This week's episode started with a snotty Sarah-Jane under a transparent umbrella outside the Bake Off tent, gloomily looking up at the sky. "These rain clouds are a sign of impending doom", she said, her cheeks stained with tears and streaks of mascara. It was clear from the off, that week six was going to be brimming with high drama. Downton Abbey has nothing on Bake Off. Lady Mary shagging a Turkish diplomat to actual death and the Earl of Grantham's dodgy financial investments pale into insignificance, when faced with soggy bottoms, dropped cakes and Magimix cuts. There were the rumblings of an uprising in the Bake Off tent, with the contestants, Mary AND Mel, all questioning Hollywood's authority. Who knew puddings could provide so much tension and intrigue?
First up was the signature challenge, where the contestants were given two hours to make two different flavoured sponge puddings with two different accompaniments:
"Six of one, six of another with two different sauces. How simple is that?"declared Hollywood, though Sue on the V.O. had different ideas:
"Perfecting two recipes is hard enough, doing both at the same time, makes this the most demanding signature challenge the bakers are yet to face".
Hang on, didn't they have to make two different flat breads in week two, both at the same time?
Ryan's choc fondants and sticky date and ginger puddings used three raising agents. "Last week's star baker, [unnecessarily long pause] you've got a lot to live up to this weekend", Hollywood scoffed, with an intimidating smirk, designed, I'm sure, to further crush Ryan's already fractured ego.
|Danny's sponge puddings|
Danny opted for banoffee pudding with walnut butterscotch sauce and orange zest chocolate fondants. Brendan, Sarah-Jane and John all chose to make classic sticky toffee puddings as one of their flavours. "Everyone likes a good sticky toff," insisted John, which possibly inspired his decision to soak his dates in Lady Grey tea. Like John, I always soak mine in black tea too. It really does give a lovely added flavour.
|John's sponge puddings|
John was serving his sticky toffs alongside raspberry and white chocolate puddings, enriched with Mascarpone. When asked by Mel if he'd like to win Bake Off, he told her,
"Oh God yeah. So much so, that I've already tried to trip Brendan up a few times today, but that man is infallible, he's just like a machine, I'm sure he's the Terminator".
Or more apposite still, the "bakinator", offered Mel, as we cut to Brendan, happily whisking in his EasyJet-orange shirt. When it came to judgement, Mary enthused about the quantities of white chocolate and raspberries in John's sponge, while Hollywood stayed silent, cocking his head as if listening out for the gift of vocabulary. "Sponge is bland," said Hollywood. "Bland?" questioned a wounded John. "Absolutely," retorted Hollywood "if you never had anything else with it, you may as well be chewing on a piece of card". A now indignant John retaliated, "That's a bit harsh" he reasoned, before Hollywood contorted his face into an unreadable expression, "No, honestly" he insisted. His spicy sticky toff fared better, "Mmm, that's very moreish," beamed Mary kindly, "and you've got the topping just right. How could you refuse that?". Hollywood agreed, but couldn't let any praise hang in the air too long. He took away John's short-lived high with, "That first one needs a lot of work".
Bakinator Brendan's flavours were rhubarb, strawberry and ginger puddings and sticky toffee flavoured with rum. "I haven't gone in for any fancy tricks," he said, while going on to explain his quest for authenticity. "Heston Blumenthal has a lot to answer for" he declared, which earned him a wink from Mary. She wasn't impressed by his use of a blow torch on his sticky toffee sauce though, but he brought it all back with a "perfect" crème anglaise.
Sarah-Jane was flustered again this week, she was "feeling a bit all over the place" as she became increasingly "confused" by all the different ingredients on her worktop. As well as her sticky toffee puddings, Sarah-Jane made her Granny's saucy lemon puddings.
"Sometimes your techniques let you down a bit but your flavours have always been there,"
opined Hollywood, helpfully. Just what Sarah-Jane needs at a time of blind panic and confusion: an insult hidden within a compliment. When judgement time came, Mary didn't think her Granny's saucy lemon puddings were lemon-y enough, while Paul went further, staring fiercely and unblinkingly at Sarah-Jane's worried face, and said:
"That is not a sponge".
Her sticky toffee divided the judges. Mary thought it was a little dry and slightly over-baked, while Hollywood, like a man possessed, silently peered at Sarah-Jane's sponge, fingering it firmly before breaking it into pieces. A confused Sarah-Jane looked on, not knowing what her appropriate response should be. Possibly because there wasn't one. "Can I disagree with you Mary," said insolent Hollywood, "I think the opposite. I think it's actually alright". Apparently prodding the inside of a cake with your fingers is a better indication of whether it's too dry than its mouthfeel.
