Thank you for your very kind comments on last week’s episode – it’s lovely to have lots of people enjoying the Bake Off together (and many apologies to those in countries which can’t watch this series yet! There will be many spoilers, I’m afraid.) Sorry that I haven’t replied to comments yet; I will soon, promise.
It’s biscuit week, and for the first time ever – he says, without troubling to check – Mel is flying solo for GBBO. And, to emphasise this anomaly, she is huddled, miserably, in an anorak at the end of the drive.
She isn’t woebegone to the extent of not making a ‘snap’ and ‘crunch’ pair o’ puns (and presumably also quoting the name of a rip off cereal from Lidl). Like some sort of ghostly ancestor, Sue remains on the voiceover. She is lingering, much like the looks exchanged by Selasi and Candice (thought I’d forgotten that? Mais non.)
Our bakers enter to jaunty music, and the cameraman finds ever more unlikely ways to obscure them in the establishing shots. We see Tom or Michael or someone through a cloud of mist, and a concerned Jane from behind a pillar.
Even sans Sue, we can’t omit Blazer Watch – and we have some lovely pink and – what – cerise? burnt salmon? another pink? – from Mary and Mel. Mary is looking at Mel with “I’m sure there used to be two of them” etched into her eyes.
The first challenge is a fun one – 24 iced biscuits. I’m really enjoying this series’ return to everyday bakes, because it should inspire more home baking – even if we can’t all hope to achieve biscuits “as crisp as Paul’s hair” (Paul stoically ignores Mel, as per). Jane confides that she has practised the biscuits but hasn’t practised icing them, to be honest – we appreciate your honesty, thank you Jane – and Selasi says something calming but irrelevant about taking each day as it comes. I’m 90% sure that he’s lowkey auditioning for a Stop Smoking in Forty Days audiobook.
Mary waffles about consistency, in the garden, huddled in an enormous coat and clearly freezing, while the camera pans in on Louise shovelling some teabags around a glass bowl. The poor thing has clearly lost her mind completely.
Paul says something provocative about dunking, and we’re over to find out more about Louise’s biscuits. She’s only had a chance to say “Welsh fruitcake” – the joke is too obvious, so I shall leave it to one side – before we see her partner dragging her up an otherwise deserted hill. Yay! It’s hobbies week!
It ain’t looking good for our Louise, as she answers the “snap or shortbread” dichotomy with something akin to a halfhearted sigh, and a concession that the biscuits will probably be disappointingly soft. “Good luck anyway,” says Paul.
Val’s hobby, meanwhile, is shrieking with laughter at her grandson, whose witticisms – couched, as they are, in stoney silence – left me rather cold. She does also laugh at the rather heartrending tale of childhood poverty she tells, though, so perhaps she sees merriment where others do not. Andrew, for his part, is in the world’s smallest musical theatre group.
Kate, having missed my edicts about flower flavours in biscuits, is making a lavender and bergamot array. We get one of my fave ever Mary Berry Reaction Faces:
Kate is, of course, a Brownie leader – but it looks rather like the only members of her brigade are her daughters.
Selasi, poor boy, is putting hot peppers in his biscuits. I mean, why? Tom, meanwhile, has made 300 practice biscuits – which smacks of a dangerous and debilitating obsession, if anything. Early fave, at the design stage, is Benjamina’s chocolate orange biscuits, which wisely note that flowers should only be seen as an inspiration for decor, not as a flavour. Colouring Pencils Man has done a lovely job of drawing them, though his arrows remain vague at best.
Rav – who, for some reason, I keep forgetting exists – was apparently inspired by a visit to Goa for his daring and unusual combination of… coconut and lime. Guys, I’ve made coconut and lime biscuits before and, as far as I know, I’ve never been to Goa. He’s looking closer to home for his decor, as he’s directly ripping off the tent bunting.
Disaster strikes for poor Louise – as her biscuits take something of a tumble:
She is clearly one of those who deals with difficulties by resiliently and silently continuing – and Candice helps her as she scoops away the debris and starts again. It’s a better response to disaster than Val’s – of deciding that she can probably just use the floor biscuits anyway.
