Flora and Flauone. (I’m so sorry.)
1. I begin this week with an apology for the late arrival of this recap, because Chris and I have been in Berlin for the last week. I’d love to say that we were using the time to study the baked goods of the central European region in the event that they might come up in a future technical challenge, but to be perfectly honest it mostly involved eating a lot of fried stodge and potatoes to the extent that I was slightly concerned I was going to be charged for excess weight on the return flight. Nonetheless, such is my devotion to this blog that the first thing I did upon arriving home after dumping my suitcase was to fire up the Sky+ and watch this week’s episode so that I could get right down to blogging it. Disclaimer: this also means that my ears are still slightly popped from the flight, so if there are any inaccuracies in my transcriptions of anyone’s words, it’s because everything sounds a little bit like I’m underwater. No wonder there were so many soggy bottoms in this episode…
2. That’s right, it’s pastry week, which is traditionally the prime week of the competition for Paul and Mary to say “soggy bottom” as many times as possible while winking through the camera to the tittering masses of Britain. I’m going to try not to pull that bucket up from the well too many times but let’s not pretend I’m completely above it either. We begin this week with a quick nod to Nadiya finally wrestling the mantle of Star Baker away from Ian’s iron grip last week (prompting Ian to muse “last week, ohhhh, dear-dear-dear-dear-dear” like he narrowly escaped elimination last week rather than being – SHOCK OF HORRORS – somewhere in the middle of the pack. I mean come on, let’s not pretend Ian was ever in any danger, not when Ugne was producing
whatever this was, I’m too scared to google it in case I inadvertently say its name three times in a mirror), and the fact that this has led the other bakers to realise that it is in fact possible to be Star Baker, and that they’d quite like their turn now – Tamal in particular, though he immediately retracts this wish in case he’s somehow jinxed himself. I happen to know the cure for the Bake Off jinx, Tamal: you turn around three times, point your rolling pin toward Melton Mowbray, hop on one leg for three minutes and then throw some flour in Paul Hollywood’s eyes. That last step isn’t actually part of the cure, it’s just very cathartic.
3. This week’s signature challenge was a frangipane tart, introduced by Sue telling us that frangipane cream was named after the C16 Italian nobleman Muzio Frangipani, followed by the assertion that the accompanying pastry cases were named after “Giovanni Shortcrust”. I mean, I know we’re on BBC1 now where “Anne Robinson points and laughs at people on benefits” somehow passes for factual programming, but if this is all the effort that’s going into the History Bit nowadays I’m going to be firing off a pretty damningly-worded email to Points Of View. There were reasonably few requirements here: just that the tart be open-topped (are there…closed-top tarts? Isn’t it basically a pie at that point?) and that the pastry be shortcrust. Key points of technique here were: not overworking the dough, making sure it had enough time in the fridge, and blind-baking. Except that last one was a bit divisive, since Flora, Alvin, Mat and Tamal were in the “yes” camp, with Nadiya, Ian and Paul very much in opposition. In the end the judges seemed to come down in favour of blind-baking, since Ian’s and Paul’s bases weren’t quite cooked through and Nadiya’s was a little bit soggy, but on the other hand Flora blind-baked hers from too long, which resulted in it being burnt and bitter (per Paul) or, alternately, not burnt or bitter (per Mary). So glad we’ve cleared that up. Incidentally, I’m trying not to be so hard on Ian despite his various pretensions, but great mention was made in this task of him using guinea fowl eggs in his dough (because his guinea fowl have just started laying, you see) and apparently it didn’t make any sort of tangible difference since it wasn’t even mentioned at judging. FANCY THAT. The Golden Raspberry (Frangipane Tart) for the round went to Alvin, who couldn’t really get his pastry to bond in the first place, overbaked his pastry case and served up uncooked frangipane with uncooked plums on an overly-thick base. Oh, and Tamal’s rather aesthetically scattershot approach to his spiced pear tart was nonetheless excellently baked, leading Sue to sum up his efforts as “messy top, tidy bottom”. I haven’t checked AO3 since I got back (LIES – Chris), but I’m assuming there are already countless fanfics exploring both of those options, you terrible people.
