Getting to this stage of the competition brought with it a lot of tension. We were so close to the final and nerves were jangled. I think that we were also pretty fatigued. Everyday life of study and work hadn’t ceased for any of us and the cumulative effect of all those weekends spent filming was taking its toll. Usually the half-hour drive from the hotel to Harptree Court was buzzing with conversation, but this week I remember the silence.
On set there were numerous visitors present during the bakes and the judging. These included a group from France who wanted to be as close as possible to the contestants. With hindsight I guess these were the folk involved in discussion about a French version of the programme. In between our regular mini-interviews, they would try to gain as much insight as possible from each of us. Fortunately, our efforts at French baking seemed to pass muster and they were very complimentary about our creations!
I had been looking forward to this week since I would be baking some of my favourite things. Having said that, I had spent a long time trying to decide on what to make for the Petits Fours challenge. There was a lot to consider: overall appearance and combination of flavours, the challenges of timing, plus the all-important ‘wow factor’. In the end, I decided to place at the centre a scaled-down version of the choux swans that I had made many times for parties. According to some wit on Twitter this was my ‘cygnet-ure bake’ <groan – webmaster>.
Possibly as a result of relief at executing the Petits Fours as I’d hoped, my eye went off the ball in the Technical Challenge. I had never made a Fraisier before and it all came rather unstuck. Enough said about that!
By this point in the competition the contestants had grown close. We would share concerns we had about any of the possible pitfalls during the bakes. Many suggestions and much advice were readily exchanged. It was a curious case of competitors genuinely supporting each other.
In the Showstopper round, there were three of us baking a ‘Gateau St Honoré’. I was reluctant to tamper too much with this classic. However, I gave it two layers of creams: creme patissiere and chantilly (chocolate and vanilla). I avoided the traditional creme chiboust which is notorious for collapsing if the conditions aren’t right – and they weren’t.
As ever during filming for this episode Linda, the wonderful owner of Harptree Court, was very attentive and ensured we had endless drinks and biscuits and helped to settle nerves through warm words of encouragement. And, as in previous weeks, Victoria sent us handmade biscuits and brownies, reminding us all of how much we missed her and the other contestants who had left during previous weeks.
When the judgement came my pleasure at reaching the final was tinged with sadness at Danny’s departure. Not only was she a terrific baker with great knowledge and understanding, but was always encouraging and caring towards the other contestants.
On the journey back to Bristol I contemplated the final of the following week. Whatever happened this would be our last week in the famous white tent.