Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Great British Bake Off, Episode 7

Episode 7 had seven remaining contestants. After John cut his finger off and had to go home before the strudel round in episode 6, the judges were left in a flap over what to do. The final ruling was that sending anyone home just wouldn't be fair and so all were given a second chance to shine. Although the drama was high, as seven were to become five, Hollywood was on unusually and unnervingly chipper form. 

Week 7 was all about sweet dough. Hot buns, sweet buns, iced buns and "Mary Berry's hot and firm buns" (thank you, Sue). The first challenge was the signature bake, where the contestants had to make 24 buns made from enriched dough. The dough "must be soft, bordering on the wet" said Hollywood, with his steely blues staring straight into the camera.

Brendan used fresh yeast for added flavour and extra "springiness" for his bunskis: a Polish twist on Chelsea buns using a lemon and poppyseed filling. Mel wasn't convinced that Brendan had done as well as he could have in the naming and proffered "bunkowiec" as an alternative. Makowiec is a poppyseed filled rolled bread and Brendan humoured her by agreeing to the name change, but the producers clearly weren't on board, as Chelsea "bunskis" they remained. When Brendan poured his poppyseed mixture out to cool, I think we could all be forgiven for mistaking it for a tray of steaming cow pats. The smell was apparently intoxicating, in a good way, and the judges were certainly enamoured with Brendan's buns. Mary thought they were "totally original" and  "really unusual and delicious" while Hollywood, in his characteristically effusive manner, nodded while grunting "good bake" through a mouthful of poppyseeds.

Danny made Bakewell buns, inspired again by Chelsea's finest, but flavoured her's with sour cherries and almonds. Mary excitedly declared them to be "for good appetites" while Hollywood was impressed by their enormity. "They look great" he said. Danny's face lit up with pride when her Derbyshire offerings were described as "sheer heaven to eat" by Mary. "Great buns, Danny" said Sue as the judges left to inspect the next contestant's efforts.

James made Easter Chelsea buns, which he described as "hot cross buns, Chelsea-fied". I wonder what Spencer and Caggie will think?  

"There's no technique to this at all, I don't know what I'm doing basically" said James, with refreshing honesty, as he rolled up his raisins. But the panic had clearly set in. Admonishing himself, he snapped, "Stop fiddling with them, or they'll never get done".  Hollywood was concerned with his use of wheat flour and for good reason, as James' buns literally came unstuck. "It's interesting and it's daring to use wholemeal" said Hollywood, as he pulled James' bun apart like an unravelled Cumberland sausage. The "consistency in the bake isn't particularly good" he sighed, while kind Mary, always eager to please, said she thought they had a "lovely flavour".

John, "rocking the Dr Strangelove glove" (Sue), due to last week's injury, made cherry, almond and saffron Chelsea buns. "Good luck little buns, good luck. You're going to need it" he said, ominously, while peering into the oven door. Fearing the worst after fingering his baked buns, John expected some harsh criticism from the judges, so decided to get in there first, "I think they may be under-proved to be honest". But under-proving wasn't the problem. The "structure looks alright" said Hollywood. "I could do with a little bit more flavour in there," said Mary, diplomatically, before Hollywood cut to the chase with a simple "bit bland". Hollywood likes a streamlined approach to criticism, preferring not to waste time by including a subject in his sentences. 
"I think I won't be here much longer than 48 hours"
said John, the voice of doom.

Cathryn made Lady Arandel Manchet buns this week, as a regional nod to her home county of Sussex. "The Lady Arundel Manchet goes back to the 1500s", said Hollywood, disappointing poor Cathryn who had been eager to share her carefully researched knowledge. She decided to fill her buns with cream and jam which left Hollywood bemused. "It's a great idea, because what you've done is blend several different ideas to come up with a new one," he said, attempting humour. "He's creeping round you," said Mary, showing worried Cathryn some camaraderie. 

Cathryn peppered her panic with "oh pants" when she dropped her baked buns on the open oven door. Luckily Cathryn's buns were "robust" enough to survive. Hollywood remarked that they were all different colours and her bottom was quite tight due to being "under-proved", but Mary loved Cathryn's buns, but said she could have done with a little extra jam and cream. 

