A failure to dress Paul Hollywood in doublet and hose for Tudor week felt like something of an oversight, but we quickly overcame our disappointment, lulled into satisfaction by the gentle sound of the harpischord soundtrack. This week’s celebration of the baking of the 1500s was a Bake Off first, as was Andrew’s extraordinary decision to bake his signature Tudor pies in the shape of interlocking cogs, a mechanical marvel that had to be seen to be believed. “That’s so sick,” said Benjamina, with scarcely concealable envy.
The signature bake
Our baker’s pies were strong on fillings, from Candice’s ox and oyster to Selasi’s guineafowl, possibly the only crossover between cuisine of Henry VIII’s reign and Ghanaian street food. Benjamina went slightly off piste in the flavour-fest with Mexican and Spanish flavours, but there were no complaints from Paul and Mary when it came to the judging. The main problem for everyone – as is so often the case in Bake Off – was time; they all found themselves running short, prompting Selasi to ask Mel whether she’d be receptive to a Pie Bribe in order to get a few more minutes on the clock. But there’s no corruption in our squeaky clean Bake Off tent. One minute is one minute, whichever way you slice it.
The technical challenge
So the contest remained pretty even going into the technical, but when there are only five bakers remaining it feels less like a competition and more of a mutual support group, with thumbs up, winks and wistful frowns of commiseration going back and forth. “It’s like the Spice Girls before Geri left,” said Candice, begging the question of who Geri Halliwell is – and, perhaps more importantly, who Selasi and Andrew might be.
The “helpful tips” given by Paul or Mary at the start of each technical must rank as some of the vaguest, least helpful tips ever given to anyone, and the task of making Jumbles – basically Tudor biscuits – had bakers clutching their heads in despair. How difficult can it be to make a biscuit? Answer: incredibly difficult, when it has to be in the shape of a Celtic Knot and the precise recipe remains something of a closely guarded Tudor secret. Baking tools of the era, such as pestle and mortar, were supplied for the task, although calculations of dough weight were still performed on electronic apparatus rather than an abacus or fingers and toes. Nervous looks were cast around the kitchen as the bakers tried to suss out the correct moment to add the sugar, not realising that they all should probably have done it about 20 minutes previously; it made for a slightly anaemic set of biscuits – although Candice and Andrew’s creations took the top two slots in a judging process, characterised by the use of adjectives such as “strange” and “unusual”.
Benji and Selasi found themselves with everything to do in the showstopper, a marzipancentrepiece on which the bakers were instructed to “go to town”. Candice not only went to town, she painted it red and had the main thoroughfare named after her; hers was an extraordinary peacock creation with a multicoloured sponge body and an unexpected blueberry surprise within. No other bake could really compete with this, although Jane’s more subtle, swan-laden Tudor-style genoese sponge got high marks. Selasi did just enough to save himself, with a marzipan-walled fortress (a construction that looked singularly unable to keep out Tudor intruders but tasted great) and so, sadly, it was Benji who found herself exiting at the quarter final stage. We’ll miss her cool demeanour and her brilliant bakes. Candice, meanwhile, is on a roll. She’s the baker to beat in next week’s semi final.
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