It has been a busy old day, with many things to juggle, but my major worry was getting home from maths tuition in time to watch Great British Bake Off live and unleashed. We have it on series link, and indeed there is always iPlayer to fall back on, but there is nothing quite so marvellous as watching it in the moment.
We made it with five minutes to spare – and I broke no speed limits.
If you want to watch, you can catch this week’s desserts episode here.
Desserts is a nebulous title really. I’m never entirely sure what it means. I wonder if it’s a catch all for everything else they can’t quite quantify. I have a drawer like that in my kitchen. It has three chop sticks, an assortment of sporks, some half melted birthday candles, some Lego and random string in it.
This is essentially desserts, only they’re tastier.
The first challenge this week was to make a trifle. The key rule of trifles, according to Paul and Mary, is that they should have distinct layers in them. I like to know these things. I shan’t necessarily follow the rule of trifle, but it is nice to know it’s there just in case of emergency.
I confess to never having made a trifle, something I really must do. I do count myself as being uniquely qualified to criticise everyone else’s trifle though, due to the enormous quantities of trifle I have eaten over the years.
This week I note that the contestants were going for a distinctly tropical theme as far as trifles were concerned. It’s funny how flavours tend to go in waves of popularity. Coconut was featuring largely in a lot of trifles. Not something I’ve ever encountered in a trifle, but I’d be willing to taste test them all just to make sure I approve.
Glenn, who I am beginning to love, and who resembles a slightly ironic teddy bear who has been dragged through a hedge backwards, was winning me over with his extraordinarily large trifle, despite the fact that his layers got a bit submerged. I do not really approve of small desserts, unless you are allowed to eat vast quantities of them. As far as desserts go, more is always more, something Glenn and I can firmly agree on. I approved of the fact that his trifle made a satisfyingly squelchy plopping noise as Paul wrenched it unceremoniously from a trifle bowl the size of Gloucestershire.
Howard had a terrible, terrible time with his caramel apple trifle. I am beginning to worry about Howard. My fears that he may be a secret country and western/blues singer are becoming more pronounced as disaster follows upon disaster. Last week Sue elbowed him in the muffins. This week, Deborah stole his custard and he was forced to replace it with her below par runny excuse for custard.
To be fair, Deborah clearly did not do this on purpose, and nearly melted on the spot with shame when she was forced to confess to the great custard robbery of 2013. The speed with which she rushed to get Howard a spoon when he needed one nearly produced whizzy lines on the telly, and she grovelled before him with an array of implements, leaving him to coldly choose a slotted spoon, with a face on him that said; ‘This clearly doesn’t change anything. You are going to be in my next song – custard stealing beeatch.’
In the meantime, Ruby of the dratted cardigan, was shamelessly wearing knitwear she had stolen from Mary Berry’s mum whilst sculpting palm trees out of trifle sponges.
As you do.
Ali, had also branched out into hideous knitwear. I figured he thought it had worked for Ruby, so he might as well give it a shot. He had gone for something bright red with an alpine theme knitted into the borders. At times the cardigan was more compelling than what he was baking, particularly in the technical round.
There may be something to the theory of magical, baking knitwear though, as he produced a magnificent trifle, topped with award winning macarons, and generally lorded it over everyone else in the trifle stakes.
Next week, if everyone waltzes on set with hand knitted balaclavas and Starsky and Hutch style zippered cardigans and bakes like Escoffier, my theory will have been proven.
The technical challenge this week was to make something called iles flottantes. In layman’s terms this is known as floating islands. It consists of quenelles (rugby ball shapes) of poached meringues which sit in a sea of creme anglaise (fancy talk for custard), and topped with fine wisps of spun sugar.
I have a taste memory of having eaten iles flottantes, but I cannot recall when or where. I certainly haven’t made them myself as they fall under the auspices of what I like to call ‘fiddly desserts’. I don’t do fiddly desserts.
Neither does Oprah.
Although she has a personal chef to make hers for her. We just do without.
So, back to iles flottantes. They are very tasty, but visually they are rather unappealing, even when executed by la belle dame avec merci, Mary Berry herself. They are sort of white on white, with added whiteness, and a bit lumpy. Picture dollops of mash in white sauce and you’re about there with iles flottantes. I like to think of them as the cauliflower cheese of the dessert world.
It is fair to say that this was a technical challenge too far for some. Howard was now on nips of gin to keep him going after the great custard robbery. It all proved too much for him, having to shape meringues and make custard, and guard his work station from thieves and elbowists. He just went to pieces and had to start all over again.
Deborah was more than a bit wobbly, clearly never having executed grand theft in front of a television crew before, and being unable to live down the shame. Ali was having to resort to pruning his islands to get them into shape, whilst making remarks about Becca’s big ones, and then catching himself making a double entendre which he tried to extract himself from reasonably unsuccessfully, and Mark – well, Mark’s iles did not flot or tante ,or even ile really. Mostly they were too horrific to contemplate. You never want to hear Paul Hollywood say: ‘This meringue is weeping.’
Especially not when he’s looking at you while he says it.
The final, show stopper challenge was to make 24 petit fours, twelve with a biscuit base, twelve with a cake base.
Glenn, as you can imagine, struggled with this concept. Making small things is not really on his radar. You could see the whole ‘why?’ question radiating from his furrowed brow as he faffed about with his creations and Becca summed it up nicely as spending large amounts of time stuffing as many decorations as possible on the smallest cakes in the world.
Frances, who is exceptionally gifted at whipping up giant match boxes and other amazing props, which look fabulous but don’t really have a lot to do with food, pulled it out the bag this week with a great ‘sugar plum fairy’ themed cake stand, with delicious cakes and biscuits to match. Her attention to detail was amazing, as was Christine’s, who has a home made brandy snap dibber, lovingly crafted by her husband (that’s her story and she’s sticking to it). Becca made the world’s dinkiest macarons which even made Paul’s disapproving eyebrows unknit for a moment, although it wasn’t long before we were back to the standard thunderous monobrow of doom.
Howard was looking tired, but he had spent all night setting up tank traps around his work station and filling a fortified moat with creme anglaise so he could work unimpeded by saboteurs. He really didn’t have much energy to put into his petit fours after all that.
The losers this week were Mark, and Deborah, who were both given the order of the boot. Mark’s petit fours were not petit enough, and even he said that his macarons looked like ‘brains’. What with that and his weeping meringues everything got a bit too medical, and he was out. It’s a baking programme, not Casualty, although the number of blue plasters on show in episode one might raise a few questions with regard to that statement.
In the meantime, Deborah had given up trying to steal everyone else’s kit in favour of self sabotage, as her chocolate cakes failed to come out of the moulds and had to be teased out with toothpicks and tears, and her rose biscuits were so startling they looked like my children had made them with the aid of Play Doh barber’s shop and the remains of Howard’s secret gin supply.
Star baker this week went to Christine. You knew she was a shoe in the minute she brandished her ergonomic, hand crafted brandy snap dibber.
After the show Paul was filmed in the shrubbery doing a Dragon’s Den style deal with her for the rights to the dibber. They’ll be in everyone’s Christmas stockings this year, with La Hollywood’s face emblazoned on all the labelling, you mark my words.
Next week it’s pies all the way. I see your soggy bottom and raised you a hand crimped pie edging.