul isn’t completely bowled over. He decides they’re ‘under-baked’ and admits to a ‘tinge of disappointment’.

Kate’s bakes ‘look really lovely’ and Prue admires the ‘very nice orange taste’. Attracting ‘delicious’ comments for her Peach Bellini and ‘unbelievable’ for her craquelin, Kate’s semi-final is off to a cracking start.

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Technical challenge

As we’re now pretty used to (and somewhat weary of) the increasingly superlative statements of this series, it’s no surprise when Noel announces ‘the most complicated challenge ever set for a technical’.

I pity the poor production team member who had to develop an assessment process, scoring system and then literally rank every Bake Off challenge in order of complexity. I presume that’s how they justify these claims.

Working with what we’re told is a Prue recipe for Belgian Les Miserables, the bakers have three hours to serve up nine slices of the multi-layered opera-style cakes. With two flavours of joconde sponge and of crème au beurre to stack precisely, it’s hard enough to master the basics let alone temper chocolate for decoratively curved shards. Stacey bungs too much green colouring in her pistachio joconde and Steven goes OTT with the gold spray but it’s Kate who fares worst. Sophie’s batch is practically perfect.

The showstopper

For this week’s showstopper the bakers must create a centrepiece dessert using two different meringues – French, Swiss or Italian. Steven can’t yet focus on the possible challenge of next week – ‘I don’t want to think of the final – I’ve got meringue to make’.

He clearly enjoyed the benefit of an unwittingly camp grandmother who it seems sang misheard tributes to Judy Garland. Rifling through her repertoire, Steven rejects ‘The pan that got away’ and opts for another classic. His ‘Some air over the rainbow’ creation consists of a pretty pastel spectrum of meringues, grouped to resemble a hot air balloon and flavoured with balsamic strawberry Eton Mess, blackberry curd and peppermint white chocolate ganache. He worries his slightly cracked meringues might come back to bite him, which is guaranteed to be the stuff of baking nightmares. Tragically Steven also suffers the indignity of a disappearing basket as his neat little chocolate box drips away in the warmth of the tent.

Stacey is creating a couple of passionate passion fruit flamingos, their beaks barely making contact over an Italian meringue nest of white chocolate eggs. Boldly bashing the chilled chocolate moulds on her bench, she unwittingly whacks and cracks a bird’s neck.

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Sandi warns that ‘each element added puts more strain on their meringue’, which is a not too subtle way of putting even more strain on the viewers.

Sophie choreographs a delicate meringue ballet tutu with a nine-layered opera cake encased in a Swiss meringue bodice. Sadly the oven proves to be a bodice ripper and Sophie needs to improvise repairs to her embarrassing wardrobe malfunction.

Kate is crafting a fruity meringue rainbow with Italian meringue clouds, carved fruit and meringue kisses. Sandi observes that with two rainbows and a tutu this is ‘the gayest challenge of all time’. I’d like to see the score sheet for that one.

Steven’s flavours are ‘nice’ but Paul chides the husky voiced baker – ‘not up to the usual Steven standard’.

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Despite being well conceived, the judges decide Stacey’s showstopper is ‘quite simplistic’. Similar criticism confronts Kate’s cheerful rainbow; despite being ‘delicious’ Paul decides it’s ‘a bit childish’. He summarises her efforts as ‘a bit of a splat of flavour and colour’ then surprisingly admits ‘it freaks me out a bit’.

‘Highly impressed’ by her piping skills (including some very clever repair work to that friable frock), the judges award this series’ last Star Baker status to Sophie.

With Steven and Stacey still in danger, Paul admits they’ve had to look back at past weeks’ performance in order to decide and it’s the storming powerhouse of Hurricane Stacey that blows out of the tent. You may think this departure will make for a quieter final – quite possibly ‘the calmest final ever seen on Bake Off’? I flipping hope not!

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