Let’s get this party started! Bake Off’s first-ever festival week delivered the touch of pizzazz recent episodes have lacked.
It was obvious, really... bring together a bunch of people who are desperate to impress, a tent and a few questionable ingredients, and you have a festival to remember.
The challenges were more intriguing, the bakes more colourful and creative, and the banter mostly pleasing. Rosie and Noel were even moved to form a rock group, the Eggy Rubbers, in honour of her grilled layer cake. More about which later.
Never had there been more opportunity for Prue to smirk over ‘buns’ as this week’s signature challenge commenced. The six remaining contestants were tasked with conjuring up festival buns – yeasted cakes inspired by festive holidays around the world.
Several bakers opted for a take on the hot cross bun. These earned three-time star baker Steph a Hollywood Handshake for her perfectly textured offerings.
The too-bitter lemon peel in Alice’s buns failed to please the judges and their appearance earned her a withering “they look handmade” from Prue.
Michael’s figgy pudding/hot cross bun mash-up was spot-on for figgy flavour, but his over-generous use of fruit (500g to 1kg of flour) resulted in uneven buns.
David drew on his Bulgarian connections to rustle up kozunak [Bulgarian Easter bread] plaits. The slightly sweet yeast-raised bread with raisins won praise for its neatness and saffron hit.
Rosie opted for Finnish semlor buns, filled with jam and topped with whipped cream. These doughnut-like delights “would look good in a shop window”, according to the impressed judges.
A second Hollywood Handshake was offered to Henry as he presented a chocolatey version of kardemummabullar, a classic Swedish cardamom bun often served at coffee parties. So stunned was Henry to see Paul’s proffered paw that he told the revered judge to “shut up”!
This ill-advised outburst had everyone collapsing in nervous giggles as we half-expected Paul to demand “off with his head”. Fortunately, the phrase was quickly adopted as this week’s in-joke. Phew! Though not quite fast enough, in my opinion, to empower Steph or Alice to say it to Noel, whose banter was obviously distracting.
A quick recovery and we were off to the technical – to make 12 identical Sicilian cassatelles. These fried pastries, filled with ricotta, chocolate and orange, required a stiff and pliable dough, and to be generously filled and well-sealed to prevent the cheese running out during frying.
There was some confusion as the bakers struggled to push their pastry through pasta machines to achieve the required thinness, with mixed results.
Alice’s pastry was too thick, causing her cassatelles to puff up and pop open, placing her bottom of the technical pile.
Michael’s also exploded, and he came fifth. Steph was fourth, Henry third and David’s “really good” pastries took him to second place. After several weeks in fifth place, Rosie was thrilled to come first, with her neat, well-sealed cassatelles, full of ricotta.
As we approached the showstopper, Alice and Michael were in the danger zone. The judges noted Alice was becoming more disorganised and her bench often looked like a “crime scene”. David’s habit of regularly cleaning his workspace stood him in better stead, they felt, as a tidy bench generally equates to better baking.
The bakers’ nerves were tested with a complex Sarawak layer cake. Traditionally served in Sarawak, Malaysia, on special occasions, this challenging bake is created by grilling thin layers of different coloured and flavoured sponges that are cut into shapes and reconstructed to produce intricate patterns.
Inevitably, there was much burning and binning of over-grilled sponge. Rosie’s determination to avoid an overbaked cake led to the temporary formation of the Eggy Rubber band with Noel. Props to her for withstanding a shed-load of Noel’s nonsense wittering again this week.
Meanwhile, the festival vibe was felt throughout the tent as bakers whisked up mind-bending layers of blue, red, yellow, green and pink sponges.
Rosie went all-out as she blew sugar birds to top her cake. Her secret weapon was a cutting guide made by her dad to ensure super-neat slithers of layered cake to be rebuilt in a complex pattern.
“Triangles are stressful,” Rosie complained, as the task threatened to overwhelm her. The judges’ verdict was that her design was much more complicated than the others but, sadly, unsuccessful.
David was also aiming for military precision, with a bread slicer. His sculptural design, which drew colour inspiration from one of Prue’s necklaces, was “architecturally interesting”, but too small to feed a party. Unless that party was made up of Sandi’s family, as Paul cheekily suggested.
Michael misjudged his Jamaican mule cake by soaking his layers in rum, resulting in a stodgy, claggy bake.
Steph’s orange and chai spiced cake was built of delicious sponge and marzipan, but the gaps between her blocks of layers needed “grouting”.
Coming in for much praise for its lemon and lime flavours, great texture and design was Henry’s elegant present box cake. Even so, Paul told him it looked like a stack of egg sandwiches.
“That’s what I was going for,” joked Henry.
“Shut up!” returned Paul, who had obviously found his funny bone this week.
The exceptional detail and vibrant colours in Alice’s chocolate, orange and salted caramel kaleidoscope bake saved her from being booted out of the tent, which meant it was Michael who had to pack up his apron and go.
Sandi fought back tears as she sent Michael on his way, with her customary slur of: “I’m show shorry.” Aww!
Ironically, given his earlier confession that the only festival he’d ever attended was of the book variety, Henry was crowned Star Baker of festival week.
His response? “Shut up!”
Here’s a few titbits based on this week’s episode:
Most likely to win: Rosie (her steely determination is awesome)
Who should have gone home: Michael
Most fun to watch: Henry
Quote of the week: “I’m covering my cracks up with some leaves” – Michael