Sorry that you had to put up without my recap of last week’s episode (in which we bid a sad farewell to Dame Val, mere days after I’d finally decided what to call her) – and general apologies, to those who read StuckinaBook for the bookish bits, that I’ve been rather absent of late. But let us put those things out of our minds while we think about… botanicals!
As usual, Mel and Sue are hanging around in the sunshine for our opening bit – and they make an elaborate riff on there being 7 bakers left in the tent – just like the 7 dwarfs. I would love to spend some time working out which of the contestants matched which of their descriptions – shakey, cakey, etc. – though I was distracted by the constant anxiety that they might break into Achy Breaky Heart. Seeing them together is now always bittersweet, since their days in (and around) the tent are numbered.
Mere moments later, as the bakers sidle in, it is pouring with rain – which is apparently worth at least three establishing shots, as well as many interviews with bakers under clear umbrellas (which are swiped away from at some point in the few steps between lawn and tent by an invisible crew). Before we look more at this week’s themes, let’s take a quick swing by Blazer Watch – and I’m loving the yellow/grey that Sue has going on. And Mary is looking fabs, of course. Dr Death over on the left has given up even interacting with the others.
Jane thinks botanical week “could almost have been made for her”. Either responding to the blank look of the camerman, or the vocalised question of the production team, she adds “because I’m a gardener” in a sing-song voice, as though addressing a peculiarly stupid child. Jokes on you, Jane, because your gardening abilities have zero relevance to the tasks in hand today. Tom makes brave guesses at what the theme might mean (“…aromatic?”) before adding, with evident reluctance, “anything that grows goes!”
And what’s the first challenge? It’s citrus meringue pie. Which is delicious, ticks the box for ‘people might want to try this at home’, but… botanical? They make repeated assertions that anything that has stuff that grows in it is botanical, but this generous description includes literally every cake (sugar; flour). It also includes literally every foodstuff that isn’t dairy. It’s a mess.
But I’m very much here for any challenge that allow somebody to make a lime and coconut meringue pie. And it’s encouraging to see that even GBBO bakers seem to get orange everywhere while grating it for the zest.
Speaking of Selasi’s general awesomeness, he is wearing a floral shirt – as is Jane (a rather nice one, actually; well done Jane). I love this commitment to a theme, and wish we’d seen more of it in the past. Blue and white stripes for French week. Queen Victoria costumes for cake week. About the only week they’ve done this for before was gluten-free week, during which I can only assume most of the outfits were, indeed, gluten-free.
Mary gives the useful advice – from her vantage in the once-again-sunny outside – that the citrus meringue pie should be ‘sheer Heaven’. Has anybody even said ‘citrus meringue pie’ before, incidentally? I fear not. To illustrate ‘sheer Heaven’, we have Selasi choosing to hold his ingredients as far as possible from the bowl.
Paul, in turn, is just playing a botanical version of Kim’s game, listing citrus fruits in the garden (again, sunny), before realising that there are basically only three. “Grapefruit” he adds hopefully, while the cameraman slowly, sternly shakes his head.
The downside of an accessible challenge is, as always, that is nothing very unusual to say. Rav is putting tequila in his (somewhere, Mary’s sponsor winces), to help live up to his week one bio of using “unusual” ingredients; the other side of the tent has to make do with the non-earth-shattering stem ginger chosen by Andrew. While we’re recovering from that excitement, Mel explains how to make pastry while we get a montage of bakers’ hands obscuring their ingredients entirely. My favourite tip was “…and sugar, for sweetness”.
Tom (interviewed while using his food mixer on its loudest setting) tells us that he isn’t making a sweet pastry. He’s using something to give ‘a savoury, aromatic sweetness’. I listened a few times and couldn’t work out what that something was, but I’m intrigued as to what could provide sweetness better than a sweet pastry. (Or is this the sugar-free challenge all over again, where adding melted sugar somehow counted?)
Selasi flirts with Mary over his shirt – he will flirt with anybody, it seems, and more power to him – and explains that he is making a grapefruit, orange, and mint meringue pie. To see those words again in a different front, look below:
My favourite bit of this section, of course, is where Mary asks Mel if she’s ever had a ‘sharp-edged kiss’, and then turns this look at Selasi:
But this is also the start of another adorable narrative in my head: the love (possibly fraternal/sororal) between Benjamina and Selasi. It’s lovely. They are both making grapefruit meringue pie, and bicker over it like a pair of siblings who want their parents to pick them but also don’t really care, because the process is fun in itself. They have a bit of a giggle while using rolling pins.
