Last week I decided to recap Episode 7 of The Great British Bake Off, and it proved quite popular – so, a day late, I’ve decided to do the same for Episode 8. And again, it took forever… but it was fun! If you need an overview of how the programme works, or want to catch up on last week’s episode, click here. In brief, my favourite contestant (Sarah-Jane) went home, and so did someone who reminded me too much of a colleague (Ryan), Paul Hollywood mangled the English language to hitherto unsuspected contortions, Mary Berry borrowed a coat from Joseph (which apparently was a huge hit), and Scottish James wore a disappointingly low-key jumper. This week – biscuits! Given how GBBO has shown me that I had mis-defined puddings, desserts, and tortes, I’m fully expecting the first biscuit challenge to involve ostrich eggs and jelly. We’ll see.
Now that Sarah-Jane has gone, I’m completely Team Cathryn. And I’m sorry for calling you Kathryn last week, my dear, I’m on the right page now. In the here’s-what-will-happen-this-week clips, she’s making this face:
A big part of me hopes that this is never explained, so that I can continue to believe that she has an invisible exploding camera.
The remaining bakers (shall we settle on that, rather than ‘contestants’? It’s much friendlier) process into the tent. Scottish James is wearing shorts, which helps explain (if not atone for) the second week in a row where he has no natty knitwear.
Let’s get straight on with the show! The ‘Signature Challenge’ is to make 48 crackers or crispbreads (crisp which now?) – ‘They should be thin, and crack when snapped in two – a little bit like Nicole Kidman’, as presenter Mel helpfully adds. Paul threatens to ‘test for the snap on every single one of them’, which isn’t so much playing with words as talking complete nonsense. Unless he intends to use the crackers to play cards?
Bless Brendan – or The Brend, as I now know him. He’s probably the best baker left, but oh he does irritate me – yet I find it endearing that he continually tries to play down the fact that he’s four hundred years old. In an early episode he claimed not to remember the ’70s. Even if he meant 1870s, I’m certain he’s lying. In spot-The-Brend’s-age-giveaways no.1, he’s interviewing about usually only making crackers to serve at buffets. Presumably to go with little olives, for Beverley et al from Abigail’s Party.
I can’t get very excited about crackers, I’m afraid. John is very anxious about whether or not he should use yeast, and Scottish James joins the nation’s housewives in flirting a bit with Paul. Cathryn promises that hers will be crackers rather than cookies (a shame, I think a cookie would be much nicer) and the cameramen join the rest of the world in forgetting that Danny exists.
That shot is just to show you how they introduce everyone’s recipes, which I missed out last time. It’s obviously supposed to be a cookbook, with the recipe title on one side and an illustration on the other, but sometimes it’s rather a thankless effort on the part of some work experience kid in post-production. Usually the illustration resembles the finished product only in the vaguest imaginable way, not least because BBC seem only to have access to MS Paint when it comes to colour choices. Would you put anything that looked like those ‘Asian Spice Crackers’ anywhere near your mouth?
“These are the sort of crackers you’d have with your mates around,” John explains, “a really good nibbly cracker.” Uh-oh. Paul’s nonsense-speak is catching… His definitions haven’t really elucidated the matter, have they? Unless there are some crackers that you can only have when all your mates have abandoned you, and you’re lying in bed, crying into a glass of red.
Oh, Danny is still here! Bless her heart, she’s trying to act all dangerous and maverick. She has a ‘controversial’ ingredient – what is it? Hash? Arsenic? A potent aphrodisiac? Er… no. It’s desiccated cheese. But she gets a bonus point for describing picking a 1970s ingredient as, essentially, ‘doing a Brend’. Not her exact words, but the gist.
John has a mini breakdown over a fork and a Woody Woodpecker impersonation.
The Brend confides in us about his love of precision – ‘If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well’ – and he’s got out a ruler, tape measure, and cutter.
|I worry a little for The Brend.|
Lots of shots, now, of them trying again to make the whole process sound like Mission Impossible – Mel throws around words like ‘crucial’, and puts on the sort of voiceover tone usually reserved for newsreaders detailing the deaths of innocents. Cathryn says something about the importance of not burning crackers, but it’s hard to make out over the sound of a production guy bellowing in the background – which, I suppose, adds something to the heightened tension, even if it briefly demolishes the fourth wall.
