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We arrived at the semi-final stage, in which we had three hours to prepare two types of canapes (12 of each)  using rough-puff pastry, and three and a half hours to come up with our showstopping version of the famous Opera Cake.  Keep in mind that in that same week of preparation we needed to design the bakes for the Final episode also. One of them involving 3 kinds of mini-desserts. When I look back at that week of my life, I realize I was stretched to the very limit, and I am sure all my baking buddies were also.

Taking a small detour again (should I call them Sally’s ramblings?)… In the Great British Bake Off, the contestants who are eliminated are done with their homework. That means that those who advance get a pretty nice dose of what I see as “good adrenaline” to keep them going. They know they are designing bakes for the chance to overcome one more hurdle towards the Final. I will admit that by the week we had to get these four sets of recipes ready, I was pretty burned. I kept telling myself that chances were I was not going to be in the final two episodes, so would  I really need to to work so so hard?  Of course, I did my best, but particularly for the final episode, I was not overly confident. But we’ll get there soon. For now, let me show you what I had planned for my signature bake.

Signature Bake
Chicken and Heart of Palm Squares
& Mushroom Puffs

This was a very tight challenge as far as timing is concerned. Do I seem to be repeating myself? Yes, I am sure, because it is the modus operandi in the tent. Three and a half hours to produce well-laminated dough, make fillings, roll the dough out and bake. With semi-final pizazz. Not easy at all. I actually made a blog post after coming back form the UK, in which I share a variation of the recipe I hd designed for the show. Of course, I could not tell you about it then, but now you know.  Visit my post with a click here. I wanted to bring one canape’ with Brazilian flavors. The combination of chicken with hearts of palm is a classic back home, in empadas, pies, and even pasteis. For my second canape’, I wanted a vegetarian option. Duxelles are delicious components of Beef Wellington and with a bit of truffles added to the party, I thought I would be in good shape for that challenge. Of course, disregarding tent-factors that might turn the best laminated doughs into a leaky package of melting butter (sigh).


Operetta Cake

This cake was fun for me to design, because when I made the traditional version for the very first time a couple of years ago, I was ecstatic about it. Cakes in general were still a bit tricky for me, but somehow following the detailed instructions of Colette Christian in her online class at Bluprint, I managed to come up with a version that pleased me quite a bit (click here for the post).

For the show, I chose a matcha-flavored sponge soaked with lemon syrup, filling of matcha-ganache and lemon buttercream. The cake would be coated with a shiny white chocolate glaze and decorated with tempered white chocolate. I made the full cake once, and a smaller version just to practice getting more filling in between the layers. The photo shows my first attempt, with a regular size cake. I loved the flavors, and everyone who’s tried it was very complimentary of it.  I knew I had to practice it one more time in the hotel if I was going to be in the semi-final, because I wanted to get absolutely uniform thickness of each sponge layer.  That can be tricky even at home (double sigh). The more I look at it, though, the more I think it was a bit too monotonous in the color scheme. I intend to re-make it but include a layer of some kind of berry in it, perhaps a blackberry-buttercream. To bring some contrast.

I don’t know how the bakes I planned would have worked for Paul and Sherry. I am aware that Paul is not wild about matcha, but I like it a lot and with the lemon and the white chocolate I thought the flavor worked well. I have the feeling Sherry could enjoy both the canapes and the Operetta Cake. But as we know, I wasn’t there, I was just in the hotel waiting for Alex, Dana, Brother Andrew and Marissa to arrive back.

Star Baker in the Semi-Final was granted to Dana, she simply rocked her way through each of the challenges, with her always serene and focused approach. She made ricotta from scratch, produced perfect souffles for the technical, and her Opera cake was a real showstopper, with three different cake layers. Congrats, Dana!

The real painful goodbye involved the one and only Alex…

I was in the tent for only three episodes, but I was pretty much counting on Alex being present in the Final. If you’ve been following the show, you probably thought so too. The guy is FAST. Meticulous. Artistic. Great with flavors. He actually told us that he’d practiced at home with speed in mind, and I must say that’s pretty clever, timing is the major factor that can kill you (or at least hurt you badly) in the tent. Alex’s approach was to work very very fast in the beginning to get all his components ready, so that he would have enough time to gild the lily in the end. That worked every time. Remember his highly decorated sweater sugar cookies? You could give me one extra hour, and I would say, thanks, but no thanks.  The sweaters might end up bright pink, but they will be very plain…

I can tell that Alex will have a bright future ahead, he has the will-power to do anything he sets his mind to, which is obvious when you see him in his “other hobby”, acrobatics. You don’t get to be that amazing without a ton of effort and commitment. And to top it all? A very kind and sweet personality, a pleasure to be around. When I was eliminated, I was pretty crushed. As I got to my room, I see a text message from Alex, and it was like a warm hug, just what I needed to hear at that moment. I was very surprised to see him go, but sometimes the tent plays tricks on you.

ONE YEAR AGO: Raspberry Ganache Macarons

TWO YEARS AGO: Pain au Chocolat

THREE YEARS AGO: Two Unusual Takes on Roasted Veggies

FOUR YEARS AGO: Kadoo Boranee: Butternut Squash Perfection

FIVE YEARS AGO: Creamy Broccoli Soup with Toasted Almonds

 Fennel and Cheddar Cheese Crackers

SEVEN YEARS AGO: A Festive Pomegranate Dessert

EIGHT YEARS AGO: My First Award!

NINE YEARS AGO: A Message from WordPress

TEN YEARS AGO: Turkish Chicken Kebabs