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Bake Off: Crème de la Crème – the final

Bake Off: Crème de la Crème – the final

by Howard Middleton 18 May 2016

Howard Middleton's review of the baking competition's grand final sees the creation of sugar swans, chocolate carousels and piles of edible pots and pans.

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It’s eyes down, look in for the grand final of this Bake Off spin-off and time for a little Crème de la Crème bingo. Having shared eight weeks of Tuesday evenings with our critical trio of expert judges, we know what to expect. We’re looking for Cherish to mention ‘gelatine’, ‘my palate’ and to repeat something three times; Benoit must give a Gallic shrug and Claire has to talk about ‘the flavour profile’ and to pronounce an everyday word in an unusual way.

Back in the game it’s Christophe, Valeria and Josua from London’s Boulangerie Jade, the Hilton Park Lane’s team of Sajeela, Sam and James, and Mark from Squires cookery school with former pupils Helen and Sam. As we have two Sams, I’ll try to distinguish between them… if it’s ever important.

Actually, Hilton Sam isn’t feeling very well. TMI Tom tells us he’s ‘gone the loo again’ or perhaps he said ‘got the lurg again’. Either way, I bet the judges are less than happy at the prospect of infected confections.

The ultimate challenge combines the miniatures and showpieces of previous weeks into one burgeoning banquet of excess – at least six different desserts to feed 100 people presented in a spectacular display that must rise to a height of at least seventy-five centimetres.

Christophe, Valeria and Josua
Christophe, Valeria and Josua kicked things off with an homage to London's Blackheath
Sajeela, Sam and James
Sajeela, Sam and James work at Hilton Park Lane

Round one

Christophe says his showpiece is based on the harmony of London’s Blackheath, which the team has naturally translated into a croquembouche of crispy choux buns. The buns are filled with cassis crème pâtissière that’s either a nod to the native Blackheath blackcurrant or just the team’s favourite flavour. It’s topped with one of Blackheath’s notorious blown sugar swans.

The Squires squad pays homage to the life of a pastry chef – their showpiece comes complete with a mountain of tempered chocolate bowls and utensils, like an elegant but daunting pile of dirty dishes.

Sajeela and the Park Lane pack are creating a winter funfair of edible snowmen, Christmas trees and a chocolate train. He tries to spray red cocoa butter on the white chocolate helter skelter but a faulty gun results in a Tarantino-style shoot out.

We’re told that ‘in line with international competition rules’ at the halfway stage the teams must have half of their cakes ready for tasting. It’s a whole new world, isn’t it? The rulebook also decrees that the judging must be in secret, which doesn’t really mean much when you’re filming for national TV.

Sajeela’s team’s first three cakes are toffee apple lollipops, passion fruit and raspberry cones and ingenious macarons that look like cheeseburgers. Cherish isn’t impressed with the standard of finish and Benoit thinks the first two are ‘average’ but the burger macarons are a forte in faux fast food.

Mark’s team offers up a rhubarb and custard tart, a chocolate and hazelnut mousse and mango and lime domes. The simple names don’t do justice to the sheer prettiness of the cakes. Helen has ladled the domes with a stunningly vibrant mango glaze – I’ve been looking for the right colour to reupholster a retro pouffe, and I may have finally found it.

Claire complains that the rhubarb is a bit fibrous, but she really likes the almond pastry, describing it as ‘crumberly’. Cherish approves of the domes – the amount of gelatine is ‘to perfection’. She explains, ‘I really don’t like it when it’s bouncing off’. The Tigger School of Pâtisserie is doomed.

Christophe’s team’s Asian pandan-leaf-flavoured sponge cakes are sandwiched with tamarillo jam. Benoit shrugs – he’s not convinced it’s a match made in heaven, Claire talks about the pandan flavour profile and Cherish says it’s ‘boring, boring, boring’. Shrug, ‘flavour profile’ and repetition – if you’re still playing CDLC bingo, that’s nearly a full house.

The team’s orange cake fares better, with its unusual risotto sponge. The judges think it’s interesting – there’s too much Grand Marnier for Cherish but not for Claire, who looks in the mood for a party. Well, she’s sporting metallic silver boots and has painted her nails to match. However, the boozy balancing act suffers a tipple topple with the Mexican margarita macarons. Visually, Claire thinks the chocolate decoration could be thinner and the piping neater but the alcohol is too strong even for her – she says ‘I’m not really enjoying it at all’. Time for a taxi for Claire?

