Pictured: my idea of a good dessert, though not necessarily anyone else’s – and certainly I doubt that ‘doughnut milkshake’ would ever make it into the sacred halls of Bake Off challenges.
Anyway, we’re halfway through the series – halfway?! – and so what better way to open the show than with Sandi teaching Noel how to frolic? I have to hand it to these two: they’ve got the right sort of vibe between them that I actually almost believe that the cameraman might just have stumbled upon them frolicking in the fields of their own accord. It seems like the sort of thing they might spend some time doing, but alas, it’s only there to lead to a weak Sex Pistols pun. Ah, well. It’s dessert week, which to me seems like an extraordinarily broad topic, but luckily we have some challenges to make it all more nicely defined and whatnot.
Our ‘signature’ challenge (I realise at this point that I’d completely forgotten up until now what it was called, referring to it instead as just ‘th
e first bit’ or something) is something called a ‘steamed school pudding’: a steamed spongy thing with a compote or custard topping. (Not that harsh, as these things go – generally they have to do 56 identical ones, but this is just the one.) I’ve had steamed puddings before, but certainly wouldn’t associate them with school. Clearly I’ve been living a sheltered life, and/ or my schools just weren’t very fun compared to everyone else’s. This whole thing is making me realise I’m not totally sure on, like, a metaphysical level what actually counts as a pudding. Evidently steamed puddings do, because they’ve got ‘pudding’ in the name, but I think Americans have a thing called ‘pudding’ which is actually a specific thing? Pudding cups? Heck, I don’t know. To me, pudding is just anything you eat after another meal, but maybe I’ve been using the word wrong all my life.
This particular pudding must be neither soggy nor stodgy, we learn. No sog, no stodge. Big no-nos. Sophie’s going for a ginger, fig and honey steamed pudding with a tonka bean mascarpone, whatever that is (apparently, she got the beans from the supermarket, leading Sandi to comment that they must go to different supermarkets and me to give a heavy sigh I reserve for situations in which someone is desperately trying not to appear middle-class but inadvertently appears even more so). Paul gives her a distinctly judgy look, which Hannah suspects he might practice in front of the mirror. (Reminder, by the way, that the Things Hannah Said While Watching Bake Off This Week feature will be returning at the end of this week’s recap.)
Yan – eternal queen of all things – is returning to her roots by busting out the science, using breadcrumbs in her flour recipe for the most scientific of stodge prevention. She also has a mango which is either something called an Alfonso mango or a mango she’s just named Alfonso. I hope the latter is true, I really do. Meanwhile, Kate’s doing an Earl Grey custard, which apparently is a bit risky; Paul actually gives her a tip about not letting the lemon overpower the other flavours, which seems a bit out of character for him unless it’s supposed to be a snide ‘don’t fuck up, but you’re probably going to fuck up’. Which does seem likely, come to think of it.
On the other side of the counters, we’ve got Liam, whose approach to his Bakewell-themed sponge pudding is ‘see what happens, innit’. Stacey’s also doing Bakewell, which she apparently practiced 17 times; as Hannah points out, she’s clearly not too confident if she felt she had to practice 17 times. Still, I do wish Liam had practiced a bit more. He’s very much a Selasi type – Selasi was one of my favourites last year, a super-cool guy who never seemed to worry about anything, but you sometimes felt that maybe he should be worrying. Then there’s Steven taking up the entire other end of the spectrum with a recipe that sounds simple, but then he starts injecting compote and shiznit. Add ‘nurse/ anaesthetist’ to the list of careers that have transferable skills to baking, I guess (alongside sculptor, engineer, mathematician, magician, blacksmith, cowboy, robot, hedgehog, museum curator and presumably infinite others).
Remember last week, when Noel got sent to flipping Holland for a little five-minute clip on the history of stroopwaffles? Sandi’s got that job this week, except they’ve just put her on a bus to Cambridge to talk to a man who’s apparently an expert on steamed puddings. Why there’s someone who’s paid to have the job of ‘steamed pudding expert’ is beyond me, but there you go. Turns out steamed puddings are historically utterly disgusting, so let’s hope our intrepid bakers turn out something better than that.
We return to find out whether they can indeed do better, and James’ comes out of the oven with a hole in it. Not sure that’s deliberate. Stacey’s way too relieved when hers comes out well – Hannah’s liking her less and less with every passing minute, commenting in particular on how she claims not to be able to do anything right but then being all like ‘yeaaaahhhh fuck you’ when she does in fact do it right. The next thing out of Hannah’s mouth, incidentally, is ‘oh dear, potato man’, when James’ hole-ified pudding has a bit of a collapse. I predicted James would be the one to go this week and that’s looking increasingly likely (his sponge is apparently very dense), but I also had Kate down as a potential winner and she’s not doing too well either; her tea’s not thickening, which doesn’t surprise me because… it’s tea. ‘It’s a disaster,’ she says, and unfortunately the judges seem to agree.
