Featuring Paul Hollywood smashing James’ back doors in, and liking the result.
1. Hello! Steve is sadly too busy picking over the mangled remains of Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model (aka BINT-Model) to waste precious time dissecting biscuits. Personally I’m glad to step into the breach, as biscuits are probably my favourite baked good, except for maybe Lasagna. And let’s face it, The Great British Bake Off is never going have a lasagna challenge, as much as I may write letters to the Director General of the BBC DEMANDING it. You know they’d only stick pineapple and figs in it or something anyway. As it stands, biscuits have always been my refuge in a cake-biased world. You can keep your birthday fudge cakes, I’ll be sat in the corner, munching on shortbread. And possibly a flapjack. And some variety of oatmeal fruit cookie. Maybe a few ginger nuts. And a custard cream. Couple of hobnobs. More or less anything other than a Bourbon really – even a downmarket jammy ring will do in a pinch.
2. It did feel like a bit of an anticlimax to begin this week with a Signature Bake of…crispbreads. I don’t care how much Mel & Sue tried to hype it up as the BIGGEST SIGNATURE BAKE IN THE SHOW’S HISTORY with 48 SEPARATE ITEMS TO BE MADE, savoury bakes are just inherently less exciting than sweet bakes. Except when they lead to Sarah-Jane creating new and exciting meat-based life-forms (all hail our new Wellington Overlord). And true to form, very little exciting happened in this first challenge, other than both James and John getting their spicy crackers out. Extra kudos goes to John for managing to produce Asian flavours without including globby looking strings of raw pork, as I’d assumed were de rigeur in the Mysterious Orient after Ryan’s performance last week. Bonus points also go to Danny for risking the wrath of Brendan by snarking that she was cooking 70s style, just like Brendan does every week (prompting Brendan to GLARE at her like a meerkat dressed up as Toht from Raiders Of The Lost Ark). She’s extra lucky to survive given that what she meant by “cooking 70s style” was “using gross fake parmesan that tastes like armpits and looks like custardy dandruff”. If Brendan had had only 36 crispbreads to attend to, she probably wouldn’t have escaped with her life. As it was, she suffered from a sudden unpleasant surfeit of salt in her ras-el-hanout crackers. No idea where that could come from. Definitely not Brendan’s table.
3. The episode’s slow start continued with the first history segment, which even I am not going to defend, even though I am one of the few dedicated defenders of The History Bits on Great British Bake Off. It was about some boring basic biscuits from Anglesea that they make look like sea-shells by mashing them into scallops. Ostensibly this is for religious regions (St James was famous for getting his scallops out apparently) but let’s face it, it’s just because Welsh people are cheap and probably don’t even have a Waitrose where they can buy charming snowman shaped cookie-cutter from anyway. Also, apparently these biscuits have an extra taste of the sea, as the special ancient Anglesea methods of making flour give the biscuits the gritty texture of sand. MMMMMMM. SAND!
4. Mercifully things started to look up with the technical challenge, which was based around the (NOT NECESSARILY TUNNOCKS) Teacake. Contestants were given six hours to create the marshmallowy (NOT NECESSARILY TUNNOCKS) Teacakes. And by far the most exciting part of this challenge was the fact that someone broke the thermostat for the air conditioner in the Great British Bake-Off Marquee (my money’s on John having his hair-straighteners plugged in for too long). As a result, the whole place was hotter and sweatier than Paul Hollywood’s boxers (I’m sorry, his jeans were at Clarkson levels of skin-tight ball-crushing-ness this week. It cannot go uncommented on. It looked like he’d got an individual (NOT NECESSARILY TUNNOCKS) Teacake mould down there). Which, for a challenge revolving around a chocolate biscuit, resulted in a couple of disasterous bakes from both of the remaining female contestants. But even more disastrous was the effect that the heat had on Sue’s hair, which collapsed from a proud lacquered lesbian quiff, the likes of which kd lang would be proud of, to the sort of floopy mess you only see on comedy Chinese Elvis impersonators. Poor Sue. Other highlights of the round include : John depositing a giant mass of sticky white goop into his hand, and then licking it off ; Danny…actually no, just the John thing is good for me. I’ll be in my bunk.
5. Ahem. The other great thing about the technical challenge was Brendan continuing to emerge as one of the greatest reality tv end-game villains of all time. Brendan combines the three key factors of amazing end-game villains – a) he’s much better than everyone else in the competition and knows it, b) he has a delightful and unique personality, c) he says the sort of thing that more sensible people would check before allowing to fly out of their mouths, but Brendan WILL NOT CENSOR HIMSELF. Resulting in such delights as “there are two or three people I’ve got my eye on as rivals” (in a competition where four other people remain) (LOLCATHRYN), “I think the only thing that differentiated me from number 1 was the thickness of my biscuit” (speaks for itself really) and “it’s getting down to experience now, and I’ve been round the block far more times than most of these people” (such a diva). I am fully on the Brendan Train now – he must win.
