Before you sit down to read this review, prepare yourself. This was pie week and bottoms were about to get soggy.
Tarts, pies, flan. You name it, if it came in a pastry casing and it had a bottom, we were all over it.
After the great custard robbery of week three and the culling of two bakers, the GBBO tent felt a bit mean. No one was safe. Even Mel and Sue were worried for their jobs. Five bakers could go this week, they said. Maybe there would be a deadlock. Perhaps it was the final and everyone had already been sent packing?
Melodrama over, it seemed as though the atmosphere in the tent was actually fairly relaxed. Mel and Sue sung ‘Who ate all the pies?’ before announcing the baker’s first challenge: a double crusted fruit pie.
It could be sweet pastry, short crust pastry, any fruit in the whole wide world… BUT it must hold its shape. And there must be absolutely NO soggy bottoms. “If you do not know how to make a sweet pastry or a short crust pastry you shouldn’t be in that tent,” said Hollywood while waggling his floury finger menacingly.
Ali started off by blending cling film into his, which didn’t instill confidence in the viewing public, before declaring that he detested fruit pie, thought it was repulsive and wasn’t going to taste his because he didn’t want to. A sentiment clearly not shared by Paul, who glowered as a response.
“The terror of a soggy bottom has been keeping me up all night,” said Kimberley as Paul continued to pace around the kitchen like a caged tiger. “If my bottom is dry today, all will be right with the world…”
From this point on the words soggy and moist were uttered about a billion times. And we are probably not even exaggerating. “Moisture is the big problem for these pies,” said Rob. “Moisture is the enemy,” reiterated Glenn.
Desperate to avoid the dreaded undefined bottom, everyone had their own savvy trick – whether it be semolina, icing sugar, cornflower or a bottomless tin. “I think I know someone who is going to have a soggy bottom,” said Ali. But we weren’t sure if that was a threat or a promise…
Time was running out and in an attempt to suck “the wet” out of their tarts everyone turned up the heat. (Literally. That wasn’t a metaphor.) And as each of the bakers took part in a staring contest with their bubbling pies, Sue helpfully interjected: “I think that brown stuff is burn.”
When it came to the tasting, Beca’s Mamgu’s Cherry-Apple Tart avoided sogginess, while Rob’s Pear, Apple and Thyme Pie had “a beautifully baked underneath”. Not content with just making a pie, (is this gal ever?) Frances made a James and the Giant Peach inspired Peach Pie in the Sky, which looked amazing but was deemed “very, very bland and dry” by Paul. All style, no substance, apparently…
Mary said she liked Ruby’s Apple and Marzipan Pie with Sour Cherries while Kimberley’s Pecan and Rosemary Caramel Apple Pie was called “frankly delicious” and “one of the nicest pies I’ve had for some years” by Paul. The silver haired judge even took a slice of pie away with him. And if that’s not praise we don’t know what is.
Howard’s Apple Pie with Sage Pastry was too crumbly - and nobody had even sabotaged it this time. Ali’s Apple Pie wasn’t cooked. While Glenns’ Apple and Maple Syrup Custard Pie was met with a lukewarm reception. “You’ve had plenty of time to practice. You knew how long it’d be. You shouldn’t have picked it,” said Hollywood as the sixth form teacher gracefully took the criticism.
Last week’s star baker Christine used her Granny Rogers’ recipe of Apple, Plum and Cinnamon Country Pie but, tried and tested though it was, she was the soggiest of them all, and it wasn’t just her bottom… “One of my pet hates in a pie is a soggy bottom,” said Paul, “but you’ve managed to get a soggy top.” Ooh er.
There wasn’t time to dwell on it though. It was soon time to wipe those eyes, dry those soggy, soggy cheeks and get on with the technical challenge: custard tarts. A firm pastry casing filled with egg custard with just a little bit of wobble in it. “Baked well there is nothing better than a custard tart” said Paul. “Mmmm,” was all that Mary could manage in reply as she stuffed tart into her mouth.
In the tent there was a lot of spying eyes. Everyone had eaten a custard tart, but cooked one? That was a whole new kettle of fish (or bowl of custard). The bakers surreptitiously watched each other’s every move. Should they heat the custard before it goes in? How thick should the pastry be? How high should you fill up the custard? How hot should the oven be? The dilemmas were endless.
And once baked and out of the oven, the drama wasn't over. Thoughts turned to how they would be able to get the tarts out of the baking tray. “I think I might be in trouble with this one,” said Ali. And he wasn’t wrong.
Ruby had fashioned some very clever little levers out of baking paper, but for everyone else it was time to scrape around the outside of their tins. (For those of us who can’t stand the noise of a knife on a plate, it was time to press the mute button.) Others chipped away at their boiling hot tarts and flapped baking trays around above their heads, while Rob gave up and extracted his with his hands and Ali and Glenn shoved theirs in the freezer.
The result? Custard collapsed all over the place and plenty of bakers presented piles of custard and crumbled pastry. Seeing the devastation, Paul could barely contain his glee and rubbed his hands together in feigned disappointment.
Glenn’s had “major issues” and came in last place, just beaten by Ali’s “raw” tarts and Christine, who had a case of the dreaded soggy bottom again. Rob’s were deemed “rushed” and “weak” but he bagged third place, coming in behind Beca’s "good" bake and Frances' “nice” tarts.
Then it was showstopper time. The bakers were making filo pastry and it was all about breaking those pie boundaries, according to Mel. Though not literally, of course, because that would be messy, wouldn’t it?
As soon as Mel screamed bake - at an even more terrifying decibel than usual - it was all go in the tent. The bakers made their pastry and set about rolling it super, super thin. Kimberley went for a traditional Turkish rolling pin to do the job while Beca whipped out the handle of her kitchen broom. Across the tent, Mary had a go at slapping Ruby’s pastry and everyone had a good giggle.
Lagging behind the others, Rob fiddled around with mushrooms from his local mushroom club (yes, that’s a thing). “The opportunity to kill yourself is quite good,” he mused before explaining his typically mathematical approach using the term pie-thagoras. Chortle.
Meanwhile, innuendo alert! Ali wrestled his large snake out of oven - sadly, this wasn’t a brilliant double entendre. He made an Orange, Cardamom and Date M’Hanncha, which translates as snake cake - and Glenn placed his baked creation on the side to the response: “What a beautiful, beautiful ring,” from Sue.
Then, Howard’s pie got stuck in its case and Mel and Sue ran to his aid. Alarm bells started ringing - Howard had made it to the third challenge without disaster this week. Was it time someone sabotaged his success? Glenn and Beca couldn't bare to watch and covered their faces…. But the trio manage to extract the tart without disaster, to a round of applause from the rest of the relieved bakers.
At the final taste test Frances' carefully crafted cherry tree pie was declared undercooked, Christine was told she had "a good flake" (the compliment every woman is desperate for, I'm sure...) and Glenn's Spanakopita was cripsy with lovely layers. Ruby's was "beautiful", Howards "elegant" and Beca's likened to mash potato.
But it was smiley Kimberley's "absolutely beautiful" Chicken, Bacon and Butternut Squash Pie that won her star baker...
And Ali's efforts which got him sent home. The eager baker's departure sparked yet more tears from the baking team. Howard sobbed while Christine threatened to kill Ali if he didn't keep in touch. Eek.
Next week? It's biscuits. Will the bakers crumble under the pressure?
The Great British Bake Off continues on Tuesdays at 8:00pm on BBC2.