Farewell, then, Diana. The fallout from BeardedManThrowsAwayACakeGate, as it soon became known, was tripled last Thursday when it was SENSATIONALLY revealed that Diana had QUIT the competition.
The perfectly reasonable assumption that she’d hopped in a time machine, travelled forward to the day after the broadcast, then gone back again to a few months ago when the show was filmed to resign in disgust, actually turned out to be wrong.
As announced by Mel Giedroyc at the start of this episode, illness/injury was the real reason. Just one of those things, and so, after a few tributes from the other bakers, we were back in the tent and Diana was mercilessly forgotten. No time for mourning. Not with a massive custard tart to cook.
But it was a shame to lose Diana’s jolly WI blather and her big, earthy, misshapen cakes, as well as the possibility of further ambiguous controversy. The thought that she might “accidentally” hack off Richard’s left hand with a bread knife just as he tried to knead his showstopper dough would have given pie and tart week more pep.
In the absence of fury, sabotage and murder, this week was all about dead-eye pastry acumen. Martha worried that she hadn’t had enough time on the planet to acquire the skills. “If you’re a bit older, I think you make it a lot. People like Nancy make pastry.”
While Martha was revealing a major weakness for the first time, Kate continued to look confident. This year the tent isn’t thrumming with sexual tension as it was in the heady days of Cathryn and Ruby, but charming, expressive Kate is still the natural enemy of Paul Hollywood’s slathering army of jealous fans. They’ll have tensely frozen mid-muffin and studied the screen as Kate announced her tart.
Paul chose to remain stern, not reacting as Kate swung her cupped hands to demonstrate her planned rhubarb swirl. Yet there was an unmistakable flick of the tongue after he enquired after her progress, and was that a note of gruff compassion as he disagreed with her coy description of the recipe as “simple”?
Actually keeping it simple was Norman, who tried flamboyantly promising to conjure a Tarte au Citron. He was immediately shot down by Paul, who knows a plain lemon tart with a fancy French name when he sees one.
Custard tarts, it turns out, offer a series of technical bear traps. The egg to flavour ratio has to be right, to avoid both an escaped filling and a congealed sweet quiche.
Edging off the surplus from the top of the tart was a particularly stiff test. Luis danced round, wielding his knife like Michaelangelo. Norman was more like Jacko from Brush Strokes. A more surprising fail came when fillings were added: Richard the Sensitive Builder was the only contestant not to realise that pouring in the liquid with the pastry case still in the oven was the way to avoid spillage. With Mel hovering unhelpfully four inches away (“Well done, well done… DON’T SPILL IT!”), Richard slopped his figgy egg all down his tart.
The judging was largely a massacre, with Norman’s effort to cover his wonky crust with a kilo of icing sugar unsuccessful, and Richard and Kate’s fruit flavours failing to cut through the custard. Martha’s apricot and pistachio creation was sour, soggy and lacking shine. She looked slightly upset when talking to Paul and Mary, then very upset when the camera cut to her during the song of praise for Luis’ elegant tropical tart.
The same editors who had made Diana look like a master criminal now rammed it home by interrupting Paul’s raptures a second time to confirm poor Martha was in tears, before rounding off with a post-match interview where she definitely was. Lovely.
Pear pies formed a particularly horrid technical bake: pears (obviously), poached and then wrapped in swirls of puff pastry. Uncertainty was rife. Martha, trying to recover from her tart collapse, admitted sneaking a peek at her rivals to get a steer on when to stop poaching. Even Mel was affected, holding up two of Luis’ fruits and saying “I’ve got a nice pair” before visibly regretting having made a pun too thunderingly awful even for Bake Off.
In adversity, and with us now fully behind her, Martha started to fight back. Having cannily realised that the pears needed to be chilled if the pastry was going to stick, she also clocked that everyone was running out of time and put each wrapped pear in the oven as soon as it was ready, instead of faffing over all six together. That was enough to win the round.
The showstopper, a minimum of three tiered pies with themed fillings, was where Norman promised to aim “a wee bit higher”. His more adventurous flavours included an Italian meringue topping, graced with the delicate aroma of lavender…
With hot-water-crust pastry tending to be thick and burnt across the tent, Martha was again winging it successfully, earning gasps of approval for some sort of paprika and chorizo anvil, which survived a small bursting that forced her to catch hot red fat in a jug.
Also flying, and securing star baker status for the week, was Kate. Of course Bake Off doesn’t need to have something as reductive and demeaning as a sex symbol. However, a woman who chooses to cook three giant pork pies? Nnng.
Sue Perkins pretty much confirmed that Norman would be eliminated when she tasted his lavender meringue. The look on her face told us he’d hugely overdone the lavender, going past “delicate waft” and into “Frish waterboarding”. Paul Hollywood looked like he didn’t know whether to laugh or vomit – and Norman’s big savoury wasn’t much better. “It’s an interesting idea,” said Mary Berry, forking tentatively through a pile of dour, Chum-like meat.
>> Week four: if you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised…