It was the third week of the Great British Bake Off and our waistlines were (and still are) expanding at an alarming rate.
In week two we had hideous octopus loaves, bread sticks in matchboxes and soggy bottomed muffins. This week? It was dessert time and the spoons were out.
“It’s extremely difficult,” Hollywood smiled gleefully as the bakers were set their first challenge of the week: a trifle.
While it might seem like a simple desert (most definitely for those of us who buy ours from M&S…) the trifle, Paul and Mary delighted in telling us, is actually a masterful balancing act of techniques and timing. Mary was concerned with texture and complimentary flavours while for Paul it was all about the layers – defined layers to be precise.
As pretty much everyone reached for ladies' fingers we were on high pun-alert, but sadly Mel’s “Bakers, get those lady fingers soggy” was the best digit-based innuendo we were treated to. A few of the bakers even went off-piste and eschewed fingers all together, opting for much less suggestive ginger cake instead.
Meanwhile, Deborah decided to make Cointreau spray, which Mary Berry gravitated towards and began spraying in her mouth with abandon – it looked like the tent was about to descend into a drunken brawl until Paul sensibly led her away by the elbow. Glenn declared that he had pinched Mary’s “flavour combination” but not her recipe and Ruby opted for a trifle that she hadn’t practiced “in its entirety”, which set alarm bells ringing.
Then, the question on everyone’s lips: jam or jelly? The bakers began squinting at each other across their work surfaces and some jelly-based snobbery ensued.
Before long, though, everyone’s attention turned to the "scary layer”: custard. Poor Mark had only just learnt how to make it and Paul was quick to spot his weakness, saying, “That’s not the method I would do, put it that way,” with a withering eyebrow raise.
Elsewhere the custard wasn’t playing ball. It wouldn’t thicken and the bakers started stirring in frantic circles. Glenn’s attempt turned into a “school dinner gone wrong”, and when he tried again his second batch looked like scrambled eggs…
But as the bakers got ready to construct their trifles, real disaster struck. And for the second week running it was poor Howard on the receiving end.
Last week his muffin was elbowed by Sue, this week his custard was shamelessly stolen from the fridge by Deborah in Bake Off’s first theft.
Deborah tearfully admitted her crime, but only after putting the custard in her own trifle. Allegedly in error… but who was to say his custard wasn’t much superior? It was clearly what Mel was thinking as she quickly made a joke about sabotage. The reaction? More tears from Deborah.
The custard-y mix up made the taste test a difficult procedure, as Mary and Paul tried to judge Howard’s custard in Deborah’s trifle and vise versa. The conclusion? “Howard’s was a better custard,” confirmed Paul as the thwarted baker lamented: “I’d just like to get one uneventful bake out of the way.”
When it came to the other bakers, Ruby’s tropical trifle went down well, Kimberley’s was a hit and Glenn’s giant trifle was “good” with just the right amount of soaking…
Beca’s custard was “slack”; Frances’ trifle would have been perfect with a little bit less custard and a little bit less cream; Christine’s Pina Colada trifle was deemed “superb” by Paul and the baking experts struggled to find a criticism for Ali’s creation.
Of Mark’s, Mary simply said: “It’s really a kind of cake with fruit on top and custard.” Which left us a little confused. Isn’t that what a trifle is…?!
For their second challenge, the bakers were tasked with making Floating Islands. Snow Eggs. Tiny poached meringues in a sea of crème anglaise topped with spun sugar. Riiiiiight. Blank faces all round then?
“Why would you even float a meringue on custard?” asked Ruby, quite rightly. “I think they’ll have trouble,” said Mary.
The bakers started whipping their egg whites into stiff shapes. “Nice and firm,” said Ruby wobbling her peaks while Ali stood around waiting on everyone else to start so he could copy what they did. “Beca’s got big ones,” he said. Steady on.
The poaching was a tricky moment which left Howard’s meringues looking like a “metaphor for global warming” and everyone kept an eye on Deborah when it came to making the custard…
In the end, though, the results were a mixed bag. Glenn’s were deemed a “good effort”, Ruby’s didn’t look right but tasted “quite nice” while Ali’s were “about right”. It turned out Beca’s were too big and Mark’s “weeping” meringues tasted pretty bad according to Hollywood. The pair came in at the bottom of the pile while Ruby was given third place, Rob second and Glenn first.
Next up, the petit four showstopper, perfect and precise to please Paul’s “pixie” mouth. “It’s the most difficult challenge yet,” said Mary while Paul boasted: “It’s easy to attain the perfect petit four.” Well of course it is for you, Paul.
In minutes there were tiny bits of chocolate, mini macaroons and gold leaf all over the place. There was even gold in a spray can (we just hope they checked it was edible).
Glenn – who is consistently criticised for his big bakes – aimed to go petite with Billionaire Bouchees and Orange Financiers, which Paul professed his love for.
Ruby tackled lemon shortbread and white chocolate seashells and blackberry and chocolate layer cakes, confessing that she was "winging it a bit". Cries that her philosophy exams were getting in the way of her baking didn’t impress Paul, but her finished petit fours did and were even called “a bit of alright” by Mary.
Deborah’s canele cherry and chocolate cakes got stuck in the tin and lost their fluting, while Mark’s rose and pistachio macaroons went wrong and, in his own words, ended up looking “like little brains”. He was quick to blame the tent, saying “something is weird in there that makes it hard to bake”. But that was not a worthy excuse for Paul, who said he’d send them back to the kitchen if he was served them while Mark looked like he was trying mighty hard not to punch him.
Howard – the only baker who went savoury, with black coffee and cardamom cake and white Stilton and pear biscuits – didn’t get a great reception from Paul and Mary. While Beca managed to turn her fortunes around with a “perfect” set of limoncello and blueberry bursts and millionaire shortbread.
Then it was time for the tough decisions to be made. Who would be sent home? In the midst of the tension Paul suggested (somewhat unwittingly) that he and Mary marry off. Mel volunteered to be the ring bearer while Sue was keen to officiate. But sadly, it was not to be. And instead of a GBBO wedding the pair decided to send not one, but TWO bakers home…
While Christine with her “scrummy” Ninety Niners and Sachertorte parcels was named this week’s star baker, Mark’s macaroons and Deborah’s dodgy trifle meant that they were sent packing…
“It started off with the wrong custard,” said Deborah, sadly.
Next week? It’s pies. Brace yourself for soggy bottoms all round.
The Great British Bake Off continues on Tuesdays at 8pm on BBC2