Welcome to Bake Off’s inaugural spice week! You can cancel that order of cooling raita because it’s all just cake and biscuits.
Terry has returned after last week’s leave of absence, happy to be back, but presumably not thrilled to discover that the judges were so convinced he’d have cocked up last week that they let everyone else off the hook. Consequently, tonight is the night that nine become seven, as we’re looking at a double eviction.
Will Terry make it last for ever or will the pressure prove too much? Can Briony and Karen say they’ll be there next week? Can I get through this review without shoehorning in a tenuous plug for my upcoming book about the Spice Girls (out 18 October from all good booksellers)? It’s really impossible to say.
SHAKE YA MOLASSES
What the judges really, really want for this week’s signature challenge is a humble ginger cake. It should be moist, sticky and distinctly flavoured with root, stem, syrup or powdered ginger. “Ginger is my favourite spice,” says Prue, who hasn’t got the memo that we’re all Team Posh these days.
Our beloved Rahul, whose life in the UK so far seems to have been an elaborate PR exercise by VisitEngland, discovered ginger cake during a Bonfire Night celebration and was intrigued by its spicy flavour. “In India, sweet things mean extremely sweet,” he explains. This helpfully also explains Rahul.
Following the triumph of his mango spheres last week, ol’ Heston Bloomin-hwyl over there has his syringe out again – this time to make lemon glitter balls, the South Park novelty single nobody remembers. “There’s no time to relax and have a cup of tea or anything,” Jon says, slurping on a brew. I love Jon.
Elsewhere, disaster. Having fallen foul of the curse of star baker, Dan is crying over split milk. Nobody’s been this stressed out over a bowl of curds since Little Miss Muffet. Meanwhile Terry, our blessed sacrificial lamb, is leading himself to slaughter by spreading buttercream between his still-warm sponges. You ooze, you lose, Terry; we all know that rule.
The judging is, as usual, a Rahul love-in.
“You are one hell of a baker,” Prue tells him. “It’s quite annoying,” says Paul. “Sorry,” says Rahul, stricken.
Meanwhile, an elated Kim-Joy demonstrates the correct way to receive a Hollywood Handshake: laugh nervously, let it hang for a minute, then approach with caution, as though being invited to hold someone’s pet gecko. And Manon makes an effort to address the tent’s gender praise gap by requesting a Prue Pat as well.
But not everyone has nailed the Bonfire Night vibes. Terry and Dan have veered off into Halloween, Briony is running a very real risk of “Dry-ony” becoming a nickname and Karen has achieved the Bake Off impossible: she’s used too much booze. Apparently, Guy Fawkes round Karen’s house has its own St John Ambulance on standby.
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YOU AND ME BABY AIN’T NOTHIN BUT MA’AMOULS
If there’s one thing we can say for Paul Hollywood, it’s that he is determined to give the country a gastronomic education. Spice week’s technical challenge is “ma’amouls”: Middle Eastern date and walnut pastries.
Everyone is quite rude about the ma’amouls, which sound delicious in a worthy, “last to arrive at the office bake sale” kind of a way. Let’s give them a chance. To quote some girlband or other whose name escapes me – ma’amoul, I love you. Ma’amoul, I care.
Just like some 90s popstars, the ma’amoul pastry is short, rich and prone to breaking up with devastating consequences. And the spices are equally mysterious to our bakers: mastic and mahleb. The former is a resin found in builder’s sealant, which bodes well.
Once rolled and filled, the pastries need to be shaped using a flower mould or pinched with ma’amoul tongs. Nobody knows what they are doing or why. Or how. “Interesting. And by interesting, I mean awful,” mutters Dan, in a TripAdvisor gobbet for the ages.
The judging is disappointingly lacking in “yo’ ma’amoul” jokes. Jon’s are too potent, Briony’s are bitter and, ghee whizz, Terry’s overdone the clarified butter. In last place, it’s Karen, who might have been forgiven putting the wrong filling in the wrong moulds if her pastries didn’t also look masticated... in the other sense.
But number one is Ruby, who can’t quite believe she’s pulled it off. Q: How’d you beat the competition, Rubes? A: “With mastic.”
Now, Prue has gone home ill. What’s going on? Nobody knows, but here are my guesses: 1) Prue and Terry have been necking in the bushes; 2) Paul is bumping everybody off one by one like an Agatha Christie; 3) Prue is striking in protest at this week’s showstopper challenge being “a spiced biscuit chandelier”, a thing that has absolutely never existed.
“If you do an internet search for ‘biscuit chandelier’, do you know what comes up? Nothing,” gripes Dan, whose answering-back-to-teacher sass I, for one, am really enjoying. Dan was definitely the kid who would take an angry petition round at playtimes.
The chandelier criteria: it must be headily spiced, highly decorative and robust enough for Sia to swing from. Karen’s last hope of saving herself is a tribute to her years at Pontefract Girls’ School, flavoured with that famously uncontroversial people-pleaser: liquorice. And continuing his application to be Mr Modern Masculinity 2018, Jon is baking yet another family-themed bake in honour of his daughter’s birthday. I never thought I had daddy issues until I was forced to think about how few biscuit chandeliers my father has ever baked for me.
And in an act of mustachioed artistic ambition not seen since Salvador Dalí himself, Terry is attempting to bake his way through the whole of The Twelve Days of Christmas – a song nobody can even sing without getting bored halfway through and wandering off to find the Baileys bottle.
But is Terry our most ambitious baker? Is he heck. Rahul’s making 150 biscuits. One five oh. I don’t know what constitutes over-baking in, y’know, a medical sense, but one fears this is pushing it. Has he done the proper stretches? Does he have an ionised sports drink?
“I know I’m crazy,” Rahul shrugs, as everyone looks concerned and the crew check he’s signed a liability waiver.
Ruby’s chandelier is peacock-themed. Notably, the tent has seen two peacocks in previous years, from Nadiya and Candice, both of whom went on to win the crown. Combining the facial dexterity of one and the lipstick skills of the other, this could be a pivotal moment in Ruby’s Bake Off journey!
It isn’t. Her ganache has melted. But look, there’s no way she could have known the tent might be warm. It’s never come up before.
After the series’ most nail-biting countdown yet (it’s funny – when Rahul says, “It’s looking rubbish,” you still believe he will produce something so beautiful it would make angels weep, but when Terry says it, you cross yourself and open more wine), it’s time for the King of the Swingers to deliver his verdict.
To sum things up in chandelier terms: Manon = Made.com, Dan = Dunelm, Kim-Joy = Disneyland, Rahul = 18th-century Maharaja’s palace and Terry = The Phantom of the Opera. Post-crash. Despite all the effort he put into his Twelve Days of Christmas, Paul wants the gift receipt – so Terry is spice week’s first casualty. Like so many great artists, he was unappreciated in his own time. 8pm till 9.15.
And although Briony’s turmeric is an acquired taste and Jon’s glittery bics are best eaten with your eyes shut, Karen must demonstrate that an all-girls education doesn’t always mean academic success. Her liquorice biscuits taste of allsorts, so it’s hometime for her, too.
Goodbye, my friends. We know you’re gone, you said you’re gone... but you really did spice up our lives.
Next week: Paul has a finger in every pie. It’s pastry week!