I’ve been waiting for the masterclasses all season long, and as always, they didn’t disappoint. Plenty of delicious recipes and handy tips were dispensed by Paul and Mary once again, as they tackled the challenges they set for the bakers during the competition.

Let’s take a closer look at all we learned so far:

Masterclass 1

1. The Madeira Cake

Named for the Portuguese wine usually served alongside the slice of cake rather than its main ingredient, this was a bit baffling to my non-british sensibilities. I was fully expecting to have a generous dollop of Madeira splashed into the batter at some point, but alas, it never happened.

All in all, not a bad recipe, but nothing spectacular either. It’s basically a standard cake recipe, with a bit of peel (both grated into the mixture and candied to decorate the top of the cake) thrown in for some extra zing. Mary has done plenty of cakes before, and with the exception of sponges that require beaten eggs as the raising agent rather than baking powder and/or baking soda, she uses the all-in-one method instead of the creaming method for most of her concoctions. The candied peel trick was useful to anyone who hasn’t tried it before, but it’s safe to say the Masterclasses started off pretty tame.

2. Frosted Walnut Cake

Yet another cake variation from Mary. As much as I dislike walnuts, she seems to love them; she’s used them in her Battenburg and in several other cake recipes, almost always paired with coffee (she also seems to favor instant coffee rather than espresso). I know she’s not a professional pastry chef, and her creations are always beautiful – albeit too classic for my taste – but a little variety in the flavor profiles would be welcome.

What was interesting about this recipe was the 1-minute-frosting, which I don’t think we’ve seen on the show before. The snowy-white, sticky frosting is always impressive, and acts as a damn good insulator, keeping the cake inside nice and moist. Now if only Mary would start layering her cakes with something other than classic buttercream….

3. Hazelnut and Orange Biscotti

Paul’s biscotti recipe is simple and very easy to follow, and a welcome departure from the classic biscuit/cookie recipes we’ve already seen several times before. The hazelnut and orange combination sounds delicious, although I’m surprised he didn’t choose to dip them in his beloved white chocolate at the end.

Still, the best thing about this segment was Paul insisting that Mary dunk hers, which apparently she never does. A few eyebrows were probably raised at that point, judging by my own reaction, as she obviously had trouble biting into her biscotti when she tried it undunked…

4. Arlettes

This was a technical challenge that stumped most of the contestants. I must admit I had seen arlettes before, but had no idea they were called that.

It’s basically a variation of the puff pastry recipe, with sugar and cinnamon sprinkled onto the dough and rolled tightly into a log, cut into slices and then rolled thin and baked. Sounds easy, except puff pastry is time consuming as it is, and with the added difficulty of inverting the dough and butter, it seems like more hassle than it’s worth. Sure, Paul makes it look easy, but I’m willing to bet that for someone who’s never tried that before, there’s probably a much bigger mess of melting butter to contend with. Still, looks absolutely delicious!

5. Black Forest Gateau

Okay, I’m having a problem with this one. When it comes to cakes, Mary seems to be a one-trick pony: just as with her Tiramisu layer cake, what she does is take an iconic dessert and use the flavors to make a simple layer cake. This isn’t black forest; it’s a chocolate sponge layered with whipped cream, with a cherry sauce and beautiful cherry decorations on top. Maybe this is what a black forest gateau is perceived as in England, or maybe Heston’s perfect black forest gateau interpretation (apparently inspired by how cakey the british version is) has ruined me for life, but the desert I grew up eating was much creamier and much less spongy than this one.

And really, this is all about the kirsch. I’m sorry Mary, a can of cherries in kirsch syrup is not the same as the real thing.

 

Masterclass 2

1. Soda bread

Paul’s soda bread recipe is as simple as they come. It’s a quickbread, leavened with baking soda (hence the name), and the whole wheat and AP flour mixture sounds delicious. Paul’s handy trick about slicing the bread right through to the bottom is a good one to keep in mind, as it ensures even baking throughout. A pretty useful recipe all around, when pressed for time or caught without some yeast in your pantry.

2. Cappuccino crème brûlées

Mary adds coffee to her recipes once again, this time in a beautiful crème brûlée. The custard mix is pretty straight-forward, as we’ve seen her do crème caramel before, which is basically the same thing, except instead of syrupy caramel oozing down the top of the cream when inverted onto the plate, here we get the characteristic snap and crunch of a solid disk of caramel on top.

