The Great British Bake Off Episode 8: The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Choux Sticks
The Debrief: Give yourself a crème pat on the back! We’ve made it to the quarter final.
Life is full of disappointments. Mat was disappointed when his toxic waste tennis cake sent him packing last episode, and I was disappointed to learn, in the week when the nation has been rocked by the news that our Prime Minister might possibly once have done the do with a uncooked hog roast, that none of the contestants are putting ham in their bakes.
There are no cheap pig jokes to be had from sweet patisserie, so you can all stop squealing. None. Not a sausage.
But hey, we’ll get over it. Maybe next week, if we’re very lucky, it’ll turn out Dave once frottaged a flapjack or something. Now, on with the bacon!
BAKING. On with the baking.
Horns of plenty
Well knock me down like an over-proved sourdough, it’s already the Bake Off quarter final! Or ‘the Baff Quaff’, as we in the biz call it. The signature challenge, because we’re now at a point where angry people write in to Points of View if they DON’T end the hour mildly aroused, is cream horns. A bountiful 24 of them, in two different flavours.
The bakers have a choice between proper flaky pastry or the cheat’s version, rough puff. Paul’s preference is for the faffy full puff, which he illustrates by doing a little beatbox. I’m not saying 'Dough butter dough butter dough butter dough' doesn’t have the potential to be the new buttery biscuit base, Paul, but you can’t force it.
'It’s very important that you fill the horn right to the bottom, so that you enjoy it to the last mouthful,' says Mary, who by the way knows exactly what she’s doing, in the same way your Gran did when she ‘accidentally’ took you to see the filthy version of the local panto when you were 12. Mary enjoys a bit o’ rough puff as much as you both enjoyed Sin-derella and vowed never to say a word to your parents.
Tent renegades Nadiya and Prison Paul are cutting corners with the rough puff method, but Flora and reigning star bae-ker Tamal are doing things by the book.
(I’d just like to take this opportunity to apologise for suggesting last week that crushing on him was in any way a predictable, mainstream choice, when clearly the truth is that Tamal transcends trends like a classic trench coat or a grey cashmere sweater. Forgive me, hot Tamale. It’s always been you.)
Ian, meanwhile, is tooting his own horns on crazed path of self-sabotage.
'Cream horns are relatively easy. There’s not much that can go wrong with them!' he declares with the air of Icarus strapping his wax wings on. 'Apparently using cocoa in pastry, things can go wrong. I don’t know what those problems are!' Next time we see him, he is individually picking out the most attractive flaked almonds. One shonky bake and you worry we’ll find him walking round the lake without any trousers on, telling squirrels he’s the king.
Then there’s a tense assembly sequence during which absolutely nobody refers to their piping bag as ‘a hornpipe’ (more disappointment), and it’s onto the judging – AKA Taking the Bully by the Horns.
Tamal and Nadiya have both triumphed with even flakes and tasty flavours. Prison Paul has skimped on his banana custard and with it tapped into a deep-seated trauma from Paul Hollywood’s childhood ('the lamination on this Playdough is a disgrace, NO PUDDING FOR YOU LITTLE PAUL'), and Flora’s filling has leaked because she spent ages making extra twiddles when she should have been honing her horns.
But the real casualty is Ian, whose pastry is the rougher side of puff and is doused in enough liqueur to stun a unicorn. 'I really got it wrong!' he grins from inside a bush.
Do you still have the Dalai Lama’s number, Ian? You know, just in case.
Making a mokary
There’s just time for Mel’s Educational History Slot (MEHS) – during which we learn who’s to blame for all the times you’ve got flustered at a macaron counter and accidentally spent £83 on sweet, chewy air – before we’re back in the tent and bracing ourselves for the next round.
This week’s technical challenge is mokatines, which as we all know are a kind of fringed suede slip-on shoe, covered in coffee icing and chopped nuts. Mary’s recipe calls for absolute precision and accuracy, using whisked eggs as the sole raising agent for a light, fluffy Genoise sponge.
Prison Paul has never made a Genoise sponge before, as he tells us no fewer than eight times while looking worried over bowls of gakky-looking mixture. It’s almost like this is a crucial plot point, or something. Paul can’t make a Genoise. Write it down.
Nadiya has actually seen the recipe before in a Mary Berry cookbook but ignored it, which is awks – like when you lie about having read your mate’s short story and then they suddenly ask you in the pub what your favourite part was. Still, having at least seen a picture of a mokatine in a book is serving Nads better than any of the others, who probably think they’re making something that comes in a giant mug from Costa.
