Great British Bake Off 2016: episode eight recap

Great British Bake Off 2016: Tudor week recap

by Howard Middleton 13 October 2016

Step into Ye Olde Bake Off Tent as Howard Middleton tells us what happened when the bakers were whisked off to Tudor times to create a trio of historical treats in this year’s quarter-final.

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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 the cameras take us on our weekly sweep through the verdant grounds of stately Welford Park, there’s a little tweak to the familiar music as I’m sure I hear the strains of the harpsichord. It heralds another Bake Off first – Tudor week.

Of course, this is a pretty anachronistic portrait of the Tudor kitchen – complete with stand mixers, blowtorches and Neff Slide and Glide ovens, and there are so many comic verilies, forsooths and my lieges that I half expect Dame Barbara Windsor to pop up and reprise her role from Carry on Henry.

We start with a signature challenge that calls for a display of savoury shaped pies. It seems there’s a new rule on Bake Off that says that any fancy cutters and moulds the bakers use must be homemade. Jane’s sixteen pies are arranged to form a Tudor rose; unfortunately, she’s only persuaded her husband to make one heart-shaped tin, so she has to laboriously line, fill and finish every pie individually before sliding it out of its casing and moving on to the next. On the plus side, her naked pie walls get a good baking and some serious Hollywood attention. Jane tells us ‘Paul’s just given them a squeeze and gave me a look’. You can hear the guffaw of the ghost of Sid James. Her nutmeg-spiced pies layered with chicken breast and sausage meat are also judged to have a ‘first rate filling’.

As the only one left in the tent not to have been crowned Star Baker, Selasi looks on paper like he’s at a disadvantage. Off paper, Selasi looks exactly like Selasi – cool as a Tudor cowcumber. He calmly preps and chats to Sue, oblivious to the fact he’s talking to someone with two sprigs of rosemary up her nose. His baked bouquet includes a batch of delicious pork and quail’s egg pies and some game pies that Mary describes as ‘very gamey’. I remember how our kitchen reeked when I cooked pigeon recently. This is one advantage of cooking in a tent – get those flaps open! Paul, who seems to be auditioning for a wider range of TV roles, tested out a new accent last week and now tries his hand at comedy. Mary quizzes Selasi about guinea fowl in Ghana – ‘are they wild?’ she asks. Paul replies ‘they’re livid, Mary’.

The first round saw the bakers tackle savoury pies – a round Andrew excelled in
Jane's pies tasted delicious, but having only one mould meant it was a laborious process to make twelve

Half of Candice’s pies have Old London Town flavours of ox cheek and oysters in a suet crust. She’s unconcerned by little pools of gravy that escape – ‘in my eyes, a pie should have a bit of leakage’. Her other batch are hot water crust pies encasing that Tudor favourite – macaroni cheese. The lack of contrast between pastry and pasta isn’t a winner but the meaty pies are judged ‘delicious’.

Benjamina’s pies are also experiencing a little leakage and her fillings are running off on an expedition to Mexico. With chorizo, beans and smoked paprika, her sun-shaped display hits the spot on flavour but her pastry is ‘ropey’.

Andrew is engineering a pretty showstopping bake with his Leonardo da Vinci style spiral of cog-shaped pies. Beautifully baked and with tasty flavours of chicken, pork, apricot and thyme, they’re literally an impressive turn as he proudly cranks for all to see.

Candice kept things traditional with ox cheek and oyster, then a bit unusual with macaroni cheese
Selasi remained as cool as ever throughout the episode, despite never winning Star Baker

Technical challenge

This week’s technical challenge is a tricky biscuity thing devised by Paul. The bakers must craft twelve ‘jumbles’ – six shaped like knotted balls and six Celtic knots. In their little private marquee Paul enthusiastically shows Mary his exemplary jumbles and explains how the biscuits share his characteristics – ‘hard on the outside and soft in the middle’. Mary looks like a woman who’s just glad to be getting paid for eating them.

