Welcome back to The Great British Bake Off, where this week we’re watching some people in a tent make things with pastry! Wahoo!
As usual, we open with what could either be a skit or just a fly-on-the-wall insight into what Sandi and Noel get up to in their spare time: this week, they’re recreating ‘Life of Pie’. It’s a bit of a weak pun, to be honest, and I’d rather choose to believe that Noel just spends afternoons dressed as a tiger on a boat. But that’s neither here nor there, and is instead in some sort of bizarre dimensionless, spaceless limbo inhabited by things which are somehow not anywhere. So that’s nice. Anyway. Baking!
It’s pastry week, which usually means some pretty cool-looking pies and some pretty crappy-looking patisserie-type thingies, but this season’s pastry week is extra-special because… Yan’s been looking forward to it! COME ON YAN. DO US PROUD. Let’s quickly remind ourselves, by the way, of how my predictions are going thus far: I predicted that James would make his exit last week, which turned out to be correct, and I had Sophie down to leave this week. She got Star Baker last week, though, so it seems unlikely that I’ll be right about that one.
The signature challenge for Channel 4’s inaugural pastry week is to produce four savoury pies using shortcrust. In a departure from tradition, these four don’t have to be identical; they can have the same filling and pastry recipe, but the decorations should be different (they do at least have to be themed, for which thank the Lord, because otherwise it’s just utter anarchy). Speaking of fillings, Hannah points out that the line between baking and cooking is becoming disturbingly blurred, definitions sliding around like Hungry Hungry Hippos balls on a non-level surface. What is baking anyway? Is it just anything with flour? Anything that rises? Who knows. I don’t think the meaty and/ or vegetable-y fillings count as ‘baking’, but I suppose they go in something you bake, which makes this baking in the same way as knitting a scarf and then putting it inside a loaf of bread is baking.
I’m overjoyed that Yan is doing science-themed nerd pies; the sheer amount of science in this episode is absolutely off the charts. She’s got a sheet of equations detailing the formula of perfect pieness, and she’s even using a flipping vacuum sealer to replicate the effects of speedy marination. It probably still won’t be enough to net her Star Baker, sadly. We do learn from her (or maybe someone else, I forget) that the way to make this sort of pastry is just to whip together some flour, eggs and lard. Mm. Delicious. I’ve got to admit I’m not a big fan of any sort of pastry, really, unless it’s a nice pasty, and seeing how it’s made isn’t helping with that. (Puff pastry’s even worse, as I recall.)
Steven’s doing a Fleetwood Mac theme, while Kate’s actually making faces of people who’ve inspired her. Must be risky doing faces, surely; if it rises wrong, they’re going to look like the Elephant Man – which wouldn’t be a problem if she could claim it was deliberate, but she’s sort of given the game away by telling us who they’re supposed to be. Stacey, meanwhile, has gone for a love theme, which is… just a bit much for me.
It turns out that pies are vulnerable from many angles: too much moisture can turn the whole thing into a soggy mess, while overly thick pastry can make it into an absolute brick of a thing. It’s a delicate balance, and one I’m more than expecting somebody to get absolutely dead wrong. To combat the potential risk of floppy pie, Sophie’s doing what I think is this series’ first blind bake; I’m still not sure what a blind bake is or why it’s called that, but it seems to involve sticking some balls into your pastry and giving it a quick warm up before filling it up and going for the proper cooking-up-thing. That’s not a good sentence, but it’s a joke I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sandi make.
Liam’s doing a pretty sexy filling with some sort of… I don’t know, ingredients, and his pies are FIFA-themed in all but name, purely because I’m not sure they’d be allowed to actually say the word ‘FIFA’. Paul, upon learning that our youthful friend is a fan of Manchester United, seems appalled and jokes that this is going to be Liam’s last week, so I assume Paul must be a fan of… another team… who do not like Manchester United. I know nothing about football. Steven’s filling, on the other hand, is categorically not sexy, with his lingonberry jam and whatever-meat-that-is filling coming together to look uncomfortably like a squeezed intestine. Annoyingly, the judges will probably still squee their pants off over its genius, assuming he can finish in time; I’m pretty convinced that the editing puts the timing announcements out of place on purpose, because no way would they all still have so much left to do with only five minutes left.