The beauty of this recipe is the handy caramel tip: I don’t own a blowtorch, so I’ve shied away from crème brûlée before. Not necessary any more: as long as you have an oven with a grill/broiler function, you’re good to go! Just make some standard caramel in a pot, pour onto non-stick paper, let it cool and then blitz in the food processor into a fine powder. After that, it’s just a matter of sprinkling the top of the cream and broiling for a few seconds until nice and golden brown. Thanks, Mary!

3. Baguettes

Yet another pretty straight-forward bread recipe, this time producing one of the most well-known bread loaves on the planet. The characteristic irregular holes in the baked product come (as is usually the case) from a very wet dough, and these are notoriously hard to handle if you don’t know what you’re doing. Luckily, Paul is a master baker, and his quickness and technique come into play as he rolls and shapes his baguettes. I’m pretty sure I’d end up with dough stuck all over my bench if I tried this recipe right now, but I guess practice (and a nice dough scraper) makes perfect.

4. Spanische Windtorte

A spanish dessert only in name, this classic Austrian meringue cake looked like more trouble than it was worth when the contestants were handed the recipe for a technical challenge. Mary makes it seem much easier, but in the end, as Paul pointed out, it’s just a fancy Eton Mess. It’s just layers of meringue with berries and cream, so props to Paul for the very accurate description.

This is all about the meringue; two kinds, in fact. The main layers are made out of french meringue, the decorations with the much more marshmallowy Swiss meringue (whisked to stiff peaks over a bain marie). Definitely more style than substance, this dessert’s presentation is right down Mary’s alley, with beautiful piping all across the top and sides, delivering an impressive white showstopper.

The violets on top are a bit too much, if you ask me. Sugar paste is tasteless and delicate flowers are definitely pretty to look at, but too fiddly to prepare and ultimately do nothing for the cake itself. I would have preferred some colored meringue piping, to be honest.

5. 3-tiered White Chocolate & Raspberry Cheesecake

A showstopper indeed, I hadn’t really seen tiered cheesecakes before, and I still don’t get the point. Too dense to just stack on top of each other, this Bake Off challenge was as much about the dowels and construction as about the cheesecakes themselves. I would have enjoyed flavor variations, but Mary seems determined to stick to the classics: simple flavors, elegant (if a bit dated) decorations.

I really liked the short crust biscuit base instead of the classic store-bought Digestive (or Graham cracker, if you’re American) crust, even though it looks a lot more dense than the crumbly base we all associate with cheesecake. I’m not too sure about the baking method, though. The cheesecakes had golden brown patches of color all over the surface and sides, instead of the creamy white smoothness. I always bake my cheesecakes in a bain marie to achieve the desired effect, and it definitely looks fancier and more polished than those dark splotches.

 

Masterclass 3

1. Sugar Free Carrot Cake

Masterclass 3, starting with a recipe inspired from the no-sugar challenge, was probably my favorite in terms of variety and originality of its recipes. We start off with Mary’s sugar free carrot cake, which uses agave and maple syrup as sweeteners.

The cake itself looks delicious. It’s a runny batter that produces a very moist cake, although I could do without the sultanas (I’m not a fan). What I do love, however, is the maple cream cheese frosting, so I was a bit disappointed when it looked like she didn’t use nearly enough of it to frost the cake. I would have gone to town with it – slicing each cake layer in half and covering the entire cake in the delicious frosting.

2. Apricot Frangipane Tart

This tart is right down Mary’s alley and she does a fantastic job of it. The pastry is thin and crispy, the filling is luscious and the entire tart looks very well baked. I normally don’t blind bake frangipane tarts, as the filling is not as wet as a custard; I also add fewer eggs to my mixture so it takes longer to bake, giving the pastry time to become nice and golden brown, so I’d love to try this recipe and see how it turns out.

The apricot jam layer, as well as the apricot halves on top look asbolutely beautiful, but what really makes this tart is the rich almond filling. Overall a great, simple recipe to have in your arsenal.

