Hi everyone – thanks for not nagging me last week, when I quietly cashed in my ‘one week off from recapping’ that I think I’ve used every year. You’ll never get to hear my thoughts about… whatever that episode was about. I’ve already forgotten. But, hey, here’s chocolate week!
It’s semi-final week; Mel and Sue optimistically refer to them all as ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ – one of them might just about scrape into that category – and, one quick recap of last week’s episode (I’m still not sure what it was about) over, we pan to Mel doing her best (or, we might charitably hope, he worst) impression of Forrest Gump. Which, fyi, is a terrible film, in my opinion.
Time for some Lacklustre Steps. What should we read into the order of the contestants? Nadiya’s folded arms? Tamal wearing a T-shirt while At Home We Have An Aga is in a massive coat?
It’s semi-final week, so it’s time to recap the whole series in soundbites from previous episodes. Taken altogether, we learn that sometimes the contestants are good, and sometimes they aren’t so great. There is – you will be surprised to learn – no clear frontrunner. Everybody doubts their own abilities, except Ian who thinks he’s in with a good chance – and, yet again, we don’t get a hint of their homelives. How are we to know whether their partners/children/colleagues think they’ll win or not?
Blazer Watch is a riot of blue:
Mel: “This week it’s the thing I love most in the world.”
Sue: “Guinea pigs?”
Mel: “No, chocolate.”
Though doubtless scripted and rehearsed, Sue is obviously amused at her badinage, and can’t keep the laughter out of her voice while she announces the signature challenge – which is chocolate tarts.
I do like this as a challenge, because it’s another one that people might well want to make at home, as well as offering the bakers plenty of scope for variation and originality. Yumster.
Nadiya requests that they don’t mention that it’s the semi-final – which goes against what the producers have planned for the episode, which is – as always at this stage – to mention it every five minutes. And by ‘mention’, I mean ‘define’. If you weren’t aware that the semi-final was the week before the final going into this episode, you will be by the end.
Paul spices up this bon mot by saying that a mistake ‘could be fatal, going into the final’.
There is a problem, with making chocolate tarts: there’s not much to explain to the viewer for a while. The bakers try to make adding cocoa powder to a shortcrust pastry mixture seem daunting and dramatic, but… it’s not, really, is it?
The trick to making good chocolate pastry is, apparently, making it the right consistency – so Sue confides in the voiceover. So… like regular pastry, right?
Watching this with friends, I asserted that somebody – most likely Ian – would be adding an unsuitable savoury ingredient to their chocolate tart. So I was pleasantly surprised to kick off with this delight from Tamal. Chocolate, raspberries, and pecans are among my favourite ingredients, so this looks wonderful. They keep going on about how simple it is, of course.
Demonstrating the technical know-how which explains why she’s paid the big bucks, Mary points out that chocolate is already dark, so it’s tricky to see when it’s baked. She’s also obviously as smitten with Tamal as every single viewer is:
The editing team for GBBO know what the viewers want, and have taken to including Nadiya Expressions in between other shots, entirely irrelevant to what is going on or being said. I ain’t complaining; they’re always priceless.
At Home We Have An Aga is, of course, festooning her tart in everything she can think of, and seems quite apologetic about this when explaining her plan to Paul and Mary. Of course, since she doubtless submitted her plans for each round months ago, she can’t actually do much about it now… More importantly, she does seem to have some sort of macaron Tourette’s. She just can’t help baking them; it’s involuntary. At least she’s only using sweet ingredients.
They’re all using flour or icing sugar or something to stop their chocolate pastry sticking when they roll it. I’m always too worried it’ll mark the pastry and have white splotches on it, when I make chocolate pastry, and just trust to turning it as much as possible. Just so you know.
Over to Ian’s desk. What are you making, Ian? A nice caramel and chocolate tart, mayhap? Perhaps putting in some traditional, sweet ingredients? I’m sorry, I must have misheard you. Because you can’t possibly have said “bay-infused caramel”. I’ll pop off to the GP to get my hearing replaced.
Nobody has ever eaten a chocolate and caramel tart and lamented the lack of a herbaceous border. I’m so angry right now.
Let’s move right on to Nadiya. She’s using a heck of a lot of peanuts, which I guess is fine, only I hate them. And peanuts so often pop up and ruin otherwise delicious-sounding chocolate brownies and the like.
Nadiya also waffles on about adding some starch thing to fats to turn them into powders, and nobody has a clue what she’s talking about. Mary laughs loudly to cover up the awkwardness.
At Home We Have An Aga is worried that her filling (passion fruit custard… mmmm) might turn into… (you guessed it)… scrambled eggs! Always, always, scrambled eggs. Meanwhile, Nadiya doesn’t want to add too much salt to her caramel, because she doesn’t want it to be savoury. Listen to this lady, Ian.
She also worries, a bit later, that she might have ‘overset it’. I don’t know what that could mean? How can something be too set? As she rescues her tart from one of the freezers (which, you note, no longer say ‘Smeg’ on them after the BBC got embroiled in some freezer bias scandal a year or two ago), somebody from the props department has stumbled upon a Chinese gong, and gives that an experimental clash.
