Chocolate week, aka the semi-final, opened with a chocolate tart: chocolate filling in chocolate pastry casing, the tricky part of that being that you don’t want to add chocolate to pastry because it ruins it.
Having been given a series of Kray-like warnings by Mary Berry to stop overthinking her bakes (“I don’t think you’ll be using pomegranate again… will you?”), Flora now had a golden opportunity to just make a bloody tart. Naturally, she announced her intention to do a triple-layered one with macarons on top (Flora puts macarons on everything. She drives a car with macaron wheels. The roof of her cottage is tiled with macarons. Her macaroni cheese is awful) and some complex chocolate antlers.
Ian, who had previously introduced Paul Hollywood to coffee and cardamom, and apple and tarragon, now unleashed bay leaves and salted caramel. Its failure raised the possibility that he has simply been adding herbs to stuff at random and has now been found out: depending on which judge you believed, the bay leaf was either indiscernible or disgusting.
Nadiya sprinted into the lead with her peanut and salt caramel effort, which made her the first female contestant ever to receive a Paul Hollywood Handshake of Approval. “I got a lingering handshake!” said Nadiya outside the tent, trying to make a Lingering Handshake a thing.
Sliding in above Ian was Tamal, whose raspberry coulis stopped his otherwise super-rich tart from becoming an inedible achocalypse. Somewhere around last was Flora: her passion-fruit base had split but that wasn’t the problem. After weeks of macaron-enrusted bakes and literally thousands of Flora macarons left untouched, Paul finally tasted one and found it to be “dry as a bone”. Flora cannot make macarons! Who even is she?
Another all-time GBBO first, even more thrilling than Victorian week or Paul shaking hands with a lady: because of the short amount of time involved in making a chocolate soufflé, the bakers were given a staggered start, with Flora beginning 15 minutes before Ian, who was 15 minutes before Nadiya and so on. Exciting.
Buffeted by the one-star reviews for his salted caramel with herbs in, Ian struggled. “I can’t even remember how to make a crème pat!” he cried, staring at some eggs.
It simmered down to some basics: make a chocolate custard, make a meringue, mix them until there’s no meringue bits, don’t let the end result be too thick or too thin. Easy. But Nadiya hadn’t lingered in Paul’s grip long enough: forgetting her new status as front-runner, she became genuinely angry when asked why the recipe called for the use of paper clips (answer: to help make a parchment ring for the soufflé to rise into) and promptly finished last.
Flora had followed the instructions and came first, despite or perhaps because of chocolate soufflé not requiring any macarons. So Flora cancelled out her bad tart, Nadiya cancelled out her shake-worthy tart, Tamal came second again which put him roughly in first overall, and Ian’s third place left him vulnerable to elimination. Could he soon be horse and carting it back to his estate for a consolatory toffee and parsley pie?
Here’s the sort of thing I tend to say, hilariously, in response to elaborate showstoppers in the later rounds of a Bake Off series: “Ian was making a fully functioning chocolate well, with a bucket on a chocolate winch with chocolate rope and a chocolate handle, fetching chocolatey water.” But this actually was what Ian was doing.
“I’ve totally forgotten how to do a shortbread!” said Ian, obviously not telling the truth. All the contestants put baking soda in their game for the last round.
Tamal’s bell tower had cracked and his piping was wonky, but his position in the final was safe already. Nadiya’s massive peacock looked grand and tasted fine, so she was in as well – as star baker. That left two going for one place.
Flora’s carousel, complete with white ganache horses, tasted of bicarb and fell to pieces when Paul viciously attacked it with an enormous knife. Puffed-rice canopies really ought to be able to withstand a prolonged stabbing frenzy by an angry judge. This is the semi-final, after all.
But there was a flaw in Ian’s creation, too, excited as Mary visibly was to be able to eat shortbread dipped in hand-cranked white-chocolate bilge, just like in the old days. It wasn’t that the winch handle came off when Paul got over-excited; it was that there wasn’t actually much to eat. Ian had scored a valuable innovation in the field of chocolate engineering, but had forgotten the bit about making a nice cake.
Flora, however, couldn’t recover from Mary’s last rites: “It’s crumbly… quite bitter… it doesn’t taste as good as it looks.” Paul agreed: “The only thing that tasted alright was the horse.” Time to step off the carousel.