I am late to Great British Bake Off, I know. I am sorry. Blame my first crochet class in which it transpires I have no natural aptitude for crochet whatsoever and spent an hour and a half knotting up yellow string into small, chewed strands and unravelling them. I tried pink wool to see if that would help. It didn’t. I cannot crochet in all the colours of the spectrum it transpires. At least I am consistent.
The problem is that I cannot get my hands to do what my brain tells it to, which seems an apt analogy for some of the problems the bakers ran into during pies and tarts week at points and is also true of my own pastry making abilities.
Enough of my crochet related musings. Let us get on to Pies and Tarts week. If you missed the episode, you can catch it here.
This week the premature departure of Diana was announced and there were various vox pops from other bakers, bemoaning her absence. Martha in particular, was rather upset that her ‘granny in the tent’, was no longer there to buoy her up in times of baking need. It led me to imagine Diana as a kind of grandmotherly set of training wheels for the nervous baker. This may have been more true than anyone would have liked, given that this was Martha’s worst week to date, and the first week she had a proper disaster. She needed Diana stabilisers. Or a stern talking to accompanied by a pint of sweet tea to steady the nerves. I imagine they’re much of a muchness. It’s what my granny always used to prescribe in times of stress, and if that didn’t work it was a firm slap up the side of the head for you.
I suspect that’s how Paul and Mary work. It’s a good cop, bad cop thing. Mary offering you tea. Paul slapping you about. Although with the return of Mary’s under cover agent look this week I wouldn’t be surprised to find her sucker punching you in the kidneys if it meant getting the latest info on rough puff.
Psst. Word on the street is it’s all about the lamination.
The signature round this week involved making a family sized pie with a custard filling. My ears pricked up. I love custard tart. Well, except the weird, day glo yellow ones with nutmeg on that they sell in the supermarkets. The ones that are all sort of wobbly and wrong. I don’t do those type of custard tarts, but otherwise, if it’s got custard in it, just send it my way. Family sized is also a phrase that brings me out in joy related goose bumps. Joy bumps. Oh yes.
I did wonder if Health and Safety had made Paul and Mary shut their shop this week, given that the pie demands were singular, albeit large. Or perhaps they’re giving the shop a break while they’re on a case. Mary’s hot pink, Diana Rigg jacket indicated that there’s clearly something going down that needs lots of zipped pockets alongside her precision baking skills and Paul’s rough man handling of bread dough. Put the phone in Hollywood Towers onto red alert and make sure that Mel and Sue have greased the pole to the Battenburg Cave with enough lard for four.
I’m here all week.
Kate’s custard tart won my heart this week. That’s because it had rhubarb in it, and I love rhubarb and all rhubarb related products with a passion I cannot really describe. Imagine a series of low moans and a lot of dribbling and you’re about there. Luis made something stunningly tropical and exotic, which was practically perfect in every way. and Nancy defied Paul’s raised eyebrows at the narrowness of her tart tin, by producing a whiz of a tart with chocolate pastry and passion fruit filling.
Everyone else had a bit of a nightmare this week. Norman’s tarte au citron, which he declared exotic (for where he lives), looked like it had been put together with a hammer in the middle of a power cut, and no amount of icing sugar hid the fact that it was a bit rugged. I blame the fact that we have not seen Norman’s magical spoon in recent weeks. I wonder if its disappearance is what Paul and Mary are investigating? Without it, Norman seems rudderless, and unable to get out of the groove of brown baking he has been stuck in for so long. I willed him to gussy things up, but to no avail.
And it gave me a headache.
Martha’s tart was a disaster. The pastry fell apart. The tart was soggy, the apricots were too sharp. It really didn’t work at all, and if it weren’t for Kate’s help, it probably wouldn’t have made it out of the tin in one piece. Poor Martha. You could see her little, ashen face, paling into the sides of the tent canvas as she wept for the ruins of her tart. I sympathised. I had the same problems in 1985 during a cookery exam when the sweet tart pastry had to be patched up with cheese scone mixture behind the cookery teacher’s back.
We weep, even now, as we think of that tart. Alas.
