Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Great British Bake Off, Episode 8

Danny's ras el hanout spiced almond crackers.

Episode 8 saw the bakers battle it out with biscuits to secure a place in the semi-finals. The signature bake required 48 crackers from each contestant in two hours. No mean feat, by any means. The crackers could be leavened or unleavened, but they had to be thin and crack when snapped in two,  "a little bit like Nicole Kidman" added Mel, as a helpful guide. 

If you're anything like me, you've doubtless found yourself shouting at the telly, asking "why on earth don't you make back-up bakes (bake-ups?)". If the bakers have to make 48 identical crackers, why not bake double and pick out their best ones?

Sweet James cleared this up for everyone on Twitter, when he explained that if they are asked for 48, then 48 is all they are allowed to make. No more, and hopefully no less, but given some of the struggles with counting, who knows. Did Mary and Hollywood really count each individual cracker? 

Hollywood explained this week's challenge, "it's all about the bake on this". Which made us all scratch our heads, trying to remember a time when it wasn't. "I will be testing the snap on all of them", he said, with a disconcerting glint in his eye. This was a "gruelling test of consistency", especially as the tent was so hot that James and John were forced to get their shorts out. 

Brendan continued his compulsive habit of mentioning buffets at every available opportunity, 
"It's not often you make crackers, unless they're for a gathering or a buffet or something"
He certainly loves his buffets. And his measuring tapes. Which he got out again this week for his multi-seed and aniseed crackers. He also likes to oil things. It was his arms for strudel week and he oiled the table this week for his crackers. "I think the challenge is getting them off there" said Hollywood, unconvinced. But much to our relief, Brendan's perfect diamond-shaped crackers didn't get stuck to his work bench and the judges loved them. "They certainly look the part" said Hollywood, refusing to commit before he'd done his snap test, but Brendan was confident in his bakes and was right to be so. He got an effusive "nice bake" from Hollywood and a "really scrummy" from Mary.

Brendan's multi-seed crackers

James made smoky cayenne, cumin and chipotle crackers and promised to "make it extra thin for you, Paul". James was the maverick in this challenge, deciding to cook his crackers in one batch, all at the same time, on different shelves. This resulted in a plate of crackers in a variety of hues and one that looked, according to James, "like a little mouse", or, according to me, like the skull of a giant rat. His rogue ratty cracker didn't put the judges off, even after Hollywood had had a good root about. He passed the snap test and Mary said they were, "wafer thin and full of flavour".

James' crackers
John made "Asian spiced crackers" flavoured with cumin, coriander and fennel. John was conscious of the judges' comments about the blandness of his bakes over the last couple of weeks, but was sure his "really good nibbly crackers, packed full of flavour" would do the job. He pricked his crackers with a fork to the rhythm of his Woody Woodpecker impression. He explained that the pricking would prevent the crackers from puffing up, though his Woody Woodpecker impression wasn't essential to the process, but merely an added bonus:
"I'm expecting a few little bubbles here and there, but I don't want it to be like a big flying saucer, for example".
The judges enjoyed John's crackers, which were "lovely and crisp" with a "hint of curry" according to Mary, but Hollywood said, "I'd like to see them a bit bigger". Mary, sympathising with his sizeable appetite, helpfully suggested that he "could always have twice as many". John was thrilled with the judges comments, "I think I've found my confidence again", he said.

Danny made ras el hanout spiced almond crackers with yoghurt and Parmesan, which sounded delicious,
"I've taken a leaf out of Brendan's book, because we're back to the '70's with desiccated cheese"
she said, as Brendan's ears pricked up on hearing his name. Hollywood remained unconvinced by Danny's use of this sick-smelling abomination in a shaky tub. "It's your choice" he said, as if issuing a threat. Luckily, her crackers had "a good consistency" but Hollywood thought they were "very salty", while Mary seemed to enjoy their "fiery flavour".

Cathryn's cheese and pickle crackers
Cathryn opted for cheese and pickle crackers, declaring that "if they're thin enough, they will snap". Mary didn't appreciate her laissez-faire attitude and issued her a firm warning, "Cathryn, they've got to be". Unfortunately for Cathryn, it wasn't only their thinness that was a problem,
"I'm really sorry, I'm so embarrassed. They're disastrous. I'm really sorry"
she said, before admitting that she had only managed to make 46: two below the target number. Mary looked on in horror, but both judges agreed that her crackers had a "great flavour". Sadly, Cathryn's poor execution and non-compliance with the rules of the challenge outweighed any positives. "They're thick and thin. Irregular colours" said a disappointed Hollywood, shaking his head.