Julia does OK, with a nice orange treacle thing that apparently isn’t very light but which I think I’d rather like; Sophie’s is a bit of a stodge but is nicely ginger-y, fig-y and honey-y, despite a bit of uncertainty around the tonka bean thing. Steven, meanwhile, starts judging his own pudding as the judges are eating it, commenting that the flavour should be ‘sharp against the mellow’ or something stupid. He even gets a coveted Hollywood handshake, even though I swear it wasn’t even that good. Then we get to Yan, who does pretty well! Good mango – get in there, Alfonso. It’s so delicious that SHE GETS A HANDSHAKE TOO! Cor, he’s just giving them away now. Is this episode going to be the historical tipping point wherein the handshake stopped really meaning anything?
On to the battle of the Bakewells, Liam’s looks pretty nice and has a decent flavour, but is a bit stodgy. Stacey’s is delicious, which pisses me and Hannah right off, and – for heaven’s sake – she even gets another handshake. It’s not even a big deal any more, Paul, just give it up. Liam’s not too pleased, though, bless him.
It’s technical time, and this week it’s a chocolate pudding (I’ll be honest, this is what I’d have thought was a steamed pudding, but whatever) with a molten peanut butter core. We’ve got staggered start times this week so that each baker presents their attempts while they’re still hot; Julia starts all on her lonesome, bless her. Wonder where the others go while this is going on? Just for a little frolic in the field, perhaps. They enter while the previous ones are still going, at any rate, which must be a little bit distracting.
Unusually for a technical, two of the bakers actually sort of know what this one is! Yan’s made one before, so she’s got this, I hope; James is very smug about (for a change) knowing more than most of the rest of ’em, as he flicked through a book the night before and vaguely remembers something or other about chocolate. It must be hard for the others not to listen in while James cheekily divulges exactly how to do it to the camera; Liam, looking a bit nervous, is certainly glancing at what everyone else is getting up to. Bake Off then turns into Greek theatre with a lovely bit of dramatic irony, as Paul reveals that about 10 minutes is OBT (Optimum Bake Time) for one of these doo-whats; Kate’s thinking she’ll put hers in for 35! Steven says 25, which I pettily hope will lead to disaster for him. Sophie, meanwhile, has still not learned to turn the flipping oven on, while James is still monologuing to the camera about his amazing tips for a balance of crispy outside and molten sponge, which he’ll bake for 8 minutes. He’d better get on with the bake, anyway; monologuing never ends well!
Paul and Prue are just sat up the end of the tent facing away, rather than the usual line-up on the gingham altar, meaning that those who aren’t nearby have to simply bite their nails in terror, unable to hear the judges’ opinions. Sophie does pretty well – annoyingly, I thought they were looking at Liam’s, and was pretty happy about it. His aren’t terrible, but not enough peanut butter; Steven’s look oh-so-perfect but are too solid on the inside; Yan presents hers in a nice little willy shape, but sadly it’s a bit underbaked. C’mon, Yan, I thought this was your week!
Then we’ve got the abject failures, sadly. Kate’s look like some sort of jellyfish, or perhaps a Flan (of the Final Fantasy variety, not the baking variety) – major overbakedness, unfortunately. James, meanwhile – we all thought you knew what you were doing, Jimmy, you had us convinced! – can barely even get his completely raw cakes out of the mould. Whoops.
The results are to be expected: Kate’s in last, a long way to fall from the heights of Star Baker last week. Then it’s James, then Yan (noooooooo). Steven, Stacey, then Julia in third and Liam’s second, making Sophie the winner of this week’s technical. This is Liam’s second week in the top three of the tech, I’m pretty sure, which usually guarantees safety (barring a major balls-up elsewhere). Get in, Liam. At this point, James and Kate are in trouble, meaning that my prediction for this week has about a 50% chance of coming true and a 50% chance of my bet for overall winner going out already!
The week’s final challenge, as ever, is the showstopper, and it’s… trifle. Ugh. I seriously hate trifle, you guys, at least the kind of trifle that usually gets brought out at my family’s Christmas events: layers of thick cream and rubbery custard with a sponge soaked in sherry and (the only bearable bit as far as I’m concerned) a nice little bit of jelly. I’m guessing this lot won’t be using the instant cube jelly stuff – have you ever had that stuff? Oh, my God, you can just eat the cubes, screw adding water and making an actual bowl of it. Hnnnng. Despite my apparent penchant for instant jelly, I don’t think it’ll be quite ‘proper’ enough for Bake Off, more’s the pity. It all has to ‘slice well’, too, so we need a nice, structurally sound jelly, which to me does not sound much like a jelly at all. There’s a bit of a debate raging over whether to use leaf or powdered gelatin to make the jelly: either way, you can’t use too much lest it go overly firm, which is just a bit ick. There’s also an extra element in that each slice is supposed to look really baller on the inside.
