Hop on board the Bake Off train, destination The Semi Finals!!
I remember the night all of us Bakers got together before the first weekend of filming and I know for a fact we were all wondering how far we’d get and who would be with us on the journey. My aim was to get past week 1 and then just take each week as it came along…and before I knew it I was in the Semi Finals with three baking sisters!
Leaving the Quarter Finals the previous week was very emotional and it was difficult picking myself up again and ploughing on with practice for the Semis, but it needed to be done. I don’t think I slept much that week and practiced as much as I could, tweaking recipes to make sure that I was happy with all my bakes and I went into that tent feeling good and just tried to stay focused.
French week kicked off with savoury canapés and although it was the Signature Challenge, it felt like all the challenges were Showstoppers that weekend and we all needed to pull out all the stops for all the challenges. I had decided upon making a Beetroot Choux, filled with Smoked Salmon and Horseradish Cream, Walnut and Stilton Macarons and Welsh Rarebit Tarts. I had considered different versions of the canapés, for example creaming the stilton rather than having a disk, but I liked the look of the blue veins and was happy with how it tasted.
A batch of freshly baked Walnut Macaron shells.
It’s fair to say that both Paul and Mary weren’t enamoured with my canapés which saddened me greatly, but I wouldn’t have changed anything in hindsight, especially in the time frame we had. I took on board their comments and moved on to tackle the technical challenge. In that tent, there’s no time and no point dwelling on what had just happened as there was still two more challenges ahead.
The Technical Challenge was a Charlotte Royale…..exactly!! I had never made one, but had a vague idea of what it looked like, especially after Sue said it looked like a brain! I remember thinking that we didn’t have much time and thought halfway through that we must get to finish the challenge off in the morning….sneaky Bake Off production team! Anyway, I cracked on with the sponge and the jam, everything going to plan, then I made yet more custard but this time we had to add gelatine leaves and raspberry puree to turn it into a Bavarois. I lined the bowl with clingfilm to make it easier to turn out, then carefully sliced my swiss roll into equal pieces and lined the bowl with the sponge. I was happy with the swiss roll, but as soon as I’d put the custard in I knew I should have pressed the swiss roll in tighter so that the bavarois wouldn’t have leaked through as much as it did. Too late by that point, and time was seriously running out! I think we were all finishing putting the final piece of swiss roll in at the same time and got them into the fridge just in time too!!
The following morning, we were all dreading turning out our brains and wondered what else we needed to do to finish the challenge off! Having successfully turned out the swiss roll creation we then had to make a glaze using sugar, water and arrow root which turned the liquid into gloop…for want of a better word! It was tricky to work with and I have no idea how I managed to glaze it but I did! The finishing touches were some piped cream and strawberries and that was it. Bless Ruby had a few issues with her Charlotte and came 4th then I was placed 3rd. I knew then that I was in danger and needed to bake like I’d never baked before in the final challenge and wasn’t going to give up without a fight!
And so it was down to the Showstopper, a 10inch Opera cake that would blow their mind and secure me a place in that Bake Off final. The flavour combination I went for was a Banoffee style Opera cake which consisted of a banana joconde sponge, a rum syrup, banana buttercream, toffee buttercream and a dark chocolate ganache. Once again, having made the cake 2 or 3 times in the week, I was happy with it and thought it worked well. I had a few people taste it and asked for their honest opinion and they all liked it. I did not stop throughout that challenge as did all of the bakers, we were all hungry for a spot in the final and did everything we could to get there. The fact that all 4 of us turned out 4 Opera cakes in 2 1/2 hours is amazing, but it seemed that all of us had some not so great comments from the judges but I feel that mine was the one that took the brunt of the punches.
Whilst we waited for the judges to decide our fate, I knew that although I had done everything I could to stay in, it was going to be my name that was said at the end. I had reached the Semi Finals having lost out on the Star Baker accolade and I think that coupled with my flavours not quite hitting the mark with Paul and Mary resulted in my departure.
Kimberley thoroughly deserved the Star Baker that week as all of her bakes were outstanding. Her flavour combinations and style is out of this world and she thoroughly deserved a spot in that final. Frances pulled some amazing bakes out of the bag that weekend too and even got a Paul Hollywood handshake, if that doesn’t seal your place in the final I don’t know what will! And finally Ruby, what an amazingly talented natural baker. I’m not sure that many people know that she has only been baking for about 2 years and she turns out these amazing bakes and flavour combinations. She didn’t have the best of weekends, but she had done enough to claim the third spot in the final and had also won Star Baker 3 times. Well done ladies, I’m very proud of you all and it has been a pleasure to bake in your company for 9 weeks in a tent in the middle of nowhere.
How am I doing? Don’t get me wrong, I was gutted to get so far and to fall at the final hurdle, but these things happen for a reason and if anything it has been one heck of a character building exercise! What an amazing experience and one that I will never forgot. The main thing for me is that this whole crazy thing hasn’t burst my Bake Off bubble or more importantly my passion for baking…it will take a lot to stop me from baking and I hope this won’t be the last you see of me!
Thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout my Bake Off journey (oh no, she used the j-word!), and I would particularly like to thank my loving husband and gorgeous mini-me daughter, my amazing parents, my very proud Nan who is one of my baking inspirations and my lovely and honest brother and his lovely little family. Diolch o galon am eich holl cymorth a chariad trwy gydol y flwyddyn dwethaf.
Enough of that nonsense now – next week it’s the Final of The Great British Bake Off…and I can’t WAIT to watch it!