Can it be long before Ian overturns the power structures of GBBO and stands next to Mary Berry as the new head judge, peering imperiously at Paul Hollywood as he forces him to make 36 identical Bavarian marzipan horns? Ian’s run of Star Baker gongs is unprecedented at this stage of the contest, but what was really startling this week was the way he insouciantly told the judges that he would be adding pomegranate seeds to his crème brûlée.
Paul, perhaps still softened by the emotional watershed of the massive bread lion, was hanging on Ian’s every word as the new cake king aristocratically drawled some wisdom about “just a little bitta fruitiness to offset the custard”. It wasn’t even a very good idea, but Ian can do what he wants now.
Some of the others, not so much. Alvin, who’s a nurse, gave us a telling glimpse of his training rituals by revealing that a consultant at his hospital had sampled his dry-run brûlée. “She said I could step back a bit on the cream. It did taste like baked double cream…”
Like the loved ones of casually slaughtered henchmen in movies, the family and colleagues of doomed Bake Off contestants go through a lot of unseen pain. Pity that consultant, dreading the moment when Alvin tiptoes onto the ward with another tray of runny puddings, explaining that the oven was on the wrong setting and he’s put ten times too much butter in due to misreading the recipe. No thanks, Alv, I’m doing the paleo.
Nadiya was confident about her blackberry jam undercarriage and cinnamon custard, but less so about grilling the top rather than torching it, as per the rules. “Not everybody’s got a blowtorch,” said Mary, looking sad about the plight of cooks who have to grill their brûlées. Can you help? Just £3 a month could buy people like Mary a gas-powered caramel-flamer. Please.
A crème brûlée is done to perfection if it wobbles slightly. Not massively. Just slightly. To explain why she’d had to hurl hers into the Iain Watters Memorial Freezer at the last minute, Sandy physically demonstrated. “The wobble was like that [belly dancer plagued by ants]. I was going for that [retired Colonel twitching with disgust at The News Quiz].”
“How does yours wobble?” said Mat, looming over a stooping Ugne but eyeballing the camera. “Your brûlées, that is!” Whereas Dorret reacted last week to the realisation that she was in trouble by withdrawing into herself and producing low-key, apologetic half-bakes, Mat and Sandy cranked up the comedy instead. By this point Mat had already been told by Paul and Mary that adding coconut to a brûlée was sectionably unwise – they heavily hinted that, anyway – while Sandy’s decision to melt down Pontefract cakes had been met with the familiar polite best wishes of death.
“I’m sat here like David Attenborough,” stage-whispered Sandy, crouching ovenside. “If we just sit very quietly, we’ll soon see the brûlées coming out.” She was watching closely to check on her caramelisation, but the brûlée proved immaterial because the crème was inedible. It was meant to wobble. Sandy’s crème just dribbled.
Alvin went one better by carefully monitoring his grill, but not carefully enough to notice that the grill wasn’t turned on. He whacked it up to 10 for the final two minutes but didn’t get away with it: his fruit had bled into his custard and his presentation concept, a blackberry-coulis rendering of a bloody handprint on a horror-movie window, can’t have helped.
Mat was judged wearily and harshly, like he’d failed some GCSE resits – “It’s just not good enough” – and greater bakers also struggled. Flora’s crème hadn’t set and Ugne was under-caramelled: “It’s just sugar on top of custard,” said Paul, although how bad that can be is open to question, especially if your custard stands up and trembles as pertly as Ugne’s.
“I haven’t done many Austrian desserts,” said Mat, faced with making a Spanische Windtorte from elliptical Mary Berry instructions. “Is Angel Delight Austrian?”
The Spanische Windtorte: layers of meringue held together with meringue, coated in meringue then decorated with piped meringue and a meringue lid, topped off with meringue. It helps if you like meringue. Do you like meringue? If so, the Spanische Windtorte could be for you.
Sandy tried to outwit the recipe. “Bake the shell and the remaining meringue disc again,” she read, adding: “It doesn’t say take it off the cake stand!” And so, not noticing that nobody else was using a cake stand because that would be a weird thing to do halfway through the bake, Sandy shoved her meringue, cake stand and all, back in the oven.
“The cake stand’s hot,” said Sandy, retrieving her torte and discovering, the hard way, the downside of the whole “bake a cake stand” approach. She didn’t stop there: her lid would, for reasons never properly explained, be in a V shape rather than a flat disc of meringue. “If I lift it up then it should be slightly… [depressed chicken flapping too weakly to fly].”
Yet there was hope for Sandy: Mat, Nadiya and Alvin all finished below her in the judging, with Alvin in particular chided for his stiff, light-brown effort that was, Paul Hollywood observed, “like something my Nan would make”. It was all so overcooked, you couldn’t tell the meringue from the meringue.
With Mat, Sandy and Alvin all potentially in trouble, it was time for cheesecake: three of them, tiered. “They should be sweet, not savoury please,” warned Mel Giedroyc. But having effortlessly slid into the top four in the technical, Ian wasn’t going to live by the rules in the final round. He whipped out the rosemary, tarragon and Sichuan peppercorns, then was visibly bored as Paul Hollywood gibbered nervously about how he put banana and basil together once, but it wasn’t as clever as Ian’s apple and tarragon…
“There’s a bit of alchemy going on in these three bakes!”
“That’s quite adventurous!”
Flora fretted about her elderflower cheesecake – she’d made the basic error of just turning up and attempting three nice cakes, rather than a conceptual trilogy of cheesecakes about the human condition that somehow involves parsley. Sandy went the other way and claimed her stack – three different types of cake, three different fillings – was a tribute to the immigrants who built New York. Ah, the Big Apple. With whisky, orange and cassata on a biscuit base. So good they frosted it thrice.
Somewhere in the middle was Mat, who was planning three cakes based on his favourite chocolate bars. This is The Great British Bake Off, so brand names are vulgar. Let’s just say Mat likes the Honeycomb Stick, the Peanut And Caramel Chew, and the Coconut One That Has Two Little Bars Inside Instead Of One Big One.
A cheesecake fresh from the bake should, like a crème brûlée, wobble, so Sandy had her acting pumps on again. “It’s not that [clown waving from the top deck of a departing ocean liner]. It’s… that [office worker faintly acknowledging someone from accounts whose name she’s forgotten].”
Sadly, Sandy’s wobble wouldn’t stop: her top tier wobbled right off the tower just as time was called, forcing her to leave Little Italy on the worktop.
The judges said Ian’s trio was “beautiful”, “lovely”, “exceptional” and “sheer heaven” – yeah yeah, he knows that. Rivalling him: Tamal, who followed his velvety crème brûlée with some fine mango and rosemary work in his bottom tier, and even better further up. “Hazelnuts hit me straight away, and I love it,” said Mary, taking a break from judging to drop the vocal for this year’s biggest Ibiza banger.
Rivalling Sandy for elimination was Alvin, who’d tried to put his decoration on before his cakes had cooled, causing them all to melt into one creamy, fruity mound with a base “like birdseed”. But Sandy’s cheesecakes were all raw, and she had to wobble off.
>> Week three: bicarb flashbacks and two proud lions
Paul Hollywood will be talking all things baking at the Radio Times Festival in September. You can buy tickets here.