Pastry week! A time of soggy bottoms and soggy faces, as we prepare to cry tears of loss as yet another baker leaves the tent. We’re halfway through the competition and the bakers are feeling all the feels--fierce competitiveness, imposter syndrome, fear of Paul’s meaty hands poking their tender pastry. Andrew’s desperate to win star baker, and I quite think he’s deserved it a couple of times over.
Their signature challenge is to make twenty four breakfast pastries, two different types, so twelve of each, in three and a half hours. According to my research (trust me, I’m a librarian), it’s the butter that makes a Danish pastry Danish. Advice from the judges includes a warning about the large amount of butter required--if it melts out of the pastry, they’ll be “dry as old boots.” This dough also requires good time management--make your dough quickly to give it enough time to rise as you prepare your fillings. Inadequate proving once the pastry is filled and shaped is one of the things that can lead to severe butter leakage.
Benjamina is making peanut butter and banana pinwheel and a maple candied bacon swirl (have you noticed how often peanut butter and bacon are considered “American”? What does that say about us?)
Val’s dough is a bit wet, of which she wisely says, “It’s better to be wetter than it is to be dry.” Oh Val. You dear sweet cinnamon roll.
Jane is the only baker making two doughs, infusing one with orange and one with cinnamon. She’s making an orange and cardamom pain au raisin and a raspberry chocolate almond danish.
As the bakers finish their dough they turn to bashing vast amounts of butter into submission. They’ll need flat sheets of butter to fold into their dough.
Candice is taking a risk with a savory breakfast pastry, a version of a Croque Monsieur, which is one of my favorite sandwiches. If you’ve never had one you should seek one out immediately. Candice’s version will include mushrooms cooked with thyme, pancetta, a bechamel sauce and gruyere cheese, which Paul affirms is a good cheese for a pastry. She’s also making a sweet apple and cinnamon danish.
Andrew is measuring his butter, and he wants nice neat corners on his butter, which involves “hand fudging” which, if there isn’t an urban dictionary entry on that yet, there should be. Andrew is making pastries inspired by his mum and dad: pear and chocolate and spiced date swirls. His dad was always prepared for the zombie apocalypse by having a bag of dried dates in the glovebox at all times.
Selasi’s breakfast pastries are full of tropical fruit. He’s making a rhubarb, mango and ginger plait along with pineapple and coconut pinwheels. Paul, after a warning that the coconut could possibly ruin the pastry, sticks his hand into Selasi’s bowl of shredded coconut like a right git and takes a big gobful, then also absconds with a leftover coconut piece.
The bakers begin the lamination process, which involves layering their flattened butter with their dough. This involves a lot of folding and rolling, using different folds such as the envelope fold or the book turn. Each approach offers varying amounts of layers. While doing this they must continue preparing their fillings.
Val is making pecan maple syrup pinwheels and apple, sultana, and cinnamon swirls. She includes lemon and orange in her apple mixture to “lift” the apple. She also has a secret weapon--she cuts her dough with plain dental floss, which is a trick I’ve heard of before but never used. It should prevent the flattening of her rolls, though.
Rav is making a pretty basic cinnamon swirl with lemon icing along with pecan, walnut and maple plaits.
The bakers are moving onto their second turns. Andrew’s being very precise with his process. Candice’s butter has gone weirdly lumpy, which is really unpleasant to look at.
Tom’s math is twenty seven layers requires three turns. Benjamina has a complicated formula for the number of layers you’ll get from each turn, and it makes my brain hurt. Candice says she can work out three times three, which is about my level of baking math as well. Jane says the third turn will be twenty seven layers. Andrew does another book turn for four times that many layers. Suffice it to say, there are hella layers happening up in here.
Tom is making some kind of granola and wheat biscuit/creme pat monstrosities, and honestly, I can’t understand why he’s still here. “The flavor is quite similar to when you when you get to the end of your bowl of cereal and you drink the milk,” he says, setting Sue up to say “As we say in the breakfast cereal world, cheerio!”
MORE TURNING. MORE BUTTER POKING OUT.
So the dough has the most time to rest, they should wait on filling and shaping until the last possible moment, but they can’t wait too long or else they’ll run out of baking time.
Val’s floss method works a treat, while Andrew’s knife slicing definitely flattens his pastry.
“Thirty minutes left for grievous butterly harm!”
A mad rush of bakers baking, still filling, taking out their bakes, sitting in front of the oven and praying, icing. Rav realizes he’s forgotten a plait and only has eleven. Benjamina’s second batch is hemorrhaging butter.
