The Great British Bake Off: Eurocake

Image by Smitten Kitchen
Image by Smitten Kitchen

Previously on The Great British Bake Off: After the Great Baked Alaska drama, we had a return to form as the bakers settled down and made some crazy custards, pears, and three-tiered pies. Kate came out on top, and Norman was finally sent packing after trying to go risky by making the most disgusting-sounding meringue in history.

It’s European cakes week (I guess when it comes to pastry Britain isn’t considered part of Europe), and in a send-up of Eurovision, Mel and Sue put on bad accents to welcome us. I have no idea what Sue’s accent is supposed to be. American? Dutch? Dutch-American?

Richard says he’s looking forward to a good or average week. Way to be ambitious there, Richard! Martha interviews that it’s half term for her now, but she has two exams coming up, so she’s a bit tense.

For the first challenge, they need to make a yeast-leavened cake. Damn, now I want brioche. Paul interviews that these types of cake are really ancient and embedded throughout Europe. Also, baking powder wasn’t invented until the mid-19th century, so the cakes we know today are all really young, comparatively. Mary tells us these cakes can’t be hurried. Both agree that this is all about timing.

Luis is doing a kugelhopf with apples and cinnamon, topped with honeyed apples and calvados syrup. He’s confident he’ll have time to get it done.

Chetna’s making an orange savarin filled with pistachio and cinnamon cream. Mmm. Mel notes that the mold for it looks like a piles cushion.

Nancy’s made a sponge to get her yeast going. So has Richard. He’s making a cake favoured by his German brother-in-law. It’s a guglhupf, filled with all sorts of dried fruits and such. He tells Paul he’s going to wing it on the decoration and Paul’s like, ‘wow, what a terrible idea! We’re six weeks in, which means the competition’s getting tight, so maybe don’t do that!’

Nancy’s sponge is spongy, which is a good thing. She isn’t really making a European cake at all, it’s a rum punch savarin with coconut cream, so more Caribbean. Paul says she’s really running a risk by putting a banana in, though I have no idea why that is.

Some of the Bakewells start proving their dough. Martha’s giving hers two rises, one before and one after adding the butter and chocolate chips. Paul can’t believe she’s doing this, and furthermore can’t seem to believe the amount of butter she’s added (four tablespoons), though we have no idea if that’s because he thinks it’s too little or too much. My guess is too little. Four tablespoons of butter isn’t really a lot in a whole loaf of bread. She’s doing a dark chocolate and almond liquor savarin. She admits to Kate she has no idea what a savarin is. Kate says her bread is Israeli, so she’s not even on the continent we’re focusing on tonight. She’s making a pecan, chocolate, and sour cherry babka. Yum! The bakery near the college I attended made this amazing chocolate babka. It was one of the few things we all made our strained student budgets stretch to. But we had to fight for it with all the yuppies from the area.

Bakewells check their breads and try to judge if they’re proved enough. Breads start going into the ovens. Nancy’s still has a little further to go. While the bread bakes, Luis works on his honey apples. Others make syrups, creams, and decorations. Martha’s making almond brittle, and Nancy’s doing some lovely white chocolate coated cherries. Richard’s doing an icing and a glaze, to see which comes out best. Sue’s still working that bizarre accent.

The Bakewells start obsessively watching the ovens to judge when to take things out. Nancy’s bread has sunk a bit in the middle. They begin unmolding their breads, and so far, they’re all coming out of the molds without a problem. And man, they look good. Nancy saays hers looks like a Yorkshire pudding and will probably be better off on the floor, but when she unmoulds it it looks fine, since the sunken bit is hidden at the bottom. Richard’s going for the glaze. Chetna’s syrup is somehow so heavy in the cake it’s started making the cake sag on one side. Finishes are applied. Time is called.

Luis’s kugelhopf looks beautiful, decorated with those apples and painstakingly applied almonds. Mary compliments the appearance. Paul says the texture is good and Mary likes the moisture of the apples on top.

Kate’s amazing-sounding bread also looks beautiful, inside and out. Mary loves the flavour, but Paul thinks they’re all wrong, because there’s too much dry—dry chocolate plus dry cherries plus dry pecans equal a dry centre. Kate defends herself by saying there was a lot of butter in it, but he says it wasn’t enough.

Chenta’s orange savarin with cinnamon cream is a beautiful colour, according to Mary, but there’s too much liquid in it and she put it on when it was too warm. But it tastes really nice and has a good texture.

