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New Thinking.

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24 September 2015

The Great British Bake Off: The saga of the tumbling choux nun

Cream-based catastrophe in the quarter final.

By Helen Thomas

Contains spoilers!

Last night’s quarter final episode of The Great British Bake Off saw a French invasion with its patisserie themed cakes and pastries. The contestants battled with the application of cream horn batter to their cone shaped moulds, whilst Sue Perkins struggled to limit her output of double entendre during the signature challenge. Then there was some drama with the mokatines (annoying little cakes without enough sponge and too much coffee) with Paul producing two batches of Genoese that were both, sadly, raw.

For a moment it looked like he was going to bring it all back on the “Religieuse a l’Ancienne” showstopper; three layers of free standing choux pastry supported by short crust planks, in the shape of a nun. This last bit is very French and a bit inexplicable seeing as it looks nothing like a nun, but okay. Prison Paul made an extra effort to stuff his éclair with plenty of banana after he failed to satiate Judge Paul’s appetite for the yellow fruit the day before.

Paul’s near-perfect showstopper/All images BBC

The bakers announced which flavours and techniques they would employ for their edible nun. They started by making their éclairs, which had to be over-baked in order to maintain a strong base for the top layers, and made them look really pretty.

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The calm before the cream based storm.

They then moved on to construction, which is where things got a bit messy. The bakers boiled up batches of caramel and clutched pastries onto bowls with all their might. Tamal’s caramel was all water and before long his éclairs took a mighty tumble in on themselves, causing him to make a second batch of glue. “I’m going to be so glad when this stupid nun thing is done,” he said, as the people of the British nation took a collective nod at the television screen.

Precarious pastry.

But sure enough, though some of the constructions fought against gravity with all their might, everyone produced a free standing choux pastry nun.

If you liked it then you should’ve put some cream on it.

At this point the contestants took a two-hour break for lunch, which was incredibly cruel and a horrible idea.

And then this happened:

A sorry state of éclairs.

Not that I wouldn’t 100 per cent still have eaten the bottom layer of Paul’s nun, but I could see why this might have contributed to his going home. Even Nadiya, who was named Star Baker again this week, struggled to get her construction to stand upright, causing it to resemble a famous Italian landmark.

At least Nadiya has a sense of humour.

Cream horns, mokatines and Religieuse a l’Ancienne made Series Six Patisserie week one of the hardest The Great British Bake Off has ever seen. In the quarter finals you expect the challenges to be hard, but you can also assume that the standard has become so high that almost all of the bakers should be able to create something which is perfect in aesthetic and quality. But when they are forced to produce cakes which are so absurdly difficult, and end in less than stellar results, the show loses some of its charm. People love Bake Off because at the end of the showstopper, against all the odds, our favourites always find some way to pull it out of the bag, even if that means presenting lopsided vol-au-vents as party dips.

The Shoreditch answer to nachos and salsa.

Patisserie baking is, by its very nature, the work of professionals. What’s wrong with keeping it that way? Last year in ‘Advanced Pastry’ week, the contestants were expected to produce two batches of beautiful éclairs for the showstopper. That was it. Now they want them to support themselves?! I appreciate they need to make each season different, but when it results in collective despair from viewer and participant, it’s time for Bake Off to go back to the drawing board. 

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