Look, let’s not ignore the elephant in the room. You’ve almost certainly heard by now that this is the last full series we’ll get on the BBC, before GBBO moves to Channel 4. For those not familiar with British channels, this is admittedly the classiest channel after the BBC… but the idea of ad breaks in the Bake Off is anathema. And this couldn’t be more of a BBC show. It’s quite heartbreaking, and I was quietly proud of how outraged the British public was. I felt a bit like I was in mourning myself. And I’ll be taking next week off recapping, I’m afraid – partly because of mourning; mostly because I’ll be in Italy.
And we’re gonna also lose these two! (No word from Mary and Paul, at the time of typing.)
Anyway, let’s get on to the episode itself – and it’s Batter Week. You will see very little baking this week. They should have stuck to cake… it is batter the devil you know (a joke I made before Mel made it on the show, I’ll have you know thankyouverymuch). I’m not above thinking this episode was chosen solely for the fresh new range of puns it afforded – and Mel & Sue leap right in the deep end with an elaborate skit based on the word ‘bat’. It’s the most innocent, ridiculous fun.
The bakers parade in, wrapped up in dozens of layers and – is that frost I can see on the grass? #Spring. In this crowd I can pick out Andrew and Val, but have no clue who the others might be. Who’s that person in the blue check? Have they just got extras to fill in? And is that the cake from the opening titles and is it seven years old?
Before we get onto the controversies of Batter Week, let’s have a quick peek at Blazer Watch. Well, we’re down to two blazers – as Mary is rocking an asymmetric bomber jacket. But these might be my fave blazers so far (my fazers, if you will) (no, of course you will not; that was a given) – I especially like Sue’s navy and yellow combo. Strong work, team. And thank goodness there was a 4-for-1 sale on straight leg jeans.
So, what IS baking? Dictionary definitions seem to be pretty much all-encompassing (anything heated not over an open flame, apparently, which would seem to include anybody standing near a radiator) – for me, it’s cakes, biscuits, bread, and pastry. And that’s it. The challenges today are cooking and frying. It just ain’t right.
The first challenge, indeed, is Yorkshire Puddings. One can only assume that somebody in the production team heard the word ‘pudding’ and is labouring under the misapprehension that they are some kind of dessert.
Mary – swathed in an enormous jacket – sits outside and gives us the usual helpful info that she’d like the bakes to be good, if it’s not too much trouble. She mimes the shape of a Yorkshire pud – presumably not to scale – and looks rather as if in the process of yelling hello at somebody across a great distance.
She’s after identical Yorkshire puddings – a feat that has yet to be achieved, or even attempted, by anybody, ever – and she wants to leave room for filling. Literally nobody has ever made a filled Yorkshire pudding. You might put stuff in them afterwards, sure, so long as it’s roast potatoes, carrots, peas, or gravy. Nothing else is welcome in a YP. I’m glad we’ve cleared that up.
Paul talks about the rise coming from eggs – and this is helpfully accompanied by a brief montage of eggs, for those unaware of what they are and curious to find out. It does beg the question what this baker, Jane I think, has used the enormous knife for – as, so far, she has only sifted flour into a bowl.
“We’ve all got a different family recipe for Yorkshire puddings,” Mel alleges in the voiceover, falsely, while Andrew suggests that the ‘Yorkshire pudding community’ has much debate about the number of eggs to use. Presumably that debate is more pressingly occupied with such questions as ‘Why have we formed a community?’ and ‘What are friends?’.
First stop for Mezza and Pezza is Dame Val’s counter – as Mary says, somewhat accusingly, “You’re from Yorkshire”. Val laughs her way through a story about how her husband will effectively throw her out if she doesn’t win this week. She is cut off midway through a story about her mother teaching her to make Yorkshire puddings which would, one has to imagine, have continued in an indefinite spiral of “and her mother before her“, until we reached Eve.
It seems unlikely, though, that Val’s Mum would have added chilli to them – if only because, again, literally nobody ever has added fillings to Yorkshire puddings.
Candice is growing on me quite a lot – partly, today, because she drops her fork on the floor and is witty about it. Certainly not for her ‘deconstructed beef wellington’ – it seems to be deconstructed only in that she’s not putting it in pastry and it is, thus, not a wellington. Look, I don’t know how much I can bring myself to write about the monstrous things these bakers are planning to do to the humble staple of a Sunday roast. About the only acceptable one is Jane’s Meat and Two Veg (a euphemism that Mel and Sue miraculously leave alone). There is the caveat that she insists she is terrible at Yorkshire puddings – a brave admission, one might think, though taken with surprising indifference by The Male Judge.
One of the few vegetarian choices is Rav’s – which has Thai tofu in it. Look, I can’t. The Thai meal sounds delicious. But in the name of all that is sweet and pure, keep it away from my Yorkshire puds. Serve it on a Monday, when Yorkshire puddings are but a distant recollection of Sunday’s dinner.
Does Paul like tofu?