So what have we got? Stacey’s going for pineapple, rum and mint, which sounds like major grossness to me; Steven’s doing an American flag, while James is doing a Union Jack. Prue points out that James has made his flag flat, so slicing the trifle will reveal simple layers of colour (on account of the fact that you don’t slice horizontally, unless you are a bit peculiar). Silly potato. Yan’s sounds good, though, and there’s even a story in there about her dad in the war. If this was Britain’s Got Talent, that’d be all she’d need to win. Kate and Yan both have mousse layers in theirs, while some others have Eton mess (I know I’ve had it, but I’ve no idea what it is): Sophie’s got an Eton mess layer with yuzu fruit. I’m surprised it’s taken so long for someone to bust the yuzu out! Usually at least six people have done something with yuzu by week 4. Speaking of the layers they’ve got, though… these don’t really look like trifles to me. My conception of a trifle is just this big sloppy mess in a bowl, so maybe what I’ve been having isn’t really a trifle at all? They also seem to be arbitrarily referring to them as ‘terrines’ from time to time, so I’m just flipping clueless as to what anyone’s actually making at this point.
The rest of ’em stack up reasonably well: Stacey’s sounds a bit ambitious, so I’m sort of hopeful she might balls it up. Indeed, she forgets to put sugar in her biscuits. Liam’s doing something with brownies and chai latte pannacotta because he’s an artsy student type (as was I, but I could only ever afford instant noodles and occasionally some broccoli); Kate’s going traditional with lots and lots of raspberries, which sounds good. Everyone’s doing so many layers! Mary Berry would be pleased.
The time comes to remove the trifles from the tin, and I’m initially very impressed with how solid Liam’s looks… until Hannah points out that he hasn’t taken it out yet, and I’m just looking at the tin. Unfortunately, the trifle itself isn’t half as solid, with some significant drippage. Sophie’s is very pretty, with a big ol’ pink sausage right down the centre. The yuzu’s tasty and high class, says Paul (but no handshake, perhaps as a concession to the over-budget-ness of the many handshakes the day before). Yan’s looks incredible, making a little snowglobe thingy out of gelatin by injecting colouring. I love Yan, you guys. Apparently her custard is a bit too firm, but who cares? Yan rules.
Stacey gets hers spot on, with lime mint chilli being declared ‘genius’ – but, again, no handshake! Kate’s is nice and neat and clean and tasty too, so she may have saved herself. James has gone a bit too firm and a bit too sweet; the prosecco jelly’s nice, but the rest is sickly and flavourless. I feel my prediction coming true! Julia gets some… not praise, not criticism, just Paul being Paul – her appearance is ‘alright’ and the texture is ‘OK’. She looks devastated, bless her.
Moving on, Steven…. ugh. Everyone applauds for his damn jelly, which when cut forms an American flag. Yeah, it’s super impressive, but I still don’t care. It seems, however, that he’s gone all firm on his jelly in an effort to get the appearance, sacrificing texture and flavour, so Paul has no boner today. I’m a bit worried about Liam, whose trifle is clumsy and not set; Paul makes a show of not being able to cut it (he’d never do that to Steven), and finds that the pannacotta’s nice, but the brownie’s tough and the jelly’s a ‘disaster’. Poor Liam looks like he might cry. Overall, though, James must be worse – Liam came second in the technical and did pretty well in the signature, so I’m hoping he’ll be alright. We then get ADVERTS. God. We had a break between the baking and the judges tasting the showstoppers, and another one between that and the final results.
When we return, we find that Stacey’s a contender this week (darn it), while Kate’s saved herself. Liam and James are probably the bottom two – Julia didn’t do too well this week either, but I don’t think she’s going to go today.
Final results: Sophie gets Star Baker (my predictions had her as leaving next week, so that might be kaput), and our elimination this week is ol’ potato himself, James (so at least I got one week right!). Prue says they’ll miss him – apparently, he’s a really nice guy, but that won’t get you far in the cutthroat world of baking. Oddly, Sandi seems to be stroking Liam’s face and asking if he’s OK. Hmm.
Anyway, that’s that – next week is pastry, which usually means some spectacular bakes and some truly rubbish ones. Will I maintain my prediction streak? Probably not. Tune in to find out anyway!
Things Hannah Said This Week
- ‘He’s giving Kate a tip? He wouldn’t give James a tip. I think he’s only doing it because he likes her. Dirty Paul.’
- ‘Liam’s only 19? That’s disgusting. Do you think while they’re waiting around he’s doing his essays and stuff? Do you think his mum packs his lunch?’
- ‘See, look at that overhead shot. No parking, no paving. How? Unless that’s not really where they are… maybe they’re underground and can never leave until one kills all the others. It’s like The Hunger Games. It’s The Hungry Games.’
- ‘They don’t get much space. I don’t have a very big kitchen and I have like three times more counter space than that. Where do all the pans come from? Do they bring their own? Do they loot them from eliminated bakers?’
- ‘So is that [Steven] the one I don’t like? Why is he wearing cycling clothes? What’s up with that zip? Whyyyyy?’
- ‘Handshakes mean nothing! It’s not even that good, anyway, like “mmmm, touch my dirty sweaty hands”. What a flipping reward.’
- ‘Do you think they get travel expenses?’