1. So, after last week gave us possibly the most dramatic week in Bake Off history (almost none of which actually occurred between the hours of 8pm and 9pm on BBC1), it feels a little bit strange to come to recapping the show at a point where there have been no scandals since the last update. No further impending changes in personnel. No more insinuations that Paul Hollywood was recently seen doing wheelies down Horseferry Road on a solid gold Harley Davidson. In many ways that’s a relief, as it means we can get back to discussing Bake Off the show as opposed to Bake Off the broadcasting tug-of-war child, but it does also leave me having to find new things to say about Pastry Week for the fifth year running. Still, at least it means they got the ovens fixed after that power failure wiped them all out halfway through last weekend and they had to make everyone do their Technical and Showstopper rounds on a stovetop, because that can’t have been what they actually planned to do the whole way along, can it? Well, so much for that. No sooner had I written this than Mary Berry announced that she would not be moving to Channel 4 out of loyalty to the BBC, which was shortly followed by Paul Hollywood cheerfully announcing he’d signed a three-year deal with Channel 4. So with Mel, Sue and Mary all jumping ship and Paul remaining as the sole original component, it appears that Channel 4 haven’t purchased The Great British Bake Off so much as The American Baking Competition, and we all know how that ended. Especially Mrs Hollywood. So this makes things significantly harder for Channel 4 because, while there was a chance of the show surviving without Mel & Sue if both judges remained in place, with Mary gone as well it’s unlikely to feel like the same show whatever Love Productions might be saying. It will also be quite interesting to see who’ll actually want to follow in her footsteps, given the way this has all played out – unless everyone involved plays an absolute blinder PR-wise, it might feel like they’re all crossing a picket line.
2. On a more cheerful note, Mel’s bomber jacket is fantastic and I want it for my own.
You know, there just aren’t enough fashion spreads around the theme of “Get The Look: Mel Giedroyc”. This needs to change immediately.
3. The first order of the day, appropriately enough, was to make 24 breakfast pastries (12 x two different types), or perhaps rather “morgenmad kager”, since they had to be Danish pastries. Now, this apparently was a task as much about prioritising the swift preparation of dough as anything else, since Paul and Mary both stressed in the pre-task VT that Danish pastries contain a high percentage of butter, and the dough must be given time to rest after it’s all been blended together because otherwise the butter will just seep right out when you bake it, so not only will your pastries be dry and tasteless but you’ll also have to get the Oven Pride out. (Remember: open all of the windows and don’t inhale for at least three days afterwards.) As always, a couple of bakers scoffed at this challenge for not being nearly difficult enough in and of itself and decided to insert the cheat code to make it harder: Jane decided to make two entirely separate batches of dough, and Candice was the only one who decided to make one sweet and one savoury (unless you really want to stretch the definition of savoury to include the maple-glazed bacon that Benjamina was putting in one of hers, which I don’t).
I’m convinced this picture could be a still from Selasi’s new CBeebies series where he chills all day with a friendly octopus if it weren’t for the fact that he’s, well, stabbing it in the gut here. There’s no amount of In The Night Garden that would settle the kids down after that, sorry Tristram, looks like we’ll need to re-pilot this one. Meanwhile, Val revealed the steely core behind that sweet-old-lady exterior when she told us that she slices her Danishes with dental floss for a nice clean cut, and that’s only because she was fresh out of piano wire this week. I’m guessing the kids at Val’s school were very, very well-behaved, that’s all I’m saying. The challenge took an interesting diversion into The Great British Maths Off as everyone started sharing their formulae for the right amount of folds to butter/dough ratio, including Jane rather endearingly
counting on her fingers as she worked it all out on camera. (This was only about two minutes before the cameras caught her absent-mindedly humming ‘No More I Love Yous’ by Annie Lennox, so let’s just say that Jane was my low-key fave this week.) Nobody seemed to have quite such an eminently foolproof equation for how to fit all of their pastries in the oven, a problem which seemed particularly acute for Candice who was rapidly running out of baking time but also had no space left in her oven to fit the last batch in. Similarly scrambling to get everything done in time was Benjamina, who I think was mostly undone by her first batch of bacon burning and the fact that these appear to be combination grill/oven things, meaning that she couldn’t bake anything while her bacon was cooking. (I have this problem all the time with ours, trying to do sausage and chips can be a right ordeal.) Also struggling with basic maths? Rav, who only counted out 11 pastries instead of the required 12 and didn’t realise until it was far too late to do anything about it. Though I did like that his response was to
just plop that excess bit of raw dough that would’ve been the 12th pastry on the end of his display, as if to demonstrate there was absolutely no impropriety here: he’d just forgotten about it, and definitely wasn’t planning to sneak it out of the factory to give to Slugworth or anything.
