Last week when I tweeted out the link to my recap of Episode 3, I tagged several of our contestants and they responded, which was fun. In response to what I wrote about the wild garlic in Ian’s bread, Ian said it is out of season now but is great when you can find it. I am definitely going to look for it, and I have a feeling some of you are too! And now on to this week which is all about sweetness and light: Desserts! Yes please!
Jiggle It, Just a Little Bit:
The Signature Challenge is Crème Brûlée, a tricky little custard dish with a hard caramel candy shell on top. Our bakers had two hours to complete the challenge and were told they could not use a blow torch because fire had not yet been invented when Mary was young (or something like that). If this show was made in America, some contestant or other would have hired a lawyer to challenge the constitutionality of that restriction. But this was Britain so they just got on with it, only complaining just a bit.
Much like the formula for Flubber, the ingredients for Crème Brûlée have to be combined at just the right temperature or the custard will turn to scrambled eggs, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, unless you’ve got judges to contend with. Paul ended up with scrambled eggs. On the other end of the scale, Flora and Mat ended up with soup. So did Sandy who, despite her best efforts, could not get her Pontefract (AKA licorice) and lemon custard to twerk. Alvin forgot to light his grill so his four and twenty black berries didn’t properly bake in his brûlée. He had to have scored some points with his bold abstract expressionist plate presentation though. Tamal’s rhubarb and ginger custard concoction was spot on. It stood like a tiny custard soldier. Sue was last seen sprinting down the M1 with a bag full.
Both Ugne and Ian had perfectly set custard as well. Ian’s choice of pomegranate was unusual (and not beloved by the judges), but his method for getting the caramel shell right was ingenious. He basically used twice baked sugar; he made caramel, cooled it off then ground it up in a food processor into coarse sugar-like caramel and sprinkled that on top of his custard instead of regular sugar. All so it would melt more easily under the grill. So while his competitors were stressing over melting the sugar into caramel just right, Ian sailed confidently through. Every week Ian comes up with some innovation worthy of a Nobel Prize nomination in the baking category. I hope the Nobel committee is watching (and adding a baking category already, dammit)!
For this week’s technical challenge, our intrepid bakers had four and a half hours to bake a Spanische Windtorte which, despite the name, is actually not Spanish, but Austrian (even though the spelling makes it look Yiddish), and made with meringues that are French and Swiss. According to the BBC, the Tories have since outlawed this dessert via referendum.
This Old Dessert:
There was a lot of assembly involved in this challenge. You basically build a round box out of crunchy meringue rings and meringue mortar, then fill it with a softer, marshmallowy meringue and strawberries, and put a crunchy meringue lid on top. It reminded me of making Popsicle stick boxes at summer camp. (Do kids still make Popsicle stick boxes at summer camp, or do they just make virtual Popsicle stick boxes on their iPads?) Anyway, these deserts also made me think of the line from the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, when one of the characters describes the bride by saying, “She looks like a big meringue.” I have to say, watching this I realized that I had never fully understood that line until I saw these… big meringues.
Blowin’ in the Windtorte:
I cannot be the only one who was on the edge of their seat watching the meringues being built, baked and re-baked, am I? This was one humpty dumpty of a dish and involved so much construction it required zoning permits. And if all that weren’t enough, they had to decorate it with fondant violets. As it happens, Ian had only just been researching edible flowers, but not Violets. Have we ever seen a picture of Ian’s wife? I’m starting to think she might be Tinkerbelle.
For some reason Sandy decided to bend her lid so it sat on top at a jaunty angle. It was an innovation the judges didn’t seem to appreciate. They called her artistry clumsy, yet again. Flora’s was deemed neat, Ugne’s contemporary, Nadiya’s a mess, and Alvin’s geriatric and dry. Harrumph.
The top prize went to Paul for his neat tower of meringue goodness topped with delicate violets.
Sweet Dreams are Made of Cheese:
This week’s Showstopper Challenge is a three tier cheesecake. An accountant could have a nervous breakdown trying to calculate all the calories in that tent!
