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French pastry week with the Canadian Baking Show

Bonjour — that’s about all host Dan Levy could say in French, but that didn’t stop French pastry week on the Great Canadian Baking Show. (Don’t worry Dan. It’s better not to speak the language if you truly can’t.)

This week marked the semi-finals of the competition, which put a lot of extra stress on the four remaining bakers.

The first challenge was a dozen Mille-Feuilles, or a Napoleon as North American’s may know them. These treats are made of layers of light, flaky puff pastry with a flavoured filling (typically a kind of custard), and decadent toppings. The key for this challenge, as is the key with most French pastry, was elegance.

Unfortunately, none of the bakers nailed the pastry itself. Most were undercooked, while one was overcooked. Most of them had wonderful presentation, but I found the layers weren’t tight enough. When I bite into a Napoleon, I like to be able to get all the layers at once. The bakers had thick, dollops of icing, which looked beautiful, but if a regular person were eating that Mille-Feuille they may have a challenge getting a taste of every layer. The judges, in their typical style, peeled apart each layer with a fork. That may be how the French eat a Mille-Feuille, but it’s not how we Canadians eat a Napoleon.

The technical challenge was an Opera cake, made with layers of almond sponge cake soaked in coffee syrup, layered with ganache and coffee buttercream and covered in a chocolate glaze. On the top is the word Opera written in thin, cursive, chocolate writing. Most of the cakes were not soaked in enough coffee for the judges’ taste.

Sabrina did very well with her cake and the writing on top, but unfortunately chocolate glaze is unforgiving. There was a giant fingerprint in the centre of the cake! Sadly, there was absolutely nothing she could do about it. Both Linda and Vandana had issues with their cursive writing, with the chocolate icing too thick to create an elegant look. James succeeded in creating a nearly perfect Opera cake.

The show stopper challenge was a tower of cream puffs, or a croquembouche — round pieces of choux pastry filled with cream, stuck together with sugar or caramel. This task was all about time management. Each baker needed at least 100 cream puffs in order to make a structure that was tall enough. James, unfortunately, was unable to plan well enough to make the number of cream puffs needed for a tower. He also ran out of sugar to bind the puffs together; Vandana was kind enough to allow him to use some of her leftover caramel so that he could at least put together something for the judges.

Both Sabrina and Vandana produced beautiful looking croquembouche. Sabrina’s tower was gorgeous and consisted of a number of attachable elements, including sugar strings. However, it wasn’t baked enough. Vandana’s creamy filling was delicious, but the judges said she also could a bit better with her pastry.

This was the semi-finals, so the final three contestants will compete next week for the title of Great Canadian Baker! James, unfortunately, will not be competing next week. Despite the fact that every dessert tasted delicious according to the judges, his presentation hurt him. The judges (and myself) have such a soft spot for James, who can make something delicious even if it looks really ugly. But, unfortunately, as the competition winds down, presentation must be judged in equal measure to taste. Linda was named star baker after producing a gorgeous white chocolate holiday themed cream puff tower.

Who do you think will win next week? Let us know in the comments below!

Best of Britain on the Great Canadian Baking Show

It was the “Best of Britain” on the Great Canadian Baking Show, an homage to the Great British Bake Off no doubt. There was lots of tea…and lots of booze in this week’s show — and that made for an excellent combination.

The first challenge was a “majestic trifle”, something I have never made but now really want to. A trifle is an English dessert with layers of alcohol-soaked sponge, fruit, jelly, and custard. It is often served in a glass bowl so that the layers are visible to guests. This also means it is very easy to see all of your baking flaws. As judge Bruno Feldeisen said, “Trifles are like window shopping.” You know exactly what you are going to get.

The bakers rose to the challenge though, each one creating a nearly perfect looking trifle. I have to say the women really showcased their talents. Sabrina’s swirling sponge on the bottom of her trifle wowed the judges, and Vandana’s mango and tapioca pearls was truly creative.

One of my favourite moments was when Linda made her custard in the microwave. The judges were skeptical, assuming that without the constant whisking on low heat the item would curdle. Linda confidently said this was how she baked bustard at home and went about her business. When it came time to test her trifle, the judges were surprised at how nice the custard tasted. This wasn’t just a win for Linda, but a win for many of us who use things like microwaves, toaster ovens, and substitutions in our baking.

The baker’s technical challenge was to make 20 brandy snaps in one and a half hours. At first I thought a brandy snap was a cookie, but it’s actually a tubular brittle wafer filled with brandy-flavoured whipped cream. The hard part? You can only make three brandy snaps at a time. The batter expands and creates very thin doily-like wafer that you have to roll into a tube as soon as it comes out of the oven.  Even James, who is from the U.K., said he would never make these at home. Almost no one got these perfect.

The final show-stopping challenge was, of course, to bake treats for a British high tea. The bakers were asked to create three treats, with at least one savoury. The key was to create small, elegant items that were tied together with a theme.  Vandana surprised the judges yet again with an Indian-inspired collection of treats, beautifully decorated with flowers and gold accents. Sabrina’s peach-themed tea was also incredibly elegant.

The women were incredibly impressive this week, which meant the two boys were in danger of going home. At the end of the day, James was saved thanks to his “ugly but delicious” baking. Julian D’Entremont from halifax was sent home after a few missteps with his desserts.

Vandana, obviously, was named star baker this week!

It’s getting harder and harder to predict who is going home each week. Every single baker is ridiculously talented. I fell in love with Julian’s rustic-inspired bakes and his East Coast flare, but with only five bakers left, the competition is bound to get a bit more intense!

What did you think of this week’s episode?