Dessert Week on The Great Kiwi Bake Off

At last, the time has come for the most classic of classic Kiwi baking: the pavlova. But first, the bakers had to survive the roulade/swiss roll technical.

The Technical: Chocolate and Raspberry Roulade

Right off the bat, I thought calling this a chocolate and raspberry roulade was a little misleading – I was expecting a family-sized Ho Ho with raspberries in it (I confess, I’ve never had a Ho Ho, but I do know what they are). But I am glad there was ganache involved, as handling chocolate is a pretty important skill for desserts, and one that I still struggle with (I have definitely scorched chocolate multiple times in a row while trying to enrobe truffles at work.)

Overall, I think the roulade technical was handled better than the upside down cake technical. It was Sue’s recipe (again), and she gave much more specific information about what she was looking for – a good basic sponge, a good spiral, evenly distributed filling. Dean chimes in with a good thickness of chocolate covering it, but neither mentions what could go wrong (tough sponge, spiral so tight it squeezes out the filling, seized ganache) and how to avoid those pitfalls, which I think is where the viewers really benefit from the judges tête-à-tête.

Sponge Theory says that all you really need for a swiss roll sponge is flour, sugar, and eggs. Sue’s recipe includes ground almonds. Again. First the upside down cake, now the roulade, she’s really got a thing for them, huh? And while it’s not uncommon to see sponge recipes swap some plain flour out for a lower gluten flour to help keep the texture light, I feel like cornflour/cornstarch is a lot easier on the bank account than ground almonds.

Additionally, the recipe calls for melted butter, which adds a lovely richness, but can hinder the rise, impairing the “lightness” factor. This hindrance can be countered by the addition of a raising agent or, in the case of this recipe, folding in some whipped egg whites just before baking.

And Sue’s modifications to a basic sponge recipe seem to pay off for the bakers. With the exception of two specific comments about the sponge – Shannon’s was leathery and eggy, Sonali’s was underbaked – most of the problems seemed to stem from uneven filling or problems with the ganache.

So let’s rap for a minute about ganache issues. Ganissues? Ganachues? Anyway, Sue’s recipe instructs the bakers to bring 200ml of cream to a boil, pour it over the chocolate, then add 150mls of cream and stir. That is a GREAT way to split or seize your ganache. Trust me. I’ve been there.

Seized Ganache

This is because to get a beautiful emulsion to form, you only need to get your chocolate to 34 degrees C (92F). Any higher than that and the cocoa fat will come out of suspension, leaving the gritty solids. So if you pour boiling cream over chocolate, then add 150mls of fridge-cold cream, and stir, the agitation will just hasten the departure of cocoa fat from cocoa solids. If you go the boiling cream over chocolate route, let it sit for at least five minutes before stirring and stir GENTLY and not often. Otherwise, don’t bring the cream to a boil and let it cool down a bit before pouring over the chocolate – this is the route I tend to favor, after many, many ganachues.

In theory, if you do ever split your ganache, you can usually rescue it by either reheating it to barely 34 degrees C (92F) and gently stirring it to put the fat crystals back into emulsion OR heat the split ganache back to 34 degrees C (92F) and adding a tsp at a time of warmed cream or milk or even water while stirring slowly. Frankly, I’ve never trusted myself enough to try either – I just do what Sonali did and start again.

Anyway, back to the baking – I noticed that while the recipe didn’t say to score or “preroll” the sponge, more than a couple of the bakers did. In my experience, rolling the sponge right out of the oven and letting it cool to room temp that way, then unrolling it to put in the filling generally produces a nicer product, and reduces the chance of cracks and seepage.

A Christmas Roulade – with chocolate buttercream, not ganache!

My last note on this challenge: I LOVED Joel’s attitude during this challenge – baking, or just preparing food in general, doesn’t have to be scary or intimidating. Put in your best effort and you’ll usually end up with something edible and, if not, it always pays to have some ice cream in the freezer right? Because at the end of the day, whatever your masterpiece is, it’s going to end up as poop, so don’t give yourself a heart attack over it.