As for the others, Chetna’s rice wasn’t cooked through, and her flavours were weedy. Despite her gentle protestations to her tart at various stages in the preparation, and the fact she was wearing wicked orange Converse, things refused to go right for her and it was terrible to see her face when Paul announced the tart hadn’t really got any flavour. It is the same face I get when I go to the tin only to realise we have run out of biscuits.
Richard’s fig tart was a disappointment. It was all a disappointment. Although he seemed pleased enough, drinking the leftover custard straight from the jug. I suspect he should have just stuck his magic pencil in the jug and served that.
The technical round was also a total disaster for Richard, who managed to come bottom this week after the spectacular melt down of his individual poached pear pies, which, in the oven, managed to revert to their constituent parts and resolutely refuse to be put back together again.
Apparently this mini, pear pie, malarkey is a Paul Hollywood recipe.
I raised my eyebrows when they announced this recipe. The nation raised its eyebrows. France has now moved two inches away from us, and extra strengthening of the Channel Tunnel is required, the eyebrow wind generated was so strong.
This is another one of those fictional, made for TV recipes, which may be loosely based on a real life recipe somewhere, but which has been tweaked to make it both obscure and devastatingly complicated.
As I suspected, without the aid of Mary’s jacket to help my deductive reasoning, nobody had heard of, or cooked, this recipe before, and there was a lot of dire muttering going on, muffled by the sound of pears being peeled and poached in a resentful manner.
Basically, you take a pear, poach it whole, cool it off, make some puff pastry, whack it round the pear in a spiral, and then bake it so that it comes out looking like a bottom heavy boiler that’s just been lagged. Nobody was very impressed, and Luis announced that it was the last time he was ever going to cover a piece of fruit in pastry, which just goes to show you how awful a challenge it was, given that Luis is game for anything and everything complicated and fiddly with ninety thousand interlocking pieces you would never ordinarily think to put together.
Martha triumphed, and was now weeping with joy rather than pie related frustration. It was a roller coaster of a day for her all things considered.
The technical challenge involved making at least three, if not more, tiered pies. The pies had to, according to Paul, have some kind of theme to them to be truly wondrous. They also had to not topple down like a disastrous, pork based Jenga game gone horribly wrong. Although pork based Jenga would make an excellent theme for a trio, or even quartet of pies.
Chetna was my favourite in this round, with four pies based on traditional Indian dishes. Chetna, Chetna, I love you and your pies, and I would like to lick the bowls out please? Thank you. That is all.
Luis made surprise pies that pretended to be fruit pies, but which were actually meat pies which were also seasonal pies. He was going pie crazy, and even had a spirit level to make sure his pies were at the right latitude and longitude as well as in the right seasons. What next Crazy Luis? Pie passports?
Richard made builder’s pies, which surprisingly did not consist of forty eight cups of tea, the left overs of a Mr. Kipling fruit pie with the filling sucked out the hole, and a load of dog ends with foot prints on, but which sadly did not prove brilliantly popular with the judges despite this.
Nancy made hand crafted pies which she sculpted, lovingly, without the aid of wires, glue or artificial aids, and which endeared her to Paul who likes a well fondled pie.
Martha managed to produce some decent pies, despite having a leaky pie, which gushed orange fat all over the place in a kind of heart attack inspired fountain. Which was nice.
This left Kate, as queen of the pies with some magnificent pork based offerings that won her star baker, which was incredibly well deserved, and something I thought she should have won last week too.
And no surprise to anyone this week, Norman’s luck well and truly ran out with his lavender flavoured meringue which nearly took all the air out of Sue’s lungs when she took a sneaky swipe from the bowl, and which caused Paul’s eyebrows to climb on top of one another in horror at the memory of his granny’s drawers way back when.
I was devastated to see Norman go. He has been a thing of brownness and a joy forever, but in all honesty he has been living on borrowed time for weeks. There is good, plain cooking and then there is lavender based produce. Fare thee well Norman, you have been a splendid human being and a very stalwart baker.
Next week I shall continue to fail to master crochet, and we will bond over European cakes.