The top of Richard’s fruity guglhupf crystallised, which disappoints Mary. She wanted a beautiful shine. She likes the flavour, but the texture is off. Paul says it’s too dense and needed to rise more.

Nancy’s rum punch savarin has been decorated with little paper umbrellas. Mary likes the savarin but hates the decorations. Nancy agrees they’re a bit seventies. Paul says it’s been overproved, but the flavour’s great.

Martha’s chocolate and almond savarin looks beautiful. Mary likes the brittle on the top, which contrasts nicely with the bitter chocolate. Paul compliments the flavour and tells her she’s done well. Thanks doubter!

Chetna and Martha are relieved. Luis says that moment when you’re waiting for their verdict on the bake seems to last forever. Nancy is going to put her rough morning behind her and move forward.

And then we’re off to…the Danish embassy? Guess it’s time for our history lesson. Sue starts talking about how Jutland was invaded by Germany back in 1864 (it made things super awkward in the British royal family, since Victoria’s eldest daughter was married to the German crown prince and her eldest son married the Danish king’s daughter). After the invasion, nobody was allowed to be Danish anymore, basically, so to help preserve national identity, the people of Jutland baked beautiful cakes almost competitively. The gatherings where they showed them off were called cake tables and lasted for hours. Not eating one was not an option. Patriotic force feeding, sounds fun! Sue digs in to some of the cakes and pastries and biscuits. They’re all fabulous.

The Bakewells return to the tent for the technical, wishing each other luck. I really do like how supportive the bakers tend to be of each other on this show. Before being sent off, Mary advises they read the recipe at least twice before starting. They have to make a Swedish cake called Princess Torte: a three-tiered monster filled with cream, covered in green marzipan with a piped rose on top. Sure, no problem, right?

They begin. This is one of the most complicated technicals yet. Nobody knows anything about this. Mary and Paul slice one and man, this thing sounds complicated. It’s got genoise sponge, a layer of jam, crème patissiere, sponge, more crème patissiere, and then a dome of cream, all covered in green marzipan. Paul calls her cruel but loves the cake. It does look and sound pretty amazing.

Back in the tent, they start, looking really tense. The recipe’s exceptionally vague. It just says ‘make crème patissiere and chill.’ Helpful! Kate’s doing that and working on the jam as well. So’s Nancy, who says she’s used to having two pots going at once, because she makes lots of jam. A woman after my own heart. They also start beating up their sponge, getting lots of air in there so it’ll rise properly. Flour, corn flour, and baking powder get folded in. Martha can’t believe how fast everyone’s going. While layers bake, they have to make a rose from fondant or something. They check their cakes. Kate’s isn’t rising, so she’s making another one. They have to make their own marzipan. Wow. I shouldn’t be surprised by that. I’m shocked they didn’t have to make their own fondant. We all know how Mary feels about bought fondant. Kate frantically mixes her cake batter. Cakes begin coming out of the oven. Nancy’s looks a bit thin, but not as thin as Chetna’s It has to be sliced into three layers, so Chetna needs to make another. Kate’s second attempt looks better.

With half an hour to go, things get frantic. Chetna doesn’t have time to finish. Crème gets piped onto layers, followed by jam. More crème goes over the jam. And then they have to somehow put a dome on top of all that. Kate’s layers are still warm, so everything’s slipping and melting. Cakes are put in freezers to firm up before the marzipan goes on. Chetna is way behind. Cakes come out of the freezer and get their marzipan blanket and decorations applied. Kate’s looks really awful, because she put a marzipan collar around the sides, and then draped a bit over the top and then piped a sloppy chocolate spiral around it. Chetna’s looks really patchy and bad as well. Time is called and the princesses are called up to the ‘gingham altar’. Heh.

Paul and Mary arrive and Mary tells them they were looking for a clear dome, good piping, and good layers. Richard’s got an uneven top, terrible looking cream, and sloppy piping. The sponge is good and the crème is holding, though. Martha kind of got a dome and layers and good flavour. Mary notes the awfulness of Kate’s whole cake. Her crème pat hasn’t set up properly. Luis’s looks nearly perfect. Chetna’s has a good colour and rose and good layers. Nancy’s looks absolutely perfect. Like a textbook photo. Ranking, last to first: Kate, Richard, Martha, Luis, Chetna, Nancy. Chetna can’t believe they loved her cake. Richard wishes he had an extra half an hour.

