“Zombie Brain” Charlotte Royale: GBBO Week #9

Can you believe it was the semi finals of The Great British Bake Off on Tuesday?! That means next week is the final! And then it’s all over for another year. The episode began with the first challenge – to make savoury canapes. Three types were requested, one to be made with choux, one with pastry, and the third was baker’s choice. Beca knew already what the judges wanted, for the canapes to taste good and look amazing!

Mary warned that so much can go wrong when making canapes and the baker’s must pace themselves to get everything done. She wanted the finish of the canapes to be absolute perfect. Paul was also after precision, uniform size, and flavours that pack a big punch in small space. I loved Frances’ theming of her canapes (pictured above), and they really did look great. Paul was blown away by the taste and even shook her hand!

Kimberley also did very well, with great flavour and originality, and the judges were very happy to eat up all of her food! Ruby had mixed results, but it was overall quite pleasant. Beca did not fair so well and received the most negative comments.

The technical challenge was to make a Charlotte Royale, which I have never heard of, but Sue helpfully told the bakers that it looked like a brain! This dessert involves slices of swiss roll filled with jam, that form a dome around a set fruit custard, also called a bavarois. It involves several techniques that you must perfect to make it turn out right. The custard must not seep through the swiss rolls, which must be packed tightly in the bowl whilst retaining their shape.

In typical style, everyone except Kimberley looked a bit concerned about this challenge. I love how Kimberley approaches everything so positively! It worked for her too as her Charlotte Royale came out beautifully and she won the challenge, Frances came in second and Beca in third, both with decent looking Charlotte’s. Unfortunately Ruby’s was a bit of a disaster and she was last.

For the final challenge, an Opera Cake was requested. This is an elaborate French dessert made from seven even layers, which primarily involve a sponge called Joconde made from egg whites and ground almonds. The layers of sponge are sandwiched together with buttercream, syrup, ganache and finally covered in a chocolate glaze. It’s purpose is to represent the four acts of opera.


The judges wanted to layers to be clearly defined and of an even size. Although an Opera Cake is traditionally make with coffee, the baker’s could choose their own flavours. Mary wanted sheer perfection, and Paul said that this is one of hardest cakes to do properly.

Frances’ White Chocolate, Lavender and Lemon Opera Cake (pictures above) was the most good looking, although sadly it let down on flavour. Kimberley’s modern looking Passion Fruit & Lime Opera Cake (pictured top) looked great with tuilles and truffles as decorations, but was let down also on flavour. Ruby’s Opera Cake (pictured middle) suffered issues with a collapsed side, but Paul and Mary liked the flavours and textures. They didn’t like Beca’s Banoffee Opera Cake, as the banana flavour came from an artificial essence.

Sadly it was Beca that left us this week. Ruby was once again saved by flavours, but Frances and Kimberley both really shone this week, with Kimberley claiming star baker. Beca was very upset at leaving so close to the final, but said it had been an amazing experience. Next week it’s the final!! And I saw what looked like basket pies and three tired cakes in the preview.

Although a Charlotte Royale looked and sounded unappealing to me, I was discussing it with my colleague and mentioned how Sue had called it a ‘brain’. He suggested that I make a Zombie Brain Charlotte Royale for Halloween. I thought this would be brilliant! Suddenly a Charlotte Royale seemed very appealing! I changed a few elements, such as making a chocolate sponge, using bright green buttercream, and making the custard bloody red. I also omitted the fruit.

I started with the chocolate swiss roll. I followed the same recipe I used to make a Bûche de Noël (Yule Log) last year, which is a Mary Berry recipe. I started by whisking up 4 eggs and 100g caster sugar in my food mixer until it was frothy.

Then sifted in 65g self-raising flour and 40g cocoa powder and folded it into the egg mixture gently so as not to lose the frothiness.

I put it into a lined baking tray (I don’t have a swiss roll tin, but this works just as well) and baked on 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6 for 8-10 minutes. It sprang back up when I pressed it with a fingertip.

I prepared a sheet of baking paper dusted generously with icing sugar, I tipped the sponge out onto this while it was still hot, peeled off the baking paper it was baked in, and used a knife to make a grove along one end about 2cm from the end. Then I rolled the sponge up as tight as I could, taking the paper with it. I left it to cool fully still wrapped in the paper. This gives the sponge a ‘muscle memory’ so to speak, so it will not crack.

Once it was cool I prepared a buttercream filling using 100g butter, 200g icing sugar and Sugarflair Mint Green food colouring. If you have a neon green this would be even better. I gently unrolled the sponge, smoothed on the buttercream, then rolled back up again this time removing the baking paper.

I lined my bowl with cling film. I used a Pyrex 2L bowl from Tesco. I cut the swiss roll into slices and lined the bowl. There were a lot of gaps so I cheated by using some of the roll to fill in the gaps! I held the bowl up to the light to help me see where the gaps were. I didn’t want any filling seeping through!

For the bavarois, which is the custard mousse filling of a Charlotte Royale. I used an Anna Olsen recipe. First I made custard by simmering 225ml whole milk and 1 tsp vanilla extract in a pan. In a bowl I whisked up 4 egg yolks and 135g caster sugar until smooth. I slowly poured the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. I then returned it to the pan and turned up to a medium heat. I stirred it constantly for about 6 minutes until it had thickened. I then added a good blob of Sugarflair Extra Red food colouring, and 4 pre-soaked leave of gelatine (follow the instructions on the packet) and left it to cool to room temperature.

