“They’re relatively easy,” drawled Ian, hopping gaily out of his Wolseley Hornet Coupé and adjusting his cravat. “There’s not much that can go wrong with them.” Ian was on about cream horns.
Cream horns are, however, as Ian knew full well, riddled with bear traps. How do you get the cream right to the end of the horn, without the horn bursting? Do you save time by making rough puff pastry, which is potentially less flaky and gorgeous than the trickier, buttererier full puff? Once he’d hung his cape up on the Bake Off Tent’s hatstand, Ian got straight on with putting the condescending hex on Flora.
“Flora is doing full puff pastry. But she’s quite clever like that,” said Ian, dousing the twirls of his moustache in pomade and returning quietly to his rough puff.
Soon, Flora started behaving erratically. Like a student or journalist with a looming deadline, she was doing anything except the task in hand. Hours before these words were published, for instance, I was rearranging my bookshelves by colour and trying to reduce my Twitter “following” count to exactly 1,000 when I should have been coining Bake Off-related zingers. Flora, having rolled and chilled her full puff pastry, with her whole future laid out ahead of her, cracked and started making irrelevant tuille biscuits instead of shaping her horns.
“I’m watching everybody doing what we’re supposed to be doing,” said Flora, with the haunted, possessed look of someone who simply cannot stop themselves sitting through a triple bill of Homes under the Hammer on the day their dissertation has to be in. Ian, whose horns had long since gone into the oven, taunted her cruelly by hand-sorting through a jar of flaked almonds to find perfect specimens.
Eventually, Flora had to suffer one of Bake Off’s greatest indignities: either Mel or Sue arriving at your workstation to ask, wittily but firmly, what the merry heck you think you’re doing.
Suddenly Flora cracked open the Pro-Plus and got on with it: her horns were leaking terribly but she made them. Ian, deliciously, had got cocky and ignored Paul Hollywood’s warning against infusing half his pastry with cocoa. Cocoa pastry simply doesn’t get on with regular rough puff. It made Ian’s whole bake raw and disharmonious.
It shouldn’t happen in a quarter-final. One baker was completely undone by a technical challenge – manufacturing nine identical mochatines – that exposed his lack of a core skill. Paul can’t make a Genoese sponge!
Even I know how to make a Genoese sponge. Well, I don’t. I mean, I absolutely don’t have the first clue. But what I do know is that you need to know how to make a Genoese sponge if you’re going to be on the Bake Off, because it always comes up.
Paul spent most of the round standing upright, paralysed by the agony of knowing that there must be a way to do a fluffy sponge without any raising agents, but also knowing that he was creamed and iced if he could think what it was. “THE RISE COMES FROM WHISKING THE EGGS!” shouted Tamal recklessly, but Paul was out of earshot.
Ian announced his intention to win the round, but again he came a slight cropper. He doesn’t know how to do proper fondant icing! Even I know how to do proper fondant icing. Well, I don’t. Anyway, Nadiya overtook him and put herself miles ahead in the race for star baker, while Paul’s horrid, rubbery patisserie meant he was fifth out of five in this round. Still time for Flora to be reprieved…
Who hasn’t had that recurring dream about the nun made of cream éclairs? Well, this week we faced the inevitably disappointing reality, because apparently this is an established pudding called a Religieuse à l’ancienne. It’s used as the centrepiece of one of those parties Mary Berry is always going on about. You know, those parties where there’s a massive, elaborately iced cake in the middle of the room and everyone parties around the big cake, then eventually they hand out small plates, sit down and eat the cake. Classic partying.
“I’m calling it a Nun With Hidden Passions,” said Ian, recalling the sleeper train journey he took from Berlin to St Petersburg in that endless summer of 1941. Not really, he’d just put passion fruit in some éclairs.
At a couple of junctures here, the bakers had two choices. One brought death. The other, freedom. Ian was passion-fruiting his cream by squeezing the fruit through one of the proper muslin bags Mrs Jerkins keeps in his scullery. Nadiya was making bubble-gum icing. Tamal did a classic mango crème pat using the proper ingredients. Paul made his banana cream more pungent by adding banana extract.
As well as fake v natural there was the rather easier question of whether to use strong flour. That’s: whether to use strong flour in a challenge where your éclairs are load-bearing. Nadiya and Paul decided not to.
Paul the contestant resorting to banana extract was understandable. In the cream horns round, he’d promised Paul the judge a banana cream horn. The two of them had dissolved into a shared memory of banana custard enjoyed as kids, when the two Pauls would gambol into the kitchen on a Sunday afternoon, hoping Mother had prepared a baked treat that the Pauls could enjoy but also, in the case of the younger Paul, witheringly critique.
Disaster had struck when Paul the judge bit into Paul the contestant’s horn and found it insufficiently banana-y. The Proustian bubble had burst. This time round Paul the contestant, desperate to reconcile with his now estranged twin, had panicked and bunged in some banana extract to make sure.
Paul the contestant was forgetting that Paul the judge is not the only judge in this town. “You put some… banana extract in there,” said Mary, in a tone of polite but utter disgust such as you might employ for the sentence: “That’s not actually a bidet.” Paul had also reaped the whirlwind of not using strong flour: his chocolate ground floor looked like Ian’s gardener had driven a tractor over it. And yet, his non-banana flavours were good – and the same couldn’t be said for Flora, who delivered a collapsed deckchair of éclairs that didn’t taste of anything.
Ian’s fiendish coffee and cardamom choux wasn’t enough to deny Nadiya star baker, despite her total nun collapse; meanwhile Flora had somehow snuck under the deadline. Paul’s disappointing banana meant he had to be extracted.