4. If, in the future, anyone asks me to sum up The Great British Bake Off in a single image, I shall simply point them toward this screengrab of Mel and Mary silently fighting over who gets to hold Mat’s Kilner jar of rum.
5. The History Bit made a triumphant return of sorts, restyled slightly as the History-Slash-Geography Bit this week, as Sue travelled to Denby Dale in West Yorkshire, the self-styled “village of pies”. Following the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, the locals celebrated by making a giant pie, though the inaugural attempt ended when the Master of Ceremonies fell into it. (I’m pretty sure this went on to inspire an episode of Miranda.) Meanwhile Sue was disappointed to have been brought all the way to Yorkshire on the promise of a giant pie only to be presented with
this. Not a pie, but in fact a pie graveyard, where a later attempt was buried after it went off. A further effort in 1928 got stuck in the oven, but the good folk of Denby Dale weren’t easily deterred and started up again in 1964, when they made a pie big enough to feed 30,000 people, and this spurred them on to go for a successful world record attempt in 1988. Presumably this meant that “who ate all the pies?” was used in this area less as a standard football taunt, and more as a means of inventory to ensure they were getting through them at a fast enough rate before they had to start a mass burial.
6. The technical challenge was also the cause for this week’s Official Bake Off Scandal: the contestants were instructed to make flauones, a cheese-filled Cypriot pastry baked to celebrate the end of Lent. Why so so so scandalous? Well, during the little tête-à-tête that Mary and Paul always have at this point in the episode where they discuss the recipe, the bits they left out, and the likely missteps the contestants might make, Paul chortled that he’d included two ingredients, mastika and mahlepi, but he hadn’t told the contestants what to do with them. Mary – who’d already admitted to not having the first idea what a flauone was before it came up on the show – wagged her finger at Paul and told him that he’d gone too far this time. And therein lies the scandal, as some viewers took Mary’s stance a little further and made the (reasonable) objection that this is not so much a test of technical skill as it is a test of whether one happens to know anything about obscure Cypriot pastries. I’m all for pushing the contestants both in the technical challenges and in this stage of the competition, but this to me felt like setting them up to fail. You might as well give a small child six coloured pens and a sheet of A4 and get them to draw a map of the London Underground from memory – they might turn out something that bears a passing resemblance, but it’s more likely to be from luck than skill. Questions the bakers had to resolve for themselves included: do the sesame seeds go on the inside or the outside? (Outside, but they weren’t to know that.) How do you fold in the outer edges without just having a big thick cornice of pastry? How long does it need to be cooked for? That last one caught Tamal out when he realised his were the last to go in the oven, and so he was pretty much guaranteed to have some degree of rawness. In a little mid-challenge chat, the likes of which I’d quite like to see more of,
Nadiya and Ian did their best to reassure Tamal by pointing out that at least his flauones looked really neat. “That’s what they want,” replied Tamal, wryly. “Neat and raw.” (Feel free to add “neat and raw” to “messy top, tidy bottom” from earlier, though I feel like you’ve all got more than enough to work with at this point.) Tamal actually managed to just about crawl back from the brink of disaster by producing pastries that tasted like flauones, they just didn’t look like them – but they were such an absolute failure on the visual likeness front that he still finished in seventh place overall. Alvin accidentally made tiny square pizzas and didn’t cook his properly either, earning him the just-above-bottom spot. Slightly more successful were Ian, Flora and Mat who took third, second and first respectively, though Mat’s victory was couched in terms of “that could just about pass as a flauone”. High praise indeed.