6. Let’s face it, those first two challenges were fine, but only a precursor to the most AMAZING CHALLENGE IN GREAT BRITISH BAKE-OFF HISTORY. The Gingerbread House Challenge. But first, let’s deal with the history of Gingerbread. Based on this week’s second History Bit, it appears to have been used as some sort of Ye Olde Messaging Service. That’s right, if you had some sort of message to give to a loved one, and words weren’t enough, you gave them a novelty biscuit of a particular shape. A heart if you loved them, a shield if they were about to go off to war, a dog turd if they’d annoyed you, and a pair of legs flailing in the back of a Ford Cortina and a sad face, if you wanted to apologise for shagging their sister. Apparently this messaging system reached its apex at weddings, where the bride was given gingerbreads of famous Bible figures in the hopes that this would somehow get her up the duff. Ah, infallible 17th Century logic. I don’t even know where she was supposed to put them… “Food historian” Ivan Day got out his own personal favourite gingerbread moulds for us – a couple of Dutch monarchs – and proclaimed them to be “works of art”. They’re biscuits Ivan, don’t get too excited. On the other hand, I really think given the current spate of MONARCHY MANIA, we could well see the return of lightly-toasted, well-sculpted, ginger royals being publicly munched on by woman with the sole aim of getting themselves pregna…OH WAIT.
7. Anyway, to the GREATEST CHALLENGE EVER, in which the remaining five contestants were tasked with building their own gingerbread house. Of course this being the Quarter Finals, any contestant settling for a simple gingerbread house would no doubt find themselves turfed out the door. Paul Hollywood made it clear from the outset that he was expecting a veritable GORMENGHAST of a baked dwellings from all concerned. Can you imagine what the likes of Stuart or Sarah-Jane would have made if they were still in the competition? It would have been gingerbread wigwams all round. To be honest, I was half expecting Cathryn to make a gingerbread tent, with a little tiny frustrated Gingerbread Cathryn outside, vainly trying to start a fire as her disapproving Gingerbread Children looked on, bored. With little tiny silver ball tears in her eyes. As it was, she just settled for making a Gingerbread Buckingham Palace, as you do. Although in the end Buckingham Palace ended up looking like a suburban dentists. Danny also went for a London Landmark, eventually producing a Big Ben that owed quite a lot to the Leaning Tower Of Pisa. But the undoubted STARS of this challenge were Brendan and James. Brendan with his absolutely beautiful and utterly nauseating Disney-inspired “Fantasy Bird House” (and seriously, just think of those two concepts together. Fantasy! Bird House! So Brendan) featuring Shredded Wheat roof-tiles, a panoply of sickeningly bright primary colours and insanely cute birds wearing mascara and having a cuddle. James with his blasted haunted barn, constructed by him hurling half-baked ginger cake at some random pile of biscuits, all held together with a latice of caramel that resembled an explosion of spider-jizz. It was HIDEOUS. Which of course made it all the sweeter when Paul Hollywood loved it for no reason (you know, other than, like, how it tasted and stuff) and transparently hated Brendan’s “Fantasy Bird House” (FANTASY! BIRD HOUSE!) for being twee as fuck.
8. Time must also be taken this week to thank John for furthering the Evil Gay Agenda in the most wonderfully romantic way possible on BBC 2. What could speed up the process of Gay Marriage more than the image of John sitting around his flat with his nice young architect boyfriend Paul making scale-models of the Colliseum out of gingerbread? I reckon we could persuade even the Mormons with that.
9. This week it was James’ birthday. By normal reality tv tropes, this would mean that he went home, as birthday eliminations are a fine reality show tradition. This being The Great British Bake-Off, which denies all tropes equally, he won Star Baker (SHE NEVER COULD CRY!), based on his technical ability across all three challenges. Given that his technical abilities ran to crackers that were of different sizes, shapes and consistancies, marbled tea-cakes, and the aforementioned collapsed barn, it really was a very generous birthday present indeed. Of course that sounds rather like I’m bitter, which I’M NOT. It’s so sad to see people get genuinely spiky at the end of this series – calling Brendan smug or James flukey or Danny boring or John…whatever people call John. I still think most people aren’t over his hair. It all feels very un Bake-Off. I’d be happy with any of these four winning, except maybe Danny, and that’s just because I feel like I don’t know her as well as the others. Maybe she should turn up in a French Maid’s outfit next week and give Mary Berry a good dusting?
10. And so it was that we said goodbye to Cathryn this week, as she sadly had a rather poor set of bakes. To be honest, her fate was probably sealed from the moment she messed up the crispbread challenge, not baking the right amount of crackers, and with most of the ones she did make a bit burnt or flaccid looking. And then her teacakes split open horribly. And then everyone else did just that bit better in the Gingerbread House challenge than she did. She couldn’t even keep up the provocative flirting with Paul going for all three challenges, which is a shame, because I wanted her to be full on Nigella-ing him by the end of the Gingerbread House bake, licking icing off her finger and jiggling her bosom whilst talking about mysterious spices and winking. As it was, it was THE MOST EMOTIONAL ELIMINATION YET. Ah well, back to the tent.
Next week : James and John French. Sort of. Steven will (hopefully) be here to guide you through.