The Great British Bake Off Episode Seven: We Are Not Amuse-Bouched
The Debrief: It’s Victorian week! But who’ll live up to our great expectations, and who’ll be off on their (Sweeney) tod?
In every series of the Bake Off there comes a turning point. A moment at which everything stops being a load of jolly old sugary knees-up fun, and turns darker. Steelier. More serious.
That moment was last week, with Alvin’s departure. Alvin was our Sirius Black, our Beth in Little Women; the first casualty we actually cared about. Now he’s gone, it’s up to the remaining bakers to honour his memory by fighting (baking things) harder (more precisely and deliciously) than they’ve ever fought (baked things) before.
Everyone’s feeling pretty daunted by the unknown challenges of Victorian week – most people’s knowledge of Victorian baking doesn’t go much beyond the cake that has ‘Victoria’ right there as a big clue in the title. Um, gruel? And… spotted dick? Because they were so sexually repressed that it started bursting out unexpectedly in suet?
Anyway, everyone’s feeling daunted apart from Ian, who is oddly excited. 'There’s some stuff coming up that I’ve always wanted to bake!' he says.
If it turns out he’s one of those people who rides a penny farthing round town purely for the lolz, that could explain quite a lot.
On the game
The signature challenge this week is a raised game pie. This is partly because it’s super mega Victorian, and partly just so that TV journalists and sub-eds across the land can write 'THEY’RE RAISING THEIR GAME!!!' and go off for a gin.
Mat, who is now officially the leftfield hipster fancy of choice ('Oh you all still want to bone Tamal? That’s sweet. I think my aunt does.'), has borrowed a 165-year-old pie tin off his mate Dangerous Dave’s Mam, Sheila, who for the record I think needs to be given her own spin-off show immediately. He’s decorating his venison and pigeon pie with pastry antlers, and with it possibly heralding in a whole new era of stag night activities. Out with strippers and paintball, in with hot water crust pastry! #lads.
In an attempt to remind the public she’s just a down-to-earth baker of the people, Flora reveals that she once won a school competition by cooking a pheasant – for which she earned the nickname ‘Bird Girl’. We had a Bird Girl at my school too, as it happens, only that wasn’t because of her culinary prowess so much as the fact she once got into a physical fight with a seagull.
This week in Paul And Mary Have Never Been To Whole Foods, Tamal introduces the judges to Moroccan spice blend ras-el-hanout, while Nadiya is using Chinese Five Spice. 'Many of the spices you’ve mentioned wouldn’t have been available,' says Mary, sternly. But then Victorian octogenarians wouldn’t have had skinny jeans either, Bezza, so I guess we can let these things slide.
The biggest shock of all, though, comes from Ian, who has thrown off his wholesome disguise with a cackle to reveal that underneath it he’s been part Dothraki and part Mrs Lovett all along. He’s making ‘roadkill’ pie inspired by his love of cooking dead animals that he’s peeled off the local tarmac, plus a homemade pig’s trotter jelly for literally no reason at all. Also some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
Once the fillings are ready, pastry becomes the name of the game and our bakers must work hard to make sure they produce a decorative pie that’s crisp, glossy and packed with meat without being burnt or over-filled. The main fear here, as in day-to-day life, is: bottom seepage.
Poor Flora’s in a proper flap, because she’s put too much in her pie and it won’t cook. The others stand by doing unhelpful tutting, head shaking and grimacing like a bunch of pastry mechanics, until she finally gets her meat up to the magical 65 degrees with just a minute to spare. There’s nothing like potential food poisoning to bring a little frisson of excitement to the tent, is there?
Enter the judges, with their game faces on. Mat’s sweat patches tell a different story but his pie is high and dry, while Tamal earns a coveted Hollywood handshake for his perfect pastry, subtle spices and deliciously moist game ¬– not that we need Paul and Mary to tell us Tamal has a tender filling, obvs.
Down in his basement laboratory, Ian gives Mary the trots (his hoof jelly) and has a ticking off for his unambitious pastry decoration. He’d have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for you pesky judges! Meanwhile Paul has managed to somehow both overbake and underbake his pie (wherefore art thou, science?) and Nadiya has overpowered her meat with too many spices.
But after all her panic, Flora’s burnt and leaky pie manages to get decent feedback from the judges – proving that she, like her filling, is a tough bird. “I was expecting to be hung, drawn and quartered during that judging, and I wasn’t!” she says. That’s because you stayed well away from Ian’s bench, Flo.
Oh and by the way – thinking about venison, pigeon and pheasant? We all just lost The Game.
Making a racquet
After a brief Boring Historical Segment (or ‘BHS’) in which we learnt that Mrs Beeton was lying about her food expertise food long before adolescent bloggers ever tried it, we’re back in the tent for the technical challenge.
