Well, the drama kept coming last week, didn’t it? I had endless conversations in the office about the rights and wrongs of bingate, and whether or not we thought Iain would be reinducted in this episode (spoiler: he didn’t). I also got the closest I’m likely to get to Bake Off fame, when Howard quoted me (eeek!) on An Extra Slice. Not by name, sadly, but he mentioned my Alan Bennett comparison and later confirmed on Twitter that I was the reference. Exciting times. (Extra Slice people, if you’re reading, I would definitely come on the show. Just saying. Any time. I’m ready.) (Any time.)
But enough about me – let’s go on to the Bake Off – which I watched at my friend Adam’s house. His Mum made Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood scarecrows for her village, which shows his excellent credentials as a GBBO host. I’m still waiting for the photos ADAM, but hopefully they’ll appear next week.
“All drama; zero gimmicks” say Mel and Sue in their increasingly contentless introduction to the show – and that’s a fair assessment of the show, I think. Even the in-jokes aren’t really gimmicks. I would have preferred it if they’d said “No gimmicks; all gimlet eyes” and panned to Paul’s piercing blues, but we do not live in a utopia. I’m also very intrigued by that ‘private’ sign that seems to be facing the wrong direction, so that people see it as they leave the grounds. Are they trapped?
|Stuck in a Book: asking the questions that matter|
In this line, the news that Diana has been taken ill and won’t be returning to the competition is delivered in the least sensational manner possible, even if the pan of the bakers arriving is performed, once more, in the midst of some foliage. It’s voyeuristic and unsettling, cameraman. Stop it.
A few of the bakers talk about how they’re going to miss her, and Martha says that Diana is ‘her grandma in the tent’. What about Universal Grandmother Mary Berry??
The judges and presenters line up to announce the first challenge – custard tarts, gladdening the heart of Lionel Hardcastle – and Blazer Watch has never felt more necessary. Mary and Mel have both gone neon,while Sue appears to be recycling last week’s blazer. C’mon, Sue. Give a recapper something to work with. Paul not only continues to forego a suit jacket, he’s also gone cuff crazy this week. As always, he looks ready for a line-dance.
|Is Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen well-known enough
internationally to make for a successful reference?
The first reaction to the challenge is, as usual, Chetna being very nervous, and apologising to the cameraman for no obvious reason. Chetters, you’ll be fine, don’t worry!
Paul and Mary waffle about pastry textures in the garden (“If they make holes, the custard will leak out” – do feel free to grab a notebook if you want to jot down these insights) and we see lots of bakers playing with flour and butter. Frankly, it’s not a difficult challenge. But I look forward to seeing them dramatise.
First off we come to Norman, who is making a tarte au citron. He’s obviously of the opinion that making something foreign – and saying actual foreign words – is plenty fancy enough, and he won’t be wanting to show his face in the Aberdeenshire Working Men’s Club for a month of Sundays, thanking you kindly. “I first tried it in France twenty years ago, and had never had anything as exotic as that at home,” he actually says. Is he trolling us? It’s pastry and lemon, Norm. Mary Berry Reaction Face:
It’s so simple that Mel actually includes ‘dusted with icing sugar’ in her voiceover description of it.
|“…and served on a plate.”|
He says that he’ll be stretching himself tomorrow, and so he’s keeping it simple today. Paul seems ok with that (“if you’re stretching, you need to warm up, and this is your warm up”) but his hesitant face says different. Just you wait and see, Paul… #becarefulwhatyouwishfor
Martha isn’t sure about the challenge. She doesn’t like making pastry. “It’s one of those things that you make if you’re a bit older. People like Nancy make pastry a lot.” She could so easily be given the bitch edit, so I admire the BBC for being kind to her – and I still think she’s fab. Having said that, we get a good reaction face from Nancy (which was probably filmed long afterwards):
In justice to Martha, we almost immediately hear Nancy saying how much she likes making pastry. And hers sounds amazing, combining three of my favourite flavours – chocolate, coconut, and passion fruit. I might steal this recipe if poss. Some pastry purists don’t like the chocolate version, but I do a mean choc pastry myself, so I’m all for it. And it gives BBC Colouring Pencils Man a chance to break out a different colour. His pastry colour must be running down.
|May contain Minotaur.|
Montage time, and the same levels of dramatic music that were given to the #bincident are accorded to Luis pulling clingfilm, Norman advising people to chill pastry, and Martha (perhaps eavesdropping) putting her pastry in the fridge. She takes a leaf out of Voice of Doom Mel’s book and says that she could ruin her tart if she chills the pastry for too long or too little time, which is nonsense. These are the low level stakes we know and love from GBBO.