At the end of the round, sweet James was pleased not to have received too much of a bashing, "everyone relies on a little bit of luck. Me, I think, more than anyone" he said, despite wowing the judges with his punchy flavours. Brendan, on the other hand, showed no such modesty:
"The competition is variable in the remaining five. There are certainly two or three that I'm keeping an eye on, but may the best man win. It's now all about knowledge and technique and I've been round the track a bit longer than most of them"
he said with a knowing smirk, clearly believing himself to be the "best man". Come on, Brendan, this is supposed to be the great BRITISH bake off. It's practically illegal not to pick holes in your abilities and downgrade your talents here. We only accept that kind of self-congratulation from the Americans. They're allowed, it's in their culture to applaud success, even if it is their own. We like to see people admit their faults and failings, even if they're exaggerated beyond all reasonable necessity. You can't pat yourself on the back here, love! You'll only create suspicion and distrust, no matter how good your crackers and cakes might be. I would have thought Brendan would have known this, having "been round the track" a few times. I'm not sure anything will save his reputation, beyond melting our hearts by dropping something on the floor, preferably that he has spent hours perfecting, and then possibly falling over and landing face first in its crumby remains.

Tunnock's  Chocolate teacakes
After a short interlude about scallop-shaped Aberffraw biscuits from Anglesea, it was time for the technical challenge. Sue sent Mary and Hollywood to the pub, before setting the bakers to work to make "chocolate teacakes", or Tunnock's Teacakes, as they are known to everyone else: a homemade digestive biscuit topped with meringue in a dome of chocolate. Temperatures were scorching in the Bake Off tent, so Mary warned Hollywood that "on this occasion, you'll have to be really kind".

All the bakers struggled with their chocolate. "We don't have a room temperature here" said James, unsure whether or not to bung his tempered chocolate in the fridge to set. All the bakers, except Cathryn, risked the shine on their chocolate for the sake of finishing the challenge on time. They stumbled through Hollywood's recipe for digestive biscuits too. The dough was extremely dry and difficult to bring together. "I'm just going to torture it a bit, until I get it to bind together" said Brendan, revealing a previously hidden side to his character. John was "dripping in sweat" struggling with the demands of the day. "This is hell on a plate" he said, before looking mournfully over to Brendan's tidy and organised work station. "Brendan's just a machine, look at him go!" he said.

Cathryn's teacakes

Cathryn was having "a bit of a 'mare of a day" according to Danny, and seemed to suffer disaster after disaster. Her chocolate wouldn't set, and her teacakes fell to pieces when she tried to unmould them. "They're pooper scoopers! They're disastrous!" she said, in a flap about what to do. "Fridge and pray. Fridge and pray" suggested Sue, but it wasn't enough to save her teacakes. Although Cathryn had made "a lovely crisp biscuit and very good marshmallow", it was her presentation again which let her down and left her in last position.

Danny came fourth. She had had an issue with tempering her chocolate and her marshmallow was "more like whipped cream". John's meringues were "a little bit runny" which left him in third place.

It was Brendan's "first encounter with marshmallow", which is probably why so much of it ended up on his face. Although his chocolate had the best shine, his overly thick biscuits made his teacakes rock, and left him in 2nd position.

Chocolate teacakes

James came first with excellent efforts all round. I hoped he would win the Tunnock's challenge, being the only Scot in the group, and Mary described his teacakes as, "quite an impressive achievement on such a day". James received no congratulations from Brendan for his placing:
"The only thing that differentiated me from number one was the thickness of a biscuit"
he said, which I thought was rather a number two-y thing for him to say. Brendan's confidence, though un-British in its directness, is clearly justified. He knows his stuff and Mary said he was "certainly leading the pack".

On day two it was time for the final challenge, but not before Sue wished James a happy birthday, by detailing the perks of turning 21:
"You can become an MEP or go to adult prison. The choice is your's".
For the show stopper round, the bakers were given four hours to bake and build a gingerbread structure, which is really not very long at all and would go by in a flash. Hollywood was clearly excited by the possibilities of this challenge. He was looking for a bit of "architectural genius" and refused to walk away disappointed,
"If you make me a house, I'll smash it down. I'll blow your doors in"
 he said, drawing on the spirit of the big bad wolf.

