I’m not surprised that The Great British Bake Off (GBBO) went back to the Victorian age for its latest round. So much of our baking is rooted in this era of enormous change. From new ingredients to production processes, this was a time so fast-moving, comparable to changes in computerisation and information technology during the modern Elizabethan age.
One minute bakers were labouring over temperamental dough, made with badly milled flours and inconsistent brewer’s yeast, the next baking powder and pressed yeast were invented to give rise to a new generation of recipes. The Industrial Revolution speeded up production through the invention of new machinery.
We may have had Delia Smith but the Victorians had Mrs Beeton. More of an editor than a writer, her ‘Book of Household Management’ is a tome is so vast, Pru Leith once said: “It would have taken her 50 years to get through it and she only lived to 28!”
The big question was whether the bakers on GBBO had brushed up on their baking history too as in the latest round they were confronted with three recipes pertaining to that era.
No Victorian buffet would have been complete without a proper pie and this was the bakers’ first challenge; a hot water crust game pie, embellished with plentiful and intricate decoration.
All of the bakers mastered the hot water crust pasty. Judging came down to the combination of flavours and decorations. Ian didn’t interpret the brief well and produced a flavoursome, but too simplistic-looking pie. Tamal seasoned his with a ras el hanout spice mix, often found in tagine recipes, which had Merry Berry looking startled but earned him a handshake from Paul Hollywood.
The technical challenge was a Tennis Cake (tennis was invented in 1865). The finished result expected by Paul & Mary looked like a modern novelty cake and had four distinct elements to it: fruit cake, almond paste, homemade sugarpaste and royal icing. While all the bakers got the cake into the oven quickly, allowing it time to cool at the end, none of them had the foresight to making the royal icing early enough to pipe and dry the net.
On my recent visit to iba15 in Munich, I noticed that sugarpaste (fondant) has taken over the world of cake decorating - and this despite a lot of people telling me that they don’t like the taste of it. I can see why it is successful, since it is so convenient. On GBBO it was back to gelatine and icing sugar, though, and Mat clearly couldn’t cope. Did he not squeeze out the gelatine? We weren’t shown what went wrong, but his green fondant lawn was well soggy. Nadiya, however, came out triumphant.
The show-stopper was a ‘Charlotte Russe’, a bombe-style dessert composed of ladies’ fingers filled with crème bavarois and jelly. Ian delivered a spectacular crown and Tamal, who is beginning to look like a winner, excelled with perfect creamy bavarois and deservedly won the star baker crown.
As they approach the quarter final, it does get tougher and it looked shaky for Flora, but it was Mat who was sent home.