Step in Time:
Both Mat and Nadiya needed to step up their games this week, and both did. Mat’s cheesecake was inspired by his favorite chocolate bars, with each tier a different one, that Mary said he should be very proud of — and it likely saved him from the chop (which wouldn’t be the first time someone was saved by chocolate). Nadiya was inspired by her kids’ love of soda to make fizzy pop reductions and use the syrup to flavor her cheesecakes, which made Paul kind of squint, though he seemed to be impressed by the novelty of it.
Flora’s cheesecake was elderflower flavored. I’ve heard of elderberries (as in elderberry wine, as in Arsenic and Old Lace) but not elderflower. She was so far ahead of everyone else time-wise that it seemed like she psyched herself out, panicked and made macarons to decorate it. She overthought and ended up with a cheesecake that was overbaked. Ugne had a great bake but gilded the lily with her over icing, Paul’s berry-a-pallooza cheesecakes were dry, and Alvin’s Leaning Tower of Fruit Pisa-cake leaned and lurched, but stayed vertical, and so did Alvin.
Tamal seemed to be one of the few who knew he should use a bain-marie which (according to Miss Martha) prevents your cheesecake from cracking on top. His Mango, Hazelnut and Rosemary cheesecakes, decorated by hazelnuts dipped in caramel, were pronounced beautiful and spot-on by Paul and Mary. Sandy’s flavor combination idea was an ode to Irish and Italian New York cheesecake immigration. Unfortunately, these immigrants assimilated too quickly, causing Sandy’s cheesecake to suffer from the Dorret Effect (i.e. the mousse was loose). Even with Tamal’s help she couldn’t get her cheesecakes to stack, and had to throw her hands in the air and say, “no mas.” Sigh.
Heaven Can Plate:
It’s a hat trick for Ian as once again he is named Star Baker for his adventurous flavor combinations (his tarragon and apple duo was a revelation to the judges). His cheesecakes were spicy and herby and described by Mary as, “Heaven on a plate.” Can’t do better than that, can you?
For Sandy it was goodbye, that’s all she wrote. I will miss Sandy’s good humor, and not for nothing, but she had one of the more memorable exits ever; as the credit rolled, she strangled Paul Hollywood for raining on her parade (obviously). If you missed that, watch it again.
I must admit that when I was watching this episode, my enjoyment was slightly tinged with the thought, oh my g-d I’m going to have to make one of these! But which one? I immediately eliminated the Crème Brule because I didn’t want to buy twelve ramekins. When it came down to choosing between the meringue and the cheesecake, it was dictated by who I was going to be serving it to. I figured that my coworkers would prefer cheesecake so that was the answer.
I chose a classic New York Cheesecake recipe from Martha Stewart but with a chocolate cookie crust instead of the graham cracker crust the recipe calls for. The chocolate cookies are from a Rachael Ray thumbprint cookie recipe that I have made a bunch of times. It’s a regular recipe that I converted to gluten free by replacing the ordinary wheat flour with half garbanzo bean flour and half almond meal flour. And I don’t make them as thumbprint cookies (usually), so no need to make the filling. For this I just baked them then crumbled them up to make the crust. And for a little extra kick I added some cinnamon to the crumbles.
This was the first time I’ve ever made a cheesecake from scratch. I’ve only ever made a Jell-O no-bake mix before. This was much better, but also a lot more expensive. This was also the first time I’ve employed the bain-marie technique. That was a little dicey and there were a few moments there I barely dodged getting scalded, and in the end the results were great! Like some of our contestants, my cheesecake was a bit underdone in the middle. I’m starting to wonder about the temperature accuracy of my oven.
From my ad hoc panel of judges (coworkers) I got responses like, “Delicious!” “Amazing!” “So fluffy!”, plus, every single person who had a slice preceded their comments by exclaiming, “OH MY GOD!” when they tasted it. I’m thinking that’s a pretty good result. That’s the power of cream cheese, butter, sugar and eggs whipped together just right.
On your marks, get ready…BAKE!!!:
If you’re brave enough, here is Mary’s Spanische Windtorte recipe.
Alvin’s Blackberry Crème Brûlées recipe (Don’t forget to turn the oven on!)
And not to be outdone: Paul’s Berry Cheesecake Tower.
If you do bake along, please post pictures of your own baking creations using the hashtag #PBSBakingShow.