Bof. *Gallic shrug*
1. Hello! It’s Steve back again, with thanks to Chris for covering for me last week when I was completely snowed under with my commitments to the shitshow that was the BintModel finale (although at least Bloody Anita didn’t win, so hooray for that). Anyway, the theme of this week was fine French baking, though to what extent the show was committing to being The Great French Bake Off was slightly ambiguous. Over the credits of that programme where Huw Edwards tells us thinks about Wales, the BBC2 continuity announcer said that we were “off to France” this week, which left Twitter in a state of indecision about whether that statement was literal or figurative. I’d be very surprised if it turned out they were actually in France because it looked like the same location as always, and besides it would’ve been a peculiar use of the rarely-generous BBC2 budget to take eight people and all that equipment overseas only to film the same old interior that they can film anywhere. Nonetheless, some people on Twitter still seemed very certain that we were actually in France this week. However, even if we weren’t literally in France, the intention was for us all to feel as though we were strolling down a Parisian street gazing into les fenêtres of the patisseries. Luckily, Mel was on hand to deploy a suitably purring French accent every time the illusion started to fade.
2. To be honest, in many ways it was an uneventful episode this week. As is perhaps inevitable when you’re down to the last four contestants, everyone remaining is at a similarly high level skill-wise and so the potential for hilarious mishaps is significantly reduced. Especially when one of those four is Brendan, who’s positively giddy with how well things have been going of late. Not for him the potential for cracking under the pressure; no, he was just embracing his destiny. “A final place has been my ambition from the start,” he shared, before following it with perhaps the most unnecessarily obvious statement in the history of television: “I suppose that suggests I’ve got some perfectionist tendencies.” NO REALLY YOU DON’T SAY. Of course, this being Brendan, he was able to back that up in a typically fabulous way in the first challenge where the bakers had to make three different types of petits-fours, and Brendan casually announced that he’d be making choux pastry cygnets. As in baby swans. As in nonchalantly opening the open and having about 30 perfectly baked swan neck-shaped pastries in there, which he then breezily put together and even let Sue have a go. Oh Brendan, you magnificent bastard.
3. It was less of a successful opening round for John who, despite bedazzling (/vajazzling, I wouldn’t put either past him quite frankly) his lemon madeleines, was told that they were too big by Paul and that they looked like “just a slab on the plate” by Mary. In addition to that, his macaroons weren’t shiny enough and were filled with the wrong sort of chocolate, and the texture of his raspberry tartlets upset Paul, while Mary declared that it “doesn’t excite me when I eat it”. Truly, some cutting words from La Berry this week. Meanwhile, Danny‘s offerings got a broadly positive reception apart from the peppermint in her blackberry macaroons, while James‘s gamble of throwing hot water into his chocolate to make it melt faster (and if you heard an anguished “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!” at that moment, it was probably Chris) paid off because his chocolate indulgences were deemed quite the treat. It was Brendan, however, whose classy bite-sized treats were declared the closest to Parisian by Paul, and Brendan accepted that compliment in a suitably modest and Brendanesque way.
4. The technical challenge, as you might expect at this level of the competition, was A RIGHT BASTARD: the bakers were tasked with making a fraisier (next week they’ll be making a niiles) with just the barest of instructions: “make a genoese sponge”, “make the crème patissière” etc. Surprisingly (or perhaps not), this wasn’t really the part that gave people the problems, as they all seemed to know more or less what to do: the issue came in the assembly, which involved lining a cake tin with transparent polythene and making sure that it was perfectly flat against the tin so that the sides of the cake would be perfectly formed. Having already marked his cards with a poor performance in the first round, this left John noticeably flustered and the obvious heir to Cathryn’s recently-vacated “most likely to snap and scream ‘OH JUST FUCK OFF’ to the next person to approach” mantle. Also problematic was getting the filling to the right consistency, as the “Crème Pat”, as everyone called it, had a nasty habit of oozing out of the sides once the tin was removed. (Incidentally, I’ve got “Crème Pat” in reserve as my drag queen name in the event that someone else has beaten me to “Honey Wagons”.) Poor Danny was the most noticeable victim here as her fraisier sagged like Ann Widdecombe’s bosom the second the mould was removed, and even Brendan noticed a little seepage. Thus, they secured 4th and 3rd place respectively, while John recovered from his initial struggles to produce a very close 2nd, leaving James to take 1st place.