4. Results-wise, the trend seemed to be that the bakers would have one batch that worked and one that didn’t (Val, Selasi, Rav), with the problem in the duff batch frequently being that all the butter had seeped out and left it dry and unappetising. Those with more all-encompassing problems included Tom, whose pastries were completely dry throughout, with one batch that was so raw in the middle that Paul declined to sample it (Tom also made his using “wheat biscuits”, or Weetabix to the rest of us, and I bet Love Productions will be at least be glad they won’t have to use Bland Name Products on Channel 4), and Benjamina, who had great flavours in both sets but flat, shrivelled pastry because she hadn’t had time to prove it properly and all the butter had melted right out in the oven. Stealing a march were Andrew, whose pastries were too short and thin but looked and tasted mostly great; Jane, who had two batches of structurally-sound pastries that tasted great and the only drawback was that she’d overfilled one batch; and Candice, who like Benjamina had rushed hers into the oven a little too soon but hadn’t suffered quite so badly as a result, leaving her with pastry that was slightly too dry but still edible, and two sets of delicious fillings that helped to pull her average up.
5. Our introduction to the technical challenge was a fretful Rav saying that he “cannot be last in the technical for the third week in a row” (spoiler: oh yes he can), as the bakers were instructed to follow Mary’s recipe for bakewell tarts. Funnily enough, “bake well, tarts” was the alternative to “on your marks, get set, bake!” used in the pilot when Danny Dyer was the host, before the producers decided to take the show in a more genteel direction. Now, bear in mind that eight people technically took part in this challenge, but you might as well ignore seven of them because this challenge was all about Val. Val, who has made scores of bakewell tarts over the course of her life and knows exactly what she’s doing. Unfortunately, this meant that Val was inclined to disregard the few instructions that Mary had actually provided.
That’s Val just making up her own recipe on the spot after not even bothering to check to see if Mary’s recipe had a page two. (It did, and went on for seven more points.) This was the point where the challenge basically turned into an episode of Val Knows Best, as Val valsplained to us how one makes a bakewell tart.
“I make a different one and I make it every week.”
“You’re only allowed 1tsp of almonds. I’d have put two in.”
“I made it a bit thicker, because I wanted to be able to get it out of the flan dish.”
“[Mary] said keep it cool, so I’m going to literally get this back in the fridge.” (I know this was Val trying to actually follow instructions for once, but what Mary actually said was ‘keep your cool’.)
“I wouldn’t normally bake it blind, I’m just going to bake it a short while blind. Five minutes.”
Val. Val. VAL. I know you know how to make a bakewell tart already and that’s great, but this is the technical challenge, and the point here is to test how well you can follow a recipe, filling in the gaps that Mary has left with your own knowledge and expertise. You’re not supposed to create gaps in the recipe by deciding that what Mary has written is wrong. And where did this lifetime of experience land Val in the overall ranking? 7th, with the only soggy bottom in the competition. One place below Andrew, whose bakewell tart sat in the oven for 15 minutes before he realised he’d forgotten to actually switch it on. I mean yes, she did beat Rav, but on the basis of the evidence presented in this episode
I’m pretty sure she could have turned in the stale remains of her week one Jaffa cakes and still beaten Rav. There was better news for Selasi, who finished third and brought home his best technical result since week one, with Candice as runner-up and Jane taking top honours.