There’s tension in the tent as the bakers battle with mental arithmetic, manual dexterity and the age-old question of when to sugar your buns. Andrew lightens the mood by getting positively giddy at the miniature pestle and mortar he’s been given to grind his spices. At the judging, Jane’s pallid display puts her in bottom place, followed by Benjamina, Selasi and Andrew. Candice’s impressively neat Celtic craftwork propels her to the top.

The clever cog presentation of Andrew's pies certainly impressed the judges
The technical challenge involved jumbles, knotted Tudor biscuits flavoured with caraway

The showstopper

The showstopper revives that Tudor craft of marchpane-work – the forerunner of marzipan, used to produces intricate and elaborate designs. The bakers must make their own almond pastes and a cake on which to display their creations.

Back to the homemade templates and Selasi has made a little sword shape from a piece of chopping board. He claims it will represent the Battle of Bosworth Field – it’s clearly nothing whatsoever like a Lego Excalibur. His six-sided Simnel cake (representing Henry VIII’s six wives) turns out to be a little under-baked and the marzipan topping collapses as he tries to lift it with a fish slice. The pressure mounts as Selasi’s first attempt at a crown decoration cracks (symbolising the fragility of the monarchy) and he has to make another. You just can’t tell if Selasi is stressed or not. Probably not. The judges claim he could have done more and his cake is ‘a bit messy inside’ but it does have ‘a beautiful flavour’.

Andrew’s made a mould for his honey- and currant-flavoured jousting knights cake by taking a cast of a little plastic horse. Filling it with almond paste, he gingerly unmoulds it to reveal… a little marzipan horse. Briefly grilled, his horses hotly await their riders, but it’s the tiny jousting poles that really turn the heat up for poor Andrew. Three attempts at caramel later he finally and exasperatedly brandishes his cooling nuts and secures the poles so they protrude from the between the knights’ legs. Paul says it’s ‘a little bit clumsy’ and advises the jousting poles really should have been in their hands.

Benjamina’s Tudor garden maze sits on a delicious-sounding spiced apple cake laced with almond liqueur. Unfortunately, her cake is judged to be ‘doughy’ and her self-admittedly simple maze begins to roll off. Jane’s incredibly intricate swan pattern settles securely and majestically on a delicate walnut Genoese that turns out to taste ‘amazing’.

Selasi's Simnel cake seemed to be enough to let him scrape through to the semi-finals
After much deliberating, it was Benjamina who had to say goodbye to the Bake Off tent

Candice is hatching that Bake Off favourite, the peacock, which has brought good luck to past contestants like finalist Ruby in series four and of course last year’s winner, Nadiya. Yes, if only the Tudors had had Rice Krispies, they too could have made a peacock head like this. It’s another winning bake – packed with colour and wow factor. Multi-coloured sponges and a surprise filling of blueberries mean it ‘ticks all the boxes’ and Paul calls it ‘exceptional’. It has Star Baker written all over it and Sue summons up her best peacock impression to announce the news.

Behind the scenes, Sue says that we don’t want anyone to leave the tent just because they’ve had a bad day at the office. Sweet she may be, but seven years have made Mary a seasoned executioner. ‘It sometimes happens,’ she smiles.

And so, despite lots of shots of Selasi, it’s a shock result as Benjamina exits stage left. Free from the confines of her Bake Off maze she sobs. It’s a face we’ve seen too many times on the programme – born of disappointment and exhaustion and perhaps just a whisper of relief. It’s uncomfortable viewing but nothing is comfortably predictable on Bake Off any more. I’ve gone from forecasting an all male final to an all female one and now see it will be neither. Benjamina has developed week by week; Selasi often blagged it, but I suppose that’s part of his charm.

Nevertheless, I cheer myself up by re-watching dear Andrew in the technical challenge. Ah yes - this is the face of Bake Off I’ll treasure most – a grown man practically fangirling over a little pestle and mortar.