Layers, Players and Naysayers: The Great British Bake Off Episode Nine

Peel away the many, many layers of this episode and you will find the warm, pulsing heart of bakers who really want to win


by Lauren Bravo |
Published on

Hurrah, it’s the semi-final! But they’re not doing things by halves. It’s patisserie week, which means the challenges will involve producing the kind of tiny, pristine cake you’re afraid to buy on holiday in case they cost you 100 Euros.

Everyone is nervy. The air is fraught with tension. The contestants have the cold, steely eyes of people who’ve spent a solid two months creaming sugar into butter, and half their life’s savings on self raising flour. Mary’s flustered too – she’s said 'Now that’s what I call' twice in a minute, placing her at the point on the Venn diagram where she crosses over with Miranda Hart’s comedy mum. Though of course we’re all far too cool to watch THAT.

Bringing sexy baklava

First up is the signature challenge: baklava. Involving layer upon layer of very thin filo pastry, they’re a tricky task – particularly as no human has actually made their own filo pastry since 230 BC, so they’re having to work with instructions found carved into the side of a cave.

Before anything even gets baked, there’s a problem: nobody knows how to pronounce baklava. Is it back lava? Buck lather? Beak cleaver? Balaclava? There’s so much verbal confusion in the tent they may as well have stuck it on a scone, doused it in espresso and called it ‘lieutenant’s bruschetta’.

Chetna is making cocoa filo, which has already incurred her the wrath of Hollywood. ‘How will you know when it’s actually baked?’ he growls. ‘Sometimes your eyes can kid you.’ Don’t take it out on Chetna because you misjudged your sunbed session, Mr H. She knows what she’s doing.

Nancy is putting muesli in her baklava, which is either a genius advancement for Swiss-Turkish fusion cuisine, or she grabbed some Alpen from the cupboard on her way out of the house and went 'sod it, that’ll do.' Knowing Nancy it’ll be delicious either way, but of course the more pressing question is: can we eat this for breakfast? CAN WE? Seriously Nance – if we pour milk on it and do our best to disguise the sugar shakes, you and I could conquer the world before noon.

The trick to perfect filo is getting it very, very, very thin. It is the skin graft of the pastry world. But before a size zero debate ensues around the counter tops, Sue has draped some over her face like a terrifying version of Mr Napkin Head from The Holiday. The pastry facial will probably catch on now. You imagine it might be how Anna Wintour unwinds in between the Paris shows.

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Onto the judging, Paul is trying out a different pronunciation with every verdict. “They’re blahhkavah cups,” he scolds Luis, “but is it baklablah?” 'They don’t look like blarghkvargh,' ventures Mary. Give it up guys. They’re dry anyway.

Nancy’s breakfast baklava are messy but nicely sticky, Richard’s concertina tubes are almost perfect but slightly underbaked, and Chetna’s chocolate creations are tasty but lacking in layers. The lesson we can take from this challenge is: life is too short to make your own filo.

Princess layer

Onto the penultimate technical challenge of the series! In this, the latest installment of Euro Cakes They’ve Made Up For Lolz, 'schichttorte' is on the menu. It’s (apparently) a German cake consisting (allegedly) of 20 layers, which (supposedly) are grilled, not baked.

'I’ve never, ever grilled a cake,' says Nancy. There’s a chance she may have left one out in the rain once, though.

The bakers need to alternate light and dark layers of even thickness as they build up their stack of 20 grilled pancakes, which has turned the whole thing into a confusing maths exam. If a = batter and b = layers and c = temperature, then x = a recipe that nobody is ever going to be troubling the BBC website for. It looks like an American breakfast, without the syrup or bacon or anything fun. It’s like Shrove Tuesday for people who want to start the misery of Lent a day early.

We take a short break from all the schadenfreude to say willkommen to the boring historical segment (it’s back!), where Mel visits Germany and the town that invented a donor kebab made of cake.

Back in the tent, it’s time to make the pancake heap look pretty. Luis has a nagging voice at the back of his head telling him his chocolate glaze needs to be 38°C, which is pretty useful as nagging voices go. Mine just tells me I’ll never amount to anything, and that I ought to find out what’s causing the funny smell at the back of the kitchen cupboard.

The final minutes are ticking away and Chetna still has six pancakes to go. Layer, lady, layer! As Bob Dylan almost sang.

Then it’s time for the bakers to get a grilling, as Paul cuts each cake open and counts up its layers. Chetna is three storeys off the mark and she comes last, while Nancy and Richard take third and second and in first place, Luis makes up for his baklava with a torte that’s not so schicht.

Let them tweet cake

With Nancy’s and Chetna’s fates hanging in the balance (um, can we blame the patriarchy here?), we head into the showstopper round. It’s entremets, a fancy French patisserie that translates as “between servings” – that’s cake specifically designed to be eaten as a palate cleanser. Talk to me again about how French women don’t get fat please.

The buzzword is ‘layers’ again, because apparently this episode has more than a 90s haircut. And like a 90s haircut, the key to their entremets’ success is a whole lot of rigorous styling.

Luis is crafting cherry and chocolate mousse cakes, which is a flavour combination that’s had a treacherous history over the series. Remember Claire, Luis? Cake-dropping Claire? That was her only legacy.

Richard is piping Mr Blobby-esque pink polka dots onto his grapefruit, almond and vanilla sponge – grapefruit being a flavour that can easily get lost, he’s 'had to boost it up quite hard'. Ordinarily I’d make a comment of an unsavoury nature here, but in deference to the angry people who complained last week that Bake Off was becoming overly smutty, I’ll just say… mm, grapefruit. Don’t you hate it when they squirt straight in your eye?

Chetna is deploying her special skill, flavours, with six-layered chocolate, orange and hazelnut entremets and cappuccino cakes with coffee syrup. Remember when everything was cappuccino flavoured? The heady days before anyone had heard of macchiato? I guess you could have a ‘flat white cake’, but it’s not got the same ring to it.

Meanwhile Nancy is deploying HER special skill, being very northern. 'I don’t knoow whether I’m Arthur or Martha this afternoon,' she sighs, waiting for her raspberry and verbena layer to set. They’re all waiting for wobbly layers to set, in fact, meaning that after nine episodes I finally get to say: I don’t think they’re ready for this jelly.

That felt great.

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Flavour waiver

After a few misshapen mousses and some very drippy glaze, our bakers are ready to present their polished patisserie.

Luis’ entremets earn him high praise for taste, texture and tartiness, while poor Chetna’s cakes 'look bulbous' and fail to deliver on chocolate orange flavour. It’s a case of no, no for Nancy’s nonnettes – until the judges cut them in half to reveal beautiful raspberry layers and a perfect square of jelly running through the middle.

But Richard knocks spots off the competition with his dessert duo. And against all odds, although you can feel Luis is ready to pelt him in the back of the head with pomegranate seeds, he scores star baker for the fifth time – a Bake Off world record.

Then it’s left to the ladies to battle it out for the judges’ affections. Sadly the one flavour Chetna hasn’t served up is flavour of the month… and she’s just missed out on her place in the final.

Farewell, lovely Chetna! I’m rushing out to buy cardamom, a cappuccino and a pair of orange Converse RIGHT THIS MINUTE.

Next week: It’s the final countdown! Tiny Pencil, Gold Olives and Breakfast Bap will all go head-to-head in competition for the carbohydrate crown.

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Follow Lauren on Twitter @LaurenBravo

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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