Friday, September 23, 2016

Great British Bake Off Series Seven, Episode 5: Pastry Week (Recap With Spoilers)

There may be weeks of the GBBO that I can actually envision myself participating in, but when they get to pastry week, I'm always humbled and amazed. I've never spent much time making pastry from scratch, and it seems to be one of the hardest baking tasks. I'm pretty sure that the eight remaining bakers in this year's bake off would agree with me.

This week's three challenges all proved quite challenging! They included:

  • The signature bake of twenty-four danishes, 12 each of two different kinds
  • The technical, which was a bakewell tart (shortcrust pastry shell with layers of jam and frangipane topped with icing)
  • The showstopper, which called for 48 filo pastries called amuse-bouches (tiny, bite-sized filo dough pastries, 24 each of two different flavors)
The eight remaining bakers this week were evenly divided along gender lines, with four men and four women left. All eight of them tried to get a good jump in the signature, because danish dough needs a good deal of proving, which means they needed to get them mixed quickly.  One of the trickier parts of making danish pastries turns out to the the folding of a great deal of butter into the dough. If you don't do it right, then it sometimes comes oozing out in the oven and can make your bake quite dry or not flavorful enough.

Some of the flavors chosen for this bake sounded delicious. Jane flavored one of her doughs with cinnamon; Andrew (who laughingly attempted careful measurements that reflected his engineer background) used spiced dates; Benjamina decided on candied bacon. Candice surprised everyone by opting for savory danishes that used cheese and mushrooms. Selasi pulled on his Ghanian background and utilised tropical fruits, while Tom tried to go for a healthy approach and used granola rolled into his danish spirals.  That last bit turned out not to be the best choice for Tom, who managed a dozen danishes too dry and another dozen undercooked. Andrew's flavors worked but he made the danishes too thin. Val's seemed good and buttery but were too pale and a bit underdone. In fact, a lot of them struggled with doneness in one degree or another. In the end, Jane and Candice did the best by far, with Jane's danishes lauded for their flavor and nice bake even though they were a tad overfilled, and Candice delighting everyone with her savory danishes as well as a dozen made with pretty apple roses.

Judge Mary Berry informed the bakers that they needed to keep their cool during the technical, while Mel and Sue just kept reminding the bakers that bakewell tarts should be baked well and not badly. After a handful of mostly unfamiliar technical bakes, they all seemed somewhat relieved to get a more familiar recipe, though Selasi chuckled and surmised that the bakers who would do best on this challenge would be the "aged" bakers, since bakewell tarts apparently were more popular years ago. He must have been right: Benjamina called them retro, Jane called them "classic and classy," older contestant Val swore that she makes them once a week, and Candice pulled on her grandmother's influence to make hers.

Sue blithely cautioned the bakers not to get into a "frangi-panic," a terrific pun that I think they all enjoyed although poor Andrew came close to actual panic because he forgot to turn his oven on for the first fifteen minutes of the bake, which is what netted him sixth place. Poor Val, so familiar with this recipe, seemed to lose her focus as well as the second page of the minimal instructions they'd been given; by the time she figured out that there was a second page, she'd already mixed up her dough in a very different manner, leading to a very thick pastry shell that didn't bake well and led to the infamous "soggy bottom." Poor Rav's shell collapsed and his filling got all gooey, which landed him solidly in last place in the technical...for the third week in a row. You could tell that Mary and Paul were definitely leaning toward sending Rav home unless he pulled off something awesome in the showstopper. Jane won the technical (proving Selasi's point that age helped). Candice and Selasi came in second and third.

The showstopper was creative and fun this week, with the bakers having to make wafer-thin, see-through filo dough (really hard to do!) and then flavor two sets of their bite-sized amuse-bouches, one sweet and one savory.  Andrew and Tom both attempted wetter doughs than the rest, which didn't work out as well as it could. Val used a broom handle to roll her dough (after using dental cut her signature danishes) but seemed almost near tears when she mismanaged her time and didn't get her mincemeat pastries baked enough. Rav pulled out all the stops and made delicious Chinese prawns and white chocolate and hazelnut pastries, surprising the judges with spot on savory and sweet bakes after his terrible day the day before. Candice used a pasta roller to get her pastry sheets super thin, a smart idea that worked well and seemed to allow her more time to put together each delicate bite with butter between the layers. Hers looked beautiful and apparently also tasted delicious. Benjamina pulled on her Nigerian heritage and made fried plantain and spinach pastries. Jane made gorgeous looking cherry and chocolate cone shaped bites (which were apparently yummy but too big) and her savory bites contained roquefurt cheese and figs. She was pressed for time at the end, and Selasi, sweet man that he is, helped her get her pastries out of the pan because he was already done with his coffee/praline and asparagus, parm ham and cheese bites.

Jane showed her sweetness too by whispering a laudatory "star baker!" accolade to Candice as she headed back from the judges' table. Candice dimpled but still didn't seem so sure of herself. I thought it was especially kind of Jane because really Jane was the only baker who stayed close to Candice's level this week -- the two of them seemed definitely at the head of the class. It turned out that Jane was right about the star baker call, and Candice became the first season seven baker to take home that designation for the second time, making her the favorite for now.

Rav's wobbly performance the first day was saved by his amazing showstopper which meant that it was time to say good-bye to good-natured Val. Her baking has been up and down and all over the place the entire season, but everyone loved her pleasant attitude and sweet-natured delight and she will be missed by both her fellow contestants and by the audience. She said she thought she had done all she could, and added that she always tries to bake with love. Aww, Val...those kinds of sentiments are what will make you so missable.

With Candice and Jane in the top tier at the moment, Benjamina, Selasi, and Andrew seem firmly in the middle, with Rav and Tom struggling with enough inconsistency that I think it will likely be one of them that goes home next (though they can both pull off great things sometimes, and I'm not convinced it won't be relaxed Selasi who will get the chop next).

It's hard to fathom what might happen though as next week is a unique, first-time bake off week described as "botanical." It looks like they will be dealing with herbs and flowers and will need to make pie, bread, and cake. (This would have been an awesome challenge for season six Ian.) For some reason, I've got a good feeling about Benjamina going into next week, despite the fact that she struggled this one. Stay tuned....

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