Cold Hands, Full Tarts, Can’t Lose: The Great British Bake Off Episode Six
The Debrief: Tarts with heart, flaounas with flair and canapés with flares. But who’ll flake out in pastry week?
Guys, we’re over halfway through! In trifle terms, we’ve eaten the custard and most of the jelly off the top of this series and are moving in on the soggy sponge fingers.
Just as the bakers were threatening to split like curdled ganache into two streams; the smug quartet of Ian, Paul, Tamal and Flora on one side and the lovely hapless underdogs on the other, last week’s results shook things right up. Nadiya is now reigning star baker, while Ian has well and truly got the wind up him – and not just because the gang are eating gluten again.
This week we’re back on familiar ground in the Marquee of Dreams: pastry. The key to good pastry is making sure it’s well-rested and not overworked (much the same as a freelance TV reviewer) and so more so than any week before, time is of the essence.
You can also get ‘time extract’, but it costs more.
Don’t go breaking my tart
To make up for last week’s free-from piety, we’re kicking off pastry week with a bake that features every good old-fashioned allergen around: frangipane tart.
And HARK, what’s that? Could it be..? It is! Mary’s warning us all about the risk of a SOGGY BOTTOM, just like old times. Sound the horn! Release the confetti canon and bring on the dancing girls! We’ve all won a prize.
(Many years from now, people will sit around stroking their chins during pub quizzes, speculating on whether Bake Off ever actually featured the phrase ‘soggy bottom’ at all. 'It’s a fallacy,' they’ll splutter. 'You’ll find the real quote was actually, "alas, poor Yorrick, this pie’s a bit damp."')
Our prize is that we get treated to a round of innuendo bingo, courtesy of everyone’s fruity fillings. Tamal is worrying about his big lumps, Paul’s got a juicy pear and Alvin is fanning his plums. 'How do you fan your plums?' asks a curious Mel.
LEAVE HIM ALONE, MEL. Alvin’s been through a lot these last few weeks, he doesn’t need you running round telling everyone his muffin’s buttered.
Meanwhile, over in Wholesome Corner, Ian is baking with eggs newly-laid by his pet guinea fowl – a sentence so Good Life it makes Flora’s Aga sound like an Argos student essential.
In a shock move that nobody saw coming, pastry is the most important part of this pastry week challenge about pastry. 'It needs to have a nice, pliable consistency,' says Tamal, rolling his dough out. 'Not too brittle but not too loose.' Which is actually a quote he’s taken directly from one of his more lascivious middle-aged fan letters.
When judging rolls round, Prison Paul is the only one who’s ace of base… just. Tamal’s messy bake looks like something Neil Buchanan might call a ‘tart attack’, but it tastes great, and Nadiya’s is underbaked but she’s scored on subtle flavouring.
Elsewhere there’s disaster. Ian’s glaze can’t meet Paul’s gaze, and the judges have finally seen through Flora’s plan to disguise her burnt bits with extra fancy twiddles. The judges might like Pina Colada, but not getting caught in the grain… of Mat’s mediocre filling.
Meanwhile Alvin’s tart has worked about as well as that joke. Which is to say, really not at all.
If you’ve got it, flaouna it
Because the theme of this week’s episode seems to be The Best Of Bake Off: Now That’s What I Call Bake Off, the boring historical segment is back! Sue’s gone t’Yorkshire to learn about a man falling into an 8ft-wide pie. Or as I like to call it, Friday night.
Back in the tent, the technical challenge is afoot. And it smells like one too, thanks to 'mastic' – the pungent plant resin that the bakers must use to flavour their Cypriot flaounas. I’ve never heard of a flaouna, they’ve never heard of a flaouna, and even Mary has never heard of a flaouna (she thought it was the range at M&S she likes to buy her cardies from), so we’re looking at a whole other kind of blind baking.
They’ve also got to use mahaleb, a spice made from ground cherry stones (it’s literally the pits), and some other crazy ingredients called flowwerrr, buttur and cheeeze. Half the bakers are kneading their yeasted dough but the other half are holding back, because, as Flora sagely notes, 'it’s pastry week. Not bread week.'