The question of the day is about presentation of meringue. You can tell that this will be the part Mary and Paul judge most assiduously. Not even whether it’s French, Swiss, or Italian (sidenote: why doesn’t Mel’s voiceover explain the differences between these, which I imagine would be more elucidating to most viewers than ‘sugar is sweet’?) – whether it’s piped or not, and whether it’s blow-torched or oven-baked. Paul enquires whether Benjamina will be ‘dumping’ her meringue on the pie – something of a leading question – and she quickly replies with a negative, saying it will be ‘piped nicely… with a… nice nozzle’. The word ‘nice’ seems rather redundant here.
Andrew, meanwhile, has always remembered the flavour of his mum’s key lime pie. Lime, one suspects. “I enjoy a good citrus tang,” he adds, immediately regretting it.
In this series, Paul has started using the word ‘fascinating’ in place of every negative adjective. “That will be fascinating to see” he says of breads he thinks will be underproved, flavours he abhors, and identifications at the morgue.
Jane tells us that she is making a lime and coconut meringue pie inspired by a Harry Nielson song – a joke that I assume you have to be a couple of decades older than me to understand – and she tells us this while we watch a close up of her juicing a… lemon.
People are pairing off, and Candice/Jane are the new Selasi/Benjamina – i.e. they’re both making coconut/lime meringue pies. There is rather less chemistry here, and the editors swiftly move on – to Mary restating that she prefers an oven to a blowtorch. Well, don’t we all, Mezza.
The Bake Off, bless them, finally trust us to know what blind baking is – but I do wonder, with Tom’s, whether or not he remembered to put the baking paper between the baking beans and the pastry? His looks rather riddled with bullet holes.
SOMEBODY RESURRECT TOMORROW’S WORLD. I WANT THESE TWO TO TEACH ME SCIENCE.
All of the bakes come out pretty well – because, after all, they are simply putting curd in pastry – but things get a bit more tense with the meringue layers. Some are gloopy. Some are stiff. Some look like the fever dream of the Hulk. (Yes, that’s you Candice. In retrospect, Colouring Pencil Man’s depiction looks like a cruel and sarcastic joke.)
Too cruel, Colouring Pencils Man, too cruel. Why so cruel, with all your cruelty?
A medley of blowtorching later (who actually owns a blowtorch?) and we’re all good to go. Long story short: the women do better than the men. Jane probably does best, and I entirely want to faceplant in her meringue pie. It looks so good.
Outside, the bakers do more interviews in the rain. Have the production company arranged so it’s sunny when the judges and presenters are outside and rainy when the bakers are outside?! I smell a conspiracy! (Ed: no, they haven’t. Many apols.)
Onto the technical challenge! Paul’s words of wisdom are ‘be patient, and remember the shaping’ – Sue adds that it’s something of a catchphrase for him, reminding me how much I’ll miss her. It’s the French classic ‘fougasse’, which apparently slips into botanical week solely because it’s got herbs in it. They might as well just be whipping up some creme de menthe and calling it a day. This is apparently what the fougasse should look like:
You know how the technical is always based on one criterion which is very specific, entirely arbitrary, and completely unclear? In this case, it’s the lines down the middle. Should they be next to each other or in a single line? “Who cares?” I hear you ask. “Just gimme some delicious bread, and put the lines wherever your sweet mind wishes.” Well, thank you for the kind words about my mind, but I’ll tell you who cares: Paul. It is all that occupies his not-so-sweet mind.
More on that anon.
For now we see the usual flour-sifting, dough-kneading, proving-drawer-opening montage – and this curiously poignant still of a pencil on the floor by Selasi’s station.
Despite Paul’s example ‘leaf-shaped’ fougasse being demonstrably rectangular, this is less important than those lines. Andrew helpfully tells us that, from an engineering background, consecutive lines are one on top of the other. I think the bakers are divided about half and half on the topic of lines, but I’ve become more or less snow blind on this issue now.
(Herbs might have mentioned in passing, but I don’t recall.) (#botanicals.)
They do all look delicious, and I love that Tom takes fougasse as a cinema snack. That is such a good idea. I’m off to see Bridget Jones’s Baby on Thursday, and I now fully intend to take some foccaccia in a bag. Imma live dat life.
The word fougasse, you would think, leaves little room for puns. Oh ye of little faith. Mel and Sue do their best with ‘fougastric bands’ and another one that I didn’t understand even while it was being said. The pun that is probably in your mind was, blessedly, left unspoken. Sue, meanwhile, has joined Selasi in his recumbent position – and, more importantly, the pencil has been rescued from the floor. Look, it’ll never be as iconic as Richard’s pencil, but every pencil needs its moment in the sun.
The cameramen/camerawomen know that there isn’t much going on here, so we have close ups of people’s mouths, lots of cooling racks, and nothing whatsoever of interest beyond Selasi lying in various positions on the ground. And then bakers waving around fans that look like they work in air traffic control.
