With only eight remaining contestants, week five in the Bake Off challenge was all about pies. We saw the bakers tackle pastry on tart week, but this week their tarts needed lids. Well, most of them did anyway.
The first challenge was, as always, the signature bake and this week, they were given three hours to make a Wellington completely covered in pastry and, as specified by Hollywood, at least eight inches long. Manisha and James opted for puff pastry, despite Manisha's initial doubts: "I mean who actually makes their own puff pastry these days? No one", she said, like a teenager being told to clean her bedroom, before changing her tune within a matter of seconds, "It's actually quite enjoyable". I've said it before and I'll say it again, puff pastry isn't the feat of alchemy so many people think it is. It's just rolling and folding with a bit of chill out time in the fridge in between.
The rest of the contestants went for rough puff, probably because it's quicker. John's nerves were close to the surface during this challenge. "Every element is a potential pitfall for me today", he said, before being given a live demo by steely eyed Hollywood. "You doing book or single?" Hollywood interrogated, inadvertently revealing his rampant hunger to show off how clever and knowledgable he is. A confused John bleated something unintelligible back, before Hollywood grabbed his pastry and demonstrated a book turn. In fairness, it was a useful tip, albeit executed with his usual self-importance. John's venison and haggis wellington, adorned with "Monarch of the Glen" style antlers, had a "great flavour" according to Hollywood, but the pastry was too thin:
"Not many layers in there. it's trying to be flaky... It's too thin. You can see how thin it is, it can't flake. It's trying to, but it can't"
Brendan pushed the boat out with his salmon coulibiac with Scandinavian pastry using Quark cheese, which proved to be a winner with the judges. Mary had never tried Quark pastry before, so found Brendan's choices "really exciting". Brendan modestly blushed with pride while the judges enthused about his "decent bake" and his "lovely colours".
Ryan looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights, having clearly had the wind well and truly sent through him last week with Hollywood's firm handshake and blunt warning to "raise your game, mate, raise your game". He was worried about the amount of moisture in his choice of ingredients for his Malaysian spiced seabass and puy lentil en croute. And he was right to be. Ryan had a "soggy bottom", but his flavour choices and presentation saved him in this round.
Sarah-Jane was in a flap from the start. "Everything is tricky about this bake. Everything", she said in a state of mild hysteria. She opted to make a traditional beef wellington with the added ingredient of Gorgonzola to shake things up a bit. Her terror seemed mainly centred on the expense of the enormous piece of beef fillet she was using and she offered this wise insight into the potential pitfalls:
Luckily her wellington wasn't in the least bit disgusting. She'd have had to do something pretty extraordinarily awful to make a fillet of beef disgusting. But, it did look like a bit of a dog's dinner. Sarah-Jane had made the call not to chill her seared meat before wrapping it in pastry. Mary Berry was stunned into silence and this fateful decision caused Sarah-Jane's wellington to literally come unstuck. The pastry slid off down one side, and crestfallen SJ was left powerless to change anything as she peered, hopelessly, through the oven door. Her cheeks, flushed from panic, had a tiny tear-shaped splodge of flour on, adding to the pathos:"If I mess it up and make it disgusting, that'll be awful".
"I would say I don't think it could have gone much worse, but I think it could have gone worse. Well, no, at the moment, it couldn't have gone worse"
Despite her lack of soggy bottom, Hollywood wasn't a fan of Danny's chickpea, spinach and red pepper wellington:
"It needs more substance running through it. There's not much about it. I think it's missing something".
He was fooling no one with his lack of specificity, we all knew what Hollywood thought was missing from Danny's wellington: the meat. Despite his earlier claims that a wellington was all about the pastry, James' four pig pie got a massive thumbs up despite its soggy bottom, whereas Danny's pastry was perfection, but got a big thumbs down for failing to have a single pig in it.
Cathryn's "family wellington" was also a huge hit. Probably due to the sheer force of its protein levels: basically everything Cathryn could smash and grab from the butcher's her mother works in, plus a few hard boiled eggs for good measure. Meat man Hollywood declared her giant sausage roll to be "quite impressive, that".