In no time at all, the ovens have done their magic – and 24 biscuits are coming out of everybody’s ovens. Except for Candice’s, as she’s made 48, to sandwich and double up. “24 on the top,” she notes, pausing for an extraordinary length of time before adding the second half of the sentence, which can hardly be considered a thrilling denouement: “24 on the bottom”. She does also, however, confirm that she will be wearing a different shade of lipstick every week – which is enough to warrant a high-five with Mel. Mel responds with the desperate uncoolness of the schoolgirl who can’t believe the popular kid is talking to her.
Everybody is icing, except Val – who, with supreme unconcern, announces that she hasn’t done any yet. Mel flutters around her in a panic, and Val considers a quick nip to the end of the garden to see how they’ve got their delphiniums so hearty.
Various bakers are furiously counting their biscuits – something you’d think they’ve had considered earlier in the process – and Val stalls around 19 including, I believe, two which remain in a dispiriting state on the floor.
And – the icing is over. I think special mention has to go to the impressive uniformity of Michael’s flagons of ale.
There is no crime so great as a soft biscuit, it seems, and Andrew, Louise, and more get penalised on those grounds. I stand by my admiration for Benjamina’s decoration – and Paul approves of the chocolate and orange. Well done for inventing that combination, Benjamina.
Best burn? Mary telling Val “I’m sure you can pipe well”. That’s the sort of cruelty that Paul can only dream of with his overt insults. She comes a second best with labelling Kate’s icing “informal”. As it looks pretty darn impressive to me, I can only imagine she’d describe my icing as straight-up vulgar.
Tom gets… the Paul Hollywood handshake!! He gives the camera a glowing look of pride.
Sue wanders into a posh hotel (in jeans) to learn about biscuit dipping. I will avert mine eyes, and we’ll pick it up at the technical challenge (“an afternoon of misery and stress”). And it’s a good’un – I’m quite keen to try it myself. Viennese whirls!
Mel, incidentally, is doing a brilliant job on her own – and I am not the sort of man who’ll fault either her whirl, or her Viennese accent. She does tend to lean in far too close in her conversations with bakers, but we’ll let that slide. She presumably wants the company.
Don’t these look delicious? Mmm. Even Paul doesn’t dunk these, by the by. Oh, and is that a flowerpot shaped like a handbag AND a teapot in the background?
Everybody’s made jam in a matter of moments, and we’re onto the perennial thrill of being told how to cream butter and sugar. Val jokes that she should probably have the right number – well, perhaps – and we get a shot of Kate that makes me proud to be British.
Consistency of mixture is an issue for all, and Rav is having rather a hopeless time of it – to the extent that it looks rather as if he is using Viennese whirl mixture to illustrate the shifting shapes of the lunar cycle.
Bake or chill? The debate we all face on a Friday evening. Some of the bakers pop the trays in the fridge or freezer before the oven – still more, I suspect, wander around opening and shutting the fridge doors, possibly at the direction of the production crew. Said crew are also very keen this week to give us sweeping wide shots of the tent – perhaps they are proud of its placement, though it does seem to have been erected in rather a curious diagonal.
The bakers act as though making butter icing were a complete unknown, wander around, open and shut ovens, and… some of the whirls come out looking great, and some rather flat. And then the cream and jam is added, and Selasi’s aren’t looking so great… presumably unaided by the looming voyeurism of the cameraman who (as luck would have it) still manages to find a way to obscure a section of the tray.
The music ferociously tells us that the climax of the challenge is over, and the bakers mill around with trays covered in whirls while Mel explains the concept of blind judging in the voiceover, for those viewers who’ve tuned in for the first time in the past three minutes (and have previously had only minimal acquaintance with the English language). Perhaps the saddest moment comes when Paul says “broken” and the camera shows Louise, who could be given the same adjective.
Selasi comes last (all the way from winning the Technical last week, if memory serves), and the top three are Benjamina, Jane, and Kate. I will try making these whirls before the series is over, and feed back with my results.
Mezza, Paul, and Mel debrief on the first two challenges while the bakers sidle into the tent, mutter to each other, and – in the case of Candice – apparently put on two aprons.
