October 23, 2019 10:44 am Leave your thoughts
Vive la France! Vive la Patisserie! It’s all a bit Fin de Siecle in the tent this week – and not just because we’ve nearly reached the end. ‘Happy Semi-Final!’ chirrups Sandi, like Effie Trinket opening the Hunger Games. (Will the odds ever be in David’s favour?) The cull of contestants has become more savage. I take one week off – one week – and they lose Henry! As a mark of respect, all the contestants wear ties. So does Sandi. Prue opts for a necklace of profiteroles instead.
And that’s because it’s Patisserie week – High-End, High-Class, High Stakes and High Drama. It’s a world of elegance, excellence and exquisite bakes, all to be as neat as pins (Prue), with a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ (Paul). Like Louise XIV running amok in Galleries Lafayette, the bakers frolic amongst macarons and mirrored opera cakes, silky cremes and buttery pastry, chocolate soil and edible glass.
Noel brings us back down to earth.
‘What’s the biggest animal you’ve ever castrated?’ he demands of Rosie, a vet.
The Signature Bake features ‘domed tartlets’ (and a few doomed tartlets). These are the chic French cousins of our very own Tunnocks teacakes. What’s the je ne sais quoi here? Yuzu jelly, it seems. Silver leaf. Gold leaf. Roasted rhubarb. Botanical Italian spirits. Now you know.
Like the Center Parcs swimming pool, like the 02 arena, like the top of the Sacre Coeur church – ‘like boobs’ (thank you Steph) – the domes rise over their pastry cases. The judges get stuck in.
‘It’s a shame about the crème pat’, Paul remarks sadly – and repeatedly – of Rosie’s efforts, like the ancient mariner at a canapé party.
‘They’re judging quite harshly today’, David observes, uncorking a bottle of pink bubbles. Henry is forgotten. The ties have come off. And so have the gloves.
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Puff pastry is interspersed with layers of butter – and the Channel 4 Bake-Off is interspersed with layers of adverts. Those Get Ready for Brexit adverts have – for some reason – suddenly disappeared. This week, the armed forces bravely stepped into the breach. ‘Join the Royal Marines!’, we were urged, between the Signature Bake and the Technical. There may only be a small overlap between the Special Boat Service and Patisserie Valerie, but Channel 4 is clearly determined to own it.
Fancy making your own French fancies? We’d recommend starting with macarons – sweet, light little puffs of patisserie, as good on top of a cake as they are as snacks in their own right. Get practising now and you’ll be perfect in time for Christmas.
Macarons don’t involve many ingredients, but the ones you use should be of tip-top quality. You’ll need ground almonds, icing sugar and caster sugar from your store-cupboard, as well as free-range egg whites. We can help with the first three ingredients. Our organic ground almonds have a silkiness that makes light baking easy, and give a delicacy of flavour without the overwhelming almond taste you’ll find in some of the mass-produced packs. We can sell you ground almonds in starter packs (100g and 250g), tea-time packs (500g), Bake-Off Semi-Final size packs (1kg, 2.5kg and 3kg) or Start Your Own Patisserie size boxes (10kg).
We’re famous for our sugars, too, stocking only the best for taste and crystallization. Our unrefined, organic icing sugar is a light, powdery dust, bringing the perfect level of sweetness, without cloying. Our caster sugars – particularly our golden caster sugars – have delicate caramel-like undertones, and dissolve beautifully.
Patisserie is, though, mostly about the pastry. Our full range of flours covers everything you need for every conceivable type of pastry – and all are of the highest quality. For choux, perhaps the most obvious place to start, you’ll do best with strong white flour, which we are pleased to stock in several varieties, all of them organic.
Freely admitting to not being pastry chefs ourselves, we hand over to Delia Smith to explain exactly how to use this kind of flour to make wonderful, high-class teatime treats.
A symmetrical technical
Back to the tent, where there are tears for the Technical. ‘This is very difficult to make look good’, says Prue proudly, of her choice, the extravagantly unnecessary Gateau St Honoré. She’s not wrong. Even her own version looks like a rock-solid Viennetta, clumsily crafted from squirty cream and pastry.
St Honoré is the patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs: nominated, like Jacob Rees-Mogg, by his nanny, who refused to believe he had become a bishop until her baking paddle spontaneously grew into a mulberry tree.
His cake is a homage to the art of balancing small balls of pastry on top of longer sheets of pastry. Various kinds of creamy custards serve as mortar. ‘Diabetes on a plate’, remarks Paul, who would prefer a Tunnocks teacake.
David, too, doesn’t like it. ‘I’m definitely a rough puff kind of guy’, he winks at the camera. It’s not Steph’s bag either, but hey, ‘Whatevs….’.
Rosie has had enough, creating a whole graveyard of choux buns, with butter leaking through her pastry like melancholy through a French pop song. Motherly Sandi comforts and encourages her, using the same words I do when tackling my children’s maths homework. ‘You can do this. You’ve got this. You’re bigger than this.’ She pulls through – she simply forgot to add the gelatin! ‘It’s not over. It’s not over.’ she repeats. And it’s not: she wins the entire challenge, working through the last half-hour in a haze of tears. David is not surprised. ‘Second for the sixth time’, he muses. And thinks a little further ahead. ‘Second will get you all the way to the final…’
It’s a fairytale, fragile fabrication of a showstopper this week: a sugarglass ‘display case’, completely transparent, containing an object dear to the heart of each baker. For Alice, it’s a representation of the fragility of the coral reefs (every cake is a teaching opportunity). For David, it’s cacti in a greenhouse terrarium. Steph, meanwhile, is going to the opera – and Rosie is turning time into cake, or possibly the other way round, to represent all the family time she’s lost out on while failing – so far – to be fired.
It’s a truly ridiculous challenge – edible windows, in effect, of the kind the French like to lick when they faire la leche vitrine, window-shopping in Paris. While the other contestants blowtorch bubbles out of their sugarglass, Noel badgers Rosie once again, this time on the subject of nasty animal abscesses.
The judges shrug off the amazing results, in true Gallic fashion. ‘You’re a very good baker, Stephanie’, Prue observes dryly, slyly scoffing one of her macarons. But that’s as good as it gets. They find Rosie’s dry and boring – and David’s is just ‘not very patisserie’. Bouff.
Who died in a ditch? Rosie, despite the Technical Triumph, who can now happily spend more time with her family and much less time with Noel.
Who’s a choux-in for the Final? Alice. (As predicted by me in Week 2.)
It’s the Biggie next week. Who will win? Je ne sais pas. But also – je ne sais quoi.bulk ground almonds, caster sugar, choux, flour, GBBO9, golden caster sugar, Great British Bake Off, ground almonds, macaron, organic caster sugar, organic flour, organic ground almonds, organic icing sugar, organic strong white flour, organic sugar, patisserie, profiteroles, strong white flour, sugar, unrefined caster sugar, unrefined icing sugar, unrefined sugar
This post was written by Yzanne