Once the custard was cool, I popped it into the fridge for 15 minutes. Meanwhile I whipped up 345ml double cream (you can also use whipping cream) until soft peaks formed. You want it to hold it’s shape but still be quite soft.

I folded the cream into the custard using a whisk. At this point I had to add a lot more food colouring as the whiteness of the cream dulled the red down a lot. Eventually I got a fantastic blood red!

I poured the mixture into my swiss roll lined bowl. I did not have enough swiss roll to cover the bottom, I quickly made 4 chocolate cupcakes, cooled them quickly by an open window, sliced them into discs and placed them on the bottom. I put it into the fridge overnight to set.

Turning it out was very easy thanks to the cling film. I came out straight away and retained it’s shape very well.

I made the glaze as suggested in Mary Berry’s Charlotte Royale recipe by boiling 75g caster sugar in 125ml water, and then adding 1 tbsp arrowroot powder that had been dissolved in 2 tbsp cold water. I let it cool, then brushed over my “Zombie Brain” Charlotte Royale. It didn’t give as much of a sheen as I expected and I’m not sure if it’s a necessary addition for my Halloween version.

My only decorations around the Charlotte Royale was some Halloween confetti in the shape of skulls, spiders and pumpkins! It was difficult to cut into as too much force on the swiss rolls just pushes them into the filling. The best approach is to cut slowly and gently. The filling was a shocking bright red inside!


Despite it’s spooky looks, this “Zombie Brain” Charlotte Royale was delicious! The custard mousse filling is to die for, so tasty! It went down really well with everyone and the Halloween theme was a big hit. It was fun to make such an unusual recipe that I had never heard of before, and this is my second time of making custard from scratch – I love how GBBO encourages me to learn new techniques! Have you tried anything new thanks to GBBO?

“Zombie Brain” Charlotte Royale
  • 5 Eggs
  • 370g Caster sugar
  • 125g Self raising flour
  • 40g Cocoa powder
  • 200g Icing sugar
  • Green food colouring
  • 160g Butter
  • 225ml Whole milk
  • 1 tsp Vanilla extract
  • 4 Egg yolks
  • 4 Gelatine leaves
  • Red food colouring
  • 345ml Double cream
  • 125ml Water
  • 1 tbsp Arrowroot powder
  • 2 tbsp Cold water
Start with the chocolate swiss roll. Whisk up 4 of the eggs and 100g of the caster sugar in a food mixer until frothy
Then sift in 65g of the self-raising flour and cocoa powder and fold it into the egg mixture gently
Pour it into a lined baking tray or swiss roll tin, and bake on 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6 for 8-10 minutes
Make 4 chocolate cupcakes for the base. Cream together 60g of the butter and 60g of the caster sugar. Add 1 of the eggs and whisked in. Fold in 60g of the self raising flour. Fill 4 cupcake cases and bake on 18C/350F/Gas Mark 5 for 20 minutes. Leave to cool then slice into discs
Dust a sheet of baking paper generously with icing sugar, tip the swiss roll sponge out onto it while it is still hot. Peel off the baking paper it was baked on and used a knife to make a grove along one end about 2cm from the end. Roll the sponge up as tight as you can, taking the paper with it. Leave it to cool fully still wrapped in the paper
Prepare a buttercream filling by mixing 100g of the butter, the icing sugar and green food colouring. Gently unroll the sponge, smooth on the buttercream, then roll back up again, this time removing the baking paper
Line a 2 litre glass bowl with cling film. Cut the swiss roll into slices and line the bowl. Use more of the roll to fill in any gaps
For the filling start by simmering the whole milk and vanilla extract in a pan. In a bowl whisk up the egg yolks and 135g of the caster sugar until smooth. Slowly pour the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Then return it to the pan and turn up to a medium heat. Stir it constantly for about 6 minutes until it thickens. Then add the pre-soaked leaves of gelatine (follow the instructions on the packet) and leave it to cool to room temperature
Once the custard is cool, pop it into the fridge for 15 minutes. Whip up the double cream until soft peaks form
Fold the cream into the custard using a whisk. Add enough red food colouring to get a bright red
Pour the mixture into the swiss roll lined bowl. Use the discs of chocolate cupcakes to lined the bottom. Put in the fridge for at least 4 hours to set
Turn it out and make the glaze by boiling 75g of the caster sugar in the 125ml water, then dissolve the arrowroot powder in the 2 tbsp of cold water and add to the sugar mixture. Let it cool, then brush it over the Charlotte Royale

6 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I love this idea, definitely takes the idea of a brain cake to the next level! Great cake for Halloween, well done for attempting what looked like one of the trickiest technical challenges so far

  2. Sometimes watching GBBO makes me so hungry and inspires me to get in the kitchen (particularly bread week) and sometimes it turns me off completely: this week was the latter. The Charlotte Royale did look awful and it pushed me over the edge when they glazed it! But this one looks and sounds much more appealing! I love the change to chocolate Swiss roll with buttercream. It also fits the Halloween theme so well that I don't know why that wasn't its original purpose! 🙂


  3. That looks great! Love the vibrant green colour and the bright red within! Weirdly I don't watch GBBO, but I probably should if it inspires ace bakes like this!

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