After a brief interlude about eels, it was time for the technical challenge: hand raised chicken, bacon and apricot pies. This was a fairly disappointing challenge as it was far too similar, in my view, to last year's pork pie challenge. Though I suppose it's a clever trick to repeat it so soon. Only the most paranoid swots think last year's exam questions will come up again this year after all. So, hot water pastry again, but this time using dollies - something every contestant struggled with:
"Why would you use a stupid thing like this these days when you can use a tin? We're not in the 1600s now, let's face it"
said John, clearly not destined for a career as a food historian. The dollies were universally hated by the bakers, "it's all about the pastry these days" said a troubled Manisha, seemingly unaware of what Bake Off week she was competing in. Sarah-Jane's yelps of excitement at having got her hot water pastry off her dolly caused Brendan to pull an incredibly pleasing, "what's that racket next door?" expression. A personal highlight of the episode.
Danny, clearly desperate for reassurance from Cathryn as they both peered at her pies through the oven door, was left wanting from this rather awkward exchange:
Danny: "Look at them, they're hideous. Absolutely hideous"
Cathryn: "Isn't this just the most horrible challenge you've ever done in your life?"
Danny: "Yeah... They look awful. They look absolutely awful".
Most bakers had trouble with their jelly. It slipped straight through, which, if you're anything like me, would frankly be a blessed relief. FYI Hollywood, the jelly's the gross bit everyone puts up with out of some kind of misplaced duty. Pies without jelly in, unless they are ice cream pies, are better. Fact.
The frankly overwrought contestants were left to wait overnight before they received their judgement, which leant an extra edge of hysteria to day two. Ryan summed up the general feeling in the tent:
"It's almost beyond baking now. It's not about life or death, it's about good bakes and bad bakes".
It was reassuring to see how all the bakers were managing to keep things in perspective.
The appraisals were mostly pretty awful for this round with Ryan coming last for making a pasty instead of a hand raised pie, while Cathryn came first with this glowing endorsement from Hollywood:
"It looks the closest to mine".
The final round was the show stopper, and this week the bakers were challenged to make a "lidless" sweet American pie. Now, call me old fashioned, but isn't a lidless pie just a tart? Please set me straight, my American readers, if I'm wrong, but I've always been under the impression that one of the most defining features of a pie is the fact that it has a pastry lid? Non?
Hollywood, in an attempt to curry favour with American viewers, came out with this particularly well-considered gem:
"To be honest, most of the American pies I've had before, I wouldn't go back for more"
Before showing how to lose friends and alienate people by offering this helpful piece of advice to American patisserie chefs everywhere:
"For me, to make a good American pie, you almost have to make it British"
It's nice to see the guidelines of the challenge being so clearly defined. Go and make an American
tart pie! Just make sure it's British!
While the contestants were busy panicking over their pies, we were given a brief history of American apple pie - essentially created thanks to the settlers' paranoia and distrust of indigenous produce. Apparently, "it was a sign of motherhood to be able to make a good pie" and the American troops in WW2 were "fighting for mom and apple pie". Hopefully in that order.
The pies were a mixed bag. Danny fell short thanks to Hollywood's horror of hard liquor. Her inclusion of rum in her trick-or-treat pumpkin pie was her downfall, as Hollywood whined about having the taste of rum lingering round his chops and the nation were left shaking their heads in disbelief again about what exactly Hollywood has against the contestants dipping into the drinks' cabinet.
Cathryn went "from hero to zero" with her peanut butter, squash and chocolate pie. The general consensus was that it looked beautiful but tasted unfortunate. "I don't like that at all," said Hollywood, "it's like eating a pot full of crunchy peanut butter with none of the flavour".
Brendan's pie was everything he had promised:
"It will be big, it will be special occasion, Thanksgiving-like"
But it was Ryan's key lime pie with ginger that stole the show. Hollywood was uncharacteristically effusive in his praise, "You've absolutely nailed that. That is very special" and Mary was so taken with Ryan's pie she described it as "sheer perfection" and declared that she was planning to go home that night to bake her own version. A stunned Ryan was sweetly shocked and choked up by all the praise and his special key lime pie earned him the title of star baker, despite coming last in the technical round - an unprecedented Bake Off first.
It wasn't all plain sailing. Manisha made one too many mistakes this week and became the latest contestant to leave the Bake Off tent. She choked back her tears which brought tears to my eyes as she expressed her hopes that she hadn't disappointed her family. Even if you have, Manisha, you have delighted the nation with your humour and sweetness.
Next week, there will be blood!