For a professional pastry chef, baking isn’t just a passion, it’s their life’s work. Presiding over the challenges set for our chef duos on Bake Off: The Professionals are Benoit Blin and Cherish Finden – two world-renowned patissiers who have mastered the art of sugar-spun perfection, and are descending on the Bake Off kitchen to critique and celebrate their craft as they search for the finest sweet treats in the country.
Here’s how they warmed up for the new series…
Cherish, Benoit – good day to you both. How do you both work as a team?
Cherish: “We are now on our third series working together, so we are very good friends. Benoit is so charming, he is like James Bond to me.”
Benoit: “We both have very different styles but we respect each other. Cherish can give quite a fierce look if she is not getting what she wants from the chef.”
What was the first step on each of your paths to becoming top pastry chefs?
Cherish: “I started cooking at 8 when my father was sick, so my mum had to work. I took over the cooking for the family, and then at about 12 I started to make kueh – Malaysian for cake. I got a lot of compliments from my siblings so I decided to enrol myself into a catering school and it all started there.”
Benoit: “I started baking at home aged about 10, making some little pastries in my mum’s kitchen. My parents were my guinea pigs, so they had to suffer my first – very hard – shortbread with a heavy chocolate sauce. I improved fairly quickly and progressed to apple turnovers, so they did eventually get something decent to eat.”
Why is precision so important for Bake Off: The Professionals?
Cherish: “I am known for my precision and accuracy and I am proud of that, it’s what makes me who I am. I bought my ruler from Singapore, and it’s in this series again.”
Benoit: “Everything has to be elegant, professional and technically correct.”
What’s your absolute favourite recipe to cook?
Cherish: “Today, Sesame Umami is one of my favourites – a unique petit gâteau with an Asian twist. It incorporates soya sauce, sesame oil and sesame nougatine. When I was a commis chef, I loved making coconut and pandan chiffon cake. It’s light and fluffy and I still like making it. It’s lovely with a cup of tea.”
Benoit: “My favourite recipe would be for a financier or a Coffee Religieuse – a choux pastry filled with coffee crème patissiere and a coffee sugar-fondant glaze. Both remind me of my childhood.”
And what’s your favourite pastry to eat?
Cherish: “My favourite pastry is Kueh Lapis – a rich and indulgent Indonesian layer cake with a bit of spice. I eat it very slowly, layer by layer. It takes a long time to bake so I make sure I enjoy and appreciate it.”
Benoit: “For me it has to be chouquettes – they are little choux buns coated with nibbed sugar that caramelise in the oven. You buy them in bags of 12 and they remind me of growing up in France when I would be sent to buy bread on a Sunday morning, and with the spare money left over I would buy the chouquettes and eat most of them on the way home. I did save some for my mum, of course.”
What’s an essential bake any professional pastry chef should master?
Cherish: “The basics in baking are crucial to me, so it’s important, for example, to get a ganache very smooth with a glossy texture. Or, if you do a basic pastry, make sure you don’t over mix the dough, or overcook it, or under-bake it! My rule is this: go back to basics before you try the big stuff.”
Benoit: “My team is working hard every day to create the perfect croissant for our guests. It’s the first thing I look at and taste in the morning in our kitchen, and the benchmark in any pastry kitchen in France.”
What should we expect from the rest of this series?
Cherish: “We have some classics and Showpieces that not only demonstrate the chefs’ artistic flair, but also how they manage their time. One of my favourites in this series is the ‘secret challenge’. I just loved it when you saw the chefs’ faces drop as the challenge is revealed! I think some of the Showpieces are the best of all of the series so far.”
Benoit: “We ask the chefs to show us the core of their basic skills, to rediscover the forgotten classics and bring them back to life. They have to use their inspiration, intuition and imagination to make it work perfectly. It’s a different dynamic this series with the teams of two, so there is no hiding place.”
Join Cherish Finden and Benoit Blin for Bake Off: The Professionals at 8pm on Sunday evenings on Channel 4. Perfection is mandatory.