Bake Off: Crème de la Crème – episode three

Bake Off: Crème de la Crème – episode three

by Howard Middleton 13 April 2016

Howard Middleton sits down in front of the TV once again to bring us the highs and lows from this week's episode.

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Howard is a food writer and presenter from Sheffield, who first caught the public’s attention on series four of The Great British Bake Off, going on to win their affection with his quirky style and love of unusual ingredients.

Howard is a food writer and presenter from Sheffield, who first caught the public’s attention on series four of The Great British Bake Off, going on to win their affection with his quirky style and love of unusual ingredients.

With the now familiar sight of finely sliced strawberries, flowing mousseline and the sweeping lawns of Welbeck Abbey, we’re back for our weekly sugar rush. Yes, it’s those pesky professionals again, infiltrating the Bake Off brand to win… Well, actually, I’m not sure anyone’s said what the prize is. Bake Off amateurs win a cake stand, so if it’s good enough for them… Yes, give them a cake stand.

Competing in the first team is Julien Plumart – the French-born, Brighton-based patissier. He is joined by George and Sian, who says ‘food is life’ in an oddly unconvincing manner. Fellow Frenchman Christophe heads an international team from London-based artisan bakery Boulangerie Jade, with Valeria, who’s Italian and German-born Josua, who admits to being fussy. It’s all par for the course in this programme.

In the third team this week are Neil, Melissa and Tomas from the Gleneagles Hotel. Tomas is another stickler for detail; he knows the comfort of a firm grip on his ruler.

The miniatures

The first of three cakes in this week’s miniatures challenge is Le Petit Antoine, a layered slice which judge Benoit says is one for the chocoholics. Julien’s team goes for a ganache of raspberry and Manjari chocolate (I have to look this one up – ignoring the Indian singer of the same name, Manjari turns out to be a 64% chocolate, that’s ‘a blend of rare Criollo and Trinitario beans from Madagascar’. Sadly, I can’t be bothered to then search for ‘Criollo’ and ‘Trinitario’, so I remain none the wiser.) The little cake slices also pack in a chocolate Chantilly cream and are topped with a raspberry yolk garnish, which literally looks like a raspberry sitting in an egg yolk. They run out of time to pipe the classic regiment of little peaks so do lines instead. Benoit says it’s good but too simple.

Julien's purple macarons didn't represent the actual flavour very well
Christophe has a better idea, making his a pastel blue to mirror the blackcurrant mousse

The second miniature is a religieuse de macarons, which the programme makers decide to translate to ‘macaroons religious’. Just when we were getting the hang of all this French. Les religieuses have made more than one appearance on Bake Off proper, and macaron is generally used to distinguish them from the more common coconut macaroon, so why the translation? Have the BBC execs decided there’s too much French? Can we expect the programme to be renamed Cream of the Crop?

Anyway, this is basically a tiny two-tiered creation that’s meant to look like a nun or some other devout figure in cake form. Leading the plain English campaign, Claire describes it as ‘a double whammy’.

Julien is adding purple colouring to his macaron mixture to complement the religious theme, but it’s a little unorthodox given that they’re flavoured with chocolate, hazelnut and lemon. He assuredly pipes his discs without measuring and Claire thinks the finished miniatures are enormous.

The third miniature is the now obligatory petit gateau, which (for those of us old enough to remember the BBC’s Play School) this week takes us through the triangular window and is pyramid-shaped. Cherish channels her inner Cleopatra and cries ‘surprise me – please make it special for me’! Julien’s team rises to her pyramidal challenge by packing in a wealth of flavours – vanilla, strawberry, lemon, tonka bean, kirsch and balsamic vinegar. With perfect comedy timing, Sian pratfalls her pastry bases but they stay firmly fixed to the baking tray. Unfortunately there’s no rescue for the finished cakes, which are judged to look clumsy. Benoit says there’s too much balsamic and Cherish reaches into her notebook and actually pulls out a yellow card for their offending gelatine!

Christophe’s team’s petits antoines are a cocoa overload, with ultra dark chocolate in the slices’ dacquoise and croquantine. Unfortunately, they’re having problems, both with their milk chocolate Chantilly cream and with lumps in their mousse, adding extra cream ‘to save it’. Cherish perfects her ‘unconvinced’ smile. The BBC execs meet to discuss if petit antoine should be renamed My Little Tony.

The team has also plumped for liturgical purple for its religieuses, though it’s a more delicate hue befitting the macarons’ blackcurrant and vanilla flavours. Cherish thinks the colour combination is ‘sexy’ (say three Hail Mary’s) but she wants more acid. Benoit instructs the team not to listen to her.

