Is this theme a first for the Bake Off? It’s gone Victorian! Sort of! If you discount pretty much everything about Victorian baking! It does give a world of opportunities for jokes about Mezza’s age, and also provides one of the better Mel and Sue intros of the series – in which they hide in this tree and sing a heavily adapted version of An English Country Garden – a song which was first collected some 17 years after Queen Victoria died.
The bakers walk down those pitiful steps, wander into the tent, and Mel voiceovers that Victorian times were great for baking. Nadiya confides that she hasn’t baked a lot of Victoria recipes – well, what a surprise – and we’re already straight into Blazer Watch. It’s pretty much business as usual, though Mel is pepping things up with a full-on Easter parade of spring colours.
They’re making ‘raised game pies’ for the Signature Challenge – and my little heart sinks. Remember how I couldn’t cope with seeing a lot of meat and fish being cooked? This week is pretty tough for veggies. There is a lot of bits of animal being dumped on counters. The first time around I spent most of this section subtly looking to my side, rather than at the screen, so goodness knows how I’m going to recap it.
Paul-the-baker says it’s getting near the end, and “The slightest mistake…” – he then pauses, and realises that slight mistakes are still more or less immaterial, in a world where not filling your vol-au-vents is apparently de rigeur – and limps to the end of the sentence with “…isn’t something you want to be doing, really.” Powerful stuff, Paul.
And, snarf snarf, the next shot we see is Tamal knocking an egg on the floor. The cameraman does one of his trademark creepy looks-like-nobody-knows-I’m-here shots of said egg.
Mary waffles about how much the Victorians liked pies, and sounds precisely as though she’d personally known each and every Victorian.
Paul-the-baker is first up for describing his pie, and its ingredients sound like a stock count for a wildlife park. His concession to non-meats is juniper berries and shallots, which might make quite a nice pie on their own. But I suppose the Victorians weren’t famed for their vegetarianism. The pie includes wild boar, which I’d have sworn was illegal, but he does make a nice little pun on it.
He shows his tin and, as appears to be the case whenever literally anything is mentioned, Mary wanders into a lengthy reminiscence about baking in Victoria days. She is thus charmed by Mat’s genuine antique tin, which looks neither functional nor hygienic.
Do you want to see bits of animals chopped on boards? Well, the next montage will thrill you. Sigh.
Tamal is using Arabian spices and pre-minced lamb in a plastic container. And thus the charade of being a Victorian challenge crumbles to dust before anything is even in the non-Victorian ovens. I was hoping they’d have to use Victorian utensils – and maybe, should the producers be so inspired, wear ridiculous cloth caps and call Paul “the guv’nor”. Instead, there are electric mixers a-plenty, and I feel CHEATED.
Nadiya lists the spices she’s including in her pie, the first of which is orange. Is orange a spice, Nadiya? Is it? Mary – clearly on my side in the above paragraph – tells her that many of the spices she’s using wouldn’t have been available to Mr and Mrs Victorian, which earns her this Nadiya Death Stare.
The episode is basically one long History of Baking, so Mel makes the most of the voiceover by harping on about social standing as much as possible. Indeed, she seems to say the same things about it each time. I refuse to believe that the Victorian social scale was determined solely and irreversibly on pies. (Actually, strike that, it sounds entirely plausible.)
At Home We Have An Aga apparently entered pheasant-cooking competitions at school (the tabloid press are thrilled) though, as her anecdote continues, it increasingly seems like she was the only entrant. “I was called Bird Girl for a while after that!” she concludes.
Ian, meanwhile, describes himself as having a passion for picking up dead animals on the road and cooking them. Yes, he uses the word ‘passion’.
It also has guinea fowl in it… has he murdered the egg-producing wunderkind of last week’s episode?
The disembodied head of At Home We Have An Aga starts a saga about how long her pie should be in the oven.
Paul and Tamal offer advice, look anxious, and it’s quite sweet how collaborative they are. Game pies apparently have to reach 65 degrees – thankfully all Victorians owned portable food thermometers, it seems, and this is replicated in At Home We Have An Aga testing hers – which is only 26. “26?!” says Paul, fraught. “It ain’t helping being out there,” says Mat, somehow entirely as one syllable. Then Mat and Paul lean on counters and look astonished at her tactics.
Food thermometers offer plenty of scope for people to stand and say numbers at random, which is always a pleasure. Thankfully, at the last minute At Home We Have An Aga has got hers to the right temp, and the chances of giving Mary Berry food poisoning are pleasantly decreased. Her pastry has clearly also burned, but I think she’s beyond caring.
There are some rather lovely pastry decorations – did you know, I wonder, that the decoration on a Victorian’s pie was indicative of their social standing? – and Tamal’s is looking particularly lovely.
Less impressive is the decoration on Ian’s bird pie. He thinks it worthwhile to point out that he’s added an eye – which is quite literally just a hole.
My favourite moments? Paul saying he wishes that Mat had included bacon. Mat pointing out that he did include bacon. Paul trying to pretend that he knew that. A close second to this sequence, though, is Tamal getting a Paul Hollywood Handshake, at which he giggles nervously, bless him.
Everybody does relatively well, it seems, even At Home We Have An Aga – who looks both rather charming and like an extra from a BBC adaptation of a children’s book, sat under this tree.
Despite being a History of Baking episode at every moment, we’re still treated to a segment where Sue nods and puns at an unsuspecting academic – this time about Mrs Beeton, who apparently wasn’t available for interview.