7. Not to make this sound too one-sided, but going into the showstopper round Mary and Paul had already announced that Alvin needed “a miracle” to save himself, so unless the instructions turned out to involve loaves and fish somehow, the identity of this week’s eliminee wasn’t really in doubt from this point onwards. However, Star Baker was very much still up for grabs (with Paul Hollywood pointing out that this series more than than any other, the contestants really do seem to go from one end of the scale to the other over the first two rounds in any given week, meaning the Showstopper carries more deciding weight than perhaps it has done in the past), so the bakers forged ahead with the challenge of making 48 vol-au-vents, with two different fillings. The mere mention of vol-au-vents turned everyone of a certain age into Beverly Moss, and of course their reminiscences about how long ago this all was were undercut with some very pointed shots of Flora. Again, this was a challenge where you needed to master a very specific skill: namely, getting the copious amounts of butter necessarily into the dough without it all going horribly wrong. The secret, according to Ian, is all about neatness. Fold it neatly, have nice neat edges, very much like you’re in charge of the sweater table at Gap. (I used to work in Gap, and I still occasionally have nightmares about my folding not meeting corporate standards.) With this being the showstopper round, everyone came along with a concept: Paul went for sweet-and-savoury, Mat went for his ‘n’ hers (one set of flavours reflecting his wife’s favourites and the other reflecting his), Flora decided to do one set of chocolate vol-au-vents, Nadiya did one set of Bengali korma fillings and one clementine and cod, which sounds bizarre but she assures us is an old family recipe. Tamal’s approach was, unsurprisingly, my favourite of all in that it was “inspired by a sandwich that I had a few years ago. It was in the top two sandwiches of my life – it was a pork sandwich, and they fried the meat with fennel and rosemary, and I think about that sandwich quite a lot.”
Those who hadn’t quite managed to blend their butter in smoothly – Mat and Nadiya, for the most part – ended up with dough that Mel likened to the texture of cellulite. Mat resolved to make the best of what he had, while Nadiya decided to make a second batch. This turned out to be the crucial decision, since Mat’s original batch came out surprisingly well, while Nadiya’s second attempt basically melted into a gooey heap in the oven because she hadn’t had time to refrigerate it all properly. In the end, Matt was praised for both the appearance and the flavours of his vol-au-vents and was the only baker to win approval on all fronts – Paul and Ian had some of theirs a little underbaked, while Flora’s savoury efforts weren’t up to the standard of her chocolate ones. Tamal, once more, got the taste but not the look, and Nadiya had to serve her filling up separately from her vol-au-vents, but Paul and Mary delighted in her flavours. As for Alvin: raw again. Oh dear.
8. Nadiya Face Of The Week:
A tough one, this time, because Nadiya’s expressions aren’t quite so much fun when she’s having a rough week. But this shot of Peak Vol-Au-Vent Distress is pretty evocative, so let’s go with that.
9. Despite a wobbly start with a bland frangipane, Mat clawed his way back by coming top of the class in the other two rounds and earned his first Star Baker of the competition, possibly presenting himself as a contender just around the right point in the competition. Apparently Mary Berry was so excited by this turn of events that, when congratulating Mat, she double-punched him in the stomach.
Don’t mess with Mezz.
10. The show made the best effort it could to build up a sense of suspense over the possibility of Nadiya going home (as indeed did Nadiya herself with that wrong turn in the showstopper round), but after weak performances across the board it was time to bid farewell to Alvin.
I think the saddest thing about his exit was the way he seemed to think that he’d let himself down, and that if he’d just worked a little bit harder he could have stayed, rather than feeling proud for how far he actually did get. That said, he did say that he’d learned resilience from being on the show, and that he’d be leaving the tent a better man. (If the show starts next week and in Alvin’s place there’s a cardboard cut out of, I don’t know, Paul Rudd or someone, this will be my favourite exit line ever, but sadly I suspect I’m misinterpreting it.)
AN EXTRA SLICE: Only a complete monster wouldn’t give their guinea fowl a name.
Next week: Chris goes back in time as the bakers grapple Victorian things. Mercy.