I can’t believe we’re eight weeks into Bake Off, with only two more to go! That’s kind of devastating, and also a bit exciting. I have to admit to being a little bit surprised by the final five – Steven’s no shocker, and I had Kate pegged to win a while back (though she’s gone downhill faster than a Red Bull Soapbox car), but Sophie’s been quietly efficient enough over the past few weeks to make it to the quarters without initially seeming to be outstanding and Liam’s come into his own as one talented kid. Meanwhile, Stacey’s continued presence is also a thing, which I suspect surprises nobody more than her.
This week’s theme is ‘forgotten bakes’, which basically just means stuff from the past that nobody’s made in ages because, presumably, they realised that they were icky and that we have KFC these days so wasting time with centuries-old recipes is basically as silly as reverting to using pig bladders as footballs. Nevertheless, the task is to make versions of old-timey baked goods which are actually edible, so let’s see how our bakers get on.
First up, our signature challenge is a so-called Bedfordshire clanger, a vaguely-sausage-roll-shaped sweet-and-savoury hybrid tied up in an old-style pastry which must be neither overworked nor underworked. It’s commonly made with syrup and suet, which I was vaguely aware of as a slightly gross thing but which I am now uncomfortably aware of as a very gross thing. Steven, historian that he is, briefs us on what suet is (raw, hard fat from around loins or kidneys) and what is was originally used for (I blanked out).
Right, Liam. With Yan’s departure last week, you’re my man now. Whatcha got going on? Oh, a short, flaky, yet robust pastry? Awesome. Thanks, dude. Liam’s making pizza-style fillings, accompanied by a dipping sauce; Prue and Paul are appalled by the idea of dipping sauce with pizza, because of course they’ll never have had takeaway pizza, only authentic I-talian crispy thingies. Showing his youth again, Liam points out that a clanger is basically just a pasty with half sweet and half savoury fillings and is therefore not that groundbreaking, because he’s just a rebel like that. (Side note: I was re-reading American Gods recently and was astonished to remember that protagonist Shadow didn’t know what a pasty was. Does America not have pasties? Good Lord.)
Stacey’s the only person doing a wet filling, which is just not a good phrase, while Sophie’s got the pretty cool idea of decorating each end with a pig or banana to differentiate her sweet and savoury ends. Kate, meanwhile, is doing burrito-type things. I’m slightly concerned that this week might be what breaks her, but we shall see. At this point I’ve abandoned hope of my prediction about her victory being correct, but she might still manage to hold on until the final if she can get back up to her previous quality. That said, if they judged based on all the weeks and not just the single episode we’re on, she’d probably be in prime position for elimination already. Hannah actually quite likes Kate, but still sort of wants her to fail and just go home at this point. Put her out of her misery, ‘like a dog with a broken leg and a face tumour’. Steven does offer her some help this episode, sorting out her oven temperature or something – he’s the only person sticking rigidly to the prescribed two-thirds savoury, one-third sweet ratio, because of course he is.
Disaster (Kate’s favourite word, if you recall) strikes a few times during this challenge, as Stacey’s all start cracking and leaking (I don’t really see the issue; I quite like getting a pasty with a nice little line of leaky gravy dripping out) and Kate actually fully drops one on the floor. Liam narrowly averts major issues by briefly thinking he’s lost his sauce pots before spotting them right in front of his face.
Speaking of Liam and his sauce pots, bless the guy: he’s the only one who puts so much effort into the presentation of every single challenge. He’s got a little pizza box for this one, but Prue and Paul don’t even comment on it before telling him that his pastry isn’t sufficiently robust and the sauce isn’t necessary. His flavours, though, are pretty awesome, and Prue gets down with the kids by giving him a little punch in the arm – her equivalent of the coveted Hollywood handshake, I guess. (Adorably, his comment to camera afterwards is that he’s happy there’s something for him to improve because it gives him motivation and something to work towards. I love this kid.) Kate’s are, unsurprisingly after the whole ‘dropped one on the floor’ debacle, a bit of a mess, and don’t have any visual cues as to how distinguish which end is which. They’re also not even cooked, which might be a bigger issue if anything, and apparently taste of nothing but rice. It’s basically just rice in raw pastry. Sorry, Kate. Tell you who else’s look a bit messy and gross, though: Steven. Nobody comments on that, though, except as an afterthought to how amazing his flavours are; Paul actually thanks him for creating the darn things. The cheek.
Sophie’s are cool-looking and pretty decently flavoured, and finally Stacey actually gets a darn handshake for how delicious hers are. (Steven presumably dies a little bit inside; it must be like getting cheated on.) She can’t even be happy about it, though, saying it must be a fluke because it never goes that well at home. For heaven’s sake, Stacey, just accept that you’re not bad at baking already.
