The blog’s two favourite remaining contestants spend an entire episode battling to avoid elimination, which basically means we’re so mentally checked out that the show might as well already be on Channel 4 at this point.
1. Guys. Guys. GUYS. There appears to have been a misunderstanding – you’re moving to Channel 4, not BBC4.
2. This being the semi-final, everyone’s getting quite stressed about the pressure. “Surely not Selasi?” you might protest. Yep, even Selasi, who tells us that he had a dream where he made the final and baked in a dress.
Into it, tbh. Selasi takes this to mean that if he makes the final, he should show up wearing a dress, and that’s your clearest indicator right there that our sweet Ghanian bae is not long for this competition, because no way would 2016 be kind enough to let that happen. Meanwhile, Candice points out that this is the last time someone will be going home, because at the end of the next round someone will be winning the whole thing, and then afterwards all three of them will remain in the tent as a sit-in to prevent Channel 4 from taking ownership. You can’t move them, you know. They’ve got squatters’ rights.
3. The signature challenge was to make 24 palmiers, which are those sugary puff pastry things that look a bit like cartoon ears – except not so sugary in this case, because the instructions were to make savoury ones in two separate flavours, and using full puff pastry. (Apparently this means “not rough puff”, and not “pastry that you blow on really hard” like I initially thought.) Paul’s guidance for viewers in this episode was that you should be able to see the layers in a palmier, and that it should be quite flat, because otherwise “then it becomes something else. Then it becomes… a pastry.” Again, so glad that Paul is the one member of the original team who’s sticking around when the show hops broadcasters because I couldn’t bear to lose that level of expertise and in-depth analysis. The bakers had their own preferred options for making puff pastry which they shared with us as they kneaded, though Jane was tying herself in knots over not using Paul Hollywood’s preferred method and unfortunately lapsing into
Natalie-Cassidy-via-Morgana face. Paul of course relished the opportunity to flounce around the tent doing his best “I’m saying nothing but I want you to know I disapprove of everything you’re doing” face while the contestants talked about their puff pastry preferences, though he did express concern that Candice’s palmiers could be a little too thick at her planned half-inch. (First time in a while Paul Hollywood’s objected to something being half-inched, eh Channel 4?) Jane, meanwhile, related how the most recent trial batch she’d made at home had been an absolute disaster (though to be fair, one of her flavourings was black olive tapenade, Satan’s own foodstuff, so I don’t see how it could have turned out any other way), and Selasi informed us that the key to a good puff pastry is “chilling”. Finally: the challenge Selasi was born to do! And poor Andrew had the misfortune of getting a visit from Mary and Paul at the exact moment that
his puff pastry looked like the scraps pushed together at the end of a game of RapiDough. He admitted that it looked a little dry, and seemed genuinely surprised by Mary’s suggestion that perhaps this could have something to do with the fact that he’d chucked a load of dried breadcrumbs into it. Andrew persisted with Cousin Scrappy Dough for longer than any rational person might have done before ultimately binning it and starting again, which caused him to regret picking such a complicated shape for one of his designs (treble clefs, which didn’t actually look like treble clefs at all anyway) and sigh that he should just “keep calm and carry on, because it’s the British thing to do”. And if you’re wondering at which exact point in this year’s competition I became “Team Anyone But Andrew To Win”, there’s your answer. Despite a few butterfingers moments removing the palmiers from the oven, where Jane and Selasi ended up chucking half of theirs directly into the oven door, there were no further mishaps during the baking process itself, though there was a lot of worrying about whether they’d be cooked in time. Selasi in particular was strolling around growling “they just need to cook” to no one in particular and beating his chest with a slotted turner, prompting me to pause the programme while I ran off to have a lengthy cold shower. Ultimately Jane’s flavours were good but both sets of palmiers were underdone, Candice’s flavours were also praised but she’d overdone it with her red onion filling and cut them so thickly that Paul couldn’t classify it as a palmier lest he lose his judging licence. Mary liked Selasi’s inventive butterfly-shaped palmiers, but one batch were underbaked and the other flat-out raw. Andrew’s “herby treble clefs” (which looked about as much like a treble clef as I resemble celebrated feminist literary critic Elaine Showalter) tasted good but weren’t very buttery, though Mary liked his crumby outside (a belief that I understand is shared by most of Twitter), and Paul complimented him on essentially having dodged a bullet by binning his dry dough and starting again.