This week it’s ‘tennis cake’, which as we all know was a popular Victorian alternative to ‘croquet crumpets’, ‘petanque pie’ (with real bull’s boules) and the famously delicious ‘Pin the Tail on the Donkey Delight’. It’s a fruit cake with marzipan and green icing on top, and a tennis court piped on – sadly no glaze made from Robinson’s squash, as I’d hoped.
Poor Mat has gone from top seed to Tim Henman in only a few short hours. Not only has he managed to make radioactive waste instead of delicately green sugarpaste (the words 'It’s a bit different from yours, innit?' haven’t been heard with this much trepidation outside a boy’s locker room), but he’s also put his teeny tiny icing tennis net in the oven rather than the fridge.
You FOOL, boy! It’s cock-ups like this that lost us the empire. Still, the tumbleweed that passes between Mat and Nadiya after she discovers his mistake is a comedy grand slam.
When the umpires’ verdict is in, Nadiya scores ten out of tennis for her perfect serve while Flora’s cake is burnt, Ian’s is raw and Mat’s ‘tennis court from Hades’ predictably gets no love.
A cunning russe…
What’s a fitting Victorian showstopper? A naked ankle? A parlourmaid with ideas above her station? Smallpox? Nope, a Charlotte Russe! You know Charlotte Russe. She used to work at The Red Lion & Petticoat… went out with Brian… her with the mole…
Actually it turns out Charlotte Russe is a wonderful dessert that manages to contain all the same ingredients as a trifle, without actually being a trifle. The bakers need to make their own sponge ladyfingers, fill with a set creamy custard bavois, layer up with jelly and top with extravagant decorations such as, in Prison Paul’s case, a swan carved out of an apple.
'Everything was so ornate, because labour was cheap,' explains a gleeful Mary, who possibly didn’t vote for Jeremy Corbyn.
Mat is keeping things simpler, by making every element of his russe strawberry-flavoured. Just strawberry. We can’t actually SEE any packets of Angel Delight around his worktop, but since The Mystery of Alvin and the Mr Kipling Cakes remains unsolved, I don’t trust these bakers as far as I can throw them.
If Mat’s the downstairs in this period drama then Flora is definitely the upstairs, continuing her campaign for cockney acceptance by using both champagne AND gold leaf in her russe. I’ve defended Flora a lot over the past few weeks (It’s not her fault she’s young! It’s not her fault she’s posh! It’s not her fault she’s precociously talented and articulate with a voice that sounds like pure Scottish mineral water trickling down a hill!), but this might be the final straw.
Thankfully Tamal is giving the nation exactly what it wants – extra jelly – while in a shadowy corner of the marquee, Ian the Impaler has struck again. 'This is my ladies’ fingers chopper!' he grins, slicing his sponge in a little wooden guillotine, 'to ensure each of my ladies’ fingers is exactly 9cm long.'
I’ve read penny dreadfuls/Take A Break cover stories less gruesome than this episode.
The bavs and the bav-nots
Time for the judging, and Paul’s all over Ian’s bavois like a right old Martin Guzzlewit. It’s ok though because Tamal’s the one who emerges victorious, managing to support his bavois using the power of jelly alone.
'It’s creamy, it’s silky, it melts in the mouth. That is beautiful,' says Paul (and likewise in the fan fic version). Well done, Tamal! Or as we say in my family, Bravois!
Nadiya’s turned out another flavour winner, though Paul does lambast her wide sponges because 'it doesn’t really look like a lady’s finger', which seems about as fair as critiquing a death by chocolate cake for causing only mild indigestion. And anyway, he’s not seen my fingers.
Is it a Bird Girl? Is it a plane? No, it’s Flora’s gritty pomegranates! Paul Hollywood is dead against the texture, it turns out. Just use your back molars like Mary does, Hollywood! Also narrowly missing the workhouse, Prison Paul has managed another double-header of disasters, making his bavois too solid and his russe juice too loose.
But with split fingers and runny jelly on top of his technical fail, last week’s star baker becomes this week’s heartbreaker. It’s time for the tent’s resident wisecracking, firefighting modfather to scoot away – and I for one am truly gutted.
Incidentally, the BBC website informs me that Mat's greatest ambition is to own a dishwasher.
Mat, you are my people.
Next week: cream horns, laaaairs of eclairs and a woman’s right to choux. It’s patisserie week.
Like this? Then you might also be interested in:
You’ve Got To Pitta Pocket Or Two: The Great British Bake Off Episode Five
Gone With The Windtorte: The Great British Bake Off Episode Four
Arlette’s Call The Whole Thing Off: The Great British Bake Off Episode Two
Follow Lauren on Twitter @LaurenBravo
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating