This was week five of the Great British Bake Off. The half-way point. The middle of the road. And the order of the day? Traybakes and biscuits.
But this wasn’t the time to get comfy with your cuppa. Oh no. Before long the bakes and the bakers were crumbling around us. And they weren’t necessarily the ones we were expecting…
Last week the primary concern was the moisture content of the baker’s bottoms – Kimberley’s heavenly pies got her star baker while poor Ali’s bland offering was the reason he was sent home – but this week all sorts of things could go wrong...
The signature bake was a traybake. Anything, we were told, so long as it was baked in a tray. Pretty straight forward there, then.
“We want some lovely surprises and wonderful finishes,” smiled Mary.
“The very fact that it’s simple… makes it extremely difficult, because when you’re judging you have to be even more critical,” growled Paul. Have to be, or want to be, Mr Grumpy?
This was the week that the bakers caught on to Frances’ clever presentation – though try as they might they couldn’t quite live up to it.
Howard opted for a breakfast traybake – made with cereal topped with grapefruity yoghurt. He admitted that he was going for a play on words by displaying his breakfast traybake on a breakfast tray. A clever concept, but the camera didn’t give his effort much air time…
As always, Frances was going one better. “I’m playing with my food,” said Frances. “I like to have fun.” She was making Millionaire Banoffee Bonus – a banoffe pie crossed with a millionaire shortbread laid out like a game of Jenga. Yep, Jenga. Did she not learn anything last week? Substance OVER style, not the other way around!
Her complicated design almost spelled trouble again, too, when she found herself watching her layers set in the freezer. It was clear, to someone with some perspective, that this wasn’t helping matters…. It's fine to observe through the glass door of an oven, but those chilly contraptions generally don’t work as well with the door open.
Another baker going down the complicated route was Glenn with his apricot and pistachio tiffin, made from layers of chocolate, marshmallow and biscuit. Like Ruby, who had been taking her uni exams during the week, Glenn had had no time to practice. Not that Paul or Mary were very sympathetic...
His lack of preparation seemed to pay off, though. His creations were deemed “very good” with “fantastic marshmallow” by Paul. He didn’t get away criticism-free, though. Hollywood was quick to inform him that his creations looked “grotesque” even if they tasted good.
Beca opted for gooey hazelnut and chocolate brownies “pimped up” with cherries, which were “even” according to Paul and “yum” according to Sue, Bake Off’s new and unofficial third judge.
Ruby – “I don’t really do biscuits” – made a pastry base to her blackberry Bakewell but found herself apologising to Paul and Mary before they even tasted them. It turned out, embarrassingly, that she had a soggy bottom. Paul declared that the flavour was excellent but it was “all wrong” apart from that.
Rob’s blueberry and orange traybake didn’t fare much better, being deemed “raw” and “soggy” by the judging duo. Not that it seemed to bother him. “I’d still eat it,” he said with a grin.
“I really like it,” said Paul of Kimberley’s Florentine-topped bakewell, while Christine’s crumbly traybake was “lovely” and “nice”. Howard’s breakfast bakes were enjoyed by Mary but called “stodgy” by Paul. And France’s fiddly design finally paid off. “I think this time, not only have you got the design right, you’ve got the bake right too,“ said Mary. Atta girl.
Next up was “the most delicate technical challenge Mary has ever devised.” It sounded ominous. And it was. The task was tuile. Tiny, super thin biscuits that look like a French roof tile, apparently.
“This will be entertaining,” said Glenn as all the bakers descended into panic. That is, apart from last week's star baker Kimberley. “I feel okay. I made some last week,” she giggled. If she wasn’t so smiley…
There were conflicting techniques from the off. “You don’t want tonnes of mixing,” said Christine, just as Howard, Rob and Beca began to beat their batter with abandon.
Once the batter was battered, the bakers turned to the thinness of their tuiles. It’s getting them thin enough, but not too thin, cried the bakers. But how thin is too thin? “They are very thin,” says Frances. “And there’s thin and there’s Alexa Chung…” Meow.
