Last night I managed to catch up with week’s most essential viewing of The Great British Bake Off. I had been worried I wouldn’t get to see it before the next round and I hate to be all out of order, it’s my televisual OCD kicking in. I am quite happy to read books in a series out of order, just not watch television programmes. It makes me all twitchy and peculiar.
And God forbid I should be twitchy and peculiar…
This week the episode was all about pies. This of course meant that pastry reared its ugly head again, which was enough to make my hands start sweating, and I was only watching the programme. If I had been on it, Sue Perkins would have had to pop me in the chiller cabinet to cool down for half an hour or I’d have been a puddle on the tent floor before we started.
I was disappointed to see that they didn’t start the first round with the descriptive term ‘signature pie’, as I was very curious to see what people would come up with. I am developing an entire psychological profiling thesis around signature baking, and this was going to be a crucial part. My idea was to make some kind of graph (represented by foxes heads on sticks. This is the only sort of graph that counts. If you haven’t got a foxes head on a stick you are in trouble), which measured normal pie preferences against abnormal pie preferences and then sell it to the Metropolitan police so they can use it to catch potential serial killers. Obviously a pie chart would have been more appropriate in these circumstances, but you cannot get foxes heads on sticks on a pie chart and that will never do. There must be rigorous standards. What sort of pie would the Yorkshire Ripper bake, that’s what I need to know?
Not that he is on the Great British Bake Off, unless he’s masquerading as Janet, but I could have written him a letter. I hear he’s a keen correspondent.
I was thwarted on the pie profiling front by the fact that they went all off piste and insisted that people made hearty family pies using rough puff or flaky pastry. This struck fear into everyone’s hearts.
Rough puff pastry has to have the cold fat grated into it, so that it comes out all rugged and flaky, but with no layers separating the pastry. Flaky pastry has to have the fat rolled into it in sections so that it creates sheets of thin, flaky pastry that have depth to them. It is not easy to make. I know this, because when I did flaky pastry at school, mine came out looking like a grey vest that had gone through a mangle. I had flash backs to this as everyone was busy making their pastry. Judging by the looks on the contestants faces, so did they.
There was a bit of controversy due to the fact that Jo, who is a bit tearful and has a small, squeaky voice which sounds a bit like a mouse trapped down a well, baked her pie lid separately from the rest of her pie. She said it was so that her filling wouldn’t over cook. I don’t know. It was all a bit suspicious. Mary Berry certainly thought so. She was not happy, not happy at all. A pie isn’t a pie without a lid as far as Ms. Berry is concerned, and I think I agree with her.
Mary Anne, who looks like a woman who would be good at pies, made the most complicated pastry in the world. It went in a bag, it came out of a bag, it got hit with rolling pins, it got taken all round the houses. Her pie looked magnificent, her filling was exquisite (chicken and bacon I think), but her pastry was a bit meh, and Paul was not impressed. She looked mournful. I looked mournful because her pie looked delicious and by this time I was starting to drool.
Jason, who is a bit fickle, due to being about twelve and having huge gaps in his cookery knowledge, rather like a very badly knitted vest, had a disaster, as did Flicky Rob. Both suffered from over cooked filling and underwhelming pastry. Things did not go well.
The surprise victor was Janet, whose chicken and chestnut pie was an absolute masterpiece. Janet is the woman who always looks slightly alarmed to be on a cookery programme, and who usually cements my opinion that she was actually shipped in from another programme by accident by doing something utterly disastrous at least once a programme. Her pie however, was flawless. She seemed as amazed by this as the rest of us.
The technical challenge this week was to make a pork pie from scratch. I never realised that pork pies are such hard work. According to the pie maker from Melton Mowbray that they dragged on to be informative, it takes four days to make a proper pork pie. As it was the contestants had to make an improper pork pie, which they baked on the first day and left to rest overnight so judging had to be on the second day.
The challenge struck fear into their hearts. Not only had none of them ever made a pork pie before, including Holly, who seems to have baked everything in the world that can be baked, and lots of things that can’t, but it involved making pastry with hot water with melted lard and butter in. This is notoriously difficult to do, and grown men quake with fear when asked to whisk up a batch.
It was also Paul Hollywood’s own recipe (of course he has his own recipe, shut up!) in which he had inserted a tiny quail’s egg into the middle of each pie. Nobody had boiled a quail’s egg before either and there was some debate as to how long one should boil a quail’s egg for. It turns out that two and a half minutes per egg is too long, as this is what Flicky Rob chose, and his came out like small quail bullets.
Jason confessed that not only had he never cooked a quail’s egg before, he had never boiled an egg, egg before. Sue Perkins had to go and have a lie down at this point. As she so rightly said: ‘You can cook a macaroon, but you can’t boil an egg?’
No Famous Five adventure style picnics for Jason then.
In the end it was Janet who triumphed yet again. Her quail’s egg was perfectly centred (I suspect Paul got a tape measure out here), her meat was beautifully flavoured and she managed to get her gelatine all round the edge, and make her pastry thin enough. She was stunned. I was stunned. We were all a bit stunned.
I started to wonder if Janet had been replaced by an Austin Powers style Fembot, and would shortly shoot Paul Hollywood with a sub machine gun disguised as an icing bag?
Or perhaps she had been replaced by the Yorkshire Ripper, and my pie thesis could actually be one step further towards completion.
The third challenge was to make a fruit meringue pie. Oh my! This of course was tricky because not only did it involve the bete noire of pastry. It also meant that meringue had to be made, and as demonstrated in the macaroon round, this could be disastrous in itself.
Paul had his beady eye on Flicky Rob, who, as ever, had been sailing rather close to the wind with his come day go day approach to timing and his generally slapdash nature. Rob was on borrowed time, and it seemed clear that Mary had had her pleasure with him and cast him aside like an old sock, as there was no flirting this week. Eek.
Mary Anne was being experimental again. She made dark chocolate pastry with chocolate filling, but couldn’t decide whether to go for burned sugar meringue, or coffee meringue. She whipped up both batches (as you do), and was still thinking about it in a leisurely fashion while everyone else was baking like fury. It transpires that she had never made the burned sugar meringue before, she just fancied giving it a go, and thought that in the middle of a competition was the best place to try it out. God love her, she’s a baking maverick.
In the end she went for the burned sugar version, and although it was rather soft, due to the fact that it was brown sugar in the meringue, which apparently doesn’t set as well as white sugar, it looked amazing.
Yasmin was making a raspberry ripple meringue, which she was very pleased about until she saw the magnificent size of Jo’s strawberry swirled meringue, and plunged back into deep depression. It did not go well.
In the end Janet triumphed yet again with a rhubarb meringue in which she stood up all the pieces of rhubarb in a kind of Giant’s causeway of pie and created a triumphant meringue hat to tower over it all. It turns out she is the twisted pie master and that’s that. She won baker of the week! At this point I fainted with shock and Janet’s eyes actually fell onto the carpet and rolled around.
It was that exciting.
And to cap a gripping week, Flicky Rob and Jason got thrown out. Flicky Rob had buggered it up one too many times and produced a deconstructed pie which was actually falling apart as he strode to the judging table with it, and Jason’s pie was equally disastrous, being so runny it slid off the plate on a tidal wave of juice.
So it’s five ladies in the quarter finals next week when it’s all to play for in the puddings round. There will be cheese cake. There will be profiteroles. There will be tears.