Sorry that I missed episode 8 – the 1947 Club and a cold put paid to it – which was a shame because Tudor Week was unusual and amusing. Though also saw the loss of Benjamina, my fave; it’s probably just as well I didn’t recap through the tears. We’re back on more traditional ground for episode 9 with Patisserie Week – and when I say ‘traditional’ I of course, as ever, mean ‘offensive French accents and unlikely French puns’. But not before Mel and Sue have given the intro by reading every other word each. I once got moved in an English lesson for suggesting the same thing when we read out a poem in a group. See, Miss Webb, I was just ahead of my time.
As usual, with the semi-final, we get all the bakers telling us in various ways that it’s the semi-final. Take your pick, bakers, of whether you prefer ‘the last week before the final’, ‘the last time that somebody will be out’, and ‘the last time that somebody will be Star Baker’. The last of those (Candice’s bon mot du jour) is perhaps the biggest stretch, and only half true. Or SEMI true, if you will.
Mel and Sue embrace what I assume is meant to be an homage to French New Wave Cinema, but ends up looking like two Ray Charles impersonators have been co-opted into a Ronan Keating video.
The bakers wish each other luck as the Signature Challenge starts (bless them), and for the FIRST TIME in Bake Off HISTORY (look, perhaps, I haven’t checked) we don’t get a face-on shot of the judges and presenters at this stage. I can’t do Blazer Watch in the usual format! IS NOTHING SACRED? Instead, here are those blazers from behind – which does enable us to see that Sue’s says ‘Happy’ on the back, which is either adorable or a bizarre Seven-Dwarfs-themed version of 20 Questions.
The Sig Chall (no?) is to make savoury palmiers. I’ve only had palmiers in the sweet variety, bought from Marks and Spencer bakery counter, and I could contentedly eat nothing but those for hours on end. With them in mind, I found it difficult to embrace a savoury version from the off, I’ll be honest.
With so few bakers left, we fill the time with Candice just saying ‘semi-final’ (with no attempt to elaborate in any way), and Andrew loitering suspiciously by the microwave, clearly about to swipe a lemon.
Paul kicks off a trend by talking about ‘layers’ (one syllable) which are apparently essential for a palmier. Without those dear, dear layers, it will apparently ‘just be pastry’. To clarify: the recipe is literally a pastry. It’s a puff pastry. I don’t know what Paul is trying to mean.
There is some debate about whether strong flour or plain flour or both should be used to make the pastry. Again, I am sure that this debate has been concocted entirely to get Andrew to say ‘flour’ as often as possible; it is wonderful in a Northern Irish accent. Candice is using both, and everybody gathered around the bench implores Paul to tell us whether or not this is correct – Mary quite literally clutches his elbow – but he will not be moved to speak.
Candice is making red onion, cambozola, and walnut palmiers (yummmm), and mushroom, bacon, and parmesan palmiers (at which point I realise there will be a lot of meat in today’s offerings). Colouring Pencils Man opts to depict them in a singularly unappetising shade of grey/beige (greige is, you may be surprised to learn, a real word).
Apparently that swirly shape is ‘elephant ear shaped’, and it’s also what Jane is doing for some of hers – the others being in a ‘puffy flower shape’ which looks a little (though, admittedly, not a lot) like a capital E with an extra line.
“The key to puff pastry is chilling” says Selasi, almost as though he were deliberately serving up a ‘chilling’ pun. If ever somebody was chilling out max and relaxing all cool, it is this gentleman. He certainly seems to be having more success in the accuracy stakes than Andrew – who, rather surprisingly given his narrative of engineering addiction, has a bit of a messy pastry.
Paul sidles over to judge, and waves his eyebrows around when he learns that Andrew is only using plain flour. Or maybe only strong flour. I forget. I was rather knocked around the head with how many times Mary B says ‘dry’ in the next few moments – not, as one might immediately presuppose, ordering her sherry of choice, but observing that Andrew is putting dried dry bread crumbs into an already dry pastry.
Again, because there aren’t many bakers left, the time must be filled with the actions and reflections of just four of ’em. We are treated to lingering shots of Andrew putting something in the fridge, and Candice chopping mushrooms (did anybody else have flashbacks to mushroom forager Rob of a few series ago?). And then there’s the excellent bit where Selasi finishes Mary’s sentence (with, admittedly, the fairly guessable word ‘palmiers’) and she reacts with delight. She’s always been fab on camera, of course, but in this series she really seems to be enjoying herself in every moment.
