The Great British Bake Off week nine round-up: Patisserie Week

 (Channel 4/ Love Productions)
(Channel 4/ Love Productions)

We’re almost at the end of our Bake-Off journey: this week is the semi-finals, and feeling the pressure most is Syabira.

As it turns out, she’s made history by being the first contestant to get Star Baker three times in a row: Jurgen could never. And to make things more stressful, this is Patisserie Week, where the bakers will be called upon to make notoriously fiddly works of art for the judges’ discerning eyes.

“This is the final push, and it’s patisserie, my biggest weakness,” a nervous Janusz tells the camera, while Syabira is opting to put on a strong front: “You just have to fake it until you bake it,” she explains. That’s the spirit.

Kicking things off is the signature bake, where the bakers will be making six mini Charlottes, and even though Noel and Matt try and keep it light with a bit of mini Charlotte banter (did you know Charlotte Church is 5’4”?) the atmosphere in the tent is tense.

As Paul and Prue explain to us, this is “quite tricky” stuff – as it turns out, mini Charlottes are tiny sponge rounds, filled with mousse, and he wants to see the bakers make versions that are fit for a French patisserie shop.

“They have to really work for that place in the final,” Prue adds – although Sandro seems thrilled that he’s even in the semis, giving Noel a little dance to express how excited he is.

“I can taste the final,” he adds, bending over his vanilla pods. “It tastes great!”

As it turns out, he’s got his work cut out for him: he’s making two different types of sponge, joconde (made with almonds) and banana, as well as a patisserie cream that will require him to use a staggering 24 eggs in total.

 (Channel 4/ Love Productions)
(Channel 4/ Love Productions)

Meanwhile, Syabira is keeping things as interesting as ever with a cheesecake-flavoured offering, combining peanuts and fruit. As ever, the judges are sceptical. “Peanut and fruit. You wouldn’t normally put them together,” Paul says. Surely they should know better than to doubt Syabira by now.

But it sounds like it’s Abdul who’s finally cracked the Bake-Off code: as he tells the judges, he’s “keeping it simple” with a tiramisu-flavoured bake. “I think you’re very sensible,” Prue says approvingly.

Rounding off the group is Janusz, who seems to be having a heart-to-heart with Matt rather than doing much baking.

“You would not believe how much I exceeded my expectations,” he says. “They were really low.” Buck up, Janusz: you might not make it into the final if you don’t concentrate.

As time ticks on, the strain of juggling so many elements at once – and making sure that all of them are perfect – starts to take its toll on the tent. Abdul ends up burning his caramel, which sets him back considerably – and to make things worse, Prue and Paul start gossiping about the bakers and their performance from the sidelines.

By the time it’s done, Sandro’s work-surface resembles Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares, and Abdul has completely run out of time: naturally, the judges are merciless, tearing the appearance of his mini Charlottes to shreds... before praising the flavour and texture to high heaven.

The other contestants don’t get off lightly either: Sandro’s mini Charlottes look clumsy, but he redeems himself with his flavours and delicious sponge; Janusz has the opposite problem, with his joconde sponge proving too tough and his chocolate filling not set enough.

This appears to be a problem for Syabira too: though her flavours are, as always, excellent, her fillings are a bit gloopy. However, she still comes out more or less on top of the pack.

“I need to sit with all of you and get some decoration tips,” Abdul tells the group afterwards. Bit late for that: the technical is here, and on the recipe sheets this week is chocolate hazelnut and raspberry vertical tarts. Four, to be precise. And they have to be identical, of course.

What are vertical tarts? Good question: they appear to be a circle of pastry, stood on its side and filled with layers of chocolate mousse and raspberry jelly.

It looks delicate as all heck, and to make things extra spicy, it’s rather windy inside the Bake-Off tent this week: Sandro’s recipe sheet blows away at the start of the challenge. He’s going to need it: he then tells Matt he has no idea what a vertical tart is supposed to look like either, before mourning his ongoing lack of handshake from Paul.

As the time ticks on, the bakers move onto their chocolate mousses (we are told that over-whipping the mixture could result in a lethally dense ganache) and then their raspberry jelly – which Abdul explains he’s never made before, either. And to top it off, he rolls his pastry too thinly, which means the pastry shells fall apart in the oven. Eek.

 (Channel 4/ Love Productions)
(Channel 4/ Love Productions)

As the bakers race to assemble their vertical tarts, things start going wrong. Janusz gets rice from the blind baking stuck to the insides of his pastry shells; Sandro completely fills his pastry shell with mousse (rather than only halfway) and almost bursts into tears when he realises his mistake.

As the voiceover explains, Paul and Prue are looking for decoration “worthy of a Parisian patisserie”; what they get instead is a hotchpotch of chocolate-stained, precarious pastry packages.

There’s something wrong with all of them: most contain ganache rather than mousse; some are under-baked while some are over; and some are falling apart on the plate. But it’s no surprise that it’s Syabira who scoops first place, leaving Sandro to pick up the crumbs for last place.

Heading into the final, it’s Janusz and Sandro who seem to be in the most trouble, according to the judges – and indeed, as the bakers get started on the showstopper, the latter seems to be slightly dead inside. “There’s no space to be worried,” he says in a monotone. That’s the spirit, Sandro.

For the semi-final, the bakers will be making traditional Nordic krokan – a multi-tiered Swedish patisserie essentially made out of stacked, decorated almond biscuits.

From the furtive glances the contestants are all casting each other, it looks like they’re aware of how high the stakes are – though as Syabira points out, they’re mostly blokes. “It has to be done for the girls,” she declares, midway through kneading her dough – which she’s hoping will eventually become a nearly metre-tall double-helix fashioned from biscuits.

“It failed for the first three times,” she merrily tells the apprehensive judges.

Sandro, meanwhile, is using 6kg of ground almonds and 6kg of icing sugar to make his showstopper, which is an ode to Africa and the UK and features an excellent-sounding rhubarb and custard decoration – while Janusz is making 90 (yes, ninety) different biscuits for his Pride-themed cake.

And Abdul? Abdul has gone all out and is making a biscuit rocket, which the judges both seem rather keen on.

A few hours in, the time has finally come for the heart-in-mouth moment where the bakers start to assemble their biscuit towers, using caramel as the glue.

As Syabira grates her biscuits to ensure they lie evenly against each other and Sandro handles slabs the size of an A4 page, even the ever-chirpy hosts are getting antsy: Matt almost has a heart attack when part of Sandro’s bake looks like collapsing and Noel is dashing around cracking jokes like a man possessed.

 (Channel 4/ Love Productions)
(Channel 4/ Love Productions)

It’s all very tense – and when Noel calls time, Matt comments, “And we can breathe as well, now.”

Perhaps the judges can sense this too, because when the time comes the feedback is almost universally positive. Despite the stress, Sandro’s biscuits are beautifully baked; Janusz’s flavours are excellent and Abdul’s rocket comes in for special praise.

When the time comes, it’s no surprise that Abdul finally scoops his first-ever award for Star Baker. On the flipside, somebody has to go, and that ends up being (shockingly) Janusz, who greets the news with a stoic smile.

“I’m not upset, it was an amazing time with amazing people,” he tells the camera, while Sandro is literally weeping at the closeness of his close shave. “They’re happy tears,” he protests.

Weep all you want Sandro - next week there’ll be time for tears aplenty, because it’s the Final! Roll on the big day.

The Great British Bake-Off airs on Channel 4 at 8pm on Tuesdays