The judges confer. Paul thinks Nancy and Martha are at the top, with Kate and Richard down at the bottom, and Luis and Chenta hovering in the middle.

Showstopper: they need to create a contemporary version of the Hungarian dobos torte, an multi-tiered cake emphasizing caramel and sugarwork. Oh, so, not a big deal then? Damn, sugarwork is tough. So, so easy to mess it up. And burn the hell out of your hands. They have five hours.

Luis is doing a cake with salted caramel and buttercream, decorated with a sugarwork tower. He explains it to the judges and Sue says it sounds like it needs planning permission.

Richard is making a spun sugar nest for the top of his, containing a spun sugar bird, of course. He’s carefully spreading out some veeeery thin sponges.

Martha is making a two/three tiered chess-inspired torte with a chessboard design inside. It’ll have chocolate and caramel chess pieces decorating it.

Chetna is using a Victoria sandwich type sponge, baked in tins, unlike the other Bakewells, who are making fatless sponges, which are more traditional. She’s filling her sponges with chocolate caramel buttercream and decorating with caramel pieces she’s forming over some grapes she’s got in a bowl. All the judges grab some of her grapes as they pass, which is really douchy considering she just told them she has to make a lot of these things and presumably could use every grape she can get her hands on. God, Paul, send some PA out to get you some grapes if you want them!

Layers are being swiftly baked and cooled. They need a lot of these thin layers to build up the cakes.

Nancy is making chocolate and caramel, decorated with caramelized hazelnuts. She starts building up her layers in a square tin, so she can put them in the fridge to set up.

Kate’s doing a three-tiered cake flavoured with raspberry, chocolate, and orange and decorated with caramelized pistachios. She’s worried she’s not going to have time to finish.

VO tells us the proportion of sponge to filling should be even, so you see even layers when it’s cut. Martha thinks hers is going to look pretty slapdash, but at least the ganache is nice and shiny.

Nancy’s chocolate has crystallised. She admits this isn’t her strong suit. Luis is painstakingly drizzling caramel over some stencils while Richard forms a bird in a mould. So, it’s not a spun sugar bird, then? You lied, Richard! Martha hastily puts the checkerboard in her cake and gets to work on something else. Caramel work begins. Kate’s hardens up before she’s done with it, so she has to make more. Richard starts forming his nest, which looks really lovely. Nancy admits caramel work is not her strength either. Kate doesn’t have time to do as many nuts as she wants. Chetna unmoulds some of her little grape hats. Luis finishes building his tower and it looks great. Frantic decorating annnnnd…time!

Nancy brings forth her chocolate and caramel torte. Mary notes the beautiful layers and the taste gets high marks. Paul loves the nuts and the praline.

Richard’s sugar forest dobos torte has layers that, according to Paul, look a little sad. They’ve drooped. There’s a lot of caramel in it, Mary notices. Paul says the sponge is dry and the icing work kind of sucks.

Luis’s cake looks glorious. Mary calls it a monumental effort, and definitely a showstopper. Paul says the flavour needs…something. Good outside, not so much inside.

Kate’s three-tiered cake looks quite lovely but the only caramel is on the decoration. Mary says the sponge on the bottom layer hasn’t softened, so it’s too dry. The two top layers are ok, though. Paul wishes there were more caramel.

Chetna’s almond liquor torte gets kudos for the sheer volume of caramel on it, though it looks kind of awful to me. Mary’s surprised the Vicky sponge actually worked here and Paul says it’s pretty good.

Martha’s chess themed chocolate and salted caramel torte looks uneven but has a great flavour. It reminds Paul of an opera cake. Mary says the chesspieces don’t show any skill because she just used a bought mould.

The judges discuss. Chenta had great layers, Luis had great décor, Nancy was awesome. Kate and Richard are at the bottom. Richard fell down on the layers, but he did lots of sugarwork. Kate didn’t do enough caramel. They all agree this is a difficult decision. Allegedly there has never been such a close call on the Bake Off. But, at last, they make it. Chetna is named star baker. But when it comes to naming someone who’s going home, Mary and Paul admit they can’t agree. Wow. So they’re not sending anyone home, because it was too much of a hassle to choose, and they need to keep up the numbers now Diana’s gone. Mary says it’s the hardest week she can recall on Bake Off.

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