Spoiler alert! Read at your own risk.
We’re down to the penultimate battle in Season 3 of PBS’s “The Great British Baking Show.” Find previous recaps here; the program airs in the Washington area Friday evenings on MPT and WHUT and Sundays on WETA. It also streams via the PBS app and on the PBS website. For tweets, use #PBSBakingShow.
This week’s pro commentator is Naomi Gallego, corporate pastry chef for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group. We hit the jackpot; not only did she bring the best passion fruit-glazed brioche doughnuts we’ve ever tasted, Naomi has participated in enough real chocolate-work showpiece competitions to assess the true merits of the amateur bakers’ work.
STILL IN: Ian, Nadiya, Tamal, Flora
JUST OUT: Paul
Smell-O-Vision has been tinkered with for more than half a century, and yet we still don’t have it for watching this trio of bakes. Sniff, sniff. Tart and souffle, we’re in. Centerpiece, we’re not so sure about.
Three hours seems about right for the remaining bakers to complete their signature chocolate tarts, for which all four sift cocoa powder into their pastry mix. As we have heard in previous challenges, judges Paul and Mary say it’s more difficult to tell whether the crust is baked properly when it starts off as choco-brown. Chef Naomi says when it looks dry and smells chocolaty, it’s done.
Given the chance to match descriptions of tarts with their creators, we could almost nail it: Ian introduces a homegrown herb (bay! yay!); Tamal’s comfortable with a blood-red coulis; Flora overdoes it with three fussy decorations; and Nadiya summons her candy cravings.
Flora’s pledge on the glen not to “stray from the brief” lasts about as long as a bout of English sunshine. Chef Naomi spots the young Scot’s other defining characteristic on the show: hands on face, good times or bad. “There she goes again!” chef says, reaching for a “Home Alone” analogy.
We notice a thumb planted on chef Naomi’s chin as Flora pops her passion fruit tart layer in the oven, then in the freezer. No, no, no. Judge Paul lauds the look and crust of this tart, but not its curdled fruit custard or dull ganache.
Ian’s ganache is mirror-shiny, but the flavor of bay is not so tickety-boo. And now we must discuss Nadiya’s tapioca maltodextrin, which most certainly did not come from her local Tesco. It and a food processor reduce creamy peanut butter to powder, and its use suggests this contestant means business. Apparently, this makes the flavor of peanut more palatable to the judges, as does the baker’s layer of salted, nutty caramel. It rates a judge Paul handshake, no less.
The bakers are 0 for 4 in lifetime souffle at-bats. How can this be? They must follow a redacted version of judge Mary’s technical challenge recipe and — hang on to your sensible trainers — they will start at staggered times, each given 75 minutes total. We presume it’s because the judges need to sample them before the souffles collapse but the bakers react as though it’s an added hot cross bun to bear. The required souffle should have a flat top, a good rise and s spongy, light interior.
Creme patissiere and meringue are the yin and yang of this dessert; we’re used to calling them a custard-chocolate base and sugared egg whites. Folding them together in a way that doesn’t deflate the lift and yet eliminates any white bits is key, and when chef Naomi sees the bakers using metal spoons (“Spatula!” “Whisk!”) to do this she almost falls off her padded Food Lab stool. The bakers’ mixtures range from lumpy and mocha-colored to drinkable hot chocolate.
The directions do mention a parchment paper collar; paper clips and string are provided to help secure it around the baking dish. Classically trained, experienced chef Naomi never uses one: “If you coat and fill the souffle dish properly, it’s not necessary.” The bakers seem confused about the paper’s purpose (insulation?), and wrap most of it around the sides of the souffle dish with little stand-up collar to support any rising molten chocolate.
Strangely enough, they produce mostly muffin-top souffles — something we’re happy not to have ever experienced. Nadiya places dead last. With tears and trembling lip, she predicts her Brexit. We’re thinking her facial expressions to date have launched a thousand GIFs.
Flora is so flustered she doesn’t have time to stray from the brief, and it pays off. She places first! But that less-is-more strategy does not have time to sink in, because she and the others have a new day and four hours to build their showstopper chocolate centerpieces.
This could be the least useful challenge to date, in terms of teachable baking moments. It must be “3-D,” says co-host Sue, and really, haven’t all their bakes been so? The bakers do have to demonstrate their tempering skills, but the rules about what other kinds of materials they can use raise a Naomi eyebrow. “When professionals do chocolate showpieces, all parts must be edible,” she says. (See photos above!) That means Ian’s well with operating bucket that dips into flavored white chocolate would be out; it is constructed upon an acrylic cylinder and base. Judge Paul breaks off the well’s handle and proclaims there’s not enough chocolate work to warrant a handshake.