4. One of my favourite parts of this episode was the very genteel sledging going on between the contestants/editors. In fact, the editors got things off to a shady start by showing Candice remarking that it’s “so empty in here” (because it’s the semi-final) and then immediately cutting to
a shot of Andrew all “what did she say about me?”, though Andrew got his own back later by saying that Candice and Jane were “the ones to beat”, as he was entirely coincidentally hammering down on his dough with a rolling pin. Jane later remarked pointedly that Candice was unusually quiet this week and obviously must be focusing hard, and when Mel asked Selasi if he was about to cry, he replied “nah, I’ll leave the crying to Andrew.” Top prize overall goes to Selasi who decided that merely trash-talking your fellow contestants is weaksauce and decided to go straight for Mel and Sue as well by calling out the “two hours remanining!” announcement to the rest of the tent before they had a chance to do it. Mel and Sue were
understandably quite miffed and asked if they should do his baking for him. Considering how the rest of this episode played out, he probably should have said yes.
5. Most erotic moment of the entire episode?
Mel spotting that Candice’s lipstick had come off and reapplying it for her. If there aren’t at least 100 fanfics about this on AO3 by Tuesday (suggested title: “Getting Lippy”), I will feel very let down by all of you.
6. Paul sent the bakers into the technical challenge by reminding them that it’s the semi-final, so it’s not enough for their goods to taste good, they have to look good too. (Unless you tell him it’s meant to be something run-down and haunted in which case he’ll fall for it hook, line and sinker.) I’m so glad he made a point of distinguishing this from all the other weeks where the contestants were actively encouraged to turn in visual dogshite, anyway. They had to bake a savarin, explained to by Jane as “a sort of round yeasty cake-thing that you then soak with syrup”. I hope Jane lets her editor pick the recipe intros when she writes her inevitable cookbook. Paul and Mary went on to explain that this one is all about the proving, because if you don’t leave it long enough it won’t rise to the top of the mould, and if you leave it too long, it’ll balloon out of it like a muffin. Also you need to fill it with BOOZE NOM NOM MOAR BOOZE to ensure it is moist all the way through. Mary thought that the warm weather would help the contestants to get a good rise out of their dough, but in reality the bakers spent most of the task going “fackin ell it’s hot in here” (or a pre-watershed equivalent thereof). Still, at least Mel and Sue were on hand to provide
a dab down as and when required. Will you get that level of service from Richard Ayoade, eh? Jane faced her sugary nemesis once again when the recipe called for caramel, muttering to herself throughout about how terrible she is at caramel and sighing in dismay when Andrew’s came out perfectly on the first attempt. I think Jane may be my audience-proxy within the tent at this point, since I also have a disastrous history when it comes to making caramel, and I also do not enjoy seeing things go well for Andrew. Part of the recipe also required the contestants to pipe out the word “savarin” and I was hoping for some sort of repeat of Mary-Anne’s sachertorte from the series two final when she suddenly forgot how to spell, but disappointingly everyone here seemed to have remembered their dictionaries. There was consternation over how long to leave it in the oven (Andrew: “Everyone’s out apart from me at the moment” – oh hon, really?) and in getting the savarins cool enough to cover in cream on such a hot day (Selasi trying to decorate his while it was actually still in the freezer was particularly fun), and of course for poor Jane in still trying to get her caramel right when everyone else had already finished theirs. Come the judging, Candice’s was overbaked, underproved and too dense, but did have a nice boozy flavour. Andrew’s was also overbaked and had soaked it up well in the bottom (careful now) but the booze hadn’t penetrated the middle. Selasi’s was inconsistently-coloured which led Paul to deduce that it hadn’t been mixed properly, and his decoration was a little slapdash to boot. Jane’s was a little underproved and didn’t have great caramel, but it was a great colour. Selasi finished in last place, with Candice in third, Andrew in second, and Jane triumphing despite her caramel shortcomings.
