The semi-final of GBBO 2016 was a case of piping bags at dawn as the four remaining bakers tackled tricky patisserie. Who emerged victorious and whose dreams floundered in a sea of fondant?
“Good luck everybody!” said the four remaining bakers to each other, as the ninth episode of this year’s Bake Off commenced. This was an outward display of camaraderie in a high-pressure situation, but in truth the semi-finalists were now locked in mortal combat. Their weapons: piping bags full of crème pâtissière. Things were gonna get messy.
The signature bake
The two remaining male contestants (Selasi and Andrew) concurred that the two remaining female contestants (Jane and Candice) were probably the ones to beat. “You want to be the only cock left in the hen coop,” said Sue to Andrew, as Jane and Candice exchanged competitive glances across the kitchen. “She’s very quiet over there,” whispered Jane, as Candice chastised her for her conspiratorial whispering.
As the tension continued to build, the bakers were tasked with producing 24 savoury palmiers, with “clearly defined layers” and “perfectly cooked pastry”. Selasi sprang from the starting blocks with his typical Ghanaian confidence. “I’ve never made them before,” he said. “Should be alright.”
From the look of Candice’s rather corpulent red onion and cambozola constructions and Andrew’s herby treble clefs, the boat was evidently being pushed out. But Andrew was the first to come a cropper, as he gazed forlornly at a rather miserable looking slab of puff pastry. “I’m losing confidence by the second,” he said. After an hour, he could gaze forlornly no longer; he slung it in the bin and started again. As the final bake commenced and trays were shunted into ovens, we’d not seen four people this nervous since Zayn left One Direction. “Are you about to cry?” asked Mel of Selasi. “Nah,” said Selasi. “We’ll leave that to Andrew.”
Underbaking has been a bit of a feature of this series (Jane is adamant that her bakes need longer in the tent’s ovens than hers do at home) and come the judging, Jane’s and Selasi's bakes suffered from being underdone. Andrew, however, despite starting over, sashayed his way to success. “You’ve got away with this,” said Paul, as Andrew grinned with barely concealed pleasure.
The technical challenge
The technical challenge involved producing a savarin, a yeasted sponge cake soaked through with syrup. “Unknown territory,” said Andrew – who we swear appears to be getting younger with every successive bake – but all four bakers found the going tough in an exceedingly warm tent that almost seemed designed to sabotage their decorative cream toppings. Jane was distraught to meet her nemesis, caramel – but despite crystallising the stuff several times over, she somehow managed to emerge the victor. Selasi, trailing last, was now in real trouble. Could he hang on for a place in the final?
Selasi's fondant fancies would ultimately be the key to his destiny, and things didn’t start well as he was forced to rebake his sponge after Mary chastised him for not having sifted his flour. “I never sift my flour,” said Selasi, confidently, before ultimately bowing to Mary’s superior wisdom. Her call for “sheer perfection” had sent some kind of floury hyperspasm of panic through the tent, and everyone stepped up to the mark; Andrew’s Philharmonic Fancies, Jane’s bright green pistachio sponges, Candice’s cherry surprise (spoiler: it features cherries) and Selasi’s “lime and ginger fondant fancies” (which we’ve taken to singing to the tune of “Deck The Halls”.)
The end of the showstopper saw possibly the most disorderly scenes ever seen in Bake Off, as the plucky contestants flung fondant to and fro in order to coat their sponges evenly. “The first two are fun,” said Andrew, “the remaining 34 are an exercise in endurance.”
Selasi, as ever, was super-cool (“I’ve got stamina, I’m a baking athlete”) but ultimately, the faultless round that he needed to save him from eviction just didn’t materialise. And he knew it. “I’m not happy with them,” he said of his fancies, stoically. Andrew, looking barely 10 years old by the end of the show, scooped Star Baker, with an honourable mention going to Candice for her efforts (“nowt wrong with that” was Mary’s understated opinion.) So, next week will see the very last BBC winner of Bake Off crowned. But who will it be? Andrew? Jane? Or Candice? There’s barely a piece of greaseproof paper between them.