The day before this episode aired, I told my housemate that it was patisserie week. Her response was “haven’t they already done that?” Yes they did, it was French week in episode 6. So it was an odd start to the semi finals. Also, as I kept saying on Twitter, the challenges felt like they were week 6 level. It’s the semi final, so why are we doing breakfast pastries? Let’s get into it.
Signature: Breakfast pastries
For this challenge, the bakers had to make two kinds of breakfast pastries, 6 of each. Remember that last week’s signature was tartlets, so we’re not even straying even that far from last week when it comes to the brief.
Ella made babkas with raspberry glaze, sweet cheese and orange, as well as rugelach with black sesame, tahini and chocolate. This got a bit controversial on Twitter, because babka is seen as more of a bread/cake than a pastry, but Matt mentioned in the final tea time that she used the same dough to make both, which could be why she got away with it – but if that’s the case, why didn’t they mention it earlier in the episode? All of that being said, I’d love to try one of those babkas. The orange went well with the sweet cheese – Maggie described it as “harmonious” – and the glaze was good. The judges also love the rugelach, saying they’d never had one that was that good – it was rich and they loved the addition of the black sesamie nougatine.
Nurman made cruffins with a kaya cream made of coconut, palm sugar and pandan. I’m not much of a coconut fan, but I’m intrigued to try it. He also made Danishes with mango and lime jam and gochujang caramel. He burned his first jam, so he made it again and it paid off. The pastry of the Danish was so flaky it dissolved in the mouth, and the heat didn’t overpower the other flavours, which I’m sure was a relief for Maggie. The texture of the cruffin was really nice, it had a great crunch and butteriness to it.
Aaron made a blueberry and walnut kouign amann, as well as a poached rhubarb and frangipane Danish. He had some issues with the Danish, as the pastry didn’t do what he wanted. When it was judged, Matt told him that the pastry was too warm when it was rolled out, but the flavours were great. They said that the kouign amann had crisp and delicate pastry, and the berries gave it a nice acidity.
Hoda made vanilla and custard bienenstich (bee stings in English) and a cinnamon and apple strudel with a lemon drizzle. Like someone who’s been here a while, Claire tells Hoda that she’s looking forward to the scraps. It’s what we expect from a host. At one point in the challenge Hoda said “I can smell apple, cinnamon, victory. I like it a lot,” which was unfortunate, because Matt and Maggie said that while the pastry was good in the strudel, there was too much cinnamon and the apple wasn’t coming through. The bienenstich had a fantastic crunch, but it was doughy in the centre, which meant it had been cooked too quickly.
Signature: Gateau St Honoré
By far the highlight of this challenge was Matt’s pronunciation of the pastry, which was something along the lines of Gateau St Honoury, in one of the most Australian accents I’ve ever heard. I wrote down that my mum would finally be happy about the choux pastry, because my cousin’s partner makes excellent cream puffs. The challenge itself wasn’t particularly exciting, but it’s worth noting that Hoda was asking for help the entire time, at one point interrogating Aaron about how many eggs he put in his choux pastry. And yet, production decided to have Hoda narrate this challenge, despite not being sure of what she was doing.
Judging! Nurman’s cream was a little soft, and there was possibly too much of it. The profiteroles ate well, the pastry and the caremel was good. Hoda had a nice golden pastry, her creme pattisiere was good, but the caramel was too hard. Ella had a good caramel, the pastry puffed well, the creme diplomat held its shape and it was “extremely well done.” Aaron had beautiful caramel, but there were issues with the cream. The components were right, but they were still warm when it was put together, which was unfortunate.
From last to first we had Aaron, Hoda, Nurman and Ella with her fifth technical win.
Showstopper: Biscuit Pinata
This is one of the worst challenges I’ve seen in a series of Bake Off. Just because it’s never been seen in Bake Off history, it doesn’t mean it should be done. We’re in semi final week and you’re asking them to make a biscuit pinata? A showstopper that isn’t even as difficult as the biscuit chandeliers they made in week 2? When Matt talked about what they were looking for in the biscuit pinata, he mentioned the construction and shape, but nothing about flavour. So this is a construction challenge then? Oh also they had five hours to make these for some reason. There wasn’t even anything in the brief that required them to make more than one kind of biscuit! This is the semi final, I want to see them make something spectacular!
