Just when you thought it was safe to be snarky, episode five happened. I don’t know about you, but Terry and Karen’s poignant departure really caught me off guard – and, like an especially dense ma’amoul, I am still struggling to process it a week later. When Terry tearfully explained that baking had helped give him a focus after losing his wife, it confirmed something the fans have always known: that Bake Off is not, and has never really been, just a programme about cake.
Perhaps the country needs a GBBO helpline, like when Take That split up. At the end of every episode, they could give out a number, where trained operatives would make soothing noises and steer us towards videos of unlikely animal friendships on YouTube.
But while we might not be able to guarantee this week won’t cause emotional distress, pastry week does bring the following scenes of comfort: people grating butter as though it were cheese; people folding butter as though it were bedsheets; gently caramelising custard; Briony doing surprisingly well; a pheasant. So, that’s something.
SAMOSAS SUPPOSES, ERRONEOUSLY
Great news for those who thought spice week was a cop-out! Pastry week’s signature challenge is samosas.
This means six savoury and six sweet fillings (never say GBBO doesn’t challenge our preconceptions), with layers of thin, crisp pastry and yet another appearance from our new series regular: ghee. More ghee. Ghee as far as the eye can see. Is this a product-placement deal? It’s fine; I’d just like to have it clarified.
Some bakers are attempting cultural mash-ups that make Jamie Oliver look like Madhur Jaffrey (“chicken pesto”, sure), while others are hoping tradition will see them through.
“Cos I’m Indian, I’m expected to smash the samosas,” complains Ruby. Does anyone in her family make samosas at home? “No! No one does! They have lives!”
Rahul’s mum does. So, that’s awkward.
Emboldened as last week’s star baker, Kim-Joy is writing Pythagoras’ theorem on to her samosas in pen. Kim-Joy has done more to promote geek culture to the masses in six episodes than The Big Bang Theory has in 12 seasons, so no one is going to argue.
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It turns out Ruby has smashed it – and, in a thrilling turn-up for the books, reigning underdog Briony has turned out the best-looking samosas Paul’s ever seen! Not tasted, just seen, but she’ll take it. Meanwhile Dan’s pastry is “like leather” (note: this is only a good thing if it’s choux) and Manon’s homage to her mother has turned out dry and disappointing. She should have stuck with the traditional tribute: another family tattoo.
Jon’s platter of seduction is more smear than sauce, but he’s not the only one who’s “over-syruped” himself. During the past few weeks, everyone’s affection for Rahul has compounded into a situation where anything less than a Hollywood Handshake could prompt rioting in the cul-de-sacs. Prue tries to sub in with a two-handed Leith Sheath, but it’s not enough. It’s not enough! Finally, the hand emerges and we can all breathe again.
PS This show is ridiculous.
Jon, Dan and Kim-Joy are vying for the over-achiever’s badge of honour: making puff pastry from scratch. This involves extensive chilling, by people who are doing anything but
THE SOFT CHOUX SHUFFLE
The technical challenge takes us into vintage Bake Off territory: it’s cryptic, it’s European and it’s rude. It’s a well, actually.
Puits d'amour, which means “well of love” and was once considered scandalous “due to the erotic connotations”, feature a ring of rough puff pastry and a pocket of choux, covered with “nibbled” sugar, filled generously with créme and set to a delicate jiggle. Considering how many of us follow up this show with a chaser of Naked Attraction, it does feel oddly risqué.
Our bakers are producing a celebration of the “love well” in all its varied shapes and colours. Some are plump, some flat as pancakes, some look more like mini pizzas than pastries. Manon may not have heard of puits d’amour, but she’s throwing her whole French arsenal at the situation: her Gallic frowns, her insouciant shrugs, her very best “tak tak tak”. If this goes badly, she might need to resort to 20 Gauloises and Serge Gainsbourg piped through a speaker.
Ruby has misread the instructions. Poor Dan is anticipating a second pastry disaster, or, “waiting for the other choux to drop”. And across the tent, in an act of clear desperation, Jon is chugging raw egg whites from a jug. Jon! Mate! Did Edwina Currie not rattle you at all?
Come judging, Jon, Rahul, Manon and Kim-Joy have pulled off respectable efforts, but it’s Briony who has really surprised the tent, with “elegant, uniform”, moreish puits d'amour. Like the bucket in the well: she started from the bottom, now she’s here.
Less a well of love and more a puddle of lukewarm acquaintance, Dan’s pastry has deflated – but the tent’s biggest crème pât butcher is Ruby, whose burnt offerings put her in last place. “I can make choux, I a-choux you!” she wails.
Don’t lower yourself to puns, Rubes. It’s not dignified.
The final challenge of pastry week is a Tudor-style banquet pie, shaped by hand and so ornate that Henry VIII might have tried to marry it. “This is the bakers’ chance to show us a little bit of artistic flair,” says Paul, as though he didn’t spend last weekend up to his nuts in biscuit chandeliers.
We might not speak of soggy bottoms on Channel 4 Bake Off, but that doesn’t mean the threat has disappeared. Our bakers are employing a number of methods to soak up any extra juices – pancakes, rice or, in Manon’s case, greaseproof paper. Most of the tent are rustling up a quick hot-water crust pastry, but Jon, Dan and Kim-Joy are vying for the over-achiever’s badge of honour: making puff pastry from scratch. This involves extensive chilling, by people who are doing anything but.
With only 45 minutes to go, Dan’s dough is still in the fridge and he’s faffing about with pancakes.
“I want to ask Dan if he needs help, but I don’t want to stress him out,” says Ruby, with the air of one watching their very drunk friend try to put a jacket on.
“I thought if I made my pastry perfect, it would be really impressive,” Dan explains. It’s only a shame he didn’t think this tactic up yesterday.
GOOD PIE, CRUEL WORLD
When the pies are presented to the judges, Ruby’s Kohinoor crown is a thing of beauty and Briony – yesss! – has made an Alice in Wonderland pie fit for a duchess. She’s grinning like the proverbial cat. Unsurprisingly, it’s Team Puff in hot water. Kim-Joy’s mermaid has hoojits and whatsits galore, but her pastry is thick and raw. And Jon’s Welsh dragon is slain by the tent’s resident fire-breathers. “It’s a monster sausage roll,” shrugs Prue. Burn.
Meanwhile – “Just exquisite,” she coos at Rahul’s lumpy butterfly. I don’t want to suggest Rahul is being patronised here, but… it isn’t exquisite. He can see that. We can all see that. Let the lad fail, for God’s sake; it’ll be good for him.
Manon’s made a fish supper and she’s had her chips, too. “The pastry needed more cooking and the fish needed less cooking,” declares Prue, which feels like a bigger riddle than any at the Mad Hatter’s tea party. But, luckily for her, there’s a bigger fish to fry – Dan’s salmon pie, which he’s sprayed silver to conceal the fact it isn’t cooked. Paul likes the look of it, but then you suspect Paul might also like the look of those LED table lamps shaped like a motorbike.
And so, despite a few hints that his track record might save him, Dan is pastry week’s casualty and the Bake Off family is “with the feelings” once more. Until they launch that helpline, I will be over here, self-medicating with Briony’s peanut-butter piping bag.
Oh, Dan, such a shame. If you’d made your pastry perfect, it would be really impressive.
Next week: It’s vegan week! But you wouldn’t know – they hardly mention it