And we're down to three! I don't know about you, but I honestly don't have an inkling who's going to walk away the Bake Off champion next week, I can't wait to watch the final!!!
This week's theme was No Theme, according to Paul, so I didn't know what to do for my weekly recipe. I considered baking a cake, but I haven't exactly been on a Bake Off journey like the contestants have. The Technical also didn't inspire me.
So, I decided to go with something a little bit different, but still vaguely relevant. Macarons!
Both Oonagh and Stephen made macarons for their cakes, and seeing as I haven't made a macaron in ages, I thought I should make sure I haven't lost my touch.
But, of course, me being me, I didn't just want to make any old macarons, I decided to finally experiment with a different nut instead of using the usual ground almonds.
Believe it or not, macarons aren't actually as difficult to make as you might think, and I seriously recommend that you hop over to Stella's Bravetart blog to read her posts on the macaron ten commandments and mythbusters. Once you've read those, you'll realise how simple they actually are.
One of her mythbusters is about the type of nuts you use. A lot of people insist that you can only use ground almonds, and that they need to be as dry as possible. Stella simply doesn't agree and quite often grinds her own nuts and throws them straight into the mixture, no drying time or special treatment.
So, I thought I'd give it a go.
My nut of choice was pistachios. Salty, green, sweet roasted pistachios.
I used the coffee/seeds/nut grinder attachment that came with my blender, it worked like a charm. I did get some pistachio butter happening, but once I'd pushed everything through a sieve, it was just perfect.
I mixed up my macarons like I would with ground almonds, and voila. They came out perfectly! Smooth shiny tops, good straight feet, a slight crunch on the outside, but with a lovely soft inside.
For me, pistachios need to be salted, so I sprinkled each macaron shell while they were still tacky with just a little bit of Maldon sea salt. Everyone, and I mean everyone, commented on how the salt made them exceptional. It's definitely something you have to do!
My filling of choice was my favourite strawberry white chocolate ganache, which I make by steeping cream with fresh strawberries. It works every time, and what a result! You really can tell that it's made with fresh strawberries and not an artificial flavouring.
I did think that a couple of days later, once the macarons had time to mature, that the pistachio took a back seat to the strawberry, but they where still incredible. But, I can't wait to try the pistachio shells again, maybe with something more simple like a subtle vanilla filling.
Give them a go, and don't forget the salt!
And now, my ramblings about the Great Irish Bake Off.
It's the semi finals!
This theme-less week started with a Signature Bake. The remaining four contestants, Oonagh, Maryanne, Stephen and Will, were asked to bake a cake that represented their journey through the Bake Off. I had no idea what that was supposed to look like, so really wanted to see what the bakers came up with.
Seeing as we're down to so few people, I'll talk about each creation instead of picking a few favourites.
Oonagh was up first, and straight off her Star Anise, Chocolate, Lime and Champagne cake didn't grab my attention. While she was making her macarons I could see a problem from the get go. Her macronage was not right from the start so her baked macarons were not technically good as a result, which was clear to see with cracking and very small feet, if none at all.
Her cake also wasn't very well decorated, with her frosting a bit on the messy side. Her cake also looked a little lopsided. I also thought that the journey through the Bake Off was not clearly shown, only that each layer represented a judge, Anna was the filling, and the macarons were each contestant. A little bit ambiguous.
Where Oonagh did redeem herself was with her flavours. She's consistently been brilliant with the substance of her creations, and the judges were blown away once again. Unfortunately, like her chocolate orange cake, I also strongly dislike anise and liquorice, so that put me off. But, I can appreciate the creativity of the flavours, and I would be diving into the lime and champagne layer.
Next we moved on to Will's Dutch Flag Chiffon Cake. When he described his concept of incorporating the Dutch flag on the outside because of the recipes he'd been making throughout the Bake Off, and then having the Irish colours inside, I thought this could be a great cake which had a good theme. But again, the presentation wasn't up to scratch.
The crumb coating was quite visible between the petal decorated cake, and the petals weren't neatly done with colours melding in places where maybe he hadn't cleaned off his palette knife or spoon. I also wasn't sure about the choux pastry that the cake was sitting on, I don't think it added anything to the cake.
Paul said the cake was delicious, but he left us with the words, "That's so colourful, it's almost blinding."
