The Great British Bake Off: Richard Burr’s patisserie verdict

Bake Off 2014 finalist Richard shows us the way with choux pastry, and makes his predictions for the semi final

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There are a few important things to realise when you get to the quarter finals of The Great British Bake Off.

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Firstly, with only five contestants left, no one is safe. Any mistake is magnified and there’s no place to hide. Secondly, the contestants are likely to be exhausted.

By this point, Bake Off has probably taken over about five months of their lives already. They’re probably sick of the sight of their kitchens at home and their loved ones are nearing the point where they can’t face tasting any more bakes, no matter how delicious.

Finally, the challenges are going to get more complicated and the standard will get higher. Who will have the stamina to see it through? All in all, it makes for a great recipe for the viewer. I was really looking forward to this episode and it didn’t disappoint.

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Cream horns: a pretty exciting challenge. I’m not sure whether I’d have gone for rough or full puff for this one. I’d have probably checked the weather on the day and winged it, as hot weather is the enemy of full puff pastry.

We’re getting the hang of the Bake Off editing process now so as soon as Ian said, “There’s not much that can go wrong with them,” I started to worry for him. Paul Hollywood tried to psych Tamal out about using strong white flour but the Doc didn’t seem to rise to the bait. Personally, I tend to use strong flour in my puff pastry and plain flour in my rough puff – recipes for both of these are in my book, B.I.Y. Bake It Yourself.

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I found myself shouting at the telly when Flora started making her tuile cigars. It reminded me of when I was a student and had revision to do and would suddenly find I needed to alphabetise my CDs or tidy my room rather than get on with the task at hand. Flora needs to focus or she’ll be in trouble next week!

Flora's horns looked amazing but were they too much style over filling? @sheddenflora #GBBO

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Some great flavour combinations again this week but Nadiya’s were my favourites – rose and pistachio and mocha hazelnut had my mouth watering. The overall look of her bakes was so inviting too – “exemplary horns”!

I had high hopes for Paul as soon as he said he was cooking with banana as it’s such a favourite flavour of Paul Hollywood’s. It was disappointing that the taste didn’t come through. It could have been something as simple as the bananas being too fresh. When you start to get stressed in the tent it’s much harder to trust your judgement on flavours, as Ian also found with adding too much kirsch.

Overall, a good challenge for Nadiya and Tamal but the others all seemed in trouble.

Technical

I’d never heard of mokatines but as soon as I saw them I added them to my ‘must bake’ list. Genoise sponge isn’t as ‘geno-difficult’ (geddit?!) as last night’s episode made it look. The secret is to beat the egg and sugar really well in a stand mixer and then treat it really gently as you fold in the melted butter and flours.

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Poor old Paul did the right thing by starting again; sometimes it’s the only solution. Unfortunately, rushing a second attempt doesn’t improve matters. A bad genoise is a bit like a springy omelette. I’ve been there, when you get every aspect of a technical bake wrong and have to watch as the judges tear your work apart. It’s not the end of the world, but it means the pressure’s on for the next day.

Taking it with good humour is the only way to cope with a bad bake and Paul behaved exactly how I hoped he would, by shrugging it off and staying positive. After a double first though, I reckon Nadiya probably slept better knowing she’d essentially have to set the tent on fire to be sent home.

Showstopper

This was a real feast for the eyes. Religieuse a L’ancienne, or ‘choux nuns’, are almost cartoony in their appearances – a great bake for Tom Hovey to go mad with his box of felt tips this week, especially on Tamal and Nadiya’s. Those were some vivid colours!

Another fabulously bonkers bake to illustrate for Nadiya @begumnadiya #GBBO

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When you’ve got two giant trays of eggs on your work station, as all the contestants seemed to have, you know you’re in for a long day of baking. I make choux pastry quite a lot at home and the secret for stability is to let the cases dry as much as possible and ensure the filling is as sturdy as you can get it. Ian’s use of the wooden spoon in the oven door was a good strategy for this and like him, I also use strong flour for choux to give a sturdier structure to my éclairs.

The builder in me really enjoyed watching all the different construction techniques – different adhesives used, Flora’s spirit level, what they’d used to shape their towers around. In bricklaying, building up such a precarious free-standing structure is pretty hard – for bakers it’s positively treacherous!

They certainly all had dazed, thousand-yard-stares as they staggered out at the end, which is a sure sign that it was a tough bake. I remember getting a cup of tea as we started a bake and walking out of the tent with it untouched four hours later – sometimes time just disappears! 

Waiting two hours before judging must have been murder for the bakers. I can’t imagine what it was like for them to have to leave and have lunch, while the runners galloped around the tent like a herd of elephants tidying up, and not knowing whether they’d return to a tower or a sad pile of pastry and cream.

It was a really tough choice all round for the judges this week as no one had a perfect weekend but Nadiya deservedly edged it. Paul, like Mat last week, will be a great loss to the tent. Such a cool, level-headed and philosophical approach to the competition and some stand out bakes throughout the series.

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I reckon you can get to the Bake Off final if you have about 80% of your bakes down pat. The problem is if you hit all of the weaker 20% of bakes in one weekend then it’s curtains. Still all to play for in the semi-finals and I can’t wait to see what’s in store.