If you’re the sort of person who watches this show mostly to hear the phrase “soggy bottom”, then HAVE WE GOT THE EPISODE FOR YOU.
1. Last week’s episode was always going to be quite hard to top, thanks to the high drama of CUSTARDGATE (soon to be made into a movie starring Carol McGiffin as Deborah, Gary Barlow as Howard, and the polar bear from the Bird’s Eye adverts as Paul Hollywood), and while this week’s offering many not have reached the same lofty heights of devastating dairy-based sabotage, it did at least still feature quite a lot of custard. Maybe the producers just hoped that if they poked and prodded everyone enough, someone else was bound to snap and turn to criminal means to secure themselves an extra week in a marquee in Somerset. We moved on to pies and tarts this week, opening with a rousing rendition of ‘Who Ate All The Pies? (We Did)’ from Mel and Sue and taking in a surprisingly high number of Life Of Pi jokes along the way. For this week’s signature bake, the contestants were asked to produce a double-crusted fruit pie. “What does double-crusted mean?”, you might ask. Well, it means that there’s pastry on the top, and a layer of pastry on the bottom as well. In other words: a pie. Because as Mary Berry so memorably seethed when presented by Jo’s casserole-with-an-edible-lid back in series two, if there’s no pastry on the bottom, IT IS NOT A PIE.
2. Perhaps the fairest way to divide the work of the bakers in the first round is into “soggies” and “non soggies”. Let’s start with the less successful efforts, so that we might gradually work our way towards a happy ending, as the comely masseuse said. The weekend augured ill for Ali, who admitted that he hates fruit pies and never eats them, to the point where he didn’t even bother to try his own pie filling. Despite his rather jaunty green beanie hat and rolled-up-sleeve t-shirt ensemble, Ali spent most of this episode with the air of…well, Cathryn from last year, mostly. Just photoshop in the kids and the rain and the tiny camping stove and you’re there. Ali knew he would get a soggy bottom, and he did, because his pastry was barely cooked. Also suffering with sogginess issues were Glenn, who spent too long painting his pastry maple leaves red for his apple and maple syrup pie and as a result didn’t get it in the oven quickly enough, which earned him a dressing down in front of the whole class–er, tent. Schoolteacher Glenn admitted that Paul had him bang to rights, and that he was using that tone of voice that Glenn’s used many times with his own pupils when they’ve let themselves and the whole school down, so he had no option but to stand there and accept his punishment. Arguably the soggiest of all bottoms was Christine’s, as her apple, plum and cinnamon country pie (from her grandmother’s recipe, no less) contained far too much liquid and pretty much collapsed, creating possibly the first documented Bake Off case of Soggy Top. I guess the little “I’m bending down to have a look, waiting for my pie to cook” song that she sang didn’t suddenly make everything turn out brilliantly, which is rather a shame.
3. So if only three people had soggy bottoms, the rest did brilliantly, right? Wrong. Frances took the whimsy too far with her “peach pie in the sky”, inspired by James And The Giant Peach, which is a) apparently a story that Paul Hollywood cannot comprehend, because he skipped Roald Dahl as a child and went straight to the dirty bits in Judy Blume’s Forever, and b) almost certainly the title of a James/John slashfic written at some point over the last 12 months. Anyway, Frances’s pie didn’t have enough peaches in it and was bland, with Paul in particular criticising her for prioritising style over substance, prompting almost the entire population of Twitter to scream “I KNOW RIGHT? FINALLY!” in unison, since they have apparently been watching with some sort of magic taste-o-vision this whole time. Beca’s mamgu cherry apple tart, which was actually filled with rhubarb for various childhood-related “eat your damn vegetables” reasons, had too much thick pastry and not enough rhubarb, and Howard’s apple pie with sage pastry crumbled quicker than Victoria Pendleton trying to do the macarena. That left three people emerging with their dignity intact at the end of the round: Rob, Ruby, and Kimberley, the last of which produced what Paul declared to be “one of the nicest pies I’ve had for some years”. In unrelated (I assume) news, Kimberley has a hot boyfriend. Did we already know that? I mean, he’s no Deborah’s Surprisingly Hot Husband, but he’s still a tasty dish.