Selasi is definitely getting ideas above his station – and takes it upon himself to announce to all the bakers that there are two hours left. Sue gleefully lambasts him for taking his role (“It was all I had – I was like the talking clock with puns!”). Mel joins in, and they threaten to take over the baking. It’s all so wonderful and nobody on Channel so-called 4 will be able to live up to it. (Ditto Mel applying to lipstick to Candice in the next bit.)
Having less fun is Andrew, who has decided to start his pastry again from scratch. DRAMA.
Selasi says that you shouldn’t have too much filling (his somewhat lacklustre ambition is to make it so ‘the judges taste something’), while Candice wants it packed to the rafters. Andrew, meanwhile, says he would have done a lot of things differently, which sounds like the opening line to a musical number from Sunset Boulevard.
Pastry is rolled, palmiers are chopped, and bakers make the not-particularly-revealing confessions that they’d quite like to win. And just as I’m starting to wonder whether or not Jane has an obsession with comedy moustaches…
…her palmiers go flying!
Selasi’s are scattered a moment or two later too (the spirit of Val remains in the tent), but by then it’s old news. He is also pacing with nerves – which Sue observes with the caring glee of somebody who realises that the cool kids get sad sometimes too.
And – they’re done! Most of the bakers have served their palmiers in baskets (and Jane has even thoughtfully served an entire basil plant alongside); Candice has hung hers in an ornamental birdcage. Because of course she has.
Jane does well, but Candice’s has too much filling. “Is it palmier or is it a pastry?” poses Paul, meaninglessly. Selasi’s are underbaked – even raw – but the flavour is apparently good, while Andrew’s (served in a mini chest of drawers, as you do) and gets praise reviews from Mezza and Pezza. The bakers give their feedback in the bright sunshine, while Candice mournfully crams her palmiers – IF that is indeed what they are – into her mulberry-shaded mouth. Which sounds like a brilliant idea whatever the judges’ opinions, tbh.
Paul advises, for the Technical Challenge, that they should make something that’s nice (Sue sends him off to Banalities ‘R’ Us) – and the challenge is a savarin – which is, I believe, French for ‘how are you, Rin?’. All the bakers seem to have dimly heard of it, but their descriptions are pretty vague, and some are clearly just read directly off of the recipe they’ve been given. Selasi “doesn’t think” he’s made one before – would that not be something one would recall? – while Andrew gives me an opportunity to highlight something I’ve been intending to highlight all series. Why does he always lean over the desk as though he’s eight feet tall? You’re not that tall, Andrew.
Paul’s sample savarin (which he immodestly labels perfect) does look pretty good – though that sugar work is rather strange. Apparently it’s the sort of cake (bread? breakcake?) that requires a label.
Early signs are that the amount of liquor spread throughout will be this week’s Arbitrary Decision-Maker. But for now, the bakers are having protracted monologues on what sort of hook to use in their electric mixers. Use your hands, people, or a wooden spoon. (I got mocked for this the other day – but I don’t have an electric mixer, and I always use elbow grease except for situations requiring handheld whisks, like meringues.)
While the doughs are rising, the bakers draw ovals and make chocolate labels – Sue mops down Selasi’s forehead – and they have to make caramels. Apparently caramel is Jane’s nemesis, as hers keeps crystallising. I never have trouble making caramel, which leads me to assume that I’ve probably been doing it with much lower standards than I should have been.
Of all my made-up tent romances (whatever happened to those #lingeringlooks between Candice and Selasi?), I hadn’t picked Jane and Andrew for a pair – but Mel alleges that Jane is all Andrew can talk about. To the best of my knowledge, all he talks about are dough hooks.
It’s always fun to watch bakers try to pipe writing – but, sadly, they are pretty good at it. They also get to practise quite a bit, and it starts to look a little like The Shining.
The savarins are coming out of the ovens, all looking pretty impressive to me but in quite a range of colours – and the bakers start dousing their creations in liquory syrup – or, potentially, syrupy liquor. “It will come as a surprise to nobody that I’m doing another caramel,” says Jane, perhaps overestimating how much we recall about her caramel mishaps. She worries that her savarin might be shardless – much like an incomplete London skyline.
