And always the people who were close by ask themselves: should we have known? Were there signs? But there are no answers. No rhyme or reason. Just shock, sadness, and everywhere a gnawing emptiness, a void, except in that bin full of ice cream.
Dessert week began, in those crazy, carefree hours before The Meltdown, with a signature challenge demanding eight self-saucing puddings. Sponge had to contain, or end up atop, sauce. The early indications weren’t good. Nancy admitted that in ten attempts, her sauce had stayed within acceptable limits only once. Luis was poaching pears and promising to re-use the poach-water, which had even novice bakers at home wondering aloud whether that wouldn’t be not so much a sauce as some hot fruity water.
Iain was making lime and raspberry fondants and was decorating them with mint leaves, intricately painted with chocolate. “Have you got time for that?” asked Paul Hollywood, innocent words that will haunt him for all eternity.
Norman’s rustic aesthetic was again shot down: his sticky puddings had delicious toffee goodness lurking, but were served in gravy boats with cocoa spattered hither and yon. “I just don’t think it looks very attractive,” said Paul, the big fop. Norman stared at him, saving his comeback for later on, outside the tent. “Sticky toffee pudding’s not meant to look beautiful. It’s a bit like some people: they’re nice-looking on the outside, but they’re rotten in the middle. My puddings are the opposite of that.” Fine, but unless there’s a lightly salted porridge week soon, Norman is going to lose this war.
Luis had indeed served up pears in their own thin liquids, but the greatest sauce disaster belonged to Martha. Her peanut butter ooze left Paul speechless, since he had Martha’s sauce clinging to his palate. Mary Berry stepped in and for a split-second looked like she was really going to put the boot in. “In your f… avour, there looks [to be] a lot of sauce…”
There was praise for Richard (red sauce) and Kate (brown sauce), but not Chetna (no sauce at all), with Diana earning the greatest acclaim. It seems Diana may have been psyching out the opposition with her floral bluster and talk of being merely a home baker. Her orange and lemon curd teacups were perfect. “You never know with those puddings what on Earth’s going to be inside,” she lied, having made them herself.
Iain’s fondants were fine. They were fine.
Temperatures rose as the contestants smacked hard into the technical bake: Mary’s tiramisu cake. “It is… quite tricky to make,” said Mary, glinting naughtily, unaware of the horror she was helping to unleash.
Layers of sponge had to be sliced horizontally, thin but not too thin and uniformly soaked in the sort of exotic, foreign ingredient Norman fears: coffee. Iain failed to slice his properly, grinned stiffly and stabbed the air repeatedly with his sharp knife. Nancy and Kate both confessed that at least one of their layers of sponge would be cobbled together from remnants of the others. Iain growled into his oven: “Come on, come on!”
Martha struggled to remember the precise temperature at which to temper chocolate. Iain fumbled a crumbling sponge layer and let out a rumbling “Ooooooaaaargh!”, frightening Richard the Sensitive Builder and almost putting him off his piping.
The showstopper bake took place on the hottest day of the summer, a flood of blinding light falling from the sky. Baked Alaska. Awkward, outdated, almost taunting the bakers with its ludicrous requirement to make ice cream and encase it in sponge.
Having been named the best baker of tiramisu cake, Martha now got applause just for announcing her next bake. “Oooooh!” cooed Mary, Paul and Sue Perkins in unison, when the teen promised them key lime Alaska. Richard was equally bullish, expertly manipulating his ladyfingers on his way to the Star Baker prize. Luis had frangipane rather than ladyfingers but was also in his element, melting two pans of sugar into two different mixers at once with all the nurturing dexterity of a wet nurse breastfeeding twins.
Diana looked down at her swan-shaped Alaska. “It’s a bit like me. Calm on top, paddling like… billy-o underneath.” Diana nearly saying “buggery” was the episode’s last moment of happiness. The heat was rising. The freezers were struggling to cope.
“It’s not frozen!” said Iain, brandishing the black sesame seed ice cream Paul had jokingly said looked “revolting”. Creepy, tinkly toy-box music played on the show’s soundtrack. The mercury hit 25C. The bakers frantically tried to assemble their sponge and melting ice cream before throwing them back into the freezer to focus on meringue.
We may never know the full details of what occurred next. Iain was seen asking Richard, “Can I put this in the freezer?” But then we saw Diana and Nancy at their freezer, ascertaining that one of the dishes inside was Iain’s. When he returned to collect his Alaska, it wasn’t safely in the cold any more. It was on the edge of Diana’s worktop, warm and runny. “I thought you had your own freezer,” said Diana calmly.
Sue, not realising the gravity of the situation, looked at Iain’s tepid sesame viscera. “It’s soup! How can we best present that?” This was not the time for chummy sarcasm.
Iain snapped, picking up his Alaska and whipping past Sue, very nearly smearing ice cream on her dove-grey Per Una blazer with the corner of his tray and forcing her to dodge, back and to the left. Reeling from this unprecedented act of violence, Sue was slow to react as Iain approached the bin. “No, n-n-n-n-noooooo…”
Too late. The bake was annihilated and Iain was on his way out of the tent, barging past an innocent cameraman. “Iain, Iain, Iain!” cried Sue. “You have to pres- you…” The unthinkable had happened. Perkins was quipless.
After that, the episode was effectively over. Even Paul and Mary telling Norman that the Alaska he thought was superb was actually bland rubbish didn’t offer any frisson, since Iain had to be eliminated to maintain basic baking law and order. The usual smiles were exchanged as the announcement was made. Then everyone went home, silently vowing never to speak of this day again.
>> Week three: proving roulette and a falsely accused roll