Or “old people week”, if you’re Martha.
1. For some reason I had it in my head that we’d already had pastry week – mostly because I remember Martha using it, whether accidentally or by design, to throw some shade at Nancy for being an NCIS-watching, Parma Violet-eating, Catherine Cookson-loving old lady. But apparently that was Pies & Tarts Week, the subtle difference being that this week is more about your sweet pastries and your delicate finger foods. And also, as we’ll get to see shortly, about random Breton delicacies that are entirely alien to the outside world. And since last week we used up our allocated non-elimination round of the competition, I think it’s fair to say that there’s an air of foreboding around the tent, with everyone knowing that someone is definitely going home this week. You might think that Richard and Kate would be feeling the pressure after both almost getting the chop last week, and to be honest Kate probably is, but Richard’s surprisingly chipper, viewing the last two weeks as hurdles that he just had to get over, and this round as a fresh chance to prove himself. Let’s see how that works out, shall we?
2. The signature bake for this week was a fairly open-ended affair, as the contestants were asked to produce 12 savoury pastry parcels, of any particular variety that they liked. Predictably, Luis delved into the recipe book marked “SPANISH HERITAGE” once again and pulled out a childhood recipe for empanadas that he’d reverse-engineered because no one had ever given him the original. I suppose you’ve really got to admire his dedication to constructing that particular narrative against all the odds, haven’t you? Meanwhile, Nancy and Richard both made pasties – lamb and mint for Richard, and spicy duck for Nancy – which is unfortunate for Chris, because the merest mention of pasties on television brings out my militant Cornish side where I declare that TRADITIONAL CORNISH PASTIES HAVE THE CRIMPING ON TOP, NOT ON THE SIDE (my reason for this being “because that’s how my mum makes them”). Neither Richard nor Nancy followed this rule, so both of them are officially On My List, and they paid the price by generating slightly disappointing results (Richard’s were tasty but lacking a bit in filling, Nancy’s needed another five minutes in the oven). Martha had also been planning to do pasties, but balked at the thought of being compared to Richard (the omission of Nancy’s name here presumably being another stealth burn), so decided to make mini beef wellingtons instead, as nobody else was doing those. I have no strong feelings about the construction of beef wellington, so Martha’s fine by me. Meanwhile, over on The Great British Deep Fat Fry Up, Chetna was thrilled at the opportunity to get her spices out and made kachori, which Mary and Paul both loved, and Kate made spinach and paneer samosas, but after a pastry panic that led to her starting over, and a deep fat fryer mishap (it switched itself off, somehow), her treats were a little anaemic-looking. Still, I’m sure Sue appreciated them all the same.
3. I can’t possibly let the week go past without discussing the hot topic of this episode: Mary Berry’s snazzy bomber jacket with the stork print all over it. It proved so popular with viewers that the retailer (Marks & Spencer, in this case) had sold out online before the episode even finished, meaning that The Delia Effect is no longer limited to cranberries and cinnamon sticks, but now extends into the fashion world as well. Presumably this means that Mary will be beseiged by offers from up-and-coming designers wanting a piece of this goldmine, and then the show will probably end up getting mired in some sort of product placement controversy like when everyone finally realised that there were an awful lot of close-ups of Smeg fridges. Mark my words.
4. Now that there are fewer people in the tent, we get to spend a bit more time with everyone remaining (although poor Chetna still seems to be getting the tattered end of the stick on that front), which in turn means we’re learning interesting random trivia about them, and that was one of my favourite parts of this episode. Things I discovered in this episode included: Luis doesn’t know what the Spanish word for “crimp” is, Martha wrote 8,000 words about choux pastry for her AS level coursework, Kate loves Indian food, Mel has never seen horseradish in its purest form before, and – in a pleasingly meta twist – Martha revealed that when the challenges get down to their last few minutes and everyone’s running around in a blind panic trying to get their bakes finished, she can actually hear the incidental music that gets played on the show at that point in her head. Unless someone’s piping it through a tiny MP3 player just to fuck with her. I suspect Luis.
5. This week’s History Bit was about pasties, and also about pastes. That’s not “paste” as in wallpaper paste (although that’s exactly how one of the show’s alleged experts pronounced it), but as in “past-eh”. (When sounding that out, try to make your intonation more Guadalajara than Grimsby, however tempting the latter might be.) The story here was of Cornish miners who were hired to work in silver mines in Mexico in the 1920s, and when they arrived clutching their Cornish pasties, the indigenous Mexicans thought “hmm, they’re on to something there” and developed their own variation, made using ingredients such as leeks, steak, chilli and butter. Apparently the end result is quite hot. As History Bits go this one wasn’t too bad, but I couldn’t help feeling that a good 50 per cent of this story didn’t really have all that much to do with food. I’ll give this one a B-.