John taps his cracker, possibly to see how well it is baked, possibly to start his own miniature baked good orchestra. Who can say? Everyone is baking in stages, so that they can use the same shelf for each tray of crackers and thus prevent varying levels of bakedness (Paul’s influence, sorry.) Everyone except Scottish James, that is, who shoved them all in at once – which is treated, once again by Mel’s voiceover (where has Sue gone?) as the activities of a half-crazed fifth-columnist. He may be whole-crazed, as he declares that his cracker looks like a little mouse.
|As you see, it doesn’t.|
I love Cathryn all the more for saying ‘Heavens-to-Betsy’, which is something I often say myself. It started ironically, but now I just say it. John, meanwhile, is singing a song about crackers, and Danny is reciting numbers to herself like a madwoman. The obvious crackers/crackers pun has, bizarrely, yet to be made by Sue. And if Sue ain’t going there, neither am I.
Paul and Mary are wheeled on for judging…
Brendan’s are “really scrummy” (darling Mary, talking with her mouth full) and “have a good bake on it” (Paul “gibberish” Hollywood)
Danny’s have a good crack, good consistency, and a lovely colour. Snore.
James’ (and that is how BBC2 do their apostrophe – God bless BBC2! You wouldn’t get that on BBC1) are beautifully crisp, and Mary seems to be wolfing them down, one in each hand.
Cathryn apologises for hers before they’re even handed over, because they’re varying shades and thicknesses. I forgive her everything when she says “Oh lor'” – the sooner she stars in her own sitcom as a put-upon Yorkshire landlady, the better.
John’s ‘break well’, and have a ‘hint of curry’. Which sounds horrifying, to be honest. Paul wanted them to be bigger – to which Mary rightly points out that he could just eat twice as many.
Oh dear, we’re going to Learn Something About Biscuits. Mel takes the opportunity to audition for Countryfile.
We’re off to Anglesey – which Mel falsely claims is ‘the mother of Wales’, whatever that means – to learn about the ‘James cake’, otherwise known as… something I couldn’t quite catch. It sounded like Abattoir Biscuit, but I suspect it isn’t. Yet again a mix of Food Historians and Local Bakers awkwardly tell us anecdotes to the backdrop of bizarre montages… let’s get back to the tent, shall we?
“The quarter-finalists have no idea what sort of biscuit they’ll be asked to bake next.” Ah, you’re back, Sue. And say what you like about these contestants, compared to other reality shows – the ones on GBBO certainly know how to wield a good facial expression.
|I think we have a winner.|
And the Blind Challenge is… chocolate teacakes! Biscuit, topped with marshmallow, covered in chocolate. Apparently it was 30 degrees heat (which seems a far-off dream, watching it in this miserable weather) so doing things with chocolate will be tricky. Mary Berry warns that Paul Hollywood will have to be kind. He makes the sort of face Jeremy Paxman might make if he were asked to be polite, or Piers Morgan if he were asked to be non-repellent. (I.e. Paul won’t be kind. That’s what I was going for there. I just thought I’d phrase it to include two of the more obnoxious people on television because, let’s face it, Paul Hollywood is a sweetie really.)
None of the bakers really seem to know what they’re doing. First things first are the digestive biscuits which will form the base – nothing that they’ve produced looks much like a biscuit to me, but who am I to judge? The extreme heat is ruining their attempts at chocolate, and seeing John’s sweaty brow, I’m suddenly grateful for the clouds and rain we’ve had in Oxford today.
The Brend (described by John as ‘a machine’ – well, he has developed a semi-robotic monotone, with hints of Maggie Smith) seems to be having the most success, whereas lovely Cathryn is running into trouble… This week she has mostly been looking grumpy, but in an adorable way, like an overtired toddler.
Perhaps she misses lovely Sarah-Jane? The happiest moment of my past week (which has been a steady run of headaches, so it’s not saying much) was discovering that Cathryn and Sarah-Jane co-author a blog, which you can read here. What do you think the chances are that they’ll become my best friends?
I’ve realised I haven’t included any pictures of actual baked goods yet, so here’s a rather artsy (if not entirely appetising) picture of Scottish James’ teacakes in action:
Oh dear. John’s come out rather well, but Cathryn starts shrieking “Oh my giddy AUNT” at hers – with a grin plastered over her face – and Sue doubles up her role of Presenter with that of Redoubtable Head Girl, and gets her to calm down and turn out her teacakes. For once, Cathryn hasn’t overstated her disaster… after some poor crackers, I’m rather terrified that my favourite will be going home…
|Just call them ‘deconstructed’, and you’ll be fine, love.|
Aww, Scottish James gives her a hug.
