It’s caramel week on The Great British Bake Off, so obviously the episode begins with the self-consciously zany Noel Fielding wistfully wondering what would happen “if we were wasps right now”, and introducing the first challenge mere seconds later with the phrase, “Now, as you know, I’m part wasp”. Will he adopt a croaking wasp accent? Or some comedy antennae? Only time will tell.
This week, the signature challenge is millionaire shortbread, which sounds fairly simple and easy, but it’s not, because of things like ratio and layering and a very hot humid tent. Liam and Julia boldly illustrate the two possible reactions to a week based entirely around caramel. Liam grins fondly and says, “I love caramel. I’m not saying I’m good at it, but I love it.” Julia grimaces and says, “The tricky thing about caramel is… everything.”
Sophie makes her shortbread with strange acetate rings around them, and Prue flares her nostrils as she asks why she doesn’t have the precise tins that would make this easier. Sophie admits she couldn’t afford them, and I am momentarily truly outraged that Channel 4 forks out for overpriced pastel mixers but can’t provide the bakers on this baking show with baking tins. Meanwhile, adorable James is getting gold leaf all over his teeth and sounding the most out-of-touch any baker ever has (which is saying something) when he says, “I might take up rapping.”
Some bakers, perhaps misguidedly, are trying to have “fun” with their shortbread. Yan spray paints the Queen’s face on hers in a damning comment on the sickly, overdecorated status of the Royal Family. Noel asks her if she is the real Banksy, which she denies. “Only a true Banksy would say he wasn’t Banksy.” A good joke from Noel! Well done Noel.
When it comes to the judging, Prue bangs on about how she doesn’t like overly sweet things and can’t eat too much caramel at once – Mary Would Never. “How can you eat that much caramel, Paul!” she moans, and for the first time in my life, I am on the side of Paul Hollywood.
The technical challenge this week is “Stroopwafel” which is basically those caramel wafery waffles you get in high street chain cafes. Bake Off nerds will be delighted to learn that the fourth week sees the return of The History Bit, which is as charmingly dull as ever, introduced in the only way Noel Fielding knows: “The Stroopwafel is a Dutch national treasure, the biscuit equivalent of Rutger Hauer. But it had humble origins, before racing to success with the film Blade Runner. Oh, no, that was Rutger Hauer. Here’s a film about Stroopwafels.” Then he does a comedy fall into a bush. Cool.
Liam sums up everyone’s approach to this caramel treat with a shrug and two words: “Waffles, innit”. Sandi and Stephen chat about caramel’s original use in waxing, leading Sandi to, with mock surprise, say she likes that Stephen knows about waxing. “Of course I know about leg waxing,” he says with a wink. I know about lots of things.” I love this sexy Stephen and wish we’d caught a glimpse of him before now.
Everybody fails resoundingly at the Stroopwafel. The caramel is pure Goopwafel. The bakers’ faces Droopwafel. The judges have been Dupewafeled. They are complete and total Poopwafels, if you will.
Stacey wins the technical for the second week in a row, but it’s a hollow win, a prize for being the Least Worst, and she’s not overly pleased with it.
Begrudgingly we move on to the showstoppers: in Stephen’s words, “caramel is obviously a sensitive subject for everybody” right now. But ambition abounds regardless, with bakers working on animal scapes, elaborate crowns, and statuesque tricks with spin sugar. There’re more lascivious comments than have featured so far in this series – with James babbling about “dipping” his” nuts” and Stephen calling his mirror glaze “sexual”. Everyone struggles with the caramel and spun sugar elements of their bakes in the humidity of the tent.
Ultimately, Stephen’s crown jewels cake shocks everyone when it is labelled “disappointing” – but it’s Tom who royally fucks his up. Kate, perhaps surprisingly, does the best of the lot. Liam builds his reputation as a wizard with spices – after a series of disasters last time, it’s a great week for him.
But what will next week offer? Noel and Stephen’s sugarspun ponytails, £3.99 a piece? We can only hope.