After my epic Charlotte Russe Ladyfinger Fail of three weeks ago, I was determined to figure out what went wrong and try again. As luck would have it, last Saturday afternoon THIRTEEN ran a Martha Bakes episode that was all about sponge cakes. When I needed to make ladyfingers for the Charlotte Russe I went looking for a Martha Stewart recipe and couldn’t find one. But on this episode, there they were, hiding in plain sight inside her Tiramisu recipe! She’s a sneaky one, that Martha. So it was ladyfingers, take 3…
In addition to the assist from Miss Martha, I discovered another great tip for gluten free baking: It turns out that gluten free flours are lighter than regular (wheat) flours (ironic given that so many gluten free baked goods are so dense and heavy). But because of this weight differential, gluten free flours are more accurately measured by weight than by cups and spoons. You can use cups and spoons though; you just need to pack the flour like you would when measuring brown sugar. I’ve found that doing this makes a big difference!
These ladyfingers turned out nice, slightly crispy around the edges and a little soft inside. One of my co-worker/judges said they were the simplest things I’ve made so far, but he thought, the best. (There’s a message in there for Flora, I think) I was planning to make another Charlotte Russe with them, but the results gave me a better idea: Now that I’ve mastered these, I just need to figure peppermint chocolate filling and I’ll have gluten free Mint Milanos!! Hello! Nobel Prize Committee, are you listening?!
Trick and Treat: It is the semi-finals and it’s all about chocolate, which Paul and Mary describe as ‘the trickiest of ingredients’. My thoughts on that are, tricky or not, no matter how bad the results are, it’s still chocolate. Enough said…this week’s Signature Bake is a chocolate tart. It should be immaculate and brilliant with superb flavor. No pressure!
Once again Flora added too much sound and fury (decorations) to her bake. The judges loved the distinct layers in her passion fruit, chocolate mousse, ganache tart, saying it was fantastic. Then they dinged her for the lack of shine on the ganache and the dryness of her macaroon décor. Having so many extraneous elements gave the judges more things to taste and find fault with. Were they just looking for faults because they’d already decided her time was up? Who knows. Then there was Tamal who made something he called a New York Pie. I’m now a bit disappointed that I’ve lived here all these years and never encountered this New York Pie! It had a layer of raspberry coulis to lighten the denseness of the chocolate. The judges praised his simplicity (hear that Flora?) and lovely pastry, though good Paul had a debate with evil Paul before pronouncing it well done.
Mirror, Mirror On the Wall:
Ian made a chocolate short crust by swapping some flour for cocoa (I’d love to know how he figured out how much!) His chocolate caramel tart was infused with his homegrown bay leaves, with white chocolate bay leaves dotting the mirror-like top. The judges found it rich and creamy but said they didn’t taste the bay leaves or like the caramel. So who is the fairest baker of them all? While we don’t get placements for Signature bakes, it did seem that Nadiya’s Salted Caramel, Mousse and Peanut Butter tart came out on top. Her “fantastic…well done…spot on” creation made Sue whimper with glee and earned her the Paul Hollywood Handshake.
The Semi-Final Technical Challenge offered a first; staggered starts, to make chocolate mousse. We are told this is one of the most difficult things to make, and our bakers had to wrestle these pesky little chocolate divas into submission in a mere one hour and fifteen minutes.
As it turned out, it was a good thing it was chocolate week because Nadiya had such a bad case of PMS she almost gave up on baking altogether. In the midst of a major meltdown she said she’d rather have another baby than bake one more thing. Thankfully, Sue reminded her about the time constraint and suggested she save that for the Showstopper Challenge.
It seems that the Chocolate Mousse is all about the folding, and as I have learned through this bake-along process, folding is an art form unto itself. Fold too much and it won’t rise; not enough and you’ll have flecks (or in Nadiya’s case, big lumps). Like Goldilocks’ porridge, it has to be just right. Ian made the mistake of over-folding and using a hand mixer to get out the lumps (even I knew that was wrong). This gave his mousse an uneven rise, causing it to look like the Calgary Saddle Dome. Tamal fared better with a mousse that was beautiful and light with good rise and flavor.
