Monday, 10 September 2012

Great British Bake Off, Episode 4

Mary Berry's Crème Caramel

What's that you say? A whole Great British Bake Off episode deliciously dedicated to desserts! 


This week's Bake Off was all about pudding. Mel was off because she had to get her "electronic bracelet refitted to her ankle", which meant the ever-wonderful Sue Perkins had to fly solo.  

First up was the Signature Bake and episode 4 put tortes in the spotlight. The contestants were given 3 hours to bake and decorate their tortes, which had to be more than 20cm (8-inches) in diameter. I couldn't watch the show live this week, as I was too busy stuffing my face with half-price Spanish food with the delightful Dolly Alderton and the delicious Richard Hurst. I deliberately avoided Twitter for fear of reading this week's outcome, but looking back at the #GBBO twitter feed, I am genuinely surprised at the number of people who didn't know what a torte was and I fear, after watching this week's Bake Off, they're unlikely to be any the wiser. 

Sue declared at the beginning of the show that a torte is a wheat flour-free cake, which is indeed all right and correct, but then bafflingly she went on to say (GBBO researchers, I need a word) that a torte must be multilayered and filled with jam, mousse or cream. This is categorically not true. It can, of course, have as many layers and fillings as you wish, but multiple layers is not a defining feature of a torte. Indeed, one of the most famous tortes in the world, the Sachertorte, is a single layered chocolate cake, brushed with a thin layer of apricot jam, before being coated in chocolate ganache. There have been a few arguments about whether a Sacher should also be sandwiched with a thin jam layer, but whichever method you subscribe to, neither option could possibly be described as multilayered.  

There was also much hot air talked about how difficult a torte is to make, mostly by the V.O. and Hollywood. Rest assured, they're really not that complex. It's just a different process to a wheat flour sponge, so don't let their nonsense put you off having a go. Just don't do what we saw Stuart do and try to fold in your beaten egg whites with a wooden spoon. It's large metal spoons all the way, if you don't want to knock out all that lovely air from your whisked whites.

Danny's potato torte

Danny opted for a controversial potato flour savoy sponge, flavoured with white chocolate, lemon, elderflower and blackberries. Mary said she had only used potato flour in drop scones and Hollywood admitted to having never used the stuff at all, having always avoided it "like the plague" due to its high starch content, but, in characteristic fashion, he still had plenty to opine about it. "It's very different. And very tricky", he said, which only made it all the more joyous that Danny pulled it off and wowed the judges with her pretty potato cake.

Brendan's clementine, chestnut and lemon verbena torte

Brendan, who loves to bake for his gluten-intolerant friends, made a delicious sounding chestnut cake with lemon verbena and clementines, because, as he said, "clementines suggest citrus". I'd venture as far as to say they go further than merely suggest it, Brendan, seeing as they are, in actual fact, citrus. Brendan pulled it off and Hollywood declared that it was "a decent bake with that chestnut flour" which he claimed was "quite tricky to do". I love a cake made with chestnut flour, as you can see here. Mary said his cake was "very very pleasing" and despite Hollywood's distaste at Brendan's 1970's decoration, the cake was a big hit all round, with Sue describing it as a "flourless antidepressant". And who wouldn't benefit from a slice of that?

Sarah-Jane made an almond and chocolate torte using crushed up amaretti biscuits and almond liqueur, a dream pudding for her and her husband. It sounds like entering Bake Off has been a genuinely life changing experience for this sweet vicar's wife, as she said:

"This is the bravest thing I've ever done. But until this, getting here on the train 
by myself was the bravest thing I've ever done"

Another piece of evidence, if any were needed, that Bake Off makes the world a better place. Unfortunately the judges weren't all that impressed with her torte. Mary thought it was a touch dry and Hollywood made this extraordinary statement:

"The problem is, when you have a chocolate torte like that, 
with ground almonds, they will try and dry the thing out, 
because essentially it is quite a dry meal"

Maybe Hollywood stores his ground almonds in an open jar until they get dry and dusty like that cheap sawdust they use in schools to soak up children's vomit, but contrary to this staggering piece of nonsense he tried to pull off as accepted wisdom, ground almonds actually ADD moisture to cakes and they are certainly not in the Machiavellian business of trying to sabotage your baked goods to "try and dry the thing out".  The reason Sarah-Jane's cake was dry was almost certainly down to a simple matter of over-baking. Leave the almonds alone, Hollywood! You know not of what you speak.