5. Fans of the romance (I refuse to call it a bromance, because even if I didn’t hate that word beyond all measure, it’s clearly surpassed such levels anyway) between James and John would no doubt have gone into spasms of glee when John, appraising their technical bake performances, channeled Phoebe Buffay in noting that James had narrowly bested him once more and called him a “wily minx”. He then proceeded to make exactly the same remark in real time on Twitter, and thus a million (more) fanfics were born.
6. Whether this qualifies as an “exciting incident” will come down entirely to your personal taste, but I feel it would be extremely remiss of me not to note that James was wearing a conspicuously tight-fitting navy blue t-shirt which made his upper arms look rather impressive. WHAT. I AM JUST REPORTING THE FACTS HERE.
7. This week’s history bits were twofold: the first was all about Alexis Soyer, “a flamboyant and ambitious character” (therefore I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if he turns out to be Brendan’s great-great-great-grandfather or something) who revolutionised the world as we know by introducing London to the gas oven and giving us all a way of modulating cooking temperature, as well as a convenient new method of suicide. The second involved Sue learning all about Saint Honoré, the patron saint of baking, and having a go at making a St. Honoré Cake with the help of pastry chef Eric Rousseau, who is not Raymond Blanc but might as well be if you close your eyes. Either that, or he’s that waiter from The Simpsons who had that fatal argument with Freddy Quimby about the correct pronunciation of “chowder”.
8. The showstopper challenge required the bakers to make a choux pastry gateau. With three of them having obviously taken copious notes from the VT, Danny opted to make a lychee and rosewater Gateau St. Honoré, while John went for “Gateau St. Honoré à la Passion” (because it involved passionfruit curd, not because he was dedicating it to James) and Brendan decided to go for a classic Gateau St. Honoré because he considered it “an impertinence to tinker with something so well-established” (BRENDAN’S SENSE OF CULINARY PROPRIETY ♥) while James, ever the contrarian, decided to make a Paris-Brest in the shape of a bicycle. Ultimately, Brendan had a lovely crust on the bottom, Danny’s rosewater flavouring overwhelmed her gateau, James’s brestcycle got a great reception from Mary though Paul thought he hadn’t got the full explosion that he expected from James (fnar), and John redeemed himself in the judges’ eyes with what Paul considered a “neat” and “professional” pastry. Personally, I thought it looked like a scrappy mess, but that’s clearly why one of us is a baking expert and national pin-up and the other one nearly set fire to the kitchen the other day because he was wafting a tea towel perilously close to a naked flame (this is what comes of trying to cook dinner and watch Only Connect at the same time).
9. There was never any suggestion that either James or Brendan were in danger this week, and it was anyone’s guess as to which of them would get Star Baker (SHE NEVER COULD CRY!), but ultimately it was James who took the others, and who goes into the final with two consecutive Star Baker awards under his belt, just like eventual winner Jo did last year. Not that that necessarily means anything, but it’s probably a nice little ego boost. This week’s bootee, on the other hand, was Danny whose one mediocre round and two bad ones outweighed John’s one disastrous round and two successes, leaving us with an all-male top three (SAUSAGE PARTY!) that’s no doubt going to have the Daily Mail or similar sniffing about “political correctness gone mad”, conveniently forgetting of course that there wasn’t a single man in the top five last year. Following this, John made perhaps TV’s most unintentionally sinister phone call of 2012 to his mother to break the good news: “You’ve got a little big boy who’s in the final.” Eep.
10. Finally, there is no innuendo countdown this week. I was going to, but then Sue unleashed the mother of all innuendos upon tasting James’s showstopper that rendered all other doubles entendres irrelevant: “That’s the nicest bike I’ve ever eaten.” On BBC2, seven minutes before the watershed. Susan Elizabeth Perkins, I salute you.
Next week: THE FINAL!