Buns before huns: It’s Festival Week on The Great British Bake Off

It’s episode seven, half a dozen bakers are still standing and this calls for a celebration. But who deserves to be on the carnival float, and who’ll rain on our parade? Lauren Bravo gets the afterparty started.

Buns before huns: It’s Festival Week on The Great British Bake Off

by Lauren Bravo |
Updated on

Festival week, you say? What a fun way to rub salt in the wounds of all those who failed to get Glastonbury tickets on Sunday! Will our bakers be rustling up three-tier jackfruit burritos, decorated with eco-glitter and decomposing flower crowns? Will Henry don his best cravat for a wild one at Hay-on-Wye? Will Chris Martin join Paul and Prue for judging, because everyone’s too polite to have him removed by security?

No, because it turns out it’s not that kind of festival. It’s ‘festive’ in the way your mother will say your Giambattista Valli x H&M tulle dress is ‘festive’ when you attempt to wear it to a family christening in Swindon. The theme becomes no clearer when if you watch the episode five times (trust me), but essentially it boils down to: cultural celebrations with carbs.

Rather than a whistlestop tour of all the big British calendar occasions – Transfer Deadline Day, Budget Day, Ed Balls Day – we’re going global, with carnival treats from Sicily and Malaysia. Which is just as well. Flying Ant Day was never going to make a good gateau.

A visit from the yeaster bunny

The signature challenge is ‘yeasted festival buns’, which sounds like something an Express reader could burst a blood vessel over; very much the ‘Winterval’ of the baking world.

With the confidence of a three-time star baker, Steph is making conventional hot cross buns, while Alice’s blueberry version will be glazed with lemon curd. 'How’s that going to work?' asks Paul, as though she might have said she were glazing them with gravel. Alice has marked 180 exam papers and written 150 reports this week, Paul. You’re lucky she’s not glazing them with Relentless.

Michael is killing two festive birds with one bun, loading his HCBs with figgy pudding flavours and topping them with fondant holly leaves. In the near future, when Christmas has expanded to fill 10 months of the year with two weeks off in the middle to recharge Michael Bublé, we will eat this kind of cross-calendar mutant all the time. Someone is probably sat in an Aldi development kitchen right now, trying to work out how they can also shoehorn pumpkin spice and Guinness into the mix.

David is making kozunak, a kind of plaited Bulgarian stollen. 'I’m using a Paul Hollywood technique that I looked up on YouTube,' he says, and we can only hope he has safe search on. Henry, everyone’s favourite overzealous intern, is making kardemummabullar. Few people know this is actually Cardi B’s full name. And Rosie is making Finnish Mardi Gras peacock buns, having missed the footnote explaining that no bakes need to be shaped like an animal this week. Or ever.

As with every yeasted challenge, the success of their festival buns depends on proving the dough for long enough to get a good, fluffy rise. The bakers are tight on time, which doesn’t get any easier if you sing it to the tune of Ride on Time by Black Box. But after a lot of anxious crouching and one entirely gratuitous close-up of David’s buns, we’re ready for judging.

Boom, it’s a handshake for Steph! I’m already worried about the ways fame might change her. Alice’s lemon and blueberry buns 'look homemade' – as opposed to what, Prue? Tent-made? – but Rosie’s peacocks have every right to preen. David has a knack for kozunak, and Michael’s Hot Christ Buns are uneven, but delicious. The shops will be awash with pigs in pancakes and eggnog spritzes before we know it.

But the Big News is that Henry’s Swedish buns have brought out the big gun; AKA Paul’s other hand. 'Shut up!' gasps Henry. 'You’ve made my month.'

Or at least I think that’s what he said. He’s kardemummabulling.

Don’t be Sicily

From warm hands to hot pockets, the technical challenge is a Sicilian carnival snack: cassatelle. Like sweet ravioli, or mini Cornish pasties full of chocolate cheese.

Much like everyone’s fringe in the early 90s, each parcel needs to be meticulously crimped and fried before serving. Michael is understandably nervous – his last encounter with a deep fat fryer, in Twenties Week, was only marginally less traumatic than that episode of Spooks. 'I’m just trying to make this a better memory,' he says. I’ll help you make better memories, Michael. Sack this off and let’s go to the seaside.

If you thought Dairy Week nudged you further down the road to veganism, prepare to place a bulk order of Oatly – because now our bakers must wring the cheese water out of some ricotta. It is surely no coincidence that muslin’s main other use in this life is mopping up baby sick.

