Julia sitting in front of the oven
Julia keeping a watchful eye on her pies

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Eyes on the pies: it’s pastry week on The Great British Bake Off

 It’s week seven in the Bake Off tent, and savoury’s back on the menu. But who’ll earn their shortcrust and who’s run out of puff? Lauren Bravo draws up the pie chart

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By Lauren Bravo on

As a great artist once sang, don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?

And Counting Crows ft. Vanessa Carlton were right – last week, we discovered only as he had one foot out of the tent how much we really loved James. Sweet, stoical James. Like the rom-com heroine who realises her soulmate was the sarcastic barman all along, I wish I had appreciated him more while he was under my nose.

So let’s not make the same mistake again, guys. Let’s cherish each of these bakers like a Twix at the bottom of our handbags that we’d forgotten we bought while drunk. Let’s hug them all close – Liam and Yan, Julia, Stacey... Kate… the posh one and… y’know, whassisface.  Because in four short weeks it’ll all be over and what will we have left? What excuse to celebrate the goodness of humanity and feast lavishly on carbohydrates could we possibly find to replace it?

Oh, OK. Christmas. But still, I stand by my point.
 

THE PIEFACE SHOWCASE

You’re going to need an open mind because two out of this week’s three challenges are savoury. In case anyone needs reminding, "savoury" – derived from the Latin for "slightly less delicious"– is what happens when you neglect to put sugar in things. It’s fine, I guess.

The first brief is for four shortcrust pies, united by a decorative theme. The pastry needs to look incredible but retain its light, crumbly texture when cut; so not just good, but as Paul would say, “fork-in” good.

“The theme of my pies is science,” declares your resident STEM spokeswoman, Yan. GO YAN! She’s using a vacuum sealer for her fillings, making binary code out of pastry and has even worked out the equation for the perfect pie (it starts "3.1phwoar").

Stace, I love you but it feels as though we are one Audrey Hepburn canvas away from kitting out the ladies’ loos at a suburban nail bar

Stacey is cracking out the red food colouring for her pastry hearts and roses (Stace, I love you but it feels as though we are one Audrey Hepburn canvas away from kitting out the ladies’ loos at a suburban nail bar), and Liam’s pies are inspired by his love of football… video games. Have you heard, kids, there’s a live-action version of football video games now? And instead of a controller you use your own legs?! I know, I know. Wild.

Meanwhile Steven is making a homage to his favourite band, Fleetwood Mac. Rumours? Nope, it’s all true! He’s going his own way, with a radical filling of Swedish meatballs, mashed potato and lingonberry jam. Which, let’s be honest, won’t taste quite the same without having first spent three hours in Ikea arguing with a partner over the POÄNGs.  

Just like perms, iPhones and suede shoes, the arch nemesis of the pastry case is moisture. And because science still hasn’t gifted us edible silica gel (Yan, it’s your calling!), the bakers must do everything they can to keep their fillings dry – but still delicious. Cautious Sophie is blind-baking her Four Seasons pies, which are full of… sherry, baby? No. Spinach, squash and blue cheese. Which isn’t even in the Jersey Boys encore.

Desperate to give their pastry enough time in the oven, everyone’s craft aspirations are falling flat. “It’s not as neat as I wanted it to be, but who really knows what William Shakespeare looked like?” reasons Kate. She’s right of course; there is every chance Kit Marlowe bashed out the plays next to a 3” by 6” blob of flour and butter. Historians can’t prove everything.

The judges declare Julia’s pie "cakey", as though that’s a bad thing, while Kate has soggy bottoms. And science has failed poor Yan, whose Darwin is under-evolved. Sophie claims her anemic lattice is intentional – “it has a milk wash on it!” is definitely the line I’m going to start using about my thighs come next summer – but her pies still get her a lesser-spotted Prue Pat.

Liam and Stacey have both triumphed, and while Steven’s Fleetwood Mac pies are strong, they don’t quite turn out a Landslide victory.

'There’s something quite upsetting about eating pink mash,' says Prue

“There’s something quite upsetting about eating pink mash,” says Prue, which could be the new "don’t eat yellow snow" As the Mac once almost sang, tsk tsk.
 

OH, WHAT A NATA

The technical challenge is the sexy Portuguese cousin of our own egg custard tart: pastéis de nata. You know, like at Nando’s! Of course, while this is lovely for us viewers, it does mean that Lisbon’s rein as the current Capital of Instagram must now come to an end. Somebody alert the Ljubljana tourist board and tell them to paint a few walls pastel; the hipsters are on their way.