Alex/Kate is making almond and rosemary pastry for her rhubarb and custard tart, which sounds a bit much to me, but M and P are all over it (and she claims it’s ‘simple’). She, wonderfully, continues to treat every moment as an opportunity for am dram. In this image, you might think, she has just dropped her tart, or had her home repossessed. No, she is simply talking about rhubarb.
Luis is making a ‘Tropical Manchester Tart’, presumably named by somebody with the good fortune never to have gone to Manchester (bad Simon). My friend Hannah, with whom I watched, is a card-carrying Northerner, and was Not Happy about the tart being messed with. (Incidentally, my friend Malie also watched, having never seen it before. The appeal took some explaining beforehand, but I think she enjoyed it.)
Richard is poaching figs (I suggested at this juncture that nobody liked figs, but was shouted down by my companions). More importantly – where is the pencil? It’s in the shot before this, and the shot after, but not here. Guys, what’s happening? We have lost the only consistent element of the known universe.
|Is this a Dumbo/feather situ?|
More on the pencil later, building stationery fans.
I’m super jealous of everybody’s pastry, and the way they are able to pick it up and line the tins. Lest we forget, here is an early stage of the quiche my friend Lorna and I made last year:
It is tarts week, of course, and you might have thought that Mel & Sue – five series in – would have exhausted the comic potential of saying ‘tart’ and winking at the camera. How little you know this programme. But this year’s is rather special. Mel and Nancy have a brilliant conversation about looking like tarts, and having tarts’ hairstyles. I love both Mel and Sue, but Mel is the best at forming galpal friendships in the tent.
|Also, Nancy’s top has handbags all over it.
Presumably she’ll do you a good price for them.
Martha talks again about not liking making pastry, which fills us with nerves about her security in the competition. Then we see lots of bakers trim their tarts, while Mel intones about the importance of keeping it neat. Any voiceover about neatness and perfectionism can only end in one place – a swannee-whistle and a shot of Norm.
|“That’ll do” is something a life mantra, isn’t it?|
“A steady hand is vital for pouring the custard,” warns Mel. It really isn’t. It’s quite a large target, isn’t it? And gravity, despite being Iain’s nemesis, lends a helping hand here. And cue montage of pouring. Mel looms over Richard while he carries his tart, making the whole thing more difficult. And then, this:
You can see why he’s grown to be one of my faves, can’t you? At least he didn’t dunk a biccie in it.
Kate does some extremely impressive swirling, while Norm looks at her bewildered by all the fanciness, and then she collapses over the desk – because of course she does. You can just see a glimpse of Norman, and it looks a bit like she’s unsuccessfully trying to hide from him.
|“If I can’t see you, you can’t see me.”|
But, bless her, she gives Martha a helping hand getting her tart (which closely resembles a tomato quiche) out of its tin.
We see Luis with a stencil, Nancy doing intricate piping, and Norman… dumping a bag of icing sugar on top of his tarte au citron.
|Dusted with icing sugar? Really?|
During the judging, Paul says Norman’s looks a mess (sad face), and he takes it stoically. Nancy’s looks as amazing as I’d hoped. Chetna is told “I think you could have cooked your rice a bit longer,” which doesn’t strike me as something anybody should say during a custard challenge.
“It’s custard” is one of the helpful comments Paul makes, to Alex/Kate.
Richard describes himself as “a clumsy blad”, and I can’t work out if he’s using some sort of gangland slang, or reverting to ‘lad’ after starting with a naughty word. Or perhaps he’s referring to himself as a promotional flyer or mockup for a product? Either way, Mary gets her flirt on, talking about his steady hand.
|“If I were sixty years younger…”|
Martha gets her first criticism of the series, really, and – bless her – she’s upset. One of Paul’s criticisms is that “it’s quite tart” which, given his propensity to mix up parts of speech, could be exactly what they should have been doing. “It’s very bread,” and “Not quite cake enough” are, I feel certain, things he has said in the past.