Despite my bay-themed rage earlier, I have to admire the gloss Ian has got on his tart. This is quite spectacular. There are mirrors in my house that are less reflective than this.
Bakers are piping and spreading and spraying (?) and making white-chocolate bay leaves (??); At Home We Have An Aga has accidentally made some macarons.
And… we’re done! They certainly all look delicious, even if there is an unpleasant peanut butter surprise in one of them. Could someone be a doll and steal Tamal’s for me?
Mary loves the combination of textures; Paul can’t decide whether or not he likes it (it looks a bit as though he’s waiting for a producer to tell him in his ear), and eventually thinks he probs does.
Over to Ian’s Bay – they can’t taste the bay. Which can only be a blessing. But it otherwise goes well, give or take. It cuts well, according to Paul, whatever that means.
Mary likes Nadiya’s despite not being a peanut fan. Maybe there’s hope for me yet with peanut-flavoured desserts? Mr Hollywood likes it so much that he dishes out one of his handshakes.
Nadiya, of course, plays her cards close to her chest, keeps her poker face, and doesn’t give away the faintest indication of her feelings.
But what about At Home We Have An Aga and her medically-induced macarons? Well, Paul thinks the tart looks attractive, despite there being no obvious tart beneath the forestry. Appearance-wise, they’re pretty delighted, and the taste is ok – but her dessert has split. Oh dear… Paul doesn’t like her macarons. “If you’re going to do a macaron, do it properly,” he says – at which Mel gasps, and is only a millimetre away from saying “Oh NO he didn’t.”
In the post-judgement interviews (where, as usual, the bakers have been dispersed throughout the grounds – and Tamal seems to have fought his way into the Secret Garden), Tamal does what he seems to believe is an impersonation of Paul. Now, I yield to few in my inability to do accents, but Tamal is now one of those few.
Onto the Technical Challenge! And it’s a Bake Off first – staggered starts. Nadiya, Tamal, and Ian abandon poor At Home We Have An Aga in the tent. She shrieks “don’t go!” and Ian makes entirely inexplicable gestures to her, which hopefully this photo goes some way to capturing:
Sue suggests that it’s “all gone a little bit Lord of the Flies“, which suggests I need to give it a re-read.
And… chocolate soufflés! The instructions seem to be “make a soufflé” – which, despite her ten thousand French recipe books, At Home We Have An Aga has apparently never made. I, with my zero French recipe books, have made one once, with someone else, but it was a cheese soufflé, which I can only imagine is rather different. I certainly don’t remember making a meringue to go in it, but I also don’t remember anything else about my life, so I might well have done.
When Baker no.2 comes in, At Home We Have An Aga says “I’ve never been so happy to see you, Ian.” I’m sure she didn’t mean it to sound super insulting. Ian’s reaction to being told the challenge is, frankly, minimal – but the cameraman makes the most of potential drama with a sudden zoom. One that I can only adequately convey in a… GIF!
The same inspired cameraman has obviously spent some time lining At Home We Have An Aga’s head with the sun-window.
Everybody essentially panics. None of them have made a chocolate soufflé before, and apparently they’ve also all forgotten how to make anything at all. Ian worries about making a creme pat. At Home We Have An Aga isn’t sure about her meringue. Nadiya stares in confusion at an egg, wondering how you get the inside bit out.
Most confusing, though, are the paperclips. Nadiya and Mel have a little de-brief about them, leaving neither any the wiser.
Mel is also rather taken aback by Nadiya’s sass, when she says she’ll use the paperclips to file souffles under ‘never bake again’. It’s rather a fab little moment.
Despite the time staggering, we see all the bakers put their soufflés in the ovens in one single montage. Come hell or high water, the editors won’t let go of the putting-in-ovens montage. Nor, of course, the staring-in-ovens montage. Those will both be there with the cockroaches when the apocalypse is over.
The bakers now have 45 minutes to do nothing but clutch their faces in increasingly uncomfortable-looking positions. At Home We Have An Aga (one assumes) makes macarons.
Because the soufflés need to be served immediately, Paul and Mary have set up a little table for two facing away from the bakers’ stations.
For some reason, presumably either thrown by the change in the challenge, or with a voicebox addled by drinking cooking sherry straight from the bottle, Mary decides to whisper all her critiques.
Considering all their anxieties, the bakers all do pretty well. They aren’t keen on Nadiya’s lumps of unmixed meringue, but otherwise it’s more or less thumbs up all round. At Home We Have An Aga wins the challenge, followed by Tamal and Ian, with Nadiya bringing up the rear. For some reason, they felt they needed to restore the status quo with the gingham altar before they could tell anybody the results.