The five minutes, or however long it actually is, passes without further drama, and the results are in: Prue and Paul both comment on the rather unappealing visual of Steven’s pie, but to the great irritation of all involved it still tastes alright. Kate’s faces don’t really work out too well – a bit pale, with soggy bottoms (a classic burn on this show, for the uninitiated), while Julia’s pastry had baking powder in and therefore ended up ‘a bit too cakey’. Oh, dear. On the other end of the scale, last week’s Star Baker Sophie turns in an excellent and delicious pie with a crispy crust and a tasty filling with blue cheese, butternut and spinach. It is, apparently, a triumph! Despite my earlier prediction, I think she’ll be safe this week – potentially even in line for Star Baker again if she plays the rest of the challenges right.
Turning to Cosmic Goddess Yan… well, sadly, she set expectations a bit high with her plans to create science on a plate, and the pie’s covers (the bits with the designs on) have collapsed a bit, so it doesn’t quite live up to its potential despite being, as per usual, an excellent and creative idea. On the plus side, her pastry is excellent, but sadly the chicken’s ‘tremendously’ undercooked. I mean, at least there’s something tremendous in there. My Probably-Second-Favourite Liam turns in a pie with a classic dome, whatever that might be, and it’s got some sexy flaky pastry (is that good?) and an equally sexy-looking filling. Paul gets his Word for the Day in there again by terming it a triumph, but sadly does not dish out a Coveted Hollywood Handshake. He must have been told he gave out too many last week, ‘cos he’s reined it right in. Finally, Stacey’s ‘love pies’ are a bit gloopy and, personally, I think the designs are a bit crap, but the judges seem to like ’em.
Our technical this week is a Paul special: ‘rough puff pastry’ with custard to create some sort of Portuguese tart thingy. Twelve identical ones, with smooth bases, to be precise. Peculiar. Apparently the key to this challenge will be understanding the philosophy of how rough puff pastry works; I’d have thought understanding how to bake it was more important, but whatever. I have to say these things do not appeal to me at all, but then I’m not eating them so it’s basically fine.
They keep saying the names of these things and I still can’t work it out. ‘Pasties de nata’? I dunno. I really don’t like the idea of them, or indeed puff pastry in general; watching them rub chilled butter into flour, then fold it all around yet more butter, is simply not appealing to me (and, not for the first time, prompts me to wonder how the heck people invented this stuff). The pastry sounds gross, and so does the custard, what with it being hot milk added to egg yolks. This is not a good episode for me, guys. I’m pretty sure I remember some controversy about how to fold the pastry in previous years, with terms like ‘book fold’ popping out of my brain, but everyone just sort of seems to get on with the excruciatingly icky task of wrapping lumps of butter in a gloop of more butter and flour without really expounding on what they’re doing or why they’re doing it. There is, however, a bit of drama when Stacey and Liam mess up by rolling the pastry lengthways instead of whatever the opposite of lengthways is: Stacey at first seems to be comforting Liam, telling him it’s okay because she made the same mistake, but she quite quickly seems to turn it into a speech about how they’re basically both failures because their pastry definitely won’t puff.
Speaking of the puff, Sandi gives us a little exposé on the history of puff pastry which… I simply do not care about. Sorry, Sandi. At no point does she explain the only thing I was actually hoping to learn: the difference between regular puff and ‘rough puff’. These thingies are apparently the latter, but it’s sadly meaningless to me. Not that it matters all that much, because even the ones that have apparently been done right simply do not appeal to me in the slightest.