Time is called and we can see Candice’s oven is smoking. “I think someone put some butter in the bottom of my oven,” she quips.
The judging begins with Val. She has all twenty four pastries. They’re a little pale but a good buttery flavor. The apple pastries fall apart which is sad, although the apple filling is good. Val insists her family likes them doughy and Paul sighs and shakes his head. Oh, Val, bless your heart. Selasi’s are a nice inviting color but they’re not quite done and some of the flavors aren’t working. Tom’s are dry as a bone and the other is raw and Paul won’t even eat it. Poor Tom. Except he did it to himself, really. Rav has good layers and the nut filling is delicious, but the pastry itself is dry. Andrew has good lamination but his pastries are too small which is a shame.
Benjamina’s aren’t proved enough and have lost butter, but her fillings have a good flavor. Jane’s look good, are baked, delicious flavor. Candice’s are well baked but have also lost some butter, a little dry. Her savory ones are very good which has elevated her performance.
For the technical they must make a tea time classic, the bakewell tart. Mary says, “I want sheer perfection so please keep your cool.” They have two and half hours to figure out what a bakewell tart looks like and make it.
The judges tell us that everyone should know how to make a bakewell tart. Thin layer of pastry, no soggy bottom, frangipane, raspberry jam, a layer of icing with a feathery design. Paul takes a big bite of Mary’s sample and says, “Well done Bezza!” Bezza? BEZZA? What the? BEZZA.
Benjamina stars off into space muttering, “Frangipane. How do you make a frangipane?” Andrew, ever imaginative, just makes everything in the order it is on the recipe.
Val, the sweet lamb, completely missed the first page of the recipe and had been happily winging it. She makes a bakewell tart every week, after all, so she knows what she’s doing. Probably. She likes a thicker case, which we know the judges do not--Val sometimes errs in making her bakes to her preferences rather than the judges’. “I like it burnt! I like it soggy! I like it covered in cat hair!” Oh, Val. Bless you.
The younger bakers assume the older bakers will have an advantage, which could be true. Val makes a bakewell tart every week, but hers is “different.” Benjamina calls the tart “retro.” Jane calls it “classic and classy, not old.” “Classic and classy,” Benjamina repeats, without much enthusiasm.
Tom rightly guesses that a bakewell tart has a thin pastry, while Val makes hers about as thick as a Scotsman’s accent. While the pastry cases chill, the bakers turn their attention to the icing, including trying to make a small amount the perfect shade of pink. Selasi and Benjamina both have a bit of trouble perfecting their pink shades, which amuses Benjamina to no end.
Val blind bakes her case, even though normally she wouldn’t. When the instructions say “fill the pastry case” the bakers must try and remember or figure out which layer comes when.
Bakewell tarts were Candice's specialty and favorite of Candice’s Nan, bringing an emotional layer to her bake. She even has a picture of her on her Nan’s lap, wearing her Nan’s glasses, hidden away in her bench. Her Nanny made a really, really good bakewell.
I don’t want to put you in a frangi-panic, but you only have an hour left!
The bakers get ready to pipe their frangipane. Val, the keep fit fanatic forever, does some kind of flinging routine with hers, while Sue awaits the sweet bliss of a frangipane induced concussion.
Once the frangipane is piped on, it’s time to bake--the most crucial part, BAKE WELL. NOT BADLY. WELL. Andrew blithely sets his timer for fifteen minutes. Such a sweet trusting lamb.
“It’s taking AGES to cook,” Jane says about hers.
“It’s not looking very baked,” Andrew says. “It’s not cooking as...oh my word, the oven wasn’t on!”
Once it is baked, it needs to be cool enough to ice, which is a delicate balancing act.
Five minutes is called, while the bakers throw on icing and try to feather the pink icing. Rav destroys his pastry case as he removes the tin. Andrew flops on half his icing as the tart gurgles beneath it. Then time is called, and they all just do their best with what they have.
The judging is swift and brutal; all of the tarts are pretty good, with the exception of Rav’s missing case (“This is just goo!”) and Andrew’s un-iced (but baked!) tart. Val sadly has the only soggy bottom and uncooked pastry. We end up with Rav, Val, and Andrew in the bottom three, while Selasi, Candice, and Jane come out on top.
For the showstopper, our bakers need to make forty eight phyllo dough amuse-bouche, one savory and one sweet. They have four hours. The dough needs to be nearly thin enough to see through, and their amuse-bouche must be small--one bite at most.
