Nothing could match last week’s nail-slicing drama, so this felt like an interlude: the two people you thought would go, went. It wasn’t a classic, but there’s no such thing as a boring Bake Off.
First, the signature bake demanded 24 buns. Ryan made his termination look a smidge less inevitable by again pulling excellence from the jaws of total panic. He was seen frantically flipping, kneading and filling, slapping dough this way and that in pure desperation as the clock ticked down.
What had delayed Ryan and put him in such a pickle wasn’t clear, but the resulting lardy cakes were perfect. Paul Hollywood actually shook Ryan by the hand, albeit while pulling himself up to his full height and saying “Well done” in patrician, I’m-still-the-best tones.
Ryan should have harnessed the adrenalin of the last-minute flap in the next two rounds – it’s when he’s at his best. Leaving the tent and going base-jumping, or playing catch with a wasps’ nest, then dashing back in and starting to bake just as everyone is else is dusting theirs with sugar: that might have saved him.
As Brendan (poppyseed “bunskis”) and Danny (Bakewell buns) flourished, the obvious backmarker was Sarah-Jane, whose orange, nutmeg and saffron got this fearful slagging from Mary Berry: “A little bit dry, and a little bit lacking in flavour.” By Mary’s standards, that is a critical kerbstoning.
Cathryn, in contrast, is emerging as a star of the series, up there with James and Brendan. One of the Bake Off’s greatest pleasures is seeing characters grow and change before our eyes: Cathryn started so meekly but now her pouting, glowering, lip-chewing, sideways glances and reckless cheeking of the judges is increasingly… well, it’s increasingly watchable.
As the lucky last seven moved on to the technical bake – jam doughnuts, which are five for a pound down the Co-Op but not so easy from scratch – Cathryn started doing her own commentary, laced with textbook GBBO innuendo. Timing the moment when the proving stopped and the deep-frying started was crucial. Cathryn eyed her rivals, then her balls of dough. “I would be the first person in the oil. Maybe I should just take the oily plunge.”
What Cathryn described as “doughnut doom” was spreading across the kitchen. Having not known when to start, nobody knew when to stop frying. Sarah-Jane was yet again displaying that key sign of imminent Bake Off eviction: ignoring the established method and freestyling. “I’m not going on time,” she said, crackling with uncertain bravado. “Just on the colour I think doughnuts should be.”
“These are raw inside,” said Paul Hollywood of Sarah-Jane’s efforts. Worse followed. “It just looks like dough,” ruled Mary. “You can see the stretch marks on it.” In the Bake Off, stretch-marked doughnuts are a source of great shame.
Ryan was in trouble too, having mistimed his proving, leaving him scuppered before the frying. “They were pretty much crêpes when they went in there,” said Paul. At least, I think that’s what he said.
Danny’s doughnuts were excellent but the winner of the round was James who, as he does with almost every task, said he’d cooked millions of them down the years. He’s 20! He must have emerged from the womb with a spatula and a muslin bag of wet dough.
The showstopper was an enriched celebration loaf. Danny secured star baker status with a European wreath – mmmm, festive! – while James unleashed another creation with more syllables than ingredients: a “whisky kugelhopf-brioche baba”. They don’t sell those down the Co-Op.
Brendan was confronted by Paul about his 1970s fetish, which was unfortunate timing as he was about to construct a Black Forest Christmas stollen that was as modern and cool as Wizzard’s Greatest Hits on eight-track cartridge. It had turrets. Tasty, though.
Ryan confirmed he was gone with an abject apology of a char siu bao, dry and dull yellow. Could Sarah-Jane correct her earlier mistakes and save herself? Paul took a bite of her bake.