Choc, Choc, Horror, Horror: The Great British Bake Off Episode Nine

It’s semi-final chocolate week! But who’ll keep their temper, and who’ll be left ganaching their teeth?


by Lauren Bravo |
Published on

It’s the semi-final, A MASSIVE SEMI, and by God do Mel and Sue want you to know about it.

Just as savvy parents ruin your fave teenage slang by using it themselves, so Auntie Beeb is determined to make damn sure nobody can extract any filthy value from the word ‘semi’ after they’re done with it. They’ve taken that semi right out of our mouths, so to speak. Milked it dry. See, even that wasn’t fun.

Still, there’s a whole load of Dairy Milk offscreen just waiting to be poured into crevices. Chocs away!

Can you bayleaf it?!

The first semi-final challenge (that’s the penultimate signature bake of the year, if you want to get a small cry in now) is a simple chocolate tart. Aha, but is it? In addition to layers of silky-smooth mousse and ganache, the bakers need to rustle up a good chocolate pastry – not too brittle, not too dry. Cocoa can be a cruel mistress.

'It’s only slightly horribly tense,' says Tamal, mixing up his shortcrust dough. You imagine he said the same last time he received 12 pairs of lacy sexagenarian undies on his ward round.

Because the tent’s resident Parsley the Lion can barely make a jam sandwich without shoehorning some herbs in, Ian is flavouring his chocolate caramel tart with bay leaves. ‘Baileys?’ you can almost hear Mary thinking, hopefully. Nope, bay leaves. 'What do you think that brings to the table?' asks a dagger-eyed Paul. Didn’t you hear him, Paul? He loves it! It’s his bae.

Meanwhile Tamal is playing it safe with a New York-inspired tart, flavoured with (bagels? Rats? A REALLY big apple?!)… chocolate and raspberry, and topped with simple pecan praline. “I hope it’s not too simple,” he ponders. 'I think if it’s tasty, that’s what they’ll be looking for the most.'

Yes, Tamal. Tasty IS what we’re looking at the most. I mean, for.

I mean, they.

Having previously vowed to focus on the brief and stop wasting time on extra twiddles, Flora has cracked already and is topping her chocolate tart with half a cake shop. She’s SUCH a Hermione, is Flora. STOP BEING SUCH A HERMIONE, FLORA*.

(Actually a fairer person might point out that the Bake Off contestants have to submit all their recipes in advance before filming even starts, and so Flora wasn’t to know that by this point in the series her relentless over-achieving would go down like a lead blancmange. A fairer person might point that out, but we’d quickly smother them with a sponge cake because: narrative.)

*Bake Off Hermione would, of course, go out with Viktor Crumb.

Once the tarts are blind baked and back in the oven, attention turns to aesthetics. Because Ian loves nothing more than his own reflection, his tart is covered with a chocolate mirror glaze, while Nadiya is topping hers with truffles rolled in homemade peanut powder. Why did nobody tell me peanut powder was a thing? I’ve been using Bare Minerals all this time, like a chump.

Onto the judging! My, my, Tamal’s American pie… his flavours are to savour, and his filling ain’t dry.

Sadly he same can’t be said for Ian’s herbal refreshment, as in a shock twist it turns out bay leaf isn’t the natural companion to chocolate, butter and sugar. Paul has some sage advice. 'If you’d left it pure caramel, you’d have been better off,' he scolds. 'You’re king of flavours and I think you missed a trick there.'

Though in Ian’s defense, it’s possible he was saying ‘assaulted caramel’ all along.

In happier news it’s PB-and-YAY for Nadiya, who earns the coveted Hollywood Handshake for her divine-looking peanut butter tart. But with tough macarons and split custard, poor Flora has literally over-egged the pudding. If you look very closely, you can see a tiny kitchen sink made of sugar and desperation.

Business in the front, crème pat in the back

This week’s technical challenge is so precisely-timed and fraught with potential failure that it needs to have a staggered start. This is the first staggered start in Bake Off history, unless you count all the times Mary’s got into the rum cupboard, and it’s for a famously perilous bake: a chocolate soufflé.

There is pretty much just one hope filling the Marquee of Dreams here, and it’s that the soufflés – as noughties pop scoundrels Blue would have it – all rise. Our bakers are on the stand, with their backs against the wall, nowhere to run and nobody they can call… except the old Norse god of well-beaten egg white, because that’s the only thing standing between them and a bowl full of brown goo.

Flora is first. 'This is the least funny thing I have ever done in my life,' she says, a woman who once performed ‘cooking a pheasant’ in a school talent show.

Meanwhile Ian is busy racking his brain trying to remember how to make a soufflé. Or make a crème pat. Or lift a spoon. 'My mind’s gone blank,' he says, dithering wild-eyed over his ingredients with the air of a doomed Crystal Maze contestant. 'I… I just can’t remember anything.' Stay off the bay leaves, kids. You never know how they’re going to affect you.