It does include the fun anecdote that Mrs B’s first published recipe was for sponge cake… but she forgot to include flour. Equally amusing is that the Professor telling Sue all about it says ‘sponge CAKE’ as though she’d never heard the term before. She also, for some reason, is granted two long, lingering, silent shots where she tries unsuccessfully to find something to say in response to Sue’s jokes.
The Technical Challenge is super fun. They’re making… tennis cake! We pop off to see Paul and Mary in their side-tent, and get this establishing shot:
which suggests sunset, immediately followed by one clearly filmed some hours earlier:
This one looks super fun. I’ve never heard of a tennis cake before, and I have a feeling that the same sentiment could have been expressed by almost every Victorian, but that doesn’t stop it being a fun challenge.
Of course, it’s the decorating that’s tricky. Making a fruitcake in a cuboid is pretty standard fare, and even Mel’s fraught voiceover and Tamal’s comments on the chopping of fruit can’t convince us otherwise. Wisely, the show spends no more than three minutes showing the fruitcake-baking process.
Just when you were thinking that these cakes were a nice change from the meat-fest of challenge one… apparently they’ve got gelatin in them. “I think the Victorians might have worshipped gelatin,” ponders At Home We Have An Aga, doubtless correctly. Hers ain’t going so well, and we get a #bincident, albeit quite a low-key one.
And they’re colouring their grass. We see lots of shots of very light, white greens… then this from Mat, who has apparently only ever seen grass in the form of Astroturf outside a Mario Brothers themed pizza restaurant.
“It looks different from everyone else’s, doesn’t it?” he says. Nadiya can’t help but say ‘yes’, and does well not to say more. Lurid colour aside, it’s also got a grainy texture, and so he can’t spread.
The voiceover tells us that cakes, if not left in the oven long enough, may not be cooked properly. Who would EVER have thought that?
The bakers have to try to remember what tennis courts and nets look like. Lots of delicate white piping going on at most of the stations. And meanwhile, over at the radioactive workstation…
There is some debate between the bakers whether to put their icing in the fridge or the freezer or… the oven? Mat flings his in there, which suggests that he’s not watching anybody else’s actions. Which I guess is admirable? There is a glorious moment where Nadiya finds out that he put it in the oven, and they stare at each other in bewilderment for about twenty minutes.
And… they’re done. Nadiya’s net is the only one that’s looking good. Even when complimented on it, all she can do is be plaintive about Mat’s net-baking. It’s an obsession. But this fab little cake nets (AHAHAHA) her best baker in the technical challenge.
Here is Mat’s – which Paul, quite accurately, describes as having the net from Hades.
Unsurprisingly, he comes last.
One quick debrief later (which, I have to confess, I didn’t listen to) – and we’re onto the Showstoppers: Charlotte russe. It’s got ladies fingers, bavarois, and jelly. Yup, that’s a third challenge in a row with gelatin in it.
It’s all sounding very good until Paul-the-baker says he’s going to put rosemary in his jelly. Paul, Paul, Paul. We’ve spoken about this. How often will you put savoury ingredients in sweet things, bakers? No. Stop it.
He’s also planning on doing some fruit carving, which Colouring Pencils man wisely decides not to illustrate, and Paul H offers the sage explanation “It’s all about what you do with the knife.” Well, quite. Even with this informative tidbit in mind, Mel still asks if he’ll require a tiny hammer and chisel, earning her this look of disgust from The Hollywood:
Mat is only using strawberries – for every single element of the filling. I quite admire that, to be honest. At Home We Have An Aga, on the other hand, is using dozens of ingredients – including pomegranates, to which Paul responds with all the horror that would be more justifiable in Persephone.
Ian has a wooden “ladies’ fingers chopper”, which sounds horrifying and like the opening to a serial killer horror film.
Nothing particularly eventful is happening, unless you count me forgetting to note down what people are making as eventful. Jellies, sponges, the odd unexpected Italian meringue. And At Home We Have An Aga is preparing a back-up plan in case Mary doesn’t find the bake to her liking.
Will American viewers understand the verb ‘trollied’, I wonder?
Mat appears to have filled his with a tuna mayonnaise.
“The title of this cake is…” starts Ian, and I wince. Things go wrong when bakers start titling their cakes, Ian. Puns excepted. But the punning expert of earlier is fully into fruit whittling. Not gonna lie; they’re impressive – even if that apple doesn’t resemble any swan I’ve ever encountered.
“It’s what I like doing,” he says to Sue – apparently to the exclusion of all other activities. He’s lost friendships, careers, marriages to the sweet, sweet lure of carving fruit.
Already (because I’ve written so little about this challenge), everything is coming out of the ovens and fridges and wherever else they’ve been stored – but Mat has reached the age-old kitchen dilemma of moving something from Surface A to Surface B. I’m sure all of us who enjoy baking at home can attest to how often this stage leads to breakages! Thankfully Paul and Nadiya combine again to help him out. They are becoming something of a dream team.
There is a spillage! Mat’s response is Shakespearean in proportion.
Here are some of the lookers:
And, oh dear, Paul ends up with a flood. A very macabre looking flood.
Cheers, whoops, and many congratulations to this week’s star baker – who is very sweet on the phone to his mum about it.
It’s been pretty clear throughout the episode who’s going home, and I’ve already spoiled it for you. Bye, Mat! I still can’t believe how little we heard about you being one of England’s Bravest. Thanks for being funny; you were fabs.
It’s been a fun week on the show. Next year I hope they go the whole hog and blackout the electricity. See you next week! (And, yes, next week is probably this week.)