I think it’s safe to say this is going to be an important technical, most likely defining who’s going to be going home. It is… all about precision, according to Paul (I miss Yan, she’d have liked that), and what it is is a ‘rumnicky’. ‘Rum Nicky’? I don’t know. I’m gonna call it a ‘rumnum’. Anyway, a rumnum is a sweet tart originating in Cumberland (best known for its sausages, and that’s the only culinary insight you’re getting from me) with a shortcrust base, rum-soaked fruit filling and lattice on top, served with rum butter. They’ve only got an hour and a half to do it, which must be one of the shortest technicals yet.
As usual, the results are a bit of a mixed bag; Steven tries a fancy cheat lattice which utterly fails and has to be thrown away, so he quickly replaces it with a very hashed-together crisscross, and Sophie and Liam both trim away vital parts of the crust in the name of neatness. The outcome is… Liam’s last. Bollocks. Kate, who we sort of needed to balls it up at this point if we wanted Liam to be safe, comes second, and somehow Steven wins despite his messy-ass lattice. I’m not happy (Hannah looks like she might actually combust), especially since Steven’s now in a position to potentially take a fourth Star Baker title. Stacey’s also pretty safe at this point, with the other three all in a bit of trouble – but Sophie’s under-the-radar consistency means she’s probably safe.
Our showstopper is a Victorian Savoy cake, which the bakers are making using a lot of electric mixing devices that I’m pretty sure wouldn’t have been available back then. Traditionally, it would have been flavoured with lemon or orange zest; Liam sticks to the citrus with some added elderflower, but Steven goes for chestnut puree and rum. I mean, why not. It’s a large cake generally made in complex moulds with some sort of sugar coating – to me, though, it just looks like a plain, if overlarge, tiered cake. Naturally, a few of the bakers rectify the plainness with some crazy decor: Stacey’s somehow made many layers of cake, plus meringues, macaroons and… something else starting with M. Madeleines? It’s pretty impressive in the time, especially accounting for the fact that her oven door literally falls off during the challenge. Liam’s also going for some added-on pretty things, in his case an intricate web of spun sugar. He actually finishes his bake early, but it’s not the boon you might think: next to the heat of the freshly-baked cake, the sugar starts melting into a shapeless mess.
Stacey’s is deemed well-baked, with the cake possessing both flavour and texture of the desirable sort (her extras are considered a bit much; it’s an achievement to do so much within the time limit, but they’re not as tasty and a bit out of place stylistically). Liam’s is… not in great shape by the time it gets to judging, and the flavours aren’t up to his usual standard either. Bollocks. He’s gone.
Sophie’s covered the bottom of hers with a layer of choux buns, which is also pretty impressive in the time, and somehow she’s made this really cool chocolate decoration thing on the top that looks like aged metal. Stacey looks jealous. The long and short of the substance of Sophie’s is that it’s chewy but basically pleasant, perhaps a little overmixed. Paul loves it, though. Then we move on to Stephen’s, and for some reason happy music starts playing. It’s declared too small because he spent so long on his many fondant roses (which do look good, I shall begrudgingly admit) and flavour-wise is apparently not what the judges were expecting… but still delicious. COME ON ALREADY. Can this man not just fail? If this were Drag Race, RuPaul would be saying he needs to show some vulnerability.
Finally, we’ve got Kate, whose Liver Tower replica is probably the most showstopper-like, if you ask me – it’s the one that impresses me most as a sculpture, with the others all a bit plain for my money. Paul ends up describing Kate’s attempt as a ‘bit simplistic’, but then the entire premise of the thing is that it’s a bare cake, so what d’you expect?
At the end of the show, it’s time to reveal whether Steven’s claimed Star Baker for a fourth time, aaaand… nope, it’s gone to Stacey. I don’t know that she deserved it this week, but I’m kinda relieved that Steven didn’t get it again; I almost wonder whether they weren’t allowed to give him his fourth title, just to stir up some sort of suspense going into the semi-finals.
As for who’s leaving us, it’s… I don’t even want to say, but it’s Liam. It shouldn’t have been Liam, it really shouldn’t; Paul even says Liam’s the one who’s made the most improvement over his time there, so surely he should get to stay over someone who hasn’t actually developed their skills at all because they were oh-so-perfect in the first place? Ugh.
Well, next week’s the semis, and it’s patisserie, but don’t expect me to be excited about it. *storms off for a little cry*
Hannah’s Quips of the Week
- ‘Stacey’s admitting she doesn’t measure accurately?! Yan would be curling in her grave!’ [I pointed out that ‘curling in her grave’ isn’t a thing. I was told it is now.]
- ‘I genuinely think Steven’s going to give me heart problems. I can’t even explain it.’
- Paul (talking about rum nicky): ‘I came across this particular tart about three years ago’ – Hannah: ‘That’s no way to talk about your mum.’
- ‘Kate’s used sixty eggs?! Yeowch. Have they got some sort of factory farm outside with a bunch of really sore-ass chickens? Poor things.’