Matt: it was a good sponge, it just didn't move me.
I wasn't expecting British week until I looked up the episode guide on the show's website, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. It's an appropriate theme that honours the humble beginnings of Bake Off, but perhaps it would have been better in the first half of the competition. The shed is decorated in British flags, Dave has a fantastic wave and I enjoyed Mel's British accent, so British week is actually pretty good.
Signature Bake: Sponge Cake
This week the show is making that up to Devondale for last week's dairy-free challenge. This is also what I meant about the theme being better for earlier in the season. In British Bake Off they're making sponges week one, which makes sense - Britain has a baking history that's much longer than Australia's due to colonialism (has anyone written this PhD? I would read it) - so it seems strange that our bakers are making sponges that need to have two tiers and a filling in week 8. This isn't a knock on anyone, I would be a complete mess in the tent. The sponge needs to be filled because as Mel points out, there's nothing worse than an unfulfilled sponge.
The first time I watched this episode I said that they broke the record for how many times they say butter in a minute so I'll do a 'butter tally' for this challenge, at least until I get tired of counting. At the start of the challenge Matt says that a sponge isn't just about the filling, "it's also about that light buttery flavour," so we're already at 1.
Raeesa made a three-layer lemon and poppyseed sponge filled with cream cheese and strawberries. Oh and there's no butter, Rae used olive oil instead. She intended to make a Union Jack jaconde sponge around the outside, but it didn't work so she put some on the top and decorated it with Bake Off bunting. The oil gave the sponge a good texture, but it didn't have any flavour or richness that butter would have provided.
First of all, Barb looks amazing in her bowtie. She and Chris also have inverted colour plaid this week, and I love it. Oh, the cake? Barb made a tropical sponge with alternating orange and pineapple layers filled with passionfruit curd and marscapone cream. And yes, she's used lots of butter. The judges say that it looks spectacular. Maggie was worried that it wouldn't be airy enough with so many layers, but she was thrilled to be wrong. The flavours are great, even though Matt comments that it's not particularly British.
Claudia is making a German sponge that doesn't have any butter. It's a vanilla and raspberry sponge (she injects jam into the sponge), filled with custard and topped with poached rhubarb. The judges love the look of the sponge with the poached rhubarb which Claudia has fashioned into roses. The cake is spongy even without butter, which the judges aren't missing thanks to the custard and rhubarb.
Chris also used butter in his vanilla and chocolate sponges, which he filled with passionfruit buttercream and raspberry jam. The judges love the presentation of the sponge. The sponges are nice and light, and the only problem is that they can't taste the chocolate in those sponges, and they were unnecessary. This is what I mean about the challenge being too simple for this stage of the competition, because Chris is over-thinking how to do well in this challenge. The judges don't need four tiers (they were worried about Barb's cake as well), they just want something simple done well, and when you're in week 8, the expectation is higher than 'something simple done well.'
Dave made a royal sponge with a recipe that uses less butter and more eggs as well as condensed milk. It's filled with strawberries soaked in 'melon liqueur' (I guess they couldn't say Midori, like last week's 'dairy-free spread'/Nuttelex) and Italian buttercream. He also decorated the cake with buttercream dyed to make Wedgwood blue. The judges said that the sponge was buttery (there was a lot of buttercream), but the melon liqueur was too subtle, and a jam would have been more appropriate.
This was a fun little challenge. Dave brought out his tea set, and a few of the contestants tried their British accents (which I won't comment on because I'm sure mine isn't great). Most importantly, I counted the word butter and its variations 37 times between the judges, contestants and hosts. I counted the times buttercream was mentioned in Dave's cake but I can't remember whether I did that for Chris. Onto the next challenge!