The chef wonders aloud about Nadiya’s modeling chocolate, too; did she make it? Co-host Sue’s voice-over suggests so, describing melted candy and glucose. Pound for pound, her peacock has an awful lot of Rice Krispies treats underneath. There’s a shot of Nadiya floating some chocolate embellishment in a bowl of cold simple syrup to help set it. “Wha …?” is all chef Naomi can utter.
Hearing “cinder eggs” doesn’t help, either; the cinder part we look up later and them the judges’ follow-up honeycomb reference makes sense. It’s toffee or caramel to which baking soda is added as it boils, creating lots of air holes within.
Flora bakes a cake for her base, and, in the end, has precious little real chocolate work to show in her crumbly carousel. Where’s the telltale sheen? It’s on Tamal’s buttresses. He has tempered his chocolate properly but failed in the finesse department. He says his showstopper is a bell tower; we say it’s a Willy Wonka rocket on the launchpad. Judge Mary says it’s the kind of centerpiece that looks better from afar. A real glass-half-full kind of gal, she is. We want to invite her for tea.
Highs and lows for Flora; she is Politely Asked to Leave and doesn’t boo-hoo one bit. “She always wanted that extra swirl on top,” judge Mary says, and that sounds like an epitaph the Scot may want to consider for when she goes to that great British bake-off in sky.
Ian, on the other hand, goes red around the eyes. He and Tamal will play through to the finals. Nadiya is named Star Baker. Chef Naomi didn’t see it, exactly, but gives props to the creativity of the chocolate peacock.
Chef Naomi’s lessons for bakers at home:
* When tempering chocolate, keep ratios of melted to “seeding” chunks in mind. If you don’t have a tempering machine, use an instant-read thermometer to make sure the chocolate is where it needs to be; for dark chocolate, figure 87.8 to 89.6 degrees F.
* For souffles, always fold in thirds, gently working out all the lumps before the next addition.
* Don’t let sugar-whipped egg whites hang around or they’ll become grainy and brittle; use them straight away.
Next week: The finals, with pastry chef and commentator Jemil Gadea.
HOT CHOCOLATE SOUFFLE
8 to 10 servings
This calls for chocolate with a minimum of 36 percent cacao. We went much higher, at 70 percent, and appreciated the rich, not-too-sweet dark-chocolate flavor. If you make the pastry cream component in advance, you might want to thin it out a little bit with a liqueur of your choice. We chose Cointreau, but amaretto or Frangelico would also be nice.
You’ll need a 1 1/2-quart souffle dish.
MAKE AHEAD: The chocolate pastry cream can be refrigerated overnight; place plastic wrap directly on the surface to keep a skin from forming. Bring it to room temperature and adjust the consistency (see above) before using.
Adapted from a recipe by British cookbook author Mary Berry on the BBC’s “The Great British Bake Off.”
For the pastry cream
6 1/4 ounces chocolate, chopped (minimum 36 percent cacao; see headnote)
1 1/4 cups whole milk
5 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsweetened cocoa powder
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (2 1/4 ounces) sugar
Scant 1/3 cup (1 1/2 ounces) flour
For the souffle
Unsalted butter, for the baking dish
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) sugar, plus more for the baking dish
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
For the pastry cream: Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of barely bubbling water. Remove from the heat and let the chocolate cool slightly.
Combine the milk and cocoa powder in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Gradually bring it just to a boil, stirring, then remove it from the heat and let it sit for 30 seconds.
Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in a medium bowl until pale and well blended, then whisk in the flour. Add the hot milk mixture a ladleful at a time, whisking continuously to temper the yolks (to keep them from turning into scrambled eggs), then pour the mixture back into the saucepan (medium heat).
As soon as the mixture returns to a boil, cook for 1 minute, whisking constantly, until thickened. Remove from the heat; whisk in the melted chocolate to create the pastry cream. Transfer to a heatproof bowl, cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming and let cool to room temperature before using or storing.
For the souffle: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place a heavy baking sheet on the middle oven rack. Generously grease the bottom and sides of a 1 1/2-quart souffle dish with butter, then generously dust with sugar.
Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a balloon-whisk attachment or a handheld electric mixer. Beat on medium-low speed until foamy, then increase the speed to medium-high and beat to form soft peaks. With the machine running, gradually add the sugar, beating to form a glossy meringue.
Use a flexible spatula to gently fold (not stir) one-third of the chocolate pastry cream into the meringue, then fold in the remaining pastry cream in two more additions. The mixture should be fairly loose, with no white streaks or clumps.
Turn the mixture into the souffle dish. Run your thumb around the interior rim of the dish, creating a slight well between the rim and the souffle mixture surface; this will facilitate a good rise. Bake (on the baking sheet) for about 1 hour or until well risen and just springy to touch.
Serve right away.
NUTRITIONAL ANALYSIS: Per serving (based on 10) 220 calories, 7 g protein, 24 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 24 mg cholesterol, 55 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 15 g sugar
Recipe tested by Becky Krystal; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.