Week eight of The Great British Bake Off and the quarter finals of the show. The challenges were heating up with crispbreads, crackers, chocolate teacakes and show stopping gingerbread. Former contestant Urvashi Roe, the Botanical Baker, watched the show and presents her thoughts on the five remaining bakers.
It was the quarter finals this week and there was much hype on Twitter about the difficulty of the challenges this week. I would have to agree. For me this was by far the best week. Biscuits was the theme and it was great to see the loose links to this because let’s be honest Miranda Gore-Browne in series one really did set the bar on this.
Crackers and Crispbreads
The contestants had to bake 48 identical crackers to start. They could be leaved or unleavened, use any kind of flour but above all they must be thin and produce a crack. This was a test of consistency. Mary was looking for a thorough crispness all the way over the top and then also on the underside. Paul was only interested in the flavour and the snap.
James and Cathryn decided on yeasted versions which meant they would be short on time as the flour would need to prove. It also meant there was more chance of the flavours not coming through.
It was really nice to see the range this week and I particularly liked the use of spices in most of the bakes. John with his Asian Spiced Crackers used cumin, coriander and Fennel.
Danny – original as always – bound her flour base with yoghurt and added Ras –Al Hanout and James used a polenta dough with cayenne, cumin and chilli. “What no whisky!” exclaimed Sue in a disappointed tone.
It was also nice to see the techniques. Danny used the same technique as me which was to roll between two pieces of greaseproof paper. I would never roll cracker dough on a plain surface like Brendan did as I am fearful of sticking. He had however oiled the wooden surface and seemed to have no trouble lifted his identical pieces of. What amused me was his use of a workman’s measuring tape and a gardener’s spray bottle. It reminded me of when Ben from my series turned up with an enormous suitcase of spray painting tools. Oh the things we do for Bake Off!
There was just so much more attention to detail this week with everyone except Cathryn. She seemed ashamed to present them to the judges and quite rightly so. The rest of the group fared well and passed ‘The Hollywood Crack’ test producing a ‘nice bake and a nice break’. I think I would have been rather drunk by this point had I started a drinking game based on Mary saying ‘wafer thin’ as her comment was the same for each.
A wonderful and very proper technical challenge this week with teacakes as there is huge skills required across all the elements of bringing this iconic ‘biscuit’ together.
Firstly the contestants needed to produce a perfect digestive. No easy task I can tell you because the balance of thin and thick and then length in the oven is a difficult one. You can so easily loose the sweet flavour to a bitter after taste. The contestants were only given the oven temperature so it was all a guessing game as none had made these before.
Second, the marshmallow filling. Meringue is hard enough to make in a time limit but the addition of golden syrup over a bain-marie needs to be done slowly with care – again not an easy task in the tent. Panic really does take over as soon as you don’t understand anything on the recipe card and your mind starts interpreting everything a million different ways and then all of a sudden there is only half an hour left!
Finally there was melted chocolate involved which required tempering. This simply means melting the chocolate to 45 degrees and then bringing the temperature back down again to 33 degrees. I am assuming there were no instructions on how to temper and it seemed all of the contestants at least knew how to do this. However it was a hot day in the tent and they all needed to put the chocolate in the fridge. Big mistake as it produces ridges and loses the sheen.
I think all of the contestants did brilliantly except Cathryn. She was the only one who waivered about putting her chocolate in the fridge and sadly it was not solid enough to peel away from the mould easily like the others. It stuck and left gaping holes of marshmallow. Danny and John had marshmallow that looked a little scrambled so James and Brendan came out on top. All Paul had to say was that the bases were too thick.
I think I’m going to have to have a go at this one! I’m not a fan of marshmallow but it looks like something that needs mastering for the baking belt!
Showstopping Gingerbread Structures to put Grasmere on the map
The showstopper bake was focussed on gingerbread which has a wonderful history that Sue related with the help of various historians. It originates from Grasmere in Cumbria and was traditional given as a love token to fair maidens by knights before they went into joust. The spices are said to warm the blood and encourage love. This tradition evolved into gift giving across Europe from the common folk right the way up to the nobles. Ornate and intricate moulds date back to the 17th Century and these were frequently decorated with marzipan and gold leaf.
No moulds for the contestants though. Instead there were templates, rulers, set squares and measuring tapes as they assembled a gingerbread structure far beyond a house. Cathryn and Danny stayed patriotic and on British soil with Buckingham Palace and Big Ben. James and Brendan went a bit twee with a bird house and a barn. Most spectacular and showstoppery for me was John with his magnificent Coliseum. What I liked was that he had also thought linking his flavours to his build as he’s added the strength and depth of black treacle and a strong ginger flavour to represent the power of the building. Genius. Utter genius.
Most were systematic in their builds as the pieces they would need to build first needed baking as a priority. John and Brendan were the most systematic with no apparent disasters. The rest struggled with caramel not sticking the pieces or time to assemble.
Cathryn presented the front half of Buckingham Palace and there was no commentary at all about this unfinished task. (I think the judges minds were made up already at this point).
James had done a masterful job on a dilapidated barn with sugar strands of cobwebs and ginger bake bricks falling to pieces. The effect was obviously not intential but brilliant nevertheless.
Danny’s Big Ben towered strongly though was not quite as polished and complete as she would have liked. I liked the little clock detail.
Brendan’s bird house was beautiful but he got marked down for using a cereal biscuit to make the tiles. Personally I think he did an amazing job and the judges were being picky.
John stole the show with his Roman beauty complete with edible gravel and paving slabs.
The judges had lots of comments on taste. They didn’t like Brendan’s as it was too spicy. Danny’s biscuit was too soft and needed longer in the oven and James got Mary’s winning smile as she munched away at his perfectly spiced biscuit door.
‘Barnstorming Birthday Boy James won Star Baker. I loved his beaming smile of pride.
Unsurprisingly Cathryn was booted out this week. I would have to agree on the choice. She has been shoddy for a couple of weeks now and to be honest the whining was getting rather tiresome. (Sorry!)
So a brilliant semi final line up. All Star Bakers and all with very different styles. Can’t wait for next week!
Did you watch Great British Bake Off? Who’s would have got the Star Baker in your opinion?