Also vegetarian are Tom’s ‘fusion puddings’ – no – because he insists that the only vegetarian meal you can eat on a Sunday was at an Indian restaurant. I mean, sure, let’s pretend that’s a thing. He’s decided the best thing to do is use chickpea flour. Mary, be a doll and sum up how that makes you feel?
He’s also using nigella seeds, which ends my speculation about whether or not the word ‘nigella’ can be used in this programme.
Bakers briefly debate whether or not to chill their batter – they really are making the very simple process of making a batter seem inexluctably complicated – and we wander back to Rav’s to see him making candles or preparing for this week’s laundry or something.
Selasi is filling his with various forms of pork, and apparently took the recipe from his girlfriend’s mum – news which filled some of my colleagues with heartbreak, I won’t lie. It’s the first time that pork crackling has been on GBBO, Mel advises, and Selasi could not seem less interested in that information. “Chill,” he may or may not have replied.
Kate tells a dark story about compromising over Christmas because her husband – innocently enough, one would think – quite likes a Yorkshire pudding and her family “never, ever had them”. She speaks of them as though they were something rather indecent. Her compromise seems to be… simply to make Yorkshire puddings. I don’t know. It also looks rather as though there is a fly in her batter mix, as the camera pans past.
Benjamina is doing what Tamal did in a previous series, and is choosing her flavours – onion, brie, bacon – based on what she’d like in a sandwich. Well, why not. She also tells us that we need “smoking hot oil” – which is a rare instance of ‘smoking hot’ used in its literal sense. (Val, on the other hand, asserts that you have to use beef dripping, though where she has found this I can’t imagine. I sort of assumed dripping grew extinct around 1957.)
It’s quite fun watching the bakers pour or spoon their batter into the trays – mostly because of how unabashedly inept many of them are. Here, for example, is Jane’s attempt…
…while Mel is so incensed about Tom’s slapdash approach that she leans over him, and scolds him like a disappointed aunt. “They’re all over the shop! Look, you were star baker last week; you’ve got to raise your game, my love.” Bless.
It sounds like it’s time for oven-staring, am I right? Stare away, bakers, stare away.
They start to emerge pretty quickly. Some are very big (Selasi’s are huge); some are little more than biscuits. What nobody has achieved is consistency, of course. Yorkshire puds cannot be uniform.
Saddest of all – and please take note – are Tom’s disasters:
Luckily they seem to have ages, so plenty of bakers start afresh – presumably leaving Selasi et al to kick back and relax, or marinade whatever non-Yorkshire filling they are planning to destroy their puds with. Tom cannot fill his, of course, because they are mini Yorkshire plates. He seems to deal with it well, but this is rather horrifying:
Somehow, Mary and Paul stomach these bizarre concoctions as they go bench to bench. Paul’s gibberish for the episode is ‘irregular air pockets’ – which, of course, is something we’re all dying to see when we tuck into a Yorkshire pudding. It’s a little confusing because ‘irregular’ is also a criticism when he’s looking at Kate’s array.
Incidentally, they use a curiously large knife to chop the YPs, scraping the blade against slate in a manner calculated to send shocks of horror down the spines of those of us of a nervous disposition.
Who does best? Selasi, Rav, Andrew, and Val come away with happy nods – and Val gives a pantomime sigh of relief that is something akin to a hot air balloon deflating and seems to take about 20 minutes.
Are you ready for the Technical Challenge? It’s… lacy pancakes. Tom’s response is a look of kind confusion, perhaps assuming (as the rest of us naturally had done) that this was a slip of the tongue, or some kind of belated April Fool. Mais non, mes amis, this is what passes for a challenge in Batter Week. I can only imagine the execs at Channel 4, watching this together in their Knightsbridge apartment, turned silently to each other at this point and slowly shook their heads. Perhaps a single tear ran down one of their cheeks.
“Lace pancakes were traditionally eaten by the rich at their dinners,” lies Mel in the voiceover, cleverly crafting a statement that can’t possibly be checked or verified.
“Paul, why did you choose lacy pancakes?” poses Mary, rather more appositely.
Paul mumbles about it being a vast improvement on the regular pancake while Mary looks on sceptically. He even discusses “that great pancake flavour”, presumably because there is so little surface area to it that a flavour is all you’re going to get.
This is one of the worst challenges I can recall. Because this isn’t baking. And pancakes aren’t difficult. And they don’t have the same designs, so they’re not even compared like for like. AND they’ll be served cold and unpleasant. It’s all so absurd.
The poor editors are left having to cobble something together about the thickness of batter (yawn) and try to fill up the time with incidental shots of grass, people leaning on desks, and Benjamina doing a solid impression of a high schooler with a crush that she’s desperately hoping somebody will ask her about.
Rav has sketched out some crosshatch, while Selasi apparently can’t even draw an empty heart. Bakers have one practice pancake they can get rid of before they have to commit themselves. “Paul hasn’t said what temperature they should make the pancakes at,” Mel warns – which is fair enough, since (a) making pancakes is childishly simple, and (b) they would have no way of reaching a specific temperature.
