Editorial Note: It came to my attention this week that PBS affiliates across the country are following different broadcast schedules for The Great British Baking Show. Here at WETA UK, we are showing one episode a week each Sunday night at 8 pm. On the other hand, my local channel in Cleveland started out with one installment each Friday evening, but since last week has starting doubling up, airing two in a row. In fact some of you may actually have only the season finale left to watch on August 12th. The point here is that, for many of you, our recaps may not be keeping up with your viewing. I wish we could be having a shared experience as before and this may be one of the reasons there have been far fewer reader comments on this series. We regret the situation, but since we can only adhere to one schedule and not the many permutations out there, it must be to the affiliate associated with this blog. Sorry for any confusion you may have experienced.
Now on with the task at hand! You would think after a week of alternative ingredient challenges, pastry baking would be a lark for our experienced contestants. However, while many were praised for their flavors, few were able to create pastry perfection. We’ll come back to soggy bottoms, raw centers and burnt blind bakes in a moment, but first let’s review last week’s highs and goodbyes.
Nadiya excelled as usual in her planned signature and showstopper bakes. But it was her first place showing in the pita bake that broke her technical challenge curse and also ended Ian’s Star Baker streak. Alas Ugne suffered a pair of appearance and structural disasters and was sent home for basically taking on more than was required.
In the tent this weekend, the seven remaining bakers were assigned three pastry projects. The judges opened with a signature challenge to make an open-topped frangipane tart with a shortcrust pastry in two hours. In the toughest technical challenge yet, according to Mary, Paul set our bakers the task of making a Cypriot cheese-filled pastry called flauones in two hours. Finally in the showstopper round, the bakers had to make that 70’s dinner party staple, vol-au-vonts. They had three hours and forty-five minutes to make forty-eight perfect puff pastry and two different delicious fillings.
Highlights: The frangipane tart challenge proved a tricky one for most of the bakers. Nevertheless two of the best were Paul’s Christmas frangipane tart despite the fact it was a tiny bit underbaked and Tamal’s spiced pear frangipane tart which looked chaotic on top, but was classic perfection otherwise. As Sue Perkins quipped, “Messy top, tidy bottom.”
The technical challenge was particularly vexing since no one (including Mary Berry) had ever heard of flauones, let alone seen one. Despite his ignorance, Mat came in first seeing as his pastry was folded correctly, had good placement of sesame seeds and exhibited a lovely shine from the glaze. Flora came in second with good taste, shape and seeds but a bit too flat for Paul’s liking.
In the showstopper, Flora’s asparagus and Parma ham and praline and chocolate vol-au-vents were very well received by the judges. Mary thought her savory offering looked a picture and Paul found her sweet puff pastry brave and the flavor stunning.
However, it was Mat who outshone the competition with His 'n' Hers vol-au-vents. His duo was comprised of his wife’s filling choice, trout and horseradish, and his favorite breakfast foods -bacon, sausage and quail’s eggs. Mat’s flavors were deemed gorgeous and his pastry delicate. This performance paired with the young fireman’s first place finish in the technical earned him Star Baker status this week for finally reaching his culinary potential.
Missteps: This week’s signature challenge brought the first soggy bottom I can recall (Nadiya) and a less than polished bake for the previously infallible Ian. However it was Alvin with his overbaked crust and underbaked plum filling and Flora’s unsuccessful amaretti cookie camouflage that drew the most criticism from Paul and Mary this round.
Paul’s enigmatic flauones recipe tripped up most of the bakers to some degree but Tamal was the most flummoxed. His cheese-filled pastry lacked height and he erroneously chose to sprinkle his sesame seeds on the inside of his flauones. Alvin was close behind with a flat creation that resembled pizza more than the mysterious Cypriot pastry.
Puff pastry was another formidable foe in this week’s showstopper round. While only Ian’s scallop and squid ink vol-au-vonts were judged a flavor failure, a vast majority of the blunders had to do with the fickle pastry itself. Paul and Tamal suffered from tilted and topsy turvy puff cases. Nadiya, concerned with the lamination of her dough, opted to make a second batch. This choice meant she had no time to fill her vol-au-vents, though to her tearful relief, the judges highly praised her Bengali korma and clementine with cod fillings.
Unfortunately, Alvin couldn’t pull off a very necessary showstopper miracle. His puff pastry was virtually raw in the middle and only one of his fillings, the Chicken a la King mixture, was liked by the judges. This added to a poor finish in the technical and an inferior result on his frangipane tart meant that the soft-spoken nurse Sue Perkins affectionately called a cherub couldn’t escape elimination this week.
Alvin left the competition with a sense of resilience and viewers got some insight into what makes him tick. “My dad is a retired general in the army,” said Alvin. “Failure is not an option.” No wonder he always addressed Paul Hollywood as “Sir”!
Four men and two women remain. They face a throwback trio of Victorian challenges next week. Grand meat pies and whimsical cakes will be on offer so loosen your corsets and get ready for another round of great British baking. In the meantime, let’s chat about the delicious and diabolical elements of this series (including the schedule irregularities).