The flour is free from gluten, the pastry is free from dairy, and Ruby is free from self-doubt. Okay, maybe not that last one.
1. So this week’s challenge for the remaining
VAGINA PARTY bakers was, I think, a Bake-Off first: an attempt to make those viewers with specific dietary requirements feel included by asking the bakers to create food that was free from certain incendiary ingredients such as gluten or dairy. Actually, to be honest, I think it was just gluten or dairy, full stop. As interesting a diversion as it was, it did feel like a fairly loose theme, and not one that put any particularly tricksy obstacles in the contestants way. For example: “Beca, please bake a birthday cake for a six-year-old diabetic child with a nut allergy who won’t eat anything brown”, “Kimberley, please make a kosher vegan meatloaf” or “Frances, please bake something for a customer who is allergic to things being served on cardboard cut-outs that you brought from home”. So really it was just another week in the bake-off marquee, where the real difference was that Paul and Mary (mostly Mary) had decided to be really finicky in the judging, since we’re now officially at the quarter-final stage.
2. Arguably the most important thing said by anyone in this episode was this statement from Ruby: “This week I’m not going to slag off my bakes to Mary and Paul, because if they’ve got a problem with it, they’ll tell me. There’s no point in me putting ideas in their minds.” Hooray! After having to bring Mel in last week to give her a good talking-to, Ruby’s finally turned a corner and learned that constant, melancholic self-deprecation is not the best way to handle a competitive environment like this…right? *fast forward 14 minutes* “Oh, it’s going to be so bad. Oh no. Oh no. It’s underproved, it’s underbaked, it’s horrible.” Oh, RUBY. I know that it’s impossible to expect a miraculous overnight cure, but I had rather hoped you could make it through at least one challenge before sagging like Howard’s muffins after an encounter with Sue’s elbow.
3. The challenge that led Ruby’s self-confidence to crash into the ground yet again was the Signature, in which the contestants were asked to create a loaf without using a traditional wheat flour, and instead using rye, spelt, tapioca or similar. What this meant in real terms was that it gave the contestants a chance to discuss how amazing they are at overcoming the dietary issues of their real-life friends, like Frances’s friend Elle, who has “a slight wheat intolerance” (translation: she once had slight indigestion after eating some bread and promptly transformed into Gwyneth Paltrow) and Christine’s (not named but apparently numerous) friends with gluten intolerances whom she’d like to be able to bake more bread for in future, rather than TRAIPSING AROUND THE SUPERMARKET LOOKING FOR THE BASTARDING MASS-PRODUCED ONES. (Other CHRISTINETRUFAX that we learnt from this episode include that she has a local baker at the mill whom she consults about her various baking-related queries, because of course she does.)
4. As you might have guessed from the above, perhaps the most worrying part of this episode was Christine seeming to be near-permanently on the verge of a rage blackout. The situation was not helped by Christine’s multi-seeded loaf with pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds utterly refusing to be in any way sporting and sticking to the bottom of the loaf tin, even though Christine had lined it with baking parchment. Thus Christine and Sue had to do one of those hasty patch-jobs that we’ve seen more than once this series, in which Christine managed to remove the baked-on segment in one go and attach it to the rest of the loaf “like a crown”, as Sue put it. Fortunately, Mary and Paul were impressed enough by her loaf and crust to be willing to overlook the lack of daintiness. Aside from Ruby, the only baker to have noticeably negative feedback for their efforts here was Kimberley and her Wild Garlic Pesto And Parma Ham Spelt Loaf, which was flavourful but completely the wrong texture and too dry inside.
5. This week’s History Bit was all about the national loaf. It came into being during World War II, when imported wheats were in short supply, and the government had to come up with new recipes using home-grown ingredients. It wasn’t particularly tasteful or popular, but that didn’t stop the Ministry of Food, who were determined to force the public to accept it by telling them that it was good for them and likely to make them much happier and more sexually-fulfilled. It was therefore, in many ways, the World War II equivalent of The Voice UK, if you ignore the fact that some people actually ended up quite enjoying the national loaf. All of this knowledge was presented to us by Home Front Historian Charlotte White, who appeared to be some sort of unholy blend of Susie Blake and Gwen Stefani dressed as Trixie from Call The Midwife.
