With only six bakers left in the competition, it’s all to bake for as we enter the second half! We’ve got to know them pretty well over the past few weeks, so I reckon it’s time to give my insider’s view on each of them so far.
There have been plenty moments this series where Flora has shown her flair, demonstrating great attention to detail and some delicate and enticing flavour combinations. I think she’s really excelled at presentation, particularly with her Black Forest Gateau and her Spanische Windtorte.
She certainly has an artist’s eye, and understands that for viewers at home, we can’t taste what the bakers are making. Concentrating on the look and sound of the bake is a good idea to get our mouths watering. As a bit of a cook book buff myself, I reckon she’s done her baking research and practised very thoroughly.
Flora’s danger zones have been adding unnecessary additions to her bakes and not following the briefs to the letter. If she keeps her concentration, stays calm in the tent and avoids unnecessary cake clutter she’s got a great chance in this competition.
Ian’s the Heston Blumenthal of this year’s series. His cheesecakes in week four – with flavours including Sichuan peppercorns, rosemary, and tarragon – seemed pretty left field at the time. However, when Paul and Mary tasted them they were both blown away by his imaginative combinations. He’s clearly a very talented baker, as his back-to-back Star Baker wins proved.
The only thing she needs to watch, like Alvin before her, is timing. She’s had a few occasions where she’s had to start her bakes again and they haven’t gone to plan. I was gutted for her being unable to complete her vol-au-vonts last week; the nicer Paul and Mary were to her, the more upset she seemed to get. One of the main tests in the tent is being able to dust yourself off and come back confident each week whether you’re carrying a Star, or have just scraped through. If she can do this then she’ll be a strong contender.
Paul’s the dark horse of the competition. It wasn’t until his incredible bread lion in week three that I really started to sit up and take notice of him. He’s very creative and artistic but he’s shown a bit of inconsistency. For example, he could have got Star Baker in week three had he not come bottom in the technical challenge.
He’s very cool under pressure and copes extremely well in the tent. Criticism from the judges is water off a duck’s back to him – he doesn’t take it personally and seems to bounce back with ease. Paul’s been fairly ‘mid-table’ in the series so far with some moments of brilliance. The worry is now there are fewer contestants left, more attention will be paid to any mistakes he makes. But he seems extremely well-organised, which could bode well for him if the bakers around him crack under the strain.
How I feel about Nadiya is how my wife, and seemingly everyone on Twitter, feels about Tamal. The sandwich-loving doctor is quite a star, despite having been pipped to the actual Star Baker accolade a few times now. Tamal makes food I really want to eat. In week four, his rhubarb and stem ginger crème brûlées were possibly my favourite of his bakes so far. But then I remember his vol-au-vonts, that breadcycle, his pistachio and rose Madeira cake and my favourite changes every time.
Not only has Tamal shown he’s a master of delicate skills (for example his Black Forest Gateau chocolate work) but he’s also shown how experimental he can be with ingredients. Alongside Ian, I think Tamal is the only contestant to have avoided the danger zone in any week this series. He doesn’t tend to come particularly high in the technical bakes, but each week he nails the signatures and showstoppers to keep his nose clean.
Even when his presentation has let him down, the quality of his bakes have seen him showered with praise. Doctors seem to thrive under the pressure of baking in the tent, so unless he has a nightmare in the next few weeks, I reckon we’ll see him in the final.
I wasn’t sure how I’d feel watching new bakers in the tent this year rattling my pots and pans around. But the 2015 team have shown flair and passion and have been so entertaining to watch. I’m really looking forward to the series’ first ‘historical’ week tonight, as it opens the door for some real creativity. It’s got me craving a pie already…