It’s week five of The Great British Bake Off, and our two professional bakers, Gerhard Jenne and Charlotte Green, discuss whether the half-way point of the series took the biscuit.
“I think Paul Hollywood read last week’s Blog Off, since he commented on the potential wastage!”
Tray bakes are a staple of British baking. From flapjacks to millionaire’s shortbread and bakewell slices, their popularity is enduring. Most bakers have a few recipes up their sleeves, and will have put their own spin on a traditional recipe. This is what all the bakers tried in this latest episode of GBBO.
Beca went for brownies with hazelnuts. So far so good, but glacé cherries struck me as a no-no ingredient: too sweet and only pleasing my dentist. Ruby, the youngest, had never done a traybake before. Perhaps a young baker sees it as old-fashioned? I, on the other hand, find them a great way of honing one’s baking skills. A baker should know how to use a rolling pin and line a tray. The briefest of shots showed Ruby sneaking something in the oven that looked far from it.
Rob, the engineer, went for a version of Tarta de Santiago, a sort of posh Iberian bakewell slice. I bake one with a cinnamon pastry base, filled with membrillo (Spanish quince paste) and topped with a sherry and almond frangipane. It’s a shame Rob didn’t have my recipe, as it cuts into 16 very neat triangles and tastes divine - just what this challenge was all about. The recipe is not blind-baked, instead has to be baked on a low rack at about 180°C. He didn’t observe any of this and ended up with an undercooked, soggy blueberry ‘trifle’.
So far, you may think it was all pretty bad, but there were also some great ideas. Glenn set out to make an apricot and pistachio tiffin using marshmallow and the biggest pan of chocolate ever. Actually, I think Paul Hollywood read last week’s Blog Off, since he commented on the potential wastage! Little did he know that Glenn was going to use all of it and make his slices jaw-breakingly thick.
Christine went for a mixed berry almond bakewell that pleased everyone and looked yummy. Frances, who likes to impress with her creativity and styling, did well with a cross between a banoffee pie and millionaire’s shortbread Jenga. Getting that banana layer to set looked difficult, so in this round she was my winner – can I have the recipe please?
The technical challenge was set by Mary Berry: tuile biscuits - eight rolled and dipped in chocolate, eight more bent and piped in two tones. A snap and crackle is what they were after. Besides getting the batter and thickness right, having to make a parchment piping bag provided an immediate hurdle.
Christine did it gracefully, pressing with one hand and guiding with the other, while someone ‘extruded’ the chocolate batter with fists clenched – not good for accuracy! Kimberley confessed she had the fortune of having baked some tuiles last week. Fortune cookies they weren’t, she came 7 out of 8 and looked shaky for the first time.
The final instalment was a 30cm high biscuit tower show-stopper. I regarded this as a relatively tall order… something we rarely have to bake, and carrying it from one end of the kitchen to the other could prove fatal. They knew of this in advance, so could do some planning.
With constructions like this, you have to dot the i’s and cross the t’s and Howard did just that. A beautiful looking pagoda made out of tea flavoured biscuits. It was well thought out and faultless on every level, and there were loads of them. Christine baked very accurate shortbread building blocks for a Bavarian clock tower and Mary was licking her lips at their taste. I’m sure I could hear the bells chime later when Christine was crowned star baker.
Rob’s gingerbread Dalek I didn’t like much. It was covered in blue coverpaste, which was a pity as it hid an impressive curved biscuit bake below.
No one set out to make the Tower of Pisa, but quite a few of the others ended up pretty close and worse. Rob’s Dalek had a malfunction and piped ‘Exterminate’ at his creator – we won’t see him again I’m afraid!
“Surely any baker worth his salt can whip up a piping bag?”
A signature traybake was a walk in the park for the bakers following the complexities of the past few weeks. Most chose a classic recipe – such as the Bakewell tart – with a twist, but Glenn made things as difficult as possible for himself, with an Apricot and Pistachio Tiffin requiring multiple layers, multiple skills, and plenty of setting time.
Frances scaled back her design work, following last week’s admonishments, and I rather liked her concept – the Millionaire’s Banoffee Bonus, which she stacked up like a game of Jenga. In the judging, the bonus paid out, as Paul and Mary approved of the banana and salted caramel flavours, and praised the bake. Rob’s effort proved to be raw inside, but the other bakers did well in this reasonably straightforward task.
The technical challenge soon ended the relaxed mood, and the contestants looked alarmed as presenter Sue Perkins reeled off the requirements: 18 French tuiles, half piped with concentric circles and shaped in the classic arc, and half rolled into cigarillos. There are many pitfalls to baking tuiles – over-beating makes them shrink, over-baking reduces malleability for shaping, under-baking makes them chewy, not crisp. The batter must go into the oven already very thin – Glenn’s was too thick, causing his tuiles to spread and join up.
It was astonishing to discover that precious few of the contestants could make a piping bag – perhaps I am biased, with my specialism in cakes, but surely any baker worth his salt can whip up a piping bag? Technique was also in short supply, with the bakers piping much too close to the batter, instead of from a height, which perversely increases control. The result was a lot of very shaky circles.
Shaping the freshly cooked tuiles proved difficult, and to be honest, commercial kitchens use handy moulds for this purpose. The contestants needed to work faster to get their tuiles onto curved surfaces before they cooled, and a double pair of food-safe latex gloves would have spared their fingers in this task!
The Biscuit Tower provided a lot of fun, and I was impressed by the precision of Howard’s Japanese pagoda – I find that the higher the stack, the more the tiny areas of unevenness add up into a leaning structure – but his looked perfect. Christine’s Bavarian clock tower was also a nice idea, as was Glenn’s helter-skelter and Ruby’s ice cream. In general I feel that the contestants presentation ideas are really maturing and developing as the series progresses.
Kim, unfortunately, chose Viennese Whirls, which are much too short and crumbly to form a strong tower, and Frances also ran into trouble as her tower collapsed just before judging. Rob’s Dalek had many inedible parts and an abundance of isomalt edible glue, which did not impress Paul and Mary, and though others had also struggled, Rob was eliminated.
Next week will see the bakers tackle sweet dough, as we enter the second half of the competition and the stakes get ever higher.
You can read Gerhard’s blog here.
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Charlotte’s personal blog can be found here.
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