‘Can I have counselling after this?’ wondered contestant Bharat Chandegra at one dramatic point in the final of this year’s Bake Off: The Professionals.
Following a show packed with drama, catastrophe, fire and tears – so many tears – it’s a question a few viewers may have been asking too.
Nine weeks of heats had whittled the original teams down to three:
- Pink: Emmanuel and Sam, The Hilton Park Lane
- Purple: Darryl and Bharat, Resorts World
- Orange: Theo and Hideko, Sweet Art Lab
For the final they were set a single, mammoth task, to be completed in two four-and-a-half hour sessions – create a lavish banquet for 80 guests comprising at least four different desserts and a large sculpture showpiece.
Or, as presenter Tom Allen put it: “A challenge of doom”. Cheers, Tom.
Judges Benoit Blin and Cherish Finden wanted the showpieces to reflect the passion and personality of the contestants, and “what defines them as pastry chefs”.
For Resorts World’s Darryl and Bharat, this meant a piece called End Party. A homage to other creations they have produced during the contest, this giant chocolate and sugar centrepiece included glitterball, balloons, four-leaf clover and other nods to previous showpieces.
Emmanuel and Sam, the French and English duo from The Hilton Park Lane, embraced the idea of the two countries working together in a piece called L’Entente Cordiale, which featured the Eiffel tower, Big Ben, a chocolate Queen’s Guard and a champagne bottle – particularly timely with the possibility of a French vs England World Cup final on the horizon.
Theo and Hideko – who admitted their boutique business was more used to catering to small requests than lavish banquets – promised a mind-bending creation that would include an edible picture frame and a giant chocolate ‘S’, inspired by the name of their business.
When it came to the individual desserts, Darryl and Bharat delivered one of the stand-outs in the shape of a Travel Bar made with chocolate ganache mousseline and salted hazelnut caramel.
Benoit was wowed by the creation, telling the contestants: “You are working here with flavours I don’t like – but I love!”
The judge also enjoyed the blondie base (once he had the concept of a blondie explained to him) of Darryl and Bharat’s reinvented Millefeuille. Unfortunately, that was the only part of it he enjoyed.
The two desserts produced by Emmanuel and Sam on the first day of the challenge – a chocolate mousse finger filled with blood orange jelly and a financier – drew criticism from the judges for appearing rushed.
But Benoit and Cherish were more impressed with a sharing dessert – part of the team’s showpiece – that comprised wild Strawberry jelly and crème anglaise, surrounded by mara des bois strawberry and lime mousse in the shape of a cushion.
Cherish admired the dessert’s even layers and declared it “very pleasant to eat”.
But the highest praise was reserved for Theo and Hideko’s ‘Ring Finger Or Not’. Inspired by Theo’s fiancé, this comprised gianduja mousse, mango and bergamot compote and chocolate and hazelnut sable. Although it looked more like a sausage than a finger, it blew Benoit away.
“I really, really, really, really, really love this,” he declared.
Theo and Hideko also offered the amazing Burger Or Not. These mini burgers comprised passion fruit chocolate mousse shaped like a burger bun, containing a macadamia nut burger brownie, white chocolate ganache cheese and apple and strawberry ‘salad’. They were served with a side of shortbread ‘chips’ and raspberry ketchup.
Judges praised the pair for pushing the boundaries of what was possible with patisserie, but Benoit ultimately felt the burger was a case of style over substance, with too much going on. Cherish liked the brownie burger, though.
Which brings us on to the showpieces of the finale – which didn’t go totally smoothly for any team.
For Emmanuel and Sam, drama came in the form of one of Sam’s large sugar balloons falling from the showpiece and smashing
Theo and Hideko, meanwhile, had the headache of Theo’s sugar work – designed to form a gold heart – cracking as it was being removed the moulds and ending up being used in decidedly abstract form. There was further drama when a blowtorch set the pair’s tablecloth alight.
But a few flames and a broken balloon paled into insignificance compared to the all-out catastrophe of Darryl and Bharat’s centrepiece – a stunning blue sugarwork creation – falling and shattering into hundreds of pieces. This was after they had given up on their chocolate centrepiece as it would not be set in time.
The lads took it amazingly well. Although they must have understood their chance at victory now lay in pieces, they calmly continued and finished their desserts.
The tears came later, as the judges prepared to announce the winners.
Cherish – who has been so hard on contestants throughout the contest – herself broke down and hugged Bharat.
Ultimately, Emmanuel and Sam from The Hilton Park Lane were declared the well-deserved winners of the contest. By which time there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.