Bake Off: Crème de la Crème – episode five

Bake Off: Crème de la Crème – episode five

by Howard Middleton 27 April 2016

Howard Middleton walks us through the highlights of the final heat in the pâtisserie competition, which features everything from AstroTurf to chocolate horns.

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Howard is a food writer and presenter from Sheffield, who first caught the public’s attention on series four of The Great British Bake Off, going on to win their affection with his quirky style and love of unusual ingredients.

Howard is a food writer and presenter from Sheffield, who first caught the public’s attention on series four of The Great British Bake Off, going on to win their affection with his quirky style and love of unusual ingredients. He now demonstrates his creative approach to gluten-free baking at numerous food festivals and shows and by teaching baking classes around the country, including at corporate events, commercial promotions and private parties. Howard continues to entertain audiences as a public speaker, compere and broadcaster.

We’re on the home straight of the pâtisserie race as we reach the final week of the heats. And not a moment too soon, as the programme makers faced the very real danger of running out of shapes to make les petits gateaux into.

First off the blocks is Karl from the Celtic Manor hotel group, who is joined by former colleagues Ffion and Amit. They’ve participated in something called the Culinary Olympics, which I expect includes such disciplines as the fryathlon, and probably chocolate curling in the winter games.

Tomas, Victor and Simon are from the prestigiously cloud-hugging Panoramic 34 restaurant in Liverpool and three chocolatiers from Leeds form the third team – nominally led by Stephen, though it’s Nelson who quickly proves to be the team hero. He demonstrates his skill in a slightly bizarre backstory shot, which shows him piping neat rows of miniature macarons on a standard macaron template – we love a rebel. Stefan is the third team member.

The miniatures

This week’s petit gateau is cube-shaped. Benoit hints at his future career as a game show host and asks, ‘Will they surprise us by what’s inside The Cube?’ Sadly, Benoit doesn’t really seem to be in the mood for surprises this week, as his smile stays securely at home in a pretty porcelain jar marked ‘le sourire’. I feel like giving him a big hug to cheer him up – I really need to stop doing that to men I’ve never met.

Karl's cubes
Karl's cubes were brightly coloured, but lacked vibrant flavour
Stefan and Stephen
Stefan and Stephen are chocolatiers from Leeds and were sure to use plenty of chocolate throughout the competition

The trio from Liverpool make cubes of mint and pistachio-flavoured sponge with chocolate mousse and a pistachio tuile garnish. Tomas seems worried about the timing. ‘The mousse normally takes two to four hours to set – we only have three,’ he says. The cubes should have a carefully sprayed chocolate finish but Simon resorts to drenching them with an erratic last minute splurge. Cherish can’t taste the mint and Benoit says he’s bored.

Karl’s team is risking exposed sides on its cubes of granola crumble, lemon sponge, blueberries and lemon, poppy seed and ginger buttercream. With a topping of crème fraiche mousse, the miniature cakes are finished with a fruit pastille, wrapped in silver leaf to look like foil. Unfortunately, Claire calls their sponge ‘tight and chewy’, while Cherish demands ‘we need taste, chef’!

Stephen forgets to put sugar in his pecan and praline cream mousse, so it’s Nelson to the rescue. The team’s pecan sponges with a nut streusel should have a sharp yuzu jelly. Sadly, it doesn’t set soon enough and they run out of time to finish spraying all their cubes. In a moment of tension worthy of Holby City, Stefan says, ‘Gold leaf quickly – we’ve got two minutes.’ It fails to revive Benoit, taking nearly all his insouciant energy to admit, ‘It’s not a bad thing to eat.’

This week’s second miniature challenge is a coconut dacquoise slice. Stephen’s team’s has a pina colada theme, with two layers of coconut meringue, coconut mousse, pineapple and rum jelly and a pineapple crémeux. I could listen to Benoit pronounce the word ‘crémeux’ all day, but Tom Kitchen lamentably manages to make it sound like a baying cow. At the judging, Claire says she gets the flavour, but no texture.

