Week six of The Great British Bake Off brought us sailing into the choppy waters of the pastry round. Yes, it was that time when I sat on the sofa, squirming in sympathetic agony, hands sweating like I was wearing hot water bottle mittens, thanking the tiny baby Cheezus I have never thought to volunteer for the canvas tent of joy. This is the week that would break me. Every. Single. Time.
Pastry. It’s the devil’s work. It needs a cool hand, a cool head and a cool tent. It also needs about four months resting in a fridge to make anything that doesn’t automatically melt on immediate contact with the outside air. It would be a reasonable assumption that raw uranium would be a less troublesome material to make things with.
On that note of dire warning and with the promise of melt downs, emotional and pastry based to come, we started the signature round with a frangipane tart of the baker’s choice. Frangipane, for the uninitiated is a slurry of almondy custard that you wallop into a shortcrust pastry case and gussy up with some kind of fruit/jam stuff to go with it. Bakewell tart is a frangipaneseque thing if that helps. It does not help me, or anyone who was there at my father’s great Bakewell fest of 2011 when we were introduced to Bakewell tarts that even Paul Hollywood had not dreamed possible. Or advisable.
The theme for the frangipane toppings this week veered heavily towards the pear end of the spectrum. Not my favourite fruit. So gritty at times that they have the consistency of hot, sweet gravel, and mostly tasting slightly of wet dish cloth. They’re alright in things if poached in enough of something else to make you come to an uneasy truce with the grit. Mostly pear poaching gets a bit festive for my liking and there were indeed rather a lot of cinnamon sticks involved, which distressed me. I have already blocked one person from Facebook this week for posting up a snow related festive meme.
I was saved by Flora, who lifted my heart when she chose to use apricots, and then made me weep when she made a rosemary jus/jam/slop to go with it. For once, Paul and Mary were as disappointed with it as me. They resisted the temptation to say ‘fleurgh’ and spit it on the carpet, but that was the impression you got. It puts me in mind of that bit in Big where Tom Hanks tries caviare for the first time.
Alvin did not do well with frangipane. The problem being that he seemed to attack his pastry with some sort of industrial grade knuckle duster. It wasn’t a wise move, even though I am sure that more than one of us has wanted to beat our pastry into next week for failing to behave itself. Alvin seemed quite distressed at the turn things had taken too. He is a man of peace, trembling, quiet tears and gentlemanly behaviour. A man who apologises for everything and never fails to call Paul Hollywood sir, does not want to be consorting with a pastry knuckle duster. I wonder if he had come to some arrangement with the Sith elements of baking and was rueing the day for turning to the dark side. (Ainsley Harriot springs to mind, possibly Anthony Worrall Thompson). I wanted to shout: ‘Use the force Alvin, not the weapons of pastry destruction’.
It was to no avail.
Tamal did excellent well this week, and his was the frangipane I would have fallen into first had I been in the tent, sniffing around after leftovers and making a nuisance of myself. I wonder, whether they have to change the film crew every fortnight to avoid issues with cardiac arrest and surfeit. Medieval kings were always dying of surfeit. I suspect it would easy to do if you were around for an entire series of Bake Off. I shall pay closer attention to the closing credits in the final round to see if there is a small p.s. at the end with all the dates of the film crew who have surfeited themselves to death, and the name of the baker responsible for them carking it.
The technical round this week was a devil of a thing, a Cypriot cheese pastry called flaounes (pronounced fla-ooo-nas). There were so many things in them that were strange and tricky that if it weren’t the BBC and it wasn’t pre-watershed it would not have surprised me to learn that the translation of flaounes is ‘bastarding bloody pastry gitting cheese flaming parcels’. Nobody, literally nobody had ever heard of them or even knew what they looked like. Usually there is someone in the tent rubbing their hands together gleefully at this point because they have actually got a vague clue what they’re doing, but this week we were just treated to a silent Mexican wave of raised eyebrows as everyone panicked simultaneously.
Flaounes are tricky, not just because nobody else has ever heard of them, but they are also made from a yeasted pastry, which nobody had ever heard of, and contained a thing called mahlepi, which is ground up cherry stone, and mastic, which is something you use to stick the bath tiles back together with when the water starts cascading through into the kitchen ceiling.
It is actually a kind of pine resin, which smells like Harpic toilet cleaner, and can also be boiled down to stick bathroom tiles back together. Which is nice.
And also nobody except Tamal had ever heard of these either. So it was a lovely, relaxed afternoon of baking for everyone involved. Ian ended up making Cornish pasty shaped flaounes, Alvin made pizza flaounes, Tamal got his sesame seeds back to front, and everyone except Matt had an abysmal time with them. The thing we can learn from that round? Fear the flaounes. They do not come in peace.
The show stopper this week was to make vol au vents, two different types, twenty four of each. That was a lot of canapés. I did wonder if Mary and Paul had a big order in for the Berry-Hollywood catering business, possibly a wedding, or some kind of celebration for the Queen’s upcoming inability to get off the throne longer than any other monarch before her type party. It would explain a lot. Mind you, after eating that many vol au vents it is entirely likely that the queen would remain wedged on the throne for several decades to come like a royal version of Pooh in the rabbit hole. I doubt Prince Philip would be sticking his washing on her flailing little legs to dry though. He might try to get better telly reception by balancing the palace Sky dish on her crown mind you.
This seasons bakes do seem to be harking back to the wilderness years of the Seventies. I wonder if they got Brendan from series 3 back as an adviser. He was a wow with retro themed bakes, God love him (and me. I love him too). I could sense his presence, hovering amongst the vol au vents as the bakers went lamination crazy (cue Roy Castle style trumpet solo). I think he would heartily have approved of Flora’s chocolate ones, as they were a bit ritzy. I think he would also have favoured Paul not Hollywood’s because he went for a twist on the traditional with spicy prawns and a raspberry trifle extravaganza.
As for me, I wanted to eat everything in the tent except Ian’s squid ink and scallop ones. I like scallops, can’t really be doing with squid ink. It’s alright, but it reminds me of that time in 1982 when a biro burst all over my summer dress and I ended up eating some of the ink for reasons unknown, and the nuns all shouted at me, and I looked like I’d been murdered in a coal mine. Traumatic times. Nobody wants a flash back over a canapé.
Nadiya had a disaster with lumpy pastry and then exploding pastry and then not getting her fillings into her exploding pastry. Alvin had a disaster with his lumpy pastry and his raw pastry, and this, coupled with his sub standard flaounes and feeble frangipane meant he left the tent for the last time. This was a great sadness to me, as I loved Alvin, with or without his chipmunks. In fact, my son was so distressed that he ran round and round the sofa after Bake Off was finished crooning ‘Alvin, Alvin, Alvin, Alvin,’ and begging us not to delete Bake Off from Sky+ until he’d had a chance to watch him in action one more time.
This week, Matt sailed to glory with exquisite vol au vents stuffed with trout and horseradish and a full English breakfast which made Mary so excited she let egg yolk run down her immaculately turned sleeve. These are the memories we cling to when we are in need of comfort Mary, be at peace with the mess, and remember you can lick that egg off later as a post prandial snack, before you go to the dry cleaners.
Next week, I am excited to announce, is Victorian week. I am hysterical about this in an overenthusiastic puppy type way. If there isn’t some kind of rendition of Paul Hollywood in aspic with a pineapple on his head I shall want to know why.
You can watch this week’s episode here.