These doughs are straight up RUSSELL GROUP, yo.
1. Before we start, and in no small way to soak up the fact that the lack of a History Bit has left me with a loose point out of 10 to assign, I want to address the campaign launched this week on BBC Point Of View by a Mrs Fooks to “clean up Bake-Off”. Mrs Fooks complained to the BBC that this year Mel & Sue have been making too many innuendo, and it’s rendered the show unfit for her children to watch. Whilst I don’t want to impugn Mrs Fooks directly (because let’s face it we can all create our own super-villain backstory as to why someone called Mrs Fooks might feel unease at the point where sex and wordplay meet to create laughter) watching Great British Bake-Off and complaining about the innuendo is a bit like going on a Frankie Goes To Hollywood video shoot and complaining about getting pissed on. Never mind that all current medical anecdata proves that if anything your kids are far more likely to die horribly from too many PBJs than too many BJs, it’s not etymological happenstance that the words we use to describe sex and the words we use to describe food have so much overlap. Why deny yourself the pleasure? In fact I’m going to use this blog to launch a Counter-Fooks campaign. We demand MORE INNUENDO! More moistness, saltiness, richness. More ganached buns, rough puffs, and soggy bottoms. More stuffing Luis perfect 6 inch eclair in and feeling it melt in your mouth. More watching Nancy whip up a couple of stiff meringue peaks. More admiring Chetna’s tight plait. More cream, more tarts, more banging things right in the oven at just the right time, more baps, more forking a groove, more nuts, more cream horns, more giant spotted dicks causing frenzies on the south coast, JUST MORE FILTH.
2. Ahem. So we’re at the point of the series where we’ve pretty much run through all the categories of things you can bake, so the good people at Love Productions (see? innuendo everywhere) and Paul and Mary (described by Melon Sue this week as “the velociraptors of the baking world” which conjures up a terrifying image of a shuddering Martha hiding in a little metal cupboard in the Bake Off kitchen as Mary Berry repeatedly smashes her head into it) have to come up with ever more tortuous themes. Last year at around this point we got “Free From Week” where the bakers had to produce bakes that were gluten-free, dairy-free, yeast-free and free-from-desire (MIND AND SENSES PURIFIED!). This week we sat through “Advanced Dough Week” which felt as a theme a bit like when a computer game repeats an end-of-level boss for the third time, but with a palette swap and a bigger gun. These were all challenges that involved dough but…a bit harder than the last set of challenges that involved dough. These were dough challenges so foreboding they would have vaporised Norman on sight and sent Claire running home crying for her mummy. Dough challenges so fearsome that THEY would have thrown IAIN in the bin. Yes, only the very elite Bake-Offers can…erm…make donuts?
3. The first Advanced dough challenge though was to make sweet sweet loaf. The contestants could make their loaves any flavour and any design they wanted, but there were two important rules. The dough has to be enriched, and at no point were any moulds, tins, or novelty pans in the shape of willies or knockers to be used to shape the dough. These loaves had to be FREE FORM damnit. Martha summed up the main challenge of creating a sweet enriched loaf neatly, by saying that it normally takes 3.5 hours to do but, for the purposes of reality tv tension, the contestants had only been given 2.5 hours. Also periodically Diana would run in dressed as Snidely Whiplash and just stand there flicking the light-switch on and off and cackling. Chetna was particularly worried by this turn of events, as her chosen sweet loaf – a date and walnut Povitica from Croatia – had to be baked for a particularly long time at a particularly low temperature (PAY ATTENTION, THIS WILL BE IMPORTANT LATER). In the end the time constraints did exactly what they were supposed to, producing nigh-on rawness in the centre of Martha’s “Chinese-y” Spiced Plum Iced Bread Swirl (which, given that she spent a lot of the previous weeks sweetly giggling about how old-fashioned everyone else’s bakes were sure was FULL OF PRUNES). Most of the other bakers however came out ok – Richard “nailed” a Swedish tea-ring and Luis’ Black Forest Cherry Tree, despite looking like every other “tree” ever baked on this show (ie a bit like a penis poking out of a giant pubic afro) provoked oohs and ahs of delight from the judges. Particularly Mary. Particularly because each of the buns making up the tree’s boughs contained a sugar cube laced with cherry brandy. MARY LIKES HER SUGAR NUMMMMM NUMMM!