Ella made a worry monster with a violet, blueberry and blackcurrant body, and elderflower and lemon facial features, decorated with royal icing. Matt and Maggie said it looked absolutely amazing and that it was full of craft, technique and expression. For the body, the judges couldn’t taste the violet. Maggie got blueberry and Matt got blackcurrant, but it was very well baked. The lemon and elderflower biscuit was a bit softer, and the lemon was more dominant than the elderflower, but it was delicious. Then they smashed the thing, which seemed like an awful waste of food. They also just filled the pinatas with confetti???
The first we saw of Aaron in this challenge was that he forgot to put eggs in his biscuit dough, which isn’t the best start to a challenge. We’ve had some good moments of people forgetting ingredients this season, beginning with Ella forgetting to put sugar in her cake batter in the very first challenge. Anyway, Aaron made a fish pinata from a cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg biscuit, as well as macarons for the scales. His comment to the judges was “I want to do some patisserie in patisserie week,” which gives us the sense that the bakers weren’t thrilled with this brief either. Aaron had some issues hanging his pinata and the tail came off, but he stuck it back on with caramel. It’s a very useful substance. Matt liked the different sizes of the macarons, which made the fish look more real. They were nice and chewy, but didn’t have much flavour. The cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger biscuit was well cooked, but also lacked some flavour.
Hoda made a 3D unicorn pinata out of a chocolate molasses biscuit and I don’t think she needed to tell us it was 3D, because that’s a given with a pinata. A 2D one wouldn’t be very exciting. It was decorated with fondant and wafer paper to look like an actual pinata. It was at this point I realised that they didn’t have to make more than one biscuit and got even more annoyed because how much of a challenge is it to make large biscuits and stick them together with caramel in the semi final of a baking competition? I also got really worried about Hoda’s long hair getting in the caramel. It should be tied back! Maggie said that her granddaughter would’ve loved the unicorn, but it was a bit simple and they would’ve loved to have seen more work go into the decoration. On chocolate molasses: “it’s a real acquired taste.” Does that mean you did or didn’t like it? Then they said it was really well balanced.
I normally have my signature and showstopper blurbs in the same order, but I left Nurman and his biscuit head for last, because it was spectacular. He made a spiced maple syrup biscuit and a chocolate and orange gingerbread, which he decorated with royal icing. The front of his head had his face, complete with moustache, hat and glasses (Claire really wanted to put the glasses on, so he gave her the stencil to play with), while on the back he wrote down his personal doubts and self-criticisms so that he could smash them. When it was finished, Matt said the likeness was uncanny. Maggie looked at what Nurman had written and said that the things he didn’t like about himself were things she saw as strengths. Same, Maggie. Matt’s reaction to the spiced Jaffa biscuit was “God, that’s good,” and the maple syrup biscuit was good with a heat at the end and it went well with the chocolate. Then Matt and Maggie let Nurman smash his self doubts instead of doing it themselves and it was beautiful. I definitely cried at one point.
At tea time, it was clear that Nurman and Ella were making it through to the final, while they were discussing whether Aaron or Hoda should go home.
Nurman rightly won Star Baker with a beautiful interpretation of a terrible brief, while Hoda went home. I’ve been a bit hard on Hoda here, but it had nothing to do with her ability, more the role she was cast in. She’s done some really good baking and improved a lot. And despite everything that’s happened, we’ve got the three best bakers in the finale.
And the finale starts in half an hour, so I got this in just under the wire.
- There’s nothing for episodes 7 and 8. I was so exhausted that I couldn’t even take notes. The theme of 2022 so far is me trying to do too much, so I’m trying to look after myself better.
- That being said, I’m hoping to publish something soon on the second season of Bridgerton. I have a lot of feelings, not all of them good (I still haven’t finished it because I was so angry after episode 4).
- The Washing Up has published some interviews today with Hoda and Ash, I’m looking forward to listening.
- See you at the finale very soon!