Neatly sabotaging every TV reviewer in the land by ensuring none of us can make another Eurovision gag, Mel and Sue earn douze points for introductions. It’s European cake week!
Things I know about European cake: 1) In Germany, you can have apple cake for breakfast. 2) In Germany, nobody minds if you take an extra slice of apple cake from the hotel buffet table and pop it in your handbag for later. 3) Marie Antoinette loved the stuff.
That’s more or less it, so I’ll be taking many notes.
The first challenge is a leavened cake, which means it’s made with yeast instead of baking powder – not ‘11 cakes’, as I originally heard.
Luis has abandoned his native Spain to bake an Austrian ‘kugelhopf’ (no, YOU’RE a ‘kugelhopf’!), topped with apples, almonds and Calvados syrup. Richard is baking a ‘gugelhopf’, its Germanic equivalent. ‘I’m going to wing it,’ he shrugs in front of the judges, employing a phrase bequeathed on the group by last year’s Ruby Tandoh, but ONLY to be used in emergencies. Don’t fall for it, guys! It’s a (Captain Von) trap!
Poor Chetna. Not only does the show’s calmest, most consistent baker have to deal with getting less screen time than any of her wayward fellow contestants, she also has to have Mel compare her cake tin to a hemorrhoid cushion. You might call that a bum deal.
Meanwhile, helping me in my mission to shoehorn a Seinfeld reference into every one of these recaps, Kate is baking a babka! Being Israeli it’s not strictly European, but it is chocolate, which we all know is superior to the ‘lesser babka’, cinnamon. Besides, if Paul and Mary were to object, it might look like a political statement.
After the familiar dalliance with the proving drawers (in, out, shake it all about), the cakes are baked and then tarted up like something Fanny Craddock might have thought slightly gauche. There’s squirty cream, there are cherries, there are cocktail umbrellas and there is a flamingo.
Chetna’s orange-soaked savarin with pistachio and cinnamon cream is a roaring success, having turned her medical support ring into a hole of, er, glory. Kate’s babka looks fabka but her fillings are too dry, and Luis wins the kugelhopf/gugelhopf war when it turns out Richard really WAS just winging it.
Meanwhile, Martha has aced the yeasty cake exam despite not finishing the set text. ‘I didn’t know what it should taste like or what it should look like or what the texture should be like, but apparently, I nailed it,’ she says. Alright, clever clogs. No need to over-prove it.
As a special treat for Sue’s Incredibly Gripping Historical Segment (SIGHS), we get to listen to some beautiful sing-song Danish ladies telling us about a four-course meal of cake. Apparently in Denmark it is traditional to accompany hours of solid cake-eating with seven cups of coffee, at the end of which you’re so buzzed you build a whole land out of Lego, or some such.
While Sue is sick off the back of the Harwich ferry, we return to the tent for the technical challenge.
It’s everyone’s favourite green cake with a dome of cream inside – Swedish princess cake! With 26 separate ingredients and 14 stages to the recipe, it’s one of the hardest technical challenges ever seen on Bake Off, and to make matters worse nobody knows what the thing’s supposed to look like. You might say the bakers are facing their Waterloo, but being a bunch of super troopers they’re having a ruddy good go.
‘Not a clue,’ says Richard. ‘Not a Scooby-Doo.’ Which is one correct hunch at least, because we all know he was a Great Dane. Luis thinks he might remember being bought a Swedish princess cake from a bakery in Stockport as a child, which is going to be really embarrassing if it turns out to be an Eccles cake.
The Genoise sponge base uses egg whites as a raising agent, which always guarantees a few good disasters. Chetna and Kate have to bake their cakes again, then beat the clock to cool, fill and assemble their layers in time. It’s an egg and spoon race! Except nobody here gets a medal and a lollipop just for taking part.
While the others are in an icing tizzy, Nancy stays so cool that she’s able to use one of the oldest playing-hard-to-get tactics in the book on Paul Hollywood – pretending to have forgotten his name. ‘The male judge’ she’s calling him, though Judge Dredd might be more fitting.
Once the cream has been piped, the chocolate swirled and the rosebud perched on top, the princess cakes are presented – apparently, Swedish princesses don’t wear too many Reiss shift dresses. Though one could make a joke about our own national princess looking domed and rather green at the moment… but that would be cruel. Love you, Duch of Cam!
The verdict of the Berrywood jury is in, and Kate is last with her collapsing crème pat, followed by Richard’s messy marzipan and Martha’s shonky piping. Luis is third, Chetna second and Nancy’s cold shoulder seems to have worked, because her princess curves have got Hollywood hot under the collar.
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A new pattern is emerging! Star baker always does crap the following week – as proven by Richard, and now by Kate. Some might say that wearing a giant sherriff’s badge was tempting fate, but I like the fact she’s awarded herself special accessories.
The showstopper challenge is a Hungarian Dobos torte, filled with piles of buttercream and topped with a lot of fancy caramel sugarwork. It’s a layer cake, but unlike the violent 2004 crime thriller, there’ll be no murdering one’s way to the top here – just baking loads and loads and loads of very thin sponges. We’re beginning to see why they called the country Hungary.
Martha, because apparently she’s still hung up on Swedish musical icons after the last round, is theming her cake around chess. She’s not sure exactly how her 24-layer creation will turn out, but it’ll clearly be perfect – as Elaine and Barbara (almost) sang, we know her so well.
Suephemism alert! ‘How long a spike are you looking for?’ ‘Not that long, I chop them off,’ says Kate. ‘It’ll be too hard at the moment.’ They just keep coming!
Elsewhere in the tent, Nancy is starting ‘again, again’, and Richard is flipping the bird… which he’s moulded out of caramel and popped in a spun sugar nest. Chetna has discovered the best use for grapes after freezing them to put in wine (or indeed making wine) is oiling them and covering them in caramel. I’ll find it much easier to get my five-a day-now, thanks lady!
Once the tottering tortes are assembled, it’s time for the judges to immediately knock them all down again. Luis’ caramel ‘cage on a rocky hill’ certainly looks impressive, but it’s not a safe house – his flavours miss the mark. Meanwhile, Richard’s hopes of success have flown the nest, as his cake looks a mess. That’s torte him then.
Martha’s chessboard is good but not quite checkmate, and Kate’s pistachio caramel spikes are flopping (nobody likes droopy nuts, Kate). Nancy has recovered from her split ganache and turned out a great cake, but it’s Chetna the Unflappable whose caramel-covered confection wins all. She’s the Eurostar baker!
**Then, possibly due to political correctness gone mad in Brussels… it’s a tie! No one goes home! Kate and Richard thank their lucky stars, everyone has a lovely hug and the crew retreat to help Mary get all the rock-hard caramel out of her dentures.
Next week: everyone’s looking a bit pasty.*
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.