The Great British Bake Off 2017 – Week 9 – SEMI FINAL TIME

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s hard to believe, but we’re nearly at the end of our baking journey. It’s fitting, I guess, that as we draw nearer to the climax, the opening puns are becoming ever more terrible, because this episode starts with a joke about a chicken named Malcolm Eggs. It’s… just… I don’t even have anything else to say about that. Malcolm Eggs the fucken’ chicken. It’s terrible and brilliant.

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We also get a quick flashback, which makes me tear up a little bit because I’d been doing my best to forget Liam’s sad demise. It’s like the Red Wedding all over again, except worse because I don’t actually remember being that sad about the Red Wedding, just kinda shocked; I guess a more appropriate reference would be that one death in FFVII or something, ‘cos I knew it was coming but I was still a bit upset about it. Y’know what, these aren’t good analogies. Liam didn’t get stabbed with a seven-foot sword, as far as I know. He’s still Tweeting, so I assume he’s OK. Aaaaaaanyway, here we are at the penultimate stop on our way to crowning an Ultimate Star Baker of the Cosmos 2K17, and it’s time for a patisserie challenge. I don’t know what patisserie is, but that’s never stopped me doing these recaps before.

Apparently, this is going to be the hardest decision Paul’s been involved in over his eight years of Bake Off, which only he can say because everyone else just started this year. Good job there, Channel 4! I wouldn’t think it’s going to be that hard, though – Sophie and Steven seem like dead certs, so surely it’s just Kate or Stacey? Who knows. A couple of interview clips reveal how desperately everyone wants to be in the final; suffice to say, they’re all pretty keen. Sophie looks majorly different in her clips, with her hair down, and she starts letting the metaphorical hair down in this episode too, showing more of a personality than we’ve seen from her so far. Nadiya did this too, if I remember right – sort of plodded through in the background until a week or two from the end, when she suddenly developed into a quip machine. I’m calling Sophie to win now, y’all.

Our semifinal signature is twenty-four choux buns, which I’m pretty sure Sophie incorporated into her cake last week, so she should be alright at this. Twelve of ’em have to have some sort of crunchy sugary crackling layer, while the other half… something must have distracted me at this point, because I totally missed what they said, but from cues later on I’m assuming the requirement is just icing. Choux buns basically just look like profiteroles to me; Paul seems to think you have to be a super amazing person to possibly be able to even attempt making them, but it basically just sounds like pastry. Then again, what do I know? It’s a rhetorical question, but I’ll answer it anyway: very little.

So what variations on the choux formula are our intrepid final four submitting? Well, Steven’s going for key lime cheesecake with crackly bits and bakewell tart with icing. He’s looking a bit stressed; Sandi points out that he’s gone the colour of beetroot, which probably inspires him to bake something. Stacey’s doing choux-nicorns and choux-mojis, the flavours of which I totally fail to catch through the sound of my disdain. I keep mishearing it as ‘shoe pastry’, which doesn’t help, since I’m now imagining unicorns wearing trendy shoes. Paul points out to Stacey that she has a tendency to go too far in search of a visual effect, forgetting the basics of the bake, but I suspect she won’t heed the warning. I mean, she can’t now. It’s too late to change the recipe. Useless advice, really.

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Presumably what all the bakers are thinking when Paul’s giving them advice which is neither useful nor timely.

 

In the transition from Stacey’s counter to Sophie’s, Noel (or the voiceover person doing an impression of a very polite-sounding and mild-mannered Noel) informs us that choux, unlike most pastries, has to be cooked before it can be baked. I’m absolutely at a loss as to what that might mean, but I feel I’ve learned something nonetheless. We successfully navigate to Sophie’s area, where we learn she’s doing a strawberry and rhubarb choux and a chestnut and vanilla one, which will be the one with the… crackling. I think they might actually be saying ‘craqueline’ or something French-y, but I’ll stick with ‘crackling’ because it does seem to be functionally a thing which crackles or is crackly, so it’s all good. Patisserie is, it’s rumoured, Sophie’s strength, which may not be a good thing because it means she’s now expected to do well. Kate, who’s got no such pressure and may well therefore do better this week, is going for Bellini, Prosecco and peach cream filling alongside a Valencian orange one. It includes a lot of creme patissiere, which is another thing I hear mentioned a lot but have no real conception of. I just like when they shorten it to ‘creme pat’, ‘cos it sounds like a mystical cow dropping. ‘Beware the Krempatt’, the old man warned them, but they did not heed his words and, alas, were consumed by it. Or something. I dunno.

