Fat is your friend... wait, what?

By Ruth Kinane
July 29, 2016 at 07:19 PM EDT
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This week on The Great British Baking Show we’re going back in time to the Victorian era before heading over to Paris to visit a classic French pâtisserie. It’s another double serving of your favorite hunger-inducing competition show. (Disclaimer: The bakers neither travel through time nor cross the English Channel to France in these episodes.)

It’s the first time Victorian baking has been attempted in the tent, so expect plenty of kitchen calamities. Using 19th-century techniques, outdated utensils, and old-school recipes, the last six bakers are on a quest to prepare desserts fit for Queen Victoria’s royal palate. Let’s do this thing! (Drinking-game words for this round will be “queen” and “gelatin.”)

For the Signature Bake, the contestants have three hours to prepare a Raised Game Pie. This was a favorite of upper-class social circles in the Victorian era. The pastry decoration on top of the pie should be ornate and intricate, but the pastry comprising the sides, base, and top should be thin.

They can use whatever game meat (meat from a hunted animal) they want for the filling, but it must be made with a hot-water crust pastry (made by melting fat in boiling water and mixing in flour). And they have the option of adding homemade jelly made from the carcass of the slaughtered animal. Sounds delicious.

Paul should win this challenge for the sheer genius of his pie’s name. (I’m not sure if the bakers actually come up with these names or if it’s the work of some clever producer, but let’s give Paul the credit.) He’s making “Not a Boaring Pie,” which — you guessed it — contains boar, along with venison and pigeon. He’ll be adding some decorative pastry leaves for an herbivore touch. Mat, who brought along a genuine antique tin from the 1850s, is also using venison and pigeon in his pie, but is opting to adorn his creation with antlers to really drive home the hunted-animal theme.

Tamal and Nadiya, as always, are shirking tradition for modernity. Tamal’s rabbit, pigeon, and venison pie will be flavored with Middle Eastern spices, while Nadiya’s tossing in some Chinese five-spice powder for an atypical pheasant, venison, and duck filling.

Flora — who won a pheasant-cooking competition in high school and was forever known by her peers as “Bird Girl” — is adding sage to her filling of pheasant, pigeon, and rabbit, and popping a lattice decoration on top.

By now we know Ian likes to bring some of his own fresh ingredients. Some nice herbs from his garden, a freshly laid egg from his guinea fowl… but as it turns out, foraging for ingredients isn’t a new hobby for him. Ian shares a charming anecdote about the time he spotted a dead hare on his drive home, thereby setting into motion a passion for picking up animals that had been “bumped on the road” — but not “pancaked” — and cooking them. Sounds like a budget-busting way to make family dinners, if you ask me. Of course, he’s dubbed his creation of venison, partridge, and guinea fowl “Roadkill Pie.” Here’s my concern: Is the guinea fowl in this pie the same guinea fowl whose eggs he baked with just last week?

As the pies bubble away in the oven, Flora worries she’s packed too much meat into hers and it’s not cooking. With mere minutes to go, she measures the temperature and it’s finally reached the required 65 degrees. (It’s nicely chargrilled on top, though). She announces it a “blooming miracle” when the judges enjoy her crisp pastry and only complain about her too-tough pigeon.

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Unfortunately, Mat’s antlers look more like dolphins, but his pie is well-packed. Ian’s pastry is too thick, but the filling is exceptional. Nadiya’s got the look and an all-around strong bake, but the game flavor is lost to the spices. Tamal is in business; he gets the elusive handshake from Paul — only the second of the season — and pretty compliments for his flower decorations. He later tells the camera that “Maybe a little bit of confidence has come back,” but pauses before adding, “We know where that’s going to go, though, don’t we.”

NEXT: Time for some tennis

Considering the bakers never recognize what they’re baking in the Technical Challenge, they’re naturally even more clueless when it comes to a Victorian version of the round. They’re tasked with making a Tennis Cake, which is pretty much what it sounds like: a cake that looks like a tennis court… with a fruitcake base.

To change it up a bit, timing is super important in this challenge. The cake mix is so rich and dense that it takes about two hours to bake. The bakers also have to leave enough time for the cake to cool, so they can ice it and add the racquet, net, and lines. Indeed, part of the challenge is knowing what a tennis court looks like in order to replicate it, which turns out to be harder than it seems for most of our contestants.

Poor Mat’s “got the hump.” He’s getting frustrated his isn’t like anyone else’s. Things go from bad to worse when he bakes his icing and it takes on a yellow tinge. Nadiya doesn’t help matters when she seems genuinely alarmed that he did such a thing. At least his net is upright. Many are not.

Nonetheless, when the judges dig into Mat’s cake, they discover it’s raw in the middle. The icing isn’t up to par either. It’s a double fault for Mat, but Nadiya serves up an ace to win the challenge.

