“I bring precision to everything I do,” said Brendan, explaining why he was measuring out cracker dough with a proper retractable builder’s tape. “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well and getting the finish right.”
Making 48 identical crackers, all of them thin and crisp enough to snap like dry twigs in Paul Hollywood’s merciless hands, was meant to require Brendanian levels of discipline. But on his 21st birthday, James decided he was a man now and he could do as he liked. The rules of baking were out. He was busking it and letting his talent take care of him: a strategy for coming first or last, with nothing in between.
Cathryn’s strategy was never clear, since it was drowned at birth by Mel Giedroyc, angel of doom. When will Bake-Offers learn? The woman is a Clouseauesque disaster area. A pleasant but, crucially, distracting chat with Mel stopped abruptly when Cathryn realised her crackers should have come out of the oven some time before.
“This is car-crash crackers,” Cathryn said as she realised she was going to have to present something resembling fire-damaged French toast. Paul was unusually sympathetic. Mary Berry gave her a massive stink-eye.
While Brendan achieved perfection and John got his form back, James had burnt some of his but didn’t seem to care. His dough was really, really thin. Snap it and weep, Hollywood. James chewed a cracker insouciantly as the judges shuffled off.
The technical bake asked for six of what the brand-averse Beeb has to daintily call “chocolate teacakes”: biscuit bases, marshmallow middles, chocolate coatings. Tunnock’s teacakes, in other words. Tunnock’s, Tunnock’s, Tunnock’s. Ooh, I could murder a box of Tunnock’s right now actually. Delicious Tunnocky Tunnock’s. Tunnock’s.
Making Tunnock’s teacakes (why would you make your own, when every box of Tunnock’s is sweet, gooey perfection? Utter madness) is difficult – especially if you’re in a tent in the middle of another scorching British summer, and it’s currently 35C.
Step one: pour melted choc into rubber moulds, and wait for it to set. Except, at 35C, it doesn’t. “We don’t have room temperature,” said James, staring into the middle distance like Paul Newman in The Towering Inferno.
This was Cathryn’s final test, and she failed it. “Cathryn has chosen not to chill her domes,” observed Mel or Sue saucily on the voiceover. Everyone else had twigged that, while refrigerating chocolate breaks a golden rule – it makes your Tunnock’s dull when they should look polished – it was better than the alternative.
Cathryn demonstrated this when her sticky domes refused to pop out of their rubber casings. At the last minute she stuffed them in the freezer, but it was too late. Her Tunnock’s were fatally discombobulated.
Lovely Cathryn, undone by even lovelier Tunnock’s teacakes. What bitter irony. It was just as well that, with the competitive edge gone, the bakes in the showstopper round were such fun.
Mel told the bakers to “take the normal gingerbread house to another level”, an instruction that was assumed not just to mean converting the gingerbread loft of a regular gingerbread house into a surprisingly roomy gingerbread en suite master bedroom. No, this was an opportunity for creativity to run amok.
Danny announced that her gingerbread Big Ben would be two feet tall. John, armed with pro-quality architectural drawings, was going to re-create the Colosseum from more than 100 pieces of gingerbread. Cathryn promised a chocolate, orange and gingerbread Buckingham Palace, while James was building a barn. A gingerbread barn.
Brendan’s fantasy Disney birdhouse sounded conservative in comparison but, as usual, his wiles had put him five steps ahead. Almost every contestant had written gingerbread cheques their baking couldn’t cash. As they hastily backtracked, Brendan pressed remorselessly on with his fine details.
James gathered his gingerbread struts and found his barn plan was impossible to build. Most of it would have to go. “It’s a… derelict barn,” he said, improvising, as Brendan put mascara on his fondant bluebirds.
Danny’s tower looked like a pile of squashed cardboard boxes stuck together with porridge and left in the rain. She accidentally snapped one of the segments. Brendan looked up briefly before getting back to manicuring his coconut lawn.
Cathryn admitted she was “downsizing” Buck Pal. Brendan finished off the icing-rope fence.
But then, a surprise, as Paul and Mary valued the finished properties. Instead of simply drawing a thatchy pattern on the top of his gingerbread house, Brendan had tried to find a thatch-like foodstuff and ended up plastering bite-sized Shredded Wheat onto it. The result looked like a gingerbread house that shouldn’t have Shredded Wheat stuck to it, but does. “I’m somewhat disappointed that we’ve got a… breakfast cereal as the tiles,” said Mary, surveying this colossal baked faux pas.
Contestants and judges had been joking about how much better than the rest Brendan was, but – with James’s casually brilliant derelict barn, complete with caramel cobwebs, winning him the star baker accolade – that gingerbread misjudgement means it’s not so clear-cut.
WIN A BAKE OFF BOOK!
Each week, readers of these reviews can WIN a copy of the new Bake Off book, How to Turn Everyday Bakes into Showstoppers by Linda Collister, normally priced £20.
To enter, follow us @radiotimes and tweet, using the hashtag #gbbort, your best and funniest answer to this question: How do you stop your domes sticking in hot weather?
Entries by 12 noon on Friday 5 October, please.
Last week’s WINNER: Sara Donaldson, with the answer: “When the stollen’s been stolen, the 70s have returned and doughnuts are just plain nuts.”
Terms and conditions: promoter is Immediate Media; UK entrants 16yrs+ only; winner picked from all @RadioTimes followers who submit an answer before 12 noon BST, 05/10/12.