Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Great British Bake Off, Episode 5

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:
"If I mess it up and make it disgusting, that'll be awful".
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:
"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!


  1. Hilarious! I agree about jelly in meat pies.

    I commented re: tortes.
    I am American (and was duly amused by Hollywood’s comments)! To me, “pie” would not always mean a 2-crust pie. I’d say Americans use “pie” to cover both lidded, and unlidded, pies. “Tart” would imply one crust to me, but it doesn’t appear as often as a term in the US.
    Apple pie, or cherry pie, or blueberry pie, I would generally expect to have 2 lids. (streusel top variations to one side). But pumpkin pie almost always has just a bottom crust - pecan pie, and custard pie, chess pie, the same, and so to with Key Lime pie. I can see why someboy in the UK and Europe would look at these last five items named, and use the term “tart,” and it is more precise, as it does imply a lidless, one crust, pie – but I don’t remember ever seeing “Key Lime tart” on an American menu, or “pumpkin tart” or "chess tart." I think a US menu would be much more likely to say “pie”. Americans don’t seem to go for the term ‘tart’ as often as people in the UK and Europe do. (I will avoid any and all entendre jokes if you will). And if I did see “pumpkin tart” or “key lime tart” on a US menu, I might wonder if “tart” refers to size - to mean it’s an individual serving-sized item (tartlette) , rather than a slice of larger pie/tart, without any particular reference to the item’s lidded or unlidded state.
    As with the discussion of “torte” I think it’s hard to reach and maintain absolute hard and fast definitions in an activity as subject to revision and variation as cooking/baking. That’s one of the reasons why Hollywood gets to me – he seems pretty comfortable issuing definitive pronouncements. But that all makes for more amusing tv shows - and post-game commentary!

  2. PS the link below demonstrates the rampant confusion of pie vs. tart usage in the US!
    "Tart" does as a term seem to carry a European vibe to Americans - the baker has traveled in Europe, read European cookbooks, etc.


    1. Thanks so much for clearing that up, ENR! It does seem we use the term "pie" slightly differently here. I think the debates on the difference between quiches and flans cause similar levels of head scratching!

      I am already excited about looking up a recipe for chess pie as I've never heard of it before. Totally agree re Hollywood, but he certainly riles me enough to want to talk about it afterwards, that's for sure!


  3. I've never had chess pie myself - more of a Southern USA dessert, and even there, it has become rare. Usually, chess pie has a filling of eggs, butter, sugar, a few tablespoons cornmeal (polenta flour), and vinegar (or buttermilk, for the acid); flavored with vanilla, or lemon/orange rind, nutmeg; and baked in a pie shell.(...so, is it a ...tart?? also, a partially baked shell seems to stay crisper bottomed as the filling bakes)
    Some recipes add nuts, or fruit. I don't think I've seen a chess pie in person.
    The variation that has become far more common is pecan pie, which ditches the cornmeal and the vinegar, and adds a good quantity of pecans to the egg. butter sugar mix.

    I'll look forward to your entries!


    1. Sounds delicious, but I wonder why it's called chess pie. I was expecting it to have a black and white checked top. I'm going to make it soon but with a chessboard top. It has to be done!

      Thanks for reading!

  4. Chess may be corruption of "cheese", to refer to the curdlike quality of the filling. Folklore has it as corruption, with southern accent, of "jus' pie." ("just a pie").

    Some chess pie scholarship:
    "According to Sara Belk in "Around the Southern Table," old cookbooks often referred to cheesecakes and pies that did not actually contain cheese, using the term to describe the curd-like texture. Elizabeth Hedgecock Sparks, author of "North Carolina and Old Salem Cookery," said chess pie was "an old, old tart which may have obtained its name from the town of Chester, England." In "Southern Food," John Egerton offers two more possibilities. The first has to do with a piece of furniture common in the early South called a pie chest or pie safe. Chess pie may have been called chest pie at first because it held up well in the pie chest. The second story is that a creative Southern housewife came up with the concoction and tried it out on her husband, who loved it. "What kind of pie is this?" he is said to have exclaimed. His wife shrugged and smiled. "I don't know," she said; "it's ches' pie."

    Your innovation sounds spectacular! (For added fun, imagine Paul Hollywood's disapproving reaction: "It's not like mine. Needs work. Watch your bake. etc etc."

    1. Thank you, that's all so interesting and has made me want to try my hand to making it even sooner, and definitely with the chessboard top, while imagining Hollywood's scoffing sneers!

  5. It is refreshing to see a balanced critique of Paul Hollywood. I don't subscibe to personal insults or adulation (I don't know the man). However, he does seem to be exaggerating his prowess and knowledge as a baker. I have tried several of his recipes and at least three of them have procedural arrors and wrong quantities. How does this enthuse those who are new to baking? Your comments are insightful and fair without being rude. - well done!

  6. It's refreshing to have a fair assessment of Paul Hollywood. I'm not here to assassinate or worship him as a person - I don't know the man,but it seems to me that he does not possess the knowledge and prowess that he frequently claims. I have made several of his hourecipes, and at least 3 of them contain wrong quantities and procedural errors. This will not enthuse inexperienced bakers. Thanks for making fair comments without being rude.

    1. Thank you! Pleased to hear you enjoyed my blog and sorry to hear so many of your Hollywood bakes haven't worked out though, what a waste of ingredients!

  7. I remember reading that Paul Hollywood often disdains measuring, preferring to work by eye and feel.

    "Mary was not very impressed by the fact that Paul measures everything by eye. She likes scales, and measuring spoons and precision. Paul lobs a bit in here, a bit in there and seems to know that three scoopy paws full is equivalent to 100g."



    who also has a lot of fun writing about the bake offs!


    1. I remember that episode, when he made buttercream with his bare hands!