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Bake Off: Crème de la Crème – episode two

Bake Off: Crème de la Crème – episode two

by Howard Middleton 06 April 2016

Howard Middleton reviews the second episode of the professional spin-off of everyone's favourite baking competition.

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It’s only week two, but there’s already a pattern forming at stately Welbeck Abbey – and it’s not just the Countess of Oxford’s decorative plasterwork. Whilst Bake Off proper has a different weekly theme, the heats format of Crème de la Crème promises little variation, at least until the semi-finals, so we begin with another ‘miniatures’ challenge. This time it’s slices of opera aux fruits, little babka knots and the petits gateaux cylinders of last week are transformed into this week’s petits gateaux spheres. Judge Cherish says she’s looking for the spheres to contain ‘texture, texture, texture, multiple internal layers, explosions of flavour and top notch decorating’. Indeed.

First up this week is a team from the armed forces – Liam, Andrew and Ian. We’re told they’re more used to daily catering for 1,700 troops, and Liam says he once cooked for the Queen. He never actually saw her, but thinks she liked it. They are the self-confessed underdogs.

Team number two is Felicien, Irina and Loic from the Savoy Hotel, where the camera crew has filmed Felicien carefully putting the finishing touches to perfect pastries – It’s a high tease of the team’s potential. In the third team, Kumiko and Anais from La Pâtisserie des Rêves are joined by Jennie, a chef from the Royal Albert Hall. Jennie confesses she is a little clumsy, then ably demonstrates this by putting a fist-sized hole in her joconde.

Deprived of a Sue to partner his Mel, Tom Kerridge often seems a little lonely. He puts on a brave grin and chats away to himself but he seems to miss someone to talk to. With an aloofness clause written into their contracts, the judges are cold comfort, while the contestants just want to get on with baking. The tension is palpable as Tom wonders if Jennie will return a borrowed pastry brush.

Kumiko and Jennie made the most of their borrowed pastry brush
Liam's team produced good – but slightly dry – babkas

The miniatures

Team Liam’s opera aux fruits stacks up with pistachio joconde, raspberry and dark chocolate ganache and pistachio crème mousseline, finished with a raspberry glaze. Cherish is disappointed with its cut. Their babka knots of toasted pecans and salted caramel with a vanilla glaze are judged to be well shaped but dry. However, Claire is impressed with their white chocolate spheres of mascarpone, lemon mousse and curd, saying they’re the nicest thing she’s eaten so far. Presumably that’s ‘today’, not ‘ever’, but who am I to qualify the quality of the military boys’ balls?

Kumiko’s team has also gone for a pistachio joconde, opting for layers of cherry buttercream, chocolate ganache and a shiny chocolate glaze on top. Brandishing her ruler, Cherish shows there’s a 0.5cm variation in size between two slices. Apparently she would tolerate 0.1cm but anything more is deemed unacceptable. Kumiko sobs and Cherish tries to hug away the pain. It’s a beautiful moment in TV history – two people fleetingly united by the agony of four millimetres of cake.

There’s little respite from the drama – the team’s babka knots are filled with matcha tea butter and (disappointingly runny) raspberry compote. On the plus side, they’re judged to be knotted in a satisfactory way. Combing the finer details, Cherish is horrified to discover stray hairs from the borrowed pastry brush.

Rolling on, their gateau spheres contain a lively combination of yoghurt mousse with a cassis insert, sitting on a sablé Breton biscuit. The white chocolate shells should be airbrushed with a cassis glaze, but time-strapped Kumiko resorts to chucking it on with a ladle. The finish suffers and Benoit describes an oral paradox – the blackcurrant is ‘kicking’ but the mousse is depositing fat crystals on his tongue. Benoit has a very sensitive mouth.

Felicien’s team produces opera slices of blueberry joconde and yoghurt mousse but they make the mistake of hiding their layers under carefully piped clouds of mascarpone Chantilly cream. Loic crafts meticulous chocolate mountains to decorate, but those of us missing Bake Off’s risqué innuendo have to make do with Cherish admiringly describing Loic’s rhythmic handling of white chocolate as ‘sexy’. It sounds like eye candy with a temper.

Controversy abounds with the team’s babka knots, flavoured with raspberry jam and lemon zest. Snipped and folded into ears of wheat, they harvest unanimous disapproval – these are babka-nots. But it’s the petits gateaux that earn the lowest score so far. In spite of Tom’s insightful clarification that half an hour is thirty minutes, the clock beats their efforts. Thirty-six chocolate sablé bases await a sphere of yuzu, mango mousse and jasmine ganache, but just one lone cake is completed. Claire loves the flavour – ‘an amazing explosion of mango’ – but it’s too little too late. Irina sighs: ‘If only we had half an hour more.' Tom resists the urge to tell her that’s thirty minutes.

The crestfallen Savoy crowd fall into third place, with Kumiko’s team just pipping the military boys by one point. But of course (cliché klaxon), everything can change.

Felicien's team produced an incredible Japanese garden full of trifle
Kumiko, Anais and Jennie failed to get their trifles set in the time allocated

The showpiece

This week’s showpiece challenge is another reimagining of a classic dessert – the trifle. Without a glass bowl in sight, the chefs’ creative juices were flowing. Felicien’s team go for a Japanese garden theme, with a sugar river, chocolate bridge and ingenious chocolate bonsai trees complete with green cereal leaves – ikebana (the art of Japanese flower arranging) with snap, crackle and pop. Their matcha sponge trifles are encased in a thin band of cherry jelly and sit poised on edible pedestals of chocolate pebbles. It’s stunning.

Liam claims his team has been researching the origin of the trifle. I suspect this research may have involved alcohol, as they’re literally interpreting trifle ‘construction’ with chocolate cogs, nuts and bolts. Attempting to build a chocolate shelving unit on which to display their trifles, their DIY efforts repeatedly collapse. I’d be tempted to reach for the bottle of Pedro Ximenez sherry that’s intended to soak their Genoese sponge.

Kumiko’s team plans to produce edible plant pots of elderflower jelly with a pear bavarois and gin-soaked sponge. Sadly, the trio’s trifles fail to set and they can’t unmould their creations, presenting a garden centre of plastic pots to the judges instead. Watering cans of tasty quince coulis are fun, but it’s clear their hopes are wilting and they fall to third place. The Savoy team comes second and it’s Liam, Ian and Andrew who march on to the semis.

Just six sleeps until we discover the shape of next week’s petits gateaux!

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Bake Off: Crème de la Crème – episode two


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