Seven bakers remaining and, with all the chaff weeded out, this was the point when the lovely soft sponge that is the Bake Off acquired a note of sourness and a hard crust. Pheromones flew, tempers frayed, blood flowed.
The harbingers of pudding-week doom were Danny’s chocolate sponges, two of which slithered agonisingly off her baking tray. One oozed onto her shoe, while the other smeared itself across the carpet.
Just as when Rob Billington dropped his Genoise last year, there was a lingering and oddly moving close-up of hours of work lying uselessly on the floor. “I’m going out!” said Danny, narrating her own reality-TV journey in hysterical fashion. “There’s no way I can pull this back.”
Soon, though, Danny’s disagreement with gravity was surpassed by proper arguments. Paul Hollywood openly contradicted Mary Berry about the moistness or otherwise of Sarah-Jane’s sponge. Then Mel Giedroyc disagreed with Paul and said Cathryn’s clotted cream rice pudding wasn’t too al dente.
This looked brave, but might have been to protect Paul, not Cathryn: the look on her face when he said he didn’t like either of her puddings was murderous.
In this heavier atmos, James asserted himself. He’s manning up gradually, week on week. The eyes look flintier. The semi-beard is darkening. Perhaps it’s the confidence that comes from knowing nobody else is going to provoke the on-screen caption “banana and hefeweizen pudding and clootie dumplings with crème Ecossaise”.
A relatively uneventful technical bake, a queen of puddings, offered some respite. Then the sight of Paul and Mary bickering again (he thought that even Danny’s intact sponges had been inexcusably skew-whiff) told you more clouds were gathering.
The showstopper bake was a strudel, an ancient pudding requiring elastic pastry so thin you can look through it and read a Bible – or in Brendan’s case, a nice floral tablecloth. Strudel is “the one pastry,” Mary Berry said, “that I have to confess I would buy.”
Not Paul Hollywood. This is a man who gets up, cracks four raw eggs straight into his mouth, then hammers out a six-foot strudel before the rest of us have stopped dreaming. Paul prowled up to Sarah-Jane, surveyed her pathetic effort, and took command.
“Build up the resistance. Build up the gluten,” said Paul as he slammed Sarah-Jane’s dough into the worktop with increasing speed – muscles flexing, eyes locked onto Sarah-Jane’s. She looked scared at first, then excited. Gingerly she grasped her raw strudel and started beating it.
James peered at this scene through his spectacles, suddenly looking like a boy again. “Rubbish,” he said of Paul’s technique, unconvincingly maintaining that his electric mixer was scientifically superior.
Meanwhile, Brendan was giving his bake the full James Herriot, oiling himself up to the elbows and stretching his strudel with his forearms – a startling sight, but not as painful as the drama over in John’s kitchen.
“I put my finger in the Magimix,” John had said earlier, to explain why he was wearing a plastic surgical glove. Now the glove had filled up and John, blood coursing down his arm, was pale white and taking deep breaths. He had to leave the arena, finger in the air. The others were shaken.
Sarah-Jane’s strudel was too thick, James’s was too mushy and even star baker Brendan had underbaked. But then, a glorious twist: after expertly building the tension by talking about the emotion of eliminating a contestant and even appearing to have tears in her eyes, Sue Perkins announced that John’s abandoned strudel had saved everyone and there would be no elimination.
But that means two going next week. Another bloodbath, even if it’s only metaphorical this time.
WIN A BAKE OFF BOOK!
Each week, readers of these reviews can WIN a copy of the new Bake Off book, How to Turn Everyday Bakes into Showstoppers by Linda Collister, normally priced £20.
To enter, follow us @radiotimes and tweet, using the hashtag #gbbort, your best and funniest answer to this question: How do you know when your strudel’s stretched enough?
Entries by 12 noon on Friday 21 September, please.
Last week’s WINNER: Emma Hardman, with the answer: “I get Beyonce round to sort it out – she keeps telling me she doesn’t think I’m ready for this jelly.”
Terms and conditions: promoter is Immediate Media; UK entrants 16yrs+ only; winner picked from all @RadioTimes followers who submit an answer before 12 noon BST, 21/09/12.