The Showstopper this week is a Charlotte Russe. This traditional 19th-century dessert is made of ladyfingers and crème bavaroise (pastry cream thickened with gelatin); it’s also topped with jelly. The bakers can flavor the jelly as they wish, but fancy decoration is a must.

Mat, who really needs to perform well in this challenge, is cutting corners by making one big, conjoined row of fingers to form the outside of his cake, rather than making each individually and arranging them together. Ian, on the other hand (sorry!), has brought along a homemade “ladyfingers chopper.” It sounds like a terrifying torture contraption, but it’s really just a device to ensure his ladyfingers are uniform. Tamal is adding some unusual flavor: spiced blackberry and cardamom. He’s also using jelly as a base instead of sponge — seems like a solid and steady choice, no?

Sadly, despite keeping things simple with strawberry flavoring and minimal decorations, Mat’s not having a good time. Paul has to help him transport his cake to the serving plate. He pretends to call out for a taxi, convinced he’s going home. And unfortunately, he’s right. He’s sad to be leaving, but believes “it’s definitely the right decision.” His banter will be sorely missed. (Tamal, we’re looking at you for all the in-tent funnies from now on.)

Despite Ian decorating his Charlotte Russe with a crown made of pastry — thereby making a cake that would make Queen Victoria proud — it’s Tamal’s entry (stable, even with the jelly base) that delivers him the title of Star Baker. He calls his mom to tell her, and she screams excitedly in response. Tamal shares his secret aims for the competition: Don’t go out in week 1, make something they think is tasty, and get Star Baker. Mission accomplished, Tamal. Now (literally, right now), let’s see if he can hold the top spot in the quarterfinals…

Bienvenue, baking fans! The tent is turning into a pâtisserie, where French pastries and sweets abound. Your drinking-game words will be “French,” any word said in French, or anything remotely French-sounding.

The first of those window-worthy sweets is a cream horn. Sounds simple, though perhaps a little vulgar. Mel and Sue love the innuendos this double entendre of a Signature Challenge is awarding them.

The bakers are tasked with making 24 spirals of pastry — 12 of each flavor of their choosing — using either puff, rough puff, or flaky pastry, and filling each with cream. The cream must reach the very bottom of the horn so that every last bite is enjoyable. They have three and a half hours.

Ian boldly declares there’s not much that can really go wrong with these pastry spirals. Unlike Tamal, he clearly isn’t afraid of jinxing himself. Paul, Ian, and Nadiya are roughing it, believing it’ll help control the shape of the horns, while Flora and Tamal are returning to the joy of laminating dough and butter to make full-puff pastry.

NEXT: More French fun

Confident Ian is making chocolate and regular pastries, filling them with cherries and chestnut puree. He also adds some kirsch (cherry liqueur), but when he samples his cream, he can’t taste the alcohol for the “fear in his mouth,” so he adds more. If in doubt, get the judges drunk.

Paul is adding bananas to half of his and coffee to the other half. Flora’s adding caramel wafers to decorate her horns, in an effort to make them resemble ice-cream cones. As always, Nadiya is taking risks with her flavors: She’s adding rose syrup and mascarpone to one dozen, and mocha and hazelnut to the remaining 12.

Part of the challenge here is making sure to overlap the pastry layers the correct number of times when rolling them into horn shapes. Too many spirals and the horns will be undercooked; too few and they’ll be overcooked.

Time is marching on and cream is seeping from the bottom of Flora’s horns. She dashes around the kitchen in desperate need of a freezer to keep the cream solid. Paul notices and rushes to remove whatever he’s chilling so she can have the space. (Aww!) By the time Sue and Mel call “time’s up,” Flora’s head is on the counter.

As we head into judging, bear in mind this tidbit from Tamal: “I feel like we’re a herd of gazelles, getting picked off one by one by lions,” he says. “Mary and Paul are the lions, and they’re hungry for bakers.” Now you understand the tension levels, right?

Here are the highlights: Nadiya has a nice flake and the mixture reaches the bottom; Paul’s banana flavor isn’t strong enough and Judge Paul — an apparent banana enthusiast — is mad about it; Tamal has layered his pastry to flaky perfection, and his lime and mascarpone flavors are top-notch. (He even gets a “cracking job,” from Paul.) Flora’s are great fun, but the ice-cream cone idea is working against her. She focused too much on appearance instead of the bake, so her pastry isn’t flaky enough. Ian was too ambitious; his pastries didn’t bond and ended up raw inside. He also added far too much cherry liquor. It turns out trying to get the judges drunk isn’t the key to success on this show. Nadiya’s just glad she managed to make pastry this time — she’d been flashing back to her vol-au-vent demise.

