What… a… week…!
Going into the semi-finals, it seemed the tent was once again engulfed in an oppressive heat wave and the bakers – and their bakes – were suffering as a result. It was Patisserie Week this week and our final four, Sophie, Steven, Kate and Stacey, were facing a choux bun signature, with craquelin toppings; Prue’s souped-up version of the traditional Belgian Misérables for their technical; and elaborate meringue showstoppers that had everybody cracking under the pressure.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I found this week’s episode particularly hard viewing. Maybe it was the lack of Liam’s humour and youthful exuberance in the tent, but something was definitely missing. Although flapping around in a panic seems to be Stacey’s MO when baking (I can relate!), she seemed to be particularly stressed this week and when Steven’s chocolate basket was melting in the ridiculous temperatures, it seemed like it could be a metaphor to represent his dying hopes at judgement time. I was practically yelling at the television when both he and Sophie were manhandling their cracking meringues and making them even worse. All in all, not fun at all.
Luckily for all of us #teamsteven-ers, he was allowed to continue through to the finals, along with Kate and this week’s star baker, Sophie. But sadly, we said goodbye to Mrs ‘I’m going to go again’ herself, Stacey.
But anyway – that technical? What?! I couldn’t believe the amount of work the bakers were expected to cram into three hours – I was even getting texts from my friends saying, ‘Surely you’re going to skip this one?!’ Well in spite of the fact that Cake International is only a week away and my competition entry is FAR from complete, I was not going to be beaten by patisserie!
To assemble all of the ingredients for Prue’s Les Misérables, I had to visit three – yes THREE – supermarkets and lay out a small fortune – and that was without replacing my sugar thermometer which sadly died a death during Pastry Week. I actually considered starting a crowdfunding campaign to pay for these at one point…!
Now, there are so many individual elements to this bake, that I’m not going to bore you all with a blow-by-blow account of the whole thing, but rather touch on the highs and lows of the task…
Last time I made a joconde sponge, I managed to knock too much of the air out of my eggs, so I was really happy that I managed two separate successful jocondes for this bake with no problems. Well almost no problems – I might not have mixed my food colouring in as well as I could. There MIGHT be a couple of particularly green hotspots inside my pistachio joconde!
The French buttercream was a bit of a tricky spot though, as it involved heating a sugar syrup to precisely 116°C, which was difficult without my thermometer. I had to resort to the technique usually reserved for jam making – sticking a tea plate in the fridge and dropping spots of the syrup on to see how they set. It seemed to work and I might actually be a little bit in love with French buttercream now.
The other hard bit was trying to temper chocolate – still without a thermometer AND in high humidity. I did get to crack out my marble slab though. I got it as a gift last year and this was literally the first time I have ever used it for the purpose it is intended for. If I’m honest, my chocolate isn’t tempered, there is no shine and it still has a low melting point, but I got them on there, so I’m calling it a win.
When it comes to the taste of this bake, I honestly think that there is too much going on. You’ve got the almond running throughout, then the flavour of lemon from the lemon joconde and the lemon syrup liberally applied to each layer of sponge; vanilla from the vanilla bean French Buttercream; raspberry from the fresh raspberries and the freeze-dried raspberry powder; pistachio from the pistachio joconde AND dark chocolate. Too much! A traditional Misérables simply marries up the flavours of an almond joconde with a vanilla bean French Buttercream – a divine combination. I often think in the case of patisserie that less is more – perhaps a lesson that the Bake Off researchers could learn?
Has anyone else had a go at the recipe? What did you think? A case of technique-over-taste or did you like the flavour combinations? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.
Next week, we head into the grand final of The Great British Bake Off! Who will win? Steven, Sophie or Kate? I’ll see you next week to find out…