Bake Off: The Professionals – Episode 1

Bake Off is back, although not how we remember it, for this is Bake Off: The Professionals.

This revamped version of Crème de la Crème sees teams of professional pastry chefs pitted against each other to create towering edible masterpieces, delicate desserts and perfect pastry. There’s no tent, no Paul and Prue and, in my opinion, very little in the way of charm.

But we do have Liam Charles. Remember him? The cheeky talented flavour master from the 2017 series of Bake Off? Well, he’s got a presenting gig now, alongside comedian and actor Tom Allen. “At least I’ll make it to the final this time,” Liam quips.

He was robbed, I tell you! But moving on…

Godiva’s creative development chef Cherish Finden and Benoit Blin, chef patissier at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, returned as the judges and honestly I don’t think I’ve ever missed Paul Hollywood more. If you thought his steely blue-eyed gaze was scary, you’ve seen nothing. Cherish and Benoit didn’t hold back in their criticism (and there was a lot of it).

So here’s how it works: over the series, 12 teams are split into two heats. The first six compete against each other, with the lowest-ranking team leaving at the end of each episode. Once each set of six has been whittled down to three, they face each other. Each episode features two against-the-clock challenges – the miniatures and the showpiece.

This week’s teams consisted of:

  • Orange: Theo and Hideko, Sweet Art Lab
  • Purple: Darryl and Bharat, Resorts World
  • Blue: Marta and Julie, Bom Patisserie
  • Green: Rebekah and Michael, St David’s
  • Black: Chris and Bjani, The Warren
  • Red: Emmanuel and Sam, The Hilton Park Lane

They were first tasked with making 24 tartes aux fruits and 24 conversations (think French Bakewells) in three-and-a-half hours. Even for professionals, it seems, this was a tall order, although the green team were determined to sing their way through it. Conveniently, Rupert Holmes created the perfect song to match with their piña colada-inspired tartes.

It was the singing Welsh duo who arguably received the best feedback from the judges, describing their conversations as “not perfect but pleasant” and the tartes as “sensational”. High praise indeed.

The other teams’ creations, while pleasing to the amateur eye, suffered from pastry that was undercooked and too thick, washed-out flavours and underwhelming results. But none suffered the wrath of the judges like the black team. “If I was a professional chef and was bringing this up to the competition, I would be embarrassed,” said Cherish. Ouch.

Things didn’t get any better for them in the second round as the teams were tasked with creating an extraordinary showpiece inspired by the Black Forest Gateau, with an emphasis on nature.

None of the showstoppers were perfect, with many struggling with melting chocolate decorations due to the heat in the kitchen, and too much booze in the sponge (Mary Berry wouldn’t have complained about that). That said, the red team’s chocolate cuckoo clock looked truly incredible, as did the blue team’s giant tree and green’s forest floor-inspired piece with chocolate soil, mushrooms and cherry desserts. They came in first and joint-second, respectively. Orange’s working edible marble run, meanwhile, wowed the judges with its playful nature.

Purple’s abstract, angular creation, while impressive, definitely lacked connection to nature and an array of mistakes led Cherish to say “everything is just not right”. The black team didn’t get the results they’d hoped for either – their chocolate axe display was nowhere near as impressive as the other creations, and the judges weren’t keen on the taste. “It’s definitely us going,” said one member of the black team. He was right.

Overall, Bake Off: The Professionals lacked the magic, frolics and charm that I’ve come to expect from anything with Bake Off in the title. It was all far too serious, and the plethora of negative comments meant it was a bit of a downer to watch at times. But, from a consumer perspective, it does make you appreciate how much effort and talent it takes to create a singular dessert.

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