Chetna fulfils her invisi-edit destiny by becoming this year’s Dr Danny.
1. First of all, an apologies to those of you who remember last year’s semi-final write-up and were hoping for more pictures of hot French men. Obviously I would’ve loved to oblige, but sadly this year week nine is just “pâtisserie week”, so it’s not thematically justified. I did briefly consider posting some pictures of hot men called Pat, but after a quick google image search for Pat Sharp I decided against that idea. So, as crazy an idea as this might seem, I’m just going to focus on the baking and not worry about distracting you all with sexy, sexy men. If that’s what you came here for, feel free to check out my personal Instagram. #selfie #nofilter #instagay #lovinglife #gay #follow4follow #masc4masc
2. As is often the case when a competitive reality show is a week away from its final, some time was allocated before the ovens got switched on to discuss the four remaining contestants. Ostensibly this is meant to be a balanced discussion of their strengths and weaknesses, but let’s be honest, what it really amounts to is a quick shorthand for any viewers to remind us which role these people are playing. First of all, we were told that Luis is Mr Design (I think he’s one of those crap new Mr Men that got added when they remade it for Channel 5), who has wowed Mary and Paul repeatedly with the detail of his elaborate creations. Chetna, meanwhile, is the Queen Of Flavour, who has managed to use her Indian heritage to memorable effect in her baking without relying upon it as a gimmick. Then we have Nancy, our very first Star Baker of the series with A Sound All-Round Knowledge Of Baking, and finally Richard, the possessor of Natural Flair who has won Star Baker more times than the other three combined. To be honest, if this was meant to convince us that they are All Worthy Finalists, I’m not sure that’s quite where it left me: obviously I think they’re all incredibly skilled and deserving to be here, but I also think that Richard is ridiculously far in front at this point, to the point where his winning the whole thing seems nearly inevitable. But will tonight’s episode change all that. (Spoiler: it really won’t.)
3. To business then, and after a well-placed quip from Mel about how it was “nice to see four Brits in the semi-final of anything”, it was time for the signature challenge, where the contestants were required to bake baklava – as usual, in two distinct flavours, with 12 pieces of each. Richard seemed to be at an advantage here, because he’s from North London where there are apparently a lot of Turkish shops, so he buys and eats a lot of baklava in day-to-day life. Nancy, on the other hand, didn’t really know what baklava was, but decided she might as well do a breakfast-themed one with homemade muesli, because she had a load of it lying around at home anyway. The big trick in this bake was the filo pastry, because it turns out that for all that these people are skilled craftspeople who could whip up a fresh batch of dough faster than you or I could pour a glass of lemon squash, even they don’t really make their own filo. As Luis pointed out, most recipe books tell you just to go and buy a packet of Jus-Rol. I’m fairly that even Mary Berry has admitted in the past that she never bothers with it, because that’s precious time she could be spending kicking back and enjoying a gin and it. The filo proved to be the undoing for Luis and Chetna in this challenge as they couldn’t quite get it thin-enough to be credibly filo-y, so while they managed some good flavours, they didn’t always produce authentic baklava. Richard’s were well-received but one batch was slightly underbaked, so it would appear that first blood went to Nancy and her soaked oats. Not for the first time, it would appear that having very little understanding of your end product is no great barrier to success in baking.
4. The next challenge was, of course, the technical challenge, where Mel informed the contestants that they’d have to produce a Schichttorte. “But they might make a good one!” protested Sue. I can’t believe that people have been complaining about that sort of thing on the show. Yes, yes, I know there’s the whole Helen Lovejoy won’t-somebody-think-of-the-children side of things, but if you can’t do innuendo or jokes then you’re basically left with Tess Daly, and is that the level we want our children to aspire to? Anyway, this was a bit of a controversial challenge as it involved zero baking; the competition became, for one round only, The Great British Grill-Off. For those of you who aren’t familiar, a Schichttorte is a cake made of 20 thin layers, individually grilled in such a fashion that they alternate between being lightly- and darkly-coloured. This time it was the women who struggled in the challenge: Nancy didn’t think she had enough batter to do the full 20 layers, while Chetna simply didn’t have enough time – so Nancy’s cake only had 18 layers, and Chetna’s only 17. You might think that nobody would possibly bother to check, but Nancy had this to say on the subject: “Who’s counting? As if. He’s going to be counting, all right.” I love how the tenser Nancy gets, the less likely she is to call Paul by his given name. Sure enough, Paul did indeed cut all the cakes open and count the layers, much to Mel and Sue’s horror/disgust/creeping boredom. Chetna’s wasn’t tall enough and had general construction problems, so she finished fourth. Nancy’s was two layers short, so she finished third. Richard and Luis both produced the requisite 20 layers, but Luis’s just had the edge to net him first place for the round. Richard doesn’t care, because he did enough to survive and he won’t be making a Schichttorte ever, ever again.