Tomas and Simon
Tomas and Simon worked hard on their showstopper, but didn't quite make it to the semi-finals
Karl's team
Karl, Ffion and Amit work at the Celtic Manor hotel group, but their sponges were deemed to be too tight and chewy

Tomas’s team is making a multi-coloured dacquoise layered with passion fruit bavarois, coconut mousse and more of that luscious crémeux; this time chocolate. Benoit thinks it’s too plain looking.

Karl’s team’s dacquoise also includes a layer of coconut joconde, with two ganaches – mango and coconut – glazed with dark chocolate and topped with tiny Swiss meringues. Cherish finds it a bit heavy and Claire can’t taste the mango, the lime or the coconut, adding: ‘The only flavour profile I get from that is chocolate.’ Claire likes to say ‘flavour profile’.

The third miniature is a fresh fruit tartlet with a sablé Breton crust. So what makes a perfect Breton fruit tart? In the immortal words of Cherish, we discover it’s ‘the combination of the fruit and the tart’.

Nelson is guiding Stephen again with his fruit tarts, which are topped with a mascarpone and black pepper mousse, sliced figs and a roasted blackberry. Presumably roasting a blackberry is similar to chicken – twenty minutes per pound – just whack it on the scales first. It fails to fire up Cherish’s palate.

Karl’s team’s tarts have an orange and thyme sablé base and are topped with summer berries, fruit gels and a crème chiboust. Pipettes of Pimm’s provide a little squeeze of summer, but Benoit’s really not in the squeezing mood – he thinks it’s too heavy and under-baked. Tomas’s tartlets are individually shaped into little leaves, filled with orange-infused diplomat cream, mixed berries with a bitter orange glaze and strewn with an almond streusel. Claire says it’s a really good sablé Breton, but bad-day Benoit judges it to be ‘a bit basic’.

At the halfway point, low scores all round let Stephen’s team nudge into the lead, with Tomas second and Karl third.

Nelson's fruit tarts
The final miniature each team had to complete was a Breton fruit tart
Nelson's fruit tarts
Nelson's fruit tarts were topped with mascarpone and black pepper mousse

The showpiece

This week’s showpiece dessert must take the chocolate cheesecake to new heights. Tomas’ team has turned to Greece for inspiration, conveniently discovering that the ancient Greeks ate a form of cheesecake – where would we be without Wikipedia? (I also learnt that an old word for cheesecake was placenta. Let’s not go there.) They’ve crafted a decorative chocolate lyre that looks like a pair of horns. Stephen’s team’s showpiece is an Aztec-inspired creation with a chocolate sundial, topped with what looks like a pair of horns. Karl says his design doesn’t represent anything, but it’s decorated with sugar wings that look remarkably like… no prizes for guessing.

Stephen’s Aztec dessert has a chocolate sablé base with cream cheese and a Peruvian chocolate mousse. There’s a lot of precision work – shaping, smoothing, piping, balancing – before the precious chocolate box is sacrificed on a rainforest altar of AstroTurf.

Claire, who has a very individual vocabulary of critique, says ‘it eats really well’ and there’s no fooling Cherish’s laser-sharp palate as she adds, ‘If I taste the cheese on its own, I can taste cheese.’ Blasé Benoit says he has no problem with it, then goes on to detail his problem – ‘I have a slice, not a plated dessert.’ His slice of dessert sits on a plate – I’m confused.

The trio from Wales are packing a lot into their white chocolate and mascarpone cheesecake, including orange jelly, orange streusel and a ginger beer panna cotta. Sadly, it’s judged to be an entremet that’s ‘a million miles away from a chocolate cheesecake’. Ffion cries, ‘I want Mary Berry.’

Tomas’s chocolate cheesecake has a hazelnut sponge, topped with chocolate soil and a chocolate cream cheese. Cherish thinks it’s missing something vital – ‘It needs more chocolate cheesecake.’

Stephen and his team manage to hold onto their lead and go through to the semis. Cherish consoles Tomas and his team by saying ‘come back next year’, which is not the way things normally work on Bake Off and downright cruel if there’s no second series.

So next week it’s the first of the two semi-finals – a chance to see some familiar faces again and to look forward to some not-so-familiar challenges. Oh, and let’s hope for a brief respite from all this sugar! If it’s nicely plated, does a mini pork pie count as pâtisserie?