Technical Challenge: Bakewell Slice
Matt's not-so-cryptic tips for this week's technical are: an even base, perfect layering, a quick steady hand and a hot, clean knife every time. Matt would like the bakers to make a bakewell slice, while Mel would like them to make nachos. Unfortunately Mel doesn't get them to make the rules. Back in the potting shed, Matt shows Maggie his bakewell slice, which has a biscuit base, raspberry jam, an almond filling and icing with a feathered pattern on top. When Mel and Claire go to Dave's bench, they say that precision's needed for this recipe, which is
Barb cracks two eggs at once for her almond filling. Dave's nervously eating raspberries while he waits for his bakewell tart to well, bake, and Claudia and Raeesa have some tea. Raeesa decides to emulate Dave and gets out her ruler to measure her slices, while Dave is on the other side of the shed demonstrating his feathering technique.
From last to first we have Raeesa, Barb, Claudia, Chris and Dave.
The next morning Matt and Maggie have their conversation, and once again it's too close to tell who will be going home pre-showstopper. Raeesa is in trouble, but as we saw with Claudia a couple of weeks ago you can go from the bottom of the technical to winning Star Baker. Meanwhile, Claudia and Barb are sitting pretty comfortably at the top.
Showstopper: British Pudding
This challenge poses the question: how do you make a pudding a showstopper? The answer is somewhere along the lines of 'give them four and a half hours to make it.' When Maggie thinks of British pudding she thinks of lemon delicious (my favourite) and bread and butter pudding (I'd long stopped my tally at this point).
At the beginning of the episode Raeesa says that one of her favourite British bakes is spotted dick, so naturally she made a bread and butter pudding. There's are two puddings - apple and walnut, rhubarb and blueberry - which she intended to decorate with miniature toffee apples and serve with custard and salted praline ice cream. The judges warn that she's probably doing too much so she leaves off the ice cream, but there are still too many elements to the dish which makes it confusing. She didn't need both puddings and it would have been better just to serve the one. Unfortunately the pudding is also burnt on top, and there's too much bread to custard.
Barb made a sticky date pudding in the shape of the London Bridge before we're told it's actually the Tower Bridge. It's a bridge in London! Got it. The towers of pudding will be bridged with pecan brittle, decorated with candied pecans and served with butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream. Maggie doesn't like ANY of these things, and Mel points out that the only way to make it less appealing to Maggie is to put some chilli in it. Maggie hints that maybe Barb could add some ginger, and Barb knows how to take a hint. The judges love the presentation of the pudding and enjoy smashing the toffee bridges, calling it 'great drama'. They both love the taste of the pudding, especially the addition of the ginger, and say it's 'undeniably British.'
Claudia is the first baker to make a Queen of Puddings, which is something I'd never heard of before I watched this episode. It's a layered dessert tht has a custard and breadcrumb base, a jam filling and meringue for the top layer. Claudia decorates her pudding with nougatine and cinnamon ice cream. When the judges come around, Claudia admits that she's worried about the custard setting. The judges praise Claudia's presentation and argue over who should wear the crown. You're meant to eat it, not wear it! The custard set perfectly and the judges love the flavour. Matt says it's very rich but that's not a bad thing. He also says it's a bit messy to eat, but it's pudding! That's how it's supposed to eat!
Chris made a three-tiered tower of puddings with an apple and blackberry pudding base topped with two apple and raspberry puddings, which he decorated with berries and vanilla custard. He had trouble getting his puddings out of the tin, and when it comes to tasting the judges say that it's too firm and has been overcooked - but that it doesn't really matter when it's smothered in custard.
Dave is the other contestant to make a Queen of Puddings, which he's decorating with a Union Jack pattern with fresh berries and serving with a whisky ice cream. The judges say that it looks spectacular and they can see the layers. They love the ice cream and the flavours are great, but the base is too dense. Like Raeesa, Dave's bread to custard ratio was a bit too heavy on the bread, and it's come out more like a custard.
Barb wins Star Baker this week, and I don't know if it's enough to make up for what happened two weeks ago when Claudia apparently came out of nowhere. Just kidding Barb has had a great week and I'm really happy for her and her bowtie. Raeesa goes home, and we'll miss her in the last two weeks, she was always a joyous presence on the show.
Leah Rocke is a television blogger based in Melbourne. When not writing about her favourite television shows, she's extolling the virtues of Mad Max: Fury Road to anyone who will listen.
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