Mary thought Ryan's chocolate fondants looked "indulgent", but Hollywood thought they had a "very dry texture". I don't know how he was able to tell without sticking his big square fists in and having a root about, but perhaps the rules for detecting dryness are different for sticky toffee puddings and chocolate fondants. Mary, who already had a bee in her bonnet about Ryan's use of three raising agents, thought they gave his sponges a "bitter" aftertaste. Ryan was suspicious of this particular criticism:
"What annoyed me most was I think they went in there ready to give me a good kicking because I put three different raising agents in there. I really don't think it made that much difference to the bake"
|Cathryn's walnut whips|
I was most excited by self-doubter Cathryn's pudding flavours. She opted for chocolate walnut whip puddings and elderflower sponges topped with clotted cream rice pudding. But there was mutiny in the ranks amongst the judges. Hollywood thought Cathryn's rice was "undercooked". "Al dente", he said, "It's not a good thing on that". The worm began to turn when Mel jumped in to say she thought the rice was cooked and Mary followed suit, "I think the rice is cooked". Hollywood placed a mouthful of walnut whip in his mouth and shook his head in horror. "You don't like those either?" asked a frustrated Cathryn. Hollywood, again, without getting his fingers in there, declared Cathryn's walnut whips "too dry". Mary reassured her, while Cathryn scowled justifiably in Hollywood's direction.
James went for Scottish classic, clootie dumplings, this week. He wasn't feeling anxious because as far as he was concerned, "it's a very safe one to play, because it is very nice", before he about-turned and growled, "Stressed! Why am I stressed? Just baking". But he was right to be stressed. His clooties were too soft, because he'd under-floured them. The wheels looked like they were about to come off for poor James, who is usually so relaxed. The bananas in his banana and clove puddings with home-brewed beer got stuck in their dariole moulds. He nearly brought it back with his use of a traditional Shetland blowtorch, but Hollywood eloquently described it as having "too much of a chew".
Danny dropped a couple of her chocolate fondants all over the floor and converse trainers. "I could cry," she said, "it's ruined. It's absolutely ruined. I'm so going out". She was inconsolable despite Mel's best efforts. "I am waiting to be mauled by Paul," said Danny, under a wet brolly, "there's no way I can pull this back". Mary was sweetly reassuring to a deflated Danny, "Accidents happen, don't they? Only too often in my kitchen!" Hollywood stared at her, as if assessing how far he'd have to go before she'd burst into tears, then thought better of it, "both of them taste extremely good, but just be careful of your bake".
|Queen of Puddings|
The final challenge of the weekend was the show stopper round. This week, strudels were on the menu. Within minutes, John was sporting a blue latex glove, having cut his finger on a Magimix blade.
Brendan's spinach, walnut and cheese strudel was achieved by rolling up his sleeves and oiling up his arms. Brendan demonstrated that he knew exactly what he was doing, but Hollywood, as is his wont, chipped in with some extra advice anyway,
"Roll it carefully, so it doesn't break and obviously keeping it moist while you do it"
Vicar's wife Sarah-Jane said she wanted her pastry to be so thin, she could read her bible through it. Hollywood, peacock feathers out, grabbed her dough and started slapping it about on her work surface. Sarah-Jane looked terrified by his grabbing, slapping, flicking and twisting, before having a go herself and getting quite into it, "ooh this is fun!". James looked on sceptically, "It's rubbish," he said, "it is utter rubbish. I mean, it's traditional so you can't slag it, but it's rubbish". Before turning to his KitchenAid, "I mean, this'll put in more power than I ever could", he said, before piercing his raisins with a hypodermic needle; probably just the nearest thing to hand, if you're a medical student.
Sarah-Jane, keen to share her new found knowledge, got Cathryn to have a go at slapping and twisting her dough too. It was all looking good, until Cathryn's dough pinged out of her hand like a cheap rubber band and fell to the floor. "It's got green carpet in it", she said, "I'm not serving Mary Berry green carpet".
A dizzy John's earlier Magimix injury came back into focus, as his latex glove filled with so much blood, he had a "blood glove" that leaked and dripped down his arm. Intensive care consultant, Danny, came to the rescue. John couldn't continue and had to leave the tent before his strudel was complete. And there was more drama to come,
"My strudel's got a haemorrhage! Do I mean haemorrhage? Haemorrhage or haemorrhoid?"
asked Cathryn and she wasn't the only one with leakage problems. An exhausted and sweaty James took his strudel out of the oven before it was properly brown, because it had ruptured in the middle, exposing its strawberry innards."That reminds me of John's finger earlier on" said Sue. "It's just like a mush," said Hollywood, on tasting it.
Cathryn's couscous strudel was "filled with interest", Sarah-Jane's pastry wasn't thin enough and was too pale, but her filling was "lovely". Danny's strudel was perfect, helping her recover from the earlier mishaps of the day and "clever sausage", Brendan, completed his strudel with a latticed top.
"I feel slightly drained and hysterical after our strudel dramas", said Mel, as they all sat down to discuss who would be star baker and whose time it was to go. Brendan tipped the scales with his consistency and technical abilities and was crowned star baker for the second week running. Danny was the star of the day in my eyes, when she stopped what she was doing to come to John's bloody aid. The already hysterical Sarah-Jane broke down into full sobs when it was revealed that no one was leaving this week. I almost sobbed myself, but I had drunk three quarters of a bottle of white wine. Hollywood explained the judges decision not to give anyone the chop:
"The thing that John injured himself, it created a new president,"he said, surprising us all. Who knew John's finger could command such power?
Next week, two contestants will go. Hollywood will be watching them like he's never watched them before. I dread to think what that will involve, but we'll have to wait until next Tuesday to find out.
Who's baking on borrowed time and who's closer to getting crowned Bake Off King or Queen 2013?