Did Paul mention he doesn’t know how to make a Genoise sponge? His first attempt comes out looking like loft insulation so he has another frantic bash at it, while the others have moved on to filling and piping. His second attempt comes out like slightly tougher loft insulation – which is probably, come to think of it (and I don’t know if he filled you in on this), because Paul doesn’t know how to make a Genoise sponge.
What with all the shades of brown and the nutty pebbledash on the outside, there’s something about the mokatines that look a lot like my Granny’s house. But unlike my Granny’s house, which is a place filled with love and warmth and antimacassars, Paul’s are filled with buttercream and regret.
'I’ll never give up, I’ll never give up,' he mutters, beating his feelings into a bowl of greige fondant. We admire that spirit Paul, but just to gently remind you – when the judges say it’s time to give up, you’re pretty much required by the BBC to do it.
Nadiya’s sneak preview served her well and she’s in at number one with a bullet. Flora’s declared it her 'worst day of baking to date' (or maybe she means the worst day of baking to GO ON a date, that being just the kind of overambitious multitasking she might attempt), but she’s still managed to come in third, while Tamal’s fourth and Paul’s mock-atines come predictably last.
It’s a shame that, Paul. LinkedIn just asked if I wanted to endorse you for Genoise sponge.
Dough, adhere! (A female dear)
This week’s final bake isn’t so much a showstopper as a stairway to heaven – a religieuse a l'ancienne, which is French for Ancient Nun Made of Eclairs. It needs to be three tiers supported by shortcrust pastry, it needs to stand up on its own, and it needs to escape the Nazis while looking charming in a frock made of curtains.
This isn’t actually the first nun-based baking challenge the Bake Off has seen; they did plain old religieuse back in 2013. That’s the kind of bizzarro world we’re occupying here, and don’t we all just love it.
But while nun buns might be a patisserie tradition, there’s nothing convent-ional about the flavours going into the eclairs. Flora’s gone for lime and basil curd and coconut, while Ian and Tamal are both using pistachio and passionfruit in their crème pat. “I’m calling it a nun with hidden passions,” smirks Ian, which might almost be enough to make Deloris Van Cartier take holy orders.
With dogged determination that stops just short of ‘minion’, Prison Paul has gone for banana again, while Nadiya’s bubblegum and peppermint flavour combo seems like the most elaborately tactful way anyone can think of to tell Paul and Mary that they still have coffee breath from yesterday.
Our bakers are all praying for structural integrity as they bake their choux pastry and start gluing the upright eclairs into place with sugar syrup. The end results look so lumpish and amateur that even the Bake Off sketch artist had to phone it in this week, but that’s not the point – we’re defying gravity! Which is from a whole other musical, but shh.
Despite all their wet fillings these party centrepieces need to be rigid enough to stay erect for several hours, without being visited by what Jeff from Coupling once memorably described as ‘the Melty Man’. In fact, they’re upping the stakes by making everybody go off for a two-hour lunch break to see if their nuns will stand firm…
In these choux? I don’t think so.
How do you solve a problem like Mary?
And now, for our final dose of disappointment: Nadiya, Paul and Flora’s nuns are all fallen women… but THEY DIDN’T FILM THE COLLAPSES. If a pastry nun falls in a tent and no one is around to see, did it even happen? Is this a BBC budget cuts thing? Did the crew do it on purpose? We’ll never know.
Poor Nadiya has turned out great pastry, but you’re never going to win Mary Berry round with an éclair that tastes of Hubba Bubba. 'I’m afraid it’s not quite my favourite,' she winces. But Ian’s nun is so nice that he’s forgiven for his former sins, and Tamal’s fruity fillings give the judges another religious experience.
Flora’s flavours are as weak as her pastry, but in the end even a strong banana can’t make up for Genoisey mistakes and it’s Prison Paul who walks free.
Sorry Paul. No shortcrust redemption for you.
Next week: Temper, temper, ganache with panache and a very tense semi.
Like this? Then you might also be interested in:
The Great British Bake Off Episode Seven: We Are Not Amuse-Bouched
Cold Hands, Full Tarts, Can’t Lose: The Great British Bake Off Episode Six
You’ve Got To Pitta Pocket Or Two: The Great British Bake Off Episode Five
Follow Jess on Twitter @Jess_Commons
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