Hello! Welcome to the first meeting of BLAGHH, the British League Against Gratuitous Hollywood Handshakes. Help yourself to antibacterial gel and take a seat! There will be a buffet afterwards, but please know that, for security reasons, all refreshments must be overbaked, underproved and decorated with curdled ganache. We can’t take any chances.
We’re all gathered here today because we share growing concerns about the economy of this competition. As the value of the Hollywood Handshake continues to deflate faster than an eggless soufflé, something must be done to stop that over-eager mitt before everything the show has come to stand for – hard work, emotional journeys, the gradual rise of the plucky underdog – is destroyed in its floury grasp.
But all is not lost. For, our greatest hope that Paul might calm the hell down and keep his paws in his pockets for once is surely this: vegan week.
GROOVE IS IN THE TART
Of course, Bake Off has always been a show with an eco-conscience. All these years, they’ve stubbornly resisted air conditioning; Prue’s side hustle turning household refuse into stylish jewellery; the pheasants allowed to roam free. But, this year, in a move so perfectly 2018 it practically has matte gold accents, they’ve gone vegan.
Vegan week, it transpires, does not mean cobbling together an emergency fruit salad while swearing under your breath in the kitchen. It’s the whole jackfruit enchilada. There will be coconut oil and nutritional yeast, and pudding magicked from things that absolutely don’t sound like pudding. “I had to do, like, internet searches this week on vegetables,” says Jon, who has fallen quite comfortably into the role of “bemused da at a Toby Carvery”.
“You look like you might know your way around a vegan restaurant,” Noel tells Kim-Joy, which is what we call a geo-targeted compliment. It registers as an insult outside of Brighton, Bristol and the M25.
The signature bake is savoury vegan tartlets, involving more ropey disguises than a Halloween stroll up Camden High Street. Ruby is using yeast instead of cheese, Kim-Joy has subbed in eggs for sulphuric black salt and, keen to refute the notion that veganism is more popular among the youth of today than drinking, Briony has replaced butter with prosecco. Her only error is not replacing her vegetables and pastry with prosecco, too. And swapping the baking tray for a glass.
Rahul is staying in his comfort zone, with a favourite chickpea curry, although Rahul’s “comfort zone” is roughly equivalent to everyone else’s “dentist’s chair in a blizzard with a hangover”.
“Something smells so good,” coos Ruby.
“Sorry,” says Rahul.
Vegan week, it transpires, does not mean cobbling together an emergency fruit salad while swearing under your breath in the kitchen. It’s the whole jackfruit enchilada
When judging rolls round, his filling is “poetry”, but it’s the others who get slammed. Ruby’s flavours are underwhelming, Briony’s are overwhelming and Jon’s manage to be both at once. But Kim-Joy perfectly whelms everybody with her tofu-laden tartlets. Out comes the Hollywood hand, obviously... but it wavers! Its power is weakening!
GIVE PEAS A CHANCE
This week’s technical is a pavlova, although, being vegan week, we’re talking less “ballerina” and more interpretive contemporary dance. The cream is made from whipped coconut. The meringue is made with aquafaba, AKA the proteinous brine from a can of chickpeas, which whisks up in exactly the same way as egg whites (a fact discovered, you can only assume, by somebody’s mum using the tins for a really vigorous Rosemary Conley home workout in the mid-90s). The fruit is made from fruit.
Before long, Kim-Joy’s mix has peaked too soon and, despite stoically starting all over again, her pavlova ends up cracking.
WATCH OUR LATEST AD BAKE - VEGAN BROWNIE BITES YOU CAN MAKE IN THE AD BREAK
Q: What’s the difference between vegan meringue and white masculinity?
A: They’re both fragile, but only one has to work hard to earn its place at the table.
Time for judging, in which Paul approaches with all the open-mindedness of a 6am John Humphrys, while the bakers and the PR department of the UK Chickpea Guild all hold their breath. But it’s surprisingly successful! Rahul, Manon and Ruby’s efforts are all aquafabulous! Though poor Rubes is visibly pea’d off at only coming in third.
Incredibly, it’s Rahul’s very first technical win. “I made something and the judges like it. That’s a very good thing,” he says. You worry Rahul might have only just had this explained to him.
The showstopper challenge is something the less enlightened among us might regard an oxymoron – a vegan celebration cake. Like Paris Hilton on The Simple Life, it needs to be tall, rich, fancy-looking and a total stranger to the farmyard.
The beet goes on, as does the matcha and the turmeric, in Manon’s naturally coloured vegan buttercream. Other bakers are focused more on the family feels: Ruby’s indulgent grandad; Rahul’s abstemious grandma; Briony’s dairy-free brother; and Kim-Joy’s friend who is, like, really into foxes. There’s nothing like an emotional backstory to really reel you in.
Meanwhile, Jon is so inspired by news of the upcoming Only Fools And Horses musical that he’s crafting a Del Boy Trotter-themed cake. Or, at least, he thinks it’s Del Boy – but, with a layer of leopard print and a layer of sheepskin, it looks quite a lot like the queue at Soho Whole Foods Market any given lunchtime, circa now.
Vegan cake can be softer than your average sponge (the missing ingredient is cruelty), so things get tricky when the stacking begins. Before long, there are three women gathered around Ruby’s bench, trying to help her keep her cake upright, with all the sisterly supportiveness of a public tights emergency. Hold it! Hoist it! Send for back-up! We can do this!
Sadly, they can’t. You know drama is afoot when you see the bakers go off for their tea break… and there it goes, Ruby’s cake toppling over like a drunk toddler.
But the previously unseen news is that we have a pair of dowelling slippers, because Rahul’s cake has fallen over, too! Is this going to be one of those situations where the cakes that look like disasters actually taste great and vice versa? We couldn’t possibly say.
GET BEHIND ME, SEITAN
But, obviously, yes. Kim-Joy and Briony have both won over the judges with lovely bakes, but poor Manon, whose semi-naked cake looks so exquisite it could make me feel bad about myself on Instagram, is trashed for its gluey texture. And Jon’s cake, which fully looks as though it belongs down the market next to the vapes and wolf blankets, actually tastes cushty; so does Ruby’s deconstruction, although it’s more wooden rod than cake by this point. Remember what Ford Prefect taught us, Rubes: always know where your dowel is.
To be honest, the biggest winner is old Shakin’ Stevens over there, who has managed to keep his hand to himself for the rest of the episode. Progress, Paul! There’s hope for you yet.
But not, sadly, for one baker. He charmed the nation with his lessons in positive masculinity and flew the flags for Wales and Hawaii with equal gusto, but it’s time for Jon to go. Cwtches all round! And somebody fetch the poor man a kebab; his iron is dangerously low.
Next week: We’re going the whole hygge. It’s Danish week!