The bakers repeat all the things Paul said, but standing in the garden.
Bride cake was apparently once a thing, and was to be broken over the bride’s head. In case those words mean nothing to you, we have a two-second reconstruction:
|And thereby two Equity cards were earned.|
The less said about the rest of the Pies Through The Ages the better. We’re back to the tent, and they’re making… mini-pear pies. Poached pears in pastry. C’mon, GBBO. This isn’t a thing. Go home, GBBO, you’re drunk. It started with the proving drawer and it’s getting out of hand. (Was this challenge chosen just so we can hear Norman say ‘poached pears’ a lot? It’s great in a Scottish accent.)
Btw, I live for pastry, but I can take or leave pears, so I can’t get excited about this challenge.
The soundtrack at this point appears to be performed by a double bass and a pair of maracas.
“Something scientific probably happens to it,” says Nancy, of the pastry. Oh, guys, I love everybody in this tent. It’s a really fab group of people, isn’t it?
My boy Luis (win me that £15, Luis!) keeps explaining how things actually work, and why certain actions are being performed, giving Mel and/or Sue very little to do in the voiceovers – other than, of course, warning that slight adjustments in temperature or pear placement will inevitably result in the tent burning to the ground.
|1. Does anybody ever sit on those outdoor chairs?
2. It looks like the freezer has a very intricate handle
Richard and Chetna have a discussion about whose pears are on which shelves of the fridge. We can but learn from the mistakes of others, so well done guys.
Norman is no fan of the poaching wine. “Too sweet for me,” he says, with the exact same expression that he had when saying how delicious his dessert was last week.
Chetna tests the maxim that watched pears never poach.
Lovely Martha, as usual, is anxious about what everybody else is doing – and revealingly says “I’m doing what isn’t allowed, and looking at other people’s.” Has there been a rule against this all along, brazenly ignored by absolutely everyone?
Including, in fact, Martha in this next shot – while Mel makes a ‘nice pear’ joke that Luis completely ignores. Good for you, Luis. Mel’s better than that.
|(She really, really isn’t.)|
She does make a very good ‘cutting it fine’ joke at this point, which is only slightly ruined by that blue bandage.
Now we have a montage of people wrapping pears in pastry (“It’s like I’m mummifying a pear,” notes Martha, stealing joke potential from me). This is up there with stuffing a mushroom in the life’s-too-short stakes, surely, and the ultimate reward is so small. And it’s not going well for our Rich.
|I’m pretty sure this is what that London 2012 sculpture looks like.|
|No, sorry, THIS is what the London 2012 sculpture looks like.|
They are all presented. Mezza Bezza and Paul aren’t very impressed, on the whole. Richard’s is a hot mess, and obviously comes last (he is very witty about it in the post-challenge interview, suggesting that he’d have done better if he’d set the tent on fire.) Martha redeems herself by coming top of the rankings.
We come to the final challenge, and it’s raining. Everybody has an umbrella, seemingly, except for Luis. Questions must be asked.
|The steps continue to be an inadequate substitute for The Bridge.|
They’re making tiered pies. This, again, isn’t a thing. Have they run out of baked goods that actually exist? It does give me an opportunity, though, of crowning the winner in my Facebook Pun Competition:
Well done, Adam. Proud day for you.
Paul is obsessed with stating the obvious this week: ‘this is a pie challenge’. At which point we immediately cut away to someone stuffing a chicken. And it’s not even Nancy and her penchant for East End greasy spoons!
Several of the bakers are making hot water crust pastry (I don’t know which of those words should be joined together, so I’ve spread them all apart) including Richard. “You could build a house out of it, probably!” he says, in an amazingly shoe-horned-in manner, for which I can only admire him. Truth be told, they’ve mentioned the building profesh less than I thought they would.
(This is famous last words, isn’t it?)
(Ah… yes. Moments later, he’s making ‘posh builder’s pies’.)