The final challenge is to make gingerbread memories, or something – basically turning those home VTs into gingerbread sculptures. The important thing is that they taste nice, says Mary pointlessly, while Paul illustrates the need for them to stand up with an anecdote about his Christmas gingerbread houses still being standing in February. It doesn’t speak wonders for their mass appeal, does it?
(Everyone presumably laments Lee’s early exit, as we can now no longer make jokes about him having been a builder, or laboured references to the fact that two of the bakers are making churches.)
Val is making various unrelated gingerbread pieces and shoving them together, so far as I can tell. It has all the design cohesion of a pile of rubble from an overturned lorry. She also appears to want to commemorate a precious memory of that time Louise made sheep biscuits earlier that day.
There’s not much to say about flavours and biscuit choices this week, since nobody is veering far from a standard gingerbread, and so everything is about the design and construction. They make what they can of Selasi using honey, and a lacklustre conflict about whether or not to include eggs, but it’s not exactly maverick.
Louise is apparently remembering the future, showing her forthcoming wedding, complete with the easiest conceivable sculpture shape, gravestones – all illustrated here in what turns out to be a rather charitable depiction from Colouring Pencils Man.
Candice is compiling a whole pub – Mary’s face lights up – while Michael (Tom? I’m not putting this on, honest; I forget the moment after their names are mentioned) is devoting his gingerbread sculpture to a time he met Santa at Lapland. And, apparently, made gingerbread and created a souvenir… tablemat?
Over with Kate, she’s making something or other to do with Brownies (for audiences unfamiliar with this, it’s in Girl Guides movement where young girls get together to make trails and tie knots and foist slings on each other – all clear?). Mary and Mel launch into the Brownie Promise and Mary, adorably, has to pause during “…serve the… Queen”, since presumably the last time she had to say it, it was a King. And that King was Harald Hardrada.
It does seem early in the competition for a challenge this hard, and I’m impressed by how all the bakers are rising to the occasion. There’s lots of flatpack construction (Andrew has 37 pieces), while Candice is making a green jelly for a pool table. She fondly recalls times her younger brother played pool, when he could barely see over the top of it – which rings alarm bells to me, personally, and I wonder if social services should be contacted as a matter of urgency.
A couple of people seem to be making the Empire State Building, and Val talks to the camera about trying to get the right number of windows – while cheerily disregarding even matching one side to the other in this shot.
Sue warns us, in the voiceover, that pieces of gingerbread not only have to go into the oven, but also have to come out of it – and Jane confides in the audience that she doesn’t want to overcook them.
Memories of Ugne come to the fore when we get a passing moment of Kate saying “the children are cooked now” – but she loses Ugne points for not laughing maniacally at the same time.
Construction time has come for most, with royal icing or caramel being used to hold pieces together. Meanwhile, Val has opted for an approach of just moving things around the counter.
Mel stalks her around the tent, adorably shepherding her back to her post.
Now starts the stage of the episode where I was more or less constantly shrieking at the television. Walls are collapsing, glue isn’t setting, and the Statue of Liberty – in what I can only assume is a poignant metaphor – has had her head snapped off.
There is literally a montage of collapsing pieces – my HEART, my NERVES – and it culminates with this heartbreaking moment, just as music and Mel alike signal that the challenge is up: Louise’s church completely falls apart, each wall going in a different direction.
Again, I can’t emphasise enough how impressed I am with Louise’s attitude. She deals with it so well. I would be a sobbing mess, subtly trying to dislodge other people’s creations. Louise, you are a hero.
The bakers are, somewhat cruelly, made to carry their creations to the table – a distinct disadvantage for those at the back of the tent – and Mary and Paul get to judgin’. Here are some of the creations which most impressed me:
[Not pictured: Tom/Michael’s rather demonic Santa scene. “I wouldn’t give top marks to the actual piping” – Mary in understatement of the episode.]
Winning this week – despite rather clear indications throughout that Kate should have won – is…
Leaving this week, which is sad but perhaps not a surprise…
I hope you’ve enjoyed it :) Tune in next week for bread week! Here’s something inexplicable to whet the appetite…