The Great British Bake Off 2014 – week seven review

How much éclair can Paul Hollywood jam in his mouth without setting off his gag reflex and spewing on the judging table?

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For us proud Cornishmen (yes, that’s right – you must read these reviews out loud in a thick West Country accent), this GBBO’s opening round, which demanded a dozen savoury pastry parcels, was watched through the fingers. Two bakers made pasties.

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Now look here. Pasties contain skirt beef, potato, turnip or swede, onion, and salt and pepper. Nothing else. They do not contain – well, the main thing they don’t contain is sodding cheese, for the love of God, but thankfully we were spared that. However, we did have to witness spicy duck (Nancy), and lamb and mint (Richard), with the latter abomination wowing the judges despite being a classic “only thing left on the pasty stall at 11.30pm on a Friday, actually I’ll just have beans on toast at home instead, cheers” filling. Lamb pasties! No. Heresy. Apastysy.

Anyway. Wiser bakers looked further afield. “How far are you going to cook them down? Because you’ve got to fry them as well,” frowned Paul Hollywood, looking at Chetna’s boiling lentils and making sure she knew how to cook Indian food properly. She did! Her kachoris were the clear winner of the round, closely followed by Martha’s cute, tiny Wellingtons.

Kate’s fatal crumbling began right here in round one, as she peered into her deep-fat fryer, wondering why it wasn’t cooking her spinach and paneer samosas. It not being switched on any more turned out to be the cause. “It’s on a timer!” said Luis, unhelpfully late and vaguely triumphant, not yet knowing that he’d undercooked his empenadas.

Mel Giedroyc did a running gag where she pocketed one of each baker’s pastries for later, but the first two were clearly mimes due to her jacket pockets being sewn shut. She also deviated from the classically correct version of this joke, which utilises the inside pockets such that each of four ends up containing one pastry before the “no more pockets, I’ll have to put this one in my mouth” punchline, which was admittedly well executed.

Picky, but it is week seven. Anyway, thanks Mel, and good luck in the technical round, where Paul and Mary would like you to produce 36 perfect puns on the word “glaze”.

The actual baking technical was a weird duffer that almost made you long for more of the dull historical interlude about how miners exported pasties to Mexico in the 19th century, and so now Mexicans make them, but amazingly they use different ingredients which are a bit spicy and not everyone in Cornwall liked them at some sort of international pasty festival.

The task: kouign-amman, an obscure Breton pastry with pastry filling. It looks like a stale croissant stuffed through a flaming letterbox.

Apart from the age-old question that resounds through millennia of human civilisation and struggle, namely how long to prove dough (“The wise man’s drawer holds its dough like a secret” – Confucius; “The proof of the prove, Sir, is in the proving, and I can prove it!” – Dr Johnson; “Do not repeat the proving strategy which gained you star baker in bread week, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances” – Sun Tzu, The Art of Walnut Sourdough), it basically boiled down to a deliberately vague recipe that could have been asking for sugaring after each of three buttery folds, or just after one of them.

There was no obvious way of knowing, which meant, fiendishly, that we didn’t give a toss who got it right. Richard, who was on his way to winning Star Baker for the thirteenth time in seven weeks, got it right, while Kate got it wrong in an innovative way by attempting a refrigerated prove. She should have received bonus points for trying to make the round exciting.

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The final bake asked the contestants to master choux, the funniest of all the pastries. Twenty-four éclairs in two different flavours. Throw in a pint mug of Mellow Birds and you’ve got my weekday elevenses.

The simple éclair is very simple and you can’t exactly put them in tiers or build a fort with them: a challenge in the part of the episode where shows must be stopped. The bakers went for complicated flavours instead, led by Martha who boasted that she’d written an 8,000-word essay on profiteroles.

That was the theory but in the practical exam, Martha screwed up some custard and wasn’t going to finish on time, whereupon Richard – who’d already laid his 24 éclairs onto the miniature staircase he’d carpented for the purpose – and the equally sorted Chetna swung in and helped.

It turns out that Paul Hollywood really likes éclairs. If he’s even slightly enthusiastic about one, he tries to cram the whole thing into his mouth in one, sometimes to the point where he is leaning forward and gently gagging on that sweet choux.

Nancy was up first, winning praise for her salmon and horseradish, although in 2013 this was Greggs’ lowest-selling éclair across its UK outlets. Richard’s raspberry and rose was downed hungrily, while Paul almost bit off two of his own fingers in his haste to scoff Luis’ peanut butter and jam.

“It just looks a mess,” said Paul about Kate’s Neapolitan éclairs, which due to timing and temperature issues had sad, seaweedy bits of chocolate lying on some of them, instead of the planned “Shard” of interconnected chocolate superhighways with underground parking and concierge. The strawberry filling was an oozer and not a sticker, too.

Paul fully inserted Kate’s excellent lemon meringue éclair directly into his intestine, but the scraggy Neapolitans killed her off and she was out. In a reminder of the real heart and soul that the bakers invest in competing and which puts laptop snarkers to shame, she looked genuinely heartbroken.

Yet Martha was surely not far off a sudden elimination, despite her decent showing in the first two bakes. Although her rhubarb and custard éclairs won the highest praise possible from Mary Berry (“It tastes of rhubarb, and custard”), they had poor structure. Paul only managed to stuff 80% into his gob in one try.

And Martha’s second éclair was one of only a handful of disgusting foodstuffs in human history to include bacon: the maple crème pat was just cream and the pig wasn’t crisp. It was merely a custard cake with bacon on. “It doesn’t really work for me,” said Mary equably, her eyes darting round the room in search of a sink.

It was a tear-inducing disaster, and that was with assistance. So would Kate have been knocked out had Martha not been helped? Was that Diana I saw for half a second, sprinting across the Welford Park lawns in a black leotard towards a waiting motorbike, just after Kate’s deep-fat fryer mysteriously turned itself off? The controversy continues. Ring the BBC now, that’s my advice. Mention those lamb pasties while you’re on, will you?

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>> Week six: wait a sec, isn’t that just a big trifle with marzipan on?

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