Suck it, Godfrey Bloom!
1. This week’s recap is a little late in going up because Chris and I were on holiday, but I like to think we’ve got a good excuse in that we were holidaying in Europe and this is European Cake Week. To be honest, it’s not a story that holds much water because we were in Barcelona rather than Stockholm or Budapest, and we weren’t so much researching the history of Catalonia’s regional cakes as we were stuffing ourselves with tapas, paella and endless cups of delicious gelato from La Rambla (not to mention drinking so many lemon slushies that I’m fairly certain I actually turned my face inside out in the process), but let’s just pretend that we were immersing ourselves in European culture for the benefit of this recap, eh?
2. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about European Cake Week was the accents. It’s not as if Mel and Sue ever need an excuse to put on silly voices, but I suspect there are few things they love more than a cod-European accent, so they were in heaven this week as they got to deploy a wide range of intonations (or, as a less charitable person might put it, pretty much the same intonation regardless of where they were supposed to be from at any given moment) and of course to do the obligatory Eurovision Song Contest skit. Those of us who were lucky enough to see Mel performing in the West End for the highly underrated musical Eurobeat were overjoyed to see Mel breaking out the accent she used as Boyka, the competition’s (presumably) Bosnian host.
I could have gone on watching that all night (and I imagine Mel and Sue could’ve continued it until they were dragged into the wings by a shepherd’s crook), but at some point we did sort of have to get on with the actual baking part of things. But just to get into the spirit of things, assume that I’m writing the whole of this blog entry in a comedy eastern European accent. Lithuanian, perhaps.
3. The signature bake challenge for the remaining six bakers was to produce a cake of European inspiration, with the main stipulation being that it had to be leavened with yeast rather than baking powder, as this was how all cakes used to be made, which sort of gave the impression of mainland Europe as a strange backwater that has yet to discover the delights of baking powder. I hope that was unintentional. Some of the bakers played a little bit fast and loose with the brief (Nancy lined up a savarin that, while technically French in origin, was arguably built on Caribbean flavours, while Kate admitted privately to Martha that the basis for her cake was Israeli in origin), while Luis and Richard provoked widespread confusion because the former was making a Kugelhopf and the latter a Guglhupf, leaving the less enlightened viewers (by which I mean me) wondering if that is in fact two different ways of spelling the same thing. I think it is? Both Wikipedia entries link to the same page, anyway, and if that’s not conclusive proof then I don’t know what is. Meanwhile Martha and Chetna were both making savarins, even though Martha admitted that she wasn’t entirely sure what one of those was, while Mel’s concern was more that Chetna’s savarin dish looked more like a pile cushion. I’m fairly certain an actual tumbleweed swept through the tent as Chetna, Paul and Mary looked at her pityingly in the wake of that observation. There was controversy at the judging because Mary loved Kate’s pecan, chocolate and sour cherry cake, while Paul felt that the flavour combination was all wrong and left the cake too dry overall. Richard and Nancy also hit problems as Richard’s didn’t rise properly and Nancy’s was overproved.
4. I’ve already covered this a little bit, but I just want to take a moment to indulge my appreciation for the cake-and-coffee club that Martha and Kate seem to be forming. There were hints of the two of them becoming good mates last week, when Martha was laughing at Kate for not being more excited about being awarded Star Baker, but this week they took it to a new level as the two of them huddled conspiratorially at the back of the tent and confessed their fears of prospective failure in the challenge – Martha saying that she didn’t even know what a savarin was, and Kate explaining that her cake was basically a babka, and Israel isn’t actually in Europe. Still, they managed to reassure themselves on the basis that Israel is “in the Eurovision Song Contest”, so that totally counts. I love it when these two get together, and I hope we’ll see more from them in the future. And if Chetna and Nancy can wheedle their way into it all as well, so much the better.
5. It’s fair to say that The History Bit this year has been a little bit hit-and-miss, as though they felt contractually obligated to include it in order to demonstrate that the show wasn’t dumbing down just because it had moved to BBC1, but that they didn’t really want to go as in-depth with it as they used to in the past when they could be using that time for shots of Diana removing things from freezers. This week’s, thankfully, felt like a return to The History Bits of old, as Sue investigated how cake was a means of asserting the Danish identity after the southern territory of Jutland was invaded by Germany in 1864. Despite the attempts to quash all sense of Danishness from the inhabitants, they would meet in secret and serve each other cake to prove just how Danish they could be in private. Sue observed that this was, in many ways, just like the Bake Off itself, and then ate a lot of cake to celebrate. Attagirl.