All of my criticisms are made to look rather stupid in the face of the beauty of Benjamina’s design. No, it wouldn’t be pleasant to eat once it’s cold and congealed – but this is still something pretty impressive:
Rav loves to burn things, doesn’t he? “The tester was much better than this one,” he comments of a charred pancake, “I wish I hadn’t dropped it on the floor now”… leading one to wonder at which stage he was pleased that he’d dropped it on the floor.
Selasi loses a couple cool points at quite how thrilled he is to have flipped his pancake. Dame Val has, of course, made a series of mismatched horrors, and doesn’t care at all. (Oh, by the way, I am now going to call her Dame Val. She deserves no less.)
Mary and Paul bravely face an array of unappetising looking cold pancakes, and apparently test them by flinging them around, smacking them against slate, and eating minute corners of them. They have, of course, absolutely nothing to say about them. At this point, I should say that my housemate made lacy pancakes while we watched, and they were very nice – but we got to eat them while warm.
Rav comes last, followed by Selasi and Kate. The top three are Jane, Candice, and Benjamina.
The bakers stand in the rain and reflect on the results.
But it’s sunny for Showstopper Challenge – which is churros! Paul, incidentally, uses ‘churros’ as both plural and singular throughout, but I am advised that this is not correct. Churros are traditional served with a chocolate dipping sauce, advises Mel – she seems to be doing the bulk of the voiceovers this week – but you can imagine that the bakers are going to play fast and loose with that unbeatable recipe. Dame Val, for instance, is adding orange extract – “for a nice hit of orange”, she cordially explains. Benjamina, meanwhile, is including “every kind of coconut”. I’m pretty sure that totals one kind, right?
Tom, on the other hand…
Nobody likes to see a pestle and mortar more than I, but fennel is not a flavour to include in a sweet dish. Or, to my mind, in any dish. Not a fennel fan, thankyouverymuch. And I’m *also* not a fan of the fact that Tom always puts his name into the title of his bakes. (I use the word ‘bake’ loosely – this is, of course, a deep fat frying challenge.)
Clearly churros should be served with chocolate, toffee, caramel, or something in that family. It shouldn’t have matcha or be served with ‘white chocolate and wasabi’, which is what Rav has done. He explains matcha to us, in case we’ve forgotten from that time someone used matcha a couple of weeks ago.
Consistency and uniformity are, as ever, the watchwords of the day. Some of the bakers are piping theirs out onto greaseproof paper – Dame Val’s are unexpectedly precise – while others are loitering around, waiting for this stage of the filming to be over. Kate, meanwhile, is apparently making bunnies – and it feels a lot like Colouring Pencils Man is sassing her with his depiction which is anything but lapine:
I should say, my exception to just-serve-it-with-chocolate is Benjamina’s: coconut and passion fruit are the keys to unlock my heart. Just in case you wondered.
Chill, freeze, or stand? The choice is yours. But I’m guessing (by Mary’s look of incredulity at Selasi’s choices) that freezing is not the best idea. I mean, I also saw the episode, so I do know that it wasn’t a good idea. Soz, Selasi.
Dame Val wanders into shot and says “CHOCOLATE ORANGE”.
“My children’s favourite,” she adds. Her children must be fifty if they’re a day.
From here on, most of the rest of the episode consists of close-ups of deep fat fryers. Or, I learn, friers. But not friars. (I will let you have a single shot of one:)
I wonder how many bakers were able to practise these? I suppose you can do this with vast quantities of oil in a big pan, but otherwise I can’t imagine many of them can lay their hands on deep fat fryers. We had one once, I believe, though goodness knows what happened to that.
Each baker is making 35 (or was it 36?) of these, minimum, and it feels like we’re in a repeating montage of boiling fat. It’s somewhere between calming and unnerving. It definitely made me want to eat some churros – which, dear reader, I have yet to do since the episode aired.
It’s judgement time, and I spend most of salivating. Churros look so delicious.
Query: where did Tom get astroturf from? And why?
His feedback is very bad – they don’t like the taste, texture, or appearance. REMEMBER THIS, READER.
Indeed, quite a few people get negative feedback – Selasi’s frozen dough, Val’s doughy churros, Kate’s oily churros, Rav’s unpleasant flavour – but Jane does well and essentially has hysterics, while Benjamina also gets smiley nods all round with this very tempting display.
Mary throws around the word ‘impregnated’ far too often for my liking.
Judges and presenters huddle around the table and mull over everybody’s chances. It seems pretty obvious to me who ought to win and who ought to lose.
The winner is (hurrah!) is…
The person leaving the tent is…
Tom was convinced he was going – and he’s not the only one. I reckon he was the clear loser this week (nice though he seems), and I’m rather perplexed. Not just cos I’m out of my office sweepstake now. It does seem like the production team might be playing a bigger role in deciding who stays and who goes this year – because we’ve had a series of unlikely choices… hmm…
Next week: some baking, maybe? As I say, I’ll be away – but I’ll be back recapping in a fortnight’s time.