For Christophe’s team’s third miniature, Josua has been slaving over a fresh plum purée. Cherish picks at the vanilla bavarois and detects a stray speck of gelatine. Claire and Benoit look a little weary of Cherish. She says she can’t taste Josua’s plums; he looks heartbroken.

Neil’s team has a crunchy hazelnut croquant in its miniature slices, with Dulcey blond chocolate mousse and a cream of the increasing popular tonka bean (I predict a little Tonka truck of tonka beans by the series’ end). Disappointingly, the decoration is judged to be inconsistent and Cherish can only taste tonka.

The team’s macarons are caramel and apple flavoured and pleasantly uncoloured, au naturel. Despite the apple jelly and apple ganache, Benoit tastes toffee but no apple. To Claire’s amazement, Neil and his team seem to have sourced ingredients for their pyramid cakes from the less than exotic environment of their local supermarket, presumably on a day when they’d run out of fresh fruit. A base of Rice Krispies is topped with buttercream made with a purée of frozen strawberries and the final cakes are judged to be dull. Ah well, at least they added points to their loyalty card.

So, briefly returning to the macarons or macaroon mystery, I don my favourite Miss Marple outfit to discover that the menus for both Christophe’s and Julien’s places call them ‘macarons’ (Gleneagles serves French Fancies but is silent on the ‘o’ or ‘oo’ matter). However, Cherish’s home at The Langham does indeed call them macaroons. Can one woman wield such patisserie power?

In a somewhat uncomfortable exchange, Tom Kerridge tries to assert himself with Cherish, which has all the makings of a Disney encounter between simple Tom the farmer’s son and Maleficent of the pastry world. He looks dead chuffed with himself. Cherish smiles sweetly but her finely tuned palate detects a stray speck of venom. Oh Tom, do you really want to mess with Cherish?

At half time, Neil’s team just manages to pip Julien’s, but Christophe’s trio takes the lead.

Josua's self-confessed fussiness meant lots of ruler measuring
Julien sugar swan
Julien's air-pumped sugar swan certainly looked impressive, but the accompanying sorbets quickly melted
Neil's team went a little overboard with the tonka beans

The showpiece

Claire seems to be making her presence felt more this week, which isn’t easy when you’re teamed with the incendiary personalities that are the smouldering Benoit and sparky Cherish. Striding out in fiery orange, she boldly claims a little more airtime, progressing nicely from last week’s ‘Claire consults her notes’ and ‘Claire gives a knowing nod’. She announces that this week’s showpiece challenge is a spectacular reworking of lemon meringue pie. Then she steps back.

Benoit thinks that Christophe’s team is playing it safe, with delicate sugar coils that he says are easy to achieve. What does he want, I wonder? Julien thinks he has the answer – pumping air into a tube of sugar to craft the body of a swan. It’s a tense moment as he and George ease its gossamer wings from a silicone mat, like sugar veterinarians, whilst Tom flaps around trying not to distract them.

The sugar bird perches above a flock of miniature swans, some with hazelnut-topped tonka bean (again) pastry shells and others with a raspberry, rose and lychee sorbet. Tragically, by judgement time, there’s a little swan lake of dripping sorbet. Claire is pleasantly surprised, but Benoit thinks they’ve just served lemon meringue pies with sorbet. Cherish says she won’t remember it and, along with the team’s hopes, the sugar swan comes crashing to the ground.

So has Christophe’s team fared any better? Well the ‘playing it safe’ sugar coils look lovely atop glazed lemony domes of mousse and curd. Stunning marbled sugar plinths support their desserts. Benoit thinks there’s too much acidity and Cherish complains about gelatine again but she says that Christophe’s trick of hiding plastic bottles of raspberry coulis in leftover lemon skins has brightened her day. I wonder how she reacts to a squeezy Jif lemon on Pancake Day.

Finally, Neil and his team produce a tower of abstract sugar work with four large lemon meringue entremets. With lemon curd, yuzu mallow and a sablé Breton biscuit, their desserts come with pipettes of flavoured gels including cassis and avocado. The judges are confused by the flavours and I’m left wondering what the stuff that looks like bits of bathroom sponge is.

As the scores are announced, Julien’s team fails to rise from third place, Neil and the Gleneagles gang stay second and Christophe, Valeria and Josua set off for the semi-finals. Josua musters a smile, safe in the knowledge that he can make a sugar cake stand if he doesn’t ultimately win. Oh, and Christophe’s happy to brighten anyone’s day with a squeeze of his raspberry coulis.