7. And so we went into the final round knowing that it was essentially between Selasi and Candice for this week’s elimination, which is not a particularly cheering thought considering they’re the two best ones (they are, do not argue). All that stood between them and a polite wave-off was 36 fondant fancies – two different types as ever, all built around genoise sponge, buttercream icing and fondant made from scratch. Mary pointed out that “in the real world”, of course, the sponges would have been made in advance so they had plenty of time to cool, whereas here the contestants will be pulling them from the oven and immediately covering them in fondant right in the middle of summer. Almost as if they’re being set up to fail really, isn’t it? Top tips from the bakers in this round included Jane demonstrating how she holds her cakes on a potato masher while pouring the fondant over, everyone *except* Jane cooking theirs in a Swiss roll tin so it would cook and cool faster, and expert advice from the judges came in the form of Mary telling Selasi that he really should sieve his flour if he didn’t want his sponge to look like an absolute hot mess, and Paul telling Jane that if you’re not straight, that causes a huge amount of problems. (He ostensibly meant the curved edge of her heart-shaped fancies, but don’t think we’re not on to you all the same, Homophobe Hollywood.) Selasi ended up starting from scratch, meaning that his second sponge was just going into the oven at the same time everyone else’s was coming out, which basically meant he was absolutely fucked at this point considering what we already knew about the lack of available cooling time. As each individual cake needed to be coated with buttercream, there was a lot of intricate busywork to be done, which left the bakers arched over in increasingly surreal positions. Mel was a particular fan of Andrew’s “fondant straddle”, though I must say
I would not be wholly surprised if you told me that Andrew had adopted this position before, for activities that were unrelated to baking. (Also “Fondant Straddle” would be a good drag name if anyone wants it.) The stress section also demonstrated that Candice calls herself “CB” when giving herself pep talks, which I found rather endearing. In the end, Candice wowed Mary and Paul with her fancies, with Mary being particularly impressed by Candice’s cherry drizzle inside. Paul sneered that Selasi’s fancies were “a bit small, if I’m honest”, like he hasn’t spent half the series complaining that Selasi always makes his finger-foods too big, like WHAT DO YOU WANT, SIZE QUEEN. Mary wasn’t particularly excited by his flavours, though the sponge was good. Jane lost her shot at Star Baker with the knobbly outsides of her heart-shaped fancies, leaving the field free for Andrew with his Philharmonic Phancies, despite the fact that one or two of them had a bit of jam seepage.
8. There’s not much point in trying to create suspense at this point, is there? Despite Candice being the clear winner of the final round flavours-wise, the messiness of her ambitious fancies couldn’t compete with the uniformity of Andrew’s simpler efforts, so for the second time in the competition
a slightly startled-looking Andrew was our Star Baker. This leaves the leaderboard going into the final, Star Baker-wise, as follows:
Candice – 3
Andrew – 2
Jane – 1
Some stats for you here, if you’re interested: Nancy is the only winner to have been Star Baker in week one and then never again (which is Jane’s current trajectory), Nadiya is the only winner to have gone into the final with the (tied) highest number of Star Baker wins, Nadiya is also the only winner to have also been Star Baker in the semi-final, and a surprising 80% of winners were Star Baker in one week only (discounting series one, when there was no Star Baker award). Do what you will with that information.
9. The exclusion of Selasi from the above table (and, y’know, everything that happened to Selasi this week) of course means that
Selasi left us this week, and Sue sounded genuinely devastated to have to announce it. So long, Selasi, you glorious super-relaxed dry-witted star of the series. The final will be a worse place without you in it, even if it was the right call to send you home based on this week’s results. Mel and Sue promptly attached themselves to his lovely broad chest, which was absolutely the right call.
10. Traditional semi-final poll time!
Next week: it’s the final, Andrew is wearing shorts, and Chris will be here for what will possibly be our last-ever Bake Off recap, depending on what sort of state it’s in when it arrives at Channel 4