How have the fantastic four fared according to our two professional bakers, Gerhard Jenne and Charlotte Green? One thing’s for certain - they’ve got a sneaking suspicion that one of the judges isn’t too fond of one of the contenders...
“Some say the baking has suffered in exchange for X-Factor-style personal drama.”
For the semi-final the producers of the show went all French. I’m told the format of GBBO has subtly changed in the four years since its first airing, and it’s worth going back to the first series to see some proper baking. Now that the format has been sold to 13 countries, Paul and Mary are household names, whereas at first it was Mel and Sue who were the stars. Some say the baking has suffered in exchange for X-Factor style personal drama.
The baking was a bit of a mixed bag and, by the end, it was no surprise when the final three were announced.
First, though, it was a round of savoury canapés for all of them - three types including choux pastry and 12 each. There was quite a lot of innovation, such as carrot pastry, savoury macaroons, wasabi profiteroles and beetroot jelly on biscuits.
It is somehow clear PH does not like Frances as, week after week, he repeats the “style over substance” mantra. I think she’s more creative than Paul, and he’s irked by it. Now that baking is on the forefront of home cooking, there’s a space for someone as creative as her. I’m sure a book will follow, no matter what happens next week, featuring all those playful recipes that require a lot of patience and time.
Next up was the Technical Challenge. Charlotte Royale, nothing to do with Charlotte Church, much to the disappointment of Beca, who is so good with all things Welsh. In fact, it’s a mould lined with jam-filled, tightly rolled Swiss rolls, then filled with a fruity bavarois cream, finished with a clear glaze and a piping of cream around the edges.
The only one who seemed to know that the bavarois must not come through in between the Swiss roll slices was Kimberley. This made glazing it a lot easier as hot jelly on cold cream does not make for good bonding. Ruby definitely suffered badly; her Swiss roll haemorrhaged and bled all over, but I guess it is Halloween soon.
For the Showstopper, gateau Opera was the ultimate French recipe challenge. More layers and fillings were required and I’m sure this was really stressful as baking so many different things in two days is not easy. I noticed Frances had an immaculate prep list - the only way to approach something this complex; we could all learn a little from her.
Paul and Mary were looking for good layers and an accurate finish, and the bakers had the freedom to stray from the original coffee/chocolate flavour combo. Frances was her creative self and made a “soap opera” cake with lavender and lemon. PH had warned her that the lavender would be overpowering, but in the end the whole thing lacked flavour. That said, it looked damn good, though. A hard chocolate top is not a good idea for an otherwise soft cake base. Kimberley did not take that into account: you would need to pre-cut the slices, otherwise it would never work.
The other two bakers didn’t do so well with their versions and, in the end, it was a toss-up between Ruby and Beca as to who was going forward to next week’s final. Beca played it too safe with her canapé flavours and got the Opera wrong. According to the judges it tasted artificial (banana) and was gravelly (banana chips). So Ruby managed to cling on for another week; her baking has flair, but she lacks experience.
After the first episode I hotly tipped Kimberley as a potential winner. Frances is the quieter one of the two, but she has steadily progressed. She may well have a few trump cards up her sleeve to grab this year’s trophy. Make sure you tune into the final - it promises to be a great bake-off.
“Kim smiled with the satisfaction of someone who had seen the exam paper ahead of time.”
Hot on the heels of the announcement that record audience viewing numbers have secured a BBC1 slot for 2014, The Great British Bake Off semi-final arrived… with yet more French-themed baking.
The final four contestants quickly set about preparing savoury canapé selections, with the words “must be visually enticing” ringing in their ears.
The flavour choices were bold and interesting, with Ruby incorporating a beetroot jelly into one of her sets, and quail’s eggs into another. Refreshingly, Kim promptly abandoned the French style in favour of Chinese dim sum, whilst Beca’s inclusion of Welsh rarebit tartlets pleased me.
The bakers were determined to achieve uniform sizes for their canapés, and they came armed with innovative ways to achieve this objective, from piping nozzles to cake pop moulds. The results were mostly very good; Frances, Kim, and Ruby’s presentation impressed the judges, although Ruby had underfilled her tartlets, and Frances had overdone the paprika.
Beca’s canapé selection was criticised for both its looks and flavours, with boring, inelegant-looking pieces, too much stilton in the ‘savoury macarons’ and, surprisingly, too much ale in the rarebit, which is absolutely delicious when made correctly.
Continuing the French theme in the Technical Challenge was the Charlotte Royale. Kim smiled with the satisfaction of someone who had seen the exam paper ahead of time, and set about expertly creating a Swiss roll, then confidently lining her bowl and filling it with the sponge slices, leaving not a gap in sight.
Ruby, whose workstation was beginning to resemble a murder scene, noticed Kim’s cling film lining and realised her own crucial mistake. Her slices of Swiss roll were wildly uneven, with jam spilling everywhere, but with no time to spare, she had to use them anyway.
The results were one perfect Charlotte Royale, which earned Kim first place, and three attempts of varying success, each with large sections of bavarois coming through the many gaps in the sponge outer layer.
Well-defined layers have posed a problem throughout the contest, so what better way to test those remaining, than with an Opera Cake – a French almond joconde layered with ganache and butter cream. The bakers chose some original flavours to enliven the dessert, and Paul Hollywood cautioned Frances that her lavender would be overwhelming, and Ruby that her saffron would be lost. As he turned away, the look in her eyes said, defiantly, ‘Then I’ll use the whole packet if I have to’.
The contestants were short on the time needed to firm up each layer in the freezer, and though the baking proceeded smoothly, the assembly proved difficult, with only Frances achieving a really neat result. Ruby’s flavour was the best, though her presentation was poor. Beca and Frances had committed the cardinal sin of baking with artificial flavours, which never taste good in my opinion.
Kim was the well-deserving Star Baker, and with Beca and Ruby both falling short, Beca was eliminated. Based on past performance, this was the right choice. Next week’s final is sure to test Kim, Ruby and Frances to their limits.
You can read Gerhard’s blog here.
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Charlotte’s personal blog can be found here.
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