There was an interlude about the west country classic, Cornish saffron buns and the ritual of the Cornish tea treat, all explained by an amazingly enthusiastic northern vicar. Vicar's wife, Sarah-Jane, coincidentally, had also decided to make Cornish saffron buns, with added nutmeg and orange. "I don't want to get too stressed," she said, only moments before getting too stressed. In the end, she was pleased with her buns, even if the judges weren't. They felt they were a little bit dry and lacking in flavour and a little under-proved. "Thats a bit of a shame" said Hollywood. But Sarah-Jane managed to keep her chin up, in the face of adversity:
"They didn't really like them. A bit of a flop really. As Mary said, there are two more challenges to go, so don't count yourself out yet, love"
 she said, with a nervous giggle, masking inner hysteria.

A panicked Ryan made sultana and raisin lardy cakes. "I'm psyching myself up" he said, punching the air and rolling his shoulders, Rocky-style. He wasn't sure he was going to finish in time, but Sue rolled up her sleeves and helped out by slapping his next piece of dough on the table, ready to fill. "I should have done Chelsea buns" said Ryan, swallowing a hysterical laugh. He needn't have worried. In this round at least. The judges raved about his "excellent" texture and the delicious taste. "I can't argue with the bake on that," barked Hollywood, before standing silently with eyes focused on Ryan's terrified face. "The silverback is silent," said Sue, in an effort to defuse the tension, before Hollywood leaned forward. Ryan wasn't quite sure what was coming next, and neither were we, but we couldn't have been more relieved when Hollywood firmly shook his hand. 

What on earth is going on? I feel troubled and confused. I don't know how to react to this new calm and reasonable behaviour. Is it the calm before the storm or is Hollywood showing a softer side?

Next up was the technical challenge, where the contestants had to make ten jam doughnuts in two and a half hours.

Ryan admitted to being a very experienced eater of doughnuts, but neither he nor any of the contestants except James, had actually made doughnuts before.
"You've got to make sure that inside that doughnut is cooked properly" 
said Hollywood, as if explaining nuclear fission.

Sarah-Jane, despite her earlier attempts to remain calm and clear-headed, said she was "feeling a little bit stressed to be honest, a little bit frightened". All the contestants seemed perturbed by their doughnut dough. "It's just like kneading a big ball of chewing gum" said Cathryn, while experienced doughnut handler, James, was more enthusiastic."Wow, interesting dough" he said, enjoying this new discovery.

After a short interlude about doughnuts in American service clubs during World War II, James shared what gets him most excited:
"It's the most satisfying thing in the world, and that is no exaggeration, the most satisfying thing in the world is putting a bit of bread dough on the scales and it being exactly the weight you want it to be. YES!"
Cathryn looked nervous about taking the "oily plunge" before everyone else, but her doughnuts were "first in the fryer". And Danny was next in, "I think this is big enough. I can't cope with them any bigger. They're like big beasts, aren't they?" she said. Sarah-Jane decided to rely on instincts over, well, everything else:
"I'm not going on times, I'm just going on the colour that they are. The kind of colour I imagine doughnuts to be".
Sweet James had other things on his mind, "I must be seriously below the standard of the rest of the bakers if I don't do well at this challenge, because I've done it so many times before" but Mel soothed his fears by complimenting his "neat syringe". On the other side of the tent, Cathryn's were "haemorrhaging slightly, but they need to be jammy don't they. They're doughnuts!" she said, hopefully. Her love of baking comes second only to her fondness for alliteration and she summed up the "frantic fry time" of the challenge perfectly,
 "Doom is what's going through my mind. Doughnut doom."
It certainly proved to be a troublesome round for the bakers. Ryan's were over-proved, having risen up and then sunk back down again, "they were cr√™pes when they went in" said Hollywood. Cathryn's were underdone, Brendan's were under-proved, John's were overdone and Sarah-Jane's were raw, which left her in last place. Hollywood described Danny's as "not bad that at all", which Mary kindly interpreted for us. "That means they are very nice", she said, to a beaming Danny. James won the technical round, 
"I actually feel a bit bad, I feel like i've almost cheated the bakers" 
he said, rather sweetly.

