It was announced as one of the most difficult technical challenges ever set on The Great British Bake Off.
Prue gave us her words of wisdom: “This is all about the detail and precise measurements.”
Noel said what we were all thinking: “…so helpful.”
It was dessert week and the challenge was set – six identical, perfectly layered verrines.
The time limit was two and a half hours.
The finished verrine appeared on screen – it was a beautifully layered dessert of mango compote, creamy coconut panna cotta, fresh raspberry jelly, coconut and lime streusel and a sablé biscuit topped with a gold-dusted chocolate decoration.
The key to success was to chill everything down between each layer – and chill I would, this challenge was not going to beat me.
Before I started I checked the recipe for timings – one hour of hands on time and 15 minutes of baking. Difficulty rating – challenging.
On the plus side there were only 11 steps to follow – previous recipes have included many more.
I started at 1340.
Whilst the recipe looked challenging, the mission to find six vaguely matching glasses of the right size took me into the back of many cupboards and I unearthed things I hadn’t seen for years.
Six glasses prepped I began with the sablé biscuit – it called for 50g of unsalted butter at room temperature. With the heating still off and rain continuing to fall for the twentieth hour straight, the butter at room temperature was as cold as it would’ve been straight from the fridge.
It was a day made for hunkering down in the kitchen.
With the biscuit dough made I popped it in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes – onto the mango compote, the first layer to go into the glasses.
I wondered – should I weigh the compote and divide it into six equally weighed portions or not? As soon as the thought entered my mind I pushed it straight back out.
I dolloped two dessert spoons of compote into each glass and banished them to the fridge to chill. The recipe advised 30 minutes but keeping Prue’s words of wisdom in mind I thought it might take longer. It did.
I went back to the biscuit dough – rolling out and cutting – remembering to make sure the circumference of the biscuit matched the circumference of the glasses – the biscuits were to be rested on top of the glass rim.
In the safety of my own kitchen I had time to think – had I been in the Bake Off tent I just knew I’d have been thrown by all of the exact-ness this challenge was throwing up.
Dough cut (and smaller circles cut out of the biscuits to reveal a window to the dessert), they went back into the fridge for another 30 minutes.
An hour after starting I was about to attempt step four in the recipe.
It was the streusel – the what?
Apparently streusel is a crumbly topping of flour, butter, and sugar that is baked on top of muffins, breads, pies and cakes.
I wasn’t familiar with it but knew it would add crunch and texture to the three layers of compote, panna cotta and jelly.
It was packed with lime and coconut and was incredibly easy to make – you bring together all of the dough ingredients – freeze it, grate it onto a baking sheet and then bake it – simple!
I whizzed through the next few steps – making the coconut panna cotta, baking the biscuits and the streusel.
As I poured the panna cotta onto the compote I realised the compote was still very runny – I pressed on – luckily the layers remained distinct. The glasses went into the fridge for another 30 minutes.
I made the jelly, I let it cool – time was ticking on.
I was infinitely glad I was in the comfort of my own kitchen.
As the jelly cooled I tested the firmness of the panna cotta – it was bouncy and wobbly – perfect!
I added two tablespoons of jelly to the top of each glass – the last layer was in place. I realised I was holding my breath – I released it as I slid the tray of glasses back into the fridge.
It was time for step nine – the chocolate decoration.
It said, ‘for the chocolate decoration, temper the chocolate and spoon the chocolate into the piping bag. Pipe six lengths of chocolate on to acetate. These will be the decorations.’
Have you ever tempered chocolate – that in itself is almost 45 minutes of precision and patience. I won’t go into the details but you heat two thirds of your chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Once that has melted you add the other third of chocolate to start bringing down the temperature. You want dark chocolate to hit a temperature of about 31/32C before you transfer it to the piping bag.
I kept checking the temperature with my sugar thermometer – it was creeping down. When it hit 32C I piped six lengths of chocolate and still had tonnes of the stuff left – I kept piping – hearts, slogans and clumps.
I was at the end of step nine – washed up and verrine unassembled – by 1740.
It’s lucky the contestants on the show don’t have to deal with weighing scales running out of battery, leaking chimneys, fires that need stoking and dogs that need walking in the breaks between downpours – otherwise it’d take them well over the time limit too.
With only the assembly of the decoration to go I waited until I was ready to serve them before tacking stages 10 and 11.
Post supper I set about compiling them.
We’d had duck breasts with goose fat roast potatoes, crispy kale and pear and red wine glaze.
We weren’t hungry but I figured I hadn’t spent four hours making these little beauties just to let them wait until tomorrow to be eaten. Hungry or not they would be eaten (not all of them I have to say).
Compiling them I felt like a French patisserie chef – I was being delicate and doing everything with a flourish. A sprinkle of streusel, strategically placed mango cubes, a perfectly formed mint sprig placed in the centre, a barely-balanced biscuit on top of the glass, a shiny, gold-dusted chocolate stick across the centre of the biscuit and the finishing touch – a plump, juicy raspberry.
Even if the taste didn’t match the aesthetics of it I was still incredibly proud of them – who knew so much work could go into such a refined little dessert.
But all my worries were dispelled when the first mouthful hit home, the flavour combination is incredibly moreish – lime, coconut, mango and raspberry – a tropical burst of fruitiness, creaminess, zesty-ness, softness, crispness, buttery-ness and richness.
It was perfect, but it would be even more so after a curry.
There is no way I would ever have attempted this dessert for the fun of it – Bake Off made me do it.
Would I make it again – absolutely.
It was a little glass of refreshing loveliness where ever single mouthful was savoured in a way that only seems to happen when you visit a top notch eatery.
Thank you Prue – you’ve redeemed yourself after last week’s beignets souffle challenge.
This week we move into festival week – and the technical is bound to be set by Paul – wish me luck…