(Are these posh pies for builders or pies for posh builders? Enquiring minds must know.)
Kate (who is using prunes and rhubarb – good grief, why?) warns us that the pastry mustn’t be too hot or too cold. It’s just dawned on me that all five series of GBBO – with all their dire pronouncements “not too long in the oven, or too little time”, “not too much kneaded, or too little”, “not left to prove for too long, or too briefly” etc. – have essentially been a longwinded retelling of Goldilocks.
On a similar theme, Martha is making a ‘Three Little Pigs’ trio. My friend Malie wondered if she was going to make one tier out of straw, one out of wood, and one out of bricks – gosh, can you imagine the triumphant display Frances from Series 4 would have produced? – but instead she has gone the macabre route of adding insult to injury and mocking dead pigs by subverting a story in which they figure as (well-meaning, if stupid) heroes, as well as eating them. Martha, you big bad wolf.
|You can tell I’m a vegetarian, can’t you?|
So what is Norman making? Three steak and kidney pies, you’d assume, if that doesn’t sound too exotic. But – no! He really is pulling out all the stops. By which I mean that he is putting every single flavour he’s ever heard of into this creation – haggis, duck, venison, spinach, haddock, cheese, raspberry, passion fruit, and lavender. Seriously. This is what we call going from one extreme to another. Brilliantly, he calls it his Pieffel Tower.
For Nancy, they just reuse footage from bread week, as far as I can tell.
|“I call it Lots of Meat in Carbs.”|
Paul reminds Chetna of her flavouring mishaps in the Signature Challenge, and she appears to dither back and forth over whether or not to stab Paul through the heart.
Mel calls Norman ‘Normski’, and he quotes Robert Burns. There’s no way I can improve on that.
Richard: “I’m just knocking up the final pie… I mean lovingly crafting the final pie!” He cracks me up. But all the wit and self-awareness in the tent is making it difficult to write recaps, guys. And then comes my favourite moment of the episode, and one which entirely brings me around to Richard’s Ways. Nancy is on the hunt for a pencil. Guess who has one to hand? Or, should I say, to ear?
|And the tent hosts the smallest ever relay race.|
Bless them. I have accepted the pencil.
Dramatic musical instruments now – tuba and xylophone?
Pies are coming out of ovens everywhere – I’m starting to realise how much Paul and Mary are going to eat. Things aren’t looking good for Norm, as there is the first ever instance of Sue stealing a baker’s food and not liking it… in this case, lavender meringue.
Martha’s pie has sprung a leak! Wasn’t she listening to those wise words about holes in pastry letting things go through them? CATASTrop… no, wait, apparently it’s fine.
Luis has a spirit level, thus treading all over Richard’s schtick.
I’m enjoying the different ways the bakers are incorporating tiers. We have plastic, wooden, and cardboard tiers – and then some (Chetna and Martha) are just dumping their pies on top of one another in a big PIEle. Pie. Pile. Geddit? (Leave me alone… it’s better than Sue’s ‘surpies!’ which means nothing in or out of context.)
|Somewhere Frances is watching and she’s ANGRY.|
A PIE FALLS OVER.
My friend Hannah shrieked at this point, which was terrifying, but Luis’ pie is resilient and he just shoves it back on top. And… time is up!
Here are my two favourites:
Quite a lot of compliments, but not for poor old Norman. The lesson here, to quote The Simpsons, is: never try. Richard’s is burnt, Martha’s needs three people to carry, Kate’s is a festival of floral eccentricity, and Chetna is recrowned Flavour Queen.
The judges and presenters repeat everything they’ve already said, backstage, and bring up the idea that Diana’s absence might mean nobody goes home. Mary is firm in refusing to reveal anything, and also says perhaps her harshest criticism yet: “I’ve never had lavender in meringue before, and I don’t think I want it again.” Ouch.
So, who is star baker? It’s Brighton’s finest (“I am as southern as they get”):
And going home? With a catch in my throat…
|He needs an umbrella for my tears.|
And, like that, the Great British Beige Off ended, losing both its contestants in one week. And, uncharacteristically, in a whirl of lavender-flavoured egg. Oh, Norman, it’s not going to be the same without you! You are already a national treasure.
See you all next week!