The Showstopper: Layered Pavlova (must include a curd and whipped cream)

Diving right into the main event: I immediately bumped on something – Shannon didn’t seem to realize that a meringue and a pav aren’t the same thing. Remember the side bar on plums vs prunes a couple weeks ago? Well pavs and meringues have a similar relationship: a pavlova is a type of meringue, but not all meringues are pavs. The difference? Well, it seems to lie in the inclusion of vinegar and cornstarch, which is what creates the pavlova’s signature crispy outside but marshmallowy inside, which Dean singled out as one of the key aspects they were looking for.

Pavs Into the Oven.jpg

The thing is, Shannon isn’t alone in his definition confusion. A book by NZ chef Jo Seagar gives a recipe for “meringues” that includes vinegar and cornstarch and the caption declares that they are “just the best…crisp, vanilla flavoured, with a good gooey chewy centre.” But meringues are traditionally dried out completely, so that once you bite into them, they sort of crumble and melt away in your mouth. I would have thought someone from my culinary alma mater would know the difference! And I don’t mean to sound like a food snob – truly, I like both meringues and pavlova (in small amounts, I find both a little sweet) but it’s all about expectation management, ya know? And in this case, it hurt Shannon’s effort in the challenge, because the two Kiwi judges use the same definition of pavlova that I (and most Kiwis I’ve talked to) do.

Can you make pavlova from Italian meringue? Maybe. But I wouldn’t. I mean, he’s right that it is the most stable meringue – we used to use it at a restaurant for the bombe alaskas because it’s so stable but it won’t give you the signature crispy exterior of the pav unless you torched it. I’m curious to know if he had actually tested his concept first. I get the feeling these bakers didn’t get as much time to test their signatures and showstoppers as the bakers on GBBO.

I was also a little concerned when I saw Joel adding cocoa powder to his mix – I have never ever ever seen a chocolate pav that wasn’t cracked…which you can get away with if it’s just a single layer, as many pavs are. But this one had to be layered, which means any cracks are going to compromise structural integrity so the layers need to be thinner, and lighter.

And actually, pretty much all the bakers had cracks in their pavlovas. I’ve always been told that a perfect pavlova has no cracks but the judges didn’t seem too fussed about it.  And to be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a homemade pav that didn’t have a few cracks. The only one I’ve ever seen with no cracks came from a supermarket and wasn’t particularly crispy on the outside. So is it okay for them to crack? I mean, they usually get covered in cream anyway so how would you know? At any rate, I am FAR from a pavlova expert, having made precisely two in my life before seeing this episode (both had cracks) and never having attempted a layered pavlova ever.

So it seemed like this was actually a quite challenging brief in terms of balancing the overall structural integrity with the thickness of the layers. If the layers are too thin, they’ll cook quickly and be less likely to crack so they’ll be more structurally sound, but they mightn’t have that marshmallow-y interior – which is what happened to Stacey. If your layers are too thick, you get too much marshmallow + gooey curd and cream, and you end up with Larissa’s problem – tasted good but was too much like a gateau, which to me just means cake because my brain still auto-translates French culinary terms. Truth: when I’m working a busy shift and my boss yells something to me, my gut reaction is still “Oui, chef!”. However, what I think the judges were referring to with that comment was a cake made of sponge layers interspersed with cream and fruit.

The Results

I promise this is the last time I will say this: judging people on only two performances is just stupid. It is simply not enough data to draw a reasonable conclusion. But, that’s what we’re stuck with so I’m moving on. No more harping.

I’m not too surprised with who went home – Shannon seemed to be struggling quite a bit in both challenges and while Sonali came dead last in the Technical, her pavlova did at least turn out like a pav…even if they weren’t too crazy about her flavour profile.

As for who won – I really think Annabel knocked it out of the park on both counts in terms of technique but I feel like she played it quite safe with her pavlova in terms of flavour, style, etc. But hey, if that’s what wins you Star Baker, keep it up, right?


I confess, I did not watch An Extra Slice this week…as much as I enjoyed it previously, I just don’t want to spend even more time in front of the telly – which is actually my computer as I don’t have a television. I wish they could work more of those bits into the actual show but alas, it’s not to be. Maybe next season…


One comment

  1. So interesting! I always thought the dry all the way through meringues were just badly done ones! I definitely prefer the pavlova meringues, but I can see their structural failure to provide support when you need that kind of thing.


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