La manche la plus prévisible atteint sa conclusion inévitable.
1. Well, we might as well start with the most important Bake Off news of the week, which actually happened outside of the episode itself: next year, the show’s moving to BBC1. I think we all knew this day would come sooner rather than later (in fact, I actually thought they’d already made this announcement last year and that this series would be the first one on the main channel) so it’s not exactly a surprise, but it’s still a shame. Partly because it always irks me when BBC2 develops and cultivates a show that becomes a surprise hit and then has to give it up, because apparently having shows that people actually want to watch is not what BBC2 is for, and also because we fear CHANGE. I hope the series will survive the transition between channels more or less intact, because they’d be fools to meddle with a formula that clearly works, but I can’t help feeling that some of its more BBC2-friendly edges might end up being shaved off in the process, by which I mean The History Bit. I know it has its detractors, and it has basically convinced a nation of otherwise sensible people that “food historian” is an actual, proper job, but it’s still one of my favourite parts of the show and it wouldn’t be the Bake Off without it. Mind you, I’ve been on the 38degrees mailing list long enough and have never actually started my own petition yet, so maybe “Save The History Bit” is my opening.
2. Anyway, let’s turn our attention to the semi-final. First of all, I would just like to register a complaint on behalf of Christine, because while some degree of acknowledgement was given over last week to the fact that the top five of the competition was entirely female, it wasn’t anything like as boisterous, insistent or sustained as it was in tonight’s episode, with Mel and Sue seemingly mentioning the feminence (see what I did there?) of the round every other sentence. I know Christine was a little bit older than the others in the top five, but that doesn’t make her any less of a woman. (HashtagEverydayAgeism.) Maybe Mary Berry’s loathing of Christine was in fact so severe that she didn’t even deem her to be human, much less female, and everyone just agreed to keep all references to the singular gender of the remaining contestants to a bare minimum to avoid upsetting La Berry. Honestly, I can’t wait for the E! True Somerset Story for this series to reveal what really went on. Other than Frances and Kimberley’s secret showmance, obviously. The Radio Times already gave that away.
3. So this week was French Week, a chance for the remaining bakers to prove that they had what it takes to go up against the finest Parisian pâtissiers, and also a chance for Mel and Sue to show off their bilinguality (and in extreme cases, to just say English words with a heavy French accent). Of course, the six of us who watched Sue’s sitcom Heading Out already knew all about that, since she had a whole episode where Raquel Cassidy turned up as her mad French ex-girlfriend and they did entire scenes in French. And in black-and-white. This may possibly be why it struggled to secure a mainstream audience. Obviously that’s not a fate I want to befall this blog, so I’m going to take up the suggestion of ingenious reader Amy George and intercut the paragraphs about baking with pictures of hot French men.
4. I’m sorry, where were we? Baking? Oh, right. So the signature challenge this week required the bakers to produce 12 savoury canapés in three groups: one choux, one pastry-based and one freestyle. The contestants were warned that they needed consistency of size and quality across the entire batch, and that it should pack a punch of flavour in a single mouthful. This was an interesting indication into who has the biggest mouth in the competition – you might think Frances, but in fact it was Kimberley whose delicious-sounding Steamed Buns with Barbecue Chicken were deemed too large by Paul and Mary, although that was pretty much the only flaw in her entire batch. Frances, meanwhile, produced an entire veg box of légume-themed fingerfood because of course she did, and managed to deliver on both presentation and flavour to the extent where Paul reached out and SHOOK HER HAND. See, the Daily Mail can make all their accusations about Ruby only still being here because Paul fancies her (misogynist bullshit? In the Mail? Well, I never! *faints*) because we all know it’s Frances he’s really after. Speaking of Ruby, she had a bit of a mixed bag in the first round, scoring points on taste but losing out a little on presentation, but at least she fared better than poor, poor Beca, whose beetroot and salmon choux puffs were declared “not memorable” by Mary Berry, and as any scholar of America’s Next Top Model will tell you, “not memorable” is code for “gurl, you gettin’ eliminated in this episode, child! *smize*”
5. Regular readers will be aware by now that it’s not especially often that Chris and I agree on matters of cake. I personally embrace its spongy goodness wholeheartedly, while he views it as the devil’s foodstuff. However, we reacted as one this week when the technical challenge was revealed to be a Charlotte Royale, which is basically a swiss roll turned inside out and fashioned into a fridge cake until it looks like brains. No wonder Ruby’s expression at this point was one of utter horror. I mean, why the hell would you faff around trying to make a swiss roll look like a nightmare biology practical when you could just EAT THE SWISS ROLL? Only Kimberley seemed comfortable with this challenge, because she absolutely hit her stride this week, floating around the marquee in a ra-ra skirt with an insouciant demeanour, declaring that this challenge sounded like fun while the others all glared at the paring knives in their hands and debated whether the easiest way out of this was to stab her or to stab themselves. As it happens, Kimberley’s can-do attitude served her well, as she served up the most (/only) edible-looking Charlotte Royale of the lot, with everyone else’s looking like something you’d find skulking along the floor in an early level of a Silent Hill game. Ruby in particular messed hers up big time, leaving far too many holes in the side of her mould for the custard to seep through and finding a resounding fourth, while Beca came third, Frances second and Kimberley first, with Mary declaring it “perfection”. Frances chose to refer to this outcome as “getting on the technical podium”, despite the fact that there are only four people left now, so in order to make it on to the podium at all, you only need to outrun one person.