4. This week’s technical challenge was to produce 12 identical custard tarts, with golden crimped pastry cups and an even layer of smooth, set custard inside. This was something of a mixed blessing for Ali, who loves custard tarts (hooray!) but has never thought to actually try to make one (…oh, Ali). Since Deborah opened the floodgates last week for custard-related espionage, there was a lot of obvious and open staring going on as the bakers started looking around at the other workbenches to see if they could put together some sort of foolproof method based on what everyone else was doing. Unfortunately, nobody seemed to be able to agree whether the custard was supposed to be cooked before being poured into the tarts – Frances warmed hers through, her confidence in this decision soon slipping away when she realised she was the only one doing so. Glenn decided to look around to see what Howard was doing (Howard was, of course, wondering why nothing ever goes right in his life), and Rob ended up cutting all of his pastry the wrong size for his moulds. Meanwhile, sensing the stress upon which they love to feast, Mel and Sue mingled, with Mel wondering if Howard had been having Bake Off-related dreams yet. “Who would you rather dream about: Paul or Mary?” she asked. “That’d be telling,” Howard replied. So…Paul, then? Oh, and the one important thing that we learned is that to ensure an evenness of texture, both trays of tarts should be baked on the same shelf – something that we saw Glenn demonstrably failing to do as we ran headlong into this week’s History Bit.
5. …which was all about the world’s oldest cookbook, The Fourme Of Cury, which roughly translates into The Method Of Cooking in modern money. The book is thought to date back to the 1390s, and contains 194 recipes for things such as porridge, stew, and Bruce Forsyth’s 40th birthday cake. Apparently it was commissioned by the MasterChefs of Richard II, and I think it goes without saying that that’s a reality TV spinoff I’d be all over from the word go. Hopefully the BBC are greenlighting it as you read this, and Gregg Wallace is being fitted for a doublet and hose. (I have no idea if that’s even appropriate clothing for that period. All we ever did in GCSE History was World War I and The Wall Street Crash over and over again.) Anyway, the book was basically a way of showing off all the luxurious dishes that could be made in the royal household at the time, many of which involved custard, which was often made with almond milk instead of cow’s milk, as the latter went off too quickly. Oh, and Richard II died (possibly of starvation) after being usurped by his cousin, so let’s hope he enjoyed all that custard while he had the chance.
6. Upon our return, it became apparent that this was going to be another fairly disastrous round for everyone, as the contestants mostly failed to remove their custard tarts from the baking trays. In a bid to make their tarts cool faster to make removal easier, both Glenn and Ali opted to stick their trays in the freezer for a bit, although by this point Ali had lapsed into another fugue state that left him looking as though he was considering climbing into the freezer with them. One by one the pastries fell until we were left with mostly piles of collapsed tarts half-lying apologetically on their sides. Once again, the show opted not to make the most of this ideal opportunity to bring in Special Guest Judge Aliona Vilani, and instead Paul and Mary tried to establish which, if any, of the tarts were edible. Both Glenn and Ali were left with raw pastry again, Christine had more soggy bottoms, and even the normally-reliable Ruby and Kimberley got dinged for making their tarts and/or fillings too shallow. Top honours went to Frances in the end, so clearly pre-warming the custard was the way to go. Now I’m just waiting for confirmation that it was SECRETLY HOWARD’S CUSTARD ALL ALONG.