Stephen was next with his Blueberry Chiffon Cake. Stephen had good intentions when putting in dowling rods into each layer to help keep the top layers from sinking, but he forgot an important element. Each tier needs to be on a cake board or card because that is what sits on the dowling rods.
Paul held back no punches at all as he opened with, "The smiley faces are really impressive and it's the saviour of the cake. Without them, this cake wouldn't have any appeal to me at all." Ouch.
Stephen's tiers weren't nicely centered and the frosting needed some more work as it was a bit messy. I did like the colour of the blueberry icing, but I wasn't mad about the macarons with drawings of faces on them, I actually think the cake would have been better if the macarons were left plain, but the faces were the only thing that portrayed his Bake Off journey.
The judges did like the flavour of the blueberry, but Paul didn't enjoy the macarons saying that they were a bit dry and powdery.
Of the four cakes, Maryanne's Fraisier Inspired Cake was, by far, the best looking. Although she didn't have anything visual to show her journey through the competition, she did it through the recipes themselves. She baked a genoise sponge which was from the first ever Technical Bake challenge. In between the sponges she put a white chocolate bavarois, also representing another past challenge. Also included was crunchy praline, something she had forgotten to put in between her chocolate cake layers in week five, and funnily, forgot again this time! But, same as before, she carefully lifted the top sponge layer and sprinkled her praline. I'm telling you, a baker after my own heart.
What I also loved, was that Maryanne went to the trouble of making gumpaste green foilage to top her strawberries so that they were 100% edible. Why have I never thought of this before?! That always bugs me, the green bits you can't eat, sitting on a cupcake or cake. I'm telling you, you learn something new every day.
Just as I've been praising Maryanne's choice for representing her journey through recipes rather than visually, Paul criticised this decision and said he would have liked to see it represented visually. We would be two very different judges! (Hint hint, TV3...) But, I liked it. Clean, neat, and the substance was there as well as the judges did enjoy the flavour.
Next up was the Technical Bake, and this week's recipe came from Biddy. But before you think, "Oh, this will be an easy one!", be warned, she went all out.
Not only did they only have 2 1/2 hours to make a savoury tart, but also a dessert to go with it. The crab tart itself, while challenging, sounded simple enough. But the dessert part... Okay, side note, the judges were quite harsh on our bakers this week, so I think it's fair that we (I) can be a little harsh on them as well. Fair enough?
I'm struggling with the consistency of the Technical Recipes. One week it's a fair challenge, next week it's child's play, next thing the bakers are thrown into a Michelin Star kitchen and told to make Michelin Star dishes. I have no idea what happened when planning the challenges, but I just think they've lacked consistency.
But back to the challenge. The savoury tart had a crab and seabeet filling which was then topped with a white wine sabayon layer. I must be honest, this doesn't look like something I'd eat at home.
The dessert part of the challenge was a carrageen mousse, which as Paul described it, was like an Irish panna cotta. Apart from the whiskey snaps served on the side, this was not a baking challenge.
Will was first to be judged. Both Biddy and Paul thought his crab tart was slightly underbaked, but Biddy liked his garnish and it passed the taste test.
Will's carrageen mousse came out well, holding its moulded shape, but, he served them upside down. A small detail when you consider that Paul himself didn't actually want to eat the dessert 'cause it seems he doesn't like carrageen! After having a spoonful, he decided to try his next bite with some of the berry compote to help disguise the carrageen flavour. Biddy, it's safe to say that if you have Paul around for dinner, you might want to stay away from that particular dessert.
Oonagh was next, and again her pastry was quite pale, but Biddy said it was still quite crisp. Both judges loved the flavour of the tart. But then it was on to her mousse. While one had unmoulded perfectly, the other was a sloppy mess. They thought her whiskey snaps were perfect.
Stephen's tart was better baked, with a bit more colour that the judges had wanted to see from the others. His was a little drier inside, but Biddy said she enjoyed it because you could taste the crab a bit more. But, from a good tart, to a sloppy mousse. His dessert didn't hold together at all, but his whiskey snaps were good, and he'd rolled them which was what Biddy had been wanting.
And last to face the judges was Maryanne. Her tart had a lovely neat layer of the sabayon on top but it was slightly underbaked. Her carrageen mousse desserts held their shape well, but Biddy thought it was a little bit grainy. We weren't given any comments on her whiskey snaps, but they looked well baked.