Then it needs to be strained until smooth ('No one ever thought: ‘I need to sieve some cheese’,' says Henry, who hasn’t tried my boyfriend’s cooking), mixed with orange zest and chocolate chips, and used to fill their cassatelle. Too-thick pastry or overfilled parcels mean the cassattelles are liable to spring open. Nobody has been this obsessed with a strong seal since Kiss from a Rose came out.

When the dons return for judging, it seems Michael was right to worry – his soggy cassattelles look more like mini discs. But Alice’s have burst worst, and she’s in last place. Steph is fourth, Henry third, and David is second, having 'lost the definition of his fork'. I hate it when that happens.

But like the ailing hamster your parents had already fetched the spade for, Rosie is bouncing back! She’s taken her first ever top place in a technical. 'Yayyyyyy,' she trills. 'Yayyy.' Rosie is all of us.

'I repel first,' says David.

Up in your grill

After some chat about the correlation between clean workbenches and success that I can only hope isn’t going to be spun off into anything fronted by Kim Woodburn, we’re on the final challenge. It’s supposedly the hardest showstopper Bake Off has ever seen, at least since the last one: kek lapis Sarawak, a spectacular, multicoloured, many-layered celebration cake traditionally served in Malaysia.

I say ‘traditionally’ – Sarawak cake dates back to the 1980s, which explains why it looks like the jumper your dad is wearing in all your baby photos. The wafer-thin sponge layers are grilled rather than baked, which for true GBBO Stans might conjure up memories of season five’s semi-final schichttorte. Of course it does, we’ve been grilling our cakes ever since!

Hoping to make a less schicht torte, our bakers have been practising hard all week. Henry apparently used 110 eggs in one day, although he doesn’t say if they all went in the cake or a protein-rich face masque. Alice is pinning her hopes of survival on a salted caramel firework display inspired by her hometown of Lovely on Sea, in Essex But Not Like That. Michael is soaking his Jamaica ginger cake with spiced rum, Steph is dousing hers in orange liqueur and Henry is making a lemon-lime cake inspired by his favourite tipple: Sprite.

Having been bollocked for his overwhelming spices last week, David’s theme for his showstopper is ‘overwhelming spices’. But at least he’s breaking out of character to add some colour to his cake. Too much, in fact – no sooner are his first layers under the grill than they’re burnt. Before long Rosie is scraping blackened cake into the bin too, and with only an hour to go and nothing but dirty bowls on the workbenches, things are looking perilous.

'If I were in the trenches, I’d say I’ve lost a leg but I’m not dead,' says Henry, very much a 21st cenutry Wilfred Owen.

Slowly but surely, with all the drama of an influencer’s #gifted bathroom floor reveal, the Sarawaks start to come together. And if you forget that they’re meant to be edible, they’re actually quite beautiful.

Rosie has special tools to cut her cake with maximum precision, so it’s ironic that hers is the most poorly executed. Still, her nectarine jam is a hit and she gets bonus points for attempting triangles. Everything tastes better cut into triangles; we know this.

Michael has been a little too liberal with the rum. 'Very claggy, very stodgy in the mouth,' declares Paul. But at least Prue is a fan of his Caribbean colour scheme. 'Overall, it looks wonderful.' Jamaica? Nope, she said it of her own accord.

David has gone for a ‘less is more’ philosophy, presenting two small but perfectly-formed sculptural masterpieces with a bit of arty stuff round the edge. Sure, they taste like rubber. But nobody ever tells Thomas Heatherwick his work needs more sugar. Meanwhile Henry’s Sarawak looks like 'a stack of egg sandwiches', but in Paul’s book that’s a bonus. His light texture and zesty flavours earn the boy wonder his very first star baker.

Steph’s pattern is too gappy but everything else gets full marks, as per, and despite two shaky challenges, Alice is back on solid ground with her firework fiesta. Which means that it’s down to Rosie and Michael – and it’s hard to argue with a top mark in the technical challenge. So before I can even hoist my placard or launch my change.org petition, poor Lovely Michael is out on his ear.

"I wish I could cry like in a French film," he says, and for a moment we're all les miserables.

Gone but not forgotten, you will always be in our hearts. A Michael is for life, not just for Chreastermas.

And ps. that invite to the seaside still stands.

Next week: David etches a flower onto a grain of rice, Henry dances with a flying snowman. Alice grows tired of Noel’s banter and knees him in the groin. Plus pies!

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