6. The technical challenge was to follow Mary Berry’s recipe for a Hazelnut Duckwaaaaaaaaaaaaz. (Yes, I know how it’s meant to be spelled, but I like it better this way.) This is basically hazelnuts and meringue and hazelnuts and coffee cream and did I mention the hazelnuts yet? It is entirely possible that I might have licked the screen during this segment, which is obviously entirely abnormal behaviour for me. I haven’t done that once since Rob Billington was eliminated from series two. Anyway, Christine continued to fume as her oven conspired against her to prevent her meringues from crisping (not pictured: Mary Berry some hours earlier, activating the “meringue-fucker-upper” setting on Christine’s oven just for shits and giggles), while Mel and Ruby pondered the eternal debate: to pipe or to splooge? This will be a key chapter in Ruby’s postgraduate thesis, I Splooge Therefore I Think I Am. Christine fell bottom of the pack while a below-par performance put Beca’s chances of winning Star Baker further out of reach (Beca now being the sole remaining contestant who is yet to receive that particular accolade), and Ruby – despite never having really bothered with meringues in the past because she doesn’t own an electric mixer and she’s not going to sit there whisking for half an hour when she’s got essays to write and Tipping Point is about to start in a minute – received top honours.
7. The Showstopper this week was to make a 3D novelty vegetable dairy-free cake. Leaving aside the question of how it is possible to have a cake that is not 3D in the first place, it’s always fun to see a challenge that encourages the bakers to really embrace their inner kooks. That said, I was kind of hoping for Frances just to turn out a plain carrot cake with no decorations or gewgaws and just be all “HOW’S THAT FOR NOVELTY, MOTHERFUCKERS?” Christine decided to make a sweet potato cake in the shape of a guitar with passionfruit icing, and said that she’d made it twice this week and it had turned out well both times so she didn’t foresee any problems, which is the most Howardesque thing anyone has said on this show since Howard himself left, so of course it all went to shit for poor Christine – though at least in an episode disappointingly low on innuendo she managed to win the grand prize when decorating her cake to look like a guitar and declaring “ooh, me little knob’s fallen out”. Meanwhile, Beca somehow sensed my every wish and decorated a cake to look like a cheeseboard complete with little fondant icing mice, Kimberley made an awesome-looking toadstool house and Ruby smashed the glass bowl that went with her mixer due to her inner turmoil, or something, before producing a carrot cake and pistachio “garden plot” with a little shed that was a bit wonky and askew, perhaps to remind us that humanity is not the centre of the universe. Oh, and Frances also went for a gardeny theme with her “Hidden Carrot Cake”, but earned the ire of Mary Berry by bringing in terracotta pots from home rather than fashioning her own. Kimberley, it should be noted, has learned from Rob’s mistakes and is all too aware of Mary’s insistence on everything being edible, and even made little edible pebbles to go outside her house.
8. Star baker this week was Ruby, who presumably just edged out Kimberley for the honours, since they both had slightly weak first rounds only to come back stronger in the technical and showstopper challenges. That leaves the current standings at Ruby 3, Christine 2, Kimberley and Frances 1, and Beca 0. Although to the best of my knowledge the person with the most star baker awards has never actually won the overall series yet, so this could actually be bad news for Ruby. Either way, I would say that Beca might need to hurry up and get in the game as if she doesn’t win Star Baker next week, it seems fairly likely that she’s going home.
9. Going home this week, inevitably, was Christine, who’d just had one of those weeks where nothing quite came together as she’d intended it should, and at this stage in the competition that’s enough to get you sent packing. This means, presumably, that we’ll never get to the bottom of the apparently mutual animosity between Christine and Mary, although I like to think that it all started when they turned up for filming one day wearing the same fuchsia jacket from Zara and one of them (I don’t mind which) ended up screaming “either the jacket comes off or that bitch’s head does!” Whatever the reason for the genteel feud, Christine took her elimination in good spirit, choosing to focus on the many things she’s learned during her eight weeks in the contest. Mostly how much she really hates Mary Berry.
10. So that leaves just four contestants in this year’s competition: three who have amassed fairly serious and vocal internet hatedoms at this point…and Beca. With the best will in the world, a Beca win doesn’t seem like a particularly likely prospect at this time, so it seems safe to say that this year’s winner may be a fairly controversial one. Then again, this is the internet we’re talking about, so it’s entirely possible that the wider BBC2-watching public who just enjoy all the cakes and that nice Paul Hollywood and don’t really get into the Twitter side of things think in fact that all four of these ladies are charming and talented and would be happy for any of them to win. Perhaps I should ask my mum and report back.
Next week: French things! Chris doesn’t speak French (he lets the funky music do the talking) so I will be here again, leaving Chris to cover this grand finale in a fortnight.