Frangipane tarts, and the terror of the soggy bottom. Quickly the bakers split into factions, as they fearfully appeased the raw shortcrust gods. Should you blind bake first to firm up the pastry and keep the frangipane in, at the risk of twice-baking your shortcrust and burning it? Or should you just eggwash, flirting with the prospect of Paul Hollywood’s knife getting stuck in your damp underside?
Flora, Alvin, Mat and Tamal blind-baked, with the other three happily ignorant of the fact that doing the same thing as Alvin almost certainly means you’ll end up with something resembling a fire-damaged cushion.
After wobbling last week, Ian was back on bloody good form. “I’m quite pleased. One of my guinea fowl has started laying eggs!” he grinned, adjusting his spats and forcefully polishing his monocle.
Mat, sensing that he was one of the weaker remaining bakers, realised he could choose one of two paths. There’s the slow, nervous demise, where the moribund contestant gradually produces sorrier and sorrier bakes and waits for Paul Hollywood to throw them overboard; or there’s going out in a blaze of cocky glory.
“I’m making a Pina Colada frangipane tart,” said Mat, swilling a jarful of rum under Mary Berry’s nose. Option two.
Alvin, on the other hand, had lost the ability to roll pastry without it sticking to the pin and the worktop. As he sadly tried covering the bench in clingfilm, the camera cut discreetly away and left him to it.
Paul – the contestant, not the judge – had formed a sub-sect of the non-blind-bakers, offering up some ground almond smeared across the bottom of his pastry case as a sacrificial offering. Would it form a barrier and hold back the sogginess? Bigger problems surfaced when he panicked and whipped his tart out of the oven early. “Bottling it, are ya?” taunted Mat, half a jar of rum down and firing potshots from the other side of the worktop and the other side of the blind-baking schism.
Alvin, meanwhile, admitted that he had spent far too long wrestling dough and would now have to reduce his filling. It might not be a whole tart, but at least it would be cooked. Wouldn’t it? Oh, Alvin.
In the end it was a no-score draw between the blind bakers and the sighted. Ian and Nadiya’s weren’t done and Paul’s was only just done, but Mat’s pina colada was “bland” – forgetting the umbrella and curly straw was a rookie error – and Alvin had served up raw frangipane, although if it included a layer of flexible plastic as had looked likely early on, Mary and Paul were kind enough not to mention it.
“My dad is a retired general in the army,” said Alvin. “Failure is not an option.” Crikey. His charming habit of addressing Paul Hollywood as “Sir” suddenly took on a darker hue. Fear of a firing squad is not conducive to delicate baking. Before long the others would be gazing hopefully at his efforts as they were judged, imploring Alvin to do well even if it damaged their own chances. Please be cooked, Alvin’s cakes! Please. Oh god.
Mary Berry has baked religiously every day since 1908, but even she had never heard of Paul Hollywood’s choice for this week’s “test your psychic powers” round: Cypriot flaouna. It’s a pastry eaten to celebrate the end of Lent. The fact that it’s a heavy, cheesy slab of a thing covered in sesame seeds suggests that in Cyprus, Lent is only the start of it.
Knead the yeasty dough, or not? Sesame seeds on the inside or outside? How far to fold the pastry into the middle? How long to bake it? Nobody had a Scooby. They might as well have just Magimixed all the ingredients, thrown them in and spun the temperature dial. “It’s all in the hands of the oven,” said Alvin, hoping the oven would smile on him and be merciful.
“That… tastes like a flaouna” was about the highest praise anyone could get from Paul Hollywood, since the various attempts looked like pasties, crowns, Chelsea buns, overstuffed Filofaxes, bowling balls and a complex model village.
Mat won – safe! – with Flora in second place and Ian purring in third. Having melted in round one, Alvin was sixth out of seven here. Still, Mary Berry never writes anyone off.
What did he need to survive, Mary? “A miracle.” Ah.
Back to the 1970s for vol au vents, the nylon generation’s favourite way to settle disputes with neighbours by giving them listeria at acrid domestic functions. Paul the contestant went misty-eyed, remembering the good old days when vol au vents always contained egg mayonnaise and life was simpler.
The contestants struggled horribly with this challenge. Hang on, it’s just puff pastry with a filling! Puff pastry is a basic skill, surely? It’s like getting halfway through The X Factor live shows and then discovering nobody can really – wait. Bad example.
Anyway, for weeks now we’ve faced a pressing question: can Tamal possibly become even more adorable? There’s the softly tousled hair, the velvety half-beard, the infinite eyes, the cool reassurance of his medical training and those perfect fuchsia lips that could only be improved by a slo-mo shot of him licking sugar off them halfway through a homemade jam doughnut. Whatever next?
After tonight’s signature bake, we’d had this reaction: “It’s me, so it’s always going to be a bit of a mess.” Adorbs dot tumblr dot com. But now he ramped up his runaway snuggliness by explaining the motivation behind his vol au vent filling. “It’s basically inspired by a sandwich that I had a few years ago. It’s in the top two sandwiches of my life. It was a pork sandwich. They fried the meat with fennel and rosemary. I think about that sandwich quite a lot.” My marriage proposal is in the post.
Making the worst duff pastry was Nadiya, who had two goes at it, with the result that the second lot didn’t bake and she had to slop her filling in a bowl and let the judges make their own. Paul’s had toppled over, Mat’s were magnificent and Tamal’s were topsy-turvy but gorgeous, which is so Tamal.
Were Alvin’s vol-au-vents miraculous? “They look quite raw,” said Paul Hollywood, to sympathetic winces from star baker Mat and the fortunate Nadiya. “I’m not getting much flavour,” added Mary. Goodbye, Sir.
>> Week five: a skimpy fondant bikini and Mary Berry’s jumbo doner
Paul Hollywood will be talking all things baking at the Radio Times Festival. You can buy tickets here.