Back to the topic at hand, Steven demonstrates how to tell when choux pastry is ready: you make it into a little squishy between your forefinger and thumb, then separate the two so you’ve got a peak-type thing on your thumb, and when that falls to a particular angle of incline, it’s done. Hannah doesn’t think Steven should even be allowed on the show if he knows that much, to be honest – I’m reminded again of poor Liam, who was on a real journey of improvement, whereas this guy just seems to want validation to what he already knows: he’s already pretty much as good as he can get. Nobody seems as definitive on how choux buns are supposed to be filled: Kate’s are opened right up, almost broken in half, then filled up like a bowl, whereas others make teeny little holes in the bottom of their complete spheres and pipe the filling in, leaving a virtually unbroken little ball. Actually, I think most people are doing a mix of both techniques, and I’m not sure whether either is right or wrong; nobody seems to get called out on it, anyway. What’s definitely not correct is Stacey failing to get all her buns on the stand for presentation. Hannah thinks she should get dumped straight away for that: she’s not given them what they asked for, so they shouldn’t even taste ’em. How can you taste it if it ain’t what you’ve asked for? (I think she’s still being a bit overzealous trying to find reasons people should get kicked out, which we were making a habit of in an effort to justify why Liam should get to stay.)

Steven turns in some very plain looking cheesecake choux, which Paul deems ‘untidy and burnt’. Hannah describes them as looking like dried foot skin, which is much more disgusting but also quite accurate. They’re underbaked and soft… but still taste great. Damn it. I was just starting to consider for the first time that Steven might actually not make it to the final, but only briefly. The Bakewells look better, but still untidy and a bit too sweet for Prue; Paul, however, thinks they’re ‘bloody gorgeous’. COME ON, PAUL. How much more obvious do you have to make it that you want Steven to win? He’s much more critical of Sophie’s, even though I’d say they look better; he’s expecting them to be millimetre-perfect and even goes so far as to say he’s a bit disappointed. Prue’s justification for the harsh critique is that they’re looking for perfection at this stage, which is fine, but then why are you not being as mean to Steven? Hannah reckons Paul might just be a bit sexist and want to get a man in the final.

Onto Kate, and for once it wasn’t a disaster! Her buns look pretty good and well-baked, with good flavours, so… Sophie, supposed queen of patisserie, has actually done worst? Well, we haven’t covered Stacey yet: Paul just sort of takes a look and moves his face around a bit, then declares her effort a mess. It’s not her finest hour, he says – it wasn’t Steven’s either, though, was it? WAS IT, PAUL? Hnnnnng. I don’t even actually hate Steven that much, I just don’t understand why the show seems to be doing all it can to present him as this perfect baker next to whom everyone else can but cower under the weight of their own mediocrity.

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I took this image straight out of Paul’s dreams. I can steal pictures from dreams now.

We’re onto the technical next, as is usually the case, and this is apparently THE MOST COMPLEX OF ALL TIME. How that’s defined and measured is anyone’s guess (I bet Yan would know), but whatever. The challenge is ‘Les Miserables slices’ (Paul pronounces it terribly English-ly) – Stacey seems to recognise the name and looks suitably terrified, but Steven claims not to know what it is and thinks Prue just made it up for the lolz. It does look hella complicated, to be fair, incorporating three layers of creamy something-or-other plus four layers of something called jaconde, all sandwiched in some pistachio sponge. Or something. I couldn’t follow the explanation, to be honest, but it’s definitely harsh; this being the semis, though, nobody does reeaaaally badly, with even last place Kate turning in a recognisable, if messy, version of the recipe. Steven’s third, then Stacey second and Sophie in first; it seems anyone could be in a bit of trouble after the first two challenges. If it comes down to the wire (which we know it does because Paul said it was a tough decision), Kate’s been much more inconsistent, so she could be in trouble.

Continuing the theme of superlatives, the showstopper is declared to be the MOST INTRICATE OF ALL TIME. It’s a meringue sculpture which must use two different types of meringue (out of French, Swiss, or Italian, the differences between which are never adequately explained) as well as some sort of dessert element. They get four hours and forty-five minutes for this; I hope they’ve all popped to the loo beforehand, ‘cos it’d be a nightmare if you needed a poo halfway through a showstopper.

So what have we got? Stacey’s doing ‘flamingos in love’ (Hannah sighs loudly), using pink meringue and passion fruit and vanilla panna cotta, plus a vanilla meringue nest filled with white chocolate eggs; Sophie’s doing a tutu with a nine-layer coffee cake mousse thing inside. Turns out she used to do ballet, then joined the Army, now she bakes. She might be rivalling Kate for person-who-does-the-most-things (I can’t even remember half the stuff we’ve learned Kate does, but I’m pretty sure it includes blacksmithing and charity work). Speaking of Kate, she’s doing a rainbow with some carved fruit or something, and each colour of the rainbow is to be a different flavour. She’s playing a dangerous game, though, because Steven’s also doing a rainbow: a rainbow hot air balloon layered with macaroons and creams floating over a pie cloud with a chocolate basket. Never try to do the same thing as Steven; opening yourself up to direct comparison like that is risky business.