Stephen's flopped carrageen dessert put him in fourth place, something he wasn't expecting at all, Oonagh was in third place, Maryanne in second and Will walked away winner of the Technical Bake.
This week we saw the judges in deliberation and they really didn't hold back in their discussion. I guess when deciding who would be going through to the final, they just had to be that little bit more critical.
Even though Paul and Biddy thought that Maryanne had played it safe with her Signature Bake (I don't think she played it safe, I still really like her approach to the challenge), she was given Star Baker title. I can only imagine what that felt like, knowing you're through to the final! Well done Maryanne! Very well deserved.
But of course, after the happy is the sad, and this week there were a lot of tears and plenty of sad. We said goodbye to the very lovely Oonagh, the flavour queen. I'm not actually sure who I would have sent home this week, each of the bakers were strong and weak in very different ways, so really, maybe a coin flip would have been my call.
So, only one more episode left, the final. Who are you voting for? Maryanne, Will or Stephen? Leave a comment, I'd love to know!
Before I get to my recipe, I spent a morning with Maryanne (who happens to be one of the nicest people ever!) and shot a short interview with her, so I hope you enjoy it. Oh, and yes, I asked about the sunglasses...
Here's my recipe for the Pistachio Strawberry macarons. Happy baking!
Pistachio & Strawberry Macarons
90g Egg Whites
145g Confectioners/Icing Sugar
70g Granulated Sugar
115g Ground Roasted Pistachios
Green Paste Colouring (Optional)
Sea Salt Flakes, for sprinkling
- To roast your pistachios, spread them out on a tray and bake for about 8mins at 180°C (160°C Fan Assisted)
- Grind the cooled pistachios in a coffee grinder or food processor, don't over grind otherwise you'll end up with butter!
- Use the back of a spoon to push the ground pistachios through a sieve
- Whisk together the ground pistachios and sieved icing sugar
- Whisk the egg whites with the granulated sugar in a clean dry bowl until the meringue is glossy, dry and holds stiff peaks.
- If colouring, whisk in small amounts of paste colouring until desired shade is reached
- Tip: If you turn the bowl upside down they should make no move to fall out
- Fold half of the almond flour mixture into the meringue, starting quite vigorously then folding more carefully.
- Add the remaining almond meal mixture and fold in carefully.
- Tip: The macronage process is probably the only part of making macarons that determines if they'll be a fail or success. A good way to tell if the batter is ready is when you fold it onto itself, it should blend back into itself in about 30seconds. Rather under mix than over mix!
- Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip. You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off.
- Tip: It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
- Pipe 1 1/2 inch mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
- Tip: I don't recommend using a silicon mat, I had trouble taking the macarons off each time I used it.
- Once piped, bang the sheet down on a counter top a couple times to flatten any mounds and bring up air bubbles, also to settle the pistachio meal to the bottom giving smooth tops.
- Leave the unbaked macarons out to dry for about 30min
- Sprinkle the top of each macaron with a small pinch of sea salt flakes
- While the macarons are drying, preheat the oven to 140°C (120°C Fan Assisted)
- Once dry, bake for 15-22mins depending on their size
- Tip: They're ready when you push them and they move very slightly on their feet or if you can easily peel one off the baking tray
- Cool on a rack before removing from the parchment, 15-30mins
- Pipe or spoon with filling and sandwich
Strawberry White Chocolate Ganache
200g Fresh Strawberries, washed and roughly chopped
150ml Double Cream
200g Good Quality White Chocolate
- Combine double cream and strawberries in a small pot
- On medium low, heat cream gently until it just starts to steam, stir now and then and gently press some of the strawberries with the back of a spoon
- Take off heat and leave strawberries to steep for about 30 minutes
- Strain cream and discard strawberries
- Return cream to the pot and heat on medium high until just about to boil (bubbles will appear around the edges of the pot)
- Put finely chopped chocolate in a heat resistant bowl
- Pour scalded cream over chocolate
- Stir with a fork until all chocolate pieces have melted
- Leave ganache mixture to cool and firm
- Tip: You can speed up the firming by putting it in the fridge, just keep an eye on it, it can go from liquid to completely set quite quickly
- Once it's a firm but soft consistency, fill a piping bag fitted with a plain round tip with the ganache and pipe ganache onto the upturned side of half of the macarons.
- Sandwich with the other half of the macaron shells