Three of the bakers talk about how glad they are that they didn’t come last, including this adorable pat-self-on-back from Tamal:
But Nadiya did come last, of course, and has a little cry in front of the camera, which was too sad for me to screencap. (*Whispers* don’t worry, Nadi, it’s gonna be ok.) Let’s whip straight to the Backstage Area of Pointless Debriefing. At its most pointless, this week, as Mel poses the Pulitzer-level insightful questioning of “Would you say, Paul, that it’s quite difficult to call who the three finalists are going to be, this year?”
In her defence, it’s certainly trickier to call who the finalists will be this year than previous years. Cos I can find those on Wikipedia.
Back into the slightly less pointless part of the tent, they’re making chocolate centrepieces. They have to be three dimensional – so no drawings of centrepieces will be accepted! And presumably any that break into the fourth dimension will also be disqualified.
The bakers, we learn, are feeling nervous. Paul pops up to tell us that this is “the last chance to get into the final next week” – he’s clearly been reading and re-reading the definition of semi-final until he’s blue in the face.
Incidentally, has there ever been a baked centrepiece outside of the Great British Bake Off? I’m pretty sure that I’ve never been at a meal with one. And are you allowed to eat them? At which point in a meal? So many questions, so few answers.
Tamal is making a bell tower – it doesn’t seem to be specific one, which is probably just as well, since I don’t think there are any real bell towers that masquerade as octopodes. (Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I know my plural of octopus).
Mary goes all schoolteacher and asks him if he can pinpoint the difficult bit she’s thinking of; he entirely disregards the question.
At Home We Have An Aga is making ‘the cocoa carousel’, which I’m pretty sure she’s chosen just because of how good that sounds in a Scottish accent. I love anything carousel-themed (except, oddly, going on carousels) so this is winning points in my book. And she even made her own horse-shaped cutter. Mel quizzes her on how she made it but, before she can tell us, Paul mocks it. He claims it looks like a dog; I’m pretty impressed by it, myself.
Now, guys, I love Nadiya – you know I do – but I’m pretty cross with what she makes this week. Yes, it is replete with ‘modelling chocolate’ – a concept I am convinced that she made up – but her chocolate peacock doesn’t seem to involve any actual baking. There are a couple of half-hearted biscuits flung down near it, but for the most part it seems to be a rice krispie cake, of the variety made predominantly by nine year olds.
Yes, it’s chocolate week – but it’s also The Great British BAKE Off.
Ian is making a fully-functioning well. I just don’t know what to say.
It dips down to a mixture of white chocolate and lemon, which doesn’t sound like a nice combination, does it?
Not a lady to steer clear of the garish, Nadiya recalls how fondly the judges looked on her electric blue ‘nun’, and is rolling out bright blue chocolate.
SOMEHOW we are over 42 minutes into the episode before we get our annual investigation into tempering chocolate. Have you missed it? “GRAINY TEXTURE”. Mel’s voiceover seemed to be leading into a trip to a Bournville factory or Kidderminster-based chocolate-eating competition, or something, but – no – we stay in the tent.
“I’m just making the white chocolate truffles,” says At Home We Have An Aga, pouring what is evidently a spirit into her bowl. Oh, brandy apparently. “I always think booze and white chocolate go well together,” she says, despite having only legally have been able to drink for about a year.
Here is a quick shot of the ONLY baking that Nadiya does in this challenge:
The Chinese gong gets dragged out again for Ian’s metal contraptions, btw and fyi.
There’s lots of tempering and piping and whatnot. And the first big drama of the challenge comes as At Home We Have An Aga is assembling her shortbread… oh nooooo! To her credit, she deals with it surprisingly calmly.
And, just like that, the ‘centrepieces’ are finished. We’ve only got time for three irrelevant establishing shots of the sky and some corn, and it’s judgement time. Here they are:
Tamal’s bell tower looks best from far away, says Mary, but up close his piping ain’t all that. However, the biscuits and whatnot are doing their job well. Amusingly, when they say nice things and the camera pans to him, he’s giving himself that pat on the back. When they say less nice things, the pat is retracted.
Yeah, I see you, Tamal.
Ian’s well centrepiece is described as ‘very contemporary’ by Paul – yes, he made it just then. But the handle snaps off when he tries to pull the bucket up. Mary pirate-eats the shortbread, and is a big fan of it, but would have liked to see more chocolate work.
I think At Home We Have An Aga’s looks stunning (though they think it has too much ‘bloom’, or something). Mezza and Pezza don’t like the taste of much of it, sadly, and the whole carousel crumbles to the table. “It doesn’t taste as good as it looks,” Mary sums up.
Nadiya is the fourth baker to turn down assistance from Sue, in carrying her bake to the table – why does she keep offering? Why don’t they accept it? – and the judges are rightly impressed by the beautiful design. At no point is it mentioned that she has barely baked anything at all.
Indeed, it’s enough to secure her Star Baker!
And, demonstrating the complete lack of importance attached to the technical challenge, going home is poor (let me use her name for the first time since episode 1) Flora. I’ll miss you, my dear, but I shan’t miss typing out that ridiculously long nickname I gave you.
Well, my two favourites (Tamal and Nadiya) have made it to the final, and I’m cheering on either of them. See you all for the final!