I have to say, I didn’t realise how intense making meringue was; there’s a lot of accurate-to-the-degree temperature measurement and fiddly piping. I thought it was just egg whites and sugar. Then there’s the baking – two to three hours in the oven! Well, for everyone except Steven, who naturally thinks he knows better and is giving his only one hour. It doesn’t pay off, though; they come out cracked, and everyone else’s also seem to be fissuring in the oven… not only are there cracks in the meringues, but it’s getting very hot in the tent again, which may be a bad sign for both Steven and Stacey – their recipes both include some chocolate work. Stacey nevertheless has trouble with her chocolate actually being too cold, setting too hard in the mould; she throws the tray down on the table in an attempt to dislodge the stuck eggs, but accidentally decapitates one of her flamingos in the process. (Could have been worse, to be fair; she nearly banged the entire bunch of meringue right off the table.)

 

I don’t think they were lying when they said this was the most intricate thing, actually; it’s certainly one of the most risky, with cracks in a meringue basically meaning total structural collapse – compare to a sponge, in which little cracks and bubbles are basically to be expected. Sophie’s tutu starts falling apart, but it looks like she’s able to repair it; Steven’s chocolate basket, on the other hand, literally just melts and disappears, and his meringue structure is visibly breaking under its own weight. Noel and Sandi can barely watch; Noel sounds legitimately pained when he has to tell the bakers to take their hands off at the end of their time.

It’s judging time: Sophie’s is judged to look more like a hat than a tutu, but Paul’s ‘highly impressed’ with the taste of both the meringue and cake elements. Kate’s is colourful and childish (in a sort of joyous way, I think), and also tastes great; the different flavour for each colour of the rainbow is impressive, if not entirely necessary. Stacey’s is much too sweet in the meringue and extremely tart in the mousse, which… might be a good balance? I don’t know. Last up, even though his bake is clearly vanishing increasingly with every passing minute, is Steven. To be honest, I don’t think it would have looked much like a hot air balloon even if the basket hadn’t melted into oblivion; Paul’s not as forgiving as I thought he might be about the collapse, saying that centrepieces need to be built to last. The flavour’s good (surprise, surprise) but the execution isn’t, and that’s basically because Steven thought he knew better and didn’t bake it for long enough. It’s ‘not up to usual Steven standards’, Paul admits, sounding as if each word causes him physical pain.

Based on the showstopper, you’ve really got to think Steven ought to be going this week, with Kate having redeemed herself; Sophie’s in line for a second Star Baker title after that impressive showing. Stacey, meanwhile, was in trouble before, and apparently hasn’t really done much in the way of redeeming herself – the flamingos looked impressive, but when the bake’s broken down there’s not much technique to it. The judges reveal that their usual process is to look solely at this weekend, then – only if they SIMPLY CAN’T DECIDE – they can look back at previous weeks. Well, I guess Steven’s safe, then. I mean, if you’re taking the whole thing into account, there’s not a person there against whom he wouldn’t win the decision.

And the result is: Sophie’s Star Baker (it’ll be a relief since a) this was meant to be her speciality and b) that makes her the last Star Baker except the overall champion), and Stacey’s out. I mean, we all knew it; Sophie’s the winner and Kate’s safe this week, and with Steven obviously not leaving, it was a bit of a foregone conclusion. Despite being stood right next to Stacey when the result was announced, Steven doesn’t comfort her, instead just looking relieved. He actually says in the post-results interview that he’d accepted he was going to be leaving – really?! Ugh.

Well, we know our three finalists – let’s take a quick look back at the predictions I made after week 4 and see how I’ve done.

I had James to go in week 5, which happened. Then I said Sophie in week 6 – it ended up being Julia – Yan in week 7 (correct), Liam in week 8 (also correct) and Stacey this week! So… I only actually got one wrong! My predicted finalists were Steven, Kate and Julia; I was dead wrong about Julia, and indeed about Sophie, who I now think may well win the entire thing, but I’m pretty happy with my success rate. Not bad. Not bad at all. (Now I’ve said that, James is probably going to make a surprise return and win or something.)

Hannah’s Thoughts This Week

  • ‘I AM ENRAGED’ (as Steven says he hopes he can do well enough to be in the final)
  • ‘Oh, save it for your cookbook, Pastry… Man’ (as Steven explains how choux works)
  • ‘[Impression of Paul]: Hey Steven, I don’t have any friends left after moving from the BBC, so can we go to the cinema and watch Thor together?’ (I then pointed out that this was filmed months ago, so Thor would not have been anywhere near out yet.)
  • ‘Oh, no, Sophie’s got flat buns. Nobody wants flat buns.’
  • ‘NOBODY CAN BE COMPARED TO STEVEN’
  • ‘Do you think it’s like Undercover Boss, and Steven’s the undercover baker?’
  • ‘Oh, Paul had to say mean things about Steven. I bet he went and had a little cry after.’

I’m not surprised that most of these are about Steven. She has very strong feelings about Steven.

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