I am sitting here, nursing a cuppa and not knowing whether to be very very excited or rather sad. It has been a whirl people, an absolute whirl of a show this week. My friend Nicki and I are unanimous, and I think we speak for everyone in the nation here, that this week’s Great British Bake Off episode was the best one for simply blinkin’ ages.
You can watch the entire episode here.
But if you want a snapshot that encapsulates the whole episode you can do no worse than to click onto the Bake Off home page and look at the clip footage of Glenn clutching the corner of a retro fridge, looking like a defeated and broken man.
It’s heart rending. Like one of those pictures they show you in adverts where they want you to adopt sad and aged dogs with gammy legs and only one eye.
Remember folks – bakers are a big responsibility.
A baker is not just for christmas.
The pastry week is notorious. It’s a bit like crossing the Bay of Biscay, but with more suet. It can totally unman you. I shall not go on about soggy bottoms, but you get my drift.
In the quest for wafer thin, crisp, light pastry that is golden and crunchy and does not bubble, leak, ooze or remain stubbornly raw despite cranking the temperature all the way up to eleven, mortal men can be driven to the brink of insanity and beyond.
That was proven this week.
First up was the signature bake. This week it was the turn of the double pastry fruit pie. Double pastry just means that the entire pie filling has to be encased in pastry, basically – like pies used to be in the old days before everyone got all haute cuisine on things and insisted that a millimetre square of pork loin with a chanterelle mushroom balanced on top, wearing a filo pastry hat was actually a pie…
…a deconstructed, post modern ironic pie, which threw a knowing wink to the past but which nevertheless showed an endearing smattering of zeitgeistiness that stopped it becoming too ‘over’.
A pie of this nature would undoubtedly be served by Frances on a plate constructed entirely of a wire mesh rendering of Vivienne Westwood riding a badger wearing short crust pastry jodhpurs (the badger or Westwood – it matters not).
We had none of that nonsense tonight. It was all about PIE! Shouted loud and proud, preferably in a broad Yorkshire accent whilst wearing hobnail boots.
Which was why you knew Frances was on a hiding to nothing with her hot air balloon peach pie.
Pastry whippets would have been better. Or a Bedlington Terrier.
Ali was in trouble from the off, professing such a loathing of fruit pies that he refused to try his pie at any stage of its construction. Paul’s glance was withering, and he got to slap Ali’s knuckles firmly when the pie ended up tasting exactly like pie.
Kimberley however, had an exceptional pie moment. Her pie tasting of caramel and apple flavoured angels with a pinch of pastry heaven.
Christine’s pie, which she decided from the off would be perfect, got off to a horrible start with lumpy pastry, and then went from bad to worse until she ended up in a paddock, surrounded by accusatory looking sheep, sobbing into her parka.
I think it’s safe to say that alarm bells should always ring the moment someone says something like: ‘I’ve cooked it a million times’, or ‘It’s a family favourite’, or ‘I’m confident’.
It is the kiss of death. It is the signal for custard pillage, blue plasters by the bucket load, and in extreme cases, the fire brigade and the St. John’s Ambulance team. It also leads to surprises like live bats flying out of your rhubarb crumble that you never put there, or realising that you’ve mixed up dessicated coconut and soap flakes.
JUST DON’T SAY IT.
Remain relentlessly pessimistic like Ruby.
And wear shocking knitwear.
The technical challenge was carnage this week. The words egg custard are now synonymous with the word disaster for most of the bakers in the tent. Who would have thought making twelve individual egg custards could be so gruelling?
Howard, who is usually a mild mannered man, even when faced with theft and elbows, went completely to pieces and resorted to bashing his pie tray up and down on the work surfaces to get his pies out of the moulds. The look of resigned desperation on his face was piteous to behold.
Glenn was having an equally rough ride. His pie had been too soggy and now his custard tarts were, well, a mockery of a sham. Sue lay on the floor with him in sympathy as they peered into the oven, red eyed and manic, and he turned the oven up again and again until the tarts achieved the spectacular finish of being burned and yet still raw.
Ali’s tarts were not much better, and it was left to Kimberley to shine yet again, leaving Ali and Glenn to spend the show stopper round worrying ceaselessly about which one of them would be fired out of a giant pastry cannon to swim amongst the cynical looking ducks.
When the tarts had to be presented to Paul and Mary on their individual tiered cake plates, I was laughing so hard I actually had tears rolling down my face. I know it is not nice to laugh at the misfortunes of others, but goodness me, the offerings looked so, well, crumpled. It looked like tartmageddon had taken place.
You could tell Mary in particular was having a hard time not giggling herself. It is only because she is a veritable paragon that she managed to rein things in as much as she did. Paul’s eyebrows moved together so much that they actually stacked one on top of the other for this particular task, like a stern mathematical symbol.
Moisture plus Displeasure equals Angry Hollywood.
The show stopper round saw the contestants ordered to create something amazing out of filo pastry. These were basically the only instructions. There had to be filo. There had to be amazingness.
Filo pastry is the stuff you roll with a broom handle and should be able to read Elvish through it’s so thin. It’s nightmare stuff and should only be attempted when either a) feeling extremely confident because you are highly trained and very competent or b) feeling extremely confident because you are so high on uppers you are convinced you could take over a small nation single handedly in an afternoon.
Nobody was feeling either a) or b) by the time the show stopper rolled around, with the possible exception of Kimberley who was, without doubt, having her moment in the sun, and who eventually became star baker, to nobody’s surprise at all.
The show stopper was tense.
Ali was acrobatically attempting to stretch out a two metre length of filo pastry over every available surface without accidentally ensnaring another baker. Glenn was whimpering quietly into his beard. Howard had lost his nerve and was rolling his pastry in tiny squares and making patchwork he was so panic stricken about breaking it.
Rob had just gone bonkers and filled an entire fridge with his shroom collection, whilst chatting casually to the camera about the dangerous past time of mushroom hunting. Apparently he is in a mushroom hunting club (they dry them and stick them in books, like stamp collectors – not really – they shoot them with tiny guns), and it is a killer sport. It can literally ‘dissolve’ you from the inside out.
I appreciate that mushroom hunting can be tricky, but if Antonio Carluccio can do it, and he’s ninety eight, forty stone and can’t go anywhere without wearing jumbo cords and leaning on a big stick, it’s hardly akin to wrestling live sharks in a tank of herring blood is it?
I think Rob was just trying to sex things up a bit and add a frisson of danger to his wondrously nerdy geometrical pie.
It didn’t work.
Nobody died, nobody dissolved, and his geometry was leaky.
Glenn lived to fight another day by creating a splendid spanakopita, and it was Ali who went home this week.
It was very sad, and Howard actually cried, bless his tender country and western heart (he will get a song out of it, at least), but Ali made two mistakes this week. Firstly, he admitted to Paul he didn’t like pies, and in a show dedicated pretty much to the worship of pies, and Paul’s pies in particular, there was no recovering from that.
Secondly, he took his bloody cardigan off.
I told you! I told you!
It’s all about the knitwear really.
Next week it’s biscuits – and Glenn in a knitted Victorian bathing costume for the gentleman of husky stature.