Bake Off’s quest to become the only thing anyone in Britain talks, thinks or knows about continues: perhaps some of the 28 remaining citizens who have never seen it are greatly interested in the Victorian era? It’s Victorian Week! Come on guys, give it a go. Please.
The first bake meant the bakers really had to “raise their game”. It was a raised game pie! The “raised” part of the name in fact refers to the hot-water-crust pastry being shaped by hand, not the game filling. I retract the first sentence of this paragraph and unreservedly apologise.
These days if you want to appear upwardly mobile, you do Facebook albums of your kids eating sushi, or have a boxful of inedible root vegetables delivered weekly to the house. But in simpler Victorian times, pies were the key. Pies did, however, have to be ornately decorated. A plain pie made people think you watched The Only Way Is Westmorland and couldn’t afford a second boot-scraper.
Mary Berry prowled the tent, on the lookout for historical inauthenticity. Mat scored points immediately with a vintage pie tin that looked like it still had some 19th-century partridge gizzards encrusted in the corners. Paul, however, had come in with a shiny aluminium job that might as well have still had the Lakeland “2 for £10” sticker on it.
Baking the things proved almost entirely uneventful. The only drama came from Flora, who fretted that her meat-jammed pie might never cook through. She announced to Paul and Mat that she would keep her oven at 200C throughout. “Ooh, that’s a long time. Two hundred?!” said Paul, clutching some pearls.
Then Flora said she was whacking it up to 220! “Really? Jesus,” tutted Matt, adjusting his bosom and tapping fag-ash into a teacup.
“Two-twenty!” exclaimed Paul, grasping the worktop to keep from fainting. Then Flora took her pie out of the oven and it was alright, so that was all fine.
Strangely, Ian – who looks like he might throw on a top hat and frock-coat at weekends – had blatantly ignored the instruction to adorn the pie fancily and had just baked a big bird full of pork. Its resemblance to the Twitter logo was a further insult to Mary, who is much more active on WhatsApp and Snapchat, but Ian won her back with a sublime pigs-trotter jelly. Mmmm, trotter jelly. It was crying out for some kidney and onion ice cream to go with it but otherwise, well done.
Nadiya had used anachronistic Chinese spices and Paul’s pie was dry and thick, which left Tamal to slide gorgeously into the early lead with some deliciously perfumed mince, lightly embraced by exquisite pastry. Yummy. Yummy Tamal.
This year’s Bake Off has seen Seale’s Law of Diminishing Talent Show Returns flipped on its head: the rule says that as a show runs for longer and longer, you get fewer people who are just amateur bakers/singers/contortionists, and more who are far too aware that the producers of the programme are looking for “characters”. Mat, Sandy and to an extent Tamal have been guilty of this on GBBO15, but they’ve got away with it by actually being entertaining.
Quippy soundbites not being his forte, however, Paul has spotted a chance to remain useful, like a dinner party guest who is no good at conversation but then suddenly does all the washing-up. In the technical bake, he made up for us not being shown the instructions by reading them out verbatim.
“Roll out the almond paste,” said Paul as the six bakers all had a go at Mary Berry’s ludicrously fiddly tennis cake, “cut it into a 23x15cm sheet, and place on a silicone sheet.” Thanks, Paul.
The tennis cake, then: a standard oblong fruit cake, but topped with a tennis court made of marzipan, green sugar paste and white royal icing for the rackets, line markings and net. Fiddly for everyone, but for Mat it revealed a terrible weakness. Cold cake toppings are his kryptonite.
First Mat was whipping his sloppy sugar paste in a bowl, while everyone else was calmly rolling their firm stuff out. His tennis court was less Wimbledon Centre Court, more municipal sports ground with a badger problem.
“Using a no3 nozzle,” read Paul aloud, “and three quarters of the white paste, pipe the outline of a tennis court but leave a 1.5cm gap round the edge.” Triffic. Keep us posted.
Then Mat lost confidence in his icing sculpture skills, gave up and resignedly slammed the tray in the oven. He confessed to Nadiya, who was wondering why it was brown and crispy, that he might have left it in the oven too long.
“The… oven?” asked Nadiya, whereupon Mat remembered that baking your icing is like sitting the wrong way round on a bicycle seat. It’s like washing your bits using tea tree shower gel. It’s a basic error. Mat was suffering a full baking meltdown.
“Decorate by seating the tennis net upright on the court, and the racquets either side,” said Paul, but Mat was miles away by then. He came last thanks to his “tennis court from Hades”, as Paul Hollywood calmly put it – it turned out he’d not even got the underlying cake right – with Ian only just ahead. Nadiya won the round ahead of Paul, with Tamal in third and still on course for his long-awaited first Star Baker certificate.
The Charlotte Russe: bavarois cream, layered with jelly and decorated with fruit, encased by ladies’ fingers. In other words, a trifle with a sponge fence round it.
Nobody really knows how happy their Charlotte is until they try to haul her onto a cake stand. At this point, it was splitsville for Mat: his ladies’ fingers had rudely parted. Paul rushed over to help, doing so by grabbing the thing clumsily with both hands (“Ahhhh, you’re twisting it!” cried Mat, as one often does in that situation).
At the other end of the competence spectrum, Ian was precisely sticking edible silver balls onto a structurally elegant sponge crown, before hoisting it gingerly onto his Russe. It stayed! The other bakers, who had stopped to watch, broke out in devastated, hateful applause.
Paul did his sarcastic clapping from next to the Panic Freezer, but it wasn’t cold enough. His Charlotte messily bled jelly onto the table. Was Paul Hollywood facing the prospect of pointing at his own reflection and saying, “You’re fired?” Although he wasn’t in the same league as clear star baker Tamal, whose jelly stood up and jiggled without the use of the traditional sponge underwiring, Mat made a late rally: if you ignored the ruptured flank, his bavarois was melt-in-the-mouth gorgeous. But it’s the quarter-final next week, and you can’t risk someone baking their icing. Mat had to go.
>> Week six: Tamal somehow becomes even more adorable
Paul Hollywood will be talking all things baking at the Radio Times Festival. You can buy tickets here.