Onto the judging, and for some reason the word ‘lamination’ keeps cropping up. It’s one of those odd words that has precisely two uses in context, and they’re completely different: ‘desiccated’, for example, is another one, referring either – but exclusively – to decaying flesh or delicious coconut. Evidently lamination is not only a thing you do to paper to make it all shiny and waterproof, but also a desirable quality of pastry whereby it’s… I’m not sure. Layered? Who knows. Hannah makes a joke that they ought to have gone to a stationery outlet if they wanted lamination, then immediately lets out a big groan as Steven’s are pronounced acceptable. Yan’s are decent, though!
The results are in: Julia’s in last because she’s done something more like a shortcrust than a whatever-this-was-meant-to-be; up at the top are Sophie and… Yan! Paul declares that Yan’s winning effort is ‘very nice’, which is much less gushingly complimentary than he’d have been about Steven’s if he’d won. At the midway point, Liam’s potentially in line for Star Baker, while Julia and Kate are struggling. (‘I bet Paul would like Steven to struggle out of his clothes’, Hannah quips.)
For the showstopper, it’s a family-sized hand-raised, hand-reared, organic, free-range chicken. Nope, that’s not it. It’s just a pie, but for some reason the term ‘hand-raised’ is being applied, evidently because the pastry is cooked while not in a mould. Bit brave. There is in fact some controversy around whether it’s at all acceptable to shape the pastry in the inside of a tin or whether it has to be done on the outside, and eventually all but Julia (I think? I may have missed someone) are pressured into doing it the traditional way. Not that it should matter if it produces delicious results, but what would baking be without a little snobbery?
Sophie turns in a game pie with glazed forest fruit, which sounds pretty nice. Both judges seem pleased, though the pastry’s apparently too thick – I think Sophie’s out of the running for a second consecutive Star Baker award, but I’m pretty sure she’s done too well for my prediction of her demise this week to come true. Kate also does well, saving herself from danger with a potato curry pie which looks legitimately delicious and which Paul is a big fan of; Stacey’s gone for Indian, too, but hers has ended up being a weird floppy mess of a thing with a sheet of baking parchment still stuck in the bottom. So not good. Steven’s contribution is a (well out of season) Christmas pie. It’s got very straight sides apparently, but is a bit bland and basically a let down. Har har.
Moving on to Yan, she’s done a genuinely pretty impressive checkerboard thingy for the filling, and it tastes good too! Paul terms it ‘stunning’, and for the first time I wonder whether Yan might actually be in with a chance of winning this. Liam’s is also pretty fantastic; he was pressured into doing the shaping on the outside of the tin, but it paid off, and his grandmother’s recipe is a succulent, smooth, colourful thing that I’d really very much like to eat. Then we’ve got Julia, whose ‘special occasion’ pie is… a bit messy, with sadly inappropriate asparagus and undercooked pastry.
And this week’s winner is… Liam! I’m pretty delighted about that, but equally I’d really have liked Yan to have got it, since I think this might have been her best chance at the title. Ah, well. Leaving the tent this week is Julia, which is a shame; we’re at the point now where everyone who goes is actually pretty good. Since my predictions have now been proven wrong, I think Stacey is probably the next person who’s likely to leave, but we shall find out in the brand-new and slightly bizarre Italian week next time!
Hannah’s Quips This Week
- ‘Do they donate the leftovers? There’s a whole lotta leftovers.’
- ‘Soggy bottoms? THAT’S MARY’S LINE!’
- ‘The only reason Liam didn’t get a handshake is because he’s not Steven. Wait, is it Steven I don’t like? James? Tom? I like Liam, I know that much.’
- ‘Who bakes these sample ones anyway? [the mock-ups of the technical challenge which Paul and Prue examine] I can’t imagine Paul actually doing any baking these days, he’s too important.’
- ‘I can see Yan getting her own t-shirt line after this. She’s a total meme lord.’
- ‘I like the fridges!’
- Why doesn’t Steven ever get flustered? Maybe he’s secretly a pro. Like an undercover Bakers vs Fakers but only one of them’s a baker.’