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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!