With no scores revealed it looks like anybody’s game, though both Cherish and Claire hint they’re favouring a halfway Mark. They’re not alone.

Christophe's team quickly put together a raspberry dome called 'Moulin Rouge'
Mark's tower of chocolate pots and pans caught the eyes of the judges

Round two

Back in the room the tension mounts as the teams rush to complete another three desserts and construct their displays. Christophe’s flapping a bit as he realises Josua has crowned his croquembouche with a perfect sugar swan but it’s missing its tiny nougatine plinth. The two consider a last minute reconstruction but Valeria wisely suggests they leave well alone. The BBC bleeps over her actual words.

Mark bravely transports a stack of tottering chocolate pots, keeping his cool as he loses his tempered plate. Sajeela is all fingers and thumbs, playing pick up sticks with white chocolate shards, but it’s poor poorly teammate Sam who suffers most as his perfect Ferris wheel cracks and crashes. It’s all too much for him, as he slams it into the sink with the rest of the chocolate washing up. Mark sighs and looks for his Marigold gloves.

Christophe’s chocolatier gateaux have a honey and cinnamon chocolate mousse filling. Cherish complains, ‘It looks like chocolate, but I could not taste the beauty of chocolate dancing in my mouth’. We move from Cherish’s oral ballet to the opera – an espresso coffee opera cake with almond joconde and Kahlúa cream. Claire loves the layering and says she really enjoys eating it. The team’s triangular fresh mango cheesecake is called L’Exotique. Claire says, ‘I don’t taste cheese, but I do get your other flavour profiles’.

Suddenly, there’s a last minute entry from the European trio – a raspberry dome called Moulin Rouge. It hadn’t appeared on any of Tom Hovey’s wonderful illustrations, so where did that come from. Anyway, it goes straight into Benoit’s bouche, who decides it tastes of raspberries.

The Hilton’s winter fair has some gorgeous details. A chocolate carousel cake spins on a turntable – its feuilletine base flecked with popping candy. Benoit says it’s a bit dry. Josua, who is nervously necking enough water to cause a hosepipe ban, agrees. Teacups of tiramisu satisfyingly slake any thirst and are deemed delicious. Claire says the salted caramel popcorn cupcakes are really tasty, though the bubblegum ones are less popular.

The Squires team has produced a truly amazing display – kitchen equipment never looked so enticing and the experts agree it’s a grand finale. Claire can’t wait to taste the little scoops of gin and lemongrass panna cotta and she’s not disappointed. The judges complain that they can taste strands of coconut in the passion fruit, rum and chocolate opera slices, but that tends to be the nature of a coconut dacquoise, unless you don’t put coconut in it. Little jars of lemon mousse are topped with croutons of almond biscotti – they’re judged to be a bit acidic but great fun.

Mark's team
Mark's team were crowned the overall winners
Sajeela's team's chocolate carousel looked impressive, but wasn't enough to beat the Squires team in the end

The winners

Unsurprisingly, as the final scores are revealed, the foxy wildcard underdogs have done it and Squires’ Sam, Helen and Mark are announced as the winners. It’s a bit of a sad ending – there’s no reunion of the contestants, no proud family gathering – just a lot of hugging and a random stream of baking-related words from three judges vainly trying to fill an echoing stately home with the sound of their voices. The trophy looks like a rippled cheesecake topped with a spiralling collar of gilded chocolate that could take your eye out. It probably doesn’t taste of cheese, so Claire would say it’s more of an entremet.

To be fair, Crème de la Crème has had its critics but haven’t we learned a lot? From mousseline to glaçage, sablé Bretons to crème Parisienne, it’s been an education in mouthwatering vocabulary and a fabulous feast for the eyes. So what next? I for one wouldn’t mind brushing up my sugar skills and the winning team at Squires do some tempting courses. They just so happen to be taught by the lovely Mark. Well, as they say in the world of pâtisserie, a little of what you fancy does you good.

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Bake Off: Crème de la Crème – the final


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