6. The technical challenge this week reverted back to the giant catalogue of Mary’s recipes, as the contestants were asked to bake a Swedish Prinsesstårta. Obviously you can google that if you want to see what one is supposed to look like, but I could also just tell you that it involves three layers of sponge filled with crème pâtissière and jam, with a dome of whipped cream on top, covered in green icing and with a sugar rose on the top, and just hope that I don’t salivate over my keyboard so much that I short-circuit my laptop. Nobody seemed to have any great familiarity with what one of these was supposed to look like, apart from Luis who thought he had vague memories of his mum buying them from a local bakery when he was young. With just two-and-a-half hours to do all of those stages, it was a fairly frantic process for all concerned – I particularly liked Nancy saying she “didn’t know if I was Arthur or Martha” at the start of the process, though as we learned last week, she’ll be able to tell she’s not Martha if she’s old enough to enjoy making pastry – but poor Kate was the one who really suffered here, after a poor quality first attempt at a sponge led her to attempt a second one, which ate up so much time that she was playing catch up for the rest of the round. As a result, she had to put her Prinsesstårta together while the various parts were still setting or cooling, meaning that everything basically melted into a big mess. Richard’s was similarly “higgledy-piggledy” in its appearance, though not as disastrously-formed as Kate’s was. Martha and Luis made up the mid-pack, while Chetna took the runner-up position to Nancy’s top of the class. Nancy shrugged this off as simply having turned up with the experience and the skills to be able to do what she needed for this challenge, as if that was nothing at all. I love Nancy, not least because at one point she was working so hard that her memory failed her and she could only refer to Paul as “the male judge”.
7. The final challenge for the week was to bake a Hungarian Dobos Torte – a combination of thin layers of sponge interlaced with caramel and buttercream. With a time limit of five hours for this cake, Paul and Mary were expecting serious feats of engineering with the caramel, and Luis’s design showed that he was ready for the challenge – his was inspired by a local building that his wife loves, so he planned a cake tower called “The Cage On The Rocky Hill” with a sort of caramel scaffolding around it and a caramel flag on top. Elsewhere, Chetna courted the Mary Berry vote by making an almond liqueur version, Kate aimed for redemption by building a tower of three Dobos Tortes, Richard’s was a “sugar forest”, Nancy went for classic chocolate and caramel and Martha went for a chess theme. Again, there were a few instances here of people not being happy with the way things turned out and opting to start again – mostly Nancy and Richard, as far as I could tell – and the final products got varying results. Richard’s was poor aesthetically, though the judges admired his caramel work. Kate’s bottom layer wasn’t right, though the two on top were good. Martha’s was uneven, and Mary was unimpressed by the chess pieces because they were made using a shop-bought mould. While Luis’s cake was a marvel to look at, Paul thought it was slightly lacking on the flavour front. Chetna’s looked a bit odd to my eyes but was absolutely covered in caramel and Paul and Mary considered it to be delicious, and Nancy’s was evenly constructed, well-made and very rich.
8. In Innuendo Corner this week there were many creditable efforts on the dialogue front, such as a mid-bake Kate muttering “so sticky. I love it though”, Richard approvingly noting that his cream “feels quite stiff”, and Paul observing of one Prinsesstårta that “the creaming looks terrible”. However, the week’s winner was in deed and not in word, as Sue paid the ultimate tribute to Martha’s chess-themed Dobos Torte by picking up the queen and eating her.
9. Much like last week, Star Baker (a pain maker, stole the love right out of your heart) went to somebody who has performed consistently well over the course of the competition, but never quite made it to the top of the pack – until this week, that is. Congratulations Chetna! Although winning this particular accolade didn’t really seem to translate into her getting any more screen time than usual. This leaves Martha as the only surviving contestant never to have won Star Baker, though as Mel pointed out during the deliberations, this may work out in her favour in the long run as the most recent winners (Kate and Richard) immediately plunged into a spiral of near-elimination afterwards.
10. We were told that this was the closest call on the Bake Off POSSIBLY EVER, with both Kate and Richard presenting themselves as suitable candidates for elimination, and Mary and Paul apparently unable to agree on which of them deserved the boot more. The fact that they spent several minutes back in the tent, in front of the contestants, basically explaining how Kate and Richard had both fucked up in different but equally damning ways without actually saying who was getting the boot was a pretty clear tip-off that nobody was going home this week, since Diana’s medevac from last week had messed up the production schedule to the extent that they had to pull a non-elim at some point, and they were hardly going to waste it on Norman, were they? So Kate and Richard both survive to fight another day, which is good because I like them both and want them to stick around. Then again I like pretty much everyone left at this point, to varying degrees (with Luis at the bottom of the list and Nancy at the top), so I think the eliminations for the rest of the competition are going to be pretty brutal. (And if their grateful relief hug this week was anything to go by, it’s going to be even tougher for Sue and Kate if/when Kate eventually does get sent home.)
EXTRA SLICE: The only thing Fay Ripley was cooking when she was 17 was crystal meth.
NEXT WEEK: complicated pastries. They’re tryin’ to be cool, but they’re lookin’ like a fool to me.