You’ve been reading your 100 cookbooks, haven’t you Flo? I can tell.
Considering nobody knows what they’re supposed to look like, the resulting pastries are surprisingly impressive. Perhaps they’ve been a bunch of secret mastic-ists all along! Tamal has ballsed his up by putting the sesame seeds on the inside, not the outside. But in his defence, the saying is ‘open: sesame’ – not, ‘oh look, there’s the sesame.’
In the end an adorably chuffed Mat comes first, while Tamal and Alvin are bottom of the heap for their deflated flat-ounas.
'It’s a really disappointing day,' sighs an equally deflated Alvin. He doesn’t even have the energy to flaounce off.
That other 70s show
As anyone who’s been within a mile radius of the high street recently has probably clocked, the 70s are back.
And to prove that making your own perfectly laminated puff pastry from scratch is STILL easier than pulling off cropped kick flare dungas with a suede platform ankle boot, this week’s showstopper challenge is the canapé classic beloved at ironic cocktail parties and unironic funerals across the land. We’re going on a vol-au-venture!
The bakers have to produce 48 vol-au-vents with two different fillings, which means there’s actual cooking happening in the tent. The air is heady with sautéing onions and mild disdain, as we’re reminded that Paul and Mary have the wide-ranging, adventurous palates of a menu at a provincial Harvester.
Bad luck then for Ian, who’s gone all Masterchef with a murky scallop and squid ink vol-au-vent. Top tip, mate: people don’t generally like party food that makes them think of animal excretion, or fountain pens.
Alvin and Nadiya have both chosen flavours inspired by their family heritage, while, proving yet again that he’s a man after my own heart, Tamal has been inspired by a really great pork sandwich he had once. 'It was one of the top two sandwiches of my life,' he says, misty-eyed. 'I think about that sandwich quite a lot.'
Onto the hard part, and it turns out the best qualities in puff pastry are also the worst ones in a friend: flaky and consistently high.
Nadiya and Mat have both tried to cool their butter too quickly, resulting in lumpy dough that looks, according to Mel, ‘like a cellulitey thigh.’ We’ll have none of your pastry-shaming here, Giedroyc. Mat soldiers on but Nadiya decides to start again, which seems reckless. You’ve already got orange peel in your filling, Nads! Make cellulite a theme!
All of a sudden it’s unbearably intense and emotional. Time is ticking by, the rain is pounding down, there’s green stuff being prodded with bare hands into pastry crevices and the whole thing has turned into a fantastic advert for the benefits of ready-made Jus Roll.
Mat’s pastry comes out perfect against all the odds, while poor Nadiya is left watching her creations collapse like something from a horror flick called The Thing In The Oven.
‘DON’T MAKE PASTRY,’ is the main message here. ‘It’s a right fucking faff.’
Team vol-au back
The judges return, disappointingly neither wearing a Margot Ledbetter-style maxi dress, and the retro buffet is served. Nadiya’s ‘deconstructed’ effort isn’t the only problem – Ian’s squink experiment needs to get back in the sea, while Paul’s custard bouchées are a trifle anemic.
But Tamal’s shonky ode to a sandwich is delicious, while Flora is back on top as Princess Layer with her puffed-up chocolate pastry. And the best canapYAYs of all are from Mat, who has proved himself the Grand Old Duke of Yolk with his perfectly runny bacon and egg ’vents.
Buoyed by refined carbs, our benevolent judges even let Nadiya off the hook, declaring her fillings stunning and her layers good – just not the right way up. Nadiya weeps throughout, but in the same way you cry on GCSE results day when it turns out you managed to get an A in English despite forgetting that while Emma was indeed based on Clueless, the characters all had different names.
All the real emotion, though, is reserved for an apologetic Alvin. Poor, poor Alvin. His pastry is raw, his salmon is bland and neither his quivering chin or his chicken a la king can save him. You can see the hurt in everyone’s eyes, but it’s time for him to go – like pretending to hate a puppy so it can’t follow you home.
Be free, Alvin! Vol-au your dreams! If it helps, I always preferred you to Simon and Theodore.
Next week: Gird your loins, strap on your bustle and pop some tights on those table legs! It’s Victorian 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
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