6. So we went into the final round with Tom, Benjamina, Val and Rav all identified as being in danger of elimination, and an apparent two-horse race between Jane and Candice (who appear to have become absolute besties, which I don’t remember noticing prior to this week) for Star Baker. The showstopper called upon them to make 48 amuse-bouches with filo pastry – half of them savoury, half of them sweet. The key detail here was that the pastries had to be a single mouthful, though Val immediately copped to the fact that hers were probably going to be more like two mouthfuls – not “proper Yorkshire gobfuls”, though – and Jane started brandishing an alarmingly large cone around which she was going to wrap her pastry. The challenge here was getting the pastry thin enough – per Mary, it had to be so thin that you could hold it up in the air and look through it like a window – and everyone had a different technique for this, whether it was using a broom handle to roll it out (Val) or a pasta machine (Candice). Come the judging, it quickly became clear that Benjamina and Rav had pulled themselves up out of the danger zone while Tom, with his giant choco-meaty canapes, and Val, who only managed to get 12 of her mincemeat parcels out of the oven before the deadline, hadn’t quite managed the same feat. And if you’re wondering who gets this week’s “lol it looks like a penis” award, well that goes to
Jane’s tribute to the Ann Summers party Candice dragged her to last weekend, even if she did lose points for it being too big to officially count as an amuse-bouche. Who knew Paul Hollywood was a size queen?
7. After a week’s conspicuous absence, The History Bit returned to bring us a potted history of baklava, so Mel went to a north London bakery where filo pastry is still being made just as it was in the 13th century, although presumably under slightly more hygienic conditions. (Although considering some of the bakeries I’ve been to in north London, not necessarily.) Mel had a go at rolling out acceptably thin filo pastry (her arms weren’t really long enough, bless her) before revealing that back in the day, the number of layers in your filo was an indicator of wealth, and snooty households would insist on a minimum of 100 lest anyone mistake them for dirty povvos. Then baklava was born out of a need for exciting new ways to serve masses of filo pastry, and as the Ottoman Empire spread and the Sultan conscripted more slaves into his army, they were rewarded with baklava every Ramadan. I know The History Bit is generally pretty light and fluffy, but I can’t say my spirits were particularly lifted by “they were slaves, but they got free baklava once a year”, so this one ended on a slightly sour note for me. Less so for Mel, who sat there tucking in to several trays of baklava while still safe in the knowledge of her freedom as an independent woman.
8. After a few disappointing weeks, I’m pleased to say that it was an absolute embarrassment of riches on the innuendo front this week. While I can’t in good conscience include Candice shoving a large black pudding into Mary’s hands
in the overall rundown because it was far too deliberate, to those of you who claim Candice is trying too hard to force double entendres onto the show (a group I admit I would’ve included myself in a few weeks ago), I can only say ‘like you’d pass up the opportunity to thrust a giant sausage into Mary Berry’s hands on national television’. You’d all be in there like a shot, don’t lie. Anyway, this week’s drive-by innuendos were so good that I’ve taken the bold step of ranking them, from least good to bestest:
Val: “This is just an idea I got off the internet, it’s just a piece of a broom handle. Clean. New.”
Mary: “That’s just the sort of surprise I like before a meal.”
Candice: “It’s good to get your hand in and give your sausages a good squeeze.” (Again, I know this one was entirely intentional, but it’s good enough that I don’t care.)
Val: “It’s better to be wetter than it is to be dry.”
Benjamina: “You do not want your butter leaking out or it’s going to ruin your layers.”
Paul: “I know I’ve got a big mouth, but I’m talking inch-and-a-half, max.”
Tom: “My method of stretching is just to pull it over my knuckles.”
And the winner is… *drumroll*
Andrew: “If that means a little bit of hand-fudging, that’s fine by me.”
Excellent work everyone. Keep it up.
9. After that final round, there wasn’t really much point in trying build suspense over who the star baker would be, because it was
obviously Candice. Let’s hope becoming the first baker of the series to win Star Baker twice goes some way to making up for the fact that at least half of Bake Off Twitter seems to hate her guts because she does pouty lips sometimes and makes smutty remarks. And while I can appreciate the objections to someone deliberately trying to carve out camera time for themselves, considering Benjamina was Star Baker last week and got about as much airtime as Gleb’s shirts did on last year’s Strictly, I’m starting to think that Candice might have the right idea. You create your own edit these days, I suppose.
10. The question of who was going home was less clear-cut, with Val and Tom both having had what Kate would’ve called “a shocking week”, but in the end it was
Val whose journey ended here, surrounded by half-cooked filo. Val seemed fairly accepting of this outcome, acknowledging that she’d probably reached the limit of her potential, at least within the confines of a competition like this. Really, she’s been on borrowed time for the whole series, and making it to week five is a perfectly respectable result. Plus now she’ll have more time for her keep fit classes, and the rest of the tent can listen to something other than Ed Sheeran, so everyone wins.
Next week: botanicals week, otherwise known as “herby, goes bananas”.