7. This week was a little light on the innuendo front, if I’m honest. Obviously there was the treat of Paul, with an evil glint in his eye, encouraging Mary Berry to have a go at whipping Ruby’s hand-wrought pastry about and Mary’s eminently gif-able attempt, with all of the “Mary Berry is a slapper” jokes that accompany it, and of course we mustn’t overlook Sue complimenting Glenn on his “beautiful, beautiful ring” as he put together his Spanakopita, but for once this week the finest sentence uttered by anyone wasn’t an innuendo: it was Glenn making a hash of filling his custard tarts and admonishing himself: “Oh, stop it Glenn! You’re pouring like a buffoon!” There was nothing dirty about it, but I’m going to be quoting it for weeks, I just know.
8. For the showstopper challenge, the bakers were required to produce a filo pastry pie, either based on one of the classics (assuming you know what those are – Mel didn’t), or drawn from their own fanciful imaginations. This meant that we did get several bakers covering similar ground, with Beca, Kimberley and Ali all going for Moroccan flavours, and Glenn and Rob both making a Spanakopita (a kind of Greek savoury pastry). Meanwhile, Frances decided to make a giant baklava shaped like a cherry tree. “Of course she is,” quipped Mel, IN VOICEOVER, because apparently even the post-production team have decided they’ve had enough of Frances’s excessive whimsy at this point. (Heck, I’ve had enough of typing the word “whimsy” at this point.) Rob took some time out to tell us that he forages for mushrooms in his spare time, and how unforgiving a hobby it can be because eating the wrong thing can make you dissolve, but then I could say the same thing about most of the chicken shops between my flat and the pub. Anyway, it was all rather moot because he was using shop-bought mushrooms, and cleaning them all off took rather longer than he anticipated. Fans of running gags will be pleased to know that Christine prayed to the God of Crisps once more to deliver unto her the gift of crunchiness for her roasted vegetable pie, and maybe also a multipack of Frazzles if He (or She) has got one going spare. Howard, however, received Arlene’s Amazing Abundant Alliteration Award for his Fresh Fig & Feta Filo Flan, which was so unwieldy it needed the help of both Mel and Sue to lift it out of the baking dish, while Glenn and Beca did the whole “I can’t look, but I must look, but I can’t look” thing from a couple of benches away. Mercifully, most people redeemed themselves in this round, including both Ali (whose orange, cardamom and date m’hanncha, or “snake cake”, required 2m of filo, which was actually larger than any of the benches) and Glenn, and the only contestants who came up short were Rob (mushroom moisture leads to soggy bottom), Beca (vegetable filling had the texture of mashed potato) and Frances (so big that it didn’t cook all the way through, shouldn’t have tried to be such a smarty-pants again).
9. Star baker was something of a hollow victory this week, given the absolutely rotten week most of the contestants had, but after an excellent signature bake, a mid-level technical bake and a well-received showstopper, it was finally Kimberley’s turn to take home the title not just for this week’s efforts, but for her overall consistency throughout the competition. Only Ruby even came close this week, and that was mostly for Mary marvelling at her ability to work without gadgets.
10. There were a fair few people circling the drain this week, chiefly Glenn and Ali, with both Rob and Christine not terribly far behind them, but ultimately it was Ali who was informed that his invite for the rest of the season has been rescinded, thereby continuing the pattern of my favourite contestant (/the one I fancy the most) getting the boot in week four or five. While this turn of events was personally devastating for me, one surprising twist that made it all worthwhile was that it turns out Ali & Christine were secret BFFs all this time. She was very upset to see him go, to the point where her parting words were “if you don’t keep in touch, I’ll kill you”. Guess I was wrong to have Rob at the top of my list of “most likely to go on a murder spree with a croissant roller” all these weeks. So the bad news is that Ali’s gone, but the good news is that he and Christine might team and up and fight crime when it’s all over. Or maybe they’ll run The Amazing Race together, either’s good with me.
Next week: biscuits. Rob builds a Dalek, and somebody’s showstopper falls over. Constant pausing and scanning on my Tivo has left me convinced it’s either Beca’s or Frances’s, but we’ll have to wait a week to find out.