Nadiya gets off to a bad start when her crème pat comes out more like cow pat, and some mystery paperclips almost tip her over the edge. 'Yeah, they’re for filing it. Filing it away. In the folder that says NEVER BAKE AGAIN,' she snaps. I love you, Nadiya. Will you adopt me? I’d even rather live with you than Tamal, who, if we’re really honest, maybe spends quite a lot of clipping his toenails in front of The One Show.

Egg whites combined and cake tins wearing little Karl Lagerfeld collars, it’s time for a tense 45 minutes of watching the oven and competing over who’s done it the worst. 'If that makes a soufflé, I think I’ll eat my hat!' grins Ian.


Ian? How many fingers am I holding up?

When the judges cast their verdict, Flora rises into a surprise first place. Tamal’s flecky ’flé is second, Ian’s deflated bake is third, and lumps of raw meringue see a tearful Nadiya sink right to the bottom. “I know I’m going to go home,” she sobs.

Nah Nads, if you go home then I will eat MY hat. I have actually put one on for the occasion.

Temper tantrums

The semi-final showstopper is that trickiest of challenges, a ‘chocolate centrepiece’. It’s mainly tricky because everyone has to try very hard to pretend chocolate centrepieces are an actual, real thing and not just an idea that came to Paul Hollywood once in a dream.

That extends to the rest of us too, as we now have to nod along with the whole ridiculous charade because we don’t dare break the magical spell of Bake Off. Yar yar, chocolate centrepieces, yar.

'What kind of chocolate centrepiece will YOU have this party season?' Good Housekeeping magazine will soon ask. 'I’ve started a pop-up artisan chocolate centrepiece business!' your awful cousin will announce next month. '82 photos that prove chocolate centrepieces are over and it’s now all about totem poles made of cold meats!' Buzzfeed will scream in November.

Still. For something totally made up, they sure do sound delicious.

Tamal is making a chocolate bell tower, prompting Anita Ward’s Ring my Bell to play on a sultry loop in our heads for the rest of the evening. Flora is attempting a cocoa carousel with a Rice Krispie cake roof (except we can’t say Rice Krispies on the BBC so we have to call it ‘puffed rice’, MORE LIES), and Ian is plumbing the depths of his creative resources to create a chocolate well, complete with white chocolate drink being hauled up by a bucket. It’s all a bit Caractacus Potts.

Then there’s Nadiya – oh, Nadiya. She’s crafting a chocolate peacock, decorated with blue and green modelling chocolate (which btw is going on my Christmas list right beneath peanut powder), 60 individual tailfeathers and a nest of honeybomb eggs. It is either going to be stunningly beautiful, or look like something an angry child might make in an art therapy session.

Tempering is the key to smooth, glossy chocolate, and keeping your temper is the key to watching everyone sloshing bowl after bowl of melted chocolate around without ONCE licking the spoon. ‘I’ve brought my own thermometer from home too, just to double check,' says Ian, brandishing a spare. Ian ‘two-hander’ Cumming, that’s what they call him!

No no, it’s fine – Cumming’s his real surname.

Choc and awww

Quick! Get the judging done before this lot are hit by a gentrification protest.

Tamal’s bell tower is a hot mess up close but it strikes the right notes with Paul and Mary. Ian has proved himself a right old choc jock with his structurally sound well, but Paul’s not convinced that it shows enough skill. I mean, I’ve rustled up a marzipan car engine and a biscuit bidet just in the time we’ve been sitting here, so I’m inclined to agree.

If anyone has a reason to feel cocky – peacocky, rather – it’s Nadiya, who has flipped Paul the bird in the classiest fashion imaginable. Not only has she created beautiful chocolate plumage, she’s also proven that Rice Krispie cakes qualify as legitimate fancy-pants baking, which will shut Janet in the office right up next time there’s a Macmillan Coffee Morning.

'I like it, I do like it. I just think it’s a bit… wonky,' says Paul of Flora’s slightly too merry-go-round, which aren’t words you ever want to hear when you’ve spent the past four hours up to your elbows in melted aphrodisiac. Nor are, 'It just doesn’t taste as good as it looks,' which is Mary’s verdict.

Poor Flora. You put all that effort into crafting pretty horses and it comes out a load of old pony.

And having narrowly missed the chop for several weeks, it’s finally time to bid au revoir to our very own posh spice. Let us all look past the Aga, and see the fire within.

So long, Flora pet. A hundred French cookbooks can’t be wrong.

Next week: It’s the final cakedown! The cherry on top! The big one! Finito! Fin.

Like this? Then you might also be interested in:

The Great British Bake Off Episode Seven: We Are Not Amuse-Bouched

Cold Hands, Full Tarts, Can’t Lose: The Great British Bake Off Episode Six

You’ve Got To Pitta Pocket Or Two: The Great British Bake Off Episode Five

Follow Lauren on Twitter @LaurenBravo

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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