Great British Bake Off 2015, Week 7 - Victorian Week

Great British Bake Off 2015, Week 7 - Victorian Week

by Howard Middleton 17 September 2015

If you thought last week's vol au vents were retro, this week takes us even further back in time with a series of Victorian challenges. Series four Bake Off favourite Howard Middleton analyses the episode, from over-filled pies to gloriously wobbly bavarois.

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Howard is a food writer and presenter from Sheffield, who first caught the public’s attention on series four of The Great British Bake Off, going on to win their affection with his quirky style and love of unusual ingredients.

Howard is a food writer and presenter from Sheffield, who first caught the public’s attention on series four of The Great British Bake Off, going on to win their affection with his quirky style and love of unusual ingredients.

As we reach week seven of series six, you probably think that you’ve seen it all on Bake Off, but prepare to be flabbergasted. Unfurl your cummerbunds and loosen your stays – it’s Victorian week.

This is the week to celebrate the majesty that is Mary, the gloriously victorious queen of baking, and to consort on the casting of a Hollywood Prince Albert. Ring in the new with this Bake Off first.

We’re starting with a signature challenge of game pies. There appears to be no vegetarian option today, so the bakers are packing fleshy chunks into hot water crusts.

Much to Mary’s dismay, Paul J has opted for a tin with smooth sides. She describes it as ‘the modern version’ and can hardly contain her disdain. He tells Mary that he is decorating the pie simply with pastry leaves. Mary dips her head in search of the nearest spittoon.

Mat is nearer the mark with a tin authentically marked 1850. It’s acquired via his mate, Dangerous Dave, from Dave’s mum Sheila. This is a tin with a history.

With her customary contradictory composure, Flora masks any nerves with an air of nonchalance. Carefully enunciating her ingredients, she adds that her decoration will be a laaa-tice. Flora tells us that her pie needs to be well filled because it shrinks. As she closes the oven door, she tells us that her pie is too full.

Mary breathes in the un/familiar scent of ras el hanout
Mat and Paul form a chorus of incredulity as Flora cranks her oven up to 220°

Ian thinks this is the week he’s been waiting for. His training has consisted of foraging stray kerbside creatures to bake. Ian’s ‘road kill pie’ gives a nod to Sweeney Todd. Don’t you just Lovett. Sadly, though Mary appreciates his pig trotter jelly, she’s clearly not impressed with his simple decoration. Perhaps it should have been a gothic mausoleum, for pets, in pastry.

Nadiya offers Chinese Five Spice but it’s too much for Mary. Tamal is using ras el hanout. Mary feigns shock at this ‘new ingredient’ that’s only been on the programme several times before. In the end she likes it (thankfully much as she did when I used it) and Paul bestows another Hollywood Handshake.

Game pies over and it’s on to another game. With racquets in hand, Mel and Sue announce that this week’s technical challenge is a Victorian tennis cake – a fruit cake topped with almond paste, gelatine-packed fondant, and a royal icing tennis set. Nadiya plays tennis but can’t remember what the court looks like.

Nadiya speaks for the nation as she asks Mat why on earth he decided to bake his icing
Mat's raw 'tennis court from Hades'

Mat’s interpretation of ‘pale pink’ is the ruddy complexion of a Dickensian gin swigger. His pea green fondant leers Lear-like and cries out for a runcible spoon.

Dodging the danger of any further sloppiness, he decides to bake his royal icing decorations. As you do. Add raw cake batter to the mix and it’s a recipe for last place. Nadiya’s perfect cake and neat net wins her the match.

It’s on to a Charlotte Russe for the showstopper. After making a batch of boudoir biscuits, the bakers are using gelatine to set their bavarois. Personally, I baulk at the meaty flavour this bestows on puds, but who am I to argue for agar?

Paul J is channelling the spirits of Victorian sculptors, skilfully carving a lavish menagerie of fruit. Mat dips a strawberry in a blob of cream.

Ian's chilling ladyfinger guillotine
Paul finds inner contentment as he delicately slashes his kiwis

Ian has a special contraption to chop his ladyfingers to size. It could be pretty gruesome stuff, but he tops his rhubarb and ginger offering with an impressive dragee-studded crown.

Mat battles to plate up, as his emancipating Charlotte begins to break free from the confines of her sponge girdle. At the judging, Paul J watches his jelly seep and drip, flowing like a river from its cake stand. Mary helpfully observes that it’s not set.

Nadiya produces neat layers of mango and raspberry bavarois. Unfortunately, her decoration is a tad too minimalist for 19th Century tastes.

Tamal's impressive Charlotte, complete with sturdy jelly base
It appears Paul misheard the brief and went for 'lava' instead of 'bavarois'

Flora’s champagne jelly goes down a treat but her pomegranate sticks in Paul’s craw. Like a benevolent bobby, Mary serves her a culinary community service order, “I don’t think you’ll do pomegranate again, will you.”

Tamal wows with a perfectly constructed blackberry, raspberry and cardamom Charlotte and wins star baker. But for the second time ever, last week’s star baker is this week’s evictee and regrettably it’s mild-mannered Mat who is sent home.

So as we head towards next week’s quarter final, it looks like it’s still anybody’s game. As the Victorians used to say, “Anyone for tennis cake?”