Rav’s made phyllo before, with varying amounts of success. Val says she made phyllo dough once, thirty five years ago, said “This is no joke!” and then never bothered to again, which is how I think most bakers roll.
The dough itself is fairly basic, but what makes it phyllo is how you work it, how much you let it rest, and, of course, the stretching. Rav wants to let his rest for an entire hour. Rav is pretty convinced he’s going home.
Val’s phyllo have a Christmas theme, with goat’s cheese and onion tartlets and Santa’s sack full of mincemeat and spiced apple. “The savory will be a cup, and it will be two mouthfuls,” Val says, and Paul gives her the dead eyes. Val! RECONSIDER! CHANGE COURSE! “They won’t be Yorkshire gobfuls!” she says, which makes me never want to go to a dinner party in Yorkshire.
Jane is making some kind of phyllo ice cream cone thing, which looks cute but will most certainly be larger than Paul’s inch/inch and a half vision.
Tom and Andrew are both going for a slacker, wetter dough than the other bakers; Andrew insists this makes it easier to stretch, and it will firm up after resting.
Tom’s doing “risky flavors” with some cocoa coated chocolate mousse beef monstrosity. Tom, for once, could you just...never mind. There’s no stopping you.
Candice is giving her sausages a good squeeze for her Scottish inspired amuse-bouche. Candice is using a pasta machine to roll out her dough, which seems like a genius idea, and Mary heartily approves.
Candice is also adding blood sausage to her balls, and no one’s quite sure if she’ll have enough.
Benjamina is putting fried plantains in her phyllo, inspired by her Nigerian heritage. Selasi is making a coffee creme pat cup and his savory spears will have asparagus and ham.
Rav is doing well on time, and feeling pretty confident. He, with the other bakers, begin stretching their dough. Tom uses his knuckles; Rav uses a rolling pin; Val uses a clean piece of broom handle. She learned about it on the internet! (Note: why is Benjamina’s dough is so much more yellow than everyone else’s??)
Jane tests the thinness of her dough by seeing if she can read a bottle of alcohol through it, which is the kind of test I can get behind.
The bakers have moved on to shaping their pieces, and no one is happy about it at all. The dough is delicate and fiddly and falls apart, and as they work a deathly silence falls over the tent.
Forty five minutes left, and the bakers finish their rolling, shaping, and filling and move on to their baking. Jane has a hell of a time with her cones. Val is having similar luck with her whole process---with thirty minutes left she’s still filling her parcels. Her dough is very slack, and proving a terror to work with. Plus she’s dropped a bunch on the floor, which can’t help. With five minutes left she puts a tray in the oven, which seems like poor time management will again be Val’s downfall. Tom’s overcooked his meat, Jane’s frozen her jam, while Selasi is again finished early and lending a helping hand.
Judging begins with Benjamina. Hers are good and crispy and tasty. Selasi’s phyllo is quite dry but a good flavor on his sweet amuse-bouche. Andrew managed to pack piquant flavor into his tiny parcels. Tom’s “informal” parcels are too big; Mary likes his meat, but Paul doesn’t. Paul’s disappointed. Jane’s look fantastic, but her sweet ones are too big. The flavors are very good on both, though. Val is missing mincemeat parcels, and overall the size is too big. Her savory are underdone, and her sweet ones are more like shortcrust pastry than phyllo. Candice gets high marks for appearance, and both her flavors are good as well. “Scrumptious!” in Mary’s words. Rav’s look good, and delight both of the judges. Beautifully proportioned.
The judges convene--who will be star baker? Who will go home? Jane and Candice did very well, and are holding steady. Rav and Benjamina did well enough to stay in. Tom and Val are the two in trouble.
Sue gets to tell us our star baker this week is once again Candice and her amazing balls.
Mel tells us that we must say goodbye to Val, and, dear reader, I sobbed when I watched this (thanks, hormones!). “When you bake, you’re baking for people, so you make it the best you can and you make it with love. And whenever I make anything I stir love into it, I knead love into it, so when I present it, it’s special.” SOB. SOB SOB SOB FOREVER. ALL THE BOTTOMS ARE SOGGY WITH MY TEARS. Andrew tells us about a game she made of reading a 1977 shopping receipt and having the other bakers guess the prices. Go with love, Val. You’re too good and pure for this bake-off.
Until botanical week, may all your butter stay put, and may all your bakes be full of Val levels of love.