So we now know that the episodes left in this series are all that's left of the show in its splendid, original glory. I thought I'd feel mournful, and underneath it all I do, but once the episode started I got caught up in the cheerful, slightly zany feel of the baking tent the way I always do (mostly thanks to Mel and Sue, who started this week singing and cracking jokes just like always).
It was batter week, a brand new theme, and the nine remaining bakers had to handle the following three challenges:
- The signature bake was twenty-four identical Yorkshire puddings, with savory fillings
- A technical bake where the bakers had to create a dozen lacy heart-shaped pancakes
- A show-stopper where they created churros, essentially Spanish-inspired doughnuts
In the end, Val, Jane, and Candice managed to do pretty well -- their puddings may not have been perfect, but they had things to commend them and tasted good at least. (My favorite cheeky line from Sue this week was probably "there's a pud in the hud and it smells gud.") Val heaved a sigh of relief that she had made Yorkshire proud after all. Tom looked devastated that his popovers turned into flat, biscuit-like discs, even after the second attempt. Mary spoke to him kindly about the challenges with his choice of flours, but he still looked really down, which is understandable since he was last week's star baker. Kate's Christmas flavors were commended, but she didn't get enough rise. Andrew, Benjamina, Rav, and Selasi all did especially well, with Selasi, despite too much variance in the sizes of the popovers, getting a handshake from Paul because his pork and pork crackling fillings tasted "amazing" and the texture of the popovers were pronounced light and fluffy. Paul was also highly complimentary about Rav's unconventional filling, made from curried tofu: he had admitted he wasn't overly fond of tofu, but found Rav's flavors so spicy and good that he actually said he would gladly eat another one.
The signature was highly unusual in that the bakers had to make light, lacy pancakes. My husband would have been right at home in this challenge, as he can make some of the most unusual and artistic pancakes and would have thrived on this project. The bakers had a tough time as they were given very minimal pancake batter recipes and were told they had to make identical lacy heart-shaped pancakes (apparently an idea Paul got from a cookbook in the 1600s). They were only allowed one "model" pancake (which they could toss) before making 12 in a row that they had to turn in, although some of them wisely piped their batter onto paper to try different patterns before they piped the one test pancake they were allowed into their pans. The biggest questions surrounding the challenge seemed to be how how much of the sugar they were given they should use, how thick to make the batter so it wouldn't spread too thin (and would cook consistently) and how hot they should make their pans.
These pancakes took a lot of intuition and artistic sensibility, and some of the bakers found them more nerve-wracking than I expected. Kate joked it was a "heart breaking" challenge (get it? since the pancakes were heart-shaped and sometimes broke easily) and Val laughed over her designs, which she claimed were Jackson Pollock inspired. In the end, there were issues with a lot of the cakes, from too dry to not sweet enough to not elaborate enough patterns (Paul thought Selasi's looked more like alien faces than hearts). Benjamina and Candice outdistanced everyone, with their pancakes coming in at numbers one and two respectively. Benajmina's were the most lovely to look at by far, with an elaborate design that reminded me a bit of a jeweled filigree.
Kate looked highly worried at the end of the day, standing under her umbrella during a rainy interview. The cinematographer gave us a nice shot of a moonlit night and then a sunny morning hillside filled with black sheep as we ambled into the showstopper.
The only reason I knew churros (a Spanish street food that usually look like ridged straight doughnuts) is that I've seen them made on the American Food Network. Once again, the bakers had to focus on making batter, which this time around needed to be dropped into a fryer filled with hot oil. Paul said they were looking for churros that were brown and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. What I couldn't quite figure is how they would get turned into showstopper bakes, which are usually known for their unique decorative touches and amazing flavors.
Andrew attempted one of the most creative showstoppers this time around, shaping his churros to look like flowers and putting them in a chocolate soil filled window box. He covered them in pistachio dust, and for some reason that just sounded yummy. Jane also made yummy sounding pistachio flavored churros with a white chocolate cream piped inside. Val's flavors also sounded delicious: she made the batter with orange zest and then added orange flavoring as well to her chocolate sauce, which she also piped inside the traditionally shaped churros (which sort of look like long fingers). Benjamina made hers with coconut oil and then shaped them into graceful curves which could be dipped into her passion fruit and mango dipping sauces for a very tropical feel overall.
Selasi's lemon, anise, and raspberry flavors sounded terrific but he used an odd technique whereby he froze the batter before he fried it, which didn't work well (they burned on the outside and stayed raw on the inside). Rav seemed to be gaining confidence, especially with flavors, and attempted some unusual Japanese flavors that unfortunately didn't work; neither did Tom's fennel flavors (too savory), and his batter was overcooked and dry, though his idea to make the churros look like snakes in the grass was very creative. Stressed looking Kate attempted churros shaped like rabbit heads and flavored with ginger and nutmeg, but they somehow got a bit smushed (Paul said they looked like run-over bunnies) and they got way too soaked in oil. I felt for Kate when she said simply "It's just a bad bake."
At the end of the day, it was poor Kate who got sent home from the tent, a move that surprised me a great deal as I had placed her in the top tier of the remaining bakers last week. I think Paul knew the audience would likely be surprised; he went out of his way to say that Kate was not one of the poorest bakers overall, but that this weekend she had been, and that's why they had to tell her good-bye. Rav and Tom, who both struggled hard all weekend too, looked relieved to have dodged elimination.
I was happy to see Benjamina take home star baker this week, something I think she richly deserved as she was consistent through all three bakes. Candice and Andrew were not far behind her, but wobbled more than she did. Selasi, Val, and Jane seemed firmly in the middle.
It's been an interesting series so far because in these first four episodes, no one has yet repeated the star baker designation (unlike series 6, where Ian got off to a fast start with three early star baker weeks). However, also unlike some other series, no one who has won star baker so far (Jane, Candice, Tom, Benjamina) has been sent home yet. We're down to eight bakers, half of whom have made it to the top. Will one of those four repeat next week, or will we see one of the other four (Selasi, Rav, Val, Andrew) manage their first rise to the top? Andrew feels overdue for the accolades, but Benjamina and Candice, the most emotional bakers in the tent thus far, seem to be gaining a great deal of confidence.
On to pastry week!