Aaaaand – time is up! Not before Andrew has managed to make plonking fruit on a cake sound like a complex engineering task. The displays look pretty impressive to me – albeit with some melting cream, but apparently Paul is (gasp!) willing to overlook that.
None of them have the syrup dispersed throughout quite as much as Paul and Mary would want, so they have to turn their attention to (of all things) the membrane of oranges. Sure, why not. On such things do kingdoms rise and fall – and the Technical Challenge concludes with Selasi limping into last place, followed by Candice and Andrew, with Jane taking the crown. She screams in delight in a meadow.
The final challenge is, but naturally, the Showstopper Challenge. They have to make… 36 fondant fancies! Which is rather recycling the fondant fancy technical challenge of a few series ago, but NEVER MIND. I don’t remember if these are British-only treats, but if so – rest assured, non-Brits, that nobody would dream of making these themselves. Thinking about it, nobody would really consider buying them unless they were entertaining their grandchildren or planning a picnic at the last minute in an almost-sold-out M&S local.
Andrew eschews the opportunity to use garish colours (see below), and opts for ‘Philharmonic Fondants’; Mel perjures herself by saying that they’ll be topped with sheet music and bow ties. If Colouring Pencils Man’s sketch is anything to go by, that is the least informative sheet music I have ever seen.
We haven’t had a Mary Berry Reaction Face for a while, have we? Well, Candice isn’t planning on thickening her cherry filling – instead, she’ll be putting individual cherries in the middle of her fancies. What does Mez Bez think of that?
Paul has more or less given up pretending to be helpful, and dispenses advice including ‘do it well’ and ‘finish on time’. Handy, thanks Hollywood. Over at Selasi’s counter, Paul recycles the top tip to do well, and prods the bright pink sponge Selasi has made.
He decides to make the sponge again – because Mary makes a comment about sifting flour to avoid air pockets. I always sift flour, guys. Even if there’s no flour in the recipe, I just sift some on the side for good measure.
Mel makes references to Ultravox next to Candice, who is at least five years too young to understand them.
The fondant fancies are coated in butter icing, to help the fondant stick and remain neat. With 36 fiddly fancies to coat, this must be numbingly time-consuming. Enough so that Andrew completely and unblinkingly ignores Mel’s entire skit about his stance. Seriously, she asks him questions that he totally blanks.
And those garish colours? Jane – who wins more of my love by determining that there’s ‘always time for a cup of tea’ (truth) – demonstrates the level of restrained tastefulness that one can expect from a fondant fancy.
The bakers coat icing all over the place while the GBBO orchestra merrily plonks along in the background, choosing the ‘something amusing is happening’ timpani arrangement – before we segue into the ‘everybody is busy busy’ strings arrangement. You could probably understand the whole show just by listening to the score.
And – with some scurrying – it’s all over! Candice’s are, naturally, displayed on a small pink piano. Where did she find it? Did she already own it? Did she borrow it from an orchestra or classically-trained church mice?
She does rather well, and her cherries haven’t bled, so there’s that.
Selasi’s look rather classy for fondant fancies – well, they do in this level of lighting, and not so much from the side – but they don’t get great feedback from the judges. Paul says the sponge is good (“if I’m honest” – sounding rather like a guard in a ‘one of us can only lie, one of can never lie’ logic puzzle) but the overall fancy is too sweet, while Mary isn’t ‘madly keen’ on the flavours. What would her delirious response be if she were, one wonders?
The side of Jane’s fancies are a bit shambolic, but from an aerial view that decoration is very impressivo.
Andrew has arranged his fancies in some orchestra stands, which he also apparently had to hand. They do look nice, and get positive feedback from the judges – who are rather phoning it in at this point, as Paul more or less just says ‘good’ a few times.
After a quick debrief, during which the person leaving the tent seems completely evident, the Star Baker accolade is awarded to a very surprised Andrew.
And we say a sad farewell to…
I’ll miss him, cos he was fun, but I need the winner to be a crier. I think any of the others would cry. I need RAW EMOTION ON TELEVISION PEOPLE.
I hope you’ve enjoyed patisserie week. Only a couple of days before the final, everyone! I’m cheering on Jane now, but they’re all fab so it’ll be a nice outcome any which way. See you next time!