Welcome back to The Great British Bake-Off, and after a few detours, this week we’re finally back to a baking-centric theme with the dreaded Pastry Week.
It also happens to be the quarter-finals, so naturally fear levels are high – but happily, all the bakers still have time for “good lucks” and hugs before starting.
“I can’t believe I’m here. I’m now surrounded by all Star Bakers!” Abdul gushes. Very sweet, but if you’re the only one who’s not gotten it yet, Abdul, alarm bells should be ringing slightly.
As Matt and Noel introduce the theme, it transpires that this week’s Signature bake will be twelve sweet vol-au-vents. Comprising rough-puff pastry and a sweet filling, they seem rather a niche choice – so much so that Abdul has never heard of them before. Uh-oh.
Maxy thinks they’re supermarket party food (raising questions about which supermarket she shops at, exactly) while Janusz witheringly brands them as “so seventies”. Look, the judges are getting on, alright?
Old (or not) as they are, they’re also on the warpath. “It’s the quarter-final and we’re expecting nothing but perfection,” Paul says, while Prue ominously adds that they’re planning on being “really ruthless”.
No pressure then. As the bake gets underway, Syabira is already cracking on with a mandarin cream-cheese filling for her vol-au-vents, while Janusz and Abdul are going for classic flavours: one with strawberries and cream, the other with a berry compote and coconut.
“I don’t want to spook you, but you’re the only baker who hasn’t had Star Baker,” Prue tells poor Abdul, causing Noel to step in and defend him.
In this most stressful of weeks, lamination (folding together butter and dough to create a super-moist pastry) is the word on every baker’s lips, which makes it all the more stressful when Maxy says she’s working with warm rather than cold butter to make her gooseberry-and-cloudberry-jam vol-au-vents, prompting a careful non-reaction from the judges.
As time ticks on, disaster strikes: with half an hour to go, Sandro realises that he didn’t turn the oven on.
“It could still work out,” he says with a panicked expression, then concedes, “these could be the worst vol-au-vents ever made.”
And it’s not just Sandro who has problems: as he races to cook his pastries, the butter has started leaking out of Abdul’s, while Maxy’s don’t seem to be cooking at all. “I don’t want to present raw pastry!” she cries.
Despite the time pressure, Sandro miraculously manages to bake his vol-au-vents – though that’s perhaps the only positive thing that can be said for them. They’re flat, leaking butter and look, in his words, “like Yorkshire puddings”.
And in a double tragedy, it turns out he’s worn his special leather trousers specifically for today – as Noel says, maybe he can use them to distract Prue.
When time is called, it’s a tale of two halves. Syabira and Janusz’s offerings look pristine, while Maxy, Abdul and Sandro’s vol-au-vents are blasted for their lack of height and colour, messiness and missing (gasp) lamination.
“It’s almost just a sheet of puff pastry with bits on the top,” Paul says damningly of Abdul’s offerings, before almost cracking his teeth on one of Sandro’s, whose sartorial efforts sadly aren’t enough to save him from a tongue-lashing.
On the other side of the tent, Janusz attempts to cover up his substituted whipped cream filling with a breezy: “What crème pat?” Sadly, the bottom of his pastries are pronounced raw, and in the end it’s only Syabira who comes out of it well, with Paul calling her pastries almost perfect.
As the bakers lick their wounds – Sandro mourns his missed opportunity to get a handshake, before declaring, “I don’t even want it now” – things move on apace to the technical challenge.
“Bakers, there are 29 ingredients in this recipe, so please get the balance right,” Prue tells the ashen-faced bakers. As it turns out, they’ll be making spring rolls, and naturally, none of the bakers have never made them before.
As things get underway, there’s a minefield of mistakes lying in wait – the bakers have no idea how much water to include in their dough. As Prue tells us, too much of it could result in massive, unsightly bubbles when the roll is deep-fried.
And that’s before they get onto cooking the mushrooms, which look highly poisonous and which, according to Syabira, have a really strong taste and should be used with caution. Naturally, Abdul first forgets to add them, then adds them all.
Soon, everybody is sweating profusely, as they’ve only been given an hour and twenty minutes to get it all done.
“This is like a full speed spring-roll making competition,” a flushed Syabira says as she preps her pastry. And when the time comes to make the dipping sauce, nobody has any recipe for that either, resulting in Sandro dumping a hodgepodge of ingredients together and finding out it tastes “disgusting”.
Several burnt fingers later, time is up, and while Maxy laments her tiny spring rolls the judges get to work.
Syabira has indeed included too much water in her dough, Maxy’s rolls are mostly pastry and Abdul has (surprise, surprise) put too much mushroom in the filling. Even worse, Janusz seems to have miscounted his, and only made seven (he’s as bemused as the judges as to where the eighth has gone), but what’s left is delicious.
That leaves Sandro to pick up the crown for best roll, while Maxy nets last place. With the bakers neck and neck, we come to the Showstopper, which is suitably ludicrous: they must make a 3D pie scene inspired by their favourite childhood story – which must also be “instantly recognisable” to boot.
They’re under pressure, as Paul is unimpressed by the shoddy standards of the bakes so far. “I want to see baking nirvana,” he tells the camera.
As the bakers get cracking, it’s clear that curry is the order of the day. Abdul is making a Treasure Island-themed pie scene stuffed with aubergine curries and apple crumbles, Maxy is making spicy chicken, and Syabira is making a Jack and the Beanstalk-themed chicken rendang pie – though she’s substituting a coconut tree for the infamous beanstalk.
Across the tent, Sandro and Janusz are both making Very Hungry Caterpillar-themed pies - though Janusz has made his Caterpillar into his own greedy dog Nigel.
With the baking underway, it soon becomes clear that Maxy is freewheeling. Not only is she hand-making filo pastry for her pie – a notoriously tricky thing to do – she also seems to have forgotten half the ingredients for her spicy chicken.
“I didn’t write this out properly… I’ve forgotten quite a few important things,” she says, poring over her recipe. As she stresses, Sandro still finds the time to prank Noel by feeding him a cherry covered in paprika.
As the familiar frantic Bake-Off music kicks in, we watch the bakers melt down in real time as they attempt to juggle all the many pieces of their showstoppers, but miraculously, when the buzzer goes they’ve all been completed, more or less without incident. Hurrah: let the judging commence!
As expected, there are some gorgeous bakes here but the judges are picky – our bakers have got to the semi-final, standards have got to be high. Both Sandro and Janusz’s Hungry Caterpillar offerings are condemned as mostly dry, while Maxy’s model of the world is underdone.
Needless to say, Syabira shines once more with her Jack and the Palm Tree and comes away with the judges’ approval glowing around her head like an aura.
Despite that, in the debrief tent afterwards the mood is grim. Noel describes himself as “traumatised”, while Prue offers a damning “really disappointing”: almost none of the bakers have lived up to their exacting standards. Has the soggy bottom fallen out of the competition?
With all that said, it’s no surprise that Syabira scoops the Star Baker prize yet again for her work (denying Abdul the title once more) and this time around, it’s Maxy who gets booted out, leaving Sandro looking both devastated and relieved. He’s made it into the semi-finals, and if you thought Pastry Week was bad, just wait until Patisserie Week...
The Great British Bake-Off airs on Channel 4 at 8pm on Tuesdays