Berry and Hollywood come on to do their blind judging. Cathryn gets good comments for her biscuit and marshmallow, so maybe there’s hope for her yet. Everyone else gets mixed comments, even The Brend (who, again, looks incredulous) but Paul gives everyone a ‘pretty good’ overall – high praise, indeed.
Oh dear, Cathryn is in fifth place. Then last week’s star baker Danny, then John, then The Brend, and first prize is taken by Scottish James.
Onto the final challenge! First Mary and Paul give their thoughts on who is doing well, and who is in danger. While they are praising Brendan and Scottish James, an editor cruelly puts up a protracted shot of James trying, and failing, to put on an apron.
Even crueller, since it turns out it’s his 21st birthday! As Sue says, he can become an M.P. or… go to adult prison.
The showstopper challenge is – gingerbread houses! What fun!
Oh, wait, Paul says he’s after ‘gingerbread structures’, not houses – those he will ‘smash’, only to be satisfied with ‘architectural genius’. Gosh! I’m even more excited… or is this some sort of budget cut, where Kevin McCloud will come on and present Grand Designs at the same time? Will they quietly run the National Lottery in the background next week?
Cathryn wins even more I-Love-Her Points from me by making a Buckingham Palace gingerbread house, while Danny is making a two-feet tall Big Ben (or, in fact, Elizabeth Tower. Big Ben is just the bell, fact fans. I thought the tower was called St. Stephen’s Tower, but Wikipedia proves me wrong.) John is going for a Coliseum [spelling courtesy of BBC; not how I’d have spelt it] with over a hundred pieces (designed by his graphic designer boyfriend), and James is going to make… a barn. Hmm. Not really quite as glamorous, is it? But possibly easier to pass off as successful. Everyone knows what Buck Pal looks like, whereas barns come in all shapes and sizes, don’t they?
|I love that his baking comes with architectural plans.|
I don’t think we talked to The Brend at all. Presumably he’s building a Gingerbread Retirement Home? Oh, my mistake, he turns up on the other side of some Gingerbread Of Times Past segment which I entirely ignored – he’s making a birdhouse, fondant bluebirds and all.
I’ve got to say, the final results are rather breathtaking. They’ve had more interesting visual challenges in Series 3 than in previous years, and this one was a stroke of brilliance by some ideas-person backstage.
Here, for contrast, is a gingerbread house that my dear friend Lorna and I once made. From a kit.
John’s is spectacular, evenly baked (I’m editing ‘an even bake’ here, folks, and into fewer words), although not quite gingery enough for Mary. They only seem to eat a tiny fragment of it, though.
Brendan’s is described by Paul as ‘a bit much’. The man has made grass, and decorated his Shredded Wheat roof with climbing roses. The phrase ‘less is more’ probably makes The Brend retch. And it’s too spicy for our Mary… oh dear! I tease The Brend, but I was confidently expecting him to walk this (with a zimmer, obvs.)
Danny’s ‘could have been taller’ (!) and is quite cookie-gingerbread, which sounds lovely to me, but may or may not have been a compliment.
Cathryn claims that the Queen might be ‘naffed off’ with her design – and it does like a bit like Buckingham Palace post-earthquake – but Mary reassures her that you can tell what it was supposed to be. Paul thinks the fact that it’s ginger, chocolate, and orange offers too many flavours, but Mary wants to eat all of it, to the last crumb.
James’ structure is appreciated, but the judges don’t seem actually to eat any of it.
So, who’s going home? I worry that it’s still going to be Cathryn… she says it’s been a ‘crumby week’, and I don’t think she’s even making a pun. Sue will be annoyed that she missed that one.
The star baker is…
Birthday Boy James!
And, going home, is…
Oh no! It is Lovely Cathryn. Everyone – the other bakers, Mel & Sue, Paul & Mary – seem equally distraught. She probably was the worst this week, but it won’t be the same programme without her. Still, that sitcom (working title: “Fine Words Don’t Butter No Parsnips”) can go into production asap.
Becoming my favourite seems a surefire way to get booted out… I’ve had to transfer my affections to James, so… will he be on his way back to sunny Scotland next week? Join me (probably) for the semi-finals! They seem to be making dozens of complicated things. It should be fun…