Patisserie perfection.

It has been a long week. I have been single-handedly managing a whole host of tradesmen and it is exhausting! My son was away all week on a training course and Vern is away part of the week with work so it was down to me and the dogs to keep things on track. We finally got the leaky roof in the orangery fixed so that the plasterer could come in and do his thing. My husband is a total control freak, so when he is away I have to send him pictures of the work so he can check that it is being done to his exacting standards. He wasn’t happy with the way the corner columns had been plaster boarded so I had to have an awkward conversation with the plasterer and explain that he had to redo it. Anyone who knows me will understand how difficult this kind of thing is for me as I hate confrontational situations but I’m getting better at it. Anyway, the columns now look fabulous and Vern is happy so it’s all good.

Our builder also arrived at the start of the week to investigate why the hall floor slopes slightly at one end. He was concerned that the floorboards underneath the tiles may have rotted away causing the drop and needed to lift up some of the tiles so that he could find out. Thankfully, the floorboards are absolutely fine, the previous owners simply, inexplicably, decided to lower the floor so that they had more headroom in the doorway, rather than moving the door frame up a bit! These are the sort of issues we have to deal with every time we do anything to the house. Every job is complicated because the simplest of repairs have been botched in the past. The builders were so relieved that there were no horrors lurking under the tiles that they got quite carried away and pulled up all the flooring. We will be walking on bare floorboards for months now as we work on the rest of the house. Hey ho!!

So to the Bake Off. Week 9 – The Semi-Finals. I can’t believe we are here already. It was Patisserie Week and I was so excited. This is the week where I would have excelled, had I got through to the competition and managed to stay in until now. I love all the intricate details in pastry work. I could happily spend hours staring into the windows of all those gorgeous bakeries in Paris. The precision and uniformity, the colour palette and the shapes delight me. The technical challenge was a tortuously difficult layered cake. The Torta Setteveli has seven layers of chocolate sponge, creamy fillings and mousse, topped with a set mirror glaze. I have attempted mirror glazes in the past and have not had much success. Judging how much gelatine to use is so tricky and most of the contestants got it wrong. Poor Kim Joy had a nightmare with her mousse and almost threw in the towel. She is normally so composed, the pressure was obviously getting to them all.

For the showstopper, Paul and Prue wanted a Parisian bakery window display of assorted pastries. The finished selection included weird red eclairs, unglazed fruit tarts and monstrous mille feuille and sadly Briony missed out on the final by a whisker. This must have been a tough decision for the judges as no one really stood out for me, I thought all the contestants excelled and struggled with the challenges equally. I was sad to see Briony go as she was a talented baker and a bit of a mother figure, always looking out for the others which made her very endearing. She will go far I predict.

For my bake I chose the signature challenge, dipped madeleines. I have never baked these lovely little cakes before, although I have eaten plenty of them! I ordered a special tin online and read up on recipes. I came across lots of recipes which stressed how difficult madeleines are to get right. One in particular, by Felicity Cloake, had so many steps that my head was spinning. I was worried that I had inadvertently picked the most difficult challenge to replicate. Felicity insisted that the butter in her recipe had to be browned to give a nutty flavour. She also called for the madeleine tins to be chilled after greasing and flouring for at least four hours, along with the sponge mixture, before baking. This seemed like a lot of preparation for what are essentially individual sponges, baked in pretty moulds. Then I found another recipe which seemed remarkably simple. It was an American version, adapted from cups into grams and I was doubtful that it would work so I decided to try both for comparison. I did spend a long time preparing the tin, making sure I didn’t use too much butter (see Ruby’s “fried” madeleines) and coating each shell evenly with flour. I wanted to make Halloween themed cakes this week so I tried adding spiced pumpkin to some of the mixture and dried apple to another portion, leaving the rest flavoured only with lemon to see what worked best. Many, many madeleines later I discovered that the pumpkin and apple versions were quite heavy but the lemon ones from both recipes were perfect, in fact I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between the two. The simple recipe produced beautiful light, buttery madeleines in under thirty minutes using regular ingredients. If you fancy having a go yourself, here it is.

Carefully butter and flour a madeleine tin. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees, 180 for fan ovens. Melt 100g of butter and set aside to cool slightly. Whisk two free range eggs with 100g of caster sugar until thick and foamy. Then add 100g of plain flour, three-quarters of a teaspoon of baking powder, the zest and juice of one lemon and the melted butter and whisk lightly. The batter should be light and bubbly. Leave it to rest for about 10 minutes, then carefully spoon the mixture into the tin. Don’t overfill the moulds, the mixture will spread and rise in the oven so leave a little gap around the sides. Bake for 8-10 minutes until risen in the centre and just browning around the edges. Let them cool for a few minutes before lifting them out of the tin onto a wire rack to cool. Ideally, they are best eaten the same day, and this is not a problem as they are very moreish. To make the monsters, I melted white chocolate in the microwave, added colour gel and dipped the top half of the madeleines into the chocolate. I then used coloured sprinkles for hair and added candy eyes. I put them onto greaseproof paper to set the chocolate. Very easy and very cute!

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I am really excited about the finals next week, sad about the end of this baking challenge and apprehensive about what I will have to make next but one thing is certain, I will definitely be applying again next year. Maybe 2019 will be my lucky year and you will see me on the television. I would love the opportunity to push myself as far as I can go!

Thanks for reading. xx

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