The final round was the Show Stopper Bake and week 7 called for a celebratory enriched dough loaf. The bakers started the process at the end of the first day.

James and John decided to make a sponge starter for a greater depth of flavour, probably in John's case, not to suffer a repeat of Hollywood's cutting comments about the blandness of his sponge puddings. Sadly, it didn't work out for poor old John. He had to bin his starter and start again with a newly imagined loaf. "I'm not going to back down and play it safe cos that's not what it's all about" he told Mel, while stuffing a sheet of marzipan with cherries and chocolate drops. Sadly, his stollen was a flop. "I find that a little on the stodgy side" said Mary, while Hollywood, in a rare moment of self-awareness, jumped in with, "it's beginning to weld my mouth together, which is probably not a bad thing".

Danny made a European Christmas Wreath with an orange curd filling for her show stopper. She usually leaves her dough in her outer hall to prove overnight, but unfortunately the tent doesn't have one, so she tucked her dough into a drawer overnight and hoped for the best. Which proved a good strategy as the judges thought her flavours were "excellent".

Hollywood stopped at Brendan's bench to ask,
"Is it a '70's delight today or is it something more in the '80's ?"
Brendan raised his eyebrows at Hollywood, who was too busy being pleased with his joke to notice,
"Um it's going to be a Black Forest Christmas stollen, so I see it as a sort of centepiece for a Christmas buffet table which will allow for some additonal decoration"
Once the judges had moved on, he said, "I think I'm a great bridge between the '70's and today" before peering in Hollywood's direction and saying, "I hope he heard that". He probably didn't. But he did very much like Brendan's bake.

Ryan was the only baker to go savoury and made a char siu bao. Sadly, his dough was raw and by all accounts, a bit of a dog's dinner. "It's a shame. I was looking forward to that one" said meat-loving Hollywood.

James made a kugelhopf brioche baba with controversial whisky jelly. Which was only controversial because of Hollywood's horror of hard liquor.  "It's like an enormous cornea" said Sue, while James was slicing into his jelly. We didn't hear a peep out of Hollywood over James' whisky, but Mary thought it was "a little bit over the top". 

Cathryn made a bonfire tear and share with cream cheese frosting, complete with sparklers. Hollywood insisted she show him her dough and, after reluctantly producing it from behind her back, Hollywood put the wind up her by asking, "is it a choc brioche?". Cathryn made a face like she'd been told off for talking in assembly when it was actually the boy behind her, before informing Hollywood her brioche was cinnamon-flavoured. "Lots of cinnamon to make it go that dark!" he said, with inappropriate flirtiness, "OK. Good luck Cathryn [you're going to need it]".

Luckily, Hollywood was wrong about the cinnamon, but he wasn't convinced by the colour of her bonfire loaf, "looking at the colour of it, it looks like it might have been too late, it's been on the fire" he said, as Cathryn scowled. Mary thought her loaf was too "cakey" but it had a "lovely flavour and icing".

Sarah-Jane went for another plait - this time a six string marzipan, chocolate and cherry plait. "It's a nice colour", she said, peering into the oven at her alarmingly dark mahogany loaf, but she knew she was treading on shaky ground,

"I just don't feel that my loaf is spectacular enough to bring it back"
And she was right. "It's what's on the inside that counts" she said, hopefully, but unfortunately her insides were raw in the middle and were given a big thumbs down from the judges. 

"I love baking in that tent, I love the kitchen, I love the stuff, I love everybody else. You know its just been so much fun and I am sad to be going but I'm also, you know, week 7: amazing!"
Sadly it was time to say goodbye to both Sarah-Jane and Ryan this week, while Danny was finally crowned star baker, denying Brendan a hat trick.

I was so sad to see Sarah-Jane and Ryan go, but the decision was fair. What was most touching was to see the close bond between Sarah-Jane and Cathryn which has blossomed over the Bake Off,
"You have to win now, seriously"
said a sobbing Sarah-Jane while hugging her new bezza. 

Next time, biscuits! Will Hollywood keep up this new found pleasantness, or will old habits die hard?

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