Perfect natas need to be have silky-smooth set custard in a case of flaky rough-puff, artfully swirled on the bottom. The bakers are busy grating blocks of butter as though it were cheese, which is something I personally do all the time – although admittedly, I didn’t know you could use it to make pastry.

Next it’s Sandi’s Incredibly Gripping History Segment (SIGHS), where we learn that natas were invented by monks and nuns as a by-product of starching their robes – or rather, force of habit – while back in the tent, our bakers seem to be splitting into defined layers. Those who are making it correctly, and those who are nata.

“I’ve done the custard definitely right,” says Stacey. In a faraway office at Kismet Inc, a foghorn alarm sounds. "ACTIVATE LAW!!" flashes a sign on the wall. Sod and Murphy look at each other across the desk. “Do you want to, or shall I?”

The natas also need to have a distinctive blistered finish, and suddenly the bakers are more confused about colouring than Ross Geller in a tanning salon. “They’re meant to be browned a little bit on top,” explains Yan, popping hers under the grill – and in a moment of glorious synchronicity (give the editor a BAFTA), we cut to Kate’s table of tarts looking like a tray of barbecued mushrooms.

“I think they have got dark patches on them,” she deadpans.

When judging commences, some of the rough puff is fluffy, some scruffy, some too tough and some just plain duff. Julia is bottom, followed by Stacey and Kate, while Yan comes top with pure custard art. “That takes the edge off,” she beams, which is what I’d like to do to all those tarts with my bottom incisors.  

THE HAND-RAISED TALE

Finally, the showstopper: a family-sized hand-raised pie, made with hot water crust pastry, filled with meat or vegetables and topped with a whole heap of glazed fruit. Meat... and fruit. It’s enough to turn you into that proto-Brexit couple off Catherine Tate.

Stylistically, the pies all look a little like something that should be made from wax in the background of Fozziwig’s party in A Muppet’s Christmas Carol, and I mean that as the highest compliment. Kate and Stacey are both packing theirs with vegetarian curry, while elsewhere the tent is a veritable Noah’s Ark of carnivorous fillings, from Yan’s sausagemeat and black pudding to Sophie’s venison, rabbit and guinea fowl, Steven’s turkey and Liam’s goat. Though of course nobody’s made humble pie; Paul’s intolerant.  

The four hours have barely begun and already there’s controversy, as Liam, Julia and Yan have all chosen to mould their pastry inside the tin rather than the traditional method, outside it. A flash of Paul’s best blue steel is all it takes to get Liam to change his approach, but Yan and Julia are sticking to their guns.

“Everyone else is doing mad layers and stuff, and I’m just like: ‘potato’,” says Kate, which is also how I’d describe my winter wardrobe.

Stacey’s just realised she left her baking parchment inside. Is she going to perform keyhole surgery to extract the foreign body? 

But the judges are getting one more layer than they bargained for, because poor Stacey’s just realised she left her baking parchment inside. Is she going to perform keyhole surgery to extract the foreign body? Nope, she’s leaving it in. She can’t fight this filling anymore. She’s forgotten what she started fighting for.

Come judging, it’s hard to tell what’s the bigger health risk: raw meat, choking on paper, or the possibility that someone might find themselves enveloped in a full-body Hollywood Heimlich. Because ol’ Captain Eggwash over there is living his best life. He’s delighted at Kate’s curry, seduced by Sophie’s game, in love with Yan’s chequerboard finish and dazzled by Steven’s very merry berries. But above all, he’s finally about to give Liam star baker!

“I just wanted to make my Nan proud,” says Liam. “Hashtag Cynthia!” From now on, I move that we all use ‘#Cynthia’ as the highest form of compliment. As in “omg, your haircut’s hashtagcynthia!”.

So it’s only Stacey and Julia who have let the side down. In Stacey’s case literally, her pastry has buckled, while Julia’s ‘Special Occasion Pie’ has the appearance of something that might have been made for a special occasion during the war, out of gizzards and plaster dust. “The chicken is dry, the asparagus is overcooked,” declares Prue. “On the other hand the pastry is…” Magnificent? “...undercooked.” Oh. 

 

“I’m very pleased with the comments,” says Julia, who wasn’t listening. But sadly she is forced to pay attention when the judges send her home.

Farwell Julia, Queen of our Hearts! You may not have perfected pastry, but you certainly won the brow game – and I think we all know which society values more.   

NEXT WEEK: Will we make it through Italian week without anybody doing a Mario Brothers accent? Oh, don’t be Sicily.

@laurenbravo

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Julia keeping a watchful eye on her pies
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