6. Apparently this week’s technical challenge was a first in the history of the Bake Off, in that none of the contestants had the slightest titting idea what it was they were making. Actually, most of them couldn’t even say it – Paul’s recipe was for 12 kouign-amann, a dish of Breton origin (pronounced “Queen Armarn”, or “Coogan Armand” if you’re Nancy), and ended up being some sort of strange baking version of The Blair Witch Project as everyone grew alternately angry, scared and disoriented by the lack of clear direction they were being given. I don’t actually remember seeing Kate standing in the corner facing the wall before the camera fell over and everything went black, but it might well have happened. The joy of all this was that it prompted some choice soundbites from the bakers, such as Nancy’s “something like four or five ingredients, and three-and-a-half hours to work with them. So what’s that all about?” or, when she was the only person still leaving her dough to prove, Chetna’s confused “am I stupid? There’s two-and-a-half hours left, so why’s everybody folding theirs now? What’s going on?” Paul had even included a deliberately vague direction about adding sugar to the dough, leaving the bakers unsure as to whether the sweetening was meant to go between every layer or just one of them, and if it was just one, then which one? Apparently “the last one” was the answer, and by Sue’s reckoning, Martha and Richard were the only ones to guess that correctly. Ultimately Chetna’s overproved dough worked against her and she finished last, Luis’s excessive sugar put him in fifth place, Kate’s bready texture landed her fourth, Martha’s underproved but well-flavoured effort scored third, Nancy’s irregular-sized but tasty kouign-amann got her the silver medal, and Richard’s strong performance put him on the top of the pile.
7. I know some people think of Mel and Sue as people whose role on the show is essentially to crack lame puns at the start and end of every round, act reassuring whenever anyone gets a bit weepy, and to hoover up all the leftovers when Paul and Mary have finished judging, but this week’s episode turned out to be an excellent showcase for their natural chemistry and improv skills. The generous 3.5 hour time limit for the technical challenge (combined with all of the bakers not really having the foggiest clue what they were doing) meant there was more standing around than normal – not least for Mel and Sue themselves, who spent some time perfecting their pronunciation of “kouign-amann” and having exchanges like this one:
SUE: Do you know what country it’s from?
SUE: That’s not a country.
MEL: Well, it used to be a…whatever it was.
MEL: Province, thank you. [Dreamily] They used to have amazing sort of lace, and they would wear Breton coiffes, which are stiff…
SUE: Sorry, there’s something going on over there. [Leaves]
MEL: [continues undaunted] …stiff lace hats, and they would do special dancing!
Frankly I think I learned more from that conversation than I’ve gleaned from an entire series of History Bits so far. After that, they went for a little wander to chat to the bakers, most of whom were twiddling their thumbs, as Martha admitted that she was indeed “a little bit bored” and Mel and Kate discussed their mutual ignorance of how much time was left before their Breton nightmare was over. It’s the little things, it really is.
8. So going into the final challenge, Kate and Luis had had a fairly bad weekend, with everyone else seemingly relatively safe. The showstopper was to produce 24 éclairs of two different flavours, and pretty much everyone went for sweet options with only Nancy going for full-on savoury with her salmon and horseradish éclairs (and Martha, to a lesser extent, with her maple syrup and bacon flavour).
Kate and Chetna had the same idea for one of their fillings, as both went for a lemon meringue flavour (though Kate added a little basil into her choux pastry). Richard decided to display his on a mini-staircase that he’d knocked up at home while he was bored, and Luis attempted to bake his way to redemption with a Stars & Stripes theme, but irked me in the process by claiming that one of his flavourings was meant to be “peanut butter and Jell-O”, because THAT IS NOT A THING. YOU MEAN “PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY”, WHICH IS WHAT WE CALL JAM. JELL-O IS WHAT THEY CALL ACTUAL JELLY. GOD. Sorry. Anyway, Luis’s éclairs turned out to be brilliant (Mary congratulated him on getting them at a perfect six inches, which prompted a giggling Paul to do a Tim Canterbury-style look right down the camera), so he saved himself from the scrapheap, while Martha’s maple-bacon combo was a mess both aesthetically and flavour-wise. Martha retreated to her desk and had a little cry, assuring the others she was fine.
Chetna did well (so well, in fact, that she accidentally made 13 of one batch instead of 12) but Kate fell down on both of hers, with Mary claiming she couldn’t taste the basil in her choux at all. Kate claimed the taste came quite late, and Paul said he got it, but Mary insisted that even after a second bite, it just wasn’t happening for her.
9. Which seems as good a time as any to go to this week’s Baking Innuendo Countdown. Honourable efforts which didn’t quite get the gold medal this time included:
Paul: “Hello Nancy. Can you tell us about your two éclairs please?”
Richard: “I think a bit of butter-bashing releases the tension, doesn’t it?”
Nancy: “It did seep, and it looked a bit messy.”
Paul: “Bit soggy underneath, but it’s holding itself up quite well.”
But the clear winner this week was Mary, with “I know Paul thinks they should be dinky, but that’s about the size I like.” Congratulations, Mary. Your amusingly phallic-shaped trophy is in the post.
10. Recovering from two weeks of near-elimination to take this week’s Star Baker accolade was Richard, while the unlucky eliminee was Kate, who’d just had a poor weekend all round really. As much as I knew this was inevitable, it still made me sad – especially when a glum Kate interviewed that she would “never stop baking. But I might not bake tomorrow. And I might not even bake the next day.” Aww. I can’t even begin to think how despondent Sue’s going to be without her next week. And what exactly are Chris and I supposed to do for femslash humour for the rest of the series? Honestly, it’s like nobody even considers us when these decisions are being made.
EXTRA SLICE: Howard Middleton has naturally cold hands.
NEXT WEEK: the quarter-finals, and somebody’s technical bake is raw in the middle. Horrors!
Ooh, I just got the basil!