3. Raised game pie

Paul’s game pie, inspired by the Victorian challenge, looked spectacular. I don’t eat game, so if I were to try it I’d probably go for a less exotic meat filling, but I appreciate that he wanted to stay true to the classics. I’m also not very familiar with victorian era recipes, so the hot water crust and the addition of lard is not something I see every day. I do think that the hand raised pie challenge Paul set the bakers a couple of seasons ago was a much more difficult one, but lining that antique tin alone looks like enough trouble as it is.

4. Flaounes

This was a challenge that baffled the bakers, and it’s really no wonder. I’ve heard of flaounes before but haven’t really tasted one, and the method just seems bizarre to me. Both the filling and the pastry use unconventional techniques, and building the individual flaounes themselves strays quite a bit from what most bakers are used to, let alone non-Greek/Cypriot home bakers.

The end result looks inviting and utterly delicious – you can’t go wrong with all that cheese, nor with an enriched, puffed-up dough like that!

5. Passionfruit & Lime Charlotte Russe

I had fully expected this to be a Mary recipe, as Paul usually goes for something less dainty in its appearance, so this was a pleasant surprise. Passionfruit and lime complement each other beautifully and this charlotte makes for a stunning centerpiece.

The mousse-like interior of the dessert looks perfectly light and set to the right consistency, as do the beautifully baked sponge ladyfingers. I’m not a huge fan of jelly in luscious desserts, and I don’t even think it was needed in this case, as the passionfruit is tart as it is, and the bavarois isn’t too heavy as to require a fresher component, but the flavor combination does sound absolutely mouthwatering. And this, coming from someone who thinks chocolate is a necessary component in every sweet concoction, is high praise indeed.

 

Masterclass 4

1. Tennis Cake

Here we go again with the victorian recipes! How about something current for a change, Mary? Just something from this century would do, really!

Seriously though: it’s not the first time we’ve seen Mary bake a fruitcake, and it’s definitely not the first time she uses a ton of glace cherries and sultanas. It’s as though she overuses the only ingredients I absolutely loathe in her recipes.

The cake itself is pretty straight forward. Once again, it’s all about the decorations. So much time wasted on making almond paste from scratch, then sugar paste – again, from scratch – and to top it off, all those intricate details (tennis rackets, a net) with royal icing.

I appreciate the idea behind the centerpiece and the hard work that goes into it, but at the end of the day, it’s just a loaded fruitcake with intricate decorations on top, which don’t even taste like anything at all. Honestly, I’d just rather spend those extra few hours making something spectacular and delicious.

2. Mocha and Limoncello tutti-frutti Cream Horns

Paul’s recipe uses puff pastry, which we’ve seen him do plenty of times before, but it’s always a treat. He just makes it look so easy, doesn’t he? Also, pounding the heck out of that cold butter with a rolling pin just seems like so much fun!

Both the mocha-chocolate and the limoncello tutti-frutti cream horns look delicious, but being a chocolate fiend myself, I’d probably just go for the mocha ones. It’s got a few steps to it but it looks simple and scrumptious. No unnecessary decorations needed!

3. Coffee mokatines

Mary’s recipe is quite fiddly and intricate, but what else is new? She goes for a coffee-flavored mokatine, and this is yet another one of her go-to flavors. It’s a genoise cake (and I’m sorry, but they slaughter the pronunciation of that word every single time), layered with coffee buttercream and iced with mocha creme-au-beurre (i.e. french buttercream, which is made with the addition of egg yolks and a simple sugar syrup) and topped with fondant icing.

The mokatine itself is more about getting the decoration right and making sure every one of them is consistent, but the result is truly stunning.

4. Pistachio and Raspberry Religieuse a l’ Ancienne

Now this is what I’m talking about: impressive, delicious and incredibly technical. We’ve had choux pastry challenges before – hell, we’ve had a Religieuse challenge – but this is as much about favor as it is about consistency and construction. One eclair out of place and the entire thing will collapse; wrong consistency in the caramel and the buns won’t stick.

It really does look spectacular. I think it’s the first time Paul didn’t want to ruin a centerpiece – he’s gladly demolished intricate structures before.


 

Oddly, there’s a chocolate pecan tart on the GBBO website, but it wasn’t in this episode. It would have been a great way to complete the series – chocolate always is! – but I Paul’s centerpiece will have to do.

Until next season!

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