5. Nancy doesn’t even like baklava. And she’s only ever used her grill to make toast. So despite her obvious flair for flavour, I like to think that the spirit of Norman is still living on through Nancy in some way.
6. This week in The History Bit, there was clearly a bit more money left over in the budget than anyone was expecting, so Mel got to travel to Hansestadt Salzwedel (yep, that one took a bit of googling) in Germany, colloquially known as Baumkuchen Town. (Well, probably more likely colloquially known as Baumkuchenstadt – I know that modern German is full of words lifted straight from English but surely in this case you’d use the perfectly good word that you already have?) Baumkuchen are similar in structure to Schichttorten, except that rather than being grilled, the individual layers are cooked over a spit (“pâtisserie meets rotisserie”, observed Mel), and then when it’s removed and sliced it looks a bit like a cross-section of a tree – hence the name. Mel had a chance to assist in the baking process herself, and likened the constant dripping of batter onto the rotating spit to the pottery scene from Ghost. Next week: Mel explores the history of butter cake and mentions how it reminds her of Last Tango In Paris.
7. For the showstopper challenge, the bakers were asked to produce 24 entremets – again, 12 servings of two different types. Entremets, we are told, are those beautiful, delicate, colourful cakes that you’d see in a pâtisserie window in an attempt to entice you inside. So everybody got to working straight away, with Nancy and Luis both opting to make jellies to include in their entremets, which isn’t really relevant except in the sense that I really like jelly, but don’t really feel like I can eat it inconspicuously as a man in my 30s, so I was quite excited by the idea that there may be a legitimate way of incorporating it into cake. There probably wasn’t an awful lot in it when the results came in – Chetna was most likely at the back of the pack, as there were some issues with presentation and Mary felt the orange flavour was lacking in her chocolate, orange and nut entremets. Nancy’s raspberry nonnettes (the ones with the jelly inside) were well-received as Paul found them refreshing, but the line and passionfruit offering was deemed to have fallen below Nancy’s usual presentation standards. Luis’s chocolate mousse and cherry cerements, and pomegranate, fig and pistachio sponges got good notes as well, with Mary particularly enjoying the size of his nuts (OOH PARDON) but there was a question as to whether the layers could’ve done with being a bit thinner. And Richard seemed to be on top with his hazelnut mocha and pink grapefruit entremets, as his presentation skills were particularly admired, and the only real reservation was Mary wondering if the mousse could be a tad more flavourful.
8. And here we come to the bit I like to call “lol seriously, can Richard be stopped?” Because it would seem as though the competition is his to lose at this point. While it’s true that the person going into the final with the most Star Baker accolades to their name has never won (series 2: Holly, series 3: James, series 4: Ruby), I think if anyone can buck that trend, it’s Richard. I wouldn’t rule out Luis sneaking an upset at the last minute because the judges seem to be big fans of his work, and has been at the top of the pack for most of the competition (sadly, I think Nancy ruled herself out of the running the second that she called Paul “the male judge”), but I think it would take Richard imploding while Luis simultaneously excels himself for it to happen. It’s just weird though, because Richard’s been so dominant (apart from those two weeks mid-contest where he narrowly avoided elimination) that I feel like we’re building up to a giant anticlimax of a final whatever happens: either Richard wins and we all saw it coming a mile off, or someone else does and it feels like we didn’t get enough of the story to explain why.
9. While it wasn’t necessarily a prolific episode for innuendo this week, I feel that the snippets we did actually get were at least of a high quality. Paul’s eyebrow-waggling “do you want to see inside?” to Mary when he presented his Schichttorte to her, followed by her eager “I would like to!” was quite special, as was Paul complimenting Richard by saying “you have a great concertina”, but my vote goes to Sue examining Nancy’s filo pastry and declaring “do you know how much I want to pop this on my face?”
10. The honour of Star Baker went to Richard for a record-breaking fifth time, although I think it was fairly close between him and Luis. And while Mary and Paul attempted to suggest that Nancy’s third-place result in the technical challenge had put her in danger, I think we all knew the outcome of tonight’s episode was inevitable: after failing to excel in any of the three rounds, it was Chetna who left the competition. Paul assured us that while Chetna was the worst baker of the week, it was a very strong group, and Chetna – who clearly knew she was going, possibly because she’d seen (or to be more accurate, not seen) her own edit – assured us in turn that she was just happy to have made it this far in the first place, and the Queen Of Flavour went back home to Broadstairs. Fun fact: I passed my driving test in Broadstairs. It has a lot of hill starts and blind corners. Let’s pray that neither of these things prove to be an obstacle to Chetna in her future baking career.
NEXT WEEK: the final, and the inevitable big tea party where all the other contestants return. Iain will be there, and may or may not be planning to THROW ALL THE CAKES IN THE BIN. ALL OF THEM.