Saturday, October 01, 2016

Great British Bake Off Series 7, Episode 6: Botanical Week (Recap With Spoilers)

The big news from the bake off this week is that octogenarian judge Mary Berry will not follow the show when it departs next year for channel 4, but younger judge Paul Hollywood will. Bless Mary's heart. I had a feeling she wouldn't make the transition, especially since Mel and Sue had already made it clear they wouldn't leave the BBC either. I was less surprised that Paul decided to take the leap, and I hope his presence will somehow keep the show afloat, though it's hard to imagine what it will be like without the charm and witticisms of the ladies.

For now we still have all four of them, of course, for the remainder of series seven. And we're half-way through....

Week six of the series brought us something new again: botanical week. I wasn't sure what it would involve. Here's what they came up with:

  • The signature bake was a citrus meringue pie
  • The technical bake was herbed, leaf-shaped fougasse bread
  • The showstopper was a three tiered floral cake, with the floral notes affecting both the flavor and the decorations 
Citrus meringue pie involves three challenges. You need to bake a good pie crust (mostly sweet short crust pastry), create a delicious citrus flavored curd with the right consistency, and then whip up a  meringue that you can pipe or spread onto the top of the pie with good beauty and also brown the meringue peaks delicately either in the oven or with a blow torch.  There are basically three types of meringues you can create: French, Swiss, or Italian. Each one of them is a variation of egg whites, sugar, and heat. If you want to read about their differences, check out this helpful article.

As soon as I head about this signature bake, I thought immediately of lemon meringue since it's the most common type, but the seven remaining bakers in the competition were far more inventive.  On the humid, rainy day they had to bake, they tried a variety of interesting flavors. Selasi, wearing a colorful floral shirt in honor of the botanical theme, attempted a grapefruit, orange, and mint pie. Benjamina was also making grapefruit and mint, and the two of them had fun exchanging words about their endeavors (they seem to have gotten a bit flirtatious)! Jane, also dressed in a floral shirt, seemed smiling and relaxed as she put together her lime and coconut pie. Candice tried lime and coconut too, but added lemongrass. Tom tried a more savory crust with pecans in it, and then tried a rather odd combination of blood orange and pumpkin filling. Rav went for a booze infested filling by adding tequila to mandarin orange, and Andrew tried lime with three different kinds of ginger. In other words, nobody attempted a primarily lemon pie, and that surprised me.

No one ended up with a precisely perfect pie, but I thought Jane and Selasi's were the most beautiful. Jane pleased Mary by providing a great looking Swiss meringue that she browned in the oven, being the only one who bypassed the blow torch (which pleased Mary no end). Selasi's meringue looked gorgeous but he was told his filling was too stiff. The judges seemed to love the taste of Benjamina's filling and called her pie well proportioned, but they thought her pastry was too thick. Tom and Rav had the most problems in terms of taste.

On to the technical, which this week was a tasty and beautiful bread called fougasse. This bread met the botanical theme both because it was baked with chopped up sage, thyme, and rosemary herbs, and because it was supposed to be shaped into two giant leaf shapes which the bakers had to slice through in the middle and on the sides. The challenges involved how to cut and shape the loaves best to look like leaves, and how long to prove the dough before they baked it.

Tom was thrilled with the challenge since, as he put it, bread made him "happy and comfortable" (if you remember, he was the star baker of bread week). Tom seemed most confident about what to do and also came up with the great idea of adding steam to the oven to make his bread come out in a wonderful combination of moist and crisp. Selasi was "so zen" (as Mel called him) but in the end he was really too relaxed and didn't put his bread in for long enough. His underbaked result landed him in last place in the technical. Andrew, Candice, and Jane all struggled, with Rav, Benjamina, and Tom battling for the top three spots. Rav was thrilled to come in third, I think, since he'd been last in the technical for the three previous weeks. Benjamina finished second and Tom came in first.

I always enjoy hearing Mary and Paul talk about the first day and who's in trouble. It surprised me that they seemed to agree that in general, all the men bakers were on the bottom, and all the remaining women were in strongest form as they went into the showstopper day. Given how well Tom and Rav did with the bread, it made you realize how truly awful their pies must have been in round one! Benajmina, Jane, and Candice, in that order, seemed poised for possible sparkling showstopper performance.

And then came the surprising and gorgeous showstopper, which I think was one of my favorites of the current series so far. I love it when the bakers create multi-tiered cakes and spend a lot of time decorating them. I was not entirely clear on whether or not the floral taste was required, though most seemed to be attempting it. Jane seemed quite worried that she had decided not to go very floral with her flavoring: she went with a simple orange flavor for every tier, because she wanted to spend more time creating sugar paste flowers and chocolate floral collars. Unfortunately, she ran out of time and had to hurry her way through the decorating, so it all looked a bit of a mess, which is a shame because it had the potential to look incredible. Candice went overboard by attempting four tiers instead of three, which was a brilliant idea since she attempted to make each tier taste and look like one of four seasons, but she ended up a little off center with one of her tiers (the spiced carrot cake she made for autumn) which was definitely not a home run. I adored Benjamina's idea for tiers infused with floral teas, and a lovely "semi-naked" look (where the icing is thin and not covering the whole cake) but it didn't quite work either. Mary and Paul didn't think the flavors came through strongly enough and Paul didn't seem to think the cake look finished (though I thought it did).

So the ladies, who were definitely in the lead going into the day, definitely left the door open for the gentlemen. Of the four men: Tom and Selasi galloped straight to the front while Andrew and Rav both struggled mightily. Andrew's elder flower taste was not strong and his swiss buttercream was decorated too simply with skimpy yellow flowers and tiny pearl like piping -- the entire project left him in tears. Rav went way simple with an orange blossom and vanilla flavor for all three tiers, and with piped buttercream flowers that were both too clumsy and too pale to show off.  Tom used tea flavors, similar to Benjamina, but managed to hit those flavors out of the park as both the chamomile and jasmine flavors apparently burst deliciously through, and his colorful piping, while not terribly creative, looked neat and pretty. They also said his sponges were brilliantly baked. Selasi's cake was *fantastic* -- truly. It was my favorite by far, and the judges couldn't seem to find a thing wrong with it. He did three different flavored cakes (carrot, lemon and poppyseed, and strawberry and vanilla) which were all baked well and moist. His flowered piping was seriously gorgeous. I normally don't post pictures from the GBBO, but I borrowed this one from the Telegraph because seriously, isn't that an amazing looking cake?

I wasn't sure what the judges would decide, but apparently they decided that Tom's excellent cake, along with his excellent bread and first place in the technical the day before, were enough to make him star baker even though his pie was not memorable. He passed all three of the ladies, whose stronger performances on the first day kept them safe but didn't enable them to win. I think if Selasi had managed anything above last place with his bread in the technical, he would have won star baker for sure.

Selasi, Tom, and Andrew are the only men left because Rav, sadly, was the baker asked to leave this week. I'll miss him a lot since he's been such a sweet competitor, but he's struggled harder than any of the rest that are left, and his cake definitely showed that he wasn't quite at their level. Andrew clearly knew he was close to going, but overall Andrew has been more consistent. It will be interesting to see how the three men do as they continue to compete with the three remaining women. Tom is the only one of the three men who has managed star baker status, and he's done it twice, so I guess we have to consider Tom and Candice high in the lead. While I like them both, I think the other four bakers are still my favorites, and I can't help but think the final could be between Candice, Jane, and Benjamina...though the men have shown us that they can definitely surprise everyone and come roaring from behind. On we go to dessert week!

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