James' hazelnut, chocolate and passionfruit torte

"Clever and cosy" James made a delicious sounding chocolate, hazelnut and passionfruit torte,  topped with a ring of chocolate and passionfruit truffles. It looked like a chocolate simnel cake and it certainly got both judges excited, with worldly Hollywood declaring James' inclusion of passionfruit as "fascinating". Cathryn's macadamia, white chocolate and coffee torte was "beautifully moist" and prettily decorated to look like a Mr Kipling's Bakewell tart. Manisha's almond, cherry and chocolate torte didn't fare quite so well. Delightful Mary loved the finish but thought it was a trifle dry. Hollywood thought there was too much alcohol. "It's become almost Black Forest", he said, while the nation scratched its collective head trying to work out how on earth this could be construed as a bad thing.

Stuart went for full on layers again this week (seven in total) with a Black Forest torte, including milk chocolate ganache, cherry jelly and a mirror glaze. I personally wouldn't call a mirror glaze a layer per se, but it would have been an impressive feat to achieve in the time, if everything had gone to plan. "I hope you pull it off, mate" intoned Hollywood, unconvinced. And for once, he was right to be wary. Stuart was over-ambitious for his levels of skill and the time he was given. He didn't skim his fruit so his jelly was cloudy, nothing had time to set and it looked like his mirror glaze was too hot when he poured it on his torte top. Mary sweetly commended his flavours, before adding that it looked "a little bit untidy". There was no such holding back from Hollywood. Like a Lego bull in a china shop, he sneered at Stu's efforts with this hard talking analysis: "It looks a mess". To be fair, it really did.

Stuart's Black Forest torte

Ryan looked like he was feeling the pressure this week, and burned some of his layers, "If all else fails, I'm going to booze it up and get Mary sloshed", he said. A man after my own heart. If you want to avoid Ryan's mistakes when torte-making, don't spread your cake batter out to within an inch of its life in the tin. You'll knock out all the air that you worked so hard to fold in and you'll end up with a cake with little more depth than a digestive biscuit. 

Ryan's burnt torte

In the end, Ryan's green tea opera cake looked pretty as a picture, but the flavour was too bitter for the judges. Hollywood thought white chocolate would have been more complementary, but I'm not overly keen on its nursery sweetness. I love dark chocolate with green tea cake, as long as the ganache is slightly sweetened and, best of all, flavoured with either vanilla or ginger. 

Ryan's green tea opera torte

Talking of ganache, John had terrible trouble with his, and it looked like he'd made several hundred batches by the end of the show. His cream was too hot when he poured it over his chopped chocolate, causing it to split. If you make the same mistake and find you too end up with a big, stodgy and greasy mess, all is not necessarily lost. If you have actually burnt the chocolate it's good for nowhere but the bin, but otherwise it can probably be rescued. First, try whisking it with an electric hand whisk for a couple of minutes. This can often be enough to make the ganache emulsify, but if that fails you, simply whisk in cubes of butter until you get a shiny and smooth consistency - I often find a generous slug of booze also doesn't hurt - either in the ganache or in your gob.  

John's breeze block torte

It seemed like one of those days for John, where nothing quite went to plan, but at least he didn't lose his sense of humour, "I'm going to have to work my chest for Mary, because she's not going to be impressed with my torte, I'll tell you that". John, for reasons unknown, wanted to create a torte that was either "intimidating or inviting", but Hollywood sensitively described his efforts as a "chocolate breeze block". My heart broke a little for John when he said he was "ashamed" of himself when his torte didn't quite go to planI think John will be more likely to shine in forthcoming weeks if he takes the pressure he puts on himself down a notch or two. 

Brendan's winning crème caramel

There was a brief and interesting interlude about the history of the sugar industry and the sugar tax of the nineteenth century, before the nervous contestants began their second challenge. This week's technical round gave them 2 and 3/4 hours to make crème caramels. There were the usual struggles with caramel - burnt, solidified, under-coloured - and Manisha and Stuart both opted to separate their eggs and use only the yolks for their custards; a decision that later kicked them in the pants when their crème caramels collapsed into a watery mess on their serving plates. 

Manisha/Stuart's sloppy crème caramel

Cathryn managed to smash her china ramekins in an over-zealous attempt to turn her's out, but luckily Mary and Hollywood managed to walk away unscathed from the blind tastings. No shards of china were swallowed on camera. Brendan won first place in the technical challenge with his "perfect" puddings and the judges applauded him on his "great wobble" which left Brendan blushing with pride.

