Bake Off: Crème de la Crème – episode seven

Bake Off: Crème de la Crème – episode seven

by Howard Middleton 11 May 2016

The second semi-final gets the full Howard Middleton treatment, featuring chocolate banks, marzipan mice and marshmallows.

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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.

It’s the penultimate programme and by now we’d fully expect our master of the obvious statement Tom Kerridge to explain ‘penultimate’ to us – ‘There’s just one more programme to go.’ Thanks Tom.

So for the second semi-final. ‘We had the first semi-final last week.’ OK Tom, that’s enough, please! We welcome back the Leeds chocolatiers, Stephen, Nelson and Stefan and the team from London-based artisan bakery Boulangerie Jade – Christophe, Valeria and Josua, whose names subtly demonstrate their continental individuality by each having one letter different to any English counterparts.

As the highest scoring runners-up, the team from Squires cookery school – Mark, Sam and Helen – have earned their ‘wild card’ place in the semi-final. Now I’m sure Sam and Helen are worthy contestants – skilful, talented, accomplished in the finer arts of pâtisserie, but I can’t resist adopting my best Leslie Phillips-style ‘Well, hello’ when it comes to welcoming back Mark. Yes, I’m shallow but he is simply the silver fox of sugarcraft – a perfectly primped pectorally pumped piping bag of a man. I hope nobody actually reads this stuff.

The miniatures

First up in the miniatures challenge is something called a Belgian miserable, which sounds suspiciously like a dig at the boys from Brussels. We’re told it was originally a poor man’s dessert; why someone with dessert should still be miserable is anyone’s guess. The classic miserable offers little room for creativity, but the teams have free rein with the second.

Howard's favourite silver fox of sugarcraft got stuck in to the miniatures challenge right away
Sam and Helen
Sam and Helen were on hand to assist him wherever they could

Stephen’s team has spruced up the original recipe with just a little candied orange zest. Benoit says it’s dry and ‘not quite there’. The chocolatiers fare better with their second cake – seven layers of chocolate mousse, hazelnut joconde and diplomat cream, topped with chocolate glaçage and a gilded nut. Claire tells Stephen ‘I love your gold nuts’. Not a titter. Despite its wealth of French, one thing Crème de la Crème doesn’t do is double entendre.

Mark’s team opts for chocolate almond joconde, with a raspberry-flavoured Italian meringue buttercream, raspberry liqueur and a chocolate glaze. They’ve been rather creative with the classic too – Amaretto-laced, with coffee buttercream and a gold coffee bean on top. Claire likes the crunch of its caffeine hit but Benoit says the cakes are ‘disproportionate’ – too much filling to sponge.

Christophe and his artisan bakers produce a classic miserable that Benoit says is ‘on the money’. A daiquiri cocktail inspires the flavours of their second cake, with coconut and strawberry crème mousseline, pistachio joconde and rum syrup. Cherish complains about the grande dimensions of the petits fours – ‘I’m a lady – bite size and just finish, with one mouthful’. However, she and Claire are ladies that definitely want more rum down their necks.

The second miniature is a sablé hollandaise biscuit, which is classically made in a checkerboard pattern. We see the teams layering miniature strands of chocolate and vanilla dough as if they were making Battenbergs for Barbie.

For his twist on the classic, Mark has rolled spirals of raspberry and vanilla dough. However, the biscuits are under-baked – Claire likes the flavour but Cherish says, ‘All I can taste is uncooked flour on my palate.’ She also has a problem with the size of the original biscuits, slicing off rows to illustrate some suitably Cherish-able goods.

Valeria's marzipan mice certainly looked the part
Christophe's miserables were true to the classic, which Benoit appreciated

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.

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.

Howard Middleton

Nelson was careful to place the chocolate domes around Stephen's showpiece
Mark's egg-shaped showpiece was filled with tiny drawers

The showpiece

The brief for the showpiece is basically the same as last week’s – a big chocolate thing displaying three different sweets – but this time the confections are marshmallows, moulded chocolates and calissons, which are iced fruity marzipan-esque little blocks.

The Leeds chocolatiers expect to do well – Stephen is frequently referred to as the King of Chocolate, a title that presumably didn’t just come about from once turning up at a party wearing a crown of Cadbury’s Flakes. Their creation is based on The Tree of Life, but it actually looks more birdlike, with its swooping form and plumage-like flower on top, which Stephen creates by dripping streams of chocolate over a balloon. It’s a tense moment as he struggles to deflate the balloon still leaving the thin chocolate strands reasonably intact.

Josua is also on balloon duty, but his is a delicate sugar creation which he shapes and blows like glass. So what’s the balloon for? It’s revealed as the means of escape for marzipan mice who’ve been gorging on confectionery money at a chocolate bank. Christophe says it’s an anti-Capitalism protest. The nation is speechless. Josua explains the flavour choice for their gold bars – ‘Salted caramel – nice and funky – impress the judges’. You can tell Josua’s a bit of a party animal. I suspect the other two may have ‘partied’ too when they came up with this idea.

Tom interjects, ‘It’s the half way mark. You’ve had one and a half hours. You have another one and a half hours remaining.’ Who writes Tom’s stuff?

Stephen used a balloon to shape his chocolate strands
Bake Off: Crème de la Crème – episode one
Mark and Christophe led the two winning teams into the final

As the tension mounts, Christophe’s impatience grows, Valeria worries that their chocolate tower is wobbly and Stephen is concerned that his erection may exceed the maximum height (that’s 120cm if you’re interested). In the end, it’s a bit of a disappointment – the team’s apple marshmallows are too soft, too bright and have no flavour, and though Claire thinks the melon calissons have ‘excellent consistency’, Benoit isn’t keen on the overpoweringly boozy kick of the Venezualan rum truffles.

The Squires team’s chocolate container is inspired by the Baroque grandeur of Welbeck Abbey – decorated with flowers, birds and sugar lace and centred on a chocolate column. An Easter-egg-shaped chest of drawers sits atop. It treasures chocolates of lemon verbena and raspberry ganache, pineapple calissons and lime marshmallows, which Claire insists on pronouncing ‘marsh-mellows’. Little things like this annoy me – I had to return my partner’s choice of new vacuum cleaner this week because I thought it too ugly. I bet he never thought I’d get that in this article. Anyway, the judges are wowed by the spectacular showpiece (which is more than I can say for that vacuum cleaner). Cherish calls it ‘regal, classy and elegant’. However, Mark has never made calissons before and sadly it shows – they’re judged to be rough. Claire thinks the chocolates are tasty but they’re not quite shiny enough for Cherish. She asks Mark if she can pull on his drawers. He politely declines her request. Mark’s what I call a choc-tease.

Back at the chocolate bank, Benoit decides the team has delivered on flavour but he expected more on presentation. The marzipan mice gaze wistfully at him. Vanilla and cassis marshmallows go down well and Cherish says there’s a fantastic balance of gelatine. And still the little mice look on. Finally, Claire says she loves the marzipan mice. Yes – party time!

But who’s celebrating a pass to the final? The judges decide that wild cards Mark, Sam and Helen are the deserving winners, but it’s not over for Christophe’s team as they beat last week’s runners up to that coveted third spot. So everybody’s happy – apart from Stephen’s team. Benoit turns to Christophe and says, ‘I love you to bits’. Now that’s something you’d never hear from Paul Hollywood. Unfortunately.