Thickness or thinness decided upon, it was time to pipe chocolately concentric circles onto their tuiles. And Mary hadn’t given them a piping bag. Sneaky woman. “I will not be defeated by a sodding French biscuit,” said Ruby.
As soon as the tuiles came out of the oven the bakers needed to mould them onto a rolling pin or the handle of a spoon. There were a lot of red faces and sharp intakes of breath. What was Mary trying to do to them? Was the next challenge to bake with burned fingertips?
Challenge over, and Howard declared his looked “more like fag buts than cigars”. Sadly, the judges agreed, awarding him last place. Kimberley abruptly stopped smiling when Paul declared hers burned and marked her in second to last. Only just beaten by Ruby’s, which were called “a bit of a mess.”
At the other end of the score board, Frances excelled again with a “nice flavour” while Glenn came second and Christine came first with “the crispest of the lot."
Next up? The showstopper. A biscuit tower, over 30 cm tall. We didn’t even know this heavenly creation existed… And there were so many biscuits we could barely contain ourselves, but it was not the time to get carried away.
"You don’t just have to be a baker, you have to be an architect too,” warned Paul. These towers have to be “structurally sound”.
Baring in mind that the biscuits had to take weight, Kimberly went for… “really, really delicate” Viennese whirls. Right-o. Her black and white biscuits, she said, would be stacked up like a wedding cake. 16 layers piped with a caramel and buttercream icing. Mary could barely hide her shock.
Howard made four different tea flavoured biscuits and fashioned them into a Japanese pagoda. “When I’ve made this before people were quite impressed…” he beamed. Though those people turned out later to he his mum and dad.
Christine was shortbread-ing a Bavarian clock tower with 70 identical bricks of baked goods, while Ruby set about ‘doing a Frances’ and made a pile of biscuits which looked like a icecream that had been dropped on it’s head. Fancy.
“Its very difficult to make compromises” said Rob, because – wait for it, sci-fi fans – he was constructing a Dalek out of biscuits. To – chortle – exterminate the competition.
Jokes aside, the tent very quickly turned into a hotbed of stress. Beca’s looked unstable and she started feeling sick. Rob whipped out some blindingly blue icing. Ruby started smothering on icing with her hands.
And then, with one minute to go, Frances’ tower of biscuity buttons and beads – a delightful edible haberdashery - collapsed. Just went and fell down. Irreparably. And as the bakers were asked to leave the tent, Mel was left holding the tower of broken biscuits, and, at the risk of sounding too dramatic, Frances’ broken dreams.
When it came to the taste test Beca’s treat-covered cake stand was called “fun” by Mary. Glenn’s shortbread and macaroon helter-skelter, which looked alarmingly like sausages in its early stages, but turned out to be “impressive”. Kimberley still didn’t get her smile back, with a tower that had “cracks all the way down”. Howard’s “meticulous” tea tower was called an “impressive” piece of art by Paul. Ruby’s upsidedown icecream was deemed “lovely” and Christine’s alpine clock tower was called “stunning”.
Less well received was Rob’s “clumsy” Dalek and Frances’ broken biscuit tower, which was met with stern words from Mary about how the tower was supposed to stay standing. Poor lass.
There were plenty of glum faces in the tent as Mary and Paul left to make their decisions. Rob, always so enthusiastic and ambitious at the start of a bake, looked like a child whose helium balloon had been popped.
And, for him, the day wasn't about to get any better. In a week which saw former star baker Kimberley plummet to the bottom of the pile and Christine take her place back at the top, scientific Rob failed to make the grade and his sloppily-made Dalek got him sent home. If only he could jump in a Tardis and go back in time, eh?
“I’m going to take a few days off from baking," he said. “I’m going to go home and boil something.”
Next time it’s sweet dough. Expect naughty tea loaves, a “cruel” test from Paul and 168 show-stopping buns.
The Great British Bake Off continues on Tuesdays at 8:00pm on BBC2.