Next up was the show stopper round: a four layered tower of meringues. Most of the contestants opted to make French meringue, but Sarah-Jane and James opted for slightly more complicated methods: Swiss and Italian. Hollywood aggressively interrogated James on his Italian meringue methods. "Did you boil the sugar?" he asked with frighteningly bullish inflection, which suggested it would be the act of a lunatic if he had. James managed to squeak a "yes" through a nervous smile, before Hollywood's tone took an erratic u-turn, "you did?" he replied, calmly, with a silent "good" at the end. I couldn't help but question Hollywood's credentials as any kind of meringue expert after the peculiarity of this exchange.

Sarah-Jane's meringues

Sarah-Jane made a heart-shaped tower with jam-dipped strawberries that were so big they looked like clowns' noses. Manisha divided the judges with her tiramisu layered meringue. Mary described it as a "crowning glory", while Hollywood didn't pull any punches. "Don't like it" he said, pleased with his own meanness. Sweet-toothed Hollywood thought it was too bitter while Mary conversely thought it was "plenty sweet enough" - an opinion which may have saved Manisha from the chop.

John's pavlova tower

John made a gorgeous tower of elderflower and bramble pavlovas and James' fig, chestnut, cherry and chocolate meringues left Hollywood cold. Mary thought it was "rather an exotic fruit salad within a meringue". I wasn't sure if she thought that was a good or a bad thing and I don't think she did either.

Brendan's Dacquoise

Danny and Brendan both made a beautiful dacquoise. Danny went for chocolate and chestnut mousse, layered with coffee and nut meringues, which had me pining for pudding, while Brendan opted for pear, chocolate and hazelnut dacquoise with Frangelico liqueur: one of my all time favourite boozy drinks ever. Hollywood was suspicious of Brendan's decision to make his ganache so early on, which left me questioning Hollywood again.  I couldn't help but wonder if the steely eyed judge had ever actually made a  ganache before? 

Cathryn was worried her gooseberry, almond and honey cake layered meringue might "look slightly monstrous", while Hollywood made no attempt to hide his surprise that Brendan's looked "good, actually". Ryan made a strawberry, pistachio, rose and raspberry tower fit for a 6 year old girl's birthday party. I don't think I've seen as much baby pink since Jordan and Peter Andre's wedding. 

Ryan's pink meringue

Stuart went for a 6 layered chocka blocka mocha tower. He does love his layers, that one. When pressed by the judges, Stuart couldn't quite make up his mind about how he wanted his show stopper to turn out, so Mary said what we were all thinking:

"I think it's going to be a huge surprise at the end, both for you and for us".

Brendan's show stopper

The end result failed to impress and Mary knocked points off for poor presentation, "it doesn't tempt me to see what's inside". Hollywood remarked that it was so tough to cut "you could wedge a door open with that", while Mary likened it to a "layered trifle". It didn't cut the judges' mustard and Stuart became the fourth contestant to leave the Bake Off tent. He was "gutted" but knew it was his time to go. He said, "The kids at school will give me a bit of jip for this, but hopefully they'll commend me for putting myself out there". Optimistic to the last.

Brendan was deservedly crowned star baker, while Hollywood put the wind up Ryan with a "raise your game, mate. Raise your game" coupled with an overly-firm handshake before leaving the tent.

The only question left is, who ate all the pies? We'll find out tomorrow night, and yes, you've guessed it, episode 5 is pie week.


  1. Brilant commentary!
    and agree re definition of "torte"
    has to be "Many layered"??? like you, I thought what about sacher torte, linzer torte, cabrese torte etc.....
    also, ground nuts usally carry oil (so the opposite of dry)

    1. Thanks! It seemed so odd that the research on the definition of a torte was so patchy and Hollywood, in my view, should probably stick to bread and pies!

  2. I don't know about all tortes, but the vast majority I have made/eaten are layered, certainly including sachertorte and linzertorte. The layer of preserve may not be very thick, but it's it's still a layer.

    I think people are picking holes for the sake of it

  3. I agree with Victoria - tortes are not by definition multi layered.
    Sachertorte and linzer torte are layered? Only trivially, and are not "multi layered" in any real sense - multi to me implies "many", and thus more than 2. And some sacher torts do not split the cake at all, but coat the cake with melted and strained preserves, and then coat all of that with chocolate. Caprese torte is not layered in any way, (unless you count the sprinkling of icing sugar on top as a layer, which strikes me as really straining things).
    "The layer of preserve is still a layer?" It is not another layer of cake or pastry, which I think is the point Victoria was making. (And lattice is a decoration, not a layer.)

    I like Victoria's write-up. It's the internet. We all enjoy picking holes!! Cheers

    1. Thank you, I'm so pleased you enjoyed my blog post!