The Great British Bake Off: Richard Burr’s semi-final verdict

Bake Off 2014 finalist Richard looks back on chocolate week's agonising technical challenge, and picks his favourite for the win from the remaining three bakers

Only four bakers left – how did we get here so quickly? The tent seems massive when there’s only four of you left, and the walk down the steps starts to look a bit lonely. Chocolate week is a cracking theme to showcase baking skills and inventiveness, so on with the show…  

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Chocolate tarts sound simple, but two and a half hours really isn’t very long for pastry. It’s such a hard balance at this point in the competition; whether to play it safe like Tamal did and hope for perfection, or to go all out on the presentation like Flora.

Watching the remaining bakers, they all seemed totally ‘in the zone’ on this bake – heads down and focused. I think I’d have gone for a fairly straightforward bake and tried to make it look and taste perfect. I’d have probably made something with chocolate and hazelnut – a sort of Ferraro Rocher-themed tart. In fact, I might have to play around with this idea at the weekend!

I know I’m starting to sound like a scratched record but yet again, Nadiya’s flavours were working for me. I can’t resist chocolate and peanut together and it seems from the ‘Hollywood Handshake™’ that Paul agreed.

In contrast to a few weeks ago where Paul was uncharacteristically gentle with Nadiya and Alvin, this week the gloves were off and he was taking no prisoners. In many ways it’s fair enough – he’s pushing them all to see who’s got the mettle to make it to the final. But it can be very hard being on the receiving end of his more critical comments.

When Tamal was already anxious about the simplicity of his signature bake, being faced with an, “I’m trying to debate whether I like it or not” from Paul must have made his heart sink. Despite Paul then saying he liked it, it was probably this first comment that rang in Tamal’s ears for the rest of the day.

While Ian faced some pretty tough criticism too, it was Flora who had the worst reception. I really admired her resolve at not allowing comments like “overbaked”, “badly split” and “dry as a bone” get to her. With only four of them left it was easy to rank them in the first challenge: Nadiya, Tamal, Ian, Flora.

Technical

What I’ve always loved about Bake Off is the tension that something as simple as baking can bring. The editing on the show is paced so well, and I have never felt as tense as I did watching this technical challenge.

Having to go one-by-one would have totally freaked me out, and again, full credit to Flora for rolling with it so well. As the weeks progress, the information in the technical instructions become sparser. I’m not particularly experienced in soufflés myself, so I’d have had to roll my sleeves up and hope for the best.

Nadiya’s “I’d sooner have another baby, I really would” comment summed up the stress in the tent. And sitting through Paul and Mary’s stage whispers must have been torturous. Tamal and Flora did really well under the circumstances, but it was the single tear falling down Nadiya’s cheek that had the whole country wanting to give her a giant group hug.

As I’ve said before, the Bake Off takes over your life and by the semi-finals, you’re probably about six months into the journey. The idea that it could all end is really heartbreaking.

After the technical result – Flora, Tamal, Ian, Nadiya – Ian looked like he was in the most trouble for day two.

Showstopper

This was quite an unusual showstopper and I’d be really keen to see what the details of the brief were. Mel and Sue explained that it would need to be a 3D chocolate centrepiece featuring a biscuit element and white chocolate, but there was little information beyond that and some very different interpretations. I’m particularly curious as to how many non-edible elements were permitted as Ian and Nadiya’s creations both seemed to involve a fair bit of engineering.

One of my favourite moments in the making of the showstoppers was when Sue rushed over to help Flora construct her carousel. There are times when both Mel and Sue are absolute heroes in that tent, really there for the contestants and willing you to keep going. I was quite touched by this as it brought a lot of memories of last year flooding back.

I really felt for Flora; there was so much effort in every element of her showstopper, but the taste, techniques and finishes let her down. In contrast, while Ian’s baking work on the day was perhaps more simplistic, the overall effect of his centrepiece with the very impressive engineering, well-tempered chocolate and positive comments on flavours, meant that he just edged it over Flora on the day.

Tamal had a good second place finish in most of the semi-final challenges. As the least predictable, he has the most chance to cause an upset in the final.

But Nadiya’s showstopper was really special. She showcased so many different techniques and seemed to squeeze absolutely everything out of the four hour bake. That would have still been an impressive showstopper if she’d have had eight hours to complete it. Nadiya really seems to be on a roll now and I can’t wait to watch next week’s final. She’s surely got to be the favourite, but we all know that Bake Off’s unpredictability is one of its highlights.

It was a tough call sending Flora home this week. From the showstopper comments, I’d have said Paul and Mary ranked them Nadiya, Ian (just), Tamal, Flora. If you turned their rankings into points for the three challenges (as I do in my head every single week), then I reckon would have been Nadiya 9, Tamal 8, Ian 7, Flora 6 – as close as you could possibly get in a semi-final. Great viewing, but really unlucky for Flora!

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If you can’t wait a whole week for your Bake Off fix, don’t forget that the Great British Bake Off ‘Class of 2014’ programme is on this Sunday 4 October on BBC1 at 4.50pm. Join me and my chums on a trip down memory lane!