Week six. We had seven bakers left. And it might have been all smiles and friendly camaraderie in the kitchen, but no one was fooled. Nobody wanted to go home now they’d made it past the midway point. The competition was getting as serious as a show concerned with who has the sweetest buns can get…
Even Kimberley – the woman we’ve never seen frown - revealed the competitive side we suspected she had this week, drawing up psychological profiles of the bakers. From Ruby “the ninja” to Howard “the untamed maverick”, was it time to pinpoint her opponents’ weaknesses, asked Sue? Kimberly merely smiled serenely in reply. A classic response.
Tea loaves, made with fruity, cinnamon-y enriched dough, were the order of the day. “I think three hours is absolutely fine to make a tea loaf… if they are sensible,” said Mary, primly.
Of course, this was the cue for silliness in the tent. Christine, flush from her success as star baker last week and clearly getting a taste for being in front of the camera, starting making up words like "plumpious". We quite like it. Plump smushed with luscious. There’s another made-up word for you, free of charge.
Meanwhile Howard, the wildcard, was being experimental again, baking with hemp. Far from sensible. Mary said she didn't even know what hemp was but, when Sue tried to explain, describing its illegal counterpart as “naughty cigarettes”, Mary completely ignored her. She was clearly not down with the silliness. But none the wiser? We’re not convinced. That Berry can’t be as proper as she makes out…
We were on the edge of our seats as the camera watched the bakers sit on theirs, proving their dough and waiting for the first competitor to crack and take theirs out.
Then, more silliness. Christine’s loaf didn’t go to plan, so she started punching a knitted doll (she’s turning into something of a drama queen – did she bring it in specially?); Glenn began constructing a risky, string-based contraption to cool his pannetone on; and Frances’ loaf came out of its tin looking like a tiny, little bottom. Everyone laughed because everyone loves a bottom.
When it came to the taste test though, it wasn’t a laughing matter. It turned out nobody could make a tea loaf that was cooked all the way through. Glenn, Kimberley and Ruby all had good flavours, but under-baked loaves. Howard’s “pungent” hemp cake was deemed “different” by Mary (and not in a good way). And she might be a two-time star baker, but Christine’s nutty loaf was met with an “oh dear” from Mary. The judging duo didn’t even risk putting it in their mouths.
Beca fared a bit better. Paul said her Welsh Bara Brith was “best bake you could have done with the prove that you had”. But Frances was the only real success, with a chai tea bun that was “well baked”, if boring to look at. That gal really is managing to go from style to substance.
A relatively uneventful technical bake - a twisted, crown-shaped apricot sweet loaf that no one was sure how to pronounce - followed.
There was a little obligatory panic to begin with. Glenn, ever melodramatic, covered his face with a tea towel and threw a bit of his dough on the floor, while self-depreciating Ruby worried that the heavens opening on the tent was a sign from a greater power.
Over in the other tent where only professional bakers are allowed, the task masters threw their heads back and laughed. “You’re very cruel,” said Mary. “Oh, yes,” purred Paul.
Dark clouds continued to swirl above the kitchen while the bakers compared the size of their sweet doughs, but the bakes mainly did their thing without much of a hitch. “They all look pretty good,” said Paul, barely concealing his disappointment. In fact, as he went down the length of the table, we’d never heard him say “good” so many times.
There still had to be a ranking though, and poor Howard came in last, just beaten by Beca and Glenn. Kimberly came in third and Frances second, which left Ruby in first place for her “almost perfect” crown, which looked like the one Paul would have done, apparently. Now Ruby’s uni exams were out of the way, she was clearly back in the game.
The tired bakers were challenged with magic-ing up two varieties of European buns for the showstopper, starting off in the evening and leaving their dough to prove overnight.
In the bright light of a new day, there was an abundance of “lovely buns” and bun-based puns. “He’s an expert in buns,” said Mary mischievously of her partner-in-crime, while Christine announced she was making naughty buns and Howard said his were going to be peachy.
Soon the rulers came out and, much to their consternation, the bakers had to start doing maths. Glenn lost an inch, but then found it again. Frances started constructing a giant game of bun-based noughts and crosses as her hot crosses ballooned in the oven. “I’ve never known buns that big,” she mused, confused.
As the bakers frowned through their oven doors, Paul prowled amongst them looking assured in the knowledge that he could solve all their problems. But of course he didn't.
In the end, Howard’s peachy buns weren’t peachy at all, Beca made a “nice” iced bun and Christine’s schnecken and skolebrod impressed Paul and Mary. Kimberley underwhelmed with her under-baked buns while Frances presented “really nice” kolaches - whatever they are. Glenn’s almond and apricot brioche looked “awful” but tasted good, while his sticky caramel kanelbullen, which refused to come out of its tin, looked bad and tasted worse.
But Ruby, who as per usual thought she’d ruined her bake, was named star baker for the second time. Her Swedish kanelbullar and saffron St Lucia buns were “delicious” according to the powers that be.
Lovely Glenn, holding back the tears (presumably at the thought of having to face the mocking of mean sixth formers), really thought he was for it, and so did we. But it was sweet, happy Howard who was sent home. Sue cried that she’d have nothing to elbow as he graciously accepted his fate, saying he was “dead chuffed” to have been part of it at all.
Next week: pastry, something that looks like profiteroles and school-dinner-worthy suet pudding. See you there…
The Great British Bake Off continues on Tuesdays at 8pm on BBC2