As we enter week four of The Great British Bake Off, our two professional bakers, Gerhard Jenne and Charlotte Green, reckon it’s time the bakers pulled their floured socks up.
“One candidate made enough pastry to feed an army. Another had loads of peaches on her bench, just none ended up in the pie.”
Soggy bottoms are judge Paul’s pet hate, and this round of The Great British Bake Off wasn’t going to disappoint. This week, I watched the show with someone who was neither a baker, nor had she ever heard of Paul Hollywood. It was interesting to see how amused she was, and that she thought the music was very good, something I never paid attention to. While she sat there in fits, I looked on in horror.
The first challenge was to create a fruit pie. The most interesting trend I noticed was the use of herbs in various pastries. Having only just created a baked raspberry cheesecake with lemon thyme crust myself, I felt part of some Great British Bake Off force; thyme, sage and rosemary were being used by half of the candidates. The fillings were often based on apple, as befits a British fruit pie. I don’t have an issue with food colouring in icings, I’m less sure of it being used to paint pastry before a bake, though, as Glenn did for his New England number.
The technical challenge was PH’s custard tart recipe, naturally without instructions. From their faces it was obvious that no one had ever attempted this nutmeg-dusted delicacy before - and it showed. Hardly anyone, it seemed, had learned from the first round, where liquid and raw pastry instantly added up to those dreaded soggy bottoms. Only Frances and Beca had some sense and blind-baked the cases and heated the custard, while the others ended up with more than soggy bottoms. In the end, it was custard carnage.
Finally, they had to bake a show-stopping filo pastry based centrepiece - not a popular item with bakers and therefore quite challenging. Even for a commercial kitchen, I thought it was wholly inefficient to drape huge pieces of thin pastry over massive benches, when in fact you could knock up 200 brownies at the same time. But then, margins don’t matter to the BBC’s bakers.
One candidate made enough pastry to feed an army. Another had loads of peaches on her bench, and none ended up in the pie. And Ali had enough ingredients to roll a two metre long piethon - not making his job any easier. His labour cost went up as he had to rope in the help of the two presenters.
It was obvious throughout this episode that Kimberley was going to be this week’s star baker. Her North African-inspired pie, with turmeric flavoured pastry, pork scratchings and chicken looked stunning, and made Paul Hollywood grin like a Cheshire cat.
Less fortunate was Ali. His confession that he doesn’t like fruit pies didn’t go down well to start with, and he had no grasp of the technical challenge either. His piethon was just too big.
My friend who was watching with me was greatly inspired and thought she might fire up her ‘Baby Belling’ and try something herself. GBBO certainly creates interest, and I found myself Googling the ins and outs of vinegar in filo pastry in the small hours of this morning. I’m just hoping some young people will also be inspired and think about a career in baking – now that would be a fine result.
“Her presentation is grating on my nerves, because her actual baking is often poor.”
The double-crusted fruit pie was a clear challenge: avoid a soggy bottom! Fruit fillings are naturally juicy, so I recommend resting the pastry in the fridge for at least an hour. Drain the filling and allow it to cool completely, releasing the steam, then bake on a low oven shelf, allowing the base time to cook, without burning the top.
Perhaps to save time, the bakers had other ideas: Beca added semolina, while Howard covered all bases with polenta, cornflour and icing sugar. Rob enterprisingly discarded the pie-tin base and baked directly onto a lined shelf. Frances piped an unpleasantly thick layer of frangipane into her pie.
Paul and Mary were not pulling any punches this week in their judging, and Glenn was admonished for attempting a slow baking pie. Frances, as usual, produced a work of art, but it was “style over substance”, and I have to say that her presentation is grating on my nerves, because her actual baking is often poor.
Christine managed not only a soggy bottom, but a soggy top too, and Ali’s pie was raw and flavourless. Frances’ overuse of frangipane made hers ‘bland and dry’. Kim, Rob and Ruby all received praise for their efforts.
Custard tarts – for the Technical Challenge – called for a sweet pastry; not difficult, although kneading too slowly, or with warm hands can cause problems with melting butter. This dough really needs its resting time too, and time was in short supply.
I would normally blind-bake my pastry first, brushed with beaten egg, to prevent sogginess, but there was no time. Undercooking was rife, and collapsed pastry was everywhere. Despite being runny heaps, the “custard tarts” were all duly served up on platters for the judges. Glenn easily deserved last place with his broken pastry and “scrambled egg custard”, whilst Ali and Christine fared little better with their raw offerings. Frances alone did well all round.
Filo pastry, for the Showstopper, is considered difficult because it must be stretched thinly enough to read newsprint through, making it tricky to handle, but I thought the contestants did well, and it was certainly entertaining to watch. Frances had another complicated design, and was warned that it had better taste good this time.
Kim received enthusiastic praise for her pie, but Frances served up a thick, uncooked baklava centre. Ali made a good, crispy pastry, but it was not enough to save him from elimination, while Kim was finally crowned Star Baker after weeks of great work. Next week, the bakers will encounter biscuits and traybakes. Glenn and Howard have been running into difficulties lately and I think they are both in danger, as is Frances – how long can her presentation save her if she fails to deliver on taste?
You can read Gerhard’s blog here.
Follow Konditor & Cook on Twitter: @konditorandcook
Charlotte’s personal blog can be found here.
Follow Langs of London on Twitter: @LangsofLondon