John's gingerbread coliseum

Danny used pomegranate molasses in her gingerbread and had decided to construct a two feet tall Big Ben. Hollywood was astonished, that's "nearly as big as Mel" he said. John had an impressive folder of printed plans for his gingerbread coliseum with peanut praline gravel. John's partner, a graphic designer who works for an architect, helped John with his plans which took a week to design,
"This competition means the world to me, you know. To win would be amazing. Everything I want to do in my life is bake, so that's why I'm taking the care now, cos I can't afford to make anymore stupid mistakes".
Cathryn decided to go regal and build Buckingham Palace out of controversial chocolate and orange gingerbread with curly wurly chocolate bar decorations. James decided to make a barn with the inclusion of ginger cake as well as gingerbread, which received this unreadable response from Hollywood,
"Good luck James. Have a nice relaxing day"
Next we were given a little introduction to gingerbread and its origins in Grassmere, Cumbria. Gingerbread was originally "a love token usually given by knights to fair maidens before jousting competitions". I'm extremely partial to a spot of gingerbread and would be absolutely thrilled to receive it as a love token, jousting competition or no jousting competition.

Brendan's bird house with disastrous shredded wheat roof
Brendan's show stopper was a "Fantasy Gingerbread Bird House":
"You know your life has taken a strange twist and turn when you find yourself asking questions about what's a good edible material that would make a good patch roof on a gingerbread house"
he giggled, before explaining to Hollywood his intention to create a "cute, Disney-type setting". A bemused Hollywood didn't know what to say, so he settled on, "Fantastic. Well, it'll give us a piece of your little mind then, when we look at your construction later". 

Brendan created blue sugarpaste bluebirds for his fantasy bird house:
"The male will have a cockscomb and the female doesn't, so I thought I would give her some mascara. You know I've spent years creating a certain image which is now going to be blown apart. I don't believe my life! I really don't!"
Cathryn was so pushed for time that she decided to downscale "Buck House". "I don't think the Queen will like this very much. I think she'd be a bit naffed off with me after seeing this" she said. James' caramel looked in danger of ruining his birthday. "It's quite fun when things go your way, but this is horrible. It's a horrible situation" he said, feeling the pressure. After his barn had "gone from looking rather lovely to absolute disaster", James decided to change route and turn his design into a derelict barn, complete with spun sugar cobwebs. "I think I should get marks for ambition" he said. And he did.

Judgement time came for John first and Mary and Hollywood were impressed. His coliseum was by far one of the best gingerbread structures of the day. Mary said it was "a magnificent construction", while Hollywood applauded John for his "spectacular" achievement. "You've really lifted your game" he said.

Brendan's bird house didn't fare so well, despite the fact that he'd covered it with all the cuteness Walt Disney could spew. "It's a bit... much for me to be honest" said Hollywood and, for once, I agree with him. Brendan's gingerbread house managed to be both over the top and underwhelming concurrently. The design was mimsy, but it was the lack of ambition in the structure and the shredded wheat bite sized roof tiles that pushed it to bottom place in my eyes. Mary shared my dismay for his shredded wheat roof. "I'm somewhat disappointed that we have a breakfast cereal as the tiles" she scolded.

Danny didn't do too badly with her slightly leaning Big Ben, but she failed to really wow the judges with her design or her flavours. Cathryn's Buckingham Palace was declared "stunning at the front" by Mary (it didn't have a back) but her additions of chocolate and orange in her gingerbread divided the judges. Her flavour combinations were enjoyed by Mary, but Hollywood felt they were too busy. "It needs to choose one and run with it" he said, as Cathryn scowled on.

James' derelict barn
It was birthday boy James who stole the show, with his incredibly and unexpectedly beautiful derelict barn. "That looks amazing! There are even cobwebs" said Mary and her enthusiasm was shared by Hollywood,
"If that's the look you were going for: top marks. If it isn't, I'd still give you good marks because the structure that you built is very tricky to do"
They were equally wowed by James' flavours,
"This is absolutely delicious. You'd be able to eat it till the last crumb. I wonder how many of the others we would endure eating till the last part" 
said Mary, sweeping her pointing finger in the direction of the other disgruntled contestants. The barn helped win James the crown of biscuit week's star baker and on his 21st birthday too. What a delightful outcome and he was, as always, touchingly sweet and modest about his talent, questioning whether Mary and Hollywood had only given him star baker because it was his birthday. No, James! It's because you made a cracking barn and everything you baked tasted delicious.

The joy of James' win soon faded to sadness as "on it like a car bonnet" Cathryn became the eighth contestant to leave the Bake Off. She will certainly be missed and the show just won't be the same without her alliterative reviews of each challenge. Despite being sorry to see her go, the judges' decision was fair. She just isn't quite up to the standard of the others:
"I am not surprised. Little bit heartbroken, but it's been the best thing ever"

Next time, it's French p√Ętisserie for the semi-finals. Who goes? Paul and Mary decide.


  1. Just want to say how much I enjoy your roundups of the show. Thanks so much for posting them!

    1. Thank you, Rosario! That's very kind of you to say. Thanks for reading!