6. THIS WEEK IN BAKE-OFF BANTER: there was a choice exchange near the top of the episode in which Beca announced “Frances just takes everything to another level, just goes to Planet Frances, where nobody can hitch a ride to.” Frances’s response to this was “I think that’s a compliment. I think it’s better to be a mentalist than to be boring”, which was amazing both for calling herself a mentalist and implying (/outright stating) that Beca is boring. Elsewhere, during the showstopper, Paul asked Ruby “why have you used saffron in this?”, to which she replied by sighing “I just like saffron” and later snarling that she’d put the saffron in “to spite Paul, who thinks it’s not gonna work.” (Ruby ♥) The seething and resentment was arguably better than the innuendo this week, which basically amounted to Kimberley counting her holes (IN HER CHARLOTTE ROYALE, YOU PERVS), Frances saying “I’m just sieving my almonds, that’s going to go in my joconde” and Mary saying “I wondered how you’d get that banana coming through.” Along with the usual sterling efforts from Mel and Sue, obviously.
7. The showstopper challenge was to make an opera cake, which consists of joconde sponge, buttercream, ganache syrup and glaze, representing the four acts of the opera, “or Cosi Fan Frutti, if you will” as Sue put it. It also required them to pipe “Opera” on top of the cake, a welcome return of the hidden spelling challenge from series two in which Mary-Anne (I think) mistook her Sachertorte for her daughter Sasha and ended up writing “Sacha” on top instead of “Sacher”. As a result, I was sort of hoping that someone would commit a similar faux pas tonight and make an Oprah cake, but sadly this did not transpire. There were other errors though, as this was the only round nobody excelled in: Frances’s artistically impressive Great British Soap Opera cake (yes, she and Mel acted out a scene from EastEnders) tasted too sickly-sweet; Kimberley’s tempered chocolate top was too heavy and made the filling fall out, and the dark chocolate drowned the flavours of lime and passion fruit, which Paul thought shouldn’t even be possible; Ruby’s chocolate, almond praline and FUCK YOU PAUL I’M PUTTING SAFFRON IN IT cake was the least polished of the three and her apron looked like a Tracey Emin installation by the time she was finished, though she got good notes for the taste; and Beca’s banoffee cake was too thick and tasted of sadness. WOMP WOMP.
8. The History Bit arrived awfully late this week (OH MY GOD THEY’RE PHASING IT OUT ALREADY!!!!!), possibly because it was all about the history of the Opera cake and therefore to insert it earlier would have been a huge spoiler of Breaking Bad-esque proportions. At least let’s all be glad that it wasn’t about the Charlotte Royale, as that probably would’ve been a proper death knell for The History Bit. Anyway, I was definitely paying attention to everything in The History Bit, so I can confirm with total confidence that the opera cake was developed at Laboratoire Garnier by someone named Monsieur Oohahyeu. It involves a lot of coffee and chocolate to create a contrast of bitter and sweet tastes, and also to keep people awake during the show because nobody actually enjoys opera, whatever they might tell you to the contrary. Mel was entrusted with the duty of writing “Opera” on the cake by a top French chef, at which point it was revealed that she writes her lowercase-a letters the same way I do. There, you don’t get that level of insight on the Guardian liveblogs, do you?
9. After an excellent performance all episode that was only marred ever so slightly by a too-chocolatey (as if such a thing is possible) opera cake, Kimberley walked off with Star Baker this week, and rightly so. This means that the Star Baker leaderboard is as follows:
And since Beca was never really even in close contention for being Star Baker, and also since she didn’t excel in any round this week, and also because she’s the most obvious fourth-place boot since Invisible Doctor Danny from last year, it was Beca who went home, prompting a surprising Twitter meltdown about how she WOZROBBED, and in one particularly bizarre instance that I happened to notice, a huffy complaint about how the show OBVIOUSLY isn’t being judged on personality. Well, no. I mean, it’s a show about bakers. Sure, they may look jolly enough in a game of Happy Families, but real life is a very different story. Did you not see season one of Top Chef: Just Desserts? (Okay, you probably didn’t, but trust me nearly everyone on it was either a raging psychopath or a basket case. Or both.) Let’s be real here: Beca seemed like a thoroughly lovely person who’s probably a better baker than 99 per cent of us, but never at any point did she or the show do anything to suggest she was going to be a finalist, let alone the winner. Even Beca herself said her main aim was to make the semi-final, so…it’s sad for her, sure, but I don’t plan to lose any sleep over it.
10. And so we have the final three that I would imagine most of us have been predicting for some weeks now: Kimberley, Ruby and Frances. In a way, they fulfil similar archetypes to last year’s finalists – Kimberley is James, the solid, reliable performer with a methodical approach; Ruby is John, the emotionally delicate one who needs to be kept well away from sharp objects; and Frances is Brendan, the clear eccentric with the sort of personality you either adore or despise. This is actually the first year that I have gone into the final not being spoiled as to who wins, so it’s quite fun to actually have a go at predicting: I’m going to stick my neck on the line and say Frances, but I’m rooting for Kimberley. Although to be honest I quite like all three of them, and don’t anticipate being disappointed whatever the outcome (then again, I said that last year and then John won and I was all THIS IS A FUCKING OUTRAGE OF A SHAMBLES, so maybe don’t take my word on that). And this is my last recap of the series, so thank you all for reading, and I’ll see you all on BBC1 next year, all being well. And The History Bit HAD BETTER BE THERE.