4. Nancy however provided the most joy for me in the Sweet Sweet Loaf round. When faced with the reality tv challenge of being asked to do too much in too little time, Nancy came up with the solution beloved of student halls everywhere – BUNG IT T’IN MICROWAVE! Naturally this provoked a full on schiz-fit from Paul “Horny-Handed Son Of The Baking Soil” Hollywood, who promptly ran away to find a textbook to prove that Nancy was about to ruin her bake by destroying protein strings or something. There then followed a full episode of him lurking around Nancy’s table, CONSTANTLY staring at her loaf and prodding at it, as she twisted her tea-towel ever tighter in her hands, clearly dying to flick him with it. Sadly Paul turned out to be somewhat right in the end, as Nancy ended up finishing only slightly better than Martha’s raw prunes did, but it was worth it just to see his face turn that shade of red he normally only has in the first few post-holiday (PROBABLY IN GREECE) weeks of the series. (In the middle of this Mel necked half a bottle of olive oil thinking it was Masala wine. This is what happens when the grown-ups take their eyes off the ball…)
5. What happened next can only be described as Chetnageddon. At the reveal of this week’s Technical Challenge, Sue very slowly and very teasingly revealed that this week the contestants would have to bake…a povitica. From Croatia. You know, the thing Chetna had just done for her Signature Bake, the bake that best fit her personally. Having spent a series now in the shadows, Chetna’s full range of delighted and horrified faces are recorded below :
6. What followed in the wake of Chetnageddon was of course the other contestants frantically contrive to copy (“/learn by watching”) either Chetna, or Nancy who has up to this point probably been the strongest technical baker. Particularly, it has to be said, Richard, who was at one point so flagrantly cribbing off Nancy, even getting Sue to run around her taking notes, that she actually suddenly flew into shot like a witch on a broomstick to tell to KEEP HIS BEAK OUT. On one level you can’t really blame Richard, because at all costs he needs to avoid another disaster on the levels of the great Poached Pears Disaster of Week 5 but on the other hand it feels like a bit of a swizz for someone to try to win the round by copying somebody else every step of the way then trying to pip them by popping a different type of icing on at the end. Fortunately for lovers of fairness everywhere, Richard finished a step behind Nancy in 4th place to her 3rd, with Luis in 2nd place. The important thing of course was that Chetna won easily, having spent the entire task smugly bossing it like a queen as everyone else ran around pulling their hair out. CHETNAGEDDON!
7. So yeah, three of the five bakes in this round were a bit crap, which led to my least favourite flavour of Paul Hollywood. It’s bad (/hilarious) enough when Paul is patronising to the contestants but when he turns his ways to Mary it’s just wrong. That’s right, it was time for this year’s round of “Don’t Eat That Mary” wherein Paul acts like eating a little bit of raw dough will actually kill the old feeb. Imagine it said in the tone of voice a provincial middle-aged accountant telling his wife not to order the paella on holiday because it’s got PRAWNS in it and that foreign seafood much will probably give her gonorrhoea. Just once I want Mary to haul off, tell Paul that she’ll EAT WHAT SHE BLOODY WELL LIKES and then slap him a la Peggy Mitchell. Paul very much being the Pat Butcher in this scenario obviously.
8. This week’s Advanced Showstopper was to make 36 donuts, in two differently flavoured batches of 18. Cue Paul Hollywood crowing that he’s made, like 40,000 DONUTS SO HE KNOWS EVERYFIN ABOUT DONUTS HE IS THE BEST AT DOIN A DONUT. So of course all the contestants set out immediately to court Mary’s favour or piss Paul off directly. It was Luis who took the former tack, bringing out the BIG BOOZE GUNS and pointing them directly down Mary’s throat, creating a range of cocktail donuts flavoured alternately around a Mudslide and a raspberry mojito. Paul’s protestations that the Mudslide Donut was ultimately just a bread roll filled with curdled Baileys fell on deaf ears, as Mary shoved her snout right in there like a hyped up anteater and spent the next hours rolling round the floor singing the hits of Peter, Paul and Mary. Nancy’s trolling was even more hilarious as though as, in the QUARTER FINALS OF THE SHOW, IN ADVANCED DOUGH WEEK, she served Paul up kids party food iced donuts. With his face on them. Oh and partnered them with a limoncello sidekick just for Mary. I’m starting to think that, in the wake of calling Paul “The Male Judge” and thus fatally puncturing his masculine ego, Nancy knows that he’ll never let her win, and so is devoting the rest of her time to annoying him as much as possible HURRAH. (Chetna’s donuts were apparently just potato and fat and otherwise it was such a fun week for her so let’s glide over that entirely).
9. This week’s Star Baker was Richard with a set of fun-fair rhubarb & custard/toffee apple donuts in their own special crates. I’ve not seen something that was so obviously going to win Star Baker since Ryan’s infamous Key Lime Pie. One set were heart shaped IN TRIBUTE TO HIS WIFE for goodness sake. For those of you keeping score, this means that Richard has now been Star Baker 4 times. That is to say that Richard has been Star Baker for 50% of this series, out of a cast of 12 competitors. Just bear that in mind the next time they talk about how in this cast everyone is more or less the same level and anyone could take home the win honest. Paul very solemnly promised to us at the end of the episode that we shouldn’t take this to mean that they had favourites. He didn’t say anything about them having UNfavourites of course, although anybody who remembers that week last year when Mary took a tyre-iron to Christine’s chocolate gateau whilst squealing like a stuck pig would know that already.
10. For the second week in a row the person leaving wasn’t so much a question so much the product of an obvious episode long mental breakdown involving utter failure in every challenge. Poor Martha. She seemed so supernaturally powerful in Week 1, like one of the Midwich Cuckoos let loose on the Bake-Off Tent but as the weeks have gone her vulnerabilities have shown more and more until this week she was nothing but. Things felt wrong from the off, as we were reintroduced to Martha with a shot of her sitting there muttering to herself about how her (Botham-y) eclairs from last week were still haunting her. Then her sweet sweet loaf was a bit raw. Then in the Technical Challenge she constructed what can only be described as an OCD Palace of Cling-Film, wrapping every fixture and fitting in it, then finally herself, giggling the whole time about how cool cling-film is and how she wraps everything her parents give her in cling-film to PREVENT MESS. Then finally in the Showstopper Challenge she plateu’d catatonically with a pack of donuts that looked like they’d fallen off the back of a Greggs truck. Hard. Then she got eliminated perpetually on the edge of tears and it was all a bit much…
EXTRA SLICE : Marian Keyes is terrified of yeast, and the yeast knows it