This week, the bakers were tested on their proficiency and precision with pastry. Pies and tarts for the fifth week of The Great British Bake Off…
The group was noticeably smaller this week as Diana had withdrawn from the competition due to illness. The halfway point in the competition is a real milestone. You’ve got through the jitters of the first few weeks and are pretty familiar with the routine of the weekend. It’s also the point when you really start to feel the strain of weeks of constant baking and recipe development, long journeys and full days of filming. As Mel told us this time last year, it’s all about endurance now.
The signature challenge
This week, the contestants had to make a large, family-sized custard tart - an upscaling of the fiendish technical challenge from last year. First, the pastry has to be short, thin, crisp and well-cooked. Then, the custard must be just set, not overcooked or curdled, plus well flavoured. If you manage all of that, the last thing you have to do is get it out of the tin in one piece.
- After blind baking the tart shell, I remove the baking beans, and brush the inside of the pastry case with egg white before returning to the oven for 2-3 minutes. This creates a seal that helps to prevent a soggy bottom when you add your filling.
- Place the lined baked tart case on the oven shelf and then pour in the custard. This will help to prevent spillages that can stick the pastry to the tin, as Richard discovered.
- Rolling the pastry between two sheets of cling film or greaseproof paper allows you to roll it very thinly without having to add any more flour, which can dry it out.
Norman’s tarte au citron was met with the familiar criticism that it was too simple, though done well it is one of my favourite things to eat. During the judging he was told that the flavour was fantastic but that more was expected of him in terms of complexity and presentation at this stage of the competition.
I loved that Chetna took the task in a unique direction by incorporating kheer into her tart. Kheer is an Indian rice pudding, flavoured with cardamom and often includes golden raisins, almonds or pistachios. Sadly her feedback was that her rice was undercooked and the tart under flavoured. Top marks for creativity, though. Nancy was the only baker to use a tart ring for her passion fruit custard tart with cocoa pastry. The benefit of a pastry ring is that the pastry base sits directly on the lined baking tray, ensuring a lovely crisp base.
I really liked the rhubarb swirl Kate gave her tart and taking it out of the oven halfway through was a brave move!
What would Kimberley do…
I would have made chocolate custard in malt pastry with sherry soaked raisins.
The pear pies of the technical challenge were a version of the French Pear Feuilletés. Usually made with puff pastry, the bakers had to make a very quick rough puff to wrap around poached pears before baking. It was essential that the (perfectly cooked) pears were sufficiently cooled before they were enrobed, as any heat would cause the fat in the pastry to melt and the pastry to slide off. This looked to be what happened to Richard when he presented baked pears sitting on a nest of pastry. Despite never having seen the dish before, nor poached a pear, Martha came top of the leader board on this challenge.
The showstopper *spoiler alert*
I wasn’t convinced by this showstopper challenge. A themed three-tiered pie? A pie with a raison d’etre other than ‘being tasty’? The bakers had to make three pies of their own choosing. Luis went all out, doing more than required by making not three but four pies for his ‘Four Fruity Seasons’. A risky strategy in such a complex challenge. In the end, he was unfortunately let down by his ‘too thick’ pastry.
Making a partial recovery from his earlier stumble in the technical challenge, Richard was praised for his steak and ale pie though there was ‘not much flavour’ in his pear and frangipane pie, though Chetna (dubbed the ‘flavour queen’ by Paul) was back on form.
Nancy got extra brownie points for hand raising all of her pies, though they were criticised for being too dry, which was a real shame - they looked great!
It was lovely to see Kate awarded Star Baker tonight. She’s been getting stronger and stronger each week and it really feels as though she has found her stride.
The nation held its breath for Norman tonight. He had promised Paul that he would be pushing the boat out in his showstopper and from the sounds of it he did, but alas, he pushed it too far. The meringue was overpowered by lavender and the raspberry and passion fruit curd in his meringue pie was weeping. In the end, he could not do enough to stay in the game.
What would Kimberley do…
I think it would be fun to have made pies linked to my heritage. Maybe a pie version of a Jamaican patty, jerk chicken pie and a passion fruit meringue pie.
Kimberley’s star bakers…
I would happily sit down to a slice of Richard’s steak and ale pie followed by one each of Nancy’s, Kate’s and Luis’ custard tarts!
Kimberely Wilson was a finalist on the 2013 series of The Great British Bake Off and will be with us every week to reflect on the happenings in this year's kitchen.
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