The judging is mostly, as we suspected, Paul pointing at lines. He isn’t content with saying that the cut should be in a line down the middle, but repeats it for every. single. bake. Mary does her best by saying the word ‘crispy’ occasionally. Ultimately, they all seem pretty close – but it goes Selasi (last), Andrew, Candice, Jane, Rav, Benjamina, and Tom wins out. Why is he wearing one blue glove? Answer comes there none. But it’s raining again for the baker interviews.
The sun has come out for the showstopper challenge, and it’s the first one which could be even loosely considered botanical: floral cakes. My well-documented dislike of floral flavours in cakes has, it seems, made not a bit of difference to the powers that be at GBBO. I’m not disappointed, I’m just angry.
Various bakers tell us that they’ve got a lot riding on today – presumably they’ve all been down to the bookies to put their money on Benjamina to win – and the camera guy loses his head completely with this Candice shot:
It’s a fun challenge, but pretty vague. It’s got to be three tiers, but there’s no stipulation about whether they have to be different flavours or not, or even if there has to be floral flavours in there. Rav, for instance, is only doing one flavour, and that is flavoured with orange blossom. How this differs from orange, in terms of taste, I don’t know.
Tom is making tea-based cakes, though no honest English breakfast in sight: it’s jasmine and… some others, I forget, I got too caught up in my immediate desire to drink a cup of tea. Paul and Mary warn that it’s hard to get the flavour across, which sounds like it might rather be a blessing.
Candice, if you’ll travel with me to her side of the tent, has added an extra tier – stymied, as she is, but the number of seasons there are. She is basing each layer on a season, though this does include such tenuous links as ‘chocolate and orange for spring’.
In a touching moment, Candice is using a sheet of paper written by her gran for the top layer. That’s quite sweet, but I do rather dread how much will be made of this sort of thing when the show moves to Channel 4. Learn some lessons, C4.
Jane is using orange (“a flowery flavour”) but no actual flowery flavours – instead, she’s concentrating on moulding flowers and making a white chocolate collar for each layer, with abstract flowers. It sounds perfect to me, and probably the one I’d be keenest to sample.
(Selasi, for some reason, has a pineapple – though I’m pretty sure there was no pineapple in his recipe.)
This is what happens when an engineer is allowed to bake. I feel – and I can’t emphasise enough that this is based on a profound and total ignorance of it – like I’m at the New York Stock Exchange.
It’s all good fun, but they’re essentially making sponge cakes. It ain’t tricky, and it’s tense. It sure ain’t no fondant fancy. The bakers do their best to amp up the drams, though, with Jane pouring away some mixture, and such exciting pronouncements as Rav’s “I’m just putting some food colouring in my buttercream”; Mel and Sue seem to have popped to the pub for a quick half, as they have nothing to say throughout almost all of the cake baking. Except on the Voiceovers of Doom, naturally.
Watching people decorate cakes is often quite stressful. We’ve all been in the crumbs-in-the-icing stage, but (contrary to the rules of most activities) watching other people do it is more stressful than doing it yourself. Amidst Rav miserably forming icing flowers, Candice peering at butter icing, and Benjamina wisely deciding to go for deliberately poor icing, we have Selasi – demonstrating a rather astonishing icing talent. And so fast. Check out these roses. I don’t even know how he’s got the multicolours so perfectly.
He and Candice are the only ones who come close to the decorating panache of previous years. I can only imagine the wonders that Frances would be producing right now. I also quite like the abstract flower collars Jane has crafted, though she (and, later, the judges) don’t seem happy with them.
How do things go? Candice’s does quite well, and Mary gives an excellent (accidental) subtle bitch comment: “It’s like you – over the top”. She makes another needlessly gluten-free layer, but we’ll forgive her for that.
Andrew’s is rather simple (“blobs” – Mary) and the flavours are too subtle to detect. Look, basically the cake is hardly there at all. The whole thing is a postmodern illusion.
Benjamina’s is a little underdone, and they ain’t fooled by her “deliberately unfinished” look. The same argument, it turns out, also doesn’t work for roofing or open heart surgery. Live and learn.
Rav gets a whole lot of blah for his.
Jane apologises a lot for what looks like a delicious cake to me (though Mary corrects Paul’s “overdone” with “only a little overdone”):
Selasi’s is an ombre dream:
Poor old Tom gets told that he’s done a “very simple finish”. This is at least ten times more complex and beautiful than any cake I’ve ever decorated. (Apologies for the slight blur; this screenshot comes from a moment when the cameraman decided dramatically zooming in was both warranted and tasteful.)
So, how did things work out in the end? After some debating, and some interviews with the bakers that aren’t in the rain (but which are on some overgrown steps; go figure), the Star Baker turns out to be… Tom!
And going home… Rav. Bless him, it’s probably time. (Sorry that they don’t come with the usual images – iPlayer stopped working just before the end of the episode.)
I hope we’ve all learned a lot in botanicals week – even if, sadly, not what ‘botanicals’ means to an meaningful degree. See you next week!