The Technical Challenge for pâtisserie week is straight from the pages of one of Mary Berry’s cookbooks. Nadiya almost read it once, but flipped past it when she decided it was “really fiddly.” Kicking yourself now, aren’t you, Nadiya?

The challenge is to make mokatines, delicate squares of genoise sponge cake (there’s no raising agent in the batter of this cake, just whipped eggs to increase the volume) covered in buttercream-and-coffee icing. They should look like something you’d find in a pâtisserie window, of course.

As always, there’s a lot of guessing going on. Paul’s particularly confused and looking around at the others only makes him feel worse. He decides to just make a sponge, any sponge. He knows it’s wrong, but what else can he do? He doesn’t know what a genoise is.

Ian, being Ian, is measuring his sponge with a ruler to make sure it’s cut into precise squares of exactly the same size. Let me amend my previous statement: Ian has some competitive spirit.

Tamal’s keeping it real: “Maybe mine will go in the window of a French patisserie that’s a bit down on its luck, that’s seen some tough times,” he says. Paul’s pretty sure it’s game over for him. His non-genoise sponge looks particularly flat, but he bravely vows not to give up.

When she’s all done, Nadiya appraises hers and says, “It’s looking like the picture that I saw in the book, which is bizarre.” Her fellow bakers and the audience at home should probably hate her for this, but there’s only love and sweet feelings in the baking tent.

At the gingham altar, Nadiya is right about her mokatines — they’re perfect both in looks and taste. Mary declares them “Really nice, indeed.” There’s little surprise when she snags first place.

Paul’s are flat and almost raw, “like rubber.” Mary tries to comfort him by saying his coffee-flavored icing is good, but then Paul Hollywood adds, “That’s it really.” Baker Paul comes in last. But don’t fret yet; he’s going to bake his heart out in the Showstopper to try and redeem himself.

NEXT: Who will flake away before the semifinals?

Paul should start saying his prayers because the French-themed Showstopper is a Religieuse à L’ancienne. It’s French for old nun — sounds appetizing, right? This nun/tower of choux pastry éclairs is all that stands between the bakers and the semifinals. And stand, it must. The tower must remain upright over a period of two hours, since this dessert would traditionally be presented as an eye-catching centerpiece at a party before being served. The bakers have two hours to make at least three tiers of éclairs, each supported by a shortcrust pastry disk that must be freestanding and decorated with buttercream. They then have two agonizing hours of watching their creations and hoping they don’t collapse before Mary and Paul sample them. They’re looking for a “structural marvel baked to perfection,” says Paul. “If they’re underbaked or haven’t been dried out, they’ll bend — which would be ghastly,” Mary adds. Once again, the Showstopper Challenge is a towering feat.

In order for the éclairs to successfully stand the test of time (literally), the bakers must reinforce them in some way. Tamal’s using strong bread flour to ensure his are structurally sound; Ian’s using very strong flour; Flora’s going for a mix of plain and strong flours (this allowed her nun to reach Dalek heights in trial runs); and Nadiya and Paul have chosen not to use strong flour.

As they stack pastry upon pastry, Tamal’s coaching his shortcrust pastry disks. “They’ve got a lot to carry on their little pastry shoulders,” he says. “Big responsibility, guys.”

With construction complete, pastry cream piped, and icing added, the bakers take a two-hour lunch break before judging. Their towers must remain standing during this time. Tamal delicately creeps away from his workstation, saying, “Light steps, light steps.” We don’t get to see what the contestants eat for lunch — sad, since I imagine the catering on this show is exceptional. Instead, we cut right to judgment time.

Tamal’s first up. His nun has stayed standing and has lovely flavors. It even “punches you between the teeth,” according to Paul. Nadiya presents a Leaning Tower of Pisa nun. It’s not completely toppled, but it’s well on its way. Her icing is cheerful shades of pastel blue and green, and her piping is pretty. Paul likes the daring bubblegum and peppermint flavors, but they’re not exactly Mary’s cup of tea.

Paul’s hasn’t held up properly. The bottom layer is just a pile of éclairs and cream — the pastry was too light — but Judge Paul is pleased with the shine of the icing and the banana flavor.

Tower Flora is standing, albeit in two parts. She saw her nun begin to fall and took her apart. The main problem is her flavoring, though: The lime and basil just aren’t coming through, despite using seven limes in the mix.

Of course, Ian’s is holding up, his coffee flavor is good, and the passion-fruit flavor is nice and tart. Mary is pleased.

Despite the flavor explosion that was Nadiya’s Showstopper, she takes the Star Baker spot this week. She’s so excited, she says she could streak down the river behind the tent. Somebody needs to remind her this is the BBC.

Sadly, Paul is leaving the tent. It just wasn’t his weekend. Flora thinks she dodged a bullet and it’s unfair Paul had to go. She better get her act together for next week — it’s the semifinals, and that means chocolate! 

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