Les Misérables

No, I’m not talking about the book, nor the movie. (I hated the book and refused to watch the movie on account of the a) singing and b) Anne Hathaway and c) if you know me, you know the third reason). Les Misérables is also the name of a supremely intricate Belgian patisserie – and the reason Prue set it as the technical challenge for The Great British Bake Off was, in her own words because “it was the most difficult thing [she] could think of”. 

But in fact… it went okay…

Les Misérables

Les Misérables

The recipe is an absolute monster, and made me think of some of the more complicated technical challenges from the past, think mainly of the Princesstarta. (Some awful pictures on there from one late night baking after work!)

Here it is… 

Makes 9

For the joconde:

vegetable oil, for greasing

225g ground almonds

225g caster sugar

5 large eggs

5 large egg whites

50g plain flour, sifted

35g unsalted butter, melted

finely grated zest of 2 lemons

25g pistachio paste – this doesn’t seem very exotic, but I couldn’t see it sold in any of my local supermarkets so I got mine from Sous Chef online and paid to get it next day delivered – for a grand total of over £16… when it comes to the technical challenges, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do…

½ tsp almond extract

leaf green food colouring

For the French buttercream:

6 large egg yolks

190g caster sugar

60ml water

300g unsalted butter, softened

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

10 firm raspberries

For the syrup:

juice of 1 lemon

2 tbsp water

50g sugar

For the decoration:

200g dark chocolate chips, 54% cocoa solids

freeze dried raspberries, for dusting – I had to get this on amazon

5 firm raspberries, halved

Step 1 – Heat the oven to 210C/Fan 190C/gas 7. Line two 40cm x 25cm baking sheets with non-stick baking paper and lightly grease with vegetable oil. I didn’t have baking sheets exactly this size but as long as your baking sheets allow you to get 2 layers out of them (ie at least 34cm wide for a 17cm cake tine) you’re fine.

Step 2 – For the joconde, whisk the ground almonds150g of the caster sugar and the eggs together to ribbon stage. I don’t think it ever got to exactly what I know of as ‘ribbon’ stage because the ground almonds keep it from going completely smooth but I just mixed it quite well.

Step 3 – In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites and the remaining 75g of caster sugar together, to a stiff meringue.

Step 4 – Gently fold the meringue mixture into the almond mixture.

Step 5 – Sieve the flour over the top of the mixture and gently fold in.

Step 6 – Finally, gently fold in the melted butter.

Step 7 – Divide the mixture into 2 bowls. Fold the grated lemon zest into one bowl of mixture.

Step 8 – Fold the pistachio paste, almond extract and enough green food colouring to create a pistachio colour into the second bowl of mixture.

Step 9 – Pour the mixture into the lined tins (one in each tin) and level out with a palette knife.

Step 10 – Bake for 9-11 minutes until springy, but firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack. I took mine out of the baking tins and took off the baking parchment at this point but I think you’re supposed to have left them in the tin until step 17.

Step 11 – For the French buttercream, tip the eggs yolks into the bowl of an electric food mixer and whisk until pale, thick and creamy.

Step 12 – Tip the sugar and water into a pan and boil to softball stage (116C). I went purely on temperature for this as I don’t think my softball testing technique worked great but the temperature doesn’t lie thankfully. Remove from the heat and with the whisk still running, very slowly pour the sugar syrup over the whisked egg yolks. Continue whisking until the mixture is cool to touch. This is really important. Keep whisking until it’s cool – it will thicken up as it cools and actually change consistency. I was really impressed.

Step 13 – Once the egg and sugar mixture is cold, whisk in the softened butter, bit by bit until the mixture thickens. I took aaages doing this as when people on the show added the butter too quickly it just didn’t thicken up. After I dropped in about 220g worth, the consistency changed entirely again which was such a relief to see, as I don’t think I’ve ever successfully made a French buttercream before.

Step 14 – Transfer ¾ of the buttercream into a separate bowl and fold in the vanilla paste. Set aside.

Step 15 – With the whisk still running on low, add the raspberries to the remaining buttercream and whisk until they are broken up but not mushy. Set aside.

Step 16 – For the lemon syrup, tip the lemon juice, water and sugar into a pan and bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Step 17 – To assemble, lightly grease and line a 17cm square cake tin and line with non-stick baking paper. Turn out the sponges, remove the baking paper and cut two 17cm squares from the lemon sponge and two 17cm squares from the pistachio sponge.

Step 18 – Melt 50g of the chocolate and spread one side of one lemon sponge very thinly with chocolate. Place the sponge, chocolate side down in the base of the lined cake tin and brush the top lightly with lemon syrup. Make sure your pastry brush doesn’t molt all over your sponge like mine was…

Step 19 – Spread 1/3rd of the vanilla buttercream over the sponge and top with a pistachio sponge. Brush with lemon syrup.

Step 20 – Spread all the raspberry buttercream over the sponge and top with the second pistachio sponge. Brush with lemon syrup.

Step 21 – Spread another 1/3rd of the vanilla buttercream over the pistachio sponge and top with the remaining lemon sponge. Brush with lemon syrup. Chill in the fridge for 30 mins.   Spoon the remaining buttercream into a piping bag fitted with a ribbon nozzle. I think I definitely chose the wrong nozzle but if that was my biggest mistake I’ll let myself off! Turns out that this is a ribbon nozzle – and I did have one like this, but I just totally spaced. Whoops…

Step 22 – For the chocolate decoration, temper the chocolate by melting the remaining chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water to 50C. Remove the bowl from the heat. Pour 2/3rd of the chocolate onto a marble slab and cool to 28C. Return the cooled chocolate to the bowl and stir until the temperature reaches 32C. I definitely considered – but didn’t bother – buying a marble slab for this – instead, I chilled the chocolate using a bowl of ice and water then brought it back up to temperature by stirring.

Step 23 – For the chocolate decorations, cut a rectangular piece of acetate measuring 15cm x 6cm. Spread some of the tempered chocolate over the acetate and leave until beginning to set. Score into long triangle shapes as per the template attached. Bend the acetate sheet lengthways into a half moon curve and leave to set inside 2 chefs ring, so the triangles set curved. Right, so. If the acetate is only 6cm tall, and you have to fold it lengthways, and leave to rest in a chef’s ring, the chef’s ring needs to be like 4cm in diameter. The chefs rings I bought were too big so I had to leave my chocolate to set in the ends of 2 of my largest pastry nozzles.

Step 24 – Turn the cake out of the cake tin. Trim the edges and cut the cake into 9 square cakes measuring 5cm x 5cm. Tip the freeze dried raspberries into a sieve and dust the tops of the cakes lightly with raspberry powder.

Step 25 – Pipe a wavy ribbon of buttercream diagonally across the top of each of the 9 cakes. Peel the acetate away from the set chocolate and spray with the gold shimmer. Decorate the top of each cake with a curved chocolate triangle and half a fresh raspberry.

It took me about 3 and a half hours (including a break for a crumpet and a cup of tea partway through) – and the guys on the show were given 3 hours so I was pretty proud of myself.
Les Misérables
Les Misérables
Les Misérables
Les Misérables
Les Misérables

I wonder what next week will bring. Will the final be even more complicated than this or will they pare it back down to the super simple type of challenge they set for the final 2016.