Shake a Tail Feather:
In four hours, our bakers had to create a 3-D chocolate centerpiece. It had to have a biscuit (cookie) element, and they could use any chocolate as long as they incorporated white chocolate somewhere. Nadiya pulled out all the stops for this one. Her centerpiece featured a peacock with each individual tail feather sculpted in modeling chocolate. The camera really didn’t spend enough time showing it, but from what we could see, it looked rather brilliant – and it gave the judges what they wanted to see: Chocolate artistry.
Ask Not For Whom The Bell Tolls:
Both Flora and Tamal had the same problems this week: Time management and wonky construction. Tamal’s bell tower looked more the Hunchback who would live there. A big disappointment since we have seen such terrific artistry from Tamal in the past. Like Ian, it seemed that he choked under the pressure (or maybe, like Ian, we are judging him on a different scale because we have seen how talented he truly is). Either way, this result was messy though it did have good flavor. For her part, Flora made a carousel with a cake base and shortbread and white chocolate ganache horses. Paul and Mary had problems with the flavor and said they could taste the rising agent in her cake. It seemed the stress had gotten to her. When the others were getting their critiques, Flora could be seen in the background holding her head.
Ian made a chocolate water well with a working bucket that descended to bring up a liquid white chocolate concoction (even after gorilla Paul yanked the crank off). He and Mary thought it was first rate and found something new in his use of lemon oil. Unfortunately, they also felt they needed to see more chocolate skills from him. His Showstopper was a fantastic idea and very cute, but it did make me wonder where the line was on how much of their bakes our contestants could pre-prepared at home. Even so, I’m glad he escaped the chop and will be in the tent for the finale.
You’ll Never Walk Alone:
This week’s Star Baker was Nadiya. After that peacock tail there could be no other choice. It made everyone forget all about her lumpy mousse from the day before. Flora’s carousel may have been her undoing, but she can hold her head up high as she exits. She has been fun to watch and a great sport.
Death by Chocolate:
Despite what Paul and Mary said about a chocolate tart being difficult, I tried it and actually found it to be easy. Then again, had they been around to judge it they likely would have said it was all wrong. But in my corner of the world, it’s chocolate, so how bad can it be?
I made a chocolate ganache tart, with raspberry curd and chocolate cookie crust. The raspberry curd was inspired by Tamal, who put the raspberry coulis in his tart, to rave reviews. My crust was the same one I used for my cheesecake several weeks ago (24 homemade gluten free chocolate cookies, 2 Tbl almond meal, 3 Tbl butter, pulsed in a food processor till crumbed and combined then pressed into the pan, then baked at 350 for about 10 minutes), but this time I added a heaping tsp. of cinnamon, which gave it a great kick. I think this is going to become my go-to crust.
This was my first time making a raspberry curd, or any kind of curd for that matter, but even though the recipe called for it to be strained before leaving it to set, I didn’t because, a) I don’t mind the seeds, b) Dr. Joel Fuhrman says seeds are good, and c) I don’t have a sieve anyway. As it turned out, the chocolate ganache layer that went on top overtook raspberry curd. I didn’t get the distinct layers that Flora got, and the top wasn’t shiny. The top is also not flat. It’s more convex like a pie, which made me wonder if a flat top is a tart rule, and did I accidentally make a pie, or some kind of hybrid?
Then a funny thing happened; The Great British Baking Show was pre-empted last weekend so I had an extra week before turning in this column. What to do? I decided to make the chocolate tart again, but this time with a peach bavarois cream layer (instead of raspberry curd) under the ganache. This was the same peach bavarois I made for the Charlotte Russe, with Jersey peaches, but this time it turned out much better. It was lighter and creamier, because (I think) I’ve started to get the hang of folding, and I didn’t over-whip the cream.
My coworker judges got two tarts, both hits, with the usual, “yummy”, “wow”, “DAMN!”, responses. One coworker gave me a great critique, saying the chocolate ganache was kind of dense to be on top of the bavarois. He suggested that a chocolate mousse would be better and I agree. The next time it will be cookie crust, peach bavarois and chocolate mousse. Yum!
One is the Loneliest Number: Only one week to go, kids. If you’d like to drown your sorrows in chocolate, here’s the recipe for Mary Berry’s Chocolate Soufflé.
On your marks, get set…BAKE!!!
If you do bake along, please post pictures of your own baking creations using the hashtag #PBSBakingShow.