By week six on the Bake Off, you’re either winging it or bossing it. This year it’s consistently hard to tell who’s which, though. Usefully, in the new and exotic European cake week, some of the bakers announced it.
Richard told Paul Hollywood straight up that he was winging it and had no idea whether he was going to ice or drizzle once his signature yeast cake was out of the oven. Martha confessed she’d been revising for her exams too much to practise the opening round at all – giving her next to no chance of surpassing Luis, who one suspects has an intensive daily Rocky-style training regime, but with the dawn eggs cracked into a mixing bowl instead of his mouth, and with pastry-rolling instead of chicken-chasing.
Mary Berry was within an inch of asking Luis for advice rather than the other way round, as he patiently explained that his apple and cinnamon Kugelhopf would take longer to prove than it would to bake. Martha, on the other hand, was ignoring the warning from Mel or Sue on the voiceover that anything that flavoured the yeast was likely to retard the yeast. Retarding your yeast must be bad, yet Martha was whanging in chocolate chips and all sorts.
Luis was so in control he started showboating in an effort to psych out his rivals. He loomed over Chetna, hopping insouciantly from foot to foot as she crouched by her proving drawer. “Looking good. Don’t overprove, it’ll sink again…”
Two weeks ago Richard looked like a contender, but he’s now collapsed like a bad sponge in a steam bath. His fruity Gugelhupf had crystallised on the top, split on the bottom and was generally brown, pointy and hard. It could have secured ropes on a yacht, but Mary and Paul said that at no stage had it been baked properly.
More and more noticeable as the episodes go by is the way Richard lets nearly every sentence dissolve into a nervous giggle. Imagine if he did that with his building clients: “Your wall ties have corroded and I’m not sure if this lintel can take the weight of the bi-fold door-HO-HO-HO!”
The technical bake was one gleaned from Mary’s legendary inter-railing beano of 1936: Swedish princess cake, from a recipe with 14 stages that she urged the contestants to read at least twice before they embarked on it. A layer of sponge, jam, crème pâtissière, another layer of sponge, whipped cream, more sponge… wait a minute, that’s a trifle! With a dome of green marzipan on top. So, a ruined trifle.
Here was where we sensed tension rising in the tent, with the halfway point passed and the winning line almost in sight. Martha’s hair became increasingly rebellious, a barometer of the stress of trying to achieve a uniform green top-sheet.
Having had to re-do a couple of those 14 tasks, Chetna threw her arms in the air like she deeply cared when she miraculously managed to cream and marzipan her cake in two minutes flat right at the end – the marzipan thrown on, fire blanket-style, from one end of the worktop to the other.
According to Mary, Richard’s princess cake was fine apart from the wavy chocolate piping, too-thick sponge, uneven top, indistinct layers and inappropriate sugar dusting. “And the creaming looks terrible!” added Paul helpfully. Like most of the bakers, Richard had fallen foul of time pressure: “Another half-hour would have been brilliant for me-hee-hee!”
“Please, come on, please!” mouthed Kate as the judges cut into her cake. They’d already easily rumbled her plan to cover up her slack cream-dome with two separate sheets of marzipan round the edge and another slapped on top. No luck. The inside collapsed like a custard deckchair. Kate was last, behind even Richard.
The two technical backmarkers tried their best to front it out as the showstopper loomed. “I think two-tiered cakes look like hats,” said Kate as she promised to add a non-compulsory third tier to her Hungarian dobos torte. Richard, looking at the two tiers and the many thin layers of sponge within them, sensed a chance to put his construction expertise to good use. “I’m not going to say I’m confident. I’m cautiously optimist-hee-hee-heek!”
Baking up to 20 flat sponges meant another time scramble for everyone except Luis, who could be seen ostentatiously disinfecting his hob with five minutes of the challenge left, while all around him struggled to fix uncertainly conceived caramel sculptures to teetering tortes.
Chetna, who has been flying under the radar in recent weeks, was again Luis’ obvious rival, suddenly impressing the judges with her innovation: oiling grapes to create caramel hemispheres for what was required to be elaborate sponge-top decoration.
“That’s what I call a showstopper!” said Mary, surveying Luis’ Haunted Caramel Prison on a Seaweed Island, pre-tasting. But maybe Luis should have spent that extra five minutes baking a proper cake to go inside his caramel railings: “It’s quite washy, the flavour,” said Paul, visibly enjoying himself as he reasserted his baking boss status. “It needs an identity.”
“Far too sweet,” agreed Mary, puckering. No star baker award for Luis this week, then: that was clinched by Chetna and her triumphant Baby Dalek with Caramel Barbed-Wire Skirting.
So who was going? The prime candidate was surely Richard and his Child’s Drawing of Two Flood-Damaged Cakes with Caramel Spider-Web Topping. “The cakes look a bit sad,” said Paul cheerily.
Martha’s Sticky Chequered Sinkhole was a mess too, and if you’re going to make caramel chess pieces using a shop-bought mould you might as well squirt crème pat onto Mary Berry’s best floral blazer and be done with it – but Martha had actually aced the first round and comfortably survived the second, so she was safe. She’s winging it magnificently.
Could it really be the end for last week’s star baker, Kate? A middling, three-stars-out-of-five, wait-for-the-DVD review of her Triple Chocolate Pork Pie with Alarming Caramel Attack Spikes meant she’d more or less ballsed up the entire weekend. But to her and Richard’s hugging relief, the judges couldn’t decide who was worse so they utilised the free pass they’d been given by Diana’s withdrawal and let them both come back next week to have another go-ho-ho…